Tag Archives: investment advice

Seasonal Factors Ready to Turn Positive

S&P500-1993-2014My Comments: This post is about investments and what may happen to your money going forward.

My gut told me the downturn in the markets over the last three weeks suggested it was the start of the market correction that all of us expect. You only have to glance at this chart of the S&P500 over the past 20 years to conclude it is inevitable. However…

Here are comments from someone far better attuned to the markets than I am who suggests there is still a lot of upside left. I guess it just means the inevitable downturn will be more dramatic and painful. You had better have a parachute when it happens.

October 17, 2014 / Commentary by Scott Minerd, Chairman of Investments and Global Chief Investment Officer, Guggenheim Partners

After a volatile week in markets, U.S. equities are now oversold and investors should be alert for seasonal factors that should soon turn positive.

The yield on 10-year U.S. Treasury notes this week broke below 2 percent intraday for the first time since June 2013, fulfilling a view I expressed in commentaries published in September 2013 and again in August. With this yield achieved, I don’t see an imminent rise in rates and view market talk about possible continuing quantitative easing by the Federal Reserve as overblown.

The recent decline in yields has less to do with U.S. economic fundamentals, which remain sound, and more to do with technical forces driving rates lower as a result of capital flows out of Europe. With inflation expectations falling, U.S. 10-year Treasury yields still look attractive even at close to 2 percent, relative to comparable German bunds at around 80 basis points and Japanese sovereign debt at around 50 basis points. In reality, U.S. long-term yields should continue to be well supported, with limited room to rise higher and the possibility that they could move lower.

In U.S. equities, the market is going through its usual seasonal gyrations and now appears to be oversold. The seasonal patterns of higher volatility in September and October that we anticipated have largely been fulfilled and seasonal factors should shift dramatically over the next two months. The buy signal for stocks normally coincides with the first game of baseball’s World Series (Oct. 21 this year), and between then and year end we will likely get a U.S. equities market rally.

The S&P 500 Index today reminds me of 2003, when stocks fell 4.2 percent in September before strong data pushed stocks 15 percent higher by June of 2004. The S&P then lost about 7 percent between June and August of 2004, when the Fed hiked interest rates, before gaining more than 15 percent in the next year.

In the coming months, a number of indicators will offer signals about how long the rally in U.S. stocks and bonds that began in 2009 can continue. One such indicator will be the so-called Santa Claus rally. As the old adage goes, “If Santa Claus should fail to call, bears may come to Broad and Wall.” While it is too early to say, the coming rally in U.S. equities may be the one to sell into.

Stop Tinkering With Your Retirement Portfolio

InvestMy Comments: I can’t tell you how many times over the past 40 years that a client has talked with me suggesting something is wrong with his investments. It usually comes after a long run up in the markets and he or she thinks his portfolio is lagging. And almost every time we’ve made a change, it has resulted in something worse. We moved away from good stuff into bad stuff.

That’s not to say that changes should never be made. Some changes are for the best, like when you think the markets are likely to crash and you want some assurance that the manager you’ve chosen has the ability to move to cash when the you know what hits the fan. Most of them use the tactics described below.

My management team of choice these days will definitely miss some of the upside. But they will also miss most of the downside. That’s why they are my team of choice. If you want guarantees, you have to move your money to insurance company products, and for that you will pay a price in restricted access. But for some of your money, it’s very OK, as it allows the rest of your money to go with the flow.

By George Sisti, CFP (oncoursefp.com ) / Oct 9, 2014

Having just attended the annual convention of the Financial Planning Association, I think it’s appropriate to compare goal focused financial planning to the market focused, no-plan, portfolio tinkering strategy that most investors employ.

Good financial planning starts with the assumption that the future is uncertain, future rates of return are unpredictable and that diversification is the essential element of any prudent investment strategy.

Good financial planning takes time. Gathering and analyzing client data, discussing financial goals and developing a plan to attain them shouldn’t be rushed. An analysis of risk tolerance, insurance coverage, income, expenses and employee benefits should precede any portfolio allocation recommendations. Finally, clients should receive an Investment Policy Statement which summarizes what has been accomplished and explains the investment strategy being employed.

Upon completion of this process I am often asked, “How often will you look at my portfolio?” Many clients are bewildered when I answer, “As infrequently as possible.” The never ending babble coming from the financial media leads many investors to believe that their portfolios require constant tinkering. Most don’t realize that allowing their adviser to tinker with their portfolio will likely do more harm than good.

Perhaps it would sound more reassuring if I answered, “As often as I look at my own.” My portfolio consists solely of index exchange-traded funds, ETFs, and is designed to meet my financial goals at an acceptable level of expected volatility. Consequently, I never tinker with it and ponder its allocation only during its annual rebalancing.

You can control your portfolio’s inputs but not its performance; which will be determined primarily by its asset allocation. Its growth will be directly proportional to how well it was funded and inversely proportional to how much you tinkered with it. Like a good employee, it shouldn’t require continual oversight.

I can compare this to two automobiles I have owned — a 1974 Chevrolet Vega and a 2007 Acura. By 1978, the Vega was burning a quart of oil every 250 miles. I had my head under its hood every week to add oil or tinker with something that wasn’t working. Thankfully, those days are over. I’ve never opened the Acura’s hood. It runs flawlessly and has had no mechanical problems. About once a year, I take it to the dealer for service. He opens the hood and tinkers as required. I drive the car home and am content to keep the hood closed for another year.

Unless there are major changes in your personal circumstances, an annual portfolio review and rebalance should be sufficient. For the next 12 months you can concentrate on the more important and enjoyable things in life. Excess portfolio peeking leads to excess portfolio tinkering which inevitably leads to lower portfolio performance.

To many investors this sounds too simple, too good to be true. (It is simple, but it isn’t simplistic — there’s a difference.) Many believe that stock investing is a rigged game. Institutional money managers use elaborate software and powerful computers that constantly monitor a multitude of market indicators to generate buy and sell orders.

Misguided investors believe that they have to adopt similar strategies to level the playing field. But whether you count on your fingers or use sophisticated software, attempting to predict the market’s next move is a loser’s game — for both amateur and professional investors.

Instead of goals based financial planning, many financial advisers offer products and trading strategies that turn retirement investors into short-term speculators. This despite the fact that study after study shows that more frequent trading leads to lower returns. Too often the big winners in the “outsmart the market” game are, in John Bogle’s words, the croupiers in the Wall Street Casino.

Today, many investors are frightened and confused by the noise and conflicting advice emanating from the financial media. Consequently many are underfunding or poorly allocating their retirement accounts. A good financial plan containing a comprehensible investment strategy is the best defense against our natural tendency to make shortsighted, emotional investment decisions. Most financially secure retirees will admit that they rarely looked at their portfolios during their accumulation years.

Like it or not, most of us are our own pension plan managers. It’s a difficult task that few investors are capable of accomplishing without professional help. Unfortunately, this professional help is rarely client focused. Too often it is market focused and characterized by frequent portfolio tinkering based on forecasts of questionable value. It’s time for investors to say, “Enough already!”

You need a personal financial plan; one containing a comprehensible investment strategy that is based on your personal goals, not what the market did yesterday or what someone thinks it will do tomorrow. Take a pass on the continuing barrage of new products offered by the Wall Street Promise Machine.

Use low-cost index funds to create a diversified portfolio. By doing so, you’ll give less money to Wall Street’s asset eating dragon; you’ll have more working on your behalf and maximize your chances of attaining a comfortable retirement.

Social Security Cost-of-living Adjustments Projected to Increase Slightly in 2015

Social Security cardMy Comments: Those of us old enough to be taking SSA benefits have experienced minimal increases in the last few years. That’s because the ‘official’ numbers for inflation have been low. There is an argument they should be even lower as a way to keep the so-called SSA reserves from going to empty. In my opinion, that would be a stupid way to correct the problem.

Most of us who are interested in this issue know there are much less painful remedies available. With the SSA system now in place for over 80 years, much of the US economy has adjusted with large segments of the population relying on it as we age. To disrupt that could have dramatic consequences.

If you are near 62 or beyond and have not yet signed up for benefits, get in touch with me for a comprehensive analysis of how and when to put yourself on the receiving end of a monthly check. You’ll be surprised how big a mistake it can be if you do it wrong.

By Mary Beth Franklin / Oct 1, 2014

Social Security benefits are likely to increase by 1.7% in 2015, slightly more than this year’s 1.5% increase but still well below average increases over the past few decades, according to an unofficial projection by the Senior Citizens League.

The Social Security Administration will issue an official announcement about the 2015 cost-of-living adjustments for both benefits and taxable wages later this month.

Based on the latest consumer price index data through August, the advocacy group’s projection of a 1.7% increase in Social Security benefits for 2015 “would make the sixth consecutive year of record-low COLAs,” Ed Cates, chairman of the Senior Citizens League, said in a written statement. “That’s unprecedented since the COLA first became automatic in 1975.”

Inflation over the past five years has been growing so slowly that the annual increase has averaged only 1.4 % per year since 2010, less than half of the 3% average during the prior decade. In 2010 and 2011, benefits didn’t increase at all, following a 5.8% hike in 2009.

Although the annual adjustment is provided to protect the buying power of Social Security payments, beneficiaries report a big disparity between the benefit increases they receive and the increase in costs. The majority of Social Security recipients said that their benefits rose by less than $19 in 2014, yet their monthly expenses rose by more than $119, according to a recent national survey by the advocacy group.

Social Security beneficiaries have lost nearly one-third of their buying power since 2000, according to a study by the organization. Low COLAs affect not only people currently receiving benefits, but also those who have turned 60 and who have not yet filed a claim. The COLA is part of the formula used to determine initial benefits and can mean a somewhat lower initial retirement benefit.

A 1.7% increase would increase average Social Security benefits by about $20 next year and boost the maximum amount of wages subject to payroll taxes by nearly $2,000 above this year’s $117,000 level.

Despite the fact that Social Security benefits are not keeping up with inflation, COLA reductions remain a key proposal under consideration in Congress to reduce Social Security deficits. A leading proposal would use the “chained” consumer price index — which grows more slowly — to calculate the annual increase.

The group warned that the “chained COLA” proposal may come under debate again soon. The Social Security Trustees recently forecast that the Social Security Disability Trust Fund is facing insolvency by 2016, and that changes to the program will have to be made to avoid a reduction in disability benefits.

The organization supports legislation that would provide a different measure of inflation by using the Consumer Price Index for the Elderly, which would likely result in higher annual increases than under the current method.

The 4 Drivers Of Stock Market Prices

profit-loss-riskMy Comments: In recent posts I’ve suggested there is a looming crash in the markets that will negatively impact all of us, except perhaps those of us with the ability to go to cash and go short when the crash happens. To hedge my comments, I’ve said “sometime in the next 3 years.”

Here is an article that suggests otherwise. If you don’t speak “economics”, this is relatively easy to follow and understand. Enjoy…

Greg Donaldson / Oct. 7, 2014

We have found that very few investors understand what really drives the stock market. In our view, the four primary drivers of market valuations are earnings, dividends, interest rates and inflation. If you can quantify what is going on with those four variables, our models indicate that you can predict about 90% of the annual movement of stock prices.

Last time, we talked about the Barnyard Forecast, which is a model that signals the probable direction of the market. While the Barnyard Forecast does correctly predict the market’s direction 6 to 18 months from now with about 80% accuracy, it is not a short-term predictor nor does it have any valuation component. Therefore, we use select valuation models to ascertain the relative attractiveness of stocks.

