Sunday, February 27, 2011

Francois Trahan: The Dollar And Macro Factors Are Key For The Market This Year

Several weeks ago Consuelo Mack of WealthTrack featured an interview with Francois Trahan, Vice Chairman, Head of Portfolio Strategy and Quantitative Research at Wolf Trahan. Francois has been selected as the #1 portfolio strategist for the last three years by Institutional Investor Magazine.

In the below video Francois states his views on the equity markets, gold and commodities more broadly. He notes the dollar's influence on equities and commodities and likens the current environment to the the 2006 - 2008 time period. In '06 - '08 he notes the price of a barrel of oil at $95 per barrel was a key inflection point for the markets and could be an important one in this market cycle.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Berkshire Hathaway's Profit Not As Strong As Appears On The Surface

Berkshire Hathaway (BRK.A) turned in nice results for the year ending 2010, but, on an apples to apples basis, organic results are not as strong as many in the media are reporting. Even in Warren Buffett's must read annual shareholder letter he warns the media not to focus on net income due to the ease in which it can be manipulated. Mr. Buffett notes on page 20 of his annual letter:
"Let’s focus here on a number we omitted, but which many in the media feature above all others: net income. Important though that number may be at most companies, it is almost always meaningless at Berkshire. Regardless of how our businesses might be doing, Charlie and I could – quite legally – cause net income in any given period to be almost any number we would like...We have that flexibility because realized gains or losses on investments go into the net income figure, whereas unrealized gains (and, in most cases, losses) are excluded."
In fact, these realized investment gains did inflate net income for 2010 by nearly $1.5 billion (net of est. taxes). Below is a summary of some key items in Berkshire's cash flow statement.

From The Blog of HORAN Capital Advisors

The other item investors need to factor into the company's earnings is the contribution of the Burlington Northern (BNSF) acquisition. In the company's full financial statement, it is noted on page 75 that BNSF contributed $2.2 billion to consolidated earnings in 2010, not an insignificant amount. From a cash flow growth perspective then, BRK saw cash operating flow increase 12.9% ($17,895 versus $15,846).

An important point for investors is the cash flow statement offers important insights into a firm's operations that sometimes are hidden in the income statement. It is important for investors to understand from where the company is achieving its cash flow growth. For the year, BRK saw its cash increase to $38 billion from $30 billion. New borrowings of $8 billion accounted for all of the increase.

For future growth at Berkshire, Mr. Buffett indicates in his letter, "...We will need both good performance from our current businesses and more major acquisitions. We’re prepared. Our elephant gun has been reloaded, and my trigger finger is itchy."

From an investment perspective, Berkshire anticipates future growth to come from future "major" acquisitions, likely not to dissimilar to the BNSF transaction. For BRK, growth by acquisition has become a mainstay of its operation and investors historically have been rewarded with strong stock price performance. As Mr. Buffett warns, don't look at net income or earnings per share in a vacuum.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Public Employee Cost Driving Discontent

Wisconsin seems to be ground zero in the debate on public employee cost versus private sector employees. The issue has moved to the forefront due to most states needing to deal with significant budget deficits. And these deficits have been magnified due to the persistently high unemployment rate experienced even as the economy has come out of the last recession.

As the below chart shows, the salaries of state and local government workers, as well as benefits, have grown out a faster pace than for the private sector.

From The Blog of HORAN Capital Advisors

In a severe economic slowdown like recently experienced, the rate of growth in government sector pay and benefits is not sustainable; hence, the debates taking place in many states like Wisconsin. Additionally, the unemployment rate differential between the public and government sector continues to remain wide. The issue then becomes, who pays for the government sector employees if private sector employment levels remain stubbornly low. At the federal level, the government can print more currency (not without risk however), but at the state and local level, currency printing is not a viable option.

From The Blog of HORAN Capital Advisors

At the end of the day, the issue of public employee cost versus the private sector will need to be addressed. Also, this is not simply a short term problem between public and private sector wages/benefits. As more and more baby boomers enter retirement, the cost associated with entitlements as currently structured, like social security and Medicare, is not sustainable and will need to be adjusted. This will likely put an additional spotlight on the benefit differences between the public and private sector.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Recent Company Actions Support Strong Market Advance

The recent financial actions by companies provide verification that corporate fundamentals have continued to strengthen. Howard Silverblatt of Standard & Poor's notes on his Bloomberg BusinessWeek blog, Investing Insights, that:
  • Dividend increases so far in Q1 2011 are very strong with the average increase equaling 22.65% and the median increase totaling 12.20%.
From The Blog of HORAN Capital Advisors
  • Cash has set 8 consecutive quarters of record cash levels: Q4 2008 – Q3 2010. Cash in Q4 2010 is coming in 3.6% ahead of Q3 2010.
From The Blog of HORAN Capital Advisors
  • 2011 sales estimates have been increasing over the past three weeks, with 2011 estimated to post a 12.1% gain 2010.
  • Earnings per share in Q4 shows a 29.5% gain over Q4 20’09. On a sequential basis Q4 EPS is only up 2.5% versus Q3 2010.

A Few Preliminary Q4 Stats, And Observations
Investing Insights Blog
By: Howard Silverblatt
February 12, 2011

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Markets Retrace Financial Crisis Losses

Many segments of the U.S. stock market have retraced a large portion of the losses that occurred from October 2007 through March 2009. Chart of the Day provides the below detail on this recovery.

"For some perspective on the post-financial crisis rally, today's chart illustrates how much of the downturn that occurred as a result of the financial crisis has been retraced by each of the five major stock market indexes. For example, the Dow peaked at 14,164.53 back in October 9, 2007 and troughed at 6547.05 back on March 9, 2009. The Dow currently trades at 12,229.29 -- it has retraced 74.6% of its financial crisis bear market decline. As today's chart illustrates, each of these five major stock market indices have retraced over 70% of their financial crisis decline. However, it is the Russell 2000 (small-cap stocks), the tech-laden Nasdaq, and the S&P 400 (mid-cap stocks) that have recouped nearly all or (in the case of the S&P 400) more than all of the losses incurred during the financial crisis."
From The Blog of HORAN Capital Advisors

Is The Market Being Irrational On The Upside?

In a severe stock bear market it is often said that the market can remain irrational longer than an investor can remain solvent. In a market like investors are experiencing at this moment, some believe the market is being irrational on the upside. At what point in time will we see investors react by jumping in because they fear being left behind and missing out on significant upside gains? Year to date through February 11, 2011 the S&P 500 Index is up 5.9%. On a 12-month basis the S&P is up over 22%.

As the below chart of the S&P 500 Index shows, the market has almost steadily moved higher since the end of March last year. In the last half of 2009 the market's increase occurred on steadily declining volume on both up and down days. A similar pattern seems to be repeating itself this year. In other words, a spike in volume on up days does not seem evident; thus, suggesting the individual investor has not capitulated from sitting on the sidelines. The one spike in volume on an up day occurred in early December when the chart pattern completed its cup and handle pattern.

From The Blog of HORAN Capital Advisors

Additionally, the solid green line in the above chart shows 93% of S&P 500 company stock prices are trading above their 150 day moving average. Strategist often cite this as a sign the market is overbought. Keep in mind though, as highlighted in the chart, this variable can stay elevated for an extended period of time as it did in late 2009 into early 2010.

Certainly the market is not likely to advance at a 6% pace every succeeding six weeks. However, from a valuation perspective, many high quality large cap U.S. stocks are trading at attractive valuations. There are challenges ahead for a number of firms, like the need to pass on higher commodity prices. A pullback in the market would be healthy, and many investors seem to be waiting for that to occur. In the end, the market will trade on fundamentals.

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

Municipal Bond Fund Flows Strongly Negative

Investors are speaking with their feet as municipal bond fund flows are strongly negative. The below chart includes flow data through December. Updated data for January is available at the Investment Company Institute's website. January fund flow data shows strong negative flows continued for municipal investments at the start of this year.

From The Blog of HORAN Capital Advisors

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Unemployment By Education Level: Education Matters

The below chart shows the unemployment level in the U.S. by an individual's education level. Individuals that have obtained a college degree find themselves less likely to be unemployed.

From The Blog of HORAN Capital Advisors

The higher rate of unemployment for those with less than a bachelors degree may be the result of a structural shift in the composition of the type of jobs now available to individuals. As the following chart details, the steady decline in the number of people employed in manufacturing jobs provides some evidence of this structural shift in the U.S. job market. The Reuters report, Is America the Sick Man of the Globe?, provides more insight into this structural change.

From The Blog of HORAN Capital Advisors

Friday, February 04, 2011

Dividend Payers Underperform In January

For the month of January, the average return for the dividend payers in the S&P 500 Index slightly underperformed the non-payers, 2.08% versus 2.10%, respectively. On a weighted basis the S&P 500 Index total return equaled 2.37% while the equal weighted return for the index was 2.22%. This is an indication that the larger capitalization stocks may be gaining favor with investors. On a 5 and 10 year basis, the S&P 500 Index has lagged the performance of the midcap and small cap indices.

From The Blog of HORAN Capital Advisors