- US: Economic growth for the June quarter was revised up to 4.2% yoy, from 4.1%. This was partly attributable to the impact of government stimulus and is unlikely to be sustainable over the long term, particularly if trade tensions affect export volumes.
- Encouragingly, there was optimism that revised terms of the North American Free Trade Agreement with Canada and Mexico were close to being agreed, although no deal had been struck by month-end.
- 157,000 new jobs were created in July. This was slightly below consensus expectations, but sufficient to see the official unemployment rate fall to 3.9%, from 4.0%.
- At 2.9% yoy, headline inflation was unchanged in July. Wages remain stagnant, however, meaning Americans are not seeing any improvement in real wages.
- Europe: Data confirmed that the UK economy grew at an annual pace of 1.3% in the June quarter. With inflation in the middle of the target band, the Bank of England deemed this sufficient to warrant tighter monetary policy. Official interest rates were raised by 0.25 percentage points, to 0.75%.
- There were conflicting headlines on the Brexit front; some suggested progress was being made; others focused on disagreement between UK and European lawmakers on important post-Brexit policies like immigration and customs.
- In the Eurozone, both business and consumer confidence levels continued to weaken. There has been particular concern over the introduction of US import tariffs on European autos and other manufactured goods and how this will affect industrial production.
- Headline inflation in the Eurozone also moderated, retreating to 2.0% yoy in August from 2.1% yoy in the previous month.
- Against this background, investors are questioning when the European Central Bank will start to raise interest rates after its Quantitative Easing program is withdrawn at the end of this year. For now, it appears unlikely that policy will be amended until the second half of 2019 at the earliest.
- Australia: Political developments attracted significant attention during the month. There was an unsuccessful leadership challenge in the ruling Liberal Party mid-month, which was swiftly followed by another. The second resulted in Scott Morrison being installed as Australia’s new Prime Minister.
- Business and consumer confidence seems likely to be affected by ongoing political uncertainty in the next few months. It will take time for investors to assess the likely market impact of the leadership change, particularly with the next Federal election less than a year away.
- Employment data for July showed a small net decrease in jobs, although a lower participation rate resulted in a decline in the official unemployment rate, to 5.3%. This is the lowest level since late-2012. Other economic data has been mixed and insufficient to significantly influence interest rate deliberations.
- While official rates were again left on hold at 1.50%, rising short-term funding costs prompted a number of lenders to raise variable mortgage rates. These moves might reduce the need for the RBA to increase official interest rates over the next 12 months.
- New Zealand: Investors were surprised by comments from the RBNZ Governor. In a speech in the US, he suggested the Bank will be in no rush to raise interest rates from 1.75% and that cuts cannot be ruled out if growth decelerates. It now appears that interest rates are unlikely to be raised until 2020, at the earliest.
- The New Zealand dollar struggled against this background, weakening to its lowest level since early 2016.
- Meanwhile, business sentiment deteriorated to its lowest level in more than 10 years. This was perceived to be due to the introduction of new employment laws and general displeasure with the relatively new government.
- Asia/EM: Trade talks between the US and China do not appear to be progressing well. Time will tell to what extent tariffs affect export volumes on the two sides, although buoyant PMI data suggests disruptions are not currently having a significant impact on activity levels in China.
- Elsewhere, there was significant focus on Indonesia, where the central bank intervened in bond and currency markets in an attempt to contain a selloff in the rupiah.
- We saw significant currency weakness in other emerging markets, too. The Turkish lira and Argentinean peso, for example, both lost more than 25% of their value over the month.
- In Turkey, the government appears reluctant to tighten policy settings even though inflation exceeds 15%. As a result, international investors have lost confidence in the sovereign.
- In Argentina, the President requested speedier disbursement of an IMF funding package, which did nothing to support ailing confidence. Interest rates were also raised by 15 percentage points, to 60%, in an attempt to stem currency outflows.
- The Australian dollar is being driven by a combination of offshore geopolitical developments, risk appetite and deteriorating domestic economic drivers towards month-end.
- In particular, deteriorating sentiment towards emerging markets and a general ‘risk off’ tone weighed on the Australian dollar.
- The currency weakened by 3.2% against the US dollar in August, falling to its lowest level since January 2017.
- Commodity prices were mixed during the month. Metals were mostly lower on concerns around global economic growth, while energy prices moved higher on both sharply falling inventories in the US and supply threats in the Middle-East.
- Zinc (-4.8%), lead (-4.3%) and copper (-3.1%) all fell, while aluminium (+2.5%) bucked the broader trend. Precious metals were also mostly lower. Gold (-1.9%) continued to lose ground on a strengthening US dollar, while silver (-6.8%) and platinum (-6.5%) also fell.
