Outbreak - BetaShares

Outbreak

BY David Bassanese | 21 December 2020
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Global markets

Global equities pushed ever higher last week as the rollout of vaccines and the lingering promise of a U.S. stimulus deal outweighed serious but seemingly now ‘lagging’ news on soaring COVID cases, new restrictions, and slowing economic data. Why worry about new waves of the virus when vaccines will soon solve the problem! Indeed, Wall Street shrugged off a slump in U.S. November retail sales and another leap higher in weekly jobless claims. There’s also talk of a New York lockdown if conditions get much worse over Xmas.

In the UK, London has gone into a pre-Xmas lockdown amid reports of a new and much more contagious COVID mutation emerging. Less surprising, UK-EU trade talks continued, with both sides still at loggerheads.

Notable market moves last week included further weakness in the $US and associated strength in gold and the $A – despite the fact that U.S./growth/technology themes generally did better than non-U.S./value/energy themes last week as COVID concerns were heightened somewhat. Heading into 2021, a weak $US and ongoing rotation into non-U.S./value over U.S./growth is emerging as the consensus trade du jour.

On the basis that COVID concerns will eventually ease this still seems the path of least resistance – especially given the U.S./growth/technology trade has been so popular and so crowded for so long. If so, the $A also seems likely to get even more uncomfortably high – potentially breaking through U.S. 80c next month. The RBA will be powerless to prevent this, especially as rapidly rising asset prices and a strengthening economy argue against expanding the bond buying program in February next year.

[Note: if you are keen on U.S. value, we’ve just launched our S&P 500 equally-weighted ETF – which gives you 0.2% exposure to each of America’s largest 500 stocks, greatly diversifying exposure away from the top-5 stocks which now account for a whopping one quarter of the market-cap based S&P 500 Index. Some further information on the rationale for this ETF is provided here.]

News of a stimulus agreement over the weekend will likely be warmly welcomed by Wall Street to start the week, though it could also be a case of ‘buy the rumour, sell the fact’. The U.S. rollout of the second approved vaccine (Moderna’s) may also further lift spirits, which may well be enough to allow markets to ignore another round of likely weak U.S. economic data (personal spending and jobless claims).

Last but not least, it’s been a while since I mentioned Bitcoin – which is again surging for some reason, seemingly as a hedge against a weakening $US. Although I still question the fundamental merits of cryptocurrencies, two arguments I heard on the weekend that could support further strength are 1) it’s the new-age ‘currency debasement’ trade – over traditional gold – especially for millennials and 2) the more traditional fund managers are lured into trading it, the tougher it will be for regulators to essentially outlaw it later. It also helps that there’s no way to effectively value the stuff, meaning it could easily surge much higher if more momentum traders jump on board.

Australian market

Increasingly good local news was marred somewhat last week by a new outbreak of COVID in Sydney’s northern beach area. NSW’s ‘gold standard’ contact tracing system should hopefully contain the cluster, though it’s worrying we still don’t know how it emerged, and anecdotally it strikes me the city had become complacent to the risks in recent weeks with scarcely a face mask to be seen! But again, as is the case globally, markets may well try to ‘look through’ the latest outbreak on the view that any hit to economic growth will be only short-term, ample further policy stimulus is waiting in the wings if need be, and vaccines will solve all our problems before long!

In terms of data, we received another bumper labour market report last week, with 90k new jobs in November as Victoria emerged from lockdown. The unemployment rate dropped back to 6.8%. The bottom line for me is that this is further evidence that fears of a ‘U-shaped’ recovery due to lingering consumer and business caution – even as we emerge from lockdown – were with hindsight overly pessimistic. This bodes well for the market, as we hopefully manage to shake off the virus next year.

With little local data of note, market focus will be on the Sydney outbreak – but for the reasons outlined above I don’t anticipate that even a further worsening and renewed NSW restrictions will have much enduring market impact.

*****

This is the last Bite for what has been a tumultuous year! I wish you all the best for the festive season and for having followed Bites this year. I’ll be biting back in the new year after a break. Look out for my first Bite of 2021 on Monday, February 1.

In case you missed it, here is a link to our year-end Economic and Market Update Webinar.

Have a great week and New Year!

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