21/08/15: Market Update 1 - 21 August 2015

The Share Market Correction...

Since April, local share markets have been extremely volatile to say the least, gradually drifting lower by about 10% (as of today). Other markets have also fared poorly, e.g. Chinese shares -32%, Asian shares (ex Japan) -18%, Emerging market shares -18% and Eurozone shares -13%. Even the US share market, which has been relatively stable during this period has given back about 6%.

What's happening?

First the backdrop. It should be recognised that the seasonal pattern for shares typically sees rougher conditions over the period May to November, consistent with the old saying "sell in May and go away, buy again on St Leger's Day" (a UK horse race in September).

So with this typically difficult May-November period as our blank canvas, consider the following list of worries...

Greece: Between April and June the immediate, highly publicised concern was, understandably, Greece. Thankfully, the emotional charge surrounding Greece and the Eurozone has, at least for now, greatly subsided, with the general agreement to a third bailout program. Of course, we could see a small flare-up again with today's news of a snap Greek election.

China: More importantly, bubbling away in the background, have been legitimate concerns about China's slowing economy, and the impact this might have on the global economy, particularly commodity reliant countries like Australia. These worries have come to the fore in recent weeks in response to soft Chinese economic data, fuelled by China's recent decision to devalue their currency - an unpopular move, but I suspect a positive in the long run - what's good for China generally helps Australia.

It should also be noted that before China's share market 'crash' of 30%, the Shanghai Index had risen by over 250% in just the previous two years. And this phenomenon is not new. In 2007/2008, the Shanghai Index rose 90%, only to fall 70%. So I believe the takeaway here is to not read too deeply into the Chinese share market.

Commodities: Commodities were already in a secular bear market, reflecting a surge in supply and price upswing during the 'boom' years. Slowing growth in China and the rising trend in the value of the $US only adds further pressure on commodities and Australia's challenged resource sector.

Unfortunately slowing growth in China and its subsequent currency devaluation has also put further pressure on already weak emerging market economies, which these days represent more than 50% of world GDP. Emerging economies really do 'matter'.

US interest rates heading-up: The combination of slower growth in China, falling commodity prices, weakness in the emerging world and the fragility of growth in developed countries indicates that inflation will not be a problem for a while yet. Just the same, the US Federal Reserve appears to be heading towards a rate hike soon and this is creating intense uncertainty - markets don't like uncertainty.

Is it a correction or something worse?

While it's certainly no fun, periodic sharp falls in the range of 5% to even 20% are actually quite normal and healthy. Of course, it becomes more concerning if the rising trend in share prices gives way to a declining trend and a new bear market sets in.

But as Sir John Templeton once observed "bull markets are born on pessimism, grow on scepticism, mature on optimism and die of euphoria". There seems to be a lot of scepticism out there. Shares are simply not seeing the sorts of conditions that normally precede a new cyclical bear market: shares are not generally overvalued; they are not over loved by investors; and low interest rates are likely to remain for quite some time.

Of course, this update hasn't taken you particularly circumstances into account, therefore, if you need personal advice speak to us, or contact your financial adviser.

Rick Maggi Westmount Financial Clear Focus. Better Solutions.

This update is published by Westmount Financial/Westmount Securities Pty Ltd (ABN 42 090 595 289/AFSL 225715). It is intended to provide general information only and does not take into account any particular person’s objectives, financial situation or needs. Because of this, you should, before acting on any information in this document, speak to us and/or a taxation/finance professional.