What’s Going on in the Markets October 7, 2018

Last week was one of the “worst” for the stock markets in many months, even though the S&P 500 index was barely down 1%, and the Dow Jones Industrial average remained virtually unchanged. However, the tech-heavy NASDAQ lost 3.2% and small capitalization stocks were down 3.8%. International stocks declined about 2.35%.

The proximate “cause” of the weekly decline was blamed on fast rising bond yields (when bond yields go up, that means bond prices go down). The ten-year treasury note yield rose 0.16% to 3.2%, while the 30-year treasury bill rose 0.20% to 3.4%.  These are their highest levels since July 2011 and August 2014 respectively.

Despite a weaker than expected September monthly jobs report, with 134,000 jobs added in September (185,000 were expected), we are seeing wages grow 2.8% year-over-year, while the unemployment rate has declined to match the low of 3.7%, last seen in 1969. Wage inflation is the biggest threat to stable prices, and portends more aggressive interest rate hikes by the federal reserve in the future.

Too Much of a Good Thing?

With the economy hitting on all cylinders, jobs are plentiful and consumers are extraordinarily confident. In fact, the latest survey from the Conference Board puts the September reading of the Consumer Confidence Index at the highest reading since September 2000. Paradoxically, frothy confidence and complacency typically coincide with a run up to a final bull (up-trending) market peak.  With five out of the last seven bull market tops over the last 52 years, exceptionally bright consumer outlooks peaked coincidentally with the S&P 500, and declined with the onset of a bear (down-trending) market. The only exceptions were 1980 and 1987, when the bear declines were driven by an abrupt monetary shock.  So even though we are in the midst of a “Goldilocks” economy, a significant downturn in consumer confidence could negatively impact the economic outlook.

Since the financial crisis of 2009, the Federal Reserve has kept interest rates abnormally low, and is currently committed to a gradual path to normalization. There is a fear, however, that the Fed might fall behind the curve and could be forced to move faster than expected. That increases concerns that interest rates might push the economy into a recession.

Time to Get Defensive?

Over the past couple of weeks, as the number of stocks that were advancing (versus those that were declining) saw deterioration (despite the indexes setting new all-time highs),  we started getting more defensive in client (and my personal) investment portfolios by selling some partial positions and increasing market hedges. This past week, we saw some further stalling and heavier volume selling in the markets than we have seen in quite a few months. For client portfolios, we already had reduced exposure to the markets, and with the recent increased institutional selling, I plan to slightly further reduce exposure on rallies in the coming weeks.

Everybody seems to be expecting a 4th quarter (November/December) post-mid-term election rally, which makes me a bit suspicious that we might not get one. The 3rd quarter of a mid-term election year is usually biased to the downside, but instead, this time around, we went on to make new all-time highs. Did we pull forward 4th quarter returns into the 3rd quarter? We’ll soon find out.

If you’re not inclined to sell anything, thereby recognizing capital gains this year, you could consider 1) making use of inverse funds (also referred to as bear market funds); 2) buy put options to hedge your portfolio; and/or 3) sell call options against stock and ETF positions on bounce-backs, the first of which I expect to see early this coming week.

But don’t let the tax “tail” wag the investment “dog”; take some chips off the table while you can, not when you’re forced to. In these algorithmic and high-frequency trader driven markets today, the velocity to the downside, as we saw in January earlier this year, can be stunning. Also, don’t forget that if you sell something in your IRA or 401(k), you won’t be generating any taxable capital gains.

With interest rates clearly headed higher, I wouldn’t be moving money from stocks to bonds as a defensive measure right now. As this past week attests, both bonds and stocks can go down at the same time, leaving cash or inverse funds as a couple of feasible places to “hide out” on a fraction of your overall investment portfolio. A buy point in bonds will be coming soon, but one should wait until they stabilize. If you find yourself overweight in bond exposure, a rally is sure to come, which you should take advantage of to reduce exposure.

Know Your Risk

To be clear, I may be early & wrong, but growth and bellwether names have been getting hit hard of late. Any measure of risk management over the last 9-1/2 years has reduced overall returns to be sure. And if you have a very long term time horizon, this may turn out to be a garden variety 5-15% pullback on our way to new highs, so you may choose to do nothing.

With interest rates finally rising meaningfully, institutions showing some inclinations towards selling (which we haven’t seen since January-February), some key sectors  faltering (such as financials and housing), and consumer confidence at all-time highs, this is a time to protect market profits and capital. If you’re fully invested, it can’t hurt to take some of your bull market gains off the table.

As mentioned above, the current period around mid-term election years is usually a strong one, and economic and corporate profit strength are at record highs, so this may be a normal correction on our way to new stock market highs. The last quarter of this year and first quarter of next year have historically been very strong, and that’s what I’m expecting. But just in case it isn’t, it may be prudent to somewhat reduce exposure here.

