July market commentary

January 2024 Market Commentary

Where else to begin than to wish you all a very happy New Year. We trust you had a fun, restful and replenishing break, and you’re excited about the opportunities that present in the year ahead. This author certainly is, though having eaten my own bodyweight in Roses over the festive period, I can’t yet claim to have hit the ground running!

Turning to investments and we observe the dazzling performance from both global stocks and bonds continued in December, rounding out an impressive final quarter for capital markets. Indeed, this performance pattern echoed those for the full year, with the smart recovery enjoyed in 2023 following a miserable 2022. Scratching beneath the surface and, once again, it was US stocks that lead the way. Less encouraging, but still positive returns were posted by UK stocks, as lacklustre performance from the dominant oil majors weighed on the overall index. It was, however, Chinese markets that delivered the biggest disappointments, as the post-covid reopening soon fizzled and the absence of meaningful stimulus kept the housing market under pressure.

Just as in November, confirming evidence of the disinflationary trends i.e., lower inflation, and the moderating (but still positive) growth backdrop appeared catalysts for improving market sentiment. In December, however, the positive sentiment was reinforced by communication efforts from the US Federal Reserve Chair, Jay Powell, who informed interest rate cuts would be appropriate, in 2024, if disinflationary trends persisted. Inflationary data this side of the Atlantic also opened the door for more accommodative language from the Bank of England and European Central Bank, though each choose to retain a more neutral-to-hawkish tone.

The Federal Reserve’s relative dovishness, however, was interpreted as a show of confidence in the battle against inflation, putting interest rate hikes firmly in the rear-view mirror and increasing hopes of an economic ‘soft-landing’. In a ‘soft-landing’ scenario inflation falls fast enough to allow central banks to cut interest rates quickly enough to stimulate (rather than restrict) the economy and prevent unemployment from rising (at least meaningfully), and a recession is avoided.

Such an achievement is a rare feat; however, it is our expectation the disinflationary trends can persist, and that economic growth can remain resilient (supported by high levels of employment), allowing markets to ride the ‘soft-landing’ wave for (perhaps several) months ahead. But it is important to stress there are non-negligible risks to this narrative. Whilst there is good reason to believe healing supply chains, housing market weakness and cracks in the labour market can prolong the disinflationary trend, hopes growth can remain positive throughout 2024 may be a step too far.

No doubt the market has been surprised by the resilience of the economy to prior interest rate hikes, but the ‘long and variable lags’ to policy changes should remain front of mind. Whilst certain mortgage deals may allow segments of the economy to avoid the full force of interest rate hikes, not every consumer will be in such a fortuitous position. What is more, many channels of financing, such as credit cards, overdrafts and corporate lending will be much more sensitive to interest rate changes and will continue to bite into the economy as we move through 2024.

Alongside risks to growth, we recognise an early pivot by the Federal Reserve may bolster consumer and corporate confidence too soon, reigniting demand, and inflationary pressures along with it. Such an outcome would put interest rate hikes firmly back on the table and, in anticipation of a more punishing recession, would likely be received poorly by markets.

Geopolitical challenges which threaten an oil price resurgence, such as those in the Middle East, may yet compound this reflationary threat too (and the policy challenge for central banks). Investors should brace themselves, therefore, for a more volatile period ahead, as markets fret between extremes of soft-landing euphoria, inflation resurgence and recession.

Yet, even in recession, we would argue all may not be lost for equity investors. Of most comfort would be the hope any such recession wouldn’t be as severe as more recent episodes. This more benign view hinges upon the apparent absence of major economic imbalances i.e. corporations and households don’t (in aggregate) appear to be facing quite such daunting refinancings challenges (except maybe UK mortgage holders) as in prior economic cycles.

Relative to stocks for example, high quality corporate and government bonds might offer a more defensive return profile in the face of less encouraging growth outcomes, particularly given the increase in yields observed over recent months. Alternative asset classes also help diversify portfolios in a more troubling period for stock markets.

Kind regards,

iPensions Wealth Team



Investment risks

Past performance is not a guide to future returns. The value of investments and any income may go down as well as up This may be partly the result of exchange rate fluctuations) and an investor may not get back the full amount invested. The information, data, analysis, and opinions presented herein are provided as of the date written and are subject to change without notice. Every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of the information provided, but iPensions Wealth Limited makes no warranty, express or implied regarding such information.

Important Information

This communication is for iPensions Wealth Clients only and is not for general consumer use.

Where individuals or the business have expressed opinions, they are based on current market conditions, they may differ from those of other investment professionals and are subject to change without notice. This document is marketing material and is not intended as a recommendation to invest in any particular asset class, security or strategy. The commentary does not constitute investment, legal, tax or other advice and is supplied for information purposes only.

Issued by iPensions Wealth Limited, Second Floor, Marshall House, 2 Park Avenue, Sale, M33 6HE, UK. Authorised and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority.