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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

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. 

 

 

 

Market Commentary – December 2018

Market Commentary – December 2018

Key Takeaways

  • Though the U.S. stock market closed the year with its first annual loss since 2008 (S&P 500 -4.38%)(1), investors retained the vast majority of gains earned in 2017 (21.83%.) International stocks as measured by the MSCI EAFE(2) index were down -8.96%, giving up just over half of 2017’s gains (16.84%), and the Barclays Aggregate U.S. bond index ended the year flat at +0.01% after a very strong November and December.
  • Though market turbulence in the 4th quarter felt extreme, volatility over the year didn’t approach the peaks seen after the Dot Com bubble burst in 2001-2002 or during the financial crisis of 2008-2009.
  • Global financial markets tend to exhibit a ‘sector rotation’ pattern of recent losers becoming the next period’s winners. If the pattern holds true, international stocks are poised for a strong year in 2019.
  • 2018’s poor performance followed an unusually steady 10-year period of growth. Investors bold enough to put their money at risk after the market plummeted in 2008 were handsomely rewarded. Investors willing to do the same in 2019 may be rewarded once again.

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

Source: Morningstar Direct

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

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

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

GDP reflects the value of goods and services produced in a country – ultimately, GDP reflects corporate earnings. Robust U.S. GDP growth early in 2017 led to tight labor markets and rising inflation, supporting the Federal Reserve’s plan to ‘normalize’ short-term interest rates(3). Though GDP growth is expected to slow in 2019, the Federal Reserve forecasts a positive growth rate of approximately 2%. Not stellar, but certainly not in recession territory. And not so strong as to require the Fed to increase their pace of raising short-term interest rates, since modest GDP growth is unlikely to spark inflation. The International Monetary Fund is projecting similar modest positive growth for developed nations, and near 5% growth for emerging economies.

 

 

Growth Projection for U.S. GDP

Source: Factset

 

 

Growth Projection for the World

Source: International Monetary Fund

 

Economic fundamentals should ultimately find their way into stock prices, but the markets often become overly optimistic or pessimistic along the way.

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

 

 

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

As shown in the chart above from Fidelity Research(5), the biggest losers in the S&P 500 were not Technology companies which were grabbing most of the news headlines, but rather Industrials, Financials, Materials, and Energy firms. Industrials and materials were hard hit by concerns over trade tariffs and a slowing, though still strong, pace of new home building(6). Energy equipment and services firms suffered from falling oil prices hurting profit margins. Financial firms also struggled as increasing short-term funding rates squeezed investors’ profit expectations.

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

 

 

 


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

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

 

 

 

 

 

Sources

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

 

Market Commentary – November 2018

Market Commentary – November 2018

Key Points:

  • Global markets remained volatile despite more clarity about the geopolitical landscape and economic outlook
  • 78% of S&P 500 companies reported positive earnings surprises. A survey of large corporations indicated an expectation for EPS to slow somewhat in 2019 from the current high levels.
  • The U.S. stock market is not rewarding positive surprises as much as usual and is punishing negative surprises more than usual, resulting in lower lows and not-as-high highs as might be expected.
  • The Fed’s mission to bring short-term rates to more ‘normal’ levels is narrowing the difference between short- and longer-term interest rates (a ‘flat’ or ‘inverted’ Treasury yield curve.) Muted inflation expectations and investor ‘flight to quality’ is keeping demand for long-term bonds high, putting downward pressure on yields. Neither of these factors indicates a recession is imminent.
  • Conclusion: The U.S. economy isn’t going into a recession, it’s just taking a bit of a breather. The stock market will eventually recognize this and stabilize, but it may take a few more months.

Finally! A month of positive returns for the global financial markets.

Uncertainty eased a bit in November as midterm elections were completed with no big surprises, talks of trade wars continued without significant escalation, and Fed Chairman Jerome Powell indicated interest rates were nearing a neutral point. What a relief! Not that the month was pretty, it was far from it, but at least we ended up higher than where we started.

