Posts tagged ‘debt ceiling’

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

Out of the Woods?

Forest Free Image

In the middle of the 24/7 news cycle, many investors get distracted by the headline du jour, much like a baby gets distracted by a shiny new object. While investor moods have been swinging violently back and forth, October’s performance has bounced back like a flying tennis ball. So far, the reversal in the S&P 500 performance has more than erased the -9% correction occurring in August and September. Could we finally be out of the woods, or will geopolitics and economic factors scare investors through Halloween and year-end?

Given recent catapulting stock prices, investor amnesia has erased the shear horror experienced over the last few months – this is nothing new for emotional stock market participants. As I wrote in Controlling the Lizard Brain, human brains have evolved the almond-shaped tissue in our brains (amygdala) that controlled our ancestors’ urge to flee ferocious lions. Today the urge is to flee scary geopolitical and economic headlines.

I expanded on the idea here:

“When the brain in functioning properly, the prefrontal cortex (the front part of the brain in charge of reasoning) is actively communicating with the amygdala. Sadly, for many people, and investors, the emotional response from the amygdala dominates the rational reasoning portion of the prefrontal cortex. The best investors and traders have developed the ability of separating emotions from rational decision making, by keeping the amygdala in check.”

 

Evidence of lizard brains fear for flight happened just two months ago when the so-called “Fear Gauge” (VIX – Volatility Index) hit a stratospherically frightening level of 53 (see chart below), reached only once over the last few decades (2008-09 Financial Crisis).

Vix 10-23-15

Just as quickly as slowing China growth and a potential Fed interest rate hike caused investors to crawl underneath their desks during August (down –11% in four days), while biting their fingernails, investors have now sprung outside to the warm sunshine. The end result has been an impressive, mirror-like +11% increase in stock prices (S&P 500) over the last 18 trading days.

Has anything really changed over the last few weeks? Probably not. Economists, strategists, analysts, and other faux-soothsayers get paid millions of dollars in a fruitless attempt to explain day-to-day (or hour-by-hour) volatility in the stock markets. One Nobel Prize winner, Paul Samuelson, understood the random nature of stock prices when he observed, “The stock market has forecast nine of the last five recessions.” The pundits are no better at consistently forecasting stock prices.

As I have reiterated many times before, the vast majority of the pundits do not manage money professionally – the only people you should be paying attention to are successful long-term investors. Even listening to veteran professional investors can be dangerous because there is often such a wide dispersion of opinions based on varying time horizons, strategies, and risk tolerances.

Skepticism remains rampant regarding the sustainability of the bull market as demonstrated by the -$100 billion+ pulled out of domestic equity funds during 2015 (Source: ICI). The Volatility Index (VIX) shows us the low-hanging fruit of pessimism has been picked with the metric down -73% from August. With legislative debt ceiling and sequestration debates ahead in the coming weeks, we could hit some more choppy waters. Short-term volatility may resurrect itself, but the economy keeps chugging along, interest rates remain near all-time lows, and stock valuations, broadly speaking, remain reasonable. Investors may not be out of the woods yet, but one thing remains certain…an ever-changing stream of fearful headlines are likely to continue flooding in, which means we must all keep our lizard brains in check.

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.

 

October 24, 2015 at 3:15 pm Leave a comment

Earnings Coma: Digesting the Gains

Eating Cake

Over the last five years, the stock market has been an all-you-can-eat buffet of gains for investors.  It has been almost two years since the spring of 2012 when the Arab Spring and potential exit of Greece from the EU caused a -10% correction in the S&P 500 index (see Series of Unfortunate Events). Indigestion of this 10% variety is typically on the menu and ordered at least once per year. With stocks up about +50% over the last two years, performance has tasted sweet. But even binging on your favorite entrée or dessert will eventually lead to a food coma. At that bloated point, a digestion phase is required before another meal of gains can be consumed.

So far investors haven’t been compelled to expel their meals quite yet, but it’s clear to me the rate of appreciation is not sustainable over the long-term. Could the incredible returns continue in the short-run during 2014? Certainly. As I’ve written before, the masses remain skeptical of the recovery/rally and any definitive acceleration in economic growth could spark the powder-keg of skeptics to come join the party (see Here Comes the Dumb Money). If and when that happens, I will be gladly there to systematically ring the register of profits I’ve consumed, by locking in gains and reallocating to less loved areas (i.e., go on a stock diet).

Q4 Appetizers Here, Main Course Not Yet

The 4th quarter earnings appetizers have been served, evidenced by the 50-odd S&P 500 corporations that have reported their financial results, and thus far some Tums may be needed to relieve some heartburn. Although about half of those companies reporting have beat Wall Street estimates, 37% of the group have missed expectations, according to Thomson Reuters. It’s still early in the earnings season, but as of now, the ratio of companies beating Wall Street forecasts is below historical averages.

