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.

Monthly Market And Economic Outlook: November 2015

Amy MagnottaAmy Magnotta, CFASenior Investment Manager, Brinker Capital

The market correction in the third quarter, prompted by the Federal Reserve’s decision to stay on hold and worries over China, resulted in investor sentiment reaching levels of extreme pessimism. Risk appetites returned in October and global equity markets rebounded sharply. The start to earnings season was also better than expected. With a gain of +8.4%, the S&P 500 Index posted its third-highest monthly return since 2010, bringing the index back into positive territory for the year. Fixed income markets were relatively flat, but high yield and emerging market debt experienced a rebound in the risk-on environment. Year to date through October, the S&P 500 Index leads both international equity and fixed income markets, a headwind for diversified portfolios.

Within the U.S. equity market sector leadership shifted again but all sectors were in positive territory. The energy and materials sectors, which have weighed significantly on index returns this year, both experienced double-digit gains for the month as crude oil prices stabilized. The more defensive consumer staples and utilities sectors underperformed. Large caps outpaced small and mid-caps, and the margin of outperformance for growth over value continued to widen.

International developed equity markets kept pace with U.S. equity markets in October despite a slight strengthening in the U.S. dollar. Performance in Japan and Europe was boosted on expectations of additional monetary easing. Emerging markets were only slightly behind developed markets, helped by supportive monetary and fiscal policies in China and stabilizing commodity prices. All regions were positive but performance was mixed, with Indonesia gaining more than +15% while India gained less than +2%.

U.S. Treasury yields moved slightly higher during October, and they have continued their move upward as we have entered November. Investment-grade fixed income was flat for the quarter and has provided modest gains so far this year. Municipal bonds outperformed taxable bonds. After peaking at a level of 650 basis points in the beginning of the month, the increase in risk appetite helped high yield spreads tighten more than 100 basis points and the asset class gained more than 2%. Spreads still remain wide relative to fundamentals.

Our outlook remains biased in favor of the positives, but recognizing risks remain. The global macro backdrop keeps us positive on risk assets over the intermediate-term, even as we move through the second half of the business cycle. A number of factors should support the economy and markets over the intermediate term.

  • Global monetary policy accommodation: Despite the Federal Reserve heading toward monetary policy normalization, their approach will be patient and data dependent. The ECB and the Bank of Japan have both executed bold easing measures in an attempt to support their economies. Emerging economies have room to ease.
  • U.S. growth stable and inflation tame: U.S. GDP growth, while muted, remains positive. Employment growth is solid as the unemployment rate fell to 5%. Wage growth has been tepid at best despite the tightening labor market, and reported inflation measures and inflation expectations remain below the Fed’s target.
  • U.S. companies remain in decent shape: M&A deal activity continues to pick up as companies seek growth. Earnings growth outside of the energy sector is positive, but margins, while resilient, have likely peaked for the cycle.
  • Washington: Policy uncertainty is low and all parties in Washington were able to agree on a budget deal and also raised the debt ceiling to reduce near-term uncertainty. With the new budget fiscal policy is poised to become modestly accommodative, helping offset more restrictive monetary policy.

However, risks facing the economy and markets remain, including:

  • Fed tightening: After delaying in September, expectations are for the Fed to raise the fed funds rate December. The subsequent path of rates is uncertain and may not be in line with market expectations, which could lead to increased volatility.
  • Slower global growth: Economic growth outside the U.S. is decidedly weaker. It remains to be seen whether central bank policies can spur sustainable growth in Europe and Japan. A significant slowdown in China is a concern, along with slower growth in other emerging economics like Brazil.
  • Geopolitical risks could cause short-term volatility.

While the equity market drop was concerning, we viewed the move as more of a correction than the start of a bear market. The worst equity market declines are associated with recessions, which are preceded by substantial central bank tightening or accelerating inflation. As described above, we don’t see these conditions being met yet today. The trend of the macro data in the U.S. is still positive, and a significant slowdown in China, which will certainly weigh on global growth, is not likely enough to tip the U.S. economy into contraction. Even as the Fed begins tightening monetary policy later this year, the pace will be measured as inflation is still below target. While we expect a higher level of volatility as the market digests the Fed’s actions and we move through the second half of the business cycle, we remain positive on risk assets over the intermediate term. Increased volatility creates opportunities that we can take advantage of as active managers.

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. Brinker Capital, Inc., a Registered Investment Advisor.

