Fundamentals falter … But fears fade

Bob Leggett, CFA, Senior Investment Strategist, FirstMerit Wealth Management Services

Every quarter, FirstMerit sends a newsletter to all its wealth management clients. In the Fall 2012 edition, Bob Leggett, CFA, Senior Investment Strategist, FirstMerit Wealth Management Services, discusses the year-long battle between fears and fundamentals.

Here’s an excerpt from the newsletter:

For the past year, we have been harping on the need to downplay fears and focus on fundamentals. Our point was that fundamentals were at least okay and might actually surprise the consensus to the upside. The fears were not unreasonable, but appeared to us to have low probabilities of occurring within our tactical time horizon. Thus, a total focus on the downside risks of fearsome outcomes (such as a U.S. recession, the Fiscal Cliff, the European crisis, or a China hard landing) could — and did — cause many investors to miss the opportunity to participate in a bull market.

Market returns were very good through Q3 and the S&P 500 led the way with a 16.4 percent total return. Midsized and smaller stocks were up about 14 percent and despite U.S. Dollar strength and European leadership’s determination to shoot themselves in the foot, EAFE was +10 percent and Emerging Markets +12 percent. Fixed Income returns weren’t bad either (although Treasury returns were only low single-digits), as “spread product” such as Corporates (+7.1 percent) and High Yield (+12.1 percent) continued to do well. Somewhat ominously, TIPS did much better than non-inflation protected Treasuries.

Read the entire newsletter here: 10629_Fall2012_MM_r4

Bob Leggett, CFA, is the Senior Investment Strategist at FirstMerit Wealth Management Services. Reach him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @firstmerit_mkt.

Increase in July payrolls may soothe recession fears

WASHINGTON ― U.S. job growth accelerated more than expected in July as private employers stepped up hiring, a development that could ease fears the economy was sliding into a fresh recession.

U.S. payrolls increased 117,000, the Labor Department said on Friday, above market expectations for an 85,000 gain. The unemployment rate dipped to 9.1 percent from 9.2 percent in June, but this was mostly the result of people leaving the labor force.

The payrolls count for May and June was revised to show 56,000 more jobs added than previously reported

The report was the first encouraging piece of economic data in some time.

Fears that U.S. economy might be sliding back into recession, coupled with Europe’s inability to tame its spreading debt crisis have roiled global financial markets. Economists see the odds of a recession as high as 40 percent.

U.S. stocks on Thursday suffered their worst sell-off in two years.

Top policymakers at the Federal Reserve will sift through the report when they meet on Tuesday but are not expected to announce any new measures to support the sputtering recovery.

The U.S. central bank has cut interest rates to zero and spent $2.3 trillion on bonds. Policymakers have said they want to see how the economy fares before taking any further action.