Sunday, April 23, 2017

Dogs Of The Dow Falling Further Behind

It has been several months since updating the performance of the Dogs of the Dow investment strategy. The strategy is one where investors select the ten stocks that have the highest dividend yield from the stocks in the Dow Jones Industrial Index (DJIA) after the close of business on the last trading day of the year. Once the ten stocks are determined, an investor invests an equal dollar amount in each of the ten stocks and holds the basket for the entire next year. The popularity of the strategy is its singular focus on dividend yield. The strategy is somewhat mixed from year to year in terms of outperforming the Dow index though. Over the last ten years, the Dogs of the Dow strategy has outperformed the Dow index in six of those ten years.
 
As we noted in our early February post, it is important for investors utilizing the strategy to be aware of the strategy's bets in terms of stock and sector exposure. Through Friday's close, the 2017 Dow Dogs return of 2.0% trails the return for both the Dow Jones Industrial Average Index and the S&P 500 Index, 4.6% and 5.4%, respectively. Relative to the Dow Jones Industrial Average, the 2017 Dow Dogs are significantly over weight energy (19% versus 6.2%) and energy has been weak this year as can be seen in the energy holdings in the below table. Additionally, the strategy is overweight in telecom through its holding of Verizon. Other differences can be seen in the earlier post.


At least during the first four months of 2017, the pursuit of higher yielding stocks via this strategy has yet to be an outperforming one.


Saturday, April 22, 2017

Emerging Markets Poised To Outperform

In our Spring 2017 Investor Letter we briefly commented on first quarter investment changes we initiated in client accounts, specifically, adding exposure to emerging markets. Expanded commentary follows on some of the rational for this change. Simply because an asset class or stock is cheap does not necessarily suggest the asset should be purchased; however, valuation does tend to matter in the long run. The below chart was referenced in our Spring Investor Letter and the top pane of the chart shows the relative valuation of the MSCI Emerging Market Index versus the S&P 500 Index favors emerging markets.


Additionally, when comparing the forward earnings growth expectations for emerging market equities and S&P 500 equities, emerging market companies that comprise the MSCI Emerging Market Index are expected to grow earnings nearly three times faster then S&P 500 companies.


With respect to emerging markets, their prices seemed to be discounting the improvement taking place in global economies and the consequent benefit that should accrue to emerging market economies and thus emerging market stock prices themselves. Certainly, if global trade slows significantly, emerging market economies will be negatively impacted. However, our firm's view is developed economies will continue to grow over the next several years, even if at a below trend pace, and emerging economies will benefit. As the below chart shows, GDP growth in the emerging and developing economies has started to turn higher indicating a faster pace of economic growth than advanced or developed economies.


This faster pace of economic growth tends to persist over multiple years. As a result, some investors are beginning to recognize this as emerging market equity performance on a year to date basis is outperforming a number of developed markets as can be seen in the below chart.


This recent outperformance is occurring at a time when emerging markets have underperformed the U.S. market on a rolling 3-year annualized basis for the past five years. The second chart below shows the rolling 1-year returns versus the S&P 500 Index and the rolling 1-year returns have begun to favor emerging markets in 2017.



In investing, there are no certainties; however, with global economies seeming to become more synchronized with respect to economic growth, emerging markets could have a performance advantage over developed markets over the course of the next several years.


Friday, April 21, 2017

Brick & Mortar Retail Struggles Attributable to Growth In E-Commerce

Today another retailer announced it will be closing up shop, Bebe Stores, Inc. (BEBE), making it the 15th retailer to go under this year. By the end of May BEBE plans to liquidate its approximately 180 stores. This nearly matches the 18 retail bankruptcies for all of 2016.


With the consumer accounting for nearly 70% of economic growth in the U.S., are the struggles of brick and mortar retailers a sign of a weakening consumer? What the data seems to be suggesting is overall retail sales are growing at a decent pace. According to the U.S. Department of Commerce's most recent report on retail sales, it is noted, "Total sales for the January 2017 through March 2017 period were up 5.4 percent [versus] the same period a year ago. What is occurring though is consumer buying habits have transitioned to online or e-commerce sales versus a trip to the brick & mortar sores/malls.

