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Tuesday, 14 January 2014 02:39

Book Review - Dog Days - Australia after the boom

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Dog-Days-cover-(print)Ross Garnaut - Economic Adviser to the Hawke/Keating Governments and well respected economist has recently published a book that labels Australia as complacent and at the 'cross-road' to its future.

"Here is a brilliant guide to the future of the Australian economy that our prime minister, his cabinet and indeed all members of parliament should study.  We cannot be sure that big problems are ahead for Australia owing to the end of the China boom, but it is highly likely, and our government must be prepared."  Max Corden on the book.

Here is an article extracted from the media recently that outlines some of the aspects of the book that we believe is worth a read.  It's price is $19.99 from bookshops or can be downloaded in electronic version for $9.99.

Australia is enjoying its 22nd year of economic growth without recession – an experience that is unprecedented in any other developed country.

For the first decade of expansion, growth was based on extraordinary increases in productivity, attributable to productivity-raising reforms from 1983. In the early years of this century, reform and productivity growth slowed sharply and then stopped. For a few years, increases in incomes and expansion of output came from a housing and consumption boom, funded by wholesale borrowing overseas by the commercial banks.

Unlike other English-speaking countries and Spain, Australia avoided recession with the end of the housing and consumption boom (earlier in Australia than elsewhere). This was largely the result of a China resources boom. The boom emerged when the exceptional metals and energy intensity of Chinese growth in response to Keynesian expansion through the Asian financial crisis, and again in response to the global financial crisis, took markets by surprise, and lifted prices of iron ore and coal continuously and immensely from 2003 until the Great Crash late in the September quarter of 2008.

China’s fiscal and monetary expansion put iron ore and coal prices back on a strongly rising trajectory in the second half of 2009, and new heights were reached in 2010 and 2011. The high prices for coal and iron ore flowed quickly into state and especially Commonwealth government revenue and was mostly spent as it was received – raising the Australian real exchange rate to unusual, and by 2013, unprecedented levels. The high commodity prices induced unheard-of high levels of resources investment after the recovery of the Chinese economy from the Great Crash of 2008, adding to the expansionary and cost-increasing impacts.

The China resources boom created salad days of economic policy, in which incomes could grow even more rapidly than community expectations. The expansionary effect of the resources boom – taking expenditure induced by high terms of trade, resource investment and resource production together – reached its peak in the September quarter of 2011, when the terms of trade began a decline that continues today. The terms of trade fell partly because Chinese growth fell by about one-quarter within a new model of economic growth.

A bigger influence was the new model of growth, which caused energy and metals and especially thermal coal to be used less intensively. Huge increases in coal and iron ore supplies are also putting downward pressure on prices and will be increasingly important in future.

The dog days of economic policy

 

The declining impact of the China resources boom ushered in the dog days of economic policy from late 2011, when government revenue and private incomes growth sagged well below expectations and employment grew less rapidly than adult population. The maintenance of high employment and reasonable output growth without external payments problems requires the restoration of investment and output in trade-exposed industries beyond resources. And yet the real exchange rate by early 2013 was at levels that rendered uncompetitive virtually all internationally traded economic activity outside the great mines. A substantial reduction in Australian cost levels relative to other countries is required – a large depreciation of the real exchange rate – to maintain employment and economic growth.

The more that productivity growth can be increased the better. Helpful policy measures include the removal of artificial sources of economic distance between Australia and its rapidly growing Asian neighbours to allow larger gains from trade – removal of remaining protection and industry assistance at the border as the real exchange rate falls, and investment in transport and communications infrastructure.

While China’s new model of economic growth ends the extraordinary growth of export opportunities for iron ore and coal that characterised the first 11 years of this century, new patterns of growth in China and elsewhere in Asia are rapidly expanding opportunities in other industries in which Australia has comparative advantage – education, tourism and other services, high-quality foodstuffs, specialised manufactures based on innovation.

But in contrast to iron ore, coal and natural gas, Australia does not have overwhelming natural advantages over other suppliers of these products. It must compete with the rest of world on price and quality, especially with developed country suppliers with hugely depreciated real exchange rates following the Great Crash.

