Posts filed under ‘International’
This article is an excerpt from a previously released Sidoxia Capital Management complementary newsletter (December 1, 2015). Subscribe on the right side of the page for the complete text.
It’s that time of year again when an estimated 135 million bargain shoppers set aside personal dignity and topple innocent children in the name of Black Friday holiday weekend, doorbuster discounts. Whether you are buying a new big screen television at Amazon for half-off or a new low-cost index fund, everyone appreciates a good value or bargain, which amplifies the importance of the price you pay. Even though consumers are estimated to have spent $83 billion over the post-turkey-coma, holiday weekend, this spending splurge only represents a fraction of the total 2015 holiday shopping season frenzy. When all is said and done, the average person is projected to dole out $805 for the full holiday shopping season (see chart below) – just slightly higher than the $802 spent over the same period last year.
While consumers have displayed guarded optimism in their spending plans, Americans have demonstrated the same cautiousness in their investing behavior, as evidenced by the muted 2015 stock market gains. More specifically, for the month of November, stock prices increased by +0.32% for the Dow Jones Industrial Average (17,720) and +0.05% for the S&P 500 index (2,080). For the first 11 months of the year, the stock market results do not look much different. The Dow has barely slipped by -0.58% and the S&P 500 has inched up by +1.01%.
Given all the negative headlines and geopolitical concerns swirling around, how have stock prices managed to stay afloat? In the face of significant uncertainty, here are some of the calming factors that have supported the U.S. financial markets:
- Jobs Piling Up: The slowly-but-surely expanding economy has created about 13 million new jobs since late 2009 and the unemployment rate has been chopped in half (from a peak of 10% to 5%).
Source: Calafia Beach Pundit
- Housing Recovery: New and existing home sales are recovering and home prices are approaching previous record levels, as the Case-Shiller price indices indicate below.
Source: Calculated Risk Blog
- Strong Consumer: Cars are flying off the shelves at a record annualized pace of 18 million units – a level not seen since 2000. Lower oil and gasoline prices have freed up cash for consumers to pay down debt and load up on durable goods, like some fresh new wheels.
Source: Calculated Risk Blog
Despite a number of positive factors supporting stock prices near all-time record highs and providing plenty of attractive opportunities, there are plenty of risks to consider. If you watch the alarming nightly news stories on TV or read the scary newspaper headlines, you’re more likely to think it’s Halloween season rather than Christmas season.
At the center of the recent angst are the recent coordinated terrorist attacks that took place in Paris, killing some 130 people. With ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria) claiming responsibility for the horrific acts, political and military resources have been concentrated on the ISIS occupied territories of Syria and Iraq. Although I do not want to diminish the effects of the appalling and destructive attacks in Paris, the events should be placed in proper context. This is not the first or last large terrorist attack – terrorism is here to stay. As I show in the chart below, there have been more than 200 terrorist attacks that have killed more than 10 people since the 9/11 attacks. Much of the Western military power has turned a blind eye towards these post-9/11 attacks because many of them have taken place off of U.S. or Western country soil. With the recent downing of the Russian airliner (killing all 224 passengers), coupled with the Paris terror attacks, ISIS has gained the full military attention of the French, Americans, and Russians. As a result, political willpower is gaining momentum to heighten military involvement.
Investor anxiety isn’t solely focused outside our borders. The never ending saga of when the Federal Reserve will initiate its first Federal Funds interest rate target increase could finally be coming to an end. According to the CME futures market, there currently is a 78% probability of a 0.25% interest rate increase on December 16th. As I have said many times before, interest rates are currently near generational lows, and the widely communicated position of Federal Reserve Chairwoman Yellen (i.e., shallow slope of future interest rate hike trajectory) means much of the initial rate increase pain has likely been anticipated already by market participants. After all, a shift in your credit card interest rate from 19.00% to 19.25% or an adjustment to your mortgage rate from 3.90% to 4.15% is unlikely to have a major effect on consumer spending. In fact, the initial rate hike may be considered a vote of confidence by Yellen to the sustainability of the current economic expansion.
Shopping Without My Rose Colored Glasses
Regardless of the state of the economic environment, proper investing should be instituted through an unemotional decision-making process, just as going shopping should be an unemotional endeavor. Price and value should be the key criteria used when buying a specific investment or holiday gift. Unfortunately for many, emotions such as greed, fear, impatience, and instant gratification overwhelm objective measurements such as price and value.
As I have noted on many occasions, over the long-run, money unemotionally moves to where it is treated best. From a long-term perspective, that has meant more capital has migrated to democratic and capitalistic countries with a strong rule of law. Closed, autocratic societies operating under corrupt regimes have been the big economic losers.
With all of that set aside, the last six years have created tremendous investment opportunities due to the extreme investor risk aversion created by the financial crisis – hence the more than tripling in U.S. stock prices since March 2009.
When comparing the yield (i.e., profit earned on an investment) between stocks and bonds, as shown in the chart below, you can see that stock investors are being treated significantly better than bond investors (6.1% vs. 4.0%). Not only are bond investors receiving a lower yield than stock investors, but bond investors also have no hope of achieving higher payouts in the future. Stocks, on the other hand, earn the opportunity of a double positive whammy. Not only are stocks currently receiving a higher yield, but stockholders could achieve a significantly higher yield in the future. For example, if S&P 500 earnings can grow at their historic rate of about 7%, then the current stock earnings yield of 6.1% would about double to 12.0% over the next decade at current prices. The inflated price and relative attractiveness of stocks looks that much better if you compare the 6.1% earnings yield to the paltry 2.2% 10-Year Treasury yield.
This analysis doesn’t mean everyone should pile 100% of their portfolios into stocks, but it does show how expensively nervous investors are valuing bonds. Time horizon, risk tolerance, and diversification should always be pillars to a disciplined, systematic investment strategy, but as long as these disparities remain between the earnings yields on stocks and bonds, long-term investors should be able to shop for plenty of doorbuster discount bargain opportunities.
Wade W. Slome, CFA, CFP®
Plan. Invest. Prosper.
DISCLOSURE: Sidoxia Capital Management (SCM) and some of its clients hold positions in AMZN and certain exchange traded funds (ETFs), but at the time of publishing had no direct position in 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.
This article is an excerpt from a previously released Sidoxia Capital Management complementary newsletter (November 2, 2015). Subscribe on the right side of the page for the complete text.
Have you finished licking the last of your Halloween chocolate-covered fingers and scheduled your next cavity-filled dental appointment? After a few challenging months, the normally spooky month of October produced an abundance of sweet treats rather than scary tricks for stock market investors. In fact, the S&P 500 index finished the month with a whopping +8.3% burst, making October the tastiest performing month since late 2010. This came in stark contrast to the indigestion experienced with the -8.7% decline over the previous two months.
What’s behind all these sweet gains? For starters, fears of a Chinese economic sugar-high ending in a crash have abated for now. With that said, “Little Red Riding Hood” is not out of the woods quite yet. Like a surprising goblin or ghost popping out to scare you at a Halloween haunted house, China could still rear its ugly head in the future due to its prominent stature as the second largest global economy. We have been forced to deal with similar on-again-off-again concerns associated with Greece.
The good news is the Chinese government and central bank are not sitting on their hands. In addition to interest rate cuts and corruption crackdowns, Chinese government officials have even recently halted its decades-long one-child policy. China’s new two-child policy is designed to spur flagging economic growth and also reverse the country’s aging demographic profile.
Also contributing to the stock market’s sugary October advances is an increasing comfort level with the Federal Reserve’s eventual interest rate increase. Just last week, the central bank released the statement from its October Federal Open Market Committee meetings stating it will determine whether it will be “appropriate” to increase interest rates at its next meetings, which take place on December 15th and 16th. Interest rate financial markets are now baking in a roughly 50% probability of a Fed interest rate hike next month. Initially, the October Fed statement was perceived negatively by investors due to fears that higher rates could potentially choke off economic growth. Within a 30 minute period after the announcement, stock prices reversed course and surged higher. Investors interpreted the Fed signal of a possible interest rate hike as an upbeat display of confidence in a strengthening economy.
As I have reiterated on numerous occasions (see also Fed Fatigue), a +0.25% increase in the Federal Funds rate from essentially a level of 0% is almost irrelevant in my eyes – just like adjusting the Jacuzzi temperature from 102 degrees down to 101 degrees is hardly noticeable. More practically speaking, an increase from 14.00% to 14.25% on a credit card interest rate will not deter consumers from spending, just like a 3.90% mortgage rising to 4.15% will not break the bank for homebuyers. On the other hand, if interest rates were to spike materially higher by 3.00% – 4.00% over a very short period of time, this move would have a much more disruptive impact, and would be cause for concern. Fortunately for equity investors, this scenario is rather unlikely in the short-run due to virtually no sign of inflation at either the consumer or worker level. Actually, if you read the Fed’s most recent statement, Fed Chairwoman Janet Yellen indicated the central bank intends to maintain interest rates below “normal” levels for “some time” even if the economy keeps chugging along at a healthy clip.
