Global equities in 2020 experienced intense periods of bull, bear, and further bull sentiment. The markets were buffeted through a combination of US/China trade tensions, Brexit and COVID-19, offset by government support and stimulus programmes, leading to a very strong disparity between winners and losers, both between and within sectors.
The year had started well, with markets hitting all-time highs on hopes of better US/China trade relations and strong corporate earnings momentum. However, the speed of escalation of the global pandemic, the severity of the local lockdowns, and the impact on the economies delivered one of the worst market crashes in recent years. This was then followed by a surprisingly fast equity markets recovery on the back of the significant stimulus measures globally. In Q4, the conclusion of the US elections and positive news around vaccinations contributed to a number of major global equity market indices attaining new all-time highs.
Despite a volatile market backdrop, last year global equity issuance was more than $1trn for the first time in history, with Americas contributing $508bn, Asia-Pacific $367bn and EMEA $193bn.
The spring IPO window was cut short by the global pandemic, but as equity markets recovered and volatility normalised, the second half of 2020 saw a revival of the IPO market particularly in the US and Asia. Notably, the key drivers of the IPO activity in 2020 were Technology, e-commerce and Health Care IPOs and resurgence of SPAC activity in the US. Also, the number of Financial Sponsor IPOs more than doubled in 2020 as compared to the previous year.
A rollout of COVID-19 vaccines should underpin a global economic recovery in 2021, where corporate earnings can return to pre-pandemic levels. This will build from a position where equity markets have been benefitting from an extended period of low interest rates, low inflation and government stimulus, particularly in Europe and the US. However, the timing of the expected positive impact on economies, corporate earnings and capital markets will depend on progress of immunisation programmes across the globe.
The rising importance of ESG considerations has been further accentuated through the ‘build back better’ political narrative which, markets anticipate, will be supported in the positioning of ongoing government support. Investors are increasingly focused on ESG strategy, targets and performance, and appropriate disclosures in these areas are now seen as prerequisites of a successful IPO, regardless of the industry the company operates in.
With strong momentum building in Q3 and Q4 2020, there is a very substantial pipeline of companies looking to IPO in 2021 in favourable conditions. The market is expecting more billion dollar plus IPOs in 2021 including tech unicorns, SPACs and companies in sectors such as renewables, e-commerce and healthcare which are expected to remain attractive for IPO investors.
The implications of the change in the US political leadership, Brexit and, more generally, unprecedented government borrowing in response to the pandemic create significant uncertainties for the global economic position as we enter 2021. Arguably, recent investor optimism has increased market vulnerability to any disappointing news and potential negative surprises as the Biden administration takes over in the US, Brexit takes shape and as governments consider how to repair national finances.
On 31 December 2020, the S&P 500 index ended the year at another record high of 3,756 defying the ongoing pandemic as the hopes of broader vaccination rollout together with a highly accommodative monetary policy stance from the Fed provided support to equities.
The robust economic outlook for 2021 is fuelled by expectations of a strong post-vaccine recovery particularly in the dislocated sectors such as tourism, hotels and restaurants in the second half of the year. The biggest risks for the equity market investors could be the high concentration of mega cap tech/stay-at-home stocks in major US indices and overall perception of expensive valuations in equities.
Despite the virus induced new issuance slowdown at the beginning of the year, 2020 US equity issuance is the highest on record ($460.9bn), with all major sub-products such as IPOs and FOs also breaking the record. The ECM outlook for 2021 is also constructive with issuers exploring various routes to market including SPACs and direct listing. Notably, the recent SEC approval of the NYSE proposal to permit capital raising for direct listings may potentially change the IPO landscape in the US.
$83.1bn was raised via SPACs in 2020. One of the trends for 2021 is expected to be a growing number of de-SPAC transactions as target operating businesses will start being identified and mergers announced.
With $8.5bn of IPO proceeds, Brazil’s IPO market is the second largest in the Americas region and most active in Latin America. The recovery in the IPO market has largely been driven by the recovery in asset prices with a surging number of retail investors buying into stocks.
During a year of extreme volatility, a global pandemic, and a presidential election, the market managed a spectacular year in both the number of IPOs and proceeds raised, along with the rise of the SPAC. As we look into our crystal ball for 2021, we see the continued momentum driven by an accommodative Fed, a rebound in earnings driven by an economic recovery and potential fiscal stimulus with a new administration.
Overall EMEA markets continued positive upward trends since March with the DAX hitting an all-time high in late December. Such bullish performance is closely related to the positive news flow on vaccines and its availability to the broader public in many countries. The equities rally is a testament of the renewed optimism after vaccine breakthroughs and also clarity with regard to the US presidential elections as well as negotiations on Brexit.
In December markets turned to the ECB with the expectation that pandemic stimulus would be extended. The Pandemic Emergency Purchase Programme (PEPP) was increased from €1.35trn by a further €500bn with an extended period running up to March 2022 from June 2021, however that positive news flow didn’t move the markets much. Nevertheless, this should keep interest rates low and help mitigate some of the negative impact on European economies.
Despite a volatile market backdrop, the LSE delivered a strong year with $65bn of equity raised in 2020, representing a c.70% increase vs 2019. This was in part helped by the relaxation of the pre-emption guidelines for FOs and a number of landmark tech and emerging market offerings.
The UK Listings Review is something to keep an eye on in 2021 as London looks for ways to attract fast-growing tech companies to list on the LSE, this could pave the way for unicorn listings this year.
We start 2021 with favourable market conditions, attractive valuation levels and a strong pipeline of IPO candidates that will drive an increase in EMEA IPO activity. Pent up demand from transactions postponed in 2020 and a broad number of new candidates from a diversified range of sectors and regions are filling the IPO pipeline. A successful rollout of COVID-19 vaccination supported by continued monetary and fiscal stimulus will be key to supporting the equity markets. There remains a number of risks in the months ahead, in particular a failure to deliver on earnings and profitability expectations already reflected in current valuation levels.
In 2020 the Chinese government was focused on rebalancing the economy towards domestic demand and away from reliance on exports as well as looking to continue its accommodative fiscal policy through 2021 to support consumption.
The trade negotiations between the US and China is expected to be less acrimonious under President-elect Joe Biden with a return of more constructive relations with China.
IPO and FO issuance in Mainland China and Hong Kong was $122bn and $95bn respectively - Mainland China remained the leader in the Asia-Pacific in 2020. One of the key developments coming from the US is The Holding Foreign Companies Accountable Act, which will enforce some of the US regulatory requirements regarding auditing oversight for foreign companies listed in the US.
This will likely impact Chinese company listings in 2021 and increase their appetite for alternative international listing routes such as The Shanghai-London Stock Connect that delivered three $1bn+ listings in 2020 and is expected to attract further interest from Chinese issuers.
China is staging a strong recovery from COVID-19 with IPO activities in Shanghai and Hong Kong returning to pre pandemic levels and reporting robust GDP growth in 2021. We expect this trend to accelerate and propel even more active capital market recovery for China and the rest of Asia-Pacific in 2021.
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Partnerin, PwC Europe Capital Markets Leader, PwC Germany
Tel: +49 211 981-2978
IPO Services Co-Leader, PwC United States
Tel: +1 (212) 845 0739
Capital Markets Leader, PwC China
Tel: +852 2289 1881