The state of the world economy remains reasonably positive for investment prospects. Generally GDP growth and corporate profits are holding up well. Interest rates look set to be raised at a measured pace as central banks unwind stimulatory policies. However stock valuations seem stretched in some markets, and political uncertainty in the USA, UK and Europe continues to disconcert investors.
The prospect of a global trade war is a major concern. President Trump's 'America First' policy is likely to prove very harmful to cross-border commerce. Higher US tariffs on selected imports have already triggered retaliation from other countries. Although only a few sectors have been involved to date, extensive damage to the international trading system cannot be ruled out.
Nevertheless, the US economy is in vigorous health, recording 4.1% growth in the second quarter. Unemployment has touched its lowest level since 1969. Against this background, the Federal Reserve is almost certain to raise interest rates further this year, although it has indicated that it expects that this will be a gradual process. At present real wage growth remains restrained, but recent tax cuts may put upwards pressure on bond yields and, by extension, interest rates overall.
There is still little clarity over the likely outcome or implications of Brexit negotiations. Deep divisions cut across the UK political spectrum on the issue. Meanwhile, there are increasingly shrill warnings from UK companies of the impact on business in an already lagging economy.
The eurozone is expected to grow a further 2% this year, despite a recent slowdown in new orders and a decline in business confidence. With underlying inflation still below 2%, the European Central Bank is set to move cautiously in unwinding its accommodative policy, particularly when the Italian government has pledged to defy the currency union's fiscal rules.
In Japan, the economy has made an encouraging recovery after the longest upswing in nearly three decades ended in the first quarter. The country remains home to many globally competitive businesses and some exporting companies continue to offer attractive investment opportunities.
We believe long-term investment in smaller companies can be particularly rewarding. Over the past 30 years, global investment institutions have come to dominate equity markets. This trend has been reinforced by the growth of large passive investment funds whose aim is simply to track market indices. Institutional buying naturally has been concentrated on the biggest and most liquid stocks, rather than smaller companies, however attractive the values and prospects of the latter may be. As a specialist private client firm, McInroy & Wood is much less hampered by liquidity considerations in its investment selections, and is in a strong position to exploit opportunities in the smaller company sector on behalf of its clients.