The bulls are back, but not in the UK

Garry White, Chief Investment Commentator, looks at the events that have shaped equity markets this week (11 – 15 November 2019).

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  1. Garry White

Market sentiment improved this week and investors appeared to get more bullish. The latest Bank of America Merrill Lynch fund managers’ survey showed that cash levels at professional investors have shrunk significantly in a matter of weeks.

The fall marked the biggest monthly drop in cash balances since the election of Donald Trump in November 2016 and meant fund-manager cash levels were at the lowest level since June 2013. As a result, the S&P 500 notched up its 20th record high of the year, beating the 19 all-time closing highs seen in 2018.

The euphoria did not make its way to the UK, however, with the market still driven by moves in sterling related to the UK election and Brexit. The pound hit a six-month high against the euro on Friday. The FTSE 100 fell 0.9% over the week by mid-session on Friday and the midcap FTSE 250 lost 0.4%.

Powers of Attorney: Are yours fit for purpose? Ann Stanyer of law firm Wedlake Bell explains the importance of Powers of Attorney as an essential part of retirement planning here.

Brexit & UK general election

Boris Johnson received a significant boost to his election campaign when Nigel Farage's Brexit Party pulled out of 317 Conservative-held seats in a bid to prevent opponents of Brexit controlling the next parliament. However, bickering over the shape of Brexit between Mr Farage and the Conservatives continued. Mr Farage also claimed Downing Street had offered Brexit Party candidates peerages not to stand in the election in Labour-held seats they had targeted.  

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said she expected Britain's parliament will approve Prime Minister Boris Johnson's Withdrawal Agreement with the European Union. “I give this treaty a very, very big chance of being agreed to in Britain too and that would be good for all of us,” Mrs Merkel said.

BT Group’s broadband unit Openreach will be nationalised if the Labour Party wins the general election, Shadow chancellor John McDonnell said. The Labour Party's plan would be to nationalise this network to create a UK-wide network owned by the government called British Broadband, with one arm to roll out the public network and another to deliver free broadband for all at a cost of about £20bn. Investors took the news in their stride, with BT shares falling just 2% at the open on Friday.  

The result of the UK general election on December 12 may be less predictable than markets believe, and the pound has rallied too much as a result, RBC Capital Markets warned.

Trade war

In his speech at the economic club of New York, Donald Trump said a trade deal with China could happen “soon” but provided no new details on negotiations with Beijing and threatened to raise tariffs on China “very substantially” if it did not make a deal with the US. This hit equities mid-week.

The good cop-bad cop routine continued, with White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow saying on Thursday that negotiations over the first phase of a trade agreement with China were coming down to the final stages. Mr Kudlow said that a deal was close though “not done yet”.

President Trump said he would decide soon on whether to impose tariffs on cars and auto parts imported into the US but gave no other details. The Trump administration faced a Thursday deadline to decide whether to impose threatened “Section 232” national security tariffs of as much as 25% on imported vehicles and parts under a Cold War-era trade law. However, there was still no confirmation in European trade on Friday about the decision. He was widely expected to postpone the decision for another six months, keeping a sword of Damocles hanging over the European industry he could use as leverage in any trade talks.

Even if a US-China trade deal is secured, Paul Donovan, global chief economist at UBS Wealth Management, said he was concerned that the damage had already been done. “US President Trump suggested there was no uncertainty. That would seem to be challenged by quite a lot of evidence,” Mr Donovan said. “UBS’s survey of industry leaders shows trade policy is causing uncertainty, which is reducing and changing investment. That is unlikely to be repaired by a trade deal. Trust in the global trading order has been damaged.”

Garry White argues that, despite recent positive headlines, the trade war is far from over – here.


The UK escaped a recession, but annual growth is now the slowest since 2010, according to the Office for National Statistics. UK GDP grew by 0.3% quarter-on-quarter between July and September, marginally below economists’ expectations of a 0.4% rise. The UK economy contracted in the second quarter, meaning another fall in output in the third quarter would mean Britain was in a technical recession.

UK price inflation fell to its lowest level in almost three years. The consumer price index rose 1.5% year-on-year in October, down from 1.7% in September, and well below the Bank of England’s target rate of 2%. The main cause was lower energy prices. The Office for National Statistics said: “The largest downward contribution...came from electricity, gas and other fuels as a result of changes to the energy price cap.”

