Saturday, April 29, 2017

The Closing Bell

The Closing Bell


Statistical Summary

   Current Economic Forecast
2016 estimates

Real Growth in Gross Domestic Product                     -1.25-+0.5%
                        Inflation (revised)                                                          0.5-1.5%
                        Corporate Profits (revised)                                            -15-0%

2017 estimates

Real Growth in Gross Domestic Product                      +1.0-2.5%
                        Inflation                                                                         +1.0-2.0%
                        Corporate Profits                                                            +5-10%

   Current Market Forecast
            Dow Jones Industrial Average

                                    Current Trend (revised):  
                                    Short Term Uptrend                                 19460-21635
Intermediate Term Uptrend                     12015-24864
Long Term Uptrend                                  5751-23390
                        2016    Year End Fair Value                                   12600-12800

                        2017     Year End Fair Value                                   13100-13300

            Standard & Poor’s 500

                                    Current Trend (revised):
                                    Short Term Uptrend                                     2279-2612
                                    Intermediate Term Uptrend                         2098-2702
                                    Long Term Uptrend                                     905-2591
                        2016   Year End Fair Value                                      1560-1580
2017 Year End Fair Value                                       1620-1640         

Percentage Cash in Our Portfolios

Dividend Growth Portfolio                          57%
            High Yield Portfolio                                     54%
            Aggressive Growth Portfolio                        55%

The Trump economy is providing an upward bias to equity valuations.   There was little economically redeeming about this week’s data: above estimates: March new home sales, weekly mortgage applications, the April Chicago PMI, the April Dallas and Richmond Fed manufacturing indices; below estimates: weekly purchase applications, the February Case Shiller home price index, March pending home sales, month to date retail chain store sales, April consumer confidence and consumer sentiment, weekly jobless claims, March durable goods orders, the March Chicago Fed national activity index, the Kansas City Fed manufacturing index, first quarter GDP and its accompanying cost indices, the March trade deficit; in line with estimates: none.

 In addition, the primary indicators were negative: March new home sales (+), March durable goods orders (-) and first quarter GDP (-).  This week wasn’t a close call: in the last 82 weeks, twenty-six were positive, forty-five negative and eleven neutral.

  As you know, I raised our short term economic growth outlook based on the post-election-euphoria-stimulated-economy thesis. Unfortunately after a brief improvement in economic activity, the numbers have stagnated of late which includes this week’s dataflow.  As a result, I am seriously considering reversing that growth forecast and this week is yet another brick in the wall.  Just not quite yet.

On the political side, the Donald made a big splash this week with the introduction of his tax plan.  While it sounded good, there was little detail, no scoring on the budget effect and we don’t yet know how congress will react.  In short, it is a long trip from the cup to the lip.

In addition, the house made a second stab at repeal and replace legislation which failed.  There are two problems with this lack of success (1) it leaves a lousy law in place and (2) it doesn’t yield the saving which can be applied to the tax plan---making that legislation less likely. 

My conclusion: I am sticking with my initial position that these fiscal reforms will take longer and be less invigorating to the economy than many hope.  But that is the good news because a dramatic increase in the deficit/debt, in my opinion, will be more inhibitive to growth than the policies are stimulative.

The troubles with Syria and North Korea continued in the headlines this week.  However, as frightening as the headlines may be, I can’t imagine either situation leading to anything more serious than threatening headlines.  Still, we have to be open to the chance of either or both of these situations going beyond a war of words. 

Overseas, the major new item was the results of the French election; the bottom line of which is that worries about economic disruptions stemming from the fear of or the actual withdrawal of France from the EU have been calmed.  While I remain concerned about the worsening liquidity in Italian banking system, the odds of me revising our ‘muddle through’ scenario to something more positive continue to grow.

