28 Apr 2020

Bulls and bargain hunters boost sharemarket

5:23 pm on 28 April 2020

The New Zealand share market has risen sharply today but there are warnings that the wild ride is not over.

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File photo. Photo: Supplied / NZX

The NZX 50 index of the largest listed companies followed global markets higher as lockdown measures start to ease around the world, up 2.62 percent at closing today.

People are rushing to buy shares, even in companies that are struggling to survive, as the markets recover from the most dramatic falls since the global financial crisis of 2008.

In just one month New Zealand's top 50 index dropped nearly 30 percent from a lifetime high to a two year low, while the US' S&P 500 was down almost 34 percent.

In mid-March it had a week when it fell close to 5 percent on each of two consecutive days and by closer to 8 percent in another session

"Those are the biggest declines since the GFC and some of the quickest falls of that nature that we've seen in decades if not ever," said Mark Lister of Craigs Investment Partners.

Everyone knew something was coming for the markets because they had been rising for 11 years.

"If you'd asked me at the start of the year, will there be a recession and will there be a sharemarket downturn of 20 or 30 percent I would have said, yes there absolutely could be, and it could come from the trade war between the US and China, it could come from too much debt in the world, it could come from interest rates rising, you know I would have have rattled off a long list of reasons why that would happen but I wouldn't have singled out a pandemic from a virus that shuts down the whole global economy."

Brad Gordon from Hobson Wealth has worked through the tech crash of 2000, September 11 and the Global Financial crisis but what happened on 16 March was the most extreme event he's experienced.

"It was a really horrific day. Markets effectively froze, so markets outside of equities froze, debt markets froze, the most liquid asset in the world - US treasury bonds - yields spiked because of the race for people wanting to liquidate them. That really is a once in a blue moon, black swan event that causes even the most liquid assets to be unsellable.

Investors' fear and uncertainty about where and when the crisis would end drove them to sell.

But the biggest surprise was the markets' rebound late-March.

"They're only 15 percentish below their highs and that's been really surprising for me, I thought we were going to see more waves of selling pushing the markets lower," says Martin Hawes, chair of the Summer Kiwisaver Investment Committee

"They seem to me to be pretty much ignoring the reality of both the human cost of the disease but also the economic cost of the disease and I don't believe the market has calculated those costs properly."

Hawes says the rebound is driven by the belief there will be a cure for Covid-19 soon and governments will keep pumping billions of dollars of cash into the markets.

He has stopped buying shares himself and predicts there will be more waves of selling.

In New Zealand, the slump in share prices hit the obvious travel, tourism, retailers, and those companies closely linked to China.

But then the bargain hunters emerged

Air New Zealand's share price went from $2.50 pre-covid to 80 cents to about $1.30, Fletcher Building fell from $5.50 to a low of $3 and is currently $3.63.

Lister said investors are buying into what the company will look like beyond Covid-19.

"Maybe investors are thinking 2020 is going to be terrible, part of 2021 is going to be terrible but these good quality businesses, whether its Mainfreight or Fisher and Paykel Healthcare or Port of Tauranga or the likes of Auckland Airport on a 10-year view those businesses will still be around and they'll still do well."

Auckland Airport's share price went from around $8 when the border controls were imposed to a low of $4.26 and have now clawed their way back to around $6.00

Gordon said passengers have gone from about 58,000 a day to a handful but investors believe they will return.

"What is key is, will Auckland Airport survive financially over the next year to 18 months, will traffic recover and what they've done is gone and raised out $1.2 billion of equity capital in order to strengthen their balance sheet in order to survive that downturn."

Higher risk investors - or bulls - are happy to take a punt on the share market.

Hawes, who's usually accused of being too optimistic, has turned bearish and is staying right away, for now.

"I wouldn't be buying into the likes of Air NZ or Tourism Holdings or any of those kinds of companies and in fact I'm not buying personally at all. My basic thesis is that we are due for some more falls I don't think the economic damage, even human damage is known yet and that if you look from a global perspective we could yet be in for some nasty surprises and I think there'll be more waves of selling and therefore more downside in the market."

Hawes also thinks investing in houses right now is a bad move.

His message to investors: you can never beat a diversified portfolio, buy a little bit of everything.

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