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August 2018 Market Report
During the month to July 31 st, 2018, major equity markets displayed a stronger trend and the VIX index fell significantly, indicative of a preference for greater risk-taking. There continued to be an abundance of market moving news over the period whether at corporate, economic or political level.
The European Central Bank appeared to become more certain of removing QE over coming quarters but delaying any interest rate increase until 2019, while economic news was generally dull. Political events were not in short supply, and in Turkey for example, dramatically affected bond and currency markets. European leaders and policy makers are having an uncharacteristically active summer, with debates on US tariffs, immigration, Japanese trade pact and post Brexit implications just four of the more topical issues. US market watchers continued to grapple with ongoing tariff discussions, Federal Budget, Iranian nuclear/sanctions, NAFTA friction and North Korean meeting uncertainty as well as domestic issues. Economic data and corporate results so far have generally been above expectation. In the Far East, North and South Korea made faltering progress towards an agreement while China flexed its muscles in response to Trump’s trade and other demands and relaxed bank reserve requirement late in the month. Chinese economic growth slowed slightly while there was a little speculation that the Bank of Japan may tweak it’s QE programme. The UK reported mixed economic data with satisfactory developments on the government borrowing side, inflation slightly lower than expected, but poor relative GDP figures and deteriorating property sentiment, both residential and commercial. The data and ongoing Brexit confusion appear to be keeping the MPC in a wait and see mode regarding interest rates, although mathematically the’ hawks’ are gaining ground. An important day for MPC policy statements tomorrow (2nd August).
Aggregate world hard economic data continues to show steady expansion, excluding the UK, as confirmed by the IMF and the OECD with some forecasts of 2018 economic growth in the 3.3% to 3.6% area, a little lower than January forecasts. Fluctuating currencies continued to play an important part in asset allocation decisions, the stronger US dollar again being the major recent feature recently, although lagging the yen year to date. Government Bond holders saw modest price falls over the month. Of note was the large jump in the Japanese Government Bond Yield. Oil was the main commodity feature during the month, falling after the long rally seen so far this year. Tariffs, whether actual or rumoured, are continuing to bear on certain metals and soft commodities, the latter also responding to extreme weather conditions. The price of wheat for example has climbed nearly 30% so far this year.
At the end of the seven-month period, “mixed investment” unit trusts show a very small positive price performance, with technology and most overseas equity regions showing above average performance, and bonds, Asia-excl Japan and Emerging markets in negative territory. Source Trustnet:01/08/2018
Global Equities rose over the month the FTSE ALL World Index gaining 3.43% in dollar terms and now showing a positive return since the beginning of the year. The UK broad and narrow market indices lagged other major markets over the month in local terms and have underperformed in both local and sterling adjusted values from the end of 2017.Asia and emerging markets were the relative underperformers and declined in absolute terms while Europe jumped quite strongly, although the DAX Index is still down in absolute returns since the beginning of 2018. In sterling adjusted terms, America has jumped to the top of the leader board year to date, largely helped by the technology component (NASDAQ up 10.9%) and a recently strengthening dollar. The VIX index while still up about 30% from the year end, dropped 13% over the month, as “risk on “trades returned.
Sector volatility picked up during the month, influenced by both global factors e.g. commodity prices, tariffs, as well as corporate activity and ex-dividend adjustments. Utility stocks fell over 4%, while pharmaceuticals gained 5.8 %, largely on encouraging results and lingering corporate activity. Over the seven-month period, pharmaceuticals are outpacing the worse performing major sector, telecommunications by nearly 33%.
Gilt prices fell marginally over the month and are now down 1.64% year to date in capital terms, the 10-year UK yield standing at 1.39% currently. Other ten-year yield closed the month at US 2.97% Japan, 0.06% and Germany 0.33% respectively. UK corporate bonds remained broadly unchanged, ending July on a yield of approximately 2.75%. Amongst the more speculative grades, emerging market bonds fell while US high yield rose, in price terms. Floating rate and convertible bond prices showed mixed performance over the month. See my recommendations in preference shares, convertibles, corporate bonds, floating rate bonds etc. A list of my top thirty income ideas (all yielding over 5%) from over 10 different asset classes is available.
Amongst the major currencies, a stronger dollar was the major monthly feature rising largely on relative economic news. Sterling fell versus the dollar while rising against the Yen and Euro. Currency adjusted, the FTSE World Equity Index is now outperforming the FTSE 100 by over 3% since the end of 2017.Just over two years since the BREXIT vote, the FTSE has risen by about 19% compared with the 32% gain in sterling adjusted world indices.