I am not calling for a bear market or market crash. I see nothing out there to panic about right now. You can bet that if I see anything like that brewing, you’ll be hearing from me again, urging you to drastically reduce market exposure.

As always, this article is not a recommendation to buy or sell any securities. I may not be your portfolio manager or financial planner, know little to nothing about your risk tolerance, time-frame or financial goals, so I can’t really advise you. I am only sharing what I’m seeing after a prolonged run in a persistently accommodative monetary environment, which is getting less so (central banks, federal reserve tightening monetary policy and raising rates). This might turn out to be the pull-back to buy instead of sell, but if you don’t have cash ready on the side to invest, can you really take advantage of it?

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. We start with a specific assessment of your personal situation. There is no rush and no cookie-cutter approach. Each client is different, and so is your financial plan and investment objectives.

What’s Going on in the Markets February 5, 2018

It’s been a long time, more than a year, since I’ve posted an article about what’s going on in the markets. Market volatility, until last week, has been mostly subdued. For what seems like years now, markets seemed immune from any meaningful drop. But this still young month of February has seen volatility return with a vengeance.

This means that the U.S. stock market will finally get something that happens, on average, about once a year: a 10+ percent drop—the definition of a market correction.  The last time this happened, better known as a bear market, was a whopper: the Great Recession drop that caused U.S. stocks to drop more than 50%–so most people today probably think that corrections are catastrophic.  They aren’t.  More typically, they last anywhere from 20 trading days (the 1997 correction, down 10.8%) to 104 days (the 2002-2003 correction, down 14.7%).  Corrections are unnerving, but they’re a healthy part of the economy and the markets—for a couple of reasons.

Reason #1: Because corrections happen so frequently, and are so unnerving to the average investor, they “force” the stock market to be more generous than alternative investments.  People buy stocks at corporate earnings multiples which are designed to generate average future returns considerably higher than, say, cash or municipal bonds—and investors require that “risk premium” (which is what economists call it) to get on that ride.  If you’re going to take on more risk, you should expect at least the opportunity to get considerably more reward.

Reason #2: The stock market roller coaster is too unsettling for some investors, who sell when they experience a market lurch.  This gives long-term investors a valuable—and frequent—opportunity to buy stocks “on sale.”  That, in turn, lowers the average cost of the stocks in your portfolio, which can be a boost to your long-term returns.

The current market downturn relates directly to the first reason, where you can see that bonds and stocks are always competing with each other.  Monday’s 4.1% decline in the S&P 500 coincided with an equally-remarkable rise in the yields on U.S. Treasury bonds last Friday.  Treasuries with a 10-year maturity are now providing yields of 2.85%–hardly generous, but well above the record lows that investors were getting just 18 months ago.  People who believe that they can get a decent, relatively risk-free return from bond investments are tempted to abandon the bumpy ride provided by stocks for a smoother course that involves clipping coupons.  Bond rates go up and the very delicate supply/demand balance shifts, at least temporarily, in their direction, and you have the recipe for a stock market correction.

This provides us all with the opportunity to do an interesting exercise.  It’s possible that the markets will drop further—perhaps even, as we saw during the Great Recession, much further.  Or, as is more often the case, they may rebound after giving us a correction that stops short of the technical definition of a bear market, which is a 20% downturn.  The rebound could happen as early as tomorrow, or some weeks or months from now as the correction plays out.

Most bear markets coincide with the onset or expectation of a recession. Some even debate whether a recession causes the bear market or vice versa. The good news is that all indications are such that a recession is not on the horizon. Jobs, housing and many other manufacturing and services data are quite strong, retail sales are healthy, and most importantly, consumer confidence is near all-time highs. While this could all change, it would take at least 9-12 month for conditions to deteriorate enough and make the probabilities of a recession more likely than not. That’s why I believe that a bear market is not imminent.

A correction or even a bear market, once they’re over (no matter how long or hard the fall) you’ll hear people say that they predicted the extent of the drop.  So now is a good time to ask yourself: do I know what’s going to happen tomorrow?  Or next week?  Or next month?  Is this a good time to buy or sell?  Does anybody seem to have a handle on what’s going to happen in the future?

Record your prediction, and any predictions you happen to run across, and pull them out a month or two from now.

Chances are, you’re like the rest of us.  Whatever happens will come as a surprise, and then look blindingly obvious in hindsight.  All we know is what has happened in the past.  Today’s market drop is nothing more than a data point on a chart that doesn’t, alas, extend into the future.

Markets have become very oversold, a market technical term that indicates that we’ve sold off too far too fast. That means a bounce is near, and it may be a big one. If you’re worried about what the markets are doing, and overexposed on your risk, you should use these bounces to hedge your portfolio or sell some portions thereof to the “sleeping point”; that is, the point where you can sleep or get through your day without worrying about your portfolio declining. Think about putting some spare cash in the markets after you see some signs of the markets stabilizing, feeling good about picking them up on sale (Disclaimer: this is not a recommendation to buy or sell any security).

For our clients, over the past several weeks, we have reduced market exposure through sales of certain positions, and have increased our hedges. But we are not preparing for an all-out bear market. In fact, we have been looking to pick up some positions that are much more attractive after this latest selloff. After all, the stock markets are still in an uptrend, the economy is hitting on all cylinders, and there are no signs of an impending recession.

If you are worried or 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. We start with a specific assessment of your personal situation. There is no rush and no cookie-cutter approach. Each client is different, and so is your financial plan and investment objectives.

Sources:

https://www.fool.com/knowledge-center/6-things-you-should-know-about-a-stock-market-corr.aspx

https://www.yardeni.com/pub/sp500corrbear.pdf

https://finance.yahoo.com/news/stocks-getting-smashed-143950261.html

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

A Strawberry Alarmist?

“Good sense, innocence, cripplin’ mankind
Dead kings, many things I can’t define
Occasions, persuasions clutter your mind
Incense and peppermints, the color of time

Who cares what games we choose?
Little to win, but nothin’ to lose”

— Song Lyrics from the 1967 hit single “Incense & Peppermints” written by Tim Gilbert & John S. Carter and performed by the group known as The Strawberry Alarm Clock

Suppose somebody came up to you and shouted: “I have terrible news about the economy. I think you should sell your stocks!”
Alarmed, you say: “Oh, my God. Tell me more!”
And this mysterious stranger shouts: “Run for the hills! The American economy just added 200,000 more jobs—more than expectations—and the U.S. jobless rate now stands at 4.1%, the lowest since 2000!”
You blink your eyes. So?
“There’s more,” you’re told. “The average hourly earnings of American workers have risen a more-than-expected 2.9% over a year earlier, the most since June of 2009! You should sell your stocks while you can!”

Chances are, you don’t find this alarmist stranger’s argument very persuasive, but then again, you don’t work on Wall Street. After hearing these benign government statistics, traders rushed for the exits from the opening bell to the closing on Friday, and at the end of the day the S&P 500 stocks are, in aggregate, worth 2.13% less than they were last Thursday. The NASDAQ Composite index fell 1.96% and the Dow Jones Industrial Average, a somewhat meaningless but well-known index, was down 2.54%.

To understand why, you need to follow some tortuous logic. According to the alarmist view, those extra 200,000 jobs might have pushed America one step closer to “maximum employment”—the very hard-to-define point where companies have trouble filling job openings, and therefore have to start offering higher wages. No, that’s not a terrible thing for most of us, but the idea is that if companies have to start paying more, then they’ll be able to put less in their pockets—and the rise in the hourly earnings of American workers totally confirmed the theory.

If you’re an alarmist, it gets worse. If American workers are getting paid more, then companies will start charging more for whatever they produce or do, which might raise the inflation rate. “Might” is the operative word here. There hasn’t been any sustained sign of higher inflation, which is still not as high as the Federal Reserve Board wants it to be. But if you’re a Wall Street trader who thinks the market is in a bubble phase, you aren’t necessarily looking at facts to confirm your beliefs.

Suppose you’re not an alarmist. Then you might notice that 18 states began the new year with higher minimum wages, which might have nudged up that hourly earnings figure that looked so alarming a second ago. And some companies have recently announced bonuses following the huge reduction in U.S. corporate tax rates, whose amortized amounts are also finding their way into wage statistics.

Meanwhile, those same government statistics are showing a resurgence in factory activity and a rebound in housing, which together, account for more than 50,000 of those new jobs.

So the question we all have to ask ourselves is: are we alarmists? Selling everything in anticipation of a bear market has never been a great strategy, even though stocks are admittedly still priced higher than they have been historically. Trimming some positions and perhaps putting on some hedges into one of the greatest bull runs of our time makes a lot of sense. But panicking never paid worthwhile benefits to anyone.

If you are not an alarmist, then you have something to celebrate. The S&P 500 has now officially ended its longest streak without a 3% drop in its history—as you can see from the below chart. It’s an historic run not likely to be seen by any of us again. The truth about the markets is that short, sharp pullbacks are inevitable and routine—unless you were living in the past year and a half, when we seemed to be immune from normal market behavior.

Strawberry Alarmist

Although the drop on Friday was a bit “jarring”, and technical indicators point to some internal deterioration, I don’t believe that this is the start of a bear market. Employment, housing and the overall economic environment are way too strong to give way to a recession, at least not in the next six to nine months.

I’ve been saying for months now that the market is way past due for a normal correction, as evidenced by the above chart. A pullback of 10-15% in the markets would be normal and healthy, to allow this market to “rest up” for the next move higher. If you think you’re nimble enough to get out of the markets now, and know when to get back in to catch the next wave higher, then I and 90% of the masses out there can probably learn from you. But as the great fund legend Peter Lynch once said, “Far more money has been lost by investors preparing for corrections, or trying to anticipate corrections, than has been lost in corrections themselves.” 