Even with the return of productivity growth to the world-beating levels of the 1990s, maintenance of output and employment growth would require a large reduction in the nominal value of the dollar, accompanied by income restraint to convert this into a real currency depreciation.

A new economic reform era is required. That requires social cohesion around acceptance that all elements in society must share in restraint as well as commitment to productivity-raising structural change. Achievement of this outcome is blocked by changes in the political culture of Australia since the reform era. Now, uninhibited pursuit of private interests has become much more important in policy discussion and influence.

The new Australian government will succeed in building the political culture that is necessary to deal with the problem only if it is effective in persuading the community of the importance of reform, and in confronting the Australian complacency of the early 21st Century.

This will be hard, as the government will have to change the 21st-century tendency for private interests to outweigh the public interest in policy discussion and choice. Harder still, it will have to disappoint its strongest supporters along the way to leading Australia into a new reform era.

Ross Garnaut is vice-chancellor’s fellow and professorial fellow in economics at the University of Melbourne. This article is based on his book, Dog Days: Australia After the Boom, and is part of a series from East Asia Forum (www.eastasiaforum.org) in the Crawford School of Public Policy at the Australian National University.

 

Monday, 06 January 2014 19:13

Fed Tapering - what it means for investors

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Wall St ImageKey points

- After much talk since May, the US Federal Reserve is finally reducing (or tapering) its asset purchase program - by $US10bn a month.

- However, the Fed has enhanced its very dovish forward guidance, highlighting that interest rate hikes are still a long way off and dependent on the economy.

- Fed policy remains market friendly & generally supportive of further gains in shares.

- While, Fed tapering and speculation around it has and will contribute to bouts of market uncertainty, it should be seen as good news as it indicates the US recovery is becoming more sustainable.

Introduction

In what was perhaps the most anticipated event this year the US Federal Reserve has announced it will reduce the pace of its third quantitative easing (QE3) program by $US10bn a month. The Fed has been foreshadowing a “tapering” since May 22nd so it’s a surprise to no one. This note looks at what it means for US monetary policy and investment markets.

The Fed tapers

The key aspects of the Fed’s decision to taper are:

  • A cutback in QE from $US85bn a month to $US75bn.
  • This to be focussed on both reduced Treasury bond purchases (which drop from $US45bn a month to $US40bn) and reduced purchases of mortgage backed securities (which drop from $40bn a month to $35bn).
  • Tapering is not a “not on a preset course” but dependent on further economic improvement & higher inflation with Chairman Bernanke implying the wind down will be such that QE will likely continue into late next year, implying an ongoing reduction of about $US10bn in bond purchases each meeting, which is slower than many expected,
  • More dovish guidance on the outlook for interest rates with the Fed indicating rates will remain near zero well beyond the time when unemployment falls below 6.5% and 12 of the 17 Fed committee officials not seeing a rate hike until 2015. In other words the clear message is that tapering is not monetary tightening and does not mean that the first rate hike is any closer.

The Fed’s dovish guidance is significant as Fed research suggests it has greater effects on the economy than signals about asset purchases.* Specifically, it’s aimed at pushing back against rising bond yields as it has led to higher mortgage rates.

Our assessment

The first thing to note is that the Fed’s move is positive as it indicates the US economy is getting stronger and the recovery more self-sustaining and so the US can start to be gradually taken off life support. However, the emphasis is on gradual. It’s quite clear the Fed is still committed to easy monetary policy until more spare capacity is used up. While the economy is on the right path, it’s still got a way to go, particularly with inflation running well below the Fed’s 2% target.

In this regard, tapering is not the same as monetary tightening. Pumping cash into the US economy is continuing but at a slightly lower rate. It’s very different to the premature and arbitrary ending of QE1 in March 2010 and QE2 in June 2011 that went from $US95bn & $US75bn respectively in monthly bond purchases to zero overnight at a time when US and global economic data was poor and contributed to 15-20% share market slumps at the time. This time around QE is only being reduced gradually and only because the economic data shows the US economy improving.

More fundamentally, tapering does not signal earlier interest rate hikes. Quite clearly the Fed has gone out of its way to stress this message by indicating that near zero interest rates will likely remain well beyond the time when unemployment falls below its previous target of 6.5%. Our own view of the US economy is very similar to the Fed’s in seeing growth of around 3% next year driven by housing, business investment and consumer spending. However, barring a much faster acceleration in growth, interest rate hikes are still probably 18 months or more away:

  • Growth is still far from booming.
  • Spare capacity is immense as evident by 7% official unemployment, double digit labour market underutilisation and a very wide output gap (ie the difference between actual and potential GDP).