Bottom line: this week’s US economic stats again turned to the negative side, supporting the notion of a fading momentum from the Trump bliss.  Nevertheless, I have held off revising our forecast back down until I knew whether or not any actual progress on the Trump/GOP fiscal program could reignite that enthusiasm.  Regrettably, given events to date, it appears these measures will probably take longer and be of a lesser magnitude than the dreamweavers had hoped. Failing a turnaround in the numbers, another week or two of ruling class’s business as usual will prompt me to return to our original short term economic forecast.

On the other hand, based on Trump’s deregulation efforts and his more reasoned approach to trade, I remain confident in my recent upgrading our long term secular growth rate by 25 to 50 basis points.   Clearly, if Trump/GOP manages to effect all that they have promised, then that forecast will get even better.

Our (new and improved) forecast:

An undetermined but positive pick up in the long term secular economic growth rate based on less government regulation.  This increase in growth could be further augmented by pro-growth fiscal policies including repeal of Obamacare, tax reform and infrastructure spending.  On the other hand, it could prove detrimental if the result is a dramatic increase in the federal budget deficit.  However, it is far too soon to speculate on any outcome.

 Short term, the economy may be losing momentum as the post-election Trump buzz wears off.  If that is the case, then our former recession/stagnation forecast would likely reappear brought on by the current expansion dying of old age and/or the unwinding of the mispricing and misallocation of assets wrought by another instance of failed Fed monetary policy.  Clearly that would all change if Trump/GOP were to achieve their promised fiscal program without running up the federal debt.

It is important to note that this forecast is made with a good deal less confidence than normal; so it carries the caveat that it will almost surely be revised.
       The negatives:

(1)   a vulnerable global banking system.  Nothing new.

(2)   fiscal/regulatory policy.  I continue to hope that the Donald’s new policies will prove beneficial to the economy and I can eliminate this factor as a negative. 

Certainly, the regulatory element is unfolding as well if not better than anyone could have imagined.  Trump kept it going this week by signing an executive order to study federal overreach in our education system,  [I don’t know about you; but I think our rotten education system is one of the biggest social/economic problems this country has.]

In addition, the Donald’s actions with respect to trade have been much less negative than I had feared.   Although many may wonder about this point, given his imposition of tariffs on Canadian lumber.  I discussed this in Wednesday’s Morning Call, but my bottom line was that [a] the tariffs were less than anticipated and [b] it was likely the opening negotiating salvo in a more encompassing discussion regarding trade with Canada. 

Supporting that notion was the quick turnaround Trump did on NAFTA.  As you know, he said that he would end it, then reversed himself, largely as the result [he said] of calls from Mexico and Canada asking to renegotiate.  This appears to be yet another example of his barking loud to get someone’s attention, then biting softly.  I recognize that many object to his belligerent behavior.  Indeed, I have expressed misgivings.  But you can’t argue with results.


On the other hand, Trump introduced his new, awesome tax plan this week---which was something of a dud in that it (1) was short on detail and (2) provided nothing with respect to its impact on the budget deficit.  My thinking is that it was just for show, designed to be announced within the first 100 days.  I continue to assume that the end result, while likely a plus for the economy, will take longer and provide less in the way of net tax cuts than many of the dreamweavers hope.

Further, the GOP congressional leadership failed a second time to present a bill to repeal and replacement of Obamacare.  Again, this indicates that any reform of fiscal policy will be a long, hard road.

The bottom line here is that (1) deregulation is lifting our economy’s long term growth prospects, (2) announced trade positions are not the negative that I had feared, (3) but the Trump/GOP election victory was not the magic elixir that many seemed to believe, (3) however, I believe that they will still achieve some form of tax reform and infrastructure spending legislation which will also prove beneficial to the economy’s long term secular growth but (4) the restraint on accomplishing aggressive tax and spending programs is not GOP harmony but math. 

(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.  

Ah, silence---at least here.

Not so overseas.  This week, the Bank of Japan raised its economic growth forecast for 2017, lowered its inflation outlook and said that QE would continue until inflation reached its 2% objective.  Remaining accommodative is not surprising.  Predicting better growth is a bit of a stretch, considering the dismal economic performance of the Japanese economy for the last decade.  And indeed many economists have attributed the lousy results to the BOJ aggressive monetary policy.

