Eq: Total Market
Barron’s has just put out a very timely list. The publication has compiled a list which ranks the 100 top companies according to sustainability. Sustainability, which is a component of and often linked to ESG, has become an increasingly important component of returns, so Barron’s rankings will likely make a difference to portfolios. The top ranked firm is Best Buy, followed by Cisco, Agilent Technologies, Texas Instruments, Voya Financial, and Clorox. The top 25 also includes Salesforce, Cummins, and Kellogg.
FINSUM: ESG is an increasingly important area not only for returns, but also for clients, so this is quite a handy list for what can be a surprisingly difficult to handle issue (i.e. deciding which companies are sustainable and not).
The topic of the next recession has faded a bit from the mainstream media discussion over the last month, and understandably so. Not only has the market jumped, but the Fed seems to have completely backed off the rates gas pedal. That said, we are keeping an eye on primary and secondary data on the economy to see what the future may hold. Here is some data that is worrying us a bit: global freight shipping rates are tumbling. China’s weak spending and a global slowing of growth has sent shipping rates way down, a sign of excess supply and demand weakness across the world.
FINSUM: This kind of info, along with metals demand etc, are great leading indicators of what might happen in the economy. Add this to the warning signs.
Stock investors and bond investors are showing a big disconnect right now. That mismatch in sentiment could cause some big losses. Fixed income investors have been buying bonds aggressively, keeping yields pinned at low levels and the curve very flat. However, equity markets have been rallying strongly, which will alleviate some pressure on the Fed, allowing them more margin to raise rates again. However, the bond derivatives market shows the market is betting there is a 98% chance rates are in exactly the same place as now in one year’s time.
FINSUM: Bond investors are too comfortable with the Fed right now. Powell et al have been quite hawkish for awhile now, only very recently backing off. We don’t think it would take much to get them back on track, and the equity market is paving the way.
It’s that time of year. Analysts from many banks are putting out their top picks for the year. The picks we are featuring focus mostly on the large cap space. The picks come from a range of different analysts and include: Google, Amazon, American Eagle, Broadcom, Deere, McDonald’s, Microsoft, and Salesforce.
FINSUM: Deere and McDonalds are interesting for us. Deere because farm equipment demand could be quite heavily impacted by US-China trade tensions, which makes this one a risky bet. McDonalds is a stock we are bullish on because of its menu changes and modernization efforts. We think it has a lot of business it can steal back from the likes of Shake Shack and Chipotle if it continues to make its menu fresher and more healthful and its store more appealing.
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.