Sunday, November 19, 2017

NFIB Small Business Optimism Index Highlights Tight Labor Market

Last week NFIB's October report on Small Business Optimism fell short of expectations, but remained at a high level at 103.8 versus 103 in the prior report. A few highlights from the report:
  • "The tight labor market got tighter for small business owners last month, continuing a year-long trend. Fifty-nine percent of owners said they tried to hire in October, with 88 percent of them reporting no or few qualified applicants."
  • "Consumer sentiment surged based on optimism about jobs and incomes, an encouraging development as consumers account for 70 percent of GDP," said NFIB Chief Economist Bill Dunkelberg.

And continuing to track the market's performance from December of last year (January's report) when NFIB reported one of the highest NFIB readings, the current S&P 500 Index return is outpacing prior market returns associated with high NFIB readings as seen in the below chart.


With a surge in consumer sentiment and a small business environment that is showing continued strength in hiring, these two factors alone should serve as a tailwind for the economy and market in the months ahead.


Saturday, November 18, 2017

Are Bearish Investor Sentiment Responses Translating Into Actual Action?

The S&P 500 Index is only down .60% from its November 8, 2017 high yet individual investor and institutional equity sentiment has turned significantly less positive. This negative sentiment has not translated into broadly lower equity prices though, but knowing sentiment measures are contrary indicators, they are approaching levels that would be suggestive of higher equity prices ahead.


In this week's American Association of Individual Investors' Sentiment Survey, bullish sentiment fell 15.8 percentage points to 29.4%. This was the largest weekly decline since the bullish sentiment reading fell 16.2 percentage points in April of 2013.


The NAAIM Exposure Index is indicating a less bullish posture by active investment managers as well. As noted by NAAIM, the index "provides insight into the actual adjustments active risk managers have made to client accounts over the past two weeks."


Although markets remain near all time highs, investor sentiment has become significantly less bullish and possibly beginning to be reflected in fund flows. Thomson Reuters Lipper notes weekly flows into domestic equities have turned negative with money market and municipal bond funds generating positive inflows.
"The net-positive flows [including both mutual funds and ETFs] stemmed from money market funds (+$2.7 billion) and municipal bond funds (+$418 million), while taxable bond funds (-$1.9 billion) and equity funds (-$240 million) both saw net money leave their coffers."
One market area continuing to show positive inflows and rewarding investors from a performance perspective is international equity markets. The below flow table from ICI details weekly flows across the various asset classes.


In spite of a very limited decline in equity markets, investor sentiment is at a level where one might say investors remain on edge. Historically, significant market pullbacks do not occur when investor positioning is correct and raises the question whether ones sentiment responses are translating into actual investment action.


Sunday, November 12, 2017

Equity Corrections Will Occur Again, Maybe Sooner Than One Expects

If there is one factor that perplexes me about the current market environment it is the lack of volatility since the election. The last time the market experienced a greater than 5% correction was in June of 2016 and the last double digit pullback was in February 2016. Going back to 1980 the average intra-year market decline for the S&P 500 Index is 14.1%. I have written a number of recent posts on the positive global economic environment, at the risk of sounding like a broken record, that may be serving as a tailwind for equity market returns around the world.

On the surface, if one knew mutual funds were holding elevated cash positions, they might conclude that this is a bullish data point since the cash can be deployed in additional equity investments. On the other hand, elevated liquidity in equity funds may be a sign of investors rapidly allocating more funds to equities and this might actually be a negative sentiment measure. In fact, as the below chart shows, there is a high correlation to elevated liquidity in equity funds and market tops.



Friday, November 10, 2017

If History Repeating; Another Five Years For Equity Bull Market

Shortly after the 2016 election in a post titled, Equity Market Beginning To Resemble Bull Market Of The 1950's And 1980's, I discussed how the equity market continued to trace a similar path as the market in the those two earlier decades. A part of my conclusion indicated the anticipated policies under a Trump administration would resemble policies implemented in the 1950's and 1980's, like tax reform and infrastructure spending. Reality is setting in and not much seems to be getting done in Washington on those two fronts; however, the current market continues to follow a similar path as in the 50's and 80's. Better sentiment and regulatory reform, even though by executive order, seems to be having a positive influence on companies. If the past is any guide then, the bull market might have at least another five years to run as can be seen in the below chart.


