Identifying “Hard” Data

During recent weeks, much of the punditry has suggested a sharp difference between “hard” and “soft” data.  The former seems to show sluggish economic growth while the latter paints a more optimistic picture.  The general distinction seems to be that surveys are “soft” and other data are “hard.”   Results are rather arbitrarily placed in one group or the other.

Test Your Hard Data IQ?

Since reliance on surveys seems to be the acid test, let’s try a little quiz.  Which of the following reports use surveys, and which do not?

  • Payroll jobs
  • ISM manufacturing index
  • Wholesale inventories
  • Retail sales
  • Unemployment rate
  • Labor participation rate
  • PPI
  • ISM non-manufacturing index
  • Consumer confidence or sentiment
  • Business optimism
  • Durable goods orders
  • New home sales
  • CPI
  • Building permits
  • Personal income and spending
  • The decennial census of U.S. population
  • Existing home sales
  • JOLTS report
  • Business inventories
  • Housing starts
  • Regional Fed indexes – Chicago, Empire State, Philly Fed, Dallas, etc.

Before going on, please make sure that you have indicated “survey” or “non-survey” for each of the reports above.

Criticism of Survey Data

Most of the survey critics dismiss such data as “soft” and undependable.  This is often an assertion that surveys always involve speculation about future behavior.  Without exception, the survey critics do not include anyone who has actually designed or administered a survey.  A real expert would know that most of the complaints are treated on day one of the methods class.

Please consider this obvious example.  Suppose we ask someone, a month before an election, for whom they intend to vote.  Now suppose we ask in an exit poll.  The respondent might still give an inaccurate answer in the latter, but logic suggests it will be more accurate than the first.  Logic is confirmed by results.

Try this example.  We ask a purchasing manager if he/she is ordering more this month than last.  Or if prices paid were higher?  It does not involve speculation – just an honest report of facts.  Suppose we ask a Chinese purchasing manager the same question.  Are we just as confident of the answer?

Many questions are carefully worded to make it easy to give an honest answer.  It is a technique taught in the classes.  Most of the critics have never looked at the actual underlying surveys or considered the issues.

Quiz Answer

All the reports listed above involve the use of surveys.  All of them.

Many pundits pick and choose data to support their viewpoints.  The “hard versus soft” meme is the latest such effort.  Here is a test.  The choice of classification has been very loose and arbitrary.  Despite this, it has been taken seriously by nearly everyone.

We have seen many new fans of the Atlanta GDP Now tracking.  It showed weak growth in the first quarter.  During the second quarter the early returns are 3.5% to 4%.  Many sources will react by finding a new favorite indicator.

Investment Conclusion

The economy has a better footing than most sources allege.

Your decisions will be better if you rely upon sources that are intellectually honest in the consistent use of data.

Stock Exchange: How to Use Backtests Effectively

 

Everyone interested in managing their own money ought to keep an old idiom in mind: if it seems too good to be true, it probably is. Unfortunately, greed is a powerful motivator. It’s tempting to see a new model with an incredible backtest and think this could be the answer.

Experienced investors know that there’s often a drastic change between a model’s backtest and its first live run. You can usually find that point by checking for where the 45-degree angle increase in value drops off into sideways movement (and generally underperforms the market).

This week, we’ll take a deeper dive into how you can minimize these problems using professional techniques.

Review

Our last Stock Exchange revisited a common theme: making stock picks according to a set time frame. Our models suggested finance and software stocks in the short-term, and energy for the long-term.

Let’s turn to this week’s ideas.

This Week— *crickets*

We usually arrive to find the gang happily enjoying their weekly poker night. Instead, all we’ve got are Felix and Oscar’s weekly rankings with a “gone fishin’” note on the counter. Strange behavior.

We decided to give Vince Castelli a call to investigate. Vince is our modeling guru, a brilliant scientist who spent the bulk of his career as a civilian employee for the U.S. Navy. During his time there, he’s had hands-on experience with modeling techniques vital to national security – not something you can find in the classroom. He knows these models better than anyone; after all, he designed them.

Jeff: Vince! What is this about giving everyone the week off?

