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

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

Will Trump policies extend the business cycle?

 

Last Week

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

Theme Recap

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

The Story in One Chart

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

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

The News

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

This week’s news was mostly positive.

The Good

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

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

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

 

The Bad

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

The Ugly

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

 

The Silver Bullet

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

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

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

The Week Ahead

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

The Calendar

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

The “A” List

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

The “B” List

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

     

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

Next Week’s Theme

 

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

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

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

Will Trump Policies Extend the Business Cycle?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Quant Corner

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

Risk Analysis

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

The Indicator Snapshot

 

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

 

The Featured Sources:

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How to Use WTWA (especially important for new readers)

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

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

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

 

Best Advice for the Week Ahead

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

Insight for Traders

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

Felix and Holmes

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

Top Trading Advice

 

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

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

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

Insight for Investors

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

Best of the Week

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

 

Stock Ideas

 

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

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

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

 

Seeking yield?

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

 

 

Personal Finance

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

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

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

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

Watch out for…

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

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

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

 

And more on value investing

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

Final Thoughts

 

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

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

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

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

Investing Conclusion

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

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

Stock Exchange: How to Buy the Dips

Pure traders love to buy the dips – and of course sell the rips. Everyone wants to buy low and sell high. Is this part of your strategy? Do you know when and how to make that your plan? Today’s Stock Exchange will help. As a bonus, we have some interesting ideas to explore.

Review

Our last Stock Exchange discussed how to distinguish between trading skill and blind luck. The analysis included a description of important elements in model development along with some great sources. As always, the group found some interesting ideas.

Today’s Theme

Buying the dips is prominently featured on the list of trader maxims. It seems so obvious. A stock that you like hits a downdraft. A buying opportunity? Or will this dip beget another dip? Standard instructional sources (Investopedia) make only general comments.

Our regular experts include only one with a dip-buying strategy. For that reason, Holmes gets the spotlight this week, but we have some good ideas from everyone. As usual, I will conclude with a brief observation about the key points.

This Week—How to Buy the Dips

Holmes

I look for stocks that have declined, seem to have bottomed, and are starting to find legs. Once I have a winner, I must then decide when to sell. I also have position size limits, sticking with the best 16 candidates. This week provides a good illustration of my process. I really liked Nielson (NLSN), which I bought at 42.30. There might be more room to run, but I sold it at 44.54.

J: Welcome back from Mexico. Did you have any trouble at the border?

H: No. I do not fit the profile they are looking forJ

J: It is good to have you back. So why sell NLSN if you still like it?

H: My method is aggressive in taking profits. Notice how the price recovered from the bottom to the point of the initial decline.

J: Most dip buyers would not notice that. They might be looking for a full recovery.

H: A 5% move in a few days is great for a trading program. I also have limits on position size (6%) and number of positions (16). There are often candidates that I like more than my current holdings.

J: So why GE?

H: I like GE for a variety of reasons including a quick and sudden breakdown, a higher low, culminating in a turn higher. I bought this at 29.83 looking for a move back to 31. I can use a tight stop at 29 giving me a better risk reward then holding my NLSN position. Unlike humans I have no emotions about stocks I’ve bought and sold. They’re just mathematical representations of Risk/Reward analysis. Look at the chart.

 

J: Most traders could improve simply by following your discipline on position size.

H: Thanks, boss.

 

Athena

I have identified short term potential in GW Pharmaceuticals (GWPH). We may be at all-time highs here – but when has that stopped me before? Folks probably thought this stock was maxed out when it jumped up near $90 in March of last year. Now it’s trading around $130. I have no doubts about popping in here for a week or two. If it does not work, I’ll move on.

J: Once again you have an idea without any foundation. Have you ever even heard of profits? Look at the chart from Chuck Carnevale’s excellent F.A.S.T. Graphs site.

A: It is obvious that the market knows something that you do not.

J: Are you smoking something?

A: I get high through meditation. It is all that I need.

J: Well your current pick is playing in the legalized pot space. It is a hope and a dream, which could vanish in a …..

A: Enough! Spare me from your lame human pun. Many successful stocks began with a wonderful story and no earnings. You will soon see.

 

 

 

 

 

Felix

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

My list provides rankings within each zone, as well as the basics about buy, hold, and sell. The list includes the most recent reader questions as well as former requests where my rating has moved.

J: AMD is still on top?

F: It leads the reader list, but not my own.

J: I have had some questions about that. Readers want to know your own top picks.

F: If I talked about that here, I would be revealing what I recommend for your clients.

J: That is a problem. I want to be helpful to readers, but it should be a start for their own research. Do you have any fresh ideas of your own?

F: Yes. I have a new investment in Royal Gold (RGLD). I see real long-term potential. This stock got seriously whacked in the fall, which I believe makes it a prime candidate for an investment now. It was valued, perhaps properly, around the $85 range mere months ago. Now, with a slower 2-month recovery, it strikes me as a slow and steady way to climb back to the highs.

J: Gold has been doing well, but earnings are not the key driver. The fundamental chart shows that the earnings growth rate is less than 20, but the PE multiple is 58.3.

F: It is an attractive chart. I could frame it and put it on the wall.

J: Gold works best when there is fear of complete economic collapse or the potential for hyperinflation.

F: I have heard some of those rumors.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Oscar

I have a new sector pick. This week trading exchanges caught my eye. I’ll use the Intercontinental Exchange (ICE) as an example. This stock has been on an upswing for the last ten months. The 200-day moving average is smooth, and the 50-day moving average is rising at the same rate.

What I like most here is that the stock dipped earlier in the month. That leaves us off the peak, which I’d consider a potential buying opportunity. Outlook on this one remains short term: maybe a month, at the longest.

J: Why are you looking for a dip? You are supposed to find trending sectors.

