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No end in sight to global market turmoil

Monday 10th December 2018

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Global sharemarkets continue to be roiled by fears about geopolitical risks to economic growth.

That includes the developing China-United States trade wars, fears that were exacerbated by last week's arrest of Huawei chief financial officer and daughter of the company's founder, Meng Wanzhou.

The release of figures on Friday showing the US economy added 155,000 jobs in November, well below expectations of 198,000, and down from 237,000 in October, added to the growing nervousness.

The broad measure of US stocks, the S&P 500 Index fell 2.3 percent on Friday, taking the losses for the week to 4.6 percent.

The index is now 1.5 percent lower than where it began the year.

On its face, the New Zealand NZX 50 Index performed better shedding 0.6 percent for the week but still up 4.4 percent year-to-date, but that includes dividends, unlike most of the global indices, and, on a like-for-like basis the New Zealand market is little more than flat.

Meng was arrested in Canada, ostensibly for violating US trade sanctions on Iran which China hasn't signed up to, and risks extradition to the US, possibly to be used as a bargaining chip in the China-US trade negotiations.

Markets are also looking for confirmation that the Federal Reserve will be taking a more cautious approach in 2019 – the markets have priced in a 70 percent likelihood of a further rate hike this month, but investors are now expecting a pause in 2019 because of slowing growth and greater market volatility.

Other simmering reasons for anxiety include a key Brexit vote in London due on Tuesday, weaker economic activity in Europe and budget disagreements in Italy.

“Growth is the big one – if you've got a generally bigger and sharper then expected slowdown in growth, that's where the rubber hits the road for asset values and share prices,” said Mark Lister, head of wealth research at Craigs Investment Partners.

“People are generally spooked about just how much growth could slow going into next year.”

Calming one set of nerves though, OPEC producers and other nations, including Russia, agreed to cut output by 1.2 million barrels a day from January, providing some support for global oil prices.

On the local front this week, the highlight will probably be the release of the government's 2018 half year Economic and Fiscal Update on Thursday and the government's 2019 Budget statement.

“Most economists are expecting a similar tone to May's Budget update and Fiscal Strategy Report,” Lister said.

“Robust growth and a healthy labour market are likely to have kept the tax take solid, so the government's books should be in good shape, as will the forecasts for the next five years,” he said.

“A key question will be whether this solid outlook leaves any room for the government to be a little more generous on the spending front, while remaining within the self-imposed Budget Responsibility Rules,” he said.

Those rules include running sustainable operating surpluses across the economic cycle, reducing net core Crown debt to 20 percent of gross domestic product within five years of taking office and keeping government spending as a proportion of GDP in line with historic trends.

“(Finance Minister Grant) Robertson wants to be sensible,” Lister said. “But he's going to get some grief from his constituents.”

But Robertson will be well aware of the global risks to the economy and of recent global market volatility.

“He won't be blind to these things that are going on around the world. He will want to keep those books in pristine condition just in case,” Lister said.

(BusinessDesk)

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