Weighing the Week Ahead: Will Policy Uncertainty Increase Stock Volatility?

We have a normal calendar for economic data. There will be important news will come from corporate earnings reports. Since this earnings season is part of an inflection point – the end of the earnings recession– it is special. That said, the uncertainty over policy change has market observers both divided and on edge. I expect the earnings news to get less attention than normal. With the queasy, uncertain feeling, the pundits will be asking:

Will policy uncertainty lead to greater stock volatility?

Last Week

Last week the economic news was strong, but with little reaction from stocks.

Theme Recap

In my last WTWA I predicted a close watch on earnings to see if these reports confirmed the improvement in economic data. There was plenty of attention to earnings, but not much on the economic strength theme. Pundits loved to discuss the various Trump appointees and speculate on the stock implications. At some point the market will refocus on the regular themes. For now – like it or not – the Trump effect is a big part of the daily discussion.

The Story in One Chart

I always start my personal review of the week by looking at this great chart from Doug Short. As has been the recent case, both the range and the weekly change were very small. Doug attributes the Friday pullback to an Inaugural Address that offered little for the wealthy. He offers more analysis in his commentary. (Personally, I do not find any of the moves big enough to merit discussion, but there was plenty of commentary).

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.

Personal Note

Since I will be enjoying a Winter weekend away with Mrs. OldProf and friends, I will probably not write next weekend. As always, I’ll be watching, and may post a brief update if it seems necessary.

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 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

  • Industrial production rose 0.8%. This beat expectations of 0.6%, but the prior month was revised lower by about the same amount. This series is difficult to interpret in the short run.
  • Philly Fed improved to 23.6 versus the prior month 21.5. This is an exceptional gain for two consecutive months in a diffusion index. It handily beat expectations of 16 or so.
  • Initial jobless claims fell yet again. The series is now at the lowest level since 1973. To my surpriseamazement, some of the punditry is actually finding a way to make this into bad news!

  • Inflation is higher. I understand that many view this as bad news. At some level, it would be. At a time when deflation (more dangerous and harder to fight) has been threatening, a modest rate of inflation is preferred. Scott Grannis has the story, and good charts on other data as well.

  • Homebuilder confidence remains strong. Calculated Risk, our go-to source on all things housing, notes that the reading was “below consensus, but another solid reading.” Anything over 50 indicates that most builders view conditions as good.
  • Housing starts showed a big increase, but mostly because of multi-family. The volatile series remains in the range Bill McBride predicted at the start of the year (4% to 8%). The actual was 4.9%, so the bottom end of the range. More encouraging is that multi-family was down 3.1% for the year while the gains came from the 9.3% increase in single-family.

 

The Bad

  • Building permits had a slight decline to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 1,210,000. This is down 0.2% from last month but a gain of 0.7% over last year. I tend to place more weight on this series than most other analysts, so I watch it closely.
  • Earnings season began on a soft note. Both earnings and revenue surprises are below the long-term averages. Only 12% of the S&P 500 companies have responded so far, and there is specific sector concentration. I’ll save the charts until we have more data, but you can check for yourself at FactSet. Also, see specific company commentsfrom Avondale, which follows the conference calls.

The Ugly

California budgeting. I have criticized my own state (Illinois) so often. This week the award goes to California for a $1.5 billion “math error.” Put enough of these together and you eventually have real money. (Everett Dirksen).

 

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. I welcome nominations from readers. As always, ZH is a fertile source of ideas. Write something!

We also published our annual review of winners. If you take a look at the excellent work reviewed (here and here) you will see the advantage of following these contrarian sources. You will be surprised at how much it can help your investing.

There was a popular recent post about “neglected topics.” The article highlighted the heavy hitters who basically control the agenda of what you see. I tried to respond here. I despair! I welcome suggestions about how to get more exposure for those who do great but unpopular work.
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

It is back to normal for the volume of economic data, but fewer of the most important reports.

The “A” List

  • New Home Sales (Th). More strength expected in this important sector.
  • Michigan Sentiment (F). Continued strength anticipated. Special interest in future expectations.
  • Q4 GDP (F). The first estimate gets major adjustments, but still attracts plenty of attention.
  • Leading Indicators (Th). Expected rebound from last month’s “No change.” Some swear by this report.
  • Initial jobless claims (Th). How long can the amazing strength continue?

The “B” List

  • Existing Home Sales (T). Lacks the economic effect of new sales, but a good read on the market.
  • Durable Goods (F). More stable improvement when the volatile transportation sector removed, but headline rebound also expected.
  • Crude inventories (Th). Recently showing even more impact on oil prices. Rightly or wrongly, that spills over to stocks.

     

Fed speakers are still on the trail. Questions will probe the new political environment, with everyone trying to dodge.

Earnings reports will remain important. Early actions from the Trump Administration will capture attention, if only because few know quite what to expect.

Next Week’s Theme

 

It would be nice to have a clean turn to our regular analysis of economic data and earnings. I understand that many (including my readers) are tired of thinking about the Trump Effect. I sympathize, but it is not a good investment strategy. We need to think carefully about what is likely to work, and what isn’t. Since no one really knows what is going to happen (as I suggested a year ago,) the current dubious pundit forecast is more volatility. That will steal the spotlight next week. The key question will be:

Will uncertainty about policy changes lead to more volatility?

The basic positions are simple.

  • Some see the new administration as negative for the market, and some see it as positive. This is frequently interpreted as more volatility.
  • There are several policies on a “hit list.” How rapidly will policy changes occur? Higher volatility?
  • Some speculate that the Presidential Inauguration will represent a market top. The sources look like a list of serial top-callers, but many are embracing the idea.
  • Various worries are somewhat offsetting. Extreme possibilities do not always lead to major changes.
  • President Trump may still prove different from Candidate Trump.
  • There are already executive orders. What are the implications?

What does this mean for investors? 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

 

Although dropping last week, the yield on the ten-year note has increased significantly since the election. This 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 C-Score has also dropped. The relationship is not linear, and it remains in the “safe” zone.

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, the source of this interesting chart:

This illustrates the improvement in economic indicators – a consistent recent theme.

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 has been suggesting that the measure still shows a one-year led time. His most recent take has a wide time horizon, but an onset date of October (the chart below). Please note that Georg’s other indicators are still “friendly.”

 

The question is whether this improves over Dr. Dieli’s original concept, which has worked for decades in real time. He is quite open to new ideas, and is constantly questioning whether anything has changed in the key relationships he studies. Even before I saw Georg’s most recent work, I was planning to share this chart from Bob’s regular monthly update. I regard it as the single most important current concept for investors of all types.

A costly investor mistake has been fear, often incited by those with little knowledge and no track record. Stay tuned!

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. Felix is fully invested. Oscar is fully invested, but the sectors are somewhat less aggressive. The more cautious Holmes has taken some profits, but is still about 90% 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). There are always fresh ideas. You can also ask questions and have a little fun. Give it a try.

Top Trading Advice

 

Tweets activate algorithms! High frequency traders pounce on any piece of information. (MarketWatch). Is there a way to benefit? You cannot beat the HFTs once the news is out. You must either anticipate or react. Please also note that the fundamental news does not really matter. It is quite clear that the new administration will be using the Twitter as a bully pulpit, both issuing warnings and claiming credit for the responses. It is a new world for trading.

Are you making success into a habit? A trading journal helps on that front, as Dr. Brett Steenbarger explains. His near-daily posts are must-reads for every trader, and often for investors as well. This week he also inspired our Stock Exchange gang with this one. Whether your trading is close to our approach, you will find it helpful.

Those who join us in reading Brett Steenbarger’s regular posts will enjoy his appearance on Barry Ritholtz’s acclaimed MiB series.

Insight for Investors

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

Best of the Week

If I had to pick a single most important source for investors to read this week it would be Chuck Carnevale’s analysis of Broadcom Limited (AVGO). It combines all the many things that Chuck does so well – a great stock idea, a lesson in several types of fundamental analysis, and a tutorial on his first-rate market tools. I usually do not like videos since I can read fast. In this case I recommend that DIY investors grab a cup of coffee and watch the entire video. While Chuck’s tools allow for a lot of flexibility, his approach is very like what we use in screening our candidates. If you are not doing something like this, you should stick to ETFs!

 

Stock Ideas

 

Exxon Mobil (XOM) is buying up Permian Basin assets “on the cheap.” This may not show up in an immediate stock price change, but it is something I have been expecting. Investors should understand the long-term needs of big integrated oil companies, and the floor placed under reserves.

Where should you look? Eddy Elfenbein considers United States Lime and Minerals. (USLM). Eddy writes:

Fourteen years ago, USLM was going for $3 per share. Today it’s at $77. So how many analysts follow it? Zero.

The stock has a market cap of $425 million. I also have to say that I love that name.

Keep that in mind while considering this post from Eli Hoffman, CEO and Editor-in-Chief at Seeking Alpha. Starting with a WSJ article, he carefully explains the motives of many analysts.

I feel quite strongly about these ideas. We NEVER use sell-side research as the basis for ideas. In fact, it is a negative factor in our general rating system. Individual investors need a similar method. I also agree with Eli that Seeking Alpha provides plenty of grist for the mill. While I have my own methods for generating ideas, it is always a valuable checkpoint on the way.

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, including four or five specific ideas that we are buying. This week the dip-buying Holmes (who has been very hot) liked Fomento Economico (FMX) a distributor of soft drinks and an investor in the Heineken Group. I objected. In an action of man over model, or person over dog, or boss over worker, I vetoed the trade. Holmes has gone to Mexico (true!) for further investigation. We will be checking his expense account. FMX does not sell Margaritas!

Seeking yield?

How about Blue Harbinger’s latest CEF idea, Diversified Real Asset Income (DRA). This is another fund trading at a discount to NAV. I am always interested in Mark’s well-researched ideas and always curious about the reason for the discount.

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. My personal favorite this week is the FT article about the six different investor personalities. There is a lesson in each!

