Quarterly Summaries

2013 Quarterly Summaries

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Review of Securities Markets, Second Quarter, 2013

Interest rates and fixed income investments stole the spotlight during the second quarter. Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke gave preliminary indications that the Fed could begin “tapering” or reducing its $85 billion monthly bond purchases later in the year, with the possibility of ending the program by mid‐2014. While this should be good news – the Fed believes that the U.S. economy is closer to being able to stand on its own without ongoing quantitative easing – investors reacted by abruptly selling fixed income and other interest‐rate sensitive investments, including real‐estate investment trusts (REITs). The interest rate on the bellwether 10‐year U.S. Treasury increased nearly two‐thirds of a percentage point during the quarter, settling at 2.52% at the end of June. Foreign bonds also declined. Yield‐starved investors from around the world purchased U.S. dollar‐denominated investments, hopeful that they would earn a higher interest rate than those available in other currencies. This demand caused the value of the dollar to increase relative to many foreign currencies.

U.S. stocks registered gains during the quarter with the S&P 500 up 2.92%. Gains during April and May were followed by declines in June in response to concerns that the Fed could end quantitative easing sooner than expected. Foreign developed‐market stocks were mixed, with Japan’s continuing market ascent (and accompanying volatility) particularly notable. Investors remain hopeful that the newly‐ elected Japanese administration will be able to implement its pro‐growth policies. Emerging market stocks did not fare so well, with most major markets, including China, India, Brazil and Russia, coming up with losses in U.S. dollar terms during the quarter. Slowing global growth and Japan’s competitive posturing threaten emerging market exports to the developed world. Turkey’s political unrest and market declines also highlighted the fragility of emerging nations.

Tapering vs. Tightening

To help us better understand the significance of the Fed’s tapering announcement, it is helpful to reflect on the central bank’s remarkable involvement in stimulating the U.S. economy over the past few years. Prior to the financial crisis, the Federal Reserve’s balance sheet totaled $870 billion, comprised mostly of U.S. Treasuries. During these more “normal” times, the Federal Reserve used these accumulated balances as part of its primary monetary policy tool to influence the general level of short‐term interest rates in the economy. Monetary policy is used by the Fed to achieve its key mandates of full employment and moderate inflation.

 

In December of 2008, with its standard monetary policy tools fully implemented and short‐term interest rates near zero, the Fed found itself with limited firepower to stimulate an economy that was in recession with high unemployment and the risk of deflation. As a next step, the Fed implemented a series of quantitative easing programs, non‐standard tools through which money is printed to purchase longer‐ term Treasuries and mortgage‐backed securities.

In its third and most recent quantitative easing program that began in September 2012, the Fed committed to buying $40 billion of mortgage‐backed securities and $45 billion of longer‐term bonds each month. The Fed hoped that these actions would be especially beneficial for the mortgage market since housing affordability and borrowing are more dependent on longer‐term rates. These monthly purchases of $85 billion are the focus of Ben Bernanke’s “tapering” announcement during the quarter.

As a result of these standard and creative policy tools, the Federal Reserve has accumulated a balance sheet totaling nearly $3.5 trillion, mostly in Treasuries and mortgage‐backed securities. Despite fears of runaway inflation that can be a result of easy money policies, prices remain low, hovering at or near the lower bound of the Fed’s preferred target. Unemployment, while still higher than normal, is improving. After years of struggling to recover in the aftermath of the financial crisis, housing activity is no longer a drag on the economy.

What do we know about the Fed’s plans for tapering?

  1. The Fed has made it abundantly clear that any change to its current asset purchase plan is dependent on upcoming economic data. The Fed is focusing on two primary economic indicators – the unemployment rate and the inflation rate. If the unemployment rate remains too high or the inflation rate continues trending downward, the Fed may very well delay its timetable for tapering.
  2. While the Fed may reduce the current level of asset purchases, it has no plans to sell the existing assets on its balance sheet. Keep in mind, the Fed’s balance sheet is four times the value that it was six years ago, before the financial crisis started. Some analysts surmise that the Fed many never sell those accumulated assets, eventually allowing the securities to mature and the portfolio to decline naturally. Tapering is not tightening. Purchasing assets through quantitative easing and maintaining a near zero interest rate policy are two separate and distinct Fed policy tools. Chairman Bernanke has reiterated that short‐term interest rates will remain near zero for the foreseeable future.
  3. Interest rates are likely to find a natural level based on supply and demand, but this leveling will not always be an easy ride for investors. For example, average 30 year mortgage rates have increased from a near‐record low of 3.35% in early May to 4.5% in early July, according to Bloomberg. Higher mortgage borrowing rates could eventually dampen housing affordability and cause potential buyers to leave the market. This, in turn, could reduce housing’s important contribution to economic growth in upcoming quarters. Since the Fed’s tapering plans are dependent on economic data, the governors will be watching the effect of higher interest rates on this important sector. Weak housing statistics could mean a prolonged commitment to quantitative easing – and pressure for lower rates to keep the housing recovery on track.

Is the tapering announcement bad news? Perhaps this quarter’s bond returns tell us that it is unwelcome news in the short‐run, as talk of tapering creates volatility for stock and bond investors alike. In the long‐ term, an economy without such Fed tinkering is both healthy and necessary. Our clients’ portfolios, while not immune to the losses incurred with this sudden jump in interest rates, are better protected from the worst of the volatility by holding short‐ to intermediate‐term duration bond portfolios of high credit quality. The value of these types of bonds can fluctuate; however, the variation in value is small compared to the potential volatility of stock investments. We will be following the recent trends closely and will have more to say about this in upcoming quarters. Meanwhile, your Bingham, Osborn & Scarborough client service team is always available to discuss your investment portfolios.

