Posts tagged ‘inflation’

Who Gives a #*&$@%^?!

 

Sleep-Relax

The stock market is just a big rigged casino, fueled by a reckless money printing Fed that is artificially inflating a global asset bubble, right? That seems to be the mentality of many investors as evidenced by the lack of meaningful domestic stock fund buying/inflows (see also Digesting Stock Gains). Underlying investor skepticism is a foundation of mistrust and detachment caused by the unprecedented 2008-09 financial crisis, when regulators fell asleep at the switch.

Making matters worse, the proliferation of the Internet, smart phones, and social media, has forced investors to digest a never-ending avalanche of breaking news headlines and fear mongering. Here is a partial list of the items currently frightening investors:

  • Interest Rates: Will the Federal Reserve raise interest rates in June or September?
  • Volatility: The Dow is up 200 points one day and then down 200 the next day. Keep me away.
  • Greece: One day Greece is going to exit the eurozone and the next day it’s going to reach a deal with the IMF (International Monetary Fund) and European leaders.
  • Terrorism / Middle East: ISIS is like a cancer taking over the Middle East, and it’s only a matter of time before they invade our home soil. And if ISIS doesn’t get us, then the Iranian boogeyman will attack us with their inevitable nuclear weapons.
  • Inflation: The economy is slowing improving and as we approach full employment in the U.S., wage pressure is about to kick inflation into high gear. After falling significantly, oil prices are inching higher, which is also moving inflation in the wrong direction.
  • Strong Dollar: Now that Europe is copying the U.S. by implementing quantitative easing, domestic exports are getting squeezed and revenue growth is slowing.
  • Bubble? Stocks have had a monster run over the last six years, so we must be due for a crash…correct?

Seemingly, on a daily basis, some economist, strategist, analyst, or talking head pundit on TV articulately explains how the financial markets can fall off the face of the earth. Unfortunately, there is a problem with this type of analysis, if your evaluation is solely based upon listening to media outlets. Bottom line is you can always find a reason to sell your investments if you listen to the so-called experts. I made this precise point a few years ago when I highlighted the near tripling in stock prices despite the barrage of bad news (see also A Series of Unfortunate Events).

While I am certainly not asking anyone to blindly assume more risk, especially after such a large run-up in stock prices, I find it just as important to point out the following:

“Taking too much risk is as risky as not taking enough risk.”

In other words, driving 35 mph on the freeway may be more life threatening than driving 75 mph.  In the world of investing, driving too slowly by putting all your savings in cash or low-yielding securities, as many Americans do, may feel safe. However this default strategy, which may feel comfortable for many, may actually make attaining your financial goals impossible.

At Sidoxia, we create customized Investment Policy Statements (IPS) for all our clients in an effort to optimize risk levels in a Goldilocks fashion…not too hot, and not too cold. Retirement is supposed to be relaxing and stress free. Do yourself a favor and create a disciplined and systematic investment plan. Being apathetic due to an infinite stream of worrisome sounding headlines may work in the short-run, but in the long-run it’s best to turn off the noise…unless of course you don’t give a &$#*@%^ and want to work as a greeter at Wal-Mart in your mid-80s.

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) 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 ICContact page.

June 13, 2015 at 10:27 am 1 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

After 2014 Stock Party, Will Investors Have a 2015 Hangover?

Group of Young People at a Party Sitting on a Couch with Champagne

This article is an excerpt from a previously released Sidoxia Capital Management complementary newsletter (January 2, 2015). Subscribe on the right side of the page for the complete text.

Investors in the U.S. stock market partied their way to a sixth consecutive year of gains during 2014 (S&P 500 +11.4%; Dow Jones Industrial Average +7.5%; and NASDAQ +13.4%). From early 2009, at the worst levels of the crisis, the S&P 500 has more than tripled – not too shabby. But similar to recent years, this year’s stock bubbly did not flow uninterrupted. Several times during the party, neighbors and other non-participants at the stock party complained about numerous concerns, including the Fed Tapering of bond purchases; the spread of the deadly Ebola virus; tensions in Ukraine; the rise of ISIS; continued economic weakness across the eurozone; the decline of “The Fragile Five” emerging markets (Brazil, India, Indonesia, Turkey and South Africa), and other headline grabbing stories to name just a few. In fact, the S&P 500 briefly fell -10% from its mid-September level to mid-October before a Santa Claus rally pushed the index higher by +4% in the last quarter of the year.

