Investment markets and key developments over the past week
Global share markets rebounded over the last week as a resolution of the US election came into sight offering more fiscal stimulus, less trade wars and likely avoiding US tax hikes. While the rebound in shares may be surprising given that the election is not fully resolved yet, US shares typically rally after close elections as we move into the stronger seasonal months for share market performance of November, December and January. Reflecting the rebound in global shares and further RBA easing Australian shares surged higher led by property, retail, industrial, IT and telco stocks but with all sectors seeing strong gains. Bond yields fell helped along in the UK and Australia by more monetary easing. But consistent with the rally in shares oil, metal and gold prices rose (with only iron ore falling) and the $US dollar fell sharply which pushed the $A up. Were it not for the announcement of a formal quantitative easing program in Australia the $A would probably have risen to around $US0.74.
The surge in new global coronavirus cases continued over the last week being led by developed countries notably Europe and the US. Developed countries are now seeing a million new cases every four days.
Source: ourworldindata.org, AMP Capital
Reflecting more tests, better treatments and better protections for old people new deaths in developed countries remain well down from the levels of April which in turn is helping avoid a return to lockdowns as harsh as those seen earlier this year. However, deaths are rising rapidly in Europe as are hospitalisations which is threatening to overwhelm the health system in some countries and as a result more countries including the UK have joined France and Germany in returning to lockdowns, albeit in most cases they are not yet as severe as those seen earlier this year.
Source: University of Oxford, AMP Capital
As a result and after a much stronger than expected rebound in the September quarter of 12.7% we now expect Eurozone GDP to contract by 4% this quarter and we are assuming that US GDP will be flat as rising coronavirus cases drive more distancing by people in the US.
Likely reflecting the continuing rise in US cases, our US Economic Activity Tracker dipped slightly over the last week and has now been flat since early September suggesting the US recovery has stalled again. Restaurant and hotel bookings look to be rolling back down again. This is yet to show up in most conventional economic data – but it comes out with a lag.
Australia is continuing to see new coronavirus cases stay very low with few cases of community transmission and deaths are have collapsed. Our Australian Economic Activity Tracker rose over the last week and is trending up nicely helped by Victoria’s reopening consistent with ongoing recovery.
Source: AMP Capital
Biden ahead in the US election with the possibility of a “clean sweep”. The US election added to the long list of weird things this year with Comedian in Chief Trump doing far better than would have been suggested by the worst economic downturn since the 1930s, high unemployment, the worst race riots since 1968 and the mishandling of the coronavirus pandemic that led to over 230,000 American deaths. That said, while counting is continuing in key states Biden looks to be ahead and could reach the 270 or more electoral votes needed by holding on to Arizona and Nevada or by flipping Georgia (where he is now neck and neck with Trump) and Pennsylvania (where he is now only 0.4% behind). Final resolution could be further delayed towards the deadline of the 14th December Electoral College vote as a result of various legal challenges but it’s unclear as to how strong these are particularly if Biden does not require Pennsylvania. Joe Biden has received a record 73.5 million votes (and still counting) which is nearly 4 million above Trump (and still counting).
With possible run-offs for both Senate seats in Georgia in early January there is also the possibility (albeit less than 50% I think given that Georgia is traditionally a Republican state) that the Democrats ultimately do achieve a “clean sweep” having retained control of the House if they win both seats in Georgia. So, there remains three ways this could go:
- The return of Trump. This is looking less likely. Taxes and regulation will remain low but agreement is likely to be relatively quickly reached on fiscal stimulus (with Democrats likely to get what they can to help their constituents) all of which may provide a short term knee jerk boost to US shares, but trade wars with China and possibly Europe and Japan will likely ramp up again next year which would be relatively bad for global shares and good for the $US. So, this scenario would likely be a negative for the Australian share market and the $A, particularly as it could contribute to a further ramping up in tensions between Australian and China (which as we have seen in the past week are still on the rise).
- Biden wins but without getting control of the Senate. At this stage this is the most likely outcome. A Biden presidency with a GOP senate is probably the best outcome for global and Australian shares as it means no US tax hikes, some fiscal stimulus (but not over the top), less trade war and a whole bunch of positive “soft things” like less divisiveness in the US, the US engaging better with allies, support for global institutions, etc. Historically a Democrat president and divided government has been the best outcome for US shares. Australia would benefit from less tension with China and a focus on a diplomatic approach to resolving trade tensions.
- Biden wins and gets control of the Senate via Georgia and the casting vote of the Vice President. This would clear the way for significantly more US fiscal stimulus but higher corporate tax in the US and more regulation. Global shares would likely benefit more than US shares and the US dollar would likely fall. Historically this has been the second-best outcome for share markets. It would probably be the best outcome for Australian shares and the $A as Australia would benefit from more US stimulus, our companies would be relatively more attractive with a higher tax rate in the US and we would likely see less tensions with China.
In Australia, the RBA announced a broad based package of additional monetary stimulus involving a rate cut to 0.1%, an additional $100bn bond buying program over six months and a formalised commitment not to raise rates until actual inflation is sustainably in the 2 to 3% target range. While the RBA revised up its GDP growth forecasts to 6% for the year to June next year from 4%, it still doesn’t expect to meet its employment and inflation objectives over the next two years which explains the additional easing and indicates that the RBA may yet to do more. With the RBA still seeing negative rates as being “extraordinarily unlikely” a further reduction in interest rates is not being contemplated so any further easing will likely take the form of an extension of the bond buying program. We think that more QE is ultimately likely but not for another six months. The latest round of easing should help the recovery by further lowering borrowing costs, encouraging investors to take on more risk and keeping the $A lower than it otherwise would be. While the major banks left their standard variable rates on hold at around 4.5%, they cut their fixed rates (in some cases to below 2%) and I reckon if anyone wants a rate cut and they phone their bank and ask they will most likely get it. A big risk of course is that it all contributes to a renewed surge in house prices and debt leading to financial instability problems down the track.
