Posts filed under ‘International’
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.
For decades interest rates have continually gravitated to zero like flies attracted to stink. For a split second in 2013, as long-term U.S. Treasury rates about doubled from 1.5% to 3.0% before reversing, it appeared the declining rate cycle could finally be broken. At the time, pundits of all types were calling for the “great rotation” out of bonds into stocks. Half of this forecast came to fruition as stocks grinded to record highs in 2014, but even I the big stock bull admittedly did not expect interest rates on 10-year Switzerland bonds to turn negative (see also Draghi QE Beer Goggles), especially after U.S. quantitative easing (QE) came to an end.
With rates already at a generational low, how could anyone be expected to accept a measly 0.3% annual return for a whole decade? Well, that’s exactly what’s happening in massive developed markets like Germany and Japan. While investors and retirees are painted into a corner by being forced to accept near-0% interest payments, savvy corporate borrowers are taking advantage of this once in a lifetime opportunity. Take for example the recently unprecedented $1.35 billion Switzerland bond issuance by Apple Inc. (AAPL), which included a tranche of bonds maturing in 2024 that yielded a paltry 0.25%.
With bonds offering lower and lower yield possibilities for investors of all stripes, at Sidoxia we are still finding plenty of opportunities in stocks, especially in high dividend-paying equity investments. In the U.S., the average S&P 500 stock is yielding approximately the same as the 10-Year Treasury Note (2.0%), but in other parts of the world, equity markets such as the following are offering significantly higher yields:
- iShares MSCI Australia (Yield 5.0% – EWA)
- Europe FTSE Europe (Yield: 4.6% – VGK)
- Market Vectors Russia (Yield 4.6% – RSX)
- iShares MSCI Brazil (Yield 4.0% – EWZ)
- iShares MSCI Sweden (Yield 3.8% – EWD)
- iShares MSCI Malaysia (Yield 3.8% – EWM)
- iShares MSCI Singapore (Yield 3.4% – EWS)
- iShares China (Yield 2.5% – FXI)
A New “Great Rotation” in 2015?
If you look at the 2014 ICI (Investment Company Institute) fund flow data, it becomes clear the great rotation out of bonds into U.S. stocks has not occurred. More specifically, despite the S&P 500 index reaching new record highs, -$60 billion flowed out of U.S. stock funds last year, and about +$44 billion flowed into all bond funds. Could the “great rotation” out of bonds into stocks finally happen in 2015? Certainly, this scenario is a possibility, but given the barren bond yield environment, perhaps the new “great rotation” in 2015 will be out of domestic equities into higher yielding international equity markets. In addition to the higher international market yields listed above, many of these foreign markets are priced more attractively (i.e., lower Price-Earnings (P/E) ratios) as you can see from the chart below created by strategist Dr. Ed Yardeni.
Obviously, any asset shifting scenario is not mutually exclusive, and there could be a combination of investor reallocations made in 2015. It’s possible that previously unloved emerging markets and international developed markets could receive new investor capital from several areas.
With defensive sectors like utilities (up +25%) and healthcare (up +24%) leading the U.S. sector higher last year, it’s evident to me that “skepticism” remains the operative word in investors’ minds and there is no clear evidence of widespread euphoria hitting the U.S. stock market. Valuations as measured by trailing P/E ratios have objectively moved above historical averages, however this has occurred within the context of all-time record low interest rates and inflation. If you take into account the near-0% interest rate environment into your calculus, current stock prices (P/E ratios) are well within historical norms (see also The Rule of 20 Can Make You Plenty), which still leaves room for expansion.
If some of the half-glass full economic waters spill into the half-glass empty emerging markets/international markets, conceivably the eagerly anticipated “great rotation” out of bonds into U.S. stocks may also flow into even more attractively valued foreign equity opportunities.
Wade W. Slome, CFA, CFP®
Plan. Invest. Prosper.
DISCLOSURE: Sidoxia Capital Management (SCM) and some of its clients hold positions in AAPL and certain exchange traded funds (ETFs) including VGK, EWZ, FXI, but at the time of publishing SCM had no direct position in EWA, RSX, EWD, EWM, EWS, and 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 (February 2, 2015). Subscribe on the right side of the page for the complete text.
