Archive for August, 2013

QE: The Greatest Thing Since Sliced Bread*

Sliced Bread4

Quantitative easing (QE), or the Federal Reserve’s bond buying program, has been a spectacular success. Arguably, the greatest innovation since sliced bread. Don’t believe me? I mean, if you listen to many of the experts, strategists, economists, and blogosphere pundits, the magical elixir of QE can be the only explanation rationalizing the multi-year economic recovery and stock market boom. Don’t believe me? Well, apparently many of the bearish pros make sure to credit QE for all our financial/economic positives. For example…

  • QE is the reason the stock market is near all-time record highs.
  • QE created seven million jobs in the U.S. over the last four years.
  • QE turned around the housing market.
  • QE turned around the auto market.
  • QE weakened the U.S. dollar, resulting in flourishing exports.
  • QE has lowered borrowing rates, thereby cleansing consumer balance sheets through deleveraging.
  • QE is the reason Facebook Inc. (FB) hired 1,323 employees over the last year.
  • QE is the reason Google Inc. (GOOG) has spent $7.8 billion on R&D over the last year.
  • QE explains why McDonald’s Corp. (MCD) plans to open more than 1,400 stores this year.
  • QE explains why Warren Buffett and 3G capital paid $28 billion to buy Heinz.
  • QE is the reason Elon Musk and Tesla Motors (TSLA) invented the model S electric vehicle.
  • QE exhibits why Target Corp. (TGT) is expanding outside the U.S. into Canada.
  • QE is the reason why S&P 500 companies are expected to pay $300 billion in dividends this year.
  • QE is the reason why S&P 500 companies were buying back shares at a $400 billion clip this year.
  • QE is the basis for corporations spending billions on efficiency enhancing cloud-based services.
  • QE led to a record number of new FDA drug approvals last year.
  • QE has caused a natural gas production boom in numerous shale regions.

Wow…the list goes on and on! Heck, I even hear QE can take the corrosion off of a rusted car battery. Given how incredible this QE stuff is, why even consider tapering QE? Financial markets have been volatile on the heels of tapering the 3rd iteration of quantitative easing (QE3), but why slow QE3, when the FED could add more awesomeness with  QE4, QE10, QE 100, and QE 1,000?

All of this QE talk is so wonderful, but unfortunately, according to all the bearish pundits, QE has created an artificial sugar high, thus creating an asset bubble that is going to end in a disastrous cratering of financial markets. 

I know it’s entirely possible that QE may have absolutely nothing to do with the financial market recovery (other than a bid under Treasury & mortgage backed security prices), and also has no bearing on why I buy or sell stocks, but I guess I will need to hide in a cave when QE3 tapering begins. Although the end of dividends, share buybacks, housing/auto recoveries, acquisitions, expansion, innovation, etc., caused by QE tapering sure does not sound like a cheery outcome, at least I still have a loaf of sliced bread to make a sandwich.

*DISCLOSURE: For those readers not familiar with my writing style, I have been known to use a healthy dose of sarcasm. Call me if you want a deeper explanation.

www.Sidoxia.com

Wade W. Slome, CFA, CFP®

Plan. Invest. Prosper.

DISCLOSURE II : Sidoxia Capital Management (SCM) and some of its clients hold positions in certain exchange traded funds (ETFs) and GOOG, but at the time of publishing, SCM had no direct position in FB, TSLA, MCD, BRKA, TGT, 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

August 24, 2013 at 11:40 pm 4 comments

Stocks Take a Breather after Long Sprint

Man Running Reaching Finish Line

Like a sprinter running a long sprint, the stock market eventually needs to take a breather too, and that’s exactly what investors experienced this week as they witnessed the Dow Jones Industrial Average face its largest drop of 2013 (down -2.2%) – and also the largest weekly slump since 2012. Runners, like financial markets, sooner or later suffer fatigue, and that’s exactly what we’re seeing after a relatively unabated +27% upsurge over the last nine months. Does a -2% hit in one week feel pleasant? Certainly not, but before the next race, the markets need to catch their breath.

