Saturday, November 17, 2018

The Closing Bell

The Closing Bell


I am taking next week off.  Back on the 26th.

Statistical Summary

   Current Economic Forecast
2018 estimates (revised)

Real Growth in Gross Domestic Product                          1.5-2.5%
                        Inflation                                                                          +1.5-2%
                        Corporate Profits                                                                10-15%

   Current Market Forecast
            Dow Jones Industrial Average

                                    Current Trend (revised):  
                                    Short Term Trading Range                      21691-26646
Intermediate Term Uptrend                     13803-30008
Long Term Uptrend                                  6410-29847
2018     Year End Fair Value                                   13800-14000

            Standard & Poor’s 500

                                    Current Trend (revised):
                                    Short Term Uptrend                                     2705-3476
                                    Intermediate Term Uptrend                         1318-3133                                                          Long Term Uptrend                                     905-3065
2018 Year End Fair Value                                       1700-1720         

Percentage Cash in Our Portfolios

Dividend Growth Portfolio                          59%
            High Yield Portfolio                                     55%
            Aggressive Growth Portfolio                        55%

The Trump economy is a neutral for equity valuations.   The data flow this week was mixed: above estimates: October retail sales, the October small business optimism index, September business inventories/sales, the November NY and Kansas City Feds’ manufacturing indices; below estimates: weekly mortgage and purchase applications, weekly jobless claims, October industrial production, the November Philly Fed manufacturing index, October export/import prices; in line with estimates: month to date retail chain store sales, October CPI.

In addition, the primary indicators were mixed: October retail sales (+) and October industrial production (-).  I am giving this week a neutral rating.  Score: in the last 162 weeks, fifty-three were positive, seventy-two negative and thirty-seven neutral.

Overseas, the economic data was poor. So the US economy is not being helped by any global growth.
There was were several other economic/political developments that could impact my forecast. 

(1)   the price of oil is getting hammered.  However, this time around the ‘unmitigated positive’ crowd is nowhere to be seen.  To be sure, technology continues to bring down the lifting cost of oil.  So the damage this time around could be less, depending on how low prices go.  On the other hand, a large percentage of high risk bank loans are to the oil companies.  Meaning insolvencies in this industry still have the potential to cause heartburn in the credit markets,

(2)    Brexit and the Italy/EU standoff are taking their toll on the EU economy.  The hope here is that both of these difficult situations get resolved in a positive way and Europe just experiences some temporary economic indigestion.  The downside, of course, they lead to major economic disruptions---and all that implies for the global economy,     
My forecast (which has changed):

A number of Trump policy changes should have a positive impact on what is now a below average long term secular economic growth rate.  These include less government regulation with possible minor help from the recent agreements with Mexico/Canada/South Korea. There is the potential that (1) Trump’s trade negotiations with Japan, the EU and China and (2) possible spending cuts could also lead to a further improvement in our long term secular growth rate.      

However, the explosion in deficit spending, especially at a time when the government should be running a surplus, is a secular negative.  My thesis on this issue is that at the current high level of national debt, the cost of servicing the debt more than offsets (1) any stimulative benefit of tax cuts and (2) the secular positives of less government regulation and fairer trade [at least on the agreements that have been renegotiated].

On a cyclical basis, while the second quarter numbers were definitely better than the first, third quarter stats showed slower growth and current expectations for the fourth quarter are even lower.  Perhaps more concerning is the forward sales/earnings guidance from leaders in major sectors of the economy suggesting a further slowdown in growth that is more pronounced than current consensus.

So my current assumption remains intact---an economy growing slowly---but with an increasing risk of recession.  The odds are not high enough at this point to change my forecast but they are increasing.

       The negatives:

(1)   a vulnerable global banking [financial] system.  

From last week:

I re-introduced this subject a couple of weeks ago, altering it slightly to incorporate the entire financial system, specifically the shadow banking system [nonbank loans from hedge funds, finance companies, etc.].  The reason being [a] the tremendous growth in this segment of the financial market [b] the weak credit standards currently demanded by the lending institutions, i.e. a lot of nonrecourse and covenant lite loans, and [c] the use of derivatives by the lenders to hedge their bets.  Recall that this was one of the main problems in the 2008/2009 crisis.  I am not suggesting that conditions can deteriorate as significantly as they did back then.  But they don’t have to in order to result in liquidity/solvency problems.

