Tuesday, April 30, 2019

The Morning Call--The daily data just isn't supporting that +3.2% GDP number

The Morning Call


The Market

The Averages (26554, 2943) moved higher, with the S&P finishing above its all-time high (2942).  The Dow remains below its comparable level (26656).  If the S&P remains above that high (the upper boundary of its short term trading range) through the close on Wednesday, it will reset to an uptrend and clear the way for a move to the upper boundary of its long term uptrend (~3191). 

On the other hand, as I continue to point out, there are factors that would suggest some near term consolidation before that occurs: (1) the VIX voiding its very short term downtrend notwithstanding, it continues to reflect a very high level of investor complacency, historically a sign that portends lower stock prices, (2) the April 1st gap up open still needs to be closed and (3) the Dow has yet to successfully challenge its all-time; historically, it is almost impossible for one index to break above a key resistance level and continue to advance without confirmation from the other.
Volume fell; breadth was mixed.

The VIX was up 3%, a little unusual on a day when a major index powers through a key resistance level.  However,  It could certainly go on to challenge the lower boundary of its short term trading range and perhaps even the lower boundary of its long term trading range (its all-time low).  But those are mere points away.  So, I am not sure just how much downside there is (how much further investor complacency can be stretched).

The long bond declined 5/8%, bringing it back to within a point of the lower boundary of its very short term uptrend.  This is the third attempt to break that uptrend; so, it should gather some support at current levels.

             The dollar was down ¼%.  Still its chart is quite positive though it has two gap up opens lower down that need to be filled.
            GLD was dropped ½ %.  Its chart remains broken.  Its 100 DMA and the upper boundary of its very short term downtrend represent overhead resistance.
Bottom line: the S&P ended above its all-time but on poor volume, weak breadth and no confirmation from the Dow.  Still a challenge is a challenge; and if it holds 2942 through the close on Wednesday, it opens the way to the upper boundary of its long term uptrend.
UUP, TLT and GLD all sold off which doesn’t offer any directional information.

            Monday in the charts.

            Pay attention to lumber prices.



Yesterday’s dataflow was mixed: March personal spending and the April Dallas Fed manufacturing index were above forecast while March personal income and the PCE indicator were disappointing.

Real disposable income per capita.

            Saving rate declines.

            Update on big four economic indicators.

            Overseas, April EU business confidence, industrial sentiment and economic sentiment were below expectations while consumer confidence was in line and services sentiment was better than estimates.

            Other than the numbers, it was a quiet day; though investors are starting to focus on this week’s Fed meeting.  There are some expectations that it will cut rates as much as 50 basis points (but, but, but I thought Q1 GDP was up 3.2%).  But the pin action in TLT yesterday suggests that the bond boys aren’t buying it.

            Bottom line: I noted in the last Closing Bell that the Q1 GDP report warranted a close examination of my 2019 forecast for economic growth with a view to raising it.  However, I also said that before making that change, I wanted to see more positive supporting evidence which would include an improvement in individual statistical components that we get daily.   Yesterday’s data didn’t help---declining growth in personal income and a rise in personal spending accompanied by a decreasing saving rate. 

            Still, the Fed/monetary policy remains, in my opinion, the key to Market direction; and at the moment, there is every reason to think that it will continue to let the Markets tell it what to do.

            For the bears.

            Low inflation is boosting stock prices for the wrong reasons.

    News on Stocks in Our Portfolios
Canadian National Railway (NYSE:CNI): Q1 Non-GAAP EPS of C$1.17 misses by C$0.02; GAAP EPS of C$1.08.
Revenue of C$3.54B (+11.0% Y/Y) beats by C$60M.

Canadian National Railway (NYSE:CNI) declares CAD 0.5375/share quarterly dividend, in line with previous.

Mastercard (NYSE:MA): Q1 Non-GAAP EPS of $1.78 beats by $0.12; GAAP EPS of $1.80 beats by $0.15.
Revenue of $3.89B (+8.7% Y/Y) beats by $30M.

McDonald's (NYSE:MCD): Q1 Non-GAAP EPS of $1.78 beats by $0.02; GAAP EPS of $1.72.
Revenue of $4.96B (-3.5% Y/Y) beats by $20M.

Cummins (NYSE:CMI): Q1 GAAP EPS of $4.20 beats by $0.66.
Revenue of $6B (+7.1% Y/Y) beats by $200M.

Becton, Dickinson (NYSE:BDX) declares $0.77/share quarterly dividend, in line with previous.


