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August market commentary

In an uncertain market environment, which is better?

The U.S. stock market feasts on recession fears before regaining its risk appetite in late August

Key Takeaways

  • President Trump added, then delayed, another tariff on Chinese goods, exacerbating trade tensions and concerns about the strength of the global economy. As talks with China resume, Britain’s new prime minister attempts to achieve a ‘hard Brexit’, and the Eurozone PMI index falls into contraction territory.
  • The U.S. economic menu included something for everyone: for the pessimist, softer than expected gain in overall jobs with only 130,000 payroll growth in August. For the optimist, the broader measure of civilian employment surged by 590,000. Manufacturing remains a worry as contraction in that sector continues. Despite the generally stable U.S. economy, the Fed cut rates by -0.25% in July and is expected to cut again in September.
  • Conclusion: Tariffs and political uncertainty are depressing an already delicate global appetite for risk. The U.S. is buffered by its large domestic market and expanding trade with alternative suppliers, but isn’t immune to a global slowdown. Lower interest rates may provide a brief energy boost, but won’t develop core strength in business investment. With no political solution in sight, prudent investors should diversify exposure to provide a steady diet of modest returns while avoiding the binge/purge cycle of ‘chasing yield’.

Stocks are near record levels, but investors are uneasy

4Q2019 repeats 4Q2018?

As reported in the Wall Street Journal on September 9, despite a buoyant stock market so far this month, some investors fear the market may repeat the ‘binge and purge’ cycle experienced in 2018.

Looking as far back as 1928, September is historically the worst month of the year.[1] Given that most of the tensions which led to the market tumble last year are still present – trade tensions, global manufacturing slowdown, falling growth of corporate profits, and political uncertainty at home and abroad – concern may be warranted. Combine these headwinds with diminishing marginal returns from accommodative monetary policy, and we might finally be nearing the end of the longest economic expansion in recent memory. Not that we’re calling for a recession! Just that the growth engines of the global economy are beginning to run out of fuel.

[1] https://www.wsj.com/articles/stocks-are-back-near-records-but-memories-of-2018-leave-investors-uneasy-11568021402

Bonds have been a dietary staple during stock market volatility in recent quarters.

Despite the S&P 500 posting a year-to-date return of nearly 20% as of August 31st, bonds have actually outpaced stocks for the trailing 12-months. The severe tumble of the stock market in late 2018 and again in late July/early August gobbled up more losses than the 2019 recovery has been able to replenish. This despite continuing strength in the U.S. economy and corporate earnings generally surprising on the upside of – admittedly cautious – analyst expectations.

The Fed’s rate cut at the end of July sparked an increase in recession fears, though economic data remains modestly positive.

10-year Treasury yield barely above inflation

Decreasing short-term interest rates are unlikely to spark business appetites for borrowing or lending. While 2% short-term rates are great for speculators, they aren’t that much more enticing than 2.25% or 2.50% interest rates for strategic business investments. In fact, 10-year Treasury bond yields dropped so low in September that they provided no more than 0.25% returns above inflation. While marginal borrowers may consume more debt at these rates, long-term investors will need to look beyond the safest assets for a risk/reward balance that preserves purchasing power while promoting healthy growth.

Manufacturing businesses suffer from a restrictive diet of trade tariffs and global uncertainty.

While the U.S. economy overall remains on solid footing, trade-related businesses are hungry.

Housing starts stabilize

Jobless claims remain low

Retail sales rebound

Housing starts are stable, retail sales have rebounded, and initial claims for unemployment are the lowest in more than a decade…

 

 

…but U.S. manufacturers are in desperate need of an economic shot of Red Bull.

Rising global trade tensions in the wake of U.S. tariffs on steel, aluminum, and lumber imports, as well as those targeted specifically at China, are directly impacting manufacturing activity. According to the National Association for Business Economics (NABE)[1], 76% of goods-producing sector panelists and 42% of TUIC (transportation, utilities, information, communications) panelists reported negative net tariff impacts at their companies.

