Posts tagged ‘quantitative easing’

Ignoring Economics and Vital Signs

As stock prices sit near all-time record highs, and as we enter year nine of the current bull market, I remain amazed and amused at the brazen disregard for important basic economic concepts like supply & demand, interest rates, and rising profits.

If the stock market was a doctor’s patient, over the last decade, bloggers, pundits, talking heads, and pontificators have been ignoring the improving, healthy patient’s vital signs, while endlessly predicting the death of the resilient stock market.

However, let’s be clear – it has not been all hearts and flowers for stocks – there have been numerous -10%, -15%, and -20% corrections since the Financial Crisis nine years ago. Those corrections included the Flash Crash, debt downgrade, Arab Spring, sequestration, Taper Tantrum, Iranian Nuclear Threat, Ukrainian-Crimea annexation, Ebola, Paris/San Bernardino Terrorist Attacks, multiple European & Chinese slowdowns and more.

Despite the avalanche of headlines and volatility, we all know the net result of these events – a more than tripling of stock prices (+259%) from March 2009 to new all-time record highs. With the incessant stream of negative news, how could prices appreciate so dramatically?

Over the years, the explanations by outside observers have changed. First, the recovery was explained as a “dead cat bounce” or a short-term cyclical bull market within a long-term secular bear market. Then, when stock prices broke to new records, the focus shifted to Quantitative Easing (QE1, QE2, QE3, and Operation Twist). The QE narrative implied the bull advance was temporary due to the non-stop, artificial printing presses of the Fed. Now that the Fed has not only ended QE but reversed it (the Fed is actually contracting its balance sheet) and hiked interest rates (no longer cutting), outsiders are once again at a loss. Now, the bears are left clinging to the flawed CAPE metric I wrote about three years ago (see CAPE Smells Like BS), and using political headlines as a theory for record prices (i.e., record stock prices stem from inflated tax cut and infrastructure spending expectations).

It’s unfortunate for the bears that all the conspiracy theory headlines and F.U.D. (fear, uncertainty, and doubt) over the last 10 years have failed miserably as predictors for stock prices. The truth is that stock prices don’t care about headlines – stock prices care about economics. More specifically, stock prices care about profits, interest rates, and supply & demand.

Profits

It’s quite simple. Stock prices have more than tripled since early 2009 because profits have more than tripled since 2009. As you can see from the Macrotrends chart below, 2009 – 2016 profits for the S&P 500 index rose from $6.86 to $94.54, or +1,287%. It’s no surprise either that stock prices stalled for 18 months from 2015 to mid-2016 when profits slowed. After profits returned to growth, stock price appreciation also resumed.

Source: Macrotrends

Interest Rates

When you could earn a +16% on a guaranteed CD bank rate in the early 1980s, do you think stocks were a more or less attractive asset class? If you can sense the rhetorical nature of my question, then you can probably understand why stocks were about as attractive as rotten milk or moldy bread. Back then, stocks traded for about 8x’s earnings vs. the 18x-20x multiples today. The difference is, today interest rates are near generational lows (see chart below), and CDs pay near +0%, thereby making stocks much more attractive. If you think this type of talk is heresy, ignore me and listen to the greatest investor of all-time, Warren Buffett who recently stated:

“Measured against interest rates, stocks are actually on the cheap side.”

 

Source: Trading Economics

Supply & Demand

Another massively ignored area, as it relates to the health of stock prices, is the relationship of new stock supply entering the market (e.g., new dilutive shares via IPOs and follow-on offerings), versus stock exiting the market through corporate actions. While there has been some coverage placed on the corporate action of share buybacks – about a half trillion dollars of stock being sucked up like a vacuum cleaner by cash heavy companies like Apple Inc. (AAPL) – little attention has been paid to the trillions of dollars of stock vanishing from mergers and acquisition activities. Yes, Snap Inc. (SNAP) has garnered a disproportionate amount of attention for its $3 billion IPO (Initial Public Offering), this is a drop in the bucket compared to the exodus of stock from M&A activity. Consider the trivial amount of SNAP supply entering the market ($3 billion) vs. $100s of billions in major deals announced in 2016 – 2017:

  • Time Warner Inc. merger offer by AT&T Inc. (T) for $85 billion
  • Monsanto Co. merger offer by Bayer AG (BAYRY) for $66 billion
  • Reynolds American Inc. merger offer by British American Tobacco (BTI) for $47 billion
  • NXP Semiconductors merger offer by Qualcomm Inc. (QCOM) for $39 billion
  • LinkedIn merger offer by Microsoft Corp. (MSFT) for $28 billion
  • Jude Medical, Inc. merger offer by Abbott Laboratories (ABT) for $25 billion
  • Mead Johnson Nutrition merger offer by Reckitt Benckiser Group for $18 billion
  • Mobileye merger offer by Intel Corp. (INTC) for $15 billion
  • Netsuite merger offer by Oracle Corp. (ORCL) for $9 billion
  • Kate Spade & Co. merger offer by Coach Inc. (COH) for $2 billion

While these few handfuls of deals represent over $300 billion in disappearing stock, as long as corporate profits remain strong, interest rates low, and valuations reasonable, there will likely continue to be trillions of dollars in stocks being purchased by corporations. This continued vigorous M&A activity should provide further healthy support to stock prices.

Admittedly, there will come a time when profits will collapse, interest rates will spike, valuations will get stretched, sentiment will become euphoric, and/or supply of stock will flood the market (see Don’t be a Fool, Follow the Stool). When the balance of these factors turn negative, the risk profile for stock prices will obviously become less desirable. Until then, I will let the skeptics and bears ignore the healthy economic vital signs and call for the death of a healthy patient (stock market). In the meantime, I will continue focus on the basics of math and offer my economics textbook to the doubters.

Wade W. Slome, CFA, CFP®

Plan. Invest. Prosper.

www.Sidoxia.com

DISCLOSURE: Sidoxia Capital Management (SCM) and some of its clients own AAPL, ABT, INTC, MSFT, T, and certain exchange traded funds, but at the time of publishing SCM had no direct position in SNAP, TWX, MON, KATE, N, MBLY, MJN, STJ, LNKD, NXPI, BAYRY, BTI, QCOM, ORCL, COH, RAI, Reckitt Benckiser Group,  any other security referenced in this article. No information accessed through the Investing Caffeine (IC) website constitutes investment, financial, legal, tax or other advice nor is to be relied on in making an investment or other decision. Please read disclosure language on IC “Contact” page.

May 14, 2017 at 12:27 am Leave a comment

The Fed: Myths vs. Reality

Crystal Ball

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Myth #2: The Fed controls all interest rates.

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

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

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

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

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

Source: Calafia Beach Pundit

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

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Wade W. Slome, CFA, CFP®

www.Sidoxia.com

Plan. Invest. Prosper. 

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

August 27, 2016 at 8:15 pm 11 comments

Sweating in the Doctor’s Waiting Room

waiting-room-1-1526405

My palms are clammy, heart-rate is elevated, and sweat has begun to drip down my brow. There I sit with my hands clenched in the doctor’s office waiting room. I’m trying to mentally prepare for the inevitable poking, prodding, and personal invasion, which will likely involve numerous compromising cavity searches from head to toe. The fun usually doesn’t end until a finale of needle piercing vaccinations and blood tests are completed.

Every year I go through the same mental fatigue war, battling every fear, uncertainty, and doubt. Will the doctor find a new ailment? How many shots will I have to get? Am I going to die?! Ultimately it never turns out as badly as I expect and I come out each and every doctor’s appointment saying, “Well, that wasn’t as bad as I thought it was going to be.”

Investors have been nervously sitting in the waiting room of the Federal Reserve for the last nine years (2006), which marks the last time the Fed increased the interest rate target for the Federal Funds rate. In arguably the slowest economic recovery since World War II, pundits, commentators, bloggers, strategists, and economists have been speculating about the timing of the Fed’s first rate hike of this economic cycle.  Like anxious patients, investors have fretted about the reversal of our country’s unprecedented zero interest rate monetary policy (ZIRP).

Despite dealing with the most communicative Federal Reserve in a few generations signaling its every thought and concern, uncertainty somehow continues to creep into investors’ psyches and reign supreme. We witnessed this same volatility occur between 2012-2014 when Ben Bernanke and the Fed decided to phase out the $4.5 trillion quantitative easing (QE) bond buying program. At the time, many people felt the financial markets were being artificially propped up by the money printing feds, and once QE ended, expectations were for exploding interest rates and the stock market/economy to fall like a house of cards. As we all know, that prediction turned out to be the furthest from the truth. In fact, quite the opposite occurred. Investors took their medicine (halting of QE) and the market proceeded to move upwards by about +40% from the initial “taper tantrum” (talks of QE ending in spring of 2012) until the actual QE completion in October 2014.

