Saturday, September 14, 2019

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 Uptrend                                 23600-33840
Intermediate Term Uptrend                     14513-30732 (?)
Long Term Uptrend                                  6849-30311(?)
2018     Year End Fair Value                                   13800-14000

                        2019     Year End Fair Value                                   14500-14700

            Standard & Poor’s 500

                                    Current Trend (revised):
                                    Short Term Uptrend                                     2590-3490
                                    Intermediate Term Uptrend                         1383-3193 (?)                                                    Long Term Uptrend                                     937-3217 (?)
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.   This week’s data was mixed: above estimates: weekly jobless claims, weekly mortgage/purchase applications, August consumer inflation expectations, September consumer sentiment, July wholesale inventories/sales; below estimates: month to date retail chain store sales, the July job opening report,  the August small business optimism index, the August budget deficit; in line with estimates: August retail sales/ex autos, July business inventories/sales.
                Dealers choice: July consumer credit (which soared); August CPI and PPI/core PPI (which were higher than expected), August export/import prices (lower than anticipated).   I rated these as dealer’s choice because whether they are interpreted as positive or negative depends on your perspective.  Higher consumer credit could be viewed as  signifying growth and positive consumer sentiment or it could be seen as the last gasp of an overextended consumer.  Higher CPI/PPI would be considered a plus by the Fed (approaching their goal; though it would a negative for the Market in that would likely slow/halt monetary easing) but a negative if you are a consumer.  The reverse would be true for August export/import prices.

           And there is always the chance that those numbers could be bad for everyone.

            The primary indicators were neutral: August retail sales/ex autos (0). The call is neutral.  Score:  in the last 204 weeks, sixty-six were positive, ninety-one negative and forty-seven neutral.

            This leaves the yellow warning light flashing.

Overseas, the stats were positive, led by good numbers out of the UK.  This is, of course, a hopeful sign but one week is no trend; and if there is a hard Brexit in October, those upbeat stats will likely reverse.  So, I need to see more of this before altering my opinion that the global economy is a drag on our own.

[a]  the July German trade balance was larger than anticipated, August CPI was in line while PPI was down; July UK construction spending, GDP growth, personal income and industrial production were above estimates while the trade deficit was less than forecast; the unemployment rate was below projections; July EU industrial production was very disappointing but the July trade surplus was a positive,

[b]  Q2 Japanese GDP growth, the price index and private consumption were in line, capital expenditures, August machine tool orders and PPI were well below estimates while July industrial production and capacity utilization were above,

[c] August Chinese vehicle sales were disappointing, CPI and PPI ran hotter than consensus, while loan growth was in line.

Developments this week that impact the economy:

(1)   trade: the US/Chinese trade talks were a fountain of good news this week. The Chinese first reduced tariffs on a number of products ahead of next month’s negotiation; Trump responded by delaying the increased tariffs until October 15th; and the Chinese then lifted the restrictions on the import of US agricultural products.  If this de-escalation leads to a meaningful resolution to Trump’s concerns [unfair industrial policy and IP theft], Hallelujah.  Clearly, it is a meaningful start.  However, for the moment, I remain ever the skeptic:

[a] the Chinese communist party has its 70th anniversary in October.  This is a major celebration for them and they undoubtedly want it free of any controversial headlines. 

[b]  Trump has more to lose on a short term basis than China, i.e. he has a 2020 election to worry about and Xi doesn’t.    In the absence of him folding, the Chinese can afford to string Trump along until, at least the 2020 elections and I continue to believe that they will do just that.

(2)   fiscal policy:  as noted above, the August budget deficit was larger than anticipated and almost assures that this fiscal year’s deficit will be in excess of $1 trillion.  Meanwhile, Trump wants another tax cut and every Dem presidential hopeful that is still breathing has their own Christmas list of spending projects.  Growing the budget deficit and national debt will only make economic growth more difficult [assuming that the theory of excessive debt as a percentage of GDP inhibits growth is correct].

