Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Barnyard Forecast: More Bull to Come or Is the Bear Growling?

Our last published Barnyard analysis appeared approximately 1 year ago in September of 2013.  At that time, the Barnyard Forecast resulted in 6 out of 8 points, indicating that the market would be favorable over the next 6-18 months.  That has come true, with the S&P 500 up nearly 20% since then.  We expect many will be surprised by the latest Barnyard Forecast.

During this week’s Investment Policy Committee meeting, we updated our “Barnyard Forecast” model.  The Barnyard Forecast is a basic model we use to determine whether the current environment is accommodative, neutral or restrictive towards stock market growth. Since 1990, the Barnyard model has correctly predicted the general direction of the market over the next 6 to 18 months with approximately 80% accuracy.

The Forecast gets its name from the acronym of its components: economy, inflation, earnings, and interest rates = opportunity for stock market appreciation (E+I+E+I=O).  Each factor is rated as positive (2 points), neutral (1 point), or negative (0 points) for stocks based upon historical relationships between that component's economic data and its likely effect on the Federal Reserve's monetary policy and market reactions.  The total points are then added up to arrive at a score between 0 and 8.  A score above 4 indicates a positive environment for stocks.  

Economy - 2 Points

When the economy is growing slowly, the Federal Reserve's projected actions over the next 12 months should favor stocks.  The Forecast score is positive when economic growth is less than the optimal, non-inflationary rate of economic growth of 3%.
Economic growth has improved significantly since the 1Q 2014 numbers.  However, year-over-year GDP growth remains below the 3.0% mark.  At this moment, we’re at about 2.5% with the 3-5 year range between 1.5% and 3.0%.  Economic growth would need to be at least 3.0% before the Federal Reserve would start taking any action to raise rates.  In our view, even 3.0% might be too low in light of the other data coming from the economy.  The bottom line: the economy is still not growing fast enough to warrant monetary policy tightening.  Positive for stocks – 2 points. 

Interest Rates - 2 points

Historically, the yield curve spread (difference between long-term and short-term interest rates) has been a predictor of economic performance.  As long as the spread remains positive, stock markets tend to rise.  When it turns negative, that is a danger signal for stocks.  
Spreads between long-term and short-term rates are currently very positive.  The 2-year U.S. Treasury is yielding around 0.5% versus nearly approximately 2.5% on the U.S. Treasury, a positive spread of 2.0%.  Since we are nowhere near a negative yield curve, this component of the model strongly suggests a favorable environment for stocks.  2 points.

Earnings - 2 points

Earnings growth is a statistically significant driver of stock market prices.  Over the long-term, earnings growth for U.S. corporations has been 7%.  The Forecast scores growth greater than 7% as being positive for stocks.  

In September 2013, the 2nd quarter earnings were only 3% - well under the 7% level.  This time around, earnings growth is markedly improved.  Last quarter’s earnings growth was close to 9%.  Earnings growth projections are for even better grow over the next 12 months.  Companies have continued to grow despite the lackluster economy.  Positive for stocks - 2 points.

Inflation - 2 points

The Federal Reserve's optimal level for core inflation is approximately 2% to 2.5% year-over-year.  Core inflation under 2% allows the Fed to stimulate the economy without creating inflationary problems and is positive for stocks.  Inflation greater than 2% is negative for stocks.

Mr. and Mrs. America tend to watch the Consumer Price Index (CPI) and core CPI (excludes energy and food).  However, the Federal Reserve pays more attention to the Personal Consumption Deflator, which tends to run about 0.5% less than CPI.  At the moment, CPI is about 2.0% and the Personal Consumption Deflator is around 1.5%.  Unless inflation ticks up at least another 0.5%, we don’t anticipate the Fed is going to raise rates.  Positive for stocks - 2 points.

= Opportunity for Stocks - 8 out of 8 (Positive)

Adding each of the 4 factors totals a perfect score of 8, which indicates conditions are very favorable for stocks.  Our Barnyard Forecast has historically done a good job of indicating the general trend of the market.  While there are many unknowns surrounding the Federal Reserve's next moves, our Investment Policy Committee agrees with the Forecast's projection of continued positive returns for the market over the next 6 to 18 months.