Investment markets and key developments over the past week
Most major share markets continued to move higher over the past week helped by more good economic and profit news and anticipation of President Trump’s pro-business policies.
US shares gained 1.5%, Eurozone shares rose 1%, Chinese shares rose 0.2% and Australian shares gained 1.5%, but Japanese shares fell 0.7%. Bond yields generally rose as the reflation trade continued but commodity prices were mixed with oil and metal prices down a bit but the iron ore price surging higher.
The A$ was little changed.
The resignation of President Trump’s National Security Adviser Mike Flynn and the ongoing investigations into links between Trump’s campaign and Russia highlights the political risks around this unusual Administration.
But as long as Trump continues on the path to implementing his pro-business agenda and assuming Trump himself is not implicated it’s just ongoing noise that investors have to get used to.
The focus on Eurozone break up risk is continuing to hot up with elections approaching in the Netherlands on March 15, France in late April/May and Germany in September.
Our view remains that such risks are overstated, but any related market panic should provide an opportunity for investors. Looking at each in turn, based on current polling:
The populist Euroskeptic Party for Freedom will get more than any other party in the Dutch parliamentary elections, but at around 20% of the vote and seats won’t be able to form government, with that likely to come from some combination of roughly ten centrist parties.
Similarly Marine Le Pen whose policy is to leave the Eurozone will “win” the first round of the French presidential election with around 25-30% of the vote but will most likely lose the second round to either the Republican Party’s Francois Fillon (by 15-20%) or more likely to the independent Emmanuel Macron (by 20-30%). Both Fillon and Macron are economic reformists which is exactly what France needs.
The main risk is that the Socialist candidate Benoit Hamon manages to form a joint ticket with more leftist Jean-Luc Melenchon and the Green Party’s Yannick Jadot (which is a big ask given the differences between them) and then make it through to the second round against Le Pen where she would have a greater chance of defeating them.
The German election is a long way away but, German Chancellor Angela Merkel is at some risk of losing to the centre-left Social Democrat Party whose new leader Martin Schulz is polling well.
But Schulz is more pro Europe than Merkel so even if he does win it could actually mean a stronger Eurozone as he and the SPD are likely to end austerity in favour of some German fiscal reflation (which could help both Germany and peripheral Eurozone countries).
The populist Alternative for Deutschland seems stuck at around 10% support.
Ahhh, you say – but what about Brexit and Trump? Surely there is a risk of a populist upset? Yes there is – particularly in the Netherlands or France.
But the polling against a populist forming government in these three countries is more decisive than was the case prior to the Brexit vote and US presidential election (where the polling was actually very close).
More fundamentally it can be argued that Europe is different.
Support for the Euro remains high at around 70% and inequality is far less of an issue in most of Europe than in the UK or the US. And an abatement of the migration crisis is helping too.
Perhaps the country at greatest risk is Italy, particularly with the governing Democratic Party showing signs of breaking up, but even here if the Eurosceptic Five State Movement wins in their next election (possibly this year) it is likely to end up going down the path of Greece’s Syriza which has become just another European centrist party after it realised the cost to Greece of exiting the Euro.
Speaking of which Greece is at risk again facing tough negotiations with its creditors.
These will probably be resolved but even if not and an early election ensues it’s noteworthy that the pro-Euro pro-reform New Democracy party is polling well.
The bottom line is that Eurozone break up risks are overstated and if they intensify in the months ahead hitting Eurozone shares, bonds and other assets it should be seen as a buying opportunity.
Major global economic events and implication
US economic data continues on the strong side with a solid gain in retail sales, small business confidence remaining strong, very strong readings in the New York and Philadelphia regional manufacturing conditions surveys, continued strength in home builder conditions, strong readings for housing starts and permits and continuing ultra-low unemployment claims .
Meanwhile, core consumer price inflation edged up more than expected to 2.3% year on year.
Fed Chair Janet Yellen’s Congressional testimony on the rates front provided nothing new signalling an intention to make haste gradually in raising rates this year and that all coming meetings are live for the next move providing the data behaves as expected.
Our base case remains that the next hike will be in May or June but the past week’s run of strong data points to a rising risk of a March hike (with the market current putting the probability of such a move at 36%.)
82% of US S&P 500 companies have now reported December quarter profits with 74% beating earnings expectations with an average surprise of +2.7% and 52% beating on revenue.
Japanese December quarter GDP growth disappointed at 0.2% quarter on quarter or 1.6% year on year.
But it marked four straight quarters of positive growth and business conditions indicators point to some acceleration ahead.
Chinese consumer and producer price inflation rose more than expected in January and combined with a surge in credit underpin the PBOC’s move to gradually tighten monetary policy.
While a range of infrastructure projects should support growth in the near term and the Chinese Government is unlikely to allow growth to slow much, the move to policy tightening and threat to growth will no doubt worry investors at some point later this year.
