Summertime Blues (and Yoo-hoos)

by Ralph Cole, CFA Executive Vice President of Research

Summertime Blues (and Yoo-hoos)

Earnings season is a whirlwind period of companies reporting their most recent quarterly results. We believe that this tends to be a better indicator of what is going on in the than most aggregate economic statistics. Large U.S. corporations touch virtually every corner of the world, and then report back to Wall Street every three months. This real time data has proven to be more reliable than government economic statistics. What do we mean by that?

Let’s take first quarter GDP, for example. When the Bureau of Economic Analysis first reported U.S. GDP growth for the first quarter it was +.2 percent. While not robust, it was at least positive. The next month they updated their estimate, and decided that the U.S. economy actually contracted .7 percent in the first quarter of the year. Then, last month the BEA updated their numbers again and came back with -.2 percent. U.S. GDP is destined to be revised for years to come. As investors we have to rely on what the companies are telling us in order to anticipate the direction of the global economy.

Thus far, what we have learned from second quarter earnings reporting is that the consumer is in good shape, but they are discerning amongst brands and retailers. The oil and gas slowdown is for real and it is hurting not only energy companies, but industrial companies that sell into that market as well. Banks, technology and healthcare have all seen relatively healthy growth here in the U.S.

Globally companies are citing re-acceleration in Europe despite the headlines in Greece. Weakness is evident in commodity-dependent countries such as Canada, Australia, Brazil and Russia. The materials sector has fallen on weak prices, which is especially troublesome for companies with heavy debt loads.

A number of companies and industries have executed very well in this challenging environment. For example, Amazon is starting to show some profitability along with continued growth. Regional banks are reporting strong loan growth and record low default rates. Biotechnology remains a source of strength for the market with both Gilead and Amgen beating estimates. However, earnings season remains challenging because stocks that miss estimates are punished severely.

Our Takeaways for the Week

  • U.S. economic statistics are important, but have to be understood in context of other data because they are often revised multiple times and for several years
  • In general, companies are managing well through a mixed macroeconomic environment


You Better Believe It

by Jason Norris, CFA Executive Vice President of Research

You Better Believe It

This holiday week equities continued their historic seasonal trend of strength in December. Driven by positive economic data in the U.S, although many investors had started 2014 with a lot skepticism regarding the durability of the U.S. economy, we are now getting confirmation as to just how healthy it really is. For example, this past Tuesday brought an impressive GDP revision of 1.1 percent to 5 percent. This solid upgrade was driven primarily by consumer spending. This data resulted in a post-winter vortex snap back of 4.8 percent over the last six months. While this may be above expected trend for 2015, it does highlight the underlying stability in the U.S. economy. Wednesday’s unemployment claims confirmed such vitality with only 280,000 people filing for initial jobless benefits (a number under 300,000 is considered healthy). The recovery we have seen in jobs in 2014 is the best we have seen in over a decade. Case in point, through November, the U.S. has added 2.65 million new jobs, which is the best annual job growth since 1999. Lower gas prices and higher consumer confidence provides a tailwind into 2015 which keeps us bullish on the U.S. economy, and more specifically, the U.S. consumer.

Somebody Get Me a Doctor

This most recent data may have put a scare in some of the defensive sectors, specifically healthcare. The sector was hit hard on Tuesday (down over 2 percent) as investors liquidated positions from biotech to pharma. Healthcare has been a popular overweight this year and investors have benefitted with a 25 percent total return year-to-date. However, a shift to more cyclical sectors of the economy (technology, oil and materials, for example) may be a headwind. Investors were also concerned about a recent deal between Express Scripts (a large pharmacy benefits manager) and Abbvie (a pharmaceutical research and development company) regarding their recently-launched Hepatitis C drug. Throughout most of 2014, Gilead Sciences had a virtual monopoly on a Hep C cure; however, the treatment was pretty pricey. Abbvie launched their competitive drug on Friday, December 20, which didn’t bring much fanfare. However, over the weekend they signed a deal with Express Scripts to be the sole regimen for two-thirds of Hep C cases. Speculation is that Abbvie was pretty aggressive on discounting. Investors initially took Gilead to the “woodshed.” However, they followed through with broad selling over concerns of future pricing pressure for all drugs and devices. While Gilead garners close to 50 percent of the revenues from Hep C treatments, Abbvie is estimated to only have 10 percent. Therefore, while it is a great complement to their portfolio, the company has a solid pipeline of novel drugs as well.

Spirit of the Season

Here’s hoping for a bountiful holiday season and if the equity returns stay true to their seasonal trends, we should finish with a strong December and hopefully hold the 18,000 mark on the Dow. Fun fact: since 1987, the month of December has posted the highest monthly returns for the entire year.

Happy Holidays to you and yours from all of us at Ferguson Wellman and West Bearing.

Our Takeaways for the Week: 

  • True to recent market history, December is shaping up to be a good month for equities
  • The U.S. economy is ending the year on solid footing