Eq: Large Cap
One would think that with rates and yields rising, and set to continue doing so, dividend focused stock sectors might be suffering. Yet, the opposite is true in the last month, the biggest gainers in the S&P 500 have been the dividend stalwarts—utilities, consumer staples, and telecoms. The driver of the gains seems to be less about the returns provided by dividends, and more about the fact that these are defensive sectors that can protect against a downturn.
FINSUM: This development is a little confusing (but then again so is the whole market), as the defensive characteristics would seem to be somewhat offset by the downside of rising rates’ impact on these sectors.
The market has been doing very well lately. Political worries, trade wars, it doesn’t matter, nothing seems to be able to contain the market’s optimism. Despite all this, though, Bank of America says it is all about to come to an end. The bank’s top strategist says that weakening growth, rising rates, and a glut of debt will conspire to weaken stocks. “The Fed is now in the midst of a tightening cycle, ignoring structural deflation, focusing on cyclical inflation … Until this Fed hiking cycle ends we suspect absolute returns from financial assets will remain slim & volatile”. BAML says that weakening bank stocks even in the face of rising rates (which should be good for them) may be a sign of how badly the Fed’s tightening will affect of the overall economy.
FINSUM: This is quite a gloomy and contrarian opinion. We see the argument, but it certainly seems to contradict everything one can observe in the market and economy right now.
While the SEC seems to have largely shrank from the limelight surrounding its investigation of Tesla, there is news on that front, and in a big way. The DOJ is now investigating Tesla, and specifically, it has launched a criminal investigation into Elon Musk’s now infamous tweet about taking the company private. The investigation sits alongside a civil inquiry by the SEC. Tesla said it had received a “voluntary request” for documents but that there was no “subpoena, a request for testimony, or any other formal process”.
FINSUM: Hard to see where this may go, but we imagine it could turn into a big headache (and distraction) for Musk and the company, as well as its shareholders.
One of the many factors that has been odd about the market’s rise since the beginning of summer has been how it did so at the same time as global trade tension was building. No better example of this odd pairing can be found than yesterday’s market—Trump imposed tariffs on $200 bn of extra Chinese goods, and the Dow rose over 0.5%. Why is this the case? Barron’s argues that it is because investors fundamentally believe that China and the US won’t let a trade war get out of control because of fears of mutually assured economic destruction. Accordingly, they see almost all negotiations and actions through rose-colored glasses.
FINSUM: We are not as sanguine as the market about the risks of the current trade war. Our biggest worry is not even about trade negotiations, per say, it is more about the ill will that is being built up which may create a future impasse on a seemingly resolvable issue.
High dividend yields are almost always a welcome feature for investors. For retirees, they are often an economic lifeline as they help cover everyday expenses. But rising rates pose a risk for such stocks as their value tends to suffer as fixed income becomes more attractive. One way to combat that is with stocks with quick dividend growth. Two such examples are pipeline giants Williams Company (4.8%) and ONEOK (5%). Both have dividend rates double that of the average S&P 500 stock, but they are also expected to grow those dividends (and their cash flow) at double digit annual rates. The two companies expect to grow their dividends by 12.5% and 10% respectively (from already high levels).
FINSUM: Given how high these dividends are already, the growth rate on them should be enough to offset any rate rise-related losses.
The market has been doing well lately and movements have been relatively calm. That may all be set to change, however, as a big driver of volatility is set to emerge. That driver is the so-called “blackout” period. The blackout refers to the month before earnings releases where companies are barred from repurchasing their own shares. Company buybacks have been a major tailwind for markets this year, with almost $400 bn of buybacks happening in the first half alone, up almost 50% from the prior year. Volatility has been historically higher in blackout periods.
FINSUM: So we are of two minds on this. On the one hand, blackout periods happen very frequently, so why would this one be special? On the other hand, there could be a lot of political and geopolitical (i.e. trade wars) turbulence in the next month, which means this particular period could prove very volatile.