It is indeed unprecedented times with the annual onsite visit to the United Kingdom by a member of the Ewing’s group not having taken place for the first time in over four decades. The Coronavirus impact on global economies and the interruption of global and business travel has certainly fast forwarded the use of technology and as a result, the digital divide. It has indeed been fortuitous that both Charles Stanley and the Ewing’s group have been nimble enough to embrace the available technology and has seen the use of digital fast forwarded to allow the historical face to face meetings to take place remotely. Both Charles Stanley and Ewing Trust Company (Pty) Ltd have spent a comparable amount of time focusing on all of the compliance, investments and portfolio management requirements, and have embraced the ability to do so. Extrapolating this relationship, we have seen companies who were able to adapt incredibly quickly, mitigate the business interruptions and embrace the new way of doing business that is developing rapidly in an ever-changing modern environment.
Despite the new world, we are comfortable to say that from both parties’ sides there has been no interruption in our ability to manage, update and focus on client’s portfolios. Thanks, must go to Charles Stanley for their nimbleness and willingness to continue with the oversight and with the specific engagement of Stephen Fage, the regular detailed analysis and review is undertaken on a daily basis, with a focus on investments and the long-term strategic planning of portfolios.
Old world stocks have fallen out of favour and the FTSE year to date is down over 20%, as a number of their constituents have been hit by their exposure to blue chip entities, especially oil. It has been fascinating to witness the emergence of E-Commerce stocks and the lack of interest in the old historical high street retailers. It remains to be seen whether the shopping habits have changed for good. As a result of this, technology companies and on-line retailers have seen a significant increase in focus and, as such, their share prices have risen during this period. The old-world stocks such as property and banks have seen dividends suspended in some instances and a number of them are adopting a wait and see policy as to whether or not to reinstate dividends, should demand return. As a result of the fallout from the Covid pandemic and the high unemployment rate, central banks globally have injected significant amounts of liquidity into the market to ensure they function properly, but it is now likely to see interest rates remain lower for longer and we have seen central banks change policies with a view to supporting businesses globally. There are still many areas in the world where the virus is spreading, and there are significant concerns of a spike and a second wave of the virus hitting during the Northern hemisphere winter months.
Turning to the political front in the United Kingdom and Europe, Brexit continues to remain a focus and the likelihood of a no Brexit deal is now coming sharply into focus. The US presidential elections in less than a month pose a risk for markets, as Joe Biden has indicated that he will raise corporate tax significantly, although authorities there are doing everything, they can to support the stock market.
Donald Trump’s continued trade war has seen a waning of focus as he goes on the election campaign and as with recent history, it is not sure what the electorate will vote for come the time to elect.
Although economic growth is expected to slow in all regions as a result of the global shutdown and the impact of the virus, we are seeing a number of economies, particularly China, showing a significant recovery. Similarly, in other emerging markets, despite the high levels of infections, we are seeing some semblance of businesses returning to normality. One would expect to see a recovery as the globe learns to deal with the high infection rates.
However, volatility is likely to remain high with politics being a contributing factor and one needs to ensure that one remains invested in well capitalised blue chip companies that have strong balance sheets. A continuation of the theme on diverse global portfolios has proved beneficial and will remain a key theme going forward. We are grateful in most instances to have relatively high cash holdings in order to deploy these funds, should we see value in some of our focus areas.
May I take this opportunity of thanking our investment family for their continued support through these unprecedented times and wish you a safe year ahead.