Saturday, January 9, 2016

The Closing Bell

The Closing Bell


Statistical Summary

   Current Economic Forecast
            2015 estimates

Real Growth in Gross Domestic Product (revised)      -1.0-+2.0%
                        Inflation (revised)                                                          1.0-2.0%
                        Corporate Profits (revised)                                            -7-+5%

2016 estimates

Real Growth in Gross Domestic Product                     -1.0-+1.0%
                        Inflation (revised)                                                          1.0-2.0%
                        Corporate Profits (revised)                                            -10-0%

   Current Market Forecast
            Dow Jones Industrial Average

                                    Current Trend (revised):  
                                    Short Term Trading Range                       16919-18148
Intermediate Term Trading Range           15842-18295
Long Term Uptrend                                  5471-19343
                        2015    Year End Fair Value                                   12200-12400

                        2016     Year End Fair Value                                   12600-12800

            Standard & Poor’s 500

                                    Current Trend (revised):
                                    Short Term Trading Range                          2016-2104
                                    Intermediate Term Uptrend                        1975-2768
                                    Long Term Uptrend                                     800-2161
                        2015   Year End Fair Value                                      1515-1535
2016 Year End Fair Value                                      1560-1580          

Percentage Cash in Our Portfolios

Dividend Growth Portfolio                          53%
            High Yield Portfolio                                     54%
            Aggressive Growth Portfolio                        53%

The economy provides no upward bias to equity valuations.   The dataflow this week was lousy: above estimates: month to date retail chain store sales, the ADP private payroll report, December nonfarm payrolls, the November trade deficit; below estimates: weekly mortgage and purchase applications, December light vehicle sales, both the PMI manufacturing and nonmanufacturing indices, November construction spending, both December ISM manufacturing and nonmanufacturing indices, December wholesale inventories and sales, weekly jobless claims; in line with estimates: November factory orders.

The primary indicators were also poor: December nonfarm payrolls (+), construction spending [-], December ISM manufacturing and nonmanufacturing indices [- -].  To be sure the December payroll number is a plus---who can argue with more people working?  But don’t forget, employment is a lagging indicator. However, especially concerning is the ISM nonmanufacturing index because (1) the economic bulls’ standard argument against the dangers of a recession has been that the despite poor manufacturing data, the services indices have been positive, (2) it was reinforced by the PMI services index and (3) it was the second monthly decline in a row.  Oooops.

In sum, the data this week clearly did not help the thesis that the economy has found a new level of slower growth (four mixed to upbeat weeks and fifteen negative weeks in the last nineteen).  Still, we can’t ignore those four weeks of mixed to better numbers; that keeps me hopeful that the slide in economic activity has stabilized and the threat of recession lessened.  For the moment, I am sticking with our recently revised forecast of slowing growth---which is reflected in our 2016 economic forecast posted above.  Nevertheless, the risk of recession remains above average.

On the other hand, Europe provided upbeat economic stats this week which, at least, avoids ‘piling on’ our own abysmal data.  This is actually the second upbeat week in the last four.  Of course, two weeks out of the last four hardly defines a trend.  In addition, these better numbers were almost all ‘confidence’ readings while the actual data were negative.  Still perhaps, just perhaps, these stats could be reinforcing the notion that both Europe and the US have found a new lower level of economic growth.

Unfortunately, China is not doing us or the rest of the world any favors.  The yuan has been falling dramatically and that likely means that the Chinese economy is not doing as well as they have been reporting.  Equally unfortunate, since they have already been lying, the rest of the world will remain in the dark and no one is going to know when, as and if the s**t hits the fan until after the fact.

Finally, the Fed released the latest FOMC minutes which reflected a less than enthusiastic embrace of the recent rate hike and provided no guidance for any future increases.  That said, the dirty deed is done; and any reversal now would simply confirm what I have been alleging for longer than I can remember, i.e. the Fed is more worried about the Market than the economy.  Of course, the Market is crashing; so barring a dramatic reversal, we are going to soon find out how long the Fed is willing to keep up its current charade---especially since Richard Fisher blew its cover this week.  That would clearly not inspire confidence; though why there was ever confidence is a mystery to me.

In summary, the US economic stats this week were awful; and while the numbers out of Europe provided a tiny amount of solace, the sinking yuan raises concerns that the Chinese have indeed been fabricating economic data better than reality.  In the meantime with the US Markets are getting hammered, I am sure the Fed is on its knees praying the Market holds. 

