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January 2024 Economic & Market Review – Market rally takes a breath and waits on rate cuts

Talking points

  1. Market Momentum Slows: January was another positive month for developed market equities, although returns moderated following a strong December rally. Driving forces were shifts in bond yields and currency movements, weighing particularly on infrastructure and bond proxies.
  2. Waiting on Interest Rate Cuts: On the interest rate front, domestic bond traders were buoyed by weaker-than-expected December quarter CPI figures and ramped up their rate cut expectations, with the market now fully priced for two reductions by the end of the year. Meanwhile, the US Federal Reserve (the Fed) kept interest rates steady at its January meeting but signalled that rate cuts are not imminent. 
  3. Domestic Equity Highlights: Energy and Financial sectors emerged as strong performers, buoyed by geopolitical tensions and robust returns in banking and insurance. Healthcare also rebounded after a period of underperformance.
  4. Economic Realities in Australia and the US: Contrasting trends in Australia’s disinflationary environment with the US’s strong economic indicators offer a nuanced understanding of two major economies and their potential implications for investment strategies.
  5. China’s Economic Puzzle: Despite stimulus efforts, China continues to grapple with economic challenges, including manufacturing contractions and low confidence in the property market. The government’s urbanisation projects aim to address these issues, but their effectiveness remains uncertain.

 

 

Market Commentary

Following a searing December quarter rally, returns moderated in January. Ongoing economic data strength led to bond yields retracing recent falls. These moves muted fixed interest returns and impacted bond proxies, including infrastructure, where returns turned negative. Global government bonds were also down over the month, led by UK Gilts, as sticky services inflation and elevated wage growth made the prospect of imminent rate cuts from the Bank of England more unlikely. Meanwhile, the US Fed’s commentary at its January meeting was less dovish than markets had anticipated, and this led to reduced expectations of a US rate cut in March. Despite removing references to further rate rises, the Fed noted that it was prepared to adjust monetary policy if risks emerged that could impede the attainment of its employment and inflation goals.

The Australian dollar weakened in January on weaker-than-expected domestic data, which boosted global returns for unhedged investors. For example, the MSCI ACWI ex Australia index delivered a 3.9% return during the month. In Emerging Market equities, returns finished in the red following a further sell-off in China. In US dollar terms, the MSCI China Index has lost about 1%, including dividends, since the end of 2013. During the same period, the US and Indian sharemarkets have returned more than 200%.

In domestic equities, the Energy and financial sectors performed strongly in January. Returns in Energy were boosted by a rise in oil prices on the back of heightened geopolitical tensions in the Middle East. The bank and insurance sub-sectors drove higher returns in Financials, while the Healthcare sector rallied following a period of underperformance. Overall, the ASX 200 finished January at 7680 and reached an all-time high of 7682 (which was eclipsed in early February when the market rallied to 7703).

 

 

Economic Commentary

Australia

On the economic front, the disinflation narrative gained further momentum in Australia, after inflation cooled at a faster-than-expected rate in the December quarter. The consumer price index (CPI) data showed inflation had slowed to 0.6% in the three months through December, lower than the consensus estimate of 0.8%. Over 12 months, the CPI fell to 4.1% from 5.4% in the September quarter. It is the fourth consecutive quarter of lower annual inflation and down from the peak of 7.8% in the December 2022 quarter. An underlying inflation measure, known as the trimmed mean, also slowed to 4.2% in 2023. In other news, retail sales declined 2.7% in December and rose by just 0.8% in 2023, failing to keep up with inflation. It was the biggest monthly decline in retail sales since pandemic lockdowns in mid-2020 and, before that, the introduction of the GST in July 2000. Elsewhere, a volatile labour market shed 65,100 jobs in December from previous record levels, and the unemployment rate held steady at 3.9% as the workforce participation rate slumped.

 

United States

In the US, a host of data releases pointed to the ongoing strength of the US economy. The December jobs report exceeded expectations and wage growth remained firm, with the unemployment rate steady at 3.7%. Despite stronger wage growth in late 2023, inflation continues to moderate, with some data suggesting that a productivity boom may be underway in the US. Also of note was the strong December quarter GDP print of 3.3% annualised, smashing market expectations for 2% annual growth. Consumer spending on goods slowed, while consumption of services rose faster. Non-residential investment accelerated, led by a rebound in equipment spending.

 

China

Finally, in China, manufacturing contracted in December, against consensus expectations of a slight expansion. More broadly, China’s economy has seemingly failed to regain sustainable momentum, even after the government introduced some stimulus measures throughout 2023. A lack of confidence is behind the weakness, with poor property sentiment (consumer and corporate) a key driver. To help address the issue, in late 2023, the government proposed to expand some major urbanisation projects, including the redevelopment of so-called ‘urban villages’, which are clusters of self-built residential constructs in its major cities.

 

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December 2023 Economic & Market Review – Markets Surge on Dovish Optimism

Talking points

  1. Broadly Positive Market Performance and Sentiment: In December, markets experienced a robust performance globally, fueled by dovish comments from the US Federal Reserve and eased financial conditions. Bond yields retreated to levels last seen in July 2023, with the US 10-year Treasury dropping to 3.8%. Investor sentiment leaned towards a risk-on approach, anticipating interest rate cuts and contributing to positive returns across various asset classes.
  2. Equities Surge in December Amid Overbought Signals: Equities, particularly in the US, showed strength, with the S&P 500, Dow Jones, and Nasdaq all posting significant gains. Global equity returns were generally quite strong in December, but unhedged domestic investors were unable to capture all of the gains as the Australian dollar appreciated by 3.1% against the greenback. Domestically, the ASX 200 index delivered a total return of 7.3%.
  3. Dynamic Sector Performances in Australia: Sectors such as listed property and healthcare staged notable recoveries, while materials, including resources, benefited from rising iron ore prices. Energy was the weakest performing sector, but it still finished positively. Small caps had a strong month, with some investors capitalizing on attractive relative valuations.
  4. Bonds Rally Amidst Rate Cut Hopes and Crypto Gains: Fixed interest returns were robust as treasury curves shifted lower. Bond markets rallied on expectations of global central banks cutting rates in early 2024. Cryptocurrencies, especially Bitcoin, experienced a resurgence, gaining more than 13% in December, driven by hopes of regulatory approval for retail-focused ETFs.
  5. Economic Dynamics and Global Challenges in December: The economic landscape saw a further push towards disinflation, with the US headline CPI for November slowing to 3.1%. The December Fed meeting indicated a dovish outlook, with expectations of three rate cuts in 2024. In Australia, GDP numbers confirmed a per capita recession, with household savings impacted by a high cost of living. Globally, economic challenges were evident, with the UK growth rate below consensus, the German economy contracting, and China facing questions about structural headwinds, despite retail sales expansion.

 

Market Commentary

Risk-on investor sentiment continued into December as markets rallied across the major asset classes. Investors gained more confidence that the Fed was done with its rate hiking cycle and that the first of many rate reductions in 2024 could be just months away. The ‘higher for longer’ narrative that had prevailed as recently as October had given way to a more dovish outlook. Inflation data has continued to improve, and central banks are showing increasing signs that price pressures would likely continue to abate in 2024. This resulted in equities moving sharply higher into year-end, with most sectors participating in the gains.

Domestic shares were especially strong, having lagged global markets for much of 2023. Listed property and healthcare stocks staged a thumping recovery during the month, closely followed by materials (including resources) as iron ore climbed above USD 140/t. Small caps also had a strong month, with some investors adding to positions based on attractive relative valuations. Energy was the weakest performing sector, but still finished well in the black. Developed market shares rallied strongly, but the rise of the Australian dollar took the polish off returns for domestic investors. Emerging market equities underperformed their developed market peers as China continued to pose vexing questions around the structural headwinds facing its economy.

Bond markets rallied as risk-free rates moved back to levels last seen in July 2023 on hopes that global central banks would begin to cut rates in the first half of 2024. Credit markets were also strong, but different regions experienced widely varying spread outcomes due to idiosyncratic factors. The US 10-year Treasury reached 3.8% late in the month, while the yield for the domestic 10-year bond moved to as low as 3.9%. As recently as October, these instruments were yielding as much as 5%. By month’s end, money markets were positioning for six interest rate cuts in the US over the next twelve months.

Of note was the resurgence of crypto returns, with Bitcoin adding more than 13% in December in anticipation of the approval of an exchange-traded fund investing directly in the biggest token.

 

Economic Commentary

On the economic front, the disinflation narrative gained further momentum during the month. The US headline CPI for November slowed to 3.1% from a year ago. Falling energy prices were the main driver. Excluding volatile food and energy prices, the core CPI was up 4% from a year ago. Both numbers were in line with estimates and had little change from October. Shelter prices, which comprise about one-third of the CPI weighting, were up 6.5% on a 12-month basis, having peaked in early 2023. The December Fed meeting again kept rates on hold, but committee members now expected three rate cuts in 2024. That’s less than what the market had been pricing, but more aggressive than what officials had previously indicated. The committee’s “dot plot” of individual members’ expectations indicates another four cuts in 2025.

In Australia, the September quarter GDP numbers confirmed that a per capita recession was persisting and that the high cost of living was eating into household savings. The Australian economy expanded by 0.2% during the quarter, below market forecasts, as household consumption stalled and net trade detracted from growth. The household savings ratio dropped to 1.1%, the lowest since 2007. Meanwhile, government spending rose more quickly, preventing an overall weaker result. The unemployment rate increased to 3.9% in November 2023, while monthly inflation data pointed to slower price increases late in the year.

Elsewhere, the UK growth rate came in below consensus for October, while the German economy contracted by 0.4% year-on-year in the third quarter of 2023. Finally, in China, retail sales expanded by 10.1% year-on-year in November 2023, but below the market consensus estimate of 12.5%. Meanwhile, property prices in China posted a fifth consecutive month of decline in November, despite Beijing having issued a series of measures to boost demand.

 

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November 2023 Economic & Market Review – Global Markets Rally while Mixed Signals for Australia

Talking points

  1. Global Markets Rally Amidst Signs of Economic Moderation: November witnessed a strong rally in global markets as better-than-expected US inflation data fueled optimism that interest rates had peaked, leading to a surge in shares and bonds worldwide. The VIX volatility indicator reached its lowest levels since before the pandemic.
  2. Sector Performance Varied: Sectors previously hit hard this year, such as healthcare, property, small caps, and emerging markets, rebounded significantly. Tech stocks continued to soar, while energy and utilities lagged behind the broader market.
  3. Mixed Performance in Global Equity Indices: While the ASX 200 index delivered a solid 5% total return in November, global benchmark indices, particularly the US S&P 500 (+8.9%), Dow Jones (+8.8%), and Nasdaq (+10.8%) outperformed strongly. However, the rise in the Australian dollar negatively impacted unhedged domestic investors.
  4. Bond Markets Experience Historic Recovery: Fixed interest returns saw one of the strongest recoveries on record, with treasury curves shifting lower and long-term risk-free rates retreating. The bond market rally, especially in the US, resulted in the biggest monthly gain for the US aggregate bond index in over 35 years. Fed fund futures are now pricing in a 60% chance of a 25 basis points cut in March 2024
  5. Australian Economic Landscape Faces Mixed Signals: The Australian economy’s unemployment rate edged up to 3.7%, driven by stronger workforce participation. Despite this, the Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA) raised interest rates by 25 basis points to 4.35% at its November board meeting, in line with expectations. The RBA’s optimistic forecasts for GDP and inflation and a pushing out of projected jobless rate increases until the next year indicated a delicate balance in navigating economic challenges. 

 

Market Commentary

Investors had reasons to rejoice in November as economic data showed that inflation was moderating and interest rates had likely peaked. As inflation rates slowed, the global financial landscape witnessed more moderate economic conditions, particularly in the US, where the labour market is softening. The outlook renewed confidence in the ‘soft landing’ narrative and buoyed equity markets.

Bond markets staged an incredible recovery in November as US long bond yields experienced the largest monthly decline since December 2008. The 10-yr US Treasury yield plummeted to 4.35% from a peak of 5% in October, boosting the US aggregate bond index by almost 5%, for its biggest monthly gain in over 35 years. In Australia, 10-year yields fell by over 50 basis points to help the Ausbond Composite All Maturities index return close to 3%.

The bond market rally pushed yields significantly lower in most regions, which gave a valuation boost to growth stocks and the technology sector. In terms of style, growth outperformed value during the month, and small caps outperformed their large cap peers.

 

The VIX volatility indicator fell to its lowest levels since before the pandemic, and equities posted their best month in over a year. November traditionally sees the beginning of the strongest six months of the year for US equities as share buybacks increase, while mutual fund tax-loss selling typically ends in October.

The S&P 500 Index is now up more than 20% year-to-date, including dividends. In contrast, the ASX 200 has returned 4.8%, including dividends, and just 0.7% in nominal price terms. On the continent, European indices moved higher despite the subdued economic environment. Japan continued its outperformance in 2023, posting a 5% increase in November. 

In emerging markets, the MSCI Emerging Markets Index grew strongly over the month in local currency terms despite China continuing to underperform the broader index.

 

Economic Commentary

On the economic front, the disinflation narrative reigned supreme during the month. The US CPI for October was cooler than expected. Annual headline and core inflation dropped to 3.2% and 4%, respectively. The biggest driver of the decline in the headline data was a fall in energy and gasoline prices, along with lower travel and accommodation costs. In the labour market, the US economy added only half as many jobs in October, compared to September’s strong print. The below consensus data provided a much-needed sign that the labour market is slowly cooling.

In Australia, the October unemployment rate increased to 3.7%, driven by stronger workforce participation. Meanwhile, following a four-month pause, the RBA hiked official interest rates by 25 basis points to 4.35% at its November board meeting. This was in line with expectations and saw many economists predict that further hikes were to come. The quarterly Statement on Monetary Policy confirmed that the RBA had raised forecasts for GDP and inflation while deferring forecasts of a jobless rise until next year.

Elsewhere, the UK saw a larger-than-expected fall in inflation as the services sector cooled despite strong wage growth. The November services Purchasing Managers’ Index (PMI) posted a small expansion, surprising some analysts. In Europe, the CPI release for November also showed inflation is slowing, driven by lower energy prices. European manufacturing activity remains poor, mainly due to weak data from Germany and France. However, employment growth was robust over the previous quarter. Finally, macro data out of China exceeded consensus estimates, as retail sales jumped in October. However, new home sales continued to fall, seeing the People’s Bank of China (PBC) once again injecting liquidity into the banking system and further reducing the required reserve ratio.

 

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My thoughts on Pocket Money

Just like any other parenting choice, the topic of pocket money is one that chocks up the online forums, and everyone has an opinion.

Our kids are now at the age where pocket money has entered the chat, and the extra pressure to get it right as we are both financial advisers always weighs heavy! I thought it would be worth sharing my thinking about this, and maybe you can take some ideas away for your own family.

It is essential to first form your family philosophy—the actual mechanics can be very simple, but as we know, the emotional and psychological underpinnings of money are far from it. Some questions to think of as a family:

  • Does pocket money need to be earned, or is it a UBI style set amount per week?
  • If earned, how is it earned?
  • How much is appropriate?
  • How will your children know the value of money once received?
  • Will your children be required to purchase some of the ‘extras’ normally purchased by parents?
  • Will you set incentives for the use of money, e.g. extra dollars if it is saved, invested or donated rather than spent straight away?
  • Are there lessons you want to impart on trading time for money, or producing something of value for money? For example, you may say, ‘Do X job for the household for X dollars’, or something like ‘Can you figure out a way to save X in electricity/groceries? And if you do, then you can have half the difference per month’.

On the topic of kids starting an income producing business, I would put it outside the realm of “pocket money”, but it is also worth discussing.

I know personally, I would like my kids to learn they need to put in work to be able to earn money, but I also don’t want them asking for each basic household task, ‘Will I get money for this?’ (This actually happened, and it horrified me).

 

I love the bucket strategy of spend, save, invest, donate – as this mindset can carry them right through to adulthood and spawns many subsequent lessons along the way. I will also try to mimic the different real life implications of saving, investing and donating—the earnings and tax deductions—that the dopamine hit of extra money or helping people can be just as strong as the instant gratification of spending immediately.

Another concept I love is getting older kids involved in your household budget to help look for savings that they can get a piece of/benefit out of. I have heard a great story about a teen shopping around the internet and utilities and creating a family meal plan that saved enough for them in bills and groceries to take a family holiday. Great lessons in budgeting, but also saving money on commodity-style items to direct to things that bring you joy.

Would love to hear any tips from readers as to things you felt work with your kids or grandkids or something maybe your parents did that sticks with you, and please email them through to rhiannon@pekada.com.au!

 

 

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Financial moves to make in your 30’s

I recently turned 30. It’s a strange age. Some of your friends have settled down and have children, whilst others are backpacking around southeast Asia. Some are looking to purchase an investment property, whilst others are hosting big parties in their shared house of ten. Regardless of which stage you are at, the thirties are an excellent chance to take some of that ‘grown-up medicine’ and to look to start to get our finances in order; here are some places to start.

 

1. Set some goals:

Money is just the vehicle towards helping you live your best life. Everyone will have different goals, so your financial plan should be different. If you’re the type of person who wants to live overseas, then buying a house because you feel like you should and others are telling you to may not be the best option. Once we have goals, it’s easier to know what we must do to achieve them. Otherwise, we can continue on a road to nowhere.

 

2. Review what you currently have: 

Personal finances are usually left or pushed into the too-hard basket. You may not be as passionate about it as I am and, therefore, lack the motivation to think about it (completely normal). Simple things like reviewing what you currently have can pay big dividends.

Review your superannuation and make sure that your fund is appropriate. Check about how your fund has been performing compared to others. Please have a look at your investment options within your super and make sure that it’s appropriate for you. Think about whether or not you would like to be invested in an ethical and environmentally friendly manner and see if your current investments align with that.

You should also review what insurance you have. If you have young children or some debt with a partner, such as a home loan, then life cover could be critical. If you’re working and rely on your income to live, then you need income protection. Insurances aren’t sexy, and not many people like paying for them, but if something goes wrong and you don’t have them, it can create financial pain that can be hard to recover from.

 

3. Build an emergency fund:

Life is unpredictable, and unexpected expenses can arise at any time. Aim to build an emergency fund with three to six months’ living expenses. This financial cushion will provide peace of mind and help you avoid dipping into your savings or investments during tough times.

 

4. Look towards the future:

Investing is a powerful tool for building wealth over time. It can be slow to start with, but compound interest is the eighth wonder of the world; the earlier you start, the more rewards you reap. Putting some surplus cash towards investments that have growth potential can help you fund some future goals you may have as well. There are options for all different starting balances, so you don’t need to wait and put it off any longer.

 

5. Stop paying the lazy tax:

Only some people love to have a strict budget in place, and if that’s you, there are things we can do to get our cash flow under control. Reviewing your expenses is essential; a lot of little savings can add up, especially when everything is getting more expensive.

Have a particular look at your subscriptions, whether they be streaming services or gym memberships and make sure you’re using them and getting value out of them. If not, look at ending them or looking at alternatives.

The lazy tax can also apply to your banking. We often choose a bank early on in life and stick to it. Review your interest rate and ensure that what you are getting stacks up. This can also apply to your home loan if you have one. It can pay to do some research, as there are often no rewards for loyalty in this area.  

 

7. Estate Planning:

It’s never too early to think about estate planning, especially if you have dependents. Setting up a will now can last until your situation changes and doesn’t need to be too difficult or costly. It will mean that your wishes will be carried out if something happens to you.

 

8. Reach out if you’re unsure:

For some people, discussing personal finances is like speaking another language, but seeking guidance from a good adviser can help simplify the situation. A good adviser should also be able to educate you along the way. Using your money in the best way possible is important, so don’t let it fall by the wayside just because you’re unsure where to start.

