Posts tagged ‘fear’

January a Ball After Year-End Fall

disco ball

Investors were cheerfully dancing last month after the stock market posted its best January in 30 years and the best monthly performance since October 2015 (see chart below). More specifically, the S&P 500 index started the year by catapulting +7.9% higher (the best January since 1987), and the Dow Jones Industrial Average climbed 1,672 points to 25,000, or +7.2%. But over the last few months there has been plenty of heartburn and volatility. The December so-called Santa Claus rally did not occur until a large pre-Christmas pullback. From the September record high, stocks temporarily fell about -20% before the recent jolly +15% post-Christmas rebound.

month perf

Source: FactSet via The Wall Street Journal

Although investors have been gleefully boogying on the short-run financial dance floor, there have been plenty of issues causing uncomfortable blisters. At the top of the list is China-U.S. trade. The world is eagerly watching the two largest global economic powerhouses as they continue to delicately dance through trade negotiations. Even though neither country has slipped or fallen since the 90-day trade truce, which began on December 1 in Buenos Aires, the stakes remain high. If an agreement is not reached by March 2, tariffs on imported Chinese goods would increase to 25% from 10% on $200 billion worth of Chinese goods, thereby raising prices for U.S. consumers and potentially leading to further retaliatory responses from Beijing.

When it comes to the subjects of intellectual property protection and forced technology transfers of American companies doing business in China, President Xi Jinping has been uncomfortably stepping on President Donald Trump’s toes. Nothing has been formally finalized, however Chinese officials have signaled they are willing to make some structural reforms relating to these thorny issues and have also expressed a willingness to narrow the trade deficit with our country by purchasing more of our exports. Besides procuring more American energy goods, the Chinese have also committed to buy 5,000,000 tons of our country’s soybeans to feed China’s hungry population of 1.4 billion people.

Reaching a trade settlement is important for both countries, especially in light of the slowing Chinese economy (see chart below) and the dissipating stimulus benefits of the 2018 U.S. tax cuts. Slowing growth in China has implications beyond our borders as witnessed by slowing growth in Europe  as evidenced by protests we have seen in France and the contraction of German manufacturing (the first time in over four years). Failed Brexit talks of the U.K. potentially leaving the European Union could add fuel to the global slowdown fire if an agreement cannot be reached by the March 29th deadline in a couple months.

ret sal

Source: Wind via The Wall Street Journal

While the temporary halt to the longest partial federal government shutdown in history (35 days) has brought some short-term relief to the 800,000 government workers/contractors who did not receive pay, the political standoff over border security may last longer than expected, which may further dampen U.S. economic activity and growth. Whether the hot-button issue of border wall funding is resolved by February 15th will determine if another shutdown is in the cards.

Despite China trade negotiations and the government shutdown deadlock placing a cloud over financial markets, brighter skies have begun to emerge in other areas. First and foremost has been the positive shift in positioning by the Federal Reserve as it relates to monetary policy. Not only has Jay Powell (Fed Chairman) communicated a clear signal of being “patient” on future interest rate target increases, but he has also taken the Fed off of “autopilot” as it relates to shrinking the Fed’s balance sheet – a process that can hinder economic growth. Combined, these shifts in strategy by the Fed have been enthusiastically received by investors, which has been a large contributor to the +15% rebound in stock prices since the December lows. Thanks to this change in stance, the inverted yield curve bogeyman that typically precedes post-World War II recessions has been held at bay as evidenced by the steepening yield curve (see chart below).

treasury spread

Source: Calafia Beach Pundit

Other areas of strength include the recent employment data, which showed 304,000 jobs added in January, the 100th consecutive month of increased employment. Fears of an imminent recession that penetrated psyches in the fourth quarter have abated significantly in January in part because of the notable strength seen in 4th quarter corporate profits, which so far have increased by +12% from last year, according to FactSet. The strength and rebound in overall commodity prices, including oil, seem to indicate any potential looming recession is likely further out in time than emotionally feared.

wall of worry

Source: Calafia Beach Pundit

As the chart above shows, over the last four years, spikes in fear (red line) have represented beneficial buying opportunities of stocks (blue line). The pace of gains in January is just as unsustainable as the pace of fourth-quarter losses were in stock prices. Uncertainties may remain on trade, shutdowns, geopolitics, and other issues but don’t throw away your investing dance shoes quite yet…the ball and music experienced last month could continue for a longer than expected period of time.

investment-questions-border

www.Sidoxia.com

Wade W. Slome, CFA, CFP®

Plan. Invest. Prosper.