O: It is trending. Besides, I heard that you were going to feature dip-buying this week. After the Super Bowl I need the extra money from being the featured model. That stupid dog has just been lucky.

J: Each of you must stay true to your method. Your time to be featured will come. Besides this was the happiest week in the sports year.

O: Yes!!! Pitchers and catchers report.

J: The ICE fundamental graph is very interesting – solid looking, but fairly valued.

J: Do you have a sector update for your readers?

O: Yes. Like Felix I have included the most recent requests, as well as anything that had a ratings change.

J: Can readers still learn about their favorite sectors?

O: Definitely! I will include new requests each week.

J: How will you keep busy until March Madness?

O: I understand that there is now fantasy golf.

J: You mean that you can pretend to drive 300 yards? That would be a real fantasy!

O: No. You can pick a pro and put him on your team.

J: I suspect that you will soon be looking for another way to earn overtime pay!

 

 

 

 

Conclusion

Buying the dips is seductive – so obvious. It is much more difficult than it seems.

Holmes has some lessons for us:

  1. Each trade is based upon hundreds of similar charts. This is part of his training and testing.
  2. Each trade has a limited risk, with specific exit criteria.
  3. Overall trading conditions are right before entering the trade.

This last point is crucial. Dip buying works well in a rising market, and is OK in a range-bound market. Holmes did well in the brief dip last January, but his method is not really geared for prolonged selling.

How should a trader deal with that? Like Holmes, you need an exit signal when conditions are not right. Just take a little time off, and don’t lose money in a bad market!

The Stock Exchange features the best technical ideas. We also provide contrasting opinions from fundamental investors. Each method can be profitable and both provide good lessons.

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

Background on the Stock Exchange

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

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

Questions

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

Getting Updates

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

Weighing the Week Ahead: Trump V. Yellen Round One

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

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

Trump v. Yellen, round one.

Last Week

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

Theme Recap

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

The Story in One Chart

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

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

The News

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

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

The Good

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

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

 

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

The Bad

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

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

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

The Ugly

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

 

The Silver Bullet

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


The Week Ahead

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

The Calendar

We have a normal week for economic data.

The “A” List

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

The “B” List

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

     

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

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

Next Week’s Theme

 

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

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

Trump v. Yellen, Round One

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

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

Here is what Yellen might do.

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

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

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

Quant Corner

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

Risk Analysis

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

The Indicator Snapshot

 

 

The Featured Sources:

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

How to Use WTWA (especially important for new readers)

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

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

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

 

Best Advice for the Week Ahead

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

Insight for Traders

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

Felix and Holmes

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

Top Trading Advice

 

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

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

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

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

Insight for Investors

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

Best of the Week

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

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

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

Stock Ideas

 

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

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

 

Seeking yield?

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

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

Portfolio Management

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

Personal Finance

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

 

Thinking about Social Security?

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

 

Watch out for…

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

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

And more on value investing

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

 

Final Thoughts

 

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

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

What about the Fed?

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

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

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

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

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

Stock Exchange: Is your trading skillful or just lucky?

Would you like to know whether your trading is lucky or good? Today’s Stock Exchange will help. As a bonus, we have some interesting ideas to explore.

[Important Update – Market Open 02/10/17]  Holmes gave a “sell” alert on CASY this morning.  Obviously I did not expect this, or I would have used a different example.  While we are not going to update every trade, this is an unusual situation.  These are supposed to be illustrative examples, not trade recommendations.  Holmes has 16 positions at any given time, so you cannot get the true effect by trading one or two.  But just in case someone chose to play along with Holmes on this one, I wanted to make this update.

Review

Our last Stock Exchange discussed how to find a trading sweet spot in a political minefield. The group found some ideas that continue to work well. Our timely discussion of the T-WOP, HT @corporatecommie was accurate, but had a short shelf-Iife. This week we saw the first evidence of waning tweet power, a crucial matter for short-term traders. What will work now?

Today’s Theme

If you start as a trader with a few lucky wins, you are on a course to lose everything you have. Is there any way to separate luck from skill? Capitalogix has a nice discussion of this topic, including examples that anyone can understand. Unlike critics who do not use quantitative methods, Howard Getson’s credibility is enhanced because of his experience with the important tools. Michael Mauboussin’s excellent book, The Success Equation: Untangling Skill and Luck in Business, Sports, and Investing, is a leading source on this topic. I will return to his complex underlying question. For now, let us consider whether your own trading system is skill or luck. The models I describe each week share some development traits. How does yours compare?

  1. We do not start with “data mining,” a process that explores thousands of possible relationships with hundreds of variables. We begin with a hypothesis and a limited number of candidate parameters. If this sentence does not make sense, you should not be a consumer of systems.
  2. We train on one set of data and keep a generous out-of-sample period. We examine performance over both time periods, making sure that performance is consistent.
  3. We trade the model following the system, carefully watching. We don’t simply monitor results. We look at specific decisions. Are these the type of trades we expect the model to select.

Let’s see what the process means for our experts, each of whom has a dramatically different approach. As usual, I will conclude with a brief observation about the key points.

This Week—Distinguishing Skill from Luck

Holmes

Humans are so impatient! They grow tired of sniffing out bottoms in stocks. I love that process, and I also am a watchdog on risk. I smell an opportunity in Casey’s (CASY) trading at 118.75. A major theme for me is finding a stock that has bottomed and started to turn up. We can find a likely sell price in this case (112.50) and an upside price (130). It is a nice risk/reward ratio, my kind of opportunity. The real beauty of a name like this is it could go much higher. Since I’m a patient dog, I will slide my stops higher if the technical picture looks better.

 

J: Casey’s mostly trades on non-gasoline revenue, but gas prices are still crucial. When people stop to fill up, and have a few extra bucks, they are likely to spend them in the convenience store.

