Mark Lister, 31 January 2017

We’re only one month into the new year, and 2017 has already been pretty action-packed.

The Dow Jones index broke through 20,000 for the first time, and while this is a psychological milestone more than anything, it reflects a very good start to the year for US shares.

According to sharemarket lore, this bodes well for the rest of the year. Since 1950, whenever US shares have risen in January, the return for the whole year has been positive 90 per cent of the time.

Before getting too excited, I should note that the “January indicator” has been a little hit-and-miss lately. During the past 10 years, January and the rest of the year have moved in unison only half the time.

Local shares have also fared well in January, rising more than 3 per cent for the best monthly performance in six months. However, we haven’t hit record highs like American shares, with the NZX50 still about 6 per cent lower than where it peaked in September.

The so-called “Trump trade” has certainly been one reason US shares have been doing well of late. The market is up almost 10 per cent since the election, with the overachievers being those best placed to benefit from the proposed deregulation, tax cuts and boost to domestic growth.

Trump has hit the ground running since taking office on the 20th, signing several executive orders in his first few days. Whatever you think of him or his policies, he can’t be accused of not getting things done.

It’s not all about the new President though. The US economy was picking up speed already, with signs of this emerging before the election. Manufacturing activity is at a two-year high, wages are rising at the fastest pace in seven years, and three quarters of US companies are beating analysts’ profit forecasts.

We’re not doing too badly either based on the economic releases so far this year. Dairy prices are sitting almost 50 per cent higher than where they were 12 months ago, business confidence is running high and the government books are in better shape than we expected.

We’ve even seen a bit of inflation emerge, with the annual CPI now back in the Reserve Bank’s target band for the first time in two years. Adios, record low interest rates.

The local reporting season starts in a couple of weeks, which will give us a read on how corporate New Zealand has fared, and how it sees the outlook. I suspect it’ll be a fairly upbeat affair for the most part, despite the usual caveats.

It’s been an eventful start to the year, and that probably won’t change anytime soon. As well as policy changes from the White House, there are elections looming in Europe, not to mention an important one here.

If January is anything to go by, we should buckle up for 11 more months of excitement.

This article was published in The New Zealand Herald on 30 January 2017.