Monthly Market and Economic Outlook: July 2014

Amy MagnottaAmy Magnotta, CFASenior Investment Manager, Brinker Capital

Equity markets continued to grind higher in the second quarter despite continued tapering by the Federal Reserve, a negative GDP print, and rising geopolitical tensions. All asset classes have delivered positive returns in the first half of the year, led by long-term U.S. Treasury bonds. There has been a lack of volatility across all asset classes; the CBOE Volatility Index (VIX) fell to its lowest level since February 2007.

Year to date the U.S. equity markets are slightly ahead of international markets. All S&P sectors are positive year to date, led by utilities and energy. Mid cap value has been the best performing style, helped by the double-digit performance of REITs. U.S. large caps have outperformed small caps, but after experiencing a drop of more than -9%, small caps rebounded nicely in June. Value leads growth across all market capitalizations.

Despite concerns surrounding the impact of Fed tapering on emerging economies, emerging market equities outperformed developed markets in the second quarter, and have gained more than 6% so far this year, putting the asset class ahead of developed international equities. Small cap emerging markets and frontier markets have had even Magnotta_Market_Update_7.09.14_1stronger performance. The dispersion of performance within emerging markets has been high, with India, Indonesia and Argentina among the top performers, and China, Mexico and Chile among the laggards. On the developed side, performance from Japan has been disappointing but a decent rebound in June bumped it into positive territory for the year-to-date period.

Despite a consensus call for higher interest rates in 2014, U.S. Treasury yields moved lower. The 10-year Treasury Note is currently trading at 2.6% (as of 7/7/14), still below the 3.0% level where it started the year. While sluggish economic growth and geopolitical risks could be keeping a ceiling on U.S. rates, technical factors are also to blame. The supply of Treasuries has been lower due to the decline in the budget deficit, and the Fed remains a large purchaser, even with tapering in effect. At the same time demand has increased from both institutions that need to rebalance back to fixed income after experiencing strong equity markets returns, and investors seeking relative value with extremely low interest rates in Japan and Europe.

With the decline in interest rates and investor risk appetite for credit still strong, the fixed income asset class has delivered solid returns so far this year. Both investment grade and high yield credit spreads continue to grind tighter. Emerging market bonds, both sovereign and corporate, have also experienced a nice rebound after a tough 2013. Municipal bonds benefited from a positive technical backdrop with strong demand for tax-free income being met with a lack of new issuance.

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

  • Global monetary policy remains accommodative: Even with quantitative easing slated to end in the fall, U.S. short-term interest rates should remain near-zero until 2015 if inflation remains contained. The ECB and the Bank of Japan are continuing their monetary easing programs.
  • Global growth stable: We expect a rebound in U.S. growth in the second quarter after the polar vortex helped to contribute to a decline in economic output in the first quarter. 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 we have continued to add jobs. The unemployment rate has fallen to 6.1%.
  • U.S. companies remain in solid shape: U.S. companies have solid balance sheets that are flush with cash. M&A deal activity has picked up this year. Corporate profits remain at high levels and margins have been resilient.
  • Less Drag from Washington: After serving as a major uncertainty over the last few years, Washington has done little damage so far this year. Fiscal drag will not have a major impact on growth in 2014, and the budget deficit has also declined significantly.

Risks facing the economy and markets remain, including:

  • Fed Tapering/Tightening: If the Fed continues at the current pace, quantitative easing will end in the fall. Risk assets have historically reacted negatively when monetary stimulus has been withdrawn; however, this withdrawal is more gradual and the economy appears to be on more solid footing this time. Should inflation pick up, market participants will shift quickly to concern over the timing of the Fed’s first interest rate hike. Despite the recent uptick in the CPI, the core Personal Consumption Expenditure Price Index (PCE), the Fed’s preferred inflation measure, is up only +1.5% over the last 12 months.
  • Election Year: While we noted there has been some progress in Washington, we could see market volatility pick up later this year in response to the mid-term elections.
  • Geopolitical Risks: The events surrounding Iraq, as well as Russia/Ukraine are further evidence that geopolitical risks cannot be ignored.

Risk assets should continue to perform if we experience the expected pickup in economic growth; however, we could see increased volatility and a shallow correction as markets digest the end of the Federal Reserve’s quantitative easing program. Economic data, especially inflation data, will be watched closely for signs that could lead the Fed to tighten monetary policy earlier than expected. Equity market valuations look elevated, but not overly rich relative to history, and maybe even reasonable when considering the level of interest rates and inflation. Investor sentiment remains overly optimistic, but the market trend remains positive. In addition, credit conditions still provide a positive backdrop for the markets.

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

Outlook

Favored Sub-Asset Classes

U.S. Equity

+

Large cap bias, dividend growers

Intl Equity

+

Emerging and Frontier markets, small cap

Fixed Income

Global high yield credit, short duration

Absolute Return

+

Closed-end funds, event driven

Real Assets

+/-

MLPs, natural resources equities

Private Equity

+

Diversified

 

Source: Brinker Capital

Brinker Capital, Inc., a Registered Investment Advisor. Views expressed are for informational purposes only. Holdings subject to change. Not all asset classes referenced in this material may be represented in your portfolio. All investments involve risk including loss of principal. Fixed income investments are subject to interest rate and credit risk. Foreign securities involve additional risks, including foreign currency changes, political risks, foreign taxes, and different methods of accounting and financial reporting. Past performance is not a guarantee of similar future results. An investor cannot invest directly in an index.

Monthly Market and Economic Outlook: June 2014

Amy MagnottaAmy Magnotta, CFASenior Investment Manager, Brinker Capital

The global equity markets continued to climb higher in May. In the U.S. the S&P 500 Index hit another all-time high, gaining more than 3% for the month. The technology and telecom sectors were the top performing sectors in May, but all sectors were positive except for utilities. In a reversal of March and April, growth outpaced value across all market capitalizations, but large caps remained ahead of small caps. In the real assets space, REITs and natural resources equities continued to post solid gains despite low inflation.

International developed equity markets were slightly behind U.S. markets in May, but emerging market equities outperformed. After a weak start to the year, emerging market equities are now up +3.5% year to date through May, even with China down more than -3%. The dispersion in the performance of emerging market equities remains wide. Indian equities rallied strongly in May, gaining more than 9%, after the election of a new prime minister and his pro-business BJP party.

Despite a consensus call for higher interest rates in 2014, U.S. Treasury yields have continued to fall. The yield on the 10-year Treasury note ended the month at 2.5%, still above its recent low of 1.7% in May 2013, but well below the 3.0% level where it started the year. While lower than expected economic growth and geopolitical risks could be keeping a ceiling on U.S. rates, technical factors are also to blame. The supply of Treasuries has been lower due to the decline in the budget deficit, and the Fed remains a large purchaser, even with tapering in effect. At the same time demand has increased from both institutions that need to rebalance back to fixed income after such a strong equity market in 2013 and investors seeking relative value with extremely low interest rates in Japan and Europe.

Magnotta_Market_Update_6.10.14As interest rates have declined, fixed income has performed in line with equities so far this year. All fixed income sectors were positive again in May. Municipal bonds and investment grade credit have been the top performing fixed income sectors so far this year. Both investment grade and high yield credit spreads continue to grind tighter. Within the U.S. credit sector fundamentals are solid and the supply/demand dynamic is favorable, but valuations are elevated. Emerging market bonds have also experienced a nice rebound after a tough 2013. Municipal bonds benefited from a positive technical backdrop with strong demand for tax-free income being met with a dearth of issuance.

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

  • Global monetary policy remains accommodative: Even with the Fed tapering asset purchases, short-term interest rates should remain near-zero until 2015 if inflation remains low. The ECB announced additional easing measures, and the Bank of Japan continues its aggressive monetary easing program.
  • Global growth stable: U.S. economic growth has been slow but steady. Economic growth declined in the first quarter, but we expect it to turn positive again in the second quarter. 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 we have continued to add jobs. The unemployment rate has fallen to 6.3%. Unemployment claims have hit cycle lows.
  • Inflation tame: With core CPI running below the Fed’s target at +1.8% and inflation expectations contained, the Fed retains flexibility to remain accommodative.
  • U.S. companies remain in solid shape: U.S. companies have solid balance sheets that are flush with cash that could be used for acquisitions, capital expenditures, hiring, or returned to shareholders. M&A deal activity has picked up this year. Corporate profits remain at high levels and margins have been resilient.
  • Less drag from Washington: After serving as a major uncertainty over the last few years, there has been some movement in Washington. Fiscal drag will not have a major impact on growth this year. The deficit has also shown improvement in the short-term.

