article 3 months old

Oil Becomes The New Defensive

Always an independent thinker, Rudi has not shied away from making big out-of-consensus predictions that proved accurate later on. When Rio Tinto shares surged above $120 he wrote investors should sell. In mid-2008 he warned investors not to hold on to equities in oil producers. In August 2008 he predicted the largest sell-off in commodities stocks was about to follow. In 2009 he suggested Australian banks were an excellent buy. Between 2011 and 2015 Rudi consistently maintained investors were better off avoiding exposure to commodities and to commodities stocks. Post GFC, he dedicated his research to finding All-Weather Performers. See also "All-Weather Performers" on this website, as well as the Special Reports section.

Rudi's View | Jul 04 2018

In this week's Weekly Insights (published in two parts):

-Oil Becomes The New Defensive
Conviction Calls
Playing The Odds
-Rudi On TV
-Rudi On Tour

Oil Becomes The New Defensive

By Rudi Filapek-Vandyck, Editor FNArena

"We no longer doubt that the US administration’s proposals signal the direction of trade policy. An escalatory cycle of protectionist actions, not just rhetoric, has begun and will continue. It’s another reason why pressure should continue in risk markets, which now must eat their US policy vegetables after feasting on dessert in 2017."
[Michael D Zezas, Strategist & Chief US Public Policy & Municipal Strategist at Morgan Stanley, US]

If you want to look for a reason behind the Australian share market's surprising outperformance in the June quarter, look no further than the fact Australia is one of the world's primary producers of fossil fuels.

This might seem like a rather awkward explanation, but in the face of an increasingly uncertain outlook for global trade, and for risk assets, and with US government bonds not playing to script and the stronger US dollar playing havoc, the global investment community seems to have decided that when it comes to finding a solid safe haven, under-supplied and well-supported crude oil and related markets will do.

Observe the steep price trajectory in crude oil futures over the past two-three weeks. Share prices for oil producers across the globe have rallied almost one-on-one with the price of crude. But this equally applies to discretionary retailers, financials and shares in general for markets in Oslo, Toronto, and here in Sydney.

All three equity markets are among the best performing year-to-date. All have one thing in common: respective countries are major producers of energy.

It appears the world has decided nobody's going to spoil this party anytime soon. Outside of Russia and Saudi Arabia, most producers, including number three the USA, are hampered and unable to significantly lift output volumes in the near term. Meanwhile, risks are plenty and there for all to see: from Venezuela, to Iran, and elsewhere.


At face value, shifting funds into oil producing nations makes sense. More revenues means higher tax incomes, means more investment and higher wages; it should all translate into stronger economic growth domestically, especially when a stronger US dollar adds to the risks that are descending upon emerging markets.

Many of the emerging markets are net consumers of fossil fuels. And heavily indebted in USD. Industry data are indicating investors continue shifting funds away from emerging markets, both equities and bonds. Last week I suggested Australian equities had likely become one of the accidental beneficiaries.

This has become even more likely now, despite the Australian dollar weakening, with analysts overseeing emerging markets concerned a bear market might have started. Chinese equities (Shanghai Composite index) already have fallen more than -20% from the January summit, as have main indices in Vietnam and the Philippines. The team of Asia EM equity strategists at Morgan Stanley recently downgraded China to Underweight while upgrading Australia to Equal-weight from Underweight.

Their motivation leaves little to the imagination: "We see these calls as defensive in a bear market".

Equally important, perhaps, is why Morgan Stanley refuses to lift Australian equities to Overweight: a downturn in housing activity and specific sector problems for Australian banks have the potential to ignite a domestic credit crunch, with negative ramifications for everything linked to domestic consumer spending.

If it were up to Morgan Stanley, investors domestically should seek exposure to energy stocks, USD earners, selected bond proxies and some defensive industrials.

Admittedly, not every strategist out there is equally as unenthusiastic about the outlook for the Australian economy, and by extension the Australian share market, as is Morgan Stanley. Tony Brennan, strategist at Citi, for example, predicts the ASX200 will close this year at around 6500 (+4.5%), to then move further up to 6650 by mid-2019.

Maybe the underlying message for investors remains the same: don't get too carried away by current outperformance for Australian equities. A higher oil price is not a one-way, risk-free blessing with many industrial companies non-discretionary consumers and with rising fuel costs simply adding more pressure on household budgets.


Short term aside, I remain of the view prospects for the Australian share market will ultimately be defined by international developments and here, one has to conclude, the outlook looks increasingly challenged and uncertain.

A higher oil price is yet another threat to the global synchronised growth story that in 2018 is increasingly becoming more and more de-synchronised. Forward indicators for global trade are indicating broadening deceleration. Growth in a number of countries has underwhelmed in recent months. A similar case can be made for economic momentum in China and the USA-post Q2 which is likely to show up quarterly GDP growth well-above trend, but likely the peak for this year, and beyond.

