Articles tagged with: quantitative easing

More Irrational Exuberance?

Has unchecked optimism inflated asset values?

“Irrational exuberance.” That phrase – uttered by Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan in 1996 and reputedly coined by economist Robert Shiller – has become part of the investment lexicon. Now and then, bears reference it – especially when the market turns red-hot.

Late last year, many Wall Street investment strategists thought the S&P 500 would advance about 5.8% in 2014. They were wrong. As 2014 ends, the broad benchmark is poised for another double-digit annual gain. Asked to explain the difference, bearish market analysts might point to irrational exuberance.1

Irrational exuberance – the run-up of asset values due to runaway enthusiasm about an asset class – reared its head catastrophically in 2000 (the tech bubble) and in 2007 (the housing bubble). In the first edition of his book of the very same title (2000), Shiller warned investors that stocks were overvalued. In the second edition of Irrational Exuberance (2005), he cautioned that real estate was overvalued. The fact that he’s trotting out a third edition of the book in 2015 was some people a little spooked. 2,3

Has quantitative easing (QE) bred irrational exuberance once again? As a 2011 Forbes.com headline put it, “Trees Don’t Grow to the Sky – Even with the Fed Behind Them.” You could argue – quite convincingly – that the Fed has propped up the stock market since 2008, and that the great gains of this bull market were primarily a result of QE1, QE2 and QE3.4

No further easing, no further gains, the logic goes (or least not gains resembling those seen in recent years).

As 2014 ends, bears insist that stocks are greatly overvalued. To back up their argument, they point to recent movements in the CAPE (Cyclically Adjusted Price-to-Earnings) or P/E 10 ratio. This closely-watched stock market barometer (created by Shiller and his fellow economist John Campbell) tracks a 10-year average of the S&P Composite’s real (inflation-adjusted) earnings.5,7

(If you’re wondering what the S&P Composite is, it is a historically wide, big-picture window on the U.S. equities market that unites data from the S&P 500 – which has only existed since 1957 – with prior S&P indices.)6

Since 1881, the P/E 10 ratio of the S&P Composite has averaged about 16.5. At the peak of the dot-com bubble in 2000, it hit 44.2. It stumbled to a low of 13.3 when the market bottomed out in March 2009, but it was up at 26.5 as December began, about 60% above its historic mean.5

Why should this concern you? This P/E 10 ratio has only topped the 25 level three times – in 1929, 1999 and 2007.7

But isn’t the market healthy & ready to stand on its own? That’s what the bulls insist, and given the S&P 500’s 2.45% rise for November following the end of QE3, they may be right. Ardent bulls contend that another secular bull market began in March 2009 – history just hasn’t confirmed its secularity yet.8

In fact, Shiller himself recently noted that even though the high P/E 10 ratio is troubling, it has been mostly above 20 since 1994. (Low bond yields may explain some of that.) A numeric gap from 26 to 20 is decidedly less alarming than one from 26 to 16.7

Whatever occurs, remember that stocks don’t always go up. (Home prices don’t always ascend either.) The longer a bull market progresses, the more challenges it overcomes, the greater the chance that this particular reality of equity investing may be lost.* While diversification does not protect against marketing risk or guarantee enhanced overall returns, it may pay to diversify your portfolio across asset classes for this very reason, now and in the future.

Mike Moffitt may be reached at ph# 641-464-2248 or email:  mikem@cfgiowa.com

website:  www.cfgiowa.com

Michael Moffitt is a Registered Representative with and Securities are offered through LPL Financial, Member FINRA/SIPC. Investments advice offered through Advantage Investment Management (AIM), a registered investment advisor. Cornerstone Financial Group and AIM are separate entities from LPL Financial.

 *Stock investing involves risk including loss of principal.

This material was prepared by MarketingPro, Inc., and does not necessarily represent the views of the presenting party, nor their affiliates. This information has been derived from sources believed to be accurate. Please note – investing involves risk, and past performance is no guarantee of future results. The publisher is not engaged in rendering legal, accounting or other professional services. If assistance is needed, the reader is advised to engage the services of a competent professional. This information should not be construed as investment, tax or legal advice and may not be relied on for the purpose of avoiding any Federal tax penalty. This is neither a solicitation nor recommendation to purchase or sell any investment or insurance product or service, and should not be relied upon as such. All indices are unmanaged and are not illustrative of any particular investment.

   Citations.

1 – blogs.wsj.com/moneybeat/2014/11/23/a-sign-of-health-for-stocks-cautious-2015-forecasts/ [11/23/14]

2 – money.cnn.com/2005/01/13/real_estate/realestate_shiller1_0502/ [1/13/05]

3 – irrationalexuberance.com/main.html?src=%2F [12/8/14]

4 – forbes.com/sites/etfchannel/2011/01/20/trees-dont-grow-to-the-sky-even-with-fed-behind-them/print/ [1/20/11]

5 – advisorperspectives.com/dshort/updates/PE-Ratios-and-Market-Valuation.php [12/1/14]

6 – advisorperspectives.com/dshort/updates/Validating-the-SP-Composite.php [12/8/14]

7 – tinyurl.com/pwungau [8/18/14]

8 – online.wsj.com/mdc/public/page/2_3023-monthly_gblstkidx.html [11/30/14]

 

 

 

 

After QE3 Ends

Can stocks keep their momentum once the Federal Reserve quits easing?

“Easing without end” will finally end.
According to its June policy meeting minutes, the Federal Reserve plans to wrap up QE3 (Quantitative Easing) this fall. Barring economic turbulence, the central bank’s ongoing stimulus effort will conclude on schedule, with a last $15 billion cut to zero being authorized at the October 28-29 Federal Open Market Committee meeting.1,2

So when might the Fed start tightening? As the Fed has pledged to keep short-term interest rates near zero for a “considerable time” after QE3 ends, it might be well into 2015 before that occurs.1

In June, 12 of 16 Federal Reserve policymakers thought the benchmark interest rate would be at 1.5% or lower by the end of 2015, and a majority of FOMC members saw it at 2.5% or less at the end of 2016.3

It may not climb that much in the near term. Reuters recently indicated that most economists felt the central bank would raise the key interest rate to 0.50% during the second half of 2015. In late June, 78% of traders surveyed by Bloomberg News saw the first rate hike in several years coming by September of next year.4,5

Are the markets ready to stand on their own? Quantitative easing has powered this bull market, and stocks haven’t been the sole beneficiary. Today, almost all asset classes are trading at prices that are historically high relative to fundamentals.

Some research from Capital Economics is worth mentioning: since 1970, stocks have gained an average of more than 11% in 21-month windows in which the Fed greenlighted successive rate hikes. Bears could argue that “this time is different” and that stocks can’t possibly push higher in the absence of easing – but then again, this bull market has shattered many expectations.6

What if we get a “new neutral”? In 2009, legendary bond manager Bill Gross forecast a “new normal” for the economy: a long limp back from the Great Recession marked by years of slow growth. While Gross has been staggeringly wrong about some major market calls of late, his take on the post-recession economy wasn’t too far off. From 2010-13, annualized U.S. Gross Domestic Product (GDP) averaged 2.3%, pretty poor versus the 3.7% it averaged from the 1950s through the 1990s.3

Gross now sees a “new neutral” coming: short-term interest rates of 2% or less through 2020. Some other prominent economists and Wall Street professionals hold roughly the same view, and are reminding the public that the current interest rate environment is closer to historical norms than many perceive. As Prudential investment strategist Robert Tipp told the Los Angeles Times recently, “People who are looking for higher inflation and higher interest rates are fighting the last war.” Lawrence Summers, the former White House economic advisor, believes that the U.S. economy could even fall prey to “secular stagnation” and become a replica of Japan’s economy in the 1990s.3

