Posts tagged ‘fed’

The Fed: Myths vs. Reality

Crystal Ball

Traders, bloggers, media talking heads, and pundits of all stripes went into a feverish sweat as they anticipated the comments of Federal Reserve Chairman Janet Yellen at the annual economic summit held in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. When Yellen, arguably the most dovish Fed Chairman in history, uttered, “I believe the case for an increase in the federal funds rate has strengthened in recent months,” an endless stream of commentators used this opportunity to spout out a never-ending stream of predictions describing the looming consequences of such a potential rate increase.

As I’ve stated before, the Fed receives both too much blame and too much credit for basically doing nothing except moving short-term interest rates up or down (and most of the time they do nothing). However, until the next Fed meeting in September (or later), we all will be placed in purgatory with non-stop speculation regarding the timing of the next rate increase.

The ludicrous and myopic analysis can be encapsulated by the recent article written by Pulitzer Prize-winning Fed writer Jon Hilsenrath, in his piece titled, The Great Unraveling: Fed Missteps Fueled 2016 Populist Revolt. Somehow, Hilsenrath is making the case that a group of 12 older, white people that meet eight times per year in Washington to discuss interest rate policy based on inflation and employment trends has singlehandedly created income inequality, and a populist movement leading to the rise of Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders.

While this Fed scapegoat explanation is quite convenient for the doom-and-gloomers (see The Fed Ate My Homework), it is way off base. I hate to break it to Mr. Hilsenrath, or other conspiracy theorists and perma-bears, but blaming a small group of boring bankers is an overly-simplistic “straw man” argument that does not address the infinite number of other factors contributing to our nation’s social and economic problems.

Ever since the bull market began in 2009, a pervasive skepticism and mistrust have kept the bull market climbing a wall of worry to all-time record levels. In the process, Hilsenrath et. al. have proliferated an inexhaustible list of myths about the Fed and its powers. Here are some of them:

Myth #1: The printing of money by the Fed has led to an artificially inflated stock market bubble and Ponzi Scheme.

  • As stock prices have more than tripled over the last eight years to record levels, I’ve reveled in the hypocrisy of the “money printers” contention. First of all, the money printing derived from Quantitative Easing (QE) was originally cited as the sole reason for low, declining interest rates and the rising stock market. The money printing community vociferously predicted once QE ended, as it eventually did in 2014, interest rates would explode higher and stock market prices would collapse. What happened? The exact opposite occurred. Interest rates have gone to record low levels, and stock prices have advanced to all-time record highs.

Myth #2: The Fed controls all interest rates.

  • Yes, the Fed can influence short-term interest rates through bond purchases and the targeting of the Federal Funds rate. However, the Fed has little-to-no influence on longer-term interest rates. The massive global bond market dwarfs the size of the Fed and U.S. stock market, and as such, large global financial institutions, pensions, hedge funds, and millions of other investors around the world have more influence on longer-term interest rates. The relationship between the 10-Year Treasury Note yield and the Fed’s monetary policy is loose at best.

Myth #3: The stock market will crash when the Fed raises interest rates.

  • Well, we can see that logic is already wrong because the stock market is up significantly since the Fed raised interest rates in mid-December 2015. It is true that additional interest rate hikes are likely to occur in our future, but that does not necessarily mean stock prices are going to plummet. Commentators and bloggers are already panicking about a potential rate hike in September. Before you go jump out a window, let’s put this potential rate hike into context. For starters, let’s not forget the “dove of all doves,” Janet Yellen, is in charge and there has only been one rate increase 0f 0.25% over the last decade. As I point out in one of my previous articles (see Fed Fatigue), stock prices increased during the last rate hike cycle (2004 – 2006) when the Fed raised  interest rates from 1.0% to 5.25% (the equivalent of another 16 rate hikes of 0.25%). The world didn’t end in 1994 either, when the Fed Funds rate increased from 3% to 6% over a short time frame, and stocks finished roughly flat for the period. Inflation levels remain at relatively low levels, and the Fed has moved less than 10% of recent hike cycles, so now is not the time to panic. Regardless of what the fear mongers say, the Fed and the bull market fairy godmother (Janet Yellen) will be measured and deliberate in its policies and will verify that any policy action is made into a healthy, strengthening economy.

Myth #4: Stimulative monetary policies instituted by the Fed and other central banks will lead to hyperinflation.