Image 1
Source: Bloomberg, AMP Capital

  • A fall in labour force participation has exaggerated the fall in the unemployment rate. While much of this is structural some is cyclical and at some point will start to bounce back slowing the fall in unemployment.
  • Inflation is low at just 1.2%.

Comments during her nomination hearings quite clearly indicate that Janet Yellen, the likely next Fed Chairman after Bernanke’s term ends at the end of January, will not be rushing to raise interest rates.

Put simply the Fed may be easing up on the accelerator, but they are a long way from applying the brakes.

Finally, while the US is slowing its monetary stimulus this is not so in other key developed regions with both the ECB and Bank of Japan likely to ease further if anything.

Implications for investors

While the days of expanding US monetary stimulus are probably over, the message from the Fed remains market friendly. The pace of quantitative easing is slowing only gradually, this is contingent on the US economy continuing to strengthen and rate hikes are unlikely until 2015, at least.

For sovereign bonds our medium term view remains one of poor returns. Despite the back up in yields, they remain low relative to long term sustainable levels suggesting the risk of rising yields and capital losses over time as the global economy mends. Even if bond yields stay flat at current levels they offer poor returns, eg just 2.9% for US 10 year bonds and just 4.3% for Australian ten year bonds. However, a 1994 style bond crash which saw extreme long bond positions unwound triggered by a sharp 300 basis point rise in the US Fed Funds rate looks unlikely.

For shares, the period of dirt cheap share markets and support from ever expanding monetary stimulus seems over. More significantly, taper talk since late May has clearly made some nervous given the positive relationship between rounds of quantitative easing in the US and share markets, with many fearing that a move to end it will be followed by slumps as occurred after QE1 and QE2 ended. See the next chart.

Image 2

Source: Bloomberg, AMP Capital

Slowing QE suggests share market returns are likely to slow from the 20% or so pace of the last 18 months. Bouts of uncertainty regarding the Fed’s intentions are also likely, as we saw in May-June and more recently. However, the overall picture remains favourable for shares:

First, the tapering of QE3 is very different to the abrupt and arbitrary ending of QE1 and QE2. This time around US data is stronger and the wind down in QE3 is dependent on further improvement in US economy.

Second, although the Fed isn’t undertaking monetary tightening many tend to see it as such so past monetary tightening moves, which have been via rate hikes, are instructive. The next table shows US shares around the first rate hikes in the past 8 Fed tightening cycles. The initial reaction after 3 months is mixed with shares up half the time and down half the time. But after 12 and 24 months a positive response tends to dominate. So even if this were the start of a monetary tightening cycle it’s not necessarily bad for shares.

The reason for this lies in the improvement in growth and profits that normally accompanies an initial monetary tightening. It’s only later in the cycle when rates are going up to onerous levels to quell inflation that it’s a worry. Right now we are seeing improving growth and profits, but with the start of rate hikes (let alone rises to onerous levels) looking a long way off given very low inflation.

US shares after first Fed monetary tightening moves

First rate hike -3 mths +3 mths +6 mths +12 mths + 24 mths
Oct 80 4.8 1.6 4.2 -4.4 2.4
Mar 84 -3.5 -3.8 4.3 13.5 22.5
Nov 86 -1.5 14.0 16.4 -7.6 4.8
Mar 88 4.8 5.6 5.0 13.9 14.6
Feb 94 2.9 -6.4 -4.9 -2.3 14.9
Mar 97 2.2 16.9 25.1 45.5 30.3
Jun 99 6.7 -6.6 7.0 6.0 -5.6
Jun 04 1.3 -2.3 6.2 4.4 5.5
Average 2.2 2.4 7.9 8.6 11.2

Source: Thomson Reuters, AMP Capital

Thirdly, the rally in US shares recently has been underpinned by record profit levels. It’s not just due to easy money.

Finally, shares are likely to benefit from long term cash flows as the mountain of money that has gone into bond funds since 2008 is gradually reversed with some going to shares.

