This week’s update looks at recent reports on the increased activity being seen in the global diamond industry, which like many other industries, has been severely impacted by COVID-19.
More importantly, we share our view on how these developments will impact the investment market for pink diamonds going forward.
We also share another warning sign from the stock-market, which will have astute investors worldwide looking to diversify their wealth and move some of their assets into alternative hard assets, like pink diamonds.
It’s been another interesting week in investment markets, with equities in the United States continuing to bounce. The continued spread of COVID-19 is of course a concern for investors, though for now they are obviously comforted by central bankers and politicians that continue to offer a combination of monetary and fiscal stimulus, as well as direct intervention in asset markets.
Whilst these trends will likely stay in place for some time, we think astute investors should be rotating into hard assets like pink diamonds now, with the real economy itself continuing to crumble.
There was perhaps no better illustration of that in Australia this week than the decision by Westpac, one of our big 4 banks, to suspend its dividend. The market’s reaction was quick, and brutal (see chart below), with the company falling 3.4% in early trading on Tuesday 18th August, as investors dumped the stock.
Financial markets have rallied this week, despite the continued spread of COVID-19 and the uncertainty caused by it, with the ASX 200 up by more than 3.5% in August so far.
The rally is not so much a reflection of rising consumer confidence, as this continues to decline, and instead is being driven by expectations that central banks will be forced to increase their policy support for financial markets.
The real economy itself continues to deteriorate, something we expect to see reflected in updated unemployment figures which are due out in Australia this week.
Troubling as the trends in unemployment and other indicators like GDP are, we think the headline numbers are hiding an even more alarming economic reality.
It is our belief that this reality will eventually come to light, helping fuel an investor rush toward safe haven assets like pink diamonds.
On behalf of everyone at Australian Diamond Portfolio, we’d like to share our well-wishes to everyone impacted by the ongoing threat from COVID-19, especially those living with the lockdowns in Victoria.
The impact that it is having at a human and economic level is for many of us totally unprecedented, with the disruption that it is causing likely to take many years to recover from.
From an investment standpoint, COVID-19 related developments both in Australia and overseas reinforce many of the messages we regularly communicate in our ‘In the Loupe’ articles.
Investors will need to think differently, and act differently in the years ahead if they want to build wealth. Cash is set to lose real value for decades to come, stock markets will remain volatile, and property faces serious headwinds, with credit growth at its lowest levels since the 1992 recession, and a massive glut of supply about to hit the market.
All those factors reinforce the benefits of looking at assets like pink diamonds, both as a portfolio diversifier, an alternative asset for long-term capital gain, and an inflation hedge.
That last point is getting ever more relevant with the world looking like it will embrace MMT in the years to come.
Despite the ongoing threat to the economy and to financial markets from COVID-19, and the impact that it is having on our daily lives, opportunities to grow your wealth still exist in the investment world today.
In the coloured diamond space, we are still seeing strong demand for high quality stones, with auctions in Hong Kong this week seeing some coloured diamonds selling at a 30% premium relative to their pre-auction highest estimates.
That is a show of strength, highlighting the fact that investment demand for high quality coloured diamonds remains as strong as ever.
It is our belief that these already strong levels of investment demand will only grow in the years to come, as we explain in detail below.
Why You Need To Diversify
This week we came across another illustration of why investors need to diversify their wealth, and why tangible assets like pink diamonds offer a unique opportunity for wealth protection and growth in the years ahead.
That illustration can be seen in the chart below, which comes from popular Australian finance and investing blog MacroBusiness.
The chart looks at the performance of the Australian dollar vs. the US dollar (pink line), and the performance of the S&P 500 (black line) equity market in the United States from early February to early July 2020.
In the chart, both the currency performance and the stock market index have been rebased to 100 for ease of comparison.
AUD vs SPX index
Note how correlated they are.
Whilst equities were plunging during late February and late March, so too was the Australian dollar. If you are an Australian investor and had money in the share market during this period, then it wasn’t just your stock portfolio that got hit.
It seems that despite all of our hopes, a return to normal in our daily lives and in the economy is some time away, with the spread of COVID-19 accelerating in many parts of the world, including in the United States, the largest economy in the world.
Australia is clearly not immune, with the decision to shut down large parts of Melbourne for the next six weeks, and the closure of the NSW/Victoria border a stark illustration of the challenge we face to manage, let alone control this virus.
The impact on the economy, which was already on its knees, will be severe, with the depth of the recession we are in only likely to worsen in the months to come.
As a sign of the building stresses, consider the following:
Consumer confidence figures fell to an 8-week low last week, with current readings in line with where they were during the Global Financial Crisis. Households are particularly uncertain regarding when it comes to buying major household items.
