Posts filed under ‘Financial Markets’
Federal Reserve monetary policy once again came to the forefront as the Fed released its April minutes this week. After living through years of a ZIRP (Zero Interest Rate Policy) coupled with QE (Quantitative Easing), many market participants and commentators are begging for a swifter move back to “normalization” (a Federal Funds Rate target set closer to historical averages). The economic wounds from the financial crisis may be healing, as seen in the improving employment data, but rather than ripping off the interest rate Band-Aid quickly and putting the pain behind investors, the dovish Fed Chair Janet Yellen has been signaling for months the Fed will increase rates at a “gradual” pace.
Despite the more hawkish tone regarding the possibility of an additional rate hike in June, Fed interest rate futures are currently still only factoring in about a 26% probability of a rate increase in June. As I have been saying for years (see “Fed Fatigue”), there has, and will likely continue to be, an overly, hyper-sensitive focus on monetary policy and language disseminated by members of the Feral Reserve Open Market Committee.
For example, in 1994, despite the Fed increasing target rates by +2.5% in a single year (from 3.0% to 5.5%), stock prices finished roughly flat for the year, and the market resumed its decade-long bull market run the subsequent year. Today, the higher bound of Fed Funds sits at a mere 0.5%, and the Fed has announced only one target increase this cycle (equaling a fraction of the ’94 pace). Even if investors are panicking over another potential quarter point in June or July, can you say, “overkill?”
While the Fed is approaching the lower-end of the range for its employment mandate (unemployment currently sitting at 5%), despite the recent bounce in oil prices, core inflation remains in check (see Calafia Pundit chart below). This long-term benign pricing trend gives the Fed a longer leash as it relates to the pace of future rate hikes.
Sure, ripping off the Fed Band-Aid with a small handful of +0.5% (50 bps) hikes might appease hawkish investors, but Janet Yellen, the “Fed Fairy Godmother,” has made it abundantly clear she is in no hurry to raise rates. Whether there is zero, one, or two additional rate hikes this year is much less important than other fundamental factors. Adding fuel to the Fed-speak fire in the short-run will be Yellen speeches on May 27th at Harvard University and on June 6th at the World Affairs Council of Philadelphia. And then following that, we will have the “Brexit” referendum (i.e., the vote on whether Britain should exit the EU); a steady stream of election noise; and many other unanticipated economic/geopolitical headlines.
As I continually state, the key factors driving the direction of long-term stock prices are profits, interest rates, valuations, and sentiment (see Follow the Stool). Profits (ex-energy) are growing near record levels; interest rates are near record lows (even with potential 2016 hikes); valuations remain near historical averages; and sentiment regarding stock ownership is firing strongly as a positive contrarian indicator.
While many pundits have been calling for and predicting the Fed to rip the Band-Aid off with a swift string of rate increases, persistently low inflation, coupled with a consistently dovish Fed Chair are likely to lead to a slow peeling of the monetary policy Band-Aid. Unfortunately, the endless flow of irrelevant monetary policy guesswork regarding the timing of future rate hikes will be more painful than the actual hikes themselves. In the end, any future hikes should be justified with a stronger economic foundation, which should represent future strength, rather than future weakness.
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.
Over the last 18 months, stock prices have been flat as a pancake. Absent a few brief China and recessionary scares, the Dow Jones Industrial Average index has spent most of 2015 and 2016 trading between the relatively tight levels of 17,000 – 18,000. Record corporate profits and faster growth than other developed and developing markets have created a tug-of-war with countervailing factors. A strong dollar, reversal in monetary policy, geopolitical turmoil, and volatile commodity markets have produced a neutralizing struggle among corporate executives with deep financial pockets and short arms. In this environment, share buybacks, stable profit margins, and growing dividends have taken precedence over accelerated capital investments and expensive new-hires.
With flat stock prices and interest rates at unprecedented low levels, it’s during times like these that stock investors really appreciate the appetizing flavor of stable, growing dividends. To this day, I still find it almost impossible to fathom how investors are burning money by irrationally speculating in $7 trillion in negative interest rate bonds (see Retire at Age 90).