UK wage growth slowed down in the three months to September, according to the latest figures from the Office for National Statistics. Average earnings increased by 3.6%, compared with 3.8% growth in the previous month, but this still represented real inflation-adjusted growth. The number of people in work fell at its fastest rate in four years, in a sign that the UK’s booming jobs market is slowing.

Moody’s signalled it may downgrade the credit rating on Britain's government debt, warning that Brexit has triggered an “erosion in institutional strength” that threatened the UK's financial credibility. The French credit ratings agency changed the outlook on its AA2 rating on the debt issued by the UK government to “negative” from “stable”. The move implies a cut to the UK’s actual rating could be ahead. At AA2, Britain’s debt is rated the same as France, but below Germany's AAA rating. The UK lost its AAA rating from Moody’s in 2013 and was downgraded again in 2017. Fitch and Standard & Poor’s, the two other major credit ratings agencies, already had the UK on their respective “negative” outlook lists.

Following on from this negative call on the UK, Moody’s then proceeded to chide the rest of the world over the level of debt. The agency issued a debt downgrade warning to the entire world on fears that political turmoil from Westminster to Hong Kong posed a threat to the economy. It cut its global sovereign outlook to “negative” from “stable” for 2020, cautioning that “disruptive and unpredictable” politics was worsening the slowdown in growth. The New York Federal Reserve also revealed that US households are now sitting on a record $14 trillion in mortgages, credit cards, student loans and other forms of debt, a 0.7% third-quarter increase.

Germany narrowly escaped a technical recession, as consumers and the Government increased spending enough to stave off another fall in GDP. Third-quarter growth was 0.1%, although the Federal Statistics Office also said the drop in the second quarter was 0.2pc – larger than the 0.1% fall in its first reading. The 19 countries in the Eurozone collectively reported modest growth of 0.2% in the three months to the end of September, which was in line with an early estimate and the expectations of analysts.

Germany’s finance minister dampened hopes of a new fiscal package to support growth. Olaf Scholz said the country was not in an economic crisis. As such, there was no immediate need for a spending boost, he argued. We are cautiously optimistic,” Mr Scholz said. “We will have bigger growth next year.”

Chinese fixed-asset investment growth fell to its lowest level on record – 5.2%. That suggests companies are reluctant to invest. Chinese retail sales growth also dropped to a 16-year low.


Hong Kong protesters began gathering and blocking roads in the central financial district and other parts of the city on Friday, the fifth straight day of rallies that paralyzed the financial hub. Chinese President Xi Jinping said that bringing the violence to an end was Hong Kong’s “most urgent task,” while a scuffle involving the city’s justice secretary and the second protest-related death in a week increased tension. The territory revised down its estimate for economic growth this year, with its government now forecasting the first annual contraction since the global financial crisis a decade ago. Gross domestic product is now forecast to contract 1.3% in 2019.

The Donald Trump impeachment hearings went to a more public, televised phase. House majority speaker Nancy Pelosi said the testimony in the public hearings “corroborated evidence of bribery” by President Trump in his dealings with Ukraine. Her use of the word “bribery” was significant. It is one of the crimes the Constitution cites as an impeachable offense and it suggests that the Democrats are moving toward a more specific set of charges that could be codified in articles of impeachment.


State-owned Saudi Arabian oil behemoth Aramco released its IPO prospectus and investors will be allowed to start bidding for the shares from Monday, 17 November, when its price range will be announced. The question of its valuation remains unanswered. Press reports also noted that staff at a number of public relations companies were asked to wake up at 4am daily to monitor the global news coverage of Aramco and draft detailed reports that would be fed back to Saudi Arabia later that morning. It said journalists who wrote about the company would be investigated online – including a full search of their public social media presence – and information gleaned through these scans would also be sent back to Aramco. This really is not a normal floatation. Anyone interested in reading the 658-page Aramco IPO prospectus can click here. It is interesting to note just how many banks are being paid to participate in the float.

