Fisher Investments Editorial Staff
Reality Check, Into Perspective, Media Hype/Myths

Hey La, Hey La, Volatility Is Back?

By, 09/30/2014
Ratings244.4375


Is this bull market taking a break to ride the Cyclone at Coney Island?  Photo by Getty Images/Stringer.

Here is some fun with headlines: “Wall Street Gets a Case of the Jitters” and there is “No Rest for the Volatility-Weary on Wall Street” because this “Wild Stock Market Ride Is Just Beginning,” and we all better “Expect More Volatility With Stocks Priced Near Perfection.” From the general tone and word choice of these blurbs, you might infer stocks are roller-coastering their way through a correction—or at least significantly more herky-jerky than normal. In reality, however, this “volatility” is quite tame. Not that this means anything, of course. This non-volatile volatility is no more predictive of future volatility, corrections or overall market movement than normal volatility is.

We are told stocks are “volatile” right now because:

Fisher Investments Editorial Staff

Lessons From the Golden Bear

By, 09/29/2014
Ratings134.384615

GOOOOOOOOOOOOOOLD!!!! It doesn’t seem that long ago to us that the shiny yellow metal was all the rage. Some saw gold prices reaching 5,000 … and beyond! Folks couldn’t seem to get enough. Ads touted gold as a “safe haven”—offering growth and shelter from (wrongly) perceived risks. Some even debated whether you could replace bonds with gold and get equity-like growth with little volatility![i] You can still find some of that talk today, but you may have to go looking a bit. So why has gold seemingly lost some of its shine? Ironically, for the same reason these hyperbolic calls were common back then. You see, while performance was hot back in 2011, gold has since cooled dramatically. Like it entered a big bear market. Now, we aren’t here to say “we told you so!” or even forecast where gold goes from here. But rather, to point out the lessons this turn of events has to offer about gold generally.

Gold’s recent weakness isn’t an isolated incident—it has been falling for over three years. From its record high on September 6, 2011, gold has dropped -36%, while the S&P 500 and MSCI World Index have risen 80% and 59%, respectively.[ii] Dating back to the beginning of this bull market, gold has risen only 31% compared to the S&P 500’s and MSCI World’s respective 226% and 179%.[iii] However, that doesn’t mean when gold falls, stocks rise—the two aren’t negatively correlated. After all, both stocks and gold fell after the panic initially hit in 2008. Both rose in 2009 and 2010. (Exhibit 1) Divergence didn’t persistently start until late 2011. Gold isn’t a consistent or reliable buffer against equity market volatility because it doesn’t move contrary to stocks with consistency. In other words, even if you foresee a correction or bear market, buying gold may not be a good tactic.  

Exhibit 1: Gold’s Price Compared to the S&P 500 and MSCI World, 03/09/2009-09/25/2014

Fisher Investments Editorial Staff
US Economy, Into Perspective, Reality Check

Seven Charts to Free You From Skepticism’s Shackles

By, 09/26/2014
Ratings1044.5

Is the bull market illusory?

Five-plus years into this economic expansion, some still say yes. They commonly claim growth and the bull market are pumped up by global central bankers’ allegedly easy money. They wag an accusatory finger at the Fed in particular, for pinning overnight rates at zero and enacting widely misunderstood “extraordinary” monetary policy they claim is stimulus (despite a century of theory and data arguing the opposite). Some even argue the economy has fundamentally mutated as a result and a rate hike will be disastrous for stocks and the economy. That the Fed’s financial engineering has created a recovery limited to only those with fortunes already invested in markets. Broader growth, they claim, is built on a shaky foundation. For these reasons and more, many skeptics remain unconvinced the bull market is for real—and when volatility strikes like it did Thursday (a relative rarity this and last year)—they presume it is not just markets being their unpredictable, occasionally wild, selves. They presume it is the beginning of the end they’ve long envisioned. But in our view, there are plenty of hard, fast data points that show growth isn’t exclusive to a few stock jobbers[i] and financial market players. Some were featured in a recent post we saw on Scott Grannis’ Calafia Beach Pundit blog. Others we’ve added. These more tangible data points are beyond the Fed’s ability to skew. None are wonderful indicators of future growth, but taken together, they are an excellent illustration of the reality underpinning this bull market.

