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

Recovery—For How Long?

On Tuesday of this week, the U.S. stock markets (S&P 500 index) went up 2.39%, the highest one-day return in a month. Analysts attributed the rise to a variety of economic news that suggested that the American economy is not, after all, plunging into recession. The buoyant mood among investors may not last, but for many, it’s a welcome sign that things may not be as gloomy as they seemed just a month ago.

In fact, the S&P 500 only dropped about 12%, from 2078.36 at the end of December 2015 to the bottom of 1829.08 on February 11—despite widespread predictions of a 20% bear market. Since then, it has risen on shaky legs back to more than 1999, just 79 points from breaking even on the year. One more day like Tuesday would erase nearly all of the damage in 2016.

The good economic news involved construction spending, which reached its highest level since 2007. Oil prices were also gaining ground, although it’s hard to see why the average American would find reason to cheer about that. In addition, new orders and inventories stabilized in the manufacturing sector, after experiencing downturns in the last quarter of 2015.  On Friday, The February jobs report showed that the economy created 242,000 jobs and unemployment remains at a low 4.9%.  Other factors include the possibility that U.S. stock investors may finally have decided that declines in the Chinese markets are not going to directly affect the value of American-based businesses.

None of this means that we know what will happen next. Neither we nor any of the pundits you see on the financial news have any idea whether that long-awaited 20% decline will materialize, or the markets will continue to recover and we’ll all look back on February 11 prices as a great time to buy. But it’s worth reflecting on how unexpected this latest rally has been at a time when it seemed that all the news pointed to more pain and decline. Anybody who believed the pundits and fully retreated to the sidelines after the January selloff is now sitting on losses and wondering whether to jump in now and hope the gains continue, or wait and hope for another downturn, and risk losing even more ground if this turns out to be a long-term rally. This is not to say that hedging or taking some bull market profits off the table is still not a good idea. All-or-nothing investing is almost never a good idea.

We can never see the next turn in the market roller coaster, but long-term, the markets seem to operate under the opposite of the pull of gravity. You and I know with some degree of certainty in which direction the next 100% market move will be, even if we can’t pinpoint when or where.

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.

Sources:

http://www.businessinsider.com/the-stock-market-is-over-china-2016-2

http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2016-02-29/japan-futures-down-on-strong-yen-as-china-stimulus-buoys-aussie

http://finance.yahoo.com/news/wall-st-open-higher-oil-143344528.html

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

%d bloggers like this: