September was the month when nothing much happened on the world’s stock markets. Three of the 11 major markets on which we report were up, three were unchanged and five were down – but none of them by very much. The UK led the way, albeit only up 2%, while Japan and China were the laggards, both markets declining by 3% in the month.
One thing that was definitely up was the price of oil: at the beginning of the month the price rose after Russia and Saudi Arabia agreed to discuss ways to ‘stabilise the market’ and at the month end the oil producers cartel, Opec, agreed a preliminary deal to cut production for the first time in eight years. Brent crude rose 6% to nearly $49 a barrel on the news.
There was widespread international condemnation as North Korea claimed a fifth successful nuclear test. South Korean President Park Guen-hye called it an act of “self-destruction” and the US warned of “serious consequences.” Meanwhile, life in North Korea continued in its normal, rational way as Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un banned sarcasm, apparently worried that people would, “only agree with me ironically.”
UK Prime Minister Theresa May began the month at the G20 Summit in China, where she found very few people agreeing with her, ironically or otherwise. Japan’s government warned that Brexit could result in the country’s firms moving their European head offices out of the UK, “if EU law ceases to be applicable.”
That will perhaps be tested sooner rather than later: we will report on this fully in next month’s Bulletin, but the Prime Minister has now confirmed that Britain will trigger Article 50 and begin the formal process of leaving the EU, “by March 2017.” With new Chancellor Phillip Hammond also saying that he will abandon many of his predecessor’s key targets, there’ll be plenty to write about next month!
For September, most of the economic news for the UK was good. Figures reported at the beginning of the month showed the manufacturing sector had rebounded sharply in August, with the Purchasing Managers’ Index rising to 53.3 from July’s figure of 48.3 – with any figure above 50 indicating expansion.
There was also good news for the services sector, with the PMI jumping from a seven year low of 47.4 to post its biggest monthly rise in 20 years, up to 52.9. These two pieces of good news prompted most commentators to suggest that any recession in the immediate aftermath of Brexit was now unlikely.
Figures for July showed that the UK trade deficit had shrunk from £5.6bn in June to £4.5bn and UK car production hit a 14 year high in August as 109,004 vehicles rolled off the production line, up 9.1% on August 2015.
In the face of all this positive news, the OECD toned down its warnings of post-Brexit gloom – but there were still a couple of dark clouds on the horizon. The British Chambers of Commerce cut its forecast for UK growth for this year from 2.2% to 1.8%, and the BBC reported that small business confidence was down for the first time in four years.
What of the UK numbers? Inflation held steady at 0.6% and the Bank of England kept interest rates on hold at 0.25%. And as reported above, the FTSE-100 index of leading shares was up 2% to close the month at 6,899: it is now up 11% on a year-to-date basis.
By now you could probably write the opening paragraph of this section yourselves. Another month, another problem for Volkswagen. Or two in this case, as Australia announced plans to sue the beleaguered car maker, and the bill for the emissions scandal in the USA came in at $10bn.
Another German institution appears to be under threat, with the IMF recently describing Deutsche Bank as ‘the world’s most dangerous bank’ – the weakest link in a chain of globally significant institutions. Shares in the bank are at their lowest level for 30 years with Chancellor Angela Merkel having apparently ruled out any prospect of state aid.
With Commerzbank announcing plans to end dividend payments and cut 9,600 jobs, these are not happy times for the German banking sector.
…Or for EU chief Jean-Claude Juncker, who announced that the EU, “is facing an existential crisis” as member states co-operate less and less. His mood won’t have been helped by this weekend’s statement from Theresa May, or the referendum result in Hungary.
Meanwhile Austrian Chancellor Christian Kern became the latest European politician to berate multinationals like Amazon and Starbucks. “Every Viennese café, every sausage stand pays more tax in Austria than a multinational corporation,” he fumed.
So how did European sausage stands perform on the stock markets? They didn’t is the answer: the German market was down 82 points (just under 1%) at 10,511 whilst the French index had its second consecutive month of going virtually nowhere. It closed September up just 10 points at 4,448.
We’re now barely a month away from the US Presidential Election – due on November 8th – and Hillary Clinton remains the firm favourite: with new revelations coming out almost every day, the only safe prediction is that the contest will get a lot more heated and divisive before polling day.
US jobs figures for August were slightly disappointing, with 151,000 jobs created – down sharply on July’s revised figure of 275,000. The average monthly increase over the past 12 months has been just over 204,000 so these figures suggested that a rise in US interest rates might be delayed – although most commentators still expect a rise by the end of the year.
In company news, Apple launched the latest version of the iPhone, and media giant Liberty Media bought control of Formula One. Twitter shares were up on news of a possible takeover, and Yahoo conceded that ‘state-sponsored hackers’ had stolen data on 500m users, the largest publicly-disclosed data breach in history.
On Wall Street, the Dow Jones index was down 1% at 18,308. It is up by 5% for the year to date.
Fresh from warning North Korea about “serious consequences,” President Obama urged China to speed up measures to tackle over-production of industrial goods. Call me an old cynic but I suspect both will be roundly ignored.
Experts – this time it was former IMF chief economist Ken Rogoff – continued to warn about the slowdown in China, as suggestions continued that the economy is slowing down far more quickly than official figures suggest.
The Bank for International Settlements was the latest institution to warn about a possible banking crisis in China, as the banks continue to extend credit in a bid (presumably Government backed) to fend off the slowdown. This extension of credit may help to explain the record levels of Chinese investment overseas, with data for 2015 now showing that Chinese companies have invested more overseas (£111bn) than overseas companies invested in China.
Meanwhile the Bank of Japan was busy overhauling its massive stimulus package for the Japanese economy, setting long term targets for the economy and apparently abandoning its 2% target for inflation.
Despite the overhaul of the stimulus package – which initially sent world stock markets higher – it wasn’t a good month for the Japanese index, which was down 3% at 16,450. China’s Shanghai Composite Index was down by a similar amount to 3,005. The South Korean market was virtually unchanged at 2,044, with Hong Kong the only Far Eastern stock market to move up, although only by 1% to 23,297.
In Brazil, the new government of President Michel Terner has announced a privatisation plan in a bid to revive the country’s struggling economy. It plans to sell off four airports and two port terminals, as well as offer contracts for a range of projects from building new roads to operating mines. “The state cannot do it all,” said the new President.
Meanwhile, ex-President Lula and his wife have been accused of widespread corruption: with recent President Dilma Rousseff impeached for breaking fiscal and budget laws, politics in Brazil is coming to resemble Game of Thrones – but at least without the bloodshed.
Despite the ever revolving door of the courthouse, the Brazilian stock market was up 1% in September to 58,367. It’s now up by 35% on a year to date basis – easily the best performance among the markets we cover.
The Russian stock market was more or less unchanged in September at 1,978 while the Indian market fell back 2% to 27,866. They are respectively up 12% and 7% for the first nine months of the year.
Numbers in China are often considered to have lucky or unlucky connotations. The number four is unlucky (because it sounds like the word for ‘death’) whilst the number eight – sounding like the word for ‘prosperity’ – is considered lucky.
But surely a group of Chinese investors were taking it too far when they bought 333 Kent Street in Sydney’s central business district? The price they paid was A$88,888,888.88, with the estate agent (who undoubtedly considers the number eight very lucky) reporting that this wasn’t the first time Chinese buyers had submitted ‘lucky’ bids.
On the off chance that the same investors are reading this Bulletin and would like a souvenir, various bits of the office are available including the mouse, keyboard and coffee cup used to produce this bulletin. Shall we start the bidding at £888.88?