Tuesday, May 6, 2014

MARKET UPDATE AND COMMENTARY
May 5, 2014


The past week provided financial pundits with plenty of topics to fill their pages. At the top of the list were the initial estimate of the 1st Quarter, 2014, Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and the April Employment Situation Report. The GDP came in at a very anemic 0.1% while the economy created 288,000 new jobs in April. The GDP report was generally ignored by the markets which had been expecting a bad number given the impact weather had throughout most of the US, but the positive Employment report did not help stocks and surprised some investors by the general weakness in the markets.

As of the market close of Friday, the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJIA) is down 0.4%, the S&P 500 is up 1.8%, the Russell 2000 is down 3.0%, and the NASDAQ is down 1.3%. A mixed bag for sure, and after last year’s strong performance, a bit of a letdown. I have previously referred to the markets as lackluster and that description seems to remain firmly in place. Eighteen weeks into the year, the S&P 500 has been up nine weeks and down nine weeks. No direction and no performance.

International markets have continued to generally track US markets. The European-heavy STOXX 600 is up 2.9% and one of the strongest performing regions in 2014. A broad index of international markets is the Dow Jones Global Dow X US and is up 1.5%. The Emerging Market region is down 0.2% so far this year while the Developed Market region is up 1.7%. It appears that the tension within the Ukraine has not hurt Western European economies; however, Russia is now down 20.4% for the year the worst performing major stock market within the world. Venezuela is the second worst performing market in 2014 losing 13.6%. What do both Russia and Venezuela have in common? Strong-arm regimes that are more focused on their political power rather than growing their economies.

There has been little change in the commodity markets over the past month or so. The UBS Dow Jones Commodity Index, a broad basket of commodities, has fallen slightly recently but is still up 8.7% for the year. Gold is up 8.3% for the year, but has been bouncing around the $1300 per ounce level for the past six weeks resulting in only small changes in overall value. I believe that gold prices are very indicative of the level of fear in markets—fear of a weak currency, fear of global turmoil, and fear of inflation. For now, at least, fear appears to be in check. WTI Oil has been slipping slightly in value much like many other commodities. I continue to believe that oil and most other commodity prices are being influenced by basic supply and demand issues, not by speculative investing.

US Treasury yields have surprised most investors and economists by continuing to drift downward so far in 2014. The US 10-year Treasury yield closed Friday at 2.58% well below the 3.03% at the start of the year. I believe that falling interests today represent diminished expectations of economic growth by bond investors. I would like to see interest rates trending upwards, but for now that is just not happening. Falling yields are occurring simultaneously with the Federal Reserve’s continued reduction of bond purchases (referred as tapering in most financial media). Most economists had hypothesized that as soon as the Fed started to reduce its bond purchases, yields would start to rise. That simply has not happened. Demand remains strong for US Treasuries as well as corporate bonds raising questions about improving economic growth.


SEEKING A CATALYST

I was fortunate to have spent a couple of days in Boston recently interacting with about a dozen money managers who collectively manage well over $50 billion in assets for Putnam Funds. Each manager came into a room of about 30 other advisors like myself and talked about their process for managing money. In the course of two days of discussions, I kept hearing the word “catalyst” mentioned repeatedly. The money managers were focused on what catalyst or event that it would take to unlock additional value in the companies they follow. I have been looking at the broad economy asking the same question. By nearly every measure, this has been the most disappointing recovery in the modern era. The US GDP has grown in the low 2% range on average for the past four years. However, stock markets have risen substantially since the bottoms in March 2009 because the banking/housing crisis has been managed, a second recession never materialized, and companies have been profitable. Brian Wesbury of First Trust Advisors calls this the Plow Horse economy because it moves slowly and steadily forward. Nothing has really changed. So why have the markets been flat for the past four months and will we see any growth this year?

