The global economy has displayed impressive resilience in the face of aggressive monetary tightening with GDP rising 2.9% over the past four quarters.1 Domestic output gaps are expected to be far more important in determining inflation in a particular economy than has been seen over the past 20 years of globalization. The result will be shorter and more frequent cycles, accompanied by more volatility and higher inflation, resulting in global growth occurring at a slower rate. In February we maintained our U.S. twelve -month forward looking outlook to reflect our view for Stagnation (U.S. Real GDP growth between 0 and 2.5%), over the entire period. Stagnation will put downward pressure on rates, as moderating inflation will lead to less restrictive monetary policy.

China’s consumer prices fell by 0.8% year over year in January.2 The Euro Area economy stagnated in the last quarter of 2023, as persistently high inflation, record borrowing costs, and weak external demand continued to exert downward pressure on growth. Among the bloc’s largest economies, Germany contracted by 0.3%, while France’s GDP stalled. In contrast, economic growth in Spain and Italy accelerated to 0.6% and 0.2%, respectively.3 The Eurozone posted a €16.8 billion trade surplus in December 2023, compared to a deficit of €8.5 billion in the same period last year. Imports tumbled by 18.7%, mainly from Russia, Norway, the U.K., Switzerland, and China. Exports declined by 8.8%, primarily to Russia, Norway, Switzerland, and Japan.4

The U.S. economy expanded an annualized 3.2% in Q4 2023. In 2023, the U.S. economy grew 2.5%, compared to 1.9% in 2022.5 The unemployment rate in the United States held at 3.7% in January 2024.6 U.S. trade deficit narrowed to $773.4 billion in 2023. Imports fell 3.6% due to the lower cost of oil and the slowdown in demand for goods. Exports rose 1.2%.7 The Canadian economy expanded by 0.2% in the fourth quarter of 2023, recovering from a revised 0.1% contraction in the previous period, helped by higher exports. The country’s exports of goods and services rebounded by 1.4%, largely due to crude oil and crude bitumen sales. On an annual basis, real GDP grew 1.1%, the third consecutive year of expansion but at the slowest pace since 2016 (2020 excluded), as the economy faced pressure from high-interest rates.8 The unemployment rate in Canada eased to 5.7% in January.9

Despite a sharp drop on the final trading day of the month, the S&P 500 rose 1.7% in January. Strong Q4 2023 economic growth also dampened optimism that the Fed would be able to begin cutting rates as soon as March. Interest rate volatility led to mixed results among fixed income indices. Canadian equities finished the month on the upside. The S&P/TSX Composite rose 0.6%. The S&P Europe 350 started the year on the front foot, rising by 1.7% in January. 11 out of 16 countries contributed positively to the pan-European equity returns, with the Netherlands the biggest contributor with 0.6%. Pan Asia equities continued to lag the global market with the S&P Pan Asia BMI falling 1.7% in January. The drawdown in Chinese/Hong Kong stocks deepened with the S&P China 500 closing the month at its lowest level since August 2016.

In February we maintained the asset allocation from January. U.S. companies are generally in good shape but will be impacted by refinancing debt at higher rates and capital spending will likely slow. We continue to exclude Canadian exposure as Canada is a worse off on the consumer side, due to shorter-term mortgages compared to the U.S. Gold is held across all models as a long-term strategic asset alongside bonds as they provide returns in a wide range of economic conditions. The diversification and risk reduction advantages of fixed income relative to equities will continue to benefit our portfolio models during stagnation.

The nature of economic cycles is changing. Fiscal policy and electoral cycles will increasingly dominate outlooks. A long list of fiscal commitments, ranging from military to climate-transition expenditure, will keep government budgets in deficit, particularly in Europe. As elections approach, countries will likely loosen fiscal policy further—the U.S. and the U.K. being prime examples in 2024. Our twelve- month forward outlook focusses on the size and scale of the U.S. budget deficit, coupled with the substantial Treasury debt issuance required to address it. We will continue to monitor this as we move through 2024. Our approach to portfolio management is nimble, opportunistic, and deliberate in identifying asset classes that are best placed to generate returns in a new world order. Our focus is on protecting portfolios from downside risk, and we believe that our investment process is working to achieve that goal.

Deborah Frame, President and CIO

Drew Millard, Portfolio Manager

1 IMF. World Economic Outlook Update. January 2024.

2 Trading Economics. China CPI. February 8, 2024.

3 Trading Economics. EU GDP. February 14, 2024.

4 Trading Economics. EU Trade. February 15, 2024.

5 Trading Economics. U.S. GDP. February 28, 2024.

6 Trading Economics. U.S. Unemployment. February 2, 2024.

7 Trading Economics. U.S. Trade. February 24, 2024.

8 Trading Economics. Canadian GDP. February 29, 2024.

9 Trading Economics. Canadian Unemployment. February 24, 2024.

Index return data from Bloomberg and S&P Dow Jones Indices Index Dashboard: U.S., Canada, Europe, Asia, Fixed Income. January 31, 2024. Index performance is based on total returns and expressed in the local currency of the index.