Weighing the Week Ahead: Will an Earnings Surge Revive the Stock Rally?

Are you ready for some real news? How about corporate earnings? While there is some economic data on tap, the Q1 earnings season starts in earnest this week. With questions about economic strength, the dollar and the Fed in mind, pundits will be looking for fresh data. They will be asking:

Can resurgent corporate earnings revive the stock rally?

Last Week

Last week the news was heavy but generally neutral. Strong economic data caused celebration. The Fed minutes and concerns about tax reform were the biggest negatives.

Theme Recap

In my last WTWA I predicted special attention to the Trump-Xi meeting. That was a good call, with plenty of discussion all week. The talks did not yield much news, but there might be a lesson from that as well.

The Story in One Chart

I always start my personal review by looking at a weekly chart. While there was not much of an overall change this week, Wednesday was the exception. Stocks moved sharply higher after the ADP number and sold off sharply in the afternoon, perhaps because of reaction to the Fed minutes, perhaps because of tax reform prospects.

 

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 neutral.

The Good

  • Construction spending rose 0.8%. Steven Hansen (GEI) is not convinced.
  • Rail traffic in March increased 7.3% (AAR).
  • ISM manufacturing maintained recent strength at 57.2. Scott Grannis offers this chart.

  • ADP private employment registered a change of 263K, handily beating expectations.

  • Weekly jobless claims dropped to 234K

 

The Bad

  • Tax reform prospects seemed to get worse at least that was the market take on Speaker Ryan’s press conference.
  • The Fed may be reducing its balance sheet. (Reuters). Fed expert Tim Duy thinks that balance sheet reduction will be gradual.
  • Auto sales were surprisingly weak. Calculated Risk concludes:

    This isn’t a huge concern – most likely vehicle sales will move sideways at near record levels. But the economic boost from increasing auto sales is probably over.

  • ISM services dropped to 55.2. This is still a strong level, of course, but any dip from a peak is drawing attention.
  • Non-farm payrolls registered a net increase of 98K, well below expectations. Doug Short has a nice chart pack, including this rolling average interpretation of non-farm payrolls.

 

The Ugly

Rising global threats including Syrian gas attacks, North Korean challenges, and more terrorist attacks.

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!

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 normal week for economic data, including releases on Friday when financial markets are closed.

The “A” List

  • Michigan Sentiment (T). Continued high readings and debate over “soft” data.
  • Retail sales (F). Will negative consumer news be confirmed?
  • Initial jobless claims (Th). Is the series edging up from record low levels?

The “B” List

  • JOLTS (T). February data. This is about labor market structure, not job growth!
  • PPI (Th). Still tame, with more of the same expected.
  • CPI (F). See PPI. The core increase is starting to approach the Fed’s target level.
  • Business inventories (F). Not much expected from this February data.
  • Crude inventories (W). Recently showing even more impact on oil prices. Rightly or wrongly, that spills over to stocks.

     

The schedule is light on FedSpeak and many markets around the world are closed on Friday.

Next Week’s Theme

In a normal week for economic data the start of the Q1 earnings season will command attention. Geopolitics will grab some headlines, but market participants are eager to see if the recent stock market strength is supported by corporate earnings. The key question?

Will resurgent earnings revive the rally in stocks?

Each earnings season sees a revival of a familiar theme: Companies guide expectations lower. The final report is a “beat” compared to this lowered bar.

More objectively, observers can compare earnings to the prior year. The weak energy sector has been a drag on these comparisons, leading to an “earnings recession.” This name was attached to two consecutive quarters of decline. This quarter seems more promising. Earnings expert Brian Gilmartin does a sector-by-sector analysis, concluding that this quarter might see S&P 500 growth of 12-14%.

John Butters of FactSet notes that current expectations are an increase of 8.9%, but that “double-digit” growth is more likely. He looks at the history of “beat rates.”

 

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 employment data.

