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Digesting Stock Gains

This article is an excerpt from a previously released Sidoxia Capital Management complementary newsletter (June 1, 2015). Subscribe on the right side of the page for the complete text.

Despite calls for “Sell in May, and go away,” the stock market as measured by both the Dow Jones Industrial and S&P 500 indexes grinded out a +1% gain during the month of May. For the year, the picture looks much the same…the Dow is up around +1% and the S&P 500 +2%. After gorging on gains of +30% in 2013 and +11% in 2014, it comes as no surprise to me that the S&P 500 is taking time to digest the gains. After eating any large pleasurable meal, there’s always a chance for some indigestion – just like last month. More specifically, the month of May ended as it did the previous six months…with a loss on the last trading day (-115 points). Providing some extra heartburn over the last 30 days were four separate 100+ point decline days. Realized fears of a Greek exit from the eurozone would no doubt have short-term traders reaching for some Tums antacid. Nevertheless, veteran investors understand this is par for the course, especially considering the outsized profits devoured in recent years.

The profits have been sweet, but not everyone has been at the table gobbling up the gains. And with success, always comes the skeptics, many of whom have been calling for a decline for years. This begs the question, “Are we in a stock bubble?” I think not.

Bubble Bites

Most asset bubbles are characterized by extreme investor/speculator euphoria. There are certainly small pockets of excitement percolating up in the stock market, but nothing like we experienced in the most recent burstings of the 2000 technology and 2006-07 housing bubbles. Yes, housing has steadily improved post the housing crash, but does this look like a housing bubble? (see New Home Sales chart)

Source: Dr. Ed’s Blog

Another characteristic of a typical asset bubble is rabid buying. However, when it comes to the investor fund flows into the U.S. stock market, we are seeing the exact opposite…money is getting sucked out of stocks like a Hoover vacuum cleaner. Over the last eight or so years, there has been almost -$700 billion that has hemorrhaged out of domestic equity funds – actions tend to speak louder than words (see chart below):

Source: Investment Company Institute (ICI)

The shift to Exchange Traded Funds (ETFs) offered by the likes of iShares and Vanguard doesn’t explain the exodus of cash because ETFs such as S&P 500 SPDR ETF (SPY) are suffering dramatically too. SPY has drained about -$17 billion alone over the last year and a half.

With money flooding out of these stock funds, how can stock prices move higher? Well, one short answer is that hundreds of billions of dollars in share buybacks and trillions in mergers and acquisitions activity (M&A) is contributing to the tide lifting all stock boats. Low interest rates and stimulative monetary policies by central banks around the globe are no doubt contributing to this positive trend. While the U.S. Federal Reserve has already begun reversing its loose monetary policies and has threatened to increase short-term interest rates, by any objective standard, interest rates should remain at very supportive levels relative to historical benchmarks.

Besides housing and fund flows data, there are other unbiased sentiment indicators that indicate investors have not become universally Pollyannaish. Take for example the weekly AAII Sentiment Survey, which shows 73% of investors are currently Bearish and/or Neutral – significantly higher than historical averages.

The Consumer Confidence dataset also shows that not everyone is wearing rose-colored glasses. Looking back over the last five decades, you can see the current readings are hovering around the historical averages – nowhere near the bubblicious 2000 peak (~50% below).

Source: Bespoke

Recession Reservations

Even if you’re convinced there is no imminent stock market bubble bursting, many of the same skeptics (and others) feel we’re on the verge of a recession  – I’ve been writing about many of them since 2009. You could choke on an endless number of economic indicators, but on the common sense side of the economic equation, typically rising unemployment is a good barometer for any potentially looming recession. Here’s the unemployment rate we’re looking at now (with shaded periods indicating prior recessions):

As you can see, the recent 5.4% unemployment rate is still moving on a downward, positive trajectory. By most peoples’ estimation, because this has been the slowest recovery since World War II, there is still plenty of labor slack in the market to keep hiring going.

