Stock markets have moved ahead again over the past four weeks, led by Tokyo in particularly buoyant mood, up by more than 5% over this period.
US stocks rose around 2% (the NASDAQ by almost double that), eurozone stocks rose, led by the French market. Only the Swiss market weakened, held back by dull performance from some of their major companies, notably Nestlé, Novartis and Roche Holding. London stocks were steady despite the strength in sterling. The ‘reflation trade’ is back on again with strong performance from banks (who, after all, do prefer interest rates higher than they have been for a while) and other financials, along with the oil companies and miners.
The Esk Global Equity Fund moved ahead, though the strength in sterling remains a headwind for the unit price. Sterling has maintained its recent gains, even flirting with $1.40 earlier this week and back to buying €1.15 again, a level we haven’t seen for a while. Sentiment still appears to be negative for the US dollar, but it has picked-up a shade over this period on the DXY dollar index.
The staple goods companies have continued to underperform, Unilever providing a particularly weak feature this time after their figures were seen to be disappointing, we have added to the holding, considering the weakness in their share price to be overdone. Sticking with the sector, we decided to close our position in Mondelēz, whose share price was running out of steam, while our screening of their quality metrics showed deterioration. Heineken figures were dull and their stock fell back, L’Oréal provided a bright spot and a jump in their share price after sparkling figures. The pharmaceuticals put in a mixed performance, Gilead Sciences and Roche drifted down along with most of the sector and M3 Inc ran into profit-taking after the heady gains of the past year and their third quarter figures. Illumina surged after their fourth quarter figures reported a 20% jump in demand for their gene sequencing.
The mining and materials sectors provided some good performance for us, Novozymes rising around 11% and Rio Tinto strong again. The consumer discretionary sectors saw some other good moves for us from the luxury goods companies, LVMH and Hermes, and elsewhere from Sony Corp and Uber Technologies. Technology provided good returns with Microsoft reporting good figures and strong growth from their Azure cloud offering, Alphabet (Google) reported excellent figures, as did Intuit.
Our other activity in the portfolio was in the financials sectors, where we reduced our holding in Morgan Stanley by 20% after strong gains from early November and added 20% (coincidence) to our holding in T Rowe Price, which continues to impress. We have also initiated a new holding in Experian, the credit checking and monitoring company. Sumitomo Mitsui Financial Group also provided a positive feature for us with a gain of 10% over the period.