Historically there are very few periods in which stock dividend yields have exceeded bond yields (2.1% S&P yield vs. 1.8% 10-Year Treasury yield). As I showed in my Dividend Floodgates article, for roughly 50 years (1960 – 2010), the yield on the 10-Year Treasury Notes have exceeded the dividend yield on stocks (S&P 500) – that longstanding trend does not hold today.
In the face of the competitive stock market, several trends are contributing to the upward trajectory in dividend payments (see chart below).
#1.) Corporate profits (ex-Energy) are growing and at/near record levels. Earnings are critical in providing fertile ground for dividend growth.
#2.) Demographics, plain and simple. As 76 million Baby Boomers transition into retirement, their income needs escalate. These shareholders whine and complain to corporate executives to share the spoils and increase dividends.
#3.) Low interest rates and disinflation are shrinking the available pool of income generating assets. As I pointed out above, when trillions of dollars are getting thrown into negative yielding investments, many investors are flocking to alternative income-generating assets…like dividend paying stocks.
The Power of Dividends (Case Studies)
Most people don’t realize it, but over the last 100 years, dividends have accounted for approximately 40% of stocks’ total return as measured by the S&P 500. In other words, using history as a guide, if you initially invested in a stock XYZ at $100 that appreciated in value to $160 (+60%) 10 years later, that stock on average would have supplied an incremental $40 in dividends (40%) over that period, creating a total return of 100%.
Rather than using a hypothetical example, here are a few stock specific illustrations that highlight the amazing power of compounding dividend growth rates. Here are two “Dividend Aristocrats” (stocks that have increased dividends for at least 25 consecutive years):
- PepsiCo Inc (PEP): PepsiCo has increased its dividend for an astonishing 44 consecutive years. Today, the dividend yield is 2.9% based on the current share price. But had you purchased the stock in June 1972 for $1.60 per share (split-adjusted), you would currently be earning a +188% dividend yield ($3.01 dividend / $1.60 purchase price), which doesn’t even account for the +6,460% increase in the share price ($104.96 per share today from $1.60 in 1972). Over that 44 year period, the split-adjusted dividend has increased from about $0.02 per share to an annualized $3.01 dividend per share today, which equates to a mind-blowing +16,153% increase. On top of the $103 price appreciation, assuming a conservative 5% dividend reinvestment rate, my estimates show investors would have received more than $60 in reinvested dividends, making the total return that much more gargantuan.
- Emerson Electric Co (EMR): Emerson Electric too has had an even more incredible streak of dividend increases, which has now extended for 59 consecutive years. Emerson currently yields a respectable 3.6% rate, but if you purchased the stock in June 1972 for $3.73 per share (split-adjusted), you would currently be earning a +51% dividend yield ($1.92 dividend / $3.73 purchase price), which doesn’t even consider the +1,423% increase in the share price ($53.31 per share today from $3.73 in 1972).
There is never a shortage of FUD (Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt), which has kept stock prices flat as a pancake over the last couple of years, but market leading franchise companies with stable/increasing dividends do not disappear during challenging times. Record profits (ex-energy), demographics, and a scarcity of income-generating investment alternatives are all contributing factors to the increased appetite for dividends. If you want to sweeten those flat pancakes, do yourself a favor and pour some quality dividend syrup over your investment portfolio.
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 PEP, but at the time of publishing had no direct position in EMR 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.
Basketball is in the air as the NBA playoffs are once again upon us. While growing up in high school, Michael Jordan was my basketball idol, and he dominated the sport globally at the highest level. I was a huge fanatic. Besides continually admiring my MJ poster-covered walls, I even customized my own limited edition Air Jordan basketball shoes by applying high school colors to them with model paint – I would not recommend this fashion experiment to others.
Eventually the laws of age, physics, and gravity took over, as Jordan slowly deteriorated physically into retirement. On an infinitesimally smaller level, I also experienced a similar effect during my 30s when playing in an old man’s recreational basketball league. Day-by-day, month-by-month, and year-by-year, I too got older and slower (tough to believe that’s possible) as I watched all the 20-somethings run circles around me – not to mention my playing time was slashed dramatically. Needless to say, I too was forced into retirement like Michael Jordan, but nobody retired my number, and I still have not been inducted into the Hall of Fame.
