Bear Market or Bull Market?
It's hard to know now
Despite falling on the last day of the week, stock markets (notably the US) still registered decent gains, boosted by the huge $2Trillion package of support signed off by the House of Representatives.
A manic rally during the week saw the US market climb more than 20% in 3 days, the best 3 day run since the 1930s, to enter what the Wall Street Journal termed a new bull market. We think it’s a bit early for such optimism, although with so much cheap money sloshing around the world there are suggestions the recovery could be quicker than many are currently expecting.
A new term took centre stage this week in the lexicon of company announcements with ‘Covid-19’ updates dominating the corporate headlines. Our associates Investors Champion issued daily commentary on many of these updates, which you can read from the link here.
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Thankfully, the vast majority of our portfolio companies, have the reassurance of a net cash position and look well placed to see out the current crisis without the requirement for further equity injections. Unlike the financial crisis of 2008/09, banks are also in far better shape and happy to extend credit if required.
Companies are also set to be given considerable financial support from governments so that they can pay their staff, which should help prevent a major social collapse as well as an economic one.
Top marks this week go to consumer goods giant Unilever, which has committed to a huge package of support, and Redrow founder Steve Morgan, who has pledged £1m a week from his foundation to charities helping some of the most vulnerable sectors of society cope with coronavirus.
Companies across all sectors have been forced to cut their dividends in response to the current crisis and balance sheet strength is being tested to the extreme. Even those businesses with apparent cash reserves are drawing down on credit lines in advance of the barren period ahead.
It’s clear that, having gorged on cheap money for far too long, many businesses have little in store for rainy days, let alone the sort of biblical flood now being experienced.
Many companies take great delight in referring to their strong balance sheets, but these are often dominated by high levels of debt. Bill Gates, co-founder of Microsoft (a Fundamental portfolio company) remarked that, in the earlier years of the company he always wanted to have enough money in the bank so that even if their customers didn’t pay them for a year, Microsoft could still keep paying everyone and also continue to carry out necessary research and development. Microsoft had the luxury of gross cash of $134bn and net cash of $55bn at 31 December 2019 – the latter double its annual operating expenses, suggesting Gates’ philosophy remains to this day. If only others had adopted a similarly prudent stance.
We expect plenty of volatility over the coming weeks and months, but there could also be some excellent opportunities to buy inherently good companies at rock bottom prices.