The two below charts show the break down of e-commerce sales and brick & mortar sales on both a dollar basis as well as a percentage basis.



As the blue line in the above chart shows, brick & mortar retail sales are growing at a greater than 2% YOY pace. Certainly this is a slower rate of growth versus a few years ago; however, it is growth nonetheless. On the other hand, the growth in e-commerce sales is moving forward at a mid-teens pace and has done so for over five years. Consequently, the brick & mortar retail headwinds are mostly attributable to the changing buying habits of consumers and their preference for the convenience online shopping provides.

This shift in buying habits, and now driven by Amazon, is covered in the below video presentation. The video covers Amazon and its destruction of retail and highlights the destruction of “brands’ that is occurring as a result of the growth in the preference of e-commerce buying.


Friday, April 14, 2017

Widespread Bearishness Indicating Market Nearing A Turning Point?

Bearish sentiment has over taken what was a bullish environment that unfolded after last year's election. The sentiment change can be attributed to a number of factors, such as continued gridlock in Washington, U.S. bombing campaigns in several countries overseas, etc. Most of the return generated by the equity market over the past two years has occurred since the election in November of last year. In spite of what seems like pervasive investor bearishness​ in stocks, the S&P 500 Index is down only 3.0% from its high at the beginning of March as can be seen in the below chart.



Saturday, April 08, 2017

Higher Oil Prices Face Strong Headwinds

Since March 27 spot WTI crude oil has moved higher by 11% increasing from $47.02/bbl to $52.25/bbl. This rise in price has occurred during a period when crude inventory levels in the U.S. continue to rise. This increase in crude inventory levels is taking place at a time when the drilling rig count continues to increase as well. Historically, an increase in rig count has coincided with higher crude prices; however, inventory levels were much lower in the past when the rig count began to rise.



Thursday, April 06, 2017

Spring 2017 Investor Letter: A Stable First Quarter

Our Spring 2017 Investor Letter reviews the low volatility first quarter. Prior to March 21st, the S&P 500 went 109 straight days without closing down more than 1% en route to a 6.07% gain for Q1 2017. The first quarter market gains also came with unusually low volatility as measured by the VIX Index; the key index for measuring short-term volatility. Pundits have largely attributed the steady post-election market climb to the pro-growth policies of President Trump, but that does little to explain the even stronger performance in international markets. Developed international markets (represented by the MSCI EAFE index) ended the quarter up 7.39% and emerging markets, which presumably would be hurt by President Trump’s protectionist policies, were up 11.49%. The Investor Letter reviews a number of important economic variables noting the soft data points have certainly spiked higher and potentially pulling along the hard economic data points.


For additional insight into our views for the market and economy, see our Investor Letter accessible at the below link.


Sunday, March 19, 2017

GDP Growth Above 3% Is Attainable

One component of the Trump administration policies is to improve the growth rate of the economy through an infrastructure spending policy, reducing taxes and regulations and increasing spending on rebuilding the military. While campaigning he stated his policies would return the economic growth rate, GDP, to 3%. A number of economists, along with the Federal Reserve, indicate moving the growth rate of the economy to 3% will be a difficult task. To put the 3% growth rate into perspective though, up until and through the financial crisis, the long run GDP growth rate was nearly 3.5%. Since the financial crisis though, the growth rate has averaged 1.8%.


Sunday, March 12, 2017

Market Advance May Have Stalled On Concerns Around Timing Of Tax Reform

For the first few trading days in March, the equity market seems to be consolidating the gains achieved in February. Sideways or small market pullbacks have been a common pattern for the market since the election. For the most part the market has corrected over time (sideways movement) versus a steep contraction during the post election advance. This type of market pattern can be frustrating to investors waiting for a more significant pullback so cash can be deployed into the market. As the below chart shows, the type of pattern formed for the market is what is know as a bull flag chart pattern and this pattern has developed again with this month's trading action.