By now, investors should not be surprised that pitfalls and injuries are part of the investment racing game – something Olympian Mary Decker Slaney can attest to as a runner (see 1984 Olympic 3000m final against Zola Budd). As I have pointed out in previous articles (Most Hated Bull Market), the almost tripling in stock prices from the 2009 lows has not been a smooth, uninterrupted path-line, but rather investors have endured two corrections averaging -20% and two other drops approximating -10%. Instead of panicking by locking in damaging transaction costs, taxes, and losses, it is better to focus on earnings, cash flows, valuations, and the relative return available in alternative asset classes. With generationally low interest rates occurring over recent periods, the available subset of attractive investment opportunities has narrowed (see Confessions of a Bond Hater), leaving many investing racers to default to stocks.

Recent talk of potential Federal Reserve bond purchase “tapering” has led to a two-year low in bond prices and caused a mini spike in interest rates (10-year Treasury note currently yielding +2.83%). At the margin, this trend makes bonds more attractive (lower prices), but as you can see from the chart below, interest rates are still relatively close to historically low yields. For the time being, this still makes domestic equities an attractive asset class.

Source: Yahoo! Finance

Source: Yahoo! Finance

Price Follows Earnings

The simple but true axiom that stock prices follow earnings over the long-run is just as true today as it was a century ago. Interest rates and price-earnings ratios can also impact stock prices. To illustrate my argument, let’s talk baseball. Wind, rain, and muscle (interest rates, PE ratios, political risk, etc.) are factors impacting the direction of a thrown baseball (stock prices), but gravity is the key factor influencing the ultimate destination of the baseball. Long-term earnings growth is the equivalent factor to gravity when talking about stock prices.

To buttress my point that stock prices following long-term earnings, consider the fact that S&P 500 annualized operating earnings bottomed in 2009 at $39.61. Since that point, annualized earnings through the second quarter of 2013 (~94% of companies reported results) have reached $99.30, up +151%. S&P 500 stock prices bottomed at 666 in 2009, and today the index sits at 1655, +148%. OK, so earnings are up +151% and stock prices are up +148%. Coincidence? Perhaps not.

If we take a closer look at earnings, the deceleration of earnings growth is unmistakable (see Financial Times chart below), yet the S&P 500 index is still up +16% this year, excluding dividends. In reality, predicting multiple expansion or contraction is nearly impossible. For example, earnings in the S&P 500 grew an incredible +15% in 2011, yet stock prices were anemically flat for that year, showing no price appreciation (+0.0%). Since the end of 2011, earnings have risen a meager +3%, however stock prices have catapulted +32%. Is this multiple expansion sustainable? Given stock P/E ratios remain in a reasonable 15-16x range, according to forward and trailing earnings, there is some room for expansion, but the low hanging fruit has been picked and further double-digit price appreciation will require additional earnings growth.

Source: Financial Times

Source: Financial Times

But stocks should not be solely looked through a domestic lens…there is another 95% of the world’s population slowly embracing capitalism and democracy to fuel future dynamic earnings growth. At Sidoxia (www.Sidoxia.com), we are finding plenty of opportunities outside our U.S. borders, including alternative asset classes.

The investment race continues, and taking breathers is part of the competition, especially after long sprints. Rather than panic, enjoy the respite.

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.

August 17, 2013 at 3:00 pm Leave a comment

Who Said Gridlock is Bad?

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Living in Southern California is extraordinary, but just like anything else, there are always tradeoffs, including traffic. Living in the United States is extraordinary too, but one of the detrimental tradeoffs is political gridlock…or is it? I am just as frustrated as anybody else that the knucklehead politicians in Washington can’t get their act together (especially on bipartisan issues such as taxes/immigration/deficits, etc.), but as it turns out, gridlock has created a significant financial silver lining.

Let’s take a look at some of the positive impacts of gridlock:

1)  Federal Spending as % of GDP Declines

Source: Calafia Beach Pundit

Source: Calafia Beach Pundit

The demands of both Tax-and-Spend Democrats and Tea-Partier Republicans fell on deaf ears thanks to gridlock. The U.S. didn’t institute the depth of austerity that the far-right wanted, and Congress didn’t implement the additional fiscal stimulus the far-left desired. The result has been a slow but steady recovery, which has brought spending closer to historical averages.

