Following Lonsec’s Asset Allocation Investment Committee meeting in June, we asked Chief Investment Officer Lukasz de Pourbaix to give us an update on his views of the current market drivers and challenges, and how these impacted Lonsec’s latest dynamic asset allocation views.

The main topic of discussion at this meeting was inflation – is it transitory or are we seeing a structural shift up in inflation? Lonsec’s current view is that whilst inflation will continue to rise in the short-term, after that, it’s still questionable whether we will see a structural rise in inflation. One of the other matters we’re focused on is wage growth. We have not seen a material rise in wages, which is important in the context of looking at inflation.

As part of our dynamic asset allocation process, we also look at a number of key factors: valuation (are assets cheap or expensive), where we are in the business cycle, and policy (such as monetary policy) and liquidity. In this video, Lukasz looks into each of these factors and explains how these were considered to determine Lonsec’s current asset allocation

Transcript

Inflation and its implication for asset allocation

Hello, my name is Lukasz de Pourbaix, I’m the CIO of Lonsec Investment Solutions. Today, I’ll be providing an update on our latest takeouts from our asset allocation Investment Committee, which is responsible for our dynamic asset allocation views. Now we hold that committee every quarter.

The main topic, really this investment committee was inflation, and whether inflation is transitory in nature, or whether we are seeing a structural shift up in inflation. And certainly, we’ve seen CPI numbers go up, most recently in the US announced the significant jump in CPI to levels we haven’t seen since 2008. And so, as part of that discussion, part of the narrative was, is this driven by supply/demand issues as a result of COVID? Or is there genuinely an inflation increase? And it’s fair to say that the market at the moment does believe that it’s transitory in nature, we are seeing significant disruptions to supply chains, which has impacted a range of assets. If you look at things like some of the commodities, Lumber (LBS), the one that suddenly is sort of focused on, through the microchips to make computers, mobile phones, etc. We’ve seen prices certainly spike up in a lot of these areas. And our view would be that once we get spending come back to pre-COVID levels, inflation will continue to rise in the short term, but after that, it’s still questionable whether we will see structural rise inflation.

Our base case at the moment is that it is likely to be transitory in nature, but that it will rise in the shorter term. One of the other aspects that we’re certainly focused on in that context is wage growth. Today, we haven’t seen a material rise in wage growth. It is a lagging indicator. However, it is important in the context of looking at inflation and while we have seen pockets of rises in wage growth, if anyone’s been out to try to hire staff in places like cafes, restaurants, fruit pickers, we all know that there’s shortages there, but across the board, we haven’t seen wage growth right rise and certainly that would be an area that we would be keen to focus on.

What changes were made in June to Lonsec’s Asset Allocation positions?

As part of our dynamic asset allocation process, we look at a couple of key factors that we think determine the direction of where different asset prices will go into the future. And those are valuation – so are assets cheap or expensive. Where are we in the business cycle, and then policy and liquidity.

If we take those three metrics in isolation, from a valuation perspective, it’s probably fair to say that most assets from an absolute perspective look pretty expensive. However, we are in the game of allocating capital. And so we have to look at things from a relative perspective. If we look at asset classes, from a relative perspective, we’ve continued to think that risk assets such as equities are favorable compared to things like bonds and cash, where know there’s you’re getting little reward for that risk. From an equity perspective, we probably have a bias towards emerging markets and Australian equities over some developed markets, particularly the US, from a pure valuation perspective. So overall picture is that from a relative perspective, risk assets are still looking attractive, you’re still being rewarded for risk from a valuation perspective. If you look at other indicators, and one of those is cyclical indicators – so where are we in the cycle? Cyclical indicators continue to look positive. A lot of economic data that’s been coming out, whether it’s looking at PMIs, whether it’s looking at job growth, all of them pointing in the right direction.

From our economic perspective, we’ve clearly seen a recovery and continue to see a recovery, those indicators are looking positive. Finally, from a policy perspective, if we think about monetary policy, and my earlier reference to inflation, the two are obviously related. Policy, however, does remain supportive of risk assets, interest rates remain low. Central Banks, in our view, aren’t going to pull the trigger anytime soon. They will want to see evidence of growth, and more evidence that if this inflationary environment is transitory, they’ll probably be a bit more standoffish in pulling the trigger on rates. But as it is at the moment, that environment in terms of policy does remain supportive of risk assets. We are also seeing material fiscal support. So net net if you think about those longer-term indicators, such as valuation, which is very much longer term indicator is supportive of risk assets. The policy settings continue to be supportive of risk assets. And then obviously, liquidity is there supporting markets as well, all things pointing to risk assets from an overall directional perspective, we do like risk assets over some of the more defensive assets. Having said that, we do think we’re in an environment where we are seeing a lot more dispersion between returns within asset classes. We do think that being selective within asset classes, be it equities or bonds, is becoming much more important. And we do think that dispersion between winners and losers will be wider going forward than it has been in the past.

Overall, the outcome of our dynamic asset allocation committee has been to make no change at this point. From our last quarter, we do remain positive on risk assets, underweight, Fixed Income, underweight Cash, we continue to have a neutral position to Alternatives. We are looking at if there are others? Potentially at some point, do we review that allocation to alternatives? Do we potentially increase that? From a portfolio perspective, we already have some exposure. Some of you will note will have we’ve had exposure to Gold, which has seen a significant increase in price over recent months. And if we do see that inflationary environment be more than just transitory those type of assets can contribute to helping protect the portfolio in that environment. So overall, there are some risks out there. Some inflation is probably the number one risk at the moment. But net net, we think that the environment is still conducive to risk assets.



IMPORTANT NOTICE: This document is published by Lonsec Investment Solutions Pty Ltd ACN 608 837 583, a Corporate Authorised Representative (CAR 1236821) (LIS) of Lonsec Research Pty Ltd ABN 11 151 658 561 AFSL 421 445 (Lonsec Research).  LIS creates the model portfolios it distributes using the investment research provided by Lonsec Research but LIS has not had any involvement in the investment research process for Lonsec Research. LIS and Lonsec Research are owned by Lonsec Holdings Pty Ltd ACN 151 235 406. Please read the following before making any investment decision about any financial product mentioned in this document.

