By Michael Kamerman, CEO Skilling
2020 has been a tumultuous year for both the world and for financial markets. The events of this year have changed the very course of how we’ll live our future lives. Alongside the disruption of daily routines, the coronavirus disease has disrupted the global financial markets at systemic levels kicking in a global stock market crash in February this year. Sure, things look good now, but remember how you felt in early March?
The Coronavirus Crash had sent financial markets plunging into the fastest, most precipitous fall ever recorded in history and the most devastating since the Great Crash of 1929 – signalling in turn the beginning of a worldwide Covid-induced recession.
Certain industries have been hard-hit with many businesses unfortunately falling into insolvency. Many others are still fighting to survive the global lockdowns that threaten their existence. The new realities inflicted by the pandemic have also given rise to a new set of consumer needs and have as a result driven surges of interest in some sectors.
While the headwinds of Covid-19 have made this a chaotic year, the changing lifestyles of consumers have fueled the growth of other more fortunate industries. These include, for example, online retailers, home-delivery services, pharmaceuticals and biotech, video streaming services as well as… online trading. And a sector experiencing outsized growth in online trading is retail FX and CFD trading. Yes, the novel coronavirus pandemic has jolted foreign exchange and CFD trading because of bust-and-boom movements brought on by extreme volatility in fear-led markets.
Volatility is the Mother of Opportunity
When it comes to trading, volatility is the mother of opportunity. It has always been the case for trading speculative markets. This explains why the global FX market daily turnover hit $6.6 trillion earlier this year, with a 40% increase in day-to-day trading volume compared to the last decade.
Pre-Covid-19, the forex industry was relatively muted. Economic outlook was more certain, with relatively subdued market volatility, while a steady stream of traders were trickling into the market. As such, industry focus was on diversification and future-proofing business models.
Volatility, the likes of which we have experienced this year, feels like a once-in-a-lifetime occurrence, and one effect has been a surge in customer acquisition numbers in FX. With trading platforms having spent recent years optimising their online capabilities, the proliferation of people looking for innovative ways to capitalise on market movements and take control of their finances while under lockdown has, in a sense, been the ultimate proof of concept for the industry.
A continuation of this trend is very likely as countries across the world fight to keep the virus under control. Even with a vaccine on the horizon, record levels of government debt, high unemployment, and negative interest rates are creating a cocktail that is driving many people to seek greater financial independence, whether they are novices or experienced traders. Turning to the retail trading market in these circumstances can make for extraordinary tales, both in terms of wins and losses.
A rise in trading in pursuit of financial independence
Undoubtedly, the world has never spent more hours in front of screens as it has this year with the importance of online access to practically anything taking center stage. Simultaneously, personal finance has been high on people’s agendas, with the impact of the pandemic posing an existential threat to the income of millions of people.
This has driven greater appetite to participate in online trading, and the unpredictability of the 24-hours news cycle has created both confusion, and a sense of opportunity with aspiring traders.
In the wake of widespread redundancies and pay-cuts, people’s outlooks are shifting towards wanting to best monetise their time. This entry of new players into the market has happened in tandem with more experienced traders and investors sensing an opportunity to grow their own portfolios. Thus, one outcome of this year appears to be a shared desire from people to take a far more active role in protecting and growing their finances.
An era of more experienced traders
A positive outcome of this year’s situation is that new entrants have been those keen to study and learn about the markets. Indeed, the challenges that the world has faced this year are so unique, that from an economic perspective, they warrant examination, and are being used as a learning exercise.
Reliable and trustworthy brokers have provided a safe environment for traders to both test and develop their trading strategies. In doing so, traders have been able to grow their skills by learning how to navigate volatility and beginning to execute more substantial trades. Time spent on practice is increasingly more valuable to protect oneself against riskier and lesser-known market variations, particularly in the current climate.
The next six months aren’t likely to be a smooth ride. Volatility is set to continue, bringing with it greater trading volumes and greater opportunities for trader upskilling.
Good news lies ahead – for the world, and the world’s traders.
It is unfortunate that traders and investors stand to capitalise on higher returns during devastating situations that create heightened volatility, but this is the truth nonetheless and part of the essence of investing. The outlook of markets remains to be an indication of where the world is also headed. And that is not all bleak. The stock market bounced back relatively quickly in March, with share prices rising sharply even though many of the world’s developed economies were and are still suffering one of the worst recessions in living memory. Why? This is because, theoretically speaking, share prices are based on anticipated future expectations and income streams.
A most recent example is seen in Airbnb’s extraordinary IPO, making it one of the greatest success stories in the 2020 stock market. The success is clearly not based on Airbnb’s growth in revenue over the past year (when travel basically came to a complete halt). Investor demand was fueled by the hope and anticipation that pre-pandemic life will return and the global travel industry will be revived.
