Weighing the Week Ahead: What Can We Learn from the Trump-Xi Meeting?

We have a big economic calendar and potential Fed news. Those stories will take a back burner this week. My safest prediction is that we are about to see a new rash of China experts both in print media and on CNBC! These freshly-minted pundits will be asking:

What will the Trump-Xi meeting mean for the economy, and for stocks?

Last Week

Last week the news was mostly positive, but light. Markets continued the attention to the Trump Administration’s next policy steps – especially the chances for tax reform.

Theme Recap

In my last WTWA I predicted a discussion about the aftermath of the ACA repeal decision. That was a good call, as assorted pundits explained what the next policy moves might be. The more adventurous speculated about whether the Freedom caucus would block changes in the debt ceiling or tax reform. Some of that discussion will continue in the early part of next week.

The Story in One Chart

I always start my personal review of the week by looking at this great chart from Doug Short via Jill Mislinski. She notes the overall weekly gain of 0.80% and the quarter one increase of 5.5%. The biggest takeaway might be the general rebound from last week’s market reaction to the failure of the ACA repeal.

 

Doug has a special knack for pulling together all the relevant information. His charts save more than a thousand words! Read his entire post for several more charts providing long-term perspective, including the size and frequency of drawdowns.

The News

Each week I break down events into good and bad. Often there is an “ugly” and on rare occasion something very positive. My working definition of “good” has two components. The news must be market friendly and better than expectations. I avoid using my personal preferences in evaluating news – and you should, too!

This week’s news was slightly positive.

The Good

  • Hotel occupancy is strong. Calculated Risk reports interesting hard data from private sources. These are items you might not see elsewhere.

  • Household finances are on “solid ground” as explained by Scott Grannis. Debt levels as a percentage of disposable income are at 30-year lows. He provides an interesting chart of household leverage.

  • Serious delinquencies have declined to 1.19% (Fannie Mae via Calculated Risk). This is the lowest level in nine years.
  • Corporate profits remain strong, increasing 9.3% year-over-year in Q416. New Deal Democrat has a good account of the trends, why National Income and Profit Accounts (NIPA) come so late, and how he estimates this series in advance. Scott Grannis has a similar report which also shows the relationship between NIPA profits and stocks. It is dramatically different from the popular valuation charts.

  • Michigan consumer sentiment remained strong, increasing to 96.9. Jill Mislinski has the update. It includes an interesting excerpt from the Survey of Consumers chief economist, Richard Curtin. He notes that expectations and partisanship are influencing the outlook. This bears watching. Jill also has this fine chart.

  • Q4 GDP revisions edged a little higher than expected to 2.1%
  • Pending home sales increased 5.5%. CNBC’s Diana Olick has an interesting report, noting that sales would be much higher if there were more inventory. She has an interesting interview from Denver, where construction is 50% behind the pace needed. Builders blame the lack of labor, especially illegal immigrants frightened by recent policy changes. The builder interviewed stated that the jobs were not desirable for most U.S. workers.

    This report, if accurate and typical, has implications for homebuilders, Fed policy (labor market tightness), and immigration policy. You need to watch the video to see the key points.

 

The Bad

  • Personal consumption spending missed expectations. The increase was only 0.1% despite an income increase meeting expectations of 0.4% growth. Steven Hansen (GEI) has a thorough analysis with excellent tables and charts.
  • Jobless claims moved slightly lower, to 258K, but the four-week moving average moved higher. I am scoring this as “bad” because the series has moved a bit higher from the best levels. Scott Grannis helps us to keep this in perspective with this interesting chart of claims compared to the labor force.

The Ugly

U.S. Bridges. (No, not the recent North American Bridge Championship, where Bill Gates had a nice win. While that particular event was limited to players with fewer than 10,000 masterpoints, it still included many experts. It was a nice victory, and his best career result). Turning back to actual structures, the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) notes that 40% of bridges are more than fifty years old. Over the next twenty-five years the U.S. is short of needed spending by about $3 trillion.

 

The Silver Bullet

I occasionally give the Silver Bullet award to someone who takes up an unpopular or thankless cause, doing the real work to demonstrate the facts. No award this week, but nominations are always welcome. There are many bogus claims and charts out there! I wrote about headline spinning last week, and the misleading recession forecasts that resulted. We should all encourage astute analysts to help on this front!

The Week Ahead

We would all like to know the direction of the market in advance. Good luck with that! Second best is planning what to look for and how to react. That is the purpose of considering possible themes for the week ahead. You can make your own predictions in the comments.

The Calendar

We have a very big week for economic data, featuring the most important reports.

The “A” List

  • Employment report (F). Expectations are in the 180K range, down from last month’s 235K
  • ISM index (M). Continuing strength expected.
  • Auto sales (M). The concept of “peak auto” has some recent buzz, drawing attention to this private data.
  • ISM services (W). Wider scope than manufacturing, but a shorter history. Strength expected.
  • FOMC minutes (W). Will be scrutinized for hints about the pace of future rate hikes.
  • Initial jobless claims (Th). Is the series edging up from record low levels?

The “B” List

  • ADP employment change (W). A good independent read on job growth.
  • Construction spending (M). February data, but an important sector.
  • Factory orders (T). More February data of significance. Continuing strength expected.
  • Trade balance (T). Usually not a market mover, but will get extra attention this week.
  • Crude inventories (Th). Recently showing even more impact on oil prices. Rightly or wrongly, that spills over to stocks.

     

While the schedule is not as heavy as last week, FedSpeak will be featured on several days.

The Thursday meeting between President Trump and China’s President Xi Jinping could be extremely important for economic policy and the markets.

Next Week’s Theme

This is a big week for economic data. We could usually expect daily analysis of the news, focusing on the Friday employment data. A secondary theme might be the emerging change in Fed policy, with speakers and the release of minutes on Wednesday.

Not this week! The visit of Xi Jinping and the meetings at Mar-a-Lago have significance extending beyond recent economic news. The commentary next week will raise the question:

What will the Trump-Xi meeting mean for the economy and stocks?

No one knows what will happen. The best we can do is collect relevant facts and decide what to watch for. Here is some key background.

  • Trump is advertising a “tough” meeting. Quartz suggests the reasons and key issues:

    He is sure to be coached by hardline China advisor Peter Navarro, who believes China is full of cheating thieves, intent on global domination. After Trump’s allegations that China had stolen jobs and a way of life from America’s middle class on the campaign trail, the stage seems set for a clash. Sensitive topics could include the trade imbalance, China’s over-production of steel, North Korea’s increasing militarization, and Beijing’s insistence that it control the South China Sea, in defiance of international law. American CEOs are worried that the wrong move could destabilize the relationship and harm the US economy.

  • Xi is the most powerful and popular Chinese leader in decades. He is dismantling the “collective leadership” approach. The Economist explains and questions whether this will lead to needed reforms. After describing his takeover of key committees and battle against corruption, the article focuses on his mission:

    All of this helps Mr Xi in his twofold mission. His first aim is to keep the economy growing fast enough to stave off unrest, while weaning it off an over-dependence on investment in property and infrastructure that threatens to mire it in debt. Mr Xi made a promising start last November, when he declared that market forces would play a decisive role (not even Deng had the courage to say that). There have since been encouraging moves, such as giving private companies bigger stakes in sectors that were once the exclusive preserve of state-owned enterprises, and selling shares in firms owned by local governments to private investors. Mr Xi has also started to overhaul the household-registration system, a legacy of the Mao era that makes it difficult for migrants from the countryside to settle permanently in cities. He has relaxed the one-child-per-couple policy, a Deng-era legacy that has led to widespread abuses.

  • Chinese strategy is to reach Trump through his family. The FT describes the background.

    China seems to have grasped that the best way to influence Mr Trump is via his family. Chinese diplomats have gone out of their way to court Mr Kushner and Ivanka Trump, who were their guests of honour at the Chinese new year celebration in February. China has also looked favourably on Mr Trump’s business. Since his inauguration it has approved dozens of pending trademark applications by The Trump Organization. The volume of applications to market Ivanka Trump’s brand in China has also soared. This week, Kushner Companies — the family property group from which Jared has stepped back — ended talks to sell a prime piece of Manhattan real estate on very favourable terms to Anbang, a Chinese company, after members of Congress alleged a conflict of interest.

  • Possible outcomes. The FT continues with the range of what we might expect.

    At one extreme, Mr Trump could threaten to carry out his campaign vow to impose a 45 per cent tariff on Chinese imports — a step that would provoke a global trade war and fall foul of the World Trade Organisation. That would produce a similar outcome to Mr Trump’s rancorous meeting with Angela Merkel last month, in which he presented her with a massive invoice for Germany’s defence costs. At the other extreme, Mr Xi could package a few Chinese investments into easily tweetable jobs announcements. Last year China invested a record $45bn in the US — mostly in real estate, finance and entertainment.

What does this all mean for investors? As usual, I’ll have a few ideas of my own in today’s “Final Thought”.

Quant Corner

We follow some regular featured sources and the best other quant news from the week.

Risk Analysis

Whether you are a trader or an investor, you need to understand risk. Think first about your risk. Only then should you consider possible rewards. I monitor many quantitative reports and highlight the best methods in this weekly update.

The Indicator Snapshot

 

 

The Featured Sources:

 

Bob Dieli: The “C Score” which is a weekly estimate of his Enhanced Aggregate Spread (the most accurate real-time recession forecasting method over the last few decades). His subscribers get Monthly reports including both an economic overview of the economy and employment. (see below).

Holmes: Our cautious and clever watchdog, who sniffs out opportunity like a great detective, but emphasizes guarding assets.

RecessionAlert: Many strong quantitative indicators for both economic and market analysis. While we feature his recession analysis, Dwaine also has several interesting approaches to asset allocation. Try out his new public Twitter Feed.

Georg Vrba: The Business Cycle Indicator and much more.Check out his site for an array of interesting methods. Georg regularly analyzes Bob Dieli’s enhanced aggregate spread, considering when it might first give a recession signal. His interpretation suggests the probability creeping higher, but still after nine months.

Brian Gilmartin: Analysis of expected earnings for the overall market as well as coverage of many individual companies. His most recent post notes that the expected growth rate in S&P earnings is now 8.41% — the highest level since October, 2014.

Doug Short: The World Markets Weekend Update (and much more). His Big Four chart is the single best method to monitor the key indicators used by the National Bureau of Economic Research in recession dating. The latest update now includes the real income data.

Scott Grannis writes this week about the equity risk premium, which I currently score as “high.” This means that I find stocks to be much more attractive the bonds. Here is Scott’s chart of this relationship. The above-average value is IMHO the best gauge of market sentiment – still negative on stocks versus bonds.

 

How to Use WTWA (especially important for new readers)

In this series, I share my preparation for the coming week. I write each post as if I were speaking directly to one of my clients. Most readers can just “listen in.” If you are unhappy with your current investment approach, we will be happy to talk with you. I start with a specific assessment of your personal situation. There is no rush. Each client is different, so I have eight different programs ranging from very conservative bond ladders to very aggressive trading programs. A key question:

Are you preserving wealth, or like most of us, do you need to create more wealth?

Most of my readers are not clients. While I write as if I were speaking personally to one of them, my objective is to help everyone. I provide several free resources. Just write to info at newarc dot com for our current report package. We never share your email address with others, and send only what you seek. (Like you, we hate spam!)

 

Best Advice for the Week Ahead

The right move often depends on your time horizon. Are you a trader or an investor?

Insight for Traders

We consider both our models and the top sources we follow.

Felix, Holmes, and Friends

We continue with a strongly bullish market forecast. All our models are now fully invested. The group meets weekly for a discussion they call the “Stock Exchange.” In each post I include a trading theme, ideas from each of our five technical experts, and some rebuttal from a fundamental analyst (usually me, but sometimes a guest expert). We try to have fun, but there are always fresh ideas. Last week the focus was on “Voodoo Chart Reading” inspired by Michael Kahn (see below).

Top Trading Advice

 

Like everyone else, I like reading about Jesse Livermore. He enjoys a reputation as a great trader despite multiple bankruptcies and a life ending in suicide. That certainly is one measure of success!

Joe Fahmy has a nice post highlighting Livermore trading rules from almost 80 years ago. Most still make plenty of sense. It would be a nice project for someone to analyze how these might be different under modern conditions. Out of the many rules I endorse, I especially like this one:

21. Few people ever make money on tips. Beware of inside information. If there was easy money lying around, no one would be forcing it into your pocket.

Brett Steenbarger remains at the top of trader “must-reads.” My favorite post this week is about trading resilience. Many traders do not recognize how negative factors can affect their work. You need the ability to bounce back.

Chartered Market Technician Michael Kahn uses the “Voodoo” word in discussing charts. He has a great post on what you can and cannot expect to learn from your chart study. I especially like his dismissal of the “death cross.”

First of all, the death cross occurs when the trend has already changed. That is the only way the math works, by the way, because the pattern is defined as the 50-day moving average crossing below the 200-day moving average. That cannot happen when prices are rising.

Anyway, in practice we often see the market bounce right as the cross happens. Why? Because typically it has been falling for a while already. Again, is has to be falling otherwise the short-term average cannot drop under the long-term average.

OK, Einsteins, I know we can make the math work with price spikes and outliers but roll with me here.

So, the market may be a bit oversold and it bounces. But overall the cross appeared because most likely something is wrong. Short of real voodoo telling us what’s what that is all we can hope from charts. They do not tell us what will happen. They are meant to give us clues as to what to do.

Insight for Investors

Investors have a longer time horizon. The best moves frequently involve taking advantage of trading volatility!

Best of the Week

If I had to pick a single most important source for investors to read this week it would be Michael Kitces great article, The Evolution Of The Four Pillars For Retirement Income Portfolios.He presents an excellent history of retirement needs and alternatives. He also analyzes the consequences of each of the current choices. I especially like this element of the conclusion, an issue that we frequently discuss with clients:

In fact, arguably when thinking about a retirement portfolio, it’s better to think in terms of “retirement cash flows” than retirement income, as what constitutes “income” for investment purposes (interest and dividends, but not principal) is different than what constitutes “income” for tax purposes (as interest and dividends might be tax-free coming from a Roth, while principal may be fully taxable if withdrawn from a pre-tax retirement account).