 

 

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 group discussed how to find trading ideas in a quiet market. We were delighted to have expert commentary from Chuck Carnevale, founder of F.A.S.T. Graphs and a frequent source for WTWA. Check out the five stock ideas from our regular group, and especially Chuck’s reactions.

Top Trading Advice

 

Brett Steenbarger continues his stream of great posts. My favorite this week is his explanation of the real reason traders lose money. That should certainly attract universal interest! Here is a key takeaway:

There is only one source of making money in markets, and that is identifying recurring patterns in market behavior and exploiting those in a manner that provides solid reward relative to risk.  We marshal and attenuate various personality traits to identify and exploit those patterns.  Success comes, not from indulging our personalities, but from knowing which traits to draw upon and which to work around.  That is called wisdom.

Peter Coy has great advice for system traders: Beware of excessive back fitting of your data. If this seems too nerdy, you are probably making serious errors in developing your trading system.

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 Gary Belsky’s, Why We Think We’re Better Investors Than We Are. Here is a sample, comparing an unhappy lawyer with a disappointed investor:

Both people are highly likely to obsess over their sunk cost — law school tuition and time served for the lawyer, the original investment amount for the stock picker — in a nonconscious desire to justify their earlier decisions. Both are also very likely to fall prey to “loss aversion,” a key tenet of Prospect Theory, which tells us that humans typically respond to the loss of resources — be it time, effort, emotion, material goods or their proxy, i.e., money — more strongly than they react to a similar gain.

What differentiates the typical lawyer and average investor, however, is their justification for engaging in their activity. Lawyers are trained to do what they do, while the majority of investors are not. Ask a random player in a law firm’s basketball league whether he or she could compete with LeBron James, and the most common response will be laughter. Yet many of those lawyers would willingly compete with the billionaire investor Warren E. Buffett.

 

Stock Ideas

 

Barron’s has some undervalued energy stocks for consideration.

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 Sprint (S). You will enjoy the careful response of our guest expert, Chuck Carnevale, to that idea! The entire post has a good discussion.

Blue Harbinger has ten attractive ideas with 10% yields. It is a thorough analysis, and read the cautions carefully.

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 Jane Hwangbo’s 6 Things You Don’t Know About Money. The six points are interesting, as is this conclusion:

The point of money is to magnify you.

If you care about something, you get the opportunity to make more impact. If you love someone, you can give them more of what they need. You can share more. You can contribute more. You can invest in your future more.

You get more options.

In his regular column, Seeking Alpha Editor Gil Weinreich takes up an intriguing question – whether boomer retirements will cause a market crash. There is also a good discussion as well as links to other sources.

Value versus Growth

It is always interesting to see whether market sentiment is favoring value or growth. Blue Harbinger provides this interesting table.

Watch out for…

 

Kinder Morgan (KMI) and other pipelines. The operations are amazingly extensive.

The “toll road” analogy is also seductive for the pipeline companies. But that is only part of the story. Simply Safe Dividends has an excellent and thorough examination of the underlying finances, cost of capital, safety of the dividend, and the effect of changing energy prices.

 

Final Thoughts

 

There are several developing themes that require more elaboration than I can provide in WTWA. In such cases I often state my conclusions in advance – with more to come. Here are a few such ideas.

  • There are some lessons from the Trump-Xi meeting. Nothing bad happened. That may not seem newsworthy, but it is useful intelligence.
  • President Trump had his first test as Commander-in-Chief. He consulted experts and took their advice. Whether or not you agree with the decision, the process is better than we might have expected a few weeks ago.
  • The hard data, soft data meme is the latest way to find a source of market worry. The definition of the categories is not objective, nor is the analysis of the sources carefully done. This is definitely an agenda item.
  • The employment report is a single important example. The headline payroll report change was only about 100K. Despite repeated warnings that sampling error alone is +/- over 100K jobs, discussing smaller changes is great sport. The ADP report is a good independent source. Jobless claims are excellent. Wages are rising. The unemployment rate is declining. There is no reason to look for excuses (like the weather) for a weak number. But pundits must earn their pay!

