Important information: The value of investments and the income from them, can go down as well as up, so you may get back less than you invest.

UK shares have made a fast start to the new year with the headline FTSE 100 posting an almost 3% gain on the first morning of trading in 2021.

The FTSE 100 was 2.8% higher by mid-morning, taking the index of the UK’s largest shares to its highest level since the Covid-19 pandemic struck in March. Please remember past performance is not a reliable indicator of future returns.

There are a few candidates for what’s driving the gains. Today saw the first jabs of the Oxford-originated Covid-19 vaccine going into patients. The vaccine is easier to roll-out than rival medications and should herald an acceleration of vaccination programmes globally.

Also helping the mood was PMI Manufacturing data in the UK, which rose to its best reading in three years last month. The surge is being put down to stockpiling ahead of the Brexit deadline, so may not be repeated, but has added to the sense that economies are building steam. Elsewhere, UK mortgage approvals also hit a 13-year high.

The bounce for shares was bigger among the largest companies, which may be due to currency effects. The pound lost ground to other currencies this morning which makes shares of British companies earning in foreign currencies more attractive. There were gains for smaller companies but they were less pronounced - the FTSE 250 rose 1.4% while the FTSE Small Cap edged just 0.67% higher.

The week from here is likely to be dominated by news on the pandemic, but also political developments in the US. In the UK, the Government has warned that new restrictions on activity are likely in the coming days as cases soar and ministers fret about the impact of new strains of the disease.

In the US, this week sees the confirmation of Joe Biden as President-elect. Even at this stage, some resistance to the confirmation is expected from Republicans in the senate, although these are not expected to succeed. Meanwhile, the state of Georgia will hold run-off elections for its two senate seats. If both democratic candidates can win then the party will win control of the senate and hand President Biden much greater control of law-making and budgetary decisions.

The potential impact of that on markets is unclear, and is potentially a source of volatility this week. Should democrats win control of the senate, even higher stimulus and Covid-relief packages could be passed  - which could help markets - but investors may also be wary that it could open the door for reversals of generous tax cuts handed to corporations by President Trump.

These topics, and others, are likely to feature in a special webcast Q&A - and podcast - we’re bringing you this week to coincide with the publication of our latest Quarterly Investment Outlook. The Outlook rounds up our current thinking on markets and assets and this time will include the four fund picks of Tom Stevenson, our Investment Director, for the next year.

You can submit questions in advance and Tom and the team will tackle them in the webcast and podcast, due out later this week.

If you’d like to submit a question you can do so here.

Five year performance

As at 31 Dec

2015-2016 2016-2017 2017-2018 2018-2019 2019-2020
FTSE 100 19.1 12.0 -8.7 17.3 -11.6

Past performance is not a reliable indicator of future returns

Source: FE, total returns as at 31.12.20

Important information: Investors should note that the views expressed may no longer be current and may have already been acted upon. Overseas investments will be affected by movements in currency exchange rates. This information is not a personal recommendation for any particular investment. If you are unsure about the suitability of an investment you should speak to an authorised financial adviser.

Topics Covered:

Shares; Volatility; UK

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