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Coronavirus: Here’s a Portfolio Treatment Plan

Wow! Our last published piece on the blog was “2019: A Year for the Record Books”. Two months later and the peace and quiet of yesteryear seem a distant memory. Scary days have arrived, thanks to the concern over how coronavirus might impact our global economy. As we draft this update, headlines are reporting the biggest weekly stock market losses since 2008.

We do not know whether the current correction will deepen or soon dissipate. It is important to remember that what was good advice in mild markets remains good advice today. Given the current climate, let’s take a look at a sound unemotional treatment plan for your nest-egg.

We continue to advise against panicked reactions to market conditions, or trying to predict an unknowable future. That being said, we are aggressively looking for ways to help our clients make lemonade out of this week’s lemons – such as through disciplined portfolio rebalancing and strategic tax loss harvesting. On Friday February 28th, we executed both on behalf of our private wealth clients.

Other lemonade ideas include refinancing your mortgage as interest rates have hit historic lows or executing a ROTH conversion while your portfolio is down, turning the recovery into tax free growth. More than anything, as you’ll see below, a long term perspective during an epidemic pays.

*First Trust

In 11 of the 12 cases above, the U.S. Stock Market was positive 6 months after an epidemic broke out, with an average return of 8.8%. In 9 of the 11 cases the U.S. Stock Market was positive 12 months after with an average return of 13.6%. It’s also important to note diversification worked last week with U.S. Bonds actually netting a positive return while U.S. stocks were down 11.5%.

@StockCharts – US Market represented by SPY. US Bonds by AGG.

If we can be of assistance or you want to talk through any of this, please do not hesitate to reach out to our team. In the meantime, here are 10 things you can do right now while markets are at least temporarily tanking.


1. Don’t panic (or pretend not to). It’s easy to believe you’re immune from panic when the financial sun is shining, but it’s hard to avoid indulging in it during a crisis. If you’re entertaining seemingly logical excuses to bail out during a steep or sustained market downturn, remember: It’s highly likely your behavioral biases are doing the talking. Even if you only pretend to be calm, that’s fine, as long as it prevents you from acting on your fears.

“Every time someone says, ‘There is a lot of cash on the sidelines,’ a tiny part of my soul dies. There are no sidelines.” – Cliff Asness, AQR Capital Management


2. Redirect your energy. No matter how logical it may be to sit on your hands during market downturns, your “fight or flight” instincts can trick you into acting anyway. Fortunately, there are productive moves you can make instead – such as all 10 actions here – to satisfy the itch to act without overhauling your investments at potentially the worst possible time.

“My advice to a prospective active do-it-yourself investor is to learn to golf. You’ll get a little exercise, some fresh air and time with your friends. Sure, green fees can be steep, but not as steep as the hit your portfolio will take if you become an active do-it-yourself investor.” – Terrance Odean, behavioral finance professor


3. Remember the evidence. One way to ignore your self-doubts during market crises is to heed what decades of practical and academic evidence have taught us about investing: Capital markets’ long-term trajectories have been upward. Thus, if you sell when markets are down, you’re far more likely to lock in permanent losses than come out ahead.

“Do the math. Expect catastrophes. Whatever happens, stay the course.” – William Bernstein, MD, PhD, financial theorist and neurologist


4. Manage your exposure to breaking news. There’s a difference between following current events versus fixating on them. In today’s multitasking, multimedia world, it’s easier than ever to be inundated by late-breaking news. When you become mired in the minutiae, it’s hard to retain your long-term perspective.

“Choosing what to ignore – turning off constant market updates, tuning out pundits purveying the latest Armageddon – is critical to maintaining a long-term focus.” – Jason Zweig, The Wall Street Journal


5. Revisit your carefully crafted investment plans (or make some). Even if you yearn to go by gut feel during a financial crisis, remember: You promised yourself you wouldn’t do that. When did you promise? When you planned your personalized investment portfolio, carefully allocated to various sources of expected returns, globally diversified to dampen the risks involved, and sensibly executed with low-cost funds managed in an evidence-based manner. What if you’ve not yet made these sorts of plans or established this kind of portfolio? Then these are actions we encourage you to take at your earliest convenience.

“Thus, the prudent strategy for investors is to act like a postage stamp. The lowly postage stamp does only one thing, but it does it exceedingly well – it adheres to its letter until it reaches its destination. Similarly, investors should adhere to their investment plan – asset allocation.” – Larry Swedroe, financial author


6. Reconsider your risk tolerance (but don’t act on it just yet). When you craft a personalized investment portfolio, you also commit to accepting a measure of market risk in exchange for those expected market returns. Unfortunately, during quiet times, it’s easy to overestimate how much risk you can stomach. If you discover you’re miserable to the point of breaking during even modest market declines, you may need to re-think your investment plans. Start planning for prudent portfolio adjustments, preferably working with an objective advisor to help you implement them judiciously over time. 

“Our aversion to leverage has dampened our returns over the years. But Charlie [Munger] and I sleep well. Both of us believe it is insane to risk what you have and need in order to obtain what you don’t need.” – Warren Buffett, Berkshire Hathaway


7. Double down on your risk exposure – if you’re able. If, on the other hand, you’ve got nerves of steel, market downturns can be opportunities to buy more of the depressed (low-price) holdings that fit into your investment plans. You can do this with new money, or by rebalancing what you’ve got (selling appreciated assets to buy the underdogs). This is not for the timid! You’re buying holdings other investors are fleeing in droves. But if can do this and hold tight, you’re especially well-positioned to make the most of the expected recovery.

“Pick your risk exposure, and then diversify the hell out of it.” – Eugene Fama, Nobel  laureate economist


8. Tax-loss harvest. Depending on market conditions and your own circumstances, you may be able to use tax-loss harvesting during market downturns. A successful tax-loss harvest lowers your tax bill without substantially altering or impacting your long-term investment outcomes. This action is not without its tricks and traps, however, so it’s best done in alliance with a financial professional who is well-versed in navigating the challenges involved.

“In investing, you get what you don’t pay for.” – John  C. Bogle, Vanguard founder


9, Revisit this article. There is no better time to re-read this article than when the going gets tough, when yesterday’s practice run is no longer an exercise but a real event. Maybe it will take your mind off the barrage of breaking news.

“We’d never buy a shirt for full price then be O.K. returning it in exchange for the sale price. ‘Scary’ markets convince people this unequal exchange makes sense.” – Carl Richards, Behavior Gap


10. Talk to us. We didn’t know when. We still don’t know how severe it will be, or how long it will last. But we do know markets inevitably tank now and then; we also fully expect they’ll eventually recover and continue upward. Since there’s never a bad time to receive good advice, we hope you’ll be in touch if we can help.

“In the old legend the wise men finally boiled down the history of mortal affairs into the single phrase, ‘This too will pass.’”
Benjamin Graham, economist, “father of value investing”


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

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.

