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Invesco Insights: Israel’s economic data starts to show the impact of vaccines

Please see below for one of the latest Invesco Insight articles written by Kristina Hooper, Chief Global Market Strategist at Invesco Ltd. This article was received by us today 07/04/2021:

A month ago, I wrote about the great progress Israel was making in terms of inoculating its citizens against COVID-19. At the time, I said that we would want to follow economic data in Israel closely for indications of what the US and UK could expect in the near future — as they are making swift progress in vaccinating their respective populations — as well as what any country can expect once it successfully vaccinates a significant portion of its population. Therefore, I think it’s worth re-visiting Israel to see the impact that widespread immunization has had on its economy. It’s clear that Israel’s vaccination program is not only having a substantial impact on consumer confidence, but also on spending.

Israel’s data shows the impact of vaccines

While vaccinations only began in December, they ramped up quickly. As of April 4, Israel has given at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine to 59% of its population, with 54% fully vaccinated.1 The economic impact was seen relatively early on. As morbidity moderated, restrictions eased and the third lockdown was rolled back — and the Bank of Israel’s Composite State of the Economy Index for February increased by 0.4%.2

Mobility, which we have found to be a helpful indicator of economic activity, has increased substantially. By the end of March 2021, retail and recreation mobility (restaurants, cafes, shopping centers, movie theaters, etc.) was off by only 6% from January 2020 levels, while grocery and pharmacy mobility is actually higher than those early 2020 levels.3 And, not surprisingly, economic activity accelerated in March. Daily credit card data shows that the value of transactions for the week ending March 22 was actually 15% higher than it was in January 2020.4 By comparison, back in April 2020, the value of transactions was more than 40% below its level in January of 2020.4 The rebound in spending has been strongest in some of the areas hardest hit by the pandemic, especially leisure and tourism.

Why is this time different?

What makes this time different than past economic re-openings, like we saw in spring 2020? Before broad vaccinations, the re-opening of an economy was a double-edged sword. Typically, a re-opening would often be followed, after a lag, with an increase in COVID-19 infections. In addition, the increase in economic activity would typically be tempered because some consumers would be reluctant to go out and spend despite the re-opening because of health safety concerns.

I believe this time is different because vaccinated consumers will be more likely to re-engage in pre-pandemic economic activity and, according to medical research, should be well protected against COVID-19 — so spending should not be tempered as in past re-openings. Israel’s re-opening is already proving that vaccinations are leading to an uptick in consumer activity, and they haven’t seen another wave of COVID-19 infections.

A preview of what’s to come in the US and UK?

In my view, Israel’s current state illustrates what we can soon expect in countries such as the United States and then the United Kingdom — and in any country once it has achieved broad vaccination of its population. In the United States, 31% of the population has received at least one dose of a vaccine, and 18% have been fully vaccinated.1 In the United Kingdom, 47% of the population has received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, although only 7.8% of the population is fully vaccinated.1

The US economy is already seeing significant improvement, further helped by fiscal stimulus. For example, the March employment situation report saw a far-better-than-expected increase in non-farm payrolls at 916,000.5 And we just got the ISM Services PMI for March, which was also far better than expected, clocking in at 63.7 with all 18 services industries reported growth.6 The only problem is that COVID-19 infections are on the rise in some states in the US, so vaccinations will need to maintain momentum in order to slow and ultimately stop the rise in infections.

The UK is a bit more complicated and hasn’t shown as much improvement yet because it remains at a relatively strict level of pandemic-related lockdown, although stringency is being eased gradually.

Investment implications

I expect that rising vaccinations and improving economic data are likely to lead to a continued rise in bond yields and outperformance of smaller-cap and cyclical stocks, especially in countries that are leading the recovery.

I should add that in the US, there are a few clouds on the horizon in the form of growing fears of rising taxes. And that is likely to be the case for a number of countries burdened with higher debt levels created by the pandemic. While far from a reality at the moment, if an increase in taxes becomes more likely — especially a large increase in corporate taxes – we could see some shift in leadership, albeit modest, to larger-cap and more defensive names. However, it’s important to stress I don’t believe this would end the stock market recovery, but could just cause some rotation in leadership.