Our forecast:

a much below average secular rate of recovery, exacerbated by a declining cyclical pattern of growth with an increasing chance of a recession resulting from too much government spending, too much government debt to service, too much government regulation, a financial system with conflicting profit incentives and a business community hesitant to hire and invest because the aforementioned, the weakening in the global economic outlook, along with the historic inability of the Fed to properly time the reversal of a vastly over expansive monetary policy.
                        Update on big four economic indicators:

       The negatives:

(1)   a vulnerable global banking system.  This week, there was speculation that the recent aggressive easing by the Chinese central bank as well as its yuan devaluation was not just a function of poor economic performance but also increasing nonperforming assets on bank balance sheets   

In addition, there were also reports of US banks reducing credit facilities to a number of fracking companies, suggesting that they are worried about the loans they already have outstanding.  But to reiterate a point that I have made before, I believe that the US banking system’s solvency has dramatically improved over the past couple of years  primarily the result of regulatory actions as well as the imposition of more stringent  ‘stress tests’ by the Fed to avoid the bail out another ‘too big to fail’ bank.  

The death of another financial gimmick that bolstered bank earnings (medium):

That said, if the warnings from multiple sources regarding the deterioration of China’s financial system are anywhere near correct, the risks to the global banking system still exist.  Our banks may be better able to withstand any fallout; but that doesn’t mean others will.  Hence, the risks remain.

(2)   fiscal/regulatory policy.  The good news is that congress has been on vacation, so little legislative mischief has occurred in the past weeks.  The bad news is that Obama continues to legislate by executive order.  This week it was gun control [a moment of silence for the teary eyed].  While there are limits to the impact He can have on this issue, what bothers me is what happens next.  There simply is no telling what this Guy will do in the next twelve months in the name of His legacy.  If only someone had the balls to challenge this usurpation of authority in the courts.

(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 or is creating asset bubbles in the stock market as well as in the auto, student and mortgage loan markets.  

Two Fed related news events this week:

[a] the minutes from the last FOMC meeting were released and [a] the governors {somewhat reluctantly} concluded that all was well with the economy {I still can’t figure out what planet they are on} and [b] there was no added information to provide guidance on speed or magnitude of future rate hikes---which in all likelihood won’t occur anyway if the economic stats {and the Market} continue to deteriorate.  That said, since employment is a favored datapoint with the Fed, the December nonfarm payrolls number will likely give it the statistical cover to justify their recent move toward tightening---which as you know, I applaud.  Unfortunately, if I am correct about the true Fed focus and the Market continues to plunge, it will likely put a halt to further rate rises.

[b] former Dallas Fed chief Fisher lifted the curtain on the Fed’s motivation for QEInfinity, to wit, enhancing asset valuations---not a weak economy.  He also noted that those very same assets were now generously valued---not exactly a surprise.

You know my bottom line: sooner or later, the price will be paid for asset mispricing and misallocation.  The longer it takes and the greater the magnitude of QE, the more the pain.

(4)   geopolitical risks: the Middle East conflict is only getting worse.  This week the Sunni/Shi’a schism broke into open hostilities as the Saudis executed a Shi’a cleric, Iranians stormed a Saudi embassy and diplomatic relations were terminated.  Then on Thursday the Iranians accused the Saudis of bombing their embassy in Yemen.  This is all that an already explosive mix needs. Now we have two area nations fighting, two religious sects fighting and two world superpowers with presence in the region that is a snakes’ nest of radical hotheads.  What could possibly go wrong?

In addition, the North Koreans announced that they had successfully tested a hydrogen bomb.  I don’t think that this is that big a deal; certainly not rising to the level of distress voiced by the main stream media.  It bears little analysis beyond my comments on Thursday:

‘Number one, these clowns lie habitually; so we can’t be sure that this is even the case.  Number two, they generally don’t act without the approval of the Chinese and I can think of no reason for the Chinese to want to start a nuclear war.  Number three, all that the North Koreans have really done is replace one kind of nuclear device with a more technologically advanced one.  Finally, if you are going to worry about some nut job detonating a nuclear device, worry about radical Islam.’

(5)   economic difficulties in Europe and around the globe.  This week saw some positive data: EU economic confidence, business climate index, industrial confidence and unemployment though retail sales were less than anticipated as was German industrial production.  Notice that most of the upbeat numbers were ‘confidence’ related while most of the negatives measured actual economic performance.  Still these stats are better than a sharp stick in the eye and offer some hope that the rest of the world is not sinking into recession.   The operative word being ‘hope’ since a couple of ‘confidence’ datapoints is hardly a sign of stabilization,

China, on the other hand, reported negative December manufacturing growth.  Given its almost immediate devaluation of the yuan, that likely is a telltale sign that all is not well in the Middle Kingdom---in short, all their happy talk about their economy is likely just that.  As I noted above, the problem is made all the more acute by the fact that they lie about their data; so we are not going to know how bad things are until after the fact.

