Posts filed under ‘Currency – Foreign Exchange’
This article is an excerpt from a previously released Sidoxia Capital Management complimentary newsletter (July 1, 2016). Subscribe on the right side of the page for the complete text.
What Just Happened?
Breakups are never easy, especially when they come as a surprise. That’s exactly what happened with last week’s “Brexit” (British exit) referendum results. History was made when 51.9% of the United Kingdom (U.K.) voters from England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland cast their vote to divorce (“Leave”) their country from the European Union (EU). In the end, the 48.1% of U.K. voters could not generate enough support to “Remain” in the EU (see chart below). Despite torrential downpours in southern Britain, voter turnout was extraordinarily high, as 72% of the 46.5 million registered voters came out in full force to have their voices heard.
Divorce is never cheap, and UK Prime Minister David Cameron paid the ultimate price with his defeat in the Brexit referendum…the loss of his job. Immediately following the release of the referendum results, Cameron, the British Prime Minister since 2010 and leader of the Conservative Party, immediately announced his resignation, effective no later than October 2016 after the selection of his successor.
One of the reasons behind the shock of the Brexit Leave decision is the longstanding relationship the U.K. has had with the EU. European Union membership first began in 1957 with Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Luxembourg, and Netherlands being the founding countries of this new political-economic union.
A few decades later, the U.K. officially joined the EU in 1973 with Ireland and the Denmark, shortly before Margaret Thatcher came into power. If you fast forward to today, some 43 years after U.K. originally joined the EU, the Brexit decision represents the largest turning point in European political history. Not since the 1989 falling of the Berlin Wall and the subsequent demise of the Cold War in the Soviet Union has such a large, earth-moving political shift occurred.
Today, there are 28 member countries in the EU with Croatia being the newest member in 2013. Despite the Brexit outcome, there still is a backlog of countries wanting to join the EU club, including Turkey, Serbia, Albania, and Montenegro (and this excludes Scotland, which has voiced an interest in leaving the U.K. for the EU).
What Were Investors’ Reactions?
Financial markets around the world were caught off guard, given many pre-referendum polls were showing the Remain camp with a slight edge, along with British betting parlors that were handicapping an overwhelming victory for the Remain camp. Here’s a summary of stock market reactions around the globe from June 23rd to June 30th:
U.S. (S&P 500): -0.7%
U.K. (FTSE 100): +2.6%
Japan (Nikkei): -4.1%
Germany (DAX): -5.6%
Hong Kong (Hang Seng): +0.4%
China (Shanghai): +1.3%
India (BSE): -0.0%
Surprisingly, modest monthly gains achieved in the S&P 500 prior to the Brexit vote (up +0.8%) were quickly pared after the results came in but remained positive for the entire month (up +0.1%). For the year, U.S. stocks are up a limited +2.7%, which isn’t too bad considering investors’ current mood.
Stocks were not the only financial market disrupted after the Brexit announcement, foreign exchange currency rates were unstable as well. The British pound dived to a 30-year low shortly after the vote to a level of approximately $1.33/£, and was down more than -10% on the day of the announcement (see chart below). UK banks like Barclays PLC (BCS) and Lloyds Banking Group PLC (LYG) also saw their share prices significantly pressured as EU regulatory risks of losing access to European customers and negative global interest rates further squeeze the banks’ profit margins.
To put the currency picture into perspective, the value of the British pound ($2.64/£) peaked in March 1972 at a rate about double the U.S. dollar today. On the positive side of the ledger, a weaker British pound could help boost exports and vacation time to Stonehenge or London, but there is also a risk for a spike of inflation (or stagflation) on the country’s roughly $740 billion in imports (e.g., food, energy, and raw materials).
Source: Calafia Beach Pundit
Why Did it Happen?
While economically prosperous regions like London and Scotland voted heavily for Remain, the message for change of the Leave camp resonated well with working class towns and rural areas of England (seen here). Besides a geographic split, there was also a demographic divide between voters. As you can see from the YouGov poll below, the majority of younger citizens overwhelmingly voted for Remain, and vice versa for older citizens as it relates to the Leave vote.
