The final quarter of 2018 will be remembered as a dramatic one for financial markets. Don’t expect this trend to change in the early period of 2019. File Photo: IOL

CAPE TOWN – The final quarter of 2018 will be remembered as a dramatic one for financial markets. Don’t expect this trend to change in the early period of 2019. 

Financial markets have been severely hit by accelerating signs of an economic slowdown, trade concerns, geopolitical risks, and the tightening of US monetary policy. Volatility has returned with steep moves to the downside. Selling the rallies is now seen as a preferred strategy from investors as opposed to buying the dips which has been closely followed by traders over the last several years.

Global synchronised economic growth was the key theme in 2017. 2018 saw the divergence between the US and the rest of the world. In 2019 we are likely to converge again, but this time in a synchronized global slowdown.

Many indicators have indicated a peak in the US economic cycle, including most recent economic surveys, financial conditions, housing data, and the inversion of the US Treasury yield curve. Adding this together with trade tensions, political risk, fading fiscal stimulus, and a tighter US monetary policy; the economic outlook is expected to look much more vulnerable in 2019.

It is becoming evident that the US economy has reached an inflection point. This doesn’t necessarily mean we are immediately entering a recession but expect much slower growth than the 4.2 percent seen in the second quarter of 2018. In such an environment, investors need to be prepared for a more volatile year as markets adjust to a new reality of slower economic growth.

In Foreign Exchange markets, the US Dollar was the second-best performing major currency in 2018 after the Yen. It rose more than 4 percent against its major peers and appreciated significantly against commodity and emerging markets currencies. However, there is a high probability for the Dollar rally to come to an end in 2019.

There were numerous factors that supported the Dollar in 2018. Robust economic expansions, fiscal stimulus, a hawkish Federal Reserve, and fund repatriation by US firms were key to the Dollar’s strength. Looking into 2019, none of these factors will remain in play.

Brexit is fast approaching and will likely make most of the headlines in the first couple of weeks in 2019. Although Prime Minister Theresa May has finalised the UK Withdrawal Agreement in November 2018, it’s not a done deal yet. 

Sterling will face a tricky situation in the months ahead. While an orderly exit from the EU will be welcomed by markets and provide a boost to the Pound, a no deal scenario has multiple outcomes with a varying degree of impact on UK assets. 

Are we going to see a disorderly exit from the EU, an extension to the deadline, a general election, or no Brexit at all? With all these possible scenarios, expect to see large swings in Sterling until the Brexit clouds clear.

Content supplied by Hussein Sayed is chief market strategist at FXTM.