Markets Near New Highs; Rally Could Be Running Out Of Steam

Published September 8, 2017

William RutherfordContinuing a long-term rally that started in July 2009, equity markets have powered upward. The Dow Jones, S&P and NASDAQ trade near all-time highs. The recovery has been slow, but showed strength in the face of adversity several times, in particular getting wind under its wings with the surprise victory of Donald Trump as president. During his campaign, Trump made many promises, among them repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act, tax reform and reduction of taxes, less regulation and repatriation of money held overseas. The market liked what it heard and began a powerful addendum to the existing rally.

At the same time, the global economy was recovering, which further added to the strength of the U.S. rally. But then the failure of the Republicans to pass a health care bill caused some observers to question the ability of Republicans to pass their other legislative goals, and doubts about Trump’s leadership skills set in. While optimism waned a bit, the economy powered on. The markets took strength from increasing corporate profits – 11 percent greater year over year through the second quarter of 2017.

The market worried that exogenous events might upset the trend. For instance, North Korea’s frequent missile lofts were a worry. In a period of 24 hours, North Korea sent a missile over Japanese territory and a powerful hurricane struck Texas with untold damage. At the opening of the market on that day, the Dow was down 150 points, but settled the day up 50. So powerful has been the recovery that not even two calamities in one day could derail it.

The hurricane was a gift to President Trump; it provided […]

September 11th, 2017|Categories: Daily Journal of Commerce|0 Comments

Market Ignores White House Drama To Reach New Highs

Published August 14, 2017

William RutherfordFor months in this column, we have urged our readers to ignore the headlines and focus instead on market fundamentals. That strategy has paid off. The White House hi-jinx have continued to make the news, but the market has moved up in an almost steady manner.

U.S. equities are up 11.59 percent from the beginning of this year through July 31, 2017, continuing the long recovery since the Great Recession. On March 6, 2009, the Dow struck its low of 6,443. It has now more than tripled in value to over 22,000, more than making up the loss. Patient investors benefited.

Three years ago we moved our assets into U.S. equities because “they were the best house on a bad block.” U.S. stocks have been the best performing asset class in the world in those three years.

As of this writing, current earnings reports show that more than 70 percent of S&P 500 companies report having beaten their estimated earnings. Their earnings have been up a robust 11 percent, with earnings now on track to grow by double digits for two quarters in a row. So, although the market is fully – even more than fully – valued, earnings growth is justifying that high multiple of trailing 12 months earnings.

There are many reasons the market keeps hitting records; certainly U.S. earnings reports are one, but other factors are at play. The global economy is recovering; this is good because a rising tide raises all boats. Companies in the S&P 500 get nearly 30 percent of their revenue overseas.

The U.S. dollar has weakened. After an initial flurry of strength after the Trump election, the dollar has dropped […]

August 16th, 2017|Categories: Daily Journal of Commerce|0 Comments

Worrisome Headlines Dominate Otherwise Strong Fundamentals

Published June 12, 2017

William RutherfordHeadlines last month were dominated by the White House with various scandals, investigations and withdrawal from the Paris climate accord. With the penchant for this White House to generate distracting news, we can expect there will be more headlines to digest.

In the past I have said that it is better to look at market fundamentals than headlines. Indeed the headlines could give you indigestion, but the market has continued its march to new highs. Other than the market, what’s up?

Market participants still believe in the Trump agenda of less regulation and a pro-business approach. This includes tax reform/cuts and a revision of Obamacare. However, the prospects for this agenda grow dimmer and dimmer, and in some cases may not happen. Still the market marches on. Gross domestic product is barely growing, at less than 2 percent annually, and shows signs of faltering. The Federal Reserve promises several rate increases, perhaps as many as three, this year; yet market interest rates barely budge, with the 10-year bond about where it was when the Fed announced its previous rate increase. The dollar strengthened on the Trump election and the likelihood of interest rate increases, but the dollar has now settled down to less than it was at the time of the election in November. What gives? Interest rates go up, but they go down!!?? Banks briefly rallied after the Trump election, but have now lost all their gains as bond interest rates decline. The bond market and the equity markets are at odds. Or are they? Mr. Market can’t be wrong.

Even as we are in the ninth year of this economic recovery, and even as […]

Markets Ignore Tepid Economic Data, Reach Highs For ’17

Published May 5, 2017

William RutherfordEquity markets have reached noteworthy new highs year to date. The Dow was up 5.96 percent, the S&P up 6.7 percent and the NASDAQ an unusually strong 12.34 percent through April 28.

The highs came with rising volume and lowered volatility. The highs came in spite of weak GDP numbers and personal consumption numbers. The GDP for the first quarter of the year increased an anemic 0.7 percent, and personal consumption was the weakest in seven years.

