Why Wall Street Strategists Always Seem Bullish

Let us divide those writing about forecasts into three camps:

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

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

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

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

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

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

The author also produces this mystery chart:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Can the market embrace some good news?

Last Week

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

Theme Recap

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

The Story in One Chart

I always start my personal review of the week by looking at this great chart from Doug Short. He captures the continuing rally and the move to new highs.

Doug has a special knack for pulling together all the relevant information. His charts save more than a thousand words! Read his entire post where he adds analysis grounded in data and several more charts providing long-term perspective.

Personal Note

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

The News

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

This week’s news was quite good. If I missed something for the “bad” list, please feel free to suggest it in the comments.

The Good

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

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

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

The Bad

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

 

The Ugly Beautiful

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

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

 

 

The Silver Bullet

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


The Week Ahead

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

The Calendar

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

The “A” List

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

The “B” List

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

     

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

Next Week’s Theme

 

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

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

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

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

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

As usual, I’ll have a few ideas of my own in today’s “Final Thoughts”.

Quant Corner

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

Risk Analysis

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

The Indicator Snapshot

 

The increased yield on the ten-year note has lowered the risk premium a bit. I suspect much more to come. By this I mean that the relative attractiveness of stocks and bonds will continue to narrow.

The Featured Sources:

 

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

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

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

RecessionAlert: Many strong quantitative indicators for both economic and market analysis. While we feature his recession analysis, Dwaine also has several interesting approaches to asset allocation. Try out his new public Twitter Feed. His most recent research update suggests some “mixed signals” from labor markets.

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

Georg Vrba: The Business Cycle Indicator, (latest edition below) and much more. Check out his site for an array of interesting methods. Georg regularly analyzes Bob Dieli’s enhanced aggregate spread, considering when it might first give a recession signal. Georg thinks it is still a year away. It is interesting to watch this approach along with our weekly monitoring of the C-Score.

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

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

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

This is very good advice to the recession worrywarts.

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

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

 

How to Use WTWA (especially important for new readers)

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

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

My objective is to help all readers, so I provide several free resources. Just write to info at newarc dot com. We will send whatever you request. We never share your email address with others, and send only what you seek. (Like you, we hate spam!) Free reports include the following:

  • Understanding Risk – what we all should know.
  • Income investing – better yield than the standard dividend portfolio, and less risk.
  • Holmes and friends – the top artificial intelligence techniques in action.
  • Why it is a great time to own for Value Stocks – finding cheap stocks based on long-term earnings.

You can also check out my website for Tips for Individual Investors, and a discussion of the biggest market fears. (I welcome questions on this subject. What scares you now?)

 

Best Advice for the Week Ahead

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

Insight for Traders

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

Felix and Holmes

We continue with a strongly bullish market forecast. Felix is fully invested. Oscar is fully invested in aggressive sectors. The more cautious Holmes also remains fully invested, but with continued profit-taking and position switching. The group did not meet on Thanksgiving Day, but you can expect reports to resume in this Thursday’s “Stock Exchange.” Out of the many Holmes picks this week, I can report one that seemed to capture a theme, Fomento Economico Mexicano SAB, (FMX). This Mexican holding company, trading via the ADR, includes several retail holdings. (Think Coke and Heineken). Holmes likes to play rebounds on a technical basis, so this is an interesting play on Trump policy from a source who knows nothing about the election or the news. (We report exits from announced Holmes positions if you ask to be on that list. Write to holmes at newarc dot com).

Top Trading Advice

 

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

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

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

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

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

Insight for Investors

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

Best of the Week

If I had to pick a single most important source for investors to read this week it would be Michael Batnick’s post, This is Not Bearish. The question is the new all-time highs in stocks. I know from experience that the average investor sees this as some sort of warning. Instead of interpreting prices in context, they see a chart or a range and expect mean reversion.

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

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

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

Stock Ideas

 

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

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

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

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

Personal Finance

Professional investors and traders have been making Abnormal Returns a daily stop for over ten years. If you are a serious investor managing your own account, you should join us in adding this to your daily reading. Every investor should make time for a weekly trip on Wednesday. Tadas always has first-rate links for investors in his weekly special edition. There are always several great choices worth reading. My personal favorite this week is Jonathan Clements’ piece on the two financial numbers you need to know. Hint: You might have a clue about this, but are probably measuring incorrectly.

Seeking Alpha Editor Gil Weinreich’s Financial Advisors’ Daily Digest is a must-read for financial professionals. The topics are frequently important for active individual investors. I especially liked this post on dividends. Why do so many insist on regular cash payments?

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

If you are wondering whether you might do better with a financial advisor, check out my latest paper, The Top Twelve Investor Pitfalls – and How to Avoid Them. If you regularly navigate these problems, you can fly solo. Readers of WTWA can get a free copy by sending an email to info at newarc dot com. We will not share your address with anyone.

Market Outlook

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

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

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

Value Investing

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

Watch out for…

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

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

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

And also this:

 

1955-2014:

            Interest rate range           average P/E

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

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

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

Final Thoughts

 

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

When does change start?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Weighing the Week Ahead: Time for Some Clarity?

We have a light week for data, but plenty of other big news. Earnings season continues. There will be plenty of FedSpeak, and most importantly the results of the U.S. elections. I everyone to be asking:

Will the election results provide clarity for financial markets?

Personal Note

 

I enjoyed my Wisconsin weekend away with Mrs. OldProf, who is completely sick of election stories. Especially after seeing a few ads in a battleground state! She will probably will not read this week’s edition, focusing instead on her Packer-laden fantasy football entry and tomorrow’s game.

I know that some readers will not like my conclusions this week. Please read them as investment advice, not voting advice.

Thanks also to readers for the interest and early comments for my latest paper, The Top Twelve Investor Pitfalls – and How to Avoid Them. Readers of WTWA can get a copy by sending an email to info at newarc dot com. We will not share your address with anyone.

Last Week

Last week’s economic news was all good, despite the modest negative reaction in stocks. The election story is the culprit.

Theme Recap

In my last WTWA (two weeks ago), I predicted a focus on the trading range, and whether it would soon be broken. Breaking election news attracted most of the attention with earnings playing a secondary role. Since then, we have experienced a 40-year flood, so to speak. The nine consecutive days of market declines are the most for 36 years. And still counting. Whether the range has been broken remains open to question, but I was wrong about the key theme.

The Story in One Chart

I always start my personal review of the week by looking at this great chart from Doug Short. Some sources said the market was in the “grip of the worst decline since the financial crisis.” Doug notes that the nine days of decline amounted only to 3.09%. By comparison, the nine-day streak from 36 years ago represented 9.37%. Even single-day declines can be more than this, including the -3.59% on June 24th of this year. Doug’s analysis helps to put the recent trading in perspective.

Doug has a special knack for pulling together all the relevant information. His charts save more than a thousand words! Read his entire post where he adds analysis grounded in data and several more charts providing long-term perspective.

 

The News

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

The Good

  • Personal income and spending were up 0.3% and 0.5% respectively. These results were better than the prior month, and in line with expectations.
  • ISM manufacturing index registered 51.9 beating the prior month and most expectations. This is roughly consistent with recent GDP readings.
  • GDP for Q3 increased 2.9%, the highest rate in two years. James Hamilton notes that this is still slightly below the long-term trend, but good enough to reduce the recession odds of his model to 12.3%.

Some skeptics have claimed that the good report is “full of beans” in the words of Dr. Ed Yardeni. While the one-time effect of soybean imports was important, he cites several other factors that suggest future strength.

  • Earnings strength continues. Despite the importance of this story, it has not gotten much attention. The earnings recession is over, as I concluded from our first-rate sources a few weeks ago. FactSet has some key points in their update:
    • 71% of S&P 500 companies have reported earnings above the mean estimate and 54% of S&P 500 companies have reported sales above the mean estimate.
    • For Q3 2016, the blended earnings growth rate for the S&P 500 is 2.7%. If the index reports growth in earnings for the quarter, it will mark the first time the index has seen year-over-year growth in earnings since Q1 2015 (0.5%).
  • Corporate narrative agrees. Avondale Asset Management tracks hundreds of earnings calls. Their helpful summary includes quotations from the calls, organized into topics. Here is the encouraging list of topic headings for the U.S. macro section. There is supporting evidence for each of the points below.

 

The environment has stayed slow and steady

The economy is fully healed even if it’s not setting new records

Conditions are still pretty difficult for industrial companies, but turning up

Still, there’s a pervasive sense of uncertainty

CEOs are waiting to see what happens in the election

Companies are setting strategic plans that assume weakness

The consumer has been slowing

But energy and currency are moving from a headwind to a tailwind

Inventories are much leaner than they have been

And pricing pressures are building

 

  • Employment
    • Non-farm payrolls increased by 161,000 and the prior month was revised upward by 35,000.
    • ADP private employment growth was 147K, 23,000 less than expected, but the prior month was revised up by 48,000.
    • Unemployment decreased slightly to 4.9%.
    • Hourly earnings increased 2.8% on a year-over-year basis –
    • One slight negative was initial jobless claims edging higher by 7000, but still historically low at 265K.

 

The Bad

  • ISM non manufacturing registered at 54.8, down from 57.1 in September and missing expectations. Calculated Risk has the story, highlighting a comment in the report about the effect of uncertainty from the Presidential election.

The Ugly

The last days of a very personal and negative election campaign. Scott Grannis called for a “mulligan.” (For non-golfers, a complete do-over). I would probably just slice another drive into the rough! If you want to change outcomes, you must be willing to reform the process and go to work on your swing. In such a long election season, campaign managers finally resort to techniques that are proven to influence the undecided and the faithful. You and I might be turned off, but we are not the target market.

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 winner is Bill McBride of Calculated Risk. Debunking recession calls is not popular. It is not the way to get page views. Please read Bill’s entire post to see the full story about the endless parade of recession calls. Here are some of the key points:

Note: I’ve made one recession call since starting this blog.  One of my predictions for 2007 was a recession would start as a result of the housing bust (made it by one month – the recession started in December 2007).  That prediction was out of the consensus for 2007 and, at the time, ECRI was saying a “recession is no longer a serious concern”.  Ouch.

For the last 6+ years [now 7+ years], there have been an endless parade of incorrect recession calls. The most reported was probably the multiple recession calls from ECRI in 2011 and 2012.

In May of [2015], ECRI finally acknowledged their incorrect call, and here is their admission : The Greater Moderation

In line with the old adage, “never say never,” [ECRI’s] September 2011 U.S. recession forecast did turn out to be a false alarm.

I disagreed with that call in 2011; I wasn’t even on recession watch!

And here is another call [last December] via CNBC: US economy recession odds ’65 percent’: Investor

Raoul Pal, the publisher of The Global Macro Investor, reiterated his bearishness … “The economic situation is deteriorating fast.” … [The ISM report] “is showing that the U.S. economy is almost at stall speed now,” Pal said. “It gives us a 65 percent chance of a recession in the U.S..

The manufacturing sector has been weak, and contracted in the US in November due to a combination of weakness in the oil sector, the strong dollar and some global weakness.  But this doesn’t mean the US will enter a recession.

The last time the index contracted was in 2012 (no recession), and has shown contraction a number of times outside of a recession.

Bill cites this chart:

Bob Dieli also made both of those calls in real time, as he has been doing for a few decades. His work goes mostly to private clients. It helps all of us to monitor objective sources like this. They benefit only from being right.

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 light week for economic data, but some important earnings reports for retail stocks. I watch everything on the calendar, so you do not need to! Check out WTWA to focus on what is important – and ignore the noise.

The “A” List

  • JOLTs report (M). Few understand, but the main use is labor market structure.
  • Michigan Sentiment (F). Has been weaker than the Conference Board version. An important indicator.
  • Initial claims (Th). The best concurrent indicator for employment trends.

The “B” List

  • Wholesale inventories (W). Volatile and challenging to interpret. Rebound expected.
  • Crude inventories (W). Recently showing even more impact on oil prices. Rightly or wrongly, that spills over to stocks.

     

More important than the economic data will be continuing earnings news. We also have almost daily Fedspeak and plenty of international events and speeches. And most important of all – the election.

Next Week’s Theme

 

With increasing uncertainty about the election outcome and resulting policies, markets pushed the trading range lower over the last two weeks. Eddy Elfenbein describes this as an extended period of small lower moves. Each of the daily declines has been less than 0.7%. During the same period, the economy has been showing signs of acceleration. Eddy provides a helpful chart:

Earnings have also been solid in the face of the longest market losing streak in 36 years.

I expect discussion of the election and the implications of the results to be the key market question:

Will we finally get some clarity?

