Cutcher's Investment Lens | 1-5 July 2024

Weekly recap

What happened in markets

The Australian sharemarket rallied last week, despite stronger-than-expected Retail Sales for the month of May (+0.6%). The RBA’s June monetary policy meeting minutes were largely as expected. Some signs of weakness were seen in the labour market, indicated by ANZ’s job ads report, which showed a 2.2% monthly decline in June. The Materials and Energy sectors were notably stronger for the week, driven higher by an increase in commodity prices. In particular, coal miners surged due to global supply concerns created by an explosion at Anglo American’s Grosvenor coalmine in Queensland. Key beneficiaries were Whitehaven Coal (17.3%), Yancoal (10.7%) and Stanmore Resources (12.2%). Other notable gainers included the major iron ore miners BHP (4.0%), Rio Tinto (3.3%) and Fortescue Metals Group (4.7%). 

In the US, sharemarkets reached record highs, driven by a combination of softer-than-expected jobs and factory order data, which fuelled optimism around potential interest rate cuts from the Federal Reserve. Notably, the US unemployment rate ticked up to 4.1%, its highest level in over two years. Unsurprisingly then, the interest rate sensitive Information Technology and Consumer Discretionary sectors gained the most in the week. Tesla (27.1%) stood out from a company perspective, after it reported better-than-expected deliveries, benefiting from stronger Chinese sales and the success of its new longer-range Model Y. This led investors to become even more excited for Tesla’s upcoming Robotaxi Day in early August. 

European sharemarkets were also stronger last week, as investors gained greater certainty around the political future of the region. The UK election saw a major win for the Labour Party, with Sir Keir Starmer becoming Prime Minister. Meanwhile, in France, Marine Le Pen’s far-right National Rally suffered a setback and came in third following the second round of legislative elections. It seemed this political news more than offset weaker economic output data in May, given Germany’s manufacturing orders (-1.6%) and production (-2.5%) fell, along with French industrial output (-2.1%). Company specific news included Volkswagen’s (0.2%) consideration of a spin-off with its Lamborghini unit to focus more on electric vehicles. 

Stock & sector movements

 

What caught our eye

Last week, the Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA) captured our attention with the release of its Board Meeting Minutes from 18 June. The Minutes revealed that the RBA deliberated on whether to hike or hold interest rates, before ultimately deciding to keep them unchanged at 4.35%.

The RBA remains vigilant about inflation risks, noting a lack of evidence that inflation will return to the target range of 2-3% within a reasonable timeframe. For context, inflation stood at 3.6% for the March quarter.

Given this backdrop, upcoming data, especially the June quarter Consumer Price Index (CPI) due on 31 July, will be crucial. In our view, this will be the last and most significant data point ahead of the RBA’s next meeting on 5-6 August. However, other factors are also at play.

The economy has slowed considerably since interest rates began rising in April 2022, going from 0.10% to the current 4.35%. This slowdown was evident in the modest 0.1% growth recorded during the March 2024 quarter, compared to an average of 0.6% over the past eight years. Additionally, the household saving ratio has plummeted to 0.9%, well below the eight-year average of 7.7%, indicating that household budgets are nearing breakeven as they grapple with higher interest rates and living costs.

Complicating the RBA’s task is the recent Federal Budget. While higher interest rates have dampened economic activity, the Budget's measures, such as tax cuts and energy rebates, are likely to provide near-term support to households. This support could bolster economic activity and delay the much-needed reduction in inflation.

Taking all these factors into account, we lean towards the RBA holding rates steady at their next meeting on 5-6 August. However, if the quarterly CPI data on 31 July exceeds expectations, the RBA might consider raising rates again. At the time of writing, interest rate markets are pricing a 32% chance of a 0.25% rate hike to 4.60% following the August meeting.

The week ahead

This coming week in Australia we will be looking out for the NAB Business Confidence and Westpac Consumer Confidence surveys, to get an update on how businesses and households are feeling about the economy and their personal finances respectively.

Overseas, important news will include the latest US inflation print, along with US Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell’s testimony to the Senate Banking Committee. Powell’s testimony will give us the central bank’s viewpoint on the inflation and employment outlook in the US. Outside the US, we will get an indication of the UK economy’s health, with data relating to construction output, industrial production and GDP due to be released.  

 

 

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