Is there a COVID-19 endemic equilibrium for investors?
- At some stage the world may learn to live with COVID-19 and, while that may be hard to believe in the middle of a local lockdown, this pandemic may eventually morph into an endemic.
- From an investment perspective, we need to accept that this is likely and it will allow markets to continue to swing attention to other risks like climate change, inflation, interest rates, disruption, regulation, innovation and corporate earnings.
- That path may not be straightforward but two data points are encouraging. First the US and European rate of new COVID-19 infections looks to have peaked and, secondly, by the end of this year close to 80% of the world’s adult population are expected to be fully vaccinated.
Sustainability themes from reporting season
- Climate change disclosure is increasingly prevalent
- Diversity and inclusion considerations are growing wider in scope
- The focus on human rights is rising with inaugural modern slavery statements
Mortgage rates rise, but households can manage.
- ASB increased all its fixed mortgage rates yesterday, including the highly popular one year rate by 0.36% to 2.55%. We expect other major banks to follow, likely marking the end of a multi-year decline in New Zealand mortgage rates.
- Many households will soon be exposed to these rates as almost 80% of outstanding mortgages are either floating (12%) or fixed for less than one year (65%).
- Further increases in mortgage rates are likely as the economic expansion supports a removal of monetary policy stimulus and higher bank funding costs.
- We think households in aggregate can manage higher rates. Debt servicing costs are historically low and there is some evidence that mortgage holders are currently paying off a greater proportion of principal, implying a buffer to rising rates.
Are the lights going to go out?
- Hydro lake storage is at about 60% of normal levels; low lake levels may provide risks to the near-term earnings of the electricity sector.
- Commercial electricity users on spot power pricing are facing significant cost increases.
- Dry conditions may mean we burn more coal and gas, which highlights the importance of more investment in geothermal and wind energy projects.
Inflation risks building
- Inflation is likely to surge through the Reserve Bank of New Zealand’s (RBNZ) 2% target in the coming months, reflecting mostly temporary factors that could easily reverse.
- But there is a risk that inflation becomes more persistent, something the market may be underestimating.
- We think medium-term inflation risks are skewed to the upside and have positioned portfolios accordingly.
When will central banks react to inflation?
- Higher inflation and the prospect of a reduction in central bank support is becoming a concern among financial market participants.
- We think this risk is low given most economies have spare capacity that is keeping unemployment rates higher and inflation lower than central banks desire.
- The ongoing threat of higher inflation and reduced monetary stimulus, however, is likely to lead to choppy trading conditions as investors manage the transition away from the low inflation and falling interest rate environment seen in recent years.
- We hope that the following Q&A gives you an insight into our thought process.
Top 10 risks (and opportunities) for 2021 - With video
As we sat down to write the top 10 risks and opportunities this time last year, there was a plethora of things to consider including US/China trade tensions, elections, and global growth. As it transpired, there was only one risk that really mattered, COVID-19. While a key focus of COVID-19 was the speed of the downturn in investment markets, to us, it would be remiss to not focus on the other important aspects. Such as the speed of the fiscal and monetary response, the acceleration we have seen in technological trends and perhaps the most incredible feat, that we have created multiple effective vaccines five times quicker than any other time in history. Necessity really is the mother of invention.READ MORE
RBNZ to drive retail rates lower
- The RBNZ has confirmed that cheaper bank funding will be here in time for Christmas via its Funding for Lending Programme (FLP).
- This will provide fresh impetus for banks to lower lending and deposit rates.
- Lower mortgage rates will likely boost an already-booming housing market. Lower term deposit rates may encourage consumer spending and a hunt for yield.
Economic strength to challenge the RBNZ’s dovish stance
- Market expectations of additional Reserve Bank of New Zealand (RBNZ) stimulus, for instance moving to a negative Official Cash Rate (OCR), have been tied to continued cautious communication from the central bank. Interest rate markets today price an OCR of -0.25% in one year’s time.
- The economy, however, is in much better shape than the RBNZ expected, which presents a challenge to its uber-dovish stance and the prospect of a negative OCR next year.
- In our view, the likely launch of a Funding for Lending Programme (FLP) as part of its 11 November Monetary Policy Statement (MPS) further reduces the need for additional stimulus.