The possible election results are not binary. There is a wide range of possible outcomes, listed below from bearish to bullish. Please note that I am not opining about who I want to win or how you should vote. I am reporting how the market will probably react under differing circumstances, with some references for you to start your own research.

  • No clear result. We might think it’s over when it’s over, but that might not be the case. (Robert Schroeder, MarketWatch)
    • Some states might require recounts, either automatic by state law or after a challenge.
    • A third-party candidate might win the electoral votes of one state in a close split between the major parties. That is the explicit objective of candidate Evan McMullin.
    • Trump and /or supporters might challenge the outcome, possibly with some legal basis. Most people will remember the Bush/Gore controversy and the infamous “hanging chads.”
    • The Supreme Court decided that dispute, splitting along partisan lines. Right now, that would be a 4-4 vote, placing emphasis on how states and lower courts decided.
  • A Trump victory. Estimates are that the market would decline by 5-7%, mostly because of increased uncertainty. Many market participants believe that Trump economic and regulatory policies would be market-friendly. (CNBC)
  • A Democratic sweep with a majority in both houses of Congress. The perception, possibly not accurate, is that this would allow a much more aggressive legislative agenda. This is probably not accurate because of the filibuster potential in the Senate. Cloture currently requires 60 (out of 100) votes. This serves to block nearly everything that does not have solid overall support. Making it more complicated is the idea of the “nuclear option” where the cloture requirement would be reduced. (Barbara Kollmeyer, MarketWatch)
  • Divided control — a Clinton Presidential victory with Republicans maintaining control of one or both houses of Congress. Markets have generally liked a deadlocked government. (Allianz)

Which of these will happen? Join in the comments with your thoughts about the election implications. As always, I’ll have a few ideas of my own in the conclusion.

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.

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

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

Doug Short: The Big Four Update, the World Markets Weekend Update (and much more).

Georg Vrba: The Business Cycle Indicator, and much more. Check out his site for an array of interesting methods. Georg regularly analyzes Bob Dieli’s enhanced aggregate spread, considering when it might first give a recession signal. Georg thinks it is still a year away. It is interesting to watch this approach along with our weekly monitoring of the C-Score.

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.

 

How to Use WTWA (important for new readers)

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

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

My objective is to help all readers, so I provide several free resources. Just write to info at newarc dot com. We will send whatever you request. We never share your email address with others, and send only what you seek. (Like you, we hate spam!) Free reports include the following:

  • Understanding Risk – what we all should know.
  • Income investing – better yield than the standard dividend portfolio, and less risk.
  • Holmes and friends – the top artificial intelligence techniques in action.
  • Why it is a great time to own for Value Stocks – finding cheap stocks based on long-term earnings.

You can also check out my website for Tips for Individual Investors, and a discussion of the biggest market fears. (I welcome questions on this subject. What scares you?)

Best Advice for the Week Ahead

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

Insight for Traders

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

Felix and Holmes

We continue with a strongly bullish market forecast. Felix is fully invested. Oscar holds several aggressive sectors. The more cautious Holmes also remains fully invested. They now have a regular Thursday night discussion, which they call the “Stock Exchange.” This week the gang came up with some contrarian, pre-election ideas. You can see the best technical analysis – and you can ask questions!

Top Trading Advice

 

Brett Steenbarger cites that noted trading guru, Bruce Lee, to illustrate our need to be flexible in trading.

In another post he emphasizes the need to ask the right questions. As he often does, this is a good technique for other life missions, not just trading. He uses an excellent specific example of VIX trading.

Options expert Bill Luby sheds some light on VIX trading, a widely misunderstood topic. He explains the difference between “median reversion” and using five-year moving averages. I doubt that most have event considered this significance.

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 Ben Carlson’s post, Don’t Be Afraid of All-Time Highs in the Stock Market. This is a concern that you see often, because many people equate a high level of the index with “expensive.” It is also true that declines begin from a peak. Forgotten in this is that most peaks lead to new peaks! Here is a key table:

And a key quotation:

Here’s also another way to think about this — since nearly 7% of all days since 1950 have been an all-time high that means that more than 93% of the time the stock market is in a drawdown state from a previous peak. So 9 times out of 10 you are going to be beating yourself up for not selling at the previous high. This is what makes the markets so interesting and excruciating all at the same time. Most of the time you’re in a state of regret.

Stock Ideas

 

Many people are mystified by the PEG ratio. Chuck Carnevale does a deep dive on the derivation and provides examples to show when and how it should be applied. If you invest in growth stocks, this is a must-read article with many ideas.

Brian Gilmartin draws upon the changes in earnings estimates to highlight attractive sectors for Q416. This is extremely helpful work, and worth a close read. Hint: Technology and Financials.

Is health care a sector to avoid or to embrace? Eddy Elfenbein comments on the decline in the group since July, 2015.

Our trading model, Holmes, has joined our other models in a weekly market discussion. Each one has a different “personality” and I get to be the human doing fundamental analysis. We have an enjoyable discussion every week, with four or five specific ideas that we are also buying. This week Holmes likes Biomarin (NKE). Check out the post, Stock Exchange: Contrarian Pre-Election Trade Ideas in Chips, Biotech, Trucking, and Energy, for my own reaction, and more information about the Holmes method.

While we cannot verify the suitability of specific stocks for everyone who is a reader, the ideas have worked well so far. My hope is that it will be a good starting point for your own research. Holmes may exit a position at any time. If you want more information about the exits, just sign up via holmes at newarc dot com. You will get an email update whenever we sell an announced position.

How about housing? Barry Ritholtz has a great post highlighting the big best on housing by one of those who called the decline and has now switched sides, fund manager Donald Mullen. The entire post is worth reading, but here is the key argument:

Given how wary some people are of homeownership, why should we be thinking about demand strengthening? Here are a few possibilities:

  • Millennials seem to be moving out of their parents’ basements, and forming households;
  • Mortgage rates are starting to rise, and the potential for further rate increases could lead potential buyers to getting off the fence;
  • Low equity constrains inventory; that drives up rental demand as well as prices;
  • The economy continues to recover and even expand;
  • Unemployment has been about 5 percent for about a year, and wage increases are finally beginning.

All of these add up to an increase in the number of households, including renters — many of whom go on to become buyers.

This is also what we see from the Calculated Risk reporting on home prices, consistently higher but with room to run.

Personal Finance

Professional investors and traders have been making Abnormal Returns a daily stop for over ten years. If you are a serious investor managing your own account, you should join us in adding this to your daily reading. Every investor should make time for a weekly trip on Wednesday. Tadas always has first-rate links for investors in his weekly special edition. There are always several great choices worth reading. My personal favorite this week is the story about how even math teachers cannot understand 403-b annuities. Tara Siegel Bernard explains in the NYT. I have a lot of experience with people who come to me, seeking to escape something that sounded great at the time. The products are fine for some people, but because of high commissions are sold to many more. Anyone considering an annuity needs some advice ahead of time.

Another good piece is the Barron’s Next article on excessive concentration in stock of your own company. I have seen millionaires lose everything that way.

Seeking Alpha Editor Gil Weinreich’s market is the community of financial advisors, but it also attracts spirited comments from investors. I especially enjoyed this post featuring retired RIA Jim Sloan. The topic is one I rarely cover in WTWA – spending. I focus on clients’ investment plans; these must match their spending needs. Sometimes it is better to find a few economies than to take excessive risk.

Morgan Housel pulls together some themes that are among my favorites. It is a good explanation of why even the smartest individual investors go wrong. Hint: You are good enough to explain why it is not working and toward complex solutions.

Watch out for…

Facebook? Marc Gerstein provides an interesting and balanced analysis, driven by his quantitative methods.

Final Thoughts

 

The election outcomes that the market sees as most distressing are extremely unlikely. The best sources I follow suggest a Clinton victory, a toss-up in the Senate, and the GOP retaining the House. These are not partisan pollsters, but those who benefit only from accurate interpretation of data. Here are the key sources and a starting link. The message changes with new information, as we would expect. Barring any fresh news, the outcome has a high probability.

Larry J. Sabato of the University of Virginia Center for Politics.

Nate Silver, a numbers guru with respect from the Political Science community.

Sam Wang and the Princeton Election Consortium. Their method of median-based probability estimation is interesting and plausible.

The resulting gridlock will be perceived as positive. That will be true only if our leaders learn to compromise. There are decisions ahead that require action.

The first market reaction will be positive, if only because the worst cases were avoided and the uncertainty ended. Hedge fund managers who have lagged the market and are hoping to catch up via big short positions will need to cover. Based upon trader commentary and performance reports, this is a large group.

The second reaction will be sector and stock specific, and it will take time. Most of the financial punditry does not realize the limitations on Presidential power. I expect changes in drug pricing policies, for example, but not a sweep against an entire sector. The targets will be the most egregious excesses.

I understand that many people will disagree with these conclusions, despite my care in identifying sources. They will have theories about bad polls, hidden voters, and the like. I recommend reading this post. It is fine to keep cheering for your candidates until the last vote is tallied, but you do not have to lose money as well.

Weighing the Week Ahead: When Will the Trading Range Be Broken?

We have normal week for economic data, including the first estimate for Q3 GDP. There are also important earnings reports. Election stories have become even more intense. Meanwhile, the market has been pretty quiet. I expect financial media to be asking:

When will the trading range be broken?

Personal Notes

I will be traveling next week and probably will not write WTWA.

I have completed my new paper, The Top Twelve Investor Pitfalls – and How to Avoid Them. Readers of WTWA can get a copy by sending an email to info at newarc dot com. We will not share your email address with anyone.

Last Week

Last week’s news was pretty good, despite the modest reaction in stocks.

Theme Recap

In my last WTWA, I predicted more attention to the “stealth market rotation.” This idea got a little attention on Monday from the Pundit-in-Chief, but that was all. The rotation was less pronounced and the competing stories were good ones.

The Story in One Chart

I always start my personal review of the week by looking at this great chart from Doug Short. Stocks had a slightly positive week, but the real story is the continuation of a very narrow trading range.

Doug has a special knack for pulling together all of the relevant information. His charts save more than a thousand words! Read his entire post where he adds analysis grounded in data and several more charts providing long-term perspective.

The News

Each week I break down events into good and bad. Often there is an “ugly” and on rare occasion something really good. 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!

The Good

  • Building permits rose and beat expectations. But housing starts declined (see below). New Deal Democrat analyzes this contrast and the effect on his leading indicators.
  • Philly Fed also beat expectations.
  • Existing home sales rose 3.2%. Calculated Risk is the go-to source on housing, and Bill continues his analysis of the effects of the small inventory. This concept is essential to understanding housing trends.

  • Industrial production registered a (small) increase of 0.1%. Steven Hansen notes that the year-over-year figure is still in contraction.
  • Hotel occupancy still on pace to be the second best year in history. (Calculated Risk)
  • Earnings season shows continuing strength. FactSet reports that 78% of S&P 500 companies are beating earnings estimates and 65% beating on sales. Take a look at the entire analysis. Here are two interesting takeaways.

The Bad

  • Rail traffic continues to decline, even when coal and grain are excluded from the data. Steven Hansen does a thorough analysis of the trends.
  • Jobless claims edged 13K higher, moving away from recent lows.
  • Housing starts declined and missed estimates. The annual rate was 1.047 million. Calculated Risk discusses and notes that his prediction at the start of the year, growth of 4-8% still looks about right.

 

The Ugly

Increased hacking. Yesterday’s widespread outage attacked a domain name service, according to MarketWatch. Engadget says, Blame the Internet of Things and provides the map below. The hacking began with home devices which often have weak security protocols. With that entry, the distributed denial of service attack took down a list of major sites, including “Twitter, Spotify, Reddit, The New York Times, Pinterest, and PayPal.”

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 Ryan Detrick of LPL Research. I am showing the power of his work via the two key charts, but reading the entire post will help you to spot these things on your own.

 

The Week Ahead

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

The Calendar

We have a normal week for economic data, along with many important earnings reports. I watch everything on the calendar, so you do not need to! Check out WTWA to focus on what is really important – and ignore the noise.

The “A” List

  • New home sales (T). Continuing strength needed.
  • Consumer confidence (T). The Conference Board version spiked last month. Few expect the gains to hold?
  • GDP for Q3 (F). Even though this is backward looking, it will get plenty of media attention in front of the election.
  • Michigan Sentiment (F). Has been weaker than the Conference Board version. An important indicator.
  • Initial claims (Th). The best concurrent indicator for employment trends.

The “B” List

  • Pending home sales (Th). Not as important as new homes for immediate economic effect, but a good market indicator.
  • Durable goods (Th). Volatile September data, but important for the overall assessment of the economy.
  • Existing home sales (Th). Without the impact of new homes, but still a good read on the overall housing market.
  • Crude inventories (W). Recently showing even more impact on oil prices. Rightly or wrongly, that spills over to stocks.

