With the only certainty being uncertainty, markets have maintained their composure through the escalation of US trade developments with China.
Generally speaking, risk assets performed well in July with most global equity markets posting solid gains. Significantly, “value”, as a style factor, performed well compared to “growth”, which benefitted our core global equity holding (Schroder QEP Blend Strategy) which has an inherent value bias and which has been hurt for some time by the persistent outperformance of “growth” and “momentum” over “value”. Credit spreads retraced some of their losses with global high yield having a decent month despite relatively narrow spreads and evidence of broader fundamental and technical deterioration. While bond yields moved higher in July, our very modest duration positioning of 0.7 years helped protect the portfolio from this negative drag.
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June was a challenging month as markets were buffeted by trade war tensions. Early in the month, President Trump imposed steel and aluminium tariffs on Europe, Canada and Mexico, prompting each country to retaliate with tariffs on US products. The Trump administration also announced a $US34bn list of Chinese goods that will be subject to tariffs beginning July 6.
Diverging economic trends saw a widening gap between global central banks, with the US Federal Reserve signalling more aggression in its policy tightening, and while the European Central Bank indicated it will end its bond purchases in December, it made clear interest rates will remain at their present level until at least the middle of 2019, if not longer. The June quarter also saw Italian politics cause volatility in bond markets as anti-establishment parties formed a government.
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Markets were dominated by geopolitical events in May, driving volatility over the month. The biggest impact came from Italy where the reverberations from the March 4 election continue. A power struggle between the Eurosceptic populists — strong performers during the March election — and the President saw fears rise of another election and the potential of a populist win. This led markets to price in the risk of an Italian departure from the European Union.
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While the risk of inflation and the overpricing of assets remain concerns, we consider geopolitical risk at the same time. Here we explore one example of how we look at the international political and economic landscape, through an analysis of China’s changing position in the economic world order.
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The pick-up in volatility that began in February continued into March with most major equity markets posting low single digit losses. Australian equities were amongst the worst performers dropping around 4% in local currency terms. All major sectors declined, with the more defensive sectors outperforming. This trend was also reflected in credit markets with credit spreads generally moving wider across the month. Bond yields drifted lower in March, but given the weakness evident in risk assets over the period, the rally was relatively modest. Despite trade war fears and equity weakness the US dollar recovered a touch in March, with the AUD losing ground. GBP also gained ground amid UK Brexit negotiations.
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