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Olivers Insights

Is Australia’s economy “built on shaky foundations” that are “about to collapse”?

Posted On:Nov 23rd, 2017     Posted In:Rss-feed-oliver    Posted By:Provision Wealth

I don’t normally comment directly on articles by others but an article by Matt Barrie with Craig Tindale called “Australia’s economy is built on shaky foundations, and it’s about to collapse,” has been sent to me several times for comment so I thought I would make an exception this time. 

The gist of the article seems to be that growth

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I don’t normally comment directly on articles by others but an article by Matt Barrie with Craig Tindale called “Australia’s economy is built on shaky foundations, and it’s about to collapse,” has been sent to me several times for comment so I thought I would make an exception this time. 

The gist of the article seems to be that growth in the Australian economy has been built on “a property bubble inflating on top of a mining bubble, built on top of a commodities bubble, driven by a Chinese bubble” and that “Australia has relied on China for too long – our whole economy is built on China buying our stuff. And it’s about to collapse.”

This note takes a look at this risk.

Crash calls for the Australian economy are like a broken record

The first thing to note is that there is nothing really new in the latest call for a collapse in the Australian economy. In fact, for as long as I have been an economist there have been calls for the Australian economy to collapse. Back in 1985, I recall going to presentations on fears the economy might soon “default” and require a rescue by the IMF. The crash calls have accentuated post the Global Financial Crisis (GFC). The Australian economy was supposed to have crashed when the mining investment boom ended in 2012-13 and every year since then there has been an ad on the internet titled “Australian recession 2014: why it’s coming, what to do and how you can profit” but the year just keeps getting updated to the current year. I guess it will be right one day. 

Is China about to collapse?

China is Australia’s number one trading partner so Australia is more vulnerable to the Chinese economy than in the past. But warnings of a Chinese collapse have been around for years now and I continue to regard it as unlikely. The most common concerns about high and rising debt in China miss the reality that China’s high debt growth reflects its high saving rate (of around 46% of GDP compared to around 22% in Australia), which in turn gets largely channelled through the banking system as its capital markets remain underdeveloped. China does not rely on foreign capital (in fact it supplies savings to the rest of the world) and to slow its debt growth, it actually needs to save less and spend more (so very different to countries that normally have debt problems!) and broaden its capital market beyond the banks. But this will take time and the Chinese authorities will not act precipitously. And in the meantime, yes, there is a risk that some corporate loans will go bad but don’t forget much of the growth in debt has gone from state-owned banks to state-owned businesses and will be supported by the Government if there is too much trouble (just like the Chinese Government solved its local government debt problem of a few years ago).

But isn’t China at peak commodity demand?

Similarly, concerns about China’s property market and commodity demand are misplaced. The Chinese property cycle has regular ups and down as the property market is generally undersupplied but the Government periodically tries to keep a lid on prices. But every time there is a downturn in the property cycle (usually after Government moves to cool it down), out comes new crash stories. The “ghost cities” stories of a few years ago were evident of this but were literally just scary stories – they are part of an effort to decentralise away from crowded cities and the biggest “ghost city” (Ordos Kangbashi) is now almost full. The reality is that much of China continues to have a housing shortage as the population urbanises and many of the apartments built 20 years ago are now substandard and need to be replaced. So demand for steel and concrete from the property market is likely to remain strong for many years to come. Similarly, much of China remains under developed in terms of infrastructure. So yes, China is trying to wind back excess capacity in some sectors that have got ahead of themselves but peak raw material demand from China is a long way off. Yes, Chinese growth could slow towards 6% over the next few years but I doubt a hard landing any time soon. Certainly there was no sign of any hard landing in China when I visited it again in the last week – things were just as frantic as ever!

Australia has always had some export dependence

It’s worth noting that over the years Australia has always seemed to have some dependence on some foreign country in terms of export demand – the UK, Japan, it’s now China but as China’s industrialisation phase slows I suspect other countries will just jump into the commodity demand space (Vietnam, India, Pakistan) and in any case our relationship with China is also shifting across to services.

But the mining boom has long ended so why hasn’t the Australian economy collapsed already?

If Australia is so dependent on the commodity price boom and mining investment boom, why didn’t it crash when they crashed after 2011 and 2012-13 respectively? The simple answer is that the Australian economy is actually less dependent on mining and hence China than many commentators claim. In reality, mining activity is only 7% of Australian economic activity (or GDP) and agriculture is 3%, which taken together hardly suggests an excessive reliance on exports and China.

The mining boom basically meant that south east Australia – and sectors like manufacturing, tourism and higher education along with housing – was suppressed by high interest rates and the high Australian dollar. Once the commodity and mining investment booms went away and interest rates and the $A fell, south east Australia was able to bounce back offsetting the slump in Western Australia and the Northern Territory and parts of Queensland. So Victoria, NSW and even Tasmania were able to go from near recessionary conditions and at the bottom of state rankings a decade ago to now being at the top.   

More than housing

This has not just been driven by housing-related activity, smashed avocados and flat whites (how come Chai tea brewed with soy never gets a look in?) but also in services like tourism and higher education (our third biggest export earner), which are booming. Even manufacturing is looking better. In fact, for many Australians the China driven mining boom was more a curse than a blessing – the saying in Sydney was that the people of western Sydney were paying the price for the mining boom in Western Australia.

Housing construction is starting to slow causing many to wheel out the disaster scenarios again. But the contribution to economic growth from growth in housing construction is regularly exaggerated. Last year it contributed around 0.3% directly to growth and indirect effects are likely to have taken that contribution to around 0.6%. In other words its relatively modest and a housing construction slowdown should be easily offset as the drag on growth (of around 1-1.5% per annum) from slumping mining investment is nearly over, infrastructure spending is booming (partly on the back of the asset swap program), non-mining investment looks to be bottoming at last and export volume growth is strong.

What about a house price crash?

Yes, there is a risk of a house price collapse but it’s a lot more complicated than most people think as pointed out in my last house price note http://bit.ly/2y97kCE . Basically: we have not built enough housing to keep up with strong population growth since mid-last decade (see the next chart); the boom lately has been confined to Sydney and Melbourne (which were more harmed than helped by the mining/China-related boom); and the deterioration in lending standards has been modest with, for example, little in the way of the NINJA (no income, no jobs, no assets) loans that caused so much trouble in the US. 

