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?

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.

What Does the Election Mean for the Market?

The 2012 election is over and we now know who our president will be for the next four years. We’ve received questions from clients asking what we think the market is likely to do in light of  the election. While we don’t pretend to be political pundits, it appears that the balance of power in Washington has not changed: The Republicans hold the majority in the House, the Democrats hold the majority in the Senate, and President Obama will remain for another term. The stock market is likely to refocus on what kinds of policies may actually be implemented going forward. Campaign rhetoric is mostly just that – rhetoric. Now comes the reality of trying to pass specific pieces of legislation. Given a still divided Congress, that will likely entail a fair amount of compromise on both sides. The question is whether compromise is even possible considering that the people who couldn’t cut a deal last year are still in office.

Market Technicians Are Getting Grumpy

A client with a technical eye recently sent me a chart of the S&P 500, wondering what I thought about the classic triple top pattern that had formed through September and October. So it was perfect timing when the guys at the Stock Trader’s Almanac (who produce great work) wrote about this pattern in their latest piece. They believe it’s an ominous sign for the markets, especially as we enter 2013, and this seems to be a popular opinion among technicians.

Searching for a Performance Tail-Wind

For the past three years our insistence on maintaining a globally diversified portfolio has not been especially helpful in outperforming our blended benchmark on a consistent basis. If we use the EAFE Index (the MSCI Europe Australasia Far East Index) as a proxy for international markets, the returns versus the S&P 500 Index (the stock index in our benchmark) look unattractive: