The Week in Review
Reviewing the key global and local developments from this week.
Investment markets and key developments over the past week
- While US and Chinese shares slipped over the last week, Eurozone, Japanese and Australian shares pushed higher. The Australian All Ords index even managed to push above the 6000 level for the first time since early 2008. Bond yields fell helped by President Trump's nomination of Jerome Powell to succeed Janet Yellen as Fed Chair and a fall back in Eurozone inflation. Oil and copper prices rose but the iron ore price fell slightly. A slight pull back in the $US as the possibility of the more hawkish John Taylor being appointed Fed Chair was priced out and this saw the $A rise slightly.
- As expected, the Fed left monetary policy on hold and remains on track for a December rate hike. The Fed upgraded its characterisation of growth from “moderate” to now “solid” and it continues to regard recent inflation softness as temporary and likely to give way to a move back towards its 2 per cent target as a result of falling spare capacity and faster wages.
- Continuity for monetary policy at the Fed under Jerome Powell. President Trump's nomination of current Fed Governor Jerome Powell to replace Janet Yellen as Chair when her term expires in February next year signals more of the same at the Fed. Naturally, there may be a bit of market nervousness around the time of the handover and particularly around his first meeting in March next year (assuming he is approved by the Senate). But since becoming a Governor in 2012 Powell has been supportive of the Fed's approach to monetary policy and is pragmatic and non-ideological and is likely to be a consensus builder as Chair. Barring any significant shocks Powell is most unlikely to alter the Fed's current path of letting its balance sheet run down in line with the process announced in September and raising rates three times next year. So given Trump liked Yellen why did he even make the change? First, he wanted to leave his mark. Second, Powell appears supportive of taking a more relaxed approach to financial regulation than Yellen was.
- The first indictments in the Mueller investigation into the links between the Trump campaign and Russia are unlikely to impact tax reform. First, two of the indictments don't appear to be linked to Trump or the campaign and second tax reform is a wider Republican objective that goes well beyond Trump. The investigation poses an ongoing risk and source of uncertainty regarding Trump and of course those indicted may seek to reveal something more damning regarding Trump, but unless there is ultimately a finding of clear criminal wrong doing by Trump the Republican controlled House of Representatives is very unlikely move to impeach him. Of course a Democrat House post the 2018 mid-terms may try – but by then tax reform/tax cuts should be passed. Meanwhile momentum continues on the tax reform front with the House releasing its tax reform bill. There were no great surprises with a 20 per cent corporate tax rate, 12 per cent deemed repatriation tax rate on corporate overseas cash and reduced personal tax rates. There is still a long way to go to iron out the details but we continue to expect it to be passed (with a 70 per cent probability) by the March quarter next year.
- So much for the Catalan independence quest causing chaos in Europe! The Spanish Federal Government has smoothly taken control of the Catalan administration, new elections will be held in December, Catalan leader Puigdemont and much of his cabinet have left the country and the pro-independence movement looks to be fragmenting. I guess it's on to the next issue for the euro sceptics but I suspect they will remain disappointed.
- The Australian All Ordinaries Index finally broke back above 6000 again in the last week – but its still well below its November 1 2007 peak of 6854 whereas the US share market surpassed its 2007 high back in 2013. Why the big lag? First the Australian share market rose very strongly into the 2007 peak on the back of the mining boom whereas the US share market just spun its wheels last decade after first getting smashed by the tech wreck. So the 2007 high was a much higher high for our market and hence a higher hurdle to get back to. Second, Australian resource shares have been hit by the collapse in commodity prices since 2011. Third, Australian shares have also been hit by a bit of foreign investor scepticism regarding the outlook for China and perennial fears about a crash in property prices. Fourth, US and many global markets benefitted from zero interest rates and money printing whereas Australia has had neither. Finally, it should be noted that Australian companies pay higher dividends than US and foreign companies and once dividends are allowed for the Australian share market has surpassed its 2007 peak albeit it's still underperformed global shares in the period since the GFC.
