Posts filed under ‘Commodities’

Bad Weather Coming: Hurricane or Drizzle?

It was a stormy month in the stock market, but the sun eventually came out and the Dow Jones Industrial Average rallied more than 2,300+ points before eking out a small gain (up +0.04%) and the S&P 500 index also posted an incremental increase (+0.005%). But there are clouds on the horizon. Although the economy is currently very strong (i.e., record corporate profits and a generationally low unemployment rate of 3.6% – see chart below), some forecasters are predicting a recession during 2023 as a result of the Federal Reserve pumping the brakes on the economy by increasing interest rates, in addition to elevated inflation, supply chain disruptions, COVID lockdowns in China, and a war between Russia and Ukraine.

UNEMPLOYMENT RATE (1997 – 2022)

Source: TradingEconomics.com

But like weather forecasters, economists are perpetually unreliable. While some doomsday-er economists are expecting a deeply destructive hurricane (deep recession), others are only seeing a mild drizzle (soft landing) developing. The truth is, nobody knows for certain at this point, but what we do know is that the correction in stock prices this year (-13% now and -20% two weeks ago) has already significantly discounted (factored in) a mild recession. In other words, even if a mild recession were to occur in the coming months or quarters, there may be very little reaction or negative consequences for investors. Similarly, if inflation begins to be peaking as it appears to be doing (see chart below), and the Fed can orchestrate a soft landing (i.e., raise interest rates and reduce balance sheet debt without crippling the economy), then substantial rewards could accrue to stock market investors. On the flip side, if the economy were to go into a deep recession, history would suggest this stormy forecast might result in another -10% to -15% of chilliness.

INFLATION RATE (%)

Source: TradingEconomics.com

Due to trillions of dollars in increased stimulus spending and Federal Reserve Quantitative Easing (bond buying), we experienced an explosion in the government deficit and surge in money supply growth (i.e., the root cause for swelling inflation). Arguably, some or all of these accommodations were useful in surviving through the worst parts of the COVID pandemic, however, we are paying the price now in sky-high food costs, explosive gasoline prices, and expanding credit card bills. The good news is the deficit is plummeting (see chart below) due to a reduction in spending (due in part to no Build Back Better infrastructure spending legislation) and soaring income tax receipts from a strengthening economy and capital gains in the stock market.

MONEY SUPPLY GROWTH% (M2) VS. GOVERNMENT DEFICIT

Source: Calafia Beach Pundit

For many investors, getting used to large multi-year gains has been very comfortable, but interpreting downward gyrations in the stock market can be very confusing and counterintuitive. In short, attempting to decipher the reasons behind the short-term zigs and zags of the market is a fool’s errand. Not many people predicted a +48% gain in the stock market during a global pandemic (2020-2021), just like not many people predicted a short-lived -20% reduction in the stock market during 2022 as we witnessed record-high corporate profits and unemployment rates hovering near generational lows (3.6%).

Stock market veterans understand that stock prices can go down when current economic news is sunny but future expectations are too high. Experienced investors also understand stock prices can go up when the current economic news may be getting too cloudy but future expectations are too low.

Apparently, the world’s greatest investor of all-time thinks that all this gloomy recession talk is creating lots of stock market bargains, which explains why Buffett has invested $51 billion of his cash at Berkshire Hathaway as the stock market has gotten a lot more inexpensive this year. So, while the economy will likely face a number of headwinds going into 2023, it doesn’t mean a hurricane is coming and you need to hide in a bunker. If you pull out your umbrella and rain gear, just like smart investors do during all previous challenging economic cycles, the drizzle from the storm clouds will eventually pass and blue skies shall reappear.

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 (June 1, 2022). 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 BRK.B/A 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.

June 1, 2022 at 1:21 pm Leave a comment

Insane Gain After Fed & Ukraine Pain

After a painful start to 2022, the stock market surged last month, with the S&P 500 index gaining a respectable +3.6%, while the technology-heavy NASDAQ index rose by +3.4%. With volatility on the rise, getting caught up in the emotions of the headlines can be challenging for some investors. At Sidoxia, we are determined to objectively stick to the facts and migrate investments to the areas of the market that provide the best risk-reward opportunities to our clients, based on their unique objectives and constraints. There certainly are some headwinds for investors to contend with, but for long-term investors, it’s also important to recognize the positive tailwinds and not miss the forest for the trees.

As I pointed out last month, we are coming off a heroic advance over the last three years (2019/2020/2021) with the S&P 500 soaring +90%. The hangover from COVID has created significant supply chain disruptions and widespread economic shortages. Adding the Russian invasion of Ukraine to the mix has been like pouring gasoline on the flames of inflation, especially when it comes to the energy and food sectors. As you can see from the CRB index below (a basket of 19 commodities ranging from aluminum to orange juice and live cattle to wheat), in recent years the index has been highly volatile in both directions, but is up +27% this year. Since the COVID-driven trough, prices have about tripled over the last two years, but that does not mean prices will fly to the moon forever.