Image 3

Source: ICI, AMP Capital

While next year will no doubt see a few corrections in shares along the way, the key point is that the broader picture – of reasonable share market valuations, improving global growth and still very easy monetary conditions - suggests the bull market in shares has further to run.

The Australian share market is also likely to benefit from the rising trend in global shares, but is likely to remain a relative underperformer reflecting better valuations globally and a bit more uncertainty over the Australian economy. Sector wise, mining stocks look cheap and best placed to benefit from the global recovery.

In terms of the Australian dollar, Fed tapering may make life a bit easier for the RBA in getting the $A down. While I wouldn’t get too excited as near zero interest rates in the US look like remaining in place for some time, the broad trend in the $A is likely to remain down.

Finally, in the very short term getting the Fed’s taper decision out of the way likely clears the way for the seasonal Santa rally in shares that normally gets underway around this week and runs into early January.

Dr Shane Oliver
Head of Investment Strategy and Chief Economist
AMP Capital

 

Important note: While every care has been taken in the preparation of this document, AMP Capital Investors Limited (ABN 59 001 777 591, AFSL 232497) and AMP Capital Funds Management Limited (ABN 15 159 557 721, AFSL 426455) make no representations or warranties as to the accuracy or completeness of any statement in it including, without limitation, any forecasts. Past performance is not a reliable indicator of future performance. This document has been prepared for the purpose of providing general information, without taking account of any particular investor’s objectives, financial situation or needs. An investor should, before making any investment decisions, consider the appropriateness of the information in this document, and seek professional advice, having regard to the investor’s objectives, financial situation and needs. This document is solely for the use of the party to whom it is provided.

 

Saturday, 15 February 2014 05:59

CSL - Company Update - January 2014

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CSL has long been a company we have liked.

Mark Draper (GEM Capital) talks with Daniel Moore (Investors Mutual) about some recent developments with the company as well as an important accounting measure that investors should be aware of when valuing CSL.

 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fDLQxFjgopc

 

DISCLAIMER: The above information is commentary only (i.e. our general thoughts).  It is not intended to be, nor should it be construed as, investment advice.  To the extent permitted by law, no liability is accepted for any loss or damage as a result of any reliance on this information.  Before making any investment decision you need to consider (with your financial adviser) your particular investment needs, objectives and circumstances.

 

 

Sunday, 24 November 2013 20:45

Bank Shares - Safe as Houses?

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Mark Draper (GEM Capital) talks with Daniel Moore (Investors Mutual) about the impact of a potential property bubble in Australia on Australian Banks.

The average punter on the street considers Bank Shares to be a safe haven , but just correct is that assumption.

 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=50r8DW85cNI

 

DISCLAIMER: The above information is commentary only (i.e. our general thoughts).  It is not intended to be, nor should it be construed as, investment advice.  To the extent permitted by law, no liability is accepted for any loss or damage as a result of any reliance on this information.  Before making any investment decision you need to consider (with your financial adviser) your particular investment needs, objectives and circumstances.

 

 

Thursday, 14 November 2013 02:52

"Nein" to Nine

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Channel-Nine-LogoChannel Nine is being floated on the share market shortly, and for many investors the thought of investing in a household name might be appealing.

Here we outline some of the reasons that investors should be wary of this listing:

1. TV advertising spending has gone nowhere over the last 5 years - here is a chart sourced from the Channel 9 prospectus

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2. Traditional TV is facing a significant threat from the internet such as YouTube, Apple and Google TV just to name a few.

3. Channel Nine's price to earnings ratio is 14-15 - which doesn't strike us as cheap for a business that is being structurally challenged.

4. Current owners are selling 40% of their shares in this offer, and only have to hold their other shares for 12 months.

 

Before subscribing to shares in Channel Nine, investors should seek professional advice.

 

DISCLAIMER: The above information is commentary only (i.e. our general thoughts).  It is not intended to be, nor should it be construed as, investment advice.  To the extent permitted by law, no liability is accepted for any loss or damage as a result of any reliance on this information.  Before making any investment decision you need to consider (with your financial adviser) your particular investment needs, objectives and circumstances.