Sunday, March 05, 2017

Better Investing Members Net Sellers Of Apple

Periodically I provide a review of what individual members of Better Investing are purchasing. My last review or update was in August last year and BI members reported their top purchase was Apple (AAPL). Another purchase back in August was Southwest Airlines (LUV), so BI members seemed to be ahead of Warren Buffett's interest in airline stocks. In regards to Apple, BI members are reporting they are net sellers of the stock now. Amazon (AMZN) has been a favorite for some time and continues near the top of the list. CVS Health (CVS) has experienced weakness recently and BI members are reporting they are net purchases of this stock at the moment. Below is a list of the current Most Active stocks reported by Better Investing members.


Wednesday, March 01, 2017

Time To Reduce One's Equity Exposure?

The U.S. stock market has been on a steady climb higher since the November election. From 11/8/16 to 3/1/17 the S&P 500 Index has moved higher by 11.96%. This double digit return in a short period of time has some investors asking if this is an appropriate time to reduce equity exposure.


Sunday, February 26, 2017

Sentiment In An Elevated Market

With the weekend nearly over and any research or reading completed, most investors now know the Dow Jones Industrial Average has been on a rare eleven day winning streak. What makes this more amazing is this is occurring as the market hits new highs with each close. One conclusion drawn from this seems to be the market is nearing a correction or consolidation point and I will be the first to admit, a pullback in the market would certainly be healthy. Since the U.S. election on November 8, the S&P 500 Index is up 10.6%, a return investors would find acceptable for an entire year. The strong and sustained market advance has led to a number of technical and sentiment readings approaching what seems to be elevated levels.

First, below is a chart of the S&P 500 Index along with its 200-day moving average. The chart shows the S&P 500 Index is trading above its 200-day moving average be an amount reflective of an overbought market.



Monday, February 20, 2017

The Significance Of The S&P 500 Yield Falling Below The 10-Year Treasury Yield

For most of 2016 the dividend yield on the S&P 500 Index was greater than the yield on the 10-year U.S. Treasury. Historically, this has served as a positive sign for forward stock price returns. With the strong equity market returns in 2016 and the move higher since the election, the S&P 500 yield is now lower than the 10-year Treasury. In addition to the move higher in stocks, bond prices have declined as well (a higher yield) resulting in bonds now having a higher yield than the S&P 500 Index.


Sunday, February 12, 2017

Recent Outperformance Of Low Volatility A Sign Of Risk Off Ahead?

Since the election in the U.S. it has been a 'risk on' environment for stock investors. Last week though, the Powershares Low Volatility ETF (SPLV) broke out of a sideways trading range to the upside. At the same time, the Powershares High Beta ETF (SPHB) remains trapped in a sideways range. Might the move higher in the low volatility ETF be a signal there is underlying action by some investors to be more defensive in anticipation of a potential pullback on the horizon? The third chart below compares the high beta ETF performance versus the low volatility ETF performance since the election and high beta has far outperformed low volatility.



Saturday, February 11, 2017

Positive Sentiment And Fundamentals Rests On Positive Political Expectations

I believe there are two broad issues at play that are having a positive influence on equity prices. The first issue is a fundamental one and related to a much improved corporate earnings picture. Looking solely at companies in the S&P 500 Index, Thomson Reuters publishes a weekly report summarizing the quarterly earnings reports of companies. Friday's report notes,
  • Q4 '16 earnings are expected to increase 8.4% on a year over year basis. The financial sector is projected to show the strongest YOY growth at 20.8%
  • Of the 357 companies in the S&P 500 that have reported earnings to date for Q4 2016, 68.3% have reported earnings above analyst expectations. This is above the long-term average of 64% and below the average over the past four quarters of 71%.
  • 48.3% of companies have reported Q4 2016 revenue above analyst expectations. This is below the long-term average of 59% and below the average over the past four quarters of 51%. Revenue growth for Q4 '16 is estimated to equal 4.4% YOY.
The second issue influencing the market is the dramatic positive shift in sentiment by both consumers and businesses. I could probably show a dozen different charts that support the positive shift in sentiment with just two of them below. The first one measures CEO Confidence and it had one of  the largest month over month increases in the measure's history. The second one shows consumer sentiment jumping higher subsequent to the election as well.


Monday, February 06, 2017

Room For More Debt?