Source: Trading Economics

Many traders have short-term memories. People forget that commodity prices approximately doubled after the 2008 Financial Crisis, only to experience a subsequent slow bleed over the next decade until prices were essentially chopped in half. As the saying goes, “price cures price.” In other words, as prices skyrocket, greedy capitalists and businesses then decide to take advantage of the high pricing environment by investing to produce more supply, which eventually leads to deflation. This supply expansion process takes time and will not happen overnight.

With gasoline prices exceeding $4/gallon nationally, and breaching $6/gallon in my Southern California backyard (see chart below), it should come as no surprise that oil companies are taking advantage of the lucrative environment by drilling for more oil.

Source: GasBuddy.com

The rising Baker Hughes drilling rig count below reflects the miracle of supply-demand economics operating in full force. As prices rise and accelerate during geopolitical shocks like we have experienced in Ukraine, naturally supply rises, which eventually depresses prices until an equilibrium is reached. Even our government is now attempting to increase supply by releasing up to 180 million barrels of oil from our country’s Strategic Petroleum Reserve (the largest release in the almost 50-year history of the reserve), while also pushing for penalties on those energy companies sitting on unused permits (i.e., not producing oil on leased oil land). High energy prices will most certainly become a hot-button political issue in the upcoming midterm elections.

Source: Trading Economics

Adding to investor anxiety, our Federal Reserve is embarking on an interest rate hiking cycle that is expected to take the targeted Federal Funds interest rate from effectively 0% to a range around 2.5% over the next couple of years. The Fed’s goal is to increase the cost of borrowing, thereby slowing down the economy and reducing inflation. On the surface this sounds scary, but do you remember what happened the last time the Fed tapped the interest rate brakes during 2015 – 2018? Despite the Fed raising interest rates from 0% to 2.5%, the stock market increased dramatically over that timeframe. The current Fed interest rate cycle may more closely resemble 1994 when the Fed aggressively hiked rates from 3% to 6%. Similar to now, back then stock prices swung wildly throughout the year to eventually finish the year flattish.

If Things Are So Bad, Why Are Prices Going Up?

In the face of such horrible and scary headlines, how can prices still go up? The short answer is that companies are making money hand over fist and the economy remains strong (3.6% unemployment rate; record 11.3m job openings3% forecasted growth in 2022 GDP) in a post-COVID recovery world, where consumers remain financially healthy and are now looking to spend their shelter-in-place savings on vacations, houses, and cars (all healthy industries).

Not only are corporate profits at record levels, they are also expected to grow at a healthy rate (+10% in 2022, +10% in 2023) after mind-boggling growth of +50% in 2021 (see chart below).

Source: Yardeni.com

Could the headwinds previously described cause prices to go lower? They certainly could, but valuations remain attractive given where interest rates currently stand. If interest rates rise dramatically, all else equal, then that will be challenging for all asset pricing. Moreover, discounting or forecasting future Russian military actions is a difficult chore as well, which could also potentially throw a curve ball at investors.

In the meantime, what are companies doing with this flood of growing cash? Well, besides combing the job boards in search of hiring a scarce number of qualified workers, investing in technology to improve productivity, and expanding geographically to grow revenues, companies are also returning gobs of cash to investors in the form of record, swelling dividends and share buybacks (see charts below).

Darling Dividends

The gift that keeps on giving. Dividends now amount to more than half a trillion dollars and they are still growing.

Source: Yardeni.com

Beautiful Buybacks



As you can see, the trajectory of buybacks are more volatile and discretionary than dividends, but record profits are driving more than $1 trillion in share buybacks on an annualized basis – not too shabby.

Source: Yardeni.com

Although there are plenty of reasons for investors to rationalize a run for the hills, there remains some extraordinarily strong fundamental tailwinds intact. In spite of the economic pain caused by Ukraine, the Fed, and inflation, there are plenty of reasons to remain optimistic. The strong economy, impressive profit growth, historically low interest rates (even though slowly rising), cash-rich corporations, and attractive valuations mean there is still ample room for future market gains.

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, 2022). 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.

April 1, 2022 at 1:37 pm Leave a comment

End of the World or Status Quo?

If you were the chief executive of a newspaper, television, or magazine company, what headline stories would you run to generate the most viewers and readers? Which subjects will you choose to make me impulsively grab a magazine in the grocery line, keep me glued to the television news, or suck me in to click-bait advertisements on the web? For example, what topics below would you select to grab the most attention?

·      Hurricane or Sunshine?

·      High Speed Car Chase or Cat Saved from Tree?

·      Bloody Murder or Baby’s Birthday?

·      Messy Divorce or Wedding Celebration?

·      Impeachment or Bipartisan Legislation

·      End of the World or Status Quo?

If you selected the first subject in each pair above, you would likely gain much more initial interest. In choosing a winning topic, the saying goes, “what bleeds, leads.” In other words, scary or controversial stories always grab more attention than feel-good or status quo narratives. And that is why the vast majority of media outlets are drawn to negativity, just as mosquitos are attracted to bug zappers. This phenomenon can be explained in part with the help of Nobel Prize winner Daniel Kahneman and his partner Amos Tversky, who conducted research showing the pain from losses is more than twice as painful as are the pleasures experienced from gains (see chart below).

The significant volatility seen in the stock market recently from the Russian war/invasion of Ukraine is further evidence of how this fear dynamic can create short-term panics.