Financial markets are subject to similar laws of science (economics) too. The stock market and the economy get old and tired just like athletes, as evidenced by the cyclical nature of bear markets and recessions. Statistics are a beautiful thing when it comes to sports. Over the long run, numbers don’t lie about the performance of an athlete, just like statistics over the long run don’t lie about the financial markets. When points per game, shooting percentage, rebounds, assists, minutes played, and other measurements are all consistently moving south, then it’s safe to say fundamentals are weakening.
I’ve stated it many times in the past, and I’ll state it again, these are the most important factors to consider when contemplating the level and direction of the stock market (see also Don’t Be a Fool, Follow the Stool).
- Interest Rates
While the absolute levels of these indicators are important, the trend or direction of each factor is also very relevant. Let’s review these factors a little more closely.
- Profits: Profits and cash flows, generally speaking, are the lifeblood behind any investment and currently corporate profits are near record levels. When it comes to the S&P 500, the index is currently expected to generate a 2016 profit of $117.47. Considering a recent price closing of 2,092 on the index, this translates into a price-earnings ratio (P/E) of approximately 17.8x or a 5.6% earnings yield. This earnings yield can be compared to the 1.9% yield earned on the 10-Year Treasury Note, which is even lower than the 2.1% dividend yield on the S&P 500 (a rare historical occurrence). If history repeats itself, the 5.6% earnings yield on stocks should double to more than 10% over the next decade, however the yield on 10-year Treasuries stays flat at 1.9% over the next 10 years. The strong dollar and the implosion of the energy sector has put a lid on corporate profits over the last year, but emerging signs are beginning to show these trends reversing. Stabilizing profits near record levels should be a positive contributor to stocks, all else equal.
- Interest Rates: Pundits have been pointing to central banks as the sole reason for low/negative interest rates globally (see chart below). NEWS FLASH: Central banks have been increasing and decreasing interest rates for decades, but that hasn’t stopped the nearly unabated 36-year decline in interest rates and inflation (see chart below). As I described in previous articles (see Why 0% Rates?), technology, globalization, and the rise of emerging markets is having a much larger impact on interest rates/inflation than monetary policies. If central banks are so powerful, then why after eight years of loose global monetary policies hasn’t inflation accelerated yet? Regardless, all else equal, these historically low interest rates are horrible for savers, but wonderful for equity investors and borrowers.
- Valuations: The price you pay for an investment is one of the, if not the, most important factors to consider. I touched upon valuations earlier when discussing profits, and based on history, there is plenty of evidence to support the position that valuations are near historic averages. Shiller CAPE bears have been erroneously screaming bloody murder over the last seven years as prices have tripled (see Shiller CAPE smells like BS). A more balanced consideration of valuation takes into account the record low interest rates/inflation (see The Rule of 20).
- Sentiment: There are an endless number of indicators measuring investor optimism vs. pessimism. Generally, most experienced investors understand these statistics operate as valuable contrarian indicators. In other words, as Warren Buffett says, it is best to “buy fear, and sell greed.” While I like to track anecdotal indicators of sentiment like magazine covers, I am a firm believer that actions speak louder than words. If you consider the post-crisis panic of dollars flowing into low yielding bonds – greater than $1 trillion more than stocks (see Chicken vs. Beef ) you will understand the fear and skepticism remaining in investors minds. The time to flee stocks is when everyone falls in love with them.
Readers of Michael Lewis’s book Moneyball understand the importance statistics can play in winning sports. Michael Jordan may not have been a statistician like Billy Beane, because he spent his professional career setting statistical records, not analyzing them. Unfortunately, my basketball career never led me to the NBA or Hall of Fame, but I still hope to continue winning in the financial markets by objectively following the all-important factors of profits, interest rates, valuations, and sentiment.
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 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.
It was another bloody week in the stock market (S&P 500 index dropped -3.1%), and any half-glass full data was interpreted as half-empty. The week was epitomized by a Citigroup report entitled “World Economy Trapped in a Death Spiral.” A sluggish monthly jobs report on Friday, which registered a less than anticipated addition of 151,000 jobs, painted a weakening employment picture. Professional social media site LinkedIn Corp. (LNKD) added fuel to the fire with a soft profit forecast, which resulted in the stock getting almost chopped in half (-44%)…in a single day (ouch).
It’s funny how quickly the headlines can change – just one week ago, the Dow Jones Industrial index catapulted higher by almost +400 points in a single day and we were reading about soaring stocks.