In the weeks building up to Super Bowl XLIX (New England Patriots vs. Seattle Seahawks) much of the media hype was focused on the controversial alleged “Deflategate”, or the discovery of deflated Patriot footballs, which theoretically could have been used for an unfair advantage by New England’s quarterback Tom Brady. While Brady ended up winning his record-tying 4th Super Bowl ring for the Patriots by defeating the Seahawks 28-24, the stock market deflated during the first month of 2015 as well. Similar to last year, the stock market has temporarily declined last January before surging ahead +11.4% for the full year of 2014. It’s early in 2015, and investors chose to lock-in a small portion of the hefty, multi-year bull market gains. The S&P 500 was sacked for a loss of -3.1% and the Dow Jones Industrial index by -3.7%.
Despite some early performance headwinds, the U.S. economy kicked off the year with the wind behind its back in the form of deflating oil prices. Specifically, West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude oil prices declined -9.4% last month to $48.24, and over -51.0% over the last six months. Like a fresh set of substitute legs coming off the bench to support the team, the oil price decline represents an effective $125 billion tax cut for consumers in the form of lower gasoline prices (average $2.03 per gallon nationally) – see chart below. The gasoline relief will allow consumers more discretionary spending money, so football fans, for example, can buy more hot dogs, beer, and souvenirs at the Super Bowl. The cause for the recent price bust? The primary reasons are three-fold: 1) Sluggish oil demand from developed markets like Europe and Japan coupled with slowing consumption growth in some emerging markets like China; 2) Growing supply in various U.S. fracking regions has created a temporary global oil glut; and 3) Uncertainty surrounding OPEC (Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries) supply/production policies, which became even more unclear with the recent announced death of Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah.
More deflating than the NFL football’s “Deflategate” is the approximate -17% collapse in the value of the euro currency (see chart below). Euro currency matters were made worse in response to European Central Bank’s (ECB) President Mario Draghi’s announcement that the eurozone would commence its own $67 billion monthly Quantitative Easing (QE) program (very similar to the QE program that Federal Reserve Chairwoman Janet Yellen halted last year). In total, if carried out to its full design, the euro QE version should amount to about $1.3 trillion. The depreciating effect on the euro (and appreciating value of the euro) should help stimulate European exports, while lowering the cost of U.S. imports – you may now be able to afford that new Rolls-Royce purchase you’ve been putting off. What’s more, the rising dollar is beneficial for Americans who are planning to vacation abroad…Paris here we come!
Another fumble suffered by the global currency markets was introduced with the unexpected announcement by the Swiss National Bank (SNB) that decided to remove its artificial currency peg to the euro. Effectively, the SNB had been purchased and accumulated a $490 billion war-chest reserve (Supply & Demand Lessons) to artificially depress the value of the Swiss franc, thereby allowing the country to sell more Swiss army knives and watches abroad. When the SNB could no longer afford to prop up the value of the franc, the currency value spiked +20% against the euro in a single day…ouch! In addition to making its exports more expensive for foreigners, the central bank’s move also pushed long-term Swiss Treasury bond yields negative. No, you don’t need to check your vision – investors are indeed paying Switzerland to hold investor money (i.e., interest rates are at an unprecedented negative level).
In addition to some of the previously mentioned setbacks, financial markets suffered another penalty flag. Last month, multiple deadly terrorist acts were carried out at a satirical magazine headquarters and a Jewish supermarket – both in Paris. Combined, there were 16 people who lost their lives in these senseless acts of violence. Unfortunately, we don’t live in a Utopian world, so with seven billion people in this world there will continue to be pointless incidences like these. However, the good news is the economic game always goes on in spite of terrorism.
As is always the case, there will always be concerns in the marketplace, whether it is worries about inflation, geopolitics, the economy, Federal Reserve policy, or other factors like a potential exit of Greece out of the eurozone. These concerns have remained in place over the last six years and the stock market has about tripled. The fact remains that interest rates are at a generational low (see also Stretching the High Yield Rubber Band), thereby supplying a scarcity of opportunities in the fixed income space. Diversification remains important, but regardless of your time horizon and risk tolerance, attractively valued equities, including high-quality, dividend-paying stocks should account for a certain portion of your portfolio. Any winning retirement playbook understands a low-cost, globally diversified portfolio, integrating a broad set of asset classes is the best way of preventing a “deflating” outcome in your long-term finances.
