Positive Thoughts on the Stock Market

Eighteen months ago, in early March of 2009, the stock market reached its low point with the S&P 500 at 667.  Currently it is 1,045, + 57%.  Then the economy was sinking; now it’s growing.  Jobs were being lost, now they are being created.  Inflation is very low.  Interest rates are at an all time low.  Corporate profits are rising rapidly; corporate cash accumulation exceeds $1.8 trillion!

Why is everyone so worried?  Higher taxes coming on a weak economy?  Maybe, maybe not.  They have been much higher before.  Weak housing?  With 4,000,000 young Americans turning 30 each year, how long does anyone really think new housing starts will stay below 500,000 with 4.5% mortgage rates available?  Low job creation?  Expectations are for 1,000,000 – 1,500,000 more jobs this year and more than that next year.  True, 1,200,000 more only holds the unemployment rate level, but at least jobs are being created!

Everyone worries about a surprise decline, and there is always some new worry that could send it down.  Avian flu?  Worried about that pandemic now?  Probably not.  Greece? Worried about that now?  Probably not.  China’s growth rate could decline from 10% to 9%.   Is that really something to worry about?  The Taliban.  Criminal thugs.  From 1910 – 1950 the world suffered WWI with 40,000,000 deaths and then WWII with 60,000,000.  Allied deaths in the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars are very low in comparison, numbering less than 10,000.  Of course we all wish it was -0-; my son Eric is a 2nd lieutenant in the Army and will probably be in Afghanistan next year.   Sadly, there will be more wars and incursions to come.  Thankfully, for the first time in world history there is no super power confrontation.  Britain, France, Germany, Russia, China, Japan and the USA are all pretty friendly and economically cooperative! Each has too much to lose by going to war with another.

Instead of a surprise decline, how about a surprise and massive advance?  It happened 18 months ago, now + 57% from that level.  Estimates for earnings on the S&P 500 for 2011 are $93.  That puts the Price Earnings Ratio (P/E) at 11.2.  The average over the last 100 years is 15-16, with a low of 10 and a high of 20.  When do we get a 20 P/E?  When inflation is low, interest rates are low, and corporate profits and the economy are growing.  Check, check, check and check.  The overall level of GDP will likely be at an all time high in the first quarter of 2011. 

The 3rd year of the Presidential cycle has historically been the best year of the four year cycle, and has been positive every time all the way back to 1939, averaging + 21.6%.  For the 30 years from 1926 – 1955, including the Great Depression, WWII and the Korean War, the compounded annual return on large stocks was + 10.2%, on small stocks was +10%.  Over the last 30 years, even with the terrible 2000 – 2009 decade, annual compounded returns on large stocks were +11.2% and +12.3% on small stocks.  You could buy a 30 year Treasury bond today with a 3.65% yield.    But this is likely to be a very poor investment compared to alternatives.

Where will the market be in early March of 2012, 18 months from now?  We’re mindful that it could easily go down before it goes up, but over the full 18 months we at Parsec are going to predict up.  Maybe WAY up.  A 15 P/E on $105 of S&P 500 earnings in 2012 would be 1,575 on the S&P 500, + 51% from here.  Markets fluctuate, but historically over the longer term they go WAY up.  + 51% over the next 18 months?  It may appear unlikely right now, but more than that happened over the last 18 months.  We’ll keep you posted.

Bart Boyer, CFP

Chairman and CEO

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Weekly Market Update:

as of August 27, 2010  
Total Return
Index 12 months YTD QTD MTD
Stocks
Russell 3000 6.09% -2.80% 3.45% -3.26%
S&P 500 5.36% -3.26% 3.64% -3.15%
DJ Industrial Average 8.87% -0.85% 4.37% -2.67%
Nasdaq Composite 7.22% -4.50% 2.27% -4.37%
Russell 2000 7.02% -0.61% 1.36% -5.16%
EAFE Index* -3.74% -9.68% 5.91% -3.20%
*EAFE index does not include dividends.        
         
Bonds
Barclays US Aggregate 8.96% 7.21% NA 0.71%
Barclays Intermediate US Gov/Credit 8.04% 6.39% NA 0.66%
Barclays Municipal  9.98% 6.88% NA 2.18%
         
         
    Current Prior
Commodity/Currency Level Level
Crude Oil    $   74.67    $   74.12
Natural Gas    $   3.72    $   4.08
Gold    $   1,237.50    $   1,225.50
Euro    $   1.2705    $   1.2697
         
         
RECOVERY!
Since 3/09/09
Index  annualized
Stocks
Russell 3000 41.07%      
S&P 500 39.09%      
DJ Industrial Average 38.75%      
Nasdaq Composite 44.76%      
Russell 2000 51.11%      
EAFE Index* 35.75%      
*EAFE index does not include dividends.        