If you’re concerned about the markets and 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. We start with a specific assessment of your personal situation. There is no rush and no cookie-cutter approach. Each client is different, and so is your financial plan and investment objectives.

Sources:
https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2018-02-02/u-s-added-200-000-jobs-in-january-wages-rise-most-since-2009

https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2018-02-01/asia-stocks-to-slide-as-tech-stumbles-bonds-drop-markets-wrap?

https://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2018/02/market-dow-drop/552254/?utm_source=atltw

TheMoneyGeek thanks guest writer Bob Veres for his contribution to this post

Running for the Hills

I’ve never seen anything like it. The mere mention of Amazon eyeing another kind of business can send chills down traders’ backs who might own stocks in that line of business. It seems no one wants to be caught owning the next business Amazon might want to conquer.

As a result, on Tuesday morning, Wall Street traders woke up to something they haven’t experienced much of lately: actual market volatility.  One trader posted an image of his Bloomberg terminal at the market opening, which showed an immediate scary-looking plunge in U.S. equities as the opening bell rung.  By the end of the day, American stocks were down more than one percent, the worst one-day loss since last August, and capping the largest two-day loss since last May. One percent! Oh the horror of a selloff.

What’s going on?  Are U.S. stocks really a full percentage point less valuable today than they were yesterday morning?

By the end of the day, it was clear that much of the drop came from a handful of U.S.-based healthcare companies, whose stocks had been unloaded by spooked traders.  Why?  There had been an announcement by Jeff Bezos of Amazon, Warren Buffett of Berkshire Hathaway and Jamie Dimon of JPMorgan Chase, Inc. that they were thinking about forming a new independent healthcare provider.  The market prices of these companies fell anywhere from 1.8% to 8.6% as a result of this new, still-hypothetical competition. Collectively, these healthcare companies saw their total worth—measured by the value of shares outstanding—drop $30 billion in roughly two hours of trading.

Did this make sense?  Surely not.  Experienced stock pickers were basing their decision to sell, sell, sell on how Amazon totally disrupted retail investing. JPMorgan Chase has enormous financial clout and Warren Buffett is a legend in the investing world.  But the “plan” they announced was really more of an intention to create a plan, and it was uncertain whether the new disruptive high-tech healthcare provider would be available to mainstream Americans or just the employees of three very large companies that desperately want to reduce their health insurance costs.

It will be at least a year before we know what Bezos, Dimon and Buffett plan to create, if anything, and more years before any current healthcare provider is disrupted by their new model.  Healthcare companies have time to prepare for the competition, and meanwhile they should not be significantly less valuable one day over another, due to a vague announcement of a plan to do something.

The bigger lesson of the downturn is how easy it is to spook Wall Street traders these days.  With market valuations persistently higher than historical averages, traders seem to be jumping at shadows in hope of avoiding the next downturn.  The challenge they face is that nobody has a reliable way to predict the real thing before it happens.  Jumping at shadows just means, in many cases, running up trading costs and booking losses.

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. We start with a specific assessment of your personal situation. There is no rush and no cookie-cutter approach. Each client is different, and so is your financial plan and investment objectives.

Sources:

https://qz.com/1192731/amazons-push-into-healthcare-just-cost-the-industry-30-billion-in-market-cap/

https://www.ft.com/content/3353179a-05d3-11e8-9650-9c0ad2d7c5b5

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

What’s Going on in the Markets September 9 2016

On Friday September 9 2016, the S&P 500 index fell 2.4%, while the Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 2.1%.  This was the first “greater than 1%” sell-off since June, its worst single-session loss in more than two months. The drop ended a relatively quiet summer for U.S. stocks, which had touched new highs in mid-August. But despite Friday’s jarring downdraft, market internals remain solid and equity markets are within stones throw of their recent peaks. Of course, the press reports are describing it as a full-blown market panic.

Even if the short-term pullback in stocks persists, we do not believe the longer-term bull market—which has been underway since 2009—is dead. U.S. economic data has generally shown signs of strength, and an improving economy should support the stock market over the long term.

So what’s going on?  Efforts to trace the reason why quick-twitch traders scattered for the hills on Friday turned up two suspects.  The first was Boston Federal Reserve President Eric Rosengren, who sits at the table of Fed policy makers who decide when (and how much) to raise the Federal Funds rate.  On Friday, he announced that there was a “reasonable case” for raising interest rates in the U.S. economy.  According to a number of observers, traders had previously believed there was a 12% chance of a September rate hike by the Fed; now, they think there’s a 24% chance that the rates will go up after the Fed’s September 21-22 meeting. Oh the horror of a less than 1 in 4 chance of a quarter-point (0.25%) rise in short-term interest rates–sell everything!

