Will Darwinism return to the markets?

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This post is a guest contribution by Bennet Sedacca*, President of Atlantic Advisors Asset Management.

As regular readers know, I have had a cautious, even bearish view, towards equities and credit over the past couple of years. The handwriting was on the wall and both equities and credit seemed woefully overvalued. That being said, our longstanding target for the S&P 500 of 750-800 was reached this autumn, a level that has held even in the face of awful economic news.

I do believe an ultimate low of 500-600 is possible, but most of the pain (in terms of price, not time) has been faced. Some people will tell you that the bad news is now ‘priced in’ for the S&P 500, but I strongly disagree.

According to S&P, their “top down/macro” earnings estimate for 2009 has fallen all the way to $42 per share. This is in direct contrast to the cumulative “bottom up/stock-by-stock” estimate of $70 or so from Wall Street analysts. The Wall Street folks have been overly optimistic for 20 years or more while the S&P has a habit of being on the mark as they don’t have an axe to grind.

My point is that while the S&P 500 has moved from nearly 1,600 to a recent 860 (a 45%+ decline) it remains at a healthy 22 times S&P’s earnings estimate for 2009. Bulls will tell you that the market is cheap because even if the $42 earnings number is correct, these are “trough” earnings or the low point for the cycle. I will concede that even if the $42 IS a trough number, the market is not cheap on any other metric, price to book, dividend yields, etc. In addition, P/E ratios based on trough estimates assume that earnings will rebound sharply once the bear market is over, but this is certainly not our outlook.

I must concede that the easy call, being out of stocks or underweight stocks in general, has been made. For 2009 and forward, a general call on the overall market will not be as easy, but good money can be made in company selection and sector rotation.

While equities in the US suffered 40% losses for 2008, corporate bonds and other credit sensitive securities got killed (some “core” fixed income managers were down as much as 25% for the year). The pity about 2008 for most investors is that they were let down by what was supposed to save them – DIVERSIFICATION. The year 2008 will be remembered as the year of the “1 beta event”, a year where there was nowhere to hide, except in Treasury notes and bonds.

We fully expected the “1 beta event” which explains why we were nearly void of equities (for clients that allow us to go to a 0% weighting) from April until our buy in the 750-775 area in the S&P in November. While we are not close to being bullish about stocks in general or even credit in general, I believe that pockets of value are beginning to develop in some risky asset classes.

I also believe that we will enter a period of Darwinism where the best managed companies pick up the pieces of poorly managed companies that will likely fail. I believe that Darwinism will occur at the national, corporate, municipal and individual level.

Click here for Bennet’s full report.

* President of Atlantic Advisors Asset Management, Bennet Sedacca brings with him more than 26 years of securities industry experience. From 1981 to 1997 he worked for several major investment banks, specializing in high-grade fixed-income securities marketing, trading and portfolio management. In 1997 he formed Sedacca Capital Management focusing on portfolio management for high-net worth individuals and small to mid-sized institutions.

Bennet graduated from Rutgers University in 1982 with a degree in Economics.

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2 comments to Will Darwinism return to the markets?

  • Daniel Mueller

    Prieur

    Happy New Year and many thanks for your great work on this insightful blog all over the year.

  • Frank W

    I notice that Sedacca is getting more bullish. When the S&P 500 fell out of bed last year, he dropped his estimate to 400 as a putative bottom. Then it rallied and he rallied back to 500 as an ultimate low. Now that the market has stabilized and is trying to rally further, he is leaning toward 600. I could well be wrong, but I still think the S&P 500 will approach but hold 400. I can’t remember clearly which, but some of these banks complained that they were forced under threat by Paulson to take TARP hand-outs. I think JP Morgan was one of those banks, who said it didn’t need and didn’t want the handout. Despite experiencing steep drops themselves, small cap stocks have performed much much better than large cap stocks during 2008. The reason is that small cap stocks do not need to borrow large amounts of money from city-center banks, which aren’t lending. Large caps have to pay around 22% on their bonds nowadays. This kills their profits. How is this situation going to change in 2009? Who’s going to buy mortgage-backed securities? Sector rotation! From what to what? Most investors don’t trade for two good reasons: 1) they are investors not traders & 2) trading is expensive both financially and emotionally.

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