 

As always, we are here to help. If you have any questions, feel free to email me at zac@pekada.com.au

 

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October 2023 Economic & Market Review – Geopolitical Tensions and Economic Resilience

Talking points

  1. Geopolitical Tensions Impact Markets: A surprise attack by Hamas in Israel on October 7 led to the outbreak of war in the Middle East. Elevated geopolitical tensions contributed to further uncertainty in an environment where fast-rising bond yields already besieged financial markets. 
  2. Investment Markets Fall: It was a case of more of the same in October as investors endured further losses across most asset classes. Excluding dividends, the benchmark US S&P 500 was down 2.2% in October, the Dow Jones Industrial Average decreased 1.4%, while the tech-heavy Nasdaq Composite fell 2.8%. This weakness was also seen in various global indices across developed and emerging markets. In local shares, the ASX 200 lost 2.8% after accounting for dividends. Small caps and listed property were thumped once again as rising risk-free rates dented valuations and increased funding costs. Gold and Bitcoin were noteworthy positive performers as investors sought safety and diversification.
  3. Weak Australian Dollar Benefits Australian Investors: The Australian dollar traded lower throughout October, again insulating unhedged domestic investors holding international investments. 
  4. Fixed Interest and Bond Market Turbulence: The rout in fixed interest returns continued, where the US 10-year Treasury yield briefly touched 5% for the first time since 2007. The sell-off permeated the global government bond market (including Australia) and in credit, with wider spreads seen in investment grade and high-yield bonds.
  5. Economic Resilience and Data Trends: On the economic front, the United States saw strong data, including impressive job creation, resilient wage growth, and robust economic growth. In contrast, Australia’s economic indicators were mixed, with a declining unemployment rate but concerns about inflation. European economies showed mixed results, while China’s industrial production, GDP, and retail sales performed positively despite challenges in the real estate sector and potential export restrictions.

 

 

Market Commentary

Investor tensions were further heightened in October as war broke out between Hamas and Israel. Despite the conflict, oil prices declined by around 10% during the month, with most of the damage coming in the final trading week. Meanwhile, European gas prices rose on fears of global supply chain disruptions. Commodity prices were a relatively bright spot in October, particularly where safe-haven gold was concerned.

Impaired sentiment continued to impact major indices, including the infrastructure and REIT sectors. Higher real yields have continued to detract from property and infrastructure returns, with small-cap returns experiencing a similar fate. The weaker Australian dollar (AUD) was again welcomed by domestic investors with foreign asset exposures. Indeed, the depreciation of the AUD over the last decade has strongly benefited unhedged domestic investors, particularly in developed market equities, where the depreciation has been more pronounced. For example, the annualised return for the MSCI ACWI-ex Australia has been boosted by more than three percentage points compared to its performance in local currency terms (11.9% vs 8.8%).

In fixed interest, government bond returns were negative in most developed markets as yields rose to multi-year highs in October. In Australia, heightened concerns around the path of inflation and interest rates saw 10-year government bonds briefly touch 5% later in the month. Japanese government bonds were not spared from the sell-off, as investors questioned the sustainability of the Bank of Japan’s (BoJ) yield curve control policy. During its October meeting, the BoJ redefined the 1% upper limit on yields from a strict boundary to a more flexible “reference” point.

 

Economic Commentary

On the economic front, US data regularly printed stronger than expected. The September nonfarm payrolls report stunned economists with the creation of more than 300,000 jobs (double the consensus estimate). Wage growth remained resilient, and inflation data, while trending lower, remained too sticky in the minds of market analysts. The advance estimate for Q3 US economic growth also shot the lights out, with activity surging at an annualised rate of 4.9%. Consumer spending drove the increase, while residential investment rose for the first time in nearly two years.

In Australia, the September unemployment rate fell to a three-month low of 3.6%, driven by a decline in workforce participation. Meanwhile, the RBA paused official interest rates for the fourth consecutive month in October while retaining a hawkish stance in its commentary. Finally, the CPI inflation data for the September quarter delivered an upside surprise that left economists scrambling to raise estimates. A much stronger-than-expected retail sales print (triple the consensus estimate) added further impetus to the view that the cash rate would be hiked at the November meeting.

Elsewhere, European activity was mixed, with soft German data prints pointing to further weakness. In contrast, the UK economy showed signs of moderate improvement. Turning to China, industrial production, GDP, and retail sales were positive surprises. However, continued weakness in the real estate sector and reports of further US restrictions on AI chip exports dampened investor sentiment.

 

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September 2023 Economic & market review – Fed Higher for Longer and Economic Contrasts

Talking Points

  1. Global shares decline amid fed’s ‘higher for longer’ stance: Global stock markets saw a downturn in September as the Federal Reserve’s commitment to holding interest rates higher disappointed investors.
  2. Market malaise and increased volatility: Market sentiment soured, leading to widespread declines in major indices and increased market volatility. This trend was marked by a decline in trading volumes and prominent short positioning across financial markets.
  3. Challenges in key sectors: Several sectors, including listed property, global REITs, and infrastructure stocks, faced challenges and underperformance due to changing market conditions, with energy and value sectors offering limited respite.
  4. Fixed-interest markets and concerns over bond bear market: The sell-off in US Treasuries and rising yields had a ripple effect on other sovereign bonds, including Australian bonds. This situation raised concerns about a potential bond bear market, causing losses in composite bond indices and affecting the gold sector.
  5. Global economic contrasts: The US experienced robust growth on the economic front despite challenges such as rising unemployment rates and inflation. In contrast, Europe grappled with higher oil prices and unexpected interest rate hikes. Key economic indicators from China also showed signs of improvement, indicating a potential shift in the manufacturing sector.

 

 

Summary

Financial markets took another leg down in September as investors came to grips with the narrative that the US Federal Reserve (the Fed) would need to keep interest rates higher for longer. Excluding dividends and share buybacks, the benchmark S&P 500 was down 4.9% in September, the Dow Jones Industrial Average decreased 3.5%, while the tech-heavy Nasdaq slumped 5.8%. This weakness was not limited to the US, as global indices across developed and emerging markets fell. However, a silver lining for unhedged Australian investors was the Australian dollar trading lower throughout September, partly insulating them from the losses.

