Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Central Banks Restore Wealth, Working on Growth (excerpt)

The major central banks of the world have been easing their monetary policies significantly since the financial crisis of 2008. They’ve succeeded in averting another financial crisis so far. They’ve also succeeded in recovering most of the fortunes that were lost during the crisis. For example, the total market value of all stocks traded in the US rose $22.7 trillion since Q1-2009 through the end of last year to $36.5 trillion. The S&P 500’s capitalization has increased $12.9 trillion during the bull market so far through last week. Both are at record highs, with the S&P 500 exceeding its 2007 peak by $5.0 trillion. All equity investors have benefited from the stock market rally.

Bond investors also enjoyed big gains as yields fell and prices rose. For example, US bond mutual funds had capital gains totaling $522 billion since the start of 2009. As we noted yesterday, the 12-month average of the median existing home price is up 29% since February 2012, while real estate held by households has increased by $4.2 trillion since then through the end of last year. Gold has also been golden, with a 118% rise in the price since the start of 2009 to its record high on September 6, 2011. It’s down 36% since then, but that’s hardly a sunken treasure for anyone who bought gold a few years ago.

Nevertheless, the central banks have been frustrated by the slow pace of the recoveries in their economies since the crisis of 2008. Reviving self-sustaining economic growth hasn’t been as easy as easing has been. Previously, I’ve argued that the ultra-easy monetary policies of the central banks might perversely have contributed to the slow pace of economic growth.

Today's Morning Briefing: Easy Come, Easy Go. (1) Elvis Presley and Janet Yellen. (2) Sunken treasures recovered. (3) Why easing hasn’t worked as expected. (4) Stock gains aren’t trickling down. (5) Savers earning less so saving more. (6) Fed has enabled fiscal excesses at cut-rate rates. (7) Near-zero interest rates contributing to income inequality. (8) Fed policies causing capital misallocation. (9) Enabling financial engineering. (10) The blame game. (11) Demography is also a downer. (12) Focus on market-weight-rated S&P 500 Industrials. (More for subscribers.)

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

How the Fed Depressed the Recovery (excerpt)

In my opinion, the Fed has significantly contributed to the weakness of the current economic expansion as follows:

(1) By keeping interest rates near zero for so long, risk-averse savers have had to accept bupkis for returns on their liquid assets, which rose to a record $10.7 trillion during the week of May 11. Many of them have been saving more, thus spending less. The 12-month sum of personal saving has been running around $700 billion since the end of the financial crisis in 2008, double the pace during the 1990s and the first half of the previous decade.

(2) Ultra-easy money attracted investors rather than nesters into the housing market following the 2008 crisis. They bought up all the cheap homes and drove home prices back up to levels that may be unaffordable for many first-time homebuyers.

(3) As I’ve discussed many times over the past year, thanks to the Fed, corporate bond yields have been trading below the S&P 500’s forward earnings yield since 2004, providing companies with an incentive to buy back their shares and engage in M&A rather than invest in plant and equipment.

Cheap money did stimulate some business investment, but the increased capacity wasn’t matched by more demand, resulting in some deflationary pressures. Stock prices have soared, but this has exacerbated the perception of widespread income and wealth inequality.

Today's Morning Briefing: Tiptoe Through the Soft Patch. (1) Tiny Tim and Janet Yellen. (2) Is the Great Recession over yet? (3) ECI wages get a footnote. (4) Yellen still worrying about underwater homes. (5) Three abating headwinds. (6) Fed sees 2.5% real GDP growth ahead. (7) Yellen is in one-and-done camp. (8) What’s the matter with Kansas? (9) Are the headwinds abating? (10) Here is how the Fed’s policies have depressed consumer and business spending, and housing activity. (11) What’s the matter with the dollar, bonds, and stocks? (More for subscribers.)

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Signs of a Recovery in Eurozone Profits (excerpt)

The ECB isn’t buying stocks (just yet), but the bank’s officials are certainly doing their best to boost stock prices by depressing the euro and keeping a lid on interest rates. Last Thursday, ECB President Mario Draghi countered any notion that the bank’s QE might be tapered ahead of schedule. He was clearly concerned about the recent backup in bond yields, strength in the euro, and weakness in stock prices. To make sure everyone got the message, another member of the ECB’s executive board said on Monday evening that the bank will front-load some of its purchases of sovereign debt in May and June.