In a move that must have pleased Beijing, China’s largest online commerce company Alibaba confirmed its Hong Kong secondary listing was going ahead. The company, founded by Jack Ma, hopes to raise up to $13.4bn in its Hong Kong listing, with 26 November named at the first day of dealing. The share sale will be the troubled territory’s largest in more than nine years.  Alibaba had originally considered a Hong Kong IPO in 2013, but ultimately chose New York after failing to gain approval from Hong Kong regulators for its unusual governance structure. Its ADRs will continue to trade in New York.

Film special effects firm DNEG said on Friday it had postponed plans for its London flotation due to ongoing market uncertainty. The group is a digital visual effects and animation studio, which works on feature films and television. For visual effects, the company has won five Oscars, including one for Blade Runner 2049, four Baftas, with one for Interstellar, and one Emmy for the recent Sky series Chernobyl. DNEG said it had received a strong level of interest from investors and would be assessing when to revive its IPO plans once market conditions improved.

Shares in Trainline, which was floated earlier this year by investor led by KKR, fell after the private backers sold their remaining 68 million shares in the group, which represented a 14.1% stake.

Profit warnings

Japanese carmaker Nissan cut its full-year operating profit guidance to an 11-year low after it posted a 70% profit drop in quarterly profit. The automaker is implementing a global recovery plan that will see it axe almost 10% of its workforce, as well as cut vehicle production by 10% by 2023.

Pottery group Portmeirion, which sells homewares under the Portmeirion, Spode, Royal Worcester, Pimpernel, Wax Lyrical and Nambé brands, said that profit for 2019 will be materially behind current market expectations. It blamed weaker than expected sales in South Korea.

Aim-listed veterinary pharmaceuticals developer Eco Animal Health issued a profit warning, saying it was hit hard by a recent outbreak of the fatal African swine fever across China and the lingering effects of the US' protracted trade war with the Asian nation.

Shares in Bonhill Group, the Aim-listed group former called Vitesse Media, tumbled after it warned on profits. The What Investment and Information Age publisher and events organiser said that its key acquisition from earlier in the year – Last Word Media – had been hit by tougher trading in Hong Kong and the UK.


Alphabet’s Google has gained access to a huge database of US patient data, without the requirement to notify the patients. The scheme, dubbed Project Nightingale, was agreed with Ascension Medical Group, which hopes to develop artificial intelligence tools for doctors. It is now subject to a federal investigation by the US Department of Health. A smaller scheme has happened in the UK, where there has been controversy over data security. Garry White looks at the implications for the future and the current situation with the NHS here.

Google also became the latest tech giant to announce a new financial product for users – current accounts. The move follows offerings of credit cards, payment systems and loans by Facebook, Uber, Apple and Amazon.

Nike is ending its relationship with Amazon. The sportswear brand will stop selling its trainers and clothes directly on Amazon’s website, ending a pilot program that began in 2017. Nike is overhauling its retail strategy following the appointment of ex-eBay chief executive John Donahoe as its next boss. This implies an aggressive move into e-commerce without Amazon’s assistance. Will others follow?


Elon Musk’s SpaceX sent another 60 satellites into orbit as it works to build a massive broadband-from-space business. SpaceX's internet constellation, called Starlink, will require hundreds of satellites working in tandem to provide seamless internet connections on the ground. The company plans to launch as many as 24 more missions next year as it builds up its network — adding more bandwidth and coverage area.

Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic became the first space tourism company to list on public markets last month. The company posted its maiden results as a listed company – which showed a revenue of $800,000 and a net loss of $51.5m. The company received 3,557 inquiries about flight reservations as of the end of September. Garry White argues that it’s probably best to invest indirectly here.


The oil price edged lower this week, torn between hopes of a resolution to the US-China trade war and concerns about slowing global growth. Brent crude futures slipped 0.3% over the week by mid-session on Friday, to trade at about $62.30 a barrel.

The International Energy Agency (IEA) warned that the Opec+ cartel, which includes Russia, faces a major headache next year as supplies from other countries surged. “The OPEC+ countries face a major challenge in 2020 as demand for their crude is expected to fall sharply”, it said. “Surging non-OPEC supply explains this drop, with growth of 2.3 million barrels per day (bpd) next year versus 1.8 million bpd in 2019," the IEA added, citing production from the United States, Brazil, Norway and Guyana.

