Economic Update – June 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 continues
- Equities continue to climb the wall of what appears to be ‘less worry’
- Economies are starting to re-open which is providing further support for equities
- Central banks and Governments continue to apply rescue measures as COVID-19 continues to see increased infections dampening social and economic activity.
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 team.
The Big Picture
We started last month’s update with the thought that the worst could be behind us but that volatility might still spook markets for a while to come. A quick look at key equity markets tells a more positive story for May with the ASX 200 adding 4.2% to the 8.8% gained in April. The S&P 500 added 4.5% to the 12.7% gained in April.
We still think it’s too soon to assume normal reliance on macroeconomic data. We expected the numbers to remain volatile and we were not disappointed.
The big picture we are focusing on is the mood in the markets about re-opening economies. In one month, we have gone from dire predictions of nothing opening to what looks like an orderly opening in Australia, the US and Europe. Yes, there are pockets of confusion but the stock markets seem to have been buoyed by the fact that an orderly return to work is already beginning to happen.
So long as there is one person carrying the virus there is a chance for others to contract it. There is a very high probability of a second wave. The question is – what form will that wave take?
In Australia, the shut-downs seem to have been largely successful. When someone in a newly opened bar or café contracts the disease, quickly responding to those exposed can minimise the spread. If left unchecked we can easily get back to the problem we had a month or so ago.
Of course, the systems and equipment we now have in place are better to deal with a new outbreak. Australians, by and large, appear to be reasonably responsible. Contrast that with the situation in the USA. There seem to be large clusters of vocal groups claiming all sorts of rights regarding employment and social mobility. It does not matter whose philosophy is correct, viruses only react to people close at hand. We would not be surprised if the relaxing of containment measures proves to be premature and a fresh outbreak occurred in the US and it might be big enough to unsettle markets. In light of the recent social unrest the potential for further outbreaks has likely increased. This will weigh on investment decisions.
Governments and central banks are still applying fiscal and monetary support in amounts that should assist to avert a further escalation of the economic impacts of the COVID-19 crisis. However, at the individual level some groups might be relatively disadvantaged.
Going forward, we are naturally keeping an eye on fresh outbreaks of COVID-19, potential vaccines and cures. They are all potential games changers.
Given the speed of the re-opening of Australia and the US we might expect to see some meaningful data on unemployment from July (to be reported from August). Until then our focus is more on intuition as meaningful forward looking data remains scarce. As economic data releases and in particular corporate earnings estimates stabilise, we will again be able to produce a more informed outlook.
The ASX 200 posted a strong +4.2% gain over May with a few sectors standing out. IT (+14.5%), Materials (+8.0%), Property (+7.0%), Telcos (+6.0%) and Financials (+4.7%) were the strongest sectors.
Based on the growing belief that we at least appear to have COVID-19 contained, then the market from a relative value sense is somewhat attractive but with ongoing uncertainty volatility will remain elevated.
The S&P 500 posted a +4.5% gain in May which followed a +12.7% gain in April. However, the S&P 500 is down ?5.8% on the year-to-date.
Many analysts have been quick to point out that the gains in recent years have been mainly concentrated in about 6 or 7 big tech stocks. Without those stocks, they say Wall Street would have just moved sideways.
Index investors need not overly worry about the concentration of strength in stock returns. Others need to be more careful about how they construct portfolios as COVID-19 and the respective Government and Central Bank responses to it have increased the relative attractiveness of some stocks and in particular, some industry sectors over others.