As was mentioned in a previous post, S&P 500 companies have taken advantage of cheap debt to fund continued capex and share buybacks since the recession.  This has driven total debt to new all-time highs.  Though there has been much concern about the "abuse" of low interest rates to create a rally fueled by buybacks, it does not strike me as much of an issue.  In fact, it makes sense for companies to take advantage of cheap debt to lower their WACC with the potential side effect that they shift their capital structure.  Interestingly, however, the capital structure has not shifted with this proliferation of cheap debt.


Sunday, February 05, 2017

Dogs Of The Dow 2017: Know The Strategy's Bets

The Dogs of the Dow strategy is one where investors select the ten stocks that have the highest dividend yield from the stocks in the Dow Jones Industrial Index (DJIA) after the close of business on the last trading day of the year. Once the ten stocks are determined, an investor invests an equal dollar amount in each of the ten stocks and holds them for the entire next year. The popularity of the strategy is its singular focus on dividend yield.

As we noted in a year end post, the Dogs of the Dow strategy in 2016 did outperform both the S&P 500 Index and the Dow Jones Industrial Average Index last year. However, the strategy is somewhat mixed from year to year in terms of outperforming the Dow index though. Over the last ten years, the Dogs of the Dow strategy has outperformed the Dow index in six of those ten years. For investors utilizing the strategy it is important to be aware of where ones bets are in terms of stock and sector exposure.

Essentially one months has passed in 2017 and the Dogs of the Dow strategy is underperforming both the Dow index and the S&P 500 Index. Below is a table noting the year to date performance of the current Dogs.



Sunday, January 29, 2017

YTD Equity Market Declines In 83% Of All Up Years Since 1945

CFRA Research, in conjunction with S&P Global, recently published a report on the probabilities of a market pullback. A number of interesting data points are outlined in the report, but a few interesting ones are as follows:
  • "during bull markets since 1945, the S&P 500 experienced a pullback (a decline of 5.0%-9.9%) once a year, on average,"
  • "a correction (a 10% to 19.9% decline) every 2.8 years, and,"
  • "a bear market (-20%+) every 4.7 years."
  • "the S&P 500 suffered a YTD price decline in more than 80% of all years in which the S&P 500 recorded a positive annual performance since WWII."
As further proof that the market does not move higher in a straight line, the CFRA report notes the S&P 500 Index incurred a year-to-date price decline in 83% of all up years since 1945.


Also interesting in the report is the fact that 70% of all year-to-date declines occurred in the first quarter of the year and approximately a third of all the year-to-date declines occurring in January.

The entire report is a worthwhile read as it contains data on the market's performance after surpassing millennial points.

Source:

Pullback Probabilities
CFRA research
By: Sam Stovall, Chief Investment Strategist
January 17, 2017
https://goo.gl/teukJW


Saturday, January 28, 2017

Market Breaks Out Of Sideways Trading Range To The Upside

Over the course of the last three trading days this week, the S&P 500 Index and Nasdaq broke out of the trading range in place since mid December. We highlighted this range in a recent post that noted sizable corrections are unlikely when earnings are improving.



Friday, January 27, 2017

Buybacks vs. Capex

The below chart shows that through the end of 2015, S&P 500 companies were contributing a similar percentage of revenue to capex as they were back in 1995 (6.495% in 2015 vs. 6.5% in 1995). This same percentage capex contribution, however, is now only covering 113.4% of depreciation, when it covered 132.73% at the end of 1995.


[Note: going back to 1980 or 1990 shows that companies are clearly investing significantly less in capex since then, but for the purposes of this post it was sufficient to show that it is relatively unchanged in the past twenty years.] 


Thursday, January 26, 2017

Individual Investors Cautious On Equity Market

If the contrarian individual investor sentiment measure reported by the American Association of Individual Investors indicates anything, individual investors seem to be questioning the sustainability of this market rally. Because the Sentiment Survey is a contrarian measure, just maybe the market advance has further upside. In AAII's report this morning, bullish sentiment fell 5.4 percentage points to 31.6% which is nearing an extreme for the reading. Most of the decline in bullish responses showed up in the neutral reading as it increased 4.6 percentage points to 34.9%. This is the highest neutral rating since it was reported at 42% in early November of last year.



Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Second Longest S&P 500 Rally Since 1932

Chart of the Day's report this morning notes the S&P 500 Index return since the October 2011 low is now the second longest since the Great Depression. Specifically, their commentary notes,
"With the S&P 500 once again in record high territory, today's chart provides some perspective on the current rally by plotting all major S&P 500 rallies of the last 86 years. With the S&P 500 up 107% since its October 2011 lows (the 2011 correction resulted in a significant 19.4% decline), the current rally is above average in magnitude and the second longest rally since the Great Depression."

Notes:
- A major stock market rally has been defined as a S&P 500 gain of 30% or more (following a correction of at least 15%).
- The S&P 500 was not adjusted for inflation or dividends.
- Selected rallies were labeled with the year in which they began.
- There are 252 trading days in a year (100 trading days equal about 4.8 calendar months).


Saturday, January 21, 2017

Sizable Equity Pullback Less Likely During Periods Of Strong Earnings Growth

The return for many of the the equity indexes subsequent to the U.S. election has been stronger than many expected. However, most of the post election return was generated in the six weeks following the November 8 election with the equity market trading sideways since mid December. The post election spike higher has some investors waiting for a pullback in the market in order to invest cash that may be on the sidelines. Below are a couple of index charts that show this sideways trading range.



Monday, January 16, 2017

CEO Confidence Surges Higher

Early this month The Conference Board reported the fourth quarter 2016 Measure of CEO Confidence. The fourth quarter reading was reported at 65 and is the highest reading since the first quarter of 2011. Readings above 50 indicate more positive than negative responses.



Sunday, January 15, 2017

A Chart Supporting Market Bears

For investors and analyst it is important to read and evaluate perspectives that run counter to ones own in order to increase the likelihood they are not missing something in their analysis or thinking. For example, the equity market has essentially moved higher, uninterrupted, since the end of the financial crisis low in 2009 and the bull market seems to want to continue; however, is there something suggesting the bull market may be nearing an end? Many of the technical aspects of the market support an additional move higher though and just one bullish chart is noted below.



Saturday, January 14, 2017

Trying To Market Time Is Fraught With Risk

The U.S equity market has certainly had a nice recovery since the financial crisis low in 2009. The magnitude and length of the recovery may have some investors contemplating selling their equities in favor of sitting on the sidelines until the next pullback.



Friday, January 06, 2017

Buy The Rumor, Sell The News

The old investing adage “Buy the rumor, sell the news” comes to mind following the “Trump Rally” to end 2016. As we all know, President-Elect Trump has not yet been sworn into office and yet, the year-end climb in US markets has been mostly attributed to his policy proposals. This makes sense as the market is always forward-looking, but it is important to keep in mind that it often overshoots in the near term. As a prime example, the chart below shows the relative performance of the Utilities sector against the S&P 500 in the three months before (left) and after (right) the two most recent Fed rate hikes. The line moving higher indicates Utilities outperforming the S&P 500 and lower indicates Utilities underperforming.  As any market participant would tell you, this conservative/high income sector should suffer from an increase in interest rates. And it did, but all of the underperformance came before the actual event (Fed rate hike) and subsequently, Utilities dramatically outperformed (short-term).


The surprise victory of Donald Trump in the Presidential election brought about a dramatic market rotation that benefited cyclical sectors like Financials and Industrials. Cyclical sectors outperformed due to the widespread belief that Trump’s pro-business policies could boost domestic economic growth. 


This rotation may prove to be wise and Trump’s policies may boost the U.S. economy, but in the near term, we would not be surprised to see some of this rotation temporarily undone. The market has been driven higher by policy speculation; actual legislation may prove the wisdom of “Buy the rumor, sell the news.”


