Mark Lister, 3 July 2017

That’s the first half of the year done, so we’re into the back stretch now. The NZX50, our key share market index, posted an exceptional 10.6 per cent gain in the first six months of the year. That’s the strongest first half the index has ever seen, since it came into being in 2003.

Having said that, our market did take a hammering late last year, more so than others around the world. We fell some 12 per cent between September and November, and the December quarter was the worst since 2011.

If we ignore the dividend payments, share prices are still 2.5 per cent lower than the all-time high our market reached nine months ago. That puts it in perspective, but it’s still an impressive achievement, particularly if you invested in some of the high flyers.

The top performers in the first half were a2 Milk (up 88 per cent), Air New Zealand (up 46 per cent), Xero (up 44 per cent) and Fisher & Paykel Healthcare (up 36 per cent). Those are some stunning gains, and it’s great to see some of our most exciting growth stories at the top of the tree.

The NZ dollar fell against the Australian dollar and the euro over the six months, went sideways against the British pound but rose strongly against the US dollar.

The near six per cent rise against the greenback does seem a bit odd considering the Fed increased US interest rates twice during that time, while other central banks are staying put.

There were a couple of surprises on the local economic front, with GDP growth decidedly soft, but inflation rebounding more strongly than expected. We’ll be watching the second half of the year to see if that was the start of a trend, or if those data points were one-offs.

The first half of 2017 might also have marked an important turning point in the housing market. Things have definitely slowed in Auckland, so the question is whether this is another blip or the beginning of a sustained slowdown.

There’s a busy rest of the year ahead, both here and abroad. All eyes are on policy change in the US, and markets are starting to lose patience. Brexit negotiations have just begun, while the new French President will soon be under pressure to deliver.

The German election is the same weekend as ours and as far as the latter goes, watch for tightening polls in the lead up and the traditional late charge from New Zealand First.

We are on the cusp of a traditionally weak time of the year for financial markets, with August and September the two worst months for US shares. The average return since 1950 is negative for these two months, while September is the only one where negative returns outnumber positive ones. That’s where “sell in May and go away” comes from.

It’s a hectic calendar until Christmas, with no shortage of risk factors. Despite that, few believe we have a full-blown market collapse on the cards. That looks unlikely without an accompanying recession in one of the major economies, and the traditional alarm bells for that aren’t ringing at the moment. Let the second act begin.

This article was published in The New Zealand Herald on Tuesday 4 July 2017.