Posts filed under ‘Banking’

Sleeping on Expensive Financial Pillows

Everybody loves a good night’s sleep and that requires a comfortable pillow. Unfortunately, many investors are overpaying for their pillows in the form of overpriced, interest-rate sensitive bonds. If you aren’t careful, your retirement dreams could turn into financial nightmares. More specifically, if the composition of your investment portfolio is overly skewed towards bonds, you stand to lose substantial amounts of money if/when interest rates and inflation persistently increase.

In the short-run, pillows manufactured in the form of bonds can feel cozy in a world of low volatility and generationally-low interest rates. However, investors should also ask themselves, how much longer can this unprecedented 40-year bull market in bonds last? Interest rates approached 20% in 1980 and they stand closer to 1% today (1.24% to be more precise). What may now seem like a cozy bond portfolio may eventually lead to unnerving insomnia.

Source: Trading Economics

We already have negative interest rates in numerous countries around the world and inflation (a rise in general price levels) is running hot at about 5% annually. What this means is investing in a 10-Year Treasury Note yielding 1.24% effectively means you are losing almost -4% per year in purchasing power, if inflation remains at 5% (see chart below). There are numerous investing strategies used to fight inflation, but historically stocks’ ability to raise prices through pricing power has been a useful vehicle to fend off the melting of money’s value.

Source: Calafia Beach Pundit

Despite short-term increases in inflation, getting a good night sleep hasn’t been an issue in 2021 as it relates to the stock market. For the month, the S&P 500 stock index was up +2.3% to a new record, and for the year it has surged +17%. The story for the Dow Jones Industrial Average looks similar – for the month rising +1.3% and year-to-date to +14%.

Thankfully, there haven’t been any night terrors yet either in the bond market. Nevertheless, short-term results have been more of a mixed bag. For the month, the iShares Aggregate Bond Market ETF (Exchange Traded Fund – AGG) rose +1.0% and for 2021 slipped -2%.

In spite of stocks being a great place to invest over the last decade or so, solely investing in stocks is not always rainbows and unicorns. The price you pay for longer-term stock outperformance is shorter-term volatility, which can be disruptive to your sleeping patterns. Case in point, the -35% drop in the S&P 500 index at the start of the COVID-19 global pandemic when anxiety and volatility were at extreme levels.
Despite the market continuously hitting new highs, investors are not completely out of the woods yet as spiking Delta variant cases threaten the trajectory of the current economic recovery.

Source: CDC

Although stocks can feel like stiff, uncomfortable pillows in the short-term, in the long-run, historically those stiff, uncomfortable stocks become vastly more comfortable than bonds. Over the last five years, stock prices have dramatically outperformed bonds by +99% (S&P vs. AGG).

Determining your asset allocation is a monumental decision that should be driven by various factors, including risk tolerance, time horizon, income needs, taxes, and other factors such as your personal objectives. Therefore, even if you subscribe to the premise that stocks outperform in the long run, that doesn’t necessarily mean all retirees should load up solely on a diet of stocks.

Retirees who need income or other risk-averse investors generally can’t afford to lose substantial amounts of their net worth, if stocks tank significantly during a recession. Not only could an all-stock portfolio not generate adequate income, an equity-heavy portfolio could also could lead to emotional sales after market declines, thereby locking in permanent losses at low levels. After these potential losses, there may not be enough time for stock losses to be recouped by retirees. If possible, most investors approaching retirement do not want to be forced to work as a greeter at Wal-Mart to compensate for stock losses.

Everybody’s financial situation is different, and everyone has varying risk tolerances and unique needs. As such, working with an independent, experienced, and professional advisor like Sidoxia Capital Management (www.Sidoxia.com) can assist you with structuring a proper asset allocation, so your investment pillows can help you achieve a good night sleep.

www.Sidoxia.com

Wade W. Slome, CFA, CFP®

Plan. Invest. Prosper.

This article is an excerpt from a previously released Sidoxia Capital Management complimentary newsletter (August 1, 2021). Subscribe on the right side of the page for the complete text.

DISCLOSURE: Sidoxia Capital Management (SCM) and some of its clients hold positions in certain exchange traded funds (ETFs), but at the time of publishing had no direct position in any other security referenced in this article. No information accessed through the Investing Caffeine (IC) website constitutes investment, financial, legal, tax or other advice nor is to be relied on in making an investment or other decision. Please read disclosure language on IC Contact page.

August 2, 2021 at 1:42 pm Leave a comment

April Flowers Have Investors Cheering Wow-sers!

Normally April showers bring May flowers, but last month the spring weather was dominated by sunshine that caused stock prices to blossom to new, all-time record highs across all major indexes. More specifically, the S&P 500 jumped +5.2% last month, the NASDAQ catapulted +5.4%, and the Dow Jones Industrial Average rose +2.7%. For the year, the Dow and S&P 500 index both up double-digit percentages (11%), while the NASDAQ is up a few percentage points less than that (8%).

What has led to such a bright and beaming outlook by investors? For starters, economic optimism has gained momentum as the global coronavirus pandemic appears to be improving after approximately 16 months. Not only are COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations rates declining, but COVID-19 related deaths are dropping as well. A large portion of the progress can be attributed to the 246 million vaccine doses administered so far in the United States.

Blossoming Economy

As a result of the improving COVID-19 health climate, economic activity, as measured by Gross Domestic Product (GDP), expanded by a healthy +6.4% rate during the first quarter. Economists are forecasting second quarter growth to accelerate to an even more brilliant rate of +10%.

As the economy further re-opens and pent-up consumer demand is unleashed, activity is sprouting up in areas like airlines, hotels, restaurants, bars, movie theaters and gyms. An example of consumer demand climbing can be seen in the volume of passenger traffic in U.S. airports, which has increased substantially from the lows a year ago, as shown below in the TSA (Transportation Security Administration) data.