We can put a little meat on the earnings bone by highlighting the disappointing profit warnings and lackluster results from bellwether companies like United Parcel Service (UPS), Intel Corp (INTC), General Electric (GE), CSX Corp (CSX), and Royal Dutch Shell (RDSA), to name a few. Is it time to panic and run for the restroom (or exits)? Probably not.  About 90% of the S&P 500 companies still need to give their Q4 profitability state of the union. What’s more, another reason to not throw in the white towel yet is the global economic environment looks significantly better in areas like Europe, China, and other emerging markets.

Worth remembering, the stock market is a discounting mechanism. The market pays much more attention to the future versus the past. So, even if the early earnings read doesn’t look so great now, the fact that the S&P 500 is down less than -1% off of its all-time, record highs may be an indication of better things ahead.

Recipe for a Pullback?

If earnings continue to drag on in a disappointing fashion, and political brinkmanship materializes surrounding the debt ceiling, it could easily be enough to spark some profit-taking in stocks. While Sidoxia is finding no shortage of opportunities, it has become apparent some speculative pockets of euphoria have developed. Areas like social media and biotech are ripe for corrections.

While the gains over the last few years have been tantalizing, investors must be reminded to not overindulge. Carefully selecting stocks to chew and digest is a better strategy than recklessly binging on everything in the buffet line. There are plenty of healthy areas of the market to choose from, so it’s important to be discriminating…or your portfolio could end up in a coma.

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  UPS, INTC, GE, CSX, RDSA, 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.

January 18, 2014 at 12:51 pm Leave a comment

Sitting on the Sidelines: Fear & Selective Memory

Sidelines.sxc

Fear is a motivating (or demotivating) emotion that can force individuals into suboptimal actions.  The two main crashes of the 2000s (technology & housing bubbles) coupled with the mini-crises (e.g., flash crash, European crisis, debt ceiling, sequestration, fiscal cliff, etc.) have scared millions of investors and trillions of dollars to sit on the sidelines. Financial paralysis may be great in the short-run for bruised psyches and egos, but for the passive onlookers, the damage to retirement accounts can be crippling.

Selective memory is a great coping mechanism for those investors sitting on the sidelines as well. Purposely forgetting your wallet at a group dinner may be beneficial in the near-term, but repeated incidents will result in lost friends over the long-run. Similarly, most gamblers frequenting casinos tend to pound their chests when bragging about their wins, however they tend to conveniently forget about all the losses.  These same reality avoidance principles apply to investing.

A recent piece written by CEO Bill Koehler at Tower Wealth Managers, entitled The Fear Bubble highlights a survey conducted by Franklin Templeton. In the study, investors were asked how the stock market performed in 2009-2012. As you can see from the chart below, perception is the polar opposite of reality (actual gains far exceeded perceived losses):

Source: Franklin Templeton via Tower Wealth Managers

Source: Franklin Templeton via Tower Wealth Managers

With so many investors sitting on the sidelines in cash or concentrated in low-yielding bonds and gold, I suppose the results shouldn’t be too surprising. Once again, selective memory serves as a wonderful tool to bury the regrets of missing out on a financial market recovery of a lifetime.

Humans also have a predisposition to seek out people who share similar views, even though accumulating different viewpoints ultimately leads to better decisions. Morgan Housel at The Motley Fool just wrote an article, Putting a Gap Between You and Stupid,  explaining how individuals should seek out others who can help protect them from harmful biases. A scientific study referenced in the article showed how the functioning of biased brains literally shuts down:

“During the 2004 presidential election, psychologist Drew Westen of Emory University and his colleagues studied the brains of 15 “committed” Democrats and 15 “committed” Republicans with an MRI scanner. Each group was shown a collection of contradictory statements made by George W. Bush and John Kerry. Not surprisingly, the partisans were quick to call out contradictions made by the opposing party, and made up all kinds of justifications to rationalize quotes made by their own side’s candidate. But here’s what’s scary: The participants weren’t just being stubborn. Westen found that areas of their brains that control reasoning and logic virtually shut down when confronted with a conflicting view of their preferred candidate.”

 

Rather than letting emotions rule the day, the proper approach is to stick to unbiased numbers like valuations, yields, fees, and volatility. If you continually make mistakes; you aren’t disciplined enough; or you don’t like investing; then find a trusted advisor who uses an objective financial approach.  Opportunistically taking advantage of volatility, instead of knee-jerk reactions is the preferred approach. For those people sitting on the sidelines and using selective memory, you may feel better now, but you will eventually have to get in the game, if you don’t want to lose the retirement account game.

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.

October 26, 2013 at 7:41 pm Leave a comment

Damned if You Do, and More Damned if You Don’t

Source: Photobucket

Source: Photobucket

In the stock market you are damned if you do, and more damned if you don’t.