 

 

 

Friday, 01 November 2013 23:41

Deeming rates lowered by Centrelink

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Interest Rate ImageHere is the press release from the Commonwealth Government announcing a lowering of the Deeming Rate for the Income Test to determine Centrelink allowances and pensions.

More than 740,000 Australian pensioners will benefit from the lowering of the social security deeming rates from 4 November 2013.

The Minister for Social Services, Kevin Andrews, said the deeming rate will decrease to 2 per cent from 2.5 per cent for financial investments up to $46,600 for single pensioners and allowees, $77,400 for pensioner couples and $38,700 for each member of an allowee couple.

The upper deeming rate will decrease to 3.5 per cent from 4 per cent for balances over these amounts.

“The deeming rules are a central part of the social security income test,” Mr Andrews said.

“They are used to assess income from financial investments for social security and Veterans’ Affairs pension/allowance purposes.

“This announcement means that part-rate pensioners and allowees will have less income assessed from their investments and receive a boost in Government income support.

“Returns available to pensioners and other allowees have decreased since deeming rates were last changed, in March 2013.

“This announcement brings the deeming rates in line with available financial returns,” Mr Andrews said.

Deeming rates reflect the rates of return that people receiving income support payments can earn from their financial investments. If income support recipients earn more than these rates, the extra income is not assessed.

Payments affected by the deeming rates include means tested payments such as the Age Pension, Disability Support Pension and Carer Payment, income support allowances and supplements such as the Parenting Payment and Newstart, paid by the Department of Human Services and the Department of Veterans' Affairs.

GEM Capital Comment:

For the want of spoiling a good press release, we hasten to add, that this change is likely to only benefit those people who are currently paid under the income test, rather than the assets test.  For those who are currently paid under the assets test, this change is likely to have no effect on their entitlements. (remembering that Centrelink apply an assets test and an income test and pay the recipient a benefit based on which test delivers the lowest outcome)

Nevertheless this is a welcome move considering the downward movement we have seen in interest rates.

Thursday, 31 October 2013 01:51

Australian Share Market Outlook - October 2013

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John Grace (Deputy CEO, Ausbil Funds Management) and one of Australia's most respect Australian Share investors talks about the most recent company reporting season.

John also talks about his outlook for the share market, and his optimism despite a solid rally over the past 12 months.

More importantly he discusses how he has positioned his fund to take advantage of what has been very much a two tier market.

 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iFfHhtpUPOg

 

 

DISCLAIMER: The above information is commentary only (i.e. our general thoughts).  It is not intended to be, nor should it be construed as, investment advice.  To the extent permitted by law, no liability is accepted for any loss or damage as a result of any reliance on this information.  Before making any investment decision you need to consider (with your financial adviser) your particular investment needs, objectives and circumstances.

Friday, 18 October 2013 20:00

Global Investment Update - October 2013

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Hamish Douglass (CEO Magellan Financial Group) talks with Mark Draper (Adviser, GEM Capital) about his views on the current state of global financial markets.

In particular Hamish discusses:

1. How he does not believe that the US will default on their debt

2. Withdrawal of US stimulus in the form of Quant Easing and what investors should be watching in this process

3. How the Magellan Global Fund is positioned to generate returns for investors over the next 3 years

 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MTI0JH-OmaQ&feature=c4-overview&list=UUF9H8uLExyIl1s4llFYleow

 

For more information on our views http://www.gemcapital.com.au

Wednesday, 16 October 2013 12:37

US Debt Ceiling - still a stalemate

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imagesTwo days out from the 17 October deadline, negotiations in Washington have (yet again) come to a halt. Key Senate figures had been working towards a compromise proposal, but those discussions stopped once news got out that House Republicans had rejected the plan without seeing any details, instead choosing to focus on their own initiative. If that wasn’t bad enough, it subsequently came to light that the House Republicans may not even have enough support to get their bill through the House, let alone the Senate. That this is the case has since been confirmed, with the Republican leadership cancelling a planned vote on the bill. There have since been some reports that the Senate has recommenced negotiations, but the House and Senate clearly remain miles apart.

We continue to see very little chance that a resolution will be found this week. 17 October is not the true deadline for non payment by the US government. Rather, it is 1 November and beyond where the real risk lies. Markets have, broadly speaking, remained sanguine on the fiscal situation to date, but recent market developments provide evidence that the market psyche may be shifting.