18-24: 75% Remain
25-49: 56% Remain
50-64: 44% Remain
65+: 39% Remain
While geography and demographics certainly played a key role in the outcome of the EU Leave referendum result, at the core of the movement also was a populist discontent with immigration and the negative economic consequences created by globalization. There are many reasons behind the sluggish economic global recovery, even if the U.S. is doing best out of the developed countries, but rightly or wrongly, immigration policies and protectionism played a prominent part in the Brexit.
At the heart of the populist sentiment of lost control to Brussels (EU) and immigration is the question of whether the benefits of globalization have outweighed the costs. The spread of globalization and expanded EU immigration has disenfranchised many lower skill level workers displaced by eastern European immigrants, Syrian refugees and innovative solutions like automated machinery, software, and electronic equipment. Economic history clearly shows the answer to the effectiveness of globalization is a resounding “yes”, but the post-financial crisis recovery has been disappointingly sluggish, so a component of the populist movement has felt an urgency to find a scapegoat. The benefits of globalization can be seen in the chart below, as evidenced by the increases in per capita GDP of the UK relative to Germany and France, after joining the EU in 1973. Many observers are quick to identify the visible consequences of globalization (i.e., lower-paying job losses), but fail to identify the invisible benefits (i.e., productivity, lower prices, investment in higher-paying job gains).
Source: The Wall Street Journal
What happens next?
While some EU leaders want to accelerate the Brexit transition, in actuality, this will require a long, drawn-out negotiation process between the still-unnamed new UK Prime Minister and EU officials. The complete EU-Brexit deal will take upwards of two-years to complete, once Article 50 of the EU Lisbon Treaty has been triggered – likely in October.
In light of the unchartered nature of the Brexit Leave vote, nobody truly knows if this decision will ultimately compromise the existential reality of the EU. Time will tell whether Brexit will merely be a small bump on the long EU road, or the beginning of a scary European domino effect that causes the 28 EU country bloc to topple. If the U.K. is successful in negotiating EU trade agreements with separate European countries, the Brexit even has a longer-term potential of benefiting economic activity. Regardless of the EU outcome, the long-term proliferation of capitalism and democracy is likely to prevail because citizens vote with their wallets and capital goes where it is treated best.
What does Brexit Mean for Global Markets?
The short answer is not much economically, however there have been plenty of less substantial events that have roiled financial markets for relatively short periods of time. There are two basic questions to ask when looking at the economic impact of Brexit:
1) What is the Brexit impact on the U.S. economy?
If you objectively analyze the statistics, U.S. companies sold approximately $56 billion of goods to the U.K. last year (our #7 trading partner). Even if you believe in the unlikely scenario of a severe U.K. economic meltdown, the U.K. trade figure is a rounding error in the whole global economic scheme of things. More specifically, $56 billion in trade with the U.K. equates to about .003 of the United States’ $18+ trillion GDP (Gross Domestic Product).
2) What is the Brexit impact on the global economy?
The U.K.’s GDP amounts to about $3 trillion dollars. Of that total, U.K. exports to the EU account for a reasonably insignificant $300 billion. As you can see from the chart below, $300 billion in UK exports to the EU are virtually meaningless and coincidentally equate to about .003 of the world’s $78 trillion estimated GDP.
Source: The National Archives
What to Do Next?
Like many divorces, the U.K. Brexit may be messy and drawn out, until all the details are finalized over the next couple years. It’s important that you establish a strong foundation with your investments and do not divorce the sound, fundamental principles needed to grow and preserve your portfolio. As is usually the case, panicking or making an emotional decision relating to your investments during the heat of some geopolitical crisis rarely translates into an optimal decision over the long-run. As I repeatedly have advised over the years, these periods of volatility are nothing new (see also Series of Unfortunate Events).
If you catch your anxiety or blood pressure rising, do yourself a favor and turn off your TV, radio, or electronic device. A more productive use of time is to calmly review your asset allocation and follow a financial plan, with or without the assistance of a financial professional, so that you are able to achieve your long-term financial goals. This strategy will help you establish a more durable, long-lasting, and successful marriage with your investments.
