SPW MarketWatch: March 2024

  • Shunil Roy-Chaudhuri, Personal Finance and Investment Writer
  • 05 April 2024
  • 5 minds reading time

Source: FactSet, 2 April 2024. Figures are monthly price returns in local currencies for March 2024.

Strong first-quarter performance for global shares

Global stock markets had their best first quarter in five years in the first three months of 2024, with global equities (shares) up by 9.5 percent. This was supported by an improved US economic outlook.

North American equities rose by 10.1 percent. But they were outshone by Japanese equities, which rose by 19.2 percent in the period as its stock market exceeded 1989 highs (1).

In the US, chip giant Nvidia performed particularly strongly, driven by investor enthusiasm for artificial intelligence (AI). And chip-related companies similarly helped drive the rally in Japanese equities.

We have a positive overall stance on equities due to the favourable economic outlook. But we have a neutral stance on emerging market shares, due to a weak outlook for the Chinese economy. And we have a neutral stance on the UK, which we believe could find it hard to bring down and maintain inflation at the Bank of England’s 2 percent target.

Japan ends era of negative interest rates

While Japanese equities have been making new records, a different kind of record was made by the Bank of Japan on 19 March. It raised interest rates by the tiniest of margins, a mere 0.1 percentage point. But this brought the central bank’s interest rate range to 0-to-0.1 percent, bringing it out of negative territory for the first time since 2016.

The rate rise had been long signalled by Bank of Japan governor Kazuo Ueda and had little market impact. But the central bank will continue with its policy of buying government bonds, helping to support their prices.

Against this backdrop we maintain a neutral stance on Japanese government bonds, despite the fact that government bond prices often fall when interest rates rise. And we maintain a neutral stance on government bonds in general.

Easter eggs get smaller and pricier

Was your Easter egg smaller this year? Was it more expensive?

For many of us, the answer to these questions would be ‘yes’. Consumer group Which? found the prices of some Easter eggs went up by more than half this year. It also found the weight of some eggs had fallen by up to a fifth (2), a phenomenon known as ‘shrinkflation’.

Shrinkflation has become a global issue, with US president Joe Biden highlighting snack packs with fewer chips. But chocolate looks particularly susceptible to both shrinkflation and inflation: the cocoa price has shot up since late 2022 and surpassed $10,000 a tonne for the first time on 26 March (3).

This has been driven by poor cocoa harvests in West Africa. Bad weather and disease have hindered crop production in Ghana and the Ivory Coast, which together produce more than two-thirds of the world’s cocoa beans. This has led to a global cocoa shortfall for three years in a row.

Even so, we have a neutral stance on agricultural commodities, due to bumper gain harvests in Brazil. We also have a neutral view on commodities as a whole, but are positive on gold, which rose by 8.3 percent in March. We believe gold can provide some protection if inflation remains higher than expected.


(1) FactSet, 2 April 2024. Figures are monthly price returns in local currencies for January to March 2024.

(2) Which? (, ‘Eggstraordinary cost of Easter’, 21 March 2024.

(3) Financial Times (, ‘Cocoa surpasses $10,000 a tonne as shortages squeeze “out of control” market’, 26 March 2024.

Important information

The value of investments and the income from them can fall as well as rise and are not guaranteed. The investor might not get back their initial investment.

In preparing this article we have used third party sources which we believe to be true and accurate as at the date of writing but can give no assurances or warranty regarding the accuracy, currency or applicability of any of the contents in relation to specific situations and particular circumstances.

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