H: They do not allow pets in the store, so I have never seen that.

J: Maybe you could make a comment on the expected earnings decline for 2017.

H: Earnings?

J: Yes. The ‘mother’s milk’ of stock pricing. I would not buy a stock with an unjustified P/E ratio of 22.

H: You need to look at the chart. A stock that declines like this usually has a rebound. I will buy, sell, and ring the cash register. In case you did not notice, I have been making big profits for you.

J: That reminds me. I have to bring up a topic you might not like – Michael Kors Holdings (KORS). This was a featured pick of yours about a month ago.

H: I know. When you are seeking out unloved stocks you will not bat 1000. Not only am I winning on most trades, the wins are much bigger than the losses. That is all you need. You just sell KORS and move on.

J: Thanks for being honest about one of your losers. I agree that you have earned your keep on the overall portfolio. When are you coming back from Mexico?

H: Can you start providing Margaritas in the office?

J: No.

H: I’ll come back anyway, if I am not stopped at the border.

J: The Supreme Court ruled that you can return, but you should not delay.

 

Athena

Advanced Micro Devices (AMD) is my favorite pick of 2017 – so far. I know I get some flak for buying on the highs. After all, if a stock like AMD jumps from $10.37 to $12.24 in a couple days – it’s got to be done, right? Wrong! Take a look at the chart to see what happened.

AMD was not done on the initial spike. I bought in right around $12.28 and we’ve already seen a second pop up to $13.56. I might hang out around for a week or so. If there are no further gains, I’m happy to take my tidy profit and move on.

J: Get real! You are always speculating in stocks that make no profits. Take a look at the chart from Chuck Carnevale’s excellent F.A.S.T. Graphs site.

A: I keep trying to teach you that the market anticipates your “fundamental” changes.

J: You are teaching me? Who is in charge here?

A: Just watch this one. It is a perfect example of how I earn profits for you even when you would never buy the stock because of low earnings. You are too stodgy, professorial, and rooted in the Graham and Dodd era.

J: How do you know about them?

A: I am a goddess. I know about many things… All of you experts on the “fundamentals” can learn something from me.

 

 

 

 

Felix

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

My list provides rankings within each zone, as well as the basics about buy, hold, and sell. The list includes the top overall vote getters from our (free) subscription list as well as some new requests I got during the week.

J: AMD leads the list? Are you copying from Athena?

F: Definitely not. I have owned AMD since August. I am far ahead of that know-it-all goddess.

J: Are you planning to hold on?

F: My buy decisions are based upon a long-term portfolio. The average holding period is 66 weeks. I really do not care what others in the group are doing. My record is the best, despite fewer trades and lower taxes.

J: Does the list represent your favorite stocks?

F: No. It is a rating of the most frequent reader requests. I am answering questions. I am a source of ideas only for my actual clients. Most of my fans are readers or subscribers to the list. I love them and provide answers to questions, but I have my own list of favorites.

J: Fair enough.

F: Please also note that I have been working while the dog was on vacation, lazy Oscar was watching football, and the goddess was navel-gazing.

J: Any new ideas?

F: Not this week. My current holdings are working well. I make few shifts. I remain willing to help readers with questions.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Oscar

I have an exciting new pick, the iShares FTSE/Xinhua China 25 Index (FXI). There was a mysterious dip in November. Prior to that, the region was on an upswing. The 50 and 200 day moving averages are a bit misleading here. Between February and October there was enormous growth; I see potential for that to continue for the next month at least. As an aside – the market seems to agree with me. The bump from late December to now has erased the late 2016 losses.

J: Did you notice any major events in November?

O: The NFL playoffs were shaping up. Basketball was starting.

J: Anything beyond the sports pages?

O: What do you mean?

J: The election of President Trump raised fears of a trade war. Chinese stocks were threatened.

O: My concern about trade is whether the White Sox give away their entire pitching staff and whether the Bears can finally get a quarterback.

J: The trade I am discussing is international. Materials, consumer goods, finished products, currencies.

O: Maybe so. I suspect that most stock traders do not really understand that stuff. They are looking at the charts, just like me.

J: Sad but true. By the way, weren’t you all in on the Falcons.

O: Yes. I really nailed it.

J: I thought they lost. Did you hedge your position or something?

O: Some, but it was still a bad beat. My analysis was great. Terrible play calling.

J: Is that another way of saying you lost your paycheck.

O: I’ll be working hard for the next few weeks. Any way of getting a bonus?

J: We’ll see.

O: Here are my ratings for the top reader interests. Keep the questions coming. My sectors are aggressive, but have less risk than Felix’s picks. I avoid the bad news from random, single-stock moves.

J: Interesting. Do you see evidence of that?

O: I hear about it. People are very worried about something called “tweets” that seem to hit their stocks for no reason. Playing sectors reduces that risk.

 

 

 

 

Conclusion

We all want a crystal ball. The worst ones are traps – giving a few false signals until we go all-in.

The Stock Exchange provides ideas from advanced technical methods. For contrast, you can look at the fundamentals. The weekly tension is palpable.

I try to provide a source of ideas for your trading as well as some reality-testing. Please join in with questions or comments, and see below for easy ways to join in.

Background on the Stock Exchange

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

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

Questions

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

Getting Updates

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

Weighing the Week Ahead: Is Market Optimism Justified?

We have a rather light week for economic data. The biggest reports came last week. Earnings season continues. Everyone is keeping a close eye on President Trump, wondering what might happen next. Meanwhile, stocks are at all-time highs and interest rates have stabilized. This combination creates more questions than answers, which will lead the punditry to wonder:

Is the market optimism justified?

Last Week

Last week the economic news was strong, but (once again) with little reaction from stocks.