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.
#2. Don’t waste your time listening to the media.
Like dieting, the framework is simple to understand, but difficult to execute. Theoretically, if you follow Rule #1, you don’t have worry about Rule #2. Unfortunately, many people have no rules or discipline in place, and instead let their emotions drive all investing decisions. When it comes to following the media, Mark Twain stated it best:
“If you don’t read the newspaper, you are uninformed. If you do read the newspaper, you are misinformed.”
It’s fine to be informed, as long as the deluge of data doesn’t enslave you into bad, knee-jerk decision-making. You’ve seen those friends, family members and co-workers who are glued to their cell phones or TVs while insatiably devouring real-time data from CNBC, CNN, or their favorite internet blog. The grinding teeth and sweaty palms should be a dead giveaway that these habits are not healthy for investment account balances or blood pressure.
Thanks to the endless scary headlines and stream of geopolitical turmoil (fear sells), millions of investors have missed out on one of the most staggering bull market rallies in history. More specifically, the S&P 500 index (large capitalization companies) has almost tripled in value from early 2009 (666 to 1,931) and the S&P 600 index (small capitalization companies) almost quadrupled from 181 to 645.
Becoming a member of the Successful Investors Club (SIC) is no easy feat. As I’ve written in the past, the human brain has evolved dramatically over tens of thousands of years, but the troubling, emotionally-driven amygdala tissue mass at the end of the brain stem (a.k.a., “Lizard Brain“) still remains. The “Lizard Brain” automatically produces a genetic flight response to perceived worrisome stimuli surrounding us. In other words, our “Lizard Brain” often interprets excessively sensationalized current events as a threat to our financial security and well-being.
It’s no wonder amateur investors have trouble dealing with the incessantly changing headlines. Yesterday, investors were panicked over the P.I.I.G.S (Portugal, Italy, Ireland, Greece, Spain), the Arab Spring (Tunisia, Egypt, Iran, etc.), and Cyprus. Today, it’s Ukraine, Argentina, Israel, Gaza, Syria, and Iraq. Tomorrow…who knows? It’s bound to be another fiscally irresponsible country, terrorist group, or autocratic leader wreaking havoc upon their people or enemies.
During the pre-internet or pre-smartphone era, the average person couldn’t even find Ukraine, Syria, or the Gaza Strip on a map. Today, we are bombarded 24/7 with frightening stories over these remote regions that have dubious economic impact on the global economy.
Take the Ukraine for example, which if you think about it is a fiscal pimple on the global economy. Ukraine’s troubled $177 billion economy, represents a mere 0.29% of the $76 trillion global GDP. Could an extended or heightened conflict in the region hinder the energy supply to a much larger and significant European region? Certainly, however, Russian President Vladimir Putin doesn’t want the Ukrainian skirmish to blow up out of control. Russia has its own economic problems, and recent U.S. and European sanctions haven’t made Putin’s life any easier. The Russian leader has a vested economic interest to keep its power hungry European customers happy. If not, the U.S.’s new found resurgence in petroleum supplies from fracking will allow our country to happily create jobs and export excess reserves to a newly alienated EU energy buyer.
Rather than be hostage to the roller coaster ride of rising and falling economic data points, it’s better to follow the sage advice of investing greats like Peter Lynch, who averaged a +29% return per year from 1977 – 1990.
Here’s what he had to say about news consumption:
“If you spend more than 13 minutes analyzing economic and market forecasts, you’ve wasted 10 minutes.”
“Far more money has been lost by investors preparing for corrections, or trying to anticipate corrections, than has been lost in corrections themselves.”
Rather than fret about the direction of the market, at Sidoxia Capital Management we are focused on identifying the best available opportunities, given any prevailing economic environment (positive or negative). We assume the market will go nowhere and invest our client assets (and personal assets) accordingly by focusing on those areas we see providing the most attractive risk-adjusted returns. Investors who try to time the market, fail miserably over the long-run. If timing the market were easy, you would see countless people’s names at the tops of the Forbes billionaire list – regrettably that simply is not the case.
