Posts tagged ‘currency’

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

E.M.s Want Cake & Eat It Too

Fancy Cake

Since the end of 2010, the emerging markets (E.M.) have gotten absolutely obliterated (MSCI Emerging Markets index –25%) compared to a meteoric rise in U.S. stocks (S&P 500 index +60%) over the same period.

Source: Financial Times

Source: Financial Times

Slowing global growth, especially with resource-hungry China going on a crash diet, has caused commodity-exporting emerging markets like Brazil to suffer economic starvation. Rising inflation, expanding debt, decelerating Chinese growth, collapsing commodity prices, and political corruption allegations are all factors pressuring the Brazilian economy. Weak emerging market economies like Brazil are contributing to global GDP forecast reductions. As you can see from the chart below, global GDP growth rates have been steadily declining since 2010, and the IMF recently lowered their 2015 forecast from +3.5% down to 3.1%.

Source: Financial Times

Source: Financial Times

Beginning in late 2008, when Ben Bernanke first announced his QE 1 (Quantitative Easing) money printing binge, the U.S. dollar remained relatively weak against other global currencies for years. The weak dollar provided a nice tailwind to U.S. exporters (i.e., American manufactured goods were more cost competitive for foreign buyers).

Multinationals loved the export lift, but emerging international politicians and investors cried foul. They complained the U.S. was starting a “currency war” by artificially deflating the value of the U.S. dollar, thereby making international markets less competitive. At the time, the thought process was the emerging markets (e.g., China, Russia, Brazil et.al.) would be disproportionately impacted because their economies are export-driven. In a 2010 article from the Guardian (World Gripped by International Currency War) Brazilian finance minister Guido Mantega explicitly stated, “We’re in the midst of an international currency war, a general weakening of currency. This threatens us because it takes away our competitiveness.”

This “currency war” griping stayed in place until the end of 2013 when the Fed announced its plans to begin “tapering” bond buying (i.e., pull away the financial punch bowl). We all know what has happened since then…the U.S. dollar has spiked by about +20% and the Brazilian real has depreciated by a whopping -37%. This is good news for emerging markets like Brazil, right? Wrong!

A few years ago, emerging market investors were initially worried about the depressing effects of a strong currency on exports, but now that emerging market currencies have depreciated, fears have shifted. Now, investors are concerned whether E.M. countries can pay off foreign borrowed debt denominated in pricey U.S. dollars (paid with vastly weaker E.M. currencies). Moreover, with foreign governments holding dramatically lower valued currency, investors are worried about the ability of these E.M. countries to raise additional capital or refinance existing debt.  SocGen’s head of emerging market strategy, Guy Stear, summed it up by noting,  “Prevailing risks of a deterioration of the external financing environment and disruptive capital flow and asset price shifts that increase volatility in the respective bond and currency markets, make a rapid rebound in EM growth over the next months unlikely.”

So which one is it…do E.M. investors want a weak currency to power exports, or a strong currency to pay down debt and raise additional capital? Unfortunately, investors can’t have their cake and eat it too – you can’t have a depreciating and appreciating currency at the same time.

While anxiety has shifted from strong emerging market currencies to the issues associated with weak currencies, India is one E.M that has reaped the rewards from a declining rupee (-20% since 2013). In other words, India is benefiting from a stronger trade balance via a boost in exports and reduction in imports – interestingly, the U.S. has experienced the exact opposite. Regardless, eventually, other emerging markets will benefit from these same positive trends as India – that will finally be a tasty slice of cake.

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

October 10, 2015 at 6:27 am Leave a comment

The Art of Catching Falling Knives

Knife Falling FreeImages

“In the middle of every difficulty lies an opportunity.”  ~Albert Einstein

It was a painful week for bullish investors in the stock market as evidenced by the -1,018 point drop in the Dow Jones Industrial Average, equivalent to approximately a -6% decline. The S&P 500 index did not fare any better, and the loss for the tech-heavy NASDAQ index was down closer to -7% for the week.

The media is attributing much of the short-term weakness to a triple Chinese whammy of factors: 1) Currency devaluation of the Yuan; 2) Weaker Chinese manufacturing data registering in at the lowest level in over six years; and 3) A collapsing Chinese stock market.