An even better leading indicator for future recessions has been the slope of the yield curve. A yield curve plots interest rate yields of similar bonds across a range of periods (e.g., three-month bill, six-month bill, one-year bill, two-year note, five-year note, 10-year note and 30-year bond). Traditionally, as short-term interest rates move higher, this phenomenon tends to flatten the yield curve, and eventually inverts the yield curve (i.e., short-term interest rates are higher than long-term interest rates). Over the last few decades, when the yield curve became inverted, it was an excellent leading indicator of a pending recession (click here and select “Animate” to see amazing interactive yield curve graph). Fortunately for the bulls, there is no sign of an inverted yield curve – 30-year rates remain significantly higher than short-term rates (see chart below).

Stock market skeptics continue to rationalize the record high stock prices by pointing to the artificially induced Federal Reserve money printing buying binge. It is true that the buffet of gains is not sustainable at the same pace as has been experienced over the last six years. As we continue to move closer to full employment in this economic cycle, the rapid accumulated wealth will need to be digested at a more responsible rate. An unexpected Greek exit from the EU or spike in interest rates could cause a short-term stomach ache, but until many of the previously mentioned indicators reach dangerous levels, please pass the gravy.

Investment Questions Border

www.Sidoxia.com

Wade W. Slome, CFA, CFP®

Plan. Invest. Prosper. 

DISCLOSURE: Sidoxia Capital Management (SCM) and some of its clients hold positions in SPY and other 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.

June 1, 2015 at 12:31 pm 1 comment

Goodbye My Friend

Corky-Wade

It’s been a good run my friend, but nothing lasts forever.

I’ve worked in the world of finance and money for almost a quarter century, but as each new year passes, I appreciate the value of relationships more and more. Beating the benchmark, helping clients, and making money is still a thrilling challenge, but life has a way of periodically throwing you a curve ball to help recalibrate your perspectives on what’s important.

The Early Years

Over the last 17 years, our Beagle Border Collie mix, Corky, has been with us through thick and thin. She was a spry little pup from the day we adopted her from the local PetSmart. Corky provided surprises from the start when the store adoption volunteer told us we were the proud new parents of a masculine Rottweiler pup. That was the case until our first visit to the veterinarian, when Dr. Hardin regretfully told us, “I hate to break this to you, but your dog is not a Rottweiler…you have a Beagle mix on your hands.” Instead of a 100 pound beast, we gained a 20 pound lap dog princess. I wouldn’t have had it any other way.

There’s no replacing that special bond with your special pet.

There’s no replacing that special bond with your special pet.

The year Corky joined the family was 1998 and the Monica Lewinsky scandal was in full swing – the U.S. was also in hot pursuit of terrorist Osama bin Laden after embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania. A lot transpired over Corky’s 84 dog-year life, everything from job promotions and job transitions to family vacations and family deaths. In fact, Corky was part of our family four years longer than my oldest daughter.

The Special Bond

There’s a reason a dog is often considered man’s/woman’s best friend. There is a special bond between a loyal pet and its family members. The unconditional love shared between owner and pet cannot be replicated. After a bad day at work, even your best friend, sibling, or spouse has a tough time competing with a cheerful bark, wagging tail, and slobbery kiss. With dogs there is no lying, cheating, backstabbing, jealousy, yelling, mistrust, deceit, grudges, or judgment. Never have I ever heard someone say, “My dog was such a jerk yesterday, I’m definitely avoiding him (her) today.” In the disparate realm of pets, dogs are especially unique because you can’t exactly nuzzle up to a pet fish or snake. Pet owners are a unique breed as well. Would an average person pick up poop for just anyone at 5:30 am in sub -10 degree weather? Or call a dog sitter three times about his/her’s wellbeing while on a one week vacation? Probably not…but most pet owners don’t think twice when it comes to the welfare of their dog.

Corky may not have liked it, but she played along with our costume abuse.

Corky may not have liked it, but she played along with our costume abuse.

Like most pet-family relationships, the defining characteristic of the special bond usually boils down to the pets’ unique personality, and Corky certainly did not lack any personality. Corky will without a doubt be missed but like many of us, the pain and weight of old age eventually caught up to her. It was painful to watch the rapid decline. First the hearing went, then the jumping, then the sight, then the high-pitched bark, and ultimately her ability to walk.

