Things that Go Bump in the Night

Concern over slowing global growth and the strength of the US dollar caused a steep decline in global markets in the third quarter, erasing gains made over the prior twelve months. The S&P 500 ended down 6.4% for the quarter and -5.3% in nine months ended September.  International markets fared far worse with International markets, as measured by the MSCI EAFE index, was down 10.23% for the quarter and 5.28% for the year to date through September. Looking under the global hood, Germany down 10.2% in the June to September period, Japan off 14.1% for the quarter and Chinese A shares falling over 28% in the quarter to post a nearly flat return for the year.

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When Much Ado Can Be Something

Since joining Coldstream in December, I have been dubbed the resident bear of our Investment Strategy Group (ISG) – not an easy brand to carry when you first come through the door. Though, to be honest, when it comes to the prospect of this current bull market, I tend to be rather “Eeyoric” compared to my more optimistic counterparts. Perhaps it is appropriate, then, that my turn to scribe a market update came just as the quarter end became – shall we say – entertaining.

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Signals from the Noise – Market Update

I recently read a NY Times Magazine article by Clay Tarver, detailing the remarkable story of Jason Everman. Everman had the incredible distinction of being kicked out of both Nirvana and Soundgarden prior to their explosive success in the 1990s. He later, as he put it “decided to do the most un-cool thing, join the Army.” Everman persevered through training and eventually joined the Rangers and then onto Special Forces, distinguishing himself through more than a decade of hot deployments. Post Army, Everman graduated from Columbia University with a degree in philosophy. On his plans for the future “I’ll probably just be a bartender somewhere.” In a life that has played out like a Greek tragedy, Jason is still the wise student attempting to divine messages the Gods have been sending him. Noisy as those signals may be.READ MORE

Oil Prices and Market Volatility Expectations

The end of 2014 brought yet again an increase in market volatility, angst surrounding global economic growth, and continued unease about the longer term central bank strategies and actions. Several key points are worth highlighting:

  • Volatility in the stock market has picked up in the past few months. Concerns about global economic growth, the health of emerging markets, geopolitical tensions, and plunging oil prices have investors on edge.
  • Investors continue to rotate toward defensive sectors such as consumer staples, health care, and utilities, helped in part by the steady decline in long-term interest rates. More cyclical sectors such as basic materials, industrials, and technology are falling out of favor.
  • The US economy continues to improve at a below normal but nonetheless growing pace. It is hard to find another area around the globe in the same condition. Europe has stalled, Russia is close to a depression with the collapse of their currency, and their number one export, oil, is down 50% in US dollar terms.

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Third Quarter Choppiness – Where Do We Go from Here?

With a back drop of an increasingly solid economic landscape in the US, deflation fears in Europe, and geopolitical uncertainty in the Middle East, Ukraine and Hong Kong, it is not surprising that the third quarter was tumultuous. European equity markets, responding to slowing growth, were weak across the board. In the United States, the trend favored large cap stocks over small, Japan struggled to keep its economy growing, and emerging markets were mixed. The nearby chart shows the performance for global markets for the third quarter and year to date.READ MORE

September Market Commentary

September started out great and ended with a whimper. The market as measured by the S&P 500 reached an all-time high two weeks ago when the S&P closed at 2011. Subsequently we have corrected 4% on an intra-day basis. Most pundits have been calling for a correction for months and the majority are looking for something like 10%. In an ongoing Bull Market you can always expect a 4-7% correction at any time as this is quite normal and our guess is any correction will be contained within those bands. Currently the markets are trading not on economics but on geo-political factors. We have had the Ukrainian situation, Scottish Independence, Hong Kong Demonstrations and ongoing turmoil in the Middle East. Somehow the large cap domestic markets have shrugged this off and only declined 4%. We believe this is encouraging and bodes well for better markets. It is noteworthy that after a mid-term election the markets have not declined once since 1946. This too should pass.

Bill Gross Leaves PIMCO for Janus

billgrossAs you may have heard, Bill Gross left PIMCO today for Janus Capital. Mr. Gross founded PIMCO; the firm was subsequently bought by Allianz. Apparently, Mr. Gross was forced out. He was the manager of PIMCO’s flagship Total Return Fund, which has underperformed its peers recently, but has a long and excellent track record. Currently, the Total Return Fund is on Coldstream’s approved manager list. The Coldstream Investment Strategies Group will meet on Tuesday to decide whether to keep the Total Return Fund on that approved list now that Mr. Gross has departed.

A Green Light for Further Gains?

The first half of 2014 turned out to be positive almost everywhere you looked in the financial markets. After posting a stellar 2013, the bull market and asset inflation have continued. While back to back large double digit annual returns from stocks do not happen often, it is normal to see a positive return in the S&P 500® Index the year following one like 2013. We estimate if the economy can sustain current growth levels, high single digit returns from the stock market this year seem reasonable, and so far that forecast is playing out well. We are of the mind that over the longer term, five to ten years out, we are in a secular bull market for stocks and the economy. We also note the improvement of International Developed markets relative to the US. As you can see from the data below, International markets are performing at par with the US this year, a welcome development for longer term global growth. That said, we are always reminding ourselves that 5 to 15% corrections are commonplace in bull markets.READ MORE

Polar Vortex : A Freeze on the Bull Market?

“As a newsman, I want to salute whoever came up with the term ‘polar vortex,’. It is terrifying but still sounds all science-y. A lesser meteorologist could have overreached with ‘arctic coldnado’ – Stephen Colbert 1/06/14

Hyperbole aside, while the polar vortex of freezing temperatures may have frozen most of the US, it had only a minor effect on market and broader economic activity in Q1. After a very hot year in the markets in 2013 it is reasonable to expect a cooling-off period.  In our last quarterly update our Chief Investment Officer, Bob Frazier, forecasted a 5-10% correction in the S&P 500 – he was spot on. READ MORE

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