Harbour Outlook: Elections, COVID waves come to the fore
- At the time of writing, Joe Biden is poised to become the 46th US President of the United States, most likely presiding over a split congress. This likely outcome has broad implications for markets including less fiscal stimulus, decreased prospect of corporate tax hikes and more cohesive foreign policy.
- Second COVID-19 infection waves in Europe have resulted in the reimposition of lockdowns which are likely to have a negative impact on economic activity.
- High frequency New Zealand growth indicators have largely returned to pre-COVID levels since the country reverted to Level 1 in early October. However, the level of activity remains below pre-COVID levels.
- The earnings season in the US painted the picture of a robust earnings recovery. At the time of writing, 417 companies have reported earnings with 84% of companies beating consensus earnings expectations.
Harbour Outlook: Election, recovery and vaccine uncertainty
- Joe Biden is a firming favourite to become the 46th US President. If Biden wins but the Republicans retain the Senate, most analysts predict little aggregate market reaction. At present, this outcome is finely balanced. A Democrat clean sweep is viewed as a less market-friendly outcome.
- The easiest part of the economic recovery phase now appears to have passed. Investors are more likely to face waves of positive and negative data to anchor views. Economists have widely dispersed views on the near-term outlook for both the New Zealand and Australian economies.
- Looking forward, announcements from many of the nine current COVID-19 vaccine Phase-3 trials are likely this quarter. Already markets have reacted to both positive and negative news, indicating the strong influence that the results have on uncertainty.
Harbour Outlook: Data supports markets
- Better-than-expected economic data and company earnings have supported risk sentiment over the past month.
- Continued progress towards a COVID-19 vaccine, alongside ongoing stimulus, has also added to the positive mood, outweighing concern about ongoing mobility restrictions and second waves of COVID-19 infection.
- The New Zealand economy continues to benefit from ongoing control of COVID-19, low mobility restrictions and policy support. Fiscal stimulus is likely to wane and ongoing border closure means complete recovery is largely contingent on a vaccine.
Harbour Outlook: Stimulus trumps rise in infections
- Equities continued to bounce back with the S&P/NZX 50 Index returning 5.3%, S&P/ASX 200 Index (in AUD) up 2.6% and the MSCI ACWI Index up 3.0%.
- US employment growth has continued to surprise to the upside, with the improving economic data providing a stark contrast to the worsening COVID case numbers.
- Global COVID-19 containment measures have eased in aggregate, allowing a partial recovery in economic activity. The average lockdown stringency for the world’s 10 largest economies, based on the Oxford University measure, reduced to 60 from 70 in May (where 100 is equivalent to Alert Level 4 and 0 is no restrictions).
- In New Zealand, higher frequency economic indicators are showing a sharp recovery in many sectors.
Harbour Outlook: Beating expectations
- Equities continued to bounce back with the S&P/NZX 50 returning 3.3%, S&P/ASX 200 (in AUD) up 4.4% and the MSCI ACWI Index up 4.1%.
- Government bond yields settled in a low range, as the Reserve Bank’s bond buying (QE) programme offset the pressure that would otherwise have come from increased issuance.
- Australian and New Zealand earnings season so far, on balance, has delivered more upside than downside surprises relative to expectations.
- Budget 2020 in New Zealand overwhelmed on spending but underwhelmed on detail.
Harbour Outlook: Bounce back
- COVID-19 infection rates have slowed in most countries with some positive news on potential treatments and the fatality of the virus.
- Equities bounced back strongly digesting positive COVID-19 news flow alongside large scale monetary and fiscal stimulus.
- US earnings season has kicked off with the results to date above expectations, albeit earnings expectations have fallen in recent weeks. Technology and healthcare companies have led the way.
- The action of central banks saw interest rates fall over the month. They are likely to remain low for some time.
Harbour Outlook: At Home
- COVID-19 continues to spread globally with cases recently reaching over 1 million.
- Governments and central banks’ stimulus measures are helping mitigate the impacts of a sudden stop in economic activity.
- Equities posted losses as investors digested the impact of reduced economic activity on company profits, while bond yields in many countries rose as investors baulked at the large increase in bond supply which is required to fund expanding government deficits globally.
- Russia’s refusal in early March to back an OPEC production cut resulted in Saudi Arabia dramatically increasing supply to “punish” the country. Combined with reduced global demand, oil prices have fallen more than 50% year to date.
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
Faster please, to avoid the void
As we all battle COVID-19, some spending is stopping, suddenly.
For many businesses it is like stepping into the void. Already in a few days New Zealand has over 27,000 wage subsidy applications. That is a lot and it’s just the start. Sadly, higher unemployment will happen as many of us battle in the grandstands against something we can’t see while we all wish the very best for our brave medical specialists at the front line....
