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Investing in the US - January 2016

    Investing in the US - January 2016


    Even then, minutes of the meeting show a degree of caution among FOMC members in increasing the key interest rate range by just 25 basis points, a decision that was data dependent, as the Fed has reiterated time and again.

    Markets reacted positively to the well-signposted rate hike, while Ms Yellen noted the significance of the move in her opening remarks to the press conference.

    She said it marked “the end of an extraordinary seven-year period during which the federal funds rate was held near zero to support the recovery of the economy from the worst financial crisis and recession since the Great Depression”.

    Speculation as to how many further rises there will be this year is already well under way. The FOMC’s ‘dots chart’ indicates there are likely to be four, while markets are sticking to just two, following the extreme volatility that dogged the opening week of trading in 2016.

    Edward Smith, asset allocation strategist at Rathbones, observes: “Usually after the first rate hike after the start of a tightening cycle, the dollar falls even if the US is at the forefront of the global tightening cycle. That’s usually because the market has already anticipated what’s going on.

    “We think this time the dollar will continue to appreciate in the early stages of the rate tightening cycle, and that’s because we think market expectations for interest rates are still a little too dovish. They’re not pricing in perhaps as many interest rate rises over this year as we expect, and certainly not as many as the FOMC is signalling.”

    The strengthening dollar was a theme of 2015, although Mr Smith believes this year will see only low single-digit growth.

    Recent data from the Institute of Supply Management (ISM) does point to some weakness in the US economy. Russ Mould, investment director at AJ Bell, suggests the figures will see the Fed “tread carefully” at its January meeting.

    “Although [the] reading of 55.3 for December for non-manufacturing businesses in America is perfectly solid, it does still represent the fourth drop in five months and raises some questions over the health of the US economy,” he cautions.

    “[The] reading for manufacturing industries from the ISM showed a second straight reading below 50, a figure which suggests future contraction.”

    The question is whether the US economic backdrop will be supportive for investors this year.

    Cormac Weldon, US equities fund manager at Artemis, allays fears of an imminent contraction in corporate earnings. He says: “Financial conditions in the US are tighter than they were two years ago. Despite this, we do not see the ingredients for a profits recession. These usually occur when high short-term interest rates choke off economic growth.

    “We should not rule out the possibility that the modest degree of monetary tightening we have seen to date will cause growth to weaken – but we don’t think this is likely. Instead, we believe the most likely scenario is for muted growth in the US economy and modest earnings growth in the US market.”

    Ellie Duncan is deputy features editor at Investment Adviser

    In this special report


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    1. What four companies does the acronym ‘Fang’ stand for?

    2. If the 10 largest companies in the S&P 500 were in an index of their own, how much would it have been up in 2015?

    3. Which fixed income index delivered a total rate of return of just 0.8 per cent in 2015?

    4. According to Frances Hudson of Standard Life Investments the eighth year of a presidential term produces average falls in the S&P 500 of how much, compared with average rises of around 6.5 per cent in all election years?

    5. When will the next US presidental election take place?

    6. In the high yield energy sector spreads almost doubled from the start of 2015 to how many basis points by the end of the year?

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