Despite the pain, the darker times will not overshadow the many amazing and everlasting memories. Our memories may mean nothing to those who did not know Corky, but to us they mean the world.

Reminiscing: Eat, Sleep, Play

For starters, Corky’s life, like many dogs, revolved primarily around eating, sleeping, and playing – not necessarily in that order. When it came to Corky’s one-of-a-kind diet, sure she would put up with the basic dry and wet dog food, but what she would really go bananas for was…bananas! That’s right, our monkey got plenty of potassium, but in order to balance out the sweetness of bananas, she also loved the saltiness of popcorn. Corky would stand up twirling, play dead, shake your hand, or do any other trick to earn access to these special treats.

In the sleep department, Corky was willing to sleep almost anywhere, but her favorite spot was a fresh pile of warm unfolded clothes (below).

Slide1

As mentioned, playing was also a priority. Corky loved to chase rabbits, squirrels, and cats. Corky also had an affinity for unapproved field trips – usually when a crack was left open in the front door or a side gate was inadvertently left open. Maybe Corky was part cat because she displayed more than nine lives on countless occasions. Miraculously she was able to dodge cars when racing across traffic-filled intersections as mom, dad, and children attempted to chase Corky back home alive.

Needless to say, we were lucky to have had Corky for so long. Not everyone is a pet lover but almost any adult (middle-aged or younger) has experienced loss of a family member or relative. And if you haven’t faced it, you or someone else close to you will have to deal with it eventually. Those who know me closely understand I have dealt with my fair share of loss, but in each case I have gained a stronger appreciation for life and live each day with new found awareness. I continue to celebrate the memories for all my lost friends and family members…Corky included. Bananas in my cereal, and popcorn in my Cracker Jack’s will never again have the same meaning. Corky, we will miss you. Rest in peace my good friend….

Corky Lay Down

 

 

www.Sidoxia.com

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 PETM 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.

April 12, 2015 at 3:19 pm 3 comments

Chicken or Beef? Time for a Stock Diet?

Chicken or Beef

The stock market has been gorging on gains over the last six years and the big question is are we ready for a crash diet? In other words, have we consumed too much, too fast? Since the lows of 2009 the S&P 500 index has more than tripled (or +209% without dividends).

In our daily food diets our proteins of choice are primarily chicken and beef. When it comes to finances, our investment choices are primarily stocks and bonds. There are many factors that can play into a meat-eaters purchase decision, including the all-important factor of price. When the price of beef spikes, guess what? Consumers rationally vote with their wallets and start substituting beef for relatively lower priced chicken options.

The same principle applies to stocks and bonds. And right now, the price of bonds in general have gone through the roof. In fact bond prices are so high, in Europe we are seeing more than $2 trillion in negative yielding sovereign bonds getting sucked up by investors.

Another area where we see evidence of pricey bonds can be found in the value of current equity risk premiums. Scott Grannis of Calafia Beach Pundit  posted a great 50-year history of this metric (chart below), which shows the premium paid to stockholders over bondholders is near the highest levels last seen during the Great Recession and the early 1980s. To clarify, the equity risk premium is defined as the roughly 5.5% yield currently earned on stocks (i.e., inverse of the approx. 18x P/E ratio) minus the 2.0% yield earned on 10-Year Treasury Notes.

Source: Scott Grannis

Source: Scott Grannis

The equity risk premium even looks more favorable if you consider the negative interest rate European environment mentioned earlier. The 60 billion euros of monthly debt in ECB (European Central Bank) quantitative easing purchases has accelerated the percentage of negative yield bond issuance, as you can see from the chart below.

Source: FT Alphaville

Source: FT Alphaville

Hibernating Bond Vigilantes

Dr. Ed Yardeni coined the famous phrase “bond vigilantes” to describe the group of hedge funds and institutional investors who act as the bond market sheriffs, ready to discipline any over leveraged debt-issuing entity by deliberately cratering prices via bond sales. For now, the bond vigilantes have in large part been hibernating. As long as the vigilantes remain asleep at the switch, stock investors will likely continue earning these outsized premiums.

