- The last quarter has been a stellar one for investors, with positive returns from all asset classes. Equity markets continued to trade higher as central banks confirmed cash rates are likely to remain around zero for years to come, and economic data indicated a V-shape recovery is underway in a number of sectors.
- Equity markets rose further through August, which included the season that companies report their results to market, continuing a five-month positive return streak and bringing the year-to-date (YTD) return to +3.9%. Markets in New Zealand and the United States have hit new record highs.
- Fixed income returns were also positive in August and for the last quarter. The NZD appreciated slightly against the USD but fell against the AUD. Over the quarter the NZD was up over 9% against the USD, which moderated unhedged global equity returns for local investors.
Evidence of a V-shaped recovery
The global pandemic is not yet behind us. People in the northern hemisphere have been enjoying their summer holidays at the same time infection rates have been increasing. Yet the overall mortality rate continues to decline, highlighting better overall care and treatment options. At the same time, central banks and government policy makers have continued to support households, businesses, and banks allowing businesses to reopen and encouraging healthy economic activity as lockdowns are eased.
For now, the outcome has been a broad rebound in economic activity around the world. Housing has been particularly strong in many countries due to a combination of historically low interest rates, pent up demand, nesting (people redirecting spending to their home and in-house activities), and, in New Zealand, a shortage of supply. Along with houses, low interest rates have boosted demand for new cars, which has contributed to an upturn in global manufacturing.
Retail sales have also surprised many, with a strong rebound following a weak second quarter of the year. Household savings rates went up during the lockdowns and the use of those savings once economies reopened has contributed to a more robust recovery than many had predicted.
Central banks committed to ultra-low interest rates
In most cases, central bank interest rates are near zero and indications are they will stay there for a long time to come. The United States Federal Reserve has gone one step further by confirming it is focused on reducing unemployment and is now prepared to let inflation run above its official 2% target for some time before even thinking about raising rates. Comments from one of our own RBNZ Deputy Governors suggest our central bank is also prepared to do something similar.
The implication is that interest rates are going to remain at ultra-low levels possibly for years. Those waiting with cash in the bank for higher deposit rates are likely to be disappointed. The long-term trends contributing to the decline in inflation (including ageing populations, high debt, globalisation, and the proliferation of technology) are all still with us. Inflation risks remain benign near-term. That’s not to say all the money printing won’t eventually cause some inflationary pressures if it creates excess demand for goods and services. But that risk appears a fair way out from here.
As the equity markets continue to recover strongly, so too does optimism for future company earnings. July and August is when companies report their financial results to markets. Expectations for Q2 2020 earnings were low, and we saw more positive surprises than negative ones. Reflecting more buoyant than expected economic conditions, analysts are now generally lifting earnings expectations for this year and the year ahead.
The ‘working from home’ theme is becoming a permanent theme in many economies, with many people moving out of the cities and into the suburbs. This has been beneficial for industries such as homebuilders, car manufacturers, home furnishing, and anything else related to working or shopping from home.
With positive signs much of the global economy is experiencing a sharp rebound in activity, investors should become increasingly confident that the low in earnings is behind us, and a recovery is underway.
Stock market indices
Source: Thompson Reuters, Forsyth Barr analysis
Uncertainty still ahead, but stick to the plan
The commentary above all sounds pretty positive, and clearly equity markets have responded favourably.
But these remain unprecedented (a word used a lot at the moment) times. We’re still navigating the first global pandemic in over a century. Interest rates are the lowest in history, which may lead to economic imbalances longer-term. And governments are spending money with abandon, funded largely by central banks printing money, but this can’t last forever.
Given the pace of recovery in equity markets, it is understandable why some investors are nervous. We are not ignorant of these risks. We continue to monitor the implications for markets and businesses, and evaluate where investment opportunities and challenges may arise. But there have been a few reminders over the past few months including: (1) markets are able to remain resilient in the face of bad news, (2) share prices reflect the long-term earnings companies will generate over the years and decades ahead, not just the next six to 12 months, and (3) it’s not possible to consistently time or predict short-term movements in markets. We continue to recommend you stick to your long-term investment plan. Yes, it exposes you to near-term risk. But without bearing this risk, you can’t earn long-term returns.
Access Forsyth Barr research
Explore our research reports, news and analysis by logging into your account.
If you are not yet a client, create an account to read reports and view market announcements and company news.