(3)   monetary policy: Draghi delivered an early Christmas present to the Markets, lowering interest rates [with some provisions to offset the negative effects on bank reserves] and restarting QE; though as I noted in Friday’s Morning Call, the move wasn’t quite as dovish as originally thought.  Still, it would appear that the race is on to ever lower rates and more QE.  We will know soon enough as the FOMC and Bank of Japan meet next week.

You know my position: central bank monetary policy has been a negative [asset mispricing and misallocation] for global growth and will remain so as long as they pursue their irresponsible QE.  To be clear, my point is that economic growth would have been more robust in the absence of QE.  The only beneficiaries of this policy have been the securities market which are now grossly overvalued. (must read)

(4)   global hotspots. the Middle East hostility continues to simmer, while Hong Kong, Italy, the UK [Brexit] and the Japanese/Korean spat have the potential for economic disruption.        

Latest UK poll on Brexit.

Bottom line:  on a secular basis, the US economy is growing at an historically below average rate and I see little reason for any improvement.  The principal cause of the restraint being totally irresponsible fiscal (running monstrous deficits at full employment adding to too much debt) and monetary (pushing liquidity into the financial system that has done little to help the economy but has led to the gross mispricing and misallocation of assets) policies.

Cyclically, the US economy continues to limp along which is not surprising given the lethargic global economy and the continuing trade wars.  Indeed, this progress is a miracle given all the aforementioned fiscal and monetary headwinds.  That said, the yellow warning light is still flashing.
The Market-Disciplined Investing

The Averages (27219, 3007) turned in a mixed performance yesterday (Dow up, S&P down) but finished above both MA’s and in uptrends across all timeframes.  Volume continues low while breadth pushed further into overbought territory.   The two negatives that I see are (1) the indices failure to move higher on more positive trade and monetary policy news and (2) the gap up opens from eight days ago still have to be closed.
                The VIX fell 3 3/8 %, ending below both  MA’s (now resistance) and is mirroring the indices move toward their July highs.  I am watching for any deviation from this symmetry as an indication of a Market reversal.

            The long bond was down 2 1/8 %.  It is continues to rapidly correct the strong advance from July.  As I noted previously, TLT had reached extremely overbought territory; so, its pin action is not that surprising.  It still remains above both MA’s and in uptrends across all timeframes.  Therefore, on a longer term basis, the trend in rates remains to the downside.  And that gap down open nine days ago still needs to be filled.   Nonetheless, the recent increase in volatility, the lack of liquidity, the gap opens in all our indicators suggest that the level of investor uncertainty on trade and monetary policy is quite high---which leaves a question mark about where TLT is headed.

            The dollar was down four cents, but is now the only indicator that reflects any kind of stability.  This week, it has closed two gap opens and remains above both MA’s and in short and long term uptrends.   I think that this at least partially reflects the global dollar shortage problem which I frequently refer to; and that is largely a result of lousy monetary policy---which is not apt to change.

            GLD was down 7/8 %, closing above both MA’s, in very short term and short term uptrends.  But it closed below that minor support level that I referred to on Friday.  While it still needs to fill the gap down open from nine days ago, the yesterday’s pin action could be pointing at lower prices near term.
            Bottom line: long term, the Averages are in uptrends across all timeframes; so, the assumption is that they will continue to advance.  Short term, they have regained upward momentum; though I find it troubling that their advance has not been more dramatic given upbeat news on trade and monetary policy.  However, they are only a short hair away from  their July all-time highs (27398, 3027). 

            From a technical standpoint, those gap opens, the increase volatility and lack of liquidity make me uneasy.  I think this a time to be firmly on the sidelines.
          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.  The economy continues to struggle forward against multiple headwinds.  The very recent data has become less bad---but that is no reason to stop the yellow warning light flashing.  That said, in the last two weeks, the Market pin action is suggesting better times ahead---which could be correct in the short term if we get some kind of trade deal.

At the moment, I am sticking with my sluggish growth forecast which is a neutral for equities.

(2)   the [lack of] success of current trade negotiations.  If Trump can create a fairer political/trade regime, it would almost surely be constructive for secular earnings growth.  

