Laissez Les Bon Temps Rouler

March 24, 2014

03.24.14

 

While there are plenty of issues to keep us up at night-Putin’s Ukraine forays and the sad story of the Malaysian Airliner- there is a happier event to report.  The Fed has completed its recent stress test for the major banks in the United States and 29 of 30 have passed the test.  As a result, we expect many banks and financial institutions to be allowed to raise their dividends and/or buy back their shares.  There will certainly be jockeying between the Fed and the banks, and we should know what will be allowed this week.

 

One of the banks we follow closely is Citicorp which is only paying $.04 per year while earning $4.35 last year.  They seem ready for a substantial increase in dividend. Some of the best capitalized banks were American Express, RBS Citizens, PNC, Wells Fargo and U.S. Bancorp. 

 

We feel confident this will be the year that major banks will be permitted to show shareholders some affection. We’ll find out very soon….ayez de la patience

“Being the richest man in the cemetery doesn’t matter to me. Going to bed at night saying we’ve done something wonderful, that’s what matters to me.”
-Steve Jobs

 

Looking Forward to Spring

March 17, 2014

03.17.14

Last week the S&P 500 suffered its largest weekly loss since late January due to disappointing economic data and uncertainty over the situation in the Ukraine. Most economists are attributing the weaker reports to severe winter weather. The DJIA was down 2.4% for the week and is now down 3.1% YTD. 

This week look for several reports on the housing industry as well as the results of a 2 day Fed meeting. Most people expect the Fed to continue its tapering program by reducing bond purchases by another $10 billion per month. Economic numbers should improve as the weather improves. 

One note of caution is a report in the WSJ that insider selling, when adjusted to only include officers and directors, shows a record level of selling particularly in capital goods, technology, consumer durables and consumer non- durables.

S & P 500 Chart

     An Irish Blessing      

May your troubles be less
And your blessings be more
And nothing but happiness
Come through your door.

 

The Glass is Half-Full!

March 12, 2014

03.12.14

Despite many headwinds and distractions, the market advanced again last week.  The much anticipated payroll data was better than expected: 175,000 jobs were added to nonfarm payrolls in February, and the January revised up by 14%.  The Russian invasion of the Crimean region of the Ukraine (and the US’ impotence) is temporarily on the back burner, although Gazprom’s implied supply disruptions have a lid on European equity performance.

We have referenced the slower-than-typical economic recovery for some time now, and have referenced regulatory drag as the primary problem.  Overall this problem continues, but there are occasional glimmers of hope.  The recent Medicare Part D denouement is a case in point.

HHS proposed a plan to gut this very popular (39M beneficiaries) and very efficient (45% less costly than originally budgeted!!) drug subsidy program first enacted in 2003 (a NIH resentment?). Fortunately, this produced an overwhelming protest [277 groups signed a protest letter and a bipartisan group of 24 Senators rebelled]. Consequently, HHS decided to shelve the plan, at least for now.

Thankfully, Washington DC does occasionally act in the voters’ best interest (at least when sufficient pressure is exerted!). Note that the January market swoon has been more than offset by subsequent strength, such that the S&P 500 is now up 1.6% year-to-date. 

“Government, even in its best state, is but a necessary evil; in its worst state, an intolerable one.”
Thomas Paine

Graham and Buffett

March 3, 2014

03.03.14

It’s around this time of the year when investors start looking for Warren Buffett’s annual letter to the stockholders of Berkshire Hathaway.  As usual there is much to sink your dentures into; we found Buffett’s open dependence on Benjamin Graham’s 1949 book, The Intelligent Investor, noteworthy.  Buffett describes Graham’s ideas as logical, elegant, and easy to understand.  The revised edition of chapters 8 and 20 are the keys to Buffett. In a strange twist, Geico and Burlington Northern or their predecessors were two companies that Graham himself purchased that Mr. Buffett later purchased for Berkshire Hathaway.

Both men place little emphasis on market timing or macro-economic analysis, focusing instead on knowing their companies inside and out.  Buffett is actually pleased by the “capricious” nature of investors, causing them to listen to pundits, and worse yet, acting on their comments.  He is more than happy to buy when all sounds gloomy. Conversely, he remembers Barton Biggs’ famous quote: “A bull market is like sex.  It feels best just before it ends.” Tumbling markets can be helpful to the true investor if he has cash available when prices get far out of line with values.  A climate of fear is your friend when investing; a euphoric world is your enemy….words of wisdom from Benjamin Graham and Warren Buffet. 

“When one door of happiness closes another opens; but often we look so long at the closed door that we do not see the one which has been opened for us.”
-Helen Keller

Slower Growth

February 24, 2014

02.24.14

Last week U. S. equities edged lower ending a two week winning streak.  The DJIA dropped 0.3% for the week and the S&P 500 was down 0.1% for the week.  This week look for several more reports on the housing markets.  Last week existing home sales fell 5% and housing starts were down 16%. 

This Tuesday the Case-Shiller S&P index should show home prices rose 12% last year.  On Wednesday new home sales for January should show a third monthly decline and on Friday pending home sales could also be down for the eighth consecutive month.  Most analysts are blaming poor housing numbers on the weather but a decline in pending home sales would be troubling as they are considered to be a leading indicator and could portend a slowing in the economy. 

Keep an eye on the economic numbers as the weather gets warmer to see if the economy is still improving.

“When everything seems to be  going against you….remember that the airplane takes off against the wind not with it.”
-Henry Ford

Stormy Weather…..

