Harbour Outlook: Choppy markets…but with earnings upside
- The COVID-19 vaccine rollout gathered steam during January. Israel, who has given the initial jab to a third of its population, is showing positive early signs. The vaccine rollout has not been as smooth in all jurisdictions, with Europe and the US especially encountering teething issues.
- The US earnings season has shown broad-based strength. At the time of writing, 277 of companies in the S&P 500 had reported earnings, with 79% of companies reporting earnings in line or above consensus expectations.
- New Zealand economic data continued to beat conservative consensus expectations. Stronger inflation and employment data has seen the market no longer price in future interest rate cuts.
Harbour Outlook: Growth continues to accelerate
- COVID-19 hospitalisations continued to increase globally with new strict lockdowns in the UK. However, countries have moved to fast-track vaccines to manage the pandemic. At the time of writing 24 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines have been administered across 41 countries including 7.7 million in the US and 1.5 million in the UK.
- Just before Christmas, the US approved USD900bn of additional fiscal stimulus (about 4% of GDP), much larger than the USD500bn expected by most analysts after the election resulted in a split Congress.
- The Democrats took control of the US Senate, by winning both seats at the January 5th Georgia runoff, increasing the prospect of large additional fiscal stimulus, increased corporate tax rates and further regulation.
- New Zealand Quarter 3 GDP data confirmed that economic activity has returned to pre-COVID-19 levels, consistent with high frequency activity indicators.
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
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.