By Marc Jones
LONDON (Reuters) – What goes down must come up! Three months after one of the worst years on record, investors have seen world stocks and key commodity markets roar back with their best first quarter since 2012.
It may seem a little incongruous when bond markets are screaming recession warnings, but it’s all good when the world’s two biggest economies are trying to mend their differences and major central banks are going all soft and cuddly again.
The numbers are quite astonishing. The value of MSCI’s world share index has surged $6 trillion. Wall Street is up 13 percent, Europe 12 percent and China has jumped 25 percent, which is almost everything it lost last year and has only been bettered by Colombia.
Oil has raced up 30 percent, which is its best performance in any quarter since 2009. That has also helped Russia’s rouble top the currency charts and copper and nickel have led metals markets to their best start to a year since 2012.
Chief investment officer of asset manager Prime Partners, Francois Savary, thinks the turnaround has been remarkable.
“It has been the return of Goldilocks,” he said referring to the prime conditions for risk assets where borrowing is cheap and inflation is low.
With the global economy clearly slowing he suspects stocks are likely to now pause but for fixed income that is all music to the ears.
German Bunds – Europe’s benchmark government IOUs – have had their best quarter in three years, making roughly 2 percent, with the yield on 10-year debt having dropped a week ago below zero percent for the first time since 2016.
Despite almost daily Brexit chaos, UK Gilts returns have jumped 5.5 percent, while U.S. Treasuries have made 3.2 percent as their yields have fallen 27 basis points. That followed a 37 basis point fall the previous quarter, whereas in the five quarters prior to that they had consistently risen.
(Graphic: Global market asset performance 2019 png, https://tmsnrt.rs/2HMUijc)
Currency markets have been on the turn too.
The dollar index will squeeze out its fourth quarterly rise in a row, but it is largely because the euro is set for its weakest Q1 since 2015 after a dive in euro zone growth scuppered the ECB’s rate hike aspirations.
The yen is down a touch too, but sterling and others are up and especially against the euro with the pound’s 4 percent gain set be its best quarter since the start of 2015, long before Brexit worries struck.
The Canadian, Aussie and Kiwi dollars have also done well but as usual the wilder swings have been in emerging markets.
Argentina’s peso and Turkey’s lira, 2018’s punchbags, have taken another beating and especially in recent weeks as worries about both countries’ political and economic trajectories have started to bite again.
Central Europe has suffered from the euro’s slide whereas at the other end of the spectrum, the rouble is up 7.3 percent and China’s yuan, Mexico’s and Colombia’s pesos, Egypt’s pound and the Thai baht are all up between 1.5 and 3.5 percent.
(Graphic: Global FX in 2019, https://tmsnrt.rs/2V7nnck)
Wall Street’s rally has put the S&P 500 and Nasdaq up for their strongest quarters since 2009 and 2012 respectively. The S&P also now only 4 percent off its record high with the so-called FANG tech stocks once again providing all the torque.
Facebook has surged 27 percent, Amazon 19 percent, Google 12 percent and streaming giant Netflix has soared more than 30 percent.
“The selloff in December was too sharp,” said chief investment officer of New York-based hedge fund ValueWorks, Charles Lemonides. “If the Fed stays accommodative the economy will do well.”
Silicon Valley startups have also enjoyed a frenzy. Ride-hailing service Lyft, which has been unable to say when it will stop losing money, was valued at more than $24 billion in its IPO on Thursday.
The Renaissance IPOETF, which invests in recently listed companies including Spotify and software seller Okta, has also gained a whopping 31 percent since the start of the year.
(Graphic: World stocks index surges $6 trillion in 2019, https://tmsnrt.rs/2HNzc4v)
And if you think that’s good, China’s tech sector has flown up 46 percent with online behemoth Alibaba up more than 30 percent alone.
That’s all against the backdrop of Beijing swinging back into stimulus after the economy slowed to a 28-year low.
“It is a challenge for the Chinese equity market to be able to show as good a performance in the next 9 months,” said Khiem Do, head of Greater China investments, Global Markets, at Barings, in Hong Kong.
“A lot of good news have been reflected in the prices. But the Chinese government will still be biased towards reflating the economy.”
(Graphic: Emerging market stocks in 2019, https://tmsnrt.rs/2WAR71J)
(Graphic: Bonds this week: All about Britain and Italy png, https://tmsnrt.rs/2V8yMII )
(Graphic: European stocks performance March 29, https://tmsnrt.rs/2HKt9gZ)
(Additional reporting by Virginia Furness in London, Noah Sin in Hong Kong and Noel Randewich in New York; additional graphics by Ritvik Carvalho and Helen Reid)