The past financial year saw another 12 months of strong returns. Returns of around 20% from shares, solid returns from property assets and good returns from bonds saw balanced growth superannuation funds return around 13% on average. This was the second year in a row of double digit gains. By contrast the return from cash was poor and average 12 month bank term deposits returned less than 4%.

Source: Thomson Reuters, AMP Capital

As always there has been plenty to fret about, including:

But these concerns were offset by a range of factors:

This has all seen growth assets boosted by a reasonable growth and profit outlook and bonds helped by continued easy monetary conditions. The latter has also seen an ongoing search for yield by investors. With shares no longer dirt cheap its likely returns will slow – indeed they have over the last six months. However, the cyclical bull market in shares likely has further to go. This along with reasonable returns from property assets should underpin further gains in diversified investment portfolios over the year ahead.

Equity valuations – ok

After strong gains through 2012 and 2013 shares are no longer dirt cheap. However, as can be seen in the next chart valuation measures (which are based on a range of measures including a comparison of the yield on shares with that on bonds) show shares are not expensive.

Source: Bloomberg, AMP Capital

Cyclical bull markets in shares invariably see three phases. First an unwinding of cheap valuations helped by low interest rates. The second is driven by stronger profits. And the third phase is a blow off as investor confidence becomes excessive pushing shares into expensive territory. Our assessment is that we are still in the second phase and as such the cyclical/profit backdrop remains critically important.

The economic cycle – slow improvement

We are still in the sweet spot of the global economic cycle. Growth is on the mend but only gradually such that spare capacity and excess savings remains immense so inflation remains tame, monetary conditions easy and bond yields low. In fact the March quarter growth soft patch seen in the US, Europe and China was more positive than negative because it wasn’t threatening but further pushed out the timing of any monetary tightening. By region:

Reflecting this, the global manufacturing conditions PMI is at levels consistent with good, but not booming global growth.

Source: Bloomberg, AMP Capital

This suggests global growth is likely to pick up a notch which should underpin a modest improvement in profit growth.

In Australia, while the mining investment slowdown, the impact on confidence from the May Budget and the too high $A pose a short term threat, underlying growth is likely to have picked up to a 3% pace by year end and continue through next year helped by a housing construction boom, a Senate induced softening in some of the harsher aspects of the Budget and strength in resource export volumes.

Monetary conditions to remain easy

When the Fed will start to raise interest rates and reverse its QE program has been a constant source of speculation. While such speculation may intensify over the next six months – resulting in bouts of volatility for investment markets – global monetary conditions are set to remain easy:

While there will be a few bumps regarding the Fed (just like last year’s taper tantrum) the monetary backdrop is set to remain supportive for investment markets.

Investor sentiment a long way from excessive

We remain a long way from the sort of investor exuberance seen at major share market tops. It seems everyone is talking about share market corrections and crashes and tail risk hedging seems all the rage. In the US the mountain of money built up in bond funds during the post GFC “irrational exuberance for safety” has yet to really reverse.

Source: ICI, AMP Capital

And in Australia, the amount of cash sitting in the superannuation system is still double average levels seen prior to the GFC and Australians continue to prefer bank deposits and paying down debt to shares and superannuation. There is still a lot of money that can come into equity markets as confidence improves.

Source: Westpac/Melb Institute, AMP Capital

Concluding comments

After a bout of relatively smooth sailing there will inevitably be a correction at some point. There are plenty of possible triggers: geopolitical risks, the risk of an inflation/Fed rate hike scare, deflation in Europe, the property slowdown in China and in Australia the transition to more broad based growth. However, while investment returns are likely to slow, still reasonable share valuations, gradually improving economic conditions, easy monetary conditions and a lack of excessive optimism suggest further decent investment returns ahead.

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Dr Shane Oliver
Head of Investment Strategy and Chief Economist
AMP Capital


Important note: While every care has been taken in the preparation of this article, AMP Capital Investors Limited (ABN 59 001 777 591, AFSL 232497) and AMP Capital Funds Management Limited (ABN 15 159 557 721, AFSL 426455) makes no representations or warranties as to the accuracy or completeness of any statement in it including, without limitation, any forecasts. Past performance is not a reliable indicator of future performance. This article has been prepared for the purpose of providing general information, without taking account of any particular investor’s objectives, financial situation or needs. An investor should, before making any investment decisions, consider the appropriateness of the information in this article, and seek professional advice, having regard to the investor’s objectives, financial situation and needs. This article is solely for the use of the party to whom it is provided.