     

More important than the economic data will be continuing earnings news. We also have almost daily Fedspeak and plenty of international events and speeches. And of course…the candidates.

Next Week’s Theme

Despite the many events that normally increase volatility, the stock market has traded in a narrow range. There is an increasing sense that “something’s got to give.” The exact cause and timing remain unclear, but the obvious choice is Election Day.

I expect an active discussion about a looming market question:

When will the trading range be broken?

Here is a chart of the market over the last year:

If you look at mid-July through today, you can see that the trading range has been quite narrow.

Now let’s turn to the sequence of topics I have written about in the last two months. These remind us of what we were thinking and worrying about each week.

  • Possible rate increase after Jackson Hole 8/28
  • Chance of an Autumn Correction 9/3
  • Should we fear the Fed? 9/11
  • Is the bond correction at hand? 9/18
  • Election effects on the market 9/25
  • Time to get past the gloom? 10/2
  • Earnings recession over? 10/9
  • Market rotation at hand? 10/16

Despite this list of challenges, stocks have held up pretty well.

Many are expecting the trading range to be broken soon. But in which direction?

Election predictions range from a surprise, Brexit-style victory for Mr. Trump to a Democratic sweep. The markets seem to favor a Clinton victory, but a continuation of divided government, mostly because of reduced uncertainty.

At the beginning of the year I wrote that the investment effects of this election were smaller than most would expect. The President has much less power to change policy than most people think – especially in the face of a Senate filibuster. Either candidate would need to forge alliances with the other party to make major changes. OppenheimerFunds has some interesting comments about surprises from past elections, and advice for investors this time.

Data indicate that many are not following this advice. A BlackRock survey (via Financial Advisor IQ) found that 53% of investors have raised their allocation to cash because of the “persistent volatility.” The Presidential election gets credit as a major cause.

The perceived volatility is completely wrong – certainly for the last few months, and also for several years. If you missed my post on testing your Confirmation Bias Quotient, you might want to take a look. Something is causing many investors to perceive volatility that is not really there.

Bloomberg reports that investor cash levels have not been seen since 9/11.

Join in the comments with your ideas on when the trading range will be broken, and in which direction. As always, I’ll have a few ideas of my own in the conclusion.

Quant Corner

We follow some regular great sources and also 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.

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

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

Doug Short: The Big Four Update, 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 a number of interesting approaches to asset allocation.

Georg Vrba: The Business Cycle Indicator, and much more. Check out his site for an array of interesting methods. Georg regularly analyzes Bob Dieli’s enhanced aggregate spread, considering when it might first give a recession signal. Georg thinks it is still a year away. It is interesting to watch this approach along with our weekly monitoring of the C-Score.

“Davidson” (via Todd Sullivan): An excellent, understandable description of the interest rate cycle and its close association with recessions. The description of the factors we can expect to see before a recession will come — someday. Here is a key quote and chart:

Recessions, for the most part, in my opinion, are predictable. The rate spread between T-Bills and the 10yr Treasury is 1.20% today or 120bps (basis points). Based on history, lending continues, a relatively high level of pessimism continues and so does economic expansion. The rate spread is only one of several economic measures we have available that indicates economic expansion is likely to continue for several years.

 

How to Use WTWA (important for new readers)

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

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

My objective is to help all readers, so I provide a number of free resources. Just write to info at newarc dot com. We will send whatever you request. We never share your email address with others, and send only what you seek. (Like you, we hate spam!) Free reports include the following:

  • Understanding Risk – what we all should know.
  • Income investing – better yield than the standard dividend portfolio, and also less risk.
  • Holmes and friends – the top artificial intelligence techniques in action.
  • Why it is a great time to own for Value Stocks – finding cheap stocks based on long-term earnings.

You can also check out my website for Tips for Individual Investors, and a discussion of the biggest market fears. (I welcome questions on this subject. What scares you?)

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 also the best advice from sources we follow.

Felix and Holmes

We continue with a strongly bullish market forecast. Felix is fully invested. Oscar holds several aggressive sectors. The more cautious Holmes also remains fully invested. They now have a regular Thursday night discussion, which they call the “Stock Exchange.” This is the place to get some ideas from the best technical analysis – and you can ask questions!

Top Trading Advice

 

Brett Steenbarger provides a checklist to help you determine if you are “operating in peak performance.” As he often does, Dr. Brett has raised a point that few people think about. This is one that could make a big difference – and not just for traders.

The Trading Goddess considers pot stocks for an election trade.

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 “Davidson” (via Todd Sullivan) and the analysis of current market fears. It is a post packed with good ideas, one of which is in the quant corner as well.

The past 12mos has seen many a ‘high profile’ investor forecast that a recession is imminent. This is the consensus view. Some claim it is driven by economic weakness from one area or another. There are still claims that employment is weak when it is at record highs. Others claim that retail sales and personal income (wage growth) are nearly unchanged for more than a decade. Not so! They are much better. Then, there are those who claim that recoveries only last a certain number of years before they expire. Not so! Finally, there are some who claim no recovery has occurred and that the SP500 is only higher because interest rates are so low, i.e. high stock prices are only supported by the Federal Reserve keeping interest rates at historical lows. Definitely, not so! The range of commentary covers a broad spectrum, but remains pessimistic just the same.

Please take a few minutes to read this valuable post.

Income Ideas

 

Many investors are looking for income stocks. Rightly worried about the valuation and downside risk of utilities, they seek alternatives. Some have joined us in buying sound, conservative stocks and writing near-term calls against the position. This can generate an excellent yield and is safer than owning the stocks alone. It is a lot safer than a basket of utilities.

REITs present another alternative. The trick is to find those that have some ability to hold up in the face of interest rate hikes. Brad Thomas has been writing on this topic, presenting several good ideas. This week it is Apple Hospitality (APLE). I have been adding some REITs to the yield portion of our client portfolios. Like Brad, we include analysis from Chuck Carnevale’s F.A.S.T. graphs as part of our research.

David Fish has an interesting article on dividend increases anticipated before the end of the year. There is also a link to his updated list of dividend champions.

Stock Ideas

Lee Jackson writes about three “red-hot chip stocks.” These interesting ideas are based upon a research report from highly-regarded chip analyst Will Stein (SunTrust Robinson Humphrey).

Our trading model, Holmes, has joined our other models in a weekly market discussion. Each one has a different “personality” and I get to be the human doing fundamental analysis. We have an enjoyable discussion every week, with four or five specific ideas that we are also buying. This week Holmes likes Nike (NKE). Check out the post for my own reaction, and more information about the Holmes method.

While we cannot verify the suitability of specific stocks for everyone who is a reader, the ideas have worked well so far. My hope is that it will be a good starting point for your own research. Holmes may exit a position at any time. If you want more information about the exits, just sign up via holmes at newarc dot com. You will get an email update whenever we sell an announced position.

Dillard’s, Inc. (DDS): Has The Pendulum Swung Too Far? Asks Mitchell Mauer. I especially like to recommend articles that are backed by good analysis. Here you can see both pros and cons. It follows a method that is quite useful in selecting stocks.

Is the selling in Gilead Sciences overdone? Stone Fox Capital notes the falling analyst recommendations despite strong earnings. Should the stock really be trading at a multiple of 6. The net payout (stock buybacks plus dividends) is now almost 18%.

Personal Finance

Professional investors and traders have been making Abnormal Returns a daily stop for over ten years. If you are a serious investor managing your own account, you should join us in adding this to your daily reading. Every investor should make time for a weekly trip on Wednesday. Tadas always has first-rate links for investors in his weekly special edition. There are always several great choices worth reading. My personal favorite this week is the “lucky versus good” analysis from Jonathan Clements. He writes:

The problem: We typically judge our financial choices by a single, crude yardstick—whether they make or lose us money. But that measure of success or failure can result in faulty feedback that validates bad behavior. Consider three examples……

Check out the whole post for the examples and an excellent lesson.

Millennial Investors

Barron’s introduces a new site aimed at “a new generation of investors.” There is a combination of advice and some stock ideas. I enjoyed the article about why Apple Pay is more secure than a credit card. They also introduce “The Next 50 Index” with stocks geared toward Millennials.

And from another source – this provides some inspiration about our changing habits.

Final Thoughts

There are several points to keep in mind:

  • The market has been resilient in the face of challenges. Look again at the chart. The worrying seasonal predictions have all been wrong – as January goes, sell in May, September as the worst month. We now approach the period of greatest seasonal strength.
  • The earnings recession seems to be at an end. Forward earnings are trending higher.
  • There is no sign of an economic recession – just more of the same slow growth.
  • Consumer confidence is still strong.
  • Energy prices are back in a range where the threat to producers has been reduced and the consumer prices remain modest.

What is needed to spark a change? The biggest item is increased investment by business. Surveys continue to show caution among these leaders, even when their own business is doing well. When there are specific events to worry about, it is easy (and seems wise) to defer decisions.

Acclaimed system developer, author, and hedge fund manager Ralph Vince summarized the situation with a bold call in a post at Daily Speculations:

Regardless of who wins this election, this market is going to rip to the upside — and I can be quite certain of that without even looking at the numbers, just the very tentative nature of nearly everyone around it. I’ve smelled this dish cooking before, and so have a lot of folks on this site.

How is that for a contrarian position?

What is Your Confirmation Bias Quotient?

Most thoughtful investors know and understand the concept of confirmation bias. Very briefly put, we selectively perceive and choose evidence that supports our existing beliefs. It is a powerful natural process. Everyone is susceptible.

 

Morgan Housel has a good challenge: “What’s something you strongly believe that’s likely wrong?” He has a wonderful description of the key problem:

 

And while most of us are OK being told we don’t know everything, being told we have a lazy thought process is hard to interpret as anything but an insult.

So we have the ultimate cognitive dissonance: Fully aware that we’re wrong about something but unable to admit being wrong about anything.

 

Unfortunately for the decision maker, fixing the process is the key to better results. There are various discussions about how to avoid confirmation bias, but they are pretty general and not well-linked to investment decisions. Even worse, many investment discussions descend into an argument about who is biased, instead of an intelligent discussion of the facts.

 

Since it is not easy to detect your own biases, I have devised a Confirmation Bias Quotient to help. I have scaled the test so that high is good.

 

  1. Anecdotes. If you pay a lot of attention to specific stories and examples, give yourself -3. Illustrations can add color to conclusions, but when used as the basic level of analysis if is too easy to find supporting narratives.
  2. Specific examples. Similar to #1 but probably even more common. How do you interpret information during earnings season? If you pay a lot of attention to news reports on specific companies, give yourself -3. (It does not matter whether the stories are positive or negative; -3 either way).
  3. Symbols. If you find yourself drawn to colorful or graphic symbols of events – new paradigm, stall speed, stagnation, or anything similar pointing in any political direction – give yourself -2. If you completely reject analysis of data, take an additional -2.
  4. Demonstrably biased data. Examples are things like ShadowStats, where there has been compelling and responsible refutation, without response, on several occasions. Or like the idea that over 90 million people in the U.S. are without work. There is a legitimate debate about some data, but a general rejection of this type indicates a preference for conclusions before evidence. Take -2 if you find these arguments credible.
  5. Emphasizing unimportant data. Choosing to use data rather than stories is a good step. The problem is that there are so many indicators, and most of them have little significance. If you are looking at the Markit PMI (for Europe, China, or the U.S.), or regional diffusion indexes like Empire or Dallas, give yourself -1. There are so many of these that you can find anything you want, and none of them are established as really important.
  6. Embracing biased interpretations. This happens so frequently that I can only give examples. Suppose that a source complains about seasonal adjustments one month, but not another. Or emphasizes sentiment measures only when pointing in the preferred direction. Or emphasizes some specific factor (birth/death adjustment, core measure versus headline) only when it fits their message. It is pretty easy to spot such sources if you look for them. If you find yourself in this camp, take another -1.
  7. Relying upon biased or weak sources. Mr. Buffett said that you should not ask your barber if you need a haircut. Why ask a bond guy about stocks? Or an emerging market manager about bonds? Or a hedge fund manager, who is not really there to help you, about anything? If you do not have a high level of skepticism about sources, take another -1.

 

If you are really mired in bias, you could have a score of negative 15 at this point. Let us turn to the positive factors. Each is worth a possible +5 points, for a total of +20.

 

  1. A willingness to separate your evaluation of the economy and investments from your personal political beliefs.
  2. Finding the most important economic indicators and sticking with them, even when they convey a message that feels wrong to you.
  3. Discovering sources that have demonstrated expertise and track records in the relevant subject.
  4. Being willing to read carefully the analysis of experts with differing viewpoints.