Monthly Market and Economic Outlook: November 2013

MagnottaAmy Magnotta, CFA, Senior Investment Manager, Brinker Capital

The impressive run for global equities continued in October. While U.S. and developed international markets have gained more than 25% and 20% respectively so far this year, emerging markets equities, fixed income, and commodities have lagged. Emerging markets have eked out a gain of less than 1%, but fixed income and commodities have posted negative year-to-date returns (through 10/31). While interest rates were relatively unchanged in October, the 10-year Treasury is still 100 basis points higher than where it began the year.

After the Fed decided not to begin tapering asset purchases at their September meeting, seeking greater clarity on economic growth and a waning of fiscal policy uncertainty, attention turned to Washington. A short-term deal was signed into law on October 17, funding the government until mid-January 2014 and suspending the debt ceiling until February 2014. With the prospects of a grand bargain slim, we expect continued headline risk coming out of Washington.

The Fed will again face the decision to taper asset purchases at their December meeting, and we expect volatility in risk assets and interest rates to surround this decision, just as we experienced in the second quarter.  More recent economic data has surprised to the upside, including a +2.8% GDP growth rate and better-than-expected gains in payrolls. Despite their decision to reduce or end asset purchases, the Fed has signaled that short-term rates will be on hold for some time. Rising longer-term interest rates in the context of stronger economic growth and low inflation is a satisfactory outcome.

11.12.13_Magnotta_MarketOutlook_1However, we continue to view a rapid rise in interest rates as one of the biggest threats to the economic recovery.  The recovery in the housing market, in both activity and prices, has been a positive contributor to growth this year.  Stable, and potentially rising, home prices help to boost consumer confidence and net worth, which impacts consumer spending in other areas of the economy.  Should mortgage rates move high enough to stall the housing market recovery, it would be a negative for economic growth.

We continue to approach our macro view as a balance between headwinds and tailwinds. We believe the scale remains tipped in favor of tailwinds as we approach the end of the year, with a number of factors supporting the economy and markets.

  • Monetary policy remains accommodative: The Fed remains accommodative (even with the eventual end of asset purchases, short-term interest rates are likely to remain near-zero until 2015), the ECB has provided additional support through a rate cut, and the Bank of Japan has embraced an aggressive monetary easing program in an attempt to boost growth and inflation.
  • Global growth strengthening: U.S. economic growth has been sluggish, but steady. The manufacturing and service PMIs remain solidly in expansion territory. Outside of the U.S. growth has not been very robust, but it is positive.
  • Labor market progress: The recovery in the labor market has been slow, but stable. Monthly payroll gains have averaged 201,000[1] over the last three months.
  • Inflation tame: With the CPI increasing only +1.2% over the last 12 months, inflation in the U.S. has been running below the Fed’s target level.
  • Equity fund flows turn positive: Equity mutual funds have experienced inflows of $24 billion over the last three weeks, compared to outflows of -$12 billion for fixed income funds.[2] Continued inflows would provide further support to the equity markets.
  • Housing market improvement: The improvement in home prices, typically a consumer’s largest asset, boosts net worth, and as a result, consumer confidence.  However, another move higher in mortgage rates could jeopardize the recovery.
  • U.S. companies remain in solid shape: U.S. companies have solid balance sheets flush with cash that could be reinvested or returned to shareholders. Corporate profits remain at high levels and margins have been resilient.

However, risks facing the economy and markets remain, including:

  • 11.12.13_Magnotta_MarketOutlook_2Fed mismanages exit: The Fed will soon have to face the decision of when to scale back asset purchases, which could prompt further volatility in asset prices and interest rates. If the economy has not yet reached escape velocity when the Fed begins to scale back its asset purchases, risk assets could react negatively as they have in the past when monetary stimulus has been withdrawn.  If the Fed does begin to slow asset purchases, it will be in the context of an improving economy.
  • Significantly higher interest rates: Rates moving significantly higher from current levels could stifle the economic recovery.
  • Sentiment elevated: Investor sentiment is elevated, which typically serves as a contrarian signal.
  • Fiscal policy uncertainty: Washington continues to kick the can down the road, delaying further debt ceiling and budget negotiations to early 2014.

Risk assets should continue to perform if real growth continues to recover even in a higher interest rate environment; however, we expect continued volatility in the near term, especially as we await the Fed’s decision on the fate of QE. Equity market valuations remain reasonable; however, sentiment is elevated. 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.

Some areas of opportunity currently include:

  • Global Equity: large cap growth, dividend growers, Japan, frontier markets, international microcap
  • Fixed Income: MBS, global high yield credit, short duration
  • Absolute Return: closed-end funds, relative value, long/short credit
  • Real Assets: MLPs, company specific opportunities
  • Private Equity: company specific opportunities

Asset Class Returns

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