If the Fed decides the economy is healthy enough to sustain another rise in interest rates—from rates that are still at historic lows—why would that be bad for stocks?  Any rise in bond rates would make bond investments more attractive compared with stocks, and therefore might entice some investors to sell stocks and buy bonds.  However, with dividends from the S&P 500 stocks averaging 2.09%, compared with a 1.67% yield from 10-year Treasury bonds, this might not be a money-making trade.

If the possibility of a 0.25% rise in short-term interest rates doesn’t send you into a panic, maybe a pronouncement by bond guru Jeffrey Gundlach, of DoubleLine Capital Management, will make you quiver.  Gundlach’s exact words, which are said to have helped send Friday’s markets into a tailspin, were: “Interest rates have bottomed.  They may not rise in the near term as I’ve talked about for years.  But I think it’s the beginning of something, and you’re supposed to be defensive.” My thoughts on this: pundits have been declaring the end of the bull market in bonds for many years and have been proven wrong time and time again. Statements like this are pretty worthless in my opinion. Could he be right? Sure, there’s a 50/50 chance.

Short-term traders appear to have decided that Gundlach was telling them to retreat to the sidelines, and some have speculated that a small exodus caused automatic program trading—that is, money management algorithms that are programmed to sell stocks whenever they sense that there are others selling.  After the computers had taken the market down by 1%, human investors noticed and began selling as well.

Uncertainty about central bank policy outside the U.S. was another potential cause for Friday’s volatility. On Thursday, the European Central Bank opted for no new easing moves and Japanese bond yields have continued to rise. The two events have sent a message to markets that quantitative easing (bond buying and other monetary stimulus) may have lost some of its efficacy and will not continue indefinitely.

For seasoned investors, a 2% drop after a very long market calm simply means a return to normal volatility.  This is generally good news for investors, because volatility has historically provided more upside than downside, and because these occasional downdrafts provide a chance to add to your stock holdings at bargain prices. I’ve been telling clients all summer long to expect a volatile and rocky September and October. Does that make me smart? Nope, historically, periods of calm like we’ve seen are always followed by volatility. September and October tend to be more volatile than other months of the year.  Markets have been unusually calm this summer, and prolonged periods of low volatility can make markets susceptible to news and rumors. Given the emphasis the market is now placing on Fed policy—and the uncertainty surrounding it—we wouldn’t be surprised to see markets continue to experience volatile swings when news or economic data suggest the Fed may, or may not, raise interest rates.

That doesn’t, of course, mean that we know what will happen when the exchanges open back up on Monday, or whether the trend will be up or down next week or for the remainder of the month.  Nor do we know whether the Fed will raise rates in late September, or how THAT will affect the market.

As for bonds, while rising interest rates can translate into falling bond prices—bond yields typically move inversely to bond prices—it’s important to remember that yields generally don’t move in tandem all along the yield curve. The Fed influences short-term interest rates, but long-term interest rates are generally affected by other factors, such as economic growth and inflation expectations. And even if the Fed does raise short-term interest rates again this year, I would anticipate that future rate hikes would be gradual, as inflation remains low and the U.S. economy is only growing moderately.

That said, periods of market volatility are a good time to review your risk tolerance and make sure your portfolio is aligned with your time horizon and investing goals. A well-diversified portfolio, with a mix of stocks, bonds and cash allocated appropriately based on your goals and risk tolerance, can help you weather periods of market turbulence.

All we can say with certainty is that there have been quite a number of temporary panics during the bull market that started in March 2009, and selling out at any of them would have been a mistake.  You must resist overreacting to swings in the market. Stock market fluctuations are a normal part of investing; panicking and pulling money out of the market may mean missing out on a potential rebound.

The U.S. economy is showing no sign of collapse, job creation is stable and a rise in interest rates from near-negative levels would probably be good for long-term economic growth.  The Institute for Supply Management survey for the manufacturing sector recently showed an unexpected decline, and the service sector moved down by more than economists had expected, so I will be monitoring upcoming survey results closely to see if this develops into a trend. The employment situation remains firm; new job openings hit a record high in July and new claims for unemployment remain near recent lows.

While it may be prudent to trim some profits, panic is seldom a good recipe for making money in the markets, and our best guess is that Friday will prove to have been no exception. Market volatility is unnerving, but it’s a normal—and normally short-lived—part of investing. If you’ve built a solid financial plan and a well-diversified portfolio, it’s best to ignore the noise and focus on your long-term goals.

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. We start with a specific assessment of your personal situation. There is no rush and no cookie-cutter approach. Each client is different, and so is your financial plan and investment objectives.

