- US equities rose over the month with the S&P 500 recording a gain of 1.9%, achieving a new all-time high, as did the Dow Jones Industrial Average, which surpassed 20,000 for the first time. The market continued to react positively to the plans of newly inaugurated President Trump to cut taxes, boost infrastructure spending and reduce the regulatory burden on business.
- The Nasdaq Composite also struck a record high as technology stocks outperformed in January, having initially failed to participate in the rally following Trump’s election. This was in anticipation that an expected pick-up in capital expenditure by corporate America would drive an IT refreshment cycle.
- Despite continued confidence that the administration would follow through on its pro-growth agenda, the period did end on something of a negative note. After Trump took office on 20 January, markets increasingly focused on the potential risks of the new leadership as it followed through on some of the more controversial campaign trail pledges.
- The market also struggled to make progress in the final days of the month amid news of lower-than-expected GDP, which grew by 1.9% in the fourth quarter, on an annualised basis.
- After their strong gains at the end of 2016, European equities registered negative returns in January 2017. The MSCI EMU index returned -1.0%. Value1 areas of the market saw momentum tail off somewhat, after a strong rally in Q4, while growth stocks experienced better performance. Energy was the weakest sector, followed by real estate. Information technology was the only sector to register a positive return. On a country basis, Italian stocks were weakest while Germany and Spain outperformed.
- Macroeconomic data from the eurozone was generally encouraging. The composite purchasing managers’ index (PMI) for January dipped marginally to 54.3 from 54.4 in December, but this still represents robust expansion. GDP for the euro area rose by 0.5% quarter-on-quarter in Q4, taking 2016 growth to 1.7%. The region’s annual inflation rate rose to 1.8% in January and the unemployment rate dipped to 9.6%. As expected, the European Central Bank left monetary policy unchanged at its January meeting.
- Investors continued to look ahead to the busy electoral calendar in Europe. The Netherlands, France and Germany all hold elections this year. Meanwhile, Italy’s constitutional court opened the door to possible early elections after changing parts of the country’s electoral law.
- The FTSE All-Share index fell 0.3% as the market struggled to build on the momentum it had enjoyed at the end of 2016. A combination of profit-taking in the oil and gas sector, some notable profit warnings and fears that the pharmaceutical sector would suffer drug pricing pressure from the new US administration conspired to nudge the index into negative territory over the month.
- Despite the negative headline performance, the so-called “reflation trade” 2 remained a dominant theme. Global growth and inflation forecasts continued to be upgraded and that fed through into a strong performance in industrial and mining sectors. The mining sector was further supported by a recovery in base metal prices, which rebounded amid dollar weakness.
- The dollar weakened after US president Donald Trump struck a less conciliatory tone following his inauguration. As the dollar weakened there was a recovery in emerging markets generally, and many of the UK’s emerging markets focused financials performed well against this backdrop.
- Some of the more domestically focused areas of the market performed relatively well, including the housebuilders. GDP data confirmed the UK economy grew at a faster-than-expected 0.6% in the final quarter of 2016. This was largely thanks to stronger service sector activity, as consumer spending remained resilient in the wake of the decision to leave the EU.
- The Japanese stock market moved broadly sideways in January, but recorded a small gain of 0.2% for the month as a whole. After weakening sharply against the US dollar immediately after the US presidential election, the yen gained ground against most major currencies in January. Investors continued to prefer cyclical (more economically-sensitive) areas of the market, with marine transportation being the strongest sector but steels and paper stocks also performed well. Financial-related subsectors were more mixed, but defensive areas such as utilities, pharmaceuticals and foods all lagged the market.
- The continued outperformance of cyclical sectors ties in closely with the improvement in recent economic data, together with higher expectations for future growth. The Bank of Japan raised its own assessment of economic prospects at the January Policy Committee meeting but made no changes to actual policy. However, the current policy of maintaining 10-year yields around zero started to come under some pressure as Japan’s yield curve steepened in common with other major economies.
- Although equity investor sentiment continues to be influenced most strongly by expectations for higher growth in the early stages of the Trump administration, a more cautious stance also became evident for the first time in January after the new president’s inauguration. Although the prioritisation of initial policy decisions appear to be in-line with campaign pledges, the real-world implications of these and, in particular, the manner of their implementation, still have scope to create considerable uncertainty.
- Meanwhile, the Japanese quarterly corporate results season for the period to end-December got underway, and will extend into February. Early indications suggest that a majority of companies could beat investors’ expectations, in line with the rising trend of revisions which has been apparent for the past few months.
Asia (ex Japan)
- Asia ex Japan equities started off 2017 on a high with markets delivering strong gains. President Trump’s proposed large infrastructure spending plans in the US spurred gains for global stocks, with markets heartened by the potential positive impact from fiscal stimulus. In China, stocks rebounded on expectations that the economy was stabilising with fourth quarter GDP growth coming in at 6.8% year-on-year – slightly stronger than expected and giving the world’s second-largest economy a growth rate of 6.7% for the full year of 2016. Speculation that more state-owned enterprises (SOEs) were mulling plans for reform, via mixed- ownership plans, and other improved economic data provided further boosts for share prices during the period.
