The global markets surged in 2020 despite the COVID-19 pandemic. While we expect the liquidity-driven rise to continue for a while, we should be prepared for the tide to eventually turn. We identify Japanese industries, notably “Delta ESG” stocks, that could become sources of alpha in the post-pandemic world.
While economic data is likely to remain soft, driven by the more recent lockdowns in the US and Europe, markets are rightly looking through the near-term gloom as impending vaccines for COVID-19 are showing the proverbial light at the end of this nightmarish tunnel. Over 2021, the world, in our view, should gradually return to some sense of normalcy as the pandemic slowly recedes in the rear-view mirror.
Another quarter goes by and we are still (in the United Kingdom anyway) limited in our ability to travel and congregate in offices. In my spare time, I often end up searching vainly for fresh and interesting new content, only to revert to watching stalwarts such as the Bourne film series.
Although some on the committee agreed with the market consensus for a moderate continuation of economic growth and equity markets, and a few were even more cautious, especially regarding increased fears of inflation later in 2021, the majority agreed with a more positive scenario in which the global economy outperforms market consensus, while equities, especially those outside of the US, rally sharply.
Asian stocks turned in strong gains in November, boosted by positive COVID-19 vaccine developments, rising hopes for better US-Asia ties under the leadership of US President-elect Joe Biden and stronger-than-expected economic data from several Asian countries. The MSCI AC Asia ex Japan Index rose 8.0% in US dollar (USD) terms over the month.
The US Treasury (UST) yield curve flattened in November. Risk markets rallied after the US presidential election. Investor confidence was lifted following positive trial results of a COVID-19 vaccine. Yields subsequently retracted part of their earlier rise on news of soaring COVID-19 infection rates in the US and Europe and near-term downside risks to the economy.
The Australian bond market (as measured by the Bloomberg AusBond Composite 0+ Yr Index) returned -0.11% over the month. The yield curve steepened as 3-year government bond yields ended the month 1 basis point (bp) lower at 0.11%, while 10-year government bond yields rose by 7 bps to 0.90%.
The S&P/ASX 200 Accumulation Index returned 10.2% during the month. Australian equities enjoyed a strong month (in fact, the best monthly return since 1992) on positive COVID-19 vaccine news, additional quantitative easing measures locally and increased certainty regarding the US presidential election result.
The Japanese equity market has posted impressive gains as 2020 draws to a close, with the Nikkei Stock Average reaching a near three-decade high, and we assess the rise from a long-term perspective. We also analyse how Japanese equities have managed to defy a stronger yen.
Japan struggles with an aging and shrinking population and it is important for the country, both from an economic and social perspective, to improve its relatively low labour productivity by efficiently utilising its human resources.