Market Update for the Month Ending July 31, 2012

Posted by Brad McMillan, CFA, CAIA, MAI

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This entry was posted on Aug 6, 2012 5:01:44 AM

and tagged Fiscal Cliff, Market Updates, Politics and the Economy

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Financial markets take one step back, two steps forward

  • July was a volatile month, with uncertainty—economic and political, domestic and international—driving that volatility.
    • The S&P 500 Index moved more than 2 percent up and down, before ending July up 1.39 percent.
    • The Nasdaq showed similar volatility and wound up essentially flat, with a small positive move of 0.15 percent.
  • Domestic stocks suffered from announcements of a slowing economy, although earnings were reasonably robust.
    • 71 percent of S&P 500 companies beat estimates, as of the last week of July.
    • 43 percent beat top-line revenue estimates, the lowest percentage since the first quarter of 2009.
  • Technical indicators strengthened over the month.
    • The 50-day moving average for both indices was well above the 200-day moving average.
    • The S&P 500 has traded in a well-defined channel since early June (see chart).
    • Equities ended July toward the upper bounds of the channel.

Source: Bloomberg

  • International markets showed similar trends.
    • The MSCI EAFE Index was up 1.13 percent.
    • The MSCI Emerging Markets Index was up 1.61 percent.
    • Despite the improvement, technical indicators remained weak.
  • The dominant influences were actions by official institutions.
    • On July 5, the European Central Bank (ECB) and the People’s Bank of China announced rate cuts within minutes of each other.
      • This fueled rumors of coordinated action.
    • Toward month-end, ECB President Mario Draghi said that the bank would do whatever it took to support the euro.
      • Investors extrapolated that the ECB might ramp up purchases of peripheral European debt.
      • This resulted in a bounce back in demand for European equity and debt.
  • Slowing growth around the world and political uncertainty benefited fixed income.
    • U.S. Treasury yields declined to all-time lows in July.
      • After going below 1.5 percent, yields on the 10-year fell to 1.38 percent.
      • They rebounded on Mr. Draghi’s pledge to preserve the euro.
    • The Barclays Capital Aggregate Bond Index returned 1.38 percent for the month.
    • U.S. Treasury yields are at historic lows, but they remain higher than yields in Germany, Switzerland, and Japan.
  • Investors continued to gravitate toward risky bonds.
    • The Barclays Capital U.S. Corporate High Yield Index gained 1.90 percent in July.
    • Low default rates and reasonably attractive spreads have resulted in the high-yield index outperforming the Barclays Capital Aggregate Bond Index year-to-date.
    • On an absolute basis, yields are very low compared with historical standards, but relative to Treasuries they are near average levels.

Overall, U.S. equity markets remain reasonably strong, although valuations are fair to high by historical standards. International markets are weaker on both an absolute and a technical basis and seem to depend significantly on governmental action, but they are more reasonably valued.

Focus on uncertainty from Washington, DC

  • In late June, the Supreme Court ruled that “Obamacare,” formally the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, was constitutional, laying the grounds for implementation.
    • The ruling removed uncertainty over the act.
    • But it also guaranteed taxes would rise by at least the amounts written in the bill.
    • And it increased the perceived stakes in the upcoming election, with Republicans vowing to repeal the bill if they take control of the government.
  • Growing awareness of the consequences of the fiscal cliff also increased uncertainty.
    • The fiscal cliff describes the tax increases and spending cuts that will take effect at year-end unless explicitly repealed.
    • It will likely cut anywhere from 3 percent to 6 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) at the start of next year.
      • Given growth under 2 percent, this would likely mean a recession early next year unless Congress acts.
  • The U.S. will hit the federal debt ceiling by early fall, well before the election.
    • Many investors expect that this year’s process could as disruptive as last year’s.

These factors have acted to increase uncertainty and postpone decision making by consumers and businesses. This has, without question, contributed to slower U.S. economic growth.

Europe remains unsettled as well

  • Hurricane Greece continued to spin, without much effect in July, but Hurricane Spain spun back up in a big way.
    • In early July, the Spanish banking system was found to be insolvent, and a hurried agreement was reached to recapitalize it.
      • Details were foggy, but its speed and size calmed markets.
      • As details became clearer, Spanish government bond yields spiked back above 7 percent.
      • By month-end, Mr. Draghi’s support for the euro calmed markets.
  • Spain’s problems worsened and other countries disclosed worsening budget problems.
    • France announced measures to increase public spending and lower the retirement age—directly contrary to austerity demands made on other countries.
    • Germany’s economy seemed to be slowing, with political uncertainty growing.
      • Germany’s Constitutional Court announced that it would not rule on the latest rescue measures until September 12.
      • If the court rules against them, Spain’s rescue package could unravel.