How long will these fat equity premiums and gains stick around? A simple diet of sharp interest rate increases or P/E expansion would do the trick. An increase in the P/E ratio could come in one of two ways: 1) sustained stock price appreciation at a rate faster than earnings growth; or 2) a sharp earnings decline caused by a recessionary environment. On the bright side for the bulls, there are no imminent signs of interest rate spikes or recessions. If anything, dovish commentary coming from Fed Chairwoman Janet Yellen and the FOMC would indicate the economy remains in solid recovery mode. What’s more, a return to normalized monetary policy will likely involve a very gradual increase in interest rates – not a piercing rise as feared by many.

Regardless of whether it’s beef prices or bond prices spiking, rather than going on a crash diet, prudently allocating your money to the best relative value will serve your portfolio and stomach best over the long run.

Investment Questions Border

www.Sidoxia.com

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.

March 28, 2015 at 10:11 pm Leave a comment

Ebola Trick Turns into October Treat

This article is an excerpt from a previously released Sidoxia Capital Management complementary newsletter (November 3, 2014). Subscribe on the right side of the page for the complete text.

Boo! The month of October is notorious for creating terrifyingly spooky volatility. Whether you are talking about 1929’s Great Crash, 1987’s Black Monday, or 2008’s Great Financial Crisis, the wickedest damage has occurred during this ghoulish month of the year. The financial market witches and goblins did not disappoint fear-hunting investors in 2014. Sparked by the spread of the deadly, West African Ebola virus and concerns over deteriorating European economic conditions, the Dow Jones Industrial Average stock index “tricked” investors into a -1,200 point (or roughly -8%) loss in the first two weeks of October.  What initially felt like an empty Trick-or-Treat bucket turned into a candy-filled +10% advance in the subsequent two weeks of the month, ultimately resulting in an all-time record high reached by the Dow (17,380).

If you had taken a one-month nap, and slept through October, the late-month surge resulted in an impressive, but less thrilling, record monthly advance of +2.3% for the S&P 500 index. The Dow rose +2.0% and the Nasdaq Composite index added +3.1% for the month. For 2014, the S&P, Dow, and Nasdaq have earned sweet and sugary returns of up +9.2%, +4.9%, +10.9%, respectively.

The Ebola statistics are alarming, but the roughly 5,000 deaths in Africa should be put into proper perspective (see chart below). The number of deaths on American soil are even more miniscule, if you consider that there have been fewer Ebola deaths in the United States than Larry King has had wives  (Larry has been married eight times to seven different women).

Source: Vox

Besides concerns over Ebola, the eurozone boogeyman has spooked investors too. Europe has been in a continual economic funk, while the U.S. has decoupled and adapted to global sluggishness as seen from the industrial production statistics below (via Scott Grannis).

Source: Calafia Beach Pundit

 

Fed Stimulus R.I.P.

A lot has been written and discussed about the Federal Reserve’s controversial QE (Quantitative Easing) bond buying stimulus program, but the fact remains stock prices are at record highs and the U.S. economy has been the best economic house in a bad developed country neighborhood. Contrary to popular opinion, long-term interest rates have not spiked higher with the wind-down of the nearly 6-year QE program. In actuality, interest rates have drifted lower with the 10-Year Treasury Note currently yielding 2.34%.

Source: Calafia Beach Pundit

With the QE stimulus training wheels off the economic bicycle, the focus is returning to the real engine driving this 5-1/2 year bull market…corporate profits. Despite all the scary news headlines, S&P 500 corporate earnings continue to chug along as stock prices have tripled since early 2009. More specifically, 78% of companies who have reported their third quarter results thus far have exceeded Wall Street forecasts, which nets out to a respectable +7.3% earnings growth rate. As the 10-year chart below shows, stock prices (green line) generally follow corporate profit growth (blue line) – see also It’s the Earnings, Stupid. Eventually, profit growth flattens out and turns negative during a recession, which will lead to a bear market in stocks.