DISCLOSURE AT THE DATE OF PUBLICATION: Lonsec Research receives a fee from the relevant fund manager or product issuer(s) for researching financial products (using objective criteria) which may be referred to in this document. Lonsec Research may also receive a fee from the fund manager or product issuer(s) for subscribing to research content and other Lonsec Research services.  LIS receives a fee for providing the model portfolios to financial services organisations and professionals. LIS’ and Lonsec Research’s fees are not linked to the financial product rating(s) outcome or the inclusion of the financial product(s) in model portfolios. LIS and Lonsec Research and their representatives and/or their associates may hold any financial product(s) referred to in this document, but details of these holdings are not known to the Lonsec Research analyst(s).

WARNINGS: Past performance is not a reliable indicator of future performance. Any express or implied rating or advice presented in this document is limited to general advice and based solely on consideration of the investment merits of the financial product(s) alone, without taking into account the investment objectives, financial situation and particular needs (“financial circumstances”) of any particular person. Before making an investment decision based on the rating or advice, the reader must consider whether it is personally appropriate in light of his or her financial circumstances or should seek independent financial advice on its appropriateness.  If the financial advice relates to the acquisition or possible acquisition of a particular financial product, the reader should obtain and consider the Investment Statement or the Product Disclosure Statement for each financial product before making any decision about whether to acquire the financial product.

DISCLAIMER: No representation, warranty or undertaking is given or made in relation to the accuracy or completeness of the information presented in this document, which is drawn from public information not verified by LIS. The information contained in this document is current as at the date of publication. Financial conclusions, ratings and advice are reasonably held at the time of publication but subject to change without notice. LIS assumes no obligation to update this document following publication. Except for any liability which cannot be excluded, LIS and Lonsec Research, their directors, officers, employees and agents disclaim all liability for any error or inaccuracy in, misstatement or omission from, this document or any loss or damage suffered by the reader or any other person as a consequence of relying upon it.

Copyright © 2021 Lonsec Investment Solutions Pty Ltd ACN 608 837 583 (LIS). This document may also contain third party supplied material that is subject to copyright.  The same restrictions that apply to LIS copyrighted material, apply to such third-party content.

The yield curve shows how yields for bonds of the same credit rating, typically government bonds, differ based on maturity date. It sounds simple and yet from this curve one can glean insights into market expectations of inflation, economic growth, and future central bank policy. As such, those who follow fixed income markets pay close attention to movements in the curve. In February 2021, the curve’s shape changed by an amount so large in magnitude that a similar shift has not been seen since the 1994 bond market meltdown.

The conventional measure of the ‘steepness’ of the yield curve is the difference between the yields of 10-year and 2-year Government Bonds. In Australia, this gap was 1.04% at the beginning of February. During the month, this gap rose to a high of 1.80%. The driver of this was a sharp increase in yields of 10-year, and other longer duration Australian Government Bonds (AGBs), while yields for 2-year and other shorter duration bonds stayed relatively static. Throughout February yields for 10-year AGBs rose from an initial value of 1.15% to a high of 1.92%. Movements of this size might be common in equity markets, but in the world of government bonds such shifts in recent years have been rarely seen. For context, February 2021 was the Bloomberg AusBond composite index’s worst month since 1994, as surging bond yields throughout the month were mirrored with a corresponding decrease in prices. Not all news is bad however, as a steeper curve allows for additional fixed income investment strategies to be utilised, including those which involve purchasing longer duration bonds and picking up price increases as they “roll down” the yield curve.

This historic shift was caused by a combination of increased inflationary expectations, and a more optimistic outlook of economic growth in the medium term. The component of the increase due to inflation expectations can be tested for directly by comparing the change in yields for 10-year AGBs with the change in yields for 10-year Australian Treasury Indexed Bonds (TIBs), which offer returns that are adjusted in-line with inflation. Throughout February yields for TIBs rose by approximately three quarters as much as for AGBs. This suggests that approximately one quarter of the increase in the yield for AGBs was due to inflation expectations, as, if the entire increase were due to inflation there would have been no movement in the yield for TIBs. The remainder of the increase in AGB yields implies a combination of a more positive economic outlook, and expectations of the Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA) adopting tighter monetary policy sooner than expected. While there is no way to test for either of these, due to; vaccine rollouts, a decreasing unemployment rate, and soaring commodity prices, an optimistic economic outlook is expected post last year’s recession. The first since the early 1990s. The conundrum is RBA policy, as the central bank has moved to directly counter the increase in yields by expanding its quantitative easing program, which involves purchasing 10-year AGBs on the open market. The announcement of this policy led to a dip in yields, but the upwards trend has since resumed. Given the better-than-expected economic recovery to date, the market may have doubts as to the RBA’s conviction in keeping yields low moving forward.

Moving forward, February’s increase in yields could mark the beginning of a return to normal after the COVID induced recession of 2020. While the increase in 10-year AGB yields was extremely large, even after the increase, yields remain low compared to historic norms. The gap between 10-year and 2-year yields remains large however, but this can also be closed from an increase in rates at the lower end of the curve, possibly brought about by the RBA ending its yield curve control program, in which it is targeting yields for 3-year AGBs at 0.1%, the same level as the Cash Rate. The main cause of problems would be in the case that the strong economic conditions that are implied by the increase do not manifest, whether due to a resurgence of COVID, falling commodity prices, or an unrelated reason. If signs of such an occurrence appear it is likely that yields would fall again. Unfortunately, there is no way to be certain of which outcome will occur, but regardless of the specifics of future economic outcomes, February’s events will remain a focal point in discussions of fixed income market outlooks for some time.

Issued by Lonsec Research Pty Ltd ABN 11 151 658 561 AFSL 421 445 (Lonsec). Warning: Past performance is not a reliable indicator of future performance. Any advice is General Advice without considering the objectives, financial situation and needs of any person. Before making a decision read the PDS and consider your financial circumstances or seek personal advice. Disclaimer: Lonsec gives no warranty of accuracy or completeness of information in this document, which is compiled from information from public and third-party sources. Opinions are reasonably held by Lonsec at compilation. Lonsec assumes no obligation to update this document after publication. Except for liability which can’t be excluded, Lonsec, its directors, officers, employees and agents disclaim all liability for any error, inaccuracy, misstatement or omission, or any loss suffered through relying on the document or any information. ©2021 Lonsec. All rights reserved. This report may also contain third party material that is subject to copyright. To the extent that copyright subsists in a third party it remains with the original owner and permission may be required to reuse the material. Any unauthorised reproduction of this information is prohibited. 

