Sunday, September 17, 2017

Market Is In An Uptrend And Trends Tend To Persist

One strategist I read regularly and who prepares weekly technical commentary, Charles Kirk at The Kirk Report, had a reference in this week's report relative to the strength of the current market. Kirk highlighted the below quote from James DePorre,

"If you simply focus on what the pricing action is saying, then your job of profitably navigating the market becomes a lot less complex. The simple fact is that we are in a very long-term uptrend, and trends tend to persist. The media might have all sorts of headlines to create their narrative, but all we really need to know is that the odds favor the bulls in an uptrend and vice versa. At some point, that pattern (and trend) will change, but trying to predict it ahead of time is a hard way to make a living."
The quote is certainly applicable in the equity market environment investors are currently experiencing as corrections and pullbacks seem to be nearly few and far between. I noted this lack of volatility in a post late last week, The Risk Of De-Risking The Equity Portfolio. And as it relates to trends, over the long term, the market trend is one that moves higher as can be seen in the below chart. An important observation from the below chart is the fact the line mapping the current market advance falls between long term support (green line) and resistance (red line.) So one might say the market is neither oversold or overbought from a technical perspective when only evaluating the below chart.


Evaluating the long term is relevant and appropriate, but as famed economist John Maynard Keynes once noted, "In the long run we are all dead." So evaluating the shorter term market picture is important too.

Charles Kirk included the below chart with the quote he shared from James DePorre. The weekly two and a half year chart represents the New York Stock Exchange Composite Index. The index closed Friday at 12,080 and the technical chart pattern indicates a target price of 12,869. This target price represents a 6.5% advance from Friday's close. Obvious from the chart's pattern, if this return is realized, a move higher is highly unlikely to occur in a straight line. Kirk's commentary included with this chart noted,
"It rarely pays to bet against markets that have bullish plays in motion with a consistent series of higher swing highs and higher swing lows in the follow through. After acquiring its first reversal target this year, a secondary play remains in motion here in an apparent fifth-wave type advance. This chart suggests there is still plenty of upside potential left in the U.S. markets..."

Some additional market charts are included below. The charts note recent breakouts to the upside for the indexes: the NYSE Composite Index, the S&P 500 Index, iShares Europe ETF (IEV) and the iShare MSCI Emerging Markets Index (EEM). In short, beyond the U.S., markets around the world seem to be breaking out to the upside as well.


The first two charts in the above chart cluster also show the index moves to the upside are occurring on higher volume as well. The below chart displays the 'common stock only' advance-decline line volume for the NYSE Index.  This line also shows a break to the upside above resistance.


And finally, the last few weeks of September have a tendency to be weaker than the first two. On Wednesday, the market will hear from the Fed following a two day FOMC meeting and important insight might be gleaned from the Fed's statement about the pace of unwinding the Fed's balance sheet. Additionally, the S&P 500 Index closed at 2,500.23 on Friday and these round number levels have a history of resulting in market pauses. The below chart from MKM Partners, and provided by Rachel Shasha, shows the round number level pauses going back to early 2015.


In summary, market valuations do seem elevated, but in a low interest rate environment, these valuations levels do not seem out of line. And as I have noted in earlier posts, valuations alone do not cause corrections. Investments outside of equities are difficult for investors due to the low yields they generate. Certainly, cash and high quality bonds can serve as an important foundation in an equity market pullback, but upside returns in cash and bonds appear to be muted if equities continue to advance higher. The absence of any significant pullback over the last two years is a bit of a concern; however, the market technicals are indicating equities want to move higher. As many have noted, the market is in a very long-term uptrend, and trends tend to persist.


Saturday, September 16, 2017

Stocks Need Some Healthy Competition

It seems a day does not go by where various strategists lament the market's valuation and lack of any significant pullback in over a year and a half. Not only are the valuations of a number of equity indices above their long term average, some might say the valuations are indicative of the speculative froth in the market. One data point highlighted is the margin debt level. Certainly margin debt has increased as can be seen in the first chart below. However, the second chart shows that margin debt as a percentage of total equity market capitalization has remained fairly stable since 2010. A good article on evaluating margin debt can be found in a MarketWatch article from a few years back, Cash vs. margin debt is the real problem for this market.



