Opinion

John Wasik

After Detroit, muni bonds are safe, but no slam dunk

Jul 30, 2013 14:29 UTC

CHICAGO (Reuters) – Despite the Detroit bankruptcy and record sell-off of municipal bonds this year, most top-quality “munis” are safe to hold.

If you are a conservative, buy-and-hold investor who wants to temper risk, you might want to stick to the highest-rated bonds from states and localities that do not have looming pension or other payment problems.

Those quality munis offer decent yields and their prices are even more attractive in the wake of the Detroit bankruptcy.

Reacting to higher interest rates and the high-profile troubles of some states and cities, investors have been pulling out of muni bonds and the mutual funds and exchange-traded funds (ETFs) that hold them. They withdrew $1.2 billion out of U.S. municipal bond mutual funds in the week ending July 24, according to Lipper, a Thomson-Reuters company; more than $20 billion has been withdrawn in the second quarter of this year.

Muni-bond ETFs have taken their lumps of late because of the sell-off. The iShares S&P National AMT-Free Muni Bond ETF (MUB), which invests in an index representing the U.S. muni-bond market, for example, is down 4 percent for the year through July 26 and off more than 6 percent over the past three months. It is yielding nearly 2 percent.

Why emerging markets still offer good stock bargains

Jul 22, 2013 18:05 UTC

CHICAGO (Reuters) – There’s been a lot to grumble about when it comes to Europe and emerging markets this year.

Most of Western and Southern Europe is still trying to dig out of a recession. Economic growth has eased in developing countries. And when the Federal Reserve hinted that it might back off its bond-buying program recently, equities in most emerging markets went into a funk.

But attractive valuations and some palpable signs of rebounds are boosting the fortunes of shares of non-U.S. companies, particularly in the emerging markets. If you don’t have any stake in them, it’s a good time to buy.

Column: Gold still not the best inflation fighter

Jul 16, 2013 14:45 UTC

CHICAGO (Reuters) – As U.S. interest rates have risen, owning gold has been a loser’s game for anyone is trying to hedge against inflation.

Gold isn’t a smart inflation hedge, but many people have been using it that way because they think they have few alternatives.

A low-inflation rate has been punishing to gold investors for the past three months, and the Consumer Price Index has been running well under 2 percent this year. As evidence, the leading gold bullion vehicle, the SPDR Gold Trust ETF, has lost nearly a quarter of its value over the past year as investors continue to sell out of their positions. It was down 23 percent year to date through July 12.

Gold still not the best inflation fighter

Jul 16, 2013 07:59 UTC

CHICAGO, July 16 (Reuters) – As U.S. interest rates have
risen, owning gold has been a loser’s game for anyone is trying
to hedge against inflation.

Gold isn’t a smart inflation hedge, but many people have
been using it that way because they think they have few
alternatives.

A low-inflation rate has been punishing to gold investors
for the past three months, and the Consumer Price Index has been
running well under 2 percent this year. As evidence, the leading
gold bullion vehicle, the SPDR Gold Trust ETF, has lost
nearly a quarter of its value over the past year as investors
continue to sell out of their positions. It was down 23 percent
year to date through July 12.

Column: European stocks beckon as EU turns around

Jul 9, 2013 14:08 UTC

CHICAGO (Reuters) – Buried in a recent avalanche of anxiety over the Federal Reserve and U.S. bond and stock selloffs was continuing good news about European growth.

With euro zone growth expected to return in the second half of this year, buying opportunities abound after the recent global stock retreat, according to Standard & Poor’s Capital IQ analyst Robert Quinn. He expects “fragile growth” by the end of this year as businesses start spending again.

The Continent is still a long way from safe-harbor territory, but its recovery may be on course. A reliable growth gauge known as the Markit’s Flash Euro Zone Composite Purchasing Managers’ Index rose this month to its highest level since March 2012, topping forecasts. In addition, the United States and the European Union on Monday began talks on a free-trade agreement that could boost American and E.U. gross domestic product by $100 billion annually.

European stocks beckon as EU turns around

Jul 9, 2013 11:59 UTC

CHICAGO, July 9 (Reuters) – Buried in a recent avalanche of
anxiety over the Federal Reserve and U.S. bond and stock
selloffs was continuing good news about European growth.

With euro zone growth expected to return in the second half
of this year, buying opportunities abound after the recent
global stock retreat, according to Standard & Poor’s Capital IQ
analyst Robert Quinn. He expects “fragile growth” by the end of
this year as businesses start spending again.

The Continent is still a long way from safe-harbor
territory, but its recovery may be on course. A reliable growth
gauge known as the Markit’s Flash Euro Zone Composite Purchasing
Managers’ Index rose this month to its highest level since March
2012, topping forecasts. In addition, the United States and the
European Union on Monday began talks on a free-trade agreement
that could boost American and E.U. gross domestic product by
$100 billion annually.

Column: Why higher interest rates are bullish for U.S. home sales

Jul 2, 2013 12:15 UTC

CHICAGO (Reuters) – If you’re weary of watching the stock and bond market get dyspepsia over the Federal Reserve’s possible pullback of its easy money policy, turn your gaze to the U.S. home market. Rising interest rates could be a catalyst to boost sales and prices.

In January, the average 30-year mortgage rate, as tracked by Freddie Mac, was 3.34 percent. In the most recent survey, the rate jumped to 4.46 percent, up more than half a percentage point from the week before.

While that is still a bargain by historical standards – the benchmark rate averaged about 8 percent in 2000 – the summer buying season combined with the possible end of the Fed’s easing policy will move millions of buyers into the home market.

Why higher interest rates are bullish for U.S. home sales

Jul 2, 2013 12:00 UTC

CHICAGO, July 2 (Reuters) – If you’re weary of watching the
stock and bond market get dyspepsia over the Federal Reserve’s
possible pullback of its easy money policy, turn your gaze to
the U.S. home market. Rising interest rates could be a catalyst
to boost sales and prices.

In January, the average 30-year mortgage rate, as tracked by
Freddie Mac, was 3.34 percent. In the most recent survey, the
rate jumped to 4.46 percent, up more than half a percentage
point from the week before.

While that is still a bargain by historical standards – the
benchmark rate averaged about 8 percent in 2000 – the summer
buying season combined with the possible end of the Fed’s easing
policy will move millions of buyers into the home market.

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