If you think my interest rate perspective is the equivalent of me whistling past the graveyard, history proves to be a pretty good guide of what normally happens after the Fed increases interest rates. Bolstering my argument is data observed over the last seven Federal Reserve interest rate hike cycles from 1983 – 2006 (see table below). As the statistics show, stock prices increased an impressive +20.9% on average over Fed interest rate “Tightening Cycles.” It is entirely conceivable that the announcement of a December interest rate hike could increase short-term volatility. We saw this rate hike fear phenomenon a few months ago, and also a few years ago in 2013 (see also Will Rising Rates Murder Market?) when Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke threatened an end to quantitative easing (a.k.a., “Taper Tantrum”), but eventually people figured out the world was not going to end and stock prices ultimately moved higher.
Besides increased comfort with Fed interest rate policies, another positive contributing factor to the financial market rebound was the latest Congressional approval of a two-year budget deal that prevents the government from defaulting on its debt. Not only does the deal suspend the $18.1 trillion debt limit through March 2017 (see chart below), but the legislation also lowers the chance of a government shutdown in December. Rather than creating a contentious battle for the fresh, incoming Speaker of the House (Paul Ryan), the approved budget deal will allow the new Speaker to start with a clean slate with which he can use to negotiate across a spectrum of political issues.
Source: Wall Street Journal
Remain Calm – Not Frightened
Humans, including all investors, are emotional beings, but the best investors separate fear from greed and are masters at making unemotional, objective decisions. Just as everything wasn’t a scary disaster when stocks declined during August and September, so too, the subsequent rise in October doesn’t mean everything is a bed of roses.
Every three months, thousands of companies share their financial report cards with investors, and so far with more than 65% of the S&P 500 companies reporting their results this period, corporate America is not making the honor roll. Collapsing commodity prices, including oil, along with the rapid appreciation in the value of the U.S. dollar (i.e., causing declines in relatively expensive U.S. exports), third quarter profit growth has declined -1%. If you exclude the energy sector from the equation, corporations are still not making the “Dean’s List,” however the report cards look a lot more respectable through this lens with profits rising +6% during the third quarter. A sluggish third quarter GDP (Gross Domestic Product) growth report of +1.5% is further evidence the economy has plenty of room to improve the country’s financial GPA.
Historically speaking, October has been a scary period, if you consider the 1929 and 1987 stock market crashes occurred during this Halloween month. Now that investors have survived this frightening period, we will see if the “Santa Claus Rally” will arrive early this season. Stock market treats have been sweet in recent weeks, but investors cannot lose sight of the long-term. With interest rates near generational lows, investors need to make sure they are efficiently investing their investment funds in a low-cost, tax-efficient, diversified manner, subject to personal time horizons and risk tolerances. Over the long-run, meeting these objectives will create a lot more treats than tricks.
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 position in 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.
Since the end of 2010, the emerging markets (E.M.) have gotten absolutely obliterated (MSCI Emerging Markets index –25%) compared to a meteoric rise in U.S. stocks (S&P 500 index +60%) over the same period.
Slowing global growth, especially with resource-hungry China going on a crash diet, has caused commodity-exporting emerging markets like Brazil to suffer economic starvation. Rising inflation, expanding debt, decelerating Chinese growth, collapsing commodity prices, and political corruption allegations are all factors pressuring the Brazilian economy. Weak emerging market economies like Brazil are contributing to global GDP forecast reductions. As you can see from the chart below, global GDP growth rates have been steadily declining since 2010, and the IMF recently lowered their 2015 forecast from +3.5% down to 3.1%.
Beginning in late 2008, when Ben Bernanke first announced his QE 1 (Quantitative Easing) money printing binge, the U.S. dollar remained relatively weak against other global currencies for years. The weak dollar provided a nice tailwind to U.S. exporters (i.e., American manufactured goods were more cost competitive for foreign buyers).