Theme Recap

In my last WTWA two weeks ago I predicted a focus on volatility, wondering whether policy uncertainty would have a reaction in stocks. That was a good call, although overshadowed by the policy moves themselves. There were several articles on volatility, mostly noting the lack of reaction in the VIX.

The Story in One Chart

I always start my personal review of the week by looking at this great chart from Doug Short via Jill Mislinski. She notes that the week’s gain was all from early action on Friday. Some attributed this to the employment report, but the timing is more consistent with a reaction to Trump actions on Dodd-Frank.

Let us also update another chart from this useful weekly article — a graphic picture of drawdowns. You can readily see both the frequency and magnitude.

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

Some Super Bowl Fun with Two Hidden Lessons

Most readers will be watching the Super Bowl today. Did you know how important this is for market performance in 2017? The old AFC/NFC forecast is passé. We now must “dig deeper” into the data. By email I received an analysis that looked at Manning’s, Broncos, and other factors. I’ll focus on this year’s table.

And here is the recommended interpretation:

Looking at the averages, one might think that having New England or Bill Belichick in the big game is no big deal. A look at the year by year results shows that this could be a huge deal since the averages mask big swings in both directions.

For New England, just being in the big game could be a bearish sign as the market has dropped 6% on average in years where the Patriots have played in the Super Bowl since the turn of the century. During the Tom Brady dynasty years, the Patriots have won four of six times so far while the market is tied 3-3. Two of the years the Patriots have made the big game, 2002 and 2008 have coincided with major bear markets, an ominous sign.

Markets have also been volatile in years where Bill Belichick has coached in the big game both with New England and the New York Giants. Following his coaching appearances, the market has finished up 30% once, down 30% once, up 20% once and down 20% once.

Conclusion: What Super Bowl matchups could mean for the market in 2017

Based on the volatile reaction by markets to seeing New England and Bill Belichick in the Super Bowl, combined with the short-term positive, long- term negative reaction to last year’s win by Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos, it looks like we could be in for a highly volatile for the markets this year. The bull market of recent years could be due for a setback. While signs are mixed over what direction the market may finish the year, there is a strong possibility of a 20% plus move this year.

Jane Wells asked some questions (What milestone did the Dow recently pass? Who is Janet Yellen?) to the high-income Super Bowl Participants. You will enjoy their answers.

Oscar likes the Falcons, but Vince insists that football picks are not part of his programming! Mrs. OldProf likes the Falcons as well, but that is just because they beat her Packers. I’ll stick with the Michigan man.

Use the comments to suggest the “hidden” lessons. WTWA readers should not need me for this oneJ

The News

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

This week’s news was again quite good—almost all positive. I make objective calls, which means not stretching to achieve a false balance. If I missed something for the “bad” list, please feel free to suggest it in the comments.

The Good

  • Consumer spending rose 0.5% in December, beating November’s increase of 0.2% and expectations of 0.4%.
  • Pending home sales rose 1.6%, beating expectations for a 0.6% gain.
  • Consumer confidence remained high at 111.8, although slightly slower than the December reading.
  • Initial jobless claims remained low, at 246K. (Calculated Risk).
  • Factory orders increased 1.3% beating expectations and much better than the 2.3% loss from November.
  • ISM manufacturing registered 56, beating expectations and reaching a level not seen for more than two years. (Scott Grannis). This chart shows why it is important.

  • Auto sales remained at record levels. (Phil LeBeau, CNBC). There is also a shift to the more profitable vehicles.
  • Nonfarm payrolls showed a net gain of 227K. The headline solidly beat expectations, so I am scoring this as “good.” The details were a bit more mixed, with some slight negatives. This is my own summary after reading many sources.
    • Positive
      • Headline job gain.
      • Increase in labor force participation.
      • Benchmark revisions confirming that prior data was something of an under-estimate– also showing healthy growth of jobs from new businesses. (This parallels the Business Dynamics report, which I wrote about here).
    • Negative
      • Small negative revisions to prior months.
      • No gain in the “household survey” employment.
      • Slight uptick in unemployment.
      • Sluggish increase (O.1%) in wage gains.

     

The Bad

  • Personal income increased by 0.3% in December, slightly missing expectations for a gain of 0.4%, but much stronger than the prior month’s 0.1% gain.
  • Construction spending for December declined 0.2%, missing expectations for a slight gain and dramatically lower than the prior month’s 0.9% pop.
  • Earnings beats are slightly below recent averages. (Factset).

 

The Ugly

A possible Chinese stress test for Trump. Jennifer M. Harris, Senior Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations has an Op-Ed piece, with the full article at CNN. Here is the key quote:

Major geopolitical crises have a way of greeting US presidents soon after taking office. Nazi Germany’s withdrawal from the League of Nations in 1933, the Soviet-led construction of the Berlin Wall in 1961, the Gulf of Tonkin incident in 1964 — all were among the most daunting tests of US foreign policy in the past century, and all came less than a year into the tenures of new US administrations.

This is no accident. Foreign governments often like to test a new White House early on.

Russia, Iran, and North Korea are other obvious candidates.

 

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. Jacob Wolinsky has a terrific review of Harry Dent predictions. Here is one of the most dramatic, from just a year ago.

Time to redraw that one. The power of graphs with red lines and arrows is amazing. Jacob’s article also includes the results of a Google search for Dent’s predictions. You must see it to believe it!

I especially appreciate that Jacob was inspired by his Silver Bullet award in 2013. I only wish that more would join me in highlighting people doing this kind of valuable work.

Meanwhile, Mr. Dent’s business model is working just fine. Check out the speaking fees.


The Week Ahead

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

The Calendar

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

The “A” List

  • Michigan Sentiment (F). Continued strength anticipated. Special interest in future expectations.
  • Trade balance (T). December data with impact on Q4 GDP adjustments. Will be watched more closely as Trump policy is clarified.
  • Initial jobless claims (Th). How long can the amazing strength continue?

