Should I Stay or Should I Go?

Jason Norris of Ferguson Wellman by Jason Norris, CFA Executive Vice President of Research

Should I Stay or Should I Go

This question seems to more prevalent these days as equity markets muddle along and bonds continue to rally. The yield on the 10-year Treasury fell below 2.5 percent this week as investors attempted to seek safety and income. Economic data hasn’t been great, but it hasn’t been bad and we still believe that the “Spring Thaw” will come to fruition and stocks will outperform bonds in 2014.

Best of Both Worlds

As investors increase their exposure to bonds, driving the yield on the 10-year Treasury below 2.5 percent, it leaves us curious as to what is driving this behavior. One culprit may be that U.S. yields are relatively high on a global basis. Global fixed income investors have a lot of markets to consider, but it seems the U.S. continues to be very attractive. Yields in Germany on 10-year government debt are as low as 1.3 percent, where France isn’t much higher at 1.8 percent. There is relatively no income in Japan, with yields under 0.6 percent. Therefore, the U.S. is competing more with Norway (2.6 percent) and even Spain and Italy (both around 3 percent). It is no wonder with global rates so low, that investors are flocking to the U.S. to boost their coupon.

Gettin’ Better?

We received mixed data on the consumer this week. Retail sales came in with a disappointing 0.1 percent monthly gain, with autos being a drag. Walmart disappointed investors as higher gas prices and lower government assistance programs were a drag on spending. Nordstrom, however, exhibited strong growth in their market segments. Jobless claims hit a seven year low on Thursday with initial applications for benefits dropping 24,000 last week to 297,000 this week. Meanwhile, small business sentiment hit a six year high. We believe the U.S. economy is improving after a poor first quarter, primarily due to weather, and we remain bullish on increasing domestic growth. Cisco Systems reiterated this view on their most recent earnings call citing a “very good month [of April]” with the U.S. leading the way in growth.

A New High in Lows

Global hedge fund data was released and for the first time on record (data inception 2003), hedge funds have lost money for three consecutive months while equity markets rose. It seems that a lot of hedge funds have been long on small cap growth and as we’ve seen that trade unwind (rather quickly), they have been slow to follow. Time will tell if this is a short term phenomenon, or a longer term trend. There have been parts of that market that moved into “bubble” territory. Our small cap exposure tilts toward quality and we still believe this area of the market is attractive due to its exposure to the U.S. economy.

Our Takeaways from the Week:

  • Investors remain skittish and are seeking safety over risk, but this will be a short-term occurrence
  • We believe the U.S. economy will continue to grind higher and will be a stand out for the developed world