Saturday, October 29, 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                     -1.25-+0.5%
                        Inflation (revised)                                                          0.5-1.5%
                        Corporate Profits (revised)                                            -15-0%

   Current Market Forecast
            Dow Jones Industrial Average

                                    Current Trend (revised):  
                                    Short Term Trading Range                      17092-18693
Intermediate Term Uptrend                     11529-24374
Long Term Uptrend                                  5541-19431
                        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                          1995-2103
                                    Intermediate Term Uptrend                         1972-2574
                                    Long Term Uptrend                                     862-2400
                        2015   Year End Fair Value                                      1515-1535
2016 Year End Fair Value                                      1560-1580          

Percentage Cash in Our Portfolios

Dividend Growth Portfolio                          55%
            High Yield Portfolio                                     54%
            Aggressive Growth Portfolio                        55%

The economy provides no upward bias to equity valuations.   This week was a negative one for the overall data:  above estimates: September pending home sales, both the October Markit manufacturing and services indices, the September trade deficit and third quarter GDP; below estimates: weekly mortgage and purchase applications, month to date retail chain store sales, October consumer confidence and consumer sentiment, weekly jobless claims, the October Richmond Fed manufacturing index, the October Chicago national activity index; in line with estimates: the August Case Shiller home price index, September new home sales, September durable goods/ex transportation combo, the Kansas City Fed manufacturing index.

However, the primary indicators were slightly positive: September new home sales (0), September durable goods/ex transportation combo (0) and third quarter GDP (+).  With the total data negative but the primary stats positive, I score the week as neutral.  However, I would note that this is the second week in a row when the majority of the primary indicators were neutral.  Another factor to consider is that the earnings season to date has come in better than expected.  So the question is, is this a sign of a potential turn toward stability or simply a pause in a downward trend?  Our forecast assumes the latter; but I have been and remain on alert for a change in trend.  This week the score is: in the last 56 weeks, seventeen were positive, thirty-five negative and four neutral. 

Overseas, the data was very upbeat, extending the trend of mixed to positive data weeks.  Combine this with the aforementioned pause in the downward slope of US stats and the question I posed above becomes even more relevant.

Other factors figuring into the global outlook:

(1)    the hope remains for an OPEC production cut, but Russia this week said ‘no dice’, this following Iraq’s demand to be excluded from the math and Nigeria raising oil prices.  As a reminder: ‘….it would clearly be a positive if (1) it is actually enacted…., (2) there is no cheating and (3) the non OPEC don’t spoil the party by jacking up production to fill the gap and (4) demand doesn’t fall due to declining global economic activity.’

(2)    the solvency of Deutschebank.  This week we again had both bad and good news: the bank witnessed heavy withdrawals both in demand deposits and from its ETF management group, which is one of its most profitable division.  Plus, it is announced that its past accounting of its derivative operations is being studied for possible irregularities.  On the other hand, the bank’s third quarter earnings were better than forecast,

(3)    China’s currency is in a steady decline.  This may be good for the Chinese economy but not so much for the rest of the world.  The question becomes will we start seeing competitive devaluations---not a plus of global growth.

Finally, on the monetary front, the ECB hinted at a more dovish approach to QE while our own Fed continued to suggest a December rate hike ‘if the data warrants’---its usual weasel language to give itself an out.  The Market has priced in a 70%+ probability of a hike.  I believe it is less than that---not because I don’t want it.  I do.  But because of the Fed’s lack of courage.

In summary, this week’s US economic stats were negative though the primary indicators were slightly positive---furthering the notion that the economy is now bumping along with no direction.  Meanwhile the international stats were much improved.  Not that it means the worst is over; we need a lot more data before making that judgment.  However, a pause at least keeps alive the hope that the global economy will muddle through.  Meanwhile central bank policies have started to work at cross purposes with (1) the ECB giving some dovish mewings, (2) the Fed continuing to sound tough on a December rate hike and (3) the Chinese allowing their currency to decline in value.  There may be enough here to keep the ‘stabilizing global economy’ scenario on the table as a possibility, but not enough the raise the odds of its occurrence.  The yellow warning light for change continues to flash slowly. 

Our forecast:

a recession or a zero economic growth rate, caused by 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.

       The negatives:

(1)   a vulnerable global banking system.  There was very little news on this factor this week.  What little there was focused on the troubled EU banking system as Monte Paschi [Italy] continues to be unable to get financing to stay alive and Deutschebank is losing customers concerned about its solvency---witnessing an E8 billion exit from its prized ETF management group and a loss of demand deposits.

Misstatements on Deutschebank’s derivative book (medium):

The Bank of England wants to know UK bank exposure (medium):

Unfortunately, the EU is not the only one having problems with bank balance sheets.  Chinese bank liabilities keep growing (short):

(2)   fiscal/regulatory policy.  What fiscal policy?  The annual deficit is soaring, the national debt is growing, both major party presidential candidates promise more spending---one promising higher taxes, one lower taxes.  Yeah, that ought to work. 