2019: A Year for the Record Books

Key Takeaways

2019 turned out to be one of the best years for the financial markets in recent history. To understand how we got there, it’s helpful to consider where we began. Factset did a very good job of this on its website insight.factset.com: “As we began 2019, the big economic stories were the Fed’s series of interest rate hikes (four in 2018), the ongoing U.S. government shutdown, the December 2018 stock market drop (S&P 500: -9.2%, DJIA: -8.7%), and the escalating U.S.-China trade war. As the year progressed, we saw movement on all fronts.” The bullet points below provide a useful summary:

  • The Fed’s 2018 interest rate hikes were partially reversed as the FOMC cut rates three times in the second half of the year in reaction to a growing number of signals flashing recession.
  • The 35-day U.S. government shutdown, which ended on January 25, 2019, was the longest U.S. government shutdown in history. With many federal agencies closed and federal employees across the country furloughed or working without pay, the Congressional Budget Office estimates that the shutdown cost the economy $11 billion, $3 billion of which was permanently lost.
  • The ups and downs of U.S.-China trade negotiations sent global stock markets on a roller coaster ride throughout the year. As the year comes to a close, the U.S. has reached a so-called “Phase 1” trade agreement with China that reduces some of the tariffs imposed over the last 18 months and stops the imposition of a new set of tariffs set to go into effect on December 15. For its part, China has agreed to purchase more U.S. agricultural products. While the agreement helps to diffuse global anxiety surrounding the growing trade tensions, it fails to address significant concerns around technology and intellectual property rights. Still, equity markets have responded positively to the news, surging to new highs.

With this context in mind, how did the markets do in 2019?

Risk assets powered forward in December. After a rocky ride of positive and negative returns during the year, emerging markets stocks charged to the front of the pack in December. EM Equity crossed the finish line in the middle of the field with a return of 18.4%, about half the return of the winning asset class, U.S. Growth stocks (36.4%). U.S. Large Cap was 2nd at 31.5%, U.S. Value stocks came in 3rd at 26.5%, and International stocks were 4th at 24.63%. Though bonds trailed the field at 8.7%, this is more than twice the 10-year average for the Barclay’s Aggregate Bond Index, which was supercharged by falling Treasury yields as the Fed repeatedly lowered its short-term interest rate target.

The S&P500 total return for 2019 was the 18th best since 1926, 8th best since 1970, and 4th best since 1990[1]. The Barclays Aggregate bond index had its 13th best year since 1980[2].

What can we expect from the markets in 2020?

An era of the ‘haves’ and ‘have nots’. Technological innovations from industrial automation to ‘fracking’ to high speed data connections and the ‘internet of things’ has brought the world out of scarcity and into surplus. But this abundance is not felt by all – perhaps not even by most. Those with access to these technologies, either via infrastructure or financial resources, unlock a brave new world of possibilities. Those without such access are left behind. While wages generally have begun to increase, median incomes are not rising fast enough, causing the gap between economic winners and losers to widen. This situation has sparked political protests and dissatisfaction among working-class people around the world. Combined with the uncertain outcome of the presidential election in the U.S., never-ending Brexit negotiations in the U.K., and military conflicts and political posturing around the world, the global economy could stumble if government agents make a serious misstep.

Despite these risks, the IMF continues to forecast stronger global economies in 2020 and beyond. According to the latest update to the IMF World Economic Outlook[3], global growth is forecast to improve from 2.9% in 2019 to 3.3% in 2020 and 3.4% in 2021 due to easing trade tensions, strong labor markets and service sectors, and accommodative monetary policy. IMF economists also see welcome indications that the global slump in manufacturing and trade may have bottomed out.

This positive outlook is contingent on the recovery of less-developed countries currently dealing with stressed political and/or economic conditions: Argentina, Iran, Turkey, Brazil, India, and Mexico. Advanced economies such as Europe and the U.S. are likely to continue to grow less than 2% per year.

This outlook could change quickly if new trade tensions emerge or social unrest around the world intensifies. The IMF ‘vulnerabilities’ table below reports that the financial condition of sovereign nations is vulnerable to economic shocks. This vulnerability is due in part to a lack of room for fiscal or monetary agents to maneuver given high budget deficits and the very low level of government interest rates in many countries. Businesses and households in developed economies are generally solid, but households in emerging economies remain insecure.

Bottom line: Economic expansions don’t die of old age. U.S. and international economies successfully navigated a year full of social and political tensions and uncertainty, despite being in the late stage of a record-setting expansion. Low interest rates and muted inflation are enabling businesses and households to take on new ventures where they see a suitable potential reward. And unlike the expansion which preceded the financial crisis of 2008-2009, ‘asset bubbles’ and excessive risk-taking have been limited due to the many disruptions experienced during 2019 and the uncertain future outlook.

While risks to this outlook are clear and present, we are cautiously optimistic that policymakers and financial markets will continue to thread the needle between crisis and excess, and that 2020 will be a relatively peaceful and prosperous new year.

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


[1] https://www.slickcharts.com/sp500/returns

[2] https://www.thebalance.com/stocks-and-bonds-calendar-year-performance-1980-2013-417028

[3] https://blogs.imf.org/2020/01/20/tentative-stabilization-sluggish-recovery/

‘Risk On’ trades take the lead in October

‘Risk On’ trades take the lead in October

Key Takeaways

  • U.S. growth stocks and emerging markets jump-started the 4th quarter with returns of 2.82% and 4.22% respectively as investors shifted away from ‘risk off’ assets such as defensive stocks and U.S. Treasury bonds
  • The FOMC dropped its federal funds interest rate target for the 3rd time in 2019 to 1.5% – 1.75%. Chairman Powell indicated this cut was the last of the ‘midcycle adjustments’, causing investors to speculate about a pause in rate changes for the next few FOMC meetings.
  • The U.S. and China made progress toward a trade resolution, though the pace and magnitude of the agreement is unclear. Global economies seem to be successfully navigating geopolitical tensions in Hong Kong, unrest in Chile, water wars in Egypt, and the never-ending Brexit saga, among others.
  • Conclusion: Barring a major geopolitical misstep, the U.S. stock market could end the year with a return in the top 25% since 1998. U.S. bonds may end with their best return since 2010.

Global stocks begin to close the gap with the U.S.

The 4th quarter is off to a great start! Despite a sharp decline the first few days of the month, global stock markets were very strong in October. Emerging Markets equity beat the S&P 500 for the second month in a row, up 4.22% versus 2.17%[1]. In typical ‘risk on’, ‘risk off’ fashion, bonds and gold lagged the field in October. Commodities stayed within sight of the leaders at +1.24% for the month, but U.S. and Emerging Markets bonds were far behind at +0.41% and +0.30%, respectively. For the year-to-date, Europe, Australasia, and Far East (EAFE) is picking up the pace with a return of 20.05% versus 23.16% for the S&P 500. The year-to-date leader as of October 31st is U.S. growth stocks at 26.77%.

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

This strong start to the 4th quarter can be attributed to progress with China/U.S. trade negotiations and no significant negative news about the other international worries facing the markets: Brexit, political uncertainty in the U.S. and overseas, tensions between Hong Kong and China, and soft business confidence around the world. If none of these go terribly wrong, 2019 is on track to be in the top 25% of S&P 500 stock market returns since 1988[2].

Amid this backdrop of relative stability, the Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) lowered its short-term target interest rate for the third time in 2019 to a range of 1.5% to 1.75%[3]. Fed Chairman Jerome Powell stated that U.S. economic growth is steady despite continued weakness in business investment and exports, and core inflation is running below the Fed’s 2% target. The October rate cut was characterized as the final ‘midcycle adjustment’ to help support the maturing U.S. economic expansion. Chairman Powell indicated the FOMC will continue to monitor economic activity to determine the appropriate level of the federal funds rate going forward. His remarks did not include previous language about the Fed acting “as appropriate to sustain the expansion”, causing market watchers to expect a pause in rate changes going forward.

Source: BNP Paribas Asset Management, Bloomberg as of 11/4/2019

In the days following the rate cut, intermediate and longer-term Treasury yields rose, reversing the yield curve inversion seen for much of 2019 and signaling diminishing investor expectations for a near-term recession.

