Investment Insights Podcast – June 26, 2014

Bill MillerBill Miller, Chief Investment Officer

On this week’s podcast (recorded June 19, 2014):

What we like: A string of good economic news; earnings season looks strong; expectations rising; Fed tapering showing that they are being reasonable about their exit

What we don’t like: Fed seems to be ignoring the increased inflation

What we are doing about it: Emphasis on real assets; watchful of a summer correction.

Click the play icon below to launch the audio recording or click here.

The views expressed are those of Brinker Capital and are not intended as investment advice or recommendation. For informational purposes only. Holdings are subject to change.

Eurozone Crisis Report Card

Ryan DresselRyan Dressel, Investment Analyst, Brinker Capital

In January 2013 Amy Magnotta wrote in detail about how the actions of the European Central Bank (ECB) finally gave the markets confidence that policy makers could get their sovereign debt problems under control.[1] The purpose of this blog is to measure the progress of the ECB’s actions, as well as other critical steps taken to resolve the Eurozone crisis.

Maintaining the Euro: A+
The markets put a lot of faith in the comments made by the head of the ECB Mario Draghi in July, 2012. Draghi stated that he would “Pledge to do whatever it takes to preserve the euro.” These words have proven to be monumental in preserving the euro as a currency. Following his announcement, the ECB still had to put together a plan that would be approved by the ECB’s governing council (comprised of banking representatives from each of the 18 EU countries)[2]. The politics of the approval essentially boiled down to whether or not each council member supported the euro as a currency. Draghi’s plan ultimately passed when Germany’s Chancellor, Angela Merkel, endorsed it in September 2012.[3] The stabilization of the euro boosted lending and borrowing for European banks, and allowed governments to introduce necessary economic reforms outlined in the plan.

Since the plan was approved, the euro’s value versus the U.S. Dollar has continued to rise; reaching levels last seen in 2011. There is still some debate as to whether or not the currency will last over the long term, but for now its stability has helped avoid the worst possible outcome (financial collapse). There are several key elections coming up over the next month, which could renew the threat of breaking up the currency if anti-EU officials are elected.

Government Deficit Levels: B
The average Eurozone government deficit came in at 3.0% in 2013, which was down from 3.7% in 2012. Budgets will need to remain tight for years to come.

Corporate Earnings: B
The MSCI Europe All Cap Index has returned 27.46% in 2013 and 5.01% so far in 2014 (as of last week). The Euro area also recorded first quarter 2014 GDP growth at +0.2% (-1.2% in Q1 2013).[4] This indicates that companies in Europe have established some positive earnings growth since the peak of the crisis. On a global scale, Europe looks like an attractive market for growth.

Dressel_EuroZone_ReportCard_5.30.14

Unemployment: C
Unemployment in the Eurozone has stabilized, but has not improved significantly enough to overcome its structural problems. The best improvements have come out of Spain, Ireland and Portugal due to a variety of reasons. In Ireland, emigration has helped reduce jobless claims while a majority of economic sectors increased employment growth. In Spain, the increased competitiveness in the manufacturing sector has been a large contributor. Portugal has seen a broad reduction in unemployment stemming from the strict labor reforms mandated by the ECB in exchange for bailout packages. These reforms are increasing worker hours, cutting overtime payments, reducing holidays, and giving companies the ability to replace poorly performing employees.[5]

Dressel_EuroZone_ReportCard_5.30.14_1[6]

There are also some important fundamental factors detracting from the overall labor market recovery. The large divide between temporary workers and permanent workers in many Eurozone countries has made labor markets especially difficult to reform. This is likely due to a mismatch of skills between employers and workers. High employment taxes and conservative decision-making by local governments and corporations have also created challenges for the recovery.

Additional Reading: Euro Area Labor Markets

Debt Levels: D
Total accumulated public debt in the Eurozone has actually gotten worse since the ECB’s plan was introduced. In 2013 it was 92.6% of gross domestic product, up from 90.7% in 2012. The stated European Union limit is 60%, which reflects the extremely high amount of government borrowing required to stabilize their economies.

Overall Recovery Progress: B-
On a positive note, governments are finally able to participate in bond markets without the fear of bankruptcy looming. Banks are lending again. Unemployment appears to have peaked and political officials recognize the importance of improving economic progress.

Unlike the 2008 U.S. recovery however, progress is noticeably slower. The social unrest, slow decision making, low confidence levels, and now geopolitical risks in Ukraine have hampered the recovery. When you consider the financial state of Europe less than two years ago, you have to give the ECB, and Europe in general, some credit. Things are slowly heading in the right direction.

The views expressed are those of Brinker Capital and are for informational purposes only. Holdings are subject to change.

[1] January 4, 2013. “Is Europe on the Mend?” http://blog.brinkercapital.com/2013/01/04/is-europe-on-the-mend/
[2]
European Central Bank. http://www.ecb.europa.eu/ecb/orga/decisions/govc/html/index.en.html
[3] September 6, 2012. “Technical features of Outright Monetary Transactions. European Central Bank.” http://www.ecb.europa.eu/press/pr/date/2012/html/pr120906_1.en.html
[4] Eurostat
[5] August 6, 2012. “Portugal Enforces Labour Reforms but More Demanded.” http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2012/08/port-a06.html
[6] Eurostat (provided by Google Public Data)

Investment Insights Podcast – March 13, 2014

Bill MillerBill Miller, Chief Investment Officer

On this week’s podcast (recorded March 11, 2014):

  • What we like: Middle of business cycle; increasing amount of deals in the markets; John Maynard Keynes’ “animal spirits” influencing economists’ foresight for pick up in spring and summer; earning estimates for first quarter too low – good news; out of the woods with Fed tapering
  • What we don’t like: Uniform belief that it is all good news; consensus view means meeting numbers is not enough
  • What we are doing about it: Some rebalancing; watchful that the consensus opinion is not so well-believed.

Click the play icon below to launch the audio recording.

The views expressed are those of Brinker Capital and are for informational purposes only. Holdings are subject to change.

Monthly Market and Economic Outlook: February 2014

Amy MagnottaAmy Magnotta, CFA, Senior Investment Manager, Brinker Capital

After such a strong move higher in 2013, U.S. equity markets took a breather in January as the S&P 500 Index fell -3.5%. Volatility returned to the markets as concerns over the impact of Fed tapering and emerging economies weighed on investors. Investor sentiment, a contrarian indicator, had also climbed to extreme optimism levels, leaving the equity markets ripe for a short-term pullback.

In U.S. equity markets, the utilities (+3%) and healthcare (+1%) sectors delivered gains, while energy and consumer discretionary each declined -6%. Mid caps led both small and large caps in January, helped by the strong performance of REITs. Fourth quarter 2013 earnings season has been decent so far. Of the one-third of S&P 500 companies reporting, 73% have beat expectations.

U.S. equity markets led international markets in January, helped by a stronger currency. Performance within developed markets was mixed, with peripheral Europe outperforming (Ireland, Italy, Spain, Portugal), while Australia, France and Germany lagged.

Emerging markets equities significantly lagged developed markets in January, as the impact of Fed tapering, slower economic growth and higher inflation weighed on their economies. Countries with large current account deficits have seen their currencies weaken significantly. Latin America saw significant declines, with Argentina down -24%, Chile down -12% and Brazil down -11%. Asia fared slightly better, with the region down less than -5%. Emerging Europe was dragged lower with double-digit losses in Turkey.

Fixed income had a solid month of performance as interest rates fell across the yield curve. The 10-year Treasury note is now trading around 2.6%, 40 basis points lower than where it started the year. The Barclays Aggregate Index gained +1.5% in January, its best monthly return since July 2011. All major sectors were in positive territory for the month; however, higher-quality corporates led high yield. Municipal bonds edged out taxable bonds and continue to benefit from improving fundamentals.

We believe that the bias is for interest rates to move higher, but it will likely be choppy. Rising longer-term interest rates in the context of stronger economic growth and low inflation is a satisfactory outcome. Despite rising rates, fixed income still plays a role in portfolios, as a hedge to equity-oriented assets if we see weaker economic growth or major macro risks as experienced in January. Our fixed income positioning in portfolios, which includes an emphasis on yield advantaged, shorter duration and low volatility absolute return strategies, is designed to successfully navigate a rising or stable interest rate environment.

We continue to approach our macro view as a balance between headwinds and tailwinds. We believe the scale remains tipped in favor of tailwinds as we move into 2014, with a number of factors supporting the economy and markets over the intermediate term.

  • Monetary policy remains accommodative: Even with the Fed beginning to taper asset purchases, short-term interest rates should remain near zero until 2015. In addition, the ECB stands ready to provide support, and the Bank of Japan has embraced an aggressive monetary easing program in an attempt to boost growth and inflation.
  • Global growth strengthening: U.S. economic growth has been slow and steady, but momentum picked up in the second half of 2013. Outside of the U.S., growth has not been very robust, but it is still positive.
  • Labor market progress: The recovery in the labor market has been slow, but stable. Monthly payroll gains have averaged more than 200,000, and the unemployment rate has fallen to 7%.
  • Inflation tame: With the CPI increasing +1.5% over the last 12 months, inflation in the U.S. is running below the Fed’s target.
  • Increase in Household Net Worth: Household net worth rose to a new high in the third quarter, helped by both financial and real estate assets. Rising net worth is a positive for consumer confidence and future consumption.
  • U.S. companies remain in solid shape: U.S. companies have solid balance sheets with cash that could be reinvested, returned to shareholders, or used for acquisitions. Corporate profits remain at high levels and margins have been resilient.
  • Equity fund flows turned positive: Equity mutual funds have experienced inflows over the last three months while fixed income funds have experienced significant outflows, a reversal of the pattern of the last five years. Continued inflows would provide further support to the equity markets.
  • Some movement on fiscal policy: After serving as a major uncertainty over the last few years, there seems to be some movement in Washington. Fiscal drag will not have a major impact on growth next year. All parties in Washington were able to agree on a two-year budget agreement, averting another government shutdown. However, the debt ceiling still needs to be addressed.

However, risks facing the economy and markets remain, including:

  • Fed Tapering: The Fed will begin reducing the amount of their asset purchases in January, and if they taper an additional $10 billion at each meeting, QE should end in the fall. Risk assets have historically reacted negatively when monetary stimulus has been withdrawn; however, the economy appears to be on more solid footing this time and the withdrawal is more gradual. The reaction of emerging markets to Fed tapering is cause for concern and will contribute to higher market volatility.
  • Significantly higher interest rates: Rates moving significantly higher from current levels could stifle the economic recovery. Should mortgage rates move higher, it could jeopardize the recovery in the housing market.

Risk assets should continue to perform if real growth continues to recover; however, we could see volatility as markets digest the slow withdrawal of stimulus by the Federal Reserve. Valuations have certainly moved higher, but are not overly rich relative to history. There are even pockets of attractive valuations, such as emerging markets. We are not surprised that we have experienced a pull-back in equity markets to start the year as investor sentiment was elevated and it had been an extended period of time since we last experienced a correction. However, we expect it to be more short-term in nature and maintain a positive view on equities for the year.

Magnotta_Market_Update_2.7.14

We feel that our portfolios are positioned to take advantage of continued strength in risk assets, and we continue to emphasize high-conviction opportunities within asset classes, as well as strategies that can exploit market inefficiencies.