This impact is illustrated by the significant drop in durable goods orders over the past year or so.

Durable goods orders fall sharply

[2] https://nabe.com/NABE/Surveys/Business_Conditions_Surveys/July_2019_Business_Conditions_Survey_Summary.aspx

[Preceding charts source www.macrotrends.net]

Increasing tariffs are not just eating the lunch of U.S. manufacturing companies. Global exporters are suffering greatly from decreased trade around the world. If we look back at the recovery from the Great Recession, emerging economies such as China are credited with helping the developed world get back on its feet. China in particular built roads, airports, and housing developments with abandon, which boosted earnings for global manufacturing companies, particularly steel and machinery.

But the Chinese economy has had its fill of infrastructure spending, reducing its appetite for imported goods going forward. Combined with the trade war between China and the U.S., exporters have lost a major customer. Eurozone manufacturers have already fallen into ‘contraction’ territory (PMI below 50), and the rest of the world isn’t much better.[3] And Fed Chairman Powell, if you’re listening, lower interest rates won’t have any effect on this trend! No matter how low rates go, businesses won’t go back to the buffet table when demand for their products is already satisfied.

[3] https://www.wsj.com/articles/chinas-power-to-boost-global-economy-is-fading-11564738205?mod=article_inline

Slowdown in China depresses global manufacturing

In an uncertain global economic environment with a reactionary U.S. stock market, diversification is even more important.

Barring major disruptions in trade negotiations, a disorderly ‘Brexit’, or increases in geopolitical unrest, the U.S. stock and bond markets could continue on their upward path for the rest of the year.

That being said, the chance of one of these elements going wrong is significant. Investors should continue to make healthy investment decisions to navigate this uncertain period. The best way to do this is to diversify.

Source: www.portfoliovizualizer.com

A balanced menu of stocks, bonds, and alternative asset classes such as natural resources can provide welcome reduction in volatility while still supporting the pursuit of gains suitable for most investors’ appetites. Which isn’t to say even the most well-diversified investors won’t experience some indigestion along the way! But putting your investment eggs in several market baskets can avoid catastrophic losses and help you achieve a healthy balance of risk and return over the long term.

Marcia Clark, CFA, MBA

Senior Research Analyst, Warren Street Wealth Advisors

 

 

 

 

 

 

DISCLOSURES

Investment Advisor Representative, Warren Street Wealth Advisors, LLC., a Registered Investment Advisor

The information presented here represents opinions and is not meant as personal or actionable advice to any individual, corporation, or other entity. Any investments discussed carry unique risks and should be carefully considered and reviewed by you and your financial professional. Nothing in this document is a solicitation to buy or sell any securities, or an attempt to furnish personal investment advice. Warren Street Wealth Advisors may own securities referenced in this document. Due to the static nature of content, securities held may change over time and current trades may be contrary to outdated publications.

Form ADV available upon request 714-876-6200

Periodic Table of Investing

Periodic Table of Investing

Dust off your memories of high school chemistry and think of your investment returns and your investment risks as two separate and distinct members of the periodic table. Certain elements (in this case, securities) are prone to interact when mixed, while others may remain neutral. Each element (security) will always have its own separate and unique profile and characteristics.

Starting with carbon, one of the world’s most important elements, I’d equate carbon to U.S. stocks. Regardless of age, every investor we work with has likely benefited from or utilized this element and will continue to do so in some capacity going forward.

Argon, the world’s least reactive element, tends to be more akin to Treasury Bonds or cash, not responding negatively to volatility much, if at all.

I’m far from the first person to think of investments in this way, in-fact there is deep history in what many refer to as the “Callan Chart” or “Periodic Table of Returns”. Below you’ll see a large majority of the world’s major asset classes and their returns relative to zero:

Callan from Zero

https://www.callan.com/periodic-table/

The most striking thing from this chart is that after a disastrous 2008 for everything except U.S. Bonds (argon), the only asset class that is yet to have a negative year is Large Cap ($10B+) U.S. Stocks (starred).

