Weekly Commentary

May 2, 2011

Despite a plethora of headwinds, markets continued their move higher in April with the S&P 500 moving higher by 3.3%.  Year-to-date the S&P 500 is up 8.4%.  International stocks are beginning to perk-up as well with the EAFE index up 8.4% for the year-to-date period through April.  Bond prices have risen 1.7% year-to-date … we expect bond prices to turn lower soon.
Earnings season is in full swing, and we witnessed a number of very strong reports over the past few weeks.  Adding fuel to the fire, Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke reiterated the Fed’s stance that rates will stay low for a while.  Sooner or later, higher oil prices will impact consumer spending and confidence.  So far, the markets seem to be dismissing the substantial drag that higher oil prices will have on the economy.  Let’s hope that the issues are just “transitory” as Mr. Bernanke described them recently.

Source: Strategas Research Partners, LLC

“A nickel ain’t worth a dime anymore.”

~Yogi Berra

Weekly Commentary

April 25, 2011

Over the years we have paid close attention to The Conference Board’s monthly publication of its U.S. Business Cycle Indicators.  The most widely referenced indicator is the Leading Economic Index, but they also publish Coincident and Lagging Economic indices which are useful.  The Leading Index (LEI) continues to reveal a healthy U.S. economy for the balance of the year.  The Index was up 0.4% on top of a revised 1.0% increase for February.

Six of the ten components of the LEI were up led by the interest rate spread.  The most negative component was consumer expectations, which have been greatly affected by energy and food prices.  One source says that consumers now anticipate a 6.7% inflation rate and flat personal income.  Mr. Bernanke believes these two inflation pressures will subside later in the year. Let’s hope he is right.

In the meantime we are encouraged by all three Conference Board measures and believe they provide a sound basis for the healthy stock market we have seen in recent months.

“I, however, place economy among the first and most important republican virtues, and public debt as the greatest of the dangers to be feared.”

– Thomas Jefferson

Weekly Commentary

April 18, 2011

Last Friday CPI was reported as up 0.5% due to higher energy and food prices although core inflation, 0.1%, continues to be within Federal Reserve guidelines. This week look for several reports on the housing market starting with building permits and housing starts on Tuesday and existing home sales on Wednesday. The housing sector continues to be sluggish with continued downward pressure on prices.

Historically, residential investment has accounted for 19% of GDP growth in the early quarters of an economic recovery. GDP growth estimates for the first quarter of 2011 are being revised downward by some economists to 2% largely as a result of the slow housing recovery.

Stocks and bond markets will be closed on Friday due to the Good Friday holiday.

Weekly Commentary

April 11, 2011

Earnings season will begin in earnest this week, with Alcoa kicking off the festivities Monday evening.  Other noteworthy reports include JPM Wednesday morning, GOOG Thursday afternoon and BAC Friday morning.  Locally, HAS reports Thursday morning.
“The Ben Bernanke” has been striving to gin up inflation, and he has succeeded.  The PPI and CPI to be reported Thursday and Friday will come closer to confirming this reality.
As a result, commodities, including grains, gold and oil are rising [gasoline is up ~30% ytd] while the dollar is falling.

One consolation is the fact that equities have been [and will continue to be] a pretty good hedge against inflation.

Stay tuned.

Weekly Commentary

April 4, 2011

The 1st quarter ended on a positive note with continued improvement in economic data, most notably with the unemployment rate dipping to 8.8%.  Despite all the headline risk, the S&P 500 posted its best first quarter since 1998, with a gain of 5.4%.
This week’s calendar is pretty quiet with few corporate earnings and little economic updates. “M&A Monday” continues to pick up steam as corporations are becoming more comfortable with the economic landscape. Tuesday we expect to see continued improvement in the ISM-Non Manufacturing report:
The balance of the week consists of the release of the FOMC minutes, which is the summary of the discussions during the previous Federal Reserve meeting. We will also get an update on the state of the consumer with Thursday’s Consumer Credit report.

The Week Ahead

March 28, 2011

The markets continue to climb a wall of worry.  Despite unrest in the Middle East and North Africa and the day-to-day challenges with the recovery effort in Japan and the constant fear of a nuclear catastrophe the markets found a way to move higher last week.  For the week, the S&P 500 was ahead by 2.7% while international markets (EAFE) moved ahead by 3.4%.   Oh, and don’t forget the sovereign debt crisis in Europe…
Earnings and economic news should remain fairly positive.  The week ahead includes US consumer spending, disposable income and pending home sales being reported on Monday.  We expect reasonable consumer spending numbers (increase @ 0.7%) along with moderate disposable income (increase @ 0.3%).  Housing remains a wildcard as weather hampered sales in many parts of the country.  Friday brings the US labor market report along with the ISM manufacturing report … these reports will likely set the market tone until earnings in a few weeks.  Both numbers could be a tad weak following February’s lack of employment growth.

The Week Ahead

March 21, 2011

It is an unusual time for sports fans when world affairs are more spellbinding than NCAA basketball.  The past few days have found us more concerned with Libya and Qaddafi and Japan and their nuclear reactor dangers.  However with Monday’s arrival we now see increasing hope that radiation may be contained in the reactors and that a limited involvement via the no-fly zone can be effective in protecting rebel strongholds in Libya.  A protracted ground war involving U.S. troops seems most unlikely.
With more time we can refocus our thoughts on the U.S. economy.  Unemployment data has been improving slowly and in general the consumer seems a bit more confident.  This Friday we will see the Michigan consumer confidence report.  In general the manufacturing side of the economy has provided a lift and we continue to favor a number of equities in that sector.

The Week Ahead

March 14, 2011

Economic and stock market news understandably took a back seat at the end of last week [which saw a 1.0% decline in the DJIA] to the Japanese earthquake and subsequent tsunami.  The probable death toll has reached 10,000 and is still climbing.  Our prayers go out to all who are affected by this tragedy.
Conflict in the Middle East continued, with the Saudi Arabian “day of rage” fizzling and Libyan government forces gaining ground [in spite of US government cheer-leading for the insurgents].
These conflicts will regain the headlines [for better or worse] when Japan headlines fade.
Last week’s retail sales figures confirmed the current economic expansion, and documented that January’s snowstorms were less disruptive than originally feared.


The Week Ahead

March 7, 2011

Despite the volatility last week, the DJIA advanced 0.33% for the week.  The big news items last week were the jobs report and oil prices.  Crude oil ended the week at $104.41 per barrel, the highest since September of 2008.

The jobs report was much improved over the prior two months with a reported 192,000 new jobs for the month and the unemployment rate declining to 8.9%. The economy will need to continue to create jobs at that rate in order for the unemployment rate to fall further.

This week look for positive retail and auto sales numbers on Friday along with the University of Michigan consumer index. Look for continued volatility in oil as fighting in Libya causes further concerns about oil supply.

The Week Ahead

February 28, 2011

Global markets were faced with geopolitical unrest out of the Middle East, sending all US equity indices lower for the week. These concerns also drove crude oil markets higher, raised inflation concerns and caused US GDP forecasts to be trimmed.
This week we will keep an eye on how far the unrest spreads and if increasing oil supply out of Saudi Arabia will calm oil prices. So far, we do not believe the recent spike in oil is great enough to derail our economy, especially given last week’s reading of consumer confidence, back at levels not seen in 3 years:
As we said last week, corrections will likely be bought by investors, who will be moving out of cash and bonds and into equities.  This week could be a bumpy ride for equities as investors shift their focus to Friday’s employment report.