Even though the U.S. was partying hardy in 2014, it was not all hats and horns across all segments of the market. Given all the geopolitical trepidation and sluggish economic growth abroad, international markets as measured by the Total World Stock ETF (VT) gained a paltry +1.2% for the year. This dramatic underperformance was also seen in small capitalization stocks (Russell 2000 Index ETF – IWM), which only rose +3.7% last year, and the Total Bond Market (BND), which increased +2.9%.

Despite these anxieties and the new Federal Reserve Chairwoman Janet Yellen removing the Quantitative Easing (QE) punchbowl in 2014, there were still plenty of festive factors that contributed to gains last year, which should prevent any hangover for stocks going into 2015. As I wrote in Don’t Be a Fool, corporate profits are the lifeblood for stock prices. Fortunately for investors, the news on this front remains positive (see chart below). As strategist Dr. Ed Yardeni pointed out a few weeks ago, profit growth is still expected to accelerate to +9.3% in 2015, despite the recent drag from plummeting oil prices on the energy sector.

Source: Dr. Ed's Blog

Source: Dr. Ed’s Blog

While a -50% decline in oil prices may depress profits for some energy companies, the extra discretionary spending earned by consumers from $2.24 per gallon gasoline at the pump has been a cheery surprise. This consumer spending tailwind, coupled with the flow-through effect to businesses, should provide added stimulative benefit to the economy in 2015 too. Let’s not forget, this economic energy boost comes on the heels of the best economic growth experienced in the U.S. in over a decade. More specifically, the recently reported third quarter U.S. GDP (Gross Domestic Product) statistics showed growth accelerating to +5%, the highest rate seen since 2003.

Another point to remember about lower energy prices is how this phenomenon positively circulates into lower inflation and lower interest rate expectations. If energy prices remain low, this only provides additional flexibility to the Federal Reserve’s monetary policy decisions. With the absence of any substantive inflation data, Chairwoman Yellen can remain “patient” in hitting the interest rate brakes (i.e., raising the Federal Funds rate) in 2015.

Geographically, our financial markets continue to highlight our country’s standing as one of the best houses in a sluggish global growth neighborhood. Not only do we see this trend in our outperforming stock indexes, relative to other countries, but we also see this in the rising value of the U.S. dollar. It is true that American exports become less competitive internationally in a strong dollar environment, but from an investment standpoint, a rising dollar makes U.S. stock markets that much more attractive to foreign investors. To place this dynamic into better perspective, I would note the U.S. Dollar index rose by approximately +13% in 2014 against a broad basket of currencies (including the basket case Russian Rouble). With the increasing likelihood of eurozone Quantitative Easing to take place, in conjunction with loose monetary policies in large developed markets like Japan, there is a good chance the dollar will continue its appreciation in the upcoming year.

On the political front, despite the Republicans winning a clean sweep in the midterm elections, we should still continue to expect Washington gridlock, considering a Democrat president still holds the all-important veto power. But as I have written in the past (see Who Said Gridlock is Bad?), gridlock has resulted in our country sitting on a sounder financial footing (i.e., we have significantly lower deficits now), which in turn has contributed to the U.S. dollar’s strength. At the margin however, one can expect any legislation that does happen to get passed by the Republican majority led Congress will likely be advantageous for businesses and the stock market.

When Will the Party End?

What could cause the party to come to a screeching halt? While I can certainly point out some obvious potential negative scenarios (e.g., European financial mayhem, China economic speed bump, interest rate spike), history shows us it is usually unforeseen events (surprises) that cause significant downdrafts in stock market prices. The declines rarely come from factors you read in current newspaper headlines or hear on television.

Just like any party, this year is likely to include high points and low points in the financial markets – and of course some lull periods mixed in as well. However, with the economy improving and risk appetites increasing, we are bound to see more party poopers on the sidelines come join the celebration in 2015. It will be a while before the cops arrive and stop the party, so there should be plenty of time to prepare for any hypothetical hangover.

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

January 3, 2015 at 10:00 am Leave a comment

Why 0% Rates? Tech, Globalization & EM (Not QE)

Globalization

Recently I have written about the head-scratching, never-ending, multi-decade decline in long-term interest rates (see chart below). Who should care? Well, just about anybody, if you bear in mind the structure of interests rates impacts the cost of borrowing on mortgages, credit cards, automobiles, corporate bonds, savings accounts, and practically every other financial instrument you can possibly think of. Simplistic conventional thinking explains the race to 0% global interest rates by the loose monetary Quantitative Easing (QE) policies of the Federal Reserve. But validating that line of thinking becomes more challenging once you consider QE ended months ago. What’s more, contrary to common belief, rates declined further rather than climb higher after QE’s completion.