Additional burdens on the market were the threat of rising interest rates and storm clouds regarding North Korea. Also, U.S. factory activity eased in April, leaving growth on solid ground, but slowing the growth trajectory. Optimism about the Trump agenda had buoyed the markets after the election, but that optimism found limits as parts of the agenda failed or were stalled.

The rising markets reflected an increased appetite for risk, which in turn is now supporting consumer spending and investment. Business investment is expected, by some analysts, to increase 5 percent over the next two years. Personal consumption is expected to increase 2 percent over the same time frame. Core inflation is expected to reach the Federal Reserve policy goal of 2 percent by 2018 and 2.1 percent in 2019. Inflation expectations will support the Fed effort to raise interest rates gradually.

The Fed is expected to raise interest rates three times this year. With one rate increase already done, two more may be in the offing. Noting slowing economic growth, the Fed passed on a rate rise in May, but left a June increase on the table. Future markets predict a 70 percent chance of a June raise and a coin flip chance of […]

Markets Pause In Their Rally, Uncertainty Persists

Published April 7, 2017

William RutherfordAmid the longest bull market rally since 1928, there has been much concern about risk and how far the rally can go. The slow, grinding increase has been universally doubted by investors, and yet the rally has continued with occasional pauses and setbacks. Should investors stay in the market and experience the inevitable pullback, or get out and miss the rally?

Another possibility is that the market could pause and let the fundamentals catch up. Currently, the market’s price-earnings (P/E) ratio is about 22 times earnings versus its five-year average of 18.2. Such a lofty P/E points to a correction, but if earnings were to increase, the P/E would go down. Earnings can increase if the economy is strong and profits rise. Right now, optimism prevails.

However, there is a sharp divide among Democrats and Republicans in outlook. A recent survey by the University of Michigan showed that respondents who identified as Democrat expect an imminent recession, a higher unemployment rate, lower income gains and faster inflation. Conversely, Republicans expect strong growth in incomes and job prospects, coupled with lower inflation.

Another catalyst for a market updraft would be a tax cut, and that possibility is being discussed. Tax cuts would have a strong impact on earnings, which in turn would reduce the P/E ratio of stocks. But optimism about a tax cut got a sharp knock recently when President Trump’s move to repeal Obamacare failed to pass in the Republican-controlled U.S. House of Representatives, casting doubt on his ability to implement his overall agenda. So, with the stock market rally long in the tooth, the setback caused the market to pause.

A pause can be healthy […]

April 10th, 2017|Categories: Daily Journal of Commerce|0 Comments

Will The Market Crash Or Correct Or Continue To Rise?

Published March 13, 2017

William RutherfordThat question in the headline is one that I have been receiving from clients lately. From what I read and see, the stock market’s future is on a lot of people’s minds, and with good reason.

First of all, the market has a history of crashing from time to time – often without warning, like the time Alan Greenspan 72 days into his term as Federal Reserve chairman unexpectedly raised interest rates by a quarter point in October 1987. The market dropped 22.6 percent in one day and dropped more in ensuing trading sessions. The dot-com bubble and the 2007-08 crash are other examples. These events have seared investors’ minds, and so they are wary, as they should be. In a series of slow-grinding moves, this market recovery has gone on for the second-longest time since 1928. Investors begin to wonder if it will continue. Should you be in the market as it climbs to new highs, or drop out of the market in anticipation of a drop? To be in the wrong place at the wrong time can be expensive.

Let’s look at what we know. The long-term trajectory of the stock market is up and to the right on a graph. On an annual basis, the market rises about 75 percent of the time. An investor is betting on the long-term growth of the U.S. economy, which is almost a given, and an investor’s stock selection is a bet on good management, which, while not a given, is more common than not. Those crashes we talked about barely show up on any long-term chart.

The market has been rising for a long time and […]

March 15th, 2017|Categories: Daily Journal of Commerce|0 Comments

Can Anybody Here Play This Game?

Published February 10, 2017

William RutherfordWay back in what now seems like the dark ages, the world experienced a financial crisis. The crisis slammed every portion of the globe, and it persisted. From governments down to the bottom of the socioeconomic structure, both assets and jobs were lost. At about this same time, the Middle East was imploding in revolution. These two events would coalesce at a later date in worldwide turmoil.

The recovery from the economic crisis was slow and uneven. Many people who lost their jobs remained unemployed. The percentage of the workforce actually working stayed low. People at the upper end of the economic spectrum found that their assets recovered, as the Federal Reserve kept interest rates low by historical standards and kept them low for a long time. People out of work noticed the disparity. Those with good jobs and their own homes did not notice so much.

As the Middle East disintegrated, with country after country attempting to throw off repressive dictatorships, vast numbers of refugees were created. Many of these refugees sought new lives in countries with stable governments in Europe and elsewhere. Some countries said they would accept displaced people in a humanitarian gesture, but the numbers of refugees were overwhelming. Europe built walls and obstructions to keep the refugees out, because with high unemployment, it did not have much to offer in the form of jobs or opportunity.

