Staying Defensive

September has a long history of being a difficult time for the equity market and in 2022 this seasonal precedent held true once again. For the month, the S&P 500 fell 9.3%, notching its worst one-month decline since March 2020. The Nasdaq declined 10.5%, as soaring bond yields weighed heavily on high PE stocks and the Dow Jones Industrial Average tumbled 8.8%.

In terms of the third quarter, the S&P 500 fell 5.3%, the Nasdaq dropped 4.1%, and the Dow Jones Industrial Average lost 6.7%. Plus, for the first time since 2009 the S&P 500 and the Nasdaq suffered three consecutive quarterly losses. For the Dow Jones Industrial Average, it was the first time since 2015 that the index experienced three straight quarterly losses.

September’s poor performance was not a total surprise. As we noted in our July 2022 Quarterly Market Strategy Report, by the end of June, the S&P 500 had suffered its worst first-half performance since 1970. But more importantly, these two declines had something in common — they both took place during an economic recession. In general, it has been our view that economic activity was at risk for most, if not all of 2022, due primarily to the brunt of double-digit inflation and the negative impact this has on consumers’ purchasing power, profit margins, PE multiples, and monetary policy. Our opinion has not changed.

Earnings Recession

Although the two quarters of negative GDP growth seen in the first half of this year have not officially been declared a recession by the National Bureau of Economic Reseach, there is little doubt that it has been a difficult time for both consumers and businesses. One example is corporate earnings. Despite the headlines in the financial press indicating that most S&P 500 companies beat earnings expectations in the second quarter of the year, the back story is that these earnings estimates were substantially reduced ahead of reports. In reality, the S&P Dow Jones consensus earnings estimate declined more than 8% from its April high. The full year estimate for year-over-year earnings growth has now collapsed to breakeven according to recent S&P data. More importantly, full year earnings growth would be negative if earnings for the energy sector are excluded from the total.

In short, many companies are experiencing a deterioration in earnings in 2022, as is typical of a recession. We lowered our S&P 500 earnings forecast twice in the last eight weeks, but a further weakening of the economy could put even our reduced $209 per share estimate in jeopardy. It is this uncertainty surrounding earnings growth that has shaken investor confidence in recent weeks and taken stock prices lower.

Pivotal September

Plus, a number of global events helped trigger a negative shift in investor sentiment in September. Early in the month, the two-year advance in energy prices led to Finland announcing a 10-billion-euro credit package for the long-suffering Finnish power industry. The country also extended an additional 2.35-billion-euro package to its largest state-owned energy company which provides power to several countries in Europe. Some analysts estimate that the broader EU energy derivatives market may require as much as $1.2 trillion in government backing due to deteriorating debt in the sector.

Later in the month, the newly installed UK Prime Minister Liz Truss initiated a surprise tax cut intended to boost England’s struggling economy. However, concern about the new government’s fiscal responsibility and fear that this stimulus would inspire even more inflation led to turmoil in the financial markets. The British pound plummeted to an all-time low against the dollar, yields in 10-year British government gilts jumped above 4% for the first time in twelve years and the Bank of England hiked interest rates 50 basis points to its highest level in 14 years.

In addition, the Bank of England was forced to buy bonds after British pension funds struggled to meet margin calls on debt instruments, some of which lost a third of their value in four days. This chaos in the global debt market is a big concern, and we worry that rising interest rates can continue to have unexpected consequences in the months ahead.

All in all, the fear of recession in Europe and the US increased at the end of September and the feedback loop between stock and bonds became blatantly apparent.

Recession Proofing

In our opinion, the US is either in the midst of a recession or at risk of falling into a recession in coming months. Meanwhile, the Federal Reserve will continue to increase interest rates which will slow many sectors of the economy even more. Therefore, we continue to remain defensive and look to protect portfolios as much as possible for the likelihood of weak economic activity. This means emphasizing areas of the stock market that have predictable revenue growth and earnings streams. Many individual stocks can have these characteristics but in general, this suggests household necessities such as utilities, staples, and energy. The Russian invasion of Ukraine has stimulated demand for aerospace and defense, which is another recession-proof sector. In an environment of rising interest rates, we expect value stocks to continue to outperform growth stocks.

October: The Turnaround Month

The good news is that October has often been a time of reversing downtrends. In fact, twelve of the 48 declines of 10% or more seen since 1931 have taken place in October, which is why October has been called “the bear killer.” And though many technical indicators broke down at the end of September, investor sentiment hit historic extremes.

The AAII sentiment readings recently showed a decline in bullishness to 17.7% and an increase in bearishness to 60.9%. This 17.7% bullishness reading is among the 20 lowest readings since the AAII survey began in 1987. Optimism was at a similar level in May. This is favorable since equity prices tend to be higher in the next six and/or twelve months following such extreme readings in sentiment.

Disclosure: The information herein has been prepared by Dudack Research Group (“DRG”), a division of Wellington Shields & Co. The material is based on data from sources considered to be reliable; however, DRG does not guarantee or warrant the accuracy or completeness of the information. It is published for informational purposes only and should not be used as the primary basis of investment decisions. Neither the information nor any opinion expressed constitutes an offer, or the solicitation of an offer, to buy or sell any security. The opinions and estimates expressed reflect the current judgment of DRG and are subject to change without notice. Actual results may differ from any forward-looking statements. This letter is not intended to provide personal investment advice and it does not take into account the specific investment objectives, financial situation and the specific needs of any person or entity.

This communication is intended solely for use by Wellington Shields clients. The recipient agrees not to forward or copy the information to any other person without the express written consent of DRG.

Copyright © Dudack Research Group, 2022.

Wellington Shields is a member of FINRA and SIPC

Gail Dudack, Chief Strategist

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Recession Proofing

Between March and June of this year, all three main market indices, the S&P 500 index, the Dow Jones Industrial Average, and the Nasdaq Composite index, recorded their worst 3-month declines since the first quarter of 2020. The S&P 500 suffered its worst first-half performance since 1970. But it is important to note that while these declines were steep, they had something else in common —  they took place during an economic recession. This is both the good news and the bad news for today’s investors.

Keep in mind that the Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA) recently confirmed that the US economy, or GDP growth, declined 1.6% in the first quarter. And since the National Bureau of Economic Analysis defines an economic recession as two consecutive quarters of negative GDP growth, it is possible that the US economy is already in a recession. In line with this possibility is the fact that, aside from employment statistics, many economic data series have been in a decline all year.

On July 28, the BEA will release its initial estimate for second quarter GDP and with this release, economists will have a much clearer sense of the strength or weakness of the economy. But even if second quarter GDP growth is positive, the fact that the Federal Reserve plans to slow the economy by raising interest rates at each of this year’s upcoming FOMC meetings, means economic growth will remain at risk for most of 2022.  

Playing defense

Therefore, we should assume that the risk of recession will be high over the next twelve months. If so, it is important for investors to be defensive and insulate their portfolios against such weakness. This means emphasizing areas of the stock market that should have the most predictable consumer demand and reliable earnings. In short, we would focus on household necessities such as staples, utilities, and energy. Aerospace and defense are expected to see demand and earnings growth in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Ironically, these are the same areas of the stock market that we have been emphasizing in order to offset the impact of inflation. In short, these industries are both inflation and recession resistant.

We have been warning about the negative impact of inflation for over twelve months. High inflation is a destructive trend that acts like a massive tax increase on households, results in substantially higher interest rates, it pressures corporate margins, and it lowers the price-earnings multiples for stocks. Because of these factors, stock market leadership has made a massive shift from growth (including technology stocks where price-earnings multiples tend to be highest) to value (where price-earnings multiples tend to be low and dividend payouts high). We expect value stocks will continue to outperform growth stocks until inflation is under control, which may take a while. 