Seeking Alpha Editor Gil Weinreich’s Financial Advisors’ Daily Digest has quickly become a must-read for financial professionals. Somewhat to my surprise, the topics are also especially relevant for active individual investors. They frequently join in the comments, adding to the value of the posts for both groups. Gil has several good topics, but I especially liked this treatment of goals-based investing. I have started following the author, Marshall Jaffe. This is a topic that every DIY investor should consider carefully. There is a lot at stake.

Watch out for…

Tweet targets. This company, a 14% loser, came into the sights a noted short-seller. There is an interesting dynamic here. The reputation of the source would have an immediate effect. Any “in the know” pals would be on board. There is plenty of money to be made, whether you have a short position before the announcement, or like the company and buy into the selling.

Final Thoughts

 

Despite the uncertain environment, volatility has been a matter for individual stocks. The overall market forces seem to have found a balance. I do not view volatility as a concern, and suggest caution to those using this as a hedge.

The improving economic data have not (yet?) shown up in the earnings reports. Perhaps it is because the improvement came so late in the quarter. I see more sources noting that earnings seem to be trailing the improving economic news.

There is plenty of temptation to link your investments to the electoral change. My base position is that you should not regard it as important, instead figuring out how to profit from the new policies. Be politically agnostic.

What I am watching.

A psychological element worth following is the improvement in business and consumer sentiment. This was also suggested in reports from the Davos world economic forum. Just as the pre-election negative environment weighed on the economy, confidence could also become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Sentiment sometimes trumps the reality of economic data.

 

Neglected Investment Ideas

Peter Lazaroff’s series has interesting questions for some of the top investment bloggers. It is getting good attention. I am enjoying it, and I’m sure others are as well. The comments from the heavy-hitters on his list are all very interesting.

Except for one question.

He asks them “What in the world of finance is not getting enough attention?” This is a great question, but he is asking the wrong panel! The collection of top bloggers and the leading curator of financial information basically define the reading agenda. If they really believed that something was not getting enough attention, they would write about it. The answers they give do not really cite anything unique.

If you really want to consider what is neglected, you need to look a bit lower than the most recognized bloggers. Topics that these people write about – but which do not attract notice – are the real answer to this question.

I certainly do not pretend to have the only answer, but I do have a good one. In my regular Weighing the Week Ahead feature I sometimes award a “Silver Bullet” to someone who took up an unpopular cause and provided corrective information. Their articles are not popular and have no natural audience. The authors do great work without reward, so I try to recognize them. Some might disagree with my choices, but not my intent.

Each year I do a review of these outstanding posts. I always hope that my preview will get a lot of buzz — not for me, but for those I try to recognize. None of the most popular bloggers linked to these posts…..something that really surprised me. I guess that I am not the right one to bestow any awards. Tadas, or Josh, or Barry could do it better, and with much more impact.

In case you are interested, here are the posts for last year’s winners: Part one and Part two.

And if Peter had asked, my list of neglected topics would be quite different – emphasizing things that really did not get any attention!

Weighing the Week Ahead: Will Q4 Earnings Confirm Recent Economic Strength?

We have a light calendar for economic data and a short week of trading. The biggest news will come from corporate earnings reports. Some financial stocks reported on Friday, but this is the first big week for Q416. Earnings season is always important, but sometimes it is special. This week the pundits will be asking:

Will improving corporate earnings confirm perceptions of a stronger economy?

Last Week

Last week the economic news was strong, but with little reaction from stocks.

Theme Recap

In my last WTWA I predicted a punditry focused on the incoming Trump Administration. The confirmation hearings provided a lot of fresh news, and there was not much going on in daily trading. My guess that people would be “digging down” for clues about policy changes was a pretty good one.

The Story in One Chart

I always start my personal review of the week by looking at this great chart from Doug Short. As you can readily see, both the range and the weekly change were very small. You can also see the 1% intra-day move during the Trump press conference.

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. This is a good week to illustrate the problem with the so-called “economic surprise” indexes. So much depends on how you determine the expectations. If conditions are good, they are good, even though some expect continued improvement each week.

The Good

  • Mortgage applications up 5.8%, despite concerns that higher rates would hurt the market. This is a very nice surprise.
  • Jobless claims at 247K continues at an extremely low level.
  • Michigan sentiment at 98.1 on the preliminary survey remains very strong (although a slight miss on expectations).
  • Sea container counts end the year on a strong note. Steven Hansen (GEI) does his expected deep dive into the data, providing plenty of long-term analysis. Here is a key table:

  • NFIB small business outlook surges. Scott Grannis has the story, including references to consumer confidence as well.

 

The Bad

  • Retail sales? More spin – good or bad?

U.S. retail sales disappoint at end of the year (MarketWatch) at 9:10 ET.

Holiday retail sales rise 4% to beat NRF expectations (MarketWatch) at 10:29 ET.

 

  • Gasoline prices are up about 20% year-over-year. New Deal Democrat has the story.
  • Business inventories? Some regard this as bad because of the m/o/m increase of 0.7%. Last week I called this a very spinnable number. Inventories are either wanted or unwanted. Going into the number we knew that the level was depleted. This is really a neutral report.

The Ugly

Volkswagen Diesel Scandal. We now know that this was the responsibility of important executives – not just low-level employees or a faceless corporation. Fiat Chrysler is also charged, but claims important differences.

 

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. There is week’s award goes to David Moenning (a nomination from a reader, Lasrman) for his helpful discussion of “Alts.” He writes as follows:

The pitch is strong. “Alts,” as they are called, are touted as a source of diversification, a way to create non-correlated portfolios, and a means toward potential risk reduction during severe market declines. I’ve heard some folks even suggest that alts are a way to produce a solid “riskless” returns!

And….

…who doesn’t want to own an investing strategy that is designed to produce a nice, steady 6-8% return without the vagaries associated with the traditional asset classes?

And the problem….

Investopedia goes on to note that most of these alt strategies are designed for sophisticated investors. “Most alternative investment assets are held by institutional investors or accredited, high-net-worth individuals because of the complex natures and limited regulations of the investments,” the website says.

[Jeff] The most attractive track record I ever saw was from Bernie Madoff – consistent strong returns and minimal drawdowns. It was too good to be true. David’s experience is quite like mine. I get pitches for these products on a regular basis. Some of them are theoretically sound and might work. The average investor does not have the skill to evaluate them.

We also published our annual review of winners. If you take a look at the excellent work reviewed (here and here) you will see the advantage of following these contrarian sources. You will be surprised at how much it can help your investing!
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

It is back to normal for the volume of economic data, but fewer of the most important reports.

The “A” List

  • Housing starts and building permits (Th). The most important leading data in a key sector.
  • Industrial production (W). The expected rebound would improve overall confidence in the economy.
  • Initial claims (Th). The best concurrent indicator for employment trends.

The “B” List

  • Beige Book (W). The Fed’s district-by-district look will be scoured for signs that rate hikes might come more quickly than expected.
  • Philly Fed (Th). Earliest read on the new month has gained more respect in the past year.
  • CPI (Th). Interest in the inflation reports is building, but the worrisome stages are not imminent.
  • Crude inventories (Th). Recently showing even more impact on oil prices. Rightly or wrongly, that spills over to stocks.

     

Fed speakers are still on the trail, with appearances every day. Chair Yellen will make two appearances.

Earnings reports will be the most important news.

Next Week’s Theme

 

It is a short week, with a light calendar of data. The Trump story continues as confirmation hearings shed a little more light on possible policies. There will be plenty of FedSpeak.

Despite these factors, the start of earnings season should give the punditry a break from All Trump, all the time. Because of recent economic strength, people will be skeptically searching the earnings news for signs of weakness or a negative outlook. The key question will be:

Do Earnings Reports Confirm a Stronger Economy?

The basic positions are simple.

  • Reports normally beat estimates, and there is plenty of potential this season (FactSet)

  • Some recent laggards are looking strong—energy, tech, financials (Brian Gilmartin).
  • Corbin Perception suggests that expectations are very high. This is an interesting collection of survey data. Read the full report, but here is a nice summary:
    • Heading into 4Q16 earnings season, 85% of surveyed investors expect results to be in line or better than consensus, an increase from 78% last quarter
    • Expectations for improving organic growth surpasses worsening for the first time in more than a year
    • Investor sentiment towards the U.S. has improved dramatically; 70% now forecast higher U.S. GDP while recession fears have pushed out
    • Rate hikes drive sector views: participants most bullish on Financials while Utilities and REITs see dramatic pullback in sentiment
    • 67% of investors report feeling better about the U.S economy post-election; recession fears off the table for 2017
  • Earnings are inflated by peak profit margins and bogus analyst forecasts. “Organic” growth is low and so is revenue growth. (I see these comments, but we would all appreciate some credible sources).

 

What does this mean for investors? 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

 

Although dropping last week, the yield on the ten-year note has increased significantly since the election. This 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 C-Score has also dropped. The relationship is not linear, and it remains in the “safe” zone.

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.

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.

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

Davidson (via Todd Sullivan) notes that Markets Do Not Peak Until Spread Shifts To Zero

The indicators in this fine post are consistent with what we see from our regular sources. Many of these subsume the concept mentioned.

 

 

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. Felix is fully invested. Oscar is fully invested, but the sectors are less aggressive. The more cautious Holmes has taken some profits, but is still about 90% 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). There are fresh ideas each week. You can also ask questions and have a little fun.

Top Trading Advice

 

Sir Michael Hintze suggests that “Trump volatility” is good for active managers. This is also true for investors and traders. Check out Eddy Elfenbein’s account of the Trump press conference effects on healthcare.

Adam H. Grimes has advice aimed at new traders, but everyone can benefit. a useful and timely post for traders turning the page on the calendar. While the focus is on motivation, he has several specific suggestions. He analyzes each of the following important points:

Decide if you want to trade or gamble.

Have an open mind, but a critical mind.

Understand what “proof” looks like.

If you want to trade, bet size is really important.

Psychology matters, but these things are more important.

Dr. Brett Steenbarger illustrates how to make Internet discussions work well. He links to the Grimes post and extends some of the arguments. An intelligent discussion of important factors is one of the most important sources for traders (and investors). He has almost daily posts. Any serious trader should read them all. Another great example from this week shows how to turn failure into strength.

