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August 5, 2011: Market Update

Aug 5, 2011   //   by Bruce Mason   //   Weekly Market Update  //  No Comments

Looking for Opportunities

Unless you live in a cave, you probably are aware of the large market downturn this week.  We’re not going to sugar coat it.  The resolution of the U.S. debt ceiling did not solve all the world’s problems.  In fact, it may have distracted investors from the larger issues taking place in Europe these past six weeks.  As it turns out, Spain and now Italy are in precarious shape when it comes to their own financial state of affairs.

These are unprecedented times.  The issues we’re facing are global as opposed to domestic.

Analysts are speculating that the European Central Bank (ECB) could need a trillion dollars to stabilize the situation in Italy and Spain.  It’s a bit of a perfect storm that nobody imagined would happen.  The good news is that the ECB has committed today to start buying Spanish and Italian debt.  However, it’s not clear just how much they’re capable of committing at this time.  This uncertainty led to wild speculation and massively erratic markets.  Four and five-hundred point moves were the theme this week.

Earnings season is coming to an end and for the most part, the second quarter was good.  Companies beat to the upside more than the norm and those that did were rewarded.  However, there was a consistent theme amongst CEOs which talked about headwinds in the coming quarters.  Rising costs are pressuring margins and weakness both here and abroad could mean lowered expectations.  Despite the fact that many analysts remain bullish, the market seems to be pricing in a slowdown at these levels.

Truth be told, the market is quite oversold at the moment.  That’s not to suggest that it couldn’t go lower but to say that historically speaking stocks are cheap.  If earnings in the third quarter remain robust, we would expect the market to go higher.  We have positioned portfolios to be well diversified among a broad range of sectors and asset classes.  This diversification should help buffer portfolios in difficult times such as those we’ve recently experienced.  As already mentioned, these are unprecedented times.  We will remain nimble and vigilant as we gauge the markets and look for opportunities as they emerge.  As difficult as it may seem, times such as these are often good times to enter the market.

For the story of the week we turn to the U.S. Mint.  In December 2005, Congress decided to create a new series of $1 coins which honored the former U.S. presidents.  The Presidential $1 Coin Act was intended to create renewed interest in the coin like that seen during the 50 State Quarters program.  However, the $1 coins were awfully unpopular.  The coins began to collect and before long they had over one billion coins stored in warehouses.  To encourage collectors to buy the coins the U.S. Mint offered free shipping for all online purchases.  So what you ask?  Crafty individuals took advantage of the program by buying tens of thousands of dollars of coins online, accumulating frequent flyer miles, and then returning the coins to the bank.  There are stories of people taking first class vacations to Hawaii on nothing more than frequent flyer miles accumulated from this legal, yet dubious practice.  Last week, the U.S. Mint officially put an end to this practice by no longer accepting credit-card payments for coins purchased online.  If only we knew of this loophole a few years ago!  Now you know.

In closing, we want to mention that Marc was quoted and used as a resource for a recent article on Fox News business.  If you’re interested you can read the article by clicking on the following link: Eight Ways to Accelerate Retirement Savings

July 29, 2011: Market Update

Aug 1, 2011   //   by Marc Henn   //   Weekly Market Update  //  No Comments

The Debt Ceiling… Still Waiting

The market had a roller coaster day on Friday to finish out the week lower in the wake of concerns over the U.S. debt situation.  Overshadowed on the day somewhat were reports that the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of the country grew at a slower than expected pace.  The annualized GDP number came in at 1.3% in the second quarter along with consumer sentiment dropping slightly to its lowest level in over two years.  There was some good news reported as well – both the July ISM New York Business Index and the Chicago PMI numbers showed economic expansion while the July Consumer Confidence level actually surprised to the upside.

With all the talk about the debt situation one could forget that we are smack dab in the middle of earnings season.  Earnings for S&P 500 companies are the highest in four years with expectations of potentially stronger growth in the second half of the year.  While this is good news, most of the growth is coming from overseas operations, which means the stronger earnings may not provide as big of a boost to the U.S. economy as some would like to see.

For the most part, industrial companies have been disappointing with their numbers primarily due to much higher input costs and cooling global demand because of the Japan tragedy.  Outside of this sector we are seeing a nice reporting season.  As a sample for this week, 3M, Occidental Petroleum, Praxair, DuPont and Starbucks all reported earnings that beat estimates.

