After being decimated in March due to the outbreak of COVID-19, many global markets recovered some of their losses in the last month, with the MSCI World index ending April up 26.5% from its lowest point on 23 March.
Implied volatility measured by the VIX index has fallen from its peak of over 80 in March to 34.15 at the end of April. Although this is a large drop, the current level is still considerably higher than its average over the last ten years, indicating that investors expect markets to remain volatile for now.
While equity markets have steadied over the last few weeks, the oil price has continued to plummet. With the supply of oil exceeding demand by a considerable margin due to the pandemic, storage costs have become a major issue, and at one point during the month this resulted in the price of a West Texas Intermediate (WTI) oil futures contract turning negative for the first time ever. In other words, oil producers were paying buyers to take oil from them.
As is often the case during market crises, many of the traditional ‘safe haven’ assets have performed well. One notable example is gold, which recently surpassed $1,700 per ounce for the first time since 2012 and reached an intraday peak of $1,747.36 on 14th April.
A full round-up of April market performance
In the UK, the FTSE 100 index gained +3.90%, while medium and smaller companies, measured by the FTSE 250 ex IT index and the FTSE Small Cap ex IT index, jumped +9.71% and +9.52% respectively. In the US, the S&P 500 index surged +12.82%, while in Europe the Eurostoxx 50 index rose +5.41%. Japanese stocks measured by the Topix index lifted +4.35%.
Emerging market returns were also positive, with the MSCI Emerging Markets index recovering +8.82%. Latin American equities, measured by the MSCI Latin America index, gained +9.27% and Chinese stocks measured by the MSCI China index put on +6.28%. Indian stocks measured by the IISL Nifty 50 PR index surged +14.68%.
In the fixed income market, UK government bonds, measured by the FTSE Gilts All Stocks index, gained +2.99% and long dated (over 15 years to maturity) gilts delivered +5.55%. European corporate bonds, measured by the Markit iBoxx Euro Corporates index, returned +3.72% while sterling denominated corporate bonds, measured by the Markit iBoxx Sterling Corporates index, gathered +6.29%. In the high yield market, the Bank of America Merrill Lynch Euro High Yield index and the Bank of America Merrill Lynch Sterling High Yield index increased +5.96% and +4.63% respectively.
Commodities had a volatile month. The S&P GSCI index, which consists of a basket of commodities including oil, metals and agricultural items, sank -9.67%. This was largely driven by the continued oil slump, with the price of a crude oil futures contract declining -8.01%. In the agricultural markets corn and wheat dropped -7.51% and -6.80%. The precious metals performed well however as the S&P GSCI Gold and Silver indices returned +6.13% and +4.84% respectively.
In the currency markets, it was a good month for the pound as it appreciated +1.40% versus the US dollar, +2.16% against the euro and +1.06% versus the yen.