Nice work, with many great points. Please read the entire post.

Stock Ideas

 

David Fish has updated the list of dividend champions, challengers, and contenders. This is always a good source of ideas. This week he features McGrath RentCorp (MGRC) and includes some analysis from Chuck Carnevale.

Chuck is back with a deep dive on United Parcel Service (UPS). The quantitative metrics are solid, so he takes on the key concern – the challenges in business to consumer deliveries. This is a typically first-rate analysis.

Brian Gilmartin’s earnings-driven analysis still favors energy stocks. Like everyone else, we will be paying even more attention to Brian next week as earnings season begins.

Barron’s agrees with the energy theme, and also features Under Armour (UA) and Lowes (LOW).

Our Stock Exchange always has some fresh ideas. There are ideas from five different approaches. Felix, who is most aligned with long-term traders, likes Wynn Resorts (WYNN). The most recent post provides descriptions of each model. You will probably identify with one of the characters, and your questions are welcomed.

Lee Jackson has five “safe stocks” if you think the “Trump magic” has worn off.

Yield Plays

Blue Harbinger has some dividend ideas in health care.

Wade D. Pfau does a nice job in describing bond ladders. I especially like the rolling ladder, which we offer as a complement to higher-yielding programs. Anyone interested in safe yield, with the potential to grow with the market, should read this post.

Emerging Europe?

Frank Holmes opines that the time has come.

Personal Finance

Professional investors and traders have been making Abnormal Returns a daily stop for over ten years. If you are a serious investor managing your own account, this is a must-read. Even the more casual long-term investor should make time for a weekly trip on Wednesday. Tadas always has first-rate links for investors in his weekly special edition. As usual, investors will find value in several of them, but my favorite is this week’s best investment advice (see above). Other great posts included the question of whether you would prefer $1 million or $5000 per month for your retirement, and the pragmatic warning about making financial decisions on your smartphone.

 

In his regular column, Seeking Alpha Editor Gil Weinreich takes up yet another important topic – diversification and what is added by ETFs. He cites contributor Roger Nussbaum, who provides a balanced discussion of diversification, stock picking, concentrated portfolios, and recent strong opinions. A timely point for discussion.

 

Watch out for…

 

Costly but natural mistakes. Josh Brown cites data showing that investors significantly underperform market averages. Mostly this comes from psychological reactions, but some is also stock selection. The key chart is below. If you are lagging on your investment performance, please request (main at newarc dot com) my free report on the 12 Pitfalls for Individual Investors. It is a quick and easy test to see if you can profitably “fly solo.” Here is Josh’s chart:

Subprime auto. Steve Eisman warns. Barron’s also features a negative take on CarMax (KMX) for the same reason.

Good companies that are bad investments. Aswath Damodaran explains how to tell this difference. Here is the summary, which I strongly endorse!

Final Thoughts

 

A major change in leadership has everyone thirsting for information about possible policy changes. Stated positions from a candidate are not dependable. Those ideas might change once in office, or might prove infeasible. In the case of foreign policy, the range of possible results is especially wide. The President has a lot of flexibility, and many of the relationships have a personal quality.

This highlights the importance of this week’s Trump-Xi meeting. Like a top poker player, you should be looking for “tells” about true intentions, future policies, and the economic implications.

As is often the case, it is foolish to predict the specific outcome of these meetings. Readers sometimes expect a definitive answer to the week’s question in my “final thought.” That is not the mission of WTWA. I try to do two things:

  1. Explain what will be the focus in the coming week;
  2. Provide help with interpreting events.

It is important to recognize what you do not know, what is unknowable, and what is pure speculation. Pretending that you know a specific answer can be costly.

Given that setting, how can we prepare for this event? Most observers will be focused on specific policy implications. That is a mistake. I am interested in the following:

  • Overall tone and friendliness. I do not expect any golf! This will be an early test of how foreign leaders, aggressively criticized by Trump during the election campaign, respond to him as President.
  • Symbolic quality of the announced results. A tough line by the President? Some clear concessions by Xi?
  • Common ground. Will there be an emphasis on issues like North Korea?
  • Technical missteps. The China team consists of specialist on the specific issues – those who work only on these matters and have done so for years. The US team has dismissed the experts for a more general approach. Will this matter? Will it lead to blunders?

The most important consequence will be the implications for trade policy. One major viewpoint is that President Trump has engaged in tough talk to facilitate bargaining. The other is that he will instigate a trade war. Which is closer to the truth?

This week will provide the first hints. Stay tuned!

Trump’s Address to Congress: A Preview for Investors

A Presidential address to Congress is an important occasion. In the first year of a term, it is called just that. In later years, it will be called the State of the Union Address. The circumstances, ceremony, and protocol are the same. I have been watching these speeches for decades, first as a political science and public policy professor and more recently as an investment manager. The combination of these perspectives helps me identify the most important aspects of these events.

Background

The first such speech is especially important as a clue about the new relationship between the executive and legislative branches of government. I previewed Obama in 2009. In 2008 I suggested ideas for the Bush team, predicting that you would not hear that speech. I was (unfortunately) correct in that prediction. My suggestions would have helped to stabilize markets before the 2008 crisis.

The Trump Address

The simple term “address” is quite different from the standard approach of the President. His Inaugural Address is our only example. Most people, including most of the punditry, will be looking for the wrong things. The key points include both style and substance. In the conclusion, I will explain more about why the style is important. Here is your Trump Speech Checklist:

  • Initial entry. The Doorkeeper of the House will announce his arrival. A normal entry includes sustained and respectful cheering and a slow, hand-shaking pace up the aisle. It will be our first clue about mutual respect, and especially the President’s respect for Congressional traditions.
  • Trump’s target audience. In these speeches, there is always tension between playing to the room or to the TV audience. Trump’s style generally emphasizes the audience in front of him and is fueled by feedback from that audience. Most people do not understand how challenging it can be to remain focused on the larger television audience instead of what you see right in front of you.
  • Specific policy statements. Do not expect fresh news. He has already commented on most key issues, but without any real legislation. This is almost a polar opposite of the early days of Obama – early legislative success, but lingering doubt about what was to come next.
  • Signals of cooperation – in both directions. Will the President embrace the power and authority of Congress, seeking their cooperation? Will he realize that support from Democrats will be needed on some issues? And will the Congressional audience reciprocate and appreciate any such overtures?
  • Demonstration of political savvy. Recent statements suggest that the new administration has learned about the necessities of Congressional politics, and the implied order of policy actions. Any such signals will get a favorable reception on both sides of the aisle.
  • Channeling the Great Communicator. Since the Reagan era it has been typical for Presidents to salt the audience with special guests who will be recognized. Most importantly, this humanizes the need for policy proposals. Putting a face on problems is powerful symbolism. Rumor has it that Democrats will have their own guests, but that is not likely to matter.

Conclusion

The media will have various criteria for determining the success of this address. Polls will give us another take.

For investors, we can look for information on two key subjects:

  1. Compromise. The market does not want years of fighting over key policies. Think back to the election night reversal in stock futures after the President-elect made a conciliatory speech. Investors want certainty (meaning compromise) more than any specific policy.
  2. Timing. Most of the punditry has not done well in identifying “Trump stocks.” That is not surprising. This job requires a sector analysis of policies, needed cooperation, timing, and analysis of affected stocks. I created and described a Trump matrix, which continues to build with each new piece of information.

This preview is not as much fun as a beer-drinking bingo card of likely statements, but it will help you to focus on what is important.

If you really want to own the right market sectors and stocks, you need a firm grasp on the likely policy changes.

Stock Exchange: Is Technical Analysis Effective Post-Election?

A truly disruptive event generates surprisingly large moves – sectors, stocks, and sometimes the overall market. Methods that work well in normal times may break down under this stress. Traders and investors must ask:

  • Is my system still working?
  • Should I adjust?
  • Should I suspend operations for a time?

When trading based upon scientifically developed models, these questions are somewhat easier to answer. We have solid expectations for behavior and performance, because of extensive testing on a generous helping of out-of-sample data. Most importantly, the human managers know and understand the model inputs.

We have great respect for our group of models, but we retain human control. This week, for example, Oscar liked our solar sector. We knew something that Oscar didn’t – the likely effect of Trump policy on solar stocks. What appeared to be a buying opportunity, might be an illusion. The trade might still work, but there are other, safer choices that are nearly as good.

Technical analysts can always be tempted by confirmation bias and their knowledge of events. When using models, you very sparingly use exceptions. If you view every trade as a suggestion, you wind up doing your own trading, with your model advice used only for (biased) confirmation.

The Stock Exchange provides an expert-level debate on technical and fundamental analysis. I have placed more background at the end of the article. Comments, dissent, and specific stock questions are welcome!

This Week—Athena Loves Amgen

This week’s featured expert is Athena. Vince (our modeling guru) designed Athena to be very aggressive in finding new positions, but swift to exit those that were not working. These are not “stops” as we normally think of them. Exits are not based upon specific downside limits. Instead, there is an increased risk warning (IRW) that signals a change of behavior in how the stock is trading. The result is exceptionally good risk control both for individual positions and the overall portfolio. While we have not told the other models, Athena is Vince’s favorite.

Here are the ideas for this week, beginning with Athena, our featured expert.

Athena

I love to make a quick buck finding trends. An insider secret: There’s nothing trendier than the baseless speculation following a big election. My pick this week is AMGN, one of many biotech stocks rocketing skyward since this week’s big news. It’s still attractive at this price, but I’ll dump it in a heartbeat, maybe by Inauguration Day.

[J] You actually know about the election?

[A] Yes, but don’t tell the other models. They already resent my wisdom. I do not use fundamental information, but I am aware of it.

[J] This choice does seem logical on an earnings basis, as you can see from this chart. The stock trades at a discount and has a nice 2.7% dividend yield as well.

[A] It is nice to see that you finally agree with me on a choice. My other picks have also done well.

Felix

I look for long-term themes. Oil and gas stocks have been a very long-term holding. We are picking up and I still am adding to the sector. I am going to pick ECR as the example this week. This is a fairly small company with modest revenue but the chart reflects that of the big boys. That is a good sign and something that I like immensely.

[J] You have been early (a euphemism for “wrong” on energy and mining).

[F] I sold some miners, as I will do when necessary. The energy investments will prove out in the long run.

[J] I have suggested a ceiling on energy prices in the low 50’s, mostly due to more supply returning.

[F] That is a short-sighted, I mean short-term viewpoint. You will see.

Questions for Felix

From Seeking Alpha

 Tiki Bar Capital comments:

Great call on healthcare, Jeff! And BMRN in particular.

The biotech sector is close to retesting its lows. Biotech and pharma in general seem like the sectors that will see the biggest rallies once the smoke clears after the election.

1234gel joins in:

Ditto the BMRN call…

[F] Those were not comments for me—or for you. BMRN was an Oscar pick.

From A Dash

Phil

Comments on my two favorites- AAPL & BRK/B?

[F] AAPL is a weak buy and BRK/A as about neutral.

[J] I like AAPL a lot.

[F] This is my question section. I need more of them since I am saving up for Spring Break.

[J] It is only November…

[F] With what you are paying me for each answer, that is how long it will take for a nice trip.

Oscar

Basketball season is back in full swing, which means I’m looking for a rebound. My favorite sector this week is Diversified REITs, demonstrated here by CMO. This area was already looking up at the beginning of October, and now we’re seeing gains as a part of the broad based post-election rally. Grab the rebound, make an easy layup, and move on to the next play.

[J] I thought that Holmes was our rebound specialist.

[O] Sometimes the dog and I agree.

[J] This one has fundamental appeal as well. The dividend of 9.5% is great. The PE is 12.3, above the average level of the last nine years, 7.9. What will happen as interest rates rise? Chuck Carnevale’s excellent tools help us out on that question. This chart shows the P/E versus interest rates over the last nine years.

Holmes

This week I’m picking TSCO, Tractor Supply a specialty consumer cyclical stock. After a sharp decline in September, this stock has proceeded to consolidate and backfill making a low of 61.62 on October 28th. This is a logical place for a stop. I bought this stock a few days ago at 65.91 so it is slightly higher now. I am looking for a nice rebound to low 80s. If we start to rally, I’ll be moving up my stop aggressively. Risking $4.30 to make $15.00 is the sort of Risk/Reward scenario I like. If I’m right just half the time, I can still be a big winner.

[J] There are plenty of these stores around here. It is not just tractors. Think clothing, footwear, hunting supplies, garden, parts, and more. If they do not have it, you probably do not need it. The costal elites do not understand this.

[H] As I told you last week, you only need to track the information from technical data.

[J] You were right about BMRN.

[H] As I told you last week, and I quote “The stock prices tell you everything you need to know about upcoming events, including this election. If a Clinton victory is expected and is negative for health care, that is already reflected in the stock price. My trade works if this sentiment is overdone, and it works big if Mr. Trump wins.”

[J] You were right.

[H] My YTD results are also great.

[J] It is unseemly to boast. See how you can do in the poker game!

 

Background on the Stock Exchange

Each week Felix and Oscar host a poker game for some of their friends. Since they are all traders they love to discuss their best current ideas before the game starts. They like to call this their “Stock Exchange.” Their methods are excellent, as you know if you have been following the series. Since the time frames and risk profiles differ, so do the stock ideas. You get to be a fly on the wall from my report. I am the only human present, and the only one using any fundamental analysis.

The result? Several expert ideas each week from traders, and a brief comment on the fundamentals from the human investor. The models are named to make it easy to remember their trading personalities. Each week features a different expert.

What is this about? Since launching this series I have had good questions on three general themes. Here are the questions and some brief answers.

  1. The model characters are fun, but please tell me more about what they do.

    I include the general personality of the model at the end of each article. I will begin featuring one approach each week with more detail, and soon provide a reference page for readers.

  2. Why don’t you show a track record on performance?

    I understand that those trying to sell a newsletter or chat room often provide some sort of time-stamped real-time record. You will find that most of these people are not subject to compliance rules. The “track records” tell you nothing, since they do not have enough trades to get into the “long run.” Confidence in a model comes from knowing how it is developed and tested. I would rather ask a few questions to a developer than see a few months of real-time picks. It is easy to spot the amateurs.

  3. Why should I care about these model picks?

    You probably read many articles with stock ideas. Some are a single idea based upon technical analysis from a source you do not know about. At the Stock Exchange, you get four different recommendations from technical “experts” as well as some fundamental commentary as a rebuttal. I am not trying to sell anything. We are developing an institutional product. The results are good enough that I am willing to share and discuss with readers. Some of my clients are invested in these models, so I am not going to provide every trade in real time. It is supposed to be interesting and fun! Look at the ideas and do your own research.

 

Questions

If you want an opinion about a specific stock or sector, even those we did not mention, just ask! Put questions in the comments. Address them to a specific expert if you wish. Each has a specialty. Who is your favorite? (You can choose me, although my feelings will not be hurt very much if you prefer one of the models).

Cast of Characters

Felix is fussy, precise, and very cautious. He looks for what is working, but it also must have upside potential. He is an investor who thinks long term. Felix will not usually announce new picks, but he will answer questions, saying what he thinks about specific stocks. He will also comment on favorite themes and sectors.

Oscar is naturally optimistic and a bit excitable. He likes to go with winners, and focuses on a one-month time frame. He trades either sector ETFs, or a basket of stocks (equally weighted) that reflect a sector. Oscar will mention a favorite sector each week, and will also answer questions about sectors.

Holmes is a trader, but a cautious one. Holmes emphasizes asset protection through profit taking, stops, and trailing stops. He is careful in selecting new positions, and generally looks at an intermediate time frame. While he does not know the definition of “mean reversion” he loves rebounds! There is no set holding period, but two or three months is not unusual. Holmes will tell us one stock recommended that week. For those who sign up for his email list (no charge, privacy respected, holmes at newarc dot com) he will report exits with a one-day delay.

Athena trades more frequently than the others, but still limits risk. Her inspiration helps to find good ideas. Her excellent quant skills find attractive risk/reward opportunities. Her wisdom leads her to exit trades that are not working. Athena will provide a new idea each week.

Jeff usually has some comments about stock or market fundamentals. Unlike the other witty participants, he sounds like an old prof.

The conversation is light-hearted, but the stock analysis is serious. We own positions in each of the stocks mentioned.

And finally, you can learn about the eternal debate between technical analysts and those using fundamentals.

Post Election: Pause, Reflect, and Act Carefully

Take a deep breath. Or maybe two.

The biggest trap for investors during an aggressive political campaign? Allowing the political narrative to become the foundation for your portfolio decisions. I have frequently advocated that investors should be “politically agnostic,” willing to make sound investments regardless of who is in power. This is always easier said than done, particularly in an environment of extreme claims.

Acting emotionally and without sufficient thought is usually a costly mistake. Those who sold all stocks when President Obama was elected missed a huge rally. Those who sold futures contracts on the breaking news last night also have big losses this morning. Here are some key points:

  1. Do not go “all in” if you supported Mr. Trump or “all out” if you backed Sec. Clinton. We have a resilient economy and a political system with many ways of resisting extreme actions.
  2. Things will change less than most people expect. Many proposals that sounded attractive on the campaign stump will prove impractical. The responsibility of governing also has an important effect on every new President. There will not, for example, be a recession just because of the election.
  3. The trading reaction is swift and large, but often overdone. I see price weakness in nearly every company that Mr. Trump criticized during the campaign. Does this make sense? Every aspect of the Trump agenda is reflected in this morning’s trading: Hospitals and technology down. Companies with strong links to Mexico down. Drug stocks higher. Interest rates higher. Banks higher. Construction stocks higher. The general ideas sound reasonable, but there is a great distance between concept and achievement.
  4. There will be new opportunities. Careful analysis will provide a better idea of where policy change is likely. Stock picking and sector picking will be more important than in recent years.

I wanted to provide some of the important considerations right away, but there is plenty of work to be done. If you focus on objective analysis, you too can find profitable investments no matter who is in power.

Stock Exchange: Contrarian Pre-Election Trade Ideas in Chips, Biotech, Trucking, and Energy

Each week Felix and Oscar host a poker game for some of their friends. Since they are all traders they love to discuss their best current ideas before the game starts. They like to call this their “Stock Exchange.” Their methods are excellent, as you will learn if you join us for a few weeks. Since the time frames and risk profiles differ, so do the stock ideas. You get to be a fly on the wall from my report. I am the only human present, and the only one using any fundamental analysis.

The result? Several expert ideas each week from traders, and a brief comment on the fundamentals from the human investor. The models are named to make it easy to remember their trading personalities. Each week features a different expert.

I have placed more background at the end of the article. Comments, dissent, and specific stock questions are welcome!

This Week—Be Fussy with Felix

This week’s featured expert is Felix. Vince (our modeling guru) designed Felix to be an opportunistic, long-term trader with a time horizon of more than a year. This does not mean “buy-and-hold.” Felix is very fussy about new positions and aggressively drops those that are not working. Felix does not do much trading, so he can be a bit boring. To make up for that, Felix is our leader in answering reader questions. With nothing better to do, each week he generates a rating for every stock in the universe.

Here are the ideas for this week, beginning with Felix, our featured expert.

Felix

I look for long-term themes, and I have a great one this week. I am enjoying the long drive of tech. Let’s pick Micron Technology (MU) as an example. The chart looks like my heart monitor when Oscar comes home and makes himself a salami sandwich after I just cleaned up the kitchen. Sky-rocketing!! The ups and downs well make up the overall value of this one.

[J] This is yet another pick from you guys that is totally unsupported by earnings! Look at Chuck Carnevale’s basic chart for the stock.

[F] The earnings may be light this year—

[J] Try almost non-existent.

[F] But the market is forward-looking. You can see that expected earnings for 2017 are much better. That is just the start.

[J] 2017?

[F] Only professors focus on past earnings. Think ahead!

[Felix] I’ve had a question this week from A Dash of Insight:

Energy- have heard from others this sector is “emerging” i.e., getting stronger.  As such, how about XLE and OIH?
Seems to me that growth in this sector will depend on higher oil prices which I do not see coming unless OPEC makes and enforces an agreement to limit production (not likely, IMO).

[Felix] I have looked at XLE and OIH and they rate as middling on my scale. Energy has been low for so long that, yes, it is getting stronger. It is just at a very minimal level right now. OPEC is now finally making some changes (after years of sitting back). The effects might be a bit slower than we’d like, but there are a lot of changes now and in my opinion the future.

[J] Energy stocks are out of the danger range right now. Potential added production seems to provide a cap in the low 50’s for oil prices, but demand remains solid. These are probably reasonable long-term plays.

[F] I’m glad that you agree with me about something. Readers — please keep your questions coming. I get paid for each answer. Jeff makes Jack Benny look like a spendthrift and I need the money.

Oscar

I’ll be the first to admit I’m not a fan of tennis. All that jumping back and forth makes the game hard to follow – gives me a headache, really. At first glance, that might be what you see when you check the chart for Swift Transportation Co (SWFT), a member of my current favorite sector. I use my own sector baskets rather than ETFs, and trucking has a very high rating. Look to the individual stocks for some good ideas. SWFT is on a solid four-month upswing. I would be perfectly comfortable holding onto this one for another month or so.

[J] Why not ETFs?

[O] Intra-day pricing does not seem to reflect the underlying positions. I have a great basket with individually weighted members. I do not compete with the HFT models.

[J] That makes sense, but I expected you to have something inspired by the World Series.

[O] Have you ever seen the old Chicago stockyards? This business reflects the heartland, and the celebration is extending all over town. I am taking the day off tomorrow to attend the parade.

[J] You mean that you are skipping your regular day at Hawthorne? No sure things?

[O] I’ll call in if you need me.

Holmes

I am the rebound specialist. If you like to buy dips and sell rips, I’m your dog. I am also logical, deductive and careful. I cap my risk with stops setting up for good gains but small losses. This week I bought Biomarin Pharmaceutical (BMRN) closed today at 80.90. This stock is displaying a classic pattern of distribution and consolidation and it looks like it’s ready to move towards it 50d MA (86.60). If it gets there, I’d look for it to march even higher towards its 200d MA (91.50). I’ll keep this on a tight leash with 76.00 stop. These strategies don’t always work but the long-run risk/reward record is excellent.

[J] Didn’t you hear anything about the election? If Clinton wins, health care and biotech will get crushed.

[H] What election?

[J] What? No one in my team of models is discussing the Presidential election?

[H] The stock prices tell you everything you need to know about upcoming events, including this election. If a Clinton victory is expected and is negative for health care, that is already reflected in the stock price. My trade works if this sentiment is overdone, and it works big if Mr. Trump wins.

[J] I agree that the health care selloff is overdone, but we might not see improved pricing until February.

Athena

Usually I like to pick stocks that already have more momentum, but this is too good to pass up. HollyFrontier (HFC) looks to be bottoming out here, and I expect to ride this one out for a decent run. The clue here is a long solid base, providing attractive support. Most of my current positions are from April, and they are all doing well.

[J] The near-term earnings look very unattractive.

[A] As I try to teach you each week Jeff, you need to look farther into the future.

 

Background on the Stock Exchange

What is this about? Since launching this series I have had good questions on three general themes. Here are the questions and some brief answers.

  1. The model characters are fun, but please tell me more about what they do.

    I include the general personality of the model at the end of each article. I will begin featuring one approach each week with more detail, and soon provide a reference page for readers.

  2. Why don’t you show a track record on performance?

    I understand that those trying to sell a newsletter or chat room often provide some sort of time-stamped real-time record. You will find that most of these people are not subject to compliance rules. The “track records” tell you nothing, since they do not have enough trades to get into the “long run.” Confidence in a model comes from knowing how it is developed and tested. I would rather ask a few questions to a developer than see a few months of real-time picks. It is easy to spot the amateurs.

  3. Why should I care about these model picks?

    You probably read many articles with stock ideas. Some are a single idea based upon technical analysis from a source you do not know about. At the Stock Exchange, you get four different recommendations from technical “experts” as well as some fundamental commentary as a rebuttal. I am not trying to sell anything. We are developing an institutional product. The results are good enough that I am willing to share and discuss with readers. Some of my clients are invested in these models, so I am not going to provide every trade in real time. It is supposed to be interesting and fun! Look at the ideas and do your own research.

 

Questions

If you want an opinion about a specific stock or sector, even those we did not mention, just ask! Put questions in the comments. Address them to a specific expert if you wish. Each has a specialty. Who is your favorite? (You can choose me, although my feelings will not be hurt very much if you prefer one of the models).

Cast of Characters

Felix is fussy, precise, and very cautious. He looks for what is working, but it also must have upside potential. He is an investor who thinks long term. Felix will not usually announce new picks, but he will answer questions, saying what he thinks about specific stocks. He will also comment on favorite themes and sectors.

Oscar is naturally optimistic and a bit excitable. He likes to go with winners, and focuses on a one-month time frame. He trades either sector ETFs, or a basket of stocks (equally weighted) that reflect a sector. Oscar will mention a favorite sector each week, and will also answer questions about sectors.

Holmes is a trader, but a cautious one. Holmes emphasizes asset protection through profit taking, stops, and trailing stops. He is careful in selecting new positions, and generally looks at an intermediate time frame. While he does not know the definition of “mean reversion” he loves rebounds! There is no set holding period, but two or three months is not unusual. Holmes will tell us one stock recommended that week. For those who sign up for his email list (no charge, privacy respected, holmes at newarc dot com) he will report exits with a one-day delay.

Athena trades more frequently than the others, but still limits risk. Her inspiration helps to find good ideas. Her excellent quant skills find attractive risk/reward opportunities. Her wisdom leads her to exit trades that are not working. Athena will provide a new idea each week.

Jeff usually has some comments about stock or market fundamentals. Unlike the other witty participants, he sounds like an old prof.

The conversation is light-hearted, but the stock analysis is serious. We own positions in each of the stocks mentioned.

And finally, you can learn about the eternal debate between technical analysts and those using fundamentals.

Weighing the Week Ahead: Is the Brexit Vote a Turning Point for Stocks?

This week’s economic calendar has plenty of data during a week where many will want to anticipate the long weekend. Despite these factors, most are still trying to digest the Brexit decision. There will be stories on politics, polling, history, and human interest. The economic and financial market consequences will get the most play from financial media.

Is the Brexit Decision a Market Turning Point?

Last Week

There was some significant economic news, but attention focused on Europe and the United Kingdom.

Theme Recap

In my last WTWA, I predicted that the week would be all about Brexit. Despite Yellen’s Congressional testimony, the Brexit theme was a wire-to-wire winner.

Last week’s “Final Thoughts” section was also on target, suggesting a plausible range for the week’s trading.

The Story in One Chart

I always start my personal review of the week by looking at this great chart from Doug Short. You can clearly see the early strength, based mostly on the Brexit polls, followed by Friday’s collapse. Doug has a special knack for pulling together all of the relevant information. His charts save more than a thousand words! Read his entire post where he adds analysis and several other charts providing long-term perspective.

SPX-five-day

 

The News

Each week I break down events into good and bad. Often there is an “ugly” and on rare occasion something really good. My working definition of “good” has two components. The news must be market friendly and better than expectations. I avoid using my personal preferences in evaluating news – and you should, too!

 

The Good

  • Hotel occupancy continues at a near-record pace. (Calculated Risk).
  • Fed stress tests were solid. Banks can $526 billion in losses under the “adverse scenario.” (MarketWatch). Bloomberg’s editors have a contrarian viewpoint.
  • Existing home sales were strong. Bill McBride explains that it would have been even better if inventory were not so low. It is a complex story because baby boomers are “aging in place” and some single-family homes were converted to rentals. The numbers do not always reveal the underlying strength. And BTW, mortgage rates are near record lows. The good news was reflected in the Lennar earnings release.
  • Chemical activity is up 3% in the last three months. (Scott Grannis).

