Posts tagged ‘Ben Bernanke’

To Taper or Not to Taper…That is the Question?

Acting Masks

It’s not Hamlet who is providing theatrical intrigue in the financial markets, but rather Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke. Watching Bernanke decide whether to taper or not to taper the $85 billion in monthly bond purchases (quantitative easing) is similar to viewing an emotionally volatile Shakespearean drama. The audience of investors is sitting at the edge of their seats waiting to see if incoming Fed Chief will be plagued with guilt like Lady Macbeth for her complicit money printing ways or will she score a heroic and triumphant victory for her hawkish stance on quantitative easing (QE). No need to purchase tickets at a theater box office near you, the performance is coming live to your living room as Yellen’s upcoming Senate confirmation hearings will be televised this upcoming week.

Bad News = Good News; Good News = Bad News?

In deciding whether to slowly kill QE, the Fed has been stricken with the usual stream of never-ending economic data (see current data from Barry Ritholtz). Most recently, investors have followed the script that says bad news is good news for stocks and good news is bad news. So-called pundits, strategists, and economists generally believe sluggish economic data will lead the Fed to further romance QE for a longer period, while robust data will force a poisonous death to QE via tapering.

Good News

Despite the recent, tragically-perceived government shutdown, here is the week’s positive news that may contribute to an accelerated QE stimulus tapering:

  • Strong Jobs: The latest monthly employment report showed +204,000 jobs added in October, almost +100,000 more additions than economists expected.  August and September job additions were also revised higher.
  • GDP Surprise: 3rd quarter GDP registered in at +2.8% vs. expectations of 2%.
  • IPO Dough: Twitter Inc (TWTR) achieved a lofty $25,000,000,000 initial public offering (IPO) value on its first day of trading.
  • ECB Cuts Rates: The European Central Bank (ECB) lowered its key benchmark refinancing rate to a record low 0.25% level.
  • Service Sector Surge: ISM non-manufacturing PMI data for October came in at 55.4 vs. 54.0 estimate.

Bad News

Here is the other side of the coin, which could assist in the delay of tapering:

  • Mortgage Apps Decline:  Last week the MBA mortgage application index fell -7%.
  • Jobless # Revised Higher: Last week’s Initial jobless Claims were revised higher by 5,000 to 345,000.
  • Investors Too Happy: The spread between Bulls & Bears is highest since April 2011 as measured by Investors Intelligence

Much Ado About Nothing

With the recent surge in the October jobs numbers, the tapering plot has thickened. But rather than a tragic death to the stock market, the inevitable taper and eventual tightening of the Fed Funds rate will likely be “Much Ado About Nothing.” How can that be?

As I have written in an article earlier this year (see 1994 Bond Repeat), the modest increase in 2013 yields (up +1.35% approximately) from the July 2012 lows pales in comparison to the +2.5% multi-period hike in the 1994 Federal Funds rate by then Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan. What’s more, inflation was a much greater risk in 1994 with GDP exceeding 4.0% and unemployment reaching a hot 5.5% level.

Given an overheated economy and job market in 1994, coupled with a hawkish Fed aggressively raising rates, the impact of these factors must have been disastrous for the stock market…right? WRONG. The S&P 500 actually finished the year essentially flat (~-1.5%) after experiencing some volatility earlier in the year, then subsequently stocks went on a tear to more than triple in value over the next five years.

To taper or not to taper may be the media question du jour, however the Fed’s ultimate decision regarding QE will most likely resemble a heroic Shakespearean finale or Much Ado About Nothing. Panicked portfolios may be in love with cash like Romeo & Juliet were with each other, but overreaction by investors to future tapering and rate hikes  may result in poisonous or tragic returns.

Referenced article: 1994 Bond Repeat or 2013 Stock Defeat? 