2)  Private vs. Public Sector

Source: Calafia Beach Pundit

Source: Calafia Beach Pundit

The implementation of more responsible (or less irresponsible) government spending has freed up resources and allowed the private sector to slowly add jobs. The next wave of sequestration spending cuts may unleash some more pain on the public sector and delay overall economic recovery further, but just like dieting, we will feel much better once we have shed more debt and spending – at least as a percentage of GDP.

3)  Deficit Reduced Significantly

Source: Calafia Beach Pundit

Source: Calafia Beach Pundit

The chart above is closely tied to point #1 (government spending), but as you can see, revenues have climbed significantly since 2010. I would argue plain economic cyclicality has more impact on the volatility of revenues. Blaming the current administration on the collapse or crediting them for the rebound is probably overstated. Comprehensive tax reform would likely have a lot more impact on the slope of revenues relative to the recent tax policy changes.

Source: Calafia Beach Pundit

Source: Calafia Beach Pundit

The same picture can be seen from a different angle, as shown above (Deficit as % of GDP). While the absolute dollar amounts are staggeringly high, as a percentage of GDP, the percentage has been chopped by more than half since the peak of the crisis.

Everyone would like to see politicians solve all of our problems, but as we have experienced, deep philosophical differences can lead to political gridlock. When it comes to our nation’s finances, gridlock may not be optimal, but you can also see that a stalemate is not always the worst outcome either. As politicians continue to scream at each other with purple faces, I will monitor the developments from my car radio while in California gridlocked traffic…sunroof open of course. 

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.

August 10, 2013 at 10:00 am Leave a comment

Markets Soar and Investors Snore

Sleep-Relax

This article is an excerpt from a previously released Sidoxia Capital Management complementary newsletter (August 1, 2013). Subscribe on the right side of the page for the complete text.

If you haven’t been paying close attention, or perhaps if you were taking a long nap, you may not have noticed that the stock market was up an astounding +5% in July (+78% if compounded annualized), pushing the S&P 500 index up +18% for the year to near all-time record highs. Wait a second…how can that be when that bald and grey-bearded man at the Federal Reserve has hinted at bond purchase “tapering” (see also Fed Fatigue)? What’s more, I thought the moronic politicians were clueless about our debt and deficit-laden economy, jobless recovery, imploding eurozone, Chinese real estate bubble, and impending explosion of inflation – all of which are expected to sink our grandchildren’s grandchildren into a standard of living not seen since the Great Depression. Okay, well a dash of hyperbole and sarcasm never hurt anybody.

This incessant stream of doom-and-gloom pouring over our TVs, newspapers, and internet devices has numbed Americans’ psyches. To prove my point, the next time you are talking to somebody at the water cooler, church, soccer game, or happy hour, gauge how excited your co-worker, friend, or acquaintance gets when you bring up the subject of the stock market. If my suspicions are correct, they are more likely to yawn or pass out from boredom than to scream in excitement or do cartwheels.

You don’t believe me? Reality dictates the wounds from the 2008-2009 financial crisis are still healing. Panic and fear may have disappeared, but skepticism remains in full gear, even though stocks have more than doubled in price in recent years. Here is some data to support my case there are more stock detractors than defenders:

Record Savings Deposits

Source: Calafia Beach Pundit

Although there are no signs of an impending recession, defensive cash hoarded in savings deposits has almost increased by $3 trillion since the end of the financial crisis.

Blah Consumer Confidence

Source: Calafia Beach Pundit
Source: Calafia Beach Pundit

As you can see from the chart above, Consumer Confidence has bounced around quite a bit over the last 30+ years, but there is no sign that consumer sentiment has turned euphoric.

15-Year Low Stock Market Participation 

Source: Gallup Poll

There has been a trickling of funds into stocks in 2013, yet participation in the stock market is at a 15-year low. Investors remain nervous. 

Lack of Equity Fund Buying

Source: ICI & Calafia Beach Pundit

After a short lived tax-driven purchase spike in January, the buying trend quickly turned negative in the ensuing months. Modest inflows resumed into equity funds during the first few weeks of July (source: ICI), but the meager stock fund investments represent < 95% of 2012 positive bond flows ($15 billion < $304 billion, respectively). Moreover, these modest stock inflows pale in comparison to the hundreds of billions in investor withdrawals since 2008. See also Fund Flows Paradox – Investing Caffeine.

