Let’s be honest. Most of us thought the market in 2019 would be volatile and couldn’t possibly continue the double-digit returns of the past several years.
The fact that they weren’t particularly volatile, and had the best year yet in this long bull run, is quite amazing.
That doesn’t mean things couldn’t get more rocky in 2020 but it is also putting pressure on investors who’ve already taken a defensive stance.
“In 2020 financial markets are facing a tug of war between weaker economic growth and a highly accommodative policy backdrop from central banks,” says Mark Lister, head of private wealth research at Craigs Investment Partners.
“The two important elections that are looming in the latter months of the year could shape the path of financial markets both here and offshore,” he says.
“Both of these could be close, and the potential for policy change could be a key investment theme over the coming 12 months.”
“On a brighter note, we think the New Zealand economy is in reasonable shape,” Lister says.
“In addition, interest rates are exceptionally low, government spending is likely to provide further stimulus and business confidence has rebounded from the lows of late 2019.”
Whatever happens on global markets, in the annual Herald Broker’s Picks game the world is a simpler place – five picks, five companies that look well placed to thrive over the next 12 months, what could go wrong…
There’s a diverse mix of stocks in the picks this year suggesting a positive outlook across a range of sectors.
Perhaps unsurprisingly New Zealand’s top-performing stock – a2 Milk which featured heavily in the 2019 picks, stands out again with five out of six brokers including it in the mix.
Recent controversy with the sudden departure of chief executive Jayne Hrdlicka doesn’t seem to have deterred investors.
In fact despite slumping sharply on the morning of the announcement the stock was back trading above pre-departure levels within days.
A high level of interest from Australian traders does make a2 quite volatile but broadly it has been on a stellar growth path for the past several years which makes it difficult to ignore.
“The company still managed to grow its profits by 47 per cent and finish the year with a significant amount of cash on the balance sheet,” Lister says.
“Risks around Chinese sales channels remain, while competition is also increasing. However, we remain confident about the company’s future, particularly with regard to infant formula products. While ATM is an above-average proposition in terms of risk, the growth opportunity ahead more than offsets this.”
Beyond star performer a2, our brokers have picked a very broad spread of stocks for 2020.
Just five companies were picked twice, with the remainder of picks spread across 15 highly diverse companies.
But the healthcare sector stood out among those that got two picks.
Retirement village operator Oceania Healthcare has demographics on its side and has spent the last couple of years upgrading its facilities to reflect demand for premium independent-living units.
Likewise rival Arvida also proved popular.
“Arvida looks the best-value stock in this “hot sector” at the moment, with good and focused management,” says MSL’s Andrew McDouall.
Ebos , picked by Craigs and Hamilton Hindin Greene, is another health care company, although in a very different space as a wholesale distributor of medical products.
“We like the healthcare sector, given the backdrop of an ageing population and the resilience of healthcare products and services regardless of where we are in the economic cycle,” says Lister.
“We expect that to continue, with Ebos likely to seeing ongoing benefits from being the largest player in the sector.”
AFT Pharmaceuticals also got two picks.
“[It] is an under-researched stock, whose management has been head down and performing,” says McDouall.
“Regulatory changes are also likely to boost longer-term product and revenue growth.”
Perennial investor favourite F&P Healthcare also got one pick this year (Hamilton Hindin Greene) rounding out the enthusiasm for the health sector.
Transport and logistics company Mainfreight has two picks. Always a solid bet on the NZX with a long track record of growth and now a successful programme of international expansion.
Mainfreight reported one of the standout performances of the 2019 year with strong growth in operating earnings in the international regions it operates in. US earnings, for example, increased 43 per cent; Asia by 35 per cent and Europe by 37 per cent.
is another solid performer to get picked twice.
“The dividend yield of more than 5 per cent is highly attractive, and Meridian offers the potential for long-term earnings growth,” says Lister.
On the energy front Contact , Z Energy and Infratil all get one pick each.
Two normally defensive infrastructure stocks – Chorus and Vector – also get picks this year.
McDouall says “continued strong connection growth, particularly in the greater Auckland area, a focus on future energy needs and behaviour understanding, means Vector is likely to lead the country in new energy solutions, and should get greater investment attention.”
Notable by their absence this year are retail stocks – perhaps reflecting the tough, competitive environment and tight margins.
Australasian outdoor clothing company Kathmandu is the only retailer to get a nod this year, picked by Jarden.
The 2019 Results
The presence of a2 Milk (with a return of nearly 43 per cent) was almost ubiquitous in the 2019 picks meaning results were broadly strong across the board.
The same could be said for the NZX-50 where a2 Milk is one of the top three stocks by market capitalisation.
Ironically though, our ultimate winner this year has managed to top the pool without including a2 at all.
MSL Capital (formerly McDouall Stuart) takes out this year’s competition with a stellar total return of 55.6 per cent.
Two picks paid off big time for MSL, technology company Plexure returned with a 219.1 per cent return and AFT Pharmaceuticals with return of 54.5 per cent.
Mobile marketing company Plexure – formerly known as Vmob – had a breakthrough in April when fast-food giant McDonald’s took a 10 per cent stake.
Other solid picks for MSL included Freightways and Green Cross Health. Only software company Gentrack failed to fire for them.
In second place this year was Craigs Investment Partners with a total return of 47.7 per cent.
Craigs’ picks were dominated by some of the NZX heavyweights including F&P Healthcare with a staggering 84.9 per cent gain for the period.
In October it revised up its earnings forecast after receiving regulatory clearance to sell a new, full-face obstructive sleep apnoea (OSA) mask in the United States, which is the biggest market for the product.
It has also had a good year on the currency front with rate cuts pushing the kiwi below forecast levels and boosting its US dollar returns.
Meridian and Mainfreight also proved top picks returning 54.8 per cent and 41.3 per cent respectively.
Third place this year went to Hamilton Hindin Greene which included three of the big stocks mentioned above plus Infratil which achieved a 43.4 per cent return.
It is notable that none of the participants came a cropper this year with negative returns.
Last year’s winner Foster Capital (formerly Vulcan) was at the back of the pack but their picks still delivered returns of 13.5 per cent.
The Warehouse with a return of 49.3 per cent and hospitality investment firm Good Spirits delivered 54.4 per cent. Foster also had Mainfreight in the mix.
Unfortunately two other picks, beer company Moa and medical technology company Truscreen, underperformed with -30.9 per cent and -46.7 per cent.
Disclaimer – It’s a game
Readers should recognise that the results of the Brokers Picks are skewed by some features of the game. The figures exclude brokers fees. Brokers are asked to choose the securities that will give the best short-term performance. If they had been asked to choose, for example, a five-year term, the results might be different. The survey does not allow brokers to review choices during the year. The survey implies a one-size-fits-all approach. It takes no account of individual circumstances such as an investor’s appetite for risk, need for income or tax circumstances. The views expressed do not constitute personalised financial advice and are not directed at any person. Finally, past performance is no guarantee of future performance.