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 TWTR, or any other security referenced in this article. No information accessed through the Investing Caffeine (IC) website constitutes investment, financial, legal, tax or other advice nor is to be relied on in making an investment or other decision. Please read disclosure language on IC Contact page. Some Shakespeare references were sourced from Kevin D. Weaver.

November 9, 2013 at 8:36 pm Leave a comment

Perception vs. Reality: Interest Rates & the Economy

Magic Bottle

There is a difference between perception and reality, especially as it relates to the Federal Reserve, the economy, and interest rates.

Perception: The common perception reflects a belief that Quantitative Easing (QE) – the Federal Reserve’s bond buying program – has artificially stimulated the economy and financial markets through lower interest rates. The widespread thinking follows that an end to tapering of QE will lead to a crash in the economy and financial markets.

Reality: As the chart below indicates, interest rates have risen during each round of QE (i.e., QE1/QE2/QE3) and fallen after the completion of each series of bond buying (currently at a pace of $85 billion per month in purchases). That’s right, the Federal Reserve has actually failed on its intent to lower interest rates. In fact, the yield on the 10-year Treasury Note stands at 2.94% today, while at the time QE1 started five years ago, on December 16, 2008, the 10-year rate was dramatically lower (~2.13%). Sure, the argument can be made that rates declined in anticipation of the program’s initiation, but if that is indeed the case, the recent rate spike of the 10-year Treasury Note to the 3.0% level should reverse itself once tapering begins (i.e., interest rates should decline). Wow, I can hardly wait for the stimulative effects of tapering to start!

Source: Calafia Beach Pundit

Source: Calafia Beach Pundit

Fact or Fiction? QE Helps Economy

Taken from a slightly different angle, if you consider the impact of the Federal Reserve’s actions on the actual economy, arguably there are only loose connections. More specifically, if you look at the jobs picture, there is virtually NO correlation between QE activity and job creation (see unemployment claims chart below). There have been small upward blips along the QE1/QE2/QE3 path, but since the beginning of 2009, the declining trend in unemployment claims looks like a black diamond ski slope.

Source: Calafia Beach Pundit

Source: Calafia Beach Pundit

Moreover, if you look at a broad spectrum of economic charts since QE1 began, including data on capital spending, bank loans, corporate profits, vehicle sales, and other key figures related to the economy, the conclusion is the same – there is no discernible connection between the economic recovery and the Federal Reserve’s quantitative easing initiatives.

I know many investors are highly skeptical of the stock market’s rebound, but is it possible that fundamental economic laws of supply and demand, in concert with efficient capital markets, could have something to do with the economic recovery? Booms and busts throughout history have come as a result of excesses and scarcities – in many cases assisted by undue amounts of fear and greed. We experienced these phenomena most recently with the tech and housing bubbles in the early and middle parts of last decade. Given the natural adjustments of supply and demand, coupled with the psychological scars and wounds from the last financial crisis, there is no clear evidence of a new bubble about to burst.

While it’s my personal view that many government initiatives, including QE, have had little impact on the economy, the Federal Reserve does have the ability to indirectly increase business and consumer confidence. Ben Bernanke clearly made this positive impact during the financial crisis through his creative implementation of unprecedented programs (TARP, TALF, QE, Twist, etc.). The imminent tapering and eventual conclusion of QE may result in a short-term hit to confidence, but the economy is standing on a much stronger economic foundation today. Making Ben Bernanke a scapegoat for rising interest rates is easy to do, but in actuality, an improving economy on stronger footing will likely have a larger bearing on the future direction of interest rates relative to any upcoming Fed actions.

Doubters remain plentiful, but the show still goes on. Not only are banks and individuals sitting on much sturdier and healthier balance sheets, but corporations are running lean operations that are reporting record profit margins while sitting on trillions of dollars in cash. In addition, with jobs on a slow but steady path to recovery, confidence at the CEO and consumer levels is also on the rise.