Although the stock market as measured by the S&P 500 index has gone gangbusters over the last three years, almost doubling in value (2019: +29%, 2020: +16%, 2021: +27%), the S&P 500 has hit an air pocket during the first couple months of 2022 (-8%), including down -3% in February. The year started with turbulence as investors became fearful of a Federal Reserve that is entering the beginning stages of interest rate hikes while cutting stimulative bond purchases. And then last month, the Russian-Ukrainian incursion made investors even more skittish. Like always, these geopolitical events tend to be short-lived once investors realize the impact turns out to be less meaningful than initially feared. As you can see below, the worst economic impact is forecasted to be felt by Russia (consensus on 2/24/22 of approximately a -1.0% hit to economic growth), more than twice as bad as the -0.2% to -0.4% knock to growth for the U.S., Europe, and the world (see chart below). The Russian hit will likely be worse after accelerated sanctions.

Source: The Financial Times (2/24/22)

As it relates to Ukraine, many Americans don’t even know where the country is located on a map. Ukraine accounts for about only 0.14% of total global GDP (i.e., a rounding error and less than 1% of total global economic activity). Russia, although larger than Ukraine, is still a relative small-fry and represents only about 3% of total global economic activity. If you live in Europe during the winter, you might be a little more concerned about Vladimir Putin’s recent activities because a lot of Europe’s energy (natural gas) is supplied by Russia through Ukraine. For example, Germany receives about half of its natural gas from Russia (see chart below).

Source: The Financial Times

Russia, on the other hand, is larger than Ukraine, but the red country is still a relative small-fry representing only about 3% of total global economic activity. When it comes to energy production however, Russia is more than a rounding error because the country accounts for about 11% of global energy production (#3 country globally behind the United States and Saudi Arabia). By taking all these factors into account, we can confidently state that Russia and Ukraine have a very low probability of solely pulling the global economy into recession.

If history repeats itself, this conflict will turn out to be another garden variety decline in the stock market and an opportunity to buy at a discount. It’s virtually impossible to predict a short-term bottom in stock prices has been reached, but over the long-run, stock investors have been handsomely rewarded for not panicking and staying invested (see chart below).

Source: Marketsmith

At the end of the day, the daily headlines will continually attempt to sell the negative story that the world is coming to an end. If you have the fortitude and discipline to ignore the irrelevant noise, the status quo of normal volatility can create more exciting opportunities and better returns for long-term investors.

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 (March 1, 2022). 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.

March 1, 2022 at 4:52 pm 1 comment

No Red Blood, Just Green Flood

Normally, investors equate the month of October with scary, blood-curdling screams because horrifying losses during the 1929 and 1987 crashes occurred during this month. Fortunately, for those invested in stocks, they experienced the opposite this last month – a flood of green (new all-time record highs), despite a whole host of frightening factors, including the following:

·       Inflation

·       Supply chain disruptions

·       Federal Reserve monetary policy

·       COVID variants

·       Evergrande’s impact on China and commercial real estate

·       Cryptocurrency volatility

·       Expanding government deficits and debt (stimulus/infrastructure)

·       Government debt ceiling negotiations

·       Declining corporate profit margins

·       Meme stocks

·       And more…boo!

Even though this Halloween season has introduced these many spooky fears, investors still experienced a sugar-high during October. More specifically, the S&P 500 catapulted +6.9% this month (+22.6% Year-to-Date), Dow Jones Industrial Average +5.8% (+17.0% YTD); and NASDAQ +7.3% (+20.3% YTD). With the COVID Delta variant subsiding (see chart below), economic activity rising (Q4 GDP is estimated at +4.8%), and corporate profits going gang busters (33% growth and 84% of corporations are beating Q3 estimates), it should come as no surprise that stock market values continue to rise.

Source: Calculated Risk

As I mention regularly to my readers, there is never a shortage of things to worry about when it comes to your investments, money, and savings. Emotions tend to highjack rational reasoning as non-existent boogeymen scare people into do-nothing decision-making or suboptimal choices. Investing for the long-run requires dedication and discipline, and if you do not have the time and fortitude to do so, it behooves you to find an experienced, independent professional to assist you.

Rather than getting spooked by supply chain fears and inflation plastered all over the newspapers and media outlets, the real way to compound wealth over the long-term is to do what Warren Buffett says, and that is “buy fear, and sell greed.” Unfortunately, our Darwinian instincts embedded in our DNA are naturally designed to do the contrary…”buy greed, and sell fear.” The goal is to buy low and sell high (not buy high and sell low).

Yes, it’s true that over the last year, semiconductor lead times have almost doubled to 22 weeks, and Chinese container shipping costs have about increased 10-fold to over $20,000 (see charts below). However, the economic laws of supply and demand remain just as true today as they did in 1776 when Adam Smith wrote Wealth of Nations (see also Pins, Cars, Coconuts & Chips). Chip makers are building new fabs (i.e., manufacturing plants) and worker shortages at the ports and truck driver deficiencies are slowly improving. Supply scarcity and higher prices may be with us for a while, but history tells us betting against capitalism isn’t a wise decision.