A generally weak month for commodities with the notable exception of some of the softs, the latter largely reflecting weather conditions! Over the year so far, oil seems to be stabilising over $70, while gold, falling on the month and year-to date languishes at around $1223 currently.
Over the coming months, geo-political events and Central Bank actions/statements will continue be key market drivers while early second quarter company results will likely add some additional volatility. With medium term expectation of rising bond yields, equity valuations and fund flow dynamics will also be increasingly important areas of interest/concern.
US watchers will continue to speculate on the timing and number of interest rate hikes 2018/2019 and longer-term debt dynamics, as well as fleshing out the winners and losers from any tariff developments (steel, aluminium, EU, China,NAFTA)-a moving target! Additional discussions pertaining to North Korea, Russia, Iran, Venezuela, and Trump’s own position could precipitate volatility in equities, commodities and currencies. In Japan market sentiment is likely to be influenced by economic policy and Abe’s political rating. It will be interesting to see if there is any follow through from recent BoJ speculation regarding bond yield policy. Recent corporate governance initiatives e.g. non-executive directors, cross holdings, dividends are helping sentiment. European investment mood will be tested by economic figures (temporary slowdown or more sustained?), EU Budget discussions, Italian, Turkish and Spanish politics, and reaction to the migrant discussions. Hard economic data and various sentiment/residential property indicators will continue to show that UK economic growth will be slower in 2018 compared to 2017, and further down grades may appear as anecdotal second quarter figures trends are closely analysed. Brexit discussion have moved to a new level, discussions on the “custom union” being currently hotly debated. The current perception of a move to a “softer” European exit will inevitably lead to pressure from many sides. Political tensions stay at elevated levels both within and across the major parties and considerable uncertainties still face individual companies and sectors. Industry, whether through trade organizations or directly e.g. Bae, BMW, Honda, Ryanair is becoming increasingly impatient, and vocal, and many London based financial companies are already “voting with their feet”.
On a valuation basis, most, but not all, conventional government fixed interest products continue to appear expensive against current economic forecasts and supply factors, and renewed bond price declines and further relative underperformance versus equities should be expected in the medium term, in my view. See my recent ‘iceberg’ illustration for an estimate of bond sensitivity. Price declines are eroding any small income returns leading to negative total returns in many cases. On the supply point there are increasing estimates of US bond issuance against a background of diminished QE and overseas buying. European bond purchases are expected to wind down later this year.
Equities appear more reasonably valued, apart from some PE metrics, (especially in the US), but there are wide variations, and opportunities, in both broad asset classes. Equity investors will be looking to see if superior earnings growth can compensate for higher interest rates in several areas. Helped in no small part by tax cuts, US companies have been showing earnings growth more than 20% so far this year, although the current quarter is widely expected to be the peak comparison period, and ‘misses’ are being severely punished e.g. Facebook and Twitter. Corporate results from US, Europe and Japan have, on aggregate, been up to expectations over the current period.
Outside pure valuation measures, sentiment indicators and the VIX index are showing significant day to day variation, after the complacency of last year. The current level of 13.23 appears rather low in the context of potential banana skins.
In terms of current recommendations,
Continue to overweight equities relative to core government bonds, especially within Continental Europe and Japan. However, an increased weighting in absolute return and other vehicles may be warranted as equity returns will become increasingly lower and more volatile and holding greater than usual cash balances may also be appropriate. Among major equity markets, the USA is one of the few areas where the ten-year bond yields more than the benchmark equity index. The equity selection should be very focussed. Certain equity valuations are rather high, especially on a PE basis (see quarterly), although not in “bubble” territory. A combination of sharper than expected interest rate increases with corporate earnings shocks would not be conducive to strong equity returns. Ongoing and fluid tariff discussions could additionally unsettle selected countries, sectors and individual stocks Harley Davidson, German car producers, American and Brazilian soy producers etc.
- UK warrants a neutral allocation after the strong relative bounce over the quarter on the back of stronger oil price, sterling weakness and corporate activity. Ongoing Brexit debate, political stalemate and economic uncertainty could cause more sterling wobbles, which in turn could affect sector/size choices. I would expect to see more profits warnings (Countryside,Foxtons,H&M- latest casualties) and extra due diligence in stock/fund selection is strongly advised.