The return to an upwardly-sloping yield curve is a relief to market watchers. A healthy banking system requires short term rates to be lower than long term rates for banks to maintain consistent profit margins. Higher long-term yields encourage investors to take a longer-term perspective and make more strategic investments. Institutions such as pension plans also have a better chance of satisfying their obligations to future retirees. In general, financial markets do a much better job allocating capital when short-term interest rates are lower than long term rates.

Source: www.treasury.gov

Looking beyond Treasuries, corporate bond yield spreads have drifted back toward the extremely low levels seen in early 2018. This is another indication that investors are comfortable taking risk right now. At Warren Street Wealth Advisors, we’re watching for excessive risk taking which could mean an asset price ‘bubble’ and potentially the end of the stock and bond rally. The occasional drops in market prices we see from time to time are a healthy sign that investors are making rational decisions rather than reckless speculation.

Corporate bond risk premiums drift near historic lows

Let’s not forget the global economy, which the Fed has often mentioned as one reason for reducing interest rates this year. Though the data remains mixed, the International Monetary Fund is forecasting global GDP to close 2019 up 3%, with the U.S. at 1.7% and Emerging and Developing Economies up nearly 4%[4]. The IMF expects global growth to improve in 2020 to 3.4% as Europe adjusts to the new tariff landscape and political uncertainties diminish.

Global GDP projected to remain low but positive

A global recession is highly unlikely through the end of 2020 and probably longer, but there are significant risks to this outlook! The IMF is urging political leaders to defuse trade tensions and reinvigorate multilateral cooperation, rather than focus solely on accommodative monetary policy to keep the world economy afloat.

Bottom line: The U.S. economic expansion remains on track and should end the year well, barring significant missteps in the global economic and political landscape. Though it’s been a bumpy ride, investors are likely to close the books on 2019 with healthy profits from both stocks and bonds, and meaningful progress toward achieving their financial goals.

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

Growth stocks take the lead year-to-date

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

[1] Performance represented by ETFs designed to track various market segments: SPY (S&P 500), AGG (Barclay’s Aggregate Bond index), EEM (emerging markets equity), EFA (developed international equity), GLD (gold prices)

[2] Source: www.stockcharts.com

[3] https://www.federalreserve.gov/monetarypolicy/files/monetary20191030a1.pdf

[4] https://www.imf.org/en/Publications/WEO/Issues/2019/10/01/world-economic-outlook-october-2019

September 2019 Market Review

With competing economic data, where should investors turn?

Oil shocks, impeachment, and Brexit – Oh My!

Key Takeaways

  • U.S. stock and bond markets closed the 3rd quarter with an impressive – though volatile – year-to-date return. The S&P 500 index ended September up nearly 19%, the best 3-quarter return since 1997, while the Barclays Aggregate Bond index posted an outstanding return near 8%.
  • Economic data remained mixed. The U.S. Consumer Confidence index fell by -9.1%, much more than expected, but unemployment fell to 3.5%, the lowest in 50 years.
  • The House of Representatives initiated an impeachment investigation of President Trump after a ‘whistleblower’ leaked information about the President asking Ukrainian officials to investigate Democratic candidate Joe Biden’s son.
  • Drone strikes on Saudi Arabian oil installations shut down 50% of Saudi oil production, about 5% of world production, briefly sending oil prices off the rails and adding to recession fears.
  • Prime Minister Boris Johnson was deemed to have acted illegally by shutting down the U.K. Parliament, putting pressure on him to come to a Brexit resolution with the European Union.
  • Conclusion: The U.S. economy remains on track for a good year. Despite the markets’ willingness to shrug off trade wars and geopolitical uncertainty, significant challenges are still out there. Investors should prepare  for renewed market turbulence as these issues resolve themselves over the coming months.

Stock and bond markets rebound from August’s slump

The 3rd quarter was quite a roller coaster ride! Gold and other ‘safe’ assets were the go-to market segments for the quarter. Gold led the way with a return of +4.26%[1], despite a slip in late September. U.S. bonds took second place, edging out U.S. stocks with a return of 2.34% versus 1.75%. International stocks were the top performers in September at +3.7%, but continued to lag the U.S. for the quarter at -0.79%. Emerging markets equities were in second place for the month at +1.91%, but are far behind for the year and quarter, losing -4.75% between July 1st and September 30th.

Market returns 7/1/2019 – 10/4/2019

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

The financial markets continued to react strongly to economic news and geopolitical events, though the magnitude of the swings began to subside. This moderation is a bit surprising given the unexpected -9% drop in Consumer Confidence and the Purchasing Manufacturers Index falling to its lowest level since June 2009. But investor fatigue is bound to set in sooner or later, and current events just seem to build on a base with which investors have become wearily familiar.

Source: https://ycharts.com/indicators/us_pmi

The economy created only 136,000 new jobs in September – certainly nothing to brag about, but good enough this late in the expansion. At the same time, the unemployment rate fell to 3.5% – the lowest in half a century – and the overall employment ratio increased to 61%, the highest since December 2008. Apparently, the U.S. job market is alive and well…at least for the time being.

Despite competing political and economic pressures, U.S. and developed international stock markets are on track for a very strong year. As of October 7, the S&P 500 was up more than 19%, gold was up over 16%, and the Europe, Australasia, and Far East index was up nearly 12%. But be wary of another 4th quarter slump like we saw in 2018! Given mixed economic data, the impeachment inquiry of President Trump, and continuing trade tensions, any of these could derail the markets – at least temporarily – between now and December 31st.

Market returns 1/1/2019 – 10/4/2019

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

One of the less-reported casualties in the U.S.-China trade war is the agricultural sector. Inflation-adjusted prices for corn, wheat, and soybeans have been declining for decades, largely due to increased productivity and reduced global population growth. Add trade tariffs and the wettest 12 months on record[3], and farmers are facing a ‘perfect storm’ of negative events. Smaller farms are going out of business, and the number of farms in the U.S. is heading below 2 million, the lowest in nearly a century.

But despite the significant challenges facing the agriculture and manufacturing sectors, the U.S. economy is holding steady. Personal income and consumer spending rose in August for the second month in a row. Retail sales were good, and housing showed signs of renewed activity.

 

As reported by the Wall Street Journal on September 25, U.S. home-price growth is slowing and mortgage rates are historically low at around 4%[4]. With such low interest rates, home price affordability remains within reach as indicated by the sharp drop in the Case-Shiller Home Price Index in 2019, shown on the chart above.

Forecasters expect housing to contribute slightly to GDP for the first time since 2017 as home sales and construction increased in August.

With so much going on in the world, it’s hard to know which direction to turn! For a straightforward summary of the likely impact of these competing economic factors on global growth, we refer you to the graphic below prepared by The Conference Board (publisher of the Leading Economic Indicator index.)

The Conference Board economic outlook

Bottom line: the U.S. economy is on track for solid growth in 2019, slowing somewhat thereafter. A recession is not in the forecast for the next 12 months, though demographic factors point to slower growth worldwide in the coming years.

Given the myriad challenges facing the global economy right now, negative surprises are definitely a possibility as we navigate the final quarter of 2019. Investors may just have to close their eyes, hold on tight to a prudent investment plan, and ride out the inevitable turbulence in the coming months.