- We see the distribution of future interest rate outcomes skewed higher.
The further consequences of lower interest rates
- As market interest rates in New Zealand decline further, additional consequences are revealing themselves. The theme of accelerating progression of longer-term trends continues.
- Wholesale interest rates continue to decline, with the Government’s PREFU announcement being the catalyst this week, due to a $10bln reduction in the size of the Government Stock issuance program for the 2020/21 fiscal year. The five-year New Zealand Government bond now trades at a negative yield, joining the one and two year maturities. 35% of outstanding nominal New Zealand Government Stock is now in the “negative rate” club.
- This week the Auckland Council issued the longest maturity bond in New Zealand for more than fifty years. The ability of a council to issue 30-year bonds in the domestic market is a notable milestone in the ongoing development of the New Zealand capital market.
Negative cash rates – The afterburner for asset prices
- The RBNZ’s stated preference for a negative OCR, should further stimulus be required, has encouraged the New Zealand market to expect negative wholesale cash interest rates next year
- This forward guidance on the potential for negative rates has led to large declines in retail interest rates and is having a powerful and positive impact on all asset prices
- This week a New Zealand government bond closed with a negative yield for the first time
ESG themes from company reporting season
- Health and safety are being prioritised in response to COVID-19
- Companies are broadly improving gender diversity and pay gap disclosure
- There is a rising alignment with climate change reporting framework
Bond market takes note of RBNZ dovish shift
- We think the RBNZ reaction function has become more dovish with lower and flatter yield curves the primary goal in the face of persistent health-related downside economic risks.
- The Bank expanded its QE programme by more-than-expected last week from $60bn to $100bn and said it is prepared to implement a negative OCR alongside direct lending to retail banks at interest rates close to the OCR, if required.
- Interest rates have fallen in response, but NZ government bonds now look expensive versus their global peers and a sharp rise in breakeven inflation rates suggest that economic risks may lie in both directions.
Shadow banks shine light on mortgage deferrals
- Some of New Zealand’s non-bank mortgage lenders have provided detailed data that illustrates they appear well-positioned to weather an increase in non-performing loans when COVID-related loan deferrals expire
- Our various probes into the big banks indicate no cause for alarm, albeit we expect loss provisioning needs to rise and small to medium-sized enterprise (SME) lending trends need to be monitored
Are we ‘Thinking Big’ Again?
- Electrification of industrial and process heat makes sense
- Pumped storage would be a massive project, but could help achieve the Government’s 100% renewable objective
- Substantial challenges remain in terms of cost, engineering, and resource consenting
- Scoping study results unlikely to be published quickly with sector uncertainty to remain in the short term
ESG & COVID-19 – Did the long term add value in the short term?
- Whilst Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) policies take time to impact investment returns, we present evidence that ESG policies added value in the volatile first half of 2020
- Companies with better ESG credentials fell by less when the market dropped in the first quarter of 2020 and kept up with the market when it rallied in the second quarter of 2020
- Companies with lower ESG credentials dropped more in the first quarter, recovered less in the second quarter and underperformed the market over the first half of 2020.
Harbour Market Survey: Cautious optimism
In our inaugural Harbour Market Survey, we asked almost 80 investment consultants, investors, brokers and banks some key market questions. Most respondents felt it was a good time to fix your New Zealand mortgage and that NZDUSD was likely to appreciate over the next three months, but they only marginally favoured adding riskier assets to portfolios – implying some weakening in the recent strong relationship between NZDUSD and risk assets. NZDAUD views were mixed.READ MORE
‘Blame it on Rio’
- Rio to leave, another Think Big Project bites the dust
- Rio Tinto has announced the closure of the New Zealand Aluminium Smelter (NZAS) from August 2021.
- Short term, the biggest impact on earnings will be felt by Contact Energy and Meridian Energy with stranded generation in the lower half of the South Island.
- Is it time to move forward and focus on transmission investment and de-carbonisation?
A bold bounce
- Many economies, including New Zealand, are re-opening and recovering faster than expected
- High growth rates are normal after such a large contraction in activity and the recovery, so far, is partial
- Ongoing policy stimulus is expected, given the residual uncertainty
Large Fiscal Spending Promises
- Budget 2020 revealed larger-than-expected potential spending in response to COVID-19.