Wade W. Slome, CFA, CFP®
Plan. Invest. Prosper.
DISCLOSURE: Sidoxia Capital Management (SCM) and some of its clients hold positions in certain exchange traded funds (ETFs), but at the time of publishing 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Since the end of 2010, the emerging markets (E.M.) have gotten absolutely obliterated (MSCI Emerging Markets index –25%) compared to a meteoric rise in U.S. stocks (S&P 500 index +60%) over the same period.
Slowing global growth, especially with resource-hungry China going on a crash diet, has caused commodity-exporting emerging markets like Brazil to suffer economic starvation. Rising inflation, expanding debt, decelerating Chinese growth, collapsing commodity prices, and political corruption allegations are all factors pressuring the Brazilian economy. Weak emerging market economies like Brazil are contributing to global GDP forecast reductions. As you can see from the chart below, global GDP growth rates have been steadily declining since 2010, and the IMF recently lowered their 2015 forecast from +3.5% down to 3.1%.
Beginning in late 2008, when Ben Bernanke first announced his QE 1 (Quantitative Easing) money printing binge, the U.S. dollar remained relatively weak against other global currencies for years. The weak dollar provided a nice tailwind to U.S. exporters (i.e., American manufactured goods were more cost competitive for foreign buyers).
Multinationals loved the export lift, but emerging international politicians and investors cried foul. They complained the U.S. was starting a “currency war” by artificially deflating the value of the U.S. dollar, thereby making international markets less competitive. At the time, the thought process was the emerging markets (e.g., China, Russia, Brazil et.al.) would be disproportionately impacted because their economies are export-driven. In a 2010 article from the Guardian (World Gripped by International Currency War) Brazilian finance minister Guido Mantega explicitly stated, “We’re in the midst of an international currency war, a general weakening of currency. This threatens us because it takes away our competitiveness.”
This “currency war” griping stayed in place until the end of 2013 when the Fed announced its plans to begin “tapering” bond buying (i.e., pull away the financial punch bowl). We all know what has happened since then…the U.S. dollar has spiked by about +20% and the Brazilian real has depreciated by a whopping -37%. This is good news for emerging markets like Brazil, right? Wrong!
A few years ago, emerging market investors were initially worried about the depressing effects of a strong currency on exports, but now that emerging market currencies have depreciated, fears have shifted. Now, investors are concerned whether E.M. countries can pay off foreign borrowed debt denominated in pricey U.S. dollars (paid with vastly weaker E.M. currencies). Moreover, with foreign governments holding dramatically lower valued currency, investors are worried about the ability of these E.M. countries to raise additional capital or refinance existing debt. SocGen’s head of emerging market strategy, Guy Stear, summed it up by noting, “Prevailing risks of a deterioration of the external financing environment and disruptive capital flow and asset price shifts that increase volatility in the respective bond and currency markets, make a rapid rebound in EM growth over the next months unlikely.”
So which one is it…do E.M. investors want a weak currency to power exports, or a strong currency to pay down debt and raise additional capital? Unfortunately, investors can’t have their cake and eat it too – you can’t have a depreciating and appreciating currency at the same time.
While anxiety has shifted from strong emerging market currencies to the issues associated with weak currencies, India is one E.M that has reaped the rewards from a declining rupee (-20% since 2013). In other words, India is benefiting from a stronger trade balance via a boost in exports and reduction in imports – interestingly, the U.S. has experienced the exact opposite. Regardless, eventually, other emerging markets will benefit from these same positive trends as India – that will finally be a tasty slice of cake.
Wade W. Slome, CFA, CFP®
Plan. Invest. Prosper.
DISCLOSURE: Sidoxia Capital Management (SCM) and some of its clients hold positions in certain exchange traded funds (ETFs) including EWZ, 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.
“In the middle of every difficulty lies an opportunity.” ~Albert Einstein
It was a painful week for bullish investors in the stock market as evidenced by the -1,018 point drop in the Dow Jones Industrial Average, equivalent to approximately a -6% decline. The S&P 500 index did not fare any better, and the loss for the tech-heavy NASDAQ index was down closer to -7% for the week.
