Market Matters Report / Market Matters Weekend Report Sunday 22nd March 2020

By Market Matters 22 March 20

Market Matters Weekend Report Sunday 22nd March 2020

Market Matters Weekend Report Sunday 22nd March 2020

We all know the impact of the coronavirus has escalated significantly from where it was this time last week, it distresses me to type there’s now more than 10,000 people dead as we approach 300,000 reported infections worldwide - even Donald Trump’s finally acknowledging there’s a problem. On a very serious note we hope all of our subscribers and fellow Australians are following the medical & government guidelines to keep safe, the world is on a war like footing against this virus but if we all pull together we will come out the other side – remember China is steadily returning to work, their shutdown was brutal but effective, ours to date is a bit of a joke by the look of Bondi Beach yesterday.

I was delighted this week to see Telstra (TLS) and BHP Group (BHP) move into hiring mode, a great move in the right direction as the country faces mass unemployment, every bit helps.

I expect like myself most subscribers are already fed up with reading / watching about COVID-19 hence today we intend to focus on how we want our portfolios to be structured for the imminent global recession and subsequent massive government / central banks stimulus that is and will be thrown at this unprecedented pandemic to both help calm financial markets now, and importantly stimulate a recovery in 2021 and beyond.

From a positioning perspective, we have not increased cash / gone defensive soon enough in our Growth Portfolio and that’s proven to be an error of judgement, however the question now is, what do we do about it? We are very reticent to reduce market exposure at current levels, since 1900 there has only ever been 1 year where the market finished down more than 30%. Instead we are focussing our attention on the stocks we want to own coming out of this tsunami of selling.  

In today’s report we highlight our preferred stock picks within each individual market sector and look at these in the context of our own Growth Portfolio. While it will obviously need tweaking for optimum performance over time, we need to be thinking about how to position from here for the coming years, I have little doubt that this will be one of those once in a lifetime opportunities to buy stocks, although I also have little doubt that some companies won’t survive these incredibly testing times.  

Firstly it’s important to understand that equities generally run ahead of the underlying fundamentals that are driving them e.g.  we can see below that the Italian FTSE MIB Market Index went into a dive well before there was a meaningful pick up in confirmed virus cases and now as the headlines are dominated  by how bad things have become in this historic European country their share market has been consolidating – a great illustration of why human emotions are traditionally a hinderance for long-term portfolio performance.

Coronavirus & Stocks in Italy Chart

Initially we’ve looked at a few local / overseas markets before specifically looking at the ASX200’s sectors and individual stocks i.e. following on from Friday’s morning report.

I have expanded the major macro-economic views MM will be using for our analysis / evaluations:

1 – Things will eventually return to normal post COVID-19 although consumer confidence will certainly not return over night.

2 – Business and retail consumers will move to the cloud and away from shopfronts / offices at an accelerated rate; many people / companies will see the benefits of working from home adding to this transformation. Companies will gravitate towards lowering fixed cost bases and will pay a premium to have more flexible expenditure. 

3 – The huge / unprecedented amount of financial stimulus that’s being pumped into the global economy will ultimately awaken that sleeping beast called inflation.

4 – Global bond yields have now bottomed which will alter the investment landscape moving forward.

5 – Investors will be reticent to push equities close to their elevated valuations of recent times, like with the GFC fear takes time to unwind,   

Our technical view of the ASX200 has remained in play for a week now, pretty amazing stuff considering the unprecedented volatility within equities – the local bourse has now corrected 34% in just a few weeks.

MM still believes the ASX200 will bounce towards 5500 sooner rather than later, for the sceptic that’s only a 30% correction of the last few weeks decline.

This short-term view is likely to influence how MM tweaks our portfolios, for the very brave traders we believe the markets a buy here for a 15% bounce.

ASX200 Chart

Not surprisingly our interpretation of the US markets current rhythm is very similar to our own with a greater than 10% bounce feeling very close to hand. Importantly there are 2 very different parts of this short-term view both of which are typical of aggressive stock market corrections, the last few weeks can undoubtedly be described in such a manner!

1 – The bounce is likely to be a strong aggressive countertrend rally but, in our opinion, not a change in trend. A good opportunity for short-term buying for those looking to “leg” switches i.e. buy stock X now with a view to sell stock Y into anticipated strength. Friday night was “triple witching hour” in the US when options and futures expire, a session that typically causes volatility and often market extremes.

2 – If we are correct it’s the next decent leg lower, after the bounce if / when it occurs, which investors should take advantage of to aggressively press the “buy buttons” – obviously in the current market things are very fluid and we will update this outlook if / when is required – if I was looking to construct  a portfolio today,  I would put 30-40% to work on Monday morning.

