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Rudi’s View: Three Risks Into Year-End

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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 | Nov 11 2021

This story features FORTESCUE METALS GROUP LIMITED, and other companies. For more info SHARE ANALYSIS: FMG

In this week's Weekly Insights:

-Three Risks Into Year-End
-Confusing November
-Conviction Calls
-FNArena Talks
-Research To Download

By Rudi Filapek-Vandyck, Editor FNArena

Three Risks Into Year-End

With year-end approaching and equity markets having positively surprised thus far in 2021, the risk is investors become overly complacent, thinking nothing can possibly disrupt this year's uptrend given most calendar years end on a positive note.

Always good to keep in mind a positive finish to the year is not a given, as also highlighted by recent analysis published by CommSec confirming December has posted a positive return of 1.9% on average over the past 70 years, but with only 50 out of the past 70 months closing the calendar year with a positive return.

On that basis, there is a 28.5% chance December may not deliver this year, while the odds, historically, are a lot worse for the remainder of November (see also below).

Besides, after a gain of 16%-plus ex-dividends since January 1st, and almost 27% ex-dividends over the past twelve months, maybe this is the most opportune time to start looking towards 2022 and specifically at the potential risks ahead?

Note also: the ASX200 has effectively been treading water post August with both September and October posting a negative performance.

While there is always the chance of an unpredictable event, i.e. the proverbial black swan, I believe global equities are currently facing three key risks; valuations, inflation and bonds, and corporate earnings. Time to have a closer look at each.

Share Market Valuations Are High

Whether valuations are now dearest since the dotcom euphoria of the late 1990s-early 2000 or not, it is hard to argue with the observation most equity markets are far from cheaply priced these days, and I am probably formulating it mildly. Every day, just about, I hear or read the term 'bubble', though that hasn't, thus far, stopped markets from powering higher.

Underlying, this story hasn't changed much over the past 5-6 years or so with growth stocks and dependable, quality performers attracting most of investors' attention, and funds inflows, hence the gap between market leaders and the laggards among cyclicals and Value companies remains large, if not very large, by historical standards.

At face value, and as reported by many, the past twelve months embody the relative come-back of Value vis-a-vis expensive Growth, but don't be fooled by the generalisation. Most of the 'expensive' industrials have resumed their relative outperformance since March and upward momentum is ongoing as 10-year bond yields retreat from earlier (premature) inflation anticipation.

We can draw a direct correlation with better-than-expected corporate earnings and resilience, more on that further below, but I suspect this is far from the full story, in particular in the US where indices are "melting upwards" since late September/early October.

Consider that over the past 4-5 weeks major share market indices like the S&P500 and the Nasdaq have rallied between 9-10%, with hardly a pause along the way. I don't think we can build a credible argument that Q3 corporate profit results have been that good.

So what was really going on?

In my view, too many investors, of all kinds and stripes, had been shifting part of their portfolio into cash out of fear for a serious correction as inflation hysteria was building and bond yields the world around were moving higher. Now that central bankers have remained on-message, the global discussion about inflation, bond markets and central bank policy-shifts hasn't ended, but overall things have settled down.

Thus calmer bond markets have led to that cash on the sidelines returning into equity markets again. All at once, at the same time, we know how that story goes. US markets have rallied the equivalent of a 'normal' year's total annual return in 4-5 weeks.

With all kinds of technical indicators flashing US markets are now 'overbought', I suspect the odds are now in favour of markets deflating somewhat. Nothing can possibly go up every day into eternity. Of course, there is always the possibility that bad news arrives at the wrong time and pulls back market sentiment a lot further down.

US Congress will have to vote once again on raising the debt ceiling in December, to name but one potential negative catalyst ahead.

The sad observation for Australian markets is that if US equities do experience a big pull back, or enhanced volatility, the ASX won't be spared just because it hasn't melted upwards in the same fashion. Something to keep in mind for the weeks ahead.

The Threat Of Inflation & Much Higher Bond Yields

At the start of the calendar year it was quite fashionable to forecast 10-year bond yields at 2% and beyond by year-end. As we have only half-a-dozen or so weeks left until preparations start for family gatherings under the Christmas tree, it seems rather unlikely 10-year yields in Australia or the US will meet those predictions.

Inflation the world around has surprised to the upside, but most central bankers have stoically stuck with their assessment that most factors underpinning price inflation in 2021 are "transitory", and either way, they intend to remain cautious and patient instead of running the risk of prematurely killing off the economic momentum post-pandemic.

Bond yields in the 2-3 years timeframe might not subside anytime soon as financial markets will continue to speculate on central banks (possibly) being forced to pull forward their first rate hikes, but yields on 10-year bonds are much more important for equities, and those yields are retreating in November.

In the US, the 10-year yield peaked in March at 1.74% and it hasn't been seen near that level since, while yields on both the 20-year and the 30-year have pulled back quite sharply since that time to 1.90% and 1.89% respectively, marking an inversion of the curve at the long end.

Both the lower 10-year yield and the long end inversion have many experts flummoxed.