The media is attributing much of the short-term weakness to a triple Chinese whammy of factors: 1) Currency devaluation of the Yuan; 2) Weaker Chinese manufacturing data registering in at the lowest level in over six years; and 3) A collapsing Chinese stock market.
As the second largest economy on the planet, developments in China should not be ignored, however these dynamics should be put in the proper context. With respect to China’s currency devaluation, Scott Grannis at Calafia Beach Pundit puts the foreign exchange developments in proper perspective. If you consider the devaluation of the Yuan by -4%, this change only reverses a small fraction of the Chinese currency appreciation that has taken place over the last decade (see chart below). Grannis rightfully points out the -25% collapse in the value of the euro relative to the U.S. dollar is much more significant than the minor move in the Yuan. Moreover, although the move by the People’s Bank of China (PBOC) makes America’s exports to China less cost competitive, this move by Chinese bankers is designed to address exactly what investors are majorly concern about – slowing growth in Asia.
Although the weak Chinese manufacturing data is disconcerting, this data is nothing new – the same manufacturing data has been very choppy over the last four years. On the last China issue relating to its stock market, investors should be reminded that despite the massive decline in the Shanghai Composite, the index is still up by more than +50% versus a year ago (see chart below)
Fear the Falling Knife?
Given the fresh carnage in the U.S. and foreign markets, is now the time for investors to attempt to catch a falling knife? Catching knives for a living can be a dangerous profession, and many investors – professionals and amateurs alike – have lost financial fingers and blood by attempting to prematurely purchase plummeting securities. Rather than trying to time the market, which is nearly impossible to do consistently, it’s more important to have a disciplined, unemotional investing framework in place.
Hall of Fame investor Peter Lynch sarcastically highlighted the difficulty in timing the market, “I can’t recall ever once having seen the name of a market timer on Forbes‘ annual list of the richest people in the world. If it were truly possible to predict corrections, you’d think somebody would have made billions by doing it.”
Readers of my blog, Investing Caffeine understand I am a bottom-up investor when it comes to individual security selection with the help of our proprietary S.H.G.R. model, but those individual investment decisions are made within Sidoxia’s broader, four-pronged macro framework (see also Don’t be a Fool, Follow the Stool). As a reminder, driving our global views are the following four factors: a) Profits; b) Interest rates; c) Sentiment; and Valuations. Currently, two of the four indicators are flashing green (Interest rates and Sentiment), and the other two are neutral (Profits and Valuations).
- Profits (Neutral): Profits are at record highs, but a strong dollar, weak energy sector, and sluggish growth internationally have slowed the trajectory of earnings.
- Valuation (Neutral): At an overall P/E of about 18x’s profits for the S&P 500, current valuations are near historical averages. For CAPE investors who have missed the tripling in stock prices, you can reference prior discussions (see CAPE Smells Like BS). I could make the case that stocks are very attractive with a 6% earnings yield (inverse P/E ratio) compared to a 2% 10—Year Treasury bond, but I’ll take off my rose-colored glasses.
- Interest Rates (Positive): Rates are at unambiguously low levels, which, all else equal, is a clear-cut positive for all cash generating asset classes, including stocks. With an unmistakably “dovish” Federal Reserve in place, whether the 0.25% interest rate hike comes next month, or next year will have little bearing on the current shape of the yield curve. Chairman Yellen has made it clear the trajectory of rate increases will be very gradual, so it will take a major shift in economic trends to move this factor into Neutral or Negative territory.
- Sentiment (Positive): Following the investment herd can be very dangerous for your financial health. We saw that in spades during the late-1990s in the technology industry and also during the mid-2000s in the housing sector. As Warren Buffett says, it is best to “buy fear and sell greed” – last week we saw a lot of fear.
In addition to the immense outflows out of stock funds (see also Great Rotation) , panic was clearly evident in the market last week as shown by the Volatility Index (VIX), a.k.a., the “Fear Gauge.” In general, volatility over the last five years has been on a declining trend, however every 6-12 months, some macro concern inevitably rears its ugly head and volatility spikes higher. With the VIX exploding higher by an amazing +118% last week to a level of 28.03, it is proof positive how quickly sentiment can change in the stock market.
