Posts tagged ‘FOMC’

Chicken or Beef? Time for a Stock Diet?

Chicken or Beef

The stock market has been gorging on gains over the last six years and the big question is are we ready for a crash diet? In other words, have we consumed too much, too fast? Since the lows of 2009 the S&P 500 index has more than tripled (or +209% without dividends).

In our daily food diets our proteins of choice are primarily chicken and beef. When it comes to finances, our investment choices are primarily stocks and bonds. There are many factors that can play into a meat-eaters purchase decision, including the all-important factor of price. When the price of beef spikes, guess what? Consumers rationally vote with their wallets and start substituting beef for relatively lower priced chicken options.

The same principle applies to stocks and bonds. And right now, the price of bonds in general have gone through the roof. In fact bond prices are so high, in Europe we are seeing more than $2 trillion in negative yielding sovereign bonds getting sucked up by investors.

Another area where we see evidence of pricey bonds can be found in the value of current equity risk premiums. Scott Grannis of Calafia Beach Pundit  posted a great 50-year history of this metric (chart below), which shows the premium paid to stockholders over bondholders is near the highest levels last seen during the Great Recession and the early 1980s. To clarify, the equity risk premium is defined as the roughly 5.5% yield currently earned on stocks (i.e., inverse of the approx. 18x P/E ratio) minus the 2.0% yield earned on 10-Year Treasury Notes.

Source: Scott Grannis

Source: Scott Grannis

The equity risk premium even looks more favorable if you consider the negative interest rate European environment mentioned earlier. The 60 billion euros of monthly debt in ECB (European Central Bank) quantitative easing purchases has accelerated the percentage of negative yield bond issuance, as you can see from the chart below.

Source: FT Alphaville

Source: FT Alphaville

Hibernating Bond Vigilantes

Dr. Ed Yardeni coined the famous phrase “bond vigilantes” to describe the group of hedge funds and institutional investors who act as the bond market sheriffs, ready to discipline any over leveraged debt-issuing entity by deliberately cratering prices via bond sales. For now, the bond vigilantes have in large part been hibernating. As long as the vigilantes remain asleep at the switch, stock investors will likely continue earning these outsized premiums.

How long will these fat equity premiums and gains stick around? A simple diet of sharp interest rate increases or P/E expansion would do the trick. An increase in the P/E ratio could come in one of two ways: 1) sustained stock price appreciation at a rate faster than earnings growth; or 2) a sharp earnings decline caused by a recessionary environment. On the bright side for the bulls, there are no imminent signs of interest rate spikes or recessions. If anything, dovish commentary coming from Fed Chairwoman Janet Yellen and the FOMC would indicate the economy remains in solid recovery mode. What’s more, a return to normalized monetary policy will likely involve a very gradual increase in interest rates – not a piercing rise as feared by many.

Regardless of whether it’s beef prices or bond prices spiking, rather than going on a crash diet, prudently allocating your money to the best relative value will serve your portfolio and stomach best over the long run.

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.

March 28, 2015 at 10:11 pm Leave a comment

“Patient” Prick Proves More Pleasure than Pain

Needle

I will be the first one to admit I hate needles. In fact, I’ve been known to skip my annual flu shots out of cowardice simply to avoid the harmless prick of the syringe. The mere thought of a long needle jabbing into my arm, or other fleshy part of my body, has had the chilling effect of generating irrational decisions (i.e., I forgo flu shot benefits for no logical reason).

For months the talking heads and so-called pundits have speculated and fretted over the potential removal of the term “patient” from the periodically issued Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) statement. Since the end of 2014, the statement read that the Fed “can be patient in beginning to normalize” monetary policy.

For investors, the linguistic fear of the removal of “patient” is as groundless as my needle fears. In the financial markets, the consensus view is often wrong. The stronger the euphoric consensus, the higher the probability the consensus will soon be wrong. You can think of technology in the late 1990s, real estate in the mid-2000s; or gold trading at $1,800/oz in 2011. The reverse holds true for the pessimistic consensus. Value guru, extraordinaire, Bill Miller stated it well,

“Stocks do not get undervalued unless somebody is worried about something. The question is not whether there are problems. There are always problems. The question is whether those problems are already fully discounted or not.”

 

Which brings us back to the Fed’s removal of the word “patient”. Upon release of the statement, the Dow Jones Industrial index skyrocketed about 400 points in 30 minutes. Considering the overwhelming consensus was for the Fed to remove the word “patient”, and given the following favorable factors, should anyone really be surprised that the market is trading near record highs?

FAVORABLE FACTORS:

  • Queen Dove Yellen as Fed Chairwoman
  • Declining interest rates near generational low
  • Stimulative, low oil prices that are declining
  • Corporate profits at/near record highs
  • Unemployment figures approaching cyclical lows
  • Core inflation in check below 2% threshold

While the short-term relief rally may feel good for the bulls, there are still some flies in the ointment, including a strong U.S. dollar hurting trade, an inconsistent housing recovery, and a slowing Chinese economy, among other factors.

Outside the scandalous “patient” semantics was the heated debate over the Fed’s “Dot Plot,” which is just a 3rd grader’s version of showing the Fed members’ Federal Funds rate forecasts. While to a layman the chart below may look like an elementary school dot-to-dot worksheet, in reality it is a good synopsis of interest rate expectations. Part of the reason stocks reacted so positively to the Fed’s statement is because the “Dot Plot” median interest rate expectations of 0.625% came down 0.50% for 2015, and by more than 0.60% for 2016 to 1.875%. This just hammers home the idea that there are currently no dark clouds looming on the horizon that would indicate aggressive rate hikes are coming.

Source via BusinessInsider

Source via BusinessInsider

These sub-2% interest rate expectations over the next few years hardly qualify as a “hawkish” stance. As I’ve written before, the stock market handled a 2.5% hike in stride when the Fed Funds rate increased in 1994 (see also 1994 Bond Repeat or Stock Defeat?). What’s more, the Fed Funds rate cycle peaked at 5.0% in 2007 before the market crashed in the Great Recession of 2008-2009.

Although volatility is bound to increase as the Federal Reserve transitions out of a six-year 0% interest rate policy, don’t let the irrational fear of a modest Fed hike prick scare you away from potential investment benefits.

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.

March 21, 2015 at 9:15 am 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

Fed Fatigue Setting In

Girl child

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

Source: Yahoo! Finance

Source: Yahoo! Finance

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

Source: Wikipedia

Source: Wikipedia

Short Memories – What Have You Done for Me Lately?

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

Bernanke: The Center of the Universe?

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

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

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

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

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

Wade W. Slome, CFA, CFP®

Plan. Invest. Prosper.

www.Sidoxia.com

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

June 22, 2013 at 11:08 am 8 comments


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