But right now, the focus is on the virus and vaccinations. As the Brookings-FT Tracking Index for the Global Economic Recovery has indicated, the ability to control COVID-19 is likely to be the main determinant of economic success in 2021.7 That is why the index shows major economies such as China and the US leading the global recovery. The index suggests that there may not be a coordinated global economic rebound, but that instead there may be a time lag for some countries, especially Europe and Latin America, given their lack of progress in vaccine rollout and general difficulties in controlling the virus. This isn’t surprising — and it’s something we anticipated last year when putting together our 2021 outlook. In other words, we believe an economic recovery is in the future for all parts of the world, but its timing and strength will be dictated by control of the virus and vaccine rollout progress, and so we will want to follow this data closely.

Key takeaways

Recent data has been positive

Mobility, which we have found to be a helpful indicator of economic activity, has increased substantially in Israel.

A preview of what’s to come?

In my view, Israel’s current state illustrates what we can expect in countries that achieve broad vaccination of their populations.

What might this mean for stocks?

I expect this economic recovery to be very robust, which may lead to outperformance by smaller-cap stocks and cyclical stocks.

Please continue to utilise these blogs and expert insights to keep your own holistic view markets up to date.

Keep safe and well.

Paul Green DipFA

07/04/2021

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Small caps can tell us a lot about the market mood

Please see below for one of AJ Bell’s latest Investment Insight articles, received by us yesterday 28/03/2021:

Small cap stocks are perceived to be riskier than their large cap counterparts and with good reason. As such, they can be used to judge wider market risk appetite – if small caps are rolling higher, we are likely to be in a bull market. If they are falling, we could be shifting to a bear market.

In general, small caps tend to be younger firms that are still developing. They are potentially more dependent upon certain key products or services, a narrower range of clients and even key executives.

Their finances might not be as robust as large caps and they are more exposed to an economic downturn, especially as they are less likely to have a global presence and be more reliant on domestic markets.

The UK’s FTSE Small Cap index currently trades at record highs, while the FTSE AIM All-Share stands near 20-year peaks. The latter is still well below its technology-crazed highs of 1999-2000. Equally, they are more geared into any local economic upturn.

America’s Russell 2000 index, the main small cap benchmark in the US, is up 16% this year and by 116% over the past 12 months. That beats the Dow Jones Industrials, S&P 500 and NASDAQ Composite hands down on both counts.

In fact, the Russell 2000 now trades near its all-time highs, having gone bananas since last March’s low. Such a strong performance suggests that investors are in ‘risk-on’ mode and pricing in a strong economic recovery for good measure.

Rising Prices

One data point which does not sit so easily with the US small cap surge is the slight pullback in America’s monthly NFIB smaller businesses sentiment survey, which still stands 12 percentage points below its peak of summer 2018.

This indicator must be watched in case it does not pick up speed as America’s vaccination programme continues and lockdowns are eased. Further weakness could suggest the recovery might not be everything markets currently expect.

Equally, inflation-watchers will be intrigued by the NFIB’s sub-indices on prices. In particular, the balance between firms that are reporting higher rather than lower prices for their goods and services, and especially the shift in mix towards smaller companies that are planning price rises rather than price cuts.

If both trends continue, then bond markets could just be right in fearing that an inflationary boom is upon us.

Interest rates on the move

The number of interest rate rises continues to gather pace on a global basis. Last month there had already been five hikes this year in borrowing costs, in Zambia, Venezuela, Mozambique, Tajikistan and Armenia. There have now been six more – Kyrgyzstan, Georgia, Ukraine, Brazil, Russia and Turkey.

The 11 rate increases we’ve seen year to date is already two more than in the whole of 2020.

In contrast, the US Federal Reserve is content to sit on its hands despite what is happening elsewhere. Chair Jerome Powell continues to reaffirm the American central bank’s commitment to running its quantitative easing scheme at $120 billion a month, while any plans to increase interest rates from their record lows seem to be on hold until 2024.