Not much in the investing world works exactly like science, but buying stocks during previous fear spikes, when the VIX level exceeds 20, has been a very lucrative strategy. As you can see from the chart below, there have been numerous occasions over the last five years when the over-20 level has been breached, which has coincided with temporary stock declines in the range of -8% to -22%. However, had you held onto stocks, without adding to them, you would have earned an +84% return (excluding dividends) in the S&P 500 index. Absent the 2011 period, when investors were simultaneously digesting a debt downgrade, deep European recession, and domestic political fireworks surrounding a debt ceiling, these periods of elevated volatility have been relatively short-lived.
Whether this will be the absolute best time to buy stocks is tough to say. Stocks are falling like knives, and in many instances prices have been sliced by more than -10%, -20%, or -30%. It’s time to compile your shopping list, because valuations in many areas are becoming more compelling and eventually gravity will run its full course. That’s when your strategy needs to shift from avoiding the falling knives to finding the bouncing tennis balls…excuse me while I grab my tennis racket.
Wade W. Slome, CFA, CFP®
Plan. Invest. Prosper.
DISCLOSURE: Sidoxia Capital Management (SCM) and some of its clients hold positions in certain exchange traded funds (ETFs) including emerging market/Chinese ETFs, but at the time of publishing, SCM had no direct position in any other security referenced in this article. No information accessed through the Investing Caffeine (IC) website constitutes investment, financial, legal, tax or other advice nor is to be relied on in making an investment or other decision. Please read disclosure language on IC Contact page.
This article is an excerpt from a previously released Sidoxia Capital Management complimentary newsletter (July 1, 2015). Subscribe on the right side of the page for the complete text.
Watching Greece fall apart over the last five years has been like watching a slow motion train wreck. To many, this small country of 11 million people that borders the Mediterranean, Aegean, and Ionian Seas is known more for its Greek culture (including Zeus, Parthenon, Olympics) and its food (calamari, gyros, and Ouzo) than it is known for financial bailouts. Nevertheless, ever since the financial crisis of 2008-2009, observers have repeatedly predicted the debt-laden country will default on its €323 billion mountain of obligations (see chart below – approximately $350 billion in dollars) and subsequently exit the 19-member eurozone currency membership (a.k.a.,”Grexit”).
Now that Greece has failed to repay less than 1% of its full €240 billion bailout obligation – the €1.5 billion payment due to the IMF (International Monetary Fund) by June 30th – the default train is coming closer to falling off the tracks. Whether Greece will ultimately crash itself out of the eurozone will be dependent on the outcome of this week’s surprise Greek referendum (general vote by citizens) mandated by Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, the leader of Greece’s left-wing Syriza party. By voting “No” on further bailout austerity measures recommended by the European Union Commission, including deeper tax increases and pension cuts, the Greek people would effectively be choosing a Grexit over additional painful tax increases and deeper pension cuts.
And who can blame the Greeks for being a little grouchy? You might not be too happy either if you witnessed your country experience an economic decline of greater than 25% (see Greece Gross Domestic Product chart below); 25% overall unemployment (and 50% youth unemployment); government worker cuts of greater than 20%; and stifling taxes to boot. Sure, Greeks should still shoulder much of the blame. After all, they are the ones who piled on $100s of billions of debt and overspent on the pensions of a bloated public workforce, and ran unsustainable fiscal deficits.
For any casual history observers, the current Greek financial crisis should come as no surprise, especially if you consider the Greeks have a longstanding habit of not paying their bills. Over the last two centuries or so, since the country became independent, the Greek government has spent about 90 years in default (almost 50% of the time). More specifically, the Greeks defaulted on external sovereign debt in 1826, 1843, 1860, 1894 and 1932.
The difference between now and past years can be explained by Greece now being a part of the European Union and the euro currency, which means the Greeks actually do have to pay their bills…if they want to remain a part of the common currency. During past defaults, the Greek central bank could easily devalue their currency (the drachma) and fire up the printing presses to create as much currency as needed to pay down debts. If the planned Greek referendum this week results in a “No” vote, there is a much higher probability that the Greek government will need to dust off those drachma printing presses.