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

[1] Performance represented by ETFs designed to track various market segments: SPY (S&P 500), AGG (Barclay’s Aggregate Bond index), EEM (emerging markets equity), EFA (developed international equity), GLD (gold prices)

[2] Performance represented by ETFs designed to track various market segments: SPY (S&P 500), AGG (Barclay’s Aggregate Bond index), EEM (emerging markets equity), EFA (developed international equity), GLD (gold prices)

[3] https://www.wsj.com/graphics/us-farmers-miserable-year/?mod=article_inline&mod=hp_lead_pos5

[4] https://blogs.wsj.com/economics/2019/09/25/newsletter-housings-maybe-rebound-chinas-decoupling-warning-and-consumers-cloudy-crystal-ball/?guid=BL-REB-39607&dsk=y

The bulls are back! But for how long?

Key Takeaways

  • The U.S. economy just exceeded the record for the longest business cycle expansion since economists started recording expansions in the 1930s (120 months plus 1 day)
  • Global trade tensions are impacting manufacturing sectors all around the world; only the U.S. and France show continued expansion, with Germany falling the most
  • Despite these concerns, June 2019 was among the strongest months for the U.S. stock market since 1955, driven largely by the FOMC decision to keep interest rates low and expectations of moderating trade tensions between the U.S. and China
  • An astonishing 100% of futures markets participants expect the Fed to cut the Federal Funds rate between 0.25% and 0.50% in July. Conventional wisdom states that when 100% of market participants expect something, it’s time for rational investors to exit.
  • Conclusion: Forecasts for multiple cuts in the Federal Funds rate are overdone; investors should be prepared for the stock market to react badly if expected rate cuts don’t materialize in July.

When the FOMC announced they would not raise the Federal Funds rate in June, global stock markets cheered.

Despite continuing uncertainty about trade tariffs, the decision not to raise rates was a relief to investors. Stock prices in both Europe and the U.S. jumped immediately after the announcement and held their gains through the rest of the week. Treasury bond prices rallied as well, bringing the 10-year interest rate below 2% for the first time since November 2016.

Source: finance.yahoo.com

This enthusiasm may be warranted as the U.S. economy has reached the longest expansion since economists started recording expansions in the 1930s (120 months plus 1 day), edging past the expansion of 1991 to 2001.

But the markets seem a bit schizophrenic lately in their response to economic data.

Longest expansion since 1930s

After their meeting in mid-June, Federal Reserve officials indicated that monetary policy can remain accomodative because concerns about a weakening economy had increased.

Here is the schizophrenic part: If the economy is indeed slowing, shouldn’t the stock market be cautious since corporate profits are expected to slow? But despite a few bad days and weeks from time to time, the U.S. stock market has hit new highs in 2019. If the Fed becomes more confident about the economy and raises interest rates slightly, this should signal stronger future corporate profits and boost the stock market. But instead of cheers, the prospect of the Fed continuing to ‘normalize’ short-term interest rates has been met with stock market tumbles.

This fearful reaction might be based on historical precedents which are no longer relevant. Some past expansions were indeed derailed by the Fed increasing rates too much. But the last 3 recessions in the U.S. were not sparked by interest rate increases but by market excesses: the Dot Com boom and bust in 1999-2000 and the housing price bubble in 2007-2008 being prime examples.

To better gauge when and if the economic expansion has run its course, investors would be wise to worry less about the Federal Funds rate and more about asset values, business activity, and the strength of labor markets.

According to Dr. David Kelly, chief global strategist for J.P. Morgan Asset Management, the four key areas to watch in regard to ‘expansion killers’ are home building, business fixed investment, motor vehicle sales, and change in inventories.

Dr. David Kelly’s ‘expansion killers’

Recessions since the late 90s have been associated less with interest rates and more with booms and busts in at least one of these areas. Since none of these factors are in ‘boom’ territory, it’s difficult to imagine a ‘bust’ scenario around the corner. As Dr. Kelly said, it’s hard to hurt yourself when jumping out a basement window.

The only leading indicator sitting on the second floor – rather than the basement – is the level of U.S. stock prices relative to earnings. As reported by Ned Davis Research, S&P 500 valuations in June were higher than average, but not by much. Whether you look at current earnings or forward earnings projections, the stock market seems to be fairly valued.

U.S. stock market valuation seems fair

In any case, the Fed may have less ability to influence the economy than people think.

These days inflation seems more responsive to changes in global dynamics such as oil prices rather than domestic economic factors. Changing the Federal Funds rate isn’t likely to make much difference in the current economic environment.

Low wage growth keeps inflation under control

Despite record low unemployment, wage growth has remained subdued helping keep inflation low as participants have begun returning to the job market after being sidelined during the ‘Great Recession’ of 2008-2009.

Range-bound oil prices are also putting downward pressure on inflation. OPEC has been trying to limit oil production for 2 years now, with mixed results. Their goal is to balance excess supply with less demand given the slowing Chinese economy, tariffs, and other political concerns. Despite these efforts, oil supplies are plentiful and prices remain restrained.

U.S. oil production offsets OPEC cuts

Has the Fed done too much? Or perhaps too little? When looking at the Federal Funds rate from a historical perspective, the FOMC has been extraordinarily cautious in its pace of increasing interest rates. Fed governors could certainly make a mistake, but it seems like their slow and steady pace is a wise approach for the foreseeable future. There’s no urgent need to raise rates, and limited value in lowering rates.

FOMC has been cautious ‘normalizing’ interest rates

The primary risk to the global economy, particularly the manufacturing sector, isn’t interest rates but rather trade tensions. The U.S. and France are the only developed economies with manufacturing sectors still in expansion territory. Overseas, Germany’s manufacturing sector has fallen the most as much of its manufactured goods have traditionally been exported to the U.S. and other countries.

With most of the developed world struggling to stay in positive territory, global demand and supply dynamics are likely to keep U.S. inflation near or below the Fed’s 2% target indefinitely.

Global manufacturing feels the bite of tariffs

Despite the modestly positive economic landscape, an astonishing 100% of Eurodollar futures participants expect the Fed to cut the rates between 0.25% and 0.50% in July.

Since the Fed’s decision in June to keep interest rates the same, futures market participants began enthusiastically betting on not just one 0.25% cut, but two cuts in the Federal Funds rate when the FOMC meets in July. Conventional wisdom states that when 100% of market participants expect something, it’s time for rational investors to exit.

After the first flurry of press reports forecasting a rate cut in July, more Fed officials have been speaking publicly about their base case economic scenario being steady, not requiring a rate cut. In recent days futures markets have slowly begun migrating away from projecting two rate cuts in July to only one, but even one cut isn’t justified by the data…at least not yet.

Futures expectations for July rate cuts

If we look forward to the end of the year, according to the CME Group ‘Countdown to FOMC’ as of July 1st over 13% of futures market participants think the Fed Funds rate will end the year between 2% and 2.25% (0.25% below the current level); another 13% believe the rate will be between 1.25% and 1.50% (1% below the current level!); and the median expectation is split with about 35% forecasting a Fed Funds rate between 1.5% and 1.75% (0.75% below the current level) and another 35% forecasting the Fed Funds rate to be between 1.75% and 2.0% by December (0.50% below the current level).

Barring a steep recession in the near term, expectations for multiple cuts in the Federal Funds rate are misguided. As my colleague at WSWA put it, the Fed is stuck in the unenviable position of a parent in the supermarket with a fractious child demanding candy before dinner. The right thing is to say No, but it’s difficult for both the parent (the Fed) and bystanders not to give in to the pressure.

Futures forecast for rate hikes by December

 

With all this uncertainty, where can investors find good opportunities?

