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Financial Market Update February 2022

08/03/2022

Welcome to the latest market update from The Hopkins Group.

In February the Australian stock market rose 2.1%, outperforming the US market by 5.1% which was down 3%. The reason for this was the high exposure to Gold stocks (up 18.4%) and Energy (up 8.6%) in the Australian market compared to the heavy weight to Technology (down 6.6% in Australia) in the US market.

With the Australian market, over the last 12 months mid-sized companies have been the best performing up 13.2% for the year. Small-sized companies have been the worst performing up 5%. The top 200 stocks are up 10.2%. Higher dividend paying companies are up 7.2%. Interestingly, in the US high yield stocks are up 16.5% outperforming Large stocks 15.2% up, mid-sized up 9.5% and small up 5.2%. These figures do not indicate any particular trend but are highlighted to indicate the variance seen across the market.

The retreat from fast growing technology stock in Australia and the US has been on the back of expected interest rate rises and lofty valuations. Inflation continues to worry the market with higher-than-expected inflation in the US seen during February. Housing is a significant component of the US inflation measure, but not in Australia, with rents and housing related expenses driving inflation higher in the US.

The other major event at the back of February is the invasion of Ukraine by Russia. This was the primary driver of higher energy prices but not the only one. The world realised during the first couple of months of the year that the transition to ‘Green’ energy will take longer than anticipated and the existing infrastructure for energy may not meet demand, which will see higher energy prices in the future. This leads to further inflation which is why the volatility in markets will remain elevated throughout the year as the market grapples with these issues.

Europe was the worst performing region for the month, down 4.3% with China down 3.9% and the NASDAQ down 3.3%. Over the last 12 months the NASDAQ is up 4.9%, although interestingly nearly half of all companies listed on the NASDAQ are down more than 20%. This indicates that the largest companies listed on the NASDAQ such as Apple, Alphabet (Google), Microsoft and Netflix have been driving the index higher. The broader S&P500 reflects this too with it being up 16.4% for the year, with the large companies not being dragged down by the laggards.

Government bond rate expectations continued to rise during the month, with inflation expectations. The interesting thing in the bond market is that the long-term rates do not reflect the 7 interest rate increases currently forecast by the market. This indicates that the bond market sees the economic strength as being temporary with economic growth and inflation reverting to low growth, low inflation after the COVID stimulus flushes through the system.

The rising commodity prices saw the Australian dollar rise 3% for the month. Commodity prices for most energy, industrial & precious metals, grains and soft commodities all rose during the month. The largest price increases were from commodities Russia supplies the world including Wheat, Thermal Coal and Lumber. Australia is a beneficiary of these price rises.

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