Early this morning, markets are continuing to take their cue from Europe and particularly the declining EURO. The EURO fell this morning to a four year low, hovering around $1.21. MarketWatch The Dollar Index US (DXY) continues its march to 90 rising to the mid 87 level in early trading this morning. The DXY is heavily weighted in the Euro and bottomed on 11/25/2009 at 74.27 when the EURO hit its maximum level of strength against the USD.DXY Index Charts - (NASDAQ) US Dollar Index Future (a rise in the DXY indicates the USD is gaining in value against a basket of six currencies)
The ECB did not give sentiment an uplift by predicting that European banks would need to write-down 239 billion dollars in loans in 2010-2011. There was a report in a Spanish newspaper that the second largest savings bank, Caja Madrid, was requesting aid from the government.
Hewlett-Packard announced today that it plans to eliminate 9,000 jobs over several years as it plans to to spend 1 billion to automate its commercial data centers.
1. Buying Foreign Assets-Waiting for a Strong Currency and Weak Asset Price In Local Currency: Back in the late 1970s and 1980s, many in the U.S. were concerned about Japanese individuals and companies buying up U.S. assets. Back in those days, a dollar would buy over 200 YEN and as much as 300 Yen in 1974-1975. Between 1980 to 1985, the dollar would generally buy 200 to 250 YEN. (see table at the end of Japanese yen) The dollar was the strong currency. Now, a dollar will buy about 91 YEN. The Yen is the strong currency relative to the USD. On March 9, 2009, the dollar was buying about 99 Yen.
Now, if I was sitting in Japan waiting for an opportunity to buy U.S. assets, I would wait for the confluence of two events, and I would be patient. I would wait for my currency, the Yen, to be strong against the USD and for the U.S. assets to fall significantly in value. Then, assuming I could find assets worth owning, that would be the time to pounce. I would not want to buy U.S. assets when a dollar would buy 250 YEN. I want to use a strong currency to buy assets priced in a weaker one that have fallen a lot in value in local currency terms. This would have been the case for the Japanese investor in March 2009.
While major buying opportunities will not come along frequently, there will be a number of times when it would make sense for a U.S. investor to prepare a shopping list of foreign companies to own. Europe is one area that is becoming more interesting by the day due to the significant decline in the EURO and a correction in European stocks occurring at the same time. Australia would be another market. I just bought some shares in National Australia Bank whose shares had declined 32.76% from an October 2009 price for a U.S. investor, and 25.9% in local currency terms: ADDED 50 NABZY AT 19.51 (National Australia Bank) I have just started to analyse how much certain European companies have fallen in value in USD terms and their declines in local currency terms. Since around November 25, 2009, the Euro has declined about 18.5% against the USD.
Take a stock like Heineken. It is available for purchase on the pink sheet exchange: Heineken N.V. - HINKY The close was 23.92 on 11/25/2009 and $21.45 last Friday. HEINEKEN NV ADR Share Price Chart What does that tell me? It tells me Heineken has been rising in local currency terms during the period of the Euros major decline. So, I can scratch Heineken off this particular list, at least for those companies where I am looking for both a significant loss on the local exchange due to the stock market correction and a decline in value to me as a U.S. investor due to the more favorable currency exchange. I checked one of the European quotes, and found that Heineken had risen in value during the period of maximum loss for the Euro (since 11/25/09). HEINEKEN Share Price Chart | HEIA.AS My interest in Heineken would perk up when and if the shares and the EURO hit an air pocket at the same time. That started to occur to a minor degree in May.
A different situation is presented by Sanofi (SNY), which closed last Friday at $29.91, down from $39.5 on 11/25/09, a 24.3% decline. The decline on the Paris exchange was around 6.13%: SANOFI-AVENTIS Share Price Chart | SAN.PA This is not an argument to buy SNY, but simply points out that the down price action in the U.S. market is mostly currency related. If the Euro continues to sink against the USD, it would pay for me to wait to buy SNY. I do not know what the future will bring however. I do know that, if I bought SNY at Friday's close, it would be almost 19% cheaper to me than a purchaser on 11/25/2009 just on the currency exchange factor. For now I am more willing to play this angle with the AUD than the EURO.
