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  • Belvedere Wealth Management

May 2023 Market Commentary

Updated: Oct 18, 2023

Developed Markets Update


Executive Summary

  • The first week of May 2023 saw the release of the first-quarter earnings results from blue-chip companies in the developed market. Carmaker giant Stellantis reported on the second day of the month its revenue numbers for Q1 2023, with an increase in sales driven by its strategic improvements in the supply of chips and a rise in the company’s prices. However, the company, which is the world’s third-largest carmaker by sales, delivered cautious forward-looking remarks for the remaining quarters of this year, as it faces an increasing rate of vehicle inventories. Stellantis inventories increased to 1.3 million units of unsold cars at the end of March 2023, attributed to the logistics problems the European market faces. We believe that the interest rate decisions by the global apex banks caused a headwind on the spending patterns of consumers, thereby affecting the automobile sector.


  • The UK economy witnessed a growth of 0.1% in the first quarter of 2023, according to the latest economic report from the Office for National Statistics (ONS). However, this was lower than the growth number for March, when compared to other advanced economies such as the US, France, and Germany. According to the ONS, the decline in March was caused by weaknesses in the retail sector as a fall in consumer spending was prominent due to the cost-of-living crisis in the UK. We believe that this latest GDP figure signals more uncertainties for the country in the coming months, added to the rise in mortgage costs following the 12th consecutive interest rate hike by the Bank of England.


Markets Summary


The US Debt Ceiling was top of mind for investors in the month of May, with developed markets’ equity performance not looking strong MTD. As a result of the political nature of this topic, there are some challenges with forecasting an outcome. However, it is crucial to look into our history books to analyse past trends.


Performance Analysis:





Looking back at August 2011, the US faced a similar risk of default. The equity market initially sold off while treasures seemed to have rallied. Soon after a deal was reached equities began to recover. Although there might be some worries that the US might lose its glamorous AAA rating, it is important to consider that even if the debt ceiling is breached, the Treasury could avoid default by prioritizing payments or a deal getting passed soon after breaching the debt ceiling. We believe that, should a default occur a deal would be reached to prevent catastrophes. We observed that money markets have been avoiding T-bills with June maturities and we believe that a dislocation of government money funds is unlikely.


Although a limit hasn’t been set as it was suspended until 2025, we are still convinced that Treasury securities can play a defensive role in portfolios, as it does not have cross-default provisions. This means that should one T-bill default, others won’t be classified as in default. As soon as the debt ceiling is raised, all impacted Treasury securities will be made whole. As the US Government’s ability to pay Treasury debt is not in question, we believe that even in the event of a default (which seems unlikely), Treasuries are likely to outperform other asset classes, when taking a conservative stance on asset allocation, to preserve assets.




First Quarter Earnings Releases Continue


Blue-chip companies in the developed market continued the announcement of the financial health of their businesses for the first quarter of the year. The American semiconductor company, Advanced Micro Devices Inc. (AMD), reported disappointing numbers as the slow global economic rebound continues to affect the chip industry. The company reported a 65% decline in revenue in its personal computer (PC) businesses, relative to its 2021 first-quarter results. Hence, this saw AMD report its first decline in quarterly revenue since 2019, and upon this underperforming earnings announcement, the shares of the company declined by over 5%. In our opinion, the chip industry has been experiencing difficult times as rivals such as Intel and Nvidia continue to tussle for the larger chunk of the market share of the industry and take measures for a rebound in the latter part of the year.


In other earning results, Apple Inc., the most capitalized stock in the world, also reported impressive numbers in sales for the first quarter of this year. The company recorded positive numbers in sales as it continues its dominance in the smartphone market. According to its earnings releases, revenue grew by 5% in Q1 2023, as users bought more of its products and the $90 billion share buyback program of the company. We believe that customer loyalty to its products remains a big strength to Apple, and this would continue giving it an edge in the smartphone industry and help the company expand its percentage proportion in the S&P 500 in the United States.


Apple Inc. Price Chart YTD:



Furthermore, automobile giant Stellantis announced a rise in the company’s sales numbers for the first quarter of 2023, facilitated by its supply chain efficiency and increases in the prices of the company’s products. However, uncertainty still lingers as the company delivered unenthusiastic remarks on revenue growth for the rest of the year, given the increasing rate of unsold vehicles at its automobile factories. We believe that this increased number of investors can be tied to the decline in the purchasing power of consumers as global inflation persists and consumers are restricted to essential products.


We believe that the increasing interest rate could dampen demand for cars, as indicated by the latest Federal Reserve rate hike in the United States. However, the Fed indicated that its latest 25 basis points (0.25%) rate hike could have reached a peak, and this could be a positive for a rebound in automobile demand. However, we believe that Stellantis' economic moat in the automobile industry positions it well to take advantage of increased automobile sales in the coming months.



UK Economy Outperforms Expectations as Inflation Trickles


The latest GDP numbers from the UK showed that the economy saw a marginal increase in Q1 2023, as the country continues to pull back from the pandemic slowdown economically. However, the UK's growth slowed in March, driven by the decline in consumer spending on retail products as purchasing power continues to affect household expenditures.



The GDP report stated that household spending declined in Q1 2023, while output for building firms rose by 0.9%, driven by the increase in repairs and maintenance work. We believe that growth in the coming quarters still lingers in the air as the quarter ended with a decline in March, despite improvements in consumer confidence and energy prices.


In other news, the Office for National Statistics reported that the country’s inflation rate stood at 8.7%, lower than the 10.1% recorded in the previous month. This decline came as oil prices dropped as the impact of the war in Europe continues to wane on commodity prices impact.