Source: ABS; AMP Capital

Sydney and Melbourne home prices are likely to fall by 5-10% (like in 2008 and 2011-12) but a crash is unlikely unless unemployment goes up a lot (unlikely), the RBA raises rates aggressively (again unlikely) or the current unit supply surge continues for several more years (again unlikely with approvals off their peak). 

More than “dumb luck” in Australia’s 26-year expansion

While luck has played a role in Australia’s 26 years of economic expansion, it’s worth noting that the China-related boom only really ran for eight or nine years of it (from 2004-2012), and a significant contribution came from the economic reforms of the 1980s and 1990s that made the Australian economy more flexible in responding to shocks. Also, sensible economic policy meant that we managed the China boom well (by avoiding an overheating economy and running budget surpluses), which meant we were better placed to ride out the global shock from the GFC and the subsequent end to the commodity and mining investment booms.

26 years of economic expansion has left the Australian economy with lots to show for it: the economy is 129% bigger in real terms than it was when the 1990-91 recession ended, per capita GDP is up 61%, unemployment is less than half its early 1990s high and our dependence on foreign capital as measured by the current account deficit relative to GDP is about one third smaller than it was 26 years ago. Sure we can do better – underemployment, weak wages growth and poor housing affordability are serious problems and we seem to have given up on serious economic reform – but the economy is in better shape than some give it credit for.

Australia versus the world

Finally, I should note that while we are not in the crash camp for Australia, we remain of the view that it will be a while before interest rates can rise and that Australian economic and profit growth will be subpar compared to other countries for a while yet. As a result, we remain of the view that while Australian shares have more upside they are likely to remain relative underperformers versus global shares for some time yet and that the Australian dollar still has more downside. This is really just a continuation of the “mean reversion” of the huge outperformance in Australian shares versus global shares and in the Australian dollar seen last decade. 

 

Source: AMP Capital 22 November 2017

Author: Dr Shane Oliver, Head of Investment Strategy and Economics and Chief Economist at AMP Capital is responsible for AMP Capital’s diversified investment funds. He also provides economic forecasts and analysis of key variables and issues affecting, or likely to affect, all asset markets.

Important note: While every care has been taken in the preparation of this article, AMP Capital Investors Limited (ABN 59 001 777 591, AFSL 232497) and AMP Capital Funds Management Limited (ABN 15 159 557 721, AFSL 426455) makes no representations or warranties as to the accuracy or completeness of any statement in it including, without limitation, any forecasts. Past performance is not a reliable indicator of future performance. This article has been prepared for the purpose of providing general information, without taking account of any particular investor’s objectives, financial situation or needs. An investor should, before making any investment decisions, consider the appropriateness of the information in this article, and seek professional advice, having regard to the investor’s objectives, financial situation and needs. This article is solely for the use of the party to whom it is provided.

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Bubbles, busts, investor psychology…and bitcoin

Posted On:Nov 22nd, 2017     Posted In:Rss-feed-oliver    Posted By:Provision Wealth
Introduction

The surge in bitcoin has attracted much interest. Over the last five years, it has soared from $US12 to over $US8000; this year it’s up 760%. Its enthusiasts see it as the currency of the future and increasingly as a way to instant riches with rapid price gains only reinforcing this view. An alternative view is that it is just

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Introduction

The surge in bitcoin has attracted much interest. Over the last five years, it has soared from $US12 to over $US8000; this year it’s up 760%. Its enthusiasts see it as the currency of the future and increasingly as a way to instant riches with rapid price gains only reinforcing this view. An alternative view is that it is just another in a long string of bubbles in investment markets.

Nobel Economics Laureates Daniel Kahneman, Robert Shiller and Richard Thaler and many others shown that investors and hence investment markets can be far from rational and this along with crowd psychology can drive asset prices far from fundamentally justified levels. This note provides a refresher on the psychology of investing before returning to look at bitcoin.

Irrational man and the madness of crowds

Numerous studies show people suffer from lapses of logic. In particular, they:

  • Tend to down-play uncertainty and project the current state of the world into the future – eg, resulting in a tendency to assume recent investment returns will continue;

  • Give more weight to recent spectacular or personal experiences in assessing probabilities. This results in an emotional involvement with an investment – if it’s been winning, an investor is likely to expect it to keep doing so;

  • Tend to focus on occurrences that draw attention to themselves such as stocks or asset classes that have risen sharply or fallen sharply in value;

  • Tend to see things as obvious in hindsight – driving the illusion the world is predictable resulting in overconfidence;

  • Tend to be overly conservative in adjusting expectations to new information – explaining why bubbles and crashes normally unfold over long periods; and

  • Tend to ignore information conflicting with past decisions.

This is magnified and reinforced if many make the same lapses of logic at the same time giving rise to “crowd psychology”. Collective behaviour can arise if several things are present:

  • A means where behaviour can be contagious – mass communication with the proliferation of electronic media are perfect examples of this as more than ever investors get their information from the same sources;

  • Pressure for conformity – interaction with friends, social media, performance comparisons, fear of missing out, etc;

  • A precipitating event or displacement which motivates a general investment belief – the IT revolution of the late 1990s or the rapid industrialisation of China which led to talk of new eras are examples upon which were built general believes that particular investments will only go up.

Bubbles and busts

The combination of lapses of logic by individuals and their magnification by crowds goes a long way to explaining why speculative surges in asset prices develop (usually after some good news) and how they feed on themselves (as individuals project recent price gains into the future, exercise “wishful thinking” and receive positive feedback via the media). Of course this also explains how the whole process can go into reverse once buying is exhausted, often triggered by bad news.

The chart below shows how investor psychology develops through a market cycle. When times are good, investors move from optimism to excitement, and eventually euphoria as an asset’s price moves higher and higher. So by the time the market tops out, investors are maximum bullish and fully invested, often with no one left to buy. This ultimately sets the scene for a bit of bad news to push prices lower. As selling intensifies and prices fall further, investor emotion goes from anxiety to fear and eventually depression. By the time the market bottoms out, investors are maximum bearish and out of the market. This sets the scene for the market to start rising as it only requires a bit of good news to bring back buying.

The roller coaster of investor emotion


Source: Russell Investments, AMP Capital

This pattern has been repeated over the years. Recent examples on a globally-significant basis have been the Japanese bubble and bust of 1980s/early 1990s, the “Asian miracle” boom and bust of the 1990s, the tech boom and bust of the late 1990s/early 2000s, the US housing and credit-related boom and bust of last decade and the commodity boom and bust of late last decade into this decade. History may not repeat but rhymes and tells us asset price bubbles & busts are normal.