If short-term rates do reach 2.5% by the end of 2016 as some Fed officials think, that would hardly approach where they were prior to the recession. In September 2007, the benchmark interest rate was at 5.25%.3

What will the Fed do with all that housing debt? The central bank now holds more than $1.6 trillion worth of mortgage-linked securities. In 2011, Ben Bernanke announced a strategy to simply let them mature so that the Fed’s bond portfolio could be slowly reduced, with some of the mortgage-linked securities also being sold. Two years later, the strategy was modified as a majority of Fed policymakers grew reluctant to sell those securities. In May, New York Fed president William Dudley called for continued reinvestment of the maturing debt even if interest rates rise.7

Bloomberg News recently polled more than 50 economists on this topic: 49% thought the Fed would stop reinvesting debt in 2015, 28% said 2016, and 25% saw the reinvestment going on for several years. As for the Treasuries the Fed has bought, 69% of the economists surveyed thought they would never be sold; 24% believed the Fed might start selling them in 2016.7

Monetary policy must normalize at some point. The jobless rate was at 6.1% in June, 0.3% away from estimates of full employment. The Consumer Price Index shows annualized inflation at 2.1% in its latest reading. These numbers are roughly in line with the Fed’s targets and signal an economy ready to stand on its own. Hopefully, the stock market will be able to continue its advance even as things tighten.6

Mike Moffit may be reached at phone# 641-782-5577 or email: mikem@cfgiowa.com
website: www.cfgiowa.com

Michael Moffitt is a Registered Representative with and Securities are offered through LPL Financial, Member FINRA/SIPC. Investments advice offered through Advantage Investment Management (AIM), a registered investment advisor. Cornerstone Financial Group and AIM are separate entities from LPL Financial.

This material was prepared by MarketingPro, Inc., and does not necessarily represent the views of the presenting party, nor their affiliates. This information has been derived from sources believed to be accurate. Please note – investing involves risk, and past performance is no guarantee of future results. The publisher is not engaged in rendering legal, accounting or other professional services. If assistance is needed, the reader is advised to engage the services of a competent professional. This information should not be construed as investment, tax or legal advice and may not be relied on for the purpose of avoiding any Federal tax penalty. This is neither a solicitation nor recommendation to purchase or sell any investment or insurance product or service, and should not be relied upon as such. All indices are unmanaged and are not illustrative of any particular investment.

Citations.
1 – marketwatch.com/story/fed-plans-to-end-bond-purchases-in-october-2014-07-09 [7/9/14]
2 – telegraph.co.uk/finance/economics/10957878/US-Federal-Reserve-on-course-to-end-QE3-in-October.html [7/9/14]
3 – latimes.com/business/la-fi-interest-rates-20140706-story.html#page=1 [7/6/14]
4 – reuters.com/article/2014/06/17/us-economy-poll-usa-idUSKBN0ES1RD20140617 [6/17/14]
5 – bloomberg.com/news/2014-07-07/treasuries-fall-after-goldman-sachs-brings-forward-fed-forecast.html [7/7/14]
6 – cbsnews.com/news/will-the-fed-rate-hikes-rattle-the-market/ [7/10/14]
7 – bloomberg.com/news/2014-06-17/fed-will-raise-rates-faster-than-investors-expect-survey-shows.html [6/17/14]

Is your portfolio ready for 2014?

