Life seems to be slowly returning to pre-lockdown norms, albeit with a few quirks. Here’s our latest update.
In April, we were restricted to an hour of outside activity, and rumours were afloat that the lockdown could last until the end of the third quarter, so the thought of eating out at a restaurant in August seemed unlikely, let alone the government offering to pay half your bill. Therefore, it comes as no surprise that markets have seen increased investment (inflows) since the dire withdrawal of funds by investors (outflows) and market lows at the end of the first quarter. However, what is surprising is the magnitude of the inflows, with a press release from the Investment Association stating £11.2bn flowed into retail funds during the second quarter (Q2)1. Opportunistic investors looking to scoop attractively priced assets led to inflows in Q2 that eclipsed 2019’s full-year total2. While global equity and bond sectors soared, the UK equity sector failed to recover despite the rising tide, recording outflows of £662m3.
The latest Monetary Policy Committee (MPC) meeting went as investors predicted, with a unanimous vote to keep interest rates at 0.1% and maintain the £745bn asset purchase programme. Assumptions were drawn over the future health of the economy, surmising that unemployment will reach 7.5% by the end of 2020, and GDP will not return to pre-pandemic levels until late 20214. Negative interest rates, once seen as an experimental monetary policy undertaken by Japan in their fight against deflation, fill four pages of the MPC report. In summary, the ability to ‘go negative’ is a delicate balancing act, weighing up the potential stimulus against the damage upon the financial sector and a potential surge in inflation.
Three months ago, Shell rocked the UK equity income sector by cutting its dividend by 66%. Rival oil giant BP has followed suit by cutting their dividend by 50% after losing $6.7bn in Q2. In both instances the dividend cut was expected, as both companies suffered heavily, contending with a major oil price shock and an economic halt. Interestingly, the dividend cut actually boosted BP share price5, with the view that the company has ‘reset’ and would use its cash flows to transition to a low-cost carbon future. This is supported by Bernard Looney, the CEO of BP, who proposed a greener blueprint for the company’s future, aiming to comply with the Paris Accord and shrink oil and gas output. The expertise and investment capability of major energy companies would go a long way to filling the investment gap between current renewable energy expenditure and Paris Accord targets6.
The Financial Conduct Authority has weighed in on the closure and issues surrounding open ended commercial property funds in the UK, by considering implementing a 180 day notice period for investors looking to withdraw funds7. Once sought after, due to their low correlation to traditional asset classes such as bonds and equities, and inflation linked yields, these funds ‘shut the doors’ in March, leaving investors unable to withdraw their capital. Uncertainty regarding valuations has been cited as the reason for closure by the funds, but the cause is down to the illiquid nature of commercial property, meaning that properties cannot be quickly turned into cash to meet withdrawals8. Pre-lockdown, many property funds held in excess of 15% cash, which dampened returns, and now fund managers may have to increase these weightings further to meet withdrawals. This is not reflective of the entire property investment universe, with many close-ended property funds (which are not required to sell assets to meet withdrawals) still experiencing positive returns in Q2.
Over the course of the pandemic we’ve wanted to inform, enlighten and give you the opportunity to learn more about how we see the world, staying true to our company strapline of ‘Planning for a sustainable future’. We’ve explored the relevance of carbon neutrality and equitable social dynamics during a crisis, and the part they could play in a post-COVID future. We hope that it has offered our clients some peace of mind during turbulent economic and social times.
With that said, we are drawing our weekly updates to a close. This is by no means a halt to our regular communication, but, as lockdown eases and a sense of normality returns to our communities, we felt that the need for news from us with such regularity was ending. We wish to thank all those who have contacted us during the last few months to say that they have enjoyed our weekly news items and, rest assured, we will be in touch soon.
We have received lots of positive feedback about our updates. If you’ve found them useful and informative, we would be delighted for you to share them with friends, family and work colleagues. We are always keen to spread the word about our unique approach to financial planning and investing.
Please note that any thresholds, allowances, percentage rates and tax legislation stated may change in the future. The content of this communication is for your general information and use only; it is not intended to address your particular requirements. This communication should not be deemed to be, or constitute, advice. You should not take any action without having spoken with your usual adviser.