- Given the 10-year anniversary of the start of the GFC in terms of its share market impact, which saw 50 per cent plus plunges in share markets its worth recalling the lessons it provided for us as investors. Here is a list of the main ones:
- At a time when many were talking of the “great moderation” and the death of the business cycle it reminded us that the economic and investment cycle lives on;
- The collapse of higher returning investments – including high yielding “yield funds” - provided a reminder that higher returns come with higher risk.
- It showed yet again that investor sentiment can push markets to extremes – eg, by early 2009 when shares had become substantially undervalued and underloved.
- It provided a reminder to be sceptical of investments that are hard to understand – remember CDOs?
- It provided a reminder of the dangers of too much gearing and debt of the wrong sort (like margin loans).
- It provided a reminder of the importance of having assets that provide true diversification to shares like government bonds as opposed to assets that may be lowly correlated to shares in good times (commodities and high yield debt) but highly correlated in bad times.
- The post GFC recovery showed that fiscal and monetary policy do work but that it can take longer to return to normal after major financial crises.
- It highlighted the importance of asset allocation as opposed to agonising about stock picking and manager selection.
- And finally, stuff happens! History tells us another financial crisis is inevitable at some point as each new generation forgets the lessons of the past and has to (re)learn them.
Major global economic events and implications
- US data remained strong and points to 4 per cent or so growth this quarter. The manufacturing ISM fell but remains very high at 58.7, consumer confidence rose to its highest since 2000, personal spending was very strong in September, jobs data was strong in October and home prices continue to rise. While core private consumption deflator inflation remained low at 1.3 per cent year on year in September, the September quarter Employment Cost Index confirmed some acceleration in wages growth. Meanwhile, September quarter earnings reports have continued to surprise on the upside with 78 per cent beating on earnings and 68 per cent beating on sales. While GE and hurricane affected earnings results have weighed on earnings growth in the quarter, estimates for the quarter have now pushed back up to 5 per cent year on year after originally starting at 4 per cent.
- Eurozone data was remarkably strong with economic sentiment at its highest since 2001, GDP growth rising to its fastest since 2011 and unemployment falling to 8.9 per cent - still high but that's down from 12 per cent just a few years ago! But despite this core inflation slipped back to just 0.9 per cent year on year highlighting the ongoing lack of inflationary pressure and why the ECB will remain very gradual in slowing monetary stimulus.
- The Bank of England raise interest rates by 0.25 per cent, but only to 0.5 per cent and its concerns around Brexit suggest that it's not hawkish.
- The Bank of Japan left monetary policy on hold as expected with quantitative easing and the zero 10-year bond target to remain in place for a long time yet given ongoing core inflation near zero. Meanwhile, Japan's economic data was mixed with strong labour market indicators, weak household spending and some slowing in industrial production. A solid PMI reading and rising consumer confidence suggests growth should remain reasonable in Japan.
- China business conditions PMIs were mixed for October but are in their recent ranges and consistent 6.5-7 per cent growth.
Australian economic events and implications
- Australian economic data was mixed. Business conditions PMIs were mixed but point to okay growth, home building approvals remain solid but falling new home sales point to softness ahead, non-residential building approvals are pointing up, net exports look set to contribute positively to September quarter GDP growth but credit growth is slowing a bit.
- Meanwhile, evidence continues to build that the property price boom in Sydney is over with CoreLogic data showing a further decline in prices in October. Auction clearance rates in Sydney are now falling towards levels around 55 per cent that are normally associated with price declines on an annual basis and we expect Sydney home prices to fall around 5-10 per cent over the next year or so. Across Australia though the picture is very mixed: Perth is showing signs of bottoming; Adelaide, Brisbane and Canberra are seeing moderate growth; Melbourne is cooling a bit; and Hobart is rising solidly.
Dr Shane Oliver is the Chief Economist at AMP Capital.
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