Eq: Total Market
Financial advisors are a conservative bunch, so we know that there has been some very anxious feelings over the last couple of weeks as would-be Democrat presidents have announced their intentions for big tax hikes. How about 70% top tax rates and major wealth taxes? Some, like Bernie Sanders and Chuck Schumer, have also recently posed putting restrictions on buybacks. With all this in mind, here is a list of stocks that would be most in trouble from the Democrat plans that are currently on the table. According to Barron’s, the most at risk are Citigroup, Whirlpool, American Airlines, Union Pacific, and Boeing, but Walmart and Harley-Davidson could also be exposed.
FINSUM: This list was rather simply done—the companies that had reduced headcount the most and also bought back shares. However, as we move towards the election, it is time to start considering the risks to different stocks.
One of the hottest trades in the last several months has been to buy a basket of low volatility stocks. The idea is that one can insulate their portfolio from the market’s fluctuations by buying stocks that are less likely to see swings in value. The problem is, the trade has gotten very crowded. Legal & General Investment Management says that “Low volatility might be becoming vulnerable as investors chasing recent performance and buying into gloomy 2018 outlooks flock into it … It is becoming a relatively consensus position, which for us is a warning sign”.
FINSUM: Low volatility stocks held up well in the tumultuous fourth quarter, but the attractiveness of the strategy has made valuations quite high. Such stocks typically lag in upward markets, so there does seem to be some significant risk here.
We ask you, readers, to name the single most important factor that has supported stock prices through all the turmoil over the last year. We bet more than half of you uttered “earnings” to yourself. Earnings have grown strongly in the last year, something that helped keep prices stable despite big geopolitical worries. However, there pillar of the market may now be crumbling as analysts have just turned the earnings outlook negative for the first time in three years. Analysts now expect first quarter earnings to decline by almost 1% from last year. By contrast, at the end of December, expectations were for a 3.3% gain. Most expect the weakness to come from margins, not top line growth.
FINSUM: Continued strong earnings were supposed to be one of the positives this year. If earnings sputter out, what is there to hold up the market in the face of so much uncertainty?
For the last six months, there has been a lot of focus in the media and amongst analysts that a recession will be arriving in 2020. 2019 always seemed to close of a call because of how the economy was trending, but 2020 seems to be a safe bet based on some of the indicators out there. Now, JP Morgan is saying a recession in 2020 is unlikely. The catalyst for the change? The Fed. Strategists at JP Morgan concluded “If the Fed is less spooked by full employment, more tolerant of an inflation overshoot and less anxious to reach restrictive policy, then 2020 might not be a year to think about recession and so late 2019/early 2020 would be premature to position defensively cross-asset”.
FINSUM: This analysis is dead simple, but we would agree. If the Fed is less hawkish, then it will prolong this cycle.
A lot of investors are nervous to put their money back in markets. The big losses of December have given way to a great start to the year, but investors are still shy because of the volatility. Well, JP Morgan says investors need to get back in markets soon as waiting for analysts to turn bullish again has a history of being a poor idea. Generally speaking, analysts can be a year behind actual market moves, so if investors wait until the mood improves, they will have already missed out on a lot of the gains.
FINSUM: Worries about forthcoming earnings aside, the market definitely has a renewed spring in its step and we are generally feeling bullish given the now lower valuations.
A terrible December and then a great January. There is certainly reason for optimism on shares, but investors may well be nervous after a such a dramatic swing. February is not traditionally a very strong month for stocks, but this year could be different. That is for two reasons. The first is that February tends to mimic January, and secondly, because the Fed has just made a historic u-turn on rates, which should provide much smoother sailing.
FINSUM: The other big factor here is that p/e ratios have fallen dramatically over the last year because of the big move lower in stocks and the healthy gains in corporate profits. We are increasingly optimistic.