Australian shares (ASX 200) set to open higher – what you need to know

The Australian share market and S&P/ASX 200 (ASX: XJO) is expected to open higher on Monday morning, according to data from the Sydney Futures Exchange.

Ackman says buy & Ramsay Health reports

The ASX 200 fell for the second straight day on Friday, finishing down 0.2%. However, it managed to add 3.2% for the week. The reasons were pretty clear, positive news on a COVID-19 vaccine coming from Pfizer (NYSE: PFE) sent beaten-down cyclical shares into a three-day bull market.

After an initial bounce in the energy, travel and property sectors it was back to reality as the week went on. Friday saw the long-awaited Sohn Hearts & Minds Conference, during which the country’s leading stock pickers put forward the best picks for the year ahead. To lead off, star US fund manager Bill Ackman, who headlined the show, suggested that 2021 stands out as a potentially strong year for the US stock market, advising listeners to ‘go long’ despite concerns of another economic shutdown.

The top ASX stocks tipped including CSL Limited (ASX: CSL), described as an ‘undiscovered gem’, meal kit delivery service Hello Fresh (ETR: HFG) and Fisher & Paykel Healthcare Ltd (ASX: FPH).

Ramsay Healthcare Ltd (ASX: RHC) updated the market on its performance for the first quarter, saying that the Victorian lockdowns hurt its Australian business in the short term. That said, the results were quite resilient. Australian revenue increased 1.5% but 6.6% when Victoria was excluded, on the back of a 1.7% increase in admissions (8% ex Victoria), suggesting the ‘snapback’ has been incredibly quick after restrictions are lifted.

Recent restrictions in the UK and France, where revenue fell 9.9% and increased 5.4%, respectively, were offset by continued Government support until 31 December. All in all, it seems a solid result for Ramsay in the circumstances with the company set to benefit from a backlog of surgery and longer public waiting times.

US finishes higher

Turning to US markets it was a decidedly strong finish to the week, with every sector in the S&P 500 finishing higher, pushing the index up 1.4%. Meanwhile, the underperformance of technology shares continued with the Nasdaq finishing just 1.0% higher — the full week result was a loss of 0.6%.

Walt Disney (NYSE: DIS) rallied after a strong quarterly earnings result with the US$700 million quarterly loss on its theme park and cruise divisions offset by the 73 million paid subscribers on its Disney+ streaming service. I think it offers a high-quality recovery opportunity.

Look beyond the index

My first takeaway for this week is the importance of looking beyond the headline index figures plastered over news headlines every day. ‘Vaccine week’ offered an insight into issues faced by passive investors with the market increasing 3.5% but a number of companies either falling or rising by more than 15% as investors rotating from winning sectors to losers. With such divergence, I think active investing is likely to grow in importance, particularly in highly concentrated markets.

The second is that despite positive news on the vaccine, we aren’t out of the woods just yet, a message reiterated by the Bank of England, Federal Reserve, and the European Central Bank. All three financial leaders highlighted the medium-term benefit of the vaccine but warned that it will do little to solve the short-term impacts of economic shutdowns and spiraling deaths.

That leads me to the final thought, in the importance of now reassessing everything we had been expecting just last week. How long will the recovery now take? Will the Government reduce stimulus too early? Is inflation now a threat? These are all of the important questions I will be considering in the months ahead.

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