These growing concerns only add to subdued economic signals for the Australian economy as well; last week's private credit growth data being a firm case in point. The update revealed private credit growth in Australia has now weakened to a four-year low of 4.8% year-on-year growth.

Equally important, Australia's household debt-to-income ratio has now risen to an all-time record high of 190% while at the same time, due to falling house prices (eight months in a row), household wealth fell by -0.4% in Q1; the largest fall since 2011. While, admittedly, this fall follows a surge to a record level of household wealth at $10.3trn in Q4 2017, UBS economists correctly remind us all the change in wealth is what drives the household savings ratio, not the actual level.

If history repeats itself, we should see underwhelming household consumption numbers in the months ahead.

Soon we might be witnessing a national debate as to why exactly did the Reserve Bank (RBA) remove the sentence from its May board meeting minutes stating "more likely that the next move in the cash rate would be up, rather than down"?


As indicated by the quote on top of today's Weekly Insights, US equity strategists are increasingly of the opinion Trump's belligerent anti-open trade agitations are the opening chapter for more protectionism, more retaliation, and more international conflict instead of simply Art of the Deal negotiation tactics.

Now add further tightening from the Federal Reserve, a potential peak in US corporate earnings growth, rising wages, rising inflation, a rising US dollar and is it really a surprise US equity markets (S&P500) appear to have peaked five months ago?

GaveKal's Louis Gave formulated it as follows on Monday: "Year to date, investors have lost money on US investment grade bonds, on emerging debt, on US treasuries, on European bonds, and on pretty much every major global equity market. In recent weeks, only US small caps, US tech stocks, US junk bonds, and oil have made new highs.

"The global equity bull market is increasingly looking like the German soccer team: old, tired and getting slow, having reached its peak a while back.

"Putting it all together, it seems that unless the coming reporting season sees earnings hit out of the park, global equity markets are likely to deliver a lackluster summer. In that case, maybe the best thing to do over the coming months will be to reduce portfolio risk and head to the beach!"

At the very least, I think it's time to stop looking at the blue sky and start focusing on the potential downside.

Rudi On TV

This week my appearances on the Sky Business channel are scheduled as follows:

-Tuesday, 11am Skype-link to discuss broker calls
-Thursday, from midday until 2pm
-Friday, 11am, Skype-link to discuss broker calls

Rudi On Tour

-ATAA members presentation Newcastle, 14 July
-AIA National Conference, Gold Coast QLD, June 29-August 1
-ASA Presentation Canberra, 3 August
-Presentation to ASA members and guests Wollongong, on September 11
-Presentation to AIA members and guests Chatswood, on October 10

(This story was written on Monday 2nd July 2018 and published on the day in the form of an email to paying subscribers at FNArena, and again on Wednesday as a story on the website. Part Two shall be published on the website on Thursday).

(Do note that, in line with all my analyses, appearances and presentations, all of the above names and calculations are provided for educational purposes only. Investors should always consult with their licensed investment advisor first, before making any decisions. All views are mine and not by association FNArena's – see disclaimer on the website.

In addition, since FNArena runs a Model Portfolio based upon my research on All-Weather Performers it is more than likely that stocks mentioned are included in this Model Portfolio. For all questions about this: or via the direct messaging system on the website).



Paid subscribers to FNArena (6 and 12 mnths) receive several bonus publications, at no extra cost, including:

– The AUD and the Australian Share Market (which stocks benefit from a weaker AUD, and which ones don't?)
– Make Risk Your Friend. Finding All-Weather Performers, January 2013 (The rationale behind investing in stocks that perform irrespective of the overall investment climate)
– Make Risk Your Friend. Finding All-Weather Performers, December 2014 (The follow-up that accounts for an ever changing world and updated stock selection)
– Change. Investing in a Low Growth World. eBook that sells through Amazon and other channels. Tackles the main issues impacting on investment strategies today and the world of tomorrow.
– Who's Afraid Of The Big Bad Bear? eBook and Book (print) available through Amazon and other channels. Your chance to relive 2016, and become a wiser investor along the way.

Subscriptions cost $420 (incl GST) for twelve months or $235 for six and can be purchased here (depending on your status, a subscription to FNArena might be tax deductible):

(Do note that, in line with all my analyses, appearances and presentations, all of the above names and calculations are provided for educational purposes only. Investors should always consult with their licensed investment advisor first, before making any decisions.) 

P.S. – All paying members at FNArena are being reminded they can set an email alert for my Rudi's View stories. Go to My Alerts (top bar of the website) and tick the box in front of 'Rudi's View'. You will receive an email alert every time a new Rudi's View story has been published on the website.

Find out why FNArena subscribers like the service so much: "Your Feedback (Thank You)" – Warning this story contains unashamedly positive feedback on the service provided.

Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on LinkedIn

Click to view our Glossary of Financial Terms