Source: Calafia Beach Pundit

A germinating economy also means a healthier employment market and more jobs. The chart below shows the dramatic decline in the number of jobless receiving benefits and pandemic unemployment assistance.

Fed Fertilizer & Congressional Candy

Monetary and fiscal stimulus are creating fertile ground for the surge in growth as well. The Federal Reserve has been clear in their support for the economy by effectively maintaining its key interest rate target at 0%, while also maintaining its monthly bond buying program at $120 billion – designed to sustain low interest rates for the benefit of consumers and businesses.

From a fiscal perspective, Congress is serving up some sweet candy by doling out free money to Americans. So far, roughly $4 trillion of COVID-19 related stimulus and relief have passed Congress (see also Consumer Confidence Flies), and now President Biden is proposing roughly an additional $4 trillion of stimulus in the form of a $2 trillion jobs and infrastructure plan and a $1.8 trillion American Families Plan.

Candy and Spinach

While Congress is serving up trillions in candy, eventually, Americans are going to have to eat some less appetizing spinach in the form of higher taxes. Generally speaking, nobody likes higher taxes, so the question becomes, how does the government raise the most revenue (taxes) without upsetting a large number of voters? As 17th century French statesman Jean-Baptiste Colbert proclaimed, “The art of taxation consists in so plucking the goose as to get the most feathers with the least hissing.”

President Biden has stated he will only increase income taxes on people earning more than $400,000 annually and increase capital gains taxes for those earning more than $1,000,000 per year. According to CNBC, those earning more than $400,000 only represents 1.8% of total taxpayers.

Bitter tasting spinach for Americans may also come in the form of higher inflation (i.e., a general rise in a basket of goods and services), which silently eats away at everyone’s purchasing power, especially those retirees surviving on a fixed income. Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell sees any increase in inflation as transitory, but if prices keep rising, the Federal Reserve will be forced to increase interest rates. Such a reversal in rates could choke off economic growth and potentially force the economy into a recession.

 If you strip out volatile energy prices, the good news is that underlying inflation has not spiraled higher out of control, as you can see from the chart below.

Source: Calafia Beach Pundit

In addition to the concerns of potential higher taxes, inflation, and rising interest rate policies from the Federal Reserve, for many months I have written about my apprehension about the speculation in SPACs (Special Purpose Acquisition Companies) and cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin. There are logical explanations to invest selectively into SPACs and purchase Bitcoin as a non-correlated asset for diversification purposes and a hedge against the dollar. But unfortunately, if history repeats itself, speculators will eventually end up in a pool of tears.

While there are certainly some storm clouds on the horizon (e.g., taxes, inflation, rising interest rates, speculative trading), April bloomed a lot of flowers, and the near-term forecast remains very sunny as the economy emerges from a global pandemic. As long as the government continues to provide candy to millions of Americans; the Federal Reserve remains accommodative in its policies; and the surge in pent-up demand persists to drive economic growth, we likely have some more time before we are forced to eat our spinach.

www.Sidoxia.com

Wade W. Slome, CFA, CFP®

Plan. Invest. Prosper.

This article is an excerpt from a previously released Sidoxia Capital Management complimentary newsletter (May 3, 2021). Subscribe on the right side of the page for the complete text.

DISCLOSURE: Sidoxia Capital Management (SCM) and some of its clients hold positions in certain exchange traded funds (ETFs), but at the time of publishing had no direct position in GME 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.

May 3, 2021 at 3:55 pm Leave a comment

Consumer Confidence Flies as Stock Market Hits New Highs

As the economy starts reopening from a global pandemic that is improving, consumers and businesses are beginning to see a light at the end of the tunnel. The surge in the recently reported Consumer Confidence figures to a new one-year high (see chart below) is evidence the recovery is well on its way. A stock market reaching new record highs is further evidence of the reopening recovery. More specifically, the Dow Jones Industrial Average catapulted 2,094 points higher (+6.2%) for the month to 32,981 and the S&P 500 index soared +4.2%. A rise in interest rate yields on the 10-Year Treasury Note to 1.7% from 1.4% last month placed pressure on technology growth stocks, which led to a more modest gain of +0.4% in the tech-heavy NASDAQ index during March.

Source: MarketWatch

Comeback from COVID

With a combination of 150 million vaccine doses administered and 30 million cumulative COVID cases, the U.S. population has creeped closer toward herd immunity protection against the virus and pushed down hospitalizations dramatically (see chart below).

Source: Centers for Disease Control (CDC)

Also contributing to investor optimism have been the rising values of investments and real estate assets thanks to an improving economy and COVID case count. As you can see from the chart below, the net worth of American households has more than doubled from the 2008-2009 financial crisis to approximately $130 trillion dollars, which in turn has allowed consumers to responsibly control and manage their personal debt. Unfortunately, the U.S. government hasn’t been as successful in keeping debt levels in check.

Source: Calafia Beach Pundit

Spending and Paying for Infrastructure Growth

Besides focusing on positive COVID trends, investors have also centered their attention on the passage of a $1.9 trillion stimulus bill last month and a new proposed $2.3 trillion infrastructure bill that President Biden unveiled details on yesterday. At the heart of the multi-trillion dollar spending are the following components (see also graphic below):

  • $621 billion modernize transportation infrastructure
  • $400 billion to assist the aging and disabled
  • $300 billion to boost the manufacturing industry
  • $213 billion to build and retrofit affordable housing
  • $100 billion to expand broadband access
Source: The Wall Street Journal

With over $28 trillion in government debt, how will all this spending be funded? According to The Fiscal Times, there are four main tax categories to help in the funding:

Corporate Taxes: Raising the corporate tax rate to 28% from 21% is expected to raise $730 billion over 10 years

Foreign Corporate Subsidiary Tax: A new global minimum tax on foreign subsidiaries of American corporations is estimated to raise $550 billion

Capital Gains Tax on Wealthy: Increasing income tax rates on capital gains for wealthy individuals is forecasted to raise $370 billion

Income Tax on Wealthy: Lifting the top individual tax rate back to 39.6% for households earning more than $400,000 per year is seen to bring in $110 billion

Besides the economy being supported by government spending, growth and appreciation in the housing market are contributing to GDP growth. The recently released housing data shows housing prices accelerating significantly above the peak levels last seen before the last financial crisis (see chart below).

