The traditional early September think piece centres on the natural reset that a generalised return to work (and for the younger generation, school) brings after the typically languid summer holiday period. As 2020 is clearly a very different style of year, let us rip up the normal script and ask the simpler question of ‘does the world feel lucky?’
Financial markets are always a three-dimensional jigsaw, with new pieces being added and deleted at whim every business day. But the signals from the last month have been especially difficult to discern. In contrast to the bounce back second quarter, July was a negative month for pan-European markets with the U.K. continuing to lag.
At any other time, a three percent bounce during May in the pan- European (including the U.K.) equity markets and the driest fifth month of the year in large swathes of the country since 1929, would represent an ideal entry into the summer months. However – despite recent lockdown liberalisations – these are far from normal times.
Over three hundred and fifty years ago, back in 1665, Isaac Newton socially distanced himself from the horrors of the then rampant bubonic plague and – away from his burgeoning academic career at Trinity College in Cambridge – enjoyed a ‘year of wonders’ at his childhood home. During this period he formulated a theory of universal gravitation, explored optics and discovered differential and integral calculus.
The COVID-19 outbreak has led to unprecedented volatility and tremendous declines in wealth, but we have faith that once the pandemic is defeated, the wild swings in the financial markets will abate and prosperity will return. But what cannot be so easily recovered is the loss of a job, the loss of a business, or, worst of all, the loss of a loved one. While it is our duty to provide timely market insights, please know that now, more than ever, the health and safety of you and your families is at the forefront of our minds.
A successful investor faces many hurdles, some of which are external and some internal. Monday’s dramatic fall on the global markets – the worst in a single day for two years, or four years, depending on which major European or American equity index you wished to cite – could not fail to capture attention.
I am not going to ask you about how your New Year resolutions are shaping up, but the observation above about the tenuous nature of many of them is a not unusual occurrence for many of us. Naturally, the same can happen with financial market predictions. Thoughts that appeared valid and respectful considerations about the upcoming twelve months, can seem by the end of January tarnished and facile. Such is the nature of financial markets.
As someone who needs glasses, I know firsthand that 20/20 vision and the ability to experience the beauty and clarity of life is amazing. As we embark on the start of a new year, clarity and foresight is exactly what investors are seeking, especially with the daily dose of unprecedented headlines we receive. In hindsight, the guidance our team of economists, strategists, and portfolio managers gave last year proved prescient as ~90% of our ten themes for 2019 were accurate.
Judging by the preponderance of retail sales offers throughout November in my email inbox, the rise and rise of ‘Black Friday’ should completely randomise the precise timing of this year’s Christmas retail spending. Similarly for those who think about financial markets, the three percent rise in pan-European indices during the eleventh month of this year – particularly when mated with the very low levels of volatility seen across the prices of many asset classes during the month – appears to have also pulled forward the traditional ‘Santa rally’.