Following a tumultuous 2020 marked by the COVID-19 pandemic, global growth in 2021 is expected to improve on the back of positive vaccine developments and continued government measures. However, the pace of recovery is likely to be uneven among economies and fears of a resurgence of COVID-19 linger. It would be presumptuous to say that we are finally out of the woods.
We provide our view on the Bank of Japan’s latest policy review, under which the central bank decided to allow long-term rates to fluctuate in a wider band and removed its annual target for ETF purchases. We also assess the barring of foreign spectators from the Olympic games.
A large majority of our members agreed on a positive scenario in which the global economy mildly outperforms market consensus, while equities continue to rally.
In February 2021, Japan’s Nikkei Stock Average reached JPY 30,000 for the first time in over three decades. We believe that equities will keep rising, and that amid this shift in the broader market Japanese value stocks are on the cusp of a long-awaited turnaround.
The strong start to the year for global equity markets hit its first bump in the road in February. While most countries are still delivering a positive return for the year, markets have retreated from their highs to varying degrees.
Asian stocks gained in February as investors upheld optimism about a vaccine-led regional economic recovery. The MSCI AC Asia ex Japan Index rose 1.2% in US dollar (USD) terms over the month.
The potential return of long-muted inflation sparked a meaningful jump in US Treasury (UST) yields in February. Fears of rising price pressures were prompted by the combination of robust domestic data, positive development on the COVID-19 vaccine front and an anticipated increase in US federal spending. Overall, 2-year and 10-year yields ended the month at 0.13% and 1.41%, respectively, about 1.9 basis points (bps) and 34 bps higher compared to end-January.
For corporate bond investors one of the most important points of discussion is spreads. Spreads are the industry term for the risk premium an investor aims to earn in the corporate bond market. It is the difference between the yield a bond is promising and the risk-free rate. If spreads are narrowing it is positive for investors as the price of the corporate bond will increase; likewise, a widening leads to a lower bond price.
The Australian bond market (as measured by the Bloomberg AusBond Composite 0+ Yr Index) returned -3.58% over the month. The yield curve steepened dramatically as 3-year government bond yields ended the month 1 basis point (bp) higher at 0.12%, while 10-year government bond yields spiked by 79 basis points (bps) to 1.92%. Short-term bank bill rates were marginally higher.
The S&P/ASX 200 Accumulation Index returned 1.5% during the month. Australian equities underperformed key offshore markets as a strong reporting season was offset by a surge in 10-year bond yields late in the month on the back of inflationary expectations. The global roll-out of COVID-19 vaccines and US fiscal stimulus saw the reflation trade take hold.