Investment Insights Podcast – Leading Indicators Report Strong Economy

miller_podcast_graphicBill Miller, Chief Investment Officer

On this week’s podcast (recorded April 1, 2016), Bill reports again on the importance of leading indicators and what they are showing in terms of the stability of the economy and if a recession is likely:

What we like: Investors should focus on leading indicators; good economic data to report: order rates for manufacturing strong; employment data continues to be positive; wages are increasing; recession happening this year becomes less likely with strong data from these leading indicators

What we don’t like: On the contrary, the strong data makes a larger case for higher interest rates; with wage and labor reports positive, Fed may act on their mandate and the interest rate discussion heats up

What we’re doing about it: Portfolios will maintain the theme of interest rate normalization

Click here to listen to the audio recording

The views expressed are those of Brinker Capital and are not intended as investment advice or recommendation. For informational purposes only. Holdings are subject to change. Brinker Capital, Inc., a Registered Investment Advisor.

Happy New Year?

Stuart QuintStuart P. Quint, CFA, Senior Investment Manager & International Strategist

Although we are only nine business days into 2016, markets have gotten off to a rough start. As of January 13, 2016, the S&P 500 was down -7.7% while a moderate-risk[1] benchmark was down -4.2%. In fact, this year has seen the worst start to any calendar year on record.

Unlike past corrections, the catalyst for the recent sell-off in markets is less obvious. One thought is that we are seeing a delayed response to the Federal Reserve’s December rate hike. Markets appear displeased with the timing of the Fed’s action, given the stalling economic growth. In our opinion, the Fed should have considered raising rates a year ago when economic growth was stronger.

Another consideration, it’s conceivable that investors are finally grasping the reality of slower growth in China. This is a factor that we have monitored for quite some time (and a factor in being underweight large emerging markets); but, the timing as to why the markets are worrying about China now is less clear.

There are other factors, too, that might be contributing to the downbeat mood in markets:

  • Slowdown in the Chinese economy and continued devaluation of its currency
  • Continued weakness and flight of capital in emerging markets
  • Weak oil prices (lower capital spend offsetting benefit to consumers)
  • Narrow leadership of U.S. equities (e.g. “FANG” stocks driving markets – high valuation, momentum, expectations with little room for disappointment)
  • Selloff in high-yield bonds
  • Continued deterioration in U.S. and global manufacturing
  • Strengthening of U.S. dollar and its corresponding hit to corporate earnings
  • Ongoing weakness in corporate revenue growth and economic growth
  • 2016 U.S. presidential elections
  • Disappointment in global central bank actions (Europe, Japan, China)

While the picture painted above seems saturated in negativity, it’s not all doom and gloom. There are assuredly some more positive factors to consider:

  • Global policy remains accommodative, particularly in Europe and Japan
  • U.S. interest rates remain low by historic standards
  • Job creation in the U.S. remains positive
  • U.S. bank lending continues to grow at moderate pace
  • U.S. services (majority of U.S. economic activity) continue to show moderate growth
  • Looser U.S. fiscal policy should marginally contribute toward GDP growth in 2016 (estimated)
  • Economic growth in Europe appears stable, albeit tepid
  • Direct impact of emerging market weakness to U.S. economy is less than 5% of GDP

In terms of how we address this in our portfolios, we continue to monitor these conditions and are assessing the risks and opportunities. Within our strategic portfolios, such as our Destinations mutual fund program, we have marginally reduced stated risk within more conservative portfolios while maintaining a slight overweight to risk in more aggressive portfolios. Following the trend of the last several years, we have trimmed exposure to riskier segments, such as credit within fixed income and small cap within equities. Tactical portfolios entered the year with neutral to slightly-positive beta on near-term concerns of high valuations and China.

The S&P 500 has dominated all asset classes in recent years.  A potential end to that reign should not cause alarm, but instead refocus attention to the long-term benefits of diversification and why there are reasons to own strategies which do not just act like the S&P 500.

In general, investors should not panic but rather continue to evaluate their risk tolerance and suitability, as well as engage in consistent dialogue with their financial advisors. The turn of the calendar might just be the ideal time to review those needs.

[1] Theoretical benchmark representing 60% equity (42% Russell 3000 Index, 18% MSCI AC ex-US), and 40% fixed income (38% Barclay Aggregate and 2% T-Bill)

The views expressed are those of Brinker Capital and are not intended as investment advice or recommendation. For informational purposes only. Holdings are subject to change. Brinker Capital, Inc., a Registered Investment Advisor.