In local shares, the ASX could not maintain its momentum from a rally in late August, with the S&P/ASX 200 index falling 2.8% after accounting for dividends. Small caps fared comparatively worse, posting a 4% decline. However, these moves paled compared to the 8.6% drop in listed property stocks, where rising risk-free rates revived valuation concerns and detracted from the impressive rally in A-REITs at the beginning of the financial year.

Fixed interest returns disappointed defensive investors, where exposures to safe-haven cash and high-grade credit continue outperforming government bonds. The ongoing large quantum of debt issuance by the US Treasury is proving to be an overhang. Finally, an extension of cuts in oil production by Saudi Arabia and Russia reignited inflation concerns and drove the price of crude above US$90/bbl.

 

Market Commentary

Global shares accelerated their downward trend in September as the Fed’s ‘higher for longer’ theme rang more loudly in the aftermath of the September FOMC meeting. Upwardly revised economic projections by Fed officials were a case of ‘good news is bad news’, with investors disappointed a further rate hike could occur in 2023 before making way for potentially just two rate cuts in 2024. The Fed’s ongoing resolve to tame inflation was not well received by investors, with matters exacerbated by another lift in oil prices as Russia and Saudi Arabia coordinated their efforts to extend restrictions on output. As a result, transport-related costs were higher during the month.

The malaise in sentiment saw broad declines across major indices, often characterised by poor market breadth as decliners easily outnumbered gainers, culminating in most sectors finishing in the red. Trading volumes decreased significantly, while increased volatility and short positioning became prominent features across financial markets. 

Our domestic sharemarket was not spared, as a jump in real yields put listed property to the sword, completely wiping the momentum seen in the sector since mid-July. Global REITs and infrastructure stocks similarly underperformed, with minimal respite to be found outside of energy and value plays.

In fixed-interest markets, the sell-off in US Treasurys continued in earnest, dragging other sovereigns along for the ride, including Australian bonds. Yields at the longer end of the maturity spectrum were particularly hard hit, imposing losses on composite bond indices and stoking anxiety that the bond bear market, which commenced in late 2021 had further to play out. Furthermore, the increase in yields and accompanying strength in the US dollar ensured that the gold sector underperformed.

 

Economic Commentary

On the economic front, data releases provided support that the US economy was experiencing a period of robust growth in the September quarter. In contrast, Europe was struggling with higher oil prices and an unexpected lift in official interest rates. 

In the US, jobs market data remained strong despite a rise in the unemployment rate from 3.8%. Nonfarm payrolls exceeded expectations, and wage growth remained firm while job openings continued to outpace the available workers. Underlying inflation showed further signs of stickiness, and there was a reversal in the favourable base effects seen earlier this year. Notably, the US national debt reached US$33 trillion for the first time in September, while “excess” savings by households from the pandemic had now been depleted. This resulted in growing credit card balances, especially among poorer cohorts.

On the domestic front, the RBA again paused the official cash rate at 4.10% at its September meeting, with the minutes revealing that the central bank was concerned with the impact strong population growth was having on rents and house prices. The monthly CPI indicator for August jumped to 5.2%, as rising fuel and utility prices led to a rebound in inflation from a 4.9% gain in July. It was the first increase in annual inflation since April.

In China, the manufacturing sector finally stopped contracting in September, with key indicators pointing to a slight expansion. Another positive sign was that August retail sales exceeded expectations and accelerated from the previous month, posting the largest increase since May.

 

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August 2023 Economic & market review – Market turbulence and emerging market challenges

Talking Points:

  1. Market Volatility in August: August witnessed significant market volatility driven by rising yields and negative developments in China. This turbulence had an impact on investor returns and raised concerns.
  2. Emerging Markets’ Struggles: Emerging market equities, in particular, faced substantial challenges during the month due to China’s faltering property market and its measured approach to stimulus measures. This highlighted the vulnerability of these markets.
  3. US Stock Performance: US stock indices, such as the S&P 500, Dow Jones, and Nasdaq Composite, experienced a roller coaster ride in August. They initially declined substantially but partially recovered by the month’s end, signalling market uncertainty.
  4. Bond Market Headwinds: Global bond indices encountered difficulties as a sell-off resumed, partly triggered by Fitch’s controversial downgrade of the US Government’s credit rating. Additionally, increased bond issuance by the US Treasury added to the selling pressure, impacting bond markets.
  5. Economic Outlook and Central Bank Actions: The economic outlook highlighted concerns about inflation, particularly in the US, where strong economic data raised the possibility of more rate hikes. The Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA) maintained a cautious stance on its cash rate, indicating its data-dependent approach and the uncertainties in the economic landscape.

 

Summary:

Investors endured a difficult August as a combination of rising yields and negative news flow out of China weighed on returns. Weakness in the Australian dollar also attracted increasing attention but helped insulate unhedged domestic investors from the full brunt of the sell-down. 

Developed market equities were generally lower in local currency terms. However, China’s faltering property market and piecemeal approach to stimulus meant that emerging market equities fared far worse. Increased volatility also impacted small caps as investors sought the safety of many blue-chip names. 