- Within UK sectors, some of the higher yielding defensive plays e.g. Pharma, telco’s and utilities have attractions relative to certain cyclicals and many financials are showing confidence by dividend hikes and buy-backs etc. Oil and gas majors may be worth holding despite the outperformance to date. Remember that the larger cap names such as Royal Dutch and BP will be better placed than some of the purer exploration plays in the event of a softer oil price. Mining stocks remain a strong hold, in my view (see my recent note for favoured large cap pooled play). Corporate activity, already apparent in the engineering (GKN), property (Hammerson), pharmaceutical (Glaxo, Shire?), packaging (Smurfit), retail (Sainsbury/Asda) is likely to increase in my view, although the Government has recently been expressing concern about overseas take-overs in certain strategic areas.
- Continental European equities continue to be preferred to those of USA, for reasons of valuation, and Central bank policy, although political developments in Italy, Spain and Turkey should be monitored closely. Improving economic data adds to my enthusiasm for selected European names, although European investors may be advised to focus more on domestic, rather than export related themes. Look at underlying exposure of your funds carefully. Remember that certain European and Japanese companies provide US exposure, without paying US prices. I have recently written on Japan, and I would continue to overweight this market, despite the large 2017 outperformance. Smaller cap/ domestic focussed funds may outperform broader index averages e.g. JP Morgan Japanese Smaller Companies and Legg Mason.
- Alternative fixed interest vehicles, which continue to perform relatively well against conventional government bonds, have attractions e.g. floating rate funds, preference shares, convertibles, for balanced, cautious accounts and energy/ emerging/speculative grade for higher risk. These remain my favoured plays within the fixed interest space. See recent note
- UK bank preference shares still look particularly attractive and could be considered as alternatives to the ordinary shares in some cases. If anything, recent sector “news” has highlighted the attractions of the sector.
- Alternative income, private equity and renewable funds have exhibited their defensive characteristics during recent equity market wobbles and are still recommended as part of a balanced portfolio. Many of these are already providing superior total returns to both gilts and equities so far this year. Reference could be made to the renewable funds (see my recent solar and wind power recommendations). Results from Greencoat on February 26nd and Bluefield Solar the following day reinforce my optimism for the sector. Selected infrastructure funds are also recommended for purchase after the recent Corbyn/Carillion inspired weakness (see note). The take-over of JLIF during the month highlights the value in the sector!
- Any new commitments to the commercial property sector should be more focussed on direct equities and investment trusts than unit trusts (see my recent note comparing open ended and closed ended funds), thus exploiting the discount and double discount features respectively as well as having liquidity and trading advantages. However, in general I would not overweight the sector, as along with residential property, I expect further price stagnation especially in London offices and retail developments e.g(Hammerson,Intu). The outlook for some specialist sub sectors and property outside London/South-East, however, is currently more favourable. Investors should also consider some continental European property See my recent company note.
- I suggest a selective approach to emerging equities and would currently avoid bonds. Although the overall valuation for emerging market equities is relatively modest, there are large differences between individual countries. A mixture of high growth/high valuation e.g. India, Vietnam and value e.g. Russia could yield rewards and there are signs of funds moving back to South Africa on political change. Turkish assets seem likely to remain highly volatile in the short term. As highlighted in the quarterly, Chinese index weightings are expected to increase quite significantly over coming years and Saudi Arabia, is just being allowed into certain indices.
Full third quarter report is available to clients/subscribers and suggested portfolio strategy/individual recommendations are available. Ideas for a ten stock FTSE portfolio, model pooled fund portfolios (cautious, balanced adventurous, income), 30 stock income lists, hedging ideas and a list of shorter term low risk/ high risk ideas can also be purchased, as well as bespoke portfolio construction/restructuring.
Good luck with performance! Ken Baksh 01/08/2018
Ken has over 35 years of investment management experience, working for two major City institutions between 1976 and 2002.
Since then he has been engaged as a self-employed investment consultant. He has worked with investment trusts, unit trusts, pension funds, charities, Life Fund,hedge fund and private clients. Individual asset managed have included direct equities and bonds pooled vehicles currencies, derivatives and commodities.
Projects undertaken in a number of areas including asset allocation, risk control, performance measurement, marketing, individual company research, legacy portfolios and portfolio construction. He has a BSc(Mathematics/Statistics) and is a Fellow Member of the UK Society of Investment Professionals.
Phone 07747 114 691
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