February 18, 2014

02.18.14

Equity markets were decently higher last week on the heels of mixed economic news. Bond prices moved slightly lower as yields pushed higher. 

For the week, the Dow Jones Industrial Average finished at 16,154.39 to close the week higher by 2.28%. The broader-based S&P 500 closed at 1,838.63 for a gain of 2.32% for the week. The Nasdaq Composite closed the week at 4,244.03 for an advance of 2.86%. International markets also moved higher as the Dow Jones Global (ex US) Index gained 2.05% for the week. Despite last week’s snap-back, market averages remain negative for the year-to-date period with the Dow Jones Industrial Average down 2.5%. The 10-year Treasury sold-off slightly to close the week at a yield of 2.75% … up a bit from last week’s 2.71% yield. 

Most economic news released last week was fairly disappointing, including misses in industrial production, initial jobless claims, retail sales and consumer confidence. Of course, the stormy weather over the past month has taken most of the blame for the swath of weak economic news. Fortunately, investors looked-through the weather-impacted data and pushed markets higher … perhaps taking their cue from Dallas Fed President Richard Fisher who opined that the Fed would continue their tapering of its asset purchase program despite the recent weak economic news. International news provided a breath of fresh air as China’s trade data surprised to the upside. Eurozone GDP was also better-than-expected. 

Fourth quarter earnings season is almost over as 77% of S&P 500 companies have reported. Here’s the breakdown of earnings: 68% reported positive surprises, 21% reported negative surprises and 11% reported in-line numbers. 

Spring is just over a month away … hang-on!

“Don’t knock the weather; nine-tenths of the people couldn’t start a conversation if it didn’t change once in a while.”
-Kim Hubbard

 

The Correction Takes a Breather

February 11, 2014

02.11.14

Last week’s markets were whipsawed by economic uncertainty, which was eventually offset by longer-term optimism. Monday’s higher opening was quickly reversed by a very disappointing ISM Manufacturing Index update.  The result was a closing 2.3% swoon by the S&P 500. However, the rest of the week moved erratically higher, and the weekly tally was a 50 to 80 basis-point advance by the major indices [the Russell 2000 did fall by 1.3%, which is a subject for subsequent market note].

An important factor for equity traders is currently the value of the yen. The yen-based carry trade is most rewarding when the yen falls versus the dollar and stocks simultaneously advance. That is exactly what happened in the second half of last week: the dollar advanced in yen terms and the equity markets were able to move higher. [but is it causation, or just correlation?]

Note that the overall dollar index {the DXY} was slightly negative, that gold advanced, and the stronger 10-year treasury’s yield is back down to 2.68%. The new Fed chair will be testifying Tuesday [recall that new Fed appointees are inevitably tested by markets].These markets continue to be treacherous for traders.

“If you don’t know who your are, the stock market is an expensive place to find out”
– Adam Smith [aka George JW Goodman]

 

Shrinkage and Other Interesting Topics

February 3, 2014

A recent story about companies buying their shares back caught our eye. As shares are repurchased earnings per share go up in corresponding fashion. The largest repurchaser was Direct TV (12.6%) followed by, surprisingly, General Motors (11.6%), Pfizer (11.4%), Halliburton (8.9%), and O’Reilly Automotive (8.7%). As an indicator these buy backs and consistently increasing dividends are two excellent things to watch. 

Managers have been cautious in the New Year and some of the concerns cited have been fear of a Chinese slowdown, followed by an emerging market economic response, and continued sluggishness in Europe. Meanwhile, the numbers here at home have been very good with GDP up over 3% and consumer confidence quite good. 

We would point out that markets are volatile (more right now), but volatility will lead to opportunity.  Having cash reserves and other short-term investments at the ready will pay off handsomely.

“There are three kinds of lies: Lies, damned lies, and statistics.”
– Leonard Courtney

Correction?

January 27, 2014

01.27.14

Last week equity markets were rattled by economic news out of China which indicated that the Chinese economy may be slowing even further. As a result on Friday U.S. markets had their largest daily decline in 7 months. The DJIA was down 3.5% for the week and the S&P 500 was off 2.6% for the week. 

Emerging market equities were hit even harder with most markets down 6% YTD as a slowdown in China lessens demand for commodities which are the main exports for many emerging countries. 

With question marks about the strength of global recovery we may be about to experience a more extensive correction than any that occurred in 2013.

“Nothing ever becomes real till it is experienced.”
-John Keats

The New Year and the Old Inflation Concern

January 21, 2014

01.21.14

The Market was mixed last week, with the DJIA advancing 0.1% while the S&P fell -0.2%. This continues the Year-to-Date pattern of flat to down markets, [only partially offset by advancing Nasdaq and Russell 2000].

One of the Market’s recurring concerns is Europe [in spite of its 2.0% YTD stock market performance]. The easy money crowd is focusing on the “low” 0.8% Euro inflation rate registered in December. In fact, The International Monetary Fund is now pressuring the European Central Bank to do something about the IMF’s deflation fears:

However, the IMF may be ignoring the difficulty of the ECB [which is not a single country central bank] instituting some form of Quantitative Easing. Moreover, individual countries occasionally need to endure falling prices in order to regain competitiveness. Finally, the Japan example does not really apply in this situation [perhaps more on that in future installments].

The market is off to a tentative start in 2014. Perhaps the 2013 market “borrowed” some performance from 2014, and we will no doubt see corrections this year, but the longer term trend is still higher.

“The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy. The true neighbor will risk his position, his prestige and even his life for the welfare of others.”
-Dr. Martin Luther King