This article is an excerpt from a previously released Sidoxia Capital Management complimentary newsletter (February 1, 2018). Subscribe on the right side of the page for the complete text.

DISCLOSURE: Sidoxia Capital Management (SCM) and some of its clients hold positions and certain exchange traded funds (ETFs), but at the time of publishing had no direct position in any other security referenced in this article. No information accessed through the Investing Caffeine (IC) website constitutes investment, financial, legal, tax or other advice nor is to be relied on in making an investment or other decision. Please read disclosure language on IC Contact page.

February 1, 2019 at 5:00 pm Leave a comment

Investing with the Sentiment Pendulum

Article is an excerpt from Sidoxia Capital Management’s complementary May 2012 newsletter. Subscribe on right side of page.

The last five years have been historic in many respects. Not only have governments and central banks around the world undertaken unprecedented actions in response to the global financial crisis, but investors have ridden an emotional rollercoaster in response to historically unparalleled uncertainties.

While the nature of this past crisis has been unique, experienced investors know these fears continually manifest themselves in different forms over various cycles in time. Despite the more than doubling in equity market values over the last few years, as measured by the S&P 500 index, the emotional pendulum of investor sentiment has only partially corrected. Investor temperament has thankfully swung away from “Panic,” but has only moved closer to “Fear” and “Skepticism.” Here are some of the issues contributing to investors’ current sour mood:

The Next European Domino: The fear of the Greek domino toppling the larger Spanish and Italian economies has investors nervously chewing their finger-nails, and political turmoil in France and the Netherlands isn’t creating any additional warm and fuzzies.

Job Additions Losing Steam: New job creation here in the U.S. weakened to a lethargic monthly rate of +120,000 new jobs in March, while the unemployment rate remains stubbornly high at an 8.2% level.

Domestic Growth Losing Mojo: GDP (Gross Domestic Product) growth of +2.2% during the first quarter of 2012 also opened the door for the pessimists. Consumers are still spending (+2.9% growth), but government spending, business investment, and housing are taking wind out of the economy’s sails.

Emerging Markets Submerging: Unspectacular growth in the U.S. is not receiving any favors from slowing emerging markets like China and Brazil, which took fiscal and monetary actions to slow inflation and housing speculation in 2011.

Humpty Dumpty Politics: Presidential elections, tax policy, and deficit reduction are all concerns that carry the possibility of pushing the economic Humpty Dumpty off the wall, and as a result potentially lead to a great fall. The determination of Humpty Dumpty’s fate will likely have to wait until year-end or 2013.

Any student of history knows these fears and other concerns never go away – they simply change. But like supply and demand, gravitational forces eventually swing the emotional pendulum in the opposite direction. As Sir John Templeton so aptly stated, “Bull markets are born on pessimism, grow on skepticism, mature on optimism and die on euphoria.” Or in other words, escalating bull markets must climb the proverbial “Wall of Worry” in order to sustain upward momentum. If there was nothing to worry about, then all the buyers would already be in the markets. We are nowhere close to experiencing “Euphoria” like we saw in stocks during the late-1990s or in the housing market around 2005.

Positively Climbing the “Wall of Worry”

With all this bad news out there, surprisingly there are some glimmers of hope chipping away at the “Wall of Worry.” Here are some of the positive factors helping turn pessimist frowns upside down:

Slow & Steady Wins the Race: The economic recovery has been weaker than hoped, but I can think of worse scenarios than 11 consecutive quarters of GDP growth and 25 straight months of private job creation, which has reduced the unemployment rate from 10.0% in October 2009 to 8.2% last month.

Earnings Machine Keeps Chugging Along: With the majority of S&P 500 companies having reported their quarterly results for the first quarter, three-fourths of the companies are beating forecasted earnings, which are currently registering in at a respectable +7.1% rate (Thomson Reuters). One company epitomizing this trend is Apple Inc. (AAPL). The near doubling in Apple’s profits during the quarter, thanks to explosive iPhone sales, pushed Apple’s shares over $600 and helped drive the NASDAQ index to its best day of the year.

Super Ben to the Rescue: The Federal Reserve has already stated their intention of keeping interest rates near 0% until 2014. The potential of additional monetary stimulus spearheaded by Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke, in the form of QE3 (Quantitative Easing Part III), may provide further needed support to the stock market (a.k.a., the “Bernanke Put”).

