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In This List

Chinese New Year: Element of Wood

Inside the S&P 500: PE and Earnings Per Share

Inflating Fears of Inflation

Europe’s Short Rate Remains Unchanged

Olympic Metals: Going For The GOLD?!

Chinese New Year: Element of Wood

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Jodie Gunzberg

Managing Director, Head of U.S. Equities

S&P Dow Jones Indices

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In honor of the Chinese New Year, 2014 – Green Wood Horse (馬 午), CCTV interviewed me on lumber.  As for other commodities, The Year of The Horse should be prosperous for lumber, especially for China’s sawmill industry, enabling them to support their construction boom by importing whole logs and sawing them into lumber at a cheaper price than buying the already sawn lumber.

In case you are interested, here is the script:

  1. What’s the Outlook for lumber in 2014? What is important about the lumber prices is that they are potentially more volatile than commodities with more developed futures markets.  Since lumber is more segmented than the key commodities in the global benchmarks, futures as hedging tools are less efficient for producers and consumers. What lumber prices do have in common with more liquid commodities are that once again they are being heavily impacted by supply shocks that drive the returns to be unique from other assets.  This is true for most commodities since the effect of the risk-on risk-off environment from the quantitative easing seems to be diminishing.    
  1. What are the factors influencing the lumber industry? The US housing starts, Chinese urbanization and potential growth from India are strong influences on the demand side of the lumber industry.  However, one of the most impactful changes has been the domestic  sawmill industry developing in China to support its construction boom.  It is cheaper for them to import whole logs and saw it into lumber rather than to import the sawn lumber. While forest land owners have benefitted from the surge in Chinese demand of logs, saw mills and other forest product industries suffered across the world from the Pacific Northwest to Russia. The radically altered global trade flows have created a number of winners and losers in the spectrum of the lumber industry.                                                                                                                                                                                                                          
  2. What are the factors affecting prices?  Possible declining demand from Japan and Canada needs to be offset by growing Chinese and U.S. demand.  US housing starts have a big influence and rising rates may be a big threat to the lumber price.  Many analysts are looking for new housing starts to increase more than 20% or 175,000 units in order for lumber to have a strong year. If global demand can grow roughly 3.5% then that should be supportive of lumber prices and any demand growth beyond 4% should be very favorable.  Further, since commodities have been more sensitive to supply shocks, the beetle impact is notable, although the epidemic seems to be over.

Also, I’ve included a number of links you might find useful on lumber:

http://www.woodworkingnetwork.com/wood/lumber-data-trends/Global-Lumber-Outlook-for-2014-Market-Prospects-Look-Good-239469661.html?page=2#sthash.iNUIzePD.jltWMQwp.dpbs

http://www.westernforestry.org/Events/wp-content/uploads/2013/08/Elstone-new.pdf

http://biomassmagazine.com/blog/article/2014/01/mapping-a-course-for-bioenergy-in-the-pacific-northwest

http://www.woodbusiness.ca/industry-news/global-lumber-outlook-for-2014

http://blogs.wsj.com/developments/2014/01/17/housing-starts-forecast-for-2014-past-is-not-prologue/

http://www.andykerr.net/storage/conservation-uploads/forests/LOP19ORSoftwoodLumberMillingCapacity.pdf

http://news.yahoo.com/india-potentially-strong-market-canadian-lumber-energy-resources-211325825.html

The posts on this blog are opinions, not advice. Please read our Disclaimers.

Inside the S&P 500: PE and Earnings Per Share

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David Blitzer

Managing Director and Chairman of the Index Committee

S&P Dow Jones Indices

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Two carefully watched numbers are the earnings per share (EPS) and the price-earnings ratio (PE) on the S&P 500.  Their popularity stems from the wide spread use of the index and its long data history.  EPS is the market analysts’ gauge corporate profits in the US while the PE is their measure of value.  While there is a lot of debate over what level of PE is so high one shouldn’t but or so low one should rush into the market, most analysts agree it is a key valuation measure.