Short-term MM still anticipated a 10-15% bounce by US stocks.

US S&P500 Index Chart

The Fed like its fellow central banks has commenced throwing the proverbial kitchen sink at their economy in an attempt to stave off a deep, prolonged and painful recession, economic contraction is a given for the next few months with the only question being how bad and long will it last, the worst historical back drop for President Trump to be seeking re-election in November. One of my major concerns is around Donald Trump as he may look for scapegoats for the COVID-19 pandemic, I can see another escalation of the China – US trade war just when the world needs to work together i.e.  as November rapidly approaches, I fear his mindsight will be 100% self-directed, similar to Russia and Saudi Arabia with the current oil crisis.

MM believes that long-term bond yields will rise compared to their shorter-term peers as central banks hold rates “lower for longer” while inflation will ultimately pick up as the huge stimulus eventually lifts the global economy.

Ultimately if we are correct this should be supportive of banks, who borrow short and lend long - they are more profitable with a steep yield curve, when short-term rates are much lower than long term rates. Once liquidity fears are eased and we see some clarity on increased bad debts the banks should finally enjoy an economic tailwind. Also, for Australia to rebound from this virus emergency we must have a sound and strong banking system. Every cloud has a silver lining and in terms of the banks, this crisis is a clear opportunity for them to ‘make good’ on the reputational damage they sustained during the royal commission and beyond.

US 2 & 30-year Bond Yields Chart

The picture for “Junk Bonds” remains concerning following their recent plunge, one of the main reasons MM intends to keep migrating our portfolios up the quality curve. 

These high yield corporate bonds feel unlikely to regain their elevated levels of recent times when it became outrageously cheap for companies to borrow money which led to the almost tsunami of company buybacks in the US, more than 50% were financed by debt! In other words, companies have been borrowing $$ helping to push equities up the valuation curve in many cases to all-time highs. Company buybacks were undoubtedly a major driver / tailwind for the 11-year post GFC bull market by US stocks as they enjoyed $700bn in 2019 and $1 trillion in 2018, statistically it can be argued they have been the most important buyer of stocks post the GFC.

MM feels the junk bond market will struggle to bounce significantly higher (without intervention) hence leaving us unprepared to chase strength in stocks.

Obviously, we will watch the Fed here but even if we do see a recovery in high yield debt I question if company boards will be quite as ambitious with their buybacks, at least before a decent period of market stability.

iShares IBOXX High Yield ETF (HYG US) Chart

Similarly, the difference between US lower quality investment grade bonds and US Treasuries continued to rally last week, again reinforcing our view that we want to be invested in the quality end of town.

Difference between low quality Investment Grade Bonds & US Treasuries Chart

MM’s view on the 11 ASX200 sectors & respective stocks

Obviously within the below 11 sectors there are number of stocks where MM would like exposure but also some which we feel it’s prudent to avoid as COVID-19 changes the investment landscape. When we consider the below 11 sectors it’s our core 5 views moving forward that will determine how we want to be invested through these difficult times.

As was suggested in the income note on Wednesday, following a 34% correction, we think this is one of those once in a decade opportunities to buy quality assets at cheap valuations, but we need to dodge the debt grenades.

MM doesn’t believe  it’s time to leave equities, if anything its an ideal opportunity to consider increasing exposure albeit in a prudent well thought out manner e.g. inflation is usually “Public enemy number 1” of central banks but in today’s environment as massive stimulus is unleashed all over the world it’s the last concern of  politicians and  bankers, hence we think it will eventually pick up:

History tells us when inflation picks up to avoid long duration bonds while searching for quality growth with traditionally energy, resources, healthcare, food, building materials and IT companies outperforming. However, if things take significantly longer than we all hope to improve problems will arise because of debt levels or broader liabilities (like store closers) in the case of Flight Centre (FLT).

1 – Consumer Discretionary : the damage has been enormous in this sector with the likes of Flight Centre (FLT), Webjet (WEB), the Casinos tumbling as their valuations fall off a cliff, many are being priced to potentially collapse which is understandable following WEB’s failed capital raise last week, while FLT remains in a trading halt.

Our top 2 picks in the sector today are InvoCare (IVC) and Aristocrat (ALL), a funeral business and a gambling / online gaming business but ultimately we would rather have no exposure at this stage and wait for the almost inevitable bargains in the weeks to come e.g. Crown Resorts (CWN) are in a trading halt pending clarification with the Victorian Government about trading restrictions and the like. Below $5 we see definite value in CWN’s assets.

Crown Resorts (CWN) Chart

2 – Consumer Staples : this is one sector which has performed stoically over recent weeks with the likes of Woolworths (WOW), Coles (COL) & Metcash (MTS) enjoying panic buying in the shops while food businesses including Costa Group (CGC) and a2 Milk (A2M) have remained solid, we like the food sector moving forward  although debt levels and  potential transport issues for perishable products may be short-term headwinds for companies like Costa.