V: I didn’t give them the week off. There were new no new fresh signals.

J: Is there something wrong with the gang? They encompass five different methods. How can there be no fresh ideas?

V: A key feature of all models is recognizing the best times to trade. When volatility increases trades become less predictable.

J: What do you mean? The VIX is lower this week. Volatility is down.

V: That measure is for amateurs. Trading volatility includes both upside and downside. That bogus fear gauge emphasizes only the downside. Predictions are affected by extreme movements in either direction.

J: Since we do not have current picks to feature, maybe we could discuss how you developed these models.  There was an excellent recent article from Ben Carlson about what you cannot learn from a backtest. It reminded me of the TV ads suggesting that anyone can discover a system and trade their way to a fortune.

V:  If only it were that easy.

J:  Ben’s description made me think of some suburbanites wandering into the woods with massive chain saws.  The power of the tools far exceeds their skill in using them.

V: I see it all of the time.

J:  I would like to take up a few of Ben’s points and get your reaction.  How about this:  How many bad backtests came before the good ones?

V:  This is a great question.  Most people do not know the right questions to ask the model developer.  That one is crucial.

J:  How would you answer?

V:  Our method preserves multiple out-of-sample periods.   We develop models on our development data, saving pristine time periods for the test.  We verify that the strength of results continues.  You cannot just look at backtest results; you must know the developer’s method.

J:  Here is another good point — Data availability at the time.   Isn’t it easy to “peek ahead” or to exclude data from failing company?

V:  It certainly is.  You need to have data that includes the failed and merged companies.  The average person at home will not pay up to get this.  It introduces a deceptive, positive bias.

J: Ben also raises an interesting point about friction.  He writes:

It’s almost impossible in a backtest to completely account for costs and frictions such as taxes, commissions, market impact from trading, market liquidity, etc. Sure, you can estimate these frictions, but you never truly understand how these things will affect your bottom line until you actually have to execute buy and sell orders.

V:  This is the first point where I really disagree with him.  Why is it almost impossible?  You should definitely include commissions and a slippage factor.  If your trades are a small percentage of the market volume, the impact from trading is negligible.  Taxes vary by the type of account and the investor.

J:  Interesting point!  “Almost impossible” is strong language.  For someone who knows the ropes, this kind of test might represent real edge.

V:  That is what I do with each of my creations!

J:  Some of Ben’s other points relate to psychological factors.  The trader bailing out of the system in the face of losses.  Or concern about real money.

V:  That is strictly a matter of confidence in the system.  If it has been developed properly, you should not do a lot of fretting.

J: Thanks for joining us, Vince. I’m sure your comments will help readers make more sense of our series.

V: Any time!

Conclusion

One important point was not mentioned in Ben’s article – simplicity.  The temptation for the untrained modeler is to introduce as many variables as possible, hoping to find correlations that others have missed.  What they find is misleading. Computers are powerful enough to discover apparent links between variables when there is actually no relationship. A great model uses as few variables as possible.  The backtest may not seem as good, but the real-time trading will be much better.

Quantitative modeling is an extraordinarily complicated field. In some ways, the way to find success here is similar to finding success in the investment world as a whole. Find the right experts, learn their methods, and try to make sense of the data for yourself. Backtesting can be effective or dangerous – it depends on the skill of the developer.

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. Sign up with email to “etf at newarc dot com”. We keep a running list of all securities our readers recommend. The “favorite fifteen” are top ranking positions according to each respective model. Within that list, green is a “buy,” yellow a “hold,” and red a “sell.”  Suggestions and comments are welcome. 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!

Stock Valuation and Occam’s Razor

Among competing hypotheses, the one with the fewest assumptions should be selected.

William of Occam

 

The use of this principle is valuable, but not completely determinative in science.  It often has an important application in investing.

Let us consider two hypotheses.

  1. A method of valuing markets that relies upon backward-looking data, looks at replacement value, or depends upon some other fixed ratio. Put another way, all the most popular valuation metrics.
  2. A method that considers prospective earnings, expected inflation, and interest rates.

Method one has been wrong for many years.  In fact, it has been mostly incorrect for decades.  Method two has been on the right side of market moves, but still shows significant deviations.  What can we learn from Occam’s Razor?