Risks facing the economy and markets remain, including:

  • Fed Tapering/Tightening: If the Fed continues at the current pace, quantitative easing should end in the fourth quarter. Risk assets have historically reacted negatively when monetary stimulus has been withdrawn; however, this withdrawal is more gradual and the economy appears to be on more solid footing this time. The new Fed chairperson also adds to the uncertainty. Should economic growth and inflation pick up, market participants will shift quickly to concern over the timing of the Fed’s first interest rate hike.
  • Emerging markets: Slower growth could continue to weigh on emerging markets. While growth in China is slowing, there is not yet evidence of a hard landing.
  • Election year: While we noted there has been some progress in Washington, we could see market volatility pick up later this year in response to the mid-term elections.
  • Geopolitical risks: The events surrounding Russia and Ukraine are further evidence that geopolitical risks cannot be ignored.

Risk assets should continue to perform if real growth continues to recover; however, we could see volatility as markets digest the continued withdrawal of stimulus by the Federal Reserve. Economic data will be watched closely for signs that could lead to tighter monetary policy earlier than expected. Equity market valuations are fair, but are not overly rich relative to history, and may even be reasonable when considering the level of interest rates and inflation. Investor sentiment remains elevated but is not at extreme levels. Credit conditions still provide a positive backdrop for the markets.

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 Outlook Favored Sub-Asset Classes
U.S. Equity + Large cap bias, dividend growers
Intl Equity + Frontier markets, small cap
Fixed Income Global high-yield credit, short duration
Absolute Return + Closed-end funds, event driven
Real Assets +/- MLPs, natural resources equities
Private Equity + Diversified approach

Source: Brinker Capital

 Brinker Capital, Inc., a Registered Investment Advisor. Views expressed are for informational purposes only. Holdings subject to change. Not all asset classes referenced in this material may be represented in your portfolio. All investments involve risk including loss of principal. Fixed income investments are subject to interest rate and credit risk. Foreign securities involve additional risks, including foreign currency changes, political risks, foreign taxes, and different methods of accounting and financial reporting. Past performance is not a guarantee of similar future results. An investor cannot invest directly in an index.

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)

Monthly Market and Economic Outlook: April 2014

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

The full quarter returns masked the volatility risk assets experienced during the first three months of the year. Markets were able to shrug off geopolitical risks stemming from Russia and the Ukraine, fears of slowing economic growth in the U.S. and China, and a transition in Federal Reserve leadership. In a reversal of what we experienced in 2013, fixed income, commodities and REITs led global equities.

The U.S. equity market recovered from the mild drawdown in January to end the quarter with a modest gain. S&P sector performance was all over the map, with utilities (+10.1%) and healthcare (+5.8%) outperforming and consumer discretionary (-2.9%) and industrials (+0.1%) lagging. U.S. equity market leadership shifted in March. The higher growth-Magnotta_Market_Update_4.10.14momentum stocks that were top performers in 2013, particularly biotech and internet companies, sold off meaningfully while value-oriented and dividend-paying companies posted gains. Leadership by market capitalization also shifted as small caps fell behind large caps.

International developed equities lagged the U.S. markets for the quarter; however, emerging market equities were also the beneficiary of a shift in investor sentiment in March. The asset class gained more than 5% in the final week to end the quarter relatively flat (-0.4%). Performance has been very mixed, with a strong rebound in Latin America, but with Russia and China still weak. This variation in performance and fundamentals argues for active management in the asset class. Valuations in emerging markets have become more attractive relative to developed markets, but risks remain which call into question the sustainability of the rally.

After posting a negative return in 2013, fixed income rallied in the first quarter. The yield on the 10-year U.S. Treasury note fell 35 basis points to end the quarter at 2.69% as fears of higher growth and inflation did not materialize. After the initial decline from the 3% level in January, the 10-year note spent the remainder of the quarter within a tight range. All fixed income sectors were positive for the quarter, with credit leading. Both investment-grade and high-yield credit spreads continued to grind tighter throughout the quarter. Within the U.S. credit sector, fundamentals are solid and the supply/demand dynamic is favorable, but valuations are elevated, especially in the investment grade space. We favor an actively managed best ideas strategy in high yield today, rather than broad market exposure.

While we believe that the long-term bias is for interest rates to move higher, the move will be protracted. Fixed income still plays an important role in portfolios as protection against equity market volatility. 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.

Magnotta_Market_Update_4.10.14_2We approach our macro view as a balance between headwinds and tailwinds. We believe the scale remains tipped in favor of tailwinds as we begin the second quarter, with a number of factors supporting the economy and markets over the intermediate term.

