Conquering the Political & Economic Hurricanes
Article is an excerpt from previously released Sidoxia Capital Management’s complementary November 1, 2012 newsletter. Subscribe on right side of page.
Hurricane Sandy wreaked havoc across the East Coast, negatively impacting an estimated 60 million people and leaving more than 8 million people literally in the dark, without power. The hurricane may have been downgraded to a “superstorm” but the 90+ mile per hour winds and waves reaching up to 40 feet high created devastating economic impacts. How large were these impacts you may ask? This big swirly cloud that slammed into the Atlantic coastline shut down about ¼ of our economy; led to about 15,000 canceled flights; is expected to cut our nation’s
Q4 output by up to -1.5% in GDP (Gross Domestic Product); and closed our financial markets for two days (the longest weather related closure of the New York Stock Exchange since 1888). Although the damage has been distressing for millions, about 5 million kids I think were okay with missing school on Monday (I’m going out on a limb with that guess).
Besides a superstorm-hurricane offered to us by Mother Nature, our country is about to undergo a new political hurricane next week with our nation’s presidential elections. Many polls show a statistical dead heat among the two candidates (Mitt Romney and Barack Obama), but political pundits point to the key battleground state of Ohio as the key determinant of the overall election results (Obama currently appears to have a slight lead in several polls). Some wildcard issues that could throw a wrench in an incumbent victory include a potential apathetic turnout by the Democratic voter base (hurt worse by “Superstorm Sandy”); worsening employment figures reported four days before the election; or perhaps a political gaffe. None of these polls are set in stone, and the situation remains rather fluid (no Sandy pun intended).
Regardless, whatever the political outcome, history shows us that the victor’s political affiliation has little correlation with the results in the financial markets. Ed Yardeni illustrated this point recently with the following chart:
What many people seem to overlook is that there are many other variables besides political affiliation that can and will impact future financial market performance including, Congressional control that may be dominated or split by the opposing political party; monetary policy set by the Federal Reserve Bank; or uncontrollable globalization influences. As emerging market countries continue to outpace our economic growth, our country’s power and persuasion will naturally diminish due to the “law of large numbers”. In other words, as the largest, most powerful economic country in the world, the mathematical gravity hinders our country’s ability to grow rapidly.
Despite the economic and political challenges our country faces, we continue to move in the right direction, albeit at a very slow historical pace. As you can see from Ed Yardeni’s chart below, our recovery from the recent recession (bottom red line) is the worst recovery in more than 50 years. On the bright side, the freshly reported Q3 GDP figures came in at a +2.0% GDP rate – uninspiring, but an improvement from Q2, and better than Wall Street consensus forecasts.
The growth has been considerably weak, yet the U.S. has still recorded 13 consecutive quarters of positive growth. Not bad considering Europe is in recession and countries like Spain are Greece are suffering unemployment rates of about 25%.
In order to maintain or accelerate economic growth, most Americans understand the Fiscal Cliff (~$700 billion in automatic spending cuts and tax hikes) needs to get resolved immediately. Failure to face this urgent challenge could have dire consequences, so voting for politicians who understand the immediacy of this problem is important.
Moving into Seasonally Strong Period
Selling in May, and going away for six months has not been a profitable strategy this year, as measured by the S&P 500 index. Furthermore, investors have also survived the historically scary performance months of September and October. Nothing is ever guaranteed, but historically the months of November through April tend to be rewarding periods.
Blowing against this positive seasonal trend have been lifeless earnings. In fact, corporate profits and revenue growth have slowed to a trickle in Q3, thanks to lackluster results from companies like Caterpillar (CAT); General Electric (GE); 3M Company (MMM); United Technologies (UTX); McDonalds (MCD); and others. Denying the global slowdown is difficult, but there are signs of stabilization and fortunately financial markets look forward and not backward.
Overshadowing some of that recent slowing growth has been the positive development in the housing market. As one can see in the chart below, housing starts are up significantly at +60% from early last year, but history tells us there is still plenty of room to move higher.
Year-to-date stock performance has been nothing short of spectacular either. Although stocks were down about -2% in October, the S&P 500 index remains up +12% through October, and that excludes about +2% in dividends. If you look at the overall asset classes in the chart below, real estate is the winning segment this year with U.S. stocks not far behind. Commodities have fared the worst and the fixed income asset class showed modest gains relative to global equities.
Within U.S. stocks, the largest of large stocks (“Megacaps”) have enjoyed the best results. This trend is not surprising given the significant uncertainties investors are reviewing (e.g., elections, Fiscal Cliff, Europe, etc.).
The recent Hurricane Sandy turned superstorm caused enormous damage to our country, and the political and economic hurricanes we have experienced over the last few years have yet to be conquered. The good news, in all these cases (physical and financial), is that the clouds are in the process of lifting; the worst damage should be behind us; our outlook will be more certain; and we can now begin focusing on the rebuilding process.
Like Washington, individual investors cannot afford to ignore their own personal Fiscal Cliffs. In a future entitlement-pressured world, investors need to proactively develop an investment plan, because ignoring your investments by kicking the can down the road only does more harm than good. I’m confident that, regardless of the election results next week, cooler heads will eventually prevail, and Democrats and Republicans can work together to solve our country’s Fiscal Cliff problems. Superstorm Sandy will not be the last natural disaster our country faces, but like investing, the more prepared one is for these unforeseen events, the better you will be equipped to conquer your financial future.
Wade W. Slome, CFA, CFP®
Plan. Invest. Prosper.
DISCLOSURE: Sidoxia Capital Management (SCM) and some of its clients hold positions in certain exchange traded funds (ETFs), but at the time of publishing SCM had no direct positions in CAT, MMM, GE, UTX, MCD, 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.