Each earnings season I offer a challenge. I am still waiting for an answer. Those who do not trust earnings say that the estimates are too optimistic. They also say that (at the time of the report) they are too low. If both are true, there must be some point in time when the estimates are pretty accurate. John Butters provides this interesting table, looking only at the last-quarter effect.

 

If earnings growth continues this pattern it can do the following:

  1. Increase confidence in earnings estimates;
  2. Increase confidence in an improving economy;
  3. Provide the basis higher forward earnings;
  4. Support the idea of a higher PE multiple.

Eventually, whatever the other worries, it is all about earnings.

Weighing the Week Ahead: Will a More Aggressive Fed Derail the Stock Rally?

The economic calendar is light until the Friday employment report. Most of the punditry are still digesting the more aggressive talk in the recent speeches from Fed participants. With many observers expecting a correction and looking for a catalyst, pundits will be asking:

Will a more aggressive Fed derail the rally in stocks?

Personal Notes

I have a vacation coming in a couple of weeks. I will not write WTWA next weekend, and possibly not the weekend after that. I will still be following the markets and email. I will join in if it seems needed. The Stock Exchange group is supposed to keep working.

Last Week

Last week the news was mostly positive, and stocks responded again.

Theme Recap

In my last WTWA I predicted a discussion about whether stock prices had lost touch with reality. That was a good guess. There was plenty of talk about market valuation. Those bearish also questioned the lack of specifics in the Presidential Address to Congress – which had a greater immediate effect that the annual Buffett letter.

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 yet another record close based on the week’s gain of 0.67%. We can also see the gap opening after the Presidential Address to Congress.

The rally story is even clearer in this chart, when begins before the election.

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 mostly positive.

The Good

  • Durable goods orders increased 1.8% after last month’s decline. Most of the increase was from the volatile transportation sector, but it was still a welcome boost.
  • Earnings news was positive. Brian Gilmartin emphasizes the favorable trend in estimate revisions.FactSet reports that the earnings and revenue beat rates are slightly lower, but outlook is stronger. Here is an interesting chart of surprises by sector.

  • Investor sentiment turned more bearish. The AAII reports that sentiment is within historic ranges, but off recent highs. This is unusual given past behavior in a rising market. I score it as “good” since most regard it as a contrary indicator.
  • Mortgage delinquency rate falls below 1%, the lowest since June, 2008. (Calculated Risk).
  • ISM Non-Manufacturing rose to 57.6 (from 56.5). The employment index also moved higher. February was stronger than January.
  • ISM manufacturing increased to 57.7 beating expectations and showing a solid increase over last month’s 56.1. The Chicago regional survey was also very strong.
  • Rail traffic in February was 4.2% higher than a year ago. Steven Hansen takes the look at the data we have come to expect, including various moving averages and trends. Read the whole post, but this chart captures some key points, especially the improvement over the last two years.

  • Consumer confidence spiked to 114.8, a post-recession high. Briefing.com covers this series.

  • Initial jobless claims rose slightly on the week, but dropped to the lowest level since 1973 on the widely-followed four-week moving average. (Calculated Risk).
  • President Trump’s speech was very well-received. Most preview articles mistakenly emphasized the need for specifics. Commentators right after the speech did the same. My own preview did not provide advice on what to go out and trade right after the speech. Instead, I drew upon experience and the current policy environment to highlight the key element – the potential for compromise. This chart shows the dramatic shift in this Trump presentation, more like SOTU speeches than nearly anything else he has done. (The Upshot)

 

The Bad

  • Construction spending fell 1%.
  • Money supply is drifting to the neutral range – possibly even tilting negative. (New Deal Democrat). Despite complaints about Fed policy, this is a possible economic drag.
  • Pending home sales fell 2.8% and December was revised lower.
  • Debt Limit will be reached in mid-March. Even the extraordinary efforts will be exhausted in September or October. Will this play out any better with a GOP President and Congress? Douglas A. McIntyre has a good story on this issue.

