Good News First

by Jason Norris, CFAExecutive Vice President of Research


Good News First

The jobs market continues to chug along adding 215,000 jobs in the month of July with upward revisions to June and May of 14,000. While this is a solid pace of gains, it hasn’t been strong enough to push wages higher.

Equity markets, on the other hand, have struggled the last several sessions, despite favorable earnings reports. We have seen the major declines in profits in the energy sector; however, the rest of the economy seems to doing well. With just under 90 percent of companies in the S&P 500 reporting second quarter earnings, year-over-year profit growth could very well be negative 1 percent. While nothing to write home about, the main culprit has been the energy sector. Energy earnings are going to be down close to 60 percent year-over-year. If you back out the energy sector, earnings for the rest of the market will be up 5 percent year-over-year. Healthcare, consumer discretionary and financials have led the way higher. We recommend that investors don’t get caught up in the headline numbers, especially now that one sector is having such a major impact on the overall number.

The price of oil won’t necessarily be helping out the energy sector in the third quarter. With WTI at $44, it is close to its March lows. We moved to an overweight in the energy sector six months ago with the belief that as prices fell, demand would increase and supply would decline. What surprised us was the supply side. While rig count has declined by 60 percent domestically, U.S. supply has been somewhat slow to respond to reduced drilling activity. Nevertheless, U.S. supply has peaked and should decline into the second half of the year. We contrast the ex-growth situation domestically with OPEC, where key producers Saudi Arabia and Iraq have combined to boost cartel volumes by 6 percent so far this year. Aside from flattened production domestically and OPEC’s production growth this year, the key to our call for higher oil prices is stronger than commonly perceived demand growth and production from non-U.S., non-OPEC regions around the world. Despite oil prices that reached $140/barrel in 2008, this key source of global supply has failed to deliver any additional production over the past eight years. Our bet is that if additional volumes weren’t forthcoming in more propitious times, this key source of approximately 54 million barrels/day of supply is likely declining at currently depressed prices. Therefore, it will increasingly help to balance the market. We still believe oil will be closer to $70 then $40 at year-end and are focusing on companies with strong balance sheets to weather this near-term storm.

Only a Matter of Time        

Recent economic data has not been conducive to a September Fed rate hike. While the unemployment rate at 5.3 percent is a positive sign, coupled with weekly jobless claims at historic lows, there is still a lot of slack in the labor market. There are currently over 5 million jobs that are available, which is an all-time high. While this data signals a tight labor market, the unemployment rate figure does not. Also, wages aren’t increasing at a rate that is a threat to inflation. Earlier this week, the Employment Cost Index showed only a 2 percent increase in labor costs, which comprised 2.1 percent in wages and 1.8 percent in benefits. Today’s jobs report confirmed this with hourly wages rising only 2.1 percent.

We believe a Fed rate hike will happen before the end of the year. Given current data trends, whether it is September or December is a toss-up. We have seen and read about indications that the Fed wants to start the process; however, we believe the data is still signaling uncertainty.

Our Takeaways for the Week

  • The Fed will raise rates by the end of 2015
  • Stocks continue to be weak, which could be seasonal, but we believe that fundamentals are still attractive