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!