Weighing the Week Ahead: Trump V. Yellen Round One

A week featuring the Fed Chair’s semi-annual Congressional testimony, and daily speeches by most of her Fed colleagues, would normally represent a commanding first choice for the upcoming theme. This time is different. (Yes, I know that you are never supposed to say that). The first weeks of the Trump Administration have generated daily news on a wide range of topics, each of which draws attention.

The combination of the two will provide an irresistible topic for the punditry. It will be:

Trump v. Yellen, round one.

Last Week

Last week the light economic calendar provided mixed news, but there was still a rally in stocks.

Theme Recap

In my last WTWA I predicted a discussion about whether the current market optimism was justified. Despite some breaking news during the week, especially about earnings, that theme got plenty of attention.

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 new high and the overall gain of 0.81% 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 again mixed, with a tilt to the positive side.

The Good

  • JOLTS signaled a healthy labor market. Many try to use JOLTS as a measure of job growth. This is unhelpful, since there are better measures for that. It is an example of writing about what you think people want to hear. The data are best interpreted as a measure of the health and structure of the labor market.
    • The quit rate is seen as a measure of health, since it reflects those who voluntarily leave jobs, expressing confidence in other opportunities. There is a nice discussion of JOLTS and several charts from Nick Bunker.

  • The Beveridge Curve is the most important interpretation, emphasized by Yellen. What we really want to know is the tightness of the labor market. Here is a nice explanation from 2012, noting what is needed for labor market improvement and the general counter-clockwise movement after a recession. (Readers looking for a Silver Bullet Award might want to check out the very lame interpretation at ZH, where one of the Tylers only discusses the gap, not the trend or slope. The most recent update is a month old, from the BLS.

 

  • Corporate earnings. I am scoring this as a slight positive. I want to discuss it, so I put it somewhere. The results are mixed. Earnings are below expectations, revenues are higher, and outlook (always negative) is not as bad as the long-term average. There is a year-over-year gain for a second consecutive quarter, not seen for two years. (Factset). Brian Gilmartin also highlights the leading sectors. He also has something you will not find anywhere else – an analysis of the impact on earnings from a border tax. Great work!

The Bad

  • Michigan sentiment dipped to 95.7 on the preliminary estimate, down a bit from last month’s 98.5 and missing expectations. This month’s report has a special feature that we need to know – divided perceptions based upon politics. From the Michigan report:

    When asked to describe any recent news that they had heard about the economy, 30% spontaneously mentioned some favorable aspect of Trump’s policies, and 29% unfavorably referred to Trump’s economic policies. Thus a total of nearly six-in-ten consumers made a positive or negative mention of government policies. In the long history of the surveys, this total had never reached even half that amount, except for five surveys in 2013 and 2014 that were solely dominated by negative references to the debt and fiscal cliff crises. Moreover, never before have these spontaneous references to economic policies had such a large impact on the Sentiment Index: a difference of 37 Index points between those that referred to favorable and unfavorable policies. These differences are troublesome: the Democrat’s Expectations Index is close to its historic low (indicating recession) and the Republican’s Expectations Index is near its historic high (indicating expansion). While currently distorted by partisanship, the best bet is that the gap will narrow to match a more moderate pace of growth. Nonetheless, it has been long known that negative rather than positive expectations are more influential in determining spending, so forecasts of consumer expenditures must take into account a higher likelihood of asymmetric downside risks.

  • High frequency indicators are a touch more negative. New Deal Democrat does an excellent weekly update. I always read it and any serious investor should join me.

The Ugly

Scamming 9/11 heroes and NFL concussion victims? Pretty low, if true. Some will go to any lengths to make a buck. (CBS news).

 

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! For inspiration, you might test yourself on the misleading visualization techniques described by Nathan Yau. I see these daily, and so do you. The most common in financial posts is this one:


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.

The “A” List

  • Housing starts and building permits (Th). Little change expected in these important leading indicators.
  • Leading indicators (F). Popular economic gauge expected to remain strong.
  • Retail sales (W). Little is expected from the January data.
  • Initial jobless claims (Th). How long can the amazing strength continue?

