Summer may be coming to an end, but the heat in the stock market has not cooled down, as the stock market registered its hottest August performance in 14 years (S&P 500 index up +3.8%). With these stellar results, one would expect the corks to be popping, cash flowing into stocks, and the champagne flowing. However, for numerous reasons, we have not seen this phenomenon occur yet. Until the real party begins, I suppose the champagne will stay on ice.
At the end of last year, I wrote further about the inevitable cash tsunami topic in an article entitled, “Here Comes the Dumb Money.” At that point in time, stocks had remarkably logged an approximate +30% return, and all indications were pointing towards an upsurge of investor interest in the stock market. So far in 2014, the party has continued as stocks have climbed another +8.4% for the year, but a lot of the party guests have not arrived yet. With the water temperature in the pool being so enticing, one would expect everyone to jump in the stock market pool. Actually, we have seen the opposite occur as -$12 billion has been pulled out of U.S. stock funds so far in 2014 (see ICI chart below).
How can the market be up +8.4% when money is coming out of stocks? For starters, companies are buying stock by the hundreds of billions of dollars. An estimated $480 billion of stock was purchased by corporations last year via share repurchase authorizations. Adding fuel to the stock fire are near record low interest rates. The ultra-low rates have allowed companies to borrow money at unprecedented rates for the purpose of not only buying back chunks of stock, but also buying the stock of whole companies (Mergers & Acquisitions). Thomson Reuters estimates that M&A activity in 2014 has already reached $2.2 trillion, up more than +70% compared to the same period last year.
Another factor contributing to the lackluster appetite for stocks is the general public’s apathy and disinterest in the market. This disconnected sentiment was captured beautifully by a recent Gallup survey, which asked people the following question:
As you can see, only 7% of the respondents realized that stocks were up by more than +30% in 2013. More specifically, the S&P 500 (Large Cap) index was up +29.6%, S&P 600 (Small Cap) +39.7%, and the S&P 400 (Mid Cap) +31.6% (all percentages exclude dividends). Despite these data points, if taken with near 15-year low household stock ownership data, the results prove sentiment is nowhere near the euphoric phases reached before the 2000 bubble burst or the 2006-2008 real estate collapse.
Beyond the scarring effects of the 2008-2009 financial crisis, tempered moods regarding stocks can also be attributed to fresher geopolitical concerns (i.e., military tensions in Ukraine, Islamic extremists in Iraq, and missile launches from the Gaza Strip). The other area of never-ending anxiety is Federal Reserve monetary policy. The stock market, which has tripled in value from early 2009, has skeptics continually blaming artificial Quantitative Easing/QE policies (stimulative bond purchases) as the sole reason behind stocks advance. With current Fed Chair Janet Yellen pulling 70% of the QE punch bowl away (bond purchases now reduced to $25 billion per month), the bears are having a difficult time explaining rising stock prices and declining interest rates. Once all $85 billion in monthly QE purchases are expected to halt in October, skeptics will have one less leg on their pessimistic stool to sit on.
Economy and Profits Play Cheery Tune
While geopolitical and Federal Reserve clouds may be preventing many sourpusses from joining the stock party, recent economic and corporate data have party attendees singing a cheery tune. More specifically, the broadest measurement of economic activity, GDP (Gross Domestic Product), came in at a higher-than-expected level of +4.2% for the 2nd quarter (see Wall Street Journal chart below).
Moreover, the spike in July’s Durable Goods orders also paints a healthy economic picture (see chart below). The data is volatile (i.e., Boeing Co orders – BA), nevertheless, CEO confidence is on the rise. Improved confidence results in executives opening up their wallets and investing more into their businesses.
Source: Calafia Beach Pundit
Last but not least, the lifeblood of appreciating stock prices (earnings/profits) have been accelerating higher. In the most recent quarterly results, we saw a near doubling of the growth rate from 1st quarter’s +5% growth rate to 2nd quarter’s +10% growth rate (see chart below).
Source: Dr. Ed’s Blog
With the S&P 500 continuing to make new record highs despite scary geopolitical and Federal Reserve policy concerns, the stock market party is still waiting for guests to arrive. When everyone arrives and jumps in the pool, it will be time to pop the corks and sell. Until then, there is plenty of appreciation potential as the champagne sits on ice.