Recession Risk

There are a number of areas that suggest the economy is slowing, but the most important may be housing. The housing market represents 16% to 18% of GDP and it is showing signs of a weakness. The National Association of Realtors (NAR) publishes an affordability composite index and in April it fell to its lowest reading since the 2007 recession. The NAR housing market index has been falling all year, but in June the index measuring traffic of potential buyers fell to its lowest reading since June 2020. Unit sales of existing and new homes declined 8.6% YOY and 6% YOY, respectively. And new home sales are down 30% from its January 2021 peak. What is worrisome is that the median price of an existing home increased 15% YOY in May, but in the same period, personal income increased only 5.3% YOY. Moreover, disposable income rose 2.8% YOY and real disposable income fell 3.3% YOY. A combination of high prices, falling disposable income and soaring mortgage rates will have a negative impact on housing and the economy in coming months. The fact that on a year-over-year basis, real disposable income declined for twelve of the last thirteen months is not a good sign for the US economy which is 70% consumer-driven.

Consumer confidence levels are also giving warnings signs. Conference Board consumer confidence fell to 98.7 in June, its lowest level since February 2021 and expectations fell to its lowest point since October 2011. The University of Michigan consumer sentiment index fell to 50 in June, the lowest headline reading on record, and lower than any time during the recessions of 1980, 1982, 1990, 2001, 2008-2009, or 2020. Expectations fell to 47.5, the lowest reading since August 2011 (47.4) or May 1980 (45.3). In short, in both surveys, consumer confidence is at levels last seen during a recession.

The Good News

The good news is that while the stock market tends to be the best predictor of an economic recession, it usually bottoms halfway through a recession. This means that if second quarter GDP is negative, it suggests that the stock market would have been at, or close to, a bottom at its June 16th low in the S&P 500 index of 3666.77.

In addition, a recent poll by the American Association of Individual Investors’ showed only 18.2% of small investors are bullish and 59.3% are bearish. This was the fourth weekly poll with less than 20% bulls and more than 50% bears since end of April. The 8-week bearish reading of 50.9% on May 18 was the highest bearish percentage since the March 12, 2009 peak. According to the AAII, equity prices tend to be higher in the next six and/or twelve months following such extreme readings.

In sum, while the first half of the year has been a challenging period, it is clearly not the time to be bearish. In fact, several factors suggest that the slowdown the Fed has set as its goal may be materializing faster than expected. Ironically, this would be the good news. The one concern we have is that earnings forecasts are still too high in many cases, and this could make second quarter earnings season in late July a time of weakness. Volatility is likely to continue but investors should maintain a long-term view and adjust portfolios accordingly. The third quarter could produce opportunities to buy equities at attractive prices.

Disclosure: The information herein has been prepared by Dudack Research Group (“DRG”), a division of Wellington Shields & Co. The material is based on data from sources considered to be reliable; however, DRG does not guarantee or warrant the accuracy or completeness of the information. It is published for informational purposes only and should not be used as the primary basis of investment decisions. Neither the information nor any opinion expressed constitutes an offer, or the solicitation of an offer, to buy or sell any security. The opinions and estimates expressed reflect the current judgement of DRG and are subject to change without notice. Actual results may differ from any forward-looking statements. This letter is not intended to provide personal investment advice and it does not consider the specific investment objectives, financial situation and the specific needs of any person or entity.

Gail Dudack, Chief Strategist

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Stagflation or Recession?

To date, 2022 has been a rough year for equity investors. After seven consecutive quarters of solid price gains, the first quarter of the year ended with a loss of 4.9% in the S&P 500 index, a fall of 4.6% in the Dow Jones Industrial Average and a larger 9.1% decline in the Nasdaq Composite index. These were the first 3-month declines in the indices in exactly two years, or since early 2020, when the COVID-19 global shutdown triggered a global recession.

Still, considering the alarming invasion and bombing of Ukraine by Russia in late February, we believe the decline in stocks has been remarkably orderly. Particularly since this attack has catapulted the world economic and geopolitical environments into turmoil. In addition, February’s inflation benchmarks revealed that consumer prices were soaring 7.9% year-over-year – a forty year high — and Russia’s conflict with Ukraine is expected to exacerbate prices in fuel, grain, and fertilizer for the foreseeable future.

Last, but far from least, in mid-March the long awaited, yet decisive shift from a monetary policy of extreme ease to tightening began. This shift by the Fed reverses the historic liquidity boost that has been supporting stock prices for the last 24 months. In addition, following the FOMC meeting, Chairman Jerome Powell indicated there will be many more interest rate increased before year-end and the consensus is now forecasting rate hikes in each of the next six FOMC meetings this year. There is no doubt that a shift in monetary policy will impact the US economy. The only question is how much. Will the Federal Reserve be able to manage a soft landing for the economy? Or will the shift trigger stagflation or a recession? The next few months should be telling.

Changing Landscape for Investors

In short, the environment for equities has changed and the Fed’s shift to a tightening policy will be pivotal. Expectations of multiple rate hikes have triggered fears of an inverted yield curve and a recession. While we believe this fear is real, we also believe it is premature. First, inverted yield curves can be measured in many ways, but in our opinion, a truly inverted yield curve requires the 3-month

A truly inverted yield curve requires the 3-month Treasury bill yield to exceed the yield on the 10-year Treasury note yield. This is not in place and is unlikely to appear in coming months.  

Treasury bill yield to exceed the yield on the 10-year Treasury note yield. Given the present level of short-term rates, all things being equal, it would take eight 25 basis point rate hikes by the Fed to invert the yield curve. This is unlikely to materialize in coming months.

Second, history shows that markets usually rally following early rate hikes and begin to weaken only after four consecutive rate hikes take place within a twelve-month period. This implies the actual risk associated with inverted yield curve will appear later in the year.

In our view, the 10-year Treasury note market is a huge global market, is not under the Fed’s control, and due to its global reach, can be an excellent predictor of future economic strength. Yields often fall, sometimes precipitously once investors expect rising interest rates will significantly damage economic activity. We would remain alert to this possibility, but do not expect it soon. And remember, the curve usually inverts six to twelve months prior to the start of a recession.

Earnings will be the key to investments

Balanced portfolios should include stocks with a predictable earnings stream shielded from inflation, price earnings multiples at or below the S&P 500 average and dividend yields greater than 1.5%.  

Whether the Russia-Ukraine conflict increases or diminishes, whether inflation grows or weakens, earnings growth, or the lack thereof, is the true foundation of any market trend. With this in mind, the upcoming first quarter earnings season will be important since it will indicate how well, or how poorly, companies have weathered the various difficulties of supply constraints, inflation, and rising interest rates, of the first quarter. First quarter earnings season begins this month, and it could become a market moving event.

Beneficiaries of inflation such as energy, food, and staples are expected to do best and outperform this year. The Russian invasion has been the catalyst for many Western countries to increase their defense budgets and this increase in spending will benefit defense stocks and the industrial sector. Cybersecurity is another sector that is likely to see more capital investment and rising demand from consumers. Conversely, we will be watching company statements from housing and auto companies to see how corporate leaders respond to the prospect of rising interest rates and waning demand.

Investing in a new environment

In an era of rising inflation and higher interest rates, equites can still perform well but portfolios need to adjust. The best insulation today would a balanced portfolio that include stocks with earnings shielded from the pressures of inflation, price earnings multiples at or below the S&P 500 average, and stocks with dividend yields greater than 1.5%.

