On time, on budget! In Tuesday’s blog, I suggested the stock market was due for a bounce in the wake of Hurricane Sandy. The forecast may have seemed a little eccentric, but here we are. After a mixed showing Wednesday (the first day of trading after the storm), stocks surged Thursday, with the Dow closing 136 points in the green.
Let’s be clear. Sandy was a terrible tragedy for folks who suffered the full force of the hurricane’s wrath. Our hearts go out to all those who lost loved ones as a result of the storm, or who saw homes or businesses ravaged. It will take a long time for those wounds to heal.
As investors, however, we can feel a degree of relief that Sandy didn’t wreak as much damage as had been feared beforehand. Experts estimate that insured losses may run as high as $20 billion—less than the $23 billion (in today’s dollars) that Hurricane Andrew cost in 1992, and less than half the toll exacted by Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
So the market is in rally mode.
Now we look forward to the election. I read the same polls you do. They all point to a photo finish in the presidential race, as well as tight margins in the battle for control of the two houses of Congress.
Given the near-certainty that neither party will hold all the chips after the election, I think the market will be focusing less on who wins what office and more on what the victors say after the results are known. If we hear a note of conciliation — a willingness to buckle down promptly and address, in bipartisan fashion, the nation’s deep-seated fiscal problems — the headline stock indexes could break out to new multiyear highs.
On the other hand, partisan sniping and triumphalistic posturing would be a bad omen for 2013. Bottom line: Stay positive from a near-term trading standpoint, but be prepared to reel in your bets at a moment’s notice, if necessary.
In company news, we had a downbeat Q3 earnings report from Barrick Gold (NYSE:ABX). The Toronto-based miner reported a steeper drop in production than analysts were expecting and a sharper than expected increase in costs. Consequently, operating cash flow plunged 33%.
Further complicating matters, ABX announced a delay in the projected opening date (and higher estimated development costs) for the company’s blockbuster Pascua-Lama mine, located along the border between Chile and Argentina. P-L is now expected to begin production during the second half of 2014, rather than by mid-2014.
These setbacks don’t erase Barrick’s investment merit, but they put a dent in it. I’m lowering my buy limit for ABX, and from a new base, I project a total return of 15%-25% in the coming year — enough, on a risk-adjusted basis, to make the stock worth holding at current levels.
Another outfit that has turned in disappointing Q3 earnings in recent days is NuStar Energy (NYSE:NS), a master limited partnership in our Incredible Dividend Machine. NS management plans to issue a strategic update within the next few weeks, detailing the company’s plans for 2013 and, specifically, the outlook for the quarterly cash distribution.
Pending that update, I’m putting NS on “hold” status. The units look too cheap to sell at the current price, but the risk of a distribution cut makes any significant near-term appreciation unlikely.
P.S.: On the bright side, drug distributor AmeriSource Bergen (NYSE:ABC), one of our World-Class Franchises, posted great earnings today. The company also boosted its dividend a whopping 62%, and the stock rewarded us by hitting a new high for the year.