Source: Calculated Risk

Although the economy appears to be on solid footing and stock prices have marched higher to new record levels, there are still plenty of potential factors that could derail the current bull market advance. For starters, increased debt and deficit spending could lead to rising inflation and higher interest rates, which could potentially choke off economic growth. Bad things can always happen when large financial institutions take on too much leverage (i.e., debt) and speculate too much (see also Long-Term Capital Management: When Genius Failed). The lesson from the latest, crazy blow-up (Archegos Capital Management) reminds us of how individual financial companies can cause billions in losses and cause ripple-through effects to the whole financial system. And if that’s not enough to worry about, you have rampant speculation in SPACs (Special Purpose Acquisition Companies), Reddit meme stocks (e.g., GameStop Corp. – GME), cryptocurrencies, and NFTs (Non-Fungible Tokens).

Successful investing requires a mixture of art and science – not everything is clear and you can always find reasons to be concerned. At Sidoxia Capital Management, we continue to find attractive opportunities as we strive to navigate through areas of excess speculation. At the end of the day, we remain disciplined in following our fundamental strategy and process that integrates the four key legs of our financial stool: corporate profits, interest rates, valuations, and sentiment (see also Don’t Be a Fool, Follow the Stool). As long as the balance of these factors still signal strength, we will remain confident in our outlook just like consumers and investors are currently.

www.Sidoxia.com

Wade W. Slome, CFA, CFP®

Plan. Invest. Prosper.

This article is an excerpt from a previously released Sidoxia Capital Management complimentary newsletter (April 1, 2021). Subscribe on the right side of the page for the complete text.

DISCLOSURE: Sidoxia Capital Management (SCM) and some of its clients hold positions in certain exchange traded funds (ETFs), but at the time of publishing had no direct position in GME 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 1, 2021 at 2:10 pm Leave a comment

Election End + Vaccine Victory = Dow 30,000

There are many variables that affect the direction of the stock market, but there were two factors that pushed the stock market to a record high of 30,000 on the Dow Jones Industrial Average. The mathematical equation solved last month was the following: (Election End + Positive Vaccine Data) = Dow 30,000.

Election Clouds of Uncertainty Lifted

Former Vice President Joe Biden secured 81.1 million popular votes and 302 electoral votes, while incumbent President Donald Trump earned 73.9 million popular votes and 232 electoral votes. President Trump has filed numerous lawsuits in various states challenging the validity of the election results and he has claimed voter fraud in numerous states. However, if the Electoral College certifies the results on December 14th, reversing the election outcome by President Trump will become even more challenging. With President Trump getting 47% of the total versus 51% for President-elect Biden, the country largely remains divided, but investors have gained significant confidence now that the clouds of election uncertainty have lifted.

Vaccine Optimism

Investor optimism was further buoyed by 95%-effective vaccine data released by pharmaceutical companies, Pfizer, Inc. (PFE), BioNTech (BNTX), and Moderna Inc. (MRNA), which helped the stock market surge last month to an all-time record high of 30,000 in the Dow Jones Industrial average (see chart below) before slightly dipping at the end of the month to 29,638 . More specifically, the Dow soared +12% (3,137 points) for the month; the S&P 500 index 11%, and the NASDAQ +12%. For the year, the Dow, S&P, and NASDAQ have climbed +4%, +12%, and +36%, respectively.

Source: Investors.com

Rotating Growth for Value and Large for Small

Given a new president variable with President-elect Biden, stock market investors have reassessed which economic factors and new legislative policies will affect future stock market returns. As I have been discussing with Sidoxia Capital Management clients and Investing Caffeine readers for years, the level of outperformance of “Growth” stocks over “Value” stocks, and “Large-cap” stocks over “Small-cap” stocks has been staggering. If you consider the Russell 1000 Growth index (IWF) has outperformed the Russell 1000 Value index (IWD) by 102% (120% vs. 18%, respectively) since 2016, and the S&P 100 index (Large-cap) outpaced the Russell 2000 (Small-cap) by 33% (67% vs. 34%), you can appreciate the benefit investors have enjoyed by investing with the Large-cap Growth formula in the stock market. But as I have previously pointed out, this level of outperformance is not sustainable forever, historically. Last month, we saw this gap narrow as Small-cap stocks advanced +18% (IWM – Russell 2000) and Value stocks +13% (Russell 1000 Value). Embedded within the Value segment, the energy sector (XLE) skyrocketed +28% for the month and financials (XLF) by +17%.

What Now? Politics Focus on Georgia

Another significant contributing factor to the recent rally has been the election gridlock outcome in Congress. Leading up to the elections, political polls incorrectly predicted a “Blue Wave” of Democratic victories in the House of Representatives and Senate. Under that scenario, Democrats would have had a blank check mandate to push a broad liberal agenda across America. That did not happen. Republicans actually gained more seats than Democrats in the House, and Republicans only lost one seat in the Senate.

All eyes are now on the Georgia Senate runoff election in January. As things stand currently, we effectively have a stalemate in Congress, meaning Democrats will have to fight tooth and nail to pass any new legislation and/or institute higher taxes. If both Democrat candidates win in the Georgia runoff, President-elect Biden and the Democrats will have a narrow majority in Congress, which could lead to more progressive measures, including tax hikes on the wealthy.

Economic Rebound Intact

Despite the uptick in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations, the economic rebound keeps moving forward. In fact, recent Gross Domestic Product (GDP) forecasts for the fourth quarter of 2020 are expected to exceed an average of +6%. As you can see in the chart below, corporate profits have bounced back to record high and remain relatively high to the slower recovery in GDP.

