WEEKLY FAYRE – Monday, 29th March 2021

March 29, 2021

“I work all day, and get half-drunk at night.
Waking at four to soundless dark, I stare.
In time the curtain-edges will grow light.
Till then I see what’s really always there:
Unresting death, a whole day nearer now,
Making all thought impossible but how
And where and when I shall myself die.
Arid interrogation: yet the dread
Of dying, and being dead,
Flashes afresh to hold and horrify.

The mind blanks at the glare. Not in remorse
—The good not done, the love not given, time
Torn off unused—nor wretchedly because
An only life can take so long to climb
Clear of its wrong beginnings, and may never;
But at the total emptiness for ever,
The sure extinction that we travel to
And shall be lost in always. Not to be here,
Not to be anywhere,
And soon; nothing more terrible, nothing more true.

This is a special way of being afraid
No trick dispels. Religion used to try,
That vast moth-eaten musical brocade
Created to pretend we never die,
And specious stuff that says No rational being
Can fear a thing it will not feel, not seeing
That this is what we fear—no sight, no sound,
No touch or taste or smell, nothing to think with,
Nothing to love or link with,
The anaesthetic from which none come round.

And so it stays just on the edge of vision,
A small unfocused blur, a standing chill
That slows each impulse down to indecision.
Most things may never happen: this one will,
And realisation of it rages out
In furnace-fear when we are caught without
People or drink. Courage is no good:
It means not scaring others. Being brave
Lets no one off the grave.
Death is no different whined at than withstood.

Slowly light strengthens, and the room takes shape.
It stands plain as a wardrobe, what we know,
Have always known, know that we can’t escape,
Yet can’t accept. One side will have to go.
Meanwhile telephones crouch, getting ready to ring
In locked-up offices, and all the uncaring
Intricate rented world begins to rouse.
The sky is white as clay, with no sun.
Work has to be done.
Postmen like doctors go from house to house.”

Philip Larkin – Poet – 1922-1985



Last Friday produced another festival of sport. In the second ODI in India, England chased India’s mammoth total of 337 to win by six wickets with outstanding contributions from Bairstow (124) and Stokes with a blistering 99, including 10 sixes. England, the final match lost by 7 runs in an equally dramatic match, and consequently the series 2-1.

Against all the odds Scotland thoroughly deserved to beat France 27-23 in Paris in a controversial and exhilarating Rugby international. It was Scotland’s first win in the French capital since 1999. Wales deservedly won the 6-Nations.



22nd March 2021

26th March 2021

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Last week was not a hugely significant one in terms of US economic data. Initial Jobless Claims saw those filing for unemployment benefits drop to 684,000 in the week ended 20th March, its lowest since the pandemic hit the labour market in March 2020 and well below market expectations of 730,000. These were encouraging signs of a gradual job recovery.

Towards the end of the week, investors, who had adopted a cynical approach to reassurances from Treasury Secretary Yellen and FED Chairman Powell with monotonous regularity, started to digest these comments in good faith. They reiterated that any signs of inflation may only be temporary, with the FED’s target remaining at 2% and that interest rates would not be going up in any measurable way for some time. It appeared that the Street of Dreams cautiously started to accept their placatory comments. Last week US 10-year Treasury Bond yields fell by 9 basis points to 1.63% and by way of comparison, 10-year UK Gilt yields downwards by 10 basis points to 0.75%.

In the UK, investors and the public at large were more concerned about inflation and employment data. The Consumer Price Index rose by 0.4% in the 12 months to February 2021, down from 0.7% to January. On a monthly basis, the CPIH rose by 0.1% in February 2021, compared with a larger rise of 0.3% in February 2020. Falling prices for clothing, second-hand cars, and games, toys and hobbies drove the inflation rate downwards. The UK employment rate was estimated at 75.0%, 1.5 percentage points lower than a year earlier and 0.3% lower than the previous quarter. The UK unemployment rate was estimated at 5.1%, 1.3% higher than a year earlier and 0.4% higher than the previous quarter. It should not be forgotten that 4.7 million are still probably being furloughed and few would be surprised if in three months’ time unemployment was above 6%, with many from hospitality and the self-employed ranks struggling to remain solvent. On Friday, UK retail sales for February were posted. They rose by 2.1%, reversing only some of the 8.2% slump in January. However, this was in line with expectations, with a sharp bounce in on-line sales increasing by 36.1% - a new record.

The tasteless rhetoric on vaccines from some quarters in the EU continued to rage, which was very dispiriting. Astra Zeneca is attracting a huge amount of undeserved ‘flack’ in failing to honour its contracts. It is the only MAJOR vaccine supplier to produce millions of inoculations at COST. Think of the Billions it could have made! Many of us would be obliged if those EU luminaries, and they know who they are, would climb off Astra’s back. Gita Gopinath, the celebrated IMF economist, made a very salient comment last week – “Much more supply is in the pipeline, but all countries will need to share. It is essential to vaccinate the most vulnerable in the world *now* for the benefit of everyone. The pandemic is not over until it is over everywhere.”

Most people were delighted to see the Government initiative of allowing shops to remain open until 10.00 pm from 12th April, which will offer a splendid opportunity to spend a fair chunk of the £180 billion, which has purportedly been squirrelled away in the last year. It was also reported on Friday that UK and EU are in the process of agreeing a post-Brexit deal for financial services. The final agreement is expected to mirror an existing framework between the EU and the US, by including a commitment for regulators on both sides to meet regularly to discuss future rule-making and share information. This is long overdue and the cynics amongst us must hope that it is not a minefield of EU protective bureaucracy.