My biggest concern here is that the dems win the trifecta on November 8th ---taking the presidency and both houses of congress, in which case we are apt to see higher spending, higher taxes and more regulation.  That said, the deluge of WikiLeaks releases on the Clinton’s may be starting to have a mitigating influence.  All we can hope for is a divided government to diminish the likelihood of ruling class mischief [think Obamacare].

Counterpoint from a very smart, liberal economist (medium):

(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.  

This week, the central banks provided their usual helping of confusion.  As I noted above, the ECB is crawfishing on QE and the Chinese are in the midst of a currency devaluation.  To date, the rest of the world is letting the latter slide; but if it keeps it up, there will surely be retaliation.

As for the Fed, it stayed on theme [a December rate hike] though I don’t believe the data supports that [by their standards].  (must read):

Meanwhile, I leave on the table concerns about rising inflation and a shrinking money supply [down again this week].  That said, it is too soon to know if either will become a real issue; but they are factors that have to watched and accounted for.

‘My bottom line here is that while I would welcome a rate hike as a step toward monetary policy normalization, if it happens, it [a] will likely be similar to last December’s hike---small, insignificant and solitary, [b] have little impact on the economy, since all those rate cuts had little effect, [c] will be potentially disruptive to the Markets, since all those rate cuts served as rocket fuel to security prices.’

Fed policy has utterly failed (medium and a must read):

(4)   geopolitical risks: Syria just keeps getting worse.  Russia now has a carrier group steaming for the Syrian coast which will only increase the likelihood of some accidental encounter becoming a full blown crisis.  As I said last week ‘I believe [this situation] is a lose, lose for the US---if Obama blinks, which is His modus operandi, US is gets another humiliation and if He doesn’t, Putin ups the ante moving us closer to a shooting war.’

(5)   economic difficulties in Europe and around the globe.  This week:

[a] the October EU manufacturing, services and composite PMI’s were all better than estimates as was third quarter UK, French and Spanish GDP’s,

[b] the October Japanese Markit manufacturing PMI was above forecasts while exports fell.

In short, a very upbeat week---this following a couple of mixed data weeks.  Clearly this is a change from the steady decline in the global economic numbers that we have witnessed over the last year.  It is way too soon to be making judgments about what this could mean; but again it is has to be watched as a potential sign of a halt in the falling global economic activity.

Investors remain hopeful that the tentative OPEC decision to cut oil production will pan out; though the prospects seem to be getting dimmer as time goes on.  As I noted above, this week Russia said that it would not take part in a production cut. 

Even if OPEC is successful in achieving an agreement, the hard part still lies ahead, because [a] there has been no allocation as yet as who has to absorb the cut and by how much, [b] OPEC members have a history of cheating’ and [c] there are a lot of non-OPEC producers in the world that will more than likely jack up production to fill the gap.

            Bottom line:  the US economy continued weak although the global economic numbers were very positive---but at this moment, only a one off occurrence.  Meanwhile, the ECB and Bank of China are emphasizing monetary ease while the Fed keeps pushing the December rate cut narrative; though to date, investors don’t seem to care.

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

This week’s data:

(1)                                  housing: September new home sales were up but by less than the August number was revised down; weekly mortgage and purchase application were down; the August Case Shiller home price index was in line; September pending home sales rose more than estimates,

(2)                                  consumer: month to date retail chain store sales growth was down versus the prior week; both October consumer confidence and consumer sentiment were disappointing; weekly jobless claims were lower than forecast,

(3)                                  industry: September durable goods orders were below projections, but ex transportation they were above; the September Chicago national activity index was negative and the August number was revised down; both the October Markit flash manufacturing and services indices were better than anticipated; the October Richmond Fed manufacturing index was negative while the Kansas City Fed index was flat,

(4)                                  macroeconomic: the September trade deficit was less than expected; the first reading of third quarter GDP growth was better than estimates.

The Market-Disciplined Investing

The indices (DJIA 18161, S&P 2126) down slightly on Friday.  Volume rose; breadth negative.  The VIX was up yet again, this time by 5%, closing in a short term downtrend but above its 100 day moving average (now resistance; if it remains there through the close on Monday, it will revert to support), above its 200 day moving average (now resistance; if it remains there through the close on Wednesday, it will revert to support) and continued the strong follow through off the lower boundary of its very short term uptrend.  The implications for stocks are not good. 

The Dow ended [a] below its 100 day moving average, now resistance;  [b] above its 200 day moving average, now support, [c] within a short term trading range {17092-18693}, [c] in an intermediate term uptrend {11529-24374} and [d] in a long term uptrend {5541-19431}.

The S&P finished [a] below its 100 day moving average, now resistance, [b] above its 200 day moving average, now support, [c] within a short term trading range {1995-2193}, [d] in an intermediate uptrend {1972-2574} and [e] in a long term uptrend {862-2400}. 