The “B” List

  • JOLTS report (T). Misunderstood and misused. This is about labor market structure, not job growth.
  • Wholesale inventories (Th). December data can have some effect on GDP adjustment. Favorite spinning target.
  • Crude inventories (Th). Recently showing even more impact on oil prices. Rightly or wrongly, that spills over to stocks.

     

Fed speakers are back on the trail. Questions will probe the new political environment and hints about future rate hikes.

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

Next Week’s Theme

 

There is plenty of good economic news. A nice chart-packed review from Steven Hansen (GEI). And also from Urban Camel. Here is just one example comparing full-time and part-time jobs. There are plenty of great charts in both posts.

The earnings recession is over and future growth looks good. (Brian Gilmartin).

And yet everyone is nervous. (Great piece from Josh Brown).

While President Trump will continue to grab the spotlight this week, I will continue my focus on the stock market fundamentals. In today’s Final Thought I will offer some suggestions about how to implement this approach. Meanwhile, expect the key question for this week to be:

Is market optimism justified?

The basic positions cover a wide range. Even if one or more of them seem incredible to you, be assured that someone passionately maintains that viewpoint.

  • You must be kidding! Market valuations are in nosebleed territory. Investors are like Wile E. Coyote.
  • It is only a matter of time before the new Administration does something to spark a crisis.
  • Technical indicators have moved to neutral. (Charles Kirk and Guy Ortmann of Scarsdale Equities. Both are excellent, but require a relationship).
  • Markets can expect solid earnings growth with upside of 10% or so. (Ed Yardeni, Barron’s).
  • Companies are getting more comfortable with Trump and more confident about the future. (Avondale digest of conference calls – a great resource).
  • Tax cuts, repatriation of corporate profits, and lower regulations will create an explosion in economic growth.

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

Quant Corner

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

Risk Analysis

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

The Indicator Snapshot

 

Although dropping last week, the yield on the ten-year note has increased significantly since the election. This has lowered the risk premium a bit. I suspect much more to come. By this I mean that the relative attractiveness of stocks and bonds will continue to narrow.

The C-Score has also dropped. The relationship is not linear, and it remains in the “safe” zone.

The Featured Sources:

 

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

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

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

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

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

This illustrates Dwaine’s take on leading indicators, asking about time above the current value.

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.

Scott Grannis: The market is not very optimistic. This shows the importance of our weekly coverage of the equity risk premium, showing the relative attractiveness of investors’ two major choices – stocks and bonds.

 

How to Use WTWA (especially important for new readers)

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

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

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

 

Best Advice for the Week Ahead

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

Insight for Traders

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

Felix and Holmes

We continue with a strongly bullish market forecast. All our models are now fully invested. The group meets weekly for a discussion they call the “Stock Exchange.” In each post I include a trading theme, ideas from each of our four technical experts, and some rebuttal from a fundamental analyst (usually me). We try to have fun, but there are always fresh ideas. Last week Holmes made a timely call on Macy’s (M). Many of the stocks cited are worth your consideration.

Top Trading Advice

 

As I suspected a few weeks ago, Dr. Brett Steenbarger is taking a sabbatical to work on his next book. Most traders have probably not matched me in reading all his posts. Many of them have enduring value, so you should take some time to review his archives. My favorite this week helps you to explore you best trading strengths and virtues.

Ralph Vince has a warning about Trump Effects:

While everyone is in a lathered-up blather about executive orders and screeching, we gotta keep our eyes on the ball. I for one can’t get sucked up into political noise when there’s money to be made.

Nearly everyone I speak to is looking for three things:

1. A pullback in equities.
2. Interest rates have bottomed and will now approach more historically normal levels.
3. Volatility is bound to increase in the coming months and perhaps years.

And the degree of which I am hearing this makes me quite certain none of these are in the cards.

A colorful YOLO story – possibly fake – about a trader going “all-in” on poor earnings from Apple (AAPL). His collection of puts and short call spreads would make $5 million if it worked, recovering the $2.5 million inheritance he lost in two years. With the strong report, he was completely blown out, as witnessed on a live stream. There are many lessons here whether it was true or not. Handling wealth. Position size, whatever your confidence. Suspicion about those making dramatic calls to sell their services.

 

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), who pulls together economic data and conclusions in his explanation of why stronger Employment Reports Indicate Higher Equity Markets.He includes several important indicators, emphasizing the need to look at several. This illustrates the right way to do financial research. He writes:

One must continuously test indicators against each other to be intellectually honest.

 

Stock Ideas

 

Barron’s likes Chili’s (Brinker International – EAT) but not Chipotle (CMG).

Our trading model, Holmes, has joined our other models in a weekly market discussion. Each one has a different “personality” and I get to be the human doing fundamental analysis. We have an enjoyable discussion every week, including four or five specific ideas that we are buying. This week the dip-buying Holmes (who has been very hot) liked Macy’s (M). That worked well for those who did their own research and agreed.

Seeking yield?

How about health care REITs? Blue Harbinger analyzes twenty candidates, two of which we own.

Personal Finance

Professional investors and traders have been making Abnormal Returns a daily stop for over ten years. If you are a serious investor managing your own account, this is a must-read. Even the more casual long-term investor should make time for a weekly trip on Wednesday. Tadas always has first-rate links for investors in his weekly special edition. My personal favorites this week are two entries I see as related. Josh Brown points out the opportunity for young people to start saving and investing, enjoying compound interest. Tony Isola shows the flip side – the cost of an impulsive purchase paid off on a credit card. This is a great lesson!

Seeking Alpha Editor Gil Weinreich’s Financial Advisors’ Daily Digest has quickly become a must-read for financial professionals. Somewhat to my surprise, the topics are also especially relevant for active individual investors. They frequently join in the comments, adding to the value of the posts for both groups. Gil has several good topics, but I especially liked this discussion of the fiduciary rule. Most people do not understand what this means, and what is at stake. I strongly support Gil’s argument.