 

The Test is one of Process, not Conclusions

 

A crucial point: You may well reach a consistent bearish or bullish conclusion without significant confirmation bias. The test is about your information, method, and process — not about conclusions. Different experts can look at the same data and reach different conclusions. In my weekly WTWA column I carefully follow all four of the positive factors listed, and strive to maintain a high CB quotient. It happens that my conclusions have been correctly bullish. Some erroneously believe that this reflects bias. Not so. If the evidence changes, so will my conclusions. Why shift from a winning method for “cosmetic” reasons?

 

Scoring the Test

 

If your score is negative, your biases are costing you money. My estimate is that 70% of investors would have a negative score on this test.

If you have even a small positive score you are actively seeking objectivity – probably in the top 20% of all investors.

If your score is above +10, you are doing a very good job of seeking evidence. Your investment results probably reflect this!

 

Weighing the Week Ahead: Has the Market Rotation Begun?

We have normal week for economic data, and a big week for earnings reports. The last Presidential debate will grab headlines. We have been monitoring these factors for weeks, but something new is showing up in the data. Let’s call it a “stealth rotation” from bonds to stocks and from bond substitutes to less favored stocks. If the punditry carefully watches the data, they will be asking:

Has a market rotation begun?

 

Last Week

Last week’s news was pretty good, despite the negative reaction in stocks.

Theme Recap

In my last WTWA, I predicted special attention to the early earnings reports and questions about whether the earnings recession was ending. That was a reasonable guess, although most of the commentary seemed to focus on a couple of big earnings misses. There was also plenty of competition from some surprising China data, the ongoing Fed debate, and of course, the election news.

The Story in One Chart

I always start my personal review of the week by looking at this great chart from Doug Short. Stocks had a negative week. You can see the opening gap on Thursday after the Chinese trade data, and also Friday’s failed rally.

Doug has a special knack for pulling together all of the relevant information. His charts save more than a thousand words! Read his entire post where he adds analysis grounded in data and several more charts providing long-term perspective.

The News

Each week I break down events into good and bad. Often there is an “ugly” and on rare occasion something really good. 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!

The Good

  • JOLTS continues to show a solid labor market. Chair Yellen uses it as a signal for a tight labor market. The healthy “quit rate” shows that many people are comfortable in voluntarily leaving jobs. Some reports focused strictly on the number of job openings, which is a poor use of the data.

  • Initial jobless claims also show labor market strength.

  • Retail sales provided the week’s best economic news, rising 0.6%, the best increase in three months. (Bloomberg)
  • Corporate earnings nicely beat expectations. FactSet has some interesting early data – 76% of the reporting companies have beaten earnings expectations and 62% have beaten on sales.

 

The Bad

  • Import container counts are again lower. Steven Hansen (GEI) smooths out the effects of the Hanjin Shipping bankruptcy and finds a troubling trend. Does it portend weak holiday spending? The chart below is the year-over-year change in the three month moving average.

  • Chinese exports and imports both declined more than expected.
  • Q3 GDP estimates edge lower as more data is reported. Calculated Risk summarizes the move from various sources. Here is one example:

  • Michigan consumer sentiment slips to 87.9 in the October preliminary report. Jill Mislinski updates the story and the terrific Doug Short chart combining multiple elements of the story in a single look.

The Ugly

The political sideshow. There were polls to determine the “winner” of the debate. Not so long ago debates were seen as a way for the trailing candidate to show equality of stature – same stage, same rules, etc. Many challengers have used this effectively. It is also a way to demonstrate that a “Presidential” image. If an expert from years ago, without any context, read the transcript of this “town hall forum” debate s/he would not believe it. Campaigns are ever-more focused on the undecided or uncommitted voters, especially in the key states. Suppose for a moment that these voters may not have been the ones sitting at the front of the class. What do we expect the campaigns to do? The sound bite negative ads are one approach, but this is reaching a whole new level – and not a high one.

The most important thing you can do as an investor is to vote your conscience while still using sound, unemotional judgement concerning your personal finances.

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 welcome. I also note that Dr. Ed Yardeni joined us in applauding the Justin Lahart article on CAPE. Dr. Ed provides his own thoughts about market valuation and the advantages of forward earnings.

I am not a fan of valuation measures based on trailing earnings, especially if they trail over the past 10 years. I believe that the stock market is forward looking and discounts analysts’ consensus expectations for earnings over the year ahead. More specifically, I use S&P 500 12-month forward consensus expected operating earnings, which is a time-weighted average of analysts’ expectations for the current year and the coming one.

The Week Ahead

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

The Calendar

We have a fairly big week for economic data, as well as earnings reports. I watch everything on the calendar, so you do not need to! Check out WTWA to focus on what is really important – and ignore the noise.

The “A” List

  • Housing starts and building permits (W). Important forward looking data on a crucial sector.
  • Industrial production (M). Volatile September data. Any sign of a rebound from last month’s loss?
  • Fed Beige Book (W). Prepared for the next FOMC meeting, this provides color from each Fed district, going beyond the data.
  • Leading indicators (Th). Widely followed, despite some controversy. Rebound expected from last month’s negative reading.
  • Initial claims (Th). The best concurrent indicator for employment trends.

The “B” List

  • Existing home sales (Th). Without the impact of new homes, but still a good read on the overall housing market.
  • CPI (T). Inflation is still not very important, and it will not be until there are a few higher months.
  • Philly Fed (Th). Has earned some respect as one of the few regional indicators that can move markets. The first October data.
  • Crude inventories (W). Often has a significant impact on oil markets, a focal point for traders of everything.

 

More important than the economic data will be continuing earnings news.

Next Week’s Theme

The Presidential campaign and the final debate continue to dominate the news. The regular economic data this week include important leading indicators about housing. These will not get the attention deserved. Corporate earnings reports will also get some attention, but the emphasis seems to be on spectacular “misses.” Did you even realize that the earnings season is positive so far? Unless you look at the FactSet data, you would not know.

Through this haze there have been a few glimmers of a new trend. If you are alert, you will see more attention to the question:

Has a market rotation begun?

There is some evidence.

  • The ten-year note has moved noticeably higher while the yield curve has steepened.
  • Utilities are losing ground while banks are gaining. Brian Gilmartin astutely asks, whether banks are assuming that role.
  • Economic skepticism remains intense – but perhaps the result of the election. Chris Matthews (Fortune) notes that concern about the economy has grown even as data show improvement.

    …a voter’s political beliefs and the overall political environment instead drives how they feel about their economic circumstances.

    There’s no better way to interpret the latest results from the latest Marketplace-Edison Research Poll, which showed that 30% percent of Americans are very fearful they will lose their job in the next six months, up 10% from last year.

And also….

A particularly telling figure in this year’s survey: While 37% of those surveyed said their personal economic situation has improved over the past year—versus 21.5% who said it got worse—just 30.3% said the overall economy improved. What’s more, 36.9% said it got worse.

If more people’s financial situation improved than deteriorated, why do more people think it’s the opposite for the economy in general?

As always, I’ll have a few ideas of my own in the conclusion.

Quant Corner

We follow some regular great sources and also 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.

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

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

Doug Short: The Big Four Update, 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 a number of interesting approaches to asset allocation.

Georg Vrba: The Business Cycle Indicator, and much more. Check out his site for an array of interesting methods. Georg regularly analyzes Bob Dieli’s enhanced aggregate spread, considering when it might first give a recession signal. Georg thinks it is still a year away. It is interesting to watch this approach along with our weekly monitoring of the C-Score. This week Georg also updates his unemployment-based indicator, still not signaling a recession as you can see from the chart below.

GEI reports that the ECRI’s growth index remains solid, despite a marginal fall last week. Meanwhile, the ECRI continues its prediction of “stagflation lite” and Fed criticism.

This is a good time to review the St. Louis Financial Stress Index – vastly superior to anecdotes and headlines.

 

How to Use WTWA (important for new readers)

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

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

My objective is to help all readers, so I provide a number of free resources. Just write to info at newarc dot com. We will send whatever you request. We never share your email address with others, and send only what you seek. (Like you, we hate spam!) Free reports include the following:

  • Understanding Risk – what we all should know.
  • Income investing – better yield than the standard dividend portfolio, and also less risk.
  • Holmes and friends – the top artificial intelligence techniques in action.
  • Why it is a great time to own for Value Stocks – finding cheap stocks based on long-term earnings.

You can also check out my website for Tips for Individual Investors, and a discussion of the biggest market fears. (I welcome questions on this subject. What scares you?)

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 also the best advice from sources we follow.

Felix and Holmes

We continue with a strongly bullish market forecast. Felix is fully invested. Oscar holds several aggressive sectors. The more cautious Holmes also remains fully invested. They now have a regular Thursday night discussion, which they call the “Stock Exchange.” This is the place to get some ideas from the best technical analysis – and you can ask questions!

Top Trading Advice

Brett Steenbarger reminds us that we should always consider what we would be doing if not trading. Is it a good choice? He also highlights an interesting trading contest for women. It leads both to prizes and to job opportunities. While performance is measured, the criteria do not encouraging taking wild shots. You can still apply, but do so right away if interested since the contest has started.

Do you have an edge in your trading? Do you have a tested, trusted system? Adam H. Grimes describes this important first step for traders as well as what they should do next.

If you don’t meet Adam’s tests, you should definitely re-read Dr. Brett’s post!

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 Neal Frankle’s analysis of a client question about real estate versus stocks. In a generic sense, it is a common question faced by nearly everyone. Neal realizes that everyone’s situation differs. Using the couple’s investment goals and time frame, he compares three alternative choices. From this analysis one of the choices is easily eliminated. It is an excellent demonstration of sound contextual analysis. To appreciate the result, you should read the whole post. Here is an intriguing chart:

 

Stock Ideas

Chuck Carnevale’s most recent idea is CVS Health Corporation (CVS). His analysis shows that the stock has moved from overvalued territory to fair value – and with plenty of upside.

Our newest trading model, Holmes, has joined our other models in a weekly market discussion. Each one has a different “personality” and I get to be the human doing fundamental analysis. We have an enjoyable discussion every week, with four or five specific ideas that we are also buying. This week Holmes likes Dexcom (DXCM). Check out the post for my own reaction. And his choice from last week, Air Products and Chemicals (APD), has now been endorsed by Athena. Check out the post to see the other picks, ask questions, and choose your favorite model.

While we cannot verify the suitability of specific stocks for everyone who is a reader, the ideas have worked well so far. My hope is that it will be a good starting point for your own research. Holmes may exit a position at any time. If you want more information about the exits, just sign up via holmes at newarc dot com. You will get an email update whenever we sell an announced position.

Tom Armistead takes a deep dive into the numbers in his study of IBM. Read his post to see why artificial intelligence is a crucial factor.

Lee Jackson recommends four dividend stocks from the defense sector. And also five contrarian picks with good yield.

Personal Finance

Professional investors and traders have been making Abnormal Returns a daily stop for over ten years. The average investor should make time (even if not able to read AR every day as I do) for a weekly trip on Wednesday. Tadas always has first-rate links for investors in his weekly special edition. There are always several great choices worth reading. My personal favorite this week is the Forbes report on a survey of young adults. It is a good read for young people and for investors wanting to understand current trends.

 

Gil Weinreich continues his excellent series for investment advisers, and of great interest to investors as well. He frequently features ideas about best practices for the advisor community. This week he introduced a new contributor, Neal Frankle. It is this week’s “best investment advice.” (And thanks to Gil for mentioning me along with others in his fine group).

Market Outlook

Mark Hulbert notes the seasonal strength typical of year’s end. Could there be a “monster rally?”

 

Final Thoughts

 

There is a continuing gap between perception and reality when it comes to economic progress and risks. This has translated into extremely defensive investment decisions, emphasizing anything that seems to provide yield. The incessant political accusations have made this worse.

The resulting environment encourages stories – even by unbiased journalists – seizing upon the dramatic. I am seeing the “R word” thrown around much more often, and by people without any special experience or track record.

The developing market rotation is still some weeks away from popular recognition, but there are signs it is getting closer. This Bloomberg interview with Tom Lee is well worth watching. Lee’s market read and forecasts have been excellent for years. He has remained bullish, and for the right reasons. I am encouraged when I see him commenting on the themes that I am also seeing.

One catalyst will be absolute losses in bond mutual funds. Investors are about to learn something important and possibly painful: Bonds and bond substitutes do not come with guarantees.

Weighing the Week Ahead: Is this the End of the “Earnings Recession?”