The Ugly

My concern about hacking and threats to the Internet’s weak spots continues. Rick Paulas’s article is not about events from last week, but is just as relevant. Perhaps even more so with the Barron’s cover story on robots.

The article explains that even rather unsophisticated attacks can work on the 6.4 billion Internet of Things devices in use. Little is being done to protect on this front.

 

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 welcome. Potential award winners can find daily inspiration at several websites!
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 moderate week for economic data, featuring the employment report on Friday.

The “A” List

  • Employment situation (F). Despite +/- 100K sampling error and multiple revisions, this is seen as most important data
  • ADP private employment (W). Good independent alternative to the BLS numbers
  • Initial jobless claims (Th). Not the same time period as the Friday report.

The “B” List

  • Trade balance (T). Attracting more interest in the Trump era
  • Wholesale inventories (W). Desired or undesired? That is always the question.
  • Factory orders (M). January data. Modest gain expected.
  • Crude inventories (Th). Recently showing even more impact on oil prices. Rightly or wrongly, that spills over to stocks.

     

FedSpeak will be light and earnings season is ending. Employment will be the big story.

Next Week’s Theme

 

The punditry, especially those who explain the stronger stock market as enthusiasm for Trump policies, is even more amazed than a week ago. To them it seemed that the lack of specifics in Tuesday’s Trump speech should have provided a dose of reality.

Many will now turn to the most common explanation for strong stocks, the ever-popular Fed theory. With several speeches emphasizing that the March FOMC meeting is “in play” for an increase, interest rate markets are adjusting to the probability of three rate hikes in 2017.

Much of the commentary next week will raise the question:

Will a more aggressive Fed spark a stock market correction?

Some might add “finally”!

The question actually has two parts:

  1. Will the Fed increase rates at a pace greater than expectations?
  2. Will this lead to a correction?

Friday’s employment report will have special significance for those with these fears. It will be the final and most important piece of evidence for the FOMC decision.

Both questions have a bullish and bearish side.

  1. An increased pace of Fed rate hikes was the consensus at week’s end. (Bloomberg). Leading Fed observer Prof. Tim Duy’s careful look at the important Dudley speech (before Yellen) was not so decisive.
  2. Bears invoke the hoary adage, “three steps and a stumble.” (David Rosenberg). As you review the evidence, you might consider the starting point for interest rates, as well as the yield curve. More constructively, Neal Frankle analyzes the frequency (often) and severity (moderate) of corrections.

 

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 great sources and the best insights from each 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.

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 and Holmes

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 four technical experts, and some rebuttal from a fundamental analyst (usually me, but some noted guests experts are coming). We try to have fun, but there are always fresh ideas. Last week the focus was on trading an overbought market. The week before we considered sector rotation strategies, with a recent example from Oscar.

Top Trading Advice

 

Morgan Housel draws upon Ed Thorp’s work to discuss the advantages and dangers of trading with a small edge.

I agree. Every busted card-counter starts with the statement: “The deck got really good”.

Brett Steenbarger has so many strong entries that picking a favorite is a challenge. Here is one I especially liked from last week – reading the market’s psychology. Hint: Do not impose your own preconceptions on what is really happening.

In case you were unable to attend Brett’s master class in NY, SMB’s Bella has a summary of key takeaways. I especially like #6. The successful trader finds more than one way to win. Check out the five “inspirations” as well.

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 once again be Warren Buffett’s annual letter to his investors. It is full of wit and humor – and plenty of great insights. Last week I recommended his annual letter to investors. For those who (mistakenly) did not take the time to read it, you can now check out the “Cliff Notes.”

  • Methodology and screening expert Marc Gerstein applies Buffett principles. Check out his interesting list emphasizing book value.
  • Twenty-eight highlights from Exploring Markets. I especially like this one: When a person with money meets a person with experience, the one with experience ends up with the money and the one with money leaves with experience.
  • Ed Yardeni explains why the oft-cited “Buffett Rule” gets complicated when interest rates are so low. It is why Mr. B regards stocks as cheap.
  • Gil Weinreich has a list of great quotes with his own comments added.