Since “fear” sells in the media world, it’s always important to sift through the deluge of data to gain a balanced perspective. During panic periods, it’s important to find the silver linings. When everyone is euphoric, it’s vital to discover reasons for caution.
While a significant amount of geopolitical turmoil occurred last month, it’s essential to remember the underlying positive fundamentals propelling the stock market to record highs. The skeptics of the recovery and record stock market point to the Federal Reserve’s unprecedented, multi-trillion dollar money printing scheme (Quantitative Easing – QE) and the inferior quality of the jobs created. Regarding the former point, if QE has been so disastrous, I ask where is the run-away inflation (see chart below)? While the July jobs report may show some wage pressure, you can see we’re still a long ways away from the elevated pricing levels experienced during the 1970s-1980s.
Source: Calafia Beach Pundit
A final point worth contemplating as it relates to the unparalleled Fed Policy actions was highlighted by strategist Scott Grannis. If achieving real economic growth through money printing was so easy, how come Zimbabwe and Argentina haven’t become economic powerhouses? The naysayers also fail to acknowledge that the Fed has already reversed the majority of its stimulative $85 billion monthly bond buying program (currently at $25 billion per month). What’s more, the Federal Open Market Committee has already signaled a rate hike to 1.13% in 2015 and 2.50% in 2016 (see chart below).
Source: Financial Times
The rise in interest rates from generationally low levels, especially given the current status of our improving economy, as evidenced by the recent robust +4.0% Q2-GDP report, is inevitable. It’s not a matter of “if”, but rather a matter of “when”.
On the latter topic of job quality, previously mentioned, I can’t defend the part-time, underemployed nature of the employment picture, nor can I defend the weak job participation rate. In fact, this economic recovery has been the slowest since World War II. With that said, about 10 million private sector jobs have been added since the end of the Great Recession and the unemployment rate has dropped from 10% to 6.1%. However you choose to look at the situation, more paychecks mean more discretionary dollars in the wallets and purses of U.S. workers. This reality is important because consumer spending accounts for 70% of our country’s economic activity.
While there is a correlation between jobs, interest rates, and the stock market, less obvious to casual observers is the other major factor that drives stock prices…record corporate profits. That’s precisely what you see in the chart below. Not only are trailing earnings at record levels, but forecasted profits are also at record levels. Contrary to all the hyped QE Fed talk, the record profits have been bolstered by important factors such as record manufacturing, record exports, and soaring oil production …not QE.
Join the Club
Those who have been around the investing block a few times realize how challenging investing is. The deafening information noise instantaneously accessed via the internet has only made the endeavor of investing that much more challenging. But the cause is not completely lost. If you want to join the bull market and the SIC (Successful Investors Club), all you need to do is follow the two top secret rules. Creating a plan and sticking to it, while ignoring the mass media should be easy enough, otherwise find an experienced, independent investment advisor like Sidoxia Capital Management to help you join the club.
Wade W. Slome, CFA, CFP®
Plan. Invest. Prosper.
DISCLOSURE: Sidoxia Capital Management (SCM) and some of its clients hold long positions in certain exchange traded funds ans securities, 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 (February 3, 2014). Subscribe on the right side of the page for the complete text.
The porridge for stock market investors was hot in 2013, with the S&P 500 index skyrocketing +30%, while the porridge for bond investors was too cold, losing -4% last year (AGG). Like Goldilocks, investors are waiting to get more aggressive with their investment portfolios once everything feels “just right.” Dragging one’s feet too long is not the right strategy. Counterintuitively, and as I pointed out in “Here Comes the Dumb Money,” the investing masses have been very bashful in committing large sums of money out of cash/bonds into stocks, despite the Herculean returns experienced in the stock market over the last five years.
Once the party begins to get crowded is the period you should plan your exit. As experienced investors know, when the porridge, chair, and bed feel just right, is usually around the time the unhappy bears arrive. The same principle applies to the investing. In the late 1990s (i.e., technology bubble) and in the mid-2000s (i.e., housing bubble) everyone binged on tech stocks and McMansions with the help of loose credit. Well, we all know how those stories ended…the bears eventually arrived and left a bunch of carnage after tearing apart investors.