As the second largest economy on the planet, developments in China should not be ignored, however these dynamics should be put in the proper context. With respect to China’s currency devaluation, Scott Grannis at Calafia Beach Pundit puts the foreign exchange developments in proper perspective. If you consider the devaluation of the Yuan by -4%, this change only reverses a small fraction of the Chinese currency appreciation that has taken place over the last decade (see chart below). Grannis rightfully points out the -25% collapse in the value of the euro relative to the U.S. dollar is much more significant than the minor move in the Yuan.  Moreover, although the move by the People’s Bank of China (PBOC) makes America’s exports to China less cost competitive, this move by Chinese bankers is designed to address exactly what investors are majorly concern about – slowing growth in Asia.

Yuan vs Dollar 2015

Although the weak Chinese manufacturing data is disconcerting, this data is nothing new – the same manufacturing data has been very choppy over the last four years. On the last China issue relating to its stock market, investors should be reminded that despite the massive decline in the Shanghai Composite, the index is still up by more than +50% versus a year ago (see chart below)

Shanghai Composite 8-2015

Fear the Falling Knife?

Given the fresh carnage in the U.S. and foreign markets, is now the time for investors to attempt to catch a falling knife? Catching knives for a living can be a dangerous profession, and many investors – professionals and amateurs alike – have lost financial fingers and blood by attempting to prematurely purchase plummeting securities. Rather than trying to time the market, which is nearly impossible to do consistently, it’s more important to have a disciplined, unemotional investing framework in place.

Hall of Fame investor Peter Lynch sarcastically highlighted the difficulty in timing the market, “I can’t recall ever once having seen the name of a market timer on Forbes‘ annual list of the richest people in the world. If it were truly possible to predict corrections, you’d think somebody would have made billions by doing it.”

Readers of my blog, Investing Caffeine understand I am a bottom-up investor when it comes to individual security selection with the help of our proprietary S.H.G.R. model, but those individual investment decisions are made within Sidoxia’s broader, four-pronged macro framework (see also Don’t be a Fool, Follow the Stool). As a reminder, driving our global views are the following four factors: a) Profits; b) Interest rates; c) Sentiment; and Valuations. Currently, two of the four indicators are flashing green (Interest rates and Sentiment), and the other two are neutral (Profits and Valuations).

  • Profits (Neutral): Profits are at record highs, but a strong dollar, weak energy sector, and sluggish growth internationally have slowed the trajectory of earnings.
  • Valuation (Neutral): At an overall P/E of about 18x’s profits for the S&P 500, current valuations are near historical averages. For CAPE investors who have missed the tripling in stock prices, you can reference prior discussions (see CAPE Smells Like BS). I could make the case that stocks are very attractive with a 6% earnings yield (inverse P/E ratio) compared to a 2% 10—Year Treasury bond, but I’ll take off my rose-colored glasses.
  • Interest Rates (Positive): Rates are at unambiguously low levels, which, all else equal, is a clear-cut positive for all cash generating asset classes, including stocks. With an unmistakably “dovish” Federal Reserve in place, whether the 0.25% interest rate hike comes next month, or next year will have little bearing on the current shape of the yield curve. Chairman Yellen has made it clear the trajectory of rate increases will be very gradual, so it will take a major shift in economic trends to move this factor into Neutral or Negative territory.
  • Sentiment (Positive): Following the investment herd can be very dangerous for your financial health. We saw that in spades during the late-1990s in the technology industry and also during the mid-2000s in the housing sector. As Warren Buffett says, it is best to “buy fear and sell greed” – last week we saw a lot of fear.

In addition to the immense outflows out of stock funds (see also Great Rotation) , panic was clearly evident in the market last week as shown by the Volatility Index (VIX), a.k.a., the “Fear Gauge.” In general, volatility over the last five years has been on a declining trend, however every 6-12 months, some macro concern inevitably rears its ugly head and volatility spikes higher. With the VIX exploding higher by an amazing +118% last week to a level of 28.03, it is proof positive how quickly sentiment can change in the stock market.