Plans to bring tens of thousands of international students back into Australia are likely to be scrapped, as the public health risk is deemed to be too high. This will impact the education sector, as well as the housing market and hospitality industry.
It’s been a volatile end to the first half of calendar year 2020, with equity markets correcting in June.
Despite a strong bounce from the late March 2020 lows, investors in shares have seen their wealth go backwards in the first half of the year, with the Australian share market for example ending June almost 13% lower than where it started.
The performance of the market over the last six months can be seen in the chart below. It shows the huge sell off in equities from late February to late March, the recovery from late March to early June, and the weak end to the month just finished.
Source: Google, S&P ASX 200 price chart.
The chart makes it clear that stock market investors went from peak fear to unprecedented euphoria this year, with some signs of nervousness again beginning to creep in.
All up it has been a volatile and largely unrewarding six months for these investors, with markets arguably more fragile today than they were when the year started.
Financial market volatility has picked up in the last couple of weeks, as investor nervousness about the risks in an extremely overvalued stock market continue to rise.
Meanwhile fears over the continued spread of COVID-19 are also rising, including in Australia, with Victoria having to back-track on plans to ease restrictions for businesses and households.
This is due to a worrying spike in cases occurring over the past few days, with health officials warning of a potential ‘second wave’ of infections.
Indeed, despite our hopes, it appears that COVID-19 cases will continue to rise for the foreseeable future around the globe, which poses a huge challenge to the economic recovery we are all hoping for.
As an example of the ongoing challenge, consider the chart below, which shows the year on year change in restaurant bookings in the United States (via the website OpenTable).
US Restaurant Bookings YoY Change in OpenTable Seated Diners
Source: OpenTable, Bloomberg.
You can see the huge plunge between late February and March, and the gradual recovery from late April through to May and most of June, as restrictions began to ease.
It’s the drop-off at the end that is the real concern, as it highlights that either:
Fears (justified or otherwise) over COVID-19 are still keeping people at home.
People’s financial circumstances are still so dire that they aren’t willing or able to go out and spending money.
Neither is a positive sign, with data points like this highlighting the fact that it will be years before economies in the developed world return to normal.
Volatility has crept back into financial markets in recent days, with equity market indices like the S&P 500 falling by more than 5% last week.
There are multiple factors which have driven this sell-off, the first of which is that the market had been rising incredibly sharply since late March, with many indices back or near all-time highs, with euphoria replacing despair in barely two months.
This can actually be seen in the graphic below, which was created by Citigroup, and models the level of investor panic or euphoria at any given time, with the chart going back just over one year.
Market Sentiment Citigroup Panic/Euphoria Model
The panic/euphoria model is a gauge of investor sentiment. It identifies ‘Panic’ and ‘Euphoria’ levels which are statistically driven buy and sell signals for the broader market. Historically, a reading below panic supports a better than 95% likelihood that stock prices will be higher one year later, while Euphoria levels generate a better than 80% probability of stock prices being lower one year later. Source: Citigroup Investment Research – US Equity Strategy.
As you can see, markets were pretty euphoric right up until COVID-19 hit in earnest in late February. Over the next month, as many equity indices cratered by 30-40% or more, investor sentiment turned to complete panic.
From then on though it’s been party time again, with the investor mood now more euphoric than it was before COVID-19 hit, even though it is crushing the economy in a much more significant way than that which we saw during the GFC (see more below).
The key point for investors is this. According to this model, whenever the market has hit euphoria levels (as it has now) there is a better than 80% chance that stocks will be lower one year later.
It’s been another interesting week in financial markets, with equity prices continuing to climb, whilst bond prices are falling. Whilst it’s the former that is getting all the attention, it’s the latter that we think is more interesting, as falling bond prices are a sign that the market might be starting to get worried about higher rates of inflation.
Should higher inflation come to pass in the years ahead, it will be another tailwind supporting higher pink diamond prices, given their scarcity, and ability to hold their value over time.
Last week, we focused on the incredible rise in the Australian dollar, which has climbed above USD $0.70, a near 30% rally in just over 2 months, and why that is a gift for potential pink diamond investors.
In this update, we are going to focus on interest rates and why we now expect them to go below zero in the coming months in Australia. Most importantly, we’ll touch on why this development will further bolster pink diamond investments.
A Story Decades in the Making
Low interest rates are not a new phenomenon, with rates declining around much of the globe since the early 1980s. In Australia, interest rates have been declining since the early 1990s at least, which can be seen in this chart below from the Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA).
Graph of the Cash Rate Target
From a high of 17.50% in 1990 to their current low of 0.25%, interest rates have fallen 99% in the past 30 years. This has obviously boosted asset prices, but it has also helped fuel a huge private debt bubble that has led Australian households to become the second most indebted (relative to economic output) in the Western world.