25 May 2018

Energy drives estimates higher – but oil now under pressure.

Risks rising as Russia and OPEC debate turning the taps back on in H2

While it may seem that global investor sentiment has broadly improved over the last 3 months, following the rapid recovery in equity markets, returns have been dominated by the energy sector, Exhibit 1. With Russia and Saudi Arabia now discussing production increases to head off a loss in market share to US shale, this momentum in the oil price may now ease. Separately, despite volatility in emerging markets we note that profits forecasts have been largely stable in 2018, suggesting that any underperformance is due to the rising dollar rather than weakening profits trends. In developed markets, the median 2018 earnings estimate in the US continued to rise over the last month while in Europe and the UK estimates are stable, despite a marked slowdown in the economic data.

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9 May 2018

2018 Earnings forecasts: Another Trump bump for energy.

Rising oil price continues to support 2018 earnings forecasts

While our concerns on valuation remain in place, in the short-term market performance is more closely linked to the trend in forecasts profits. Those looking for a reason to sell equities on this basis are likely to be disappointed. As we approach the half-year point, median earnings growth forecasts for the US remain robust at 18% while eurozone and UK equities are at 8%. For now, our base case remains that the benign derating – equities moving sideways while interest rates and profits increase - will continue.

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20 April 2018

High equity valuations face macro headwinds.

Factors behind record run of corporate profitability may be fading

We have had a cautious view on global equities for longer than has been comfortable. In truth, over the last 12 months this view has been 50% right at best. European markets, including the UK, have delivered relatively little capital growth. However the US and emerging markets have moved significantly higher. When the headlines are focussed on geopolitical events, it is also easy to lose sight of the anchor of equity valuations. We have updated our equity valuation measures and find that the US market in particular remains notably expensive while European markets still appear overvalued. We recognise that this has in part been justified by the record run of corporate profitability but the factors driving this phenomenon may now be going into reverse.

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16 April 2018

2018 Earnings forecasts: Still robust, for now.

Corporate sector soldiers on despite increasing geopolitical tensions

Geopolitics will in our view continue to present headline risk for the rest of the year. The US/China trade détente has broken apart as the US administration addresses the prospect of China challenging for dominance in the world economy. This weekend’s military response to the use of chemical weapons in both Salisbury, UK and Syria may for now be described as “mission accomplished” but it remains to be seen what the response would be to any further provocation. At the same time, there has been a run of disappointing economic data in the eurozone. Nevertheless, earnings estimates remain relatively stable for now in aggregate as the recent strength of the oil price leads to upgrades in energy, offset by modest downgrades in other sectors.

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15 March 2018

2018 Earnings forecasts: US stable, modest declines in Europe.

Watch for ebbing economic momentum as survey data peaks

Despite the increase in equity market volatility, there has been little follow-through to economic fundamentals to date. US earnings forecasts have stabilised and are indicating mid-teens profits growth for 2018, of which approximately one-half appears to be due to US tax reform. US economic surprise also remains relatively strong. In Europe however, unweighted earnings estimates have continued to fall, if modestly, and perhaps more importantly here economic surprise indices have turned sharply lower. We view this as partly due to Brexit uncertainty in the UK and a rising EUR exchange rate in continental Europe.

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18 January 2018

Earnings: The real Trump bump.

Median per share earnings upgrade of 4% for S&P 500 following tax reform

Analysts’ profits forecasts have edged modestly higher in the first month of the year in continental Europe and the UK, as would be expected during a period of above-consensus global economic data. In the US however, tax reform has added to the cyclical economic strength, pushing median 2018 profits forecasts dramatically higher, up 4% over the past month alone. This represents 2/3rds of our total expected benefit to US earnings from tax reform. Earnings revisions data supports our strategic view of strong momentum carrying over into Q1/Q2 2018. However we also note that economic surprise indices may have peaked in January and combined with forecast rate increases, markets may yet tread water as the year progresses.

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20 December 2017

Canaries in the monetary coal mine?.

High profile difficulties in a hot corporate debt market are intriguing

Steinhoff and HNA Group are from different regions and sectors. Yet they are making the headlines for the wrong reasons as the market raises questions over their debt sustainability. What these firms do have in common is that have pursued a policy of debt-financed acquisitions during this cycle. Now, LIBOR rates are pushing markedly higher. These signals of tightening credit bear watching in our view, even if they are presently not a cause for immediate alarm. It is however our important to be alert to early signs of a turn in credit availability. This is likely to first occur at the margin of the credit risk spectrum, as in 2007/8.

