Another step in adjusting to COVID-19 uncertainty? 

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COVID concern indices are down this week, with personal worries retreating the most (by 18%). Only 28% in our COVID research panel are ‘very’ to ‘extremely’ concerned about the UK government’s handling of the coronavirus outbreak, down from 41% last week – a level which was stable through most of July and August. The outbreak is still expected to last until the end of January 2021. Signs of a second wave have not subsided, so are UK pension professionals coming to terms with COVID-19 uncertainty? 
 

 

Stuck between the old and new ‘normal’ 

 
A new source of uncertainty has emerged in the comments in our weekly survey. Many feel they are in a limbo between the old and new ‘normal,’ not knowing what further changes to expect and unable to plan ahead: 
 
  • Interpreting the COVID-19 safety guidance has not become any easier or clearer, but the responsibility on individuals to apply it correctly is significant 
  • The effectiveness of current infection control is also unclear, given that infection rate data is not shared regularly and trusted by the public 
  • Changes in the behaviour of the public are emerging – some are more cautious, while others are more indifferent to the virus, but whether these behaviours continue remains to be seen 
  • Growth in inequalities may increase further, with the pandemic having disproportionately negative effects on disadvantaged members of society 
  • Staff returning to the office is a topic still up for debate – some are making a controlled attempt, while others are holding off and only making the office available for those who need it 
  • Students returning to school are worried about the safety measures, and the issue with A-level results has only added to their and their parents' anxieties 
  • The safety of care homes has not been in the media in recent months, but those whose parents are in care homes are still concerned for the health and wellbeing of their family 
  • The ability to attend in-person events and networking is still limited by public transport concerns and doubts about their effectiveness with social distancing and face masks 
  • Uncertainty around other activities previously taken for granted is still high – staying at home and not going on holidays, or not attending weddings or funerals is increasing isolation and placing growing pressures on mental health 
 

Uncertainty may slow down economic recovery 

 
The expected duration of the macro consequences has decreased by 12%, suggesting that economic activity may return to pre-pandemic levels by mid-September 2022. The pension industry’s focus remains on the strength of sponsors – 55% now report a somewhat to much weaker covenant since the beginning of the crisis, compared to 41% last week and similar levels prior to that. With many industries on government support, the pressure on the Bank of England and UK government to contain the economic fallout is substantial. 
 
 
Fiscal, inflationary and regulatory pressures are building. 69% think taxes will increase to pay the unprecedented stimulus bill – a proportion which has remained steady over time. However, 38% now think interest rates may rise, compared with  22% last week. Similarly, 79% expect inflation to increase, up from 56%.  
 
 
As a result, 48% now view the financial sector as a potential ‘loser’ post pandemic, compared with 30% in last week’s survey. Meanwhile, the outlook on industrials and materials has become more neutral, possibly reflecting their recent performance. 
 
 
What are the key risks to the economic recovery post-COVID? Click here to tell us in next week’s survey. 
 
 

Previous articles in this series: 

 
 

About the COVID Concern Index 

 
This short survey helps gauge sentiment of our community on the pandemic. The results are distributed via the community newsletter. Until 31/08/2020, this was a weekly survey. From 01/09/2020, the survey shifted to a bi-weekly cadence. 
 
The COVID Concern Index values should be used as indication only and do not constitute advice. Their values are bound by the choices available in the survey on which they are based. 
 
COVID Concern Index: 
 
  • 0 = respondents are not worried at all 
  • 100 = respondents are extremely worried 
 
Expected minimum duration of outbreak: 
 
  • Lowest possible value = 1 month 
  • Highest possible value = 6 months 
 
Expected minimum duration of macro effects: 
 
A methodology change took place on 15/04/2020, affecting data from 21/04/2020 onwards. 
 
Prior to 15/04/2020: 
 
  • Lowest possible value = 3 months 
  • Highest possible value = 12 months 
 
Following 15/04/2020: 
 
  • Lowest possible value = 3 months 
  • Highest possible value = 60 months 
 
Concerned about the coronavirus outbreak and its macro implications? Click here to take part in the bi-weekly COVID-19 survey.