Multinationals loved the export lift, but emerging international politicians and investors cried foul. They complained the U.S. was starting a “currency war” by artificially deflating the value of the U.S. dollar, thereby making international markets less competitive. At the time, the thought process was the emerging markets (e.g., China, Russia, Brazil et.al.) would be disproportionately impacted because their economies are export-driven. In a 2010 article from the Guardian (World Gripped by International Currency War) Brazilian finance minister Guido Mantega explicitly stated, “We’re in the midst of an international currency war, a general weakening of currency. This threatens us because it takes away our competitiveness.”
This “currency war” griping stayed in place until the end of 2013 when the Fed announced its plans to begin “tapering” bond buying (i.e., pull away the financial punch bowl). We all know what has happened since then…the U.S. dollar has spiked by about +20% and the Brazilian real has depreciated by a whopping -37%. This is good news for emerging markets like Brazil, right? Wrong!
A few years ago, emerging market investors were initially worried about the depressing effects of a strong currency on exports, but now that emerging market currencies have depreciated, fears have shifted. Now, investors are concerned whether E.M. countries can pay off foreign borrowed debt denominated in pricey U.S. dollars (paid with vastly weaker E.M. currencies). Moreover, with foreign governments holding dramatically lower valued currency, investors are worried about the ability of these E.M. countries to raise additional capital or refinance existing debt. SocGen’s head of emerging market strategy, Guy Stear, summed it up by noting, “Prevailing risks of a deterioration of the external financing environment and disruptive capital flow and asset price shifts that increase volatility in the respective bond and currency markets, make a rapid rebound in EM growth over the next months unlikely.”
So which one is it…do E.M. investors want a weak currency to power exports, or a strong currency to pay down debt and raise additional capital? Unfortunately, investors can’t have their cake and eat it too – you can’t have a depreciating and appreciating currency at the same time.
While anxiety has shifted from strong emerging market currencies to the issues associated with weak currencies, India is one E.M that has reaped the rewards from a declining rupee (-20% since 2013). In other words, India is benefiting from a stronger trade balance via a boost in exports and reduction in imports – interestingly, the U.S. has experienced the exact opposite. Regardless, eventually, other emerging markets will benefit from these same positive trends as India – that will finally be a tasty slice of cake.
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) including EWZ, but at the time of publishing, SCM had no direct position in 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.
“In the middle of every difficulty lies an opportunity.” ~Albert Einstein
It was a painful week for bullish investors in the stock market as evidenced by the -1,018 point drop in the Dow Jones Industrial Average, equivalent to approximately a -6% decline. The S&P 500 index did not fare any better, and the loss for the tech-heavy NASDAQ index was down closer to -7% for the week.
The media is attributing much of the short-term weakness to a triple Chinese whammy of factors: 1) Currency devaluation of the Yuan; 2) Weaker Chinese manufacturing data registering in at the lowest level in over six years; and 3) A collapsing Chinese stock market.
As the second largest economy on the planet, developments in China should not be ignored, however these dynamics should be put in the proper context. With respect to China’s currency devaluation, Scott Grannis at Calafia Beach Pundit puts the foreign exchange developments in proper perspective. If you consider the devaluation of the Yuan by -4%, this change only reverses a small fraction of the Chinese currency appreciation that has taken place over the last decade (see chart below). Grannis rightfully points out the -25% collapse in the value of the euro relative to the U.S. dollar is much more significant than the minor move in the Yuan. Moreover, although the move by the People’s Bank of China (PBOC) makes America’s exports to China less cost competitive, this move by Chinese bankers is designed to address exactly what investors are majorly concern about – slowing growth in Asia.
Although the weak Chinese manufacturing data is disconcerting, this data is nothing new – the same manufacturing data has been very choppy over the last four years. On the last China issue relating to its stock market, investors should be reminded that despite the massive decline in the Shanghai Composite, the index is still up by more than +50% versus a year ago (see chart below)
Fear the Falling Knife?
Given the fresh carnage in the U.S. and foreign markets, is now the time for investors to attempt to catch a falling knife? Catching knives for a living can be a dangerous profession, and many investors – professionals and amateurs alike – have lost financial fingers and blood by attempting to prematurely purchase plummeting securities. Rather than trying to time the market, which is nearly impossible to do consistently, it’s more important to have a disciplined, unemotional investing framework in place.
