When Bad Is Good
Allianz Global Investors
By Kristina Hooper
September 10, 2012
Faith in the Fed is growing more devout.
Despite another disappointing jobs report, stocks drifted higher Friday to close out a strong week for the major averages as investors pinned their hopes to an imminent policy move from the Federal Reserve. The lack of job creation since the financial crisis has hampered the economic recovery forcing central bankers to consider additional stimulus measures.
However, there was legitimate cause for applause. Investors cheered the unveiling of the European Central Bank’s new bond-buying program and renewed commitment to fiscal integration in the euro zone. Then they cheered the ADP employment report, which actually suggested 200,000 new jobs. Then they cheered again for the government’s lackluster jobs reportâ€”96,000 new jobsâ€”which suggested a greater likelihood that the Fed will intervene this week.
Heading Off Tail Risks
Last Thursday, ECB President Mario Draghi expressed full commitment to the euro, calling it “irreversible.” He laid out a plan to stabilize the euro zone through the purchase of short-duration government bonds and the imposition of fiscal tightening. The plan promises that the ECB will buy "unlimited" quantities of short-term bonds of those countries facing fiscal problems, provided they enter a program with outside oversight and guarantee that they will make fiscal adjustments. What makes this bailout plan different than all other plans before it is that it looks like a true, open-ended commitment by the ECB to put its balance sheet to workâ€”provided governments are willing to live by its conditions.
The goal of Outright Monetary Transactionsâ€”a program that involves buying government bonds in the secondary bond marketâ€”is to provide an “effective backstop for removing tail risks.” It can be interpreted as insurance and, as such, we think it will be successful because there are no restrictions. The new program is a significant upgrade from the now-retired Securities Markets Program in terms of conditionality, transparency and duration as well as ECB seniority.
Of course, this plan is not without risks. European governments now have less of an incentive to implement reforms between the start of OMT and the first reviews, as the ECB has essentially given them a free pass for the interim period. In addition, potential balance-sheet risks rise in the euro system, increasing the risk for creditor countries to be coerced into further support. In addition, a number of question marks remain including the degree to which the International Monetary Fund participates, whether the European Stability Mechanism will be an effective partner for the OMT and other issues. However, we believe this is a positive development for the euro zone, and investors seemed to agree.
On the employment front, ADP released its private sector jobs report, which showed an increase of 201,000 jobs in August, well above economist expectations. In addition, the July estimate was upwardly revised to 173,000 from the 163,000 that was reported last month. While the ADP series is more volatile than non-farm payrolls and is not necessarily a reliable proxy, it does give some sense of employment conditions.
Still, the numbers released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics painted a very different picture of employment. The BLS reported that U.S. payrolls fell short of expectations, increasing by a seasonally adjusted 96,000 jobs in August. The number of private-sector jobs created totaled 103,000, while the public sector lost 7,000 jobs. Economists surveyed by Dow Jones Newswires had forecast a gain of 125,000. In addition, previous months were revised downward by a cumulative 41,000 jobs. The change in total nonfarm payroll employment for June was revised from 64,000 to 45,000, and the change for July was revised from 163,000 to 141,000.
However, the disappointing jobs report was cause for more celebration by investors, who viewed it as another sign that the Federal Reserve will intervene. It’s becoming more apparent every day that the U.S. economy is sputtering. While housing appears to have stabilized, this is not the case for jobs. Since the beginning of the year, employment growth has averaged 139,000 jobs per month, compared with an average monthly gain of 153,000 in 2011. And the manufacturing situation is also troubling. The ISM manufacturing index fell to 49.6 for August, marking the third consecutive month that the index has been below the critical 50 level, signaling contraction. The last time we saw contraction for three straight months was in mid-2009.
But while the economy is in the doldrums, stocks are posting impressive returns as they climb a wall of worry. Those focused on the economy this year may not have noticed this stealth rally: the S&P 500 Index, on a total return basis, is up more than 15% so far in 2012 while technology stocks, as represented by the NASDAQ Composite Index, have gained more than 20% year-to-date. Defensive stocks have been eschewed recently, as investors anticipate Fed action. All eyes are on the Federal Open Market Committee’s decision later this week, which should wield great influence over how stocks finish the year. For investors, it could be the difference between cheers and tears.
Kristina Hooper, CFPÂ®, CIMAÂ®, is head of portfolio strategies at Allianz Global Investors Distributors LLC.
Past performance of the markets is no guarantee of future results. This is not an offer or solicitation for the purchase or sale of any financial instrument. It is presented only to provide information on investment strategies and opportunities. The material contains the current opinions of the author, which are subject to change without notice. Statements concerning financial market trends are based on current market conditions, which will fluctuate. References to specific securities and issuers are for illustrative purposes only and are not intended as recommendations to purchase or sell securities. Forecasts are inherently limited and should not be relied upon as an indicator of future performance.
A Word About Risk: Equities have tended to be volatile, involve risk to principal and, unlike bonds, do not offer a fixed rate of return. Foreign markets may be more volatile, less liquid, less transparent and subject to less oversight, and values may fluctuate with currency exchange rates; these risks may be greater in emerging markets. Investments in smaller companies may be more volatile and less liquid than investments in larger companies. Investments in commodities may be affected by overall market movements, changes in interest rates, and other factors such as weather, disease, embargoes and international economic and political developments. U.S. Government bonds and Treasury bills are guaranteed by the U.S. Government and, if held to maturity, offer a fixed rate of return and fixed principal value. Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is the value of all final goods and services produced in a specific country. It is the broadest measure of economic activity and the principal indicator of economic performance.
The Institute of Supply Management (ISM) Manufacturing Index is a composite diffusion index of national manufacturing conditions. Readings above 50 percent indicate an expanding factory sector. The Standard & Poor’s 500 Composite Index (S&P 500) is an unmanaged index that is generally representative of the U.S. stock market.The NASDAQ Composite Index is a market-value-weighted, technology-oriented index composed of approximately 5,000 domestic and foreign securities. Unless otherwise noted, index returns reflect the reinvestment of income dividends and capital gains, if any, but do not reflect fees, brokerage commissions or other expenses of investing. It is not possible to invest directly in an index.
Allianz Global Investors Distributors LLC, 1633 Broadway, New York, NY 10019-7585, www.allianzinvestors.com.
(c) Allianz Global Investors