Questions on Trumponomics by Dave Mohr, Chief Investment Strategist, and Izak Odendaal, Investment Strategist at Old Mutual Multi Managers (OMMM).
Are we on the verge of a shift in the global macroeconomic environment? That seems to be the overarching question as investors still try to come to terms with the Donald Trump presidency. Since the global financial crisis, the world has been stuck in a steady growth, low inflation rut, punctuated by the odd crisis.
The US is a case in point: Between 1950 and 2008, US real economic growth averaged 3.4% and inflation 3.8%, but from 2010 onwards, the averages are 2% and 1.6% respectively. Interest rates have been close to zero over the latter period as a result.
For some, Trump’s election promises to yank the US (and by implication the world) out of this sluggish trend with tax cuts, deregulation and deficit spending, heralding a potential return of boom-bust cycles. For sure, part of the reason behind the tepid growth and low inflation has been psychological, the absence of what the great British economist John Keynes referred to as “animal spirits”, the appetite to take risks and reap rewards.
A shift in confidence can result in an increased willingness to spend and invest, creating a feedback loop of higher growth, leading to more spending. However, the big structural factors that have dampened global growth remain: China’s rebalancing, slower population growth in the developed countries, technological progress weighing on production prices, a vast global labour force putting pressure on wages in the West, a debt overhang from the pre-2008 boom years, a savings glut and persistent current account surpluses in China, Germany and the oil producers.
Related: Coming To Terms With Trump
For instance, Abenomics, the attempt by Japanese Prime Minister Abe to shock the economy out of its deflationary rut, has largely failed, despite much initial excitement.
Trumponomics or Reaganomics?
Some commentators are also referring to the return of “Reaganomics”. However, the starting conditions are very different. President Reagan slashed taxes and ramped up defence spending, but probably the most important contributor to the Reagan boom was that the Fed’s interest rate was 19% in 1981 at the start of his first term and the US in a deep recession.
As inflation declined, rates halved over the next four years and the US economy took off. US equities and bonds entered a multi-year bull market. By contrast, Trump will start his term with ultra-low rates and low unemployment, and with the current bull market already eight years old.
The Reagan era’s combination of high interest rates and loose fiscal policy resulted in a very strong dollar. South Africans paid 70 cents for a dollar at the start of Reagan’s first term in 1981 but R2 by the time his second term began in 1985. It is not a given that the dollar will surge though: A strong deficit-funded US economy under George W. Bush resulted in a weak dollar, even as the Fed steadily hiked rates.
The rise of the dollar (to a 13-year high on a trade-weighted basis) and the strength of US equities (the S&P 500 hit a new record high last week) suggest investors are betting on a Reaganesque outcome. This might be premature, especially if Trump follows through on some of his anti-trade promises.
At the same time, there has been a massive sell-off of global bonds in anticipation of higher inflation and interest rates. However, developed market bonds have been weakening since the middle of the year as investors questioned the commitment of the Japanese and European central banks to expanding monetary stimulus.
The rise in market-based inflation expectations since the election does indeed make the expansion of these central banks’ quantitative easing programmes less likely. We have held no global bonds in our portfolios for a long time.
Fed still on course
With recent US economic data being fairly solid, the Federal Reserve is likely to hike by 0.25% next month, with Chair Janet Yellen confirming this view in testimony to Congress.
The stronger US dollar is one reason why the Fed did not increase rates by more than the single December 2015 hike over the past two years. A strong dollar dampens US inflation and hurts the earnings of exporters. A leading Fed official argued that one further hike would leave US interest rates at a neutral level, in other words where it is neither too hot nor too cold.
Rate hikes beyond December will then most likely depend on how actual inflation behaves. In the shorter term, the decline in the oil price over the past month also puts a lid on inflationary pressures.
Closer to home
The short to medium term impact of all this on South Africa lies in the exchange rate. While all emerging market currencies sold off after the US election, the rand has held up relatively well.
The Mexican peso was hardest hit, while the Turkish lira fell to a record low on domestic political concerns. The Russian rouble also wobbled further after the dismissal of the economy minister. The rand has traded in a broad range of around R13.50 to R14.50 to the dollar since July. This range is weak enough to continue supporting exports and tourism, but still stronger than the average exchange rate over the preceding period, supporting the view that inflation and interest rates have peaked.