Hear from Scott Abercrombie, Executive Manager, Consulting at SuperRatings discuss the current key challenges facing the superannuation industry and what’s in-store for the future!

Watch the video below

Markets continued their positive trajectory in April with strong returns generated across Australian and Global Equities, with listed Real Estate performing particularly well. Despite the strong returns, inflation concerns continue to dominate the market narrative. There are concerns that the so-called ‘reflation trade’, which has been supported by accommodative monetary policy and significant fiscal support, may have overshot as economies begin to open-up. As a result, we have seen commodity prices rise, with oil and base metal prices all appreciating.

The question is whether the rise in inflation is transitory, and that the current trend in prices is simply a function of economies making up for lost time due to COVID, or are we witnessing a structural trend in rising inflation. There is no question that there are supply and demand pressures pushing prices of certain goods and services up. However, Lonsec’s current view is that while we expect inflation to rise in the short-term, particularly in the US, our expectation is that the rise will be within range, and the risk of an out-of-control spike in inflation is not our base case.

Wage growth continues to be sluggish and broader structural deflationary pressures such as the continual technological developments impacting many industries will potentially suppress prices over the long-term. The main risk to this view is that central banks are behind the curve and allow inflation to run beyond manageable levels in their quest to stimulate growth.

From a portfolio perspective, modest inflation is generally positive for Equities. We have maintained our portfolios’ exposure to diversifying assets should inflation come through higher than expected, notably via our exposure to Gold and Inflation Linked Bonds.

IMPORTANT NOTICE: This document is published by Lonsec Investment Solutions Pty Ltd ACN 608 837 583, a Corporate Authorised Representative (CAR 1236821) (LIS) of Lonsec Research Pty Ltd ABN 11 151 658 561 AFSL 421 445 (Lonsec Research).  LIS creates the model portfolios it distributes using the investment research provided by Lonsec Research but LIS has not had any involvement in the investment research process for Lonsec Research. LIS and Lonsec Research are owned by Lonsec Holdings Pty Ltd ACN 151 235 406. Please read the following before making any investment decision about any financial product mentioned in this document.

DISCLOSURE AT THE DATE OF PUBLICATION: Lonsec Research receives a fee from the relevant fund manager or product issuer(s) for researching financial products (using objective criteria) which may be referred to in this document. Lonsec Research may also receive a fee from the fund manager or product issuer(s) for subscribing to research content and other Lonsec Research services.  LIS receives a fee for providing the model portfolios to financial services organisations and professionals. LIS’ and Lonsec Research’s fees are not linked to the financial product rating(s) outcome or the inclusion of the financial product(s) in model portfolios. LIS and Lonsec Research and their representatives and/or their associates may hold any financial product(s) referred to in this document, but details of these holdings are not known to the Lonsec Research analyst(s).

WARNINGS: Past performance is not a reliable indicator of future performance. Any express or implied rating or advice presented in this document is limited to general advice and based solely on consideration of the investment merits of the financial product(s) alone, without taking into account the investment objectives, financial situation and particular needs (“financial circumstances”) of any particular person. Before making an investment decision based on the rating or advice, the reader must consider whether it is personally appropriate in light of his or her financial circumstances or should seek independent financial advice on its appropriateness.  If the financial advice relates to the acquisition or possible acquisition of a particular financial product, the reader should obtain and consider the Investment Statement or the Product Disclosure Statement for each financial product before making any decision about whether to acquire the financial product.

DISCLAIMER: No representation, warranty or undertaking is given or made in relation to the accuracy or completeness of the information presented in this document, which is drawn from public information not verified by LIS. The information contained in this document is current as at the date of publication. Financial conclusions, ratings and advice are reasonably held at the time of publication but subject to change without notice. LIS assumes no obligation to update this document following publication. Except for any liability which cannot be excluded, LIS and Lonsec Research, their directors, officers, employees and agents disclaim all liability for any error or inaccuracy in, misstatement or omission from, this document or any loss or damage suffered by the reader or any other person as a consequence of relying upon it.

Copyright © 2021 Lonsec Investment Solutions Pty Ltd ACN 608 837 583 (LIS). This document may also contain third party supplied material that is subject to copyright.  The same restrictions that apply to LIS copyrighted material, apply to such third-party content.

Federal government doubles down on expansionary budget

It’s been only seven months since the last federal budget in October 2020, which was delayed in order to give the government maximum flexibility to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic. This budget is the second pandemic budget, with the focus now shifting from temporary spending measures to keep the economy afloat to building a more sustainable post-COVID economy and beginning the long journey of budget repair.

What’s clear is that—unlike many of the job saving initiatives employed during the pandemic—the impact on Australia’s fiscal position will be much less temporary, with mounting deficits through the forward estimates set to accumulate a net debt of just under $1 trillion by 2024-25. The consolation is that, with interest rates at record lows and the Reserve Bank of Australia intent on keeping them that way, there has never been a better time for the government to borrow to support households and add to Australia’s infrastructure pipeline.

The government has not taken any chances with this budget. While the economic recovery has been strong—reflected most notably in employment growth—and consumers have so far shrugged off the unwinding of the JobKeeper program, the pandemic is still with us and there are plenty of potential risks that could derail or forestall growth. Instead of taking the opportunity to go harder on budget repair, the government is keen to secure the recovery with a very expansionary budget that doubles down on the 2020-21 fiscal strategy.

Still fighting the virus

Australia’s management of the pandemic has been the envy of the world, but now the test of the Morrison government will be how effectively it can support the roll out of vaccines while providing the necessary fiscal support to businesses, households, and the healthcare system. To address the immediate challenge of the vaccine rollout, the government is providing $1.9 billion through the COVID-19 Vaccination Strategy plus an additional $1.5 billion to extend a range of COVID-19 health response measures.

While Australia is emerging from the COVID-19 shock with a strong recovery in activity and employment, the outlook for the global economy remains highly uncertain. With 800,000 COVID-19 cases diagnosed daily across the world, new strains of the virus emerging and international travel restrictions yet to be lifted, the effects of COVID-19 may not dissipate for some time yet.

Tax relief and targeted support for vulnerable sectors

Aside from the direct COVID-related measures, the real centrepiece of the budget is the tax relief measures, which will provide more dry powder for households, which are now more confident about the direction of the recovery and hopefully willing to spend down the savings they accumulated during the pandemic.

