Investment Line: Market Update - December 2020
Investment Line is a regular investment bulletin produced by Mattioli Woods plc. The communication provides an update on funds, highlights some of the areas we are focusing on, and shares our thoughts on the issues of the day.
As is the case for many investors, we are entering the Christmas period and the New Year feeling more optimistic. The progress made with Covid-19 vaccines has been a real game changer and provides a visibility and certainty that simply wouldn’t have existed otherwise – we have a viable way out of this nightmare. We have the US election behind us (with a broadly market-friendly outcome), and a resolution in talks between the EU and the UK looks difficult but still achievable. One is naturally more minded then to add risk to portfolios, certainly on a medium-term outlook. There are however real reasons to stay one’s hand and delay loading up on risk at the current time. The vaccine news is now baked into equities. Unless we get an exceptionally quick rollout, there is no more positive news to come on that front and markets move based on changing expectations. For now, the focus will be back on the spread of the virus where the news is much less positive – new strains leading to more onerous lockdown measures in London and elsewhere in the UK and extreme infection levels in the US, new records in Germany, etc. This could well create some headwinds over the next few months and delay the speed of economic recovery, which would be a significant negative. Next year may well prove to be a very difficult year and if investors decide that normality is more achievable only from 2022 onwards, further sustained risk asset price appreciation may not be seen until perhaps spring (remember that markets are very much forward looking in nature). Given our overall take on the outlook, we are certainly not intending to reduce risk exposure at this stage, but this does not mean that delaying adding more risk here is not advisable. Optimism is certainly in greater supply than it was a few months ago – and ultimately, we think this is justified – but markets do regularly get ahead of themselves and they might be doing that just now.
We always knew there would be extreme brinkmanship from both sides as we reached the deadline in the talks between the UK and the EU. Just as no deal looked like it would materialise, both sides seemingly stepped back from that brink and decided to continue the dialogue. A relief for markets and sterling for sure, but the gap between the two sides is significant and the trade-off between sovereignty and economic benefits is still all too real for the UK. Some feel that the EU is determined not to allow the UK to be seen as too much of a success given the impact this would have on the EU project. Others point out that the EU is simply protecting itself with its demands on the level playing field, fisheries and dispute resolution. So much is at stake for both sides that one feels logic must win the day and a deal gets done. On the assumption this is indeed what happens, the UK equity market would seem to offer exceptional value in places, but to position around a highly uncertain binary outcome today feels reckless.
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