Weekly Reports | Nov 13 2020
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Impact of a vaccine on consumption patterns; strata premiums expected to keep growing; with Europe and the US distracted, it is up to China to drive the demand for commodities.
-How will a vaccine impact consumption?
-A look at the skewed strata insurance industry
-Demand (ex-China) for metals expected to rise in 2021
By Angelique Thakur
Post-vaccine consumption trends
The latest positive development related to Pfizer’s vaccine’s trial makes one wonder what implications such a vaccine may have on Australian retail and discretionary consumption. The onset of the virus saw Australian spending patterns changing significantly with food delivery, home improvement and office furniture seeing a huge uplift in sales.
Will a vaccine disrupt consumption patterns again?
Yes, according to Morgans, who goes so far as to say a vaccine, if developed, presents “the largest threat to the consumer discretionary sector”. While Macquarie isn't quite so fearful, the broker does expect to see a moderation in spending on consumer durables.
The good news is both Macquarie and Morgans think any step-change would take place in 2021 with the Christmas season expected to be a "boomer".
One might think supermarkets, one of the biggest beneficiaries of the fallout from the pandemic, may be in for a tepid growth outlook. Citi begs to differ. Vaccine or no vaccine, states a firm Citi, supermarkets remain well placed and quite immune to any developments on the vaccine front.
One of the reasons for Citi's optimistic stance is the expected decline in covid-related costs with the development of a vaccine. With the situation improving and companies becoming more adept at managing things, covid-related costs have fallen by circa -40% in the FY21 September quarter versus the FY20 June quarter.
According to Citi, covid-related fixed costs form about 0.4% of sales, expected to reduce to zero should a vaccine become available.
Online sales growth witnessed by the supermarkets is another reason for Citi’s optimism. Online sales are expected to increase to 7.3% for Coles ((COL)). This increase is even more pronounced for Woolworths ((WOW)) at 8.6%. Macquarie considers Woolworths best placed to take advantage of this new behavioral shift towards online shopping.
Going ahead, online sales, while somewhat margin dilutive, will be an important driver of market share, asserts Citi.
Lastly, Citi does not expect working from home to end anytime soon, in turn pushing supermarket spending. In Western Australia, the work from home trend has led to the supermarkets witnessing a double-digit growth of 13% with café and takeaway food growing at 10% during the September quarter.
Citi retains its Buy ratings on Woolworths and Coles while Macquarie prefers Woolworths over Coles. Macquarie is not so positive about Domino's Pizza Enterprises ((DMP)). While a clear winner of the pandemic, Macquarie thinks going ahead, the covid-led pizza orders will begin to normalise.
Expecting a more conservative same-store sales growth profile, Macquarie downgrades its rating on Domino’s to Underperform.
What about consumer durables?
Consumer durables have also benefited from social restrictions with consumers spending more on home appliances in lieu of holidays etc. Macquarie feels this trend will see a reversal as people start socialising again.
That and the reversal in the "shop local" trend sees Macquarie downgrading Metcash ((MTS)) to Neutral. Citi continues to maintain its Buy rating on Metcash.
Macquarie prefers Harvey Norman Holdings ((HVN)) in the discretionary retail category because of the retailer’s exposure to regional Australia which is expected to benefit from improved rainfall and lead to higher spending on home appliances. Wesfarmers ((WES)) and JB Hi-Fi ((JBH)) have been downgraded to Neutral from Outperform.
Believing the market won’t be so willing to capitalize their earnings anymore, Morgans has lowered its ratings to Hold from Add on Beacon Lighting Group ((BLX)), Accent Group ((AX1)), Baby Bunting Group ((BBN)), MotorCycle Holdings ((MTO)) and Super Retail Group ((SUL)).
Eagers Automotive ((APE)) is less vulnerable to macro-economic factors due to its cost out strategy and is preferred by Morgans. Other preferred picks include Breville Group ((BRG)) and Collins Foods ((CKF)).
Are we stratisfied?
Gross written premiums (or the total premium given to the insurer less any deductions) for strata insurance have been rising by 8-10% on average over the last three years. But that’s not all. Strata premiums are also expected to keep growing for the next 12-24 months.