Where are we now?

Our assessment in terms of global share markets is that we are still around “optimism”. Investor sentiment is well up from its lows last year and some short-term measures are a bit high, warning of a correction (particularly for the direction-setting US share market) but we are not seeing the “euphoria” seen at market tops. The proportion of Australians nominating shares as the “wisest place for savings” remains very low at 8.9%.

But what about bitcoin? Is it a bubble?

Crypto currencies led by bitcoin and their blockchain technology seem to hold much promise. The blockchain basically means that transactions are verified and recorded in a public ledger (which is the blockchain) by a network of nodes (or databases) on the internet. Because each node stores its own copy, there is no need for a trusted central authority. Bitcoin is also anonymous with funds just tied to bitcoin addresses. Designed to work as a currency, bitcoin therefore has much to offer as a low-cost medium of exchange with international currency transfers costing a fraction of what, say, a bank may charge.

However, bitcoin’s price in US dollars has risen exponentially in value in recent times as the enthusiasm about its replacement for paper currency and many other things has seen investors pile in with rapid price gains and increasing media attention reinforcing perceptions that it’s a way to instant riches.

However, there are serious grounds for caution. First, because bitcoin produces no income and so has no yield, it’s impossible to value and unlike gold you can’t even touch it. This could mean that it could go to $100,000 but may only be worth $100.

Second, while the supply of bitcoins is limited to 21 million by around 2140, lots of competition is popping up in the form of other crypto currencies. In fact, there is now over 1000 of them. A rising supply of such currencies will push their price down.

Third, governments are unlikely to give up their monopoly on legal tender (because of the “seigniorage” or profit it yields) and ordinary members of the public may not fully embrace crypto currencies unless they have government backing. In fact, many governments and central banks are already looking at establishing their own crypto currencies.

Regulators are likely to crack down on it over time given its use for money laundering and unregulated money raising. China has moved quickly on this front. Monetary authorities are also likely to be wary of the potential for monetary and financial instability that lots of alternative currencies pose.

Fourth, while bitcoin may perform well as a medium of exchange it does not perform well as a store of value, which is another criteria for money. It has had numerous large 20% plus setbacks in value (five this year!) meaning huge loses if someone transfers funds into bitcoin for a transaction – say to buy a house or a foreign investment – but it collapses in value before the transaction completes.

Finally, and related to this, it has all the hallmarks of a classic bubble as described earlier in this note. In short, a positive fundamental development (or “displacement”) in terms of a high tech replacement for paper currency, self-reinforcing price gains that are being accentuated by social media excitement, all convincing enthusiasts that the only way is up. Its price now looks very bubbly, particularly compared to past asset bubbles (see the next chart – note bitcoin has to have its own axis!).

Because bitcoin is impossible to value, it could keep going up for a long way yet as more gullible investors are sucked in on the belief that they are on the way to unlimited riches and those who don’t believe them just “don’t get it” (just like a previous generation said to “dot com” sceptics). Maybe it’s just something each new generation of young investors has to go through – based on a thought that there is some way to instant riches and that their parents are just too square to believe it.

Source: Thomson Reuters, Bloomberg, AMP Capital

But the more it goes up, the greater the risk of a crash. I also still struggle to fully understand how it works and one big lesson from the Global Financial Crisis is that if you don’t fully understand something, you shouldn’t invest.

At this stage, a crash in bitcoin is a long way from being able to crash the economy because unlike previous manias (Japan, Asian bubble, Nasdaq, US housing in the chart above) it does not have major linkages to the economy (eg it’s not associated with overinvestment in the economy like in tech or US housing, it is not used enough to threaten the global financial system and not enough people are exposed to it such that a bust will have major negative wealth effects or losses for banks).

However, the risks would grow if more and more “investors” are sucked in – with banks ending up with a heavy exposure if, say, heavy gearing was involved. At this stage, I think it’s unlikely that will occur for the simple reason that being just an alternative currency and means of payment won’t inspire the same level of enthusiasm that, say, tech stocks did in the late 1990s (where there was a real revolution going on).

That said, it’s dangerous to say it can’t happen. There was very little underpinning the Dutch tulip mania and it went for longer than many thought. So it’s worth keeping an eye on. But as an investor I’m staying away from bitcoin.

What does this mean for investors?

There are several implications for investors.
 

  1. The first thing investors need to do is recognise that investment markets are not only driven by fundamentals, but also by the often-irrational and erratic behaviour of an unstable crowd of other investors.

  2. Investors need to recognise their own emotional capabilities. In other words, investors must be aware of how they are influenced by lapses in their own logic and crowd influences.

  3. To help guard against this, investors ought to choose an investment strategy which can withstand inevitable crises & remain consistent with their objectives and risk tolerance.

  4. If an investor is tempted to trade they should do so on a contrarian basis. Buy when the crowd is bearish, sell when it is bullish. But also recognise contrarian investing is not fool-proof – just because the crowd looks irrationally bullish (or bearish) doesn’t mean it can’t get more so.

  5. Finally, while crypto currencies and blockchain technology may have a lot to offer bitcoin’s price is very bubbly.

Source: AMP Capital 21 November 2017

Author: Dr Shane Oliver, Head of Investment Strategy and Economics and Chief Economist at AMP Capital is responsible for AMP Capital’s diversified investment funds. He also provides economic forecasts and analysis of key variables and issues affecting, or likely to affect, all asset markets.

Important note: While every care has been taken in the preparation of this article, AMP Capital Investors Limited (ABN 59 001 777 591, AFSL 232497) and AMP Capital Funds Management Limited (ABN 15 159 557 721, AFSL 426455) makes no representations or warranties as to the accuracy or completeness of any statement in it including, without limitation, any forecasts. Past performance is not a reliable indicator of future performance. This article has been prepared for the purpose of providing general information, without taking account of any particular investor’s objectives, financial situation or needs. An investor should, before making any investment decisions, consider the appropriateness of the information in this article, and seek professional advice, having regard to the investor’s objectives, financial situation and needs. This article is solely for the use of the party to whom it is provided.

