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Please see below for Royal London’s latest market update received 29/06/2020. They provide an update on the impact of recent market events:

RLAM Economic Viewpoint

Survey data, high frequency data and now increasingly the hard data too, continue to show that developed economies are in the ‘recovery phase’ of this crisis. Albeit this is the somewhat mechanical bit as economies are allowed to open up and you get a bit of pent-up demand set loose as well. Some of the recent data points have shown much stronger than expected improvements. This, however, doesn’t tell us much about the next stage of the recovery that economists generally expect to be much slower. Social distancing, scarring (including permanent job losses, business closures and balance sheet damage) and residual fear of the virus (including as it relates to job security) will all influence the strength of that recovery and government policy still has a crucial role to play in all of them.

June business surveys improve substantially: Data in the past week or two has included several June business surveys and these have mostly seen solid improvements, with some notable upside surprises in European business surveys and US regional business surveys. However, the headline composite PMI business survey indicators for the US, eurozone, Japan and the UK remain below 50. Taken at face value, remaining below 50.0 would normally signal that these economies are still shrinking. However, mapping PMIs accurately to economic activity levels is somewhat hazardous after such a big shock to GDP (the survey asks whether things are better/worse, rather than by how much). Nevertheless, if you look at the commentary in the PMI surveys – social distancing has eased, helping many firms reopen and firms are more optimistic, but many companies also report weak demand as customers remain cautious. That is – so far – consistent with economies taking time (likely, several quarters) to get back to ‘normal’ levels of activity after a sharp initial recovery phase.

US data continue to suggest a strong start to the early stage recovery, but virus data more worrying: May retail sales, durable goods orders and some housing data have bounced significantly more than expected. However, US COVID-19 numbers have, in the meantime, become more worrying. The increase in virus cases in some states is likely to worry consumers, including the prospects of social distancing being reversed and the impact on job security. Meanwhile, Congress and the White House have still not agreed a package of economic support measures to replace those set to roll off this summer. US government policy interventions have so far done a good job in shielding household balance sheets (and therefore spending power) from the crisis. Reduced/disrupted fiscal support and the progression of the virus both have the potential to curb US recovery momentum.

Here in the UK, data also signal a solid start to the recovery phase but also a weak underlying labour market and an economy still in need of policy support: May retail sales were also an upside surprise, rising 12% in May. They are still 13.1% below February levels, but that’s a solid start to the recovery phase, especially since it was only mid-June that saw ‘non-essential’ retail stores reopen. Just as in the US, however, the UK’s early stage recovery has needed – and still needs – plenty of policy support. Government borrowing was also somewhat higher than expected in May and the levels of government debt as a percent of GDP, on the headline measure, moved above 100% for the first time since 1963. PAYE data meanwhile show the number of paid employees fell by 449K March to April. Early May estimates indicate another drop of 163K. Job vacancies in May fell to a record low. The furlough scheme is set to start unwinding from August, but this is a labour market that is far from out of the woods yet. That was recognised by the Bank of England who extended their asset purchase programme, though reduced the pace. They have become more concerned about long-term damage from the crisis. How the labour market evolves from here will be a key driver of their decisions going forward including, potentially, a decision around negative rates.

Market view from Piers Hillier, CIO, RLAM

The upwards trend in global equity markets was met with some resistance this week, resulting in sideways equity trading and moderate credit spread widening. Investors were perturbed by a sharp increase in Covid-19 cases in the US as the country reported a record number of new cases on Thursday. While the coronavirus appears to be under control in most developed countries at this stage, global new case numbers are at record highs; driven by the US, Brazil and India. In an effort to mitigate the damage of a second wave, US regulators gave in to a long-sought demand for a relaxation of the Volcker Rule as they allowed banks to invest in hedge funds and private equity funds.

Markets have also been rocked by increased global trading tensions. There have been signs of further difficulties in the trade negotiations between the US and China. Meanwhile the US threatened to impose tariffs on $3.1bn of European products, prompting an angry response from the European Commission.

On a more positive note, numerous key economic data releases have been far stronger than anticipated recently. There have been strong improvements in US and UK retail sales and in the European and US business surveys. While activity surveys are still consistent with contractions in many economies, possibly reflecting the elevated corporate debt and unemployment levels, they show that businesses are markedly more upbeat as they emerge from the worst of the lockdowns.

Reflecting a perception that the UK economy is somewhat stronger than expected, the Bank of England surprised investors at its latest meeting. While it announced an additional £100bn of bond buying, as had been expected, it slowed the pace of its purchases. The Bank said it would spend the £100bn by the end of the year, rather than by the end of August as the market had hoped. Of course, the very fact that spending was increased reveals the fragile state that the Bank considers the economy to be in, with serious concerns over the unemployment outlook.

The focus for many in the UK has been on further opening of businesses – both non-essential retail in mid June, and with the prospects of pubs, restaurants and others opening from early July. As investors we are pleased to see this – we are under no illusions that we as a society will return to prior habits in terms of spending; many of us will feel differently about being on a train, plane or in a restaurant for some time. And with other countries seeing flare-ups in the virus, it is clear that this road will have a number of bumps in it. However, it does appear that we are now through the first phase of this crisis, and returning to a more normal cycle of data and market reaction.

Royal London is the UK’s largest mutual life, pensions and investment company. This in-depth market outlook by a market leading financial services organisation adds valuable insight to our consensus view of the markets. It is evident that in recent times these views have been dominated by the Coronavirus Pandemic, but we have also now been offered insight into the socio-political tensions that have recently risen, particularly in the US, and how they in turn are effecting the economy. This is an example of how frequently reviewing these updates gives us a better view of the ‘bigger picture’.

The opinions of market leaders are key to keeping our understanding of the markets up to date. A wide variety of these views from different sources help us paint a more accurate picture on the events of the world and how they are influencing market behaviours.

Paul Green

30/06/2020