Planning for the Fiscal Cliff

The 2012 election is over, and Americans find themselves in an unsure financial environment. The country is heading toward a “fiscal cliff” — a series of significant tax increases and automatic spending cuts that will be triggered at the end of the year. Congress and the President are negotiating a compromise solution to prevent that,…

Trouble with the Numbers

Few people bothered to see Trouble with the Curve, a recent baseball movie starring Clint Eastwood and Amy Adams, and most critics didn’t like it. I did see the movie, and without giving away the plot, it is fair to say that the film is a cry against quantitative analysis in sports. Eastwood plays an aging baseball scout with failing eyesight who has to rely on his daughter (Amy Adams) to evaluate the home office’s number one prospect. In the end, all of the number crunching in the world can’t come up with a better analysis than Eastwood, who can hear the sound of the bat on the ball and subsequently knows better than to sign the prospect. It was impossible to watch this movie without thinking of last year’s hit film Moneyball.

The Bulls and the Bears on QE4

The Federal Reserve spoke yesterday, and not surprisingly decided to buy more treasury bonds to keep expanding the balance sheet. It might have been a bit surprising that they have now also explicitly targeted an improvement in the unemployment rate (6.5%) and stated a tolerable inflation band (2.5%) for investors to use as guides for when the Fed might engage in policy withdrawal. The market went up for a few hours, and then drifted back to earth and closed unchanged on the day; Fed decisions can’t force politicians to trade in political theatre and come up with a deal before the 11th hour.

November Payroll Numbers: Are We Cruising or Stalling?

When I look at nonfarm payrolls, I try to disregard the headline figure and look at the year-over-year percent change in unadjusted total payrolls. This allows me to remove any seasonal effects from the series without making any of the hard assumptions required by “fancier” seasonal adjustment methodologies. The November report that came out Friday puts us at 1.42% year-over-year growth, up from 1.38% in the previous month. The exponential three-month moving average, which serves to smooth out some of the month-to-month volatility in the series, sits now at 1.41%, down slightly from 1.43% last month. This moving average is plotted as a green line in the chart below. The purple line in the chart is a measure of the six-month trend in year-over-year payrolls growth. This measure will be positive (negative) if in the previous six months year-over-year payrolls growth has been accelerating (decelerating) and near zero if it has been relatively steady. Currently, the six-month trend reads 0.19%, which is remarkably close to zero. In fact, over the past six months year-over-year payrolls growth has been range-bound between 1.3% and 1.5%. Analyzing the entire sample, which goes all the way back to the 1930s, we found that the following two conditions almost always coincide with economic recessions:

Golden Crosses and Death Crosses

It is commonplace in the business news community to talk about ‘Golden Crosses’ and ‘Death Crosses’. If you’re unfamiliar with these terms, they refer to moving averages (MA) crossing each other. More specifically they describe the movement of a security’s short term MA moving above the long term MA (Golden Cross) and the short term MA moving below the long term MA (Death Cross). A strong signal is issued when using the 50 day MA and the 200 day MA as it is generally considered a move away from bears to bulls or bulls to bears (respectively).

Ten Years of Active Investment Management

October 31rst marked the ten-year anniversary of Pinnacle’s Global Investment Performance Standards (GIPS) compliant track record. That’s a big deal in the institutional investment community — it means that we’ve met the GIPS standard for reporting performance (often required by institutional investors). It also means that we have a legitimate ten-year track record, which is a long time in the investment business. If nothing else, we can show investors our performance over several different market cycles, which is a very useful way to evaluate a firm’s investment process. Importantly, we also have the same investment team today that we had a decade ago. After all, what good is a ten-year track record if the analysts who are responsible for the past returns are no longer at the firm?

Planning for the Fiscal Cliff: Advice from the Wealth Managers

The 2012 election is over, and Americans find themselves in an unsure financial environment. The country is heading toward a “fiscal cliff” — a series of significant tax increases and automatic spending cuts that will be triggered at the end of the year. Congress and the President are negotiating a compromise solution to prevent that, but no one knows what it will involve, or if they’ll be successful at all.

Searching for Market Signals in a Sea of Noise

Markets are volatile and in corrective mode, and investors are nervous. Are we witnessing the start of a cyclical bear market, or is this just another correction within a bull market and an opportunity to add risk assets to our portfolios? These are the questions the Pinnacle Investment Team is wrestling with right now, and they’re critical as we position portfolios for our clients.