Those who join us in reading Brett Steenbarger’s regular posts will enjoy his appearance on Barry Ritholtz’s acclaimed MiB series.

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 account of his dinner with Daniel Kahneman. It is a nice summary of Kahneman’s basic ideas – all worth reading. Morgan has a great sense for what is important and what you need to know about it. Here is my favorite quote:

On education changing thinking: “There are studies showing that when you present evidence to people they get very polarized even if they are highly educated. They find ways to interpret the evidence in conflicting ways. Our mind is constructed so that in many situations where we have beliefs and we have facts, the beliefs come first. That’s what makes people incapable of being convinced by evidence. So education by itself is not going to change the culture. Changing critical thinking through education is very slow and I’m not very optimistic about it.”

 

Stock Ideas

 

Do you believe that managers with a ten-year success record might have good ideas? If so, look at these picks. (We own several of them, which encourages me to put the rest on our watch list).

Many stocks are attractive, despite the popular valuation perception. Rupert Hargreaves reports the Jefferies take. Hint: Cyclicals and value look good.

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, including four or five specific ideas that we are buying. This week the dip-buying Holmes (who has been very hot) likes Michael Kors (KORS). Check out the post for my own reaction, and more information about the trading models.

Seeking yield?

How about Raytheon? William Stamm describes the dividend hike and the potential.

Kohl’s 5% looks safe. (Josh Arnold). This is one where we enhance yield by selling near-term calls.

But watch out for companies where the dividend might not be safe. Can you depend on 5.7% from Blackstone? (Brian Bollinger)

And a key question: Should dividend investors be worried about rising interest rates? Rebecca Corvino provides some great links.

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. My personal favorite this week is Megan McArdle’s post on the importance of saving. Investors should understand that the 401(k) is not a substitute for the old guaranteed benefits plans.

I have often commented that when Tadas has the time to write a standalone post, it is a special treat. This week he wrote about the “evidence-based” movement, the endurance of outmoded ideas, and what it all might mean for investors. A general conclusion is that many investors should minimize fees, choosing cheap robo-advisors or doing some basic rebalancing on their own.

Seeking Alpha Editor Gil Weinreich’s Financial Advisors’ Daily Digest has quickly become a must-read for financial professionals. Somewhat to my surprise, the topics also stimulate comments from active individual investors. It has added to the value of the posts for both groups. Gil engages the same topic as Tadas – the need for financial advisors. (and also here).

This is a topic that hits close to home. I am quite sure that an intelligent investor who never made the common mistakes could avoid the fees of a professional advisor. I even provide a way for investors to check this out. Just ask for our free report, The Top Twelve Investor Pitfalls – and How to Avoid Them. If you regularly navigate these problems, you can fly solo! If not, you might be losing 4-8% each year. Less than 1% of my regular audience consists of clients. I started writing to help average investors, and that remains my principal motivation. I am disappointed to see what seems like an increasingly commercial approach by so many of my friends. I know that they all seek to provide excellent and special service.

 

Final Thoughts

 

As the Q2 and Q3 earnings seasons began, I wrote about the possible end of the “earnings recession” and an inflection point in forward earnings. Those events have come to pass, but we now have a new concern: the outlook. Conference calls and the company’s guidance is always interesting, but this quarter is special. Companies cannot know what the policy changes will be, nor can they predict the effects on their business.

In each week’s “Final Thoughts” I offer opinions based upon facts. Sometimes my conclusion is a description of what I find important to watch. So it is this week. My scorecard for earnings season will look for the following company characteristics:

  • Confidence. I expect most to have a murky outlook, with no reason to set the future bar very high.
  • Important trade relationships – imports or exports. Comments on these fears may create some buying opportunities.
  • Concern about a stronger dollar. Everyone is teed up to watch for this, and we should as well.

Earnings reports help us interpret the strength of the economy using non-government data. In this earnings season, it is especially important to know the story as well as the numbers.

 

Weighing the Week Ahead: Digging Down on the Trump Effect

We have a reasonable volume of economic data, but few important reports. We are awaiting earnings season. The elephant in the room (sorry – I just couldn’t help myself) is the transition to the Trump Administration. Many are tired of hearing about this and thinking about the consequences, but that is not a sound plan for the intelligent investor. The punditry is far from exhausting this topic. They are making their own transition from Candidate Trump to President Trump. In the coming week, the punditry will be asking:

What can investors really expect under Trump?

Last Week

Last week the economic news was strong, but with little reaction from stocks.

Theme Recap

In my last WTWA I predicted a focus on more reaction to PEOTUS versus the regular Santa Claus rally. Despite all the economic data, that was in fact a popular topic. Go figure.

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 story for the week and the continuing narrow range.

(click to enlarge)

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

  • Chemical activity ends the year strongly. Get the full story and a helpful table of the relevant data at GEI.
  • Construction spending was up 0.9%, to the highest level in ten years. (Washington Post). According to our go-to source, Calculated Risk, it was another solid report.
  • Earnings pre-announcements were more positive than usual in Q416. (FactSet).
  • Home loan originations are stronger than they were one year ago. (CoreLogic via GEI).
  • ISM manufacturing reached 54.7, the highest level in two years. The ISM also has a strong interpretation of the data, headlining their press release with some leading indicators and including a supporting table.

New Orders, Production and Employment Growing
Inventories Contracting
Supplier Deliveries Slowing

  • Auto Sales were strong, reflecting the overall economy. “Davidson” (via Todd Sullivan) discusses the data, some of the credit relationships, and this interesting relationship with employment.

  • Employment data showed continuing strength. Some call the Friday data “weak.” Those were the headlines in the morning, right after the market opened. When stocks closed higher, the headlines changed —- referring to the same data. I had to put the mute on as the punditry tried to draw inferences from a 20K miss when there is 120K sampling error – plus revisions. There were both good points and weak points in last week’s data.
    • Good
      • Employment growth remains consistent with moderate economic growth
      • Unemployment remains very low
      • Wages have started to increase, something that critics have called necessary for the last few years.
      • Initial jobless claims tumbled again, close to a 43-year low (Jeff Bartash, MarketWatch)

  • Weak
    • ADP private payroll growth, which I view as important, declined 60K from the prior month and missed expectations by 20K.
    • The headline payroll gain was also a 20K miss from expectations.

The WSJ has a nice chart pack that is republished in several places. Take a look here.

The Bad

  • Factory orders declined 2.4% on a monthly basis, but it was mostly noise from transportation changes.
  • Mortgage applications turn negative. New Deal Democrat’s valuable high frequency indicators highlight this news, but you should read the entire post.

The Ugly

Bitcoin. Not that long ago the debate was whether this would work as a substitute currency. Last week it dropped 20% in a single day. Yes, that followed a 40% increase in the prior two weeks. It is still more like leveraged commodities trading than a currency. (Reuters).

The Silver Bullet

I occasionally give the Silver Bullet award to someone who takes up an unpopular or thankless cause, doing the real work to demonstrate the facts. This week’s award goes to KraneShares for an excellent post taking on several popular misconceptions about China – ghost cities, currency manipulation, and the significance of manufacturing weakness. I find their KWEB product a good way to invest in China despite limited knowledge about individual stocks – or confidence in reports and accounting. The conclusions are not just opinions of the fund managers. Here is one example:

Stephen Roach, former Morgan Stanley Chief Economist and Senior Fellow at Yale University’s Jackson Institute for Global Affairs, once said that China’s modernization is “the greatest urbanization story the world has ever seen” and that ghost cities will soon become “thriving metropolitan areas1.” Regardless of what Mr. Roach, and many other China scholars, have said the notion of widespread Ghost Cities in China has persisted with many US investors.

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

It is back to normal for the volume of economic data, but fewer of the most important reports.

The “A” List

  • Retail sales (F). There is great interest in the December results, particularly after weak reports from some big players.
  • Michigan sentiment (F). Continuing strength in January?
  • Initial claims (Th). The best concurrent indicator for employment trends.

The “B” List

  • JOLTS report (T). Important as a read on the structure of the labor market, not some macro indicator as usually cited.
  • PPI (F). Interest in the inflation reports is building, but the worrisome stages are not imminent.
  • Consumer credit (M). The big increase expected in November will get plenty of spin.
  • Business inventories (F) . Volatile November data, but relevant for the Q4 GDP calculation. Another spin candidate.
  • Wholesale inventories (T). See Business Inventories (above).
  • Crude inventories (W). Recently showing even more impact on oil prices. Rightly or wrongly, that spills over to stocks.

Fed speakers are out in force this week, including Chair Yellen. Enjoy!

Next Week’s Theme

Like it or not, the market focus on Trump is continuing. It is not my job to pick what I want others to think about. The purpose of WTWA is to help us all prepare, whether we like the current topics or not. Without much fresh data, expect another round of punditry about Trump. It might get a little stronger, with more people engaged in:

Digging Down on the Trump Effect

The initial discussion on the post-election effect is already outdated. Dr. Ed Yardeni explains that the reaction was not very surprising.

Whether this continues is another question. Hoover and Carter are among the best starts while Obama was among the worst. Where you wind up has a lot to do with where you start.

Some investors may already be tired of the Trump theme, but it will remain the most popular topic in the weeks ahead. The punditry has gone through two stages. First, the immediate knee-jerk reaction to the election. Second, a period of wondering, “Is that all there is?” The stage is now set for a more careful look at the implications of the Trump Administration.

Unlike transitions of the past, this President-elect is already taking an active role. Each week we learn a little more both through statements (often via tweets) and from cabinet appointments. Serious investment analysts (including me) are going through a careful, three-step process:

  1. How will President Trump differ from Candidate Trump? There are some normal patterns, but those have not worked well in this case!
  2. How quickly can policies be changed?
    1. Immediate actions, under the President’s direct control;
    2. Steps requiring cooperation from a friendly Congress;
    3. Policies where Congressional cooperation is required, but his party is not unified;
    4. Policies that are exceptionally complicated, requiring more time and planning; and
    5. Changes where building the necessary support is unlikely.
  3. What are the investment implications for the most likely policies?