  • Japan has done QE for decades, and QE efforts in the U.S. and Europe have also disproved the hyperinflation myth. While commentators, pundits, and journalists like to all point and blame Janet Yellen and the Fed for today’s so-called artificially low interest rates, one does not need to be a genius to realize there are other factors contributing to low rates and inflation. Declining interest rates and inflation are nothing new…this has been going on for over 35 years! (see chart below) As I have discussed previously the larger contributors to declining interest rates and disinflation are technology, globalization, and emerging markets (see Why 0% Interest Rates?). By next year, over one-third of the world’s population is expected to own a smartphone (2.6 billion people), the equivalent of a supercomputer in the palm of their hands. Mobile communication, robotics, self-driving cars, virtual & augmented reality, drones, artificial intelligence, drones, biotechnology, and other technologies are dramatically impacting productivity (i.e., downward pressure on prices and interest rates). These advancements, combined with the billions of low-priced workers in emerging markets, who are lifting themselves out of poverty, are contributing to the declining rate/inflation trend.
Source: Calafia Beach Pundit

Source: Calafia Beach Pundit

As the next Fed meeting approaches, there is no doubt the airwaves and internet will be filled with alarmist calls from the likes of Jon Hilsenrath and other Fed-haters. Fortunately, more informed financial market observers will be able to filter out this noise and be able to separate out the many Fed and interest rate myths from the reality.

investment-questions-border

Wade W. Slome, CFA, CFP®

www.Sidoxia.com

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.

August 27, 2016 at 8:15 pm 11 comments

Pulling the Band-Aid Off Slowly

Bandaid

Federal Reserve monetary policy once again came to the forefront as the Fed released its April minutes this week. After living through years of a ZIRP (Zero Interest Rate Policy) coupled with QE (Quantitative Easing), many market participants and commentators are begging for a swifter move back to “normalization” (a Federal Funds Rate target set closer to historical averages). The economic wounds from the financial crisis may be healing, as seen in the improving employment data, but rather than ripping off the interest rate Band-Aid quickly and putting the pain behind investors, the dovish Fed Chair Janet Yellen has been signaling for months the Fed will increase rates at a “gradual” pace.

Despite the more hawkish tone regarding the possibility of an additional rate hike in June, Fed interest rate futures are currently still only factoring in about a 26% probability of a rate increase in June. As I have been saying for years (see “Fed Fatigue”), there has, and will likely continue to be, an overly, hyper-sensitive focus on monetary policy and language disseminated by members of the Feral Reserve Open Market Committee.

For example, in 1994, despite the Fed increasing target rates by +2.5% in a single year (from 3.0% to 5.5%), stock prices finished roughly flat for the year, and the market resumed its decade-long bull market run the subsequent year. Today, the higher bound of Fed Funds sits at a mere 0.5%, and the Fed has announced only one target increase this cycle (equaling a fraction of the ’94 pace). Even if investors are panicking over another potential quarter point in June or July, can you say, “overkill?”

While the Fed is approaching the lower-end of the range for its employment mandate (unemployment currently sitting at 5%), despite the recent bounce in oil prices, core inflation remains in check (see Calafia Pundit chart below). This long-term benign pricing trend gives the Fed a longer leash as it relates to the pace of future rate hikes.

Source: Calafia Beach Pundit

Source: Calafia Beach Pundit

Sure, ripping off the Fed Band-Aid with a small handful of +0.5% (50 bps) hikes might appease hawkish investors, but Janet Yellen, the “Fed Fairy Godmother,” has made it abundantly clear she is in no hurry to raise rates. Whether there is zero, one, or two additional rate hikes this year is much less important than other fundamental factors. Adding fuel to the Fed-speak fire in the short-run will be Yellen speeches on May 27th at Harvard University and on June 6th at the World Affairs Council of Philadelphia. And then following that, we will have the “Brexit” referendum (i.e., the vote on whether Britain should exit the EU); a steady stream of election noise; and many other unanticipated economic/geopolitical headlines.

As I continually state, the key factors driving the direction of long-term stock prices are profits, interest rates, valuations, and sentiment (see Follow the Stool). Profits (ex-energy) are growing near record levels; interest rates are near record lows (even with potential 2016 hikes); valuations remain near historical averages; and sentiment regarding stock ownership is firing strongly as a positive contrarian indicator.

