Welcome to a new year and a new decade.
I recently participated in a presentation hosted by the Economic Club of Canada. The big six Canadian banks had their chief economists offer their insights on the current state of the global economy. In addition, I would like to provide you with a brief overview of some key investment market developments over the past quarter and for 2019 as a whole, as well as some insight into the factors that may affect markets in the coming months.
Overall, global capital markets exhibited remarkable resilience in 2019, rebounding from a severe decline that occurred in late 2018. Despite starting the year on a tentative note, they ultimately shrugged off a stream of negative headlines and uneasy sentiment to stage a robust recovery, with the fourth quarter capping off a year of broad-based gains across most equity and income asset classes.
Supported by low interest rates, slow global economic progress and healthy corporate fundamentals, equity markets advanced in the fourth quarter and registered solid results for 2019, with many finishing the year just off their all-time highs. Canadian equities advanced with supportive business conditions and strong commodity prices boosting results for most sectors. Overseas, markets showed a similar trajectory, with European developed market equities advancing amid an environment of easy monetary policy and Brexit uncertainty, and many markets in Asia posting positive results for the fourth quarter and the year as well.
After moving to raise interest rates to a more “neutral” level from their record lows in 2018, the U.S. Federal Reserve reacted to weaker global economic growth and tepid inflation in 2019 by easing monetary policy. The central bank made three 25 basis-point cuts to its target rate through the course of the year, while many other international peers also lowered rates based on global economic concerns. The Bank of Canada, however, charted a divergent course, keeping its policy interest rate steady at 1.75% throughout the year. In this environment, 10-year U.S. and Canada government bond yields drifted higher in the fourth quarter, rebounding from their yearly lows in the third quarter. The FTSE TMX Universe Bond Index, which broadly reflects results for the Canadian government and corporate bond market, registered slightly negative returns for the fourth quarter but a gain of 6.9% for the year.
What’s the outlook for 2020?
Looking forward, many economists and market watchers forecast slow but positive global economic growth over the coming months, while interest rates are also expected to remain low by historical standards. While this type of environment tends to be generally supportive for businesses and asset markets, experienced investors are also preparing for a lower-return environment consistent with a mature business cycle, as well as periods of increased volatility. With valuations for many assets near record highs, a well-diversified, professionally managed investment portfolio can help to maximize returns and mitigate risks as they occur.
In closing, I would like to extend my sincere wishes for a happy new year to you and your family.