Weekly (distribution list)

Last week, the European Central Bank (ECB) raised a red flag, saying some member banks have ignored warnings of risks associated with leveraged finance, according to Bloomberg News. The ECB hit a handful of European banks with capital charges in an attempt to encourage the banks to exercise greater caution. These actions come amid growing concern in Europe over a looming energy crisis, ongoing war in Ukraine, and struggles at some financial institutions. These pressures are evident in both confidence indicators like business confidence (graph A, below) and measures of financial stress (graph B, below). Graph A Graph B Rise…

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Earnings drive stock prices over time. This simple truth is evident in the past century’s market performance. Over the past 100 years, both the S&P Composite index and S&P Composite index earnings gained about 6-7% per year. The profits, along with the market’s appraisal of the value of those earnings, rose and fell year-to-year. Sometimes, those swings in earnings and valuations were large, creating excitement and anxiety. What drove the earnings growth? Fortunately, we see an excellent and rational cause for the growth in earnings. As the chart below shows, we can trace growth in stock prices to economic growth…

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Central Bank all in to fight inflation Markets signal inflation to fade Rates to push higher still Policymaker credibility key to fight Valuations more attractive. We remain cautious based on incoming data and enter the final quarter underweight risk assets.However, policy priorities seem to be having some positive effect on expected inflation, despiteupsetting financial markets. This is a difficult and complex environment, and we continue to followour tactical discipline in navigating a very unusual year. While we are not out of the woods yet,valuations are becoming better as are longer-run expectations for returns.

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Good Advice

Investors have done well to heed Marty Zweig’s advice “Don’t fight the Fed” since he published his 1970 book, Winning on Wall Street. The idea has generally stood the test of time. The most recent two major recessions and market declines, those in 2000-2002 and again in 2007-2008, were preceded by Federal Reserve (Fed) policy tightening. So too were the recessions and bear markets of 1973-1974, 1980-1982, and 1991-1992. The 1987 market crash was, likewise, preceded by rising rates. In each case, efforts by the Fed to rein in inflation via tighter monetary policy proved effective in fighting inflation, but…

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We critique existing “style” investing frameworks as popularized in various “value” and “growth” indices. We cite three critical problems with how the indices are constructed, and discuss risks that come with overly strict adherence thereupon. Lastly, we offer an alternative framework as a potentially better way to think about investments.

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The economy is either in recession or booming. This is what the headlines are telling us each week. So, against this muddled stream of seemingly conflicting and contradictory information, we look for signs regarding which way we are headed. Consider the following evidence for the “recession” case and the “boom” case.

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While we usually comment on financial assets like stocks and bonds, real estate also plays an important role in the broader economy and financial markets. With signs of possible cooling now emerging in property markets, we consider what a slowdown in real estate could mean for the U.S. economy and financial markets at large.

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Set against a backdrop of rising inflation and interest rates, calls for a “technical recession” are growing. Our check of the data leads us to maintain our near-term, tactical “underweight” to stocks. However, the correction in stock prices contains a silver lining as valuations have become better, boosting long-run return expectations.

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The Inflation Threat

As inflation surprises markets, we consider what this means to investors and what policymakers are likely to do.

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Of Bulls and Bears

Apart from a short downturn early in the pandemic, the stock market has enjoyed a great bull run since 2010. Yet, from January 3 through May 20, the stock market fell about 18.5% before rallying 5% off the recent bottom. Despite the recent rally keeping the market out of “bear market” territory, we should not let down our guard because growth is still slowing. A lapse into outright recession would complicate the bull case for stocks through year-end.

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Down to Earth?

On the surface, valuations appear to be coming back down to earth. The Standard & Poor’s 500 stock index has declined to nearly 4,000 from almost 4,800 in January. Back at the January peak, forecast year-ahead earnings for the index stood at $223, and now those forecasts are at $237. Today’s price-earnings ratio is 17x compared with 21x in January and in line with the 10-year average. So, stocks are moving down despite rising profit forecasts, resulting in better value.

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Yields rose across all fixed income assets due to expectations of swift Federal Reserve (Fed) rate hikes to curb run-away inflation, and munis were no exception. The “rich” valuations that we pointed out last quarter have turned firmly into our “cheap” range as a result of the selloff.

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The first quarter brought a surge in inflation and war in Eastern Europe. This environment imposes a new reality on investors and policymakers. In this report, we discuss what is happening and how our top-down portfolios are positioned now.

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Against a backdrop of falling consumer expectations, we consider what a “typical” cycle tends to look like. As an old aphorism states: “History doesn’t repeat itself but it often rhymes.” We offer a highly “stylized” interpretation of market cycles to consider the current situation.

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Our process for tactical asset allocation involves assessing data. Specifically, we assess month-to-month trends in data. When Russia began a full-scale invasion of Ukraine in late February, most of the trends we follow seemed poised to bounce. Obviously, this is no longer the case. This week we assess how recent data is influencing our outlook.

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