IMF sounds alarm on leveraged lending (must read):

While investors didn’t appreciate Maxine Waters’ comments regarding bank deregulation [or the ceasing/reversal there of], I applaud, at least, the notion of not allowing banks to regain their former freedom to take irresponsible risks and have a taxpayer put to bail them out if things go awry.  On the other hand, if anyone is capable of proposing something stupid…………….

(2)   fiscal/regulatory policy. 

Trade remains a matter of concern, especially as it applies to China.  Signs are everywhere that even the prospect of a tariff war is causing economic indigestion.  The dilemma, at least as I see it, is that Trump, rightfully so, is attempting to correct a number of post WWII themes [protecting Europe so that it could recover; allowing China to get away with egregious policies {theft of intellectual property} so that it could move into the twentieth century].  Those policies were [a] the right thing to do and [b] very successful.  But the more that they succeeded, the more disadvantageous the US economic position became.  So now the US is faced with enduring some short term pain to correct these inequities or take the long term pain of being the rest of the world’s patsy.  My vote is the former, but, as I noted, it can’t be achieved without consequences.

Fiscal gridlock is now the favored scenario for the next two years.  To which I say ‘amen’.  The GOP has saddled the government/economy/taxpayer with enough irresponsible deficit/debt creation to last for a long time.  My hope is that the economy doesn’t sink into a recession which will make matters worse.

My bottom line: once the national debt reaches a certain size in relation to GDP [and the US has already attained that dubious honor] the cost of servicing that debt offsets any benefits to growth that might come from tax cuts/infrastructure spending. (must read)

Compare the cost of post 9/11 wars with the total debt computation from the prior link.

(3)   the potential negative impact of central bank money printing:  The key point here is that [a] the Fed has inflated bank reserves far beyond any comparable level in history and [b] while this hasn’t been an economic problem to date, {i} it still has to withdraw all those reserves from the system without creating any disruptions---a task that I regularly point out it has proven inept at in the past and {ii} it has created  asset bubbles in the stock market as well as in the auto, student and mortgage loan markets.  

The latest data on household debt.

The only central bank/monetary policy headline this week was a speech by Powell in which in which he reiterated the Fed’s positive outlook for the economy and its intent to continue QT.

You know my bottom line: the unwinding of QE will have little effect on the US economy but will reverse the gross mispricing and misallocation of assets.

Another ear burner from Jeffery Snider (must read):

The Fed’s panic trigger.

(4)   geopolitical risks: 

Brexit appears to have reached a boiling point.  An agreement has been made between the May government and the EU, but chaos reigns inside the UK political class.  I have no clue how this turns out; but the potential is there for major economic disruptions,

To make matters a bit more interesting, the Italian government stuck its finger in the EU’s eye, refusing to amend its budget that includes a deficit that is well outside EU guidelines.  Again, I have no idea how this situation resolves itself; but I do think that there is no positive alternatives save the EU folding.  If Greece is a guide, that is not going to happen.

(5)   economic difficulties around the globe.  The stats this week were negative:

[a], Q3 EU flash GDP was in line; German flash GDP was below estimates; October EU industrial production slightly better than anticipated but auto sales were terrible; October UK retail sales were awful.

[b] October Chinese fixed asset investment were above forecasts; industrial production in line; retail sales below projections; credit growth slowed dramatically,

[c] Q3 Japanese GDP was well below expectations.

      As I noted earlier, this is not a picture of economic health/growth.

            Bottom line:  on a secular basis, the US is growing at an historically below average secular rate although I assume decreased regulation, the likely successful completion of the NAFTA 2.0 agreement and Trump’s spending cuts (assuming implementation) will improve that rate somewhat.

            However, these potential long term positives are being offset by a totally irresponsible fiscal policy.  To be sure, the aforementioned spending cuts would be a great start to correcting this problem.  Further, political gridlock could shut down any new tax cut/spending increase measures.  For that, we should all be thankful.  But until evidence proves otherwise, my thesis is that cost of servicing the current level of the national debt and budget deficit is simply too high to allow any meaningful pick up in long term secular economic growth derived from deregulation or the current somewhat improved trade regime.