However, given the geopolitical and policy uncertainties in the current environment; we would not be surprised if equity indices trade within a broad trading range for most of 2022. If so, holding a core portfolio tilted toward value stocks is still advised. But for those willing to be nimble, we expect a trading opportunity may appear in the technology sector in coming months.

Gail Dudack, Chief Strategist

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A Year of Reckoning

A year ago, we stated that despite denials from the Federal Reserve Board and the administration, inflation would become a big problem for consumers and the securities markets in 2021. We did not believe that rising prices would be transient or mild because monetary and fiscal policy had remained too stimulative for too long. Investors managed to ignore inflation for most of 2021, but at the December 2021 FOMC meeting, with consumer prices rising 6.9% year-over-year and producer prices for finished goods rising more than 13% year-over-year, Chairman Jerome Powell did accept the existence of inflation. He stated quite clearly that monetary policy needed to change in 2022 and that quantitative easing would end by March and interest rates could increase two or three times this year. This is a pivotal switch.

Fed Policy in the Crosshairs

However, the Federal Reserve appears to be behind the curve in terms of fighting inflation since big price hikes are now widely accepted and widespread. As a result, the shift from easy to tightening monetary policy might need to be longer and more frequent than if it had begun sooner. And though this policy adjustment will be the big challenge for investors in 2022, it is a necessary move. The asset inflation seen in housing, commodities, securities, energy, and all forms of collectibles has been the result of too much money chasing too few goods and this is due to the Fed feeding the banking system with too much cash. The alternative would fuel an asset bubble environment.

Quantitative easing and/or falling interest rates have usually been a positive for equities and this is the source of the Wall Street adage “Don’t Fight the Fed.” The end of quantitative easing (QE) has no predictive value for equities. However, one could say that without quantitative easing equities no longer have the wind at their back and would need a new catalyst to move higher. What is more likely to pose a problem for equities is the Fed’s transition from historically low to higher interest rates. Bonds and stocks compete as investments, therefore as interest rates rise, the pendulum of risk shifts from bonds to equities. Higher interest rates raise the bar for equities in valuation models.

Investing in a Changing Environment

In an era of rising inflation and higher interest rates, equites can still perform well but portfolios may need some adjustments. It is important to note that inflation and interest rates pressure high PE stocks since they represent the highest-risk segment of the market. This explains the recent selling pressure in high-flying tech stocks. In 2022, investors should look to protect portfolios from these risks. The best insulation would be balanced portfolios that include stocks with earnings shielded from the pressures of inflation, price earnings multiples at or below the S&P 500 average, and stocks with dividend yields greater than 1.5%.

A number of sectors should do well in 2022 despite rising prices and interest rates. For example, energy stocks have been the beneficiaries of inflation. The sector recorded a gain of 47.7% before dividends in 2021 which made them the best performing sector in the S&P 500. However, gasoline demand should continue to increase as the pandemic fades and the United States Energy Information Administration (EIA) expects global consumption of petroleum and liquid fuels to increase by 3.5 million barrels per day in 2022 to average 100.5 million barrels per day. It follows that energy sector earnings should be strong in 2022. Moreover, energy stocks tend to have low PE multiples and many stocks have dividend yields that are double the current rate in the 10-year Treasury note.

Financial stocks are another sector that can not only weather inflation but do well as interest rates rise. Banks, in particular, can benefit from a steepening yield curve. Assuming COVID-19 and its variants fade into history in 2022, global economic activity will expand, and financial stocks will benefit from this increased activity. In addition, the sector tends to have modest valuation multiples and solid dividend yields. But note that as the world of finance continues to change, so does the composition of the S&P financials sector. Many fin-tech stocks were added to the S&P financial sector in December, such as PayPal (PYPL – $187.60), Fiserv Inc. (FISV – $108.83), and Jack Henry & Associates (JKHY – $169.75). Although bank stocks tend to have healthy PE multiples and yields, these new additions will have higher earnings growth potential but higher PE multiples. This will raise the average PE and lower the yield of the overall sector.

Consumer staples should also fare well in a volatile and changing environment. Staples are a defensive play that should demonstrate growth as the global economy recovers. Valuations for staples are modest, and the yields are above average. Note that in December S&P added Target Corp. (TGT – $230.78), Dollar General (DG – $238.37), and Dollar Tree Inc. (DLTR – $140.96) to its staples sector. We find these interesting additions. In an environment of rising inflation, when households are acutely price sensitive, these three retailers are known for providing quality products at low prices. They are attracting consumers from all income brackets. Again, investors should be looking for companies that can not only survive, but thrive, in an inflationary environment.

The Technology Sector

Technology stocks may come under pressure in 2022 as interest rates rise. But, in our view a correction in the technology sector would provide a long-term buying opportunity. In other words, be patient when adding technology stocks to portfolios.

As a final note, history has shown that three consecutive years of double-digit gains – as seen in the S&P 500 and Nasdaq Composite index — have been followed by a down year. This implies the S&P 500 and Nasdaq Composite index, which are heavily influenced by the largest market capitalization stocks, may come under pressure in coming months. But declines are a normal part of any equity cycle. The S&P 500 has more than doubled since the March 2020 low without as much as a 10% correction. A correction in the next twelve months should be viewed as a healthy and stabilizing event for the longer term.

*Closing prices as of 1/7/2022

Gail Dudack, Chief Strategist

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Disclosure: The information herein has been prepared by Dudack Research Group (“DRG”), a division of Wellington Shields & Co. The material is based on data from sources considered to be reliable; however, DRG does not guarantee or warrant the accuracy or completeness of the information. It is published for informational purposes only and should not be used as the primary basis of investment decisions. Neither the information nor any opinion expressed constitutes an offer, or the solicitation of an offer, to buy or sell any security. The opinions and estimates expressed reflect the current judgment of DRG and are subject to change without notice. Actual results may differ from any forward-looking statements. This letter is not intended to provide personal investment advice and it does not consider the specific investment objectives, financial situation and the specific needs of any person or entity.

This communication is intended solely for use by Wellington Shields clients. The recipient agrees not to forward or copy the information to any other person without the express written consent of DRG.

Copyright © Dudack Research Group, 2022.

Wellington Shields is a member of FINRA and SIPC

Welcome a Fourth Quarter Bump

The post-Covid recovery period has been a profitable time for investors. By the end of the third quarter of 2021, the S&P 500 was the best performing index with a gain of nearly 15% year-to-date, followed by the Russell 2000 with a gain of 14%, the Nasdaq Composite index was up 12% and the DJIA had a gain of 10.5%. But from the pandemic March 2020 low, the biggest winner was the Russell 2000 with a gain of 120% versus the S&P 500’s gain of 92%. This means that equity performance has been broadly-based and small capitalization stocks have actively participated in the 20-month bull market. This is good news.

WEAKENING UNDERPINNINGS

At the risk of oversimplifying, we believe the 2020-2021 bull market has been supported by two important factors: 1.) a strong rebound in earnings growth and 2.) extremely easy monetary policy. But as we enter the last quarter of 2021 both of these bedrocks are less certain. Whereas consensus earnings forecasts for 2021 and for 2022 moved steadily higher for eighteen months, this began to change in mid-September. Consensus earnings forecasts are starting to edge lower and though estimates still reflect a positive earnings growth rate for 2021 and 2022, these growth rates are falling. This is noteworthy. Steadily rising earnings forecasts have provided a reliable incentive to buy stocks and good fundamental support in the event of any negative news shock. But today, with estimates drifting lower, downside support is less definable and reliable. This change is subtle, but it could result in less demand for stocks and could make speculators more cautious in the final quarter of the year. In short, the equity market could become more volatile in the final months of the year.

