2018: The worst year for equity markets since 2008
2018 proved to be the worst year for global markets since 2008. The MSCI World Index fell by 10.4% over the year as a whole, dragged down by widespread economic and political concerns. Markets seesawed during December as investors reacted to newsflow over Brexit, trade tensions, and the prospect of a shutdown of the US government.
Brexit descended into confusion during December. The government was found to be in contempt of parliament for refusing to publish the full legal advice on Prime Minister Theresa May’s Brexit deal. Mrs May subsequently postponed a House of Commons vote on her Brexit deal, which had been scheduled for 11 December, amid expectations that the government would lose. Elsewhere, the European Court of Justice found that the UK could cancel Brexit without needing consent from other EU member states. The FTSE 100 Index fell by 3.6% over December and by 12.5% over the year.
US markets reached new heights during 2018 but faltered towards the end of the year amid mounting concerns over the outlook for global growth and the impact of rising interest rates. The Federal Reserve (Fed) raised its key rate in December by 0.25 percentage points to a range of 2.25% to 2.5%. Although the decision had been widely anticipated, the relationship between the Central Bank and President Trump continued to deteriorate. Meanwhile, sentiment was further dampened by a partial government shutdown as President Trump clashed with Democrats over funding for a border wall between the US and Mexico. The Dow Jones Industrial Average Index fell by 8.7% during December and by 5.6% over 2018.
The European Commission announced that it had begun to carry out contingency measures for a no-deal Brexit. Italy agreed to cut its controversial budget deficit target for 2019 in order to avoid being penalised by Brussels. In France, increases in fuel tax were put on hold following violent public protests; however, the move is likely to result in budget cuts. The CAC 40 Index fell by 5.5% over the month and by 11% over the year.
Japans economy contracted at an annualised rate of 2.5% during the third quarter of 2018, compared with an earlier calculation of -1.2%. Activity was curtailed during the year by a succession of natural disasters. The Nikkei 225 Index fell by 10.5% during December and by 12.1% over 2018.