- However, detail was lacking on many spending priorities.
- The accompanying larger bond issuance programme may prove difficult for the market to digest, placing upward pressure on government bond yields.
Will RBNZ QE help bridge the gap and how does it work?
What is the Reserve Bank of New Zealand’s (RBNZ’s) Quantitative Easing (QE) programme?After cutting the Official Cash Rate (OCR) by 75bp to 0.25% on March 16th, the RBNZ launched its Large Scale Asset Purchase (LSAP), or QE programme, just one week later. LSAP has a target to buy $30bn of government bonds over the next year; equivalent to 10% of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and, at the time, almost 50% of outstanding bonds ma...READ MORE
QE in New Zealand – A rising tide lifts most boats
- The RBNZ’s quantitative easing (QE), Large Scale Asset Purchase (LSAP) programme has kicked off to a very promising start.
- In a tug-of-war between massive Reserve Bank purchases and NZ Treasury issuance, the Reserve Bank is winning.
- The New Zealand Local Government Authority raised $1.1billion in new bonds issued today – a record amount.
- Along with better COVID-19 news in New Zealand and a rebound in equities, we are starting to see better activity in high grade NZ credit.
- The market is hoping this will flow through to the broader credit market. Early signs are encouraging, but the jury is out on the poor cousins at the lower end of the credit spectrum.
COVID-19: Building the bridge across the void
- Extraordinary global fiscal and monetary policies are starting to build a bridge across the void
- Markets are beginning to look beyond COVID-19 case trends, and towards solving the pandemic with tests, a new standard of care and vaccinations
- Quality companies, with strong balance sheets, are performing well
- This is a time to stay at home and be kind, it is also a time to pay close attention to discipline in investment decisions
How this could be different to the GFC
- Headlines around COVID-19 outside of Asia have continued to worsen and, coupled with the oil spat between Russia and Saudi Arabia, have sharply reduced investment sentiment and created pockets of financial stress.
- While sentiment is clearly downbeat, we need to recognise that there is still a wide range of outcomes that can occur.
- In the event COVID-19 does result in recession, note all recessions have been different.
- While this volatility is unsettling, it is important to put this sell-off in historical context.
Surprise cuts necessary, but not sufficient
- Overnight, the US Federal Reserve executed an out-of-cycle 50 basis point cut as financial conditions have deteriorated sharply over the last week.
- The closed circuit of declining confidence driving lower risk appetite, leading to increased financial stress and back to declining confidence, can be broken by government fiscal policy and monetary policy stimulus.
- We expect a concerted global effort across governments and central banks to support economic growth. New Zealand will be part of that effort.
Monitoring the US leveraged loan market
Investors have their noses to the wind for the source of the next crisis. The terrifyingly titled pile of debt, known as “leveraged loans”, could be starting to pong. At Harbour we remain vigilant, monitoring the US market, but taking comfort in the structure of markets down under.
Leveraged loans are simply private market borrowing by sub-investment grade companies. The US leveraged loan marketplace provides well over $US...READ MORE
Novel Coronavirus – What you need to know
- Novel Coronavirus (2019-nCoV) is a more contagious coronavirus than Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) and Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS), but fortunately, has a lower fatality rate so far.
- While we can look to SARS for the potential economic impact, China’s position in the global economy is far larger now than it was in 2002/03.
- Equity markets have typically rallied once the number of new cases peaks. We are not yet at that stage and expect volatility until that happens.
- We have added to some stocks with structural tailwinds that have been sold off as a result of the event. But otherwise, we are taking a vigilant stance continuing to emphasise longer term positive structural influences.
- This is continually evolving, World Health Organisation (WHO) situation reports are being produced daily and are available online. In addition, cases are being tracked in real time here.
Fiscal friendliness extends to housing
- The Reserve Bank of New Zealand (RBNZ) has found a fiscal friend in the past two months. Following the $12bn of capital spending announced in the Government’s December Budget, Kāinga Ora (Housing NZ’s parent) plans to borrow an additional $4bn to help its state housing efforts.
- While there is uncertainty about delivery, any additional government capital spending is likely to add to inflation via increased construction demand.