Decline in CNBC Viewership

In spite of the stock market more than doubling in value from the lows of 2009, CNBC viewer ratings are the weakest in about 20 years (source: Value Walk). Stock investing apparently isn’t very exciting when prices go up.

The Hater’s Index:

And if that is not enough, you can take a field trip to the hater’s comment section of my most recent written Seeking Alpha article, The Most Hated Bull Market Ever. Apparently the stock market more than doubling creates some hostile feelings.

JOLLY & JOVIAL MEMO

Keeping the previous objective and subjective data points in mind, it’s clear to me the doom-and-gloom memo has been adequately distributed to the masses. Less clear, however, is the dissemination success of the jolly-and-jovial memo. I think Ron Bailey, an author and science journalist at Reason.com (VIDEO), said it best, “News is always bad news. Good news is simply not news…that is our [human] bias.” If you turn on your local TV news, I think you may agree with Ron. Nevertheless, there are actually plenty of happier news items to report, so here are some positive bullet points to my economic and stock market memo:

16th Consecutive Positive GDP Quarter* 

Source: Quartz.com

The broadest measure of economic activity, GDP (Gross Domestic Product), was reported yesterday and came in better than expected in Q2 (+1.7%) for the 16th straight positive reported quarter (*Q1-2011 was just revised to fractionally negative). Obviously, the economists and dooms-dayers who repeatedly called for a double-dip recession were wrong.

40 Consecutive Months & 7 Million Jobs

Source: Calculated Risk

The economic recovery has been painfully slow, but nevertheless, the U.S. has experienced 40 consecutive months of private sector job additions, representing +7.2 million jobs created. With about -9 million jobs lost during the most recent recession, there is still plenty of room for improvement. We will find out if the positive job creation streak will continue this Friday when the July total non-farm payroll report is released.

Housing on the Mend

Source: Calafia Beach Pundit

New home sales are up significantly from the lows; housing starts have risen about 40% over the last two years; and Case Shiller home prices rose by +12.2% in the latest reported numbers. The housing market foundation is firming.

Auto Sales Rebound

Source: Calafia Beach Pundit

Auto sales remain on a tear, reaching an annualized level of 15.9 million vehicles, the highest since November 2007, and up +12% from June 2012. Car sales have almost reached pre-recessionary levels.

Record Corporate Profits

Source: Dr. Ed’s Blog

Optimistic forecasts have been ratcheted down, nonetheless corporate profits continue to grind to all-time record highs. As you can see, operating earnings have more than doubled since 2003. Given reasonable historical valuations in stocks, as measured by the P/E (Price Earnings) ratio, persistent profit growth should augur well for stock prices.

Bad Banks Bounce Back

As banks around the country have repaired their debt-burdened balance sheets and sharpened their loan requirements, bank stock prices have rebounded significantly (the XLF SPDR Financial index is up +25% in 2013). Bill McBride at Calculated Risk has compiled an unofficial list of 729 problem banks, which is down significantly from the peak of 1,002 institutions in June 2011 (down -27%). There has been a significant reduction in problem banks, but the number is still elevated compared to the initial listing of 389 institutions in August 2009.

Europe on the Comeback Trail

Source: Calafia Beach Pundit

There are signs of improvement in the Eurozone after years of recession. Talks of a European Armageddon have recently abated, in part because of Markit manufacturing manager purchasing statistics that are signaling expansion for the first time in two years.

Overall, corporations are achieving record profits and sitting on mountains of cash. The economy is continuing on a broad, steady recovery, however investors remain skeptical. Domestic stocks are at historic levels, but buying stocks solely because they are going up is never the right reason to invest.  Alternatively, bunkering away excessive cash in useless, inflation depreciating assets is not the best strategy either. If nervousness and/or anxiety are driving your investment strategy, then perhaps now is the time to create a long-term plan to secure your financial future. However, if your goal is to soak up the endless doom-and-gloom and watch your money melt away to inflation, then perhaps you are better off just taking another nap.

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.

August 4, 2013 at 10:41 am 1 comment


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