How vulnerable is our housing market?
- Housing affordability continues to be a major challenge for many households. Initiatives to increase supply and to manage risks to the financial system have helped to contain house price rises, but they have not been able to hold the market back from strong price gains across the country. Our analysis had suggested that house prices could keep rising in the near term, supported by falling mortgage rates and a buoyant economy. However, risks of price declines are growing. The coronavirus outbreak has elevated the risks.
- The drivers of strong price gains over recent years have been positive migration, falling mortgage rates and strength in the jobs market. We see limited scope for these factors to add to housing market strength over the medium term. Coronavirus could be a catalyst for weaker prices if the economic impact is significant and unemployment increases.
- Prior to COVID-19 we had considered whether a housing market bubble might exist. We judged that this was not the case, although some traditional features of bubbles are apparent.
- Recently announced policy responses from the Reserve Bank of New Zealand and our Government are meaningful and we expect them to mitigate risks to a considerable degree. The key issues for housing will be the jobs market and whether any mortgage payment flexibility is forthcoming.
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.
Harbour Outlook: Short term uncertainty reigns
- The spread of COVID-19 outside of China dented sentiment during February, causing global interest rates and equity prices to fall sharply.
- US political risk was elevated during the month, as polling and early primary results saw Bernie Sanders emerge as the frontrunner in the race to become the Democratic candidate for the US Presidency. He since has dropped to a clear second favourite, behind Joe Biden. Sanders is not considered a “market friendly” candidate due to his views on (anti) trade, plans to break up big tech and unconventional views on monetary policy.
- The US earnings season saw 491 companies report. 359 companies (73%) delivered earnings in excess of consensus estimates, with the best performing sectors being technology where 94% of companies beat expectations. The sectors which performed poorest were telecommunications (50% beat rate), and oil and gas (44% beat rate).
- In New Zealand, the December company reporting season was weaker than expected with more misses against expectations in results, versus beats. Company outlook statements were cautious. Consensus earnings forecast downgrades exceeded upgrades.
Harbour Outlook: Coronavirus contagion uncertainty
- The conflict between the US and Iran caused some market volatility but proved to be short lived.
- Activity indicators were generally stronger in January. US manufacturing, which had been an area of weakness, posted a strong print in early February, well above expectations.
- The US earnings season was very strong. At the time of writing, 320 S&P 500 companies have reported with 238 (74%) of those companies beating consensus earnings expectations.
- The outbreak of Novel Coronavirus (2019-nCov), a relatively less deadly but more contagious coronavirus than SARS, will have an impact on global economic activity due to cities being in lockdown and supply chains being disrupted.
- Interest rates and commodity prices have dropped substantially in response to the coronavirus outbreak. Equities, however, appear to have been supported by strong earnings and greater emphasis on the prior uptick in economic activity.
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 Outlook: Downside risks reduced
- Risks of an escalation in trade conflict and a disorderly Brexit subsided in December, boosting equity markets further. The improved sentiment was somewhat dampened by rising geopolitical uncertainty in the Middle East.
- Activity indicators were stronger in December, with a further recovery in New Zealand confidence. The US manufacturing sector remains the fly in the ointment.
- Generally improving economic indicators and the reduction of tail risks saw bond yields rise over the quarter, meaning negative returns for fixed interest investments.
- Domestically, the Government confirmed additional capital expenditure ($12bn over the 5-year forecast period) that should provide further support to economic activity. The Government forecasts that the package will add 1.4% to GDP.
Top 10 risks (and opportunities) for 2020
What a difference a year makes. When we sat down to write down the risks and opportunities for 2019, we were amid a sharp market drawdown. The US earnings season had raised concerns about an earnings recession, the market was worried the Fed was too hawkish and the trade war had injected fear into markets. Fast forward to today and earnings have been resilient, the Fed is on hold and the trade war, which did escalate during 20...READ MORE
Harbour Outlook: Earnings deliver, trade fears fade
Key pointsEquity markets rallied on the back of positive trade developments, better than expected earnings and improved activity indicators.
The New Zealand market performed strongly on the back of a strong AGM and reporting season. Notably, the more defensive stocks which have outperformed in 2019 delivered weaker returns due to an increase in interest rate expectations.
Lead economic indicators have improved, but it is too e...
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...
Harbour Outlook: Risks reduced but not removed
- Global equities outperformed bonds in October as trade risks abated, US earnings impressed and central bank easing supported sentiment.
- The economic outlook for Australasia improved and the associated higher interest rates reduced the value of fixed income assets. Equities underperformed their global counterparts due to sectoral weakness in electricity, banking and materials stocks.
