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.

 

Weighing the Week Ahead: Santa Rally Trumped?

2017 begins with plenty of economic data crammed into a short week. While most expected at least a touch of Dow 20K last week, it did not happen. The conversation quickly shifted to why the rally stalled out. In the coming week, the punditry will be asking:

Should we expect a weak start to 2017?

Last Week

Last week there was some soft economic news, but this week showed strength. There was little apparent market effect.

Theme Recap

In my last WTWA, two weeks ago, I predicted a shift from the Dow 20K obsession to developing a new list of market worries. That was a good guess, although as late as Wednesday some TV experts were debating whether 20K would be achieved by the end of the week. That represented another 55 points or so. Sheesh!

The Story in One Chart

I always start my personal review of the week by looking at this great chart from Doug Short. He captures the trend for the week and the narrow range.

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. This additional choice captures the pre-election period, the Trump Rally, and last week’s selling.

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.

The Good

  • Rail traffic ended the year on a strong note. Steven Hansen at GEI reports the data, while also noting the year-over-year calendar effects. We will know a little more next week.
  • Mortgage rates declined in the last week of the year.Calculated Risk notes that this modest improvement comes in the context of the worst five weeks in history in the post-election period.
  • Earnings growth for Q4 is looking good. FactSet sees a second straight quarter of year-over-year increases, with strength in other metrics as well.
  • Commercial real estate is booming. (Scott Grannis)

  • Homebuilder sentiment reached an 11-year high. (MarketWatch).
  • Initial jobless claims dipped to 265K, maintaining the recent low level.
  • Consumer confidence reached 113.7. Doug Short’s chart (via Jill Mislinski) puts this strong reading in perspective – best since before 9/11.

 

 

The Bad

  • Pending home sales declined by 2.5%.
  • Chicago Purchasing Index declined to 54.6 and missed expectations of 56. (GEI).
  • China abandons the 6.5% growth target. Rupert Hargreaves (ValueWalk) analyzes a change which many already expected.

The Ugly

Russian malware found on a Vermont utility laptop. (Slate). The article notes that utilities in Western Ukraine were past targets and describes the possible consequences.

 

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 Robert Huebscher, founder and CEO of Advisor Perspectives, for his article, As Seen on TV: Financial Products You Should Avoid – Lear Capital.

His opening theme is excellent: Good financial products are bought, not sold.

He carefully avoids a discussion of the specific sales techniques, focusing on the facts of the offer. He writes:

But I caution anyone against buying precious metals from Lear Capital. It is not an SEC-registered investment advisor and its web site states that there is no fiduciary relationship between it and its customers.

And also…

For example, Lear will sell you a $10 circulated Liberty gold coin (1/2 ounce) for $753.00 (plus $24 shipping). I did a quick search on eBay and found a circulated Liberty coin selling for as low as $666 (with free shipping).

Buying silver is no different. Lear will sell you a pre-1921 circulated Morgan silver dollar for $30 (plus $10 shipping). On eBay, I quickly found one of these for $22.00 (plus $2.62 shipping).

Mr. Huebscher notes that other dealers are similar to Lear. I can confirm this, since I have checked out several such offers. I have seen many poor investments touted on TV and radio, but I cannot recall a single good one. It is just not that easy.
The Week Ahead

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

The Calendar

We have a big week for data and only four days of trading. It may start slowly, but expect seatbelts to be fastened before Friday’s employment report.

The “A” List

  • Employment report (F). Still the most-watched number, with continuing strength expected.
  • ISM Index (T). The first data for 2017 is expected to show continuing modest expansion.
  • FOMC minutes (W). While we should not expect much from the report of a unanimous vote, pundits will find something.
  • Auto sales (W). Has “peak auto” arrived?
  • Initial claims (Th). The best concurrent indicator for employment trends. Not a part of this Friday’s report.

The “B” List

  • ISM services (Th). Continuing rebound expected in the large service sector.
  • ADP private employment (Th). Different methodology from the “official” report, but just as accurate.
  • Trade balance (F). Important for GDP. Growing interest with possible changes in trade policy.
  • Construction spending (T). November data for an important sector.
  • Crude inventories (Th). Recently showing even more impact on oil prices. Rightly or wrongly, that spills over to stocks.

     

There is not much FedSpeak on the calendar, but Congress is returning to work on Tuesday.

Next Week’s Theme

 

Last week attention started with more Dow 20K hype. This was true even though it is a rather meaningless round number in a flawed index. It shows the power of symbolism to attract attention. When the rally fizzled out, the story swiftly turned. Everyone questions rapid, short-term moves, so it is a natural for the punditry.

I expect this theme to carry over into 2017, despite an abundance of fresh news. Any sign of weakness will raise the questions:

Will 2017 have a weak start? Just like last year? And what will it mean?

Pundits were already hard at work last week:

  • Trump rally mistaken, overdone, and a setup for selling.
  • Regular “Santa” rally pulled forward, reversing normal seasonal effects.
  • Selling for gains postponed in the hope of lower tax rates. Those waiting to sell strength are ready to move.
  • Reflation trade was already starting; it would have happened anyway. The Trump story was merely a catalyst.

What should investors conclude from these sharply conflicting ideas? Your opinions are quite welcome! 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, but is still well out of recession warning territory.

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). Jill Mislinski updates the ECRI coverage, noting that their public leading index is at the highest point since 2010. Surprisingly, the ECRI public statements remain bearish on the U.S. economy, the global economy, and stocks. It is as if they never recovered from the bad recession call in 2011. They have been out of step ever since.

