Hedge Clippings | 10 February 2023
As expected, on Tuesday the RBA did what everyone expected, and what they had to, raising rates by 0.25% in the sharpest and fastest series of increases in recent (and probably longer) memory. Even though expected by 100% of market economists, investors didn't take too kindly to it, with the ASX falling almost half a percent on the day, and after a brief rally on Wednesday, continuing to fall since. It wasn't what the RBA did that upset the market, but what RBA Governor Philip Lowe said - particularly, as we always point out - in the last paragraph (and in this case the last sentence) or so of their statement: "The board remains resolute in its determination to return inflation to target and will do what is necessary to achieve this."
That's RBA speak for "expect more rates rises to come," so unless things on the inflation front change direction quickly, 3.85% seems a forgone conclusion, possibly by May or June, and with every chance of that tripping the 4% mark in the second half of the year.
Amid all the forecasts of widespread mortgage stress and damage to household budgets, the hard and nasty truth is that's what the RBA is aiming at - or at least to force consumers to rein in spending - to try to quell inflation. Unfortunately, it's not a level playing field in mortgage land, and to quote Bill Gates, "Life's not fair. Get used to it". Of course, Bill can afford to say that, but the RBA has a problem with the un-level field when using mortgage rates - as only one third of households have a mortgage - to tame inflation. The other two thirds are less, or not impacted, so they're probably still spending, even if their morning flat white is now costing them over $4 a pop.
But there's more to the un-level field: Amongst the one third of households with mortgages, there are those who are more stressed than others - either by virtue of being on lower incomes, having only recently taken out a mortgage thanks to the RBA's "no rate rise until 2024" prediction, those about to come off a low fixed rate onto a higher variable one, or those with smaller savings to dip into to buffer to rise. Assuming (this is a guess) 20% of all mortgages are in the above categories, that's less than 7% of the overall population. At 50%, it rises to just over 15% of the total.
This may sound as if we're being callous or uncaring. Far from it. The point is that the RBA needs to change the spending habits of the majority, not just the minority, a point they acknowledge (along with the lagging effect of higher rates) in the penultimate paragraph of their February Statement on Monetary Policy. So while they may be mindful of the uneven pain they're causing on the un-level playing field of life, "The Board's priority is to return inflation to target." And that's not going to happen at least until Santa's been around again (if we have a recession) or possibly after he's been back twice (if there's a soft landing). So, as Bill said, "get used to it".
Over to markets and fund performance: As everyone knows, last year's outbreak of inflation was a shock to everyone, including the RBA, as was Ukraine, (except to Putin). The market tanked for the first nine months of the year and has since recovered strongly, such that the 12 month performance of the ASX200 Total Return to the end of January was +12.21%, significantly better than the S&P500 equivalent of -8.22% for an out-performance of over 20%.
AFM's Peer Group Comparison tables show a similar, although more variable pattern, such that over both three and six months to the end of January, ALL Peer Groups, with one exception (Alternatives, which includes Crypto funds) were in positive territory. The top performing Peer Group over 12 months was the Equity Long Large Cap group, which returned just over 8% on average, with 25% of those out-performing the ASX200 TR and the top performer, the Lazard Select Australian Fund returning 32%.
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