The world’s share markets generally produced solid returns in 2021, but UK stocks and fixed-interest investments suffered. Maintaining an international outlook in your portfolio can help underpin its value.
2021 was a good year for most investors in share-based funds, particularly those who had holdings linked to the US market.
Despite the optimism around the beginning of Covid-19 vaccine rollouts, there was not an auspicious start. However, once January was out of the way, the US, UK and European markets began to move upwards. The arrival of the Covid-19 Omicron variant in late November prompted a change of direction, but this was reversed before the end of the year.
Overall, the UK stock market lagged the US once again, with the main US indices regularly achieving new highs throughout the year. To no small degree this reflects the growing dominance of technology companies in the States. Of the 500 companies in the S&P 500, the professional’s US market index, just half a dozen account for a quarter of its value. All are familiar brand names, although the label given to their holding companies may be less so: Apple, Microsoft, Amazon, Alphabet (aka Google), Tesla and now Meta (aka Facebook). Apple alone has a value of $2,900 billion, which makes it worth more than the entire FTSE 100.
While shares performed well in 2021, it was a poor year for fixed-interest investors. That might seem surprising as the US, European and Japanese central banks all kept rates at around zero throughout 2021, while the Bank of England waited until December to raise its interest rate by just 0.15%.
However, the mood music on interest rates changed as the year progressed, primarily because inflation in Europe and the US rose well above the bankers’ targets of around 2%. An increase in US rates – the first since December 2018 – could come as early as March.
There are a few lessons to draw from 2021:
- Without the benefit of hindsight, it is virtually impossible to hit the perfect timing for investment. January 2021’s lockdown was a good time to invest, but it did not feel like it back then.
- Inflation, and with it the prospect of rising interest rates, has become a concern for bond investors but not – at least, not yet – for equity investors.
- International diversification remains valuable for UK-based investors. The UK now accounts for only about 3.5% of the world’s stock markets by value.
The value of your investment and any income from it can go down as well as up and you may not get back the full amount you invested. Past performance is not a reliable indicator of future performance.
Investing in shares should be regarded as a long-term investment and should fit in with your overall attitude to risk and financial circumstances.