Dec 03

A Simple 2009 Review and Outlook piece for clients

The year 2009 has turned out to be a significant turnaround year for the global economy and sharemarkets. At the start of the year, the word depression was mentioned often as many economists, investment professionals and politicians thought entering the world’s second great depression was a potential reality. Thankfully, around March 2009, “green shoots” of the global economy started to appear and whilst they haven’t blossomed into anything too beautiful, we have at least witnessed the emergence of many other “green shoots” that have improved conditions in credit markets, share markets, and in the US some positive signs in their housing market.

Sharemarkets bounce…
For investors in sharemarkets, the year 2008 was one they would rather forget and this continued into the first quarter of 2009 where the S&P/ASX200 index bottomed at the start of March. This was the lowest level for the sharemarket since 2003 but despite a lot of paper talk of the market potentially going lower, as is often the case, when the news out of the sharemarket is at its worst prices start to rise. Although the news continued to be bad it wasn’t as bad as expected and between March and October the S&P/ASX200 increased by almost 60%…an astonishing rebound.

The same was true for global shares despite the US, Japan, and Europe’s economic woes that continue today. For the global share investor, returns were also strong double digits. Unfortunately, for the unhedged investor, which is most of us, the strength of the Australian dollar reduced investors global sharemarket gains and many may well see negative performance for the 2009 calendar year.

Bonds subdued
The economic “green shoots” that contributed to the increase in sharemarkets from March of this year also contributed to increases in interest rates. Unfortunately for the bond investor, an increase in interest rates results in the decline in the value of bonds. For the local bond investor the strength of the Australian economy resulted in some of the strongest interest rate rises in the world and overall returns for Australian bond investors may well be flat. Global bond investors have fared a little better as the overseas economies have struggled significantly more than in Australia and interest rate movement has been minimal to negative. As a result global bond investors may see annual returns between five and ten percent.

Economic Landscape…
The Australian economy has certainly fared very well compared to the US, Europe, and Japan and this is largely due to three main factors:

  1. Strength of our banking system which is significantly more conservative than some of the largest banks in the world
  2. Strength in our commodity export sector and geographci position close to Asia. This has provided the ability to leverage from the significant growth in China
  3. Strength of our government’s balance sheet who in the good times had budget surpluses allowing these savings to be used for the tough times that turned out to be the global financial crisis

Looking forward it is near impossible to know how investment markets will perform but indications are that overall the global economy will be slow as global households continue to reduce debt and high levels of unemployment (which are expected to still rise) provide a drag on consumer spending. Whilst the global economy is improving there remain significant risks as evidenced by the default in its debt payments by Dubai World. Credit markets are far from normal and this is a strong indication that full recovery is a long way off yet.

In Australia, markets have priced in further increases in interest rates by the Reserve Bank with another 0.5% of rises expected by March or April 2010. Rising interest rates is a sign of strong economic conditions so with a bit of luck if there are no further economic shocks there is a stronger sharemarket into the first half of 2010. Given the volatility of sharemarkets this is far from a sure thing but on the positive side, we are coming from the worst global economic conditions since the Great Depression and we are still a long way off our sharemarket highs which were reached in November 2007.

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