Not much in the investing world works exactly like science, but buying stocks during previous fear spikes, when the VIX level exceeds 20, has been a very lucrative strategy. As you can see from the chart below, there have been numerous occasions over the last five years when the over-20 level has been breached, which has coincided with temporary stock declines in the range of -8%  to -22%. However, had you held onto stocks, without adding to them, you would have earned an +84% return (excluding dividends) in the S&P 500 index. Absent the 2011 period, when investors were simultaneously digesting a debt downgrade, deep European recession, and domestic political fireworks surrounding a debt ceiling, these periods of elevated volatility have been relatively short-lived.

Whether this will be the absolute best time to buy stocks is tough to say. Stocks are falling like knives, and in many instances prices have been sliced by more than -10%, -20%, or -30%. It’s time to compile your shopping list, because valuations in many areas are becoming more compelling and eventually gravity will run its full course. That’s when your strategy needs to shift from avoiding the falling knives to finding the bouncing tennis balls…excuse me while I grab my tennis racket.

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

August 22, 2015 at 7:40 pm Leave a comment

U.S. Takes Breather in Windy Economic Race

Competition

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

Looking back, in the race for financial dominance, the U.S. economy sprinted out to a relatively quick recovery from the 2008-2009 financial crisis injury compared to its other global competitors. The ultra-loose monetary policies implemented by the Federal Reserve (i.e., zero percent Fed Funds rate, quantitative easing – QE, Operation Twist, etc.) and the associated weakening in the value of the U.S. dollar served as tailwinds for growth. The low interest rate byproduct created cheaper borrowing costs for consumers and businesses alike for things like mortgages, refinancings, stock buybacks, and infrastructure investments. The cheaper U.S. dollar also helped domestically based, multinational companies sell their goods abroad at more attractive prices.

However, those positive dynamics have now changed. With the end of stimulative bond buying (QE) and threats of imminent interest rate hikes coming from the Federal Reserve and its Chairwoman Janet Yellen, the tailwinds for the U.S. economy have now transitioned into headwinds. The measly +0.2% growth recently reported in the 1st quarter – Gross Domestic Product (GDP) results are evidence of an economy currently sucking wind (see chart below).

As it relates to the stock market, the Dow Jones crept up +0.4% for the month of April to 17,841, and is essentially flat for all of 2015. Small Cap stocks in the Russell 2000® Index (companies with an average value of $2 billion – IWM), pulled a muscle in April as shown by the index’s -2.6% tumble. A slight increase in the yield of the 10-Year Treasury to 2.05% caused bond prices to contract a modest -0.5% for the month.

Beyond a strengthening dollar and threats of rising interest rates, debilitating port strikes on the West Coast and abnormally cold weather especially back east also contributed to weak trade data and sub par economic performance. Although a drop in oil and gasoline prices should ultimately be stimulative for broader consumer and industrial activity, the immediate negative impacts of job losses and declining drilling in the energy sector added to the drag on 1st quarter GDP results.

Source: Scott Grannis (Calafia Beach Pundit)

Source: Scott Grannis (Calafia Beach Pundit)

The good news is that many of the previously mentioned negative factors are temporary in nature and should self-correct themselves as we enter the 2nd quarter. One positive aspect to our country’s strong currency is cheaper imports. So, as the U.S. recovers from its temporary currency cramps, foreigners will continue pumping out cheap exports to Americans for purchase. If this import phenomenon lasts, these lower priced goods, coupled with discounted oil prices, should keep a lid on broader inflation. The benefit of lower inflation means the Federal Reserve is more likely to postpone slamming the brakes on the economy with interest rate hikes. The decision of when to lift interest rates will ultimately be data-dependent. Due to the lousy 1st quarter numbers, it will probably take some time for economic momentum to reemerge, and therefore the Fed is unlikely to raise interest rates until September, at the earliest.

The great thing about financial markets and economics is many of these swirling monetary winds eventually self-correct themselves. And during April, we saw these self-correcting mechanisms up close and in person. For example, from March 2014 to March 2015 the U.S. dollar appreciated in value by about +25% versus the euro currency (FXE). However, from the peak exchange rate seen this March, the value of the U.S. dollar declined by about -7%. The same self-correcting principle applies to the oil market. From the highs reached in mid-2014 at about $108 per barrel, crude oil prices plunged by about -60% to a low of $42 per barrel in March. Since then, oil prices have recovered significantly by spiking over +40% to about $60 per barrel today.

