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13 Oct Bulldog – The Pedigree to Succeed in a Slow Growth Economy

Volatility has ruled for the past two months serving as a painful reminder to investors the risk to the reward of an elongated U.S. bull market.  The timing of Fed Lift off, a slumping Chinese economy, routed commodities and the dreaded R word creeping into select economic forecasts for the U.S. economy among other factors are fueling uncertainty in global markets. Unlikely that these disconcertion’s will be resolved before 2015 rounds out we need a north star to orient our expectations for this year and beyond. As always, we turn to earnings to anchor our market sensibilities and shape our outlook.

Despite the uncertainty that pervades, we are assured in our forecast that 2015 S&P earnings will be recorded as largely flat or just a hair ahead of last year. Our expectation of $118, give or take a couple of dollars puts the S&P 500 on a 2015 multiple of 17x as I write today. More tellingly, revenues for the S&P are going to decline this year versus last. We see evidence of wage pressure together with interest rates and credit spreads creeping higher. These two major cost inputs point to a tougher margin environment for companies going forward. Such as recipe cooks up a problem for earnings unless broad global economic activity picks up, not something widely forecast for 2016. Under these circumstances you are counting on multiple expansion for stock prices to move higher, yes that can happen particularly if interest rate increases get pushed out into next year, but you are blowing in the winds of ‘data dependency’ if that is your base case.

Putting all this together results in muted expectations for the broad market. But, that’s okay because the broad market is not a panacea for investment success, focusing on great companies doing great things regardless of prevailing market or economic conditions is. Take Apple as a great example, between 2008-2015─an economic period often characterized as the worst for half a century─ the company grew its earnings over 1000% and the stock price ascended in harmony. Other examples include Visa (500%), Starbucks (400%), Google (300%)…the list goes on.  During the same period the U.S. economy has expanded on average just over 2.0%. The point should be made that these are revenue driven increases in earnings not engineering through buybacks or M&A etc.

So why have these companies been so successful while the broad economy has been pedestrian? The answer: Their Bulldog qualities. When the economic pie is not getting bigger, in order to survive and thrive you need to take market share from your competitors or, in the case of the companies above, greater share of your wallet. America hasn’t had a real pay rise for a decade but during that period we have managed to carve out $200 per month for smart phones, $10 per week on coffee and have reallocated 60 minutes of our daily attention to the internet, Facebook and You Tube (Google) almost exclusively. The money and time to accomplish this is being taken from other sources. Earnings forecasts for Walmart, McDonalds, JC Penney, The GAP, Coca-Cola, IBM all show a flattening and in some cases a declining trend in top and bottom line growth. These iconic companies may offer value but without growth and/or PE expansion their stock prices are dead in the water.

Our Chairman Jim Moltz taught us that “buying stock in a company that takes market share is the only insurance policy one can get.” Bulldogs are all about growth in units, real growth. Few other breeds of strategy are likely to succeed as this slow growth economy persists.

Disclaimer

We make no representations or warranties, express or implied, as to the accuracy, completeness of any information provided on this Blog nor do we undertake any obligation to update any of the information provided on this Blog. We expressly disclaim all liability for actions taken or not taken based on any or all of the contents of this Blog, as it is not intended as investment advice. This material is intended for discussion purposes only.  It is not an offer to sell, nor a solicitation of an offer to buy any security, nor does it purport to be a complete description of the terms of or the risks or potential of interest inherent in any actual or proposed security or transaction described herein. The data contained in this report were taken from statistical services, reports in our possession, and from other sources. The commentary, opinions and estimates expressed are our own and we make no representations either as to the accuracy or the existence or non-existence of other facts or interpretations which may be significant. The information herein was gathered from responsible sources but C.J. Lawrence cannot guarantee its accuracy or completeness. The directors, officers, and employees of C.J. Lawrence may either from time to time have a long or short position in the securities described in this reports and may buy or sell such securities. The information herein does not take into account the particular investment objectives or financials circumstances of any specific person who may receive it. Before making an investment, prospective clients are advised to thoroughly and carefully review our Form ADV with their financial, legal, and tax advisers to determine whether this strategy is suitable for them. C.J. Lawrence and Cyrus J. Lawrence are trademarks of Cyrus J. Lawrence LLC. C.J. Lawrence is a registered investment adviser.