Given the renewed uncertainty, interest rate cuts are off the table for now. While the rand has gained around 8% against the US dollar since the start of the year, it has appreciated by 14% against the Chinese yuan, which is helpful given how much of our goods imports come from China.
The outlook for inflation and interest rates in turn are important for consumer spending. Consumption in its various forms (groceries, clothing, transport, housing, medical treatment, education, leisure) accounts for two thirds of the local economy.
If inflation declines next year, it should take pressure off households that are currently clearly facing the squeeze. As a result of rising interest rates over the past two years, the cost of servicing debt has eroded an additional 1% of household disposable income. Since consumer debt is growing by less than income, interest rates are the key variable that could ease or worsen the pressure on households.
The squeeze is on
If households are under pressure, so are retailers. New StatsSA data shows that real retail sales grew by 1.4% year-on-year in September, while declining marginally in the third quarter (putting a damper on the expected third quarter GDP growth rate).
Nominal retail sales grew by 8.1% year-on-year. This implies retail inflation of almost 7%, up from 4% (overall consumer inflation includes services and fuel, where prices have risen much more slowly). The growth rate of nominal spending has remained in the 7-8% range for some time. In other words, the amount that consumers are spending at retailers has grown steadily, but what consumers get for their money has been growing much more slowly.
The rise in inflation is also eating into listed retailers’ margins (since they are not able to fully pass on higher merchandise costs).The latest round of results and trading updates from local listed retailers has largely been disappointing, especially from clothing retailers.
Local retailers are also increasingly facing competition from foreign entrants whose sales will show up in the official StatsSA numbers. The JSE’s general retail index (which includes clothing retailers) is down 20% since the start of the year and decreased by 30% since the recent peak in August. The JSE’s food and drug retailers index (containing the likes of Shoprite and Pick n Pay) is down 10% over the past four months.
While consumers will be hoping for a stronger rand as the year draws to a close, investors should remain appropriately diversified. Although the weaker rand would hurt the local bond market, it would boost offshore investments and JSE-listed rand hedges. A stronger rand will benefit interest rate-sensitive assets.
Our Strategies remain diversified for each targeted outcome, with overweight allocations to global equities and local fixed income, and underweight allocations to local equities with zero global bonds.
Chart 1: Trade-weighted US dollar index
Chart 2: Global 10-year government bond yields, %
Chart 3: South African retail sales growth, %
Use The December Shutdown Period To Do Just That: Shut Down
by Greg Morris, CEO, Sebata Holdings
Most businesses – retail and entertainment excluded – resemble ghost towns during the first and last weeks of the year. Energy levels are low in December, and employees daydream about cocktails on the beach. Come January, it takes a few days to get back into the swing of things. Before we know it, South Africa takes another extended holiday in April.
We’re accused of having a “holiday culture” in South Africa. That’s a fair comment. We get 12 public holidays a year, which is more than most countries. And many people use their annual leave strategically in April and December to maximise their time off. As a result, we only really work for 10 months of the year, while other countries work for 11 months.
There’s no doubt that public holidays affect the economy. One extra public holiday in 2011 resulted in an estimated R7 billion loss in turnover. But there’s also a lot to be said for taking time off. And when we know the holidays are coming, we can prepare for them, so employees make the most of their downtime and start the new year on a strong footing.
Burnout is not good for business…
Productivity and motivation are like fuel tanks. While driving, the fuel dries up. At some point, we need to fill up, otherwise we’ll break down. People are the same; we can’t run on empty. Weekends are one thing, but in our culture of always-connected busyness, we don’t get a chance to recharge over weekends. That’s why we need the longer break in December.
A Pulse Institute study found that, when employees are not rested, they experience:
- 23% reduced concentration
- 18% reduced memory function
- 9% increased difficulty in performing tasks
Fatigue-related productivity losses amount to R26,000 per employee per year. Sleeplessness can also result in mistakes and increased absenteeism, accidents, or injury.
Well-rested employees, however, are happier and more creative, engaged, and productive. They get more done in less time than their sleep-deprived, low-energy colleagues.
… but if you’re going to burn the midnight oil…
Businesses often think of December as a slow period that will harm the bottom line. Yes, it can be disruptive and there will be financial impacts. But if you’re going to keep the doors open til the end, this is the perfect time for internal housekeeping. Even the most efficient and streamlined businesses can improve some internal projects or processes.
