This article is an excerpt from a previously released Sidoxia Capital Management complimentary newsletter (May 2, 2016). Subscribe on the right side of the page for the complete text.
Boom, boom, boom…it keeps going…and going…and going…
You’ve seen the commercials: A device operating on inferior batteries dies just as a drum-beating, battery operated Energizer bunny comes speeding and spiraling across the television screen. Onlookers waiting for the battery operated toy to run out of juice, instead gaze in amazement as they watch the energized bunny keep going and going. The same phenomenon is occurring in the stock market, as many observers eagerly await for stock prices to die. The obituary of the stock market has been written many times over the last eight years (see Series of Unfortunate Events). Mark Twain summed up this sentiment well, when after a premature obituary was written about him, he quipped, “The reports of my death are greatly exaggerated.”
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With fears abound, stocks added to their annual gains by finishing their third consecutive positive month with the S&P 500 indexes and Dow Jones Industrial Average advancing +0.5% and +0.3%, respectively. Skeptics and worry-warts have been concerned about stocks plummeting ever since the Financial Crisis of 2008-2009. We experienced a 100 year flood then, and as a consequence, scarred investors now expect the 100 year flood to repeat every 100 days (see also 100 Year Flood). Given the damage created in the wake of the “Great Recession,” many individuals have become afraid of their own shadow. The shadows currently scaring investors include the following:
- Negative Interest Rates: The unknown consequences of negative interest rate policies by central banks (see chart below).
- U.S. Monetary Policy: The potential continuation of the Federal Reserve hiking interest rates.
- Sluggish Economic Growth: With a GDP growth figure up only +0.5% during the first quarter many people are worried about the vulnerability of slipping into recession.
- Brexit Fears: Risk of Britain exiting the European Union (a.k.a. “Brexit”) will blanket the airwaves as the referendum approaches next month
For these reasons, and others, the U.S. central bank is likely to remain accommodative in its stance (i.e., Fed Chairwoman Janet Yellen is expected to be slow in hitting the economic brakes via interest rate hikes).
Source: Financial Times. Central banks continue with attempts to stimulate with zero/negative rates.
Climbing the Wall of Worry
Despite all these concerns, stock prices continue climbing the proverbial “wall of worry” while approaching record levels. As famed investor Sir John Templeton stated on multiple occasions, “Bull markets are born on pessimism, and they grow on skepticism, mature on optimism, and die on euphoria.” It’s obvious to me there currently is no euphoria in the overall market, if you consider investors have withdrawn $2 trillion in stock investments since 2007. The phenomenon of stocks moving higher in the face of bad news is nothing new. A recent study conducted by the Financial Times newspaper shows the current buoyant bull market entering the second longest advancing period since World War II (see chart below).
Source: Financial Times
There will never be a shortage of concerns or bad things occurring in a world of 7.4 billion people, but the Energizer bunny U.S. economy has proven resilient. Our economy is entering its seventh consecutive year of expansion, and as I recently pointed out the job market keeps plodding along in the right direction – unemployment claims are at a 43-year low (see Spring Has Sprung). Over the last few years, these job gains have come despite corporate profits being challenged by the headwinds of a stronger U.S. dollar (hurts our country’s exports) and tumbling energy profits. Fortunately, the negative factors of the dollar and oil prices have stabilized lately, and these dynamics are in the process of shifting into tailwinds for company earnings. The -5.7% year-to-date decline in the Dollar Index coupled with the recent rebound in oil prices are proof that the economic laws of supply-demand eventually respond to large currency and commodity swings. With the number of rigs drilling for oil down by approximately -80% over the last two years, it comes as no surprise to me that a drop in oil supply has steadied prices.
The volatility in oil prices has been amazing. Energy companies have been reeling as oil prices dropped -76% from a 2014-high of $108 per barrel to a 2016-low of $26 per barrel. Since then, the picture has improved significantly. Crude oil prices are now hovering around $46 per barrel, up +76%.
Energy Bankruptcy & Recessionary Fears Abate
If you take a look at the borrowing costs of high-yield companies in the chart below (Calafia Beach Pundit), you can see that prior spikes in the red line (all high-yield borrowing costs) were correlated with recessions – represented by the gray periods occurring in 2001 and 2008-09. During 2016, you can see from the soaring blue line, investors were factoring in a recession for high-yield energy companies (until the oil price recovery), but the non-energy companies (red-green lines) were not anticipating a recession for the other sectors of the economy. Bottom-line, this chart is telling you the knee-jerk panic of recessionary fears during the January-February period of this year has quickly abated, which helps explain the sharp rebound in stock prices.
After a jittery start to 2016 when economic expectations were for a dying halt, investors have watched stocks recharge their batteries in March and April. There are bound to be more fits and starts in the future, as there always are, but for the time being this Energizer bunny stock market and economy keeps going…and going…and going…