Archives for April 2015

How a Few Key Players Boosted Performance This Week Weekly Update – April 27, 2015

Image courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net/renjith krishnan

Image courtesy of
FreeDigitalPhotos.net/renjith krishnan

Markets rallied last week, lead by a surge in tech stocks that brought the NASDAQ and S&P 500 to new record closes. For the week, the S&P 500 gained 1.75%, the Dow grew 1.42%, and the NASDAQ added 3.25%.1

After weeks of uncertainty, markets shook off the doldrums and rallied on the back of earnings beats from market heavyweights. Without any major economic events having occurred last week, market performance was driven by reactions to the earnings reports of a few key players.2

Have earnings reports justified the stock market’s reaction? Not really. Right now, it seems as though expectations going into earnings season were so low that any positive news was greeted with cheers. While total profits for 202 S&P 500 companies were up 8.7% over first quarter 2014, revenues were essentially flat. Weak revenue numbers indicate that companies struggled with slow demand last quarter and achieved profitability through cost-cutting measures. Looking ahead at the rest of earnings season, some analysts project that overall earnings for S&P 500 companies will be flat on 5.1% lower revenues.3 Worse, currency headwinds from a strong dollar and global economic issues may affect demand in the second quarter as well.

The week ahead is packed with important economic events: a Federal Reserve Open Market Committee meeting, the first estimate of Q1 economic growth, and a raft of company earnings reports. No interest rate changes are expected at the Fed’s policy-setting meeting, but officials may clarify their thoughts on first quarter economic performance.

Right now, the future timing of rate changes is anyone’s guess. Economists are focusing on determining how much of weak first quarter data is weather related and how much was due to lingering economic forces like a strong dollar and soft global growth. Though a June rate hike isn’t off the table, some Fed officials are hinting that higher interest rates might come later in the year.4 With respect to markets, we can expect further volatility as investors digest earnings reports and economic data.

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ECONOMIC CALENDAR:

Monday: Dallas Fed Mfg. Survey

Tuesday: S&P Case-Shiller HPI, Consumer Confidence

Wednesday: GDP, Pending Home Sales Index, EIA Petroleum Status Report, FOMC Meeting Announcement, 2:00 PM ET

Thursday: Jobless Claims, Personal Income and Outlays, Employment Cost Index, Chicago PMI

Friday: Motor Vehicle Sales, PMI Manufacturing Index, ISM Mfg. Index, Consumer Sentiment, Construction Spending

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HEADLINES:

Weekly jobless claims rise for third straight week. Though the number of Americans claiming new unemployment benefits rose again last week, the underlying trend shows that the labor market is improving. Seasonal issues like school breaks and Easter holidays tend to make numbers more volatile this time of year.5

Tight housing supply holding back market. A limited number of homes for sale is keeping back a spring surge in the housing market. Nearly three-quarters of the available homes for sale are “stale” and have sat on the market for more than a month with little buyer interest. High prices may be turning off prospective buyers.6

No Greek deal in sight. As the deadline to a Greek debt bailout edges closer, no permanent solution is emerging. Greece is having trouble repaying loans to Eurozone creditors, and lenders warned Friday that no fresh aid will come unless the cash-strapped nation agrees to serious economic reforms.7

Oil prices diverge. Though U.S. crude oil prices fell on worries of another production glut, international Brent crude prices rose to 2015 highs as fighting in Yemen threatened supplies. This push-pull in prices makes it hard for analysts to predict the direction of prices.8

Earnings Season Is Still Young: Here Are the Facts Weekly Update – April 20, 2015

Image courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net/Stuart Miles

Image courtesy of
FreeDigitalPhotos.net/Stuart Miles

Events in China and Europe triggered a modest worldwide sell-off last week, and lackluster corporate earnings in the U.S. contributed to market doldrums. For the week, the S&P 500 fell 0.99%, while the Dow and the NASDAQ both lost 1.28%.1

Investors sent stocks lower early in the week as they grappled with revenue growth problems in first quarter earnings reports. Nearly three-quarters of the S&P 500 companies that have reported earnings so far have beat profit expectations, but fewer than half of those companies have exceeded revenue expectations.2 These results mean that firms are overcoming weak demand by carefully managing their expenses. Even so, cost cutting has its limits if sales don’t eventually pick up.

However, earnings season is still young, and several big-name U.S. firms are scheduled to report this week. Once firms such as Morgan Stanley [MS], Amazon [AMZN], Boeing [BA], and General Motors [GM] release their data, investors may have a better view into whether markets will snap back from last week’s fall.

