Today we examine the recent Financial Market Earthquakes and ask, are these indicators of more trouble ahead?
In this week’s review of property and finance news we start with the recent market movements and consider the impact locally.
The Dow 30 has come back, slumping more than 1,100 points between Thursday and Friday, and ending the week in correction territory – meaning down more than 10% from its recent high.
The volatility index – the VIX which shows the perceived risks in the financial markets also rose, up 6.5% just yesterday to 24.8, not yet at the giddy heights it hit in February, but way higher than we have seen for a long time – so perceived risks are higher.
And the Aussie Dollar slipped against the US$ to below 77 cents from above 80, and it is likely to drift lower ahead, which may help our export trade, but will likely lead to higher costs for imports, which in turn will put pressure on inflation and the RBA to lift the cash rate. The local stock market was also down, significantly. Here is a plot of the S&P ASX 100 for the past year or so. We are back to levels last seen in October 2017. Expect more uncertainty ahead.
So, let’s look at the factors driving these market gyrations. First of course U.S. President Donald Trump’s signed an executive memorandum, imposing tariffs on up to $50 billion in Chinese imports and in response the Dow slumped more than 700 points on Thursday. There was a swift response from Beijing, who released a dossier of potential retaliation targets on 128 U.S. products. Targets include wine, fresh fruit, dried fruit and nuts, steel pipes, modified ethanol, and ginseng, all of which could see a 15% duty, while a 25% tariff could be imposed on U.S. pork and recycled aluminium goods. We also heard Australia’s exemptions from tariffs may only be temporary.
Some other factors also weighed on the market. Crude oil prices rose more than 5.5% this week as following an unexpected draw in U.S. crude supplies and rising geopolitical tensions in the middle east. Crude settled 2.5% higher on Friday after the Saudi Energy Minister said OPEC and non-OPEC members could extend production cuts into 2019 to reduce global oil inventories. Here is the plot of Brent Oil futures which tells the story.
Bitcoins promising rally faded again. Earlier Bitcoin rallied from a low of $7,240 to a high of $9175.20 thanks to easing fears that the G20 meeting Monday would encourage a crackdown on cryptocurrencies. Finance ministers and central bankers from the world’s 20 largest economies only called on regulators to “continue their monitoring of crypto-assets” and stopped short of any specific action to regulate cryptocurrencies. So Bitcoin rose 2% over the past seven days, Ripple XRP fell 8.93%and Ethereum fell 14.20%. Crypto currencies remain highly speculative. I am still working on my more detailed post, as the ground keeps shifting.
Gold prices enjoyed one of their best weeks in more than a month buoyed by a flight-to-safety as investors opted for a safe-haven thanks to the events we have discussed. However, the futures data shows many traders continued to slash their bullish bets on gold. So it may not go much higher. So there may be no relief here.
Then there was the Federal Reserve statement, which despite hiking rates by 0.25%, failed to add a fourth rate hike to its monetary policy projections and also scaled back its labour market expectations. Some argued that the Fed’s decision to raise its growth rate but keep its outlook on inflation relatively unchanged was dovish. Growth is expected to run at 3%, but core inflation is forecast for 2019 and 2020 at 2.10%. They did, however, signal a faster pace of monetary policy tightening, upping its outlook on rates for both 2019 and 2020. You can watch our separate video blog on this. The “dots” chart also shows more to come, up to 8 lifts over two years, which would take the Fed rate to above 3%. The supporting data shows the economy is running “hot” and inflation is expected to rise further. This will have global impact. The era of low interest rates in ending. The QE experiment is also over, but the debt legacy will last a generation.
All this will have a significant impact on rates in the financial markets, putting more pressure on borrowing companies in the US, and the costs of Government debt. US mortgage interest rates rose again, a precursor to higher rates down the track.
Moodys’ said this week, that the U.S.’ still relatively low personal savings rate questions how easily consumers will absorb recent and any forthcoming price hikes. Moreover, the recent slide by Moody’s industrial metals price index amid dollar exchange rate weakness hints of a levelling off of global business activity.
The flow on effect of rate rises is already hitting the local banks in Australia. To underscore that here is a plot of the A$ Bill/OIS Swap rate, a critical benchmark for bank funding. In fact, looking over the past month, the difference, or spread has grown by around 20 basis points, and is independent from any expectation of an RBA rate change. The BBSW is the reference point used to set interest rates on most business loans, and also flows through to personal lending rates and mortgages.
As a result, there is increasing margin pressure on the banks. In the round, you can assume a 10 basis point rise in the spread will translate to a one basis point loss of margin, unless banks reduce yields on deposit accounts, or lift mortgage rates. Individual banks ae placed differently, with ANZ most insulated, thanks to their recent capital initiatives, and Suncorp the most exposed.
