Posts tagged ‘Qe3’

Uncertainty: Love It or Hate It?

Source: Photobucket

Source: Photobucket

Uncertainty is like a fin you see cutting through the water – many people are uncertain whether the fin sticking out of the water is a great white shark or a dolphin? Uncertainty generates fear, and fear often produces paralysis. This financially unproductive phenomenon has also reared its ugly fin in the investment world, which has led to low-yield apathy, and desensitization to both interest rate and inflation risks.

The mass exodus out of stocks into bonds worked well for the very few that timed an early 2008 exit out of equities, but since early 2009, the performance of stocks has handily trounced bonds (the S&P has outperformed the bond market (BND) by almost 100% since the beginning of March 2009, if you exclude dividends and interest). While the cozy comfort of bonds has suited investors over the last five years, a rude awakening awaits the bond-heavy masses when the uncertain economic clouds surrounding us eventually lift.

The Certainty of Uncertainty

What do we know about uncertainty? Well for starters, we know that uncertainty cannot be avoided. Or as former Secretary of the Treasury Robert Rubin stated so aptly, “Nothing is certain – except uncertainty.”

Why in the world would one of the world’s richest and most successful investors like Warren Buffett embrace uncertainty by imploring investors to “buy fear, and sell greed?” How can Buffett’s statement be valid when the mantra we continually hear spewed over the airwaves is that “investors hate uncertainty and love clarity?” The short answer is that clarity is costly (i.e., investors are forced to pay a cherry price for certainty). Dean Witter, the founder of his namesake brokerage firm in 1924, addressed the issue of certainty in these shrewd comments he made some 78 years ago, right before the end of worst bear market in history:

“Some people say they want to wait for a clearer view of the future. But when the future is again clear, the present bargains will have vanished.”

 

Undoubtedly, some investors hate uncertainty, but I think there needs to be a distinction between good investors and bad investors. Don Hays, the strategist at Hays Advisory, straightforwardly notes, “Good investors love uncertainty.”

When everything is clear to everyone, including the novice investing cab driver and hairdresser, like in the late 1990s technology bubble, the actual risk is in fact far greater than the perceived risk. Or as Morgan Housel from Motley Fool sarcastically points out, “Someone remind me when economic uncertainty didn’t exist. 2000? 2007?”

What’s There to Worry About?

I’ve heard financial bears argue a lot of things, but I haven’t heard any make the case there is little uncertainty currently. I’ll let you be the judge by listing these following issues I read and listen to on a daily basis:

  • Fiscal cliff induced recession risks
  • Syria’s potential use of chemical weapons
  • Iran’s destabilizing nuclear program
  • North Korean missile tests by questionable new regime
  • Potential Greek debt default and exit from the eurozone
  • QE3 (Quantitative Easing) and looming inflation and asset bubble(s)
  • Higher taxes
  • Lower entitlements
  • Fear of the collapse in the U.S. dollar’s value
  • Rigged Wall Street game
  • Excessive Dodd-Frank financial regulation
  • Obamacare
  • High Frequency Trading / Flash Crash
  • Unsustainably growing healthcare costs
  • Exploding college tuition rates
  • Global warming and superstorms
  • Etc.
  • Etc.
  • Etc.

I could go on for another page or two, but I think you get the gist. While I freely admit there is much less uncertainty than we experienced in the 2008-2009 timeframe, investors’ still remain very cautious. The trillions of dollars hemorrhaging out of stocks into bonds helps make my case fairly clear.

As investors plan for a future entitlement-light world, nobody can confidently count on Social Security and Medicare to help fund our umbrella-drink-filled vacations and senior tour golf outings. Today, the risk of parking your life savings in low-rate wealth destroying investment vehicles should be a major concern for all long-term investors. As I continually remind Investing Caffeine readers, bonds have a place in all portfolios, especially for income dependent retirees. However, any truly diversified portfolio will have exposure to equities, as long as the allocation in the investment plan meshes with the individual’s risk tolerance and liquidity needs.

Given all the uncertain floating fins lurking in the economic background, what would I tell investors to do with their hard-earned money? I simply defer to my pal (figuratively speaking), Warren Buffett, who recently said in a Charlie Rose interview, “Overwhelmingly, for people that can invest over time, equities are the best place to put their money.” For the vast majority of investors who should have an investment time horizon of more than 10 years, that is a question I can answer with certainty.

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 BND, but at the time of publishing SCM had no direct positions 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 9, 2012 at 1:37 am 4 comments

Autumn, Elections and Replacement Refs

Article is an excerpt from previously released Sidoxia Capital Management’s complementary October 1, 2012 newsletter. Subscribe on right side of page.

As September has come to a close, the grand finale of our annual seasons has commenced… autumn. How do we know autumn is here? Well, for starters, the leaves are changing colors; the weather is about to cool; and the NFL replacement referees are watching Sunday football games from their couches.

While 2012 is split into quarters, football games and investment seasons are also divided into four quarters. Right now, the economic fourth quarter has just started and the home team is winning. As we can see from the stock market scoreboard, the S&P 500 index is up +15% this year (+6% in Q3) and the NASDAQ index has catapulted +20% through September (+6% also in Q3). The U.S. home team is winning, but a fumble, blocked kick, or interception could mean the difference between an exciting win and a devastating loss.