There are a million reasons why the market should or can go down, and the press, media, and bears come out with creative explanations every day. The “Flash Crash,” debt ceiling debate, credit downgrades, elections, and fiscal cliff were all credible events supposed to permanently crater the market. Now we have higher taxes (capital gains, income, and payroll), sequester spending cuts, and a nagging recession in Europe. What’s more, the pessimists point to the unsustainable nature of elevated corporate profit margins, and use the ludicrous Robert Shiller 10-year Price-Earnings ratio as evidence of an expensive market (see also Foggy Rearview Mirror). If an apple sold for $10 ten days ago and $0.50 today, would you say, I am not buying an apple today because the 10-day average price is too high? If you followed Robert Shiller’s thinking, this logic would make sense.

Despite the barrage of daily concerns and excuses, the market continues to set new record highs and the S&P 500 is up by more than +130% since the 2009 lows – just a tad higher than the returns earned on cash, gold, and bonds (please note sarcasm). Cash has trickled into equities for the first few months of 2013 after years of outflows, but average investors have only moved from fear to skepticism (see also Investing with the Sentiment Pendulum  ).  With cash and bonds earning next to nothing; gold underperforming for years; and inflationary pressures eroding long-term purchasing power, the vice is only squeezing tighter on the worrywarts.

Are there legitimate reasons to worry? Certainly, and the opportunities are not what they used to be a few years ago (see also Missing the Pre-Party). Although an endangered species, long-term investors understand backwards looking economic news is useless. Or as Peter Lynch wisely stated, “If you spend 13 minutes a year on economics, you’ve wasted 10 minutes.” The fact remains that the market is up 70% of the time, on an annual basis, and has been a great place to beat inflation over time. It’s a tempting endeavor to avoid the down markets that occur 30% of the time, but those who try to time the market fail miserably over the long-run (see also Market Timing Treadmill).

Equity investors would be better served by looking at their investment portfolios like real estate. Homeowners implicitly know the value of their home changes on a daily basis, but there are no accurate, real-time quotes to reference your home value on a minute by minute basis, as you can with stocks. Most property owners know that real estate is a cyclical asset class that is not impacted by daily headlines, and if purchased at a reasonable price, will generally go up in value over many years. Unfortunately, for many average investors, equity portfolios are treated more like gambling bets in Vegas, and get continually traded based on gut instincts.

Volatility is at six-year lows, and investors are getting less uncomfortable with owning stocks. Although everybody and their mother has been waiting for a pullback (myself included), don’t get too myopically focused. For the vast majority of investors, who should have more than a ten year time horizon, you should understand that volatility is normal and recessions will cause stocks to gown significantly, twice every ten years on average. If you are a long-term investor, like you should be, and you understand these dynamics, then you will also understand that you will be more damned if you don’t invest in equities as part of a diversified portfolio.

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.

March 17, 2013 at 4:47 pm 1 comment

Sidoxia Debuts Video & Goes to the Movies

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Article is an excerpt from previously released Sidoxia Capital Management’s complementary February 1, 2013 newsletter. Subscribe on right side of page.

The red carpet was rolled out for the stock market in January with the Dow Jones Industrial Average rising +5.8% and the S&P 500 index up an equally impressive +5.0% (a little higher rate than the 0.0001% being earned in bank accounts). Movie stars are also strutting their stuff down the red carpet this time of the year as they collect shiny statues at ritzy award shows like the Golden Globes and Oscars. Given the vast volumes of honors bestowed, we thought what better time to put on our tuxes and create our own 2013 nominations for the economy and financial markets. If you are unhappy with our selections, you are welcome to cast your own votes in the comments section below.

By award category, here are Sidoxia’s 2013 selections: 

Best Drama (Government Shutdown & Debt Ceiling): Washington D.C. has provided no shortage of drama, and the upcoming blockbusters of Shutdown & Debt Ceiling are worthy of its Best Drama nomination. If Congressional Democrats and Republicans don’t vote in favor of a new “Continuing Resolution” by March 27th, then our United States government will come to a grinding halt. At issue is Republican’s desire for additional government spending cuts to lower our deficit, which is likely to exceed $1 trillion for the fifth consecutive year. If you like more heart pumping drama, the Senate has just passed a Debt Ceiling extension through May 18th…mark those calendars! 

Best Horror Film (Sequestration): Most people have already seen the scary prequel, The Fiscal Cliff, but the sequel Sequestration deserves the horror film honors of 2013. This upcoming blood-filled movie about broad, automatic, across-the-board government cost cuts will make any casual movie-watcher scream in terror. The $1.2 trillion in spending cuts (over 10 years) are so gory, many viewers may voluntarily leave the theater early. If you are waiting for the release, Sequestration is coming to a theater near you on March 1st, unless Congress, in an unlikely scenario, cancels the launch.