EPS-PE

The PE is the ratio of the price of the index to the earnings per share.  The index price, say 1848, can be thought as the price of one “share” of the S&P 500 and the EPS, about $108.00 is the earnings of the companies represented by that share of the index.  There are a few ways to measure the PE, depending on how earnings are measured. Most of the time people use a full year measure instead of one quarter’s earnings because there are seasonal shifts in earnings for some industries.  The key question is whether to measure earnings by the last four quarters of data based on company reports or to be forward looking and measure earnings by analysts’ estimates for the coming year.  While market prices depend in part of people’s expectations of the future, using the recent history – usually called “trailing earnings” —  means using real numbers rather than forecasts. Since earnings usually rise, the PE based on trialing earnings is likely to be a higher number than the PE based on analysts’ estimates of next year’s results.

Calculating the earnings per share for the index is a bit more complicated than the PE. It follows the same approach used to calculate the index itself: the market value of each of the 500 companies is added together giving a total is about $15 trillion today. Then to have a more manageable number for the index level, the $15 trillion is divided by a scale factor called the divisor.  One can think of the divisor as if it were the number of shares outstanding of a company: a company’s stock price is its total market value divided by the number of shares. Likewise, a company’s EPS is its total earnings divided by the number of shares.  The analogy is that the EPS for the S&P 500 is total earnings of the 500 companies, divided by the same divisor used to calculate the index.

The EPS calculation includes earnings of all the companies in the index, including any that lost money.  Counting only positive profits and skipping losses might make for nicer numbers, but it would be market analysis through rose colored glasses. The chart shows both the PE and the EPS for the S&P 500 going back to 1988. The bear markets in 2000-2002 and 2007-2009 stand out: earnings fell sharply.  On both occasions, the PE rose because the proportional drop in earnings was greater than the decline in stock prices.

Neither the PE nor the EPS are infallible guides to the stock market, but both are important measures of how the market is doing.

The posts on this blog are opinions, not advice. Please read our Disclaimers.

Inflating Fears of Inflation

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Jodie Gunzberg

Managing Director, Head of U.S. Equities

S&P Dow Jones Indices

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With all of the monetary policy including the unprecedented quantitative easing, the impacts have been different than expected. Assets became hyper correlated, the dollar didn’t drop relative to other currencies and inflation never showed up.

Recently, I had the privilege to sit down with Bluford Putnam, Managing Director and Chief Economist, of our partner, CME Group, to discuss why inflation is likely to appear this year.

Historically, there has been a high correlation between year-over-year changes of the Consumer Price Index or CPI and commodity indices.  This is since they contain many of the same components like food and energy, and the commodity indices reflect our changing expectation of future prices through the futures contracts.  Also, because food and energy are major components of the CPI and are among the most volatile of inflation, they are key drivers of the indices.  Over the past 10 years, the S&P GSCI has had a correlation of 0.74 to CPI and DJ-UBS has had a correlation of 0.64, where more energy has provided a higher correlation.

Source: S&P Dow Jones Indices and/or its affiliates and ftp://ftp.bls.gov/pub/special.requests/cpi/cpiai.txt  Data from Jan 2004 to Dec 2013. Past performance is not an indication of future results. This chart reflects hypothetical historical performance. Please see the Performance Disclosure at the end of this document for more information regarding the inherent limitations associated with backtested performance.
Source: S&P Dow Jones Indices and/or its affiliates and ftp://ftp.bls.gov/pub/special.requests/cpi/cpiai.txt Data from Jan 2004 to Dec 2013. Past performance is not an indication of future results. This chart reflects hypothetical historical performance. Please see the Performance Disclosure at the end of this document for more information regarding the inherent limitations associated with backtested performance.