Investment Insights Podcast – The Rate Hike Has Finally Come

miller_podcast_graphicBill Miller, Chief Investment Officer

On this week’s podcast (recorded December 17, 2015), Bill recaps the Fed’s official decision to raise interest rates:

What we like: It’s finally over! After months and months of conversation and debate, investors can breathe a sigh of relief and now move forward; Yellen was reassuring in describing the stability of the economy and it’s resilience to the increased interest rates

What we don’t like: Notable industry thinkers are questioning the decision and timing of the rate hike; they question the overall resiliency Yellen seems so confident in

What we’re doing about it: Paying close attention to economic data released over the next quarter; interpreting how well the economy is growing and how much financial stress may be present; if commodities and manufacturing remain weak, than perhaps the Fed raised rates too soon

Click here to listen to the audio recording

The views expressed are those of Brinker Capital and are not intended as investment advice or recommendation. For informational purposes only. Holdings are subject to change. Brinker Capital, Inc., a Registered Investment Advisor.

Will The Santa Claus Rally Deliver in 2015?

HartChris Hart, Core Investment Manager

It is that time of year again. The time when Wall Street pundits begin to talk about the potential for the stock market to deliver its year-end present to investors, neatly wrapped in the form of positive gains to finish out the year, and even carry over into January. While seasonality is typically associated with the entire fourth quarter of a given year—as November and December tend to be stronger months for the S&P 500 Index—the “Santa Claus rally” is a more defined subset.

The Santa Claus rally concept was first popularized in 1972 by Yale Hirsch, the publisher of the Stock Trader’s Almanac, when he identified the positive trend between the last five trading days of the year and the first two trading days of the New Year. Over those seven trading days since 1969, the S&P 500 Index posted an average gain of 1.4%. However, investors have had to wait until the last week of the month to see if the actual Santa Claus rally occurs.

Over the years, analysts have speculated many possible explanations for the notion of a Santa Claus rally. One is that investors are simply more optimistic in the holiday season and market bears are on vacation. Others contend that consumers may be investing their holiday bonuses. A more technical explanations could be that year-end, tax-loss selling creates oversold conditions (i.e. buying opportunities) for value investors to buy stocks. Some propose the theory that portfolio managers may try to “window dress” their portfolios in an effort to squeeze out additional performance before year end. Regardless of the various possible explanations, market data supports the idea that since 1950, December has been the best month of the year for the S&P 500 Index.

Strategas: Historically the Best Month of the Year

Source: Strategas

That said, there are no guarantees on Wall Street and the delivery of a Santa Claus rally is no exception. In fact, the lack of a rally could be an important market signal. The Stock Trader’s Almanac warns, “If Santa Claus should fail to call; bears may come to Broad & Wall.” Interestingly, Jeffery Hirsch, son of Yale Hirsch and current editor of the Stock Trader’s Almanac, notes that over the past 21 years, the Santa Claus rally has failed to materialize only four times, and that preceded flat market performance in 1994 & 2005, and down markets in 2000 and 2008.

With so many macro forces at work here in the U.S. and globally, the presence of both headwinds and tailwinds in the current market allows room for debate as to whether or not the Santa Claus rally will occur 2015. The dollar remains strong, manufacturing is slowing, and energy remains under pressure due to low oil prices. However, valuations are not unreasonable, economic growth continues, albeit modestly, and we are seven years into a domestic bull market that continues to move higher amid shorter-term bouts of resistance and volatility. While some naysayers contend that the abnormally strong gains in October may have cannibalized some of December’s potential rally, I believe the Federal Reserve is one of the real wild cards here. If the Fed decides to raise interest rates in mid-December for the first time since 2008, higher levels of uncertainty could temper investor enthusiasm, depending on the Fed’s language regarding the duration and magnitude of any such action.

While I remain a believer in the magic of the holidays and am optimistic that the market can justify a Santa Claus rally in 2015, there are too many mixed signals across the markets to be certain. In the end, I just hope the Santa Rally of 2015 does not prove to be as elusive as that clever little Elf on the Shelf.

The views expressed are those of Brinker Capital and are not intended as investment advice or recommendation. For informational purposes only. Holdings are subject to change. Brinker Capital, Inc., a Registered Investment Advisor.

Investment Insights Podcast – November 6, 2015

miller_podcast_graphicBill Miller, Chief Investment Officer

On this week’s podcast (recorded November 5, 2015):

What we like: Clearer reasoning into why the economy was weak during summer months; inventories were too high, so businesses (smartly) quit building inventory allowing a drawdown; final demand for goods and services was positive; ultimately, slowdown seems temporary, lending itself to a positive outlook for fourth quarter; Central banks supporting economic growth via quantitative easing measures.

What we don’t like: Janet Yellen stated that she may in fact raise interest rates (by December); spooked the bond market as it seemed unlikely until 2016.

What we’re doing about it: Evaluating the soon-to-be-released employment report and its impact on Yellen’s potential decision.

Click here to listen to the audio recording

The views expressed are those of Brinker Capital and are not intended as investment advice or recommendation. For informational purposes only. Holdings are subject to change. Brinker Capital, Inc., a Registered Investment Advisor.