Mark A. Lewis

Research & Trading Associate

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SDG Market Indicator: Future Nobel Prize Winner?

Every day, it seems someone has a new model that claims to predict the next stock market meltdown or boom.  Two of my colleagues, Mark Lewis and Sarah DerGarabedian, and I had a stock market theory we tested a couple of years ago.  We called it the “SDG Market Indicator.”  

At the time, Sarah’s almost one-year-old son was having some difficulties sleeping through the night.  Whenever she did not get a good night’s sleep, we noticed on most of those days the stock market dropped.  Over a 48-day period, we compared her sleep cycle against the market’s performance.  If she slept well the night before, the market increased 42 percent of the time.  The market was either flat or declined 58 percent of the time when she had an average to bad night’s rest.  

You are probably saying to yourself, “This is the stupidest thing I have ever heard.”  You are right.  Some people accept far-fetched theories like the SDG Market Indicator as sound market guidance, though.  As they chase the next theory’s prediction, they risk losing more than they could potentially gain.  

Market timing statistically does not work.  A study by Morningstar highlights the dangers of market timing.  This study shows that, during the period 1926 – 2009, an investor who invested $1 in stocks would now have $2,592.  The study also shows that if that investor missed the 37 best months during this time frame, but was otherwise invested in stocks, the investment would only be worth $19.66 at the end of 2009. 

At Parsec, we prefer to take the long-term view when evaluating the market.  It is impossible to predict on a day-to-day basis what the market will do.  However, as studies have shown, the market will eventually recover from declines.  It is all part of the cyclical nature of financial markets.  

The next time you see a hot new theory, just think of the SDG Market Indicator.  Now, I am off to force feed Sarah a turkey sandwich and slip an Ambien in her tea.  It is time for a few positive days in the market.

Cristy Freeman, AAMS
Senior Operations Associate

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Market update through 8/20/10

as of August 20, 2010        
  Total Return
Index 12 months YTD QTD MTD
Stocks        
Russell 3000 9.11% -2.34% 3.95% -2.80%
S&P 500 8.55% -2.66% 4.28% -2.55%
DJ Industrial Average 12.25% -0.27% 4.98% -2.10%
Nasdaq Composite 10.61% -3.36% 3.49% -3.22%
Russell 2000 8.80% -1.59% 0.36% -6.09%
EAFE Index* -1.57% -9.48% 6.14% -2.99%
*EAFE index does not include dividends.        
         
Bonds        
Barclays US Aggregate 9.20% 7.33% NA 0.82%
Barclays Intermediate US Gov/Credit 8.31% 6.57% NA 0.82%
Barclays Municipal  9.88% 6.33% NA 1.65%
         
         
    Current   Prior
Commodity/Currency   Level   Level
         
Crude Oil    $        74.12    $      81.19
Natural Gas    $          4.08    $        4.76
Gold    $  1,225.50    $ 1,184.50
Euro    $     1.2697    $    1.3188
         
         
RECOVERY!        
  Since 3/09/09      
Index  annualized      
Stocks        
Russell 3000 42.18%      
S&P 500 40.29%      
DJ Industrial Average 39.91%      
Nasdaq Composite 46.66%      
Russell 2000 50.90%      
EAFE Index* 36.51%      
*EAFE index does not include dividends.        

Mark A. Lewis

Research & Trading Associate

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Too Much Information?

Too much information running through my brain
Too much information driving me insane
–The Police

The more you trade, the worse you do. This has been demonstrated in repeated academic studies over various time frames. Why does it work this way? Because the human brain is wired to do exactly the wrong thing at the wrong time in the stock market.

As our clients know, a core part of our investment philosophy is keeping a long-term perspective. When we purchase a stock, we intend to hold it. While it is difficult to calculate exactly, our average holding period is probably in the 4-6 year range.

Earlier this year, I chuckled when I saw there is now an iPhone application for mobile trading. As I have told some of my friends, do you really need to be able to place trades from your child’s soccer game? And shouldn’t you be watching the game anyway? Is this the type of logical, well-thought out investment decision that will enable you to select and hold a diversified portfolio of assets to help accomplish your financial goals? No! It caters to short-term thinking, which is often destructive.

So imagine my horror when I saw a commercial last week on CNBC for automated trading. Now you don’t even need to initiate the trade from the soccer field. You can select some strategy from a menu, set up your trades, and then go off to work. When you come home, your email inbox will have your trade confirmations and you can see how you did. While you’re at it, why not add some leverage by way of margin to help get wiped out sooner?