Everything was coming up roses this week as the Trump and the Chinese seem to be falling all over themselves to de-escalate trade tensions.  I have observed previously that I believe the Chinese motivation is for calm during the 70th anniversary bash of the Chinese communist party---which is a major event for them.  So, I am officially withholding judgement on the odds of a successful outcome to the trade negotiations until after the party is over.

Clearly, I could be dead wrong about the odds of an agreement that incorporates reform in Chinese industrial policy and IP theft.  If Trump gets that, then the outlook for increased trade and a stronger economy improves markedly.  If Trump gets out maneuvered, then while the short term prospects for growth will rise, the US will still stuck with the longer term burden on unfair Chinese industrial policies and IP theft.
(3)   the resumption of QE by the global central banks.  That is now occurring worldwide.  [a] last week China lowered bank reserve requirements and [b] this week ECB  lowered rates.  The FOMC and the Bank of Japan meet next week.  While we can’t know the outcome of these proceedings, the Market is pricing high odds at the moment for further easing by both.

I have maintained for some time that the key to the Market is monetary policy, more specifically, its co-dependency with the Fed.  Investors recently began to question their faith in the Fed’s ability to navigate the US economy through an increasingly trying economic climate.  Indeed, I was surprised this week by the relative lack of enthusiasm regarding the ECB cut.  So far, there is not enough to suggest a change in the paradigm of central bank/stock market co-dependency.  However, the risk is heightening that this could occur.

(4)   current valuations. I believe that Averages are grossly overvalued [as determined by my Valuation Model], even considering: 

[a] better economic data, which the recent pin action in the Markets suggests is happening or about to happen.  At the moment, however, the US economic numbers are not that great.  Neither are the global stats.  So, there is no assurance that this is occurring.

[b] an improvement in the trade outlook.  Progress seems to be happening. But, there is nothing clear on the real source of the US trade dispute with China---its industrial policy and IP theft.  While any trade deal, good or bad, will almost assuredly improve the short term economic outlook, it will do nothing from long term valuations if the US doesn’t halt the aforementioned policies.

On the other hand, the real driving source of the Market’s advance is the global central banks being all in on their support of equity markets. For the last decade, they have measured their success by the performance of the stock Market, acted accordingly and been victorious.  As long as that is the paradigm, fundamental economics and valuations will likely remain irrelevant. 

However, I still believe that these monetary policies of the last decade have stymied not aided economic growth, that they have created valuation bubbles through the mispricing and misallocation of assets and that they have led to a pronounced inequality in the distribution of wealth.  And I believe that the unwinding of these effects will not end well for equity holders. 

As prices continue to rise, I will be primarily focused on those stocks that trade into their Sell Half Range and act accordingly. Despite the Averages being near all-time highs, there are certain segments of the economy/Market that have been punished severely (e.g. health care) with the stocks of the companies serving those industries down 30-70%.  I am compiling a list of potential Buy candidates that can be bought on any correction in the Market; even a minor one.  As you know, I recently added AbbVie to the Dividend Growth and High Yield Buy Lists.

Bottom line: fiscal policy is negatively impacting the E in P/E.  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.

Friday, September 13, 2019

The Morning Call--Overwhelmed with good news

The Morning Call


The Market

The Averages (27182, 3009) had a roller coaster day but finished on the upside, closing above both MA’s and in uptrends across all timeframes; though volume was down (again) while breadth pushed further into overbought territory.   The only negative is that both of the indices made gap up opens last Thursday---which will have to be closed.
                The VIX fell 2 5/8 %, ending below its 200 DMA (now resistance) and below its 100 DMA for the third day, reverting to resistance.

            The long bond was down 5/8 %, but still finished above both MA’s and in uptrends across all time frames.   However, it closed below the minor support level that I mentioned yesterday.  That is the first negative technical development since November 2018.  I still believe that TLT got way overextended to upside and the current sell off is a natural reaction.  That said, the break of the minor support level is an alert signal.  On the other hand, last Thursday’s gap down open isn’t going away---which needs to be filled.
            The dollar was down 3/8%, but experienced a very volatile day, intraday closing  last Thursday’s gap down open as well as this Wednesday’s gap up open.  It ended above both MA’s and in short and long term uptrends without the distraction of those gap opens.