Competitors Narrow the Gap with the U.S.

Source: Dr. Ed Yardeni

Source: Dr. Ed Yardeni

As I’ve written many times in the past, one of the ultimate arbiters of stock price performance is the long-term direction of corporate profits. And as you can see from the chart above, profits have hit a bump in the road after a fairly uninterrupted progression over the last six years. The decline is nowhere near the collapse of 2008-2009, but given the rise in stock prices, investors should be prepared for the bears and skeptics to become more vocal.

And while the U.S. has struggled a bit, European and Asian shares have advanced significantly. To that point, Asian equities (FXI) spiked an impressive +16% in April (see chart below) and European stocks jumped a respectable +4% (VGK) over the same timeframe.

Source: Dr. Ed's Blog

Source: Dr. Ed’s Blog

Bolstering the advance in China’s shares has been the Chinese central bank’s move to cut the amount of cash that banks must hold as reserves (“reserve requirements”). The action by the central bank is designed to spur bank lending and combat slowing growth in the world’s second largest economy. The Europeans are not sitting idly on their hands either. European central bankers have taken a cheat sheet page from the U.S. playbook and have introduced their own form of trillion dollar+ quantitative easing (see Draghi Provides Beer Goggles) in hopes of jump starting the European economy. Given the moves, how is the European business activity picture looking? Well, based on the Eurozone Purchasing Managers’ Index (PMI), you can see from the chart below that the region is finally growing (readings > 50 indicate expansion).

Source: Dr. Ed's Blog

Source: Dr. Ed’s Blog

The economic winds in the global race for growth have been swirling in all directions, and due to temporary headwinds, the dominating lead of the U.S. has narrowed. Fortunately for long-term investors, they understand investing is a marathon and not a sprint. Holding a globally balanced and diversified portfolio will help you maintain the stamina required for these volatile and windy economic times.

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), FXI, VGK, and a short position in FXE, but at the time of publishing, SCM had no direct position in IWM, 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.

May 2, 2015 at 8:09 am Leave a comment

Goldilocks Meets the Fragile 5 and the 3 Bears

This article is an excerpt from a previously released Sidoxia Capital Management complimentary newsletter (February 3, 2014). Subscribe on the right side of the page for the complete text. 

The porridge for stock market investors was hot in 2013, with the S&P 500 index skyrocketing +30%, while the porridge for bond investors was too cold, losing -4% last year (AGG). Like Goldilocks, investors are waiting to get more aggressive with their investment portfolios once everything feels “just right.” Dragging one’s feet too long is not the right strategy. Counterintuitively, and as I pointed out in “Here Comes the Dumb Money,” the investing masses have been very bashful in committing large sums of money out of cash/bonds into stocks, despite the Herculean returns experienced in the stock market over the last five years.

Once the party begins to get crowded is the period you should plan your exit. As experienced investors know, when the porridge, chair, and bed feel just right, is usually around the time the unhappy bears arrive. The same principle applies to the investing. In the late 1990s (i.e., technology bubble) and in the mid-2000s (i.e., housing bubble) everyone binged on tech stocks and McMansions with the help of loose credit. Well, we all know how those stories ended…the bears eventually arrived and left a bunch of carnage after tearing apart investors.

Fragile 5 Bed Too Hard

After enjoying some nice porridge at a perfect temperature in 2013, Goldilocks and investors are now searching for a comfortable bed. The recent volatility in the emerging markets has caused some lost sleep for investors. At the center of this sleeplessness are the financially stressed countries of Argentina and the so-called “Fragile Five” (Brazil, India, Indonesia, Turkey and South Africa) – still not sure why they don’t combine to call the “Sick Six” (see chart below).

