February has seen some mixed performances from key equity markets over the month. However, the leading UK index hit an all-time high in the past 4 weeks. The reason is that this index contains a number of defensive stocks, that are less impacted by the economic climate, along with some companies that provide some inflation-proofing, along with a dependable dividend yield. Also, the majority of its earnings come from overseas, where the strength of the US Dollar against Sterling has made those revenues more valuable when they are translated back.
Turning to US growth assets, the Fed minutes from the FOMC meeting at the start of the month, were released and set the tone for the rest of February. The key takeaways were that inflation remained well above the Fed’s 2% target, and labour markets remained very tight, contributing to continuing upward pressures on wages and prices. The markets had started to factor in a reduction in interest rates this year, but on the back of this statement, this seems now less likely, and we saw both equites and bonds fall on the news. Consumer, personal spending and employer data also seemed to support this view.
Keeping with inflation, 24th February marked the one year anniversary since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The impact of the ongoing conflict continues to be felt around the globe and has put huge pressure on commodities like fuel and energy, causing prices to surge. When coupled with supply chains that were already under strain post-Covid, then this adds to the reason why the inflation story is still strong.
Turning to factor performance, over the month the factor that produced the best return was ‘momentum’, whilst the ‘growth’ factor suffered once again. On the back of this, ESG portfolios were impacted over the month, as they remain biased towards growth stocks.
Moving to defensive assets, the change of outlook on inflation weighed on bonds, with both the UK and US 10-year treasuries decreasing in value as yields rose. This takes these the two benchmark bonds back to where they started at the beginning of January.
In summary, the inflation and interest noises are continuing to set the tone for global markets as we move closer to the end of Q1. An all-time high level in the UK has helped sentiment but the test in the short term, will be whether this index can hold onto this new level as we move through March.