Return of the IPO: Initial Public Offerings (IPOs) have gained steam versus last year with more than 53 already coming to market in the first four months of 2012. This is no 1999, but a good number of deals have done quite well over the last month. For example, data analysis company Splunk Inc. (SPLK) share price is already up around 100% and the value of leisure luggage company TUMI Holdings (TUMI) has climbed over +40%. In a few weeks, the highly anticipated blockbuster Facebook (FB) IPO is expected to begin trading its shares, so we can see if the chronicled deal can live up to all the hype.

Dividends Galore: Dividend payments to stockholders are flowing at an extraordinary rate so far in 2012. Companies like IBM (increased its dividend by +13%), Exxon Mobil – (XOM +21%); Goldman Sachs – (GS +31%) are but just a few of the dividend raisers this year. Through the first three months of the year, the number of companies increasing their dividend payments was up +45% as compared to the comparable number for all of 2011.

Emerging Growth Not Dead: While worriers fret over slowing growth in China, companies like Apple grew by more than +100% in this region and collected nearly 20% of its revenues from this Asian country (~$8 billion). Coincidentally, China is expected to surpass an incredible one billion mobile connections in May – many of those iPhones. In other related news, Starbucks Corp. (SBUX) plans to triple its workforce and number of stores in China over the next three years. China has also helped fuel a backlog of Caterpillar Inc. (CAT) that is more than triple the level of 2009. Emerging markets may have slowed down in 2011, but with inflation beginning to stabilize, emerging market central banks and governments are now beginning to ease policies and reduce red-tape. For example, Brazil and India have started to lower key benchmark interest rates, and China has started to reverse capital flow restrictions.

Stay Off the Trampled Path

The mantra of “Sell in May and go away” always gets a lot of playtime around this period of the year. Over the last few years, the temporary spring/summer sell-offs have only been followed by stronger price appreciation. Individuals attempting to time the market (see also Getting Off the Treadmill) generally end up in tears. And for those traders who boast about their excellent timing (like those suspicious friends who brag about always winning in Las Vegas), we all know the truth – nobody buys at the lows and sells at the highs…except for liars.

With all the noise and cross-currents flooding the airwaves, investing for individuals without assistance has never been so difficult. But before hiding in your cave or reacting to the next scary headline about Europe, the economy, or politics, do yourself a favor by reminding yourself these chilling news items are nothing new and are often great contrarian indicators (see also Back to the Future). The emotional pendulum is constantly swinging from fear to greed and investors stand to prosper by adjusting sentiment and actions in the opposite direction. To survive in the investing wild, it is best to realize that the grass is greener and the eating more abundant when you stay off the trampled path of the herd.    

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 AAPL, but at the time of publishing SCM had no direct position in SPLK, TUMI, IBM, XOM, GS, SBUX, CAT, FB, 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 1, 2012 at 12:08 am 1 comment

End of the World Put on Ice

Our 3.5 billion year old planet has received a temporary reprieve, at least until the next Mayan Armageddon destroys the world in 2012. Sex, money, and doom sell and Arnold, Oprah, and the Rapture have not disappointed in generating their fair share of advertising revenue clicks.

With 2 billion people connected to the internet and 5 billion people attached to a cell phone, every sneeze, burp, and fart around the world makes daily headline news. The globalization cat is out of the bag, and this phenomenon will only accelerate in the years to come. In 1861 the Pony Express took ten days to deliver a message from New York to San Francisco, and today it takes a few seconds to deliver a message across the world over Twitter or Facebook.

The equity markets have more than doubled from the March 2009 lows and even previous, ardent bulls have turned cautious. Case in point, James Grant from the Interest Rate Observer who was “bullish on the prospects for unscripted strength in business activity” (see Metamorphosis of Bear into Bull) now sees the market as “rich” and asserts “nothing is actually cheap.” Grant rubs salt into the wounds by predicting inflation to spike to 10% (read more).

Layer on multiple wars, Middle East/North African turmoil, gasoline prices, high unemployment, mudslinging presidential election, uninspiring economic growth, and you have a large pessimistic poop pie to sink your teeth into. Bearish sentiment, as calculated by the AAII Sentiment Survey, is at a nine-month high and currently bears outweigh bulls by more than 50%.

The Fear Factor

I think Cullen Roche at Pragmatic Capitalism beautifully encapsulates the comforting blanket of fear that is permeating among the masses through his piece titled, “In Remembrance of Fear”:

“The bottom line is, stay scared.  Do not let yourself feel confident, happy or wealthy.  You are scared, poor and miserable.  You should stay that way.  You owe it to yourself.  The media says so.  And more importantly, there are old rich white men who need to sell books and if you’re not scared by them you’ll never buy their books.  So, do yourself a favor.  Buy their books and services and stay scared.  You deserve it.”