   This Week’s Data


            The April Dallas Fed manufacturing index was reported at +2.0 versus estimates of -2.6.

                        The Q1 employment cost index rose 0.7%, in line.


            The April Chinese manufacturing PMI came in at 50.1 versus expectations of 50.5; the nonmanufacturing index 54.5 versus 55.0; the Caixin (small business) manufacturing index was 50.2 versus 51.0.

            Q1 EU flash GDP growth was 0.4% versus forecasts of 0.3%.


            From my favorite optimist.

            The Econbrowser’s recession indicator.


            A lesson from Argentina.

            Bad loans at Chinese banks are growing.

What I am reading today

            Boomers are facing a financial (retirement) crisis.

            The downside to a reverse mortgage.

            Four behavioral biases.

            The terrifying potential of 5G.

                Fearing the dramatic.

Visit Investing for Survival’s website (http://investingforsurvival.com/home) to learn more about our Investment Strategy, Prices Disciplines and Subscriber Service.

Monday, April 29, 2019

Monday Morning Chartology

The Morning Call


The Market

            The S&P’s chart is really self-explanatory.  It has staged a virtually uninterrupted 600 point run and is now a short hair away from its prior all-time high.  The obvious questions are

(1) will it successfully challenge that all-time high?  My guess [operative word] is that it is carrying so much momentum into this challenge, that it will be successful.  Though several factors argue for some consolidation before that occurs [a] the complacency reflected in the VIX, [b] the magnetic pull of the April 1st gap open {which I marked with a red line} and [c] all-time highs tend to be powerful resistance levels.

(2) if it does, what is next?   ~3191.

            TLT continues to rally after bouncing off the lower boundary of its very short term uptrend, meaning that the chart remains technically sound.  In my opinion, the Goldilocks GDP report (growth not too hot, not too cold; inflation well below estimates) suggests little upward pressure on rates (downward pressure on prices).

            I thought a long term chart would help put the recent strength in the dollar into some perspective.  As you can see, it is less than a quarter off its all-time high.  Of course, this is a double edged sword because it could mean either current prices are about as good as it will get or, given the time spent in this long term trading range, a break of that upper boundary would presage much higher prices.

            Gold is rallying; but still faces near term resistance from both its 100 DMA and the upper boundary of its very short term downtrend.  While it remains in a short term uptrend and above its 200 DMA, its chart has been damaged. We will have to wait and see how the technical forces play out---which is technical jargon for I have no clue what comes next.          

            Again, a long term chart for some perspective.  Clearly, the VIX could return to prior lows; but you can see, it didn’t stay there very long on prior occasions.  On the other hand, a break of those levels would suggest a moonshot for stocks.  To be sure, this is only one indicator among many as measures of investor sentiment; but it is an important one to watch.



            Signs of bank illiquidity? (must read):

              Latest on US/China trade talks.

    News on Stocks in Our Portfolios


   This Week’s Data


            February personal spending was up 0.1% versus estimates of +0.2%; March personal spending was up 0.9% versus +0.7%.

            March personal income was up 0.1% versus forecasts of +0.4%.

            February PCE inflation indicator was up 0.1% versus the January reading of 0.0%; March PCE was up 0.2%.


            April EU business confidence came in at .42 versus expectations of .49; consumer confidence -7.9, in line; services sentiment 11.5 versus 11.1; industrial sentiment -4.1 versus -2; economic sentiment 104 versus 105.


            Is inflation dead?

            Russia and the Chinese Belt and Road policy (must read):

            Credit card charge-offs are rising.

What I am reading today

            Stock market investing is a game of pain control.

            This question will change your life.

Visit Investing for Survival’s website (http://investingforsurvival.com/home) to learn more about our Investment Strategy, Prices Disciplines and Subscriber Service.

Saturday, April 27, 2019

The Closing Bell

The Closing Bell


Statistical Summary

   Current Economic Forecast
2018 estimates (revised)

Real Growth in Gross Domestic Product                          1.5-2.5%
                        Inflation                                                                          +1.5-2%
                        Corporate Profits                                                                10-15%


Real Growth in Gross Domestic Product                          1.5-2.5%
                        Inflation                                                                          +1.5-2.5%
                        Corporate Profits                                                                5-6%

   Current Market Forecast
            Dow Jones Industrial Average

                                    Current Trend (revised):  
                                    Short Term Trading Range                      21691-26646
Intermediate Term Uptrend                     14329-30520
Long Term Uptrend                                  6585-29947
2018     Year End Fair Value                                   13800-14000

