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The GDP print for the fourth quarter of 2020 has come in better than expected, seeing markets respond positively in terms of rand strength and bond yields. Year-on-year GDP fell by 4.1% compared to the expected 4.6% decline, while on a quarter-on-quarter, annualised basis we saw a very strong 6.3% versus an expected 5.6%.
Finance Minister Tito Mboweni’s budget has been received very positively, as demonstrated by the reaction from markets. SA Inc companies have rallied, the rand initially strengthened, and even the bond market is acting positively. However, while there are notes of hope, this budget also demonstrates a number of key risks, overly optimistic assumptions and potential weaknesses, pointing to an extremely challenging path ahead for the country.
Will investment fundamentals return in 2021 or will the great disconnect of 2020 continue? As we enter 2021, the market’s recent bout of festive cheer will have left many investors feeling upbeat. However, do not allow yourself to be carried away by the market’s high spirits. While there are many reasons to feel positive about the year ahead, it is equally important to note what markets seem to have forgotten – namely that the pandemic and its consequences are not yet behind us.
The GDP numbers are much better than expected. In fact, the 66% quarter-on-quarter, seasonally adjusted, annualised figure is better than even the best industry expectation. It has definitely been a positive surprise which has been well received by the market as we can see from the positive movements in the rand exchange rates as well as the bond market.
Latest GDP figures have laid bare the grim reality of COVID-19’s economic effects, revealing an unprecedented 51% decline in economic activity in the second quarter of this year (quarter-on-quarter, seasonally adjusted and annualised).
The market expected the economy to shrink by 3.8% over the first quarter so the -2.0% print for Q1 2020 GDP (quarter-on-quarter, seasonally adjusted and annualised) might be slightly better than anticipated, but it almost means nothing. This performance takes us only up to the end of March so it includes less than five working days of the lockdown.
As the coronavirus sweeps its way around the globe, the trends established in most countries in terms of taming its spread after lockdown appears similar to that set in China. While it might take somewhat longer for some of those countries that started their control measures later, the outlook seems positive and the trend is definitely moving in the right direction.
Despite various geopolitical and economic challenges at the beginning of 2019, markets managed to deliver very strong returns for the year. And investors will be relieved to see that equity markets look set to start 2020 on a slightly better footing, as many of these uncertainties have been addressed to some extent over 2019.
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