By Shane Oliver

Investment markets and key developments over the past week

Share markets mostly fell over the last week as worries around North Korea continue, combining with concern about the impact of hurricanes on US growth, albeit most markets remain in the range they have been in for a while and have proven quite resilient in the face of bad news thanks to solid global growth and supportive monetary policy. While Eurozone shares rose 0.1%, US shares lost 0.4%, Japanese shares fell 2.1%, Chinese shares fell 0.1% and Australian shares fell 0.9%. Bond yields fell further helped by dovish comments from ECB President Draghi, a downwards revision to the ECB’s inflation forecasts and worries about the impact of hurricanes on the US. However, the Euro rose as President Draghi wasn’t seen as dovish enough resulting in a new down leg in the $US which also saw the $A push back above $US0.80. Oil and gold prices rose but iron ore fell.

We thought Hurricane Harvey made a US Government shutdown and debt ceiling crisis this month very unlikely and this has proved to be the case with President Trump and Congress agreeing to extend government funding and raise the debt ceiling out to mid-December.
So no shutdown and no debt default for now. This continues the period of budget and spending stability that has been in place since the 2013 “crisis”. Uncertainty will rise again in December but a shutdown/debt default is also unlikely then. At the margin the move adds to confidence that tax reform will happen.

Trump’s threatening tweets – eg, that he will stop all trade with countries trading with North Korea (read China) – create great media headlines but just remember that the trick with Trump is to take him seriously but not literally.
His approach is all about setting up tough a negotiating stance, getting some movement in his direction and then settling. So yes he is trying to put more pressure on China regarding North Korea but don’t expect the US to cease trade with China.

North Korean risks continue to escalate. Our view remains that the risk of a skirmish or war has grown – particularly due to a miscalculation by either side in the conflict, but that a diplomatic solution remains most likely as North Korea is not quite so stupid to set off a war in which it will be annihilated and the US and its allies are aware of the potential huge loss of life in South Korea and potentially Japan that would flow from a pre-emptive military response. But we are a long way from a diplomatic solution yet. So the issue is likely to escalate further posing the risks of triggering further downside in share markets and demand for safe havens.

What about Bitcoin? Crypto currencies led by Bitcoin are generating much interest. They and the block chain technology underpinning them seem to hold much promise but there is reason to be cautious. Lots of them are popping up, the ascent of Bitcoin’s share price looks very bubbly (although its potential ramifications if it bursts are nowhere near as significant as the other bubbles shown on the chart) and regulators are starting to take a closer look. I also still struggle to fully understand how it works and one big lesson from the GFC is that if you don’t fully understand something you shouldn’t invest (who really understood CDOs? – obviously not many!)

Major global economic events and implications

It was a quite week for US data, but the ISM non-manufacturing conditions index rose in August to a strong reading of 55.3 and the trade deficit widened less than expected. Jobless claims rose 62,000 but this reflects the impact of Hurricane Harvey with Texas up 52,000. Hurricane Katrina saw a 100,000 rise in claims over three weeks but after eight weeks they were back to where they started. Houston is much bigger than New Orleans and Hurricane Irma will impact too so the rise this time may be greater, but Houston is recovering quicker so again the impact is likely to be temporary.

The ECB made no changes to monetary policy. It revised up its growth forecasts but revised down its inflation forecasts and President Draghi was dovish and the ECB effectively tied a decision on what it will do about its quantitative easing program for 2018 (to be announced in October) to what the Euro does. The surprise was that Draghi was not more forceful in expressing concerns about the rising Euro, but if it continues it will likely see the ECB taper its asset buying at a slower rate, eg initially cutting it to say €50 billion a month rather than say €35 billion.
China’s Caixin services conditions PMI rose and import growth accelerated indicating Chinese growth is remaining strong.

Australian economic events and implications

Australian data was the usual mixed bag. GDP growth bounced back nicely in the June quarter driven by consumer spending, investment and trade and ANZ job ads continue to grow strongly pointing to ongoing labour market strength. With the drag from mining investment slowing, non-mining private investment picking up, strong public capital spending and an ongoing contribution to growth from trade volumes growth is likely to improve further. However, July retail sales and trade were off to a soft start for the current quarter, and with continuing low wages growth (with average wages -0.1% in the June quarter and up just 0.1% over the last year) constraining consumer spending and dwelling construction topping out the rebound in growth will remain constrained relative to the RBA’s expectations for 3% plus growth. Which in turn means that the risks to underlying inflation remain on the downside.

So despite RBA Governor Lowe sounding upbeat, we remain of the view that the RBA will leave rates on hold out to late 2018 at least before starting to gradually raise rates. If the $A continues to rise – with it back above $US0.80 over the last week – then any hike could be pushed further out.

What to watch over the next week?

In the US, expect small business confidence and job openings (both Tuesday) to remain strong, solid growth in underlying retail sales and a modest rise in industrial production (both Friday). Jobless claims are likely to see a further spike reflecting hurricane disruption. While headline CPI inflation (Thursday) is expected to rise to 1.8% year on year (from 1.7%) core inflation is expected to fall to 1.6% yoy (from 1.7%) keeping the Fed gradual in undertaking monetary tightening.

Chinese activity data for August due Thursday is expected to show a slight rise in both retail sales growth to 10.5% year on year and growth in industrial production to 6.7% yoy, but stable growth in fixed asset investment at 8.3% yoy. Money supply and credit data for August will also be released.

In Australia, expect the August NAB survey (Tuesday) to show continuing solid levels for business confidence, the Westpac consumer confidence index (Wednesday) to remain soft and August employment (Thursday) data to show jobs up 10,000 but with unemployment rising to 5.7%

Outlook for markets

Share markets remain at risk of a further consolidation or short-term correction, particularly with North Korean risks remaining high and seasonal weakness around September and October. However, with valuations remaining okay – particularly outside of the US, global monetary conditions remaining easy and profits improving on the back of stronger global growth, we would see a pullback as just a correction with the broad rising trend in share markets remaining in place into 2018.

Low yields point to ongoing low returns from bonds.

Unlisted commercial property and infrastructure are likely to continue benefitting from the ongoing search for yield, but this will wane eventually as bond yields trend higher.

National residential property price gains are expected to slow, as the heat comes out of Sydney and Melbourne.

Cash and bank deposits are likely to continue to provide poor returns, with term deposit rates running around 2.5%.

While further short term upside in the $A is possible, our view remains that the downtrend from 2011 will ultimately resume as the Fed tightens and the RBA holds.