In fact, Suncorp already announced that Variable Owner Occupier Principal and Interest rates will rise by 5 basis points. Variable Investor Principal and Interest rates will increase by 8 basis points, and Variable Interest Only rates increase go up by 12 basis points. In addition, their variable Small Business rates will increase by 15 basis points and their business Line of Credit rates will increase by 25 basis points. Expect more ahead from other lenders. The key takeaway is that funding costs in Australia are going up at a time when the RBA is stuck in neutral. It highlights how what happens with rates and in money markets overseas, and particularly in the US, can have repercussions here – repercussions that many are possibly unprepared for.
Locally, the latest Australian Bureau of Statistics showed that home prices to December 2017 fell in Sydney over the past quarter, along with Darwin. Other centres saw a rise, but the rotation is in hand. Overall, the price index for residential properties for the weighted average of the eight capital cities rose 1.0% in the December quarter 2017. The index rose 5.0% through the year to the December quarter 2017.
The capital city residential property price indexes rose in Melbourne (+2.6%), Perth (+1.1%), Brisbane (+0.9%), Hobart (+3.9%), Canberra (+1.7%) and Adelaide (+0.6%) and fell in Sydney (-0.1%) and Darwin (-1.5%). You can watch our separate video on this, where we also covered in more detail the January 2018 mortgage default data from Standard & Poor’s. It increased to 1.30% from 1.07% in December. No area was exempt from the increase with loans in arrears by more than 30 days increasing in January in every state and territory. Western Australia remains the home of the nation’s highest arrears, where loans in arrears more than 30 days rose to 2.44% in January from 2.08% in December, reaching a new record high. Conversely, New South Wales continues to have the lowest arrears among the more populous states at 0.98% in January. Moody’s is now expecting a 10% correction in some home prices this year.
According to latest figures released by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS), the seasonally adjusted unemployment rate increased to 5.6 per cent and the labour force participation rate increased by less than 0.1 percentage points to 65.7 per cent. The number of persons employed increased by 18,000 in February 2018. So no hints of any wage rises soon, as it is generally held that 5% unemployment would lead to higher wages – though even then, I am less convinced.
The latest final auction clearance results from CoreLogic, published last Thursday showed the final auction clearance rate across the combined capital cities rose to 66 per cent across a total of 3,136 auctions last week; making it the second busiest week for auctions this year, compared with 63.3 per cent the previous week, and still well down from 74.1 per cent a year ago. Although Melbourne recorded its busiest week for auctions so far this year with a total of 1,653 homes taken to auction, the final auction clearance rate across the city fell to 68.7 per cent, down from the 70.8 per cent over the week prior. In Sydney, the final auction clearance rate increased to 64.8 per cent last week, from 62.2 per cent the week prior. Across the smaller auction markets, clearance rates improved in Brisbane, Perth and Tasmania, while Adelaide and Canberra both returned a lower success rate over the week. They say Geelong was the best performing non-capital city region last week, with 86.1 per cent of the 56 auctions successful. However, the Gold Coast region was host to the highest number of auctions (60). This week they are expecting a high 3,689 planned auctions today, so we will see where the numbers end up. I am still digging into the clearance rate question, and should be able to post on this soon. But remember that number, 3,689, because the baseline seems to shift when the results arrive.
As interest rates rise, in a flat income environment, we expect the problems in the property and mortgage sector to show, which is why our forward default projections are higher ahead. We will update that data again at the end of the month. Household Financial Confidence also drifted lower again as we reported. It fell to 94.6 in February, down from 95.1 the previous month. This is in stark contrast to improved levels of business confidence as some have reported. Our latest video blog covered the results.
Finally, The Royal Commission of course took a lot of air time this week, and I did a separate piece on the outcomes yesterday, so I won’t repeat myself. But suffice it to say, we think the volume of unsuitable mortgage loans out there is clearly higher than the lenders want to admit. Mortgage Broking will also get a shake out as we discussed on the ABC this week. And that’s before they touch on the wealth management sector!
We think there are a broader range of challenges for bankers, and their customers, as I discussed at the Customer Owned Banking Association conference this week. There is a separate video available, in which you can hear about what the future of banking will look like and the importance of customer centricity. In short, more disruption ahead, but also significant opportunity, if you know where to look. I also make the point that ever more regulation is a poor substitute for the right cultural values. At the end of the day, a CEO’s overriding responsibility is to define the right cultural values for the organisation, and the major banks have been found wanting. A quest for profit at any cost will ultimately destroy a business if in the process it harms customers, and encourages fraud and deceit. You simply cannot assume banks will do the right thing, unless the underlying corporate values are set right. Remember Greenspans testimony after the GFC, when he said “I made a mistake in presuming that the self-interests of organisations, specifically banks and others, were such that they were best capable of protecting their own shareholders and their equity in the firms.”