Protest, riots, defaults, changing governments, and new currencies make for entertaining television viewing, but these events probably don’t hold much significance as it relates to the long-term outlook of your investments and the financial markets. In the case of Greece, I believe it is safe to say the economic bark is much worse than the bite. For starters, Greece accounts for less than 2% of Europe’s overall economy, and about 0.3% of the global economy.
Since I live out on the West Coast, the chart below caught my fancy because it also places the current Greek situation into proper proportion. Take the city of L.A. (Los Angeles – red bar) for example…this single city alone accounts for almost 3x the size of Greece’s total economy (far right on chart – blue bar).
Give Me My Money!
It hasn’t been a fun year for Greek banks. Depositors, who have been flocking to the banks, withdrew about $45 billion in cash from their accounts, over an eight month period (see chart below). Before the Greek government decided to mandatorily close the banks in recent days and implement capital controls limiting depositors to daily ATM withdrawals of only $66.
But once again, let’s put the situation into context. From an overall Greek banking sector perspective, the four largest Greek Banks (Bank of Greece, Piraeus Bank, Eurobank Ergasias, Alpha Bank) account for about 90% of all Greek banking assets. Combined, these banks currently have an equity market value of about $14 billion and assets on the balance sheets of $400 billion – these numbers are obviously in flux. For comparison purposes, Bank of America Corp. (BAC) alone has an equity market value of $179 billion and $2.1 trillion in assets.
Anxiety Remains High
Skeptical bears will occasionally acknowledge the miniscule-ness of Greece, but then quickly follow up with their conspiracy theory or domino effect hypothesis. In other words, the skeptics believe a contagion effect of an impending Grexit will ripple through larger economies, such as Italy and Spain, with crippling force. Thus far, as you can see from the chart below, Greece’s financial problems have been largely contained within its borders. In fact, weaker economies such as Spain, Portugal, Ireland, and Italy have fared much better – and actually improving in most cases. In recent days, 10-year yields on government bonds in countries like Portugal, Italy, and Spain have hovered around or below 3% – nowhere near the peak levels seen during 2008 – 2011.
Other doubting Thomases compare Greece to situations like Lehman Brothers, Long Term Capital Management, and the subprime housing market, in which underestimated situations snowballed into much worse outcomes. As I explain in one of my newer articles (see Missing the Forest for the Trees), the difference between Greece and the other financial collapses is the duration of this situation. The Greek circumstance has been a 5-year long train wreck that has allowed everyone to prepare for a possible Grexit. Rather than agonize over every news headline, if you are committed to the practice of worrying, I would recommend you focus on an alternative disaster that cannot be found on the front page of all newspapers.
There is bound to be more volatility ahead for investors, and the referendum vote later this week could provide that volatility spark. Regardless of the news story du jour, any of your concerns should be occupied by other more important worrisome issues. So, unless you are an investor in a Greek bank or a gyro restaurant in Athens, you should focus your efforts on long-term financial goals and objectives. Ignoring the noisy news flow and constructing a diversified investment portfolio across a range of asset classes will allow you to avoid the harmful consequences of the slow motion, multi-year Greek train wreck.
Wade W. Slome, CFA, CFP®
Plan. Invest. Prosper.
DISCLOSURE: Sidoxia Capital Management (SCM) and some of its clients hold positions in certain exchange traded funds (ETFs) and BAC, but at the time of publishing, SCM had no direct position in Bank of Greece, Piraeus Bank, Eurobank Ergasias, Alpha Bank 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 ICContact page.
This article is an excerpt from a previously released Sidoxia Capital Management complementary newsletter (February 2, 2015). Subscribe on the right side of the page for the complete text.