Source: Calafia Pundit

The economic resurgence experienced has not been limited to the United States. The global expansion, especially in China, has shown up in the upturn of World Trade Volume (see chart below).

Source: Scott Grannis

Between the Dow hitting 30,000, the millions of votes counted in the elections, and the vaccine effectiveness rates, there have been many numbers to contemplate last month. Suffice it to say, however, the mathematics of these figures show that investors are using this formula to earn all-time record results in the stock market.

www.Sidoxia.com

Wade W. Slome, CFA, CFP®

Plan. Invest. Prosper.

This article is an excerpt from a previously released Sidoxia Capital Management complimentary newsletter (December 1, 2020). Subscribe on the right side of the page for the complete text.

DISCLOSURE: Sidoxia Capital Management (SCM) and some of its clients hold positions in certain exchange traded funds (ETFS), but at the time of publishing had no direct position in any other security referenced in this article. No information accessed through the Investing Caffeine (IC) website constitutes investment, financial, legal, tax or other advice nor is to be relied on in making an investment or other decision. Please read disclosure language on IC Contact page.

December 1, 2020 at 1:03 pm Leave a comment

GDP Figures & Election Jitters

Ever since the beginning of 2020, it’s been a tale of two cities. As renowned author Charles Dickens famously stated, “It was the best of times and worst of times.” The year started with unemployment at a “best of times” low level of 3.5% (see chart below) before coronavirus shutdown the economy during March when we transitioned to the “worst of times.”

Source: Statista

With the recent release of record-high Gross Domestic Product (GDP) figures of +33.1% growth in Q3 (vs. -31.4% in Q2), and a +49% stock market rebound from the COVID-19 lows of March, a debate has been raging. Is the re-opening economic rebound that has occurred a V-shaped recovery that will continue expanding, or is the recovery that has occurred since March a temporary dead-cat bounce?

Source: Business Insider

For many people, the ultimate answer depends on the outcome of the impending presidential election. Making matters worse are the polarized politics that are being warped, distorted, and amplified by social media (see Social Dilemma). Although the election jitters have many stock market participants on pins and needles, history reminds us that politics have little to do with the long-term direction of the stock market and financial markets. As the chart below shows, over the last century, stock prices have consistently gone up through both Democratic (BLUE) and Republican (RED) administrations.

Source: Yardeni.com

Even if you have trouble digesting the chart above, I repeatedly remind investors that political influence and control are always temporary and constantly changing. There are various scenarios predicted for the outcome of the current 2020 elections, including a potential “Blue Wave” sweep of the Executive Branch (the president) and the Legislative Branch (the House of Representatives and Senate). Regardless of whether there is a Blue Wave, Red Wave, or gridlocked Congress, it’s worth noting that the previous two waves were fleeting. Unified control of government by President Obama (2008-2010) and President Trump (2016-2018) only lasted two years before the Democrats and Republicans each lost 100% control of Congress (the House of Representatives flipped to Republican in 2010 and Democrat in 2018).

Even though Halloween is behind us, many people are still spooked by the potential outcome of the elections (or lack thereof), depending on how narrow or wide the results turn out. Despite the +49% appreciation in stock prices, stock investors still experienced the heebie-jeebies last month. The S&P 500 index declined -2.8% for the month, while the Dow Jones Industrial Average and Nasdaq Composite index fell -4.6% and -2.3%, respectively. It is most likely true that a close election could delay an official concession, but with centuries of elections under our belt, I’m confident we’ll eventually obtain a peaceful continuation or transition of leadership.

Regardless of whomever wins the presidential election, roughly half the voters are going to be unhappy with the results. For example, even when President Ronald Reagan won in a landslide victory in 1980 (Reagan won 489 electoral votes vs. 49 for incumbent challenger President Jimmy Carter), Reagan only won 50.8% of the popular vote. In other words, even in a landslide victory, roughly 49% of voters were unhappy with the outcome. No matter the end result of the approaching 2020 election, suffice it to say, about half of the voting population will be displeased.

Despite the likely discontent, the upcoming winner will be working with (or inheriting) an economy firmly in recovery mode, whether you are referencing, jobs, automobile sales, home sales, travel, transportation traffic, consumer spending, or other statistics. The Weekly Economic Index from the New York Federal Reserve epitomizes the strength of the V-shaped recovery underway (see chart below).

Source: Calafia Beach Pundit

It will come as no surprise to me if we continue to experience some volatility in financial markets shortly before and after the elections. However, history shows us that these election jitters will eventually fade, and the tale of two cities will become a tale of one city focused on the fundamentals of the current economic recovery.

www.Sidoxia.com

Wade W. Slome, CFA, CFP®

Plan. Invest. Prosper.

This article is an excerpt from a previously released Sidoxia Capital Management complimentary newsletter (November 2, 2020). Subscribe on the right side of the page for the complete text.

DISCLOSURE: Sidoxia Capital Management (SCM) and some of its clients hold positions in certain exchange traded funds (ETFS), but at the time of publishing had no direct position in any other security referenced in this article. No information accessed through the Investing Caffeine (IC) website constitutes investment, financial, legal, tax or other advice nor is to be relied on in making an investment or other decision. Please read disclosure language on IC Contact page.

November 2, 2020 at 12:28 pm Leave a comment

A Tale of Two Years: Happy & Not-So-Happy

baby

Happy New Year! If you look at the stock market, 2019 was indeed a happy one. The S&P 500 index rose +29% and the Dow Jones Industrial Average was up +22%. Spectacular, right? More specifically, for the S&P 500, 2019 was the best year since 2013, while the Dow had its finest 12-month period since 2017. Worth noting, although 2019 made investors very happy, 2018 stock returns were not-so-happy (S&P 500 dropped -6%).