We face a modest week for economic data. While equity markets remain open, bonds will not trade on Monday (Columbus Day). Yom Kippur begins Tuesday at sundown and extends through the next day. The punditry, fueled by recent revelations as well as Sunday’s debate, will pounce on the election news. With the official start of earnings season on Tuesday and important reports by the end of the week, perhaps we can hope to see a serious market discussion before the week ends. I expect the punditry (eventually) to be asking,

Is the earnings recession over?

Last Week

Last week’s news was very good, although there was little reaction in stocks.

Theme Recap

In my last WTWA, I predicted a shift from the gloomy outlook might be improving as some of the current worries were reduced. That was a good guess for an overall theme. There were quite a few “looking ahead” pieces both on TV and in print. The other news – the election, Brexit, and flash crash news was featured on some days, but it is difficult to plan for that.

The Story in One Chart

I always start my personal review of the week by looking at this great chart from Doug Short. Stocks had a flat week, and stayed within a range of about 1%. CNBC breathlessly noted the “triple digit moves” on several occasions. This is a great illustration of making something out of nothing.

Doug has a special knack for pulling together all of the relevant information. His charts save more than a thousand words! Read his entire post where he adds analysis grounded in data and several more charts providing long-term perspective.

Personal Note

The market is at a crucial point. It is not a time for sitting on the fence. Next weekend Mrs. OldProf (hometown Green Bay) and I are headed to visit her family in Wisconsin, so maybe I should say not a time for being a “deer in the headlights.” I am planning to write next week, but I can’t be sure. Meanwhile, we have a family fight brewing for tomorrow night, with the Presidential debate at the same time as a football game.

Because of the importance, I put extra effort into this week’s WTWA edition, and I hope it is helpful. People are sometimes bashful about reaching out to us with questions. Please feel free to get in touch via main at newarc dot com.

The News

Each week I break down events into good and bad. Often there is an “ugly” and on rare occasion something really good. 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!

The Good

  • Auto sales beat expectations, up 4.7% to an annualized rate of 17.8M. Calculated Risk puts this into perspective.

  • High-frequency indicators remain strong. New Deal Democrat does an excellent weekly update, which I follow regularly. His latest report shows the strength in both long-leading and short-term indicators. The concurrent indicators are mixed. Reading this post helps to understand why many using less data are more confused about the market.
  • A shortage of truck drivers? A $5000 bonus is available. Another among the many small, unremarked indicators which I follow. (Tyler Cowen)
  • Home prices up 6.2% over last year according to the CoreLogic index. (GEI)
  • Employment reports were generally positive.

  • Jobless claims dropped to 249K.
  • Labor participation increased, while the unemployment rate also increased from 4.9% to 5%.
  • The work week moved higher.
  • Best of all, hourly earnings increased 0.2% over August and 2.6% year-over-year.
  • The median duration of unemployment is down to 10.3 weeks. (WSJ)

  • ISM Non-Manufacturing made a big jump to 57.1, almost 6 points higher than last month and four points higher than expectations.

The Bad

  • Construction spending fell 0.7%.
  • ADP Private Employment gained only 154K, down from 175K in the prior month and missing expectations. This was worse than the “official” private employment estimate.
  • Commercial real estate index stumbles. Calculated Risk tracks this and provides a good update.

 

The Ugly

My original plan was the poll showing that over 40% of potential voters could not name the Vice-Presidential candidates. With the Presidential campaign in a descending spiral and a violent hurricane, my original idea seems lame. There is plenty of ugly news. We can all hope for a better week ahead.

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 Justin Lahart of the Wall Street Journal for his article, Shiller’s Powerful Market Indicator Is Sending a False Signal About Stocks This Time. The article has an excellent discussion of alternative methodologies, including an alternative profit measure that matched the results quite well until 2008. The Shiller CAPE is widely cited as a justification for not owning stocks, but both Prof. Shiller and his co-developer Prof. Harvey do not use it that way themselves. Here is the key conclusion, drawing upon the work of Prof Damodaran the leading expert on corporate valuation:

For New York University finance professor Aswath Damodaran, this is the real sticking point. He set up a spreadsheet to see if there was a way that using the CAPE could boost returns. When the CAPE was high, it put more money into Treasurys and cash, and when it was low it put more into stocks.

He fiddled with it, allowing for different overvaluation and undervaluation thresholds, changing target allocations. And over the past 50-odd years, he couldn’t find a single way he could make CAPE beat a simple buy-and-hold strategy. In the end, he doesn’t think it represents an improvement over using conventional PEs to value stocks.

“This is one of the most oversold, overhyped metrics I’ve ever seen,” says Mr. Damodaran.

Mr. Shiller agrees that the CAPE can’t be used as a market-timing tool, per se. Rather, he thinks that investors should tilt their portfolios away from individual stocks that have high CAPEs. But he says he isn’t ready to modify his CAPE for judging the overall market.

Attacking the most popular excuse for missing the rally is not a popular position. If only more journalists would step up with this kind of investigation.

 

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 modest week for economic data, with some holiday effects included. While I watch everything on the calendar, you do not need to! Check out WTWA to focus on what is really important – and ignore the noise.

The “A” List

  • FOMC minutes (W). Unlikely to provide fresh news, but will still be watched closely.
  • Michigan sentiment (F). Good read on current employment and spending.
  • Retail sales (F). Rebound in store?
  • Initial claims (Th). The best concurrent indicator for employment trends.

The “B” List

  • PPI (F). Not much is expected. This will not be important until we have a few “hot” months.
  • Business inventories (F). August data, but relevant for GDP calculations.
  • Crude inventories (W). Often has a significant impact on oil markets, a focal point for traders of everything.

 

Other news includes the Presidential debate on Sunday night and the start of earnings season. And of course, near-daily servings of FedSpeak.

Next Week’s Theme

The revelations surrounding the Presidential election campaign are going to dominate the news cycle. Sunday night’s debate will probably fan the flames. With bonds not trading on Monday, stocks will not have that cue. It is possible that these stories will persist, but there is a more important matter: Corporate earnings.

This earnings season could well be a turning point after a long “earnings recession” and a sluggish economy. Stocks have been resilient in the face of bad headlines and seasonal headwinds. Could stronger earnings be the spark for an upside breakout? I expect the pundits to be wondering:

Is this the end of the earnings recession?

There are three basic positions.

  1. Negative. Jim Bianco notes the declining estimates for the quarter and sees parallels to 1987. To be fair, he represents many taking this position. Here is his evidence of the plunging estimates.

  1. Eddy Elfenbein takes a neutral position, noting the trend toward lower earnings. He notes that the picture is much better if you exclude energy.
  2. Brian Gilmartin and FactSet see a possible inflection point. Brian has been the first on this story. Here is his latest analysis. While he is always a good read, it is especially important during earnings season. He provides a lot of analysis on specific stocks. FactSet explains that earnings estimate fall before the season begins, but the final returns beat estimates. Their expectation is that the final reports will break the streak of lower earnings.

The Bianco report seems strange. Surely he knows about the lowered bar and beating expectations. His squiggle chart starts in irrelevant territory and excludes the tail that is obvious in every other quarter. It is difficult for most people to see, exhibiting what I call a high coefficient of obfuscation (TM OldProf). Let us see what really happens. Like 1987? Really?

As always, I’ll have a few ideas of my own in the conclusion.

Quant Corner

We follow some regular great sources and also 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.

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

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

Doug Short: The Big Four Update, 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 a number of interesting approaches to asset allocation.

Georg Vrba: The Business Cycle Indicator, and much more. Check out his site for an array of interesting methods. Georg regularly analyzes Bob Dieli’s enhanced aggregate spread, considering when it might first give a recession signal. Georg thinks it is still a year away. It is interesting to watch this approach along with our weekly monitoring of the C-Score. This week Georg also updates his unemployment-based indicator, still not signaling a recession as you can see from the chart below.

Citi does not see a recession either. (HT The Daily Shot)

How to Use WTWA (important for new readers)

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

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

My objective is to help all readers, so I provide a number of free resources. Just write to info at newarc dot com. We will send whatever you request. We never share your email address with others, and send only what you seek. (Like you, we hate spam!) Free reports include the following:

  • Understanding Risk – what we all should know.
  • Income investing – better yield than the standard dividend portfolio, and also less risk.
  • Holmes and friends – the top artificial intelligence techniques in action.
  • Why it is a great time to own for Value Stocks – finding cheap stocks based on long-term earnings.

You can also check out my website for Tips for Individual Investors, and a discussion of the biggest market fears. (I welcome questions on this subject. What scares you?)

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 also the best advice from sources we follow.

Felix and Holmes

We continue with a strongly bullish market forecast. Felix is fully invested. Oscar holds several aggressive sectors. The more cautious Holmes also remains fully invested. They now have a regular Thursday night discussion, which they call the “Stock Exchange.” This is the place to get some ideas from the best technical analysis – and you can ask questions!

Top Trading Advice

Brett Steenbarger (as I guessed a few weeks ago) is doing another book and will be taking a sabbatical for the month. He provides us two more great posts — an update on his trading model and an interesting measure of “pure sentiment.”

Adam H. Grimes also provokes thought with a post about losing. Few understand that it is part of winning.

 

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 JP Morgan’s wonderful quarterly chart book. Budget fifteen or twenty minutes to page through this carefully. My guess is that you will lose track of time as you enjoy the objective presentation of data. While it is difficult to find favorites, here are two that can have the biggest payoff for investors.

First, do not expect stocks to fall as rates move higher! As long as the starting yield is low, increased rates are associated with better earnings, a better economy, and higher stock prices.

And second, interest rates at the long end are not all about the Fed. Inflation is the key for the ten-year note. The Fed controls the short end. Look at the evidence.

Stock Ideas

When you read Chuck Carnevale’s articles, prepare for a stock idea combined with a great lesson. I am amazed at how well he does this, week after week. Following up on his analysis of Consolidated Edison (ED), he uses the same techniques on Johnson & Johnson (JNJ). Even if you are not one of the many investors who own these stocks, you will learn a great deal from Chuck’s process.

Our newest trading model, Holmes, has joined our other models in a weekly market discussion. Each one has a different “personality” and I get to be the human doing fundamental analysis. We have an enjoyable discussion every week, with four or five specific ideas that we are also buying. This week Holmes likes Air Products and Chemicals (APD). Check out the post to see the other picks, ask questions, and choose your favorite model.

While we cannot verify the suitability of specific stocks for everyone who is a reader, the ideas have worked well so far. My hope is that it will be a good starting point for your own research. Holmes may exit a position at any time. If you want more information about the exits, just sign up via holmes at newarc dot com. You will get an email update whenever we sell an announced position.

Tech assumes the sector leadership. Jim Picerno has the story.

Energy seems to have stabilized in the range I identified a couple of months ago. Some believe the OPEC deal has provided a floor. This is important as a place for picking up a few beaten-down names as well as the implications for the overall market. I am doing more research on this topic.

Personal Finance

Professional investors and traders have been making Abnormal Returns a daily stop for over ten years. The average investor should make time (even if not able to read AR every day as I do) for a weekly trip on Wednesday. Tadas always has first-rate links for investors in his weekly special edition. There are always several great choices worth reading. My personal favorite this week is Jonathan Clements’ (MarketWatch) warning about seven key mistakes. Read them all, but here is a sample:

1. Stocks are risky.

Reality: Sure, they’re risky. But the implication — that other investments are less risky — simply isn’t correct. Bonds and cash investments may not offer the rollercoaster ride that you get with stocks. But they leave you vulnerable to inflation, which is arguably an even bigger threat.

Gil Weinreich had another superb post in his series that explores the intersection between clients and advisors. He includes a description of the qualities that an advisor needs:

The ability to listen, question and analyze; professional knowledge and core beliefs; knowledge of what one doesn’t know, or what is unknowable; a positive attitude; peer relationships that would allow the advisor to test the value of his ideas or seek needed advisor; a propensity to share knowledge with others; discipline; sense of responsibility; and sensitivity to others’ pain.

This may seem simple and obvious, but it is very strong and helpful. Many investors ask the wrong questions and many advisors just try to maximize fees with high-profit products.

Morgan Housel has a similar message, explaining why good advice is important.

Watch out for…

Utility stocks. Bespoke shows how rapidly these can fall as interest rates rise.

Dana Lyons agrees. Check out his post to see why this sector is at a crucial point.

And FMD Capital on the “fear trade” falling apart.

Final Thoughts

 

To many investors it may seem like nothing is happening. If you follow our indicators you will see significant changes. Stocks are both safer and more promising and there are signs of sector rotation. What do you think will happen when those invested in bond funds learn that the values do not always rise?