CAB 1960-

  • Initial jobless claims dropped to 259K, a great reading. It is important to monitor job creation as well as job losses, so this good news is not the whole story.

The Bad

  • Durable goods orders declined by 2.2%, missing expectations. Steven Hansen examines year-over-year changes in the adjusted data and arrives at a slightly better conclusion.
  • Social Security financing projections got worse, exhausting the funds two years earlier than expected. D-Day is now 2028. Political leaders need to get a compromise solution in place very quickly. The longer the delay, the more difficult the solution becomes.
  • Leading indicators declined 0.2% when a gain of 0.2% was expected.
  • Rail Traffic continues to decline, although the rolling average is a little better. We have been following Steven Hansen’s coverage of this topic (GEI), partly because of the exhaustive analysis of past data. At some point we might see the effects of reduced coal consumption to show up.
  • Michigan sentiment slightly missed expectations with a reading of 93.5. Doug Short has the best representation of the history of the series and the link between sentiment and the economy.

Michigan-consumer-sentiment-index

  • New home sales at an annual seasonally adjusted rate of 551K missed expectations of 560K and decreased from the prior month. Calculated Risk provides a chart of the long-term results.

NHSMay2016

 

The Ugly

Non-working, prime-age men. With varying motives, there is a very misleading and oft-repeated “94 million people can’t find jobs.” While this is technically true, it includes grandma, teenagers, and people who prefer to study or take care of families – among others. A much better group to study is men between the ages of 25 and 54. The White House Council of Economic Advisors released a report examining the long term decline in labor force participation in this group, a trend they call “worrisome.” Various sources have provided summaries of the 50-page report and added commentary. Alan Berube (Brookings) does this nicely, including this chart of areas where the problem is greatest.

prime age employment map

 

The Silver Bullet

I occasionally give the Silver Bullet award to someone who takes up an unpopular or thankless cause, doing the real work to demonstrate the facts. No award this week. Nominations are always welcome.

Noteworthy

I enjoy Pandora’s music service, often listening as I write WTWA. I have never owned the stock, but when their CEO appeared on CNBC last week I turned off the mute and TIVO’d back to watch the interview. Among other things, he discussed the potential for targeted political advertising. He stated that they could predict votes with 90% confidence using only two variables: Zip code and Pandora playlists.

The Week Ahead

We would all like to know the direction of the market in advance. Good luck with that! Second best is planning what to look for and how to react. That is the purpose of considering possible themes for the week ahead. You can make your own predictions in the comments.

The Calendar

We have a big week for economic data, with many participants edging out the door by noon on Friday. I always highlight only the most important items, helping us all to focus.

The “A” List

  • The ISM Index (F). Important for those on recession watch.
  • Consumer Confidence (T). Good read on employment and spending.
  • Personal Income and Spending (W). Key data on consumer health.
  • Auto Sales (F). Continuing strength in this private data series?
  • Initial claims (Th). The best concurrent indicator for employment trends.

The “B” List

  • Pending Home Sales (W). Less direct impact than new home sales, but a good read on the housing market.
  • Construction Spending (F). A noisy series, but an important sector.
  • Q1 GDP (T). This is the final estimate – at least until benchmark revisions. Old news, but it is what goes in the books.
  • More Fed Stress Test Results (W). Which banks can increase dividends and buy back shares?
  • Chicago PMI (Th). Market will watch for a hint about the ISM report.
  • Crude inventories (W). Often has a significant impact on oil markets, a focal point for traders of everything.

 

Fed Chair Yellen is meeting with ECB President Draghi at a European forum on central banking. That should be interesting! We’ll get some additional FedSpeak later in the week.

Next Week’s Theme

With the momentous Brexit results known, it is time for the pundits to explain what it all means. Despite the daily flow of economic reports, Friday’s stage-setting selloff guarantees that attention will once again focus on Brexit. It is certainly historic, and might provide a tipping point for the UK or Europe.

While the financial media theme for the week ahead will be broader, the key point will be:

Is the Brexit result a turning point for equity markets?

As was the case last week, I read many articles on this topic, watched webinars from experts, and listened to the punditry. (As I write this, I am reminded of the best football preview program. Mrs. OldProf, who grew up in Green Bay is an enthusiastic and knowledgeable fan. She loves the show, and so do I. You have to record it in the middle of the night and watch it on Sunday morning. One of the hosts, Merril Hoge, usually says that he did “70 hours of tape study” in the prior week! The plays he selects to analyze provide some credibility for this claim).

Since I read quickly, I did not spend 70 hours on Brexit. I did read a lot more than you probably want to. In this week’s WTWA I want to cover a range of key perspectives. Read some of these links, the best and most responsible samples of each type, and draw your own conclusions. Then check out mine at the end of this post.

  • Every market was rocked, or hammered – but maybe not a Lehman moment. CNBC kept running the “Markets in Chaos” subhead. The WSJ coverage was more moderate than most, but it will still worry most.
  • Expect more volatility. Beware! (Oppenheimer)
  • Brexit is bad for U.S. companies and corporate profits. (Barron’s)
  • Expect a decline in UK GDP. Econbrowser summaries key studies.
  • Expect weakness in the global economy. (The Atlantic).
  • The process will lead to more uncertainty and pain. (Hale Stewart at Bonddad. Also here and here. Further thoughts from his colleague, New Deal Democrat).
  • Cameron has sent the UK into a “potential investability vacuum.” (Reuters BreakingViews)
  • The voting “disaster” will lead to the breakup of the UK. (Reuters BreakingViews)
  • The result may affect U.S. consumer confidence and the 2016 Presidential election. (Benn Steil via GEI)
  • Voter remorse from Brits who did not understand? Google searches raise the question.

Quant Corner

We follow some regular great sources and also the best insights from each week.

Risk Analysis

Whether you are a trader or an investor, you need to understand risk. Risk first, rewards second. I monitor many quantitative reports and highlight the best methods in this weekly update.

The Indicator Snapshot

Indicator Snapshot 062516

 

The Featured Sources:

Brian Gilmartin: Analysis of expected earnings for the overall market as well as coverage of many individual companies. This week he expresses more confidence about growth in earnings.

Bob Dieli: The “C Score” which is a weekly estimate of his Enhanced Aggregate Spread (the most accurate real-time recession forecasting method over the last few decades). His subscribers get Monthly reports including both an economic overview of the economy and employment.

This week the recession odds (in nine months) have nudged closer to 10%. This does not completely reflect Brexit effects, so we may get a further revision.

Holmes: Our cautious and clever watchdog, who sniffs out opportunity like a great detective, but emphasizes guarding assets.

Doug Short: The Big Four Update, the World Markets Weekend Update (and much more).

The ECRI has been dropped from our weekly update. It was not so much because of the bad call in 2011, but the stubborn adherence to this position despite plenty of evidence to the contrary. Those interested can still follow them via Doug Short and Jill Mislinski. The ECRI commentary remains relentlessly bearish despite the upturn in their own index.

Georg Vrba: The Business Cycle Indicator, and much more. Check out his site for an array of interesting methods. His latest update describes the elements of the indicator we cite every week.

RecessionAlert: Many strong quantitative indicators for both economic and market analysis. While we feature his recession analysis, Dwaine also has a number of interesting approaches to asset allocation. Dwaine’s most recent update, U.S Economy most vulnerable to any shock since 2008, shows the recent deterioration in conditions. Read the full post, but the two charts below show the decline of the long-term leading indicators despite continuing low odds of an imminent recession.

2016-06-24_1315

2016-06-24_1334

 

 

As we review the weekly indicators it is important to maintain perspective. A 20% chance of a recession would be average. It is not a reason for fear, since it says that a recession is very unlikely. There will be a time to exercise more caution, but we are not yet close to that point.

I know that some readers have wondered whether the needle was “stuck” on these indicators. There is a temptation to tap on the gauge to see if it moves! We are seeing a little movement this week after a very quiet stretch.

How to Use WTWA

In this series I share my preparation for the coming week. I write each post as if I were speaking directly to one of my clients. For most readers, they can just “listen in.” If you are unhappy with your current investment approach, we will be happy to talk with you. I start with a specific assessment of your personal situation. There is no rush. Each client is different, so I have six different programs ranging from very conservative bond ladders to very aggressive trading programs. A key question:

Are you preserving wealth, or like most of us, do you need to create more wealth?

My objective is to help all readers, so I provide a number of free resources. Just write to info at newarc dot com. We will send whatever you request. We never share your email address with others, and send only what you seek. (Like you, we hate spam!) Free reports include the following:

  • Understanding Risk – what we all should know.
  • Income investing – better yield than the standard dividend portfolio, and also less risk.
  • Felix and Holmes – top artificial intelligence techniques in action.
  • Why 2016 could be the Year for Value Stocks – finding cheap stocks based on long-term earnings.

You can also check out my website for Tips for Individual Investors, and a discussion of the biggest market fears. (I welcome questions or suggestions for new topics.)

 

Best Advice for the Week Ahead

The right move often depends on your time horizon. Are you a trader or an investor?

Insight for Traders

We consider both our models and also the best advice from sources we follow.

Felix and Holmes

We continue our neutral market forecast. Felix is fully invested in fairly aggressive choices. This was good for most of the week, but bad on Friday. The more cautious Holmes is still fully invested, but fared better in Friday trading. Holmes uses a universe of nearly 1000 stocks, selected mostly by liquidity. Even when the overall market is neutral, there will often be some strong candidates. That is what we see now. It is not a resounding endorsement of the overall market, but a vote for opportunistic trading.

Top Trading Advice

Brett Steenbarger once again challenges traders. What can you learn from this?

Bergen poster

 

His crisp analysis shows why it is important to be unique, and also how to do it successfully.

Dr. Brett’s Brexit advice emphasizes the difference between novice and expert traders.

Josh Brown explains how to use the VIX in your trading. There are very good results from watching VIX spikes during an uptrend. (See also Dana Lyons). Many investors take the opposite viewpoint about the “fear gauge.” Maybe that is why it works so well. Maybe it is related to what Dr. Brett is saying!

Why do traders blow out? One reason is “revenge trading.”

Insight for Investors

Investors have a longer time horizon. The best moves frequently involve taking advantage of trading volatility!

Best of the Week

If I had to pick a single most important source for investors to read, it would be this analysis from “Davidson” via Todd Sullivan. This is extremely important and worth reading carefully. Twice if you need to. He takes on the basic issue of why most analyses of value and momentum methods are wrong, introducing what he calls the 1% solution.

A key point is that value investors have great influence on markets:

The long-term perspective reveals that SP500 Index has grown ~6.1% in line with long-term earnings. Value Investors perform contextual analysis to determine at what price they find long-term value in markets. The period 1965-1982 was a period of SP500 underperformance relative to earnings. Rising inflation caused Value Investors to contract P/E levels.

Screen-Shot-2016-06-21-at-12.33.27-PM-768x492

 

From the SP500 EPS & P/E’s 1871-May 2016 chart, it appears we may be near a market top, but Value Investors today indicate this is not the case in their experience. Explaining why Value Investors are likely to be right requires contextual analysis which many do mentally. Warren Buffett’s now famous saying, “My brain is a computer” explains why this is so.

He provides a lot of additional explanation and detail, concluding:

Be patient. Several years of economic expansion appear to be ahead of us. I expect investors to shake off the current pessimism and shift equity markets higher. Investment success relies in having realistic expectations and being grounded to fundamentals.

(At some point several years from now, the economic data should indicate that an economic correction is likely. I will then recommend an appropriate shift in strategy. But, not today!!)

[Jeff] This is very strong and exactly right for investors.

Stock Ideas

Airlines benefiting from Brexit? Raymond James provides some ideas. (via Barron’s)

Ben Levisohn asks, Biotech: Buy the Brexit Blowup? His sources suggest that the selling greatly exaggerates the actual impact on many stocks. Check it out for specific ideas.

How about diversifying by strategy rather than by allocation? Michael Batnick explains how this can both improve returns while reducing risk. (Holmes is vigorously wagging his tail in agreement).

Tesla. Really? Every big firm hates the deal to buy Solar City and has downgraded the stock. One contrarian source likes the underlying numbers and notes the potential that the deal would be withdrawn. That was our thinking when we initiated a small option position. This is the kind of situation that can provide a great risk/reward ratio, but not by just buying the stock.

The Hardest Question: When to Sell

Chuck Carnevale wisely notes:

The most common complaint that I have heard from investors over my 40+ years in the financial services industry is as follows: “Everyone wants to tell me what to buy and when, but no one ever tells me when to sell.”

Hint #1: Do not sell just because the price drops.

Hint #2: Keep the stock’s fair value in mind.

Read the full post for plenty of helpful analysis and examples.

Personal Finance

Professional investors and traders have been making Abnormal Returns a daily stop for over ten years. The average investor should make time (even if not able to read AR every day as I do) for a weekly trip on Wednesday. Tadas always has first-rate links for investors in his weekly special edition. There are always several great choices worth reading, but my favorite this week is Morgan Housel with (yet another) great piece. It is aimed at new grads (although nearly everyone could benefit). He asks various sources for their best advice in five words. There are plenty of good ideas here, even though he allows four more words of advice than Dustin Hoffman got.

What would I say? How about: Don’t spend all at once. Well that was what my son calls “dad humor.”

My own father had great advice, and it did not take five words: Always think of tomorrow.

Runner up? This analysis of the 30-year mortgage, which might cost buyers an extra $100,000 or so, just so they can reach for more than they can afford.

Doing your own work?

If you are a serious individual investor making your own decisions, you should monitor your stocks via Seeking Alpha’s excellent transcript service. You can also get a lot of information from Avondale Asset Management’s weekly summary.

