Off the Radar At Last

July 15, 2013

07.15.13

Many analysts have been spending their time agonizing over the slowdown in the Chinese economy.  The second quarter GDP numbers are out and now perhaps the analysts will move on to something else.

China reported 7.5% growth for the quarter, which was right on the estimates.  This is a slowdown from China’s previous 10-11% reported growth, but is a much more sustainable pace. It also helps with worldwide inflation caused by the excess demand from China.  Big exporters to China can adapt to the changed level of activity.

Alcoa kicked off the quarterly earnings reporting season, but the major banks tell us more about U.S. economic conditions. So far these reports have made for pleasant reading. Wells Fargo kicked off the proceedings by reporting a $.98 quarter versus the $.93 consensus.  Estimates will go up for 2013-15 as a result.  Their balance sheet is the strongest of the big banks.  Its capital strength stands out as its most impressive characteristic and provides the freedom to increase dividends and/or buy back shares.

J.P. Morgan came up next, reporting $1.60 for the quarter, ahead by 32% from a year ago.  Improvement was boosted by refinancing levels, lower credit losses and very strong investment banking.

Finally, Citicorp reported today and kept pace with its brethren.  $1.34 handily beat the forecasted number of $1.18.  The bank showed continued improvement on bad loans and improved expense control, which has been a focus of new CEO Michael Corbat.  Citi’s most unique aspect is that it sells right around tangible book value, best of the big banks.  Personnel expenses were down 4.35%, total expenses decreased by 2.1%.

“Remember, my son, that any man who is a bear on the future of this country will go broke.”
– John Pierpont Morgan

Earnings Season Begins

July 8, 2013

07.08.13

Last week the major economic news was the monthly jobs report for June showing that 195,000 new jobs were created, which was above the consensus expectation for 170,000 new jobs. Also, revisions to prior monthly reports were positive and as a result, for the year to date, employers have averaged adding 200,000 jobs per month.

The stock market reacted positively on Friday and for the week the DJIA was up 1.52%. However, bond investors were less sanguine and interest rates continued their recent rise with the 10 year Treasury hitting 2.71%. The stronger jobs data reinforces expectations that the Fed will start to slow its monthly bond-buying program in September and as a result interest rates continued their recent rise. Higher mortgage rates would have a negative effect on the housing recovery.

This week starts the earnings reporting period for the second quarter beginning with Alcoa on Monday, but the big banks starting with J.P. Morgan and Wells Fargo don’t report until Friday. Financials as a group are expected to have the best earnings with a 17% increase. Overall, analysts’ expectations for second quarter earnings for the S&P 500 companies is only for a 0.7% increase down from the 3.5% increase in the first quarter. More concerning is the fact that revenue growth has been slowing for most companies and second quarter revenue is only projected to grow by 1%. Most companies will probably be able to beat lowered earnings expectations but it becomes harder and harder with lower revenues, further evidence of a below normal economic recovery.

Today’s History
1889 Wall Street Journal begins publishing

“Facts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passions, they cannot alter the state of the facts and evidence.”
– John Adams

Taper Tantrum Rebound

July 1, 2013

07.01.13

Markets recovered last week from the Fed’s Taper Tantrum the previous week.

For the week, the Dow Jones Industrial Average finished at 14,909.6 to close up by 0.7%.  The S&P 500 closed at 1,606.3 for a gain 0.9% for the week.  The Nasdaq Composite closed the week at 3,403.3 for a jump of 1.4%.  Fortunately, most international markets fared similarly as the Dow Jones Global (ex US) Index gained 1.4% for the week (the index is still down 1.1% for the year-to-date period through June). Bonds rose slightly for the week following the previous week’s sharp sell-off.  The 10-year Treasury closed the week at a yield of 2.49% … down from last week’s 2.54% yield (and 2.64% intraweek high).

Members of the Federal Open Market Committee attempted to play-down the market’s overreaction to previous comments from Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke that the Fed would begin to taper their bond purchases (thus slowly removing stimulus to the economy).  The markets, as usual, pulled forward expectations for Fed easing, and overreacted to the Fed’s eventual easing.  Perhaps the bond market’s sell-off will put-off Fed easing for a few months. We see treasury yields stabilizing for a few months before grinding slowly higher into year-end.

Most economic news released last week was fairly positive – consumer confidence hit record highs, initial jobless claims were favorable, new homes sales finished at five year highs, and durable goods orders beat expectations.  A few disappointing economic data points included first quarter GDP being revised lower from 2.4% to 1.8% and a tepid purchasing managers’ index.  The big economic release for this week is June’s job report due out on Friday (consensus is 170k).

