We left you last month having reported on September as a month where ‘nothing much happened’ on the world’s stock markets. For many of the major markets October was much the same: only three of the twelve markets we cover were down in the month, but most managed only small gains. As you’ll see below, however, two markets were significantly ahead in the month.
Away from the stock markets the great and the good had their usual influence on world affairs. Whether either Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump qualify as ‘great’ or ‘good’ we’ll leave to your own political judgement, but the fact remains that Mr. Trump’s election as the 45th President of the United States will have a big impact on world markets, both in the short and long term. We’ll report fully on what that exact impact looks like when we look back on November in next month’s Commentary.
For now, we’re immediately entering the ‘lame duck’ period between November and January, when the new President is waiting to be sworn in and Barack Obama will be concentrating on his legacy and his Presidential library. Away from the election though, and a little closer to home, what else shaped the markets during October?
We now have confirmation that Theresa May intends to trigger Article 50 – and begin the two year process of leaving the EU – by March 2017. The debates over whether it will be a ‘Hard Brexit’ or a ‘Soft Brexit,’ whether it will be challenged in the courts and whether parliament will have a veto, will rumble on. I will not weary you with them here.
The man charged with steering the UK economy through the period leading up to Brexit is new Chancellor Philip Hammond – aided by Bank of England Governor Mark Carney, who has now confirmed that he will remain in that position until 2019.
On 23rd November Philip Hammond will present his first Autumn Statement, which is expected to see significant investment in the UK’s infrastructure, as he seeks to protect the UK economy from the impact of leaving the EU. “Hammond to spend his way out of Brexit fallout,” as the Guardian put it.
The Government received a welcome piece of news at the end of the month when Nissan committed itself to its Sunderland plant, announcing plans to build both the Qashqai and the X-Trail SUV there, following Government “support and assurances.”
This was significant news and represents a big vote of confidence in the UK car industry: the Sunderland plant now produces more vehicles than the whole of the Italian car industry. The news came on the same day as the growth figures for the third quarter, which showed the UK economy growing by 0.5% in the immediate aftermath of Brexit. This was lower than the Q2 figure of 0.7%, but significantly ahead of the generally-expected 0.3%.
Figures released for September showed another good month for UK manufacturing, which grew at its fastest rate since June 2014. The Purchasing Managers’ Index rose to 55.4 in September from 53.4 in August (with any figure above 50 indicating expansion). Manufacturing and exports have been helped by the fall in the pound since the Brexit vote, and with the pound now down to $1.22 we can presumably expect this good news for the sector to continue.
There was also good news for the UK services sector, as the PMI for September came in at 52.6. This was slightly down on August’s 52.9 but still ahead of expectations.
UK inflation rose in September, up to 1% from 0.6% in August with rises in fuel and clothing pushing the rate up. The Bank of England has long had a target of 2% for inflation and it now looks like we are moving in that direction. The Office for National Statistics has said that the fall in the value of the pound is not yet responsible for the rise in inflation: October’s howls of outrage from the nation’s web designers and developers suggested otherwise as Apple unceremoniously hiked the price of a Mac.
Finally in ‘official’ news, the latest figures showed that UK unemployment had held steady at an eleven year low of 4.9% for the three months to August.
We’ve long written about the troubles at Tesco in this commentary: the shares jumped in September as sales improved but the company is now being sued by its own investors over the recent accounting scandals: and in what will be an increasingly common development for many companies, the pension scheme deficit doubled.
As for the FT-SE 100 index of leading shares, that hovered around the 7,000 mark for much of the month, but closed at 6,954 for a modest rise of 1% in October. It is however, up by 11% on a year-to-date basis.
Wallonia is the French speaking region of southern Belgium. According to Wikipedia it’s known for its medieval towns, Renaissance-era architecture and traditional Trappist beers. Well, they’ll have to add ‘blocking the EU-Canada trade deal’ to that list…
The EU and Canada began negotiating a trade deal in 2009. It would have eliminated 98% of tariffs between the EU and Canada and after seven years of negotiations was finally ready to be signed: and then the good people of Wallonia blocked it, saying that it gave too much power to multinationals and threatened local farmers and welfare. In the long run, Wallonia may be proved right, but in the best traditions of the EU a last-minute deal was done, and the treaty should now go ahead.