The “B” List

  • Industrial production (W). A small gain is expected in the volatile series.
  • Philly Fed (Th). Popular report is the first look at February data.
  • PPI (T). Starting to run a bit hotter. That will attract more attention if it continues.
  • CPI (W). See PPI above.
  • Business inventories (W). December data affecting Q4 GDP. Favorite spin target: Voluntary or involuntary build up?
  • Crude inventories (Th). Recently showing even more impact on oil prices. Rightly or wrongly, that spills over to stocks.

     

Chair Yellen give s her semi-annual Congressional testimony on Tuesday (Senate) and Wednesday (House). The presentations are the same and the order alternates. If you don’t know why, then you missed that class in Congressional Government! There are also appearances by a host of other Fed Governors and Presidents. Questions will probe the state of the economy, the new political environment, and the likely pace of rate hikes.

Earnings reports will remain important. Early actions from the Trump Administration have captured the spotlight and will continue to do so.

Next Week’s Theme

 

During the campaign, Candidate Trump had plenty of criticism for the Fed and for Chair Yellen. Since the election, he has had much less to say. With Fed Gov. Daniel Tarullo’s resignation, the President will now have three openings to fill (out of seven). Next year he can replace Yellen as Chair. Although technically her term continues, most resign when replaced as Chair. He has the power to change the style, background of members, and policies.

Yellen is testifying before Congress this week on Tuesday and Wednesday. While the topic is the state of the economy, we should expect some aggressive questioning. Will her testimony or answers draw a Presidential tweet (which we are calling a T-Wop)? The punditry will find this combination irresistible. I expect plenty of media coverage for a clash that will probably be repeated. We can think of it as:

Trump v. Yellen, Round One

The basic possibilities are interesting, but mostly speculative so far. Here is what Trump might do.

  • Trump will support some of the various moves to “audit” the Fed and reduce its power.
  • Trump will T-Wop Yellen this week, and remove her at the first opportunity.
  • Trump will resume the Fed criticism, and start his process for filling the vacancies.
  • Trump will moderate criticism while Yellen is still at the reins.
  • Trump will seek candidates that have some traditional credentials.
  • Trump will decide to keep Yellen as Chair.

Here is what Yellen might do.

  • Make an aggressive statement criticizing some Trump policies.
  • Avoid “Trump” issues in the statement, but provide some frankly critical answers to questions.
  • Announce that she plans to stay on the Fed if replaced as Chair.
  • Suggest that the Fed policy is changing in a way that Trump sought.
  • Make conciliatory remarks about the direction of Trump policy, especially economic stimulus.

What fun! Expect the pundits and their guests to go wild.

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 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. The most recent update is for the Business Cycle Indicator.

Eddy Elfenbein notes that the early commentary is in: S&P 2018 earnings estimates at $148. Nearly everyone will regard that as too high, but others will start citing it. This happens even more after the third quarter of each year.

The Atlanta Fed notes that their GDP Now model has been running too hot due to net exports. A change might be in the works.

 

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 there was a great discussion about whether your trading results are skill or luck. Do you know? And BTW, Athena likes AMD.

Top Trading Advice

 

Are you (like me) missing Dr. Brett already? Consider attending his trading workshop at the upcoming NY Trading Expo.

Signal Plot explains how to measure your trading performance – and you must do this.

17 Trading Resolutions for 2017. Yes, it is a little late, but you can join in just as others quit going to the gym. Dave Landry has a nice list of ideas. Some of these seemed wise, but others sounded like the Delphic Oracle. What do you think?

Trading methods not working? Here is an idea. When you hear about a hot IPO look for a stock with a similar name. Buy it on the confusion/greater fool theory! It worked for those buying dating site Snap Interactive (STVI). This is not the first such occasion. (I hope readers can recognize tongue-in-cheek).

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 this post from Seeking Alpha Editor Gil Weinreich, Are Bonds Bad? How about Funds? He cites Evan Power’s analysis of the current retirement risks, responding to a Kiplinger article that retirement was now 10 times riskier.