U.S. investors got nervous last week when fears that Greece will exit the euro (the so-called Grexit) rose again after negotiations faltered between Greek leaders and creditors. A Greek exit from the euro would likely have serious consequences for the rest of the Eurozone. Both sides must come to an agreement soon if Greece is to avoid defaulting next month on loans. In response to the tension, bond yields on Greek debt rose and European stocks suffered their biggest fall since the middle of January.3,4

Meanwhile, new stock trading rules in China sparked more investor concerns. Chinese regulators introduced new rules banning some kinds of high-margin trading. Higher margins put traders at risk of greater losses if stock markets drop. China wants to protect an equity market that may be overheating and an expanding economy that may be cooling off.5

This week, investors are looking forward to a heavy flood of earnings reports as first-quarter earnings season kicks into high gear. Though it’s too early to predict overall earnings, the tough growth picture – largely due to headwinds from the strong U.S. dollar, weak overseas growth, and low oil prices – may make it hard for companies to beat their revenue expectations.

ECONOMIC CALENDAR:

Wednesday: Existing Home Sales, EIA Petroleum Status Report

Thursday: Jobless Claims, PMI Manufacturing Index Flash, New Home Sales

Friday: Durable Goods Orders

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HEADLINES:

Rising gas prices nudge inflation up. The consumer price index, an indicator of inflation, increased 0.2% in March, thanks to higher oil and gas prices, although it’s still down 0.1% for the past 12 months. The slight rise suggests inflation may start heading toward the Federal Reserve’s 2.0% target, if the strong U.S. dollar doesn’t stand in its way.6

Consumer sentiment rises. An early measure of consumer confidence was higher in April than in March, surpassing economists’ expectations and indicating that Americans may be more optimistic about their prospects this quarter.7

Homebuilders feel more confident. An index that tracks expectations of future home sales reached its highest level of the year in April, slightly beating expectations. Job growth and low interest rates are likely contributing to homebuilder optimism about the housing market.8

Retail sales rebound in March. After a slow start to the year, retail sales rose 0.9% in March as Americans went shopping. Higher motor vehicle, furniture, and clothing sales show that the consumer sector is still strong, potentially raising first quarter economic growth numbers.9

Fresh Data Suggestions: Economy Still On Track Weekly Update – April 13, 2015

Image courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net/suphakit73

Image courtesy of
FreeDigitalPhotos.net/suphakit73

Stocks ended the second week of the new quarter on a high note, giving the Dow its first close over 18,000 for the month. Investors took confidence from some major corporate deals as well as fresh data that suggests the economy is still on track.1 For the week, the S&P 500 added 1.70%, the Dow grew 1.66%, and the NASDAQ gained 2.23%.2

With earnings season in focus, investors have temporarily put Fed worries and economic issues on the back burner in favor of seeing how U.S. businesses performed last quarter. Thomson Reuters analysts predict that S&P 500 companies saw their profits decline by 2.9% from Q1 2014.3 Falling oil prices and a strong dollar likely chipped away at energy company earnings as well as those of firms that depend on overseas sales (and had to convert profits back into dollars).

Earnings estimates have come down sharply in recent months. In the chart below, you can see that for the past year, the trend has been for earnings expectations to start relatively high (in blue), drop significantly as the quarter proceeds (in red), and then, in three of the last four quarters, exceed expectations (in green).4

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Corporate managers have an incentive to set the bar low so that they can over-deliver on earnings and reap the reward as investors react positively to the news. However, past performance is no guarantee of future return, and we’re not guaranteed to see positive earnings surprises this season. The size of negative earnings revisions is unusually large as companies were forced to account for slower economic growth and volatile oil prices. However, we can remain hopeful that the historical trend will hold.

As we look toward the official start of earnings season this week, we can count on seeing some winners and losers. While energy companies will likely be hit hard by petroleum prices, financial firms and medical firms may see outsized performance. Though we can’t predict the market, we can stay alert for opportunities amid the potential volatility.

ECONOMIC CALENDAR:

Monday: Treasury Budget

Tuesday: PPI-FD, Retail Sales, Business Inventories

Wednesday: Empire State Mfg. Survey, Industrial Production, Housing Market Index, EIA Petroleum Status Report, Beige Book, Treasury International Capital

Thursday: Housing Starts, Jobless Claims, Philadelphia Fed Business Outlook Survey

Friday: Consumer Price Index, Consumer Sentiment

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HEADLINES:

Wholesale inventories edge up in February. Warehouse stocks of products for sale rose slightly in February, indicating that businesses may not be restocking aggressively because of weak sales.5

Import prices fall in March. The cost of imported goods fell last month as rising oil costs were offset by declining prices elsewhere. Import prices are a major contributor to inflation calculations and weak inflation may delay the Fed’s interest rate increases.6

Weekly jobless claims rise less than expected. The number of Americans filing for new unemployment benefits rose slightly last week, bringing the four-week average to the lowest level since 2000. These numbers suggest that the slow job growth in March was a seasonal fluke.7

Oil prices stabilize on production plateau. Global oil prices rose for the fourth straight week on expectations that drilling production will stabilize and the supply glut will recede. The number of oil rigs in the U.S. has dropped significantly, indicating that domestic production may be topping out.8

Hixon Zuercher April 2015 Monthly Video Update

Stocks End Q1 Flat Weekly Update – April 6, 2015

“Image courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net/hywards

“Image courtesy of
FreeDigitalPhotos.net/hywards

After a volatile winter, stocks ended the quarter about where they started. Oil prices, a strong dollar, and concerns about interest rates contributed to the volatility and uncertainty remains as we enter the second quarter. For the quarter, the S&P 500 gained 0.47%, the Dow lost 0.32%, and the NASDAQ gained an outsized 3.68%.1

What are some of the factors that affected market performance in Q1?