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The medium term investment return remains constrained

Posted On:Nov 08th, 2017     Posted In:Rss-feed-oliver    Posted By:Provision Wealth

The last five years have seen strong returns for diversified investors thanks to double digit gains in shares (after a rebound from a mini bear market around the Eurozone crisis) and solid returns from unlisted commercial property and infrastructure. For example, balanced superannuation funds saw median returns of 9.3% per annum over the five years to September (after taxes and

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The last five years have seen strong returns for diversified investors thanks to double digit gains in shares (after a rebound from a mini bear market around the Eurozone crisis) and solid returns from unlisted commercial property and infrastructure. For example, balanced superannuation funds saw median returns of 9.3% per annum over the five years to September (after taxes and fees). Despite this our assessment remains that medium term (ie 5-10 year) returns will be constrained because of low investment yields across most asset classes.

Back in the early 1980s the medium term return potential from investing was pretty solid. The RBA’s “cash rate” was around 14%, 3-year bank term deposit rates were around 12%, 10-year bond yields were around 13.5%, property yields were running around 8-9% and dividend yields on shares were around 6.5% in Australia and 5% globally. Such yields meant that investments were already providing very high cash income and only modest capital growth was necessary for growth assets to generate good returns. As it turns out most assets had spectacular returns in the 1980s and 1990s and superannuation fund returns averaged 14.1% in nominal terms and 9.4% in real terms between 1982 and 1999 (after taxes and fees).


Source: Mercer Investment Consulting, Morningstar, AMP Capital

Since the early 1980s starting point investment yield have collapsed, resulting in slowing 10-year average nominal and real returns for superannuation funds as seen the chart above.  Today the RBA cash rate is just 1.5%, 3-year bank term deposit rates are just 2.5%, 10-year bond yields are just 2.6%, gross residential property yields are around 3% and while dividend yields are still around 5.6% for Australian shares (with franking credits) they are around 2.4% for global shares.

Starting point yield matters – a lot!

Investment returns have two components: capital growth and yield (or income flow). The yield is the most secure component and generally speaking the level it starts at when you undertake the investment is key – the higher the better. So our approach to get a handle on medium term return potential is to start with current yields for each asset class and apply simple and consistent assumptions regarding capital growth. We also prefer to avoid a reliance on forecasting and to keep the analysis as simple as possible.

Complicated adjustments and forecasting can just lead to compounding forecasting errors.

  • For bonds, the best predictor of future medium term returns is current bond yields. If a 10-year bond is held to maturity its initial yield will be its return over 10 years. It can be seen in the next chart that the higher the starting point bond yield, the higher the subsequent return. We use 5-year bond yields as they roughly match the maturity of bond indexes.


Source: Global Financial Data, Bloomberg, AMP Capital

  • For equities, a simple model of current dividend yields plus trend nominal GDP growth (as a proxy for earnings and capital growth) does a good job of predicting medium term returns. This approach allows for current valuations (via the yield) but avoids getting too complicated.  The next chart shows this approach applied to US equities, where it can be seen to broadly track the big secular swings in returns.


Source: Thomson Reuters, Global Financial Data, AMP Capital

  • For property, we use current rental yields and likely trend inflation as a proxy for rental and capital growth.

  • For unlisted infrastructure, we use current average yields and capital growth just ahead of inflation.

Medium term return projections

Our latest return projections using this approach are shown in the next table. The second column shows each asset’s current income yield, the third shows their 5-10 year growth potential, and the final column their total return potential. Note that:

  • We assume central banks average around or just below their inflation targets, eg 2.5% in Australia & 2% in the US.

  • For Australia we have adopted a relatively conservative growth assumption reflecting constrained commodity prices and slower productivity growth.

  • We allow for forward points in the return projections for global assets based around current market pricing – which adds 1% to the return from world equities.

  • The Australian cash rate is assumed to average 2.75% over the medium term. Cash is one asset where the current yield is of no value in assessing the asset’s medium term return potential because the maturity is so short. So we assume a medium term average. Normally for cash this would be around a country’s potential nominal growth rate, but we have adjusted for higher than normal bank lending rates relative to the cash rate and higher household debt to income ratios which have pulled down the neutral cash rate.

Combining the return projections for each asset indicates that the implied return for a diversified growth mix of assets has now fallen to 6.5% pa and is shown in the final row. 

 
# Current dividend yield for shares, distribution/net rental yields for property and duration matched bond yield for bonds. ^ Includes forward points. * With franking credits added in. Source: AMP Capital

Megatrends influencing the growth outlook

The assumptions for nominal growth used in these projections allow for several medium term themes: slower than pre-GFC growth in household debt; an ongoing backlash against the economic rationalist policies of globalisation, deregulation and small government; rising geopolitical tensions; aging and slowing populations; constrained commodity prices; technological innovation & automation; rapid growth in Asia and China’s growing middle class; rising environmental awareness; and the energy revolution. Most of these are constraining nominal growth and hence investor returns. However, technological innovation is positive for profits and some of these point to inflation bottoming. (See “Megatrends…”, Oliver’s Insights, July 2016.)

Key observations

Several things are worth noting from these projections.

  • The medium term return potential using this approach has continued to soften due largely to the rally in most assets which has pushed investment yields lower. Projected returns using this approach for a diversified growth mix of assets has fallen from 10.3% pa at the low point of the GFC in March 2009 to 6.5% now.


Source: AMP Capital

  • The starting point for returns today is far less favourable than when the last secular bull market in shares and bonds started in 1982, due to much lower yields.

  • Government bonds offer low return potential thanks to ultra low bond yields.

  • Unlisted commercial property and infrastructure continue to come out relatively well, reflecting their relatively high yields.

  • Australian shares stack up well on the basis of yield, but it’s still hard to beat Asian/emerging shares for growth potential.

  • The downside risks to our medium term return projections are that: the world is plunged into another recession or that investment yields are pushed up to more normal levels as inflation rebounds causing large capital losses. These risks are referred to endlessly by financial commentators – but just allow that drawdowns in returns tend to be infrequent but concentrated and it’s been a while since the last big one.

  • The upside risks are (always) less obvious but could occur if we see a continuation of the last year, ie improving global growth but inflation remaining low which could see a continuing search for yield further pushing up capital value

Implications for investors

  • First, have reasonable return expectations. Low investment yields & constrained nominal GDP growth indicate it’s not reasonable to expect sustained double digit returns. In fact, the decline in the rolling 10-year average of superannuation fund returns (first chart) indicates we have been in a lower return world for many years – it’s just that it only becomes clear every so often with strong returns in between.

