Saturday, November 19, 2016

The Closing Bell

The Closing Bell


As usual, I am taking off Thanksgiving week to enjoy family and friends.  I will be checking the Market; so if anything noteworthy occurs, I will be in touch.  Have a great holiday.

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 Uptrend                                 18000-20057
Intermediate Term Uptrend                     11544-24394
Long Term Uptrend                                  5541-20148
                        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                         1986-2588
                                    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 Trump economy will likely provide am upward bias to equity valuations.   This week’s data was positive:  above estimates: October housing starts, weekly jobless claims, October retail sales, month to date retail chain store sales, the November NY Fed manufacturing index, September business inventories and sales, October PPI; below estimates: weekly mortgage and purchase applications, October industrial production, the November Kansas City and Philly Fed manufacturing indices, October import/export prices; in line with estimates: October leading economic indicators, November homebuilders confidence, October CPI.

The primary indicators were also a plus: October retail sales (+), October housing starts (+) October industrial production (-) and October leading economic indicators (0).  Overall an upbeat week.  The score is now: in the last 59 weeks, nineteen were positive, thirty-six negative and four neutral.  This score is hardly indicative of anything other than an economy struggling to keep its head above water.  Although in fairness, the trend of late has contained a higher number of mixed to positive weeks, suggesting the economy may be improving on its own. 

However, I think it important to note that virtually all these stats predate the election; and given the significant improvement in sentiment, it seems reasonable to assume that we could likely see some upward bias in the data short term as consumers and businesses feel more comfortable spending and investing.  And that says nothing about the long term economic impact of new fiscal/regulatory policies.  As you know, the result is that I have put our somewhat dreary forecast on hold.

Overseas, the data remained negative; and for better or worse, sentiment there is less upbeat than here.  Increased global economic turmoil is one of those potential negative consequences (trade issues, a strong dollar) of the Trump victory.  So our global ‘muddle through’ forecast remains intact.

Other factors figuring into the global outlook:

(1)    the hope for an OPEC production cut was revived this week by another series of bulls**t comments about achieving some sort of agreement, then immediately had cold water dumped on it as oil ministers from several countries declined to attend next week’s meeting.  And 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.  ‘No news this week, though the potential exists that the revolt against the establishment symbolized by the Brexit and Trump’s election could spell trouble for the bailout of overleveraged banks with too many bad loans and too many speculative investments.’

(3)    China’s currency [along with a lot of others] continued to decline helped along by a soaring dollar.  This turmoil in the currency markets can potentially exacerbate trade relations [a] not only with the US, if we believe the Donald [b] but also amongst themselves.  If it continues, it will not be good for anybody and will almost assuredly negatively impact US corporate profitability.

Finally, on the monetary front, Yellen virtually guaranteed a December rate hike.  Meanwhile, Draghi virtually guaranteed the extension of the ECB’s bond buying program.  This divergence in policies will only make trade discussions more difficult and exacerbate the global dollar funding problem.


In summary, this week’s US economic stats were upbeat, though I think that the data flow has less relevance at the moment than it will when it starts to reflect the likely coming changes in fiscal/regulatory policies.  However, if the Trump fiscal agenda is enacted, I will almost certainly revise up our 2017 economic forecast and quite possibly the long term secular economic growth rate in our Models. 

The global numbers remained in their negative long term trend.  A diverging global economy would either be good news for the rest of the world (as the US pulls it out of decline) or bad news for the US (as the rest of the world stymies progress in the US).

Our forecast:

I am still attempting to get my arms around what appears to be a sudden and positive shift in the long term secular growth rate of the economy.  I am presently without any firm conclusions other than the generalization that the growth rate will pick up.  My hang up is on the timing and magnitude. 

