Global share markets continued their relentless rally in August, with the MSCI World in NZ dollars gaining an impressive 4.8%. The investor optimism driving the US share market higher also pushed the NZ dollar higher in August, which acted as a drag on returns from offshore investments when converted back into NZ dollars. For instance, the Standard & Poors 500 index returned 7.2% when dividends are included in US dollars but only 5.3% in NZ dollars. A slightly less positive European share market also dragged down returns.
We were pleased with the performance of the two most equity orientated offerings: the (KiwiSaver) Focused Growth Fund and (non-KiwiSaver) Focused Growth Trust returning 4.5% and 4.4% respectively. These returns were close to the performance of global shares, which was a solid effort given the weaker performance of domestic shares. The Growth and Conservative Funds also put in commendable performances (given their lower allocation to global shares) gaining 3.5% and 1.6% respectively.
Turning to key contributors to performance, and starting with global equities, Facebook enjoyed an extremely strong month, up 15.6% in US dollars. While there were no key news announcements during the month the enthusiasm for some of FaceBook’s new offerings intensified. For instance, UBS did a ‘deep dive’ reviewing the upside opportunities from Facebook’s eCommerce initiative. They argued that Facebook was a key beneficiary of the significant step up in online activity driven by the COVID-19 pandemic and that eStore initiatives across Facebook and Instagram would drive strong growth revenue going forwards. Deutsche Bank also published late in the month. They highlighted the strong turnaround in Instagram Reels engagement arguing that Reels has stemmed user losses to TikTok and should make a contribution to future profit growth.
Chinese online behemoth Tencent was the only global equity holding to decline in value in August in local currency; its shares drifting back -0.7% in August. This soft performance should be put into context, Tencent has appreciated an impressive 41% in 2020. The rise of China-US tensions, more specifically suggestions that the usage of WeChat in the United States would be prohibited weighed on the company’s shares. Tencent reported its second-quarter results during the month which were better than analysts’ expectations driven by exceptionally strong mobile gaming growth, which was up 62% on the same quarter last year. Analysts were particularly pleased with the very modest deceleration on first-quarter growth (64%), as that quarter had the strong tailwinds of stringent COVID lock-downs in China.
The strongest property and infrastructure holding was the Australian real estate investment management company, Centuria, which was up 18.4% in NZ dollars. In our view, it was not the release of its results for the year ending June 2020 that drove the significant re-rate, as these were very much a ‘yawn fest’ (not a bad thing in these difficult times!). Instead, it was news that they had successfully taken over Augusta, a NZ based management company that has been hit hard by Covid-19 but has a number of future syndication and development opportunities. As these opportunities are realised Centuria will benefit from strong transactional fee income and then an attractive management fee annuity. In early August, Centuria also announced that its listed industrial fund was buying Telstra’s data centres for A$416m. This transaction extends the weighted average maturity of the Industrial Trust’s
leases to over 7 years, which is attractive to investors. It also generates good transactional and management fee income.
Vector also put in a strong performance over the month - up 15.2%. Vector is the largest electricity and gas networks owner and operator in NZ. These networks generate the majority of Vector’s earnings. They have also driven earnings growth through smart electricity meters in NZ and Australia. These meters generate predictable levels of returns over long contracted periods. Vector released its results for its financial year 2020 in August. And as one could expect these were in line with expectations. The company highlighted growth opportunities via the continued rollout of smart meters in Australia and smart gas meters in NZ, which should drive growth in Vector’s earnings in future years.
The weakest performing Property and Infrastructure holding was Z Energy, which was down 4.6% in August. Z Energy was a victim of the increase in Covid-19 restrictions to Level 3 in Auckland and Level 2 in the rest of the country. These restrictions seek to reduce movement, which has a direct impact on the demand for Z energy’s products.
It is also worth noting that Spark, NZ’s largest telecommunications company, went from the strongest contributor in July to one of the softest in August. Spark declined 2% in August after releasing its results for the year ending June 2020. The results for 2020 were in line with expectations, but they provided limited future guidance deferring to an investor day scheduled in mid-September. The limited outlook commentary that the company provided was conservative. Spark signalled concerns over the impact of a significant decline in economic activity as a result of COVID-19, arguing that bad debt expense could step up this financial year if the virus drags the NZ economy into a deep recession. On the back of these concerns, the company guided to a 23-25 cent dividend per share in 2021 (2020 was 25 cents). We can understand why management chose to be conservative and note the exceptionally
poor performance of Spark’s nearest comparable company, Telstra.