  • Second, allow that this partly reflects very low inflation. Real returns haven’t fallen as much.

  • Third, using a dynamic approach to asset allocation makes sense as a way to enhance returns when the return potential from investment markets is constrained.

  • Finally, focus on assets providing decent and sustainable income flow as they provide confidence regarding future returns, eg, commercial property and infrastructure.

 

Source: AMP Capital 8 November 2017

Author: Dr Shane Oliver, Head of Investment Strategy and Economics and Chief Economist at AMP Capital is responsible for AMP Capital’s diversified investment funds. He also provides economic forecasts and analysis of key variables and issues affecting, or likely to affect, all asset markets.

Important note: While every care has been taken in the preparation of this article, AMP Capital Investors Limited (ABN 59 001 777 591, AFSL 232497) and AMP Capital Funds Management Limited (ABN 15 159 557 721, AFSL 426455) makes no representations or warranties as to the accuracy or completeness of any statement in it including, without limitation, any forecasts. Past performance is not a reliable indicator of future performance. This article has been prepared for the purpose of providing general information, without taking account of any particular investor’s objectives, financial situation or needs. An investor should, before making any investment decisions, consider the appropriateness of the information in this article, and seek professional advice, having regard to the investor’s objectives, financial situation and needs. This article is solely for the use of the party to whom it is provided.

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Five great charts on investing for income (or cash flow)

Posted On:Oct 24th, 2017     Posted In:Rss-feed-oliver    Posted By:Provision Wealth

The low interest rates of recent times along with periodic turmoil in investment markets has provided us with a reminder of the importance of the income (cash) flow or yield an investment provides. It’s particularly important for those relying on investment income to fund their living expenses. As with all investment topics, investing for income can seem complicated and daunting

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The low interest rates of recent times along with periodic turmoil in investment markets has provided us with a reminder of the importance of the income (cash) flow or yield an investment provides. It’s particularly important for those relying on investment income to fund their living expenses. As with all investment topics, investing for income can seem complicated and daunting once you move beyond bank deposits but in fact it’s really quite simple. So this note looks at five charts I find useful in understanding investing for income or yield.

Chart #1 There are lots of alternatives to bank deposits

The yield an investment provides is basically its annual cash flow divided by the value of the investment.
 

  • For bank deposits, the yield is simply the interest rate, eg bank 1-year term deposit rates in Australia are about 2.25% and so this is the cash flow they will yield in the year ahead.

  • For ten-year Australian Government bonds, annual cash payments on the bonds (coupons) relative to the current price of the bonds provides a yield of 2.8% right now.

  • For corporate debt, it’s a margin above government bond yields and depends on the riskiness of the company but is currently averaging around 3.6% in Australia.

  • For residential property, the yield is the annual value of rents as a percentage of the value of the property. On average in Australian capital cities it is about 3.9% for apartments and around 2.5% for houses. After allowing for costs, net rental yields are about 2 percentage points lower.

  • For unlisted commercial property, yields are around 5.5%. For infrastructure investment it averages around 4.5%.

  • For a basket of Australian shares represented by the ASX 200 index, annual dividend payments are running around 4.3% of the value of the shares. Once franking credits are allowed for, this pushes up to around 5.7%.


The next chart shows the yield available on a range of investments both now and in December 2009.


Source: Bloomberg, REIA, RBA, JLL, AMP Capital

Key messages: first, there are plenty of alternatives to cash when it comes to yield or income. Second, the yields on these investments will move over time and since the aftermath of the Global Financial Crisis (GFC) the trend has been down.

Of course investors need to allow for risk. Bank deposits have close to zero risk but any move to higher-yielding investments does entail taking on risk. More on this later.

Chart #2 The gap between yields on different assets relative to historic norms provides a guide to value

The next chart shows average yields on Australian shares and unlisted commercial property relative to the one-year term deposit rate since 2000. While yields have fallen, the gap between share and property yields and the bank deposit rate is extreme historically, with neither share or property yields plunging to the degree bank deposit rates have. In fact, the share yield is in its historic range. All things equal, this suggests commercial property and Australian shares continue to provide better value. The same would apply to unlisted infrastructure. 


Source: JLL, Bloomberg, AMP Capital

Key message: comparing yields provides a guide to relative value and right now shares and unlisted commercial property remain very attractive relative to bank deposits.

Chart #3 Shares can provide stronger growth in income with less volatility than bank deposits

Investing in shares of course entails the risk of capital loss. But it can offer a higher and less volatile income flow over time. The next chart is a bit heavy but it compares initial $100,000 investments in Australian shares and one-year term deposits in December 1979 and the income they have provided over time (before franking credits are allowed for in the case of shares).


Source: RBA, Bloomberg, AMP Capital

The term deposit would still be worth $100,000 (red line) and last year would have paid roughly $2450 in interest (red bars). By contrast the $100,000 invested in shares would have grown to $1.12 million (blue line) by end 2016 and last year would have paid $51,323 in dividends before franking credits (blue bars). The point is that dividends tend to grow over time (because profits and hence an investment in shares tends to rise in value) and are relatively stable compared to income from bank deposits, which vary with interest rate settings. Over the period the worst decline in dividend income from shares was a 32% decline between 2009 and 2011, whereas the income from bank deposits plunged 68% between 1990 and 1994 and by 60% between 2011 and last year. Once franking credits are allowed for, the comparison would become even more favourable towards shares.

Key message: while shares come with the risk of capital loss, a well-diversified portfolio of Australian shares can provide stronger growth in income with less volatility in that income than bank term deposits. Investors focussed on income need to decide what is most important: stability in the value of their investment or a higher, more sustainable income flow. The key when investing in shares for income is to have a well-diversified portfolio. Or better still a well-diversified portfolio of shares paying high and sustainable dividend yields. Finding high dividend yields is easy but the key is to look for stocks that have a reliable track record of growing those dividends and that have dividends that are not threatened by things like excessive gearing.

Chart #4 A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush

A high and sustainable starting point yield provides some security during volatile times. Since 1900, dividends (prior to allowing for franking credits) have provided just over half of the 11.8% average annual return from Australian shares and as can be seen in the next chart their contribution has been stable in contrast to the capital value of shares.


