Posts tagged ‘retail sales’
Article is an excerpt from previously released Sidoxia Capital Management’s complementary April 1, 2013 newsletter. Subscribe on right side of page.
April Fool’s Day has been around for centuries and has provided an opportunity for foolish pranks to be played on the masses around the world. Evidence of the global practice can be found from the bumper spaghetti harvest in Switzerland filmed by the BBC in 1957. The video footage (click here) was so convincing, viewers called and asked how they could grow their own spaghetti.
A cruel prank has also been played on investing skeptics as they have watched the S&P 500 and Dow Jones Industrials indexes catapult to new record highs over the last five quarters (up +25% & +19%, respectively). How can the stock market be setting new records when we have recently experienced a fiscal cliff, sequestration, a deepening European recession, slowing corporate profit growth, anemic GDP (Gross Domestic Product) expansion (0.4% last quarter), and a $13 billion Cyprus bailout?
The short answer is the economy continues to improve at a steady pace; stock prices are attractive; and gloomy headlines sell more advertisements in newspapers, magazines and on television. Is this wealth explosion a practical joke, or how can we help better explain this surprising phenomenon?
1) Record Corporate Profits
Corporate profits are at record levels. After the worst financial crisis in a generation, companies have become mean and lean. They are hiring cautiously to maintain healthy profit margins, but also investing into productivity-improving technology and equipment.
2) Record Dividends and Share Buybacks Galore
Annual dividend payments have reached a record level of more than $300 billion for S&P 500 companies, and there are no signs of this trend slowing down. This is occurring just as interest rates on bonds have been continuing to decline. Tack on a few hundred billion dollars in share buybacks to boost stock prices, and you get a recipe investors are enjoying.
3) Housing on the Comeback Trail
Housing accounts for a significant portion of our economy. After several years of depression-like activity, this sector is on the comeback trail. In fact, the S&P/Case-Shiller index, that measures home prices in 20 major metropolitan cities, rose by +8.1% in the most recent reported figure. This increase was the largest gain in six-and-a-half years. This is important because the improvement in housing filters through to other major sectors of the economy, such as retail (e.g., furniture), banking (e.g., mortgages), and government (e.g., property taxes).
4) Consumer Spending Can’t be Killed
Like a cockroach, the consumer is tough to exterminate. Consumer spending accounts for roughly 70% of the economy’s goods and services, and as you can see from the chart above, people are still shopping – despite domestic and international challenges.
The net result of all these trends is that the economic picture continues to improve and consumers and investors alike are beginning to feel better about themselves. And how could they not? As evidenced by the chart below, household net worth has reached a record level of about $66 trillion dollars, thanks to rallies in the stock market and home process, combined with a renewed conviction of keeping debt in check.
Cyprus Side Notes
Over the last month, an avalanche of headlines, relating to the dire financial condition of Cyprus and Cypriot banks, has cascaded across the major media outlets. In analyzing the situation, there were two major questions I wanted answered:
Question #1: What is going on in Cyprus?
As it relates to this tiny island, approximately the size of Puerto Rico (east of Greece and south of Turkey), the first thing I learned is that the Cyprus situation is another example of a country’s financial sector gone wild. By some estimates the size of Cypriot bank deposits were more than 4x’s the size of its GDP. A key driving force behind the oversized banking industry is Russian depositors, who make up about 1/3 of overall Cypriot banking deposits. Cyprus acted as a sort of Cayman Islands in the Mediterranean for these wealthy Russians, who moved billions of dollars to the island after the Soviet Union broke apart in the early 1990s. The main attraction for the Russians were the lax banking laws and generous tax advantages.
In order to clean up this financial mess, the so-called adults or Troika, made up of the European Central Bank (ECB), International Monetary Fund (IMF), and European Commission (EU legislative body), approved a $13 billion bailout for Cyprus on the condition they restructured their main banks (Laiki Bank to be merged into Bank of Cyprus). The end result is that Cyprus (like Greece) chose to take the harsh medicine and stay in the eurozone by combining/closing banks and instituting significant losses on those depositors with more than $130,000 in their accounts (with some depositors expected to lose -60% of their money).
Question #2: Should I care?
The short answer is “No”. With a population of about 850,000 people, Cyprus is home to about the same number of folks who live in Birmingham, Alabama. Moreover, the size of Cyprus’ economy is barely 0.2% of euro-land GDP. Many pessimistic bears acknowledge the infinitesimal size of the Cypriot economy, but position the country as the domino about to topple the rest of Europe, including the much more important countries of Spain and Italy. The fact that private depositors are feeling a larger brunt of the pain rather than public taxpayers is actually a healthy long-term trend that will force more responsible behavior by other European financial institutions outside Cyprus.