Source: Financial Times

Why are these countries faced with the dilemma of watching their currencies plummet in value? One cannot overly generalize for each country, but these dysfunctional countries share a combination of factors, including excessive external debt (loans denominated in U.S. dollars), large current account deficits (trade deficits), and small or shrinking foreign currency reserves. This explanation may sound like a bunch of economic mumbo-jumbo, but at a basic level, all this means is these deadbeat countries are having difficulty paying their lenders and trading partners back with weaker currencies and depleted foreign currency reserves.

Many pundits, TV commentators, and bloggers like to paint a simplistic picture of the current situation by solely blaming the Federal Reserve’s tapering (reduction) of monetary stimulus as the main reason for the recent emerging markets sell-off. It’s true that yield chasing investors hunted for higher returns in in emerging market bonds, since U.S. interest rates have bounced around near record lows. But the fact of the matter is that many of these debt-laden countries were already financially irresponsible basket cases. What’s more, these emerging market currencies were dropping in value even before the Federal Reserve implemented their stimulative zero interest rate and quantitative easing policies. Slowing growth in China and other developed countries has made the situation more abysmal because weaker commodity prices negatively impact the core economic engines of these countries.

Argentina’s Adversity

In reviewing the struggles of some emerging markets, let’s take a closer look at Argentina, which has seen its currency (peso) decline for years due to imprudent and inflationary actions taken by their government and central bank. More specifically, Argentina tried to maintain a synchronized peg of their peso with the U.S. dollar by manipulating its foreign currency rate (i.e., Argentina propped up their currency by selling U.S. dollars and buying Argentinean pesos). That worked for a little while, but now that their foreign currency reserves are down -45% from their 2011 peak (Source: Scott Grannis), Argentina can no longer realistically and sustainably purchase pesos. Investors and hedge funds have figured this out and as a result put a bulls-eye on the South American country’s currency by selling aggressively.

Furthermore, Argentina’s central bank has made a bad situation worse by launching the money printing presses. Artificially printing additional money may help in paying off excessive debts, but the consequence of this policy is a rampant case of inflation, which now appears to be running at a crippling 25-30% annual pace. Since the beginning of last year, pesos in the black market are worth about -50% less relative to the U.S. dollar. This is a scary developing trend, but Argentina is no stranger to currency problems. In fact, during 2002 the value of the Argentina peso declined by -75% almost overnight compared to the dollar.

Each country has unique nuances regarding their specific financial currency pickles, but at the core, each of these countries share a mixture of these debt, deficit, and currency reserve problems. As I have stated numerous times in the past, money ultimately moves to the place(s) it is treated best, and right now that includes the United States. In the short-run, this state of affairs has strengthened the value of the U.S. dollar and increased the appetite for U.S. Treasury bonds, thereby pushing up our bond prices and lowering our longer-term interest rates.

Their Cold is Our Warm

Overall, besides the benefits of lower U.S. interest rates, weaker foreign currencies lead to a stronger dollar, and a stronger U.S. currency means greater purchasing power for Americans. A stronger dollar may not support our exports of goods and services (i.e., exports become more expensive) to our trading partners, however a healthy dollar also means individuals can buy imported goods at cheaper prices. In other words, a strong dollar should help control inflation on imported goods like oil, gasoline, food, cars, technology, etc.

While emerging markets have cooled off fairly quickly, the temperature of our economic porridge in the U.S. has been quite nice. Most recently, the broadest barometer of economic growth (Real GDP) showed a healthy +3.2% acceleration in the 4th quarter to a record of approximately $16 trillion (see chart below).

Source: Crossing Wall Street

Moreover, corporate profits continue to come in at decent, record-setting levels and employment trends remain healthy as well. Although job numbers have been volatile in recent weeks and discouraged workers have shrunk the overall labor pool, nevertheless the unemployment rate hit a respectable 6.7% level last month and the positive initial jobless claims trend remains at a healthy level (see chart below).

Source: Bespoke

Skeptics of the economy and stock market assert the Fed’s continued retrenchment from quantitative easing will only exacerbate the recent volatility experienced in emerging market currencies and ultimately lead to a crash. If history is any guide, the growl from this emerging market bear may be worse than the bite. The last broad-based, major currency crisis occurred in Asia during 1997-1998, yet the S&P 500 was up +31% in 1997 and +27% in 1998. If history serves as a guide, the past may prove to be a profitable prologue. So rather than running and screaming in panic from the three bears, investors still have some time to enjoy the nice warm porridge and take a nap. The Goldilocks economy and stock market won’t last forever though, so once the masses are dying to jump in the comfy investment bed, then that will be the time to run for the hills and leave the latecomers to deal with the bears.