Sources:

http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2016-09-08/gundlach-says-it-s-time-to-get-defensive-as-rates-may-rise

http://www.forbes.com/sites/laurengensler/2016/09/09/stocks-fall-worst-day-since-brexit/#3a9ed7252961

http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2016-09-09/split-among-fed-officials-leaves-september-rate-outlook-murky?utm_content=markets&utm

http://thereformedbroker.com/2016/09/09/dow-decline-signals-end-of-western-civilization/?utm

https://www.treasury.gov/resource-center/data-chart-center/interest-rates/Pages/TextView.aspx?data=yield

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

Second Quarter 2016 YDFS Market Review

The official start of summer was only a few days ago, but the market already feels like it’s taken us on a wild roller coaster ride this year. It certainly makes us feel like we’re in a bear (sideways to down) market, what with the surprising “Brexit” vote in the UK, the dismal first few weeks of the year and increased volatility across the board.  So it may come as a surprise that the second quarter of 2016 eked out small positive returns for many of the U.S. market indices, and most of them are showing positive (though hardly exciting) gains over the first half of the year.

The Wilshire 5000 Total Market Index–the broadest measure of U.S. stocks and bonds—was up 2.84% for the quarter, and is now up 3.69% for the first half of the year.  The comparable Russell 3000 index gained 1.52% for the quarter and is up 2.20% so far this year.

The Wilshire U.S. Large Cap index gained 2.65% in the second quarter of 2016, putting it at a positive 3.94% since the beginning of January.  The Russell 1000 large-cap index provided a 1.44% return over the past quarter, with a gain of 2.34% so far this year, while the widely-quoted S&P 500 index of large company stocks posted a gain of 1.90% in the second quarter, and is up 2.69% for the first half of 2016.

The Wilshire U.S. Mid-Cap index gained 4.33% for the quarter, and is sitting on a positive gain of 6.67% for the year.  The Russell Midcap Index is up 1.54% for the quarter, and is sitting on a positive gain of 3.82% for the year.

Small company stocks, as measured by the Wilshire U.S. Small-Cap index, gave investors a 4.09% return during the second quarter, up 4.98% so far this year.  The comparable Russell 2000 Small-Cap Index gained 1.96%, erasing gains in the first quarter and posting a 0.41% gain so far this year, while the technology-heavy Nasdaq Composite Index lost 0.56% for the quarter and is down 3.29% for the first half of 2016.

When you look at the global markets, you realize that the U.S. has been a haven of stability in a very messy world.  The broad-based EAFE index of companies in developed foreign economies lost 2.64% in dollar terms in the first quarter of the year, and is now down 6.28% for the first half of the year.  In aggregate, European Union stocks lost 7.60% in the first half of 2016.  Emerging markets stocks of less developed countries, as represented by the EAFE EM index, lost 0.32% for the quarter, but are sitting on gains of 5.03% for the year so far.

Looking over the other investment categories, real estate investments, as measured by the Wilshire U.S. REIT index, was up 5.60% for the second quarter, with a gain of 11.09% for the year.  Commodities, as measured by the S&P GSCI index, gained 12.67% of their value in the second quarter, giving the index a 9.86% gain for the year so far.  The biggest mover, unsurprisingly, is Brent Crude Oil, which has risen more than 15% in price over the quarter.

Meanwhile, interest rates have stayed low, once again confounding prognosticators who have been expecting significant rate rises for more than half a decade now.  The Bloomberg U.S. Corporate Bond Index is yielding 2.88%, while the Bloomberg U.S. Treasury Bond Index is yielding 1.11%.  Treasury yields are stuck near the bottom of historical rates; 3-month notes yielded 0.26% at the end of the quarter, while 12-month bonds were yielding just 0.43%.  Go out to ten years, and you can get a 1.47% annual coupon yield.  Low?  Compared with rates abroad, these yields are positively generous.  If you’re buying the German Bund 10-year government securities, you’re receiving a guaranteed -0.13% yield (yes, that’s a negative yield).  The 5-year yield is actually worse: -0.57%.  Japanese government bonds are also yielding -0.3% (2-year) to -0.23% (10-year). Can you imagine paying someone to hold your money for you?

On the first day of July, the Dow, S&P 500 and Nasdaq indices were all higher than they were before the Brexit vote took investors by surprise, which suggests that, yet again, the people who let panic make their decisions, lost money while those who kept their heads in it, sailed through.  There will be plenty of other opportunities for panic in a future where terrorism, a continuing mess in the Middle East, a refugee crisis in Europe and premature announcements of the demise of the European Union will deflect attention away from what is actually a decent economic story in the U.S.

How decent?  The American economy is on track to grow at a 2.0% rate this year, which is hardly dramatic, but it is sustainable and not likely to overheat different sectors and lead to a recession.  Manufacturing activity is expected to grow 2.6% for the year based on the numbers so far, and the unemployment rate has fallen to 4.7%, which is actually below the Federal Reserve target.  Inflation is also low: running around 1.4% this year.  The unemployment statistics are almost certainly misleading in the sense that many people are underemployed, and a sizable number of working-age men are no longer participating in the labor force, but for many Americans, there’s work if you want it.  Historically low oil prices and high domestic production have lowered the cost of doing business and the cost of living across the American economic landscape.