Finally, the World Bank lowered its 2016 growth assumptions this week.  While I never put much stock in that institution’s forecast, it is mainly because they are too optimistic---which clearly is not a good sign.

      In sum, global economic stats were mixed at best.

Bottom line:  the US data continues to reflect very sluggish growth in the economy, perhaps in recession; though my hope is that the rate of slowing may have stabilized.  However, global economic trends are still deteriorating.  We are going to need a lot more than two weeks of upbeat Eurozone ‘confidence’ data to question that notion.  Meanwhile, given the recent Market pin action, the Fed is likely paralyzed by fear of the consequences of prior policy mistakes and the probability that it has potentially put itself in an untenable position. 

A deteriorating global economy and a counterproductive central bank monetary policy are the biggest economic risks to our forecast. 

                        Another year of slow global economic growth (medium):

                        However, none of this means that we are facing disaster (medium):

                        Interview with Raoul Pal (medium):

This week’s data:

(1)                                  housing: weekly mortgage applications were down but purchase applications were absolutely terrible,

(2)                                  consumer: month to date retail chain store sales were strong versus the prior week; December light vehicle sales were below estimates; the ADP private payroll report was very upbeat as was the December nonfarm payrolls report but weekly jobless claims fell more than anticipated,

(3)                                  industry: both December PMI manufacturing and services indices were disappointing; November construction spending was well below expectations; December wholesale inventories and sales were dismal; both December ISM manufacturing and nonmanufacturing indices were below forecast; November factory orders were in line,

(4)                                  macroeconomic: the November US trade deficit was slightly lower than projections.

The Market-Disciplined Investing

The indices (DJIA 16346, S&P 1922) had a very rough week.  The Dow ended [a] below its 100 moving average, which now reverts to resistance, [b] below its 200 day moving average, now resistance, [c] within a newly reset short term downtrend {17685-16942}, [c] in an intermediate term trading range {15842-18295}, [d] in a long term uptrend {5471-19343}, [e] and still within a series of lower highs.

The S&P finished [a] below its 100 moving average, which now reverts to resistance, [b] below its 200 day moving average, now resistance [c] in a newly reset short term downtrend {1949-2039}, [d] below the lower boundary of an intermediate term uptrend {2000-2990} for the third day; if it remains there through the close Monday, it will reset to a trading range, [e] a long term uptrend {800-2161} and [f] still within a series of lower highs. 

The average stock is already in a bear market (medium):

Volume declined; breadth was negative.  The VIX was up 5%, ending [a] above its 100 day moving average, which now reverts to support, [b] in a short term, intermediate term and long term trading ranges. 

The long Treasury was up, closing above its 100 day moving average, which now reverts to support and within very short term, short term and intermediate term trading ranges.

GLD struggled to maintain its recent advance but still ended [a] below its 100 day moving average, now resistance and [b] within short, intermediate and long term downtrends. 

Bottom line: the Averages took out multiple support levels this week and Monday could witness yet another. While stocks are very oversold, it looks to me like the Averages will still probably test the 15840/1867 levels.  Primarily because they are simply reflecting what has already happened in the broad market of stocks which now on average 20% off their highs.  In fact, if the Averages only fall the same as the broad market, they have another 10% to the downside.  So declining to 15840/1867 is a hiccup.

The big questions are, do price declines stop at 20% or do they match the 2008/2009 decline (~40%) or do they match historical mean reversions (~50%).  Those questions are best left till later.  Near term, we must deal with whether or not the Averages can hold 15840/1867; and if not, what are the next visible support levels (14256/1576).

Fundamental-A Dividend Growth Investment Strategy

The DJIA (16346) finished this week about 32.5% above Fair Value (12333) while the S&P (1922) closed 25.7% overvalued (1528).  Incorporated in that ‘Fair Value’ judgment is some sort of half assed attempt at getting fiscal policy under control, a botched Fed transition from easy to tight money, a historically low long term secular growth rate of the economy and a ‘muddle through’ scenario in Europe, Japan and China.

The recent trend towards more stable economic numbers has been erratic at best.  On the other hand, the string of positive data weeks have all come in the recent past, keeping alive the hope that the worst is over.  So I am not giving up on the notion just yet that conditions could be leveling out; but four mixed to upbeat weeks in the last nineteen is not a lot to hang that hope on.   

In addition, the global economy remains a mess, this week’s better ‘confidence’ data from the Eurozone notwithstanding.  The main source of this week’s heartburn is China as its manufacturing number turned negative and the yuan was allowed to fall---which likely reflects the need for a competitive devaluation to help stabilize its economy. Finally, the heightened risk posed by the Saudi/Iranian cat fight adds yet another explosive element to already primed tinderbox. Meanwhile, the North Korean claim of successfully testing a hydrogen nuke also creates more uncertainty.