Asset Class ReturnsAsset Class Returns

Data points above compiled from FactSet, Standard & Poor’s, MSCI, and Barclays. Asset Class Returns data compiled from FactSet and Red Rocks Capital. The views expressed are those of Brinker Capital and are for informational purposes only. Holdings subject to change

A Mixed Start to 2014

Ryan Dressel Ryan Dressel, Investment Analyst, Brinker Capital

With 2013 in the rear view mirror, investors are looking for signs that the U.S. economy has enough steam to keep up the impressive growth pace for equities set last year.  This means maintaining sustainable growth in 2014 with less assistance from the Federal Reserve in the form of its asset purchasing program, quantitative easing.  Based on economic data and corporate earnings released so far in January, investors have had a difficult time reaching a conclusion on where we stand.

To date, 101 of the S&P 500 Index companies have reported fourth quarter 2013 earnings (as of this writing).  71% have exceeded consensus earnings per share (EPS) estimates, yielding an aggregate growth rate 5.83% above analyst estimates (Bloomberg).  The four-year average is 73% according to FactSet, indicating that Wall Street’s expectations are still low compared to actual corporate performance.  Information technology and healthcare have been big reasons why, with 85% and 89% of companies beating fourth quarter EPS estimates respectively.

Despite these positive numbers, two industries that are failing to meet analyst estimates are consumer discretionary and materials.  Both of these sectors tend to outperform the broad market during the recovery stage of a business cycle, which we currently find ourselves in.  If they begin to underperform or are in line with the market, then it could indicate the beginning of a potential short-term market top.

S&P500 Index - Earnings Growth vs. Predicted

Click to enlarge

There has been mixed data on the macro front as well:

Positive Data

  • Annualized U.S. December housing starts were stronger than expected (999,000 vs. Bloomberg analyst consensus 985,000).
  • U.S. Industrial production rose 0.3% in December, marking five consecutive monthly increases.[1]
  • U.S. December jobless claims fell 3.9% to 335,000; the lowest total in five weeks.
  • The HSBC Purchasing Managers’ Index (PMI) was above 50 for most of the developed and emerging markets.  An index reading above 50 indicates expansion from a production standpoint.  This data supports a broad-based global economic recovery.

Negative Data:

  • The Thomson Reuters/University of Michigan index of U.S. consumer confidence unexpectedly fell to 80.4 from 82.5 in December.
  • The average hourly wages of private sector U.S. works (adjusted for inflation) fell -0.03% compared to a 0.3% increase in CPI for December, 2013.  Wages have risen just 0.02% over the last 12 months indicating that American workers have not been benefiting from low inflation.
  • Preliminary Chinese PMI fell to 49.6 in January, compared to 50.5 in December and the lowest since July 2013.
S&P Performance Jan 2014

Click to enlarge

The mixed corporate and economic data released in January has led to a sideways trend for the S&P 500 so far in 2014.  We remain optimistic for the year ahead, but are managing our portfolios with an eye on the inherent risks previously mentioned.


[1]  The statistics in this release cover output, capacity, and capacity utilization in the U.S. industrial sector, which is defined by the Federal Reserve to comprise manufacturing, mining, and electric and gas utilities. Mining is defined as all industries in sector 21 of the North American Industry Classification System (NAICS); electric and gas utilities are those in NAICS sectors 2211 and 2212. Manufacturing comprises NAICS manufacturing industries (sector 31-33) plus the logging industry and the newspaper, periodical, book, and directory publishing industries. Logging and publishing are classified elsewhere in NAICS (under agriculture and information respectively), but historically they were considered to be manufacturing and were included in the industrial sector under the Standard Industrial Classification (SIC) system. In December 2002 the Federal Reserve reclassified all its industrial output data from the SIC system to NAICS.

What About The Correction?

Jeff RauppJeff Raupp, CFA, Senior Investment Manager

Over the holidays, I spent a lot of time with some family members that I don’t often get to see. We got together, had a little too much to eat and drink, and gave each other updates on what’s happening in our lives. Between the updates on kids, new careers, and new houses (no new spouses or kids this year), we never miss the opportunity to get some free advice from one another.