Written by Colleen S. Supran, CFA, Principal; colleen.supran@bosinvest.com

Quarterly Review of Securities Markets: Total Returns

IndexMarketLast 3 Months (04/01/2013 – 06/30/13)Year-to-Date as of 06/30/2013
Standard & Poor’s 500Large Co. U.S. Stocks2.92%13.84%
Russell 1000 ValueLarge Co. Value U.S. Stocks3.20%15.90%
Russell 2000Small Co. U.S. Stocks3.09%15.86%
Russell 2000 ValueSmall Co. Value U.S. Stocks2.47%14.39%
FTSE NAREIT Equity REITReal Estate Investment‐2.13%5.80%
NASDAQ 100Technology Stocks3.23%9.35%
MSCI EAFE1Foreign Stocks‐0.99%4.10%
Barclays Capital AggregateU.S. Dollar Bonds‐2.32%‐2.44%
Barclays Capital MunicipalMunicipal Bonds‐2.97%‐2.69%
Merrill Global Gov’t BondGlobal Bonds‐3.81%‐6.72%

Key Economic Indicators

 

  • Real Gross Domestic Product (real GDP) in the U.S. increased at an annual rate of 1.8% in the first quarter of 2013, up from an increase of 0.4% in the fourth quarter of 2012. Consumer spending was strong in the first part of the year and made up for declines in government spending resulting from the sequester.
  • In its meeting in June, the Federal Reserve Open Market Committee agreed to continue holding the target range for the federal funds rate at 0% to 0.25%. The Committee agreed to continue its purchase of Treasury and mortgage‐backed securities until the outlook for the labor market has improved substantially in a context of price stability.
  • The U.S. unemployment rate was 7.6% in June, unchanged from March. Employment grew in hospitality and health care. The number of long‐term unemployed was little changed, and represented 36.7% of the total unemployed.
  • Inflation (CPI‐U) increased by 0.1% in May. Over the past 12 months, the all‐items index increased 1.4%, indicating very little inflation in the economy.
  • Standard & Poor’s 500 Index first quarter of 2013 operating earnings per share increased 11.3% over the fourth quarter of 2012. Earnings increased 6.31% from the same quarter of last year. Analysts are expecting slower earnings growth for the second quarter.

U.S. non‐farm worker productivity increased at an annual rate of 0.5% during the first quarter of 2013. Unit labor costs fell 4.3%, the deepest decline in hourly compensation since 1947, when records were first maintained.

 

The Comex spot rate for gold fell by 21.4% in the second quarter of 2013, its biggest quarterly loss ever, closing at $1,252.80 an ounce. Gold is down more than 25% this year.

 

U.S. crude was little changed in the second quarter of 2013, closing at $97.24 a barrel. While oil fundamentals in the U.S. are looking strong, Chinese PMI data for the second quarter were disappointing, putting downward pressure on oil prices.

Key economic indicators compiled by Barbara A. Ziontz, CFP, Portfolio Manager; Barbara.ziontz@bosinvest.com

Data Sources: The Wall Street Journal; US Dept. of Commerce ‐ Bureau of Economic Analysis; US Dept. of Labor; Bloomberg.com; Live.Lehman.com; MSCI.com; REIT.com; NYTimes.com; StandardandPoors.com; Vanguard.com.; Dimensional Fund Advisors

Disclosures and Footnotes:

This information is not intended to be used as a general guide to investing, or as a source of any specific investment recommendations, and makes no implied or express recommendations concerning the manner in which any client’s account should or would be handled, as appropriate investment strategies depend upon the client’s investment objectives. It is the responsibility of any person or persons in possession of this material to inform themselves of and to take appropriate advice regarding any applicable legal requirements and any applicable taxation regulations which might be relevant to the subscription, purchase, holding, exchange, redemption or disposal of any investments.

This information does not constitute a solicitation in any jurisdiction in which such a solicitation is unlawful or to any person to whom it is unlawful. Moreover, this information neither constitutes an offer to enter into an investment agreement with the recipient of this document nor an invitation to respond to the document by making an offer to enter into an investment agreement.

The portfolio risk management process includes an effort to monitor and manage risk, but does not imply low risk. Past performance is not indicative of future results, which may vary. The value of investments and the income derived from investments can go down as well as up. Future returns are not guaranteed, and a loss of principal may occur.

Opinions expressed are current opinions as of the date appearing in this material only. No part of this material may, without Bingham, Osborn & Scarborough, LLC’s prior written consent, be (i) copied, photocopied or duplicated in any form, by any means, or (ii) distributed to any person that is not an employee, officer, director, or authorized agent of the recipient.

(1) Source: MSCI. Neither MSCI nor any other party involved in or related to compiling, computing or creating the MSCI data makes any express or implied warranties or representations with respect to such data (or the results to be obtained by the use thereof), and all such parties hereby expressly disclaim all warranties or originality, accuracy, completeness, merchantability or fitness for a particular purpose with respect to any of such data. Without limiting any of the foregoing, in no event shall MSCI, any of its affiliates or any third party involved in or related to compiling, computing or creating the data have any liability for any direct, indirect, special, punitive, consequential or any other damages (including lost profits) even if notified of the possibility of such damages. No further distribution or dissemination of the MSCI data is permitted without MSCI’s express written consent.

©2013 Bingham, Osborn & Scarborough, LLC

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