Powell does not seem concerned about inflation and is seemingly willing to risk its resurgence to ensure that the economy gets back on track in the wake of the pandemic.

Yet financial markets are still taking the view that a strong upturn is coming, because US government bond prices are currently going down, and yields are going up, regardless of what the Fed says. That is a huge change from the last decade or so, when bond and stock markets have been happy to slavishly take their lead from central bank policy announcements.

Please continue to utilise these blogs and expert insights to keep your own holistic view of the market up to date.

Keep safe and well.

Paul Green DipFA

29/03/2021

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AJ Bell Investment Insight: The questions facing UK gilts

Please see below for AJ Bell’s latest Investment Insight article, received by us yesterday 14/03/2021:

In some ways, markets had little to digest in the immediate wake of the Budget, as so much of the chancellor of the exchequer’s speech had made its way into the newspapers the previous weekend.

Rishi Sunak did come up with a couple of surprises all the same, in the form of the superdeduction for capital investment and his plan for eight freeports, designed to boost the UK’s trade flows in a post-Brexit world. The key issues raised by the Budget, at least from an investment perspective, passed unasked:

  • Why should anyone lend the UK money (and therefore buy its government bonds, or gilts) when it does not have the means to pay them back?
  • Why should anyone lend money to someone who cannot pay them back in return for a yield of just 0.77% a year for the next ten years (assuming they buy the benchmark 10-year gilt)?
  • Why would anyone buy a 10-year gilt with a yield of 0.77% when inflation is already 0.7%, according to the consumer price index, and potentially heading higher, especially if oil prices stay firm, money supply growth remains rampant and the global economy finally begins to recover as and when the pandemic is finally beaten off?

Anyone who buys a bond with a yield of 0.77% is locking in a guaranteed real-term loss if inflation goes above that mark and stays there for the next decade.

In sum, do UK government bonds represent return-free risk? And if so, what are the implications for asset allocation strategies and investors’ portfolios?

GILT YIELDS ON THE CHARGE

The benchmark 10-year gilt yield in the UK has surged of late. It is not easy to divine whether this is due to the fixed-income market worrying about inflation or a gathering acknowledgement that the UK’s aggregate £2 trillion debt is only going one way – up. But the effect on gilt prices is clear, since bond prices go down as yields go up (as is also the case with equities).

This is inevitably filtering through to exchange-traded funds (ETFs) dedicated to the UK fixed income market. The price of two benchmark-tracking ETFs has fallen, albeit to varying degrees. The instrument which follows shorter-dated (zero-to-five year) gilts has fallen just 2% since the August low in yields.

Meanwhile, the ETF which tracks and delivers the performance of a wider basket of UK gilts (once its running costs are taken into account) has fallen 8% since yields bottomed last summer.

That 8% capital loss is at least a paper-only one, unless an investor chooses to sell now, but the yield on offer does not come even close to compensating the holder for that paper loss, which supports the view that bonds now represent return-free risk.

SAVING GRACES

However, the higher bond yields go, the greater the return they offer and that means at some point investors may decide that the rewards are sufficient compensation for the risks, especially as three arguments could still support exposure to UK gilts.

  • The market’s fears of inflation could be misplaced. Bears of bonds have been growling about record-low interest rates and record doses of quantitative easing would lead to inflation for over a decade – and it has not happened yet.

If the West does turn Japanese and tip into deflation, even bonds with small nominal yields would look good in real terms and possibly better than equities, which would do poorly into a deflationary environment, at least if the Japanese experience from 1990 until very recently is a reliable guide.

  • The UK’s financial situation may not be quite as bad as it seems. Yes, the national debt is growing but the Bank of England’s monetary policy is keeping the interest bill to manageable levels.

The Government’s interest bill as a percentage of GDP has hardly ever been lower. That buys everyone time and is also why Sunak is tinkering with taxes, to convince bond vigilantes and lenders alike that the UK can and will repay its debts, as
it has every year since 1672 under King Charles II. A big leap in bond yields (borrowing costs) would be expensive.

