Rudi's View | Apr 07 2022
This story features BHP GROUP LIMITED, and other companies. For more info SHARE ANALYSIS: BHP
In this week's Weekly Insights:
-Real Market Support Is Invisible
-All-Weathers: Steadfast Group
-At The AIA Conference
-Presentations in April
By Rudi Filapek-Vandyck, Editor FNArena
Real Market Support Is Invisible
Sometimes it's what we cannot see that is most important.
Now that global equity indices have staged a strong comeback rally throughout March, a lot of head scratching and tea leaf reading is occurring. How to explain this explosive turn in sentiment when the war in the Ukraine is still raging, bond markets are flashing warning signals and forecasts for inflation are on the rise, still, while forecasts for economic growth (and thus corporate profits) are declining?
Amidst all the finger pointing at technical trading, short covering, the US options market, and a continuation of buy-the-dip strategies -that all made their contribution, no doubt- one most interesting piece of research has been released by the global strategy team at Citi led by strategist Robert Buckland.
On the team's analysis, global equities continue to be supported by the fact that 'real' bond yields ('real' meaning corrected for inflation) are still negative, irrespective of the rapid rise at face value in 2022, and Citi's house view remains that real yields will likely remain in the negative throughout 2022.
What this means, explains the team at Citi, is that every time investors move into cash, they rather quickly draw the conclusion there is no viable alternative other than equities to put that cash back to work. Commodities can only absorb so much, and they remain highly volatile. Bonds are still selling, carry a negative 'real' return and the curve is flat as a pancake, if not negative (i.e. inverted with less yield farther out).
The past years have seen so-called alternative assets gain in popularity but as Citi rightfully points out, alternative assets are illiquid and current pricing suggests they are expensive. Inflation protected bonds, or TIPS in the US, still guarantee investors a negative real return.
So where does one put money to work once the cash on the sideline starts feeling impatient?
In a negative real yield environment, Citi argues investors come to realise equities are, in essence, a real asset, just like commodities and real estate. Hence the logical reflex is to continue to buy-the-dip, because There Is No Alternative (TINA).
Historical data-analysis seems to support Citi's thesis, with the team identifying five previous periods when real yields were negative, and all but one witnessed equities posting a positive return.
-1971-1972 – S&P500 price return was 11%
-1975-1978 – 17% price return
-1982-1983 – 38% price return
-2011-2013 – 35% price return
Thus far in 2020-2022 the S&P500 price return has climbed to 40%. Note no returns from dividends were included in those calculations.
The one exception is the period 2007-2008 when real returns sank into negative territory because of a global recession and deeply entrenched financial crisis with the return from equities sans-dividend falling to -37%.
Given the above analysis, investors might be inclined to think buy-the-dip remains the most solid, superior risk-adjusted strategy when it comes to equity markets, as long as no recession or financial crisis awaits on the horizon, but the team at Citi offers an alternative angle.
Maybe buy-the-dip stops working when real bond yields move into the positive. The implication here is that when this happens, investors will again start treating government bonds as a viable destination for parking their cash, even if it's only for a defined time.
On Citi's in-house projections, this won't happen until next year, in 2023.
Incidentally, quant analysts at JP Morgan make the point that investors should only read bond market yield inversion as a signal for economic recession if this inversion shows itself in the 'real' yield. This is currently not the case, and not anticipated to occur anytime soon either.
Citi might well be onto something. Maybe the lack of viable options available outside of equities is acting like a natural protection to the downside, but share prices can still become too expensive, of course.
A recent market update by strategists at Morgan Stanley argues the March rally has pushed up indices too far. With all the risks that are lurking on the horizon, not the least the chances of a policy-error as the Fed is looking to accelerate its tightening over the meetings ahead, common sense would suggest equities should price in some of that risk, but so far bullish optimism rules.
To illustrate their case, Morgan Stanley strategists revert back to the principle of the Equity Risk Premium (ERP); simply put, this is the premium equities price-in vis a vis government bonds to take into account the bigger risks that reside with equities.
Following the sharp March rebound, the ERP for US equities has fallen to its lowest point post-GFC, which, in the strategists' view, doesn't make much sense "given the heightened risk to earnings growth from rising risk of recession next year, cost pressures, payback in demand, and a war that has structurally increased the price of food and energy–i.e., a tax on the consumer."