Further since food and energy typically represent a higher percentage of commodity indices than of the CPI, one dollar of investment in a commodity index will provide a basis for more than one dollar’s worth of inflation protection. In this chart, the inflation beta can be interpreted as a 1% increase in inflation results in 10.3% increase in return of the DJ-UBS  during the period from 1992 through 2013. Notice the  S&P GSCI  has had the highest inflation beta that is likely due to its world production weighting scheme that yields a higher energy weight.

SOURCE: S&P Dow Jones Indices (rolling 12-month calculations) Inflation beta data are measured by CPI-U as listed on the website: ftp://ftp.bls.gov/pub/special.requests/cpi/cpiai.txt  R-squared signifies the percentage that inflation explains of the variability in commodity index returns Inflation beta can be interpreted as: (using DJ-UBS CI 1992-2013 as an example)  A 1% increase in inflation results in 10.2% increase in return of the DJ-UBS CI during the period from 1992–2013 Time periods shown reflect first full year of returns for the S&P GSCI (1971), first year crude oil was included in the S&P GSCI (1987), first full year of returns for the DJ-UBS CI (1992), 2003 aand 2008 are 5-years and 10-years.
SOURCE: S&P Dow Jones Indices (rolling 12-month calculations)
Inflation beta data are measured by CPI-U as listed on the website: ftp://ftp.bls.gov/pub/special.requests/cpi/cpiai.txt
R-squared signifies the percentage that inflation explains of the variability in commodity index returns
Inflation beta can be interpreted as: (using DJ-UBS CI 1992-2013 as an example) A 1% increase in inflation results in 10.2% increase in return of the DJ-UBS CI during the period from 1992–2013
Time periods shown reflect first full year of returns for the S&P GSCI (1971), first year crude oil was included in the S&P GSCI (1987), first full year of returns for the DJ-UBS CI (1992), 2003 a and 2008 are 5-years and 10-years.

If we look at the super accommodative monetary policy including zero interest rates and quantitative easing, it really hasn’t worked at all.  The U.S. economy has been chugging along at about 2% GDP and we really haven’t seen any signs of inflation, just about 1% core. It is because of the kind of recession we’ve had that requires consumers, corporations, and governments to shrink or delever since they took too much debt.  During the deleveraging process the interest rates don’t matter much – or like John Maynard Keynes said, “it’s like pushing on a string.”

Now that the deleveraging seems to be ending, the US economy has come back nicely, despite the four years it took.  Consumers are borrowing again, though at more appropriate levels for their incomes, corporation have tremendous amounts of cash and are fine, and state and local governments which took a longer time to balance have stopped cutting jobs.

So, the right policy at the Fed should start working about now given inflation should be kicking in this year. Generally it takes about 18-24 months for inflation to start after the clock starts ticking, which Blu says happened around Dec 2012.  However, if there is no FX feedback (and there is none now, since the USD is doing OK), the time lag might take longer or the inflation pressure might be little more muted than otherwise.

How will the Fed respond Not clear, but if you accept the Fed’s guidance, they want to be “behind” the inflation curve and let it get started. What this means is that given their dual mandate of encouraging full employment and maintaining price stability, which is defined by them as 2% core inflation rate (that is minus food and energy), the Fed is likely to wait until inflation hits at least 2.5% until they act. 

Although, it is not just about when the data gets there. The Fed needs to feel like market expectations are rising and at that point they will probably start raising fed funds rates from its near zero level at slow increments of about 25 basis points per quarter.  According to Blu, they may do this until they get to about near or even 1% above the inflation rate

The posts on this blog are opinions, not advice. Please read our Disclaimers.

Europe’s Short Rate Remains Unchanged

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Kevin Horan

Director, Fixed Income Indices

S&P Dow Jones Indices

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The European Central Bank left its key rate unchanged at a record low of 0.25%.

