Fixing the Unbroken
Financial Review by Sinclair Noe
DOW – 200 = 17,776
SPX – 18 = 2067
NAS – 46 = 4900
10 YR YLD – .03 = 1.93%
OIL – 1.15 = 47.53
GOLD – 2.30 = 1183.70
SILV – .06 = 16.73
The S&P/Case-Shiller 20-city home price index showed steady gains in January, up 0.9% from December. Compared to January 2014, prices were up 4.6%. In Phoenix, resale home prices were unchanged from December to January, and posted a year-over-year gain of 2.6%.
The Conference Board’s consumer confidence index moved up to 101.3% in March from an upwardly revised 98.8 in February. The present situation index, a measure of current conditions, actually fell to 109.1 from 112.1. Yet the future expectations index increased to 96.0 from 90.
We’ve seen quite a bit of volatility in the markets lately. Today marks the 16 session in the month of March where the Dow Industrial Average has closed with a change in excess of 100 points. That is the second most of any month in history; following 20 triple digit moves in October 2008.
Sell in May and go away. You’ve probably heard this stock market advice. The idea is that you can divide the year into the best six months and the worst six months for the stock market; and we are now heading into the worst six months. Like most indicators, it is a measure of probabilities, not a guarantee. Mechanical selling on the last day of March and then buying back in on the last day of October only produces a slight advantage in returns but it eliminates a bunch of risk. Waiting for a market signal, such as a slight downturn in March to sell and a slight uptrend in October to buy produces a significantly better return; and even better, this market-beating return was produced with 39% less risk, which means it’s even further ahead of buy-and-hold on a risk-adjusted basis.
Today ends the first quarter for 2015. The Nasdaq posted gains of 3.5 percent for the quarter, marking the index’s first nine-quarter winning streak. The S&P eked out its own nine-quarter run with a gain of 0.4 percent last quarter. The Dow was negative for the quarter, down about one-quarter of one percent.
The S&P 500 finished the quarter with a small gain; marking the ninth straight quarterly advance for the S&P 500, and the longest winning streak since 1998. The index has only had three other stretches that long since World War II. That’s good news for bulls because the previous three times the market notched a nine-quarter winning streak, the S&P 500 index averaged an increase of 8.1 percent in the 10th quarter. The measure is still down 1.9 percent from a record on March 2 and among the worst performers in 24 developed markets this year.
Of course, the big market mover for the quarter was oil, which dropped from $55.50 a barrel to today’s close of $47.53, a loss of $7.97, or just over 14%. Today marks the deadline for negotiations between Iran and Western Nations to find a resolution to a 12-year standoff over Iran’s nuclear program. And there has not yet been a resolution, so it looks like there will be an extension of the deadline. That is actually considered positive news; the talks would not have been extended if there was no hope for an agreement. There’s some speculation that Iran will be able to release a lot of oil into the world if a deal is reached; good news for drivers, maybe.
The Stoxx Europe 600 index is up 17 percent in the first quarter of 2015. If that gain holds to the end of the day, it will be the best Q1 for European stocks since 1998. German, Italian and Portuguese stock indices are all up more than 20 percent in the quarter.
Asian equities are off to a winning start this year, with China and Japan stealing the show in the first quarter. Abundant global liquidity, provided by the BOJ and ECB, combined with interest rate cuts by several central banks in the region and lower oil prices have bolstered sentiment towards Asian equities. China’s Shanghai Composite has rallied 17% so far this year and expectations of further stimulus will likely buoy the market going forward. Japan’s Nikkei Index was the second top performer in the region, up 13% YTD, benefiting from the central bank’s QE policies and the shift by the country’s pension funds out of bonds and into equities.
Giving his second speech on the topic since Friday, Fed Vice Chairman Stanley Fischer declared that regulators must better monitor and consider new rules for the growing proportion of lending being done within the shadow banking sector. Fisher said: “Non-bank firms and activities can pose the same key vulnerabilities as banks, including high leverage, excessive maturity transformation, and complexity, all of which can lead to financial instability.” The Financial Stability Board stated in a November report that U.S. financial assets held by non-banks reached $25.2 trillion in 2013, exceeding pre-crisis levels.