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24 November 2017

Economic surprise accelerating.

Positive economic surprise still offering short-term support for risk assets

The positive economic surprise data seen over the last 3m continues to strengthen. If anything, the data is moving faster than any monetary tightening leading to a benign environment for risk assets such as equities. What is more of a conundrum is the lack of response in global bond yields, even as the final developed market central bank to move, the Bank of Japan, is now hinting that it is past peak monetary accommodation. Earnings forecasts for 2017 remain robust with median growth close to 10% for developed markets and a similar level of growth forecast for 2018.

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14 November 2017

Valuations: An important part of the puzzle.

Price/book multiples highlight worrying trend in risk appetite

In this cycle valuations have been, so far, the dog that did not bark. Globally, the median sector price/book multiple has risen from the trough of 2008 to a new peak. Such an expansion in market valuations is similar to that seen in the 1980-1987 period. Between 2012 and today we have come full circle in terms of tactical asset allocation. Earlier, we could not understand why investors were so uninterested in adding risk to portfolios despite such high expected returns in equities. Now, equity valuations suggest only modest long-term returns are on offer and there is greater prospect of short-term disappointment. It is however proving equally difficult to attract investors’ interest in this signal for caution. Perhaps the metaphorical - and silent - valuation dog knows the psychology of the current marginal investor rather too well.

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2 November 2017

Government bonds in the firing line.

The next twist in the story is likely to push global yields higher

It is always important to put aside preconceptions and let all the data speak – and not just that which confirms prior beliefs. At present, the data which best models the long-term outlook (valuations) are suggestive of relatively weak returns in global equities and this has informed our cautious positioning. Furthermore, bond yields and interest rates remain unusually low on a historical basis. Yet for the short-term, economic surprises are currently positive, business sentiment strong and profits growth relatively robust. It is this short-term data which also needs to be heard.

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19 October 2017

Profits forecasts stable – but no positive surprises.

Stronger PMI indices not following through to profits growth

While Q3 has brought something of a renaissance in economic surprise and purchasing managers’ indices we can at present see no sign of this improved sentiment in profits forecasts for 2017. Our weighted average consensus earnings forecast index remains steady for each of the UK, US and Europe ex-UK and the equal-weighted measures have declined, if modestly, since mid-year. In prior periods, our earnings forecast index tended to move slightly ahead of PMIs and economic surprise. The more recent data has not followed this pattern and highlights that what is good for the overall economy is not by necessity good for corporate profits. Furthermore, with central banks on a tightening path the risk for equity markets is that tighter policy is not offset by stronger profits growth.

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28 September 2017

Earnings momentum – 2017 forecasts drifting slowly lower.

Weakening trend in 2017 revisions indices evident since mid-year

One of the key drivers of equities during H1 2017 was the relatively strong level of earnings momentum in each of the US, UK and continental Europe. This was in some respects a carry-over from the surge in positive sentiment towards the end of 2016 but which now appears to have run its course. It is easy to forget that as recently as 18m ago, investors were anticipating a major calamity in China’s economy, sharply impacting sentiment in the basic industry and other cyclical sectors which in the event did not occur. However, the data now highlight a modestly declining trend in 2017 earnings forecasts since mid-year, even as economic sentiment remains robust.

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12 September 2017

Interesting times for central bankers.

If growth is picking up, why are bond yields still so low?

It appears the low volatility/high valuation regime in equity and credit markets is continuing into the autumn. This is despite an important and imminent US Fed balance sheet reduction announcement. Furthermore, October brings details of the ECB’s plans to reduce the net purchases of its own QE program. While central bankers are quick to claim credit for any improvement in economic conditions, the decline in long-term bond yields over the summer questions the durability of the expansion as the yield curve flattens. It also remains to be seen if investors will re-appraise the low level of risk premia in global markets as QE is withdrawn.

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16 August 2017

Earnings momentum remains stable for now.

Economic surprise driving EUR v USD but no FX hit to eurozone profits estimates

It may be the perfect environment for passive strategies as the lack of catalysts during 2017 has led to a continuation of the low volatility yet highly-valued equity market regime. In particular, it has been a robust year for corporate profitability. 2017 earnings growth forecasts remain pinned around 10%. Even while the medium-term outlook for markets looks challenging on valuation grounds as extraordinary monetary stimulus is unwound, those looking for a significant correction in the short-term should beware as corporate earnings trends remain robust at present.

