Global investment outlook
In general, share markets have been strong over the past 12 months. This is reflected in the performance of the MSCI World Net Total Return Index in Australian dollars, which has risen by 20.3 per cent. The current investment environment is extraordinary. Many world share indices ended June at or near all-time record highs.
We continue to see capital flows that are distorting markets and causing asset prices and currencies to diverge from underlying economic trends. The enormous US$600 billion per annum quantitative easing (QE) being undertaken by the Bank of Japan, as part of Prime Minister Abe’s economic plan, is encouraging Japanese banks, insurers and pension funds to sell Japanese government bonds and invest in other assets, including foreign sovereign bonds. This may, in part, explain the rally in US and European government bonds over the past six months (as well as the strong Australian dollar), when economic data would have suggested that the opposite might have been expected.
It is a little surreal that share market volatility and other risk measures appear benign as we edge closer to a cycle of increasing long-term interest rates, with the US Federal Reserve and the Bank of England ending their QE programmes and China appearing to be entering a period of lower growth. While we are not predicting a major downturn in share markets (in the absence of a major global event), they have become more challenging and value has become harder to find as share prices have continued to rise. While nothing is certain in investing, we predict that the next three years will be challenging for shares as they battle the headwind of rising long-term interest rates.
We feel that people cannot retire on “relative investment returns”; only by generating investment returns that exceed the rate of inflation (ideally by a satisfactory margin) will investors increase their wealth over time.
To help achieve this, we continue to be exposed to the following major investment tailwinds:
• The continued rise in emerging market consumption growth: via investments in multi-national consumer franchises.
• US interest rates “normalising” over the next two years as the US economy recovers.
• A move to a cashless society as there continues to be a strong secular shift from spending via cash and cheque to cashless forms of payments such as credit cards, debit cards, electronic funds transfer and mobile payments.
• US housing recovery in new housing construction, together with investment in existing housing stock, should drive a strong cyclical recovery in companies exposed to the US housing market, while providing a boost to the overall economy.
• Technology/software: we believe that entrenched global software companies boast enormous competitive advantages and exhibit attractive investment characteristics.
• Internet/e-commerce via a number of internet-enabled businesses that are experiencing increasing competitive advantages and showing very attractive investment characteristics.