Wow! This is a great discussion of a topic with widespread significance. With all of the scary stories about retirement, it is helpful to read something that is calm and analytical.

Gil’s daily column is a must-read for financial advisors and usually valuable for individual investors as well.

Stock Ideas

 

Eddy Elfenbein’s best ideas are in his new ETF (CWS), which is off to a nice start. That does not stop him from making valuable commentary on news, markets, and other stocks. Last week he mentioned Ingredion (INGR), an intriguing idea.

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 (who has been very hot) liked Casey’s (CASY). In a big surprise, Holmes sold the next morning, so I did a rapid update for readers. This is very unusual behavior, but it is only one of sixteen Holmes positions. Holmes is worth watching.

 

Seeking yield?

Lee Jackson suggests five dividend stocks that should do reasonably well in a market correction. These are the kind of stocks where we “enhance yield” with sales of rapidly-decaying near-term calls. We make four times as much from the call sales as we do from the dividends.

Chuck Carnevale does a deep dive on Pfizer. I agree, but I see it as another call-selling candidate.

Portfolio Management

David Merkel provides important advice about rebalancing your portfolio. I love it, and not just because the featured band is from one of my old schools. The band is great and the “Tuba March” is awesome.

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. This week may be the finest entry in a long series. I strongly recommend a look at the great links cited. Look at all the posts on the fiduciary rule. The average investor needs to understand who is selling and who is acting in his interest. For retirees or near-retirees, the Michael Kitces post is very valuable. Most people do not think about the priority of various retirement needs, but they should!

 

Thinking about Social Security?

Jesse Rothstein has a nice explanation of the tradeoffs in choosing when to start benefits.

 

Watch out for…

Trading the VXX, a “nearly perfectly-engineered tool to separate worried investors from their money. It is the unfenced swimming pool of ETF/ETNs.” See Paul Kedrosky’s tweeted chart.

Warnings about value traps (from 24/7). Once again, one person’s value trap is my candidate for selling near-term calls. There is always a way to profit if you are right about the major stock characteristics.

And more on value investing

From Validea. You need mental toughness. Strategies that work very well in the long term will have dry spells.

 

Final Thoughts

 

Before turning to the Fed, I want to comment on a major news theme from last week, in line with what we expected. Is the Trump Rally running out of steam? Some might find this ironic when results remain strong. Here is the three-part problem:

  1. Pundits and investors, seeking a simple post-election explanation for the stock rally, attributed it to Trump policies.
  2. Now that some of these policies seem delayed, they expect markets to get softer.
  3. But what if the rally was a return to earnings fundamentals and the elimination of pre-election uncertainty, as I suggested last week (with some support from Dr. Ed)?

What about the Fed?

Once in office, Presidents always like low interest rates. Trump will probably replace Yellen, but with whom? If the cabinet provides any precedent, we can expect some non-Ivy League, non-economists. I have frequently argued that most intelligent people with a reasonable background would be part of a Fed consensus after their appointment. The importance of the issues, the venue, and the evidence presented by staff all nudge in this direction. I once had the chance to suggest this idea to former Dallas Fed President Bob McTeer, and he agreed. (It is easy to draw out a confirming answer in such conversations, but we talked at some length and I really wanted to know).

Parsing through the possibilities described above, I expect to see little change in Fed policy. The new President will wind up appointing people with traditional credentials, but perhaps with different policy viewpoints. He will not reappoint Yellen, although people forget that the Fed Chair is often appointed by Presidents of both parties. (Greenspan and Bernanke are the most recent examples). He will not aggressively push for a change in policy. In fact, some are already claiming that the modest Fed rate increases are anti-Trump. Yellen will probably not remain after her term as chair, unless the new appointees are jarringly different in methods or policy preferences.

The Fed news has dramatically different significance for traders and investors.

For traders, this week will be especially difficult to game. Since that community has over-emphasized the Fed for the entire rally, unable to explain the gains any other way, there might be some big fluctuations. Since there is little precedent for this, we cannot even guess what the content-based algorithms will do.