- We retain a degree of scepticism in the macro outlook. The global backdrop has improved but remains fragile. Domestically, large amounts of monetary stimulus have been delivered but confidence is poor and activity soft.
- This environment should favour growth stocks where Harbour equity portfolio exposure is concentrated alongside maintaining exposure to several defensive investments. Within fixed interest portfolios, we reduced duration in October but remain long relative to benchmark given soft economic activity and residual risk.
Harbour Outlook: Deteriorating Data
- Trade developments continued to whipsaw markets during September. The optimism instigated from a planned resumption in trade talks was soon dampened after a planned visit to US farms by Chinese officials was cancelled. Sentiment recovered later in September in anticipation of October’s round of negotiations.
- Global economic data generally came in weaker than expected during September, though some Chinese data did buck the trend of weak data prints.
- Domestically business confidence surveys have continued to weaken. NZIER’s Quarterly Survey of Business Opinion (QSBO) showed a decline in firms’ own trading activity with a net 11% of businesses reporting demand fell over the quarter, the weakest level since September 2010.
Harbour Outlook: Downside risks
Lead economic indicators continued to weaken and uncertainty around trade negotiations dragged on during September. It was against this uncertain backdrop that global equity markets fell 2.0% (in local currency). New Zealand equities held up comparatively well, down -0.9%, with higher yielding companies faring best after the RBNZ’s surprised 50bp cut to interest rates. Australia suffered the brunt of falling commodity prices, down 2.4% (in AUD)...READ MORE
Harbour Outlook: Lower and lower domestic interest rates
Key pointsThe trade tensions roller coaster continued during July. Hopes were initially raised with the announcement of further trade talks in China, though that hope turned quickly to despair as Trump announced further tariffs on Chinese imports.
The US Federal Reserve delivered its much-anticipated rate cut in July, just eight months after its last hike. The Fed’s view that this is a “midcycle adjustment to policy” disappoin...
Harbour Outlook: Finely balanced, markets walking a tightrope
Key points Trade tensions again dominated the headlines during June, while the “truce” reached at G20 summit mitigated some left-tail event fears, there is plenty yet to play out and the outcomes are likely to be non-binary.
Trade tensions and a string of softer than expected economic data led global yields lower in June.
In line with the global trend, domestic data erred on the side of disappointing with low PMI and busines...
Harbour Outlook: Trade tensions impact global growth
Global equity markets retraced from their highs in May with the MSCI World index (in local currency) returning -6.0%. Risk aversion picked up almost entirely due to the breakdown in trade talks between the US and China. This resulted in the US increasing tariffs on US$200 billion of Chinese goods; China promptly retaliated.
New Zealand and Australian equities weathered the volatility in global markets well...READ MORE
Harbour Outlook: More bright spots emerge
Global equity markets continued to strengthen in April with the MSCI World index (in local currency) returning 3.8%. Markets were buoyed by the trifecta of a strong US earnings season, signs that Chinese stimulus have had a positive economic impact and, perhaps not unrelated, eurozone growth rates coming in above expectations...READ MORE
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
Harbour Outlook: Records broken
Global equity markets continued to strengthen in March with the MSCI World index (in local currency) returning 1.6%, bringing the return for the quarter to 12.6%. Markets were buoyed by a dovish statement from the Fed, whose “patient” approach is unlikely to see any rate rises for some time. A “great” trade deal has been touted between the US and China, which has breathed further life into investment markets...READ MORE
Slowing but still growing
- Share markets continued their new year rally, aided by positive noises from trade negotiations and further dovish rhetoric from the US Federal Reserve (the Fed)
- Economic data released during the month continue to portray lower economic activity, especially in Europe and China, though China has looked to combat this through a range of stimulatory measures
- Domestically, the economic outlook is continuing to soften, though at this point, the transition appears to be from strong to moderate growth, with risks to the downside
Harbour Outlook: Fed Pause Party
Global equity markets rebounded strongly in January, led by the S&P 500 which had its strongest January since 1987. The sharp recovery in risk appetite reflected more dovish statements from the US Federal Reserve (the Fed) which is now expected to pause its interest rate hiking cycle until the cross currents of slowing global growth, market volatility and “tightened” financial conditions pass. A better than expected kick off to the US earnings season further whetted investors’ appetite towards risk assets...READ MORE
10 Risks to Watch in 2019
When investing in an uncertain world, it is useful to distinguish between a core view of the most likely outcome for economies and markets, and the key risks that could challenge that assessment.
In our most recent monthly Harbour Outlook we set out our core view.  Markets have experienced goldilocks conditions over the past 5 years, with solid economic growth, low inflation and low interest rates. Through 2018 we have see...