  • The Bank of England could move to calm bond markets with more active policy. Whether that calms inflation fears is open to question but financial repression (see a recent edition of this column) could yet come into play, supporting bond prices and reducing yields.

In sum, no-one has a crystal ball. Therefore, bonds could yet have a role to play in a well-balanced portfolio over time, but it is inflation, rather than risk of default, that looks likely to be the greatest threat to any holder of gilts.

Please continue to utilise these blogs and expert insights to keep your own holistic view of the market up to date.

Keep safe and well

Paul Green DipFA

15/03/2021

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Blackfinch Asset Management – Monthly Market Moves

Please see below for Blackfinch Asset Management’s latest Monthly Market Moves article, received by us yesterday 08/03/2021:

Market Performance

1st- 28th February 2021 (in GBP Total Return)

FTSE 100+ 0.65%
S&P 500 (USA)– 1.21%
FTSE Europe (Ex UK)– 0.94%
TOPIX (Japan)– 1.87%
MSCI Emerging Markets– 3.82%

Market Overview – February 2021

February was a tale of two halves for global bond and equity markets. What started out as a relatively positive month quickly reversed into a period of turbulent trading. Almost exactly one year to the day since the initial pandemic sell-off, inflation concerns caused bond yields to rise, causing a negative impact on equity markets, particularly those tilted towards growth stocks.

Inflation Fears Shake Markets

  • It has long been assumed that the economic recovery from the pandemic would cause some inflationary pressures. However, the fear that central banks, particularly in the US, may withdraw their substantial monetary policy support gripped investor attention.
  • President Biden’s $1.9trn stimulus package, which includes issuing further cheques to large swathes of the US population, moved closer to being agreed. This added further fuel to the inflation flames, evidenced already by the $600 cheques issued in January causing retail sales to come in way ahead of market expectations.
  • US Federal Reserve Chairman, Jerome Powell, did his best to reassure investors that the central bank will not consider raising interest rates, but his assurances did little to calm their nerves.
  • These fears caused the value of the US Dollar to appreciate. This in turn negatively impacts Emerging Markets, where countries hold significant portions of their debt in Dollars and therefore servicing this debt becomes more expensive.

Is the End in Sight for Lockdown?

  • More than 20 million people in the UK, almost one-third of the population, have received their first COVID-19 vaccine injection, with nearly 800,000 having received both doses.
  • Prime Minister Boris Johnson set out his ‘roadmap’ for an end to lockdown measures in England, starting with children returning to school on 8th March. While proposed dates are in place for a complete easing of lockdown, the public, and investors, should not get complacent given the prevailing uncertainty in the interim.
  • UK Gross Domestic Product came in ahead of expectations in December, reiterating the ongoing economic recovery.
  • Despite this, the UK economy contracted by a record 9.9% in 2020 but has so far managed to avoid a double-dip recession.

Little Change in Central Bank Policy

  • The Bank of England (BoE) left interest rates unchanged at 0.1% and kept its bond-buying programme at £895bn.
  • The BoE also commented on the possibility of negative interest rates, stating that most banks would need six-months to prepare for such a move. While this could be seen as foreshadowing a potential move towards negative rates in the future, it at least gives institutions some comfort that any move would not be in the near term.
  • The European Central Bank made no change to its monetary policy, keeping interest rates on hold as well as maintaining the €1.8trn Pandemic Emergency Purchase Programme (PEPP), confirming it will run until at least March 2022.
  • Chairman Jerome Powell announced that the US Federal Reserve will need to remain accommodative for “some time” yet. While its programme of substantial monthly government bond purchases looks likely to continue, Powell noted this could be eased once inflation and employment targets are reached

Summary

With markets having a difficult month, it is important to recognise just how far they have come in the last 12 months. As we pass the one-year anniversary since developed equity markets started to decline, as the potential impact of the pandemic became a reality, we must keep in mind that markets have rallied strongly since their trough in mid-March 2020. Therefore, periods of profit-taking are to be expected, particularly in those areas that have rallied the strongest.

