Market Commentary August 2014
Global equity markets experienced steady gains until the final day in July. Markets retreated following various adverse events including; further Russian sanctions,defaulted debt in Argentina and lower than expected Eurozone inflation.
Geopolitical tensions also intensified after a Malaysian Airline plane crashed on the Ukraine/Russia border. In fixed interest markets, government bonds were supported by market uncertainty, leading to positive returns for investors.
US equity markets ended marginally lower due to events at the end of the month disrupting sanguine markets. The US Federal Reserve announced plans to end its quantitative easing program in its June meeting, proposing October as the final month of stimulus. The central bank proceeded to reduce monthly purchases from $35bn to $25bn in its July meeting. Second quarter GDP was announced at 4%, higher than expectations and considerably higher than first quarter’s economic contraction. US unemployment was announced at 6.1% in June, lower than expectations and the lowest rate in 5.5 years.
European equity markets suffered fair losses over the month, with the broader index being dragged lower by the Portuguese equity market. First quarter GDP was confirmed at 0.2% in the final reading. Eurozone unemployment was announced at 11.6% in May, lower than the expected rate and the lowest rate recorded since December 2012. CPI inflation fell to 0.4% in July, the lowest rate recorded since October 2009. French and Italian industrial production data showed fair declines in the sector with data coming in significantly below expectations.
UK equity markets remained little changed by month end. The Bank of England agreed to maintain interest rates and its quantitative easing program at its July central bank meeting. Later at the Commonwealth Games business conference, Mark Carney said interest rate increases will be more restrained than in the past as the economy continues to face challenges. He added that rates would not rise until real wages rise consistently. UK second quarter GDP was announced at 0.8%, placing economic growth slightly ahead of its pre-crisis peak. Unemployment fell to 6.5% in May, the lowest rate since 2008. CPI inflation rose to 1.9% in June, higher than expectations led by higher clothing, food & drink and air transport costs. UK house prices recorded their highest annual growth rate since January 2005, with prices rising 11.8% year-on-year in June, according to data provided by Nationwide.
Asian equity markets were strong, led by China which benefited from various positive economic data announcements. Chinese second quarter GDP was announced at 7.5%, surpassing expectations and in line with the government’s target rate. Manufacturing data also showed expansion, recording the highest rate since December 2013. The recently appointed finance minister of Korea announced various stimulus measures to boost the economy, having a positive impact on markets. Japanese equity markets were boosted by the prospect of the government increasing its equity allocation within its sovereign pension fund.
Emerging market equities were positive, buoyed by encouraging Chinese economic data. On the downside, President Obama announced further sanctions on Russia which targeted a series of large banks, energy and defence companies. The EU imposed further sanctions on Russian businesses, including curbs on Russian banks trading in European markets. The Bank of Russia raised interest rates from 7.5% to 8%, due to concerns around inflation and geopolitical tensions. Argentina defaulted on its debt after failing to make a $539m payment to a group of bond holders. Credit rating’s agency Standard & Poor’s downgraded the country’s credit rating to ‘selective default’.
Fixed interest markets experienced broadly positive returns, largely due to investors seeking safety from unfavourable market events. Bonds with lower credit quality underperformed, along with a pick-up in volatility. Markets were uneasy following serious credit issues with one of Portugal’s largest banks. Peripheral Eurozone government bonds outperformed over the month.