Interactive Investor

The UK stock market outlook for 2024

The attractively valued FTSE 100 index heads into 2024 overlooked on the global stage, but for investors seeking income or defensive positioning it remains a haven.

20th December 2023 13:30

by Graeme Evans from interactive investor

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Investors will be hoping lower interest rates can inspire a change in fortunes for the unloved FTSE 100 index in 2024, having traded at a big discount to global peers in 2023.

London’s large-cap benchmark posted a modest gain in the year, whereas Wall Street’s S&P 500 index rose by a fifth on hopes of a soft landing for the US economy and the prospect of at least three Federal Reserve rate cuts in 2024.

The lacklustre performance has left the FTSE 100 index trading on a 12-month forward price-to-earnings multiple of about 10.5 times, some 15–20% below its long-run average and a third lower than global equities.

Should 2023 turn out to be the trough for earnings there’s good reason to think more positively about the FTSE 100 index in 2024, particularly if the US avoids a major recession and inflation pressures continue to subside.

Swiss bank UBS forecasts that blue-chip earnings will grow by around 5% next year, having declined in 2023 due largely to the impact of a year-on-year fall in commodity prices.

It expects the FTSE 100 to reach 8,160 by December 2024, which coupled with an attractive 4% dividend yield suggests investors could see double-digit returns on equities next year.

As well as the benefit of earnings growth, it sees the potential for a slight re-rating as lower interest rates increase the present value of equity cash flow.

Despite the outlook, the UK is still among the least preferred in its coverage because emerging markets equities are forecast to see double-digit earnings growth next year.

The generally more upbeat view on UK equities is shared by interactive investor customers, with almost half of respondents to our recent survey seeing the FTSE 100 between 7,500 and 8,000 this time next year.

A quarter are betting on the index finishing 2024 above the 8,000 level, of which 8% think 8,500 or higher is possible. Only 6% think the index will end 2024 below 7,000.

Offsetting the blue-chip index’s lacklustre headline performance during the past year has been its 4% dividend yield alongside the trend for major share buybacks.

Computershare’s quarterly Dividend Monitor expects 2023 to show payout growth of 5.4% when excluding special awards or currency movements. Shell (LSE:SHEL) and BP (LSE:BP.), for example, increased their December distributions by 32% and 21% compared with a year earlier, while Associated British Foods (LSE:ABF) lifted its dividend by 37% in the September financial year.

And it’s worth remembering the shelter provided by the FTSE 100’s heavier weighting of old economy stocks when macroeconomic conditions were tougher in 2022.

Those defensive characteristics may be needed again at the start of a year when major elections loom in the UK and US, geopolitical events remain a big worry and the full lag effect of interest rate rises is still to be felt.

For now, however, the recent third-quarter results season in the United States has suggested that many companies have had their earnings recession, have cut costs and are now enjoying margin expansion.

Bank of America said 2023 “defied almost everyone's expectations” with recessions that never came.

The bank added: “We expect 2024 to be the year when central banks can successfully orchestrate a soft landing, though we recognise that downside risks may outnumber the upside ones.”

The question for investors is whether they have gone too far in pricing in the first rate cuts.

The Federal Reserve is seen cutting as early as the first quarter of 2024, followed by the European Central Bank and Bank of England in the second quarter.

On five out of the eight occasions since the 1980s that the US Federal Reserve has cut rates, the Bank of England has followed suit within three months. 

Despite this, Ruth Gregory of Capital Economics thinks investors are over-estimating how quickly the Bank will cut rates. She points out the UK’s labour supply is smaller and domestic inflationary pressures are greater than those in the US and the eurozone.

Mortgage rates are already falling, however, with a typical five-year fixed 75% loan-to-value deal now below 5% and lender Halifax hopeful of a narrow 2-4% fall in house prices in 2024.

The improvement in affordability could underpin the recent share price recovery of housebuilders Taylor Wimpey (LSE:TW.) and Barratt Developments (LSE:BDEV) or ease some of the bad debt fears hanging over the valuation of lenders including Lloyds Banking Group (LSE:LLOY).

Among other sectors, sentiment has turned more positive on the mining sector in recent weeks amid hopes for a demand recovery in the second half of 2024. 

Deutsche Bank has “buy” recommendations for the likes of Glencore (LSE:GLEN) and Rio Tinto Registered Shares (LSE:RIO) after forecasting broadly balanced markets for copper, aluminium and iron ore in 2024 before supply deficits re-emerge in 2025 as the global demand cycle recovers.

Investors will be also hoping to see the telecoms sector turn a corner after Vodafone Group (LSE:VOD) shares hit their lowest ever level and BT Group (LSE:BT.A) continued to underwhelm during 2023.

Bank of America expects Vodafone to bottom out in 2024 results and for the year ahead to be boosted by a significant turnaround in energy costs. “The balance sheet is secure but the dividend could be revised as ongoing restructuring impacts cash-flow generation.”

These articles are provided for information purposes only.  Occasionally, an opinion about whether to buy or sell a specific investment may be provided by third parties.  The content is not intended to be a personal recommendation to buy or sell any financial instrument or product, or to adopt any investment strategy as it is not provided based on an assessment of your investing knowledge and experience, your financial situation or your investment objectives. The value of your investments, and the income derived from them, may go down as well as up. You may not get back all the money that you invest. The investments referred to in this article may not be suitable for all investors, and if in doubt, an investor should seek advice from a qualified investment adviser.

Full performance can be found on the company or index summary page on the interactive investor website. Simply click on the company's or index name highlighted in the article.

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