Overall, however, equity markets have performed, well with major indices in Europe, Japan, the UK, the US and Japan all posting positive returns for the year to date to December 3.
The best-performing market, according to data from FE Analytics, has been the S&P 500 index with a return of 19.89 per cent in the period, while the MSCI World index also delivered a double-digit return of 12.46 per cent.
Meanwhile, in spite of the ups and downs of Abenomics, quantitative easing (QE) and the slip into recession, Japanese markets have produced positive returns, with the Topix index delivering 3.59 per cent and the Nikkei 225 index just moving into positive territory with a return of 0.43 per cent.
As we leave 2014, there remain some key issues to be decided. Shinzo Abe in Japan has called a snap election for later this month, which he is expected to win. But while a second hike in consumption tax has been delayed, investors are likely to need more than just rhetoric from the prime minister before confidence in the Japanese recovery story starts to build.
David Marchant, head of Canada Life Investments, points out that this year has been characterised by uneven rates of global growth, with the strength of the US and UK contrasting sharply with the weakness of continental Europe and the need for further stimulus in Japan. “An uneven economic recovery has resulted in central bank policy around the world taking divergent paths,” he explains.
“Just as the US Federal Reserve ended its QE programme, the Bank of Japan shifted its monetary easing programme into overdrive. Meanwhile, in Europe the president of the European Central Bank, Mario Draghi, continued to hint at further easing measures.
“So what will happen to QE globally in 2015? We expect to see continued recovery in the US balanced by sluggish growth globally. Central banks will continue to support markets, but we believe the ECB will be reluctant to introduce fully fledged QE. Instead, we expect it to try to achieve its goals through communication instead of a broad sovereign, bond-buying initiative.”
In the UK, the Autumn Statement earlier this month delivered a mixed bag of economic figures, with the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) forecasting GDP growth to be slightly higher in 2014 before slowing in the next couple of years.
Azad Zangana, senior economist at Schroders, notes: “Overall, the chancellor managed to make more changes than expected given the lack of fiscal wiggle room. However, he is not able to hide the deterioration in the public finances, and is heavily relying on spending cuts after the election to put things back on track. The OBR assumes total managed government expenditure to fall from 40.5 per cent at the end of this year to an eye-watering 35.2 per cent by 2019-20 – the lowest figure since 1948.
“We think this may be a step too far, and there is a high chance that the next government will have to pass on some of the burden to taxpayers.”
Meanwhile, the outlook for Europe is interesting to say the least. In the east of the region, the situation between Russia and Ukraine continues to rumble on, while in the core area policy makers are announcing more measures to try and stop deflation and help put the region’s economies back on track.
Mr Marchant notes: “Inflation is at low levels in many developed economies, particularly the eurozone, and we have already seen deflation in a number of European economies. The region as a whole saw its inflation rate dip to 0.3 per cent this year and, while there has been improvement among the eurozone’s peripheral economies, anaemic growth and a lack of inflationary pressures remain.
“Should Europe fall into deflation, it would have a dramatic impact on growth and investment returns. It would also have a negative effect on the UK economy as European demand for British exports would fall. In spite of this, we expect the eurozone to return to growth and see rising inflation in the coming year, albeit at a slow pace.”
As we enter 2015 it seems economic and geopolitical factors will continue to weigh on markets, and while equities could continue their upward trajectory, investors should be cautious as just one unexpected event could turn the whole market upside down.
Nyree Stewart is features editor at Investment Adviser