Investment Thoughts (August 3rd, 2009): Monday, Aug 3 2009
Uncategorized agriculture, banking, banks, bear, bull, capital, commodities, consumer confidence, economy, equities, Federal, Nasdaq, NYSE, recovery, Reserve, S&P 500, S&P500, United States, US 5:03 pm
Not going to chase the market for a number of reasons, but most of all we should see a retest of the March lows sometime in the distant future, maybe a year or so. The US banking sector is still not healthy and has been propped up by regulatory rule changes.
So while financial stocks may be doing well at the present time they will not be the leaders in the new cycle for a variety of reasons. Among them are the mark-to-market rules, increasing non-performing loans, and difficulty in earning a solid NIM in a 0% cost of funds environment.
In order for a new bull market to begin, a new sector must take up the leadership mantle. The leaders from the previous cycle do not lead in the new cycle.
Technology is unlikely to provide leadership as R&D budgets continue to get cut. Businesses are unlikely to commit to major capital spending programs, despite a 0% interest rate environment, amidst falling revenues and uncertain consumer demand. Consumer uncertainty about the future will translate to a cautious business environment going forward.
It may sound strange to say this but with top line revenue growth falling and earnings estimates being met by cutting employees and R&D budgets, this is not a healthy sign for the future.
Without top line revenue growth earnings momentum will be difficult to maintain. You can only cut so much staff and R&D. At some point revenues need to grow and that will only come through increased consumer confidence.
When you combine an US unemployment rate that has gone from 5% to 9% and 70% of US GDP being made up of personal consumption, it is no surprise that consumer demand is weak and consumers are tightening their budgets. We will need to see strong hiring in order to get consumers feeling better about the future and opening their pocketbooks.
I am not a proponent of massive budget deficits but right now government spending is propping the US economy from falling off a cliff. This happens in every recession so there should be no surprise here.
Government spending is adding a couple of percent to GDP at the current time. A significant portion of the stimulus money is targeted to be spent in the coming years which should help the recovery. The question is how much will it affect hiring which should translate into higher tax collection as well and possibly allowing the government to meet their optimistic projections for the 2011-2012 time frame, although it is not the authors opinion that the overly optimistic projections will not be met.
The biggest question concerning the recovery should come from the balance sheet of the Federal Reserve. It is Mr. Bernanke’s intention to begin shrinking the balance sheet of the Federal Reserve in the coming years bringing it back down to a reasonable level.
The largest problem is how much will the shrinking balance sheet constrain the economic recovery. In order for the Federal Reserve to sell the securities it now holds there needs to be a buyer on the other side of the transaction. It is unlikely that the capital will come from drastically higher leverage levels at hedge funds and banks. This means the capital needs to come from either foreign governments or the private sector. Capital coming from the private sector will mean less capital for investment purposes. Capital coming from foreign governments means competition for Treasury sales.
Any recovery will be slow and grinding which is not what the bull camp wants to hear.
So what am I doing right now? Sitting on the agriculture purchases I have made over the last six months. Farmland, fruit, vegetable, and sugar production has provided a nice hedge and decent returns. There is tremendous value in the sector with some stocks already surpassing pre-crash highs.
Gold and silver should begin moving to the upside in the next few months but I am content to wait for a washout correction. This should occur about the time we get either a peak in the US Dollar, the US equity market, or both. We have yet to see a 50% retracement from last years lows which is giving me pause, although there are some interesting trades in the large cap sector.
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