January Monthly Note
Inflation in the UK may have finally peaked, with the latest inflation print coming in at 10.7% against 11.1% for the previous month. Inflation in the UK has remained stubbornly high and above that of most other major developed economies. High inflation has led to a raft of industrial action across much of the public sector, who are demanding pay increases at least in line with, and in some cases much more, than the current rate of inflation. The government have so far refused to engage in negotiations that would see anything close to the pay increases demanded by unions, citing tough public finances. Expect this confrontation to continue for some time to come until a deal can be reached, if possible.
US inflation also came down, from 7.7% to 7.1%, which equity markets took positively. The Federal Reserve, however, have continued to make it clear that they will not slow down their monetary tightening until core inflation is at a more appropriate level. Historically, this has meant that interest rates have always ended up higher than core inflation before the Fed begins easing policy, which implies we still have a way to go yet before the Fed are comfortable.
The Chinese government have made steps to end covid restrictions which have seen the domestic economy suffer greatly as much of the rest of the world returned to life broadly as normal. Harsh lockdowns and quarantine requirements have now been lifted following heavy public opposition and protesting. However, Chinese hospitals are now overwhelmed with covid patients as the population faces sudden exposure after years of lockdowns. If the country can overcome the initial troubles from reopening, expect Chinese economic growth to take a turn for the better in the coming months.
The macro backdrop for risk assets has shifted this year. Equities have come under pressure from higher inflation rates and recession fears as central banks have entered into a rate hiking cycle. Some value equities offer more protection against these threats compared with their growth peers, as they tend to benefit most from strong recoveries after recession and trade on lower earnings multiples. We are taking a more cautious approach to portfolio positioning for a possible recession. We still like selective growth stocks where there remains true innovation and potential for change, especially recent trends in consumer behaviour that were accelerated by the pandemic, but prefer value equities on the whole. We have also lowered our overall equity weighting to neutral. Fixed income remains unattractive given record low (and negative) real yields and the thin spread between sovereigns and corporates offering little in the way of reward for risk. Bonds remain an important diversifier in our portfolios, but given current yields the return profile looks unappealing, with downside risk in long-dated government bonds remaining elevated given the outlook for interest rates and recent commentary from major investment banks regarding monetary tightening. Low duration bonds therefore look the more appealing investment, along with inflation-linked bonds which offer some protection to rising inflation. Duration will become appealing again as market participants shift their primary concern away from inflation and towards growth fears, however we are cautious in our positioning here. We also hold an allocation to cash to offset some of this fixed income risk. We have also been adding ‘alternative’ assets to the portfolios, which offer low-to-negative correlations to traditional asset classes (stocks and bonds) and give the potential to protect during times of significant market volatility, such as we are seeing at present.
We expect the UK to continue its outperformance in global equity markets. The UK market is very value-tilted and despite this year’s positive relative performance is still highly attractive on a valuations basis. The UK economy has also recovered well from the pandemic, though economic growth is faltering. The main driver of UK equity outperformance will be relative valuations.
There is good value to be found in European equities, however with war on the continent and the ECB lagging significantly in its inflation outlook and response, there are many headwinds on the horizon for European stocks. Many European equities are also vulnerable to rising interest rates, as debt levels are significant, and many will default if unable to restructure their payments. We remain underweight here for now.
The US represents poorer value relative to the rest of the world due to the high proportion of tech companies that still command a multiple far in excess of the broader market, however it also has the best long-term earnings growth and some of the most outstanding quality companies, as well as the most innovative. In times of global stress, the US also tends to act as a safe haven investment, which props up markets. We believe the US will remain an attractive investment option in the long-term, but with some obvious headwinds making us more cautious. President Biden has made no secret of his desire to increase tax rates, and the Federal Reserve have been clear they will not be getting any more accommodative.
We believe Japan to be an extremely poor environment for equity performance. The Japanese economy is predicted to grow at the slowest pace of all regions, in addition with a declining and ageing population, the prospect of future economic expansion looks unlikely. Thus, we expect poor relative equity performance from Japan. In the short-term, attractive valuations in the region may boost markets, but this will likely be short-lived.
Asia Pacific and Emerging Markets are predicted to see exceptionally strong GDP growth over the next year, but are struggling with the pandemic, particularly those countries who are not so able to distribute vaccinations to their populations. We remain concerned at the decreasing Chinese stimulus, together with regulatory crackdowns, investments in China require careful monitoring. However, the recent selloff in Chinese markets looks overdone given the longer-term outlook for the economy, and we remain positive on the emerging markets growth story in the long-term, and thus are comfortable maintaining an overweight position. The more recent remarks from the Chinese government have been positive, but must be taken with a pinch of salt. We currently like frontier markets as a more attractive investment option within the emerging markets universe.
The opinions expressed in this update are those of A&J Wealth Management Limited only, as at 3rd January 2023, and are subject to change.
The content of this publication is for information purposes and should not be treated as a forecast, research, or advice to buy or sell any particular investment or to adopt any investment strategy. It does not provide personal advice based on an assessment of your own circumstances. Any views expressed are based on information received from a variety of sources which we believe to be reliable but are not guaranteed as to accuracy or completeness. Any expressions of opinion are subject to change without notice.
Past performance is not a reliable indicator of future results. Investing involves risk and the value of investments, and the income from them, may fall as well as rise and are not guaranteed. Investors may not get back the original amount invested.
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