Despite a market rally at the end of August, the benchmark US S&P 500 index closed the month 1.8% lower, while the Dow Jones and Nasdaq Composite were more than 2% lower. The S&P ASX 200 finished August in the red but was well off its lows. However, Australia’s listed property sector staged a strong rebound in the latter half of the month as corporate earnings and asset valuation downgrades came in better than many had expected.

Global bond indices struggled as a sell-off recommenced following Fitch’s controversial downgrade to the US Government’s credit rating from AAA to AA+. Strong bond issuance by the US treasury added to the selling pressure as the Biden administration continued its hefty spending program. Domestic bond markets recovered throughout the month, but this was due to signs that the economy was weakening.

 

Market Commentary

August was a difficult month for global stocks, with the MSCI All Country World ex-Australia Index moving lower in local currency terms. However, the 3.6% decline in the Australian dollar ultimately delivered positive returns to domestic investors with no (or minimal) currency hedging. The first three weeks of the month were particularly brutal for sharemarkets, with the S&P 500 down more than 3% before a partial recovery in the final week. It was a similar story for the Dow Jones Industrial Average and the Nasdaq Composite, with the latter more than 5% lower before the late upswing. These pullbacks are in stark contrast to the market rally seen earlier this year, as the Nasdaq Composite delivered its best first-half performance in forty years.

On domestic markets, disappointing China data and numerous earnings downgrades announced during the August reporting season led to widespread weakness. On a brighter note, the consumer discretionary sector bucked the trend, as retailers often printed much stronger-than-expected profits. Over the first eight months of the year, most sectors remain in the green, with Technology leading the way. Gold has also been a strong performer, but small resources stay firmly in the red. 

In fixed interest markets, the sell-off in US Treasurys saw 10-year bond yields briefly exceed 4.36% (its highest level since 2007) before ending August at 4.11%. The yield curve remains inverted across large segments, with 2-year Treasury Notes briefly exceeding 5.10% and ended the month at 4.86%. The key driver behind these moves was US economic data strength, leading to concerns that the Federal Reserve (the Fed) would keep its benchmark lending rates higher for longer than anticipated. 

 

Economic Commentary

Despite weakening inflation data in the US, Fed Minutes from the July meeting noted that central bank officials still see “upside risks” to inflation, which could lead to more rate hikes. Specifically, the Fed expressed concern about the tight labour market and the impact solid wage growth could have on spending. July retail sales were robust (almost double expectations), and a measure of personal spending also printed stronger than expected. And despite 30-year mortgage rates exceeding 7%, US house prices continued to rise due to severely constrained supply. Many Americans have previously borrowed at ultra-low fixed rates and prefer to retain and renovate their homes rather than purchase another home and incur much higher financing costs. 

On the domestic front, the RBA again paused the official cash rate in August, with the economy breathing a further sigh of relief. The RBA’s cash rate is now 4.10%. The base case is that they raise rates once more, but the RBA is highly data-dependent and taking small steps to the edge as they can’t quite see where they are yet. 

NAB business confidence improved to its highest level since January, as leading indicators strengthened slightly. There was more positive news in late August when the monthly CPI indicator increased by 4.9% in the year to July 2023, below the market consensus of a 5.2% rise. This was the lowest inflation rate since February 2022, mainly due to a slowdown in housing costs and food prices. However, investor attention in August was laser-focused on China, which reported much weaker-than-expected retail sales and industrial production growth. Concerns over another real estate crisis continued to rise as the heavily indebted Country Garden Holdings fell to a record low and was removed from the Hang Seng stock index in Hong Kong. Meanwhile, Evergrande (another Chinese real estate giant) filed for bankruptcy protection in the US.

We now focus on the path for 2024 and the likely easing cycle. We estimate this commences in mid-2024, but there are myriad speedbumps along the way. 

 

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Our experienced financial planners provide tailored investment strategies and guidance to suit your unique needs and financial goals. If you’re seeking expert investment advicebook a chat with a Pekada financial planner today.

 

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What is the government super co-contribution?

If you’re making less than $58,445 in the 2023/24 financial year, and at least 10% of that comes from your job or a business, consider putting extra money into your super after taxes. 

If you do and meet specific criteria, the Government might chip in with up to $500 into your super account—which is a fantastic percentage return on investment! 

 

How the super co-contribution works

You get the full co-contribution if you make a voluntary non-concessional (after-tax) super contribution of $1,000 and earn $43,445 a year or less. If you put in less than $1,000 or earn between $43,445 and $58,445 a year, you might still get something, but only part of the amount. 

Just remember that what you earn, including regular income, certain benefits, and employer super contributions, counts here. 

 

Things to consider

  • Remember, once you put money into your super fund, you can’t take it out until you reach a certain age or meet specific conditions. 
  • If you claim a tax deduction for your contributions, you won’t get the government co-contribution, so confirm which is a better outcome for for you.
  • For more details, check out the ATO website at ato.gov.au. 

 

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If you’re considering putting more money into your super, let’s chat. Our experienced advisers can help you figure out which superannuation strategies make sense for you.