Final Thoughts

 

There is an important distinction among various Brexit effects: politics, history, economics, and markets. If we were sitting down for a cup of coffee or a beer, I would discuss any of them. As investors we should be mainly concerned with the last, and perhaps a bit with the economic effects.

That will be my focus.

The Path Mattered

The five-day path to the final decision was very important. The range of the week’s trading was within the +/- 2% we cited last week. The week started with a rally when markets mistakenly thought that the “remain” vote would prevail. When the opposite occurred, the market gave that gain back and declined another 1.3% or so. Everything was within the range that we expected.

  • If you kept this in mind, the big selling on Friday was not a surprise.
  • The path set up a big news event – markets in chaos, stocks slammed, Brexit threatens world economy, etc. Suppose that the vote had been on Monday, before the run-up. A decline of 1.3% would have been a relatively normal reaction to some negative news – not a catastrophe.
  • The psychology is in place. The weekend news coverage will frighten individual investors, probably leading to a weak day on Monday.

Most Fears Are Speculative

The measurable effects are all modest.

The biggest negative impacts all relate to speculation about the effect of uncertainty.

Investment Implications

As is often the case, the best risk/reward for investors is contrarian.

  • Allow markets to digest the Brexit information and don’t panic; (Morgan Housel and also MarketWatch)
  • Ignore those pitching a personal, political, or product agenda;
  • Emphasize quantitative fundamentals. Earnings impacts may be exaggerated; (Brian Gilmartin)
  • Choose value stocks;
  • Do not overreact to headlines calculated to sell advertising; (Chuck Jaffe, MarketWatch) and finally
  • As I noted last week, this may not be the final chapter. (Bloomberg)

Read these sources carefully and contrast with the more speculative fears.

The most difficult thing for most investors is to “stay the course” in the face of frightening news and incessant recession predictions. It is also the most rewarding.

Weighing the Week Ahead: What Does the Brexit Vote Mean for Financial Markets?

This week’s economic calendar is a little light on data, but it packs plenty of important news. Last week I suggested that the Brexit build-up would become the dominant theme. Nothing has changed. Expect daily stories on three Brexit themes:

  1. What UK voters should do;
  2. Predictions about the result; and
  3. Consequences for financial markets.

While financial media will cover all, my attention will be on the third. What Will the Brexit Result Mean for Financial Markets?

Last Week

There was little economic news. The biggest change was the reaction to the FOMC meeting.

Theme Recap

In my last WTWA, I predicted a week divided between two themes—first the Fed, and then Brexit. It was indeed a two-story week, with an overlap in the middle. The Fed decision was greeted positively for a few minutes, and then the tide shifted.

The Story in One Chart

I always start my personal review of the week by looking at this great chart from Doug Short. You can clearly see the slightly delayed reaction to the Fed announcement. Doug has a special knack for pulling together all of the relevant information. His charts save more than a thousand words! Read his entire post where he adds analysis and several other charts providing long-term perspective.

SPX-five-day

 

The News

Each week I break down events into good and bad. Often there is an “ugly” and on rare occasion something really good. My working definition of “good” has two components. The news must be market friendly and better than expectations. I avoid using my personal preferences in evaluating news – and you should, too!

 

The Good

  • Sea container counts are showing some rebound from the recent soft patch, but we remain well off the highs. (Steven Hansen at GEI).
  • Earnings estimates are strengthening. Check out Brian Gilmartin’s analysis for a detailed look at which sectors and by how much.
  • Fund manager asset allocations to equities remain near an eight-year low. On a contrarian basis, this is bullish for stocks. (Urban Camel).

fund-managers-asset-allocations-percent-cash-june_baml

  • Retail Sales were strong, in both real terms and per capita (New Deal Democrat). More people are shopping online, which makes interpretation of sales more challenging. Doug Short has multiple charts and a “Big Four” update. Ed Yardeni has the online story.

Yardeni online shopping

  • Housing showed strength. The picture remains complicated and a bit mixed.
    • Housing starts met expectations, had revisions for prior months, and an increase of 9.5% over last year. (Calculated Risk)
    • Doug Short analyzes the secular trends in both building permits and housing starts.Housing-Permits-and-Starts-population-adjusted

     

    • NAHB builder confidence increased to 60, up from 58 and well above the expansion signal of 50. (Calculated Risk)

The Bad

  • Industrial production fell 0.4%. This remains the weak spot in the economic data.
  • Foreigners are selling U.S. equities. The pace is an all-time high according to Torsten Sløk, Ph.D., Deutsche Bank Securities via Barry Ritholtz. Check out the chart.
  • The rail contraction continues. Steven Hansen at GEI has his regular update on this story.
  • Jobless claims edged higher. But still reasonable at 277K.
  • Lowered Fed expectations recognize slower growth. Most market participants do not expect lower interest rates to solve this problem. Bloomberg has a good summary of the Yellen conference, including various viewpoints.

 

The Ugly

Continuing violence and terror. The mass shooting casualties have been getting worse.

 

massshoot_jun16a-1

The Silver Bullet

I occasionally give the Silver Bullet award to someone who takes up an unpopular or thankless cause, doing the real work to demonstrate the facts. No award this week. Nominations are always welcome.

The Week Ahead

We would all like to know the direction of the market in advance. Good luck with that! Second best is planning what to look for and how to react. That is the purpose of considering possible themes for the week ahead. You can make your own predictions in the comments.

The Calendar

We have a relatively light week for economic data, but a big one for news. I highlight only the most important items, helping us all to focus.

The “A” List

  • The Brexit vote (F). The vote is Thursday, but results will not be available until Friday trading.
  • New home sales (Th). Can recent strength continue?
  • Michigan sentiment (F). Good indicator for employment and spending – remains near highs.
  • Initial claims (Th). The best concurrent indicator for employment trends.

The “B” List

  • Existing home sales (W). Less direct impact than new home sales, but a good read on the housing market.
  • Durable goods (Th). A decline is expected in this volatile series, but how big?
  • Bank stress test results (Th). Mostly important to a few banks, but also a measure of overall financial health.
  • Crude inventories (W). Often has a significant impact on oil markets, a focal point for traders of everything.

 

Chair Yellen will provide her semi-annual Congressional testimony to the Senate on Tuesday and the House on Wednesday. The question periods will be closely watched. You might think there is nothing left to learn after last week’s FOMC decision and press conference, but any fresh hints will get attention. We also have a resumption of appearances by other Fed participants.

 

Next Week’s Theme

 

Anyone whose breath can fog a mirror is being asked about his or her opinion of what the Brits should do. That is a lively topic, but not one for us.

The outcome of the vote is important, but the prospects seem to change daily. Again, not a good topic for us.

While the financial media theme for the week ahead will be broader, the key point will be:

What does the Brexit vote mean for financial markets?

I have read scores of articles on this topic, watched webinars from experts, and listened to (some of) the punditry. While it is part of my job, most investors do not want to do this. I will try to provide a few key points as background. Read some of these links, draw your own conclusions, and compare them with mine at the end of this post.

  1. How does Brexit compare to other perceived crises? Josh Brown notes the $140 billion of net equity outflows and compares the VIX level to prior incidents. Concerns are higher than for interest rate hikes or the Presidential election. (Bloomberg)
  2. Some suggest that we should expect chaos – and then damage control. (Bloomberg)

Bloomberg Damage Control

  1. The impact on U.S. markets should be modest. (CNBC and also David Merkel)
  2. Brexit would hurt trade, the global economy and stocks, and especially revenues from certain sectors.

FactSet UK Revenue Exposure by Sector

  1. Last but certainly not least, a chart-based background guide to Brexit (The Economist) Here is a sample:

20160227_woc220

And a tabular summary of the issues:

20151024_WOC501_2

Quant Corner

We follow some regular great sources and also the best insights from each week.

Risk Analysis

Whether you are a trader or an investor, you need to understand risk. Risk first, rewards second. I monitor many quantitative reports and highlight the best methods in this weekly update.

The Indicator Snapshot

 

The Featured Sources:

Brian Gilmartin: Analysis of expected earnings for the overall market as well as coverage of many individual companies. This week he expresses more confidence about growth in earnings.

Bob Dieli: The “C Score” which is a weekly estimate of his Enhanced Aggregate Spread (the most accurate real-time recession forecasting method over the last few decades). Monthly reports including both an economic overview of the economy and employment.

RecessionAlert: Many strong quantitative indicators for both economic and market analysis. While we feature the recession analysis, Dwaine also has a number of interesting approaches to asset allocation.

Georg Vrba: The Business Cycle Indicator, and much more. Check out his site for an array of interesting methods. His latest update features his unemployment rate recession indicator. A recession is unlikely “any time soon.”

Holmes: Our cautious and clever watchdog, who sniffs out opportunity like a great detective, but emphasizes guarding assets.

Doug Short: The Big Four Update, the World Markets Weekend Update (and much more).

The ECRI has been dropped from our weekly update. It was not so much because of the bad call in 2011, but the stubborn adherence to this position despite plenty of evidence to the contrary. Those interest can still follow them via Doug Short and Jill Mislinski. The ECRI commentary remains relentlessly bearish despite the upturn in their own index.

How to Use WTWA

In this series I share my preparation for the coming week. I write each post as if I were speaking directly to one of my clients. For most readers, they can just “listen in.” If you are unhappy with your current investment approach, we will be happy to talk with you. I start with a specific assessment of your personal situation. There is no rush. Each client is different, so I have six different programs ranging from very conservative bond ladders to very aggressive trading programs. A key question:

Are you preserving wealth, or like most of us, do you need to create more wealth?

My objective is to help all readers, so I provide a number of free resources. Just write to info at newarc dot com. We will send whatever you request. We never share your email address with others, and send only what you seek. (Like you, we hate spam!) Free reports include the following:

  • Understanding Risk – what we all should know.
  • Income investing – better yield than the standard dividend portfolio, and also less risk.
  • Felix and Holmes – top artificial intelligence techniques in action.
  • Why 2016 could be the Year for Value Stocks – finding cheap stocks based on long-term earnings.

You can also check out my website for Tips for Individual Investors, and a discussion of the biggest market fears. (I welcome questions or suggestions for new topics.)

 

Best Advice for the Week Ahead

The right move often depends on your time horizon. Are you a trader or an investor?

Insight for Traders

We consider both our models and also the best advice from sources we follow.

Felix and Holmes

We continue our neutral market forecast. Felix is fully invested, but the sector balance has become more aggressive. Many sectors remain in the penalty box. The (usually) more cautious Holmes is once again fully invested. Holmes uses a universe of nearly 1000 stocks, selected mostly by liquidity. Even when the overall market is neutral, there will often be some strong candidates. That is what we see now. It is not a resounding endorsement of the overall market, but a vote for opportunistic trading.

Top Trading Advice

Dr. Brett explains why your trading psychology is reflected in your daily life, and vice-versa. Learn how this can be important to achieving your trading goals. As an example he writes as follows:

I was recently driving on a highway and the road split into two sections, each going the same way.  The left fork was a single lane labeled express; the right fork was a double lane labeled local.  My trip was several hours in duration but I immediately took….

Which one would he choose, and why?

Adam H. Grimes provides insight on strategy vs. tactics. He defines the difference, but also provides some specific techniques.

In this case, we need to be very precise: tactics refer to how, where, (and maybe why) we execute at the specific prices we choose. Strategy, on the other hand is the big picture perspective. First, get the strategic view right.

Insight for Investors

Investors have a longer time horizon. The best moves frequently involve taking advantage of trading volatility!

Best of the Week

If I had to pick a single most important source for investors to read, it would be “Davidson’s” take on Brexit (via Todd Sullivan). Here is the key point:

High fear of financial collapse! Major investors saying “Get out!”, ‘Brexit’ forecasts dire for European economy! In the US, top investors say Fed has lost control and the economy or something will spiral out of control. These are only a few of the current basket of concerns. And then there is our current Presidential election fare and the terrorist attack in Orlando.

In reality, this week’s concerns have not been much different than what we have seen since the current economic recovery began in 2009.

He then produces charts on a series of key economic measures: employment, real personal income, retail sales, job openings, and the housing rebound. Please check out the charts, supporting the thesis that data trumps sentiment.

The conclusion?

While the world frets and then frets some more, economic activity has continued to expand. Eventually, investors have never failed to turn more optimistic and remain so for several years. It is this period of optimism from which excess economic activity derives. It should be readily apparent that while economic activity continues to expand, optimism and economic excess is not part of the current equation. It could said that “Excess pessimism does not produce excess economic activity!” There is no economic correction on the horizon. This does not mean that we could not have a dip in market prices at any point in time for other reasons. Dips should not matter for long-term investors. I anticipate taking action only once economic fundamentals indicate a correction is likely.

 

Stock Ideas

David Fish updates the list of Dividend Challengers. There are many specific ideas, so check it out.

Chuck Carnevale emphasizes the importance of valuation on your entry point, even when buying a great dividend stock. He has a great example of how waiting for the right entry point (even though a dividend was missed) actually added to total dividends in the long run.

 

Energy Perspectives

We have some interesting themes this week. Figuring out the stock implications will require some more thought. I am working on it, and I welcome comments.

  • Peak Fossil Fuels for Electricity, by Tom Randall at Bloomberg. Watch out for both coal and natural gas. Eight key points, including the upcoming domination of solar.

-1x-1

  • Billions in proven shale oil reserves suddenly become “unproven.” (Bloomberg) Hint: Improved accounting rules.
  • Don’t count on nuclear power. (EIA) The first new reactor just came online after more than 40 years of planning and construction. It is the first new one in twenty years. This chart shows the typical length of time

chart2

 

Personal Finance

Professional investors and traders have been making Abnormal Returns a daily stop for over ten years. The average investor should make time (even if not able to read AR every day as I do) for a weekly trip on Wednesday. Tadas always has first-rate links for investors in his weekly special edition. There are always several great choices worth reading, but my favorite this week is Andrew Comstock’s What is the most important financial advice you would pass to your children. The advice garnered from a number of experts is somewhat inconsistent, but thought-provoking. In general, young people need to balance passion and earnings, current consumption versus the future, and borrowing versus saving. My own thought? You need to look forward to your work if you expect to do well.

