Headline Spin — Recession Forecasting is Back!

Investors have learned from both data and personal experience that business cycle peaks (popularly known as recessions) are associated with the most important stock declines. It is natural that any news about a possible recession gets extra attention. There are so many sentiment measures – surveys of different populations, including non-investors – that it is easy to find one that supports any viewpoint.

Since I have recently spoken with several intelligent, but worried investors, my own conclusion is that market worries and Trump angst are at a high point. Consider some evidence. Here is the headline page from a reputable source for professional managers.

 

The array of front page stories has nothing positive about U.S. equities. Here is a front-page story running yesterday on a social media page.

When you actually read the article, you cannot even find the “R” word! Economist Adam Posen, President of the Peterson Institute, is actually writing about an excessive boom (not mentioned in the headline) which would lead to the inevitable bust when the Fed over-reacts. Briefly put, he expects greater amplitude in business cycle, mostly because of deficits which his organization opposes. Posen has no record of successfully predicting recession. More importantly, his near-term prediction is for a boom.

Why the negative headline, with a worried trader looking at a declining chart?

Here is the next case, sent to me by a reader.

Fed rate hikes + low growth = recession, says stock-market strategist

 

This article reproduces an almost indecipherable chart that references three recessions in all of history that began after a Fed rate increase when economic growth was low. Of course, the article does not explain it that way. It seems inevitable. The author, a non-economist with no proven record of recession forecasting, does not even make these claims in his original post.

If it has historically taken 11 quarters to go fall from an economic growth rate of 3% into recession, then it will take just 2/3rds of that time at a rate of 2%, or 6 to 8 quarters at best. This is historically consistent with previous economic cycles, as shown in the table to the left, that suggests there is much less wiggle room between the first rate hike and the next recession than currently believed.

I hope the error in this pseudo-math is obvious to my astute readers.

And here is the conclusion, after explaining that all Fed rate-rising periods eventually lead to bear markets:

For now, the bullish trend is still in place and should be “consciously” honored. However, while it may seem that nothing can stop the markets current rise, it is crucial to remember that it is “only like this, until it is like that.” For those “asleep at the wheel,”there will be a heavy price to pay when the taillights turn red.

So to be clear, the author is bullish for the moment, but giving a warning. I guess he will be right either way.

And meanwhile, how does this recommendation compare to the headline in the original article – the one predicting a recession?

Is there another side to this?

If so, it must be infrequent and obscure. I invite readers to send examples. This cannot just be a bullish story with evidence, since that is not spinning. You need to find a bullish headline that is not supported by the underlying facts.

 

Why the disparity? The truth about recession chances – that we are almost certainly OK for the next year or so – is not an exciting story. Journalists never ask about the record or credentials of sources on technical stories.

Investor Protection

There are two ways investors can protect themselves:

  1. Plow through the entire story, the supporting links, and the bio for the original source. (That is what I do, of course). It helps to know how to spot real experts.
  2. Just ignore these stories – especially when the interview subject is not presented as holding specific and relevant skills and experience. This method will save a lot of time – and also plenty of money!

Actionable Investment Advice

The main educational theme is more significant and potentially profitable than any specific stock recommendation. For those needing a little help in following it through, late stage cyclicals, financials, and technology are all good choices. Bonds and utilities are not.

Weighing the Week Ahead: What Does the Health Care Decision Mean for Stocks?

The economic calendar is light, but it really would not matter. The defeat (via retreat) of the effort to replace Obamacare will dominate financial market stories this week. The pundits will be asking:

What does the health care decision mean for stocks?

Last Week

Last week the news was mostly positive, but irrelevant. Markets were focused on the Obamacare repeal decision.

Theme Recap

In my last WTWA (three weeks ago since my vacation included two weekends) I predicted a discussion about the expected change in Fed policy and the effect on stocks. That now seems like ancient history, but it was a pretty good theme for that week.

The Story in One Chart

I always start my personal review of the week by looking at this great chart from Doug Short via Jill Mislinski. She notes the overall loss of 1.24%, largest since last October. You can also clearly see the Friday fluctuations around the health care breaking news.

Given the time since our last post, let’s catch up with this longer-term chart.

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

The News

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

This week’s news was slightly negative.

The Good

  • Durable goods rose 1.7%.
  • Earnings growth remains solid. Energy has weighed down earnings over the last few years. The general assumption is that earnings estimates are too optimistic. FactSet reports that the expected y-o-y growth in Q1 is 9.1%. You probably do not see that data very often, unless you are wisely following Brian Gilmartin, who has been on top of this story for many months.
  • Rail traffic growth continues although the pace is a bit slower. Steven Hansen has the full story, including charts and analysis.
  • New home sales increased 6.1%. Calculated Risk, the go-to source on housing matters, calls this a solid report. Despite the 12.8% y-o-y increase, Bill notes the downward revisions to prior months. The key upcoming issue is whether builders will provide affordable housing.

 

The Bad

  • Jobless claims increased to 258,000.
  • Existing home sales dropped 3.0%. This was also a small miss of expectations. New Deal Democrat embraces the overall housing strength, calling this the “least important” housing indicator. Calculated Risk has an important summary about existing sales:

    To repeat: Two of the key reasons inventory is low: 1) A large number of single family home and condos were converted to rental units. In 2015, housing economist Tom Lawler estimated there were 17.5 million renter occupied single family homes in the U.S., up from 10.7 million in 2000. Many of these houses were purchased by investors, and rents have increased substantially, and the investors are not selling (even though prices have increased too). Most of these rental conversions were at the lower end, and that is limiting the supply for first time buyers. 2) Baby boomers are aging in place (people tend to downsize when they are 75 or 80, in another 10 to 20 years for the boomers). Instead we are seeing a surge in home improvement spending, and this is also limiting supply.