For investors, it is another opportunity. Since the events have little real impact on expected earnings and the economic cycle, we can have shopping lists ready. My portfolio rebalancing has raised my cash levels. It is not fear of a correction, but a natural process.

2016 Silver Bullet Awards Part Two

Each week I try to give special attention to those who do important work, even though it is probably unpopular. These contributors are so important, and their work is so helpful, that we recommend taking another look at the end of the year. (Part One is here).

 

7/13/16

In a WTWA first, CNBC anchor Sara Eisen earned a Silver Bullet Award for her excellent interview with Fed Vice-Chairman Stanley Fischer (Transcript and video via CNBC). As we wrote at the time:

One-by-one she asked all of the key questions in the current debate over Fed policy – potential for negative rates, Brexit impact, does the Fed make decisions based the economic impact abroad, the state of the economy, recession potential, employment, George Soros, and the strong bond market. Whether or not you agree with Vice-Chairman Fischer, it is important to know what he thinks.

Sara Eisen displayed first-rate journalism, as expected from a Medill School graduate. Unlike so many other financial interviewers she did not argue with her subject nor push her own agenda. She did raise all of the current Fed misperceptions common in the trading community. Her preparation and poise helped us all learn important information. It was well worth turning off my mute button and dialing back the TIVO.

8/13/16

We gave the Silver Bullet to Justin Fox for his writing on one of the most persistent myths – the manipulation of government statistics. His whole post is available here, but we particularly liked this bit:

First, because I know a little bit about the people who put together our nation’s economic statistics. The Bureau of Labor Statistics, Bureau of Economic Analysis and Census Bureau are run on a day-to-day basis by career employees, not political appointees. Even the appointees are often career staffers who get promoted, and many have served under multiple administrations. When top statistics-agency officials do leave government, it’s often for jobs in academia. Credibility with peers is generally of far more value (economic and otherwise) to these people than anything a politician could do for them.

To those with even basic experience in civil service, the political manipulation theory makes little sense.

9/3/16

Ben Carlson won a Silver Bullet for investigating the apparent link between Fed meetings and stock performance. While many (including at least one WSJ writer) took the rumor at face value, Ben asked a clever question: What happens if you change the starting date of the analysis?


As it turns out, any relationship between the two is likely a result of 2008.

9/11/16

Menzie Chinn was a big winner this year. Professor Chinn, a Wisconsin economist, debunked many annoying data conspiracies in one fell swoop. In so doing, he also illustrated how an inappropriate use of log scales can mislead readers.

We called his piece the most profitable thing for investors to read that week – if you missed it, be sure and catch up!

9/17/16

By late in the year, it was increasingly apparent that individual investors were misreading the VIX as a “fear indicator” rather than a measure of expected volatility. Chris Ciovacco did an excellent job in making that distinction. His image here is particularly persuasive.

Runner up awards to Jeff Macke and Adam H. Grimes for their similar conclusions on the same subject.

10/8/16

Shiller’s CAPE method has often caused some eyebrow-raising on A Dash, most notably since he doesn’t use it himselfJustin Lahart of the Wall Street Journal thought to analyze just how this method (and others like it) would work in practice:

For New York University finance professor Aswath Damodaran, this is the real sticking point. He set up a spreadsheet to see if there was a way that using the CAPE could boost returns. When the CAPE was high, it put more money into Treasuries and cash, and when it was low it put more into stocks.

He fiddled with it, allowing for different overvaluation and undervaluation thresholds, changing target allocations. And over the past 50-odd years, he couldn’t find a single way he could make CAPE beat a simple buy-and-hold strategy. In the end, he doesn’t think it represents an improvement over using conventional PEs to value stocks.

“This is one of the most oversold, overhyped metrics I’ve ever seen,” says Mr. Damodaran.

Mr. Shiller agrees that the CAPE can’t be used as a market-timing tool, per se. Rather, he thinks that investors should tilt their portfolios away from individual stocks that have high CAPEs. But he says he isn’t ready to modify his CAPE for judging the overall market.

