THIRD QUARTER 2017 RETROSPECTIVE AND PROSPECTIVE
Ten Years Later
“In economics, things take longer than you think they will, and then they happen faster than you thought they could.”- Rudiger Dornbusch
It has been ten years since the great financial crisis. In the US, the S&P 500 peaked on October 9, 2007. The Canadian market continued its upward trajectory into the following year peaking in June as energy stocks were buoyed by high oil prices. While the bull market leading up to 2008 had duration of about five years, the current bull market has gone on for ten years without any significant setback.
Global stock markets generally continued their upward bias in the third quarter of 2017. The US market gained 4.5% as measured by the S&P 500 Total Return Index in US dollars. A strong Canadian dollar had the effect of subduing that return to 0.5% when expressed in Canadian currency. With the exception of Spain and the UK, European markets were positive. Asian markets were very strong in US dollar terms with the Hong Kong market up 6.9% and China’s market up 4.9%. The Japanese market was pulled into positive territory by a very strong September (up 3.6%) bringing the quarter to 1.6%. Resource heavy markets such as those of Latin America, Australia and Canada improved as commodity prices generally improved. The Toronto Stock Exchange recorded an advance of 3.7% led by Energy (5.7%), Consumer Discretionary (4.2%) and Financials (3.7%).
|Canadian Dollar||US Dollar|
|Toronto Stock Exchange||2.4%||-1.6%||3.7%||4.4%|
|91 Day T-Bill||0.1%||0.1%||0.1%||0.3%|
* Europe, Asia and Far East Index
** Canadian Universe Bond Index
Global economic growth continues to strengthen in both the developed and emerging economies although at subpar levels compared with traditional recoveries. As central banks have cautiously raised interest rates, bond prices have come under pressure. Wage demands in the developed countries have not accelerated as inflationary expectations have remained low and productivity improvements have been driven by technology. In this environment, central banks may temper their enthusiasm to normalize interest rates and reduce their bloated balance sheets. Both the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) are forecasting modestly better growth in 2018.
Among the advanced economies, Canada has posted strong growth primarily due to higher commodity prices. The Canadian dollar has appreciated against other currencies as our interest rates have gone up faster than other countries. This strength in the Canadian dollar has served to lower the returns from foreign investments.
In this environment, stock markets have continued to advance. The S&P 500 in the US has hit new highs surpassing levels from before the economic crisis. Valuation levels have also hit high levels making the search for new investment ideas challenging. Overall, we have been taking more profits than reinvesting funds, causing cash levels to increase.
A number of factors could come into play that would precipitate a more meaningful market correction than we have seen in the last ten years.
Foremost in Canadian concerns has been the resumption of NAFTA negotiations. Since the Brexit vote and the start of the Trump presidency, a backlash against global free trade has been evident, causing uncertainty in the business community, thus dampening the appetite for capital investment.
Other geopolitical factors are also of concern. North Korea’s nuclear threat and heightened discord with the US has been very prominent in the headlines as have tensions in the Middle East, Venezuela, Spain, Russia and the Ukraine. Monetary concerns in Greece, Italy, Spain and Portugal have not gone away.
Technology is also having an increasing impact on businesses and consumers. Disruptions in the retail trade are changing the way supply and delivery systems operate. The hotel and taxi industries are threatened by innovations such as Uber and AirBnB. Financial technology is changing traditional banking. Artificial Intelligence (AI) threatens to cause massive changes in employment.
Demographics are also going to have an affect on employment and retirement as well as government finances. As the population ages, the growing shortfalls in funding for health care and pensions will become critical.
All of these factors lead us to exercise caution and prudence in our investment practices. We will continue to scour for well financed, well managed and reasonably priced companies in which to place our funds.
THIRD QUARTER 2017 FIXED INCOME COMENTARY
“Be thankful we’re not getting all the government we’re paying for!” ~ Will Rogers
Fixed income markets have started to react to the shifting winds of interest rate policies. With two rate hikes so far this year and indications that the Federal Reserve will be slowly unwinding its quantitative easing program, the trend seems to be firmly in the tightening mode. In light of this, markets are now considering the increasing likelihood of one more hike in December by the Federal Reserve.
As we have stated in the past, much depends on economic variables both domestic and international. Similarly, the potential impact of geopolitical events can have outsized shock effects on markets.
While President Trump has not been much of a supporter of Chairman Yellen, whose term expires in January 2018, it may well be that a steady hand at the tiller will win the day. As Vice Chair Stanley Fischer has recently resigned due to personal reasons, there are now two other vacancies in the Reserve. Filling the Board to its full complement in a short period with members who may not be as well known in the markets, could cause turbulence.
In Canada, Governor Poloz’s seven year term has three more years to run. Influences on his decision making may well be coming from domestic economic factors which may be heavily influenced by the impact of changing trade agreements and taxation policies.
The situation in Europe remains unclear. Chancellor Merkel’s majority has been significantly reduced by the ascendancy of the nationalist AfD party. Their ascendancy may not directly affect her ability to form a government; however it will influence her political decision making going forward. Increased caution will likely be the German approach to a number of vexing European issues.
The enormity of the Brexit project is starting to sink in and indications are surfacing that there may not be enough time for an orderly negotiated divorce. The spectre of a disorderly breakup is definitely focusing the attention of various financial institutions and international corporations who are making their own alternative plans in the absence of a clear direction from officials.
The total return performance of the bond market as measured by the FTSE TMX Canada Universe Bond Index for the third quarter was a decline of 1.8%. 91-day Treasury bills returned 0.1% over the same period. The benchmark ten-year Government of Canada bond yield increased by 0.35% over the course of the quarter to end with a yield of 2.1%. During the third quarter the Canadian dollar appreciated by 3 cents from 77.1 cents US to 80.1 cents US.
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