Prudential Investment Managers

Prudential Investment Managers

June 2019

VIDEO: Market Snapshot May 2019

Article Summary

Our Market Snapshot provides an overview of key events that influenced financial markets over the course of May 2019.

Global equity markets suffered a broad-based downturn in May following a new bout of tariff increases in the US-China trade war, exacerbated by growing concerns over the impact it will have on global growth. In the UK, Prime Minister Theresa May’s failure to successfully negotiate Brexit led to her forced resignation. Meanwhile, signs of an economic slowdown worsened in Germany, the EU’s largest economy, and in China. Amid the rise in risk-off investor sentiment, equities sold off sharply in favour of safe-haven assets, with the MSCI World Index returning -5.7% and the MSCI Emerging Markets Index delivering -7.2% (in US$). In South Africa, the ANC won the country’s national elections, with investors largely confident in Cyril Ramaphosa’s commitment to curtailing corruption and pursuing difficult economic reforms.

In the US, President Trump increased tariffs on $200 billion of Chinese imports from 10% to 25%, and threatened to extend tariffs to another $300 billion of goods, after accusing China of backing out of a deal that would have ended the trade dispute. In a move that many believe could become a prolonged technology cold war, the US blacklisted Chinese telecoms giant Huawei over concerns that the company posed a risk to national security. Tensions between the two nations were further amplified after the US military sent two navy ships through the Taiwan Strait. The US also threatened to impose tariffs on Mexico if it failed to reduce the numbers of migrants entering US borders. In more positive news, the US agreed to lift tariffs on steel and aluminium imports from Canada and Mexico, effectively removing a major obstacle to the approval of the new North American Free Trade Agreement. 

In terms of economic indicators, US GDP for Q1 2019 was revised down from the 3.2% (y/y) to 3.1% (y/y). Weak manufacturing data underscored slowing economic growth, as new orders for capital goods, which accounts for about 12% of the economy, fell 0.9% in April. Meanwhile core inflation for April came in significantly weaker than anticipated at 2.1%. US markets are now pricing in the likelihood that the US Federal Reserve will implement rate cuts far sooner and to a much greater extent than previously expected. 

In the UK, Prime Minister Theresa May was forced to resign (by June 7) after failing to deliver Brexit. The decision amplified doubts over the Britain’s resolve to leave the EU, while setting up a Conservative party contest for a new prime minister. European shares slid on the back of news that China would reduce its supply of rare earth elements to the US, which are crucial to a number of industries. Investors also had to contend with rising political tensions between Italy and the EU, amid looming fears that the political fight over debt levels could trigger a debt and banking crisis in Italy. German unemployment rose for the first time in nearly two years, while German banking authorities announced that the country's banks would need to set aside additional reserves from July to cover risks stemming from an inflated domestic property market and a slowing economy.

In response to the US imposing increased tariffs on Chinese goods, the Chinese government struck back by raising tariffs on a revised list of $60 billion on US goods with effect from 1 June. Chinese buyers halted purchases of American soybeans, and the Chinese government threatened to cut its supply of rare earth elements to the US, which (amongst others) are essential components in military equipment, such as aircraft engines, missile guidance systems, defence systems, satellites and lasers.

Looking at global equity market returns (all in US$), the MSCI All Country World Index returned -5.9% in May. Developed markets outperformed emerging markets, with the MSCI World Index delivering -5.8% and the MSCI Emerging Markets Index returning -7.2%. Among developed markets, the S&P 500 produced -6.4%, the Dow Jones Industrial 30 returned -6.3%, while the technology-heavy Nasdaq 100 posted -8.2%. The UK’s FTSE 100 returned -2.9% and Japan’s Nikkei 225 delivered -7.4%. Among the larger emerging markets, the MSCI India returned 0.2%, MSCI China -13.1% and MSCI Russia 3.6% (all in US$). The Bloomberg Barclays Global Aggregate Bond Index (US$) returned 1.4%, while the EPRA/NAREIT Global Property Index (US$) produced -0.3%.

Brent crude closed the month at -11.4% at around US$67 per barrel. Precious metals largely sold off in May, with silver returning -2.7%, palladium -3.2% and platinum the largest faller with -11.9%. Gold was the only outlier returning 2.7%, as investors sought traditional safe-haven assets in the wake of the trade rift between the US and China showing signs of intensifying. 

In South Africa the ANC won the national elections with a majority vote of 57.5%, boosting investor confidence that Cyril Ramaphosa would be able to pursue a course to curb corruption and implement difficult economic reforms. Following his pre-election pledge to reform the country’s economy and attract foreign investors, Ramaphosa announced a smaller and well-balanced cabinet, a move that was well received by markets and helped the rand pull back from a five-month low.

The SARB kept its benchmark repo rate unchanged at 6.75%, however lowered its 2019 growth forecast from 1.3% to 1.0%. South Africa's inflation slowed to 4.4% (y/y) in April on the back of weak consumer spending, high unemployment and political uncertainty leading up to the national elections. South Africa's unemployment inched up to 27.6% for Q1 2019. On the back of these factors, the market is now expecting the SARB to cut interest rates as soon as its next meeting in July.

South Africa recorded a trade balance deficit of R3.43 billion in April, from a revised R4.71 billion rand surplus in March. Exports fell 1.3% (m/m) to R103.75 billion in April, while imports rose 6.8% to R107.18 billion. South Africa's manufacturing output rose in March by 1.2% (y/y) after increasing by a revised 0.5% in February, while the South African Chamber of Commerce and Industry's monthly business confidence index (BCI) rose to 93.7 in April from 91.8 in March.

The FTSE/JSE All Share Index returned -4.8%, with Resources delivering -5.1%, Industrials -6.0%, and Financials -2.3%, while Listed Property lost -0.9%.The SA 10-year government bond yielded 9.13% at month end. The BEASSA All Bond Index returned 0.6%, inflation-linked bonds delivered -0.9 %, and cash as measured by the STeFI Composite Index returned 0.6%. The rand depreciated 1.5% against the US dollar and 1.0 % against the euro, but appreciated 1.8% against the pound sterling.

According to Morningstar data, the average general equity fund returned -5.1% for the month, with the average balanced fund delivering -3.2%. The average low-equity balanced fund produced -1.1%, while multi-asset income funds returned 0.2% on average.


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