The U.S. economy expanded at a 2.2 percent annual rate in the first quarter, slightly weaker than expected. Consumer spending which accounts for about 70 percent of U.S. economic activity, increased at a 2.9 percent rate – contributing two percentage points to the overall growth rate.
Over the past year emerging markets have broadly lagged an upswing in global equity markets, yielding cumulative returns of 4.5 percent since last August. That’s less than half the return developed markets have provided (see graphic below).
For all the headline attention on euro zone political heat over the next six weeks or so (Spain is already in the spotlight, Sunday is the first round of the French presidential elections, Greece goes to the polls on May 6, Ireland votes on the EU fiscal pact on May 31 etc etc), global investors may be better rewarded if they follow the more mundane runes of the world’s manufacturing cycle for tips on market direction.
Now that the Fed appears to have dashed any lingering hopes for an imminent QE3, what’s next for emerging markets? Most observers put this year’s stellar performance of emerging bonds, currencies and equities largely down to the various money-printing or cheap money operations in the developed world. That’s kept core government bond yields bumping along near record lows and benefited higher-yielding emerging assets.
It’s been a while since Chinese stocks earned investors fat profits. Last year the Shanghai market lost 22 percent and the compounded return on equity investments there since 1993 is minus 3 percent. This year too China has underwhelmed, rising less than 3 percent so far. Broader emerging equities on the other hand have just concluded their best first quarter since 1992, with gains of over 13 percent.