The Ugly

Hate groups in the U.S. are flourishing. GEI Editor John Lounsbury regularly includes articles that you might miss otherwise, including this important story.

 

 

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 Charlie Bilello, whom we also featured on Stock Exchange. This is double recognition that is unlikely to be repeated!

Why is this so important? Because so many are being “scared witless” (TM OldProf euphemism).

Most pundits, media, “smart money”, experts on valuation have been completely wrong for many years. If you have wisely stuck with the fundamentals, you are called part of a “sucker’s rally.”

For some years, the top “fear indicator” has been VIX. No matter that few understand how it is calculated. The VIX has remained low, despite the insistence of many that risk is high. Instead of accepting the results of an indicator embraced for many years, the true believers take the only course possible: Find a new indicator!

Many of them have seized upon SKEW, which shows that the risk of a crash has never been higher. Bilello’s analysis pushes deeper, asking the excellent question of how predictive SKEW has been in the past.

The conclusion is that widely-perceived fear, whether in regular options or tail risk, does not predict a severe decline.

What does? A business cycle peak (AKA a recession). That is the reason for our careful monitoring of that topic.

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 rather light week for economic data.

The “A” List

  • Consumer confidence (T). This is the Conference Board version. Will the amazing strength continue?
  • Michigan sentiment (F). The Michigan version, which includes a continuing panel in the sample, is important.
  • Personal income and spending (F). Until and unless more business spending kicks in, consumers are crucial.
  • Initial jobless claims (Th). The series seems to be flattening at record low levels.

The “B” List

  • PCE prices (F). The favored Fed measure is approaching the 2% target.
  • Chicago PMI (F). Best of the regional indicators gets special attention as a hint about the ISM report.
  • Wholesale inventories (T). Advance Feb data. Desired or undesired? That is always the question.
  • Crude inventories (Th). Recently showing even more impact on oil prices. Rightly or wrongly, that spills over to stocks.

     

The Fed Speakers Bureaus have been busy. Expect a daily dose of FedSpeak.

Next Week’s Theme

There is little in the way of scheduled fresh news. The health care vote came at the end of the day on Friday. It will be open season for the punditry. Speculating about the President, the legislative agenda, the Speaker, and the market provides plenty of grist. The commentary next week will raise the question:

What does the failure of the Obamacare repeal mean for stocks?

Once again, there is a hidden question which will be the focus for most – the impact on the Trump agenda. While health care is important, the market strength is more related to tax issues and infrastructure spending. Here are the key viewpoints:

  1. The defeat weakens the President and signals lower chances for the economic agenda.
  2. Getting this issue out of the way permits more rapid attention to corporate tax reform.

These issues are most important to those who believe that the post-election rally is all about Trump. More observers are joining me in crediting the stock strength to resolving the election uncertainty and overall economic improvement. Scott Grannis has a helpful chart.

Even the usually sour Barron’s lead column says that an improved global economy accounts for about half of the U.S. stock rally.

Those who focus on the economic fundamentals (nice piece by a semi-anonymous blogger with whom I have corresponded) and corporate earnings emphasize a base of continued modest growth. Improvements in tax policy are an upside kicker. Eddy Elfenbein has his usual incisive and clear explanation of the history of the “Trump trade.”

The single best analysis I saw was from Dan Clifton of Strategas Research Partners. This video is packed with information, so watch it twice and take notes!

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

Quant Corner

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

Risk Analysis

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

The Indicator Snapshot

 

 

The Featured Sources:

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

How to Use WTWA (especially important for new readers)

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

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

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

 

Best Advice for the Week Ahead

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

Insight for Traders

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

Felix, Holmes, and Friends

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

Top Trading Advice

 

Be careful in your backtesting! Sean McLaughlin understands the issues and provides practical advice.

Brett Steenbarger identifies seven training resources for developing traders, including helpful links.

Are you too confident about your skill at technical analysis? Price Action Lab shows how cognitive bias can lead you astray, including some great examples.

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 Chris Kacher’s popular and insightful chart, spread widely by Sue Chang. The various soft times in market history are considered. My own conclusion is that you had better have a good reason to fight the trend.

Stock Ideas

 

Deep value in a solar stock? Andrew Bary of Barron’s features SolarEdge Technologies (SEDG), citing a possible 40% upside. He quotes my friend Bob Marcin, who is very fussy about deep value, noting that the company “makes a category-killer product for a secular growth industry.”

Chuck Carnevale considers the implications of rising interest rates for stocks. His wide-ranging analysis, which you should read carefully, looks at historical macro effects as well as analyzing individual stocks like Johnson and Johnson (JNJ), McDonalds (MCD), and other important names.

Josh Brown explains why homebuilders are strong in the face of rising interest rates.

Our Stock Exchange always has some fresh ideas. There are ideas from five different approaches. Our momentum newest member, Road Runner, trades upward-sloping channels, seeking attractive entry points. This week’s idea is Netflix (NFLX). You will probably identify with one of the characters, and your questions are welcomed.

Yield Plays

Blue Harbinger does a deep dive into dividend aristocrats. He begins with the membership of the SPDR Dividend Index (SDY) and then moves to his likes and dislikes. It is an excellent and thorough piece. In a somewhat more speculative vein, Mark has a provocative analysis of CVR Energy (CVI), including Carl Icahn’s involvement and possible link to his role as a Trump advisor.

Simply Safe Dividends provides an absolutely first-rate analysis of the potential for utility stocks. There is a good analysis of the likely impact of higher interest rates, and how to pick companies that will hold up the best. Especially interesting is the argument for keeping some utilities in your portfolio no matter what you expect on interest rates.