Thursday, November 09, 2017

Biases Influence Investment Decisions

Every investor makes investment decisions that are influenced by ones biases that form over time. These biases may come in many forms but they tend to fall into a couple of categories, emotional or cognitive. I mention this because it is not that uncommon that I sit down to write a blog post on a certain topic thinking the post's conclusion will go in one direction, but end up with a different conclusion after evaluating some of the research. Some of these blog topics are developed by flipping through a lot of charts, which I do frequently. One such chart is below and shows the relative performance of the S&P 500 Dividend Aristocrats to the S&P 500 Index.



Monday, November 06, 2017

Investment Opportunities Outside The U.S.

In a post yesterday I somewhat rhetorically titled the post wondering if the equity market was at a top. In short, I do not know, but offered suggestions for investors about reviewing their asset allocation vis-à-vis their spending needs.

Not all markets have traveled the same path as the S&P 500 Index though. A number of markets outside the U.S have lagged the U.S. since the end of the financial crisis. The below chart compares the cumulative performance of the S&P 500 Index (SPY) versus the MSCI ACWI ex U.S Index (ACWX). The chart goes back to the beginning of 1992 and clearly the S&P 500 has a performance advantage with a widening gap beginning to develop around 2011.



Sunday, November 05, 2017

Is This The Market Top?

I read an individual's commentary this weekend that was titled Is This As Good As It Gets, and I will have more comments on this later in this post, but it coincides with some clients/investors inquiring whether they should raise cash now. The 'raise cash now' question is certainly understandable when one looks at the strength of the market since the February low last year, up nearly 40% on a price only basis in less than two years.



Thursday, November 02, 2017

Individual And Investment Manager Sentiment Is Diverging

At the end of August bullish investor sentiment reached a year low of 25% and since that time individual investor sentiment has risen to 45.1% as reported by the American Association of Individual Investors (AAII) today. During this time period the S&P 500 Index has increased nearly 5%, providing some support to the contrarian nature of the individual sentiment report.


Conversely, the National Association of Active Investment Managers reported a decline in their Exposure Index to 60.2% from 71.7% in the week earlier. As noted by NAAIM, the Exposure Index,
"is not predictive in nature and is of little value in attempting to determine what the stock market will do in the future. The primary goal of most active managers is to manage the risk/reward relationship of the stock market and to stay in tune with what the market is doing at any given time. As the name indicates, the NAAIM Exposure Index provides insight into the actual adjustments active risk managers have made to client accounts over the past two weeks."

Nonetheless, investment managers are positioned for a less constructive bullish market while the individual investor seems more optimistic from a sentiment perspective. One should keep in mind these sentiment measures are most predictive at extremes and it can be argued neither the AAII sentiment reading nor  the NAAIM Exposure Index is at an extreme level. However, sentiment expectations for institutions and  individuals are moving in opposite directions and both will not be right.


Sunday, October 29, 2017

The Time Period Matters For Outperformance: High Beta Versus Low Volatility

I have read commentary over the last few days noting the outperformance of the PowerShares High Beta Index (SPHB) versus its counterpart, the PowerShares Low Volatility Index (SPLV) over the past 1-year time frame. However, much of this outperformance was generated in the couple of months following the November election.



Saturday, October 28, 2017

Sizable Declines In A Few Individual Stocks; Time To Review Allocations

Much is going right as it relates to the equity markets around the globe; however, this past week saw the market punish companies that reported earnings that did not match market expectations. The below 2-week chart only lists a few of those companies, but companies like Celgene (CELG) down 28.1% and Expedia (EXPE) down 17.5% suffered much of their losses on one or just a few trading days.



Sunday, October 22, 2017

An Increasing Dividend Payout Ratio Is A Positive Indicator For The Market

Admittedly, in an equity market run investors are currently experiencing, i.e., the second longest run without a 20% pullback, a common theme that continues to seep into ones thinking, including mine, is when is the market going to experience a bear market correction of 20% or more. Even a double digit pullback is a scarcity as the below chart of the S&P 500 Index shows. The last double digit pullback occurred in February of 2016.



Sunday, October 15, 2017

Citgroup Economic Surprise Indices Have Little Bearing On Equity Market Performance

One set of indices that seems to cycle from positive to negative over a relatively short period of time are the Citigroup Economic Surprise Indices (CESI). This aspect of these indices means they gain prominence from a commentary standpoint when they reach high and low points. What is important for investors to know is the CESI is a mean reverting index, that by design, cycles between highs and lows over relatively short periods of time. In June of this year, the Citigroup U.S. Economic Surprise Index (CESI-US) was a minus 78 after falling from plus 57 in March. At the June low some commentary began noting the U.S. economy might be headed for a recession. However, the correlation of the S&P 500 Index to the CESI-US is a small negative .04, so actually a slight negative correlation between the two variables.




