Please see below for the latest Markets in a Minute update from Brewin Dolphin, received yesterday evening 22/12/2020:
Global equity markets moved mostly higher over the past week, as the vaccines programme boosted optimism and an agreement on the US stimulus package edged closer. Eternal hope of a Brexit deal helped the more UK-centric shares and European markets. The FTSE100 has been an underperformer, however, as the dollar has been weakening relative to sterling, squeezing the earnings of FTSE’S multinationals, which gather most of their revenue in dollars. The ongoing dollar slide helped push commodity prices higher, and bitcoin briefly hit a record $23,000 amid a flurry of speculation, although nobody can really gauge its true value.
Last week’s markets performance*
• FTSE100: -0.26%
• S&P500: +1.25%
• Dow: +0.44%
• Nasdaq: +3.05%
• Dax: +3.93%
• Hang Seng: -0.02%
• Shanghai Composite: +1.42%
• Nikkei: +0.41%
*Data for week to close of business on Friday 18 December
Equity markets pull back at start of week
News of the virus mutation in the UK, and resulting restrictions on the movement of people and goods to numerous countries led to a sell off in many markets around the world on Monday. The FTSE100 closed down by 1.73% at 6,416.32, and the FTSE250 ended 2.11% lower at 19,962.11. In Europe, the pan-European STOXX 600 index fell 2.3% after the UK announced its tougher restrictions in response to the vaccine, and the EU’s largest market, the German Dax, fell by 2.82%. Reaction was more muted in the US, where the S&P500 lost just 0.4%, while the Nasdaq lost 0.10%. The Dow closed up by 0.12%.
US stimulus bill passed
The long-awaited US stimulus package to extend unemployment benefits and fund a range of other pandemic-related expenditure was passed on Monday night after nearly six months of wrangling. The package, worth $900bn in total, will send one-off cheques worth $600 to households, with extra payments for children. It will also extend unemployment benefit payments worth $300 a week for those who are out of work due to Covid-19. These payments will last until March and give the vaccination programme time to take effect. However, President-elect Joe Biden has signalled he will look to pass a larger bill once he takes office in January.
Markets sensitive to risk
There is a lack of liquidity in the market at the moment, as many traders have started their Christmas breaks and there is less money flowing into shares and bonds. This can make markets quite volatile, and there is no denying that the newsflow right now is quite alarming. We heard of the new strain of Covid-19 emerging from the UK, prompting Tier 4 containment measures in London, the south east and parts of eastern England over the weekend. In Europe, there are concerns surrounding movement of people and goods which has led to travel constraints. This could have an impact on the economy – and our lives – unless some resolution is reached quite quickly.
This bad news linked with a lack of progress on Brexit, with travel restrictions making negotiations harder, led to weakness in UK and European markets at the start of the week. However, the pound has recovered its losses, indicating that investors are perhaps taking stock and realising that this is probably not as frightening as the headlines first seemed. There were hopeful headlines on Tuesday morning about a compromise on fishing quotas, but there is no firm news of progress. We must wait to see how this plays out in the coming days, but markets will be jittery until the end of the year at least; even if a deal is agreed, it needs to be cleared by the EU member states which will not happen until the new year. The US, meanwhile, was far calmer, with the Dow even closing with a small gain, as the US stimulus bill was passed.
Economic resilience Taking a broader view, the global economy is holding up better than expected given such challenging circumstances. Many UK businesses had reported activity improving in December. The IHS/Markit flash composite purchasing managers index, which measures business levels compared to the previous month, rose to 50.7 in December from 49 in November. A reading above 50 indicates business is expanding. The services element of the index, which covers leisure and hospitality, rose to 49.9 in December from 47.6 in the previous month, suggesting business levels are still falling. Yet the data was still better than anticipated and shows the economy holding up relatively well. PMIs in the US were even stronger, with the businesses saying that activity levels were improving, especially in the manufacturing sector.
All in all, there is a sense of confidence that the global economy will get through this very challenging period and emerge to recover next year, as things return to normal. On a 12-month view, we remain optimistic on equities, although it could be a bumpy ride until as sentiment rises and falls along with the headlines.
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