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 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.

February 3, 2014 at 11:56 am Leave a comment

Aaaaaaaah: Turbulence or Nosedive?

Airplane Landing

We’ve all been there on that rocky plane ride…clammy hands, heart beating rapidly, teeth clenched, body frozen, while firmly bracing the armrests with both appendages. The sky outside is dark and the interior fuselage rattles incessantly until….whhhhhssssshhh. Another quick jerking moment of turbulence has once again sucked the air out of your lungs and the blood from your heart. The rational part of your brain tries to assure you that this is normal choppy weather and will shortly transition to calm blue skies. The irrational and emotional, part of our brains  (see Lizard Brain) tells us the treacherous plane ride is on the cusp of plummeting into a nosedive with passengers’ last gasps saved for blood curdling screams before the inevitable fireball crash.

Well, we’re now beginning to experience some small turbulence in the financial markets, and at the center of the storm is a collapsing Argentinean peso and a perceived slowing in China. In the case of Argentina, there has been a century-long history of financial defaults and mismanagement (see great Scott Grannis overview). Currently, the Argentinean government has been painted into a corner due to the depletion of its foreign currency reserves and financial mismanagement, as evidenced by an inflation rate hitting a whopping 25% rate.

On the other hand, China has created its own set of worries in investors’ minds.  The flash Markit/HSBC Purchasing Managers’ Index (PMI) dropped to a level of 49.6 in January from 50.50 in December, which has investors concerned of a market crash. Adding fuel to the fear fire, Chinese government officials and banks have been trying to reverse excesses encountered in the country’s risky shadow banking system. While the size of Argentina’s economy may not be a drop in the bucket, the ultimate direction of the Chinese economy, which is almost 20x’s the size of Argentina’s, should be much more important to global investors.

At the end of the day, most of these mini-panics or crises (turbulence) are healthy for the overall financial system, as they create discipline and will eventually change irresponsible government behaviors. While Argentinean and Chinese issues dominate today’s headlines, these matters are not a whole lot different than what we have read about Greece, Ireland, Italy, Spain, Portugal, Cyprus, Turkey, and other negligent countries. As I’ve stated before, money goes where it’s treated best, and the stock, bond, and currency vigilantes ensure that this is the case by selling the assets associated with deadbeat countries. Price declines eventually catch the attention of politicians (remember the TARP vote failure of 2008?).

Is This the Beginning of the Crash?!

What goes up, must come down…right? That is the pervading sentiment I continually bump into when I speak to people on the street. Strategist Ed Yardeni did a great job of visually capturing the last six years of the stock market (below), which highlights the most recent bear market and subsequent major corrections. Noticeably absent in 2013 is any major decline. So, while many investors have been bracing for a major crash over the last five years, that scenario hasn’t happened yet. The S&P chart shows we appear to be due for a more painful blue (or red) period of decline in the not-too-distant future, but that is not necessarily the case. One would need only to thumb through the history books from 1990-1997 to see that investors lived through massive gains while avoiding any -10% correction – stocks skyrocketed +233% in 2,553 days. I’m not calling for that scenario, but I am just pointing out we don’t necessarily always live through -10% corrections annually.  

Source: Dr. Ed's Blog

Source: Dr. Ed’s Blog

Even though we’ve begun to experience some turbulence after flying high in 2013, one should not panic. You may be better off watching the end of the airline movie before putting your head in between your legs in preparation for a nosedive.

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.

January 25, 2014 at 3:56 pm 2 comments

Dealing Currency Drug to Export Addicts

Source: Photobucket

With the first phase of the post-financial crisis global economic bounce largely behind us, growth is becoming scarcer and countries are becoming more desperate – especially in developed countries with challenged exports and high unemployment. The United States, like other expansion challenged countries, fits this bill and is doing everything in its power to stem the tide by blasting foreigners’ currency policies in hopes of stimulating exports.