If the “earnings recession” ends, that will accelerate the current change in tone. We all know that seasonality improves as the year nears its end, but no one has a good explanation. Here is my hypothesis:

Market participants start thinking in terms of a multiple of the next year’s earnings!

I know it seems silly, but just watch those commenting or writing. You will see it. They will begin to describe stocks of interest in terms of multiples of 2017 earnings. They will not mention Dr. Shiller’s method of looking at historical earnings. They certainly will not discuss Tobin’s Q. (Imagine: Well, Joe, we analyzed the replacement value for Amazon and found it to be vastly overvalued. We could replace their buildings, their fleet, and their workforce for 15% of their market cap). Or Google, or Facebook, or IBM, or Accenture, or any non-manufacturing company. I have never seen Tobin’s Q cited in the context of valuing a specific stock.

My own method is a constant revision of estimates using a slightly modified CAPE approach to get my own expected multiple. Since I am always looking twelve months ahead, the calendar changes are not important. This is why tracking forward earnings is so important. In particular, we have an opportunity to look for stocks with improving outlooks matching the improving economy.

We are “front-running” the pack in a completely legal fashion.

Stock Exchange: BBD, TAN, FSLR, APD, and AAP All Deserve Consideration

Technical stock analysts are a rich source of new stock ideas. Those charts always suggesting something. Our trading models each specialize in a different time frame and level of risk. Each week Felix and Oscar host a poker game. We listen in on current trading ideas in the few minutes beforehand. They like to call this their “Stock Exchange.” I am the only human present, and the only one using fundamental analysis.

Their methods are excellent, as you will learn if you follow us for a few weeks. The entire group had a winning call on energy three weeks ago, without any from the fundamentals.

Do the markets predict future events? Or should you use fundamentals to predict the markets?

That is the ongoing debate at the Stock Exchange.

This Week’s Ideas

Our technical experts have varying ideas this week. As usual, I am skeptical, but let us give each of them a chance.

Felix

I look for long-term themes, and I have a great one this week. I see a great chart for Banco Bradesco (BBD). The YTD is strong and steady. Brazil is as tumultuous as ever, except this time they might be improving their banking system.

[Jeff] How do you know about bank reform? Have you been fraternizing with those foreign models again?

[Felix] Would you believe it is just a conclusion from the chart?

[Jeff] Also, the CEO is under indictment for tax fraud.

[Felix] The chart tells you that the company and the market have moved past that issue. Take a look.

 

[Felix] I also had more questions for this week’s post! I thank my fans, and I am happy to answer.

Richjoy403 of SeekingAlpha asks:

 

I’ve wrestled myself to a draw regarding my 4.5 year position in RDS.B (i.e., I can make about equally strong bull and bear arguments). I’m asking how your models and yourself view it?

 

As usual, I answered through Jeff Miller, who could not resist adding his own comment.

 

RDS.B in the top half of our 700 stock universe. I think there are better energy plays right now. I’ll write something more on that when I have finished some research.

 

Another question from Seeking Alpha’s dls680:

 

Jeff – Love your work! Since you asked for questions about specific stocks or sectors I’d like to throw a question out to you (and Felix, since you describe him as an investor who thinks long term) about Wells Fargo.

WFC is technically breaking down while at the same time the bank sector looks like it might be entering an uptrend. I know you’ve liked the Bank sector right along, so what would you say to a long term holder about continuing to hold WFC for the long term?

 

Jeff Miller and I responded:

 

Felix does not like WFC at all. We own it as part of our enhanced yield program, which means dividends and writing calls against the position. For long-term investing I prefer regional banks like STI.

Thanks for the kind words and for joining in our discussion.

 

[Felix] Please keep your questions coming. I could use the overtime pay.

Oscar

It’s been a tough month for Odell Beckham Jr. In a stark contrast to last year’s superstar performance, he’s slumped his way through the first 4 weeks of the NFL season without a single touchdown. However, sharp eyed analysts see Sunday night’s matchup against the Green Bay Packers as a chance to get back on track.

What we’re really talking about here, of course, is mean reversion. When you have a promising player who is underperforming, you don’t expect them to flame out entirely. You’re looking for the big comeback game!

[Jeff] Do you have some stock advice here?

[Oscar] Of course! I was just explaining how you should look at stocks. Take a look at the Guggenheim Solar ETF (TAN). It’s been a rough year to be sure, but I can’t possibly imagine this sector limping along at $20 indefinitely.

First Solar (FSLR) is one of the key holdings in TAN as well as in our custom sector basket. It is a great example. We’re starting to see rebounds here after a possibly overdone correction in early August. I’m expecting to see significant gains over the next 4 week period.

[Jeff] Your pick this week is also attracting some fundamental analysts, including this one on Seeking Alpha, who calls FSLR a “unique value and growth play.”

[Oscar] What does he think about the Cubs?

[Jeff] You are incorrigible! Let’s see what Holmes has for us this week.

Holmes

Oscar is looking for a rebound in his pick, but I am the rebounding specialist. Air Products and Chemicals (APD) came of its recent high of 145.72, and went straight down 7 straight sessions before bottoming and starting a nice little zig zag run up and to the right. That is a stock with rebound potential! I would look for this stock to get back to its highs with a downside stop at 133.75.

[Jeff] it is a bit over-valued, but it does have a 2.5% yield. To get the rebound you expect you will need yield seekers who are not that sensitive to valuation.

[Holmes] There are plenty of those folks around!

Athena

I have a great choice this week, Advance Auto Parts (AAP). This one’s been in the doghouse following an 18% drop last November, but I’m predicting an upside here.

[Jeff] Even after the drop, the stock is still overvalued by 30% or so according to Chuck Carnevale’s first-rate methods.

[Athena] I am sure that Mr. Carnevale is very nice, but my wisdom has been accurate for many centuries.

[Jeff] It might be a bit out of date. I have been looking for some guests to help keep this group in line. Perhaps we can persuade him to visit.

[Athena] That would be fine. I am always willing to share my wisdom.

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 are allowed to choose me, although my feelings will not be hurt very much if you prefer one of the models).

Cast of Characters

Felix is fussy, precise, and very cautious. He looks for what is working, but it also must have upside potential. He is an investor who thinks long term. Felix will not usually announce new picks, but he will answer questions, saying what he thinks about specific stocks. He will also comment on favorite themes and sectors.

Oscar is naturally optimistic and a bit excitable. He definitely likes to go with winners, and focuses on a one-month time frame. He trades either sector ETFs, or a basket of stocks (equally weighted) that reflect a sector. Oscar will mention a favorite sector each week, and will also answer questions about sectors.

Holmes is a trader, but a cautious one. Holmes emphasizes asset protection through profit taking, stops, and trailing stops. He is careful in selecting new positions, and generally looks at an intermediate time frame. While he does not know the definition of “mean reversion” he loves rebounds! There is no set holding period, but two or three months is not unusual. Holmes will tell us one stock recommended that week. For those who sign up for his email list (no charge, privacy respected, holmes at newarc dot com) he will report exits with a one-day delay.

Athena trades more frequently than the others, but still limits risk. Her inspiration helps to find good ideas. Her excellent quant skills find attractive risk/reward opportunities. Her wisdom leads her to exit trades that are not working. Athena will provide a new idea each week.

Jeff usually has some comments about stock or market fundamentals. Unlike the other witty participants, he sounds like an old prof.

An Important Note to Readers – from Jeff

All of the characters (except me!) are models, carefully engineered and tested by one of the leading developers of the last thirty years. I humanize them to make it easier to understand the characteristics in their design. I always remind readers that my posts are informational, not investment advice, and that is especially true here. While we are trading based upon all four models, we are always watching and can act quickly when necessary. The models are not suitable for all investors. If you like the approach, reach out to us (info at newarc dot com) and we will provide more information.

The conversation is light-hearted, but the stock analysis is serious. We own positions in each of the stocks mentioned.

Finding great stock picks need not be boring. Please enjoy the banter and join in.

Weighing the Week Ahead: Will Election News Change the Course of Markets?

The calendar has a lot of data, but the FOMC meeting is over. The market waits for the next big event. We will soon have another jobs report, but Monday’s presidential debate overshadows the other news. The news cycles this week will be all about the election, and the financial press will be no different. Should investors use this news to change course?

Last WeekThere was plenty of economic news, and it was another mixed picture. The FOMC decision dominated.

Theme RecapIn my last WTWA, I predicted a focus on bonds, especially at the long end. That proved to be one of my worst theme forecasts. While interest rates figured prominently in the discussions, the Fed commentary quashed the selloff in the long bond. The ten-year note rates finished a bit lower than last week.

The Story in One ChartI always start my personal review of the week by looking at this great chart from Doug Short. Stocks had a good, three-day rally. Doug attributes this to central bank policy – no rate increase from the Fed and the B of J.

Doug has a special knack for pulling together all of the relevant information. His charts save more than a thousand words! Read his entire post where he adds analysis grounded in data and several more charts providing long-term perspective.

The NewsEach week I break down events into good and bad. Often there is an “ugly” and on rare occasion something really good. 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!

The Good

  • FOMC held rates constant with a hint of increases to come. Whether or not you agree with the decision, the market seemed to celebrate. This is despite the reduction by the Fed in estimates for the long-term growth rate. The market continues to applaud stimulus over results.

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  • Building permits increased by 3.7%. This is a good leading indicator for housing.
  • Global steel production is again positive.

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The Bad

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The Ugly

More violence. Talks have broken down in Syria, leaving the two million residents of Aleppo without water (The Guardian). Continuing incidents, tensions, and protests involving U.S. police and assorted bombings. It is not as if leaders were not trying. The U.S. and Russia have joined to back talks in Syria.

Chicago’s homicide rate is much higher.

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The TSA, much maligned last summer, collects hundreds of weapons each week, before they get into the aircraft cabin. Here is a typical haul of firearms. Read the entire post to see the other creative weapons.

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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 always welcome.

The Week Ahead

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

The Calendar

We have a big week for economic data, setting up for some important reports at the start of October. While personally I watch everything on the calendar, you do not need to! I highlight only the most important items in WTWA. Focus is essential.

The “A” List

  • Personal income and spending (NYSE:F). Can the recent strength continue?
  • New home sales (NYSE:M). A decrease is expected, but how much?
  • Michigan sentiment . An important concurrent indicator for employment and spending. Is there an election effect?
  • Consumer confidence . See Michigan sentiment. This is almost as good and usually correlated.
  • Initial claims (Th). The best concurrent indicator for employment trends.

The “B” List

  • Pending home sales (Th). Not as important for the economy as new homes, but still a good read on the market.
  • Chicago PMI . The most important of the regional indexes, especially when released on the Friday before the ISM index.
  • Durable goods orders (NYSE:W). Highly volatile August data with a big monthly decline expected. Any chance of an upside surprise?
  • Core PCE prices . The Fed’s favorite inflation indicator, so it is worth watching.
  • GDP third estimate (Th). Few are interested in the final revision (before later benchmarking) of Q2 GDP, but this is what goes into the books.
  • Crude inventories . Often has a significant impact on oil markets, a focal point for traders of everything.

The first Presidential debate will be a news highlight with markets paying attention. FedSpeak is back in full swing. Chair Yellen testifies on Wednesday before a House committee on bank supervision.

Next Week’s Theme

Most investors would prefer to tune this out, but we can no longer avoid it. The polls have tightened. We are on the eve of the first of three Presidential debates. It is expected to attract more viewers than the Super Bowl. Debates are always important, but this time is really special. The debate will provide a focus for the news cycle, including the financial media. I expect that everyone will be asking: Should the election news cause investors to change course?

Please note that this is not a post with political advocacy. Everyone should vote as they choose, and for whatever reason. That said, it is important for investors to understand what is anticipated by markets, and the likely result if things change. I have worked to find articles that reflect a mainstream viewpoint. As always, I welcome alternative suggestions.

We have three key questions. Out of hundreds of posts on these topics, here are a few that are good. Think of it as a starting point.

  1. Who will win? Nate Silver, whose methods have done well, gives Clinton a chance of about 60%. Larry J. Sabato now has Trump leading in the Electoral College.
  2. What actions might result?
    1. Paul Ryan should know. He sees changes in tax policy, regulation, entitlements, and anti-poverty programs.
    2. Economist Mark Thoma warns about problems in taxes, spending and economic growth.
    3. Niall McCarthy (via GEI and Statista) has something of a mainstream viewpoint, citing Moody’s. Whether you agree with these conclusions or not, it probably reflects the current street expectations. Also see Nanette Jacobson of the Hartford Funds.
  3. Will Congress agree? Important, but little good work.

As always, I’ll have a few ideas of my own in the conclusion.