Coherently digesting the avalanche of diverging and schizophrenic headlines is like attempting to analyze a windstorm through a microscope. A microscope is perfect for looking at a single static item up close, but a telescope is much better suited for analyzing a broader set of data. With a telescope, you are better equipped to look farther out on the horizon, to anticipate what trends are coming next. The same principle applies to investing. Short-term traders and speculators are great at using a short-term microscope to evaluate one shiny, attention-grabbing sample every day. The investment conclusion, however, changes the following day, when a different attention-grabbing headline is analyzed to a different conclusion. As Mark Twain noted, “If you don’t read the newspaper, you are uninformed. If you do read the newspaper, you are misinformed.”
Short-termism is an insidious disease that will slowly erode short-run performance and if not controlled will destroy long-run results as well. This is not a heretic concept. Some very successful investors have preached this idea in many ways. Here are a few of them:
‘‘We will continue to ignore political and economic forecasts which are an expensive distraction for many investors and businessmen.” –Warren Buffett (Annual Newsletter 1994)
‘‘If you spend more than 14 minutes a year worrying about the market, you’ve wasted 12 minutes’’ –Peter Lynch
“Excessive short-termism results in permanent destruction of wealth, or at least permanent transfer of wealth” -Jack Gray Grantham
On the flip side, those resilient investors who have succeeded through investment cycles understand the importance of taking a long-term view.
“Whatever method you use to pick stocks or stock mutual funds, your ultimate success or failure will depend on your ability to ignore the worries of the world long enough to allow your investments to succeed.” –Peter Lynch
“The farther you can lengthen your time horizon in the investment process, the better off you will be.” – David Nelson (Legg Mason)
“Long term owners are more relaxed, more informed, more patient, less emotional.” –John Templeton
“If you are really a long-term investor, you will view a bear market as an opportunity to make money.” –John Templeton
“Long term is not a popular time-horizon for today’s hedge fund short-term mentality. Every wiggle is interpreted as a new secular trend.” –Don Hays
“In the long run, one of the greatest risk to your net worth is not owning stocks. Bonds do not grow. They can only return their face value at maturity…Inflation is a silent, insidious tax that erodes your net worth…Fortunately, there is an easy way to keep pace with and even beat inflation, and this is stocks.” – John Spears
“In the short-term, the stock market is a voting machine; in the long-term a weighing machine.” -Benjamin Graham
There has been a lot of pain experienced so far in 2016, and there may be more to come. However, trying to time the market and call a bottom is a fruitless effort. Great companies and investments do not disappear in a bear market. At times like these, it is important to stick to a systematic, disciplined approach that integrates valuation and risk controls based on where we are in an economic cycle. Despite all the recent volatility, as I’ve repeated many times, the key factors driving the direction of the stock market are the following: 1) Corporate profits; 2) Interest rates; 3) Valuations; and 4) Sentiment (see also Don’t Be a Fool, Follow the Stool). Doom and gloom “Death Spiral” headlines may currently rule the day, but the four key stock-driving factors on balance remain skewed towards the positive…if you have the ability to put away your microscope and take out your telescope.
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 LNKD 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.
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.
This article is an excerpt from a previously released Sidoxia Capital Management complimentary newsletter (December 1, 2015). Subscribe on the right side of the page for the complete text.
It’s that time of year again when an estimated 135 million bargain shoppers set aside personal dignity and topple innocent children in the name of Black Friday holiday weekend, doorbuster discounts. Whether you are buying a new big screen television at Amazon for half-off or a new low-cost index fund, everyone appreciates a good value or bargain, which amplifies the importance of the price you pay. Even though consumers are estimated to have spent $83 billion over the post-turkey-coma, holiday weekend, this spending splurge only represents a fraction of the total 2015 holiday shopping season frenzy. When all is said and done, the average person is projected to dole out $805 for the full holiday shopping season (see chart below) – just slightly higher than the $802 spent over the same period last year.
While consumers have displayed guarded optimism in their spending plans, Americans have demonstrated the same cautiousness in their investing behavior, as evidenced by the muted 2015 stock market gains. More specifically, for the month of November, stock prices increased by +0.32% for the Dow Jones Industrial Average (17,720) and +0.05% for the S&P 500 index (2,080). For the first 11 months of the year, the stock market results do not look much different. The Dow has barely slipped by -0.58% and the S&P 500 has inched up by +1.01%.