The answer is: In the global equity markets, particularly in Europe. The U.S. market should be fine going forward, but the best returns may have already come and gone. Though European economies are having a tough time right now, the European stock markets have been punished perhaps more than is warranted. In fact, the price of European stocks as of May 31st is less than 13 times compared to the U.S. stock market at close to 16 times earnings.

International stock valuation cheaper than U.S.

The way ahead in Europe is not going to be smooth, but long-term investors should consider dipping into international markets where stock valuations are more attractive. Overseas countries are generally behind the U.S. in their business cycles and have more growth to come.

Conclusion: Investors and the Fed should stay the course. Sometimes the best decision is to do nothing…for now.

Yes, the global economy is struggling right now. Corporations and governments have been issuing too much debt. Trade tensions and uncertainty make it difficult for businesses to develop long-term growth strategies. Political tensions across Europe and the U.K. are adding uncertainty to global economies.

Despite these concerns, the Fed should not lower interest rates. In fact, there is a case to be made to raise rates to balance outcomes between savers and speculators, plus keep some dry powder for the next recession.

Long-term investors should consider international assets. This is not the environment to make big bets either in or out of the financial markets. Instead, investors should stay engaged in the markets and be selective about segments likely to provide a reasonable risk/return profile over the remaining business cycle. With government bond yields extremely low and U.S. stock prices fully valued, carefully selected international securities may be the right choice for patient investors able to handle some bumps along the way.

Marcia Clark, CFA
Senior Research Analyst

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

April showers bring May flowers?…or thunderstorms??

Key Takeaways

  • The stock market stumbled in May after strong performance in April. The decline was likely due to concerns over the impact of proposed tariffs on Mexican goods, especially given that Chinese trade negotiations are still unresolved.
  • Treasury yields hit new lows in May as investors fled stock market volatility. However, a 10-year Treasury yield of 2.1% is not sustainable when inflation is hovering around the same level. We expect Treasury rates to increase rather than decrease from here.
  • Futures contracts indicate an 80% chance of the FOMC decreasing interest rates in July. This expectation is not supported by the economic data nor the plentiful level of liquidity already in the system. Futures investors are inferring more into dovish Fed comments than they should.
  • Despite pockets of weakness, the U.S. economy is still on track to grow by about 2% in 2019.
  • Conclusion: Stock market recoveries based on expectations of falling interest rates are vulnerable to ‘headline risk’, but the underlying economic fundamentals remain modestly positive.

 

When 1st quarter GDP came in at 3.2% many commentators expected an adjustment downward. That revision came in May…to 3.1%

1st quarter GDP adjusted by a scant -0.1%

Despite persistent pessimism about the imminent demise of the U.S. economy, we at Warren Street Wealth stand by our assessment that the economy will continue to grow at a modestly positive pace. Even with the drag on growth from increasing trade tariffs, the International Monetary Fund forecasts U.S. GDP to end 2019 at 2.3%, which is about average for the past few years.

We should be ready for a bumpy ride along the way, however! With global growth clearly slowing – Eurozone GDP is forecast to be only 1.3% this year and China is slowing to about 6.3% – major factors such as oil prices and other commodities are struggling to find a new equilibrium between global supply and demand.

Some market watchers see falling oil prices as a sign of recession, but we believe the energy market will find the proper balance once the long-term impact of current geopolitical tensions is better understood.

Oil prices add to market volatility

 

Though consumer spending was down in April, spending was strong in March. April’s decline is most likely due to consumers taking a breath after enjoying some extra purchases in March when wages began rising, rather than the beginning of a downward trend.

And don’t overlook the increase in disposal income in April. It isn’t huge, only +0.1%, but to quote one of our clients: “up is up, and up feels good!”

Consumer spending takes a breath after spiking in April

 

Another area which disappointed investors in May was job growth, which came in much lower than expected at +75,000. The unemployment rate remained steady at 3.6%, however.

Job growth slows, but is still trending higher

 

So is the economic glass half full or half empty? We’re going with half full. Patient investors who can withstand the market zigging and zagging based on startling headlines or surprising Twitter posts should be OK in the end.

 

If consumers are still buying and people are still working, where is the real pain in the economy?

Businesses who rely on global trade, either for inputs into their manufacturing process or to sell their finished goods, are feeling the pinch of rising tariffs. Manufacturers who need raw materials such as steel and aluminum are paying higher prices. Farmers growing soy beans and corn can barely make enough money to cover their expenses as the price of labor and farm equipment goes up while demand for their crops goes down.

As reported in the Wall Street Journal, manufacturers in the U.S. and China are still in growth territory with the Purchasing Managers Index slightly above 50, but Europe is clearly struggling.

We’re keeping a close eye on international markets in case weakness there begins to put more pressure on the U.S. economy.

European manufacturing dips into recession

 

The final factor we’re watching is the level of interest rates.

Without getting into a debate about whether the current inversion of short-term Treasury rates is forecasting a recession or not – see ‘A Few Minutes with Marcia’ video on inverted yield curves – 10-year Treasury rates at around 2.1% are simply not sustainable.

Negative interest rates in other developed countries and instability in our own stock market have led to high demand for ‘safe’ assets. But with Treasury yields barely keeping up with inflation, at some point U.S. investors will be forced to look elsewhere to preserve purchasing power.

When they do, selling pressure will push Treasury prices down and yields up.

2 yr. and 10 yr. Treasury rates hover near inflation

 

Because of mixed economic data and a slightly inverted yield curve, pessimists are expressing their opinion through Federal Funds futures contracts. 

As reported by the Chicago Mercantile Exchange ‘Countdown to FOMC’, as of June 10 over 80% of futures contracts were betting on the Fed decreasing short-term rates when the FOMC meets in July. We don’t agree.

Despite Fed chairman Jerome Powell’s accommodating tone in recent weeks, there is already more than enough liquidity in the financial system to support growth. A decrease in rates would just put upward pressure on inflation, potentially above the Fed’s target rate of 2%.

Fed Funds futures investors bet on falling rates

 

If we’re correct and the Fed does not decrease rates in July, we may see another dip in the stock market as investors re-calibrate their expectations. For now, just hold tight, watch the data, and wait for spring rains to bring summer sunshine…eventually…

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

March 2019 Market Commentary

Key Takeaways

    • The rally in U.S. stocks slowed in March but still posted the best 1st quarter in recent memory at 13.65%, though stock markets remain volatile as investors seem to overreact to fears of the Fed increasing interest rates too much or not increasing rates at all
    • A slightly better-than-expected jobs report for March helped calm fears about mixed economic data in the U.S., supporting the Fed’s decision to keep short-term interest rates low for the foreseeable future
    • The OECD lowered its forecast for European GDP growth to a paltry 1.0% in 2019 and 1.2% in 2020; German government bonds fell into negative territory after the ECB reported weak manufacturing data
    • Overall, improved labor conditions, lower headline inflation, and accommodative monetary policy should help support real income growth and household spending in most developed countries

 

  • Conclusion: Recent market swings seem driven more by fear than by fundamentals. Economic data isn’t great, but the data doesn’t support a forecast for a global recession; U.S. markets are likely to hang on to gains until or unless weakness in the economy becomes more clear.

 

 

Is the U.S. economy getting better? Or getting worse?

The S&P 500 had its best 1st quarter return in recent memory, yet the Federal Reserve Bank kept interest rates low to avoid derailing the economy. Which of these forward-looking indicators is correct? To answer this question, let’s start at the beginning. You may have learned in school that GDP – the primary measure of economic strength – is simply the value of all goods and services sold in a country over a given period of time. In essence, GDP represents the value of business transactions. These transactions flow into company financial statements and impact the ability of these companies to pay dividends or launch new ventures. This increased cash flow is recognized by investors, who become willing to pay more for shares of those businesses in the stock market, pushing stock prices up. If the economy is up, stock prices are up too.

