Saturday, June 17, 2017

The Closing Bell

The Closing Bell


Statistical Summary

   Current Economic Forecast
2016 actual

Real Growth in Gross Domestic Product                          1.6%
Inflation (revised)                                                            1.6%                          Corporate Profits (revised)                                                     4.2%

2017 estimates (revised)

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

   Current Market Forecast
            Dow Jones Industrial Average

                                    Current Trend (revised):  
                                    Short Term Uptrend                                 20092-22603
Intermediate Term Uptrend                     18296-25545
Long Term Uptrend                                  5751-24198
                        2016    Year End Fair Value                                   12600-12800

                        2017     Year End Fair Value                                   13100-13300

            Standard & Poor’s 500

                                    Current Trend (revised):
                                    Short Term Uptrend                                     2349-2651
                                    Intermediate Term Uptrend                         2167-2940
                                    Long Term Uptrend                                     905-2763
                        2016   Year End Fair Value                                      1560-1580
2017 Year End Fair Value                                       1620-1640         

Percentage Cash in Our Portfolios

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

The Trump economy is providing an upward bias to equity valuations.   By volume, the data flow this week was slightly negative: above estimates: weekly mortgage applications, weekly jobless claims, the June Philly and NY Fed manufacturing indices, the May small business optimism index, May PPI, May CPI and May import/export prices; below estimates: weekly purchase applications, June housing index, May housing starts and building permits, May retail sales, month to date retail chain store sales, June (preliminary) consumer sentiment, May industrial production, April business inventories, the May federal deficit, May PPI, ex food and energy; in line with estimates: none.

However, the primary indicators were all negative: May retail sales (-), May industrial production (-) and May housing starts (-).  This week was clearly a negative: in the last 89 weeks, twenty-eight were positive, forty-nine negative and twelve neutral. 

            I want to note that I listed the May PPI, CPI and import export prices as pluses because I think lower prices are better than higher prices.  However, under current economic circumstances where a stagnant economy/recession, in my opinion, is a greater probability than an improving economy/higher inflation, these numbers could easier be construed as negatives, i.e. evidence that we are already in a stagnant economy/recession.
            NY Fed slashes its second quarter GDP growth estimate (short):

Overseas, the numbers were sparse and basically mixed; so not really enough data to support or contradict our current outlook---EU improving, the rest of the world ‘muddling through’ or worse.  I continue to believe that the better outlook in Europe should have a positive impact on our short term US economic growth assumption, though I have held off making a formal change to date.

Even though Trump/GOP are giving their reform agenda the old college try (1) this week’s primary effort was the administration’s new program to reverse many of the provisions of Dodd Frank.  As you know, I am not certain that these efforts are a plus for the overall US economy, and (2) the dems strategy to detract and delay all reform efforts via the demand for hearings and law suits is working.  I have no idea how long their effort will remain successful.

Bottom line: this week’s US economic stats were negative, supporting our stagnate growth outlook.  Longer term, I remain confident in my recent upgrading our long term secular growth rate assumption by 25 to 50 basis points based on Trump’s deregulation efforts as well as his more reasoned approach to trade.  However, any further increase in that long term secular economic growth rate assumption stemming from enactment of the Trump/GOP fiscal policy is still on hold.

Our (new and improved) forecast:

A 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; though the odds of that are uncertain. 

 Short term, the economy has seemingly lost its post-election Trump momentum meaning that our former recession/stagnation forecast is back as the current expansion seems to be dying of old age.

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 this week.

(2)   fiscal/regulatory policy.  This week: 

[a] the administration threw its hat in the ring on reforming Dodd Frank.  To follow on my comments on last week’s house reform package---I would prefer the Trump/GOP reform efforts focused on other areas in which there is a much greater economic need for action.  Not that there aren’t parts of Dodd Frank that need to be tweaked or rolled back.  But this recovery started with the taxpayers bailing out the banksters who were a primary cause of the financial meltdown in the first place.  In addition, thanks to QEInfinity, Wall Street has been one of the primary beneficiaries of the gross mispricing and misallocation of assets. 

Now the banksters are whining because the regulatory efforts to prevent another occurrence are starting to squeeze their shoes.  I am sorry but I am much more concerned about the Americans that can’t get decent healthcare coverage and the middle class who need a tax break than I am about the financial community.

[b] the dems and media are in full attack mode on the Donald.  Russia, Comey, travel restrictions, his business dealings.  You name it.  If they can find a basis for demanding a hearing or filing a law suit, they are on it.  To be sure, some questions have been raised that deserve answers.  However, whether deserved or not, the result is still the same---slowing down or inhibiting the Trump/GOP effort to alter the inefficient economic model this country has been operated on for the past fifteen years. 

Of course, Trump is not blameless in this situation.  He has deliberately antagonized the dems and media and made that even worse with his oft factually challenged tweets. 

