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A new economic environment

23 June 2022

After years of low inflation and low interest rates, we have finally entered a new period in the economic environment of higher inflation and higher interest rates. But how high will inflation be and by how much will interest rates rise? Periods of transition from a market perspective increase uncertainty and subsequently increase market volatility.

Market Developments during May 2022 included:

Australian Equities 

The Australian share market finished May 2022 with the S&P/ASX 200 falling sharply by -2.6% and ten out of eleven sectors finishing lower.   The Materials sector was the only positive finisher for the month (+0.1%). The Property (-8.7%) and Information Technology (-8.7%) sectors led the sell-off as persistently higher inflationary figures, geopolitical tensions and tapering fears supressed equities.

The Materials sector outperformance was primarily driven by the Ukraine and Russia geopolitical situation given the significant disruption to supply within commodity markets. The Property sector suffered heavy losses as investors evaluated the commencement of the tightening monetary policy for the first time in over a decade. Likewise, the rout in the Information Technology sector continued as rising interest rates worldwide and potential recessionary fears subdued growth stocks. 

Overall, the sharp decline was triggered by a mixture of elevated inflationary figures arising from the ongoing Ukrainian conflict, Chinese lockdowns, and the ensuing monetary policy response from central banks worldwide. 

This scenario has continued into the first weeks of June and we have seen the Australian S&P/ASX200 fall by more than 600 points – month to date.

Global Equities

Downward velocity in global markets tempered over the month of May as the war in Ukraine endures, inflation continues to escalate and Covid restrictions in China persist. Developed markets marginally fell by -0.8% by month end, Global small caps didn’t fare as well as their large cap counterparts closing with a -1.5% loss. Emerging markets performed similarly to the previous period falling by -0.5%, whereas Asian markets posted a modest gain of 0.2%.

Investor sentiment continues to be challenged by geopolitical risk and inflation pressures as central banks contemplate the pace and quantum of rate rises required to stem the tide of rising costs of living. 

June has seen further falls, mainly in response to a higher than anticipated move by the US Federal Reserve to increase interest rates by 0.75% as they battle to rein in higher than expected inflationary pressures.

Fixed Interest

The past month has seen a continued rise in bond yields, following The Reserve Bank of Australia raising the cash rate on May 3rd by 25bps to a 0.35% cash rate. With higher yields across the curve, combined with the outlook of risks to growth, bonds are again beginning to show some of the benefits of diversification in a portfolio. Since the start of May, Australian 2 Year Government Bonds have increased by 2bps while Australian 10 Year Government Bonds rose by 22bps as at the end of the month. 

A subsequent rate rise on 7 June saw the Australian official cash rate increase to 0.85%.  This was followed by a higher than expected increase by the Federal Reserve in the US.  Further rate rises are anticipated.

REITs (listed property securities)

Local and Global REITs sold off during May. Domestically, the A-REITS Index (represented by the S&P/ASX 200 A-REIT Accumulation Index) ended the month -8.7% lower, the second worst monthly performance since May 2020, with January of this year taking first prize (-9.5%). The Index has returned -14.7%on a total return basis YTD to 31 May. 

Global REITs outperformed the local REITs index, albeit still experiencing a drawdown of -4.5% during the month. Domestically, infrastructure (represented by the S&P/ASX Infrastructure Index) has continued its divergence from A-REITs, returning 1.2% in May and 16.9% YTD. A large driving force behind the divergence may be explained by the high levels of financial leverage common across the REITs sector.

Growth continued to slow across the residential domestic property market during May, with Sydney, Melbourne, and Canberra all returning negative returns of -0.1%, -0.7% and -0.1%, respectively. Adelaide experienced the largest increase of 1.8% for the month. The 5 capital city aggregate changed by -0.4% MoM. (CoreLogic)

Economic overview and market update

26 May 2022

As foreshadowed in the last newsletter, Australia saw the first increase in the cash rate in 11 years in early May – moving from 0.10 to 0.35%. This was expected by markets, and is unlikely to be the last rise, with inflationary pressures building in Australia and across the world.  

