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2021 | September Risk Odometer

FCWS View September 2021 | Outlook: Positive
Wednesday, 01 September 2021

2021 |  September Risk Odometer

Our Risk Odometer remained at its highest level possible in September at +5.  The Current Outlook remained unchanged at its highest level of “Positive”.  The economy remains strong, and the markets continue to trade well.

 With no risk warnings from our indicators and the market trading higher for 7 consecutive months, we worry that things are “as good as it gets”.  These scenarios often precede short-term corrections, so we caution investors about taking unnecessary risk in these environments.

2021 | August Risk Odometer

FCWS View August 2021 | Outlook: Positive
Monday, 02 August 2021

2021 |  August Risk Odometer

Our Risk Odometer moved higher in August to +5, the highest level possible and the highest level in years.  The Current Outlook remain unchanged at its highest level of “Positive”.  The economy continues to run red hot as life in the US returns to normal post Covid. 

From a long-term perspective, our indicators are not detecting any risk warnings.  This “good as it gets” reading whereby all indicators are positive is a very welcome sign from a long-term perspective.  Short-term price action can act very differently from long-term perspectives, though, so one needs to be careful over the short-term when things appear “as good as it gets”.

2021 | July Risk Odometer

FCWS View July 2021 | Outlook: Positive
Friday, 02 July 2021

2021 |  July Risk Odometer

Our Risk Odometer remain unchanged at an elevated +4, and our Current Outlook also remain unchanged at its highest level of “Positive”.  The economy continues to run red hot as life in the US returns to normal post Covid.  2nd quarter GDP could come in as high as 9% with year-over-year growth around 6.6%[i], a rare feat for an economy as large and developed as the US.

Along with the economy, the markets continue to trade red hot.  Our biggest concern has been the Fed changing their extremely accommodative policy.

 

[i] Forecasts from the Conference Board economists

2021 | June Risk Odometer

FCWS View June 2021 | Outlook: Positive
Wednesday, 02 June 2021

2021 |  June Risk Odometer

Our Risk Odometer moved another point higher in June, from +3 to +4.  Our Current Outlook remained at its highest level of “Positive”.  Our only indicator which did not have a positive reading was economic indicators, which is neutral only because it was too strong, a temporary phenomenon that may only last a quarter.

The markets continue to trade red hot.  Sell-offs are short lived and quickly find buyers.  Our biggest concern we see in the near-term is overly optimistic sentiment. 

2021 | May Risk Odometer

FCWS View May 2021 | Outlook: Positive
Wednesday, 05 May 2021

2021 |  May Risk Odometer

Our Risk Odometer moved another point higher from +2 to +3 in May, and our Current Outlook remained at its highest level of “Positive”.  The only negative reading in our subcomponents is Earnings.  This subcategory should turn positive over the next few months as current earnings reports this quarter have been very strong and the economy, supported by an accelerating vaccination campaign, continues to gain momentum.  Over the next few months, this could send our Risk Odometer to its highest level in many years bolstering our confidence in the markets.

2021 | April Risk Odometer

FCWS View April 2021 | Outlook: Positive
Thursday, 01 April 2021

2021 |  April Risk Odometer

Our Risk Odometer moved one point higher this month to +2 and our Current Outlook also increased to “Positive”, its most optimistic level in its four-level outlook status.  Our Risk Odometer is now at the highest level since prior to the pandemic, and we are expecting it to continue to improve over the next several months as the economy continues to improve.  Unless something suddenly derails the economy, we could see our Odometer surge to +5 by the middle of the year.  This month’s rise, and our expectations for further increases, is increasing our confidence in positive future stock market returns.

2021 | March Risk Odometer

FCWS View March 2021 | Outlook: Cautiously Positive
Tuesday, 02 March 2021

2021 |  March Risk Odometer

Our Risk Odometer and Outlook remain unchanged in March at +1 and Cautiously Positive, one level below our most positive level. 