Shares in Tullow Oil fell as the company cut its 2019 oil production and cash flow estimates due to problems at its Ghana operations. Management said annual oil output was expected to be 87,000 barrels per day (bpd), compared with earlier guidance of 89,000 to 93,000 bpd.

Chesapeake Energy, which was at the vanguard of fracking to produce shale gas, saw its shares slump below $1 – their lowest level in 25 years. Earlier this month management warned that if depressed prices persisted there was “substantial doubt” about its ability to continue as a going concern. The company has $10bn of debt to service and, somewhat ironically, its downfall may be caused by the cheap gas era it helped to usher in.  


BHP Group held an investor presentation in which it highlighted growth prospects for its oil and gas operations. This is despite calls from shareholders to withdraw from the sector after a disastrous investment in shale, where it ended its seven-year involvement by selling most of its US onshore assets to BP for $10.5bn. However, BHP’s management said an expansion in oil made sense with demand growth coming from trucks, aviation, rail, shipping and industry and petrochemicals. In the year to June, BHP’s petroleum unit made up 13% of revenue and 16% of underlying operating profit. BHP is the only major miner with a hydrocarbon business.

Sirius Minerals, the company trying to build a fertiliser mine outside Whitby, released revised plans on how it plans to finance its stricken multi-billion project. The company was forced to pull a £400m bond sale in September that would have unlocked a much larger finance package. After placing the project under review in September, the London-listed group said that it was seeking $600m in funding from a strategic investor by March. In order to achieve a production capacity of 10 million tonnes a year, the project will require $2.5m in capital expenditure.

While not exactly sparkling again, there was good news on diamond sales from Anglo American’s De Beers unit. The value of rough diamond sales rose in its ninth cycle of the year. The value increased to $390m from $297m in the eighth cycle, but was down from $442m in the ninth cycle of last year. There are expected to be ten cycles, or auctions, this year.

Investment group Pallinghurst Group and trading firm Traxys will invest up to $2bn in mining projects for battery materials, which includes copper and nickel. The Pallinghurst-Traxys Battery Materials joint venture seeks controlling stakes in lithium, graphite and cobalt mines, as well as processing and refining capacity. 


Is the worst finally over for Vodafone? Maybe not. Management upgraded its full-year guidance by up to €1bn as disposals and its expansion in Germany offset challenging conditions in India. As previously highlighted, the company cut its interim dividend by 7%. The group posted an interim loss of €1.9bn after being hit by a Supreme Court ruling in India that could trigger huge fees in the country. “In October the Supreme Court in India ruled against the industry in a dispute over the calculation of licence and other regulatory fees, and Vodafone Idea is now liable for very substantial demands made by the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) in relation to these fees,” the company said. As a result, its management are reconsidering the viability of its Indian business.

Advertising revenues at network station ITV have been better-than-expected this year, but the company is still being hit by structural industry shifts. Revenues grew 1% in the third quarter which management said was at the top end of guidance, although revenues for the year as a whole are expected to be down 2%. Additionally, demonstrating the decline in terrestrial television as consumer switch to streaming services, the total viewing hours at the network fell by 6% year-on-year in the first nine months of 2019 to 12bn hours – equivalent to 700 million hours of lost viewership.

Streaming wars are upon us. The Walt Disney Co said it had seen "extraordinary consumer demand" for its new streaming platform as it secured 10 million sign-ups in its first day. The platform - Disney+ - launched in the US, Canada and the Netherlands on Tuesday. The news sent shares in the media group to a new record high. Netflix shares fell.


Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway spent the third quarter trimming some of its largest equity holdings. Berkshire’s biggest cuts were to its holdings of US lender Wells Fargo and Dutch electronics group Phillips. It also trimmed its stake in Apple. The investment also bought a stake in energy group Occidental Petroleum and home furnishings company RH.


Christmas can’t come soon enough for Britain’s biggest grocers. The Big Four supermarket groups lost market share to German discounters Aldi and Lidl in the latest 12-week period, with Wm Morrison, the fourth largest, the clear laggard. The latest data from market researcher Kantar showed Wm Morrisons’ sales fell 1.7% in the 12 weeks to 3 November, trailing market leader Tesco, J Sainsbury and Walmart’s Asda, which saw declines of 0.6%, 0.2% and 1.2% respectively. Lidl’s sales rose 8.8% and Aldi’s were up 6.7%, giving the discounters a combined market share of 13.9% as they continue to open new stores.

