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All I wanted for Christmas: a deal

So the UK and the EU have a deal, at last. As I have long anticipated, the potential damage to both sides from a ‘no deal’ – exacerbated by the ongoing impact of the pandemic and lockdowns – was too great to go down that road, and for all the inevitable bluster, threats and counter-threats along the way since Brexit, we have an eleventh hour agreement. Skinny, lightweight, the bare minimum required – one can anticipate the headlines – but a deal nevertheless. This has to be good news for investors in UK equities and, after a very trying year, perhaps the best Christmas present many could have hoped for.

That said, it was probably a consensus expectation among domestic investors that a deal would be reached, so reactions may be relatively muted compared to the reaction had one not been formed. That scenario would probably have seen significant further weakness in Sterling, sharp falls in domestically focused companies and resilience from multinational companies benefiting from the currency’s fall.

As it stands, there is a high likelihood the pound will appreciate, but in all probability only modestly. Relief, the avoidance of a bad outcome and the ability to look beyond this all-consuming negotiating deadline would then buoy sterling assets. Companies reliant on domestic economic activity – retailers, housebuilders, selected leisure and financial companies – should be the most direct beneficiaries. Whilst gains in multinationals will probably be more muted, given the currency headwinds, it is likely they will rise, in the hope that global investors will once more regard the UK stock market as ‘investable’ rather than a pariah of uncertainty.

But the recent sea change in sentiment towards ‘value’ stocks relative to ‘growth’ stocks, spurred by positive vaccine news, has seen some notable gains in many of these domestically oriented businesses already, which must to some extent limit the potential for further progress on ‘deal relief’.

Moreover, for the international observer, the UK economy has suffered a greater hit to economic activity than other European countries, more reliant as it is on consumption, services and leisure over manufacturing. The costs to the Exchequer of support during the pandemic have exacerbated the country’s ‘twin deficit’ problem, necessarily capping any rise in the pound. Political leadership in the UK during the coronavirus has not exactly outshone peers, to put it gently.

Global investors may well bide their time to see how the UK does indeed fare in its newly negotiated relationship with the EU before plunging back into UK equities. Any January scenes of lorry queues at British ports (of which we have of course already had a foretaste), reports of obstacles to the smooth passage of goods or an inability of supermarkets to source avocados – heaven forbid! – will only encourage such investors to stay their hand before rushing to take their underweight exposure to UK stocks back towards a neutral (or even overweight) position.

Non-UK companies looking to acquire UK assets may be rather quicker off the mark, however. Merger and acquisition activity has been picking up, and an end to ‘no deal’ uncertainty may well spur more international companies or private equity firms to press ahead with plans to acquire UK assets in a currency still cheap on ‘purchasing power parity’ yardsticks.

So, a deal is undoubtedly good news for investors in the UK. But reactions are likely to be modest rather than dramatic. I expect overseas flows into UK stocks are likely to build slowly over time. All too soon the focus will return to navigating this difficult virus-impacted winter, to partial lockdowns, rising unemployment and frustratingly slow progress towards mass vaccination and scalable testing. The UK finding its way out of the pandemic and its way in the world outside the EU will quickly fill the news pages emptied of stories about the trade negotiations.

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About the author

Richard Buxton, Head of Strategy, UK Alpha

Richard is Head of Strategy, UK Alpha in the UK All Cap team. Before joining Jupiter, Richard was Head of UK Equities at Merian Global Investors, where he was also CEO from 2015 to 2019. Prior to this, he was a fund manager at Schroders Investment Management before which he spent more than a decade at Baring Asset Management. Richard began his investment career at Brown Shipley Asset Management in 1985. He was awarded the Outstanding Contribution to the Industry honour at the Morningstar OBSR Awards in 2012.


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