Mark Lister, 5 April 2017

That’s the first quarter of the year wrapped up, and it’s been a pretty rewarding one for the most part. The current bull market is certainly getting a little long in the tooth, but the steady grind higher doesn’t seem ready to let up just yet.

US shares have led the way, with the Dow Jones index posting 12 straight record closes in February, the longest such winning streak since 1987. It then registered eight consecutive down days, the biggest stretch of losses in six years.

Still, the Dow was up solidly in the three months to March, which was the sixth quarter of gains in a row. We haven’t seen that since 2006.

Other markets followed suit, with Europe and Australia posting strong gains and the local NZX50 notching up a rise of 4.6 per cent. That’s a good bounce after the last quarter of 2016, where our market fell 6.5 per cent for its worst performance since 2010.

Stock pickers would’ve done best in the March quarter by owning current market darling a2 Milk, which hit it out of the park with a 40 per cent again. Fisher & Paykel Healthcare was the best of the bigger companies, putting on 14 per cent.

Currency moves have generally gone our way, with the NZ dollar falling a little to take some pressure off exporters and the Reserve Bank.

The currency is up slightly against the US dollar, but at around US$0.70 that’s well below the highs of recent years.

The biggest move came against the Australian dollar, with the kiwi ending the quarter down 4.5 per cent, a long way from the parity that was talked about six months ago.

While China gets all the attention, Australia was our number one export market last year so any weakness against their currency is of significant benefit.

The housing market has also been playing ball so far, with some heat coming out of Auckland prices to the tune of about five per cent this year.

The March numbers will be fascinating, with anecdotal evidence pointing to prices easing further.

Oil prices fell slightly in the March quarter, while interest rates both here have abroad have stabilised after such a sharp move in the latter part of last year.

Just about all investors and KiwiSavers should’ve done well so far this year and financial markets feel quite stable, despite a long list of things that could’ve gone wrong.

Looking ahead, the French elections feature strongly in the calendar for the coming three months, and we should also expect another interest rate hike in the US from the Fed.

Markets usually shrug off the first few rate hikes, but from there on they can become a bit of a handbrake.

Sticking with the US, we certainly need a better showing on tax reform than for the Obamacare repeal, while Trump’s upcoming meeting with his Chinese counterpart might give some insights into what we can expect on the trade front.

Finally, as the Northern Hemisphere summer approaches we move closer to a seasonally weak period where returns tend to be a little lower, and volatility a little higher.

This article was published by The New Zealand Herald on 5 April 2017 under the title ‘Mark Lister: Bull run for NZ stocks continued in first quarter’.