While many pundits have been calling for and predicting the Fed to rip the Band-Aid off with a swift string of rate increases, persistently low inflation, coupled with a consistently dovish Fed Chair are likely to lead to a slow peeling of the monetary policy Band-Aid. Unfortunately, the endless flow of irrelevant monetary policy guesswork regarding the timing of future rate hikes will be more painful than the actual hikes themselves. In the end, any future hikes should be justified with a stronger economic foundation, which should represent future strength, rather than future weakness.

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

May 21, 2016 at 10:21 pm Leave a comment

Marathon Market Gets a Cramp

ganador maraton-02c

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

“Anyone can run a hundred meters, it’s the next forty-two thousand and two hundred that count.”

Investing is a lot like running a marathon…but it’s not a sprint to the retirement finish line. The satisfaction of achieving your long-term goal can be quite rewarding, but attaining ambitious objectives does not happen overnight. Along the hilly and winding course, there can be plenty of bumps and bruises mixed in with the elation of a runner’s high. While stocks have been running at a record pace in recent years, prices have cramped up recently as evidenced by the -2.6% decline of the S&P 500 stock index last month.

But the recent correction should be placed in the proper perspective as you approach and reach retirement. Since the end of the 2008 Financial Crisis the stock market has been racing ahead at a brisk rate, as you can see from the total return performance below (excluding 2015):

2009 - 2015 SP Performance

 

Long Term SP500 1925-2015

This performance is more indicative of a triumph than a catastrophe, but if you turned on the TV, listened to the radio, or surfed the web, you may come to a more frightening conclusion.

What’s behind the recent dip? These are some of the key concerns driving the recent price volatility:

  • China: Slowing growth in China and collapse in Chinese stock market. China is suffering from a self-induced slowdown designed to mitigate corruption, prick the real estate bubble, and shift its export-driven economy to a more consumer-driven economy. These steps diminish short-term growth (albeit faster than U.S. growth), but nevertheless the measures should be constructive for longer-term growth.
  • Interest Rates: Uncertainty surrounding the timing of a 0.25% target interest rate increase by the Federal Reserve. The move from 0% to 0.25% is like walking from the hardwood floor onto the rug…hardly noticeable. The inevitable move by the Fed has been widely communicated for months, and given where interest rates are today, the move will have a negligible impact on corporate borrowing costs. Like removing a Band-Aid, the initial action may cause some pain, but should be comfortably received shortly thereafter.
  • Politics: Potential government shutdown / sequestration. The epic political saga will never end, however, as I highlighted in “Who Said Gridlock is Bad?,” political discourse in Washington has resulted in positive outcomes as it relates to our country’s fiscal situation (limited government spending and declining deficits). The government shutdown appears to have been averted for now, but it looks like we will be blanketed with brinkmanship nonsense again in a few months.
  • Biotech/Pharmaceuticals: Politics over lofty drug prices and the potential impact of future regulation on the biotech sector. Given the current Congressional balance of power, any heavy-handed Democratic proposals is likely to face rigorous Republican opposition.
  • Emerging Markets: Emerging market weakness, especially in Latin America (e.g., Brazil). These developments deserve close monitoring, but the growth in the three largest economic regions (U.S., Europe, and China) will have a much larger effect on the direction of global economic expansion.
  • Middle East: Destabilized Middle East and Syria. Terrorist extremism and cultural animosity between various Middle East populations has existed for generations. There will be no silver bullet for a peaceful solution, so baby steps and containment are critical to maintain healthy global trade activity with minimal disruptions.

Worth noting, this current list of anxieties itemized above is completely different from six months ago (remember the Greece crisis?), and the list will change again six months into the future. Investing, like any competitive challenge, does not come easy…there is always something to worry about in the land of economics and geopolitics.

Here’s what the world’s top investor Warren Buffett said a few decades ago (1994) on the topic of politics and economics:

“We will continue to ignore political and economic forecasts which are an expensive distraction for investors and businessmen. Thirty years ago, no one could have foreseen the huge expansion of the Vietnam War, wage and price controls, two oil shocks, the resignation of a president, the dissolution of the Soviet Union, a one-day drop in the Dow of 508 points, or treasury bill yields fluctuating between 2.8% and 17.4%.”