Let’s start with oil production. The US shale revolution has fundamentally transformed the industry from being in long-term decline to a sharp revival. Combining three long-known factors—shale oil resources, hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling—unearthed massive, previously untapped oil. Today, domestic oil production has surged to levels not seen since 1988. Once down more than 50% from its highest-ever oil output recorded in October 1970, oil production today stands about 17% below that mark.

Fisher Investments Editorial Staff
Media Hype/Myths

Ken Fisher: “Nothing Is Better—Stocks Are Stocks.” Even Small Caps.

By, 09/25/2014
Ratings994.262626

Mere months ago, you couldn’t venture too far onto the World Wide Web without some pundit telling you small-cap stocks are the bee’s knees. After all, small caps’ long-term average annualized return beats the broader market, and they’re ahead during this bull market. Open and shut case, they argued. So it might surprise you to know small caps are down this year. While the broader market is up. It might also surprise you to know small usually falls behind as a bull market matures. As our boss, Ken Fisher, wrote in the Financial Times in June, Nothing is better—stocks are stocks. Every category, correctly calculated, has its day in the sun and also the rain.” There is mounting evidence clouds may be gathering, dimming small cap’s shine.

The myth of small caps’ permanent superiority stems from the category’s long-term and recent returns. From 1926 through 2013, small caps returned roughly 11.5% annualized—slightly higher than large cap’s—represented by the S&P 500—10%.[i] Small cap also led for much of this bull market’s first five years, leading many to extrapolate its leadership forward. But as Ken also wrote in that June Financial Times piece, “that’s recency bias and a great way to lead yourself to trouble.” Past performance, as ever, doesn’t predict future returns.

Small cap’s leadership is largely cyclical. It does great early in a bull—small caps usually get hammered the hardest late in a bear, then bounce disproportionately off the bottom. That high long-term return stems from some really, really big bounce-back years, like the early goings of the bull markets that began in 1932, 1942, 1974 and 2002. As bulls age, small fades and big does better.

Fisher Investments Editorial Staff

The Treasury’s Inverted Logic

By, 09/24/2014
Ratings254.36

After weeks of promising to address the alleged scourge of those M&A deals known as corporate inversions, the Treasury took action Monday, announcing what Secretary Jack Lew called an “important first step” to closing “this unfair loophole.” Politicians cheered and jeered, and businesses weren’t amused, but in our view, this is all just noisy political theater. The small rule changes might bring some unintended consequences, as rule changes tend to do, but the negatives are nowhere near big enough to buck the bull.  

As a quick refresher, an inversion is when a US company buys a much smaller foreign firm (whose shareholders can hold as little as a 20% interest in the newly combined firm under current law), then switches HQ to that foreign address—an easy way to redomicile in a country with a friendlier tax code, with current shareholders maintaining majority control. Contrary to popular myth, they don’t do it to avoid paying all US taxes. They’ll still pay US rates on all profits booked here. They just won’t get taxed twice on foreign earnings. Foreign firms don’t have to pay Uncle Sam when they shift foreign earnings to the US for investment purposes or other use. (And they don’t get taxed shifting US-sourced profits to their new home country.)

But politicians dislike inversions, because they believe the practice robs America of very important tax dollars. This is also an election year—the time to convince voters these lost tax dollars deprive America of very important investment, and then let the heavens bathe them in holy light when they “do something” about it. The administration has spent months doing the convincing. Now they’re doing the “doing something.”

Fisher Investments Editorial Staff
Reality Check, Media Hype/Myths

Some Ken Fisher Wisdom on the Eurozone

By, 09/24/2014
Ratings234.543478

“The older an argument is, the less power it has.”

Our boss, Ken Fisher, wrote that in Forbes on March 13, 1995, explaining why long-running inflation fears were too old and too tired to end the bull market. It sprang to mind yesterday, when we read for the 1,947th time that the eurozone is on the precipice of a dismal spiral of deflation, depression and doom.

It might not feel this way, but these eurozone jitters are the same old euro collapse fears folks have had for years, just dressed up in new clothes. Most folks might not fear the common currency’s splintering these days (though, fear hasn’t completely died out), but you can’t go far without some headline telling you the eurozone will be a black hole in the world economy for a long time to come. The same old fear. It just went through a metamorphosis.

