Stocks & Markets React as US Government Shutdown – Third Quarter Market Commentary

STOCKS IN A LAND OF CONFUSION

“If you’re not confused, you’re not paying attention.” – Anonymous

“What is right is not always popular and what is popular is not always right.” – Albert Einstein

Stocks and market do not like uncertainty.

stocks us government shutdown

Stocks react as US politicians are once again playing a game of brinkmanship.

As we enter the last quarter of 2013, US politicians are once again playing a game of brinkmanship; unfortunately one that could have dire consequences for the world’s economy.  Politicians continue to entrench opposing positions rather than engage in positive action.  It is highly unlikely that the entire US government will shut down as essential services will remain active, but nevertheless, investors dislike uncertainty and markets have been under pressure as the Third Quarter closed.

Investor behaviour during the quarter appeared less than consistent with past experience.  Despite this contradictory behaviour, results generally finished in positive territory.

                     Canadian Dollar

US Dollar

Q1

Q2

Q3

YTD

 

Q1

Q2

Q3

YTD

 

Toronto Stock Exchange

3.3%

-4.1%

6.2%

5.3%

S&P 500

13.2%

6.5%

3.1%

24.4%

10.6%

2.9%

5.2%

19.8%

MSCI EAFE*

6.8%

1.3%

8.7%

17.7%

4.4%

-2.1%

10.9%

13.4%

91 Day T-Bill

0.2%

0.2%

0.3%

0.7%

DEX**

0.7%

-2.4%

0.1%

-1.6%

CDN/US dollar

-2.2%

-3.2%

2.2%

-3.8%

* Europe, Asia and Far East Index

** Canadian Bond Universe Index

As noted last quarter, it appeared to be a bit of a conundrum as the Federal Reserve discussed reducing the degree of market intervention undertaken thus far, presumably due to indications of a stronger performing economy, yet investors reacted negatively as fears that the lesser levels of intervention would be insufficient to maintain current yields. In other words, there is a discontinuity between the reality of improving economic conditions and the perception of the investment market participants as to the durability of that growth.

Statistics continue to indicate that inflationary expectations are low.  Typically, this would be a good environment for bonds yet the pressure on yields has been to the upside pushing bond prices down.  The appetite for stocks has been improving suggesting a willingness to engage in riskier assets.  The American economy has been showing signs of improvement while the Euro-zone has been somewhat more stable yet emerging markets have been weaker as growth there has slowed.  As a result, this appetite for risk has not translated to the emerging economies but has in fact been shunning them.  Expectations for global economic growth has dampened as a result since the emerging economies have a much larger impact now than a few years back.  Yet, as previously noted, the trend has generally been into equities despite lower expectations in global growth.

Could inflationary expectations transform into deflationary fears as the emerging markets slow and their currencies lose value relative to the developed countries?  Commodity prices were generally better in the Third Quarter however they remain largely down for the year to date.  Lower commodity prices generally translate into an improved environment for consumers while low inflation is typically good for bond prices.  Mounting debts in the public sector will eventually put pressure on interest rates to increase but the day of reckoning will be postponed as long as the politicians can push it forward.  In the interim, emerging markets have demonstrated great resistance to currency adjustments.

As the above text indicates, investors today appear confused.  Their focus would appear to be on immediate reactions to geo-political events.  This was evident in August when developments in Syria negatively impacted equities.  Although this uncertain environment would normally be perceived to be positive for gold, the price has declined in the latter part of the quarter.

This concentration on exogenous events has taken the focus off fundamentals.  Shocks will continue to impact short-term market directions as investors over-react to economic news releases.  This environment will provide opportunities for value investors to select mispriced stocks over the coming months.

Read our third quarter fixed income commentary here>>

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Quarterly Market Commentary – First Quarter 2013

Quarterly Market Commentary

“There are 10^11 stars in the galaxy. That used to be a huge number.  But it’s only a hundred billion. It’s less than the national deficit (US)! We used to call them astronomical numbers.  Now we should call them economic numbers. ” ~ Richard Feynman,Theoretical Physicist 1919-1988

quarterly market commentary - A billion stars in the galaxy--less than the US national debt!

