Movin’ On Up


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by Ralph Cole, CFA
Executive Vice President of Research

Movin’ On Up

U.S. oil production is finally starting to fall. After unrelenting production increases for the past several years, weekly oil production numbers have begun to decrease. In response to falling oil prices rig counts have dropped dramatically here in the U.S. The number of rigs operating in the U.S. is down 53 percent from the peak reached last year. This change has helped to drive West Texas Intermediate (WTI) oil prices back up to the mid-$50 range from a low of $43 just one month ago.

We would be remiss if we didn’t point out that the global demand for oil continues to rise. This is the other half of the supply-demand relationship that ultimately determines oil prices. The International Energy Agency (IEA) increased their expectations for global oil demand an additional 90,000 barrels per day, bringing their 2015 projected increase of daily oil demand to 1.1 million barrels per day.

No Expectations

Earnings season is a fickle, nuanced and fascinating time of year for portfolio managers. After each quarter of business, companies report their earnings and sales to analysts and the public. Companies guide investors to what they think earnings will be in future quarters. When a management team realizes that they are going to materially beat or miss their earnings guidance they announce it before the scheduled earnings release date which is called a pre-announcement. The pre-announcement ratio is calculated by taking the number of negative pre-announcements and dividing it by the number of positive pre-announcements by company. Strategas Research Partners calculates that the ratio is 6.2 to 1 this quarter, versus a long-term average of 2.73.  This is actually a very positive contrary indicator for the market. Companies have lowered expectations so much, that they usually end up beating the lowered bar. While this is only a short-term indicator, it may help explain positive stock movements on relatively weak earnings.

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 Takeaways for the week:

  • Oil companies have drastically cut the number of oil rigs operating in the U.S., which will help improve the supply demand balance for crude oil in the coming months
  • The stronger dollar and lower energy prices have led companies to pre-announce lower earnings for the first quarter of 2015


Market Letter First Quarter 2015


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Please click here to find our Market Letter First Quarter 2015. We hope you find our economic insights interesting and informative.


Mastering Expectations


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Shawn-00397_cmykby Shawn Narancich, CFA
Executive Vice President of Research

 A Tradition Unlike Any Other

 As another Masters golf tourney gets underway in Augusta, Georgia this week, investors are beginning to process the first reports of a dawning earnings season; as well, they have been jolted by a strong dose of deal news this week totaling well over $100 billion in announced acquisitions. Whether this flurry of activity heralds meaningfully more late-cycle deal making remains to be seen, but low interest rates as well as low oil prices support the rationale for energy deals like Royal Dutch’s $70 billion purchase of British energy company BG Group. Speculation is rife that rivals Exxon and Chevron could be compelled to do the same. Although buying another European producer might make more sense now in light of the strong dollar, we view neither of these integrated oil producers as likely to attempt a large deal for a major peer. More likely are deals for smaller independent U.S. producers with quality acreage in key Texas shale plays like the Permian Basin and the Eagle Ford.

Ready, Fire, Aim

As Royal Dutch jockeys for position in Big Oil, energy investors attempting to divine the low in prices for this cycle were forced to confront the not-so-shocking news out of Iran that that their “supreme leader” Khamenei is calling for the immediate lifting of economic sanctions in return for concessions limiting the country’s nuclear program. As well, he apparently disdains the idea of nuclear inspections that would confirm the country’s compliance with key provisions of the agreement reached in Switzerland last week. All of which leads us to conclude that predictions about a wave of new Iranian oil buffeting the markets any time soon is premature. From our perspective, the likelihood of reaching a final nuclear agreement with Iran looks increasingly unlikely.

Skating to Where the Puck Will Be

Geopolitics aside, we believe oil prices have bottomed and that markets will tighten meaningfully in the second half of this year, pushing prices closer to the marginal cost of production estimated to be somewhere between $75 and $100/barrel. From an investment perspective, we are overweight the energy sector and favor upstream producers and the service companies that enable their production as the two groups most likely to benefit from rising oil prices.

And They’re Off!

Alcoa marked the unofficial beginning of first quarter reporting season by announcing better-than-expected earnings on healthy growth in aluminum demand from both the aerospace sector as well as the emerging market in autos. Unfortunately for shareholders, the results met with a thud by investors who drove the stock down 3 percent on fears that aluminum prices will succumb to excess supply from China, the world’s largest producer. Next week will mark the first full week of earnings, with the money center banks and a few select industrial and healthcare companies on tap to deliver their numbers. In contrast to depressed energy results amid low oil prices, we expect earnings growth from sectors like healthcare and technology.

Our Takeaways from the Week

  • Deal making is being stimulated by low oil prices, low interest rates and a strong dollar
  • Investors are beginning to turn their attention to first quarter earnings


Pushin’ Forward Back


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by Jason Norris, CFA
Executive Vice President of Research

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