Posts

Market Commentary – December 2018

Market Commentary – December 2018

Key Takeaways

  • Though the U.S. stock market closed the year with its first annual loss since 2008 (S&P 500 -4.38%), investors retained the vast majority of gains earned in 2017 (21.83%.) Global stocks as measured by the MSCI EAFE index were down -8.96%, giving up just over half of 2017’s gains (16.84%), and the Barclays Aggregate U.S. bond index ended the year flat at +0.01% after a very strong November and December.
  • Though market turbulence in the 4th quarter felt extreme, volatility over the year didn’t approach the peaks seen after the Dot Com bubble burst in 2001-2002 or during the financial crisis of 2008-2009.
  • Global financial markets tend to exhibit a ‘sector rotation’ pattern of recent losers becoming the next period’s winners. If the pattern holds true, global stocks are poised for a strong year in 2019.
  • 2018’s poor performance followed an unusually steady 10-year period of growth. Investors bold enough to put their money at risk after the market plummeted in 2008 were handsomely rewarded. Investors willing to do the same in 2019 may be rewarded once again.

It wasn’t pretty, but the year is finally over and we already see indications of better times ahead in 2019.

Though the U.S. stock market closed the year with its first annual loss since 2008 (-4.38%), investors retained the vast majority of gains earned in 2017 (21.83%) and the previous 9 years of recovery post the 2008 financial crisis. Though European stock markets fell behind the U.S. last summer and never caught up, these markets also ended 2018 well ahead of where they started in 2017. Global stocks as measured by the MSCI EAFE index were down -8.96% in 2018 compared to +16.84% in 2017, and U.S. bonds ended the year flat after recovering strongly late in the 4th quarter.

Source: https://stockcharts.com/h-perf/ui

Market sectors which lagged in the strong quarters, especially bonds (AGG) and gold (GLD), provided welcome relief during the 4th quarter downturn. Global stock markets avoided some of the December tumble and rebounded into January 2019, easing some of the pain from lagging the robust U.S. market earlier in the year.

The return of stock market volatility in the 4th quarter surprised investors, especially compared to an unusually stable 2017.

Volatility in 2018 was more than double that of 2017, though did not approach the peak volatility seen during the financial crisis of 2008-2009 and post the Dot Com bubble/credit crisis in 2001-2002. The pattern seems to be that periods of unusual stability are often followed by a spike in volatility. We know that the past isn’t always reflective of the future, but as Mark Twain is reported to have said: “History doesn’t repeat itself, but it often rhymes.”

Just as periods of stability are often followed by turbulence, extreme market moves are commonly followed by reversion toward the mean (average).

This tendency is illustrated by the two charts below. The first chart shows the drop in the SPY and EFA ETFs in the period between July-November 2011. Notice the jagged ups and downs just after the drop, followed by a fairly steady up-trend through 2013, though not without some negative surprises along the way.

We see a similar pattern in the 4th quarter of 2015 before the start of the bull market of 2016-2017.

And while the downturns are painful, they tend to be relatively brief compared to the recovery period.

 

  • Dot Com bust lasted from early 2000 to early 2003, followed by 5 years of positive returns
  • Financial crisis crash lasted from late 2007 to early 2009, followed by 9 years of mostly positive returns
  • Less dramatic declines in 2011 and 2015 were followed by 3 years of positive returns

Asset class returns tend to follow a ‘sector rotation’ pattern with prior period winners commonly falling in the rankings in subsequent periods, and prior period losers tending to rise in the rankings.

Source: Morningstar Direct

Though historical context is helpful, we need to face forward when making investment decisions. Following the crowd and expecting history to repeat itself without considering the underlying drivers of returns isn’t likely to be a successful strategy in the coming year.

Though market conditions vary from year to year, the investment team at Warren Street Wealth Advisors believes global stocks in particular have been hit by political and economic ‘headline risk’ more than actual financial distress. Many European companies such as BNP Paribas (one of the largest banks in Europe), Daimler (maker of Mercedes Benz), and Lloyds Banking Group (a leading U.K. financial service firm) are poised for a strong rebound in 2019. In emerging countries, stalwart firms such as Samsung and Taiwan Semiconductor remain solid global players, with disruptors such as Alibaba and Tencent making their presence felt beyond their home base in AsiaPacific.

Another important thing to remember is that the stock market is not the real economy. Fundamental strength in corporate balance sheets should keep the economy, and the markets, positive in 2019.

