A Reboot for the Stock Market
Last Friday’s US jobs report of only 118,000 new private sector jobs was the worst reading in three years. This means the Fed was right to leave rates unchanged on its policy decision from September 17th. People now realize Fed policy and our economic conditions are consistent. This clarity reboots the market and is staging its recovery course.
During the six week period in August and September, the stock market dropped sharply due to a weakening economy and confusion about the direction of the Federal Reserve policy. The market was also disturbed by deteriorating economic conditions in China but this concern was secondary to our own troubles.
Accompanying the concerns about our economy was the swirling confusion about the Fed’s decision on interest rates. Some people thought the Fed should raise interest rates. Others felt the Fed should stand pat. During this debate, investors flew into frenzy at the prospects of the Fed raising interest rates and the markets declined.
When the Fed decided to keep rates unchanged three weeks ago, confusion overwhelmed the markets as frightened investors fled during the ensuing policy debate.
It turns out Fed policy was spot on correct. The recent jobs report gives credence to the Fed’s decision to leave rates unchanged. The Fed needs to keep rates low to accommodate our moribund economy.
The poor jobs report rebooted the stock market and expert consensus agrees the Fed got it right. Now, we have a world operating as it should. This means we have a friendly Fed providing a boost to a struggling economy. Consequently, the markets are recovering from the mess we have been in.
We have been anticipating these buying opportunities since the Fed announcement. During this period, we traded Google, Under Armor, Amazon, and Amgen for profits. We continue to hold our position in Accenture. Most recently, we have added Walgreens, Federal Express, Nike, Workday, Union Pacific, and Salesforce.com.
Tuesday, September 15, 2015
The Fed is Our Friend
This week marks the end of a systematic adjustment phase for the stock market. Generally, stocks hate interest rate increases. Since August, the market has been perplexed about facing the first rate increase from the Federal Reserve in nine years. Since August 20th, the market has dropped about 8%. This along with other weak economic indicators has caused a shift in opinion about the actions of the Fed.
A current survey of economists by the Wall Street Journal now predicts the Fed will leave rates unchanged Thursday. A hike is most likely to be deferred to future months. Our hint to what the Fed will do comes from repeated statements, “policy will be data dependent.” If this is true, there is insufficient data to merit a rate increase by the Fed. Threats to our economy loom from diving commodity prices, minimal wage increases, and a stubbornly low general growth rate. In addition, world economies are also weakening. Finally, our main trading partner, China, has a host of problems.
Because of these factors, a “data dependent” Fed is unlikely to make a move to hike rates. Our market fell principally on the fear of a rate hike so if this doesn’t happen, the markets could turn around and rally.
This “fear of the Fed” marks a decent buying opportunity and is bullish for investors. This is why the Fed could indeed be our friend.
Since July, and the ensuing turbulence, we have taken a defensive posture on the markets which means we limited initiating new positions and made hard decisions to sell some of our holdings. The eminent Fed decision could pave the way for market conditions to improve.
Thursday, July 2, 2015
Making the turn
Happy Independence Day!
We enter the year’s second half with the flat market profile solidly intact. There is an imperative need for our assets to prosper but this market is not being very cooperative. The second quarter’s small loss broke a string of nine straight quarterly gains for the S&P 500. For the year, the US market and most averages are also flat. In June alone, we had a 2% drop in the S&P 500.
The current levels of US stocks are low in the context of the highs for 2015. The high mark for 2015 is 2130 on the S&P 500 and we sit at about 2071 currently. This means the market is low compared to its range in this tethered, flat market. Soon enough, we should stage a rally back to the highs for this year. Indeed, prominent research provider Bespoke Investments sites that for all periods where the market paused and dipped lower after seven straight advances, the average gain for the following quarter was 7.5% for the S&P 500!
It’s sensible to think an advance of that magnitude is unlikely. However, good profits can be made and your assets can grow if the market were to merely recover to its June highs. Many stocks in companies with bright prospects are undervalued and present good opportunities.