There was speculation around whether the European Central Bank would cut rates again in response to the low level of inflation (0.7% in January). The central bank’s president, Mario Draghi, addressed the low inflation issue by saying that the measure of inflation would remain low over the upcoming months, but he would expect it to eventually rise back to the central bank’s target rate of just under 2%. Further, he was adamant that there is no deflation in Europe. He continued by explaining how the situation in Europe is not similar to Japan’s deflationary period, touching upon the finer points of Europe’s inflation and describing how the European economic recovery is advancing.

Year-to-date, the S&P Eurozone Sovereign Bond Index is returning 2.44%, just about the 2.46% it returned for all of 2013. Hidden within the broader index though is a number of country stories. Because this is a market weighted index, the return of the index will look more like its larger constituents (aka: Italy, France and Germany). Though if you were to look at the performance of each of the individual countries, it is quite evident that investors have regained confidence in the credit worthiness of the once troubled countries such as Ireland, Italy, Portugal, Slovenia and Spain.
Performance of the S&P Eurozone Sovereign Bond Index and its country sub-indices.

The posts on this blog are opinions, not advice. Please read our Disclaimers.

Olympic Metals: Going For The GOLD?!

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Jodie Gunzberg

Managing Director, Head of U.S. Equities

S&P Dow Jones Indices

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In honor of the upcoming 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, I thought it would be a good time to discuss gold, silver and bronze that are the metals in the Olympic medals. Since copper is the main metal in the bronze alloy, we’ll use copper as the index metal.

Let’s start with gold.  Recently, I had the privilege to discuss gold with Bluford Putnam, Managing Director and Chief Economist, of our partner, CME Group.  We talked about gold as a safe-haven, the central bank buying and the potential shutdown of miners – all which are factors that may cause gold to skyrocket or plummet.

In 2013 gold lost 28.3%, the most in a single year since 1981, when gold lost 32.8%.  Then, the recovery period for gold after the 1981 loss lasted 25 years. Also in 2013, central banks stopped buying gold and assets tracking gold ETPs fell by about 50%.  If history repeats itself, it may be a long recovery for gold but much depends on the fundamentals today.

Many investors who view gold as a safe haven, may be wondering if gold really is a safe haven. According to Blu, there will always be some investors that hold gold as a safe-haven but the central banks are the keepers of the money and hold gold. Although they started buying in the 1990-92 period, they stopped last spring since either they didn’t like the price action or they felt they had enough gold in their portfolio to be diversified. Given this, Blu feels the probability of disaster has really gone down, especially since many central bank actions have been put into place to prevent another storm. 

It seems a slowdown in central bank buying is clearly bearish for gold, but the relationship between monetary policy and gold is rather subtle.  According to Blu, if we start to see inflation but the Fed takes no action, that may be strong for the gold price since the Fed will be behind the curve. On the other hand, if the Fed takes early action and decides to move before inflation, they will be ahead of the curve and that is not good for gold. Blu stated that there is a much higher chance the Fed will be behind inflation but that inflation may not occur until 2015.

The last area of discussion between Blu and me centered around the impact of the gold price drop on gold miners. While some of the gold miners may have fallen into negative territory in 2013, some may not have been impacted since they may have hedged and locked-in an earlier, higher price. However, as the gold price approaches $1,200, Blu says that there might be some mine closures, but the reverse case of gold mining closures impacting the price of gold does not hold since when gold mines close the gold doesn’t disappear.  The much bigger influence in the price of gold is from the jewelry buying from China and India.

Now for the fun part, let’s compare the metals of the medals. Below is a picture of what the Sochi 2014 Medals look like:

Medals

To any Olympic athlete, gold is the goal; however, that may not be the case for an investor. Let’s take a look at the statistics to see how the metals stack up.  Below is a cumulative return chart of gold, silver and copper. Notice over the period that gold has the highest performance with a total of 593% followed by copper and then silver, gaining 452% and 283%.  