GDP reflects the value of goods and services produced in the country – ultimately, GDP reflects corporate earnings. Robust GDP growth early in 2017 led to tight labor markets and rising inflation, supporting the Federal Reserve’s plan to ‘normalize’ short-term interest rates. Though GDP growth is expected to slow in 2019, the Federal Reserve forecasts a positive growth rate of approximately 2%. Not stellar, but certainly not in recession territory. And not so strong as to require the Fed to increase their pace of raising short-term interest rates, since modest GDP growth is unlikely to spark inflation. Economic fundamentals should ultimately find their way into stock prices, but the markets often become overly optimistic or pessimistic along the way.

As we mentioned in our November commentary, corporate profits were very strong in the 4th quarter of 2018. And for the calendar year, growth in corporate profits was 20.3% due in part to the reduced corporate tax rate. This is the highest growth rate we’ve seen since 2010 when profits jumped nearly 40% coming out of the Great Recession of 2008-2009. All 11 sectors of the S&P 500 reported positive growth for the year, with 9 of the 11 sectors reporting double-digit growth.

You might be surprised to see that Energy companies reported the highest calendar year earnings growth of all the 11 sectors. Despite the 4th quarter fall in oil prices, oil has actually increased when compared against the prior year-end. Materials and Financials also posted strong earnings growth in 2018, a fact not reflected in their closing stock prices discussed previously.

As shown in the chart above from Fidelity Research, the biggest losers of the year were not Technology companies as you might have expected, but rather Industrials, Financials, Materials, and Energy firms. Industrials and materials were hard hit by concerns over trade tariffs and a slowing, though still strong, pace of new home building. Energy equipment and services firms suffered from falling oil prices hurting profit margins. Financial firms also struggled as increasing short-term funding rates squeezed investors’ profit expectations.

Conclusion: Though we can’t predict the future, periods of extreme market movements are often followed by reversion toward the mean. The underlying economic data remains solid and sooner or later investors will incorporate this reality into global stock and bond prices. In the meantime, the investment team at Warren Street Wealth Advisors is watching the data, rebalancing into weakness, and looking forward to a smoother ride in 2019.

 


Marcia Clark, CFA, MBA
Senior Research Analyst
Warren Street Wealth Advisors

Warren Street Wealth Advisors, a Registered Investment Advisor. The information contained herein does not involve the rendering of personalized investment advice but is limited to the dissemination of general information. A professional advisor should be consulted before implementing any of the strategies or options presented. Any investments discussed carry unique risks and should be carefully considered and reviewed by you and your financial professional. Past performance may not be indicative of future results. All investment strategies have the potential for profit or loss. 

 

 

 

  1. Source: All returns retrieved from Morningstar Direct
  2. EAFE = Europe, Australasia, Far East
  3. https://insight.factset.com/2017-look-back-2018-predictions-0
  4. https://insight.factset.com/sp-500-2018-earnings-preview-highest-earnings-growth-in-eight-years
  5. https://eresearch.fidelity.com/eresearch/markets_sectors/sectors/sectors_in_market.jhtml
  6. https://tradingeconomics.com/united-states/housing-starts

 

Word on the Street – November 27th – December 1st

Word on the Street – November 27th – December 1st

Another brief conversation with our CIO on current events in the investing world…

A sit down with Blake Street, CFA, CFP® to discuss some current events in the news, their impact on investors, and his sentiment on some issues. Enjoy…

Trade War talks are still present as people were worried about the G20 meeting. Since our last conversation, where do you think we are now with the trade talks?

Blake Street: Specific to the US and China, much remains to be seen. At this point, we are still on the light end of threatened tariffs with escalation due here soon without further intervention. In recent days, the President has new motivation to come up with some type of remedy to re-instill confidence in the markets. One way would be to calm US & China trade tensions and get global growth back on track. It remains to be seen if this is the case. As we have seen in the recent past, sometimes these summits result in a lot of talk and no action. The G20 Summit resulted in a “truce” or “ceasefire” of sorts between the US & China, however, very little clarity has been provided and an arrest of the CFO of Huawei, China’s largest tech company, this morning (12/6/2018) could further inflame tensions.

General Motors seems to have suffered greatly due to the tariffs, among other things. Do you think that this is going to be a reoccurring theme for some US companies, or is this just a casualty of war?