Despite all the negative perceptions surrounding the Fed’s pending tapering, reality dictates the impact from QE’s wind-down will likely to be more muted than anticipated. The mitigation of monetary easing is more a sign of sustainable economic strength than a sign of looming economic collapse. If this reality becomes the common perception, markets are likely to move higher.

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 the information to be relied on in making an investment or other decision. Please read disclosure language on IC Contact page.

 

September 7, 2013 at 10:07 pm 2 comments

The Most Hated Bull Market Ever

Hate

Life has been challenging for the bears over the last four years. For the first few years of the recovery (2009-2010) when stocks vaulted +50%, supposedly we were still in a secular bear market. Back then the rally was merely dismissed as a dead-cat bounce or a short-term cyclical rally, within a longer-term secular bear market. Then, after an additional +50% move the commentary switched to, “Well, we’re just in a long-term trading range. The stock market hasn’t done a thing in a decade.” With major indexes now hitting all-time record highs, the pessimists are backpedaling in full gear. Watching the gargantuan returns has made it more difficult for the bears to rationalize a tripling +225% move in the S&P 600 index (Small-Cap); a +214% move in the S&P 400 index (Mid-Cap); and a +154% in the S&P 500 index (Large-Cap) from the 2009 lows.

For the unfortunate souls who bunkered themselves into cash for an extended period, the return-destroying carnage has been crippling. Making matters worse, some of these same individuals chased a frothy over-priced gold market, which has recently plunged -30% from the peak.

Bonds have generally been an OK place to be as Europe imploded and domestic political gridlock both helped push interest rates to record-lows (e.g., tough to go lower than 0% on the Fed-Funds rate). But now, those fears have subsided, and the recent rate spike from Ben Bernanke’s “taper tantrum” has caused bond bulls to reassess their portfolios (see Fed Fatigue). Staring at the greater than -90% underperformance of bonds, relative to stocks over the last four years, has been a bitter pill to swallow for fervent bond believers. The record -$9.9 billion outflow from Mr. New Normal’s (Bill Gross) Pimco Total Return Fund in June (a 26-year record) is proof of this anxiety. But rather than chase an unrelenting stock market rally, stock haters and skeptics remain stubborn, choosing to place their bond sale proceeds into their favorite inflation-depreciating asset…cash.

Crash Diet at the Buffet

I’ve seen and studied many markets in my career, but the behavioral reactions to this most-hated bull market in my lifetime have been fascinating to watch. In many respects this reminds me of an investing buffet, where those participating in the nourishing market are enjoying the spoils of healthy returns, while the skeptical observers on the sidelines are on a crash diet, selecting from a stingy menu of bread and water. Sure, there is some over-eating, heartburn, and food coma experienced by those at the stock market table, but one can only live on bread and water for so long. The fear of losses has caused many to lose their investing appetite, especially with news of sequestration, slowing China, Middle East turmoil, rising interest rates, etc. Nevertheless, investors must realize a successful financial future is much more like an eating marathon than an eating sprint. Too many retirees, or those approaching retirement, are not responsibly handling their savings. As legendary basketball player and coach John Wooden stated, “Failing to prepare is preparing to fail.

20 Years…NOT 20 Days

I will be the first to admit the market is ripe for a correction. You don’t have to believe me, just take a look at the S&P 500 index over the last four years. Despite the explosion to record-high stock prices, investors have had to endure two corrections averaging -20% and two other drops approximating -10%. Hindsight is 20-20, but at each of those fall-off periods, there were plenty of credible arguments being made on why we should go much lower. That didn’t happen – it actually was the opposite outcome.

For the vast majority of investing Americans, your investing time horizon should be closer to 20 years…not 20 days. People that understand this reality realize they are not smart enough to consistently outwit the market (see Market Timing Treadmill). If you were that successful at this endeavor, you would be sitting on your private, personal island with a coconut, umbrella drink.