Meanwhile, trade tensions between China and Australia appeared to ramp up another notch in the last week with reports of bans on imports of wine, wheat, sugar, lobsters, copper, etc from Australia. This coming on the back of recent reports about bans on imports of Australian coal. Some of these exports can be diverted to other countries but that takes time. The value of the latest bans is around $6bn annually which is only 0.3% of GDP, but if it continues to escalate it will start to have an economic impact on Australia. Hopefully a more diplomatic approach to resolving trade issues with China by the US under a Biden presidency will open the door to Australia and China resolving their issues.
Well that’s it for another year of The Bachelor and Bachelorette! So it’s back to YouTube for me – so here’s one of my favourite Beatle/George Harrison songs – While My Guitar Gently Weeps – with Ringo on drums. The thing that strikes me about this version is how strong George’s voice became as he got older compared to his Beatle/early 1970s years.
Major global economic events and implications
In the US the Fed made no changes to monetary policy but indicated that its considering options for adjusting its QE program in a strong hint that its likely to provide more stimulus given the risks flowing from the latest rebound in coronavirus cases. US economic data has been mostly good with solid or strong business conditions ISM and PMI readings for October, a further decline in continuing jobless claims but a slowing rate of decline in initial claims and weaker than expected rise in the ADP employment survey.
90% of US S&P 500 companies have now reported September quarter earnings with 83% surprising on the upside regarding earnings (compared to a norm of 75%) and 75% surprising on the upside regarding revenue. Consensus earnings growth expectations for the quarter have been revised up from a fall of -21%yoy to -11%yoy and this is now likely to end up at around -8%yoy.
Source: Bloomberg, AMP Capital
The Eurozone business conditions composite PMI for October was revised up slightly but at 50 is well down from recent highs consistent with slower growth this quarter.
The Bank of England increased its QE program in the face of the latest partial lockdown but pushed out its decision on negative interest rates.
Japanese household spending rose solidly in September and the pace of wage declines slowed.
Chinese business conditions PMIs for October were strong and consistent with ongoing economic expansion.
Australian economic events and implications
Australian economic data was all strong over the last week with home prices turning positive for the first time since April, building approvals and housing finance surging higher helped along by low interest rates and government incentives, retail sales down in September as earlier reported but up 6.5% in real terms in the September quarter pointing to a strong rebound in consumer spending, the trade surplus rebounding in September, the AIG’s business conditions PMIs rising to be more in line with the stronger CBA PMIs, car sales rebounding and job ads continuing to recover. In other words, the economy looks to have growth through the September quarter after the plunge in the June quarter. We are now looking for a 2% rise in September quarter GDP.
Meanwhile, the Melbourne Institute’s Inflation Gauge indicated continuing weak inflation in October with underlying inflation of just 0.1% year on year, consistent with the still huge level of spare capacity in the economy. See the next chart.
Source: Bloomberg, AMP Capital
What to watch over the next week?
In the US, data on job openings and hiring along with small business confidence for October will be released Tuesday and core CPI inflation (Thursday) is expected to remain unchanged at 1.7% year on year. The Fed’s bank lending officer survey (Monday) will provide a guide to whether lending standards have eased.
Chinese CPI inflation for October (Tuesday) is likely to fall to 0.7%yoy reflecting slower growth in food prices with underlying inflation remaining soft.
The RBBZ (Wednesday) is expected to leave monetary policy on hold.
In Australia, the NAB business survey for October (Tuesday) is likely to show a further pick up in business conditions and confidence on the back of reopening and the Westpac/MI measure of consumer confidence for November (Wednesday) is likely to have hung on to recent gains.
Outlook for investment markets
Shares remain vulnerable to further short-term volatility given uncertainties around coronavirus, economic recovery and the US election outcome. But we are now into a seasonally strong period of the year for shares and on a 6 to 12-month view shares are expected to see good total returns helped by a pick-up in economic activity and stimulus.
Low starting point yields are likely to result in low returns from bonds once the dust settles from coronavirus.
Unlisted commercial property and infrastructure are ultimately likely to benefit from a resumption of the search for yield but the hit to economic activity and hence rents from the virus will weigh heavily on near term returns.
Australian home prices at present are being boosted by ever lower interest rates, government home buyer incentives, income support measures and bank payment holidays but higher unemployment, a stop to immigration and weak rental markets will likely weigh on inner city areas and units in Melbourne and Sydney into next year. Outer suburbs, houses, smaller cities and regional areas are in much better shape.
Cash & bank deposits are likely to provide very poor returns, given the ultra-low cash rate of just 0.25%.
Although the $A is vulnerable to bouts of uncertainty about coronavirus, the economic recovery and China tensions and RBA bond buying will keep it lower than otherwise, a continuing rising trend is likely to around $US0.80 over the next 12 months helped by rising commodity prices and a cyclical decline in the US dollar.
Source : AMP Capital 06 November 2020
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