Shares in Asda owner Walmart rose after its quarterly earnings beat Wall Street estimates, thanks to strength in the US, and upped its earnings guidance for the full year. The company is widely expected to float off Asda into a separate business after it offloaded nearly £4bn of pension liabilities last month. This followed a failed merger attempt with J Sainsbury, which was scuppered on competition grounds. Asda’s like-for-like sales, excluding petrol, fell 0.5% in the third quarter.

J Sainsbury struck a deal with Coles to sell packaged groceries and household products in Australia as part of a plan to grow its wholesale business. This is Sainsbury’s biggest wholesale deal yet will see it supply own brand products to Coles supermarkets across Australia, as well as online, from early next year. Coles trades from more than 2,400 retail outlets, including 800 supermarkets and 200 convenience stores.

Other retail

British consumers cut back on their spending in October, with retail sales falling 0.1%. This was below expectations for a slight increase.

The British Retail Consortium urged the next British government to reverse the business rates increases, reform elements of the apprenticeship levy and to act on retail crime to help ease the problems faced by the high street. The trade organisation’s A Vision for the UK Retail Industry manifesto can be read here.

Greggs is proving to be another bright spot on the high street after the bakery chain raised its full-year profit guidance for the fourth time this year. In the six weeks to 9 November, total sales rose 12.4% and like-for-like sale jumped 8.3%. The company has benefitted from the ‘vegan halo’ effect after it launched a vegan sausage roll in January that generated many column inches and boosted footfall in its stores.

Shares in retailer B&M fell after management revealed it had written off its German subsidiary, Jawoll. The company said the write-off would cost it £59.5m, meaning its half-year pre-tax profits sank 70.5% to £32.2m. The group pledged a strategic review of the German business to determine what should be done.

Boots’ US-listed parent, Walgreens Boots Alliance, has reportedly received a buyout offer from private equity group KKR, which, if it goes through, would be the biggest deal of its kind on record. Speculation is a deal could be worth about $70bn. The company has been cutting costs to try and save $2bn a year by closing stores and cutting jobs. Then industry is also undergoing structural change. Last year, retail behemoth Amazon bought the online pharmacy PillPack in a sign of what the future could hold.


The gloomy situation of the high street is continuing to hit retail landlords. Land Securities said that it swung to a loss in the first half amid challenging conditions in the retail market. Management said the retail market continued to be challenging, with a number of high-profile company voluntary arrangements (CVAs) and administrations during the period. Limited demand for space and poor investor sentiment is impacting rental and capital values, it said.

British Land reported widening losses in the first half of the year, driven by a fall in value in its retail portfolio amid a string of store closures and rent reductions.

House builder Taylor Wimpey said it was on track to deliver full-year results in line with expectations, with slightly higher volumes and lower operating margins than previously guided. Management noted that it had seen a softening in the cost pressure experienced earlier in the year and expected it will reduce at the start of 2020.


The vegan-burger frenzy continues apace. Burger King, owned by US group Yum! Brands, rolled out a meat-free version of its Whopper burger in 25 European countries, using a plant-based meat substitute made by Unilever. Unilever’s meat-free brand The Vegetarian Butcher will supply burgers for the “Rebel Whopper” to more than 2,500 stores in Germany, Spain, Poland and Italy. The burgers will be Burger King’s biggest ever product launch in Europe. Earlier this year there was an investor frenzy around Beyond Meat after it listed in the US and investors feared missing out on the “next big thing”. The IPO price was $25 a share and they hit a high of almost $240 a share in May. The shares are now below $80 after the bubble burst.

London-listed Agronomics, a small investment vehicle set up by Innocent Smoothies founder Richard Reed, plans to raise £20m by issuing new shares. The small-cap group is investing in artificial meat companies and, over the last month, has made several investments, including Shiok Meats, Vitrolabs, and Rebellyous Foods. Garry White looks at the lab-grown meat trend here.

The battle for food delivery group Just Eat took another turn with the publication of the formal offer from Prosus, which is trying to derail an agreed deal between Just Eat and with a hostile bid. Prosus confirmed its 710p a share cash offer, which valued the FTSE 100 group at £4.9bn but lowered the level of required acceptances from shareholders to 75% from 90%. Just Eat agreed an all-share offer from in the summer, rejecting Prosus's approach as "significantly" undervaluing the company. However, since the deal was agreed,'s share price has fallen, reducing the value of its bid.

