CWS Market Review – September 14, 2012

Last week, it was thank you, Mario. This week, it’s thank you, Ben!

The stock market surged to its highest close in four years on Thursday when it was reported that that the Federal Reserve is embarking on another round of quantitative easing. The last time the S&P 500 was this high was on the final day of trading in 2007. The market had a great day on Thursday, and several of our Buy List stocks like Medtronic ($MDT), DirecTV ($DTV), Hudson City ($HCBK) and Harris Corp. ($HCBK) all broke out to new 52-week highs.

I’m also pleased to announce that—after many of you requested it—I’ve added a “Buy Below” column to our Buy List page. I think you’ll like it a lot. Now you’ll be able to know exactly what I think is a good entry point for all the stocks on our Buy List. It’s important for investors to stay disciplined and never chase after stocks. My Buy Below prices will help you do exactly that.

In this week’s CWS Market Review, I’ll explain what the Fed news means, and I’ll try to keep it jargon free. I’ll also discuss what this policy means for the economy and our portfolios. I’ll also highlight upcoming Buy List earnings reports from Oracle ($ORCL) and Bed Bath & Beyond ($BBBY). But first, let’s look at why stocks are so happy with the Bearded One.

The Federal Reserve Embarks on QE-Infinity

I have to confess some embarrassment with the Fed’s news, because I had long been a doubter that the central bank would pursue more quantitative easing. I even said last week that this week’s policy meeting would be a snoozer. In fact, I was afraid the market was setting itself up to be disappointed. Instead, the market celebrated the news.

Now let’s look at what exactly the Federal Reserve did. The central bank said it will buy $40 billion per month of agency mortgage-backed securities (MBS). What will happen is the Fed will swap assets with a bank. The Fed will get a risky MBS while the bank will get low-risk reserves, which, I should add, are held at the Federal Reserve.

Here’s the problem: Since interest rates are already near 0%, the Fed can’t cut them any further. But the hope is that by buying MBS, the Fed can push down mortgage rates, which will boost the housing market, which in turn will boost the overall economy. At least, that’s the plan. Remember that the housing sector is a key driver of new jobs, and I noted on Thursday that the stocks of many homebuilders gapped up on the news.

The Fed Changes Course

The problem with the two earlier rounds of bond purchases is that while they certainly helped the financial markets, their impact on the economy was probably pretty slight. Some critics said that the Fed simply wasn’t being bold enough. What’s interesting is that this round of bond buying is smaller than the previous rounds.

But here’s the key: The Fed said something very different this time.

To support continued progress toward maximum employment and price stability, the Committee expects that a highly accommodative stance of monetary policy will remain appropriate for a considerable time after the economic recovery strengthens.

In other words, this time the Fed’s plan is unlimited. Implicit in the above sentence is the Fed’s admission that its previous policy just wasn’t working. With the earlier bond buying, the Fed just said that they’re going to buy X dollar amount of bonds, and that’s that. There was no goal.

An idea gaining popularity among economists is that the Fed should buy bonds until some metric like the unemployment rate or nominal GDP hits a specific target. With today’s news, the Fed has clearly moved towards that position without expressly saying so. The Fed said that the bond buying would continue until the labor market improved “substantially” and “for a considerable time after the economic recovery strengthens.” The $40-billion-per-month figure is almost irrelevant in context of an open-ended policy. All told, the Fed will be pumping $85 billion into the economy each month.

What This All Means

I may sound overly cynical, but I suspect the Fed will buy bonds until the bond market shuts them off. (Remember when I talked last week about how the Spanish bond market scared the bejesus out of the European Central Bank?)

The Fed also said that it will keep interest rates near 0% through at least 2015. That’s very good news for a company like Nicholas Financial ($NICK). Another buried angle on today’s news is that the Fed is, in my opinion, giving up on the fiction that it has a dual mandate (low inflation and full employment). When it truly matters, the Fed only cares about employment.

Will this QE-Infinity work? I honestly can’t say. One fear is that mortgage rates are already low, and that hasn’t done much to boost the economy. Looking at the track of previous quantitative easings doesn’t make me overly optimistic that a third version will do the trick.

Let’s look at the probable outcomes for the market. I suspect that in the near term, cyclical stocks and financial stocks will get a nice boost. That’s what happened after the first two rounds of bond buying and Operation Twist. JPMorgan Chase ($JPM), for example, soared to $41.40 on Thursday, which effectively erased its entire loss since the London Whale trading loss was announced in May.

Since the Fed is willing to turn a blind eye toward inflation for the time being, I suspect that hard assets (like gold) and commodity-based stocks will do well. I also think that higher-risk assets will gradually gain favor. For example, spreads between junk bonds and Treasuries will continue to narrow. This will also give a lift to many small-cap stocks, especially small-cap growth stocks. In the long run, I’m not convinced the Fed’s decision this week will have a major impact on the economy. Perhaps the best outcome is that a Fed-induced burst of enthusiasm will give the economy and labor market more time to right themselves. Until then, I urge all investors to own a diversified portfolio of high-quality stocks such as our Buy List.

Earnings from Oracle and BBBY

Next week, we have two earnings reports due. Bed Bath & Beyond ($BBBY) reports on Tuesday, September 18, and Oracle ($ORCL) reports the next day. This will be an interesting report for BBBY because three months ago, traders gave the stock a super-atomic wedgie after the company warned Wall Street that their fiscal Q2 would be below expectations. Wall Street had been expecting $1.08 per share, but BBBY said that earnings would range between 97 cents and $1.03 per share. Traders totally freaked and sent shares of BBBY from $74 all the way down to $58.

For fiscal Q1 (which ended in May), I predicted that BBBY could earn as much as 88 cents per share, which was four cents above Wall Street’s consensus. In fact, the company reported earnings of 89 cents per share. Nevertheless, the weak earnings guidance was too much to overcome.

In the CWS Market Review from June 22, I said that the selling was “way, way WAY overdone.” Fortunately, I was right. Since bottoming out in late-June, shares of BBBY have steadily rallied. On Thursday, the stock closed above $70 for the first time in three months. BBBY is still a good stock, and business is going well, but let’s be smart here and not chase it. I’m keeping my Buy Below price at $70.

Oracle has been one of our best stocks this year. The company beat expectations in March and June, although the stock had a terrible month in May. This earnings report will be for their fiscal Q1. The company said that earnings should range between 51 and 55 cents per share, which is almost certainly too low. They earned 48 cents per share for last year’s Q1. Look for an earnings surprise. I’m raising my Buy Below price on Oracle to $35 per share.

That’s all for now. Don’t forget to check out the new “Buy Below” column on the Buy List page. I’ll have more market analysis for you in the next issue of CWS Market Review!

– Eddy

Posted by on September 14th, 2012 at 8:23 am

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.

Tickers: , , ,