Winners and Losers

SPY vs ACWI vs EEM

Charlie Bilello via Twitter

This freedom from negative returns and the compounding of large year-to-year gains has led to outsized outperformance from Large U.S. stocks. Over the last 10 years, Large U.S. stocks have produced cumulative total returns of 158%. Developed Foreign Country stocks have produced 19% and Emerging Markets only 16%.

Two takeaways from this are: the power of compounding positive returns but even more important is the force of losses and the time it takes to make them up. In addition, one recurring theme of study and practice in investing is that asset prices move in cycles. While U.S. outperformance seems like an unbreakable cycle, it’s just a matter of time.

Trading Places

Take a look below at how U.S. and international stock market leadership has traded off over time. Most recently international stocks outperformed from 2003-2009, and the U.S. finds itself on its longest stretch of outperformance since 1979.
Performance Leadership

We have been incrementally positioning our clients’ portfolios for this eventual inflection since 2015. Last year we looked right, this year thus far we look wrong. Personally, I just consider myself patient as I wait for a multi-year trend to unfold.

Whether it’s high prices and valuation concerns or much of the low hanging fruit in our U.S. economic recovery is out of the way, we have a firm conviction in our posture of reducing U.S. stock market exposure. Having said that, we do not have a proverbial crystal ball, therefore we diversify and avoid throwing all of our eggs into the international basket.

Don’t Give up on Bonds

In addition, we haven’t given up on bonds, which have been tough to own this year, with U.S. Bonds down on average -1.62%.

 

Callan Periodic Table

https://www.callan.com/periodic-table/

 

It’s important to keep in mind how bonds have performed during down years for the stock market, something that is potentially in the cards this far into an extended bull market.

bonds vs stocks

One does not need to own the entire U.S. bond market via an index fund or otherwise. We currently prefer shorter term bonds, typically corporate bonds, and even in some cases inflation protected bonds. With a recent uptick in short-term government bonds, they aren’t nearly as painful to hold as in years past when yields hovered near zero. The 2-year treasury currently yields 2.829%, at the time of writing this article.

Late Cycle Playbook

With a backdrop of rising inflation globally, rising rates here in the U.S., accommodative monetary policy globally, and stretched valuations in U.S. equity markets, we continue to prefer assets that tend to outperform late in the economic cycle and when the factors above are present.

These assets include:

  • International and Emerging Market stocks
  • Industrials, Metals, Energy
  • Shorter Term Bonds, TIPS

Signing Off

While we realize this year has been far less exciting than the last, we remain firm in our convictions on how we want to combine elements from the “Periodic Table of Returns” moving forward. We stand at the ready to buy into recent market weakness and will not capitulate to chasing what has done well. We appreciate your continued trust and patience while we navigate through what’s been an unstable first half of 2018. Don’t hesitate to contact our office should you have any questions or concerns about how we are approaching your investments.

Respectfully yours,

Blake Street, CFA, CFP®


Blake StreetBlake Street, CFA, CFP®
Chief Investment Officer
Founding Partner
Warren Street Wealth Advisors

Blake Street is an Investment Advisor Representative of Warren Street Wealth Advisors, a Registered Investment Advisor. 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. Changes in investment strategies, contributions or withdrawals may materially alter the performance, strategy, and results of your portfolio. Historical performance results for investment indexes and/or categories, generally do not reflect the deduction of transaction and/or custodial charges or the deduction of an investment-management fee, the incurrence of which would have the effect of decreasing historical performance results. Economic factors, market conditions, and investment strategies will affect the performance of any portfolio and there are no assurances that it will match or outperform any particular benchmark. Nothing in this commentary is a solicitation to buy, or sell, any securities, or an attempt to furnish personal investment advice. We may hold securities referenced in the blog and due to the static nature of content, those securities held may change over time and trades may be contrary to outdated posts.