Investment Insights Podcast – October 27, 2015

miller_podcast_graphicBill Miller, Chief Investment Officer

On this week’s podcast (recorded October 27, 2015):

What we like: Tentative budget debt deal between Congress and President should fund government for next several months; better news and business activity out of China; U.S. consumer balance sheet good; wage growth positive; oil prices remain low

What we don’t like: Initial third quarter earnings just OK; some sales misses due to strong dollar and energy; manufacturing sector under great pressure

What we’re doing about it: Slow and steady wins the race; keeping an eye on any recession-related talk

Click here to listen to the audio recording

The views expressed are those of Brinker Capital and are not intended as investment advice or recommendation. For informational purposes only. Holdings are subject to change.

Investment Insights Podcast – September 18, 2015

miller_podcast_graphicBill Miller, Chief Investment Officer

On this week’s podcast (recorded September 18, 2015):

What we like: Janet Yellen announced no hike to interest rates; investors had been tracking her policy decision for weeks, making it a distraction, but now some of that stress is alleviated; Yellen was decisive and clear that they wouldn’t raise rates near-term and when they do, there will be fair warning; investors can now focus on the global economy as opposed to that and Fed policy

What we don’t like: As we shift focus to the economy, economic data is currently mixed; employment, housing, and auto are good, manufacturing and production not as much; China, Europe, and Japan have patchwork economic data as well–some good, some bad.

What we’re doing about it: Focusing on growth for investors; watching for earnings reports in early October; leaning more bullish

Click here to listen to the audio recording

The views expressed are those of Brinker Capital and are not intended as investment advice or recommendation. For informational purposes only. Holdings are subject to change.

Investment Insights Podcast – December 10, 2014

Bill MillerBill Miller, Chief Investment Officer

On this week’s podcast (recorded December 9, 2014):

What we like: Forecasts for economy in 2015 lean towards growth; U.S. Manufacturing Renaissance still supported by strong demand; stock market may grow between 7%-10%

What we don’t like: The forecasts represent a consensus view; reports too similar, so the contrarian in us worries; sharp sell-off in oil may create near-term market nervousness

What we’re doing about it: Nothing tactical within portfolios; seems to be no hint of a recession or increased interest rates

Click here to listen to the audio recording

The views expressed are those of Brinker Capital and are not intended as investment advice or recommendation. For informational purposes only. Holdings are subject to change. Brinker Capital, Inc., a Registered Investment Advisor

Monthly Market and Economic Outlook: November 2014

Amy MagnottaAmy Magnotta, CFASenior Investment Manager, Brinker Capital

After a pullback that began in mid-September, the equity markets bounced back sharply in the last two weeks of October. The equity markets shrugged off the end of the Fed’s quantitative easing program and slower economic growth outside of the U.S., viewing the weakness as a buying opportunity. After being down -7% during the correction, the S&P 500 ended the month at a new high. Utilities and healthcare were the top performing sectors, while energy and materials were negative on the month. Small caps bounced back even harder than large caps with the Russell 2000 gaining +6.6% in October, yet small caps have not yet eclipsed their July highs. Year to date through October, mid cap value has been the best performing style, gaining +11.9% due to the strong performance of REITs and utilities.

International equity markets were mixed in October. Developed markets, including Europe and Japan, were generally negative, while emerging markets ended the month in positive territory, led by strong performance in India and China. The U.S. exhibited further strength versus both developed and emerging market currencies. International equity markets have significantly lagged the U.S. markets so far this year; the spread between the S&P 500 Index and MSCI ACWI ex USA Index is 1200 basis points through October.

During the equity market sell-off U.S. Treasury yields declined. The yield on the 10-year note fell almost 50 basis points to a low of 2.14% on October 15, then moved slightly higher to end the month at 2.35%. It was a good month for the fixed income asset class, with all sectors posting positive returns led by corporate credit. High-yield credit spreads widened out 100 basis points in the equity market sell-off, but recaptured 75% of that move in the last two weeks of October. High-yield spreads still remain 100 basis points wider than the low reached in June, and the fundamental backdrop is positive. Municipal bonds had another solid month, benefiting from a continued supply/demand imbalance and improving credit fundamentals.

Our macro outlook has not changed. When weighing the positives and the risks, we continue to believe the balance is shifted even more in favor of the positives over the intermediate-term and the global macro backdrop is constructive for risk assets. As a result our strategic portfolios are positioned with an overweight to overall risk. A number of factors should support the economy and markets over the intermediate term.