The overall global long-term outlook is a positive one, and the pandemic and associated recession is expected to give way to an economic recovery. What is for sure though is that the road to recovery is a long one, and market participants are to actively assess and reassess their investment and risk management strategies. The key to being in a better position to exploit the opportunities that arise in the markets is to be better able to mitigate the higher risk that comes with the unpredictable volatility of pandemic times.
China, New Zealand ink trade deal as Beijing calls for reduced global barriers
By Praveen Menon and Gabriel Crossley
WELLINGTON/BEIJING (Reuters) – China and New Zealand signed a deal on Tuesday upgrading a free trade pact to give exports from the Pacific nation greater access to the world’s second-largest economy.
The pact comes as Beijing seeks to establish itself as a strong advocate of multilateralism after a bruising trade war with the United States, at a time when the coronavirus has forced the closure of many international borders.
New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern confirmed the signing of the expanded deal.
“China remains one of our most important trade partners…For this to take place during the global economic crisis bought about by COVID-19 makes it particularly important,” she told a news conference.
The pact widens an existing trade deal with China to ensure it remains fit for purpose for another decade, Trade Minister Damien O’Connor said in a statement.
It provides for tariffs to be either removed or cut on many of New Zealand’s mostly commodities-based exports, ranging from dairy to timber and seafood, while compliance costs will also be reduced.
For a factbox on key deal points, please click on the square brackets:
CHINA’S MULTILATERAL PUSH
“The upgrade shows the two sides’ firm determination to support multilateralism and free trade,” Zhao Lijian, a spokesman of China’s foreign ministry, told a news briefing in Beijing on Tuesday.
The previous day, speaking at a virtual meeting of the World Economic Forum, President Xi Jinping had criticised isolationism and “Cold War” thinking and called for barriers to trade, investment and technological exchange to be removed.
In recent months, Beijing has signed an investment pact with the European Union and joined the world’s largest free trade bloc in the 15-country Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), which includes New Zealand.
China has also expressed interest in joining the Comprehensive and Progressive Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) Agreement, the successor to a pact from which Washington withdrew.
China’s new deal with Wellington also opens up sectors such as aviation, education and finance. In exchange, New Zealand will increase visa quotas for Chinese language teachers and tour guides, the official Xinhua news agency said.
New Zealand was the first developed nation to sign a free trade pact with China in 2008, and has long been touted by Beijing as an exemplar of Western engagement.
China is now New Zealand’s largest trading partner, with annual two-way trade of more than NZ$32 billion ($21.58 billion).
But ties have been tested under Ardern’s government as New Zealand criticised China’s influence on small Pacific islands and raised human rights concerns about Muslim Uighurs.
Ardern also backed Taiwan’s participation at the World Health Organization (WHO) despite a warning from Beijing.
The wider trade pact also comes as Beijing’s ties with neighbouring Australia worsened after Canberra called for an independent investigation into the origins of the coronavirus pandemic, which was first reported in central China.
Australia has appealed to the World Trade Organization to review China’s decision to impose hefty tariffs on imports of its barley.
New Zealand, which will host the regional Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation summit this year, has said it would be willing to help negotiate a truce between China and Australia.
($1=1.3914 New Zealand dollars)
(Reporting by Praveen Menon; Editing by Aurora Ellis and Sam Holmes)
Cryptocurrencies: the new gold?
By Gerald Moser, Chief Market Strategist, Barclays Private Bank
Time to add to a portfolio?
There has been a lot of talk about bitcoin, and cryptocurrencies in general, being a “digital” gold. Similar to gold, there is a finite amount, it is not backed by any sovereign and no single-entity controls its production. But for bitcoin to be considered in a portfolio and to become an investable asset, similar to gold, the asset would need to improve the risk/return profile of that portfolio. This seems a tall order.
While it is nigh on impossible to forecast an expected return for bitcoin, its volatility makes the asset almost “uninvestable” from a portfolio perspective. With spikes in volatility that are multiples of that typically experienced by risk assets such as equities or oil, many would probably throw the cryptocurrency out of any portfolio in a typical mean-variance optimisation.
And while bitcoin’s correlation measures are relatively supportive, it seems to falter when diversification is most needed, such as during sharp downturns in financial markets. Looking at weekly return correlations since 2016 shows that bitcoin is not strongly correlated with any assets (see below). It is however only second to US high yield in its correlation with equities. US Treasuries, gold and US investment grade were better diversifiers than bitcoin when it comes to equities.
Furthermore, looking at global equity corrections since 2015 (see below), it is noticeable that bitcoin has performed even worse than equities over the last three corrections. And while gold and fixed income provided some relief during those corrections, bitcoin compounded the loss that investors would have incurred from equities exposure.
The fact that cryptocurrencies also fluctuate alongside equities suggests that investment in bitcoin is more akin to a bubble phenomenon rather than a rational, long-term investment decision. The performance of the cryptocurrency has been mostly driven by retail investors joining a seemingly unsustainable rally rather than institutional money investing on a long-term basis.