Economic growth data suggested that the economy might have slowed at the beginning of the year. After a strong third quarter of 2014, the economy lagged in the final three months of the year, clocking in just 2.2% growth. Overall, the economy grew 2.4% in 2014, up from 2.2% in 2013.2  While we don’t have official first quarter GDP numbers, unofficial estimates suggest that economic growth may have ground to a halt in the first quarter.

Though 0.0% GDP growth isn’t great news, keep in mind that the economy shrank 2.1% in the first quarter of 2014 and then rebounded to grow 4.6% in the second quarter and 5.0% in the third quarter.3 There’s no guarantee that we’ll see a repeat of last year’s trend, but warmer spring weather may translate into stronger consumer spending and housing market activity.

Much of the slowdown in growth can be attributed to the effects of the strong dollar and weak oil prices. While cheap oil is a windfall to U.S. consumers who benefit from lower pump prices, volatile prices are hitting domestic oil producers hard. The strong U.S. dollar, which gained over 15.0% on the euro last quarter, has also affected demand for U.S. products.4

Investors were also concerned about weak overseas growth, which is affecting corporate profits. The U.S. economy has disengaged from global growth and is leaving many other economies behind. Though domestic demand is strong, lagging economic growth in Europe and other economies is complicating the global growth picture. However, the European Central Bank has stepped up to undertake its own quantitative easing program and we can hope that Eurozone growth will accelerate.5

The labor market continued to make important strides last quarter, adding over half a million new jobs. The overall unemployment rate dropped to 5.5% – the lowest rate in six years. Wage growth also picked up as employers were forced to offer higher pay to attract workers.6 However, the March jobs report shows that the economy created just 126,000 new jobs, less than half of February’s gain and the smallest gain in over a year.7 Was March just an off month because of oil prices and a cold winter? That’s the question the Fed will need to answer as it ponders future interest rate moves.

What could act as headwinds in the weeks and months to come?

The Federal Reserve has been a big player over the last few months and speculation around future monetary policy decisions will likely cause market volatility in the coming weeks and months. Now that economy-stimulating bond purchases have ended, the Fed is planning to raise interest rates sometime this year. Though March’s disappointing jobs report may give Fed economists pause for thought, interest rate changes may cause investors to get nervous. We know that the Fed is carefully monitoring data and will make only gradual changes to rates, so we can hope that market reactions will be brief.

Markets are running high, with the S&P 500 closing within 5.0% of its all-time high for 56 of the 61 trading days last quarter. Such strong investor optimism can sometimes presage a pullback as investors pause to take stock of the market environment. Is a pullback certain? Certainly not. We don’t have any way to predict what will happen so we focus on setting reasonable goals, managing risk, and keeping a careful eye on market movements.

Bottom line: Though many domestic economic fundamentals are strong going into the spring, weak oil prices, a resurgent dollar, and stagnant overseas growth could cloud the picture. As Q1 earnings trickle in, positive surprises could translate into additional market upside. However, earnings estimates have come down in recent weeks and corporate profits may be affected by rising wages and slower growth.8

Since we can’t know where markets are going with any certainty, we recommend staying focused on your long-term goals and keeping short-term performance in perspective. We are continuously monitoring markets and are prepared to make changes as conditions warrant.

If you have any questions about your investment strategy, please give us a call. We’d be delighted to discuss it with you.

ECONOMIC CALENDAR:

 

Monday: ISM Non-Mfg. Index

Tuesday: JOLTS

Wednesday: EIA Petroleum Status Report, FOMC Minutes

Thursday: Jobless Claims

Friday: Import and Export Prices, Treasury Budget

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HEADLINES:

Consumer spending flat in February. Spending by U.S. consumers barely moved in February as savings levels rose to their highest levels in more than two years. While this may affect economic growth in the first quarter, it may bode well for future spending.9

Motor vehicle sales edge upward in March. Consumer demand for new vehicles picked up slightly last month. Sales were driven largely by demand for foreign cars and big trucks and SUVs from domestic manufacturers.10

Factory orders surge in February. Despite the strong U.S. dollar, new orders for manufactured goods unexpectedly rose 0.2% in February after six straight months of declines. Excluding volatile transportation orders, factory orders rose 0.8%.11

U.S. trade deficit narrows. The gap between imports and exports narrowed in February as a strong dollar and a labor dispute at one of America’s main ports affected trade. The small deficit may raise first quarter GDP estimates.12