WEEKLY FAYRE – Monday,15th March 2021

March 15, 2021

“I must down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky,

And all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by;

And the wheel’s kick and the wind’s song and the white sail’s shaking,

And a grey mist on the sea’s face, and a grey dawn breaking.

 

I must down to the seas again, for the call of the running tide

Is a wild call and a clear call that may not be denied;

And all I ask is a windy day with the white clouds flying,

And the flung spray and the blown spume, and the sea-gulls crying.

 

I must down to the seas again, to the vagrant gypsy life,

To the gull’s way and the whale’s way where the wind’s like a whetted knife;

And all I ask is a merry yarn from a laughing fellow-rover,

And quiet sleep and a sweet dream when the long trick’s over.”

 

“Sea Fever”

John Masefield – Poet – 1878-1967

 

I think the ban for a year, with a  six-month suspension clause, imposed on Irish racehorse trainer Gordon Elliott for his crass behaviour, when seen photographed on a dead horse, was about right. Mr Elliott has 200 horses in his yard and to date he seems to have conducted his duties in an exemplary manner, with considerable success especially with the Michael O’Leary Gigginstown Stud brigade. Whatever possessed him to expose himself in such a manner, no one will ever really know. It was just a tasteless moment of madness. Mr Elliott will have to live with that level of shame for the rest of his life! It may not be a bad year for Elliott to miss this Year’s Cheltenham Festival, as it is hard to see his stable winning too many Championship races, but one suspects it might produce a few winners from the handicap races. This year’s festival of NH racing looks like a Willie Mullins Carnival to me this year, but results are often surprising.

A great deal of chat and PR from the BHA and others subsequently ensued about building a better relationship with the public over the treatment of horses whether when racing or in retirement. The observation is well made, but having been an owner in the past, the love, care, and attention for the vast majority of these wonderfully athletic animals knows no bounds!

After three abject performances, it was reassuring for all England Rugby fans to see their favourites put in a real shift on Saturday evening at Twickenham, when beating a very talented French team 23-20 in a hugely exciting and entertaining match. Wales need to win against France in Paris to win the 6-Nations outright – a challenge indeed!

 

INDEX

8th March 2021

12th  March 2021

% Loss/Gain

FTSE

6630

6761

+1.67%

DAX

14024

14502

+3.41%

CAC40

5822

6046

+3.85%

DJIA

31512

32778

+4.02%

S&P 500

3844

3943

+2.58%

NASDAQ

12904

13319

+3.22%

SHANGHAI

3524

3453

+0.83%

HANG SENG

29632

28739

-3.02%

NIKKEI 225

29208

29717

+1.74%

 

Apart from the Hang Seng, which suffered a sharp reverse last week, due to the continued interference by China, who introduced further draconian governance rules, global equity markets had a decent week, which was triggered by the huge $1.9 trillion stimulus package, finally introduced by the Biden administration. Add this gargantuan sum of money to the $2 trillion intervention by the Trump Government in March and December 2020 and it is fair to say that ‘the kitchen sink has been thrown at the crisis!’   Also, US Initial Jobless Claims reached a four-month low last week, as impending spring weather and more vaccine-driven business re-openings allow hiring to pick up. 712,000 people claimed benefits as against expectations of 725,000, with a revised figure 754,000 for the prior week.

Here in Old Blighty, the economic data was mixed. GDP having risen by a rather parsimonious 1.2% in December 2020, it went in to reverse in January to the tune of -2.9%. However, it was rather better than the -4.9% estimate posted by many economists. The service sector, due to lockdown fell away by -3.5%, though construction was positive at +0.9%. Exports to the EU fell by 40.7% and imports by 30%. UK bureaucracy is clearly very heavy handed and there has been an element of hoarding goods pre-Brexit. Nonetheless there is little doubt that the UK’S relationship with the EU is at an all-time low. The EU’S truculent attitude towards Astra Zeneca’s supply of vaccines not meeting its requirements is wholly unacceptable, especially as Messrs Von Der Leyen, Macron, Merkle, Breton, Beaune and representatives from Denmark, Norway and Austria have not been backward in coming forward in slagging off Astra’s  vaccination. The UK’S fishing rights have also been either abused or undermined. Hopefully once the teething problems have been sorted and both the UK and EU realise how desperate the overall  economic situation is, maybe some semblance of entente cordial might return.

I was delighted to see City Minister John Glen refuse to rule out the possibility of removing the cap of 100% bonus on basic salary in the banking sector. The EU understandably have been deeply uncooperative in agreeing satisfactory terms for financial services. So be it! – It will have to be ‘dog eat dog’, until good sense eventually prevails. Therefore, there is no question that Mr Glen’s stance is ‘spot on.’ The OECD stated last week that it was upgrading UK growth prospects for this year to a whopping 5.1%, after the success in rolling out vaccines. Admittedly it is from a low base having seen GDP for 2020 fall by nearly 11%. However, it compares favourably with the US, whose economy is estimated to grow by 3.8% in 2021. It was interesting to note in a survey of 5005 businessmen that the UK was found to be one of the most attractive places for overseas investment. It was also good to hear that Bank of England Governor Andrew Bailey let it be known that that he was seeing some light at the end of the tunnel for the economy, as he pointed to falling coronavirus infections and a successful vaccine rollout. He went on to remark - "If I had to summarise the diagnosis, it's positive but with large doses of cautionary realism."