The forward earnings of the EMU MSCI seems finally to be turning up as both 2015 and 2016 earnings estimates have stopped falling recently. NERI turned positive during April (1.3) and rose to a five-year high in May (4.0) following 48 consecutive months of negative readings. The upturn is widespread including Germany, France, and Spain, though not Italy so far.

The weaker euro finally might be starting to boost profits in the Eurozone. There is probably more upside for the region over the rest of the year barring a Grexit.

Today's Morning Briefing: Central Planners. (1) Does kicking the can beat the alternative? (2) Why can’t a series of short-term fixes be a long-term fix? (3) The Greek example. (4) Central bankers have turned into central planners. (5) The latest plan is to do more of the same to drive up stock prices. (6) China’s new plan is to pump up stock prices. (7) BOJ buying ETFs. (8) Profits finally showing signs of life in Eurozone. (9) US lags while FOMC plays Hamlet. (10) What do Fed economists do all day? (11) Fed staff attacks Piketty and other Progressives. Read all about it! (12) Fed debates seasonal distortions. (More for subscribers.)

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Valuation & the Fed Model (excerpt)

Valuation like beauty is in the eye of the beholder. With bond yields at historical lows, why shouldn’t valuation multiples be at historical highs? At 2%, the 10-year Treasury bond yield has an effective forward P/E of 50, implying that stocks trading at a forward earnings yield of 5.9% and a multiple of 17 are grossly undervalued by as much as 62%. Of course, this “Fed Model,” as I first named it back in July 1997, has been showing that stocks are undervalued since the Tech bubble burst. Furthermore, historically low interest rates may be a sign of secular stagnation, which isn’t particularly bullish.

Previously I’ve argued that valuations are being driven by equity purchasers who don’t pay much attention to valuations. They are corporate managers buying back their shares because the forward earnings yields on their shares exceed their borrowing cost of capital in the bond market. As far as they are concerned, beauty is measured by the appreciation of their stock price as they buy back their shares. In this scenario, the source of irrational exuberance is the ultra-cheap money available in the bond market for share buy backs and M&A thanks to the ultra-easy monetary policies of the Fed.

Today's Morning Briefing: Beauty Contest. (1) Episode 42 in The Twilight Zone. (2) Different strokes: Dear Leader vs. King Kong. (3) Some pushback on valuation. (4) Irrational Exuberance Zone. (5) The 3 scenarios again. (6) Channeling the Tech bubble. (7) Record PEG for S&P 500. (8) Smithers & Co. on Tobin’s Q. (9) Does valuation matter? (10) Do interest rates matter? (11) Draghi renews his vows. (12) Front-end loaded QE. (13) Lackluster recovery in Eurozone. (More for subscribers.)

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Reenergized Earnings? (excerpt)

If oil prices have bottomed and the dollar has peaked, then forward earnings should be moving forward again. Until recently, the S&P 500 forward earnings was tracking 7% annualized growth, the historical trend for this series.

If so, then forward earnings is currently predicting that the four-quarter trailing average of S&P 500 earnings, which was $119.20 per share during Q1, will rise to around $125 early next year. I am forecasting $130 for all of 2016, up from $120 this year.

Of course, this optimistic outlook requires that the economy finds some traction to get out of its current soft patch with both business sales and industrial production rebounding from their recent dips and moving to new highs again.

Today's Morning Briefing: Reenergized Earnings? (1) From “peak oil” to “cheap oil” to bad oil data. (2) Will the real Phil please stand up? (3) What are oil inventories doing? (4) EIA gets authority to require oil drillers to fill out a monthly supply survey. (5) Fewer railcar loadings of oil. (6) Lots in storage still. (7) World oil demand/supply ratio remains bearish. (8) Oil earnings may have stopped weighing on S&P 500. (9) Profit margins rebounding from recent dip. (10) Brighter outlook for earnings depends on soft patch as well as oil patch. (11) Focus on market-weight-rated S&P 500 Energy industries. (More for subscribers.)