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BLOG: Riding the waves of 2020

Written by: Simon Gibson
As we continue riding the 2020 waves of stock market volatility, we should beware. Brexit, coronavirus and Biden are considerations but some sectors and economies will recover sooner than others.

We’ve seen the volatility wave crest at the peak of Covid-19, with technology-related stocks reacting positively, just as waves of doom and gloom descend on the travel and hospitality industries, woes that just cannot be cured by plugging one’s laptop into Zoom or Microsoft Teams.

More recently, good news has come to the fore, but we remain convinced that treading carefully and remaining sensibly diversified is as important today as it was in a pre-Covid-19 world …

As October progressed, we saw fresh lockdowns emerging across Europe, making it increasingly clear that the Covid-19 pandemic is far from over and we were in fact heading into a second wave of infections.

It appeared at month end that the impact of this second wave was yet to reach its crest, while some markets were modestly positive over October, the tail end of the month was almost universally tough. Then we had the small matter of the US electing it’s 46th President, and by the way, did we mention Brexit?

In the US, it now seems certain that Joe Biden will be inaugurated in January 2021, and though he did not ride in on the anticipated “Blue Wave”, markets may have optimal conditions for a period.

That said, few US equities look cheap, and many look expensive, so tread carefully. Closer to home, in recent months a broad European economic recovery has mostly been driven by higher demand from Asia, especially from China. Chinese companies are now refilling their stock, bringing up their inventories again, which has been helpful for European exporters to that region.

Taking a closer look at the aforementioned recovery, we can see that it is strikingly uneven. Some sectors, such as apparel retail, saw companies like H&M deliver results that exceeded analyst expectations, while travel retailers continued to see muted demand until the small matter of positive vaccine news came roaring in mid-November.

The browbeaten airline sector was rather underwhelming, with Ryanair announcing yet more cuts to its October capacity having already cut it in August, then Easyjet shares soared into a Covid-19-free sky, so some would have us believe.

As the pandemic threatens to hurl the eurozone into a double-dip recession, few analysts predict a slump as severe as the 8% quarter-on-quarter contraction recorded between April and June.

The service sector is bearing the brunt of increased restrictions, indeed services account for about three-quarters of economic activity in the 19-nation eurozone. Overall, according to the OECD’s latest forecasts, we can expect the eurozone economy to contract by 7.9% this year – that’s almost twice as much as during the financial crisis of 2008/9.

Much as during the first round of global lockdowns, it is likely there will be some sectors that fare far better than others in these conditions and even some that emerge as winners of lockdown.

The shift to working from home, or just working as many of us now call it, has also had an impact on commercial property assets. As a result, there could be some deep value to be had among REITS, with discounts wide and for the long-term investor, potential opportunities that don’t come around often, assuming some degree of a return to both ”the norm” and the somewhat neurotic consumerism of years gone by.

Simon Gibson is chief investment officer at Mattioli Woods Plc

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