Saturday, October 14, 2017

Synchronized Global Growth

Much of the sentiment and global market data continues to come in on the positive side of the ledger. Friday's University of Michigan Consumer Sentiment jumped six points to 101.1 for October and is the highest reading in thirteen years. As reported by Econoday, "The expectations component is up nearly 7 points to 91.3 with the component for current conditions posting a nearly 5 point gain to 116.4."


In reviewing the Global PMI's for Manufacturing, as of the end of September, the below table shows all of the PMIs are in excess of 50 which suggests improvement versus deterioration in the manufacturing sector. PMI's are leading indicators with health in the manufacturing sector providing insight into sales, employment, etc. The common surveyed questions center on new orders, manufacturing output, employment, suppliers' delivery times and inventory.


The positive sentiment and economic data has translated into positive equity market returns around the world. All of the 45 country Exchange Traded Funds (ETFs) at the following link are showing positive returns year to date through October 13, 2017.

The economy is not the market and vice versa; however, the positive sentiment and positive economic data currently being reported is translating into higher equity market prices. The lack of market volatility is certainly something that will not persist forever. Maybe the Fed's desire to reduce its balance sheet will result in higher equity market volatility. A correction or pullback near term would be healthy, noting the average intra-year pullback is just over 14%.


Tuesday, October 10, 2017

A Decline In Small Business Optimism

Today, NFIB reported the September Small Business Optimism Index results and they showed the Index fell 2.3 points to 103, which was below the lowest consensus forecast. In spite of the decline, the index remains at a high level as can be seen in the below chart.



Monday, October 02, 2017

Fall 2017 Investor Letter: The Hated Rally Continues

Our Fall 2017 Investor Letter has a music lyrics theme to it and since we have an age-diverse team as it relates to the employees of HORAN Capital Advisors so goes the taste in music for our colleagues as readers of the newsletter will find out.  As Chuck Prince, former chairman and CEO of Citigroup, said almost a decade ago,  "As long as the music is playing, you got to dance." This seems to be one of those markets where the music just doesn't seem to stop and just maybe has resulted in one of the most hated equity market rallies in some time.


The Fall 2017 Investor Letter touches on a number of topics, including the unwinding of the Fed's balance sheet, low interest rates and the negative impact on income generation for investors and the benefit achieved by investors that have pursued diversification outside of the U.S. equity market.

For additional insight into our views for the market and economy, see our Investor Letter accessible at the below link.


Thursday, September 28, 2017

Shifting Investor Sentiment

It seems the market's consistent bid to move higher this year might be confusing the individual investor. That is, the fact the market has escaped any material pullback this year may be weighing on consumers in that they are prepared for or expect a pullback. As the below chart shows, the market has avoided such a pullback of more than 3% so far this year.


This lack of volatility has not translated into a bullish individual investors though if the American Association of Individual Investors Sentiment Survey is a guide. This week's sentiment report shows bullish sentiment declined almost seven percentage points to 33.3%. Most of this decline showed up in an increase in the neutral reading with a 5.3 percentage point increase to 37.9%.



With the strength of this year's market return that actually began in February of last year, one would expect the individual investor to be bullish on equities. Remembering the sentiment reading is a contrarian one, high bullishness readings can be a negative for future equity prices. Excessive individual investor bullish is certainly not the case at the moment if the survey readings are to be believed.


Wednesday, September 27, 2017

A Recession And Equity Market Bubble Five Years Ago Did Not Materialize, Now What

I was communicating with a client today who reminded me of a conversation we had five years ago almost to the day about whether or not the U.S. equity market was in a bubble. The discussion was prompted by the USA Today article, Consumer Sentiment Stat Hints that Bull Market May be Stalling Out, that highlighted a data point from the recent University of Michigan Sentiment Survey. In the survey it was noted that 65% of individuals surveyed believe stock prices rise over the next twelve months. This is a high level for the survey and a contrarian data point for stocks. The conclusion from that 2012 conversation was equities were attractive and our firm wrote as much in our third quarter 2012 newsletter. Additionally, I shared a Fidelity white paper, U.S. Equities: Light At The End Of The Tunnel. An interesting read in retrospect.

