May saw a more positive month for most of the stock markets we discuss, despite the COVID-19 pandemic taking centre stage across the globe. India and Hong Kong aside, all major stock markets made gains during the month.
The world is tentatively beginning to emerge out of lockdown and there are some signs that the engines of the world’s economies are beginning to restart. These might serve as some consolation for concerned investors, which – given the current crisis – must include anyone with stocks, shares or an invested pension.
However, it must be emphasised that we are still far from a fully fledged economic recovery. Although there are some promising signs, like early flowers in Spring, these signs could be quickly killed off by the economic frost that would result from a second outbreak of COVID-19. Away from the stock markets, the global unemployment crisis deepened to depths not seen in living memory and many large firms remain just a rescue package away from collapse.
The UK continued its economic stimuli policies during the month as it “fought back” against the global pandemic. Rishi Sunak announced that the furlough scheme would be extended until October, although companies will be asked to contribute an increasing amount to the cost.
May saw the return to work for many after Boris Johnson announced the gradual easing of lockdown restrictions on 10 May. However, the high street remains closed for ‘non-essential’ shops until 15 June, and the possibility that consumers – in the words of M&S boss Steve Row – “may never shop the same way again.” Lifestyle retailer White Stuff were among the latest to announce significant job cuts over their 120 UK stores.
There have already been many job losses across the country and there are expected to be many more as the furlough scheme winds down. Boris Johnson has hinted at a post-crisis jobs programme which would create “high class jobs for the country”; the success of such post-crisis recovery strategies will be vital as the country emerges from the crisis.
The FTSE rose by a promising 3% during the month to end up at 6,077, and the pound fell by 2% against the dollar to close the month at $1.2343.
The economic picture across the channel certainly wasn’t a rosy one. During the first quarter, the Eurozone economy contracted by 3.8% and the European Commission forecasted a “deep and uneven recession.”
There was plenty of grim company news. Renault announced 15,000 job losses around the world, despite the French government’s announcement of an €8 billion rescue package for the car industry. Elsewhere, Nissan closed its Barcelona plant with 3,000 jobs lost.
In spite of all this bad news, the continent’s major stock markets both finished up, possibly bolstered by the €750 billion EU rescue package announced during the month; the German DAX was up by an impressive 7% to 11,587 and the French stock market rose 3% to 4,695.
The world’s largest economy suffered a tough month. By the end of May, nearly 40 million Americans were claiming unemployment benefits and Jerome Powell, Chairman of the Fed, announced that the economy could contract by 20-30% during the crisis.
General Electric announced massive job cuts that could amount to 16,000 jobs and car rental firm Hertz filed for bankruptcy protection after the pandemic caused demand to “collapse”.
Declining retail sales and a record fall in manufacturing output have fanned the flames of this hard economic picture. However, there are faint signs of optimism that new economic opportunities will emerge for innovative firms after the crisis. Thankfully, America’s stock markets echoed this optimism rather than the discouraging headlines. The Dow Jones index enjoyed a good month and rose by 4% to 25,383.