NEW YORK (Real Money) -- There's just no rational reason to be optimistic about stocks now. Especially since first-quarter earnings for the S&P 500 are estimated to be atrocious (-2.8% revenue and -4.8% earnings). They'll probably come in better than estimates (the old "beat by a penny" nonsense; I used to be a player in that game), but I would be shocked if first-quarter 2015 earnings per share show positive growth.
What's worse, full-year 2015 EPS are now forecast to grow a measly 2.1%. And I'm supposed to pay 17.6x for that? No way.
The 12-month forward P/E isn't just higher than the average for the past 10 years, it's actually higher than it's been at any time in that 10-year period.
So, I'm just going to keep hiding out in energy preferreds and collecting income. I have a humongous amount of faith in Magnum Hunter (MHR) GreenHunter (GRH) CEO Gary Evans, and I believe he is going to surprise the markets with a capital raising initiative that will make Magnum's current fixed income valuations (Series E preferred is now trading at 72 cents on the dollar and yielding 11.1%) seem laughable after the deal(s) are announced.
I have grown to loathe the weird mechanics of global hydrocarbon markets, but the time to sell these things is not now. Not when companies are tapping the "equity window" left and right and de-levering with the market's help. Whiting Petroleum (WLL) - Get Report raised $1 billion in equity before the market opened today, and the general consensus seems to be that its assets are undesirable (83% of production is in the Williston Basin in North Dakota/Montana, targeting the relatively high-cost Bakken and Three Forks formations).
The equity markets are saving the "independent" cohort (i.e., non-integrated, domestic-only producers) of the U.S. energy industry. A handful of very small exploration and production companies have filed for Chapter 11, and there will be a couple more, but no deluge.
People ask why the U.S. Treasury would bail out the auto and financial industries but not energy, with its high proportion of high-wage jobs in a country where wage growth is practically non-existent, and considering the industry's key role in the virtuous goal of U.S. energy independence. Well, the Federal Reserve's $4.2 trillion balance sheet has kept equity values inflated, which has allowed these companies to issue stock over the past two months (albeit at much lower valuations than they were receiving last summer) and keep the bond market vigilantes at bay. So, Janet Yellen & Co. have done their part to save the U.S. energy industry, even if indirectly.
But QE is over and the Fed has to raise rates eventually, an action that hasn't occurred since June 29, 2006. I'm not a Fed-watcher, and I'm not going to predict the timing of the first rate hike, but the prospect of the first increase in the fed funds target rate in nine years does not make me more optimistic. Quite the opposite, actually, but my strategy requires that I have my clients fully-invested at all times. So, we're hiding out in preferreds and collecting double-digit yields.
There will be a day to sell these energy preferreds, collect nice capital gains and find 6%-8% yields elsewhere, but, again, today is not that day. I believe the "return to par" will happen gradually for these preferreds, and probably climax in the latter half of the second quarter.
Then we're gone. And I will never go to this webpage again. Between now and then I will keep trying to play the pops-and-drops and generate short-term trading profits. But that is only a temporary tactic in what is a tried-and-true, value creating strategy: holding income securities and persistently reinvesting the income in more income securities.
At the time of publication, Collins' firm owned positions in Magnum Hunter and GreenHunter.