The government will retain the low and middle income tax offset (LMITO) in 2021-22 to provide $7.8 billion in targeted support to around 10.2 million low- and middle-income earners. This is on top of the $25.1 billion in tax cuts flowing to households in 2021-22 that have been announced in previous budgets.

The other key item is the extension of full expensing of depreciable assets for businesses with turnover below $5 billion, which was introduced as a temporary measure in the 2020-21 budget. This budget extends full expensing for another 12 months until 30 June 2023 to encourage additional investment and allow businesses embarking on projects with longer lead times to capture more of the benefits of this measure.

Other initiatives to provide more targeted support include an additional $1.2 billion for the aviation and tourism sectors, the Small and Medium Enterprise (SME) Recovery Loan Scheme, which builds on the SME Guarantee scheme, and an additional $500 million to expand the JobTrainer Fund, subject to matched funding by state and territory governments.

Another infrastructure budget

Infrastructure has become a budget staple regardless of who is in power, and the Morrison government has not missed their opportunity this time around. This budget provides an additional $15.2 billion over ten years for road, rail and community infrastructure projects, which the government claims will support over 30,000 direct and indirect jobs.

The highlights of the infrastructure spend include $2 billion to support delivery of the Melbourne Intermodal Terminal to increase national rail freight network capacity, $2.6 billion for the North-South Corridor (Darlington to Anzac Highway in South Australia) and $2.0 billion for the Great Western Highway Upgrade (Katoomba to Lithgow in New South Wales). This package also includes an additional $1 billion to extend the Local Roads and Community Infrastructure Program.

Improving aged care

Although it took a back seat through the pandemic, aged care reform has been the big issue on the government’s radar following the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety. The government has committed an additional $17.7 billion over five years to improve the system, including $6.5 billion for the release of 80,000 additional Home Care Packages over the next two years. The Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission will also receive additional resources to manage compliance and ensure quality care services and the introduction of new star ratings.
An additional $13.2 billion has been provided for the National Disability Insurance Scheme, while a key political focus for the budget has been on the $3.4 billion to support women, including programs to improve women’s safety and economic security.

The elephant in the room: debt and deficits

None of the spending initiatives in this year’s budget would be possible without upending Australia’s fiscal norms. While debt-to-GDP remains low compared to Australia’s peers, the two pandemic budgets will test the political restraints that have traditionally governed the nation’s fiscal settings, even in the wake of the GFC. Government outlays are expected to hit 32.1% of GDP in 2020-21 and, while that is the peak, such a figure would have been unthinkable a decade ago.

Australia’s net debt will hit nearly $1 trillion by 2024-25

 

Source: Budget papers

Net debt is expected to be 34.2% cent of GDP in 2021-22 and peak at 40.9% of GDP in 2024-25. Net debt is then projected to fall over the medium term to 37.0% of GDP in 2031-32. In other words, Australia will be managing the fiscal impact of the pandemic for a decade or more.

While gross debt has increased significantly since the onset of the pandemic, the cost of servicing that debt is lower in 2021-22 than it was in 2018-19 as a result of historically low interest rates. The government’s management of the yield curve has helped reduce refinancing risk and has made repayments less sensitive to short-term yield moves. However, while low yields will be doing much of the heavy lifting, the government must still work to reduce the economy’s dependence on government spending and ensure there is enough room to move when the next crisis hits—hopefully far off down the road!

 

IMPORTANT NOTICE: This document is published by Lonsec Investment Solutions Pty Ltd ACN: 608 837 583 (LIS), a Corporate Authorised Representative (CAR number: 1236821) of Lonsec Research Pty Ltd ABN: 11 151 658 561 AFSL: 421 445 (Lonsec Research). LIS creates the model portfolios it distributes using the investment research provided by Lonsec Research but LIS has not had any involvement in the investment research process for Lonsec Research. LIS and Lonsec Research are owned by Lonsec Fiscal Holdings Pty Ltd ACN: 151 235 406. Please read the following before making any investment decision about any financial product mentioned in this document.

Disclosure at the date of publication: Lonsec Research receives a fee from the relevant fund manager or product issuer(s) for researching financial products (using objective criteria) which may be referred to in this document. Lonsec Research may also receive a fee from the fund manager or product issuer(s) for subscribing to research content and other Lonsec Research services. LIS receives a fee for providing the model portfolios to financial services organisations and professionals. LIS’ and Lonsec Research’s fees are not linked to the financial product rating(s) outcome or the inclusion of the financial product(s) in model portfolios. LIS and Lonsec Research may hold any financial product(s) referred to in this document. LIS and Lonsec Research’s representatives and/or their associates may hold any financial product(s) referred to in this document, but details of these holdings are not known to the Lonsec Research analyst(s).

Warnings: Past performance is not a reliable indicator of future performance. Any express or implied rating or advice presented in this document is limited to “general advice” (as defined in the Corporations Act 2001 (Cth)) and based solely on consideration of the investment merits of the financial product(s) alone, without taking into account the investment objectives, financial situation and particular needs (“financial circumstances”) of any particular person. Before making an investment decision based on the rating or advice, the reader must consider whether it is personally appropriate in light of his or her financial circumstances or should seek independent financial advice on its appropriateness. If the financial advice relates to the acquisition or possible acquisition of a particular financial product, the reader should obtain and consider the Investment Statement or the Product Disclosure Statement for each financial product before making any decision about whether to acquire the financial product.

Disclaimer: This document is not intended for use by a retail client or a member of the public and should not be used or relied upon by any other person. No representation, warranty or undertaking is given or made in relation to the accuracy or completeness of the information presented in this document, which is drawn from public information not verified by LIS. Financial conclusions, ratings and advice are reasonably held at the time of completion (refer to the date of this document) but subject to change without notice. LIS assumes no obligation to update this document following publication.

Except for any liability which cannot be excluded, LIS and Lonsec Research, their directors, officers, employees and agents disclaim all liability for any error or inaccuracy in, misstatement or omission from, this document or any loss or damage suffered by the reader or any other person as a consequence of relying upon it.

Copyright © 2021 Lonsec Investment Solutions Pty Ltd ACN: 608 837 583

The Lonsec Board of Directors is very pleased to announce the appointment of Mike Wright as CEO of Lonsec effective 5th July 2021.