Easy, right? All the dominoes line up and we understand how the market works…or maybe not?

Here is the conundrum: stock prices are a ‘leading economic indicator’ because investors buy today expecting gains in the future. Interest rates are also leading indicators because investors need to forecast future interest rates – which typically move up and down with economic activity – before they’re willing to tie up their money for 10 or 20 years. Stock and bond prices don’t usually go up together.

Source: https://www.pimco.com/en-us/resources/education/everything-you-need-to-know-about-bonds

If interest rates go up, prices of existing fixed-rate bonds go down in order to compete with new bonds issued with higher coupon (interest) rates. But rising interest rates usually indicate more demand for funds, which is often associated with a strong economy, which means more profits, and consequently higher stock prices.

The upshot of all this is when stock prices go up, bond prices are usually flat or negative. Conversely, when stock prices go down, bond prices are usually positive as investors sell volatile stocks and seek safer assets such as government bonds.

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

As you can see from the chart above, bond prices as represented by the long-term Treasury ETF (ticker ‘TLT’ – blue line) usually go up when stock prices go down (represented by the Dow Jones Industrial Average – black line), and vice versa. This effect was particularly dramatic during the 4th quarter of 2018.

Despite the strong start for stocks in 2019, if you look back 6-months from October to March, bonds have been among the best performing asset classes. Bonds may not be sexy, but they sure are welcome when markets get rough! But wait – look at the red box in February and March. Bond and stock prices are moving together. Why??

The charts below from the Bureau of Economic Analysis may hold some of the answers. In a nutshell, the problem is Change. And I don’t mean the kind of change you find in your sofa cushions…

Chart 1: The U.S. economy is growing, but slower than in recent quarters.

 

Consumer spending takes a breath after spiking in April

Chart 2: Disposable income is increasing, but consumer spending is down.

Chart 3: Companies are adding value to GDP, but at a slower pace than previously.

The economic data is okay, but clearly slowing from the strong levels of 2017-2018. Does ‘slowing’ economic activity mean a recession is around the corner? I don’t think so, and many commentators are coming around to this view. What’s really moving the market, then? In addition to economic fundamentals, the stock market seems to be overreacting to the possibility of interest rates going up…or going down. Does being afraid of both situations make any sense? Probably not.

If the Fed increases rates too aggressively, they could indeed stall the economy. But we should take comfort in the persistent ‘data dependent’ stance of the Fed. They have no intention of being aggressive with interest rate hikes, so the stock market should probably find something else to worry about. In fact, institutional investors seem to agree that short-term rates are going nowhere any time soon. Federal Funds futures contracts are predicting the Fed will decrease rates by the end of 2019, though the Fed’s own ‘dot plot’ shows a possibility of one rate increase by the end of the year.

Source: https://www.cmegroup.com/trading/interest-rates/countdown-to-fomc.html

Source: https://www.federalreserve.gov/monetarypolicy/files/fomcprojtabl20190320.pdf

The Fed is also cautious about raising short-term rates too quickly and causing the Treasury yield curve to become ‘inverted’. An inverted yield curve is one where short-term interest rates are higher than longer term rates. This isn’t normal! Investors and lenders usually require higher rates to lock up their money for a longer period of time. An inverted curve is usually driven by…here’s that word again…Change.

The yield curve can invert under three basic scenarios:

 

  • The Fed is aggressively increasing short-term interest rates to cool down an overheated economy

 

  • Investors are demanding less return for longer maturities because they believe inflation, and consequently future interest rates, will be lower than they are currently

 

  • Differing supply and demand pressures on the short and long portions of the yield curve, sometimes driven by interest rate differentials between the U.S. and other developed countries

 

 

 

An inverted yield curve has preceded many recessions in the past few decades, which is why it makes people uncomfortable. But the inversion has happened as much as 2 years before the recession, so I’m not sure that the curve is actually predicting anything. It’s more helpful to analyze the economic situation driving the curve shape, rather than drawing conclusions from the curve alone. You might take comfort in knowing that post-inversion recessions have only happened when the 10-year Treasury yield was at least 0.50% below the Fed Funds rate, which we’re nowhere near. Right now my money is on Option #3 – a supply demand imbalance, not an imminent recession. Nonetheless, the current Treasury curve is slightly inverted between the 1 year and 5 year maturities and the Fed doesn’t want it to get worse and spook investors.

Source: Morningstar.com

It doesn’t make much sense for investors to be afraid of interest rates going up and also afraid of interest rates going down. But that seems to be the case at the moment and is a key driver of recent volatility in the U.S. stock market. Let’s be ‘data dependent’ for a minute and draw our own conclusions based on what we can see in the global economic landscape:

  1. The Fed is being cautious about raising or lowering interest rates because economic data doesn’t point strongly either up or down and they don’t want to spook the financial markets
  2. Though corporate earnings forecasts are lower than 2018, the majority of S&P 500 companies reporting slower earnings projections for the 1st quarter of 2019 have experienced positive stock price movement; S&P 500 gains year-to-date have been felt broadly across many sectors
  3. U.S. manufacturing output slipped to its lowest level in 2 years, despite trade tensions between the U.S. and China moderating somewhat rather than getting worse
  4. Challenges persist overseas, particularly in Europe, as trade tariffs hit European and Asian businesses harder than the U.S.; factory output in the Eurozone fell in March at the fastest pace in 6 years
  5. Manufacturing data in China, the second largest economy in the world, was stronger than expected in March; the Chinese economy is expected to slow to a still robust 6% GDP growth in 2019 and beyond
  6. European markets are stabilizing as the U.K. Parliament seems to be making progress identifying a viable ‘Brexit’ strategy; economic disaster in Europe due to stalled trade with Britain seems unlikely
  7. Trade tariffs aside, improved labor conditions, lower headline inflation, and accommodative monetary policy should help support real income growth and household spending in most developed countries
  8. Emerging economies are avoiding much of the global slowdown as many smaller countries benefit from strong capital investment, improving income growth, and economic and political reforms in recent years

What conclusions can we draw from all this data?

The economic data is certainly mixed, but most indicators point to slower growth in 2019, not a recession. From what we can see today, global economies, and consequently financial markets, should stay in modestly positive territory for the near term. We can sleep well at night knowing the ship is headed in the right direction…for now.

 

ASSET CLASS and SECTOR RETURNS as of MARCH 2019

Source: Morningstar Direct

Source: S&P Dow Jones Indices

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. 

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

 

Market Volatility – “A Few Minutes with Marcia”

Volatility measures the frequency and magnitude of price movements, both up and down, that a financial instrument experiences over a certain period of time. The more dramatic the price swings, the higher the level of volatility.

Learn the basics of market volatility with Marcia Clark, CFA, MBA.

Watch:

For those who prefer to read!

Welcome to A Few Minutes with Marcia. My name is Marcia Clark, Senior Research Analyst at Warren Street Wealth Advisors. Today we’re going to talk about the 4th quarter 2018 stock market dive and 1st quarter 2019 rebound in an attempt to understand more about market volatility.

Prior to 2018, the stock market had experienced 2 years of unusually low volatility, despite a few bumps along the way. After a mixed start to 2018, the Dow Jones Industrial Average looked like it was back to its winning ways, then came the 4th quarter tumble. Investors were caught by surprise by the huge swings in market prices – volatility – and started selling stocks like crazy. To better understand these market dynamics, let’s put the recent activity into context.