Could the answer be found in commodities and related markets where, for example, the Baltic Dry Index (often used as a gauge for global demand for goods and materials) has quickly fallen -50% off its peak, after earlier rallying parabolically throughout the calendar year?

At the very least, such a fall suggests the post-reopening bottlenecks for international cargoes are becoming less severe. Less inflation pressure because of normalising, i.e. lesser, demand?

Market prices for pork bellies, corn and soybeans are all down double-digit percentages in the space of a few weeks, and we already know full well the price declines for lumber and iron ore are larger than for the Baltic Dry Index, but then recent price declines for aluminium, zinc and copper are equally larger than -10%.

Maybe the message here is that while inflation represents a potential problem for the immediate term, the real question mark concerns global growth and demand resilience further out?

That certainly seems to be but one logical conclusion to draw if we combine all of the above. It cannot possibly be only about China, or can it?

This year's price action for global equities has been closely correlated with bond markets. Australian equities have underperformed over the past two months because the local bond market was more aggressive in pricing in future rate hikes than US Treasuries, for example.

If I had to define the risk stemming from bonds, I would no longer focus on the day-to-day movements, but instead on the signal that is likely being communicated by bond yields further out.

That signal says tougher times are coming; make sure you understand the message and be prepared.

Earnings Forecasts: Firmly In Decline

Forecasts for growth in corporate profits have pretty much halved in Australia since August, which is yet another explanation as to why local indices have not kept pace with the positive momentum on US markets.

At face value, it seems all investors can expect for FY22 is some 6.5% in aggregate EPS growth. Most of the decline from August forecasts has been reserved for commodity producers and the banks, with insurers doing their bit too.

Is it any wonder Fortescue Metals ((FMG)) shares are now at $14 instead of $26, or that Westpac ((WBC)) shares are now at $22 instead of $27?  Shares in Rio Tinto ((RIO)) are trading below $90. They reached as high as $135 in late July. Shares in Codan ((CDA)) have failed to recover from the sell-off post AGM update.

In light of recent corporate results in Australia, it would be easy to -yet again- point out the (sharp) difference in market updates.

Compare those updates delivered by 'cheap' looking companies such as Suncorp ((SUN)), Insurance Australia Group ((IAG)), Westpac, and Woodside Petroleum ((WPL)) -all disappointing- and the robust performances and operational updates communicated by solid, quality performers such as Amcor ((AMC)), Macquarie Group ((MQG)), ResMed ((RMD)) and REA Group ((REA)), as well as from small caps Life360 ((360)), Johns Lyng Group ((JLG)), Rural Funds Group ((RFF)) and Hansen Technologies ((HSN)).

However, price action post market updates by ResMed and REA Group suggest valuation limits might be presenting themselves, irrespective of further operational excellence.

This might well be today's investors' dilemma in the local share market: the proven and known performers are at risk of becoming too expensive, for now, while the cheaper laggards might be forced to issue the next profit warning as global conditions tighten.

I'd say, logically, all of the above seems to indicate it is time to start focusing more on the downside risks instead of further upside potential.

Confusing November

The team at CommSec has released some intriguing research into monthly share market performances in Australia.

As per general consensus, September is traditionally the worst performing in Australia with only 30 out of the past 70 calendar years showing a positive performance for the month.

Add the fact that over those 70 years, the performance for September averages out to a negative -1% and it is not difficult to see how general market perception and CommSec's data analysis meet in mutual agreement. But what is surprising is the fact that November has been called out as the second worst month of the year.

Yes. Me too. I was firmly under the impression that November usually lays the foundation for that traditional upswing often referred to as the Santa Claus rally, following on from the usual positive momentum that starts building throughout October.

Apparently that is not the pattern observed over the past 70 years.

For good measure, the All Ordinaries index, which has been used for the analysis because it has a longer history than the ASX200, only declined once during November in the past five years, while twelve months ago the monthly return was a record-setting 9.9%.

But CommSec also reports between 2010 and 2015 the index performance ended up negative in each and every November that came along.

Spread out over the full period, the average return for November ends up as a negative -0.3%, which is why it ranks second worst on CommSec's data analysis. However, nominating November as the second worst month for Aussie equities does come with a twist or two.

Firstly, both September and June only recorded 30 positive monthly performances over the past 70 years, while both February and November have 34 (more than 10% better), but CommSec's ranking is based on the average performance over the period, which is -0.1% for both February and June compared with November's -0.3% and September's -1%.

Secondly, according to the Stock Trader's Almanac, November is the best month of the year for some indices in the US (S&P500, Russell1000 and Russell2000), and the second-best for the Dow (DJIA) and Nasdaq since 1950 and 1971 respectively. But, explains the Almanac, November also tends to have a recognisable pattern of a strong opening, followed by an underwhelming two weeks, then a strong finish into month's end and December.

Judging from this year's price action post November 1st, the Almanac's monthly pattern might be repeated, but a lot can happen in the coming three weeks.