Another game divided into four parts is the game of presidential politics. However, presidential elections are divided into four years – not four quarters. Five weeks from now, we’ll find out if our Commander in Chief Obama will get to lead our team for another game lasting four years, or whether backup quarterback Mit Romney will be called into the game. The fans are getting restless due to anemic growth and lingering joblessness, but for now, the coach is keeping the president in the starting lineup. Both President Obama and Governor Romney will take some head-to-head practice snaps against each other in the first of three scheduled presidential debates beginning this week.

Bernanke Changes Rules

The New York Jets have Tim Tebow for their secret weapon (1 for 1 yesterday!), and the United States economy has Ben Bernanke. Although our home team may be winning, it has required some monetary rule-changing policies to be instituted by Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke to keep our team in the lead. Just a few weeks ago, Mr. Bernake instituted QE3 (3rd round of quantitative easing), which is an open-ended mortgage buying program designed to lower home buying interest rates and stimulate the economy (see Helicopter Ben to QE3 Rescue). The short-term benefits of the $40 billion monthly bond buying binge are relatively clear (lower borrowing costs for homebuyers), but the longer-term costs of inflation are stewing patiently on the backburner.

Source: Calafia Beach Pundit (Scott Grannis)

As you can see from the chart above, August median home prices are up +10% for existing single-family homes over the last year. Housing affordability is at extremely attractive levels, and although the bank loan purse strings are tight, a modest loosening is beginning to unfold.

Economy Playing Injured

Our starters may still be playing, but many are injured, just like the jobless are limping through the employment market. Encouragingly, although unemployment remains stubbornly high, the number of people collecting unemployment checks is a lot lower (-1.25 million fewer than a year ago). Not great news, but at least we are hobbling in the right direction (see chart below).

Source: Calafia Beach Pundit (Scott Grannis)

Time for Fiscal Cliff Hail Mary?

If a team is losing at the end of a game, a “Hail Mary” pass might be necessary. We are quickly nearing this fiscal Armageddon situation as the approximately $700 billion “fiscal cliff” (a painful combo of spending cuts and tax hikes) kicks in at the end of the year (see PIMCO chart below via The Reformed Broker).

Running trillion dollar deficits in perpetuity is not a sustainable strategy, so for most people, a combination of spending cuts and/or tax hikes makes sense to narrow the gap (see chart below). Last year’s recommendations from the bipartisan Simpson-Bowles commission, which were ignored, are not a bad place to start. What happens in the lame-duck session of Congress (after the elections) will  dramatically impact the score of the current economic game, and decide who wins and who loses.

Source: Calafia Beach Pundit (Scott Grannis)

Heated debates continue on how the gap between expenses and revenues will be narrowed, but regardless, Democrats will continue to push for capital gains tax hikes on the rich (see tax chart below); and the Republicans will push to cut spending on entitlements, including untenable programs like Medicare and Social Security.

Source: The Wall Street Journal

The game is not quite over, but the fourth quarter promises to be a bloody battle. So while the replacement refs may be back at home, the experienced returning refs have been known to blow calls too. Let’s just hope that autumn, the season of bounteous fecundity, ends up being a continued trend of sweet market success, rather than a political period of botched opportunities.

Wade W. Slome, CFA, CFP®

Plan. Invest. Prosper.

www.Sidoxia.com

DISCLOSURE: Sidoxia Capital Management (SCM) and some of its clients hold positions in certain exchange traded funds (ETFs), but at the time of publishing SCM had no direct positions in 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 1, 2012 at 11:29 am Leave a comment

Helicopter Ben to QE3 Rescue

Faster than a speedy credit default swap, more powerful than a federal funds interest rate cut, and able to leap a tall Mario Draghi in a single bound, look…it’s Helicopter Ben! How did Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke become a monetary superhero with such a cool nickname as Helicopter Ben (a.k.a. “HB”)? Bernanke, a former Princeton University professor, has widely been known to be a diligent student of the Great Depression, and his aviation nickname stems from a 2002 speech in which he referenced dropping money from a helicopter to combat deflation. While investors may worry about HB’s ability to fight the inflation thugs, there should be no questions about his willingness to implement accommodative, deflation-fighting monetary policies.

Chairman Bernanke may not epitomize your ideal superhero, however this slightly past middle-aged bearded and balding man has helped mastermind some of the most creative and aggressive monetary rescue efforts our country and globe has seen in the history of man (and woman). This week’s money-printing QE3 announcement solidified Bernanke’s historic capital saturating ranking.

Since Helicopter Ben’s heroic appointment as Federal Reserve Chairman in 2006 by George W. Bush, Bernanke has instituted numerous monetary gadgets in hopes of meeting the Federal Reserve’s dual mandate, which is i) to achieve low inflation and ii) to strive for maximum employment. Arguably, given the anemic growth here in the U.S.; the recession in Europe; and slowing growth in the emerging markets (i.e., China, Brazil, India, etc.), slack in the economy and static labor wages have largely kept inflation in check. With the first part of the dual mandate met, Bernanke has had no problem putting his monetary superpowers to work.

