Bearish outlook for the ASX

Iron ore rallied slightly during the week. But this is a bear market. Expect resistance at $60 to hold and breach of support at $50 is likely, signaling another decline.

Iron Ore

The ASX 300 Metals & Mining index is testing support at 2750. Breach is likely and would signal a primary down-trend.

ASX 300 Metals & Mining

Banks are also under pressure, with the ASX 300 Banks index consolidating between 8000 and 8500. Breach of 8000 is likely and would confirm the primary down-trend.

ASX 300 Banks

The ASX 200 displays a broadening wedge consolidation. A failed down-swing, recovering above 5800 without reaching the lower border, would be a bullish sign. But this seems unlikely with a bearish outlook for the two largest sectors.

ASX 200

Westpac Leading Index counters jobs surge

In stark contrast to the buoyant recent ABS jobs numbers, the Westpac Leading Index slowed:

From Matthew Hassan at Westpac:

The six month annualised growth rate in the Westpac-Melbourne Institute Leading Index, which indicates the likely pace of economic activity relative to trend three to nine months into the future, eased from 1.01% in April to 0.62% in May.

…..The index is pointing to a clear slowing in momentum. While the growth rate remains comfortably above trend, the pace has eased markedly since the start of the year….

Read more at Westpac.

Strange week on the ASX

Strange week on the ASX, with strong jobs numbers from the ABS causing a surge in the Aussie Dollar and a more optimistic outlook on the ASX.

But Iron ore continues to fall, headed for a test of 50.

Iron Ore

The ASX 300 Metals & Mining index respected resistance at 3000 and is headed for a test of primary support at 2750. Breach would confirm the primary down-trend.

ASX 300 Metals & Mining

The ASX 300 Banks index respected resistance at 8500 and is likely to test primary support at 8000. Again, breach would confirm the primary down-trend.

ASX 300 Banks

The ASX 200 has formed a broadening wedge consolidation, in a down-trend. Declining Twiggs Money Flow indicates some selling pressure. Expect a test of primary support at 5600. Again, breach would warn of a primary down-trend. But a failed swing (that respects 5700) would warn that all bets are off and the index may be preparing for a rally.

ASX 200

Australia: Jobs surge

The May 2017 ABS Labour Force Survey surprised to the upside, with employment increasing by 42,000 over the previous month (full-time jobs even better at +52,100). These are seasonally adjusted figures and the trend estimates are more modest at 25200 jobs.

Australia Jobs and Unemployment

Seasonally adjusted hours worked also jumped, reflecting an annual increase of 2.3%.

Australia Hours Worked and Real GDP

The Australian Dollar surged as a result of the impressive numbers but Credit Suisse warns that there may be some issues with the latest strong NSW estimates:

By state, the gains in full-time employment were particularly strong in NSW…..

But beware the sample rotation bias ….the ABS has confessed that for the sixth time in seven months, it has rotated the sample in favour of higher employment-to-population cohorts. Officials report that this has had a material impact on the NSW employment outcomes.

If the numbers are correct, there are only two areas that could account for the job growth: apartment construction and infrastructure. The former is unlikely to last and the latter, while an important part of the recovery process, are also not a permanent increase.

I would prefer to wait for confirmation before adjusting my position based on a single set of numbers.

One swallow does not make a spring, nor does one day.

~ Aristotle

Australia: RBA hands tied

Falling wage rate growth suggests that we are headed for a period of low growth in employment and personal consumption.

Australia Wage Index

The impact is already evident in the Retail sector.

ASX 300 Retail

The RBA would normally intervene to stimulate investment and employment but its hands are tied. Lowering interest rates would aggravate the housing bubble. Household debt is already precariously high in relation to disposable income.

Australia: Household Debt to Disposable Income

Like Mister Micawber in David Copperfield, we are waiting in the hope that something turns up to rescue us from our predicament. It’s not a good situation to be in. If something bad turns up and the RBA is low on ammunition.

Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure nineteen nineteen and six, result happiness. Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure twenty pounds ought and six, result misery. The blossom is blighted, the leaf is withered, the god of day goes down upon the dreary scene, and — and in short you are for ever floored….

