The Australian bond market (as measured by the Bloomberg AusBond Composite 0+ Yr Index) returned -0.27% over the month. The yield curve steepened as 3-year government bond yields ended the month flat at 0.11%, while 10-year government bond yields rose by 7 basis points (bps) to 0.97%. Short-term bank bill rates were largely unchanged.
The S&P/ASX 200 Accumulation Index returned 1.2% during the month. Australian equities lagged key offshore markets during the month. Despite COVID-19 cases rising exponentially in the US and Europe, the start of the vaccine roll-out and further certainty regarding the US election result saw equities move higher.
Asian stocks turned in solid gains in December, buoyed by optimism about a vaccine-led global economic rebound, fresh US fiscal stimulus and robust economic data from China. The MSCI AC Asia ex Japan Index rose 6.8% in US dollar (USD) terms over the month.
The US Treasury (UST) yield curve steepened slightly in December. The UST 10-year bond yield rose 7.5 basis points (bps) to 0.915%, while the 2-year bond yield fell by 2.7 bps to 0.122%. Concerns in the month revolved around rising COVID-19 cases in Europe, particularly in the UK, and over the uncertainty of fiscal stimulus in the US.
We look into the potential economic impact of Japan’s attempt to become carbon neutral. We also analyse why Japan’s fiscal condition draws little attention although the country is on course to spend a record amount in its upcoming budget.
We can head into 2021 with New Zealand the envy of many. But it remains to be seen how long this euphoria will last. Agriculture and horticulture are both promising, and the technology sector has been touted as the next big thing, but without a new major driver of growth, there’s no guarantee that our economic reality will match our ambition. Leveraging New Zealand’s exposure to fast growing economies such as China remains an important economic recovery strategy. But our greatest hope for emerging successfully from this period of wider “confidence slump” is that the low and plentiful cash stimulates risk taking and stimulates the economy, propelling New Zealand into its next phase of prosperity.
We believe 2021 will be remembered as a year that marked the beginning of the end of the COVID-19 crisis as the world develops vaccines to counter the pandemic. In Japan, we expect a gradual recovery of its economy in 2021, as the pandemic’s impact lessens, and economic activity normalises.
Following the negative performance of 2020, we believe 2021 could see better returns and a recovery for Singapore equities. We believe equity returns will remain supported by the re-opening of the Singapore economy and expect an improved market performance in 2021. With the backdrop of fewer global trade conflicts, accelerating exports, accommodative policy, higher return on equity and low foreign ownership, we expect the outlook for 2021 earnings to improve and that should support better market returns.
We expect North Asia to continue to lead the region’s recovery (at least in the first half of the year). But we also expect the growth divergence between North Asia and the rest of the region to narrow. Unprecedented fiscal support from governments have been pivotal to the ongoing recovery. We expect fiscal action to continue in the coming year but anticipate renewed private sector confidence as the vaccine becomes broadly available and provides a powerful tailwind to regional growth.
Asian countries have, by and large, handled the COVID-19 pandemic better than their western counterparts and are now emerging from that nadir. Most of these countries have plenty of fiscal and/or monetary stimulus headroom. And this superior growth and better national finances are available at a significant discount to developed markets. A languid US dollar will enhance local currency returns in these “risk assets”.