Q4 2021 Review: Global Equities Rebound

Key Takeaways

  • Global equities were stronger in the final quarter of 2021 as investors focused on economic resilience and corporate earnings.
  • With regards to the bond market, government bonds outperformed corporate bonds. Markets began to price a faster pace of interest rate rises in the US.
  • Commodities saw a positive return as industrials metals gained.

 

United States

US equities rose in Q4 as overall gains were robust despite a weaker November mainly due to, during which fears over rising cases of the Omicron variant of Covid-19 and the speed of the Federal Reserve’s asset tapering had weighed. By year-end, these worries had largely subsided, while data continued to indicate that the economy overall remained stable and corporate earnings robust.

US economic growth slowed sharply in the third quarter amid a flare-up in Covid-19 infections, but with activity since picking up, the economy remains on track to record its best performance since 1984. GDP increased at a 2.3% (annualised), up from the 2.1% pace estimated. This was still the slowest quarter of growth since the second quarter of 2020, when the economy suffered a historic contraction in the wake of tough mandatory measures to contain the first wave.

The technology sector was one of the strongest performers over the quarter, with chipmakers especially strong. Real estate also performed well, as investors expect e-commerce to continue to grow and drive further demand for industrial warehousing. Energy and financial names made more muted gains over the quarter.

Eurozone

Eurozone shares made gains in Q4, as a focus on strong corporate profits and economic resilience offset worries over the new Omicron variant. The flash composite purchasing managers’ index hit a nine-month low of 53.4 for December, as the service sector was affected by rising Covid cases. However, equity markets drew support from early data indicating a lower risk of severe illness.

Utilities were among the top performers with IT stocks also registering strong gains. Technology hardware and semiconductor stocks performed particularly well. The luxury goods sector also performed very strongly. Meanwhile, the communication services and real estate sectors saw negative returns.

The quarter was marked by volatile gas prices which contributed to higher inflation. The Eurozone’s annual inflation rate reached 4.9% in November, compared to -0.3% a year earlier. The European Central Bank said it would scale back bond purchases but ruled out interest rate rises in 2022.

United Kingdom

UK equities rose over the quarter. Encouraging news around Omicron during December saw a number of economically sensitive areas of the market largely recoup the sharp losses they had sustained in the initial sell-off in late November, such as the banks. On the other hand, some areas reliant on economies reopening,  such as the travel and leisure and the oil and gas sector were unable to make up November’s losses and ended the quarter lower.

A number of defensive areas outperformed, including some of the large internationally diversified consumer staples groups.

Emerging markets

The MSCI Emerging Markets Index lost value in Q4 and underperformed the MSCI World Index, with US dollar strength a headwind. Turkey was the weakest index market, amid extreme volatility in the currency. The central bank lowered its policy rate by a total of 400bps to 14%, despite ongoing above-target inflation which accelerated to 21.3% year-on-year in November. With the lira coming under significant pressure, President Erdogan announced an unorthodox scheme to compensate savers for lira weakness, in an effort to reduce the use of US dollars.

China performed negatively in the quarter, with share prices sharply lower. Hong Kong suffered the same faith as investor feared that new lockdown restrictions would be instigated following the rapid spread of the new Covid-19 variant. Share prices in Singapore also ended the fourth quarter in negative territory as investors continued to track developments surrounding the new Omicron variant. India and South Korea also ended the quarter in negative territory although the declines in share prices were more modest.

Chile lagged the index as leftist Gabriel Boric was elected president. Brazil underperformed as the central bank continued to hike rates in response to rising inflation; the policy rate was increased by a total of 0.3% during the quarter. Meanwhile, concerns over the fiscal outlook, and political uncertainty ahead of October 2022’s presidential election, also weighed on sentiment.

Russia lagged as geopolitical tensions increased, amid a build-up of Russian troops on its border with Ukraine. China also finished in negative territory as concerns over slowing growth persisted, exacerbated later in the quarter by uncertainty created by rising daily new cases of Covid-19.

By contrast, Egypt finished in positive territory and was the best performing index market. Peru and the UAE also posted double digit gains in dollar terms. Taiwan, aided by strong performance from IT stocks, Indonesia and Mexico all recorded solid gains and outperformed.

Global bonds

Markets were buffeted over the quarter by persistent elevated inflation, hawkish central bank policy shifts and the emergence of the Omicron Covid-19 variant. In bond markets, 10-year government yields were largely unchanged. Yields followed a downward trajectory for most of the quarter before reversing in the final weeks of the year as sentiment improved. Yield curves flattened, with shorter-dated bonds hit as central banks turned more hawkish.

In late November, Federal Reserve chair Jay Powell and other members of the policy committee suggested tapering could be accelerated, which it was in December, and that they may stop referring to inflation as “transitory”.

Corporate bonds lagged government bonds for the quarter. In investment grade, the US market saw modestly positive total returns (local currency), but Europe weakened. US high yield was the standout performer, with positive returns and narrowing spreads. Investment grade bonds are the highest quality bonds as determined by a credit rating agency; high yield bonds are more speculative, with a credit rating below investment grade.

In emerging markets, local currency bond yields rose, particularly where central banks continued to raise interest rates amid elevated levels of inflation. Central and eastern Europe underperformed. EM currency performance was mixed, influenced by shifting risk sentiment, despite the prospect of higher interest rates.

EM hard currency bonds declined, with high yield significantly weaker, though investment grade sovereign bonds saw positive returns.

Global equities enjoyed a strong quarter with the MSCI World index up 6.8% but convertible bonds could not benefit from the equity market tailwind. The Refinitiv Global Focus index of balanced convertible bonds finished the last quarter of 2021 with a disappointing loss of -1.9%.

Commodities

The S&P GSCI Index recorded a moderately positive return in the fourth quarter despite a sharp decline in the price of natural gas. The industrial metals component was the best-performing segment in the quarter as the global economic recovery gathered pace. There were strong gains in the prices of zinc, nickel, lead and copper.

The agriculture component also achieved a positive return in the quarter, with robust gains recorded for coffee, cotton, corn and Kansas Wheat. Precious metals also gained in the quarter, with modest price gains for silver and gold.

The energy component recorded a modest decline in the quarter, with a sharp fall in the price of natural gas offset by modestly higher prices for unleaded gasoline, crude oil and Brent crude.

The value of investments and the income from them may go down as well as up and investors may not get back the amounts originally invested.

Local Market

During the final quarter of 2021, the MSE Equity Index increased by 2.1%. This positive performance was mainly driven by Simonds Farsons Cisk plc where we have seen the price increasing by 13.5%, followed by HSBC Bank Malta plc and Bank of Valletta plc. On the other hand, 13 equities performed negatively over Q4, with the worst performers including; Grand Harbour Marina plc, FIMBank plc (USD) and Tigné Mall plc.

Looking at the local fixed income movements over Q4, the MSE Corporate Bonds Total Return Index closed 0.2% lower while the MSE Malta Government Stock Index advanced by 1%.

 

Article Sources: Schroders Insights and Malta Stock Exchange

This article does not intend to give investment advice and the contents therein should not be construed as such. The Company is licensed to conduct investment services by the MFSA and is a Member of the Malta Stock Exchange and a member of the Atlas Group. The directors or related parties, including the company, and their clients are likely to have an interest in securities mentioned in this article. Investors should remember that past performance is no guide to future performance and that the value of investments may go down as well as up. For further information contact Jesmond Mizzi Financial Advisors Limited of 67, Level 3, South Street, Valletta, on Tel: 2122 4410, or email yosef.bonnici@jesmondmizzi.com