Please note any past performance mentioned is not a guide to future performance and may not be repeated. The sectors, securities, regions and countries shown are for illustrative purposes only and are not to be considered a recommendation to buy or sell.
US equities fell sharply in April. Economic data showed signs of weakening while inflationary pressures continued to prompt the Federal Reserve (Fed) into a more aggressive path of interest rate hikes. Several high-profile US tech firms were notably weaker on supply-chain concerns and lacklustre results.
Inflation – as measured by headline CPI - increased 1.2% over the month of March, a sharp pick-up from February. This took the annual rate of inflation to 8.5% from 7.9%, its highest since December 1981. Higher fuel prices contributed significantly to the elevated number. The Fed signalled a 50 basis point hike would take place in May in a step up in the central bank’s inflationary countermeasures. Meanwhile, industrial activity was broadly weaker, consumer confidence down, and initial data showed a contraction of GDP in Q1.
Weakness was widespread. Consumer staples were more resilient, while most other sectors declined. Consumer discretionary companies, unsurprisingly given the damage to consumer confidence, were amongst the weakest over the month. Car manufacturers were especially hard-hit. Communication services also declined. Netflix, notably, fell sharply after its net loss of subscribers in Q1, the first quarterly decline in users since 2007.
April saw further declines for eurozone equities as the war in Ukraine continued and there was no let up in inflationary pressures. Annual eurozone inflation reached 7.5% in April, up from 7.4% in March. Russia halted gas supplies to Poland and Bulgaria after the two countries refused to comply with a decree from Russia that payment must be made in roubles.
The best performing sectors included energy, amid ongoing strong demand, and communication services, where telecoms stocks fared well given their defensive profile. Information technology, consumer discretionary and industrials were the weakest sectors. Companies in these sectors tend to be among the most affected by supply chain disruptions and concerns over consumer confidence.
The eurozone economy grew by 0.2% quarter-on-quarter on Q1 and the unemployment rate dipped in February to 6.8%, from 6.9% in January. Forward-looking indicators painted a mixed picture: the services purchasing managers index (PMI) hit an eight-month high amid an upturn in tourism, but manufacturing PMI reached a 22-month low. (The PMI indices, produced by IHS Markit, are based on survey data from companies in the manufacturing and services sectors.)
April was another marginally positive month for UK equities. The FTSE 100 index remains one of the few key national benchmarks in positive territory for 2022 in the year to date (local currency terms).
Typically defensive groups provided most of the impetus for the market, notably the pharmaceutical and the consumer staple sectors. Many of these companies are also big dollar earners and received additional support from the strength of the US currency, especially versus a weak sterling. Dollar strength also benefited the energy companies while utilities were in demand given their expected resilience to stagflation, being the combination of slowing growth and accelerating inflation.
Sterling performed poorly amid fears around the domestic economic outlook. Official data showed the UK economy slowed more sharply than expected in February, when monthly GDP rose by 0.1%, from 0.8% in January. Meanwhile, the annual rate of UK consumer inflation climbed to 7.0% in March from 6.2% in February (consumer price index), its highest since March 1992.
The same fears around the domestic outlook also weighed on domestically focused sectors and UK small and mid cap equities underperformed as a result. Consumer-facing companies in particular struggled in the face of cost of living concerns, which have raised questions around the ability of some companies to pass on their own rising costs.
Asia ex Japan equities were lower in April as China struggled to contain its worst outbreak of Covid-19. This prompted fears that the subsequent economic stoppages could have a wider impact on the global economy and exacerbate the global supply chain shortages. Shanghai, China’s largest city and home to almost 25 million people, has been in lockdown since the end of March when cases of the Omicron variant started spiking.
After initial weakness, the Japanese stock market drifted sideways to end April 2.4% lower. The yen again weakened sharply against the US dollar in April, breaching the 130 level for the first time in 20 years.
Taiwan was the worst-performing index market during April, with major electronics manufacturers and chip makers slumping due to supply chain disruptions amid the lockdowns in Shanghai and neighbouring cities. Share prices were also sharply lower in the Philippines, South Korea and Singapore in April, while share price declines in China and Hong Kong were less muted.
Emerging market (EM) equities were firmly down in April, amid a pick-up in risk aversion globally. Increasingly hawkish sentiment from the US Federal Reserve, US dollar strength, concern over the impact of Covid lockdowns in China, and Russia’s ongoing war in Ukraine all weighed on the outlook. Poland, which saw its gas supply from Russia cut off, was the weakest market in the index, while neighbouring Hungary also lagged.
Industrial metals sold off amid increased uncertainty over the demand outlook from China, which was negative for net exporters Peru, Brazil and South Arica. In Peru, protests in response to soaring food and energy inflation, also weighed on the outlook. Mexico underperformed as the cyclical outlook deteriorated and policy concerns returned, while a weaker outlook for global trade was negative for Taiwan and South Korea.
By contrast, Turkey generated a positive return and was the best-performing index market. Net energy exporters Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Kuwait also finished in positive territory. China outperformed but posted a negative return as concern over the growth outlook increased and lockdowns implied supply chain disruption may be prolonged. This was despite some modest monetary easing during the month.Back To News & Insights