Wednesday, April 22, 2015

MARKET UPDATE AND COMMENTARY
April 20, 2015


Following more volatility last week, markets had a sharp sell-off on Friday prompting the doom-and-gloomers to come out in force Friday evening and over the weekend. While last week was a down week for most major US stock indexes, year-to-date the markets remain positive.








Source: The Wall Street Journal (Past performance is not indicative of future returns)

The Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJIA) and the S&P 500 are essentially flat seventy-three trading days into 2015 while the small-cap heavy Russell 2000 and tech-heavy NASDAQ are showing gains around 4%. This is a quite a turnaround from last year when at this same time the S&P 500 was outperforming the NASDAQ by 3.4% and the Russell 2000 by 5.1%. The DJIA, however, was up a similar amount (0.03%).

The best performing major economic sector remains Health Care (+9%) followed by Consumer Discretionary (+4%) and Energy (+4%). The lagging sectors are Utilities (-6%), Financials (-1%), and Industrials (+1%). This same time last year, Real Estate (+11%), Utilities (+11%), and Energy (+6%) were the top performers with Consumer Discretionary (-4%), Information Technology (0%), and Financials (0%) lagging. Sectors routinely come in and out of favor in the course of a year or two so this is not out of the ordinary. Energy’s strength of performance has been concentrated in just the past month (+9%) but remains negative over the trailing year (-11%) and now lags the S&P 500 on a 1-, 3-, and 5-Year basis.

International markets, especially Europe, have been rebounding smartly this year. Friday’s poor performance overseas (STOXX 600: -1.6%) was attributed primarily to renewed concerns over Greece. Let me reiterate my opinions about Greece and the European Union (EU). Greece is broke and has no hope of paying its debts or current expenses and the Europeans know this. However, maintaining the integrity of the EU is of paramount importance to most of European politicians and negotiations will continue despite the acrimony between Greece and its creditors. The EU and Germans in particular have, in my view, a limit to their patience with Greece, but I believe minimal concessions by the Greeks will appease the EU for a while. In the meantime the Greeks have extended an olive branch to Vladimir Putin and may receive up to €5 billion ($5.4 billion) in “pre-payments” from Russia for future pipeline revenue (I do not have enough space to discuss the pipeline deal) which may alleviate Greece’s more immediate need for cash. However, the Greek problem can return on short notice and with a vengeance so I continue to stress the importance of keeping attention on what is happening in Greece. The eventual outcome remains to be seen and is unpredictable at this time, in my view.







Source: The Wall Street Journal (Past performance is not indicative of future returns)

Oil has rebounded strongly in April with WTI Oil up 17.7% per barrel to close Friday at $55.74. There are differing accounts of why oil has rebounded including expectation of increased demand from China, lower future production and exploration in the US, and a slightly stronger Euro. Ultimately, all of these and more factors could apply, however, oil prices trade on supply and demand fundamentals, and for now, supply and demand has found a price range between $45 and $60 to trade within.

I noted that the Euro has rebounded slightly in the past few weeks. The Euro closed Friday at $1.08, an increase of just under 3 cents from its low on April 15th at $1.058. The Euro relationship with the US Dollar is influenced by investor perception of economic growth, expected inflation, and monetary policy here and in Europe. I believe the overarching issue right now is monetary policy, and with the slew of slightly negative US economic reports from March, investors are betting that the Federal Reserve will hold off raising rates in June to later in the fall which helped push the Euro higher last week. I will have more to say about Fed policy in future Updates. My view is the European Central Bank’s (ECB) decision to engage in quantitative easing (QE) has made it more difficult for the Fed to raise rates for now.

Interest rates have continued to trend lower with the benchmark 10-year US Treasury yield closing Friday at 1.85% down from 1.94% at the end of March and from 2.17% at the start of the year. Lower yields has lifted the Barclays US Aggregate Bond index 2.2% in 2015. Longer maturity bonds continue to perform well (with greater risk) with the drop in interest rates along with the High Yield and Floating Rate bond sectors. The World Bond sector is the weakest performing bond sector in 2015 followed by Short Duration.


VOLATILITY

Volatility is a pain. No one likes it; in fact volatility leads investors to make poor investment decisions. By bad investment decisions, I mean selling low and buying high. Unfortunately, volatility is part of the investing landscape and coping skills are important.