Allow teams to be inwardly focused during this time, so that you start the new year with less to worry about. Whether that’s planning for 2019, reflecting on what worked and what didn’t in 2018, cleaning up databases, servicing air cons and office machines, connecting with customers over coffee, updating your website, or creating new marketing campaigns, employees can achieve a lot when they’re not focused on the day-to-day grind.
Our best ideas come to us when we’re relaxed and not thinking about them. (If you’ve ever scrawled on the steamed-up shower door, you’ve experienced downtime creativity.)
Make the most of skeleton staff time in December. Host fun creativity sessions that have nothing to do with work. Pay for your people to complete short online courses that will give them skills and motivation boosts. When they do go on holiday, perhaps their new knowledge will result in a major ‘a-ha moment’ around the family braai.
My best advice for businesses that are shutting down in a few weeks is this: shut down. Since the business is not generating income, everything that’s left running – that one employee watching the phone that never rings; that one light left on – hurts the bottom line.
Encourage teams to disconnect. Don’t expect them to answer mails and don’t contact them about work while they’re on holiday – unless it’s an emergency. Block access to mails if you have to, Volkswagen style. Give your people time to think, reflect, and sleep.
When we respect employees’ time and give them freedom to work when they’re most productive, we develop motivated, positive workforces who are enthusiastic about achieving the business’s goals. They work harder to get the job done and, in our experience, actually finish projects ahead of deadline because they want to be able to switch off and go fishing.
Downtime is often seen as wasted time. We don’t take breaks, we eat lunch at our desks, and we work when we’re sick and should be at home. But working longer hours doesn’t mean that we’ll get more done. In fact, it can be enormously counter-productive.
Neuroscientist David Levitin cautions against the “false break”, when we feel guilty for taking time off and compulsively check emails. Napping, daydreaming, and “taking true vacations without work”, he says, is biologically restorative and essential for rebooting cognitive energy. So, if you’re going to shut down, do it properly. The same business challenges will be there when you get back. But you could solve some of them while you’re sleeping.
Seasonal SMEs: Don’t Spend Your Extra Cash All At Once
Save a portion of festive season profits for an emergency fund.
The festive season is a time when many seasonal small and medium enterprises (SMEs) reap the rewards of increased consumer spending, such as additional sales and accommodation bookings from the influx of holiday makers and festive season shoppers. This spike in earnings offers the ideal opportunity for these businesses to save some of the extra money that they make for an emergency fund.
This is according to Jeremy Lang, regional general manager at Business Partners Limited (BUSINESS/PARTNERS), who says that a major risk faced by many businesses is their vulnerability to an unexpected financially-draining mishap such as a big client loss, a lawsuit, or any accident that is not covered by insurance.
“Despite this, few SME owners have an emergency fund in place to deal with such unforeseen events,” he says.
“This is understandable since a growing business tends to require a lot of cash to move forward. Another likely reason for this is because most SME owners are more focused on the immediate practicalities of building their business, rather than on vague risk assessments and planning. By nature, entrepreneurs also tend to be chronically optimistic about the future good luck of their business,” adds Lang.
“However, considering South Africa’s underperforming economy and rising consumer price inflation, it is essential that all SME owners save for a rainy day. Those that have boosted seasonal business have an advantage and should capitalise on this by putting aside a portion of their seasonal profits,” he explains.
Related: 5 Small Business Money-Saving Myths
When saving towards an emergency fund, it is key to set a goal, Lang points out. “A good rule of thumb is to have three to six months’ worth of overheads set aside, but even just one month’s expenses are better than nothing.”
The next step is to decide what constitutes an emergency, he says. “If an emergency fund can be dipped into every time you want to avoid an awkward phone call to the landlord to say that the rent will be slightly late this month, it won’t last long. A true emergency is one that threatens the survival of the business.”
With this in mind, thinking through and writing down a list of possible emergencies that would justify the use of the fund is a good risk-assessment exercise for any business, suggests Lang.
Finally, some thought needs to be given to where an emergency fund should be kept, he says.
“Gambling with the money on the stock exchange defeats the purpose. A money-market account is a better option, but it may be worth considering an account where the funds aren’t too easily accessible, so there’s no temptation to dip into it on a whim. On the other hand, it should not be so inaccessible that you cannot access it fairly soon when an emergency does strike.”
As such, Lang recommends a set of notice deposit accounts with varying notice periods so that a limited amount can be accessed immediately, and some a little later, which allows for some interest to accrue while the money, hopefully, will not be used any time soon.
“However, ultimately the will on the part of the business owner to attain these savings is critically important. The cash demands in a business are so constant that any vague or half-hearted attempt to establish an emergency fund will fail. It will have to be a conscious and disciplined effort by the business owner,” Lang concludes.
Documentary Filmmaking As A Career Is On The Up In South Africa
The Wavescape Surf and Ocean Festival will offer a free Filmmakers’ Masterclass this Wednesday, 5 December to boost several initiatives to position Cape Town as a key film destination and location.
Wavescape Filmmakers Masterclass
- Date: 5th December 2018
- Time: 6:00pm for 6:30pm
- Venue: Invest SA One Stop Shop, Western Cape
- Address: Cape Sun Corner, 46 St. George’s Mall, Cape Town
- Parking: Picbel Parkade, 58 Strand Street, Cape Town Centre (For own account)
The Masterclass, which is presented by Wesgro and aimed at aspiring filmmakers, producers, film students and those in the film industry, will focus on what it takes secure funding, produce and distribute a documentary film.
The documentary genre has seen a resurgence in popularity, owing in part to increased accessibility via the growth of Video On Demand platforms like Netflix, and an audience response to ‘Block-buster fatigue’ which has seen renewed interest in the documentary format and meaningful stories that reflect the nature and reality of our present lives.
The recent launch of F/LM Cape Town – a joint initiative between the City of Cape Town and the local film industry to promote the City’s amazing locations, diverse talent and world-class infrastructure – solidifies Cape Town as a world-class centre for filmmaking.
Besides its raw natural beauty, the city is rich in culture, diversity and heritage, which offers filmmakers an abundance of content. Curator of the Wavescape Masterclass Christopher Mason, who is co-director of Mason Brothers’ Films, said that you were halfway there if you had a good concept: “These days anyone with a unique idea, a DSLR camera and a laptop, and enough desire can be a filmmaker. The trick, of course, is understanding how to get your foot in the door in a very competitive industry.”
“What makes a good documentary and how does one become a good documentary filmmaker? How has the genre evolved and what are the possibilities for young South Africans interested in the genre? The Masterclass aims to give aspiring filmmakers the answers to these and other questions,” Mason said.
From developing a good idea into an award-winning film; to funding and distribution models; and case studies on the best this genre has to offer, this year’s masterclass aims to provide filmmakers with an immersive roadmap to success.
Steve Pike, co-founder of the Wavescape Surf and Ocean Festival said that the platform laid by F/LM Cape Town and initiatives such as the Wavescape Masterclass could help boost the already booming film industry, and thus reduce the 27.5% of South Africans who remain unemployed. The Wavescape festival, and in particular the Masterclass spoke directly to the F/LM initiative, Pike said.
“Cape Town has it all: Amazing scenery and epic locations for adventure sport. Our festival is a key platform to showcase Cape Town as the Adventure Capital of the World while also celebrating the wild ocean and raw beauty around us.”
The CEO of Wesgro, Tim Harris, said that in the 2017/18 financial year, Wesgro’s Film and Media Promotion Unit “managed to secure nine declarations to creating 2,499 full time equivalent jobs – this shows the potential for job creation in this sector”.
“There are many job opportunities in the film and media industry due to the breadth and depth of skills required across the value chain of this fourth industrial revolutionary industry,” he said, also highlighting massive potential for the cutting edge gaming industry.
Several top speakers will talk at the Masterclass, including Jolynn Minnaar, an acclaimed documentary director; Cliff Bestall, who made16th Man for ESPN 30 for 30 (produced by Morgan Freeman); Karen Slater, a Director / DOP in Sisters of the Wilderness that is eligible for an Oscar; Khalid Shamis, editor of Strike A Rock; Liezel Vermeulen, producer and film finance expert; Izzette Mostert from the Documentary Filmmakers Association; and Monica Rorvik, Head of Wesgro Film and Media Promotion Unit.
Parking at Picbel Parkade, 58 Strand Street, Cape Town (For own account), refreshments will be served.
Please visit http://www.wavescapefestival.com/wesgro-blue-ocean-master-class/ for more information.
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