Here is Cullen’s prescription for dealing with all the doom and gloom:

“Associate with people who are more scared than you.  That way, you can all sit in bunkers and talk about the end of days and how screwed we all are.  Think about how much better that will make you feel.  Misery loves company.  Do it.”

All is Not Lost

While inflation and gasoline price concerns weigh significantly on economic growth expectations, some companies are taking advantage of record low interest rates. Take for example, Google Inc.’s (GOOG) recent $3 billion bond offerings split evenly across three-year, five-year, and ten-year notes with an average interest rate of 2.3%. Although Google has languished relative to the market over the last year, the market blessed the internet giant with the next best thing to free money by pricing the deal like a AAA-rated credit. Cash-heavy companies have been able to issue low cost debt at a frantic pace for accretive EPS shareholder-friendly activities, such as acquisitions, share buybacks, and organic growth initiatives. Cash rich balance sheets have afforded companies the ability to offer shareholders a steady diet of dividend increases too.

While there is no question high oil prices have put a wet towel over consumer spending, the largest component of corporate check books is labor costs, which accounts for roughly two-thirds of corporate spending. With unemployment rate at 9.0%, this is one area with no inflation pressure as far as the eye can see.  Money losing companies that go bankrupt lay-off employees, while profitable companies with stable input costs (labor) will hire more – and that’s exactly what we’re seeing today. Despite all the economic slowing and collapse anxiety, S&P 500 operating earnings, as of last week, are estimated to rise +17% in 2011. Healthy corporations coupled with a growing, deleveraged workforce will have to carry the burden of growth, as deficit and debt direction will ultimately act as a drag on economic growth in the immediate and intermediate future.

Fear and pessimism sell news, and technology is only accelerating the proliferation of this trend. The good news is that you have another 18 months until the next apocalypse on December 21, 2012 is expected to destroy the human race. Rather than attempting to time the market, I urge you to follow the advice of famed investor Peter Lynch who says, “Assume the market is going nowhere and invest accordingly.” For all the others addicted to “pessimism porn,” I’ll let you get back to constructing your bunker.

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 GOOG, but at the time of publishing SCM had no direct position in Twitter, Facebook, 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 22, 2011 at 11:55 pm Leave a comment

Alligators, Airplane Crashes, and the Investment Brain

“Neither a man nor a crowd nor a nation can be trusted to act humanely or think sanely under the influence of a great fear…To conquer fear is the beginning of wisdom.” – Bertrand Russell

Fear is a powerful force, and if not harnessed appropriately can prove ruinous and destructive to the performance of your investment portfolios. The preceding three years have shown the poisonous impacts fear can play on the average investor results, and Jason Zweig, financial columnist at The Wall Street Journal presciently wrote about this subject aptly titled “Fear,” just before the 2008 collapse.

Fear affects us all to differing degrees, and as Zweig points out, often this fear is misguided – even for professional investors. Zweig uses the advancements in neuroscience and behavioral finance to help explain how irrational decisions can often be made. To illustrate the folly in human’s thought process, Zweig offers up a multiple examples. Here is part of a questionnaire he highlights in his article:

“Which animal is responsible for the greatest number of human deaths in the U.S.?

A.)   Alligator; B.) Bear; C.) Deer; D.) Shark; and E.) Snake

The ANSWER: C) Deer.

The seemingly most docile creature of the bunch turns out to cause the most deaths. Deer don’t attack with their teeth, but as it turns out, deer prance in front of speeding cars relatively frequently, thereby causing deadly collisions. In fact, deer collisions trigger seven times more deaths than alligators, bears, sharks, and snakes combined, according to Zweig.

Another factoid Zweig uses to explain cloudy human thought processes is the fear-filled topic of plane crashes versus car crashes. People feel very confident driving in a car, yet Zweig points out, you are 65 times more likely to get killed in your own car versus a plane, if you adjust for distance traveled. Hall of Fame NFL football coach John Madden hasn’t flown on an airplane since 1979 due to his fear of flying – investors make equally, if not more, irrational judgments in the investment world.

Professor Dr. Paul Slovic believes controllability and “knowability” contribute to the level of fear or perception of risk. Handguns are believed to be riskier than smoking, in large part because people do not have control over someone going on a gun rampage (i.e., Jared Loughner Tuscon, Arizona murders), while smokers have the power to just stop. The reality is smoking is much riskier than guns. On the “knowability” front, Zweig uses the tornadoes versus asthma comparison. Even though asthma kills more people, since it is silent and slow progressing, people generally believe tornadoes are riskier.

