Lombardi: Stock Market Commentary & Forecasts, Financial & Economic Analysis Since 1986

Institutional Investors

Institutional investors are organizations that pool money for the goal of investing. These include mutual funds, pension funds and hedge funds. The advantage for a retail investor is that they get access to managers who are more informed and better skilled in their specific category. Retail investors also get the opportunity to place their funds in investments not always open to an individual. Individual investors are also able to get a diversified portfolio more easily, depending on the fund with which they’ve invested.

What the Smart Money Is Doing Now

By for Profit Confidential

Smart MoneyAccording to the Investment Company Institute, assets in institutional money market funds increased $17.19 billion to $1.69 trillion for the week ended on September 24, 2014. This was the biggest weekly increase in these money market funds in the last five months. (Source: Investment Company Institute web site, last accessed October 1, 2014.)

This is critical: when institutional investors sense the risk of a stock market sell-off in key stock indices, they tend to move their assets into highly liquid money market funds.

The sudden rush of institutional money into money market funds correlates with the National Association of Active Investment Mangers (NAAIM) Exposure Index below. It shows a clear decline in the amount of stocks active investment managers are holding in their portfolios.

NAAIM Exposure Index Chart

Chart courtesy of www.StockCharts.com

Since late 2014, we’ve seen investment managers reducing their exposure to key stock indices. While they were fully invested in early 2014, we see investment managers are only 59.76% invested in stocks right now. Is it just an anomaly they are selling stocks when money market funds are seeing an influx of cash? I hardly think so.

Finally, let’s look at small-cap stocks, as they are facing severe scrutiny. Key stock indices like the Russell 2000 that track the performance of small-caps are plunging. The Russell 2000 is now down more than 10% since it made new highs in March of 2014. This small-cap index has now broken down below its long-term uptrend, as illustrated in the chart below.

Russell 2000 Small Cap Index Chart

Chart courtesy of www.StockCharts.com

(Let’s remember that the trend is your friend—until it’s broken.)

Dear reader, all of this should be nothing new … Read More

Mature Company Serving Up Grand Slam Results

By for Profit Confidential

Mature Company Serves Up Grand Slam ResultsThere’s a lot the stock market has to deal with these days, but that’s par for the course. Uncertainty, risk, and fear are basic components of equities these days. But good businesses are good businesses and NIKE, Inc. (NKE) hit a grand slam with its latest quarterly earnings.

This company’s been doing well for a number of quarters and this is a mature brand we’re talking about, not a fast-growing startup.

The momentum began before the World Cup, culminated in its previous quarter, and now, the company just produced another top-notch batch of financial results. The stock shot nine points higher on the news to a new all-time record-high.

According to NIKE, its first fiscal quarter of 2015 (ended August 31, 2014) saw total sales grow 15% to $8.0 billion. The company also owns the “Converse” label and that division’s sales grew 16% in the most recent quarter to $575 million.

NIKE has a good amount of cash on its books and the company spent $819 million buying back its own shares in its first quarter. Since September of 2012, the company has spent approximately $4.2 billion buying back its own stock at an average cost of $67.74 a share, which, as it turns out, has been a very good investment (for the company and shareholders alike). About $3.8 billion over the next two years is left in the share repurchase authorization.

As for its bottom line, NIKE’s earnings grew 23% to $962 million, or 27% on diluted earnings per share to $1.09.

One of the things that NIKE does is it comments on future orders. According to the company, … Read More

Best Stocks Going Into 2015

By for Profit Confidential

Stocks Going Into 2015A lot of good companies with solid investment prospects going into 2015 are pushing new highs in an otherwise trendless stock market before the end of another reporting period.

Market leaders have kept their momentum the last few years and are likely to keep doing so as earnings reliability and dividends keep investors buying.

Microsoft Corporation (MSFT) continues to tick higher in this market. The position was $35.00 a share at the beginning of the year and is now just short of $50.00.