The environment we find ourselves in is not all that much different than what we have experienced for some time now. According to Bloomberg, as of April 29th, companies within the S&P 500 that have reported earnings for the first quarter this year have posted solid gains of 3.7%. The unemployment rate has fallen to 6.3%. The Federal Reserve continues an accommodative monetary policy. Interest rates remain low. Inflation remains well below the 2% target set by the Fed. Domestic energy production is reaching record levels and steadily improving. I draw several conclusions from all of this. First, I am reminded that stock markets are always forward looking so you cannot look backwards and try to make sense of current market performance. Second, for many of the reasons I just cited, I do not believe a major market correction is just around the corner. The financial media has been publishing lots of dire predictions recently, but keep in mind—dire sells and that is the objective of all financial media. Third, the political strife in this country is quite pronounced and both sides of the aisle have been, in my opinion, misrepresenting the economy in order to score political advantage. And finally, we all live in the shadow of the Great Recession of 2008. The memories of that year are still fresh and weigh heavily on the conscious and behavior of many investors.

Looking for a catalyst I need to find something different than what we have been experiencing for some time now. Monetary policy is, in my opinion, not going to change much. We have seen the Federal Reserve taper its bond purchases and hold short-term interest rates very low. I do not expect this to change over the next six to nine months. Fiscal policy, those rules, regulations, and laws set by governments at all levels, may have the potential to change after the coming mid-term elections. I believe that the fiscal policy, especially from the Federal government, has been the single biggest drag on the economy. Regulations are exploding along with the cost of compliance with those regulations, new taxes have come into existence, and Washington is in a log jam with little hope of more growth-oriented policies like lower corporate tax rates likely to emerge in the near-term. However, early polls indicate that change may come this November with a Congress that may be more willing to change fiscal policies to be more growth-oriented. If markets see this change coming, I would not be surprised to see this serve as a catalyst to move the markets higher in the fourth quarter.

Finally, geopolitical risks always remain a concern. The situation in the Ukraine is not resolved and there could still be fallout there. China, North Korea, and the Middle East always seem to be in a constant state of low boil, but for now the markets have not reacted to these concerns.

LOOKING AHEAD

We are coming upon a generally quiet period for the markets. Summer has traditionally not been a great time with regards to market returns, and I suspect this year will be no different. Coming off a slow start for the year, I believe we have more of this in store for now. As I noted above, any real positive change will come in the fourth quarter as we approach the mid-term elections and the possibility of real change in current fiscal policies.

I remain committed to my long-standing recommendations. US stocks are still the favored major asset category followed by International stocks, Bonds, Foreign Currency, Money Market, and Commodities. There has been no deterioration of the relative strength of US stock to any of the other asset classes.

I still favor small and mid-capitalization stocks even as I see some weakness in the small capitalization area. Small cap stocks are generally about 50% to 60% oversold meaning they are below their previous ten-week pricing and potentially more affordable. Stocks do not reach the extreme oversold level until they reach 100% or higher. Sector recommendations include Materials, Industrials, and Financials. Finally, I continue to prefer equal-weighted indexes over capitalization-weighted indexes.

Within the International stock asset class there has been some improvement in the Emerging Market region; however, Developed Markets remains the strongest in terms of relative strength and thus the focus of my investment recommendations.

Bonds have shown some life with the pullback in interest rates. A defensive move for sure. Although long-term government and corporate bonds have been the best performing bond sectors so far in 2014, I believe they come with great interest rate risk. I continue to like the High Yield and Floating Rate sectors.

The overall rally in the Commodity asset class has stalled much like the rest of the markets. The Energy sector is my favored Commodity asset class investment.

Economic data continues to come in mixed and I do believe investors and economists have not been able to figure out the markets recently. I see little change and thus expect more of the same.




Paul L. Merritt, MBA, C(k)P®, AIF®, CRPC®
Principal
NTrust Wealth Management

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Past performance is not indicative of future results and there is no assurance that any forecasts mentioned in this report will be obtained. Technical analysis is just one form of analysis. You may also want to consider quantitative and fundamental analysis before making any investment decisions.

Information in this update has been obtained from and is based upon sources that NTrust Wealth Management (NTWM) believes to be reliable; however, NTWM does not guarantee its accuracy. All opinions and estimates constitute NTWM's judgment as of the date the update was created and are subject to change without notice. This update is for informational purposes only and is not intended as an offer or solicitation for the purchase or sale of a security. Any decision to purchase securities must take into account existing public information on such security or any registered prospectus.
Emerging market investments involve higher risks than investments from developed countries and involve increased risks due to differences in accounting methods, foreign taxation, political instability, and currency fluctuation. The main risks of international investing are currency fluctuations, differences in accounting methods, foreign taxation, economic, political, or financial instability, and lack of timely or reliable information or unfavorable political or legal developments.

