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What’s going to move markets in 2019


Unbelievably, yet another year has flown by. And what an eventful year it’s been – quite possibly one of the toughest for financial markets in half a century. There’s a lot to look forward to (or worry about) in 2019 so we wanted to share our Cross Asset Research team’s views on their five biggest themes including the future for Europe, the emerging markets and the ageing US cycle, before party season really kicks in. That’s it from us for this year. Thanks for reading and all the best for 2019.

1 – Europe’s differences will deepen

European assets are pricing in very little economic growth, but sentiment could easily reverse should political risks recede. Eurozone equities have been trading at around 12.2 x 12-months forward PE - 15% below their 30-yr average and around 25% lower than US valuations.  Until now though, the catalysts have been catatonic.

However, progress towards an orderly Brexit, a resolution to the rupture with Rome, an easing of trade tensions and signs of a recovery in growth could spur a re-rating. You may need to act fast - potential rate hikes in Q3 could sap the rally’s energy and push the cost of debt and the EUR higher.

We favour stability at this stage, so we’re calling the CAC over the DAX (“gilets jaunes” nothwithstanding) although the latter could be in demand should trade tensions fade. Switzerland, once again, may offer a bit of haven.  Periphery country balance sheets look weak and more exposed to any softening of growth. Certainty on the Brexit outcome can’t be a bad thing, but sterling will bounce, to the detriment of exporters.

We’ll be shifting our sector allocations into late-cycle corporates gradually, especially those capable of delivering robust earnings during cyclical slowdowns – which tend to be found in Healthcare, Oil & Gas, Financials and Basic Industries.

As for bonds? We’ll be watching out for a possible change in the Italian government’s stance and a potentially sharp narrowing of BTP-bund spreads. Holding peripheral debt could still make sense, provided you can hold your nerve.  Euro bonds will be vulnerable prior to any policy tightening, but the ECB is likely to err on the side of caution and deliver just one, minimal (10bps) hike by September 2019. Oil price recovery and firmer economic momentum should push inflation expectations higher.  

2 – EM equities should enjoy some respite

After a largely lacklustre 2018, sentiment on the emerging markets should improve in 2019. Trade, as ever, remains the talking point. Any easing of tension – something G20 leaders at least nodded to in Buenos Aires in late November - could support any equity rebound. Don’t, however, wait too long. Tighter liquidity conditions will weigh on returns in the longer term.  

Some selectivity won’t go amiss. Take China - escalating trade tensions, a weaker yuan and deleveraging have all weighed heavily on stocks in recent months. A crackdown on shadow banking – a crucial source of funding for the private sector – also looms large. GDP growth should slow to around 6% over the next 12 months.

Seen differently though, that sell-off is quite possibly excessive given domestic consumption is 62% of growth. And that growth is twice as fast as the US (the world’s largest economy) and three times faster than the rest of the developed world. And the Chinese government retains plenty of ammunition to underpin growth in 2019. The upside potential is huge, provided the Chinese model shifts toward sustainable growth – which assumes firmer consumption, higher capex and greater financial access.

Elsewhere, a lesser dependence on exports and improving domestic conditions, have insulated India from the ongoing trade conflicts. Earnings growth is also back above long-term averages and some profit normalisation is expected for financials. The next five years could be well about growth and corporate re-leveraging, a dual push that may help improve company return on equity ratios and ultimately, share price performance. 

3 –  The end of the US cycle is approaching, but no imminent threat of recession

The US economy finally looks set to slow in 2019 after a buoyant year in 2018. President Trump’s fiscal stimulus has probably done enough to avert the threat of recession until early 2021, but cyclical concerns are likely to become a major market driver in H2. GDP growth may already be on a downward trend by then.

Tight labour, rising wage costs and the difficulty of passing these costs on to consumers should narrow margins and disincentivise investment and hiring. There’s limited potential for capital gains in a world of stretched valuations and tighter liquidity conditions.

US small caps would clearly be hindered by gridlock on the Hill. They would also suffer should the dollar weaken or the cost of debt rise. We expect broad, larger-cap indices to be more resilient. Growth stocks could struggle however given new tax regimes and regulations. 

Indices like the S&P 500 should stay strong in the first part of the year but with the end of the cycle hoving into view, higher downside pressure is inevitable in H2. Risk reducers may well provide some comfort.

4 – H1 will be the time to hedge against higher rates and inflation

We expect to feel the pressures of higher inflation in H1. Trade tariffs, high capacity utilisation rates, and higher labour cost pressures in developed markets will fuel the fire, as will some form of recovery in oil prices. Higher tariffs may push inflation expectations higher right through to the summer. Ultimately, inflation breakevens have room to price more uncertainty in inflation via higher term premia, particularly coming from any spill-over into the setting of domestic prices. Inflation-linked assets should outperform nominal bonds, at least over the first half of the year.

Downside risks are more prevalent in H2 however.  Inflation expectations would be vulnerable to a worsening of financial conditions (notably wider credit spreads and weaker equities), especially in an environment of slowing growth. As late cycle assets, commodities can act as a hedge against higher inflation and downside pressures on the USD. 

5 – Global equities will face more volatility, and more downside pressure

The upside in global equities looks limited overall. Most financial assets’ valuations are stretched with the exception of Treasuries, inflation markets and some emerging market assets. Meanwhile, a more concerted central bank push towards monetary policy normalisation will also put a cap on global liquidity just when debt has never been higher. Fiscal policy uncertainty will linger, but may become less stressful once there is clarity from Europe. In the US, the likelihood of another fiscal boost looks much lower now that Trump’s hands have been tied.

We’ll be keeping an eye on growth rates, and trying to exploit and react to the different speeds on display. After several stimulus-fuelled years of plenty, we expect US economic activity to slow in the second part of the year but a modest easing of growth also looks possible Europe with Italy on the verge of recession. The expensive US dollar will eventually weaken against other major currencies should the Fed bring its tightening cycle to an end.  

As a result, we expect US assets to become more volatile as we progress through the year, most obviously in H2. Euro area equities should benefit from a combination of economic relief and better visibility on Italy’s policymaking, but any concern about growth and corporate earnings  may cap upside potential. Risk reducers may prove useful, while value may prove to be the best equity hedge against rising rates.

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