Big oil firms are expected to report their best 2nd quarter earnings on average since 2008 as rising crude prices should provide a positive lift to earnings.  While this may be true, we also expect to see the large integrated oil firms that have spent heavily on natural gas production over the past 3 to 4 years begin to suffer somewhat as natural gas prices remain low.

In the news you may not have heard, it was reported this week that Apple is now more liquid than Uncle Sam.  Apple now has more cash on their books than the United States has spending room.  While these numbers are not directly comparable and it is unlikely that President Obama will be asking for a loan, it does give a glimpse into how powerful Apple has become.  It currently stands as the second largest company on the planet – behind only Exxon Mobil.

July 22, 2011: Market Update

Jul 22, 2011   //   by Bruce Mason   //   Weekly Market Update  //  No Comments

One Week and Counting

We had some good news this week in the form of corporate earnings announcements.  The market reacted positively as many companies beat analysts’ expectations.  That’s not to say all companies are doing well, but those that are were duly rewarded.  Yet despite the good numbers, the budget impasse remains a hurdle as politicians strategize over how best to fix our nation’s debt problem.

Eleven days.  That’s how much time is left before the August 2nd deadline.  Yet, regardless of the multitude of meetings and hours of negotiations, it looks like our elected representatives aren’t any closer to finding middle ground.  Putting further pressure on the situation, the rating agencies issued a new warning this week adding that unless deficit reduction was significant, simply increasing the debt ceiling wouldn’t be enough to stave off a credit downgrade.  The question remains, which party will blink first?  Will President Obama concede to significant cuts to Social Security and Medicare without simultaneously increasing tax revenue or will the GOP agree to raise the debt ceiling without significant spending cuts?  Talks are scheduled to continue throughout the weekend and by the end of next week we’ll have a deal.  Hopefully, it will be enough to satisfy the rating agencies and the market.

Surprisingly, or perhaps not so surprisingly, Greece is still in the news.  You’ll remember that Greece was on the verge of default a few weeks ago.  The IMF, much like a loan shark, demanded steep concessions before it was willing to loan Greece enough money to pay its monthly debt obligations.  However, that didn’t resolve the underlying problem.  It only prevented a default in the near-term.  Since then, France and Germany have taken the lead in trying to craft a solution that would put Greece on more stable footing.  To this end, it looks like they have reached a compromise.  The proposed solution includes a plan for private-sector participation in an involuntary exchange of current debt for new debt at a lower interest rate for a longer term.  The exchange implies a 20% loss for banks and other holders of Greek debt.  In exchange for this, the EU will backstop any further losses with the bulk of the burden placed on European banks, as well as, French and German taxpayers.  While wildly unpopular, the framework for a long-term solution appears to be taking shape.

In company news, we’re seeing some great performances.  Apple once again reported earnings and revenues that beat even the most optimistic expectations.  It doesn’t appear much can stop this juggernaut in the near-term.  With $76 billion in cash on its books, the only question is what are they going to buy?  At the current growth rate, it is estimated that Apple will overtake Exxon Mobil as the world’s largest market cap company by the end of this year.  IBM wowed the street too, even though corporate tech spending appears to be slowing.  Novartis, Coca Cola, Qualcomm and McDonalds are all doing great.  Even the old stalwarts like AT&T and Union Pacific surprised analysts.  The only weakness we’ve seen so far has been in the industrial sector where expectations were perhaps too high.  Industrials, such as Ingersoll-Rand and Caterpillar, are facing some headwinds with rising commodity prices and a slightly weaker global market.  All-in-all, we’re very pleased with how the second quarter is shaping up and look forward to the continuation of earnings announcements next week.

For the story of the week, we have a riveting story about gold.  In 2003, Joan Langbord, discovered a treasure in her family safe-deposit box.  Her father had been a coin dealer during the Great Depression and had somehow acquired ten Double Eagle gold coins dated 1933.  To her surprise one coin, exactly like the ones in her possession, had sold at a Sotheby’s auction for $7.6 million.  She calculated her family was now worth in excess of $80 million.  However, as a requirement to put the coins up for auction, she had to have them authenticated.  Who better than the U.S. Mint?  Here’s where it gets interesting.  It turns out that the 1933 Double Eagle was minted but never released and later melted back into bars.  Mint officials confirmed the coins were legitimate – and among the rarest – then confiscated what they said was U.S. property.  The case in now in Federal Court where the government claims the coins must have been obtained illegally.  Easy come, easy go.

