'We are in a worse place than we were a year ago,' top fund manager says at Davos

Key Points
  • "(There's) a lot of geopolitical risk between the U.S. and China — certainly we are in a worse place than we were a year ago," Gilbert told CNBC in Switzerland.
  • Since the last event in Davos, the U.S. has put tariffs on $250 billion in Chinese goods with Beijing responding with tariffs on $110 billion in U.S. goods — targeting politically important industries such as agriculture.
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A slew of geopolitical events over the last 12 months has meant the environment for investing has deteriorated notably since last year, a prominent name in U.K. finance told CNBC Monday.

Speaking at the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos, Martin Gilbert, the co-CEO of British investment company Standard Life Aberdeen, gave the U.S.-China trade conflict and the Brexit impasse as two examples of how market sentiment has been impacted.

Since the last event in Davos, the U.S. has put tariffs on $250 billion in Chinese goods with Beijing responding with tariffs on $110 billion in U.S. goods — targeting politically important industries such as agriculture. Stock markets saw hefty falls at the end of 2018, accentuated by fears over the conflict and how it could affect global growth. Indeed, many indexes saw sharp corrections with some even entering official bear market territory.

"(There's) a lot of geopolitical risk between the U.S. and China — certainly we are in a worse place than we were a year ago, " Gilbert told CNBC in Switzerland.

Meanwhile, Brexit talks are reaching an end game with the U.K. closing in on its official departure date of March 29. But U.K. leader Theresa May's proposals have been overwhelmingly rejected by lawmakers, and the country is facing the prospect of leaving the EU without a formal agreement — something that business leaders and industry experts have been warning about since the negotiations began.

Gilbert warned that the global economy could face even more headwinds this year which could lead further fluctuations in the markets.

Martin Gilbert, chief executive officer of Aberdeen Asset Management Plc, speaks during an interview in London, U.K., on Monday, May 16, 2016.
Jason Alden | Bloomberg via Getty Images

"Even though the economists say global growth will be OK next year, the stock markets are telling us something completely different," he said.

"They are usually a very good forward-looking indicator and they are saying there is a bit of trouble ahead," Gilbert noted.

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) added to the gloom on Monday, revising down its estimates for global growth and warning that the expansion seen in recent years is losing momentum.

The Fund now projects a 3.5 percent growth rate worldwide for 2019 and 3.6 percent for 2020. These are 0.2 and 0.1 percentage points below its last forecasts in October — making it the second downturn revision in three months.

It mentioned weakness for German auto manufacturers due to new fuel emission standards, and soft domestic demand in Italy after recent sovereign and financial risks. But the IMF also highlighted weakening sentiment in the global financial markets and a contraction in Turkey that's now projected to be deeper than anticipated.