What’s Going On in the Markets August 23, 2015

Some of the most entertaining times to be a long-term investor are those periods when short-term investors are looking over their shoulders for an excuse to sell. They’re convinced that the market is heading down before they can get out, and so they jump on any bad news that comes across their Bloomberg screen.

Last Thursday and Friday was a marvelous time to see this in action. With all the economic drama playing out in the world, there were plenty of opportunities to panic. The Greek Prime Minister has resigned! Sell! … China devalued its currency a few days ago by 2%! Head for the hills! … Chinese stocks are tanking yet again! Get out of American stocks while you can! … The Fed might raise short-term interest rates from zero to very nearly zero! It’s the end of the world!

Of course, a sober analyst might wonder whether a change in governance in a country whose GDP is a little less than half the market capitalization of Apple Corporation, is really going to move the needle on the value of U.S. stocks—especially now that Greece seems to have gotten the bailout it needs to stay in the Eurozone. Chinese speculators are surely feeling pain as the Shanghai Composite Index goes into free-fall, but most U.S. investors are prohibited from investing in most companies in this tanking market. If the market value of PetroChina, China Petroleum & Chemical and China Merchants Bank are less valuable today than they were a week or a month ago, does that mean that one should abandon U.S. stocks? Does it mean that American blue chips are somehow less valuable?

What makes this dynamic entertaining—and sometimes scary—is the enhanced volatility around very little actual movement. You see the market jump higher and faster, lower and faster, but generally returning to the starting point as people realize a day or two later that the panic was an overreaction; and so was the false exuberance of realizing that the world isn’t going to come to an end just because we’re paying less at the gas pump than we were last year. Despite all the jitters investors have experienced over the past nine months, and despite the drop last week, the S&P 500 is only down about 4% for the year, and was in positive territory as recently as August 19.

Let’s summarize a few of the facts about this current sell-off:

  • Friday’s decline was 500 points in the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJIA), which was 3.1%. During this bull market there have been 11 similar daily declines of that size (or larger), and in every instance the market went on to new highs. So Friday’s decline, by itself, does not mean that we’re in a bear market.
  • Last week’s loss in the S&P 500 Index was 5.77%. Since 1940, there have been 38 weekly declines of this size (or larger). Surprisingly, there were three times as many double-digit gains three months later than there were double-digit losses. So last week’s decline doesn’t necessarily indicate more big losses ahead.
  • Market readings are at the most oversold level since the 2011 correction lows. Historically, readings this low indicate a high probability of a rally or bounce in the week ahead.
  • For perspective… from the market peak earlier this year, the DJIA is off 10.1% through Friday’s close, and the S&P 500 Index is off only 7.5%. So far, this barely qualifies as a correction. And the last 10% correction was in 2011, so this was overdue. Since the year 1900, there have been 35 declines of 10% or more in the S&P 500. Of those 35 corrections the index fully recovered its value after an average of about 10 months. Sure, there’s no guarantee that the length of future recoveries will happen in a similar time frame, but the long term bias of the market is always up.

I’m not telling these facts to downplay the market’s weakness (which I’ve been telling clients to expect), but to convey that this correction may not be a full scale bear market. Bull market tops are long, drawn-out affairs. And while negative technical market signals have been building for the past few months, I cannot say with certainty that we are in a bear market…at least not yet.

Another positive development –not yet considered by today’s panicked sellers– is that this market weakness has likely taken the chance of any September interest rate hike by the Federal Reserve completely off the table. In fact, we’ll be surprised if Fed officials are not cajoling the markets with dovish comments this coming week to calm investor nerves and stabilize Wall Street.

If you want a broader, more rational picture of our current economic situation, read this analysis by a long-term trader who now refers to himself as a “reformed broker” in Fortune magazine: http://fortune.com/2015/08/20/american-economy-worries/. He talks about the “terrible news” that it hasn’t been this cheap to fill your gas tank in over a decade, and businesses that rely on energy to manufacture their goods, are now forced to figure out what to do with the excess capital they’re not spending on fuel. (warning: sarcasm to follow).

Oh, but it gets worse. American corporations are struggling under the burden of enormous piles of cash they don’t have a use for. They may have no choice but to return some of that money back to shareholders in the form of record dividends or stock buybacks. Of course, you read about the risk to corporate profit margins. It seems that unemployment is so low that wages for American workers are going up, and that could raise consumption and demand for products and services.

Meanwhile, contributions to 401(k) and other retirement plans are up dramatically, housing starts and the construction sector are booming, America’s biggest global economic competitor (China) is reeling, and the Federal Reserve might decide that it no longer has to keep short-term interest rates low because the emergency is over and the economy has recovered.

The author apologizes (tongue in cheek) for bringing us all this terrible news, but hey, we can always sell our stocks and get out until conditions improve. Right?

Nobody would be surprised if the U.S. stock market suffered a 10% or even a 20% short-term decline (correction) this year, or perhaps next year. Besides, we haven’t had a 10%+ correction in nearly four years. But what can you do with that information?

Nobody would have been surprised if this had happened at any point in the long bull market that may have doubled your stock investments, and nobody can predict whether Friday was a signal that the market will take a pause, or if Monday will bring us another wave of short-term euphoria measured mostly in sighs of relief. And if you don’t know when to sell in this jittery market, how will you know when to buy back in?

These short-term swings provide entertainment, but very little useful information for a mature investor. If you aren’t entertained by watching people sell in a panic and then panic-buy their way back in when they realize things aren’t as dire as the headlines made them out to be, then you should probably watch a movie instead.

What To Do

It is likely the media will have a heyday with the recent losses, and perhaps showcase predictions of much more dire things to come. The media is all about getting you to tune in, not to help you with investment decisions. When things are good, they highlight how great things are, and when things turn south they jump on the bandwagon and act like there won’t be a tomorrow. It’s best to tune them out.

As mentioned above, we are way overdue for a correction. Over the past six years, there has been much less volatility in the markets than there usually is. We have become a bit desensitized to how stock markets actually move. Losing 10% – 20% over a period of months is not unique. Markets go up and down; that’s why stocks pay us a premium to own them. Every time something different causes it and each time it instills a lot of fear. This time and times in the future will be no different.

If you have at least five to seven years until you plan to fully cash out of your account, then you have nothing to worry about. Even if we were to get a protracted downturn, it wouldn’t matter for long-term investors; in fact it can benefit you.

If the markets go down significantly more, expect to take advantage of the weakness and buy high quality stocks “on sale”. It’s never easy to buy stocks after seeing them go down, but it can really help your returns over time. A 5% correction is not sufficient to do this. I’d be looking for a 10% – 20% correction before putting more money to work.

Diversified portfolios, which you must have, ensure that your investments don’t move in line with the market. Sure, you don’t go up as much as the market, but you also don’t go down as much. And by having assets that do well in tough times such as cash, short-term bonds and inverse funds, we have the ability to actually purchase stocks on sale – to take advantage of temporary losses for your long term gain. The key is to think long term (five years or more) and ignore the short term stuff.

While I have no specific knowledge (or a working crystal ball), my guess is that the market highs are in for this year. That doesn’t mean we go down from here; it just means that it gets harder to make new highs before year end. Of course, I could be wrong!

In our client portfolios, we have been building up cash positions, taking profits on some positions, increasing our allocations to defensive sectors, and adding to our hedges for months now. If you’re wondering what to do, you might consider lightening up on some profitable positions into the next rebound if you haven’t already done so (this is not intended as investment advice-please check with your advisor so that changes made to your investments are consistent with your financial plan, risk tolerance and time horizon).

Because Friday closed on the lows, we could very well see selling pressure spill over into this week. Even so, we do not see last week’s swoon as the start of a waterfall decline or market crash. Taking into account how bull market tops unfold, we believe this top (if it indeed is one) will take more time to develop and offer more convincing evidence of a bear market.

We will be closely watching the coming rebound. If we continue to see deterioration in breadth/leadership (the number of stocks going up are less than those going down), and the technical health of the markets deteriorate, then we will increase our cash reserves, hedges and defensive sector allocations. If this turns out to be a wonderful buying opportunity, then we may not catch the absolute bottom, but there will be plenty of time to take advantage of this latest “dip”.

If you would like to review your current investment portfolio or discuss any other financial planning matters, please don’t hesitate to contact us or visit our website at http://www.ydfs.com. We are a fee-only fiduciary financial planning firm that always puts your interests first.  If you are not a client yet, an initial consultation is complimentary and there is never any pressure or hidden sales pitch.


Bob Veres, Inside Information

Investech Research

Devaluation Panic: Bear in the China Shop

Earlier this summer, China’s stock market appeared to be in free-fall, despite the Chinese government’s efforts to control stock prices and stem the panic. The chief culprit appears to be leverage: investors last year and in the first half of this year borrowed billions in order to buy stocks on margin, offering little or no collateral except the shares themselves. As prices fall and stock values drop below the level of debt, it triggers margin calls from the lenders, which forces investors to sell at any price, further depressing prices, causing more margin calls in a downward spiral whose bottom is not easy to see from here.

A recent report said that the volume of these margin loans dropped by 6%, or $23 billion over five trading days, which implies that there is still $383 billion more that could be called over the next months or years, an alarming 9% of the roughly $4 trillion in total market value on the Shanghai market.

But leverage is only part of the problem. The CSI Information Technology Index, a mix of high-tech names in China similar to the NASDAQ in the U.S., is still trading at a multiple of around 75 times earnings (PE), while NASDAQ’s PE is closer to 30. If the two indices were to normalize, it would imply that Chinese stocks could drop an additional 60% in value before the current bear market has run its course—and that’s assuming the debt situation doesn’t cause the market to overshoot on the downside. Some compare the situation in China to the dot-com bust in the year 2000.

One complication in the situation is the fact that, since late last year, foreign investors have been allowed to invest directly in Shanghai-listed stocks. Savvy market traders with years of experience in these death spiral events have been making program trades which bet on further drops. Chinese regulators recently suspended 34 U.S.-based hedge fund accounts from trading, including the Citadel Fund, and short selling is now totally forbidden.  Arrests for selling stocks short have been reported.

Currency Devaluation

This past week, investors across the globe were sent into a panic when the Chinese Central Bank devalued the nation’s currency, the yuan. The U.S. market temporarily lost more than 1% of its total value, oil prices fell, and global shares plummeted on news that China decided to make its currency two percent cheaper than it was before. Despite the Central Bank’s assertion that it was a one-and-done devaluation, they proceeded to further devalue the yuan two more times within a matter of days.

You actually read that right. Headlines raised the prospect of a global currency war, and there were hints in the press that nations might resort to trade barriers, which would slow down global trade in all directions. If you’re following the story, you probably didn’t read that the Chinese yuan, even after the devaluation, was actually more valuable against global currencies than it was a year ago in trade-weighted terms. Nor did you read that China actually intervened in the global markets to make sure the devaluation didn’t go any further in open market trading.

The background for the devaluation is China’s slowing economic growth and its recent stock market volatility. The Caixin China Manufacturing Purchasing Manager’s Index recently fell to levels which indicate economic contraction, and industrial output is at the weakest level since November of 2011. If you can believe the numbers, the country is on track for a 7% growth rate this year—three times the U.S. rate, but sluggish by recent Chinese standards, and quite possibly unacceptable to the country’s leaders.

You probably already know that the Chinese stock market climbed to impossibly high levels earlier this year and then fell just as far in a matter of weeks. As you can see from the below chart (and as mentioned above), the Chinese government marched into the chaos with a heavy hand, outlawing short sales, banishing hedge funds to the sidelines, suspending margin calls and even buying stocks directly in an effort to put a floor on prices. The theory was that the devaluation was part of this intervention, since it would make exports cheaper and boost sales, raising profit margins of those companies whose stocks were recently free-falling. Some believe that the Chinese won’t quit until they devalue the yuan by at least 10%.

CA - 2015-8-14 - China Devaluation1

A more nuanced view of the situation is that the recent depreciation is a small step to keep the yuan’s value in line with those of its peers, not a dramatic shift in exchange-rate policy or a part of the Great Shanghai Market Panic. Indeed, if you look at the below chart, you can see that China’s percentage of world exports has been steadily growing for this entire century, without any need to add the stimulus of a weaker currency.

CA - 2015-8-14 - China Devaluation2

A scarier scenario, which nobody seems to be talking about, is that China’s endgame goal is to make the yuan the reserve currency for global trade—replacing the U.S. dollar. China is already lobbying to join the list of reserve currencies recognized by the International Monetary Fund. The new exchange rate is more in line with basic economic fundamentals, strengthening the argument that the yuan is not under the total control of an interventionist central government. But so long as China imposes strict limits on the amount of its currency that can flow into and out of the country, and attempting to manipulate its own stock market, this will be a difficult argument to make.

You don’t often see a market rally when an economy is sliding into recession, so at these valuations, you aren’t likely to find many bulls left in the Shanghai China shop either.

If you would like to review your current investment portfolio or discuss any other financial planning matters, please don’t hesitate to contact us or visit our website at http://www.ydfs.com. We are a fee-only fiduciary financial planning firm that always puts your interests first.  If you are not a client yet, an initial consultation is complimentary and there is never any pressure or hidden sales pitch.









The MoneyGeek thanks guest writer Bob Veres for his contribution to this post

Surprise! Doom and Gloom Sells

Maybe you saw the alarming headline in the middle of the other stories on Yahoo! News, which told you that the U.S. dollar was about to collapse, as a result of H.R. 2847—or, sometimes, simply “the new currency law.” Write down this date, the frightening article said: July 1, 2014.