Strategist Mike Wilson & Co also observe how profit forecasts in the US are shifting further out, with short-term estimates falling, and once again make the point this should be another reason as to why the ERP should be rising, not falling. Note that a higher ERP implies equities should be cheaper than they are.
Morgan Stanley has put its modeling to work, incorporating higher inflation and bond yields and a slower trend in corporate profits, and the outcome is that if today's US market had been following the script from the past, indices should be close to -20% lower.
The big unknown remains, of course, how aggressive exactly will Fed tightening turn out to be? And will it end with economic recession?
Judging from the big gap between today's indices and what the modeling suggests, Morgan Stanley suspects investors doubt whether priced-in forecasts by bond markets are accurate. In other words: share markets are counting on the fact the Federal Reserve won't go as fast and as hard as currently suggested by bonds, and thus the chances of a recession are a lot lower too.
The obvious observation to make here is that economists are still lifting their expectations for the pace of Fed tightening this year, with the likes of Citi now forecasting 50bp hikes three, possibly four times in succession. Others are suggesting the Fed might might well hike by 75bp at its next meeting.
Needless to say, such moves are not yet priced-in, so there still is room for further negative surprises from the US central bank. The obvious question to ask is how the US economy will cope under accelerated tightening when inflation from food and energy already acts as an extra tax on most companies and households?
Which is exactly why Mike Wilson & Co are scratching their heads. Sure, we don't know the answers as yet, but should we not price-in some of the uncertainty until we do?
Damien Boey, chief investment strategist at Barrenjoey would concur with the above in that he too thinks most assets have not yet appropriately priced in the coming Fed funds rate trajectory, except, maybe, the US bond market. But Boey is drawing a correlation with a strengthening US dollar in response which should have negative consequences for Emerging Markets, as well as for commodities.
Meanwhile, have no doubt, the gap between those experts who foresee a much more malignant inflation cycle and those who believe the Fed will soon find out it cannot embark on an accelerated tightening cycle without pushing the US economy into recession remains as wide as ever.
On Citi's data, revisions to global corporate earnings forecasts are trending deeply into negative territory this year. This should not be a surprise. We all know that higher prices for everything, from agricultural produce to energy, to timber, steel, transport and labour, ultimately translates into margin pressure for corporate consumers and into less spending capabilities for households.
No surprise, Europe and Emerging Markets are the most obvious victims, as are consumer-oriented sectors.
In Australia, however, forecasts are rising and this too should not surprise given the heavy index weight of the Materials sector. Iron ore is the biggest index component locally with BHP Group ((BHP)) now representing 11%-plus of the ASX200, but recent sector updates have equally lifted forecasts for producers of lithium, aluminium, oil and natural gas, copper, nickel and other base materials.
If anyone were still in doubt, commodities have found their sweet spot in 2022 and as long as supply remains restrained, there seems little on the horizon to end the party – for now. The added observation is that were commodity prices to at least hold onto current pricing levels, the potential for further upside in profits and cash flows for the sector remains significant.
A reminder: what is a great environment for producers, is not so great for consumers. Earnings forecasts might be rising in Australia in aggregate, but this masks the fact that estimates are falling for the likes of United Malt Group ((UMG)), Lendlease ((LLC)), Boral ((BLD)), Seven Group Holdings ((SVW)), and others.
Unsurprisingly, a recent share market strategy update by Macquarie suggested investors should "position as if it’s a commodity boom".
Underneath the surface, however, the market is polarising yet again. Citi analysts observe how commodity stocks have continued their rally in the US, but the more traditional cyclicals have failed to keep pace, unlike the pattern witnessed last year. when both appeared connected at the hip.
Citi analysts believe the answer lays within the price of oil. When the price is below US$70/bbl, any sign of inflation is seen as positive, but once the price surges above US$70/bbl and beyond, the market sees 'bad inflation' and the equities rally narrows to producers of commodities only.
On the ASX, an argument can be made investors are expressing their concerns and doubts through specific sectors and individual stocks. Shares in Wesfarmers ((WES)), for example, are trading well off from the peak of $66 from August last year, as well as well-below the $60 in early January.
Is this the doubt about consumer spending and/or further strength in the local housing market that is showing up?
One look at the share prices of Adairs ((ADH)), Temple & Webster ((TPW)) and Nick Scali ((NCK)) suggests the answer is affirmative.