My two sisters are both in healthcare and handle all questions related to our aches and pains. My cousin the mechanic will venture out to the driveway and listen to the ping in your engine for the cost of getting him a beer. You get the idea.

My contribution is on the investment side, fielding questions about 529 plans, IRA distributions, 401(k) plans, etc. But the biggest question is always some version of “where is the market going?” This year’s edition, fueled by the huge returns in stocks in 2013 (and a good dose of CNBC), was “do you think we’re going to get a market correction?”

Hello, My Name is Free AdviceI suggested that when you look at how far the market has run and the high levels of investor sentiment right now—indicating that a lot of good news is priced into the market— I could easily see the market pulling back 5-10% on some unexpected bad news. The natural response from my family was, “What should I do?” “Nothing,” was my presumably blunt response.

My rationale is this: From a fundamental standpoint, the market looks good. Companies continue to grow earnings at a steady, albeit slow, rate. The market isn’t cheap, but it isn’t expensive either, and rarely does P/E compress without a recession. Speaking of the r-word, GDP growth continues to be sluggish, but it’s positive and expected to increase in 2014. Housing, the root cause of the last recession, continues to improve in spite of rising rates. And the Fed launched the previously-dreaded tapering of its quantitative easing without any market hiccup.

Depending on the attention span of my audience, all of that might boil down to simply saying, “We could get a correction, but if you’ve got at least 6-12 months, I think the market will be positive from here.”

Now, let’s go check out that leak on my car…

Weaker Earnings Outlook Weighs on Stocks

Amy Magnotta, CFA, Brinker Capital

I wrote last week about the shaky start to the earnings season. That trend has continued this week and it is weighing on equity prices. Companies are beating on the earnings side (over 60% have beat earnings estimates), but revenue growth has been disappointing. As of October 19, only 42% of companies were beating sales estimates, the lowest percentage since the first quarter of 2009 (Source: FactSet).

Source: FactSet

In addition, forward guidance has been abysmal. Large companies, such as Caterpillar, DuPont and United Technologies, have been cautious on growth looking forward, both in the U.S. and abroad.* The number of companies delivering negative guidance is multiples of those offering positive guidance. Coming into 2012 companies had relied on margin expansion to grow earnings, but with margins at peak levels, revenue growth must follow in order to meet consensus growth expectations. This will be difficult to accomplish in this sluggish growth environment.

Source: Strategas Research Partners

While the Fed has tried to boost liquidity and asset prices with more quantitative easing, investors seem to now be focusing on the fundamentals. The uncertain macro environment, including risks surrounding the U.S. fiscal cliff, Europe, and a slowdown in China, is beginning to flow through and impact company earnings. We expect growth estimates for 2013 to be downgraded in response.

*Individual securities listed are shown for illustrative purposes only.

Can Strong Earnings Growth Continue?

Amy Magnotta, CFA, Brinker Capital

Third quarter earnings season has begun with 70 of the S&P 500 companies reporting so far. Overall earnings and sales have surprised on the upside, with the largest surprise in the financials sector.  Third quarter estimates may have been brought down enough to create positive earnings surprises.  For those 70 companies reporting, year over year sales growth has been +1.5%, with earnings growth of +2.7% (Source: Bloomberg).

Source: Strategas Research Partners, LLC

Strategas analysts expect a 12% increase in operating earnings for 2013, which seems a bit aggressive in the face of a 4% nominal growth rate and declining margins.  With margins rolling over, companies need to generate stronger top line growth which will be more difficult as global growth slows further.

Companies remain cautious.  In his commentary earlier this week, Joe Preisser mentioned a downgrade in global growth expectations from two large industrial companies.  The fiscal cliff and regulatory policy uncertainty are also playing a role in holding back hiring and capex spending.  CEO confidence is at low levels.

While it looks like we are on our way to another quarter of profit growth, growth in coming quarters may be more difficult to achieve.  However, with stronger balance sheets, companies are in a better position to withstand a downturn.  The resolution of fiscal and regulatory issues could boost confidence, leading to increased hiring and spending, and as a result, stronger economic growth.

