Foreign holdings of Aussie shares hits 4-year high: CommSec's Ryan Felsman

Foreign holdings of Aussie shares hits 4-year high: CommSec's Ryan Felsman
Foreign holdings of Aussie shares hits 4-year high: CommSec's Ryan Felsman

EXPERT OBSERVATION

Aussie wealth remains elevated, but has eased back from record highs due to falling home prices.

But in a positive development, total household wealth (net worth) stabilised in the March quarter after the biggest fall in a decade in the December quarter. The Aussie sharemarket is acting as a wealth ‘buffer’ against the property downturn. In the March quarter, the S&P/ASX200 index rose by 9.5 per cent – the strongest gain in 9½ years.

Foreigners have increased their allocation to Aussie listed shares this year. Foreign ownership of Aussie shares was hovering near 4-year highs at 31.3 per cent in the March quarter, up from 30.9 per cent in the December quarter.

The weaker value of the Aussie dollar against the greenback, a desire for iron ore exposure, attractive dividend yields, solid payout ratios and likely further interest rate cuts have boosted demand for Aussie shares. And the local sharemarket’s relatively defensive composition when compared to its China supply-chain exposed peers in Asia have made the ASX200 an attractive proposition as the global ‘chase for yield’ re-intensifies.

Looking ahead, Aussie per capita wealth is expected to consolidate around $400,000 after significant gains over the past five years, should home valuations continue to moderate. But property prices appear to have flattened in Sydney and Melbourne in June amid tentative signs of stabilisation.

And it remains to be seen whether the ASX200 index, up almost 18 per cent so far this year, can continue its blockbuster run towards record highs, especially with the company ‘confession season’ and earnings reporting season ahead in August.

Aussie share valuations look a little stretched with the Best Price/Earnings ratio straddling 3-year highs at over 17 times earnings.

And earnings per share growth is modest outside of the resources sector, but continued monetary and fiscal stimulus will continue to act as a support. Business confidence and investment is also expected to lift given greater policy certainty following the election. But trading conditions remain challenging given slowing domestic demand and US-China trade tensions.

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Foreign holdings of Aussie shares hits 4-year high: CommSec's Ryan Felsman

What do the figures show?

Financial Accounts:

Total household wealth (net worth) rose by 0.2 per cent to $10,242.6 billion in the March quarter after falling by 2.1 per cent to $10,225.9 billion in the December quarter. The record-high figure for household wealth was $10,422.3 billion in the September quarter of 2018. Over the year to March, net worth fell by 0.7 per cent.

In per capita terms, wealth fell by $1,512 in the March quarter to $404,556 following a record $9,993 decline in the December quarter – the third consecutive quarterly decline.

The Bureau of Statistics noted: “The increase in household wealth in the March quarter was driven by real (inflation adjusted) holding gains on financial assets, offset by holding losses on residential real estate.”

The percentage point contributions to the change in household wealth in the December quarter, include:

Land and dwellings detracted 1.5 percentage points;

Financial assets contributed 1.8 percentage points;

Financial liabilities detracted 0.2 percentage points.

Households held a record $1,160.7 billion in cash and deposits at the end of March. Cash and deposit holdings represented 21.5 per cent of financial assets, down from 22.1 per cent in the December quarter and below the 21.8 per cent average since the global financial crisis and long-run average of 21.7 per cent.

Households held $1,015.7 billion in shares or 18.8 per cent of all financial assets in the March quarter, down from 18.9 per cent in the December quarter, but below the 19.3 per cent average since the global financial crisis and the long-run average of 22.6 per cent.

Pension fund (superannuation fund) assets rose by $119.9 billion to a record-high $2,320 billion in the March quarter. Cash and deposits stood at 10.6 per cent of financial assets, below the 12.9 per cent average since the global financial crisis, but above the long-term average of 9.4 per cent.

Foreigners held $604.8 billion of Aussie listed sharesin the March quarter, up from $548.1 billion in December, but below the record-high of $612.9 billion in the September quarter. Foreigners held 31.3 per cent of total listed shares – near 4-year highs - but slightly below the 31.6 per cent average since the global financial crisis and long-term average of 32.8 per cent.

What are the implications for interest rates and investors?

As evidenced by today’s wealth report, the Reserve Bank will be hoping that Aussie shares and bonds will continue to do the ‘heavy lifting’, shielding households from the downside risks associated with the property downturn, slow wages growth and the potential loss of momentum in the jobs market.  

Aussie bonds have been a strong performer over the year to May 31, up by 9 per cent (Bloomberg Australian Composite Bond Index 0+ Years), as government bond yields have fallen to record lows. Australia’s AAA sovereign credit rating and solid fiscal position has made sovereign bonds an attractive destination for risk averse investors.

But Aussie shares have been a star global outperformer, with the S&P/ASX300 Accumulation Index up 10.9 per cent, ahead of global shares at 8.9 per cent (MSCI World Net Index) over the year to May 31 - an attractive proposition for foreigners seeking yield in a low growth, interest rate and inflation environment.

CommSec expects another rate cut in the next few months due to spare capacity in the labour market and economy.

RYAN FELSMAN is a Senior Economist at CommSec

Tags: 
Wealth Share Market

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