As referenced earlier, Bernanke’s bazooka launch of QE3, an open ended MBS (Mortgage Back Securities) bond binging program, will add $40 billion of newly purchased assets to the Fed’s balance sheet on a monthly basis until the labor market improves “substantially” (whatever that means). What’s more, in addition to the indefinite QE3, Bernanke has promised to keep the federal funds rate near zero “at least through mid-2015,” even for a “considerable time after the economic recovery strengthens.”

HB’s Track Record

Throughout superhero history, Superman, Spider-man, and Batman have used a wide-array of superhuman powers, extraordinary gadgets, and superior intellect to conquer evil-doers and injustices across the globe. Bernanke has also forcefully put his unrivaled money-printing talents to work in an attempt to cure the financial ills of the world. Here’s a quick multi-year overview of how Bernanke has put his unique talents to print trillions of dollars and keep interest rates suppressed:

Rate Cuts (September 2007 – December 2008): Before “quantitative easing” was a part of our common vernacular, the Fed relied on more traditional monetary policies, such as federal funds rate targeting, conducted through purchases and sales of open market securities. Few investors recall, but before HB’s fed funds rate cut rampage of 10 consecutive reductions in 2007 and 2008 (the fed funds rate went from 5.25% to effectively 0%), Bernanke actually increased rates three times in 2006.

Crisis Actions (2007 – 2009): Love him or hate him, Bernanke has been a brave and busy soul in dealing with the massive proportions of the global financial crisis. If you don’t believe me, just check out the Financial Crisis Timeline listed at the St. Louis Federal Reserve. Many investors don’t remember, but Bernanke helped orchestrate some of the largest and most unprecedented corporate actions in our history, including the $30 billion loan to JPMorgan Chase (JPM) in the Bear Stearns takeover; the $182 billion bailout of AIG; the conversion of Morgan Stanley (MS) and Goldman Sachs Group Inc. (GS) into bank holding companies; and the loan/asset-purchase support to Fannie Mae (FNMA) and Freddie Mac (FMCC). These actions represented just the tip of the iceberg, if you also consider the deluge of liquidity actions taken by the Fed Chairman.

HB Creates Acronym Soup

In order to provide a flavor of the vastness in emergency programs launched since the crisis, here is an alphabet soup of program acronyms into which the Fed poured hundreds of billions of dollars:

  • Term Asset-Backed Securities Loan Facility (TALF)
  • Term Auction Facility (TAF)
  • Money Market Investor Funding Facility (MMIFF)
  • Commercial Paper Funding Facility (CPFF)
  • Primary Dealer Credit Facility (PDCF)
  • Asset-Backed Commercial Paper Money Market Fund Liquidity Facility (AMLF)
  • Temporary Reciprocal Currency Arrangements (Swap lines)
  • Term Securities Lending Facility (TSLF)

Plenty of acronyms to go around, but these juicy programs have garnered most of investors’ attention:

QE1 (November 2008 – March 2010): In hopes of lowering interest rates for borrowers and stimulating the economy, HB spearheaded the Fed’s multi-step, $1 trillion+ buying program  of MBS (mortgage backed securities) and Treasuries.

QE2 (November 2010 – June 2011): Since the Fed felt QE1 didn’t pack enough monetary punch to keep the economy growing at a fast enough clip, the FOMC (Federal Open Market committee) announced its decision to expand its holdings of securities in November 2010. The Committee maintained its existing policy of reinvesting principal payments from its securities holdings and to also purchase a further $600 billion of longer-term Treasury securities by the end of the second quarter of 2011 (an equivalent pace of about $75 billion per month).

Operation Twist (September 2011 – December 2012): What started out as a $400 billion short-term debt for longer-term debt swap program in September 2011, expanded to a $667 billion program in June 2012. With short-term rates excessively low, Bernanke came up with this Operation Twist scheme previously used in the early 1960s. Designed to flatten the yield curve (bring down long-term interest rates) to stimulate economic activity, Bernanke thought this program was worth another go-around. Unlike quantitative easing, Operation Twist does not expand the Fed’s balance sheet – the program merely swaps short-term securities for long-term securities. Currently, the program is forecasted to conclude at the end of this year.

The Verdict on HB

So what’s my verdict on the continuous number of unprecedented actions that Helicopter Ben and the Fed have taken? Well for starters, I have to give Mr. Bernanke an “A-” on his overall handling of the financial crisis. Had his extreme actions not been taken, the pain and agony experienced by all would likely be significantly worse, and the financial hole a lot deeper.

With that said, am I happy about the announcement of QE3 and the explosion in the Fed’s money printing activities? The short answer is “NO”. It’s difficult to support a program with questionable short-run interest rate benefits, when the menacing inflationary pressures are likely to outweigh the advantages. The larger problem in my mind is the massive fiscal problem we are experiencing (over $16 trillion in debt and endless trillion dollar deficits). More importantly, this bloated fiscal position is creating an overarching, nagging crisis of confidence. A resolution to the so-called “fiscal cliff,” or the automated $600 billion in tax increases and spending cuts, is likely to have a more positive impact on confidence than a 0.05% – 0.25% reduction in mortgage rates from QE3. Once adequate and sustained growth returns, and inflation rears its ugly head, how quickly Helicopter Ben tightens policy will be his key test.

