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Economic Update - July 1st, 2016

Economic Update – July 2016

by Infocus Author

The Big Picture

Brexit – or the referendum to decide Britain’s future in the EU – dominated news up until the vote on June 23rd and then swamped it. The polls were always close – and there were only two possible outcomes – ‘exit’ or ‘remain’. But for some reason, markets and the British people were stunned when the ‘exit’ vote got up.

If we allow for the 72% turnout (voting was not compulsory) ‘exit’ scored 37% of the vote, ‘remain’ 35% and the ‘no vote’ was 28% – so it was a close run race. But Boris Johnson – the lead MP for ‘Brexiting’ – looked a bit like a frightened rabbit when he won. Indeed, he has now dropped out of the race to be the next PM!

Current British PM, David Cameron, went into hiding after announcing he would stand down by October and the leader of the opposition, Jeremy Corbyn is in trouble with half of his shadow ministry resigning because they claim he didn’t lobby hard enough to ‘remain’. And then 80% of his party gave him a vote of no confidence – but he won’t stand down, yet. There are now rumours of replacing the Governor of the Bank of England because of his views on Europe. The England soccer coach got sacked a couple of days after Brexit because his team lost to Iceland in Euro 2016! Nobody seems to have won! But leadership issues are not confined to Britain.

There is a chance that Parliament, who must sanction the vote for an exit to be enacted, might not take that next step and Germany is even looking like it might try to woo Britain back in.

The main downside for Britain is that London might lose its status as a major financial centre. In time, Europeans, who now freely work in Britain, might have to go home and vice versa. But it will take years for the whole process to unravel – perhaps a decade.

In the meantime stock markets have taken big hits but our ASX 200 seems to have done relatively well. Losses have largely been erased.

Of course, at home, we not only have Brexit to deal with. We have our own election on July 2nd, a possible rate cut on July 5th and the US jobs report on July 8th.

The US Fed seems to have walked away from a rate hike anytime soon – as we have been predicting for months. One cut in December is a far cry from the Fed’s four this year that they predicted last December – but it makes sense to wait.

Brexit may play a role in the Fed’s thinking but the last jobs number of +38,000, when +160,000 was expected, demonstrates a hike now would not be prudent.

Our jobs data were quite well received but we still see some weakness in full-time employment. Yes, there were +17,900 new jobs, but all were part-time. There were zero new full-time jobs, making January the last increased trend in full-time jobs!

But there are some good points. The European Central Bank did raise its growth forecast for 2016 – from 1.3% to 1.4%, and the Spanish general election the Sunday after Brexit, resulted in an increased majority for the ruling People’s party. This has been taken as a statement of conservatism after Brexit. That is, there was no swing to more radical parties that might want to follow Britain out of the EU.

By the way, Brexit is nothing like Lehman Brothers and the GFC. It’s not even as bad as the Greek debt crisis. Maybe more like the Blues losing the State of Origin series again (for those south of the border)!

Asset Classes

Australian Equities

After three consecutive months of strong gains, the ASX 200 had a negative month in June largely owing to the ‘Brexit’ referendum.

The losses were largely across-the-board with only Property and Utilities – two very defensive sectors – making gains in June. Stocks with possible exposure to Britain were hit particularly hard. The likes of BT Funds Management, Clydesdale Bank (a NAB offshoot) and Macquarie Bank were savaged.

The financial year (FY16) that just ended finished up +0.6% when dividends are included. However, that doesn’t tell the whole story. In FY16, the Industrials, Consumer Discretionary, Health, Property and Utilities sectors were all up between +20% and +25%. It’s just that Energy (???21.7%) and Financials (???8.7%) were hit hard.

We have the market slightly underpriced and the fundamentals look strong for FY17. It’s just a case of what temporary shocks buffet us along the way.

Foreign Equities

Market carnage hit most countries. The German DAX lost over ???6% on the day following Brexit. But a couple of days later most markets rebounded. Wall Street finished flat on the month and the London FTSE was up +4.4%. The German DAX was down ???5.7% showing that Germany might miss Britain more than the other way round!

The VIX ‘fear index’ jumped up sharply following Brexit but it has already settled down to below average.

Bonds and Interest Rates

The RBA was on hold again in June at 1.75%. Brexit may have changed the RBA’s thinking but we believe either way, one or two cuts would help us a lot.

The US Fed removed the phrase, “in the coming months” regarding the next hike in its press releases. Almost everyone takes that to mean there will be no hike soon. We think December is the earliest.

Bond yields have fallen in post-Brexit times. The German government yields are now on average negative!

The Bank of England has flagged the possibility of increasing stimulus – either by a rate cut or asset purchases – in the remainder of this year.

Russia cut its prime rate from 11% to 10.5%. And Japanese PM, Shinzo Abe, has urged his central bank to do what it takes to get through this bout of volatility.

S&P cut its rating of UK government debt to AA (negative watch) from AAA. It also cut the EU debt to AA from AA???. But remember the US lost its AAA rating a few years ago with no lasting backlash.

Other Assets

Iron ore prices have been amazingly stable given the global events but oil prices took a bit of a hit after Brexit. However, prices have now more or less recovered. Of course, oil is a far more speculative market than iron ore.

Our dollar has moved around a lot in June finishing the month up +2.5% against the US dollar. Normally we focus on the $A against the $US but, with Brexit around, the $A against sterling moved up well over 10% in the day or two following.

Gold rose strongly over the month, up +8.8%.

Regional Analysis

Australia

News on the economy has taken a back seat while we try to work out what the political adversaries are offering us. A big ticket item is superannuation and both sides have been less than forthcoming about the details of what they are proposing. Serious analysis we have done shows that politicians and public servants will be much better off than those in the private sector – whichever side wins. Nests have been feathered!

In a disturbing run of labour force data, the unemployment rate has held at a moderate rate of 5.7% but that is because an increasing numbers of ‘workers’ are part-time rather than full-time. Of course it is better to have some sort of job – maybe 10 hours – than no job at all, but that is not the basis of a growing economy. Full-time employment has fallen in each of the last four months in trend terms!

China

For a change, China is off the radar. All the doomsayers are in hiding or gainfully employed following Europe instead. It is clear that all of the data from China is consistent with it being an economy we don’t have to worry about.

BHP just announced a +29% increase in expenditure on mining exploration – up to $900m for 2017. It is also rumoured that they are thinking of bidding for the second largest fertilizer mine in the world – which happens to be in Canada. Of course BHP had been cutting back in previous years but this is a very positive sign for the resources sector.

U.S.A

Watching Trump v Clinton, Turnbull v Shorten and ‘Exit v Remain’ it is clear that the political order has changed. We can’t imagine enough people being content after the November presidential elections that there won’t be another bout of volatility then, if not before.

But the fundamentals of the US economy are not bad. They are just not great.

Europe

Britain is still in the continent of Europe if not the EU – at least not soon. Britain’s economy is one of the stronger in the region but it is not clear what will unfold in coming months.

There has been talk that France might also want a referendum to see whether it should stay in the EU. Spain voted conservatively in its election this week just gone. Frankly it is too soon to form a confident view of the world order. But the chances are there is more bluster than substance.

Rest of the World

Iceland deservedly bundled England out of Euro 2016 (soccer competition like a world cup for Europe). England left Europe twice in a few days! But Brexit could mean a lot of European footballers in the prestigious English Premier League have to go back home and be replaced by English players. The EPL football might not be then as good but the national team might do better (they couldn’t do worse).

The main Turkey airport in Istanbul was the subject of a major terrorist attack. It has been argued that the fear of Turkey joining the EU with the free movement of people was a major factor in people voting for Brexit.

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