In a world of 7.3 billion people and 196 countries there will never be a shortage of fear, uncertainty, and doubt (F.U.D.) – see events chart in The Bungee Market. In an ever-increasing, globally connected world, technology and the media continually amplify molehills into mountains, thereby making the next imagined Armageddon a simple click of a mouse or swipe of a smartphone away.

Today’s concerns are valid but in the vast majority of cases the issues are completely overblown, sensationalized and over-emphasized without context. Context is an integral part to investing, but unfortunately context usually cannot be explained in a short soundbite or headline. On the flip side, F.U.D. thrives in the realm of soundbites and headlines.

While investors may feel fatigued from a strong flow of headline headwinds, financial market race participants should take a break at the water stop to also replenish themselves with a steady tailwind of positive factors, including the following:

  • Employment: The unemployment rate has been cut from a recession peak of 10.0% down to 5.1%, and the economy has been adding roughly +200,000 new monthly jobs on a fairly consistent basis. On top of that, there are a record 5.8 million job openings versus 3.7 million two years ago – a sign that the economy continues to hum along.
  • Housing/Commercial Real Estate/Mortgage Rates: Housing prices have rebounded by about +30% from the 2012 lows; Housing starts have increased by +25% in the past year and 120% in the past four years; and 30-Year Fixed mortgage interest rates sit at 3.85% – a highly stimulative level within a spitting distance from record lows.
  • Auto Sales: Surged to a post-recession record of 17.8 million units in August.
  • Interest Rates: Massively stimulative and near generational lows, even if the Fed hikes its interest rate target by 0.25% in October, December or sometime in 2016.
  • Capital Goods Orders: Up for three consecutive months.
  • Rail Shipments/Truck Tonnage: Both these metrics are rising by about 3-4%.
  • Retail Sales: Rising at a very respectable pace of 7% over the last six months.
  • Low Energy & Commodity Prices: Inflation has remained largely in check thanks to plummeting commodity prices. Low oil and gas prices are benefiting consumers in numerous ways, including the contribution to car sales, home sales, and/or debt reduction.

While the -10% dip in stock prices from mid-August might feel like a torn knee ligament, long-term investors know -10% corrections historically occur about one-time per year, on average. So, even though you may be begging for a wheelchair, the best course of action is to take a deep breath, stick to your long-term investment plan, rebalance your portfolio if necessary, and continue staying on course towards your financial finish line.

investment-questions-border

http://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 3, 2015 at 9:55 am Leave a comment

Mathematics 101: The Cheap Money Printing Machine

Woman Using Atm Machine

Like many other bloggers and pundits, I have amply pontificated on the relative attractiveness of the stock market. For years, cash and gold hoarding bears have clung to the distorted, money-losing Shiller CAPE P/E ratio (see CAPE Smells Like B.S.), which has incorrectly signaled investors to stay out of stocks and miss trillions of dollars in price appreciation. Apparently, the ironclad Shiller CAPE device has been temporarily neutralized by the Federal Reserve’s artificially cheapening money printing press policies, just like Superman’s strength being stripped by the nullifying powers of kryptonite. The money printing logic seems so elegantly sound, I felt compelled to encapsulate this powerful relationship in an equation:

Interests Rate Cuts + Printing Press On = Stocks Go Higher

Wow, amazing…this is arithmetic any investor (or 3rd grader) could appreciate! Fortunately for me, I have a child in elementary school, so I became emboldened to share my new found silver bullet equation. I initially received a few raised eyebrows from my child when I introduced the phrase “Quantitative Easing” but it didn’t take long before she realized Rate Cuts + QE = Fat Piggy Bank.

After the intensive tutorial, I felt so very proud. With a smile on my face, I gave myself a big pat on the back, until I heard my child say, “Daddy, after looking at this squiggly S&P 500 line from 2007-2014, can you help my brain understand because I have some questions.”

Here is the subsequent conversation:

Me: “Sure kiddo, go ahead shoot…what can I answer for you?”

Child: “Daddy, if the Federal Reserve is so powerful and you should “not fight the Fed,” how come stock prices went down by -58% from 2007 – 2009, even though the Fed cut rates from 5.25% to 0%?”

Me: “Uhhhh….”

Child: “Daddy, if stock prices went down so much after massive rate cuts, does that mean stock prices will go up when the Fed increases rates?”

Me: “Uhhhh….”

Child: “Daddy, if Quantitative Easing is good for stock prices, how come after the QE1 announcement in November 2008, stock prices continued to go down -25%?”