There is no reward for jumping the gun in this analysis, especially with a daily infusion of more relevant data.

What does this mean for investors? 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

Although dropping last week, the yield on the ten-year note has increased significantly since the election. This 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 C-Score has also dropped, but is still well out of recession warning territory.

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.

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. Georg has updated his unemployment-based recession indicator with the same conclusion.

Doug Short: The World Markets Weekend Update (and much more). Jill Mislinski updates the ECRI coverage, noting that their public leading index has reached an all-time high. Surprisingly, the ECRI public statements remain bearish on the U.S. economy, the global economy, and stocks. It is as if they never recovered from their mistaken recession call in 2011. They have been out of step ever since.

Doug also provides regular updates for the most important economic indicators used in defining business cycle peaks (AKA the start of a recession). A recession requires both a peak and a significant decline in the important indicators. The first chart shows how that happened in the last recession as well as the action after the most recent peak in November, 2014.

This is the chart showing each of the Big Four indicators.

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!) Free reports include my latest paper, The Top Twelve Investor Pitfalls – and How to Avoid Them. If you regularly navigate these problems, you can fly solo! While that is true for most of my very sophisticated audience, some might benefit from our help.

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.” 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). There are fresh ideas each week. You can also ask questions and have a little fun.

Top Trading Advice

Howard Lindzon covers the key topic of information overload, and what to do about it. He offers some concrete guidelines on how to cut down the size of your stock screens and the number of people you follow. Great ideas.

Adam H. Grimes has a useful and timely post for traders turning the page on the calendar. While the focus is on motivation, he has several specific suggestions.

Dr. Brett Steenbarger continues to be the MVP for traders who want to improve. He combines his knowledge of psychology, his experience in training traders, with a broad knowledge of markets and key indicators. The combination provides regular insights for traders. One of his helpful posts from last week was some help on “how to break our worst trading habits“. I have been very concerned about this topic recently. Many traders seem uninterested in improving.

Brett’s most powerful post helps to explain why. Most short-term traders need some big moves. Big moves are usually declines. When the market is not delivering, it leads to frustration, bias, and reaching for explanations.

This bearish bias can be deadly, as it leads traders to ignore the actual flow of supply and demand and color their market perceptions with their preferences. More than once, I’ve heard traders complain that a move higher was “fake” or “manipulated” or caused by “machines”, thus discounting what the market was doing and instead sticking with a bias.

He goes on to explain why this attitude is unrealistic in the face of big market forces

I look at many sources for good trading ideas, but I welcome suggestions from readers to broaden the list of candidates.

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 … maybe none of the above.

Throughout the year, I highlight the best efforts from various sources. Each week I find some outstanding advice. This week I sense that Brett Steenbarger’s analysis of trading bias also applies to investors. People are bombarded with claims that help to justify their decisions if they have been on the wrong side of the market.

Scientific American describes the difficulty in trying to convince people “when facts fail.” Some of the examples are from the failed end of the world predictions. Ben Carlson reviews the success of Harry Dent, whose doomsday predictions remain popular no matter how costly to investors.

Trying to help people find a way out of this trap – and more success – I crafted some investor New Year’s resolutions that you would not see anywhere else. Unless I have lost my mind, it is loaded with good advice. Yet it was not a highly-recommended post. Perhaps that supports the basic point about bias, but I still hope a few people were helped.

Stock Ideas

Buy CRAP? That is the creative acronym from Tom Lee. He has been accurately bullish for years, but now sees little upside in the overall market. In his mind, it is time to focus on Computers, Resources, American banks and Phone carriers – all levered to investment recovery, inflation and deregulation.

Tiernan Ray suggests considering FANG. This helpful article includes several other tech ideas.

How about biotech? Bret Jensen considers the possibility for a rebound.

Great analysis in a humorous presentation? Abba’s Aces has a playoff bracket consisting of stocks. Each win represents a nice analysis of two companies. The factors represent a process like ours, and the results make sense. Here is the current bracket:

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, including four or five specific ideas that we are buying. This week Holmes (who has been very hot) likes Mallinckrodt (NYSE:MNK). Check out the post for my own reaction, and more information about the trading models.

Seeking yield? Blue Harbinger highlights a closed end fund trading at a discount. It has a yield of 4.1%, but should be regarded as contrarian. The question with CEF’s at a discount is whether the discount is deserved. In this case, it is mostly about the interest rates. Read the full post and give it some thought before you go on your own personal REIT expeditions.

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. There are always several great choices worth reading. My personal favorite this week is the simple advice from Allan S. Roth in the WSJ – risk, rebalancing, tuning out noise, and watching fees.

Seeking Alpha Editor Gil Weinreich’s Financial Advisors’ Daily Digest has quickly become a must-read for financial professionals. Somewhat to my surprise, the topics also stimulate comments from active individual investors. It has added to the value of the posts for both groups. This week, although I disagree with the basic conclusion, I recommend that you read the discussion of debt in this post. My own view is that individual investors should carefully assess debt versus their assets. The preoccupation with societal debt and market effects is overdone – a subject for another day.

Watch out for…

Questionable investment practices. In contrast with the famous Ronald Reagan line, the government actually is there to help you “…make better informed investment decisions and avoid common scams in 2017.” GEI reports on ten tips from the SEC. #5 is especially sad, but very common:

Be alert to affinity fraud. Affinity frauds target members of identifiable groups, such as the elderly, religious or ethnic communities, or the military. Even if you know the person making the investment offer, be sure to check out the investment and the person’s background – no matter how trustworthy the person seems.

Final Thoughts

My analysis of Trump Effects remains a work in progress. I can give you a few hints about the conclusions.

  • Some sort of fund repatriation will be part of the package. All else equal, that suggests a bias to companies that might gain the most. The Atlanta Fed provides some hard data.

  • Expect tax cuts, probably including some nods to Democrats. This will represent fiscal stimulus.
  • Cyclicals continue to show strength, partly from the expectation noted above. (Eddy Elfenbein).
  • The trade war is likely to be a bargaining approach. It is an error to over-react on speculation.
  • The health care issue is far from settled. Early symbolic repeal? Yes. Real changes? Unclear.
  • And that is just a start.

There is a much more to this story. It requires both skill and careful research. As a former poli-sci and public policy professor, a long-time expert in economics, and a thirty-year veteran of financial markets, I have a good package of skills for this problem. That is good news, but it also means that I understand the challenge and the complexity.

Most traders and investors are responding from the gut. They may have valid concerns, but they are getting them mixed up with the need for calm, unemotional decisions. In my annual preview at Seeking Alpha I warned about over-reacting to emotion. (I always appreciate participating in this annual series, which generates many ideas you do not see elsewhere).

In the crucial weeks ahead, a mistake could be costly. Study hard and move carefully.

Profitable New Year’s Resolutions for Investors

As part of my preparation for 2017, I asked how I could be most helpful for individual investors. The suggested resolutions are a combination of expert investment methods and avoiding the most common investor mistakes. They may be difficult to follow. If you can, you will find them profitable.

  1. Make a fresh start. We should do this constantly, but the calendar is a good reminder. One of my former bosses took a vacation at the end of each year. His instructions included a list of stocks that he “did not want to see on his sheets” when he returned. He knew the right thing to do, but it was still difficult for this top professional to do it himself.
    1. Review your losing positions. Is the thesis intact?
    2. Review you winners. Is it time to trim? Have you reconsidered your price target? Are there new ideas that are better?
  2. Look past the headlines. Read the actual story. The writer may have one message, while the headline represents another. If you care enough to read financial news, you can spend a few more seconds on each article or post.
  3. Save time by dumping sources. Conduct a review. If a source has not provided anything helpful in the last two or three years, ignore it! You need the time for more important matters. If the information has led you astray, that is even more reason to move on.
  4. Do not blame others for your own poor decisions. If you have not enjoyed the market rally, it is not the fault of the Fed, the Congress, the President, the Plunge Protection Team, high frequency traders, or anyone else except you. Unlike casinos, the odds for investments are in your favor. Accept the reality that government officials, all over the world, are attempting to block, fix, or postpone problems. You may not like the solutions, but why not profit anyway?
  5. Do not be mesmerized by charts including commentary and big, colored lines. Ask yourself whether the underlying argument makes sense. Should you sell your long-held position because a guy on TV says there is “technical damage?” Be sure you know what that means and compare it to your own analysis.
  6. Beware of misleading charts.
    1. Ignore charts that “prove” that current markets are just like some prior time period. With modern software, it is easy to cherry-pick some prior period, adjust the scales, and scare people witless (TM OldProf euphemism). Do not be bamboozled by this cheap trick.
    2. Ignore charts that are too good to be true. They are. Usually the researcher has used too many variables on too little data. If you do not understand what that means, it is even more reason to be skeptical. You will have a high susceptibility to confirmation bias.
  7. Do not blindly accept “headwinds” or “tailwinds” stories. These are popular, easy to write, and require little research. Just ask yourself a few questions.
    1. Is this really likely? Can I even estimate the probability?
    2. How big are the consequences?
    3. Can we expect a policy reaction?
  8. Learn to use “business cycle peak.” Ignore all talk about “recessions.” The term has been corrupted in a way that is beyond repair. My educational effort is a lost cause, since most continue to treat below-trend economic growth as a recession. This makes them live in a state of constant fear. Bad consequences for stocks occur right after a business cycle peak. So far, so good, on that front.
  9. Turn the page when you see “ageing bull” or the like. While it is true that this economic and stock cycle is longer than the norm, it has been gradual and started from a very low point. Suppose we had flipped six heads in a row. Does that change the odds of the next coin toss?
  10. Do not use your conclusions to go “all in” or “all out.”Everything you see urges you to believe that you are a great market timer. Get real! No one does that consistently. The best we can do is to control risk.

So most importantly —

Evaluate the risk of your portfolio and make sure that it is appropriate to your plans and circumstances.

Weighing the Week Ahead: Santa Rally Trumped?

2017 begins with plenty of economic data crammed into a short week. While most expected at least a touch of Dow 20K last week, it did not happen. The conversation quickly shifted to why the rally stalled out. In the coming week, the punditry will be asking:

Should we expect a weak start to 2017?