Source: The Wall Street Journal

Not worrying about all the economic goblins and witches can be difficult when contemplating your investments and savings. Nevertheless, as I have consistently reminded my investors and readers, the key pillars to understanding the health of the investment environment are the following (see also The Stool):

·       Interest rates

·       Earnings (Corporate profits)

·       Valuations (How cheap or expensive is the market?)

·       Sentiment (How greedy or fearful are investors?)

The good news is that a) interest rates are near historically low levels; b) corporate profits are on a tear (+33% as mentioned above); c) valuations have come down because profits have grown faster than stock price appreciation; and d) sentiment remains nervous (a good thing) as measured by the massive inflows going into low (negative) yielding bonds. If you consider all these elements, one should not be surprised that we are at-or-near all-time record highs. Obviously, these investment pillars can reverse directions and create headwinds for investors. Until then, don’t be startled if there is more green flood rather than red blood.

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 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.

November 1, 2021 at 4:15 pm Leave a comment

Financial Markets Recharge with a Nap…Zzzzzz

sleep baby

This article is an excerpt from a previously released Sidoxia Capital Management complimentary newsletter (January 4, 2016). Subscribe on the right side of the page for the complete text.

Did you enjoy your New Year’s festivities? If you were like me and ate excessively and drank too much egg nog, you may have decided along the line to take a nap. It’s not a bad idea to recharge those batteries before implementing those New Year’s resolutions and jumping on the treadmill.  That’s exactly what happened in the financial markets this year. After six consecutive years of positive returns in the Dow Jones Industrial Average (2009 – 2014), stock markets took a snooze in 2015, as measured by the S&P 500 and Dow, which were each down -0.7% and -2.2%, respectively. And bonds didn’t fare any better, evidenced by the -1.9% decline in the Aggregate Bond ETF (AGG), over the same time period. Given the deep-seated fears about the Federal Reserve potentially catapulting interest rates higher in 2015, investors effectively took a big yawn by barely nudging the 10-year Treasury Note yield higher by +0.1% from 2.2% to 2.3%.

Even though 2015 ended up being a quiet year overall, there were plenty of sweet dreams mixed in with scary nightmares during the year-long nap:

INVESTMENT SWEET DREAMS

Diamonds in the Rough: While 2015 stock prices were generally flat to down around the globe (Vanguard Total Word -4.2%), there was some sunshine and rainbows gleaming for a number of segments in the market. For example, handsome gains were achieved in the NASDAQ index (+5.7%); Biotech Index – BTK (+10.9%); Consumer Discretionary ETF – XLY (+8.3%); Health Care ETF – VHT (+5.8%); Information Technology ETF – VGT (+4.6%); along with numerous other investment areas.

Fuel Fantasy Driven by Low Gas Prices: Gas prices averaged $2.01 per gallon nationally in December (see chart below), marking the lowest prices seen since 2009. Each penny in lower gas prices roughly equates to $1 billion in savings, which has strengthened consumers’ balance sheets and contributed to the multi-year economic expansion. Although these savings have partially gone to pay down personal debt, these gas reserves have also provided a financial tailwind for record auto sales (estimated 17.5million in 2015)  and a slow but steady recovery in the housing market. The outlook for “lower-for-longer” oil prices is further supported by an expanding oil glut from new, upcoming Iranian supplies. Due to the lifting of economic sanctions related to the global nuclear deal, Iran is expected to deliver crude oil to an already over-supplied world energy market during the first quarter of 2016. Additionally, the removal of the 40-year ban on U.S. oil exports -could provide a near-term ceiling on energy prices as well.

gas comp

Counting Cash Cows

Catching some shut-eye after reading frightening 2015 headlines on the China slowdown, $96 billion Greek bailout/elections, and Paris/San Bernardino terrorist attacks forced some nervous investors to count sheep to fall asleep. However, long-term investors understand that underpinning this long-lived bull market are record revenues, profits, and cash flows. The record $4.7 trillion dollars in 2015 estimated mergers along with approximately $1 trillion in dividends and share buybacks (see chart below) is strong confirmation that investors should be concentrating on counting more cash cows than sheep, if they want to sleep comfortably.

American investors have been getting lots of cash back this year. Dividends and stock buybacks are on track to hit a new high this year and could top $1 trillion for the first time, says Michael Thompson, managing director of S&P Capital IQ Global Markets Intelligence. Companies have been increasing their buybacks and dividends to please investors for years. Total payouts from S&P 500 companies surged 84% in the past decade to $934 billion in 2014, from $507 billion in 2005, according to a report by S&P Capital IQ.

INVESTMENT NIGHTMARES

Creepy Commodities: Putting aside the -30% collapse in WTI crude oil prices last year, commodity investors overall were exhausted in 2015. The -24% decline in the CRB Commodity Index and the -11% weakening in the Gold Index (GLD) was further proof that a strong U.S. dollar, coupled with stagnant global growth, caused investors a lot of tossing and turning. While bad for commodity exporting countries, the collapse in commodity prices will ultimately keep a lid on inflation and eventually become stimulative for those consumers suffering from lower standards of living.

