Weekly Client Update – Friday 13th August

Local update

After 18 months of Covid-19 restrictions Jersey will move to so-called ‘Freedom Day’ on Thursday 26 August, Ministers have confirmed. Freedom Day will see the lifting of the remaining Covid-19 restrictions.

Following multiple delays to the final stage of the Island’s reconnection strategy, ministers have confirmed that nightclubs are set to reopen, standing drinks service in bars and restaurants will resume and limits on gatherings in homes will lapse.

Wearing masks in indoor public places, which was a legal requirement from 1 December to 13 June, and again, since 21 July, will once again become voluntary except in designated transport settings, while work from home guidance will also be lifted. Deputy Chief Minister Lyndon Farnham said ‘the final step would be taken on 26 August, and that, for the first time it was possible to say that this date could be delivered with certainty’, he heralded the welcome return of Islanders’ freedoms.

Major events scheduled beyond 26 August will now be able to take place, although the move comes too late for the Island’s biggest live music festival, Weekender, after confirmation on Monday that the event due to take place on 3 and 4 September would be postponed.

He said: ‘We have been pursuing a robust suppression strategy, using measures including mask-wearing, working from home, and physical distancing to bring down infection rates. But this came at a cost to our liberty and our way of life. ‘Now we are moving into a mitigation phase, which marks a distinct change in the way our Island will deal with the pandemic, and we can return to Islanders the freedoms they have missed.’ It has been a difficult year and I hope this will ease the situation for those businesses that have been most severely affected by the prolonged restrictions.

Stage 7 of the reconnection was originally scheduled for 14 June however on June 9 several key elements such as stand up drinking and restrictions on domestic gatherings were postponed initially for one week and then on 23 July a further delay was announced  until the end of August. Although restrictions will come to an end, it was confirmed that the existing ‘track n trace’ and isolation system would be maintained while hospitality venues will still be required by law to collect and maintain customers’ contact details. The number of Covid Cases has fallen to 475 today with 5 people in hospital and the latest vaccination statistics confirm that 86% of islanders over the age of 18 have now had at least one dose and over 80% are fully vaccinated.

Also over 2,000 islanders who have applied for digital Covid Status certification (QR Code) should start to receive them via email today. The Codes will come as a PDF which can be scanned into the ‘approved’ French app or printed for proof of Vaccination Status as new laws in France now require restaurants, bars and many public places to check that patrons have been double vaccinated prior to entry. Currently the Jersey codes are only open to Jersey Vaccinated individuals however a solution is being worked on for those who have been vaccinated elsewhere.

In other news the British & Irish Lions returned to Jersey, this time with their families, to avoid isolation in the UK as a special concession was given by Jersey Government to the Lions in view of their strict daily testing regime whilst on tour in South Africa. The fact that they have been living in a closely monitored ‘bubble’ environment further strengthened their case for exemption to Jersey’s normal isolation requirements. The Lions lost a desperately close 3rd test match decider last Saturday to lose the 3 match series by 2 games to one.

Mixed Markets

The FTSE 100 bounced back above 7,200 today, remaining close to its highest level since February 2020 and heading for an over 1% weekly gain, as investors welcomed a batch of upbeat economic data during the week, as well as strong earnings reports.

European markets are mixed. The German DAX is higher by 0.06%, while the CAC 40 is leading the FTSE 100 lower. They are down 0.43% and 0.07% respectively.

Futures for the S&P 500 moved up 0.1% Friday. Contracts for the Dow Jones Industrial Average, which also hit a record, edged up 0.2% Friday. Futures on the technology-focused NASDAQ 100 were up less than 0.1%.

Walt Disney shares jumped 5% ahead of the bell in New York after posting $918 million in profit for its fiscal third quarter compared with a loss of $4.72 billion in the same period last year. Moderna rose 2.1% and Pfizer edged up 0.2% after the Food and Drug Administration authorised booster shots for certain people with weakened immune systems.

Asian markets finished mixed as of the most recent closing prices. The Shanghai Composite gained 1.14%, while the Nikkei 225 led the Hang Seng lower. They fell 2.07% and 0.27% respectively.

UK labour market driving interest rate forecasts

As evidence grows that a hot UK labour market is prompting wage and price inflation, financial markets expect the Bank of England to increase interest rates as early as next spring. Traders had expected the first rise in interest rates from the historic low of 0.1% to 0.25% at the end of 2022. This was prior to the central bank’s hostile shift at its meeting last week. However, since then they have priced in a change between the February and May meetings next year. The bank’s Monetary Policy Committee put the labour market at the heart of its judgments and, unlike many economists, now thinks the unemployment rate has peaked. Christian Schulz, lead UK economist at investment bank Citi, said: “If the bank is right and unemployment has already peaked, it will hike [interest rates] in February.”

Cheap UK assets cause a takeover frenzy

Since the start of the year there has been a rush of M&A activity in the UK and is predicted to continue as investors look for cheap British assets to snap up.

Vice-chair of Jupiter Fund Management, Edward Bonham Carter has said that the UK has got even cheaper post-Covid and Brexit and also said that, ““The challenge for the UK is growth in many sectors, and technology is bringing down the margins across industries — not just asset management.” His comments come after analysts at Peel Hunt highlighted an “exceptional” pace of M&A for UK-quoted companies during the first half of the year. Peel Hunt reported that there had been 21 offers announced between January and the end of June, valued at £24.4bn.

US based Fortress Investment Group offered £6.7bn for FTSE 250-listed supermarket chain, Morrisons on the 6th of August — some £400m more than its previous bid. The offer trumped the £5.5bn that private equity firm Clayton Dubilier & Rice put forward for Morrisons in June. However, the UK’s Takeover Panel, which oversees takeovers, has given Clayton Dubilier & Rice until 20 August to put in another offer or walk away.

Services lead the way

Healthcare has contributed the most to the 1.5% growth of Britain’s huge services in June. The office for National Statistics attributed this to family doctors seeing more of their regular patients due to an easing of coronavirus precautions.

Thanks to the Euro 2020 soccer tournament – for the most part – output from food and beverage services also showed growth, as it jumped by more than 10%. Output from industrial and construction fell 0,7% and 1,3% respectively, while manufacturing  grew slightly by 0,2%

The International Monetary Fund expects Britain’s economy to grow by 7% in 2021, the same as the United States, as it recovers from last year’s downturn.

However, the Bank of England thinks Britain’s economy will eventually settle back into its pre-crisis rut of slow growth. It expects British GDP to grow 5.75% next year but by only 1.25% in 2023.

Demand for new UK homes subsides

The latest residential market survey by the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) shows that the number of new buyer enquiries for new homes in the UK subsided in July.

The decrease in demand comes after the UK’s Stamp Duty holiday ended. Between June 2020 and 1 July 2021, buyers didn’t have to pay any Stamp Duty on the first £500,000 of their purchase price. Stamp Duty has now reverted to kicking in above £250,000.

The tax relief provided a strong incentive to complete house purchases before the end of June, especially for higher priced properties.

House price growth was influenced by the lack of properties ready for sale, with a net balance of -46% of respondents reporting a fall in new listings, down from the -35% reported in June. 78% of respondents reported house prices rising, slightly down from the 82% reported in the past two months.