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First Quarter 2015 - Pinnacle Investment Management, Inc.

First Quarter 2015

April 6, 2015 / Quarterly Newsletters

Global stock markets gained this quarter, however large US companies did not lead the advance. International markets advanced so well in local currency, that even when translated back to the strengthening US dollars, they performed better than the small 0.9% gain of the S&P 500. Small and mid-size US companies also did better than the S&P 500.

The stock market advance was sporadic. In January, the stock and bond market suffered a temporary setback as investors became concerned that the Federal Reserve might increase interest rates sooner than anticipated. However stocks resumed their upward trend in February as investors apparently realized that this may not present a serious obstacle for the market, only to encounter another modest decline in March.

Investors were not only concerned about the possibility that the Fed would raise interest rates but also about the impact of the strengthening of the US dollar. Offsetting those concerns were optimism that monetary easing efforts by the European Central Bank and the Bank of Japan would improve those economies and financial markets.

The US economy grew at a 2.2 % seasonally adjusted rate in the fourth quarter of 2014, down from the 5% growth in third quarter, which was the strongest growth in eleven years. In contrast European economic growth remains below 1%. US unemployment has now fallen to 5.5% while European unemployment is 11.3%, more than double that of the US and with both Spain and Greece remaining above 23% unemployment.

Returns for key indexes (including dividends) were:

 
1st Qtr

2015

Dow Jones Industrials 0.3%
S&P 500 0.9%
NASDAQ 3.5%
S&P 400 mid-cap 4.9%
Russell 2000 small-cap 4.0%
Total International, excluding US 4.5%
Dow Jones Global Stock 2.1%
Barclays Aggregate Bond   Index 1.5%

 

In spite of the growing economy, and the Fed’s end of its Quantitative Easing (QE) long term US interest rates continued to decline. Interest rate on ten year US Treasury bonds declined from 3.0% at the beginning of last year to 2.2% in December and 1.9% in March. This decline may be the result of increased monetary easing in Europe and Japan.   The yield on two year US Treasuries rose from 0.38% at the beginning of last year to 0.67% in December, but then declined slightly to 0.56% in March.

Although US interest rates are low they remain significantly higher than many other countries. This interest rate differential is helping to strengthen the US dollar relative to other currencies which will benefit US consumers, but present an obstacle to US exporters. It also creates a headwind for US investors who have invested overseas, as the value of their overseas investments depreciates when converted back to US dollars.

Economic and Market Outlook The current economic environment of a growing economy, low oil prices and low interest rates is favorable to stocks. Professor Jeremy Siegel of the University of Pennsylvania believes the fair value of the Dow to be 20,000 today, more than 12% higher than its current level. Even if that level is not achieved for another year that still implies a return of approximately 14% if dividends are included.

It appears increasingly likely that the Federal Reserve will begin raising interest rates this summer or fall, but the increases are expected to be both small and infrequent. Rising interest rates should not end market advances. According to Prof. Jeremy Siegel, from 1955 to 2006, when the Fed increased rates, the stock market advanced 7.4% on average in the following twelve months, which is somewhat below the long term average annual gain of 11.8%.

A strong dollar hurts US companies whose sales include a significant level of exports. This is more likely to affect large US companies than small companies, and therefore it is increasingly likely that the stocks of small companies will do better than large companies in the upcoming year, a reversal from last year.

Foreign economies and markets have not been as fortunate as the US.  Japan and most of Europe are still enduring a slow recovery from the 2008 financial crisis and 2015 economic growth in the European Monetary Union (EMU) is forecast at an anemic 1%. Several countries in Europe are still suffering from extremely high unemployment and a population growing weary of “austerity” is questioning whether they should remain part of the EMU. If Greece does not reach an agreement with the European Union for continued financing it may run out of money in June, which could result in that country departing the euro-zone. Such an exit, or even a credible threat of an exit, would create uncertainty and turmoil in the financial markets.

Low interest rates in Europe and Japan will likely keep their currencies weak in relationship to the US dollar and if the Fed increases rates as expected in 2015 that would put further downward pressure on foreign currencies.   As a result of the strengthening dollar, mutual funds that hedge the currency risk have become attractive 

In spite of the risks mentioned above foreign stocks are more attractively valued than US stocks and their exports should increase as a result of their weaker currency.

Frequently Overlooked tax deductions  According to Yahoo Finance frequently overlooked deductions include Relocation expenses, personal loans you write off, educational expenses (at any time during your lifetime), summer camp (provided both spouses work), residential energy credit. Each of these may be subject to limitations and restrictions, so consult the regulations or your tax preparer.

Rising Retiree Medical Costs  A recent study projects that a couple who retires at age 65 will spend nearly $400,000 on Medicare premiums, co-pays, deductibles and other out-of-pocket costs during their lifetime. However if the couple’s retirement income is above Medicare’s $170,000 threshold, they will be subject to additional premium expense. These costs represent a 6.5% increase over last year, and a continuation of increases significantly above the general rate of inflation will present a significant financial challenge to those retirees who have not adequately planned for this.

The questionable value of forecasts  Economist and market strategists frequently make forecasts, which sometimes prove correct, but often do not, so its important not to take them too seriously – even ones which we make.  These quotes help keep forecasts in perspective.

  • “It’s not what you don’t know that gets you into trouble, but rather what you know that ain’t so” – Mark Twain
  • “Never make predictions, especially about the future” – Casey Stengel
  • “Forecasters fall into two categories: Those who don’t know they don’t know, and those who think they know but really don’t”   – unknown

About the author

Pinnacle Investment Management: Pinnacle Investment Management, Inc. is a comprehensive investment management and financial planning firm committed to the financial future of our clients.


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