Some REITs might be fine, even when rates are rising. Here are ideas from Salvatore Bruno.

Personal Finance

Professional investors and traders have been making Abnormal Returns a daily stop for over ten years. If you are a serious investor managing your own account, this is a must-read. Even the more casual long-term investor should make time for a weekly trip on Wednesday. Tadas always has first-rate links for investors in his weekly special edition. As usual, investors will find value in several of them, but my favorite is the practical tax-time advice on what records you can safely discard. More abstract but very powerful is this discussion of the trade-off between financial assets and human capital.

In his regular column, Seeking Alpha Editor Gil Weinreich raises an important question: Can even the rich afford to retire? He cites several great sources as well as some possible solutions. My advisor colleagues should join me in making this a regular read, but it is usually helpful for DIY investors as well.

If you have been stock on the sidelines, evaluating possible worries, you might want to read my (free) short paper on the top investor pitfalls. It is a good test of whether you can successfully fly solo. Send a request to main at newarc dot com.

 

Watch out for…

 

Companies with “suspicious earnings.” Rupert Hargreaves explains the warning signs and provides some starting ideas.

Final Thoughts

 

Astute and intelligent investors closely follow the news. That will be a special challenge in the week ahead. Most of what you read about the health care decision will be worse than unhelpful. It will steer you astray.

Most sources will discuss what the health care defeat means for Trump or for the Republicans. That type of story is easy to write and invites readers to join in the speculation. The financial outlets might do a little better with some ideas about the impact on tax reform.

The implications for investors demand more sophisticated analysis. This was a test of two things:

  1. The intransigence of the Freedom Caucus
  2. The GOP leadership and the President’s ability to craft a compromise.

If a “layup change” like Obamacare repeal cannot be done within the Republican party, the entire agenda will require some compromise with Democrats.

This affects both the probability of success and the nature of the resulting policies. This conclusion is much more important for investors than the specifics of the health care legislation. It is also more sophisticated than knee-jerk commentary on the change in the “Trump agenda.”

 

A Conclusion for Investors

I know from my travels and discussions that there is a high degree of market concern right now. Part of it is uncertainty about Trump policies (from investors of both parties), and a general sense that the rally is extended and markets are “high.”

This type of concern is exactly why we must invest based upon data, not emotion.

None of our indicators currently warn about the end of this business cycle. Business cycles do not have an expiration date. They do not die of old age. (Yardeni). These are emotional ideas that feel right, but lack empirical support.

There is plenty of “upside risk.” Earnings growth is improving, even in the environment of modest growth. The recent market strength could go on for years without any policy changes. If some of the Trump agenda (probably with Democratic support) becomes law, it could mean a spike in both economic growth and profits. We already see improved business and consumer confidence.

Stock Exchange: Trading in a Time of High, News-Driven Risk

Many seem convinced that market risk is elevated – perhaps at an all-time high. I know this from contacts on my vacation, where I see many high-net worth people, messages from my clients (an intelligent and cool-headed lot), and even some objective measures of angst. Whether it is uncertainty about the new President and policy, revisiting issues about valuation, or concern about foreign challenges – it is a popular time to be worried.

Charlie Bilello of Pension Partners looks at SKEW. While VIX has not generated warning levels, SKEW suggests an all-time high in crash risk.

 

Is this really important for trading? It is an excellent question for our experts.

Review

Our last Stock Exchange considered the role of valuation in trading. Deep value expert Robert Marcin provided some great observations. I thank him, and urge you to follow his regular observations at Scutify.

 

This Week—How Traders Can Cope with News-Driven Risk

We have a new participant this week – Road Runner. This beeping bird has a very specialized approach, but one that should be a favorite with traders. RR looks for stocks in an uptrend, identifies the trading range within that trend, and buys at the bottom. His holding period is only two weeks.

After extensive testing, we have invited him to join the group.

Road Runner

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

R: Look at Netflix (NFLX).

This sustained price growth provides a solid working range. I might look to buy around the 50-day moving average price, and sell just over $145. It’s not the world’s biggest gain, but it’s a great fit for my trading style.

J: Are you worried about a market crash?

RR: My holding period is only ten business days. Major selling takes me out of everything. My method requires finding some attractive stocks with uptrends.

Athena

My methods do not show any new choices. I look for short-term momentum picks with a solid base. The current market does not fit my style.

J: Is this a reflection of very high risk?

A: Not necessarily. The market has been pretty flat. It is less likely to find new short-term momentum opportunities.

J: Are you doing anything about headline risk and your current positions?

A: Only my normal measures. I will take note of alarming moves in the wrong direction, including both price and volume. Even a Goddess cannot anticipate what tomorrow’s tweet might bring. I am reactive, not anticipatory.

Felix

I will once again emphasize answers to reader questions. Here is the most recent list.

J: I did not see the list last week. What happened?

F: A small omission. Sorry.

J: When I am on vacation, this group is supposed to conduct business as usual. No dallying.

F: We were all working.

J: Do you have any new recommendations for us this week.

F: No, but that is no surprise given the market conditions.

J: OK, but please try to do better next week.

F: I have a question. Does adding the bird to the team mean that the rest of us will earn less?

J: Road Runner will have to earn his birdseed. It has no effect on you if you maintain your current performance.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Oscar

It’s no secret that the semiconductor sector (SOXX) is on a tear. Just look at this chart. The price looks like it’s ready to soar over the ivy at Wrigley field.

