We have had an eventful Christmas and New Year period with the final days of Trump’s presidency descending into riot.
Thankfully, as we write this, he will have boarded his plane out of Washington (after giving himself a final military guard of honour) while Joe Biden prepares himself for inauguration. Stock markets have largely ignored the politics, I hope they are not being too sanguine, and continued to move ahead, led by Japanese stocks. The Esk Global Equity Fund moved up with the markets, not helped by a further recovery in sterling v. the US dollar after that last-minute Brexit deal.
Japanese stocks provided some good performance this time, Shin-Etsu Chemical and Nidec Corporation both jumped around 10% and reached new all-time highs over the period. For a pleasant change, Sumitomo Mitsui Financial Group moved up around 9% as the rally in the banks gathered pace (they are certainly not making new highs...). Another buoyant stock was Rio Tinto, having risen 30% since the beginning of December. In a strong market for the mining companies, we took the decision to reduce our Rio holding.
The pattern in the market of better performance from the more cyclical areas, like mining, consumer discretionary and financials, but dull/mixed performance from the staple goods companies and technology was reflected in the Fund’s portfolio. L’Oréal drifted down, as did Nestlé and Mondelēz, along with Mastercard, Oracle and Verisign in tech. Uber Technologies was the positive feature in the consumer discretionary holdings with a 10% jump and note the transaction overnight as Microsoft joined General Motors with a $2 billion funding round for the GM autonomous car subsidiary, Cruise. The partnership with Microsoft gains Cruise a major partner with deep pockets and knowledge, meanwhile California has approved more testing of robo-taxis on public roads.
The pharmaceuticals bucked the pattern and recovered, with all the holdings in the portfolio putting in a positive performance this time. Gilead Sciences jumped 13% and raised their full-year profit guidance, citing stronger than expected sales of Remdesivir, Illumina continued with their recovery from the September lows when they announced the purchase of Grail, while Johnson & Johnson and Roche both gained.
The financials in the portfolio had a strong period, led by another strong performance from Morgan Stanley (fourth quarter earnings imminent) and SMFG (as above). The re-insurers are quite stuck at present, neither Swiss Re nor Everest Re have made any headway for the past couple of months, though Berkshire Hathaway has picked-up. T Rowe Price continued their strong run and reported a year-on-year increase in assets under management in excess of 20%.