Fragile 5 Bed Too Hard
After enjoying some nice porridge at a perfect temperature in 2013, Goldilocks and investors are now searching for a comfortable bed. The recent volatility in the emerging markets has caused some lost sleep for investors. At the center of this sleeplessness are the financially stressed countries of Argentina and the so-called “Fragile Five” (Brazil, India, Indonesia, Turkey and South Africa) – still not sure why they don’t combine to call the “Sick Six” (see chart below).
|Source: Financial Times|
Why are these countries faced with the dilemma of watching their currencies plummet in value? One cannot overly generalize for each country, but these dysfunctional countries share a combination of factors, including excessive external debt (loans denominated in U.S. dollars), large current account deficits (trade deficits), and small or shrinking foreign currency reserves. This explanation may sound like a bunch of economic mumbo-jumbo, but at a basic level, all this means is these deadbeat countries are having difficulty paying their lenders and trading partners back with weaker currencies and depleted foreign currency reserves.
Many pundits, TV commentators, and bloggers like to paint a simplistic picture of the current situation by solely blaming the Federal Reserve’s tapering (reduction) of monetary stimulus as the main reason for the recent emerging markets sell-off. It’s true that yield chasing investors hunted for higher returns in in emerging market bonds, since U.S. interest rates have bounced around near record lows. But the fact of the matter is that many of these debt-laden countries were already financially irresponsible basket cases. What’s more, these emerging market currencies were dropping in value even before the Federal Reserve implemented their stimulative zero interest rate and quantitative easing policies. Slowing growth in China and other developed countries has made the situation more abysmal because weaker commodity prices negatively impact the core economic engines of these countries.
In reviewing the struggles of some emerging markets, let’s take a closer look at Argentina, which has seen its currency (peso) decline for years due to imprudent and inflationary actions taken by their government and central bank. More specifically, Argentina tried to maintain a synchronized peg of their peso with the U.S. dollar by manipulating its foreign currency rate (i.e., Argentina propped up their currency by selling U.S. dollars and buying Argentinean pesos). That worked for a little while, but now that their foreign currency reserves are down -45% from their 2011 peak (Source: Scott Grannis), Argentina can no longer realistically and sustainably purchase pesos. Investors and hedge funds have figured this out and as a result put a bulls-eye on the South American country’s currency by selling aggressively.
Furthermore, Argentina’s central bank has made a bad situation worse by launching the money printing presses. Artificially printing additional money may help in paying off excessive debts, but the consequence of this policy is a rampant case of inflation, which now appears to be running at a crippling 25-30% annual pace. Since the beginning of last year, pesos in the black market are worth about -50% less relative to the U.S. dollar. This is a scary developing trend, but Argentina is no stranger to currency problems. In fact, during 2002 the value of the Argentina peso declined by -75% almost overnight compared to the dollar.
Each country has unique nuances regarding their specific financial currency pickles, but at the core, each of these countries share a mixture of these debt, deficit, and currency reserve problems. As I have stated numerous times in the past, money ultimately moves to the place(s) it is treated best, and right now that includes the United States. In the short-run, this state of affairs has strengthened the value of the U.S. dollar and increased the appetite for U.S. Treasury bonds, thereby pushing up our bond prices and lowering our longer-term interest rates.
Their Cold is Our Warm
Overall, besides the benefits of lower U.S. interest rates, weaker foreign currencies lead to a stronger dollar, and a stronger U.S. currency means greater purchasing power for Americans. A stronger dollar may not support our exports of goods and services (i.e., exports become more expensive) to our trading partners, however a healthy dollar also means individuals can buy imported goods at cheaper prices. In other words, a strong dollar should help control inflation on imported goods like oil, gasoline, food, cars, technology, etc.