As I see it, the underlying problem is the constant media barrage of information telling us that we need to do something. You can watch financial news 24/7 these days, and every channel is urging some sort of action. But these experts are not talking about things like risk tolerance, what mix of assets is appropriate for a particular situation, how much you need to save in order to retire, and how much you can spend from your portfolio in retirement. Your financial plan is at least as important as your specific investment strategy, and perhaps more so.

There are many strategies out there, some good and some bad. But being able to liquidate your portfolio poolside, or trying to trade your way to riches without knowing anything about the companies you are buying sounds like a disaster waiting to happen.

Bill Hansen, CFA
August 13, 2010

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None Shall Pass (well, almost none)

The news came on Monday. Around 10:00 a.m., I saw an email from CFA Institute pop up in my in-box. Heart hammering wildly, I uttered a four-letter word and clicked on the message. Leaning into the monitor, I quickly scanned the message until I saw another four-letter word – the sweetest one imaginable to a CFA candidate: 

Pass.

My jaw dropped to the ground, and I leaned in closer to read it again. Pass.  I couldn’t believe it. I still can’t, to some degree. But there it was – I had passed Level 2 of the CFA examination. One floor below me, my coworker and fellow blogger Harli was having a similar experience. We called each other and shared our good news, after which there was much jubilation and general merriment (i.e., lots of eating and drinking – and yes, we waited until after 5 p.m. to do the latter, thank you very much). I later discovered that another member of the Parsec family (CEO Bart Boyer’s son, Travis) had also passed Level 2. As Bart said, “Three from Parsec – that’s statistically significant!”

Sadly, I can’t say that a majority of my fellow test-takers were enjoying the same elation. According to the CFA Institute, the pass rate for Level 2 this year was a paltry 39%, lower than last year’s 41% and the second-lowest in history. Not to mention the fact that this year saw a record number of applicants – 139,900 candidates enrolled for all three exams, 52,500 of whom took Level 2. To put that in perspective, there are only 89,630 CFA charterholders in the world right now (a charterholder being someone who has passed all three exams and who meets the professional and ethical standards required by the CFA Institute). The CFAI website describes the Chartered Financial Analyst program as a graduate-level, self-study program that requires candidates to learn and apply investment knowledge, and includes such topics as asset valuation, financial statement analysis, economics, portfolio management, and ethics. To quote the website, “it is recognized globally as the gold standard investment credential.”

Now, before anyone calls a demolition crew to widen the doors so I can fit my big head through, I have to tell you it is not normally within my comfort zone to brag about myself. Quite the contrary, I was raised to be modest to a fault and always downplay my accomplishments. But I just can’t keep quiet about this one. After spending the last few years studying during lunch hours, the kids’ naps, and at night after the kids (and husbands) are in bed, I think we’re entitled to a little horn-tooting. Granted, we’re not finished yet – still one more level to go, but hey, we’re 2/3 of the way there. As Bill (one of Parsec’s managing partners and a CFA charterholder who knows well the pain) put it, we can at least see light at the end of the tunnel – and it sure looks good.

Sarah DerGarabedian

Research and Trading Associate

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Home Sales

A report by The National Association of Realtors shows that on the national level existing home sales dropped -5.1% in the month of June, though sales are up +9.8% since last year.  The sale price of homes increased +5.2% from last month, but just +1% from last year.  With inventory up to 8.9 months of supply, there is a lot of downward pressure on home prices.

Here in the sweet, sunny South, the level of home sales is more improved that the Western states, but less so than our Northern-Eastern neighbors.  According to the National Association of Realtors seasonally-adjusted existing home sales in the South are down -6.5% from last month, but are up +11% from this time last year.  Sale prices on homes in the South are up +6.4% in June, but flat from this time last year.

I read this as being hugely influenced by the home-buyer credit.  No doubt there was a rush to buy prior to April 30, which is the deadline for having a binding contract.  (The deadline for closing on these sales was June 30, but then was extended).  Despite this volatility in monthly data, home sales are up for the year.  The question remains how much the home-buyer credit spurred buyers to come into the market that wouldn’t have otherwise, or whether the credit just encouraged those that planned to buy regardless, to do so in the first part of the year.

