OMGI’s Murphy: UK equities to surge despite battered investor morale

Simon Murphy

The past few months have been a torrid time for stockmarket investors globally, and while emerging markets have seen the worst of it, western markets have been far from immune. 

From its peak in late April the UK’s FTSE 100 index lost almost 17 per cent to the recent low in September. As we move into the fourth of 2015, and thoughts inevitably start turning to the festive period, what is in store for the stockmarket into year end and beyond? 

Having been cautious on the market for most of 2015, we find ourselves considerably more enthused today – particularly as investor sentiment has become seriously depressed following the recent market fall. Whether you look at the traditional investor sentiment indices or some of the more proprietary panic/euphoria-type models from the sell-side, they all paint a similar picture of pessimism. Extreme moves in investor sentiment are often a good contrarian indicator, at least in the short term. 

More fundamentally, it appears to us that the immediate sources of investor angst over the summer – potential interest rate increases in the US and an economic meltdown in China – have the capacity to offer investors some relief here. 

The economic slowdown in emerging markets appears to have introduced a new dynamic into decision-making on monetary policy in the US, with the Federal Reserve explicitly referencing it in the central bank’s rationale for not raising rates in September. Consequently, and despite a still robust outlook for the US economy, expectations for interest-rate increases have been pushed firmly into 2016. 

With the Chinese economy, while growth has clearly been decelerating, the data has not been universally bad and policymakers have been increasing stimulus for some time. House prices and transaction volumes appear to be finding a floor, car sales have been strong, and as an importer of oil, the economy should benefit from lower prices eventually. Anecdotally the corruption purges in the country have led to a hiatus in investment decisions that should ease over time. 

So depressed sentiment and some incrementally better (or less bad) news has the capacity, we believe, to push the UK equity market higher over the near term – the classic seasonal rally, if you will. What’s more, we think these two catalysts may well drive noticeably different sector leadership in this next phase than so far this year. We are thinking here primarily of emerging market-related equities, which as is well known, have been severely punished year to date. 

As with wider market sentiment, investors (if you believe the surveys) universally loathe anything related to emerging markets – think oil and gas, mining, luxury goods, select industrial companies etc – while simultaneously adoring anything exposed to the US and UK domestic economies. A combination of extreme positioning, incrementally positive news flow and a desire to protect performance into the end of the year could well prove powerful catalysts in the months ahead. 

So we are optimistic in the near term and believe Santa may well visit UK investors early this year, but not necessarily in the areas of the market in which so many are comfortable.

Simon Murphy is manager of the Old Mutual UK Opportunities and Old Mutual UK Equity funds.