Source: S&P Dow Jones Indices. Data from Jan 1978 to Jan 2014. Past performance is not an indication of future results. This chart reflects hypothetical historical performance. Please see the Performance Disclosure at the end of this document for more information regarding the inherent limitations associated with backtested performance.
Source: S&P Dow Jones Indices. Data from Jan 1978 to Jan 2014. Past performance is not an indication of future results. This chart reflects hypothetical historical performance. Please see the Performance Disclosure at the end of this document for more information regarding the inherent limitations associated with backtested performance.

However, few look at returns without considering risk.  Over the time frame, risk as measured by annualized volatility was 47.6% for silver, 27.3% for gold and 26.3% for copper. Although silver had both the highest volatility and lowest cumulative return, it had the highest average monthly return, up 112 basis points. This is compared with only 73 bps for gold and 68 bps for copper in an average month. Further, in the average up month, silver had the highest gain of 8.9% versus only 6.0% for copper and 5.2% for gold. One might conclude taking the highest risk can pay off but looking at the downside counts as well. The reason gold had the highest cumulative return was since the average loss in a down month of -3.7% was smaller than for either copper’s or silver’s average monthly loss of -5.0% and -6.6%, respectively.  

One major difference between copper and both silver and gold is that copper is an industrial metal though gold and silver are precious metals. This makes copper more sensitive than gold to inflation.  Another key difference from the fact that copper is industrial is that the supply/demand model is dramatically different.  As Blu mentioned in the video, the gold is mined whether or not the miners shut down, but this is not the case for copper.  Copper supply has been stifled by declining ore grades, equipment failures and shortages, and labor disputes.  The impact can be observed and capitalized on by the roll return in the term structure of the futures curve.   See the chart below of historical backwardation and contango in copper, gold, and silver and notice the high backwardation at times for copper that are missing from gold and silver.

Source: S&P Dow Jones Indices. Data from Jan 1978 to Jan 2014. Past performance is not an indication of future results. This chart reflects hypothetical historical performance. Please see the Performance Disclosure at the end of this document for more information regarding the inherent limitations associated with backtested performance.
Source: S&P Dow Jones Indices. Data from Jan 1978 to Jan 2014. Past performance is not an indication of future results. This chart reflects hypothetical historical performance. Please see the Performance Disclosure at the end of this document for more information regarding the inherent limitations associated with backtested performance.

On average over the time period, copper’s premium or convenience yield was a positive 8 basis points per month, though gold and silver were abundant with average storage costs of 45 and 49 basis points, respectively.  See the table below for more details of premiums earned, represented by backwardation (positive roll return) and storage costs paid, represented by contango (negative roll return).

Source: S&P Dow Jones Indices. Data from Jan 1978 to Jan 2014. Past performance is not an indication of future results. This chart reflects hypothetical historical performance. Please see the Performance Disclosure at the end of this document for more information regarding the inherent limitations associated with backtested performance.
Source: S&P Dow Jones Indices. Data from Jan 1978 to Jan 2014. Past performance is not an indication of future results. This chart reflects hypothetical historical performance. Please see the Performance Disclosure at the end of this document for more information regarding the inherent limitations associated with backtested performance.

If we tally the count, and again using copper for bronze, the best medal is not as obvious to an investor as to an athlete. The bottom line is that gold is solid, silver has upside potential, and copper may be a winning hedge.

Source: S&P Dow Jones Indices. Data from Jan 1978 to Jan 2014. Past performance is not an indication of future results. This chart reflects hypothetical historical performance. Please see the Performance Disclosure at the end of this document for more information regarding the inherent limitations associated with backtested performance.
Source: S&P Dow Jones Indices. Data from Jan 1978 to Jan 2014. Past performance is not an indication of future results. This chart reflects hypothetical historical performance. Please see the Performance Disclosure at the end of this document for more information regarding the inherent limitations associated with backtested performance.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The posts on this blog are opinions, not advice. Please read our Disclaimers.