In the US, the housing market seems to be rolling over. Now look at the share prices of Reece ((REH)), James Hardie ((JHX)), and Reliance Worldwide ((RWC)). Irrespective of these specific ASX exposures, investors might want to put the US housing market on their radar generally since analysts at Barrenjoey pointed out US housing demand is the single-best leading indicator of business sentiment.
Arguably, the market has selectively picked and chosen which risks should be priced in, and which ones not so much (at least not at this stage).
In a share market that is as polarised as it has been over the past seven years or so, maybe the real questions revolve around what segments are due for the next fall, and where is value starting to appear?
Within this context I did note JP Morgan analysts highlighting REITs are more sensitive to movements in 'real' bond yields, which probably explains why other brokers have been receiving questions from their clients about why REIT share prices on the ASX are holding up better-than-expected?
One of the investment thematics that is likely to remain in fashion this year is the re-opening trade.
It's been a story of false starts and continuous delays since 2020, but brokers and analysts remain hell-bent on exploring the theme and a recent report on travel agents by Jarden provides yet more fuel for investor enthusiasm.
Jarden's most preferred exposure is Corporate Travel Management ((CTD)) with coverage initiated on Outperform and a price target of $26.18. Flight Centre ((FLT)) didn't receive more than a Neutral rating and a $22.90 price target.
Webjet ((WEB)), on the other hand, has been initiated on Neutral with a $5.63 price target while Hello Travel ((HLO)) equally starts off on Neutral, with a price target of $2.46.
Peers at Citi have chosen Siteminder ((SDR)) and Serko ((SKO)) as two new additions for coverage. Siteminder only received a maiden Neutral rating (target $5) but Serko starts off with a Buy/High Risk rating alongside a price target of $5.75.
Both UBS and Ord Minnett have been flashing Buy ratings for Siteminder for a while, but the share price, thus far, has refused to pay attention.
Post heavy sell-offs recently, analysts at Wilsons have selected their favoured ideas among ASX-listed small caps. Ideas that have since been communicated to clientele:
-Pinnacle Investment Group ((PNI))
-HealthCo Healthcare and Wellness REIT ((HCW))
-Judo Capital ((JDO))
-Silk Laser Australia ((SLA))
-Telix Pharmaceuticals ((TLX))
As well as the following from its Conviction List:
-Collins Foods ((CKF))
-Ridley Corp ((RIC))
-ReadyTech Holdings ((RDY))
-City Chic Collective ((CCX))
While the following ideas have been hand-picked by the investment strategy group:
-Accent Group ((AX1))
-Super Retail Group ((SUL))
-Temple & Webster ((TPW))
-Integral Diagnostics ((IDX))
-Netwealth Group ((NWL))
-Home Consortium ((HMC))
-Domain Holdings Australia ((DHG))
A recent strategy update saw Macquarie's Model Portfolio adding exposure to resources and reducing exposure to international earners on the ASX. Little doubt the currency has something to do with this, though the analysts also cite concern for further valuation compression.
Added exposures include South32 ((S32)), Northern Star ((NST)), Newcrest Mining ((NCM)), Pilbara Minerals ((PLS)) and BHP Group ((BHP)), while Mineral Resources ((MIN)) has been sold.
Removed exposures include QBE Insurance ((QBE)), Amcor ((AMC)), Cochlear ((COH)), Janus Henderson ((JHG)) -this will hurt following the public offer by Perpetual ((PPT)) on Monday- and ResMed ((RMD)).
Reduced exposures include Aristocrat Leisure ((ALL)), Computershare ((CPU)), James Hardie ((JHX)), and Ramsay Health Care ((RHC)).
Macquarie did feel the need to strengthen its defense through GPT ((GPT)) and Goodman Group ((GMG)), as well as CSL ((CSL)) and Steadfast Group ((SDF)).
A recent Goldman Sachs report on the 'Race for the New Digital Consumer' has offered the broker an opportunity to reiterate its preference for Endeavour Group ((EDV)) and Woolworths ((WOW)) among consumer-related companies on the ASX, alongside Harvey Norman ((HVN)).
Goldman Sachs currently has Sell ratings for Wesfarmers ((WES)) and JB Hi-Fi ((JBH)).