In the weeks building up to Super Bowl XLIX (New England Patriots vs. Seattle Seahawks) much of the media hype was focused on the controversial alleged “Deflategate”, or the discovery of deflated Patriot footballs, which theoretically could have been used for an unfair advantage by New England’s quarterback Tom Brady. While Brady ended up winning his record-tying 4th Super Bowl ring for the Patriots by defeating the Seahawks 28-24, the stock market deflated during the first month of 2015 as well. Similar to last year, the stock market has temporarily declined last January before surging ahead +11.4% for the full year of 2014. It’s early in 2015, and investors chose to lock-in a small portion of the hefty, multi-year bull market gains. The S&P 500 was sacked for a loss of -3.1% and the Dow Jones Industrial index by -3.7%.
Despite some early performance headwinds, the U.S. economy kicked off the year with the wind behind its back in the form of deflating oil prices. Specifically, West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude oil prices declined -9.4% last month to $48.24, and over -51.0% over the last six months. Like a fresh set of substitute legs coming off the bench to support the team, the oil price decline represents an effective $125 billion tax cut for consumers in the form of lower gasoline prices (average $2.03 per gallon nationally) – see chart below. The gasoline relief will allow consumers more discretionary spending money, so football fans, for example, can buy more hot dogs, beer, and souvenirs at the Super Bowl. The cause for the recent price bust? The primary reasons are three-fold: 1) Sluggish oil demand from developed markets like Europe and Japan coupled with slowing consumption growth in some emerging markets like China; 2) Growing supply in various U.S. fracking regions has created a temporary global oil glut; and 3) Uncertainty surrounding OPEC (Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries) supply/production policies, which became even more unclear with the recent announced death of Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah.
More deflating than the NFL football’s “Deflategate” is the approximate -17% collapse in the value of the euro currency (see chart below). Euro currency matters were made worse in response to European Central Bank’s (ECB) President Mario Draghi’s announcement that the eurozone would commence its own $67 billion monthly Quantitative Easing (QE) program (very similar to the QE program that Federal Reserve Chairwoman Janet Yellen halted last year). In total, if carried out to its full design, the euro QE version should amount to about $1.3 trillion. The depreciating effect on the euro (and appreciating value of the euro) should help stimulate European exports, while lowering the cost of U.S. imports – you may now be able to afford that new Rolls-Royce purchase you’ve been putting off. What’s more, the rising dollar is beneficial for Americans who are planning to vacation abroad…Paris here we come!
Another fumble suffered by the global currency markets was introduced with the unexpected announcement by the Swiss National Bank (SNB) that decided to remove its artificial currency peg to the euro. Effectively, the SNB had been purchased and accumulated a $490 billion war-chest reserve (Supply & Demand Lessons) to artificially depress the value of the Swiss franc, thereby allowing the country to sell more Swiss army knives and watches abroad. When the SNB could no longer afford to prop up the value of the franc, the currency value spiked +20% against the euro in a single day…ouch! In addition to making its exports more expensive for foreigners, the central bank’s move also pushed long-term Swiss Treasury bond yields negative. No, you don’t need to check your vision – investors are indeed paying Switzerland to hold investor money (i.e., interest rates are at an unprecedented negative level).
In addition to some of the previously mentioned setbacks, financial markets suffered another penalty flag. Last month, multiple deadly terrorist acts were carried out at a satirical magazine headquarters and a Jewish supermarket – both in Paris. Combined, there were 16 people who lost their lives in these senseless acts of violence. Unfortunately, we don’t live in a Utopian world, so with seven billion people in this world there will continue to be pointless incidences like these. However, the good news is the economic game always goes on in spite of terrorism.
As is always the case, there will always be concerns in the marketplace, whether it is worries about inflation, geopolitics, the economy, Federal Reserve policy, or other factors like a potential exit of Greece out of the eurozone. These concerns have remained in place over the last six years and the stock market has about tripled. The fact remains that interest rates are at a generational low (see also Stretching the High Yield Rubber Band), thereby supplying a scarcity of opportunities in the fixed income space. Diversification remains important, but regardless of your time horizon and risk tolerance, attractively valued equities, including high-quality, dividend-paying stocks should account for a certain portion of your portfolio. Any winning retirement playbook understands a low-cost, globally diversified portfolio, integrating a broad set of asset classes is the best way of preventing a “deflating” outcome in your long-term finances.
