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Monthly markets review - December 2021

January 20th, 2022 Back To News & Insights

Highlights

  • Global equities were stronger in the final quarter of 2021 as investors focused on economic resilience and corporate earnings.
  • In bond markets, government bonds outperformed corporate bonds. Markets began to price a faster pace of interest rate rises in the US.
  • Commodities saw a positive return as industrials metals gained.

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 equities rose in Q4. Overall gains were robust despite a weaker November, during which fears over rising cases of the Omicron variant of Covid-19 and the speed of the Federal Reserve’s asset tapering had weighed. By year-end, these worries had largely subsided, while data continue to indicate that the economy overall remains stable and corporate earnings are robust.

US economic growth slowed sharply in the third quarter amid a flare-up in Covid-19 infections, but with activity since picking up, the economy remains on track to record its best performance since 1984. GDP increased at a 2.3% (annualised), up from the 2.1% pace estimated. This was still the slowest quarter of growth since the second quarter of 2020, when the economy suffered an historic contraction in the wake of tough mandatory measures to contain the first wave. Unemployment fell to 4.2%, the lowest since February 2020, from 4.6% in October. The participation rate rose slightly but is still about 1.5 percentage points lower than the pre-pandemic level.

Tech as a sub-sector was one of the strongest performers over the quarter, with chipmakers especially strong. Real estate also performed well, as investors expect e-commerce to continue to grow and drive further demand for industrial warehousing. Energy and financial names made more muted gains over the quarter.

Europe

Eurozone shares made gains in Q4, as a focus on strong corporate profits and economic resilience offset worries over the new Omicron variant. A number of countries did introduce restrictions on sectors such as travel and hospitality in order to try and reduce the spread of the new variant. The flash composite purchasing managers’ index hit a nine-month low of 53.4 for December, as the service sector was affected by rising Covid cases. However, equity markets drew support from early data indicating a lower risk of severe illness.

Utilities were among the top performers with IT stocks also registering strong gains. Technology hardware and semiconductor stocks performed particularly well. The luxury goods sector also performed very strongly, recovering from the summer sell-off which was sparked by a focus on “common prosperity” in China. Meanwhile, the communication services and real estate sectors saw negative returns.

The quarter was marked by volatile gas prices which contributed to higher inflation. The eurozone’s annual inflation rate reached 4.9% in November, compared to -0.3% a year earlier. The European Central Bank said it would scale back bond purchases but ruled out interest rate rises in 2022.

UK

UK equities rose over the quarter. Encouraging news around Omicron during December saw a number of economically sensitive areas of the market largely recoup the sharp losses they had sustained in the initial sell-off in late November, such as the banks. Some areas reliant on economies reopening, however, such as the travel and leisure and the oil and gas sector were unable to make up November’s losses and ended the quarter lower.

A number of defensive areas outperformed, including some of the large internationally diversified consumer staples groups. However, expectations China would maintain a zero tolerance approach to Omicron continued to impact sentiment towards a number of other globally exposed large cap companies. These consistently underperformed over the quarter, despite some uncertainties around increased regulatory oversight in China having abated.

Some domestically focussed area were particularly volatile and not just the travel and leisure companies directly disrupted by the latest Omicron related restrictions. The share prices of UK consumer facing sectors such as retailers and housebuilders yo-yoed inline with expectations around the timing of a rise in UK base rates, which came in December. Many retailers grappled with supply chain disruptions, resulting in some high profile profit warnings, despite strong demand.

Asia

Asia equities recorded a modest decline in the fourth quarter. There was a broad market sell-off following the emergence of the Omicron variant of Covid-19 which investors feared could derail the global economic recovery.

China was the worst-performing market in the index in the quarter, with share prices sharply lower, along with neighbouring Hong Kong, on investor fears that new lockdown restrictions would be instigated following the rapid spread of the new Covid-19 variant. Share prices in Singapore also ended the fourth quarter in negative territory as investors continued to track developments surrounding the new Omicron variant. There were also fears that the city-state’s government might have to scale back some recently relaxed curbs on activity. India and South Korea also ended the quarter in negative territory although the declines in share prices were more modest.

Taiwan and Indonesia were the best-performing index markets in the fourth quarter and the only two index markets to achieve gains in excess of 5% in the period. In Taiwan, positive economic data and a rise in exports boosted investor confidence, with chipmakers performing well. Share prices in Thailand, the Philippines and Malaysia also ended the quarter in positive territory.

Japan held a general election in October. Expectations for the ruling Liberal Democratic Party’s (LDP) election performance under Mr Kishida’s leadership were modest at best. However, in the event the LDP lost only 15 seats and retained a solid majority in its own right. With the election out of the way, the political focus shifted to a substantial fiscal stimulus package. This includes direct cash handouts to households in an effort to kick-start a consumption recovery in the first half of 2022.

Emerging Markets

The MSCI Emerging Markets Index lost value in Q4 and underperformed the MSCI World Index, with US dollar weakness a headwind. Turkey was the weakest index market, amid extreme volatility in the currency. The central bank lowered its policy rate by a total of 400bps to 14%, despite ongoing above-target inflation which accelerated to 21.3% year-on-year in November. With the lira coming under significant pressure, President Erdogan announced an unorthodox scheme to compensate savers for lira weakness, in an effort to reduce the use of US dollars.

Chile lagged the index as leftist Gabriel Boric was elected president. Brazil underperformed as the central bank continued to hike rates in response to rising inflation; the policy rate was increased by a total of 300bps during the quarter. Meanwhile, concerns over the fiscal outlook, and political uncertainty ahead of November 2022’s presidential election, also weighed on sentiment. Russia lagged as geopolitical tensions with the West ratcheted up, amid a build-up of Russian troops on its border with Ukraine. China also finished in negative territory as concerns over slowing growth persisted, exacerbated later in the quarter by uncertainty created by rising daily new cases of Covid-19.

By contrast, Egypt finished in positive territory and was the best performing index market. Peru and the UAE also posted double digit gains in dollar terms. Taiwan, aided by strong performance from IT stocks, Indonesia and Mexico all recorded solid gains and outperformed.

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