Are These The Greatest Success Stories In Europe?

By: David Sterman of Street Authority

It's been five years since the Financial Times first made use of one of the less flattering economic acronyms: PIIGS. Back then, Portugal, Ireland, Italy, Greece and Spain were seen as economic basket cases, and it was widely assumed that one or several of them would eventually default on their massive debt burdens.

While such an event has yet to pass, Greece remains quite sickly, and Portugal and Italy continue to wrestle with profound economic dislocation. To varying degrees, these countries have failed to embrace the badly-needed economic reforms that are essential to sow the seeds of a lasting economic recovery.

Yet despite heavy odds, Ireland and Spain are clearly on the comeback trail. Thanks to broad-based reform packages, their economies have begun to turn the corner. And with the aid of a very competitive currency, their futures are looking far brighter than most would have suspected just a few years ago. For investors, exposure to these dynamic turnaround stories can be had through a pair of country-specific exchange-traded funds (ETFs).

Ireland Is Back In Business

Ireland and its citizens are remarkably resilient. They have been through myriad crises over the past two centuries, and always manage to bounce back. Most recently, they saw the country's economy crash and burn in the economic crisis of 2008-2009. Irish banks eventually grew so weak that a wave of bankruptcies were a real possibility. By 2012, unemployment in the country had risen to nearly 15%. Continue reading "Are These The Greatest Success Stories In Europe?"

Investors: Prepare For A Bumpy Earnings Season

By: David Sterman of Street Authority

The chickens are coming home to roost. After a remarkable eight-month rally in the dollar, many U.S. firms are finally feeling the pinch.

In the near-term, investors need to brace for a cautious earnings season. Yet, as I'll explain in a moment, there are still ample reasons for long-term optimism, especially when the dollar loses momentum and/or the global economy starts to rebound in earnest.

The strong dollar, which blunts the competitiveness of American firms, both at home and abroad, will have a clear impact on first-quarter results and forward outlooks. According to FactSet Research, 85 companies in the SP 500 have already warned of a Q1 profit shortfall, while just 16 companies have pre-announced that results will be better than expected. If that figure of 16 holds, it will be the lowest number since the first quarter of 2006. Continue reading "Investors: Prepare For A Bumpy Earnings Season"

Why Eurozone Growth Could Trigger A U.S. Budget Crisis

By David Sterman of Street Authority

At this point in President Obama's first term, the world looked very different.

The still-anemic economy made it hard to fathom how we would ever get out from under a crushing government debt load. Government spending far surpassed revenue and concerns grew that our key financial backers (such as Chinese bondholders) would pull the rug out from under us.

Fast forward to 2015, and the notion that our national debt is any sort of real problem has simply vanished. Sure, the Republican party has been recently threatening government agency shutdowns, but this time the issue is immigration and not our nation's unstable finances. The percentage of Americans that believe that deficit reduction should be Washington's top priority has slid to a recent 64%, from 72% in 2013, according to a recent survey conducted by Pew Research.

However, events across the Atlantic Ocean could bring this issue right back onto the front pages. Continue reading "Why Eurozone Growth Could Trigger A U.S. Budget Crisis"

Dividend Investors Rejoice: Falling Markets Mean Rising Yields

By: David Sterman of Street Authority

In the early stages of the bull market, investors flocked to companies with steady and growing dividends. Yet, since the market began to think about an eventual rise in interest rates back in May 2013, this asset class has lost a bit of luster.

The concerns were quite logical: A steady rise in fixed-income yields naturally reduces the appeal of relatively riskier stocks.

But the emerging economic crisis in Europe changes everything. It's increasingly apparent that European economic troubles are here to stay for quite some time, which is likely to keep a lid on global interest rates. It's a bit of a goldilocks scenario for the U.S. economy, as low rates will help our economic recovery to expand without a rate rise headwind.

You would suspect that the pullback in interest rates would help provide support to dividend-paying stocks, but many of them haven't been able to escape the recent market rout. If you've been tracking divided payers but found their dividend yields to be too skimpy, you're in luck. The market slump pushed many 2% yielders into the 3% range, many 3% yielders into the 4% range, etc. In the context of falling fixed income yields, such dividend yields are now comparatively appealing again. Continue reading "Dividend Investors Rejoice: Falling Markets Mean Rising Yields"

The Winners And Losers Of The Perfect Storm Hitting Oil Prices

By: David Sterman of Street Authority

When it comes to commodities, you'll usually find a set of countervailing forces that keep prices at an equilibrium. Yet when it comes to oil, all of the factors behind price swings are heading in the same direction.  As oil prices head lower yet, investors will feel both pain and gain -- depending on the make-up of their portfolios.

A Perfect Storm

For much of the past year, a barrel of West Texas Intermediate Crude fetched around $100 a barrel on the spot market. Yet since late July, a series of factors have conspired to push prices lower:

-- A rally in the dollar, which tends to push all commodity prices lower.

-- A further slowing in the European, Japanese and Chinese economies, which crimps demand.

-- A surge in output in Libya to 800,000 barrels a day, up from 240,000 barrels a day in June amid civil war skirmishes near key oil installations.

-- An oil production surge in Russia, which is back at peak post-Soviet era levels.

-- A rapidly rising output in Kurdistan as new key oil installations come on line.

-- OPEC's recent inability to curtail production as much as the market had hoped, leading to talk that this cartel may be weakening as market share becomes more important than pricing discipline.

Of course, the elephant in the room is the United States, which is single-handedly disrupting the global supply and demand trends on a massive scale. U.S. oil production has already surged from five million barrels a day in 2008 to 8.5 million barrels a day in August 2014, according to the Energy Information Administration. The more we produce, the less oil we import. Analysts at Citigroup note that oil imports are now nine million barrels per day lower than they were in 2007. It’s important to note that some of the reduction is due to a drop in consumption as we now drive more fuel-efficient cars. Continue reading "The Winners And Losers Of The Perfect Storm Hitting Oil Prices"