Market overview – Alan McIntosh, Chief Investment Strategist
Last week was a stark reminder that after nearly two years, Covid-19 remains a serious global medical issue. This is not just in the under-vaccinated developing world. Parts of Europe are experiencing a fourth wave, forcing governments to implement strict measures. Austria has just announced a three-week lockdown and will be the first European country to make vaccines compulsory. Germany may follow suit. Both countries’ populations have amongst the lowest vaccination rates in western Europe. Interestingly, when asked on Sunday’s Andrew Marr show if the UK could see a similarly sharp rise in cases, Professor Sir Andrew Pollard of the Oxford Vaccine Group thought it unlikely given that the Delta variant was already well established in the UK and had been spreading since the summer. With roughly 80% in the UK double jabbed and boosters being rolled out, let’s hope he is right.
Equity markets were a bit more subdued last week, although Europe and the US did manage to squeeze fresh all-time highs on Thursday. Bond yields were fairly flat over the period. Gold, however, has perked up a little since the start of the month. The bullion price has risen by 6% since 3 November which was the date when the US Federal Reserve announced the tapering plan to end its bond purchasing programme. At the same meeting, the view was expressed that interest rate rises were not on the immediate agenda. This dovish view helped push the gold price higher, given the backdrop of elevated inflation levels. Currency markets have also been active, with the pound up around 6% against the euro since the start of the year, but down against the dollar. The main reason for this is the different views on how each central bank is likely to respond to inflationary pressures. Compared to the Eurozone, the UK looks likely to raise rates much sooner, hence the weakness of the euro. However, with the US expected to raise borrowing costs several times next year, the dollar has been stronger against most currencies, including the pound. Although central banks are typically Delphic when it comes to messaging, it looks like the currency traders have already made up their minds!