Fisher Investments Editorial Staff
Media Hype/Myths

G-20 Minus One Country Plus 900 Bullet Points = 2 Percentage Points of Extra Growth?

By, 09/23/2014
Ratings223.909091

Australian finance minister Joe Hockey has one of the greatest last names in politics. He also claims (along with 18 fellow fin-mins) to have the 900-point key to faster global growth. Photo by Bloomberg/Getty Images.

What happens when finance ministers from 19 apparently important economies hang out in Australia for a weekend? For one thing, you get bizarre promises like this: “As of today, we are 90 percent of the way to reaching our 2 percent goal for additional global growth.” At least, so says Aussie finance minister Joe Hockey, talking up the 900-plus initiatives he and his cohorts supposedly agreed to in their effort to make the world grow two percentage points faster (annually) over the next five years.[i] But before you start doing the Snoopy dance over the prospect of faster growth, here is a reality check: This is the G-20.[ii] We are darned skeptical that 900-plus measures blessed by the consensus at a political sideshow will do anything to boost growth above and beyond what it already would have done anyway. Don’t get us wrong—we think the world is poised to grow faster over the foreseeable future! But this isn’t why. All the media attention on this gathering of global economic glitterati is a sideshow for investors.  

Fisher Investments Editorial Staff

After Scotland’s No, the UK’s Devolution Revolution

By, 09/22/2014
Ratings164.25

Thursday, 55% of Scots voted to remain in the 307-year-old union with England, Wales and Northern Ireland, resolving a big source of UK political uncertainty. But political jitters still linger, largely owing to party leaders’ eleventh-hour pledge to extend Scotland’s autonomy if voters chose the union—and Prime Minister David Cameron’s post-game pledge to devolve more power to all the constituent countries. Negotiations on what this entails are about to start, and Cameron’s goal is to have legislation written by January and passed before May’s election, driving fears over the fallout of a potentially radical, quick shift in how the UK is governed. Political drivers like this are important for stocks, but what matters most is whether changes impact economic competitiveness and corporations’ ability to grow and profit. While no one knows yet what exactly a more federalized UK would look like, the likelihood changes would undermine the country’s many economic strengths or the current expansion seem slim.

Devolution, launched under Tony Blair’s government in 1998, stems from Wales’, Northern Ireland’s and Scotland’s long-running concerns about English MPs’ influence over local policy. Historically, the UK’s government was heavily centralized, with Westminster setting policy for the entire union. But 533 of the House of Commons’ 650 seats are English, compared with 40 for Wales, 18 for Northern Ireland and 59 for Scotland—all of whose economies are structurally different from England’s. So each country was granted its own national legislature with powers to set policy in certain areas. All three countries control their own health care, education, environment and agriculture and tourism. Scotland and Northern Ireland have their own judiciary. Scotland also has power to set its own tax rates under the Scotland Act 2012—where it can vary its income tax rate by up to three percentage points (and by 2016, up to 10 percentage points). Scotland can also issue debt in its own name, as of February, but has yet to do so.

However, none of the constituent countries can control social spending—one of the principal drivers of Scotland’s independence campaign. Many Scottish politicians and voters prefer more spending, but they didn’t believe the UK Parliament would ever loosen the purse strings due to a perceived ideological split between England and Scotland. To fight this perception and keep the union together, the three main party leaders—the Conservative Party’s David Cameron, Labour’s Ed Miliband and the Liberal Democrats’ Nick Clegg—promised Scots more fiscal autonomy if they stayed put, publishing a letter on the front page of Scotland’s Daily Record that loosely promised what pundits call “devo max”[i] and what former PM Gordon Brown called “home rule.” With Cameron’s implied backing.

Fisher Investments Editorial Staff
Interest Rates, Media Hype/Myths

The FOMC’s Rorschach Test

By, 09/19/2014
Ratings363.444444

Wednesday was one of those days the financial press just goes nuts for. They live blog. Feature exclusive video. Previews lead up to it. Prognostications and analyses, factboxes[i] and listicles detail what you should take away. It, we are told, is a really big deal. However, in our view, “It” is really just noise, and something investors would be well served to tune out.