Inflation is a core problem for companies. In its third quarter earnings report PepsiCo (PEP – $155.74*) indicated that higher transportation and raw material costs will be passed on to consumers in the form of price hikes this year and again next year. Higher inflation hurts profit margins, particularly if companies cannot pass on these costs. And when companies do pass on higher costs to consumers it can hurt household consumption and lower GDP. Inflation is apt to make earnings growth less predictable in the quarters ahead.

Inflation is also a challenge for the Fed. With CPI and PPI rising well in excess of 5% for three months in a row, inflation can no longer be viewed as transitory. It is a problem. Therefore, the Fed could be forced to change its policy of extreme quantitative easing and low interest rates before the end of the year. The September employment report was weaker than the consensus expected, and this could ease some of the pressure on the Federal Open Market Committee, but all in all, the Fed is in a complex situation. Financial news headlines will continue to focus on monetary policy as a threat to investors, but history shows that monetary policy does not have a negative impact on stock prices until it raises interest rates three times in a row. That is unlikely to occur until 2023.

A GAME OF HOT POTATO

Despite the vote to raise the debt ceiling by $480 billion, the debt ceiling will remain a major financial topic in the weeks ahead. Do not forget that the US government has been shut down several times in the recent past due to a debt ceiling crisis, most notably in 1995 (one 5-day shutdown and one 21 day shutdown), in 2011 (when Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner utilized “extraordinary measures” such as the sale of assets from the Civil Service Retirement and Disability Fund and the G Fund of the Thrift Savings Plan to acquire funds) and in 2013 (which stretched on for months and also included “extraordinary measures” to pay obligations). Typically, the first step in a government shutdown is the closure of national parks and the layoff of nonessential personnel to save cash flow for obligations such as social security payments and payments on debt. The Treasury has demonstrated a variety of creative ways to survive during a debt ceiling crisis and there has been unverified chatter of the Treasury minting a billion-dollar gold coin to raise capital if the debt ceiling is not raised in the months ahead. The debt ceiling debate can be a useful dialogue in terms of curbing fiscal spending, and it has been a political game of hot potato many times in the past. Nevertheless, while economists can list 23 times that the government has been shut down due to the debt ceiling, the US government has never defaulted on its debt. We do not believe it will any time soon. 

CLIMBING A WALL OF WORRY

But if bull markets like to climb a wall of worry, there will be many international concerns to think about in the fourth quarter. China’s energy shortage and the OPEC+ group deciding not to increase the output of oil, has put pressure on energy prices and this lifted WTI crude oil as high as $79 a barrel recently. Higher crude prices will put even more pressure on global inflation. China’s twin energy and Evergrande property crises could trigger slower growth around the world. In the UK, a combination of the pandemic and the county’s departure from the European Union are resulting in a shortage of tanker drivers to transport fuel across the country. In Germany, a lack of clarity about the composition of the next government following Merkel’s departure, is creating a predicament for the European Union. Without a clear government in Germany a range of decisions from economic policy to defense are being delayed in the EU. In the background, many countries in East Asia and the Pacific continue to face major setbacks in their recovery from the coronavirus. In short, there is no shortage of worries in the globe.

THE FOURTH QUARTER

Looking ahead to the last few months of the year we believe there are many areas of the market that will do well despite a rise in inflation and a shift in Fed policy. One of these is energy which is likely to have positive earnings growth in the fourth quarter given the rise in crude oil prices. The second is financial stocks. Banks in particular are insulated from the rise in inflation and will be beneficiaries of a rise in long-term interest rates. As inflation rises, PE multiples come under pressure and this explains why many technology stocks, where PE multiples are the highest, have come under pressure recently. However, to the extent that earnings growth will justify a high PE multiple, any sell-off in technology issues should be considered a buying opportunity. Overall, companies with below-average PE multiples and above-average dividend yields are always good holdings when markets become volatile.

The market indices have more than doubled since the March 2020 low without experiencing any intervening correction of 10% or more. This is well in excess of the average historical gain of 54% prior to a 10% correction. In other words, the equity market is overdue for a normal pullback, and investors should use this as a good opportunity to adjust portfolios for the longer term.  

*Priced October 8, 2021 12:00PM

Gail Dudack

Chief Strategist

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Disclosure: The information herein has been prepared by Dudack Research Group (“DRG”), a division of Wellington Shields & Co. The material is based on data from sources considered to be reliable; however, DRG does not guarantee or warrant the accuracy or completeness of the information. It is published for informational purposes only and should not be used as the primary basis of investment decisions. Neither the information nor any opinion expressed constitutes an offer, or the solicitation of an offer, to buy or sell any security. The opinions and estimates expressed reflect the current judgement of DRG and are subject to change without notice. Actual results may differ from any forward-looking statements. This letter is not intended to provide personal investment advice and it does not take into account the specific investment objectives, financial situation and the specific needs of any person or entity.

This communication is intended solely for use by Wellington Shields clients. The recipient agrees not to forward or copy the information to any other person without the express written consent of DRG.

Copyright © Dudack Research Group, 2021.

Wellington Shields is a member of FINRA and SIPC

Welcome the Bump in the Road

The S&P 500 and the Wilshire 5000 both rose to record highs at the end of June capping a wonderful first six months of 2021 for equity investors. Most broad market indices had year-to-date advances of 14%, which for most calendar years would be considered a terrific performance. One historical tidbit suggests that solid gains in the first half of the year tend to be followed by further advances in the second half, so there is reason to be optimistic for the intermediate term. But more importantly, the main characteristic of the 2021 stock market to date was the shift away from the perennial leadership of technology and growth stocks and to a range of stocks that can best be described as inflation driven. Sectors such as energy, REITs, materials, industrials, and financials outperformed the S&P Composite by a wide margin in the first six months of the year. And given the outlook for inflation, this performance may continue in the second half.

More Inflation Ahead

Some of this leadership shift was due to the belief that the global economy is conquering the spread of COVID-19 and the new Delta virus, which suggests that most trade and business activities will soon return to normal. To a large extent, this has encouraged investors to invest in economically sensitive, or cyclical stocks. However, a more significant driver of this leadership shift was a ubiquitous rise in prices. Soaring costs for energy, lumber, semiconductors, and a variety of raw materials are expected to be transient according to the Federal Reserve. But in our view, the dislocations from production and shipping that developed during the shutdown in 2020 will take quite a while to return to their typical standard. Energy prices are rising from a combination of green energy policies imposed by governments globally, a breakdown in OPEC discussions and a simultaneous rise in demand. Semiconductors are in short supply due to an increase in demand but more importantly, a concentration of manufacturing in one area of the world – Taiwan. This has exposed the semiconductor industry to a risk in terms of production and geopolitics. These are just some of the reasons why price increases are broadly based and may not be transient. General Mills’ (GIS – $59.99) recently announced that as a result of more expensive ingredients, packaging, trucking and labor costs, the company expects wholesale costs will be about 7% higher over the next year or so. These costs will be passed on to consumers. Therefore, it seems inevitable that households will be facing higher expenses throughout the second half of 2021, and this could alter consumption patterns. Investors should therefore focus on companies that will benefit from higher pricing.

Monetary Policy Risk

Counterbalancing higher expenses for households and businesses are the ongoing stimulative monetary and fiscal policies seen in the US. Since the pre-pandemic era, or the end of 2019, the Federal Reserve has increased its balance sheet by $3.85 trillion. Additionally, the Fed’s purchases of $120 billion of securities each month are open-ended. Unfortunately, much of this liquidity remains immobile within the banking system. Customer demand deposits at commercial banks increased $2.2 trillion in the same period and commercial bank reserves at the Federal Reserve have been on the rise. In other words, households are not consuming, and businesses are not investing, and cash continues to build within the banking system.