 

 

02 Oct Seeing is Believing – Europe ’s Camouflaged Recovery

Turbulence has marked the 3rd quarter of 2015 for global markets.  Recent moves have been acutely painful but they are unremarkable in the context of long-term history.  However, investors’ short-term memories have been jolted; yes markets do go down as well as up and more often than not with greater violence.  No corner in the world has been spared the volatility, Europe especially.  The regional economy and markets are still closer to departure than destination on the road to recovery but unlike 4 years ago, during almost the same period of 2011, the region has held its ground rather than packing up and going home.  Sure it is heavy weather but European economic data weighs more positively than negatively and is crucially aligned with our base thesis of a continued slow march of recovery with significant headroom to expectations.

Headline risk is overpowering grass roots analysis in Europe.  Persistent negative headlines: Greece, migrant crisis, now Volkswagen (no we don’t hold this in the Euro Select) etc…have a stranglehold on investor sentiment for the region but closer inspection reveals a groundswell of better fundamentals supported by more optimism in sentiment indicators.  UK GDP growth continues to lead developed economies with 2.6% growth forecast for 2015.  Euro area growth is expected to average 1.5% heading towards 2.0% for 2016.  That puts the combined group almost on a par with near term U.S. growth.  When we launch the European Select UIT in early 2014, the region was barely breaking into positive territory.  Bloomberg data points to a 6.7% increase in earnings for Europe in 2015 compared with U.S. profits that are expected to barely breakeven with 2014.   Significant and prolonged under performance from European companies versus the U.S. leaves the region with plenty of room to run in the coming years.

Sentiment indicators in Europe have been robust despite the market turmoil.  Employment conditions across the region are improving, albeit slowly, and increased consumer spending is echoing the creeping improvements.   Three major tailwinds remain in place for European equities: low energy prices, a weaker Euro and ultra-accommodative central bank policy.  Oil prices have pushed inflation marginally negative, increasing pressure on the ECB to expand its QE program.  Estimates suggest that Draghi may push bond purchases beyond 2016 and expand the Central bank’s balance sheet by over Euro 2 trillion, an enormous injection of capital by any other standards. 

Of note also is the push across Europe for greater banking union.  The major market difference between Europe and the U.S. ─ and the main driver of Europe’s sustained economic underperformance─ is the region’s almost complete reliance on bank lending for business financing.  In the U.S. almost 80% of corporate financing is fulfilled through capital markets and only 20% through bank lending.  The implication are that post financial crisis where bank balance sheets are impaired corporate finance in Europe has been suffocated.  The EU is fully engaged with the problem and the creation of a true European capital market would provide a significant boost to the economy. 

European market performance is also showing signs of relative strength in an otherwise down market.  The STOXX 600 has round tripped from a positive 1st quarter return of 15% then pulled down during the (Greek crisis) second quarter and the global correction of the 3rd quarter to end September down just over 4% in USD terms.  That is compared to an S&P 500 down a little over 5% during the same period.  A fairly hollow claim but that’s the first signs of sustained outperformance by Europe in a very long-time and should encourage more investors to hang in there for better times ahead.


Disclaimer

We make no representations or warranties, express or implied, as to the accuracy, completeness of any information provided on this Blog nor do we undertake any obligation to update any of the information provided on this Blog. We expressly disclaim all liability for actions taken or not taken based on any or all of the contents of this Blog, as it is not intended as investment advice. This material is intended for discussion purposes only.  It is not an offer to sell, nor a solicitation of an offer to buy any security, nor does it purport to be a complete description of the terms of or the risks or potential of interest inherent in any actual or proposed security or transaction described herein. The data contained in this report were taken from statistical services, reports in our possession, and from other sources. The commentary, opinions and estimates expressed are our own and we make no representations either as to the accuracy or the existence or non-existence of other facts or interpretations which may be significant. The information herein was gathered from responsible sources but C.J. Lawrence cannot guarantee its accuracy or completeness. The directors, officers, and employees of C.J. Lawrence may either from time to time have a long or short position in the securities described in this reports and may buy or sell such securities. The information herein does not take into account the particular investment objectives or financials circumstances of any specific person who may receive it. Before making an investment, prospective clients are advised to thoroughly and carefully review our Form ADV with their financial, legal, and tax advisers to determine whether this strategy is suitable for them. C.J. Lawrence and Cyrus J. Lawrence are trademarks of Cyrus J. Lawrence LLC. C.J. Lawrence is a registered investment adviser.