Dollar Dread: The +25% spike in the value of the U.S. dollar over the last 18 months has made life tough for multinational companies. If your business received approximately 35-40% of their profits overseas and suddenly your goods cost 25% more than international competitors, you might grind your teeth in your sleep too. Monetary policies around the globe, including the European Union, will have an impact on the direction of future foreign exchange rates, but after a spike in the value of the dollar in early 2015, there are signs this scary move may now be stabilizing. Although multinationals are getting squeezed, now is the time for consumers to load up on cheap imports and take that bargain foreign vacation they have long been waiting for.

January has been a challenging month the last couple years, and inevitably there will be additional unknown turbulence ahead – the opening day of 2016 not being an exception (i.e., China slowdown concerns and Mideast tensions). However, given near record-low interest rates, record corporate profits, and accommodative central bank policies, the 2015 nap taken by global stock markets should supply the necessary energy to provide a lift to financial markets in the year ahead.

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 VHT, AGG, and in certain exchange traded funds (ETFs), but at the time of publishing had no direct position VT, BTK, XLY, VGT, GLD, or 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 4, 2016 at 11:53 am Leave a comment

Lent: Giving Up the Gold Vice

Source: Photobucket

When it comes to Lent, most Christian denomination followers give up a vice, such as food, alcohol, or now in more modern times…Facebook (FB). Since Lent began on Ash Wednesday this year (February 22, 2012), investors have given up something else – gold (GLD). As a matter of fact, the shiny metal has declined by about -8% since Lent began. Stocks, on the other hand, as measured by the S&P 500, have outperformed gold by more than 10% over this period (the Lent period damage is even worse, if you look at the NASDAQ).

If you go back further in time, the underperformance is more extreme, once you account for dividends, which gold of course does not provide. For example, since the peak of the financial crisis panic in March of 2009, S&P 400, S&P 600, and NASDAQ stocks have outperformed gold by more than +40%. Yet, I am still waiting for the sign-spinning guy at the corner of First St. & Main St. to advertise stock trade-in opportunities. Contrarians may also get a kick out of the top investment CNBC survey too.

Source: Orlando Sentinel

Last Friday’s jobs data was nothing to write home about, so gold cheerleaders might wait for more fiat currency debasement to come in the form of QE3 (i.e., quantitative easing or printing press). But once again, while this potential added monetary stimulus may not be bad for gold, let’s not forget that stocks still outperformed gold under QE1 & QE2.

As I have always stated, I can’t disagree with the inflationary pressures that are brewing. Stimulative monetary and fiscal policies, coupled with emerging market expansion and undisciplined government spending don’t paint a pretty inflationary picture. So if that’s the case, why not focus on other commodities that provide real utility besides just shininess (e.g., agricultural goods, copper, aluminum, oil, and even silver).

The gold bugs may still have a little post-Lent party, until rates start going up and panic insurance premiums go down, but once the Fed’s easing policy stance changes (see Paul Volcker Fed Chairman era) and fiscal sanity eventually returns to Washington, investors may look to another vice to gorge on.

See also some other items to gorge on: CLICK HERE

Wade W. Slome, CFA, CFP®

Plan. Invest. Prosper.

www.Sidoxia.com

DISCLOSURE: Sidoxia Capital Management (SCM) and some of its clients own certain exchange traded funds (including small cap ETFs, mid cap ETFs, energy ETFs, commodity ETFs) , but at the time of publishing SCM had no direct position in GLD, FB, 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 7, 2012 at 10:32 pm 1 comment

No Respect: The Rodney Dangerfield of the Investment World

Source: Photobucket

Ask any average Joe off the street what investment category is at or near record all-time highs, and a good number of them will confidently answer “gold,” as prices recently eclipsed $1,600 per ounce. But of course this makes perfect sense, right? The Fed is printing money like it’s going out of style, the dollar is collapsing like a drunken sailor, inflation is about to sky-rocket to the moon, and China is on the verge of becoming the world’s new reserve currency. Never mind that Greece, Portugal and Ireland are in shambles with the Euro on its death bed. Or Japan has achieved a debt to GDP ratio that would even make U.S. vote grubbing politicians blush. A sub-3% 10-Year Treasury Note doesn’t appear to discourage fervent gold-bugs either.

No Respect

While gold has experienced an incredible sextupling in prices over the last decade and hit new-all time highs, believe it or not, there is an unlikely asset class that is reaching new historic highs and has outperformed gold for almost 2.5 years. Can you guess what asset class star I am talking about? If I said U.S. “stocks,” would you believe me? OK, well maybe I’m not referring to large capitalization stocks like Johnson & Johnson (JNJ), Microsoft Corp. (MSFT), Wal-Mart Stores (WMT), Intel Corp. (INTC), and AT&T Inc. (T), all of which have effectively gone nowhere in the 21st Century. However, the story is quite different if you look at small and mid capitalization stocks, which have received about as much respect as Rodney Dangerfield.

 

As a matter of fact, the S&P 400 (MidCap Index) and S&P 600 Index (SmallCap Index) have more than doubled gold’s performance since the lows of March 2009 (SmallCap +149.0%; MidCap +145.1%; Gold/GLD +71.0%). Given the spectacular performance of small and mid-sized companies, I’m still waiting with bated breath for a telemarketer call asking me if I have considered selling my small and mid cap stock certificates for cash – since everyone has melted their gold chains and fillings, a new hobby is needed.