Hall of Fame investor Peter Lynch sarcastically highlighted the difficulty in timing the market, “I can’t recall ever once having seen the name of a market timer on Forbes‘ annual list of the richest people in the world. If it were truly possible to predict corrections, you’d think somebody would have made billions by doing it.”
Readers of my blog, Investing Caffeine understand I am a bottom-up investor when it comes to individual security selection with the help of our proprietary S.H.G.R. model, but those individual investment decisions are made within Sidoxia’s broader, four-pronged macro framework (see also Don’t be a Fool, Follow the Stool). As a reminder, driving our global views are the following four factors: a) Profits; b) Interest rates; c) Sentiment; and Valuations. Currently, two of the four indicators are flashing green (Interest rates and Sentiment), and the other two are neutral (Profits and Valuations).
- Profits (Neutral): Profits are at record highs, but a strong dollar, weak energy sector, and sluggish growth internationally have slowed the trajectory of earnings.
- Valuation (Neutral): At an overall P/E of about 18x’s profits for the S&P 500, current valuations are near historical averages. For CAPE investors who have missed the tripling in stock prices, you can reference prior discussions (see CAPE Smells Like BS). I could make the case that stocks are very attractive with a 6% earnings yield (inverse P/E ratio) compared to a 2% 10—Year Treasury bond, but I’ll take off my rose-colored glasses.
- Interest Rates (Positive): Rates are at unambiguously low levels, which, all else equal, is a clear-cut positive for all cash generating asset classes, including stocks. With an unmistakably “dovish” Federal Reserve in place, whether the 0.25% interest rate hike comes next month, or next year will have little bearing on the current shape of the yield curve. Chairman Yellen has made it clear the trajectory of rate increases will be very gradual, so it will take a major shift in economic trends to move this factor into Neutral or Negative territory.
- Sentiment (Positive): Following the investment herd can be very dangerous for your financial health. We saw that in spades during the late-1990s in the technology industry and also during the mid-2000s in the housing sector. As Warren Buffett says, it is best to “buy fear and sell greed” – last week we saw a lot of fear.
In addition to the immense outflows out of stock funds (see also Great Rotation) , panic was clearly evident in the market last week as shown by the Volatility Index (VIX), a.k.a., the “Fear Gauge.” In general, volatility over the last five years has been on a declining trend, however every 6-12 months, some macro concern inevitably rears its ugly head and volatility spikes higher. With the VIX exploding higher by an amazing +118% last week to a level of 28.03, it is proof positive how quickly sentiment can change in the stock market.
Not much in the investing world works exactly like science, but buying stocks during previous fear spikes, when the VIX level exceeds 20, has been a very lucrative strategy. As you can see from the chart below, there have been numerous occasions over the last five years when the over-20 level has been breached, which has coincided with temporary stock declines in the range of -8% to -22%. However, had you held onto stocks, without adding to them, you would have earned an +84% return (excluding dividends) in the S&P 500 index. Absent the 2011 period, when investors were simultaneously digesting a debt downgrade, deep European recession, and domestic political fireworks surrounding a debt ceiling, these periods of elevated volatility have been relatively short-lived.
Whether this will be the absolute best time to buy stocks is tough to say. Stocks are falling like knives, and in many instances prices have been sliced by more than -10%, -20%, or -30%. It’s time to compile your shopping list, because valuations in many areas are becoming more compelling and eventually gravity will run its full course. That’s when your strategy needs to shift from avoiding the falling knives to finding the bouncing tennis balls…excuse me while I grab my tennis racket.
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) including emerging market/Chinese ETFs, but at the time of publishing, SCM had no direct position in 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.
Commodity prices, including oil, are “crashing” according to the pundits and fears are building that this is a precursor to another stock market collapse. Are we on an irreversible path of repeating the bloodbath carnage of the 2008-2009 Great Recession?
Fortunately for investors, markets move in cycles and the fundamental laws of supply and demand hold true in both bull and bear markets, across all financial markets. Whether we are talking about stocks, bonds, copper, gold, currencies, or pork bellies, markets persistently move like a pendulum through periods of excess supply and demand. In other words, weakness in prices create stronger demand and less supply, whereas strength in prices creates weakening demand and more supply.
Since energy makes the world go round and the vast majority of drivers are accustomed to filling up their gas tanks, the average consumer is familiar with recent negative price developments in the crude oil markets. Eighteenth-century economist Adam Smith would be proud that the laws of supply and demand have help up just as well today as they did when he wrote Wealth of Nations in 1776.