As always, we urge investors not to get caught up in the day-to-day noise of the markets.  Instead, focus on long-term goals and enjoy the summer.

Best wishes to everyone for a great Fourth of July holiday!

“The most dangerous of all falsehoods is a slightly distorted truth.”
– George Christoph Lichtenberg

Reflection

June 24, 2013

06.24.13

Negative pressure continued for global markets last week following the recent hawkish tone coming out of the U.S. Federal Reserve. Equities, fixed income and commodities sold off for the week with the Dow Jones down 1.8%, the U.S. 10 year treasury rising to 2.54% (its highest levels since 2011), and Gold down 6.9%.

We have been discussing a correction for some time in our weekly pieces. This week, we thought it would be useful to reiterate some points we have discussed in previous commentaries. On May 6th we showed the following chart which shows June as the second worst performing month of the year for the S&P 500:

The S&P 500 is still up 12.8% for the year but we have given back over 4% in the past 4 weeks.

On June 3rd we published “Fed Shift?” which highlights the changing tone of the Fed: “Stocks retreated on the day because investors viewed these reports as signs the Fed could taper sooner rather than later. Regardless, this may be the start to a much discussed equity market correction.”

On June 11th “QE’s Inevitable End?” we continued with: “Mentions of QE’s inevitable end have been one of the primary reasons for recent market downdrafts, and it is becoming clearer that the transition back to sound money policies will cause further bond and equity angst.”

Markets are digesting the Fed’s outlook and the recent surge in interest rates. However, our long term view on stocks and the economy is positive. As said on June 17th: “We urge investors not to get caught up in the day-to-day noise of the markets.  Instead, focus on long-term goals and enjoy the nice weather!”

“Follow effective action with quiet reflection. From the quiet reflection will come even more effective action.”
– Peter F. Drucker

Increased Volatility…

June 17, 2013

06.17.13

Markets gyrated quite a bit last week as increased uncertainty about the economy and the direction of the Federal Reserve unnerved investors.

For the week, the Dow Jones Industrial Average finished at 15,070.2 to close down by 1.2%.  The S&P 500 closed at 1,626.7 for a decline of 1.0% for the week.  The Nasdaq Composite closed the week at 3,423.6 for a decline of 1.3%.  Most international markets fared similarly as the EAFE (Europe, Australia and Far East) Index gave back 1.1% for the week.  Bonds were relatively unchanged for the week with the benchmark 10-yr treasury closing the week with a yield of 2.12% (from 2.14% the previous week).

Economic news last week was largely mixed.  U.S retail sales and initial jobless claims were better-than- expected, yet manufacturing and industrial production news were less-than-expected.  The World Bank (who?) lowered global growth expectations to 2.2% in 2013 and 3% in 2014, yet they see smoother growth ahead (wouldn’t that be nice?).

Investors will be keeping close tabs on comments from this week’s Federal Open Market Committee meeting scheduled for Tuesday and Wednesday.  Other notable items this week include the consumer price index, producer price index and Home Builders survey.  We expect more volatility this week as Fed comments and economic news will likely fail to provide clarity to investors.  We urge investors not to get caught up in the day-to-day noise of the markets.  Instead, focus on long-term goals and enjoy the nice weather!

“Well done is better than well said.”
– Benjamin Franklin

QE’s Inevitable End?

June 11, 2013

06.11.13

The Market ended the week with respectable ~0.8% gains, albeit with a lot of volatility. Monday’s positive cancer research developments were offset by Tuesday’s intra-day reversal. The Dow broke its string of 20 consecutive positive Tuesdays. Midweek dollar weakness coupled with abrupt strength in the yen further roiled equities, but Friday’s payroll numbers boosted the S&P 500 by 1.3% for the day.

Quantitative Easing by the US, the European Union and more recently Japan has been a big boost for both the bond and stock markets. However, it appears that its usefulness is coming to an end [some would argue that unlimited money printing was never a net positive]. Mentions of QE’s inevitable end have been one of the primary reasons for recent market downdrafts, and it is becoming clearer that the transition back to sound money policies will cause further bond and equity angst.

Finally, it should be noted that the federal budget deficit has improved dramatically. The Sequester and [perhaps only temporary] slower Medicare spending growth has reduced the obscene $1 trillion-plus annual deficit to “only” ~$640B for this year. An annual deficit of four percent of GDP is still too large, but it is a step in the right direction.


