The investing environment could hardly be more challenging. Global economic activity is slowing, Western developed economies are flirting with recession, inflationary pressures are extremely elevated, and Western central banks remain committed to raising interest rates in a concerted effort to bring them under control. The geopolitical backdrop is still as dark as ever; the war in Ukraine continues, China’s bellicose threats against the United States ahead of House speaker, Mrs Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Asia have become more pointed. Europe faces a natural gas shortage over the coming winter, Dr Mario Draghi’s Italian government has collapsed, while in the UK, the same fate has befallen Mr Boris Johnson’s administration.
More than 200 years ago, a French military officer stumbled across the Rosetta Stone, a 2000-year-old carving with clues to deciphering the Egyptian hieroglyphs that had puzzled the world for centuries. We don’t exactly have a Rosetta Stone for our perplexing market’s future – no one does. But just as the Rosetta Stone opened a window into Egypt’s mysterious past, we have some clues that might help investors crack the code in the coming months.
Every year is different from what you expect, and that is particularly true in financial markets. It is easier to say over the first five months of 2022 which investment areas have lost you money, especially if you also factor in the enhanced inflationary backdrop. There will always be some element of volatility in financial market investment, but it still plays the most essential role in any pension fund portfolio or medium-term financial target. What really matters is maintaining confidence during times of uncertainty.
Whilst the spring weather continues to warm, plenty of financial sector issues continue to worry global investors across both equity and bond markets. Meanwhile heightened inflation levels continued to impact bank account balances, and the war in Ukraine has led to many tragedies along with heightened geopolitical, commodity and supply concerns.
It has been 60 years since the Beatles signed their first record deal. The rock group from Liverpool dominated the industry for nearly a decade – and long after that as individual performers. John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, and Ringo Starr created timeless tunes and memorable messages that we can borrow today to portray our economic and financial market outlook.
If a week is a long time in politics, then the near five months since Rishi Sunak’s second 2021 Budget feels close to a lifetime. Back on 27 October, it looked like 2022 would be a year of recovery in which the pandemic faded in the rear-view mirror and ‘transitory’ inflation duly transited to lower levels. It has not worked out like that.
Events in Eastern Europe over the last week have correctly dominated TV, radio, newspaper and online news. It also meant that almost all equity or bond investors made losses during February, many for the second consecutive month unless – like the U.K. equity market – there was high proportional exposure to commodity sector shares.
There is a famous quote by the legendary Belgian professional cyclist Eddy Merckx that he “raced from 1 February to 31 October every year, competed for everything”. Unfortunately for financial markets there is never a defined season, and, whilst 2021 ended positively, January 2022 will go down into the history books as being a little bit more difficult.
October was generally a positive month for global equity markets, helping to push many developed market indices to new 2021 highs. Whilst COVID-19 challenges remained material and new concerns about gas prices, petrol availability and general delivery concerns became more apparent during the month, so far the average third-quarter corporate earnings season number has been taken well. However, most fixed income markets have continued to struggle this year, even if many 10-year bond yields have not yet returned to levels seen earlier this year.