For Professional Advisers only. Not for distribution to or to be relied upon by Retail Clients.
It has been a very strong quarter for equities and corporate bonds as central banks and governments provided enormous amounts of stimulus and economies started to reopen. Despite the strong rebound in risk assets, traditional portfolio hedges such as government bonds and gold also held up well.
As economies have started to reopen, data has shown signs of a sharp rebound. For example, US retail sales rose 17% month on month in May, while UK retail sales rebounded by 12%. Although sales are still down 6% and 13% year on year respectively, a clear positive can be found in the the speed and magnitude of the bounce back. This is reflected in the performance of major equity markets during Q2:
Central Bank Firepower
Another positive is that central banks globally have made clear that they stand willing to use their full firepower to keep government and corporate borrowing costs low. The Bank of England, for example, recently increased its quantitative easing programme by a further GBP 100 billion, helping to keep UK 10year Gilt yields low at around 0.2%.
The worst-case scenario of the COVID-19 pandemic developing into a liquidity crunch appears to have been avoided and central banks seem willing to continue to provide liquidity support where necessary. This has helped high yield and investment grade bonds rally during the quarter.
Significant risks remain, however, and prominent among these are:
• Central banks have been clear that they can only lend, not spend, and so will not necessarily be able to save companies that face solvency concerns, rather than just liquidity issues.
• Some companies will therefore still face administration and we have unfortunately already seen some examples this quarter.
• The virus has not been fully contained, or a vaccine approved.
In Europe, Australasia and some parts of Asia, including China, new infections have fallen to low levels and economies are reopening. In the UK, new infections have also continued to fall, albeit not to levels as low as in many other parts of Europe. However, in the US, the number of new infections is rising again, while several emerging markets, including India and much of Latin America, have been unable to get the virus under control. Another risk comes in the form of potential fiscal fatigue from governments, which could potentially roll back their stimulus measures too soon, before the virus has been fully contained and the economy and labour markets allowed to recover. The UK’s announcement that companies will have to contribute to the cost of furloughing workers from August, with the scheme set to expire at the end of October, is one example of this risk. An as yet unknown number of currently furloughed workers could find themselves unemployed in the coming months. In the US, incomes have so far been supported by stimulus cheques and unusually generous unemployment benefits, which are due to expire at the end of July. If these benefits are not extended, many unemployed Americans could experience a significant reduction in their incomes in the second half of the year. Political risks also remain, with the US election fast approaching, tensions between China and the rest of the world escalating and the final details of any Brexit trade deal still unresolved.
While in the past the Brexit section dominated the content of this commentary, more recent events can probably be summed up in the same three words uttered by EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier after the first round of talks: no significant progress. With both sides continuing to negotiate the best deal possible, amid all the soundbites, one important date came and went. The final day of June was the last date on which the UK could request an extension to the transition period. As expected, no such extension was requested, meaning that the UK is now committed by international law to leaving the EU on 31st December this year.
Sector Performance Tells a More Complex Story Although markets generally look to be pricing in a quicker than expected recovery, it is worth noting that a closer examination of sector performance reveals a more complex story. For example, online retailers are up very strongly year to date, while department stores are down sharply, along with other sectors that have been most affected by the coronavirus, such as hotels, airlines, energy companies and banks. While most of the worstperforming sectors year to date have also lagged during the rally since late March, energy companies have actually been one of the best-performing sectors, as oil prices partially recovered. Additionally, some of the best-performing sectors year to date, such as food retailers and supermarkets, have lagged the most during the rally. So, it is imperative from a stock selection perspective to look beneath the index level for both opportunities and risks. It is also important to be aware that many companies are not starting the second half of 2020 where they were at the beginning of the year, even though some indices may give that impression.
Overall, the market has rallied on the back of fiscal and monetary stimulus, combined with the reopening of economies. Monetary support is seemingly here to stay, but in some countries there is a risk that fiscal stimulus may become less generous. Meanwhile, rising infection rates could lead to the return of lockdown measures. Our approach remains largely unchanged, with a relatively neutral allocation, relying on the expertise of respective managers to focus on quality companies that can continue to trade successfully even if some of the risks do become reality in the second half of the year.
Capital is at risk. The value and income from investments can go down as well as up and are not guaranteed. An investor may get back significantly less than they invest. Past performance is not a reliable indicator of current or future performance and should not be the sole factor considered when selecting funds. Our funds invest for the long-term and may not be appropriate for investors who plan to take money out within five years. Tax treatment depends on individual circumstances and may change in the future.
This material is for distribution to professional clients only and should not be distributed to or relied upon by any other persons. It’s provided for general information purposes only and is not personal advice to anyone to invest in any fund or product. The Key Investor Information Documents and the Prospectuses for all funds are available, in English, free of charge and can be obtained directly using the contact details in this document. They can also be downloaded from www.marlboroughfunds.com. An investor must always read these before investing. Information taken from trade and other sources is believed to be reliable, although we don’t represent this as accurate or complete and it shouldn’t be relied upon as such. Calls may be recorded for training and monitoring purposes. Issued by IFSL International Limited, authorised by Central bank of Ireland and incorporated in Ireland as a limited company with company no. 616854. Directors: Darren Freemantle (British), Raymond O’Neill (Irish), Wayne Green (British) and Dom Clarke (British) Registered office: IFSL International Limited, 7/8 Mount Street Upper, Dublin 2, Ireland.