Market Overview – 26/10/2021

The old saying goes that markets climb a wall of worry. The headlines have been full of concerns about soaring energy prices, higher inflation, potential rises in interest rates and a global pandemic that doesn’t seem to have lost its grip. Against that backdrop, you would have been forgiven for expecting stock markets to have weakened considerably in recent months. Some may be surprised to learn that the US market closed at a new all-time high late last week. Why are the equity markets seemingly shrugging off a plethora of negative news?

What we have seen over the past couple of weeks is the start of the quarterly company results season, where businesses update on sales and earnings. Expectations were fairly low coming into this cycle of announcements, particularly given the backdrop of rising costs, but so far the reports have been better than expected. Although not universally the case, many companies have been able to keep sales rising and profit margins intact. This suggests that some have more flexibility with supply chains and have been able to navigate the delays and shortages that have occurred in many sectors. It also points to the ability of businesses with strong brands to be able to pass on higher costs to their consumers. Clearly there are many companies that are struggling at present, but it is encouraging how well some have been able to adapt to more challenging conditions. We hope to see this pattern being maintained as more companies report over the next few weeks.

Faced with increasing evidence that inflation pressures could last into early 2022, central bankers have been sounding more hawkish pushing bond yields higher in the process. Jay Powell confirmed last week the US Federal Reserve would seek to taper the quantitative easing measures before raising rates, although markets have moved to discount at least two 25bp rate rises in 2022. The lower inflation pressures in Europe provide some leeway for the ECB but further guidance is expected this week. The most hawkish rhetoric has come from the Bank of England – fearful that inflation could be as high as 6% in the months to come – although it is unclear how a rate rise would resolve the supply chain and skilled labour shortage pressures. This week’s focus for UK investors will be the Budget where the 2019 fiscal framework will likely be re-affirmed. The pandemic did untold damages to the country’s finances which will have to be rectified in time but meanwhile the better than estimated recovery in nominal GDP means a lower borrowing requirement this year providing some scope for further limited support in the three key areas of levelling up, skills investment and temporary catch-up.