Economic Update – August 2020
by Infocus Author
Within this month’s update, we share with you a snapshot of economic occurrences both nationally and from around the globe.
The rally in equities continues
– The ASX 200 and S&P 500 both posted four months of positive returns
– COVID vaccines are under development and undergoing trials in many countries, expectations are that they may be available in early 2021
– China economic data are getting back to pre-COVID levels
We hope you find this month’s Economic Update as informative as always. If you have any feedback or would like to discuss any aspect of this report, please contact us.
Equities listed on the ASX 200, Wall Street (S&P 500), the world and emerging markets indices all posted a fourth successive month of positive returns in July – although the ASX 200 gave up much of its July gains on the last day.
The S&P 500 just posted its best July gains in 10 years – an impressive +5.5%. Much of the recent gains on this index can be attributed to the mega-cap tech stocks including Amazon and Facebook. Indeed, if the tech stocks are stripped out of the S&P 500, its performance has only been modest.
Reporting season, when companies reveal their latest balance sheets and outlooks for the future, is well under way in the US for the June quarter. Reporting season is just about to start in Australia for the half year.
There have been some blockbuster corporate earnings reports on Wall Street but also a number of big misses. Success and failure have been roughly aligned with the ‘stay-at-home’ stocks like Amazon and Netflix vs COVID shutdown economies such as Airlines and hospitality stocks. Facebook and other internet companies have largely done very well – as have a number of the drug companies. The obvious suspects for entertainment outside of the home continue to struggle.
With many regions re-introducing opening restrictions on restaurants and bars to counteract the second wave, the global economy will struggle to get back to normal anytime soon. However, there are some bright spots.
China posted a massive 11.5% for June quarter economic growth against an expectation of 9.6%. On an annual basis, the outcome was obviously more modest at 3.2%. China trade data beat expectations on both exports and imports. The purchasing managers indexes (PMI) a measure of input demand, for both manufacturing and services were also strong.
While the US posted a widely expected large negative growth figure for GDP, retail sales are almost back to where they were before the COVID virus spread to the US.
Australia created 210,800 new jobs for the latest month but all of these were part-time. Indeed, full-time jobs actually went backwards. The unemployment rate came in at the expected 7.4%. The Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA) stated that its general economic outlook had been too pessimistic earlier in the year. It still expects unemployment to be 9.3% at the end of 2020 which is well below the peak experienced in the last recession nearly 30 years ago.
Australian inflation was reported to be 1.9% for the latest quarter – the lowest result in over 70 years. However, there were very special circumstances to explain this fall in prices. Childcare had become free for many and oil prices plummeted which created a big fall in petrol prices. Since the price of both of these items will likely ‘return to normal’ in the current quarter, a very large positive inflation figure is likely next time around.
It is important to note that the RBA’s preferred measure of inflation, that removes wild fluctuations in some items, was a much more modest 0.1% for the latest quarter – almost flat.
The European Union (EU) announced a 750 bn euro stimulus package to support COVID-affected people and businesses. The US senate republicans laid out a $1 trillion package for a similar purpose. Given their system of government, the republicans must now negotiate with the democrats before it can become law. This will delay the outcome somewhat.
At home, our government is extending economic support under a modified JobKeeper and JobSeeker scheme. One problem that was identified here and overseas is that some people were financially better off by not working. Law makers are trying to address this issue so that people are incentivised to go back to work.
Interestingly, in Australia a large number of people entered the workforce as unemployed in the latest data. The opposite of this behaviour is often referred to as the ‘discouraged worker effect’ as recessions loom and people give up looking for work. Perhaps we should refer to recent moves in data as an ‘encouraged worker effect’!
Also, on the bright side, at least three companies in the US are building up a stockpile of COVID-19 vaccines in anticipation of their drugs being validated by current clinical trials for approval by the US authorities. A similar situation is occurring in Queensland and the highly publicised Oxford university project.
Usually, clinical trials are completed before production commences because of the risk of wasting money on the production of drugs that turn out to be unsuccessful. The current ‘parallel production processes’ have been made possible by government financing. No corners are being cut in developing vaccines. The stocks of ineffective or bad drugs will be destroyed if and when appropriate.
Therefore, the 12-18 months minimum lead-time for vaccines that we reported on a few months ago has been dramatically reduced by these public-private partnerships. Given the number of different vaccines being developed, we think it is quite reasonable to expect one or more vaccines to be on the market from the end of this year. If that happens, we also expect stocks markets to rally from wherever they are at the time.
In the interim, governments are only seeking partial lockdowns; stockpiles of masks and respirators are being built; and medics are better informed about tracking and treating those so infected. We are hopeful that further success in vaccine trials in conjunction with ongoing government support will see the second half of 2020 faring better economically than the experience of the first half.