By Sy Harding
QE2 in 2010 and ‘Operation Twist’ in 2011 recovered the stock market from double-digit corrections that were underway at the time, and rescued investors from their extreme bearish sentiment each time.
QE3 is underway and many are convinced that’s all that matters, that a repeat of stock market gains is a sure thing.
You need to realize that conditions are much different this time.
For instance, rather than being down double-digits this time with fears high that it is heading down further into a bear market, the stock market was already near four-year highs, and investor sentiment was at high levels of bullishness and confidence when the surprise of QE3 was announced last week.
Perhaps more significant, in 2010 and 2011 corporate earnings were growing impressively. Profit margins were benefiting from the improved productivity brought about by large employee lay-offs, plant closings, and tax loss carry-forwards from the recession, while corporations with global operations benefited even more from their ties to Brazil, China, India, etc., where economies remained strong and the main concerns were rising inflation.
But this time, those normal driving forces for stocks are completely reversed. The economies of important U.S. trading partners like China, India, Japan, Brazil, and the entire 17-nation euro-zone, have slowed dramatically this year, the euro-zone already in a recession.
And corporate earnings are nose-diving. In the U.S. S&P 500 earnings grew at a huge 45% pace in 2010 as they recovered from the losses suffered in the Great Recession. That unsustainable pace slowed to a still robust 15% earnings growth in 2011.
But this year earnings grew only 0.8% in the 2nd quarter, and the consensus forecast is for negative growth in the current quarter, a decline in earnings growth for the first time since the recession ended. Adding to the deteriorating situation, corporations are warning of even slower sales and earnings going forward, citing slowdowns globally that are beyond the ability of the U.S. Fed to fix.
Global bellwethers Intel, FedEx, and UPS, joined the warnings parade in recent days.
Warnings from major transportation companies, like FedEx (FDX), UPS (UPS), and Norfolk Southern Railroad (NSC), are particularly worrisome, since the DJ Transportation Avg has been in a negative divergence with the rest of the market all year, even before these warnings. In spite of the stock market rally since the June low that has the S&P 500 now up 16% for the year, the Transportation Avg has been hitting lower highs on its attempts to rally and is down 8% from its January high. The Transports often lead the economy and the rest of the market since they see early warnings when shipments of raw materials to manufacturers, and of finished goods to end users, decline sharply.
I seriously doubt that the laws of business cycles have gone away, and I still believe that fundamentals matter.
So with previous global economic strength crumbling, a sharp downside reversal in corporate earnings underway all year, the negative divergence of the bellwether Transports, and the stock market already excitedly rallied to four-year highs, there are reasons to question further bullish expectations for the stock market from QE3 this time.
However, since the Fed’s goal for QE3 is also to devalue the dollar again (in an effort to boost U.S. exports, and to create inflation) if it is to at least succeed with those goals QE3 should light a fire under gold. And it has been doing that.
We are on a buy signal on gold, and holding a 20% position in the SPDR Gold Trust etf, symbol GLD. But while gold has already rallied 15% from its June low, equaling the rally in the S&P 500, at least gold is rallying from an oversold condition after declining 18.5% from its 2011 record high to its June low. And its rally does not yet have it back to its high of last year, let alone to four-year highs like the S&P 500.
So if you expect continuing positive reactions in markets to QE3, gold might be a wiser choice than the stock market.
The world’s largest gold bullion etf is the SPDR Gold Trust, symbol GLD. Canadian investors can choose from six gold bullion etf’s that trade in Canadian dollars on the Toronto Stock Exchange. The largest and most active is the iShares Canada Gold Bullion Fund, symbol CGL-T.
Sy Harding is president of Asset Management Research Corp., and editor of the free market blog Street Smart Post. Follow him on twitter @streetsmartpost.