A billion stars in the galaxy–less than the US national debt!

 

At the end of 2012, worries focused on the likelihood that the political intransigence in the US would drive the economy over the “fiscal cliff”.  As it has been since the economic woes of 2007, a last minute agreement postponed the day of reckoning when real action will be required to reconcile the massive fiscal outlays relative to the revenue shortfalls.  In the interim, trillion dollar deficits add to the US debt obligations.

Eurozone problems continue to feed investor concerns as events there spring sporadically from unforeseen places.  While attention was focused on Greece, Italy, Ireland, Portugal and Spain, a banking crisis in Cyprus erupted in March.

While politician leaders and central bankers on both sides of the Atlantic scramble for solutions, stock markets forge ahead with optimism buoyed by indications that the economy, outside of the Eurozone, continues to expand.

                     Canadian Dollar

US Dollar

Q1

Q1

Toronto Stock Exchange

3.3%

S&P 500

13.2%

10.6%

MSCI EAFE*

6.8%

4.4%

91 Day T-Bill

0.2%

DEX**

0.7%

CDN/US dollar

-2.2%

* Europe, Asia and Far East Index

** Canadian Bond Universe Index

The Materials sector was a huge drag on the Canadian stock market, declining 10.4% in response to falling commodity prices.  The other two major sectors, Energy and Financials, recorded positive returns each at 4.2%.  Stronger returns were reported in the smaller sectors most notably: Industrials (14.3%), Health Care (22.8%) and Information Technology (17.5%).

Across sectors, the strong performance of the US market was more evenly distributed.  Health Care (15.8%), Consumer Discretionary/Staples (10.7%/12.2%), Financials (11.4%), Utilities (13.0%), Industrials (10.7%) and Energy (10.2%) all recorded returns in excess of ten percent.  This strong performance was underpinned by improving news from the housing sector and more confidence exhibited by consumers purchasing more automobiles and other staples.  Energy companies and utilities were supported by the increased production of oil and gas arising from the improvement in  fracking technology.  The US balance of payments will benefit as greater energy independence from higher domestic production reduces the amount of imports.

Some good news emanated from Europe, as both Ireland and Spain were able to successfully auction bonds at rates lower than anticipated.  Then Italy had to spoil the optimism with an inconclusive election result that veered away from the fiscally prudent path they had started to follow.  Just as the Eurozone appeared to be settling down, investors were blindsided by a massive bank failure in Cyprus in March.  In order to negotiate a bailout from the European Central Bank, Cypriot politicians elected to confiscate a portion of the bank deposits in excess of 100,000 euros.  The longer-term effects of this appropriation of private property could undermine the whole concept of fractional reserve banking, particularly in countries under fiscal stress.

China and South Korea reported 2012 GDP growth of 7.8% and 2.0%, the slowest since 1999.  This slower growth has put pressure on commodity prices as demand has waned.

We continue to anticipate a challenging investment environment in the near future.  However, employment, manufacturing, housing and other economic releases from the US point towards slow but positive improvement in that economy.  Worries persist with respect to Canadian consumers being over-extended resulting in slower loan growth and a more precarious housing market.  Even at a slower rate of growth, the economy in China continues to lead the world in the pace of growth.  Commodity inventories will work their way down and a better pricing environment will evolve.  As long as the political meddling manages to avoid a calamity, these conditions will persist.

A near term correction in the market should not come as a great surprise given the gains thus far in the last six months.  Any setback in the market will be an opportunity to position portfolios for the eventual recovery that should become more evident as business expands. As we have previously stated, it is critical in this environment to be cognizant of the financial strength of potential investment targets to provide protection from a more extended period of uncertainty.

We are continuing to invest cautiously as we seek value in the stocks we purchase.

