Markets may see another rollercoaster year in 2017

While Trump still looms large, a lot of the political risk will be closer to home

The markets were caught off guard by Trump’s election in November  but investors have decided to focus on the positive – for the moment at least

The markets were caught off guard by Trump’s election in November but investors have decided to focus on the positive – for the moment at least

 

For financial market rollercoaster junkies fearing it will be hard next year to top volatility inspired by Brexit and Donald Trump, Angela Merkel, Marine Le Pen and a Dutchman called Geert Wilders have got you covered.

Global stock markets were rattled early in 2016 by what is becoming a bit of a hardy perennial: concerns over the Chinese economy. They went into meltdown in June after the UK’s shock decision to quit the European Union. The markets were also caught off guard by Trump’s election in November as the next US president, but investors have decided to focus on the positive – for the moment at least.

Tantalised by Trump’s promise of a massive stimulus programme, which, according to some estimates, will top $1 trillion, stock markets took off in the final seven weeks of the year amid hopes that he will reboot inflation and growth. US equity benchmarks have been hitting fresh highs on a regular basis since the vote.

Some, however, are adopting a wait-and-see approach as they look ahead.

“My view entering 2017 is quite cautious,” said David Holohan, chief investment officer at Merrion Capital. “I believe that Mr Trump is an unknown economic force, and there are significant execution risks to many of his policy promises.”

Much has already been priced in. CRH, Ireland’s largest publicly-quoted company, counts among the stocks that benefitted most following the election, soaring more than 8 per cent as analysts from Davy to Goodbody Stockbrokers see it as being a key beneficiary from higher US infrastructure spending.

While Trump looms large, a lot of the political risk will be closer to home.

“There are several elections during the year, which could have wide ramifications for the EU,” said Holohan. “In both France and Germany there are likely to be significant increases in support for right-wing parties. As we saw in 2016, several major election and referendum outcomes differed from the broad consensus expectations, and we can expect to see more of that during 2017.”

Recent polls suggest that Geert Wilders, leader of the far-right Dutch anti-immigration Party for Freedom, has a good chance of becoming the country’s next prime minister in March.

Marian Le Pen, head of the similarly-inclined National Front in France, is predicted to end up in a run-off presidential vote against more establishment right-wing candidate François Fillon in May.

Meanwhile, over in Berlin, the attack at the Christmas market may undermine chancellor Angela Merkel as national elections approach next year, playing into the hands of the right-wing Alternative for Germany, which was set up in 2013 as an anti-euro party and subsequently pivoted towards an anti-immigration platform.

“Countries accounting for over 42 per cent of EU gross domestic product have significant elections [in 2017],” said Eugene Kiernan, head of investment strategy at Dublin-based Appian Asset Management, adding that market sentiment would also be influenced as the “Brexit mini-series” continues and investors get a sense of Trump’s geopolitical approach.

The ultimate impact of Brexit on Ireland and the Irish market will rest on the trading arrangements to be struck between the UK and the remainder of the EU, according to analysts at Investec, with the start of two years of divorce talks set to begin by the end of March.

Investec’s head of equity research in Dublin, Gerard Moore, said the investment firm expects the global economy to grow by 3.7 per cent next year, the fastest rate since 2011. It sees Irish gross domestic product (GDP) also expanding at that rate in 2017, down slightly from an expected 4 per cent rate for 2016.

While the global economic picture is improving, with consensus forecasts among analysts for a 12 per cent increase in corporate profits, “valuations on major markets have been rich for some time”, said Kiernan.

“The key thing for equity markets at this point is whether the profits growth forecast for 2017 can be delivered,” he said. “If we get this and barring any ‘event risk’, markets could make progress. Our overall view is that this will be an era of modest but positive returns.”

The outlook for the Iseq index, as ever, will be determined by the performance of a small number of companies. Just five – CRH, Ryanair, Kerry Group, Paddy Power Betfair and Bank of Ireland – account for almost three-quarters of the market.