The injection of liquidity into the banking system is only one of the tools used by the Fed to stimulate the economy. The other tool is the fed funds rate. The effective fed funds rate was 0.06% at the end of June. The CPI closed June with a rise of 5% YOY. This combination means the real fed funds rate is negative 4.9% — the lowest, and the most stimulative, fed funds rate seen in 70 years. It is also the lowest rate ever experienced during an economic expansion. An extraordinarily low cost of capital should inspire substantial investment and it has been instrumental in supporting a booming residential housing sector. But low interest rates have done little to inspire strong business investment or commercial loan growth. According to the Bureau of Economic Analysis, there was a rebound in domestic investment in equipment and software in recent months and hopefully this will be a sign of a better trend. Yet while the Fed’s actions have not triggered significant business spending it has supported higher stock prices. And the combination of low interest rates, quantitative easing and fiscal stimulus should continue to support stock prices through the end of the year.

Speed bump

Nevertheless, we would not be surprised if the Fed and the stock market face a speed bump in the second half of the year. The longer the Fed continues its easy monetary policy in the face of an expanding economy, the more it risks fanning the flames of inflation and instigating a stock market bubble. Therefore, we expect the Fed to change its policy sometime in the second half. The Federal Reserve’s prestigious annual Jackson Hole policy symposium will be held on August 26 through August 28, and this may be the perfect opportunity for Fed governors to begin a discussion of lowering or ending quantitative easing and/or changing their forecast for higher interest rates. The significance of a Fed policy change cannot be underestimated. Since April 2020, Fed policies have been extraordinarily supportive of equities. Therefore, the Fed will face a challenge to convince investors that a change in monetary policy from easy to neutral is not the equivalent of a change from easy to tight policy or a hostile Fed.

All in all, an underlying prop for investors is apt to disappear later this year. While a shift in Fed policy could shake investor confidence in the next six months, underlying fundamentals should be able to soothe concerns. Equities are not wildly overvalued, and we do not expect the downside risks for stocks to be extreme if a correction materializes. In fact, earnings growth has been excellent this year. According to IBES data from Refinitiv, S&P 500 earnings grew nearly 53% YOY in the first quarter and in the quarter ending June 2021, earnings are expected to rise 65% from a pandemic-depressed second quarter of 2020. For the full year, IBES is estimating earnings will be $191.37, a gain of 37% YOY. For calendar 2022 the estimate rises to $213.76, a gain of 12% YOY. These are excellent numbers, and they currently translate into PE multiples of 23 times this year’s and 20 times next year’s earnings. PE’s of 20+ are above the long-term average but are in line with multiples seen in recent quarters. However, if inflation continues at or near its current pace of 5% YOY, PE multiples are at risk of contracting substantially. For this reason, a shift in Fed policy, which would help temper inflation going forward, should be viewed as a positive long-term event – even if it produces a bump in the road.   

Gail Dudack, Chief Strategist

strategist@wellingtonshields.com

Disclosure: The information herein has been prepared by Dudack Research Group (“DRG”), a division of Wellington Shields & Co. The material is based on data from sources considered to be reliable; however, DRG does not guarantee or warrant the accuracy or completeness of the information. It is published for informational purposes only and should not be used as the primary basis of investment decisions. Neither the information nor any opinion expressed constitutes an offer, or the solicitation of an offer, to buy or sell any security. The opinions and estimates expressed reflect the current judgment of DRG and are subject to change without notice. Actual results may differ from any forward-looking statements. This letter is not intended to provide personal investment advice and it does not take into account the specific investment objectives, financial situation and the specific needs of any person or entity.

This communication is intended solely for use by Wellington Shields clients. The recipient agrees not to forward or copy the information to any other person without the express written consent of DRG.

Copyright © Dudack Research Group, 2021.

Wellington Shields is a member of FINRA and SIPC

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On the Alert for Inflation

April 7, 2021

The first quarter of 2021 was a rewarding one for most investors. The Dow Jones Industrial Average rose nearly 8%, the S&P 500 gained about 6% and the Russell 2000 index advanced over 12%. However, the real winner in the first quarter of the year was the Dow Jones Transportation Average which soared a stunning 17%. This stellar performance in the transport sector was in anticipation of COVID-19 vaccinations becoming widely available, of the economy opening up, and of abundant government spending on infrastructure. But in general, the gain in the DJ Transportation Average was a continuation of a shift initiated earlier in the year from growth to economically sensitive stocks. Plus, the action of the first few trading days of April is encouraging and suggests equities could move higher in the second quarter.

The first few months of the year were also good to investment bankers as seen by the number of IPO deals priced, capital raised, and new filings. One hundred new deals were priced, versus the 25 a year earlier. Capital raised hit $39.2 billion versus $6.7 billion in a year earlier and 126 new deals were filed versus the 35 new deals filed in the first quarter of 2020. In fact, the only measure of IPO activity that showed any weakness was the IPO after-market, where prices underperformed the overall equity stock market. This detail could be a sign of fading demand and as such, should be watched carefully in coming months.

The first quarter was also memorable since it introduced investors to GameStop (GME -$77.97), a struggling video game retailer whose price rose 1500% in a matter of days. An investment forum on Reddit called WallStreetBets, led a massive buying spree in GME to oppose hedge funds holding large short positions. It was somewhat of a David versus Goliath anti-establishment movement that demonstrated the changes and hazards social media can wreak on the stock market. GameStop’s stock price soared from $18 at the end of 2020 to a peak of $347.51 on January 27 and is now trading below $200.

The quarter also revealed the existence of a new form of leverage called contracts-for-difference, or CFDs. These swaps were at the center of the collapse of Archegos Capital Management, a family office run like a hedge fund. Archegos borrowed capital from at least five different prime brokers to buy CFDs and held a concentrated portfolio of stocks with leverage estimated to be at least five-to-one. When underlying stock prices fell, Archegos was unable to make its margin calls and brokers sold Archegos’ underlying collateral to avert massive losses. Even so, Credit Suisse expects to take a $4.7 billion hit. But during the chaos, stocks like ViacomCBS (VIAC.O – $43.89) fell 60% from a peak of $100 in early March. In short, the first quarter was a time of rising stock prices, but it was not without its pitfalls.

From an economic perspective the quarter ended on a high note. The March ISM manufacturing index jumped to 64.7, its highest level since the early 1980’s. The ISM nonmanufacturing index surged to 63.7, exceeding its October 2018 record of 60.9. March payrolls grew by 916,000 in March while the job figures for January and February were revised higher. Unit vehicle sales rose to an annualized rate of 18.2 million, the highest since October 2017. These reports were signs that the economy was strengthening in 2021. But there have also been warnings that the recovery was not as uniform as it could be. According to the Wall Street Journal, annual SEC reports filed between July 1 and March 31, showed global employment rose by roughly 370,000 for the 286 S&P companies that filed annual reports. However, Amazon (AMZN – $3279.39) added 500,000 workers around the world, creating nearly as many jobs last year as 136 other companies in the index. This means that job gains in some companies were masking job losses in other companies. This is something to be concerned about. In addition, a Census Bureau study in late March reported that 18% of small businesses stated they would need financial assistance or additional capital in the next six months. These are some of the reasons critics warn that raising tax rates in 2021 would hurt entrepreneurs and US companies competing on a global basis. Supporters of the tax increases, including President Biden, say tax increases will not cool down the economy. We think this latter point is unlikely to prove true.

