Economic Update – July 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 recovery is happening sooner than we expected!
– End of quarter market volatility might have blurred the underlying strength of markets
– There are strong signs that many investors were too pessimistic a few months ago
– The US Federal Reserve continues to support markets
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 our office.
The bumper rally in Australian equities starting from the March 23rd 2020 low appears to be pausing as we enter a new financial year. There are many unknowns – not least of which include how the COVID-19 pandemic will playout, and how the November 2020 US presidential election will influence markets.
The financial year just ending (FY20) did produce a moderate negative return of -7.7% for Australian shares even after including dividends being re-invested. But, to put that loss in perspective, it is only the second loss in the 11 financial years since the post-GFC rally started in mid-2009! Moreover, it does not appear to us that the longer run rally will end anytime soon as many central banks are still operating under very loose monetary conditions.
It is very difficult to predict how the COVID-19 pandemic will play out given there are no vaccines or cures yet available – and may not be for another 12 months. There are signs in some regions, and some of the southern US states, that a material second wave is taking hold. Australia has fared comparatively well, however the state of Victoria has placed 30 suburbs of Melbourne back into lockdown due to a rapid increase in localised infections.
Since we now have far more knowledge and available resources than when the virus first struck, we think it is reasonable to assume that authorities will be able to better manage the spread and impact of the virus from here without the almost global shut-down of economies witnessed in the second quarter of 2020.
As restrictions are being relaxed, there are signs that economic recoveries are under way. We argued that the sharp negative growth figures we saw earlier this year – and still in some regions – should not be overly dwelt upon. We take the same measured view about the magnitude of the recovery figures.
In June US retail sales grew by 17.7% for the month and house sales by 16.6%. Australian retail sales grew by 16.3%. And China posted a 6% monthly gain in industrial profits – the first positive results since November! These are, of course, historically very high numbers. Our take-away is not the magnitude of these data points, but the timing. The recovery has started a couple of months before we and most others thought likely. And that is very welcome news indeed.
If the pick-up is faster than most expected, it is no surprise that we infer the market sell-offs into March were likely over-done. Some commentators are saying that the June quarter (Q2) rally was too strong. That is only the case if the over-sold notion is not taken into account. Either way, a strong rally into the end of a quarter (and our financial year) tempts fund managers to lock in some gains for window dressing and tax management purposes.
Until our company reporting season starts in August (and the US second quarter results start soon) we do not have much insight as to what companies really think the future looks like.
It is true that the US has called that their economy went into recession in February of this year. With our 0.3% result for quarter one growth and a likely big negative number for quarter two, we can reasonably conclude that we are in recession too.
However, US and Australia unemployment numbers are lower than one might expect in a ‘normal’ recession. These shut-down induced recessions are very different from the traditional ‘standard’ recession. The IMF has predicted global growth for 2020 to be 4.9% but that needs to be analysed in conjunction with the possible speed of the recovery.
With two new relevant COVID-19 drugs announced from Oxford University in June, some sensible re-opening of economies, and the nascent signs of economic recovery, the future is brighter than most thought only a few months ago. The US Federal Reserve has ramped up monetary stimulus and our government has announced further fiscal stimulus. It is often considered unwise, in a market context at least, to ‘fight the Fed’! i.e. don’t bet against the central banks (US Federal Reserve mainly), such is the strength of their influence that their actions can have a material influence on direction or state of markets.
The ASX 200 had a strong June posting a capital gain of +2.5% which was in line with the world market. However, capital gains for the financial year (FY20) were down 10.9% or 7.7% when re-invested dividends are included.
While FY20 was poor for the Australian index, two sectors stood out as very strong pockets of growth. The health sector gains were +25.7% and the IT sector gains were +18.0%.
We judge the market to be modestly under-priced but that call must be considered in the light of company earnings forecasts and outlooks seemingly lagging behind actual events. This situation should become clearer as our August reporting season gets under way.
The S&P 500 gains in June slightly lagged behind the ASX 200 with a gain of +1.8%. However, the US Dow Jones Index had the best Q2 since 1987; the S&P 500 had the best Q2 for 22 years; the Nasdaq broke through 10,000 for the first time and recorded gains of 24.4% in the last 12 months (our FY20). Europe posted the best quarterly gains for five years. Of course, Q1 (the March quarter) was very bad for most indexes so Q2 should not be viewed in isolation.