Stock Market Outlook 2016 – Can Politics Trump Economics?
“Politics is the art of looking for trouble, finding it everywhere, diagnosing it incorrectly and applying the wrong remedies.” –Groucho Marx
“The expected rarely occurs and never in the expected manner.”- Vernon A. Walters
It didn’t go the way the pundits predicted. As the second quarter came to a close, people in the UK voted to exit (Brexit) the European Union by a narrow margin. Despite the narrow differences in the polls, global markets and the mainstream press indicated that the opposite outcome would prevail in the days leading up to the vote.
Investors hate uncertainty. The immediate reaction to the Brexit vote was severe and negative. However, stocks recovered to a great extent over the following week.
In North America, stock markets ended the quarter in positive territory. The Canadian market was up considerably with very strong results in the Materials (+26.9%), Energy (+9.5%) and Utilities (+7.0%). The laggards in Canada were primarily in Health Care (-15.3%) and Information Technology (-5.9%). In the US, Energy (+10.8%), Utilities (+5.9%), Telecommunications (+5.9%) and Health Care (+5.8%) lead the way while Information Technology (-3.3%) and Consumer Discretionary (-2.0%) lagged.
|Toronto Stock Exchange||4.5%||5.1%||9.8%|
|91 Day T-Bill||0.1%||0.1%||0.3%|
* Europe, Asia and Far East Index
** Canadian Bond Universe Index
The Brexit decision will continue to weigh on market sentiment for some time. The vote result was a wake-up call to politicians of every stripe as the rationale for the outcome is debated and dissected. The vote reflects an underlying current of discontent within populations in the developed democracies as politicians have sought to engender resentment over wage stagnation, disappearing jobs and a growing inequality of outcomes. (Politicians looking for trouble and finding it everywhere.) The result has been a focus on the very trends that have sustained wealth and economic growth over the post-WWII period: globalization, free trade and migration. The same style of political rhetoric is evident in the US as they prepare for the presidential election in November.
While a divorce from the European Union, if indeed it ever comes to fruition, may take years to negotiate, investors will deal with the inherent uncertainty that will surround the negotiations. In the immediate aftermath of the vote, volatility increased as did bond prices as yields spiked lower and the US dollar increased in value along with gold as investors sought a safe haven. The British Pound is hovering near a thirty year low against the US dollar. Once the initial shock had subsided, share prices recovered as investors became reconciled to the fact that this will be a long process, the results of which may not be as devastating as the pictures painted by pundits prior to the vote.
Although overshadowed by Brexit at the end of the second quarter, other things of note were occurring during the period.
As noted in our last Retrospective and Prospective, the Federal Reserve in the US had gone from a more aggressive posture with respect to raising interest rates to a less certain posture by the end of the first quarter. In the second quarter, more evidence of a slowdown or weaker economy is likely to reduce the prospects of higher interest rates even more. On the positive side, the first quarter GDP figure was modestly higher and housing markets appeared to be firm. More banks passed tests of capital adequacy, improving prospects of dividend increases. However, both industrial production figures and capacity utilization figures disappointed investors as did unit labour costs and productivity numbers. Employment figures disappointed with large withdrawals of people from the workforce. Manufacturing inventories were higher than expected while auto sales declined.
Commodity prices strengthened over the quarter bolstering the shares of Material and Energy companies.
In Japan, sales tax increases were postponed due to fears of a weakening economy in the face of lower machine orders and lower exports.
In this environment, the yields of stronger issuers were pushed lower. In Germany, the 10 year bonds went into negative territory and Swiss bonds were driven to a negative yield all the way out to 50 years. There are now in excess of US$10 TRILLION in negative yield bonds in circulation!
Stock Market Outlook 2016 – In this environment, what is an investor to do?
The dynamics and benefits of a diversified portfolio are evident. As we witnessed during the Brexit aftermath, when stocks retreated, the value of the US dollar, gold and bonds went up. Assets react to events and capital flows to where it is treated best. The interplay between bond yields, credit spreads, stock prices, currencies and liquidity will continue to be impacted by economic conditions, energy and commodity prices, changes in central bank and political policies and demographics. Technology will continue to change the shape and nature of employment. As much as the Luddites would like to turn back the clock and take isolationist stances, technology will advance domestically and abroad.
Over the longer term, there will undoubtedly be winners and losers. Stronger companies will survive and prosper. During the Brexit incident, we placed bids below the market in order to try and capture opportunities that may have been presented.
Investors that are prepared will prosper.
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