~ Mr. Micawber in Charles Dickens’ David Copperfield

ASX banks and iron ore drag the index lower

Last week I wrote: “I believe that the latest rally is a secondary reaction and that the ASX is headed for a down-turn, with miners and banks leading the way. But it’s no use arguing with the (ticker) tape.” This week the ticker tape backs up my bearish sentiment, so I am a lot more comfortable.

Iron ore continues to fall, headed for a test of 50.

Iron Ore

Banks’ bear market rally also petered out, with the ASX 300 Banks index headed for a test of support at 8000. Breach would confirm the primary down-trend.

ASX 300 Banks

The ASX 200 broke support at 5700. Declining Twiggs Money Flow signals selling pressure. Breach of primary support at 5600 would warn of a primary down-trend.

ASX 200

Australia: ASX rallies

Iron ore is falling.

Iron Ore

And the broader DJ-UBS Commodity Index is testing support at 82. Breach would signal a decline to test the 2015 low at 74.

DJ-UBS Commodity Index

But the Aussie Dollar rallied Friday, the large engulfing candle suggesting another test of resistance at 75 US cents.

AUDUSD

Miners finished strongly, with the ASX 300 Metals & Mining index reflecting short-term buying pressure. 13-Week Twiggs Money Flow recovered above zero.

ASX 300 Metals & Mining

The ASX 200 is testing resistance at 5800. A 21-day Twiggs Money Flow trough above zero indicates medium-term buying pressure. Breakout above 5800 is likely and would suggest another test of 5950/6000.

ASX 200

Banks also rallied, with the ASX 300 Banks index headed for a test of 8500. Expect strong resistance.

ASX 300 Banks

Perhaps this UBS report had something to do with it.

I believe that the latest rally is a secondary reaction and that the ASX is headed for a down-turn, with miners and banks leading the way. But it’s no use arguing with the (ticker) tape.

A prudent speculator never argues with the tape. Markets are never wrong, opinions often are.

~ Jesse Livermore

UBS: Buy miners | Macrobusiness

By
Re-published with kind permission from Macrobusiness.

If you want to know why RIO is higher today than when iron ore was at $92 then check this out from UBS:

Hitting the Wall or Just a Wobble?

Australian equities performed poorly in May (falling 3%) despite global markets posting solid gains (rising 2%). The market weakness in May was overwhelmingly driven by the heavyweight banks sector. On balance we believe “hard landing” fears are overdone though we concede that the consumer outlook is lacklustre.

Staying Overweight Resources and Neutral Banks

We continue to overweight the resource sector on the basis of relative valuation, and benign (iron ore) to moderately constructive commodity expectations (copper, oil, mineral sands). With the bank sector off 10% (total return), we think the sector is once again looking “fair” in an absolute sense (12.8x and 5.9% yield) and notionally cheap in a relative sense. A constrained growth outlook and near-term capital uncertainty keep us neutral.

Other Favoured Themes

From a thematic standpoint two of our key themes remain 1) public infrastructure exposure (we continue to hold Boral and Lend Lease Group) and 2) domestic energy suppliers continue to be well supported by investors (we continue to hold AGL Energy, Origin Energy). We continue to overweight US$/US economy plays.

 

What can I say? That’s some crazy shit.

Why we’re selling all shares and handing cash back to investors – Philip Parker | Livewire

Philip Parker – veteran fund manager decides to sell all shares in Altair’s Trusts to hand back cash and hands back mandates for SMA/IMA’s and also sells MDA family office mandates to cash from shares.

Why?
AUSTRALIAN EAST COAST PROPERTY MARKET BUBBLE AND THE IMPENDING CORRECTION
CHINA PROPERTY AND DEBT ISSUES LATER THIS YEAR
THE OVERVALUED AUSTRALIAN EQUITY MARKETS AND
OVERSIZED GEO-POLITICAL RISKS AND AN UNPREDICTABLE US POLITICAL ENVIRONMENT

The underlined above are some of the more obvious reasons to exit the riskier asset markets of shares and property – in my opinion.

As a result of the above and after 25 years as a fund manager and 30 years in this industry I am taking around 6 to 12 months off. The main reason is in my opinion that there are just too many risks at present, and I cannot justify charging our clients fees when there are so many early warning lead indicators of clear and present danger in property and equity markets now….

Read more at: Why we’re selling all shares and handing cash back to investors – Philip Parker | Livewire

The stupid death of Australian TAFE | Macrobusiness

By Leith van Onselen

Re-published with kind permission from Macrobusiness.