S&P 400 MidCap and S&P 600 SmallCap (Source: Yahoo! Finance)

What Next?

Has the fear trade ended? Perhaps not, if you consider European sovereign debt and U.S. debt ceiling concerns, but what happens if the half empty glass becomes half full. The early 1980s may be a historical benchmark period for comparison purposes. An interesting thing happened from 1980-1982 when Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker began raising interest rates to fight inflation – gold prices dropped -65% (~$800/oz. to under $300/oz.) from 1980-1982 and the shiny metal lived through approximately a  25 year period with ZERO price appreciation. Since there is only one direction for the Fed’s zero interest rate policy (ZIRP) to go, conceivably history will repeat itself once again?

In hindsight gold was a beautiful safe haven vehicle during the panic-filled, nail-biting period during late-2007 throughout 2008. Since then, small and mid cap stocks have trounced gold. Like stocks, Rodney Dangerfield may have gotten no respect, but once fear has subsided and rates start increasing, maybe stocks will steal the show and get the respect they deserve.

See also Rodney Dangerfield’s perspective on Doug Kass and the Triple Lindy

Wade W. Slome, CFA, CFP®

Plan. Invest. Prosper.

www.Sidoxia.com

DISCLOSURE: Performance data from Morningstar.com. Sidoxia Capital Management (SCM) and some of its clients own certain exchange traded funds (including small cap and mid cap ETFs), and WMT, but at the time of publishing SCM had no direct position in JNJ, MSFT, INTC, T, 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.

July 22, 2011 at 3:11 pm 1 comment

Nuclear Knee-Jerk Reaction

It’s amazing how quickly the long-term secular growth winds can reverse themselves. Just a week ago, nuclear energy was thought of as a safe, clean, green technology that would assist the gasoline pump pain in our wallets and purses. Now, given the events occurring in Japan, “nuclear” has become a dirty word equated to a life-threatening game of Russian roulette. 

Despite the spotty information filtering in from the Dai-Ichi plant in Japan, we are already absorbing knee-jerk responses out of industrial heavyweight countries like Germany and China. Germany has temporarily closed seven nuclear power centers generating about a quarter of its nuclear capacity, and China has instituted a moratorium on all new facilities being built. How big a deal is this? Well, China is one country, and it alone currently accounts for 44% of the 62 global nuclear reactor projects presently under construction (see chart below).

Source: World Nuclear Association (URRE Presentation)

As a result of the damaged Fukushima reactors, coupled with various governmental announcements around the globe, Uranium prices have dropped a whopping -30% within a month – plunging from about $70 per pound to around $50 per pound today.

Where does U.S. Nuclear Go from Here?

As you can see from the chart below, the U.S. is the largest producer of nuclear energy in the world, but since our small population is such power hogs, this relatively large nuclear capability only accounts for roughly 20% of our country’s total electricity needs. France, on the other hand, manages about half the reactors as we do, but the French derive a whopping 75% of their total electricity needs from nuclear power.  According to the Nuclear Energy Institute, Japanese reliance on nuclear power falls somewhere in between – 29% of their electricity demand is filled by nuclear energy. Like Japan, the U.S. imports most of its energy needs, so if nuclear development slows, guess what, other resources will need to make up the difference. OPEC and various other oil-rich, dictators in the Middle East are licking their chops over the future prospects for oil prices, if a cost-effective alternative like nuclear ends up getting kicked to the curb.

Source: The Economist

As I alluded to above, there is, however, a silver lining. As long as oil prices remain elevated, any void created by a knee-jerk nuclear backlash will only create heightened demand for alternative energy sources, including natural gas, solar, wind, biomass, clean coal, and other creative substitutes. While we Americans may be addicted to oil, we also are inventive, greedy capitalists that will continually look for more cost-efficient alternatives to solve our energy problems (see also Electrifying Profits). Unlike other countries around the world, it looks like the private sector will have to do the heavy lifting to solve these resources on their own dime. Limited subsidies have been introduced, but overall our government has lacked a cohesive energy plan to kick-start some of these innovative energy alternatives.

Déjà Vu All Over Again

We saw what happened on our soil in March 1979 when the Three Mile Island nuclear accident in Pennsylvania consumed the hearts and minds of the country. Pure unadulterated panic set in and new nuclear production ground to a virtual halt. When the subsequent Chernobyl incident happened in April 1986 insult was added to injury. As you can see from the chart below, nuclear reactor capacity has plateaued for some twenty years now.

Source: Wikipedia

The driving force behind the plateauing nuclear facilities is the NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard) phenomenon. The Three Mile Island incident is still fresh in people’s minds, which explains why only one nuclear plant is currently under construction in our country, on top of a base of 104 U.S. reactors in 31 states. I point this out as an ambivalent NIMBY-er since I work 30 miles away from one of the riskiest, 30-year-old nuclear plants in the country (San Onofre).

