After eight consecutive days of positive returns, U.S. equities closed slightly lower Friday and finished the week up 1.10 percent. Emerging markets, up 2.75 percent, extended the lead as the best performing asset class of 2017 with a total return greater than 30 percent.
The official start of earnings season kicks off next week and it looks like earnings for the broad market are going to be negative five percent. There are two main culprits for this. First, the recent strength in the U.S. dollar took large multinational companies by surprise, which resulted in major revenue and earnings revisions lower in 2015. The S&P 500, a standard large cap equity benchmark, has approximately 35-40 percent of its constituent’s revenues outside the United States. Therefore, a major strengthening of the U.S. dollar (see the below chart) results in U.S. goods being more expensive.
For example, if $1.00 = 0.80 Euro, then if a U.S. manufacturer were selling a $100 item in Europe, customers there would be spending 80 Euros. With the recent strengthening, $1.00 is now the equivalent of 0.95 Euros, thus that same $100 item would cost 95 Euros. This is a major price increase and headwind for U.S. exporters. We saw this instance with companies like Microsoft, Caterpillar, and more. On the other hand, the weakening Euro makes those products cheaper in the U.S. Thus, we believe European exporters should stand to benefit from this, and will be a catalyst to stimulating growth in Europe. As such, we recently increased our exposure to the International markets.
Down In a Hole
The other culprit for the major negative revisions for earnings is the reduction in the price of oil. In the past six months, the price of oil has been cut in half which is having a dramatic effect on the earnings in the oil patch. The year-over-year change in energy earnings in the first quarter is a negative 65 percent. Excluding this area of the market, earnings are forecasted to grow by three percent.
These two attributes are setting up for a tough year for headline growth numbers. Earnings growth estimates have declined from seven to two percent for 2015. However, if you exclude Energy, earnings growth should come in closer to nine percent. Our belief is the overall economy is improving and the consumer will be the main beneficiary. While recent consumer spending data has been mixed, we are seeing an improving trend, particularly in consumer confidence. Therefore, continued low interest rates and energy prices throughout 2015 are a tax cut for consumers, and with a tightening labor market, we expect to see an increase in wages. This is all setting up to be a good year for “Main Street.”
Our Takeaways for the Week:
- The strong dollar and low oil prices are a headwind for US earnings growth
- Main Street will be the winner in 2015
Headline sales numbers from Black Friday looked disappointing with revenues falling 11 percent in 2014, which follows a negative year in 2013 as well. However, when we dig into the data, we see that sales have spread out over the entire week. Many stores have been starting their promotions earlier in the Thanksgiving week, meaning Black Friday is not the seminal event it once was. Coupled with an increasing amount of shoppers going online, the post-holiday shopathon is not the signal to the markets it once was.
Data from the entire weekend looked fine with sales rising approximately four percent, with a 15 percent clip coming from online sales. In forecasting the entire holiday season, industry analysts still expect low to mid-single digit growth. In light of gasoline prices down 35 percent from last year, we are comfortable with that growth forecast. In fact, this led us to increase our allocation to the consumer discretionary sector recently.
With the Fed wrapping up its quantitative easing last month, the European Central Bank has upped their rhetoric. This week, ECB president Mario Drahgi was more adamant that the ECB will be in the markets buying bonds. This put a small bid on the Euro; however, we are still waiting for the ECB to actually make meaningful purchases. Since 2012 when Drahgi stated the bank would do "whatever it takes" to prop up the Euro economy, there has been a lot of speaking, with little actual easing.
The economic data points coming out of Europe have been neutral at best. While the old adage of "don't fight the Fed" may be appropriate for the ECB and European equities, we would rather focus on large cap U.S. stocks due to a strong economy, falling commodity prices and low interest rates. One potential headwind for multinationals is going to be the strength of the U.S. dollar. The dollar has rallied 10 percent the past few months and this will start effecting overseas results this quarter. Due to this, recent portfolio additions have focused on the domestic economy, rather than the global economy.
Our Takeaways for the Week:
- Falling gas prices and an improving U.S. economy keeps us bullish on U.S. stocks
- Continued dollar strengthening will benefit U.S. stocks and bonds, while pressuring commodity prices, thus keeping inflation low