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29 June 2017

A tipping point as monetary policy shifts.

Central banks on both sides of the Atlantic appear to be becoming more hawkish

In recent weeks, policymakers at each of the US Federal Reserve, Bank of England and ECB have become notably more hawkish. This is a new development as throughout the period 2010-2017 central bank balance sheets have been steadily expanding as the quantitative easing (QE) baton was passed around the globe. With asset prices rising strongly over this period many commentators have been quick to infer that the end of QE signals market trouble ahead. While certainly a headwind, we believe investors should not rush to judgement. There remain many acts to play out in this story before it is finished.

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21 June 2017

Equity risks are rising: economic surprises turning lower.

Economic surprise turns lower and positive earnings momentum easing in Europe

We are viewing with increasing concern the building evidence of disinflation in industrial commodity and energy markets. Economic surprise indices have turned sharply lower on a global basis, a move which cannot be fully explained by seasonal factors. In this context we were surprised by the relatively hawkish recent policy statements by the US Federal Reserve and Bank of England. For the US Fed, it was very much a case of one and not done at the recent FOMC meeting, where US rates were increased again. For now, earnings growth forecasts near 10% for each of the US, UK and continental Europe remain intact but we also detect ebbing momentum in this data compared to 6m ago.

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9 June 2017

UK election: Another step-up in political risk.

A tactical blunder does not mean the end of Brexit or the Conservative administration

UK PM Theresa May’s strategy of consolidating power when the Labour opposition was seemingly in disarray and the Conservative poll lead unassailable has seriously backfired. The likelihood now is that the UK will be governed by a minority Conservative administration with support from the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP). May’s future as leader of the Conservative party remains in serious doubt following a number of campaign mistakes, not least the failure to recognise importance of appeasing the older voter. Much now remains open for debate over the next few weeks.

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14 May 2017

Earnings forecasts: a short-term support for markets.

Rising estimates notable in continental Europe

While economic surprise indices may now be rolling over, US earnings forecasts for 2017 are effectively unchanged since January. In the UK and continental Europe forecasts have risen relatively sharply since the start of the year, reflecting in the UK a continued tailwind from sterling weakness and in continental Europe the long-awaited improvement in economic activity.

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5 May 2017

Not really an economic surprise….

Economic surprise indices and raw materials prices rolling over in Q2

One of the notable features of improving sentiment in global stock markets over the last 6 months has been its reliance on ‘soft’ economic data and a continuation of positive surprises. We cautioned in March that economic surprise indices were both seasonal and mean reverting and also highlighted the tightening of monetary conditions in China, historically linked to declines in iron ore prices. Six weeks later, global economic surprise has rolled over outside Europe while energy, coking coal and iron ore prices are falling sharply.

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23 March 2017

Market wobble? Still time to re-position portfolios.

No clear trigger for recent market declines

Even if some calm has now returned, the market declines this week are perhaps a little more disconcerting than usual as they have occurred with no obvious trigger and followed an extended period of very low volatility. This makes the situation a little more uncertain, as specific triggers can often be analysed, quantified and discounted. There is therefore the danger of investors becoming fearful of the unknown - and risk averse - should the declines become more serious.

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13 March 2017

Ready for the rollover?.

Tentative evidence of slowing economic momentum

Despite buoyant global asset markets, we are seeing increasing evidence of slowing economic momentum. In the US, bank loan growth has slowed significantly since Q4 16 and the Atlanta Fed’s GDP nowcast is only indicating 1.2% US growth for the current quarter, compared to over 2.5% as recently as early February. In the UK, the services PMI peaked in January and is now declining while in Europe - a bright spot in terms of economic surprise – disappointing German factory orders cast some doubt on the durability of any recovery. China’s M2 money supply growth has also ebbed since Q1 16, suggesting an easing of basic materials prices, should prior correlations still hold.

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3 March 2017

Earnings trends: Gap risk endures in US.

As US markets rise, US earnings forecasts fall

Equity investors have clearly taken some comfort from Trump’s recent address to the US Congress. While the speech was delivered with some unanticipated polish, there was in our view little new policy detail and we were surprised by the resulting surge in global equity markets. In our view, investors and the corporate sector will struggle to incorporate Trump’s fiscal initiatives into capital spending plans and profits expectations until more detail becomes available Therefore, in an enviroment where US earnings forecasts are declining, we continue to question the sustainability of the bull market in US equities.