In the early part of last week, nagging concerns about the threat of inflation and higher interest rates resulted in investors keeping their powder dry. However, once news of the stimulus package was likely to be signed off by President Biden, hit the wires, confidence started to abound. By Thursday, the DJIA and the S&P 500 hit fresh records. Also, the switch from tech stocks to cyclical sectors started to ease. The NASDAQ had shred 10% in the previous three weeks, but last week it regained some lost ground, adding 3.2% in value. The likes of Amazon, Alphabet, Apple, and Microsoft enjoyed some healthy gains as did Tesla, whose shares added 15% last week. Despite increasing sales by 5% in the last quarter, Oracle saw its share price dip 5% last week. There were several IPOS that came to the market last week; the most interesting being Coupang, South Korea’s answer to Amazon, whose shares popped by 41% on debut in New York.

European bourses will also be hosting two substantial IPOS in the next few weeks. Vodafone goes to Frankfurt to unload its telephone mast company, Vantage Towers, valued at £14.5 billion. Europe’s largest mobile operator regrettably chose Frankfurt rather than the LSE because the majority of its 68,000 masts are in mainland Europe, due to Vodafone’s purchase of Mannesmann for €225 billion in 2000. Deliveroo goes public, valued £7 billion in early April. Many of their riders will receive £10,000, as £16 million is set aside for the benefit of the staff.

There was an interesting compendium of companies that posted numbers last week. Amongst the furore of the ‘Piers Morgan Saga’ ITV’s earnings appeared through the haze. Profits were down 20% at £325 million for the year. CEO Dame Carolyn McCall believes that when the pandemic lifts, ITV’S show will be back on the road. The quality of their productions has significant public appeal. However, many cannot help feeling that ITV is  too small and consequently may eventually be a takeover target. The 5% drop in its share price on Wednesday was attributed to Morgan’s departure. In the media world, Piers Morgan is a very big beast!  Some eye-watering losses were incurred by two household names – Rolls Royce to the tune of £4 billion and WPP, formerly under the tender care of Sir Martin Sorrell. Rolls Royce may take a further two years to recover. That is how long the aircraft industry and the servicing of engines is expected to take on the road back to normality.  Hammerson, the property magnate widened its loss from £779m to £1.7 billion, due to  the majority of its shops remaining closed.

Having cut 10,000 jobs in the past year and incurred a loss of $18 billion, BP’s CEO Bernard Looney has told the majority of the remaining 60,000 staff that they will be working from home for at least 3 days a week. M&S has redoubled its efforts to expand overseas, launching 46 fresh website facilities in many wide-ranging countries such as Argentina, Fiji, Nepal, and Uzbekistan. Private Equity supremo TPG has bought McLaren’s Surrey operation for £180 million. McLaren had been forced to cut 1200 jobs in 2020. Aston Martin has joined the clan of motor manufacturers including Jaguar Land Rover in announcing that it will be manufacturing all its electric cars at their Gaydon plant by 2025. CVC, another private equity luminary announced its intention of taking a 1/7th stake in 6-Nations Rugby for £365 million. After a tricky year, Burberry, with the help of the Marcus Rashford brand, hopes to see sales up by 30% in the first quarter of 2021.

Standard Life Aberdeen CEO Stephen Bird announced a pre-tax profit of £838 million on revenue of £1.42 billion (£1.63 billion in 2019) and will maintain its dividend. Direct Line, the insurance company from which its founder Sir Peter Wood made two fortunes initially selling it to RBS in 1985 and then when it went public in 2012, posted a profit before tax of £451.4 million - £58.3 million lower than 2019, following the reduction in operating profit alongside £39.4 million of restructuring and one-off costs as the Group invested in cost saving initiatives.

It took Lex Greensill two decades to build Greensill into a multi-billion financial institution and about a week before it officially threatened that it was likely to go up in smoke, leaving its main customer Sanjeev Gupta, the pioneer of Liberty Steel, hanging by a thread, with over 3000 jobs at stake. It is reported in the Sunday Times that Greensill and Gupta are alleged to have exploited the Government’s guarantee scheme to extract £400 million of taxpayers’ backed loans – eight times the limit.  Having been very committed and reliant on Greensill for finance, it is further alleged that Mr Gupta would like to buy some of these assets at a knockdown price.  The market, unions and employees nervously await developments.

Having recently opened a shop in Ealing, Amazon is now expected to make an assault on local chemists. After a torrid year, Pret a Manger intends to sell its baked treats in Tesco. On top of securing a £1.2 billion rescue package for Virgin Atlantic, we hear that Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Group will be pumping in another £100 million out of £160 million required to revitalise the operation post the pandemic.

 

UK companies posting interim results this week – Tuesday – Close Brothers, Costain, Computacenter, Greggs, Unite, Wood Group, Ferguson, C&C Group, Wednesday – Dignity, Ferrexpo, Thursday – Genel, National Express, Portmeirion, Gym Group

US Companies posting interim results this week – Tuesday – Eastman Kodak, Lennar, Jabil Circuits, Thursday – Accenture, Carnival, Dollar, General, FedEx, Nike, Signet

Economic data to be posted this coming week – Monday – US Empire State Manufacturing, Tuesday – US Retail Sales, US Export/Import Prices, US Industrial Production and Manufacturing (February), US NAHB Housing Index, Wednesday – EU Inflation (M/O/M +0.2%), US MBA Mortgage Applications, US Housing Starts and Building Permits, US FOMC, Thursday – UK MPC & QE Meeting, US initial Jobless Claims, ECB Lagarde speech, US Phili-Fed, Friday – UK Gfk Consumer Confidence, UK PSBR