Me: “Uhhhh….”

Child: “Daddy, if QE makes stocks go up, how come stock prices are at all-time record highs after the Fed has cut QE by -$70 billion per month and is completely stopping QE by 100% next month?”

Me: “Uhhhh….”

Child: “Daddy, everyone is scared of rate increases but when the Fed increased interest rates by 250 basis points in 1994, didn’t stock prices stay flat for the year?”

Me: “Uhhhh….” (See also 1994 Bond Repeat)

What started as a confident conversation about my bullet-proof mathematical equation ended up with me sweating bullets.

Math 101A: Low Interest Rates = Higher Asset Prices

As my previous conversation highlights, the relationship between rate cuts and monetary policy may not be as clear cut as skeptics would like you to believe. Although I enjoy the widely covered Shiller CAPE discussions on market valuations, somehow the media outlets fail to make the all-important connection between interest rates and P/E ratios.

One way of framing the situation is by asking a simple question:

Would you rather have $100 today or $110 a year from now?

The short answer is…”it depends.” All else equal, the level of interest rates will ultimately determine your decision. If interest rates are offering 20%, a rational person would select the $100 today, invest the money at 20%, and then have $120 a year from now. On the other hand, if interest rates were 0.5%, a rational person would instead select the option of receiving $110 a year from now because collecting a $100 today and investing at 0.5% would only produce $100.50 a year from now.

The same time-value-of-money principle applies to any asset, whether you are referring to gold, cars, houses, private businesses, stocks, or other assets. The mathematical fact is, all else equal, a rational person will always pay more for an asset when interest rates are low, and pay less when interest rates are high. As the 200-year interest chart below shows, current long-term interest rates are near all-time lows.

Source: The Big Picture

Source: The Big Picture

The peak in interest rates during the early 1980s correlated with a single digit P/E ratio (~8x). The current P/E ratio is deservedly higher (~16x), but it is dramatically lower than the 30x+ P/E ratio realized in the 2000 year timeframe. If none of this discussion makes sense, consider the simple Rule of 20 (see also The Rule of 20 Can Make You Plenty), which states as a simple rule-of-thumb, the average market P/E ratio should be equal to 20 minus the level inflation. With inflation currently averaging about 2%, the Rule of 20 implies an equilibrium of ~18x. If you assume this P/E multiple and factor in a 7-8% earnings growth rate, you could legitimately argue for 20% appreciation in the market to S&P 2,400 over a 12-month period. It’s true, a spike in interest rates, combined with a deceleration in earnings would justify a contraction in stock prices, but even under this scenario, current index values are nowhere near the bubble levels of 2000.

After six long years, the QE train is finally grinding to a halt, and a return towards Fed policy normalcy could be rapidly approaching. Many investors and skeptical bears have tried to rationalize the tripling in the market from early 2009 as solely due to the cheap Fed money printing machine. Unfortunately, history and mathematics don’t support that assertion. If you don’t believe me, perhaps a child may be able to explain it to you better.

Investment Questions Border

www.Sidoxia.com

Wade W. Slome, CFA, CFP®

Plan. Invest. Prosper.

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

September 27, 2014 at 4:19 pm 2 comments

Perception vs. Reality: Interest Rates & the Economy

Magic Bottle

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

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

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

Source: Calafia Beach Pundit

Source: Calafia Beach Pundit

Fact or Fiction? QE Helps Economy

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

Source: Calafia Beach Pundit

Source: Calafia Beach Pundit

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

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

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

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

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

www.Sidoxia.com

Wade W. Slome, CFA, CFP®

Plan. Invest. Prosper.

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

 

September 7, 2013 at 10:07 pm 2 comments

Jobs and the DMV Economy

Line of People

If you have ever gone to get your driver’s license at the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV)…you may still be waiting in line? It’s a painful but often a mandatory process, and in many ways the experience feels a lot like the economic recovery we currently have been living through over the last four years. Steady progress is being made, but in general, people hardly notice the economy moving forward.