B.S.: I don’t know if you can say they suffered greatly, but they are doing what every company should do which is look out for their long-term interests. They have spotted changes in their own market landscape that require a change in where they produce their products and what products they produce for consumers. Tariffs have certainly hurt their bottom line by increasing certain input costs and while this seems obvious in hindsight, a lot of industries from automotive manufacturers to agricultural producers have been harmed by trade tensions and tariffs.

Oil prices are down again as well. How with this impact both consumers at the pump and investors? What do you think the long-term trend will be?

B.S.: Consumers during the holiday season will benefit by keeping more money in their pocket. However, falling crude prices can also come with other adverse impacts such as slowing economies and weak investment markets. Historically, 30% declines in crude oil prices have correlated strongly to short-term bear markets, not always a recession.

Personally, I think the most recent selloff is overdone, and we will return to higher oil prices in the not too distant future. Case and point, I don’t think that demand has dropped off in a meaningful way, and we have not seen the type of supply buildups reminiscent of 2015, the last time we saw oil prices collapse.

On Wednesday (11/28/2018), Jerome Powell, Chair of the Federal Reserve, came out and said that the Fed Funds rate is approaching neutral. This news was a stark contrast to his October statements. What does this mean for the market as we approach 2019?

B.S.: Investors and markets alike were appeased to hear that we may be due for fewer rate hikes than initially priced in. Foreign markets have also been dealing with adverse effects of a strengthening US dollar and rising US interest rates. Markets overseas breathed a sigh of relief to hear of a potentially more accommodative Fed policy.

In my mind, an even bigger question mark is how the Fed continues to handle the unwinding of its balance sheet in the coming years. I’m also slightly concerned with President Trump’s recent politicization of the Fed. At the end of the day, Fed Chair Jerome Powell has a job to do, and it is not solely to provide octane to investment markets at the President’s request. I expect the Fed to remain focused on their traditional mandate and to shirk Presidential pressures.


 

Warren Street Wealth Advisors, a Registered Investment Advisor. The information contained herein does not involve the rendering of personalized investment advice but is limited to the dissemination of general information. A professional advisor should be consulted before implementing any of the strategies or options presented. Any investments discussed carry unique risks and should be carefully considered and reviewed by you and your financial professional. Past performance may not be indicative of future results. All investment strategies have the potential for profit or loss. 

 

Word on the Street – October 1st-5th

Word on the Street – October 1st – 5th

A brief conversation with our CIO, Blake Street, CFA, CFP®, on what’s going on in the world today.

We constantly want to deliver more content to our clients and followers on current events, and how we are viewing them from an investment or planning angle.

“Word on the Street” will be a series where I sit down with our Chief Investment Officer, Blake Street, CFA, CFP® to pick his brain on what’s going on in the news and what that means for you.

Here is the conversation I had with him on Friday, October 5th discussing the last couple weeks. Enjoy.

Alright, Blake. Let’s start with the new US trade deal that people are calling NAFTA 2.0. What’s your take and how will this new deal impact investors?

B.S.: NAFTA 2.0 or more accurately titled the U.S. Mexico Canada Agreement (USMCA) in my opinion is largely underwhelming. At its core, it should bring some manufacturing jobs back to the U.S. from Mexico, but I also expect this to result in increased cost to the end consumer. Considering the United States spends $500 billion a year on autos, cost increases will be noticed.

The reason I’m underwhelmed is the negotiation process wasn’t without collateral damage in trade relations and the ultimate outcomes are incremental at best. Essentially, Canada and Mexico agreed that 75% of parts for cars built for export would be made in North America. This is up from the original agreement of 62.5% under NAFTA. They also agreed that 45% of cars would be built by workers making more than $16 an hour by 2023, this was ultimately targeted at Mexico and should result in rising costs for domestic and imported production. Mexico also agreed to improve labor conditions but enforcement remains vague.

Canada agreed to increase import quotas for U.S. dairy into their market. I’ve seen estimates that this could result in $50-$100 million in activity for American dairy farmers. Not sure this moves the needle, especially in the face of what appears to be a $100-$400 million decline in Chinese imports of American dairy in the coming years.

Additionally, USMCA hasn’t officially been ratified yet. It has only been approved for a vote. If the midterm elections put more Democrats in Congress, then they have the opportunity to deny President Trump the victory of its passing.

We are entering the last quarter of the first year operating under tax reform. Do you think that it has been good or bad for investors?

