Clear trends and themes have emerged in investment markets as a result of the pandemic and its effect on discretionary and non-discretionary spending and where we live. Exploring these themes was the focus of Sage Capital’s recent webinar, which delved into how these dynamics are playing out in Australia and around the world.
The session was moderated by our distribution director James Biggins. James facilitated discussions with the Sage Capital investment team including managing director and portfolio manager Sean Fenton and portfolio manager James Delaney.
The webinar provided perspectives on the nature of the current housing boom and how long it can continue. It explored a related theme of consumer spending and how it has shifted one year after the first COVID lockdowns.
The housing market cycle was the main theme during the session, given low interest rates the world-over have stimulated a boom in residential property markets. Detached dwellings in particular have benefitted, as people seek more space at home when they are prevented from travelling too far from their homes due to stay-at-home orders and border closures.
As a result, apartment prices have not experienced the same gains as stand-alone homes. Flagging demand for inner-city properties is also the result of many people embracing the opportunity to move out of the city given the widespread adoption of the work-from-home way of working.
Inner city apartments notwithstanding, the booming housing market isn’t just good news for property, it also has flow-on effects to other sectors. The strong residential real estate market has translated to high demand for mortgages, which is good news for lenders and also service providers such as mortgage insurers.
It’s worth noting the lending sector is strong for another reason. At the start of the pandemic, many lenders made very large bad debt provisions, assuming borrowers would be stretched as a result of the pandemic leading to shut downs in many areas of the economy. These provisions, at least in Australia, have proven to be too generous, largely due to government stimulus programs helping borrowers to meet their obligations and taking the pressure off lenders.
While this has been good news for financial institutions and also the housing market, concerns are emerging about whether the market is running too hot. Governments and regulators are also worried about housing affordability. As a result, some countries are taking action to moderate house price growth.
As examples, New Zealand has taken steps to cool its housing market and Canada has recently tapered its bond-buying program. The Reserve Bank of Australia has not given any indication it’s going to steer away from its lower for longer approach to interest rates. But that does not mean investors should not be informed by actions in other jurisdictions. It’s a trend of which our portfolio managers should be aware, as these same trends could play out in other markets.
Turning to consumer spending patterns, one of the fundamentals the investment team is always curious about is the connection between housing market movements and consumer spending, and how this may play out across the investments in the Sage Capital portfolios.
Retail spending is highly correlated with house prices. So when house prices are strong, we’re much more likely to buy a new car, renovate and buy furniture and appliances. But this trend often reverses as interest rates and home loan repayments rise, and people are less inclined to spend money on non-discretionary items.
The investment team is closely watching shifts in consumer spending as a result of the pandemic, investigating whether and when these shifts normalise and who the winners are in the short- medium- and long-term.
When it comes to discretionary and non-discretionary spending, consumers will look for alternate ways to spend their money if recreational travel remains off the table. Which is why Sage Capital has been scouring the market for retailers with a real digital capability that may have been so far largely overlooked by investors.
Retailers that are strong omni-channel marketers that have a demonstrated ability to do online fulfilment are well placed, especially those with strong national store networks, so they can easily deliver orders on the same day they are placed.
This is a real advantage over online competitors that rely on big fulfilment centres for retail distribution. Achieving same day delivery is going to be very difficult for these operators and require significant capital expenditure to maintain their competitive position.
The team at Sage Capital understands these trends and aims to position the portfolio accordingly. These insights help to form a view on when to rotate in and out of stocks exposed to the housing market and the retail sector.
As for the future, there are still many unknowns. These include the COVID-19 vaccination rollout in Australia and around the world and how that may affect international border openings and the future of international travel. The way these themes play out has implications for any investments exposed to the movement of people and goods across borders.
As a long short manager, the investment team is able to use its shorting powers to benefit from a falling market. At the same time, it can go long stocks when markets rise. This investment style, and the diversified nature of the portfolio, helps mitigate risks and provides protection when markets correct.
Sage Capital is an Australian long-short equities manager with two investment strategies, the CC Sage Capital Equity Plus Fund and the CC Sage Capital Absolute Return Fund. Long-short strategies are often popular with investors when traditional asset classes are challenged. It’s a strategy that aims to provide consistent returns through market cycles.
Both Funds have performed well for investors over the one year to 31 March 2021. The CC Sage Capital Equity Plus Fund delivered a net return of 43.59%* and the CC Sage Capital Absolute Return Fund delivered a net return of 9.98%*, outperforming their respective benchmarks for the same period by 6.12% and 9.89%.
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