Almost all of these models use some component of the above mentioned variables. Within those four variables, there are two that stand out above the others as being the most important drivers. We’ll take a look at each factor and then conclude with what it means for stocks.

Earnings

Most investors look to earnings as the primary guide of what a company is worth. In theory, that makes sense. If Company A is earning $500 and Company B is earning $1,000 — wouldn’t you rather own Company B?

The problem with earnings is that they can be engineered by creative corporate executives. In times of recession, earnings are particularly volatile. Earnings can be calculated in a variety of different ways, which adds additional complexity. We don’t think earnings should be completely discounted in valuing companies or the stock market as a whole. However, the unpredictable nature of earnings often gives very bad signals at turning points in the market.

Dividends
We have found dividends to work much better than earnings. Over the past 50+ years, dividends have had approximately three times more predictive power than earnings.

Let’s say you own two rental properties. One rents for $100 per month and the other rents for $200. If both rents are increasing at 3% per year and both will continue to rent for the next 20 years, which rental property would be worth more to you? The one that will pay you the most in rental income over its useful life… right?

John Burr Williams was the first to apply this theory to stocks. He said the value of a stock today is the sum of all future dividend payments discounted back at some required rate of return. In other words, the more a company pays out to its owners in the future, the more valuable that company is to its owners today.

Not only does that theory make “real world” sense, but it also holds up statistically. In our models, we’ve found that dividends are the most important driver of stock prices by a wide margin.

Interest Rates
Interest rates are a primary concern for most stock investors. The general level of interest rates essentially represents the “opportunity cost” of investing in stocks.

If your bank account were to start offering 10% per year on your savings account, you would probably prefer to “invest” in your savings account rather than in the stock market. If your bank account is only paying 0.1%, however, the attractiveness of investing in stocks increases.

Many investors would be surprised, however, that interest rates are not the most important factor in determining long-term stock prices.

Inflation
Inflation is actually a much more significant predictor. How can that be? There are several reasons for this.
Interest rates can be artificially set by the Federal Reserve. Inflation can be influenced by Fed policy, however, it is primarily a result of real world economic activity.

Inflation is also one of the primary drivers of interest rates. If inflation is rising, it has the effect of diminishing the real rate of return for a bond investor. In that environment, a bond buyer will demand a higher rate of interest to compensate for the loss of purchasing power.

In addition, inflation is impacted to a large degree by economic growth. When the economy is growing at a faster rate, the Federal Reserve will generally tighten monetary policy, which raises interest rates.

The importance of inflation is also reflected in several of our models. We have a price-to-earnings (or “P/E”) Finder model that we use to determine the appropriate P/E ratio for stocks. In that model, inflation has been a much better predictor of P/E than interest rates, GDP growth or earnings growth expectations.

Outlook for Stocks
If you can understand these four variables, you can get a fairly accurate gauge of the valuation of the market. At this moment, all of these variables are very positive for stocks.

• Dividend growth for the S&P 500 has been over 10% year-to-date. We believe this will continue to be strong in 2015. Companies are beginning to understand how valuable their dividend checks are to shareholders and have begun to emphasize dividend growth as a priority.
• Earnings are expected to grow by over 10% in 2015. Time will tell whether that will come true or not. If it does, we anticipate the market will reward the companies for their continued strong performance.
• Inflation remains very low. With little capacity pressure from either employment or plant and equipment, we don’t see much of a chance that inflation gets higher than the Fed’s target of 2.5%. The economy is simply not growing fast enough.
• With inflation low and the Fed continuing their stimulative monetary policy, interest rates are likely to remain low. The 10-year Treasury continues to trade at the low end of our 2013 prediction of between 2.5% and 3.0%. We don’t anticipate that rates will get much higher than that over the near term.

As we talked about last week in our Barnyard Forecast, monetary policy conditions are very favorable. Aside from a major geopolitical shock, stocks don’t face any major red flags going into 2015.

