Anthony Rayner, manager of Miton’s multi-asset fund range comments on how markets have shifted their focus from economics to politicians and their promises.
Billions of data sets exist globally, but from a top-down perspective there are only a small number of factors that markets really care about at any one point in time.
These are the issues that bubble up to dominate the market narrative, such as the Greek crisis, excess Chinese credit or the Middle East conflict. Sometimes resolutions are found and the problem goes away but, more often, the market simply moves on to a more pressing concern or opportunity.
Normally, these issues fall within a small number of categories, including economic, financial, political, social and systemic risk, many of which are interrelated. Understandably, ever since the Great Financial Crisis (GFC), markets have been focusing on economic risk, particularly around recession and deflation, and have been scarred by fears around systemic risk.
Economic risk hasn’t always dominated market thoughts so overwhelmingly. Before the GFC, with the major economies seemingly humming along fine, market attention was directed elsewhere, such as on the surging oil price.
Economies have improved, but focus is now on political promises
Over the last year, the economic environment has improved materially, though concerns remain as to how equally income is distributed. Indeed, it’s been widely documented that a large part of the motivation behind the Brexit and Trump vote was concern over personal economic welfare.
The spotlight has shifted from the economy to politicians and whether they can improve the economic prospects of the masses.
Tensions are high as politicians are expected to deliver once-in-a-generation change, from within the constraints of democratic systems.
Market hope got slapped in the face when the Trump administration recently failed to repeal Obamacare, while the May administration is attempting to make sense of the biggest poker game in town, never mind attending to all the other duties of government.
Time will tell whether the current political systems are fit for purpose; certainly the traditional ideologies of left and right don’t sit comfortably with the forces that drove the Trump and Brexit vote.
Trump faces significant opposition from inside and outside his party, while Brexit has split both of the main political parties right down the middle.
Market risk is now that new political forces don’t deliver
Markets will focus on how these two political projects progress for some time to come, and there is a risk to markets from lack of policy clarity and implementation risk.
While divisiveness works well on a campaign trail, it works less well when trying to formulate and deliver effective policy, especially when it’s ambitious in nature.
Key data points now are the French election (a Le Pen win is low probability, high impact) and how Trump fares with tax reform, which after all is much more relevant for the economy, and investors, than Obamacare.
In a world where politicians have much more to deliver but fewer levers to pull (as power has shifted to ‘independent’ central banks and increasingly powerful multinationals), it’s clearly going to be a challenge.
The global economic numbers remain strong and, while some of this might be down to boosted confidence around the Trump win, globally economic momentum was set fair before the surprise election win.
We continue to refine our base case reflation positioning, for example by initiating some US housing-related investments, as well as diversifying into structural growth themes, including tech, healthcare and cybersecurity.