My geographic neighbor and blogger here in Orange County, California (Bill McBride – Calculated Risk) has some excellent visuals that compare our sluggish DMV economy with previous economic cycles dating back to 1948:

Source: Calculated Risk

Source: Calculated Risk

As you can see from the chart above, the current economic recovery (red-line), as measured by job losses, is the slowest comeback in more than a half-century. Basically, over a two year period, the U.S. lost about nine million jobs, and during the following three years the economy regained approximately seven million of those jobs – still digging out of the hole. Last Friday’s June jobs report was welcomed, as it showed net jobs of +195,000 were added during the month, and importantly the previous two months were revised higher by another +70,000 jobs. These data points combined with last month’s Fed’s QE3 tapering comments by Ben Bernanke help explain why the continued rout in 10 year Treasury rates has continued in recent weeks, propelling the benchmark rate to 2.71% – almost double the 1.39% rate hit last year amidst continued European financial market concerns.

As with most recessions or crashes, the bursting of the bubble (i.e., damage) occurs much faster than the inflation (i.e., recovery), and McBride’s time series clearly shows this fact:

Source: Calculated Risk

Source: Calculated Risk

While pessimists point to the anemic pace of the current recovery, the glass half-full people (myself included) appreciate that the sluggish rebound is likely to last longer than prior recoveries. There are two other key dynamics underlying the reported employment figures:

  • Continued Contraction in Government Workers: Excessive government debt and deficits have led to continued job losses – state and local job losses appear to be stabilizing but federal cuts are ongoing.
  • Decline in the Labor Force Participation Rate:  Discouraged workers and aging Baby Boomer demographics have artificially lowered the short-term unemployment figures because fewer people are looking for work. If economic expansion accelerates, the participation contraction trend is likely to reverse.

Skepticism Reigns Supreme

Regardless of the jobs picture and multi-year expansion, investors and business managers alike remain skeptical about the sustainability of the economic recovery. Anecdotally I encounter this sentiment every day, but there are other data points that bolster my assertion. Despite the stock market more than doubling in value from the lows of 2009, CNBC viewer ratings are the weakest in about 20 years (see Value Walk) and investments in the stock market are the lowest in 15 years (see Gallup poll chart below):

Source: Gallup

Source: Gallup

Why such skepticism? Academic research in behavioral finance highlights innate flaws in human decision-making processes. For example, humans on average weigh losses twice as much as gains as economist and Nobel prizewinner Daniel Kahneman explains in his book Thinking Fast and Slow (see Investing Caffeine article: Decision Making on Freeways and in Parking Lots). Stated differently, the losses from 2008-2009 are still too fresh in the minds of Americans. Until the losses are forgotten, and/or the regret of missing gains becomes too strong, many investors and managers will fearfully remain on the sideline.

The speed of our economic recovery is as excruciatingly agonizing, and so is waiting in line at the DMV. The act of waiting can be horrific, but obtaining a driver’s license is required for driving and investing is necessary for retirement. If you don’t want to go to investing jail, then you better get in the investing line now before job growth accelerates, because you don’t want to be sent to the back of the line where you will have to wait longer.

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.

July 6, 2013 at 10:41 pm Leave a comment

Hammering Heads with Circular Conversations

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This article is an excerpt from a previously released Sidoxia Capital Management complementary newsletter (July 1, 2013). Subscribe on the right side of the page for a complete monthly update.

Deciphering what is driving the markets on a day-to-day, week-to-week, or month-to-month basis can feel like repeatedly hammering your head. In order to grasp the reasons why financial markets go up and down, one must have a conversation with your brain explaining that good news can be bad for asset prices, and bad news can be good for asset prices. Huh…how can that be? These circular conversations are what keep newspapers, magazines, media commentators, and bloggers in business… and what baffle many investors.

For example, headlines often reflect sentiments such as these:

  • “Unemployment Figures Disappoint…Dow Jones Rallies +200 Points on QE3 Continuation Hopes”
  • “Unemployment Figures Delight…Dow Jones Tanks -200 Points on QE3 Discontinuation Fears”
  • “Economic Figures Revised Lower by -0.2%…Dow Jones Skyrockets +200 Points as Lower Interest Rates Propel Stock Prices.”
  • “Economic Figures Revised Higher by +0.2%…Dow Jones Plummets -200 Points as Higher Interest Rates Deflate Stock Prices.”

On rare occasions these headlines make sense, but often online media outlets are frantically changing the headlines as the markets whip back and forth from positive to negative. News-producing editors are continually forced to create ludicrous and absurd explanations that usually make no sense to informed long-term investors.