Several studies around market structure have shown that emerging markets with high retail/low institutional participation are more unstable and more likely subject to financial bubbles than mature markets with institutional participation. And while more leading financial houses seem to be taking an interest in cryptocurrencies, the market’s behaviour suggests that the level of institutional involvement is still limited. Another issue is around its concentration: about 2% of bitcoin accounts control 95% of all bitcoins.
In summary, difficulty to forecast return, lack of diversification and high volatility makes it hard to consider bitcoin as a standalone asset in a diversified portfolio for long-term investors.
An inflation hedge?
Another point widely quoted in favour of cryptocurrencies is that they provide an inflation hedge. This might be a valid point, if inflation stems from fiat currency debasement. As mentioned above, a currency’s worth comes from the trust economic agents have in it. If unsustainable amounts of debt and large money creation shatter belief in sovereign-backed currencies through spiralling inflation, cryptocurrencies could be seen as an alternative.
Regardless of its price, bitcoin’s production is set on a precise schedule and cannot be changed. If oil or copper prices go up, there is an incentive to produce more. This is not the case for cryptocurrencies. In a very specific and highly hypothetical scenario of all fiat currency collapsing, this could be positive. But other real assets such as precious metals, inflation-linked bonds or real estate usually provide a hedge against inflation.
Bitcoin’s technology should theoretically make it extremely secure. As there is no intermediary, each transaction is reviewed by a large number of participants which can all certify the transaction. However, there have been frauds and thefts from exchanges. Another point to consider is the risk of “losing” bitcoins. According to the cryptocurrency data firm Chainanalysis, around 20% of the existing 18.5m bitcoins are lost or stranded in wallets, with no mean of being recovered. As there is no intermediary, there is no backup for a lost bitcoin.
From a sustainability point of view, adding cryptocurrencies to a portfolio will make it less green. Mining and exchanging them is highly energy intensive. According to estimates published by Alex de Vries, data scientist at the Dutch Central Bank, the bitcoin mining network possibly consumed as much in 2018 as the electricity consumed by a country like Switzerland. This translates to an average carbon footprint per transaction in the range of 230-360kg of CO2. In comparison, the average carbon footprint of a VISA transaction is 0.4g of CO2.
Beyond energy use, the mining process generates a large amount of electronic waste (e-waste). As mining requires a growing amount of computational power, the study estimates that mining equipment becomes obsolete every 18 months. The study suggests that the bitcoin industry generates an annual amount of e-waste similar to a country like Luxembourg.
Cryptocurrencies are here to stay
Innovation in digital assets continues rapidly and will likely drive increased participation, both from retail and institutional investors. The underlying blockchain technology behind bitcoin was meant to disrupt a few different industries. While results have not lived up to the initial hype, more sectors are investigating the use of the technology.
And with Facebook announcing a stablecoin, or a cryptocurrency pegged to a basket of different fiat currencies, central banks have accelerated the movement towards central bank digital currencies. Those could improve payment systems resilience and facilitate cross-border payments.
Energy stocks drag down FTSE 100, IG Group slides
By Shivani Kumaresan
(Reuters) – London’s FTSE 100 slipped on Thursday, weighed down by falls in energy stocks as oil prices slid after a surprise increase in U.S. crude inventories, while IG Group tumbled on plans to buy U.S. trading platform tastytrade for $1 billion.
The blue-chip FTSE 100 index lost 0.4%, while the domestically focussed mid-cap FTSE 250 index also slid 0.4%.
Energy majors BP and Royal Dutch Shell fell 3.2% and 2.5%, respectively, and were the biggest drags on the FTSE-100 index. [O/R]
“What is holding back the UK is a lack of tech stocks to capture the ‘rotation’ back into tech seen since Netflix results,” said Chris Beauchamp, chief market analyst at IG.
“Stock markets overall are much quieter today, looking so far in vain for a new catalyst for further upside.”
The FTSE 100 shed 14.3% in value last year, its worst performance since a 31% plunge in 2008 and underperforming its European peers by a wide margin, as pandemic-driven lockdowns battered the economy and led to mass layoffs.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said it was too early to say when the national coronavirus lockdown in England would end, as daily deaths from COVID-19 reach new highs and hospitals become increasingly stretched.
IG Group tumbled 8.5% after announcing plans to buy tastytrade, venturing into North America after a stellar year for the new breed of retail investment brokerages.
Ibstock jumped 7.3% to the top of the FTSE 250 after the company said fourth-quarter activity benefited from better-than-expected demand for new houses and repairs.
Pets at Home Group Plc rose 2.2% after reporting an 18% jump in third-quarter revenue, boosted by higher demand for its accessories and veterinary services as more people adopted pets during lockdowns.
(Reporting by Shivani Kumaresan in Bengaluru; editing by Uttaresh.V and Mark Potter)
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