Meanwhile, the ECB left rates unchanged; but the tone of the accompanying policy statement was slightly more dovish than previous ones---which is a little more difficult to understand since the European economy has been doing much better of late.  Whether Draghi is just trying to give himself a little wiggle room, is concerned about the French elections or suffers from the universal disease of central bankers [fear of tightening], I have no idea.
The bottom line is that we are setting up for a potential clash of monetary policies [if the Fed continues to tighten] which could lead to trade problems [currency valuation] and asset price volatility.

(4)   geopolitical risks: the troubles over Syria and North Korea were again in focus this week.  The saber rattling continued in North Korea [a] it fired off another missile [b] as the US has three carrier groups steaming toward the Korean peninsula and is moving anti-missile defense equipment into South Korea.  China continues to help.  But when you are dealing with at least one nut case, the risk of some untoward event occurring is higher than normal.

Japan warns citizens about a potential North Korean attack (medium):

In Syria, things weren’t much better.  Most of the verbiage this week continued to center on the accuracy of the facts in Syrian government’s alleged gas attacks on civilians---with the French saying that they had proof that the Syrian government was indeed responsible.  Not helping, Israel bombed an Iranian arms depot near Damascus and the US moved troops to the Iraq/Turkey border in a move to support the Kurds. In the meantime, the risk of a faceoff with Russia remains. 

(5)   economic difficulties in Europe and around the globe.  This week, the global data flow was almost nonexistent: the April German business climate index came in above expectations, first quarter UK and French GDP were below projections while April EU inflation rose to 1.9%---a short hair away from the ECB’s 2% goal.

That is not say that there was no impactful news.  The first round of the French elections took place and the results were pretty much as forecast by the polling agencies.  While the anti-EU candidate made it to the second round, her opponent is a middle of the road type who quickly won the backing of the other two parties and at this time is assumed to be a shoo in as a victor. As a result, fear of further disruptions to the EU have subsided and that should mean a return to business as usual---which in this case is an improving EU economy.

In sum, while there were few global economic stats this week, the results of the French elections appears to have relieved anxieties which in turn should leave the EU on an improving growth path.  A few more weeks of upbeat global data and I will likely alter our ‘muddle through’ scenario. 

        Growth in the developing world (medium):

        A happier global economy (medium):

            Bottom line:  the post-election sentiment inspired economic improvement seems to be fading.  As a result, a return to our prior short term economic forecast is a definite possibility.  Though, if Trump/GOP were to pull off healthcare reform, tax reform and infrastructure spending on a reasonable timely basis, I would suspect that sentiment driven increases in business and consumer spending would be positively affected; and more importantly, our long term secular economic growth rate assumption would almost certainly rise---with the caveat that it doesn’t result in a big increase in the national debt.

For the long term, the Donald’s drive for deregulation and improved bureaucratic efficiency is a decided plus; and as a result, I inched up my estimate of the long term secular growth rate of the economy.  In addition, a more reasoned approach to trade appears to be emerging which would remove a potential negative. 

This week’s data:

(1)                                  housing: March new home sales soared; weekly mortgage applications were up but purchase applications were down; the February Case Shiller home price index was up less than expected: March pending home sales were worse than consensus,

(2)                                  consumer: month to date retail chain store sales growth slowed from the prior week; April consumer confidence and sentiment were below forecast; weekly jobless claims were more than anticipated,

(3)                                  industry: both the headline and ex transportation March durable goods orders were below projections; the March Chicago Fed national activity index was well below estimates while the April Chicago PMI was above; the April Dallas and Richmond Fed manufacturing indices were above consensus while the Kansas City Fed’s was below,

(4)                                  macroeconomic: first quarter GDP was less than expected while the price index and employment cost index were more; the March trade deficit fell but due to a decline in both exports and imports.

