Client Note December 2020

January 12, 2021

2020, despite a massive pandemic and a severe global recession, central banks, with some fiscal assistance from governments, have managed to keep financial asset prices elevated.  Significant declines in revenues, profits and employment arguably the worst since the 1930’s alongside surging stock index price levels, have conspired to give us the most overvalued market since 1929 or 2000 (some argue “ever”).    How long can this endure?  Depends on when central banks begin to whisper about ‘normalization’.

For 2020, the SP500 gained 18.4%, the aggregate bond index gained 7.5%, and gold gained 26%.  European shares eked out a positive year while the Asian indexes fared very well.  My conservative portfolios gained mid to upper single digits while the average moderate portfolio gained a bit more than 13% on the year.   The pullback in Moderna and precious metals provided a weak end and lackluster start to the year.    The energy sector was the worst sector in the SP500, losing 28% and the tech sector fared the best gaining 48%.  Healthcare and energy are likely to be strong outperformers in 2021.  The addition of TSLA to the SP500 has increased the risk of market volatility. Past observances of new additions to the index show they generally perform worse than prior to their addition.  TSLAs outrageous market value (valued more than the 9 largest global auto makers combined; selling at 28x sales) and the 7th largest company in the index, put the index and any sector it is in at risk of increased volatility.

Gold and gold miners are at risk of starting another correction.  Recent lows at Thanksgiving are being approached.  The rally from late November to January 6 was the largest run up since gold’s consolidation began in August.  However, IF we can hold the longer-term uptrend, upside potential is significant.   Bonds too, are seeing prices under pressure as metals/lumber/agriculture/oil prices’ surge is generating calls of “Inflation!”.   It’s quite early to claim prices are going up due to renewed growth.

Asia came out of the COVID-19 lockdowns much quicker and effectively than western nations.  This re-opening (as a result of very stringent testing/tracing/ and effective lockdowns) allowed those economies to re-stock and re-open driving up demand and prices for raw commodities.   From 2015 to late 2017 base metal prices and oil were moving up quickly.  Cries of inflation were heard then as well.  Inflation never showed up (unless you count 2.1% as INFLATION).  This is due directly to US consumer spending growth, or lack thereof.

Aggregate consumer spending is significantly below trend.    Dig a little deeper and you can see many economic indicators picked up in 2015 through 2017, then rolled over during summer 2018, after the brief impact of tax reform (most of the benefits went to the top where additional money isn’t spent). Current total annual spending was $14.8trillion and growing at 4.2% for the past few years (income at almost the exact same rate).  MOST recently spending has declined the past few months while aggregate income also is declining.  Today we can see the next few months will likely show a spending gap of $1trillion.  A $1trillion gap is almost 7% of total spending and reflects the concurrent GDP output gap and an outright decline in GDP of around 4% year over year.  Looking ahead, the real problem may lie in the US inability to deal with the virus effectively.  Yesterday, an article stated that in Ohio, 50% of nursing home workers are refusing the vaccine.   Layer in low compliance with mask mandates (>70% compliance in order to be effective), and I truly wonder if an end to the virus is, in fact, in the offing.

As a consumer driven economy, the point is, while one can find prices of products higher (or packaging smaller at the same price), we spent a lot less in 2020 and will continue into 2021.  And unless personal spending increases, we should not see a difference in the economy or inflation going forward.  This may bode well for bonds.  TLT the 20-yr treasury bond elf, gained more than 15% in 2020, but has fallen a similar amount off its highs this summer.  Expectations for higher rates may have gotten ahead of itself and we could be near a low in prices.  Layer in the fact that bets against prices are near extremes may indicate the decline in bond prices is nearing an end.

In addition, or perhaps running parallel to the decline in spending is the truly massive amount of people on unemployment insurance.  In 2006, Continuing Claims for unemployment insurance hit a low of 2.35 million.  This began to increase in early 2007 and hit a high of 6.62million in June 2009, after the Great Financial Crisis. By June 2010, this fell to below 4.5million, and continued to decline into October 2018 to 1.65million. Claims remained flat until February 2020.  May 9, 2020 claims hit 24.91million.  And over the past 8 months has receded to only 5.1million.  It was only in November that our current Continuing Claims for Unemployment Insurance fell below the GFR Peak in 2010.  The number and duration of unemployment today has not been seen in the post WWII era.  Fortunately, today, we have unemployment insurance and a Federal Reserve acting to support financial markets (almost perpetually since 2009).