Until then, Bernanke will probably continue flying around while gloating in his QE3 cape, hoping his quantitative easing program will raise general confidence. Unfortunately, his more recent monetary policies appear to be creating diminishing returns. Even before QE3’s implementation, Helicopter Ben has witnessed his policies expand the Fed’s balance sheet from less than $900 billion at the beginning of the recession to almost $3 trillion today. Despite these gargantuan efforts, growth and confidence have been crawling forward at only a modest pace.

No matter the outcome of QE3, as long as Ben Bernanke remains Federal Reserve Chairman, and growth remains sluggish, you can stay confident this financial man of steel will continue dumping money into the system from his helicopter. If Bernanke wants to create a true legendary superhero ending to this story, the kryptonite-like effects of inflation need to be avoided. This means, less money-printing and more convincing of Congress to take action on our out-of-control debt and deficits. Now, that’s a comic book I’d pay to read.

Wade W. Slome, CFA, CFP®

Plan. Invest. Prosper.

www.Sidoxia.com

DISCLOSURE: Sidoxia Capital Management (SCM) and some of its clients hold positions in certain exchange traded funds (ETFs), but at the time of publishing SCM had no direct positions in JPM, AIG, MS, GS, FNMA, FMCC,  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.

September 16, 2012 at 5:46 pm 1 comment

Financial Olympics: Chasing Gold, Siver & Bronze

Article is an excerpt from previously released Sidoxia Capital Management’s complementary August 1, 2012 newsletter. Subscribe on right side of page.

As a record number of 204 nations compete at the XXX Olympic Games in London, and millions of couch-watchers root on their favorite athletes, a different simultaneous competition is occurring…the 2012 Financial Olympics. So far, both Olympics have provided memorable moments for all. While the 2012 London Olympic viewers watched James Bond and Queen Elizabeth II parachute into a stadium filled with 80,000 cheering fans, investors cheered the Dow Jones Industrial Average above the 13,000 level on the same day of the opening ceremony. We have already witnessed a wide range of emotions displayed by thousands of athletes chasing gold, silver, and bronze, and the same array of sentiments associated with glory and defeat have been observed in the 2012 Financial Olympics. There is still a way to go, but despite all the volatility, the stock market is still up a surprising +10% in 2012.

Here were some of the key Financial Olympic events last month:

Draghi Promises Gold for Euro: Some confident people promise gold medals while others promise the preservation of a currency – European Central Bank President (ECB) Mario Draghi personifies the latter. Draghi triggered the controversy with comments he made at the recent Global Investment Conference in London. In the hopes of restoring investor confidence Draghi emphatically proclaimed, “The ECB is ready to do whatever it takes to preserve the euro. And believe me, it will be enough.” To view this excerpt, click video link here.

U.S. Economy Wins Bronze: Whereas Europe has been disqualified from the Financial Olympics due to recessionary economic conditions (Markit predicts a -0.6% contraction in Q3 eurozone GDP), the U.S. posted respectable Q2 GDP results of +1.5%. This surely is an effort worthy of a bronze medal given the overall sluggish, global demand. Fears over a European financial crisis contagion; undecided U.S. Presidential election; and uncertain “fiscal cliff” (automatic tax hikes and spending cuts) are factors contributing to the modest growth. Nevertheless, the US of A has posted 12 consecutive quarters of economic growth (see chart below) and if some clarity creeps back into the picture, growth could reaccelerate.

Source (Calafia Beach Pundit)

No Podium for Spain: Spain’s recent economic achievements closely mirror those of the athletic team, which thus far has failed to secure a sporting medal of any color. Why no Spanish glory? Recently, the Bank of Spain announced the country’s economy was declining at a -1.6% annual rate. Shortly thereafter, Spain estimated its economy would contract by -0.5% in 2013 instead of expanding +0.2%, as previously expected. Adding insult to injury, Valencia (Spain’s most indebted region) said central government support would be needed to repay its debts. These factors, and others, have forced the Spanish government to adopt severe austerity measures to cut its budget deficit by $80 billion through 2015. Spanish banks have negotiated a multi-billion-euro bailout, but they will have to hand control over to European institutions as a concession. Considering these facts, combined with an unemployment rate near 25%, one can appreciate the dominant and pervading losing spirit.