Wade W. Slome, CFA, CFP®
Plan. Invest. Prosper.
DISCLOSURE: Sidoxia Capital Management (SCM) and some of its clients hold positions in certain exchange traded funds (ETFs), but at the time of publishing SCM had no direct position in any other security referenced in this article. No information accessed through the Investing Caffeine (IC) website constitutes investment, financial, legal, tax or other advice nor is to be relied on in making an investment or other decision. Please read disclosure language on IC Contact page.
While the financial market party has been gaining momentum in the U.S., Europe has been busy attending an economic funeral. Mario Draghi, the European Central Bank President is trying to reverse the somber deflationary mood, and therefore has sent out $1.1 trillion euros worth of quantitative easing (QE) invitations to investors with the hope of getting the eurozone party started.
Draghi and the stubborn party-poopers sitting on the sidelines have continually been skeptical of the creative monetary punch-spiking policies initially implemented by U.S. Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke (and continued by his fellow dovish successor Janet Yellen). With the sluggish deflationary European pity party (see FT chart below) persisting for the last six years, investors are in dire need for a new tool to lighten up the dead party and Draghi has obliged with the solution…“QE beer goggles.” For those not familiar with the term “beer goggles,” these are the vision devices that people put on to make a party more enjoyable with the help of excessive consumption of beer, alcohol, or in this case, QE.
Although here in the U.S. “QE beer goggles” have been removed via QE expiration last year, nevertheless the party has endured for six consecutive years. Even an economy posting such figures as an 11-year high in GDP growth (+5.0%); declining unemployment (5.6% from a cycle peak of 10.0%); and stimulative effects from declining oil/commodity prices have not resulted in the cops coming to break up the party. It’s difficult for a U.S. investor to admit an accelerating economy; improving job additions; recovering housing market; with stronger consumer balance sheet would cause U.S. 10-Year Treasury Note yields to plummet from 3.04% at the beginning of 2014 to 1.82% today. But in reality, this is exactly what happened.
To confound views on traditional modern economics, we are seeing negative 10-year rates on Swiss Treasury Bonds (see chart below). In other words, investors are paying -1% to the Swiss government to park their money. A similar strategy could be replicated with $100 by simply burning a $1 bill and putting the remaining $99 under a mattress. Better yet, why not just pay me to hold your money, I will place your money under my guarded mattress and only charge you half price!
Does QE Work?
Debate will likely persist forever as it relates to the effectiveness of QE in the U.S. On the half glass empty side of the ledger, GDP growth has only averaged 2-3% during the recovery; the improvement in the jobs upturn is arguably the slowest since World War II; and real wages have declined significantly. On the half glass full side, however, the economy has improved substantially (e.g., GDP, unemployment, consumer balance sheets, housing, etc.), and stocks have more than doubled in value since the start of QE1 at the end of 2008. Is it possible that the series of QE policies added no value, or we could have had a stronger recovery without QE? Sure, anyone can make that case, but the fact remains, the QE training wheels have officially come off the economy and Armageddon has still yet to materialize.
I expect the same results from the implementation of QE in Europe. QE is by no means an elixir or panacea. I anticipate minimal direct and tangible economic benefits from Draghi’s $1+ trillion euro QE bazooka, however the psychological confidence building impacts and currency depreciating effects are likely to have a modest indirect value to the eurozone and global financial markets overall. The downside for these unsustainable ultra-low rates is potential excessive leverage from easy credit, asset bubbles, and long-term inflation. Certainly, there may be small pockets of these excesses, however the scars and regulations associated with the 2008-2009 financial crisis have delayed the “hangover” arrival of these risk possibilities on a broader basis. Therefore, until the party ends or the cops come to break up the fun, you may want to enjoy the gift provided by Mario Draghi to global investors…and strap on the “QE beer goggles.”
Wade W. Slome, CFA, CFP®
Plan. Invest. Prosper.
DISCLOSURE: Sidoxia Capital Management (SCM) and some of its clients own a range of positions, including positions in certain exchange traded funds positions , 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.