Cyclically, growth in the second quarter sped up, helped along by the tax cuts.  And removing the uncertainty of no NAFTA treaty should help return economic conditions to what they were before.  On the other hand, trade fears (China) and a weakening global economy point to slower growth if not outright recession.  As I noted above, that is not my forecast at the moment; but the risk of such an outcome is increasing.

The Market-Disciplined Investing

The Averages (DJIA 25413, S&P 2736) posted a second day of positive follow through after filling the late October gap open.   The Dow ended below its 100 DMA (now resistance) and above its 200 DMA (now support).  The S&P finished below its 100 DMA (now resistance), below its 200 DMA, (now resistance) but above the lower boundary of its short term uptrend.

Both the indices continued to develop a reverse head and shoulders formation---the technical maxim being that this pattern is a sign of higher prices.  However, as I noted Friday, (1) on the one hand, a good deal more upside is needed to complete that formation, but (2) on the other, the pin action seems to be setting up for the seasonal Santa Claus rally.

Volume fell, breadth was mixed---neither a plus on an up day.

The VIX fell another 8 ½ %, but remains technically strong.  However, with the latest sell off, it has now made two consecutive lower highs and lower lows---a potential plus for stocks.

The long bond was rose.  While it is still below both moving averages and in a short term downtrend, it continues to build a base very short term (suggesting no further downside).

The dollar was down ¾ %, but remains technically strong.  I continue to believe that UUP will move higher as long as the dollar funding problem persists. 

GLD was up ¾ %, finishing above its 100 DMA (now resistance; if it remains there through the close on Tuesday, it will revert to support).

 Bottom line: the Averages continued to build a positive reverse head and shoulders pattern.  As long as this persists, the odds of a year-end Santa Claus rally increase.

            TLT and UUP maintained their strong patterns (bonds down, the dollar up). GLD is again toying with its 100 DMA; but a lot more is needed before this chart is anything but ugly.         
            Friday in the charts.

Fundamental-A Dividend Growth Investment Strategy

The DJIA and the S&P are well above ‘Fair Value’ (as calculated by our Valuation Model), the improved regulatory environment and the potential pluses from trade and spending cuts notwithstanding.  At the moment, the important factors bearing on Fair Value (corporate profitability and the rate at which it is discounted) are:

(1)   the extent to which the economy is growing.  Economic activity in the third quarter slowed and everyone pretty much agrees that it will do so again in the fourth quarter.

Also, lest we forget, the growth rate in rest of the global economy has slowed and appears to be slowing even further as fears of a prolonged US/China trade war impact corporate investment/spending plans. That can’t be good for our own prospects.  It is certainly possible, even probable, that the US can continue to grow as the rest of the world slows.  But the rate of growth will likely be declining nonetheless.

My thesis is that, a trade war aside, the financing burden now posed by the massive [and growing] US deficit and debt is offsetting the positive effects of deregulation and fairer trade and will continue to constrain economic as well as profitability growth.

In short, the economy is not a negative [yet] but it is not a positive at current valuation levels.

(2)   the success of current trade negotiations.  If Trump is able to create a fairer political/trade regime, it would almost surely be a plus for secular earnings growth.  And while the US/Mexico/Canada and South Korean agreements help short term cyclical growth in that they remove uncertainty, there is general agreement [except within the Administration] that these revised treaties will barely move the needle on the secular growth rate of the economy.

A potential deal with China would be a huge plus if its theft of US intellectual property can be stopped; but any agreement that mimics the aforementioned NAFTA 2.0 agreement is not a template for success on that point. 

(3)   the rate at which the global central banks unwind QE.  At present, it is happening.  The Fed continues to raise rates, its forward guidance is to expect more hikes and a continuation of the run off of its balance sheet. In addition, the latest out of the mouth of Draghi was that [the data notwithstanding] the EU economy is doing fine, suggesting that the ECB is on track to begin its version of QT next year.

On the other hand, the BOJ remains entrenched in its version of QE and the Chinese are using every policy tool available, including monetary easing, to stem the negative effects of the trade dispute with the US.  I have no clue how this dance of conflicting monetary policy will play.