 

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July 2023 Economic & market review – Market resilience thanks to tech strength and central bank moves

Talking Points:

  1. Market Rebound After Initial Weakness: Despite a weak start to the month, the markets regained their composure and staged a strong rally in July.
  2. Tech Sector Dominance in US Markets: The tech sector in the US continued its strong performance, with the Nasdaq Composite posting its fifth straight monthly gain. 
  3. Global Economic Data and Bond Market Reactions: Resilient GDP prints and improved inflationary data were well received by bond markets following a sharp sell-off in the first half of July. The US Fed’s rate hike and the expectation of limited additional tightening provided investors with increased comfort, leading to relatively flat global bond performance.
  4. Recovery in Global Stocks and Commodity Prices: Global stocks rebounded in the second half of July, with emerging market equities and small caps leading the way. Commodity prices also saw a recovery, with the Bloomberg Commodity Index lifting by 6.3% over the month. 
  5. Central Bank Actions and Interest Rate Expectations: Central bank actions played a significant role in market dynamics. The RBA paused its official cash rate after consecutive rate hikes, citing concerns about low labour productivity. The European Central Bank (ECB) raised rates in July, but weak economic activity in Europe led to expectations of a pause in September. In the UK, strong wage data fueled expectations of further interest rate hikes by the Bank of England.

Summary:

Despite a weak start to the month as bond yields surged and equities sold off, markets regained their composure and staged a strong rally in July. Emerging market equities led the way, as China’s authorities gave the strongest indication yet that stimulatory measures would be implemented to ensure this year’s growth target would not be missed. Oil markets were a beneficiary of the news, as previously announced production cuts also took effect. Elsewhere, global and domestic shares were led higher by small caps and property stocks – areas of the market that have underperformed over the last year.

Meanwhile, in the US, it was more of the same as the tech sector went from strength to strength. The Nasdaq Composite posted its fifth straight monthly gain, with artificial intelligence once again the primary driver. The benchmark S&P 500 and Dow Jones Industrial indices also performed strongly but failed to match their tech counterparts.

Bond markets welcomed resilient GDP prints and improved inflationary data following a sharp sell-off in the first half of July. Along with a further hike in the US Fed Funds Rate to 5.5%, in line with expectations, investors gained increased comfort that additional tightening would be unlikely. Global bonds finished the month broadly flat, while credit markets held firm as signs of distress were contained to known areas, such as commercial real estate.

 

Market Commentary

Global stocks rebounded in the second half of July, with the MSCI All Country World ex Australia Index up 2.4% in Australian dollar terms. While the US led developed markets higher, small caps and emerging market equities stole the show, with the latter finishing up 5% over the month. Australian investors enjoyed a 10% return from China, partly reversing double-digit losses that have been incurred in the first half of 2023. Some policy easing by China’s authorities and hopes for significant new stimulus were behind the gains.

 Japanese equities remain the top-performing regional market in 2023 but underperformed in July. The TOPIX gained a more modest 1.5% in local currency terms as the Bank of Japan loosened its yield curve control framework. Some investors fear that the stage is now set for further adjustments that would push discount rates higher. On the ASX, a broad-based rally was underpinned by a rebound in the banks and consumer-facing sectors as interest rates remained on pause at the RBA’s July Board Meeting. Utilities performed strongly, while Healthcare was again weaker.

 

Global fixed income was volatile throughout July but finished the month largely unchanged as weakness in US Treasuries and European government bonds was offset by upward moves in most other regions, including Australia. Credit spreads tightened on improved economic data, thereby boosting returns and reducing losses incurred over the previous three-month period. It was a similar story for commodity prices, with some year-to-date losses being reversed in July. The broad Bloomberg Commodity Index lifted by 6.3% over the month. Higher oil prices and Russia’s cancellation of the Black Sea grain export deal buoyed the prices of certain soft commodities.

The Australian Dollar rallied against the US Dollar in early July, rising 3.8% due to momentum and lower-than-expected US CPI data. This rally faded in the second half of July to finish the month up 0.8%.

 

Economic Commentary

Despite data that showed US manufacturing was continuing to contract, the world’s largest economy strengthened on a booming services sector. First quarter growth was revised upward and slightly faster growth was revealed in the advanced estimate for second quarter GDP. This came despite the signs of slowing in the jobs market as June nonfarm payrolls missed expectations for the first time in over a year. The key data print for the month was the June CPI, which fell by more than expected. While core CPI remained stickier downward, US Fed Chair Powell’s current preferred inflation measure (core services ex housing) fell to just below 4% over the year.

 On the domestic front, the RBA paused the official cash rate in July, having raised rates in May and June. The move came hot on the heels of weaker monthly inflation data. The RBA reiterated its concerns around low levels of labour productivity, but noted that wage growth currently remained consistent with its long term inflation target. A stronger than expected jobs market report for June led to expectations of further rate hikes by markets and economists alike. However, markets reversed course when the June quarter consumer inflation figures came in below consensus.

 Finally, the European Central Bank (ECB) raised rates in July to 3.75%, in line with its guidance. Weak economic activity throughout key parts of Europe saw markets increase bets that the ECB would pause in September. Meanwhile, UK wage data remained strong and further interest rate hikes by the Bank of England were priced in by money markets. The peak is now expected to reach 6% in 2023.

 

How can we help

We hope you find the information useful, and if you want to discuss any details further or discuss your personal investment strategy, then please book a chat here.

 

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