We should not expect any kind of normalization in the economy or improving numbers at least until employment, and thusly spending, improve rapidly.  This is completely dependent upon containing the spread of covid-19.

Due to the length and depth of the declines in spending and employment, the longer-term collateral damage will not be seen until things begin to normalize. Once all the rent and loan deferments, PPP loans, random stimulus checks, and enhanced unemployment benefits disappear we will be able to see the extent of the long -term damage.   Ironically, that knowledge will come at the same time we declare victory over this virus-recession and may be concurrent with a market decline.

In the meantime, let us hope the Fed does not mention ANYthing about tapering the current $120billion per month they are pumping into the financial markets, hoping that the Wealth Effect is more than theory.  So, while prices continue to climb, we will participate and listen intently for any signs the Fed is “confident” enough to reduce the variety of market interventions currently underway.

 

Adam Waszkowski, CFA

This commentary is not intended as investment advice or an investment recommendation. Past performance is not a guarantee of future results. Price and yield are subject to daily change and as of the specified date. Information provided is solely the opinion or our investment managers at the time of writing. Nothing in the commentary should be construed as a solicitation to buy or sell securities. Information provided has been prepared from sources deemed to be reliable but is not guaranteed by NAMCO and may not be a complete summary or statement of all available data necessary for making an investment decision. Liquid securities, such as those held within managed portfolios, can fall in value. Naples Asset Management Company, LLC is an SEC Registered Investment Adviser. For more information, please contact us at awaszkowski@namcoa.com.

Give your Portfolio a Non-Correlated Gift this Year!

Adding a non-correlated investment theme to a portfolio may be the perfect holiday present this year to consider.

In addition, ESG type investments have become popular because investors want to know the property they own will have a positive impact on the local community and the broader environment. This allows real estate investments to align with what matters most to investors and their families.

One example, is what McLemore is doing in northern Georgia.  Adhering to a strong ESG program, McLemore and its management team strives to provide a profitable return by balancing the Company’s economic goals with good corporate citizenship:

  • Economic Development Incentives: The Company has worked with local and state officials to secure millions of financial incentives.
  • Employment: The Company is targeting over 1,000 new full-time employment opportunities within Walker County, Georgia.
  • Good Stewardship: The Company has remodeled and rebuilt an existing golf course, which now includes the “Best Finishing Hole in America since 2000” by Golf Digest magazine.
  • Visitors: The Company is attracting many more visitors into Walker County, Georgia, where they can enjoy existing parks and protected wilderness areas, including Cloudland Canyon State Park, the Crockford/Pigeon, Mountain Wilderness Area, and many others.
  • The Company is the owner and operator of the McLemore Community, which is an upscale residential golf community that is in the process of developing a Hilton Curio Collection hotel, resort and conference center as well as other amenities. The McLemore Community sits on approximately 825 acres of real property, is located on Lookout Mountain, Georgia and currently consists of the
    many planned components, click here to view the McLemore Executive Summary Overview Deck 10.28.20.

This blog post nor any links above are a solicitation of securities, that may only be performed by a private placement memorandum.  To view McLemore Due Diligence files, including their Private Placement Memorandum and learn more “How to Invest” type information, click here. This offering is for Accredited Investors only. 

Client Note November 2020

December 2, 2020

The headlines are touting how November was the best month in 30 years.  It was a very strong month that also had the benefit of October closing at its low on October 30th.  The September and October lows are the bottom of the sideways range we have seen since early August.  The post-election rally has broken out above that range and we are likely to see higher highs in the near term.  I do not expect to see more than a 5% decline in the coming weeksThe SP500 gained 11% on the month, bringing it up to 12.1% year to date. The first four days of the month saw the SP500 gain 7.4% and since then has been a slow grind up. Woe unto those who were out of the markets for whatever reason in early November.

While the S&P 500 gained 11% in November, our average moderate portfolio gained 7% on the month.  Bonds (TLT) gained slightly, and gold went from 1880/oz. to 1780/oz, a decline of 5.6%.  Gold has given up 15% from its all-time high in early August through November’s close. If one looks very closely at GLD’s price movement, there are two approximately equal declines of 11% since August.  This may indicate the end of the decline.  Gold has gained more than 3.5% the past 2 days. Over 1850 should be the all-clear.  The only changes I have made in the precious metals area is to have sold gold miners in August and then buying that portion back recently. Gold has dramatically outperformed stocks over the past 2 years through August, but stocks have been catching up during gold’s respite. I remain bullish on gold and stocks.   Bonds and interest rates continue to vacillate, with prices continuing to ebb as expectations of economic growth assume a higher demand for and ability to obtain new credit.

