Global stock markets have ended their fourth-quarter 2018 slide and staged a solid rebound this month. Reassuringly, one issue that investors had been worried about has also been resolved: following its meeting on 29th/30thJanuary the Federal Reserve (the central bank of the USA) has signalled its intention to abort its quantitative tightening program which (given the extremely negative effect it had had on equity markets) is very good news indeed.
Quantitative tightening is a monetary policy applied by a central bank to decrease the amount of money within the economy. With the benefit of hindsight it was, inter alia, that policy that had helped send the stock markets into a frenzied tailspin during the fourth quarter of 2018.
On 31st January 2019 the FTSE100 index closed the month at 6968.85, a rise of 3.58% in the month of January itself and it now stands, of course, at 3.58% for the 2019 calendar year to date too. By comparison the Quotidian Fund’s valuation at the same date shows an increase of 13.09%for the month and so it follows that the Fund is up 13.09% for the 2019 year to date.
It now seems that the severe equity market markdowns in the final quarter of 2018 were largely a reaction to the Federal Reserve’s interest rate policy and monetary tightening. One could be readily forgiven for saying that this was a gross over-reaction by analysts and market makers.
On the back of a demonstrably strong US economy, the Fed raised interest rates four times in 2018 in a robotic, pre-ordained and seemingly careless “painting by numbers” approach. When it met in December the central bank issued a projection that it expected to raise rates twice more in 2019, albeit that that figure was downgraded from its previous projection of three times.
However, financial markets still continued to tumble substantially, disturbed that in his subsequent news conference, the Fed chairman (Jerome Powell) had given a very positive view of the US economy yet appeared to suggest that the Fed would still resume raising rates in the coming months.
Since then though, Powell and other Fed officials have (under rigorous criticism and, no doubt, impartial and gentle guidance from President Trump) emphasized their firm intent to be “patient” in their approach to rate increases and they have reaffirmed that there is now no “pre-set course” for future increases.
As a result, equity futures markets have put the probability of a rate hike at any time in 2019 at just 22 percent. In typical Cassandra-like fashion though, a few doom-laden analysts are predicting up to two Fed rate increases in 2019, though not until the second half of the year.
We believe that the Fed has been and will continue to be under extreme political pressure to hold interest rates steady rather than risk tipping the currently buoyant US economy into recession. Equity markets have risen accordingly.
Conversely, the Mayhem caused and the resulting pig’s breakfast being made of Brexit continues to supress the UK stock-market. It is clear from the recent unedifying spectacles in the House of Commons that the chief negotiator on the UK side does not know his Acas from his Nalgo.
In Europe, the German and Italian economies are now officially in recession and France is on the cusp. Despite the bombast from its leaders it is clear that the undemocratic, protectionist and financially incontinent EU project with its half-baked currency is failing. It beggars belief that elements of the British establishment still desperately want to cling to this sinking ship.
The fourth-quarter reporting season in the USA is in full swing and, of our 22 company-specific holdings, ten have now issued their results. Of these, every one of them has posted positive surprises and their share valuations have been upgraded accordingly. The remainder of our portfolio holdings will report in February and we anticipate similar positive outcomes above and beyond analyst’s projections.
The palpable fear and negativity that gripped equity markets throughout the last quarter of 2018 have thus far in 2019 been replaced by a sense of optimism, realism and normality. Long may that persist. We remain alert to the fact that there are potential headwinds still to be addressed and resolved.
Chief among those is the huge trade imbalance (in China’s favour) between the USA and China.
Overall for the full year of 2018 China posted a trade surplus of $351.76 billion. Of that, its politically-sensitive surplus with the USA widened by 17.2 percent to $323.32 billion last year; the highest on record. It is abundantly clear as to why the US President has been so focused on redressing that remarkable imbalance.
Reports from the US during January suggest that positive progress has been made to secure an equitable trade deal between these two countries and, if that does become a reality, then another restraint on positive stock-market progress will have been removed. We take a sanguine view and hope that the timetable of settling a deal acceptable to both sides is indeed executed by the putative 1stMarch deadline.
Despite the Quotidian Fund’s strong performance in January we are intensely aware that we have much more ground to recover before we claw ourselves back to the heights of 30thSeptember last year. We remain committed and confident of so doing.