Zoom-ing into 2021?

The end of each year brings the inevitable reflection on the year that was: what worked out for us, and what didn’t? What did I do really well, and what could I have done better? What did I love about this past year and want to repeat, and what did I want to forget and never speak of again?

Amidst all the jokes and memes around 2020 – from the ‘Not a single person in 2015 got it right when asked where do you see yourself in five years?’ to the stereotypical privileged, middle-aged ‘Karen’ wanting to speak to the manager – we will all remember this year for so much, both good and bad.

The sheer breadth of challenges that 2020 threw at each one of us was the standout feature of the year: Covid-19 infections and the tragic loss of life; lockdowns and working from home; Zoom classes and home-schooling our kids, along with unreliable and sketchy Wi-Fi; changed plans and delayed celebrations; job-losses and furloughs; recessions and economic contractions; the list goes on…

Yet among the myriad of negatives, it is the positives of 2020 that I choose to focus on: The quality time we had with our families and loved ones; the necessity to take a more active role in our children’s schooling as they were forced to adapt to an online classroom; people’s renewed vigour towards eating right and exercising more; concern for our fellow citizens’ health and emotional wellbeing; and finding the balance between our jobs and living our lives in more sustainable ways.

Although the Covid-19 pandemic is far from over – even with the prospect of three viable vaccines either in final stage trials or initial roll-outs – the frustrations of 2020 could still be with us for a while longer. This means too that many of the challenges we have faced up to this year may also be with us for months, quarters and even possibly, the whole year to come.

In March, when we wrote to you about the importance of holding your course and not switching to a safer strategy, it seemed far-fetched. Yet here we sit nine months later with markets back at, and some even above, the levels seen in February before the Covid crash.

Our positions took some hits in the early stages of the pandemic, but started recovering swiftly as we and the rest of the world slowly emerged from our collective cocoons. You will remember the analogy I alluded to back then, that of investing being a lot like wrestling with a gorilla: You don’t stop when you’re tired. You only stop when the gorilla is tired!

Even now, the gorilla is not yet tired. But he is showing signs of breaking, with the expectation for the next five years superseding those of the past five. Not because the political framework has changed (it hasn’t) or because the rand is stronger (it isn’t) but because the world we live in has fundamentally changed. And it’s going to keep changing by moving faster, evolving quicker and more constantly, and with further opportunities presenting themselves to those who are well positioned to receive them and ready to face them head-on. Our collective challenge has shifted to one of how we adapt to the new world we live in.

Who knows if the next outbreak of a new strain of influenza 10 000 miles away is going to be deemed another global threat? Or if the ANC government will (finally!) see the devastating realities and consequences of its failed policies and implement the sorely-needed reforms to support economic growth?

What we do know is that we can focus on our circle of influence and on those factors that we do understand, while avoiding those that we don’t.

One thing is for certain, 2020 was not the year in which we got all that we wanted. Rather, it was the year in which we realised just how much we had to be thankful for – and therein lies the true reflection.

I wish you and your families a safe and relaxing holiday period, and look forward to 2021 and the opportunities and expectations it brings!

Steve Crouse

Chief Investment Officer and Senior Advisor