The five big fears that shaped 2018

Dr Shane Oliver
Head of Investment Strategy and Economics and Chief Economist
(AMP Capital)

After solid returns and relatively low volatility in 2017, many investors entered 2018 fairly optimistic, however we expected returns would be more constrained and more volatile than they were last year.

Looking at the big picture, global growth was good, we saw relatively low inflation globally and the Australian economy grew at a reasonable rate.


Five big fears

But five big concerns came together to deliver a surprisingly tough year and rough ride for investors in 2018.

  1. Fear of the Fed. The first was what I’ve coined ‘fear of the Fed’. From around February, investors began to fear that the US Federal Reserve would keep raising interest rates until it caused the US economy to fall into recession. The impact was a lot of market volatility.
  2. President Trump’s trade war: We had the ongoing US-China trade war which started fairly calmly but escalated as the year continued. We recently had a bit of good news on that front with China and the US agreeing at the recent G20 meeting to pause tariff increases until March 1 next year as they continue to negotiate. But fears about the trade war caused a lot of volatility and angst amongst investors and this continues despite the truce.
  3. China slowdown: Chinese growth slowed to 6.5% because of tighter credit, but investors also worried the trade war with the US would slow it further. Concerns around China added to worries about global growth.
  4. Global desynchronisation: Investors became concerned that while the US economy was strong, the rest of the world, including Europe, Japan, China and emerging markets, have slowed down.
  5. US dollar strength: Finally, while a rising US dollar wasn’t that surprising – and it didn’t eclipse its 2016 highs – it has put a lot of pressure on parts of the world that are sensitive to a stronger US dollar, such as emerging market and Asian shares (because of their US dollar-denominated debt).


Muted returns

Those five factors came together to give us quite constrained returns out of the major asset classes over 2018 for the year to date to November, as illustrated by the table below.

Muted returns graph
**Warning: These forecasts are prospective financial information based on various assump