I have discussed in a number of prior posts that equities can trade at higher valuations in a low interest rate environment like we are experiencing at this point in time. Therein lies the issue with stocks. Interest rates around the world are at low levels and negative yields on many debt issues. Investors that desire a decent income return on their investments are hard pressed to find that in the bond market. The below chart compares yields on selected investments in the U.S. and around the globe. Excluding the yield on high yield investments, 5.5%, all the other yields in the below chart are 2.2% or lower.


So income yields on many bond investments are at rock bottom levels, and then compare these yields to total returns and investors can see stocks have far outpaced bonds. This disparity in returns has led some bond investors to position assets in what they would call bond-like stocks, that is, higher yielding equities such as utility stocks. These bond-like stocks are not bonds and are highly correlated to the broader equity market.


Historically, an investor might hold bonds in a portfolio to serve as a shock absorber in an equity market pullback. This shock absorber benefit remains an important reason to own bonds today even though yields are low. The other reason investors, and specifically retirees, would hold bonds, is they felt they were receiving adequate income from the bonds to support their spending needs. However, today, receiving a 4%-5% yield on a U.S Treasury seems like a far fetched idea at the moment.

Next week the Federal Reserve has a two day FOMC meeting culminating with an interest rate announcement on Wednesday afternoon. The market is not expecting a rate increase coming out of this meeting; however, we believe rates need to continue their trend higher and believe the Federal Reserve is behind the curve on increasing rates in this cycle. This low level of interest rates has led many investors to conclude this is a T.I.N.A. market, i.e, There Is No Alternative to stocks.

As the final chart below shows, the Fed has been able to get the Fed Funds rate back to a level last seen in 2003/2004. Much work is yet to be done to get rates back to a more normalized level of say 2%-3% though. By allowing longer term Fed assets to roll off the balance sheet, a reasonable possibility exists that longer term rates could move higher as well. Higher rates could provide some healthy and need competition for stocks.


Friday, September 15, 2017

The Risk Of De-risking The Equity Portfolio

The unique aspect of the current U.S equity market has been the market's desire to move higher without any significant pullback. As the below chart shows, the last correction (double digit decline) occurred in early 2016 and culminated with a 13.3% decline ending February 11, 2016. Since the February correction, two other pullbacks of around 5% occurred around June 2016 and November 2016.



Thursday, September 14, 2017

Spike Higher In Bullish Sentiment

In today's Sentiment Survey release by the American Association of Individual Investors, bullish sentiment jump twelve percentage points to 41.3%. All of the increase in bullish investor sentiment come from a 13.8 percentage point drop in bearish sentiment as can be seen in the second chart below.



The bull/bear spread of 19.3 is the second highest of the year following early January's 20.97 bull/bear spread.


Sunday, September 10, 2017

S&P And MSCI May Change The Composition Of The Telecommunications Sector

In July of this year S&P Dow Jones Indices and MSCI announced they were considering making changes to the current GICS Telecommunications Sector. Any changes would be announced in November and go into effect in 2018. Currently, the telecommunications sector represents about 2% of the S&P 500 Index. S&P's and MSCI's intent is to broaden the composition of the sector and rename it Communications Services with the sector weight increasing to approximately 10% of the S&P 500 Index. As noted in the release,
"The main proposal set out in the consultation paper is the creation of a Communication Services Sector, comprised of the current Telecommunication Services Sector, Media Industry Group, and specific companies from the Software & Services Industry Group."
Sector weights in other indexes would be impacted as well with a couple of those noted below. As an example, Communications Services would increase to 13.7% from 1% in the Russell 1000 Growth Index. In the S&P 500 Index, the Information Technology sector would decline to 18.4% from the current 23.3% weighting.


Sunday, September 03, 2017

Growth Outperforming Value And The Economic Cycle

One style of the market that has outperformed, except in 2016, has been growth type equities. In 2016 value outperformed growth with a value outperformance burst subsequent to the election. Value's outperformance essentially ended at the beginning of this year though.



Friday, September 01, 2017

Equity Market Nears Record High And Investors Become Less Bullish

As the equity market nears a record high, both institutional and individual investors continue to indicate they are less bullish. The NAAIM Exposure Index continues to decline with long equity exposure down to 77%.


Yesterday's AAII Sentiment Survey report showed bullish sentiment fell another 3.1 percentage points to 25% and now is below the minus one standard deviation level for bullish sentiment. 



The market rarely rewards investors for being properly positioned for a market pullback. Sentiment measures are contrarian ones and by these measures only, this widespread skepticism would suggest the market might continue to move higher.