It is important to understand investor behavior in order to be a better investor. There are complete books written on this subject, but for brevity, I will attempt to distill some of the most essential principles down to a couple of paragraphs.

I believe there are two primary reasons that are at the core of poor investor behavior. First investors lack confidence in their investments, and second they have not aligned their risk tolerance with their portfolio.

Lack of confidence in a particular investment stems from not understanding its value, understanding the inherent volatility of the investment in context to the broad market or its sector, or knowing when to sell. Each of these issues can be dealt with by both fundamental research and point and figure charting. I am particularly fond of point and figure charting for analyzing whether an investment is overbought or oversold (how is the price relative to the past ten weeks of trading history), what the current demand is for the investment relative to the broad market, sector, or other investment options, and whether the investment is on a long-term positive or negative trend. All of this data put together can help investors decide if an investment should be bought or sold. I will be happy to sit down with any of you to discuss how this process works with a specific investment in your portfolio or something you are considering purchasing. This information ultimately helps take out some of the uncertainty of decision making because it is more rules-based process.

Matching risk tolerance to your actual investment portfolio is critical and often misunderstood. For most investors their typical experience in deciding risk tolerance is to complete a questionnaire. While I believe questionnaires have a valid purpose (and required for compliance purposes), it is sometimes hard to match words or scores to feelings when you are experiencing a correction in the markets. Let me give you an example of a typical question on most questionnaires, “If your portfolio fell by 20%, would you….a, b, or c?” Whatever options a, b, or c are, my experience is that most of us just want to make as much money as possible when the markets are going up and minimize losses when the markets are going down. A 5% correction feels terrible to most of us, let alone a 20% correction. However, if a 15% or 20% correction is clearly more than you are emotionally able to handle or cannot afford to lose 20% of your overall portfolio value because of impending spending needs, then you must take smart steps to build a portfolio that avoids jeopardizing your portfolio’s value by reducing volatility. Accepting this strategy, do not, however, beat yourself up if you do not exceed the return of the S&P 500 if half of your portfolio is invested in bonds. Be realistic in your expectations. This is key.

Good investors take a longer perspective with the market than just a day or week or two. Market fluctuations can and do occur. Be prepared to accept some volatility, however, understand your investments, your portfolio’s risk characteristics, and remain focused on your objectives--not short-term volatility found in all markets.

LOOKING AHEAD

The economy slowed down in the first quarter. Corporate profits will likely be lower on lower sales. There are lots of reasons for this including the west coast dock strike, sharply lower energy earnings, and the bitterly cold winter. However, I believe this is temporary and corporations will continue to deliver solid earnings within our slowly growing economy.

We are in the middle of the first quarter reporting period for corporate earnings. According to FactSet, of the 56 S&P 500 companies that reported earnings through April 17th, 77% reported earnings above the mean estimate and 46% have reported sales over the mean estimate. The lower sales growth is, in my view, a direct reflection of the big three factors I described in the previous paragraph. However, 77% of companies continue to meet or exceed earnings estimates, and that is a big positive.

There are a handful of key economic reports due out over the next couple of weeks. The Thursday unemployment claims number is always watched closely. This volatile number, however, should be viewed in the context of moving averages and not week-to-week changes. Existing and New Home Sales reports for March will be released Wednesday and Thursday respectively. I don’t anticipate much market changing news from these reports. The March Durable Goods orders report being released this Friday is expected to show an increase of 0.5% after a poor February (-1.4%). Finally, the first quarter 2015 Gross Domestic Product (GDP) report will be issued on Wednesday, April 29th. This is always an important report with market implications. It is a little early for consensus numbers to be published, however, based upon what I have been reading, I would expect this to be a weak number under 2%. If the GDP falls below 1% that would not surprise me, but it could be problematic short-term with the markets.

My critical Dorsey Wright & Associates data continues to favor stocks. In fact, the International Stock major asset category just slipped ahead of Bonds for the first time since mid-December 2014, to take over the number two position out of the six I follow within the Daily Asset Level Indicator matrix.









If you have any questions or comments, please do not hesitate to reach out to me.




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

P.S. If you think this type of analysis would be of benefit to anyone you know, please share this communication with them.

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.

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.

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.