Lonsec Chairman Mark Spiers said, “Mike’s unique blend of leading teams to develop and implement client-oriented growth and service initiatives along with his strong industry relationships and knowledge were exactly the leadership attributes that we were seeking.”

“By continuing to stay close to our clients Lonsec has enjoyed significant growth across all its business units and I am excited to be able to work with the great team at Lonsec to continue to build on this,” said Mike.

Mike was most recently the CEO of Xplore Wealth, an ASX listed company specialising in providing managed account investment solutions to financial advisers. Xplore Wealth was successfully acquired by Hub24 via a Scheme of Arrangement, completed 2nd March 2021.

Prior to this, Mike had a long and successful career in the Westpac/BT Group, where he held senior executive roles with Westpac’s Retail & Business Banking, and was State General Manager of Queensland before leading the Advice business at BT.

Release ends

For more information, contact:

Rob Hardy
robert.hardy@lonsec.com.au
+61 2 8651 6744

While the use of a value approach or value (factor) bias is often associated with equity portfolios, the extraordinary events in early 2020 served as a reminder of the value bias inherent in many multi asset solutions. This bias results from the valuation factors inherent in both asset allocation and security selection decisions.

The emphasis managers place on ‘value’ in their asset allocation and security selection processes has impacted portfolio performance over the past several years given the headwinds ‘value’ as a factor has faced. Lonsec’s recent review of multi-asset funds emphasised the need for adequate risk management systems to ensure any ‘bets’ in the portfolio are intended and in line with managers’ strategic decisions. Moreover, Lonsec was interested to discuss the role of ‘value’ in asset allocation decisions alongside other factors including liquidity, sentiment and policy, and the timeframe in which managers frame their decisions.

In this thought piece Lonsec aims to answer why the last five years has been a challenge for asset allocators, the role the ‘value’ factor has played and why Lonsec believes it is vital that asset allocators and their investors understand the drivers and extent of any bias’s present in portfolios and the likely effect this will have on portfolio performance at different points in the cycle.

Asset allocation

Investment managers who build diversified portfolios of assets with allocations to an array of asset classes (i.e., multi asset portfolios) often use an asset allocation approach as the core building block of their portfolio construction process.

While there are numerous asset allocation approaches, the most recognised are long term ‘strategic asset allocation’ (SAA), medium term ‘dynamic asset allocation’ (DAA) and short term ‘tactical asset allocation’ (TAA). While some managers have defined their own asset allocation approach and associated acronym, their approaches invariably sit somewhere between long term SAA and short term TAA.

For managers who build portfolios based on a clearly defined asset allocation approach, capital market assumptions (i.e., forecasts for asset class returns, asset class risks and cross-asset correlations) are key inputs into the setting of portfolio asset allocation, regardless of the approach used.

When defining capital market assumptions for the forecast period, asset allocators commonly use expected returns, expected risk and correlations as the essential inputs into the asset allocation process. For SAA decisions, expected returns are heavily reliant on current valuations. DAA processes by contrast focus on medium term horizons of circa 18 months to 3 years and can focus on broader factors in determining the under and overweights to particular asset classes. In Lonsec’s experience, valuation will still play a role, and in some cases a heavy role, in determining positioning over these periods. For example, if equity markets are deemed to be trading at high valuations relative to long term averages (e.g., on metrics such as price to earnings multiples), asset allocators may choose to down-weight equities in their current asset allocation. This decision may be driven by the assumption valuation multiples will normalise in the ensuing period towards the long-term average (e.g., where a compression in earnings multiples drives a fall in share prices). Likewise, in the fixed income sphere, low yields and narrow spreads have meant allocating to these sectors has been a challenge. The difficulty with this approach is that valuations can overshoot for an extended period of time, especially when liquidity is higher than average and central bank policy has been supportive. The use of valuation metrics as inputs in asset allocation approaches is likely to create a bias towards asset classes offering attractive valuations and in turn creating value biases in multi asset portfolios.

The dominance of macro factors in overshadowing asset specific factors has continued to be a discussion point between Lonsec and multi-asset managers. Lonsec has found those using a framework to assess the economic and market cycle to have a more holistic DAA framework when compared to others using more simple methodologies.

Security selection

Alongside asset allocation, another dominant driver of positioning for multi asset managers is security selection. Having identified the desired portfolio asset class exposures, in order to select the securities for inclusion in each asset class managers will often analyse the prevailing valuation levels of securities or sectors. This analysis can involve drilling down to the sub asset class level, geographical location level, and the sector/industry level to find the best opportunities within an asset class.

While some managers may seek to build portfolios with diversified factor exposures, many managers tilt security selection away from seemingly expensive areas of securities markets and towards undervalued areas of securities markets.

As Figure 1 shows, entering 2020 the valuation gap between growth equites and value equities had moved to highs not seen since the early 2000’s bubble:

Figure 1

While increasing exposure to cheaper areas of securities markets makes sense intuitively, where multi asset managers apply this approach across many of or all the underlying asset classes utilised, it may create a large value factor bias within portfolios. Lonsec believes managers need to be aware of these biases and ensure exposures are intended rather than unintended positions.

The last five years, and heading into 2020

In the years after the GFC, having taken official cash rates to record lows, the modus operandi of central banks has been to pump liquidity into economies and investment markets at any and every sign of trouble. This has helped to drive down bond yields and expected returns across all asset classes. The challenge of where to invest in this environment has been one impacting all asset allocators.

While managers have stuck to their investment and portfolio construction processes over this time, Lonsec notes there has been a disconnect between portfolio positioning and financial market performance. The challenge for managers over this period was to correctly form a view on the business cycle. With interest rates rising (albeit slowly) from late 2015 to 2018 and contrasting views on the emergence of inflation, there were divergent views on how portfolios should be positioned (over this period Lonsec has noted funds in its Variable Growth Assets > Real Return sector have been positioned at both ends of the risk spectrum). Likewise, views on the market cycle becoming later stage were predicated on valuations becoming more expensive across the board. Many of the managers we rate had been conservatively positioned due to this, and underperformed passive benchmarks which benefitted from the continued and increasing richness of valuations (particularly in geographies like the US, and sectors like Technology and Healthcare).