Recently, we talked about the poor outlook for earnings; both revenue growth and earnings expectations have been ratcheted down for the first and second quarters. Of course one sector feeling the brunt is energy, no surprise there. One of the sectors that had been expected to grow earnings was the financials – but not so fast. Banks, looked to as a bright spot for the upcoming earnings season might not live up to expectations, according to an analysis from Goldman Sachs. The firm’s analysts cut profit outlooks for three of the top four money center banks on Wall Street: BofA, JPMorgan, Citi, and Morgan Stanley. Collectively, Goldman expects the biggest challenge to the banks this year coming from decreased capital markets activity, a worsening macro outlook and increased regulation.
And while we’re on the topic, it is time for today’s edition of “Banks Behaving Badly,” featuring a familiar name, HSBC, the UK’s biggest and possibly worst. HSBC gained notoriety for money laundering a sanctions violations in a 2012 settlement that resulted in a $1.9 billion fine; it was not enough to warrant jail time, but it did result in a deferred prosecution agreement and the Department of Justice installed a monitor in the bank to make sure they operated according to slightly higher standards. The monitor has put together a 1,000 page report that chronicles HSBC’s failure to clean up its act, including failure to upgrade its IT systems, and forging documents. And just to clarify, this report is unrelated to the recent revelations about the way HSBC’s Swiss private banking arm helped clients avoid and evade tax, in some instances by moving bricks of cash around the financial system.
Senator Elizabeth Warren is well known for her opinions on the need for more bank regulation. In 2013, she met with JPMorgan CEO Jamie DImon. In a new afterword for the release of the paperback version of her book A Fighting Chance, Warren recalls that the tenor of the conversation between the two policy adversaries soured when Dimon complained about financial regulations that she has supported. At one point in the conversation, Warren told Dimon, “I think you guys are breaking the law.” Dimon reportedly replied, “So hit me with a fine. We can afford it.”
Indiana Gov. Mike Pence said today that he will back an amendment to the state’s new “religious freedom” law clarifying that it does not allow businesses to deny service to anyone, and insisted that he never intended to discriminate against members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community. Pence said he wants the General Assembly to move legislation this week that would make it clear that businesses are not allowed to deny services to anyone. He continued to insist, however, that he does not support adding protections explicitly barring discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. In Indiana, major companies like Twitter and the NCAA, as well as Apple CEO Tim Cook and several others, have spoken out against the law.
Arkansas passed a religious freedom bill today that is similar to an Indiana law that has faced national backlash for legalizing discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. The bill cleared the Arkansas Legislature and now heads to the governor’s desk, where it is expected to be signed. In Arkansas, both Walmart and Acxiom, a big data company, have spoken out against the legislation.
Blackstone has agreed to pay more than $1.3 billion to a consortium led by Paulson& for three large hotels. The sale includes the Ritz Carlton and J.W. Marriott in Orlando, Florida and the J.W. Marriott in Scottsdale, Arizona.
Go Daddy is scheduled to hit the markets tomorrow. Go Daddy is expected to price its 22.0 million share IPO within a range of $17-$19, with Morgan Stanley, JP Morgan, and Citigroup acting as lead underwriters on the deal. The ticker symbol will be GDDY. The Scottsdale based company has been around for 18 years. Back in 2006, GDDY tried to launch an IPO but the company cited poor market conditions at the time. Since then there was a shake-up in management with the CEO stepping down in 2011 and then private equity firms acquired the company for $2.25 billion.
The company’s bread and butter is internet domain name registration; they have about 59 million domains under management, or about 21% of all current domain names in the world; they also offer web design services, hosting and security tools. Go Daddy has about 13 million customers, and about 28% are international, mainly Canada, the UK, and India. They still have room to grow in the US; more than half of small businesses in the US do not have a website, and many of the companies that have a website have little or no mobile capabilities. For fiscal year 2014, the company grew revenue 23% to $1.39 billion, which is impressive but still not enough to turn a profit; Go Daddy posted a loss of $61 million, down from a loss of $131 million the year before. And the company is still dealing with debt of around $1.4 billion.