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Our investment professionals share and challenge each other’s views, creating a diverse marketplace of ideas for the Wellington Blog.

1. When might a COVID vaccine become available?

In light of the recent positive news on the COVID vaccine front, it is possible that a vaccine could be authorized for use in the US as early as late 2020. Additional vaccines could be authorized or approved during the first quarter of 2021.

The logistics of vaccine distribution will be daunting. Under Operation Warp Speed, vaccine developers have already been manufacturing vaccine inventory at some risk, in anticipation of favorable efficacy and safety data. Nevertheless, the immediate demand will likely far exceed the initial supply.

Priority will be given to high-risk health care workers and first responders; then to people of all ages with comorbid conditions that put them at elevated risk of poor outcomes, along with older adults living in crowded circumstances; then to all adults over age 65; and so on. It’s likely to be well into 2021 before everyone in the US can be offered a vaccine.

2. What’s the prognosis for those infected?

It’s a moving target and depends on several factors, including the underlying health and age of the patient, the ever-improving medical knowledge of optimal case management, and the availability of medications active against the virus.

The observed death rate from COVID-19 has dropped considerably since the pandemic first reached the US and now stands at…

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Bob Deresiewicz
Bob Deresiewicz
MD
Global Industry Analyst
Boston
Wen Shi
PhD, CFA
Global Industry Analyst
Boston, MA

While the UK equity market appears attractively valued and has the potential for a rebound, I remain neutral on UK equities for now as I believe the uncertain political outlook provides a poor basis for active risk taking. In essence, the outcome of the Brexit negotiations is hard to judge, and a non-cooperative outcome could prove highly disruptive for the UK economy and equities. In my view, this risk is not priced into the market at present.

The UK has had a poor COVID crisis

The UK’s health and economic outcomes have been in line with the worst in Europe, and managing this twin crisis will remain problematic in the near term. At the same time, the UK faces longer-term challenges, such as changes in the migration framework, a sharp rise in minimum wages and the perennial issues of low productivity growth and a large current-account deficit. Together, these near-term and structural challenges create a…

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Jens Larsen headshot
Jens Larsen
PhD
Macro Strategist
London

While economic activity is likely to recover slowly in the euro area, I believe the risk of a much worse outcome has abated. Improved macroeconomic policy should lead to a stronger recovery, driving further reductions in the valuation gap between US and euro-area stocks.

The COVID-19 crisis has caused a deep recession in the eurozone, and I don’t expect activity to return to end-2019 levels until mid-2022. A recession of this magnitude leaves many kinds of economic scars. Jobs and businesses are destroyed, and the necessary reallocation of labour and capital is expensive and takes time. Balance sheets are damaged as a result of falling incomes, and the continued uncertainty constrains investment and consumption.

On the plus side, I believe Europe’s management of the health crisis and the economic policy response have been strong enough to substantially reduce downside risks to…

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Jens Larsen headshot
Jens Larsen
PhD
Macro Strategist
London

COVID-19 impact on global supply chains

Localization. Digitization. Industrial protectionism. In the wake of COVID-19, the world is eager to form more resilient supply chains. These efforts could affect a range of industries as well as fiscal and monetary policy. In this 17-minute audiocast, Geopolitical Strategist Thomas Mucha speaks with members of our Global Macro Team about the future of global supply chains.

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Juhi Dhawan headshot
Juhi Dhawan
PhD
Macro Strategist
Boston
Jens Larsen headshot
Jens Larsen
PhD
Macro Strategist
London
Thomas Mucha
Thomas Mucha
Geopolitical Strategist
Boston

Earlier this summer, I virtually participated in an institutional conference with about 100 other asset managers and prominent asset owners from the US, Canada, Europe, Australia, and New Zealand. It was well worth my time. Here are my main takeaways, along with some personal observations on the post-COVID-19 industry landscape.

1. Economic assumptions and forecasts were more dire than I’ve seen internally. While Chinese gross domestic product (GDP) is expected to reach pre-COVID levels this year, the US may not get there until mid-2021 and likely only on the strength of “50% of the economy in steep recovery,” according to one conference participant. The other half of the US economy may..

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Mark Mandel
Mark Mandel
CFA
Equity Portfolio Manager
Boston

The COVID-19 pandemic has represented a near-perfect storm for the world’s leading technology companies. Both earnings growth and valuation multiples have risen to extraordinary levels. Naturally, this raises questions about the sustainability of the current dynamics and the prospective risks and opportunities for investors.

The enduring case for tech

The technology sector’s strongest companies were already executing at a high level coming into 2020 — growing fast, expanding margins, and reinvesting in their value propositions. The COVID-19 pandemic has accentuated these characteristics by accelerating the need for consumers and enterprises to digitize. In addition to the COVID-19 tailwind, I think these firms deserve significant credit for their agility and decisiveness — as both attributes have allowed them to pivot quickly to capture these growth opportunities. Furthermore, I believe these companies’ unprecedented…

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Daniel Pozen
Dan Pozen
Equity Portfolio Manager
Boston

The US hospital sector saw a substantial direct impact from COVID-19, primarily via the sharp decline in elective medical procedures, but also received significant aid from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act. So what now?

Ultimately, the performance of hospitals — and the municipal bonds (munis) they issue — will depend on the severity and duration of the current health crisis. We expect diminished revenues for the remainder of 2020, although many hospitals are cutting costs and deferring capital spending to help offset this. We believe hospitals with strong balance streets and fundamentally viable operations are best positioned to weather the crisis; for weaker hospitals, ratings downgrades are likely.

The current condition of hospitals

Coming into the pandemic, financial performance across the US hospital sector was largely stable. Most health care providers were managing through various sector headwinds, thanks to…

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Jennifer Soule
Jennifer Soule
Fixed Income Credit Analyst
Boston

COVID-19 impact on emerging markets

The pandemic has hit some emerging markets harder than others. In most cases, preexisting macro, debt, and fiscal situations, as well as health care infrastructure, have been key determinants of a country’s ability to cope with the crisis. In this 20-minute audiocast, Geopolitical Strategist Thomas Mucha speaks with members of our Global Macro Team to discuss the outlook for the emerging markets they cover.

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Mary Gillian Edgeworth
Gillian Edgeworth
Macro Strategist
London
Matt Hildebrandt
Matt Hildebrandt
Macro Strategist
Boston
Ludvig Soderling
Ludvig Söderling
Macro Strategist
Boston

The agency credit-risk transfer (CRT) market was one of the hardest-hit credit sectors, driven by both fundamental and technical factors, when the COVID-19 pandemic battered financial markets in March 2020. At the time, we viewed the sharp sell-off in CRT tranches as a technically driven overreaction to an unprecedented crisis, with the resulting prices not reflective of the sector’s true credit risk.

Since then, the recovery in CRT prices has been nearly as…

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Daniel Kim
Daniel Kim
CFA
Fixed Income Credit Analyst
Boston

Over the years, we have done extensive on-the-ground research to understand consumer behavior across China and other emerging markets (EMs), with an emphasis on the two age demographics — millennials and Generation Z — that drive much of these countries’ total consumption.

In keeping with this tradition, we recently conducted our first post-COVID-19 survey of Chinese consumers. As everyday life begins to return to normal in China, we wanted to get a pulse on consumption and lifestyle trends in the aftermath of the pandemic. We focused on respondents in higher-tier Chinese cities, between 20 and 40 years old, with “middle” incomes of 50K – 70K renminbi per year. Here’s some of what we learned.

Spending vs savings

Unlike their predecessors, post-1980 generations in China are generally prosperous and tend to spend much of what they earn, with an eye toward enjoying life as much as possible. However, with COVID-19 affecting their lives in ways they have not experienced before, we wondered if…

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Liliana Dearth
Liliana Castillo Dearth
Equity Portfolio Manager
Singapore
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On 23 March 2020, the US Federal Reserve (Fed) launched the Secondary Market Corporate Credit Facility (SMCCF) — a special-purpose vehicle (SPV) designed to support the corporate-bond market in the face of the COVID-19 crisis. In late June, the Fed released an official list of its initial bond purchases made via this program.

The more I think about the Fed taking the unprecedented step of buying corporate bonds as part of its crisis-response arsenal, the more I believe it’s difficult to overstate the implications. Here are some of my latest thoughts on the matter.

Five thoughts on the program

In my view, the Fed’s corporate-bond-buying program:

  1. Minimizes tail funding risk. Many US corporate-bond issuers were distressed and deemed to be at risk of bankruptcy as recently as a few months ago. Then came the Fed’s bond-buying program, which is aimed at removing tail funding risk, primarily for corporates that “should” survive (based on their investment-grade ratings pre-COVID-19). The terms of the program have since been…
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Jeremy Forster
Fixed Income Portfolio Manager
Boston

In recent months, the convertible-bond market has provided tremendous opportunity for investors looking to position their portfolios strategically for an eventual recovery from COVID-19. Convertibles have experienced a meaningful uptick in supply during the first half of 2020, including substantially elevated new-issue and secondary-market volumes. Most of this supply surge, which includes a number of notable transactions, has been driven by companies looking to boost liquidity and capital.

So what now? While the market has been engaged with the theme of a rapid recovery in economic activity post-lockdown, helped by an abundance of monetary and fiscal support, there is still potential for significant setbacks to investor confidence and for COVID-related news flow to keep volatility at relatively elevated levels. As the market’s perspective on the likelihood of a fuller, more sustained reopening of the economy continues to evolve, we believe the convertible-bond sector may offer…

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Ronan McCullough
Ronan McCullough
Director of Capital Markets
Boston

As detailed in a “Fed series” penned by my colleagues Amar Reganti and Caroline Casavant — most recently, Corporate credit and monetary financing: A new era in Fed policy — the US Federal Reserve (Fed) has adopted a “whatever it takes” stance to support the ailing US economy amid the ongoing COVID-19 crisis. In broad terms, the extraordinary steps taken by the Fed over the past several weeks include (but are not limited to):

  • Conventional monetary easing (i.e., cutting interest rates to the zero lower bound);
  • Regulatory guidance designed to encourage banks to continue lending; and
  • Large-scale asset purchases, both on and off the Fed’s balance sheet.

While many of the tools the Fed has unveiled harken back to ones used during the global financial crisis, its off-balance sheet purchases go well beyond…

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Nanette Abuhoff Jacobson
Nanette Abuhoff Jacobson
Global Investment and Multi-Asset Strategist
Boston

Income is getting increasingly difficult to come by these days. Amid the severe market downturn in March, global central banks aggressively cut interest rates in an effort to lessen the damage. Meanwhile, as many large corporations effectively ceased to operate, stock dividends began to collapse.

Although the headlines focused mainly on the immediate impact of these developments, investors who rely on the equity and fixed income markets to generate regular income in the form of dividends and/or bond yields — from insurance companies to pensioners and endowment funds — will, unfortunately, likely feel the impact of this unprecedented crisis for years to come.

The crisis has also shone a bright spotlight on various strategies, across asset classes, that pay out regular income to investors, particularly the manner in which many of these strategies have been…

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Matthew Bullock
Investment Director
London

Bottom line: recovery at risk

The COVID-19 crisis has eliminated the brief window for the UK government to provide macro policy clarity and constructively move the Brexit debate forward. I fear that elevated political and economic uncertainty could delay the recovery from the crisis. These longer-term risks are not a market focus currently, but will come to the fore in the recovery.

Lockdown may last longer than in Europe

The UK health crisis is evolving broadly in line with the worst outcomes in Europe but the UK might be a week or two behind. With the Prime Minister recovering from the virus, the government has yet to set out a path to reopening the economy, as at the time of writing. The UK may follow most other European countries with a very gradual opening, but the risk is…

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Jens Larsen headshot
Jens Larsen
PhD
Macro Strategist
London

Challenges increase for the eurozone

Recent data and developments have altered my view of eurozone economies and equities, increasing and significant downside risk in my view. Doubts about the path ahead have increased, reflecting fundamental uncertainty about the health crisis, the policy response and the subsequent economic recovery. A deep recession, a slow recovery and a steep earnings recession could weigh on eurozone equities. Relative to the recent IMF forecasts, the eurozone is likely to experience a bigger dip and a shallower recovery.

Medium term: policy response will shape recovery

In the medium term — six months to two years — the quantity and quality of the policy support will determine both how fast growth can bounce back and how far longer-term damage through job and firm destruction is avoided.

ECB intervention

The ECB’s intervention is extensive, providing ample liquidity and purchasing assets at a high pace. Asset purchases can be scaled up if necessary and I am confident that…

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Jens Larsen headshot
Jens Larsen
PhD
Macro Strategist
London

China recently reported that its gross domestic product (GDP) shrank 6.8% year over year in the first quarter of 2020 – the first time in modern history that the nation’s economy has contracted. The contraction was sharper than our tracker had suggested, with the implication being that services (for which robust monthly data are not available) likely fared worse than other parts of China’s economy.

Headline: Bad, but expected

This outcome was largely intuitive and did not come as a surprise to markets in the wake of recent events. Indeed, it’s pretty clear that the COVID-19 outbreak delivered an unprecedented shock to China’s economy – one that hit the services sector harder than it did manufacturing.

On its own, I would have thought that such a poor headline GDP number would have been neutral for Chinese fiscal policy, in the sense that whatever the government did for the remainder of the year, it probably wouldn’t be able to…

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Paul Cavey
Paul Cavey
Macro Strategist
Hong Kong

As I argued in my March 17 post, “Technology: The future is on sale,” now may be an opportune time to “buy the future” at potentially bargain-basement prices, particularly in the technology sector. By way of a follow-up, here is my latest thinking on trends and industries that look poised to emerge as winners (and, conversely, losers) on the other side of the COVID-19 crisis:

Potential winners

  • Streaming
  • Digital advertising
  • E-commerce
  • Fintech
  • Digital goods consumption (e.g., video games)
  • Cloud collaboration tools
  • Online education
  • Direct-to-consumer business

 

Potential losers

  • Linear TV, cinema
  • Traditional advertising
  • High-end retail
  • Physical branch banking
  • Physical goods
  • Business travel
  • In-class education
  • Supply chain/middlemen

A number of quality companies in the “potential winners” column have recently been trading at attractive relative and absolute valuations. I believe equity investors should consider using this opportunity to add (or increase) exposure to some of these stocks.

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Brian Barbetta
Global Industry Analyst
Boston

Amid the impending government stimulus, the issue of stock repurchases has once again hit the headlines. Buybacks are often framed as the poster child of corporate greed or lapses in governance, designed to line executive pockets and enrich existing shareholders at the expense of broader long-term value creation. But the first critical point to remember is that buybacks should be a distribution of profits that remain after all constituents have been taken care of, and they should not be done at the expense of any stakeholder, including employees.

Let’s assume that the buybacks we have seen have been made with good intentions and examine what influenced the decision making. Stock repurchases are one of five capital allocation tools available to public companies, along with business reinvestment, acquisitions, dividends, and debt reduction. Like any other capital allocation decision, there are times when buybacks make sense, and times when they don’t. How, why, and when management teams take these actions matters greatly. Skilled capital allocation separates…

 

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Mark Whitaker
Equity Portfolio Manager
Boston

The S&P 500’s substantial market rally from recent lows has led many investors to question whether a new bull market has begun. In my view, bear market history should give pause to anyone who thinks we are off to the races again. In the US, prior to the recent crash, there have been nine bear markets of at least 20% since 1987. Figure 1 offers several lessons from these bear markets (each gray and white section), showing the meaningful lows and gauging the magnitude and quality of any rallies that were recorded as each bear market unfolded. For instance, in 1987 there were two major lows. Between the crash and the next low, the market rallied…

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David Lundgren
David Lundgren
CMT, CFA
Director of Technical Analysis
Boston
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Wellington Management does not disclose your information except as required or permitted by law. In the event that Wellington Management is involved in a merger, acquisition, reorganization or sale of assets, or bankruptcy, your information may be transferred or sold as part of that transaction.

Security policies
We use technical, administrative, and procedural measures in an attempt to safeguard your personal and other information from unauthorized access or use. No such measure is ever 100% effective though, so we do not guarantee that your personal and other information will be secure from theft, loss, or unauthorized access or use, and we make no representation as to the reasonableness, efficacy, or appropriateness of the measures we use to safeguard such information. Users are responsible for maintaining the secrecy of their own passwords. If you have reason to believe that your interaction with us is no longer secure (for example, if you feel that the security of any account you might have with us has been compromised), please immediately notify us by contacting your relationship team member.

Transfer of data to other countries
Any information you provide to Wellington Management through use of the Site may be stored and processed, transferred between, and accessed from the US and other countries which may not guarantee the same level of protection of personal information as the one in which you reside. However, Wellington Management will handle your personal information in accordance with this Privacy Statement regardless of where your personal information is stored/accessed.

Changes to Terms of use

We may revise these Terms from time to time; the most current version will always be at https://www.wellington.com/terms-use. By continuing to access or use the Services after those revisions become effective, you agree to be bound by the revised Terms.

Effective as of 17 January 2014

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