Usually it’s Athena who winds up taking flak for buying on a high. My approach is similar in that I don’t intend to hold onto this sector for very long. All I’m looking for is another 2-4 weeks of sustained growth, which seems likely at this point. In my program, I’m holding individual stocks within this sector. That opens opportunities for additional pops that might register as a small blip on the group as a whole.

J: Are you doing anything special about risk?

O: You mean my final round picks of Kansas and North Carolina?

J: No! Not your March Madness bracket. I mean the risk of a market crash.

O: There is no such indication in the data. If the situation changes, I will close positions and move on.

I also have my regular answers to reader questions about sectors.

J: Readers seem to be wondering about one of your favorite groups, chip stocks.

O: They are on the right track.

J: I see that you like regional banks (KRE), which had a tough week.

O: The sector is still strong.

J: The news emphasized lower used car prices. The reaction seemed overdone.

 

 

 

 

 

Holmes

CF Industries Holdings (CF) is my rebound pick of the week.

We’re well off of the all-time highs, with a flat 200 day moving average and a 50-day moving average that’s starting to trend downward. In my mind, that opens a big opportunity. If the stock climbs to its mid-February prices, I could exit this position with an increase of more than 15%.

J: Are you worried about a market crash?

H: No. My high-level indicators are quiet. Smaller moves are great for my dip-buying strategy.

H: One more thing – is that beeping bird really part of the group?

J: Yes. Some questioned the addition of a dog, so don’t complain. RR will be the last addition.

 

Conclusion

Markets always have news-driven risk. If you refuse to trade because of scary headlines, you should look for a new business.

A widespread perception of risk need not be accurate. And don’t be fooled by headlines calling it the “smart money.” Returning to Charlie Bilello’s fine analysis of SKEW, he demonstrates that it is not really a good predictor of large downside risk.

His powerful conclusion emphasizes that an indicator based upon perception may not reflect reality. This may seem obvious, but I doubt that many are aware of the underlying elements of SKEW.

Here are some key takeaways about news-driven risk and trading:

  1. Headline risk may be exaggerated – perhaps by a lot.
  2. Do not abandon your strategy and miss opportunities without confirming danger for your specific method.
  3. For some trading approaches, perceived risk may represent opportunity.
  4. If you are trading momentum, you should have a solid exit strategy. This is more than just a mechanical stop.

We welcome comments, suggestions, and followers for each character. Even Jeff. I try to have fun once a week in writing this, and I hope you get a chuckle or two from reading it. Here is how to join in.

Background on the Stock Exchange

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

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

Questions

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

Getting Updates

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

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

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

Will a more aggressive Fed derail the rally in stocks?

Personal Notes

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

Last Week

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

Theme Recap

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

The Story in One Chart

I always start my personal review of the week by looking at this great chart from Doug Short via Jill Mislinski. She notes yet another record close based on the week’s gain of 0.67%. We can also see the gap opening after the Presidential Address to Congress.

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

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

The News

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

This week’s news was mostly positive.

The Good

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

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

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

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

 

The Bad

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

The Ugly

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

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

 

The Silver Bullet

I occasionally give the Silver Bullet award to someone who takes up an unpopular or thankless cause, doing the real work to demonstrate the facts. No award this week. Nominations are welcome. Potential award winners can find daily inspiration at several websites!
The Week Ahead

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

The Calendar

We have a moderate week for economic data, featuring the employment report on Friday.

The “A” List

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

The “B” List

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

     

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

Next Week’s Theme

 

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

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

Much of the commentary next week will raise the question:

Will a more aggressive Fed spark a stock market correction?

Some might add “finally”!

The question actually has two parts:

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

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

Both questions have a bullish and bearish side.

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

 

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

Quant Corner

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

Risk Analysis

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

The Indicator Snapshot

 

 

The Featured Sources:

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

How to Use WTWA (especially important for new readers)

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

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

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

 

Best Advice for the Week Ahead

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

Insight for Traders

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

Felix and Holmes

We continue with a strongly bullish market forecast. All our models are now fully invested. The group meets weekly for a discussion they call the “Stock Exchange.” In each post I include a trading theme, ideas from each of our four technical experts, and some rebuttal from a fundamental analyst (usually me, but some noted guests experts are coming). We try to have fun, but there are always fresh ideas. Last week the focus was on trading an overbought market. The week before we considered sector rotation strategies, with a recent example from Oscar.

Top Trading Advice

 

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

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

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

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

Insight for Investors

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

Best of the Week

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

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

Stock Ideas

 

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

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

Bottom Fishing

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

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

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

How about Snap?

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

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

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

 

Personal Finance

Professional investors and traders have been making Abnormal Returns a daily stop for over ten years. If you are a serious investor managing your own account, this is a must-read. Even the more casual long-term investor should make time for a weekly trip on Wednesday. Tadas always has first-rate links for investors in his weekly special edition. As usual, investors will find value in several of them, but my favorite is the discussion of ten things you must know about personal finance. It is important to get fundamental decisions right before launching your investment program.

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

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

 

Watch out for…

 

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

Final Thoughts

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Worries?

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

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

Weighing the Week Ahead: Have Stock Prices Lost Touch with Reality?

It is a big week for economic data and the first address to Congress from the new President. Most of the punditry is engaged in a collective head-shake about overbought conditions. Even if the data flow remains strong, pundits will be asking:

Have stock prices lost touch with reality?

 

Personal Notes

I always try to publish for Sunday morning, which is convenient for most readers. Occasionally circumstances delay me. Sorry about this weekend.

On a second front, a reader thought he spotted me at a political rally. Readers know that I emphasize political agnosticism in investing. Like most of you, I have opinions, but try to keep them separated from our decisions. With that in mind, I have an alibi for this occasion!

