Investment markets and key developments over the past week
The past week has again seen geopolitical issues dominate with renewed trade worries out of the US, the cancellation and then possible resurrection of the North Korean summit, rising angst around the formation of a populist government in Italy and political uncertainty in Spain. US shares managed a 0.3% gain, but Eurozone shares fell 1.3%, Japanese shares fell 2.1%, Chinese shares lost 2.2% and Australian shares fell 0.9%. Bond yields continued to blow out in Italy but declined elsewhere helped by safe haven demand. Commodity prices were mixed with gold & metals up but iron ore down and oil down as Saudi Arabia said OPEC and Russia will likely raise oil production. The A$ managed a small rise despite a further rise in the US$.
No trade war, but still a long way from trade peace. Trump has been blowing all over the place on US-China trade talks in the last two weeks – no he doesn’t expect much from them, yes the benefits of the initial talks are massive, and no he’s not really pleased with the outcome. But this is just classic Trump who says what he thinks at the time, wants to appeal to his base and will say extreme things in order to get what he wants in negotiations. The good news though is that negotiations between the US and China are off to a good start and China is keen on reducing tensions with the US and the US has put the start of tariffs (due from May 22) on hold. But there is still a long way to go – a problem that took decades to build won’t be negotiated away in just a few weeks – and if there is not enough progress the threat of tariffs remains. But our view remains that ultimately a full-blown US-China trade war will be averted. In the meantime of course, the NAFTA renegotiation has a way to go, Trump has ordered a consideration of imposing tariffs on US auto imports and the EU’s exemption from US steel and aluminium tariffs will expire again on June 1 (but is likely to be extended). Given that 29% of US auto imports come from Mexico and 19% from Canada the latest move is designed to pressure them on NAFTA. But it will also impact Japan, Korea and Germany. But it’s all about Trump posturing around negotiations and like the steel and aluminium tariffs any impact is likely to be significantly watered down.
June 12 summit between Trump and Kim Jong-Un killed by the Libyan model, or maybe not?. With North Korea having flouted agreements and gone hot and cold for decades it was always debatable as to whether much would come of the summit anyway. But not having the summit doesn’t mean military conflict is on the way. The North Korean regime knows that it will get annihilated if it does anything and the US knows that a pre-emptive strike will result in mass casualties in South Korea. And in any case having cancelled the summit on Thursday, Trump did another backflip on Friday saying “we are talking to them now” and it could still be on for June 12th!
Turn down the noise on Trump. There is no denying that Trump’s comments impact markets and the risks around Trump are greater this year than last (with tax reform and deregulation behind us, the mid-terms approaching and the Mueller inquiry getting closer to Trump). However, much of what he says is bluster and posturing. Yes, he should be taken seriously, but not literally. For investors its best to focus on the investment fundamentals around growth, profits, interest rates, etc, and to turn down the noise on Trump.
Back to the Eurozone crisis? Investors are right to worry about a populist Government in Italy – its proposed fiscal policies will blow the Italian budget deficit through the EU limit of 3% of GDP leading to conflict with the EU, sanctions, the ECB excluding it from its bond buying program and ratings agency downgrades. However, anticipation of this and the risk that 5SM and the Northern League return to their policy of wanting Italy to exit the Euro is already pushing Italian bond yields sharply higher as bond holders try to protect against redenomination risk or default. So far this month Italian 10-year bond yields have been pushed up by 69 basis points to 2.38%. This is a long way from the 2011 crisis highs around 7%, but the more yields rise from here the more it will hit Italian banks, borrowing costs and hence the Italian economy. Ultimately the Italian Government will have to back down as a result and it will all look a bit like what happened with Syriza in Greece, with Italy remaining in the Euro (because it’s too costly to leave). But in the process, it will be bad news for Italian bonds and shares, will act as a drag on the Euro and will cause occasional bouts of volatility in share market (including Australian shares - recall the volatility around Grexit). The risk of a move by Italy to exit the Euro triggering contagion to the rest of the Eurozone though is low as countries like Spain, Portugal and Ireland are stronger than in the crisis years and popular support for the Euro is high.