Of course, there are still things to worry about. According to the World Bank¹, energy-related commodities dropped 15.4% in November as OPEC and other oil-producing countries failed to limit supply. European banks and automakers continued to struggle amid news of the German financial giant Deutsche Bank being accused of money laundering. Here in the U.S., General Electric is battling CEO drama, debt issues, and anemic revenues. General Motors announced plans to close some of their factories. These events are certainly worth keeping an eye on but aren’t likely to kick the feet out from under global economies.

So if the economy is doing OK, why is the stock market so jittery?

When all is said and done, stock prices should reflect expectations of future profits. According to a recent article published by FactSet², the most commonly reported factor negatively impacting corporate earnings in the 4th quarter wasn’t trade tariffs or rising interest rates like we’ve heard from market commentators, but rather the strength of the U.S. dollar. The next most mentioned factor was the rising costs of raw materials and labor. Despite these headwinds, corporate profits have been strong.

impact factors

We also were told earlier in the year that the markets were ‘fully valued’ or ‘expensive’ relative to historical norms. One positive outcome of the market corrections in October, November, and early December is that stock prices are now well within the normal range for fair value.

According to FactSet’s ‘Earnings Insight’ report published November 30, 2018³:

  • 78% of S&P 500 companies reported a positive EPS surprise and 61% reported a positive sales surprise
  • The blended earnings growth rate for the S&P 500 is 25.9%. If 25.9% is the actual growth rate for the quarter, it will mark the highest earnings growth since Q3 2010.
  • All eleven sectors have higher growth rates than the 3rd quarter due to positive EPS surprises and upward revisions to EPS estimates.
  • 68 S&P 500 companies have issued negative EPS guidance and 31 S&P 500 companies have issued positive EPS guidance
  • The forward 12-month P/E ratio for the S&P 500 is 15.6, below the 5-year average (16.4) but above the 10-year average (14.6)

sp500 earnings

All this data means that U.S. corporations are doing fine. We recognize that many companies are forecasting slower growth in 2019 but slower growth from a robust pace doesn’t mean the economy is falling off a cliff. In fact, the U.S. has never had a recession when corporate profits are growing. What we’re seeing in the market is a disconnect between reality and expectations, with wary investors sitting on the sidelines instead of jumping in to ‘buy the dip’. The volatility in the U.S. stock market is not due to deteriorating fundamentals, but rather to investors not rewarding positive surprises as much as usual (fewer buyers), and punishing negative surprises more than usual (more sellers.)

  • Companies reporting positive earnings surprises have seen their stock price rise by only +0.1% in the two days prior to and after the announcement, relative to the 5-year average gain of +1.0%
  • Companies posting negative earnings surprises have seen their stock price slump by -3.1% in the same timeframe, compared to the 5-year average of -2.5%

eps and price change

OK, maybe the stock market is overreacting. But what’s this we hear about the ‘inverted yield curve’ forecasting that a recession is imminent?

A ‘yield curve’ is a graphical depiction of market-based yield-to-maturity for bonds with different maturity dates. The curve is usually upwardly sloping, meaning that lenders and investors require higher returns the longer they have to wait to get their money back. Over the past year, the difference between the 10-year and 2-year Treasury yields has been getting smaller and smaller, causing the yield curve to ‘flatten’. If short-term bond yields become higher than longer-term yields – an ‘inverted’ yield curve – investors interpret this as a signal of a coming recession.

yield curves

Source: treasury.gov

What you don’t hear in the news is that yield curve inversion has preceded recessions by up to 2 years, which isn’t much of a prediction. When you add the observation that there have been more yield curve inversions than recessions, perhaps we should take a closer look at the ‘cause’ of the yield curve inversion before we jump to the ‘effect’.

