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August Investment Review: Jackson Hole takes Centre Stage

by Haith Nori


August was a rather volatile month this year for global markets. The Bank of England continued to increase interest rates. US Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell made his speech at the annual Jackson Hole Symposium, reiterating his approach to fighting inflation and the need to endure on the path of increasing interest rates until the 2% inflation target is reached. US debt has been downgraded by Fitch Ratings from AAA to AA+. The Bank of Japan has signalled an end to negative interest rates at the start of next year. Nvidia Corp continues to increase in share price and CEO Jensen Huang comments on the latest partnership with Google. Economists are continuing to downgrade their views on growth projections for China, worsening the outlook for China.

On 2nd August, Fitch Ratings, one of the three big American credit rating agencies, made the decision to downgrade the US debt rating ’from the highest AAA rating to AA+, citing “steady deterioration in standards of governance.”’ [i] The downgrade was a result of US lawmakers taking their time and negotiating continuously until the final deadline with the issue of the debt ceiling, having placed them on a ratings watch since the start of May when governance worries began. The rating change highlights a slightly higher expectation of default risk from the lowest possible level, albeit still implying a very remote probability.

Following the rate hikes in July by both the US Federal Reserve and the European Central Bank, the Bank of England started off the month (3rd August) by hiking interest rates in the UK by 0.25% to 5.25%. This was their 14th hike in a row and leaves interest rates at 15 year highs, with the Bank of England stating that ‘high inflation meant it was unlikely to stop rates any time soon’[ii]. Sterling continued to depreciate after the release of the news, remaining at a lower level for the rest of August. Like Sterling, UK equities also took a negative fall after the release of the news and continued to fall before regaining some of the lost value in the last week of August. Between April to June this year basic wages in the UK rose at their fastest rate of 7.8% which, whilst promising for the general public, also boosts the chances of the Bank of England continuing to increase interest rates. The next meeting for the European Central Bank, US Federal Reserve and the Bank of England will be in mid-September.

On 10th August US CPI data was released for the 12 months ending in July of 3.2% slightly higher than the June data of 3.0%. Whilst this is a slight disappointment US data is still the closest to the 2% inflation target. On Wednesday 16th August UK CPI data was released for the 12 months ending in July of 6.8%, down from 7.9% in June, exactly as predicted by analysts. In the Eurozone CPI figures were 5.3% for the 12 months ending in July, down from 5.5% in June. Whilst these figures have been promising all round, Central Banks have stressed the need for interest rates to remain high until inflation is under control. This was the key takeaway to come from Jackson Hole, which took place between 24-26th August. US Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell ‘once again reinforced the “higher for longer” mantra’[iii] in terms of his approach to interest rates and stressed that the committee remain determined to reach the 2% inflation target and are unwilling to stop until the job is done.

The Bank of Japan’s board member Naoki Tamura stated in a speech to Japan’s business leaders, that Japan’s inflation is in clear view of their target and has been ‘signalling the chance of an end to negative interest rates early next year.’ [iv] The comments have been the most compelling as an indication that the Bank of Japan will take action to phase out its unique approach to ultra-low interest rates. Along with the other developed market central banks, the Bank of Japan has a 2% inflation target. Tamura suggests that timing will be important and any such change will be dependent on the conditions of the economy falling into place.

Nvidia Corp, the best performing stock in the S&P 500, currently up 234% since the start of the year, on 31st August was blocked from selling its A100 and H100 chips to certain areas in the Middle East. This follows an announcement from US President Joe Biden expanding the initial restrictions that were placed on selling to China. Clarification on which specific countries in the Middle East the restrictions have been extended to has not yet been announced. Nvidia stock has continued to increase in share price over the month and the chipmaker has announced (29th August) a partnership with Google to increase the distribution of its artificial intelligence (AI) technology. This will allow google customers access to the technology that is created by the H100 GPUs. Nvidia CEO Jensen Huang stated “Our expanded collaboration with Google Cloud will help developers accelerate their work with infrastructure, software and services that supercharge energy efficiency and reduce costs”. [v]

Overall, August has been volatile in terms of performance within asset classes. Brent Crude, after the gains made during July remained relatively flat during August. The UK 2-year, 10year Gilt yields and US 10 year Treasury yield have all returned to levels seen at the start of the month following initial increases in yields during August. Sterling continued to depreciate against the US Dollar and Gold also returned to a similar level at the start of the month.

[i] https://edition.cnn.com/2023/08/01/business/fitch-downgrade-us-debt/index.html

[ii] https://www.reuters.com/world/uk/view-bank-england-raises-rates-14th-time-2023-08-03/

[iii] https://www.reuters.com/markets/us/global-markets-view-usa-pix-2023-08-28/

[iv] https://www.reuters.com/markets/asia/boj-policymaker-signals-chance-policy-tweak-early-next-year-2023-08-30/

[v] https://www.cnbc.com/2023/08/29/nvidias-stock-closes-at-record-after-google-ai-partnership.html


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