Watch out for…

Binary options. Another product that seems simple but few understand or trade successfully. (FT).

BDC’s. BDC Buzz has the story.

VIX trading. Bill Luby provides data on the poor results of VIX ETPs. Many are tempted to buy the VIX as a hedge without even knowing how it is calculated or whether it is a leading indicator.

Final Thoughts

 

Like Josh Brown, I am hearing a lot of worry about what might happen in the Trump Administration. Over the last several months I have highlighted all of the following:

  • An expectation that the Market would rally no matter who won the election – just removing one element of uncertainty.
  • The earnings recession ended in Q316.
  • Forward earnings are the most effective way to forecast the market, and 8-10% higher is quite plausible.
  • P/E multiples are strong when people have confidence in earnings.
  • This could be conservative if repatriation, better growth, or reduced regulation come to pass.
  • The best sectors are financials, tech, home builders, and some biotech.
  • The biggest market worry is a battle over trade, especially with China.

To my surprise I opened Barron’s and found Dr. Ed Yardeni making exactly the same points. Anyone reading WTWA for the last few months could have done the interview. I generate my own ideas and reach my own conclusions, but I always like it when astute analysts look at the same evidence and agree.

In a similar vein, my Seeking Alpha colleague Bill Kort has a great analysis of the danger of mixing your opinions about news with your investments. I am delighted that some of my work and my highlighting of Morgan Housel encouraged him to pursue this valuable topic.

Policy uncertainty remains the most important investor worry. We can mitigate this in two ways:

  1. De-emphasize the social issues. Yes, they are important. Feel them passionately if you wish. As an investor, you must ask whether they affect your portfolio.
  2. Consider timing. We cannot know about and react to a military attack. We can monitor the progress of trade negotiations. The most important investor threats still leave us time to react. I am watching closely, and so should you.

Stock Exchange: Finding Your Trading Sweet Spot

Our last Stock Exchange (two weeks ago) discussed diverse ideas from our experts, and also explained why I vetoed one of the recommendations. When trading using models, you can link directly to a platform if you do many trades and have a very short time frame. Otherwise you should not blindly follow the model. A human who understands the factors used by the model can identify when a situation is truly exceptional.

The current market environment is all about Trump – perhaps excessively so. Everyone worries about what companies are vulnerable to a tweet (which we will call a T-WOP, HT @corporatecommie). Each day includes more speculation about companies that might benefit from policy changes.

How should traders find a sweet spot in this environment?

This week includes both new ideas and reviews of some past highlights. Everyone can benefit from finding the trading model most relevant for your own style.

Let’s look at the ideas from our experts. As usual, I will conclude with a brief observation.

Getting Updates

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

This Week—Finding Your Trading Sweet Spot

Holmes

This week I’m buying good ol’ U.S.A. Macys (M). This stock probably needs no introduction, main street retail store.

This chart strikes me as a great money-making opportunity. My major concern is that this stock keeps making lower lows, but in the meantime it can have some terrific rallies. I see no reason it can’t get back to the mid-30’s. It’s a little comforting to know that there are 18 analyst holds on this stock and their target price is STILL 36. That is consistent with what the charts are telling me.

I’m buying here with tight stop, 29.25, and looking for a move back into the mid-30s. Giving me a nice risk/reward setup.

J: I agree with you about ignoring the analyst ratings. I use it as a contra-indicator. Did you read that recent WSJ article?

H: You know that I do not read! I reach great conclusions from looking at charts. You humans read, but mostly to reaffirm your existing biases.

J: I am delighted that our clients caught this at a lower price, but do you realize the stock was up over $1.50 today?

H: No. I am enjoying the beach in Mexico. I sent in my pick, but that is like working overtime.

J: Oscar’s turf accountant would call your choice “past posting.”

H: Sorry. You are the one who set the schedule for Thursdays. I made the pick earlier, and it is still a good buy.

J: There is a rumor of a possible takeover. Did you know about that?

H: No. I just know a great rebound chart when I see one.

J: Are you going to have any trouble returning from Mexico? The U.S. is taking a hard look at those returning from other countries.

H: My papers are all in order. I’ll be back in the office in a week or so.

 

Athena

I admit it. I still have no new picks. We do not have the fresh, strongly-trending stocks that I prefer. I’m still holding most of my most recent picks, and I have room for one more buy.

J: Maybe you could give us an update on one of your current holdings.

A: Fair enough. I recommended United Rentals (URI) on 12/22, after buying it myself a few days earlier.

J: Isn’t this one of your few picks where I agreed?

A: Yes, I seem to remember that you said the pick was OK, but you did not own it yourself. I have held this one through a month or so of sideways movement, but now it’s starting to pay off in a big way. We’ve seen an increase of roughly 20% in the last two weeks. That means it’s about time for me to hop off this one (as fun of a ride as it’s been).

 

J: That certainly worked well. How are you doing overall?

A: Not as well as the fussy guy and the dog, but that will change soon. I think I am Vince’s favorite.

Felix

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

My list provides rankings within each zone, as well as the basics about buy, hold, and sell. The list includes the top overall vote getters from our (free) subscription list as well as some new requests I got during the week.

J: The list has some interesting changes. I see that AAPL (which we own) is still in “hold” territory despite the major rally after its earnings report.

F: My ratings came before the report. How about AMZN? That did not do so well. My approach is geared to the long term, usually more than one year.

J: Fair enough. Do you have something new for us this week?

F: No.

J: What? I took a long weekend, but the rest of you were supposed to keep working. Only Holmes was on vacation.

F: I worked, but there are no new choices. Patience is called for.