- Meanwhile, in Hong Kong stocks finished up on more positive market sentiment in China. Property shares rebounded after the US Federal Reserve (Fed) indicated its preference for gradual rate hikes in 2017. Over the strait in Taiwan, equities climbed higher led by the island’s technology sector. Korean stocks also gained on strong performance from its technology exporters and online firms.
- In ASEAN, Thailand delivered gains while Indonesia finished flat. The Philippines saw its market rise strongly on better-than-expected fourth quarter GDP numbers. In India, stocks gained as fears receded over the negative impacts of November’s cash ban with foreign investors returning to the market.
Emerging market equities delivered solid gains in January with US dollar weakness proving beneficial. The MSCI Emerging Markets index generated a robust return and outperformed the MSCI World index.
Poland and Korea delivered some of the strongest returns, where the zloty and won generated strong gains. In Korea, exports increased 11.2% year-on-year, the fastest growth in over four years. Stronger trade figures also supported gains in Taiwan. In Poland, the PMI increased to 54.3, boosting hopes for a recovery in growth this year. The Chilean peso, Brazilian real and Peruvian sol also registered strong appreciation relative to the US dollar. Higher industrial metals prices were beneficial for these markets. In Brazil, the central bank cut its headline SELIC rate by 75bps, more than forecast, to 13%. This followed weaker-than-expected activity indicators while inflation was lower than expected.
Chinese equities outperformed as the weaker US dollar eased concerns over capital outflows. Underlying macroeconomic data also proved supportive, with fourth quarter GDP rising 6.8% year-on-year, ahead of expectations and the first pick-up in growth since 2014. A manufacturing PMI was stable at 51.4 while retail sales growth increased to 10.9% year-on-year.
By contrast, energy price weakness, following strong gains in the fourth quarter, was a headwind for several markets. Qatar and the UAE finished in positive territory but underperformed while Russia posted a small negative return. Egypt was also down, owing to currency weakness. Greece lagged by a wider margin as a bailout review was postponed until February.
Regional bond markets diverged in January, an expected theme of 2017. A steady and stable US Treasuries market contrasted with higher yields in Europe, where a combination of political developments and another jump in eurozone inflation drove bonds. Political uncertainty remained to the fore. President Trump’s initial policy actions indicated he will follow through on his protectionist rhetoric, and led to protests. Developments in the UK suggested a so-called “hard Brexit”, involving leaving the European single market, is likely, while the French presidential election taking place in April appears finely poised. In terms of economic data, US Q4 GDP slightly undershot expectations, while eurozone PMIs remained strong.
The 10-year Treasury yield was virtually unchanged at 2.45%, staying within a narrow intra-month range around this level. The five-year yield came down from 1.92% to 1.91% and the two-year yield was one basis point higher at 1.20%. In Europe, the 10-year Bund yield rose from 0.21% to 0.44%, the five-year yield rose from -0.53% to -0.40% and the two-year yield from -0.77% to -0.70%. In the UK, the 10-year yield rose from 1.24% to 1.42%, reversing December’s move; the five-year yield increased from 0.49% to 0.62% and the two- year yield was up from 0.08%.to 0.13%. Yields in France and Italy were markedly higher.
Global credit markets advanced in January, outperforming government bonds, with high yield3 outperforming investment grade. This was largely due to the US. European and UK investment grade declined on the month. High yield was positive in all three regions. The investment grade BofA Merrill Lynch Global Corporate index returned 0.1% (local currency) in January and outperformed government bonds by 0.2%. The equivalent high yield index gained 1.4% (local currency) and outperformed government bonds by 1.3%.
In emerging market debt, all three of the principal market components generated positive returns continuing the post-November recovery. The US dollar sovereign index (JP Morgan EMBI Global Diversified) rose 1.4% for the month. Local currency bonds (JP Morgan GBI-EM Global Diversified Composite) rose 1.9% in while emerging market corporate issues (CEMBI Diversified Broad Composite) rose 1.3%.
Equity markets continued their positive momentum into January and convertible bonds benefited from this tailwind. The Thomson Reuters Global Focus convertible index was up almost 1% in January. Convertible bonds’ valuations have become slightly richer but our models still indicate that a vast majority of the universe is fairly priced or even cheap.
The Bloomberg Commodities index was up slightly in January. The industrial metals and agriculture components both generated positive returns. Within industrial metals, copper rose 6.7% and zinc by 7.5%, as Chinese data suggests demand will remain firm. Among soft commodities, coffee was up 9.1%, owing to concerns over dry weather in Brazil and floods in Vietnam. By contrast, the energy component was weaker as Brent crude fell -2.0%, giving back some of the strong gains registered over recent months. Natural gas fell by -16.3% and coal fell -6.1%. Meanwhile, precious metals rebounded with gold rising 3.4% and silver rising 6.2%.
1 Growth stocks are those with high rates of earnings growth, both current and projected forward. Value stocks are those that tend to trade at a lower price relative to their fundamentals (e.g., dividends, earnings and sales) and are therefore considered undervalued by a value investor.
2 Reflation is a fiscal or monetary policy designed to expand a country’s output and curb the effects of deflation.
3 Investment grade bonds are the highest quality bonds as determined by a credit ratings agency. High yield bonds are more speculative, with a credit