Investment market update: April 2024

21 May 2024

Investment market update: April 2024

A man looking at stock market performance on his phone.

Interest rates and inflation continued to affect markets around the world in April 2024. Read on to find out what else may have affected investment markets and your portfolio in April.

Expectations of interest rate cuts were good news for gold. Investors who feared falling interest rates would lead to lower returns on cash and government bonds purchased more gold. It led to the asset hitting a record high on 8 April at $2,535 (£3,171) an ounce.

Yet, while many experts are predicting that interest rates will fall, Kristalina Georgieva, the managing director of the International Monetary Fund, warned that central banks must resist pressure to cut them too soon.

UK

The UK ended 2023 in a technical recession – defined as two consecutive quarters of economic contraction. The latest figures suggest the UK is already out of the recession. According to the Office for National Statistics, GDP grew slightly by 0.1% in February 2024, following 0.3% growth in January.

UK inflation data was also positive. Inflation in the 12 months to March 2024 was 3.2%. While there’s still some way to go before reaching the Bank of England’s (BoE) 2% target, it’s the lowest figure recorded since September 2021.

Clare Lombardelli, the newly appointed BoE deputy governor, tempered the news by adding that inflation is likely to be “bumpy” as pricing behaviour isn’t smooth. However, she added that the overall experience for people should be lower and more predictable inflation.

On the back of good news and with a general election looming this year, chancellor Jeremy Hunt told the Financial Times that he’d like to cut taxes in the autumn fiscal statement “if we can”.

While inflation overall is falling, business group British Chamber of Commerce has warned that new Brexit fees and checks could lead to higher food prices in the UK. Importers of animal products from the EU will face an additional charge from 30 April 2024 and new checks will be applied from October.

Data from S&P Global’s Purchasing Managers’ Index (PMI) also indicates that growth will continue. The service sector continued to expand in March and the construction industry returned to growth thanks to increased work in infrastructure projects.

Official data shows average wages, excluding bonuses, increased by around 6% between December 2023 and February 2024. Once inflation is factored in, average wages increased by 2.1% in real terms.

Yet, other information suggests many households will continue to financially struggle. A BoE report suggests it expects the number of households and small businesses to default on debt to rise this summer.

A report from consultancy firm KPMG also found that half of consumers are cutting back on non-essential spending. In fact, just 3% of consumers said they had been able to spend more in the first quarter of 2024. Eating out is the most likely expense to be cut from budgets, which could negatively affect the hospitality sector.

In April, the FTSE 100 proved why investors need to be prepared to weather market volatility.

On 12 April, the index of the 100 largest companies on the London Stock Exchange closed at the highest level for over a year. News that the UK is likely to have exited a recession led to the index rising by 0.9%.

However, just days later, on 16 April, the index tumbled by 1.95% and almost every stock on the index was in the red, with mining companies and banks suffering the largest falls. The downturn was linked to a market adjustment after the US Federal Reserve said it may not cut interest rates as soon as it hoped.

Then there was another turn as the FTSE 100 hit a record high of 8,068 points on 23 April due to expectations that the BoE will start cutting interest rates this year and fears about escalating tensions in the Middle East eased.

The ups and downs serve as useful reminders to focus on the long-term performance of investments rather than short-term market movements.

Europe

Inflation across the eurozone fell by more than expected to 2.4% in the 12 months to March 2024. Despite optimism that interest rates would be cut, the European Central Bank opted to hold rates. Yet, the bank did signal that, if inflation continues to fall, it could cut them in the summer.

PMI data indicates that the eurozone economy returned to growth for the first time since May 2023. The positive figures were driven by stronger than expected output from the service sector, with Spain and Italy providing the strongest boost. However, the two largest economies in the bloc, Germany and France, contracted.

Some EU countries, including Italy and France, could be put under an infringement order procedure for operating budgets with deficits that breach the EU’s rules. Usually, governments have to keep budget deficits below 3% of GDP. The cap was set aside during the Covid-19 pandemic but could be implemented again, which might place pressure on public spending plans.

Similar to the UK, European indexes suffered on 16 April when the Federal Reserve indicated it wouldn’t cut interest rates soon. France’s CAC index fell 1.8% and Spain’s IBEX was down 1.2%.

US

The US private sector added 40,000 more jobs than expected in March 2024, with businesses hiring an additional 184,000 employees. Job growth is one of the measures the Federal Reserve will consider when deciding whether to cut interest rates, so the data led to speculation that rates would fall soon.

Yet, when the rate of inflation was released, it dampened the optimism. In the 12 months to March 2024, inflation was 3.5%, an increase when compared to the 3.2% recorded a month earlier.

Investment markets did benefit when fears that Iran’s attack on Israel would lead to an escalation in the Middle East didn’t materialise. On 15 April, the Dow Jones saw a rise of 0.9%, while the S&P 500 increased by 0.7%, and tech-focused index Nasdaq was up 0.6%.

Asia

China beat its GDP forecast when it posted growth of 5.3% for January to March 2024 when compared to a year earlier. However, China’s National Bureau of Statistics recognised that growth could be hampered. The organisation said the external environment was becoming more “complex, severe, and uncertain”.

Indeed, the country faced several headwinds in April.

First, credit rating agency Fitch has cut the outlook of China’s debt from “stable” to “negative”, as it said the country was facing uncertain economic prospects.

Then, US treasury secretary Janet Yellen voiced concerns that China’s excess maufacturing capital could cause global fallout. She said China was too big to rely on exports for rapid growth and excess capacity was putting pressure on other economies.

While Yellen didn’t make any announcements about trade tariffs on Chinese goods, she said she would not rule out taking more action to protect the US economy from Chinese imports.

Please note:

This blog is for general information only and does not constitute advice. The information is aimed at retail clients only.

The value of your investments (and any income from them) can go down as well as up and you may not get back the full amount you invested. Past performance is not a reliable indicator of future performance.

Investments should be considered over the longer term and should fit in with your overall attitude to risk and financial circumstances.

Approver Quilter Financial Services Limited & Quilter Mortgage Planning Limited.  08/05/2024



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