July 15, 2011: Market Update

Jul 15, 2011   //   by Bruce Mason   //   Weekly Market Update  //  No Comments

Fireworks in Washington D.C.

The debt ceiling impasse weighed heavily on markets this week.  With just twenty days left before the U.S. defaults, neither the Republicans nor the Democrats seem willing or able to make the necessary concessions to reach an agreement.  On the other hand, things aren’t as bad as they may appear on the surface.  Despite the deficit battle, companies started reporting second quarter earnings and many have had upside surprises.  It was a full week with stories about Italy facing debt problems, the release of the Federal Reserve Open Market Committee (FOMC) minutes and Federal Reserve Chairman Bernanke’s semi-annual Humphrey-Hawkins testimony in the House Financial Services Committee.

The situation in Europe continues to simmer as we learned that now Italy has come under increased scrutiny.  Wasting no time, the Italian parliament passed an austerity package that aims to cut spending by $63 billion over the next three years.  Perhaps creditors are being overly cautious but some think that the debt issues plaguing the peripheral countries of Europe are beginning to spill over.  Moody’s downgraded Ireland’s debt to junk status this week as the IMF and EU continue to try and stop the contagion.

On a more domestic note, there is still little progress being made on our own debt problems.  Despite many days of meetings it appears that the only agreement has been on $1.5 trillion of spending cuts.  As these things go, it’s right on schedule.  With each passing week the odds of a smaller package being agreed upon grows.  Our best guess is that the debt ceiling will be raised just in time, with spending cuts being phased in next year and the Bush tax cuts allowed to expire in 2013.  This seems like the most reasonable compromise that allows each side to save face.  It’s left to see if the Speaker of the House, Mr. Boehner, can convince the more fiscally conservative members of his party to go along with this solution.  In the mean time, it looks like the GOP is planning on pushing through its own deficit reduction and balance budget bill.  Even if it makes it through the House, Republicans don’t have the votes in the Senate.  If you like fireworks, Washington D.C. may be the place to be next week.  It’s just not the kind of fireworks that we want to see.

In company news, both JP Morgan and Google reported better than expected top and bottom line growth.  JP Morgan grew revenue and earnings 7% and 13% year-over-year respectively.  The best news of the day was that they are continuing to see defaults and delinquencies declining substantially.  Google, which has been hard at work on a number of fronts, reported revenue of $9 billion in the quarter which represents growth of 32%.  They are having wonderful success with their Android operating system and are seeing 550,000 new activations a day.  This is up from the 350,000 activations per day back in Q1, and 160,000 activations per day way back in Q2 of last year. That’s huge.  They sold over 6 billion apps and grew free cash flow by $2.6 billion this quarter.  They now have almost $40 billion of cash on their books and could make acquisitions (i.e. Hulu) to expand into fast growing industries (i.e. streaming media).  The bulk of the earnings announcements will come over the next two weeks.  If this week was an indication, we expect the best companies to continue to pull away from the pack.

We’ll only briefly touch on the Humphrey-Hawkins testimony this week.  The Chairman of the Federal Reserve is required to appear before Congress twice a year to give what amounts to a state of the union speech regarding monetary policy.  In his address, Mr. Bernanke hinted that the door was open for further quantitative easing (QE3) which had the effect of sending both stocks and gold temporarily higher.  This shouldn’t come as a surprise although he did note that weakness in the economy has not yet risen to the level of further intervention.  In six weeks, Mr. Bernanke will once again preside over the Jackson Hole conference at which he introduced QE2 last year.  One can only guess what he’ll do this year.

And for the story of the week we turn to Minnesota.  You’ll remember that a couple weeks back we mentioned that their state government had shut down over a budget impasse.  It’s been two weeks now and we came across this story.  It turns out MillerCoors’ brand label registration with the state has expired.  They paid the fee on-time, but an overpayment delayed the processing by which time the government had shutdown.  Because of this, MillerCoors may be forced to pull all its beer from Minnesota liquor stores, supermarkets, bars and restaurants.  However absurd, it looks like Minnesotans won’t have too long to go without their beer.  Lawmakers appear close to hammering out a budget deal.  Now you know.

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