Last Week

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

Theme Recap

In my last WTWA I predicted a discussion about Trump policies and the business cycle. This was partially correct, but the prevailing theme – by a widespread margin – emphasized the likely delays in key economic policies. That will be a transition point for the week ahead.

The Story in One Chart

I always start my personal review of the week by looking at this great chart from Doug Short via Jill Mislinski. She notes yet another record close based on the week’s gain of 0.7%.

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

The News

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

This week’s news was mostly positive.

The Good

 

The Bad

  • Hotel occupancy softened over the last few weeks (Calculated Risk).
  • New home sales missed expectations. The prior three months were all revised lower. While sales were up 5.5% year-over-year, the comparison months were among the weakest. Calculated Risk notes that these were the first months after mortgage rates moved higher and provides analysis and this key chart.

  • European tourism interest in America is down 12% after the travel ban. (Forbes).

The Ugly

Russia may have interfered with the Brexit vote say UK officials. Jake Kanter and Adam Bienkov have the story at Business Insider.

 

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 EconompicData, for an important and careful analysis of the effect of rising interest rates on bond investors.

The problem is that the debate over the Fed and interest rates became political. To maintain consistency, many argue that higher rates will be good for bond investors. Here is Jake’s summary of the problem:

I’ve read too many posts / articles that outline why a rise in rates is good for long-term bond investors (as that would allow reinvestment at higher rates). While this can be true depending on the duration of bonds owned and/or for nominal returns over an extended period of time, it is certainly not true over shorter periods of time and absolutely not true for an investor in most real return scenarios… even over very long periods of time.

There are a range of possible assumptions and consideration of each. Here is a key illustrative chart:

To summarize a great post – which bond investors should read carefully – higher rates will be great for future bond investors, but painful for those with current holdings.

 
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 very big week for economic data, with all of the big reports except the employment situation.

The “A” List

  • ISM index (W). Important for both concurrent and leading qualities. Strength continuing?
  • Auto sales (W). More gains from a key sector or “peak auto?”
  • Consumer confidence (T). Will the great strength continue?
  • Personal income and spending (W). January data, but a very important business cycle series.
  • Fed beige book (W). With the Fed resuming a role as a key worry, there will be extra attention.
  • Initial jobless claims (Th). How long can the amazing strength continue?

The “B” List

  • ISM services index (F). Continuing strength? More important than manufacturing, but harder to interpret.
  • GDP Q4 (T). The second estimate includes more data, but little change is expected.
  • Durable goods (M). January data in a volatile series, but progress is needed.
  • Pending home sales (M). Not as important as new construction, but a good read on the market.
  • Chicago PMI (T). Best of the regional surveys is a little preview of the national ISM report the next day.
  • Construction spending (W). Big rebound expected in the important but volatile series.
  • Crude inventories (Th). Recently showing even more impact on oil prices. Rightly or wrongly, that spills over to stocks.

     

President Trump’s first Address to Congress on Tuesday night will command attention in many ways. Most importantly for our purposes will be hints about legislative priorities and the Congressional reaction. Insider tip: Watch for things that get applause from both sides of the aisle.

Next Week’s Theme

 

The punditry, locked into a mindset about valuations, Trump policies, Fed significance, and daily preoccupation with what could go wrong is engaged in a collective head shake. Isn’t it obvious that many of the Trump policies will be delayed? Won’t this derail the “Trump Rally?”

The commentary increasingly expresses amazement, wondering:

Have Stock Prices Disconnected from Reality?

On one side, those who date the rally from the day of the election infer cause and effect. Anything that damages the prospects for tax and regulatory relief also damages the bullish story.

Another group notes that the market, after an extended period of strength is “overbought.”

An increasing number of observers is questioning whether Trump policies are actually the basis for the increase in stock prices.

If these policies are crucial, Tuesday night’s Presidential Address to Congress is definitely the key moment of the week – regardless of economic data.

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

Quant Corner

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

Risk Analysis

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

The Indicator Snapshot

 

 

The Featured Sources:

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

The legal Marijuana business will create nearly 300,000 jobs by 2020.

 

How to Use WTWA (especially important for new readers)

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

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

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

 

Best Advice for the Week Ahead

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

Insight for Traders

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

Felix and Holmes

We continue with a strongly bullish market forecast. All our models are now fully invested. The group meets weekly for a discussion they call the “Stock Exchange.” In each post I include a trading theme, ideas from each of our four technical experts, and some rebuttal from a fundamental analyst (usually me). We try to have fun, but there are always fresh ideas. Last week the focus was on sector rotation strategies, with a recent example from Oscar.

Top Trading Advice

 

Brett Steenbarger explains how knowledge is part of trading. He makes a powerful analogy between traders that can see both the macro and micro pictures and a quarterback who sees the entire field. His work always helps traders discover both what they should know, and how to learn it. While this was my favorite for the week, the daily posts should all be on the trader’s must-read list.

The early T-Wops (a negative Presidential tweet) had a negative impact on stocks. Traders learned this, of course, and the high-frequency algorithms did automated tracking. As often happens, once everyone catches on, things change. The WSJ shows that a Negative Tweet may not crush a stock

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 Warren Buffett’s annual letter to his investors. It is full of wit and humor – and plenty of great insights. You can learn about tax policy, accounting issues, stock buybacks, and Mr. Buffett’s ten-year bet where he took the overall market versus hedge funds.

Stock Ideas

 

Mr. Buffett’s dividend stocks versus the “dogs of the dow.” Jon C. Ogg crunches the numbers.

Big biotech? Battered down, but with good earnings and cash flow. Some of the companies also have a pipeline. Check out some large cap choices.