As you know, I applaud the end of QE because of its destructive impact on corporate and individuals’ investment decision making, i.e.  price discovery and the mispricing and misallocation of assets.  But it will have negative consequences for [a] credit borrowers---we are starting to see in the dollar funding problems in foreign economies and [b] financial markets, in general, as price discovery returns.

I remain convinced that [a] QE has done and will continue to do harm to the global economy in terms of the mispricing and misallocation of assets, [b] sooner or later that mispricing/misallocation will be reversed and [c] given the fact that the Markets were the prime beneficiaries of QE, they will be the ones that take the pain of its demise. 

(4)   finally, valuations remain at record highs [at least as calculated by my Valuation Model] based on the current generally accepted economic/corporate profit scenario. 

Whether or not I am right about overall valuation levels, the investors seem to be losing confidence in the earnings progress of what have to date been the Market leaders [the FANG/technology stocks who have benefitted from very generous valuations].  Typically, when investors start marking down the multiples of the Market darlings, the rest of the stocks are not too far behind.  That doesn’t mean that a crash is imminent but it does suggest that, at a minimum, further upward progress may be limited.

This from a bull.

Finally [a] interest rates are up---raising the discount rate at which earnings and dividends are valued, [b] the Fed continues to shrink money supply and that is causing dollar funding indigestion not only in the emerging market but also seems to spreading to the developed markets; as important, Powell has made clear that he expects to continue to tighten whatever happens to the Markets---a massive change in attitude from the Bernanke/Yellen regimes, [c] corporations have record levels of debt, especially in the lower rated credit segment and [d] are starting to lower profit expectations, [e] finally…..the bugaboo from the last financial crisis, i.e. derivatives, has reappeared with all its associated counterparty risks.

Bottom line: a new regulatory regime plus an improvement in our trade policies along with proposed spending cuts should have a positive impact on secular growth and, hence, equity valuations.  On the other hand, I believe that overall fiscal policy (growing deficits/debt) will have an opposite effect.  Making matters worse, monetary policy, sooner or later, will have to correct the mispricing and misallocation of assets---and that will be a negative for the Market.

The math in our Valuation Model still shows that equities are way overpriced.  That math is simple: the P/E now being paid for the historical long term secular growth rate of earnings is far above the norm.

            As a long term investor, with equity valuations at historical highs, I would want to own some cash in my Portfolio; and if I didn’t have any, I would use any price strength to sell a portion of my winners and all of my losers.
            As a reminder, my Portfolio’s cash position didn’t reach its current level as a result of the Valuation Models estimate of Fair Value for the Averages.  Rather I apply it to each stock in my Portfolio and when a stock reaches its Sell Half Range (overvalued), I reduce the size of that holding.  That forces me to recognize a portion of the profit of a successful investment and, just as important, build a reserve to buy stocks cheaply when the inevitable decline occurs.

DJIA             S&P

Current 2018 Year End Fair Value*              13860             1711
Fair Value as of 11/30/18                                13828            1706
Close this week                                               25413            2736

* Just a reminder that the Year End Fair Value number is based on the long term secular growth of the earning power of productive capacity of the US economy not the near term   cyclical influences.  The model is now accounting for somewhat below average secular growth for the next 3 to 5 years. 

The Portfolios and Buy Lists are up to date.

Friday, November 16, 2018

The Morning Call--Now the most important thing is follow through

The Morning Call


The Market

The Averages (DJIA 25289, S&P 2730) experienced another roller coaster day, this time closing up.   The Dow ended below its 100 DMA (now resistance) and above its 200 DMA (now support).

The S&P finished below its 100 DMA (now resistance), below its 200 DMA, (now resistance) nut bounced off the lower boundary of its short term uptrend.

As I noted yesterday, the indices closing both gap opens removed a major resistance factor.  With yesterday’s bounce, both charts began building a reverse head and shoulders formation---the technical maxim being that this pattern is a sign of higher prices.  While more follow through to the upside is needed to complete this pattern, all of the recent pin action seems to be setting up for the seasonal Santa Claus rally---‘seems to be’ being the operative phrase.  The S&P has to advance almost 100 points to complete this formation; so a challenge of its all-time high and/or the upper boundary of its long term uptrend is by no means a lock at this point.

Volume rose; breadth improved.

The VIX fell 6%, but again that was a bit tame for a day in which the Dow had a 500+ point intraday swing.  It remains technically strong: above both MA’s and within a short term uptrend.

