August 20, 2011

Finding Sliver Lining in Markets and The U.S. Economy (Guest Post)

By Frank Holmes

Call it choppy, volatile, fickle or lively, market action continued to disappoint this week. Frightened investors pulled out more than $40 billion from long-term mutual funds for the week ended August 10, according to the Investment Company Institute.

The eurozone crisis fueled the outflows as economic growth figures for several eurozone countries disappointed—a hard trend to break given the austerity measures being implemented. Relatively, U.S. stocks have only suffered a fraction of the pain (down roughly 5 percent year-to-date as of August 16) felt by investors in the U.K. (down 9.2 percent), Germany (down 13.2 percent), France (down 15.1 percent) and Italy (21.9 percent).

Given this landscape, the International Strategy and Investment Group (ISI) lowered its forecast for global growth to 2.5 percent in 2012. That’s down from the 4-5 percent growth level many were estimating.

There is a silver lining: Despite all the negative news out there, the global economy will continue to grow.

In fact, the U.S. economy has had several positive developments recently. The four-week average for unemployment claims dropped to 402,000 during the week ending August 13. There is still a large chunk of America unable to find a job, but that group has shrunk 13 percent since August 2010 and is about 40 percent of peak 2009 levels.

Many S&P 500 companies have leveraged strong economic growth in emerging markets and a weaker U.S. dollar into higher profits. Second-quarter 2011 earnings for companies in the S&P 500 Index have been superb with nearly 71 percent of company earnings beating expectations, per ISI.

According to Citigroup, this continues a trend established in 2010 when year-over-year earnings for the S&P 500 were up more than 38 percent, more than double the historical average during the first full year following a recession.

In addition, the strong earnings report is across all sectors. These companies are also sitting on nearly the largest cash cushions as a percent of market capitalization (about 11 percent) we’ve seen in 20 years, Citigroup says. Markets have historically bottomed when cash as a percentage of market cap reaches 9 percent.

We’ve also seen a surge in U.S. money supply (M2). ISI says M2 has surged $460 billion (about 5 percent—38 percent on an annualized rate) over the past eight weeks. Though the rise is largely due to a plunge in institutional money funds, increased money supply means more funds are available to be lent out, pushing down borrowing rates. Access to this “cheap capital” can increase confidence and entice businesses to put cash to work.

Around the globe, two recent bright spots have been Taiwan and Russia. Taiwan’s equity market is technology heavy, says BCA Research, and the market’s performance tends to track the global information technology sector, not global markets. BCA says that Taiwan is set to outperform because “after two decades of stagnation, domestic demand has been showing signs of reviving…[and] equity/currency valuations remain attractive.” In Russia, strong cash positions and subdued credit flows since 2008 mean Russia’s “equity and credit markets are likely to outperform in the months ahead,” BCA says.

Those investors who have been waiting for a bounce in the markets may not have to wait too long. We mentioned last week that the S&P 500 has historically experienced strong upward moves after the CBOE Volatility Index (VIX) reaches extreme levels. Research from Citigroup backs up this assertion, showing the average return for the S&P 500 is 5.5 percent (three months), 9.4 percent (six months) and 18.9 percent (12 months) following a breach of the 35-40 on the VIX.

About The Author - Frank Holmes is the CEO and Chief Investment Officer of U.S. Global Investors.  (EconMatters author archive here.)

The views and opinions expressed herein are the author's own, and do not necessarily reflect those of EconMatters.

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