Finding solace in the short

Kristiaan Rehder

Kardinia Capital

As stocks have wobbled, investors have bemoaned having no place to hide – not even in gold. June alone saw the market fall a whopping 8.97%.

However, short positions across key sectors such as lossmaking, high multiple technology and consumer discretionary stocks seem to be strong contributors to relatively solid fund performance.

Inflation sticks

Meanwhile, the Australian CPI surged 5.1% for 12 months to 31 March this year, and the US CPI rose 8.6% for May year on year, potentially moving towards levels not seen since 1970-1980. And while last year central banks and economists were calling for the inflation spike to be transitory, the pathway of inflation over the last 18 months has been anything but. Inflation tends to be stickier than imagined.

Source: Bloomberg
Source: Bloomberg

Of course, the message can change over time, but futures markets are currently forecasting a 170bps increase in the US and Australian rates by December.

Source: Bloomberg 
Source: Bloomberg 
Source: Bloomberg 
Source: Bloomberg 

It’s often said the central banks will keep pushing until something breaks. The only way interest rates will not follow that trajectory is if US summer economic data is so weak that a pause in hikes is considered, which is becoming more likely by year’s end.

The risk for markets

If the futures markets are correct, homeowners will see a significant increase in mortgage repayments by December. The RBA's 50bp rate rise in June woke many people up, and the domestic housing market is already coming under pressure.

The biggest risk for markets is whether the US enters a recession. If it does, S&P500 could fall another 15% – which would have an impact on Australia. If not, the falls will be more modest.

In the global economy, wage pressure continues to build as the consumer is squeezed by higher costs of everything, from rents to fuel. We believe high debt levels make the global and Australian economies particularly vulnerable.

The current level of inflation likely also explains why consumer confidence is falling, and it’s pushed the University of Michigan index just below record lows. Consumer confidence is a key driver of consumer consumption, which drives around 70% of the US GDP. 

Source: Bloomberg 
Source: Bloomberg 

Heading for recession?

Every recession in the past 40 years has been preceded by an inverted yield curve, and the yield curve inverted in early April. Looking historically, the time interval between inversion and recession averages about 10 to 12 months.

The US Fed needs to slow demand and can only do so by delivering “shock therapy” – by impacting consumers’ wealth (via stocks and house prices). The Fed will take every rate rise the market gives it, but at the end of the day raising rates is a blunt instrument.

It’s rare for central banks to engineer soft landings, particularly when inflation is above 5%. So, we believe the US is headed for a recession. This view runs somewhat counter to consensus. Until recently, most US economists had been suggesting there were no signs of a slowdown in US economic data, but the stock market indicates otherwise.

There’s also, of course, an unwind of the central bank's balance sheet, which started this month in the US. The expansion of central bank balance sheets has inflated share prices in multiples since the GFC. It stands to reason that the opposite is also true. Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell's mandate is to tame inflation.

We’re very early along the tightening journey – we’ve only had three interest rate rises so far, and the pain may be ahead of us more so than behind us. Although, it’s way too early in the rate hiking cycle to think about fighting central banks.

Source: Bloomberg 
Source: Bloomberg 

Our outlook

We’re long some defensive businesses, including Bapcor, Tabcorp and The Lottery Corporation. Auto parts are generally essential for car maintenance, while lottery tickets have proven to be very defensive during recessions.

The market wants current earnings, not future long-dated earnings, and certainly not loss-makers. Loss makers have no valuation support and 17% of ASX300 are loss makers (even if some are temporary like FLT, WEB). Some don't even have any significant revenue. This basket is where we are hunting for short ideas.

We’re short high-multiple stocks – those with long earnings duration and loss makers. Of course, a constant risk for us is "bear market rallies" – these can be violent, so we’re cautious of being too aggressive in our short book.

We haven't seen the capitulation yet. It is worth noting Cathie Wood’s beaten-down ARK Invest is still seeing inflows, even though ARK is off c.60%. This shows investors are still looking to buy the dips. The MSCI AC World 12m forward PE has derated from a peak 20x to 14x. However, global equity markets do not yet look especially cheap against history. For example, a drop to the 10x multiple seen during the 2011-12 Eurozone crisis would imply another ~30% derating.

We’ll be watching the economic data closely, with a particular focus on inflation, bond yields and whether central banks are forced to pause their tightening due to economic damage.

Building and protecting wealth

Kardinia, a Bennelong Funds Management boutique, aims to generate positive returns through an investment cycle and not lose money in falling markets. For more insights from Kardinia Capital, click the 'FOLLOW' button below or visit our website.

The content contained in this wire represents the opinions of the authors. The authors may hold either long or short positions in securities of various companies discussed in the article. This commentary in no way constitutes a solicitation of business or investment advice. It is intended solely as an avenue for the authors to express their personal views on investing and for the entertainment of the reader. This information is issued by Bennelong Funds Management Ltd (ABN 39 111 214 085, AFSL 296806) (BFML) in relation to the Bennelong Kardinia Absolute Return Fund. The Fund is managed by Kardinia Capital, a Bennelong boutique. This is general information only, and does not constitute financial, tax or legal advice or an offer or solicitation to subscribe for units in any fund of which BFML is the Trustee or Responsible Entity (Bennelong Fund). This information has been prepared without taking account of your objectives, financial situation or needs. Before acting on the information or deciding whether to acquire or hold a product, you should consider the appropriateness of the information based on your own objectives, financial situation or needs or consult a professional adviser. You should also consider the relevant Information Memorandum (IM) and or Product Disclosure Statement (PDS) which is available on the BFML website,, or by phoning 1800 895 388 (AU) or 0800 442 304 (NZ). Information about the Target Market Determinations (TMDs) for the Bennelong Funds is available on the BFML website. BFML may receive management and or performance fees from the Bennelong Funds, details of which are also set out in the current IM and or PDS. BFML and the Bennelong Funds, their affiliates and associates accept no liability for any inaccurate, incomplete or omitted information of any kind or any losses caused by using this information. All investments carry risks. There can be no assurance that any Bennelong Fund will achieve its targeted rate of return and no guarantee against loss resulting from an investment in any Bennelong Fund. Past fund performance is not indicative of future performance. Information is current as at the date of this document. Kardinia Capital Pty Ltd (ABN 20 152 003 186) is a Corporate Authorised Representative of BFML.

1 contributor mentioned

Kristiaan Rehder
Portfolio Manager
Kardinia Capital

Kristiaan has more than 20 years of experience in the broader financial services industry. Prior to co-founding Kardinia Capital, he was a portfolio manager with Herschel Asset Management, with responsibilities across responsibilities across a...

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