The spring meeting of the International Monetary Fund was held in Washington from 20th to 23rd April. This event was the reason for an investor conference that I attended in order to get an idea of the status quo of the global economy as well as of risks and opportunities.
Capital markets experienced significant price fluctuations in 2015. While euro government bonds recorded a relatively good performance contrary to expectations, riskier bond segments such as high-yield corporate bonds were disappointing. Regionally speaking, stock exchanges recorded a very mixed set of performances. Emerging markets such as China and Brazil ended up on the disappointing side, whereas the European equity markets posted significant gains. The important US equity market went sideways (in USD terms).
Investors with US-Dollar exposure benefited from the appreciation of the US-Dollar relative to the EUR. Commodity prices, above all oil, remained locked in their downward trend throughout the entire year. Emerging markets currencies also experienced falling exchange rates.
The most important central bank in the world, i.e. the US Fed, made an announcement yesterday that attracted a large deal of attention from investors. The bank withdrew its assurance to remain “patient” before the Fed funds rate would be increased. This paved the way for a possible abandonment of the zero interest rate policy, if economic need be. The new formula goes like this: the Fed funds rate will be raised once the labour market has improved more and the FOMC is optimistic about inflation rising towards the medium-term target of two percent.
We have seen European equities outperform their American peers in the year to date, both in local currency and in euro. Not even the increase of the US dollar relative to the euro of 8% made a difference to that. What is this pro-European optimism based on? After all, the US economy has seen a significantly better development than the Eurozone. The same is true for US companies, which have been recording profit growth, as opposed to Europe, where profits have generally been falling recently. The uncertainties in Greece and Ukraine only add to this scenario.