The biggest global market news continues to be the trade war between the US and China, with Capital Economics commenting that Beijing had taken the fateful step of ‘weaponising’ its currency.
Reuters described the world economy as ‘probably being in recession with most business indicators flat or falling.’ And this was reflected on world stock markets, as none of the major markets we cover managed to gain ground in August.
Figures released in the middle of the month showed that the UK economy had contracted for the first time since 2012, shrinking by 0.2% between April and June. However, new Chancellor Sajid Javid has said that he does not expect the UK to slide into recession.
There’s a pinch of gloom on the UK’s high streets. July 2019 was the worst month on record for retail sales growth as consumer spending fell to a record low. Unsurprisingly, this will result in job losses – Tesco is to cut 4,500 jobs at its Metro stores – and store closures. Shoe retailer Office is to close half its UK stores and empty shops are at their highest level for four years.
Figures for June confirmed that wage growth had reached an 11 year high at 3.9% and that the employment rate was at its highest since 1971. The rate is estimated to be 76.1% with 32.81m people in employment – 425,000 more than a year ago.
Unsurprisingly, the FTSE 100 index of leading shares – along with the world’s other markets – had a difficult time in August, falling by 5% to 7,207. The pound was unchanged in percentage terms, ending the month at $1.2165.
The month opened with the news that growth in the Eurozone economy had slowed as German output fell to a six-year low and the manufacturing sector continued to struggle. Germany’s overall Purchasing Managers’ Index was down to a 73-month low of 50.9 as the economy dealt with the US/China trade tensions, the overall global slowdown, weak demand from China and uncertainty over Brexit.
The German economy shrunk by 0.1% in the three months to June. A similar story in the three months to September would see Europe’s biggest economy officially in recession.
Despite the gloom, it was a relatively quiet month on Europe’s major stock markets. In keeping with the majority of world markets, both Germany and France were down, but not significantly. The German DAX index dropped 2% to 11,939 while the French stock market fell just 1% to end the month at 5,480.
August started with a spat between the President and the Federal Reserve, as the Fed – as expected – cut US rates by 0.25% to a range of 2% to 2.25% and the President – as expected – said that it wasn’t enough. Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell described the cut as a ‘mid-cycle adjustment to policy.’ His boss demanded ‘an aggressive rate-cutting cycle that will keep pace with China, the EU and other countries around the world.’
A few days later it was announced that the US had added 164,000 jobs in July – well down on the 224,000 jobs created in June but broadly in line with expectations. Unemployment remained flat at 3.7% and hourly earnings were 3.2% up on the same period last year.
There was worse news later in the month as inflation rose to 1.8% (from a previous 1.6%), thanks to rises in gasoline and housing costs. This, of course, means that the Federal Reserve is likely to be more cautious about future rate cuts, which will presumably not do much for the President’s temper.
Wall Street generally likes to see news of tax cuts, but in August there were just too many worries about the trade war with China for the Dow Jones index to make any headway. It was down 2% in the month, closing at 26,403.
There are now growing fears that the US/China trade war and general worries about the global economy will push some of the smaller, ‘innocent bystanders’ in the Far East – such as Hong Kong and Singapore – into recession.
Figures for the second quarter of the year showed that Hong Kong’s economy had grown at just 0.5% year-on-year, which was below expectations. So it was no surprise to see the Hong Kong stock market down by 7% in the month, as it closed August at 25,725.
China’s Shanghai Composite index was down 2% at 2,886 and the South Korean market fell 3% to 1,968. Japan completed a miserable month for the region’s stock markets as it dropped 4% to close August at 20,704.
Both the peso and the Argentinian stock market plunged after a shock defeat for President Mauricio Macri in mid-month primary elections. The peso fell 15% against the dollar, while some of Argentina’s leading stocks lost 50% of their value.
In early September, the Argentine Central Bank imposed currency controls as the crisis deepens, with the country also looking to suspend debt repayments to the International Monetary Fund.
There was better news in other emerging markets as the Russian market barely moved at all, rising just one point in the month to 2,740. The Indian market was also unchanged in percentage terms, closing August at 37,333 and, despite all the controversy and criticism of the government’s response to the fires, the Brazilian stock market was down just 1% in the month at 101,135.
We hope you enjoy the start of Autumn. As ever, if you have any questions, don’t hesitate to get in touch.