                        2019     Year End Fair Value                                   14500-14700

            Standard & Poor’s 500

                                    Current Trend (revised):
                                    Short Term Trading Range                          2349-2942
                                    Intermediate Term Uptrend                         1359-3169                                                          Long Term Uptrend                                     913-3191
2018 Year End Fair Value                                       1700-1720         
                        2019 Year End Fair Value                                     1790-1810

Percentage Cash in Our Portfolios

Dividend Growth Portfolio                           56%
            High Yield Portfolio                                     55%
            Aggressive Growth Portfolio                        56%

The Trump economy is a neutral for equity valuations.   The data flow this week was slightly negative: above estimates: March new home sales, month to date retail chain store sales, April consumer sentiment, March durable goods orders, Q1 GDP; below estimates: weekly jobless claims, March existing home sales, weekly mortgage and purchase applications, the March Chicago Fed national activity index, the April Richmond and Kansas City Feds’ manufacturing indices; in line with estimates: none.
However, the primary indicators were quite positive, including a surprisingly strong GDP report---March new home sales (+), March durable goods orders (+), Q1 GDP (+) and March existing home sales (-).  I rate the week a plus.  Score: in the last 185 weeks, sixty positive, eighty-four negative and forty-one neutral.

The data from overseas this week was lousy, though the absence of more upbeat Chinese stats could explain that.  In the past three weeks, I have dwelled on the seeming incongruent resurgence in the Chinese economy while the rest of the world struggles for growth.  So, I won’t be repetitious except to say that if the numbers are real, then it is clearly a plus for the global economy---‘if’ being the operative word.

My forecast (for the moment):

Less government regulation, (hopefully) getting out of the Middle East quagmire and possible help from a fairer trade regime are pluses for the long-term US secular economic growth rate.

However, the explosion in deficit spending, exemplified by Trump’s new budget proposal, at a time when the government should be running a surplus, is a secular negative.  My thesis on this issue is that at the current high level of national debt, the cost of servicing the debt more than offsets (1) any stimulative benefit of tax cuts and (2) the secular positives of less government regulation and fairer trade [at least on the agreements that have been renegotiated].

On a cyclical basis, the Q1 GDP number portrayed an economic growth rate much stronger than reflected in the flow of individual datapoints; although subsequent analysis suggests that it was not as positive as it appears on the surface (see link below). 

To be clear, I am not saying that the GDP stat wasn’t pleasantly upbeat.  And I am still looking at altering some assumptions in my Economic Model that would result in a higher economic growth forecast for 2019.  However, the number wasn’t as positive as it appears on the surface.  And just to reiterate my bottom line: even if the economy were to improve cyclically, it will still be unable to return to its prior secular rate of growth as a result of too much debt to service.

Perhaps more important for the Markets, I initially thought that the surprisingly upbeat Q1 report could put pressure on the Fed to resume QT.  However, the adjusted results actually aid the Fed in remaining accommodative. It can characterize first quarter results in Goldilocks terms---it was positive but not so much so that it will consider raising rates.  Add in that the inflation measure in the GDP report was half of expectations and Goldilocks is tiptoeing through the tulips. 

           The negatives:

(1)   a vulnerable global banking [financial] system.

The global liquidity problem.

(2) fiscal/regulatory policy. 

[a] news reports suggest that the any US/Chinese trade agreement will not likely include significant changes to Chinese industrial policy and IP theft---which is the major reason for this whole ‘renegotiation’ process. 
On the other hand, Xi gave a speech on Thursday in which he said the China was addressing the issues of unfair industrial and IP theft policies.  I have noted before that for the Chinese to just admit that they are cheating is a big first step in solving the problem.  Although in the end, it is actions that count and those are yet to come.

Absent that, there will be little impact on the outlook for US long term secular economic growth.  However, if the agreement results in the lifting of tariffs and the resumption of Chinese purchases of US oil and soybeans, then there will certainly be a positive impact on cyclical growth, helping to stabilize and re-accelerate US short term economic growth.

That said, we don’t know what the final product will look like, so I withhold judgement.

[b] the US and EU are starting their new round of trade renegotiations which, as you know, was preceded by the usual ‘art of the deal’ threats.  However, there is little news beyond that.  So, we have no idea what will occur on this front.

Given the uncertain global economic outlook, the last thing the US/global economies need right now is a two front confrontation between three of the world’s largest trading blocks. 

