Sunday, October 18, 2009

US in a V shapped Recovery.

The U.S. economy may be experiencing a “V-shaped” economic rebound.
All the talk about a slow, muddle-through economy in 2010 to 2011 may be rubbish.

Favorite positions to take advantage are still exchange-traded funds (ETFs) with heavy overseas and economic exposure. Right now that includes iShares Global Financial Sector Exchange Traded Fund (NYSE: IXG) and iShares Metals & Mining (NYSE: XME); on dips it includes iShares Emerging Markets (NYSE: EEM) and Vanguard FTSE World Ex-USA Small Cap (VFWIX). And after a brief period of underperformance, tech stocks might be ready to roll again, especially hardware like SPDR Semiconductors (NYSE: XSD).

Bear's argument (from a fundamental perspective) continues to be that weak employment figures will undermine consumer buying during the holidays; consumers are saving more and spending less, and can’t get bank loans; and companies are deleveraging. And then from a technical perspective, bears also harp on the lack of volume in this up move. But there are three key counterpoints:

First, employment is a lagging indicator, and may be in secular decline. We’ve been through this a dozen times so I won’t lay out all the points. But the main idea you may recall is that companies first go overboard in hiring (2004-2007), then they go overboard in firing (2008-2009), then they start to enjoy having fewer employees to pay (2009), and only later do they realize that to grow again they’ll have to start re-hiring (2010-2012). At this point in the cycle, investors give companies bonus points for cutting expenses, and that means reducing headcount. So don’t look for real investors to penalize companies’ shares during periods of reduced employment.

Second, consumer saving is paradoxically terrible for consumers and a boon for banks and businesses, which is another reason stocks have been buoyant. You see, when families start to save a lot they tend to put their money in a bank savings account for safety. They’ll earn 1% if they’re lucky. On the other side of that 1%, laughing like crazy, are bankers who then turn around and loan that money out to big business at 6%-plus, or buy bonds yielding 4% to 12%. The banks are making a killing on consumer savings, which is really sad, but it’s the truth. This is one reason we are overweight banks in our ETF portfolio.
Later on in the cycle, when the Federal Reserve starts to deploy its so-called “exit strategy” and begins to raise interest rates, the “spread” between what banks pay for money and what they can receive in corporate loans will narrow. And only then will banks turn their attention back to consumer loans, giving a new boost of fuel to that leg of the recovery.

Third, the volume is relatively low. I believe that the reason for this is that because the public is just not on board with this new bull cycle – yet. I’m not going to go through the math of all the cash sitting in money market accounts. But all of you reading this today, who care about stocks and are taking matters into your own hands, are in the minority.
Most of the public just doesn’t care. They still feel wounded and abused by the market during the decline last year, and don’t trust their money managers, and don’t trust the recovery. So until the public starts to feel more comfortable again – probably when the Dow Jones Industrials gets back to around 12,500, which is where it was in the summer of 2008 – volume is probably going to stay light. Just ask your friends at work if you don’t believe me.


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