10/23/16

With the blogosphere in full election season fever, some started to worry that the 2016 stock market gains were a precursor to something much worse. We gave the Silver Bullet to Ryan Detrick of LPL Research for discrediting this argument with two easy charts:

11/5/16

We make a special effort to recognize writers trying to debunk the endless onslaught of recession predictions. Bill McBride of Calculated Risk did this very effectively, with a few key points:

Note: I’ve made one recession call since starting this blog.  One of my predictions for 2007 was a recession would start as a result of the housing bust (made it by one month – the recession started in December 2007).  That prediction was out of the consensus for 2007 and, at the time, ECRI was saying a “recession is no longer a serious concern”.  Ouch.

For the last 6+ years [now 7+ years], there have been an endless parade of incorrect recession calls. The most reported was probably the multiple recession calls from ECRI in 2011 and 2012.

In May of [2015], ECRI finally acknowledged their incorrect call, and here is their admission : The Greater Moderation

In line with the adage, “never say never,” [ECRI’s] September 2011 U.S. recession forecast did turn out to be a false alarm.

I disagreed with that call in 2011; I wasn’t even on recession watch!

And here is another call [last December] via CNBC: US economy recession odds ’65 percent’: Investor

Raoul Pal, the publisher of The Global Macro Investor, reiterated his bearishness … “The economic situation is deteriorating fast.” … [The ISM report] “is showing that the U.S. economy is almost at stall speed now,” Pal said. “It gives us a 65 percent chance of a recession in the U.S.

The manufacturing sector has been weak, and contracted in the US in November due to a combination of weakness in the oil sector, the strong dollar and some global weakness.  But this doesn’t mean the US will enter a recession.

The last time the index contracted was in 2012 (no recession), and has shown contraction several times outside of a recession.

We strongly recommend reading the original post in its entirety.

11/27/16

Jon Krinsky of MKM and Downtown Josh Brown both earned the Silver Bullet award in late 2016, for taking on myths about currency strength and stock performance. In sum: there is zero evidence of a long-term correlation between stocks and the dollar.

12/31/16

Our final Silver Bullet award of the year, given on New Year’s Eve, went to Robert Huebscher of Advisor Perspectives. His full article is definitely worth a read, but choice excerpts follow below. Good financial products are bought, not sold!

But I caution anyone against buying precious metals from Lear Capital. It is not an SEC-registered investment advisor and its web site states that there is no fiduciary relationship between it and its customers.

And also…

For example, Lear will sell you a $10 circulated Liberty gold coin (1/2 ounce) for $753.00 (plus $24 shipping). I did a quick search on eBay and found a circulated Liberty coin selling for as low as $666 (with free shipping).

Buying silver is no different. Lear will sell you a pre-1921 circulated Morgan silver dollar for $30 (plus $10 shipping). On eBay, I quickly found one of these for $22.00 (plus $2.62 shipping).

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 2017.

Weighing the Week Ahead: Dow 20K?

The post-election market run has been accompanied by improving economic data and increasing confidence. The result has the punditry asking a question that seemed crazy in January:

Will the Dow hit 20K?

Before reading this week’s installment, “Sherman, set the WABAC machine to” mid-year, 2010. The Dow was at 10K and many famous pundits were predicting a fall to 5000. In order to appreciate the psychology of the time, please read my post and especially the comments at Seeking Alpha. You will see some very colorful criticisms of my work! You will enjoy a few good laughs. I’ll comment more on this below, but it is a great place to start.

Last Week

Once again, last week’s calendar of economic news was nearly all good, supporting the market gains.

Theme Recap

In my last WTWA (two weeks ago), I predicted a period of stronger economic news and the possibility of a more positive market reaction. This is what has happened, but most commentators still are not emphasizing the main theme. It is not all about the Fed.

The Story in One Chart

I always start my personal review of the week by looking at this great chart from Doug Short. He captures the continuing rally and the move to new highs.

Doug has a special knack for pulling together all the relevant information. His charts save more than a thousand words! Read his entire post where he adds analysis grounded in data and 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 quite good—almost all positive. I make objective calls, which means not stretching to achieve a false balance. If I missed something for the “bad” list, please feel free to suggest it in the comments.