  • Global monetary policy remains accommodative: Even with the Fed tapering asset purchases, short-term interest rates should remain near zero until 2015. In addition, the ECB stands ready to provide support if necessary, and the Bank of Japan continues its aggressive monetary easing program.
  • Global growth stable: U.S. economic growth has been slow and steady. While the weather appears to have had a negative impact on growth during the first quarter, we still see pent-up demand in cyclical sectors like housing and capital goods. 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 we have continued to add jobs. The unemployment rate has fallen to 6.7%.
  • Inflation tame: With the CPI increasing just +1.1% over the last 12 months and core CPI running at +1.6%, inflation is below the Fed’s 2% target. Inflation expectations are also tame, providing the Fed flexibility to remain accommodative.
  • U.S. companies remain in solid shape: U.S. companies have solid balance sheets with cash that could be reinvested, used for acquisitions, or returned to shareholders. Corporate profits remain at high levels, and margins have been resilient.
  • Less drag from Washington: After serving as a major uncertainty over the last few years, there has been some movement in Washington. Fiscal drag will not have a major impact on growth this year. Congress agreed to both a budget and the extension of the debt ceiling. The deficit has also shown improvement in the short term.
  • Equity fund flows turned positive: Continued inflows would provide further support to the equity markets.

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

  • Fed tapering/tightening: If the Fed continues at its current pace, quantitative easing should end in the fourth quarter. Historically, risk assets have reacted negatively when monetary stimulus has been withdrawn; however, this withdrawal is more gradual, and the economy appears to be on more solid footing this time. Should economic growth and inflation pick up, market participants may become more concerned about the timing of the Fed’s first interest rate hike.
  • 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.
  • Emerging markets: Slower growth and capital outflows could continue to weigh on emerging markets. While growth in China is slowing, there is not yet evidence of a hard landing.
  • Geopolitical Risks: The events surrounding Russia and Ukraine are further evidence that geopolitical risks cannot be ignored.

Risk assets should continue to perform if real growth continues to recover; however, we could see volatility as markets digest the continued withdrawal of stimulus by the Federal Reserve. Economic data will be watched closely for signs that could lead to tighter monetary policy earlier than expected. Valuations have certainly moved higher, but are not overly rich relative to history, and may even be reasonable when considering the level of interest rates and inflation. Credit conditions still provide a positive backdrop for the markets.

Magnotta_Market_Update_4.10.14_3

Source: Brinker Capital

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.

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

Investment Insights Podcast – February 7, 2014

Investment Insights PodcastBill Miller, Chief Investment Officer

On this week’s podcast (recorded February 6, 2014):

  • What we like: Stability in emerging market currencies; European Central Bank fighting deflation
  • What we don’t like: Hypersensitivity to growth metrics
  • What we are doing about it: Letting natural hedging between asset classes manage volatility; remaining neutral in other portfolios; looking for a good employment number

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.

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.

Investment Insights Podcast – December 6, 2013

Miller_PodcastBill Miller, Chief Investment Officer

We are entering into a period where good news is bad news.On this week’s podcast (recorded December 5, 2013):

  • Good news: U.S. economy is better with many positive indicators (employment, housing starts).
  • Bad news: Markets are not reacting to the good news, drawing into question Fed policy.
  • What we are doing about it: Remaining bullish for 2014, keeping an eye on interest rates and Fed tapering.

Click the play icon below to launch the audio recording.

The Optimism for an Economy with a 7.8% Unemployment Rate

Dan WilliamsDan Williams, CFP, Brinker Capital

Currently, the U.S. unemployment rate stands at 7.8%, an improvement from the 8.5% a year ago and the 10% from the recent peak in October 2009. Still, compared to the consistent sub 6% rates we were used to seeing from the mid-1990s to mid-2000s, it is hard to feel good about this current state of employment and what this means for the health of the economy. There are those that argue that the “real” unemployment number is even worse (due to discouraged works exiting the equation and poor measurement methodology etc.). While it’s hard to show optimism for our economy, that is what I aim to do here.

A meaningful place to start is to define what an economy is. By its simplest definition an economy is a measure of the value of the goods and services the people of an area produce. Increase your number of people, increase the amount each person can produce, or produce more valuable stuff and the economy should grow. As you trade and cross-invest between economies, you can make further optimizations. In the short run, economies go through cycles and go by the whims of politicians, the media, central banks and consumer confidence. Still at its core, the economy is just a measure of what the people of a country are able to produce.

More Efficient Per EmployeeThe clear point here is that unemployment represents a failure to produce all we could. However, even with that fact, looking at GDP (expressed in 2005 dollars) we stood at $13.3 trillion at the end of 2011 (the highest year end number ever) and have seen continued growth such that 2012 will be even higher. So we have managed to become more efficient with what each employed person produces. This is the equivalent of a factory using fewer workers but producing more. If the real unemployment rate is actually higher than the 7.8% stated, that means we did it with even fewer workers. This seems like a good thing, right?