The same Almanac also tells us November historically starts off the strongest six months period for the DJIA and the best performing eight months for the Nasdaq, as well as that when rolling 10-year returns from US equities are as strong as they have been, investors should brace for noticeably lower returns in the years following.

Conviction Calls

Technology analysts at Credit Suisse last week expressed their sector preferences and loyal shareholders in Xero ((XRO)) might be pleased to know that, irrespective of the share price performance in October, Credit Suisse's team still has the stock on top of its most preferred sector favourites, followed by Life360 ((360)), Audinate Group ((AD8)), then Infomedia ((IFM)).

Among travel agents, Credit Suisse most prefers Flight Centre ((FLT)), followed by Corporate Travel Management ((CTD)), then Webjet ((WEB)).

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Peers at Shaw and Partners, who specifically focus their passion on the software side of the local technology sector, most prefer Whispir ((WSP)), followed by Nitro Software ((NTO)), and Gentrack Group ((GTK)).

Regarding the latter, Shaw analysts believe Gentrack has all the elements of a great turnaround story.

FNArena Talks

Last week, I participated in a webinar organised by Peak Asset Management titled Investing In A Low Carbon Economy.

To view the video: https://youtu.be/sNjwZU8Yti0

In addition, the presentation from October 25, What Works In Australia, is still worth sitting down for:

https://www.fnarena.com/index.php/fnarena-talks/2021/10/25/what-works-in-australia/

Research To Download

RaaS on Banxa Holdings (BNXA):

https://www.fnarena.com/downloadfile.php?p=w&n=E08B8B8A-F121-0019-35812DBEDEBF0750

RaaS on Mad Paws ((MPA)):

https://www.fnarena.com/downloadfile.php?p=w&n=E0AB2C6F-E259-DA3C-6FFF7E71E7A20CFE

RaaS on Total Brain ((TTB)):

https://www.fnarena.com/downloadfile.php?p=w&n=E0B8624B-E6C2-DBA5-2A91801FCB197E2C

RaaS on Pointerra ((3DP)):

https://www.fnarena.com/downloadfile.php?p=w&n=E0C3EDD5-AF27-30EC-E013710316262E7E

(This story was written on Monday 8th November, 2021. It was published on the day in the form of an email to paying subscribers, and again on Thursday as a story on the website).

(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: info@fnarena.com or via the direct messaging system on the website).

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BONUS PUBLICATIONS FOR FNARENA SUBSCRIBERS

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.
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Subscriptions cost $450 (incl GST) for twelve months or $250 for six and can be purchased here (depending on your status, a subscription to FNArena might be tax deductible): https://www.fnarena.com/index.php/sign-up/

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CHARTS

360 3DP AD8 AMC CDA CTD FLT FMG GTK HSN IAG IFM JLG MPA MQG NTO REA RFF RIO RMD SUN TTB WBC WEB WSP XRO

For more info SHARE ANALYSIS: 360 - LIFE360, INC

For more info SHARE ANALYSIS: 3DP - POINTERRA LIMITED

For more info SHARE ANALYSIS: AD8 - AUDINATE GROUP LIMITED

For more info SHARE ANALYSIS: AMC - AMCOR PLC

For more info SHARE ANALYSIS: CDA - CODAN LIMITED

For more info SHARE ANALYSIS: CTD - CORPORATE TRAVEL MANAGEMENT LIMITED

For more info SHARE ANALYSIS: FLT - FLIGHT CENTRE TRAVEL GROUP LIMITED

For more info SHARE ANALYSIS: FMG - FORTESCUE METALS GROUP LIMITED

For more info SHARE ANALYSIS: GTK - GENTRACK GROUP LIMITED

For more info SHARE ANALYSIS: HSN - HANSEN TECHNOLOGIES LIMITED

For more info SHARE ANALYSIS: IAG - INSURANCE AUSTRALIA GROUP LIMITED

For more info SHARE ANALYSIS: IFM - INFOMEDIA LIMITED

For more info SHARE ANALYSIS: JLG - JOHNS LYNG GROUP LIMITED

For more info SHARE ANALYSIS: MPA - MAD PAWS HOLDINGS LIMITED

For more info SHARE ANALYSIS: MQG - MACQUARIE GROUP LIMITED

For more info SHARE ANALYSIS: NTO - NITRO SOFTWARE LIMITED

For more info SHARE ANALYSIS: REA - REA GROUP LIMITED

For more info SHARE ANALYSIS: RFF - RURAL FUNDS GROUP

For more info SHARE ANALYSIS: RIO - RIO TINTO LIMITED

For more info SHARE ANALYSIS: RMD - RESMED INC

For more info SHARE ANALYSIS: SUN - SUNCORP GROUP LIMITED

For more info SHARE ANALYSIS: TTB - TOTAL BRAIN LIMITED

For more info SHARE ANALYSIS: WBC - WESTPAC BANKING CORPORATION

For more info SHARE ANALYSIS: WEB - WEBJET LIMITED

For more info SHARE ANALYSIS: WSP - WHISPIR LIMITED

For more info SHARE ANALYSIS: XRO - XERO LIMITED