The Good

  • Rail traffic finally scores a slight positive. Steven Hansen provides the current data, as well as the more negative long-term perspective.
  • Senate passes stopgap funding. This is not getting a lot of attention, but it is a big shift from the past eight years, especially 2011, when the last correction came for this very reason. (The Hill).
  • OPEC reached a production limit agreement. Whether this will attract cooperation from non-OPEC countries is open to question. We might also ask whether a floor under energy prices is a positive. That said, the oil price/stock correlation has been a factor since the energy collapse. Months ago, I suggested that we were entering a sweet spot for oil pricing. The OPEC participants see a cap of about $60/barrel, which makes sense.
  • Jobless claims down ticked, and remain near all-time lows. See Calculated Risk for the story and charts.
  • Productivity rose over 3%.
  • Michigan sentiment spiked to 98 on the preliminary estimate. LPL shows why this is important.

  • Borrowers continue to move out of negative equity on their homes. 384K in Q3 (Calculated Risk).
  • ISM non-manufacturing strengthened to 57.2. Doug Short has the story and this chart:

 

The Bad

  • Gas prices rose over five cents. (GEI).

  • Interest rate components of long leading indicators are weakening. (New Deal Democrat). This is mostly a positive story, but the long-term interest effects are worth watching. NDD’s report of high frequency indicators is a regular read for me, and should be for other frequent traders.

 

The Ugly

Secret outside influence on U.S. elections. Foreign countries frequently have an interest in the most important elections. There is nothing new or unusual about that. Voters can weigh the opinions and arguments in the same way they use other information. Actions that are secret are another matter, especially when following the “dirty tricks” approach.

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 opportunities abound and nominations are 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 big week for data.

The “A” List

  • FOMC rate decision (W). An increase is widely expected. The statement and Yellen’s press conference may yield hints about next year.
  • Housing starts and building permits (F). Softening pace expected in this important sector.
  • Retail sales (W). November data following a very strong October.
  • Industrial production (W). Any improvement in this economic weak spot?
  • Initial claims (Th). The best concurrent indicator for employment trends.

The “B” List

  • PPI (W). Interest in inflation measures is increasing, but prices are not.
  • CPI (Th). See PPI above. Eventually these will be important.
  • Philly Fed (Th). The first look at December data is expected to be positive.
  • Business inventories (W). Significant for Q4 GDP, but little change is expected.
  • Crude inventories (W). Recently showing even more impact on oil prices. Rightly or wrongly, that spills over to stocks.

     

With the FOMC meeting at mid-week, FedSpeak is on mute. Expect plenty more news on possible Trump policies.

Next Week’s Theme

 

The strong data continues, as does the market rise. We still do not see a reflection in forward earnings, but the earnings recession has ended. The Fed is about to raise rates, and no one cares. It is not all about the Fed, and more are learning that. As the market hits new highs, including a big round number on the DOW, the focus this week will be on DOW 20K.

In my 2010 articles I tried to emphasize the right focus for investors. Too many were paralyzed by fear from the frequent disaster predictions. Their upside risk was huge. This section was crucial:

Asking the Right Questions

The bias is inherent in the situation. The problems are known. If you write for a major publication, you are rewarded for analyzing the negativity. If you go on TV, you are expected to parrot the analysis of problems. This makes you seem smart.

By contrast, the solutions are vague and unknown. If you even talk about them, all the “hot shots” are skeptical.

That should be your clue to pay attention. Repeating the known news does not make you money. Try asking these questions:

What if unemployment falls to 8%?

What if the annual budget deficit is reduced?

What if housing prices and sales show a clear bottom?

What if mortgage rates remain low?

What if politicians negotiate a compromise on tax increases?

What if Europe stabilizes?

What if China and other emerging countries resume a solid growth path?

What if earnings for US companies continue to surge, leaving the 10-year trailing earnings in the dust?

What if the US rationalizes immigration?

If you have not thought about these possibilities, you have a fixation on negativity. My Dow 20K concept is designed to set you free — to get you thinking about the long sweep of history and the potential for success. If even a few of these things happen, what would be the market reaction?