The thought of rate hike cycles are never fun, but after swallowing the initial rate hike pill, investors will feel just fine after coming to terms with the gentle trajectory of future interest rate increases. The behavioral model of 1) investor fear, then 2) subsequent relief has been a recurring process throughout economic history. As you can see below, the bark of Federal Reserve interest rate target hikes has been much worse than the bite. Initially there is a modest negative reaction (approximately -7% decline in stock prices) and then a significant positive reaction (about +21%).

Fed Rate Cycles Performance

With an ultra-dove Fed Chief in charge, this rate hike cycle should look much different than prior periods. Chairwoman Yellen has clearly stated, “Even after the initial increase in the target funds rate, our policy is likely to remain highly accommodative.” Her colleague, New York Fed Chair William Dudley, has supported this idea by noting the path of rate hikes will be “shallow.”

Even if you are convinced rate hikes will cause an immediate recession, history is not on your side as shown in the study below. On average, since 1955, the time to a next recession after a Fed Rate hike takes an average of 41 months (ranging from 11 months to as long as 86 months).

Fed Rate Cycle - Duration

As a middle aged man, one would think I would get used to my annual doctor’s check-up, but somehow fear manages to find a way of asserting itself. Investors’ have been experiencing the same anxiety as anticipation builds before the first interest rate hike announcement – likely this week. Markets may continue their jitteriness in front of the Fed’s announcement, but based on history, a ¼ point hike is more likely to be a prescription of economic confidence than economic doom. Everyone should feel much better leaving the waiting room after Janet Yellen finally begins normalizing an unsustainably loose monetary policy.

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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.

December 12, 2015 at 3:41 pm 2 comments

Will Rising Rates Murder Market?

China Executes Wall Street Solution

After an obituary of Mark Twain had been mistakenly published in the United States, Twain sent a cable from London stating, “The reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated.” Similar reports about the death of the stock market have been prematurely published as well. If you were to listen to the talking heads on TV or other self-proclaimed media pundits, the prevailing opinion is that rising interest rates will murder the stock market. In reality, the benchmark 10-Year Treasury Note has risen a whopping 0.23% so far this year. Could this be a start of a more prolonged increase in interest rates? It is certainly possible. Most investors have a very short memory because we have seen this movie before. It was just two short years ago that we witnessed a near doubling of 10-Year Treasury yields exploding from 1.76% to 3.03% in 2013. Did the stock market crater? In fact, quite the contrary. The S&P 500 index catapulted higher by a whopping +30%.

Even if we go back a litter further in recent history, interest rates were quite a bit higher. For example in early 2010, 10-Year Treasury yields breached 4.0%. Where was the Dow Jones Industrial index then? A mere 11,000 vs 17,850 today. Or in other words, when interest rates were significantly higher than today’s 2.40% yield, the stock market managed to climb +62% higher. Not too shabby, eh? As I have talked about in the past (see Don’t Be a Fool, Follow the Stool), there are other factors besides interest rates that are contributing to positive stock returns – primarily profits, valuations, and sentiment are the other key factors in determining stock prices. Suffice it to say, over the last five years, stocks have survived quite well in the face of multiple interest rate spikes; the 2013 “Taper Tantrum”; and the subsequent completion of quantitative easing – QE (see chart below).

Underlying Chart: Yahoo Finance!

Underlying Chart: Yahoo Finance!

Yield Curve on the Side of Bulls

Despite the trepidation over a series of potential Fed rate hikes, stocks continue to grind higher. If the fears are based on the expectation of a slowing economy on the horizon, then we would generally see two things happening. First, rising short-term interest rates would cause the yield curve to flatten, and then secondly, the yield curve would invert (typically a leading indicator for a recession). Currently, there are no signs of flattening or inverting. Actually, the recent better than expected jobs report for May (280,000 jobs added vs. estimate of 226,000) created a steeper yield curve – long-term interest rates increased more than short-term interest rates. Just as I wrote in 2009 about the recovery (see Steepening Yield Curve Recovery), right now the bond market is flashing recovery…not slowdown.

In the face of the mini-interest rate spike, bank stocks are also signaling economic recovery – evidenced by the 2.75% surge in the KBW Bank Index (KBX) last week. If there were signs of dark clouds on the horizon, a flattening yield curve would squeeze bank net interest margins and profits, which ultimately would send bank investors to the exit. That phenomenon will eventually happen later in the economic cycle, but right now investors are voting in the opposite direction with their dollars.

The media, economists, strategists, and other nervous onlookers will continue fretting over the Federal Reserve’s eventual rate increases. As long as dovish Janet Yellen is at the helm of the Fed, future rate increases will be measured, and rather than murdering the stock market, the policies will merely reflect a removal of the economy from artificial life support.

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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 ICContact page.

June 6, 2015 at 7:53 pm Leave a comment

Chicken or Beef? Time for a Stock Diet?

Chicken or Beef

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

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

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

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

Source: Scott Grannis

Source: Scott Grannis

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

Source: FT Alphaville

Source: FT Alphaville

Hibernating Bond Vigilantes

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

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

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

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www.Sidoxia.com

Wade W. Slome, CFA, CFP®

Plan. Invest. Prosper. 

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

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

March Madness – Dividend Grandness & Volatility Blandness

Player Attempting to Get Rebound

March Madness has arrived once again. This NCAA basketball event, which has been around since 1939, begins with a selection committee choosing the top 68 teams in the country.  These teams are matched up against each other through a single-elimination tournament until a national champion is throned. The stock market does not have a selection committee that picks teams from conferences like the SEC, Big East, Pac-12, and ACC, but rather millions of investors select the best investments from asset classes like stocks, bonds, real estate, commodities, venture capital, and private equity.

In the investment world, there are no win-loss records, but rather there are risk-return profiles. Investors generally migrate towards the asset classes where they find the optimal trade-off between risk and return. Speculators, day-traders, and momentum traders may define risk differently, but regardless, over the long-run, capital goes where it is treated best. And over the last six years, the U.S. stock market hasn’t been a bad place to be (the S&P 500 has about tripled).

Why such outperformance in stocks? Besides a dynamic earnings recovery from the 2008-2009 financial crisis, another major factor has been the near-0% interest rate environment. When investors are earning near nothing in their bank and savings accounts, it is perfectly rational for savers to look for riskier options, if they are compensated for that risk. In addition to loose central bank and quantitative easing policies fueling demand for stocks, rising dividends have increased the attractiveness of the stock market. In fact, as you can see from the chart below, dividends have about doubled from 2008-2009 and about tripled from the year 2000.

Source: Buy Upside

Source: Buy Upside

Stock prices have moved higher in concert with rising dividends, which, as you can see from the chart below, has kept the dividend yield flat at around 2% over the last few years. Treasury bond yields, on the other hand, have been on steady declining trend for the last 35 years. So, while coupons on newly issued bonds have been declining for virtually the last three and a half decades, stock dividends have been on a steadily upward moving rampage, excluding recessions (up +13% in the most recent reported period).

Source: Avondale Asset Management

Source: Avondale Asset Management

Declining interest rates have made stocks look attractive relative to investment grade corporate bonds too as evidenced by the chart below. As you can see, over the last half-century, corporate bond yields have predominantly offered higher income yields than the earnings yield on stocks – that is not the case today.

Source: Calafia Beach Pundit

Source: Calafia Beach Pundit

What does all this stock dividend, earnings yield stuff mean? In the grand scheme of things, income starving Baby Boomers and retirees are slowly realizing that stocks in general stack up favorably in an environment in which interest payments are going down and dividend payments are going up. One of the areas highlighting the underlying demand for stocks is the Volatility Index (VIX) – a.k.a., the “Fear Gauge.” Despite Greece, Russia, ISIS, the Fed, and the Dollar dominating the headlines, the hunger for yield and growth in a declining interest rate environment is cushioning the blow during these heightened periods of volatility (see also A Series of Unfortunate Events).

Since the end of 2011, the monthly close of the VIX has stayed above its historical average of approximately 20 only two times (see chart below). In other words, over that timeframe, the VIX has remained below average about 95% of the time. When the VIX has spiked above 20, generally it has only been for brief periods, until cooler heads prevail and bargain hunters come in to buy depressed stock bargains.