Despite all this good news, the market is struggling to keep its head above water this year, and is not threatening the record highs set in May of last year. But we’re close, and I suspect that we will challenge and rally above the old highs soon.

Questions remain.  The biggest one in many peoples’ minds is: WILL the European Union break up now that its second-largest economy has voted to exit?  There is already renewed talk of a Grexit, along with clever names like the dePartugal, the Czechout, the Big Finnish and even discussion about Texas (Texit?) leaving the U.S.  How long before we hear about (cue the sarcasm) some localities declaring independence from their states?  With active political movements in at least a dozen Eurozone countries agitating for an exit, is it possible that someday we’ll view the UK as the first domino?

A recent report by Thomas Friedman of Geopolitical Futures suggests that the EU, at the very least, is going to have to reform itself, and the vote in Britain could be the wake-up call it needs to make structural changes.  The Eurozone has been struggling economically since the common currency was adopted.  It is still dealing with the Greek sovereign debt crisis, a potential banking crisis in Italy, economic troubles in Finland, political issues in Poland and, in general, a huge wealth disparity between its northern and southern members.  Is it possible that a flood of regulations coming out of Brussels is imposing an added burden on European economies?  Should different nations be allowed to manage their policies and economies with greater independence and focus?

Friedman thinks the UK will be just fine, because Europe needs it to be a strong trading partner.  Britain is Germany’s third-largest export market and France’s fifth largest.  Would it be wise for those countries to stop selling to Britain or impose tariffs on British exports?  And more broadly, with the political turmoil in the UK, is it possible that there will be a re-vote, particularly if the European Union decides to make reforms that result in a less-stifling regulatory regime?

You’ll continue to see dire headlines, if not about Brexit or the Middle East, then about China’s debt situation and the Fed either deciding or not deciding to raise rates in the U.S. economy (it won’t).  Oil prices are going to bounce around unpredictably.  The remarkable thing to notice is that with all the wild headlines we’ve experienced so far, plus the worst start to the year in U.S. market history, the markets are up slightly here in the U.S., and the economy is still growing.  The chances of a U.S. recession starting in the next nine months are 10% or less.  Yes, your international investments are down right now, but eventually, you can expect them to come to the rescue when the American bull market finally turns.

When will that be?  If we knew how to see the future for certain, we would be in a different business.  All of us are going to have to resign ourselves to being surprised by whatever the rest of the year brings us, headline by headline. That, however, doesn’t stop me from making my own prognostication about what the market might bring.  By the end of the year, I think we’ll see mid-single digit gains for the year, after some hand-wringing over the election, in what I expect to be a rough September and October in the markets. But then again, I thought the Brexit would be voted down, so don’t bet your chips on any predictions anyone has, including me. This keeps us mostly invested with good hedges to absorb whatever volatility 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. We start with a specific assessment of your personal situation. There is no rush and no cookie-cutter approach. Each client is different, and so is your financial plan and investment objectives.

 

Sources:

Wilshire index data.  http://www.wilshire.com/Indexes/calculator/

Russell index data: http://indexcalculator.russell.com/

S&P index data: http://www.standardandpoors.com/indices/sp-500/en/us/?indexId=spusa-500-usduf–p-us-l–

Nasdaq index data: http://quicktake.morningstar.com/Index/IndexCharts.aspx?Symbol=COMP

International indices: http://www.mscibarra.com/products/indices/international_equity_indices/performance.html

Commodities index data: http://us.spindices.com/index-family/commodities/sp-gsci

Treasury market rates: http://www.bloomberg.com/markets/rates-bonds/government-bonds/us/

Aggregate corporate bond rates: https://indices.barcap.com/show?url=Benchmark_Indices/Aggregate/Bond_Indices

Aggregate corporate bond rates: http://www.bloomberg.com/markets/rates-bonds/corporate-bonds/

http://useconomy.about.com/od/criticalssues/a/US-Economic-Outlook.htm

http://www.marketwatch.com/story/first-quarter-us-gdp-raised-to-11-2016-06-28?siteid=bulletrss

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

You Only Brexit Once (YOBO)

Not even a month ago, I wrote to you and shared my thoughts on Britain leaving the European Union (EU).  I guess I was wrong.

Thursday’s 52%-48% vote by the British electorate to end its 43-year membership in the European Union seems to have taken just about everybody by surprise, but the aftermath could not have been more predictable.  The uncertainty of how, exactly, Europe and Britain will manage a complex divorce over the coming decade, sent global markets reeling.   London’s blue chip index, the Financial Times Stock Exchange 100, lost 4.4% of its value in one day, while Germany’s DAX market lost more than 7%.  The British pound sterling is getting crushed (down 14% against the yen, 10% against the dollar).