The Market-Disciplined Investing

The indices (DJIA 20940, S&P 2384) were lower on Friday but not dramatically so.  Volume rose; breadth weakened.  The VIX (10.8) was up 4 ¼ %, but closed below its 100 day moving average (now resistance), below its 200 day moving average (now resistance).  However, it did bounce off of the lower boundaries of its short and intermediate term trading ranges. 
The Dow closed [a] above its 100 day moving average, now support, [b] above its 200 day moving average, now support, [c] in a short term uptrend {19460-21635}, [c] in an intermediate term uptrend {12015-24864} and [d] in a long term uptrend {5751-23390}.

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 uptrend {2279-2612}, [d] in an intermediate uptrend {2098-2702} and [e] in a long term uptrend {905-2591}.

The long Treasury rose, ending above its 100 day moving average (now support), below its 200 day moving average (now resistance), in a very short term downtrend and in a short term trading range.  It seems to have found support right on the upper boundary of the former trading range that dated back to November 2016.  Fear of Trumpflation seems to have subsided, at least for the moment.
GLD was up, closing above its 100 day moving average (now support), above its 200 day moving average (now support), in a very short term uptrend and in a short term downtrend.  Gold has held in very well in the face of expectations for a stronger economy and higher interest rates.

The dollar fell, ending back below its 200 day moving average (now support; if it remains there through the close on Wednesday, it will revert to resistance), below its 100 day moving averages (now resistance), below the upper boundary of its very short term downtrend and in a short term uptrend.

Bottom line: the indices continued to rest after the strong Monday/Tuesday performance, which is normal and suggests nothing directionally.  Their upside is now being marked by their former highs [21228/2402] and the upper boundaries of their long term uptrends while support on the downside exists at their 100 and 200 day moving averages and the lower boundaries of their short term uptrends. 

While I would expect a challenge of the old highs, the big question in my mind is, will those gap openings which I have mentioned get closed as part of a near term correction (which would clearly be the more positive alternative) or will the Averages continue to rise and it occur on the way down following a Market top?
Fundamental-A Dividend Growth Investment Strategy

The DJIA (20940) finished this week about 63.3% above Fair Value (12823) while the S&P (2384) closed 50.4% overvalued (1585).  ‘Fair Value’ will likely be changing based on a new set of fiscal/regulatory policies which may lead to an as yet undetermined improvement in the historically low long term secular growth rate of the economy; but it still reflects 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 a clear negative and returns to the trend prior to last week.  Consequently, I am questioning my decision to raise our short term growth forecast based on the thesis that the rise in post-election sentiment would eventually be reflected in the hard data---which it did initially but is now fading.   Meaning a reversal in our outlook is on the table---which would suggest a possible near term disappointment for the dreamweavers.

Of course, we just got a new round of fiscal promises this week with regards to healthcare reform, tax reform and dealing with current federal debt limit; and that accounted for at least two days’ worth of positive pin action.  Unfortunately, the tax reform was received with skepticism, the repeal and replace legislation failed (again) but at least they were able to keep the government open for another week.  This all is likely somewhat deflationary to the dreamweavers’ euphoria balloon as the burden of proof starts to shift in their direction.  That said, if Trump/GOP can just produce some solid progress, then they not only would almost surely revive/keep alive the positive post-election Market sentiment but also have a constructive impact on the economy. 

On a long term basis, I feel like I am on firmer ground modestly raising the secular economic growth rate in our Models based on Trump’s good work at deregulation and the move toward a more free trade posture.  In addition, if Trump/GOP can successfully enact a fiscal program, I will likely raise the secular growth rate assumption again. 

But I again emphasize that given the magnitude of the federal debt, the GOP has have very little room for a net tax cut---with the caveat that they can do a big net tax cut but it will likely be more of a negative than a plus for the economy.  My point is that while a revenue neutral fiscal reform will be a positive for the long term secular growth rate of the economy, it will not be nearly as big as the optimists are suggesting.

