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.

Stock Exchange: Finding Trading Ideas in a Low Volatility Market

Ted Williams was a terrific ball player, but he had one tactic that many found…questionable. He almost never swung at the first pitch.

Many short term traders and individual investors could take a lesson. The market has been dragging sideways for weeks. Volatility is low. There’s a great temptation to force in a few trades. It can be difficult to resist.

As we often discuss, successful investors have a system – and they stick to it. That is as true for periods of low volatility as it is for any other market phenomena. Ben Carlson covered this topic recently, calling it “the hardest question in portfolio management.” He opens with a quote by Jim O’Shaughnessy:

“If you don’t have the discipline to stick with your underlying strategy particularly when it’s not going in your favor, it’s nothing. It’s data on a page.”

If you want to match the Splendid Splinter,  you must take what the market is offering. Wait for the right pitch.

This week, we’re joined by Chuck Carnevale himself. Chuck is one of our favorite sources of market wisdom and stock ideas, with a heavy focus on long-term earnings trends, cash flow, and balance sheets.

Review

Our last Stock Exchange considered how to trade a market with a lot of headline risk. If you missed it, please check back and catch up on this important topic.

Market Tech Take

Last week we introduced our proprietary indicator, the market health index (MHI). This is a specialized combination of breadth and strength in our own trading universe. The index remains strong. For contrast, we are looking for alternative technical measures. What is your own favorite indicator?

 

Let’s turn to this week’s ideas.

This Week—Finding Trading Ideas in a Low Volatility Market

Holmes

Holmes: Proofpoint Price (PFPT) is my pick of the week. The price on this one has been shifting sideways for months, which creates an attractive buying opportunity.

PFPT pricing is down near the 200 day moving average, and the stock 12% off its all time highs. I’m confident we could see significant gains here over the short term.

Chuck: As a fundamental long-term oriented investor, I like good businesses.  Proofpoint is a young mid-cap company with a lot of debt and a weak earnings record.  But operating cash flows have historically been growing at enormous rates.  Based on cash flow growth, this company looks inexpensive for a high-growth stock. Free cash flow growth has been even better and the company also looks attractively valued based on this metric.

Holmes: I don’t know (or care) much about the mechanics of the business, but all that sure sounds encouraging! Jeff is usually harsher on us.

Chuck: Let’s not get ahead of ourselves. It would be hard to call this a prudent long-term investment.

Holmes: That’s fine by me. I’m only looking at the next few weeks.

Chuck: Well, at least you’re sticking with your method.

Holmes: It’s been working well for me so far.

Felix

I’m buying into a long-term position in Sprint (S). Much like last week’s pick, this is another one where the stock is up near its all-time highs. For that reason, I understand I might be criticized for jumping in here. It’s not my ideal situation; but for a long-term investor, this is what opportunity looks like right now. Let’s check the chart:

The trend lines on the 50 and 200 day moving averages  have been steadily rising for almost a year now. I certainly don’t expect the price to triple again anytime soon, but from my perspective this looks like a winner.

Chuck: Sprint reminds me of the old adage “price is what you pay – value is what you get.”  To me the price is high – but the value low.

Felix: Ouch. Isn’t there anything here you like?

Chuck: Not so much. As Kenny Rogers so aptly put it “You gotta know when to hold ’em, know when to fold ’em, know when to walk away, know when to run.”  As a fundamental value investor I believe that the “dealin’s done” on this one.

Oscar

Ted Williams is one of my favorites! I’ll help clarify your broader point: he always watched the first pitch, but he had a good reason for doing it. He wanted the most information he could get about a pitcher’s performance on a given day.

Here’s where the analogy breaks down. Once you’ve clicked through an order on your Trader Work Station, you’ve probably got the mechanics down. Naturally, I agree with the idea of waiting for the right pitch.

On to business, my pick this week is the Software Cloud and Computing sector. First Trust has an ETF for this, which captures the kind of growth and performance I expect.

For what people are calling a “sideways” market, this sector has been a clear outlier. These stocks are growing faster in 2017 than they did in 2016, and they’re doing it without a significant bump in November.

Chuck: Trying to find the best investments in cloud computing is a cloudy endeavor (pun intended).  You have pure growth stocks such as Amazon, Salesforce.com and Google.  In contrast you have stalwarts such as Microsoft, Oracle and IBM.

Oscar: That makes sense to me. How would you break these down?

Chuck: The trick here for fundamental investors is valuation.  IBM and Oracle are reasonable; Microsoft has gotten very pricey as has salesforce.com and Google.  Amazon has scant earnings but generates prodigious levels of cash flow.  To me, it’s tough to find a consistent investment theme in this sector.

Oscar: Point well taken. I have my own special mix of this sector, so I’m reasonably sure I can hit those value picks.