Australian economic events and implications
Australian economic data was good with a further gain in business conditions and confidence in January according to the NAB survey, a rise in consumer confidence to around its long term average, stronger than expected jobs growth in January and a fall in unemployment.
The main drag was a return to weakness in full time jobs highlighting that the quality of jobs growth remains poor.
This is partly structural reflecting the growing importance of the services sector in the economy and its preponderance towards part time jobs but it’s also partly cyclical and on this front it’s worth noting that job vacancies and business employment plans point to stronger employment growth ahead which should help full time jobs.
Another big positive is the ongoing rise in the iron ore price which broke US$90/tonne in the last week for the first time since 2014.
Softer structural growth in China and stronger supply warn this is not the start of a re-run of last decade’s commodity boom.
But it is nevertheless a big positive for national income in Australia. The iron ore price at US$90 if sustained will add around $9bn annually to Federal taxation revenue.
At this stage our view remains that the RBA will cut rates again this year as inflation takes longer to move back to target.
But if the positive news on growth and national income continues at a time when the Sydney and Melbourne property markets remain too hot then we will have to concede that the next move in rates is up – albeit not till later in 2018 – rather than down.
We are now a bit over 40% through the Australian December half profit reporting season. As is often the case after an initial flurry of good results we have seen a few more misses over the last week.
But so far the overall results remain good.
53% of companies to report so far have exceeded earnings expectations compared to a norm of 44%, 70% of companies have seen profits up from a year ago and 69% have increased their dividends from a year ago.
But reflecting the strong rally in the market in anticipation of the results only 44% have seen their share price outperform the market on the day they reported as a lot of good news was already priced in. Resource profits are on track to more than double this financial year and this is driving a return to overall profit growth for the market.
What to watch over the next week?
In the US, in the week ahead expect business conditions PMIs for February (Tuesday) to remain strong and consistent with solid growth, a bounce back in existing home sales (Wednesday) and new home sales (Friday) and continued strength in house prices (Thursday).
The minutes from the Fed’s last meeting (Wednesday) are likely to confirm that the Fed sees itself as being on track to continue gradually raising interest rates.
Eurozone, business conditions PMIs for February (Tuesday) are also expected to remain strong consistent with a pick-up in Eurozone economic growth.
Japan’s manufacturing conditions PMI (Tuesday) is likely to show a further improvement.
Chinese property price data for January (Wednesday) is expected to show some further slowing in growth as property cooling measures continue to bite.
In Australia, expect the minutes from the last RBA Board meeting (Tuesday), a speech by RBA Governor Lowe (Wednesday) and his parliamentary testimony (Friday) to confirm that the RBA is comfortably on hold for now.
On the data front, expect to see December quarter wages growth (Wednesday) remain at a record low of 1.9% year on year, December quarter construction data (also Wednesday) to show a 1% quarter on quarter bounce back after bad weather and a few other things affected the September quarter but with mining construction still falling and December quarter business investment (Thursday) to also show a 1% qoq gain.
Of most interest in the capex data will be investment intentions for this financial year and next which are expected to foreshadow some improvement in non-mining investment.
The Australian December half profit reporting season will hit is biggest week with nearly 100 major companies reporting, including Worley Parsons, BHP, IAG, Woolworths and Qantas.
Resource company profits are on track to more than double, but profit growth across the rest of the market is likely to be around 5%.
Key themes are likely to be: a massive turnaround for resources companies; constrained revenue growth for banks and industrials; and an ongoing focus on dividends.
Outlook for markets
Shares remain vulnerable to a short term pull back as sentiment towards them remains very high, Trump related uncertainty will be with us for a while and various European elections could create nervousness in coming months. However, we see share markets trending higher over the next 12 months helped by okay valuations, continuing easy global monetary conditions, fiscal stimulus in the US, some acceleration in global growth and rising profits.
Still low yields and capital losses from a gradual rise in bond yields are likely to see low returns from bonds.
Australian bonds are preferred to global bonds, reflecting higher yields and as the RBA is well behind the Fed in raising rates.
Commercial property and infrastructure are likely to continue benefitting from the ongoing search for yield, but this demand will wane as bond yields trend higher over the medium term.
National residential property price gains are expected to slow to around 3-4% this year, as the heat comes out of the Sydney and Melbourne markets and rising apartment supply hits.
Cash and bank deposits are likely to continue to provide poor returns, with term deposit rates running around 2.5%.
The A$ has had a short term bounce as the US$ corrected from overbought levels.
This could go further and see a retest of US$S0.78 which if broken would likely see a run up to US$0.80.
However, the downtrend in the A$ from 2011 is likely to resume at some point this year as the interest rate differential in favour of Australia narrows & it undertakes its usual undershoot of fair value.
Expect a fall below US$0.70 by year end.