You may have heard of a common measure of market volatility called the ‘VIX’ – the Chicago Board Options Exchange volatility index. The VIX measures expected future volatility by evaluating the prices of put and call options traded on the exchange. If you’re looking at the slideshow, you can see how much calmer the VIX index was during the quiet years of the stock market, especially in 2017. As the market swooped up in late 2017, expected future volatility spiked shortly thereafter – remember that volatility can spike when prices go up as well as down.

When the market gave back some of its gains in early 2018, the volatility index fell back as well. Then came the market tumble in late 2018. The VIX index starts jumping around like a Richter scale during an earthquake. As we move into 2019, even with the recent pick up in volatility the graph shows that the VIX is at a pretty normal level compared to prior years. We’re just not used to ‘normal’ volatility anymore.

Where do we go from here? No one knows for sure, and if anyone says they can predict the future they’re kidding themselves and their clients. What we can say is that financial markets react to rumors and headlines, many of which don’t fundamentally change the financial landscape. This ‘knee jerk’ reaction causes market volatility, and this volatility is normal. In fact, active investment managers appreciate market volatility, because market dips based on headlines rather than fundamental changes in the economic landscape give investors with a strong stomach and an evidence-based outlook the ability to buy good assets at cheap prices. If all goes well, those assets will recover their value plus more over time, and patient investors will be rewarded.

 

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. 

 

 

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

2019 Started with a Roar!

WSWA Monthly Market Commentary for February 2019

Key Takeaways

    • Commodities took the lead in February with a year-to-date return of 13.14% as oil prices recovered from the supply/demand imbalance during the second half of 2018
    • The S&P 500 index is on pace for its biggest early-year advance in nearly 30 years, due in part to diminished investor fears about the impact of trade tensions and slowing pace of interest rate hikes
    • Forward-looking economic data is mixed: S&P 500 companies expect earnings growth to slow, but the Conference Board’s Leading Economic Indicators remain strong
    • Overseas tensions continue as the U.K. has yet to approve a ‘Brexit’ plan, trade tariffs put pressure on global economic growth, and high levels of public and private debt reduces central bank flexibility
    • Conclusion: Global economies are slowing but unlikely to enter a recession in 2019, providing support for U.S. financial markets. Market performance around the world is likely to be positive though with mixed results across developed and emerging economies.

Energy takes the lead with an impressive year-to-date return over 23%.

2019 started with a roar as commodities streaked off the starting line, gaining 13.14% in January and February (combined). The biggest winner was the Energy sector leaving everything else in the dust with an impressive 23.48% return. The rebound in oil prices was fueled in part by ongoing supply reductions by OPEC and diminishing trade tensions between the U.S. and China. Going forward, U.S. shale oil production capacity should keep a lid on oil prices despite efforts by OPEC countries to keep prices higher.

wti

Source: www.cnbc.com

1. https://us.spindices.com/performance-overview/commodities/sp-gsci
2. Source: Morningstar Energy sector analyst report

Global stocks were not left in the dust.

Despite the recent downturn, the S&P 500 is on pace for its strongest start in recent memory. This impressive performance was felt broadly across market sectors, led by Industrial companies and followed closely by Energy, Technology, and Consumer Discretionary firms.

Global stocks

Thankfully, U.S. stock market volatility as measured by the Chicago Board Options Exchange Volatility Index (VIX) calmed down from the frantic pace of the 4th quarter, perhaps due to investor fatigue as much as anything else. In truth, news has indeed gotten better: the FOMC indicated it would remain patient with the pace of normalizing interest rates; trade negotiations with China are progressing toward a workable conclusion; and corporate earnings for the 4th quarter are coming in better than investors feared.

vix

Source: www.bloomberg.com

3. https://www.wsj.com/articles/history-shows-stock-rally-could-have-more-legs-11550840401

International stocks are also benefiting from economic and political tailwinds, pulling slightly ahead of the U.S. in February with a return of 3.58% versus 3.21% for the S&P 500. The U.S. remains in the lead year-to-date: +11.48% compared to +9.57% for the developed markets equity index (MSCI ACWI.) Emerging Markets stocks are solidly in the middle of the pack at 0.22% in February and 9.01% year-to-date. U.S. bonds lagged the field with a negative return of -0.06% in February and 1.0% year-to-date, despite over $25 billion of inflows from mutual fund investors fleeing the stock market volatility of the 4th quarter 2018.

Asset Class Winners and Losers as of February 2019

Asset Class Winners and Losers as of February 2019

Source: Morningstar Direct

4. Source: Morningstar Direct
5. https://ici.org/research/stats/flows

With such a great start to the year, you might be wondering “where do we go from here?”

As reported in the Wall Street Journal and calculated by Dow Jones Market Data, the U.S. stock market continues in the same direction it started 64% of the time. Whether this relationship will apply in 2019 depends to some degree on the cause of the strong start. Given the sharp sell-off in the 4th quarter of 2018, some of the rally in early 2019 is likely attributed to stock prices finding a more rational foundation after being oversold, with the remainder based on fundamental factors outlined above. These aren’t powerful reasons for the rally to continue the rest of the year, but no reason to decline either.

It is encouraging to see Industrials leading the way rather than Technology, as the returns of industrial companies tend to be more closely tied to longer term economic trends. The breadth of the rally is also hopeful, as the number of stocks rising versus falling each day hit new highs in February.

Another bright spot is the Conference Board’s ‘Leading Economic Indicators’ index which remains strong despite declining a bit in January.

conference board

6. Source: Dow Jones Market Data

What could go wrong?

On the less optimistic side of the equation, most S&P 500 companies are forecasting earnings growth to slow in 2019. Overseas, economic tensions persist as the U.K. has yet to come up with a ‘Brexit’ deal acceptable to both the European Union and the British Parliament, and trade tariffs are hitting European automakers particularly hard. Add to this the worrisome growth of debt among many public and private entities worldwide, including the U.S. government, leaving central banks with less flexibility if the global economy stumbles.

The International Monetary Fund recently published an eye-opening study about the amount of debt accumulated around the world. (see chart below) The large light blue circle in the ‘Advanced Economies’ section at the top of the chart represents U.S. public and private debt at 256% of GDP. Japan is the green circle at the top right with nearly 400% debt to GDP(!), and Germany is the medium blue circle at the top left with 171% debt.

The dark blue circle in the middle ‘Emerging Markets’ section represents the debt load of mainland China at 254%. The lower section reflects ‘Low Income’ countries including Bangladesh, the light blue circle in the middle with 76% debt, and Vietnam in dark blue at the far right of this group with 189% debt to GDP.

Global Public and Private Debt as a Percent of GDP

Global Public and Private Debt as a Percent of GDP

7. https://blogs.imf.org/2019/01/02/new-data-on-global-debt/

Is all this debt a problem, especially for the U.S. government with over $22 trillion debt outstanding?

You might be comforted to know that though the U.S. government debt load is growing ever higher – due in some part to the ever-expanding U.S. economy – the interest servicing cost is only 1 ½% of GDP, compared to about 3% of GDP in the much higher interest rate environment of the 1980s and 1990s.

 interest rate

Source: www.treasurydirect.gov

As long as government borrowing and spending doesn’t ‘crowd out’ the private sector capacity to lend and spend, the debt shouldn’t be a problem. However, if government debt becomes so large that the government’s need to borrow pushes up interest rates for the rest of us, the economy could slow, kicking off a vicious cycle of unsustainable borrowing to keep the economy afloat. But there’s no need to panic just yet! Government debt is nowhere near the danger level and is unlikely to get there any time soon.