The Tangible Cause

Deep within the brain are two tiny, almond-shaped tissue formations called the amygdala. These parts of the brain, which have been in existence since the period of early-man, serve as an alarm system, which effectively functions as a fear reflex. For instance, the amygdala may elicit an instinctual body response if you encounter a bear, snake, or knife thrown at you.

Money fears set off the amygdala too. Zweig explains the linkage between fiscal and physical fears by stating, “Losing money can ignite the same fundamental fears you would feel if you encountered a charging tiger, got caught in a burning forest, or stood on the crumbling edge of a cliff.” Money plays such a large role in our society and can influence people’s psyches dramatically. Neuroscientist Antonio Damasio observed, “Money represents the means of maintaining life and sustaining us as organisms in our world.”

The Solutions

So as we deal with events such as the Lehman bankruptcy, flash crashes, Greek civil unrest, and Middle East political instability, how should investors cope with these intimidating fears? Zweig has a few recommended techniques to deal with this paramount problem:

1)      Create a Distraction: When feeling stressed or overwhelmed by risk, Zweig urges investors to create a distraction or moment of brevity. He adds, “To break your anxiety, go for a walk, hit the gym, call a friend, play with your kids.”  

2)      Use Your Words:  Objectively talking your way through a fearful investment situation can help prevent knee-jerk reactions and suboptimal outcomes. Zweig advises to the investor to answer a list of unbiased questions that forces the individual to focus on the facts – not the emotions.  

3)      Track Your Feelings: Many investors tend to become overenthusiastic near market tops and show despair near market bottoms. Long-term successful investors realize good investments usually make you sweat. Fidelity fund manager Brian Posner rightly stated, “If it makes me feel like I want to throw up, I can be pretty sure it’s a great investment.” Accomplished value fund manager Chris Davis echoed similar sentiments when he said, “We like the prices that pessimism produces.”

4)      Get Away from the Herd: The best investment returns are not achieved by following the crowd. Get a broad range of opinions and continually test your investment thesis to make sure peer pressure is not driving key investment decisions.

Investors can become their worst enemies. Often these fears are created in our minds, whether self-inflicted or indirectly through the media or other source. Do yourself a favor and remove as much emotion from the investment decision-making process, so you do not become hostage to the fear du jour. Worrying too much about alligators and plane crashes will do more harm than good, when making critical decisions.

Read Other Jason Zweig Article from IC

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 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 25, 2011 at 1:47 am Leave a comment

Sentiment Cycle of Fear and Greed

Investing can be like a cross-country emotional roller-coaster ride to retirement. There are plenty of ups and downs, and plenty of unexpected twist and turns, but as long as investors stay the course, they will eventually reach their retirement objective. If not properly kept in check, however, emotions have the potential of sabotaging and/or delaying retirement objectives.

Barry Ritholtz at The Big Picture revisited the topic of sentiment cycles to hammer home the counterintuitive nature of successful investing (see also Doing the Opposite).  As Ritholtz correctly points out in his chart, “euphoria” is actually the emotional “point of maximum financial risk,” and “despondency” is the “point of maximum financial opportunity.”

Source: The Big Picture with RED Sidoxia comments

In other words when the housing market was “euphoric” with demand in 2006, the financial risk was the highest, as millions of leveraged borrowers and homeowners painfully realized. Average investors suffered the reverse problem in early 2009 when “despondency” ruled the day and equity markets have marched upwards approximately +80% to +100%.  Millions of investors bought real estate near the peak of the market and sold equities near the bottom of the market. Buying high and selling low is not a recipe for a retirement investment plan.  

A more comedic representation of the sentiment cycle is provided below (CLICK TO ENLARGE). Laughable but spot on.

If investing was so simple, Jim Cramer would be among Forbes wealthiest top 10 and Lenny Dyskstra would have his private jet back (see story).

Where we are exactly on the sentiment cycle curve is debatable (my opinion is in RED on top chart), but if investors want to accelerate their path to financial success, they need to play the equity markets a lot more like a game of chess – anticipating future events not reacting to current ones. Too often, what appears as the obvious investment choice generates the worst long-term results. While on the investment rollercoaster, the choices that create the sweatiest palms are usually the best long-term decisions.

Read more about “Sentiment Cycles” from The Big Picture

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 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 10, 2010 at 1:46 am 4 comments


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