The Age has run a disturbing report on the collapse of TAFE enrollments, driven in part by the uncapping of university places and the bubble in dodgy private Vocational Education and Training (VET) providers:

…[Tafe] enrolments [are] down by up to 40 per cent at some providers, two years after [Victorian] Premier Daniel Andrews promised to “rebuild” TAFE…

Some TAFE buildings resemble ghost campuses, rather than thriving centres of learning…

According to the Education Union, 3300 teachers have left the Victorian TAFE system in the past five years.

…annual reports also reveal that in the past year alone, enrolments have plummeted: Sunraysia Institute had a 21 per cent drop, student numbers were down 12 per cent at GOTAFE, and Melbourne Polytechnic experienced a staggering 40 per cent drop in enrolments…

Bruce Mackenzie, who led the state government’s review into the training sector… says private training college scandals have unfairly tarnished TAFE’s reputation, while a decline in apprenticeships and the uncapping of university places has also driven students away.

“The second tier universities take anyone into their course whether they are suitable or not, which rips the heart out of TAFE institutes,” he says…

But that mess, according to the AEU, started when the Brumby government created an open market system in 2008, paving the way for an explosion in private providers and rorting.

“The contestable policy will always undermine the TAFE system,” says Mr Barclay…

The collapse in TAFE numbers is worrying on several levels.

Recent data released by the National Centre for Vocational Education Research (NCVER) revealed that traineeship and apprenticeship commencements have fallen by more than 45% over the past four years:

ScreenHunter_13756 Jun. 29 08.03

Apprenticeship completions have also fallen heavily, down by 24.0% in the 12 months to March 2016.

Meanwhile, the Department of Employment’s most recent skills shortages report showed that “skills shortages”, while low overall, are far more widespread for technicians and tradespeople:

ScreenHunter_14586 Aug. 24 11.19

Because they are experiencing relatively few commencements and completions of apprenticeships:

ScreenHunter_14587 Aug. 24 11.21

By contrast, the economy is awash with university students, with nearly 730,000 enrolled in a bachelor degree:

ScreenHunter_14572 Aug. 23 15.44

Despite graduate employment outcomes falling to “historically low levels”:

ScreenHunter_14575 Aug. 23 16.01

Students numbers studying at private VET colleges also soared, guzzling-up public funds via VET FEE-HELP loans and diverting students away from public TAFEs.

The below graphics, which come from the 2015 VET FEE-HELP Statistical Report, tell the story.

As shown below, nearly three-quarters of VET students were enrolled in private colleges in 2015:

And these private colleges charged an average loan amount well above that of public TAFEs:

They also charged average tuition fees of $18,290 versus $7,642 for public TAFEs, as well as accumulated total VET FEE-HELP loans of $2,400 million in 2015, versus just $402 million for public TAFEs:

However, despite the huge imbalance between student numbers, fees charged, and funding, only 14,400 students managed to complete courses at private colleges in 2014, compared with 18,400 students at TAFE and other public providers.

Clearly, Australia’s higher education system is a complete mess. The implementation of demand-driven training systems across Australia has effectively led to an explosion of students studying at university – creating a glut of bachelor-qualified people – as well as students studying expensive diplomas at dodgy private providers. At the same time, a commensurate shortage in people with trade skills has developed, due in part to the decline in TAFE.

What has been delivered is a wasteful, rorted higher education system that has delivered a huge Budget blow-out, poor educational outcomes, and the wrong skills for the nation.

Our universities aren’t earning the money we give them

From Ross Gittins at The Herald:

In an ideal world we’d be investing more in our universities, but our world is far from ideal. And so are our unis. They’re inefficient bureaucracies, with bloated administrations and over-paid vice chancellors….

It’s true our unis are obsessed by research, but any innovation this leads is almost accidental. The research the unis care about is papers published in prestigious foreign journals, which they see as the path to what they’re really striving for: a higher ranking on the various international league tables of universities….

The unsatisfactory state of our unis is partly the product of our federal politicians’ – Labor and Coalition – decades-long project to quietly and progressively privatise our universities via the backdoor.

Like so much misconceived micro-economic reform, this project hasn’t worked well. Put a decades-long squeeze on unis’ government funding and what happens? The unis intensify their obsess with research status-seeking and do it by exploiting their market power over students – while building ever larger bureaucracies.