Source: FactSet

Currently there is no evidence of a recessionary slowdown. Recessions usually occur when there is a correction in some area of economic excess (e.g., too much technology or housing investment) – that is not the case currently. In reality, the economy has added more than 10 million private jobs since the nadir of the 2009 recession and consumers are feeling more confident (see chart of 7-year high in Consumer Confidence). What’s more, the U.S. economy just posted a very respectable +3.5% GDP growth rate for the third quarter as an encore to the +4.6% growth achieved last quarter. The roughly -25% reduction in oil prices to $80 per barrel is also providing an effective tax cut for consumers, as money saved at the gas pump leaves more holiday shopping dollars to be poured back into the economy.

Source: Bespoke Investment

 

Monkey See, Monkey Do

Central banks are not sitting on their hands either as they watch lethargic global growth. Other international central banks are enviously looking at the U.S.’s relative strength and beginning to play a game of “QE monkey see, monkey do.” Last Friday, Japan’s central bank (Bank of Japan) announced a plan to ratchet up their annual QE program of bond buying to 80 trillion Yen (~$726 billion), while Japan’s Government Pension Investment Fund (GPIF) simultaneously announced their proposal to double its stock ownership allocation. These decisions, coupled with the European Central Bank’s President Mario Draghi’s initiative to buy covered bonds is more evidence of global central bank coordination designed to kick-start more respectable economic growth. The hope is that circulating more money through the economy through QE will lead to more growth. If and when inflation rears its ugly head will be the time the central bank monkeys will have to reverse QE course.

Source: Yardeni Research

While October and 2014 have created sweet tasting returns in the major stock indexes, volatility is certain to eventually come back and spook investors. The midterm elections are just around the corner and there are plenty of other geopolitical uncertainties around the world capable of frightening financial markets. There will continue to be plenty of surprising tricks, even though Halloween has passed, but patient investors with diversified, low-cost, tax-efficient strategies should be rewarded with long-term treats.

Investment Questions Border

www.Sidoxia.com

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.

 

November 3, 2014 at 11:43 am 1 comment

The EPS House of Cards: Tricks of the Trade

House of cards and money

 

As we enter the quarterly ritual of the tsunami of earnings reports, investors will be combing through the financial reports. Due to the flood of information, and increasingly shorter and shorter investment time horizons, much of investors’ focus will center on a few quarterly report metrics – primarily earnings per share (EPS), revenues, and forecasts/guidance (if provided).

Many lessons have been learned from the financial crisis over the last few years, and one of the major ones is to do your homework thoroughly. Relying on a AAA ratings from Moody’s (MCO) and S&P (when ratings should have been more appropriately graded D or F) or blindly following a “Buy” rating from a conflicted investment banking firm just does not make sense.

FINANCIAL SECTOR COLLAPSE

Given the severity of the losses, investors need to be more demanding and comprehensive in their earnings analysis. In many instances the reported earnings numbers resemble a deceptive house of cards on a weak foundation, merely overlooked by distracted investors. Case in point is the Financial sector, which before the financial collapse saw distorted multi-year growth, propelled by phantom earnings due to artificial asset inflation and excessive leverage. One need look no further than the weighting of Financial stocks, which ballooned from 5% of the total S&P 500 Index market capitalization in 1980 to a peak of 23% in 2007. Once the credit and real estate bubble burst, the sector subsequently imploded to around 9% of the index value around the March 2009 lows. Let’s be honest, and ask ourselves how much faith can we put in the Financial sector earnings figures that moved from +$22.79 in 2007 to a loss of -$21.24 in 2008? Since that time regulation and reform has put the sector on a more solid footing.  Luckily, the opacity and black box nature of many of these Financials largely kept me out of the 2009 sector implosion.

WHAT TO WATCH FOR

But the Financial sector is not the only fuzzy areas of accounting manipulation. Thanks to our friends at the FASB (Financial Accounting Standards Board), company management teams have discretion in how they apply different GAAP (Generally Accepted Accounting Principles) rules. Saj Karsan, a contributing writer at Morningstar.com, also writes about the “Fallacy of Earnings Per Share.”

“EPS can fluctuate wildly from year to year. Writedowns, abnormal business conditions, asset sale gains/losses and other unusual factors find their way into EPS quite often. Investors are urged to average EPS over a business cycle, as stressed in Security Analysis Chapter 37, in order to get a true picture of a company’s earnings power.”