Time to remain alert but not alarmed regarding Chinese debt. This issue has been wheeled out regularly for years and the RBA had another go at it in the last week. Yes its gone up too fast, yes the growth of “shadow banking” has been an issue, yes some of the debt will turn bad and so yes it’s a risk. But there is nothing new here. China is different to most countries that get into debt problems in that it borrows from itself (so there’s no pesky foreigners to cause an FX crisis), much of the rise in debt owes to corporate debt that’s partly connected to fiscal policy (and so the odds of government bailout are high) and the key driver of the rise in debt is that China saves around 46% of GDP and much of this is recycled through the banks where it’s called debt. So unlike other countries with debt problems China needs to save less and turn more of its savings into equity than debt. The Chinese authorities have long been aware of the issue and have been working to slow debt growth. So yes, keep an eye on it but there is no need for alarm.
Major global economic events and implications
US data remains solid. While home sales slipped in April, home prices continue to rise and the Markit business conditions PMIs rose further in May consistent with strength in regional business surveys. Meanwhile the minutes from the Fed’s last meeting didn’t tell us much that we didn’t know: the meeting leant to the dovish side with Fed upbeat on the economy and on track for another hike next month, but tolerant of a temporary inflation overshoot of 2% as its consistent with the symmetric inflation target so just because inflation goes above 2% doesn’t mean it will slam on the brakes. However, its comments are consistent with three more rate hikes this year (starting in June) whereas the money market is still not there yet.
Eurozone business conditions PMIs fell again in May. While more public holidays than normal may have played a role and they are still strong their decline relative to US PMIs is a big driver of why the Euro is now falling against the US dollar.
Japan’s manufacturing PMI also fell in May but remains consistent with moderate growth. A further fall in Tokyo’s core inflation to just 0.2% yoy highlights yet again that the BoJ is along way from being able to exit easy money. Which in turn is negative for the Yen (barring bouts of safe haven demand).
Australian economic events and implications
Australian economic data was on the soft side over the last week with skilled job vacancies falling and construction activity coming in virtually flat in the March quarter. Public construction is rising strongly as the infrastructure boom rolls on, but this is being offset by weakness in private sector construction driven by non-residential building. The latter suggests a soft input into March quarter GDP numbers to be released in early June.
What to watch over the next week?
In the US, it will be a big weak on the data front with inflation and jobs data the focus. The core personal consumption deflator (Thursday) is expected to show inflation remaining at 1.9% year on year or May, just below the Fed’s target. Labour market data (Friday) is expected to show a solid 185,000 rise in payrolls, unemployment holding at 3.9% and wages growth edging up to 2.7% year on year. In other data expect: consumer confidence (Tuesday) to remain strong; May personal spending (Thursday) to have remained solid; pending home sales (also Thursday) to rise around 1%; and the May manufacturing ISM (Friday) to have remained strong at around 57-58. All of which, supports another Fed rate hike next month.
Eurozone data to be released Thursday is likely to show a unemployment remaining at 8.5% and a slight rise in core inflation to 0.8% year on year (after its April slump to 0.7%). With the latter remaining well below target an early exit from ultra-easy ECB monetary policy will remain unlikely.
Japanese labour market data (Tuesday) and industrial production (Thursday) will be released.
Chinese business conditions PMIs are likely to continue to average around recent levels consistent with solid growth.
In Australia, March quarter business investment data to be released on Thursday will be the highlight. Expect to see a 0.8% bounce in March quarter investment with investment intentions data showing ongoing signs that mining investment is getting near the bottom and that non-mining investment is edging up. Meanwhile in other data expect to see a 1% decline in building approvals (Wednesday), continuing moderate growth in credit (Thursday) and CoreLogic data for May (Friday) showing another modest fall in May home prices led by Sydney.
Outlook for markets
Volatility in share markets is likely to remain high as US inflation and interest rates move up and as issues around President Trump (trade, Mueller inquiry, etc) continue to impact, but the medium-term trend in share markets is likely to remain up as global recession is unlikely and earnings growth remains strong globally and solid in Australia. We continue to expect the ASX 200 to reach 6300 by end 2018.
Low yields and capital losses from rising bond yields are likely to drive low returns from bonds. Australian bonds are likely to outperform global bonds helped by the relatively dovish RBA.
Unlisted commercial property and infrastructure are still likely to benefit from the search for yield, but it is waning, and listed variants are vulnerable to rising bond yields.
National capital city residential property prices are expected to slow further as the air continues to come out of the Sydney and Melbourne property boom and prices fall by another 5% this year, but Perth and Darwin bottom out, Adelaide and Brisbane see moderate gains and Hobart booms.
Cash and bank deposits are likely to continue to provide poor returns, with term deposit rates running around 2.2%.
The $A likely has more downside to around $US0.70 as the gap between the RBA’s cash rate and the US Fed Funds rate pushes further into negative territory. Solid commodity prices should provide a floor for the $A though.
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