B.S.: It’s hard to argue that is has been anything but great for investors. Three straight quarters of near-record earnings and US markets are oscillating around record highs. Taxpayers have yet to officially file under the new tax reform, so they have yet to even feel the full benefits.

It will be interesting to see how equity markets react as we get into 2019. The initial thrust of the tax cuts on earnings will wane over time, and it will be interesting to compare year-over-year numbers to post-tax cut figures.

Is there anything people might be surprised about as they go to file?

B.S.: The biggest surprise to most will be the balance between an enhanced and expanded standard deduction, lower marginal rates, and aggressively capped state and local tax deductions. In addition, I expect the 20% pass-through deduction to surprise a lot of folks who don’t know how it works, in both a good and bad way.

How do you feel about Elon Musk and the SEC?

B.S.: He got off way too easy. He should have been stripped of his role as director and CEO in addition to losing his chairman position. His $20 million personal and $20 million corporate fines are a drop in the bucket compared to the market cap of Tesla and the potential money that was lost or made based on his manipulative behavior.

Leaking a takeover bid or the idea of taking a company private should force a stock price to the assumed target price. Any rational CEO would know this ahead of time. He coerced unknowing investors to buy into Tesla based on this information and blew out short positions which seemed to be his intention.

The amount of talk around marijuana stock is at a high again. How should investors approach it, if at all?

B.S.: Personally, it is not a sector I am interested in investing in for myself or for clients as it is still illegal at the federal level. Recent buzz escalated when Tilray, a Canadian pot producer, got approval for a clinical trial to use marijuana in pill form to treat seizures. They had about 10 million in sales last year, and the market cap soared to 15 billion, which is, frankly, absurd. A good piece of that market cap has been given back.

Should it ever become legal at the federal level, I expect a massive influx from titans of industry in alcohol, tobacco, and pharmaceuticals. Production will drive down cost quickly. If we were to invest, we would focus more on the picks and shovels, distribution, and manufacturing perspective. A diversified approach will likely pay as picking the winners of such a rapidly developing space may prove to be very difficult.

What do you find most interesting in the market right now?

B.S.: Emerging Markets.

Interesting response…why?

B.S.: They started the year at low relative valuations even after a monster 2017. As of the end of September, they were at a 20% drawdown from the year’s high. I continue to believe they will be the best place to be over the next 5-10 years for fundamental and demographic reasons. Dollar strength has caused a lot of pain in emerging market currency denominated holdings and the sell-off in emerging market stocks has reached seemingly oversold levels. The pain might not be fully over yet, so a disciplined approach to buying into recent weakness is needed.

The 10 year Treasury closed Friday at 3.23. What are some of your thoughts as rates rise?

B.S.: I believe we’re now 8 Fed Rate hikes in. The consensus seems to be that we are due for 3-4 more. It seems that the market is not fighting back and pushing yields down. It will continue to pay to be nimble, keep durations short, and invest in fixed income asset classes with lower rate sensitivity and look for opportunities abroad.

Do you see any opportunities or concerns with rates increasing?

B.S.: Rising rates have resulted in a strong dollar which puts pressure on emerging market debt causing yield spreads to widen. This has created possible valuation pockets within emerging market debt, and this opportunity should not be entered into lightly.

Concerns: If inflation and yields continue to rise, investors who are accustomed to long-term, stable outcomes will be surprised to find out how volatile bonds can be in a rising rate environment. Going back to 1976, bonds on average have only had 3 negative years. Count 2018 as the fourth. Would a fifth materially change investors perspectives on what bonds mean to portfolios? Or will investors continue to understand bonds importance in a well-diversified portfolio? This creates opportunity and concern.

Any closing remarks?

B.S.: Loss aversion is one of the most basic human tendencies I can think of. In a year where virtually every asset class other than US stocks is in the red, I can see a lot of potentially bad behavior starting to fester. It is important now more than ever that you don’t chase the hot dot. Stick to your plan, stick to your process, even if that means deferring to your advisor.


WSWA Team Compressed-19-squareJoe Occhipinti
Marketing Manager
Warren Street Wealth Advisors

Warren Street Wealth Advisors, a Registered Investment Advisor. The information contained herein does not involve the rendering of personalized investment advice but is limited to the dissemination of general information. A professional advisor should be consulted before implementing any of the strategies or options presented. Any investments discussed carry unique risks and should be carefully considered and reviewed by you and your financial professional. Past performance may not be indicative of future results. All investment strategies have the potential for profit or loss.