Friday, 11th of May 2018
Another « breath-taking week » has passed, or nearly,… Donald Trump has pulled the USA out of the Iranian Nuclear agreement. This act was clearly not aligned with the other signatories to this deal. Disarray among the powers of the world doesn’t appear to be good, especially as it induced Israel and Iran to feel themselves free to enter direct hostilities. The only visible and explicable outcome (so far) has been the rise in oil prices, which can be explained by the expected removal of Iranian supply from the market as the old sanctions are reinstated. Less supply; same demand: prices up… WTI is trading comfortably over $70 per barrel and Brent over $77. Unusually, the US$ in which Oil is priced has continued its ascent as oil was rising. The Dollar index [DXY] is now strong, at 92.55 Making oil even more expensive for non-US$ based economies…
And we got lovely images of the two Koreas playing nice with each other, under the fatherly smiles of the Donald. Yes, the previously wicked North Korean who kidnapped three Americans is now an honourable partner that released these Americans… Hmmm… is it another Chamberlain moment (with Trump taking on the role) or a true Kodak Moment? Time will tell. What is clear is that the change in how America conducts its Foreign Policy has shaken the trouble-trees…
The Treasury yield curve from 5 to 30 years flattened on Thursday to the lowest level since August 2007, as a combination of weaker-than-expected U.S. inflation and solid demand for a record bond auction bolstered investor confidence in owning long-dated securities. The spread narrowed by more than 4 basis points, the most since February, dropping through a previous intraday low from April to 27.7 basis points. The gap between 2- and 10-year Treasuries also shrank in a bull flattening move. U.S. inflation took a breather in April from its acceleration in recent months, with the core consumer price index up by a weaker-than-anticipated 0.1% from March and just 2.1% on an annual basis. Perhaps in part because of the data, the Treasury saw good demand for its $17 billion auction of 30-year bonds, the largest-ever sale of the maturity. “Bull flattening of the yield curve signals that inflation is not a problem,” Scott Minerd, chief investment officer at Guggenheim Partners, said Thursday on Twitter. “But that won’t stop the Fed from staying on course for three more rate hikes this year.” Investors and Federal Reserve officials alike have been on guard for the curve flattening toward inversion, which has historically preceded recessions. Yet bond traders are still pricing in more than two additional quarter-point rate hikes by year-end, betting policy makers will stick to their tightening path. Thirty-year yields fell about 5 basis points on Thursday, a steeper drop than any other maturity, to about 3.11 percent. But look at the stock markets… they clearly are not pricing an economic slow down nor a geopolitical melt-down!?
Back to the oil story – Oil prices have risen 14 percent this year – half of this increase reflects stronger global demand, a Bloomberg Economics model suggests. The rest is probably due to heightened tensions with Iran and other supply shocks. The return of U.S. sanctions could crimp Iranian oil exports, but the global supply shock might be mitigated by increased pumping elsewhere, according to the analysis. And in spite of the oil price rise, for whatever real reason, the inflation figures are just not reacting as one would expect – holding at or below where everyone who counts want them to go… So bonds are not collapsing in price, yields are steady and equities continue to melt upwards… Goldilocks is clearly alive and well, even with all those bears around her… It has become shockingly common this earnings season for companies to report better-than-expected profits only to see their share prices fall. There are many explanations but none make much sense, nor do they acknowledge the bright outlook for equities. First-quarter earnings on average were forecast to rise by an exceptionally high 17%, so it might seem reasonable for investors to be disappointed with anything short of perfection. However, earnings are coming in close to a gain of 22%, so that theory doesn’t hold water. One might then reasonably infer from the share price declines that future earnings projections are being revised lower. Although Caterpillar Inc. did suggest the first quarter might be the peak for its margins, results were sufficiently strong that analysts revised up their estimates for the balance of 2018 and even 2019. There goes another theory out the window.
