Mind the Gap

by Jason Norris, CFAExecutive Vice President of Research

Volatility in the second quarter reigned in both equity and bond markets. Interest rates rose close to half-of-a–percent, resulting in negative returns for bonds. While U.S. equities were volatile, they ended the quarter relatively flat. International markets were roiled in June with China equities moving into bear market territory following a parabolic run and as for Greece…

In the face of this uncertainty, we are still constructive on equities for the back half of 2015. The U.S. economy is slowly improving. Excluding energy, corporate profits should still exhibit high single-digit growth and equities are still relatively inexpensive. Therefore, with the Fed set to raise interest rates later this year, bonds will continue to face a headwind, thus equities warrant an overweight versus fixed income.

While headlines reported a healthy increase of 223,000 new jobs in the month of June, analyst expectations were a bit higher. Also, previous reports were revised lower and the labor participation rate declined, which resulted in a lower unemployment rate of 5.3 percent, which is a seven year low.

One of the major disconnects in the job market is that there are close to 5.4 million job openings currently in the U.S. This is the highest level we’ve seen since January of 2001. We believe this will provide a tailwind throughout 2015 in the labor market.

There are a lot of mixed data in Thursday’s report that can help us assess if it’s too hot, too cold, or just right. Therefore we do believe that our call that the Fed will raise rates later this year has not changed.

Grexit, Greferendum, Grapituation and Gratigue

Frankie Valli sang it best in 1978, “Grease is the word.” After missing a payment to the IMF on June 30, Greece headlines have rattled markets in the last few weeks and that volatility are here to stay with the possibility of a pending referendum on July 5 and a debt payment due to the ECB July 20. The key issue we are focusing on include whether or not the Greek contagion will affect other nations in southern Europe. Whether we have yet to see if the Germans will let the Greeks leave the Eurozone or if they will be “hopelessly devoted.” What has changed since 2010 is that Greek debt is now held by government agencies, such as the IMF and ECB, not banks. In 2010, 140 billion euros of Greek debt was held by global banks, with over 100 billion of that amount being held by European banks. The amount held by banks has dropped by over 100 billion with the European banks, on the hook for less than 20 billion.*

We don’t want to handicap the pending referendum (on whether vote for or against austerity) by the Greek people and current polls show a dead heat. What we do believe is that volatility will continue in July, fueled by Greece and earnings season; however, by year-end this Greek drama will be in the rear-view mirror.

Our Takeaways for the Week

  • U.S. economic growth is improving and corporate profits will follow suit
  • Greek headlines are just that, more headline risk than fundamental risk to the global markets

*Euro to US Dollar exchange rate was +0.13367 percent at time of publication.