Whether or not one agrees with the social/political aspects of the Trump/GOP program, its economic effects would likely improve the growth prospects of the country and the livelihood of small business and the middle class.  So in that sense, delaying or preventing the enactment of reform is an economic negative. 

However, as you know, I qualify this lament about reform with the caveat that if the tax and spending reforms would meaningfully increase the federal deficit/debt, then I would be satisfied with just the regulatory/trade reforms.  ‘I believe that the US has reached the point in which the debt and deficit are acting as drags on our economic growth. A corollary to that is that any tax reform or infrastructure programs have to be, at least, near revenue neutral in order for them not cause more economic damage than they are intended to cure. The point being that, in my opinion, while revenue neutral reform maybe a plus for the economy, it would not be a magic elixir that will return the secular economic growth rate to prior highs.’

In short, I am unsure about the speed with which the Trump/GOP fiscal program can progress and I am concerned that if it is enacted, it may not be as positive as many think.  Until we have a better idea of how much time is going to be consumed by the aforementioned goings on, any additional potential improvement in the long term secular economic growth rate assumption in our Models based on fiscal progress is on hold. 
                  But the Donald keeps trucking on regulatory reform (short):
(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.  

The FOMC met this week.  It raised the Fed Funds rate by 0.25% [expected], forecast four additional increases in the next two and a half years [roughly in line with estimates], provided detail on the unwinding of its balance sheet [much more than had been anticipated]; and its narrative was somewhat more hawkish than expected---that in spite of the continuing flow of lousy economic stats.  In other words, it once again ignored the data as well as its own staff’s economic analysis and forecast a more positive outlook in order to justify the normalization of monetary policy.

Another embarrassing day for the Fed (medium):

Also of note is that Chinese monetary policy is also tightening, meaning that the central banks of the world’s two largest economies are now off the QE band wagon.  To be sure the ECB [though it is promising that it will end its bond buying program….sometime] and BOJ are still easing.  Indeed, the BOJ reiterated its commitment to QEInfinity on Friday.  How this divergence in policy impacts global liquidity, particularly as it relates to the securities’ markets, is clearly the big question at the moment.

‘The risk here is that the Fed continues to tighten just as the economy rolls over in what would be a normal correction after eight years of expansion, albeit subpar.  As you know, I am not particularly concerned that about the economic consequences of the unwinding of a disastrous monetary experiment.  But such a move would likely (1) destroy the blind faith in the Fed by at least a portion of yet another new generation of investors and (2) reaffirm the stupidity of trusting the Fed to all the subsequent generations of investors that have already been f**ked enumerable times---my thesis that triggers the unwind of the massive mispricing and misallocation of assets.’ Must read:

(4)   geopolitical risks: the temperature in the global hotspots cooled this week.  Not that the risks in the Middle East and North Korea have gone away.  But the efforts being made by Qatar and the Gulf States to resolve their issue and the North Korean release of the US citizen are hopeful signs that some tensions could be easing.

(5)   economic difficulties around the globe.  The stats were scarce and mixed this week, providing nothing that would affect our forecast.

[a] the May German investor confidence declined; the May UK CPI was hotter than anticipated,

[b] May Chinese retail sales came in as expected, fixed investment was lower than estimates while industrial production was higher.

Oil continues to be a factor in global economic health and its price continued its roller coaster ride this week, most of it brought on by rising inventories---meaning either cheating by OPEC members or rising production from non-OPEC countries or declining demand or all of the above.  Since energy is a major component of production, its price usually has a significant impact on economic growth; and lower prices have proven not to be an ‘unmitigated positive’. 

Libya ramps up production (medium):

In sum, our outlook remains that the European economy is out of the woods.  China and Japan remain in the ‘muddle through’ scenario.

            Bottom line:  our near term forecast is that the US economy is stagnating despite an improved regulatory outlook and a now growing EU economy. Both should have a positive impact on US growth though there is no evidence of it to date. However, if Trump/GOP were to pull off a (near) revenue neutral healthcare reform, tax reform and infrastructure spending on a reasonably timely basis, I would suspect that sentiment driven increases in business and consumer spending would return; and more importantly, our long term secular economic growth rate assumption would almost certainly rise.  Unfortunately its fate is uncertain given the antics of our political class.

For the long term, the Donald’s drive for deregulation and improved bureaucratic efficiency is a decided plus.  As you know, I inched up my estimate of the long term secular growth rate of the economy.  In addition, a more reasoned approach to trade and foreign charity should support that revision. 

The Market-Disciplined Investing

The indices (DJIA 21384, S&P 2433) drifted lazily through a quad witching.  They retain their upward momentum as defined by their 100 and 200 day moving averages and uptrends across all timeframes.  At the moment, I see nothing, technically speaking, to inhibit the Averages’ challenge of the upper boundaries of their long term uptrends---now circa 24198/2763.  Volume rose (as is usual on option expiration) and breadth was mixed but is still positive.

The VIX (10.4) declined 4 3/4 %; and remains stuck between its 100 and 200 day moving averages on the upside and the lower boundaries of its intermediate and long term trading ranges on the downside.
The long Treasury rebounded, finishing above its 200 day moving average for the third day (if it remains there through the close on Monday, it will revert to support) and the upper boundary of its short term downtrend (if it remains there through the close on Monday, it will reset to a trading range; if it successfully challenges that boundary, it will also break out of the developing pennant formation---a positive, technically speaking).  What stronger economy?

The dollar was down again after a one day rebound, ending in a very short term downtrend and below its 100 and 200 day moving averages.  What stronger economy?

GLD was up, ending below the upper boundary of its short term trading range but above its 100 and 200 day moving averages with the 100 day moving average now above  its 200 day moving average (usually a positive technical signal). 

Bottom line: investors either think that a tightening Fed and a slowing economy is a goldilocks scenario or they aren’t thinking.  Investors either think that the third world political circus in Washington will have no impact on fiscal reform or that fiscal reform is irrelevant or they aren’t thinking.  You decide because I have no clue.

Fundamental-A Dividend Growth Investment Strategy

The DJIA (21384) finished this week about 65.1% above Fair Value (12948) while the S&P (2433) closed 52.0% overvalued (1600).  ‘Fair Value’ will likely be changing based on a new set of regulatory policies which has led to improvement in the historically low long term secular growth rate of the economy (though its extent could change as the affects become more obvious); but it still reflects the elements of a botched Fed transition from easy to tight money and a ‘muddle through’ scenario in Japan and China.

The US economic stats are pointing to a weak economy. While the better numbers out of Europe should provide needed support, I am going to wait to see if the rest of the world follows suit before making any additional changes in our 2017/2018 outlook.

 If I am correct about the economy slowing, short term that means Street forecasts will begin declining.  The question is when; and more important from a Market standpoint, given investor proclivity for interpreting bad news as good news, whether they will even care.  I can’t answer that latter issue except to say that someday, bad news will be bad news; and mean reversion will likely occur.

In the political arena, the Donald continues to do what is in his power (except to shut up) to bring reform, specifically his deregulation efforts as well as pulling the US back from being a bottomless purse for the rest of the world’s problems.  Since the effects of these moves are of a longer term nature, they are likely to have little near term impact. What would help short term is concrete moves on the major elements of Trump/GOP fiscal agenda---not that we would see any near term improvement in the numbers.   But psychologically, it would probably lift consumer and business optimism and that would likely be seen in the data.

Unfortunately, the dems are doing everything possible including generating a barrage of (as yet undocumented) accusations against the Donald to delay any implementation of his/GOP fiscal reforms.   So far with some effect.  How long this strategy will remain successful is the big question for both the near term psychology and long term reform of a ham strung economy.

            That said, I just want to reemphasize that if a taxing/spending program were to be enacted that was not near revenue neutral, I think that the outcome for the economy long term would be adverse.  So gridlock may not be as negative as many may think

Net, net, I think that the odds of fiscal reform legislation being delayed are high; and that means that I have put any additional of upgrading the long term secular growth rate assumption in our Models on hold. 

Stockman on Trump’s budget (medium):

The point of all this being that I believe Street enthusiasm for a significant improvement in the long term growth prospects of the US economy is certainly premature and most likely wrong.  This will probably result in the eventual lowering of Market expectations for growth as well as the discount factor it places on that growth.

And last but certainly not least, the Fed took another step towards monetary tightening this week despite the continuing deterioration in the economic stats.  Plus, the Bank of China continued its own efforts at curbing speculation and loose lending practices.  A tightening effort by the world’s two largest central banks should have a noticeable effect on liquidity conditions on their own and this rest of the globe’s securities markets

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.   While I am encouraged about the changes already made in regulatory policy as well as a more rational approach to trade and our global commitments, that is not enough to alter the gross mispricing of assets.  Plus any increase in valuations stemming from enactment of the Trump/GOP fiscal agenda remains in question.  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 on long term secular growth in our Economic Model are beginning to improve as we learn about the new regulatory policies and their magnitude.  On the other hand, 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 potential ‘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 want to own cash in my Portfolio and 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 6/30/17                                  12948            1600
Close this week                                               21384            2433

Over Valuation vs. 6/30 Close
              5% overvalued                                13595                1680
            10% overvalued                                14242               1760 
            15% overvalued                                14890               1840
            20% overvalued                                15637                1920   
            25% overvalued                                  16185              2000
            30% overvalued                                  16874              2080
            35% overvalued                                  17479              2160
            40% overvalued                                  18127              2240
            45% overvalued                                  18774              2320
            50% overvalued                                  19422              2400
            55%overvalued                                   20069              2480
            60%overvalued                                   20716              2560
            65%overvalued                                   21364              2640
            70%overvalued                                   22011              2720

Under Valuation vs. 6/30 Close
            5% undervalued                             12289                    1520
10%undervalued                            11653                   1440   
15%undervalued                            11005                   1360

* 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