Technical signals continue to remain strongly positive, but neutral or negative fundamental indicators continue to keep our overall reading tame.  If the economy continues to improve, which we expect it will, our fundamental indicators should turn positive in the second quarter and give us a clearer and more positive outlook.  In the meantime, a lot can happen, and we will keep a cautious tone to our optimism until the data confirms.

2021 | February Risk Odometer

FCWS View February 2021 | Outlook: Cautiously Positive
Wednesday, 03 February 2021

2021 |  February Risk Odometer

Our Risk Odometer and Outlook remain unchanged in February at +1 and Cautiously Positive, one level above our most positive level. 

Technical signals continue to remain strongly positive, but neutral or negative fundamental indicators continue to keep our overall reading tame.  If the economy continues to improve in a similar fashion, we expect the fundamental indicators we track will turn positive by the second half of the year and give us a more clear and positive outlook.  In the meantime, a lot can happen, and we will keep a cautious tone to our optimism until the data confirms.

2021 | January Risk Odometer

FCWS View January 2021 | Outlook: Cautiously Positive
Wednesday, 06 January 2021

2021 |  January Risk Odometer

Our Risk Odometer begins 2021 in the same place it was last month at +1 with a Cautiously Positive Outlook.  Our net Odometer reading remains positive, but our technical and fundamental indicators are giving conflicting signals, thus keeping our outlook below its highest level.

If the economy continues to improve, we would expect the fundamental indicators to turn positive by the second quarter and give a clearer signal.  A lot can happen between now and then which creates our tempered optimism.  Valuations are still sky high and implied volatility is still at elevated levels, signaling potential bouts of volatility ahead. 

2020 | December Risk Odometer

FCWS View December 2020 | Outlook: Cautiously Positive
Thursday, 03 December 2020

2020 |  December Risk Odometer

For the first time since February, our Current Outlook moved into the top half our four-level grading scale.  Moving from “Use Caution” where it had been for the previous three months, our Outlook moved one level higher to “Cautiously Positive”.  Although our fundamental indicators and technical indicators are still sending mixed messages and the Risk Odometer remained at +1 for the fourth consecutive month, positive developments in other areas are giving us more confidence in the markets.

The reasons for our improved outlook despite an increase in Risk Odometer score is reduced uncertainty on the political front, a (likely) divided Congress and positive news on a Covid vaccine.  For several months prior, political uncertainties and unknown stage 3 vaccine results were risks weighing on the markets.  The passing of these events, although not a certainty yet, are now high probability known outcomes.  This reduced uncertainty along with favorable seasonal months of December and January moved our outlook one level higher. 

2020 | November Risk Odometer

FCWS View November 2020 | Outlook: Use Caution
Friday, 06 November 2020

2020 |  November Risk Odometer

For the third consecutive month, our Outlook remains at “Use Caution” and our Risk Odometer remains at +1.  Economic fundamentals and market technicals continue to give us different signs, leaving us cautious until we witness more clarity.

Our major concern in previous months was the US presidential election.  Results have not been official at the time of this writing, but the stock market, so far, has reacted favorably.  For now, the most probable scenario looks to be a divided government which makes tax reform less likely, a favorable scenario for investors.  Once election results become official it would not be surprising to see renewed discussions around additional stimulus, which got shelved prior to the election.  Progress on additional stimulus and stable tax rates would be a positive development for the stock market.

Additional fiscal stimulus seems probable given both parties were in favor of it to some degree before the election.  Hopefully, both sides can come to terms with election results and get on with negotiations because the economy needs it.  Economic growth is decelerating.  It grew 33% in the 3rd quarter but is projected to slow to only 1.5%[1] in the 4th quarter.

[1] According to economists at the Conference Board (https://www.conference-board.org/pdf_free/press/US%20LEI%20PRESS%20RELEASE%20-%20October%202020.pdf)

2020 | October Risk Odometer

FCWS View October 2020 | Outlook: Use Caution
Monday, 19 October 2020

2020 |  October Risk Odometer

Our outlook for October remains unchanged at “Use Caution”.  Our Risk Odometer also remained unchanged on the month at +1.  Economic fundamentals and market technicals continue to give us different signs, leaving us cautious until we witness more clarity.