In sum, the US economic picture remains murky at the moment; although, not so much so that we can’t conclude that it is now weaker than it was three months ago.  In the meantime, the global economy is lousy, the escalation of tension in the Middle East raises the risk of some untoward event igniting all-out war and the Chinese aggressive devaluation of the yuan suggest additional problems in the global economy. The risk here is that many Street economic forecasts are too optimistic; and if they are revised down, it will likely be accompanied by lower Valuation estimates.

This week, (1) Richard Fisher admitted that Fed policy was directed more at Market valuation than economic improvement and (2) the FOMC minutes showed the Fed a bit more circumspect about its recent rate hike.  True the most recent narrative via Fed member speeches support that move and December’s nonfarm payroll number will help their dreamweaver rationalizations. But the basis for their optimism is ignoring the economic environment around them and any reversal of the rate hike now will likely destroy what little credibility they have left after Fisher’s mea culpa.

Meanwhile the Bank of China doesn’t appear to be leaving anything to the imagination of investors.  Its aggressive devaluation of the yuan is telling the rest of the world that its economy needs help.   Coupled with the Japanese nonstop liquidity injections and Draghi’s recent reiteration of the ECB’s ‘whatever is necessary’ strategy, it sets up an interesting dichotomy between the rest of globe’s central banks that are openly fighting recessionary forces and our own Fed that is ignoring them.

 However, whenever and whatever happens, I believe that the cash generated by following our Price Discipline will be welcome when investors wake up to the Fed’s malfeasance because I suspect the results will not be pretty. 

Net, net, my two biggest concerns for the Markets are (1) declining profit and valuation estimates resulting from the economic effects of a slowing global economy and (2) the unwinding of the gross mispricing and misallocation of assets following the Fed’s wildly unsuccessful, experimental QE policy.

Bottom line: the assumptions in our Economic Model are unchanged.  If they are anywhere near correct, they will almost assuredly result in changes in Street models that will have to take their consensus Fair Value down for equities.  Unfortunately, our own assumptions may be too optimistic, making matters worse.

The assumptions in our Valuation Model have not changed either; though at this moment, there appears to be more events (greater than expected decline in Chinese economic activity; turmoil in the emerging markets and commodities; miscalculations by one or more central banks that would upset markets; a potential escalation of violence in the Middle East and around the world) that could lower those assumptions than raise them.  That said, our Model’s current calculated Fair Values under the best assumptions are so far below current valuations that a simple process of mean reversion is all that is necessary to bring Market prices down significantly.

I can’t emphasize strongly enough that I believe that the key investment strategy today is to take advantage of any further bounce in stock prices to sell any stock that has been a disappointment or no longer fits your investment criteria and to trim the holding of any stock that has doubled or more in price.  As a secondary objective, I would reconsider any thoughts of ‘buying the dip’.

Bear in mind, this is not a recommendation to run for the hills.  Our Portfolios are still 55-60% invested; but their cash position is a function of individual stocks either hitting their Sell Half Prices or their underlying company failing to meet the requisite minimum financial criteria needed for inclusion in our Universe.
            Doug Kass: Sell (medium):

                Stocks priced for perfection (medium):

DJIA             S&P

Current 2016 Year End Fair Value*              12700             1570
Fair Value as of 1/31/16                                  12333            1528
Close this week                                               16346            1922

Over Valuation vs. 1/31 Close
              5% overvalued                                12949                1604
            10% overvalued                                13566               1680 
            15% overvalued                                14182               1757
            20% overvalued                                14799                1833   
            25% overvalued                                  15416              1910   
            30% overvalued                                  16032              1986
            35% overvalued                                  16649              2062
            40% overvalued                                  17266              2139
Under Valuation vs. 1/31 Close
            5% undervalued                             11716                    1451
10%undervalued                            11099                   1375   
15%undervalued                            10483                   1298

* 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.

Steve Cook received his education in investments from Harvard, where he earned an MBA, New York University, where he did post graduate work in economics and financial analysis and the CFA Institute, where he earned the Chartered Financial Analysts designation in 1973.  His 47 years of investment experience includes institutional portfolio management at Scudder. Stevens and Clark and Bear Stearns, managing a risk arbitrage hedge fund and an investment banking boutique specializing in funding second stage private companies.  Through his involvement with Strategic Stock Investments, Steve hopes that his experience can help other investors build their wealth while avoiding tough lessons that he learned the hard way.

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