Posts filed under ‘Government’

EU Marriage Ends in Messy Brexit Divorce

divorce

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.

brexit votes

Source: Bloomberg

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).

currency v ppp

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).

UK GDP Ratio

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.

global 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.

investment-questions-border

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.

July 2, 2016 at 9:00 am Leave a comment

Market Inefficiencies Give Black-Eyes to Classic Economists

Markets are efficient. Individuals behave rationally. All information is reflected in prices. Huh…are you kidding me? These are the beliefs held by traditional free market economists (“rationalists”) like Eugene Fama (Economist at the University of Chicago and a.k.a. the “Father of the Efficient Market Hypothesis”). Striking blows to the rationalists are being thrown by “behavioralists” like Richard Thaler (Professor of Behavioral Science and Economics at the University of Chicago), who believes emotions often lead to suboptimal decisions and also thinks efficient market economics is a bunch of hogwash.

Individual investors, pensions, endowments, institutional investors, governments, were left sifting through the rubble in the aftermath of the 2008-2009 financial crisis because common beliefs were thrown out the window. Experts and non-experts are still attempting to figure out how this mass destruction occurred and how it can be prevented in the future. Economists, as always, are happy to throw in their two cents. Right now traditional free market economists like Fama have received a black eye and are on the defensive – forced to explain to the behavioral finance economists (Thaler et. al.) how efficient markets could lead to such a disastrous outcome.

Religion and Economics

Like religious debates, economic rhetoric can get heated too. Religion can be divided up in into various categories (e.g., Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Hinduism, Buddhism, and other), or more simply, religion can be divided into those who believe in a god (theism) and those who do not (atheism). There are multiple economic categorizations or schools as well (e.g., Keynsians, monetarists, libertarians, behavioral finance economists, etc.).  Debates and disagreements across the rainbow of religions and economic schools have been going on for centuries, and the arrival and departure of the 2008-09 financial crisis further ignited the battle between the “behavioralists” (behavioral finance economists) and the “rationalists” (traditional free market economists).

Behavioral Finance on the Offensive

In the efficient market world of the “rationalists,” market prices reflect all available information and cannot be wrong at any moment in time. Effectively, individuals are considered human calculators that optimize everything from interest rates and costs to benefits and inflation expectations in every decision. What classic economists fail to account for are the emotional and behavioral flaws made by individuals.

Claiming financial market decisions are not impacted by emotions becomes more challenging to defend, if you consider the countless irrational anomalies occurring throughout history. Consider the following:

  • Tulip Mania: Bubbles are nothing new – they have persisted for hundreds of years. Let’s reflect on the tulip bulb mania of the 1600s. For starters, I’m not sure how classic economists can explain the irrational exchanging of homes or a thousand pounds of cheese for a tulip bulb? Or how peak prices of $60,000+ in inflation-adjusted dollars were paid for a bulb at the time (C-Cynical)? These are tough questions to answer for the rationalists.
  • Flash Crash: Seeing multiple stocks and Exchange Traded Funds (ETFs) temporarily plummet -99% in minutes is not exactly the sign of an efficient market. Stalwarts like Procter & Gamble also collapsed -37%, only to rebound minutes later near pre-collapse levels. All this volatility doesn’t exactly ooze with efficiency (see Making Millions in Minutes).
  • Negative Interest Rates: Plenty of so-called pundits are arguing that equity markets are expensive, but what about the $8 trillion in negative interest rate bonds? Prices for many of these bonds are astronomical. Paying someone to take my money doesn’t make a lot of sense, but trillions in speculative investments are still being made today.
  • Technology and Real Estate Bubbles: Both of these asset classes were considered “can’t lose” investments in the late 1990s and mid-2000s, respectively. Many tech stocks were trading at unfathomable values (more than 100 x’s annual profits) and homebuyers were inflating real estate prices because little-to-no money was required for the purchases.
  • ’87 Crash: October 19, 1987 became infamously known as “Black Monday” since the Dow Jones Industrial Average plunged over -22% in one day (-508 points), the largest one-day percentage decline ever.