China has continued to enforce strict lockdown measures with Shanghai and Beijing both in lockdown. This has resulted in further disruptions to global manufacturing supply chains. Continued disruptions to raw material supply (energy, fertiliser, food) resulting from the Russia-Ukraine conflict has added to the pressures on global markets.

Markets have responded with increased volatility and heavy losses have been seen in some sectors – see commentary below.

 

May Market Developments

 

Australian Equities

The Australian market closed for the month of April with the S&P/ASX 200 down -0.85% with seven out of eleven sectors finishing higher. Utilities led the index (+9.33%) to continue its strong performance, with Industrials (+3.47%) and Consumer Staples (+3.29%) all performing well. The main detractors of the Index were Technology (-10.37%) and Materials (-4.33%).

High exposure to Resources shares and low exposure to Technology companies has meant the Australian Share Market remains an out-performer relative to global peers. The Technology sector suffered a sizeable sell-off after strong March performance, continuing the trend of high volatility in the sector. 

Macroeconomic uncertainty clouded much of the month's headlines with the inflation figures hitting 20-year highs. Australian investors took precautions flocking to defensive sectors over the month leading to the positive performance in Utilities and Consumer Staples. Market volatility is expected to remain high in the short-to-medium term with China's COVID lockdowns hampering growth with increasing supply chain issues.

 

Global Equities

Global markets descended further over the month of April as 'zero-COVID' lockdowns in China added to prolonged geopolitical risk pressures in Ukraine. Developed markets fell by -3.2% by month end, Global small caps performed modestly better than their large cap counterparts closing with a -2.5% loss. Emerging and Asian markets fared better than the previous month, falling by -0.2% and -1.6% respectively. 

Quantitative tightening signalling from central banks has joined geopolitical uncertainty as core focuses for investors as heightened inflation continues to weigh on investor sentiment. Dividend yield and value factors were the best performers over the month returning -1.8% and 2.6% respectively, whilst momentum and quality factors lagged returning -9.7% and -7.9% respectively according to MSCI ACWI Single Factor Indices reported in local currency terms.

 

Fixed Interest

Fixed interest markets have continued their downturn throughout April, as monetary policy tightens internationally in response to continued elevated levels of inflation. Australia saw yields rise, primarily at the short end of the yield curve, as first quarter inflation of 5.1% proved higher than expected. The yield for 2-year Australian Government bonds increased by approximately 30bps over the course of April, while 10-year Australian Government bonds increased by only around 10bps. 

Market expectations of increasing interest rates proved accurate, as in their meeting on 3 May the Reserve Bank of Australia increased the cash rate by 0.25%, an action which has seen yields shoot higher following the announcement.

Internationally the global tightening cycle has been ramping up in an effort to combat inflation. The US Federal Reserve raised the federal funds rate target by a full 50bps on 4 May. Rising global yields have resulted in a return of -2.88% for the Bloomberg Global Aggregate Index (AUD Hedged), with currency fluctuations resulting in the unhedged variant returning -0.12%.

 

REITs (listed property securities)

The domestic and global REIT indexes slowed during April, with the S&P/ASX 200 A-REIT Index (AUD) (XJO) returning 0.6% for the month and global REIT's, represented by the FTSE EPRA/NAREIT Developed Ex Australia Index (AUD Hedged), retracing by - 4.1%, giving back its March advances. The S&P/ASX 200 A-REIT index has returned -6.6% YTD.   
Australian infrastructure performed well during April, a result of strong inflation-linked revenue potential, with the S&P/ASX Infrastructure Index TR advancing 6.1% for the month, 15.9% YTD.

The Australian residential property market experienced a +0.3% change month on month represented by CoreLogic's five capital city aggregate. Hobart was the worst performer (-0.30%), with Sydney (-0.20%) and Melbourne (0.0%) not far behind. Adelaide and Brisbane continued to show strength, advancing 1.9% and 1.7% MoM respectively