- RBNZ rate cuts are less likely as a result and activity indicators are already picking up. Rate hikes remain a long way off however, with still-low inflation suggesting the RBNZ can adopt
Harbour Macro Research Day: Mixed Signals
Harbour’s internal Macro Research Day is a chance to hear from external research providers, challenge assumptions and anchor our medium-term view.
The local outlook is mixed. Monetary conditions have eased and should support a recovery, but structural impediments mean business confidence may not pick up.
The global picture has improved which makes additional central bank support less likely.
Harbour held its bi-annual interna...
Electricity demand smelting away?
The probability of closure versus 2013 has increased
Weak commodity prices, energy and transmission costs are the main issues
As in 2013, the electricity industry may bow to Rio Tinto’s pressure, but possibly not the Government this time
Higher volatility in share prices and wholesale electricity prices is likely near term
NZ Monetary Policy: Diminishing Returns
The Reserve Bank of New Zealand (RBNZ) kept the Official Cash Rate (OCR) at 1.0% at its OCR Review this week, surprising the market with a rather sanguine tone, given the deteriorating global backdrop.
The RBNZ noted that both fiscal and monetary policy have scope to provide additional stimulus.
As the OCR plumbs new lows, questions are being raised over the efficacy of additional rate cuts.
This note highlights potential i...
4 sustainability trends from the latest company reporting season
- Sustainability disclosure has improved
- Key focuses include climate change, diversity and waste
- Real world impact alignment on the rise
Banks make a start on new capital
A new capital security issued on Tuesday night by Westpac Banking Corporation (Westpac) has highlighted the lack of higher-yielding opportunities available for New Zealand-based investors.
Banks fund the loans they make from deposits, bonds and shareholders’ contributions. In Australia, that’s also the order in which funds are repaid in the event of default. To go into further detail, there’s also a class of securities that...
Interest Rates Race to Zero?
Yields on fixed interest securities, which have been falling sharply all year, took another surge lower last week. The 5-year swap rate, a good proxy for market rates in New Zealand reached 1.36%, down from 2.20% at Christmas 2018 and 2.65% a year ago. That’s a record low level for NZ bond yields. The primary catalyst last week was a signal that the US Federal Reserve is close to cutting rates. They are joining the central ban...READ MORE
Responsible investing and equity returns
There is a growing awareness that stock returns are influenced by Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) considerations. As a long-term proponent of incorporating ESG factors into our assessment of companies, Harbour is delighted to have been involved in Armillary Private Capital’s annual review of returns of the NZ listed sector for 2018 that was released last week.
This is Armillary Capital’s ninth annual Return on Cap...
Harbour Macro Research Day
In recent years, Harbour’s internal six-monthly Macro Research Day has been an important part of our research calendar. It provides an opportunity to undertake a thorough review of the medium-term outlook for the macroeconomy and its implications for fixed interest, equity and multi-asset portfolios.
Our Macro Research Day last week commenced with presentations by economists from two of New Zealand’s largest banks discussing key drivers of the New Zealand economy. This included business confidence and the potential impact of the Reserve Bank capital requirements which has recently been one focus of our research agenda.READ MORE
Bond yields hit record lows; but a rate cut is not a done deal
New Zealand government stock yields fell to record low levels across all maturities last week, as the Reserve Bank acknowledged the weaker global economic outlook and the ensuing risks to the domestic economy. We think:
The economy has slowed but is still growing.
Bond yields appear to be pricing in a recession, which seems unlikely.
Rate cuts in New Zealand are not a done deal.
The decline in yields has been dramatic this ye...
Responsible investing extends beyond a green label
Contact Energy has announced its intentions to raise capital via a “green bond”.
A green bond is a debt security that has been verified to be backing assets, or projects, that have positive environmental or climate change benefits.
Green bonds can bring societal benefits by facilitating funding for projects with positive environmental impacts. Just as credit ratings indicate the likelihood of a bond defaulting, the green ...
Australian Royal Commission: Final report shakeup
After a year long review the Hayne Royal Commission (RC) into Misconduct in Financial Services has laid out recommendations. This reshaping of the financial services industry has significant implications and received strong political support, ahead of a likely election by 18 May 2019. It is possible that the Labor Party may have a harsher interpretation of potential changes than the RC recommends.READ MORE
Core NZ inflation pressures, lifting towards 2 percent
This week saw the release of NZ CPI inflation for Q4 2018. While headline annual inflation measure remained below 2%, the details showed core underlying pressures a little stronger than expected and continuing to lift to target. Rather than sparking any immediate change in policy direction, in our view, the CPI release will see the RBNZ continuing to “watch, worry, and wait”.