A number of recent surveys show consumer sentiment is rising but other data suggests there is a steady dependence upon government support. February’s personal income report showed a 7% decline from January’s level due primarily to the waning of government transfers. This drop should reverse dramatically in March, however, there are indications of stress in some households. The percentage of subprime borrowers with outstanding auto loans or leases more than 60 days past due hit 9% in the fourth quarter, the highest quarterly figure since 2005. Clearly, some households have navigated the coronavirus downturn and others have not. Car loans can reveal how riskier borrowers are faring. For subprime borrowers who do not have mortgages or college debt, car loans represent the biggest monthly debt payment. Keep in mind that many subprime borrowers work in restaurants, hotels, and bars hurt badly by Covid-19. Getting back to “normal” is therefore critically important for many small businesses, employees, and households.

We believe it is possible that several events are converging at the start of the second quarter that could be the catalyst for a 5% to 10% correction in coming months. The S&P 500 index has breached the psychological 4000 level which is a positive, but it will be important to see more upward follow through from this level. The SPX 4000 is the equivalent of 20 times 2022 consensus forecasts which now center around $200 a share. In other words, at the SPX 4000 level, stock prices are discounting all the good news expected in the oncoming 21 months. Interestingly, this price point is materializing just as first quarter earnings season begins. For the first time in four earnings seasons, expectations are high for earnings growth. This alone lends itself to the possibility of disappointment. But at this juncture, earnings must continue to beat the consensus forecasts if stocks are to continue to advance. Last but far from least, inflation could be a big threat in 2021. Inflation is pivotal to both monetary policy and to price earnings multiples. We believe there is risk that inflation benchmarks for March could show a CPI over 2% and a PPI greater than 4% and spook the market. If so, this could threaten the consensus view of monetary policy remaining stable through mid-2023. Low inflation and low interest rates have been the foundation of above average PE multiples in several years. If inflation becomes a concern, PE multiples will not expand, but could be at risk of contracting. With the election behind us, vaccines becoming more abundant, states opening up for business, and job growth getting a second wind, we are concerned that most of the good news is already priced in. All in all, we are a bit more cautious today than earlier in the year. 

Gail Dudack, Chief Strategist

strategist@wellingtonshields.com

Disclosure: The information herein has been prepared by Dudack Research Group (“DRG”), a division of Wellington Shields & Co.  The material is based on data from sources considered to be reliable; however, DRG does not guarantee or warrant the accuracy or completeness of the information.   It is published for informational purposes only and should not be used as the primary basis of investment decisions.  Neither the information nor any opinion expressed constitutes an offer, or the solicitation of an offer, to buy or sell any security.  The opinions and estimates expressed reflect the current judgement of DRG and are subject to change without notice.  Actual results may differ from any forward-looking statements.  This letter is not intended to provide personal investment advice and it does not take into account the specific investment objectives, financial situation and the specific needs of any person or entity.

This communication is intended solely for use by Wellington Shields clients.  The recipient agrees not to forward or copy the information to any other person without the express written consent of DRG.

Copyright © Dudack Research Group, 2021.

Wellington Shields is a member of FINRA and SIPC

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Goodbye Annus Horribilis

Many are calling 2020 annus horribilis (a Latin phrase meaning “horrible year”) due in large part to the spread of the deadly COVID-19 virus around the globe and its knock-on effects on the global economy. Yet despite the various challenges 2020 posed to the world, it was a good year for investors. The gains seen in the Dow Jones Industrial Average, S&P 500, Russell 2000, and NASDAQ Composite index were 7.3%, 16.3%, 18.4% and 43.6%, respectively. And as shown by these figures, the year provided excellent gains for many stocks and spectacular gains for others. Moreover, if historical precedents and Wall Street adages hold true to form, 2021 could add to these gains. For example, the Santa Claus Rally which includes the last five trading days of the year and the first two trading days of the new year, produced a small increase which is a favorable sign for the next twelve months. In addition, the market’s performance in January has had a respectable history of predicting the outcome for the entire year. Many believe the first five trading days of January predicts the month and January’s performance predicts the year. We believe January’s action is important since the liquidity generally available to investors early in the year from tax-loss selling, annual work bonuses, IRA and pension funding is typically the best of all the twelve months; therefore, January should produce a positive result for equities. If not, it is a warning. So far, 2021 is off to an excellent start.

While 2020 was a historic period in many ways, it was also record breaking in terms how countries responded to the global pandemic. Most nations boosted their ailing economies with massive fiscal or monetary support, or both. In our view, liquidity was the primary driver of equity gains in 2020. According to the International Monetary Fund, as of September 2020, total worldwide fiscal stimulus amounted to $11.7 trillion, or 12% of global GDP. In the US, the $2.7 trillion authorized by the CARES Act was direct fiscal support to the US economy and the $3.2 trillion increase in the Federal Reserve’s balance sheet provided monetary stimulus to the banking system. Combined, these policies equaled 23% of annualized US GDP. Moreover, Congress passed an additional $900 billion pandemic relief package in late December. Before lawmakers closed the books for 2020, they tacked on a $1.4 trillion catchall spending bill. All in all, the total stimulus authorized in the last twelve months is equal to 38.8% of nominal GDP. This extraordinary stimulus not only buoyed an artificially shutdown economy, but it also helped drive equity prices to record levels.  

It was also fiscal stimulus that drove the personal saving rate to 34% in April. November’s savings rate fell to 12.9%, yet this still remains more than twice the long-term average of 6.2%. A strong personal savings rate is an auspicious sign for the economy as well as for equity performance for the first quarter of 2021. In addition, with Democrats now in control of the White House, both chambers of Congress and with ex-Fed Chair Janet Yellen, a proponent of easy monetary policy, appointed as Secretary of the Treasury, most investors expect more fiscal and monetary stimulus in 2021. The Wall Street adage “Don’t Fight the Fed” will be an important phrase to remember in 2021. For these reasons, one could expect more stock gains ahead.

Still, there is a dark side to liquidity. The main risk of excess liquidity in the system is the potential of a stock market bubble. We expect the phrase “stock market bubble” to be mentioned often in 2021, however, bubbles are not well understood by many investors. Bubbles can materialize in any form of investment. The first bubble in recorded history was the Tulip Mania during the Dutch Golden Age in 1637. Bubbles are complicated and have many components, but they are almost always underwritten by good economies and excess liquidity. They are also distinctive because they incorporate a belief that the cycle “is different this time” and prices can continue to rise even as they disconnect from fundamentals. For all these reasons, including the lofty level of PE multiples at the end of 2020, we are optimistic yet cautious about 2021. It is important to remember that bubbles can persist longer than many expect. This was proven in late 1997 when equities disconnected from normal valuation benchmarks yet continued to rise until March 2000. To analyze a bubble and its growing risks, one must monitor both the level of equity ownership and the amount of leverage in the system. Bubbles typically end only after all potential investors have joined the bandwagon, households reach an over-ownership level in equities, and leverage, or margin debt, has reached its limits.

In the third quarter, equities were 25.4% of total household assets as compared to the 2000 peak of 26.4%. Equities were also 22.6% of financial assets versus the March 2000 peak of 24.2%. Given the recent gains in stock prices, it is likely that equity percentages increased in the fourth quarter and we will continue to monitor ownership levels for extremes. But ownership is apt to move higher. New investors are joining the investment world as a result of new digital venues and websites such as Robinhood.com, Stash.com, and Nerdwallet.com. From an historical perspective, many of the aspects of a bubble such as excess liquidity and new investors, seem to be moving into place. And we would also note that in early January there was a jump in bullish sentiment in the Association of American Individual Investors survey. The one-week reading of 54.0% bullishness was the most extreme since November 11, 2020 of 55.8%. Too much bullishness is not a good timing device, but this does suggest investors should remain alert in 2021.