18 19

Source: Investor’s Business Daily

As measured against almost any year, the 2019 results are unreasonably magnificent. This has many prognosticators worrying that these gains are unsustainable going into 2020, and many pundits are predicting death and destruction are awaiting investors just around the corner. However, if the 2019 achievements are combined with the lackluster results of 2018, then the two-year average return (2018-2019) of +10% looks more reasonable and sustainable. Moreover, if history is a guide, 2020 could very well be another up year. According to Barron’s,  stocks have finished higher two-thirds of the time in years following a +25% or higher gain.

With the yield on the 10-Year Treasury Note declining from 2.7% to 1.9% in 2019, it should come as no surprise that bonds underwent a reversal of fortune as well. All else equal, both existing bond and stock prices generally benefit from declining interest rates. The U.S. Aggregate Bond Index climbed +5.5% in 2019, a very respectable outcome for this more conservative asset class, after the index experienced a modest decline in 2018.

Happy Highlights

What contributed to the stellar financial market results in 2019? There are numerous contributing factors, but here are a few explanations:

fed fundsSource: Dr. Ed’s Blog

  • Federal Reserve Cuts Interest Rates: After slamming on the brakes in 2018 by hiking interest rates four times, the central bank added stimulus to the economy by cutting interest rates three times in 2019 (see chart above).
  • Phase I Trade Deal with China: Washington and Beijing reached an initial trade agreement that will reduce tariffs and force China to purchase larger volumes of U.S. farm products.
  • Healthy Economy: 2019 economic growth (Gross Domestic Product) is estimated to come in around +2.3%, while the most recent unemployment rate of 3.5% remains near a 50-year low.
  • Government Shutdown Averted: Congress approved $1.4 trillion in spending packages to avoid a government shutdown. The spending boosts both the military and domestic programs and the signed bills also get rid of key taxes to fund the Affordable Care Act and raises the U.S. tobacco buying age to 21.
  • Brexit Delayed: The October 31, 2019 Brexit date was delayed, and now the U.K. is scheduled to leave the European Union on January 31, 2020. EU officials are signaling more time may be necessary to prevent a hard Brexit.
  • Sluggish Global Growth Expected to Rise in 2020: Global growth rates are expected to increase in 2020 with little chance of recessions in major economies. The Financial Times writes, “The outlook from the models shows global growth rates rising next year, returning roughly to trend rates. Recession risks are deemed to be low, currently standing about 5 per cent for the US and 15 per cent for the eurozone.”
  • Potential Bipartisan Infrastructure Spend: In addition to the $1.4 trillion in aforementioned spending, Nancy Pelosi, the Speaker of the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives, said she is willing to work with the Republicans and the White House on a stimulative infrastructure spending bill.

2018-2019 Lesson Learned

One of the lessons learned over the last two years is that listening to the self-proclaimed professionals, economists, strategists, and analysts on TV, or over the blogosphere, is dangerous and usually a waste of your time. For stock market participants, listening to experienced and long-term successful investors is a better strategy to follow.

Conventional wisdom at the beginning of 2018 was that a strong economy, coupled with the Tax Reform Act that dramatically reduced tax rates, would catapult corporate profits and the stock market higher. While many of the talking heads were correct about the trajectory of S&P 500 profits, which propelled upwards by an astonishing +24%, stock prices still sank -6% in 2018 (as mentioned earlier). If you fast forward to the start of 2019, after a -20% correction in stock prices at the end of 2018, conventional wisdom stated the economy was heading into a recession, therefore stock prices should decline further. Wrong!

As is typical, the forecasters turned out to be completely incorrect again. Although profit growth for 2019 was roughly flat (0%), stock prices, as previously referenced, unexpectedly skyrocketed. The moral of the story is profits are very important to the direction of future stock prices, but using profits alone as a timing mechanism to predict the direction of the stock market is nearly impossible.

So, there you have it, 2018 and 2019 were the tale of two years. Although 2018 was an unhappy year for investors in the stock market, 2019’s performance made investors happier than average. When you combine the two years, stock investors should be in a reasonably good mood heading into 2020 with the achievement of a +10% average annual return. While this multi-year result should keep you happy, listening to noisy pundits will make you and your investment portfolio unhappy over the long-run. Rather, if you are going to heed the advice of others, it’s better to pay attention to seasoned, successful investors…that will put a happy smile on your face.

Investment Questions Border

www.Sidoxia.com

Wade W. Slome, CFA, CFP®

Plan. Invest. Prosper.

This article is an excerpt from a previously released Sidoxia Capital Management complimentary newsletter (January 2, 2019). Subscribe on the right side of the page for the complete text.

DISCLOSURE: Sidoxia Capital Management (SCM) and some of its clients hold positions and certain exchange traded funds (ETFs), but at the time of publishing had no direct position in any other security referenced in this article. No information accessed through the Investing Caffeine (IC) website constitutes investment, financial, legal, tax or other advice nor is to be relied on in making an investment or other decision. Please read disclosure language on IC Contact page.

January 2, 2020 at 4:41 pm Leave a comment

Missing the Financial Forest for the Political Trees

forest

In the never-ending, 24/7, polarizing political news cycle, headlines of Ukraine phone calls, China trade negotiations, impeachment hearings, presidential elections, Federal Reserve monetary policy, and other Washington based stories have traders and news junkies glued to their phones, Twitter feeds, news accounts, blog subscriptions, and Facebook stories. However, through the incessant, deafening noise, many investors are missing the overall financial forest as they get lost in the irrelevant D.C. details.

Meanwhile, as many investors fall prey to the mesmerizing, but inconsequential headlines, financial markets have not fallen asleep or gotten distracted. The S&P 500 stock market index rose another +1.7% last month, and for the year, the index has registered a +18.7% return. As we enter the volatile fourth quarter, many stock market participants remain shell-shocked from last year’s roughly -20% temporary collapse, even though the S&P 500 subsequently rallied +29% from the 2018 trough to the 2019 peak.

