Investing with the Sentiment Pendulum
Article is an excerpt from Sidoxia Capital Management’s complementary May 2012 newsletter. Subscribe on right side of page.
The last five years have been historic in many respects. Not only have governments and central banks around the world undertaken unprecedented actions in response to the global financial crisis, but investors have ridden an emotional rollercoaster in response to historically unparalleled uncertainties.
While the nature of this past crisis has been unique, experienced investors know these fears continually manifest themselves in different forms over various cycles in time. Despite the more than doubling in equity market values over the last few years, as measured by the S&P 500 index, the emotional pendulum of investor sentiment has only partially corrected. Investor temperament has thankfully swung away from “Panic,” but has only moved closer to “Fear” and “Skepticism.” Here are some of the issues contributing to investors’ current sour mood:
The Next European Domino: The fear of the Greek domino toppling the larger Spanish and Italian economies has investors nervously chewing their finger-nails, and political turmoil in France and the Netherlands isn’t creating any additional warm and fuzzies.
Job Additions Losing Steam: New job creation here in the U.S. weakened to a lethargic monthly rate of +120,000 new jobs in March, while the unemployment rate remains stubbornly high at an 8.2% level.
Domestic Growth Losing Mojo: GDP (Gross Domestic Product) growth of +2.2% during the first quarter of 2012 also opened the door for the pessimists. Consumers are still spending (+2.9% growth), but government spending, business investment, and housing are taking wind out of the economy’s sails.
Emerging Markets Submerging: Unspectacular growth in the U.S. is not receiving any favors from slowing emerging markets like China and Brazil, which took fiscal and monetary actions to slow inflation and housing speculation in 2011.
Humpty Dumpty Politics: Presidential elections, tax policy, and deficit reduction are all concerns that carry the possibility of pushing the economic Humpty Dumpty off the wall, and as a result potentially lead to a great fall. The determination of Humpty Dumpty’s fate will likely have to wait until year-end or 2013.
Any student of history knows these fears and other concerns never go away – they simply change. But like supply and demand, gravitational forces eventually swing the emotional pendulum in the opposite direction. As Sir John Templeton so aptly stated, “Bull markets are born on pessimism, grow on skepticism, mature on optimism and die on euphoria.” Or in other words, escalating bull markets must climb the proverbial “Wall of Worry” in order to sustain upward momentum. If there was nothing to worry about, then all the buyers would already be in the markets. We are nowhere close to experiencing “Euphoria” like we saw in stocks during the late-1990s or in the housing market around 2005.
Positively Climbing the “Wall of Worry”
With all this bad news out there, surprisingly there are some glimmers of hope chipping away at the “Wall of Worry.” Here are some of the positive factors helping turn pessimist frowns upside down:
Slow & Steady Wins the Race: The economic recovery has been weaker than hoped, but I can think of worse scenarios than 11 consecutive quarters of GDP growth and 25 straight months of private job creation, which has reduced the unemployment rate from 10.0% in October 2009 to 8.2% last month.
Earnings Machine Keeps Chugging Along: With the majority of S&P 500 companies having reported their quarterly results for the first quarter, three-fourths of the companies are beating forecasted earnings, which are currently registering in at a respectable +7.1% rate (Thomson Reuters). One company epitomizing this trend is Apple Inc. (AAPL). The near doubling in Apple’s profits during the quarter, thanks to explosive iPhone sales, pushed Apple’s shares over $600 and helped drive the NASDAQ index to its best day of the year.
Super Ben to the Rescue: The Federal Reserve has already stated their intention of keeping interest rates near 0% until 2014. The potential of additional monetary stimulus spearheaded by Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke, in the form of QE3 (Quantitative Easing Part III), may provide further needed support to the stock market (a.k.a., the “Bernanke Put”).
Return of the IPO: Initial Public Offerings (IPOs) have gained steam versus last year with more than 53 already coming to market in the first four months of 2012. This is no 1999, but a good number of deals have done quite well over the last month. For example, data analysis company Splunk Inc. (SPLK) share price is already up around 100% and the value of leisure luggage company TUMI Holdings (TUMI) has climbed over +40%. In a few weeks, the highly anticipated blockbuster Facebook (FB) IPO is expected to begin trading its shares, so we can see if the chronicled deal can live up to all the hype.
Dividends Galore: Dividend payments to stockholders are flowing at an extraordinary rate so far in 2012. Companies like IBM (increased its dividend by +13%), Exxon Mobil – (XOM +21%); Goldman Sachs – (GS +31%) are but just a few of the dividend raisers this year. Through the first three months of the year, the number of companies increasing their dividend payments was up +45% as compared to the comparable number for all of 2011.
Emerging Growth Not Dead: While worriers fret over slowing growth in China, companies like Apple grew by more than +100% in this region and collected nearly 20% of its revenues from this Asian country (~$8 billion). Coincidentally, China is expected to surpass an incredible one billion mobile connections in May – many of those iPhones. In other related news, Starbucks Corp. (SBUX) plans to triple its workforce and number of stores in China over the next three years. China has also helped fuel a backlog of Caterpillar Inc. (CAT) that is more than triple the level of 2009. Emerging markets may have slowed down in 2011, but with inflation beginning to stabilize, emerging market central banks and governments are now beginning to ease policies and reduce red-tape. For example, Brazil and India have started to lower key benchmark interest rates, and China has started to reverse capital flow restrictions.
Stay Off the Trampled Path
The mantra of “Sell in May and go away” always gets a lot of playtime around this period of the year. Over the last few years, the temporary spring/summer sell-offs have only been followed by stronger price appreciation. Individuals attempting to time the market (see also Getting Off the Treadmill) generally end up in tears. And for those traders who boast about their excellent timing (like those suspicious friends who brag about always winning in Las Vegas), we all know the truth – nobody buys at the lows and sells at the highs…except for liars.
With all the noise and cross-currents flooding the airwaves, investing for individuals without assistance has never been so difficult. But before hiding in your cave or reacting to the next scary headline about Europe, the economy, or politics, do yourself a favor by reminding yourself these chilling news items are nothing new and are often great contrarian indicators (see also Back to the Future). The emotional pendulum is constantly swinging from fear to greed and investors stand to prosper by adjusting sentiment and actions in the opposite direction. To survive in the investing wild, it is best to realize that the grass is greener and the eating more abundant when you stay off the trampled path of the herd.
Wade W. Slome, CFA, CFP®
Plan. Invest. Prosper.
DISCLOSURE: Sidoxia Capital Management (SCM) and some of its clients own certain exchange traded funds and AAPL, but at the time of publishing SCM had no direct position in SPLK, TUMI, IBM, XOM, GS, SBUX, CAT, FB, or any other security referenced in this article. No information accessed through the Investing Caffeine (IC) website constitutes investment, financial, legal, tax or other advice nor is to be relied on in making an investment or other decision. Please read disclosure language on IC “Contact” page.
Entry filed under: Education, Themes - Trends. Tags: Ben Bernanke, china, corporate profits, emerging markets, emotions, Europe, fear, Federal Reserve, financial crisis, greed, investing, IPOs, market timing, Sir John Templeton.