Even so, the most troublesome characteristic of an equity bubble and the key signal that a bubble is reaching its exhaustion phase is tied to the use of leverage, or margin debt. An extreme is reached when increasing levels of leverage, or margin debt, fail to lift stock prices much higher. This is a serious warning for investors. We can monitor this by comparing the 2-month rate of change in margin debt to the 2-month rate of change in the Wilshire 5000 index. If the 2-month rate of change in margin exceeds two standard deviations (15.3%) and the Wilshire price index does not follow suit, the bubble may be in trouble. The most recent negative signals from this indicator were seen in December 1999, June 2003, and May 2007. In November, the 2-month rate of change in margin debt was 10.4% (below the 15.3% standard deviation warning level) and the 2-month rate of change in the Wilshire was similar at 9.7%. In short, there were no signs of excessive margin or exhaustion in recent data.

To sum up, while it is possible that 2021 could be planting the seeds for an equity bubble it is equally possible that 2021 could become a tricky roller coaster year for stocks. There are signs of rising inflation emanating from rising oil prices, wholesale prices and a weak dollar. More inflation could lead to higher interest rates which could trigger an equity market correction. The weakness seen in the job market at the end of the year could lead to disappointing economic data, hurt investor optimism, and stall stock prices. Given this backdrop, investors should take a multiyear view of equities and seek companies that one wants to own over the next decade. This should be both the path to profits and preservation of capital. Expect 2021 to be an interesting and volatile year.

Gail Dudack, Chief Strategist

strategist@wellingtonshields.com

Disclosure: The information herein has been prepared by Dudack Research Group (“DRG”), a division of Wellington Shields & Co.  The material is based on data from sources considered to be reliable; however, DRG does not guarantee or warrant the accuracy or completeness of the information.   It is published for informational purposes only and should not be used as the primary basis of investment decisions.  Neither the information nor any opinion expressed constitutes an offer, or the solicitation of an offer, to buy or sell any security.  The opinions and estimates expressed reflect the current judgement of DRG and are subject to change without notice.  Actual results may differ from any forward-looking statements.  This letter is not intended to provide personal investment advice and it does not take into account the specific investment objectives, financial situation and the specific needs of any person or entity.

This communication is intended solely for use by Wellington Shields clients.  The recipient agrees not to forward or copy the information to any other person without the express written consent of DRG.

Copyright © Dudack Research Group, 2021.

Wellington Shields is a member of FINRA and SIPC

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4Q 2020: Be Alert to October Surprises

There is a growing consensus that Democrats will win the White House, possibly increase their majority in the House and could even tilt the balance in the Senate. And economists are now indicating the Biden-Harris platform may not hurt the economy as much as originally expected. However, history has shown that consensus views, and economist’s forecasts, are more often wrong than right. In short, it may be wise to stay alert for October surprises.

In terms of the Biden-Harris platform, former Vice President Joe Biden has stated he will repeal the Trump tax cuts which means taxes will go up for all individuals and businesses. To say that taxes will not increase for anyone making less than $400,000 a year is simply self-contradictory. Moreover, targeting tax increases on incomes of $400,000 or more could hurt millions of small business owners who need positive cash flow to expand. The only effective way to raise taxes on the wealthy and not hurt the average worker would be to eliminate tax breaks focused on the wealthy such as the carried interest loophole. More importantly, to raise taxes while the economy is still struggling to gain its footing from a mandatory shutdown seems reckless.

Some say the positive impact of the proposed Biden-Harris fiscal stimulus will offset the negatives from tax hikes. However, the Biden-Harris stimulus plan is tilted toward infrastructure spending on green and sustainable energy sources. This is an admirable goal, and it should be done, but it will take a long time. Federal infrastructure spending tends to be slow and inefficient. President Obama’s $830 billion American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 was the largest stimulus-spending package in all of American history, and it promised “shovel ready” construction projects to spark job creation and lift the economy. Unfortunately, only 15% of the money was used for roads, bridges, and other infrastructure projects and it took more than three years to have much of any Impact. * In sum, we would be skeptical that the Biden-Harris stimulus plan will work as promised. The most effective way to stimulate the economy is to give money directly to consumers and businesses either through tax cuts or direct checks. And it should be done quickly. As Federal Reserve Chairman Powell indicated — more stimulus is needed since households need cash to pay rent and support their families.

The financial media appears perplexed by what they see as a disconnect between the soaring stock market and a weak economy; yet this disconnect may not be as big as perceived. As stock market averages are knocking on their all-time highs in October, there are also signs of a solid rebound. This can be found in the strong gains in disposable income, construction spending, auto sales, manufacturing, consumer, and business confidence. The household sector’s double-digit savings rate also points to more potential spending ahead. Perhaps the media is looking at shutdowns and virus trends while the stock market is looking to the future.

If there is a disconnect in the financial environment it is found in valuations. Equity prices are rising without a commensurate increase in earnings. As a result, PE multiples have jumped to record levels. If earnings do not rebound strongly from the big declines seen in the first and second quarters of 2020, the stock market will be trading well-above fair value. This is the crux of the stock market’s risk today.

Predicting Elections
October is an interesting month in many ways. A good equity performance in October during a presidential election year has been a good omen for the incumbent party. October is less than half over, but it is showing an above average gain to date. Furthermore, the equity market’s performance in the three months leading into the election has been a remarkable precursor of the election. A loss in either the S&P 500, the DJIA, or both, in the three months leading into the election has predicted a loss for the party currently in the White House. A gain has preceded a success. There have been few exceptions to this rule. In 1932, the equity market rallied strongly even though President Hoover (Republican), on the cusp of the Great Recession, lost the election to Franklin Delano Roosevelt (Democrat). The market also declined in the three months prior to the successful re-election of Dwight David Eisenhower (Republican) in 1956, following the Korean War. And the stock market did not predict the change in political power in 1968 when Republicans (Nixon) succeeded Johnson (Democrat). However, President Johnson failed to win his party’s nomination at the 1968 Democratic Convention and was replaced by Hubert Humphrey. But aside from these anomalies, a positive performance from the end of July to the end of October has indicated that the party in power would retain the White House.

Outlook
Although high PE multiples imply investors should be cautious and maintain a solid focus on value in the short term, we find many reasons to be bullish long term. Not only are the trends favorable in most economic data but in the breadth of the market as well. The number of daily new highs has steadily increased in October and the advance decline line reached an all-time high. The Dow Jones Transportation Average made a series of new highs in mid-October and the Russell 2000 index has become the outperforming market benchmark. These are all signs of a broadening advance. Supportive monetary policy, solid economic releases, and the potential of new fiscal stimulus sometime in the next three months, also implies equities should do well in the longer term.
Gail M. Dudack
Market Strategist

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Disclosure: The information herein has been prepared by Dudack Research Group (“DRG”), a division of Wellington Shields & Co. The material is based on data from sources considered to be reliable; however, DRG does not guarantee or warrant the accuracy or completeness of the information. It is published for informational purposes only and should not be used as the primary basis of investment decisions. Neither the information nor any opinion expressed constitutes an offer, or the solicitation of an offer, to buy or sell any security. The opinions and estimates expressed reflect the current judgement of DRG and are subject to change without notice. Actual results may differ from any forward-looking statements. This letter is not intended to provide personal investment advice and it does not take into account the specific investment objectives, financial situation and the specific needs of any person or entity.
This communication is intended solely for use by Wellington Shields clients. The recipient agrees not to forward or copy the information to any other person without the express written consent of DRG.
Copyright © Dudack Research Group, 2020.
Wellington Shields is a member of FINRA and SIPC

Click to download

3Q 2020: Fasten Your Seatbelts

Market Performance and Liquidity
The first half of 2020 was extraordinary in many ways. The S&P 500 fell 20% in the first three months of the year — the worst performance since the fourth quarter of 2008, or the core of the financial crisis. The second quarter followed with a 20% gain — the best 3-month advance since the fourth quarter of 1998, or during the heart of a major technology boom. GDP surged over 6% in the last quarter of 1998. Looking forward, it would not be a great shock if the second half of 2020 held its own surprises and if markets became even more volatile. Many things are known. Countries still struggle with COVID-19. Brexit is scheduled for the end of the year and it could be messy. Political relations with China have been tense due to a lack of transparency regarding the pandemic, China’s aggressive actions in the South China Sea and a backtracking on the promises of political and economic independence for Hong Kong. And finally, November’s presidential election could be another nail biter. But those are only the risks that are known.