While initial public offerings have been in short supply in recent years, the Government may move as soon as 2017 to execute its long-awaited sale of an initial 25 per cent stake in AIB, market conditions permitting.

Glass and metal containers giant Ardagh Group, which traces its roots back to the Irish Glass Bottle Company and is led by Dubliner Paul Coulson, plans to float on the New York Stock Exchange in the first half of the year.

CURRENCIES

The Mexican peso was the currency to watch for political wonks heading into the US election as it moved up and down with the publication of almost every political poll. It was a good barometer of market sentiment given Trump’s well-aired anti-immigration stance and plans to build a wall along the border between the two countries.

However, the euro’s oscillations against sterling and the dollar dominated attention in these parts. The UK currency fell from 76.6p against the euro just before the Brexit vote to a low of 91p in October, hitting Irish companies with large exposure to the exchange rate.

The force and speed of the move prompted many commentators to predict that we may reach parity between the two currencies for the first time. The closest it came to this scenario was at the end of 2008, when the rate reached 97.5p. However, as the year moved to a close sterling regained much of its lost ground, to currently hover around 85p.

“What we don’t have is any clear idea of what Brexit will look like and that uncertainty will weigh down sterling in the early part of the year,” according to David Lamb, head of currency dealing at Fexco’s corporate payments division. “That said, the euro is hardly in rude health itself.”

With populist parties expected to do well in elections across the continent in 2017, “the pound may hold up well against the euro”, said Lamb. “Or rather both currencies will be equally buffeted by uncertainty and doubt.”

By contrast, the dollar, which has surged from $1.15 against the euro in May to $1.038 last week, is likely to enjoy another strong year next year, according to Lamb, given Trump’s “bullish persona” and the fact that the US Federal Reserve has signalled that it may hike rates three times by the time 2007 is over.

OIL

In a year characterised by aggressive market moves, few could compete with that of oil prices. Having reached a high in 2014 of over $115 a barrel, the price of oil, as measured by ICE Brent futures, had slumped below $28 by January of this year, the lowest level since 2008, as the sector was dogged by massive oversupply of “black gold”.

However, the price oil has since rebounded to almost one-and-a-half year highs, above $56, after Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries (Opec) and non-Opec members, including Russia and Kazakhstan, this month reached their first deal since 2001 to cut output.

Citigroup’s head of commodity research Ed Morse predicts oil prices will end 2017 around “the mid-$60 range” and does not rule out the possibility of Brent exceeding $70 at times during the year. However, he has warned that the rebalancing of supply with demand may still be derailed if US shale oil producers can increase output faster than expected, or if Libya and Nigeria restore disrupted production more quickly than assumed.

BONDS

With US inflation and interest rate expectations marching ahead since the Trump victory, bonds globally have been under pressure – serving to lift market interest rates, or yields, on publicly-traded debt of governments and companies.

The yield on 10-year US Treasury bonds has jumped to almost 2.6 per cent from 1.4 per cent in July. This has prompted a number of analysts to conclude that a 35-year “bull run” in US bonds, which has seen yields fall from almost 16 per cent, has come to an end.

While the European Central Bank is widely expected to keep its benchmark rate at zero until 2019 and recently signalled that it will continue its massive €2.3 trillion bond-buying programme until the end of next year, bond yields in Europe have also risen since early November.

The yield on Ireland’s 10-year bonds rose from a record low of below 0.32 per cent in September to almost 1 per cent following Trump’s victory, though they have subsequently fallen back to about 0.75 per cent.

While well off the 14.2 per cent high seen at the height of the financial crisis in 2011, Irish yields may rise at a faster pace than some other European bonds as the ECB faces limits in buying the State’s bonds next year under its own rules.

Still, the National Treasury Management Agency is likely to come out as early as next week with a new multi-billion euro bond, according to Ryan McGrath, head of fixed-income strategy at Cantor Fitzgerald in Ireland. This could go some way towards helping to ease the ECB restrictions.

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