Successful long-term investors like Warren Buffett recognize investors should “buy fear, and sell greed.” So while this most hated bull market remains fully in place, I will follow Buffett’s advice comfortably sit at the stock market buffet, enjoying the superior long-term returns put on my plate. Crash dieters are welcome to join the buffet, but by the time they finally sit down at the stock market table, I will probably have left to the restroom.

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), including IJR, and IJH, but at the time of publishing, SCM had no direct position in BRKA/B, Pimco Total Return Fund, or any other security referenced in this article. No information accessed through the Investing Caffeine (IC) website constitutes investment, financial, legal, tax or other advice nor is to be relied on in making an investment or other decision. Please read disclosure language on IC Contact page.

July 27, 2013 at 12:34 am 4 comments

Confessions of a Bond Hater

Source: stock.xchng

Source: stock.xchng

Hi my name is Wade, and I’m a bond hater. Generally, the first step in addressing any type of personal problem is admitting you actually have a problem. While I am not proud of being a bond hater, I have been called many worse things during my life. But as we have learned from the George Zimmerman / Trayvon Martin case, not every situation is clear-cut, whether we are talking about social issues or bond investing. For starters, let me be clear to everyone, including all my detractors, that I do not hate all bonds. In fact, my Sidoxia clients own many types of fixed income securities. What I do hate however are low yielding, long duration bonds.

Duration…huh? Most people understand what “low yielding” means, when it comes to bonds (i.e., low interest, low coupon, low return, etc.), but when the word duration is uttered, the conversation is usually accompanied by a blank stare. The word “duration” may sound like a fancy word, but in reality it is a fairly simple concept. Essentially, high-duration bonds are those fixed income securities with the highest sensitivity to changes in interest rates, meaning these bonds will go down most in price as interest rates rise.

When it comes to equity markets, many investors understand the concept of high beta stocks, which can be used to further explain duration. There are many complicated definitions for beta, but the basic principle explains why high-beta stock prices generally go up the most during bull markets, and go down the most during bear markets. In plain terms, high beta equals high octane.

If we switch the subject back to bonds, long duration equals high octane too. Or stated differently, long duration bond prices generally go down the most during bear markets and go up the most during bull markets. For years, grasping the risk of a bond bear market caused by rising rates has been difficult for many investors to comprehend, especially after witnessing a three-decade long Federal Funds tailwind taking the rates from about 20% to about 0% (see Fed Fatigue Setting In). 

The recent interest rate spike that coincided with the Federal Reserve’s Ben Bernanke’s comments on QE3 bond purchase tapering has caught the attention of bond addicts. Nobody knows for certain whether this short-term bond price decline is the start of an extended bear market in bonds, but mathematics would dictate that there is only really one direction for interest rates to go…and that is up. It is true that rates could remain low for an indefinite period of time, but neither scenario of flat to down rates is a great outcome for bond holders.

Fixes to Fixed-Income Failings

Even though I may be a “bond hater” of low yield, high duration bonds, currently I still understand the critical importance and necessity of a fixed income portfolio for not only retirees, but also for the diversification benefits needed by a broader set of investors. So how does a bond hater reconcile investing in bonds? Easy. Rather than focusing on lower yielding, longer duration bonds, I invest more client assets in shorter duration and/or higher yielding bonds. If you harbor similar beliefs as I do, and believe there will be an upward bias to the trajectory of long-term interest rates, then there are two routes to go. Investors can either get compensated with a higher yield to counter the increased interest rate risk, and/or they can shorten duration of bond holdings to minimize capital losses.

Worth noting, there is an alternative strategy for low yielding, long duration bond lovers. In order to minimize interest rate risk, these bond lovers may accept sub-optimal yields and hold bonds to maturity. This strategy may be associated with short-term price volatility, but if the bond issuer does not default, at least the bond investor will get the full principal at maturity to help relieve the pain of meager yields.