Stock Ideas

 

Chuck Carnevale does his typical comprehensive analysis of j2 Global (JCOM). It includes business model analysis, the important stats, education on how to analyze, and much more. Even if this particular stock does not trip your trigger, you will learn from the article.

Our Stock Exchange always has some fresh ideas. There is usually something from four different approaches. Our momentum trading model, Athena, highlighted Principal Financial Group (PFG). You will probably identify with one of the characters, and your questions are welcomed.

Bottom Fishing

There are some high dividend stocks – often a sign of danger. Are these dividends safe?

Frontier Communications (FTR) yields 14%. Stone Fox Capitalanalyzes the risk.

Target (TGT) declined 12% after announcing poor earnings and a weak outlook. Simply Safe Dividends believes that the yield of 4%+ is probably safe, but a significant increase next year is unlikely.

How about Snap?

A fashionable IPO always attracts attention. In the absence of actual earnings data, everyone is free to spin a story. Initial trading was very positive. Does that mean that investors should consider buying it at market prices? (Those who get an allocation at the offering price have already made a bundle – depending upon when they sell).

Valuation guru Prof Aswath Damodaran provides the careful look we would expect from a top expert. While his final range is wide (and includes current prices) the overall conclusion is not promising. If you are attracted to the stock because you like the concept or company, you should look at this post.

MarketWatch reports that most analysts have stock targets below the $17 IPO price.

 

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 the discussion of ten things you must know about personal finance. It is important to get fundamental decisions right before launching your investment program.

In a similar personal finance emphasis, Seeking Alpha Editor Gil Weinreich cites the top four savings ideas from BlackRock’s clients.

If you have been struggling with your own decisions, you might want to read my (free) short paper on the top investor pitfalls. It is a good test of whether you can successfully fly solo. Send a request to main at newarc dot com.

 

Watch out for…

 

Scam season. One person gets you in the back yard to discuss landscaping, while the other is inside your home, stealing. The IRS does not take payments through credit cards or gift cards. If it seems in the slightest bit suspicious, check it out. The elderly are frequently targeted.

Final Thoughts

 

Your investment conclusions are strongly influenced by your preconceptions and current position. Last week I had an especially good summary of the two main themes. If it matters, Warren Buffett went on TV the day after I wrote this, expressing a similar opinion about stock valuations.

  • Stock values are attractive
    • Emphasis on earnings expectations and forecasts
    • Belief in relative valuations – comparing stock expected performance, with bonds, real estate, gold, etc.
    • Confidence that a recession is not imminent.
  • Stocks are over-valued
    • Emphasis on trailing earnings
    • Analysis based partially on 19th century data
    • Belief that valuation is absolute. A sector’s value is independent of the alternatives
    • Focus on headline risk – uncertainty, world events, etc.

Your choice of world view controls how you interpret fresh news, and your key investment decisions. If you are getting it wrong, you need an epiphany!

The market is rising despite the lack of specifics in the Trump plan and the realization that there will be delays in his proposals – even if he can sell them to Congress. The reason is straightforward:

The economy has been getting better in the post-election period. Dr. Ed Yardeni, declares that The Recession Is Over. He is thinking globally, noting that worldwide improvement cannot be linked to the U.S. election.

Charles Lieberman reviews the entire array of factors, including what to worry about.

Briefing.com’s excellent Big Picture column (worth a paid subscription) explores the possible causal relationships. Here is a key chart.

The Fed rate increases will be consistent with a stronger economy, an environment that implies solid growth in earnings. Scott Grannis explains why higher rates are not a threat in the current market:

It’s very likely we’re still in the early stages of more of the same. Interest rates are going to be rising, probably by more than the market currently expects, because the outlook for the economy is improving and inflation is at the high end of the Fed’s target range, yet interest rates are still relatively low because of the market’s willingness to pay up for safety—and that won’t persist for much longer. Stocks are going to be buoyed by improving earnings and the prospect of stronger economic growth. Interest rates will be moving higher because of stronger growth—higher rates are not yet a threat to growth. The Fed is still a long way from raising rates by enough to threaten growth. If the FOMC hikes rates in two weeks it won’t be a tightening, it will be a sensible reaction to stronger growth and improved confidence.