J: Are you trying to get dropped from the weekly discussion?

F: You would not dare! My performance leads the group. In addition, I provide updated information to my many fans. You should be giving me a raise. I am on the job while the dog is in Mexico.

J: OK, we’ll let the readers decide whether they still want your opinions.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Oscar

My pick for this week is the Defense sector, shown here by the SPDR S&P Aerospace & Defense ETF (XAR). I liked this one back in early December too – but I got out before the downslide. Now that the price has had a few weeks to level out, I feel more comfortable getting back into this sector.

For my next “investment” – I’ll bet that Belichick can’t put together a defense to stop the Falcons. But that really is another subject…

Here are my ratings for the top reader interests. Keep the questions coming. My sectors are aggressive, but have less risk than Felix’s picks. I avoid the bad news from random, single-stock moves.

J: Interesting. Do you see evidence of that?

O: I hear about it. People are very worried about something called “tweets” that seem to hit their stocks for no reason. Playing sectors reduces that risk.

J: Interesting. The Tweeter-in-Chief has T-Wopped a few of the defense stocks, but most still believe in his support for higher defense spending.

O: I only follow sports tweets, but I know which sectors have legs, and which will fail down the stretch.

J: You really like the Falcons?

O: My week’s pay is on the line!

 

 

 

Background on the Stock Exchange

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

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

Questions

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

Conclusion

The current trading environment is treacherous. Many frustrated traders are bailing out. Or have blown out. Political opinions about policy have proved to be a dangerous foundation for trading and investing.

Our models provide a range of diverse ideas, all successful. Pick one that you like. Use it as a counterpoint for your own method. And keep control of position size and risk.

The Stock Exchange does not have all the answers, but it provides good ideas and a stimulus for your own trading.

Why You Never See the Best Employment Data

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

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

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

Why Don’t We Hear About This?

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

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

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

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

The Estimates

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

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

Implications for Investors

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

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

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

And Finally

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

Other Reading

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

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

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

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

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

 

In Search of Mediocrity

Market Sheep

The Average IQ Investor

The Little Book that Equals the Market

Common Stocks and Average Profits

Buffett: The Making of a Lucky Investor

Stay Even with Wall Street

Implications

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

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

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

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

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

What Now?

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

 

Stock Exchange: Diverse Ideas, but a Presidential Veto!

Last week’s Stock Exchange illustrated how human traders could call upon models as “consultants,” effectively creating their own trading room. If you missed the post, please check it out. This week the gang is short on fresh ideas — and I vetoed one of them! We never reach for new trades, and that itself is a good tale.

My crew varies widely in reading skills. Felix reads everything – and very carefully. Oscar reads the sports section. Holmes is a dog. Athena does not read since she already knows everything. It is my job to keep up with relevant world events, and our modeling guru’s (Vince) to create and monitor systems. One way that we judge our team is by comparing our approach to the recommendations of Brett Steenbarger. He is the world-class leader when you want to combine the theoretical and the practical. This week he explains why trading methods need a deep foundation.

…(S)uccessful traders must be able to innovate at two levels.  First, they must find new ideas and fresh opportunities.  Second, they must cultivate new sources of ideas and opportunity.  The first involves exploiting the edges we already possess; the second involves identifying additional edges.  The successful trader is never static, never dependent on one type of market condition to make a living.  Just as research and development is the lifeblood of technology and pharmaceutical companies, it is the source of long-term success for traders.

When successful traders aren’t trading, they are researching, developing, and innovating.  When unsuccessful traders aren’t trading, they’re staring at screens and forcing trades.  There is nothing better for trading psychology than being at the cutting edge of a growing business.

This is great advice! Traders who sit staring at a screen when nothing is happening are simply wasting time. It also illustrates the usefulness of having teammates to provide other ideas and spark the thought processes. Let’s take a look at this week’s ideas. As usual, I will conclude with a brief observation.

Getting Updates

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

This Week—When to Reject a Trading Idea

Holmes

This week I’m buying Fomento Economico, a distributor of soft drinks, owner of small format stores, and investments in the Heineken Group.

For the last year this stock has (until Nov 7th) bounced between the mid-80s and mid-90s piquing my interest in a trade. Then (and fortunately) before I had the chance to pull the trigger, it swooned down to 75 and has been basing there for the last 2 months. I don’t really understand why it dropped so quickly and so precipitously, but now that it’s basing I don’t care.

So, I’m buying here with tight stop, 72, and looking for a move back into the mid-80s. It is a nice risk/reward setup.

 

J: You said that you are buying. Did you come into some money?

H: Uhh.. I meant that I am recommending to our clients.

J: It is an interesting idea, but we are not making the trade.

H: Why not? It fits my criteria very nicely.

J: On rare occasions, we humans override decisions from the trading models.

H: Why would you ever do that?

J: Because we know the criteria you use and monitor facts that you might not be seeing.

H: I see the stock price, volume and other technical indicators. What more do I need to know?

J: Sometimes there are dips that do not really provide a near-term rebound potential. In this case, our new President is talking tough on trade with Mexico. The Peso is lower. A time to buy may come, but there are much better opportunities right now.

H: What is a President?

J: That is exactly what I mean!

 

Athena

I admit it. I have nothing new this week. The current market has not generated fresh, strongly-trending stocks.

J: That is fine. As you know, it is a mistake to reach for trades. Stick to those that have significant edge. How about reviewing one of your recent choices?

A: My pick of Zions Bancorp (ZION) hasn’t done much yet. You were skeptical from the beginning. You said that you liked the sector but it had gone too far, too fast. I had originally planned to hang on for a few weeks at most. Part of me feels like it’s time to get out of this holding and move on to the next thing.

J: This is another name caught up in the Trump transition speculation. When the expectations for short-term interest rates get some clarity, the bank stocks will react. This holding is OK – for now.