Much was occurring in 2012 with the 10-year Treasury yield below 2% and the Federal Reserve providing massive monetary support (QE) to the economy, i.e., buying $40 billion of mortgage bonds each month. This was occurring on the back of an equity market that was up 100% from the March 2009 low to June 2012. Both print and television financial commentary at the time was intimating concern for the markets.



A CNN Money article from September 2012 was titled, Stocks End Week At Multi Year Highs. In the article a link was provide to, Are Investors Getting Too Greedy which referenced CNN Money's Fear & Greed Index that was flashing an extreme Greed level of 93. Several weeks later and into the first week of October 2012, Sam Zell, Chairman of Equity Group Investments, stated in an interview on CNBC, "We're heading for a recession and that's exactly what you're looking at now."

Five years after 2012 to today and following all the consternation about bubbles, corrections and recessions, the U.S. equity market (S&P 500 Index) is up an additional 87% and the economy has avoided a recession. Certainly the period from 2015 through the third quarter of 2016 was a choppy one with the S&P 500 Index trading mostly sideways for almost two years. But so far in 2017, U.S. stocks seem to know only one direction and that is up, with the S&P 500 Index returning just under 13% on a price only basis with very little downside volatility


Raising the bubble question now is even more appropriate today then it was five years ago given how far the equity markets have risen over the last five years. Also, market data is decidedly different and is summarized below. Some of the data was taken from the earlier cited Fidelity white paper. If any variable in the below table jumps out at readers, it should be the higher valuation of the S&P 500 Index based on the price earnings ratio or P/E, 56.5% higher, while earnings are higher by only 17.5% during the same time period. In other words, the market advance over the last five years has largely been supported by multiple or P/E expansion. Sentiment data is also more bullish at the moment, but not at a level that has historically been associated with a bear market type downturn.


Certainly given current market valuation levels, earnings growth will be important for strong S&P 500 Index returns as we look ahead. Twelve month trailing earnings as of June 2017 does capture the energy weakness in 2012; however, when evaluating the year over year June 2017 to June 2018 estimated operating earnings growth rate for the S&P 500 Index, earnings growth is expected to equal about 18% and in line with the forward P/E. On a calendar year basis, comparing 2018 to 2017, earnings growth is expected at a respectable low double digit growth rate.

In a couple of recent posts I have noted the Fed's desire to actually begin withdrawing liquidity from the market and they announced as much in last week's Fed statement with a start date beginning next month. An old adage that gets repeated around Fed accommodation changes is, 'don't fight the Fed'. Just as the Fed has been supply liquidity since the onset of the financial crisis, and this has likely had some positive impact on asset prices, withdrawing liquidity can be disrupting on the way out. We will be on guard for potential asset price volatility, but will note, historically, stocks have been positively correlated to the rate moves when they occur below 5%.

In summary, we were strongly bullish in 2012 given equity valuations and a high equity risk premium. We do not expect a recession near term, but believe today that more pressure falls on companies to generate earnings growth, which we do think is likely, but probably not a market where a rising tide raises all boats.


In client accounts we have reduced some equity investments where we believe earnings growth is more challenged  and taken profits in some stocks that have moved higher and gotten ahead of valuations. At the same time, we have allocated equity investments to developed and emerging international markets over the last 18-months or so. This allocation adjustment has been a positive for clients and we continue to find valuations outside the U.S attractive.


Sunday, September 24, 2017

Higher Bond Yields A Headwind For Technology Stocks

In a recent note from the John Murphy of the stockcharts.com website ($$) he notes technology stocks tend to have an inverse relationship to bond yields. In his commentary he noted,
  • "One of the lesser known intermarket principles is the inverse link between bond yields and technology stocks' relative performance...Growth stocks like technology...do better in a slower economy which is usually associated with low interest rates."
  • "Value stocks (like banks) do better in a stronger economy with rising bond yields...Rising global bond yields could make the going tougher for technology stocks."
The below chart was included with his comment and shows the inverse relationship between the 10-Year Treasury yield (red line) to a ratio of the Technology SPDR (XLK) divided by the S&P 500 Index. Jon Murphy notes, "Rising rates this past month may again be contributing to tech selling, especially with a more hawkish sounding Fed. The inflationary impact of rising energy prices may also give the Fed more cover for a December rate hike."


Weakness is beginning to show in some of the large cap technology stocks. Below is a chart of the average return of Apple, Alphabet and Amazon for month to date in September. This time period is a short three weeks, but the performance of large cap technology stocks is something investors will want to follow as the last three months of the year unfold.


Disclosure: Firm/family long AAPL, GOOGL


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.


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.



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.