Growth Fears Weigh On Shares

Joe Preisser

The rally in global equities, which has carried share prices to heights unreached since 2008, stalled last week as the marketplace struggled to evaluate the current risks facing the world economy.  Stocks listed from Europe to the United States slipped as concerns of a slowdown in global growth were drawn into focus.

The selling arrived in the wake of the release of a dour assessment of the world’s economy by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) last  Monday and accelerated following a disappointing start to corporate earnings season.  Citing potential problems on both sides of the Atlantic, the IMF lowered its projection for the expansion of global growth to 3.3% for this year, and 3.6% for 2013 (Bloomberg News).   The International Monetary Fund specifically highlighted the lingering effects of the European sovereign debt crisis, as well as the political gridlock in the United States, as risks that hold the potential to destabilize global financial markets (New York Times).  In a reflection of the difficulties created by the lack of a substantive policy response by the Spanish Government to the current rash of problems confronting the country, Standard & Poor’s on Wednesday lowered the nation’s sovereign debt rating  two notches to BBB- and downgraded their outlook to negative.

Earnings season saw it’s unofficial start last week as Aluminum manufacturing giant, Alcoa Inc.* reported results for the third quarter, which exceeded analysts’ estimates.  Although the company’s revenue and per-share numbers were better than expected, a drop in their forecast of global demand for the heavily used industrial metal sent its stock price markedly lower last Wednesday.  Following on the heels of Alcoa’s disappointing comments, the engine manufacturer, Cummins Inc. declared that it was lowering its profit projections for the remainder of the year as a result of waning demand (Wall Street Journal).  The outlook for the global economy offered by these two manufacturing behemoths highlights the challenges currently facing investors, as they struggle to weigh the risks of an economic deceleration against the coordinated efforts of several of the world’s most powerful Central Banks to maintain expansion.

*Shown for illustrative purposes only.  This is not a security holding of Brinker Capital.

The Magic Number Is…

Sue BerginSue Bergin

There was a time when someone earning a six-figure salary was said to be doing well.  Is that the case today?

Towards the end of 2010, in a survey by WSL/Strategic Retail, we learned that 18% of American households earning between $100,000 and $150,000 said they could only afford the basics.   Another 10% in that salary range reported that sometimes they couldn’t even meet their obligations.

The conclusion of the survey identified a magic number—$150,000.  This was the level with which the vast majority of consumers (88%) said they could buy what they need while still being able to afford extra items and have some savings.

A more recent study by Pew Research Center puts the $150,000 figure at a higher standard of living than just being able to meet basic needs and afford a few extras.  According to Pew, $150,000 earns a family of four the status of “rich”.  This is geographical; Northeast and suburban respondents upped that amount to $200,000 while their rural counterparts said that a family making more than $125,000 could be considered wealthy.

Whether the income level is $125,000, $150,000 or $200,000 doesn’t really matter.  Incomes this high are out of reach for the vast majority of Americans.  In fact, according the Census Bureau’s September 2012 report, annual household income has fallen for the fourth straight year to an inflation-adjusted $50,054.

Let’s assume for a moment the majority of your clients earn more than $150,000.  Do they all feel rich?  Many probably do not, particularly if they are among 29% of Americans underwater on their real estate.[1]

In fact, that rich feeling is fairly elusive.  Many millionaires don’t even feel rich.

According to Fidelity Investments’ latest report on millionaires’ attitudes towards investing, 26%of millionaire respondents said they did not actually feel rich, and that they would need an average of $5 million of investable assets to begin to feel wealthy.

Politicians, economists, sociologists and even our brethren in the financial services industry continue to confuse comfort and net worth, and perception and reality.  The fact of the matter is that the words “wealthy” and “rich” more aptly describe an emotional state than a statement of net worth.


[1] The Week, Real estate crisis:  Americans Underwater 12.2.11