Source: Global Financial Data, Bloomberg, AMP Capital

Dividends are relatively smooth over time because most companies hate having to cut them as they know it annoys shareholders so they prefer to keep them sustainable.

Key message: a high and sustainable income yield for an investment provides some security during volatile times. It’s a bit like a down payment on future returns.

Chart #5 Yield provides a guide to future returns

The yield an investment provides forms the building block for its total return, which is essentially determined by the following.  
 

Total return = yield + capital growth


As a general principle, the higher the yield an investor invests at, the higher the return their investment will likely provide. This is self-evident in the case of bank deposits because the yield is the return (assuming the bank does not default on its deposits – which is very unlikely in Australia given Government protections). It can be seen in relation to bonds in the next chart, which shows a scatter plot of Australian ten-year bond yields since 1950 (along the horizontal axis) against subsequent ten-year bond returns based on the Composite All Maturities Bond Index (vertical axis). Over short term periods, bond prices can move up and down and so influence short-term returns, but over the medium term the main driver of the return a bond investor will get is what bond yields were when they invested. If the yield on a ten-year bond is 5%, then if you hold the bond to maturity your return will be 5%. Of course a portfolio of bonds will reflect a range of maturities and so the relationship is not perfect, but it can be seen in the next chart that the higher the starting point bond yield, the higher the subsequent return.


Source: Global Financial Data, Bloomberg, AMP Capital

Put simply when bond yields are high they drive high bond returns over the medium term and vice versa. For example, when Australian ten-year bond yields in January 1982 were 15.2% it’s not surprising that returns from bonds over the subsequent ten years were 15.4% per annum. Similarly, when bond yields were just 3.1% in January 1950, it’s no surprise that returns from bonds over the next ten years were 3.1%. At 2.8% now, we are off the bottom of the chart meaning record low bond returns for the next decade.

Similar albeit less perfect relationships exist for other asset classes – the higher the yield, the higher the subsequent return.

Of course there are some risks investors must watch out for. At the individual share level, a very high dividend yield may be a sign of a “value trap” – where current profits and dividends may be fine but there is an impending threat to the company and so the share price is low. Second, high distributions may also be unsustainable if they are being paid for out of debt and reflect excessive gearing or high risk investments (eg, sub-prime mortgages prior to the GFC). Just remember that there is no free lunch.

Key message: while returns have been solid lately, low investment yields do warn of lower returns ahead – most notably from government bonds.

 

Source: AMP Capital 24 October 2017

Author: Dr Shane Oliver, Head of Investment Strategy and Economics and Chief Economist at AMP Capital is responsible for AMP Capital’s diversified investment funds. He also provides economic forecasts and analysis of key variables and issues affecting, or likely to affect, all asset markets.

Important note: While every care has been taken in the preparation of this article, AMP Capital Investors Limited (ABN 59 001 777 591, AFSL 232497) and AMP Capital Funds Management Limited (ABN 15 159 557 721, AFSL 426455) makes no representations or warranties as to the accuracy or completeness of any statement in it including, without limitation, any forecasts. Past performance is not a reliable indicator of future performance. This article has been prepared for the purpose of providing general information, without taking account of any particular investor’s objectives, financial situation or needs. An investor should, before making any investment decisions, consider the appropriateness of the information in this article, and seek professional advice, having regard to the investor’s objectives, financial situation and needs. This article is solely for the use of the party to whom it is provided.

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Where are we in the global investment cycle and what’s the risk of a 1987 style crash?

Posted On:Oct 18th, 2017     Posted In:Rss-feed-oliver    Posted By:Provision Wealth

This month of October often creates apprehension amongst investors given its historic track record with the 1929 and 1987 share market crashes. And it was in October 2007 that US shares peaked ahead of 50% plus falls (in most share markets) through the Global Financial Crisis (GFC). From the post-GFC share market lows in March 2009, US shares are up

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This month of October often creates apprehension amongst investors given its historic track record with the 1929 and 1987 share market crashes. And it was in October 2007 that US shares peaked ahead of 50% plus falls (in most share markets) through the Global Financial Crisis (GFC). From the post-GFC share market lows in March 2009, US shares are up 278% and global shares are up 196% to new record highs and Australian shares are up 92%. After such strong gains it’s natural to wonder whether another major bear market is imminent. Aside from left field events triggering a crash, the key question remains where are we in the investment cycle? This note updates our analysis on this front from earlier this year (see http://bit.ly/2kPIlha) and also provides a comparison to 1987.

Second-longest US cyclical bull market since WW2

The cyclical bull market in US shares is eight and a half years old. It’s the second longest since World War Two and the second strongest in terms of gain. See the next table.

I have applied the definition that a cyclical bull market is a rising trend in shares that ends when shares have a 20% or more fall (ie, a cyclical bear market). Source: Bloomberg, AMP Capital.

At the same time, according to the US National Bureau of Economic Research the current US economic expansion is now 100 months old and compares to an average expansion of 70 months.  The concern is that with the US bull market and economic expansion both old, US shares are vulnerable to another bear market and, by implication, global and Australian shares are, too.

Still in the sweet spot in the investment cycle

First some context. The next chart is a stylised version of the investment cycle – the thick grey line is the economic cycle.

Source: AMP Capital

A typical cyclical bull market in shares has three phases: scepticism – when economic conditions are weak and confidence is poor, but smart investors see value in shares helped by ultra easy monetary conditions; optimism or the “sweet spot” – when profits and growth strengthen and investor scepticism gives way to optimism while monetary policy is still easy; euphoria – when investors become euphoric on strong economic and profit conditions, which pushes shares into clear overvalued territory and excesses appear forcing central banks to become tight, which combines with overvaluation and investors being fully invested to drive a new bear market.

Typically, the bull phase lasts five years. However, “bull markets do not die of old age but of exhaustion” – their length depends on how quickly recovery precedes, excess builds up, inflation rises and extremes of overvaluation and investor euphoria appear.

Our assessment is that we are still in the “sweet spot” phase, albeit more advanced now. Global economic indicators are strong, growth forecasts are being revised up as highlighted by the IMF and this is driving stronger profits. But thanks partly to the slow post GFC recovery, there are still few signs of the sort of excesses that characterise the “euphoria” phase that ultimately leads to the “exhaustion” of the cyclical bull market and the next bear market.

