This week: Microsoft reclaims its standing, concerns lessen over interest rates and UK banks pass stress tests.
Buoyed by comments from the U.S. Federal Reserve (Fed), investors enjoyed some respite from the November gloom this week. Nevertheless, most markets are set to finish the month significantly down, extending the autumn’s declines.
Following last Thursday’s Thanksgiving holiday, U.S. investors appeared revitalized. The S&P 500 had gained 4.0% by Thursday’s close.
This recovery was helped by comments from Fed chairman Jay Powell. Investors interpreted Powell’s comment that interest rates were “just below neutral” as an indication that future rate rises might not come as fast as many were expecting.
Apple falls from top of the tree
In a year dominated by the fortunes of the technology giants, we’ve heard a great deal about the FAANG stocks: Facebook, Amazon, Apple, Netflix and Google. But this week it was Microsoft that hogged the headlines.
After a 16-year hiatus, the software giant reclaimed its former standing as the world’s largest company by market capitalization, knocking its old rival Apple from its perch.
the FAANGs led the surge in the stock market at the start of the year, they’ve become the biggest casualties of the autumn slump.
So, as Apple has fallen, Microsoft’s lesser declines in October and November have allowed it to move ahead. On a longer-term basis, the strength of Microsoft’s cloud-computing business has helped its share price to power ahead since 2016.
The UK’s FTSE 100 also performed well this week. Although there was little sign of light at the end of the Brexit tunnel, Mark Carney, the governor of the Bank of England (BoE), indicated that a “disorderly” Brexit would hit the UK economy extremely hard in the short term.
On the surface, the BoE’s analysis offered some support for Theresa May’s argument that her proposed Brexit deal is the only viable option in the circumstances.
This would increase its chances of gaining parliamentary approval. But some MPs are likely to take the BoE’s pronouncements with a pinch of salt, given that the central bank predicted a much more negative economic outcome from the Leave vote than actually came to pass.
There was good news from the BoE, however, when it came to Britain’s banks. Stress tests showed that the UK’s seven largest banks and building societies would be able to continue lending in the event of a no-deal Brexit.
One result of the week’s Brexit uncertainties was that the pound weakened against both the Euro and the U.S. dollar. This provided a boost for the FTSE 100 as many of its constituent companies make the bulk of their earnings overseas, rendering them more profitable in sterling terms when the pound is weak.
Emerging from the gloom?
Although they’ve had a grim 2018 so far, emerging markets fared better than developed markets in November. Most also shared in the lighter global mood this week as the softer noises from the Fed relieved some of the pressure on their currencies.
There were exceptions, however. The Mexican stock market plunged to its lowest level for four years on concerns about the new government’s economic policies. The Mexican peso hit a five-month low.
And investors in China’s A-share market enjoyed only a brief respite from their year-to-date woes. A slide on Thursday erased all the gains made earlier in the week, as investors grew cautious ahead of the meeting between Presidents Xi and Trump at this weekend’s G20 summit in Argentina.
And finally …
Today is St. Andrew’s Day. The saint is closely associated with Scotland, whose national flag – the saltire or St. Andrew’s cross – represents the uncomfortable apparatus on which the saint was crucified.
Legend tells that the saltire appeared in the sky before the battle of Athelstaneford in 832 AD.
But Scotland’s historical adoption of St. Andrew’s Day appears to have been distinctly practical.
It served to shift the date on which animals were slaughtered from the end of October, when the pagan festival of Samhain had been celebrated, to ensure that there was enough meat to see people through a typical Scottish winter.
St. Andrew’s Day is also celebrated in other countries, including Romania, Poland, Portugal, Russia and Ukraine.
There, its associations are less with battles and beef, and more with wolves and wizardry. In Romania, St. Andrew’s Eve traditionally marks the start of vampire activity, which lasts until April.
So, if you’re enjoying a glass of single malt tonight to celebrate Scotland’s national day, you might just want to season it with garlic.
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