10-Year Treasury Yields - Calafia 12-14

Source: Calafia Beach Pundit 

More specifically, if you look at rates during this same time last year, the yield on the 10-Year Treasury Note had more than doubled in the preceding 18 months to a level above 3.0%. The consensus view then was that the eventual wind-down of QE would only add gasoline to the fire, causing bond prices to decline and rates to extend an indefinite upwards march. Outside of bond guru Jeff Gundlach, and a small minority of prognosticators, the herd was largely wrong – as is usually the case. As we sit here today, the 10-Year Note currently yields a paltry 2.26%, which has led to the long-bond iShares 20-Year Treasury ETF (TLT)  jumping +22% year-to-date (contrary to most expectations).

The American Ostrich

Like an ostrich sticking its head in the sand, us egocentric Americans tend to ignore details relating to others, especially if the analyzed data is occurring outside the borders of our own soil. Unbeknownst to many, here are some key country interest rates below U.S. yields:

  • Switzerland: 0.33%
  • Japan: 0.34%
  • Germany: 0.60%
  • Finland: 0.70%
  • Austria: 0.75%
  • France: 0.88%
  • Denmark: 0.89%
  • Sweden: 0.98%
  • Ireland: 1.29%
  • Spain: 1.69%
  • Canada 1.80%
  • U.K: 1.85%
  • Italy: 1.93%
  • U.S.: 2.26% (are our rates really that low?)

Outside of Japan, these listed countries are not implementing QE (i.e., “Quantitative Easing”) as did the United States. Rather than QE being the main driver behind the multi-decade secular decline in interest rates, there are other more important disinflationary forces at work driving interest rates lower.

Technology, Globalization, and Emerging Market Competition (T.G.E.M.)

While tracking the endless monthly inflation statistics is a useful exercise to understand the tangible underlying pricing components of various industry segments (e.g., see 20 pages of CPI statistics), the larger and more important factors can be attributed to  the somewhat more invisible elements of technology, globalization, and emerging market competition (T.G.E.M).

CPI Components

Starting with technology, to put these dynamics into perspective, consider the number of transistors, or the effective horsepower, on a semiconductor (a.k.a. computer “chip”) today. The overall impact on global standards of living is nothing short of astounding. Take an Intel chip for example – it had approximately 2,000 transistors in 1971. Today, semiconductors can cram over 10,000,000,000 (yes billions – 5 million times more) transistors onto a single semiconductor. Any individual can look no further than their smartphone to understand the profound implications this has not only on pricing in general, but society overall. To illustrate this point, I would direct you to a post highlighted by Professor Mark J. Perry, who observed the cost to duplicate an iPhone during 1991 would have been more than $3,500,000!

There are an infinite number of examples depicting how technology has accelerated the adoption of globalization. More recently, events such as the Arab Spring point out how Twitter (TWTR) displaced costly military engagement alternatives. The latest mega-Chinese IPO of Alibaba (BABA) was also emblematic of the hunger experienced in emerging markets to join the highly effective economic system of global capitalism.

I think New York Times journalist Tom Friedman said it best in his book, The World is Flat, when he made the following observations about the dynamics occurring in emerging markets:

“My mom told me to eat my dinner because there are starving children in China and India – I tell my kids to do their homework because Chinese and Indians are starving for their jobs”.

“France wants a 35 hour work week, India wants a 35 hour work day.”

There may be a widening gap between rich and poor in the United States, but technology and globalization is narrowing the gap across the rest of the world. Consider nearly half of the world’s population (3 billion+ people) live in poverty, earning less than $2.50 a day (see chart below). Technology and globalization is allowing this emerging middle class climb the global economic ladder.

Poverty

These impoverished individuals may not be imminently stealing our current jobs and driving general prices lower, but their children, and the countless educated millions in other international markets are striving for the same economic security and prosperity we have. The educated individuals in the emerging markets that have tasted capitalism are giving new meaning to the word “urgency”, which is only accelerating competition and global pricing pressures. It comes as no surprise to me that this generational migration from the poor to the middle class is putting a lid on inflation and interest rates around the world.

Declining costs of human labor from emerging markets however is not the only issue putting a ceiling on general prices. Robotics, an area in which Sidoxia holds significant investments, continues to be an area of fascination for me. With human labor accounting for the majority of business costs, it’s no wonder the C-suite is devoting more investment dollars towards automation. Rather than hire and train expensive workers, why not just buy a robot? This is not just happening in the U.S. – in fact the Chinese purchased more robots than Americans last year. And why not? An employer does not have to pay a robot overtime compensation; a robot never shows up late; robots never sue for discrimination or harassment; robots receive no healthcare or retirement benefits; and robots work 24 hours/day, 7 days/week, and 365 days/year.

While newspapers, bloggers, and talking heads like to point to the simplistic explanation of loose, irresponsible monetary policies of global central banks as the reason behind a four decade drop in interest rates that is only a small part of the story. Investors and policy makers alike should be paying closer attention to the factors of technology, globalization, and emerging market competition as the more impactful dynamics systematically driving down long term interest rates and inflation.

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

December 26, 2014 at 11:04 am 2 comments

Santa and the Rate-Hike Boogeyman

Slide1

Boo! … Rates are about to go up. Or are they? We’re in the fourth decade of a declining interest rate environment (see Don’t be a Fool), but every time the Federal Reserve Chairman speaks or monetary policies are discussed, investors nervously look over their shoulder or under their bed for the “Rate Hike Boogeyman.” While this nail-biting mentality has resulted in lost sleep for many, this mindset has also unfortunately led to a horrible forecasting batting average for economists. Santa and many equity investors have ignored the rate noise and have been singing Ho Ho Ho as stock prices hover near record highs.

A recent Deutsche Bank report describes the prognostication challenges here:

i.)  For the last 10 years, professional forecasters have consistently been wrong on their predictions of rising interest rates.

Source: Deutsche Bank

Source: Deutsche Bank via Vox

ii.)  For the last five years, investors haven’t fared any better. As you can see, they too have been continually wrong about their expectations for rising interest rates.

Source: Deutsche Bank via Vox

Source: Deutsche Bank via Vox

I’m the first to admit that rates have remained “lower for longer” than I guessed, but unlike many, I do not pretend to predict the exact timing of future rate increases. I strongly believe inevitable interest rate rises are not a matter of “if” but rather “when”. However, trying to forecast the timing of a rate increase can be a fool’s errand. Japan is a great case in point. If you take a look at the country’s interest rates on their long-term 10-year government bonds (see chart below), the yields have also been declining over the last quarter century. While the yield on the 10-Year U.S. Treasury Note is near all-time historic lows at 2.18%, that rate pales in comparison to the current 10-Year Japanese Bond which is yielding a minuscule 0.36%. While here in the states our long-term rates only briefly pierced below the 2% threshold, as you can see, Japanese rates have remained below 2% for a jaw-dropping duration of about 15 years.

Source: TradingEconomics.com

Source: TradingEconomics.com

There are plenty of reasons to explain the differences in the economic situation of the U.S. and Japan (see Japan Lost Decades), but despite the loose monetary policies of global central banks, history has proven that interest rates and inflation can remain stubbornly low for longer than expected.

The current pundit thinking has Federal Reserve Chairwoman Yellen leading the brigade towards a rate hike during mid-calendar 2015. Even if the forecasters finally get the interest rate right for once, the end-outcome is not going to be catastrophic for equity markets. One need look no further than 1994 when Federal Reserve Chairman Greenspan increased the benchmark federal funds rate by a hefty +2.5%. (see 1994 Bond Repeat?). Rather than widespread financial carnage in the equity markets, the S&P 500 finished roughly flat in 1994 and resumed the decade-long bull market run in the following year.

Currently 15 of the 17 Fed policy makers see 2015 median short-term rates settling at 1.125% from the current level of 0-0.25%. This hardly qualifies as interest rate Armageddon. With a highly transparent and dovish Janet Yellen at the helm, I feel perfectly comfortable the markets can digest the inevitable Fed rate hikes. Will (could) there be volatility around changes in Fed monetary policy during 2015? Certainly – no different than we experienced during the “taper tantrum” response to Chairman Ben Bernanke’s rate rise threats in 2013 (see Fed Fatigue).