Leading into the CPI release, the market had been...
US earnings season delivers, but raises questions about future growth
Q3 US Earnings season was strong with 410 of the S&P 500 stock index beating consensus expectations. What wasn’t so strong was earnings guidance, which has led the market to downgrade future earnings expectations. While the outlook for US earnings looks less certain, we take some comfort from macroeconomic data which paints a solid picture of economic expansion.READ MORE
The Third Scenario – The End of Goldilocks
While the RBNZ expects to keep the OCR on hold through 2019 and into 2020, in their past two Monetary Policy Statements they have outlined two alternative scenarios: one with stronger inflation pressures; and another with softer economic growth. In our view, the market is currently underestimating the chances of a third scenario, which is a combination of both stronger inflation pressures and softer economic growth.
One of th...
US mid-terms election results: it’s now Blue and Red
With Andrew Bascand on a company research trip in Denver, Colorado, he has shared his on the ground views of the US mid-term election results and their implications.
My impression is that the US equity markets are fairly sanguine following the US election result because right now it is not about the politics – the economic data remains helpful and on track for the economic expansion to continue through 2019. The mid-terms ou...
Harbour Navigator: Postcard from China - The eCommerce growth model
I visited China last week and met with companies and commentators to dig beneath the data and get a sense of the current issues.
We visited many malls and shopping centres. In particular we went to mother and baby stores to experience the consumer in action, and witnessed the new eCommerce model. We also visited “wet markets”, hired bicycles with WeChat, and saw progress with a2’s new Chinese-labelled product. We saw first-ha...
Continued growth of responsible investment in New Zealand
The Responsible Investment Association Australasia (RIAA) has recently published their fourth annual New Zealand Responsible benchmark report[i] that shows the size and growth of responsible investing in New Zealand over the 2017 calendar year.
Harbour is delighted to have been included for the third consecutive year as one of four domestic asset managers that are using a leading approach to Environmental, Social and Governa...
Harbour Navigator: Regime Change at the RBNZ
The path of least regret for the RBNZ appears to be letting core inflation rise above 2%.
A broad interpretation of the mandate motivates actions to support growth and business confidence.
As the new regime beds down there may be more volatility in the rates and FX market, with a new voting committee still yet to come in 2019.
In last week’s Monetary Policy Statement (MPS), the RBNZ surprised markets by shifting the projected ...
Harbour Navigator: Deflationary risks in New Zealand abating
A key theme for the New Zealand economy in 2018 has been the potential crossroads facing the economic outlook. For the past 5 years, we have seen strong economic activity and low inflation keeping interest rates low and asset prices high. However, looking forward there are signs that economic activity is moderating at the same time as inflation pressures are emerging.READ MORE
A muted global market reaction so far?
With no further escalation, the implications for New Zealand from the current US-China tariff war are likely to be limited. Any escalation, however, will have a significant impact on global growth, company earnings, the stock market and the general appetite for risk. Already, some sectors may be more impacted via supply chain disruption, competitive pricing changes and the economic spill...
Banking sector under the spotlight
An Australian Royal Commission into Misconduct in the Banking, Superannuation and Financial Services industry has started to hear evidence. The so-called Hayne interim report into banking misconduct won’t be issued until 30 September though, unlike previous reports into the banking system, this inquiry is in the full public glare and, with more than 3,000 submissions, we can expect Justice Hayne to highlight further evidence o...READ MORE
How active management can provide a solution to technological disruption
The impact of technology is one of the most exciting aspects of being a professional investor. Technology can enable a business to significantly enhance its service offering, improving customer service and hopefully making an increased profit along the way – a win-win.
Disruptive technology, however, is when technology, or the convergence of multiple technologies, is sufficiently powerful enough to disrupt existing companies ...