This list of worries seems so old….

Two years later the New York Times ran a story with the analysis from a big firm. The reasoning was like mine, but missing the first 30% of the move.

Josh Brown takes note of the Barron’s cover. Since magazine covers are often viewed as contrary indicators, he adroitly includes a few others that might have been viewed as signals of a top. Great insight, and great fun.

Scott Grannis shows the wall of worry climb (but I still like my own version better!)

Eddy Elfenbein highlights the sharp contrast between now and January as well as the impact of the banking sector.

Remember how the start of 2016 was one of the worst market starts in Wall Street history? Howard Silverblatt noted this stat: At the market’s February, low, the S&P 500 was down 10.5% YTD, yet the Financials were down 17.7%. Since then, the S&P 500 has rallied 21.5%, while the Financials are up 45.6%. It’s as if the entire market were the dog being wagged by the banking sector’s tail.

None of this really answers the DOW 20K question, but the information is great. As usual, I’ll have a few ideas of my own in today’s “Final Thoughts”.

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 increased yield on the ten-year note has lowered the risk premium a bit. I suspect much more to come. By this I mean that the relative attractiveness of stocks and bonds will continue to narrow.

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.

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.

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. His most recent research update suggests some “mixed signals” from labor markets.

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

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. Georg thinks it is still a year away. It is interesting to watch this approach along with our weekly monitoring of the C-Score.

There is a Correlation Nosedive says Nick Colas (via Josh Brown). This signals an opportunity for those who can identify the best stocks and sectors. The phrase “stock-picker’s market” is oft-repeated. Now it makes some sense.

Dr. Brett analyzes the divergences and the implications.

Brian Gilmartin reports on the recent Chicago CFA luncheon where “Dan Clifton of Strategas Partners gave a great presentation on the coming fiscal stimulus and what it might look like and what it might mean for the US economy in 2017”. This means plenty of money for share buybacks and earnings increases. Brian (who has been very good on both earnings and the market) reaches this conclusion:

In year-end meetings with clients, I’m telling clients from both sides of the aisle that the SP 500 could be up 20% next year. Prior to the election and since last Spring ’16, the SP 500 was already looking at its best year of expected earnings growth in 5 years. The proposed President-elect and Congressional fiscal policy could be another level of earnings growth above what was already built into the numbers, before November 8th.

Personally, the $1 trillion repatriation estimate that Dan Clifton threw out seemed on the lighter side to me. Apple alone has $250 billion sitting on its own balance sheet, which is 1/4 of the expected total.

This is something we all should be monitoring.

 

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 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 several 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 less risk.
  • Holmes and friends – the top artificial intelligence techniques in action.
  • Why it is a great time to own 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 on this subject. What scares you now?)

 

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. Felix is fully invested. Oscar is fully invested in aggressive sectors. The more cautious Holmes also remains fully invested, but with continued profit-taking and position switching. The group meets weekly for a discussion they call the “Stock Exchange.” This week we talked about maximizing gains. Last week the topic was minimizing risk. (We report exits from announced Holmes positions if you ask to be on that list. Write to holmes at newarc dot com).

Special thanks to our guest expert, Blue Harbinger, who provided first-rate fundamental analysis, providing counterpoint for our technical models.

Top Trading Advice

 

Brett Steenbarger continues to provide almost daily insights for traders. Sometimes the ideas draw upon his expertise in psychology. Sometimes they emphasize his skills in training traders. Sometimes there are specific trading themes. They all deserve reading. This week I especially liked the following, each reflecting one of the main themes:

 

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 Morgan Housel’s post on The Art and Science of Investing. I am delighted that he is keeping his promise to keep writing, leading the effort at a new, multi-contributor blog. This entry, as is the case with much of the best investing work, does not emphasize immediately “actionable” advice, designed to attract plenty of page view. The concept is great, and the post is worth a careful read. Here is the thesis:

This drives people crazy, because the more important a field is, the more scientific and predictable we want it to be. People take scientists seriously because they can count of them. Art is taken less seriously because it comes and goes.

