Take a step into the ‘known unknowns’

Lively trading on the New York Stock Exchange on Wednesday following the surprise victory of Donald Trump in the US presidential election. Picture: Richard Drew/AP

Lively trading on the New York Stock Exchange on Wednesday following the surprise victory of Donald Trump in the US presidential election. Picture: Richard Drew/AP

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Political turmoil rarely has a lasting impact on investment markets and household finances and Donald Trump’s victory is unlikely to be an exception.

However, the implications for interest rates, currencies, stock markets, pensions and the wider global economy could be widely felt over the coming months.

The two days following the election saw a brief FTSE rally from an initial dip, the Dow Jones reach a record high, European sovereign bond prices plunge and Asian currencies and shares hit by turbulence.

The volatility reflected widespread uncertainty over the ramifications of the result and speculation over the differences between what Donald Trump said during his campaign and what he might actually do. For instance, while his comments on protectionism and imposing tariffs on Asia and Latin America have rocked emerging markets equities, US stock markets have risen on the possibility of increased fiscal stimulus and infrastructure spending.

Amanda Forsyth, investment manager at Murray Asset Management in Edinburgh, said: “To some extent, although the outcome is almost certainly not the one the City was looking for, it does at least reduce the “unknown unknowns” by one – to replace it with a “known unknown”.

“So little of what Mr Trump has said in the course of his election is likely to be within the scope of his remit that we are having to look carefully between the lines.”

Investments

The outcome of an election is supposed to resolve uncertainty. As with June’s EU referendum, however, the US election result has merely increased it and global indices have been on a rollercoaster ride since Wednesday.

Emerging markets are the main cause for concern, reflecting nervousness over US trade policies under Trump.

The FTSE rally that followed an initial post-election fall ran out of steam on Friday, partly due to the effect of the strengthening pound on the 75 per cent or so of FTSE 100 companies that report in US dollars.

One policy that Trump has reiterated since the election is huge infrastructure spending, which could benefit sectors including engineering, construction and transport.

“We do know that he will have to borrow heavily if he is to put in place the infrastructure spend that he has promised – even if it does happen at one-third of the current price, as promised,” said Forsyth.

US government borrowing will have to rise if Trump’s pledges of tax cuts and increased spending are carried out, she added.

“That being the case, the inexorable strengthening of the US dollar in recent months should come to an end. A new lease of life in the US economy may therefore prove useful for holders of US equities.”

Some commodity prices have risen dramatically since the election, most notably copper – seen as benefiting from higher infrastructure spending – and gold, benefiting from its safe haven status.

Banks, industrial firms, healthcare providers and traditional energy firms have also gained since Wednesday, with technology and consumer goods firms among those being sold off by investors.

What to look out for: Signs of stability in emerging markets, and the potential knock-on effect of next month’s Italian constitutional referendum, which could trigger fresh turmoil in Europe.

Pensions

Market volatility could cause sleepless nights for pension investors, particularly those nearing retirement. Those with a few years left to go can expect volatility to be smoothed out over the long run, however, especially if they drip-feed their investments and therefore benefit from low prices and the effect of pound cost averaging.

There may even be some good news for final salary pension schemes and for savers planning to buy an annuity at retirement. Bond yields, which are used in calculating both pension scheme liabilities and the pricing of annuities, have edged up in recent days amid expectations that higher US spending could cause inflation and interest rates to rise. Thursday saw UK government bonds reach their highest level since the EU referendum, although they remain below the pre-referendum level.

What to look out for: The effect on gilt yields if Trump follows up on infrastructure spending pledges.

Currencies

Emerging markets currencies fell sharply on events in the US, with the Indonesian rupiah, Japanese yen, Chinese yuan and Mexican peso all suffering. The pound rallied slightly on the hope that a post-Brexit UK could seal trade deals with the new administration.

“A Trump victory is likely to weaken the US dollar against major currencies in the short term, although its defensive characteristics should provide some support after the initial shock,” said Lowcock. “The weakness could be passed on to emerging market currencies as Trump has been negative on free trade, looking to protect US businesses.”

What to look out for: A strengthening US dollar as expectations rise of inflation and higher interest rates.

Interest rates

As the dust begins to settle the attention will turn to the Federal Reserve and its plans to raise interest rates.

Some currency, bond and equity prices may be more sensitive to the outcome of the Federal Reserve’s next monetary policy meeting than to the election result. The Fed was seen as likely to hike rates in December after recent economic data showed an acceleration in the pace of wage growth. Trump’s victory has dampened expectations of a rate hike, but experts believe it will go ahead.

Colin McLean, managing director, at SVM Asset Management in Edinburgh, said: “Trump stood between an accelerating US economy and Fed intervention. It seems unlikely, even so, that the Fed will delay beyond December. At the start of 2016, four quarter percentage point hikes were expected, but to date none of those increases has taken place.”

Kathleen Brooks, research director at City Index, agreed that the result may not be an obstacle to a rate hike. She noted that Trump’s “softer approach” in his victory speech suggested he may “leave the Fed alone, and allow them to get on with their job, which includes hiking interest rates”.

The outlook for UK interest rates depends largely on how markets, businesses and consumers respond over the coming weeks. If the effect of Trump is to hinder global growth the Bank of England is unlikely to raise interest rates any time soon, to the frustration of long-suffering savers.

What to look out for: The next meeting of the US Federal Reserve’s Federal Open Market Committee in mid-December.

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