“The measure of who we are is what we do with what we have.”

– Vince Lombardi

Fed Shift?

June 3, 2013

06.03.13

Last week equity markets finished lower with the S&P 500 down 1.1%. However, the S&P 500 was up 2.1% for the month and 14.3% year-to-date. Bonds, most notably long duration U.S. treasuries, have been under pressure as interest rates have moved up from their historic lows. The Barclays US Aggregate Bond was -0.69% for the week, -1.78% for the month and -0.91% year-to-date.

The recent market pressure is related to uncertainty around the Fed’s expected tapering of quantitative easing. Investors are now focusing a sharp eye on economic reports that may dictate future Fed moves. For example, on Friday consumer sentiment (shown below) and Chicago PMI were stronger than expected.

Stocks retreated on the day because investors viewed these reports as signs the Fed could taper sooner rather than later. Regardless, this may be the start to a much discussed equity market correction. As we have stated recently, market corrections will most likely be sallow.

“Uncertainty will always be part of the taking charge process.”
– Harold S. Geneen

Happy Days Are Here Again

May 28, 2013

05.28.13

Rarely have we had such a pleasant way to begin a work week after a three day weekend than today.  Consider the good news: consumer confidence jumped up on the Conference Board Report from 69 to 76.  This is well above the experts’ forecast of 71-72.  The real superstar number was home prices jumping 10.9% versus a year ago. (Of course if you are a first time buyer you‘re not thrilled by the news.)

Separately we learned that Texas home prices hit a new all-time high.  Many cities do still have a ways to go to get back to their old highs. Prices nationally are about 29% below the July 2006 peak.

Two of the factors influencing the improvement are job gains and near-record low mortgage rates.  Important to the supply-demand equation is a slower pace of homeowners putting their house on the market.  The supply of available homes did jump in April, but remains 14% below its year ago level.  The reemergence of “flippers” in the market is also having an impact.  We have heard of real buyers being outbid by these flippers.

In sum, the housing improvement is having a significant effect on the economy and the stock market.  Today will be the twentieth consecutive up Tuesday for stocks.  Enjoy it, but remain vigilant when the news is all good.

“Happy days are here again
The skies above are clear again
Let us sing a song of cheer again
Happy days are here again”

-Jack Yellen

Purchasing Power

May 20, 2013

05.20.13

Last week stocks continued their advance with the DJIA gaining 1.6% and the S&P 500 2.1% supported by better than expected consumer confidence readings on Friday. Since consumer spending represents about 70% of U.S. GDP this is a key indicator for continued economic growth. Also, last week CPI numbers were released and inflation continues to be tame with prices up from a year earlier by 1.1% well under the Fed’s target of 2%.

However, rates on the 10 year Treasury hit 1.95% on Friday as some Fed officials publicly start to question when and how to end the Fed’s program of quantitative easing. The Fed’s program of purchasing $85 billion a month in mortgages has helped the housing industry and home prices. The timing and the speed of any reduction in easing by the Fed will be crucial in its impact on stock and bond prices. Hopefully the fed will time it perfectly just as the economy is on a sustainable growth path.

Today’s history – 1932 Amelia Earhart leaves Newfoundland as the 1st woman to fly solo across the Atlantic.
“Never interrupt someone doing what you said couldn’t be done.”
– Amelia Earhart

Inflation’s Steady Toll

May 13, 2013

05.13.13

Discussions have been increasing about stocks being overvalued. It is true that last week the U.S. equity markets hit another record high, but that was not on an inflation adjusted basis. We see this as encouraging given stocks tend to beat inflation by a wide margin over time, especially when you reinvest dividends. According to Yale University finance professor Robert Shiller, the S&P 500 hit its all-time high in early 2000. To surpass this previous peak on an inflation adjusted basis, the S&P 500 would have to appreciate another 20+ percent to 2,000 versus Friday’s closing price of 1,634 (See chart below).

From another perspective, rising stock prices seem to be thawing out the initial public offering market. Year-to-date 64 companies have become publicly traded enabling them to raise $16.8 billion.  This is an increase over last year-to-date but is well below the peak in the 1990s. More IPOs show investor confidence in the equity markets and the economy. This in turn gives companies the funding access required to grow their businesses, and, in turn, their stock prices.

“No matter how good you get you can always get better and that’s the exciting part.”
– Tiger Woods