What makes the unemployment statistic different from a company having unused equipment is, of course, that people are not computers who can have their software updated over a lunch hour to be instantly redeployed to a new task. The fact is that many of those who are presently unemployed are trained for jobs that are no longer available. Also, people suffer when they are not able to work. There is no spin I can put on that other than to say things will get better given the time to retrain and redeploy. However, is this true?

A challenge to the idea of time healing this employment wound is the fear that technology efficiencies will replace more jobs such that even if the real GDP grows, maybe not all of us will get to be a part of it. Professor Andrew McAfee in a June 2012 TED Talk “Are droids taking our jobs?” echoes this sentiment when he references that in his expected lifetime, he believes we will see a “transition to an economy that is very productive but just does not need that many human workers.” He even notes that in the future an algorithm will be able to do writing tasks so a computer could author this blog. Basically, he sees no current job that we do as safe as these technologies accelerate.

This, however, does not mean that McAfee is pessimistic about our future employment. He is in fact quite optimist. He believes that these new technologies of efficiency represent the opportunity “to make a mockery of all that came before us”. (A phrase originally used by historian Ian Morris when he was speaking of the industrial revolution). What the industrial revolution did to magnify the productivity of our muscles, he feels the technology revolution is going to do to the productivity of our minds. To say differently, he expects we should expect an acceleration in our ability to innovate as technology improves.

A more skeptical reader would be right to ask that if innovation is accelerating, why are we still in the aftermath of the great recession? Thankfully Mr. McAfee is not alone in this technology optimism and has an economist among his group with an explanation. Joe Davis, Vanguard’s chief economist, in a December 2012 speech titled “Better days are in store” notes that the growth of industrial revolutions do not proceed in straight lines. The steam revolution of the late 1770s led to an economic overconfidence and collapse that occurred in the 1830s. The telephone revolution beginning in 1876 led to an economic overconfidence and collapse that occurred in the late 1920s with the Great Depression. In both cases Dr. Davis argues these tough times caused businesses to go through the required creative destruction to survive and took these technologies to a major inflection point of further growth. Today, we are in that inflection point of the microprocessor revolution that began in the 1970s. If history is any guide, this is the economic hiccup that will cause us to get to new technology heights.

Unused Human CapitalSo where does this leave us? Over the past five years, the U.S. has learned to do more with less, has additional unused human capital to deploy, and the efficiencies afforded to us by technology are likely to accelerate. While the near term may be messy, there is an undeniable potential for us to be so much greater and “make a mockery of all that came before us”. While the details of this future and what an economic blog of 2063 will read like are unknown, there does seem to be rational reasons for great optimism. With that let me say, Happy New Year!

Have the Odds of More Quantitative Easing Increased?

Amy Magnotta, CFA, Brinker Capital

Last Friday’s disappointing employment report raises the odds of more quantitative easing by the Fed. Payroll employment increased by only 96,000, and the increases reported in prior months were revised lower. The unemployment rate fell, but only due to a decline in the labor force. The labor force participation rate has fallen to 63.5%, the lowest level since September 1981. With GDP growth of just +1.7%, the U.S. economy is not growing at a pace sufficient to create needed job gains. The chart below shows just how weak job creation has been compared to previous recoveries. (Bureau of Labor Statistics).

Job Creation

This employment report did not offer the Federal Reserve evidence of a “substantial and sustainable strengthening in the pace of the economic recovery”[1] that they are seeking.  As a result, the odds that the Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) will announce further easing at their meeting on September 12/13 have increased.  Consensus seems to expect additional easing, and a lack of announcement to that effect could disappoint the markets.  There has been talk of an open-ended buying program of U.S. Treasuries and/or mortgage-backed securities.  The FOMC could also extend their rate guidance, perhaps pledging low rates into 2015.

Inflation remains within the Fed’s target level, so they still have room to ease; however, the effectiveness of further monetary policy easing is diminishing.  While the Fed feels obligated to act to fulfill their mandate of economic growth, the bigger problems facing the U.S. economy – the fiscal cliff, the Eurozone crisis and slower growth in China – are outside the Fed’s control.  More certainty surrounding fiscal policy would allow businesses pick up the pace of hiring and investment, boosting economic growth


[1] Ben Bernanke, Federal Reserve Chairman.