Now that you’ve survived all this bond babbling, let me cut to the chase and explain a few ways Sidoxia is taking advantage of the recent interest rate volatility for our clients:

Floating Rate Bonds: Duration of these bonds is by definition low, or near zero, because as interest rates rise, coupons/interest payments are advantageously reset for investors at higher rates. So if interest rates jump from 2% to 3%, the investor will receive +50% higher periodic payments.

Inflation Protection Bonds: These bonds come in long and short duration flavors, but if interest rates/inflation rise higher than expected, investors will be compensated with higher periodic coupons and principal payments.

Shorter Duration: One definition of duration is the weighted average of time until a bond’s fixed cash flows are received. A way of shortening the duration of your bond portfolio is through the purchase of shorter maturity bonds (e.g., buying 3-year bonds rather than 30-year bonds).

High Yield Bonds: Investing in the high yield bond category is not limited to domestic junk bond purchases, but higher yields can also be earned by investing in international and/or emerging market bonds.

Investment Grade Corporate Bonds: Similar to high yield bonds, investment grade bonds offer the potential of capital appreciation via credit improvement. For instance, credit rating upgrades can provide gains to help offset price declines caused by rising interest rates.

Despite my bond hater status, the recent taper tantrum and interest rate spike, highlight some advantages bonds have over stocks. Even though prices declined, bonds by and large still have lower volatility than stocks; provide a steady stream of income; and provide diversification benefits.

To the extent investors have, or should have, a longer-term time horizon, I still am advocating a stock bias to client portfolios, subject to each investor’s risk tolerance. For example, an older retired couple with a conservative target allocation of 20%/80% (equity/fixed income) may consider a 25% – 30% allocation. A shift in this direction may still meet the retirees’ income needs (especially if dividend-paying stocks are incorporated), while simultaneously acknowledging the inflation and interest rate risks impacting bond positions. It’s important to realize one size doesn’t fit all.

Higher Volatility, Higher Reward

Frequent readers of Investing Caffeine have known about my bond hating tendencies for quite some time (see my 2009 article Treasury Bubble has not Burst…Yet), but the bond baby shouldn’t be thrown out with the bath water. For those investors who thought bonds were as safe as CDs, the recent -6% drop in the iShares Aggregate Bond Index (AGG) didn’t feel comfortable for most. Although I am still an enthusiastic stock cheerleader (less so as valuation multiples expand), there has been a cost for the gargantuan outperformance of stocks since March of ’09. While stocks have outperformed bonds (S&P vs. AGG) by more than +140%, equity investors have had to endure two -10% corrections and two -20% corrections (e.g.,Flash Crash, Debt Ceiling Debate, European Financial Crisis, and Sequestration/Elections). If investors want to earn higher long-term equity returns, this desire will translate into more volatility than bonds…and more Tums.

I may still be a bond hater, and the general public remains firm stock haters, but at some point in the multi-year future, I will not be surprised to hear myself say, “Hi my name is Wade, and I am addicted to bonds.” In the mean time, Sidoxia will continue to optimize its client bond portfolios for a rising interest rate environment, while also investing in attractive equity securities and ETFs. There’s nothing to hate about that.

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), including floating rate bonds/loan funds, inflation-protection funds, corporate bond ETF, high-yield bond ETFs, and other bond ETFs, but at the time of publishing, SCM had no direct position in AGG or any other security referenced in this article. No information accessed through the Investing Caffeine (IC) website constitutes investment, financial, legal, tax or other advice nor is to be relied on in making an investment or other decision. Please read disclosure language on IC Contact page.

