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Green City and justifying equity valuations

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This week in Keeping Tabs: an opportunity for the UK's finance sector after Brexit, and an argument for why you shouldn't worry about the stock market.

The impact of Brexit on the City of London was in the news once more this week, both because Bank of England governor Andrew Bailey criticised the EU's equivalence-granting process, and because London was reported to have lost its place to Amsterdam as Europe's top share trading hub in January.

As the country's finance sector looks forward, however, one area of growth, and perhaps leadership, could be in sustainable finance — although of course Europe has also been progressing in this area.

Mark Nicholls takes stock of the UK profile in this area for Energy Monitor.

His analysis incorporates recent moves by the UK to make firms report in line with the Task Force on Climate-Related Financial Disclosures, create a Taxonomy for green activities, and issue green bonds: as GlobalCapital reported here. He also covers the plans for a National Infrastructure Bank, as we wrote about here.

"The combination of COP26 [the climate change conference to be held in Glasgow later this year], (mostly) positive climate policy signals, and an enthusiastic and entrepreneurial finance sector keen to build on its experience in sustainable finance means London has the potential to carve out a strong position," concludes Nicholls.

"However, it will face fierce competition from other financial centres, and there is no escaping the damage Brexit has already wrought to the City. The UK government and the Square Mile’s financiers will have their work cut out to successfully exploit the opportunities ahead."

Meanwhile, we have all heard arguments that equity valuations are ultra-high and that the retail investment craze is a sign of a toppy market.

Will the bears finally have their time in the sun? Johanna Kyrklund, chief investment officer and global head of multi-asset investment at Schroders, doesn't seem convinced.

She says the US and the UK should soon see the benefit of vaccines, and central banks will not want to choke off a recovery.

"Quite simply, the sheer scale of economic stress created by lockdowns makes the unwinding of stimulus measures unlikely," she said.

"This leaves us to ponder a scenario where economies recover and bond yields stay low, which helps to underpin equity valuations."

Some are worried about inflation — and we look set to have fiscal stimulus coming down the track in the US — but Kyrklund is not worried.

"There is little evidence of dangerous inflationary pressure," she said.

"In fact, a little inflation would support the story of global recovery yet wouldn’t be enough to prompt central banks to raise rates.

"I can therefore stomach the risk of higher valuations in equities."

Meanwhile, as for a key driver of sentiment in equities — lockdown restrictions — it's a mixed picture, with the undoubted benefit of vaccination programmes weighed up against the threat of new variants.

In the UK, The Times reports on Friday that the success of the latest lockdowns may allow an easing of restrictions soon, but some social distancing rules could stay for the rest of the year.

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