The continued escalation of trade tensions between the US and China led to a further flight to the relative safety of the US dollar and depressed asset prices throughout the rest of the world. This was most apparent in declines of overseas currencies and investors punished those where there are large current account deficits and a reliance on overseas sources of funding. Investment returns have been mixed and the dispersion of returns in the second quarter an ongoing theme.
Europe has confirmed that it will end its Quantitative Easing program by the end of the year, although interest rates are not likely to climb until next year. UK interest rates were increased to 0.75%, the first hike of 2018, but no further move is expected until after Brexit. There are no signs that Japan is ready to end its Quantitative Easing program and it recently expanded the range of equities eligible for purchase.
Economic data have been mixed. The US has continued to outperform other regions. Whilst growth picked up in the UK and Japan, there remain some doubts about its sustainability in these countries. Leading indicators in China point towards lower GDP growth. There remains a risk of US tariffs rising to 25% on the full range of US – Chinese imports with the most pessimistic forecasts suggesting a 15% yuan devaluation and China’s current account going into deficit. Meanwhile in Europe, the economy remains relatively solid, although political issues still linger.
The US equity markets outperformed again. This came despite the US Federal Reserve raising interest rates again and the market is now becoming more confident in their outlook for higher rates over the next year.
UK markets posted negative total returns over the quarter and the FTSE 100 lost -0.7% with the more domestic based FTSE 250 down -1.8%. The US made the best overall returns in global equity markets, the S&P 500 making a total return of +8.9% when converted to sterling. Eurozone indices and broad based emerging market indices were roughly unchanged.
Government bond markets struggled as investors priced in the prospects for additional rate hikes, particularly in the US. Conventional Gilts made a total return of -2.0% with Index Linked Gilts down -1.4%. The only gains to be had were in High Yield which gained +1.9% and Strategic Bonds up +0.4%. Corporate Bonds were little changed, down -0.2%.
Gold fell by -4.4% in dollar terms over the quarter. The precious metal tends to struggle in an environment of rising real interest rates, although it remains valuable as a hedge within portfolios.