Tech stocks on the rise
US stock markets are surfing new highs as better-than-forecast results from technology giants are boosting gains across the sector. Although stronger economic growth in the US and globally has given rise to increased business confidence across the board, it’s estimated that a quarter of the S&P 500’s record-breaking return this year is down to a handful of over-performing tech stars.
The S&P 500’s gains put the index firmly on track to record its 104th month in a bull market. In fact, the price-to-earnings ratio of the US stock market hasn’t been this high since the dotcom bubble of the 1990s. And while there are no signs of an imminent crash, it’s a scenario that’s making some investors nervous.
Rising wealth hits new highs
The number of high net worth individuals – those with free assets of more than $1m – has grown exponentially, as booming stock markets in the US and Europe propelled more than a million people into the ranks of the super wealthy, bringing the current global count to a record 16.5 million.
According to a recent report by business consultancy Capgemini, the world’s high net worth individuals (HNWI) have collectively amassed an eye-watering fortune of $63.5 trillion. Last year alone, 1.1 million people joined this exclusive club – a rise of 8.2% – far outstripping the 6.5% annualised growth across the previous five years. Researchers predict that HNWI wealth is on track to exceed $100 trillion by 2025.
Are we on the cusp of a Bitcoin bubble?
What goes up must come down – or must it? Bitcoin’s recent stratospheric rise has helped push the value of crypto-currencies through the $50 billion-mark, triggering concerns over the creation of an unstable asset bubble in what is a largely unregulated market.
The rapid growth in alternative digital currencies — so-called ‘alt-coins’ — as well as in Bitcoin itself is without precedent; the value of Bitcoin alone has risen by more than 50% in a month and is currently worth more than gold. It’s an astonishing trajectory for a virtual, non-fiat currency.
Is the presidential honeymoon over?
It was one of Donald Trump’s most prominent pre-election pledges, so when the much-vaunted repeal of Obamacare failed to secure the support it needed in Congress, Wall Street signalled its disapproval via a massive share dump, bringing the stock market’s seemingly unstoppable rise to a screeching halt.
If the stellar performance of the S&P over the past few months demonstrated a level of confidence in the ability of the new president to deliver on his promises, this abrupt volte-face is a reflection of a more sombre mood. Tumbling US shares prefaced similar dips in Tokyo, Frankfurt, Paris and London as global markets wobbled over the prospect of the Trump administration’s ability to deliver on a raft of growth-boosting measures.
The winds of change
On the face of it, the ideological and political differences between the outgoing Obama administration and the incoming Trump regime could not be greater. Barely a single policy is likely to remain unaffected, with everything from public spending to international relations predicted to shift into sharp reverse under the auspices of a maverick who’s made his mark by defying convention throughout the presidential campaign.
In the last months of 2016, the financial markets reacted to Trump’s unexpected victory via a textbook surge in stocks and government yields as well as a significant upshift in the value of the dollar following predictions of increased growth and higher levels of inflation on the wave of announcements regarding deregulation, tax reforms and infrastructure spending.
Oil prices soar as Opec deal nears agreement
In a landmark agreement thrashed out at a November meeting in Vienna, oil cartel Opec has agreed to cut supplies for the first time since the global financial crisis, causing prices to soar to the $50-a-barrel mark. The 13-member-strong cartel is responsible for pumping a third of the world’s oil, so the announcement that it would cut production by around 4%, equating to a reduction of 1.2m barrels a day, was big news on the markets.
The agreement represents an about-turn for Saudi Arabia, which has been committed to rising output over the last two years in a bid to torpedo the profits of US shale and other high-cost producers. The new cuts are designed to push prices upward from a $50 floor.