It is true that overall stagnation in global economic demand in recent years, along with the strengthening of the U.S. dollar (because of better relative growth), has contributed to downward trending oil prices. It is also true that supply factors, such as Saudi Arabia’s insistence to maintain production and the boom in U.S. oil production due to new fracking technologies (see chart below), have arguably had a larger negative impact on the more than -50% deterioration in oil prices. Fears of additional Iranian oil supply hitting the global oil markets as a result of the Iranian nuclear deal have also added to the downward pressure on prices.
What is bad for oil prices and the oil producers is good news for the rest of the economy. Transportation is the lubricant of the global economy, and therefore lower oil prices will act as a stimulant for large swaths of the global marketplace. Here in the U.S., consumer savings from lower energy prices have largely been used to pay down debt (deleverage), but eventually, the longer oil prices remain depressed, incremental savings should filter into our economy through increased consumer spending.
But prices are likely not going to stay low forever because producers are responding drastically to the price declines. All one needs to do is look at the radical falloff in the oil producer rig count (see chart below). As you can see, the rig count has fallen by more than -50% within a six month period, meaning at some point, the decline in global production will eventually provide a floor to prices and ultimately provide a tailwind.
If we broaden our perspective beyond just oil, and look at the broader commodity complex, we can see that the recent decline in commodity prices has been painful, but nowhere near the Armageddon scenario experienced during 2008-2009 (see chart below – gray areas = recessions).
Although this conversation has focused on commodities, the same supply-demand principles apply to the stock market as well. Stock market prices as measured by the S&P 500 index have remained near record levels, but as I have written in the past, the records cannot be attributed to the lackluster demand from retail investors (see ICI fund flow data).
Although U.S. stock fundamentals remain relatively strong (e.g., earnings, interest rates, valuations, psychology), much of the strength can be explained by the constrained supply of stocks. How has stock supply been constrained? Some key factors include the trillions in dollars of supply soaked up by record M&A activity (mergers and acquisition) and share buybacks.
In addition to the declining stock supply from M&A and share buybacks, there has been limited supply of new IPO issues (initial public offerings) coming to market, as evidenced by the declines in IPO dollar and unit volumes in the first half of 2015, as compared to last year. More specifically, first half IPO dollar volmes were down -41% to $19.2 billion and the number of 2015 IPOs has declined -27% to 116 from 160 for the same time period.
Price cycles vary dramatically in price and duration across all financial markets, including stocks, bonds, oil, interest rates, currencies, gold, and pork bellies, among others. Not even the smartest individual or most powerful computer on the planet can consistently time the short-term shifts in financial markets, but using the powerful economic laws of supply and demand can help you profitably make adjustments to your investment portfolio(s).
See Also – The Lesson of a Lifetime (Investing Caffeine)
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 position in 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.
This article is an excerpt from a previously released Sidoxia Capital Management complementary newsletter (July 1, 2015). Subscribe on the right side of the page for the complete text.
Watching Greece fall apart over the last five years has been like watching a slow motion train wreck. To many, this small country of 11 million people that borders the Mediterranean, Aegean, and Ionian Seas is known more for its Greek culture (including Zeus, Parthenon, Olympics) and its food (calamari, gyros, and Ouzo) than it is known for financial bailouts. Nevertheless, ever since the financial crisis of 2008-2009, observers have repeatedly predicted the debt-laden country will default on its €323 billion mountain of obligations (see chart below – approximately $350 billion in dollars) and subsequently exit the 19-member eurozone currency membership (a.k.a.,”Grexit”).
Now that Greece has failed to repay less than 1% of its full €240 billion bailout obligation – the €1.5 billion payment due to the IMF (International Monetary Fund) by June 30th – the default train is coming closer to falling off the tracks. Whether Greece will ultimately crash itself out of the eurozone will be dependent on the outcome of this week’s surprise Greek referendum (general vote by citizens) mandated by Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, the leader of Greece’s left-wing Syriza party. By voting “No” on further bailout austerity measures recommended by the European Union Commission, including deeper tax increases and pension cuts, the Greek people would effectively be choosing a Grexit over additional painful tax increases and deeper pension cuts.