While there were signs of a pick-up in economic growth and a corresponding response from value and cyclical assets in late 2019 and some managers became more constructive on market outcomes, the three-year period leading into January 2020 undoubtably favoured strategies that invested in growth assets over value assets, as shown in Figure 2:

Figure 2

The 2020 experience – the bear market

The COVID induced sell off that began in February 2020 saw value stocks fall faster and further than growth stocks through late March 2020. Value orientated strategies have at times underperformed at the beginning of equity bear markets, arguably as investors throw in the towel and finally pull the sell trigger on their worst performing stocks, and this was the case in 2020. Figure 3 shows that from 1 Jan 2020 to 20 May 2020, the performance of value stocks materially lagged that of growth stocks.

Figure 3

Figure 4 shows that the valuation gap between growth equities and value equites continued to reach new multi-year highs during and coming out of the COVID induced bear market:

Figure 4

The 2020/21 experience (so far) – multi asset managers

The chart in Figure 5 shows the experience of a sample of managers in the Variable Growth Assets – Real Return sub-sector. While some multi asset managers suffered smaller drawdowns relative to peers by entering February 2020 defensively positioned based on valuations (and had been conservatively positioned for much of the prior two to three year period), other multi asset managers nimbly reduced risk exposures by reducing equity exposures or adding downside protection through derivatives.

Among the managers that suffered larger drawdowns relative to peers, many had pronounced value biases through their asset allocation and security selection approaches, in some cases adding significantly to cheap, cyclicals as the market sold off. These managers were impacted when growth styles started to recover more quickly. Lonsec notes, however, that those managers with value biases have bounced back (in some cases sharply) as the value rotation has taken hold since late 2020, though Lonsec notes it is too early to suggest how sustained this will be and may be somewhat dependent on the path of the economic recovery from here.

Lonsec believes articulation of the manager’s strategy to be important given it is likely to provide a greater understanding of how the manager and their fund is equipped to perform in different environments. Nonetheless, it is important to recognise that Lonsec’s ratings encompass a ‘through the cycle’ view on managers we assess.

Figure 5

Key takeaways

Whilst portfolios may be diversified at the asset class level, this may not be indicative of the inherent level of diversification overall within portfolios. As Lonsec has seen in its recent multi-asset review, biases towards the value factor have, in some cases, been high and exacerbated by biases coming from both asset allocation and security selection effects. Lonsec prefers to see diversification across not only style, but also strategy, geography, sector and factor. Value biases have been pronounced in some portfolios in recent years given high valuations and the belief in some quarters that the cycle was maturing. This positioning has proved a performance headwind against passively managed SAA weighted benchmarks in recent years and in recent months led to significant performance dispersion among different strategies.

Going forward, while it is difficult to time decisions over shorter periods, Lonsec expects greater levels of dispersion in markets which should provide greater opportunities for active asset allocators to extract alpha from markets. Lonsec continues to discuss the foundations for any active bets in portfolios and the framework behind such decisions. Moderately leaning into certain style or factor bets can be challenging but possible at points in the cycle when supported by a strong asset allocation framework.

When the value bias in an investment manager’s approach is compounded in the security selection process, Lonsec believes asset allocators must be cognisant of the degree of value bias in their portfolios to ensure this is in line with their strategy (or any factors for that matter). All bets must be intended with unexpected performance resulting for those unaware of their true exposures. As valuations have been shown to have stronger explanatory power on returns over longer term horizons, Lonsec also continues to progress conversations on the time horizon of manager’s decision making processes. Overall, Lonsec believes that asset allocators making shorter to medium term decisions should include value as one factor among others that may have increased forecasting power over the medium term.

Authors

Darrell Clark, Manager, Multi-Asset

Sebastian Lander, Senior Investment Analyst

Issued by Lonsec Research Pty Ltd ABN 11 151 658 561 AFSL 421 445 (Lonsec). Warning: Past performance is not a reliable indicator of future performance. Any advice is General Advice without considering the objectives, financial situation and needs of any person. Before making a decision read the PDS and consider your financial circumstances or seek personal advice. Disclaimer: Lonsec gives no warranty of accuracy or completeness of information in this document, which is compiled from information from public and third-party sources. Opinions are reasonably held by Lonsec at compilation. Lonsec assumes no obligation to update this document after publication. Except for liability which can’t be excluded, Lonsec, its directors, officers, employees and agents disclaim all liability for any error, inaccuracy, misstatement or omission, or any loss suffered through relying on the document or any information. ©2021 Lonsec. All rights reserved. This report may also contain third party material that is subject to copyright. To the extent that copyright subsists in a third party it remains with the original owner and permission may be required to reuse the material. Any unauthorised reproduction of this information is prohibited. 

The Australian equity market experienced another positive quarter of performance to the end of March, delivering a 4.1% return as measured by the S&P/ASX 300 Accumulation Index. The recent gains have contributed to a significant 38.3% return over the past 12 months, when the local market touched its cycle lows on 23 of March 2020.

The quarterly return was led by the telecommunications, financials and consumer discretionary sectors, with key companies producing stronger than expected results primarily driven by cost control and margin expansion. The banks reinstated larger dividend payouts and material writebacks of their COVID-related bad debt provisions, signaling to investors increased confidence in their earnings outlook. Long-term bond yields were up 77 basis points in response to stronger economic activity flowing through to a re-pricing of higher inflation expectations. In this environment, banks should benefit with improved earnings growth. Very low levels of community transmission and the rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine program have delivered a boost of optimism for investors, particularly sectors directly linked to the re-opening of the economy, in particular consumer discretionary, industrial and resources. A cautionary note: companies that have benefited from COVID-19 (e.g. Coles and JB Hi-Fi) will have significantly higher comparable sales to meet or exceed in upcoming result periods to maintain their share price gains.

The telecommunication sector gained 13.9% courtesy of merger and acquisition activity with Macquarie Infrastructure Group and Aware Super launching an indicative bid for Vocus, and further details on Telstra’s proposal to restructure its business model. Telstra’s restructure would split the company into four business segments, seeking to realise the value of the company’s infrastructure assets, which the market has responded to positively with some brokers upgrading their target prices.

Resources maintained their positive momentum with the global economic recovery continuing to gather pace. Miners including BHP (+9.6%) were driven by a resilient iron ore price and announcements of larger dividends at their recent February results. Within the Energy sector, Santos (+14.2%) and Oil Search (+10.7%) were also stronger performers as the Brent Crude price increased to US$64 per barrel.