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17 February 2017

Earnings estimates stuck in low gear.

Still no sign of Trump bounce in corporate profits outlook

Now, several months after Trump’s election there has been ample time for the corporate sector to re-evaluate the 2017 outlook in respect of improved economic optimism. However, we have found that earnings upgrades have not to date followed positive economic surprises. In the past, short-term market direction has been closely linked to earnings momentum and the current absence of upgrades points to a period of sluggish market performance.

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16 January 2017

Earnings Revisions: Waiting for upgrades?.

Though global equities continue to benefit from significantly increased investor optimism, US and continental European earnings forecasts for 2017 have remained stubbornly static over the last 3 months. However, in the UK 2017 earnings estimates continue to move higher, tracking the decline in sterling and providing a degree of fundamental support for the FTSE100. For US and continental European equity markets, the increasing divergence between 2017 profits forecasts and their respective price performance, when added to the lack of valuation support, puts a question mark over how much further the rally can run.

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22 November 2016

Earnings revisions: Gap widens between U.S. equities and earnings forecasts.

Though the bullishness is palpable, U.S. equity markets are not being driven higher by 2017 earnings forecasts, which have declined during November. In the absence of upgrades, we would now question how far the slogan of “Make America Great Again” can push U.S. equities. In the UK, market indices appear better supported as earnings forecasts are still increasing, even as the stock market has lagged. In Europe, in euro terms both the market and estimates have remained stable over the last quarter.

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4 November 2016

BOE: Bank on track.

Today’s BOE decision represents a correction in UK policy makers’ thinking. The sudden stop in activity which was implied by the Bank’s August stimulus package has not materialised and the focus has instead returned to significantly above-target inflation by 2018. This is going to be supportive of sterling, especially as consensus views on the exchange rate had become so negative.

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24 October 2016

US and European earnings trends: Better to travel than to arrive.

While political volatility may be on the increase, consensus profits forecasts have in contrast remained on a stable trend over the second half of 2016. In the UK, 2017 forecasts have now recovered their modest post-Brexit drop, in part due the positive impact of the decline in sterling. US estimates for 2017 have also only fluctuated in a very narrow range during the last six months. In continental Europe the post-Brexit declines have stuck and there has been an additional modest decline in forecasts during October.  This period of relative stability in earnings forecasts is in sharp contrast to the significant declines which spooked investors for much of 2015 and Q1 2016.

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17 October 2016

Sterling: Lower for longer as the EU strikes back.

The UK’s new Prime Minister Theresa May’s honeymoon period is clearly over. Days after emphasising the importance of national sovereignty and appearing to lean towards a ‘hard’ Brexit, a dawn raid on sterling and subsequent weakness has given opponents ammunition to attack the UK’s plan to leave the EU. Furthermore, tough talk from the UK government has been reciprocated from EU leaders and European heads of state. President of the European Council Donald Tusk may even have given the game away by linking the concept of a ‘hard’ Brexit to ‘no Brexit’. For sterling, we believe investors should look through the politics and focus on the economics.

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1 September 2016

UK economy and corporate profits: Refusing to follow forecasts.

Since July, there have been over 250 UK corporate earnings reports or trading statements, which we have been tracking for any sign of Brexit-related weakness. Within these corporate filings we can find little evidence, in either outlook statements or in managements’ referendum commentary, to suggest a slowdown in trading is underway.

On the contrary, over 80% of company earnings reports indicate that trading is in-line with earlier expectations. Furthermore, 16% of companies report that trading is ahead of expectations against only 3% reporting that trading has fallen below expectations. In addition, recent data on house prices and manufacturing surveys seem to confirm that fears of a Brexit-induced slowdown in the UK have proved overblown, over the summer at least.

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28 August 2016

Equity valuations – party like it’s 1999… and 2007?.

Amidst something approaching a euphoric relief rally in global markets following the UK’s vote to leave the EU, investors should not overlook equity valuation metrics, which have historically provided an excellent guide to returns over the long term. As Exhibit 1 shows, relatively low valuations preceded the bull markets in 1994-1999, 2002-2007 and 2009-2013. However, valuation metrics rarely form part of a market narrative and if they feature at all are often dismissed, usually as “it’s different this time”.

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10 August 2016

Gilt shortage: It takes two to tango.