Internally, Europe was forced to reinstitute border controls, which had been abandoned with the adoption of the European Union. This was very expensive to people and to commerce. The controls threatened the breakup of the EU. The U.S. pledged to take refugees, but with a […]

February 14th, 2017|Categories: Daily Journal of Commerce|0 Comments

Stocks Enter New Era; With New Sheriff Comes New Outlook

Published January 9, 2017

William RutherfordThe year 2016 started poorly, with the market dropping more in January than any other time in history. The equity market struggled throughout the year, continuing a trend which saw the S&P gain 1.9 percent from the end of 2014 through the first half of 2016. The California Public Employees Retirement System, the largest public pension fund in the U.S., with all its access to the best investment advisors, gained only 0.06 percent for the trailing 12 months ending June 30, 2016.

It’s no wonder that investors were unhappy with returns. They flocked to low-cost index funds in the belief they were better off, as low interest rates and no-growth policies sucked the gains out of the markets. Once interest rates start to rise and earnings return to the markets, stock pickers will regain the upper hand.

Fixed-income markets, coming off a 35-year bull market, saw massive drops after the election and two trillion dollars in market value in bonds was lost. So much for “low risk” fixed-income investments. Despite the poor performance of the equity markets, they were still the best place to be.

Everything appeared to change with the presidential election. With the Republicans retaining the House and Senate and claiming the White House, a pro-business outlook appeared to be winning the day. Visions of tax reform, fewer regulations and a business-friendly environment filled boardrooms and small businesses across the country. The market jumped nearly 7 percent by the end of the year.

It also helped that the Federal Reserve raised interest rates by a quarter-point and hinted at more rate increases in 2017. Corporate earnings in the third quarter had jumped 3.1 percent from […]

January 11th, 2017|Categories: Daily Journal of Commerce|0 Comments

Presidential Election, Rate Increases Upset Markets

Published December 12, 2016

William RutherfordNovember began with the impending U.S. election pitting Hillary Clinton against Donald Trump. Clinton was the odds-on favorite and the favorite of the market too. Investors had largely made their bets on a Clinton win. When Trump pulled the upset of the century, investors had to quickly redirect their investments. Equity investors switched from a risk-off scenario to a risk-on scenario.

As President-elect Trump gave a speech outlining his plans, the bond market had a heart attack. Two trillion dollars were wiped out within days. The Financial Times called it the worst bond rout since 1990. Interest rates jumped over 50 basis points within days – an astonishing move for a bond market, culminating in a move of almost 100 basis points since Sept. 1.

Additionally, the Federal Reserve had been signaling a rate hike of 25 basis points, with the futures market suggesting that the increase was more probable than not. Immediately after the Trump talk, the futures market’s certainty of a rate hike rose to 100 percent. The market did the Fed’s work for the Fed. Indeed, with the increase in interest rates of nearly 100 basis points, the Fed could easily raise rates 50 basis points, and probably will in the near term.

Investors picked winners and losers from a Trump presidency that sometime brought surprises. For instance, a conservative stock like Constellation Brands, a purveyor of Mexican beer, dropped nearly 20 percent in a flash because of Trump’s threatened tariffs on Mexican imports. Tech share values dropped and have continued to decline, because Trump is a perceived threat to international trade. What was conservative became risky and what was growth (tech is […]

December 14th, 2016|Categories: Daily Journal of Commerce|0 Comments

Trump Triumphs In Surprise Victory, And Markets React

Published November 14, 2016

William RutherfordIn echoes of Brexit, Donald Trump rode a wave of dissatisfaction to win the Presidency of the U.S. His campaign was directed to white working class voters, formerly reliable Democratic voters. With the U.S. economy growing at a very slow pace, workers have not had a real pay raise in years. Many workers felt left out of the economy while the “elite” class prospered. Trump dispensed a bromide of nationalism and xenophobia which carried him to victory. It was the same message that worked in the Brexit vote to the surprise of pollsters and the ruling class. Although Trump had trouble staying on message, he eventually got his message across to unhappy voters who were willing to accept his approach.

The campaign was unorthodox, but that had an appeal to voters who saw themselves as left out. Voters wanted unorthodox solutions. The campaign was devoid of plans to solve the problems of the country and quickly descended into name calling. It stayed there for 18 months. Voters were fed up with the campaign. The country became deeply divided. Trump told a dark message. He portrayed himself as the only one that could make things better. The disaffected were receptive.  At the end of the day voters did not vote for a candidate, but against the other candidate.

The immediate reaction to his impending win was a huge drop in the market averages. At one point in pre-dawn trading the Dow futures were down 900 points.  Circuit breakers were triggered which required a time out. When the time out expired, the averages began a recovery.   The dollar dropped in value, as did most other currencies, especially […]

November 15th, 2016|Categories: Daily Journal of Commerce|0 Comments