I’ll be honest, I did not see “Helicopter Ben” dropping more electronically printed cash on the markets last week. Did I expect some form of quantitative easing (QE) to occur at some moment in 2012? Absolutely… everyone did. Yet I genuinely believed that the Federal Reserve would save “shock-n-awe” mortgage-bond purchases for a date shortly after the election.
Sadly, there is little to no evidence that an open-ended program of purchasing bonds with money that didn’t exist before will reduce stubbornly high unemployment. Indeed, the overwhelming majority of economists have gone on record to explain that QE is unlikely to help the economy much at all, let alone increase company willingness to ramp up hiring.
Still, there are a number of positives and negatives that may occur alongside open-ended bond purchasing. On the positive side, the central banks around the world have been successful at reflating asset prices. U.S. common stocks, REITs, high yield corporates, U.S. treasuries — a multitude of asset classes are at multi-year highs. Moreover, the lower bond yields that the central banks are fighting to maintain appear to have put a floor underneath housing. In sum, the positive in QE may be an increase in the net worth of investors, homeowners and families.
On the other hand, the Fed is counting on the ”wealth effect.” Bernanke hopes that consumers will borrow and spend because they may become more comfortable about their net worth. The problem with that assumption is the reality that the Fed’s actions have also pushed food and energy prices much higher; consumers may need to spend their “excess wealth” at the grocery store and at the gas tank.
Naturally, central bank leaders do not wish to address commodity price inflation. Those who would engineer a bold economic recovery are not likely to take the fall for gasoline prices doubling from their 2009 lows. And while energy stocks have been major laggards over the last 18 months, one should not overlook QE-inspired outperformance by SPDR Select Energy (NYSEARCA:XLE). In fact, energy stocks experienced a number of periods of QE-propelled relative strength since early in 2009.
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Quantitative easing (QE) is only one of many reasons you should expect continued relative strength from XLE as well as energy-heavy commodity funds like PowerShares DB Commodity (NYSEARCA:DBC). Another reason? Middle East unrest.
Israel is seriously considering an attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities. “Protests” outside U.S. embassies throughout the Middle East and Africa have already turned violent, and could lead to lawlessness. The potential for oil production to be adversely impacted is unusually high.
How might an aggressive investor invest in probable OPEC disruptions? He/she might invest in a leading non-OPEC country ETF like Market Vectors Russia (NYSEARCA:RSX) or iShares MSCI Canada (NYSEARCA:EWC). There are also direct oil plays like PowerShares DB Oil (NYSEARCA:DBO). In all cases, I would set a buy price 4%-5% off recent 52-week highs.
Open-ended bond purchases via QE as well as Middle East attacks should be enough reason for Energy ETFs to hit your radar screen. Nevertheless, here’s one more reason to consider energy-related ETFs: China.
Premier Wen Jiabao recently described his country in terms of having plenty of monetary and/or fiscal stimulus at its disposal. (Note: And they don’t have to print money to do it!) Wen went on to say that China would be preemptive with its policy to propel stable economic growth, describing current cash in a fiscal stabilization fund as well as infrastructure projects in the works; any infrastructure project would require petroleum products to execute properly.
Granted, share prices for oil exploration ETFs as well as oil exporting nation ETFs have already appreciated rapidly. With China still in the early stages of stimulus possibilities, however, one might look for an opportunistic pullback. Use a 4%-5% pullback or a 50-day moving average for entry into a fund like iShares DJ Oil and Gas (BATS:IEO).
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Disclosure: ETF Expert is a web log (”blog”) that makes the world of ETFs easier to understand. Gary Gordon, MS, CFP is the president of Pacific Park Financial, Inc., a Registered Investment Adviser with the SEC. Gary Gordon, Pacific Park Financial, Inc, and/or its clients may hold positions in the ETFs, mutual funds, and/or any investment asset mentioned above. The commentary does not constitute individualized investment advice. The opinions offered herein are not personalized recommendations to buy, sell or hold securities. At times, issuers of exchange-traded products compensate Pacific Park Financial, Inc. or its subsidiaries for advertising at the ETF Expert web site. ETF Expert content is created independently of any advertising relationships.