Last Week

Last week there was some soft economic news, but this week showed strength. There was little apparent market effect.

Theme Recap

In my last WTWA, two weeks ago, I predicted a shift from the Dow 20K obsession to developing a new list of market worries. That was a good guess, although as late as Wednesday some TV experts were debating whether 20K would be achieved by the end of the week. That represented another 55 points or so. Sheesh!

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 trend for the week and the narrow range.

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. This additional choice captures the pre-election period, the Trump Rally, and last week’s selling.

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 ended the year on a strong note. Steven Hansen at GEI reports the data, while also noting the year-over-year calendar effects. We will know a little more next week.
  • Mortgage rates declined in the last week of the year.Calculated Risk notes that this modest improvement comes in the context of the worst five weeks in history in the post-election period.
  • Earnings growth for Q4 is looking good. FactSet sees a second straight quarter of year-over-year increases, with strength in other metrics as well.
  • Commercial real estate is booming. (Scott Grannis)

  • Homebuilder sentiment reached an 11-year high. (MarketWatch).
  • Initial jobless claims dipped to 265K, maintaining the recent low level.
  • Consumer confidence reached 113.7. Doug Short’s chart (via Jill Mislinski) puts this strong reading in perspective – best since before 9/11.

 

 

The Bad

  • Pending home sales declined by 2.5%.
  • Chicago Purchasing Index declined to 54.6 and missed expectations of 56. (GEI).
  • China abandons the 6.5% growth target. Rupert Hargreaves (ValueWalk) analyzes a change which many already expected.

The Ugly

Russian malware found on a Vermont utility laptop. (Slate). The article notes that utilities in Western Ukraine were past targets and describes the possible consequences.

 

The Silver Bullet

I occasionally give the Silver Bullet award to someone who takes up an unpopular or thankless cause, doing the real work to demonstrate the facts. This week’s award goes to Robert Huebscher, founder and CEO of Advisor Perspectives, for his article, As Seen on TV: Financial Products You Should Avoid – Lear Capital.

His opening theme is excellent: Good financial products are bought, not sold.

He carefully avoids a discussion of the specific sales techniques, focusing on the facts of the offer. He writes:

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).

Mr. Huebscher notes that other dealers are similar to Lear. I can confirm this, since I have checked out several such offers. I have seen many poor investments touted on TV and radio, but I cannot recall a single good one. It is just not that easy.
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 and only four days of trading. It may start slowly, but expect seatbelts to be fastened before Friday’s employment report.

The “A” List

  • Employment report (F). Still the most-watched number, with continuing strength expected.
  • ISM Index (T). The first data for 2017 is expected to show continuing modest expansion.
  • FOMC minutes (W). While we should not expect much from the report of a unanimous vote, pundits will find something.
  • Auto sales (W). Has “peak auto” arrived?
  • Initial claims (Th). The best concurrent indicator for employment trends. Not a part of this Friday’s report.

The “B” List

  • ISM services (Th). Continuing rebound expected in the large service sector.
  • ADP private employment (Th). Different methodology from the “official” report, but just as accurate.
  • Trade balance (F). Important for GDP. Growing interest with possible changes in trade policy.
  • Construction spending (T). November data for an important sector.
  • Crude inventories (Th). Recently showing even more impact on oil prices. Rightly or wrongly, that spills over to stocks.

     

There is not much FedSpeak on the calendar, but Congress is returning to work on Tuesday.

Next Week’s Theme

 

Last week attention started with more Dow 20K hype. This was true even though it is a rather meaningless round number in a flawed index. It shows the power of symbolism to attract attention. When the rally fizzled out, the story swiftly turned. Everyone questions rapid, short-term moves, so it is a natural for the punditry.

I expect this theme to carry over into 2017, despite an abundance of fresh news. Any sign of weakness will raise the questions:

Will 2017 have a weak start? Just like last year? And what will it mean?

Pundits were already hard at work last week:

  • Trump rally mistaken, overdone, and a setup for selling.
  • Regular “Santa” rally pulled forward, reversing normal seasonal effects.
  • Selling for gains postponed in the hope of lower tax rates. Those waiting to sell strength are ready to move.
  • Reflation trade was already starting; it would have happened anyway. The Trump story was merely a catalyst.

What should investors conclude from these sharply conflicting ideas? Your opinions are quite welcome! 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

 

Although dropping last week, the yield on the ten-year note has increased significantly since the election. This 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 C-Score has also dropped, but is still well out of recession warning territory.

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.

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.

Doug Short: The World Markets Weekend Update (and much more). Jill Mislinski updates the ECRI coverage, noting that their public leading index is at the highest point since 2010. Surprisingly, the ECRI public statements remain bearish on the U.S. economy, the global economy, and stocks. It is as if they never recovered from the bad recession call in 2011. They have been out of step ever since.

Readers occasionally ask about the Risk Premium. Antonio Fatas has a slightly different method that I report every week, but an excellent discussion of the considerations.

Many are concerned about higher stock volatility during the Trump Administration. Expert Bill Luby looks at the past fourteen Presidents, giving you a better idea about what to expect.

 

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.” 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). There are plenty of investor ideas for the new year. Our discussion focused on how to find fresh trading ideas.

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. If you are a trader who is not following his work, you are not doing as well as you should.

This week I especially liked the following (from his new indicator series):

Bridgewater is trying to replace hedge fund managers with artificial intelligence. Humans would retain ultimate authority. Since that is exactly what we are doing with our Stock Exchange group, I am glad that the models do not read. They would all want a raise or threaten to leave!

I look at many sources for good trading ideas, but I welcome suggestions from readers to broaden the list of candidates.

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 chart from @jackdamn (StockTwits) via Josh Brown. More words are not needed.

 

 

Stock Ideas

There are so many end-of-year ideas. I like to include some leads to research in WTWA, but I have a special challenge this week. You have many opportunities to read a range of sources and get lists of favorite stocks. I always review them and then do my own analysis. I hope you do as well.

I want to emphasize a few ideas that you might otherwise miss.

One method of playing for a long-term rebound is to take the “dogs of the Dow.” Here is the past record, but see the site for the current rankings.

Lee Jackson at 24/7 Wall Street has several good columns with collections of picks. Here is one on biotech stocks. Check out the others for dividend choices, Trump stocks, financials and others.

Chuck Carnevale is back with an update on Flowers Foods (FLO) including a deep dive into fundamentals and the settlement of the recent lawsuit.

Simply Safe Dividends takes a look at UPS – boring but safe. I might consider this and write near-term calls against it in our Enhanced Yield program.

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, including four or five specific ideas that we are buying. This week Holmes likes Palo Alto Networks (PANW). 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.

Eddy Elfenbein announced his eagerly awaited buy list for 2017. Check out the post for the full list. You will definitely find some good ideas. Or you can also join in the whole list via Eddy’s new ETF (CWS). It is both convenient and inexpensive.

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. There are always several great choices worth reading. My personal favorite this week is Ben Carlson’s advice on how to overcome a late start to retirement savings – a very common problem. The article has some good, practical advice.

Seeking Alpha Editor Gil Weinreich’s Financial Advisors’ Daily Digest has quickly become a must-read for financial professionals. Somewhat to my surprise, the topics also stimulate comments from active individual investors. It has added to the value of the posts for both groups. This week I especially liked the discussion of who might benefit from a financial advisor. You might also be interested in the discussion of whether you should be providing a questionnaire to your advisor, instead of the other way around.

Watch out for…

Giving up liquidity. David Merkel has another excellent warning for investors, explaining the hidden costs of tempting investments.

 

Final Thoughts

 

I do not know how the market will trade in the next week, and neither does anyone else. That will not stop everyone who can get quoted in a column or get on TV from offering an opinion. When you see these stories, you should keep in mind this first-rate post by Ben Carlson. With a combination of insight and humor, he hands out his Financial Market Awards for 2016. Keep these two charts in mind:

This frightened nearly everyone at the time, but here is what happened.

And this year the S&P was up 13.2%

My own conclusion is that the reflation trade (explanation here) was teed up and ready to go. I expect the late-year trends to continue, mostly because the reaction was small if you look at a long-term chart.

I will discuss the prospect for 2017 more in my annual preview, coming soon, but Mrs. OldProf informs me that I have done enough for tonight. She is requesting (more) champagne and my company.

Happy New Year to all my readers. I hope you have had a prosperous year, meeting your own specific goals. If not….

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! That is true for 99% of my readers, whom I am trying to help. Some readers might well benefit from our help. 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.

Stock Exchange: Great Trading has a Foundation of Focus and Discipline

Last week’s Stock Exchange was about how emotion and symbols affected technical analysis. Could our charts help us when the picture displayed involved some psychological event like Dow 20K?

This week I turn from the charts themselves to the trader who must interpret them. Successful trading requires focus and the discipline to stick with successful methods – even through a bout of bad luck.

Dr. Brett Steenbarger, the leading expert in trading psychology, puts it this way:

A topic that has arisen in recent conversations with traders is the importance of focusing on what has been making you money and sizing up those trades, rather than taking many kinds of trades throughout the day or week and watering down your edge.  So often, the difference between profitability and unprofitability is eliminating marginal trades and trading more confidently with our core strengths.  Perhaps most damaging in taking those marginal trades is that we don’t accumulate those small wins that allow us to go after larger ones.  It’s difficult to build confidence when oscillating between winning on good trades and throwing money away on so-so ones.

Dr. Brett writes almost every day about helping human traders achieve their best results? Does this have meaning for our models? Let’s start with a look at their current ideas.

Getting Updates

I have offered a new (free) service to subscribers to our Felix/Oscar update list. You can suggest three favorite stocks and sectors. We will 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 below, 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!

This Week— Focus and Discipline in Trading Systems

Holmes

I love chances to buy on a dip, and this is quite a dip. United Health Services, Inc. (UHS) is down 8% in the last month alone – more than likely an overcorrection. While I like it for short term turnaround potential, I’m not just going to buy and hold. If things keep going south, my active approach to trading stops will get me out of this position before I take too big of a hit.