High valuations, slowing economic improvements, fading fiscal stimulus, and an upcoming presidential election remain our concerns.  The list is not short which is why we are tilted toward caution.  We welcome the recent economic improvements but are concerned about how long they can be sustained without additional stimulus from Capitol Hill.  Additional stimulus and clarity in Washington should turn our indicators more positive and brighten the outlook. 

The market's focus over the next few months is going to be the presidential election.  We believe the outcome remains too difficult to predict given how the polls failed in 2016.  If the results get contested in the courts, the uncertainty could last even longer.  We think caution is warranted until there is more clarity around the presidential outcome and expect bouts of volatility in the meantime.

2020 | September Risk Odometer

FCWS View September 2020 | Outlook: Use Caution
Tuesday, 08 September 2020

2020 |  September Risk Odometer

Our Risk Odometer ticked up one level from 0 to +1 for September, but our Current Outlook remained stable at “Use Caution”.  While the economy has continued to improve it remains far from where it was prior to the pandemic shutdown.  The growing divide between the economy and the markets continues to remain extremely wide.  The markets relentless pursuit higher remains at odds with many other global markets and is being led by fewer and fewer companies, giving us reservations about the outlook for sustainable gains.  We welcome the recovery but remain cautious over the short-term.

Recent market gains have now propelled the markets to near-record valuations, measured by Price-to-Earnings Ratio (PE Ratio, left chart) and Cyclically Adjusted Price-to-Earnings Ratio (CAPE Ratio, right chart).  Current valuations have never been this elevated other than the 2000 stock market mania.  Valuations are not great timing tools because they can remain extreme for a long time, but they do provide perspective on current conditions relative to history.  For this reason, it gives us some level of caution.  Absent this, our Outlook would be one level higher.

2020 | August Risk Odometer

FCWS View August 2020 | Outlook: Use Caution
Tuesday, 04 August 2020

2020 |  August Risk Odometer

Our Risk Odometer for August remained unchanged at 0, and our Current Outlook also remained unchanged at “Use Caution”, thereby keeping us with a defensive bias.  Although these remain unchanged, our opinions on the markets have not.  The growing divide between the economy and the stock market appears wider than ever before, and this raises concern for us as stewards of our client’s capital. 

The economy is not the stock market nor is the stock market the economy.  While the two usually track each other, they appear at dramatic odds today.  The economy contracted at a 33% rate in the second quarter and unemployment is currently over 11%.  The economy has dramatically come back since the worst of the pandemic but is still years away from fully recovering.  Our country has been one of the hardest hit by the virus and new cases are on the rise.  Economic reopening plans are moving backward and there is a presidential election four months away, one in which the incumbent president is trailing in the polls.  All of this creates economic uncertainty.

The US stock market, on the other hand, has recovered most of the losses since the start of the pandemic.  Some sectors such as energy and financials remain well off their lows, but other sectors such as technology and health care are making all-time highs.  One of the broadest measures, the S&P 500, has predominately fully recovered and is nearing all-time highs.  The stock market is conveying the pandemic will pass with little more economic damage. 

2020 | July Risk Odometer

FCWS View July 2020 | Outlook: Use Caution
Wednesday, 08 July 2020

2020 |  July Risk Odometer

Our Risk Odometer moved up two notches, from -2 to 0, subsequently moving up our Current Outlook from “Defensive” to “Use Caution”.  Although the outlook has improved, it remains in a defensive stance, and caution is still warranted. 

The economy has dramatically improved over the past two months, but it remains far from full recovery.  Recent stock market gains have created a newfound level of optimism, but there are still major headwinds.  Coronavirus cases on the rise and reopening plans are being reevaluated.  Early presidential election polls are showing Trump will have a formidable reelection challenge ahead of him which creates fiscal uncertainty.  Federal unemployment benefits ($600 per week) are set to expire in July and the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) grants have now predominately run their course.  These concerns along with very optimistic valuations warrant a cautious stance.

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