Best Director (Ben Bernanke): Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke’s film, entitled, The U.S. Economy, had a massive budget of about $16 trillion dollars, based on estimates of last year’s GDP (Gross Domestic Product). Nevertheless, Bernanke managed to do whatever it took (including trillions of dollars in bond buying) to prevent the economic movie studio from collapsing into bankruptcy. While many movie-goers were critical of his directorial debut, inflation has remained subdued thus far, and he has promised to continue his stimulative monetary policies (i.e., keep interest rates low) until the national unemployment rate falls below 6.5% or inflation rises above 2.5%. 

Best Foreign Film (China): Americans are not the only people who produce movies globally. A certain country with a population of nearly 1.4 billion people also makes movies too…China. In the most recently completed 4th quarter, China’s economy experienced blockbuster growth in the form of +7.9% GDP expansion. This was the fastest pace achieved by China in two whole years. To put this metric into perspective, compare China’s heroic growth to the bomb created by the U.S. economy, which registered a disappointing -0.1% contraction at the economic box office. China’s popularity should bring in business all around the globe.  

Best Special Effects (Japan): After coming out with a series of continuous flops, Japan recently launched some fresh new special effects in the form of a $116 billion emergency stimulus package. The country also has plans to superficially enhance the visual portrayal of its economy by implementing its own faux money-printing program modeled after our country’s quantitative easing actions (i.e., the Federal Reserve stimulus). As a result of these initiatives, the Japanese Nikkei index – their equivalent of our Dow Jones Industrial index – has risen by +29% in less than 3 months to a level of 11,138.66 (click here for chart). But don’t get too excited. This same Nikkei index peaked at 38,957 in 1989, a far cry from its current level. 

Best Action Film (Icahn vs. Ackman): This surprisingly entertaining action film features a senile 76-year-old corporate raider and a white-haired, 46-year-old Harvard grad. The investment foes I am referring to are the elder Carl Icahn, Chairman of Icahn Enterprises, and junior Bill Ackman, CEO of Pershing Square Capital Management. In addition to terms such as crybaby, loser, and liar, the 27-minute verbal spat (view more here) between Icahn (his net worth equal to about $15 billion) and Ackman (net worth approaching $1 billion) includes some NC-17 profanity. The clash of these investment titans stems from a decade-old lawsuit, in addition to a recent disagreement over a controversial short position in Herbalife Ltd. (HLF), a nutritional multi-level marketing firm. 

Best Documentary (Europe): As with a lot of reality-based films, many don’t receive a lot of attention. So too has been the commentary regarding the eurozone, which has been relatively peaceful compared to last spring. Despite the comparative media silence, European unemployment reached a new high of 11.8% late last year. This European documentary is not one you should ignore. European Central Bank (ECB) President Mario Draghi just stated, “The risks surrounding the outlook for the euro area remain on the downside.”  

Best Original Song (National Anthem): We won’t read anything politically into Beyonce’s lip-synced rendition of The Star-Spangled Banner at the presidential inauguration, but she is still worthy of the Sidoxia nomination because music we hear in the movies is also recorded. I’m certain her rapping husband Jay-Z agrees whole-heartedly with this viewpoint.

Best Motion Picture (Sidoxia Video): It may only be three minutes long, but as my grandmother told me, “Great things come in small packages.” I may be a little biased, but judge for yourself by watching Sidoxia’s Oscar-worthy motion picture debut:

 

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 HLF, Japanese ETFs,  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 2, 2013 at 1:10 am Leave a comment

2012 Party Train Missed Thanks to F.U.D.

People Dancing at a Discotheque

Article is an excerpt from previously released Sidoxia Capital Management’s complementary January 2, 2013 newsletter. Subscribe on right side of page.

There was plenty of fear, uncertainty, and doubt (F.U.D.) in 2012, and the gridlock in Washington has been a contributing factor to investors’ angst. As the saying goes, the stock market climbs a “wall of worry” and that was certainly the case this year with the S&P 500 index rising +13.4% (over +15% including dividends), and the Nasdaq index soaring +15.9% before dividends. Short-term investors had ample worries to fret about throughout the year, including a European financial collapse, the presidential elections, fiscal cliff negotiations, and a Mayan doomsday (see this hilarious clip). Despite these fears dominating the daily airwaves and newspaper headlines, long-term investors holding an adequate equity asset allocation jumped on the non-stop 2012 party train.

While Americans were served a full plate of concerns this year, global investors benefited from European Central Bank intervention by Mario Draghi who promised to do “whatever it takes” to save the euro currency (the European dominated EAFE index rose +13.6% in 2012). Growth here in the U.S. slowed as cautious consumers and businesses horded cash, but a rebound in the domestic housing market provided support to the sluggish economic expansion (3rd quarter GDP growth was revised higher to +3.1% vs. 2011). 

Now that the presidential elections are over and we achieved a partial fiscal cliff deal, the amount of F.U.D. going into 2013 will diminish, which should provide a tailwind to economic growth and the financial markets. The impending debt ceiling and deficit reduction talks may slow the train down, but if a sufficient resolution can be accomplished, the economic party train can continue chugging along.