The most current reading from our S&P 500 valuation model indicates that the fair value of the market is about 1,950. As this is being written, the S&P 500 is trading at about 1,952. From both a directional perspective and a valuation perspective, our models are saying that stocks are still the place to be.

Why Income Inequality Is a Drag On Economies

money mazeMy Comments: I’ve written before that it’s my belief that at some point, if income inequality between the haves and the have nots gets too large, social chaos will follow. The spread or relative level of spendable income between these two groups is continuing to widen. So it becomes just a matter of time until national leadership makes an effort to reverse the trend, or we as a people will make it happen. And it probably won’t be pretty.

Now I find there is a current economic cost for this inequality. Which means that to some extent a cost is being paid today by all of us, you and I and our families. It’s not somewhere down the road, it’s NOW. If this concerns you, you should make your concerns known.

By Martin Wolf / September 30, 2014

Big divides in wealth and power have hollowed out republics before and could do so again

The US – both the most important high-income economy and in many respects, the most unequal – is providing a test bed for the economic impact of inequality. The results are worrying.

This realisation has now spread to institutions that would not normally be accused of socialism. A report written by the chief US economist of Standard & Poor’s, and another from Morgan Stanley, agree that inequality is not only rising but having damaging effects on the US economy.

According to the Federal Reserve, the upper 3 per cent of the income distribution received 30.5 per cent of total incomes in 2013. The next 7 per cent received just 16.8 per cent. This left barely over half of total incomes to the remaining 90 per cent. The upper 3 per cent was also the only group to have enjoyed a rising share in incomes since the early 1990s. Since 2010, median family incomes fell, while the mean rose. Inequality keeps rising. The Morgan Stanley study lists among causes of the rise in inequality: the growing proportion of poorly paid and insecure low-skilled jobs; the rising wage premium for educated people; and the fact that tax and spending policies are less redistributive than they used to be a few decades ago.

Thus, in 2012, says the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, the US ranked highest among the high-income countries in the share of relatively low-paying jobs. Moreover, the bottom quintile of the income distribution received only 36 per cent of federal transfer payments in 2010, down from 54 per cent in 1979.

Regressive payroll taxes, which cost the poor proportionally more than the rich, are projected to raise 32 per cent of federal revenue in fiscal year 2015, against 46 per cent for federal income tax, the burden of which falls more on higher earners.

Also important are huge increases in the relative pay of executives, together with the shift in incomes from labour to capital. The Federal Reserve’s policies have also benefited the relatively well off; it is trying to raise the prices of assets which are overwhelmingly owned by the rich. These reports bring out two economic consequences of rising inequality: weak demand and lagging progress in raising educational levels.

The argument on demand is that, up to the time of the crisis, many of those who were not enjoying rising real incomes borrowed instead. Rising house prices made this possible. By late 2007, debt peaked at 135 per cent of disposable incomes.

Then came the crash. Left with huge debts and unable to borrow more, people on low incomes have been forced to spend less. Withdrawal of mortgage equity, financed by borrowing, has collapsed. The result has been an exceptionally weak recovery of consumption.

It makes no sense to lend recklessly to those who cannot afford it. Yet this suggests that the economy will not become buoyant again without a redistribution of income towards spenders or the emergence of another source of demand. Unfortunately, it is not at all clear what the latter might be. Government spending is constrained. Business investment is curbed by weak prospective growth of demand. It is also unlikely to be net exports: everybody else wants export-led growth, too.

American education has also deteriorated. It is the only high-income country whose 25-34 year olds are no better educated than its 55-64 year olds. This is partly because other countries have caught up on the US, which pioneered mass college education. It is also because children from poor backgrounds are handicapped in completing college.

The S&P report notes that for the poorest households college graduation rates increased by only about 4 percentage points between the generation born in the early 1960s and that born in the early 1980s. The graduation rate for the wealthiest households increased by almost 20 percentage points over the same period. Yet, without a college degree, the chances of upward mobility are now quite limited. As a result, children of prosperous families are likely to stay well-off and children of poor families likely to remain poor.

