Stock markets raise a glass to the Donald Trump growth pledge

Amid the acres of newsprint being occupied by Brexit and Donald Trump, it is very hard to distil how both will affect the real economy. Highly charged opinions and emotional debating distorts the actual impact on daily life.

At times like this, it can be helpful to follow the money. 

By that, I mean analysing what large institutional asset managers are doing with the money they manage and, separately, to examine what business leaders are actually doing with their companies.

On both fronts, the results, perhaps surprisingly, are not as dire as some headlines would suggest.

Certainly, economic growth prospects in both Ireland and the UK are being lowered but business and money managers are used to adjusting and reacting to changed circumstances. 

Instead of running for the hills these professionals assess the hard facts and make corresponding judgements.

One place to start is with overall equity markets. Despite doomsday expectations, big UK and US equity markets have done well since early June with the FTSE 100 up 8% and the Dow Jones up 5%, including a spurt since Mr Trump’s election.

Growing hopes of expansionary policies on both side of the Atlantic point to pro-business decisions being taken that could inflate economies and thereby boost profit expectations. 

This view is backed up by a survey of fund managers by Bank of America Merril Lynch which showed a majority of investors expected profits in Europe to grow over the next 12 months.

Another perspective is to examine the comments and guidance emerging from the leaders of important companies. In this regard, it is worthwhile reading through trading updates and results from a number of Irish companies in recent weeks. 

While these are undoubtedly conservative they continue to point to progress on a number of fronts.

Large food companies have outlined their prospects. Glanbia and Kerry indicated business conditions were broadly in line with their guidance provided in early summer. 

For sure, weak sterling has taken the sheen off their reported numbers but nonetheless current trading was within the range of expectations set out earlier this year.

Construction company CRH was cautious about trading in Europe but confirmed strong momentum in the US.

Insulation company Kingspan raised its guidance on 2016 profits for the second time in four months due to good market performances in the US and Europe.

The banking sector is another industry that witnessed a surprising rise in share prices since the US election. 

This is being attributed to rising bond yields which have the capacity to boost bank profits.

Also, there are suggestions that layers of financial regulations may be lifted by the Trump administration.

A healthy and profitable banking sector is positive for an overall economy because it encourages lending to underpin growth.

All of these factors feed into how financial markets are trending. 

Alongside stronger equity markets, bond markets, particularly in the US, are being sold off as investors anticipate higher inflation and rising interest rates.

When that happens bond investors, who have been in a bull market for almost 35 years, start switching asset classes. 

With trillions of dollars tied up in bonds, there is a possibility that some of this could migrate into equities and further propel stock indices higher.

Amid the flurry of activity, individual investors will have to adjust their own portfolios too. Higher bond yields could alleviate pressure on many pension savings as they offer higher annual coupons. 

In turn, a higher yielding bond market tends to encourage large parts of the equity market to follow suit. 

The idea that bond coupons and equity dividends may be on the rise is a welcome outcome.

Of course, Brexit and Trump have deeply ugly aspects and these will the subject of heated debate over coming weeks and months. 

Democracies have an ability to soften even the hardest political points of view and we must hope the democratic process in both the UK and US has the ability to combat extremism. 

While that is ahead of us, financial markets for the moment are toasting with a glass half-full instead of half-empty.

Joe Gill is director of corporate broking at Goodbody Stockbrokers. His views are personal.


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