CWS Market Review – August 19, 2011

The stock market seemed to be recovering for a few days. That is, until Thursday hit. From the S&P 500’s low of August 9th (1,101.54) to the high of this past Wednesday, August 17th (1,208.47), the market gained an impressive 9.7%. We’re still a way from the recent peak of July 22nd, but it’s nice to regain some lost ground. The bears, however, got back in control on Thursday and shaved another 4.46% off the index.

So where do we go from here? It’s still hard to say but in this issue of CWS Market Review, I want to discuss some likely scenarios and more importantly, tell you how to position yourself for the weeks ahead.

Initially, I was never terribly impressed with the arguments made by the folks who were expecting a Double Dip recession. After all, these folks already blew this call last year as their worrying helped bring down the market by 18%. All their panicking did was offer up some great bargains. Anyone else remember when Wright Express ($WXS) broke below $30 last summer? Thank you, panic sellers!

Over the past few days, I’ve become more convinced that the fears of a Double Dip recession are, as of now, vastly overblown. As always, let’s look at the facts rather than at our emotions.

Earlier this week, the government released its industrial production report for the month of July, and it showed the largest increase in four months. This is important because most of the other reports were for the month of June which was in the second quarter. Only now are we getting a better handle on the third quarter which is already more than half over. For July, industrial production rose by 0.9% which nearly doubled the 0.5% expected by Wall Street. Also, capacity utilization hit 77.5%, a three-year high.

Last week, the number of initial claims for unemployment dropped below 400,000 for the first time in 17 weeks. Yesterday’s report showed that we jumped up to 408,000 but the trend is still favorable. Also, the recent report on retail sales was the strongest in four months. This is important because it reflects the strength of consumers, the backbone of the U.S. economy. For July, the Commerce Department said that retail sales rose by 0.5%.

I don’t want to ignore the bad spots. Housing is still a mess and the jobs market is bleak. The recent Consumer Confidence survey was terrible. It was the lowest number since the Carter Administration. Also, I wasn’t exactly thrilled by the ISM report at the beginning of the month. But even that mediocre report is still a long way from a recession. We have to view the actual news in context of what everyone else’s perception is. Bear in mind that the 10-year Treasury dropped below 2% and the 10-year TIPs is negative. The fear on Wall Street is massively overdone.

My view is that the economy will probably bounce along at a growth rate between 1% and 2% or so. For folks out of work, that’s bad news. But the outlook for corporate profits and, by extension, the stock market, is still pretty decent especially considering the cheap valuations and extremely low Treasury yields.

I took notice earlier this week when both Home Depot ($HD) and Walmart ($WMT) reported higher-than-expected earnings; plus both companies raised their full-year earnings guidance. I can’t think of a company that better reflects the breath of American shoppers than Walmart. We’re not yet seeing earnings revisions from most companies. Wall Street still expects the S&P 500 to earn close to $100 this year and $113 for next year, though I think the latter number should probably be close to $105.

Due to the sluggishness of the economy, I still encourage investors to steer clear of most of the cyclical names. I’m writing this early on Friday and the Morgan Stanley Cyclical Index (^CYC) actually broke below 800 very briefly. That’s a stunning 28% collapse in just six weeks. That’s the thing about cyclicals—they move in cycles. When everything is good, it’s very, very good. When it’s not, get out of the way.

I’m inclined to believe that the worst of the selling has past. That doesn’t mean we won’t go lower from here, but future selling won’t match that selling we’ve already seen. Bear attacks usually end before most investors realize it. I’m also struck by the persistence of high volatility. Instead of reflecting danger in the markets, I think high volatility is more of a reflection of the war between the Double Dip and Anti-Double Dip camps. Once the market settles on a thesis, I expect a quick return to low volatility, but there will be fits and starts along the way.

I still like a lot of the names on our Buy List. Let me highlight a few that look especially good right now. I noticed that Oracle ($ORCL) dropped down below $26 per share. Let’s remember that this company has been consistently beating earnings, and Wall Street has been raising estimates. For this current fiscal year (ending in May), Wall Street expects earnings of $2.41 which gives ORCL a forward P/E Ratio of 10.6.

I have to fess up that I blew my Sysco ($SYY) call. In last week’s issue of CWS Market Review, I said expect earnings of 60 cents per share, plus or minus two cents. Instead, Sysco reported 57 cents per share which matched Wall Street’s estimate. The shares got pounded hard on Monday and they’ve continued to retreat.

It turns out what I missed is that the company was hurt by food cost inflation more than I expected. That put the squeeze on margins which is what every business hates. However, in pure operational terms, I think Sysco had a decent quarter. When we look at a company, we have to discern between manageable problems and non-manageable ones. For Sysco, higher food costs are ultimately very manageable. The silver lining is that Sysco now yields over 3.8%. This is a very good stock to own below $28.

We’re soon going to get earnings reports from our companies that have quarters ending in July. Medtronic ($MDT) is due to report this Tuesday, August 23rd. Jos. A. Bank ($JOSB) will probably report around September 1st. Wall Street expects earnings of 79 cents per share for MDT which sounds about right. Frankly, even if they miss by a little, Medtronic is so cheap right now that the stock shouldn’t be too dented. The stock currently yields a little over 3%. Medtronic is a good buy below $32.

That’s all for now. Be sure to keep checking the blog for daily updates. I’ll have more market analysis for you in the next issue of CWS Market Review!

– Eddy

Posted by on August 19th, 2011 at 12:16 pm

The information in this blog post represents my own opinions and does not contain a recommendation for any particular security or investment. I or my affiliates may hold positions or other interests in securities mentioned in the Blog, please see my Disclaimer page for my full disclaimer.

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