How do we weigh the positive and negative economic data?

Based on the available information, it’s hard to say whether 2019 will be an outstanding year for financial assets, below average, or somewhere in between. The International Monetary Fund is forecasting an economic slowdown – not a recession – across most developed markets in 2019 and 2020 (including Europe and the U.S.)

Growth Projections

On balance, there is enough positive data to support the case that a recession is not on the horizon. This outlook is becoming more widely held, which should enable the financial markets to hold their position and cross the finish line in positive territory by the end of 2019.

As always, the investment team at Warren Street Wealth Advisors will keep a sharp lookout for confirming or contrary evidence as the year unfolds, and will base our investment decisions on the best information we can find. While the future remains unclear, we promise to keep you informed as we journey forward.

8. https://www.treasurydirect.gov/NP/debt/current
9.https://www.ftportfolios.com/Commentary/EconomicResearch/2019/2/22/debt,-the-economy-and-stocks
10. https://www.investopedia.com/terms/c/crowdingouteffect.asp

Quiz:

Referring to the IMF ‘Debt Around the World’ blog post at https://blogs.imf.org/2019/01/02/new-data-on-global-debt/, which of the following countries has the largest debt as a percent of GDP, including both government and private entities? (Hint: click on the link, then move your mouse over the circles to see the details for each country)

  1. United States
  2. China
  3. Japan
  4. Germany

If you’re the sort of person who likes to draw your own conclusions, we highly recommend the IMF website from which we source much of our global information. Click on this link to see global economic data: https://www.imf.org/external/datamapper/NGDP_RPCH@WEO/OEMDC/ADVEC/WEOWORLD

Answer below…

 

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. 

 

 

 

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

 

Quiz Answer: Japan

 

WSWA Monthly Market Commentary

WSWA Monthly Market Commentary for January 2019

Key Takeaways

  • All major asset classes were up strongly in January, one of the best yearly starts in recent memory, despite the month-long partial government shutdown in the U.S. and continuing uncertainty internationally about the economic impact of trade tariffs and the U.K. ‘Brexit’ negotiations
  • Global real estate took the lead with a monthly return of 9.7%, followed by commodities and U.S. growth stocks at 9% each. The S&P 500 posted an 8% return for the month
  • Recession fears in the U.S. receded as job growth was strong despite the unemployment rate edging up to 4%;Corporate profits continued to grow in the 4th quarter of 2018, though will slow in 2019
  • Fears of a recession due to rising interest rates diminished with Federal Reserve officials holding short-term rates steady at their January meeting and commenting on being ‘patient’ with future rate increases

What a way to start the year!

All major asset classes were up strongly in January, one of the best yearly starts in recent memory, despite the month-long partial government shutdown in the U.S., continuing uncertainty about trade tariffs’ impact on international growth, and the failure of U.K. ‘Brexit’ negotiations.

Global real estate took the lead among major asset classes with a monthly return of 9.70%, followed by commodities and U.S. growth stocks at 8.99% each. The S&P 500 gained 8.01% for the month, with emerging markets equities up 8.77% and developed international equities up 5.72%. U.S. bonds also had a strong month, rising 1.06%.

Morningstar Direct

Source: Morningstar Direct

Among commodities, crude oil prices led the way with a strong rebound from the December 24th low of $42.53, ending the month at $53.79. The S&P GSCI Agriculture index, the second largest component of the S&P GSCI index, stabilized after declining steadily in recent years[1].

West Texas Crude Oil Price
West Texas Crude Oil Price

Source: www.macrotrends.net

GSCI Agriculture Index

GSCI Agriculture Index

International equity markets are well priced for future growth.

Emerging Markets equities (EEM) led the international equity markets in January, followed by the MSCI All Country World Index (ACWI), with Europe, Australasia, and Far East (EAFE) markets not far behind.


[1]https://us.spindices.com/indices/

European markets posted solid returns despite Prime Minister Theresa May’s Brexit plan being voted down by Parliament. After the Brexit agreement was rejected, Prime Minister May survived a ‘no confidence’ vote and promised renewed efforts to negotiate an acceptable exit plan with European Union leadership.

According to Harris Associates, manager of the Oakmark International fund, international markets have been the victim of “overly emotional equity markets” in recent months[2] and U.K. businesses are generating the highest percent free cash flow in the world (6%[3]). Prominent companies such as Daimler, Lloyds, and Tencent are trading at significant discounts to intrinsic value, and the Oakmark International portfolio has a Price/Cash Flow ratio of 4.8x compared to 7.5x for the world, indicating the shares held in the fund are priced significantly lower than the world markets.

Oakmark International, MSCI ACWI, EAFE, and Emerging Markets Equity Returns

Oakmark International

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

Worries about a near-term recession in the U.S. receded as corporate earnings continued to grow in the 4th quarter of 2018 and employers added more new jobs than expected.

Unemployment in the U.S. remained near historic lows, edging up to 4%[4] due to the temporary addition of government workers furloughed during the partial government shutdown. The labor participation rate continued to increase slowly and job creation exceeded expectations in January with 304,000 jobs added[5].

Fears of rising interest rates derailing the U.S. economy diminished with Federal Reserve officials holding short-term rates steady at their January meeting and commenting on being ‘patient’ with future interest rate increases[6].


[2]https://www.im.natixis.com/us/markets/finding-value-in-overly-emotional-equity-markets
[3] As presented Natixis National Sales Meeting January 10, 2019 Source: Corporate Reports, Empirical Research Partners Analysis as of November 30, 2018. Excluding financials and utilities; data smoothed on a trailing six-month basis.
[4]https://www.wsj.com/articles/global-stocks-edge-up-after-a-january-surge-in-the-u-s
[5]https://www.bls.gov/news.release/empsit.nr0.htm
[6]https://www.federalreserve.gov/monetarypolicy/fomcpresconf20190130.htm

U.S. Unemployment Rate, Participation Rate, and 10-yr. Treasury Yield

Corporate earnings for the 4th quarter were generally near the 5-year average with 10 of the 11 S&P sectors reporting year-over-year earnings growth.

Energy, Industrials, and Communication Services led the way with double-digit growth rates in the 4th quarter, though earnings estimates for 2019 are trending lower across most sectors[7].

4th Quarter 2018 Actual Earnings Growth vs. 12/31/2018 Projections

2019 Forecast Earnings Growth vs. 12/31/2018 Projections


[7]https://insight.factset.com/earnings-season-update-february-1-2019
The investment team at Warren Street Wealth Advisors held the line through a difficult 4th quarter of 2018, reaping the reward with a strong start to 2019.

Despite some negative headlines in December, the U.S. economy does not seem poised for a recession and we will remain fully invested across market sectors until evidence to the contrary becomes clear. With the Federal Reserve cautious on raising interest rates, job growth and wages increasing, and trade talks moving forward, we expect market volatility in 2019 to settle closer to historic norms, though not without some bumps along the way.

Despite recent weakness in overseas markets relative to the U.S., we are strong in our conviction that international markets are poised to rebound as stock prices stabilize at attractive levels, particularly in Europe and Emerging Markets, and negative headlines diminish. While economic and fundamental data appear mixed globally, we continue to be broadly diversified as international markets work through the next phase of political and economic developments.

As always, if you have any concerns or questions, the investment and financial planning teams at Warren Street Wealth Advisors want to hear from you! Call, write, or drop by our Tustin or El Segundo offices any time. We are here to help.

 

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.