Global markets performed quite well last week, apart from Chinese political issues which adversely affected the Hang Seng and a shortage of chips. This shortfall was starting to adversely affect the auto industry; hence the NIKKEI easing by o.9%. The FTSE did not fare as well as its European peers, due to oil and mining stocks, which fell in concert with the price of crude, which eased by 5% last week. Some of the fall was attributed to the 220,000 ton ‘Ever Given’ blocking the Suez Canal. This could cost insurers around $100 million by the time all claims, which have disrupted trade and business, have been made. As for Wall Street, there was a reluctance to embrace tech stocks, despite Powell’s comments on inflation and regardless of new records for the Dow and the S&P 500 being within achievable reach. Intel captured some headlines last week announcing it would be expanding its chip operations by building two new factories at a cost of $20 billion.

Despite the savaging damage meted out to society by the pandemic, there has been a slew of interesting and successful IPOs, as well as several more being negotiated and prepared in the pipeline. TrustPilot recently made a positive debut, and early next month, Deliveroo takes its bow in the public domain, valuing the company at £8 billion. There appears to be plenty of appetite for these shares despite great competition from Just Eat Takeaway and Uber. However, Aviva Investments, M&G, L&G and Aberdeen Standard will not be supporting this issue, because Deliveroo has failed to make satisfactory arrangements for many of its 50,000 workers on employment rights, including minimum, wage, sick and holiday pay. Nonetheless there seems to be plenty of appetite for CEO Will Shu’s Amazon backed operation. PensionBee, a pension app, will shortly come to market with a more modest valuation of £300 million, making its CEO, 35-year-old Romi Savova, worth £135 million. There will be many more deals before the year is out, such is the confidence in the recovery process of the economy. Premium clothing retailer End was snapped up by Carlyle in a $750 million deal.

It was not all ‘sweetness and light’ last week. John Lewis confirmed that it was permanently closing a further 8 stores, bringing its portfolio down to 34, with 1400 jobs likely to disappear. Chairman Dame Sharon White’s news came as no surprise as the partnership intends to execute between 60% and 70% of its business on-line, whilst at the same time, opening convenient JPL facilities in many of its 250 Waitrose stores. Last week, Cineworld posted a huge loss of £2.2 billion, having made a profit of £155 million in 2019. Many of its 767 cinemas in the UK and US have been closed for much of last year, with admissions down 80%. Thanks to Convertible loans stocks and other financial assistance, 127 cinemas will be opening in the UK during May.

Santander will be closing 111 out of its 452 branches in the months to come. It is hoped that 1,400 members of staff will be relocated. However, this may prove difficult as on-line banking becomes more popular. Santander has seen a 20% growth in on-line transactions. Over 3,000 bank branches have been closed in the last five years, with HSBC likely to close 82 branches this year. Nationwide made an unsurprising announcement when informing 13,000 of its 18,000 employees that they could work in an agreed place, including home – not wholly desirable if the UK economy is to make a full recovery. People morally owe a debt to society by helping to rebuild their communities by spending money near their workplace. Tui Travel announced that it would be closing a further 48 high street shops.

Kingfisher has risen like ‘the phoenix from the ashes’ under Thierry Garnier’s fresh stewardship, with B&Q, Castorama, Brico and Screw-fix all firing off six cylinders. Sales grew by 7.1% last year to £12.3 billion with profits increased by 44% to £786 million. Kingfisher shares rose by 128% in the last year. There was also some good news for Warner Music, whose artists include Ed Sheeran and Dua Lipa, which has teamed up with Tencent of China to expand their markets. Tencent previously did a similar deal with Universal and Sony.

The Sunday Times tells us that Sanjeev Gupta’s request for £170 million bailout, in the wake of the collapse of Greensill, has been rejected by the Government, which is preparing to unravel the steel tycoon’s empire, with 5,000 jobs at risk. We await developments.

Love Film and Zoopla founder Alex Chesterman will be taking his used car platform operation, Cazoo, to the US to be merged with SPAC Ajax 1 in a $7 billion deal. Cazoo started its operation in Northamptonshire only eighteen months ago. The rate of success can only be described as staggering.

UK companies posting interim results this week – Tuesday – AG Barr, Chesnara, 3iii, Pennon, Wednesday – Aquis Exchange, Gulf Keystone, James Halstead, Topps Tiles, Thursday – NEXT, Sportech, St Modwen Properties

US Companies posting interim results this week – Wednesday – Walgreen, Boots, Alliance, Micron Technology

Economic data to be posted this coming week – Monday Bank of England Consumer Credit, Mortgage applications and Approvals, Tuesday – EU Economic and Consumer Confidence, US Consumer Confidence and House Price Index, Wednesday – UK Business Investment, US GDP 4th Quarter (EST: -8.7% Y/O/Y), UK Nationwide House Prices, EU Inflation March (EST: +0.2%), US MBA Mortgage Applications, US Chicago PMI, US Pending Home Sales, Thursday - Japan Tankan Survey, EU, UK, US PMI Manufacturing, US Initial Jobless Claims – Friday – US Non-farm payrolls (EST: +379k jobs created in March), US Unemployment (EST: 6.2%)