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Quarterly markets review - Q1 2022

April 5th, 2021 Back To News & Insights

Highlights

  • Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in late February caused a global shock.
  • Commodity prices soared given Russia is a key producer of several important commodities including oil, gas, and wheat.
  • Chinese equities were negatively affected by renewed Covid-19 outbreaks, leading to new lockdowns in some major cities.

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

US stocks declined in Q1. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine drew widespread condemnation and elicited a range of strict sanctions from the US and its allies. President Biden targeted what he termed "the main artery of Russia's economy" by banning Russian oil imports.

Sanctions also struck at the Russian financial system. Assets of the Russian central bank were frozen, while coordinated steps were taken with numerous allies to seeking to deny Russia access to the global financial system. Some of Russia’s wealthiest people have also been hit with asset freezes and seizures, while a slew of major international corporations have withdrawn from the country. Numerous other sanctions have been instated.

The invasion amplified existing concerns over inflation pressures, particularly through food and energy, although US economic data otherwise remained stable. The US unemployment rate dropped from 3.8% in February to 3.6% in March. Wages continue to rise, but have not yet matched the rate of headline inflation. The annual US inflation rate, as measured by the consumer price index, hit 7.9% in February.

Europe

The invasion led to a spike in energy prices and caused some fears about security of supply. Germany suspended the approval of the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline from Russia. The European Commission announced a plan – RePowerEU – designed to diversify sources of gas and speed up the roll-out of renewable energy. However, in the meantime there are fears that the high energy prices will weigh on both business and consumer demand, hitting economic activity.

Over the quarter, energy was the only sector to register a positive return. The steepest declines came from the consumer discretionary and information technology sectors. Worries over consumer spending led to declines for stocks such as retailers, while the war in Ukraine also exacerbated supply chain disruption, hitting the availability of parts for a wide range of products.

In response to rising inflation, the European Central Bank (ECB) outlined plans to end bond purchases by the end of September. ECB President Christine Lagarde indicated that a first interest rate rise could potentially come this year, saying rates would rise “some time” after asset purchases had concluded. Data showed annual eurozone inflation at 7.5% in March, up from 5.9% in February.

The ongoing war in Ukraine and rising inflation led to a small pullback in forward-looking measures of economic activity. The flash eurozone composite purchasing managers’ index (PMI) slipped to 54.5 in March from 55.5 in February, though a level over 50 still represents expansion. (The PMI indices, produced by IHS Markit, are based on survey data from companies in the manufacturing and services sectors.)

UK

UK equities were resilient as investors began to price in the additional inflationary shock of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Large cap equities tracked by the FTSE 100 index rose over the quarter, driven by the oil, mining, healthcare and banking sectors. Strength in the banks reflected rising interest rate expectations. The Bank of England moved to hike rates ahead of other developed market central banks.

As the quarter progressed, some of the more traditionally defensive sectors advanced up the leader board. Intermittent fears of a global recession, however, drove periodic sell-offs in some of these “safer” stocks too. Market volatility rose given the additional uncertainty related to the Russia/Ukraine conflict.

The Bank of England increased its official rate by a combined 50 basis points (bps) with a further two consecutive 25 bps hikes on top of December’s 0.15% increase. Consumer focused areas underperformed, as did traditionally economically sensitive one. Those parts of the market offering high future growth potential also lagged. These factors combined drove a poor performance from UK small and mid cap equities.

According to the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR), UK consumer price inflation is set to peak at close to 9% this year. The OBR published its new forecast for the Consumer Prices Index (CPI) alongside the Spring Statement at the end of the quarter. It now expects CPI to hit 8.7% in Q4 2022 (previous forecasts had been to peak at 4.4% in the second quarter of 2022) before falling back in Q1 2023. Chancellor Rishi Sunak announced additional measures alongside the Spring Statement designed to support the UK consumer.

Asia

After weakness in January and February, the Japanese stock market rose in March to end the first quarter just slightly below its end 2021 level. This was despite the change in outlook for US interest rates, the outbreak of war in Europe and sharply higher energy prices.

Share prices in China were sharply lower in the quarter while shares in Hong Kong and Taiwan also fell. The number of Covid-19 cases in Hong Kong and China spiked to their highest level in more than two years during the quarter despite the Chinese government pursuing one of the world’s strictest virus elimination policies. The city of Shanghai, China’s financial capital with a population of 25 million people, went into a partial lockdown at the end of the quarter in a bid to curb a surge in Omicron Covid-19 cases, prompting fears that other parts of the country could also go into lockdown.

Share prices in South Korea were also sharply lower in the first three months of 2022 as the Covid-19 pandemic continues to affect economic activity in many parts of the Asia-Pacific region. However, despite the index falling sharply, there were pockets of growth such as Indonesia, which achieved solid gains in share prices during the quarter. Thailand, Malaysia and the Philippines also moved higher, although gains were more muted.

Emerging Markets

Emerging market (EM) equities were firmly down in Q1 as geopolitical tensions took centre stage following Russia’s launch of a full-scale invasion of Ukraine. The US and its Western allies responded with a raft of sanctions. Commodity prices moved higher in response to the war, raising concerns over the impact on inflation, policy tightening and the outlook for growth.

Egypt, a major wheat importer, was the weakest market in the MSCI EM index, due in part to a 14% currency devaluation relative to the US dollar. China lagged by a wide margin as daily new cases of Covid-19 spiked, and lockdowns were imposed in several cities, including Shanghai. Regulatory concerns relating to US-listed Chinese stocks also contributed to market volatility. Poland, Hungary and South Korea also underperformed.

Conversely, the Latin American markets all generated strong gains, led higher by Brazil. Other EM net commodity exporters posted sizeable gains, including Kuwait, Qatar, the UAE, Saudi Arabia and South Africa. Russia was removed from the MSCI Emerging Markets Index on 9 March, at a price that is effectively zero.

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