Friday, December 31, 2010

Hussman - Best December Read Award

I thought the piece below was the best thing I read this month. It isn't based on technicals or speculation. Just long term valuation standards and facts. One thing that should have become apparent in 2010 is that there may be absolute truth, but at least in the financial world in the short term, truth is relative.

I encourage you read the entire Hussman piece.

Hope every has a great New Year!!

Why are Treasury yields rising despite hundreds of billions of Treasury purchases by the Federal Reserve? There are two possibilities in the current debate. One is that the Fed's policy of purchasing Treasuries has scared the willies out of the bond market on fears of higher inflation, and that the policy is a failure. The other is that the policy has been such a success at boosting the prospects for economic growth that interest rates are rising on anticipation of a better economy.

From our standpoint, neither of these explanations hold much water. On the inflation front, the recent bond selloff has hit TIPS prices as well as straight Treasuries, which isn't something you'd expect to see if inflation expectations were being destabilized. And although precious metals and other commodity prices have been pressed higher, the commodity run can be more accurately traced to negative real interest rates at the short-end of the maturity curve, coupled with a downward trend in long-term yields that has now reversed dramatically (more on that below). I've long argued that unproductive government spending and profligate fiscal policy are ultimately inflationary (regardless of how the spending is financed, and particularly if it is monetized), but I continue to view persistent inflation as a long-term, not near-term concern. A rise in T-bill yields of more than 15-25 basis points would change that assessment. Until then, velocity can be expected to collapse in direct proportion to changes in the monetary base, with little impact on prices.

As for the notion that the Fed's targeted Treasury purchases have directly aided the economy, the argument requires bizarre logical gymnastics. It demands one to believe that although the purchases were intended to stimulate the economy by lowering rates, they have been successful without lowering them, and in fact by raising them, because the expectation of lower rates was so stimulative that it caused rates to rise, so that the higher rates can be taken as evidence that lowering rates without lowering them was a success. Oh, brother.

And this is the hard part - basically if you have managed money avoiding the ugly you have gotten killed. You needed to to own trash.
The performance of these 133 factor portfolios over the past 13 weeks offers tremendous insight into the extent to which the Federal Reserve has encouraged speculative risk. Investors are chasing stocks with the greatest exposure to market fluctuations, commodities, credit risk, small-cap risk and volatility. Conversely, securities demonstrating reasonable valuation, stability, quality, or payout have been virtually abandoned by investors. Here is a sampling:


Market Beta

Raw Materials Beta
Commodity Sensitivity

Credit Spread Beta
Macro Economic Sensitivity

Small vs. Large Beta
Style Sensitivity

Silver Beta
Commodity Sensitivity

Sigma Risk (Volatility)

Operating Cash Flow Yield

EPS Stability

Value vs. Growth Beta
Style Sensitivity

Return on Invested Capital

Dividend Yield

10-Year T-Note Beta
Macro Economic Sensitivity

High vs. Low Quality Beta
Style Sensitivity

He writes at length on valuation of the market.

Even if we assume a future dividend growth rate of 6.7%, which is the fastest growth rate observed over any 25-year span during the past century (and again, includes the impact of share repurchases), the S&P 500 would currently have to stand at 748 in order to be priced to achieve long-term total returns of 10% annually. Of course, with the S&P 500 at about 1256 despite a contraction in dividends over the past few years, this analysis would imply that fair value is again about 40% below present levels. It would be nice to be able to rule that conclusion out.

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