In the face of the noisy Cyprus sideshow and endless economic/political worries, our corporate profit machine continues to churn out escalating profits,
as our stock markets set new record highs and our economy gains momentum. Today may be April Fool’s Day, but don’t become bamboozled by silly diversions, this stock market is no joke.
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 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.
Excerpt from Free November Sidoxia Monthly Newsletter (Subscribe on right-side of page)
Fear and frustration dominated investor psyches during August and September as backlash from political gridlock in the U.S. and worries of European contagion dominated action in volatile investment portfolios. Elevated 9.1% unemployment and a sluggish recovery in the U.S. also led populist Occupy Wall Street protesters to flood our nation’s streets, blaming the bankers and the wealthy as the cause for personal misfortunes and the widening gap between rich and poor. However, in the face of the palpable pessimism, economic Halloween treats and greedy corporate profits scared away bearish naysayers like invisible ghosts during the month of October.
While many investors stayed home for Halloween in the supposed comfort of their inflation-losing savings accounts and bonds, those investors choosing to brave the chilling elements in the frightening equity markets were handsomely rewarded. Stockholders tasted the sweet pleasure of a +11% October return in the S&P 500 index, the largest monthly advance in 20 years.
Of course, as I always advise, investors should not load themselves to the gills in stocks just to chase performance. Rather, investors should construct a diversified portfolio designed to meet one’s objectives, constraints, risk tolerance, and liquidity needs. Within that context, a portfolio should also periodically rebalance by selling pricey investments (i.e., Treasuries) and redeploy those proceeds into unloved investments (i.e., equities).
Glass Half Full
There is never a shortage of reasons to be fearful and a one-month rally in equities is not reason enough to blindly pile on risk, but there are plenty of reasons to counter the endless pessimism pornography peddled by media outlets on a continuous basis. Here are some of the “half-full” reasons:
- Euro Plan in Place: After months of conflicting headlines, European leaders reached an agreement to increase the European Union’s bailout fund to one trillion euros ($1.4 trillion) and negotiated a -50% debt reduction deal with Greek bondholders. In addition, European officials agreed on a plan to increase bank reserves by 106 billion euros to support potential bank losses due to European debt defaults. This plan is not a silver bullet, but it is a start.
- Bulging Corporate Profits: With the majority of S&P 500 companies now having reported their actual third quarter results, profit growth is estimated to exceed +16% for the three month period ending in September. Expectations for fourth quarter earnings are currently forecasted to top a respectable +11% growth rate (Data from Thomson Reuters).
- Tortoise-Like Growth Continues: Even though it’s Halloween, the double-dip recession boogeyman is still hiding. U.S. economic growth actually accelerated its growth to +2.5% in the third quarter on a year-over-year basis, up from +1.3% last quarter. The growth in Gross Domestic Product (GDP) was primarily driven by consumer and business spending.
- Jobs Still on the Rise: The unemployment rate remains stubbornly high, but offsetting the ongoing decline in government jobs has been a 19 consecutive month spurt in private job creation activity, resulting in +2.6 million jobs being added to the economy over the period. This doesn’t make up for the 8 million+ jobs lost during the 2008-2009 recession, but the economy is moving in the right direction.
- Consumers Opening Wallet: Consumers can be like cockroaches in that they are difficult to kill off when it comes to spending. Consumers whipped out their wallets in September as retail sales advanced at a brisk +7.9% pace (+7.8% excluding auto sales).
- Dividends on the Rise: While nervous Nellies park money in money losing cash and Treasuries (on an inflation-adjusted basis), corporations flush with cash are increasing dividends at a rapid clip. According to Standard & Poor’s rating agency, dividend increases rose over +17% during the third quarter of 2011. As of October 25th, the indicated dividend for the S&P stood at a decent +2.20% rate.
I am fully aware that equity investors are not out of the woods yet, as the European debt crisis has not been resolved, and the structural deficit/debt issues we face in the U.S. still have a long way to go before becoming disentangled. As a matter of fact, fear is building as we approach the looming deficit reduction Super Committee resolution (or lack thereof) later this month – I can hardly wait. If a $1.5 trillion bipartisan debt reduction agreement can’t be reached, some bored Occupy Wall Street protesters can shift priorities and take a tour bus to Washington D.C. to demonstrate. Regardless of the potential grand European or Washington debt plans that may or may not transpire, observers can rest assured fear and greed are two emotions that will remain alive and well when it comes to Wall Street and “Main Street” portfolios.
Wade W. Slome, CFA, CFP®
Plan. Invest. Prosper.
DISCLOSURE: Sidoxia Capital Management (SCM) and some of its clients own certain exchange traded funds, 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.