 

Personal Finance

Professional investors and traders have been making Abnormal Returns a daily stop for over ten years. If you are a serious investor managing your own account, this is a must-read. Even the more casual long-term investor should make time for a weekly trip on Wednesday. Tadas always has first-rate links for investors in his weekly special edition. As usual, investors will find value in several of them, but my favorite is the post from Dan Danford. He explains the difference between excellent but general advice from experts and advice specific to your circumstances. Keep this in mind when reading the Warren Buffett letter. Here is a key quote:

Those experts don’t know a thing about you or your situation. They don’t know your age, health, marital status or personality quirks. They don’t know where you live or how much your house cost. They don’t know how much you spend on groceries or hobbies, or that you were forced into early retirement by an ungrateful employer. They know none of this. Nada.

 

Seeking Alpha Editor Gil Weinreich’s strong series is ostensibly aimed at financial advisors – a must-read for them. It also attracts many DIY investors. The zesty topic of the week started with an explanation from a noted writer and advisor, David Merkel, on why investors need good advice. I strongly agree with David, but I realize that some investors enjoy doing the work to maintain a successful program. (Is that you? My (free) short paper on the top investor pitfalls is a good test of whether you can successfully fly solo. Send a request to main at newarc dot com).

 

Watch out for…

 

Rising interest rates. In a riff on this week’s Silver Bullet analysis, Davidson (via Todd Sullivan) explains some key fundamentals about rates, the yield curve and the Fed. It is another myth-busting analysis.

 

Final Thoughts

 

How the punditry interprets the current market depends on how one defines base valuations and expectancy.

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

The result?

Most people choose the over-valued path. It is the conventional wisdom in the media. Even the bullish pundits choke out a statement that stocks are “reasonably valued.” This world view requires some explanation of why the stock rally continues. The explanation has changed over time —

  • Stocks are overvalued and a crash is likely.
  • A crash might not happen, but returns over the next five, ten, twelve years will be lower.
  • Valuation is not a good method of market timing, and who knows when the “half-cycle” will end?
  • Stock strength is due to extraordinary Fed policy, providing liquidity that banks or the plunge protection team use to buy stocks. It will end with the end of QE, which probably will never happen.
  • The end of QE merely shifted focus to Europe, where the ECB has taken over the money printing.
  • The current rally is based upon Trump promises, which will never come to pass and might not even work.

Investment Conclusion

I hope most will notice that the forward valuation approach and the recession data I report weekly is a simple explanation. The current market is what we would expect. The Republican victory had increased small business confidence, but is not the main driver of stock prices.

The prevailing explanation was wrong-footed at the start and has remained so. Like bad science, it has not explained anything, so it must be continually re-invented.

It is really not complicated. There will be a time to become cautious. Meanwhile, mid to late- stage cyclical stocks, financials, homebuilders, and technology remain attractive.

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

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

Will Trump policies extend the business cycle?

 

Last Week

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

Theme Recap

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

The Story in One Chart

I always start my personal review of the week by looking at this great chart from Doug Short via Jill Mislinski. She notes the record high and the overall gain of 1.51% for the week.

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

The News

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

This week’s news was mostly positive.

The Good

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

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

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

 

The Bad

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

The Ugly

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

 

The Silver Bullet

I occasionally give the Silver Bullet award to someone who takes up an unpopular or thankless cause, doing the real work to demonstrate the facts. This week’s award goes to Josh Brown for his thoughtful analysis of debt, and what it really means. The arguments about excessive debt, the types of debt, and the threats to the system are easily made. It takes only a chart, and most readers are pre-convinced.

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

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

The Week Ahead

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

The Calendar

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

The “A” List

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

The “B” List

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

     

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

Next Week’s Theme

 

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

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

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

Will Trump Policies Extend the Business Cycle?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Quant Corner

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

Risk Analysis

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

The Indicator Snapshot

 

The C-Score has again moved lower, reflecting more inflation via gasoline prices. The level is still not worrisome.

 

The Featured Sources:

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How to Use WTWA (especially important for new readers)

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

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

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

 

Best Advice for the Week Ahead

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

Insight for Traders

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

Felix and Holmes

We continue with a strongly bullish market forecast. All our models are now fully invested. The group meets weekly for a discussion they call the “Stock Exchange.” In each post I include a trading theme, ideas from each of our four technical experts, and some rebuttal from a fundamental analyst (usually me). We try to have fun, but there are always fresh ideas. Last week the focus was when and how to “buy the dips” with a current example from Holmes.

Top Trading Advice

 

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

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

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

Insight for Investors

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

Best of the Week

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

 

Stock Ideas

 

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

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

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

 

Seeking yield?

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

 

 

Personal Finance

Professional investors and traders have been making Abnormal Returns a daily stop for over ten years. If you are a serious investor managing your own account, this is a must-read. Even the more casual long-term investor should make time for a weekly trip on Wednesday. Tadas always has first-rate links for investors in his weekly special edition. The piece about the importance of a will is great. I liked the one helping you teach kids about money. (I tried to do this with poker chips, and you can guess the ending). My favorite was gender control over family finances. Do you think it matters who is earning more? (Hint: Mrs. OldProf regards it as completely irrelevant).

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

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

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

Watch out for…

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

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

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

 

And more on value investing

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

Final Thoughts

 

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

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

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

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

Investing Conclusion

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

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

Weighing the Week Ahead: Trump V. Yellen Round One

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

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

Trump v. Yellen, round one.

Last Week

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

Theme Recap

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

The Story in One Chart

I always start my personal review of the week by looking at this great chart from Doug Short via Jill Mislinski. She notes the new high and the overall gain of 0.81% for the week.