Why are many people missing the financial forest? A big key to the significant rally in 2019 stock prices can be attributed to two words…interest rates. Unlike last year’s fourth quarter, when the Federal Reserve was increasing interest rates (i.e., tapping the economic brakes), this year the Fed is cutting rates (i.e., hitting the economic accelerator). Interest rates are a key leg to Sidoxia’s financial four-legged stool (see Don’t Be a Fool, Follow the Stool). Interest rates are at or near generational lows, depending where on the geographic map you reside. For example, interest rates on 10-year German government bonds are -0.55%. Yes, it’s true. If you were to invest $10,000 in a negative yielding -0.55% German bond for 10-years starting in 2019, if you held the bond until maturity (2029), the investor would get back less than the original $10,000 invested. In other words, many bond investors are choosing to pay bond issuers for the privilege of giving the issuers money for the unpalatable right of receiving less money in the future.

The unprecedented negative-yielding bond market is reaching epic proportions, having eclipsed $17 trillion globally (see chart below). This gargantuan and growing dollar figure of negative-yielding bonds defies common sense and feels very reminiscent of the panic buying of technology stocks in the late 1990s.

negative yield crop

Source: Bloomberg

At Sidoxia Capital Management, we are implementing proprietary fixed income strategies to navigate this negative interest rate environment. However, the plummeting interest rates and skyrocketing bond prices only make our bond investing job tougher. On the other hand, declining rates, all else equal, also make my stock-picking job easier. Nevertheless, many market participants have gotten lost in the financial trees. More specifically, investors are losing sight of the key tenet that money goes where it is treated best (go where yields are highest and valuations lowest). With many bonds yielding low or negative interest rates, bond investors are being treated like criminals forced to serve jail time and pay large fines because future returns will become much tougher to accrue. In my Investing Caffeine blog, I have been writing about how the stock market’s earnings yield (current approximating +5.5%) and the S&P dividend yield of about +1.9% are handily outstripping the +1.7% yield on the 10-Year Treasury Note (see Going Shopping: Chicken vs. Beef ).

Unless our economy falls into a prolonged recession, interest rates spike substantially higher, or stock prices catapult appreciably, then any decline in stock prices will likely be temporary. Fortunately, the economy appears to be chugging along, albeit at a slower rate. For instance, 3rd quarter GDP (Gross Domestic Product) estimates are hovering around +2.0%.

Low Rates Aid Housing Market

Thanks to low interest rates, the housing markets remain strong. As you can see from the chart below, new home sales continue to ratchet higher over the last eight years, and lower mortgage rates are only helping this cause.

new home sales

Source: Calafia Beach Pundit

The same tailwind of lower interest rates can be seen below with rising home prices.

house prices

Source: Calculated Risk

Consumer Flexes Muscles

At 3.7%, the unemployment rate remains low and the number of workers collecting unemployment is near multi-decade lows (see chart below).

weekly unemploy

Source: Calafia Beach Pundit

It should come as no surprise that the more employed workers there are collecting paychecks, the more consumer confidence will rise (see chart below). As you can see, consumer confidence is near multi-decade record highs.

con con

Source: Calafia Beach Pundit

Although politics continue to dominate headlines and grab attention, many investors are missing the financial forest because the political noise is distracting the irrefutable, positive effect that low interest rates is contributing to the positive direction of the stock market and the economy. Do your best to not miss the forest – you don’t want your portfolio to suffer by you getting lost in the trees.

Investment Questions Border

www.Sidoxia.com

Wade W. Slome, CFA, CFP®

Plan. Invest. Prosper.

This article is an excerpt from a previously released Sidoxia Capital Management complimentary newsletter (October 1, 2019). Subscribe on the right side of the page for the complete text.

DISCLOSURE: Sidoxia Capital Management (SCM) and some of its clients hold positions and certain exchange traded funds (ETFs), but at the time of publishing had no direct position in any other security referenced in this article. No information accessed through the Investing Caffeine (IC) website constitutes investment, financial, legal, tax or other advice nor is to be relied on in making an investment or other decision. Please read disclosure language on IC Contact page.

 

 

October 1, 2019 at 3:36 pm Leave a comment

Central Bank Fires Insurance Bullet

firearm

Another month and another record high in the stock market. Why are stock prices climbing to new highs? One major contributing factor is the accommodative monetary policy implemented by our government’s central bank. For the first time in 12 years since the last financial crisis began (2007), the Federal Reserve recently cut interest rates by -0.25% to a new target range of 2.00% to 2.25% (see chart below).

fedfunds target

Source: New York Times

At the end of this period, with economic activity having expanded and millions of new jobs created, the Federal Reserve realized they needed to begin creating some ammunition to protect the economy for the next, eventual recession (even if the timing of the next recession remained unknown). A gun needs bullets, therefore beginning in late 2015, former Federal Reserve Chair, Janet Yellen, began manufacturing economic bullets with the first of nine interest rate hikes in December 2015.

If you fast forward to today, the economy objectively remains fairly strong and there are no clear signs of an impending recession. Current Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell made it clear that he has decided to fire one of those stimulative bullets yesterday as a precautionary insurance measure against a potential U.S. recessionary slowdown (click here to read the rationale behind the Fed’s rate cut). Fed officials also added to investor enthusiasm when they declared they would end the runoff of their $3.8 trillion asset portfolio (i.e., “halt quantitative tightening”) two months earlier than previously planned.

Thanks in part to Powell’s protective rate cut measure and halt to quantitative tightening, the Dow Jones Industrial Average closed at a new all-time monthly high of 26,864, up +1.0% for the month. Records were also set by the S&P 500 index, which increased by +1.3% and the technology-heavy Nasdaq market achieved a monthly advance of +2.1%.