To be sure, it is, in my opinion, necessary.  {i} The Chinese have been cheating for years.  {ii} The US created an economic umbrella over Europe following WWII which disadvantaged the US in trade terms but helped assure a recovery in Europe.  That is no longer needed; but the trade regime remains unfair to the US. 


So, while I am in favor of both situations being rectified, the process of correcting them may lead to additional downward pressure on commerce.

Bottom line: whatever the impact that might come from a US/China/EU trade quarrels, irresponsible deficit spending will restrain US secular economic growth.

(2)   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  asset bubbles in the stock market as well as in the auto, student and mortgage loan markets.  

The Bank of Japan met this week and left its dovish monetary policy unchanged.

The other news was the relatively tame level of inflation recorded in the GDP report.  As I noted above, this gives the Fed reason/excuse to maintain a relatively easy monetary stance despite the upbeat GDP number. 

However, asset misallocation and mispricing remain a long term risk to both the economy and the Markets.

(3)   geopolitical risks: 

Europe is a mess with Brexit [which has apparently been given a stay of execution], riots in France and fiscal policy discord in Italy; and it continues to be reflected in a negative way in the economic stats.

Kim Jung Un is back to his old tricks, threatening his enemies with whatever he imagines that he has as leverage.  I don’t see this as particularly disturbing.  But it is still something the world must contend with.

Adding to the potential trouble spots, Trump is suspending waivers to countries buying oil from Iran.  This was met with threats from Iran to close the Strait of Hormuz.  While most experts that I talk to do not take that seriously, that doesn’t mean that there aren’t other measures available to Iran to make life uncomfortable for the US as well as the rest of the world.

You never know how the situations in Venezuela, Israel and Kashmir will play out.
(4)   economic difficulties around the globe.  The stats this week were negative; though there was none of the surprisingly strong Chinese stats that painted a more upbeat global economic picture over the preceding three weeks.  As you know, I have been somewhat suspicious that the Chinese economy could be experiencing such a remarkably powerful turnaround while the rest of the world’s biggest economies struggle.   For the moment, I have to accept the data as credible; but I do so with prejudice.

[a] 2018 EU government debt to GDP declined, the April EU flash consumer confidence index fell more than anticipated; April German business and consumer confidence were less than consensus,
[b] the February Japanese all industry index and the leading economic indicators as well as the March unemployment rate, industrial production, construction orders and CPI were below estimates; March retail sales and housing starts were above.

            Bottom line:  on a secular basis, the US economy is growing at an historically below average rate.  Although some recent policy changes are a plus for secular growth, they are being offset by totally irresponsible fiscal and monetary policies. 
Cyclically, given this Q1 GDP number, the US economy may be starting to re-accelerate which would clearly be good news and result in an upward revision of my economic growth forecast.

          Plus, its Goldilocks composition (growth but not too hot) and the accompanying very tame inflation number will likely allow the Fed to remain on the sidelines, i.e. avoid further QT.  As you know, I believe QE had little positive impact on economic growth.  So, I am not really concerned about the economic effect of QT or lack thereof.  On the other hand, I believe that QE had a huge positive impact on asset prices.  So, relieving any pressure to resume QT will be a plus for asset prices.

The Market-Disciplined Investing

The Averages (26543, 2939) had another good day, pulling within a short hair of their all-tine highs (26656/2942).  Both charts are quite strong.  Given their momentum, it seems likely that they will not just challenge those former highs but push through them.           

On the other hand, as I continue to point out, there are factors that would suggest some near term consolidation before that occurs: (1) the VIX voiding its very short term downtrend notwithstanding, it continues to reflect a very high level of investor complacency, historically a sign that portends lower stock prices, (2) the April 1st gap up open still needs to be closed and (3) all-time highs historically have posed some, if not a lot of, resistance.
Volume was up slightly but still sub-par and breadth improved.

The VIX declined 4 ½ %.  It could certainly go on to challenge the lower boundary of its short term trading range and perhaps even the lower boundary of its long term trading range (its all-time low).  But those are mere points away.  So, I am not sure just how much downside there is (how much further investor complacency can be stretched).

The long bond was up 3/8%, continuing its bounce off the lower boundary of its very short term uptrend.  While it experienced a significant down draft in the first two weeks of April, it has been resilient since and its chart remains strong.