While an end to lockdown measures feels within touching distance for some countries, including the UK, the emergence of new variants of COVID-19 remains a concern. As such, we need to temper any excitement of a ‘return to normal life’, as there is still a long way to go. Even so, right now in the UK the signs are promising that we may have our freedoms returned to us come the summer.

Please continue to utilise these blogs and expert insights to keep your own holistic view of the market up to date.

Keep safe and well

Paul Green DipFA

09/03/2021

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Brooks MacDonald Weekly Market Commentary 01/03/2021

Please see below for Brooks MacDonald’s latest weekly market commentary received by us late afternoon 01/03/2021:

In Summary:

  • Yield rises remain the major driver of equity markets
  • Johnson & Johnson’s single shot vaccine is approved in the US, adding to the breadth of vaccine supply
  • Israel eases some restrictions as the UK is set to lay out its reopening plans

Yield rises remain the major driver of equity markets

Last week saw a large uptick in volatility as higher yields caused a sell-off in markets that focused on secular growth sectors such as technology. Meanwhile, previously unloved sectors such as banks performed strongly on the back of steepening yield curves and lower expected defaults in the future as the economy recovers.

Johnson & Johnson’s single shot vaccine is approved in the US, adding to the breadth of vaccine supply

The theme of the last few days has been a tightening of restrictions, rather than loosening, as several European countries needed to roll back liberties and Auckland, New Zealand entered a fresh lockdown. More positively, the Johnson & Johnson (J&J) vaccine has been approved in the US with the company saying they can ship 100 million doses in H1 2021. While the efficacy data was less compelling for the J&J vaccine, it is recommended as a single dose vaccine which makes the rollout of logistics simpler.

The change in yields has had an outsized impact on technology companies

The ‘price’ of a financial asset is the sum of its future cashflows adjusted for a discount rate. In practice this means the sum of a company’s future earnings which are adjusted for interest rates plus an extra company specific risk premium on top. Value companies tend to produce higher earnings now but less exciting earnings in the future. Growth companies, by contrast, produce little now but are expected to make outsized earnings in the future. Because the earnings in growth companies tend to be further away, the discount rate is more important. Due to the power of compounding, a small change in interest rates can significantly reduce the present value of future earnings 10 or 20 years away. This is exactly what happened last week when a pickup in interest rate expectations caused high growth companies to look less attractive. The moves were relatively small, with the US 10 year rising around 7bps to just over 1.4% but with valuations richer in the technology space, this was enough to catalyse a sell-off.

Of course, the question is whether central banks will let further yield rises happen. So far, the Federal Reserve have pushed back against expectations for sustained inflation but have broadly welcomed the pickup in yields, saying it is reflective of an improved economic backdrop. The next Federal Reserve (Fed) meeting is on 16-17 March, however this week we hear from a series of members including Fed Chair Jerome Powell. Should rapid rises in yields continue to be a theme, we expect the Federal Reserve to step in, at least verbally, to steady further rises. Yield rises can impact both financial stability and damage the economic recovery so central banks will be paying close attention.

Please continue to utilise these blogs and expert insights to keep your own holistic view of the market up to date.

Keep safe and well

Paul Green DipFA

01/03/2021

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Brooks MacDonald Weekly Market Commentary | Vaccine distribution continues to be key focus for investors

Please see below for the latest Brooks MacDonald Weekly Investment Bulletin received by us yesterday 01/02/2021:

Vaccine nationalism raises its head as competing contracts and supply issues collide

A bout of risk off sentiment hit equities, bringing most European and US indices slightly negative for the first month of 2021. The risk of a vaccine trade war, less positive data from Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine and the risk of further COVID-19 restrictions all dampened the mood. Friday saw a bubbling over of increasingly hostile words between the EU and AstraZeneca. In short, the EU imposed the right to ban vaccine exports outside of the EU (and select countries) and effectively imposed a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. This proved only temporary, with the hard border reversed and the prospect of export bans to the UK played down as Friday and the weekend progressed. So called ‘vaccine nationalism’ has been a threat for several months as issues over regional supply chains combine with the sequencing of competing contracts and an increasingly frustrated populace. On Sunday, the UK announced that it had provided almost 600,000 vaccinations in one day (over 1% of adults), which may suggest that as supply increases, countries will be able to work quickly to inoculate their populations.

Markets look ahead to Friday’s US employment data after last month’s disappointment

This Friday sees the important non-farm payroll US employment figures released. Last month saw a decline of 140,000 jobs1 , the first decline since the first wave of the pandemic. This month economists are expecting a 50,000 increase and therefore for the headline 6.7% unemployment rate to remain stable2 . US economic data has shown resilience in the face of the current COVID-19 wave but there is still a large amount of spare capacity in the labour market, something that may curb any bubbling inflationary pressures. With employment a major item on President Biden’s agenda, it seems likely that the US Stimulus Package will move through Congress under the Budget Reconciliation rules. The downside of using this process is that there is a limit on the scope of the legislation and a limit on the number of times the process can be used.

US stimulus may progress using the budget reconciliation process but this has limits

The prospect of using the budget reconciliation process has dampened expectations of a bipartisan agreement that could leave the door open for further stimulus over the coming months. The reconciliation process means that the bill can pass with a simple majority in the Senate rather than being held up by the filibuster. The reconciliation process has historically only been used once per calendar year due to its inbuilt limitations, so there will be additional scrutiny on the proposed package if it is expected to be the only US stimulus in 2021.

Weekly investment bulletins like these are a good way to get regular input from market experts. 

The mass rollout of the vaccine is set to cause gradual change to the market outlook, hopefully life and economies will improve.

Please keep up to date with our blogs.

Keep safe and well.

Paul Green 02/02/2021

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Legal & General: Our Asset Allocation team’s key beliefs

Please see below for Legal and General’s latest Asset Allocation Team’s Key Beliefs article received by us the afternoon of 25/01/2021:

Bubble trouble?

Never have more people searched for the term ‘stock market bubble’ on Google. Data stretching back to 2004 show that January 2021 is set to eclipse January 2018, when searches for the term both preceded and followed a 10% drop in the S&P 500 over nine trading days. As we have highlighted before, investor optimism is pretty well inflated and, while most sentiment indicators don’t look stretched, many are elevated.

Burst case scenario

Not everyone is optimistic, though. One scholar of market bubbles, Jeremy Grantham, opened his new outlook: “The long, long bull market since 2009 has finally matured into a fully-fledged epic bubble.” Grantham has a good track record in predicting the moments when bubbles burst, so should we be worried? We think the famed investor may be right but, as he concedes, we believe the market could still run a lot further. Our own bubble index shows that the probability of a market bubble has indeed been rising. In fact, it is now the highest it has been since 2008.

What has driven this? We have seen an increase in capital raising through IPOs and SPACs, some of which echo the tech bubble of the late 1990s. US retail investor activity has also taken off, with easier access through investment platforms and, for some, new money to play with from stimulus cheques. However, we are just emerging from the COVID-driven economic recession. This means many macroeconomic indicators have improved, policy is supportive, and there is plenty more cash on the side lines ready to be deployed, regardless of further fiscal stimulus.

So while the market is definitely reminiscent of a bubble forming, it could easily still get much stronger from here. We therefore believe it’s too early to call a bubble now.

The moderates yield

If you weren’t able to watch any of the US presidential inauguration, I recommend viewing US National Youth Poet Laureate Amanda Gorman’s recital of “The Hill We Climb”, a powerful and gritty poem of hope for the future of the US, from a self-proclaimed presidential candidate for 2036.

In the more immediate future, the most relevant aspect of the new Biden administration to financial markets will be the prospect of more fiscal stimulus. The central case is for another virus relief package worth $1 trillion to be passed in the coming months, with an additional $1 trillion recovery package potentially following later. The quicker the economy recovers, of course, the smaller later packages will be.

