In focus - Economics
Monthly markets review - July 2019
A look back at markets in July when shares made a modest advance and all eyes were on the Federal Reserve meeting at the end of the month.
- Shares in developed markets gained in July but emerging market shares fell amid US dollar strength. Government bond yields fell (i.e. prices rose), while corporate bonds outperformed.
- US equities made gains. Although GDP growth slowed, economic data and earnings generally remained resilient compared to the rest of the world. The Federal Reserve cut interest rates at the end of the month.
- Eurozone equities were virtually flat in July. Top performing sectors included IT and consumer staples. The eurozone economy expanded by 0.2% in Q2, slowing from 0.4% in Q1.
- In the UK, Boris Johnson was confirmed as the new prime minister, raising the possibility of a more extreme Brexit outcome. The drop in sterling was a boost to companies with overseas earnings.
- Japanese shares gained modestly. Prime Minister Abe‘s party won the Upper House elections which effectively removed any uncertainty over the rise in the consumption tax, scheduled for October.
- Emerging market shares fell, faced by the headwind of a stronger US dollar. South Korea was weak due to a trade dispute with Japan and India underperformed following a disappointing Union Budget announcement.
- US Treasury yields were unchanged but yields fell in Europe (meaning that prices rose). Corporate bonds outperformed government bonds.
Please note any past performance mentioned is not a guide to future performance and may not be repeated. The sectors, securities, regions and countries shown are for illustrative purposes only and are not to be considered a recommendation to buy or sell.
US shares rose modestly in July and outperformed other major stock markets. Investors broadly moved into perceived safe havens such as US Treasuries as trade tensions continue to cloud the outlook for investors and companies alike. However, a positive start to the second quarter earnings season buoyed relative US performance. The Federal Reserve (Fed) acted late in the month to cut interest rates by 25 basis points, but Fed chair Jerome Powell said the cut is “not the beginning of a long series of rate cuts”. Investors expecting greater commitment to policy slack were disappointed. Risk appetites dwindled and the US dollar rallied.
The US economy remains on a path of waning growth. Real GDP (which is adjusted for inflation) rose at an annual rate of 2.1% in Q2, a significant slowdown from the 3.1% growth rate recorded in Q1. The July flash composite purchasing managers’ index (PMI)  inched up by 0.1 to 51.6, with service sector activity offsetting the weakest manufacturing reading since 2009. 164,000 jobs were added to the economy according to the July nonfarm payrolls, which was in line with estimates. Unemployment remains extremely low.
By sector, communication services and information technology performed well over the month, primarily on better-than-expected earnings for Texas Instruments and Alphabet. The energy sector was weaker over the month, with healthcare also among the laggards.
Eurozone shares were virtually flat in July with the MSCI EMU index returning 0.1%. Top gaining sectors included information technology and consumer staples, boosted by strong Q2 results from companies including Nokia and Danone. Energy and financials were among those that declined. Deutsche Bank reported its largest quarterly loss since 2015 and announced 18,000 job cuts as part of a restructuring plan.
Data showed the eurozone economy expanded by just 0.2% in Q2, slowing from a growth rate of 0.4% in Q1. Annual inflation dropped to 1.1% in July from 1.3% in June. The European Central Bank (ECB) indicated that it was drawing up plans to stimulate the economy given the weak growth and below-target inflation. A package of stimulus measures, including possible rate cuts, is expected to be announced in September. Christine Lagarde, currently head of the International Monetary Fund, was nominated to replace Mario Draghi as president of the ECB when his term ends on 31 October.
The European Commission decided not to take disciplinary action against Italy over its budget deficit after concluding that the Rome government is no longer in breach of the EU's fiscal rules. Spain may face a further general election this year as the Socialist (PSOE) party failed to agree on forming a coalition with Podemos.
The UK was one of the best performing major stock markets over July, in local currency terms. Sterling fell sharply as a result of increased Brexit uncertainty which provided a boost for overseas earners at the top end of the market. Merger and acquisition activity was also supportive.
A number of large cap companies which are perceived to have dependable growth prospects extended their strong year-to-date gains amid concerns around the outlook for the global economy. The share prices of these so-called “quality growth” stocks have risen far more quickly than their earnings.
Sterling was weak on renewed fears of a disorderly EU departure after Boris Johnson came to power as the UK’s new prime minister on a "do or die" pledge to achieve Brexit on 31 October. Meanwhile, figures from the Office for National Statistics revealed GDP rebounded 0.3% in May, following a 0.4% contraction in April.
Markit’s UK manufacturing purchasing managers’ index (PMI) slipped to 48.0 in June, from 49.4 in May. Meanwhile the services PMI fell to 50.2, close to the 50 level which separates contraction from expansion, stoking fears of a further loss of momentum in the economy’s dominant consumer-exposed sector. On a positive note, retail sales rebounded in June, defying expectations for another month-on-month decline.
The Japanese stock market ended the month with a total return of 0.9%. The yen was marginally weaker against the US dollar in July, although this move was sharply reversed on the first day of August following the cut in US interest rates.
