The 2015 has been a very turbulent year for financial markets globally. Greece, the unpredictable oil rout and weak growth perspective in China repeatedly triggered waves of sell-offs during the last year. Here a closer look at the main characters or events that set the trends this year.

S&P 500 Yearly PerformanceSP500

Oil

The oil rout has started in the middle of last year, when it collapsed from the range $110/100 a barrel to levels close to the post Financial Crisis lows, $35/45 a barrel. Since the beginning of 2015, Oil has been very volatile, trading in a range between $35 and $65 a barrel. Its unpredictable trend affected financial markets on a global scale. The high-yield bond market is under strict observation after the low prices of oil have been pushing a large number of shale gas companies on the verge of bankruptcy. On December 10, Third Avenue Focused Credit Fund closed its $800m junk-bond portfolio due to the slump in bond prices. The energy sector has been dramatically hit by the rout, forcing layoffs, firm aggregation e.g. (Royal Dutch Shell and BG) and Capex reconsideration. Weaker demands from top-tier consumers as China and consistent OPEC plans to keep production high pushed prices down, weakening inflation expectations in developed countries and increasing risks of deflation. Emerging Markets heavily relying on oil exports have to cope with more than halved revenues from the primary source of inflow, currency depreciation and inflation. Brazil is reportedly in recession, Saudi Arabia disclosed a Balance Deficit of 15% of its GPD, envisaging austerity periods in public spending. Oil will still play a major role in 2016, when the ban on Iran oil exports will be lifted and new fresh oil will flood into the market.

WTI 5 Year PerformanceOilSource: Bloomberg

China

Being the second largest economy in the world, China has set the trend in many occasions this year. The Stock Market crash sparked fear and volatility all over the world. The Shanghai Composite, after a rapid ascent, it started to fall rapidly between June and August, losing almost 40% of its value. Weaker growth perspectives, decline in industrial production, and weaker demand for commodities, especially copper, dragged down global markets, spilling over other asset classes, especially Emerging Markets local currencies. In order to give China exporters a competitive edge People’s Bank of China devalued the renminbi several times during this year. In August, in the wake of the first devaluation, the Yuan reported the largest daily loss in over 20 years. Kazakhstan’s Central Bank, in order to cope with depreciating rival currencies, decided to shift to a free-floating rate. On August 15, the tenge tumbled 26%. These moves raised the risk of a potential currency war between August and September, which eventually fade away.

CNY/USD Yearly PerformanceYuan RenminbiSource: Bloomberg

In the first days of 2016 a dramatic sell-off in China that triggered the circuit breaker mechanism halting trading if losses greater than 7% materialize, produced a chain effect on the Financial System, resulting in the worst first week of trading in history. The S&P lost almost $1 trillion in market capitalization in the first week.

 Central Banks

The Fed and the ECB adopted divergent strategies in terms of Monetary Policy. Improved economic conditions and a more solid labor market in the US pushed the Federal Open Market Committee to unanimously raise interest rates up to 50 basis points for the first time in nine years. The December hike was broadly expected by all market makers, and paved the way for future hikes in the coming years. The ECB, in the opposite direction, eased the monetary policy in December, lowering the deposit rates at minus 30 basis point and prolonging the quantitative easing up to March 2017, with potential further extension. Draghi’s move disappointed market makers, who foresaw an increase in the monthly purchase of  securities, hammering down European Equities. Despite eased policies, inflation in both region is far from targets and the pressure on oil prices seems to further raise the risk of consistent low prices and deflation. Central Banks will still play a key role in the next year in their effort of improving economic conditions and reaching inflation target.

In the first days of the New Year, negative signals coming from the commodity market and China sparked uncertainty and fear over the stability of the financial system. Will the improved economic conditions in Europe and America be able to offset the downside risks coming from the Chinese transitioning economy?

By

Tancredi Viale, Master Student

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