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Volume 10, Edition 24 | July 12 - July 16, 2021

Maintaining Portfolio Conviction

Doug Walters, CFA
With US stocks looking expensive, investors need to be careful to avoid market timing. The key to long-term investing success is not to predict the future, but to prepare for it.

Contributed by Doug Walters, Max Berkovich

US stocks slipped a bit this week, falling about 1%. After rising 100% from the pandemic lows, I suppose we can forgive Mr. Market for taking a breather. Yet after such an increase, are stocks getting too expensive?

Equities are undoubtedly expensive relative to history. However, that does not mean one should pack up their portfolio and run for the hills. To do so would be market timing, which can be one of the most damaging actions an investor can take. Take the example of last March. In the darkest hour of the pandemic (from a stock market perspective), many nervous investors, fearing a prolonged downturn, exited the stock market. On March 23rd, 2020, the S&P 500 closed at 2237. The next day, the index jumped over 9%. For the nervous investor, missing that one-day bounce caused permanent portfolio damage. Let’s investigate that a bit further.

Assume an investor had $1M in stocks and got out of the market on March 23rd. On March 24th, they would have missed out on a 9.4% return… a $94K missed opportunity. Now let’s say they get back in the market on March 25th. From that point to today, stocks are up 82.0%. That $94K mistake just grew to $171K ($94K x 1.82) and will keep growing as long as the stock market continues to produce positive returns. The lesson here is that investing mistakes are permanent, and worse yet, they compound over time.

So how do we approach an expensive equity market without market timing? First, an evidence-based investor must concede that the future is unknowable. Stocks may fall, they may trade sideways, or they could keep rising. But we are not helpless. Rather than predict, we prepare. Good preparation includes:

  • A portfolio with intelligent diversification in liquid investments.
  • Securities with proven attractive factors (Quality, Value, Momentum, and Size) at the core. With such an approach, it is possible to construct a portfolio with attractive long-term return prospects and is not as expensive as the broader market.
  • An eye on opportunistic rebalancing. Research shows that allowing assets some freedom to drift but often checking for a need to rebalance is best for taking advantage of market moves (i.e., systematically buy low and sell high).

One certain thing is that the stock and bond markets will rise and fall unpredictably. Success as an investor is less about these ups and downs and more about preparing and maintaining conviction in your portfolio.

Insights_Cartoon_July11

4.5%

Core CPI inflation

Inflation jumped 0.9% in June compared to a 0.5% expectation. Core CPI is now 4.5%, the highest since 1991. The Fed still sees inflation as transitory.

Headlines This Week

Pricing Pressures

Inflation remains a big point of focus, and this week the Consumer Price Index (CPI) provided the latest data point.

  • Inflation jumped 0.9% compared to a 0.5% expectation. Core CPI is now 4.5%, the highest since 1991.
  • Much of the increase was due to used cars again, which jumped 10.5%.
  • Even still, removing the base effect (i.e., low prices this time last year) and outliers like used cars, there still is general upward pressure on inflation. The “trimmed-mean” CPI, which excludes outliers, is up 2.9%, and the “median” CPI is up 2.2%. These measures give a better sense of the true underlying pricing pressures versus the Fed’s 2% average target.
  • The Fed Chairman remains confident that the current bout of pricing pressures is temporary.

Earnings Boom

Earnings season kicked off in earnest this week, with reported growth coming in much higher than expected.

  • Second-quarter earnings for the S&P 500 companies were forecast to be up 52% compared to the same period last year.
  • With the first 8% of companies reporting a combined 129% growth, estimates are now for total growth closer to 70%.
  • JPMorgan’s CEO struck a positive tone noting that with their house prices, wages, savings, and investments all up, consumers are “raring to go.”

Building Bills

Infrastructure remains in the headlines, with the Senate majority leader pushing for action next week. Two bills are in play.

  • The first is the bipartisan proposal focused on traditional infrastructure like roads and bridges. 60 votes are required to move the bill forward.
  • The second is a $3.5 Trillion proposal focused on human infrastructure, including a broad list of expanded family benefits, such as medical leave, child care, and affordable housing. The bill is being advanced via reconciliation, which would only require a simple majority.
  • Perhaps investors are too soon in sounding the alarm of peak stimulus?

Delta Blues

Covid cases are on the rise again, including in the US.

  • As the delta variant takes hold, new cases in the US have more than doubled in the past 5 weeks.
  • Florida, for example, has seen cases rise from a 7 day average of 1,200 to 5,600.
  • While the US is ahead of many other countries in terms of vaccination rates, many states with a low percentage of the population vaccinated will be vulnerable to this next wave.
  • A stall to reopening efforts could potentially put pressure on Value and Small-Cap stocks.

The Week Ahead

Lagarde’s Surprise

The European Central Bank will meet next Thursday with an expectation of new policy signals from President Lagarde.

  • The meeting, previously expected to be uneventful, has now garnered much more attention after Lagarde stated it would have “some interesting variations and changes.”
  • Currently, the bank’s €1.85tn Pandemic Emergency Purchase Program (PEPP) is set to run until March 2022, but it is widely expected for that date to be pushed back.
  • This extension is a divergence from the world’s biggest central banks that have either already started or at least planned to start tapering their asset purchases.

Full Steam Ahead!

Earning’s season kicks into high gear next week with many notable highlights.

  • This quarter’s earnings season has major tailwinds, including record-high prices and soaring expectations.
  • Earnings estimates have steadily risen from 45% growth in January to 65% today, the highest since 2009.
  • The market will undoubtedly be checking to see if this expectation is met, along with how sustainable it might be.
  • Names to look out for next week include Netflix (NFLX), Intel (INTC), IBM, Halliburton (HAL), American Express (AXP), Verizon (VZ), AT&T (T), and Twitter (TWTR).

On the Data Docket

Next week will see a host of important economic indicators.

  • On Thursday, the initial jobless claims for the previous week will be out; something continually checked to get a sense of the labor market.
  • On Friday, the US, UK, and Eurozone will be releasing the closely watched June preliminary Markit Purchasing Managers Index (PMI) numbers.
  • Both countries’ PMIs are expected to show continued or steady growth in the manufacturing and service industries.
  • Additional data to look at includes the UK and Canada’s retail sales numbers as well as the Bank of Japan and the Reserve Bank of Australia’s meeting minutes.

The Open

For fellow golf enthusiasts, the British Open is ongoing this weekend, with a tightly packed field heading into Saturday.

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