The bears are growling again, warning of imminent doom. Sell stocks, sell the kids, sell everything! Notably, éminence grise George Soros is now embracing his dark side, by making substantial bearish plays. Should you act accordingly?
Below is a snapshot of the events this week that will provide clarity as to how defensively you should calibrate your portfolio. We'll also examine the opportunities for market-beating gains that are still available in this precarious market. But first, a bit of context.
I recently pulled an investment book off my shelf and got reacquainted with its themes. It's a dire tome, warning of global economic and financial collapse because of the moral turpitude of policymakers in countries everywhere. Excessive government spending, reckless monetary policy, onerous private and public sector debt, stock market speculation ... you name it. The book warns readers to dump equities, hoard precious metals, and build that bunker now, before they drown in the coming tsunami.
This book came out in 2010. Since then, the major indexes have racked up the following gains: the S&P 500 (SPY - Get Report) 83.38%; the Dow Jones Industrial Average 68.25%; the Nasdaq Composite 111.23%; and the Russell 2000 80.58%. If you had followed this author's advice, you would have missed the second-biggest bull market in history.
Courtesy (of which our society is in short supply) prevents me from mentioning this author's name. Suffice it to say, he's working on a sequel that regurgitates the same warnings. I plan to unearth his latest advice, call my broker, and do the opposite.
To be sure, investors face a long list of worries that can't be swept under the rug: excessive debt in the energy sector; the prospect of Britain, the world's fifth-largest economy, leaving the European Union; the omnipresent threat of terrorism; slowing growth in China; the unraveling of major emerging markets such as Brazil and Venezuela; dismal corporate earnings performances ... the list goes on.
Overhanging it all is the most raucous presidential campaign in modern memory, with the real threat of violence occurring at the GOP convention in Cleveland this summer. We'll save the unsettling subject of Mr. Trump for another time.
Meanwhile, stocks are historically overvalued, and next quarter's earnings aren't projected to be any rosier than the lousy quarter that just ended. The latest average analyst estimate is that earnings in the second quarter of fiscal 2016 will decline in the range of 4% to 9%, which would mark the first time that earnings have recorded five consecutive quarters of year-over-year declines in earnings since the Great Recession days of Q3 2008 through Q3 2009.
Triggers for a correction abound, and investors are rightfully skittish. And yet, the S&P 500 is up a modest but respectable 3.04% year to date, certainly an improvement from the sharp lows in January. The fact is, considering paltry yields, stocks remain the best investment game in town.
The S&P 500 last week reached an 11-month high, as did oil prices. The mixed economic and financial picture doesn't warrant undue pessimism, but rather cautious optimism and vigilance. Keep your eye on the Federal Reserve's meeting this week. Unexpectedly weak job growth will probably prompt the Fed to defer a rate hike this month, but interest rates remain a wild card, and Fed Chairwoman Janet Yellen's cryptic utterances move markets.
Also looming on the calendar is Britain's referendum on its membership in the European Union on June 23. If the latest polls are right and the country votes for "Brexit," markets are likely to take a tumble. Leading up to the vote, markets will fluctuate according to the latest opinion polls in the U.K.
Energy stocks are particularly vulnerable to these crosscurrents. A drop in oil prices last week clobbered the sector's leaders, reminding investors that, despite its recent rally, the energy sector remains troubled.
The following were among the worst one-day declines at the close on Friday: Transocean (RIG - Get Report) (-6.28%); Marathon Oil (MRO - Get Report) (-5.89%); ConocoPhillips (COP - Get Report) (-4.4%); BP (BP - Get Report) (-2.48%) Schlumberger (SLB - Get Report) (-1.8%); Chevron (CVX - Get Report) (-0.8%); and Exxon Mobil (XOM - Get Report) (-0.76%).
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Here are the salient economic reports and events scheduled for this week:
Tuesday: Retail Sales and Business Inventories. Wednesday: MBA Mortgage Applications, EIA Petroleum Status Report, and a press conference with Fed Chair Janet Yellen. Thursday: Consumer Price Index, Jobless Claims, Bloomberg Consumer Comfort Index, Housing Market Index, and EIA Natural Gas Report. Friday: Housing Starts and Baker-Hughes Rig Count.
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