The ever-growing list of nonsensical anomalies only makes the rationalists’ jobs that much tougher in refuting the illogical behavior. Risk aversion has been alive and well in the post financial crisis environment as wild swings have resulted from a wide range of concerns, including: the U.S. debt downgrade; Arab Spring; potential Greek exit from the EU; Sequestration; Fed Taper Tantrum; Obamacare implementation; Russian invasion of Ukraine; Gaza conflict; Fukashima disaster; Ebola outbreak; Ferguson tensions; Paris/San Bernardino/Brussels terrorist attacks; China recessionary fears; oil price volatility; Mideast turmoil – ISIS expansion; Federal Reserve rate increases; and many other worries. Often, the human lizard brain is what leads to sub-optimal decision making. Maybe the rationalists can use the same efficient market framework to help explain to my wife why I ate a whole box of Twinkies in one sitting?

Rationalist Rebuttal

The growing list of market inefficiencies has given the rationalists a black eye, but they are not going down without a fight. Here are some quotes from Fama and fellow Chicago rationalist pals:

On the Crash-Related Attacks from Behavioralists: Behavioralists say traditional economics has failed in explaining the irrational decisions and actions leading up to the 2008-09 crash. Fama states, “I don’t see this as a failure of economics, but we need a whipping boy, and economists have always, kind of, been whipping boys, so they’re used to it. It’s fine.”

Rationalist Explanation of Behavioral Finance: Fama doesn’t deny the existence of irrational behavior, but rather believes rational and irrational behaviors can coexist. “Efficient markets can exist side by side with irrational behavior, as long as you have enough rational people to keep prices in line,” notes Fama. John Cochrane treats behavioral finance as a pseudo-science by replying, “The observation that people feel emotions means nothing. And if you’re going to just say markets went up because there was a wave of emotion, you’ve got nothing. That doesn’t tell us what circumstances are likely to make markets go up or down. That would not be a scientific theory.”

Description of Panics: “Panic” is not a term included in the dictionary of traditional economists. Fama retorts, “You can give it the charged word ‘panic,’ if you’d like, but in my view it’s just a change in tastes.” Calling these anomalous historic collapses a “change in tastes” is like calling American Idol judge Simon Cowell, “diplomatic.” More likely, what’s really happening is these severe panics are driving investors’ changes in preferences.

Throwing in White Towel Regarding Crash: Not all classic economists are completely digging in their heels like Fama and Cochrane. Gary Becker, a rationalist disciple, acknowledged the blind-siding of the 2008-2009 financial crisis when he  admitted, “Economists as a whole didn’t see it coming. So that’s a black mark on economics, and it’s not a very good mark for markets.”

Settling Dispute with Lab Rats

The boxing match continues, and the way the behavioralists would like to settle the score is through laboratory tests. In the documentary Mind Over Money, numerous laboratory experiments are run using human subjects to tease out emotional behaviors. Here are a few examples used by behavioralists to bolster their arguments:

  • The $20 Bill Auction: Zach Burns, a professor at the University of Chicago, conducted an auction among his students for a $20 bill. Under the rules of the game, as expected, the highest bidder wins the $20 bill, but as an added wrinkle, Burns added the stipulation that the second highest bidder receives nothing but must still pay the amount of the losing bid. Traditional economists would conclude nobody would bid higher than $20. See the not-so rational auction results here at minute 1:45.

  • $100 Today or $102 Tomorrow? This was the question posed to a group of shoppers in Chicago, but under two different scenarios. Under the first scenario, the individuals were asked whether they would prefer receiving $100 in a year from now (day 366) or $102 in a year and one additional day (day 367)? Under the second scenario, the individuals were asked whether they would prefer receiving $100 today or $102 tomorrow? The rational response to both scenarios would be to select $102 under both scenarios. See how the participants responded to the questions here at minute 4:30.

