The European markets got off to a very strong start in 2015. On the 22nd of January, the ECB announced that it’s bringing out the big guns to reverse the continent’s slide into economic stagnation. From March 2015 onwards, it will will buy €60 billion of assets - including government, institutional and private sector bonds - and will do so until at least September 2016. With these extreme measures it hopes to get the eurozone growing again and increase inflation - which is currently negative - to its target of 2%.
This decision had a significantly positive impact on the European stock markets, with the STOXX600 increasing 8.7% in value. Our portfolio performed even better, showing a return of 9.4% for the year. The Euro dropped 7% in value from 1.21 to 1.13, which should have a positive impact on the competitiveness of European companies on the global markets. But there’s still a few significant challenges ahead for Europe, in particular the deteriorating situation in Greece where an openly anti-austerity party won the most recent elections.
The US experienced a very different start of the year. Only a few months ago, the Fed ended its 37 months QE program. Low interest rates and a boom in energy supply should continue to reinvigorate the US economy. But there are many challenges ahead. The price plunge of oil from $115 a barrel last June to $50 at the end of January means many shale operations no longer pay. Oil rigs are being deactivated at a rate of 100 a week. Since a significant share of the increased activity is in the oil and natural gas industry, this will hurt the economy during the months to come.
The US stock markets moved accordingly and the S&P lost 3.1%. Our portfolio was able to remain flat.