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

The News

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

This week’s news was again mixed, with a tilt to the positive side.

The Good

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

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

 

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

The Bad

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

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

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

The Ugly

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

 

The Silver Bullet

I occasionally give the Silver Bullet award to someone who takes up an unpopular or thankless cause, doing the real work to demonstrate the facts. No award this week. Nominations are welcome! For inspiration, you might test yourself on the misleading visualization techniques described by Nathan Yau. I see these daily, and so do you. The most common in financial posts is this one:


The Week Ahead

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

The Calendar

We have a normal week for economic data.

The “A” List

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

The “B” List

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

     

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

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

Next Week’s Theme

 

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

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

Trump v. Yellen, Round One

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

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

Here is what Yellen might do.

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

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

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

Quant Corner

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

Risk Analysis

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

The Indicator Snapshot

 

 

The Featured Sources:

 

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

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

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

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

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

Georg Vrba: The Business Cycle Indicator and much more.Check out his site for an array of interesting methods. Georg regularly analyzes Bob Dieli’s enhanced aggregate spread, considering when it might first give a recession signal. The most recent update is for the Business Cycle Indicator.

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

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

 

How to Use WTWA (especially important for new readers)

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

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

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

 

Best Advice for the Week Ahead

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

Insight for Traders

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

Felix and Holmes

We continue with a strongly bullish market forecast. All our models are now fully invested. The group meets weekly for a discussion they call the “Stock Exchange.” In each post I include a trading theme, ideas from each of our four technical experts, and some rebuttal from a fundamental analyst (usually me). We try to have fun, but there are always fresh ideas. Last week there was a great discussion about whether your trading results are skill or luck. Do you know? And BTW, Athena likes AMD.

Top Trading Advice

 

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

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

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

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

Insight for Investors

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

Best of the Week

If I had to pick a single most important source for investors to read this week it would be this post from Seeking Alpha Editor Gil Weinreich, Are Bonds Bad? How about Funds? He cites Evan Power’s analysis of the current retirement risks, responding to a Kiplinger article that retirement was now 10 times riskier.

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

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

Stock Ideas

 

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

Our trading model, Holmes, has joined our other models in a weekly market discussion. Each one has a different “personality” and I get to be the human doing fundamental analysis. This week the dip-buying Holmes (who has been very hot) liked Casey’s (CASY). In a big surprise, Holmes sold the next morning, so I did a rapid update for readers. This is very unusual behavior, but it is only one of sixteen Holmes positions. Holmes is worth watching.

 

Seeking yield?

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

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

Portfolio Management

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

Personal Finance

Professional investors and traders have been making Abnormal Returns a daily stop for over ten years. If you are a serious investor managing your own account, this is a must-read. Even the more casual long-term investor should make time for a weekly trip on Wednesday. Tadas always has first-rate links for investors in his weekly special edition. This week may be the finest entry in a long series. I strongly recommend a look at the great links cited. Look at all the posts on the fiduciary rule. The average investor needs to understand who is selling and who is acting in his interest. For retirees or near-retirees, the Michael Kitces post is very valuable. Most people do not think about the priority of various retirement needs, but they should!

 

Thinking about Social Security?

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

 

Watch out for…

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

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

And more on value investing

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

 

Final Thoughts

 

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

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

What about the Fed?

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

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

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

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

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

Why You Never See the Best Employment Data

On the first Friday of each month the Bureau of Labor Statistics releases the Employment Situation Report. The data – especially the payroll employment change – is the subject of much speculation, forecasting, and spinning once it is announced. Most sophisticated analysts (like me) regularly report that the sampling error is +/- 120K jobs or so. And that is after the second revision. Few realize that the revisions mostly “top off” the sample responses. There is also non-sampling error, of course, if the current universe of employers is not representative.

The BLS method involves attempting a “count” of the total number of jobs, via a survey, in one month and subtracting it from the prior month. It is not a direct count of change in the number of jobs. ADP attempts a similar estimate using payroll data from their private clients. Today they reported a gain of 246K private jobs. Both are estimates – and only estimates!

The most accurate employment report comes from a source you never hear about, the quarterly Business Dynamics Report. It is based upon the Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages (QCEW), the authoritative final count of all things labor. The QCEW is the basis for the final benchmarking of all the major BLS reports. Why? The data is drawn from local employment offices, not surveys. Businesses are legally required to report all workers. It is the basis for employment insurance, and there is obviously no incentive to overstate employment.

Why Don’t We Hear About This?

No one reports the results of the Business Dynamics Report or the QCEW because we do not have this great and accurate data until eight months later. From the Wall Street perspective, it is “old news.” Here is an important table from the last report.

For our current purposes, the key number is the net employment change of 307,000. I am going to compare that to the estimates made at the time of the original releases.

We should also observe that overall job creation in the quarter was almost 7.5 million jobs. This is very important, but no one seems to know it. Jobs destroyed were over seven million, leaving the net of 307 thousand. This is around 100K per month, and that is all you will hear about.

Please also note that the new jobs come from both additions at current establishments and opening establishments. New jobs from new businesses were 1.4 million for the quarter. The data from this series proves that those complaining about the BLS birth/death adjustment are wrong now, and always have been.

The Estimates

If we fire up the Wayback machine, we can look at the reported employment data from this period. To understand the data, we must realize that the BLS, ADP, (and others) are all making an estimate of the “true job growth.” Their estimates represent different methods, all with pluses and minuses. Let’s see how the two estimates did against what we now know to be “the truth.”