And I have made it clear that the effect that any new programs, at least as calculated by our Valuation Model, have on the secular growth trends, won’t erase the current overvaluation of equity prices---just make it a bit less so.   

Finally, this earnings season is coming in better than expected, following the pattern of the last couple of years---GDP coming in below estimates, but earning above.  Part of this can be explained by strenuous cost cutting by management, part by massive stock buybacks and part by accounting tomfoolery.  However, at some point, (1) all the cost cuts than can be made will be made, (2) given the rising debt load of corporations, they are running out of room on their balance sheets to borrow money to buy back stock and (3) investors ignoring the accounting tricks may give way to a more realistic assessment of real earnings power.  When that happens, I haven’t a clue.  But the math is working against a continuation of the current trend.

In short, current valuations/expectations are not supported by the numbers or the prospect that they will improve sufficiently to justify those valuations/expectations.

Of course, you know that my negative outlook for stocks has little to do with the progress or lack thereof for the economy/corporate profits and is directly related to the irresponsibly aggressive global central bank monetary policy which has led to the gross misallocation and mispricing of assets. 

As you also know, my thesis all along has been that since the economy was little helped by QE/ZIRP, then it could do just fine in the face of a reversal of those policies (again, just for clarity’s sake, the economy can slow down due to old age and that would have nothing to do with unwinding QE.  The point being that the ending of QE wouldn’t make the slowdown any worse).  On the other hand, since the Markets were the primary beneficiaries of Fed largesse, it would be they who suffered when the Fed begins to tighten.

Net, net, my biggest concern for the Market is the unwinding of the gross mispricing and misallocation of assets caused by the Fed’s (and the rest of the world’s central banks) wildly unsuccessful, experimental QE policy.   In addition, while I am encouraged about the changes already made in regulatory policy as well as a more rational approach to trade, I am cautious that this second round of fiscal reform promises are any more likely to be enacted than the first.  And if they fail to materialize or, more likely, are revenue neutral, it will probably have detrimental effect on Street economic, corporate profits and Market expectations. Finally, whatever happens, stocks are at or near historical extremes in valuation, even if the full Trump agenda is enacted; and there is no reason to assume that mean reversion no longer occurs.

Bottom line: the assumptions in our Economic Model are beginning to improve as we learn about the new regulatory policies and their magnitude.  However, as this week’s developments indicate, fiscal policies remain an unknown as well as their timing and magnitude.  I continue to believe that end results will be less than the current Street narrative suggests---which means Street models will ultimately will have to lower their consensus of the Fair Value for equities. 

Our Valuation Model assumptions are also changing as I raise our long term secular growth rate estimate.  This will, in turn, lift the ‘E’ component of Valuations; but there is a decent probability that short term this could be at least partially offset by the reversal of seven years of asset mispricing and misallocation.  In any case, even with the improvement in our growth assumption the math in our Valuation Model still shows that equities are way overpriced.

                As a long term investor, with equity valuations at historical highs, I would use the current price strength to sell a portion of your winners and all of your losers.

DJIA             S&P

Current 2017 Year End Fair Value*              13200             1630
Fair Value as of 4/30/17                                  12864            1590
Close this week                                               20940            2384

Over Valuation vs. 4/30 Close
              5% overvalued                                13507                1669
            10% overvalued                                14150               1749 
            15% overvalued                                14793               1828
            20% overvalued                                15436                1908   
            25% overvalued                                  16080              1987
            30% overvalued                                  16723              2067
            35% overvalued                                  17366              2146
            40% overvalued                                  18009              2226
            45% overvalued                                  18652              2305
            50% overvalued                                  19296              2385
            55%overvalued                                   19939              2464
            60%overvalued                                   20582              2544
            65%overvalued                                   21225              2623

Under Valuation vs. 4/30 Close
            5% undervalued                             12220                    1510
10%undervalued                            11577                   1431   
15%undervalued                            10934                   1351

* 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.

No comments:

Post a Comment