This incident echoed warnings from Professor Otmar Ising, the first economist of the European Central Bank, who gave a stark warning that that the ECB in particular and the wider European project in general was becoming “over-extended and unworkable.”
‘Over-extended and unworkable’ are precisely the adjectives which have been applied to Deutsche Bank of late, with the bank facing an $11bn fine in the US for mis-selling mortgage products and the shares dropping to a thirty year low. But German business and industry were quick to rally round the bank. A solution certainly needs to be found to Deutsche Bank’s problems: having effectively ruled out a rescue of any failing Italian banks, Angela Merkel would surely struggle to bail out a German bank.
October was a quiet month for the major European stock markets: both the German and French markets rose by 1% to 10,665 and 4,509 respectively. On a year-to-date basis Germany is down by just 1% while the French market is down 4%.
…And so to the land of the free and the home of the brave, where we now know the identity of the next Commander-in-Chief. Both candidates have been embroiled in controversy throughout their respective campaigns and Mr. Trump’s major challenge will be to unite a sharply divided country.
That is for next month, however: for now, the latest payroll figures for September were disappointing, with private employers adding 154,000 jobs in the month – below the 166,000 expected and the smallest monthly increase since April.
There was better news later in the month when it was confirmed that the US economy grew at its fastest pace for two years in the third quarter. For the three months to September the economy grew at an annual rate of 2.9%, with analysts having predicted just 2.5% – although the stronger-than-expected growth could mean that the Federal Reserve will now raise interest rates before the end of the year.
In company news, Microsoft shares surged to a record high as they continued to focus on ‘cloud computing’ and telecoms giant AT&T announced plans to buy entertainment group Time Warner for nearly $86bn – a deal that was questioned by both Presidential candidates and which will require regulatory approval.
On Wall Street the Dow Jones index was unimpressed by the mooted AT&T/Time Warner deal, and closed the month down 1% at 18,142. For the year as a whole it is up by 4%.
The Chinese Government set a target of 6.7% for economic growth this year. Wouldn’t you know it, in the third quarter the Chinese economy grew at … 6.7%. ‘If it seems too good to be true it is too good to be true’ is a maxim that rarely fails, and several commentators raised their eyebrows at this news. “The general performance was better than expected,” China’s National Bureau of Statistics commented.
But worries persist, especially about the levels of Chinese debt. At 260% of GDP it is worryingly high and October saw the International Monetary Fund warn about the extent of both corporate and personal debt. China is edging towards “a financial calamity” said the IMF and must “wean itself off addiction to debt.”
Despite that stark warning, business confidence in China increased again, with the People’s Bank of China reporting its business confidence index rising to 51.2 for the third quarter, up 2.2 percentage points from the previous quarter.
The words ‘stark warning’ bring us to South Korea and Samsung, where the company had to tell owners of Galaxy Note 7 to turn them off as the phone developed a worrying propensity to explode and/or catch fire. The company said it is “investigating.” It probably needs to do that quickly, as it saw $20bn wiped off its share value in two days.
Not surprisingly, this impacted the whole South Korean stock market which was down 2% in the month to 2,008. The Hong Kong market was down by a similar amount to 22,935, but China’s Shanghai Composite index rose 3% to 3,100. The real star in the region was Japan though, where the market rose 6% in October to end the month at 17,425.
So much for Japan’s 6% rise in the month. It was totally eclipsed by the performance of the Brazilian stock market, which rose 11% to close September at 64,925 where it is now up a very neat 50% for the year as a whole. Clearly, the market is confident that new President Michel Temer will sort out the economy.
The other two major emerging economies we cover turned in much more sedate performances. The Russian market was up 1% to 1,990 while the Indian stock market managed a gain of just 64 points to finish more or less unchanged at 27,930. On a year-to-date basis the two markets are respectively up by 13% and 7%.
We’ve already covered the distress of the UK’s creative sector as Apple Macs rose in price. We must also shed a tear for the nation’s model railway enthusiasts, as Hornby announced plans to raise prices for the first time in more than two years. The company has been making its model trains in China for more than twenty years and – with its international trading denominated in US dollars – the pound’s 17% devaluation against the dollar since June 23rd has inevitably meant a price hike.
So if you are a web designer who spends his weekend with a model of the Flying Scotsman, we extend our sympathies – especially if you own an exploding Samsung. Perhaps the answer is to move to Wallonia, where you can at least console yourself with a traditional Trappist beer…