 

 

15 Sep Back to School Financial Checklist

Summer is over, back to work everyone. I walked past a Christmas store on Fifth Avenue this morning. As we race towards the tail end of 2015 carve out some time in the coming weeks to make sure you are on target with the following checklist to help optimize your personal balance sheet to give you a feel good financial cheer for the holiday season.

  1. Max out your retirement plans – For many this is the one true no brainer of investing.  If you are lucky enough to get an employee match in your 401k take it! Regardless you need the tax deduction so whether you are employed or self-employed contribute the maximum you can to your retirement plan for 2015 before making any other investment commitments. 
  2. Create or review your will.  This is the first relatively simple step in ensuring adequate estate planning for you and your family.  A will ensures that your property is distributed fully according to your wishes and importantly if planned properly can avoid unnecessary financial and emotional uncertainty for your heirs. 
  3. If you already have a valid up-to-date will in place you may need to take the next steps in forming a more comprehensive estate plan.  If your overall wealth is expected to be in excess of $5 million estate planning is essential but even up to that level of wealth simply paying careful attention to ownership, location and family considerations in your current will help ensure your assets are safeguarded and distributed according to your wishes. 
  4. The low interest rate train will be departing shortly.  Before it leaves make sure you have reviewed all of your outstanding credit: mortgages, loans, car loans and unsecured credit to make sure you are paying the lowest rates available.  For example refinancing high interest rate balances on credit cards with lower rate facilities like HELOCs or bank loans is a prudent way to lower interest payments and increase your ability to reduce principal.     
  5. Ensure your assets are allocated appropriately.  Assess your return and risk objectives and make sure your investment portfolio together with your exposure to debt is appropriate.  August provided a strong warning of how aggressively markets can move.  Uncertainty prevails and volatility will likely persist.  Investors may ultimately be proved correct but staying solvent until that day comes is the crucial determinant if you are to be successful.  September has remained volatile but the large moves we saw in August have abated.  Reduce or add to positions as appropriate but do not over extend. 
  6. Assess your realized and unrealized capital gains and losses y-t-d.  If you are looking for positives from August’s market volatility here’s one to consider: regardless of where your assets are held and who is managing them your Investment portfolios are now likely sprinkled with losses.  Although investment considerations should always be first priority, if you can re-position your holdings and accomplish point number 5 while reducing you 2015 tax bill at the same time, that’s a win.  Be careful not to chase positions or leave yourself exposed but careful assessment of gains and losses is a valuable driver of total return after tax (the only number that matters)
  7. Plan your investment strategy for 2016.  You need to take a view.  Long-term common sense investing is the lowest but best denominator of investment success.  Careful investing is defending against risks while moving towards opportunity.  You may not be correct all the time, especially in the short-term, but understanding your positions and what makes your investment portfolio tick is crucial.  Simply throwing money into broad cross sections of all asset classes will leave you completely at the mercy of markets for better or worse. 

Disclaimer

We make no representations or warranties, express or implied, as to the accuracy, completeness of any information provided on this Blog nor do we undertake any obligation to update any of the information provided on this Blog. We expressly disclaim all liability for actions taken or not taken based on any or all of the contents of this Blog, as it is not intended as investment advice. This material is intended for discussion purposes only.  It is not an offer to sell, nor a solicitation of an offer to buy any security, nor does it purport to be a complete description of the terms of or the risks or potential of interest inherent in any actual or proposed security or transaction described herein. The data contained in this report were taken from statistical services, reports in our possession, and from other sources. The commentary, opinions and estimates expressed are our own and we make no representations either as to the accuracy or the existence or non-existence of other facts or interpretations which may be significant. The information herein was gathered from responsible sources but C.J. Lawrence cannot guarantee its accuracy or completeness. The directors, officers, and employees of C.J. Lawrence may either from time to time have a long or short position in the securities described in this reports and may buy or sell such securities. The information herein does not take into account the particular investment objectives or financials circumstances of any specific person who may receive it. Before making an investment, prospective clients are advised to thoroughly and carefully review our Form ADV with their financial, legal, and tax advisers to determine whether this strategy is suitable for them. C.J. Lawrence and Cyrus J. Lawrence are trademarks of Cyrus J. Lawrence LLC. C.J. Lawrence is a registered investment adviser.