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Reporting date 31 December 2016
S&P/ASX 200 TR Index AUD
S&P/ASX Small Ordinaries TR Index AUD
MSCI World ex Australia NR Index AUD
MSCI Emerging Markets NR Index AUD
MSCI AC Asia ex Japan NR Index AUD
Bloomberg Ausbond Composite 0YR Index AUD
BarCap Global Aggregate TR Index (AUD Hedged)
The Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA) cut interest rates twice in 2016, in May and again in August, taking the cash rate to 1.5%. Continued low inflation was the main driver behind both rate cuts, with the economy’s moderate growth seemingly less important.
The initial rate cut in May saw the RBA specifically downplay the strong housing market which some commentators believed would prevent the Bank from cutting rates. Commentary accompanying the August decision focussed on the domestic economy’s “modest” expansion and continued subdued inflationary pressures, particularly wage growth.
It was a tale of two-halves for Fixed Income, with the majority of the year seeing yields push ever lower as many commentators proclaimed that “lower for longer” was here to stay. This view would be firmly challenged by the end of the year where bond yields ended sharply higher.
During 2016 investors saw the Bank of Japan adopt negative rates for the first time, while the United States (US) 10 year treasury reached a record low yield of 1.37% as investors sought safe haven investments in the face of the Brexit uncertainty.
US 10 Year Bond Yield
Source: US Federal Reserve
Bond yields increased in the second half of the year, especially post the unexpected victory of Donald Trump in the US presidential election. President Trump’s economic policy focused on government spending and tax cuts, both of which have the potential generate inflation.
Bond markets responded accordingly, with the United Sates (US) 10-year Treasury yield jumping from a low of 1.37% in early July to around 2.50% by the end of the year. Similarly, Australian 10-year Bond yield rose from 1.80% in early August, to 2.76% by the end of December.
Australian Fixed Interest (as measured by the Bloomberg Ausbond Composite Index) returned 2.92% for 2016, whilst international Fixed Income (as measured by the BarCap Global Aggregate TR Index) returned 5.24%.
Investor sentiment towards Australian equities shifted dramatically during the year. Early concerns around China and Australia’s economic prospects were brushed off, only for anxiety to return post the Brexit vote. After an initial setback, investors turned positive after the US election with ‘Trumponomics’ seen to be positive for cyclical stocks and economic growth. Materials and Financial stocks drove the market higher into the end of the year.
Australian Shares – 2016
The total return on Australian shares (SP/ASX 200 TR Index) was 11.8%, easily beating the 2.6% gain in 2015. The biggest capital gains were made from Materials stocks, returning 42% during the year. The big banks were the other biggest contributor to the SP/ASX 200’s yearly performance.
Resource companies were assisted by an unexpected leap in most commodity prices over 2016, despite a stronger US dollar in which most commodities are priced. Financials were the best performers in the last quarter of the year (+12.5%) on expectations that a steeper yield curve and financial de-regulation in the US would benefit domestic banks and insurers.
Energy (+7.4%) and Utilities (+9.3%) were the other two best sectors in the final quarter as oil prices rebounded after OPEC agreed to cut production. However, Healthcare suffered in line with its global peers given noise around the repeal of ‘Obamacare’ and rhetoric around drug pricing. Telecoms also suffered as challenges around the NBN rollout emerged in the last quarter.
Australian Market Sector Performance
After a shaky start to 2016, international equities performed well, rewarding investors who remained committed despite concerns over China, Brexit, the EU (especially Italy and its banks) as well as the US election.
The MSCI AC World benchmark returned 8.5% in 2016 (unhedged) and 8.0% (hedged). Calendar year returns can often conceal all sorts of intra-year volatility, with markets first selling off and then rebounding over events such as Brexit and the election of Donald Trump.
Donald Trump was not the only area where forecasters got it wrong in 2016. Concerns over China in January and February were overstated, as the Chinese Government responded with a powerful stimulus package that supported commodity prices and producers.
The UK’s exit from the European Union seemed implausible to everyone, yet it too became a reality. The initial Brexit vote was met with fear and widespread selling in financial markets. However, the initial response was seen as an overreaction given there remains much to negotiate and debate prior to the proposed exit in March 2019.
The announcement of Trump’s proposed economic policy prompted a major shift in sentiment towards the end of the 2016. Market participants began to expect more expansionary US fiscal policy which would be beneficial for the world’s largest economy.
Investors have enthusiastically embraced the potential for Trump’s economic policy to kick-start the US economy. However, we are still yet to see much of the policy detail and therefore risks remain around the actual implementation. Volatility is likely to arrive if a gap develops between market expectations and economic reality.
Movements in the $A neither helped nor hindered international investors, with the currency trading in a relatively tight range over the year and ending 2016 almost exactly where it started it, at 73 US cents.
Hedge Funds are traditionally held in an investor’s portfolio to increase diversification across sources of risk and return. The sector performed as expected during the various bouts of uncertainty during the year. This was most evident during the Brexit panic, where the sector increased in value sharply against steep falls in equity markets.
However, the sector was caught on the wrong foot going into the US Presidential election. Much of the positioning was set to benefit from uncertainty post the US election, including a fall in global equity markets. Global share markets did decline sharply on the day of the election, reflecting the uncertainty surrounding the election of Donald Trump. However, global markets reversed quickly, moving sharply higher into the end of the year, leaving many Hedge Funds misplaced. Returns suffered as a result. With the Credit Suisse Hedge Fund Index finishing 2016 up 1.25%.