July 20, 2013 at 4:05 pm 2 comments

Fed Fatigue Setting In

Girl child

Uncle…uncle! There you have it – I have finally cried “uncle” because I cannot take it anymore. I don’t think I can listen to another panel or read another story debating about the timing of Fed “tapering”, or heaven forbid the Fed actually “tighten” the Federal Funds rate (i.e., increasing the targeted rate for inter-bank lending). Type in the words “Bernanke” and “tapering” into Google and you will get back more than 41,000,000 results. The build up to the 600-word FOMC (Federal Open Market Committee) statement was almost deafening, so much so that live coverage of Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke was available at your fingertips:

Source: Yahoo! Finance

Source: Yahoo! Finance

Like a toddler (or a California-based, investment blog writer) going to the doctor’s office to receive an inoculation, the anxiety and mental anguish caused in anticipation of the event is often more painful than the actual injection. As I highlighted in a previous Investing Caffeine article, the 1994 interest rate cycle wasn’t Armageddon for equity markets, and the same can be said for the rate hikes from 1.0% to 5.25% in the 2004-20006 period (see chart below). Even if QE3 ends in mid-2014 and the new Federal Reserve Chairman (thank you President Obama) raises rates in 2015, this scenario would not be the first (or last) time the Federal Reserve has tightened monetary policy.

Source: Wikipedia

Source: Wikipedia

Short Memories – What Have You Done for Me Lately?

People are quick to point out the one-day -350 Dow point loss earlier this week, but many of them forget about the +3,000 point moon shot in the Dow Jones Industrial index that occurred in six short months (November 2012 – May 2013). The same foggy recollection principle applies to interest rates. The recent rout in 10-year Treasury prices is easily recalled as rates have jumped from 1.5% to 2.5% over the last year, however amnesia often sets in for others if you ask them where rates were a few years ago. It’s easy to forget that 30-year fixed rate mortgages exceeded 5% and the 10-year reached 4% just three short years ago.

Bernanke: The Center of the Universe?

Does Ben Bernanke deserve credit for implementing extraordinary measures during extraordinary times during the 2008-09 financial crisis? Absolutely. But should every man, women, and child wait with bated breath to see if a word change or tonal adjustment is made in the eight annual FOMC meetings?

Like the public judging Ben Bernanke, my Sidoxia clients probably give me too much credit when things go well and too much blame when things don’t. I love how Bernanke gets blamed/credited for the generational low interest rates caused by his money printing ways and QE punch bowl tactics. Last I checked, the interest rate downtrend has been firmly in place over the last three decades, well before Bernanke came into the Fed and worked his monetary magic. How much credit/blame are we forgetting to give former Federal Reserve Chairmen Paul Volcker, Alan Greenspan, and other government policy-makers? Regardless of what happens economically for the remainder of 2013, Bernanke will do whatever he can to solidify his legacy in the waning sunset months of his term.

Another forgotten fact I like to point out: There is more than one central banker living on this planet. If you haven’t been asleep over the last few decades, our financial markets have increasingly become globally interconnected with the assistance of technology. I know our 10-year Treasury rates are hovering around 2.50%, and our egotistical patriotism leads us to hail Bernanke as a monetary god, but don’t any other central bankers or government officials around the world deserve any recognition for achieving yields even lower than ours? Here’s a partial list (June 22, 2013 – Financial Times):

  • Japan – 0.86%
  • Germany – 1.67%
  • Canada – 2.33%
  • U.K. – 2.31%
  • France – 2.27%
  • Sweden – 2.15%
  • Austria – 2.09%
  • Switzerland – 0.92%
  • Netherlands – 2.07%

Although it may be fun to look at Ben Bernanke as our country’s financial Superman who is there to save the day, there are a lot more important factors to consider than the 47 words added and 19 subtracted from the latest FOMC statement. If investing was as easy as following central bank monetary policy, everyone would be continually jet setting to their private islands. Rather than wasting your time listening to speculative blathering about direction of Fed monetary policy, why not focus on finding solid investment ideas and putting a long-term investment plan in place. Now please excuse me – Fed fatigue has set in and I need to take a nap.