For both young and old: 51 Things You Shouldn’t Do from John Clements.

For millennials: You need more realistic expectations about future returns.

Watch out for….

Chasing last year’s winners via annual sector rotation. Josh Brown has a nice post showing the prevalence of this performance chasing. He emphasizes, “The data is unambiguous.” His analysis and charts show why this does not work. (Felix objects that sector rotation works, but a shorter time frame is needed).

Yield stocks, the crowded trade. William Smead covers this point, while also noting the declining significance of Fed Stress tests and the potential for banks and the housing market.

9a85d9ad1d9f032c9fe14cfc3e5e5e5fe7d12d1d

 

Final Thoughts

 

Brexit is not another “Y2K” as Barron’s suggested this week, but the uncertainty has had an exaggerated effect. Here are my own conclusions:

  1. The outcome is approximately a coin-flip, making any planning difficult. Either resolution will reduce volatility.
  2. The referendum is advisory, which will be emphasized more next week. Members of Parliament will be informed by voter frustration, but may not accede to the specific plan.
  3. A Brexit would take years of negotiation to accomplish, with many of the agreements most important to the European and world economies re-established.
  4. The actual stakes are smaller than most think. I get some information from confidential sources, and I respect their restrictions. A strong and popular (but unquotable) source did some polling of experts. Likely immediate S&P 500 range is 2 ½% downside and 2% upside. The extremes might be slightly larger. This range fits my own expectations. It is all guesswork, of course, but probably better than the vague notions about dominoes dropping and world trade ceasing.
  5. There may be a surprise outcome from a positive vote. British leaders may use it to negotiate some EU rule changes.

And finally, as you navigate the week ahead remember this:

The most newsworthy stories are frequently not the most important for your investments!

Weighing the Week Ahead: What are the Biggest Market Worries?

The economic calendar is again light in a holiday-shortened week. There are a variety of important news items, but no dominant theme. I expect the punditry to seize the opportunity by asking:

What are the biggest market worries?

Prior Theme Recap

In my last WTWA I predicted that everyone would be talking about the high and rising worry about a recession. That was one of the most frequent media topics for the week, with some sources even choosing “looming” as part of the description. Fed Chair Yellen grabbed the spotlight for her testimony, but even that centered on economic concerns and what the Fed might do. Friday’s rebound was notable in size, but left plenty of skeptics. As Doug Short notes, the rally came in concert with yet another mystery rally in oil prices. Skeptics saw short-covering action, with issues to be revisited this week. You can see the story in Doug Short’s weekly chart. (With the ever-increasing effects from foreign markets, you should also add Doug’s World Markets Weekend Update to your reading list).

SPX-five-day

Doug’s update also provides multi-year context. See his full post for more excellent charts and analysis.

We would all like to know the direction of the market in advance. Good luck with that! Second best is planning what to look for and how to react. That is the purpose of considering possible themes for the week ahead. You can make your own predictions in the comments.

This Week’s Theme

Earnings season continues, but the economic calendar is light in a holiday-shortened week. In most of the world there will be news on trading on Monday, which will set the tone for U.S. markets. With continuing worldwide volatility, I am not expecting a single issue to dominate next week. Instead I expect the pundits to be asking:

What is the biggest worry for investors?

2016 began with declining stocks and plenty of concerns. New candidates surface each week. Listed below are the most-noted worries. Those getting a lot of fresh attention are listed last. I have omitted the evergreen valuation and disaster scenarios.

  • Stocks show technical weakness
    • Almost breached important technical levels
    • Lack of breadth
    • Friday saved only by short-covering
  • The stock market is clearly signaling recession
  • Earnings growth weak and outlook weaker
  • Strong dollar hurting sales, exports, and earnings of multi-national companies
  • New variants on the “R word”
    • Earnings recession
    • Growth recession
    • Manufacturing recession
    • New recession definitions (e.g., slow growth)
    • Self-fulfilling prophecy recession
  • Falling commodity prices
  • China weakness and capital flight
  • There is an emerging leadership crisis
    • Barron’s cover featuring outsider candidates, Trump and Sanders
    • Early takes on Justice Scalia’s death
  • Negative interest rates
  • Declining dollar
  • End of Fed QE policy

I did the list without even going to ZH for ideas, so there are probably more. Feel free to add anything important in the comments!

Scott Grannis reviews many of the issues in one of his helpful chart packs, accompanied by commentary. He reaches a mildly optimistic conclusion, despite the high level of fear revealed in this interesting indicator:

Walls of worry

As always, I have my own opinion in the conclusion. But first, let us do our regular update of the last week’s news and data. Readers, especially those new to this series, will benefit from reading the background information.

Last Week’s Data

Each week I break down events into good and bad. Often there is “ugly” and on rare occasion something really good. My working definition of “good” has two components:

  1. The news is market-friendly. Our personal policy preferences are not relevant for this test. And especially – no politics.
  2. It is better than expectations.

The Good

On balance the news was pretty good last week, despite the market reaction.

  • Initial jobless claims have turned lower. Bespoke has both analysis of the data and great charts, including this one:

021116-Initial-Claims-SA

  • Both job openings and the quit rate were strong. The WSJ reports the voluntary quit rate as the highest in nine years. This shows continuing expansion and confidence in job markets.
  • Bullish sentiment (a contrarian indicator) is back to bull-market lows. (Bespoke).

AAII-Bullish-021116

  • Retail sales were strong. Bloomberg calls it a broad-based advance, highlighting online sales and figures with (low-priced) gasoline excluded.

The Bad

As always, some of the news was negative.

  • Leadership worries. Early primary results have favored “outsider” candidates. In my 2016 preview I said that it was far too soon to draw conclusions about the Presidential election. Even though that was only a month ago, there have already been twists, turns, and surprises. That said, commentators note that markets prefer establishment candidates and stable leadership. Personally, we can and should each express our own viewpoints and vote our consciences. Our personal choices may not always be “market friendly.”
  • Michigan sentiment index declined to 90.7. This preliminary read was lower than last month’s final number of 92.0, and also missed expectations by the same amount.
  • Business sales and inventories are in contraction. Steven Hansen takes on a complex subject, showing many interesting takes on how to view the data. (Unadjusted – blue line, inflation adjusted – red line, 3 month rolling average—yellow line).

7980347ztemp

  • Earnings for Q4 remain disappointing. While the earnings “beat rate” is OK, only 49% of companies are beating on sales. Guidance is 68-17 negative. The blended revenue growth would be slightly positive without energy stocks. (FactSet).
  • Low inflation is bad (?) It is if you are the Fed, trying to raise inflation expectations. Data show an actual decline, although still above the Fed’s target. (WSJ).

BN-MO883_MICHIN_G_20160212112634

The Ugly

Cheating. This is more pervasive and important than you probably realize. We see the occasional story of a dishonest broker or insider trading. There are scandals in sports. Even my own world of top-level tournament bridge was recently rocked by revelations about several of the top professional partnerships.

In all of these cases, there are significant financial incentives. Steven Mazie reports on a scientific study that shows that winning begets cheating. Several different experiments show that winners in one game, randomly determined without their knowledge, will cheat on a subsequent game when having the power to do so unnoticed. And this happens with no financial incentive or even public acknowledgment.

But the upshot is troubling for people who care about the future of humankind. “It is difficult to overstate the importance of competition in advancing economic growth, technological progress, wealth creation, social mobility, and greater equality,” the authors write. “At the same time, however, it is vital to recognize the role of competition in eliciting censurable conduct. A greater tendency toward unethicality on the part of winners … is likely to impede social mobility and equality, exacerbating disparities in society rather than alleviating them.” There may be no way to completely remove this flaw from human nature, but “[f]inding ways to predict and overcome these tendencies” would seem to be a mission well worth pursuing.

The Silver Bullet

I occasionally give the Silver Bullet award to someone who takes up an unpopular or thankless cause, doing the real work to demonstrate the facts.  Think of The Lone Ranger. No award this week. Nominations are always welcome!

 

Quant Corner

Whether a trader or an investor, you need to understand risk. I monitor many quantitative reports and highlight the best methods in this weekly update. Beginning last week I made some changes in our regular table, separating three different ways of considering risk. For valuation I report the equity risk premium. This is the difference between what we expect stocks to earn in the next twelve months and the return from the ten-year Treasury note. I have found this approach to be an effective method for measuring market perception of stock risk. This is now easier to monitor because of the excellent work of Brian Gilmartin, whose analysis of the Thomson-Reuters data is our principal source for forward earnings.

Our economic risk indicators have not changed.

In our monitoring of market technical risk, I am now using our new model, “Holmes”. Holmes is a friendly watchdog in the same tradition as Oscar and Felix, but with a stronger emphasis on asset protection. We have found that the overall market indication is very helpful for those investing or trading individual stocks. The score ranges from 1 to 5, with 5 representing a high warning level. The 2-4 range is acceptable for stock trading, with various levels of caution.

The new approach improves trading results by taking some profits during good times and getting out of the market when technical risk is high. This is not market timing as we normally think of it. It is not an effort to pick tops and bottoms and it does not go short.

Interested readers can get the program description as part of our new package of free reports, including information on risk control and value investing. (Send requests to info at newarc dot com).

In my continuing effort to provide an effective investor summary of the most important economic data I have added Georg Vrba’s Business Cycle Index, which we have frequently cited in this space. In contrast to the ECRI “black box” approach, Georg provides a full description of the model and the components.

For more information on each source, check here.

Recent Expert Commentary on Recession Odds and Market Trends

Bob Dieli does a monthly update (subscription required) after the employment report and also a monthly overview analysis. He follows many concurrent indicators to supplement our featured “C Score.”

Georg Vrba: provides an array of interesting systems. Check out his site for the full story. We especially like his unemployment rate recession indicator, confirming that there is no recession signal. He gets a similar result with the twenty-week forward look from the Business Cycle Indicator, updated weekly and now part of our featured indicators.

Doug Short: Provides an array of important economic updates including the best charts around. One of these is monitoring the ECRI’s business cycle analysis, as his associate Jill Mislinski does in this week’s update. His Big Four update is the single best visual update of the indicators used in official recession dating. You can see each element and the aggregate, along with a table of the data. The full article is loaded with charts and analysis.

RecessionAlert: A variety of strong quantitative indicators for both economic and market analysis. While we feature the recession analysis, Dwaine also has a number of interesting systems. These include approaches helpful in both economic and market timing. He has been very accurate in helping people to stay on the right side of the market.

Econbrowser’s Prof. Menzie Chinn updates a yield-curve based recession model. He notes that the model predicts recessions accurately about 78% of the time and non-recessions at an 85% pace. The current recession probability for the next year is about 9%.

Similarly, see Jim Picerno, who does a similar analysis and concludes as follows:

Meantime, let’s keep reminding ourselves of a salient fact: every US recession has been accompanied by a plunging stock market but not every stock-market plunge has been accompanied by an NBER-defined recession.

 

The Week Ahead

We have another quiet week for economic data. While I highlight the most important items, you can get an excellent comprehensive listing at Investing.com. You can filter for country, type of report, and other factors.

The “A List” includes the following:

  • Housing starts and building permits (W). Potential for more gains?
  • FOMC minutes (W). Even when you think there is nothing more to learn……
  • Industrial production (W). A sign of improvement in this sector would be very encouraging.
  • Initial Claims (Th). A lot of attention to the recent volatility in the best concurrent news on employment trends.

The “B List” includes the following:

  • PPI (W). No sign of inflation. It would take a few “hot months” to get serious attention.
  • CPI (F). See PPI.
  • Philly Fed (Th). Gaining more attention as the first read on the prior month.
  • Crude oil inventories (W). Attracting a lot more attention these days.

There is some FedSpeak on tap, but less than usual. Presidential campaigning will be intense before next weekend’s primaries. The Chinese holiday is over, and some expect news on Monday, when U.S. and Canadian markets are not trading.

Earnings reports are still in full swing.

How to Use the Weekly Data Updates

In the WTWA series I try to share what I am thinking as I prepare for the coming week. I write each post as if I were speaking directly to one of my clients. Each client is different, so I have six different programs ranging from very conservative bond ladders to very aggressive trading programs. It is not a “one size fits all” approach.

To get the maximum benefit from my updates you need to have a self-assessment of your objectives. Are you most interested in preserving wealth? Or like most of us, do you still need to create wealth? How much risk is right for your temperament and circumstances?

WTWA often suggests a different course of action depending upon your objectives and time frames.

Insight for Traders

We continue both the neutral market forecast, and the bearish lean. Felix is still 100% invested, but with more conservative choices than last week. The more cautious Holmes is still about 1/3 invested. For more information, I have posted a further description — Meet Felix and Oscar. You can sign up for Felix and Oscar’s weekly ratings updates via email to etf at newarc dot com. They appear almost every day at Scutify (follow here). I am trying to figure out a method to share some additional updates from Holmes, our new portfolio watchdog. (You learn more about Holmes by writing to info at newarc dot com.

When might human traders do better than computers? Rob Carver has a thoughtful comparison. As a manager employing computerized decisions in some programs, the topics reflect my own experience. The question of when a human should “override” a model decision is especially interesting. I frequently consider this when reviewing the decisions of Felix and Holmes.

Brett Steenbarger continues to suggest important and novel ideas about trading. This week he writes about having the macro wind at your back, and how to handle that happy news.

More importantly he gives some tips on how to spot the moves of big institutions.

It’s a common mistake to become tunnel visioned during times of market stress and only follow the position(s) you are trading.  That blinds us to the waxing and waning of macro themes and the influence of large market participants.  You may not trade the markets thematically yourself, but it helps to have those themes at your back–and certainly not in your face.

Insight for Investors

I review the themes here each week and refresh when needed. For investors, as we would expect, the key ideas may stay on the list longer than the updates for traders. Major market declines occur after business cycle peaks, sparked by severely declining earnings. Our methods are focused on limiting this risk. Start with our Tips for Individual Investors and follow the links.