Source: Barchart

Source: Barchart

I’m not naïve enough to believe the bull market in stocks will last forever, but as long as interest rates don’t spike up and/or corporate earnings crater, underlying demand for yield should provide a floor for stocks during heightened periods of volatility. We may be in the midst of March Madness but volatility blandness is showing us that investors are paying attention to dividend grandness.

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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 SPY, 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 15, 2015 at 3:48 pm Leave a comment

Here Comes the Great Rotation…Finally?

Carousel FreeImage

For decades interest rates have continually gravitated to zero like flies attracted to stink. For a split second in 2013, as long-term U.S. Treasury rates about doubled from 1.5% to 3.0% before reversing, it appeared the declining rate cycle could finally be broken. At the time, pundits of all types were calling for the “great rotation” out of bonds into stocks. Half of this forecast came to fruition as stocks grinded to record highs in 2014, but even I the big stock bull admittedly did not expect interest rates on 10-year Switzerland bonds to turn negative (see also Draghi QE Beer Goggles), especially after U.S. quantitative easing (QE) came to an end.

With rates already at a generational low, how could anyone be expected to accept a measly 0.3% annual return for a whole decade? Well, that’s exactly what’s happening in massive developed markets like Germany and Japan. While investors and retirees are painted into a corner by being forced to accept near-0% interest payments, savvy corporate borrowers are taking advantage of this once in a lifetime opportunity. Take for example the recently unprecedented $1.35 billion Switzerland bond issuance by Apple Inc. (AAPL), which included a tranche of bonds maturing in 2024 that yielded a paltry 0.25%.

With bonds offering lower and lower yield possibilities for investors of all stripes, at Sidoxia we are still finding plenty of opportunities in stocks, especially in high dividend-paying equity investments. In the U.S., the average S&P 500 stock is yielding approximately the same as the 10-Year Treasury Note (2.0%), but in other parts of the world, equity markets such as the following are offering significantly higher yields:

  • iShares MSCI Australia (Yield 5.0% – EWA)
  • Europe FTSE Europe (Yield: 4.6% – VGK)
  • Market Vectors Russia (Yield 4.6% – RSX)
  • iShares MSCI Brazil (Yield 4.0% – EWZ)
  • iShares MSCI Sweden (Yield 3.8% – EWD)
  • iShares MSCI Malaysia (Yield 3.8% – EWM)
  • iShares MSCI Singapore (Yield 3.4% – EWS)
  • iShares China (Yield 2.5% – FXI)

A New “Great Rotation” in 2015?

If you look at the 2014 ICI (Investment Company Institute) fund flow data, it becomes clear the great rotation out of bonds into U.S. stocks has not occurred. More specifically, despite the S&P 500 index reaching new record highs, -$60 billion flowed out of U.S. stock funds last year, and about +$44 billion flowed into all bond funds. Could the “great rotation” out of bonds into stocks finally happen in 2015? Certainly, this scenario is a possibility, but given the barren bond yield environment, perhaps the new “great rotation” in 2015 will be out of domestic equities into higher yielding international equity markets. In addition to the higher international market yields listed above, many of these foreign markets are priced more attractively (i.e., lower Price-Earnings (P/E) ratios) as you can see from the chart below created by strategist Dr. Ed Yardeni.

Source: Ed Yardeni - Dr. Ed's Blog

Source: Ed Yardeni – Dr. Ed’s Blog

Obviously, any asset shifting scenario is not mutually exclusive, and there could be a combination of investor reallocations made in 2015. It’s possible that previously unloved emerging markets and international developed markets could receive new investor capital from several areas.

With defensive sectors like utilities (up +25%) and healthcare (up +24%) leading the U.S. sector higher last year, it’s evident to me that “skepticism” remains the operative word in investors’ minds and there is no clear evidence of widespread euphoria hitting the U.S. stock market. Valuations as measured by trailing P/E ratios have objectively moved above historical averages, however this has occurred within the context of all-time record low interest rates and inflation. If you take into account the near-0% interest rate environment into your calculus, current stock prices (P/E ratios) are well within historical norms (see also The Rule of 20 Can Make You Plenty), which still leaves room for expansion.