Barrenjoey has adopted the view food inflation will stick around for longer in Australia and this will be to the benefit of supermarket operators.
Barrenjoey's sector preference lays with Metcash ((MTS)), followed by Woolworths, then Coles ((COL)).
Software enthusiasts at Shaw and Partners have chosen Whispir ((WSP)), Gentrack Group ((GTK)), Keypath Education International ((KED)), Elmo Software ((ELO)), and ReadyTech Holdings as their most favoured picks in the sector locally.
Stockbroker Morgans has added three stocks to its extensive list of Best Ideas for the ASX; Super Retail Group, Panoramic Resources ((PAN)), and Bank of Queensland ((BOQ)).
All-Weathers: Steadfast Group
Drawing parallels from international research, insurance brokers should be ideally placed to perform as All-Weather Stocks given insurance companies carry all the risk, but insurance policies are bought regardless of economic conditions.
As such, the sector locally has been on my radar for quite a while now, in particular Steadfast Group ((SDF)), which is the premium-rated market leader domestically.
When looking at the financial metrics of the years past, nothing spectacular stands-out and many a financial metric looks quite modest. But maybe the secret ingredient lays with the abundance in cash generation and thus shareholders dividends are constantly on the increase.
With a market capitalisation of no more than $4.5bn (approx) Steadfast Group remains a relative minnow, and this brings with it the risks usually attached to investing in small cap stocks. But Steadfast is multiple times larger than its two listed peers on the ASX, and one look at the share price graph since 2013 shows a gradually up-trending pattern, typical for All-Weather Performers that seldom shoot out the lights.
Starting this week, Steadfast Group is now part of my selection of Potential All-Weather Performers, see dedicated section on the website (paying subscribers only).
Adding to the attraction is the fact insurance brokers should, all else remaining equal, be beneficiaries of higher interest rates as they generate income on corporate cash as well as on cash held in trust.
At The AIA Conference
It had been a story of delay after delay since covid-19 entered Australia in 2020, but last week the Australian Investors Association (AIA) finally ran its annual conference on the Gold Coast.
This used to be the largest gathering of investors in the country and last week the scars from covid were omnipresent. Your editor was one of more than 40 presenters and live panel participants, but alas, no recordings are publicly available post event.
The slides used for my presentation, in Powerpoint, have been uploaded on the website and can be accessed via Special Reports (scroll down).
Direct link: https://www.fnarena.com/index.php/analysis-data/special-reports/
Presentations in April
For the first time in a long while I will be presenting live on stage for members and guests of the Australian Shareholders Association (ASA) in Sydney on the morning of Thursday, April 21st.
Later this month, on April 27th, I will be presenting online via Zoom to the members of U3A in Toowoomba.
On current scheduling I will be making my next appearance on AusbizTV, The Call, midday-1pm on Tuesday, 26th April.
(This story was written on Monday 4th April, 2022. 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: email@example.com or via the direct messaging system on the website).
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Click to view our Glossary of Financial Terms
For more info SHARE ANALYSIS: ADH - ADAIRS LIMITED
For more info SHARE ANALYSIS: ALL - ARISTOCRAT LEISURE LIMITED