We do not have monthly data for the BED series, but we can see how the two sources did for the entire three-month period. “Truth” was a gain of 307K. Both estimating sources were a bit too high, with the BLS doing better for this round. I have occasionally done this comparison, concluding that the ADP method should also be considered. It would be useful to do this analysis over a longer period. It takes a lot of careful work. (Perhaps if I get a good summer intern, this will be one of the projects. Applications welcome).

Implications for Investors

I understand that investors generally tune out educational posts, especially when a “deep dive” is involved. This is discouraging, since one of my missions is to help people “navigate the noise.” In the case of employment data, it is nearly all noise!

Here are conclusions I have reached, and which you might consider:

  • BLS and ADP both provide useful estimates of employment change. It is a mistake to regard (as most do) the BLS as the “official” result.
  • We should expect variation in the monthly BLS numbers. The survey has a confidence interval of 120K! If the data are real, then the reports should fluctuate around truth.
  • Traders focus on the BLS. They must, since that will be the trading flow. If you are a trader and want to game that announcement, you are on your own. If you are an investor, you should include both reports in your thinking.
  • Do not be bamboozled by those who claim that seasonal adjustments or estimates of new jobs are misleading. I have studied dozens of these claims. None of the writers show any real expertise in data analysis or a proven track record. They are all men on a mission or women on the warpath.
  • The overall path of employment growth remains solid. That will be true even if we get a “weak” payroll employment number on Friday.

And Finally

This topic is (yet another) example of how difficult it is to find real experts. It takes real skill and knowledge. You cannot just read the newspaper.

Other Reading

Your Employment Report IQ – No one knows even 25% of these answers, despite the importance. My favorite prof and greatest teacher introduced me to labor economics. He “approved this message” and said that everyone should read it. While I appreciate the encouragement from a great mentor, the viewership was about 10% of my WTWA pieces – and far less than other pseudo-experts. Trying to help people is an uphill battle!

My best single piece on the monthly employment report. Guessing beans in a jar?

The Quest for Investing Excellence and the Lesson of Dow 20K

The new movement to passive investments is a sharp break from the historical quest for excellence. Many articles claim that no one can do better than the market average. If that is true, you should just throw out your investment library and skip the popular lists of “best investment books.”

This post will suggest a short list of books that would have needed quite different titles. They also would not have become best-sellers! In the conclusion, I will provide some ideas about why this is important for your investment decisions. Here are the hypothetical titles followed by a cover shot of the real book. Suggestions for more examples are quite welcome!

 

In Search of Mediocrity

Market Sheep

The Average IQ Investor

The Little Book that Equals the Market

Common Stocks and Average Profits

Buffett: The Making of a Lucky Investor

Stay Even with Wall Street

Implications

In this series on investment expertise I have (so far) covered the following:

  • There are indeed experts. Sometimes it is obvious, and sometimes they are difficult to find. Consider the case of Phil Mickelson.
  • Forecasting is not always folly. I provide specific examples of expertise, and a checklist for finding the best modeling experts.
  • Dow 20K. The round-number milestone has finally been achieved – at least for today! There are many who are stepping up to claim some credit for their prediction on this front. Some were way too early, and others made the call as we got much closer. Each prognosticator had a method.

My own Dow 20K forecast came when the Dow was at 10,000 and many prominent pundits were calling for Dow 5000! My opinion was controversial at the time. Check out the history of the forecast to remind yourself of how bad things were (unemployment over 10%, and I was ridiculed for suggesting it might fall to 8%).

While it is nice to get some recognition (like this spot from CNBC when we got close to the milestone last month), I see it more as a validation of my methodology. I seek out the best experts. I am constantly looking for excellence. I know that I do not have all of the answers, but my background taught me how to search and to learn. Following superior methods helped to keep my readers and clients on the right side of the market through a long rally hated by most of the punditry and many traders.

There are many paths to trading and investment success. Mine was not the only way, but it was a good way. Having strong evidence and indicators is crucial for confidence.

What Now?

Most of the key factors I see as important are still in place. I summarize them each week. The list of worries has changed a lot but it is still there. The time will come to pull back – but it is not here yet.

 

Finding Investment Excellence

There is a lot of recent buzz about active management – basically showing that excellence is difficult to achieve. The conclusion is popular, especially among those who have no aspiration to beat average.

I cannot do this in a single post, but I must start somewhere. As I often do, let me start with something far away from financial markets as the original illustration. As the TV lawyers say when wandering off course, “Your honor, just give me a few questions and I’ll connect it all up.”

Experts Exist

Let us suppose we have a difficult situation, not unlike a complex market. In this case, you are golfing. Your ball is in the rough, and there is a danger of going over the green on your approach shot.

If you are a golfer, you will get a laugh out of Golf Digest’s 26 most difficult shots. I have experienced all of them. The “shot over water” was especially intimidating at Butler National, where I asked my caddy about the drop zone. He wisely told me, “You need a better swing thought.” That was great advice!

Here is an example of Phil Mickelson hitting a 64-degree wedge. It is not a cherry-picked result. A google search will show many other similar shots.

The commentator observes that Lefty might be the only one who could hit that shot.

Finding the Expert

I hope everyone is convinced that there are experts in golf. In fact, there are experts in any field. In most cases there is a problem of “Untangling Skill and Luck” as Michael Mauboussin astutely poses it. In the case of Mickelson’s flop shot, the skill is evident. Many important cases are more challenging. What about someone with a model that provides a 10% improvement in forecasting hurricanes? Or earthquakes? The social gain from such expertise is important, but it might be difficult to identify.

If you are an investor in search of excellence, this is the challenge. For over ten years I have taken pride not in my own expertise, but in the ability to spot the best experts in various fields. That is now more important than ever for those who want more than mediocrity.