News & Views

Investment Commentary – Has the tide now finally turned in the war against the virus?

17th February 2021

Jeff Lewis, director of IFA RobMac, provides some more thoughts on the investment market in light of the progress against the COVID global pandemic.

Jeff Lewis, director at RobMac

Is this really the beginning of end, and what does it mean for financial markets?

The number of new COVID cases globally has fallen by two-thirds since the peak a month ago. Most of this reflects tough lockdowns – it’s too early for vaccines to have had a big impact globally. But the fall is consistent, with almost every country seeing declines in new cases week on week.

As we know, the pace of vaccine roll-out is highly variable across different countries. But in those countries where the programme  is most advanced, like the US, UK and Israel, the decline in new cases is greatest amongst those groups that have already been vaccinated. And remember, the numbers for vaccine efficacy reported in the trials of the leading vaccines were high for preventing you getting symptoms. Efficacy for keeping you out of hospital was even higher, close to 100%.


Pent-up demand is building

In some countries, lockdown easing has already begun – New York City opened indoor dining for Valentine’s Day – and while most other countries, notably in continental Europe, are likely to ease lockdowns more slowly, it does seem to most fund managers  that the trend is clearly positive. A wave of pent-up demand will be unleashed, for everything from restaurant meals to haircuts to weddings. That wave will be greatest in the US where much of last year’s massive fiscal handouts are still sitting in people’s bank accounts and the incoming Biden administration looks set to dole out even more. Combined with the outgoing Congress package of $930 billion, the total stimulus over the next few months looks set to reach 15% of GDP. A truly massive number which should be a boost to asset prices .



Economists, including those at the US Federal Reserve, have been very bad at forecasting inflation in recent years. But one thing is clear, the Fed wants inflation to run hot for a while. They want to see inflation exceed their 2% target on a consistent basis to offset the years that it has fallen short of this target. This is their new average inflation framework. So, the scene is set for better corporate profits and a further rally in risk assets. But bond yields look set to rise further, and yield curves to steepen.


Roadmap out of lockdown to be announced soon

In the UK, the vaccine roll-out continues apace. The government’s key metric is the number of patients in hospital with Covid. At the peak last month, this hit just under 40,000 and the NHS was bursting at the seams. Since then, the numbers have fallen dramatically, down 41% as of last Thursday and a decline of 20% a week. Pressures to ease the lockdown will prove irresistible – and we expect the UK and Scottish Governments    to strike an optimistic tone next  week when they announce the roadmaps out of the lockdown.


What could go wrong with this optimistic scenario?

The obvious answer lies in variants that ‘escape’ the vaccines. The leading vaccines all seem to be less effective against the South African and Brazilian variants. But efficacy is reduced not eliminated. Later this year, the designers of the vaccines will have tweaked them to improve their efficacy against the new variants. And that may be a pattern for years to come. But once the world has been vaccinated against Covid the disease will be much less of a threat. We will learn to live with this dreadful disease, rather like the flu.



We think we’ll see asset prices continue their upward trend albeit we may have a few bounces along the road.

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