Global Central Banks Inject Financial Steroids: The challenging and competitive global growth environment is not new news to central bankers around the world. As a result, finance leaders around the world are injecting financial steroids into their countries via monetary stimulus (mostly rate cuts and bond buying). Like steroids, these actions may have short-term invigorating effects, but these measures can also have longer-term negative consequences (i.e., inflation). Here are some of the latest country-specific examples (also see chart below):

  • U.S. Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke has already shot a couple “Operation Twist” and “QE” (Quantitative Easing) bullets, but as global growth continues to slow, he has openly acknowledged his willingness to dig into his toolbox for additional measures under the right circumstances, including QE3.
  • The PBOC (People’s Bank of China) surprised many observers by employing its second rate cut in less than a month. The PBOC lowered its one-year lending rate by 0.31% to 6%.
  • The ECB (European Central Bank) lowered its key lending rate by 0.25% to an all-time low of 0.75% and also cut its overnight deposit rate (the equivalent of our Federal Funds rate) by 0.25% to 0%.
  • Brazil’s central bank recently cut its benchmark Selic rate for the 8th time in a year to an all-time low of 8% from 12.5%.
  • South Korea’s central bank lowered its key interest rates by 0.25% to 3%, its first such action in three years.
  • The BOE (Bank of England) raised its quantitative easing goal by 50 billion pounds (~$78 billion).

 Source (Calafia Beach Pundit)

Banks Disqualified from Libor Games: As a result of the Libor (London Interbank Offered Rate) rigging scandal, Barclays CEO Robert Diamond resigned from the bank and agreed to forfeit $31 million in bonus money. Libor is a measure of what banks pay to borrow from each other and, perhaps more importantly, it acts as a measuring stick for determining rates on mortgages and other financial contracts. In an attempt to boost the perceived financial strength of their financial condition, multiple banks artificially manipulated the calculation of the Libor rate. Ironically, this scandal likely helped consumers with lower mortgage and credit card rates.

Rates Running Backwards: Sports betting on teams and events is measured by point spreads and numerical odds. In the global debt markets, betting is measured by interest rates. So while losing, debt-laden countries like Greece and Spain have seen their interest rates explode upwards, winning, fiscally responsible countries (including Switzerland, Austria, Denmark, Netherlands, Germany, and Finland) have seen their bond yields turn NEGATIVE. That’s right, investors are earning a negative return. Rather than making a bet on higher yielding bonds, many investors are flocking to the perceived safety of these interest-losing bonds (see chart below). This game cannot last forever, especially for individual and institutional investors who require income to meet liquidity and return requirements.

Source (The Financial Times)

China Wins GDP Gold Medal but No World Record: China currently leads in both the Olympic Games gold medal count (China 13 vs. U.S. 9 through July 31st) and GDP competition. Given the fiscal and monetary stimulus measures the government has implemented, it appears their economy is bottoming. Despite the tremendous anxiety over China’s growth, China’s National Bureau of Statistics just announced a +7.6% Q2 GDP growth rate (see chart below), down from +8.1% in Q1. Although this is the slowest growth since the global financial crisis, Even though this was the slowest GDP growth rate in over three years, most countries would die for this level of growth. Adding evidence to the bottoming storyline, HSBC recently reported the preliminary Chinese PMI manufacturing index rose to 49.5 in July, up from 48.2 in June – the highest reading since early this year (February).

Source (Calafia Beach Pundit)

Higgs Wins God Particle Gold: Michael Phelps and Missy Franklin are not the only people to win gold medals in their fields. Peter Higgs and fellow scientists had 50-years of their physics research validated when the Large Hadron Collider discovered the long-sought Higgs boson (a.k.a., the “god particle”). The collider, located on the Franco-Swiss border, measured approximately 17 miles in length, took years to build, and cost about $8 billion to finish. Pundits are declaring the unearthing of Higgs boson as the greatest scientific discovery since the sequencing of the human genome. Higgs’s gold medal may just come in the form of a Nobel Prize in Physics.

Source (The Financial Times)

Wade W. Slome, CFA, CFP®

Plan. Invest. Prosper.

www.Sidoxia.com

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

August 4, 2012 at 8:22 am Leave a comment

2011: Beating Batter into Flat Pancake

As it turns out, 2011 can be characterized as the year of the pancake…the flat pancake. While the Dow Jones Industrial Average (Dow) rose about 6% this year (its third consecutive annual gain), the S&P 500 ended the year flat at 1257.6 (-0.003%), the smallest yearly move in more than four decades. Along the way in 2011, there was plenty of violent beating and whipping of the lumpy pancake batter before the flat cake was cooked for the year. With respect to the financial markets, the 2011 lumps came in the form of various unsavory events:

* Never-Ending Eurozone Financial Saga: After Ireland and Portugal sought bailouts, Greece added its negligent financial storyline to the financial soap opera. Whether European government leaders can manage out-of-control deficits and debt loads will determine if Greece and other peripheral countries will topple larger countries like Italy and Spain.

* Credit Rating Downgrade: Standard & Poor’s, the highest profile credit rating agency, downgraded the U.S.’s long-term debt rating to AA+ from AAA due to high debt levels and Congressional legislators inability to hammer out a deficit-reduction plan during the debt ceiling negotiations.

* Japanese Earthquake and Tsunami: Japan and the global economy were rocked by a magnitude 9.0 earthquake and tsunami on March 11, 2011, which resulted in 15,844 people dead and 3,451 people missing. The ripple effects are still being felt through large industries like the automobile and electronics industries.

