The pound losing its recent strength and oil stocks responding to a higher commodity price could boost the index
Thursday 27 Aug 2020 Author: Daniel Coatsworth

Investors in UK stocks have been looking jealously (or frustratingly) at the performance of the US markets and wondering why the FTSE 100 has stubbornly refused to rebound as fast.

Year to date, the S&P 500 is up nearly 5% and the Nasdaq is up 25% whereas the FTSE 100 is down nearly 19%, all on a total return basis.

The answer is simple – the UK stock market is very under-represented by tech stocks which is the sector that has driven US markets this year.

The UK is also heavily weighted towards banks and energy stocks, two of the worst performing sectors in 2020.

The former has been depressed by a drop in interest rates, rising concerns over potential bad debts as consumers and companies struggle as a result of the pandemic, and the suspension of dividends.

The energy sector has been hit by a big decline in the oil price and a reduction in dividends making it less appealing to income investors.

Yet are we about to see a reversal of fortunes?

Recent strength in the pound versus the US dollar will have worked against the multitude of companies on the FTSE 100 which earn in the latter currency, but whose share price is quoted in the former. Those dollar earnings will be worth less when translated into sterling.

Approximately three quarters of the FTSE 100’s earnings come from outside the UK, so foreign exchange rates really matter to the performance of the index.

Bank of America this month turned bullish on UK equities, partly because it expects the pound to weaken again on the back of rising no-deal Brexit risks. If sterling weakens then dollar revenues, once converted back into sterling, are worth more.

The bank also believes the energy sector should catch up with recent strength in the oil price, thereby giving another support to the FTSE 100 with oil producers Royal Dutch Shell (RDSB) and BP (BP.) being major constituents of the index.

Such predictions would suggest investors are right to remain hopeful for better returns from the FTSE. However, performance is still dependent on economic activity picking up around the world and unfortunately there are some mixed signals.

Stock markets last week took a tumble after the US central bank expressed concern that the pandemic could greatly impact the US economy in the medium term.

The latest Eurozone PMIs disappointed while the US and China’s recent figures have been more upbeat. These are various indices which show confidence levels from purchasing managers and which are a good economic bellwether.

Against this backdrop, the latest Bank of America survey of fund managers shows that institutional investors remain bullish about markets despite a difficult backdrop.

It’s an ever-moving feast and investors would be best served by not fiddling with their portfolios in response to every bit of economic data that comes out. Stay diversified and accept that there may well be some parts of your portfolio lagging others – it’s just the nature of investing.

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