Although perceived risk has decreased in Europe, the underlying problems are largely unsolved, and the risk may ratchet up again at any time.

A growing but slowing economy

  • All of the uncertainty had a slowing effect on the U.S. economy.
    • Growth ticked down to a 1.5-percent annualized rate in the second quarter.
    • Weak by historical standards, it was slightly better than economists had feared.
  • The quality of GDP growth wasn’t as good in the second quarter compared with the first.
    • Spending on durable goods weakened, indicating reduced consumer confidence.
    • Reduced government spending continued to be a drag in the second quarter.
  • Job growth was at a relatively low level of 80,000.
  • The ISM Manufacturing Index dropped to contractionary levels.
  • Consumer confidence showed a drop at the start of the month.
    • Real consumer income continued to rise.
    • Retail spending declined for the third month in a row while the personal savings rate increased.
  • Continued growth despite uncertainty described was encouraging.
    • In terms of employment, hours and average earnings increased.
      • Employers are increasing overtime for existing employees instead of hiring new workers—a trend that will lead to an increase in hiring.
    • The housing market continues to show signs of recovery.
      • On a seasonally adjusted basis, July showed the fourth monthly successive rise in prices, according to the Case-Shiller 20-City Home Price Index.
    • Other indices showed improvement as well, and the supply of houses for sale remained below historical levels.

Slow and steady with risks of storms

  • The economy and markets proceeded cautiously in July.
    • Risks remain, but the slow improvement of the U.S. economy looks to continue.
    • It should provide the basis for sustained improvement over time, despite short-term volatility.
  • It is important to be aware of risks but more important to remain focused on goals.
    • Investors should seek to match the time frames of their strategies to their goals rather than let short-term concerns override long-term plans.

Certain sections of this commentary contain forward-looking statements that are based on our reasonable expectations, estimates, projections, and assumptions. Forward-looking statements are not guarantees of future performance and involve certain risks and uncertainties, which are difficult to predict. Past performance is not indicative of future results. Diversification does not assure a profit or protect against loss in declining markets. All indices are unmanaged and investors cannot invest directly into an index. The S&P 500 Index is a broad-based measurement of changes in stock market conditions based on the average performance of 500 widely held common stocks. The Nasdaq Composite Index measures the performance of all issues listed in the Nasdaq Stock Market, except for rights, warrants, units, and convertible debentures. The MSCI EAFE Index is a float-adjusted market capitalization index designed to measure developed market equity performance, excluding the U.S. and Canada. The MSCI Emerging Markets Index is a market capitalization-weighted index composed of companies representative of the market structure of 26 emerging market countries in Europe, Latin America, and the Pacific Basin. It excludes closed markets and those shares in otherwise free markets that are not purchasable by foreigners. The Barclays Capital Aggregate Bond Index is an unmanaged market value-weighted index representing securities that are SEC-registered, taxable, and dollar-denominated. It covers the U.S. investment-grade fixed-rate bond market, with index components for a combination of the Barclays Capital government and corporate securities, mortgage-backed pass-through securities, and asset-backed securities. The Barclays Capital U.S. Corporate High Yield Index covers the USD-denominated, non-investment-grade, fixed-rate, taxable corporate bond market. Securities are classified as high-yield if the middle rating of Moody’s, Fitch, and S&P is Ba1/BB+/BB+ or below.

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The information on this website is intended for informational/educational purposes only and should not be construed as investment advice, a solicitation, or a recommendation to buy or sell any security or investment product. Please contact your financial professional for more information specific to your situation.

Certain sections of this commentary contain forward-looking statements that are based on our reasonable expectations, estimates, projections, and assumptions. Forward-looking statements are not guarantees of future performance and involve certain risks and uncertainties, which are difficult to predict. Past performance is not indicative of future results. Diversification does not assure a profit or protect against loss in declining markets.

The S&P 500 Index is a broad-based measurement of changes in stock market conditions based on the average performance of 500 widely held common stocks. All indices are unmanaged and investors cannot invest directly into an index.

The MSCI EAFE Index (Europe, Australasia, Far East) is a free float‐adjusted market capitalization index that is designed to measure the equity market performance of developed markets, excluding the U.S. and Canada. The MSCI EAFE Index consists of 21 developed market country indices.  

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