A New Reserve Bank Governor and Policy Targets Agreement
Adrian Orr started yesterday as the new Governor of the RBNZ, and earlier this week, signed a Policy Targets Agreement (PTA) with the Minister of Finance, Grant Robertson. As widely expected, the announcement included many of the outcomes of Phase 1 of the Government’s RBNZ Review; reaffirming the RBNZ’s position as a flexible inflation targetter; adding a dual mandate of “supporting maximum sustainable employment”; and, shift...READ MORE
Trade Wars...Or Negotiations?
While many of the details of the US Government’s proposed trade tariffs directed at China (aimed at reducing the US’s trade deficit with China) and China’s reciprocal tariffs, are yet to be made public, the immediate response is to increase uncertainty for investment markets.
Investment markets have initially interpreted a break out of a trade war as being negative for growth and as being inflationary.
In Harbour’s view, the...
Harbour Equity Update: a2 Milk, Fletcher Building and CBL
This report will discuss three specific stocks (a2 Milk, Fletcher Building and CBL), as investor interest in these stocks has been particularly high recently.
February is often a busy time for investment announcements, and this year has carried a number of surprises.
In the month of February, provisional return data indicates Harbour’s active NZ and Australasian equity funds and mandates, out-performed the market benchmark ...
A Prudent Response to Expensive Housing
With 60% of Australian bank lending housing related, banks are bound inextricably to the property cycle. Unlike the worst-hit global geographies, the Australian household did not go through a period of deleveraging post-GFC, as housing credit continued to outpace income growth. With this backdrop, regulators are now doing their utmost to increase banks’ resilience and the banks too are chipping in.
There is not only one Aust...
Xi's China: More of the same, or big changes ahead?
In what is undoubtedly the most significant change of global leadership in 2017, President Xi Jinping of China has consolidated his powers further into the next five-year term.
Source: Xinhuanet (official press agency of the People’s Republic of China)
Xi is now ranked as one of the most influential Chinese leaders since the Cultural Revolution and has staffed the Politburo Standing Committee with five close allies. The Stan...
A new NZ Government: Market Implications
After a long period in opposition, we now have a Labour-led government in coalition with New Zealand First, and with support from the Green Party. The most significant initial market reaction has been a fall in the NZ dollar by around 2 percent and NZ share market by 1 percent on the open, as markets priced-in the possibility of a deterioration in business confidence and nervous overseas investors. This Navigator will set out ...READ MORE
NZ Election: Business as Usual
After the hard-fought NZ election campaign, markets are still left with some political uncertainty, with no
clear government formed on election night.
As the political parties enter coalition negotiations, an eventual National-NZ First Government appears
more likely than Labour-Greens-NZ First. However, it is still far too early to call. Consistent with the
last 8 MMP elections in NZ, it will likely take some time for a Gover...
NZ Election: Down to the No.8 Wire
The New Zealand election on 23 September may come down to the (No. 8) wire. By international standards, both National and Labour-led governments appear relatively centrist, without large policy differences. However, New Zealand equity market valuations are full, meaning that the market may become increasingly sensitive to changes in macro-economic settings, uncertainty and change. Some investors may want to be patient and see ...READ MORE
Investment Implications from Electric Vehicle Momentum
It has been hard to miss recent headlines relating to the progress of electric vehicles (EVs) and the
phasing out of the internal combustion engine (ICE) that powers the majority of today’s cars.
In May, Daimler announced the funding of its first European battery plant for its future Mercedes
EVs. Last week, Volvo announced that all its new-model cars will have an electric drivetrain by 2019;
a mix of hybrids and pure EVs. Ov...
RBNZ: Inflation, What Inflation?
At yesterday’s Monetary Policy Statement (MPS) release the Reserve Bank of New Zealand (RBNZ)
genuinely surprised financial markets, by assessing that the economic data received since February had a
neutral impact on the appropriate stance of monetary policy. While in the lead up many commentators
had focused on the recent jump in annual Consumer Price Index (CPI) inflation, the RBNZ’s response
could be summed up as “what infl...
Beware a 2019 Recession
Some superstitious investors worry about the chance of a global recession in 2017. They figure that the stockmarket crash in 1987, Asian crisis in 1997 and start of the GFC in 2007 make this the obvious year for troubles in markets. While it is difficult to find an economist that will forecast a recession, the maturity of the business cycle does warrant some caution. However, first we need to see more signs of consumer pr...READ MORE