In this case, “It” is the Federal Reserve’s policy statement and the presser that takes place at the end of the biquarterly meeting of the Federal Open Market Committee, the (usually) 12-member committee that sets US monetary policy.[ii] The meeting has taken on a new aura in recent years, not because (as we are often reminded) the Fed did a lot of stuff in the years after 2008. But rather, because one of the specific things it did was release individual Fed member forecasts of expected economic conditions, unemployment and interest rates. The media loves forecasts, especially coming from a mysterious body so widely claimed to sit at the helm of the US economy, steering output and markets along the way. But this was a media dustup, pure and simple, and when the release of September’s statement came, markets basically yawned. And moved on.

The run up to the meeting was rife with talk of “risky” semantics—a will-they-or-won’t-they debate over whether the words “considerable time” would be in the statement. As in, would the statement keep this Hemingway-esque phraseology:

Fisher Investments Editorial Staff
Emerging Markets, Into Perspective

The Li Keqiang Put

By, 09/18/2014
Ratings224.25

Beijing (and China broadly) likely continues to benefit from the government’s growth-and-reform balancing act. Source: Feng Li/Getty Images.

“New normal China is less interested in growth rates and more interested in quality and efficiency of growth: pushing forward reform, adjusting structure and trying to benefit the people.” So said China’s state-run media in a piece called “No Need to Hype China’s Weak Figures,” published Wednesday after a string of dismal (by Chinese standards) data and quite in keeping with what Premier Li Keqiang said at last week’s World Economic Forum: “We are restructuring instead of expanding the monetary supply.” He also said growth was still in a satisfactory range despite some noticeably weaker figures in August. And yet, on Wednesday, the top headline on state-run China Daily’s English language website was this: “PBOC Injects $81b into banks.” Then, on Thursday, the PBOC cut banks’ short-term borrowing costs. All of which smells a lot like monetary stimulus. Yes, it seems China is sticking with its standard approach: Talking up reform efforts and trying to manage folks’ expectations while quietly ensuring the economy has just enough oomph to meet their target.

Fisher Investments Editorial Staff

A Buyback Boost?

By, 09/17/2014
Ratings493.887755

Who’s buying equities these days? If trade volumes are any indication, not many folks—at least according to headlines.[i] Which means, by Fleet Street logic, if stock buybacks are surging, corporations must be the only buyers—and without them, the bull would be in trouble, lacking buying power to drive stocks forward. But this theory ignores some key things, like how markets work—and how buybacks really influence them. Stock buybacks are groovy, but they aren’t the only thing driving this bull market.

Buybacks have been hot for this entire bull market, but 2014 has been especially gangbusters. US corporations bought back $338.3 billion of stock in the first half of 2014, the most of any six-month period since 2007. The number of companies with a repurchase program is the highest since 2008. At the same time, trading volumes are low, so headlines put two and two together (they think) and say if buybacks stop, the bull’s out of gas because regular folks just aren’t buying. 

This is sheer fallacy. Corporations aren’t the only buyers. They may get the most headlines, but with 329 and 164 billion shares changing hands on the NASDAQ and NYSE, respectively, year to date,[ii] it’s clear many, many others are trading too. The $338 billion in buybacks is a teensy share of the $6.5 trillion[iii] worth of shares that have traded hands in the NYSE this year alone—to say nothing of the many, many more that traded in the dozens of other trading venues in the US. Yes, volume has decreased in recent months—August had the smallest share volume in both the NASDAQ and NYSE for the year[iv]—but markets don’t need lots of activity to generate big moves.

Fisher Investments Editorial Staff
Media Hype/Myths, Interest Rates

Words, Words, Words

By, 09/16/2014
Ratings264.288462

Janet Yellen shares a moment with ECB chief Mario Draghi at last month’s banker powwow in Jackson Hole. (Not pictured: The red pen Yellen might use to make some edits to the Fed’s policy statement.) Photo by Bradly Boner/Bloomberg via Getty Images.

So said Hamlet to Polonius in Act II, Scene 2, when asked what he was reading as he wandered the castle halls with his nose buried in parchment. We’ve always felt the same way about the forward guidance in the Fed’s meeting statements—the Fed’s supposed attempt at previewing future moves. They aren’t policy promises or prophesies. They’re just a bunch of words written in a language called Fedspeak, deliberately fuzzy so they don’t back the Fed into a corner. So we’re a wee bit puzzled by the punditry’s handwringing over the mere possibility of the Fed removing the words “considerable time” from its meeting statement this week. As in, changing the sentence saying, “The Committee continues to anticipate, based on its assessment of these factors, that it likely will be appropriate to maintain the current target range for the federal funds rate for a considerable time after the asset purchase program ends …” Whether or not those two words go bye-bye, it says nothing about when rates actually will rise.