Given all the negative headlines and geopolitical concerns swirling around, how have stock prices managed to stay afloat? In the face of significant uncertainty, here are some of the calming factors that have supported the U.S. financial markets:
- Jobs Piling Up: The slowly-but-surely expanding economy has created about 13 million new jobs since late 2009 and the unemployment rate has been chopped in half (from a peak of 10% to 5%).
Source: Calafia Beach Pundit
- Housing Recovery: New and existing home sales are recovering and home prices are approaching previous record levels, as the Case-Shiller price indices indicate below.
Source: Calculated Risk Blog
- Strong Consumer: Cars are flying off the shelves at a record annualized pace of 18 million units – a level not seen since 2000. Lower oil and gasoline prices have freed up cash for consumers to pay down debt and load up on durable goods, like some fresh new wheels.
Source: Calculated Risk Blog
Despite a number of positive factors supporting stock prices near all-time record highs and providing plenty of attractive opportunities, there are plenty of risks to consider. If you watch the alarming nightly news stories on TV or read the scary newspaper headlines, you’re more likely to think it’s Halloween season rather than Christmas season.
At the center of the recent angst are the recent coordinated terrorist attacks that took place in Paris, killing some 130 people. With ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria) claiming responsibility for the horrific acts, political and military resources have been concentrated on the ISIS occupied territories of Syria and Iraq. Although I do not want to diminish the effects of the appalling and destructive attacks in Paris, the events should be placed in proper context. This is not the first or last large terrorist attack – terrorism is here to stay. As I show in the chart below, there have been more than 200 terrorist attacks that have killed more than 10 people since the 9/11 attacks. Much of the Western military power has turned a blind eye towards these post-9/11 attacks because many of them have taken place off of U.S. or Western country soil. With the recent downing of the Russian airliner (killing all 224 passengers), coupled with the Paris terror attacks, ISIS has gained the full military attention of the French, Americans, and Russians. As a result, political willpower is gaining momentum to heighten military involvement.
Investor anxiety isn’t solely focused outside our borders. The never ending saga of when the Federal Reserve will initiate its first Federal Funds interest rate target increase could finally be coming to an end. According to the CME futures market, there currently is a 78% probability of a 0.25% interest rate increase on December 16th. As I have said many times before, interest rates are currently near generational lows, and the widely communicated position of Federal Reserve Chairwoman Yellen (i.e., shallow slope of future interest rate hike trajectory) means much of the initial rate increase pain has likely been anticipated already by market participants. After all, a shift in your credit card interest rate from 19.00% to 19.25% or an adjustment to your mortgage rate from 3.90% to 4.15% is unlikely to have a major effect on consumer spending. In fact, the initial rate hike may be considered a vote of confidence by Yellen to the sustainability of the current economic expansion.
Shopping Without My Rose Colored Glasses
Regardless of the state of the economic environment, proper investing should be instituted through an unemotional decision-making process, just as going shopping should be an unemotional endeavor. Price and value should be the key criteria used when buying a specific investment or holiday gift. Unfortunately for many, emotions such as greed, fear, impatience, and instant gratification overwhelm objective measurements such as price and value.
As I have noted on many occasions, over the long-run, money unemotionally moves to where it is treated best. From a long-term perspective, that has meant more capital has migrated to democratic and capitalistic countries with a strong rule of law. Closed, autocratic societies operating under corrupt regimes have been the big economic losers.
With all of that set aside, the last six years have created tremendous investment opportunities due to the extreme investor risk aversion created by the financial crisis – hence the more than tripling in U.S. stock prices since March 2009.
When comparing the yield (i.e., profit earned on an investment) between stocks and bonds, as shown in the chart below, you can see that stock investors are being treated significantly better than bond investors (6.1% vs. 4.0%). Not only are bond investors receiving a lower yield than stock investors, but bond investors also have no hope of achieving higher payouts in the future. Stocks, on the other hand, earn the opportunity of a double positive whammy. Not only are stocks currently receiving a higher yield, but stockholders could achieve a significantly higher yield in the future. For example, if S&P 500 earnings can grow at their historic rate of about 7%, then the current stock earnings yield of 6.1% would about double to 12.0% over the next decade at current prices. The inflated price and relative attractiveness of stocks looks that much better if you compare the 6.1% earnings yield to the paltry 2.2% 10-Year Treasury yield.