The commodities industries can be significantly affected by commodity prices, world events, import controls, worldwide competition, government regulations, and economic conditions. Past performance is no guarantee of future results. These investments may not be suitable for all investors, and there is no guarantee that any investment will be able to sell for a profit in the future. The Dow Jones UBS Commodities Index is composed of futures contracts on physical commodities. This index aims to provide a broadly diversified representation of commodity markets as an asset class. The index represents 19 commodities, which are weighted to account for economic significance and market liquidity. This index cannot be traded directly. The CBOE Volatility Index - more commonly referred to as "VIX" - is an up-to-the-minute market estimate of expected volatility that is calculated by using real-time S&P 500® Index (SPX) option bid/ask quotes. VIX uses nearby and second nearby options with at least 8 days left to expiration and then weights them to yield a constant, 30-day measure of the expected volatility of the S&P 500 Index.
TIPS are U.S. government securities designed to protect investors and the future value of their fixed-income investments from the adverse effects of inflation. Using the Consumer Price Index (CPI) as a guide, the value of the bond's principal is adjusted upward to keep pace with inflation. Increase in real interest rates can cause the price of inflation-protected debt securities to decrease. Interest payments on inflation-protected debt securities can be unpredictable.
The NYCE US Dollar Index is a measure that calculates the value of the US dollar through a basket of six currencies, the Euro, the Japanese Yen, the British Pound, the Canadian Dollar, the Swedish Krona, and the Swiss franc. The Euro is the predominant currency making up about 57% of the basket.

Currencies and futures generally are volatile and are not suitable for all investors. Investment in foreign exchange related products is subject to many factors that contribute to or increase volatility, such as national debt levels and trade deficits, changes in domestic and foreign interest rates, and investors’ expectations concerning interest rates, currency exchange rates and global or regional political, economic or financial events and situations.

Corporate bonds contain elements of both interest rate risk and credit risk. Treasury bills are guaranteed by the U.S. government as to the timely payment of principal and interest, and if held to maturity, offer a fixed rate of return and fixed principal value. U.S. Treasury bills do not eliminate market risk. The purchase of bonds is subject to availability and market conditions. There is an inverse relationship between the price of bonds and the yield: when price goes up, yield goes down, and vice versa. Market risk is a consideration if sold or redeemed prior to maturity. Some bonds have call features that may affect income.

The bullish percent indicator (BPI) is a market breath indicator. The indicator is calculated by taking the total number of issues in an index or industry that are generating point and figure buy signals and dividing it by the total number of stocks in that group. The basic rule for using the bullish percent index is that when the BPI is above 70%, the market is overbought, and conversely when the indicator is below 30%, the market is oversold. The most popular BPI is the NYSE Bullish Percent Index, which is the tool of choice for famed point and figure analyst, Thomas Dorsey.

All indices are unmanaged and are not available for direct investment by the public. Past performance is not indicative of future results. The S&P 500 is based on the average performance of the 500 industrial stocks monitored by Standard & Poors and is a capitalization-weighted index meaning the larger companies have a larger weighting of the index. The S&P 500 Equal Weighted Index is determined by giving each company in the index an equal weighting to each of the 500 companies that comprise the index. The Dow Jones Industrial Average is based on the average performance of 30 large U.S. companies monitored by Dow Jones & Company. The Russell 2000 Index Is comprised of the 2000 smallest companies of the Russell 3000 Index, which is comprised of the 3000 biggest companies in the US. The NASDAQ Composite Index (NASDAQ) is an index representing the securities traded on the NASDAQ stock market and is comprised of over 3000 issues. It has a heavy bias towards technology and growth stocks. The STOXX® Europe 600 is derived from the STOXX Europe Total Market Index (TMI) and is a subset of the STOXX Global 1800 Index. With a fixed number of 600 components, the STOXX Europe 600 represents large, mid, and small capitalization countries of the European region. The Dow Jones Global ex-US index represents 77 countries and covers more than 98% of the world's market capitalization. A full complement of sub-indices, measuring both sectors and stock-size segments, are calculated for each country and region.