For those who didn’t read last week’s Closing Bell, here is a more detailed repeat of my thoughts on the subject:

‘Given the likely changes coming in fiscal policy and the probable impact of those changes, some revision in our forecast will be needed.  Assuming that tax rates will be lowered and simplified, they will almost certainly provide a lift to economic growth.  A vastly reformed regulatory regime should also provide a boost.  Ditto the reform of Obamacare.  Increased spending poses more of a problem.  Little doubt that it initially will stimulate economic activity.  Longer term, however, its effect on interest rates, especially if the Fed starts normalizing monetary policy could be deleterious.  All that said, it is way too soon to start quantifying all this.  So I am going to make a qualitative change (i.e. an improving economy) and wait to see exactly what is enacted before putting any numbers on it.

On the other hand, the issue of a woefully misguided monetary policy will not be helped.  Indeed, it is apt to get worse as the Fed (hopefully) will begin the process of normalization.  That means the start of the unwinding of asset mispricing and misallocation.  While no one knows exactly how this will look, I am assuming that while it will have little impact on the economy (because QE/ZIRP never really helped) it will almost certainly involved the reversal of the asset pricing euphoria that accompanied it.

In addition, I am unsure just how revised trade agreements, a stronger dollar and higher interest rates will play out in the global economy.  Certainly the initial impact on the emerging markets has not been positive.  In addition, there is the issue of rising international populism as exemplified by Brexit and the Trump victory.  This movement, if strengthen by these two votes, could spell real problems for the EU and its heavily leveraged banking system.’

Bottom line: the stats over the last month or so have reflected more of a mixed picture than purely a negative one. I am not saying that it is improving but it is a possibility.  That said, the more important factors are (1) improving sentiment which itself could be a spur to growth and (2) the likely net positive impact of the Trump fiscal/regulatory policies.  That said, I have no idea how much until we see exactly what is enacted.  The problems of an irresponsible monetary policy and global economic weakness remain.
       The negatives:

(1)   a vulnerable global banking system.  This week:

[a] JP Morgan was fined $200 million plus from bribing Chinese officials.

[b] speaking of Chinese, there were warnings signals coming out of the Chinese financial system (medium):

[c] longer term, as I have noted, the Brexit/Trump combo may not portend good news for the weak EU banking system.

(2)   fiscal/regulatory policy.  I have beat this dead horse enough; so at the moment, suffice to say that the proposed Trump fiscal/regulatory agenda has both positive and negative implications for the economy with the net being a plus.  There is still much we don’t know which will determine the timing and order of magnitude of the coming changes. Stay tuned and don’t worry be happy.

Will the GOP repeat the mistakes it made under Bush II (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.  

Again, I don’t want to be repetitious; but the bottom line is that an aggressive fiscal program will relieve the Fed of assuming that it has to carry the load of economic stimulation; in other words, it can began to normalize monetary policy.  As I noted above, Yellen signaled at least a start of the process in her congressional testimony this week.  While I doubt a normalization of monetary policy will have much impact on the economy, I believe that it will dramatically effect asset repricing and reallocation---which are already beginning to occur ahead of any Fed change in policy.  The best thing the Fed can do is get out of the way of the Markets (i.e. don’t fight the rise in rates) and don’t f**k up a return to normalcy---a task unfortunately at which it has an abysmal record of success.

On Friday, Draghi signaled the likely extension of the ECB bond buying program, meaning that the ECB will continue to ease as the Fed is tightening.  I am not an expert in currencies but I believe that this will put further upward pressure on the dollar which could exacerbate any forthcoming trade talks.

My bottom line is that [a} given Yellen’s rather hawkish tone, a December hike seems almost assured, but [b] a divergence in central bank monetary policies is not likely a plus for trade discussions.

(4)   geopolitical risks: Syria is getting worse; but I think that a Trump presidency lessens the odds of any kind of US/Russian conflict.  He has criticized the international adventurism of the Bush/Obama administrations; so we should have less of that---which in my opinion is good for the economy and good for the youth of this country who have had to bear the weight of the last 16 years of neocon driven foreign policy.

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

[a] third quarter EU GDP grew in line with estimates while household spending and capital investment were flat; German GDP was below projections; UK inflation was lower than forecast,

[b] the October Chinese retail sales and industrial output were below expectations while fixed asset investment was in line.

[c] third quarter Japanese GDP came in ahead of estimates while household spending and capital investment were flat.

This week’s downbeat stats supported our global ‘muddle through’ scenario.  Unfortunately, this set of numbers are not apt to be helped by a more aggressive Trump trade policy and divergent monetary policies. 

Neither will the internal cohesion of the EU following Brexit and the Trump election.  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 more falling global economic activity.

OPEC and its on again, off again production cut was back in the headlines this week as its propaganda machine ramped up speculation that some agreement will be reached which was immediately trashed as three members said that they wouldn’t attend next week’s meeting.

‘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 economic stats were upbeat this week, though the global economic numbers certainly didn’t help.   That said, both the US and global economies may be about to change, perhaps dramatically---which would make the current dataflow less relevant.  If the stars align, the US will be getting an injection of fiscal stimulus in early 2017, which offers promise of not only better data but a normalization of Fed monetary policy (and a December rate hike). Not just that, there has been a huge increase in sentiment as a result of the foregoing which itself could propel a pickup in economic activity.   Hence, my concern about recession is in abeyance as are the other aspects of our former forecast; although it is simply too early to know the timing or magnitude of any change.

A counterproductive central bank monetary policy is the biggest economic risk to our forecast; although, it is still unclear how much fiscal stimulus will be forthcoming.  

This week’s data:

(1)                                  housing: October housing starts exploded to the upside; weekly mortgage and purchase applications were down; November homebuilder confidence was in line,

(2)                                  consumer: October retail sales were above expectations; month to date retail chain store sales improved from the prior week; weekly jobless claims were down versus consensus of being up,

(3)                                  industry: October industrial production was below projections; the November New York Fed manufacturing index was well ahead of estimates while the Philly and Kansas City Feds’ indices were below; September business inventories were down slightly but largely the result of stronger sales,

(4)                                  macroeconomic: October leading economic indicators were in line; October PPI was more benign than forecast, while CPI was in line; October import and export prices advanced more than anticipated.

The Market-Disciplined Investing

The indices (DJIA 18867, S&P 2181) tried again to work off an overbought condition yesterday; but again it was a pretty pathetic attempt.  Volume was up and breadth continued strong. 

The VIX was down 3% (on a down day), closing below its 100 day moving average (now resistance), below its 200 day moving average for the fourth day, reverting to resistance and below the lower boundary of a very short term uptrend.  The latter carries some technical significance since the VIX has bounced off this trend eight times.  It is a plus for stocks.

The Dow ended [a] above on its 100 day moving average, now support, [b] above its 200 day moving average, now support, [c] in a short term uptrend {18000-20057}, [c] in an intermediate term uptrend {11544-24389} and [d] in a long term uptrend {5541-20148}.

The S&P finished [a] above its 100 day moving average , now support, [b] above its 200 day moving average, now support, [c] within a short term trading range {1995-2193}, [d] in an intermediate uptrend {1986-2588} and [e] in a long term uptrend {862-2400}. 

The long Treasury continued its decline on volume, finishing below its 100 day moving average (now resistance), below its 200 day moving average (now resistance), below a key Fibonacci level, in a developing a very short term downtrend, in a short term trading range and in an intermediate term trading range.  It is now quite oversold, so a near term bounce is likely.

GLD fell 1%, ending below its 100 day moving average (now resistance), below its 200 day moving average (now resistance) and below the lower boundary of its short term downtrend.  

The dollar blew through the upper boundary of its short term trading range.  If it remains there through the close on Tuesday, it will reset to an uptrend.