Quant Corner

We follow some regular great sources and also 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.

The recession odds (in nine months) have nudged closer to 10%.

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

Georg Vrba: The Business Cycle Indicator, and much more. Check out his site for an array of interesting methods. Georg regularly analyzes Bob Dieli’s enhanced aggregate spread, considering when it might first give a recession signal. Georg thinks it is still a year away. It is interesting to watch this approach along with our weekly monitoring of the C-Score.

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

Doug Short: The Big Four Update, the World Markets Weekend Update (and much more).

The ECRI has been dropped from our weekly update. It was not so much because of the bad call in 2011, but the stubborn adherence to this position despite plenty of evidence to the contrary. Those interested can still follow them via Doug Short and Jill Mislinski. The ECRI commentary remains relentlessly bearish despite the upturn in their own index.

RecessionAlert: Many strong quantitative indicators for both economic and market analysis. While we feature his recession analysis, Dwaine also has a number of interesting approaches to asset allocation. This week Dwaine does a detailed indicator review, concluding:

These are just a few indicators in a battery of twenty-one that we examine, and whilst there are no alarm bells yet, the aggregate composite of all 21 indicators shows the US economy the most vulnerable to exogenous shock since this expansion started:

How to Use WTWA

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

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

My objective is to help all readers, so I provide a number of free resources. Just write to info at newarc dot com. We will send whatever you request. We never share your email address with others, and send only what you seek. (Like you, we hate spam!) Free reports include the following:

  • Understanding Risk – what we all should know.
  • Income investing – better yield than the standard dividend portfolio, and also less risk.
  • Holmes – the top artificial intelligence techniques in action.
  • Why it is a great time to own for Value Stocks – finding cheap stocks based on long-term earnings.

You can also check out my website for Tips for Individual Investors, and a discussion of the biggest market fears. (I welcome questions. What scares you?)

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 also the best advice from sources we follow.

Felix and Holmes

We continue with a strongly bullish market forecast. Felix is fully invested. Oscar holds several aggressive sectors. The more cautious Holmes also remains fully invested. They now have a regular Thursday night discussion, which they call the “Stock Exchange.” This is the place to get some ideas from the best technical analysis – and you can ask questions!

Top Trading Advice

Brett Steenbarger continues to provide a great piece of trading advice every day. Do you have a regular performance review? What does it include? Dr. Brett explains how to improve your trading from this process. He also has a great post on why creativity is important for traders. My guess is that most traders have not even thought about this question. Here’s why you should:

I recall speaking with a successful trader who told me that he was excited about the opportunity in the marketplace. I responded by saying that he was the first person I’d spoken with to tell me that. Everyone else was lamenting the lack of opportunity in markets. He said, “That’s right. I’ve always made my money going against the consensus!” That was shortly before the events of Brexit. That trader was able to capitalize on opportunity because he not only saw the world differently, but experienced it differently.

Adam H. Grimes also takes up the need for creativity and how to accomplish it. He draws upon his experience as a musician, and includes some other great examples for his proposed five steps.

Insight for Investors

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

Best of the Week

If I had to pick a single most important source for investors to read this week it would be this analysis of risk by Michael Kitces. His informative blog is aimed at financial advisors and most of us read it religiously. A look at what your advisor is (or should be) thinking about is information you might not normally see. If you manage your own investments, it will give you some helpful ideas. Michael explains the difference between risk tolerance, risk capacity, and risk perceptions. Many people do not understand how much risk is needed to achieve their performance goals. Good planning is essential. He also notes:

The key point is that if perceptions are (or become) misaligned with reality, investors may engage in “surprising” behavior that seems inconsistent with their risk tolerance. For instance, an individual who is highly risk tolerant, but has the (mis-)perception that a calamitous economic event will cause the market to crash to zero, might still want to sell everything and go to cash. Even though he/she is tolerant of risk, no one wants to own an investment going to zero! In addition, the research suggests that some people may have better risk composure than others; in other words, some investors can keep their composure and maintain a consistent perception of the potential risks around them, while others have risk perceptions that are more likely to move wildly.

Another good treatment of risk comes from Seeking Alpha Senior Editor Gil Weinreich. He regularly raises good questions affecting both advisors and individual investors. His discussion of investment goals and risks highlights Eric Nelson, who cites the current fixed income risk to retirees:

Unfortunately, many people still invest as if bonds are priced to return 6% to 8% per year or more going forward. We continue to see significant inflows into bond funds and ETFs as well as balanced funds with a considerable allocation to longer-term bonds. These decisions are especially risky for retirees, whose greatest investment risk entails holding too much of their portfolio in assets that won’t produce an acceptable long-term return, such as low-returning bonds.

Stock Ideas

Chuck Carnevale continues his analysis of high-quality dividend stocks, searching for those that are fairly valued. His discussion of Flowers Foods, Inc. analyzes the stock and also provides an important lesson.

David Van Knapp analyzes which of the “dividend contenders” might be at risk.

Eddy Elfenbein has a great annual stock list and frequent updates about those stocks and the overall market. His clever commentary is appreciated by all, including those who follow him on Twitter. This week he launched an ETF (CWS after the name of his blog, Crossing Wall Street). The ETF will hold his recommended stocks, which you can buy without making twenty different trades. The news is explained in this interview with Abnormal Returns. I also enjoyed this Bloomberg interview, which also includes some of Eddy’s stock picks.

Peter F. Way’s approach measures the hedging used by big-money players. This week he calls attention to biotech stocks finding 70 that are attractive to institutional investors.

Infrastructure stocks are poised to gain no matter who wins the election. Barron’s interviews Jamie Cook, a top-ranked CSFB analyst. Knowledgeable investors can probably guess some of her key picks.

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Our newest trading model, Holmes, has been contributing an idea each week, something we bought for clients a few days ago. I will mention it here, but you can see it sooner (along with other interesting ideas) if you read my new weekly column, the Stock Exchange. I have a “conversation” with disciples of our four trading models. Since each has a different personality and style, there are often disagreements – especially with me! While we cannot verify the suitability of specific stocks for everyone who is a reader, the ideas may be a good starting point for your own research. Holmes may exit a position at any time. If you want more information about the exits, just sign up via holmes at newarc dot com. You will get an email update whenever we sell an announced position. This week Holmes added several stocks, including CVS. See the Stock Exchange for a more complete analysis and ideas from the other experts.

Personal Finance

Professional investors and traders have been making Abnormal Returns a daily stop for over ten years. The average investor should make time (even if not able to read AR every day as I do) for a weekly trip on Wednesday. Tadas always has first-rate links for investors in his weekly special edition. There are several great choices worth reading. My personal favorite is (once again) our winner of the “best of the week” honor (see above). I also liked the “secret to a good marriage” from Suzanne Woolley. Hint: This is a financial secret. How much is it OK to spend without talking with your partner? Answer for yourself before reading the article, which is both entertaining and quite important. (For guys, I advise not learning the cost of salons and something called a Mani Pedi. Mrs. Old Prof informs me that men also get Mani Pedi’s and I am hopelessly out of date. She does, however have ideas about the appropriate spending limits. The ratio is about 5:1).

Market Outlook

Josh Brown, who expertly helps individual investors by revealing behavior of some pros, highlights the importance of the “career risk trade.” Many managers are chasing the returns from the last twelve months.

Watch out for…

A bond bubble? Jim Cielinski looks at persistent buying despite valuations. He identifies four elements and produces this interesting graphic.

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Final Thoughts

I have an answer for each of the three questions. On a personal note, this is a sweet spot for me. Given my combination of skills – top college debater, coach of the Michigan team, political scientist, and student of presidential debates — this is a good topic for me. For most of these debates the expert commentators on TV were my colleagues as coaches and judges, from back in the day. Mrs. OldProf was originally amazed that they echoed my comments. Then she came to expect it!

  1. Who will win remains in doubt, but the first debate will be crucial. It could represent a change in what is important. Most presidential debates have emphasized short sound bites to convey a message, regardless of the question. That is what the coaches teach: Get your message in there! Incorrect statements of fact have been pounced upon as gaffes. There is a long history. There is also an equalizing effect. Both candidates are on the same platform. The visual and emotional impact may be as important as the substance. One observer even suggested that we should watch with the sound off. (That would facilitate watching Monday Night Football at the same time).
  2. Both candidates want to spend on infrastructure, which will be an economic stimulus. This will require compromise with Congress. Ostensibly a Republican would have an advantage, but there is dissension in the ranks. Initial decisions will include some executive orders, so there could be an immediate effect on health care and immigration.
  3. The dynamic with Congress will be crucial. A new president needs to forge some compromises on spending, tax reform, trade, foreign policy, health care, and defense. Without knowing the Congressional results this is nearly impossible to predict.

Not on the list of question — I expect a progression of reduced uncertainty.

  1. This week we’ll have more definition of the outcome.
  2. After the election we’ll know more about Congress.
  3. After a few months we’ll have more sense of the dynamics and the potential for compromise.

Political uncertainty has limited economic growth, earnings and stock prices. As the uncertainty is resolved, all will improve.

Weighing the Week Ahead: Time for the Bond Correction?

The calendar has very little important data. The highlight is the FOMC announcement and press conference on Wednesday. Even though the Fed is not expected to change course, bonds have gotten much weaker, sending the ten-year note yield higher. This effect is gaining notice. Should we expect a further bond selloff?

Last Week

There was not much news, and it was another mixed picture.

Theme Recap

In my last WTWA, I predicted a week of wondering whether we should start fearing the Fed. That was the Monday theme, but it did not last long. Governor Brainard gave a very dovish speech right at the deadline before the blackout period. Many had expected a significant tone change from her. Perceived odds of a rate increase declined after that and continued with the weaker-than-expected data reports.

The Story in One Chart

I always start my personal review of the week by looking at this great chart from Doug Short. The overall range, once again, is very narrow. Doug emphasizes the early-week volatility and generally soft data.

Doug has a special knack for pulling together all of the relevant information. His charts save more than a thousand words! Read his entire post where he adds analysis and several other charts providing long-term perspective. Here is a sample, showing the regularity of drawdowns since 2009, including 5% or more about twice a year and several over 10%. Keeping perspective is easier when you understand what is normal.

 

The News

Each week I break down events into good and bad. Often there is an “ugly” and on rare occasion something really good. 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!

The Good

  • Initial jobless claims were 260K, continuing recent low levels.
  • LA area port traffic increased in August. (Calculated Risk). This indicator may need a “reset” now that the Panama Canal is able to take more traffic. There will also be noise from the bankruptcy of a big shipping firm, leaving some cargo stranded.
  • Inflation – both PPI and CPI remains at benign levels. It is not yet at the point that will attract aggressive Fed action, but is starting to reflect improvement in wages and the economy. Doug Short and Steven Hansen collaborate on the most comprehensive analysis of these data. Check out this deep dive!

  • U.S. households are richer than ever. Scott Grannis reviews the latest updates (June data). While it is 2015 data, incomes also showed a big gain.

  • Frequent indicators are stronger. New Deal Democrat’s update of indicators that most people miss is a regular read for me. One excellent feature is the separation of long-leading, short-leading, and concurrent indicators. This is an excellent check on the more commonly discussed economic indicators. It requires a lot of work to provide information that would be difficult to compile on your own. Here is a key quote from this week’s post:

    Now ALL but one of the long leading indicators are positive.  Interest rates for corporate bonds, treasuries, the yield curve, real money supply, real estate loans, mortgage rates, purchase and refinance mortgage applications are positive. The only negative is that mortgage rates have not made new lows for over 3 years.

     Short leading indicators turned a little more mixed.  Stock prices, jobless claims, oil and gas prices, gas usage, and as of this week the spread between corporates and treasuries, are all positive. Both measures of the US$ are now neutral.  Industrial commodities have joined the volatile regional Fed averages as a negative.

     The coincident indicators remain mixed. For once recently all measures of consumer spending are positive.  The BDI remained barely positive.  Rail, steel, the Harpex shipping index, and bank rates remain negative, with bank rates really spiking. Tax withholding was mixed.  Obviously I do not like a negative YoY tax withholding reading, but I suspect this will resolve next week.

  • Las Vegas visitor traffic has reached a new record high. Bill McBride has the story. And this is even before the new direct flights from Beijing have begun.

The Bad

  • Rail traffic had another bad week. Steven Hansen notes that it is still down 4.9% y-o-y if you remove coal and grain traffic.
  • Industrial production dropped 0.4% missing expectations for a decline of 0.3%.
  • The federal budget deficit is increasing as revenues falter. Scott Grannis has a good discussion. Various sources this week, including Barron’s, noted that the election debate does not pay enough attention to this issue.