 

These gray areas of interpretation can lead to a range of distorted EPS outcomes. Here are a few ways companies can manipulate their EPS:

Distorted Expenses: If a $10 million manufacturing plant is expected to last 10 years, then the depreciation expense should be $1 million per year. If for some reason the Chief Financial Officer (CFO) suddenly decided the building would last 40 years rather than 10 years, then the expense would only be $250,000 per year. Voila, an instant $750,000 annual gain was created out of thin air due to management’s change in estimates.

Magical Revenues: Some companies have been known to do what’s called “stuffing the channel.” Or in other words, companies sometimes will ship product to a distributor or customer even if there is no immediate demand for that product. This practice can potentially increase the revenue of the reporting company, while providing the customer with more inventory on-hand. The major problem with the strategy is cash collection, which can be pushed way off in the future or become uncollectible.

Accounting Shifts: Under certain circumstances, specific expenses can be converted to an asset on the balance sheet, leading to inflated EPS numbers. A common example of this phenomenon occurs in the software industry, where software engineering expenses on the income statement get converted to capitalized software assets on the balance sheet. Again, like other schemes, this practice delays the negative expense effects on reported earnings.

Artificial Income: Not only did many of the trouble banks make imprudent loans to borrowers that were unlikely to repay, but the loans were made based on assumptions that asset prices would go up indefinitely and credit costs would remain freakishly low. Based on the overly optimistic repayment and loss assumptions, banks recognized massive amounts of gains which propelled even more imprudent loans. Needless to say, investors are now more tightly questioning these assumptions. That said, recent relaxation of mark-to-market accounting makes it even more difficult to estimate the true values of assets on the bank’s balance sheets.

Like dieting, there are no easy solutions. Tearing through the financial statements is tough work and requires a lot of diligence. My process of identifying winning stocks is heavily cash flow based (see my article on cash flow investing) analysis, which although lumpier and more volatile than basic EPS analysis, provides a deeper understanding of a company’s value-creating capabilities and true cash generation powers.

As earnings season kicks into full gear, do yourself a favor and not only take a more critical” eye towards company earnings, but follow the cash to a firmer conviction in your stock picks. Otherwise, those shaky EPS numbers may lead to a tumbling house of cards.

Read Saj Karsan’s Full Article

Wade W. Slome, CFA, CFP®

Plan. Invest. Prosper.

DISCLOSURE: Sidoxia Capital Management has no direct position in MCO or MHP at the time this article was originally posted. 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.

April 18, 2014 at 1:02 pm 5 comments

The Ski Slope Market: What’s Next in 2014?

ski

This article is an excerpt from a previously released Sidoxia Capital Management complementary newsletter (January 2, 2014). Subscribe on the right side of the page for the complete text. 

Skiing, or snowboarding in my case, is a lot like investing in the stock market…a bumpy ride. Snow, wind, ice, and moguls are common for seasoned skiers, and interest rate fluctuations, commodity price spikes, geopolitical turmoil, and -10% corrections are ordinary occurrences for veteran equity investors. However, in 2013 stock investors enjoyed pristine conditions, resulting in the best year for the Dow Jones Industrial Average since 1996. Individuals owning stocks witnessed their portfolios smoothly race to sunny, powder-like returns. More specifically, a December Santa Claus rally (S&P +2.4% for the month) capped off a spectacular year, which resulted in the S&P 500 Index soaring +30%, the NASDAQ Composite Index +38%, and the Dow +26%.

Despite the meteoric move in stocks this year, many observers missed the excitement of the equity ski slopes in exchange for lounging in the comfort of the deceivingly risky but warm lodge. In the lodge, these stock-frightened individuals sipped hot cocoa with wads of inflation-losing cash, bonds, and gold. As a result, these perceived safe assets have now become symbolic relics of the 2008-2009 financial crisis. In the short-run, the risk-averse coziness of the lodge may feel wonderful, but before the lounging observers can say “bull market,” the overpriced cocoas and holiday drinks will eat holes through retirement wallets and purses.