S&P/ASX 300 TR Index three-year rolling returns (% p.a.) to 31 March 2021

SOURCE: LONSEC, FINANCIAL EXPRESS

The value rotation has been in full swing since October 2020

SOURCE: ABS

Australian share index performance to 31 March 2021

SOURCE: FINANCIAL EXPRESS

Information Technology was the laggard sector delivering -10% in the March quarter, with several companies not matching their high expectations (e.g. Appen in the recent results period). Investors are pivoting away from COVID beneficiary sectors IT and Healthcare, while shifting investor attention to cyclically exposed stocks and higher bond yields detract from the value of their long-term cash flows.

Value outperformed growth by 9.6% in the March quarter

The rotation out of growth into value sectors continued over the March quarter with the economic recovery starting to materialise with a lower unemployment rate contributing to stronger growth. Unless some unforeseen tail risk event occurs, it is expected that business and consumer confidence will rise, providing a clear indication of ‘normal’ conditions returning in the not-too-distant future.

The small cap segment of the market experienced a softer return outcome in the March quarter compared to its broad-cap counterparts returning 2.1% as measured by the S&P/ASX Small Ordinaries Index, with mixed performances from the small resources index delivering -2.8% and the small industrials index gained 3.3%.

The Australian equity market is trading on a one-year P/E ratio of nearly 20 times, which is circa 30% above the long-term average of 14.5 times and prima facie looks stretched relative to history. However, based on the current environment, with policy and liquidity support underwriting economic activity for the foreseeable future, the market appears to be moderately expensive.

Outlook

Presently, the Australian equity market is profoundly influenced by macro factors surrounding the management of Covid-19, with company specific fundamentals taking some form of a back seat. The unprecedented fiscal and monetary stimulus measures implemented over the past 12 months should continue over the medium term but gradually taper off on the basis that Covid-19 is well contained, and economic re-opening becomes a sustainable state of affairs.

While it is not expected to be smooth sailing, as the economy moves towards a solid recovery phase, the reflation trade is likely to occur with cyclicals benefitting on relative basis over long-duration growth companies.

Issued by Lonsec Research Pty Ltd ABN 11 151 658 561 AFSL 421 445 (Lonsec). Warning: Past performance is not a reliable indicator of future performance. Any advice is General Advice without considering the objectives, financial situation and needs of any person. Before making a decision read the PDS and consider your financial circumstances or seek personal advice. Disclaimer: Lonsec gives no warranty of accuracy or completeness of information in this document, which is compiled from information from public and third-party sources. Opinions are reasonably held by Lonsec at compilation. Lonsec assumes no obligation to update this document after publication. Except for liability which can’t be excluded, Lonsec, its directors, officers, employees and agents disclaim all liability for any error, inaccuracy, misstatement or omission, or any loss suffered through relying on the document or any information. ©2021 Lonsec. All rights reserved. This report may also contain third party material that is subject to copyright. To the extent that copyright subsists in a third party it remains with the original owner and permission may be required to reuse the material. Any unauthorised reproduction of this information is prohibited. 

Debate in global property markets is now focused on office markets and how the global pandemic may have changed demand for office space on a permanent basis. In Australia, the immediate impact has seen CBD office vacancy levels rise in Sydney and Melbourne from 3.0–4.0% to around 8.0–9.0% over the year to January 2021.

Net absorption for Australia overall has reduced from +50,000 sqm in the six months to January 2020 to -90,000 sqm in the latest six months to January 2021. Sub-leasing levels have spiked as tenants with longer leases look to offload spare capacity. While face rents have remained largely unchanged, incentives have jumped to over 35% compared to around 25% pre-pandemic, dampening net effective rents.

The return to work in CBDs is progressive, but there is a growing realisation that more flexibility to allow working from home arrangements is both possible and desired. As corporates plan ahead and leases come to an end, already there is demand for core space plus an option for a flexible amount. Landlords will also need to ensure that buildings provide good quality space (including high environmental ratings) with facilities being upgraded in line with social distancing requirements.

While there will be some requirement for more space per person, it is likely that the trend for more flexible space and working from home arrangements will drag on demand while the world works its way through this pandemic. Given there is the possibility of more pandemics in the future, the outlook for office space will have a higher degree of uncertainty. A bright spot is medical and life sciences office space, where demand has been boosted by pandemic conditions.

Property sector will keep evolving

In the March quarter 2021 Australian property securities lost ground (S&P/ASX 300 A-REIT Index -0.5%) to the broader Australian equities index (+4.3%), although a stronger March almost made up for a poor first two months of the new year. Conversely, global property securities – AUD hedged (+7.3%) outperformed global equities – AUD hedged (+6.1%) during the first quarter of 2021.

Healthcare property continues to evolve with limited listed opportunities in Australia but increasing activity in unlisted funds. The highlight during the last quarter was the bid for Australian Unity Healthcare Property Trust by Canadian-based NorthWest Healthcare, with two conditional bids being rejected by Australian Unity as significantly undervaluing the patiently accumulated portfolio (December 2020 value was $2.4 billion) plus the ongoing development potential.

Heavily sold off early in 2020, retail property REITs have had bursts of recovery during the last six months as investors reacted to a vaccine-led recovery. Food and necessity-based shopping centres have continued to trade well and remain in demand by investors. Shopping strips and malls with a high proportion of discretionary spending have been hard hit, and owners face a period of readjustment in tenant mix and rentals. Nevertheless, in countries where lockdowns have lifted, foot traffic has rapidly returned to the ‘fortress’ shopping centres.

Secondary market for residential property expected to stabilise

A surprising area of strength is the residential market in Australia and some other parts of the globe where the COVID-19 response has been well handled (e.g. New Zealand). The combination of the RBA announcing that interest rates would stay low for a number of years and a shortage of supply in the secondary market has seen prices escalate quickly. This seems at odds with the underlying economic conditions in Australia where government income support (i.e. JobKeeper) has now ended and banks require mortgages to be serviced after a brief hiatus for those in need.

Lonsec expects some stabilisation to occur in pricing for the secondary housing market as these factors take hold and supply increases. Developers of primary housing stock will reap the benefits in the near term, although the apartment market is softer as demand is weak (no international buyers or renters) and rentals are about 20% lower than the pre-pandemic level. While values in regional and coastal areas have reacted to the work from home trend, this is also a reflection of relative value compared to the capital cities.

