If you had told me at our Client Seminar back in December 2019 that in 2020 we would endure the worst pandemic since 1918, see huge sectors of our economy locked-down and experience the deepest recession since ‘The Great Frost’ of 1709 then I may have seriously considered taking a sabbatical. This year has posed the biggest challenge for our country since World War II and yet, despite monumental swings in sentiment, horrendous disruptions to our way of living and extraordinary levels of volatility in markets, when I addressed everyone during our virtual seminar on 4th December this year, returns for the last 12 months had turned out well. From 4th December 2019 to 3rd December 2020, Courtiers’ Cautious, Balanced and Growth Multi Assets Funds had recorded gains of 7.34%, 9.61% and 10.97% respectively. Other major indices fared less well with shares in the UK FTSE 100 losing -6.84%. US companies, driven by an extraordinary rise in the value of ‘The Big 5’ (Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google and Microsoft) did better with a return of 15.85% over the same period. [All returns shown include reinvested dividends and are in pounds-sterling].
Running a business through 2020 was a challenge, but Jamie and I are very lucky to work with dedicated and talented colleagues, two attributes that helped Courtiers to successfully navigate lock-downs, maintain a high level of service throughout the pandemic and deliver some decent returns whilst staying well within our risk parameters. We are mindful, however, that in this crisis, unlike in 2008, the financial sector got away quite lightly, especially compared to the businesses that have borne the brunt of government Coronavirus policies, like the hospitality and entertainment sectors. One cannot help but sympathise with anyone that owns, or works for, a pub, restaurant, holiday, hotel or travel company.
One problem that never arose during 2020 was a banking crisis. Global financial companies are now much better capitalised than they were during the 2008 financial meltdown, which means they were able to operate effectively throughout this pandemic. We should give credit to the UK government, the Bank of England and other global regulators for the work they did in restoring strength and solvency to the financial sector, without which this crisis would have been much worse.
I could not conclude my final message of the year without mentioning the true heroes of 2020, who fall into two groups: –
- The frontline workers, and especially the doctors, nurses and other staff in the health services, who have done their level best, in horrendously difficult conditions, to keep us safe.
- The pharmaceutical firms and scientists that threw their resources and ingenuity into producing successful vaccines against Covid-19, and in record time.
Thanks to these two special groups of people I think we can look forward to 2021 with considerable optimism. Pandemics die off very quickly once herd immunity is reached, either through those infected by the pathogen developing their own biological defences, or through vaccination. I know of one senior medic involved in the Oxford/AstraZeneca program who is optimistic that most of this will be behind us by next Spring.
Finally I would like to thank everyone that entrusted us with the management of their assets and financial affairs in a very difficult year. It is a daunting responsibility that we will never take lightly. I would also like to wish everyone a happy Christmas. The forthcoming break will not be easy, especially if you live in a Tier 4 area (as I do) restricting your ability to mix with friends and loved ones over the festive season. But do take heart, pandemics don’t last forever, especially when effective vaccines become available. 2021 is likely going to be the antithesis of 2020, so with confidence I wish you all a peaceful, prosperous and happy new year.