Rationalist John Cochrane is not fully convinced. “These experiments are very interesting, and I find them interesting, too. The next question is, to what extent does what we find in the lab translate into how people…understanding how people behave in the real world…and then make that transition to, ‘Does this explain market-wide phenomenon?,’” he asks.

As I alluded to earlier, religion, politics, and economics will never fall under one universal consensus view. The classic rationalist economists, like Eugene Fama, have in aggregate been on the defensive and taken a left-hook in the eye for failing to predict and cohesively explain recurring market inefficiencies, including the financial crash of 2008-09. On the other hand, Richard Thaler and his behavioral finance buds will continue on the offensive, consistently swinging at the classic economists over this key economic mind versus money dispute.

See Complete Mind Over Money Program

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 in PG 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.

May 28, 2016 at 10:16 am 3 comments

Bargain Hunting for Doorbuster Discounts

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.

Source: Wikipedia

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.

Source: Yardeni.com

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.

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 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.

December 1, 2015 at 1:06 pm 1 comment

More Treats, Less Tricks

pumpkin ornament

This article is an excerpt from a previously released Sidoxia Capital Management complimentary newsletter (November 2, 2015). Subscribe on the right side of the page for the complete text.

Have you finished licking the last of your Halloween chocolate-covered fingers and scheduled your next cavity-filled dental appointment? After a few challenging months, the normally spooky month of October produced an abundance of sweet treats rather than scary tricks for stock market investors. In fact, the S&P 500 index finished the month with a whopping +8.3% burst, making October the tastiest performing month since late 2010. This came in stark contrast to the indigestion experienced with the -8.7% decline over the previous two months.

What’s behind all these sweet gains? For starters, fears of a Chinese economic sugar-high ending in a crash have abated for now. With that said, “Little Red Riding Hood” is not out of the woods quite yet. Like a surprising goblin or ghost popping out to scare you at a Halloween haunted house, China could still rear its ugly head in the future due to its prominent stature as the second largest global economy. We have been forced to deal with similar on-again-off-again concerns associated with Greece.

The good news is the Chinese government and central bank are not sitting on their hands. In addition to interest rate cuts and corruption crackdowns, Chinese government officials have even recently halted its decades-long one-child policy. China’s new two-child policy is designed to spur flagging economic growth and also reverse the country’s aging demographic profile.

Also contributing to the stock market’s sugary October advances is an increasing comfort level with the Federal Reserve’s eventual interest rate increase. Just last week, the central bank released the statement from its October Federal Open Market Committee meetings stating it will determine whether it will be “appropriate” to increase interest rates at its next meetings, which take place on December 15th and 16th. Interest rate financial markets are now baking in a roughly 50% probability of a Fed interest rate hike next month. Initially, the October Fed statement was perceived negatively by investors due to fears that higher rates could potentially choke off economic growth. Within a 30 minute period after the announcement, stock prices reversed course and surged higher. Investors interpreted the Fed signal of a possible interest rate hike as an upbeat display of confidence in a strengthening economy.

As I have reiterated on numerous occasions (see also Fed Fatigue), a +0.25% increase in the Federal Funds rate from essentially a level of 0% is almost irrelevant in my eyes – just like adjusting the Jacuzzi temperature from 102 degrees down to 101 degrees is hardly noticeable. More practically speaking, an increase from 14.00% to 14.25% on a credit card interest rate will not deter consumers from spending, just like a 3.90% mortgage rising to 4.15% will not break the bank for homebuyers. On the other hand, if interest rates were to spike materially higher by 3.00% – 4.00% over a very short period of time, this move would have a much more disruptive impact, and would be cause for concern. Fortunately for equity investors, this scenario is rather unlikely in the short-run due to virtually no sign of inflation at either the consumer or worker level. Actually, if you read the Fed’s most recent statement, Fed Chairwoman Janet Yellen indicated the central bank intends to maintain interest rates below “normal” levels for “some time” even if the economy keeps chugging along at a healthy clip.