Yesterday’s failure by the Bank of England fully cover its bond purchase order indicates that the re-introduction of QE has created a significant squeeze in the UK’s bond market.  This auction failure highlights a possible constraint on the BOE’s QE policy, at least until a more expansive fiscal policy delivers a significant increase in the future supply of gilts or substitute securities.

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3 August 2016

BOE: All priced in and nowhere to go?.

Investors hoping for another “get out jail free” card from the Bank of England tomorrow are likely to be disappointed. Expectations for a cut in interest rates are close to 100% and the collapse in gilt yields since the UK’s referendum highlights the belief that UK rates are now set to remain low for much of the next decade.

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22 July 2016

UK earnings trends - stable and few surprises.

There has been much speculation in regard to the economic and market impact of the UK’s vote to exit the EU. However, even four weeks after the date of the referendum, there is no hard data to rely on. In the circumstances, survey data may also be misleading, with the risk that it reflects a projection of the personal views of respondents rather than a cold analysis of future prospects.  However, early indications are that 2016 UK consensus earnings forecasts have remained stable, a continuation of the trend seen since February.

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21 June 2016

Brexit, Fed: a short squeeze.

If in the short-run the market is a voting machine, as attributed to value investor Benjamin Graham, yesterday’s 3% rise in European markets represents a vote of confidence in the Remain campaign winning the UK’s referendum on Thursday and a consistently more dovish US Fed for the remainder of the summer.

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13 June 2016

Fed boxed in by yield curve.

It is looking increasingly likely the US Federal Reserve has missed its chance to engage in a meaningful interest rate tightening cycle. Globally, 10-year government bond yields have fallen sharply – in many cases to new record lows, in part due to the recent US jobs data and in part the increasing uncertainty over Brexit. This flattening of the yield curve is a strong indicator for a period of sub-par US growth, even if survey data has, for now, improved somewhat during Q2. Whether or not we are looking at a technical US recession is perhaps, technical, as in any case a period of even weak growth is inconsistent with positive surprises for corporate profits and equities.

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31 May 2016

Beware of buy and hold.

The last few decades of the 20th century represented a golden era for equity investment with an average compound annual return, including dividends, of 14% pa in the period 1973-2000 for the US, UK and Europe. In this century to date, the annualised rate of return has fallen to 5%.

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4 May 2016

Earnings forecasts: absence of a negative is not a positive.

Profits forecasts for the US, UK and Eurozone have been stable for the last 2 months. In the context of last year’s relatively dramatic declines in profits expectations (the worst year in a decade) this is a welcome development for equity investors.

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11 April 2016

M&A in the UK - is Brexit opening a (relative) value opportunity?.

Whether down to the potential for Brexit or a widening current account deficit the decline in sterling over the last 6m has been substantial. On a quarter-on-quarter basis the trade-weighted value of sterling has fallen by 7%, representing a move of more than 2 standard deviations away from the mean.

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17 March 2016

Was there a “plaza” accord after all?.

Yesterday’s FOMC statement and Yellen’s press comments were unequivocally more dovish than the markets and we were expecting. Going into the meeting there was a reasonable case for preparing the markets for a rate increase in early summer, given declining unemployment and increasing US core CPI. As it turned out, external factors – perhaps a euphemism for undesirable moves in global markets and the US dollar – were in contrast almost overplayed. For us, “Peak fear” was last month’s story, so why bring it up now?

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15 March 2016

Corporate profits - Too early to call an upturn.

In today’s world of rock star central bankers it can feel like every move in the markets is down to the nuances of monetary policy. Last week’s ECB meeting was a prime example – EUR down on a larger than expected QE package and then minutes later a complete reversal as ever-lower interest rates were downplayed during the press conference.

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*Multiple Sectors
26/04/2018
Equity strategy and market outlook - April 2018

In this month’s strategy piece, Alastair George believes that with output gaps closed future monetary and wage growth developments offer only headwinds, both for markets and levels of corporate profitability over coming quarters. Uncertainty in respect of US trade policy risks a chilling of corporate optimism, leading to a shortfall in business investment and short-term economic momentum even if the probability of an all-out trade war remains remote. After the modest falls from the market highs recorded in January, global equities remain expensive compared to historical valuation levels, according to our estimates. Record profit margins also face risks from developments in trade policy and tightening labour markets. With Fed policy clearly remaining on a tightening track, we stick with our cautious view on global equity markets.

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