Saturday, August 26, 2017

DowDupont Will Be Included In Dow Jones Industrial Average Index

As many readers know, effective September 1, Dow Chemical (DOW) and DuPont (DD) will merge into one company, DowDupont (DWDP). Effective that same day, S&P Dow Jones Indices will replace DuPont, a component of the Dow Jones Industrial Average Index, with DowDuPont. S&P notes,
"Replacing du Pont with the new DowDuPont allows the Dow Jones Industrial Average to maintain its exposure to the Materials sector....The change won’t cause any disruption in the level of the index. The divisor used to calculate the index from the component’s prices on their respective home exchanges will be changed prior to the opening on September 1. This procedure prevents any distortion in the index’s reflection of the portion of the U.S. stock market it is designed to measure."


Friday, August 25, 2017

Large Decline In Bullish Investor Sentiment

This week's AAII Sentiment Survey reported a 6.1% decline in bullish investor sentiment to 28.1%. The bullish sentiment level is now near one standard deviation below the long term average. Nearly all of the decline in the bullish sentiment showed up in the bearish number which increased 5.5%. The bull/bear spread is now -10.4 percentage points.



Sunday, August 20, 2017

Dr. KOSPI's Protocol For Global Growth Diagnosis

It has been about two weeks and market sentiment seems to have quickly turned decidedly bearish and the S&P 500 Index is down only 2.2% from its high. I will not list all the bearish commentary over the last few days, but we even pushed out some thoughts this weekend on our Twitter account (@HORANCapitalAdv) that leaned a little bearish. A couple of reasons for the increased bearishness might be the fact the market has gone over a year without a pullback of more than 5% and stock valuations do appear elevated on an absolute basis. Lastly, with the increase in technical and computerized trading, readers should know the S&P 500 Index acquired a significant target price that was triggered over four years ago and was formed out of a 16 year trading range for the market. Once significant levels like this are reached, it is not uncommon for the market to at least consolidate gains.



Friday, August 18, 2017

No Slowdown In Growth Of e-Commerce Sales

It seems nearly every company reporting earnings now references a strategy to deal with Amazon (AMZN) due to Amazon's command of e-commerce sales. Beyond the simple delivery of packages and hard goods, AMZN is moving into many other areas like grocery, air transportation, etc. I discussed this in a post a few months ago. In that post I highlighted the profitability of Amazon's cloud business (AWS) and the company using AWS profits to fund growth in other industries.

Yesterday, the U.S. Census Bureau reported quarterly retail e-commerce sales for the second quarter of 2017. Not a surprise to many now, e-commerce sales continue to grow at a high rate, i.e., up 16.2% on a year over year basis for Q2. Traditional brick and mortar sales were up a small 2.9% year over year. The other notable highlight from the Census Bureau report, e-commerce sales now account for 8.9% of total retail sales. This is nearly three times larger than ten years ago.



The Economy May Not Be At Full Employment

One economic conundrum has been the sub-par growth rate in average hourly earnings in spite of what appears to be an economy operating at full employment. In a fully employed economic environment, wages generally see fairly strong upside pressure and this becomes a concern with the Federal Reserve due to the upward pressure placed on the inflation rate. As the below chart does show, average hourly wages have grown at about a 2% annual rate since the end of the financial crisis. Prior to the onset of the last recession, wage growth was in the range of 3% to 4%. From a positive perspective though, wages have been growing faster than the rate of inflation for most of the last four years. Additionally, the differential wage growth and inflation in this cycle is on par with prior economic expansions.



Sunday, August 06, 2017

Investor Fund Flows Favoring Bonds And Not Equities

The equity market has gone over a year without a pullback of at least 5% or more. The last 5% decline occurred in mid-June 2016 when, over a two week period, the market fell 5.5%. Even in the run up to the election last year, the equity market did not close down over 5%. This lack of volatility is showing up in popular volatility measures like the VIX, but the VIX may not be a good measure of expected future volatility.  Also, this lower level of volatility has some strategists suggesting investor's have become to complacent about the equity market and have willingly taken on more equity exposure as a result.

A recent post by Dr. Ed Yardeni, Ph.D., and he puts out some great research, noted individual investors may have become too optimistic as well. In that post, Investors Hearing Call of the Wild, he included the below chart of U.S. equity ETF flows.