J: Do you realize that the new President is going to repeal ObamaCare?

H: We have a new President? What is ObamaCare?

J: I know, I know. You do not read news; you just look at charts. But you might have a point here. The original repeal will be rich in symbolism, but is not likely to end insurance for millions of people. There is a lot of selling in this stock based upon fear – not actual knowledge of what will happen. You could have a winner.

H: I usually do.

Athena:  I generally go for stocks that are already popping upwards. This week’s pick, United Rentals, Inc. (URI) is no exception. A substantial jump over the past two months really put this one on my radar, and I like the potential for future growth in the next 4-6 weeks. The rankings on the Relative Strength Index don’t particularly scare me. A high-volume event could push the stock well above the current price, yielding a tidy profit.

J: This idea also has some support from the fundamentals. The FAST graph shows the strong earnings growth and the underlying value.

A: I know you look at P/E ratios and such, but that is not necessary to find a great trade.

J: Shouldn’t you have bought this one in 2015? It has doubled from the bottom?

A: I did not exist in 2015.

J: You were just a glimmer in Vince’s eye.

A: You must learn to look forward. We can all wonder why we did not take some action in the past. That is a waste of time. It is more important to make good decisions in the future.

Felix

I will begin with my responses to reader votes for the favorites list.

As you can see from my presentation, which is neater and more informative than Oscar’s, I show the answers for last week as well as now. I also provide rankings within each category so that you can see which stocks are moving from one group to another.

Bristol Myers (BMY), for example, became a marginal “buy” while Apple (AAPL) dropped into the “hold” group.

J: You have nearly twice as many stocks listed as we agreed upon.

F: I am giving my readers more information. Do I get paid more for that?

J: No. And you must start reducing the list. Just go with the top vote-getters. What is your featured stock for this week?

F: I like Rice Energy, Inc. (RICE) as a long-term investment. A couple sharp declines in the past quarter put the 50-day moving average on a downward trend, but we’re still up on the 200-day moving average. My bet is we’ve bottomed out on this one, and it should be a solid holding looking 10-12 months ahead. That said, a few additional drops wouldn’t surprise me. This is a solid pick if you don’t panic, and keep your timeframe in mind.

J: Isn’t selling losers a part of trading discipline? The other models all do it with trading stops or a similar technique.

F: It is also part of my method. I am just not so quick on the trigger. My performance is similar to that of the others, but has a longer holding period. Some people must pay taxes, and prefer long-term gains. Oscar does not think about that.

J: What about Holmes and Athena?

F: Dogs and goddesses do not pay taxes.

 

Oscar

Here are my ratings for the top reader interests. There are still five open slots, so keep the questions coming.

While no one asked about it, I’m big into trucking this week – think of your power running backs from Alabama. For our purposes the IYT Transport ETF will do. This area has experienced broad-based gains through the last quarter. I’m of the opinion we have some time before we peak. When you come across a 200-day moving average this flat, it’s hard to believe you’ve hit the ceiling.

J: How often do your ratings change? Are these listed in any particular order?

O: Any changes are strictly the result of the stock chart. If the markets change, my ratings will as well. I report the list in order of my strength ratings.

J: Are those like the ratings you use for your fantasy football team? I see that you switched to college football for this week’s column.

O: My fantasy teams depend upon a different algorithm, but it is also a good one.

J: Is that available to our readers?

O: Not unless you give me a raise!

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. Each week features a different expert or stock.

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).

Conclusion

Human traders are constantly at war with their own emotions. Losing streaks are inevitable – just part of the job.

Our models do not know, of course, when they are in a bad performance streak. Using models is a great way to maintain focus and discipline. That is not, however, the final word. As long as humans remain in control, there will be psychological issues. Is your model still “working?”

Maintaining confidence in your model or trading system is just as important as confidence in your own trading skill.

Why Wall Street Strategists Always Seem Bullish

Let us divide those writing about forecasts into three camps:

  1. Those who make specific forecasts, sometimes required as part of their job;
  2. Those who criticize, but do not forecast;
  3. Those who make dramatic, non-consensus forecasts to get attention.

I plan a few more posts on this theme, but today I want to consider group 2. If you are seeking attention, it is easy to write a popular article about forecasting. Start with the viewpoint that the experts are dumb and that the average investor can do better. People love to be smarter than experts. Surveys show that 90% of all people are above average in intelligence! Well, maybe not 90%, but far more than half. They are very receptive to this approach.

Taking this easy target, the NYT cites a source claiming some great credentials. His report got a million page views and even more publicity in the sequel. I see plenty of bias and errors in his work, but let me start with the most colorful claim:

Now imagine having a coin calibrated to show “positive” 2/3 of the time, and “negative” 1/3 of the time. Flipping this coin would therefore outperform a Wall Street strategist!

This is an oft-cited concept. If the market declines 1/3 of the time (actual performance is a bit better, but we’ll go with the author’s numbers) and no Wall Street strategist forecasts lower stocks, supposedly that is proof that the experts are too bullish.

The author has quite obviously never had to forecast anything, and his math is seriously flawed. Suppose you merely forecast an up market. You will be correct 2/3 of the time. He uses his magical coin. 2/3 of the time it forecasts “up” and it is correct on 2/3 of those occasions. 4/9 in the win column. The coin forecasts “down” on 1/3 of the years, and it is correct 1/3 of the time. That is another 1/9 in the win column. So less than 56% right instead of 2/3.

The author also produces this mystery chart:

What is the wavy pink line? The wavy blue line is (apparently) a consensus average. The pink diamonds are an actual result. So, what is the pink line? A good chart has an explanatory legend, but this is a mystery.

If – instead of the mystery pink wavy line – you compare the blue line to the actual, it is directionally accurate in eleven cases, slightly wrong on four, and more seriously wrong on four others. The focus on the two lines distorts the results. There are other issues, including the time frame for analysis, but I am sticking to points that should be obvious to the average reader.

Everyone makes mistakes, but when you are calling out a lot of experts and possibly misleading investors, you bear a special responsibility to check your work. In the academic world of peer review, this article would not have been published as written.

Turning to the New York Times, readers expect a very high standard of reporting. The article does seek a little balance by looking for an accurate forecast, that of Seth J. Masters 2012 forecast of Dow 20K. It was good reasoning, like my own analysis two years earlier. Perhaps the author might have used (in George W’s words) “The Google” to search for Dow 20K.

The answer to the title question? Analysts are bullish because the long-term market trend is higher. In any given year, markets are likely to rise. If someone goes against the long-term trend, there had better be a compelling reason.

More to come on experts and predictions. My basic theme? A well-done forecast identifies the possible scenarios, specifies key variables, shows the range of errors, and focuses thinking for both the analyst and the reader.

Weighing the Week Ahead: New Year, New Highs, and a New List of Worries

There is a normal dose of economic data this week, but we are entering a quiet, pre-holiday period. As the rally faltered a bit, the Dow 20K talk yielded to a discussion of what could go wrong. I expect this discussion to continue in the coming week, and perhaps the next one as well. The punditry will be asking:

What can derail the rally?

Last Week

In a reversal from the last month, most of the economic news was soft. There was little apparent market effect.

Theme Recap

In my last WTWA, I predicted a week-long fixation on the Dow 20K story. That was very accurate, with the closest call coming just as I arrived at Chicago’s NBC tower for a CNBC interview on my 2010 forecast. I think it represents a delay rather than a jinx. Some might attribute the selling to the Fed and Chair Yellen’s press conference, an “effect” that was reversed the next day. It must have been meJ I’ll stay at the office for the rest of the year!

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.

Personal

I will have several year-end posts planned for the next two weeks, but will probably skip WTWA next weekend. I am planning a Weighing the Year Ahead installment, probably in two weeks.

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

  • Framing lumber prices are higher, year-over-year. Calculated Risk sees this as an important leading indicator for housing, so we should, too.
  • Initial jobless claims edged lower, to 254K.
  • Hotels are close to an occupancy record. (Calculated Risk).
  • The Fed provided the expected increase in rates with almost no market reaction. (That is the good part). Tim Duy provides some insight. See also “Davidson” via Todd Sullivan.
  • The Philly Fed showed a big gain to 21.5 (7.6 prior) and trouncing expectations. I am not very interested in the Empire State survey, but it mirrored the Philly result. Business and consumer confidence have both strengthened since the election. Confidence is essential for spending, investment, and economic strength.
  • Inflation is still tame, even as it creeps toward the Fed’s target.
  • Household balance sheets are much stronger. Scott Grannis regularly produces this chart. It is far more valuable than material from those focusing exclusively on debt, and ignoring assets.

  • Homebuilder confidence hits the highest level since 2005. (Calculated Risk).

 

The Bad

  • Industrial production declined by 0.4% from October to November.
  • The rail contraction continues. Steven Hansen continues his coverage with multiple takes and time frames. Check it out!
  • China/drone incident. The drone seizure coincided with Friday selling, a hint of market reaction to sensitive international issues. China will return the drone and claims that the story was “hyped up.”
  • High frequency indicators edge lower. NDD’s useful weekly compilation shows continuing strength in short leading indicators, neutral in the coincident group, and some weakness in the long term. He is downplaying the effects due to seasonality, but it bears watching.
  • Housing starts dropped by 18.7%. This was a very bad headline number. Various sources suggest that it emphasizes multi-family while single-family is strong. This is a shift that is quite acceptable, so we should follow it closely. Calculated Risk, our go-to source on all things housing, has a great analysis and this chart.

The Ugly

The Young. Colleges are profiting from helping credit card companies. The choices are frequently worse than the student could find otherwise.

The Old. Brett Arends opines that cost-of-living adjustments may soon end. Already the inflation rate for seniors, mostly because of medical costs, exceeds the standard CPI calculation.

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 normal week for data, loaded into the latter part of the week. Things will get very quiet after Friday’s opening.

The “A” List

  • Michigan sentiment (F). Confidence is important right now. Will the mid-month preliminary high hold up?
  • New home sales (F). Not much change expected in this important sector.
  • Leading indicators (Th). This widely followed measure is likely to be flat.
  • Personal income and spending (Th). This important read on the economy is expected to show solid growth.
  • Initial claims (Th). The best concurrent indicator for employment trends.