Politically, though, we see the path of least resistance actually being for more fiscal spending rather than less. With a razor-thin majority, power accrues to the moderates, which means only consensus policies can pass. We expect it will be easier to build such a consensus on extra spending (giving things away) than on extra revenues (taking things away). While Democratic moderates have supported virus relief and the current package so far, several are not on record as supporting Biden’s tax proposals. Finally, voters don’t appear to care as much about deficits anymore, so senators probably won’t either.

Treasury yields could be the place where changing fiscal dynamics are priced, and indeed US yields have risen more than others in recent weeks after the Georgia runoffs, but as it stands we are comfortable with an overall neutral position on duration. In fact, we prefer US markets to UK gilts, which have only seen more modest yield rises despite the so-far successful vaccine rollout and expectations for a fiscally conservative budget.

Flexible recipe for fixed income

Multi-asset portfolios are like giant cakes, baked with multiple ingredients. We have decided to add a new ingredient to our cake: Chinese bonds. Technically it’s not new, as they are a growing part of emerging-market bond allocations in portfolios, but we have moved to an explicitly positive view.

We believe Chinese bonds add a lot of diversification to our fixed income holdings as China hums to a slightly different economic tune from the rest of the world, with a different monetary policy framework too. Historically, Chinese bonds have had a low correlation to other bonds. Their yields are relatively high, and we are particularly interested in bonds that could continue to provide protection in macro downturns as we believe many traditional bond markets will struggle to provide the defence they offered in the past.

This is just one of the steps we have been taking in portfolios to try to manage investor outcomes in a low interest-rate environment, with greater roles for non-traditional fixed income assets as well as defensive currencies and other strategies.

Regularly ‘picking the brains’ of investment managers and experts by reading articles like these can help update your own view of the markets and current global affairs.

Please keep reading these blogs to keep your view of the market well informed and up to date.

Stay safe and well

Paul Green 26/01/2021

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Brooks McDonald Daily Investment Bulletin

Please see below for the Daily Investment Bulletin from Brooks McDonald, received by us today 05/01/2021:

What has happened

Markets started the day positively but the New Year jubilance faded as the US COVID outlook worsened and a tight Georgia run-off today could go either way. The US index started the day in positive territory before falling as much as 2.5% then settling 1.5% down at the close.

COVID’s new variant and restrictions

The new COVID variant has been responsible for a large quantum of the surge in the South East of England and news that it had now been detected in New York, Colorado, California and Florida did little to help the mood. Whilst there is no evidence that the new strain is more deadly it does appear to be transmitting aggressively, causing strain on the healthcare system. It is this strain that led to UK PM Johnson announcing that England would move into its third Lockdown with the new stay at home rules far more reminiscent of March 2020’s with schools closed and only essential journeys allowed. UK Chancellor Sunak is expected to unveil a fresh support package for UK companies in light of these new tough restrictions which are expected to produce a similar economic impact to that seen in March and April last year.

Georgia run-off

The other event keeping New Year optimism in check is the Georgia Senate run-off. This is clearly key in determining which party has control of the Senate and therefore whether a blue sweep can be achieved. Back in November the market’s base case was that the Democrats would win every race and this would give them the flexibility to launch substantial stimulus in Q1 2021. Once this didn’t immediately materialise, investors warmed to the idea of a split Congress as this would curb the chances of tax rises, tougher regulation and other less economically positive reforms. As we approach today’s election, the Democrats are ahead in both seats, albeit it narrowly, and investors are not entirely sure which side of the coin they want the race to land.

What does Brooks Macdonald think

A Democrat clean sweep or a split Congress both have benefits and negatives but our instinct is that a split Congress would be more market friendly as it retains the status quo and financial assets will look through the positives of US Fiscal Stimulus quite quickly as compared to broader reforms. Even if the Democrats do take both seats, and VP-Elect Harris is left with the deciding vote in the Senate, the current filibuster rules will stop contentious legislation. If we do see a blue sweep, markets will look very closely at any suggestions from the Democrats that they would look to remove the Filibuster from the next Senate session.

Regular daily updates like these are a useful method of frequently updating your holistic view of the markets, especially given the way the world is rapidly changing by the day with Coronavirus.