However, despite all the hurdles facing equities since the March low the market has steadily outperformed expectations. There is a list of reasons for this. First, to counter the drag of the pandemic, the US and many countries around the world have implemented unprecedented fiscal and monetary stimulus. Second, US corporations are demonstrating impressive creativity, flexibility, and the ability to adopt to a new post-COVID-19 environment. Third, an historic private/public partnership has been put in place to develop, fast-track, and deliver a US vaccine for the virus. Last, but far from least, the US economy and many Americans have demonstrated surprising resilience to weather this historic economic shutdown. As a result, unemployment never reached the 25% level forecasted by many economists, including Secretary of the Treasury Stephen Mnuchin. To date the unemployment rate appears to have peaked at 14.7% in April and dropped to 11.1% in June.

Massive liquidity programs have been a major factor supporting global markets. European Union leaders agreed on a record COVID-19 stimulus package worth $857 billion. The US government implemented three separate stimulus packages in the second quarter that totaled nearly $3 trillion. And though Phase Three of the stimulus package has not been fully disbursed, the Senate GOP is unveiling another stimulus plan of at least $1 trillion. This new Senate plan would include another round of direct payments to Americans, $105 billion for schools and universities, supplementary assistance for small businesses, $16 billion for testing and contact tracing in states, and $26 billion more to develop and distribute a vaccine. The proposal would extend unemployment benefits, although it would cut the current federal $600 weekly supplement to $200 a week through September. It also provides liability protections for schools, businesses, and health-care providers. To put this into a larger perspective, the combination of the $3 trillion fiscal stimulus already in place, the $1 trillion proposed fiscal plan and the $2 trillion of monetary ease, this $6 trillion equates to 28% of first quarter nominal GDP. In short, the government has “funded” over three months of economic activity!

But more importantly, much of this money is yet to enter the real economy. For example, of the $600 billion authorized for the Fed’s various Main Street Loan Facilities, we estimate only 28% has been tapped by businesses and organizations. The CARES Act was a $1.6 trillion program of direct aid to taxpayers, $600 in supplemental unemployment payments and forgivable loans to small businesses. While this direct fiscal aid has been disbursed, it remains mostly unspent by consumers. This view is based upon the $4.2 trillion increase seen in MZM this year. MZM is one of the broadest of the Federal Reserve’s money supply benchmarks and it monitors all forms of liquidity within and outside the banking system, including coins and notes in distribution, bank deposits, all checkable deposits, short and long-term time deposits, retail money market funds and institutional money market funds. May’s personal savings rate was a stunning 23% and total personal savings hit a record $4.1 trillion, an increase of $2.8 trillion since year end. This explains the record increase in MZM in 2020. Some equity strategists have been bearish on equities on the belief that many individuals are buying stocks with their $1200 COVID-19 checks and comparing the current environment with the speculation seen in 1999. However, the data suggests something quite different. It appears that individuals have actually saved their money, are sitting on large cash piles and could invest much money into equities if they chose. All in all, this sidelined cash represents potential for an extraordinarily strong economy and an even stronger stock market. But questions remain. Can the virus be controlled? When can children get back to school? And when can people get back to work? We believe these questions may be answered soon and if so, confidence will rise, and the economy can look forward to a great second half.

Presidential Election Nears
The third quarter of the year will bring the November election into focus. The traditional political polls currently have President Trump lagging behind Vice President Biden, but if there is a lesson to be learned from the 2016 election it is that polls have become irrelevant. It may be wiser to put your faith in the stock market rather than in political pollsters. There tends to be a unique seasonality in election years, and it usually begins with a weak opening, a rally in March and July and a third rally at year end. But monthly seasonality in an election year can also be broken down by incumbent wins or losses. When the incumbent party wins the White House, normal seasonality is upended, and equities tend to advance in March, June, August, and October. COVID-19 wreaked havoc in March of this year so the market has been trading more in line with a typical incumbent loss. But what is noteworthy about the equity market’s presidential prediction pattern is that the risk of a Trump loss increases if equities are weak in September and October. However, it could also reverse and predict a Trump win if equity prices rally in August and October. This would make August’s performance an important political indicato

Nevertheless, if Vice President Biden wins and Democrats sweep Congress it is almost assured that personal and corporate taxes will rise considerably. The New Green Deal may not get fully implemented but corporate regulations are expected to increase substantively. These two factors alone, coupled with the hit that COVID-19 has dealt to the US economy is a recipe for major economic weakness in 2021. In sum, the major risk of 2020 could be the election. The first presidential debate is scheduled for September 29 and it could be a market moving event. It may be wise for investors to approach the end of September cautiously.

Fundamentals Always Rule
August will also give us greater insight into how well or poorly corporate America coped in the midst of the economic shutdown. Second quarter earnings are predicted to be the nadir of earnings growth in 2020 and for that reason second quarter earnings season is crucial. Expectations were grim as reporting season began but to date results have been better than expected. Of the 312 companies in the S&P 500 that have reported earnings to date, 82% have beaten consensus expectations. This is well above the 65% seen in the typical quarter. But with over a third of companies reporting, the IBES consensus second quarter earnings estimate has recovered from a decline of 43.1% YOY to 33.8% YOY. For the full year, IBES is forecasting S&P 500 earnings to decline 21.5% YOY. Although this is a significant decline, we believe a 25% decline in calendar 2020 earnings was fully discounted when the SPX fell to an intra-day low of 2191 on March 23 (closing price SPX 2237.40). A main driver of equity prices in the second half of 2020 will be expectations of how quickly and how far corporate earnings can recover in 2021. Obviously, the longer the economic shutdown persists in 2020, the more elusive the 2021 forecast becomes. Still, consensus earnings for 2021 are consolidating at the $160 level and given the low level of interest rates and inflation, a PE multiple of 20 times would be appropriate for next year. This combination generates a target of SPX 3200. In sum, we believe SPX 3200 could become a base level for stock prices over the next six months, or until news of a vaccine or presidential election results become known.

Gail M. Dudack
Market Strategist

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Disclosure: The information herein has been prepared by Dudack Research Group (“DRG”), a division of Wellington Shields & Co. The material is based on data from sources considered to be reliable; however, DRG does not guarantee or warrant the accuracy or completeness of the information. It is published for informational purposes only and should not be used as the primary basis of investment decisions. Neither the information nor any opinion expressed constitutes an offer, or the solicitation of an offer, to buy or sell any security. The opinions and estimates expressed reflect the current judgement of DRG and are subject to change without notice. Actual results may differ from any forward-looking statements. This letter is not intended to provide personal investment advice and it does not take into account the specific investment objectives, financial situation and the specific needs of any person or entity.
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