             The dollar was down three cents, but its chart is quite positive and is within twenty five cents of its twenty year high.  However, like the S&P is have has gap up opens lower down that need to be filled and twenty year highs can provide considerable resistance.
            GLD was up 5/8 % and is making a valiant attempt at a rally.  However, its chart is still broken.  Its 100 DMA and the upper boundary of its very short term downtrend represent overhead resistance.
Bottom line: the Averages again advanced toward their all-time highs.  There is nothing to do but sit back and watch them battle the resistance.
There was no informational value in the pin action in UUP, TLT and GLD yesterday.

Friday in the charts.

Fundamental-A Dividend Growth Investment Strategy

The DJIA and the S&P are well above ‘Fair Value’ (as calculated by our Valuation Model), the improved regulatory environment and the potential pluses from trade notwithstanding.  At the moment, the important factors bearing on Fair Value (corporate profitability and the rate at which it is discounted) are:

(1)   the extent to which the economy is growing.  Clearly, Friday’s GDP report points to a pickup in growth, even if the number isn’t quite as strong as it appears.  Plus, there are other signs of an improving economy: [a] a more upbeat Q1 earnings season than expected and [b] the remarkable recovery in the Chinese economy.  I have observed that there are caveats to both.  But in combination, it seems highly probable that our economy is starting to perform much better and that I need to be working on an upward revision of my economic growth outlook.

To be clear, my forecast has always been for sluggish growth in 2019 restrained by irresponsible fiscal and monetary policies, not recession.  I am going to immediately alter that scenario based on the positive GDP number and better than expected Q1 earnings season; though as I noted above they provide sufficient reason to believe that it is too conservative.  However, I would like further confirmation before upgrading my outlook.

In short, the economy is not a plus [yet] but it appears to be fading as a potential negative. 
(2)   the success of current trade negotiations.  If Trump can create a fairer political/trade regime, it would almost surely be constructive for secular earnings growth.  Unfortunately, the entire narrative on this issue has been so muddied by the obvious political/Market oriented nature of the administration’s comments that I have no idea about the true state of the current trade talks with China. 

As you know, I have been somewhat skeptical that a comprehensive agreement on Chinese industrial policy and IP theft could be reached in the short term.   My concern is not that we get no deal or a small deal but that the Chinese out maneuver Trump and he gives away the need for progress on industrial policy and IP theft just to get a deal.

The same conclusion applies to the upcoming negotiations with the EU.  At this moment, the only thing that has occurred is the usual ‘art of the deal’ threat preamble.  Again, a fairer trade regime could be a plus for the US economy. 

However, I remind you that the revised NAFTA agreement resulted only in improvements at the margin, Trump’s characterizations notwithstanding.

(3)   the resumption of QE by the global central banks.  If QEII, QEIII and Operation Twist are any guide, the latest Fed, ECB and Bank of China steps should be a big plus for the Markets, at least in the short term.

(4)   current valuations. the Averages have recouped their October to December loss.  As you know, I believed them to be grossly overvalued [as determined by my Valuation Model] in October. 

However, helping valuations: as noted above, Q1 earnings season appears to be coming in ahead of forecasts.  If this turns out to be the rule for the rest of the year, then 2019 earnings forecasts will likely rise and that should increase [my Model’s calculations of] valuations.  Nonetheless, given the extremes that equities have gone to, any upward revisions would only result in less extreme overvaluation.  Although, it could help investors feel less bad about buying stretched valuations.

That said, if the latest central bank liquidity surge continues and Trump keeps pushing a narrative that is Market driven, valuations will remain irrelevant.

As prices continue to rise, I will be focusing on those stocks that trade into their Sell Half Range and act accordingly.

Bottom line: fiscal policy is negatively impacting the E in P/E, although the Q1 GDP number suggests that it may not be as negative as I have been assuming.  On the other hand, a new regulatory environment is a plus.  Any improvement in our trade regime with China should have a positive impact on secular growth and, hence, equity valuations---if it occurs.  More important, a global central bank ‘put’ has returned and, if history is any guide, will almost assuredly be a plus for stock prices. 

            As a reminder, my Portfolio’s cash position didn’t reach its current level as a result of the Valuation Models estimate of Fair Value for the Averages.  Rather I apply it to each stock in my Portfolio and when a stock reaches its Sell Half Range (overvalued), I reduce the size of that holding.  That forces me to recognize a portion of the profit of a successful investment and, just as important, build a reserve to buy stocks cheaply when the inevitable decline occurs.

DJIA             S&P

Current 2019 Year End Fair Value*              14600             1800
Fair Value as of 4/30/19                                 14132            1738
Close this week                                               26543            2939

* 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.