Brad Houle Article in Portland Business Journal


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Furgeson Wellman

Brad Houle, CFA, executive vice president of research, recently authored a by-line article that was included in the Portland Business Journal’s 2014 Wealth Management and Financial Services Guide. This publication is sponsored annually by the CFA Society of Portland.

In the article, Houle states, “While bonds do not offer a compelling value at this point, they are a necessary component of many portfolios for both individual and institutional investors.” Houle is a member of Ferguson Wellman’s fixed income team and manages the firm’s REIT investment strategy.

Click here to read “A yield austerity; how not to get burned in the bond market.”



Full Speed Ahead


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by Shawn Narancich, CFA
Executive Vice President of Research

 Unexpected Returns

Despite serious turmoil in the Middle East and ongoing conflict in eastern Ukraine, blue-chip stocks have pushed to new record highs amid upbeat quarterly earnings and encouraging economic data. As Wall Street frets about why interest rates are so low, investors are also enjoying what has turned into a nice coupon-plus return environment for bonds this year, one that could continue to confound those expecting higher rates. Indeed, the CPI report out this week provides evidence that a 2.1 percent inflation rate may trend lower over the next few months if commodity prices continue to moderate.

Gasoline prices accounted for two-thirds of the June index increase, and with pump prices now on their way back down, consumers should expect to get a break at the pump and investors a break on headline inflation. Just as important, natural gas prices have fallen precipitously in the past month due to better-than-expected storage refills and grain prices falling under the expectation of record harvests this fall. With wage gains remaining muted and investment-grade bond yields at surprisingly low levels in Europe, bond investors expecting materially higher rates could be surprised by a rate environment that stays lower for longer. We see an environment of muted inflation and accelerating U.S. economic gains creating a profitable backdrop for equity investors.

A Jobs Renaissance?

Supporting the notion of improving economic fundamentals was this week’s jobless claims number, which breached the psychologically important 300,000 level to the downside. U.S. claims trickled in at a rate of just 284,000 in the past week, a level investors haven’t witnessed in over eight years. This bullish claims number and the downward trending four-week moving average lend credence to the strong payroll numbers reported in June, while increasing our confidence that July’s report will be another good one.

Holy Chipotle!

As more people find work, consumption spending should increase, but as the results from McDonalds and its former subsidiary Chipotle Mexican Grill showed this week, where consumers choose to spend their new-found incomes can be as different as, well, burgers and burritos. McDonalds disappointed by reporting falling same-store sales, but Chipotle announced a 17.3 percent surge, the likes of which it hasn’t seen since 2006. Store traffic at the Golden Arches has lagged and McDonald’s contends with a lower income demographic for which pricing is always an issue. In contrast, Chipotle’s higher income constituents are more likely to accept occasional menu price hikes as they did in the second quarter, without chasing away customers. Indeed, Chipotle benefitted from a trifecta of good fortune – higher prices, better mix, and more store traffic that collectively produced 24 percent earnings growth. On much better-than-expected sales and earnings, Chipotle’s stock surged 12 percent while McDonalds’ shares fell 1 percent.

With about half of the S&P 500 having reported second quarter results, approximately 75 percent of companies are delivering better-than-expected earnings, and 65 percent are also besting top-line estimates. As a result, earnings projections for the benchmark index that a month ago predicted 4 percent growth for the quarter now stand at 6 percent.

Our Takeaways from the Week

  • Despite stiff geopolitical headwinds, U.S. stocks continue to forge new highs
  • A majority of companies reporting so far are delivering better than expected second quarter sales and earnings


Take Me to the Top


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Jason Norris of Ferguson Wellman

by Jason Norris, CFA
Executive Vice President of Research

Take Me to the Top

The most common question we have been getting as of late is when is the market pullback going to occur? Stocks are up over to 200 percent from the March 2009 bottom and 75 percent from the most recent market correction (of 15 percent) in October 2011. While it has been almost three years since a major correction, history has shown this trend can continue for quite a bit longer. To that point, Cornerstone Macro Research gathered some data on previous market pullbacks which are highlighted in the chart below.


History shows that there have been numerous periods of much longer durations when stocks have climbed without a major pullback. If you simply look at the fundamentals of the stock market, an argument can be made that the S&P 500 can continue to move higher without a meaningful pullback. First, U.S. economic growth is improving and global GDP should continue to trend in the mid-single digits, resulting in continued earnings growth. Second, with low inflation and low interest rates, the valuation of the equity market is still attractive and the Price-to-Earnings multiple of the S&P 500 still has room for upside from 15.6x at present. While there will always be unforeseen shocks, the risks in the system are not as predominate as we saw in 2011 (Europe debt crisis, U.S. debt downgrade, Fiscal austerity) or 2000 (stretched valuation, falling consumer sentiment, manufacturing data weakening). However, risks that investors should be cognizant of are a spike in oil prices due to Middle East tensions, China’s economic growth slowing meaningfully, and an adverse reaction to Federal interest rate hikes in 2015.

What Do You Do For Money?

Earnings kicked off this week with mixed results from large cap technology. Specifically, there was divergence within the internet ad space, with Google growing and Yahoo stagnant. One wonders how long the Yahoo board will give CEO Marissa Mayer to achieve the turnaround. Intel delivered a strong quarter due to PC upgrades primarily from businesses as Microsoft sunsets its client support for Windows XP. This strength is allowing the company to return cash to shareholders through an announced $20 billion repurchase plan. While Intel stock reacted very favorably to the announcement, it was disconcerting that their mobile business continues to underachieve. This division lost over $1 billion while grossing a mere $51 million in revenue (down from $292 million a year ago). Intel’s move into this area looks to have been a failure which leads us to speculate where they will have to make an acquisition in order to penetrate the market.

Takeaways for the Week

  • The start of the earnings season has resulted in no major market moving results
  • Tensions in the Middle East and Ukraine may have a minor effect on U.S. markets, and unless we see a spike in oil, they should not hinder economic growth