Selling China as slowdown woes deepen - tactical portfolio Dec 14 update

Our opportune move into Japan last month came ahead of the announcement that prime minister Shinzo Abe has dissolved the parliament's lower house and called a snap election, after the most recent hike in consumption tax (from 5 per cent to 8 per cent in the spring) caused more indigestion in consumer activity than expected. A delay before a second tax hike could help Abe improve his ratings.

The Japanese stock market liked the news, particularly as it continues to be accompanied by good corporate earnings figures, which suggest future expectations are too low.

In Europe, spare capacity in the region keeps the spectre of deflation alive, and economic data continues to disappoint, with gross domestic product (GDP) growing by just 0.2 per cent in the third quarter but varying greatly from country to country.

To view the tactical asset allocator's holdings and trading chronology, click here.

path to recovery

Greece seems well on the path to recovery after growth for three consecutive quarters, while Austria, Italy and even Germany are more or less flat. Only root and branch reform of the labour markets, particularly in Italy and France, will ultimately break the spiral.

Predictably, recent difficulties have prompted political tension across the region, with fringe political parties gaining in popularity, such as the AfD in Germany, Podemos in Spain, the National Front in France, and of course Ukip in Britain. Resentment is growing that the stronger countries are largely propping up the weaker.

Statements by European Central Bank president Mario Draghi have however been well received. He has floated the prospect of outright purchases of government bonds, indicating the overall stimulus would be expanded by about €1 trillion (£793 billion), back to the previous peak seen in 2012 and not far off the US Federal Reserve's gigantic third wave of quantitative easing (QE) programme the same year.

Although Draghi has teased the market before and there is no guarantee this will come to pass, there is an unprecedented level of preparation going on behind the scenes, and QE, as we all know, is good for equities.

Things are also looking up in the UK, where the latest Quarterly Inflation Report suggested that wage growth and real wages are finally picking up. This, coupled with low inflation, lower commodity prices and still-low interest rates, is supportive of consumption and long-term growth.

selling china

In China, stock markets have been lifted by the government's decision to cut interest rates for the first time in two years to support the slowing economy. However, recent research suggests that the Chinese economy has wasted $6.8 trillion in investment during the last four years.

A report from China's National Development and Reform Commission and the Academy of Macroeconomic Research suggests that China has spent that sum on projects that won't actually help the economy, but have only served to inflate the nation's GDP figures while they were being built.

The most obvious example is the many ghost cities, which have been poorly built and are now crumbling.

We bought our holding in the Fidelity China Consumer fund on the back of the government's promises to refocus the economy on the consumer, rather than such wasteful infrastructure projects, but it is not addressing its challenges as transparently as hoped: the banks are weighed down by bad loans, the real estate market has crashed, and state-owned companies remain bloated, while corruption and environmental issues are as pertinent as ever.

We've made over 24 per cent on our holding but these reports are unnerving and we're bailing out of the fund.

Otherwise world equities appear to have moved clear of the mid-October volatility, and despite the challenges, the US in particular is still a good place to be.

As we've highlighted in this column, exports account for less than 15 per cent of US GDP so it is, to a large extent, immune from the rest of the world's travails. The jobs market and wages growth are reviving, and these are the main indicators to follow, despite threats as disparate as Isis and Ebola.

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