Markets were buoyed in July by data from the US suggesting that inflation may have peaked. All asset classes enjoyed strong returns and we saw a sharp rebound in segments of the market which were previously sold down on the back of inflation fears, such as the technology sector. During the month we observed a sharp reversal in short-term price momentum indicators which turned from red to bright green suggesting market sentiment had turned positive. So, is this the start of the next bull market or is it a false start with more pain is to come?
Despite the uptick in market performance, if we look at the data, not much has changed. Inflation still remains high, the market continues to price in interest rate rises and there is evidence that the global economy is slowing. While we are starting to see some ‘green shoots’ in terms of the external drivers that have contributed to inflation showing some signs of easing, such as the improvement in global supply chains, the jury is still out as to the effectiveness of the current rate hiking cycle on controlling inflation. Since July the US Federal Reserve has reconfirmed their commitment to rate rises until they see clear evidence of inflation abating. Furthermore, we may see more aggressive quantitative tightening (QT), which in effect seeks to reduce central bank balance sheets to fight inflation. This has resulted in a resumption of market volatility. There are also the ‘X-Factors’ such as the conflict in Ukraine and the resultant pressure on energy prices, as well as the growing tensions between China and the West in relation to Taiwan. Both ‘X-Factor’ events are unpredictable and are contributing to the inflationary pressures we are currently observing.
The global economy is already showing signs of slowing with consumer sentiment falling, construction under increased pressure, and indicators such as PMIs (Purchasing Managers Index) showing signs of weakening. If central banks overshoot in their rate hikes, the economic slowdown will be more pronounced with a potentially deeper recession than the current expected shallow recession.
From a portfolio perspective, we continue to keep our portfolios well diversified across key asset classes. We expect more of the same in the coming six months with markets overreacting to short-term news, be it positive or negative, as markets try to navigate where inflation will land. We are continuing to look for evidence of inflation peaking and subsequent stabilisation of bond yields. Staffing remains an issue across sectors and companies are more hesitant in providing forward guidance. We are also closely watching company earnings. To date, companies have been able to pass on rising costs to the end consumer. However, the extent to which this will continue is yet to be seen.