Despite global slowdown fears and evidence of flattening corporate profits, the 2019 year-to-date stock returns realized thus far have been quite impressive:

  • Dow Jones Industrial Average YTD%: +15.2%
  • S&P 500 YTD%: +18.9%
  • Nasdaq YTD%: +23.2%

In addition to the recent interest rate cut, investors have appreciated other positive fundamental factors enduring in the economy. For example, the job market remains incredibly strong and resilient with the current unemployment rate of 3.7% hovering near 50-year record lows.  This week’s recently released data from payroll processor ADP payroll also showed a healthy addition of 156,000 new private-sector jobs.

adp job growth

Source: MarketWatch

Another confirming source of data highlighting the strength of our economy has been Consumer Confidence (see chart below). Consumer activity accounts for roughly 70% of our country’s economy, therefore with confidence approaching 20-year highs, most investors can confidently sleep at night knowing we are likely not at the edge of a steep recession.

con con

Source: Calafia Beach Pundit

Rainbows and Unicorns

Although the economy appears to be on firm footing, and the Fed has been accommodative with its monetary policy, not everything is rainbows and unicorns. In fact, recently released data from a Chicago-based manufacturing purchasing manager’s survey showed a reading of 44.4, a level indicating a contraction in economic activity (the lowest level seen since December 2015).

business baro

Source: MNI Market News

The ongoing U.S. – China trade spat has also contributed to slowing global activity, even here in our country. U.S. trade representatives (Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and top trade negotiator Robert E. Lighthizer) once again recently returned empty handed from China after another round of discussions. But there have been some positive developments. In return for tariff reductions, China has shown indications it’s willing to purchase large amounts of U.S. agricultural products (e.g., soybeans and other products) and seriously address concerns about the protection of U.S. intellectual property. Discussions are expected to resume on our soil in early September.

Despite all investors’ concerns and fears, the U.S. stock market has continued to climb to new record territories. Economic data may continue to unfold in a “mixed” fashion in coming weeks and months, but investors may gain some comfort knowing that Fed Chair Jerome Powell has a gun with protective interest rate cut bullets that can be fired at potential recessionary threats attacking our economy.

Investment Questions Border

www.Sidoxia.com

Wade W. Slome, CFA, CFP®

Plan. Invest. Prosper.

This article is an excerpt from a previously released Sidoxia Capital Management complimentary newsletter (August 1, 2019). Subscribe on the right side of the page for the complete text.

DISCLOSURE: Sidoxia Capital Management (SCM) and some of its clients hold positions and certain exchange traded funds (ETFs), but at the time of publishing had no direct position in any other security referenced in this article. No information accessed through the Investing Caffeine (IC) website constitutes investment, financial, legal, tax or other advice nor is to be relied on in making an investment or other decision. Please read disclosure language on IC Contact page.

August 1, 2019 at 1:09 pm Leave a comment

Investing in a World of Black Swans

In the world of modern finance, there has always been the search for the Holy Grail. Ever since the advent of computers, practitioners have looked to harness the power of computing and direct it towards the goal of producing endless profits. Today the buzz words being used  across industries include, “AI – Artificial Intelligence,” “Machine Learning,” “Neural Networks,” and “Deep Learning.” Regrettably, nobody has found a silver bullet, but that hasn’t slowed down people from trying. Wall Street has an innate desire to try to turn the ultra-complex field of finance into a science, just as they do in the field of physics. Even banking stalwart JPMorgan Chase (JPM) and its renowned CEO/Chairman Jamie Dimon suffered billions in losses in the quest for infinite income, due in large part to their over-reliance on pseudo-science trading models.

Preceding JPM’s losses, James Montier of Grantham Mayo van Otterloo’s asset allocation team gave a keynote speech at a CFA Institute Annual Conference in Chicago, where he gave a prescient talk explaining why bad models were the root cause of the financial crisis. Montier noted these computer algorithms essentially underappreciate the number and severity of Black Swan events (low probability negative outcomes) and the models’ inability to accurately identify predictable surprises.

What are predictable surprises? Here’s what Montier had to say on the topic:

“Predictable surprises are really about situations where some people are aware of the problem. The problem gets worse over time and eventually explodes into crisis.”

 

When Dimon was made aware of the 2012 rogue trading activities, he strenuously denied the problem before reversing course and admitting to the dilemma. Unfortunately, many of these Wall Street firms and financial institutions use value-at-risk (VaR) models that are falsely based on the belief that past results will repeat themselves, and financial market returns are normally distributed. Those suppositions are not always true.

Another perfect example of a Black Swan created by a bad financial model is Long Term Capital Management (LTCM) – see also When Genius Failed. Robert Merton and Myron Scholes were world renowned Nobel Prize winners who single-handedly brought the global financial market to its knees in 1998 when LTCM lost $500 million in one day and required a $3.6 billion bailout from a consortium of banks. Their mathematical models worked for a while but did not fully account for trading environments with low liquidity (i.e., traders fleeing in panic) and outcomes that defied the historical correlations embedded in their computer algorithms. The “Flash Crash” of 2010, in which liquidity evaporated due to high-frequency traders temporarily jumping ship, is another illustration of computers wreaking havoc on the financial markets.

The problem with many of these models, even for the ones that work in the short-run, is that behavior and correlations are constantly changing. Therefore any strategy successfully reaping outsized profits in the near-term will eventually be discovered by other financial vultures and exploited away.

Another pundit with a firm hold on Wall Street financial models is David Leinweber, author of Nerds on Wall Street.  As Leinweber points out, financial models become meaningless if the data is sliced and diced to form manipulated and nonsensical relationships. The data coming out can only be as good as the data going in – “garbage in, garbage out.”

In searching for the most absurd data possible to explain the returns of the S&P 500 index, Leinweiber discovered that butter production in Bangladesh was an excellent predictor of stock market returns, explaining 75% of the variation of historical returns. By tossing in U.S. cheese production and the total population of sheep in Bangladesh, Leinweber was able to mathematically “predict” past U.S. stock returns with 99% accuracy. To read more about other financial modeling absurdities, check out a previous Investing Caffeine article, Butter in Bangladesh.

