The announcement by the US President, Donald Trump, to levy import tariffs on steel (25%) and aluminium (10%) has made waves. Can the favourable economic environment of boom, low inflation, and gradual reduction of the supportive monetary policy be toppled?
The 4th BBVA Latin American Local Markets Conference in London gave me the chance to speak in detail with some local Latin American representatives. In the following, I would like to share some of the insights I gained from these conversations and the narratives that may affect 2018.
The current environment is very positive for the capital markets: strong growth, low inflation, supportive monetary policies, good earnings growth, and low volatilities, i.e. fluctuations. Also, the numerous risks have not had a significantly negative impact on prices. However, the phase of rising prices started as early as March 2009. This environment implies that any change in the relevant parameters such as growth, inflation, and monetary policy would be tantamount to deterioration, given that improvement is not possible anymore. The most important question asked by investors at the outset of 2018 is therefore whether this positive environment is still here to stay.
“SELL IN MAY AND GO AWAY (BUT REMEMBER TO COME BACK IN SEPTEMBER)”
Who has not heard of the old stock exchange rule “Sell in May and go away” – sometimes complemented by “but remember to come back in September”. We had a closer look at this adage and have analysed the performance on the global stock exchanges over the past 48 years. To this end, we looked at an index that measures exactly that: the company MSCI launched its MSCI World index on 1 January 1970, This is also the start date of our analysis.
A young father is always pressed for time. What he needs is in particular is a good strategy. One of my strategies in selecting reading material is to just wait. Time will tell what is interesting and what is not. Which is why last week I read a book that had come out in 2011: Exorbitant Privilege: The Rise and Fall of the Dollar, by Barry Eichengreen, ( an acclaimed) professor of economic history.
Equities, bonds affected by default risk, commodities, and emerging markets currencies are currently subject to corrections, which, noticeably, have now gone beyond the purview of emerging markets: while the emerging markets equity index declined by almost 6% (Performance-Data Source: Bloomberg, MSCI) last week, the index for developed markets lost 5.3% (Performance-Data Source: Bloomberg, MSCI). The fear that the economic weakening in the emerging markets might come with significant spill-over effects for the industrialised countries has increased. This prompts the question whether a phase of profound corrections is upon us in the risky asset classes. The question alone has caused the risk aversion of investors to rise. The liquidity is temporarily parked in safe havens such as US Treasury bonds, the euro, and the Japanese yen.
Commodity prices have fallen drastically since the beginning of July. The commodity price index provided by Bloomberg has fallen by nearly 12%. In fact, many commodity prices are locked in a bear market. The index is currently almost 50% below the level of the beginning of 2011.
Over the same period the currencies of emerging countries have depreciated by about 35% vis-à-vis the US dollar, and equities have fallen by about 26%.
Summary: The economic recovery in the developed economies is supported by the very expansive monetary policies, lower austerity pressure on the government front and among banks, and the fallen oil price. Growth rates remain moderate. In the emerging markets we can see signs of low-level stabilisation at best. The possible default of Greece, excessive interest rate hikes in the USA, a further decline of productivity, and continued economic weakening in the emerging markets are the main risks the markets are faced with.
Bond investors are faced with a difficult environment. Do corporate bonds offer the chance of a halfway decent yield?
Stampfl: The statement that bond investors are faced with a difficult environment is actually an erroneous one. A balanced portfolio consisting of bonds from the peripheral countries and the core countries across all sectors would have seen a very good risk-adjusted performance in the past weeks and months. Also, complementing the BB segment with corporate bonds generates a certain degree of surplus yield, which in funds like Reserve Corporate causes is used to boost the development. That is like switching from winter tyres to summer tyres in spring. It facilitates a smoother running and lower fuel consumption. Or, translating it to the case of the fund, it results in a surplus yield at lower volatility.
In Turkey, the impact of the currency fluctuations are being discussed and even an ordinary Turk on the street knows what it means for the currency to depreciate. For example, during a cab ride, you may have a very deep economic discussion with the taxi driver about the dollar and the Turkish lira. This is as a result of the crises Turks experienced in the past – unfortunately there was more than one! This in turn, has enabled Turks to have their guard up automatically to cope with the strong dollar and there is a dollar investment mechanism in every household immediately if they get a whiff of the depreciating Turkish lira. Corporates also got used to foreign currency fluctuations, but as an import and export oriented country, the depreciating lira has some negative implications on the corporates as well as economic indicators.
After quite a stable period the Turkish lira has started depreciating against the dollar since the final months of 2014 due to a combination of: i) President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s comments regarding the Central Bank of Turkey, ii) the ECB’s quantitative easing program, iii) woes about Greece’s exit from the EU and iv) the FED’s rate hike expectations.