The long Treasury ended down on the day (and down big for the week), closing below its 100 day moving average (now resistance), below its 200 day moving average for the second day (now support; if it remains there through the close Tuesday, it will revert to resistance), below a key Fibonacci level and in a developing a very short term downtrend.  In addition, other segments of the debt market continued to be pounded.  While TLT remains in short, intermediate and long term uptrends, it is nearing the lower boundaries of the first two.  It sure looks like a challenge of these uptrends is coming.

GLD rose, finishing below its 100 day moving average (resistance) and within a short term downtrend.  But in ended back above its 200 day moving average, negating Wednesday’s break and continued to hold above a key Fibonacci level.  A slight improvement in an awful looking chart.

Bottom line: stocks continued trading in a very tight range; but the VIX is going nuts to the upside---nor a normal pattern for a flat Market and only further muddies the technical waters.  The fixed income markets continued their decline---reflecting either higher interest rates, higher inflation or both.  However, GLD rose fractionally, suggesting that precious metals investors are neither worried about higher rates nor excited about higher inflation. 

So we are now looking a multiple crosscurrents in multiple Markets.  I continue to have no explanation other than confusion.  Patience.

            Stuck in the middle (short):

Fundamental-A Dividend Growth Investment Strategy

The DJIA (18161) finished this week about 43.6% above Fair Value (12644) while the S&P (2126) closed 36.1% overvalued (1562).  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.

This week’s US economic data was mixed while the global stats were very upbeat.  That helps keep an ‘economic stabilization’ scenario as a possibility; but it is far too early to be to make that call or take recession off the table.

The potential OPEC production cut, the solvency issues surrounding Deutschebank and Monte Paschi, the declining yuan, potentially higher inflation and a shrinking US money supply remain in the background as factors that could impact economic growth stability. 

Finally, while this earnings season started out negatively, it has since improved and may turn out to be the first up quarter for earnings in the last five.  Still it ain’t over till it’s over; so no sweeping conclusions can be made yet.  That said, even if the outcome is more positive than expected, the rate of progress is so puny that, in my opinion, it would have little impact on valuations.

What concerns me about all this is that, (1) most Street forecasts for the moment are more optimistic regarding the economy and corporate earnings than either the numbers imply or our own outlook suggests but (2) even if all those forecasts prove correct, our Valuation Model clearly indicates that stocks are overvalued on even the positive economic scenario and (3) that raises questions of what happens to valuations when reality sets in.

The central banks seem to be getting at loggerheads with each other.  The ECB sounded dovish this week and the Chinese continue to allow the yuan to fall.  Meanwhile the Fed reiterated its intent on raising rates in December; and the bond Market seems to agree as yields have been heading north.  As you know, I still have doubts about an increase.  But I tend to give more weight to the actions of the bond guys than the stock boys.  So clearly I have to question my own assumption on this issue.  It would fit with a declining money supply and a concern about inflation; though as I mentioned last week, Yellen pointedly stated that it might be wise to let the economy run ‘hotter’ at this moment than might otherwise be the case.  At the moment, I am sticking with the assumption that the Fed won’t raise rates; but I am lowering my own odds of this occurring to 50/50.  The big issue is if it does, will it be accompanied by volumes of dovish rhetoric (meaning no policy direction on further increases) and/or will the bond market turn up the heat for even more hikes?

As you know, I believe that sooner or later, the price will be paid for the flagrant mispricing and misallocation of assets.

One last note, I think that the political situations both here and abroad have the potential to start impinging on economics and Markets in a meaningful way.  On the international side, a US/Russia showdown would not be a plus for anybody but especially for the US given our current weak leadership (Obama does not want His legacy to include war with Russia). 

‘In the US, barring an extraordinary occurrence, a Clinton victory seems almost inevitable.  That by itself isn’t so bad as long as congress can act as a governor.  But my concern is…..a dem sweep of congress; and solely from an economic growth standpoint, I think that would be a long term negative for the economy because it would enhance an already deleterious combination of too much taxes, too much spending and too much regulation---which sooner or later will get factored into the equity discount rate.’

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 caused by the Fed’s wildly unsuccessful, experimental QE policy.  In addition, the political situation is getting dicey.

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. 

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; an EU banking crisis [which may be occurring now]; 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 would use the current price strength to sell a portion of your winners and all of your losers.
DJIA             S&P

Current 2016 Year End Fair Value*              12700             1570
Fair Value as of 10/31/16                                12644            1562
Close this week                                               18161            2126

Over Valuation vs. 10/31 Close
              5% overvalued                                13276                1640
            10% overvalued                                13908               1718 
            15% overvalued                                14540               1796
            20% overvalued                                15172                1874   
            25% overvalued                                  15805              1952
            30% overvalued                                  16432              2030
            35% overvalued                                  17069              2108
            40% overvalued                                  17701              2186
            45% overvalued                                  18333              2264
            50% overvalued                                  18966              2343

Under Valuation vs. 10/31 Close
            5% undervalued                             12011                    1483
10%undervalued                            11379                   1405   
15%undervalued                            10747                   1327

* 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 74hard way.

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