Since we’re nearly 5 years removed from the bottom that the S&P 500 index set on March 9, 2009, it’s probably a good time to reexamine where we are and whether or not we’re looking at a possible correction again. Of course, everyone has their own opinion on this and at this point it IS just OPINIONS. But facts (or lack of facts) usually back up a person’s opinions, so let’s try looking at some of the facts and see how those opinions are formed.
First, let’s look at the positives. The economy looks to be growing, albeit slowly. Total retail sales in the USA in calendar year 2013 were $5.085 trillion, up +4.2% from its total in 2012, according to Michael A. Higley’s “By the Numbers” 2/24/14 newsletter. The early February Federal Reserve meeting, the Fed committed to continuing the reduction in bond purchases, with an additional $10 billion reduction in quantitative easing bond purchases. That could indicate the Federal Reserve believes the economy is getting stronger. Their language about conditions and business/consumer spending was generally more optimistic.
The STOXX Europe 600 Index posted a third straight week of gains and climbed to its highest level in six years. News about the Eurozone economic recovery has turned increasingly positive. And with earnings season nearly over, S&P Dow Jones Indices says it’s likely that fourth-quarter 2013 earnings for S&P 500 companies will break a record, as they did in each of the preceding three quarters of 2013. This is a little deceiving, however, as I’ll explain shortly.
John Hancock’s most recent Viewpoints newsletter trumpets “Bias towards higher equity prices remain.” Mark Donovan, CFA, says that “at around 1,800, the S&P 500 Index trades at about 16.5 times estimated 2013 earnings,” and as such, “the equity markets look neither cheap nor overvalued.”

So is there anything to worry about?
Some others see some negative factors. LSA Portfolio Analytics sends us their weekly investment committee minutes. They noted many economic indicators came in weaker than expected in February: Empire manufacturing survey, the Philadelphia Fed manufacturing index, the NAHB housing market index. Housing starts for January fell -16.0% and building permits also lost ground, falling -5.4% compared to an expected decline of -1.6%.

Noted economist Harry Dent, who studies the world’s demographic trends as a predictor of future economic trends, thinks we are in a bubble that will burst soon. He cites the fact that margin debt – borrowing money to buy investments, is approaching the high of 2007. Stock buybacks are reaching very high levels as well, as 83% of the S&P 500 companies are buying back their shares compared to 87% in 2007. Stock buybacks artificially inflate earnings per share and can give the illusion that a company’s earnings are growing when they may not be; if a company for instance has $10 of earnings and 10 shares outstanding, that’s $1 of earnings/share. If they buy back 4 shares, now there’s only 6 shares outstanding, so the earnings per share goes up from $1/share to $1.67/share ($10 of earnings/6 shares) even though the earnings themselves did not change.

As for the market itself, since 2000 each successive major correction has only gotten greater. The 2000-2002 crash was nearly a 50% drop in the S&P 500, the 2007-2009 drop was over 55%. If the market drops to that same general level of support as in 2002 and 2009, the drop will be over 63%. Although there are a few exceptions, most bull markets don’t last much longer than 5 years!

While we are not predicting such a drop, we also would not rule it out. Given that anything is possible, we have been suggesting it would be worthwhile to stress test your portfolio against potential negative outcomes.

The Federal Reserve, Wall Street banks and other major hedge funds use stress testing to project their losses in the event of the unexpected. Stress testing is a routine part of our process.
We start by asking questions like, “Historically, what happened to this group of investments when the dollar crashes, the economy falls into recession/depression, or oil prices skyrocket?” We model over 60 scenarios – both positive and negative.
Our model measures the potential impact of these scenarios on investments using history as a guide, providing insight into the historical characteristics of portfolios.
The software then uses this data to project how your investments might react to future scenarios, both positive and negative. When running a stress test, each investment in your portfolio can be tested against 60+ scenarios in this manner, with the results combined and summarized for easy understanding.
You can see how the stress test works by going to www.cfgiowa.com and click on the “Take Your Free Stress Test” button on the home page.
Investing involves risk including loss of principal.

The opinions voiced in this material are for general information only and are not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual. All performance referenced is historical and is no guarantee of future results. All indices are unmanaged and may not be invested into directly.

Income inequality and your investment account

A new article came out recently stating that the top 1% of the world population controls $110 trillion of wealth. http://www.oxfam.org/sites/www.oxfam.org/files/bp-working-for-few-political-capture-economic-inequality-200114-summ-en.pdf . I understand that many folks consider this a travesty, but before they get too excited about righting this inequality of wealth, they need to actually “run the numbers” and try to avoid being a hypocrite.