* Arab Spring Protests: Protesters throughout the Middle East and North Africa provided additional uncertainty to the global political map as demonstrators demanded regime change and more political freedoms. In the long-run, removing oppressive leaders like Hosni Mubarak (Egypt’s leader for 30 years), Muammar Gadaffi (Libya’s leader for 42 years), and Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali (Tunisia’s president for 23 years) should be beneficial for global stability, but in the short-run, how the new leadership vacuum will be filled remains ambiguous.

* Occupy Movement Voices Disapproval: The Occupy Wall Street movement began on September 17, 2011 in Liberty Square in Manhattan’s Financial District, and spread to over 100 cities in the U.S. There has not been a cohesive articulated agenda, but a common thread underlying all the Occupy movements is a sense that 99% of the population is being treated unfairly due to a flawed corrupt system controlled by Wall Street that is feeding the richest 1%.

All these lumps experienced in 2011 were not settling to investors’ stomachs. As a result individuals continued the trend of piling into bonds, in hopes of soothing their investment tummies. Long-term Treasury prices spiked upwards in 2011 (+29% as measured by TLT Treasury ETF) and soaring 10-year Treasury note prices pushed yields (1.87%) below yields on S&P 500 equities (2.1%). Despite a more than 3,400 point increase in the Dow (+39%) since the end of 2008, investors have still poured $774 billion into bonds versus $33 billion yanked from equities, according to EPFR Global. Over-weighting bonds makes sense for some, including retirees on fixed budgets, but many investors should brace for an inevitable reversal in bond prices. Eventually, the sweet taste of safety achieved from bond appreciation will turn to heartburn, once interest rates reverse their 30 year trend of declines.

Syrupy Factors Help Sweeten Pancakes 
 

Although the aforementioned factors lead to historically high volatility and flat flavors in 2011, there are also some countering sweet reasons that make equities look more palatable for 2012. Here are some of the factors:

* Record Corporate Profits: Even with the constant barrage of fear, uncertainty, and doubt distributed via the media channels, corporations posted record profits in 2011, with an estimated increase of +16% over last year (and another forecasted +10% rise in 2012 – Source: S&P).

* Historic Levels of Cash: Record profits mean record cash, and all those riches have been piling up on non-financial corporate balance sheets at historic levels. At the beginning of Q4 the figure stood at $2.12 trillion. Companies have generally been stingy, but as the recovery progresses, they have increasingly been spending on technology, equipment, international expansion, and even the beginnings of hiring.

* Interest Rates at 60 Year Lows: Interest rates are at record lows and home affordability has never been better with 30-year fixed rate mortgages hovering below 4%. Housing may not come screaming back, but the foundation for a recovery is being laid.

* Improving Economic Variables: Whether you’re looking at broader economic activity (Gross Domestic Product up for nine consecutive quarters); employment growth (declining unemployment rate and 21 consecutive months of private job creation), or consumer spending (consumer confidence approaching multi-year highs), all major signs are currently pointing to an improving outlook.

* Near Record Exports: While the U.S. dollar has made some recent gains against foreign currencies because of the financial crisis in Europe, the relative value of the dollar remains historically low versus the major global currencies. The longer-term depreciation of the dollar has buoyed exports of U.S. goods to near record levels despite the global uncertainty.

* Unprecedented Central Bank Support Globally: Ben Bernanke and the U.S. Federal Reserve is committed to keeping exceptionally low levels of lending interest rates at least through mid-2013, while also implementing “Operation Twist” and potential further quantitative easing (QE3). Translation: Ben Bernanke is going to do everything in his power to keep interest rates low in order to stimulate economic growth. The European Central Bank (ECB) has pulled out its lending fire trucks too, with an unparalleled three-year lending program to extinguish liquidity fires in the European banking sector.

* Improving Mergers & Acquisitions Environment: We may not be back to the 2006 buyout “hay-days,” but U.S. mergers and acquisitions activity increased +24% in 2011. What’s more, high profile potential IPOs like an estimated $100 billion Facebook offering may help kick-start the new equity issuance market in 2012.

* Tasty Fat Dividends: Rarely have S&P 500 dividend yields (currently 2.1%) outpaced the interest rates earned on 10-year Treasury note yields, but now happens to be one of those times. Typically S&P 500 stock dividends have averaged about 40% of the yield on 10-year Treasury notes, and now it is 112%. In Q3 of 2011, dividend increases rose +17% and expectations are for nearly a +11% increase in 2012, said Howard Silverblatt, senior index analyst at S&P.

Any way you cut it (or beat the batter), 2011 was a volatile year. And despite all the fear, uncertainty, and doubt, profits continue to grow and sovereign nations are being forced to deal with their fiscal problems. Unforeseen risks always exist, but if Europe can contain its financial crisis and the U.S. recovery can continue into this new election year, then opportunities in the 2012 attractively priced equity markets should sweeten the flat equity pancake we ate in 2011.

Wade W. Slome, CFA, CFP®

Plan. Invest. Prosper.

www.Sidoxia.com

DISCLOSURE: Sidoxia Capital Management (SCM) and some of its clients own certain exchange traded funds, including a short position in TLT, 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.

January 3, 2012 at 1:07 am Leave a comment

Boo! Will History Offer a Bearish Trick or BullishTreat?