Compared to the global markets, the reaction among traders on U.S. exchanges seems muted; down roughly 3%, though nobody knows if that’s the extent of the fall or just the beginning. I think after a bit of a hangover on Monday, Wall Street will move on to the next brick in the Wall of Worry that builds bull markets.

The important thing to understand is that the current market disruptions represent an emotional roller coaster, an immediate panic reaction to what is likely to be a very long-term, drawn out, ultimately graceful accommodation between the UK and Europe.  German companies are certainly not 7% less valuable today than they were before the vote, and the pound sterling is certainly not suddenly a second-rate currency.  When the dust settles, people will see that this panicky Brexit aftermath was a buying opportunity, rather than a time to sell.  People who sell will realize they were suckered once again by panic masquerading as an assessment of real damage to the companies they’ve invested in.

What happens next for Britain and its former partners on the continent?  Let’s start with what will NOT happen.  Unlike other European nations, Britain will not have to start printing a new currency.  When the UK entered the EU, it chose to retain the British pound—that, of course, will remain.  Stores and businesses will continue accepting euros.

On the trade and regulatory side, the actual split is still years away. One of the things you might not be hearing about in the breathless coverage in the press, is that the British electorate’s vote is actually not legally binding.  It will not be until and unless the British government formally notifies the European Union of its intention to leave under Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty—known as the “exit clause.”  If that happens, Article 50 sets forth a two-year period of negotiations between the exiting country and the remaining union.  Since British Prime Minister David Cameron has officially resigned his post and called for a new election, that clock probably won’t start ticking until the British people decide on their next leader.

After notification, attorneys in Whitehall and Brussels would begin negotiating, piece by piece, a new trade relationship, including tariffs, how open the UK borders will be for travel, and a variety of hot button immigration issues.  Estimates vary, but nobody seems to think the process will take less than five years to complete, and current arrangements will stay in place until new ones are agreed upon.

The exit agreement also requires obtaining the consent of the EU Parliament.  When was the last time the EU parliament got anything done quickly? The answer is never. Heck, even Prime Minister David Cameron’s splashy Friday morning resignation is not effective until October. For the foreseeable future, despite what you read and hear, the UK is still part of the Eurozone.

An alternative that is being widely discussed is a temporary acceptance of an established model—similar to Norway’s. Norway is not an EU member, but it pays EU dues, and has full access to the single market as if it was a member.  However, that would require the British to continue paying EU budget dues and accept free movement of workers—which were exactly the provisions that voters rejected in the referendum.

Meanwhile, since the Brexit vote is not legally binding, it’s possible that the new government might decide to delay invoking Article 50.  Or Parliament could instruct the prime minister not to invoke Article 50 until the government has had a chance to further study the implications.  There could even be a second referendum to undo the first.

The important thing for everybody to remember is that the quick-twitch traders and speculators on Wall Street are chasing sentiment, not underlying value, and the markets right now are being driven by emotion to what is perceived as an event, but is really a long process that will be managed by reasonable people who aren’t interested in damaging their nation’s economic fortunes.  Nobody knows exactly how the long-term prospects of Britain, the EU or American companies doing business across the Atlantic will be impacted by Brexit, but it would be unwise to assume the worst so quickly after the vote.

When I want to gauge the intermediate-term economic outlook, I often look at how the large commercial traders are positioned in copper. Being the most basic component of the home/commercial building engine, how they’re positioned in copper tells me how optimistic they are on the economy. As of this week, they’re positioned more bullishly in copper than they have been in the past few years. I would say that offers us some degree of hope about the future of the global economy, even if one country amounting to less than 1% of the global population decides that it doesn’t want to be in an economic union anymore with the rest of Europe.

But you can bet that, long-term, everybody will find a way to move past this interesting, unexpected event without suffering—or imposing—too much damage.  My guess is that the market will get back to its normal course of business by Tuesday or Wednesday and will have moved past this event. Meanwhile, hang on, because the market roller coaster seems to have entered one of those wild rides that we all experience periodically.

Sources:

https://www.yahoo.com/news/brexit-shows-global-desire-throw-142925862.html

https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/global-opinions/after-brexit-what-will-and-wont-happen/2016/06/24/c9f7a2f6-39f1-11e6-8f7c-d4c723a2becb_story.html

http://www.businessinsider.com/global-market-brexit-reaction-2016-6

http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/f0c4f432-371d-11e6-9a05-82a9b15a8ee7.html#ixzz4CVixCz25

http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/f0c4f432-371d-11e6-9a05-82a9b15a8ee7.html?ftcamp=traffic/partner/brexit/dianomi/row/auddev#axzz4CVide1Sz

http://www.newser.com/story/227149/brexit-now-what-happens-welcome-to-article-50.html

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

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