A relaxed read on the issues of the day
December was a “sea of green” with the majority of assets delivering positive returns. Markets were buoyed by the cooling of inflation and expectations for dovish monetary policy in 2024. This “pivot” by central bankers saw risk assets rebound strongly in the last couple of months of the year, providing investors with relief in what has otherwise been a challenging and volatile year. The belief through most of the year was for interest rates to be “higher for longer”, this changed when Federal Reserve chair Jerome Powell announced new forecasts pointing to 75 basis points worth of rate cuts in 2024. Weakening inflation numbers across the global economy, soon convinced investors that rate cuts would follow in the UK and Europe. Markets became encouraged that central bankers had walked the tightrope of quelling inflation while not pouring too much cold water on global growth.
The global equity index returned +4.6% in sterling terms in December, with the standout region being Asian equities which delivered a positive return of +8.2%, which was despite the fact that the Chinese equity market delivered negative returns, as Moody’s cut its credit rating for the country and reports surfaced that borrowers were defaulting on loans in record numbers. Outside of China regions such as Australia & India performed strongly, driven by positive sentiment in relation to future potential rate cuts, plus the weakness in the dollar provided a fillip for the region.
Most other equity regions delivered comparable returns relative to that of the broad global index. A point to highlight is that we saw a strong rebound for small cap stocks, following on from strong performance in the previous month. Small caps in the UK delivered a positive +9.2% return versus the broader UK market which delivered +4.8%. The rising interest rate environment to combat inflation, has been a real headwind for small caps over the last 18 months or so. The change in guidance from central banks that interest rates could be cut in 2024, has shifted the sentiment from negative to positive for small cap stocks on a global basis as well as within the UK.
Growing confidence that central banks could cut interest rates due to falling inflation rates helped drive positive performance for global bond markets over the month. UK gilts, US treasuries and German bunds returned 5.8%, 3.4% & 3.4% respectively. The strong year end rally ensured it was a positive year for sovereign bonds, a scenario that only a few months earlier would have been hard to forecast. Outside of government debt – investment grade credit, high yield and emerging market bonds all delivered positive returns around the +4% mark. There was also strong showing in the month for alternative investments such as infrastructure and private equity. The standout and best performing of our investable universe was property, with Real Estate Investment Trusts (REITs) generating a +10% return. The shift in mood music in relation to the interest rate outlook being the core driven.
A strong end to 2023, which helped most asset classes deliver a positive return for the full year. Inflation may not be fully curtailed but lower inflationary prints are positive. Looking forward – we will look to take advantage of those investments that provide the right risk and return opportunity set for the respective investment profile.
This information is intended for professional financial advisers only. Copia does not provide financial advice. This information is not intended as financial advice and should not be interpreted as such.