If some of the half-glass full economic waters spill into the half-glass empty emerging markets/international markets, conceivably the eagerly anticipated “great rotation” out of bonds into U.S. stocks may also flow into even more attractively valued foreign equity opportunities.

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 AAPL and certain exchange traded funds (ETFs) including VGK, EWZ, FXI,  but at the time of publishing SCM had no direct position in EWA, RSX, EWD, EWM, EWS, and 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 15, 2015 at 9:18 pm Leave a comment

Is Good News, Bad News?

Tug o war

The tug-of-war is officially on as investors try to decipher whether good news is good or bad for the stock market? On the surface, the monthly January jobs report released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) appeared to be welcomed, positive data. Total jobs added for the month tallied +257,000 (above the Bloomberg consensus of +230,000) and the unemployment rate registered 5.7% thanks to the labor participation rate swelling during the month (see chart below). More specifically, the number of people looking for a job exceeded one million, which is the largest pool of job seekers since 2000.

Source: BLS via New York Times

Source: BLS via New York Times

Initially the reception by stocks to the jobs numbers was perceived positively as the Dow Jones Industrial index climbed more than 70 points on Friday. Upon further digestion, investors began to fear an overheated employment market could lead to an earlier than anticipated interest rate hike by the Federal Reserve, which explains the sell-off in bonds. The yield on the 10-Year Treasury proceeded to spike by +0.13% before settling around 1.94% – that yield compares to a recent low of 1.65% reached last week. The initial euphoric stock leap eventually changed direction with the Dow producing a -180 point downward reversal, before the Dow ended the day down -62 points for the session.

Crude Confidence?

The same confusion circling the good jobs numbers has also been circulating around lower oil prices, which on the surface should be extremely positive for the economy, considering consumer spending accounts for roughly 70% of our country’s economic output. Lower gasoline prices and heating bills means more discretionary spending in the pockets of consumers, which should translate into more economic activity. Furthermore, it comes as no surprise to me that oil is both figuratively and literally the lubricant for moving goods around our country and abroad, as evidenced by the Dow Jones Transportation index that has handily outperformed the S&P 500 index over the last 18 months. While this may truly be the case, many journalists, strategists, economists, and analysts are nevertheless talking about the harmful deflationary impacts of declining oil prices. Rather than being viewed as a stimulative lubricant to the economy, many of these so-called pundits point to low oil prices as a sign of weak global activity and an omen of worse things to come.

This begs the question, as I previously explored a few years ago (see Good News=Good News?), is it possible that good news can actually be good news? Is it possible that lower energy costs for oil importing countries could really be stimulative for the global economy, especially in regions like Europe and Japan, which have been in a decade-long funk? Is it possible that healthier economies benefiting from substantial job creation can cause a stingy, nervous, and scarred corporate boardrooms to finally open up their wallets to invest more significantly?

Interest Rate Doom May Be Boom?

Quite frankly, all the incessant, never-ending discussions about an impending financial market Armageddon due to a potential single 0.25% basis point rate hike seem a little hyperbolic. Could I be naively whistling past the graveyard? From my perspective, although it is a foregone conclusion the Fed will have to increase interest rates above 0%, this is nothing new (I’m really putting my neck out there on this projection). Could this cause some volatility when it finally happens…of course. Just look at what happened to financial markets when former Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke merely threatened investors with a wind-down of quantitative easing (QE) in 2013 and investors had a taper tantrum. Sure, stocks got hit by about -5% at the time, but now the S&P 500 index has catapulted higher by more than +25%.

Looking at how stocks react in previous rate hike cycles is another constructive exercise. The aggressive +2.50% in rate hikes by former Fed Chair Alan Greenspan in 1995 may prove to be a good proxy (see also 1994 Bond Repeat?). After suffering about a -10% correction early in 1994, stocks rallied in the back-half to end the year at roughly flat.

And before we officially declare the end of the world over a single 0.25% hike, let’s not forget that the last rate hike cycle (2004 – 2006) took two and a half years and 17 increases in the targeted Federal Funds rate (1.00% to 5.25%). Before the rate increases finally broke the stock market’s back, the bull market moved about another +40% higher…not too shabby.