Barrons has a different twist on the weakness in the EURO, suggesting in an article this week that investors focus their attention on large European companies that have substantial revenues outside the Eurozone. This involves the same logic as buying a U.S. multinational during periods of prolonged dollar weakness. I have some interest in some of the 10 stocks recommended in this article. Siemens (SI), one of the ten, might be an alternative to me for GE at some point, since I reached my tolerance level for management's ineptitude about 18 months ago. Siemens has risen about 8% on a German exchange since 11/25/2009, whereas the ADRs (SI) have fallen about 11.4% since then. SIEMENS Share Price Chart | SI
2. Brett Arends Column in the WSJ.com: Arends argues that the recent decline may be a harbinger of things to come. When there is a fast fall in the market, the technical indicators will look bad. Arends quotes John Hussman who maintains that his technical indicators had been this bad only 19 times before and the market on average fell 20% over the next 12 months. Arends asserts, without citing any sources, that the market may be as much as 50% overvalued when comparing shares prices to asset costs or normalized earnings. I have not seen any estimates that support that statement. Goldman Sachs recently raised its 2010 forecast for the S & P 500 earnings to $78 and its 2011 forecast to $93. At $93 and an index value as of Friday's close at 1089 (^GSPC), this would put the forward multiple at 11.71, which does not seem 50% overvalued to me.
If Arends is referring to the inflation adjusted monthly average daily closing prices divided by the 10 year average of real S & P earnings (P/E 10), then the market is overvalued since the historic average is around 16.3. A good discussion can be found at dshort.com: Is the Stock Market Cheap? I would note something that is frequently not admitted by those who will use a P/E 10 number to justify their predisposition to bearishness. The past 10 years includes two deep recessions. In another two years, there will only be one recession included in the 10 years of earnings data. And, assuming a mild to robust recovery in earnings, the normalized earnings for a ten year period will look a lot different in 2013 than it does now in 2010.
Looking at the chart in dshort's article linked above, the clear sell signals in history were when the P/E 10 hit 32.5 in 1929 and 44.2 in 1999. In retrospect, the 25.1 P/E 10 in the early 1900s and the 24.1 hit in the mid 1960s would have been good times to get out of Dodge and then to come back when the P/E 10 number hit the mid-to-high single digits. The article is dated in early May before most of the recent drop in the market averages started to occur. The P/E 10 number was 21.9 at the end of April, which probably added some fuel to the downdraft in May 2010.
The chart in dshort's article is the same kind of chart that was published in the NYT in March 2009, which made an impression on me at the time and actually buttressed my decision to buy stocks then. These charts also reinforce the need to sell parabolic rises such as the rise in 1999. Cramer Discusses Parabolic Rises/My Prior Discussions of Selling into Parabolas
Anyone who uses the P/E 10 number coming out of a recession may be attempting to justify a pessimistic outlook without undertaking a more thoughtful examination of the limitations of a blind adherence to a number without taking into account the entire context. David Rosenberg, who is currently forecasting 850 on the S & P, is a good example, as shown in his use of PE 10 in one of his recent missives (reprinted at ritholz.com) The fact that the P/E 10 number might be abnormally low now due to its inclusion of two deep recessions, including the one that has hopefully just ended, is an obvious point.
Notwithstanding the importance of this context, and context is invariably important, Professsor Shiller was insisting in February 2009 that the P/E 10 fall into the single digits before he could recommend stocks. Interview 2/23/2009 Shiller Stocks Not Yet Cheap Enough for Me: Tech Ticker The P/E 10 was then at about 14, impacted by two serious recessions being factored into the ten year earnings numbers. It is also important to take into account that the recent recession was not a normal one. The loss in the S & P 500 in the 4th quarter of 2008 was a record. The P/E 10 treats this type of event as something to be reasonably anticipated in every 10 year cycle even though it is more likely than not a once in a lifetime event And several large losses by financial companies and former S & P companies like Freddie Mac will distort a true picture of corporate America's profitability until 2018 for anyone placing undue emphasis on P/E 10.
Lastly, the stock market is forward looking and anyone who places undue reliance on the past will be missing major bull cycles on a continuous basis. Still, when the P/E 10 reaches 25 during a major secular bull market, it is time in my opinion to turn cautious. I am less concerned about a 20 reading after two recessions during the 10 year period, particularly a reading taken in a possible transition period to a multi-year up cycle in corporate earnings coming out of a once in a lifetime Near Depression.
At 1050 on the S & P 500, the P/E 10 is around 19.1.
Another doomsday use of P/E 10 can be found in Paul Farrell's column in MarketWatch from last Tuesday.
Dshort.com also has an interesting discussion of long term secular bull and bear markets, a frequent topic of discussion in this blog. I would use different dates to mark the beginning and end of the long term bull and and bear patterns.
3. India's GDP: India's GDP expanded 8.6% in the 1st quarter of 2010. India's government increased the GDP numbers for the 3rd and 4th quarters of 2009 to 7.9% and 6.5% respectively. Inflation is running hot at close to 10% in the first quarter.