Our top 2 picks in the sector are a2 Milk (A2M) and Costa Group (CGC), we prefer food stocks over supermarkets after the later have outperformed - within the supermarkets we actually prefer the junior player Metcash (MTS) which we hold in the income portfolio.

Costa Group (CGC) Chart

3 – Energy: the energy sector has been hammered courtesy of the double whammy of a coronavirus led recession and “oil crisis” caused by bickering between Russia and Saudi Arabia – even heavyweight Woodside  (WPL) has more than halved in just one month.

We believe this sector is poised to at least bounce sharply but the usual strong correlation with rising inflation might be muted because of the huge fund manager move away from fossil fuels. Our top 2 picks are Beach Energy (BPT) and Woodside (WPL).  We own BPT from higher levels in the Growth Portfolio, it has no debt and is more heavily influenced to domestic gas while we own Woodside (WPL) in the Income Portfolio because it is trading ~65% below its decade average book valuation. i.e. it’s cheap, large and can handle market turbulence.

In terms of the others, Santos is the most ‘edgy’ stock in the sector with most upside to a recovery in the Oil price although they may need capital if prices continue to languish while Oil Search (OSH) is cheaper but risker given the added uncertainty playing out in PNG.

MM currently likes Woodside for a 25-30% bounce.

Woodside Petroleum (WPL) Chart

 4 – Financials: For simplicity the major financials sectors can be split into 2 halves, the banks and the rest, we have looked at them accordingly.


The banks have been under intense pressure of late as investors worry about the combination of plunging interest rates pressuring margins and the likely kick up in bad debts as we experience our first recession in 27-years. From what we can tell, the market (analysts collectively) are currently pricing in bad debts at about the same level as they peaked during the GFC.

Our top 2 picks in the sector are Commonwealth Bank (CBA) and Westpac (WBC) in that order. CBA has the best balance sheet, systems & capabilities to handle this challenge while Westpac (WBC) is less exposed to small business in Australia relative to NAB. We own CBA & Westpac.

The sector is now trading on a P/E of 9.4x, with CBA most expensive on 12.8x & NAB cheapest on 8.1x

Westpac Bank (WBC) Chart

Diversified Financials

The relative performance in this group over the last month has been enormous from the ASX Ltd (ASX) falling only -11% to Challenger (CGF) and Credit Corp (CCP) both plunging by well over 60% as concerns escalate in some pockets about liquidity and the ability to simply remain in business.

Our top 2 picks in the sector  are  Janus Henderson (JHG) and Magellan (MFG) but the MM Growth Portfolio has an overweight 17% exposure courtesy of our holding in Macquarie which has been struggling in recent sessions, not surprising given how heavily linked their revenue is to the market.

My view on MQG is that it is a well-run business, it’s exposed to the market (for better or worse) and is the financial company most likely to take advantage of the opportunities that come its way. It performed strongly after the last crisis and hopefully the same will happen this time.

That said, this is a high beta stock and given the market volatility, we are now questioning the size of our weighting (as in its too big)

Hence, we are considering reducing our MQG position if it rallies with a market bounce but not closing altogether.

Macquarie Bank (MQG) Chart

5 – Health Care: the healthcare sector has fared reasonably well during the current crisis which is no great surprise, Fisher & Paykel (FPH) that manufactures products for respiratory care has even rallied more than 20%.

Our top 2 picks  in the sector are CSL Ltd (CSL) and Cochlear (COH) but this was a tough decision especially with CSL not trading particularly “cheap” compared to the last decade but then again its significantly elevated  its standing as a business over the last 10 years- KISS finely won through. We simply feel these two companies will maintain their competitive advantage in the years to come and will be well positioned to enjoy a pickup in the global economy. Ramsay Healthcare (RHC) is also a stock we like.

Cochlear (COH) Chart

6 – Industrials: the Australian industrials area a diversified group of stocks including NRW Holdings (NWH), QANTAS (QAN), Transurban (TCL), Sydney Airports (SYD), Seek (SEK), Bingo (BIN), Service Stream (SSM) and Cleanaway Waste (CWY).

Our top 2 picks in the sector are specialized telco provider Service Stream (SSM) and waste management stock Bingo (BIN), two areas where we see significant growth in the years ahead. MM also owns contract mining business NWH, we like these 3 holdings and could envisage ourselves increasing exposure to MM’s smaller positions in SSM and NWH into current weakness.