  • Global monetary policy remains accommodative: Even with QE complete, Fed policy is still accommodative. U.S. short-term interest rates should remain near-zero until mid-2015 if inflation remains contained. The ECB stands ready to take even more aggressive action to support the European economy, and the Bank of Japan expanded its already aggressive easing program.
  • Pickup in U.S. growth: Economic growth in the U.S. has picked up. Companies are starting to spend on hiring and capital expenditures. Both manufacturing and service PMIs remain in expansion territory. Housing has been weaker, but consumer and CEO confidence are elevated.
  • U.S. companies remain in solid shape: U.S. companies have solid balance sheets that flush with cash. M&A deal activity has picked up this year. Earnings growth has been ahead of expectations and margins have been resilient.
  • Less uncertainty in Washington: After serving as a major uncertainty over the last few years, Washington has done little damage so far this year. Fiscal drag will not have a major impact on growth this year, and the budget deficit has also declined significantly. Government spending will again become a contributor to GDP growth in 2015.

Risks facing the economy and markets remain, including:

  • Fed’s withdrawal of stimulus: Risk assets have historically reacted negatively when monetary stimulus has been withdrawn; however, tapering was gradual and the economy is on more solid footing this time. Should inflation measures pick up, market participants will quickly shift to concern over the timing of the Fed’s first interest rate hike. However, the core Personal Consumption Expenditure Price (PCE) Index, the Fed’s preferred inflation measure, is up only +1.4% over the last 12 months and we have not yet seen the improvement in the labor market translate into a level of wage growth that is worrisome.
  • Global growth: While growth in the U.S. has picked up recently, concerns remain surrounding growth in continental Europe, Japan and some emerging markets. Both the OECD and IMF have downgraded their forecasts for global growth.
  • Geopolitical risks: The events in the Middle East and Ukraine, as well as Ebola fears could have a transitory impact on markets.

Despite levels of investor sentiment that have moved back towards optimism territory and valuations that are close to long-term averages, we remain positive on equities for the reasons previously stated. In addition, seasonality and the election cycle are in our favor. The fourth quarter tends to be bullish for equities, as well as the 12-month period following mid-term elections.

Our portfolios are positioned to take advantage of continued strength in risk assets, and we continue to emphasize high-conviction opportunities within asset classes, as well as strategies that can exploit market inefficiencies.

Asset Class Outlook Favored Sub-Asset Classes
U.S. Equity + Large caps growth
Intl Equity + Emerging and frontier markets, small cap
Fixed Income - Global high-yield credit
Absolute Return + Closed-end funds, global macro
Real Assets +/- Natural resources equities
Private Equity + Diversified

Source: Brinker Capital

Views expressed are for informational purposes only. Holdings subject to change. Not all asset classes referenced in this material may be represented in your portfolio. All investments involve risk including loss of principal. Fixed income investments are subject to interest rate and credit risk. Foreign securities involve additional risks, including foreign currency changes, political risks, foreign taxes, and different methods of accounting and financial reporting. Past performance is not a guarantee of similar future results. An investor cannot invest directly in an index.

 

When in Doubt, Blame the Weather

Ryan Dressel Ryan Dressel, Investment Analyst, Brinker Capital

The 2013-2014 winter has been nothing short of a worse-case scenario for the eastern half of the U.S. In Chicago, temperatures fell below zero an astounding 22 times (the Chicago record for a winter is 25), and let’s not forget the combined 67 inches of snow. In Atlanta, the city literally came to a halt during what became known as “Icepocalypse.” In Philadelphia, we’ve seen a total of 58 inches of snow (third highest on record) including 11 different snow storms dropping one inch or more.[1]

Source: TheAtlantic.com

Source: TheAtlantic.com

Those three locales give you a pretty good idea of just how wide spread the wrath of winter is this year. While it is difficult to measure the exact impact of the weather on the economy, we can conclude that economic activity will certainly lag in January, February and March. Despite the fact that most economic indices account for seasonal effects, they do not account for outlier years like this one. Weather has been blamed for poor economic reports ranging from job growth, to new housing starts, to manufacturing—but is it justified?

A 2010 study by the American Meteorological Society determined which U.S. states are most sensitive to extreme weather variability as it relates to economic output.[2]

Dressel_Weather_2.21.14_1The research concluded that the location with the most sensitive industries had the largest total economic effect. For example, agriculture is the most sensitive on an absolute basis, but the fact that agriculture makes up such a small percentage of most states’ Gross State Product (GSP) means that extreme weather has a small total effect on sensitivity. Conversely, manufacturing, financial services, and real estate have a large relative sensitivity because of their GSP impact. As you can see on the map, the states where these industries have a significant economic impact, translates in higher sensitivity to extreme weather.

The severity of winter in the states colored red and yellow justifies the weather-related hype, while the ones in blue can be ignored for economic purposes. If you include the effects of the Government shutdown, we’ve had four consecutive months of cloudy data that we can’t put into clear context!

[1] National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
[2] U.S. Economic Sensitivity to Weather Variability. Jeffrey K. Lazo, Megan Lawson, Peter Larsen, Donald Waldman. December 28, 2010.