Thursday, January 05, 2017

Buybacks Decline In Q3 2016, But Cash At Record Level

At the end of December S&P Dow Jones Indices reported information on S&P 500 buybacks and dividends for Q3 2016. The preliminary report noted quarter over quarter buybacks decline 12% and year over year buybacks fell 25.5%. The continued decline in buybacks may be a result of companies retaining cash due to the uncertainty surrounding the November election. Dividends were up fractionally QOQ and up 3.5% on a YOY basis. However, in spite of the decline in buybacks, Howard Silverblatt of S&P Global noted,
"cash reserves also set a new record for the third consecutive quarter, as S&P 500 Industrial (Old), which consists of the S&P 500 less Financials, Transportations and Utilities, available cash and equivalent now stands at $1.49 trillion, up 8.2% from the prior record of $1.37 trillion. The current cash level is nearly double [that] of expected 2017 operating income, giving corporations leeway in their expenditures."


Other key highlights from S&P Dow Jones Indices' report,
  • Information Technology continued its buybacks dominance, even as its overall percentage of S&P 500 buybacks decreased to 23.2% ($26.0 billion) in Q3 2016, from 23.6% ($30.1 billion) in Q2 2016.
  • Apple (AAPL) spent the most on buybacks in Q3 2016, at $6.0 billion, down from $10.2 billion in Q2 2016 and $13.3 billion spent in Q3 2015.
  • Microsoft (MSFT) was second, with $4.4 billion, up from $3.7 billion in Q2 2016.
  • Energy saw its contribution increase but overall expenditures decline, to 1.20% ($1.34 billion) in Q3 2016, compared to 1.09% ($1.39 billion) in Q2 2016 and 6.07% ($8.8 billion) in Q3 2014.
  • Industrials decreased its expenditures by 39.4% ($13.3 billion) from $21.9 billion in Q2 2016.
  • Consumer Staples which decreased its expenditures by 28.4% ($8.4 billion) after $11.7 billion in Q2 2016.


Tuesday, January 03, 2017

Winter 2016 Investor Letter: Rising Confidence And The Populist Movement

In our Fall 2016 Investor Letter we discussed how emotions tend to run high around certain periods like the recent U.S. election. We noted in that newsletter that emotional investment decisions can drive investors to reduce their stock market exposure and harm long term returns. Certainly, the equity market performance following the the November election was one that strongly rewarded investors that stuck with their investment discipline.

Our recently published Winter 2016 Investor Letter discusses the broad improvement in confidence that is showing up in a number of economic variables. The improvement in consumer confidence is important as the consumer accounts for nearly 70% of economic activity. Also included in the newsletter is commentary around the rise of the "Populist Movement' from the BREXIT vote in June to the Italian Referendum in December. While we take no stance on the merits of such movements, it is undeniable that recent elections have dramatically altered the state of western politics and the policies that may be pursued will have an impact on ones investment portfolio as we review the year ahead.


For additional insight into our views for the market and economy, see our Investor Letter accessible at the below link.


Equity Market Technicals Still Leaning Bullish

Yesterday I wrote that investor sentiment is broadly more bullish at the start of 2017 versus the beginning of 2016. Elevated bullish sentiment tends to be a contrarian indicator and can coincide with near term market tops. Now having noted the heightened sentiment measures, but shifting to a technical view of the market, some market excess has been worked off in the last few weeks of December with the S&P 500 Index down 1.4% since December 13th.


As the above chart shows, the late December weakness has created a bull flag formation during this two week period with the market trending lower. Additionally, the Money Flow Index (MFI) has retraced to a more neutral level while the stochastic indicator is near an oversold level.


Monday, January 02, 2017

Investor Sentiment More Bullish Than A Year Ago

In 2015 investors had to contend with a very volatile equity market during the summer months. On August 24, 2015 the Dow fell 1,000 points intraday before closing down 588 points. This volatility extended into October with the end result, the S&P 500 Index was up only 1.4% for all of 2015. This level of volatility and flat returns left investors anything but bullish going into 2016. As fate would have it, investors faced another market decline to begin 2016 as the S&P 500 Index fell 11.4% before bottoming on February 11, 2016. Fast forward to the end of 2016, and after an equity market that returned 12.0% for this past year (S&P 500 Index), broad measures of investor sentiment are much less fearful as 2017 begins as can be seen in the below chart and raises the question whether much of near term returns are already priced into the market.