It’s important to recognize that if the financial markets made common sense, then investing for retirement would be simple and everyone would be billionaires. Unfortunately, financial markets frequently make no sense in the short-run. Stocks are volatile (often times for no rational reason), which is why stocks offer higher returns over the long-run relative to more stable asset classes.

Explaining the latest spike in stock/bond price volatility has been exacerbated in recent weeks as a result of the nation’s banker (the Federal Reserve) and its boss, Ben Bernanke, attempting to explain their future monetary policy plans. In theory, bringing light to a traditionally mysterious, closed-door Washington process should be a good thing…right?

Well, ever since a few weeks ago when Ben Bernanke and the FOMC (Federal Open Market Committee) disclosed that the stimulative bond buying program (QE3) could be slowed in 2013 and halted in 2014, financial markets globally experienced a sharp jolt of volatility – stock prices dropped and interest rates spiked. Counter-intuitively, Bernanke’s belief that the economy is on a sustained recovery path (expected GDP growth of +3.25% in both 2014 & 2015) spooked investors. More specifically, in the month of June, the S&P 500 index declined -1.5% in June; Dow Jones Industrial Index -1.4%; and the 10-year Treasury note’s yield jumped +0.3% to 2.5%. Greedy investors, however, should not forget that the stock market just posted its 2nd best quarter since 2009 – the S&P 500 climbed +2.4%. What’s more, the S&P 500 is up +13% and the Dow up +14% in the first half of 2013.

Bernanke Threatening to Take Away Investor Lollipops

Another way of looking at the recent volatility is by equating investors to kids and stimulative QE bond buying programs (Quantitative Easing) to lollipops. If the economy continues on this improvement trajectory (i.e., unemployment falls to 7% by next year) and inflation remains benign (below 2.5%), then Bernanke said he will take away investors’ QE lollipops. But like a pushover dad being pressured by kids at the candy store, Bernanke acknowledged that he could continue supplying investors QE lollipops, if the economic data doesn’t improve at the forecasted pace. At face value, receiving a specific timeline given by the Fed should be appreciated and normally people are happy to hear the Chairman speak rosily about the economy’s future. However, the mere thought of QE lollipops being taken away next year was enough to push investors into a “taper tantrum” (see also Investing Caffeine – Fed Fatigue article).

With scary headlines constantly circulating, a large proportion of investors are sitting on their hands (and cash) while staring like deer in headlights at these developments. Rather than a distracted driver texting, investors should be watching the road and mapping out their future investment destinations – not paying attention to irrelevant diversions. Astute investors realize that uncertainty surrounding Greece, Cyprus, fiscal cliff, sequestration, presidential elections, Iran, N. Korea, Syria, Turkey, taxes, QE3, etc., etc., etc., have been a constant. Regrettably the fear mongers paying attention to these useless headlines have witnessed their cash, gold, and Treasuries get trounced by equity returns since early 2009 (the S&P 500 index is up about +150%, including dividends). Optimists and realists, on the other hand, have seen their investment plans thrive. While the aforementioned list of concerns has dangled in front of our noses over the last year, we will have a complete new list of concerns to decipher over the coming weeks, months, and years. That’s the price a long-term investor pays if they want to earn higher returns in the volatile equity markets.

As strategist Don Hays points out, “Nothing is certain. Good investors love uncertainty.” Rather than getting consumed by fear with the endless number of changing uncertainties, the real risk for investors is outliving your savings. Paychecks are being stretched by inflationary pressures across all categories (e.g., healthcare, gasoline, utilities, food, movies, travel, etc.) and entitlements like Social Security and Medicare will likely not mean the same thing to us as it did for our parents. Unless investors plan on working into their 80s as greeters at Wal-Mart, and/or enjoy clipping Top Ramen coupons in a crammed apartment, then they should do themselves a favor by taking a deep breath and turning off the television, so they can be insulated from the constant doom and gloom. 

So as intimidating, circular conversations about good news being bad news, and bad news being good news continue to swirl around, focus instead on building a diversified investment plan that can adjust and adapt to the never-ending list of uncertainties. Your head will feel a lot better than it would after repetitive hammer strikes.

www.Sidoxia.com

Wade W. Slome, CFA, CFP®

Plan. Invest. Prosper.

DISCLOSURE: Sidoxia Capital Management (SCM) and some of its clients hold positions in certain exchange traded funds (ETFs) and 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.

July 1, 2013 at 8:31 am 2 comments

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