The Goldilocks View Still Prevails

04/30/2012 7:45 am EST


Jim Lowell

Partner & Chief Investment Officer, Adviser Investments

There is no doubt there are some serious troubles buffetting the global economy, which could easily disrupt this fragile recovery. But for now we're still on track, writes Jim Lowell of Forbes ETF Advisor.

Spring sprung early in my neck of the woods, and with it the colorful array of blossoms that portend flourishing growth. As soon as mid-March, there were blossoms on most orchards’ boughs, just in time for a short stretch of below-freezing nights that turned nearly every petal brown.

Someone new to the orchard might think that every tree that was flourishing just a few days ago now is dying. But the truth is that all the petals would have turned brown a few weeks down Spring’s road anyway. The trees remain in fine shape, and even if crops might be blunted this year, the roots of next year’s crops remain untouched.

Likewise, we know that the 2012 markets have had an early spring in their steps; most major stock market averages enjoyed one of their best first quarters ever. But rather than be viewed as the root of better days to come, many so-called experts are forecasting a turn for the worse.

That turn may yet come, at the cost of a crop or two, not at the expense of the orchards or their long-term fruit.

Storm Clouds
The preponderance of storm clouds lends credence to such rainmakers. The Eurozone may have taken a back seat to March’s performance headlines, but its potential to blunt and blight the global recovery remains a real and present danger.

China, where the toll of the Eurozone is more apparent due to China’s greater export dependency, announced and orchestrated an internal economic slowdown over two years ago. But the lack of a clear and probable plan for recovery in the Eurozone is arguably adding unexpected pressure on their planned braking process.

So, against such fields of doubt, I continue to view recovery, both domestically and globally, as the most probable outcome, with the ongoing exception of the Eurozone, where the markets may play at recovering on the stages of our own recovery, but where the internal fundamentals have yet to sway my view that the Eurozone is de facto defunct.

Here, despite higher prices at the pumps and in the aisles, I’m not at the peak of fearing inflation, nor to the point where I can blithely dismiss deflation. I’m taking a Goldilocks view: not too hot, not too cold, but cold enough to warrant the need for more warmth. While our recovery might be slowing on the rails, I don’t think it will be derailed.

Back to Our Future
I remain amazed at how the Eurozone has not only taken a back seat to the headlines, but a back seat to the markets, even as renewed concerns about the pace and sustainability of our US recovery have reentered the daily discussion.

You don’t need to flip a drachma to figure out which economy is on the right track and which economy continues to head down a wrong one. But the pace of our recovery does have significant ramifications for the Eurozone and the globe.

I like to watch the oil market as a bid for or against recovery here at home and around the world. This month, in part due to recalculating the toll that Iranian sanctions might take on the oil market, and in part due to remarks from our Fed Chairman concerning the tentative nature of the jobs market and hence our recovery’s pace, oil and industrial stocks related to infrastructure themes sold off a bit.

Interestingly, health-care stocks didn’t get caught up in the Supreme Court Obamacare froth. The market seems to have the healthiest view of the kerfuffle, in that the only thing Obamacare has been good for so far are the spin doctors.

I continue to view health care as a necessary growth story that is demographically driven in the US and demand-driven in the emerging markets. I also view it as a smart part of our defense.

There’s still no way to spin a double-dip tale here, even as China’s reports continue to signal a recession in the Eurozone inside the next quarter or two. Meantime, with about two weeks to go before earnings season kicks off again, we’ll have the headwind of one of the best first quarters in our market’s history to contend with in the second quarter.

Profit taking is a rational move for traders seeking short-term gains, but for long-term investors I remain convinced that this will be both one of the best decades for stock investors and among the more nerve-racking ones.

For income investors, it could be among the more nerve-racking and least beneficial decade, but we have many ways to approach the income market (with a tilt toward junk bonds, emerging-market debt and investment-grade corporates) that can help deliver yield while not overstepping risk boundaries and, all the while, helping us further hedge our stock stake’s risks.

And on that note, I can say the same thing about my approach to the stock markets: managing risk remains the key component to delivering consistent returns. No matter how early or late any market spring comes, I’m focused on the long-term results of our orchard.

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