Saturday, March 21, 2020

The Closing Bell


Statistical Summary

   Current Economic Forecast
2019 estimates (revised)

Real Growth in Gross Domestic Product                          1.5-2.5%
                        Inflation                                                                          +1.5-2%
                        Corporate Profits                                                                6-9%


Real Growth in Gross Domestic Product                               ?
                        Inflation                                                                                  ?
                        Corporate Profits                                                                    ?

   Current Market Forecast
            Dow Jones Industrial Average

                                    Current Trend (revised):  
                                    Short Term Downtrend                            19173-24319
Intermediate Term Uptrend                     16100-32301
Long Term Uptrend                                  6860-38078

                        2019     Year End Fair Value                                   14500-14700

                        2020     Year End Fair Value                                   15100-15300

            Standard & Poor’s 500

                                    Current Trend (revised):
                                    Short Term Downtrend                                2346-3466
                                    Intermediate Term Trading Range              1813-3398                                                          Long Term Uptrend                                     1329-4964
2019 Year End Fair Value                                     1790-1810

2020 Year End Fair Value                                       1870-1890         

Percentage Cash in Our Portfolios

Dividend Growth Portfolio                           48%
            High Yield Portfolio                                     50%
            Aggressive Growth Portfolio                        54%

Spread of the coronavirus and concerns about its potential impact on economic activity have raised enough questions about the expected cyclical growth prospects for the US that I am suspending my 2020 economic outlook until the coronavirus’ ‘impact on economic activity’ becomes clearer.

The overall dataflow this week was negative while the primary indicators were positive (two plus, two neutral, one negative).  So, I am calling it a neutral.  Score: in the last 233 weeks, seventy-nine were positive, one hundred and three negative and fifty-one neutral. 

Overseas stats were negative, though, of the major economies, the Japanese are holding up better than the others.

Importantly, the economic impact of the coronavirus has become manifest in the EU data and is starting to do so in the US.  Unfortunately, there are no signs of a peaking in the coronavirus infection/death rate.  So, we still have no idea regarding the ultimate magnitude of the virus’s consequences on economic growth.    Until we do, making predictions about the economy, at least over the short term, is wasted exercise.

I have suspended my short term economic forecast.

Longer term, I am not altering my long term economic outlook, which is that the economy will continue to grow at a subpar secular rate due to the twin burdens of egregiously irresponsible fiscal and monetary policies---which, by the way, are becoming even more egregiously irresponsible as a result of measures being taken by the government and the Fed in dealing with the current crisis.

The Market-Disciplined Investing

The Averages  (19173, 2304) ended the week on their back foot, continuing their dramatic deterioration.  Momentum remains undeterred to the downside with almost no visible support until ~ 15399/1810.

TLT, GLD and UUP continued their volatility.  TLT soared again, remaining technically strong.  GLD rallied, finishing in an uptrend but continuing to lose momentum.  The UUP was off fractionally but that didn’t impact its push higher.  Indeed, its short term trend reset to an uptrend.   Overall, the message is that investors are seeking safety.

The question remains, is a major Market rattling credit/liquidity event in the offing?

                Friday in the charts.

                Update on margin debt new

                Direct clearing firm goes toes up.
                Record outflows from all asset classes.

Fundamental-A Dividend Growth Investment Strategy

The recent decline notwithstanding, the DJIA and the S&P are still above ‘Fair Value’ (as calculated by our Valuation Model).  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.  I am clueless about the prospects for economic growth over the next twelve months and will almost certainly remain so until we have a handle on the magnitude of the risks currently facing the economy.

The coronavirus or more specifically the peak in infections/death rates and the economic damage incurred during the ‘social distancing’ period are the essential pieces of information we need is determining the overall impact on short term economic growth. The good news is that

[a]  based on the experience in China and South Korea, we are getting a handle on how rapidly the virus spreads, the casualty rates and the timing of peak infection/death rates.  But two is a small sample and in one case {China}, the government {i} has extraordinary power to fight the virus via closing businesses and quarantining individuals, cities, provinces that other more democratic governments don’t possess and {ii} lies a lot, making their statistics suspect.  Still it is a start. 