Unintended Consequences

The Sendai disaster is home to the worst Japanese earthquake in 140 years, by some estimates, but history will prove once again what unintended consequences can occur when impulsive knee-jerk decisions are made. Just consider what has happened to oil prices since the moratorium on offshore drilling (post-BP disaster) was instituted. Sure we have witnessed a dictator or two topple in the Middle East, and there currently is adequate supply to meet demand, but I would make the case that we should be increasing domestic oil supplies (along with alternative energy sources), not decreasing supplies because it is politically safe.

Time will tell if the Japanese earthquake/tsunami-induced nuclear disaster will create additional unintended consequences, but I am hopeful the recent events will at a minimum create a serious dialogue about a comprehensive energy policy. If the comfortable, knee-jerk reaction of significantly diminishing nuclear production is broadly adopted around the world, then an urgent alternative supply response needs to occur. Otherwise, you may just need to enjoy that bike ride to work in the morning, along with that nice, romantic candle-lit dinner at night.

Wade W. Slome, CFA, CFP® 

Plan. Invest. Prosper. 

www.Sidoxia.com

DISCLOSURE: Sidoxia Capital Management (SCM) and some of its clients own certain exchange traded funds and alternative energy securities, but at the time of publishing SCM had no direct position in BP, URRE, 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.

March 18, 2011 at 12:57 am Leave a comment

Buffett on Gold Fondling and Elephant Hunting

Warren Buffett is kind enough to occasionally grace investors with his perspectives on a wide range of subjects. In his recently released annual letter to shareholders he covered everything from housing and leverage to liquidity and his optimistic outlook on America (read full letter here). Taking advice from the planet’s third wealthiest person (see rankings) is not a bad idea ­– just like getting basketball pointers from Hall of Famer Michael Jordan or football tips from Pro Bowler Tom Brady isn’t a bad idea either.

Besides being charitable with billions of his dollars, the “Oracle of Omaha” was charitable with his time, spending three hours on the CNBC set (a period equal to $12 million in Charlie Sheen dollars) answering questions, all at the expense of his usual money-making practice of reading through company annual reports and 10Qs.

Buffett’s interviews are always good for a few quotable treasures and he didn’t disappoint this time either with some “gold fondling” and “elephant hunting” quotes.

Vodpod videos no longer available.
 

Buffett on Gold & Commodities

Buffett doesn’t hold back on his disdain for “fixed-dollar investments” and isn’t shy about his feelings for commodities when he says:

“The problem with commodities is that you are betting on what someone else would pay for them in six months. The commodity itself isn’t going to do anything for you….it is an entirely different game to buy a lump of something and hope that somebody else pays you more for that lump two years from now than it is to buy something that you expect to produce income for you over time.”

 

Here he equates gold demand to fear demand:

“Gold is a way of going long on fear, and it has been a pretty good way of going long on fear from time to time. But you really have to hope people become more afraid in a year or two years than they are now. And if they become more afraid you make money, if they become less afraid you lose money, but the gold itself doesn’t produce anything.”

 

Buffett goes on to say this about the giant gold cube:

“I will say this about gold. If you took all the gold in the world, it would roughly make a cube 67 feet on a side…Now for that same cube of gold, it would be worth at today’s market prices about $7 trillion dollars – that’s probably about a third of the value of all the stocks in the United States…For $7 trillion dollars…you could have all the farmland in the United States, you could have about seven Exxon Mobils (XOM), and you could have a trillion dollars of walking-around money…And if you offered me the choice of looking at some 67 foot cube of gold and looking at it all day, and you know me touching it and fondling it occasionally…Call me crazy, but I’ll take the farmland and the Exxon Mobils.”

 

Although not offered up in this particular interview, here is another classic quote by Buffett on gold:

“[Gold] gets dug out of the ground in Africa, or someplace. Then we melt it down, dig another hole, bury it again and pay people to stand around guarding it. It has no utility. Anyone watching from Mars would be scratching their head.”

 

For the most part I agree with Buffett on his gold commentary, but when he says commodities “don’t do anything for you,” I draw the line there. Many commodities, outside of gold, can do a lot for you. Steel is building skyscrapers, copper is wiring cities, uranium is fueling nuclear facilities, and corn is feeding the masses. Buffett believes in buying farms, but without the commodities harvested on that farm, the land would not be producing the income he so emphatically cherishes. Gold on the other hand, while providing some limited utility, has very few applications…other than looking shiny and pretty.

Buffett on Elephant Hunting

Another subject that Buffett addresses in his annual shareholder letter, and again in this interview, is his appetite to complete large “elephant” acquisitions. Since Berkshire Hathaway (BRKA/B) is so large now (total assets over $372 billion), it takes a sizeable elephant deal to be big enough to move the materiality needle for Berkshire.

“We’re looking for elephants. For one thing, there aren’t many elephants out there, and all the elephants don’t want to go in our zoo…It’s going to be rare that we are going find something selling in the tens of billions of dollars; where I understand the business; where the management wants to join up with Berkshire; where the price makes the deal feasible; but it will happen from time to time.”

 

Buffett’s target universe is actually fairly narrow, if you consider his estimate of about 50 targets that meet his true elephant definition. He has been quite open about the challenges of managing such a gigantic portfolio of assets. The ability to outperform the indexes becomes more difficult as the company swells because size becomes an impediment – “gravity always wins.”