For more info SHARE ANALYSIS: AMC - AMCOR PLC
For more info SHARE ANALYSIS: AX1 - ACCENT GROUP LIMITED
For more info SHARE ANALYSIS: BHP - BHP GROUP LIMITED
For more info SHARE ANALYSIS: BLD - BORAL LIMITED
For more info SHARE ANALYSIS: BOQ - BANK OF QUEENSLAND LIMITED
For more info SHARE ANALYSIS: CCX - CITY CHIC COLLECTIVE LIMITED
For more info SHARE ANALYSIS: CKF - COLLINS FOODS LIMITED
For more info SHARE ANALYSIS: COH - COCHLEAR LIMITED
For more info SHARE ANALYSIS: COL - COLES GROUP LIMITED
For more info SHARE ANALYSIS: CPU - COMPUTERSHARE LIMITED
For more info SHARE ANALYSIS: CSL - CSL LIMITED
For more info SHARE ANALYSIS: CTD - CORPORATE TRAVEL MANAGEMENT LIMITED
For more info SHARE ANALYSIS: DHG - DOMAIN HOLDINGS AUSTRALIA LIMITED
For more info SHARE ANALYSIS: EDV - ENDEAVOUR GROUP LIMITED
For more info SHARE ANALYSIS: ELO - ELMO SOFTWARE LIMITED
For more info SHARE ANALYSIS: FLT - FLIGHT CENTRE TRAVEL GROUP LIMITED
For more info SHARE ANALYSIS: GMG - GOODMAN GROUP
For more info SHARE ANALYSIS: GPT - GPT GROUP
For more info SHARE ANALYSIS: GTK - GENTRACK GROUP LIMITED
For more info SHARE ANALYSIS: HCW - HEALTHCO HEALTHCARE & WELLNESS REIT
For more info SHARE ANALYSIS: HLO - HELLOWORLD TRAVEL LIMITED
For more info SHARE ANALYSIS: HMC - HMC CAPITAL LIMITED
For more info SHARE ANALYSIS: HVN - HARVEY NORMAN HOLDINGS LIMITED
For more info SHARE ANALYSIS: IDX - INTEGRAL DIAGNOSTICS LIMITED
For more info SHARE ANALYSIS: JBH - JB HI-FI LIMITED
For more info SHARE ANALYSIS: JDO - JUDO CAPITAL HOLDINGS LIMITED
For more info SHARE ANALYSIS: JHG - JANUS HENDERSON GROUP PLC
For more info SHARE ANALYSIS: JHX - JAMES HARDIE INDUSTRIES PLC
For more info SHARE ANALYSIS: KED - KEYPATH EDUCATION INTERNATIONAL INC
For more info SHARE ANALYSIS: LLC - LENDLEASE GROUP
For more info SHARE ANALYSIS: MIN - MINERAL RESOURCES LIMITED
For more info SHARE ANALYSIS: MTS - METCASH LIMITED
For more info SHARE ANALYSIS: NCK - NICK SCALI LIMITED
For more info SHARE ANALYSIS: NCM - NEWCREST MINING LIMITED
For more info SHARE ANALYSIS: NST - NORTHERN STAR RESOURCES LIMITED
For more info SHARE ANALYSIS: NWL - NETWEALTH GROUP LIMITED
For more info SHARE ANALYSIS: PAN - PANORAMIC RESOURCES LIMITED
For more info SHARE ANALYSIS: PLS - PILBARA MINERALS LIMITED
For more info SHARE ANALYSIS: PNI - PINNACLE INVESTMENT MANAGEMENT GROUP LIMITED
For more info SHARE ANALYSIS: PPT - PERPETUAL LIMITED
For more info SHARE ANALYSIS: QBE - QBE INSURANCE GROUP LIMITED
For more info SHARE ANALYSIS: RDY - READYTECH HOLDINGS LIMITED
For more info SHARE ANALYSIS: REH - REECE LIMITED
For more info SHARE ANALYSIS: RHC - RAMSAY HEALTH CARE LIMITED
For more info SHARE ANALYSIS: RIC - RIDLEY CORPORATION LIMITED
For more info SHARE ANALYSIS: RMD - RESMED INC
For more info SHARE ANALYSIS: RWC - RELIANCE WORLDWIDE CORP. LIMITED
For more info SHARE ANALYSIS: S32 - SOUTH32 LIMITED
For more info SHARE ANALYSIS: SDF - STEADFAST GROUP LIMITED
For more info SHARE ANALYSIS: SDR - SITEMINDER LIMITED
For more info SHARE ANALYSIS: SKO - SERKO LIMITED
For more info SHARE ANALYSIS: SLA - SILK LASER AUSTRALIA LIMITED
For more info SHARE ANALYSIS: SUL - SUPER RETAIL GROUP LIMITED
For more info SHARE ANALYSIS: SVW - SEVEN GROUP HOLDINGS LIMITED
For more info SHARE ANALYSIS: TLX - TELIX PHARMACEUTICALS LIMITED
For more info SHARE ANALYSIS: TPW - TEMPLE & WEBSTER GROUP LIMITED
For more info SHARE ANALYSIS: UMG - UNITED MALT GROUP LIMITED
For more info SHARE ANALYSIS: WEB - WEBJET LIMITED
For more info SHARE ANALYSIS: WES - WESFARMERS LIMITED
For more info SHARE ANALYSIS: WOW - WOOLWORTHS GROUP LIMITED
For more info SHARE ANALYSIS: WSP - WHISPIR LIMITED