Method One

Since this method has been mostly wrong, many explanations have been offered.  I think I left a few out, but you get the drift.

  1. Speculation
  2. Not recognizing “fundamental” risks – Euro collapse, China collapse, recession, Brexit, etc.
  3. Depending upon dubious earnings estimates
  4. Market is about to crash
  5. Method not good for market timing, but returns will be poor for the next 5, 7, 10, 12, ? years
  6. Fed intervention – money printing and pumping up the market via QE
  7. Plunge protection team
  8. European Central Banks
  9. Suckers’ Rally
  10. Myopia of the investment world – no efficient markets
  11. High Frequency Traders and Algorithms

Method Two

Since this method has been mostly right, little explanation is needed.  The expected increase in market prices and multiples is consistent with the theory.  It should continue for another 8-10% and further if forward earnings increase.

 

Question

 

Should investors accept the complex and ever-changing explanations for method one?  Or perhaps should they consider that the method itself is flawed?

 

Are You Fooled by this Chart?

Throughout the big rally investors have been bombarded for reasons not to join in.  It is very profitable to play upon fears.  You then sell page views and advertising, conferences, gold, annuities, or fancy structured products.

I have taken a much less popular path – trying to educate investors.  Even though the issues at hand are the most important, much more significant that individual stock selection, it is not “actionable investor advice.”

I disagree!  Investors should act, and they should fight fear.

As an example, one of many I see each week, let’s take a look at this chart:

Let us start with a few simple questions:

  1. What is the red line? Presumably the blue line is the S&P 500, although the chart does not have a legend.  It is apparently some measure of equity risk premium, but there is no description of how it is calculated.
  2. What is the meaning of the gap between the lines, highlighted by the dotted lines? Is a big gap bad?  A warning?  That is clearly the message of the article.
  3. Aswath Damodaran, NYU professor and valuation authority, is cited as the source. Does this chart actually appear in his work, or did the author massage it?  What is Professor Damodaran’s current viewpoint on market valuation?

These questions should have been answered in the article.  The article, warning about the market, is using the technical term “equity risk premium” to frighten people.

Conclusion

I will do the best I can with the incomplete information in the post.

The last time the gap was this wide was in 2008-09, the best time in decades to buy stocks.  Why is it now bad news?

It is definitely NOT Prof. Damodaran’s conclusion.  Concerning Prof Shiller, he writes:

Of all of his creations, I find CAPE to be not only the least compelling but also potentially the most dangerous, in terms of how often it can lead investors astray. So, at the risk of angering those of you who are CAPE followers, here is my case against putting too much faith in this measure, with much of it representing updates of my post from two years ago.

He also provides his own version of our subject chart, described by Alex Barrow.

The following chart is from NYU finance professor Aswath Damodaran. In this, he charts the P/E of bonds (blue line), the Shiller P/E for stocks (purple line) and the ratio or spread between the two (orange bars). The lower the orange bars, the greater the risk-premium spread between bonds and stocks meaning the more attractive (cheap) stocks are relative to bonds or cash.

If you think of the orange bars as the equivalent of the dotted lines in the original chart, you will see that they are the same.  This chart, of course, has a legend explaining each of the lines and bars.  The interpretation – high equity risk premium makes stocks more attractive – is clearly stated.

This is a disturbing example of how writers “on a mission” see whatever they want in charts, provide only partial information, and prey upon the unsuspecting.  The original article is from a very popular source and is republished widely.

Stock Exchange: Finding Trading Ideas in a Low Volatility Market

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

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

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

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

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

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

Review

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

Market Tech Take

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

 

Let’s turn to this week’s ideas.

This Week—Finding Trading Ideas in a Low Volatility Market

Holmes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Felix

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

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

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

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

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

Oscar

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

RoadRunner

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

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

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

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

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

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

Road Runner: Tough but fair.

Athena

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

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

Athena: That’s the idea.

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

Athena: I think I just lost my appetite.

Conclusion

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

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

Stock Exchange Character Guide

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

Background on the Stock Exchange

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

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

Questions

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

Getting Updates

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

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.