This analysis doesn’t mean everyone should pile 100% of their portfolios into stocks, but it does show how expensively nervous investors are valuing bonds. Time horizon, risk tolerance, and diversification should always be pillars to a disciplined, systematic investment strategy, but as long as these disparities remain between the earnings yields on stocks and bonds, long-term investors should be able to shop for plenty of doorbuster discount bargain opportunities.
Wade W. Slome, CFA, CFP®
Plan. Invest. Prosper.
DISCLOSURE: Sidoxia Capital Management (SCM) and some of its clients hold positions in AMZN 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.
The game of investing would be rather simple if everything moved in a straight line and economic data points could be could be connected with a level ruler. Unfortunately, the real world doesn’t operate that way – data points are actually scattered continuously. In the short-run, inflation, GDP, exchange rates, interest rates, corporate earnings, profit margins, geopolitics, natural disasters, financial crises, and an infinite number of other factors are very difficult to predict with any accurate consistency. The true way to make money is to correctly identify long-term trends and then opportunistically take advantage of the chaos by using the power of mean reversion. Let me explain.
Take for example the just-released October employment figures, which on the surface showed a blowout creation of +271,000 new jobs during the month (unemployment rate decline to 5.0%) versus the Wall Street consensus forecast of +180,000 (flat unemployment rate of 5.1%). The rise in new workers was a marked acceleration from the +137,000 additions in September and the +136,000 in August. The better-than-expected jobs numbers, the highest monthly addition since late 2014, was paraded across television broadcasts and web headlines as a blowout number, which gives the Federal Reserve and Chairwoman Janet Yellen more ammunition to raise interest rates next month at the Federal Open Market Committee meeting. Investors are now factoring in roughly a 70% probability of a +0.25% interest rate hike next month compared to an approximately 30% chance of an increase a few weeks ago.
As is often the case, speculators, traders, and the media rely heavily on their trusty ruler to connect two data points to create a trend, and then subsequently extrapolate that trend out into infinity, whether the trend is moving upwards or downwards. I went back in time to explore the media’s infatuation with limitless extrapolation in my Back to the Future series (see Part I; Part II; and Part III). More recently, weakening data in China caused traders to extrapolate that weakness into perpetuity and pushed Chinese stocks down in August by more than -20% and U.S. stocks down more than -10%, over the same timeframe.
While most of the media coverage blew the recent jobs number out of proportion (see BOOM! Big Rebound in Job Creation), some shrewd investors understand mean reversion is one of the most powerful dynamics in economics and often overrides the limited utility of extrapolation. Case in point is blogger-extraordinaire Scott Grannis (Calafia Beach Pundit) who displayed this judgment when he handicapped the October jobs data a day before the statistics were released. Here’s what Grannis said:
The BLS’s estimate of private sector employment tends to be more volatile than ADP’s, and both tend to track each other over time. That further suggests that the BLS jobs number—to be released early tomorrow—has a decent chance of beating expectations.
Now, Grannis may not have guaranteed a specific number, but comparing the volatile government BLS and private sector ADP jobs data (always released before BLS) only bolsters the supremacy of mean reversion. As you can see from the chart below, both sets of data have been highly correlated and the monthly statistics have reliably varied between a range of +100k to +300k job additions over the last six years. So, although the number came in higher than expected for October, the result is perfectly consistent with the “slowly-but-surely” growing U.S. economy.
While I spend much more time picking stocks than picking the direction of economic statistics, even I will agree there is a high probability the Fed moves interest rates next month. But even if Yellen acts in December, she has been very clear that this rate hike cycle will be slower than previous periods due to the weak pace of economic expansion. I agree with Grannis, who noted, “Higher rates would be a confirmation of growth, not a threat to growth.” Whatever happens next month, do yourself a favor and keep the urge of extrapolation at bay by keeping your pencil and ruler in your drawer.
Wade W. Slome, CFA, CFP®
Plan. Invest. Prosper.
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