Wade W. Slome, CFA, CFP®

Plan. Invest. Prosper.

www.Sidoxia.com

DISCLOSURE: Sidoxia Capital Management (SCM) and some of its clients hold positions in certain exchange traded funds (ETFs) and GOOG,  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 22, 2013 at 11:08 am 8 comments

No Free Lunch, No Free Sushi

Sushi Rolls

Everybody loves a free lunch, myself included, and many in Japan would like free sushi too. Despite the short term boost in Japanese exports and Nikkei stock prices, there are no long-term free lunches (or free sushi) when it comes to global financial markets. Following in the footsteps of the U.S. Federal Reserve, the Bank of Japan (BOJ) has embarked on an ambitious plan of doubling its monetary base in two years and increasing inflation to a 2% annual rate – a feat that has not been achieved in more than two decades. By the BOJ’s estimate, it will take a $1.4 trillion injection into economy to achieve this goal by the end of 2014.

Lunch is tasty right now, as evidenced by a tasty appetizer of +3.5 % Japanese first quarter GDP and this year’s +46% spike in the value of the Nikkei. Japan is hopeful that its mix of monetary, fiscal, and structural policies will spur demand and increase the appetite for Japanese exports, however, we know fresh sushi can turn stale quickly.

Quantitative easing (QE) and monetary stimulus from central banks around the globe have been hailed as a panacea for sluggish global growth – most recently in Japan. Commentators often oversimplify the benefits of money printing without acknowledging the pitfalls. Basic economics and the laws of supply & demand eventually prevail no matter the fiscal or monetary policy implemented. Nonetheless, there can be temporary disconnects between current equity prices and exchange rates, before underlying fundamentals ultimately drive true intrinsic values.

Impassioned critics of the Federal Reserve and its Chairman Ben Bernanke would have you believe the money supply is exploding, and hyperinflation is just around the corner. It’s difficult to quarrel with the trillions of dollars created by the Fed’s printing presses via QE1/QE2/QE3, but the fact remains that money supply growth has continued at a steady growth rate – not exploding (see Calafia Beach Pundit chart below).

Source: Calafia Beach Pundit

Source: Calafia Beach Pundit

Why no explosion in the money supply? Simply, the trillions of dollars printed by the Fed have sat idly in bank vaults as reserves. Once nervous consumers stop hoarding trillions in cash held in savings deposit accounts (see chart below) and banks begin lending at a healthier clip, then money supply growth will accelerate. By definition, money supply growth in excess of demand for goods and services (i.e., GDP) is the main cause of inflation.

Source: Calafia Beach Pundit

Source: Calafia Beach Pundit

Although inflationary pressure has not reared its ugly head yet, there are plenty of precursors indicating inflation may be on its way. The unemployment rate continues to tick downwards (7.5% in Aril) and the much anticipating housing recovery is gaining steam. Inflationary fear has manifested itself in part through the heightened number of conversations surrounding the Fed “tapering” its $85 billion per month bond purchasing program.

We’ve enjoyed a sustained period of low price level growth, however the Goldilocks period of little-to-no inflation cannot last forever. The differences between current prices and true value can exist for years, and as a result there are many different strategies attempted to capture profits. Like the gambling masses frequenting casinos, speculators can beat the odds in the short-run, but the house always wins in the long-run – hence the ever-increasing size and number of casinos. While a small number of professionals understand how to shift the unbalanced odds into their favor, most lose their shirt. On Wall Street, that is certainly the case. Studies show speculating day traders persistently lose about 80% of the time. Long-term investors are uniquely positioned to exploit these value disparities, if they have a disciplined process with the ability to patiently value assets.

Even though the Japanese economy and stock market have rebounded handsomely in the short-run, there is never a free lunch over the long-term. Unchecked policies of money printing, deficits, and debt expansion won’t lead to boundless prosperity. Eventually a spate of irresponsible actions will result in inflation, defaults, recessions, and/or higher unemployment rates. Unsustainable monetary and fiscal stimulus may lead to a tasty free lunch now, but if investors overstay their welcome, the sushi may turn bad and the speculators will be left paying the hefty tab.

Wade W. Slome, CFA, CFP®

Plan. Invest. Prosper.

www.Sidoxia.com

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.