Please continue to utilise these blogs to help inform your own views of the markets.

Stay safe and well

Paul Green

05/01/2021

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Jupiter Asset Management: All I wanted for Christmas, a deal

Please see article below from Jupiter Asset Management received 29/12/2020:

So the UK and the EU have a deal, at last. As I have long anticipated, the potential damage to both sides from a ‘no deal’ – exacerbated by the ongoing impact of the pandemic and lockdowns – was too great to go down that road, and for all the inevitable bluster, threats and counter-threats along the way since Brexit, we have an eleventh hour agreement. Skinny, lightweight, the bare minimum required – one can anticipate the headlines – but a deal nevertheless. This has to be good news for investors in UK equities and, after a very trying year, perhaps the best Christmas present many could have hoped for.

That said, it was probably a consensus expectation among domestic investors that a deal would be reached, so reactions may be relatively muted compared to the reaction had one not been formed. That scenario would probably have seen significant further weakness in Sterling, sharp falls in domestically focused companies and resilience from multinational companies benefiting from the currency’s fall.

As it stands, there is a high likelihood the pound will appreciate, but in all probability only modestly. Relief, the avoidance of a bad outcome and the ability to look beyond this all-consuming negotiating deadline would then buoy sterling assets. Companies reliant on domestic economic activity – retailers, housebuilders, selected leisure and financial companies – should be the most direct beneficiaries. Whilst gains in multinationals will probably be more muted, given the currency headwinds, it is likely they will rise, in the hope that global investors will once more regard the UK stock market as ‘investable’ rather than a pariah of uncertainty.

But the recent sea change in sentiment towards ‘value’ stocks relative to ‘growth’ stocks, spurred by positive vaccine news, has seen some notable gains in many of these domestically oriented businesses already, which must to some extent limit the potential for further progress on ‘deal relief’.

Moreover, for the international observer, the UK economy has suffered a greater hit to economic activity than other European countries, more reliant as it is on consumption, services and leisure over manufacturing. The costs to the Exchequer of support during the pandemic have exacerbated the country’s ‘twin deficit’ problem, necessarily capping any rise in the pound. Political leadership in the UK during the coronavirus has not exactly outshone peers, to put it gently.

Global investors may well bide their time to see how the UK does indeed fare in its newly negotiated relationship with the EU before plunging back into UK equities. Any January scenes of lorry queues at British ports (of which we have of course already had a foretaste), reports of obstacles to the smooth passage of goods or an inability of supermarkets to source avocados – heaven forbid! – will only encourage such investors to stay their hand before rushing to take their underweight exposure to UK stocks back towards a neutral (or even overweight) position.

Non-UK companies looking to acquire UK assets may be rather quicker off the mark, however. Merger and acquisition activity has been picking up, and an end to ‘no deal’ uncertainty may well spur more international companies or private equity firms to press ahead with plans to acquire UK assets in a currency still cheap on ‘purchasing power parity’ yardsticks.

So, a deal is undoubtedly good news for investors in the UK. But reactions are likely to be modest rather than dramatic. I expect overseas flows into UK stocks are likely to build slowly over time. All too soon the focus will return to navigating this difficult virus-impacted winter, to partial lockdowns, rising unemployment and frustratingly slow progress towards mass vaccination and scalable testing. The UK finding its way out of the pandemic and its way in the world outside the EU will quickly fill the news pages emptied of stories about the trade negotiations.

Please continue to utilise these blog posts and articles to help keep your own view of the markets up to date. Articles like this are good to get an understanding of the ‘hot topics’ currently driving markets.

Keep safe and well.

Paul Green

30/12/2020

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Markets in a Minute: Markets rise over the week, but mood is soured by virus worries and Brexit

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.

Brewin Dolphin regularly give us their insight of the markets. Updates in this efficient manner are a quick but well-informed way to update your consensus view of the global markets.

Please keep using these blogs to regularly update your knowledge of current market affairs from around the world.

Keep well and all the best

Paul Green

23/12/2020