October is not only a scary month for trick-or-treaters during Halloween, but October is also a scary month for investors.

Boo! Scared yet? Well if not, need I remind you of the market crashes of 1929 and 1987 also occurred during this ghoulish month? With a wall of worry and concerns galore overwhelming myopic traders, it’s no surprise nervous memories become shortened in anxious times like these.

The financial crisis of 2008-2009 is seared into the minds of investors and every Greek debt negotiation creates fresh new Armageddon fears. But perhaps history will repeat itself in a shorter-term more positive way? Just last year, I wrote about the excessive pessimism (It’s All Greek to Me) in July 2010, when “de-risking” was the buzz word of the day and hedge funds were bailing in droves – right before the +30%+ QE2 (quantitative easing) melt-up. Despite a massive expansion in earnings growth over the last few years,  the S&P 500 just touched 1074 a few weeks ago – putting the index at similar trading levels as in Fall 2009 (see chart below).

Source: Yahoo! Finance

Will Europe crater the U.S. into an abyss, or will Bernanke need to pull a QE3 rabbit out of his hat? I’m not sure what’s going to happen, but I do know it’s better to follow the wisdom of Warren Buffett who says to “buy fear and sell greed.” If a 2% 10-Year Treasury, elevated VIX, and trillions in swollen cash reserves do not represent fear, then I may just need to pack my backs and head out to the Greek island of Santorini – that way I can at least enjoy my fear on a sunny beach.

Regardless of the Q4 outcome, I thought my friend Mark Twain could provide some insight about history’s role in financial markets. Here is an Investing Caffeine flashback from the fall of 2009 (History Never Repeats Itself, but it Often Rhymes) which also questioned the extremely negative sentiment at the time (S&P 500: 1069):

As Mark Twain said, “History never repeats itself, but it often rhymes.” There are many bear markets with which to compare the current financial crisis we are working through. By studying the past we can understand the repeated mistakes of others (caused by fear and greed), and avoid making similar emotional errors.

Do you want an example? Here you go:

Today there are thoughtful, experienced, respected economists, bankers, investors and businessmen who can give you well-reasoned, logical, documented arguments why this bear market is different; why this time the economic problems are different; why this time things are going to get worse — and hence, why this is not a good time to invest in common stocks, even though they may appear low.”
– Jim Fullerton, former chairman of the Capital Group of the American Funds (written  November 7, 1974)

 

Although the quote above seems appropriate for 2009, it actually is reflective of the bearish mood felt in most bear markets. We have been through wars, assassinations, banking crises, currency crises, terrorist attacks, mad-cow disease, swine flu, and yes, even recessions. And through it all, most have managed to survive in decent shape. Let’s take a deeper look.

1973-1974 Case Study:

For those of you familiar with this period, recall the prevailing circumstances:

  • Exiting Vietnam War
  • Undergoing a recession
  • 9% unemployment
  • Arab Oil Embargo
  • Watergate: Presidential resignation
  • Collapse of the Nifty Fifty stocks
  • Rising inflation

Not too rosy a scenario, yet here’s what happened:

S&P 500 Price (12/1974): 69

S&P 500 Price (8/2009): 1,021

That is a whopping +1,380% increase, excluding dividends.

What Investors Should Do:

  1. Avoid Knee-Jerk Reactions to Media Reports: Whether it’s radio, television, newspapers, or now blogs, the headlines should not emotionally control your investment decisions. Historically, media venues are lousy at identifying changes in price direction. Reporters are excellent at telling you what is happening or what just happened – not what is going to happen.
  2. Save and Invest: Regardless of the market direction, entitlements like Medicare and social security are under stress, and life expectancies are increasing (despite the sad state of our healthcare system), therefore investing is even more important today than ever.
  3. Create a Systematic, Disciplined Investment Plan: I recommend a plan that takes advantage of passive, low-cost, tax-efficient investment strategies (e.g. exchange-traded and index funds) across a diversified portfolio. Rather than capitulating in response to market volatility, have a systematic process that can rebalance periodically to take advantage of these circumstances.

For DIY-ers (Do-It-Yourselfers), I suggest opening a low-cost discount brokerage account and research firms like Vanguard Group, iShares, or Select Sector SPDRs. If you choose to outsource to a professional advisor, I recommend interviewing several fee-only* advisers – focusing on experience, investment philosophy, and potential compensation conflicts of interest.

If you believe, like some economists, CEOs, and investors, we have suffered through the worst of the current “Great Recession” and you are sitting on the sidelines, then it might make sense to heed the following advice: “Some people say they want to wait for a clearer view of the future. But when the future is again clear, the present bargains will have vanished.” Dean Witter made those comments 77 years ago – a few weeks before the end of worst bear market in history. The market has bounced quite a bit since March of this year, but if history is on our side, there might be more room to go.

Portions of this article were originally published on September 16, 2009.

Wade W. Slome, CFA, CFP®

Plan. Invest. Prosper.

www.Sidoxia.com

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

*For disclosure purposes: Wade W. Slome, CFA, CFP is President & Founder of Sidoxia Capital Management, LLC, a fee-only investment adviser based in Newport Beach, California.