Attention: Grab Your Ear Muffs

Economists and strategists will continue to sound smart and be completely wrong about their 2013 predictions (see Strategist Predictions & MacGyver), but that won’t stop average investors from neglecting their long-term investment plans. Investors have commonly overindulged in certain narrow asset classes like overpriced bonds and gold, which both underperformed equities in 2012. Diversification may sound like an overused finance cliché, but the principle is paramount if you are serious about reducing risk, beating inflation, and smoothing out incessant volatility.

2013 New Year’s Resolution: Avoid Personal Fiscal Cliff 

Party

With the New Year upon us, just because politicians have financial problems, it doesn’t mean you have to be fiscally irresponsible too. There is no better time than now to make a financial New Year’s resolution to avoid your own personal fiscal cliff. If you are too heavily parked in cash or over-exposed to low-yielding bonds subject to significant interest rate risk, then now is the time to re-evaluate your investment plan. 

There is always something to worry about (see also Uncertainty: Love It?), but in order to prevent working into your 80s, a long-term investment plan needs to be implemented, regardless of economic headlines or market volatility. In other words, investors need to replace their short-term microscope for their long-term telescope. By committing to a disciplined fiscal New Year’s resolution, you can earn a ticket on the 2013 party train!

Monthly News Tidbits

Candy Pieces

The presidential elections dominated the news cycle in November, but there were a whole host of other tidbits occurring over the last thirty-one days. Here are some of the main storylines:

Congress Approves Mini Fiscal Cliff Deal: After months of debate, Congress painfully and reluctantly agreed upon an estimated $600 billion mini fiscal cliff deal that represents the largest tax increase in two decades. Contrary to a $4 trillion “Grand Bargain” deal, this bill amounts to a more modest reduction in the deficit over 10 years. The Senate passed the bill by a margin of 89-8 and the House of Representatives by a spread of 257-167. The fact that any deal got done is somewhat surprising since the gridlock has been especially rampant in the House. As proof of this assertion, one need only point to the chamber’s meager voting activity record – the House has passed the fewest bills in 60 years during its recent term. 

Fiscal Cliff Bill Details: Despite the Senate’s convincing voting margin, large numbers of Congressional Democrats and Republicans were unhappy with the bill’s details. The President made good on his campaign promises by securing revenue-raising taxes from wealthy Americans. More specifically, the law contains provisions including a 39.6% rate on earners above $400,000; a 20% capital gains rate increase from 15%; new exemption/deduction limits; an estate tax increase to 40% from 35%; and a measure to help prevent near-term milk price spikes. There are plenty more details, but I will spare your eyeballs and brain from the painful minutiae. If you haven’t had enough partisan politics, no need to worry, you have the debt ceiling debate to look forward to in a few months.

Quantitative Easing Redux (QE4): Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke helped orchestrate additional monetary policy stimulus via a fourth round of quantitative easing (a.k.a., QE4). As part of this plan, the Fed will vastly expand its $2.8 trillion balance sheet in 2013 with additional monthly purchases of $45 billion of long-term Treasuries. By executing this invigorating QE4 bond buying program, the Fed pledges to keep interest rates in the cellar until the unemployment rate falls below 6.5% or inflation rises above 2.5%.

Same-Sex Marriage: The Supreme Court tackled a long-debated social issue and declared it would rule on the legality of a law denying benefits to same-sex couples in 2013.

New Female President: Additional hormones were added to the gender-skewed global pool of testosterone-filled leaders as South Korea elected its first female president, Park Geun-hye.

Global Bank Fined: Another greedy financial institution got caught with its hand in the cookie jar. UBS agreed to cough up a $1.5 billion penalty to the U.S., U.K., and Swiss authorities as part of an agreement to resolve its involvement in the manipulation of the London Interbank Offered Rate (LIBOR) – see also Wall Street Meets Greed Street.

Sandy Hook Distressing Disaster: The gun control debate was reignited when 20-year-old Adam Lanza gunned down 20 children and 7 adults (including his mother) at a Connecticut elementary school – Sandy Hook Elementary. Besides the examination of an assault weapons ban, the government needs to revisit the inadequate awareness and resources devoted to the serious issue of mental illness. 

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) including fixed income ETFs, but at the time of publishing SCM had no direct position in EFA, UBS, 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.

January 4, 2013 at 10:57 pm Leave a comment

Lily Pad Jumping & Term Paper Cramming

LilyPad-Homework

Article is an excerpt from previously released Sidoxia Capital Management’s complementary December 3, 2012 newsletter. Subscribe on right side of page.