Saturday, August 05, 2017

The S&P 500 Index Is Expensive And Has Mostly Been So Since The Early 1990's

One can cite any number of stock valuation measures and conclude U.S. equities look expensive or are at least trading above their long term average valuation measures. In this environment one might conclude stocks are priced for perfection with little margin for error. Of course this might certainly be the case, but is this an uncommon position for the equity market? As the shaded areas in the below chart show, investors would have had a difficult time buying or holding onto stocks at valuation levels that were below their long term average valuation since the early 1990s.



Tuesday, August 01, 2017

Dividend Payers Are Underperforming

A year ago dividend paying stocks were significantly outperforming the non payers in the S&P 500 Index and the S&P 500 Index itself. If investors were chasing performance back then and loading up on the payers, today they would be disappointed. Below is a chart of the year to date performance of two dividend paying exchange traded funds, SPDR Dividend ETF (SDY) and iShares Select Dividend ETF (DVY). The return of the dividend focused ETFs is nearly half that of the S&P 500 Index.  The return difference is similar for one year. My year ago post contains some details on both ETFs.



Sunday, July 30, 2017

Equity Valuations No Longer Matter?

One benefit to writing blog content is it serves as a record of ones past thinking and the results of any decisions made from the prior analysis. With that in mind I reviewed some of the topics written over a year ago, that is, in June/July of 2016. A few of the topics at that time had to do with valuations, PEG ratios and the fact the market was trading at an all time record high. In fact one article was titled, Is It Right To Be Bullish Near A Record Market High? The conclusion at that time was to stay invested in equities as I wrote then,


Saturday, July 22, 2017

Strong Earnings Growth And Favorable Valuations Lead To Weak Stock Returns

One factor utilized in uncovering potential investment opportunities is to evaluate companies and sectors that are projected to generate strong earnings and cash flow growth over the course of the next year or more. The risk associated with simply reviewing earnings growth rates is the fact other variables often influence the future price performance of a company's stock. A good case in point at the moment can be found in evaluating energy companies and the associated sector. For calendar year 2017 and 2018, the energy sector is expected to exhibit the highest earnings growth rate among all the S&P 500 sectors. For 2017 the year over year earnings growth rate for the energy sector is estimated to equal over 300%. In 2018 the YOY growth rate is projected to equal 41.3%.


Even reviewing the sector PEG ratios (P/E to earnings growth rate), the energy sector looks very attractive and is the only sector that has a PEG below 1.0.


Thursday, July 20, 2017

Jump In Investor Bullish Sentiment But Remains Below Long Run Average

Today the American Association of Individual Investors released their Sentiment Survey results for the week ending 7/19/2017. These results show individual investors' bullish sentiment increased 7.3 percentage points to 35.5%. This is the highest reading since early May when bullish sentiment was reported at 38.1%. This jump in bullish sentiment still has the level below the long run average of 38.5%. The increase in the bullish reading came almost equally from a reduction in those investors indicating they were bearish and those reporting a neutral view of the markets.

This is a contrarian measure and remains at a fairly low level. On the other hand, the market continues to achieve record highs with very little downside volatility. A pullback of 5-10% would not be a surprise given the market's recent strength.

Source: AAII


Wednesday, July 05, 2017

Summer 2017 Investor Letter

Our Summer 2017 Investor Letter reviews the strong equity market performance thus far in 2017.  As of quarter end, the S&P 500 is up 9.34%, the Nasdaq is up 14.07%, and the MSCI EAFE Index is up 14.23% year to date. As investors become increasingly worried about the first significant market decline since early 2016, stocks continue to climb the proverbial “wall of worry.”


For more of our thoughts on everything from the FANGs to the Fed, see our Investor Letter available at the below link:


Monday, June 26, 2017

Market Pullbacks Should Be Expected

There have been plenty of reasons to sell stocks since the end of the financial crisis in 2008. The drumbeat seems to be getting louder as the postwar market advance approaches one of the longest on record.


Also contributing to some angst about the market's advance is the fact the last pullback/correction of greater than 10% occurred in February 2016. In other words the market has gone more than 16 months without a >10% pullback. As the below chart shows, market pullbacks of nearly 10% are a fairly common occurrence. The market's average intra-year decline equals 14.9%.


Sunday, June 18, 2017

Dogs Of The Dow Underperformance Gap Widening

The first six months of the year are nearly behind us so I thought it appropriate to provide an update on the performance for the 2017 Dogs of the Dow. As noted in the past, the strategy is one where investors select the ten stocks that have the highest dividend yield from the stocks in the Dow Jones Industrial Average Index (DJIA) after the close of business on the last trading day of the year. Once the ten stocks are determined, an investor invests an equal dollar amount in each of the ten stocks and holds the basket for the entire next year. The popularity of the strategy is its singular focus on dividend yield. The strategy is somewhat mixed from year to year in terms of outperforming the Dow index though. Over the last ten years, the Dogs of the Dow strategy has outperformed the Dow index in six of those ten years.