The UK inflation continues to print above the 2% target range, propelling the Bank of England to continue to go hawkish with an interest rate in its last policy meeting earlier this month to 4.5%. We expected a further hike in rates in forthcoming policy meetings till more encouraging signs of price slowdown appears in forthcoming inflation reports.






Emerging Markets Update


  • The IMF projects that China will contribute around one-third of global economic growth in 2023, but concerns arise over the impact on domestic consumption due to high unemployment rates among young individuals. With 20.4% unemployment among those aged 16 to 24 in April and a large number of graduates entering the job market in the summer, caution prevails among companies regarding expansion and hiring. Ford's reduction in its Chinese workforce and the securities regulator's budget cut further reflect this sentiment. Analysts question the sustainability of positive economic figures from the first quarter, raising concerns for China's economy throughout the year. Emerging markets face uncertainties due to factors like the Ukraine conflict, US Federal Reserve interest rate hikes, and the possibility of a global economic downturn. However, some positives include strong growth in countries like China and Taiwan, along with rising commodity prices. Investors should acknowledge both risks and potential advantages in emerging markets.


  • Leaders from the Group of Seven (G7) nations are expected to address concerns about China's "economic coercion" during their upcoming summit. While recognizing China's economic significance and its impact on global trade, the G7 countries face the challenge of balancing economic engagement with apprehensions about China's policies. U.S. President Joe Biden seeks to manage the competitive relationship with China while maintaining stability and constructive engagement, including addressing sensitive issues like Taiwan. Trade frictions have had a noticeable impact, hindering the full potential of economic exchange between China and the G7 countries. Investment flows have also declined due to trade disputes and geopolitical concerns, creating uncertainty. Despite ongoing tensions, the intricate nature of business enterprises and supply chains between the U.S. and China suggests that alternative solutions are challenging. Investors are advised to maintain positions in the emerging market, particularly in defensive stocks in China while focusing on short-term investments with low yields for fixed-income opportunities.


Performance Analysis:






China's Economy: Growth at a Cost?


According to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in March, China is projected to contribute approximately one-third of global economic growth in 2023. However, there are concerns that the focus on employment prospects might be impeding domestic consumption within China. Data from the National Bureau of Statistics revealed that the unemployment rate among individuals aged 16 to 24 reached 20.4% in April, almost four times higher than the national average. These concerns are likely to intensify in the summer when approximately 11.58 million graduates are expected to enter the job market.


Louis Kuijs, the chief economist for Asia Pacific at S&P Global Ratings, has observed a cautious approach among many companies regarding expanding capital expenditure or increasing hiring. Various indicators support this sentiment. For instance, Ford intends to reduce its workforce in China, while the country's securities regulator has reduced its budget for staff compensation in the current year. Analysts are now questioning whether the positive economic figures reported in the first quarter were merely temporary and whether the economy is likely to encounter challenges throughout the remainder of the year.



Outlook


The future prospects of emerging markets in the near future are unclear due to various factors. The conflict in Ukraine, the increasing interest rates by the US Federal Reserve, and the possibility of a global economic downturn pose significant challenges for emerging markets. However, there are also positive aspects, including robust economic growth in certain countries like China, Taiwan, etc., and the upward trend of commodity prices. It is premature to predict the outcome of these factors in the upcoming months, but investors should acknowledge the risks and potential advantages associated with emerging markets.



G7 Summit yearly joint statement to focus on China’s economic coercion


The G7, consisting of Canada, France, Germany, Italy, the United Kingdom, and the United States, maintains significant economic ties with China. As the world's largest exporter and a crucial market for many businesses in these seven countries, China plays a vital role in their economic interactions. The G7 nations recognize the importance of China's economic influence and its impact on global trade and investment. However, balancing economic engagement with concerns regarding China's policies and practices remains a key challenge for the G7 countries.


U.S. President Joe Biden has prioritized China as a key focus of his foreign policy agenda. His administration aims to manage the tense and competitive relationship with China and prevent it from escalating into open conflict. This approach includes addressing sensitive issues like Taiwan, a self-ruled territory that has been a source of contention between the U.S. and China. President Biden seeks to navigate these challenges while maintaining stability and promoting constructive engagement with China.




Despite the existence of significant bilateral trade between China and the G7 countries, it is evident that trade frictions have had a notable impact. The level of trade between these countries falls below what it could have been in the absence of these trade frictions. This indicates that trade barriers and tensions have impeded the full potential of economic exchange between China and the G7 nations.


Moreover, investment flows between China and the G7 countries have experienced a marked decline. The presence of trade disputes and geopolitical concerns has contributed to this decline in investment activity. These factors have created an environment of uncertainty, which has influenced investment decisions and reduced the overall volume of investment between China and the G7 countries.


We believe that the ongoing trade tensions between the United States and China are not viable in the long term due to the intricate and interconnected nature of the business enterprises and supply chains between the two countries. These complexities make it challenging to find alternative solutions. Despite the sanctions imposed on China, the economy managed to achieve a trade surplus in the last quarter. Consequently, it would be prudent for investors to maintain their positions in the emerging market, particularly in defensive stocks in China, as a safeguard against potential economic downturns. However, investors looking for fixed-income opportunities should focus on short-term investments with low yields.




*Disclaimer:

The commentary you find on this page is for information only; it is not intended as research or a recommendation suitable to your individual circumstance. Please seek financial advice from a professional before acting on investment decisions.


As is the very nature of investing, there are inherent risks, and the value of your investments will both rise and fall over time. Please do not assume that past performance will repeat itself and you must be comfortable in the knowledge that you may receive less than you originally invested.

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