Over the past few months, the number of individual stock holdings has waned as markets have fluctuated.   Expect to see several names added soon with our usual starting allocation.  One name that we have held for several months finally came to life in November as its vaccine was approved.  I plan to continue to hold MRNA and look to reduce it gradually into higher prices.  Its weight in portfolios has grown so much that its weight amongst other holdings is too high, which could lead to too much portfolio volatility.

On the sector level, energy has come up strongly, outpacing all other sectors the past month.  This may seem counter intuitive, given that there is a Democrat coming into the White House.  The energy sector was so undervalued/oversold/hated that it has no where to go but up.  Since the recent low October 28th, the sector had climbed some 45%(!!) through November 24th.   More recently it gave up almost 30% of the initial climb.  Ideally, another 10% decline would make for a great long-term entry.  Energy has been exceptionally strong the past month and is still substantially below where it was early this year.

Overall, we are on track for a very solid year and I am optimistic going into first quarter of 2021.  Sentiment has been and likely will remain the primary driver of asset prices near term.  Fundamentals have a long way to catch up and traditional metrics remain at ‘all time most expensive’ range.  While sentiment can carry prices further, we really need to see earnings catch up substantially in Q1 and Q2 to avoid any large “air pockets” for prices.   Sometimes prices climb much faster during the anticipation of good things (back to normal life for example) and then progress slows.  The grind in prices since the first week of November might be an indicator of such.

Adam Waszkowski, CFA

 This commentary is not intended as investment advice or an investment recommendation. Past performance is not a guarantee of future results. Price and yield are subject to daily change and as of the specified date. Information provided is solely the opinion or our investment managers at the time of writing. Nothing in the commentary should be construed as a solicitation to buy or sell securities. Information provided has been prepared from sources deemed to be reliable but is not guaranteed by NAMCO and may not be a complete summary or statement of all available data necessary for making an investment decision. Liquid securities, such as those held within managed portfolios, can fall in value. Naples Asset Management Company, LLC is an SEC Registered Investment Adviser. For more information, please contact us at awaszkowski@namcoa.com.

The Positive Impact of ESG Investing

ESG type investments have become popular because investors want to know the property they own will have a positive impact on the local community and the broader environment. This allows real estate investments to align with what matters most to investors and their families.

One example, is what McLemore is doing in northern Georgia.  Adhering to a strong ESG program, McLemore and its management team strives to provide a profitable return by balancing the Company’s economic goals with good corporate citizenship:

  • Economic Development Incentives: The Company has worked with local and state officials to secure millions of financial incentives.
  • Employment: The Company is targeting over 1,000 new full-time employment opportunities within Walker County, Georgia.
  • Good Stewardship: The Company has remodeled and rebuilt an existing golf course, which now includes the “Best Finishing Hole in America since 2000” by Golf Digest magazine.
  • Visitors: The Company is attracting many more visitors into Walker County, Georgia, where they can enjoy existing parks and protected wilderness areas, including Cloudland Canyon State Park, the Crockford/Pigeon, Mountain Wilderness Area, and many others.
  • The Company is the owner and operator of the McLemore Community, which is an upscale residential golf community that is in the process of developing a Hilton Curio Collection hotel, resort and conference center as well as other amenities. The McLemore Community sits on approximately 825 acres of real property, is located on Lookout Mountain, Georgia and currently consists of the
    many planned components, click here to view the McLemore Executive Summary Overview Deck 10.28.20.

This blog post nor any links above are a solicitation of securities, that may only be performed by a private placement memorandum.  To view McLemore Due Diligence files, including their Private Placement Memorandum and learn more “How to Invest” type information, click here. This offering is for Accredited Investors only. 

Client Note September 2020

Client Note                                                                                                                                                      

October 8, 2020

September saw the S&P500 slip approximately 3.8%, ending a streak of 5 positive months in a row.  While equity markets and precious metals (oddly) are moving together, our cash and bond holdings kept average portfolio declines to approximately 1.5% on the month. Year to date through September 30, the S&P 500 is up 5.6%, while our average Moderate Portfolio is up almost 10% year to date.  The fact that financial markets are up this year, despite 2020 being on track for the worst GDP contraction since 1946, is remarkable.

