Global fourth-quarter data has provided evidence that the recovery remains on solid footing, pointing to continued, but slower growth in the first three months of 2024. In the U.S., layoffs remain low, and job growth has held steady. Cooling inflation has meant that wages are now rising faster than prices. In January we maintained our U.S. twelve -month forward looking outlook to reflect our view for Stagnation over the entire period. Stagnation will put downward pressure on rates, as moderating inflation will lead to less restrictive monetary policy.

China’s economy grew 5.2% in 2023. China’s consumer prices fell by 0.3% in December.1 China’s surveyed urban unemployment rate inched up to 5.1% in December.2 The inflation rate in the Euro Area was confirmed at 2.9% in December.3 The Euro Area posted a trade surplus of EUR 20.3 billion in November 2023. Imports tumbled by 16.7%, while exports fell at softer 4.7%.4

The U.S. economy continued to grow at a healthy pace at the end of 2023, capping a year in which unemployment remained low, inflation cooled, and a widely predicted recession never materialized.  Gross domestic product, adjusted for inflation, grew at a 3.3% annual rate in the fourth quarter, down from the 4.9% rate in the third quarter.5 The annual inflation rate in the U.S. went up to 3.4% in December from a five-month low of 3.1% in November.6 The unemployment rate in the United States held at 3.7% in December, influenced by a slowdown in new entries into the labor force.7 The U.S. trade gap narrowed to $63.2 billion in November. Total exports were down 1.9%, prompted by a fall in sales of nonmonetary gold and crude oil. Total imports fell 1.9%. The deficit decreased with China and the European Union but increased with Switzerland.8 The annual inflation rate in Canada rose to 3.4% in December.9 The unemployment rate in Canada was at 5.8% in December.10 Canada recorded a trade surplus of CAD 1.6 billion in November of 2023. Foreign purchases rose for 8 of 11 product sections, led by an increase in energy imports (11.6%) amid significant buying of uranium for Kazakhstan, consistent with mining troubles from domestic mines.11

After a dismal 2022, the market recovered with a vengeance in 2023. The S&P 500 finished with a 26.3% return for the year. The strength of the Magnificent Seven powered those gains throughout, pushing the mega-cap S&P 500 Top 50 up 38%. The S&P Mid Cap 400 and S&P Small Cap 600 rose 16.4% and 16.1%. Strong gains in gold helped Precious Metals rise 11.5%, but Agriculture, Industrial Metals, and Energy posted losses. Canadian equities finished the month on the upside with the S&P/TSX Composite rising 3.9%. The S&P Europe 350 soared 3.7% in the final month to finish 2023 with a 16.8% total return. Fifteen of sixteen countries contributed positively to pan-European equity returns this year. The heavyweight French market was the brightest spot, contributing +3.3%. Germany and the United Kingdom also made major contributions of 2.5% and 2.3%, respectively. Finland was the only country that slipped in 2023, subtracting 0.05% from the S&P Europe 350’s annual return. The S&P Pan Asia BMI rose 4.7% in December after an 8% rally in November, closing the year with a total return of 12.8%.

In January we maintained the asset allocation from December. We continue to hold gold across all models. Gold is considered a long-term strategic asset alongside bonds as it provides 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, with longer duration bonds eventually being added back into the mix.

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. The outlook for deficits will be a driver of rate-market volatility in 2024, especially around quarterly refunding announcements and longer-dated Treasury auctions. In addition, the U.S. presidential election outcome could precipitate a material rise in yields and volatility. A Republican control of Congress would dampen any move toward entitlement reform, raise market expectations that the 2017 tax cuts would be extended, and increase the odds that corporate tax increases in the Inflation Reduction Act would be eliminated. Progress on fiscal reform would be kicked down the road. We will continue to monitor these 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 Trading Economics. China GDP. January 12, 2024.

2 Trading Economics. China Unemployment. January 17, 2024.

3 Trading Economics. EU Inflation. January 17, 2024.

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

5 Trading Economics. U.S. GDP. January 25, 2024.

6 Trading Economics. U.S. Inflation. January 11, 2024.

7 Trading Economics. U.S. Unemployment. January 5, 2024.

8 Trading Economics. U.S. Trade. January 9, 2024.

9 Trading Economics. Canada Inflation. January 16, 2024.

10 Trading Economics. Canada Unemployment. January 5, 2024.

11 Trading Economics. Canada Trade. January 9, 2024.

Index return data from Bloomberg and S&P Dow Jones Indices Index Dashboard: U.S., Canada, Europe, Asia, Fixed Income. December 31, 2023. Index performance is based on total returns and expressed in the local currency of the index.