After 2018, don’t be fooled by quiet start for stock markets

Last year turned out to be an uncertain, volatile and generally difficult one for equity market investors, writes Jim Power.By year end, the Dow Jones had shed 5.9%, the S&P 500 had shed 6.6%, but the real damage occurred in Europe, where the German Dax lost 18.3% of its value, the Ftse-100 lost 12.5%, and the French market shed almost 11%.After nine years of very strong gains, this market performance came as a bit of a shocker, and the final trading days of 2018 saw some pretty dramatic volatility, which has created considerable investor nervousness as we embark on a new year of investing.Forecasting equity market performance, like all other economic and financial forecasting, is incredibly difficult at the best of times, but is nigh on impossible at the moment.After the massive gains made since March 2009, it was inevitable that the markets would pause for breath at some stage, but what we saw for much of the second half of last year, was more akin to gasping for breath rather than pausing for it.Over the turn of the year there has been quite a lot of negative sentiment concerning prospects for the global economy in 2019.These concerns revolve around a number of different but related factors.Developments in the US are definitely top of the pile. Markets are now more focused on the likely slowing in US growth over the coming months as the fiscal stimulus package introduced a year ago runs out of steam.There are also concerns about Donald Trump and his anti-free trade agenda and the shutdown of the US government on the back of a failure to get agreement on the funding of his famous wall.On the other hand, the economic news out of the US over recent weeks has been somewhat mixed, but generally quite robust.On

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