Estimates for 2020 GDP growth will come in around -4%, while the 2007/2008 era saw only a 2.7% contraction.  But this time markets are faring far better.  The key difference between today and 2008 is the emergency actions of the Fed.  The Fed acted far faster and far more substantially than it did in 2008.  The labor market bottomed out in February 2010 with total losses of 8.8 million jobs.  Not until May 2014 did the US recover all the jobs lost.  Currently, we have recovered half of the 22 million jobs lost.  IF, the now-slowing recovery is similar to post 2008, it could be 5 years before all jobs are recovered.  Fortunately, the S&P500 mirrors the Fed’s balance sheet growth more than the economic data.   

History shows us that markets recover more quickly than jobs or the economy.  As such, it appears equity markets have priced in a full profit recovery in the coming year.   In 2008, corporate profits bottomed almost the same time markets did.   Profits and markets grew alongside each other for several years. This time, markets have already recovered and are waiting on profits to back fill the massive valuation gap that now exists.  Because of this mis-match in timing, we could see a few more bouts of 20% gains and declines, as data/news shows economic activity slowing or increasing; as governments decide to add fiscal support or skip it; and as hot spots of the Covid virus spike and recede over the next year or longer.

Some analysts see rising inflation and higher rates coming because of economic growth.  In order to create the ‘good’ inflation (demand-pull), consumers need to spend.  They spend wages, new credit (loans/credit cards) and transfer payments (social security/welfare/stimulus checks).  Banks’ lending standards are increasing; lending is decreasing.  Aggregate wages have declined each month since May. Finally, in August the Cares Act $600/week stimulus ran out while 10 million remain unemployed, keeping pressure on consumer spending.  The Chairman of the Federal Reserve has asked Congress for fiscal stimulus to lift the economy.  As it stands now, there is no real impetus for market rates to rise, and may bode well for bond prices, as rates stay low or perhaps decline again.

My outlook for markets and rates remains the same as during the Summer.  Rates remain low and there is a good likelihood of large swings in market prices.  That outlook will remain until either a large stimulus package with money going right to consumers or control of the spread of the virus occur, maybe both.  I am expecting a post-election rally that may start mid to late October, simply because regardless of the winner, markets like certainty.  Precious metals appear to have completed their correction and a nascent rally may have started.

Adam Waszkowski, CFA

 This commentary is not intended as investment advice or an investment recommendation. Past performance is not a guarantee of future results. Price and yield are subject to daily change and as of the specified date. Information provided is solely the opinion or our investment managers at the time of writing. Nothing in the commentary should be construed as a solicitation to buy or sell securities. Information provided has been prepared from sources deemed to be reliable but is not guaranteed by NAMCO and may not be a complete summary or statement of all available data necessary for making an investment decision. Liquid securities, such as those held within managed portfolios, can fall in value. Naples Asset Management Company, LLC is an SEC Registered Investment Adviser. For more information, please contact us at awaszkowski@namcoa.com.

Client Note May 2020

June 1, 2020

Like April, equity markets started the month of May off slowly, but over the past 10 days, the S&P500 has gained roughly 4.5% on the month putting it at -5.7% year to date.    International equity indices gained a bit more for the month but continue to lag the U.S. by a wide margin.     Bonds were generally flat, with junk bonds moving up alongside stocks, while a small move up in interest rates pushed the long bond (TLT) down slightly on the month.   Gold moved up almost 3% on the month, after being up almost 4% mid-month.  And our individual stocks continue to do well, enabling our average moderate portfolio to add just over 3.5% for May and for year to date returns approaching 4%.

Looking ahead, it appears investors are pricing the market in expectation of a solid second half recovery and near full economic recovery into 2021.  While investors have bid up prices in anticipation, there is a loooong way to go to recover from the sinkhole we are in.   Current earnings estimates for second quarter are expected to drop 35%, reflecting a full year estimate of around $100/share of the SP500. If that occurs and the expected earnings bounce in Q3 and Q4, we have a forward Price to Earnings ratio of 30x, which is extremely expensive.  We will see earnings in mid-July; first read on GDP at the end of July; and all the while we will see employment numbers each week.   On going jobless claims have now exceeded 20 million, reflecting an unemployment rate a bit under 15%.   Economic data will remain dire.  The hope is that employment and spending figures rebound rapidly in the coming weeks. 

As mentioned last month, the expectations and sentiment that direct short term prices are well ahead of actual improvements in employment or spending (declining).  We have made significant progress in flattening the curve with the virus.  We have seen stock prices climb dramatically alongside the hope of a rapid economic recovery. However, we are seeing an even more stretched disparity between current prices and reality on the ground.  This does keep markets at risk of wide price vacillations.