The residential rental and manufactured housing sectors are well developed internationally and have shown their resilience with a high proportion of recurring income from a multitude of tenants, although these sectors are not immune from some impact of a pandemic. Student housing is a good example, where travel restrictions have seen international student occupancy at very low levels. Longer-term trends of demand for high quality education should see these businesses recover in due course.

Property subsector winners include the Industrial and logistics and data centre sectors as growth continues off the back of accelerating trends towards e-commerce. However, pricing of assets in this area has become historically expensive and investors need to tread carefully to ensure the properties have tenants that are tied in not only by long leases, but by specialised fit-outs (preferably tenant funded). Similarly, hotels and lodging earnings are set to benefit as intra-national travel restrictions are eased and are dependent on how international travel patterns pan out.

A key positive that remains in place is low interest rates globally, which are having the impact of maintaining investor demand and underpinning tight market capitalisation rates (apart from discretionary retail assets). Lonsec maintains the view that these policy settings are artificially low, and as inflation resurfaces, bond rates and borrowing costs will rise (the US 10-year rate rose from 0.72% in October 2020 to 1.85% at the end of March 2021).

At this stage, REITs remain reasonably geared and investors should steer away from companies starting to push these boundaries. At the same time, highly priced property groups with components of funds management and development earnings can be vulnerable to a reversal of asset values.

Issued by Lonsec Research Pty Ltd ABN 11 151 658 561 AFSL 421 445 (Lonsec). Warning: Past performance is not a reliable indicator of future performance. Any advice is General Advice without considering the objectives, financial situation and needs of any person. Before making a decision read the PDS and consider your financial circumstances or seek personal advice. Disclaimer: Lonsec gives no warranty of accuracy or completeness of information in this document, which is compiled from information from public and third-party sources. Opinions are reasonably held by Lonsec at compilation. Lonsec assumes no obligation to update this document after publication. Except for liability which can’t be excluded, Lonsec, its directors, officers, employees and agents disclaim all liability for any error, inaccuracy, misstatement or omission, or any loss suffered through relying on the document or any information. ©2021 Lonsec. All rights reserved. This report may also contain third party material that is subject to copyright. To the extent that copyright subsists in a third party it remains with the original owner and permission may be required to reuse the material. Any unauthorised reproduction of this information is prohibited. 

A year on from the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, super funds continue to enjoy in the market recovery as vaccine rollouts and the return to more normal economic conditions lift confidence.

Members have welcomed the return to a more stable footing, but markets are still more volatile compared to the pre-COVID-19 situation. Much also depends on the speed and efficacy of vaccination programs globally, with some regions facing delays and logistical challenges.

According to SuperRatings data, the median balanced option rose an estimated 0.7% in February and the median growth option rose an estimated 1.1%, while the median capital stable option fell an estimated 0.1%. Over the 2021 financial year to date, the median balanced option returned 9.7%, reflecting the strength and speed of the post-pandemic recovery, which has been extended through the start of 2021.

The federal government said Australian health professionals will soon be delivering over 500,000 vaccinations a week, with general practitioners set to assist in the COVID-19 vaccine rollout in coming weeks. Australia will keep its international borders shut for at least another three months.
“Super has notched up another positive month, thanks to the vaccine narrative and the relative strength of Australia’s economic recovery, which has exceeded expectations,” said SuperRatings Executive Director Kirby Rappell.

“Markets are still bumpy and members should not be surprised to see the value of their super fluctuate over the course of 2021. With the severe shock of the pandemic now behind us, the challenge will be gradually transitioning away from government support programs and getting households and businesses back on a sustainable footing.”

Accumulation returns to end of February 2021
FYTD 1 yr 3 yrs (p.a.) 5 yrs (p.a.) 7 yrs (p.a.) 10 yrs (p.a)
SR50 Growth (77-90) Index 12.0% 7.4% 7.0% 9.2% 7.9% 8.2%
SR50 Balanced (60-76) Index 9.7% 5.9% 6.1% 8.0% 7.1% 7.6%
SR50 Capital Stable (20-40) Index 4.1% 2.0% 3.7% 4.5% 4.4% 4.8%

Source: SuperRatings estimates

Pension returns were also positive in February. The median balanced pension option returned an estimated 0.6% over the month and 10.3% over the financial year to date. The median pension growth option returned an estimated 1.1%, whereas the median capital stable option was down an estimated 0.2% through the month.

Pension returns to end of February 2021
FYTD 1 yr 3 yrs (p.a.) 5 yrs (p.a.) 7 yrs (p.a.) 10 yrs (p.a)
SRP50 Growth (77-90) Index 13.1% 7.9% 7.5% 10.1% 8.7% 9.1%
SRP50 Balanced (60-76) Index 10.3% 6.2% 6.7% 8.8% 7.8% 8.3%
SRP50 Capital Stable (20-40) Index 4.4% 2.3% 4.2% 5.2% 4.9% 5.6%

Source: SuperRatings estimates

The pace of Australia’s economic recovery was reflected in the recently released GDP figures for the December 2020 quarter, which showed growth of 3.1%, taking the yearly rate from -3.7% to -1.1%. The result marked the second straight strong quarter of growth, helped by high levels of monetary and fiscal stimulus.

The February and March earnings season revealed a corporate environment still impacted by COVID-19, with earnings down in aggregate and companies opting to hold more cash, although the lift in dividends has been a key positive development for Australian investors.
According to SuperRatings, the pandemic has been a critical case study for super funds and will inform the way they manage risks and respond to member needs into the future.

“A lot is happening in super at the moment, from regulatory change to further consolidation,” said Mr Rappell.
“Funds have shown they are able to adapt to rapid changes on these fronts, while also managing risks and attending to the needs of members through a challenging market. The pandemic period will serve as a masterclass in change management for superannuation that will lead to a more robust and agile industry in the long run.”

Release ends
We welcome media enquiries regarding our research or information held in our database. We are also able to provide commentary and customised tables or charts for your use.

For more information contact:

Kirby Rappell
Executive Director
Tel: 1300 826 395
Mob: +61 408 250 725
E: Kirby.Rappell@superratings.com.au

Important information: Any express or implied rating or advice is limited to general advice, it doesn’t consider any personal needs, goals or objectives.  Before making any decision about financial products, consider whether it is personally appropriate for you in light of your personal circumstances. Obtain and consider the Product Disclosure Statement for each financial product and seek professional personal advice before making any decisions regarding a financial product.