Boris Johnson returned to no. 10 in full capacity last week after successfully recovering from the coronavirus. Boris returns to a torn party, split by those in favour of easing lockdown restrictions and those that believe lockdown restrictions should remain in place for longer. Clarity was provided as the week progressed with indications that lockdown measures will be eased, although to what extent, is currently unknown. Boris has promised to outline a ‘comprehensive’ plan of how we will move out of lockdown on Thursday; media speculation is already underway with the primary focus on allowing individuals to choose up to 10 people to include in their social circle.
In a further blow to income investors, UK dividend cuts continued to gather pace. FTSE 100 constituent, Shell, stunned investors by cutting its quarterly dividend by 66% following the collapse in global oil demand and the virus pandemic. The UK dividend market is a key component in global equity income portfolios and given the pace of dividend cuts across the UK market, will put global equity income managers under pressure, with many expected to miss their yield objectives. Income has been a key area of focus for the Investment team and we are finding other areas of opportunity. Asia, an area not typically associated with income, has proved an interesting hunting ground, the region has a lower payout ratio but fewer dividend cuts are expected. Infrastructure is also another area of interest; the sector typically yields between 4-5% and is expected to provide an element of protection in a downturn.
In Europe, the ECB made no changes to interest rates last Thursday but emphasised they remain poised to increase stimulus if needed. The eurozone is expected to be one of the areas hardest hit and will likely suffer a deep recession. While the ECB has confirmed it will do ‘whatever it takes’ to support the euro area, should the current daily pace at which the ECB is buying government bonds continue, the program will reach its limit in October. Last month, the ECB reduced costs for commercial banks to support lending activity and last week, said it would reduce these interest rates further to -1% – effectively paying them to borrow money. Data in the region published on the same day, revealed that the economy had contracted by 3.8% in the first quarter, an all-time low since records began in 1995.