Sygnia All Bond Index Fund - Dec 19
December was a great month for equities, driven by bullish fundamentals and sentiment. The S&P500 ended the year up 31.5% in USD and the All Share closed up 12%. The JPMorgan Global Manufacturing PMI jumped into expansion for the first time in six months, driven by a supportive monetary policy. Looking into 2020, a recession looks unlikely. The US and China finally agreed to a phase-one deal and the UK’s Conservative Party achieved a majority victory, reducing the likelihood of a no-deal Brexit. China and India are expected to provide 55% of global GDP growth in 2020. Fiscal and monetary stimulus in both countries remains high and should support this growth. However, escalating tensions between the United States and Iran and a looming impeachment trial is keeping markets off-kilter.
The economy contracted by a shocking 0.6% in the third quarter, and Eskom reached a new low, implementing stage 6 load shedding and operating at a meagre 60% of capacity due to heavy rains, unplanned outages and possible sabotage, sending the economy and markets into a panic. Steps in the right direction are being taken, however, as Public Enterprises minister Pravin Gordhan announced that Eskom power stations are again drawing their fuel from nearby coal mines offering preferential prices – during the years of state capture, politically connected mines were preferred. The ANC also announced that they are in talks to introduce equity partners at SOEs, provided that government remains the majority shareholder. The government placed SAA under business rescue to allow a “radical restructuring” under which it will receive R4 billion. Inflation came in at a depressed 3.6%, its lowest rate since December 2010, still with no further rate cuts, driving SA real yields to amongst the highest in the world and constraining growth.
The SACCI business confidence index fell to 89.1 points in August, the lowest level since April 1985. The Chamber noted that the “current state of fiscal deficiencies, social injustices and unemployment necessitates an urgent adjustment”, and Moody’s noted that Eskom’s financial position remains a significant threat to economic growth and government debt levels. However, the agency acknowledged that progress would be slow, offering South Africa a temporary reprieve from a sovereign downgrade for the next 12 to 18 months.
The 2010s saw the longest expansion in US history, a decade without a recession. The S&P500 closed the decade near an all-time high despite US House Democrats delivering two articles of impeachment against President Trump, for abuse of power and obstruction of Congress. The process will now shift to a Senate trial, where he is expected to be acquitted by the Republican majority there. The Federal Reserve maintained the Federal funds target rate range at 1.50–1.75%, but the “dot plot” witnessed a downward revision to 2020 projections, with participants now expecting interest rates to remain steady. This, together with continued quantitative easing and slowing growth, has kept the US dollar weak.
Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government suffered a defeat as her coalition partner, the Social Democrats, replaced vice chancellor Olaf Scholz with Norbert Walter- Borjans. Scholz expects the SPD to put forward a set of demands that includes abandoning Merkel’s balanced-budget stance to stimulate growth. At her inaugural ECB meeting as chair, Christine Lagarde reiterated that monetary policy would remain highly accommodative but noted that fiscal policy is the next tool that can be used. Sweden’s Riksbank became the first central bank to exit negative interest rates, the rates having been negative since 2014.
The Conservatives won their largest majority since 1987 under Margaret Thatcher, which should allow for easy passage of the Brexit withdrawal agreement, with the UK set to leave the EU by the end of January. Focus will then move to EU trade negotiations, which currently have a 31 December 2020 deadline. This deadline is unlikely to be met, however, as the EU/Canada trade negotiations took eight years to complete. His 80-seat majority should give Prime Minister Boris Johnson ample room to seek transition-period extension.
Japan announced a stimulus package amounting to 26 tn yen ($239 bn), including 13.2 tn yen in fiscal measures to boost real growth, of which 9.4 tn yen is new spending.
The CBRT cut rates by 200 bps at its 12 December meeting. The Bank of Russia cut its key rate by 25 basis points as inflation slowed. India’s budget deficit is expected to be at 7% in 2020 to boost growth.
China PMI data surprised on the upside. The official CFLP manufacturing PMI rose from 49.3 to 50.2 in November, taking the economy into expansionary territory for the first time in seven months. In December, the index continued to expand steadily, at 50.2.
The CNH fell below the 7 mark as President Donald Trump signed off on a phase-one trade deal with China, averting the 15 December introduction of US tariffs on $156 billion of consumer goods.The terms also cut existing tariffs by 50% on $360 bn worth of Chinese imports in exchange for a boost in purchases of US farm products and enhanced protection of intellectual property rights. The deal is expected to be signed on 15 January. China started 2020 with a 50-basis-point reserve-rate requirement cut, which further buoyed markets. China’s budget deficit is expected to stay at a high of 6.5% in 2020.
In line with its investment objective, the Sygnia All Bond Index Fund tracked the composition of the JSE All Bond Composite Index (ALBI) during the quarter, and delivered a return of 1.72%. Foreigners ended the year as net sellers of local bonds, bringing net selling to R3.4bn since the start of the year. In the fourth quarter, approximately R13.2bn nominal worth of South African government bonds were bought, versus the R22bn of the previous quarter. The modified duration of the fund decreased from 7.10 at the end of September to 6.84 at the end of December, in line with the duration of the ALBI at 6.83. There were no constituent changes to the index in the past quarter, but small changes in monthly reweighting occurred. The bond with the biggest increase for the quarter due to index weight increase was the R2035, which increased by 0.6%, while the weight of the R186 fell by 0.8% due to a large coupon payment in December. The R186 also moved from the 7–12 year term bucket to the 3–7 year term bucket. Compared to the previous quarter’s end, the shorter-dated bond yields fell and longer-dated bond yields rose, resulting in a steepening of the yield curve. Mid-term bonds returned the smallest change in yield, where the R2030/R213 showed negligible changes.
The composition of the Portfolio will be compared to the composition of the Index on a daily basis, taking into account any new investment contributions or withdrawals to and from the Portfolio, the receipt of any coupon payments for reinvestment, the effect of any corporate actions and its impact on the composition of the Portfolio relative to that of the Index. A tracking error minimising algorithm is used to determine the least number of transactions required to keep the Portfolio's returns aligned as closely as practically possible to the Index's returns while at the same time keeping the trading costs in the Portfolio to a minimum. The tracking error will never exceed 2% (two percent) on an annual basis. All cash movements and instrument events are taken into account daily in order to re-align the Portfolio to match the returns of the Index as closely as practically possible. The portfolio will invest in assets in liquid form, and in high yielding non-equity securities and interest bearing securities including but not limited to public, parastatel, municipal and corporate bonds, inflation linked bonds, loan stock, debentures, fixed deposits and money market instruments. When investing in derivatives, the Manager will adhere to prevailing derivative regulations. The portfolio manager will invest in derivatives for cash flow management purposes, as this is more cost effective, and to enable the investment manager to achieve the objective of tracking the Index more effectively.