As you can see from the chart below, it is easy for the nervous lodge loungers to vividly remember the scary collapse of 2008-09 (point A to B). Surprisingly, many of these same skeptics are able to ignore or discount the explosive move of 2009-13 (point B to C). There’s another way of looking at this volatile time period. Had an investor fallen into a coma six years ago and then awakened today, an S&P portfolio would still have risen a respectable +26% (point A to C), plus more than +10% or so from dividends.

chart123

Turbulent Times on Back-Country Bond & Gold Trails

While stockholders have thoroughly enjoyed the recent climate, the 2013 weather conditions haven’t been as ideal for gold and bond investors. Gold investors felt less-than-precious in 2013 as they went flying off a cliff and broke a leg. In fact, the shiny metal suffered its worst performance in 30 years and underperformed stocks by a whopping -58%. With this year’s -28% loss (GLD), gold has underperformed stocks over the last six years, after including the impact of dividends.

Like gold traders, most bondholders were wounded in 2013 as well, but they did not get completely buried in an avalanche. Nevertheless, 2013 was a rocky ride overall for the bond haven hunters, as evidenced by the iShares Barclays Aggregate Bond composite (AGG), which fell -4%. As I’ve discussed previously, in Confessions of a Bond Hater, not all bonds are created equally, and actually many Sidoxia client portfolios include shorter-duration bonds, inflation protection bonds, convertible bonds, floating rate bonds, and high-yield bonds. Structured correctly, a thoughtfully constructed bond portfolio can outperform in a rising rate environment like we experienced in 2013.

Although bonds as a broad category may not currently offer great risk-reward characteristics, individuals in the mid-to-latter part of retirement need less volatility and more income – attributes bonds (not stocks) can offer. In other words, certain people are better served by snow-shoeing, or going on sleigh rides rather than risking a wipeout or tree collision on a downhill ski adventure. By owning the right types of bonds, your portfolio can avoid a severe investment crash.

Positive 2014 Outlook but Helmet Advised

With the NASDAQ index having more than tripled to over 4,176 from the 2009 lows, napping spectators are beginning to wake up and take notice. After money hemorrhaged out of the stock market for years (despite positive total returns in 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012), the fear trend began to reverse itself in 2013 and investment capital began returning to stock funds (see Here Comes the Dumb Money).

Adding fuel to the bull market fire, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) head Christine Lagarde recently signaled an increase in economic growth forecasts for the U.S. in 2014, thanks to an improving employment picture, successful Congressional budget negotiations, and actions by the Federal Reserve to unwind unprecedented monetary stimulus. If you consider the added factors of rising corporate profits, improving CEO confidence (e.g., Ford expansion), the shale energy boom, an expanding housing market, and our technology leadership position, one can paint a reasonably optimistic picture for the upcoming years.

Nonetheless, I am quick to remind investors and clients that the pace of the +30% appreciation in 2013 is unsustainable, and we are still overdue for a -10% correction in the major stock indexes.

The fundamental outlook for the economy may be improving, but there are still plenty of clouds on the horizon that could create a short-term market snowstorm. Domestically, we have the upcoming 2014 mid-term elections; debt ceiling negotiations; and a likely continuation of the Federal Reserve tapering program. Abroad, there are Iranian nuclear program talks; instability in Syria; meager and uncertain growth in Europe; and volatile economic climates in emerging markets like China, Brazil and India. After such a large advance this year, any one of these concerns (or some other unforeseen event) could provide an ample excuse to sell stocks and take some profits.

Since wipeouts are common, a protective helmet in the form of a valuation-oriented, globally diversified portfolio is strongly advised. For seasoned skiers and long-term investors, experiencing the never-ending ups and downs of skiing (investing) is a necessity to reach a desired destination. If you have trouble controlling your skis (money/emotions), it’s wise to seek the assistance of an experienced instructor (investment advisor) so your investment portfolio doesn’t crash.  

www.Sidoxia.com

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, GLD, F, 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.

January 4, 2014 at 10:00 am 1 comment

Investors Feast While Bears Get Cooked

turkey wade 

This article is an excerpt from a previously released Sidoxia Capital Management complementary newsletter (December 2, 2013). Subscribe on the right side of the page for the complete text. 