 

Felix

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

My list provides rankings within each zone, as well as the basics about buy, hold, and sell. The list includes the top overall vote getters from our (free) subscription list as well as some new requests I got during the week.

J: The stocks are about the same as last week.

F: The list changes, but only as the reader favorites change. I encourage my fans to submit requests.

J: The order of the ratings has changed. Are you going to resume showing us the week-over-week comparison?

F: I am thinking about that problem. Some of the stocks were not rated last week. For the moment, readers must follow their favorites each week.

J: Maybe we’ll get some good new suggestions. What is your featured stock for this week?

F: You will not like my answer. I have nothing new this week.

J: That is what you said last week! Aren’t we still reviewing your request for a raise?

F: Yes, but you should base your decision on my results, not the number of picks. My holding period is longer. As you know I have had the best performance since you added me in September. I have been better than the dog, and a lot better than Oscar.

J: The lawyers say that we cannot discuss performance online – only when we have an investor request. Instead, how about reviewing one of your recent selections?

F: My recent pick of PayPal (PYPL) is sure to make Athena jealous. Since I recommended it on December 29, the price has popped a tasty 3%. Of course – short term returns aren’t really my thing. I’ll probably be holding on here for another few months, at the very least.

J: That has worked out well. I agree that it is consistent with some of your other long-term holdings.

 

 

 

 

 

Oscar

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

J: Interesting. What do you have for us this week?

O: I’m getting into a new sector this week: Healthcare Services. Just look at the chart for Humana (HUM). It’s ridiculous. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a 50-day moving average shoot up at a 45 degree angle before. Now you are the public policy guy, not me, so does this really make sense?

J: No one really knows just yet. We know that there will be a “repeal and replace” policy on ObamaCare. The outlines of this are still pretty vague. I have written on this subject several times; I am standing back until there is more clarity.

O: You cannot always sit on the sidelines. This is worth a shot. As far as timeframes are concerned, I almost certainly won’t hold onto this for longer than a month. That is, unless someone who reads something other than the sports section can find a reason to do otherwise. BTW, I think there could be some upsets this weekend.

J: Isn’t your fantasy football season over?

O: Yes. I am working on becoming an NBA expert while I wait for March Madness.

 

 

Background on the Stock Exchange

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

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

Questions

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

Conclusion

Our models provide diverse ideas, but that is only the starting point. Every trader needs a team to provide ideas, but also the capacity to reject suggestions that are off base.

Diversity in Ideas is a Strength, but Be Ready to Veto!

 

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

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

Will improving corporate earnings confirm perceptions of a stronger economy?

Last Week

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

Theme Recap

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

The Story in One Chart

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

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

The News

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

This week’s news was quite good—almost all positive. I make objective calls, which means not stretching to achieve a false balance. If I missed something for the “bad” list, please feel free to suggest it in the comments. This is a good week to illustrate the problem with the so-called “economic surprise” indexes. So much depends on how you determine the expectations. If conditions are good, they are good, even though some expect continued improvement each week.

The Good

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

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

 

The Bad

  • Retail sales? More spin – good or bad?

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

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

 

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

The Ugly

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

 

The Silver Bullet

I occasionally give the Silver Bullet award to someone who takes up an unpopular or thankless cause, doing the real work to demonstrate the facts. There is week’s award goes to David Moenning (a nomination from a reader, Lasrman) for his helpful discussion of “Alts.” He writes as follows:

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

And….

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

And the problem….

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

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

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

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

The Calendar

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

The “A” List

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

The “B” List

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

     

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

Earnings reports will be the most important news.

Next Week’s Theme

 

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

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

Do Earnings Reports Confirm a Stronger Economy?

The basic positions are simple.

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

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

 

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

Quant Corner

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

Risk Analysis

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

The Indicator Snapshot

 

Although dropping last week, the yield on the ten-year note has increased significantly since the election. This has lowered the risk premium a bit. I suspect much more to come. By this I mean that the relative attractiveness of stocks and bonds will continue to narrow.

The C-Score has also dropped. The relationship is not linear, and it remains in the “safe” zone.

The Featured Sources:

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

How to Use WTWA (especially important for new readers)

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

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

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

 

Best Advice for the Week Ahead

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

Insight for Traders

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

Felix and Holmes

We continue with a strongly bullish market forecast. Felix is fully invested. Oscar is fully invested, but the sectors are less aggressive. The more cautious Holmes has taken some profits, but is still about 90% invested. The group meets weekly for a discussion they call the “Stock Exchange.” In each post I include a trading theme, ideas from each of our four technical experts, and some rebuttal from a fundamental analyst (usually me). There are fresh ideas each week. You can also ask questions and have a little fun.

Top Trading Advice

 

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

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

Decide if you want to trade or gamble.

Have an open mind, but a critical mind.

Understand what “proof” looks like.

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

Psychology matters, but these things are more important.

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

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

Insight for Investors

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

Best of the Week

If I had to pick a single most important source for investors to read this week it would be Morgan Housel’s account of his dinner with Daniel Kahneman. It is a nice summary of Kahneman’s basic ideas – all worth reading. Morgan has a great sense for what is important and what you need to know about it. Here is my favorite quote:

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

 

Stock Ideas

 

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

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

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

Seeking yield?

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

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

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

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

Personal Finance

Professional investors and traders have been making Abnormal Returns a daily stop for over ten years. If you are a serious investor managing your own account, this is a must-read. Even the more casual long-term investor should make time for a weekly trip on Wednesday. Tadas always has first-rate links for investors in his weekly special edition. My personal favorite this week is Megan McArdle’s post on the importance of saving. Investors should understand that the 401(k) is not a substitute for the old guaranteed benefits plans.

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

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

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

 

Final Thoughts

 

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

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

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

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