But most fields outside academia are both science and art.

Including investing.

An example?

There is scientific data showing the best way to invest is to buy the cheapest set of companies you can find. There’s equally persuasive data showing the best way to invest is to buy the fastest-growing set of companies, which tend to be expensive. Some investors obsess over brand and intangibles. Others say ignore those and only look at fundamentals. Neither is right or wrong. You just have to appreciate that each strategy lives in its own context, and that market trends come and go. It’s an art.

I love this concept! There are many ways to profit from trading and investing. Arguments about approach may either distract or enlighten.

 

Stock Ideas

 

Brad Thomas suggests two REITs for the new Commander-in-Chief. Besides the recommendations, Brad analyzes some potential losers.

Still wondering about winners from the election? Marc Gerstein’s stock screening methods generate a great list of stocks and sectors.

Looking for safe yield? Who isn’t!! Blue Harbinger provides a first-rate analysis of Saratoga Investment Corp. (SAR). There are plenty of traps in the Business Development Company (BDC) universe. Mark’s analysis shows how carefully you must consider the data in finding sound choices. He carefully considers the implications from higher rates.

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. We have an enjoyable discussion every week, with four or five specific ideas that we are also buying. This week Holmes likes Molson Coors (TAP). Check out the post for my own reaction, and more information about the trading models.

While we cannot verify the suitability of specific stocks for everyone who is a reader, the ideas have worked well so far. My hope is that it will be a good starting point for your own research. Holmes may exit a position at any time. If you want more information about the exits, just sign up via holmes at newarc dot com. You will get an email update whenever we sell an announced position.

But Tom Armistead warns that there is too much enthusiasm about Deere.

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, you should join us in adding this to your daily reading. Every investor should make time 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. My personal favorite this week is the Bloomberg analysis of when it is right to wait before claiming Social Security benefits. While it is an individual choice and calculation, delay is good for many. (See also “Watch out for” below.)

Seeking Alpha Editor Gil Weinreich’s Financial Advisors’ Daily Digest is a must-read for financial professionals. The topics are frequently important for active individual investors. Gil is on a well-deserved vacation, but his last post is very helpful. He takes a nice look at the current risks and rewards from the market rotation away from bonds.

Watch out for…

Structured products. Larry Swedroe (ETF.com) provides a careful analysis of what the investor is really getting. Most have inflated notions about the returns and are not properly informed about risks. In many cases, a simple fixed-income security would be better. This is a complicated story, but it is worth reading carefully if you, like so many, are considering these investments.

 

Final Thoughts

 

Will we reach DOW 20K? And stay there? I expect us to touch that level soon. When the market gets close to such numbers there is a magnetic attraction. Sellers see it as inevitable, so they back away. It becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Whether the level holds will be a trickier question. It will, but perhaps not right away. No one really knows.

My purpose in the DOW 20K project, including buying the domain name, was to help individual investors to focus on the right problem: Missing the upside because of the paralysis of fear. Consider the following:

  • For many years, anyone forecasting more than an 8% gain in the market was tagged as super-bullish.
  • Since 2010 there have been incessant warnings of another market crash, a decline of 50% or more.
  • A market doubling in 6 ½ years represents 11% compounded growth.

It was not a prediction of rush to 20,000, but an emphasis on taking the right perspective. There are always market worries. The big negative predictions always get the attention. It is always difficult to stay the course.

Is DOW20K the end? Definitely not. The fundamentals are all better than in 2010, and the worries are different. I’ll write soon about the methods behind the original call and the current implications. For now, I’ll just say that the upside/downside risk is still attractive.

Investors need not just “buy and hold.” Recessions are the biggest risk, so I watch that closely. The right allocation among asset classes deserves a regular review.

This is a good time to ask yourself about how have you done? If you are wondering whether you might do better with a financial advisor, check out my latest paper, The Top Twelve Investor Pitfalls – and How to Avoid Them. If you regularly navigate these problems, you can fly solo! Readers of WTWA can get a free copy by sending an email to info at newarc dot com. We will not share your address with anyone.