- Oil (+4.3%) reversed last month’s dip. Thermal coal (+2.9%) and coking coal (+3.0%) also halted losses in July. Iron ore (+4.4%) gained on stable demand and a rising Chinese Rebar price.
- Most ASX-listed companies reported annual earnings to 30 June 2018. As expected, these releases caused some big swings in share prices of individual companies.
- On the whole it was a positive reporting season, with ‘upgrades’ impressively outnumbering ‘downgrades’ [see Chart of the Month on the following page]. This helped enable the S&P/ASX 200 Index (+1.4%) to reach post-GFC highs.
- Telecoms (+13.1%) was the best performing sector, with strong gains in Telstra and TPG Telecom, which announced its intention to merge with Vodafone Australia. IT (+12.9%) was the second best performer, supported by a number of small and mid cap stocks posting strong gains. Healthcare (+10.7%) also performed well, driven by strength in CSL, which is now Australia’s third largest company by value.
- Materials (-4.8%) was the worst performing sector, as falling metal prices and an uncertain economic backdrop weighed on returns. Energy (-1.3%) also lost ground despite gains in the oil price. Financials (-0.0%) struggled to remain in positive territory as the Productivity Commission released a damning report on the banks and as investors worried about regulatory ramifications.
- Returns from other sectors were all in positive territory, including Consumer Discretionary (+3.5%), Industrials (+3.2%) Consumer Staples (+2.8%), Property Trusts (+2.7%) and Utilities (+0.6%).
- Small cap stocks outperformed their larger counterparts, with the S&P/ASX All Ordinaries Index returning 2.5% over the month. Small caps benefited from a lack of exposure to banking stocks and some strong individual results, particularly in the IT sector.
- Shares in software companies Wisetech Global and Altium, for example, rose after the companies reported impressive earnings growth that exceeded expectations.
- The S&P/ASX 200 A-REIT Index had a strong month in August, returning 2.7%. Industrials (11.1%) was the best performing sub-sector, while Retail (-0.1%) was the weakest.
- Blackstone’s $3.1 billion takeover bid for Investa Office Fund was sweetened, with the US giant offering an additional 20c per share to persuade dissenting investors.
- The strongest performers in August included Goodman Group (11.1%) and Mirvac Group (6.6%). Goodman provided strong guidance for the FY19 year, benefiting from e-commerce groups like Amazon; Goodman’s largest leasing client by net income.
- Underperformers included Abacus Property Group (-7.0%), BWP Trust (-2.4%) and Unibail Rodamco-Westfield (-2.4%). Abacus fell during the month, partly driven by the company’s repositioning under the new CEO, which may incur earnings impacts.
- Globally, many major property markets delivered solid returns. The FTSE EPRA/NAREIT USA Index performed well, returning 2.7% in USD terms. In local currency, Australia was the best performing market, while Hong Kong (-4.4%) was the worst.
- Global markets established all-time highs in August, driven by another strong earnings season in the US and hopes that the US administration is prepared to negotiate to avoid an all-out global trade war. The MSCI World Index finished the month up 4.1% in Australian dollars. Returns were supported by the weaker Australian dollar, which fell to a 20-month low against the US dollar following subdued economic releases in Australia.
- The S&P 500 established a record for the longest ever bull run and closed the month up 3.3% in local currency terms. US equities have seen earnings growth of around 25% over the last two quarters. Encouragingly, revenue growth also rose to 10% in the second quarter, suggesting the rally might have further to run.
- European developed markets lagged, with both the UK FTSE 100 and German DAX falling -3.3% and -3.4%, respectively in their local currencies. Trade issues appeared to trouble investors as a deal on Brexit still evades negotiators and as US President Trump rejected an EU proposal to scrap car tariffs.
- The weaker Australian dollar also helped the MSCI Emerging Markets to achieve two positive months in a row for the first time since January (albeit only just), with an anaemic 0.04% rise in AUD terms. The MSCI EM Asia Index was the strongest performing region in AUD terms, up +2.0%. Korea led the charge, up 4.7% in AUD, but only 1.4% in local currency.
Global and Australian Fixed Interest
- Investors appeared to question the sustainability of global economic growth and, importantly, the likely trajectory of interest rates in key regions. Over time, it still seems likely that policy settings will be tightened globally, but expectations over the timing of potential rate hikes is starting to be pushed out.
- Sovereign bond yields drifted lower in most developed markets as these expectations started to shift.
- In the US, 10-year Treasury yields closed the month 10 bps lower, at 2.86%. They had briefly traded above 3.00% in early August, but drifted steadily lower in the remainder of the month.
- There were similar moves in Europe, with 10-year yields closing 12 bps and 10 bps lower in Germany and the UK, respectively. Japanese 10-year yields bucked the trend, rising 4 bps to 0.10%.