The long bond was down fractionally.  It appears to be trying to build a base very short term but still finished below both moving averages and in a short term downtrend.


The dollar was up slightly, remaining technically strong.  I remain of the opinion that UUP will move higher as long as the dollar funding problem persists. 

GLD was up, but not enough to challenge any resistance levels (the 100 DMA being the closest). 

 Bottom line: we got the upside follow through that Wednesday’s pin action set up.  So now the chances of a year-end Santa Claus rally have gone up.  A further price advance will push those odds up.

            TLT and UUP were again amazingly docile on a wild stock day; GLD was up a little but not enough to improve an otherwise ugly chart.       
            Thursday in the charts.



            Lots of economic data released yesterday, basically mixed:  on the plus side: September business inventories/sales, October retail sales and the November NY Fed manufacturing index; on the negative side: weekly jobless claims, October import/export prices and the November Philly Fed manufacturing index.

            Of course, the most important number was the positive October retail sales report because it is a primary indicator.  However, those rising import/export figures point to higher prices which won’t be lost on the Fed.

            There was one datapoint from overseas: October UK retail sales were disappointing, adding to the generally lousy trend in stats this week.

            The main headline of the day was a back and forth among US trade officials on whether or not the US is lowering the pressure on the Chinese.

            First, there was a report attributed to trade chief Lighthizer that the US was delaying the schedule for tariff implementation.

                Followed by---who’s on first?               
            It may be just coincidence, but it seems like the only time the administration releases positive trade news is when stocks are down.

Bottom line: if I am correct, Trump is attempting to change the US/Chinese trade paradigm in which China was brought into the modern world by overlooking its theft of US intellectual property and being granted favorable trade terms.  That battle to reverse that model hasn’t been and probably will continue not be an easy one---whatever occurs at the G20 meeting. 

Of course, Trump can always relent and accept something less than he appears to be trying achieve.  Initially, it would be a plus because it would remove current uncertainty.  But in the long run, it would be a negative.  So like fixing fiscal policy (too much deficit spending) and monetary policy (the mispricing and misallocation of assets), ignoring the ultimate consequences of failed policy would be the easy way out.  If he settles for anything like NAFTA 2.0, a lot of heartburn will have been for naught.

On the other hand, the Chinese could fold like a cheap tent; though history suggests that this is wishful thinking. 

In the end, I don’t see any painless resolution to this problem.  There is either a faux deal and the IP theft continues or this remains a twelve round cage match.

Of course, I could be dead wrong.

            The latest from Jeff Gundlach.

    News on Stocks in Our Portfolios
PepsiCo (NYSE:PEP) declares $0.9275/share quarterly dividend, in line with previous.

Nike (NYSE:NKE) declares $0.22/share quarterly dividend, 10% increase from prior dividend of $0.20.

Kimberly-Clark (NYSE:KMB) declares $1.00/share quarterly dividend, in line with previous.

Home Depot (NYSE:HD) declares $1.03/share quarterly dividend, in line with previous.

Tiffany (NYSE:TIF) declares $0.55/share quarterly dividend, in line with previous.


   This Week’s Data


            September business inventories rose 0.3%, in line; but sales were up 0.4%.


            October EU new car sales fell 7.4%.


            More on student debt, the failed social experiment.

            ***overnight in the Brexit melodrama

What I am reading today

            Trouble in crypto land.

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Thursday, November 15, 2018

The Morning Call--There were some positives in yesterday's dismal performance

The Morning Call


The Market

Averages (DJIA 25080, S&P 2701) swung mightily through the day, closing to the downside.   The Dow ended below its 100 DMA for a third day (reverting to resistance), right on its 200 DMA (now support) and, intraday, closed the initial gap open.

The S&P finished below its 100 DMA (now resistance), below its 200 DMA, (now resistance), right on the lower boundary of its short term uptrend and, like the Dow, intraday, closed the initial gap open.  I have included the chart because it illustrates one those technical maxims that actually performs exactly as the maxim indicates (many times they don’t).  You can see that the S&P declined right to the point that the gap is closed and then bounced. 