Since my last update a few months ago, the Dow Dogs performance has fallen further behind the Dow Jones Industrial Average Index. As can be seen in the below table, the average return of the Dow Dogs through 6/16/2017 is 4.9% versus the DJIA return of 9.4%.


Interestingly, in the top ten performing stocks in the DJIA index this year, only two are Dow Dogs, Boeing (BA) and Caterpillar (CAT). Boeing is the best performing Dow stock, up 28.3%. So far this year, energy has been a drag on the both the DJIA index and the Dow Dogs, while at the same time, industrial stocks have been performing well. In short, the sole focus on dividends in the Dow Dog strategy has yet to pay off this year.


Amazon: Selling And Delivering Groceries Is Not A High Margin Endeavor

Of course the big news last week was Amazon (AMZN) announcing it was acquiring Whole Foods Market (WFM) in a deal valued at $13.7 billion. The deal is an all cash one, but with Amazon's stock trading at a trailing price earnings multiple of 185 times one might think funding the purchase with stock might make more sense. Nonetheless, this acquisition announcement had ripple effects on many other consumer product companies and not just grocery retailers. One question that arises is whether Amazon's purchasing leverage will put downward pressure on prices for products manufactured by the likes of Procter & Gamble (PG), McCormick & Company (MKC), Kellogg (K) and many other packaged consumer product companies. Friday's stock market reaction to this broad category of companies suggests the AMZN/WFM merger will be a significant headwind for other companies in this space or to those selling into the space.


Selling and delivering groceries is not the same as selling and delivering books and non-perishable products. As the picture at the beginning of this post shows, consumers have had home delivery options historically. Home delivery of milk, for instance, was a common practice years ago before the popularity of large grocery stores. Still today, consumers have home delivery of grocery options. One firm that has been delivering groceries since 1952 is Schwan's. Schwan's website notes the delivery options it provides to consumers,
  • Personal Delivery: Our knowledgeable Route Sales Representative will deliver your food to your home at a time that is convenient for you.
  • Drop-Off Delivery: No need to be home for delivery. We'll drop off your order at your scheduled delivery time in a reusable freezer bag that keeps your food frozen for hours.
  • Mail Order: Mail Order delivery is available anywhere in the continental United States. It's a convenient option if our delivery service is not available in your area or if you want to send our food to family or friends.
More background on Schwan's can be found at this link.

At the end of the day, the success of any retail store is centered on the customer having a positive experience and the store or business executing on its business plan. And to this end, brick and mortar retailers need to make 'positive customer experience' an overriding aspect of their business model if they want to compete with the Amazon's of the world. I could, but won't in this post, list a number of procedures retailers have implemented that do not contribute to a customer having a positive experience.

I am skeptical of how successful the delivery of groceries can be. As I stated earlier, home delivery of groceries is not the same as leaving a non perishable package on the doorstep. A benefit Amazon is getting with the Whole Foods acquisition is access to 400 plus brick and mortar locations. Is Amazon then saying brick and mortar is a necessity in order to continue its growth?

And finally, much of what Amazon has been able to do in its pursuit of growth is a direct result of the profitability of Amazon Web Services or AWS. AWS accounts for less the 10% of Amazon's revenue but accounts for 74% of Amazon's operating income. AWS is made up of many different cloud computing products and services. The division provides servers, storage, networking, remote computing, email, mobile development and security. AWS's two main products are Amazon’s virtual machine service and Amazon’s storage system. AWS is now at least ten times the size of its nearest competitor and hosts popular websites like Netflix Inc (NFLX) and Instagram (a subsidiary of Facebook Inc.(FB))



So long as the market continues to give Amazon a pass on generating a decent profit from its businesses outside of AWS, AMZN's retail competitors could continue to face challenges. However, I do believe that the AMZN/WFM acquisition may not work out as well as AMZN anticipates. Selling groceries and adding delivery cost on top of a low margin business, is not a recipe for fast growth in my view.


Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Growth Style Returns Dominating Value Style Returns

Over a long enough period of time, value stocks tend to outperform growth stocks and this fact is causing some pain for the value oriented investor during this market cycle. In a Fidelity article that compares value versus growth performance, this has indeed been the case when going back over 25 years. The Fidelity article shows, however, that on a risk adjusted basis the growth style wins out. The value style tends to have a large weighting in financial and economically sensitive sectors and most investors know these types of sector positions experienced headwinds in the 2008/2009 economic downturn.



Wednesday, June 07, 2017

NIPA Earnings Weakness Leads IBES S&P 500 Earnings Weakness

The equity market seems to know only one direction and that is up. The result of this type of pattern has been a downward trend in volatility with the VIX trading at a near single digit level. One characteristic of a low VIX reading and a higher trending market has been the absence of any significant equity market pullback. As Urban Carmel, author of The Fat Pitch blog notes,
"SPX [S&P 500 Index] has now avoided a 5% drawdown since November 4, a period of 139 days. Since 2009, there have been only two uninterrupted uptrends that have lasted longer: 142 days (ending January 2014) and 158 days (ending September 2014). If past is prologue, then SPX appears likely to have a 5% correction before June 23 (158 days)."
I am not sure time in and of itself is a predictor of a 5% equity market correction, but the data is confirmation of the lower downside volatility recently experienced by the equity market as can be seen in the below chart.


Friday, June 02, 2017

Equity Market Climbing The Proverbial Wall Of Worry

The individual investor continues to express concerns for stocks when looking at their sentiment response. Yesterday's Sentiment Survey report from the American Association of Individual Investors showed a nearly six percentage point decline in the bullish sentiment reading to 26.92%. This pushes the bullishness reading one standard deviation below the average bullishness reading.



Monday, May 29, 2017

The Unfortunate Rise Of The Misleading 'Scary Chart' Comparisons Again

In early 2014 charts were circulating around the internet comparing the 2014 market to 1928-1929. One such chart is shown below. The below chart was taken from an article that highlighted the fallacy of these comparisons. In fact, this type of scare tactic infiltrated the main stream media where a MarketWatch.com article warned about the similarity of the '28/'29 market to that of 2014 and that “trouble lies directly ahead.” Since that 2014 article was written, the S&P 500 Index is up over 30%.



Sunday, May 28, 2017

Momentum Strategy Needs A Breather

One aspect of the S&P 500 Index return in 2017 is the fact a handful of stocks have generated a large portion of the return. Historical evidence suggests narrow market leadership is not an uncommon occurrence in bull markets. Interesting this year, however, is the fact this leadership has been centered in technology stocks. I discussed this in a post a few weeks ago when I looked at detail surrounding the Momentum Index (MTUM) strategy performance and its similarity to 2015. At the time of the prior post, the RSI of MTUM versus the S&P 500 Index was below 80. In the last few weeks though, the relative strength index (RSI) has pushed above the overbought level of 80, actually reaching above 85.

As the below graph shows, the top ten holdings of the iShares MSCI Momentum Factor ETF (MTUM) is comprised largely of technology stocks. The weighting of these top 10 positions equals nearly 40% of the overall index itself. The performance begins at the first of December, the time when momentum began its outperformance.


In spite of the fact the momentum strategy may continue to lead in 2017, the leadership does not produce higher returns in a straight line. Given the overbought level of the RSI and the strength of the move since December, a near term pullback in these larger technology positions, and the momentum strategy itself, would not be a surprise.


Thursday, May 25, 2017

Investors Skeptical Of Stocks

Much of the sentiment data seems to indicate investors are a bit nervous about stock ownership. This morning's sentiment survey report by the American Association of Individual Investors did show a nine percentage point improvement in the weekly bullish sentiment reading, increasing to 32.9% from last week's 23.9% reading. However, the less volatile 8-period moving average of the bullishness reading remains at a low 31.1%, improving only .4% on the week.



Thursday, May 18, 2017

Results of the "Trump Trade"

Now that the Wall Street Journal and others have declared it dead, it is interesting to consider what exactly the Trump trade was.  As Josh Brown put it, the election provided finality, but the “Trump Trade” never really existed.  A decisive victory either way could have been bullish for the markets.  In our Q4 2016 investor letter, we said that the election conclusion was simply a catalyst for a much needed rotation.  The catalyst was difficult to predict, but the eventual rotation seemed likely.  So, now that it is dead, where does that leave us? 

The below chart shows the S&P 500 P/E and PEG as of 11/4/2016 (prior to the election).