Attaining and holding 3000 on the SP500 does allow for further upside in the markets and while I rotate out of individual stocks that have lost their ‘mojo’ (or take profits), there is another handful I am tracking and may show up in portfolios in the coming days.  In my April Observations and Outlook, with tongue firmly in cheek, I outlined a path for stocks to 4000 if the Fed continues to add liquidity/monetize debt. Since that writing, the Fed has covered a quarter of that quantity.  The rise in the Fed balance sheet has paralleled a rise in equity prices. The Fed continues to plan for and express willingness to continue its balance sheet expansion in pursuit of its stated mandates: full employment and stable prices.

Prices across virtually all asset classes remain constructive considering Fed actions and optimism towards renewed economic vigor.  State re-openings have occurred, and the expectations are for rapid improvement in employment and spending.  There is a nascent uptick in the outperformance of equal-weighted and value indexes versus the general market.  This market characteristic often shows up at the beginning of economic expansions and longer bull markets.  June’s economic data and market price action should give us a great deal of insight into the remainder of the year.

Adam Waszkowski, CFA

Client Note April 2020

Equity markets moved up strongly in April.  The S&P500 moved up 12%, and currently off 3% from the April 29th intraday high.  Gold jumped early in the month, then flat for a gain of 7% in April.  Long treasury bonds moved up in price by 1% but have been on the wane since April 21st.   Most asset classes have been rangebound (+/-3%) since early to mid-April, reflecting a decrease in market momentum.  The average moderate portfolio gained approximately 9% vs the SP500 gains of 12% in April.  Year to date, through April 30, SP500 is off 9.9% while most portfolios are very close to 0% year to date. 

Economic data continues to come in at extremely negative levels.  Auto sales fell by 45% April 2020 vs April 2019.  China, in February saw a 90% drop.  Current market sentiment is bearish and consumer confidence declined from 101 in February to 71 in April.  This is similar to the decline from February 2007 to June 2008 (the month Fannie and Freddie’s first attempted bailout, after losing 50% of their value that month), which saw a decline of 35%.  This could be another reflection on how this recession is being ‘front-loaded’.   We have seen already how GDP and employment has fallen as much as the entire 2008 Great Financial Crisis, but now expect robust rebound by year end.

In light of all this, equity markets have remained buoyant, after the March decline.  This may further indicate the front-loaded- ‘ness’ of this economic period.  And at the root of it all is the expectation that the economy will rebound strongly in the second half and especially in the 4th quarter of 2020.  While GDP estimates for Q2, which will come out at the end of July, range from -10% to -30% (annualized basis), some estimates for Q4 are as high as +20%.    I believe that we are again priced for perfection.  The past few years saw valuations (price to earnings, price to sales, etc.) elevated with expectations of an acceleration in earnings and wages to justify the then-current prices.  Today a significant economic rebound is priced into the market.   If the economy in late May and June isn’t picking up quickly enough it could put pressure on equity prices.  It depends on re-opening the economy and that depends on subduing the pandemic.

We have seen momentum decline recently and thus increases the potential for volatility in equity markets.  If the S&P500 cannot breakout above 3000 in the near term, we’re likely to remain rangebound vacillating +/- 6%.  Bonds and gold are at a point where they are testing support and have the potential to move several percent as well.  If we are to remain rangebound, my preference would be to reduce risk until there is more confidence in further upside.

On a side note, I have significantly reduced the amount of cable and national news I watch on TV.  It’s the same sad and fearful story we’ve heard the past 6 weeks.  I have noticed I feel better doing this.  A client went back north recently and was surprised/disheartened at the difference in the local news in Naples vs the local news in the tri-state area.  Avoiding the bad news TV and enjoying the good news of spending time with family/projects/hobbies/exercise can be an important factor in getting through this time and being ready to embrace the other side of this crisis.

Stay safe and thank you,

Adam Waszkowski, CFA

March Client Note

The collapse in prices is the fastest decline of 20%, off the market highs, ever.   Looking into the immediate future, the economic/unemployment/earnings data will be horrible.  GDP for Q1 will come in at -15%, Q2 may see -20%.  These should be expected given we’ve shut 1/3 of the economy down.  In a ‘normal’ recession, this data accumulates over several weeks and months, not all at once.  Most of the bad data were going to see is going to be front-loaded, and we will see this throughout April and into May.   Over the same 8 weeks, sentiment will change much more rapidly as the light at the end of the tunnel becomes more/less apparent.   Prices of financial assets will react even more quickly.  Those 3 elements (econ data, sentiment, market prices)  work together but at different paces, and appear to contradict at times (like the day the Fed announced all the backstop measures, markets fell—not because stimulus is bad but probably due to the increasing alarm over the virus).

