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After three months of flat or negative returns, markets bounced back in April as investors came to grips with the new normal.

4 min read

In a show of resilience, most major markets produced positive returns for the first time since the beginning of the year.

A combination of progress against the infection and significant action by central banks and governments to support businesses went a long way to improving investor confidence.


Global markets on the rise

US equities came out on top with a 12.8% return from the S&P 500 (in US dollars, total return). Two interest rate cuts and the announcement of a $2 trillion stimulus package in March set the scene for renewed interest in US companies. The dollar’s status as a safe haven and the lure of the world’s biggest companies also made US equities more attractive.

The Asian economies that were first to bear the brunt of the outbreak saw infections and death rates fall to near zero, and began to relax lockdown measures. As a result, Pacific Basin shares also did well – the MSCI AC Pacific (excluding Japan) Index returned 7.7% and the MSCI China returned 6.3% (in local currency, total return).

UK companies didn’t fare so well. The rise in the value of the pound against other currencies acted as a drag on their performance. The exchange rate with the dollar was as low as US$1.15 in the last week of March but bounced back to US$1.24 in April, reducing the value of non-sterling earnings for UK companies and making UK stocks appear relatively expensive to international investors. Even so, a 4.5% return on UK equities (MSCI UK, in sterling, total return) was the first positive return since 2019.


April saw a boost for investors

After several months of losses, this was good news for investors, and our globally diversified funds and portfolios all made positive returns in April. The average balanced portfolio was up 4.8% over the month, while more equity-focused growth portfolios gained 7.0% (all figures net of fees).

While riskier assets, such as equities, made gains, more defensive assets like government bonds saw more restrained returns. UK government bonds returned 3.2% in April, compared to 6.3% in March and US Treasuries saw a 0.6% return, compared to 6.3% the month before. But even so, our defensive portfolios returned 3.1% in April (net of fees).

Returns for the year so far remain negative although our positioning means we’ve been able to materially reduce the impact of market falls. The average defensive portfolio is down -2.7% compared to a fall of -21.4% for UK equities over the year to date (MSCI UK, in sterling, total return to 30 April). Performance of Coutts Multi-Asset Funds, and the funds that underlie our Coutts Invest online investment platform, showed a similar positive trend.


Cumulative returns calculated on sterling basis, including fees, charges and income to 30 April 2020. These data are based on composite performance, individual portfolio monthly returns are asset-weighted based on their respective asset values at the beginning of the month. Peer group returns provided by Asset Risk Consultants (ARC); end-April data represents ARC estimate. Sources: Coutts & Co, ARC. May 2020

“Even during periods of extreme market stress, as we’ve seen in the last few months, Coutts is outperforming. All investors have suffered this year, but we’ve managed to preserve our clients’ wealth better, on average, than our competitors.”

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Long-term performance ahead of the pack

The average Coutts balanced portfolio has returned 18.9% over five years. That compares to a return of 1.1% for UK equities (as measured by the MSCI UK Index in sterling, total return), and inflation of 8.5% over the same period. The average growth portfolio saw an even better return, at 21.7%, while even our most cautious strategy – the defensive portfolio – returned 14.7% on average. (All performance figures net of fees.)

As well as beating UK equity returns and inflation, we’re ahead of our competitors. We measure ourselves against over 80 comparable products from other wealth managers, and we’re ahead over both three and five years across our defensive, balanced and growth portfolios.

This demonstrates the strength of our considered long-term approach,  even during periods of extreme market stress as we’ve seen in the last few months.

Remember, though, that past performance isn’t a reliable indicator of future returns. It’s helpful to know what’s happened in the past, but the future can be unpredictable.


When investing, past performance should not be taken as a guide to future performance. The value of investments, and the income from them, can go down as well as up, and you may not recover the amount of your original investment.




31 March 2015 to 31 March 2016

31 March 2016 to 31 March 2017

31 March 2017 to 31 March 2018

31 March 2018 to 31 March 2019

31 March 2019 to 31 March 2020

Coutts DPS Defensive Portfolio






Coutts DPS Balanced Portfolio






Coutts DPS Growth Portfolio






Return data for funds are calculated net of fees, in sterling and assumes reinvestment of dividends. Past performance should not be taken as a guide to future performance. Portfolio performance figures are composite returns from the actual portfolios of all clients shown on a total return basis and quoted net of all fees. For the composite performance calculation, individual portfolio monthly returns are asset-weighted based on their respective asset values at the beginning of the month. Source: Coutts & Co, 30 April 2020.