Worries?

Sure. If the Fed gets behind on inflation and accelerates rate increases, even though the economy is sluggish, it will be an early sign of an impending recession. I am watching this closely, and so should you.

Meanwhile, do not be scared witless (TM OldProf euphemism).

Weighing the Week Ahead: Will Trump Policies Extend the Business Cycle?

We have another holiday-shortened week with little fresh data. While there are some Fed speakers on tap, it is not enough to feed the avaricious punditry. There are two competing themes: the spike in inflation and the continuing assessment of Trump Administration policies. Once again, I expect the two to be joined in most commentaries. Pundits will be asking:

Will Trump policies extend the business cycle?

 

Last Week

Last week the economic news was mostly positive, and stocks responded.

Theme Recap

In my last WTWA I predicted a conjunction of two themes as Fed Chair Yellen testified to Congress and President Trump considered candidates for several Fed vacancies. I was only half right. Yellen got plenty of attention from Congressional questioners and revealed that she plans to finish her term as Chair. She also gave some non-specific agreement with some of Trump’s principles about regulation. GOP questioners wanted to talk about the Fed balance sheet. President Trump did not comment about this. This topic will have continuing interest. Presidents are rarely fans of rising interest rates.

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 record high and the overall gain of 1.51% for the week.

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.

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 mostly positive.

The Good

  • Retail sales increased 0.4% beating expectations of a flat report. December’s data was revised to a 1% gain from the prior 0.6%.
  • NFIB small business optimism shows that “economic growth is coming.” Dr. Ed opines that this must be a Trump effect.

  • Philly Fed survey rose 43.3, crushing expectations of 17.5 and the prior month’s 23.6. The six-month outlook also remains very strong. From the report:

  • Leading indicators remained strong increasing 0.6% and slightly beating expectations.

 

The Bad

  • Industrial production dropped 0.3%, missing expectations for a flat report.
  • Fewer developed market stocks are outperforming – 44% versus the 57% average. Eric Bush of GaveKal explains that this has a negative correlation with the overall market.
  • Kim Jong-un took two provocative actions, two days apart. Jonathan D. Pollack at Brookings wrote “…North Korea’s impetuous young leader, yet again reminded the outside world of his determination to defy international norms by all available means”. The ballistic missile test was a flagrant violation of agreements, and the assassination of his half-brother continues a policy of killing potential rivals. So far, the market has taken little notice of such events or other possible challenges to the new president.
  • Inflation data showed price increases greater than expected (Briefing.com consensus in parentheses). PPI was up 0.6% (0.3%). CPI up 0.6% (0.3%). Core CPI up 0.3% (0.2%).
  • Housing starts declined in January, so I am scoring this as a negative. The prior months were revised higher, and the result was a slight beat of expectations.Calculated Risk, one of the top sources on housing matters, ascribes the shifts to the volatile, multi-family sector. Bill expects starts to increase 3% – 7% in 2017. The range may seem wide, but he is careful to explain the expected error around his forecasts, which have been quite good. See the full post for charts splitting out multi- and single-family.

The Ugly

Malware is winning the race against antivirus software. Users are not taking the most important precautions. Hint: Strong passwords and a password manager. (Slate).

 

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. This week’s award goes to Josh Brown for his thoughtful analysis of debt, and what it really means. The arguments about excessive debt, the types of debt, and the threats to the system are easily made. It takes only a chart, and most readers are pre-convinced.

Explaining the data requires a deeper, second-order analysis. In his well-sourced aricle, Josh takes a comprehensive look at employment and lending. You need to read the entire post (twice) but the no-nonsense conclusion captures the key point for investors:

When bankers complain, the rhetoric is almost always a caricature of the reality. Today is no different. There’s probably room to streamline or clean up the crisis era regs, but to make the claim that “the banks can’t lend” flies in the face of the actual facts.