  • There is no overinvestment globally. While the US recovery is further advanced than most, even here business investment and housing investment (excesses in which preceded the tech wreck and GFC, respectively) are around or below long-term averages relative to GDP.

  • Overall private sector debt growth is modest in most countries.

  • After years of below trend growth globally, spare capacity still remains & this (along with technological innovation) has been constraining inflation. Wages growth remains weak and has only just started picking up in the US. Core inflation in major countries ranges between 0.2% in Japan to 1.3% in the US.


Source: Bloomberg, AMP Capital

  • As a result, global monetary conditions remain easy and without a surge in inflation look likely to remain so. The Fed is continuing to tighten but it’s “gradual” and from a very easy base and other central banks (including the RBA) are on hold. A shift to tight money that brings about a global economic downturn looks a fair way off.

  • Share market valuations are mostly okay. Measured against their own history, shares are no longer cheap. This is particularly so for US shares. But once allowance is made for low inflation and still-low bond yields, shares are fair value to cheap depending on the market (next chart).


Source: Bloomberg, AMP Capital

  • Finally, while short term investor sentiment bullish, long-term measures of positioning are not.  In the US, the huge investor flows into bond funds over the last few years have yet to reverse in favour of shares. In Australia, sentiment towards shares remains low. Still no euphoria here.

It may also be argued that major non-US share markets and Australian shares did have a bear market in both 2011 and 2015-16 so their cyclical bull markets are not old at all.

Overall, we are still not seeing the signs of excess, euphoria and exhaustion that typically come at cyclical economic and share market peaks ahead of recessions and deep bear markets. So barring some sort of external shock, the cyclical bull market in shares looks like it still has further to go.

What to watch?

The key to watch for the next big bear market is for signs of excess – eg, overinvestment in key areas, rapidly-rising inflation, aggressive tightening in monetary policy, clear overvaluation and investor euphoria. This would then set the scene for the next economic downswing and hence a more severe bear market (as opposed to a correction or short-term bear market like we saw in 2015-16). At the moment, it’s hard to see much excess but we do expect US inflation to start rising from here. One risk is that the longer things remain benign, the more investors will expect them to remain benign and this will result in excessive risk taking setting up the scene for a sharp fall in markets. But it’s only lately investors have started to get comfortable. So this may have further to go.

What about comparisons to 1987?

October 19 marks the 30th anniversary of the 1987 share market crash and as always comparisons are being wheeled out. While the bulk of the crash was concentrated in October 1987 (US shares fell 20% on October 19 and Australian shares fell 25% on October 20), US shares fell 34% over three months and Australian shares lost 50% over two months. The causes remain subject to debate – but the key appears to have been a 3% rise in US inflation, a 2% rise in US bond yields and Fed tightening hitting markets after a period of very strong gains. The following tables provide a brief comparison to today.

Source: Thomson Reuters, AMP Capital

Compared to 1987, the gains over the past 12 months have been more modest and while forward price to earnings ratios are higher (in the US) or the same, this should be the case given far lower inflation and bond yields and real dividend yields are far more attractive. It’s also noteworthy that share markets had already started to break down before the October 19 1987 crash whereas that has not happened now. As an aside, it’s worth noting that despite the 1987 crash, economic growth was barely impacted and so shares moved higher in 1988 and 1989.

Investment implications

First, corrections should be anticipated – with Trump, North Korea and the Fed being potential triggers – and the fickleness of investor confidence means we can’t rule out another crash like in 1987. But despite this we still appear to be a long way from the peak in the investment cycle.

Second, non-US share markets and economies are less advanced in their cycles and provide opportunities for investors.

Finally, it’s worth noting that several bad years (1987 and 1929) have given Octobers a bad wrap globally. While historically they have been a soft month in Australia (with shares down an average 0.3% since 1985 in October), they have actually been positive in the US (up 1% on average).

Source : AMP Capital 18th October 2017

About the Author

Dr Shane Oliver, Head of Investment Strategy and Economics and Chief Economist at AMP: l is responsible for AMP Capital’s diversified investment funds. He also provides economic forecasts and analysis of key variables and issues affecting, or likely to affect, all asset markets.

Important note: While every care has been taken in the preparation of this article, AMP Capital Investors Limited (ABN 59 001 777 591, AFSL 232497) and AMP Capital Funds Management Limited (ABN 15 159 557 721, AFSL 426455) makes no representations or warranties as to the accuracy or completeness of any statement in it including, without limitation, any forecasts. Past performance is not a reliable indicator of future performance. This article has been prepared for the purpose of providing general information, without taking account of any particular investor’s objectives, financial situation or needs. An investor should, before making any investment decisions, consider the appropriateness of the information in this article, and seek professional advice, having regard to the investor’s objectives, financial situation and needs. This article is solely for the use of the party to whom it is provided.

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Will Australian House Prices Crash? five reasons why it’s more complicated than you think!

Posted On:Oct 11th, 2017     Posted In:Rss-feed-oliver    Posted By:Provision Wealth

A common narrative on the Australian housing market is that it’s in a giant speculative bubble propelled by tax breaks, low interest rates and “liar loans” that have led to massive mortgage stress and that it’s all about to go bust, bringing down the banks and the economy with it. Recent signs of price falls – notably in Sydney –

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A common narrative on the Australian housing market is that it’s in a giant speculative bubble propelled by tax breaks, low interest rates and “liar loans” that have led to massive mortgage stress and that it’s all about to go bust, bringing down the banks and the economy with it. Recent signs of price falls – notably in Sydney – have added interest to such a view.

The trouble is we have been hearing the same for years. Calls for a property crash have been pumped out repeatedly since early last decade. In 2004, The Economist magazine described Australia as “America’s ugly sister” thanks in part to a “borrowing binge” and soaring property prices. At the time, the OECD estimated Australian housing was 51.8% overvalued. Property crash calls were wheeled out repeatedly after the Global Financial Crisis (GFC) with one commentator losing a high-profile bet that prices could fall up to 40% and having to walk to the summit of Mount Kosciuszko as a result. In 2010, a US newspaper, The Philadelphia Trumpet, warned “Pay close attention Australia. Los Angelification (referring to a 40% slump in LA home prices around the GFC) is coming to a city near you.” At the same time, a US fund manager was labelling Australian housing as a “time bomb”. Similar calls were made last year by a hedge fund researcher and a hedge fund: “The Australian property market is on the verge of blowing up on a spectacular scale…The feed-through effects will be immense… the economy will go into recession.” Over the years these crash calls have even made it on to 60 Minutes and Four Corners.