The main domestic event was the Upper House elections which were won comfortably by Mr Abe‘s Liberal Democratic Party. However, the party fell just short of the two-thirds majority, which would have facilitated Mr Abe’s pursuit of constitutional reform. More importantly for equity investors, the result confirmed continuity of policy for the foreseeable future, and effectively removed any remaining uncertainty over the rise in consumption tax in October.
The Bank of Japan made no changes to policy or guidance but the accompanying statements suggest a more proactive stance is possible if the yen were to appreciate to a level that threatened to impact the real economy. Data released in July generally confirmed the existing outlook for Japan, although industrial production data was weaker than expected.
Trade disruption and the global economic slowdown continue to impact Japanese corporate results and future guidance. The reporting season for the quarter ended June 2019 was well underway by the end of July, with a slightly negative bias and the likelihood of a quarter-on-quarter decline in aggregate earnings. Although most of these factors are already priced in to the equity market, companies are likely to maintain a conservative approach to their full-year guidance.
Asia (ex Japan)
Asian shares, as measured by the MSCI Asia ex Japan index, registered a negative return in July. Q2 earnings results and economic data for the region were mixed.
South Korea, where a trade dispute with Japan weighed on the outlook, and India were the weakest index markets. In India, the Union Budget announcement was disappointing while economic data and initial earnings season results were lacklustre. Thailand also lagged, as the market fell back following strong performance in June.
Conversely, Taiwan posted a solid gain, led higher by IT stocks which continued to be impacted by US-China trade developments. The easing of US restrictions on Chinese telecoms company Huawei boosted sentiment somewhat. Indonesia and the Philippines finished in positive territory and outperformed. China posted a small negative return but outperformed the MSCI Asia ex Japan index. Trade talks with the US resumed albeit little progress was achieved. However, economic data for June saw some recovery.
Emerging market equities fell back in July, with US dollar strength a headwind. The MSCI Emerging Markets index decreased in value and underperformed the MSCI World.
South Korea was the weakest index market amid a trade dispute with Japan. President Trump’s criticism of the country’s special status at the World Trade Organisation (WTO) also exacerbated ongoing concerns over trade and global growth. South Korea is deemed a developing country under the WTO regime. India underperformed following a disappointing Union Budget announcement. Mexico, where the finance minister resigned citing differences with the president, and the Andean markets of Chile and Peru also lagged.
By contrast, Turkey registered a robust return as the central bank cut interest rates by 425bps to 19.75%; more than an expected 250bps cut. Brazil posted a positive return amid progress in pension reform progress. Taiwan also outperformed, led higher by technology stocks, which continued to be affected by sentiment towards the US-China trade dispute.
Expectations of an interest rate cut in the US continued to build as the 31 July Fed policy meeting came into view. As the meeting drew closer investors seemed all but certain of a 25 basis point (bps) cut, with some expecting 50 bps. The Fed implemented a 25 bps cut at its meeting, taking rates to 2.00-2.25%, but tempered expectations of further rate cuts.
US 10-year Treasury yields finished the month unchanged, following the significant drop year-to-date. US retail sales, labour market and core consumer inflation data were firm, while manufacturing indicators were comparatively weak.
In Europe, the German 10-year yield fell seven bps to -0.40% and the French 10-year yield fell 17bps to -0.18%. The Italian 10-year yield was over 50bps lower. While the ECB kept its monetary policy settings unchanged, it hinted that further accommodation could be announced in September. European industrial production data produced a positive surprise, but overall data remained muted.
Boris Johnson was confirmed as the UK’s new prime minister, which appears to raise the possibility of a more extreme Brexit outcome. The UK 10-year gilt yield, having lagged in previous months, fell 20bps. The Bank of England (BoE) continues to view Brexit as a binary risk to its economic outlook.
Corporate bonds had another positive month, across both investment grade (IG) and high yield (HY), outperforming government bonds. The difference, or spread, between corporate over government yields narrowed. In IG, the euro and sterling markets performed particularly well, helped by the downward moves in rates.
Emerging market (EM) bonds had another positive month. The US dollar strengthened, rebounding after June’s drop, but certain EM currencies performed well given the prospect of lower US rates.
In commodities, the S&P GSCI Spot index was down in July, with US dollar strength a headwind. Soft commodities were weak, most notably wheat and corn prices. Industrial metals recorded a small gain, supported by a rally in nickel and steel prices. The energy component of the index posted a marginally positive return, underpinned by a rally in natural gas prices. Brent crude was slightly lower. Precious metals posted a solid gain, amid a 6.2% rally in gold spot prices.
The value of investments and the income from them may go down as well as up and investors may not get back the amounts originally invested.
The purchasing managers’ index is based on survey data from companies in the manufacturing and service sectors. A reading above 50 indicates expansion while a reading under 50 indicates contraction.
 Investment grade bonds are the highest quality bonds as determined by a credit ratings agency. High yield bonds are more speculative, with a credit rating below investment grade.
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