QUARTERLY MARKET COMMENTARY – FIRST QUARTER 2013 FIXED INCOME 

 “ All money is a matter of belief.”- Adam Smith

Fixed income markets during the first quarter were buffeted by a variety of issues. The inconclusive resolution to the “fiscal cliff” issue was followed by similar political posturing, regarding raising the debt ceiling.  Then legislated budget cuts of the “sequester” in the US increased the market’s uncertainty about the longer-term health of the bond market.

The negative performance of the bond market in the early part of the quarter was subsequently offset by the flight to quality prompted by the renewed banking crisis in Europe, as investors sought safety in US dollars.  This time the crisis originated in the eastern Mediterranean island nation of Cyprus where huge off shore deposits were being jeopardized by the imprudent investments of the local banks that had purchased large quantities of Greek bonds. The proposed resolution would result in large depositors losing around 60% of their deposits and prevent the withdrawal of larger sums.

While the events in Cyprus are devastating for Cypriots, their financial services industry and foreign depositors, by itself is of arguably limited concern. What makes it a far more important event is the potential domino effect in countries with similarly shaky financial institutions.

These capital controls negated the idea that the Eurozone is an integrated region where capital can flow freely. This precedent has established that countries can and will place controls on the flow of capital if conditions warrant. While some people might argue that the conditions required it,  it is safe to assume that in the future, reasons will be found to rationalize any kind of controls and limitations on financial institutions.

The fact that depositors’ funds have been appropriated to offset the deposit taking institutions mishandling of their affairs is problematic. In future, depositors should perform due diligence on the institution to whom they entrust their deposits.  In reality, very few clients have the wherewithal to make an informed decision on the health of their bank.

The impact of this appropriation is that the fundamental building block of banking, confidence, is being eroded. Panic has yet to strike banks in Italy and Spain, amongst others. The assumption that is being made is that the average depositor with a hundred thousand euros or less will be protected.  Larger depositors don’t line up, but move their money in a more subtle fashion. We believe that many depositors will withdraw their money and the longer-term effect on European banks will be severe. We haven’t heard the end of the European crisis!

The total return performance of the bond market as measured by the DEX Universe Index for the first quarter was a modest gain of 0.7%. The ten-year Government of Canada bond yield increased by one tenth of a percentage point to 1.9%.

Quarterly Market Commentary – Fourth Quarter 2012

QUARTERLY MARKET COMMENTARY – 2012 ENDS IN A CLIFFHANGER…

“Whatever investment success we achieve will take place against a troubled backdrop, …felt like we were playing a great hand of cards in the basement of a burning building filled with explosives during an earthquake.” — Seth Klaeman author of “Margin of Safety”

As 2012 drew to a close, investors around the world feared that the politicians in the US were about to drive us all over the so-called “fiscal cliff”. This predicament arose from legislation put in place a few years ago that would have simultaneously caused the expiry of previous tax cuts to come into effect at the same time massive cuts in government spending would be mandated. The combination of these events could be enough to pull the US into another recession given the fragility of the current recovery. Canada would be particularly vulnerable to a recession if its major trading partner slipped into recession. Given the bipartisan divisions in the US, the politicians took us to the brink before reaching a compromise that will only postpone the hard decisions that need to be taken to address the gigantic budget deficit.
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Market Outlook – What are the prospects for the financial sector in 2013?

Market Outlook – What are the prospects for the financial sector in 2013?

RBC reported a fourth quarter profit $1.25 per share, up 22%, on increase business loan demand. The other major Canadian banks will report next week. We are looking for more good news after a benign quarter. Assuming the US government takes at least some steps to avert the Fiscal Cliff, moderate growth in the US should translate into moderate growth here in Canada. Our labour market is growing slowly, and wages are increasing slowly, an environment in which banks can do reasonably well. However, that is offset by the fact that the housing market in Canada is softening and the Canadian consumer is stretched. Given sluggish growth, the Bank of Canada is likely to continue its low rate policy.

In this environment, banks are likely to focus on operational issues within the retail, commercial and corporate banking, as well as their wealth management units. Cost control will likely be the mantra in 2013. Our well managed banks could see modest profit growth and perhaps even dividend increases.

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