And who can blame the Greeks for being a little grouchy? You might not be too happy either if you witnessed your country experience an economic decline of greater than 25% (see Greece Gross Domestic Product chart below); 25% overall unemployment (and 50% youth unemployment); government worker cuts of greater than 20%; and stifling taxes to boot. Sure, Greeks should still shoulder much of the blame. After all, they are the ones who piled on $100s of billions of debt and overspent on the pensions of a bloated public workforce, and ran unsustainable fiscal deficits.
For any casual history observers, the current Greek financial crisis should come as no surprise, especially if you consider the Greeks have a longstanding habit of not paying their bills. Over the last two centuries or so, since the country became independent, the Greek government has spent about 90 years in default (almost 50% of the time). More specifically, the Greeks defaulted on external sovereign debt in 1826, 1843, 1860, 1894 and 1932.
The difference between now and past years can be explained by Greece now being a part of the European Union and the euro currency, which means the Greeks actually do have to pay their bills…if they want to remain a part of the common currency. During past defaults, the Greek central bank could easily devalue their currency (the drachma) and fire up the printing presses to create as much currency as needed to pay down debts. If the planned Greek referendum this week results in a “No” vote, there is a much higher probability that the Greek government will need to dust off those drachma printing presses.
Protest, riots, defaults, changing governments, and new currencies make for entertaining television viewing, but these events probably don’t hold much significance as it relates to the long-term outlook of your investments and the financial markets. In the case of Greece, I believe it is safe to say the economic bark is much worse than the bite. For starters, Greece accounts for less than 2% of Europe’s overall economy, and about 0.3% of the global economy.
Since I live out on the West Coast, the chart below caught my fancy because it also places the current Greek situation into proper proportion. Take the city of L.A. (Los Angeles – red bar) for example…this single city alone accounts for almost 3x the size of Greece’s total economy (far right on chart – blue bar).
Give Me My Money!
It hasn’t been a fun year for Greek banks. Depositors, who have been flocking to the banks, withdrew about $45 billion in cash from their accounts, over an eight month period (see chart below). Before the Greek government decided to mandatorily close the banks in recent days and implement capital controls limiting depositors to daily ATM withdrawals of only $66.
But once again, let’s put the situation into context. From an overall Greek banking sector perspective, the four largest Greek Banks (Bank of Greece, Piraeus Bank, Eurobank Ergasias, Alpha Bank) account for about 90% of all Greek banking assets. Combined, these banks currently have an equity market value of about $14 billion and assets on the balance sheets of $400 billion – these numbers are obviously in flux. For comparison purposes, Bank of America Corp. (BAC) alone has an equity market value of $179 billion and $2.1 trillion in assets.
Anxiety Remains High
Skeptical bears will occasionally acknowledge the miniscule-ness of Greece, but then quickly follow up with their conspiracy theory or domino effect hypothesis. In other words, the skeptics believe a contagion effect of an impending Grexit will ripple through larger economies, such as Italy and Spain, with crippling force. Thus far, as you can see from the chart below, Greece’s financial problems have been largely contained within its borders. In fact, weaker economies such as Spain, Portugal, Ireland, and Italy have fared much better – and actually improving in most cases. In recent days, 10-year yields on government bonds in countries like Portugal, Italy, and Spain have hovered around or below 3% – nowhere near the peak levels seen during 2008 – 2011.
Other doubting Thomases compare Greece to situations like Lehman Brothers, Long Term Capital Management, and the subprime housing market, in which underestimated situations snowballed into much worse outcomes. As I explain in one of my newer articles (see Missing the Forest for the Trees), the difference between Greece and the other financial collapses is the duration of this situation. The Greek circumstance has been a 5-year long train wreck that has allowed everyone to prepare for a possible Grexit. Rather than agonize over every news headline, if you are committed to the practice of worrying, I would recommend you focus on an alternative disaster that cannot be found on the front page of all newspapers.
There is bound to be more volatility ahead for investors, and the referendum vote later this week could provide that volatility spark. Regardless of the news story du jour, any of your concerns should be occupied by other more important worrisome issues. So, unless you are an investor in a Greek bank or a gyro restaurant in Athens, you should focus your efforts on long-term financial goals and objectives. Ignoring the noisy news flow and constructing a diversified investment portfolio across a range of asset classes will allow you to avoid the harmful consequences of the slow motion, multi-year Greek train wreck.
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) and BAC, but at the time of publishing, SCM had no direct position in Bank of Greece, Piraeus Bank, Eurobank Ergasias, Alpha Bank 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 ICContact page.