There are some excellent teachers in universities, but they’re the exception. The unis pretend to value good teachers – and award tin medals to prove it – but, in truth, there are no promotions for being a good teacher.

Students are seen as a necessary evil, needed because the public thinks teaching their kids is the main reason for continuing to feed academics….

Universities are gaming the system, maximizing fee revenue by focusing on international rankings while lowering entrance requirements for students.

There is too much emphasis on a ‘prestigious’ university education and not enough on its practical application. Many students would benefit more from studying at technical institutes (many now rebranded as technical or polytechnic universities), technical colleges, TAFE or technikons which offer a balance between practical experience and theoretical studies. This includes not only engineering but architecture, nursing, finance, IT, education, and many other disciplines.

Source: Our universities aren’t earning the money we give them

ASX retreats as iron ore breaks support

Iron ore broke support at $60, signaling another decline. The medium-term target is $50*.

Iron ore

* Target: 60 – ( 70 – 60 ) = 50

Resources stocks lost momentum, with the ASX 300 Metals & Mining index respecting resistance at 3000. Twiggs Money Flow seemed to be recovering after a strong bearish divergence but has again slipped below zero, warning of selling pressure. Expect another test of primary support at 2700.

ASX 300 Metals & Mining

The big banks face selling pressure, with Twiggs Money Flow falling sharply. The primary down-trend on the ASX 300 Banks Index, having broken support at 8500, offers a medium-term target of 8000*.

ASX 300 Banks

* Target: 8500 – ( 9000 – 8500 ) = 8000

The ASX 200 respected resistance at 5800. Breach of 5700 is likely and would confirm another test of primary support at 5600*. Breach of 5600 would signal a primary down-trend, offering a target of 5200*.

ASX 200

* Target medium-term: 5600 – ( 6000 – 5600 ) = 5200

Aussie meets resistance

The Aussie Dollar met resistance at the former support level of 75 US cents, with a tall shadow on Tuesday’s shooting star candlestick pattern. Respect of resistance is likely and would warn of another test of support at 73.50. Breach of support would offer a target of 72, putting pressure on ASX stocks as international investors retreat.

AUDUSD

The Aussie tends to take its direction from commodities. At present iron ore displays a weak rally that coincides with the rally on AUDUSD. Reversal through support at 60 is likely, and would warn of a decline to 50.

Iron Ore

Broad commodity indexes like the DJ-UBS Commodity Index are consolidating in a rectangle, between 82 and 90 on the chart below. Commodities have been trending lower since 2011, as shown yesterday. Breakout above 90 is unlikely but would signal a primary up-trend. Breach of support is more likely and would indicate a decline to test support at the January 2016 low, between 72 and 74.

DJ-UBS Commodity Index

Australia: Lean years ahead

Growth in total monthly hours worked has slowed to 1.3% for the 12 months to April 2017. In fact, growth has been pretty lean over the last 5 years, except for the period January 2015 to February 2016.

ABS: Hours Worked & GDP growth

High commodity prices in 2004 to 2008 and 2010 to 2011 coincide with periods of strong employment and GDP growth, as indicated on the chart above.

DJ-UBS Commodity Index

The current down-trend in commodity prices, depicted on the DJ-UBS Commodity Index above, and low growth in hours worked both point to anemic employment (and GDP) growth ahead.

ASX banks break support

The big banks fell sharply on the week’s turmoil, with the ASX 300 Banks Index breaking support at 8500. Breach signals a primary trend reversal, offering a medium-term target of 8000*.

ASX 300 Banks

* Target: 8500 – ( 9000 – 8500 ) = 8000

Resources stocks rallied over the week. Expect strong resistance on the ASX 300 Metals & Mining index at 3000.

ASX 300 Metals & Mining

Iron ore continues in a bearish narrow consolidation above support at $60. Breach would offer a short-term target of $50*.

Iron ore

* Target: 60 – ( 70 – 60 ) = 50

These are ominous signs for the ASX 200 which is testing medium-term support at 5700. A sharp fall on Twiggs Money Flow flags strong selling pressure. Breach of primary support at 5600* would signal a reversal, offering a target of 5200*.

ASX 200

* Target medium-term: 5600 – ( 6000 – 5600 ) = 5200

Is the ASX over-priced?