The basic facts on Australian property are well known:
 

  • It’s expensive relative to income, rents, its long-term trend (see the next chart) and by global standards.

  • Affordability is poor – price to income ratios are very high and it’s a lot harder to save a sufficient deposit.

  • The surge in prices has seen a surge in debt that has taken our household debt to income ratio to the high end of OECD countries, which exposes Australia to financial instability should households decide to cut their level of debt.

Source: ABS, AMP Capital

These things arguably make residential property Australia’s Achilles heel. But as I have learned over the last 15 years, it’s a lot more complicated than the crash calls suggest.

First, it’s dangerous to generalise

While it’s common to refer to “the Australian property market”, only Sydney and Melbourne have seen sustained and rapid price gains in recent years. On CoreLogic data over the last five years dwelling prices have risen at an average annualised rate of 11.4% per annum (pa) in Sydney and 9.4% pa in Melbourne but prices in Brisbane, Adelaide, Hobart and Canberra have risen by a benign 3 to 5% pa and prices have fallen in Perth and Darwin. Australian cites basically swing around the national average with prices in one or two cities surging for a few years and then underperforming as poor affordability forces demand into other cities. This can be seen in the next chart with Sydney leading the cycle over the last 20 years and Perth lagging.  

Source: CoreLogic, AMP Capital

Second, supply has not kept up with demand

Thanks mostly to an increase in net immigration, population growth since mid-last decade has averaged 368,000 people pa compared to 218,000 pa over the decade to 2005, which requires roughly an extra 55,000 homes per year.

Unfortunately, the supply of dwellings did not keep pace with the surge in population growth (see the next chart) so a massive shortfall built up driving high home prices. Thanks to the recent surge in unit supply this is now being worked off. But there is no broad based oversupply problem.

Source: ABS, AMP Capital

Consistent with this, average capital city vacancy rates are around long-term average levels, are low in Sydney and are falling in Melbourne (helped by surging population growth).

Source: Real Estate Institute of Australia, AMP Capital

Third, lending standards have been improving

For all the talk about “liar loans”, Australia has not seen anything like the deterioration in lending standards other countries saw prior to the GFC. Interest-only loans had been growing excessively but are not comparable to so-called NINJA (no income, no job, no asset) sub-prime and low-doc loans that surged in the US prior to the GFC. Interest-only and high loan to valuation loans have also been falling lately. And much of the increase in debt has gone to older, wealthier Australians, who are better able to service their loans.

Source: APRA, AMP Capital

Yes, I know various surveys report high levels of mortgage stress. But we heard the same continuously last decade from the Fujitsu Mortgage Stress Survey and yet there was no crash. By contrast, RBA research shows that while getting into the housing market is hard “those who make it are doing ok” and bad debts and arrears are low. Finally, debt interest payments relative to income are running around 30% below 2008 peak levels thanks to low interest rates. Sure, rates will eventually start to rise again but they will need to rise by around 2% to take the debt interest to income ratio back to the 2008 high.

Fourth, the importance of tax breaks is exaggerated

A range of additional factors like tax breaks and foreign buyers have played a role but their importance is often exaggerated relative to the supply shortfall. While there is a case to reduce the capital gains tax discount (to remove a distortion in the tax system), negative gearing has long been a feature of the Australian tax system and if it’s the main driver of home price increases as some claim then what happened in Perth and Darwin? Similarly, foreign buying has been concentrated in certain areas and so cannot explain high prices generally, particularly with foreign buying restricted to new properties.

Finally, the conditions for a crash are not in place

To get a housing crash – say a 20% average fall or more – we probably need much higher unemployment, much higher interest rates and/or a big oversupply. But it’s hard to see these.

  • There is no sign of recession and jobs data remains strong.

  • The RBA is likely to start raising interest rates next year, but it knows households are now more sensitive to higher rates & will move only very gradually – like in the US – and won’t hike by more than it needs to to keep inflation on target.

  • Property oversupply will become a risk if the current construction boom continues for several years but with approvals to build new homes slowing this looks unlikely.

Don’t get me wrong, none of this is to say that excessive house prices and debt levels are not posing a risk for Australia. But it’s a lot more complicated than commonly portrayed.

So where are we now?

That said, we continue to expect a slowing in the Sydney and Melbourne property markets, with evidence mounting that APRA’s measures to slow lending to investors and interest-only buyers (along with other measures, eg to slow foreign buying) are impacting. This is particularly the case in Sydney where price growth has stalled and auction clearance rates have fallen to near 60%. Expect prices to fall 5-10% (maybe less in Melbourne given strong population growth) over the next two years. This is like what occurred around 2005, 2008-09 & 2012.  

Source: CoreLogic, AMP Capital

By contrast, Perth and Darwin home prices are likely close to the bottom as mining investment is near the bottom. Hobart and increasingly Brisbane and Adelaide are likely to benefit from flow on or “refugee” demand from Sydney and Melbourne having lagged for many years.  

Implications for investors

Housing has a long-term role to play in investment portfolios, but the combination of the strong gains in the last few years in Sydney and Melbourne, vulnerabilities around high household debt levels as official interest rates eventually start to rise and low net rental yields mean investors need to be careful. Sydney and Melbourne are least attractive in the short term. Best to focus on those cities and regional areas that have been left behind and where rental yields are higher.   

Source : AMP Capital 11 October 2017

About the Author

Dr Shane Oliver, Head of Investment Strategy and Economics and Chief Economist at AMP: l is responsible for AMP Capital’s diversified investment funds. He also provides economic forecasts and analysis of key variables and issues affecting, or likely to affect, all asset markets.

Important note: While every care has been taken in the preparation of this article, AMP Capital Investors Limited (ABN 59 001 777 591, AFSL 232497) and AMP Capital Funds Management Limited (ABN 15 159 557 721, AFSL 426455) makes no representations or warranties as to the accuracy or completeness of any statement in it including, without limitation, any forecasts. Past performance is not a reliable indicator of future performance. This article has been prepared for the purpose of providing general information, without taking account of any particular investor’s objectives, financial situation or needs. An investor should, before making any investment decisions, consider the appropriateness of the information in this article, and seek professional advice, having regard to the investor’s objectives, financial situation and needs. This article is solely for the use of the party to whom it is provided.

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