April 20th, 2020
Quarterly markets Overview - Q1 2020
- The spread of Covid-19 profoundly affected global markets in the first quarter. Equities suffered steep declines and government bond yields fell (prices rose) as investors favoured their perceived safety.
- Shares fell across developed markets as coronavirus spread and countries went into lockdown to try to contain the outbreak. Governments and central banks announced measures to support businesses and households and reduce borrowing costs.
- Emerging market (EM) equities also tumbled, slightly underperforming developed markets as a strong US dollar proved to be an additional headwind.
- Government bonds saw yields fall (meaning prices rose) as investors sought out assets perceived to be lower risk. Corporate bonds underperformed government bonds.
- In commodities, oil prices plunged as the spread of coronavirus weakened the outlook for demand, at the same time as there was a breakdown of an agreement between oil producers to constrain supply.
- US equities declined significantly over the quarter as the coronavirus outbreak spread. Confirmed US cases of Covid-19 rose from 150 to over 100,000 between 4 March and 27 March, and the economic impact grew clearer. Jobless claims rocketed by over three million in the last week of March and economic indicators suggest more pain will follow.
- Eurozone equities experienced a sharp fall in Q1 due to the spread of coronavirus. Italy and Spain became some of the most severely affected countries. Nations across Europe took steps to restrict the movement of people and shut down parts of the economy in an effort to slow the spread of the virus. Growth in Europe was already fragile - the eurozone economy grew by just 0.1% in Q4 2019, with Germany registering zero growth. A sharp economic downturn is expected.
- UK equities tumbled as efforts to deal with the coronavirus pandemic hit economic activity indiscriminately and simultaneously. Prior to these events, domestic politics and Brexit had dominated the narrative around UK assets and the economy for much of the quarter. At the height of the market sell-off, all assets (including government bonds) fell amid fears around the stability of the financial system.
- After a relatively stable start to the year, the Japanese market fell steeply in late February and early March before recovering some ground to end the quarter with a total return of -17.5%. Even allowing for the exceptional environment, the yen was extraordinarily volatile through this period but, if anything, has probably remained slightly weaker than one might otherwise expect.
- Asia ex Japan equities declined sharply in the first quarter, as Covid-19 became a pandemic and the prospect of a global recession loomed. US dollar strength was a drag on returns. The MSCI Asia ex Japan Index decreased in value but outperformed the MSCI World Index.
- Emerging market (EM) equities fell heavily in Q1, negatively impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic. The spread of the virus beyond China led to lockdowns globally and resulted in sharp falls in economic activity. A global recession is now expected this year. Against this backdrop, a stronger US dollar was a further headwind for EM. The MSCI Emerging Markets Index decreased in value and underperformed the MSCI World Index.
- Government bond yields declined over the quarter, meaning bond prices rose, as higher risk assets such as shares saw heavy declines amid rising fears over the Covid-19 pandemic. Investors favoured the perceived safety of government bonds due to the growing likelihood of a deep global recession. The moves largely occurred in late-February and March as numerous countries went into lockdown in response to the pandemic, seriously depressing economic activity. This resulted in severe declines and extreme daily swings in assets prices on a scale comparable to the crises of 2008 and 2011.
- The S&P GSCI Spot Index experienced a major fall over the quarter. US dollar strength weighed negatively, so too the energy component. Crude oil prices fell heavily as talks between OPEC and other oil producers including Russia failed to agree on extensions to production cuts. This impact was exacerbated by a weaker demand outlook for oil stemming from the impact of Covid-19.