The “B” List

  • Existing home sales (W). A small decline is expected. Less important than new construction, but still relevant.
  • PCE price index (Th). The Fed’s favorite inflation indicator – still very tame at a touch over 1%.
  • Q3 GDP third estimate (Th). Little change expected in what is now viewed as “old news.”
  • Durable goods orders (Th). This volatile series is expected to be much weaker than the October data.
  • Crude inventories (W). Recently showing even more impact on oil prices. Rightly or wrongly, that spills over to stocks.

     

Despite the end of the FOMC quiet period, we have little FedSpeak. Chair Yellen makes an early-week appearance, and that is all I see.

Next Week’s Theme

 

Last week attention focused on Dow 20K. This was true even though it is a rather meaningless round number in a flawed index. It shows the power of symbolism to attract attention. When the rally fizzled out, the story swiftly turned. Everyone questions rapid, short-term moves, so it is a natural for the punditry.

I expect it to carry over into a quiet week, with plenty of focus on 2017. The popular question will be about what could stop the rally. What should we worry about? It is time to rebuild the wall or worry.

What could go wrong?

Pundits were already hard at work last week:

You should ignore the lists or 2017 winners.

Trump’s policies might not get enacted, disappointing markets. S&P businesses are in line for $87.1 billion.

Trump’s policies might be enacted, hurting the economy and markets. (Think trade matters).

Trump might make a bad decision in a crisis. An ill-timed tweet?

Valuations are still excessive. Stocks are too pricey to buy.

The Fed and a strong dollar might hurt earnings.

Stocks might get too expensive for dividend reinvestment. (You can’t make this up).

Bonds are sending a warning.

Or maybe we should look at the bright side?

A nice reversal from the negativity of last January, the worst start to a year ever. (Josh Brown).

The rally is real. Brian Wesbury’s valuation model showed stocks as 30% under-valued on election day.

20% upside for next year? Brian Gilmartin sticks to the facts. This is an earnings-based conclusion.

 

What should investors conclude from these sharply conflicting ideas? 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.

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.

Doug Short: The World Markets Weekend Update (and much more). Jill Mislinski updates the ECRI coverage, noting that their public leading index is at the highest point since 2010. Surprisingly, the ECRI public statements remain bearish on the U.S. economy, the global economy, and stocks. It is as if they never recovered from the bad recession call in 2011. They have been out of step ever since.

James Picerno highlights an important, oft-ignored relationship. Many worry about higher interest rates. He notes the relationship between higher rates and stronger economic growth.

 

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 had a great topic – whether the focus on Dow20K had an effect on technical analysis. The prior two segments were on limiting risk and maximizing returns. (We report exits from announced Holmes positions if you ask to be on that list. Write to holmes at newarc dot com).

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:

Adam H. Grimes has an excellent piece on finding ideas. You must be experienced, but also avoid confirmation bias. Dr. Brett gives a HT and follows up.

Brendan Mullooly takes one of my favorite approaches – drawing a lesson from outside trading, especially from sports. This approach helps rid us of confirmation bias, providing a fresh look. Check out the full post for data on the impact from overtrading. And the sports analogy? Teams that keep switching quarterbacks!

[This chart was approved by Mrs. OldProf, a native of Green Bay and a knowledgeable football fan.]

 

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 advice from legendary investor Peter Lynch. Instead of finding something from the last week, I wanted to find the best choice for current conditions. Ben Carlson did the Peter Lynch report about two years ago, starting with this very relevant quotation:

Far more money has been lost by investors preparing for corrections, or trying to anticipate corrections, than has been lost in corrections themselves.

And also….

Now no one seems to know when they are gonna happen. At least if they know about ’em, they’re not telling anybody about ’em. I don’t remember anybody predicting the market right more than once, and they predict a lot. So they’re gonna happen. If you’re in the market, you have to know there’s going to be declines. And they’re going to cap and every couple of years you’re going to get a 10 percent correction. That’s a euphemism for losing a lot of money rapidly. That’s what a “correction” is called. And a bear market is 20-25-30 percent decline.

They’re gonna happen. When they’re gonna start, no one knows. If you’re not ready for that, you shouldn’t be in the stock market. I mean the stomach is the key organ here. It’s not the brain. Do you have the stomach for these kinds of declines? And what’s your timing like? Is your horizon one year? Is your horizon ten years or 20 years?

What the market’s going to do in one or two years, you don’t know. Time is on your side in the stock market.

 

Stock Ideas

Lee Jackson has an interesting screen that produced 5 Dividend Stocks that You Can Still Buy With Market at Record Highs. “We screened the Merrill Lynch research data base for stocks that are rated Buy, pay a dividend and haven’t gone parabolic this year. We found five that make good sense for investors”.

Wind energy stocks have been left behind in the “Trump rally.” Buying opportunity or victim of policy changes?

But keep in mind that solar is now cheaper than wind energy. Tom Randall (Bloomberg Technology) has a helpful analysis of how much and why.

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, including four or five specific ideas that we are buying. This week Holmes likes Amgen (AMGN). 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.

Some Merrill Lynch top picks for 2017 (via 24/7 Wall Street).

Ben Levisohn (Barron’s) sees 23% upside for FedEx.

Interested in REITs? Try health care.

Get ready for Eddy Elfenbein’s new buy list. This annual event is a great source of ideas for investors who like to think in a time frame of at least a year. You can also join in the whole list via Eddy’s new ETF (CWS). It is both convenient and inexpensive.

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 important article by Jonathan Clements on your personal risk-free rate. It is not the T-Bill or T-Note from financial analysis, but your own most costly loan. This may seem obvious, but many people fail to consider it in their financial calculations.

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, so the series is worth following regularly. This week I especially liked the discussion of financial literacy. Even active investors are unable to answer basic questions. WTWA readers would get them all right, so it may seem very surprising.

Watch out for…

Bonds cratering while stocks rally. Eddy Elfenbein presents a telling chart.

Final Thoughts

 

My biggest reason for the 2010 Dow20K post was to alert investors to the idea of “upside risk.” There is always – always – a list of plausible worries. These dominate the news and the financial discussions. The other side is difficult. It is boring to say repeatedly that things are normal and promising. Talking about some new development seems smart – attracting viewers, page views, more gigs to make you famous, and even investors who seek confirmation.

The natural process leads to a focus on problems. These are easy to see, while solutions are not. Therefore, most investors do not understand the ill-named concept of the wall of worry.

The new list of worries, all well-known and reflected in current market prices, is a replacement for those listed on my current “investor fears” page, which replaced those from the 2010 era. It seems smart to study world events and use that knowledge to guide your investment decisions. But it is not!

You cannot make these calls as well as the market does. You are almost certain to over-react.

The investor mistakes I highlighted in 2010 are still with us:

  1. Excessive attention to headline events;
  2. Reliance on poor forecasts of the economy, especially recessions; (James Picerno has a great list of typical forecasts)
  3. Too much reliance on backward-looking earnings, reflective of unusual events and times.
  4. Ignoring the long-term economic forces putting idle assets to work. (Mark Hulbert on 24K)
  5. Emphasizing politics instead of investing. In 2008 many investors hated the prospects and principles of the Obama administration. They sat out the start, and never found an entry point.

It is more profitable to accept a measure of uncertainty, rely upon the best recession and earnings indicators, and remain agnostic about politics.

 

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! That is true for 99% of my readers, whom I am trying to help. Some readers might well benefit from our help. 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.

Weighing the Week Ahead: Are Stocks Ready for Stronger Economic News?

It is (ahem) a very big week for new data. The A-teams are back from their mini-vacations, ready to take a fresh look at the new world. While some will continue to work the Trump Administration/stock theme, it remains mostly guesswork. There is a new theme, which markets and pundits will get around to, perhaps as soon as this week. With a tone change on the economy and deficits, I expect the punditry to be asking:

Can the market embrace some good news?

Last Week

Once again, last week’s light calendar of economic news was nearly all good, but not the focus of discussion.

Theme Recap

In my last WTWA, I predicted special attention to the Trump stimulus plan and how it might be financed. Must of the week’s discussion was about possible cabinet appointments and the policy implications, but spending and taxation got plenty of attention. It was a s good a guess as any.

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.

Personal Note

I am taking a few days off, so there will be no WTWA next week. I hope that the Stock Exchange group does not play hooky.

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. If I missed something for the “bad” list, please feel free to suggest it in the comments.

The Good

  • Rail traffic is improving reports Steven Hansen at GEI. The story is even better if you remove coal and grain.
  • Technical indicators are strong. Our own technical models remain strongly bullish. Noted technician John Murphy (via Charles Kirk) has this comment:

    “There is little doubt that the market’s trend is still higher. The fact that it’s being led higher by economically-sensitive stock groups like energy, materials, industrials, small caps, and transports is a sign of strength. The fact that tech stocks are starting to strengthen is also a positive sign.”

  • Chemical activity shows continuing strength. Calculated Risk monitors this indicator, which seems to lead industrial production.
  • Durable goods rebounded nicely to an increase of 4.8%.
  • Existing home sales were strong at 5.6M SAAR, beating expectations. Calculated Risk cautiously notes that the results do not reflect the recent higher mortgage rates.
  • Michigan sentiment beat expectations moving to 93.8. Doug Short has a comprehensive review.

The Bad

  • New home sales fell on an annualized basis. The decline included both multi and single-family residences. Calculated Risk offers perspective. Please compare the measured response here and above on existing home sales.
  • Mortgage rates moved above 4%. (MarketWatch).
  • Trucking is still declining, but the rate seems lower. Steven Hansen at GEI reviews the mixed picture.

 

The Ugly Beautiful

At some point, I need to do an update on last week’s “Fake News” ugly award. There is a good cyberspace discussion, but that can wait.

As I occasionally do, I want to focus on the positive for a change. Bill McBride of Calculated Risk had an encouraging Thanksgiving post, Five Economic Reasons to be Thankful. Read the whole post, but here is one that might surprise you – household debt levels.