- There was a significant focus on emerging markets, too. Intensifying concerns over individual countries have not yet spilled over into developed markets, but they eroded confidence in the emerging market debt asset class as a whole.
- After narrowing in July, credit spreads drifted wider in August reflecting subdued risk appetite among global investors.
- Investment grade spreads widened by 5 bps, closing at 1.18%. High yield spreads also rose, albeit by a more modest 3 bps.
- There was a fair degree of return dispersion within the credit universe, both geographically and by industry sector.
- European issuers were hampered by mixed economic data, for example, as well as concerns over how US import tariffs might affect auto makers and other manufacturers.
- In Asia, the release of favourable PMI data in China partially allayed trade-related concerns. For now at least, the introduction of new tariffs on goods exported to the US does not appear to be hampering economic activity. In fact, issuers in the Chinese banking and property sectors performed particularly well.
- Mining-related names worldwide were also supported by buoyant energy and commodity prices.
Chart of the Month – Australian Earnings Season – Positive, but it’s like a jungle out there!
In these bulletins, we aim to share interesting observations from global investment markets. This month we look at the thrills and spills of the Australian earnings season against a backdrop of political turmoil where spills have also seen a change in PM. We conclude that while generally a positive earnings season, it has resembled the Law of the Jungle where, like politics, it’s the survival of the fittest.
We are able to share with you the changes in earnings forecasts across 10-12 brokers for ~400 stocks that we have collected within our extensive broker database for most of the last decade to bring you our conclusions on this earnings season relative to prior seasons.
Through to 31 August 2018. Source: CFSGAM and S&P/ASX. Shows number of firms enjoying earnings upgrade levels in upper tertile of results over last eight years less the number of firms suffering earnings downgrade levels in the bottom tertile of results.
As the chart shows, this earnings season has seen the largest gap between upgrades and downgrades for stocks in the S&P/ASX 200 since we have been collecting data and the second largest gap for the smaller cap stocks in the S&P/ASX Mid 100. Even more encouraging from our Growth team’s perspective is the fact that upgrades in Return on Invested Capital (ROIC) is also at its highest level relative to downgrades across the ‘top 200’ stocks. “This is one of the key characteristics we look for in assessing the quality of company earnings,” observes Head of Australian Equities, Growth, Dushko Bajic. “It’s encouraging to see more companies with improving ROIC as it represents greater investment opportunities for our approach.” Indeed according to Factset Estimates many of the high ROIC stocks in the Growth team’s high conviction portfolios are also the ones enjoying stronger earnings upgrades2 – it resembles the Law of the Jungle as the strong appear to be getting stronger. Goldman Sachs equity strategist, Matthew Ross, has also noted that the earnings momentum across the market is “relatively weak”, which serves to support market multiples of quality, high-growth names.
It has been a tougher earnings season, though, for our Realindex team, which has exposure to a variety of styles, primarily value, and a secondary quality overlay. “What hurt our portfolios last month was the number of relatively expensive stocks that enjoyed strong price appreciation.” notes Andrew Francis, Chief Executive, Realindex Investments. As the AFR3 has observed “That has also made it a tough reporting season for hedge funds where valuation-driven shorts have backfired.” The subsequent short-covering has contributed to price gains in companies that might have reported disappointing results. The Realindex team remains confident, however, that the prices of these companies will mean revert over the medium term, creating opportunities for their portfolios to outperform in the future.
We are observing similar patterns across smaller cap stocks. Dawn Kanelleas, who heads up our Small Companies team, comments that “We have seen large share price swings in certain companies that can’t be attributed to the quality of their earnings or outlook.” Given the team’s focus on quality and downside protection, they will be cautious about investing in stocks were the share price has run ahead of fundamentals. “It has been an especially unpredictable earnings season, in our view. However our risk-aware approach and focus on quality companies have seen us end the month in positive territory, contributing to our long term outperformance,” said Dawn.
Our Australian equities teams are able to draw upon our proprietary 10 million+ data point collection of market statistics drawn from 10-12 brokers on a monthly basis over the last 8+ years. It has 100 data types on ~400 stocks over a minimum 5 year time frame.
The next 12 months’ expected earnings of stocks in the Growth team’s high conviction growth portfolios has grown by 18.9% between 1 January 2018 and 31 August 2018, almost double that of the S&P/ASX 200 Index, with earnings growth of 10.1% over the same period.
“Why expensive stocks are getting even more expensive” by Vesna Poljak and Sarah Turner, The Australian Financial Review (AFR), 21 August 2018.
MARKET WATCH DATA SHEET
Source: FactSet, as at 31 August 2018
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