As 2014 comes to an end, Santa has wrapped investor portfolios with a generous bow of returns in the fifth year of this historic bull market. Not everyone, however, has been on Santa’s “nice” list. Regrettably, many sideliners have received no presents because they incorrectly assessed the elimination impact of Quantitative Easing (QE). If you prefer presents over a lump of coal in your stocking, it will be in your best interest to ignore the Rate Hike Boogeyman and jump on Santa’s sleigh.

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

December 20, 2014 at 12:24 pm 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

Goldilocks Meets the Fragile 5 and the 3 Bears

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

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

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

Fragile 5 Bed Too Hard

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

Source: Financial Times

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

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

Argentina’s Adversity

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

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

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

Their Cold is Our Warm

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

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

Source: Crossing Wall Street

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

Source: Bespoke

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

www.Sidoxia.com

Wade W. Slome, CFA, CFP®

Plan. Invest. Prosper.

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

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

Bernanke: Santa Claus or Grinch?

Santa - Grinch

I’ve written plenty about my thoughts on the Fed (see Fed Fatigue) and all the blathering from the media talking heads. Debates about the timing and probability of a Fed “taper” decision came to a crescendo in the recent week. As is often the case, the exact opposite of what the pundits expected actually happened. It was not a huge surprise the Federal Reserve initiated a $10 billion tapering of its $85 billion monthly bond buying program, but going into this week’s announcement, the betting money was putting their dollars on the status quo.

With the holiday season upon us, investors must determine whether the tapered QE1/QE2/QE3 gifts delivered by Bernanke are a cause for concern. So the key question is, will this Santa Claus rally prance into 2014, or will the Grinch use the taper as an excuse to steal this multi-year bull market gift away?

Regardless of your viewpoint, what we did learn from this week’s Fed announcement is that this initial move by the Fed will be a baby step, reducing mortgage-backed and Treasury security purchases by a measly $5 billion each. I say that tongue in cheek because the total global bond market has been estimated at about $80,000,000,000,000 (that’s $80 trillion).

As I’ve pointed out in the past, the Fed gets way too much credit (blame) for their impact on interest rates (see Interest Rates: Perception vs Reality). Interest rates even before this announcement were as high/higher than when QE1 was instituted. What’s more, if the Fed has such artificial influence over interest rates, then why do Austria, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Japan, Netherlands, Sweden, and Switzerland all have lower 10-year yields than the U.S.? Maybe their central banks are just more powerful than our Fed? Unlikely.

Dow 128,000 in 2053

Readers of Investing Caffeine know I have followed the lead of investing greats like Warren Buffett and Peter Lynch, who believe trying to time the markets is a waste of your time. In a recent Lynch interview, earlier this month, Charlie Rose asked for Lynch’s opinion regarding the stock market, given the current record high levels. Here’s what he had to say:

“I think the market is fairly priced on what is happening right now. You have to say to yourself, is five years from now, 10 years from now, corporate profits are growing about 7 or 8% a year. That means they double, including dividends, about every 10 years, quadruple every 20, go up 8-fold every 40. That’s the kind of numbers you are interested in. The 10-year bond today is a little over 2%. So I think the stock market is the best place to be for the next 10, 20, 30 years. The next two years? No idea. I’ve never known what the next two years are going to bring.”

READ MORE ABOUT PETER LYNCH HERE

Guessing is Fun but Fruitless

I freely admit it. I’m a stock-a-holic and member of S.A. (Stock-a-holic’s Anonymous). I enjoy debating the future direction of the economy and financial markets, not only because it is fun, but also because without these topics my blog would likely go extinct. The reality of the situation is that my hobby of thinking and writing about the financial markets has no direct impact on my investment decisions for me or my clients.

There is no question that stocks go down during recessions, and an average investor will likely live through at least another half-dozen recessions in their lifetime. Unfortunately, speculators have learned firsthand about the dangers of trading based on economic and/or political headlines during volatile cycles. That doesn’t mean everyone should buy and do nothing. If done properly, it can be quite advantageous to periodically rebalance your portfolio through the use of various valuation and macro metrics as a means to objectively protect/enhance your portfolio’s performance. For example, cutting exposure to cyclical and debt-laden companies going into an economic downturn is probably wise. Reducing long-term Treasury positions during a period of near-record low interest rates (see Confessions of a Bond Hater) as the economy strengthens is also likely a shrewd move.

