The second quarter began in positive fashion as all the major global stock markets across the globe rose, with the exception of Japan, which was off a touch.
Not many readers (I imagine) would guess that France is in fact the leading large cap market in 2021 to date, up 12.3% to the end of April. The pressure from the bond markets eased, Gilts were steady and ten-year rates little changed, US rates backed-off a bit and, most notably, German rates improved (still negative at ten years though).
All through this awful pandemic period, we have been heartened to hear and see examples of human generosity, selflessness and ingenuity. It is currently AGM season and we, at Church House, have been encouraged to see management teams at a number of the companies that we are shareholders in taking voluntary pay cuts and even, in the case of cyber security business Avast, donating $25 million to help combat COVID-19. In contrast to this overwhelmingly positive response to the pandemic from ‘UK Plc’, the actions of the six football clubs that failed in their attempt to create the European Super League proved to be an unpleasant sideshow and we were delighted to have seen the perpetrators slapped down. As Stephen Fry so elegantly put it:
6 football clubs have achieved something that no politician or public figure has managed in these times of fracture, fission & feuding. They have bought together the whole divided nation, indeed all of Europe – everyone united in disgust & revulsion at such greed and stupidity.
Within the UK market there is still lots of churning going on within the sectors as the value/growth debates rumble on. In my opinion, this misses the real heart of markets in 2021, which is the ever growing divide between those countries with meaningful access to vaccines and those without. Here in the UK we are certainly not out of the woods, but the news is overwhelmingly positive. Not only are pubs reportedly running out of beer, so great is demand from consumers (huddled outside in the cold), but hiring activity is improving and trade is even picking up post-Brexit (the BBC have decided not to report this). Similar positive messages are coming out of the US and China, but the awful reports in regions such as India and South America are a sobering reminder of how inequalities that were in place pre-2020, have been compounded by the pandemic. We see this at the individual company level also. To pick a few examples, Unilever sales grew double-digits in China during Q1, Fever-Tree tonic sales were +23% over the last 12 months in the US, despite bars being closed for most of this period and, closer to home, JD Sports saw shoppers climbing over each other to get their hands on the latest sneakers when their Oxford Street store reopened recently. Contrast this to new lockdowns announced in much of the emerging world and it seems to me that the gap in fortunes will only widen in 2021. We hope that international cooperation and ongoing scientific progress will help to reverse this situation, but this is not what we are seeing currently.
We are encouraged by the return to growth and confidence in a lasting recovery from COVID-19 that we are lucky enough to be enjoying closer to home. We cannot be complacent and cannot afford to close our borders and look inwards for long. For a meaningful global recovery to take hold, we now need to see nations such as the UK, China and America taking responsibility for their neighbours and to offer a helping hand.