Produced and edited by Vanessa Kortekaas. Filmed by James Sandy.
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It's the time of year for learning from mistakes. Luckily, lots of people made lots of them in markets in 2018. So what did we learn?
Yes, this is an obvious point. But it suddenly seemed to take a lot of investors by surprise, that markets can go down, as well as up. Two big shocks in 2018 drove this home. One in February, when the Vix index tracking expected volatility went haywire, delivering a heavy blow to the S&P 500 that fanned across other assets. And one in October, sparked by a mix of higher interest rates in the US, and cracks in big tech.
The latter was initially written off as a blip, but recoveries through November and December have proven fleeting. Brace for more volatility in 2019, which some investors have described as the year of the bull, the, bear and the kangaroo.
So, it's OK, though, right? When stocks and other so-called risk assets hit the skids, you can always fall back on government bonds and have currency, surely. Well, not this year. Correlations that typically hold fast have fallen apart, and no one is quite sure why.
Government bonds, notably in the US, have dropped out of long-held ranges. And the Swiss franc and yen, usually mechanical beneficiaries in times of stress, failed to climb. This has been a nightmare for many hedge funds and other investors.
The most plausible explanation I've heard for this breakdown in reliable patterns is that the power in trading has shifted away from banks. The muscle memory employed by traders on trading floors is just not there any more. That leaves other funds and high-frequency traders to fill the gap. And with fresh eyes, it's always been tough to see why the yen, for example, plays that role. Easy fallbacks are just so 2017.
Never have political consultants been in such high demand among investors. Hedge funds that correctly predicted the election of a maverick new coalition government in Italy made a fortune on the subsequent collapse in Italian government bonds. Turkish politics, no stranger to drama, generated a full-blown currency crisis.
The plot of the Brexit soap opera meanwhile, has become so baffling that many overseas investors are simply staying right out of sterling markets. The smart money says sterling is heavily undervalued at this point. But until the politics clears up, it's impossible to put money behind that view.
And finally, after a decade of quantitative easing from central banks, we're shifting to quantitative tightening. Turning off the stimulus taps, in other words. Has the Fed raised rates too much already? Will it hit the brakes? How bumpy will the US landing be?
In Europe, investors almost unanimously believe the withdrawal of support will be smooth and well-managed. With such widespread confidence, what could possibly go wrong next year?