Giving Thanks

by Shawn Narancich, CFA Senior Vice President of Research

Early Christmas Gifts

Another week, another record close. With both the S&P 500 Index and Dow Industrials breaking into new record territory, equity investors have much to be thankful for as they celebrated the Thanksgiving holiday and began to ponder full year returns that are shaping up to be the best in fifteen years. Trading volumes slowed to a crawl in typical holiday week fashion, with fewer investors around to digest a relatively light slate of news flow.

A Quiet Time

Those manning their desks were left to digest new housing data that showed a drop-off in October pending home sales juxtaposed against another strong Case-Schiller report, which showed house prices nationally up over 13 percent in September. For us, the tie-breaker was new residential housing permits for October, which rose 6.6 percent sequentially, to annualized levels exceeding one million units. While new apartment complexes drove the gains, permitting for single-family homes also rose, an encouraging development given the political upheaval that occurred last month. Housing has been a key driver of the U.S. expansion to date, and remains vital to our expectations for economic growth next year. In turn, interest rates on the 10-year Treasury are a key input to setting mortgage rates. As such, the Fed is paying close attention to them as it considers its next move. Tapering QE too soon or too quickly could spook bond investors, causing prices to fall and mortgage rates to rise. With housing data more mixed recently, this is the type of outcome the Fed is attempting to avoid, and a key reason why we think policy makers will err on the dovish side.

Black Friday (Thursday?)

Whether Santa Claus will deliver a Christmas bounty or a lump of coal to retailers is yet to be seen, but judging by the overflowing crowds seen at key shopping venues like Wal-Mart and Best Buy, shoppers’ enthusiasm for a deal is as strong as ever, incenting some to venture out as early as Thanksgiving Day. Estimates for holiday sales growth seem to be settling out around the 3-4 percent level, but the question as always for retailing investors is the price at which those sales transact. In addition to the level of sales growth, investors will attempt to discern the profitability of those sales, and the underlying gross margin data does not typically arrive until retailers report their financial results in late February. As indicated in last week’s web log, we believe the best success will be had by those focused on either the high-end or low-end, with general merchandisers like Kohl’s and Target caught betwixt and between.

That said, we bid our readers happy shopping on this Black Friday, so named for the day’s typically heavy selling pace that can swing retailers from losses to profits for the year. Moreover, we wish our clients and friends a peaceful and most enjoyable holiday season!

Our Takeaways from the Week

  • Amid low trading volumes, stocks scaled new heights in a holiday shortened week
  • Retailers are in the spotlight as the Christmas selling season begins