We also have a page (recently updated) summarizing many of the current investor fears. If you read something scary, this is a good place to do some fact checking. Pick a topic and give it a try.

Many individual investors will also appreciate our two new free reports on Managing Risk and Value Investing. (Write to info at newarc dot com).

Other Advice

Here is our collection of great investor advice for this week.

If I had to pick a single most important source for investors to read, it would be this short post from Tadas Viskanta. He speaks clearly and effectively to investor concerns about how they are doing and second-guessing decisions. He notes the weak start to the year by some famous investors, and also advises tuning out the so-called “authority figures” on financial TV. His key advice? Cut yourself some slack!

 

See also the Investment News report on some of the top fund managers, down 20-25% in spite of their long-term success records.

 

Stock and Fund Ideas

Three Warren Buffett picks are on sale. (Matthew Frankel at TMF).

Ben Carlson cites data showing the historical rebound of global stocks following a bear market. He also supplies a list of what has been working and what has not – at least so far.

Tough times for solar stocks. (ETF.com).

 

Energy Prices

Last week. (MarketWatch)

Long term. BP’s annual energy outlook is a great data source.

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Watch out for….

Guaranteed income certificates. David Merkel has a nice post on investment charlatans with a good specific example.

Non-traded REITs and BDC’s. FINRA accuses broker of bilking Native Americans for over $11 million.

Special care is required when investing in these vehicles. You had better know what you are doing, and understand the risks.

Personal Finance

Professional investors and traders have been making Abnormal Returns a daily stop for over ten years. The average investor should make time (even if not able to read AR every day as I do) for a weekly trip on Wednesday. Tadas always has first-rate links for investors in this special edition. There are several great posts, but I especially liked this advice from Carl Richards (NYT) about the need to accept uncertainty. Check out the stories about medical examples. You might also review my recent piece on the costly craving for explanations.

Final Thoughts

Investors do not understand worries, uncertainty, and scary headlines. If there were no “headwinds” then the market would be more richly valued. Most people have heard the expression, “wall of worry” but few understand it.

Almost six years ago, when the DJIA was at 10K and many were expecting it to go to 5000, I made my controversial Dow 20K call. There were many market worries, which are now mostly history. Instead, we have moved on to a new list of challenges. (Check out the story here).

The market gradually rises as fears are surmounted and earnings rise. There will be a time to become more cautious, or even bearish. That time will be indicated by data, not by fear-inducing headlines and speculation.

For many weeks I have noted that traders and others with a very short time frame should reduce risk. Investors should be seeking opportunity.

My noted neighbor to the North is Brian Wesbury. (Wheaton and Naperville once contested the location of the County Seat. Wheaton took the records and Naperville folks met at the Pre-Emption House to plan a raid. Somewhere during the night, the plans became muddled. Rumor has it that strong drink was involved).

Brian also wrote this week about whether recession was “looming” and how to interpret the market action. His conclusion (similar to mine last week):

This is a correction, not a turning point for the stock market.  Our models, with stocks driven by interest rates and corporate profits, not sentiment, suggest the market is still significantly undervalued.

It’s not often you get recession level prices when there is no recession.

Put money to work, don’t run away.

Applying The Lessons From 2015

[This post originally appeared on Seeking Alpha last week.  I enjoy a wide following there, and I appreciate the opportunity to participate in their annual series.  As I note at the beginning of the interview, this is a very valuable resource.  I share the interview with readers of “A Dash” with the permission of Seeking Alpha.]

George Moriarty (GBM) — Thank you for once again taking the time to share your plans for the year ahead with us.

Jeff Miller (JM) — Thanks for inviting me to participate. The Seeking Alpha annual previews are extremely important for thoughtful investors. You always have interesting and diverse ideas from an impressive group of contributors. I enjoy reading the work of others, but it also helps me to focus my own ideas. I normally write about Weighing the Week Ahead, but this is Weighing the Year Ahead.

GBM — The start of this year has been pretty rough for investors. Does that affect your outlook?

JM — I don’t place any special emphasis on the first few days of the year. Most of the factors I am watching are event-driven, not the result of the calendar. The early trading this year has helped to create many attractive opportunities – mostly through excessive economic pessimism.

This year started with a decline in the Chinese stock market. I doubt that anyone could put together a cogent argument about why this was important for U.S. stocks, but the narrative caught on. For more information, check out my post here.

When we next got a rash of doomsayers and many slinging the “R” word, I wrote a post on that topic as well.

Despite this I am frequently asked about someone’s newly created recession model. The simple fact is that the debunking stories are not nearly as popular. No one cares about the plane landing safely.

GBM — What has so many investors/citizens feeling the economy is on thinner ice then? Why is this economy viewed so negatively by so many?

JM — This is something of a trick question! If we look at citizens, they have been reasonably positive. I track both the Conference Board survey and the Michigan Sentiment Index (which I prefer). People are reasonably upbeat about their personal situations, but critical of the overall leadership. Many in financial news interpret these surveys through the prism of the market, not realizing that the average person is not responding based upon a stock portfolio.

Another subject to consider: CEOs consistently predict their own business to continue growing at a healthy rate, though they tend to be negative about the state of the global economy.

Investors are negative for a variety of well-documented reasons:

  • News and headlines that drive viewers and page views. I think that Seeking Alpha and our colleagues there are something of an antidote to this, but the very popular sites are bearish. As I am responding here, I see a new headline from one of the top media sources, Woeful earnings threaten to intensify stock-market bloodbath. The author speculates about four quarter of declines, when there have only been two so far. He completely misreads the chart from his source. Then his editor gives it that headline.
  • It is in the political interest of some to make things seem terrible. Since I recommend avoiding partisanship in investing, let’s call this the “out” party. Both parties do the same. We can expect a drumbeat of bad news.
  • It is in the financial interest of many to make things seem terrible. Most people do not carefully track the background and interests of featured media “experts.”
  • People are encouraged to think that they can trade and time the market. Brokerage commercials foster the idea. Looking at stock quotes too often is hazardous to your wallet. I like the approach of our colleague, David Van Knapp.

If your retirement funding plan is based on selling assets, it puts you in the position of being a “forced” seller to obtain the cash you need. Selling into a falling market can be scary. As the value of your assets drops, you need to sell more units to get the same amount of cash. If you are early in retirement, this is doubly harmful, because it has a disproportionate impact on the amount of remaining assets that you own.

Everyone needs a specific and personal plan.

GBM — Now before we dive too far into 2016, can you reflect briefly on what you learned in 2015?

JM — This is a particularly appropriate question. Normally a market veteran would not learn much of significance in a single year. 2015 was different, and the lessons are new ones.

I call it the Dominance of Trading. There is always plenty of short-term action, but it is now bleeding into the thoughts of long-term investors. Here is how it works.

  1. High frequency trading firms seek and constantly update market relationships. There is no need and no desire to be analytical. Who cares if the relationship is causal or a spurious correlation? The firms trade instantly and aggressively on things like language in a Fed statement or a currency ratio.
  2. Human traders notice and act upon the same relationships. They cannot beat the algorithms on speed, but they still see the pattern.
  3. The punditry “explains” the stock market move. This usually means finding some logic – however distorted – to make the trading effect seem rational.
  4. Well-intentioned individual investors, those seeking to make sense out of the noise, are misled by the pundits.
  5. Long-term relationships between factors are ignored in favor of explaining each day’s move – a required part of the financial coverage of every media source. It does not matter that the daily change is usually in the percentage range of normal randomness.

This cycle of investor misunderstanding is new. As is always the case when Mr. Market gets something wrong, there is an opportunity for the thoughtful investor. To collect you need to fight your way through the daily emphasis on “explaining” the most recent market move – usually linking it to some prediction or macro theory.

GBM — Moving ahead, you and I both love politics. Given the dynamics of the early primary season, talk me through how you’re positioning for this election, which feels very different than previous years.

JM — You are absolutely right. As I recall, you are a political scientist from Fordham, a great school. And it is a very different primary season. Here are the key elements of difference:

  • No incumbent running, no “designated” successor, yet little competition in one party.
  • Extensive competition in the other party, with candidates eliminated even before the first vote is cast in any primary or caucus.
  • The serious candidacy of a woman.
  • The “Trump effect” and the emphasis on “outsiders”

It is a very interesting situation, especially for people like us. We remember that the front runners at this stage often met with surprises. Larry J. Sabato, Director of the UVA Center for Politics is my go-to source on elections. He recently produced an interesting and humorous summary of the erroneous conventional thinking in Presidential elections going back to 1960.

GBM — You thrive on taking the long view, but in managing a primary season, how do you suggest individual investors position themselves as the candidates get sorted out in each party?

JM — Most observers see investing through the prism of their own experience, without any questions about the relevance. I am going to do the opposite. My experience is that each Wall Street firm has someone with relatively modest political science credentials. They must write articles and make suggestions just as a matter of interest. They make small news into big stories. I have three admonitions for investors following the election:

  1. Do not over-estimate election effects. The President’s powers are more limited than most people think. As an example, take a look at the recent Obama executive orders and the instant opposition.
  2. Do not confuse your own opinions about the best candidate with the likely market effect. When it comes to investing, you should strive to be politically agnostic.
  3. There are some “macro” effects for extreme candidates from both parties. Moderate choices and the potential for compromise are the “market-friendly” outcomes.

With that in mind, here is what I am watching. In each case I am looking for a theme that gets some dominance in the public debate:

  • Health care/Obamacare. It will not be repealed, but funding cuts may affect insurance company profits. Drug pricing may be perceived as a big issue.
  • Energy. Coal companies, pipelines, use of the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, and tax benefits for oil companies are all relevant. This is probably the most complicated for drawing policy conclusions. For example, how is alternative energy affected?
  • Defense. Candidates differ greatly on defense policy. Some approaches imply significant buildups to deal with regional issues. Others involve cuts.
  • Free trade. Economists do not agree about many things, but they are nearly unanimous in supporting free trade initiatives.
  • Immigration. This is another theme where economists (pro-immigration) and many voters may disagree. An anti-immigration policy could have some negative economic consequences.

GBM — Back to investment topics, last year you emphasized that the business cycle has no expiration date. So where are we in the cycle now?

JM — This is the crucial question for the year ahead! Many observers note the modest economic growth and expect the U.S. economy to stall out. This would be virtually unprecedented. Cycles end with a peak in activity, higher inflation, and much higher interest rates – not the modest moves contemplated by the Fed.

None of the best recession indicators signal high risk. The business cycle is just about where it was last year. Eventually there will be a “big bang” and probably a late Fed over-reaction, but that could be years away.

Bob Dieli, who probably has the longest and best record on recession forecasting, updates the business cycle position monthly. His “where we are in the cycle” chart has not moved in the last year.

Ed Hyman reaches a similar conclusion.

My best guess is that we will be discussing this same subject next year.

GBM — Where are the upside risks today?

JM — Let’s start with why stocks didn’t do better in 2015? Earnings growth stalled, mostly because of energy. Markets have traded in line with forward earnings expectations. This partly reflects the economy and partly the lagging sectors. Leading economist Brad DeLong describes six different shocks which have occurred during the recovery period. Most people impose some simple summary on the economic narrative, but this article provides much better insight.

It includes plenty of good charts like the one below:
6a00e551f08003883401b7c7fe0e6a970b

If we can avoid some of the episodic drags of the last few years, the economy will do better. A common mistake is to believe that a free-market economy requires constant stimulation. In fact, we have unused labor and capital available right now. Skeptics love to argue about the monthly payroll report and the “birth-death” adjustment. I monitor the actual count from state employment services – the tax collectors. This information trails by eight months, but it is certainly not overstated. Who wants to pay excess taxes? It demonstrates that new business formation has been quite healthy.

This gives us an opportunity in stocks that will benefit from better growth and higher interest rates. People may also be surprised to see P/E multiples move higher (!) along with interest rates. Multiples on forward earnings currently reflect a lot of skepticism on whether the “E” will be there. If the ten-year note got to 3.5% it would reflect a healthier economy, as long as inflation remains under control. JP Morgan’s excellent Guide to the Markets is a dream come true for those who love charts and data.

GBM — What other themes are you monitoring as we proceed into 2016?

JM — My basic approach is to look at the themes that reflect the “trader confusion.” Value investors trailed the market last year despite using excellent, time-tested methods. The top twenty stocks in the S&P 500 went up over 60%, but now sport a P/E in the 90’s. (EV to EBITDA is a more respectable 17.5). Stocks with earnings but a P/E below 14 were down 13.7%. This sort of discrepancy evens out over time. While no one knows the time frame for sure, I am positioning to benefit if 2016 is the “Year of the Value Stock.” We have a special report on this topic and the opportunities presented, available to readers on request.

Here are some themes where there was over-reaction last year. These are all factors that historically have been supportive for U.S. stocks.

  • Dollar strength. Lack of support for the dollar was part of the impetus for the 1987 crash. In general, a strong dollar has been neutral-to-positive for stocks.
  • Oil prices. High oil prices were behind the market struggles in the early 70s. In general, low oil prices have been good for the U.S. economy and for stocks.
  • Interest rates. In the long run, low interest rates are a positive factor for stocks.

Investors have been confused by short-term effects on all of these fronts. Those who understand the long run relationships have a great opportunity. Note the charts below (the vertical axes for both bond yields and crude prices have been inverted to facilitate comparison).


I expect the overall market to grow in line with earnings expectations and the economy. Astute investors can do much better by emphasizing last year’s laggards – materials, energy, some tech, and financials.

GBM — Any final thoughts?

JM — We both know that forecasts should have time frames, and that is challenging right now. I expect most of my themes to play out over the next year, but we might need to wait until Q2 earnings.

And finally, most people appreciate some good examples as well as data. Here are three recent ones from CNBC (when I accidentally left the “mute” button off).