This is not just a problem for those whose talents are not fulfilled. The failure to raise educational standards is also likely to impair the economy’s longer-term success. Some of the returns to education may just be the reward to obtaining a positional good: the educated do better because they have won a zero-sum race. Yet a better educated population would also raise everybody to a higher level of prosperity.

The costs to society of rising inequality go further. To my mind, the greatest costs are the erosion of the republican ideal of shared citizenship.

As the US Supreme Court seeks to bend the constitution to the will of plutocrats, the peril is to the politically egalitarian premises of the republic. Enormous divergences in wealth and power have hollowed out republics before now. They could well do so in our age.

Yet even for those who do not share such concerns, the economic costs should matter. The “secular stagnation” in demand, to which Lawrence Summers, the former US Treasury secretary, has referred, is related to shifts in the distribution of income.

Equally, the transmission of educational disadvantages across the generations is also a growing handicap to the economy. A debt-addicted economy with stagnant levels of education is likely to fare ill in future.

What Should We Expect From Our Stock Investments?

investment-tipsMy Comments: Lots of questions about the markets these days. I came across this short summary and thought it relevant. I didn’t understand the chart until after I finished reading, so be warned. I’m in a very cautious mode and have my clients positioned to avoid large losses and perhaps make money as things go down.

The intent here is to give you an idea about the future, one that includes a major correction. If you are willing to accept some serious pain in the short term, the current number from which to make a judgement is 26.3. Find that on the chart and you have an idea what the future holds in the medium turn, that is if you think 5 -10 years is medium. ( I once knew someone who traded currencies, and for him, a medium term hold was 48 hours! )

Brad McMillan , Oct. 2, 2014

With the market recently bouncing off all-time highs, it seems like a good time to consider what the future holds.

Are we poised for more of a run-up over the next several years, or is the market likely to disappoint in its returns?

The answer very probably depends on the timeframe we look at. Over one year, it’s anybody’s guess. Over three to five years, we can probably make a reasonable estimation. And over ten years, we likely have a pretty good idea. Let’s take a look at what history tells us about returns going forward.

Selecting a valuation indicator
How do we characterize today’s market environment in relation to past market environments? There are several ways to measure the market, but the best revolve around valuation. How we measure valuation can make a significant difference in the results we get. A good indicator of market value should have a meaningful relationship with future returns. If not, what’s the point?

Looking at the correlation between different valuation measures and future returns, a couple of things stand out:
• Forward price-earnings ratios have a relatively poor correlation with future returns.
• Trailing price-earnings ratios have a fairly strong relationship with future returns. This makes sense, as the trailing P/E ratio reflects actual rather than expected performance.

The valuation indicator that has the best correlation with future returns, however, is the Shiller price-earnings ratio. It’s my preferred metric for several reasons, and the actual numbers bear it out. If you’re looking to estimate returns over 5 to 10 years, the Shiller P/E is the best indicator to use.

So, what does the Shiller P/E tell us about future returns? Here’s what we can expect returns to be going forward, using the Shiller P/E as an indicator.
Shiller PE
This chart comes from an older study I did, but the numbers are still reasonably accurate. The main point is that the more expensive the market is, the lower future returns are likely to be.

With the current level at 26.3, per Shiller’s website, we can see that over the next five years, based on history, the average return may be in the 5 percent range, while the likely 10-year return may be in the 7.5 percent range.

Not too shabby, actually. As a basis for planning, this analysis constrains what we might hope for, but it doesn’t look all that bad, either.

There are other factors to consider, of course. Averages can conceal a multitude of sins, so tomorrow we’ll look at the data in more detail to see what else we can divine about future stock returns.

J.P. Morgan Weekly Market Recap – October 6, 2014

Here is the most recent Weekly Market Recap from J. P. Morgan and Co. It’s a great summary of what is going on to help you make better decisions about your investments. Click on the following image and you’ll find yourself at a JPMorgan webpage to download it and read at your convenience.

babel