[b] all hands are on deck in fighting the virus.  Global central banks are shoveling money into the financial system to insure its solvency.  Governments are busy dreaming up ways to encourage ‘social distancing’ and, at the same time, combat the negative economic effects of it.  The point being that the global powers that be are working hard at curbing the infection/death rates. 

Still, the economic consequences of virus in terms of lost wages, sales and profits are still largely unknown.  And until they start to be measurable, this will be an uncertainly that is going to hang over the Market.  I have no doubt that some, perhaps all of the ultimate negative consequences are being priced into stocks.  Indeed, it is possible that they are being overly  discounted.  But the point is that we just don’t know and until we do, this factor will likely be a disrupter of valuations.

In  addition, the current turmoil in the oil patch is not improving the odds of an economic bounce back.  There are enormous negative cash flow problems for the oil companies resulting from plunging prices.  Although they are quantifiable and can be priced in.

The good news {hopefully} is that the US has leverage over the Saudi’s and Trump has indicated a willingness to use it.  If he will just do it, we can move this issue to the backburner.

The point here, as it relates to the Market, is that given that we know all the parameters associated with determining the impact of lower oil prices on the economy as well as individual companies, it is likely that much, if not all, the negative consequences are being discounted.

Finally, the issue that keeps me awake at night is excessive leverage built up in the financial system via QEInfinity.  As I repeat ad nauseum, the Fed has created the overleveraging of America by allowing {i} companies to borrow cheap money in order to buy back their stocks at elevated prices, {ii} other companies to avail themselves of very low interest rates to avoid bankruptcy, i.e. servicing current unrepayable debt with additional unrepayable debt and {iii} speculators/hedge funds to use leverage to turn marginally profitable trades into winners.

In my opinion, this misallocation of assets will ultimately be unwound just as the mortgage financing debacle was in 2009.  But we don’t when or how large/painful the unwind will be.  However, I believe that the liquidity problems currently being experienced in the financial system are directly related to this issue; though I have no idea how the solution will manifest itself.  Until it does, this is a negative like the coronavirus except more unknown.


(2)   the resumption of QE by the global central banks.  The ECB upped its QEInfinity ante this week.  Further, the Fed exercised ever more options for funneling ever more massive amounts of liquidity into financial system.  Unfortunately, its efforts aren’t bearing much fruit and, as a result, the Market remains unimpressed. 

At the risk of beating a dead horse, I believe that the Fed [global central banks] QE policies have led to excessive speculation and the gross mispricing and misallocation of assets; such as the overleveraging of marginally economically viable companies or marginally profitable trades by hedge funds. 

However, given the indifference of the Markets to the recent massive Fed injections of liquidity, this story may be coming to an end; meaning that if investors are unwilling to support Fed bailout efforts {i.e. invest in the companies/securities being bailed out}, those efforts may not be enough to prevent bankruptcy/insolvency. That is issue number one, i.e. can the Fed prevent/control/manage the unwinding of the misallocation of assets. 

A cynic’s view.

BofA expects surge in defaults.

The second issue is, what happens to [a] the Fed’s credibility {i.e. its ability to conduct an effective monetary policy} if it loses {has lost} the faith and confidence of the financial markets and, as a consequence, [b] the pricing of risk.  It is this latter point that most impacts the Markets; that is, if the Fed ‘put’ evaporates, the risk premium applied to security valuation expands.  Meaning that, all other things being equal, P/E’s decline and interest rates go up.

Bottom line:  The current selloff notwithstanding, I still believe that the Averages and certain segments of the Market remain overvalued [as determined by my Valuation Model].  As a result, I believe that the stocks in those parts of the Market will continue under pressure.

            Nonetheless, there are certain segments of the economy/Market that have been punished severely  with the stocks of the companies serving those industries down 30-70%.  It is time to start putting our cash to work in these beaten up stocks. 
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.

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