Market update - July 2011
The most significant driver in the direction of equity markets for some time now has been the handful of major macro issues that have persistently dominated the headlines. From where we are today, it seems unlikely that this will stop any time soon. The European sovereign debt problem lurches from one elastoplast solution to the next, with no proposed more permanent solution palatable to enough of the disparate parties to make it workable. Speculation as to which country the crisis will land in next continues, all the while unsettling markets.
Across the Atlantic, where the national debt problem should be more manageable, political agendas are exacerbating the problem. The once implausible notion that US Treasuries could default has now become only an improbable one, as initiatives to increase the US debt ceiling stall in the face of congressional brinkmanship, despite the obvious dismal consequences. Meanwhile, the Chinese continue to grapple with inflationary issues, which given the more downbeat investor mood, is gaining more focus despite this being a protracted issue. With this backdrop, there appears very little on the horizon to get equity investors excited, particularly as there is no current prospect of any further quantitative easing, which boosted equity markets this time last year.
However, as always, there are opportunities for stock-pickers. In particular, the market valuation looks attractive. Excluding the range seen during the crisis period, the overall Australian share market prospective price to earnings multiple is at levels not seen since the early 1990s. Of course, there are clearly downgrades coming, particularly in sectors exposed to the domestic economy such as Retail and Media, which on a prima facie basis look extremely cheap but in our view lack clear catalysts to bring about a share price turnaround. We are focused on finding investment opportunities where we can buy quality businesses with sound growth prospects. Given the broad based falls lately, there are companies that meet these characteristics that are attractively priced.
From a bond market point of view, the bias is to continue to position portfolios from the long-side in bonds especially as the short-base in the market still exists. While the market volatility has been high, the global economy has clearly slowed over the past few months and this slowing has yet to be fully reflected in bond prices. The US fiscal situation and concerns over European peripheral debt continue to be significant risk events going forward.
Fund Manager Commentary