May 18, 2013 at 11:14 pm 1 comment

The Central Bank Dog Ate My Homework

Jack Russell Terrier Snarling

It’s been a painful four years for the bears, including Peter Schiff, Nouriel Roubini, John Mauldin, Jimmy Rogers, and let’s not forget David Rosenberg, among others. Rosenberg was recently on CNBC attempting to clarify his evolving bearish view by explaining how central banks around the globe have eaten his forecasting homework. In other words, Ben Bernanke is getting blamed for launching the stock market into the stratosphere thanks to his quantitative easing magic. According to Rosenberg, and the other world-enders, death and destruction would have prevailed without all the money printing.

In reality, the S&P 500 has climbed over +140% and is setting all-time record highs since the market bottomed in early 2009. Despite the large volume of erroneous predictions by Rosenberg and his bear buddies, that development has not slowed the pace of false forecasts. When you’re wrong, one could simply admit defeat, or one could get creative like Rosenberg and bend the truth. As you can tell from my David Rosenberg article from 2010 (Rams Butting Heads), he has been bearish for years calling for outcomes like a double-dip recession; a return to 11% unemployment; and a collapse in the market. So far, none of those predictions have come to fruition (in fact the S&P is up about +40% from that period, if you include dividends). After being incorrect for so long, Rosenberg has switched his mantra to be bullish on pullbacks on selective dividend-paying stocks. When pushed whether he has turned bullish, here’s what Rosenberg had to say,

“So it’s not about is somebody bearish or is somebody bullish or whether you’re agnostic, it’s really about understanding what the principle driver of this market is…it’s the mother of all liquidity-driven rallies that I’ve seen in my lifetime, and it’s continuing.”

 

Rosenberg isn’t the only bear blaming central banks for the unexpected rise in equity markets. As mentioned previously, fear and panic have virtually disappeared, but these emotions have matured into skepticism. Record profits, cash balances, and attractive valuations are dismissed as artificial byproducts of a Fed’s monetary Ponzi Scheme. The fact that Japan and other central banks are following Ben Bernanke’s money printing lead only serves to add more fuel to the bears’ proverbial fire.

Speculative bubbles are not easy to identify before-the-fact, however they typically involve a combination of excessive valuations and/or massive amounts of leverage. In hindsight we experienced these dynamics in the technology collapse of the late-1990s (tech companies traded at over 100x’s earnings) and the leverage-induced housing crisis of the mid-2000s ($100s of billions used to speculate on subprime mortgages and real estate).

I’m OK with the argument that there are trillions of dollars being used for speculative buying, but if I understand correctly, the trillions of dollars in global liquidity being injected by central banks across the world is not being used to buy securities in the stock market? Rather, all the artificial, pending-bubble discussions should migrate to the bond market…not the stock market. All credit markets, to some degree, are tied to the trillions of Treasuries and mortgage-backed securities purchased by central banks, yet many pundits (i.e., see El-Erian & Bill Gross) choose to focus on claims of speculative buying in stocks, and not bonds.

While bears point to the Shiller 10 Price-Earnings ratio as evidence of a richly priced stock market, more objective measurements through FactSet (below 10-year average) and Wall Street Journal indicate a forward P/E of around 14. A reasonable figure if you consider the multiples were twice as high in 2000, and interest rates are at a generational low (see also Shiller P/E critique).

The news hasn’t been great, volatility measurements (i.e., VIX) have been signaling complacency, and every man, woman, and child has been waiting for a “pullback” – myself included. The pace of the upward advance we have experienced over the last six months is not sustainable, but when we finally get a price retreat, do not listen to the bears like Rosenberg. Their credibility has been shot, ever since the central bank dog ate their homework.

Wade W. Slome, CFA, CFP®

Plan. Invest. Prosper.

www.Sidoxia.com

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.

April 14, 2013 at 11:11 pm 8 comments

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