Sequestration, Euro jitters, gold down: And futures up?

Is the current week's massive stock market correction all over and done?


WASHINGTON, February 22, 2013 – Body blows keep hitting this market, and for most of this week, they’ve taken their toll. The March 1 sequestration deadline is fast approaching for the Federal government with no solution in sight, as the Republicans, amazingly, seem to be standing firm while the President demagogues against them for backing a plan that he, himself put in motion.

The dollar has been gaining strength, which, perversely, makes the market go down as our goods get more expensive on world markets; which also puts pressure on gold which has been looking more like a base metal to investors lately. The Philly Fed’s manufacturing numbers, reported this week, looked dismal. There are fresh worries about where the Euro will go. And Wal-Mart has been publicly nervous about its prospects, noting that the restoration of the full payroll tax in January has given consumers less to spend.

After a litany like this, it’s small wonder the market has been battered this week, with selling hitting a crescendo over the last two days and the VIX—a measure of market volatility—hitting highs we haven’t seen in months. So we’ll get more of the same when the market opens for its last trading day of the week, right? Wrong answer, apparently. As of this writing, half an hour before the close, Wall Street futures are pointing massively up. In fact, everything is looking good this morning, as everything except gold and precious metals—all of which reflects the dollar’s continuing current strength this morning at least.

It seems nuts. But so has much of 2013. Economic prospects really aren’t all that bullish. On the other hand, they aren’t really bearish either. That’s because nobody really knows what’s going to happen on or after March 1 because nobody really knows what the sequester will mean in the end.

The famous Aflac duck is on the mend, although his verbal abilities are temporarily impaired. Even a teleprompter won’t help here. (Image: Aflac, as artistically reimagined in PhotoShop by the Maven.)

The whole market is a little bit like the Aflac duck, currently on the mend and pictured artistically here and above in mid-recovery. Some stuff in the economy seems to be healing itself after an initial intervention. A return to normalcy may not be at hand, but we’re not exactly doomed tomorrow either, unless we failed to spot one of those rogue asteroids that have been hanging around our planet lately and threatening to cause some real, non-hockey stick global warming.

This morning’s market barometer:

We sold some of the stuff yesterday that we’ve been talking about, and likely will sell more today, at least into what appears to be the market’s imminent opening strength. REITs will be pared a bit, if only to take capital gains and then buy them back. We already dumped some of our fairly large holdings of Two Harbors (TWO), which currently yields an astonishing 17.7%. We may dump the rest today just because. But then we’ll likely get back in when the nonsense settles down, hopefully in time to collect the next dividend.

On the other hand, we’ll probably pick up more shares of the genuinely inexpensive Armour Residential REIT (ARR), a Florida-located, Maryland registered REIT that invests primarily in hybrid adjustable rate, adjustable rate and fixed rate residential mortgage backed securities issued or guaranteed by a United States Government-sponsored entity (GSE) like Fannie, Freddie, and so forth. In dollar terms, the stock is cheap ($6.52 a share at yesterday’s close), and its yield is a whopping 14.72%. Extra-added bonus: Unlike most REITs, ARR’s dividend is paid out monthly at the current rate of  8 cents per share. You do the math. You’re not getting this return on your money market fund.

ARR got cheap earlier this month after it sprang one of the usual unpleasant surprises REIT owners often have to deal with: a seemingly out-of-the-blue snap secondary issue of stock at a discounted price. Such offers, often not available to the general public, obviously dilute the value of each share, and each share’s current value plummets as a result, generally the day before—and often days after—the new shares are issued.

That said, the other side of the equation is the fact that the money raised by the snap secondaries is almost immediately deployed into more high-yielding investments, quickly putting to an end the dilutive effect as the actual size of the REIT’s portfolio grows.

REITs are a bit hard to value. PE ratios, currently quite low, aren’t much help. And often, the average REIT, particularly a new one, has negative earnings. Again, though, unlike normal stocks, REITs are usually evaluated by investors in terms of the net asset value of their holdings, not their PEs. Thus, net asset value and likely positive cash flow is what REIT investors look for and prize.

REITs are likely to continue to be good investments this year at least, with dividends either increasing from already incredibly high rates, or at least remaining level. At some point, when mortgage rates start going back up in a noticeable way, REITs will need to be re-evaluated, as their effective yields will start to decrease (due to the higher cost of money) as net asset values could also erode due to various factors. But right now, at least, the best of them are incredibly good values.

Note: the Maven generally doesn’t get involved in the huge commercial REITs such as Vornado (VNO) or Simon Property Group (SPG). These are well-respected if somewhat risky companies. But in the game of yield, they’re no better than the average, decent dividend-paying Dow Jones industrial stock (yields between 2-4% generally), so you’re more dependent on the capital gain potential of these stocks which we don’t regard as very high at the moment. With REITs like the ones we’ve mentioned, you can collect your huge dividends right now.

Anyhow, let’s sit back and enjoy what will be at least initially a nice, surprise ride upward this morning in the market. After that, who knows. We continue to take profits, but continue to be tempted by well-run, high-dividend REITs and MLPs along with utilities, major oils, and refineries—although the latter have had an awfully good run lately and may be sell candidates if you already hold them.

Have a good weekend, and we’ll be back on Monday.

Disclaimer: The author of this column maintains several active trading and investment portfolios and owns residential and investment real estate.

Any positions mentioned above describe this author’s own investment decisions and should not be construed as either buy or sell recommendations. The current market is highly treacherous and all investors travel at their own risk, so caution should be exercised at all times. 

Illustrations, charts, commentary, and analysis are only the author’s view of current or historical market activity and don’t constitute a recommendation to buy or sell any security or contract. Views, indications, and analysis aren’t necessarily predictive of any future market or government action. Rather they indicate the author’s opinion as to a range of possibilities that may occur going forward. 

References to other reporters, analysts, pundits, or commentators are illustrative only and do not necessarily represent an endorsement of such individuals’ points of view. If specific investment vehicles are mentioned in any ar500ticle under this column heading, the author will always fully disclose any active or contemplated investments in said vehicles.

Follow Terry on Twitter @terryp17

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Terry Ponick
Biographical Note: Dateline Award-winning music and theater critic for The Connection Newspapers and the Reston-Fairfax Times, Terry was the music critic for the Washington Times print edition (1994-2010) and online Communities (2010-2014). Since 2014, he has been the Business and Entertainment Editor for Communities Digital News (CDN). A former stockbroker and a writer and editor with many interests, he served as editor under contract from the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) and continues to write on science and business topics. He is a graduate of Georgetown University (BA, MA) and the University of South Carolina where he was awarded a Ph.D. in English and American Literature and co-founded one of the earliest Writing Labs in the country. Twitter: @terryp17