            GLD was up ¼ %, closing above both MA’s, in very short term and short term uptrends and bounced off a minor support level.  It still needs to fill last Thursday’s gap down open.
            Bottom line: long term, the Averages are in uptrends across all timeframes; so, the assumption is that they will continue to advance.  Short term, they have regain upward momentum.  The next resistance levels are their July all-time highs (27398, 3027). 

            From a technical standpoint, I continue to believe that all those gap opens are important.  As I noted yesterday, at least part of their cause is the lack of liquidity.  That isn’t helped when the news flow resembles a Bugs Bunny cartoon (see below). That is not a good thing when the Averages are short hair from all-time highs.  Time to be careful.

            A look at the underlying volatility in the Market (must read):

            Thursday in the charts.



            Yesterday’s stats were mixed: weekly jobless claims were a plus, the August budget deficit a negative.  The August CPI was in line but the core number was higher than expected---which is a negative whether you are an easy money proponent or a consumer.

            Gundlach puts 75% chance of recession before 2020 election.

            Shiller on the economic/Market narrative.

            Here is a similar analysis.

            Overseas, August Japanese PPI fell more than expected while German CPI was down but in line.  July EU industrial production was awful.

            After a very quiet start to the week, the news flow moved into the red zone yesterday.

            First, the ECB lowered interest rates and re-initiated QE.  The narrative out of its meeting sounded appropriately dovish.  Then, we started to get some cognitive dissonance:

(1)   there was apparently a great deal of dissent within the ranks of the ECB which could make future ECB moves more uncertain.

(2)   then analysts put a pencil to QEInfinity and appears that there is a limit to ECB bond purchases

The central bankers are kidding themselves.
            This analyst agrees.
            (And speaking of kidding themselves, how could the Fed be considering rate cuts in an environment in which the budget deficit is exploding and CPI/PPI are coming in hotter than anticipated?)

            The other major headline was on trade.  Before the Market open yesterday, Trump responded to the Chinese Wednesday move to delay tariff on certain US goods by, delaying the tariffs scheduled to go into effect October 1st  until October 15th.  China then countered, saying that it is considering lifting restrictions on the purchase of US agricultural products.  Trump ruined the party denying rumors that the parties were working on an interim trade deal but late in the day reversed that statement. 

            Bolton’s departure ups the odds of a China trade deal.

            ***overnight, China formerly announces the lifting of restrictions on the purchase of soybeans and pork.

            Clearly, this rapid de-escalation of the trade war (1) is a plus and (2) could make me wrong for being so cynical.  However, I am withholding judgment until after the communist party 70th birthday bash (October 1st).

Bottom line:  If had you told me that on a day that (1) the ECB would lower rates and re-start QE and (2) Trump and the Chinese tried to outdo themselves with ‘goodwill gestures’ that the Dow would be up a mere 45 points, I would have laughed. 

Now, undoubtedly some of this good news was in prices.  Indeed, I pointed out earlier this week that investor psychology was becoming more optimistic on the economy and trade.  But, I was still very surprised that upbeat news on the two major driving factors of stock prices for the last year was greeted with only limited enthusiasm.  

When coupled with the technical factors mentioned above (gap opens/volatility/ lack of liquidity), it seems to me that risk levels have risen to levels that would warrant another review of those stocks in their Sell Half ranges (big winners).

            A desktop guide to trading.

    News on Stocks in Our Portfolios


   This Week’s Data


            The August budget deficit was $200 billion versus estimates of $195 billion.

            August retail sales were up 0.4% versus forecasts of up 0.2%; ex autos, they were flat versus +0.1%

            August export prices declined 0.6% versus consensus of -0.2%; import prices fell 0.5% versus -0.4%.


            July Japanese industrial production was up 1.3%, in line; capacity utilization was up 1.1% versus 1.0%.

            The July EU trade surplus was E24.8 billion versus expectations of E17.4 billion.

            August German wholesale prices were off 1.1%.


            Banks lower consumer credit score requirements (shades of 2006/7/8).

            Rising productivity?

            Wealth distribution in the last twenty years.

What I am reading today

            How to make your retirement savings last longer.

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