RoadRunner

(Commentary translated from various pecks, rapid movements and beeps).

I like Incyte (INCY), but only for the next 10-20 days. The pattern of growth is very attractive to me here. I can handle a brief lull if it’s capped off with a nice spike, and that’s exactly what we’re seeing here.

It may be a bit optimistic, but I’m anticipating that this most recent bump will bring us back to the $150 range.

Chuck: There are no fundamentals supporting this biotech company at all.  This is purely a hope and a dream speculation.  Maybe some of their pipeline will eventually bear fruit.  Nevertheless, the company has suffered losses for years but did begin earning a little money since 2015.

Road Runner: What if I’m approaching this like a short term trader? I might only be holding onto this position a few days.

Chuck: Earnings growth could accelerate in future years but not enough to support current levels.  This is a pure momentum play, a.k.a. a musical chairs stock.  Therefore, you better be sure to have a chair if and when the music stops.

Road Runner: Tough but fair.

Athena

Micron Technology (MU) is on a roll. The mid-march pop in price leads me to believe more short term gains could be significant. Is the price high? Sure. That’s my method, and I’m sticking to it.

Chuck: This stock is way too cyclical for my taste.  However, this might make it a short-term trader’s dream stock.

Athena: That’s the idea.

Chuck: Earnings go from losses to huge rates of change of earnings growth and stock prices tend to react over the short run.  I would consider this the classic sardine company that works like this.  I buy a can of sardines for $.50 and sell it to Oscar for $1.  He in turn sells it to Jeff who is hungry for $1.50.  Jeff opens the sardines and finds them rotten.  He complains to Oscar that he sold him rotten sardines.  Oscar then informs Jeff that he doesn’t understand sardines.  There are 2 kinds of sardines, Oscar says, there are eaten sardines and there are traden sardines.  I sold you traden sardines.

Athena: I think I just lost my appetite.

Conclusion

Despite the prevailing mood about the current market, there are plenty of opportunities for goal-oriented investors. The key, again, is to take what the market is giving you. Investors with a robust method should stick to it, even if it’s a bit harder to find new positions. Investors without a robust method probably shouldn’t be making any trades at all.

Chuck’s approach is value based, and that makes his recommendations extraordinarily consistent. Reading between the lines a bit, it’s clear that there’s some upside even in the companies he wouldn’t consider for his portfolio. What’s right for Felix and Oscar might not be a good fit for Holmes. There’s nothing wrong with that. After all, every batter has their own favorite pitch.

Stock Exchange Character Guide

Character Universe Style Average Holding Period Exit Method Risk Control
Felix NewArc Stocks Momentum 66 weeks Price target Macro and stops
Oscar “Empirical” Sectors Momentum Six weeks Rotation Stops
Athena NewArc Stocks Momentum One month Price target Stops
Holmes NewArc Stocks Dip-buying Mean reversion Six weeks Price target Macro and stops
RoadRunner NewArc Stocks Stocks at bottom of rising range Four weeks Time Time
Jeff Everything Value One month or long term Risk signals Recession risk, financial stress, Macro

Background on the Stock Exchange

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

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

Questions

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

Getting Updates

We have a new (free) service to subscribers to our Felix/Oscar update list. You can suggest three favorite stocks and sectors. We report regularly on the “favorite fifteen” in each category– stocks and sectors—as determined by readers. Sign up with email to “etf at newarc dot com”. Suggestions and comments are welcome. In the tables above, green is a “buy,” yellow a “hold,” and red a “sell.” Each category represents about 1/3 of the underlying universe. Please remember that these are responses to reader requests, not necessarily stocks and sectors that we own. Sign up now to vote your favorite stock or sector onto the list!

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

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

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

Last Week

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

Theme Recap

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

The Story in One Chart

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

 

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

The News

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

This week’s news was slightly positive.

The Good

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

The Bad

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

The Ugly

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

 

The Silver Bullet

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

The Week Ahead

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

The Calendar

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

The “A” List

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

The “B” List

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

     

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

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

Next Week’s Theme

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Quant Corner

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

Risk Analysis

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

The Indicator Snapshot

 

 

The Featured Sources:

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

How to Use WTWA (especially important for new readers)

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

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

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

 

Best Advice for the Week Ahead

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

Insight for Traders

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

Felix, Holmes, and Friends

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

Top Trading Advice

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Insight for Investors

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

Best of the Week

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

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

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

Stock Ideas

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yield Plays

Blue Harbinger has some dividend ideas in health care.

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

Emerging Europe?

Frank Holmes opines that the time has come.

Personal Finance

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

 

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

 

Watch out for…

 

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

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

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

Final Thoughts

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This week will provide the first hints. Stay tuned!