If you think my interest rate perspective is the equivalent of me whistling past the graveyard, history proves to be a pretty good guide of what normally happens after the Fed increases interest rates. Bolstering my argument is data observed over the last seven Federal Reserve interest rate hike cycles from 1983 – 2006 (see table below). As the statistics show, stock prices increased an impressive +20.9% on average over Fed interest rate “Tightening Cycles.” It is entirely conceivable that the announcement of a December interest rate hike could increase short-term volatility. We saw this rate hike fear phenomenon a few months ago, and also a few years ago in 2013 (see also Will Rising Rates Murder Market?) when Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke threatened an end to quantitative easing (a.k.a., “Taper Tantrum”), but eventually people figured out the world was not going to end and stock prices ultimately moved higher.

fed cycles

Besides increased comfort with Fed interest rate policies, another positive contributing factor to the financial market rebound was the latest Congressional approval of a two-year budget deal that prevents the government from defaulting on its debt. Not only does the deal suspend the $18.1 trillion debt limit through March 2017 (see chart below), but the legislation also lowers the chance of a government shutdown in December. Rather than creating a contentious battle for the fresh, incoming Speaker of the House (Paul Ryan), the approved budget deal will allow the new Speaker to start with a clean slate with which he can use to negotiate across a spectrum of political issues.

debt limit

Source: Wall Street Journal

Remain Calm – Not Frightened

Humans, including all investors, are emotional beings, but the best investors separate fear from greed and are masters at making unemotional, objective decisions. Just as everything wasn’t a scary disaster when stocks declined during August and September, so too, the subsequent rise in October doesn’t mean everything is a bed of roses.

Every three months, thousands of companies share their financial report cards with investors, and so far with more than 65% of the S&P 500 companies reporting their results this period, corporate America is not making the honor roll. Collapsing commodity prices, including oil, along with the rapid appreciation in the value of the U.S. dollar (i.e., causing declines in relatively expensive U.S. exports), third quarter profit growth has declined -1%. If you exclude the energy sector from the equation, corporations are still not making the “Dean’s List,” however the report cards look a lot more respectable through this lens with profits rising +6% during the third quarter. A sluggish third quarter GDP (Gross Domestic Product) growth report of +1.5% is further evidence the economy has plenty of room to improve the country’s financial GPA.

Historically speaking, October has been a scary period, if you consider the 1929 and 1987 stock market crashes occurred during this Halloween month. Now that investors have survived this frightening period, we will see if the “Santa Claus Rally” will arrive early this season. Stock market treats have been sweet in recent weeks, but investors cannot lose sight of the long-term. With interest rates near generational lows, investors need to make sure they are efficiently investing their investment funds in a low-cost, tax-efficient, diversified manner, subject to personal time horizons and risk tolerances. Over the long-run, meeting these objectives will create a lot more treats than tricks.

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 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.

November 2, 2015 at 12:18 pm Leave a comment

Oxymoron: Shrewd Government Refis Credit Card

Credit Card - FreeImages

With the upcoming Federal Reserve policy meetings coming up this Wednesday and Thursday, investors’ eyes remain keenly focused on the actions and words of Federal Reserve Chairwoman Janet Yellen.

If you have painstakingly filled out an IRS tax return or frustratingly waited in long lines at the DMV or post office, you may not be a huge fan of government services. Investors and liquidity addicted borrowers are also irritated with the idea of the Federal Reserve pulling away the interest rate punch bowl too soon. We will find out early enough whether Yellen will hike the Fed Funds interest rate target to 0.25%, or alternatively, delay a rate increase when there are clearer signs of inflation risks.

Regardless of the Fed decision this week, with interest rates still hovering near generational lows, it is refreshing to see some facets of government making shrewd financial market decisions – for example in the area of debt maturity management. Rather than squeezing out diminishing benefits by borrowing at the shorter end of the yield curve, the U.S. Treasury has been taking advantage of these shockingly low rates by locking in longer debt maturities. As you can see from the chart below, the Treasury has increased the average maturity of its debt by more than 20% from 2010 to 2015. And they’re not done yet. The Treasury’s current plan based on the existing bond issuance trajectory will extend the average bond maturity from 70 months in 2015 to 80 months by the year 2022.