  • Election uncertainty is holding back business investment, and it will not stop when the election ends. Duke’s regular survey of CFO’s reports that 1/3 will hold back on investment until there is information about how the new president will govern. Election expert Prof. Larry J. Sabato also expresses concern about the “strange race.” This is a growing concern.
  • Michigan sentiment missed expectations (89.8 v 91.5), but matched last month’s final result.
  • Retail sales declined 0.1% missing expectations of a 0.3% gain. Jill Mislinski covers this thoroughly. The effect on Doug Short’s Big Four indicators is described in the quant section.

 

The Ugly

Corporate misconduct. Deutsche Bank via Bloomberg. “Aside from the U.S. probe into residential mortgage-backed securities, the lender also faces inquiries into matters including currency manipulation, precious metals trading and billions of dollars in transfers out of Russia”. Wells Fargo creating two million phony accounts. (CNN). Exxon accounting issues. (Reuters). Bosch under investigation for possible help to VW in “Dieselgate.” (Bloomberg).

Wells Fargo’s CEO John Stumpf will be before the Senate Banking Committee on Tuesday. The fines and other penalties for corporate offenses sound large, but do not really force accountability. Eddy Elfenbein ponders what a Wells Fargo investor should do. (We also hold stock versus short calls).

Following up on last week’s North Korea story – the Council on Foreign Relations has a collection of papers covering the key issues.

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 Chris Ciovacco (See It Market) for his great explanation of the VIX. Featuring a prior piece by Jeff Macke, he emphasizes that the VIX is not really about fear, but expected volatility.

The misunderstanding of this concept is costly for investors who see it is a leading “fear” indicator, as well as traders who misuse it for hedging. The entire post is worth a careful reading, but keep this chart in mind:

See also runner-up Adam H. Grimes with similar conclusions on the same 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 very light week for economic data, featuring the FOMC decision and Yellen press conference. While personally I watch everything on the calendar, you do not need to! I highlight only the most important items in WTWA. Focus is essential.

The “A” List

  • FOMC decision (W). No policy change is expected. Will the statement and press conference clarify anything?
  • Housing starts and building permits (T). Crucial element for stronger growth.
  • Initial claims (Th). The best concurrent indicator for employment trends.

The “B” List

  • Existing home sales (F). Not as important for the economy as new homes, but still a good read on the market.
  • Crude inventories (W). Often has a significant impact on oil markets, a focal point for traders of everything.

 

FedSpeak will resume after the meeting with several participants on the calendar.

Next Week’s Theme

Last week began with revisionist Fed thinking on Monday and a poorly-explained sell-off on Tuesday. I parsed the explanations which were basically inconsistent. Many relied on the lame “delayed reaction” argument. It is amazing how imagination can be used to make facts fit your favorite scenario. I tweeted a good CNBC sequence where the stock pundits (once again) said that markets were taking a cue from oil. The oil expert then opined that commodity traders were watching stocks!

True enough. Everything declined together on Tuesday, including the interest-rate sensitive names. Pundits were mystified by bond selling even though the FedSpeak was more dovish. Could it be? Regardless (but including) what the Fed does, I expect that everyone will be asking: Is the long-awaited bond correction at hand?

There is a key mistake in most commentary – the idea that the Fed controls all interest rates. “Davidson” (via Todd Sullivan) pursues a theme that I hope will be familiar to my readers.

When I began my career ~35yrs ago everyone talked about “The Credit Spread”. Today, everyone talks about rates as if it is the rate, the short-term rate, and importantly the rate the Fed sets, the Fed Funds Rate. Today’s discussion is universally about the next Fed Funds Rate hike as if the Federal Reserve controls the economy. The extensive economic data we have available has never supported the wide-spread belief repeated ad nauseam in every media that the Federal Reserve controls US economic activity. Actual control lies in the Free Market.

I have not been a fan of Jeff Gundlach on most of his predictions about stocks, but when a “bond guy” gets worried about bonds, we should probably pay attention. Robert Huebscher covers this in an article that has been extremely popular with investment advisors. Here is a key quote:

“This is a big, big moment,” Gundlach said¸ and it won’t pay to “be cute” by trying to benefit from short-term price movements, since the dominant trend will be higher rates.

“It pays not to squeeze the last bit of juice out of the orange,” Gundlach said.

Brett Arends (who also has been no fan of stocks) is sounding a warning about the so-called safe investments.

JP Morganseems to be on the same page.

As always, I’ll have a few ideas of my own in the conclusion.

Quant Corner

We follow some regular great sources and also 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.

The recession odds (in nine months) have nudged closer to 10%.

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 a number of interesting approaches to asset allocation.

Georg Vrba: The Business Cycle Indicator, and much more. Check out his site for an array of interesting methods. Georg regularly analyzes Bob Dieli’s enhanced aggregate spread, considering when it might first give a recession signal. Georg thinks it is still a year away. It is interesting to watch this approach along with our weekly monitoring of the C-Score.

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

Doug Short: The Big Four Update, the World Markets Weekend Update (and much more).

The ECRI has been dropped from our weekly update. It was not so much because of the bad call in 2011, but the stubborn adherence to this position despite plenty of evidence to the contrary. Those interested can still follow them via Doug Short and Jill Mislinski. The ECRI commentary remains relentlessly bearish despite the upturn in their own index.

Quant work on GDP was a key topic this week. The Atlanta Fed’s GDP Now project shows a current forecast of 3%, a lot better than most expect.

Lipper explains why things might be stronger than they feel on the earnings front. This is a theme from Brian Gilmartin that we have been monitoring for months.

Mark Perry has a good idea about GDP measurement. Let’s start by asking whether you think the world’s “music well-being” has ever been better than it is now. Mark explains why it is currently awesome. Next take a look at how it is measured by GDP. Everyone will enjoy this chart, which makes obvious the error in using dollar sales as the main indicator.

 

 

How to Use WTWA

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

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

My objective is to help all readers, so I provide a number of free resources. Just write to info at newarc dot com. We will send whatever you request. We never share your email address with others, and send only what you seek. (Like you, we hate spam!) Free reports include the following:

  • Understanding Risk – what we all should know.
  • Income investing – better yield than the standard dividend portfolio, and also less risk.
  • Holmes – the top artificial intelligence techniques in action.
  • Why it is a great time to own for Value Stocks – finding cheap stocks based on long-term earnings.

You can also check out my website for Tips for Individual Investors, and a discussion of the biggest market fears. (I welcome questions. What scares you?)

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 also the best advice from sources we follow.

Felix and Holmes

We continue with a strongly bullish market forecast. Felix is fully invested. Oscar holds several aggressive sectors. The more cautious Holmes also remains fully invested. They now have a regular Thursday night discussion, which they call the “Stock Exchange.” You are welcome to join in with questions or ideas.

Top Trading Advice

Brett Steenbarger is posting great ideas day after day. Traders should read his posts frequently. I sense another book coming! My favorite this week is about what you should do if you are in a drawdown.

Are other people, trading similar strategies, also losing money?

That will tell you quite a bit.  If you were making money and suddenly go cold and others in the same markets, with similar strategies are doing the same, then you know that it isn’t simply a psychological issue.  Everyone did not suddenly lose discipline or become an idiot at the same time.  Rather, the strategy is not working under current market conditions, or it has stopped working altogether.

Simple, but wise and often overlooked by traders who start second-guessing themselves.

I also recommend this post on The Psychology of Dealing with Choppy Markets.

Most aspiring traders would save a lot of time and money if they asked Sam Seiden’s question, Are You a Good Fit for Trading? (This was GEI’s Investing Trading Academy’s article of the week).

Adam H. Grimes has another take on psychology, considering how it is linked with experience and methodology.

Insight for Investors

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

Best of the Week

If I had to pick a single most important source for investors to read this week it would be Chuck Carnevale’s lesson about how to pick dividend stocks. I almost always suggest that readers take a look at his ideas, but this week’s post is extra special. He provides a wonderful opportunity to test the tools at his wonderful time-saving and profit-building site. Anyone who is a do-it-yourself individual investor should set aside an hour or so to read the article and try out the method.

His example convincingly shows why entry price is important. A given budget permits purchase of more shares. Better value at the time of purchase gives you both extra upside on stock gains and also larger dividends. Take Chuck’s challenge to try it for yourself.

Stock Ideas

 

Eddy Elfenbein’s latest CNBC appearance explains the relationships underlying the gold trade, where someone bought $1 million worth of put options on a single gold stock. The discussion emphasizes the short run, reaching a different conclusion than Felix, who thinks long-term.

Our newest trading model, Holmes, has been contributing an idea each week, a stock we bought for clients a few days ago. I will mention it here, but you can see it a little sooner if you read my new weekly column, the Stock Exchange. I’ll have a “conversation” each week with all three of our models. Since each has a different personality and style, there are often disagreements – especially with me! While we cannot verify the suitability of specific stocks for everyone who is a reader, the ideas may be a starting point for your own research. Holmes may exit a position at any time, and I am not going to do a special post on each occasion. If you want more information about Holmes and exits, just sign up via holmes at newarc dot com and you will get email updates. This week’s Holmes added several stocks, including Solar City (SCTY).

Technology stocks are now favored by value funds. That is no surprise to me or to my readers! Barron’s has the story. A subscription is required, but you can probably get it by putting the title or key phrase into Google.

Barron’s also highlights homebuilder CalAtlantic (CAA). The company has been digesting a merger which helped to place it in some of the fastest growing areas.

The top 10 dividend stocks from Morningstar’s Ultimate Stock pickers.

Peter F. Way uses his unique methodology to highlight Dow stocks with the best risk/reward profile. Here is one of several interesting charts:

OK, here is another….

You can get some great ideas from this approach.

Personal Finance

Professional investors and traders have been making Abnormal Returns a daily stop for over ten years. The average investor should make time (even if not able to read AR every day as I do) for a weekly trip on Wednesday. Tadas always has first-rate links for investors in his weekly special edition. This was a really great post. There are several great choices worth reading, including my pick for best advice of the week. My personal favorite is the Harvard Business Review study of the cost of your inconsistent decisions. Unless you are a regular HBR reader (I listen to a lot of their podcasts) you would never see this story. Tadas does the heavy lifting for you.

Many readers would also enjoy his Saturday post with interesting lifestyle features. Mrs. OldProf liked the item on wine.

Market Outlook

Many people have described current markets as “complacent.” That is not what I see. The fact that the trading range is tight can occur when there are intense feelings in a rough balance. There is plenty of negative market sentiment. Here is a typical popular column listing six worries.

This week I was struck by two excellent posts.

Brian Gilmartin summarized the “Delivering Alpha” conference, where nearly everyone was downbeat. For contrast, here are some notes from Market Folly. It will be interesting to review how well these ideas play out over the next year.

Joe Fahmy explains why the market will not correct when that is what everyone is expecting. His perception of the trading community squares with what I hear.

Watch out for…

Junk bonds. Marc Gerstein has a warning for “yield hogs.”

Final Thoughts

 

Fueled by ill-informed reports from financial media, most investors think only of a single interest rate, controlled by the Fed. This is a costly mistake. It is important to monitor the entire yield curve.

The short end responds mostly to the Fed policy announcements. Most recently the Fed is unsure that their decisions can have the desired impact, so the resulting rate is imprecise.

The long end reflects (at least) five factors:

  1. Expected future rate increases – the term premium;
  2. Inflation, current and expected;
  3. Economic growth;
  4. The Fed balance sheet – estimates are that the current holdings have an effect of 1 – 1.5% on the ten-year note; and
  5. Global interest rates, including policies from other central banks.

Those who attribute the long rate or the slope of the yield curve to a single factor are making a costly mistake. This is especially true for those whose favorite game is to make it all about the Fed.

Investment Implications

The dominant perception holds that the Fed is about to raise interest rates despite economic weakness, probably creating a recession. This is backwards. If rate increases are consistent with economic growth, it would be the “bear steepener” that I have been describing for some weeks. We should embrace short-term rate increases when growth is strengthening and the long rates are also moving higher.

Holdings to reduce or avoid include:

  • Bonds and bond mutual funds. Alliance Bernstein warns that the one statistic you must know is duration of your bond holdings. Do you? That helps you see how much is at risk.
  • Utility stocks and bond proxies.
  • REITs and MLPs that are interest sensitive and without a tie to economic growth. Look for sectors benefiting from demographic changes – health care, senior living.

Holdings to emphasize include:

  • Technology
  • Banks
  • Homebuilders

The consensus, even among the traditional bond advocates, is that the crowded bond trade (bubble?) has reached its end. As investors following the traditional 60-40 formula see absolute losses on their brokerage statements, where do we expect the money to flow?