Political Hot Potato

The global race to devalue currencies in many ways is like a drug addict doing whatever it can to gain a short-term high. Sadly, the euphoric short-term benefit form lower exchange rates will be fleeting. Regardless, Ben Bernanke, the Chairman of the Federal Reserve, has openly indicated his willingness to become the economy’s drug dealer and “provide additional accommodation” in the form of quantitative easing part two (QE2).

Unfortunately, there is no long-term free lunch in global economics. The consequences of manipulating (depressing) exchange rates can lead to short-term artificial export growth, but eventually results convert to unwanted inflation. China too is like a crack dealer selling cheap imports as a drug to addicted buyers all over the world – ourselves included. We all love the $2.99 t-shirts and $5.99 toys made in China that we purchase at Wal-Mart (WMT), but don’t consciously realize the indirect cost of these cheap goods – primarily the export of manufacturing jobs overseas.

Global Political Pressure Cooker

Congressional mid-term elections are a mere few weeks away, but a sluggish global economic recovery is creating a global political pressure cooker. While domestic politicians worry about whining voters screaming about unemployment and lack of job availability, politicians in China still worry about social unrest developing from a billion job-starved rural farmers and citizens. The Tiananmen Square protests of 1989 are still fresh in the minds of Chinese officials and the government is doing everything in its power to keep the restless natives content. In fact, Premier Wen Jiabao believes a free-floating U.S.-China currency exchange rate would “bring disaster to China and the world.”

While China continues to enjoy near double-digit percentage economic growth, other global players are not sitting idly. Like every country, others would also like to crank out exports and fill their factories with workers as well.

The latest high profile devaluation effort has come from Japan. The Japanese Prime Minister post has become a non-stop revolving door and their central bank has become desperate, like ours, by nudging its target interest rate to zero. In addition, the Japanese have been aggressively selling currency in the open market in hopes of lowering the value of the Yen. Japan hasn’t stopped there. The Bank of Japan recently announced a plan to pump the equivalent of approximately $60 billion into the economy by buying not only government bonds but also short-term debt and securitized loans from banks and corporations.

Europe is not sitting around sucking its thumb either. The ECB (European Central Bank) is scooping up some of the toxic bonds from its most debt-laden member countries. Stay tuned for future initiatives if European growth doesn’t progress as optimistically planned.

Dealing with Angry Parents

When it comes to the United States, the Obama administration campaigned on “change,” and the near 10% unemployment rate wasn’t the type of change many voters were hoping for. The Federal Reserve is supposed to be “independent,” but the institution does not live in a vacuum. The Fed in many ways is like a grown adult living away from home, but regrettably Bernanke and the Fed periodically get called by into Congress (the parents) to receive a verbal scolding for not following a policy loose enough to create jobs. Technically the Fed is supposed to be living on its own, able to maintain its independence, but sadly a constant barrage of political criticism has leaked into the Fed’s decision making process and Bernanke appears to be willing to entertain any extreme monetary measure regardless of the potential negative impact on long-term price stability.

Just over the last four months, as the dollar index has weakened over 10%, we have witnessed the CRB Index (commodities proxy) increase over 10% and crude oil increase about 10% too.  

In the end, artificially manipulating currencies in hopes of raising economic activity may result in a short-term adrenaline boost in export orders, but lasting benefits will not be felt because printing money will not ultimately create jobs. Any successful devaluation in currency rates will eventually be offset by price changes (inflation).  Finance ministers and central bankers from 187 countries all over the world are now meeting in Washington at the annual International Monetary Fund (IMF) meeting. We all want to witness a sustained, coordinated global economic recovery, but a never-ending, unanimous quest for devaluation nirvana will only lead to export addicts ruining the party for everyone.

See also Arbitrage Vigilantes

Wade W. Slome, CFA, CFP®  

Plan. Invest. Prosper.  

www.Sidoxia.com

DISCLOSURE: Sidoxia Capital Management (SCM) and some of its clients own certain exchange traded funds and WMT, 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.

October 8, 2010 at 2:48 am 2 comments

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