Maturity of Debt Outstanding 2015

If you were racking up large sums of credit card debt at an 18% interest rate with payments due one month from now, wouldn’t you be relieved if you were given the offer to pay back that same debt a year from now at a more palatable 2% rate? Effectively, that is exactly what the government is opportunistically taking advantage of by extending the maturity of its borrowings.

Most bears fail to acknowledge this positive trend. The typical economic bear argument goes as follows, “Once the Fed pushes interest rates higher, interest payments on government debt will balloon, and government deficits will explode.” That argument definitely holds up some validity as newly issued debt will require higher coupon payments to investors. But at a minimum, the Treasury is mitigating the blow of the sizable government debt currently outstanding by extending the average Treasury maturity (i.e., locking in low interest rates).

It is worth noting that while extending the average maturity of debt by the Treasury is great news for U.S. tax payers (i.e., smaller budget deficits because of lower interest payments), maturity extension is not so great news for bond investors worried about potentially rising interest rates. Effectively, by the Treasury extending bond maturities on the debt owed, the government is creating a larger proportion of “high octane” bonds. By referring to “high octane” bonds, I am highlighting the “duration” dynamic of bonds. All else equal, a lengthening of bond maturities, will increase a bond’s duration. Stated differently, long duration, “high octane” bonds will collapse in price if in interest rates spike higher. The government will be somewhat insulated to that scenario, but not the bond investors buying these longer maturity bonds issued by the Treasury.

All in all, you may not have the greatest opinion about the effectiveness of the IRS, DMV, and/or post office, but regardless of your government views, you should be heartened by the U.S. Treasury’s shrewd and prudent extension of the average debt maturity. Now, all you need to do is extend the maturity and lower the interest rate on your personal credit card debt.

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 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.

September 12, 2015 at 10:00 am Leave a comment

Greece: The Slow Motion, Multi-Year Train Wreck

Train Wreck

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”).

Source: MoneyMorning.com and CNN

Source: MoneyMorning.com and CNN

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.

Ouch!

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.

Source: TradingEconomics.com

Source: TradingEconomics.com

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.

“Perspective People”

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).
Greek GDP Relative to Cities

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.

Source: The Financial Times

Source: The Financial Times

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.

Source: Business Insider

Source: Business Insider

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.

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 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.

 

July 3, 2015 at 5:01 am Leave a comment

Digesting Stock Gains

This article is an excerpt from a previously released Sidoxia Capital Management complementary newsletter (June 1, 2015). Subscribe on the right side of the page for the complete text.

Despite calls for “Sell in May, and go away,” the stock market as measured by both the Dow Jones Industrial and S&P 500 indexes grinded out a +1% gain during the month of May. For the year, the picture looks much the same…the Dow is up around +1% and the S&P 500 +2%. After gorging on gains of +30% in 2013 and +11% in 2014, it comes as no surprise to me that the S&P 500 is taking time to digest the gains. After eating any large pleasurable meal, there’s always a chance for some indigestion – just like last month. More specifically, the month of May ended as it did the previous six months…with a loss on the last trading day (-115 points). Providing some extra heartburn over the last 30 days were four separate 100+ point decline days. Realized fears of a Greek exit from the eurozone would no doubt have short-term traders reaching for some Tums antacid. Nevertheless, veteran investors understand this is par for the course, especially considering the outsized profits devoured in recent years.

The profits have been sweet, but not everyone has been at the table gobbling up the gains. And with success, always comes the skeptics, many of whom have been calling for a decline for years. This begs the question, “Are we in a stock bubble?” I think not.