Lastly, before writing the obituary of this bull market, it’s worth noting the yield curve has been an incredible leading indicator and currently this gauge is showing zero warnings of any dark clouds approaching on the horizon (see chart below). As a matter of fact, over the last 50 years or so, the yield curve has turned negative (or near 0%) before every recession.

Source: StockCharts.com

Source: StockCharts.com

As the chart above shows, the yield curve remains very sloped despite modest flattening in recent quarters.

While many skeptics are having difficulty accepting the jobs data and declining oil prices as good news because of rate hike fears, history shows us this position could be very misguided. Perhaps, once again, this time around good news may actually be good news.

Investment Questions Border

www.Sidoxia.com

Wade W. Slome, CFA, CFP®

Plan. Invest. Prosper. 

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

February 7, 2015 at 2:16 pm Leave a comment

Draghi Provides Markets QE Beer Goggles

Goggles

While the financial market party has been gaining momentum in the U.S., Europe has been busy attending an economic funeral. Mario Draghi, the European Central Bank President is trying to reverse the somber deflationary mood, and therefore has sent out $1.1 trillion euros worth of quantitative easing (QE) invitations to investors with the hope of getting the eurozone party started.

Draghi and the stubborn party-poopers sitting on the sidelines have continually been skeptical of the creative monetary punch-spiking policies initially implemented by U.S. Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke (and continued by his fellow dovish successor Janet Yellen). With the sluggish deflationary European pity party (see FT chart below) persisting for the last six years, investors are in dire need for a new tool to lighten up the dead party and Draghi has obliged with the solution…“QE beer goggles.” For those not familiar with the term “beer goggles,” these are the vision devices that people put on to make a party more enjoyable with the help of excessive consumption of beer, alcohol, or in this case, QE.

Source: The Financial Times

Source: The Financial Times

Although here in the U.S. “QE beer goggles” have been removed via QE expiration last year, nevertheless the party has endured for six consecutive years. Even an economy posting such figures as an 11-year high in GDP growth (+5.0%); declining unemployment (5.6% from a cycle peak of 10.0%); and stimulative effects from declining oil/commodity prices have not resulted in the cops coming to break up the party. It’s difficult for a U.S. investor to admit an accelerating economy; improving job additions; recovering housing market; with stronger consumer balance sheet would cause U.S. 10-Year Treasury Note yields to plummet from 3.04% at the beginning of 2014 to 1.82% today. But in reality, this is exactly what happened.

To confound views on traditional modern economics, we are seeing negative 10-year rates on Swiss Treasury Bonds (see chart below). In other words, investors are paying -1% to the Swiss government to park their money. A similar strategy could be replicated with $100 by simply burning a $1 bill and putting the remaining $99 under a mattress. Better yet, why not just pay me to hold your money, I will place your money under my guarded mattress and only charge you half price!

Swiss Euro FX Jan 2015

Does QE Work?

Debate will likely persist forever as it relates to the effectiveness of QE in the U.S. On the half glass empty side of the ledger, GDP growth has only averaged 2-3% during the recovery; the improvement in the jobs upturn is arguably the slowest since World War II; and real wages have declined significantly. On the half glass full side, however, the economy has improved substantially (e.g., GDP, unemployment, consumer balance sheets, housing, etc.), and stocks have more than doubled in value since the start of QE1 at the end of 2008. Is it possible that the series of QE policies added no value, or we could have had a stronger recovery without QE? Sure, anyone can make that case, but the fact remains, the QE training wheels have officially come off the economy and Armageddon has still yet to materialize.

I expect the same results from the implementation of QE in Europe. QE is by no means an elixir or panacea. I anticipate minimal direct and tangible economic benefits from Draghi’s $1+ trillion euro QE bazooka, however the psychological confidence building impacts and currency depreciating effects are likely to have a modest indirect value to the eurozone and global financial markets overall. The downside for these unsustainable ultra-low rates is potential excessive leverage from easy credit, asset bubbles, and long-term inflation. Certainly, there may be small pockets of these excesses, however the scars and regulations associated with the 2008-2009 financial crisis have delayed the “hangover” arrival of these risk possibilities on a broader basis. Therefore, until the party ends or the cops come to break up the fun, you may want to enjoy the gift provided by Mario Draghi to global investors…and strap on the “QE beer goggles.”

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 , 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 24, 2015 at 5:51 pm 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

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