To explain the market’s behaviour, some analysts are suggesting the problem is that so much of the rise in earnings is due to the decline in tax rates, which is nonrecurring, so it should be discounted somehow. This explanation is both wrong and incompetent. Unlike other periods when a company might see a temporary reduction in tax rates that artificially boosts results in one quarter that might be entirely reversed the very next quarter, this time the reduced tax rate is recurring. Moreover, every stock analyst understands this and has built a lower tax rate into their earnings forecasts for 2018, 2019 and beyond. In fact, that’s precisely why earnings were expected to rise about 20% this year, an extremely large gain at this late stage of the business cycle. Yet an incremental gain of 10% is already expected for next year. Another explanation suggests that stocks declined because the growth rate of profits will decelerate in 2019, which is another incompetent view. The 2018 tax reform resets the tax rate lower and resets the profit level higher. Another 20 percent gain on top of this year’s 20% increase was never in any analyst’s projections. Instead, it is impressive that analysts expect an incremental 10% rise in corporate profits in 2019 this late in the business cycle on top of the 20% jump gain projected for 2018. Another widely expressed view is that stocks are historically expensive, so any retreat just represents more reasonable valuations. It has been repeated so often that it must be true, right? The data show the exact opposite. The S&P 500 Index closed at about 2,663 last Friday. According to FactSet, projected earnings are $158.78 for 2018 and $174.89 in 2019. These numbers may be revised higher rather than lower after analysts recalibrate following the better-than-expected first-quarter earnings season in which 79% of firms so far beat estimates. The estimates indicate the market is trading at 16.8 times projected 2018 earnings and 15.2 times projected 2019 earnings. Those compare with the market’s average multiple of 16.7 over the past 50 years. That average multiple was calculated over periods of both low inflation and low interest rates and high inflation and high interest rates. Since prevailing interest rates remain exceptionally low historically, a better comparison would be those periods when inflation was comparable to today’s rate of about 2%. In those periods, the P/E multiple for the market averaged around 19.5 times. On this basis alone, one should infer stocks are actually cheap by about 14% and even cheaper based on 2019 earnings estimates. But much of this is just noise to the economics of business. The economy is healthy and growing, profits are rising nicely, and stock valuations are actually fair or below appropriate levels. Interest rates are rising, so some stock volatility should be expected and, of course, stocks have never been known to be stable. So the best explanation might be that’s it mostly noise. Market psychology can greatly affect stocks in the short run. Nonetheless, the values are there, and it’s reasonable to expect another leg up for the bull market.
Just for the record, after nearly a decade of underperformance, hedge funds are actually faring better than the stock market in 2018. Thanks to higher volatility, the rally in energy prices and some well-placed bets in fixed income, managers in the $3.2 trillion hedge fund industry posted a 0.38% gain in April that brings the total return for the year to 0.39%, according to industry tracker HFR. The HFRI Fund Weighted Composite Index finished April narrowly ahead of the S&P 500, which posted a loss, including dividends, of 0.38% through the first four months.
We stay long equities into the Summer, and glad (so far) we didn’t sell in May… And a quip about all the “Me Too” and other womens’ lib movements we quote Timothy Leary “Women who seek to be equal with men lack ambition.”
Market Weekly Highlights
Currencies & Commodities
The content of this post has been approved and issued by Bedrock S.A. and Bedrock Asset Management (UK) ltd (jointly, hereafter, “Bedrock”) for information purposes only. The information and opinions contained in this post are for background information and discussion purposes only and do not purport to be full or complete. No information in this post should be construed as providing financial, investment or other professional advice. The information contained herein is for the sole use of its intended recipient and may not be copied or otherwise distributed or published without Bedrock’s express consent. No reliance may be placed for any purpose on the information contained in this post or its accuracy or completeness. Information included in this post is intended for those investors who meet the Financial Conduct Authority definition of Professional Client or Eligible Counterparty. This post and the information contained herein are confidential. This post cannot be copied, reproduced or distributed in any manner whatsoever. The value of all investments and the income derived therefrom can fluctuate due to market movements and you may not get back the amount originally invested. In the case of overseas investments, values may vary as a result of changes in currency exchange rates. This may be due, in part, to exchange rate fluctuations in investments that have an exposure to currencies other than the base currency of the portfolio. Past performance is no guide to, or guarantee of, future performance. Bedrock expressly disclaims liability for errors or omissions in the information and data contained in this post. No representation or warranty of any kind, implied, expressed or statutory, is given in conjunction with the information and data. Bedrock accepts no liability for any loss or damage arising out of the use or misuse of or reliance on the information provided including, without limitation, any loss of profits or any other damage, direct or consequential. You agree to indemnify and hold harmless Bedrock and its affiliates, and the directors and employees of Bedrock and its affiliates from and against any and all liabilities, claims, damages, losses or expenses, including legal fees and expenses arising out of your access to or use of the information in this post, save to the extent that such losses may not be excluded pursuant to applicable law or regulation. Any opinions contained in this post may be changed after issue at any time without notice. The copyright, trademarks and all similar rights of this post and the contents, including all information, graphics, code, text and design, are owned by Bedrock.