Over the last year, investors’ concerns have jumped around like a frog moving from one lily pad to the next. From the debt ceiling debate to the European financial crisis, and then from the presidential election to now the “fiscal cliff.” With the election behind us (Obama winning 332 electoral votes vs 206 for Romney; and Obama 50.8% of the popular vote vs 47.5% for Romney), the frog’s bulging eyes are squarely focused on the fiscal cliff. For the uninformed frogs that have been swimming underwater, the fiscal cliff is the roughly $600 billion in automatic tax hikes and spending cuts that are scheduled to be triggered by the end of this year, if Congress cannot come to some type of agreement (for more fiscal cliff information see videos here). The mathematical consequences are clear: Congress + No Deal = Recession.

While political brinksmanship and theater are nothing new, the explosive amount of data is something new. In our mobile world of 6 billion cell phones (more than the number of toothbrushes on our planet) and trillions of text messages sent annually, nobody can escape the avalanche of global data. Google (GOOG), Facebook (FB), Twitter, and millions of blogs (including this one) didn’t exist 15 years ago, therefore fiscal boogeymen like obscure Greek debt negotiations and Chinese PMI figures wouldn’t have scared pre-internet generations underneath their beds like today’s investors. The fact of the matter is our country has triumphed over plenty of significant issues (many of them scarier than today’s headlines), including wars, assassinations, currency crises, banking crises, double digit inflation, SARS, mad cow disease, flash crashes, Ponzi schemes, and a whole lot more.

Although today’s jumpy investors may worry about the lily pads of a double-dip recession in the US, a financial meltdown in Europe, and/or a hard landing in China, fiscal frogs will undoubtedly be worried about different lily pads (concerns) twelve months from now. This may not be an insightful observation for day traders, but for the other 99% of investors, taking a longer term view of the daily news cycle may prove beneficial. 

Fiscal Cliff Term Paper Due on Friday December 21st

Jolt-NoDoz

As a college student, chugging Jolt Cola, in combination with a couple dosages of NoDoz, was part of the routine procrastination process the day before a term paper was due. Apparently Congress has also earned a PhD in procrastination, judging by the last minute conclusion of the debt ceiling negotiations last summer. There are only a few more weeks until politicians break for the Christmas holiday break, therefore I am setting an Investing Caffeine mandated fiscal cliff due date of December 21st. Could Congress turn in its term paper early? Anything is possible, but unfortunately turning in the assignment early is highly unlikely, especially when politically bashing your opponent is perceived as a better re-election tactic compared to bipartisan negotiation. 

A higher probability scenario involves Americans stuck listening to Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid, John Boehner, and Mitch McConnell on a daily basis as these politicians finger-point and call the other side obstructionists. While I’m not alone in believing a deal will ultimately get done before Christmas, how credible and substantive the announcement will be depends on whether the politicians seriously face entitlement and tax reforms. Regardless, any deal announced by Investing Caffeine’s December 21st due date will likely be received well by the market, as long as a framework for entitlement and tax reform is laid out for 2013. 

Frog News Bites

Source: Photobucket

Source: Photobucket

GDP Revised Higher: Despite all the gloom and uncertainties, the barometer of the economy’s health (i.e., Real Gross Domestic Product), was revised higher to 2.7% growth for the third quarter (from 2.0%). Nominal growth, a related measurement that includes inflation, reached a five-year high of 5.55%. In the wake of Superstorm Sandy, which caused upwards of $50 billion in damage, fourth quarter GDP numbers are likely to be artificially depressed. The silver lining, however, is first quarter 2013 figures may get an economic boost from reconstruction efforts.

Source: Calafia Beach Pundit

Source: Calafia Beach Pundit

Housing Recovery Continues: Buoyed by record low interest rates (30-yr fixed mortgages < 3.5%), housing sales and prices continue on an upward trajectory. New home sales came in at 368,000 in October, below expectations, but sales are still up around +20% from 2011 (Calculated Risk).

Source: Calculated Risk

Source: Calculated Risk

Confidence Still Low but Climbing: The recently reported consumer confidence figures reached the highest level in more than four years, but as Scott Grannis highlights, this is nothing to write home about. These current confidence levels match where we were during the 1990-91 and 1980-82 recessions.

Source: Calafia Beach Pundit

Source: Calafia Beach Pundit

Car Sales Picking Up: Fiscal cliff discussions haven’t discouraged consumers from buying cars. As you can see from the chart below, car and truck sales reached 14.3 million annualized units in October. November sales are expected to rise about +13% on a year-over-year basis, reaching approximately 15.3 million units.

Source: Calculated Risk

Source: Calculated Risk

CIA Chief Fired in Sex Scandal: If you didn’t get enough of the Lindsay Lohan bar brawl dirt in New York, never fear, there was plenty of salacious details emanating from Washington DC this month. A complicated web of Florida socialites, a biographer, email chains, and a bare-chested FBI agent led to the firing of CIA director David Petraeus.