Bubble Bites

Most asset bubbles are characterized by extreme investor/speculator euphoria. There are certainly small pockets of excitement percolating up in the stock market, but nothing like we experienced in the most recent burstings of the 2000 technology and 2006-07 housing bubbles. Yes, housing has steadily improved post the housing crash, but does this look like a housing bubble? (see New Home Sales chart)

Source: Dr. Ed’s Blog

Another characteristic of a typical asset bubble is rabid buying. However, when it comes to the investor fund flows into the U.S. stock market, we are seeing the exact opposite…money is getting sucked out of stocks like a Hoover vacuum cleaner. Over the last eight or so years, there has been almost -$700 billion that has hemorrhaged out of domestic equity funds – actions tend to speak louder than words (see chart below):

Source: Investment Company Institute (ICI)

The shift to Exchange Traded Funds (ETFs) offered by the likes of iShares and Vanguard doesn’t explain the exodus of cash because ETFs such as S&P 500 SPDR ETF (SPY) are suffering dramatically too. SPY has drained about -$17 billion alone over the last year and a half.

With money flooding out of these stock funds, how can stock prices move higher? Well, one short answer is that hundreds of billions of dollars in share buybacks and trillions in mergers and acquisitions activity (M&A) is contributing to the tide lifting all stock boats. Low interest rates and stimulative monetary policies by central banks around the globe are no doubt contributing to this positive trend. While the U.S. Federal Reserve has already begun reversing its loose monetary policies and has threatened to increase short-term interest rates, by any objective standard, interest rates should remain at very supportive levels relative to historical benchmarks.

Besides housing and fund flows data, there are other unbiased sentiment indicators that indicate investors have not become universally Pollyannaish. Take for example the weekly AAII Sentiment Survey, which shows 73% of investors are currently Bearish and/or Neutral – significantly higher than historical averages.

The Consumer Confidence dataset also shows that not everyone is wearing rose-colored glasses. Looking back over the last five decades, you can see the current readings are hovering around the historical averages – nowhere near the bubblicious 2000 peak (~50% below).

Source: Bespoke

Recession Reservations

Even if you’re convinced there is no imminent stock market bubble bursting, many of the same skeptics (and others) feel we’re on the verge of a recession  – I’ve been writing about many of them since 2009. You could choke on an endless number of economic indicators, but on the common sense side of the economic equation, typically rising unemployment is a good barometer for any potentially looming recession. Here’s the unemployment rate we’re looking at now (with shaded periods indicating prior recessions):

As you can see, the recent 5.4% unemployment rate is still moving on a downward, positive trajectory. By most peoples’ estimation, because this has been the slowest recovery since World War II, there is still plenty of labor slack in the market to keep hiring going.

An even better leading indicator for future recessions has been the slope of the yield curve. A yield curve plots interest rate yields of similar bonds across a range of periods (e.g., three-month bill, six-month bill, one-year bill, two-year note, five-year note, 10-year note and 30-year bond). Traditionally, as short-term interest rates move higher, this phenomenon tends to flatten the yield curve, and eventually inverts the yield curve (i.e., short-term interest rates are higher than long-term interest rates). Over the last few decades, when the yield curve became inverted, it was an excellent leading indicator of a pending recession (click here and select “Animate” to see amazing interactive yield curve graph). Fortunately for the bulls, there is no sign of an inverted yield curve – 30-year rates remain significantly higher than short-term rates (see chart below).

Stock market skeptics continue to rationalize the record high stock prices by pointing to the artificially induced Federal Reserve money printing buying binge. It is true that the buffet of gains is not sustainable at the same pace as has been experienced over the last six years. As we continue to move closer to full employment in this economic cycle, the rapid accumulated wealth will need to be digested at a more responsible rate. An unexpected Greek exit from the EU or spike in interest rates could cause a short-term stomach ache, but until many of the previously mentioned indicators reach dangerous levels, please pass the gravy.

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 in SPY and other 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.

June 1, 2015 at 12:31 pm 1 comment

Older Posts


Receive Investing Caffeine blog posts by email.

Join 1,372 other followers

Meet Wade Slome, CFA, CFP®

More on Sidoxia Services

Recognition

Top Financial Advisor Blogs And Bloggers – Rankings From Nerd’s Eye View | Kitces.com

Wade on Twitter…

Like us on Facebook

Share this blog

Bookmark and Share

Subscribe to Blog RSS

Monthly Archives