Fisher Investments Editorial Staff

Does the US Stand Taller With a Strong Dollar?

By, 09/15/2014
Ratings84.875

Cue the John Phillip Souza! The dollar is on the march higher lately, strengthening against most major currencies worldwide. And according to some, that’s proof the US economy has a leg up over the rest of the world! But currency strength or weakness doesn’t tell you much about economic vibrancy—and it tells you nothing about stock market direction. Our bullish outlook has nothing to do with the expected rise or fall of the greenback.

Currencies only move relative to one another, so arguably the best gauge of what “the dollar is doing” is the Broad Trade-Weighted US Dollar Index, which tallies the moves of the dollar versus 26 other major currencies, weighted by our total trade in each. Since reaching its low for the year on July 9, the dollar has risen fairly consistently versus most currencies. The Broad US Dollar Trade Weighted Index is up in seven of the last nine weekly reads, with the currency up over 2% during the span.[i] A narrower gauge measuring the USD against six currencies is up more, over 5% in the same period.[ii] (Unsurprisingly, most media accounts cite this second, bigger figure. More eye catching, we guess.)

The punditry’s explanations for these moves are many and varied. Some cite “political shocks” elsewhere—Iraq, Ukraine, the Scottish referendum—and claim these events made the dollar look that much greener. Others cite the eurozone’s uneven recovery. The US is their “safe haven,”[iii] if you will, from these global trouble spots. To many, a strong dollar also makes the US economy far more attractive than its peers.  

Elisabeth Dellinger
Into Perspective, Personal Finance

Shinzo Abe Walks Into a Bar

By, 09/15/2014
Ratings214.047619

This is not a picture of Shinzo Abe walking into a bar, but we like how jolly he looks. Photo by Matt Cardy/Getty Images.

Here is a wacky idea for Shinzo Abe, the Prime Minister on a quest to revitalize Japan’s economy: Fly to the UK and have a beer or two with a fellow named Tim Martin.

Subscribe

Get a weekly roundup of our market insights.Sign up for the MarketMinder email newsletter. Learn more.

Recent Commentary

Fisher Investments Editorial Staff
Reality Check

Hey La, Hey La, Volatility Is Back?

By, 09/30/2014
Ratings244.4375

Volatility can be pretty volatile sometimes, but at the moment, this is not one of those times.

read more
Fisher Investments Editorial Staff

Lessons From the Golden Bear

By, 09/29/2014
Ratings134.384615

How attractive is gold when it comes to investing over the long term?

read more
Fisher Investments Editorial Staff
US Economy

Seven Charts to Free You From Skepticism’s Shackles

By, 09/26/2014
Ratings1044.5

Gauges of tangible activity in the US economy show this expansion is driven by more than just the Fed’s attempted financial engineering.

read more
Fisher Investments Editorial Staff
Media Hype/Myths

Ken Fisher: “Nothing Is Better—Stocks Are Stocks.” Even Small Caps.

By, 09/25/2014
Ratings994.262626

A check-in on market leadership by size.

read more
Fisher Investments Editorial Staff

The Treasury’s Inverted Logic

By, 09/24/2014
Ratings254.36

What fallout will follow the Treasury’s attempts to deter corporate inversions?

read more

Global Market Update

Market Wrap-Up, Mon Sept 29 2014

Below is a market summary (as of market close Monday, 09/29/2014):

  • Global Equities: MSCI World (-0.3%)
  • US Equities: S&P 500 (-0.3%)
  • UK Equities: MSCI UK (-0.1%)
  • Best Country: Japan (+0.3%)
  • Worst Country: Hong Kong (-2.7%)
  • Best Sector: Utilities (+0.1%)
  • Worst Sector: Financials (-0.8%)
  • Bond Yields: 10-year US Treasurys fell .04 to 2.48%

Editors' Note: Tracking Stock and Bond Indexes

 

Source: Factset. Unless otherwise specified, all country returns are based on the MSCI index in US dollars for the country or region and include net dividends. Sector returns are the MSCI World constituent sectors in USD including net dividends.