The holiday weekend is clouded by concerns about the vote in Greece for austerity. Conditions for investing in China are awful as their market enters a bear market phase down more than 20% from its highs. Issues in these two countries are chiefly being cited for the volatility you have noticed in the DOW Jones average this week.
I’m eager to see how these situations play out. If I’m right, this current selloff will set the stage for a good buying opportunity beginning about the middle of this month.
Monday, June 29, 2015
Big down days in a flat market
Today’s 350 point drop in the DOW tipped all of the market averages into the red for the year. Concerns about Greece the Greek fiscal condition and the Chinese market have presented the market with a formidable two headed monster to overcome.
Adding to concerns for the stock market is today’s selloff, which penetrated the 200 day moving average for the S&P 500. Conventional signals point to this technical occurrence as a sign of a further decline.
Conventional wisdom on Wall Street is rarely reliable, as we know. In 2014, we had two of these occurrences where the 200 day moving average was breached. In each of these, the S&P 500 rallied 6% over the next month. So, this implies that conventional signals should be disregarded. Our markets are likely to be making an intermediate term low point following today’s selloff.
In this “Long Dry Road”, where a flat market is like “Watching Paint Dry”, a selloff of this nature is a great opportunity to invest and make short term profits when the market recovers.
Wednesday begins a new quarter. Companies engaged in substantial stock repurchase programs often suspend this program until their earnings are reported. These buybacks are reinstated after the earnings report. For investors looking for money making opportunities, it will pay off to wait and invest in these companies sometime between now and the middle of July.
Assets can still thrive when they can gain in a flat market.
Wednesday, June 10, 2015
Watching Paint Dry
The markets continue to plod along on their well-established ways. After a negative start to 2015, the market indices inched to a 3% gain for 2015 only to lose that and retreat to a virtual standstill. According to Bespoke Investments, the S&P 500 has never hovered this close to its beginning of the year starting point this far into the year. There is plenty happening in finance and world economics. None of this can give control to bulls or bears.
On one count, we should be grateful to merely tread water. Stocks have ample reasons to slide. The US economy declined .75% during the first quarter. It only takes two quarters of negative GDP growth to be classified as a recession. Interest rates are rising on vital things like home mortgages. The Fed is expected to hike interest rates soon. Gas prices began to rise in March and consumers’ cost savings from this are dwindling. Looking off shore, the international picture is not rosier as deep concerns exist in Europe and China.
Yet, through all of these factors, stock valuations remain high. The markets are in the vicinity of their all time highs. Furthermore, it is ominous that nearly four years have elapsed since the last 10% market correction.
This fact does not lend anything to forecasting. Bespoke Investments tells us the last time the market rose over three years in uninterrupted fashion was in 1994. If you would have sold at that point, you would have missed out on another 105% gain over the next three years and nine months. Therefore, we can’t predict a correction simply because we haven’t had one for a while.
During this quarter, it became apparent that we needed to overhaul client portfolios by changing the stocks that our clients hold. Stocks that are weak threaten investment portfolios because they dampen potential returns from other superior investments. Our strategy this quarter has been to reduce our holdings. We are rebuilding our portfolios by using companies with the brightest prospects.
As we move toward the midpoint of 2015 and the July earnings reports, the characteristics of Amazon, Accenture, CF Industries, Eaton, and Gilead all look to be rewarded. There can be lots of standout performers regardless of the market’s condition. Carefully selected investments such as these can overcome our flat market; a market that seems pinned to current levels.
Monday, March 30, 2015
Medicine for a flat market
Despite some big swings both up and down, the market has very little to show for itself for 2015. The S&P 500 fell 3.6% in January, rose 4% in February and is looking to be slightly negative in March. This market is threatening to post its first quarterly loss since Q4 2012 and this is only the 6th quarterly loss since the bull market began in 2009.
S&P 500 earnings are now forecast to be down on year over year comparisons. The decline in earnings from large companies is due to an evaporation of earnings from the energy sector. Despite the woes from energy, other industry groups are showing only muted gains, according to S&P forecasts. Indeed the next three quarters are likely to show negative year over year earnings comparisons from the largest US companies.