A quick look at what strata insurance is. It is mandatory to have insurance covering the common/shared property for building complexes like flats and apartments against loss or damage. This type of cover is strata insurance. Common areas like pools, lifts, parking lots etc are also included. A strata policy of insurance normally covers properties within one building or land block or complex and is available for both residential strata and commercial strata properties.
According to a study by Macquarie, the construction boom in recent years has fueled a growth in strata schemes at the rate of circa 3.8% per annum over the last two years. The market size is now circa $1.1bn, making strata insurance one of the largest products in the country
As mentioned at the beginning, the strata insurance market has also seen gross written premiums rise – quite strongly at that – over the last few years.
A combination of construction growth and premium rate tailwinds have contributed to a circa 8.2% compounded annual growth rate in premiums (GWP) for strata insurance products over the past four years.
But here is the anomaly.
Despite the fast-growing market and the growing premiums, there is a paradoxical lack of competition in strata insurance. In fact, Macquarie highlights the total number of strata policies in Australia peaked in FY14.
Even the strong growth in GWPs has not been enough to lure companies. On the contrary, both Insurance Australia Group ((IAG)) and Suncorp ((SUN)) have reduced their exposure to the strata insurance market. Only QBE Insurance ((QBE)) has increased its market share to circa 48% from about 40% and is the only money-making insurer in strata, according to Macquarie.
What could be the reasons?
For starters, there have been more and more quality issues with the construction of towers – both residential and commercial over the last twenty years or so, Macquarie notes. Major cracks found at Mascot Towers and more recently, cracks at the Opal Towers are classic examples.
A study by UNSW found about 48% of the 340k registered strata schemes in Australia in 2020 were registered in the last 20 years. Simply put, the recent builds have been found to contain more defects than older ones. This, in a nutshell, is what the potential problem is for insurers.
The other part of the problem is some parts of Australia are in more of a mess than the others – Northern Australia for instance. This has led to a concentration of insurance capacity in certain regions.
In fact, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) found each market leader holds more than 40% market share in North Western Australia, Northern Territory and Queensland as well as nationally.
Such concentration adversely impacts insurance pricing. As an example, the ACCC found strata premiums in Northern Australia to be considerably higher than in the rest of the country. Likewise, average premiums in north West Australia were more than four times the entire country’s average of $3.3k.
Despite all this, insurers are still not making money. Macquarie finds over the last 12 years, the profit margin for strata insurance has been -13% on average for Northern Australia and only 2% for the rest of Australia.
The ACCC's conducting a review of the national strata insurance market as part of their Northern Australia Insurance Inquiry final report. Macquarie believes it unlikely any findings by the ACCC would lead to sweeping reforms given the state-based oversight of the strata sector. The broker remains positive on the general insurance sector.
Copper could touch new highs in 2021
With resurging infections in Europe and an uncertain political environment in the US, China is likely to remain the major metals demand driver in the near term, asserts Morgan Stanley.
This (over) dependence on China is fraught with risks, suggests the broker, especially for metals like copper and aluminium given China already has high inventory levels.
Similarly, Morgan Stanley is bearish on iron ore since inventory levels of the metal typically rise during China’s seasonally weak winter season.
Demand for zinc and nickel is expected to ramp up, driven by the strong restocking ahead of the weak domestic zinc mine output and the disruption in ore supply from the Philippines and Indonesia. Even so, Morgan Stanley believes the upside potential is already incorporated in the current high spot prices for both the metals.
It is in 2021 Morgan Stanley foresees a demand pick-up in the world ex-China, expected to boost metal prices.
Among all metals, copper is considered having the strongest fundamentals and will be further spurred by a restrained supply outlook. In fact, Morgan Stanley analysts feel copper could touch new highs in 2021.
While the US may still take time to catch up on the demand front, both China and Europe are expected to see a substantial rise in demand, led by their respective green infrastructure and electrification programs.
So, who’s benefiting from all the chaos and uncertainty currently? You guessed it. Gold.
A combination of rising volatility and weakening USD are the short-term drivers for the yellow metal. Even then, this cloud’s silver lining doesn’t look all that shiny considering the limited scope for further stimulus, central banks turning net sellers and a subdued jewellery appetite.
All this points to the possibility the gains accumulated by gold may be limited. Also, 2021’s expected recovery poses a downside risk to the gold price, cautions Morgan Stanley.
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