Tuesday, June 14, 2011

A Lot of Bullet Points That Add Up to Stocks Being Higher by Year-End

Summary Points:
  • Continuing to assess stock market outlook – balance still positive
  • Recent pullback in stock prices has been moderate on low volume

The Donaldson Capital Management Investment Policy Committee continued our review of economic data and forecasts for the year. While the economic headwinds are much in the news, it is our experience that positive events get less play in the media than negative ones. To try to identify an appropriate balance, while recognizing that items listed are not all equal in impact, we built our own list of significant headwinds and tailwinds.

  • QE 2 ends this month.
  • The May new jobs number came in way below trend.
  • The European Economic Community has not yet solved the Greece problem.
  • Consensus 2011 global GDP growth expectations have dropped 0.5% or so.
  • National average house prices are still dropping.
  • The unemployment and “functionally unemployed” rates have ticked higher.
  • State and local governments are still eliminating jobs.
  • Savings rates are high, potentially reducing consumer spending.
  • Gas prices are ~$1/gal. higher than a year ago.
  • Congress has not passed a solution to the Deficit and Debt problems.
  • Regulatory uncertainty exists in regards to: health care, taxes, and banking.
  • 3/11 Tsunami had bigger effect on supply chains than was previously thought.
  • Reported corporate profits remain strong.
  • Estimates for 2011 corporate profits have held, despite economic headwinds.
  • GDP growth outside the U.S. and Europe remains robust.
  • Capital asset purchases (e.g. trucks, cars) are recovering significantly.
  • Banks are seeing a slowing of defaults on mortgages and credit card debt.
  • The weaker U. S. dollar is boosting U. S. exports.
  • A debt default by the U.S. is seen as very unlikely by most economists we follow.
  • Stock values (price/earnings) are now lower than the 80-year average. No bubble
  • About 50% of S&P 500 sales come from faster growing, non-US economies.
  • Crude oil and gasoline prices are dropping from recent highs.
The Committee also reviewed a discussion by The Bank Credit Analyst of the US economic outlook. BCA is a Canadian firm (which we believe gives them objectivity about the U.S.) that we’ve followed for many years. Their analyses are well reasoned; they do not rant or get emotional; and, they use data to develop and explain their views. A synopsis of their June 8 presentation follows:
  • US growth will accelerate later this year.
  • Tsunami-related supply chain problems are easing.
  • The savings rate is high, but slowly dropping, benefiting consumer purchases later.
  • Housing is too low to sink much further, reducing its drag on the economy.
  • US structural deficits are only about 5% of GDP, more manageable than many think.
  • The US tax/GDP ratio is the lowest in G-20, encouraging economic growth.
  • The US has added more than 1.3 million net new jobs over the past year.
The Committee was concerned about the Fed’s recent lobbying for the 35 largest banks to raise their Tier 1 capital levels from 7% to 10%. This will continue to put pressure on bank stocks in the near term because of the potential dilutive effects of big equity underwritings. So far, this is still in the talking stage, and the banking industry is pushing back very hard. It remains to be seen how this will play out, but for the moment it has already been priced into the stocks, so any softening of the Fed’s position should provide a quick lift to the banks.

Although industrial stocks have dropped more than the S&P 500 lately, most industrial companies continue to have very bullish outlooks for 2011. CEO Sandy Cutler of Eaton Corp (ETN), for instance, is very confident his firm will see 14% revenue growth with earnings growth much higher than that. Many of Eaton’s customers delayed purchases of expensive capital goods during the recession, but these customers are now back in the market because the average age of their equipment has reached multiyear highs, causing repair costs to jump. This same dynamic is playing out across the spectrum of a number of industries.

Unemployment remains stubborn. Historically, however, the correlation between increased corporate profits and increased employment is very tight. The two trends separated during the recession. However, the average work week, especially in the industrial sector, has extended to the point where more overtime just may not be possible. The longer corporate sales volumes and profits grow, the more pressure there will be for businesses to increase hiring.

While major new negative developments in the Middle East, a major economic slowdown in China, or a fiasco on the debt limit in Washington D.C. could turn the 2011 outlook decidedly negative, we don’t consider any of them as having a high probability at this time. Our views are echoed by the economists and strategists that we follow. The market pullback over the past six weeks – the first six-consecutive week pullback in 10 years – has been relatively modest, less than 5%. Finally, trading volumes have been relatively light, potentially indicating there is not a lot of urgency in the selling.

After considering all the above, the Committee is holding to its outlook for stocks to return 5% - 10% for all of 2011. Of course, we will continue to monitor the data and the economic and political environments.

Edited by Randy Alsman

Greg Donaldson Mike Hull Rick Roop Randy Alsman
We own many industrial stocks including Eaton.