Upon doing a little math, I found many of my clients are in that top 1%. That’s right! Before you get too impressed, consider this: the richest 1% globally control $110 trillion of wealth. There are 7 billion people on earth, so $110 trillion divided by 7 billion equals about $1.5 million each. A farmer client who owns 240 acres of Iowa land (a small farm for those who might not know) or a small business person who owns her business debt free, along with a home and a $500,000 401k, could also fall in that 1%. Heck, a person who can save $275/month and increases that with the inflation rate can get to $1.5 million by retirement age.¹

So to be more fair to the less rich, let’s just take from the “super rich”. That would probably do it, right? Well, according to Forbes list of richest people in the world, the top 50 have roughly $1.2 trillion of wealth.² If you confiscated ALL their wealth, it wouldn’t come close to paying down the total public (government) debt in the world of $52.6 trillion (http://www.economist.com/content/global_debt_clock). It wouldn’t even pay the interest on the debt! And, the $1.2 trillion spread out evenly over every man, woman and child on earth, would give everyone $171.43. Would that pay your cell phone bill for 5 months? Or if you confiscated ALL the wealth of the top 1 percenters and spread it out evenly, everyone would get $15,714.28. For those in third world countries who face REAL poverty, that’s certainly a lot. But in the U.S., although it’s considered poverty, it’s not enough to help most people for any length of time.

How does this affect your investments? When the government attempts to help those in poverty, it spends money on social programs. Since it doesn’t currently bring in enough money through taxes, it borrows the difference from investors with help from the Federal Reserve (our banking system in the U.S.)

Our Federal Reserve creates money out of thin air (“prints” money to increase the money supply) and has been using that money to buy U.S. government-backed debt. That extra money enters our economy.³ Some of it ends up in the hands of citizens. Some spend it, but some save it. For those who save it, some ends up being invested in stocks, some in their businesses, and some in real estate, among other places. This typically pushes asset values higher, which makes those people appear richer….on paper.

They may not be poor but many of them saved that money themselves and they don’t consider themselves rich. When the stock market last crashed, in 2008-2009, many of those people lost nearly 50% of that wealth. Not all of those folks were born with a silver spoon in their mouth. Their plans for a successful retirement hinge on a decent 401k and Social Security. And Social Security is funded by a trust fund expected to be exhausted in around 20 years, with the source of this information being the 2013 Annual Reports summary on the Social Security website itself (http://www.socialsecurity.gov/oact/TRSUM/tr13summary.pdf) and run by a government that is $17 trillion in debt (http://www.treasurydirect.gov/NP/debt/current). The unfunded (future) liabilities of the United States government are projected to be over $127 trillion…more than $1.1 million for every taxpayer alive today.4

So as easy as it is to despise rich people, not all are evil and taking from them won’t come close to solving the problem anyway. And as much as we’d like to think government is the answer, not all government is good and as the debt increases, it probably means much larger problems and much less wealth for everyone when the bubbles pop again like some did in 2008-2009.

Towards that end, we run what-if stress testing scenarios for our clients simulating multiple economic events that could impact their life’s savings, helping them understand the very REAL consequences of actions by governments, terrorists, and the like. Being informed about, and in charge of, your portfolio is the best way to understand and deal with the certainty of uncertainty that affects our life.

Finally, if you really think that rich people have more influence over government than poor people, you may be right. But by that logic, we should all vote for smaller government. There would be fewer people in the government to influence and a chance to reduce the federal debt, which may help save Social Security in the future for us and our kids. If we achieve wealth equality, we’ll need it!

¹annual interest rate 7.5% for 45 years, increasing contributions by an inflation rate of 2.5% and compounding annually. For illustrative purposes only. Not based on any specific investments. Investing in securities involves risk, including potential loss of principal.

² http://www.forbes.com/billionaires/list/

³http://www.independent.com/news/2012/feb/25/how-us-federal-reserve-creates-and-destroys-money/

4http://www.usdebtclock.org/

The opinions voiced in this material are for general information only and are not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual.

Investing involves risk including loss of principal.