October 23, 2011 at 9:55 pm Leave a comment

A Serious Situation in Jackson Hole

Source: Daily Fill

Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke graced his presence once again upon the glorious skyline of the Grand Tetons in Jackson Hole, Wyoming for the annual Economic Policy Symposium organized by the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City. The event has been made famous for Bernanke’s famous 2010 QE2 (quantitative easing) speech and he once again did his best to confuse people this year with his cryptic and masterful “Fed Speak” techniques. While reporters from around the globe covered the event, we at Investing Caffeine were fortunate enough to access MTV’s Jersey Shore cast member’s, Mike “The Situation” Sorrentino, exclusive interpretation of Bernanke’s speech. Here’s how “The Situation” translated Bernanke’s talk:

Mr Bernanke: “The financial crisis and the subsequent slow recovery have caused some to question whether the United States, notwithstanding its long-term record of vigorous economic growth, might not now be facing a prolonged period of stagnation.”

 

The Situation’s Take: “Looks like this economy is f’d up big time. This is gonna be some sick dry-spell.”

Mr. Bernanke: “The pace of recovery in the United States has, for the most part, proved disappointing thus far… it is clear that the recovery from the crisis has been much less robust than we had hoped.”

 

The Situation’s Take: “These economist chumps would have more luck chucking darts at Snooki’s booty than they would hitting their predictions. Let’s call Joey, my booky, and I’ll show you how the Situation works his magic.”

Mr. Bernanke: “Manufacturing production in the United States has risen nearly 15 percent since its trough, driven substantially by growth in exports. Indeed, the U.S. trade deficit has been notably lower recently than it was before the crisis, reflecting in part the improved competitiveness of U.S. goods and services.”

 

The Situation’s Take: “Trashed girls at the clubs like me a lot more after some drinks, just like the trashed value of the dollar makes foreigners like our exports.”

Mr. Bernanke: “Temporary factors, including the effects of the run-up in commodity prices on consumer and business budgets and the effect of the Japanese disaster on global supply chains and production, were part of the reason for the weak performance of the economy in the first half of 2011; accordingly, growth in the second half looks likely to improve as their influence recedes.”

 

The Situation’s Take: “When I’m chasing tail, hangovers temporarily slow me down sometimes too. What Big Ben and the U.S. financial situation needs is some 5-Hour Energy drink, a tanning session, and a quick pump of the biceps at the gym.”

Mr. Bernanke: “We indicated that economic conditions–including low rates of resource utilization and a subdued outlook for inflation over the medium run–are likely to warrant exceptionally low levels for the federal funds rate at least through mid-2013.”

 

The Situation’s Take: “I feel you Benjamin. Keeping rates low is like having a permanent 2-for-1 happy hour at the club for the next two years. Now, that’s what I’m talkin’ bout!”

Mr. Bernanke: “The Federal Reserve has a range of tools that could be used to provide additional monetary stimulus. The Committee will continue to assess the economic outlook in light of incoming information and is prepared to employ its tools as appropriate to promote a stronger economic recovery.”

 

The Situation’s Take: “I hear ya Ben. Sometimes you gotta pull out the secret weapon, just like I have to flash my secret weapon…boom – these monster abs! Keep those secret tools coming Benny. I don’t care if it’s QE3, QE4, QE-infinity – just don’t listen to the haters.”

Mr. Bernanke: “I have confidence that our European colleagues fully appreciate what is at stake in the difficult issues they are now confronting and that, over time, they will take all necessary and appropriate steps to address those issues effectively and comprehensively.”

 

The Situation’s Take: “Everybody needs to put faith in their wingman sometimes.”

Mr. Bernanke: “Our K-12 educational system, despite considerable strengths, poorly serves a substantial portion of our population.”

 

The Situation’s Take: “Don’t mess with me Benny. C’mon, just take a look at me. I’m living proof of how our schools are the bomb! After all, the Situation learned his best moves with the ladies during high school.”

Mr. Bernanke: “Most of the economic policies that support robust economic growth in the long run are outside the province of the central bank…As I have emphasized on previous occasions, without significant policy changes, the finances of the federal government will inevitably spiral out of control.”

 

Situation’s Take: “Don’t let them politician punks make you do all the heavy lifting and flush the economy down the toilet. Looking this good ain’t easy and fixing the U.S. of A. ain’t either.”

Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke covered a lot of ground in his Jackson Hole speech. Given the mounds of complex data and dismal state of our economic situation, who better to translate and provide cutting edge analysis than Mike “The Situation” Sorrentino. Investing Caffeine appreciates the exclusive access given to us, but now I’m off to more important tasks at hand – before I do my fist pumping at the club tonight, I need to go work my abs and apply a nice spray tan.

Wade W. Slome, CFA, CFP®

Plan. Invest. Prosper.

www.Sidoxia.com

DISCLOSURE: For those taking this article seriously, please look up “parody” in the dictionary. Sidoxia Capital Management (SCM) and some of its clients own certain exchange traded funds, but at the time of publishing SCM had no direct position in any 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, 2011 at 10:16 am 3 comments

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