A Bit of Relief for Income Investors
At long last, the Federal Open Market Committee, chaired by Janet Yellen, increased the Federal Funds rate by .25% for the first time in nine years. Prior to the Great Recession of 2008-2009, the Fed Funds rate stood at 5%, but has since remained near 0% for more than six years. A .25% increase is a minor step towards normalizing interest rate levels. Highly confident that the employment and inflation indicators are nearing target levels, the Committee indicated that four increases are likely in the coming year. Taking the rise in stride, yields on money market funds and short-term bonds rose in response. Although a small move, some relief is being enjoyed by income investors.
Rocky Start to the New Year
On the heels of a frustrating and lackluster 2015, the New Year begins with a torrent of stock selling. The “crowded theater fire” selling spurred by distractions (China, oil, war mongering nations) and distortions (economic activity, strong U.S. dollars, corporate earnings) reinforces the importance of maintaining one’s investment plan despite the noise. At the time of this writing, investors are reeling from a string of 100-plus daily declines in the Dow Jones Industrial Average. We can expect increased volatility as we move forward, which is normal.
Being typical Americans, we tend to “Westernize” the rest of the world with our thinking, an interesting conversational topic but not reality. The Chinese stock market is a newer exchange dominated by inexperienced retail investors whereas U.S. stocks are traded largely by professional investors. The panic seizing the U.S. markets appears to be a reaction to the sell-offs overseas and the intentional devaluing of the Renminbi (RMB). Getting out of the way of a herd of cattle is nearly impossible, however cattle do eventually tire and the cowboys round them up.
While Chinese financial markets do not govern our investment strategies, we believe that it is important to discuss what happened. A couple of factors collided to create the panic selling in Chinese stocks. Government imposed sanctions on selling Chinese A-shares enacted last summer were lifted in January 2016. Also, China experienced capital outflows at the end of 2015, possibly fueled by the weakening RMB, and there was weaker than expected economic news for December. The lack of transparency around their policymakers’ priorities adds to the challenges facing China.
The intentional devaluation of the RMB in mid- and late-2015 comes after a nearly thirty percent appreciation of the currency over the past five years (Source: Bank for International Settlements). Facing an economy growing at seven percent, a decent clip albeit slower than the past decade or so for China, the People’s Bank of China’s move to lower the relative value of the RMB may be an attempt to stimulate economic growth. Over the longer term, the currency moves will have a broader impact on their economy than the changes in U.S. domestic stock prices.
U.S. Financial Market Review
U.S. Treasuries yields ended the year at levels near their yields at the beginning of the year. Slow and steady growth in the U.S. economy, which is good for financial assets, was overtaken by global concerns. Oil prices fizzled from $53 to $37 during the year as supply swamped global demand. Energy stocks and bond yields suffered as a consequence. One apparent goal of the Middle East oil producing countries by opening the well spicket wide is to drive out the high cost oil producers in the United States. The tactic may be working as the number of oil wells operating in the U.S. contracted two-thirds during 2015.
Amidst the chaos in the financial markets, there are reasons to be cautiously optimistic going forward. On a national level, the housing recovery absorbed many workers who were displaced by the capping of the oil wells. Consumers are benefitting from significantly lower prices at the pump, essentially getting a tax cut and a raise eventually. Representing more than sixty percent of our economy, consumers are a powerful force who will spend that savings, adding stimulus to the economy. The Federal Budget, passed in December, includes a stimulus package that could add over .2% to GDP growth in 2016. Commercial and industrial loan volume rose eleven percent in the 52-weeks ended 12/23/15 indicating strength in the economy and banks’ willingness to lend.
One of the subtleties one must recognize is that the U.S. is becoming the “old reliable” one, rather that the young, adventurous one. We can all relate to someone we know who is financially responsible, conservative, available in times of need, dedicated, and thus may be a bit boring. The U.S. economy, growing at two percent, may be a bit boring as well, but it is our longer term reality. Construction activity is slowly increasing, providing job opportunities. The current unemployment rate of five percent and rising wages bode well for this slow economic back drop. Our take away is that the U.S. economy will muddle along supported by accommodative monetary policy, Federal incentives and a strong consumer sector. Even a boring economy can be a good one. Translating the economic optimism into a quality-focused 2016 outlook remains our theme. Index Returns as of December 31, 2015:
|Market Indicies (Total Return as of 6/30/2015)
|MSCI World ex-USA**
|MSCI Emerging Markets**
|Source: Bloomberg Finance L.P; *Annualized; **USD
Looking at the numbers, the S&P500 Index returned 1.4% for the year ended December 31, 2015. Separately the four “FANG” stocks: Facebook, Amazon, NetFlix and Google, returned an astounding 83% for the same period. The internet “darlings” commanded huge returns as investors followed “hot money”. On the flip side stocks in the Energy sector declined more than twenty percent in the year demonstrating the bifurcated nature of the market last year.
We believe the three underpinnings to the stock market are earnings, valuation and sentiment. U.S. corporations having faced headwinds caused by the strong U.S. dollar and energy company earnings drag are expecting an earnings recovery in 2016. Earnings are expected to be $118.73 for 2015, and $127.21 for 2016, a seven percent increase according to the folks at Zacks Investment Research. Valuations have become more attractive in the recent contraction. Two of the three tenets of the stock market are favorable. Sentiment remains a challenge as volatility increases in the market.
Investment quality and suitability remain foremost in our investment strategy. A diversified portfolio of quality investments tailored to your individual situation will deliver good returns over time. Thank you for allowing the Old Second Wealth Management team to be of service. Please contact a member of the Wealth Management Department if you have any questions about this information.
Rich Gartelmann CFP® – (630) 844-5730 firstname.lastname@example.org
Jean Van Keppel CFA® – (630) 906-5489 email@example.com
Brad Johnson CFA®, CFP® – (630) 906-5545 firstname.lastname@example.org
Joel Binder, SVP – (630) 844-6767 email@example.com
Jacqueline Runnberg CFP® – (630) 966-2462 firstname.lastname@example.org
Tamara Wiley, CFP® – (630) 844-3222 email@example.com
Ed Gorenz, VP – (630) 906-5467 firstname.lastname@example.org
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