Let’s start by refreshing our memory on the definition of a recession:

  • GDP (Gross Domestic Product) is the value of goods and services produced in the U.S.
  • A recession is two quarters of negative GDP growth

By definition then, corporate profits have to slow substantially for GDP growth to become negative. Right now employment is strong, wages are growing, and corporate profits are solid. As long as people have jobs, they tend to buy stuff. As long as people buy stuff, corporations will be profitable. If corporations are profitable, GDP growth should remain positive. Given everything we see in regard to the current macroeconomic environment, the investment team at Warren Street Wealth Advisors expects slow and steady growth to continue at least through summer of 2019, and probably longer. As long we can dodge potential catastrophes caused by weather, wars, or geopolitical events, there’s no reason for the U.S. economy to fall into a recession.

So if the economy isn’t going to stall, what’s with the inverted yield curve?

There’s nothing mysterious about why short-term rates are going up – the Fed is pushing short-term interest rates back to ‘normal’ levels. The question then revolves around why long-term rates aren’t going up as much.

Long-term Treasury rates aren’t set by the Fed, but by the willingness of investors and businesses to borrow and lend. This willingness is driven by 1) economic growth, 2) inflation expectations, and 3) risk appetites.

    1. We’ve already talked about economic growth being solid but not outstanding, so no need for long-term rates to rise significantly in response to business demand for funds
    2. Inflation is hovering around 2%, just where the Fed wants it, so current yields are sufficient to protect purchasing power
    3. The biggest reason for the current inversion is probably related to risk appetites

What kind of risk am I talking about? Market risk.

With the wide swings in the stock market in recent months, we’ve seen a ‘flight to quality’ away from stocks and toward the safety of Uncle Sam. More demand for Treasury bonds leads to higher prices, and when bond prices rise, yields fall. With short-term rates moving up due to Fed actions and long-term rates staying low due to market forces, the yield curve flattens. It isn’t recessionary, it’s just simple supply and demand. In fact, if you look at corporate bond yields instead of Treasuries, longer-term yields have indeed been rising as the Fed increases short-term rates.

corporate sprea

There’s really only one conclusion to draw from the available evidence. The U.S. economy isn’t going into a recession, it’s just taking a bit of a breather.

While the markets adjust to this new reality, investors are getting tired of enduring the huge swings in stock prices. When investors stay on the sidelines and stop ‘buying the dips’, stock prices have trouble finding a floor. Hence the tendency for the market to fall by hundreds of points on news headlines, whether the information impacts long-term profits or not. What should we do now? The investment team at Warren Street Wealth Advisors is buckling our seatbelts and holding on tight as we speed toward a turbulent year-end close. We’re confident that the fundamental strength of U.S. and global economies will win out eventually, but it may take another few months for the markets to reward our patience.

In the meantime, we’re here for you! Call or stop by any time to share your questions, concerns, or suggestions.


Which of the following yields curves is best characterized as ‘inverted’? (Focus on the upper line on each chart)

chart 1 chart 2

 


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

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

 

 

 

¹ http://www.worldbank.org/en/research/commodity-markets
² https://insight.factset.com/what-factors-may-have-a-negative-impact-on-revenue-and-earnings-growth-in-q4
³ https://www.factset.com/hubfs/Resources%20Section/Research%20Desk/Earnings%20Insight/EarningsInsight_113018.pdf
⁴ https://www.wsj.com/articles/stocks-stage-recovery-after-dow-drops-over-700-points-1544075565
⁵ https://www.wsj.com/articles/stocks-stage-recovery-after-dow-drops-over-700-points-1544075565
Quiz Answer: Chart #2

Market Commentary – October 2018

Market Commentary – October 2018

Another wicked October!

First, we had the Panic of 1907, then Black Tuesday in 1929 (and Thursday and Monday), and Black Monday in October 1987, but October 2018 was indeed a month for the record books. With a negative return of -6.94%, it was the third worst October since 1987, and the 19th worst month in over 30 years. (For the curious among you, October 1987 the S&P 500 lost -21.76%, the worst single month decline since January 1987. The second worst October was 2008 at -16.94%.)

Why does the market hate October?! (or is it the other way around?)