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 light week for economic data, with all reports in a three-day period.

The “A” List

  • New home sales (F). Gains expected in this important sector.
  • Michigan sentiment (F). Important indicator for employment and spending.
  • Initial jobless claims (Th). How long can the amazing strength continue?

The “B” List

  • Existing home sales (W). Not as important as new sales, but is a read on the overall strength of the housing market.
  • FOMC minutes (W). No surprises expected.
  • Crude inventories (Th). Recently showing even more impact on oil prices. Rightly or wrongly, that spills over to stocks.

     

Fed Presidents will be on the speaking trail. Earnings reports continue. Early actions from the Trump Administration have captured the spotlight and will continue to do so.

Next Week’s Theme

 

If the market did not have the extreme Trump focus, the question would be whether incipient inflation suggests the need for more aggressive Fed policy and the probably end of the growth portion of the business cycle.

With the daily parsing of tweets, executive orders, and (somewhat conflicting) policy statements, analysts are scrambling to define and re-define the “Trump Effect.”

In a holiday-shortened, light week for data, I expect a combination of these two themes:

Will Trump Policies Extend the Business Cycle?

Discussion of this topic includes both the policies and the business cycle. Most are not rigorous in separating them.

Scott Grannis does a good job by focusing on the inflation effect and the business cycle. He notes that core CPI inflation has been rather stable, and that it is “a stake through the heart of the deflation demon”.

By contrast, Barron’s focuses on the stock and market effects. In their cover story, they review each Administration move:

Will the week ahead provide any more clarity and focus? Maybe not, but investors should look for the following key points:

  1. Is there evidence of a business cycle peak? Here is Bob Dieli’s take, vividly comparing the disparate opinions:

  1. Will Trump policies extend the cycle? Some are citing confidence from both businesses and consumers as evidence of a return of “animal spirits.” The Trump administration is forecasting much stronger growth than does the CBO. (MarketWatch).
  2. Many Trump moves are generating opposition, sometimes with the Republican party.
  3. Most voters are looking for compromises. This is true of both parties. “The Hill.”

What does this 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 great sources and the best insights from each 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 C-Score has again moved lower, reflecting more inflation via gasoline prices. The level is still not worrisome.

 

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.

Brian Gilmartin: Analysis of expected earnings for the overall market as well as coverage of many individual companies.

Doug Short: The World Markets Weekend Update (and much more).

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.

The Brooklyn Investor looks at Warren Buffett’s returns, comparing them to other great investors and probability estimates.

Michael Hartnett’s (BofA Merrill Lynch) methods suggest a “melt-up” of 10%. I can’t argue. When CNBC interviewed me about my 2010 call for Dow 20K, I suggested that the next 8-10% would be pretty easy.

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 and Holmes

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 four technical experts, and some rebuttal from a fundamental analyst (usually me). We try to have fun, but there are always fresh ideas. Last week the focus was when and how to “buy the dips” with a current example from Holmes.

Top Trading Advice

 

Dr. Brett is back on the job, with several great posts this week. It is difficult to pick a favorite! He has advice on picking the right instruments to trade, identifying real trader education, and why you need to ask the right questions if you are to learn. Do you, for example track prices right after you are stopped out of a trade? There are several other tough, but valuable questions.

Consider attending his trading workshop at the upcoming NY Trading Expo.

Ralph Vince identifies three factors highly correlated with the price of private property. Traders often forget that guessing when to be short is against the odds.

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 Chuck Carnevale’s discussion of MLPs. This is a popular investment for those seeking income. Many just look at the yield. Chuck demonstrates the complexity of these partnerships, explaining valuation, tax considerations, and whether you are simply getting your money back. You should not invest in an MLP without reading this first. In addition to his general warning, he provides several ideas worthy of consideration.

 

Stock Ideas

 

Airline stocks. Warren Buffett? Really? His famous jocular quote was that a capitalist at Kitty Hawk should have shot Orville Wright to save money for his kids. Philip Van Doorn (MarketWatch) presents the story of this changed attitude. Josh Brown explainswhy Mr. B can be flexible while adhering to long-time principles.