The first step of my (technical) operating thesis has occurred, i.e. that the Averages will close their initial gap opens in order to advance on their all-time highs and the upper boundaries of their long term uptrends on the back of seasonal and calendar effects.  Now the latter has to take place.  I want to emphasize that filling those gaps doesn’t mean that the indices will challenge their all-time highs and long term uptrends.  Indeed, prices could keep right on falling.  But it does mean that if an advance is to happen, the downward pull of those gap opens has been eliminated.

Volume rose; breadth was poor again.

The VIX rose 6%, which again seemed tame for a day in which the Dow had a 500+ point intraday swing.  It remains technically strong: above both MA’s and within a short term uptrend.

The long bond rose seven cents but still finished below both moving averages and in a short term downtrend.

The dollar was down nine cents, but remains technically strong.  I remain of the opinion that UUP will move higher as long as the dollar funding problem persists. 

GLD was up 7/8 %, but still ended below its 100 DMA for a third day, reverting to resistance. 

 Bottom line: as unusual as this may sound, technically speaking, yesterday was about as good as it could get on wild roller coaster day that end down.  Both of the Averages closed the initial gap opens, removing them as a source of negative pull on prices.  Plus they both closed right on important technical support levels without breaking below---the Dow on its 200 DMA and the S&P on the lower boundary of its short term uptrend.  I want to repeat that this doesn’t mean stock prices are headed higher, but it is a great indication of the potential.
            TLT and UUP were amazingly docile on a wild stock day; GLD acted as a safety trade, though not enough to improve an otherwise ugly chart.  
            Wednesday in the charts.



            Yesterday’s US datapoints were slightly negative: weekly mortgage and purchase applications were down while October CPI was in line as was the ex food and energy reading.

            Overseas, the news was somewhat worse:  third quarter German flash GDP, third quarter Japanese GDP and October Chinese retail sales were all disappointing, while October EU GDP and October Chinese industrial production were in line and October EU industrial production and Chinese fixed asset investments were better than expected.  Even though there was upbeat numbers, this is not what global growth looks like.     
The China numbers.

 ***overnight, China delivered a letter to the US addressing trade issues.  It apparently contained little new by way of concessions; but then they aren’t going to give away the ranch before real negotiations at the top begin.

                        The Japanese numbers.

                        Other news:

(1)   more on declining oil prices.

                 Inventories build:
(2)   UK and EU reach an agreement on Brexit; but it requires approval from multiple entities.

                        ***overnight, chaos ensues.

(3)   plus Maxine Waters, soon to be chairperson of the house financial services committee, promised that come January, the deregulation gig for the banks is up.  Investors seemed spooked [financial stocks were down].  However, as you know, I am not a fan of the big banks and their history of taking too much risk and getting bailed out by the taxpayers when those risks become manifest.  So I am not upset with Ms. Waters stance.

                        ***overnight, Powell speaks, says that the economy is fine and QT (quantitative tightening) will proceed.

Bottom line:  in my opinion, irresponsible fiscal and monetary policies as well as the economic stats both here and abroad are not being correctly reflected in the price of stocks.  And as I said yesterday, sooner or later, those all are either going to start impacting valuations or they are going to change.  I don’t want to be fully invested betting that the latter will occur; so I want to own some cash in order to buy stocks cheaper if the former happens.

            The latest from Doug Kass.

            Behavioral risk is the highest in the early period of an investment.

    News on Stocks in Our Portfolios

   This Week’s Data


            Weekly jobless claims rose 2,000 versus estimates of unchanged.

            October retail sales were up 0.8% versus expectations of up 0.5%; ex autos, they were up 0.7% versus forecasts of up 0.5%.

            October import prices jumped 0.5% versus forecasts of +0.1%; exports prices advanced 0.4% versus consensus of 0.1%.

            The November Philadelphia Fed manufacturing index came in at 12.9 versus projections of 20.0.

            The November NY Fed manufacturing index was reported at 23.3 versus estimates of 20.0


            October UK retail sales fell 0.5% versus expectations of up 0.2%.


            It is not if but when.

            Falling oil prices impacting other markets.

What I am reading today

            Who were the Mamluks?
            The sex recession: this is an excerpt; the whole article is long but for a baby boomer, I thought it really interesting.

            Another great moment in nanny statism.

                The pros and cons on living frugally and saving a lot in your 20’s and 30’s.

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