Based on the calendar, both the economic recovery and bull market are the oldest in U.S. history. Other measures also support this view: 1) the unemployment rate is below 4%, suggesting the job market is at full employment; 2) compared to long-term benchmarks, both the U.S. stock market and bond market are richly priced; 3) several global bond yields are negative; 4) central bank balance sheets have been abnormally expanded; and, 5) the current U.S. federal deficit (as a percent of GDP) is one of the largest non-recessionary deficits of the post-war era.
True to their name, cyclical stocks are volatile. They are not to be used in big doses, they are not for the faint of heart, and they are not to be “bought and held!” The overall stock market and therefore most portfolios are exposed to some cyclicality. The question is always, “how much?” While it is admittedly challenging, well-timed tilts away or toward some cyclical sectors can add handsomely to total portfolio performance.
The dividend discount model is a popular, conventional method of valuing a stock using the present value of its future dividend payments. The two major components comprising this valuation approach are earnings (from which dividends are paid) and the bond yield (or discount rate used to determine the present value of the future dividend stream).
Tomorrow is the monthly jobs report. It’s always widely anticipated since it frequently moves the financial markets. Moreover, it concludes a week that has been filled with potential blockbuster events, including significant earnings reports, ongoing official trade-war commentary, a Fed decision, the elimination of an ISIS leader, and a formal Congressional presidential impeachment inquiry.
Scarcity is a good attribute for an investment. A limited supply tends to curb downside risk and fuel upside price potential once the asset is in vogue. In the stock market, scarcity is often associated with a temporary restriction (e.g., an oil crisis) or with a company possessing a monopoly of an innovative must-have product. For an investor, a scarce asset that becomes popular when most don’t own it is a beautiful thing!
Despite a significant stock market rally, this year has been beset by escalating recession fears. The list of worries include broad-based slowing in the global economic recovery (centered in the manufacturing sector), a never-ending trade war, persistent political and geo-political drama, a chronic decline in global bond yields, a surge in negative yielding bonds, an inversion in the U.S. yield curve, and an expansion that recently celebrated a birthday which makes it the oldest ever in U.S. history!
The underlying character of the financial markets is often a good indication of investor sentiment. It takes courage (or stupidity in retrospect?) to buy certain assets, while the purchase of other investments is driven mostly by fear. In this fashion, a good read on whether the stock market is being propelled by excessive hope or angst can be obtained by monitoring the character of its leadership.
The ISM manufacturing and services reports have significantly increased recession anxieties and have been wreaking havoc with the stock market over the last couple days. And, who knows, the real pain for equity investors may come tomorrow morning when the monthly payroll employment numbers are released?
Several factors helped the stock market resume a climb to marginal new highs this year. Valuations came down, inflation pressures moderated, yields collapsed, and policy officials became universally supportive. However, a key element remains elusive and, without it, a further significant advance in this bull market seems doubtful.
Lost in the roar surrounding the trade war, the inverted yield curve, an expanding wave of negative global bond yields, and persistent recession chatter, is a “silent U.S. productivity miracle!” Largely AWOL in this expansion until recently, and despite being barely acknowledged due to widespread recession fears, productivity has finally arrived, adding yet another wildcard to the remaining years of this economic recovery.
Investors have been playing defense in recent months, piling into bonds despite low yields, sleeping well at night with gold purchases, staying with the perceived safety of U.S. stocks, avoiding risky small cap companies, and buying traditional low-risk sectors including Utilities, Consumer Staples, and REITS.
Investors have long recognized that the stock market often does better in certain months compared to others. That is, stocks have a seasonality which can be exploited. The January Effect, the Santa Rally, “Sell in May and Go Away”; and, the carnage created by August, September, and October are appreciated and feared by “seasoned investors.”
Many increasingly fear the global economic recovery is in severe peril because overused economic policies have become futile. Bloated central bank balance sheets, large fiscal budgetary fiascos, and the unprecedented global phenomenon of widespread negative bond yields leaves an impression that economic help is spent!
The stock market is re-testing its August 5th collapse low, the U.S. 10-year bond yield is nearing its lows of this recovery, yet another yield curve inversion (tens vs. twos) was breached this week, silence from the Federal Reserve, negative yielding global debt now totaling more than $15 trillion, an escalating riot in Hong Kong, and trade-war negotiations hanging by a thread as ongoing communications are now only by phone! Whew, it’s tough being a bull. Maybe foolhardy?
Adding to current anxieties are the growing fears that businesses may be curtailing spending plans. Real nonresidential investment spending declined in the second quarter for the first time since early 2016. However, this decline was due entirely to ‘old-era investment spending’ while ‘new-era spending’ remains healthy.
This is why financial market prognostications are so difficult and why some believe fruitless! Currently, two recession indicators – both with equally impressive accurate historical prowess – are giving entirely contradictory signals? As shown by the accompanying charts, the yield curve has inverted while fiscal stimulus has been expanding. At least since 1965, this has ‘never’ happened.
Despite the current drama, the stock market will not likely be sustainably driven by the Federal Reserve, ongoing trade negotiations, or by presidential politics. Although these spectacles will continue to bounce the market around, ultimately, its direction will most likely be tied to corporate earnings.
Despite a widespread impression that business confidence is declining under the weight of ongoing global uncertainties, it was reported yesterday that, after being flat for almost a year, new orders for nondefense ex-air capital goods (core business capital goods spending) rose to a new recovery high in June.
Little is expected from the current earnings season. At best, corporate profits may eke out a small gain compared to last year’s second quarter. Moreover, with Trump’s trade war still threatening to worsen, the yield curve still inverted, and because the U.S. economy is now in the longest expansion in its history, many are understandably worried that earnings growth may remain challenging.
As shown in Chart 1, since 2015, the trade-weighted U.S. Dollar index has generally ranged between 90 and 100. Its recent stability, at a level much higher than it was during the first half of this economic recovery, has played an important role in shaping the economic and financial-market landscape.
There is still plenty to worry about. The never-ending trade war enters yet another round of negotiations, geopolitical risks simmer, many economic reports (both in the U.S. and around the globe) remain weak, the size of negative-yield debt is becoming nearly as large as U.S. GDP, the U.S. stock market continues to exhibit a worrisome “triple-top” pattern, small cap stocks continue to trail, the yield curve is still inverted and, because of a “strong” jobs report on Friday, there is now doubt about whether the Fed will cut interest rates later this month.
Like today, the Federal Reserve usually sucks all the oxygen out of the national economic-policy conversation. And, why not? It is comprised of a small elite group who hold conferences in exotic locations (Jackson Hole), have regular strategy meetings culminating in ‘must-see’ press conferences, make dot-plots sound interesting, and, between meetings, members regularly spout-off contradictory opinions.
This week the Federal Reserve delivered the requisite preamble signaling an inevitable cut in the Fed funds rate. Following that, the 10-year Treasury yield declined below 2%, financial markets now point to a 100% probability of a rate reduction, and the old adage ‘Don’t Fight the Fed’ has been ringing in investors’ ears.
A survey asking equity investors whether the stock market does best with a strong or weak U.S. dollar would likely yield a variety of contradicting opinions—and they would all be correct! Like many couples, the stock/dollar relationship is complicated. Sometimes they get along blissfully, other times they separate because they find they rarely agree and, often, they simply seem indifferent to each other. They are an odd couple!