Quarterly Wrap: September 2020
Senior Investment Manager George Lin reveals what drove markets during the September quarter, and shares his thoughts on what we could expect to see by the end of the year.
|Written by Ben Lam
Senior Investment Manager | Colonial First State
After the contagious Coronavirus swept the nation and shut down much of the Australian economy, August’s full-year reporting season was a highly anticipated event – one that offered valuable insight into the impacts of the pandemic on company performance.
Overall, the results were not surprising given the widespread flow-on effects of the pandemic. Overlooking Victoria’s setback last quarter, a quicker economic reopening and government stimulus benefitted many companies, particularly in the second half of the financial year. However, 40% of stocks still missed their estimates, which was above the 30% norm. As corporate earnings fell 20% – representing the largest fall since both the Global Financial Crisis of 2008 and the 1990s recession – dividends were also impacted for many stocks. But despite a challenging and uncertain backdrop, markets were generally positive on the results – with the ASX 300 up 3% in the month of August
The IT sector continued demonstrating its resilience, gaining well over 100% since the market low on 23 March. Even with little to no earnings over the financial year, investors showed a willingness to continue backing IT companies and paying for growth in exchange for the promise of future earnings. Buy now, pay later stocks were key beneficiaries, including the likes of Afterpay and Zip Co.
Over the year, the real estate sector diverged across its sub-sectors. For example, retail landlords such as Scentre Group and Vicinity saw their earnings and dividends decline – with the acceleration towards online shopping driven by nationwide social-distancing and lockdown measures. Naturally, this resulted in lower rent collection due to the closure of physical stores and decreased foot-traffic – even after stores were permitted to open again. Conversely, the industrial sector, led by Goodman, performed well given the demand for warehouse space – for example, to house goods due to the consumer trend towards online shopping.
While the resource sector showed weakness in the month of August during reporting, the sector proved strong over the full year from an earnings perspective – particularly for key commodities. In particular, the gold price was strong, reflecting investors’ risk-off approach to investing earlier in 2020, while iron ore prices have supported the likes of Rio Tinto, BHP and Fortescue.
Healthcare was a mixed bag – both at the stock level and sector-wide. Across the sector, earnings for stocks like CSL and Cochlear were impacted by factors such as lower plasma collection or elective surgery shutdowns. ResMed and Fisher & Paykel Healthcare were beneficiaries of the demand for respiratory masks and humidification products to support hospitals with Coronavirus. But ResMed’s results disappointed as some of its other products (like its sleep apnoea machines) did not perform as well.
The energy sector, which has also underperformed globally, was the weakest performing sector in Australia over the financial year – driven by lower oil prices which were impacted by volatility in March and April following a significant decrease in demand as a result of worldwide lockdowns.
The financials sector was generally challenged, with banks facing headwinds from the uncertain economic environment. While the Australian Prudential Regulation Authority (APRA) initially restricted banking dividends to ensure capital was stable, in July, APRA then allowed banks to pay up to 50% profit on dividends. ANZ and Commonwealth Bank paid dividends to investors, while Westpac did not – impacting its share price. Though regulatory relief has been provided by the government, share valuations reflect a challenged outlook for the sector punctuated by lower lending growth, lower margins due to low interest rates, as well as pressure on loan loss rates.
Unsurprisingly, earnings for the industrials sector were significantly impacted by the pandemic – particularly the transportation sector (encompassing the likes of Sydney Airports and QANTAS) which recorded large declines in earnings due to ongoing lockdowns and travel restrictions.
Pockets of strength were evident across the consumer sectors. Government stimulus, together with a sharp rebound in spending and fewer avenues available for travel and social spending, provided a tailwind for many retailers. For example, some companies were able to benefit from consumers staying indoors and working from home, with discretionary stocks like JB Hi-Fi and Harvey Norman posting strong results. While supermarket stocks experienced a boost during the earlier panic-buying spree, many companies also had additional operational costs to ensure protection and sanitisation for their employees and customers.
Many companies have been hesitant to share their forward guidance in light of the uncertain operating environment. Still, given the rebound in markets and relatively muted reactions to reporting season, it seems investors are willing to look beyond the results and through to next year.
