Will it be a “bearish” summer?

June 15, 2012

Lately, the weaker-than-expected economic data globally and the deepening of the European sovereign debt crisis have prompted market observers to sound the warning bells for a bear market. Some are comparing the current downdraft to what happened in 2010 and 2011, implying much further downside. Others—including international policy makers—have compared the current environment to the summer of 2008, likening the fall of Lehman Brothers to a Greek exit from the eurozone and emphasizing the unknowable “unknowns” and the spillover effects that could follow such an exit.

It seems as though a bearish sentiment has become increasingly pervasive. The American Association of Individual Investors’ sentiment survey has shown a significant increase in bearish sentiment in recent weeks. From our perspective, this level of bearishness is in sharp contrast to the year-to-date total return of 2.6% in U.S. equities! So the question is…whether such bearishness is warranted.

We are highly skeptical of the “doom-and-gloomers” or any forecaster with a strong view of how markets will perform in the near future. Markets and the events that shock markets are nearly impossible to predict on a consistent basis. A broader review of the economic data seems to indicate that while the U.S. economy might be in another “soft patch,” there is still meaningfully positive growth and that growth is likely to continue.

The media is focusing on Europe as the potential catalyst to knock the United States off its path of positive growth; we view this as unlikely. While peripheral Europe has serious solvency and liquidity issues, core Europe is growing and is not in recession, which gives Germany and France room to act to stabilize the economy. Political actions are almost as difficult to predict as the markets; however, the cost of a eurozone breakup would be much greater than the cost of a bailout to the core European countries. So if core Europe acts rationally, it’s difficult to imagine that the European Union would break up, even if it means large additional bailouts or, more likely, major structural reform.

Furthermore, Greece is relatively insignificant. A Greek exit could send a troubling message and start the game of “who’s next,” but on its own, it is a non-event. And, we believe that a Greek exit is unlikely. Returning to the Drachma doesn’t solve any of Greece’s problems; in fact, it enhances them by leading to potential hyperinflation and restrictive capital controls, making an exit even more unlikely. 

So while it might feel reminiscent of the summers of 2008, 2010 and 2011, it’s the summer of 2012. The situation today is materially different from those of previous years. The United States is growing, core Europe is creatively (if too slowly) dealing with the problems of the peripheral countries, and central banks around the world are working to coordinate and promote growth. Overall, the data indicates a heightened level of concern, but nothing that should distract us from staying focused on the long term.

Wealth Enhancement Group

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Perspective: JPMorgan’s big losses

May 15, 2012

JPMorgan Chase’s surprise $2 Billion loss is exactly what’s not supposed to happen anymore, but we are not surprised. Before 2008, big Wall Street banks had a great deal going with the American people. If the banks bet big and won, their employees were paid handsomely; if they bet big and lost, well then, American taxpayers were on the hook. The Volcker Rule, part of the sweeping Dodd-Frank bank reform measures that were passed in response to the financial crisis, was supposed to change that by taking the ability to make big, short-term bets on risky assets away from banks that are considered “too big to fail” and, therefore, implicitly backed by taxpayer money. However, the Volcker Rule won’t take effect for another two years, and this recent blunder by JPMorgan will be additional ammunition for bank critics who want to impose more regulation.

These big bets, though, tend to be really profitable. The highly skilled traders that banks can attract, coupled with their knowledge of the markets and technological prowess, means that banks’ trading desks can win more often than Main Street investors. Given that greed tends to rule (and greed is not always bad), it’s no surprise to us that JPMorgan found its way back into the business of betting its own money in a big way. These bets have been very profitable and, up until the surprise announcement, had been almost a bragging point for JPMorgan’s revered CEO Jamie Dimon.

But there is no return without risk, and the risk finally caught up with them. Dimon attributes the loss to “many errors, sloppiness and bad judgment.” He makes it sound as though taking risk doesn’t always lead to some unexpected losses, and if they could have had “more control” over the risk they were taking, the losses wouldn’t have occurred. That’s just not true. The lesson here is that when big bets are taken, both big gains and big losses are possible, regardless of how good you are at managing risk.

 

Wealth Enhancement Group

 

The opinion voiced in this material are for general information only and are not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual. The opinions expressed in this material do not necessarily reflect the views of LPL Financial. To determine which investment(s) may be appropriate for you, consult with your financial advisory prior to investing.

Tax-Smart Idea for Managing Your Portfolio #2:

February 23, 2009

Consider Investing in Municipal Bonds

Municipal bonds, or “munis” as they are frequently called, are bonds issued by state or local municipalities to fund public works projects such as new roads, stadiums, bridges or hospitals. A municipal bond can also be issued by legal entities such as a housing authority or a port authority. For this reason, municipals can be an excellent way to invest in the growth and development of your community.

In addition, because the interest earned on municipal bonds is exempt from federal income taxes and may be exempt from state and local taxes (if they are purchased by residents of the issuing municipality), munis have the potential to deliver higher returns on an after-tax basis than similar taxable corporate or government bonds. What this means is that although the interest paid on municipal bonds is typically a lower percentage than is paid on taxable bonds, because it is tax free, it is, in effect, not as low as it appears. A simple calculation known as the “taxable-equivalent yield” can be used when considering an investment in a municipal bond.

For instance, if your income tax rate is 35%, a municipal bond paying 5% interest is actually a better investment than a taxable bond paying interest at 7.7%. Thus, for investors in a high tax bracket, the benefits of using municipal bonds in a fixed-income portfolio can be significant. Municipal bonds are subject to availability and change in price. Subject to market and interest rate risk if sold prior to maturity. Bond values will decline as interest rate rise. Interest income may be subject to the alternative minimum tax. Federally tax-free but other state and local taxes may apply.

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Securities offered through LPL Financial, Member FINRA/SIPC. Advisory services offered through Wealth Enhancement Advisory Services, a registered investment advisor.