Client Note June 2020

As we close June and the first half of 2020, financial markets continue their rebound from the first quarter’s corona-crash.  In very volatile markets there will be many “best/worst X since Y”.  The close at 3100 on the SP500 reflects the best quarter in the sp500 since 1987, with a gain of 19.9%.  After a 36% decline off the all-time high and subsequent 40% gain, puts the SP500 at -4% year to date and -9% below the all-time highs.  Our average moderate portfolio gained almost 15% for the quarter and is up 4% on the year.  While further upside is possible but in the short term, US equity markets are in a downtrend since June 23.  On a larger time, frame, we have downtrends since June 8 and off the highs on February 19thGetting over 3200 should open the door towards 3400+, but if we lose the 3000 level, my medium-term outlook will change.  Our individual stocks continue to do very well.

International equities continue to sorely lag US equities.  European shares gained 2.5% on the month, and currently sit at -14% year to date.  Japan gained 1% and China ebbed 1.6% on the month and both fall well short of the SP500 at -7% and -9%, respectively, year to date.  Emerging markets were the winner on the month at +6% but also have made far less progress recovering post-crash, coming in at     -11% year to date. We sold the last bits of emerging and international equities towards the end of the month.

In credit markets, treasuries have dominated over all other areas of the bond markets.  The long bond/20-yr treasury ebbed by 2.25% during the month, is flat for the quarter and up a massive 20% for 2020.  Even with equivalent maturities, treasuries are outpacing investment grade and junk bonds by 5% and 17%(!) respectively.  The investment grade corporate bond etf, LQD is up 5.1% ytd, while junk bond etf, JNK is -7.7% ytd.   This disparity is due to the rapid credit deterioration seen during this severe recession.  Given this, and spike in covid19 cases, its unlikely rates will rise appreciably in the near term.  Our long treasury position was reduced late March at slightly higher prices.

Economic data released in June continue to show improvement over the April/May shutdown (naturally).    The pace at which the economy would rebound after reopening is a hot topic.  We are seeing rapid improvement in some areas but the estimates versus data are showing extremely poor forecasting ability by economists in the short term.  I am watching year over year data to see how much rebound we are getting.  If July and August data show similar growth as May and June, we could see 90% of more of the economy back by Labor Day.  The trend of economic recovery is far more important than the level.  Ideally, we will trend higher and higher until full recovery.   At the end of July, we will get the first read on GDP for the second quarter.  The Atlanta Fed current estimate has risen to   -36%. 

Looking forward, the recent spike in virus cases has opened the door to the risk that the re-opening of the economy will be slowed, as we are more likely to see county or regional shutdowns.  Continued support from the Fed and continuation of stimulus programs are critical.  A bit higher in equities may provide some momentum to get to 3400 and Fed intervention can keep rates low.

Adam Waszkowski, CFA

Client Note December 2019

December was another strong month for US (+2.8%) and global equity markets (1.8%). Junk bonds gained 1.1% in price while treasury bonds were off, giving the Aggregate Bond Index a slight decline.   Federal Reserve intervention, beginning early September, as a result of the overnight inter-bank lending drying up, has totaled some $400billion.   The rate of additions to the Fed balance sheet, is faster than in QE 2 (Nov 2010-June 2011) which took 8 months to add a similar amount.  QE 3 was larger, adding $1.7 trillion, over 2 years.   Central bank liquidity is the primary driver of 4th quarter equity market gains.  Economic data and earnings growth remain slow and near zero.

Portfolios gained across the board in December averaging approximately 2%; owing largely to our individual stock holdings and exposure to gold and miners.  Bonds were muted and were a drag.  Bonds look best posed to gain in the near term. Gold can extend further, and stocks have hit a speed bump with the turmoil in Iraq/Iran and may be slightly choppy in the immediate term.

Gold and gold miners gained 3.6% and 8%, respectively, in December.  Both bottomed November 26th and earned most gains in the last week of December, prior to the assassination of the Iranian general.  International stock markets have outpaced US stock markets since 10/15 (as forecast in October’s Note).  Commodities, ex-US equities and gold have gained significantly since the US Dollar peaked October 1, and its most recent lower high, on 11/27.    The dollar has broken down and may find support another 1% lower, matching its level in late June, which would be 3% decline off its high on October 1.  A small change in the value and direction of the US $ can have large impacts on metals and other natural resources.

The decline in the US Dollar corresponds well to the Feds telegraphing its intentions to refrain from raising rates in 2020.  The dollar can fall/rise relative to other currencies for a variety of reasons.   The current decline is not getting much attention.  Most finance headlines are full of talk about “reflation”.  Given the SP500 is off its all time high by a mere .75%, its not a reference to stock prices.

Reflation, is the topic du jour.  This term refers to economic data.  Federal reserve interventions impact the markets first with a much longer lag to the general economy.  China’s recent modest liquidity injections are: 1) much smaller than in 2017 and 2014 and take about 6-9 months to impact the US/global economy. Positive economic data from central bank actions will take at least one quarter to begin to show up.  Easing amongst central banks is as significant today as during QE 2.  CBs have completely discarded the concept of ‘normalization’ over the next year.

The biggest risk I see in the immediate term is the start to earnings season.  Earnings estimates for the 4th quarter, as usual, have declined substantially over the past year.  IF stocks can ‘beat by a penny’ reduced earnings estimates, we should get through with only minor stock market fluctuations.  Conversely, if companies’ lower guidance and/or miss low estimates, we could see a more general ‘correction’.  Bonds appear to have completed a 4-month consolidation and any more gain will give it some momentum, while stocks consolidate 4th quarter gains.

Slow economic growth, questionable earnings growth and the ever present geo-political risk are risks to the stock market.  With bonds and gold looking up for a variety of reasons, diversifying across asset classes (into areas not correlated with the stock market) is always a prudent approach.

Adam Waszkowski, CFA