NB, We have avoided high debt / bond proxies Sydney Airports (SYD) and Transurban (TCL) for now, however these are two companies with critical infrastructure that will survive. Transurban (TCL) carries ~19bn in debt versus current market capitalisation of ~$28bn, while Sydney Airports (SYD) carries debt of ~$10bn v a market cap of ~$11bn. In short, we would not be surprised to see SYD especially need to raise equity.    

Services Stream (SSM) Chart

7 – Information Technology: most of the high growth IT names need no introduction after their phenomenal run into 2020 which even led to the phrase WAAAX stocks. However, the high valuation group have endured some huge damage over the last month with Afterpay (APT), EML Payments (EML), Link Admin (LNK) all plunging by over 50% while declines of 30-50% have been the norm.

Our top 2 picks in the sector are online accountancy firm (XRO) which has no net debt and although it’s not cheap per se on current multiples they do have a defensive annuity like earnings stream. After a more than 30% correction in the stock we can see value in this business which MM believes will be benefactor of COVID-19 over time.

Altium (ALU) is our second pick in the sector, a business which designs automation software.

Xero Ltd (XRO) Chart

8 – Materials: MM particularly likes the resources component within the broader materials sector, they are largely low debt cash cows who will benefit when commodity prices increase. Much of the balance of the sector like building stocks feel likely to take longer to “fire up”.

It was extremely hard to identify our top 2 picks in this sector due to our bullish outlook for resources in general – in fact we like closer to 4-5 but on balance we stuck with the more boring old heavyweights BHP Group (BHP) and RIO Tinto (RIO). Our 29% overweight exposure to the sector feels ok but we can see room for improvement in the mix.

We own BHP Group (BHP), RIO Tinto (RIO), Sims Metals (SGM), OZ Minerals (OZL) and Western Areas (WSA) plus amongst the miners we also like Fortescue Metals and South32 (S32) that we don’t own. Elsewhere in the materials we believe there’s no hurry to gain exposure until we all follow China and go back to work something which now unfortunately feels many months away.

South32 (S32) Chart

9 – Real Estate: usually fares well when inflation picks up (asset prices rise) but we are mindful that very careful selection will be required if bond yields rise and demand for many traditional styles of commercial real estate wanes.

Again, in a market like this we believe focussing on quality remains very important. Our 2 top picks are Lendlease (LLC) who should ultimately benefit from the massive economic stimulus currently being rolled out and Goodman Group (GMG) in that order. Goodman have an impressive track record of taking advantage of downturns to set up a platform for future growth, while they are heavily exposed to the logistics hubs / networks required for online shopping.

Lendlease Group (LLC) Chart

10 – Telco’s: While Telstra (TLS) would be the more conservative pick in this space, the tie up between TPG Telecom and Vodafone changes the telco landscape. The ACCC had major reservations about the deal progressing and that should be a real positive for TPM, and the potential they now have to be a very robust and credible No 3 in the sector.

Our number 1 pick in the sector is TPG Telecom (TPM), noting that we also have exposure to the telco space through service provider Service Stream.  

TPG Telecom (TPM) Chart

11 – Utilities: Considering our outlook with regards to inflation the Utilities are not on our list to accumulate into current weakness, especially as they have been regarded as safe havens and generally outperformed.

That said, our top 2 picks in the sector are Spark Infrastructure (SKI) and APA Group (APA), the former we hold in the Income Portfolio.

APA Group (APA) Chart

Conclusion (s)

In an environment like this, quality does matter and in today’s note we’ve highlighted our top picks in each market sector. When most essentially all stocks have been sold off, sticking to well capitalised companies with strong competitive advantages remains key. It’s not about reinventing the wheel but rather it’s about implementing a solid portfolio that will survive the tough times but also have enough ‘kick’ for when the market recovers.

Below are a list of stocks MM is considering to optimise our MM Growth Portfolio moving forward

Buying : Cochlear (COH), CSL Ltd (CSL), Xero (XRO), Altium (ALU) and Woodside (WPL).

Adding : Service Stream (SSM), OZ Minerals (OZL),  RIO Tinto (RIO) and NRW Holdings (NWH).

Selling : Western Areas (WSA), Sims Metals (SGM)

Reducing : Westpac (WBC),  Macquarie Bank (MQG), and Emeco Holdings (EHL).

Our Holdings

Our positions as of Friday. All past activity can also be viewed on the website through this link.

Weekend Chart Pack

The weekend report includes a vast number of charts covering both domestic and international markets, including stock, indices, interest rates, currencies, sectors and more. This is the engine room of our weekend analysis. We encourage subscribers to utilise this resource which is available by clicking below.


Have a great day!

James & the Market Matters Team


Market Matters may hold stocks mentioned in this report. Subscribers can view a full list of holdings on the website by clicking here. Positions are updated each Friday, or after the session when positions are traded.


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