What many of these established blue chips offer are good balance sheets, reasonable financial growth, and good prospects for rising dividends going forward. A stock like Microsoft is a simple, large-cap solution that continues to work in a slow-growth environment.

There’s no need for an equity market portfolio to be complicated at this stage of the business cycle. Dividend income is key, because that’s what institutional investors are buying.

And the good news with blue chip leadership is that it comes with less investment risk. The business cycle is not yet mature enough to support itself and therefore the investing marketplace remains somewhat risk averse.

Or at the very least, many institutional portfolios comprise dividend-paying blue chips, peppered with the stock market’s more aggressive names, like Facebook, Inc. (FB) and Chipotle Mexican Grill, Inc. (CMG). (See “Where You Can Find Value in Stocks Right Now.”)

This is a marketplace where you don’t need to be in the riskiest sectors in order to capture most of the stock market’s potential capital gains. Dividend reinvestment remains an excellent way in which to build wealth in a low interest rate … Read More

Why These “Payroll” Stocks Look Interesting Now

By for Profit Confidential

Payroll Stocks Look Interesting NowVery soon we’re going to hear the earnings news straight from the horse’s mouth. Quarterly earnings are beginning to trickle in and even if you aren’t interested in the stocks that you don’t own, corporate reporting is the most important market intelligence you can review.

For years, Paychex, Inc. (PAYX) was one of those companies that continually reported great financial results. It was a growth stock during the technology bubble in the late 1990s, and it made a lot of money for shareholders.

The company hit a wall in terms of its double-digit growth shortly after the technology bubble burst, but what this payroll and benefits outsourcing company has to say about its business conditions is still material to equity investors today.

Recently, Paychex beat the Street by a penny and reported revenue growth in-line with Wall Street consensus.

The company’s first fiscal quarter of 2015 (ended August 31, 2014), saw its total sales grow nine percent to $667 million, with particular strength in human resources services revenues, which grew 17% comparatively to $244 million during the quarter.

Earnings grew five percent to $171 million (which is very strong profitability per dollar of sales). Earnings per share rose seven percent to $0.47.

Company management recently repurchased 900,000 shares for cancellation during its first fiscal quarter for a modest expenditure of $37.5 million.

The company finished the quarter with cash and total corporate investments of $956 million with no debt. In July, Paychex increased its quarterly dividend nine percent to $0.38 per share.

Overall, it was a pretty good quarter for this mature enterprise. Earnings for its upcoming quarter are expected … Read More

The Stocks to Watch as Small-Caps Stall

By for Profit Confidential

Stocks to Watch as Small-Caps StallDespite the choppy trading action before the end of the third quarter, a lot of the market’s best stocks are still ticking higher. And the positive trading action remains especially prevalent with large-caps and dividend-paying blue chips.

Big investors want earnings reliability and dividend income in a slow-growth environment. It’s a trend that began with the stock market’s breakout at the beginning of 2013 and it still has legs right into next year.

The Walt Disney Company (DIS) is a dividend-paying blue chip that I continue to like. With solid operating momentum (sales and earnings) in both media assets and theme parks, this stock has been consistently ticking higher since October of 2011.

It remains a great holding with solid prospects for more capital gains near-term. This stock is a perfect example of what institutional investors are buying—revenue and earnings growth combined with some income and reliability in regards to its outlook.

Another dividend-paying blue chip that just broke through to new record highs is PepsiCo, Inc. (PEP). This mature enterprise has been consistently bid by investors since February.

Still yielding almost three percent, the company’s food and snacks business is expected to keep its earnings momentum in the upcoming quarter. Management increased its quarterly dividends substantially this year and investors have been buying the story.

On any major price retrenchments, I do believe these two companies make for attractive long-term holdings.

Previously, we considered these two companies with the addition of NIKE, Inc. (NKE), Johnson & Johnson (JNJ), V.F. Corporation (VFC), Microsoft Corporation (MSFT), Kinder Morgan, Inc. (KMI), and 3M Company (MMM). (See “Eight Stocks to Beat the Street.”)… Read More

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