7th February 2023
Inflation rates continue to rise
Surprises don’t sit well with markets. Thankfully, central banks met investors’ expectations and delivered the expected messages and rate rises last week.
The US Federal Reserve announced a 0.25% rise, which is a slowdown from earlier hikes. Elsewhere, rates were increased by half a percentage point by the European Central Bank (ECB) and the Bank of England (BoE). Tellingly, the BoE changed its prior guidance that rates will probably increase once more.
Jerome Powell, the chair of the Federal Reserve, said that the committee planned to tighten policy even further and that there was still “a long way to go” before declaring victory against inflation. The market response, however, implies that they are already motivated by the notion that inflation has reached its peak and the fact that the global economy would be slowed by the lagging impact of rate rises, requiring these hikes to be reversed later in the year.
Highs and lows for global stocks
Is that a light at the end of the tunnel for investors? Well, there’s certainly some positivity as global share markets have continued to rise. Despite a decline on Friday with the revelation that the US economy generated 517,000 jobs last month – more than double the consensus estimate – the S&P 500 Index is currently up about 8% in 2023. Investors believe that a weaker labour market will be crucial in bringing down the high inflation rate.
The STOXX Europe 600 Index is beginning the year with its strongest start ever. And the week came to a close with the FTSE 100 Index ending at a record high, boosted by optimism of declining inflation and that a weak pound will benefit UK businesses operating overseas. Energy and banking businesses, which make the majority of their money abroad, dominate the index.
In the wake of the ECB’s interest rate announcement, 10-year German bonds had their largest gain in more than a decade, while bond markets have also soared so far this year. This occurred despite early-week reports that the German economy suddenly declined in the fourth quarter.
Risk of market overconfidence
The possibility of markets moving too quickly and outrunning central bank policy actions before they have the chance to catch up could put investors at risk. Mark Dowding of BlueBay warned:
“In the short term, improving sentiment could lead to an outcome where it appears that higher interest rates are having relatively little bearing on the economy.
“Paradoxically, we might observe that the stronger the economy and markets at the start of the year, then the weaker the outlook for both will be later in 2023. Conversely, if things looked materially weaker now, then this could be more of a harbinger of a stronger second half of the year.”
The value of global equities has already recovered $4 trillion this year following a $14 trillion loss in 2022. Four calendar years, including last year, have seen the US stock market lose more than 15% since 1950. The market increased 12.9% on average in the year that followed each loss, however, highlighting the fact that strong years typically come after poor ones – and the significance of investors maintaining their composure.
2023 outlook for the UK economy
The International Monetary Fund (IMF) raised its projection on Tuesday for global growth in 2023, citing robust demand in the US and Europe as well as the reopening of China’s economy. But the IMF presented a gloomy picture for the UK, predicting that it will be the only advanced or developing economy to shrink this year.
High energy expenses, rising mortgage costs, more taxes and ongoing labour shortages were cited as reasons for the decline. This year, an estimated 1.7 million mortgages are anticipated to approach the end of their fixed-term rate, and the hike in rates is predicted to result in repayment increases of an average of £250 per month.
Unfortunately for those who want to save money, banks have not been eager to increase interest rates on savings accounts. Moneyfacts reports that the typical instant access account still only pays 1.73%. That may be the best-case scenario if interest rates truly are at or approaching their peak.
In corporate headlines, Alphabet, Apple and Amazon all reported poor earnings on Thursday, echoing Microsoft the week before. Facebook’s owner Meta resisted the grim technological trend, declaring better-than-expected results. The stock increased by as much as 26%, which was the largest one-day increase in almost a decade.
Economic effects of low work motivation and early retirement
Last but not least, the Bank of England warned in its statement last week of the long-term negative effects on the economy as a result of early retirees and those who have left work since 2020.
Lower productivity, meanwhile, is likely not just an issue raised by those who have ceased working. The setting of working from home may also play a part. BlueBay reported on data findings from Netflix, which found that the prime periods for streaming have changed from Sunday evenings to weekday afternoons. This raises suspicion of homeworkers who are disinterested or demotivated and may be ‘quietly quitting’.