Shares in Burberry rallied on relief that sales in Hong Kong had not fallen by as much as expected following the protests currently gripping the territory. Pre-tax profits rose 11pc to £193m for the six months to September while revenue increased 5pc to £1.28bn, beating analysts' estimates. There was also strong demand for the collection from Riccardo Tisci, its relatively new head designer

Funeral provider Dignity, which issued a profit warning in May, said it remains on track to hit lowered full-year targets after third-quarter trading met expectations. The funeral sector in the UK has been subject to a price war this year, as competitors battle to win market share by offering cheaper, basic funeral packages. The number of deaths in the UK is also down by 5% year-on-year, so the market itself has shrunk. In the first nine months of 2019, sale fell 8% and profits were down 30%.

Mr Kipling owner Premier Foods issued an exceedingly good set of interim figures. The relaunch of its cake brands last year helped boost sales, with its Nissin noodles partnership also proving a winner. The Bisto gravy and Oxo cube maker is in the middle of a strategic review of the business, which is nearing completion.

Shares in credit checker Experian surged after it reported higher first-half profit on Tuesday, citing strong business in its main North American market, and said organic revenue growth would reach the upper end of its prior targets for the year.

Marketing and business support group DCC saw its shares fall after the FTSE 100 company posted a fall in interim revenues and profits.  

Citing the “political climate” related to the gun industry and the willingness of banks, insurers and investors to back it, Smith & Wesson said it will split from the outdoor products and accessories businesses of American Outdoor Brands. Investors in its parent will receive shares in the gunmaker after the spin-off.


Tesla's chief executive Elon Musk said Berlin will be the site of its first European factory – and it’s targeting the heart of the European car-making industry. Mr Musk said the firm would also build an engineering and design centre in the German capital. Tesla previously said it aimed to start production in Europe in 2021.

Aston Martin Lagonda’s share price actually climbed after HSBC advised investors to buy the troubled luxury car maker’s shares. The luxury car maker swung to a £13.5m loss in its most recent quarter and debt levels stand at about £800m compared with its market value of about £1.1bn. The shares floated at £19 a share in October last year. Shares in the James Bond carmaker have been shaken and stirred, losing an astonishing 97% of their value since the IPO.

Mercedes-Benz maker Daimler will cut thousands of jobs in a bid to save more than €1bn by the end of 2022 as it wrestles with the cost of developing electric and self-driving vehicles. The German company said it plans to slash one in 10 management roles in an effort to boost results following two profit warnings earlier this year.

Airlines, travel & transport

Boeing said on Monday it could have its fleet of 737 Max jets flying again by January, as safety checks on the aircraft’s flight software reach completion. The planes were grounded in March in the wake of two fatal crashes in the space of five months that killed 346 people.

Airline Cathay Pacific said the civil unrest in Hong Kong had been “exceptionally challenging” and had “severely” impacted demand.

Qantas flew non-stop to Sydney from London in a test run for the world’s longest commercial service. The Boeing Dreamliner touched down after 19 hours and 19 minutes in the air. Its direct New York-Sydney flight last month was three minutes shorter.

Eddie Stobart confirmed that a major shareholder had made a £55m bid for a controlling stake in the company. Private-equity group Douglas Bay Capital Fund wants to buy a 51% stake in a new entity that would then become the holding company for the troubled logistics group. Existing investors’ own shares in the firm would be turned into parts of a 49% stake in the holding company. The price appears to be at a massive discount to Eddie Stobart’s share price in August, when its shares were suspended over an accounting scandal.

Losses at rail and bus operator FirstGroup widened in the first half, sending its shares sharply lower. The company is trying to sell its iconic US Greyhound bus business, and it has taken a £124m impairment charge as part of the process. It also cited “operational issues”.


Norway’s £860bn sovereign wealth fund banned all holdings of shares in G4S because of the risk of human rights violations against the British security company’s workforce in Qatar and the United Arab Emirates.

Nothing on this website should be construed as personal advice based on your circumstances. No news or research item is a personal recommendation to deal.

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