With experience and age comes quote-ability, and Warren Buffett has no shortage in this skill department.  The fact that Buffett’s investment track record is virtually untouchable is reason enough to hang upon his every word, but his uncanny aptitude to craft stories and analogies – such as gold fondling and elephant hunting – guarantees I will continue waiting with bated breath for his next sage nuggets of wisdom.

Wade W. Slome, CFA, CFP® 

Plan. Invest. Prosper. 

www.Sidoxia.com

DISCLOSURE: Sidoxia Capital Management (SCM) and some of its clients own certain exchange traded funds (including commodities) and commodity related equities, but at the time of publishing SCM had no direct position in BRKA/B, XOM 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.

March 8, 2011 at 1:02 am 2 comments

Your Portfolio’s Silent Killer

Shhh, if you listen closely enough, you may hear the sound of your portfolio disintegrating away due to the quiet killer…inflation. Inflation is especially worrisome with what we’ve seen happening with commodity prices and the drastic fiscal challenges our country faces. Quantitative Easing (read Flying to the Moon) has only added fuel to the inflation fear flames.

Whether you’re a conspiracy theorist who believes the government inflation data is cooked, or you are a Baby Boomer just looking to secure your retirement, it doesn’t take a genius to figure out that movies, pair of jeans, a tank of gas, concert tickets, or healthcare premiums are all going up in price (See also Bacon and Oreo Future).

Inflation starting to heat up. Source: IMF/Bloomberg via Financial Times

Companies are currently churning out quarterly results in volume and seeing the impact from commodity prices, whether you are McDonald’s Corp. (MCD) facing rising beef prices or luxury handbag maker Coach Inc. (COH) dealing with escalating leather costs, margins are getting crimped. Investors, especially those on fixed income streams, are experiencing the same pain as these corporations, but the problem is much worse. Unlike a market share leading company that can pass on price increases onto its customers, an investor with piles of cash, and low yielding CDs (Certificates of Deposit), and bonds runs the risk of getting eaten alive. Baby Boomers are beginning to reach retirement age in mass volume. Life spans are extending, and this demographic pool of individuals will become ever-large consumers of costlier and costlier healthcare services. If investments are not prudently managed, Baby Boomers will see their nest eggs evaporate, and be forced to work as Wal-Mart (WMT) greeters into their 80s…not that there’s anything wrong with that.

Every day investors are bombarded with a hundred different scary headlines on why the economy will collapse or the world will end. Most of these sensationalist scare tactics distort the truth and overstate reality. What is understated is what Charles Ellis (see Winning the Loser’s Game) calls a “corrosive power”:

“Over the long run, inflation is the major problem for investors, not the attention-getting daily or cyclical changes in securities prices that most investors fret about. The corrosive power of inflation is truly daunting: At 3 percent inflation – which most people accept as ‘normal’ – the purchasing power of your money is cut in half in 24 years. At 5 percent inflation, the purchasing power of your money is cut in half in less than 15 years – and cut in half again in 15 years to just one-quarter.”

 

In order to bolster his case, Ellis cites the following period:

“From 1977 to 1982, the inflation-adjusted Dow Jones Industrial Average took a five-year loss of 63 percent…In the 15 years from the late 1960s to the early 1980s the unweighted stock market, adjusted for inflation, plunged by about 80 percent. As a result, the decade of the 1970s was actually worse for investors than the decade of the 1930s.”

 

Solutions – How to Beat Inflation

Although the gold bugs would have you believe it, we are not resigned to live in a world with worthless money, which only has a useful purpose as toilet paper. There are ways to protect your portfolio, if you are properly invested. Here are some strategies to consider:

  • TIPS (Treasury Inflation Protection Securities): These government-guaranteed tools are a useful way to protect yourself against rising inflation (see Drowning TIPS).  
  • Equities (including real estate): Bond issuers do not generally call up there investors and say, “You are such a great investor, so we have decided to increase your interest payments.” However, many publicly traded stocks do exactly that. Wal-Mart Stores (WMT) is an example of such a company that has increased its dividend for 37 consecutive years. As alluded to earlier, stocks are unique in that they allow inflationary pressures placed on operating profits to be relieved somewhat by the ability to pass on price increases to customers.  
  • Commodities: Whether you are talking about petroleum products, precious metals (those with a commercial purpose), or agricultural goods, commodities in general act as a great inflationary hedge. Another reason that commodities broadly perform better in an inflationary environment is because the U.S. dollar can often depreciate, which commonly increases the value of commodities.
  • Short Duration Bonds: Rising rates are usually tied to escalating inflation, therefore investors would be best served by reducing maturity length and increasing coupon.

There are other ways of battling the inflation problem, but number one is saving and investing across a broadly diversified portfolio. If you want to secure and grow your nest egg, you need to use the silent power of compounding (see Penny Saved is Billion Earned) to combat the silent killer of inflation.

Wade W. Slome, CFA, CFP® 

Plan. Invest. Prosper. 

www.Sidoxia.com

DISCLOSURE: Sidoxia Capital Management (SCM) and some of its clients own certain exchange traded funds, WMT, TIP, equities, commodities, and short duration bonds, 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.

January 26, 2011 at 1:18 am 2 comments

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