Another Day, Another Euro Crisis

Of the many ways in which Silvio Berlusconi thought he could be forced from power, rising Italian bond yields was probably not high on his list. Even his titillating escapades seemed to have been insufficient to persuade the Italian electorate he should leave. But it turns out 7%+ bond yields, with €300Bn of new borrowing required in 2012, is the the breaking point. Less than a month ago the focus was on Greece and building a secure firewall with the EFSF to prevent contagion spreading to Spain or Italy. Now here we are, and we’re running out of unthinkable developments.

It’s not that Europe doesn’t possess the savings to fund profligate countries while they adopt the German fiscal model. It’s just that the money is in the wrong place – northern Europe not Southern.

So another test of equity investors’ fortitude looms. The S&P 500 (SPY) will once again shift from greed to fear. But it’s always worth looking at the fundamentals of the companies you own. For example, in our Hedged Dividend Capture Stategy, McDonalds (MCD) reported 5.5% Year-on-Year sales growth in restaurants open more than a year. Even in Europe sales grew 4.8%. It yields 3% (more than 1% over ten year U.S. treasuries) and could grow earnings at 10% next year. Kraft (KFT) just revised up their 2011 guidance from $2.25 to $2.27 and continues to exploit synergies from their Cadbury’s acquisition. KFT is also likely to grow at double digits as it prepares to break itself up into two companies and yields 3.3%, more than 1.3% over ten-year U.S. treasuries. The Federal government wants your tax dollars, but really doesn’t want your savings. That’s the message of today’s bond yields.

The near term is usually uncertain, and especially so right now. But the prospects of these and other companies remain solid.

Range Resources and the Pennsylvania Superior Court

Yesterday a court ruling in Pennsylvania cast doubt on the title of thousands of shale gas leases, as reported in Bloomberg . Range Resources (RRC) is as heavily invested in the Marcellus shale area, which includes Pennsylvania, as any other company out there. The company is well run and we like the management. The stock has also been exceptionally buoyant recently on takeover rumors. However, this news will likely put any potential acquisition on hold until the title issues are resolved, either by the Pennsylvania State Supreme Court or through state legislation. We are not currently invested in RRC although had been invested until recently when the U.S. Geologic Survey revised down their forecast of total reserves available in the Marcellus (which runs from NY State to Tennessee). This may create an opportunity to invest at lower prices once the story has had some time to play out.