Business unusual in the wake of a Pandemic
UNPRECEDENTED MARKET VOLATILITY
The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in unprecedented levels of market volatility. Globally, governments have taken the brave approach of placing the well-being and lives of citizens ahead of short-term economic growth which has severely disrupted supply chains and constrained consumer demand. We applaud the South African government for the proactive actions taken in managing the pandemic, however it is important to remain cognizant of the fact that more than 50% of South Africans were living off less than R1200 per month  before the pandemic. The constrained economy will therefore have a significant impact on the livelihoods of these individuals. Initiatives like the Solidarity Fund (launched by the government) are therefore critical for ensuring that as a nation we survive this pandemic. Furthermore, constrained cash flows may over time affect the ability of companies to contribute to retirement funds on behalf of employees, which could have lasting effects on the retirement fund industry.
This is therefore a challenging time for all South Africans. It is important to note that even during these volatile market conditions, our long-term vision remains consistent. We will continue to relentlessly pursue investment excellence by:
Focusing on delivering market-beating returns for our clients;
Being responsible stewards of the assets, we manage; and
Benefiting the communities in which we invest.
A RESPONSIBLE BUSINESS AND INVESTOR
As a responsible business, our primary focus areas during the pandemic have been the well-being of our staff and our clients. We therefore proactively decided to implement an internal travel ban in February along with self-quarantine guidelines for those individuals who have been travelling. Furthermore, by 16 March, we implemented the infrastructure and processes which anabled the majority of our staff to seamlessly work remotely. This situation required us to be agile, clinical and innovative, the result being that we have successfully transitioned to working remotely through the use of secure technological platforms. We are committed to ensuring that our clients continue to receive world class customer service even during these challenging market conditions.
OUR THEME: THE NEW NORMAL
In the last edition of Fundamentals, we reflected on the current economic climate and provided insights into the future of investing post a COVID-19 world. While It’s not possible to perfectly predict when the world will revert back to its new normal, we believe that over the long-term certain investment truths will persist.
The following is covered in this edition:
Our Chief Economist addresses the global implications of the COVID-19 and assesses the possible paths to economic recovery. This provides insights, not only on the current state of the economy, but the long-term implications of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Our Absolute Return Fund portfolio managers illustrate that over the long-term, market crashes have occurred more often than one might expect. Absolute Return investing tends to be cognizant of these market shocks and therefore tends to outperform traditional multiasset class strategies during volatile environments.
We highlight the investment thesis behind our South African Responsible Investment offering which is expected to be launched in the second quarter of 2020. Morningstar have demonstrated that responsible investment strategies have been more resilient over this volatile period.
We discuss the impact of the pandemic on unlisted Infrastructure investing, with a specific focus on whether the disruption to supply chains and consumer demand will have a material impact on investment outcomes. It is worth noting that our Infrastructure capability was founded in 1999 and has therefore experienced multiple economic cycles and continues to deliver attractive long-term real returns.
Our Head of Responsible Investments lists the lessons long-term investors should take-away from the COVID-19 pandemic. Furthermore, the article addresses what other environmental, social and governance externalities could impact global markets over the long-term.
Our final article looks to the future and assesses how artificial intelligence will impact the future of individuals and the investment industry.
COVID-19: OUR HEROES
During this pandemic it’s important that we celebrate the heroes both in terms of health care workers and individuals providing essential services. These individuals are putting their lives at risk to ensure that even in this dire time South Africans are able to receive medical treatment and are able to meet their basic needs. Furthermore, we encourage all South Africans who are fortunate enough to do so, to contribute to the Solidarity Fund. Old Mutual Limited has pledged R50 million rand to the Solidarity Fund and R4 billion and worth of cover to healthcare workers during the pandemic.