As we have seen over the last five years, the net result of investor portfolio shuffling has been a lot of pain. The acts of panic-selling caused damaging losses for numerous reasons, including a combination of agonizing transactions costs; increased inflation-decaying cash positions; burdensome taxes; and a mass migration into low-yielding bonds. After major indexes have virtually tripled from the 2009 lows, many investors are now left with the gut-wrenching decision of whether to get back into stocks as the markets reach new highs.

As the bulls continue to point to the scores of gifts still lying under the Christmas tree, the bears are left hoping that new Fed Grinch Yellen will come and steal all the presents, trees, and food from the planned 2014 economic feast. There are still six trading days left in the year, so Santa Bernanke cannot finish wrapping up his +30% S&P 500 total return gift quite yet. Nevertheless, ever since the initial taper announcement, stocks have moved higher and Bernanke has equity investors singing “Joy to the World!

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.

December 22, 2013 at 1:45 am Leave a comment

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

U.S. Small-Caps Become Global Big Dog

Saint Bernard

With the emerging market currencies and financial markets under attack; Japan’s Nikkei index collapsing in the last three weeks; and the Federal Reserve hinting about its disciplinarian tapering of $85 billion in monthly QE3 bond purchases, one would expect higher beta small cap stocks to get hammered in this type of environment.

Before benchmarking results in the U.S., let’s take a closer look at some of the international carnage occurring from this year’s index value highs:

  • Japan: -19% (Nikkei 225 index)
  • Brazil:  -22% (IBOVESPA index)
  • Hong Kong: -12% (Hang Seng index)
  • Russia:  -19% (MICEX/RTS indexes)

Not a pretty picture. Given this international turmoil and the approximately -60% disintegration in U.S. small-cap stock prices during the 2007-2009 financial crisis, surely these economically sensitive stocks must be getting pummeled in this environment? Well…not necessarily.

Putting the previously mentioned scary aspects aside, let’s not forget the higher taxes, Sequestration, and ObamaCare, which some are screaming will push us off a ledge into recession. Despite these headwinds, U.S. small-caps have become the top dog in global equity markets. Since the March 2009 lows, the S&P 600 SmallCap index has more than tripled in value ( about +204%, excluding dividends), handily beating the S&P 500 index, which has advanced a respectable +144% over a similar timeframe. Even during the recent micro three-week pullback/digestion phase, small cap stocks have retreated -2.8% from all-time record highs (S&P 600 index). Presumably higher dividend, stable, globally-diversified, large-cap stocks would hold up better than their miniature small-cap brethren, but that simply has not been the case. The S&P 500 index has underperformed the S&P 600 by about -80 basis points during this limited period.

How can this be the case when currencies and markets around the world are under assault? Attempting to explain short-term moves in any market environment is a hazardous endeavor, but that has never slowed me down in trying. I believe these are some of the contributing factors:

1)      No Recession. There is no imminent recession coming to the U.S. As the saying goes, we hear about 10 separate recessions before actually experiencing an actual recession. The employment picture continues to slowly improve, and the housing market is providing a slight tailwind to offset some the previously mentioned negatives. If you want to fill that half-full glass higher, you could even read the small-cap price action as a leading indicator for a pending acceleration in a U.S. cyclical recovery.

2)      Less International. The United States is a better house in a shaky global neighborhood (see previous Investing Caffeine article), and although small cap companies are expanding abroad, their exposure to international markets is less than their large-cap relatives. Global investors are looking for a haven, and U.S. small cap companies are providing that service now.

3)      Inflation Fears. Anxiety over inflation never seems to die, and with the recent +60 basis point rise in 10-year Treasury yields, these fears appear to have only intensified. Small-cap stocks cycle in and out of favor just like any other investment category, so if you dig into your memory banks, or pull out a history book, you will realize that small-cap stocks significantly outperformed large-caps during the inflationary period of the 1970s – while the major indexes effectively went nowhere over that decade. Small-cap outperformance may simply be a function of investors getting in front of this potential inflationary trend.

Following the major indexes like the Dow Jones Industrials index and reading the lead news headlines are entertaining activities. However, if you want to become a big dog in the investing world and not get dog-piled upon, then digging into the underlying trends and market leadership dynamics of the market indexes is an important exercise.

Wade W. Slome, CFA, CFP®

Plan. Invest. Prosper.

www.Sidoxia.com

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

June 15, 2013 at 7:34 pm Leave a comment

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