Generally, investors want precision through math, but as famed investor Benjamin Graham noted more than 50 years ago, “Mathematics is ordinarily considered as producing precise, dependable results. But in the stock market, the more elaborate and obtuse the mathematics, the more uncertain and speculative the conclusions we draw therefrom. Whenever calculus is brought in, or higher algebra, you can take it as a warning signal that the operator is trying to substitute theory for experience.”

If these models are so bad, then why do so many people use them? Montier points to “intentional blindness,” the tendency to see what one expects to see, and “distorted incentives” (i.e., compensation structures rewarding improper or risky behavior).

Montier’s solution to dealing with these models is not to completely eradicate them, but rather recognize the numerous shortcomings of them and instead focus on the robustness of these models. Or in other words, be skeptical, know the limits of the models, and build portfolios to survive multiple different environments.

Investors seem to be discovering more financial Black Swans over the last few years in the form of events like the Lehman Brothers bankruptcy, Flash Crash, and Greek sovereign debt default. Rather than putting too much faith or dependence on bad financial models to identify or exploit Black Swan events, the over-reliance on these models may turn this rare breed of swans into a large bevy.

See Full Article on Montier: Failures of Modern Finance

Wade W. Slome, CFA, CFP®

Plan. Invest. Prosper.

www.Sidoxia.com

DISCLOSURE: Sidoxia Capital Management (SCM) and some of its clients own JPM and certain exchange traded funds, but at the time of publishing SCM had no direct position in Lehman Brothers, 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 15, 2017 at 10:25 am Leave a comment

Wiping Your Financial Slate Clean

slate

This article is an excerpt from a previously released Sidoxia Capital Management complimentary newsletter (January 3, 2017). Subscribe on the right side of the page for the complete text.

The page on the calendar has turned, and we now have a new year, and will shortly have a new president, and new economic policies. Although there is nothing magical about starting a fresh, new year, the annual rites of passage also allow investors to start with a clean slate again and reflect on their personal financial situation. Before you reach a desired destination (i.e., retirement), it is always helpful to know where you have been and where are you currently. Achieving this goal requires filtering through a never-ending avalanche of real-time data flooding through our cell phones, computers, TVs, radios, and Facebook accounts. This may seem like a daunting challenge, but that’s where I come in!

Distinguishing the signals from the noise is tough and there was plenty of noise in 2016 – just like there is every year. Before the S&P 500 stock index registered a +9.5% return in 2016, fears of a China slowdown blanketed headlines last January (the S&P 500 fell -15% from its highs and small cap stocks dropped -26%), and the Brexit (British exit) referendum caused a brief 48-hour -6% hiccup in June. Oil was also in the news as prices hit a low of $26 a barrel early in the year, before more than doubling by year-end to $54 per barrel (still well below the high exceeding $100 in 2014). On the interest rate front, 10-Year Treasury rates bottomed at 1.34% in July, while trillions of dollars in global bonds were incomprehensibly paying negative interest rates. However, fears of inflation rocked bond prices lower (prices move inversely to yields) and pushed bond yields up to 2.45% today. Along these lines, the Federal Reserve has turned the tide on its near-0% interest rate policy as evidenced by its second rate hike in December.

Despite the abbreviated volatility caused by the aforementioned factors, it was the U.S. elections and surprise victory of President-elect Donald Trump that dominated the media airwaves for most of 2016, and is likely to continue as we enter 2017. In hindsight, the amazing Twitter-led, Trump triumph was confirmation of the sweeping global populism trend that has also replaced establishment leaders in the U.K., France, and Italy. There are many explanations for the pervasive rise in populism, but meager global economic growth, globalization, and automation via technology are all contributing factors.

The Trump Bump

Even though Trump has yet to accept the oath of Commander-in-Chief, recent investor optimism has been fueled by expectations of a Republican president passing numerous pro-growth policies and legislation through a Republican majority-controlled Congress. Here are some of the expected changes:

  • Corporate/individual tax cuts and reform
  • Healthcare reform (i.e., Obamacare)
  • Proposed $1 trillion in infrastructure spending
  • Repatriation tax holiday for multinational corporate profits
  • Regulatory relief (e.g., Dodd-Frank banking and EPA environmental reform)

The chart below summarizes the major events of 2016, including the year-end “Trump Bump”:

16-sp-sum

While I too remain optimistic, I understand there is no free lunch as it relates to financial markets (see also Half Trump Full). While tax cuts, infrastructure spending, and regulatory relief should positively contribute to economic growth, these benefits will have to be weighed against the likely costs of higher inflation, debt, and deficits.

Over the 25+ years I have been investing, the nature of the stock market and economy hasn’t changed. The emotions of fear and greed rule the day just as much today as they did a century ago. What has changed today is the pace, quality, and sheer volume of news. In the end, my experience has taught me that 99% of what you read, see or hear at the office is irrelevant as it relates to your retirement and investments. What ultimately drives asset prices higher or lower are the four key factors of corporate profits, interest rates, valuations, and sentiment (contrarian indicator) . As you can see from the chart below, corporate profits are at record levels and forecast to accelerate in 2017 (up +11.9%). In addition, valuations remain very reasonable, given how low interest rates are (albeit less low), and skeptical investor sentiment augurs well in the short-run.

16-eps

Source: FactSet

Regardless of your economic or political views, this year is bound to have plenty of ups and downs, as is always the case. With a clean slate and fresh turn to the calendar, now is a perfect time to organize your finances and position yourself for a better retirement and 2017.

investment-questions-border

www.Sidoxia.com 

Wade W. Slome, CFA, CFP®

DISCLOSURE: Sidoxia Capital Management (SCM) and some of its clients hold positions in FB and certain exchange traded funds (ETFs), but at the time of publishing had no direct position in TWTR 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 3, 2017 at 12:17 pm Leave a comment

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