  1. One of the anchors mentioned to an interview subject that the “stock guys” seemed to see a recession coming, when none of the economists did. No kidding!
  2. One of the anchors asked a Presidential advisor what the White House might do about the low oil prices. He was amazed and explained that the benefit of lower prices was $750 per person. She asked about some jobs in Houston and an airline stock.
  3. CNBC interviewed a stock trader who attributed the big declines to a fall in oil. Then they interviewed an oil trader who said that their market was following stocks!

Investors who can get a grip on economic fundamentals have plenty of choices. I follow quite a few value investors and they all have a list of stocks they really like. One recently said that he was like a “kid in a candy shop.”

Thanks for reading! As always, please feel to share your thoughts in the comments section below.

2015 in Review: Hi-Yo, Silver!

1388287952-0For years, it’s been a staple of our Weighing the Week Ahead series to recognize analysts who go above and beyond in their coverage of the issues. We congratulate these writers with the Silver Bullet Award – named in honor of the Lone Ranger, who lived by a strict code: “…that all things change but truth, and that truth alone, lives on forever.”

In 2015, we gave out the Silver Bullet Award 21 times – the most ever in a single year. Despite the constant fearmongering from some bloggers and media personalities, more and more people are providing individual investors with the tools they need to make informed decisions. Our winners are summarized below. Readers may also want to check into our 2013 and 2014 compilations, as many of the same issues persist to this day.

Have any thoughts or predictions on what will dominate news cycles in 2016? Know of a great analyst flying below our radar? Feel free to post in the comments with any suggestions or nominations.

 

 

January 4, 2015

Our first Silver Bullet of the year went to RL at Slope of Hope for his examination of charting “techniques” in the post 2008 recovery.

RL notes:

What can we conclude from all the above? Well, first of all that making long-term trend predictions is not recommended, no-one knows what is awaiting for us in the future. Bull or Bear Market, inflation or deflation, you name it. What we can do, is to predict market trend extensions with statistical analysis, comparing past trends and current trends and that is in fact what we do with our RL models. We do not know if the market can go to 3000 in the next few years, it’s possible if all of a sudden a lot of investors, after staying on the sidelines since 2009, decide to join this 5 years long rally (how about that for a “confirmation signal”?). What we do know (based on our statistical models) is that the market is overbought right now, and it has been rising ~500 points in the last 2 years, although the strongest rise was in 2013, and in 2014 the speed of advance was a little bit slower (maybe a sign that the rally is faltering?).

In our view, this strong pace is not sustainable in the long term and some correction inevitably will come, although it does not have necessarily to be a 3-years Bear Market, it may be a 3 months correction, or a quick crash followed by a recovery, etc. What we can do is to gauge the market trend extension from a TIME and PRICE point of view with our model and this is an honest method to gauge the short and medium-term market direction

March 1, 2015

Nicholas Colas and Jessica Rabe of Convergex took on Jeff Gundlach’s assertion that equities have never risen for seven years in a row since 1871. With due respect to Mr. Gundlach, the authors primarily took issue with the dataset (courtesy of Robert Shiller) he had used to draw his conclusion. Colas and Rabe write:

“Gundlach used a well-known dataset from Robert Shiller for his findings, but it is not suitable for calculating calendar-year returns since it does not capture exact month-end levels. The S&P 500 actually rallied for eight consecutive years from 1982 to 1989 based on price returns and total returns. The index was also up for nine straight years from 1991 to 1999 using total returns. Therefore, the S&P 500 may have a few more years to run before breaking any records, but volatility will likely rise as well…Whether the stock market finishes the year in positive territory is anyone’s guess, but it wouldn’t be unprecedented.”

April 5, 2015

Barry Ritholtz dug up an old Onion article, as an analogue for what passes as analysis in the financial blogosphere. Readers may be reminded of Sidd Finch.

“Given this line’s long history of jaggedness, we really should take a wait-and-see approach,”Fortune magazine associate editor Charles Reames said. “And even if this important line continues its upward pointiness, we must remember that there are other shapes, colors, numbers, and lines to consider when judging the health of the economy.”

Reames also warned that the upward angle of the line, which most analysts agreed was approximately 80 degrees, may have been exaggerated by the way the graph was drawn.

“The stuff that’s written along the bottom of the graph is all squished together, making the line look a lot more impressive than it is,” Reames said. “Had that same stuff been spread out more, the line would have looked a lot less steep.”

April 11, 2015

Bill McBride (AKA Calculated Risk) ended 2014 by asking himself ten questions about the state of the economy. His quarterly reviews helped to measure economic progress over time, in line with his expectations. This innovative approach to interpreting data earned Bill our Silver Bullet Award.

“At the end of last year Bill made a series of ten forecasts about the economy with a full post on each. He provided a three-month update this week. While early in the year, I found it quite impressive. It is more measured than the optimistic economic predictions and much better than those always seeing the worst from any report. See for yourself, and you will understand why I emphasize this source each week. If you are interested in economic growth, housing, employment, the Fed, or oil prices there is something for you.”

April 19, 2015

Ed Dolan’s thorough deconstruction of ShadowStats is one of our favorite blog posts from 2015. From the way he picks his target, to his measurement of the data – his post reads like a step-by-step guide to winning a Silver Bullet. We found this excerpt particularly interesting:

“As mentioned above, Williams’ ShadowStats inflation series incorporates an additional 2.0 percentage point correction to reflect methodological changes that are not captured in the CPI-U-RS series. I would like to examine that number more carefully in a future post, but for the sake of discussion, we can let it stand. If so, it appears to me that, based entirely on Williams’ own data, methods, and assumptions, the adjustment for the ShadowStats inflation series should be about 2.45 percentage points below CPI-U, rather than the 7 percentage points he uses.

In my view, Williams alternative measure of inflation would be more convincing if he were to make this correction. It would also be less likely to feed the anti-government paranoia of some of his followers, who allege that the BLS is falsifies source data and manipulates reported indicators in the way that Argentina and some other countries appear to do.

It is worth noting that Williams himself makes no such claim. He is a fierce critic of BLS methodology, but he acknowledges that the agency follows its own published methods. He argues that the BLS has adopted methods that produce low inflation indicators, but not for motives of short-term partisan politics. Rather, he sees the choice of methodology as driven by a longstanding, bipartisan desire to reduce the cost of Social Security and other inflation-indexed transfer payments. It would be hard to deny that he is at least partly right about that motivation.”

April 26, 2015

The “what if?” question plagues individual investors and fantasy football fans alike. While the sports fans can afford to indulge in flights of fancy, investors probably shouldn’t. David Fabian won the Silver Bullet for writing to this effect very effectively:

Lastly, I think it’s important for investors to forget the “if/then” narrative that seems to be a psychological barrier to living in the present and investing for the future.

If the Fed had never….

If big banks had never….

If stock buybacks had never….

Stop worrying about what the world might look like if those things had never happened, because they did and we are where we are. Focus on the present and the things that you can control in order to get the most out of your investment portfolio.

June 08, 2015

We frequently warn individual investors to keep their politics and their investments separate. Morgan Housel earned himself a Silver Bullet by illustrating this with a clear, relatable example. The market has seen significant gains since 2008. If you’ve been sitting on the sidelines, you’ve missed some big opportunities.

Take these two statements:

“11 million jobs have been created since 2009. The stock market has tripled. The unemployment rate nearly cut in half.  The U.S. economy has enjoyed a strong recovery under President Obama.”

“The recovery since 2009 has been one of the weakest on record. The national debt has ballooned. Wages are stagnant. Millions of Americans have given up looking for work. The economy has been a disappointment under President Obama.

Both of these statements are true. They are both history. Which one is right?

It’s a weird question, because history is supposed to be objective. There’s only supposed to be one “right.”

But that’s almost never the case, especially when an emotional topic like your opinion of the president is included. Everyone chooses the version of history that fits what they want to believe, which tends to be a reflection of how they were raised, which is different for everybody. We do this with the economy, the stock market, politics — everything.

It can make history dangerous. What starts as an honest attempt to objectively study the past quickly becomes a field day of confirming your existing beliefs.

June 13, 2015

Regular readers know that we like to carefully scrutinize mainstream financial media. Needless to say, we got a kick out of Cullen Roche’s colorful guidelines for financial journalists. They’re all well worth reading, but our favorites are quoted below.

I.  The Stop Scaring People Rule. Scaremongering is not to be tolerated except during the middle of a financial crisis or nuclear war. Writing scary articles for the sake of conjuring emotionally driven page views is not a legitimate business model and is generally counterproductive.

III. The Crash Call Rule. That pundit who comes on TV predicting financial Armageddon every week is not a “guru” and is directly contributing to poor financial decisions. Please refrain from interviewing him regularly. Also, see Rule I.

IX. The Bubble in Bubbles Rule. If you feel the need to use the word “bubble” please reconsider. This word is only allowed to be used by a select few financial experts (Robert Shiller, Robert Shiller & Robert Shiller).  If you are not one of the names listed in the previous sentence please do not use this terminology.

June 20, 2015

Declining profit margins are a prime target for perma bears in the blogosphere. You’d think after an “expert” calls nine of the last three recessions, this one would go away – but we’ve been fighting it for years. Pierre Lapointe received the Silver Bullet for taking on the crowd.

“It can take a long time before contracting margins begin to hurt stock prices,” Lapointe and colleagues Alex Bellefleur and Francois Boutin-Dufresne wrote in a report yesterday. They cited the 1982-1987 bull market, which took place even though earnings as a percentage of GDP were among the lowest since World War II.

“It isn’t at all clear that margins will contract further from here,” they wrote. “They could stabiglize and remain near current levels for some time. This wouldn’t be a disastrous scenario for equities.”

July 04, 2015

Beyond errors in the investment world, we like to caution our readers to think carefully about all kinds of data. Math Professor Jordan Ellenberg, of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, provided a fascinating article about the misuses of numbers. We gave him the Silver Bullet based on his conclusion:

All these mistakes have one thing in common: They don’t involve any actual falsehoods. Still, despite their literal truth, they manage to mislead. It is as if you said, “Geraldo Rivera has been married twice.” Yes—but this statistic leaves out 60% of his wives.

In the era of data journalism, truth is not enough. We need people in the newsroom who can check not only a number’s value but also its meaning. Unless we can ensure that, we’re going to be reading a lot of data-driven stories that are true in every particular—but still wrong.

July 18, 2015

Zero Hedge is one of the least credible yet oft-cited websites sucking up oxygen in the financial blogosphere. Their supporters are apparently pervasive, which is why we had to give Fabius Maximus a Silver Bullet for his thorough deconstruction. The full article is of course excellent: his commentary ranges from exposing half-truths, conspiracy-mongering, selective use of data, and outright deception.

ZH is an ugly version of Wal-Mart or Amazon. It would be sad but insignificant if ZH was exceptional. But ZH is a model of successful web publishing, probably taking mindshare from mainstream providers of economic and market insights. I see websites using its methods proliferating in other fields. For example, geopolitics has become dominated by sites that provide a continuous stream of threat inflation as ludicrous as the worst of ZH.

July 26, 2015

On a lighter note, we greatly appreciated a video done by Jimmy Atkinson at Dividend Reference. His guide to useless (but entertaining) stock market indicators comes with an important lesson attached. Below is one example particularly relevant to hockey fans in the Chicago area.

August 02, 2015

Michael Batnick won a Silver Bullet this year when he abated growing fears about market tops. His careful analysis (backed up by solid data) is a huge asset for individual investors looking for edge.

Conventional wisdom goes that prior to market tops, the major averages become more reliant on just a handful of stocks to lead the rally. When stocks are making new highs, it’s important to look at breadth indicators because indices can pull a nasty trick of masking what is actually happening to the majority of stocks. For instance, the S&P 500 is up 2.3% YTD, however, the average S&P 500 stock is down 0.7%.

Observers with a mission fail to note that divergences often resolve to the upside. Here is an interesting table, showing both frequency and the range of gains.

August 22, 2015

We at “A Dash” applaud anyone willing to challenge the so-called conventional wisdom. We gave Barry Ritholtz a Silver Bullet this year for taking on the Death Cross.

…yesterday’s decline triggered the dreaded Death Cross, as the index’s 50-day moving average crossed below the 200-day moving average. The other major indexes haven’t yet succumbed to the Death Cross horror, though the S&P 500 is heading in that direction.

In a research note late yesterday, Bespoke Investment Group observed that this was the first time this has happened since Dec. 30th, 2011, or in 903 trading days. They also note the modest statistical significance of the Death Cross. Looking at the past 100 years, they wrote that “the index has tended to bounce back more often than not.” Shorter term (one to three months), however, these crosses have been followed by modest declines in the index.

How modest? The average decline is 0.17 percent during the next month and 1.52 percent the next three months. By comparison, Bespoke notes, during the past 100 years the Dow averages a 0.62 percent gain during all one-month periods and a 1.82 percent rise during all three-month periods.

In an e-mail I asked Justin Walters of Bespoke to expand on the details. He wrote: “Most of the time these crosses don’t mean much of anything. This one the forward performance numbers are a little more negative than we would expect to see over the next one and three months, but it’s basically 50/50 whether we go higher or lower.”

August 30, 2015

Our final award of the year went to Michael Batnick and Todd Sullivan (citing “Davidson) for two separate articles on the same theme. Both illustrate the danger in the way the Shiller CAPE ratio is presented to investors. Batnick notes:

When Shiller says 15-16 is where CAPE has typically been, what he really means is this is what the average has been. However, what he fails to mention is that over the past 25 years, the CAPE ratio has been above its historical average 95% of the time. Stocks have been below their historical average just 16 out of the last 309 months. Since that time, the total return on the S&P 500 is over 925%.

Sullivan shows that the profit estimates in the data are flawed because of accounting changes. He shows that large and completely implausible changes in “earnings” were actually the result of the FAS 157 rules.

Conclusion

As always, you can feel free to contact us with recommendations for future Silver Bullet prize winners at any time. Whenever someone takes interest in defending a thankless but essential cause, we hope you’ll find them here.  Have a Happy New Year and a profitable 2016.