Pre-Trump Rally, defensive sectors like Consumer Staples, Utilities, and Telecommunications all looked relatively expensive based on PEG ratios while some (not all) cyclical sectors appeared relatively cheaper.  The post-election performance (yellow bar below) reflected a reversion to the mean for each of these sectors with the most expensive underperforming while the least expensive outperformed.


So, where does that leave us today with the recent “death” of the Trump rally?  Relative sector valuations look more similar.  Utilities still appear moderately expensive, but Telecom has taken its place as the clear outlier (due to lower growth expectations).  Everything else is hovering around a PEG of 1.  We are back to “normal”.



The election served as the catalyst for this rotation, but it may have come regardless of the ultimate victor.  With earnings growth looking very strong for Q1, most sector valuations now appear reasonable.  The slight bias towards defensive sectors (Utilities, Staples, and especially Telecom) makes sense given the widespread caution throughout much of the last few years of this bull market.  The overall market is not cheap, but if earnings come in as expected, only a few sectors look particularly expensive.


Monday, May 15, 2017

Momentum Strategy Leading Again

It is back to the future for the market as momentum is once again a leading investment strategy just as it was in 2015. Momentum fell out of favor in the run up to the election and into year-end 2016; however, momentum is once again leading the S&P 500 Index this year. The momentum strategy may be overbought near term with the RSI near 80.



Thursday, May 11, 2017

Brick And Mortar Retail Is A Mess At The Moment

It seems anything associated with brick and mortar retailing is an investment that will do anything but go up. The brick and mortar retailers themselves are struggling to figure out how to compete in the internet age. Macy's (M) reported disappointing earnings today and the stock closed down 17%. After the market close, Nordstrom (JWN) reported results with earnings up 37%, yet same store sales were down a worse than expected .8%. After hours Nordstrom's stock is trading down 3.5%. The green line in the below chart represents the FTSE NAREIT Equity Regional Mall Index (FN22). This index is struggling along with the brick and mortar retailers as well.



Saturday, May 06, 2017

Indexing Investment Strategy Becoming Increasingly More Risky?

Indexing ones investments has turned into the investment strategy of choice for a number of investors. According to a recent Wall Street Journal article, in 2016 82% of new investments coming through financial advisers (more than $400 billion) went into index funds and ETFs. This statistic was highlighted by Consuelo Mack on a recent WealthTrack segment where she interviewed David Winters of the Wintergreen Funds. Winters addresses several points about the potential risks and factors surrounding index funds, one risk called look through expenses and the other about index investing ignoring company fundamentals. I did not necessarily buy into the look through expense argument; however, the issue with indexing 'ignoring company fundamentals' is a very valid one. The WealthTrach video is provided at the end of the post.


Friday, May 05, 2017

Higher Oil Prices Contend With Too Much Supply And Higher Energy Efficiency

Almost to the day one month ago, when oil was trading at $52.25/bbl, I noted higher oil prices faced strong headwinds. I mentioned several factors that would likely result in lower oil prices, with the largest being the oversupply of oil in an environment where drilling activity was picking up. Fast forward to today and the price of spot WTI has fallen 12.8% to $45.55/bbl. Additionally, supply does not seem to want to abate as the rig count has increased to 870 rigs this week versus 839 in the month ago article.


A faster pace of supply growth continues to be the overriding issue although demand continues to increase as well, but yet to reach pre-recession levels. Certainly, the below trend rate of economic growth is playing some role in the lower overall demand for petroleum products.


Another factor in the slowing rate of demand growth is energy efficiency improvements made to a number of petroleum consuming parts of the economy. One significant area of improvement is in the area of vehicle gas mileage. This is important as gasoline is the main petroleum product consumed in the U.S. and accounts for nearly 47% of petroleum consumption.

As the first chart below shows, since 2014, consumers have consistently driven more miles, year over year. This has translated into continued growth in total vehicle miles driven on a rolling 12-month basis and finally surpassing the pre-recession peak in 2015.


The efficiency is most evident in the below chart the shows miles per gallon for all vehicles (red line) along with gallons consumed per vehicle in a given year (blue line.) Improvement in both of these areas has slowed the growth in the demand for petroleum products.


In conclusion, a below trend pace of economic growth and efficiency improvements have served as a headwind to higher oil prices, especially in an environment were drilling activity is increasing. The article from a month ago also discussed the potential oil price headwind resulting from a stronger U.S. Dollar, vis-à-vis, a potentially higher interest rates. This may become a more significant factor next month as the odds of a Fed interest rate hike in June are now around 75%. 