Rural broadband? This could be a big beneficiary from an infrastructure plan (Brookings). Also, see my final investing thoughts below.

Our trading model, Holmes, has joined our other models in a weekly market discussion. Each one has a different “personality” and I get to be the human doing fundamental analysis. This week the dip-buying Holmes sold Nielsen (NLSN) on some strength and add General Electric (GE).

 

Seeking yield?

Blue Harbinger notes that Verizon’s yield has moved higher despite a reasonable payout ratio. I agree, but I prefer to write calls against stocks like this. If you stick to short-term calls (with the most rapid time decay) you can generate a cash flow of 9 or 10%, including both dividends and premiums from call sales. If the stock is called away, you find a new candidate, since you have gained 4-5% in six weeks. If the stock declines, you sell a new round of calls. If you merely break even, in the long term, on stocks, you are meeting your income objective. I do not typically mention trades before we do them, but we are looking at a buy/write against the April 50 call, which closed at 77 cents bid. You will collect a 58-cent dividend in early April. If the stock does not move, that is over 2 ½ percent in a few weeks. If it is called away, you make about 4.5% and can look for a new trade. This is a great idea for DIY investors who understand options. Naturally, this is an illustration, not a general recommendation. Do not consider it without consulting your financial advisor (yada yada)!

 

 

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. The piece about the importance of a will is great. I liked the one helping you teach kids about money. (I tried to do this with poker chips, and you can guess the ending). My favorite was gender control over family finances. Do you think it matters who is earning more? (Hint: Mrs. OldProf regards it as completely irrelevant).

Seeking Alpha Editor Gil Weinreich’s strong series is ostensibly aimed at financial advisors – a must-read for them. It also attracts many DIY investors. The topics are always interesting, and the discussion is often spirited. Active versus passive investing is naturally a current hot topic.

Ben Carlson explains how to consider housing expenses as part of your overall financial plan.

In case you missed it, you might enjoy my brief, mid-week post on The Fastest Way to Improve Your Investment Results.

Watch out for…

Overpriced dividend stocks. SD Davis explains the need for looking beyond the hoped-for payments.

Yield plays with “dividends” that are merely a return of your own capital.

Emerging market bonds. Lisa Abramowicz at Bloomberg explains the risks, including a decline in foreign currency reserves.

 

And more on value investing

Black Rock’s Russ Koesterich demonstrates why this style can work in what is perceived as a tough market. Here is his illustrative chart:

Final Thoughts

 

After years of warnings about deflation and impending recessions, the economy is showing some real signs of strength. For whatever reason, much of the punditry clings to the “end of the up-cycle” thesis, in both the economy and in stocks. Neither economic cycles nor bull markets die of old age.

Inflation concerns are premature. The Fed prefers the core PCE measure, which has less emphasis on housing. It runs “cooler” than the CPI. The Fed has also indicated willingness to exceed the 2% inflation target for some time. They can fight inflation more readily than deflation. I do not expect Trump appointments to reverse this consensus.

Most importantly, the punditry calls it a Trump rally since it occurred at about the same time as the election. There is no analysis of reduced uncertainty or improved fundamentals. The main impact seems to be the promise of reduced regulation.

To summarize, there is a significant improvement in confidence, which is great for the economy and corporate earnings. The reasons for more confidence include many sources.

Investing Conclusion

Finding good ideas from major policy changes is an excellent approach — in theory.

In practice, there are many traps. Too often there are incentives for analysts to be first, rather than to be right. While I have suggested caution on this front several times, it is easier for me. I am not required to fill a TV time slot or write a report for brokerage firm clients. If there is no solid conclusion, I am not forced to act. My approach requires good information, including some which is not yet available. The matrix below is a partial representation of my results. There are more sectors, of course, and I have hundreds of tagged articles in a supporting database. I have preliminary entries for most of the cells. The table below is just an illustration of my approach.