Research Insights – Market Commentary February 2021Posted: March 9, 2021
In February investment markets were heavily influenced by rising government bond yields leading to negative returns from traditional fixed interest benchmarks (prices fall as yields rise) which also saw equities reduce some of their gains in the last week of the month as higher bond yields, with all things being equal, reduce the amount investors are willing to pay for future company earnings
The rise in bond yields is predicated on expectations inflation is moving higher in the future. The combination of low cash rates and short-term bond yields at a time of accelerating economic growth, increasing employment and fiscal stimulus has already seen financial asset prices accelerate in the second half of 2020. The roll-out of multiple COVID-19 vaccines should assist in mitigating against further interruptions to accelerating economic growth. Taking into consideration all of the above the risks of an uplift in inflation are increasing and being priced into 10 year bond prices (through rising yields). It remains to be seen how much of this move is a cyclical uptick or a sustained move to higher levels of inflation.
The Australian equity market was positive in February, the ASX100 up 1.5% with both the Materials and Financial sectors outperforming i.e. inflation and cyclical beneficiaries. The Reporting season was solid with FY21 earnings upgraded strongly as we come out of 12 months of COVID restrictions. Key features of the reporting season included strong earnings from consumer discretionary companies (strong retail sales) and resources companies (strong iron ore prices). Pleasingly, there was a marked uptick in dividend payments during the reporting season.
International equities rose by 2.7% on a currency-hedged basis while a slightly stronger AUD (moving from US$0.7644 to US$0.7706) decreased returns slightly for unhedged investors to 1.7% for the month. The AUD/USD exchange rate touched US$80c during the month as Australia and therefore the Aussie dollar would be the beneficiary from a global cyclical upswing and overseas investor attracted to the higher yields now on offer from Australian government bonds. Australian listed property fell in February by 2.6%% in response to longer dated bond yields rising.
The Australian yield curve steepened substantially in February with the 10-year government bond yield rising 79bps to 1.92%, while the 2-year government bond yield rose by 1bps to 0.12%. In the US the 10-year government bond rose by 33bps to close at 1.40% and the 2-year government bond yield rose by 2bps to 0.13%.
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