More recently, you might have seen/heard TV and radio advertisements or ubiquitous Internet warnings where Dr. Ron Paul urgently reveals “a real currency crisis” that will usher in the greatest economic meltdown this country has seen in 50 years—including civil unrest, pension fund collapses, the erosion of personal liberties, bank and brokerage closings, and mass rejection of the U.S. dollar in favor of “non-paper alternatives.”

In case you were wondering, the U.S. dollar did not collapse in July of last year, nor did it collapse in 2009, which is when Ron Paul began predicting doomsday. But if you watch the 54-minute Ron Paul infomercial, you will eventually be offered a “survival blueprint” published by Stansberry & Associates Investment Research—interestingly, the same company that told us that the U.S. currency would melt down last year. To avoid financial armageddon, you simply need to pay $49.50.

Who is Stansberry & Associates? The owner and publisher is Frank Porter Stansberry, who, among his credentials, has been prosecuted by the Securities & Exchange Commission for investment fraud, and fined $1.5 million for selling $1,000 reports with information that a panel of judges determined that he knew not to be true. Using the pseudonym “Jay McDaniel,” Stansberry offered a “Super Insider Tip” telling gullible investors that on May 14, 2002, there would be a major announcement which would instantly double their money. As it turned out, the uranium processing company that was being touted in the $1,000 report made no significant announcement on the date in question, and in fact investors testified that they lost 20-25% of their investment portfolio after purchasing the stock and options.

In the judge’s opinion, “The gravity of the harm in this case is not limited to the amount of money each purchaser spent for the Special Report. Approximately 1,217 investors bought the Special Report with the expectations, as promised, by the Super Insider Solicitation.” Stansberry and his publisher were enjoined from conducting any additional “deliberate fraud.” An investigative website also notes that he predicted the demise of AT&T, General Motors, the FNMA quasi-governmental guarantor of mortgages, Continental Airlines and… General Electric. One thing these predictions have in common with the prediction of the collapse of the dollar: they never happened. In 2011, Stansberry’s online infomercial predicted “The End of America,” and also that Germany would leave the European Union. To our knowledge, those things haven’t happened yet either.

In case you were wondering, H.R. 2847 is a provision that requires Americans living abroad to comply with tighter reporting requirements on their offshore income—and has very little to do with anything related to the dollar.

Predicting disaster is a reliable way to make money, because the human mind is wired to pay more attention to threats than to the more benign elements in our environment. In the future, you’ll probably see Stansberry predicting all sorts of other scary things, and probably a few more “can’t miss” investment opportunities. What you won’t see is any clear accounting of his track record.

Write down this date about the collapse of America, the extinction of the dollar, the demise of senior members of the Fortune 500, the total breakup of the European Union and a great chance to double your money in a day: Not on Porter Stansberry’s timetable.

Another outlet of bearishness, Casey Research, was recently acquired by Stansberry and Associates. Casey is also a flamboyant (and spammy) research firm, so I don’t expect the doom and gloom headlines to die down any time soon. These folks have been calling for the demise of the United States and the dollar for years, and people love to read fearful headlines. Most of these outfits have caused their readers to miss out on the last six years of stock market gains. Instead, they have led folks to invest in gold, gold mining stocks, commodities and other precious metals that have lost half or more of their value since 2011. You can save your time and safely ignore this trash designed to get you scared witless.

Just like in the media, fear sells, but if the dollar is doomed, we all have bigger problems to deal with. Instead of cash or gold, I’d rather have my home stocked with drinking water, flour, cans of tuna fish and the finest shot gun I can find if the dollar or market collapses. Oh and some fine beer or wine too, if that’s what you fancy.

While I personally believe that the market is way overdue for a 10% or more correction, the market doesn’t care what I believe.  Still, I don’t consider the situation as dire and desperate as these doom and gloomers describe it. The country’s economy is doing great, unemployment is the lowest it’s been and there are currently no signs of an impending recession. Nonetheless, while a crisis could develop anytime without notice somewhere around the world, our client portfolios are hedged and positioned defensively for whatever the market throws at us.

If you would like to review your current investment portfolio or discuss any other financial planning matters, please don’t hesitate to contact us or visit our website at http://www.ydfs.com. We are a fee-only fiduciary financial planning firm that always puts your interests first.  If you are not a client yet, an initial consultation is complimentary and there is never any pressure or hidden sales pitch.







The MoneyGeek thanks guest writer Bob Veres for his contribution to this post

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