As I ponder this year’s events with a notch-loosened belt after a belly-busting Thanksgiving gorging, I give thanks for my many blessings this year (see my last year’s Top 10). Investors in the stock market have had quite a feast in 2013 as well, while pessimistic bears have gotten cooked. Just this month, stock indexes reached all-time record highs (16,000 for the Dow Jones Industrial average and 1,800 for the S&P 500). Even the tech-heavy NASDAQ index surpassed 4,000 – a level not seen since 1999. How does this translate in percentage terms? Here’s what the stellar 2013 numbers looks like so far:

  • Dow Jones: +22.8%
  • S&P 500: +26.6%
  • NASDAQ: +34.5%

These results demolish the near 0.0% returns earned on the sidelines, sitting on cash. And worth noting, these gains become even more impressive once you add dividends to the mix. To put these numbers into better perspective, it would take you more than a few decades of your lifetime to achieve this year’s stock gains, if your cash was invested at today’s CD and savings account rates.

For the bears, the indigestion has become even more unbearable if you consider the 2013 bloodbath in gold. The endless mantra of unsustainable QE (Quantitative Easing) hasn’t played out quite as the cynics planned this year (see also QE – Greatest Thing Since Sliced Bread):

  • CBOE Gold Index (GOX): -51.5%
  • SPDR Gold Shares (GLD): -25.5%

Bonds have been challenging too. Investors and Nervous Nellies have not been able to hide in longer-term Treasury bonds or broader bond indexes without some pain during 2013:

  • iShares 20-Year Treasury Bond (TLT): -13.8%
  • iShares Total U.S. Bond Market (AGG): -3.3%

As I’ve preached in the past, bonds have a place in most portfolios for income and diversification purposes, and many of my clients own them in their portfolios. But not all bonds are created equally. At Sidoxia (Sidoxia.com), we’ve smoothed out interest rate volatility and even recorded some gains by investing in specific classes of bonds such as short duration, floating rate, and convertible securities.

Why the Turkey High?

Since I invest professionally, inevitably the dinner table conversation switches from stuffing to stock market, or from pumpkin pie to politics. More often than not, the discussion reflects a tone such as, “This market is crazy! We’re due for a crash aren’t we?”

Without coming off as Pollyannaish, or offending anyone, I am quick to acknowledge I too am unhappy with Obamacare (my health insurance coverage was recently dropped due to the Affordable Care Act) and recognize that most politicians are bottom-feeders. Objectively, an argument can also be made by the doubters that a bubble is forming in a sub-segment of the market (see also Confusing Stock Bubbles). While the Yelps (YELP), Twitters (TWTR), and Teslas (TSLA) of the world may be dramatically inflated in price, there are plenty of attractively and reasonably priced areas of the market to opportunistically exploit.

Unfortunately, many people fail to recognize there are other factors besides politics and fad stocks that drive financial markets higher or lower. As the chart below shows (see also Conquering Politics & Hurricanes), the stock market has gone up and down regardless of party politics.

Source: Yardeni.com

Besides politics, there is an infinite number of other factors affecting financial markets. While Obamacare, Iran, Syria, 2014 elections, Federal Reserve QE tapering, etc. may account for many of the concerns du jour, there are other important factors driving stock prices higher.

Here are but a few:

  • Record corporate profits
  • Near record-low interest rates
  • Improving fiscal deficit / debt situation relative to our economy
  • Improving housing and jobs picture
  • Reasonable stock valuations
  • Low inflation / declining oil prices

The stock market feast has been exceptional, but even I acknowledge the pace of this year’s advance is not sustainable. Like an overloading of pie or an unnecessary, extra drumstick, we’re bound to experience another -10% correction, just like a common case of heartburn. For long-term investors however, fear of a temporary upset stomach is no reason to leave the investing dining table. Focusing only on the negatives and ignoring the positives may result in your investment portfolio getting cooked…just like the poor Thanksgiving turkey.

DISCLOSURE: Sidoxia Capital Management (SCM) and some of its clients hold positions in certain exchange traded funds (ETFs), Yelp (YELP), Twitter (TWTR), and Tesla (TSLA), 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.

December 2, 2013 at 10:46 am Leave a comment

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