Bottom line: the Averages are struggling to advance while in an overbought condition.  That may mean a slowdown in momentum short term; but I am still assuming that the S&P will at least try to challenge the upper boundary of its short term trading range.  The key at the moment remains how the indices current divergence gets resolved. I await.
Fundamental-A Dividend Growth Investment Strategy

The DJIA (18867) finished this week about 48.8% above Fair Value (12672) while the S&P (2181) closed 39.2% overvalued (1566).  ‘Fair Value’ will likely be changing based on a new set of fiscal/regulatory policies which will lead to an as yet undetermined improvement in the historically low long term secular growth rate of the economy but will still reflect the elements of a botched Fed transition from easy to tight money and a ‘muddle through’ scenario in Europe, Japan and China.

This week’s US economic data was quite positive while the global stats were again poor.  But they are both secondary considerations as we try to figure out what a Trump presidency/GOP sweep means for the economy and the Markets.

As I noted last week, with fiscal and regulatory polices likely to change, this past data will mean less than it otherwise would in the absence of those changes.  My problem is I just don’t know by how much---and that clearly is a determinant of Fair Value.  To be sure many of these shifts in policy will have a positive impact.  However, I am less sure about the outcome of altered trade relations and a big increase in deficit spending.  Nonetheless, from a qualitative point of view, I believe that the net effect will be positive. 

That said, aside from the aforementioned uncertain economic effects, valuation continues to be a major problem because:

(1)   at this point, the Market is seemingly only  focused on the positive results,

(2)    while I think it reasonable to assume that the rate of corporate profit growth could pick up, that is not a forgone conclusion because earnings expansion will likely be hampered by the negative consequences of some of the new policies, among which are rising interest rates, rising labor costs, adverse currency translation costs, rising trade barriers and a slowdown in corporate buybacks,

(3)   the P/E at which those earnings are valued will be adversely impacted by higher interest rates,

(4)   the current assumptions in our Valuation Model are for a better secular economic and corporate profit growth rate than has actually occurred. So any pickup in the ‘E’ of P/E is at least partially reflected already in our Year End Fair Values,

(5)   finally, the Market’s problem right now is the absence of real price discovery, i.e. asset mispricing and misallocation, brought on by a totally irresponsible monetary policy. One of the major things a stronger fiscal policy will do is allow the Fed to normalize monetary policy, i.e. raise rates and sell the trillions of dollars of bonds on its balance sheet. In other words, start unwinding asset mispricing and misallocation.  Plus if that fiscal policy reignites inflation, it will only push the Fed harder and that, in turn, likely speed up the whole process.  Once real price discovery returns, I believe it will not be favorable to stock prices.
Net, net, my biggest concern for the Market is the unwinding of the gross mispricing and misallocation of assets caused by the Fed’s wildly unsuccessful, experimental QE policy.  In addition, while I am positive about the potential changes coming in fiscal/regulatory policy, I caution investors not to get too jiggy with any accompanying acceleration in economic growth and corporate profitability until we have a better idea of what, when and how new policies will be implemented.

Bottom line: the assumptions in our Economic Model are likely changing.  They may very well improve as we learn about the new fiscal policies and their magnitude.  However, unless they lead to explosive growth, then Street models will undoubtedly remain well ahead of our own which means that ultimately they will have to take their consensus Fair Value down for equities. 

The assumptions in our Valuation Model will also change if I raise our long term secular growth rate assumption.  This would, in turn, lift the ‘E’ component of Valuations; but there is an equally good probability that this could be offset by a lower discount factor brought on by higher interest rates/inflation and/or the reversal of seven years of asset mispricing and misallocation.

                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 11/30/16                                12672            1566
Close this week                                               18867            2181

Over Valuation vs. 11/30 Close
              5% overvalued                                13305                1644
            10% overvalued                                13939               1722 
            15% overvalued                                14572               1800
            20% overvalued                                15206                1879   
            25% overvalued                                  15840              1957
            30% overvalued                                  16473              2035
            35% overvalued                                  17107              2114
            40% overvalued                                  17740              2192
            45% overvalued                                  18374              2270
            50% overvalued                                  19008              2349

Under Valuation vs. 11/30 Close
            5% undervalued                             12038                    1487
10%undervalued                            11404                   1409   
15%undervalued                            10771                   1331

* 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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