A majority of investors believe the global stock market rally will soon swing into reverse, with a second wave of coronavirus cases topping their list of worries.
About two-thirds of fund managers polled in a monthly Bank of America survey said the rise in stocks since March was a “bear market rally” — a strong but doomed bounce — against a background of dire economic data.
Only 10 per cent of those surveyed expect a V-shaped economic recovery from the pandemic, echoing warnings from Jay Powell, the US Federal Reserve chair, who said a rebound in the US economy was likely to be protracted. Most believe the development of a vaccine to address coronavirus would be needed to fuel a swift recovery.
Financial markets were hit hard in late February and most of March, when lockdowns kicked in across major economies in an effort to slow the spread of coronavirus. Since then, though, the FTSE All-World index has risen about a third — comfortably surpassing the definition of a bull market — while the tech-focused Nasdaq Composite is in positive territory for the year.
These rallies came after a surge in stimulus from central banks and governments aimed at averting a full-blown financial crisis triggered by the pandemic.
But many investors do not believe the rebounds are sustainable. “Equities are now back at the same levels as the summer of 2019, which is of course remarkable if you remember that the global economy and corporate earnings could be down by as much as 20 per cent,” said Joost van Leenders, senior investment manager at Kempen Capital Management, an asset manager. “We are not convinced that the flood of negative data still to come has been fully priced in,” he added.
The mismatch between soaring stocks and dour economic data poses a puzzle for many investors, although it is not unusual for markets to speed ahead of economic reality. “The disconnect between rising equities and weak macro is unsettling, but the equity market is a discounting mechanism and typically moves ahead of fundamentals,” said analysts at Barclays.
The BofA survey showed that fund managers are opting to pile into the shares of US tech giants — beneficiaries from life under lockdown — and gold, the classic haven asset that rose to a seven-and-a-half year high on Monday.
Another wave of Covid-19 infections tops investors’ worry lists. Second on the list is the fear of permanently high unemployment.
“While the most impacted businesses in areas like retail, travel and leisure have undergone widescale lay-offs, many businesses that are less impacted by the virus have also reduced headcounts,” said Jeffrey Schulze, director at ClearBridge Investments.
“This will likely only compound headwinds from shifts in behaviour until a vaccine or proven treatments for the virus emerge.”