As of March 31st, the SP500 is down 20%; the Dow is off 23%; US small cap stocks -31%; Nasdaq -14%; eurozone stocks -25%; long treasury bond (TLT) +21% and gold +4%.    The average moderate portfolio is down about 9% year to date.

During the quarter, we hedged the equity side of portfolios during the early decline (not changing actual positioning, just owning the hedge then removing it).   The idea is always to buy low/sell high and removing the hedge was akin to buying/gaining exposure at lower prices.   Long treasury bonds have done very well, and we have sold some into strength, locking in some gains.  Technology has been one of the stronger areas and have increased this area substantially.    In addition, we’ve added equity exposure via SP500 etf, IVV, at the 2550 SP500 level.  I plan to add more, once the pullback eases and prices are constructive again.

As it stands now, most portfolios have increased equities compared to the beginning of the quarter, with less exposure to bonds.  Gold still has some potential, but as I’ve mentioned before gains will be more gradual and believe $1700+ is attainable.  The near-term market movements will likely be tied to the general expectations of when the US can get back to work.   The past couple of days’ weakness, I believe, is tied to the extension from April 12 to April 30 of guidelines established to slow the spread of covid19.

My expectations (given the truly massive and quick stimulus) are that we are now in the pullback from the initial bounce in stock prices.  I believe it is likely to see another leg up over the next couple of weeks.   Staying over 2400 on the SP500 is very important.  The combination of several trillion dollars of stimulus, both fiscal and monetary, combined with the concept that the covid19 crisis will end, does set the stage for possibly, a very substantial rally in stocks in the coming months.  Very generally, if there is now (or soon will be) $2-5 trillion (new money) in the financial system and we get back 90% of GDP that has been lost,  prices could go much higher even if fundamentals don’t recover–that’s post-2009 in a nutshell.   Before that we need to turn the corner on the virus.

The past couple months has been a lesson in which is more difficult:  to sell high or buy low?   Buying high and selling low are easy choices.   “Everyone” is doing it and it feels better to be a part of the crowd, ‘getting a piece of the action’ when in bull market; and conversely ‘stopping the pain’ in a bear market.   Believe me, it is much more difficult to lean into the market in early stages than to jump on the bandwagon once most of a move has already occurred.   This is weighed against market outlook and risk tolerance.       The other lesson is basic financial planning:  do you have 2-6 months of living expenses on hand in case of financial disruption?  And is your at-risk money truly a multi-year holding period.    It’s no fun to be forced to sell into a weak market to raise cash for living expenses.

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

Market Volatility–October

I believe we’re seeing a large repricing of growth expectations. The one time tax reform boost will wear off into next year, and higher borrowing costs, fuel costs are reducing discretionary income. 

In addition there is a great deal of leverage in the markets which will exacerbate declines. 

Often, at the end of bull markets/beginning of bear markets we will see relatively large price movements, 6-12%, down and up. I believe this correction has a good chance of bottoming or at least slowing in the immediate term, and  it’s bounce back could be half the decline, maybe more, which will be several percentage points. 

 

Focusing on keeping portfolio declines to the single digits while raising cash to be able to redeploy later can aid longer term returns–one has to have cash in order to buy low!   There is a very large amount of ‘bond shorts’ in the market which could set up a large ‘short squeeze’. Bonds were positive today. This is reminiscent of other recent periods when many bond speculators saw bond prices move very rapidly against them (UP) as they rushed to cover their deteriorating short positions.

 

Inflation scare is not the culprit here as inflation rates are slowing in several areas.  Something recent is that with the Fed raising interest rates, the yield, on 1-year and longer bonds is greater than inflation,  a positive “real rate” which is new to this economic cycle and takes a lot away from the ‘bonds dont pay so buy stocks’ argument.  The Fed further reiterated that it currently plans to continue to raise rates through 2019–even though we have already raised rates MORE than in past rate-raising eras.  I will have a chart of this in my Observations and Outlook this weekend.

Please reach out to me with any comments or questions.

 

Adam Waszkowski, CFA