Harli L. Palme, CFP®

Financial Advisor

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Financial Industry Reform

The banking overhaul bill has passed!  To quote the Kiplinger Letter, “The regulatory revamping cuts a wide swath, giving broad power to Uncle Sam to protect consumers and discourage banks from engaging in risky behavior.”  The main goal of the law is to prevent a crisis like the one experienced in 2008.  Let’s hope the law will act as a warning system when greed and fear creep into decisions being made by financial institutions.  One of the key components is that the Fed now has the authority to seize big financial firms and banks before panic sets in.  The largest of banks will increase their reserves so that they are less likely to crash in economic down turns.  Harry Reid was quoted saying, “Now no bank is too big to fail.”  However, there will always be financial giants that would cause disaster in world markets if they failed.  The new higher capital requirements of the big banks will make lending standards more demanding, which will have a slight drag on the recovering economy.  GDP is expected to be 3-3.5% in 2010.  The big banks will also be required to hold 5% of the loans they underwrite in their own portfolio.  Smaller banks have less capital requirements then big banks, but they could be affected by the reduction in certain fees that can be charged to consumers.  The bill does permanently increase the FDIC insurance to $250,000 per account.  The SEC also gains authority to force corporations to let shareholders nominate candidates for boards.  The bill was not intended to provide investor protection.  However, increased transparency and disclosure by financial firms that could help prevent a meltdown will be good news to investors.

Gregory D. James, CFP®

Partner

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George, I Can Lie About My Age!!

This year, I celebrate a milestone birthday. Let’s just say I am now officially too old to be George Clooney’s girlfriend.

As often happens with milestone birthdays, you reflect about how you imagined your life would be at this stage. Perhaps you had envisioned retiring at an early age. Maybe you wanted to start your own business. Or save tons of money, quit your job, and travel around the world for a couple of years. (Hey, you can dream.)

Then, life happened. You devoted yourself to a career. You bought a home. You got married and started a family. The years go by. You wake up one day and realize you’re that age.

When you first began your journey with Parsec, your goals were just rough ideas of where you thought you wanted to be in 10, 15, 20 years. Now that time has passed, are those goals still the same? Have you been affected by any of these events:

• Started a family
• Sent a child to college
• Lost your job
• Dealt with aging parents

We would also be remiss if we overlooked the extraordinary market volatility of the last two years.  All of the above events can significantly alter your financial plan.

Do you still have the same goals now that you did before these events occurred? Has your “deadline” for achieving those goals shifted? It is very easy in the day-to-day rush to not think about these things. However, it is important to evaluate your financial situation and goals periodically so you can stay on track.

Your financial advisor is here to help you. Together, he or she can review your financial plan and work to keep it in line with your changing life. Just call him or her anytime.

Cristy Freeman, AAMS
Senior Operations Associate

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Recovery Phase is Over? Now What?

There is plenty to be worried about these days. Outside of Europe, Iran, China and taxes, it appears we are now faced with a slowing economy. Over the past few weeks, we have seen economic and earnings data disappoint versus expectations. Although it appears that the economy is slowing, it can be beneficial to understand the economic cycle to better understand what is truly happening.

The typical economic cycle lasts between 5-7 years. The textbook definition of a business cycle includes four stages: Expansion, Prosperity, Contraction and Recession. Although I may not be textbook in my thinking, I like to divide economic cycles into 7 stages: Peak, Contraction (or Recession), Trough, Recovery, Expansion, Euphoria (then Peak again).

During the Recovery phase, we typically see companies experience significant growth, not because the economy is completely healed, but rather because the growth is being compared to extreme lows (the Trough). Although this growth is welcomed by both individuals and the market, it is typically unsustainable. For example, for the last several quarters we have seen many large cap companies grow earnings by 25 – 50%. During a Recovery, the majority of this growth is achieved by extreme cost cutting and margin expansion combined with a moderate amount of revenue growth.

As the economy begins to heal, we begin to transition to the Expansion phase of an economic cycle. Although less exciting, this is typically the longest phase of an economic cycle. During this period we typically experience earnings growth, but at a slower pace. This is the phase we believe the market is now entering.

Quite often, the transition from Recovery to Expansion is met with much pessimistic volatility. While this transition is taking place, investors still have vivid memories of the past contraction. As the recovery slows, skeptics are able to pinpoint leading indicators that are showing signs of weakness. These factors help to create the “Wall of Worry” that the markets so typically climb.

The good news for our clients is that high-quality, dividend paying stocks will often outperform during an expansionary phase. This occurrence is typically due to earnings growth, dividend yield and rising interest rates, which can harm the weaker, over-leveraged companies. It is also common for high-quality fixed income to underperform during the expansionary period, again due to rising interest rates.

Although the negatives continue to grow by the day, we continue to believe the “double dip” is unlikely. We feel the positive sloping yield curve, absence of inflation, pristine corporate balance sheets and strong corporate earnings growth will provide for a normal, albeit bumpy, transition from Recovery to Expansion.

Michael Ziemer, CFP®
Partner

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