Participants are conservative in their outlook for the future but there is cause for optimism. Not only are governments and central banks continuing to provide significant stimulus to help support the economy, but the gradual removal of pandemic-related restrictions could allow businesses to gradually return to normal. However, the general consensus is that the rest of the year – which will see the US presidential election take place as well as continued uncertainty surrounding vaccine developments – volatility will likely continue before markets stabilise and pick up again in 2021.
No matter the state of markets, Colonial first State carefully monitors changing developments and communicates closely with our skilled investment managers to stay up to date on the risks and opportunities of investing. Want more information? You can read the team’s timely market updates as well as access other helpful resources on our website.
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Colonial First State Investments Limited ABN 98 002 348 352, AFSL 232468 (Colonial First State) is the issuer of super, pension and investment products. This is based on the understanding of current regulatory requirements and laws as at October 2020. While all care has been taken in the preparation of this document (using sources believed to be reliable and accurate), to the maximum extent permitted by law, no person including Colonial First State or any member of the Commonwealth Bank group of companies, accepts responsibility for any loss suffered by any person arising from reliance on this information. This document provides information for the adviser only and is not to be handed on to any investor. It does not take into account any person’s individual objectives, financial situation or needs. You should read the relevant Product Disclosure Statement (PDS) and Financial Services Guide (FSG) before making any recommendations to a client. Clients should read the PDS and FSG before making an investment decision and consider talking to a financial adviser. The PDS and FSG can be obtained from colonialfirststate.com.au or by calling us on 13 18 36. Past performance is no indication of future performance. Stocks mentioned are for illustrative purposes only and are not recommendations to you to buy sell or hold these stocks.
Adviser use only
Unless otherwise specified, this document has been prepared by Colonial First State Investments Limited ABN 98 002 348 352, AFS Licence 232468 (Colonial First State) based on its understanding of current regulatory requirements and laws as at the date of publication. While all care has been taken in the preparation of this document (using sources believed to be reliable and accurate), to the maximum extent permitted by law, no person including Colonial First State or any member of the Commonwealth Bank group of companies, accepts responsibility for any loss suffered by any person arising from reliance on this information. Colonial First State is the issuer of interests in FirstChoice Personal Super, FirstChoice Wholesale Personal Super, FirstChoice Pension, FirstChoice Wholesale Pension, FirstChoice Employer Super offered from the Colonial First State FirstChoice Superannuation Trust ABN 26 458 298 557. It also issues interests in the Rollover & Superannuation Fund (ROSCO) and Personal Pension Plan (PPP) offered from the Colonial First State Rollover & Superannuation Fund ABN 88 854 638 840. Colonial First State also issues other investment products made available under FirstChoice Investments and FirstChoice Wholesale Investments, other than FirstRate Saver, FirstRate Term Deposits and FirstRate Investment Deposits which are products of the Commonwealth Bank of Australia ABN 48 123 123 124, AFS Licence 234945 (the Bank). Colonial First State is a wholly owned subsidiary of the Bank. The Bank and its subsidiaries do not guarantee the performance of FirstChoice products or the repayment of capital from any investments. This document provides information for the adviser only and is not to be handed on to any investor. It does not take into account any person’s individual objectives, financial situation or needs. You should read the relevant Product Disclosure Statement (PDS) before making any recommendations to a client. Clients should read the PDS before making an investment decision and consider talking to a financial adviser. PDSs can be obtained from colonialfirststate.com.au or by calling us on 13 18 36.
From time to time, Colonial First State enters into alliance partnerships with dedicated and experienced investment specialists. Each alliance represents an agreement for Colonial First State to provide third party distribution services within the Australian Financial Services intermediary market.
Past performance is no indication of future performance.
Stocks and investment options mentioned are for illustrative purposes only and are not recommendations to any person to buy sell or hold these stocks.
Taxation considerations are general and based on present taxation laws and may be subject to change. Clients should seek independent, professional tax advice before making any decision based on this information. Colonial First State is also not a registered tax (financial) adviser under the Tax Agent Services Act 2009 and clients should seek tax advice from a registered tax agent or a registered tax (financial) adviser if they intend to rely on this information to satisfy the liabilities or obligations or claim entitlements that arise, or could arise, under a taxation law.