Disappointing earnings are likely to limit gains for the market as we move into the second quarter of this year. It appears unlikely that the market is poised to get above its recent highs of 2100 on the S&P 500 index.
In the meantime, trading opportunities continue to brew amongst individual stocks. Many of these could eventually end up being solid long term investments. This would always be a chief hope for anything we invest in. But when the overall market has no traction, we might have to wait too long for these investments to come to fruition. If stocks continue to consolidate in a bandwidth, we want to take advantage of this condition and buy the lows and sell the highs. While we wait for the market to meander, profitable trading is the medicine that we need for assets to grow.
Thursday, March 19, 2015
Winning in a trading range
Yesterday’s Federal Reserve announcement ignited a stock market rally that sent the S&P 500 to a narrow gain for this year. The context of this announcement surprised investors because the Federal Reserve and Janet Yellen indicated the economy was actually weaker than the recent data suggested. A weaker economy means the Fed might delay the inevitable day when it must raise interest rates. Investors took heart that this day might occur later rather than sooner.
The stock market has been revealing a very consistent pattern this year. Last year, I wrote about the “Long Dry Road”, and I suggested the stock market would be flat and tethered to the dock for the foreseeable future. Essentially, this has been the case.
This condition is evident by the behavior of the market for 2015. In January, the S&P 500 fell 3.6%. It recovered 5.1% during a banner February. After enduring substantial volatility, the market rests virtually unchanged for this month of March. You can see from these swings that the market is solidly entrenched in a trading range.
A trading range can give an advantage to shrewd investors. This trading range dictates buy at the low end and sell at the high end. Each period of gains should be followed by a pullback and each decline should hasten a buying opportunity and the market should subsequently recover.
Pundits, the financial press, and people who want to sell a story might have you believe the market is bracing for a substantial decline this year. Often, you hear a 20% correction is imminent. These predictions are based on flimsy supporting data. Furthermore, people advertising a market decline are not the same people that actually control the monolithic pool of money. For example, if you see or read a dire forecast, it is unlikely that the chief investment officer of an organization like CalPERS will be actually selling their equity holdings. CalPERS will remain invested while doomsayers carry on with their forecasts. If the guys in charge of all the stock don't sell, the market can't fall very much.
Investors win by being cognizant of the investment climate in a trading range. The order of the day is to be discerning about which stocks to hold and which stocks to harvest profits. This quarter, we sold major holdings for our clients in Alibaba, Union Pacific, Apple, Cummins, and Raytheon. In these cases, we took the opportunity to sell, capture recent gains, and redeploy this money to new opportunities.
Tactics like this will be essential for portfolios to gain in this trading range.
Friday, January 30, 2015
Beware of governments
The bull market may be over. There are lots of reasons that experts are using to support the argument that our six year bull market is coming to an end. Famous bond investor Bill Gross said at the year’s outset, “Good times are over.”
Chief amongst the concerns are the stresses on foreign governments. These countries are facing varying degrees of stress. These stresses can be endured temporarily but they can reach a boiling point which can trigger government action.
This month, Switzerland found its balance sheet supported entirely by Euro denominated securities. When your assets are tied to a depreciating currency, this can stress a financial system. The Swiss National Bank responded in necessary fashion by lifting the pegged exchange rate on the Euro. This caused all of the Swiss National Bank assets denominated in Euros to decline in value. The markets didn’t like this.
Earlier this month, China lowered its broker loan rate to curb speculation on Chinese stocks. The condition in China is flashing a red warning to investors because this country has decelerating economic growth in the face of a skyrocketing stock market. It is only a matter of time before this dichotomy is resolved one way or the other.
What will be next? Perhaps the most significant economic trend over the past two months is the decline in energy prices. How will the petroleum exporting countries that depend on oil to support their entire infrastructure fare? This is another example of a stress that can build before a government is forced to intervene. Most of these interventions are not pleasant and don’t help the stock markets.
While the bull market may be over, it won’t clear a path for the bears. These moves by sovereign governments in response to stress will serve to pin the broad market. This means that stocks are locked in a trading range.