Source: The Financial Times

Source: The Financial Times

Death to Twinkies: After lining stomachs with golden cream-filled cakes for more than 80+ years, Hostess Brands was forced to halt production of Twinkies, Ding Dongs, and Ho Hos. Negotiations with union bakers crumbled, which led to Hostess Brands’ Chapter 7 bankruptcy and liquidation proceedings. My financial brain understands, but my sweet tooth is still grieving (see also Twinkie Investing).

Source: Photobucket

Source: Photobucket

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 positions in FB, Twitter 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.

December 3, 2012 at 12:59 pm Leave a comment

Sleeping like a Baby with Your Investment Dollars

Amidst the recent, historically high volatility in the financial markets, there have been a large percentage of investors who have been sleeping like a baby – a baby that stays up all night crying! For some, the dream-like doubling of equity returns achieved from the first half of 2009 through the first half of 2011 quickly turned into a nightmare over the last few weeks. We live in an inter-connected, globalized world where news travels instantaneously and fear spreads like a damn-bursting flood. Despite the positive returns earned in recent years, the wounds of 2008-2009 (and 2000 to a lesser extent) remain fresh in investors’ minds. Now, the hundred year flood is expected every minute. Every European debt negotiation, S&P downgrade, or word floating from Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke’s lips, is expected to trigger the next Lehman Brothers-esque event that will topple the global economy like a chain of dominoes.

Volatility Victims

The few hours of trading that followed the release of the Federal Reserve’s August policy statement is living proof of investors’ edginess. After initially falling approximately -400 points in a 30 minute period late in the day, the Dow Jones Industrial Average then climbed over +600 points in the final hour of trading, before experiencing another -400 point drop in the first hour of trading the next day. Many of the day traders and speculators playing with the explosively leveraged exchange traded funds (e.g., TNA, TZA, FAS, FAZ), suffered the consequences related to the panic selling and buying that comes with a VIX (Volatility Index) that climbed about +175% in 17 days. A VIX reading of 44 or higher has only been reached nine times in the last 25 years (source: Don Hays), and is normally associated with significant bounce-backs from these extreme levels of pessimism. Worth noting is the fact that the 2008-2009 period significantly deteriorated more before improving to a more normalized level.

Keys to a Good Night’s Sleep

The nature of the latest debt ceiling negotiations and associated Standard & Poor’s downgrade of the United States hurt investor psyches and did little to boost confidence in an already tepid economic recovery. Investors may have had some difficulty catching some shut-eye during the recent market turmoil, but here are some tips on how to sleep comfortably.

• Panic is Not a Strategy: Panic selling (and buying) is not a sustainable strategy, yet we saw both strategies in full force last week. Emotional decisions are never the right ones, because if they were, investing would be quite easy and everyone would live on their own personal island. Rather than panic-sell, investments should be looked at like goods in a grocery store – successful long-term investors train themselves to understand it is better to buy goods when they are on sale. As famed growth investor Peter Lynch said, “I’m always more depressed by an overpriced market in which many stocks are hitting new highs every day than by a beaten-down market in a recession.”

• Long-Term is Right-Term: Everybody would like to retire at a young age, and once retired, live like royalty. Admirable goals, but both require bookoo bucks. Unless you plan on inheriting a bunch of money, or working until you reach the grave, it behooves investors to pull that money out from under the mattress and invest it wisely. Let’s face it, entitlements are going to be reduced in the future, just as inflation for food, energy, medical, leisure and other critical expenses continue eroding the value of your savings. One reason active traders justify their knee-jerk actions and derogatory description of long-term investors is based on the stagnant performance of U.S. equity markets over the last decade. Nonetheless, the vast number of these speculators fail to recognize a more than tripling in average values in markets like Brazil, India, China, and Russia over similar timeframes. Investing is a global game. If you do not have a disciplined, systematic long-term investment strategy in place, you better pray you don’t lose your job before age 70 and be prepared to eat Mac & Cheese while working as a Wal-Mart (WMT) greeter in your 80s.

• Diversification: Speaking of sleep, the boring topic of diversification often puts investors to sleep, but in periods like these, the power of diversification becomes more evident than ever. Cash, metals, and certain fixed income instruments were among the investments that cushioned the investment blow during the 2008-2009 time period. Maintaining a balanced diversified portfolio across asset classes, styles, size, and geographies is crucial for investment survival. Rebalancing your portfolio periodically will ensure this goal is achieved without taking disproportionate sized risks.

• Tailored Plan Matching Risk Tolerance: An 85 year-old wouldn’t go mountain biking on a tricycle, and a 10 year-old shouldn’t drive a bus to his fifth grade class. Sadly, in volatile times like these, many investors figure out they have an investment portfolio mismatched with their goals and risk tolerance. The average investor loves to take risk in up-markets and shed risk in down-markets (risk in this case defined as equity exposure). Regrettably, this strategy is designed exactly backwards for long-term investors. Historically, actual risk, the probability of permanent losses, is much lower during downturns; however, the perceived risk by average investors is viewed much worse. Indeed, recessions have been the absolute best times to purchase risky assets, given our 11-for-11 successful track record of escaping post World War II downturns. Could this slowdown or downturn last longer than expected and lead to more losses? Absolutely, but if you are planning for 10, 20, or 30 years, in many cases that issue is completely irrelevant – especially if you are still adding funds to your investment portfolio (i.e., dollar-cost averaging). On the flip side, if an investor is retired and entirely dependent upon an investment portfolio for income, then much less attention should be placed on risky assets like equities.

