CWS Market Review – January 4, 2013

“You get recessions, you have stock market declines. If you don’t understand
that’s going to happen, then you’re not ready, you won’t do well in the markets.”
– Peter Lynch

Happy New Year! This has been an exciting week: the Fiscal Cliff is done and gone, stocks are near multi-year highs and our Buy List officially beat the market for the sixth year in a row!

For the last several weeks, I’ve been telling investors not to get caught up in all the ridiculous hype surrounding the Fiscal Cliff. What else can I say but that the financial media behaved irresponsibly in stoking the fears of this manufactured crisis? Congress was even worse. At some point, I believed, a deal would be reached—and that’s exactly what happened.

The market celebrated the deal on Wednesday with its strongest rally in more than a year. In just two days, the Volatility Index ($VIX), also known as the Fear Index, plunged by one-third, and the S&P 500 made back everything it had lost since mid-October. Before a late-day sell-off on Thursday, the index was flirting with its highest close since 2007. On top of that, our 2013 Buy List has already grabbed a slight lead over the S&P 500.

It’s times like this I’m glad we’re long-term investors. I can’t imagine what it’s like trading through all these vacuous pronouncements during the Fiscal Cliff debate. The math is still very much on the side of stocks. Six weeks ago, I told you I thought the S&P 500 would break 1,500 sometime early this year. At the time, that seemed like a bold forecast. Now it looks more like a cakewalk. The index is currently less than 3% away from topping 1,500.

In this week’s CWS Market Review, we’ll take a look at what’s driving the current rally. Plus, Q4 earnings season is only days away and I’m expecting solid results from our Buy List stocks. In fact, one of the newbies on our Buy List is already making waves. Ross Stores ($ROST) soared 8% on Thursday on higher earnings guidance! This came exactly one day after an analyst at Citigroup downgraded Ross. Now let’s take a look at the current market.

The High-Beta Rally

The big two-day surge we just had was interesting because it comprised the final trading day of one year and the opening day of the next. This past December 31st was the single-best final-day gain since 1974.

But this hasn’t been a standard rally. It’s been what traders call a “high-beta” rally. These are rallies that have concentrated on the most volatile stocks (or more technically, it’s correlated volatility). That’s why we’ve seen small-cap stocks and tech stocks do the best. The Russell 2000 ($RUT), which is a widely-followed index of small-cap stocks, just broke out to a new all-time high. The Equal Weighted version of the S&P 500 also hit an all-time high. The regular S&P 500 is weighted by market cap, so the mega-caps, which have been lagging of late, have greater weight.

Here’s a chart showing a High-Beta ETF ($SPHB) compared with the S&P 500, and you can see that’s been crushing the market lately.


Cyclical stocks also tend to do well during high-beta rallies. In essence, what the market is doing is shifting towards riskier assets. This is good news because investors need to be rewarded for being willing to shoulder more risk. It’s the willingness to put your money down that helps the entire economy move along. The move has been slow, but the market is becoming more risk-friendly. High-yield spreads, for example, are at an 18-month low, and high-dividend stocks were laggards in 2012.

When the world economy went kablooey a couple of years ago, everyone ran screaming to the most secure assets. Gold and U.S. Treasuries soared as stocks and junk bonds plunged into the abyss. Banks and businesses just sat on their cash. But a major turning point came last summer when Mario Draghi made his now-famous statement: “Within our mandate, the ECB is ready to do whatever it takes to preserve the euro. And believe me, it will be enough.” My friends, that’s what we call a game-changer.

Even though this was an announcement from a European central banker, it sent shock waves around the world, and investors here in the U.S. took this as a signal to move towards risk. When I use the word “risk” here I don’t mean to use it with the negative connotations of recklessness or imprudence. Rather, I mean areas that have a longer time horizon to pay off. For example, I have a pretty good idea where Treasury bill yields will be in a week, but I have no idea what AFLAC’s ($AFL) stock will do. Yet over the next, say, two or three years, I have a very high level of confidence that AFLAC will still be pulling down a sizeable profit despite a fluctuating stock market. The latter investment simply needs more time to pay off.

I should also point out that it isn’t so much that investors are becoming riskier. Instead, it’s that investors are moving from a state of extreme risk-phobia to a more normal state of affairs. The day before Dragi’s statement, the yield on 10-year Treasury bonds hit an historic low of 1.4%. Since then, they’ve soared all the way to a still-puny 1.9%. Put it this way: Microsoft ($MSFT), which is a new member of the Buy List, is one of the largest and best-known blue chips stocks in the world, yet its yield is nearly double that of the 10-year.

The rotation towards risk got another big boost a few weeks after Draghi’s announcement when the Federal Reserve said it would pursue its QE Infinity policy. I should add that I was completely and totally wrong about this announcement. For weeks beforehand, I had said that the Fed was in no way pursing such a policy. Shows what I know!

Fortunately, our Buy List was perfectly poised to ride the market’s rotation. One great example is Ford Motor ($F). In the CWS Market Review from August 24th, I highlighted Ford as a good bargain. I wrote: “I don’t see how the stock can go for less than $10, but it is.” Just a few days before I wrote that, I remember that Ford had even dropped below $9. But patience once again paid off for us. Yesterday, shares of Ford got as high as $13.70. The stock is up more than 52% from its summer low.

The company just announced that December sales rose 1.9%. It was Ford’s best December since 2006. Look for another solid earnings report later this month. Ford remains an excellent buy up to $15 per share.

Ross Stores Soar 8% on Higher Guidance

One of the new stocks on this year’s Buy List is Ross Stores ($ROST). This is a very solid retailer. On Thursday, one day after an analyst at Citigroup downgraded the stock, ROST reported outstanding sales and guided higher for Q4. December sales rose 11% to $1.276 billion.

The key metric for a retailer is comparable-store sales. Wall Street was expecting ROST to report an increase of 2.7%. Instead, it was 6%. The company also raised its earnings guidance for Q4 (which ends in one month). Before, Ross was expecting earnings of 99 cents to $1.04 per share. Now they expect earnings of $1.04 to $1.05 per share. Ross expects comparable-store sales to rise between 1% and 2% for January. This is excellent news. The shares gapped up 7.97% on Thursday to close at $58.78. Thanks to the rally, I’m raising my Buy Below on Ross to $62 per share. Expect to see their 19th-straight annual dividend increase in a few weeks.

Before I go, I want to point out some good bargains on the Buy List. Bed Bath & Beyond ($BBBY) has dropped down recently. My Buy Below price is currently $60, but if you can get BBBY below $57, that’s a really good deal for the long-term. CA Technologies ($CA) is pretty cheap. At its price, CA yields 4.42%. Also, Microsoft ($MSFT) continues to be the stock everyone loves to hate, but it looks very attractive below $28 per share. Actually, one of the reasons why I like it is that everyone else hates it so much. MSFT currently yields 3.38%.

That’s all for now. Earnings season starts next week. Our first Buy List stock to report will be Wells Fargo ($WFC) on Friday, January 11th. Wall Street currently expects 90 cents per share, which sounds about right. Wells is a good buy up to $37. 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

P.S. It’s official. I’m very happy to report that our Buy List beat the S&P 500 for the sixth year in a row in 2012. The 20 stocks on the Crossing Wall Street Buy List gained 14.56%, while the S&P gained 13.41%. Including dividends, our Buy List gained 17.85%, compared with 16.00% for the S&P.

Posted by on January 4th, 2013 at 8:17 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.

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