Economic Update – November 2016

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Within this month’s update, we share with you a snapshot of economic occurrences both nationally and from around the globe.

Global economic growth story strengthens!

– US, UK and EU economic growth surprise on the upside

– China growth strengthens

– Australian inflation strengthens

We hope you find this month’s Economic Update as informative as always. If you have any feedback or would like to discuss any aspect of this report, please contact our office.

The Big Picture

Last month we reported that Australian economic growth surprised with a more than solid +3.3% for the year. This month we can add that United Kingdom (UK) growth came in above expectations at +2.3% for the year – in spite of prior concerns about the negative impact of Brexit. United States (US) growth rounded off the month with a much better than expected +2.9% while the European Union (EU) delivered a more modest, but most welcome surprise on the upside, +1.6%.
China came in again at +6.7% growth but the partial indicators of Retail Sales and Industrial Output backed-up the story. Other indicators were even stronger.

What is really important is that, at last, interlinked growth is emerging as export markets open for each other. Sadly growth in Japan is still struggling but it has been struggling for more than two decades. Japan’s main problem is a falling population. Unlike many other countries, including Australia, net migration inflows help stimulate growth.

While one should never get too excited about one good month’s data, it is the co-ordinated growth that is starting the buzz. As a result, bond yields are starting to rise and that may put a bit of a dampener on our high-yield equities.

At home, inflation also surprised. It came in at +0.7% for the quarter or +1.3% for the year. But that, on its own, is insufficient to change the Reserve Bank’s (RBA) view on what to do with interest rates.

The new inflation data means that the RBA does not have to cut rates for that reason – nor does it have to hike to control inflation. It was a ‘Goldilocks’ number.

But our employment data continues to worry us. Jobs are increasing in a trend sense – and the unemployment rate is falling. But what continues to happen is a substitution of part time work for full time. Given that the average working week for full-time workers is 39 hours and only 17 hours for a part-timer, the individuals concerned are doing it tougher – but the collective, Australia is doing better!

The US is going to provide even more of a lead than normal in the coming months. The Trump v Clinton election is not as simple as previous elections. The FBI just weighed in by reopening the emails case on Clinton. Trump continues to take flak from all sides. Rightly or wrongly on each side, such a situation spells market volatility in the short run.
In the medium to longer term, even US presidents don’t have that much power. They need the backing of Congress.

The US Fed is possibly going to hike rates by 0.25% in December. Last December, when they hiked for the first time in nearly a decade, they predicted four rate hikes for 2016 but so far there have been none. While many economists, and some Fed members, are calling for the Fed to get the process moving soon the Chair, Janet Yellen, has left the door open for more of a wait and see approach. She has stated that she wouldn’t mind if the US economy ran a little too hot for a while.

So long run economic and market prospects are building strength and the so-called ‘earnings recession’ for listed companies on Wall Street seems to have already turned the corner. Once they have a new US President sworn in, we could have a nice settled, but growing, market. Until then, we might find the road a little bumpy.

Asset Classes

Australian Equities

The ASX 200 looked like having its worst month since January but a great last day made it a less severe 2.2% for October! Interestingly, the index started to ignore overseas leads towards the end of October. Some of this behaviour is probably due to global bond yields rising on signs of economic strength – and a possible hike in US rates by the Fed.

It is so important – particularly in the case of Australia – to note that sectors have been performing very differently at the moment. The so-called high-yield sectors [Financials, Property, Telcos and Utilities] are well down on the year to date by 2.9% – even after dividends are taken into account. But the other seven sectors have collectively experienced strong double digit growth – at +12.5%.

Foreign Equities

Wall Street’s S&P 500 fell a little less than the ASX 200 at 1.9% for the month. On the other hand, the London FTSE posted a gain of +0.9% and the Frankfurt DAX +1.5%. But it was left to Asia for some stellar results with the Tokyo’s Nikkei up +5.9% and the Shanghai Composite gained +3.2%.

Bonds and Interest Rates

The US Fed is the big game in town until we glide into 2017. We think there will be at most three 0.25% increases in the US before 2018. That is a very shallow trajectory indeed. The Fed will not do anything to interfere with the nascent growth story.

The RBA needs to, and probably will, give us one or two cuts down to 1% in the next couple of quarters or so. The government is not getting any fiscal stimulus programmes in place so the RBA is our only hope in the short term.

Our economic situation is far from dire but we do not have an atmosphere of wanting to invest in long-term, full-time jobs’ projects. Our official interest rate is so far above all of the major Western competitors (USA, Europe, Japan, etc.) and there is no reason to keep it there.

Other Assets

Commodity prices continue to stabilise and some big ‘houses’ are even predicting continued price rises in oil. What is important for us is that the dire predictions some analysts and commentators were peddling at the start of the year have vanished.

Commodity prices are unlikely to rise far enough to stunt growth. The important thing is that they are stable and viable for continued investment in the resources sector.

Regional Analysis

Australia

We have lost 54,000 full-time jobs in 2016 to date. With official estimates of population growth at +1.4% there are not enough full-time jobs to go around. As it happens, 47,000 of those 54,000 job losses are for men and only 7,000 job losses for women.

It doesn’t take an Einstein to work out the social impact of replacing full-time with part-time jobs. Data is not readily at hand to work out how much the people losing jobs are being paid in part-time employment – but it seems unlikely to be a good swap.

We will never get the old manufacturing jobs back but we are very good in so many other sectors, parliament needs to assist a solution and quickly.

China

China continues to pump out strong statistics on its economy. Of course some just say the numbers are fudged but there is increasing support from a number of independent sources to suggest China is even stronger than the official figures suggest!

China Retail Sales came in at +10.7% and Industrial Output at +6.1%. China’s inflation was +1.9%. This is an impressive set of numbers.

U.S.A.

The US non-farm payrolls (jobs) data have been slightly better in recent months than earlier in the year, but they are still well below the data recorded in 2014 and 2015. The US too has the problem of replacing ‘good traditional’ jobs with lower paying jobs in the services sector. It is a global problem.

The US economy is getting stronger but it is unlikely to ‘pop’ into overheated growth anytime soon – as it often used to do after a lean spell. But that is a good thing. Stability is something that helps investment planning.

Europe

The UK has not imploded after the Brexit vote. We never thought it would. Sensible discussions are taking place about the best way to exit – and not if they should exit. It is nice to see a mature political debate.

‘Rock star’ central banker, Canadian Mark Carney, has flagged he will step down from the top job at the Bank of England. He plans to exit in June 2019 when the UK is set to exit the EU. He believes in a united Europe and so does not want to work in an economic and social environment that he does not believe in.

The ECB President, Mario Draghi, needs to come up with a new plan soon for stimulus or see the bond-buying plan end. If his form is anything to go by, it will be a slow process of coming to make a plan.

Rest of the World

The conflicts in the Russia/Syria (and more) part of the world are going through major transitions. It is inappropriate in an economic report to comment on the rights and wrongs of the negotiations and struggles. But it does look like the impact on markets might start to subside soon.

OPEC seems to be trying to do something sensible about oil prices but some members – and others – are trying to get special circumstance agreements. Given that supply has been well in excess of the current agreement – for years – the impact of a new agreement is moot.

*Ron Bewley (PhD,FASSA) – Director, Woodhall Investment Research

Important information

This information is the opinion of PATRON Financial Services Pty Ltd ABN 32 307 788 137 908 AFSL No. 307379 trading as PATRON Financial Advice and may contain general advice that does not take into account the investment objectives, financial situation or needs of any person. Before making an investment decision, readers need to consider whether this information is appropriate to their circumstances.

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