Here is what high profile investor and author of investment report "Boom, Gloom and Doom", Marc Faber:

"It's basically a dysfunctional government that we have that is far too large that is essentially wasting money left, right and center. The Republicans are wasting money on the military complex and the Democrats are basically buying votes with transfer payments, with entitlement programs, it goes on. It is a huge waste. The problem is that I don’t see a solution."

We remain of the view that the US is highly unlikely to default on its debt obligations and that an '11th hour' solution will be found.

DISCLAIMER: The above information is commentary only (i.e. our general thoughts).  It is not intended to be, nor should it be construed as, investment advice.  To the extent permitted by law, no liability is accepted for any loss or damage as a result of any reliance on this information.  Before making any investment decision you need to consider (with your financial adviser) your particular investment needs, objectives and circumstances.

Wall St ImageKey points

- The Fed’s decision not to taper reflects a desire to see stronger US economic growth and guard against uncertainties around coming US budget discussions.

- The Fed clearly remains very supportive of growth and this will help growth assets like shares, albeit there may still be a speed bump in the month ahead.

Introduction

In what has perhaps been the biggest positive policy surprise for investors this year, the US Federal Reserve decided not to start tapering its quantitative easing (QE) program and leave asset purchases at $US85bn a month. This followed four months of almost constant taper talk which had led investment markets to factor it in. As a result the decision not to taper combined with very dovish language from the Fed has seen financial markets celebrate. This note looks at the implications.

Ready, set…stop

With the Fed foreshadowing from late May, that it would start to slow its asset purchases “later this year”, financial markets had come to expect that the Fed would start tapering at its September meeting. In the event the Fed did nothing. Several factors explain the Fed’s decision:

  • The Fed always indicated that tapering was conditional on the economy improving in line with its expectations whereas recent data – particularly for employment and some housing indicators – has been mixed.
  • Second, the Fed has become concerned that the rapid tightening of financial conditions, mainly via higher bond yields, would slow growth.
  • Third, the upcoming budget and debt ceiling negotiations (with the risk – albeit small – of a Government shutdown or technical default) and accompanying uncertainty appear to be worrying the Fed.
  • Finally, the Fed may have concluded that any forward guidance it would have provided to help keep bond yields down may have lacked sufficient credibility given the coming leadership transition at the Fed.

Observing the run of somewhat mixed data lately and the back up in bond yields, I and most others concluded that the Fed would address this by announcing a small tapering, ie cutting back asset purchases by $US10bn a month, and issue dovish guidance stressing that rate hikes are a long way away in order to keep bond yields down. However, it turns out that the Fed is more concerned about the risks to the growth outlook from higher bond yields at this point than we allowed for particularly given the US budget issues.

The Fed’s announcement is ultra-dovish with tapering delayed till “possibly” later this year and the Fed further softening its guidance. For example, the mid 2014 target for ending QE is gone and the 6.5% unemployment threshold for raising interest rates has been softened with Bernanke saying rates may not be increased till unemployment is “substantially” below 6.5%. The median of Fed committee members is for the first rate hike to not occur until 2015, and for the Fed Funds rates to hit only 1% at the end of 2015 and 2% at the end of 2016.

The key message from the Fed is very supportive of growth. They won’t risk a premature tightening in financial conditions via a big bond sell off and tapering won’t commence until there is more confidence that its expectations for 3% growth in 2014 and 3.25% growth in 2015 are on track.

Given that we also see US growth picking up tapering has only been delayed, but there is considerable uncertainty as to when it will commence. The Fed’s October 29-30 meeting looks unlikely as there is no press conference afterwards and US budget concerns may not have been resolved by then. The December 17-18 meeting is possible as it is followed by a press confidence but is in the midst of holiday shopping. So it could well be that it doesn’t occur till early next year.

Perhaps the main risk for the Fed is that by not tapering (when it had seemingly convinced financial markets that it would) it has created a lack of clarity around its intentions which will keep investors guessing as to when it will commence. This will likely add to volatility around data releases and speeches by Fed officials.

The US economy and inflation

In a broad sense though, the Fed is right to maintain a dovish stance:

  • Growth is on the mend thanks to improving home construction, business investment and consumer spending but it’s still far from booming and is relatively fragile as the private sector continues to cut debt ratios. This is also evident in the mixed tone of recent economic indicators with strong ISM business conditions readings but sub-par jobs growth and some softening in housing indicators on the back of a rise in mortgage rates to a still low level of around 4.6%.
  • Spare capacity is immense as evident by 7.3% official unemployment, double digit labour market underutilisation and a very wide output gap (ie the difference between actual and potential growth).


Source: Bloomberg, AMP Capital

  • A fall in labour force participation has exaggerated the fall in the unemployment rate. At some point participation will start to bounce back slowing the fall in unemployment.
  • Inflation is low at just 1.5%. There is absolutely no sign of the hyperinflation that the Austrian economists and gold bugs rave on about.

So while some will express annoyance that the Fed has confused them, at the end of the day the economic environment gives the Fed plenty of reason to be flexible.

Implications for investors

The Fed’s decision to delay tapering for now and its growth supportive stance is unambiguously positive for financial assets in the short term and this has been reflected in sharp falls in bond yields, gains in shares and commodity prices and a rise in currencies like the $A.

The sharp back up in bond yields since May when the Fed first mentioned tapering had left bonds very oversold and due for a rally. This could go further as market expectations for the first Fed rate hike push back out to 2015. However, the Fed has only delayed the start of tapering and as the US/global growth outlook continues to improve the upswing in bond yields is likely to resume, albeit gradually. This and the fact that bond yields are very low, eg 10 year bonds are just 2.7% in the US and just 3.9% in Australia, suggests that the current rally will be short lived and that the medium term outlook for returns from sovereign bonds remains poor.

For shares, the Fed’s commitment to boosting growth is very supportive. QE is set to continue providing a boost to shares going into next year even though sometime in the next six months it’s likely to start to be wound down. But it’s now very clear that the Fed will only do this when it is confident that economic growth is on track for 3% or more and this will be positive for profits. This is very different to the arbitrary and abrupt ending of QE1 in March 2010 and QE2 in June 2011, that were associated with 15-20% share market slumps at the time. See the next chart.

Source: Bloomberg, AMP Capital

With shares no longer dirt cheap, it’s clear that the easy gains for share markets are behind us. But by the same token shares are not expensive either and an “easy” Fed adds to confidence that profit growth will pick up next year driving the next leg up in share markets.

Source: Bloomberg, AMP Capital

Shares are also likely to benefit from long term cash flows as the mountain of money that has gone into bond funds since the GFC is reversed gradually over time with some of it going into shares. See the next chart.

Source: ICI, AMP Capital

However, while the broad cyclical outlook for shares remains favourable, there will be some speed bumps along the way. The coming government funding and debt ceiling negotiations in the US could create uncertainty ahead of the usual last minute deal. And investors will now be kept guessing about when the first taper will come which means any strong economic data or hawkish comments from Fed officials could cause volatility. The May-June share market correction was all about pricing in the first taper and that process might have to commence all over again at some point.

For high yield bearing assets generally, eg bank shares, the Fed’s inaction and the rally in bonds will provide support. However, underperforming cyclical stocks, such as resources, may ultimately be more attractive as they offer better value and will benefit as the global and Australian economies pick up.

For emerging world shares, the Fed’s inaction takes away some of the short term stress, but it’s likely to return as US tapering eventually comes back into focus with current account deficit countries like India, Indonesia and Brazil remaining vulnerable.

Finally, the Fed’s decision not to taper does make life a bit harder for the Reserve Bank of Australia in the short term in trying to keep the $A down. It has added to the short covering bounce that has seen the $A rise from $US0.89 this month and so adds to the case for another interest rate cut. However, the rebound in the $A is likely to prove temporary as the Fed is expected to return to tapering some time in the next six months.

Dr Shane Oliver
Head of Investment Strategy and Chief Economist
AMP Capital

 

DISCLAIMER: The above information is commentary only (i.e. our general thoughts).  It is not intended to be, nor should it be construed as, investment advice.  To the extent permitted by law, no liability is accepted for any loss or damage as a result of any reliance on this information.  Before making any investment decision you need to consider (with your financial adviser) your particular investment needs, objectives and circumstances.