If you are having trouble sleeping, then one of two things is wrong: 1.) You are taking on too much risk and should cut your equity exposure; and/or 2.) You do not understand the risk you are taking. Volatile times like these are great for reevaluating your situation to make sure you are properly positioned to meet your financial goals. Talking heads on TV will tell you this time is different, but the truth is we have been through worse times (see History Never Repeats, but Rhymes), and lived to tell the tale. All this volatility and gloom may create anxiety and cause insomnia, but if you want to quietly sleep through the noise like a content baby, make yourself a long-term financial bed that you can comfortably sleep in during good times and bad. Focusing on the despondent headline of the day, and building a portfolio lacking diversification will only lead to panic selling/buying and results that would keep a baby up all night crying.

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 (including emerging market ETFs) and WMT, but at the time of publishing SCM had no direct position in TNA, TZA, FAS, FAZ, 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.

August 13, 2011 at 8:18 am 3 comments

Rating Agencies to Government: Go Back to College!

Remember those days as a young adult, when you were a starving student in college, doing everything you possible could in your power to not run out of money (OK, if you were born with a silver spoon in your mouth, just play along).  You know what I’m talking about… Corn Flakes for breakfast, PB&J for lunch, and maybe splurge with a little Mac & Cheese or Top Ramen for dinner. Well, the rating agencies, especially Standard & Poor’s (S&P) with their long-term sovereign credit rating downgrade on the U.S. from AAA rated to AA+ rated, are signaling our U.S. government to cut back on the champagne and caviar spending and go back to living like a college student.

Rent-A-Cops Assert Power

The rating agencies may have been asleep at the switch during the tech bubble (Enron & WorldCom) and the financial crisis of 2008-2009 (i.e., ratings of toxic mortgage backed securities), but they are doing their best to reassert themselves as credible security rating entities. By the way, as long as S&P has some wise critical advice for the U.S. government regarding fiscal responsibility, I have a suggestion for S&P: When providing a fresh ratings downgrade, please limit error estimations to less than $2,000,000,000,000.00 – this is exactly what S&P did in its ratings downgrade. Time will tell whether S&P can maintain its role as credit market policeman or will be mocked like those unarmed, overweight rent-a-cops you see at the shopping mall.

In reality, S&P’s moves represent little fundamental change, especially since these moves have been signaled for months (S&P initially lowered its outlook on the U.S. to negative on 4/18/11). I know there will be some that panic at this announcement (won’t be the first or last time), but should anyone really be shocked by an independent entity telling the U.S. government they are spending too much money and hold too much debt? If my memory serves me correctly, Americans have been screaming S&P’s same message for years – I think the rise of the Tea-Party, the results of the mid-term elections, and the tone of the debt ceiling debate may indicate a few people have caught onto this unsustainable fiscal disaster.

Two Simple Choices

As I have said for some time, these horrendously difficult issues will get resolved. The only question is who will resolve this negligent fiscal behavior? There are only two simple answers: 1) Politicians can proactively chip away at the problem with solutions my first grader has already identified (spend less and/or increase revenue); or 2) Financial Market Vigilantes can rip apart financial markets and force borrowing costs to the stratosphere. Option number one is preferable for everyone, and for those that don’t understand option number two, I refer you to Greece, Iceland, Ireland, Portugal, Italy and Spain.

If you’re getting sick of listening to debt and spending issues now, I will gently remind you this is an election year, so the nauseating debates are only going to get worse from here. I encourage everyone to make a game of this fiscal discussion, and do enough homework to the point you have informed, convicted opinions about our country’s fiscal situation. Unlike in periods past, when Americans could take a nap and ride the U.S. gravy train to prosperity, the ultra-competitive globalized game no longer allows us to rest on our laurels of being the world’s strongest superpower. There are a lot more people playing in our game outside our borders, and many of them are stronger, faster, smarter, and more efficient. Decisions being made today, tomorrow, and over the next year will have profound effects on millions of Americans, myself included. So as the government prioritizes spending programs and debates methods of raising revenue, I advise you to go back to your college days and decide whether you prefer Corn Flakes, PB&J, and Mac & Cheese. If voters don’t pressure politicians into doing the right thing, then we’ll all be collecting food stamps from the Financial Market 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, but at the time of publishing SCM had no direct position in MHP, 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.

August 6, 2011 at 11:19 am 1 comment

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