On the weekend I discussed how earnings for the S&P 500 have grown by roughly 6.0% over the last three decades but the growth rate should rise as stock buybacks have averaged just over 3.0% a year since 2011. In an ideal world the growth rate would lift to close to 9.0% p.a. if buybacks continue at the present rate. Add a 2.0% dividend yield and we have an expected annual return close to 11.0%.

Forward Price Earnings Ratio for S&P 500

I conducted a similar exercise for the ASX using data supplied by marketindex.com.au.

The first noticeable difference is that earnings for the ASX All Ordinaries Index grew at a slower pace. Earnings since 1980 grew at an average compound annual growth rate of 4.4%, while dividends grew at a much higher rate of 6.3%.

Forward Price Earnings Ratio for S&P 500

How is that possible?

Well the dividend payout ratio increased from the low forties to the high seventies. An average of just over 60%.

With a current payout ratio of 77% (Feb 2017), there is little room to increase the payout ratio any further. I expect dividend growth to match earnings growth (4.4% p.a.) for the foreseeable future.

Buybacks are not a major feature on the ASX, where investors favor dividends because of the franking credits. The dividend yield is higher, at just over 4.0%, for the same reason.

So the expected average return on the All Ordinaries Index should be no higher than 8.4% p.a. (the sum of dividend yield and expected growth) compared to an expected return of close to 11.0% for the S&P 500. That is, if buybacks are effective in lifting the earnings growth rate.

Obviously one has to factor in expected changes in the (AUDUSD) exchange rate, but that is a substantial difference for offshore investors. Local investors are also taking into account franking credits which benefit could amount to an additional 1.4% p.a.. But that still leaves a grossed-up return just shy of 10 percent (9.8% p.a.).

I would have expected a larger risk premium for a smaller exchange with strong commodity exposure.

RBA stuck

Great slide from the NAB budget presentation:

RBA Interest Rates in a Cleft Stick

The RBA is in a cleft stick:

  • Raising interest rates would increase mortgage stress and threaten stability of the banking system.
  • Lowering interest rates would aggravate the housing bubble, creating a bigger threat in years to come.

The underlying problem is record high household debt to income levels. Housing affordability is merely a symptom.

There are only two possible solutions:

  1. Raise incomes; or
  2. Reduce debt levels.

Both have negative consequences.

Raising incomes would primarily take place through higher inflation. This would generate more demand for debt to buy inflation-hedge assets, so would have to be linked to strong macroprudential (e.g. lower maximum LVRs for housing) to prevent this. A positive offshoot would be a weaker Dollar, strengthening local industry. The big negative would be the restrictive monetary policy needed to slow inflation when the job is done, with a likely recession.

Shrinking debt levels without raising interest rates is difficult but macroprudential policies would help. Also policies that penalize banks for offshore borrowings. The big negative would be falling housing prices as investors try to liquidate some of their investments and the consequent threat to banking stability. The slow-down in new construction would also threaten an economy-wide down-turn.

Of the two, I would favor the former option as having less risk. But there is a third option: wait in the hope that something will turn up. That is the line of least resistance and therefore the most likely course government will take.

ASX 200 bearish consolidation

The big banks fell sharply on news of a new levy on bank liabilities in the latest budget. At this stage the ASX 300 Banks Index merely shows a secondary reaction. Breach of 8500, however, would signal a primary trend reversal, offering a medium-term target of 8000*.

ASX 300 Banks

* Target: 8500 – ( 9000 – 8500 ) = 8000

Resources stocks compensated, with the ASX 300 Metals & Mining Index rallying to test resistance at 2850/2900. Breakout is unlikely given the weak lead from iron ore. Reversal below 2700 remains likely and would strengthen the bear signal for resources.

ASX 300 Metals & Mining

Iron ore formed a bearish consolidation above support at $60. Breach would offer a short-term target of $50*.

Iron ore

* Target: 60 – ( 70 – 60 ) = 50

Selling of the Aussie Dollar continues, with a medium-term test of primary support at 71.50/72.00 now likely.

Aussie Dollar

Consolidation of the ASX 200 above support at 5800 is a bearish pattern. Breach would signal a correction to test primary support at 5600*. Twiggs Money Flow still indicates long-term buying pressure and only a fall below zero would warn of a reversal.

ASX 200

* Target medium-term: 5800 – ( 6000 – 5800 ) = 5600