Saturday, April 29, 2017

Credit Card Firms' Earnings Reports A Sign Of Potential Weakness With The Consumer

The first reading for Q1 2017 GDP came in at a weak .7% at an annualized rate. A particularly weak component of the report was consumer spending which rose only .3% and is the weakest level for spending since the fourth quarter of 2009. The blue portion of the bars in the below chart represent the consumer contribution to GDP and the weak report in Q1 2017 is evident.


Over the past few years, first quarter GDP numbers have been weak for a number of reason. However, many believe there are issues with the government's seasonal adjustment factor. Nonetheless, is there something else impacting the consumer which could indicate potential headwinds lie ahead for the economy and is being reflected in recent credit card data?

This past week, several financial firms reported earnings, Synchrony Financial (SYF), Capital One Financial (COF) and Discover Financial Services (DFS) and each company has a sizable portion of their business in consumer credit cards. Earnings for both SYF and COF were anything but positive relative to expectations. DFS earnings were not too weak and the company reported only a small earnings miss. Below are some comments from the company conference calls and/or earnings press releases.

Capital One Financial:
  • Net income fell 22% to $752 million while its earnings per share of $1.54 came in 39 cents below the average estimates of analysts. The company increased its loan loss provision by 30% year over year to $1.9 billion, as the 30-day plus delinquency rate climbed 28 basis points, to 2.92%. Meanwhile, net charge-offs rose 28% to $1.5 billion and its rate of net charge-offs to total loans increased 42 basis points to 2.5%. Most of the delinquencies and charge-offs were in the bank's credit card and auto loan portfolios (emphasis added).
Synchrony Financial:
  • First quarter net earnings totaled $499 million or 61 cents per diluted share versus average analysts' estimates of 73 cents. Our results were impacted by the 45% increase in the provision for loan losses we experienced this quarter. The reserve build from the fourth quarter equalled $322 million. The reserve builds for the next couple of quarters are likely to be in a similar range on a dollar basis to what we saw this quarter.While most of the build continues to be driven by growth and the normalization we are seeing in the portfolio, lower recovery pricing in the quarter also drove approximately $50 million of additional reserves or 7 basis points of coverage. The net charge-off rate was 5.33% compared to 4.74% last year. we now expect NCOs to be in the 5% to low-5% range this year (emphasis added.)
In regards to lower cost recovery, this refers to credit card companies selling troubled credit card debt to third party collection firms. As noted in the Synchrony conference call,
  • Company saw an incremental decline in recovery pricing this quarter. We believe it's driven by a combination of factors, including just the fact that you've got increased supply in the market. As charge-offs start to normalize across the industry, which we've seen, you've got that dynamic. So you've got just increased supply in the market, which we think is impacting the price.
Bank of America:
  • Total net charge-offs of $934MM increased $54MM from 4Q16. Increase driven by consumer due to seasonally higher credit card losses, while commercial charge-offs were relatively flat. Net charge-off ratio increased modestly from 4Q16 to 0.42%, but declined from 1Q16. Provision expense of $835MM increased $61MM from 4Q16, driven primarily by consumer (emphasis added.)
Discover Financial (DFS) also reported weaker earnings of $1.43, but the miss was only 3 cents. DFS also cited caution on credit and indicated credit card portfolios are normalizing to a higher more historical loss rate. DFS also increased the company's provision expense.

The below chart compares the performance of the credit card firms to each other and the S&P 500 Index. The lower than expected earnings results had a negative impact on the prices of the stocks as can be seen below.


As the below table shows, credit card delinquency rates are below historical levels. On the other hand charge-off rates are trending higher and near economic late cycle levels.



Supporting a leveling off for charge offs and delinquencies is the fact the household debt service ratio remains at a very low level.


With charge-offs and delinquencies normalizing to higher and more so-called normal levels, maybe some stability is near. The fact companies are reporting lower loss recovery rates is also an indication of broader weakness in the credit card sector of the consumer economy. Recovery rate weakness occurs as the supply of delinquent credit card receivables increases and third party collection firms can pay credit card companies less for this type of loan paper.

Given the much weaker GDP report in the most recent quarter and the weakness beginning to show up in credit card portfolios, these are yellow flags that investors should monitor for signs of further economic weakness. The current expansion is now the third longest since World War II and the economy will not expand forever. At this point though, based on other recession variables we review, we do not foresee a recession looking out the next 18 months or so.