While emerging markets have cooled off fairly quickly, the temperature of our economic porridge in the U.S. has been quite nice. Most recently, the broadest barometer of economic growth (Real GDP) showed a healthy +3.2% acceleration in the 4th quarter to a record of approximately $16 trillion (see chart below).
|Source: Crossing Wall Street|
Moreover, corporate profits continue to come in at decent, record-setting levels and employment trends remain healthy as well. Although job numbers have been volatile in recent weeks and discouraged workers have shrunk the overall labor pool, nevertheless the unemployment rate hit a respectable 6.7% level last month and the positive initial jobless claims trend remains at a healthy level (see chart below).
Skeptics of the economy and stock market assert the Fed’s continued retrenchment from quantitative easing will only exacerbate the recent volatility experienced in emerging market currencies and ultimately lead to a crash. If history is any guide, the growl from this emerging market bear may be worse than the bite. The last broad-based, major currency crisis occurred in Asia during 1997-1998, yet the S&P 500 was up +31% in 1997 and +27% in 1998. If history serves as a guide, the past may prove to be a profitable prologue. So rather than running and screaming in panic from the three bears, investors still have some time to enjoy the nice warm porridge and take a nap. The Goldilocks economy and stock market won’t last forever though, so once the masses are dying to jump in the comfy investment bed, then that will be the time to run for the hills and leave the latecomers to deal with the bears.
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 AGG, 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.
I wouldn’t say the nail is in the emerging market coffin quite yet. During the financial crisis, the EMSCI Emerging Market Index (EEM) was left for dead (down -50% in 2008) before resurrection in 2009 and 2010 (up +74% and +16%, respectively). For the last two years however, the EMSCI index has underperformed the S&P 500 Index massively by more than -30%. Included in this international index are holdings from China, Russia, India, Brazil, South Korea, and South Africa, among others.
The question now becomes, can the emerging markets resurrect themselves from the dead again? Recent signs are flashing “yes”. Over the last three months, the emerging markets have outperformed the S&P 500 by more than +8%, but these stocks still have a lot of ground to make up before reaching the peak levels of 2007. Last year’s slowing growth in China and a European recession, coupled with talks of the Federal Reserve’s “tapering” of monetary stimulus, didn’t provide the EMSCI index any help over the last few years.
With all the distracting drama currently taking place in Washington D.C., it’s a relief to see some other indications of improvement. For starters, China’s most recent PMI manufacturing index results showed continued improvement, reaching a level of 51.1 – up from August and signaling a reversal from contraction earlier this year (levels above 50 point to expansion). Chinese government leaders are continuing their migration from an externally export-driven economy to an internally consumer-driven economy. Despite the shift, China is still targeting a respectable +7.5% GDP economic growth target, albeit a slower level than achieved in the past.
Adding to emerging market optimism is Europe’s apparent economic turnaround (or stabilization). As you can see from the chart below, the European Institute for Supply Management (ISM) service sector index has lately shown marked improvement. If the European and Chinese markets can sustain these recovering trends, these factors bode well for emerging market financial returns.
While it is clear these developments are helping the rebound in emerging market indices, it is also clear the supply-demand relationship in commodities will coincide with the next big up or down move in developing markets. Ed Yardeni, strategist and editor of Dr. Ed’s Blog, recently wrote a piece showing the tight correlation between emerging market stock prices and commodity prices (CRB Index). His conclusions come as no surprise to me given these resource-rich markets and their dependence on Chinese demand along with commodity needs from other developed countries. Expanding populations and rising standards of living in emerging market countries have and will likely continue to position these countries well for long-term commodity price appreciation. The development of new, higher-value service and manufacturing sectors should also lead to sustainably improved growth in these emerging markets relative to developed economies.
Adding fuel to the improving emerging market case is the advancement in the Baltic Dry Index (see chart below). The recent upward trajectory of the index is an indication that the price for moving major raw materials like coal, iron ore, and grains by sea is rising. This statistical movement is encouraging, but as you can see it is also very volatile.
While the emerging markets are quite unpredictable and have been out-of-favor over the last few years, a truly diversified portfolio needs a healthy dosage of this international exposure. You better check a pulse before you put a nail in the coffin – the emerging markets are not dead yet.
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 ETFs, but at the time of publishing, SCM had no direct position in EEM, 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 the information to be relied on in making an investment or other decision. Please read disclosure language on IC Contact page.