As reflationary dynamics gain support from refreshed stimulus in the US and a largely successful vaccine rollout with returning growth already to show for it, the reflation trade appears a bit exhausted as measured by market action. However, we see the current dynamic more as a pause than a conclusion.
The strong start to the year for global equity markets hit its first bump in the road in February. While most countries are still delivering a positive return for the year, markets have retreated from their highs to varying degrees.
Markets have become choppy, particularly toward month-end, and we expect more of the same given the nearly unrelenting strong run in risk assets since late March 2020 that gained fresh momentum early in November following the US elections.
2020 will undoubtedly be remembered as the year of the pandemic. While in financial market terms it is now tempting to think of COVID-19 as old news, the virus still presents substantial risks to the economic outlook.
The year 2020 is one most would like to forget, but for markets, performance was particularly strong despite the substantial COVID-19-related economic fallout. Certainly, ample liquidity in the form of massive monetary and fiscal stimulus was a key driver of performance, but near-term optimism may also be warranted. The vaccine rollout could return demand to more normal levels in 2021 and potentially beyond, given the pent-up demand on the back of still-massive amounts of liquidity sloshing through the system.
While economic data is likely to remain soft, driven by the more recent lockdowns in the US and Europe, markets are rightly looking through the near-term gloom as impending vaccines for COVID-19 are showing the proverbial light at the end of this nightmarish tunnel. Over 2021, the world, in our view, should gradually return to some sense of normalcy as the pandemic slowly recedes in the rear-view mirror.
Although some on the committee agreed with the market consensus for a moderate continuation of economic growth and equity markets, and a few were even more cautious, especially regarding increased fears of inflation later in 2021, the majority agreed with a more positive scenario in which the global economy outperforms market consensus, while equities, especially those outside of the US, rally sharply.
With the US presidential election now behind us, the two candidates seem to be proceeding in parallel universes. The apparent winner, President-elect Joe Biden, has transition planning and inauguration on his mind while President Donald Trump continues to challenge the election process itself.
Coordinated fiscal and monetary stimulus is likely to support global demand and therefore reflation in the years ahead. We see this opening up broader growth opportunities, and ultimately better scope for portfolio diversification.
October 2020 Second and third waves of the virus will also slow the recovery. But importantly, mortality rates have been lower, suggesting that the world continues to learn to live with the virus without requiring broad lockdowns.