Tech boom leads global markets through first half of 2024

FILE PHOTO: Illustration shows NVIDIA logo

By Marc Jones and Rodrigo Campos

LONDON/NEW YORK (Reuters) -The unstoppable march of the mega caps, sloth-like central bank pivots, political palpitations aplenty and M&A is back - the first half of 2024 has been another whirlwind in world markets.

Forecasts for a global interest-rate-cutting frenzy may not have materialized, but Nvidia and the rest of the Magnificent 7 soared another $3.6 trillion in market value.

MSCI's 47-country world stocks index has clocked up a punchy 11% since January. Good yes, but nowhere near the 30% leap of team tech, or the frankly eye-popping 150% gain of chip champ Nvidia.

"Thirty percent of the S&P's returns this year have come from Nvidia alone," the chief investment officer of IBOSS Asset Management Chris Metcalfe said, pointing out it was now the most expensive stock on the most expensive market in the world.

It is not just equity markets where milestones have been set.

Japan's yen has bowed to a 38-year low against the dollar in currency markets. Cocoa had one of its best-ever runs while French bond risk has exploded to its highest level since the euro crisis after French President Emmanuel Macron's drubbing by the far right in EU elections drove him to call a snap parliamentary election, the first round of which was held on Sunday.

Government bonds had been having a tough time anyway. Predictions of a gush of rate cuts have turned out to be just a dribble in a few parts of Europe and emerging markets and certainly not in the United States yet.

As a result, anyone owning a basket of benchmark bonds has lost around 1.5% of their money.

"At the end of last year, the markets expected seven (U.S.) rate cuts and now they are expecting just one or two," Nadege Dufosse, the head of multi-asset at Candriam said. "That has been the big driver and explains the (poor) performance."

A shaky showing from U.S. President Joe Biden in his latest TV debate against Donald Trump has just ratcheted November's U.S. election uncertainty up substantially.

There's also a general election in Britain on July 4 although there aren't expected to be many market fireworks despite it being almost certainly the first change of government in 14 years.

Polar Capital fund manager Georgina Hamilton explained that was because unlike in France and the U.S., the two main candidates to lead the UK are fairly centrist.

"Having had quite a lot of turmoil in recent years ... you can't underestimate that calmer political backdrop," she added.

GOLD SHINES

The big story in commodities has been cocoa sky-rocketing almost 85% due to shortages which is already its second-biggest annual leap of all time, although certainly is not good news for chocoholics.

Gold hit a record high of just shy of $2,450 an ounce in May. Oil is up a respectable 12% while bitcoin broke though $70,000 and set a flurry of new highs after U.S. watchdogs gave bitcoin exchange-traded funds the green light.

The value of global M&A activity is up 5% compared to the first half of last year.

That's mainly down to a brace of $35-billion deals that saw credit-card firm Capital One take over Discover Financial and chip designer Synopsys buy out rival Ansys, although it could have been much more though if BHP's gripping $49-billion pursuit of Anglo American had succeeded.

DISTRESSED TO IMPRESS

Off the beaten track, Ecuador's bonds have made 46% despite lingering debt concerns and Argentina's new chainsaw-wielding President Javier Milei has helped its bonds jump 32%.

Emerging-market veteran Kevin Daly at Aberdeen said there has been a "distressed to impress" move, with the bonds of crashed countries like Zambia, Ghana and Sri Lanka all rallying between 16%-23% as their years-long debt restructurings have neared an end.

As always though, there has still been plenty of downs in emerging markets too.

Chinese property stocks have fallen for the ninth quarter in a row. Devaluations have shoved Nigeria's and Egypt's currencies down 42% and 36% respectively, while Mexico's peso is down nearly 8% this month after a resounding presidential election result fed worries about its future path.

(Additional reporting by Harry Robertson, Elizabeth Howcroft and Pasit Kongkunakornkul; editing by Rod Nickel)