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
Outlook: Equity Market Pullback
For much of the year, the main theme has been global bond yields inching higher as US Federal Reserve continues normalising interest rates; while at the same time equity markets also moved steadily higher, supported by solid global growth. However, finally in October equity markets experienced a noticeable and widespread pullback.
Chart 1. Equity market levels since the beginning of 2018
The New Zealand eq...
Investment Horizon: Harbour Macro Research Day
Our internal Macro Research Day is a chance to re-visit the research that anchors our medium-term view.
Locally, we expect economic activity to moderate rather than slow sharply, and the RBNZ to remain on hold for a considerable time ahead to provide the best chance for core inflation to lift above 2%.
Globally, we see interest rates rising, but with monetary policy still supportive for financial markets while global inflation...
Outlook: Low Local Interest Rates
In September we saw a continuation of the theme of low local interest rates in New Zealand, in a broader global environment where bond yields overseas have crept higher. This provided support for the local fixed interest and equity markets, while the NZ dollar remained at its recent low levels.
The tone in global markets has remained relatively cautious, with worries about trade tensions, pockets of strain ...
Harbour Outlook: Crisis of confidence
It was a strong month for absolute returns in New Zealand asset classes in August, with the NZX50 sharemarket index rising around 4.4% and the NZ Government bond index generating a return above 1.2%. This strong performance of financial markets sat in sharp contrast to the continued weakness of New Zealand business confidence, which is shaping the political and policy-making environment.
As usual there was a laundry list of global developments highlighting the ongoing risks to the global backdrop: heightened US trade tensions, this time with Canada; wobbles in the Italian banking sector and sovereign bond market; emerging market strains in Turkey and Argentina; and political changes in Australia generating the 5th prime minister in five years. Despite these developments and headlines, global macroeconomic data, particularly in the United States, continued to show a picture of solid actual economic activity running near economists’ expectations...READ MORE
Harbour Outlook: Slowing growth and rising inflation
In recent months, we have highlighted how the New Zealand economy and markets seem at a crossroads, with a moderation in domestic economic activity whilst cost pressures appear to be rising. With further evidence of this scenario playing out in July, we look into the implications for the rates market through monetary and fiscal policy, as well as the impact on New Zealand equity valuations.
But first, looki...
Harbour Outlook: Crossroads
A common theme which came through during May was economies and markets being at crossroads. Globally, the US continued to generate solid economic data, while in Europe political tensions rose. Domestically, solid economic activity masked a growing divergence by type of activity. Equally, subdued near-term inflation pressures concealed the prospect of an uplift in some medium-term inflation drivers.
Bond yields fell over the month. Economic data in the US is continuing to print at very robust levels and markets are placing an 80% chance on the US Federal Reserve delivering another hike at their upcoming June meeting. However, this was more than offset during May by a flight to safety prompted by the failure of leading Italian political parties to form a government, heightened by the very high level of Italian Government debt and concerns that the Italians may wish to redefine aspects of their Eurozone membership. While Italian 2-year yields initially spiked as the market priced an additional risk premium, yields in other developed markets like the US, Australia and NZ fell given their relative safety...READ MORE
Harbour Outlook: Moving into the political season
The Harbour Outlook summarises recent market developments, what we are monitoring closely, and our key views on the outlook for fixed interest, credit and equity markets.
Globally, equity markets bounced back in April, with concerns abating from earlier in the year on global inflation risks, trade wars, political threats to the tech sector, and funding pressures. In particular, global markets were comforted...
Trade, tech and funding tensions
Globally, equity markets were weak over March, with most overseas markets down between 2-3% over the month.
After experiencing worries about rising inflation and the removal of monetary stimulus in January and February, in March equity investors were rattled by the Trump-led US government’s aggressive approach to trade negotiations and potential increased regulation of the technology sector. In addition, wh...
The Harbour Outlook summarises recent market developments, what we are monitoring closely, and our key views on the outlook for fixed interest, credit and equity markets.
Key developments Following on from the same themes in January, markets continued to see strong global economic growth in February, but worried about the top risk on our list for 2018 – namely inflation risk and ultimately concerns about whether monetary sti...
Nearing an end to the New Zealand Goldilocks?
Markets, both in New Zealand and globally, have experienced goldilocks conditions for the past 5 years of low inflation and solid economic growth. While markets performed strongly in November, there were increasing signs, particularly in New Zealand, that 2018 may involve a transition away from this goldilocks environment.READ MORE
Adjusting to Change
Key developments ‘Adjusting to change’ continued to be a key theme driving markets in October, whether it was political change, normalising global interest rates or changing consumer behaviour reflecting disruptive technological changes.
New Zealand had the drama of watching election coalition negotiations unfold, which eventually enabled the Labour Party and New Zealand First to form a government, with supply and confidence ...