 

 

The Silver Bullet

I occasionally give the Silver Bullet award to someone who takes up an unpopular or thankless cause, doing the real work to demonstrate the facts. This week’s award goes to Jon Krinsky of MKM Partners, with a big assist from Josh Brown. There is a consensus that countries are racing to debase currencies in “beggar thy neighbor” policies. The stronger dollar certainly reduces earnings for some companies, especially if they do not do any currency hedging. The flip-side gets no attention. Josh writes, There is zero evidence of a long-term correlation between stocks and the dollar. Take a look.


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 the data avalanche that we often see when the first two days of the new month are at the end of the week. This quirk of the calendar makes this the biggest week of the year for data.

The “A” List

  • Employment report (F). Expectations are a little lower for the data markets see as most important.
  • Consumer confidence (T). A good concurrent read on spending and employment.
  • ISM index (Th). Still modest growth in this widely-followed measure?
  • Auto sales (Th). Important sector, private data, and not a survey. What more could you want?
  • ADP private employment (W). Deserves more respect as an alternative to the “official” data.
  • Personal income and spending (W). Important economic growth indicator. Will strength continue?
  • Beige book (W). Provides descriptive color for FOMC participants, and occasionally some policy insight.
  • Initial claims (Th). The best concurrent indicator for employment trends.

The “B” List

  • Construction spending (Th). Rebound expected in this important sector.
  • GDP second estimate (T). Somewhat “old news” but still the base for the ultimate measure of economic growth.
  • Chicago PMI (W). Most important of the regional surveys, with some predictive power for ISM.
  • Pending home sales (W). Less direct impact than new construction, but a good read on the housing market.
  • Crude inventories (W). Recently showing even more impact on oil prices. Rightly or wrongly, that spills over to stocks.

     

For those who missed it during the holiday-shortened week, Fedspeak is back! We could also get big news out of the oil production talks between OPEC and non-OPEC members.

Next Week’s Theme

 

This will be a big week for news, and it might also be for stocks and bonds. For a long time, the market reaction has been entirely Fed-focused. If the economy looked better, the Fed would start raising rates. If it looked worse, the Fed was expected to help. Whatever the reason, the tone has now changed. Economic data have been better, and there is more optimism. There is growing acceptance of higher interest rates. The market seems untroubled (so far) by the rate move and the strength in the dollar.

While few remarked on the tone change last week, I expect it to get more attention in the week ahead, especially if economic data remains strong. It will leave us wondering – Can the market finally celebrate good news?

This is a multi-part theme prediction. We do not know that the data strength will continue. We do not know what the FedSpeak comments will be. And finally, we do not know how markets will react. We have a clue about how the political world will react (via Charles Kirk).

“I’m getting a real kick out of how so many Republicans have gone from bear to bull on US economy overnight and how many Democrats have done the opposite.”- Patrick Chovanec

This change will be reflected in comments from the punditry this week.

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, (latest edition below) 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.

Urban Camel at The Fat Pitch analyzes recession forecasts based upon the Presidential Cycle, a popular current theme. This is a great article. (A Silver Bullet candidate at least). Here is a key quote:

More to the point, there are better ways to forecast the next recession than counting months on a calendar or focusing on changes in the presidency. How?

By monitoring changes in the macro data. A persistent slow down in retail sales, housing consumption, employment growth and other macro indicators will likely be a better method for indicating when a recession is becoming more likely. This is the stuff that matters most; the calendar and presidential terms are demonstrably inadequate on their own. Our regular commentary on the macro environment can be found here.

This is very good advice to the recession worrywarts.

If (like me) you are a quant who is always hungry for more data, you will love FocusEconomics. You get a compendium of information from around the world, with cogent analysis. To take one example, here is their update on the Trump effects:

There are so many interesting topics that it is difficult to describe in one example.

 

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 did not meet on Thanksgiving Day, but you can expect reports to resume in this Thursday’s “Stock Exchange.” Out of the many Holmes picks this week, I can report one that seemed to capture a theme, Fomento Economico Mexicano SAB, (FMX). This Mexican holding company, trading via the ADR, includes several retail holdings. (Think Coke and Heineken). Holmes likes to play rebounds on a technical basis, so this is an interesting play on Trump policy from a source who knows nothing about the election or the news. (We report exits from announced Holmes positions if you ask to be on that list. Write to holmes at newarc dot com).

Top Trading Advice

 

Brett Steenbarger keeps on bringing it, day after day. His posts are a must-read for traders, but often have broader scope. If you are trying to perform well at anything, Dr. Brett can help you. My favorite piece this week was about a movie featuring young drummers. It is often helpful to go outside of your own world, take an objective perspective, and then look for the lessons.

Adam H. Grimes has a good explanation of how to calculate volatility in Excel. I find that most people consistently over-estimate volatility, perhaps goaded by the CNBC reports of “triple digit moves” and a 50-point bounce since the lows. These are both basically meaningless unless you are trading a very large short-term position.

Bill Luby discusses common misperceptions about the VIX. This is a great example of those who need to use Adam Grimes’ spreadsheet!

You can always tell when the crowd gets long the VIX and ends up on the wrong side of the trade.  “The VIX is broken!” becomes an oft-repeated refrain, as does “The markets are rigged!” and the usual list of exhortations from those who are in denial.  The current line of thinking is that the world must be much more dangerous, risky and uncertain as a result of a Trump victory, yet the VIX is actually down 31.4% since the election – ipso facto the VIX is broken.

The VIX is a market measure, not something readily rigged. If you disagree, you are simply on the wrong side of the market.

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 Batnick’s post, This is Not Bearish. The question is the new all-time highs in stocks. I know from experience that the average investor sees this as some sort of warning. Instead of interpreting prices in context, they see a chart or a range and expect mean reversion.

Michael looks at data since 1928. How many new market highs do you suppose have been made since then? How many this year? The answers are 1134 and 11. I suspect that few would come close in their guesses. 18% of all months have closed at all-time highs. Here is what happens after a new high:

The time after a new high is nothing special – and nothing to worry about.

This post was frequently cited, but I enjoyed the color provided by Brian Gilmartin. His story about how a Chicago TV producer uses psychological tests to find the most stressful stories is priceless!

Stock Ideas

 

Brian Gilmartin has a mixed take on health care (seems right to me). Policy is changing. Defensive stocks are in question. More aggressive picks might do well. Check out his objective, earnings-based take for some ideas.

Tiernan Ray (Barron’s) has a helpful article on deal stocks. While value investors always look for cheap stocks, these are also often good takeover targets. It is helpful to keep an eye on the candidates.

Mexico a screaming buy? MarketWatch analyzes the trade rhetoric and prospects. (And note Holmes above).

Freeport McMoran? (FCX). Stone Fox Capital analyzes the relationship between copper prices and the stock price. Not much of a boost is needed, and the copper market has been strong.

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 Jonathan Clements’ piece on the two financial numbers you need to know. Hint: You might have a clue about this, but are probably measuring incorrectly.

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. I especially liked this post on dividends. Why do so many insist on regular cash payments?

Gil nails it with his answer – the security of regular payments.

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.

Market Outlook

Eddy Elfenbein provides several interesting facts about the economy, helping us all to keep perspective. You will enjoy the mixture of surprises and items you might guess. Did you know that nearly half of mutual fund managers do not own their own fund?

Eddy’s ETF (CWS), based upon his successful annual list, is getting a lot of deserved attention. It is off to a good start.

Bill Kort reviews the most recent predictions of the end of the world.

Value Investing

The rebound of the value approach continues. Dana Lyons provides the most recent evidence.

Watch out for…

The bond market. The Brooklyn Investor compares bonds and stocks over a long period. The analysis reveals the shortcoming in measures like the Shiller P/E, which consider neither interest rates nor inflation. There are many helpful charts, but here are some examples.

I am always baffled at comments like, “The market has averaged a P/E ratio of 14x for the last 100 years so the stock market is 40% overvalued at 20x…”.

How can you compare 14x P/E to the current level without discussing interest rates?  And if you think stocks should trade at 14x P/E today, then you should also think that interest rates should be much higher than they are now. For example, the 10-year bond rate averaged 4.6% since 1871 and 5.8% since 1950. But these periods include a time when interest rates were not set by the market.

And also this:

 

1955-2014:

            Interest rate range           average P/E

                   4 – 6%                             23.3x
6 – 8%                             19.6x

I looked at the data from 1955-2014 (adding one more year to update this isn’t going to change much) to see what the average P/E ratios were when interest rates were in certain ranges.

From the above, we see that the market traded at an average P/E of 23.3x when interest rates were between 4% and 6%.  The 10-year now is at 2.3%. So we have a long, long way to go for interest rates to threaten the stock market, at least in terms of the bond-yield/earnings-yield model.

Final Thoughts

 

If you want to analyze a change, you need to know when it starts. Here is part of an example from my causal modeling classes.

When does change start?

  • When the new Captain orders a change in course?
  • When the crew knows the new Captain will order a change?
  • When the crew knows the new Captain, but not whether he will order a change?
  • When the crew knows there will be new Captain who might order a change?
  • When the crew knows there might be a new Captain?

I am sure you get the idea. The methods that track the market under various Presidents have many problems, but the starting and ending points are especially important. There are no new Trump policies. We are all still guessing about what they might be.

And yet – there has been a definite change in tone. Economic strength has a lot to do with confidence – the willingness to invest and to spend. A divided government had many dysfunctional consequences, especially repeated issues about the debt limit and spending on crucial programs. We can expect less of that. There will also be a very different reaction to economic data; the political rhetoric that blinded investors will be reduced.

The generalized Fed theory will have less traction. Those who have been wrong about the market for years have used the Fed as a fig leaf. With interest rates rising and the economy improving, that story must change.

The emphasis on commodity prices as an economic indicator, most prominently by the ECRI, is also proving wrong, as is the impact of a stronger dollar.

This is not an endorsement of specific Trump policies. It is the reality of moving out of the election environment – at least for a year or so! This week’s data avalanche could be the first real test of this new attitude.