Source: https://ycharts.com and https://finance.yahoo.com. Author’s calculations

Some of the worst days in the stock market actually happened in September: the 9/11 attacks and 2008 financial meltdown, for example. More often than not October has been a transition month, representing a buying opportunity for long-term investors able to endure some turbulence in exchange for future profits.

But more on that later…

Here’s the question for this past October: If the economic data was strong, why was the stock market so bad?

  • Wage growth came in at $27.30 up from $26.47 in October 2017, an annual growth rate of 3.1%, the highest in 9 years
  • Unemployment is hovering at 3.7%
  • Inflation remains low, falling from a recent high of 2.8% in July to 2.3% in September

What’s not to like?

Market commentators have plenty of possible answers for why global stock markets dropped off a cliff in October: escalating talk of trade wars, possibility that central banks will increase interest rates too high and stall the global economic recovery, uncertainty about the outcome of the U.S. midterm elections, high stock valuations, political disruptions in Europe, and others.

Source: https://finance.yahoo.com

While all these are legitimate concerns, none of them were new to October. Why did investors react so strongly?

To better understand the U.S. market landscape, let’s take a minute to review where we’ve been so we have more perspective on where we might be going.

Recent Tailwinds

  • Strong U.S. economy and improving economies worldwide
  • Tax cuts and strong corporate profits
  • Low interest rates

Possible Headwinds

  • Global trade wars and a slowing Chinese economy
  • Democratic House of Representatives may push back business-friendly legislation
  • Ballooning government debt

So yes, there are things to worry about, but on balance, the worries don’t seem to warrant the precipitous drop in stock prices. Our best guess why October was so painful? The cause most likely lies with investor behavior, not fundamentals…

 

No matter what the reason for October’s fall, what really matters are the decisions we make now that the market has stabilized. Is it time to sell before the next shoe falls? Or buy and ride the rebound…assuming there is a rebound?

Each investor has to decide for themselves how much risk they can handle in pursuit of returns, but at Warren Street Wealth we’re holding on tight and buying into the weakness.

As outlined in a recent article in the Wall Street Journal¹:

  • U.S. equities are trading at the lowest P/E ratio of the year and corporate earnings are solid
    • S&P 500 is trading at 16 times forward earnings, near the long-term average
    • Risk premium is 4.6%, indicating 1.4% higher expected returns than the long-term average
    • Given the strong economy, the equity risk/reward tradeoff is fair
  • International markets look cheap relative to the U.S.
    • Despite current political challenges, economic foundations are stable and growing across much of the globe
    • European stocks are trading at 12 times forward earnings, significantly lower than the long-term average of 16 times
    • Emerging Market equities are trading at 11 times future earnings, compared to the long-term average of 13 times

All that being said, nobody likes to see negative numbers, investment professionals least of all.

As one of our clients told me the other day, “No matter the explanation, down is bad. The only thing that helps is up.” Our job at Warren Street Wealth Advisors is to honestly evaluate our investment decisions, make course corrections when needed, and hold the line otherwise. It’s been a rough market in the U.S. and even worse internationally, but the value is clearly there. We’re staying the course and watching for opportunities to buy into markets that have been beaten down unnecessarily. We don’t know how long it will take for these cheaper sectors to recover, but we want to be there when it happens. We hope you’ll be there with us.

Quiz Question:

Referring to the average monthly returns in the table, if you invested $1,000 in the S&P 500 when the market opened in January and earned the average monthly return compounded monthly, you would end the year with $1,090 or a 9% return.

Formula: $1,000 * (1 + .83%) * (1 + .38%) * … * (1 + 1.86%)

If you had an additional $1,000 to invest and knew what the future monthly returns would be, when should you buy more stocks to maximize your dollar-weighted return?

Rule of thumb: Buy low, Sell high

A. March and April   B. May and July  C. August and September  D. December

 


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

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

¹ https://www.wsj.com/articles/stock-market-bulls-re-emerge-after-bruising-selloff-1541768401