Readers occasionally ask about the Risk Premium. Antonio Fatas has a slightly different method that I report every week, but an excellent discussion of the considerations.

Many are concerned about higher stock volatility during the Trump Administration. Expert Bill Luby looks at the past fourteen Presidents, giving you a better idea about what to expect.

 

How to Use WTWA (especially important for new readers)

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

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

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

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

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

 

Best Advice for the Week Ahead

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

Insight for Traders

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

Felix and Holmes

We continue with a strongly bullish market forecast. Felix is fully invested. Oscar is fully invested in aggressive sectors. The more cautious Holmes also remains fully invested, but with continued profit-taking and position switching. The group 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 plenty of investor ideas for the new year. Our discussion focused on how to find fresh trading ideas.

Top Trading Advice

 

Brett Steenbarger continues to provide almost daily insights for traders. Sometimes the ideas draw upon his expertise in psychology. Sometimes they emphasize his skills in training traders. Sometimes there are specific trading themes. If you are a trader who is not following his work, you are not doing as well as you should.

This week I especially liked the following (from his new indicator series):

Bridgewater is trying to replace hedge fund managers with artificial intelligence. Humans would retain ultimate authority. Since that is exactly what we are doing with our Stock Exchange group, I am glad that the models do not read. They would all want a raise or threaten to leave!

I look at many sources for good trading ideas, but I welcome suggestions from readers to broaden the list of candidates.

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 chart from @jackdamn (StockTwits) via Josh Brown. More words are not needed.

 

 

Stock Ideas

There are so many end-of-year ideas. I like to include some leads to research in WTWA, but I have a special challenge this week. You have many opportunities to read a range of sources and get lists of favorite stocks. I always review them and then do my own analysis. I hope you do as well.

I want to emphasize a few ideas that you might otherwise miss.

One method of playing for a long-term rebound is to take the “dogs of the Dow.” Here is the past record, but see the site for the current rankings.

Lee Jackson at 24/7 Wall Street has several good columns with collections of picks. Here is one on biotech stocks. Check out the others for dividend choices, Trump stocks, financials and others.

Chuck Carnevale is back with an update on Flowers Foods (FLO) including a deep dive into fundamentals and the settlement of the recent lawsuit.

Simply Safe Dividends takes a look at UPS – boring but safe. I might consider this and write near-term calls against it in our Enhanced Yield program.

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 Holmes likes Palo Alto Networks (PANW). Check out the post for my own reaction, and more information about the trading models.

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

Eddy Elfenbein announced his eagerly awaited buy list for 2017. Check out the post for the full list. You will definitely find some good ideas. Or you can also join in the whole list via Eddy’s new ETF (CWS). It is both convenient and inexpensive.

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. There are always several great choices worth reading. My personal favorite this week is Ben Carlson’s advice on how to overcome a late start to retirement savings – a very common problem. The article has some good, practical advice.

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. This week I especially liked the discussion of who might benefit from a financial advisor. You might also be interested in the discussion of whether you should be providing a questionnaire to your advisor, instead of the other way around.

Watch out for…

Giving up liquidity. David Merkel has another excellent warning for investors, explaining the hidden costs of tempting investments.

 

Final Thoughts

 

I do not know how the market will trade in the next week, and neither does anyone else. That will not stop everyone who can get quoted in a column or get on TV from offering an opinion. When you see these stories, you should keep in mind this first-rate post by Ben Carlson. With a combination of insight and humor, he hands out his Financial Market Awards for 2016. Keep these two charts in mind:

This frightened nearly everyone at the time, but here is what happened.

And this year the S&P was up 13.2%

My own conclusion is that the reflation trade (explanation here) was teed up and ready to go. I expect the late-year trends to continue, mostly because the reaction was small if you look at a long-term chart.

I will discuss the prospect for 2017 more in my annual preview, coming soon, but Mrs. OldProf informs me that I have done enough for tonight. She is requesting (more) champagne and my company.

Happy New Year to all my readers. I hope you have had a prosperous year, meeting your own specific goals. If not….

This is a good time to ask yourself about how have you done? If you are wondering whether you might do better with a financial advisor, check out my latest paper, The Top Twelve Investor Pitfalls – and How to Avoid Them. If you regularly navigate these problems, you can fly solo! That is true for 99% of my readers, whom I am trying to help. Some readers might well benefit from our help. Readers of WTWA can get a free copy by sending an email to info at newarc dot com. We will not share your address with anyone.

Is Forecasting Always A Folly?

Forecasting season is upon us. Anyone who gets to be quoted in print or speak to a reporter is asked an opinion. Expertise not required! It is paradise for pundits.

Many have decried the “folly of forecasting.” People love to laugh at supposed experts, looking back at old forecasts. Since most forecasts are based upon a model, modelers are thrown under the bus as well.

Barry Ritholtz wrote on this topic in his excellent Apprenticed Investor series. There are now over 200,000 blog hits on this phrase.

Background

But please consider this: Most models and forecasts are bad – very bad – but not all. The trick is to figure out which is which. Barry notes the possible exceptions:

There are only two kinds of predictions that have some value to investors: One is probability-based, and the other is risk-based. If you apply the same rules — no one knows the future, they are subject to revision and should not be taken as gospel — then these are sometimes worth considering.

Here are a few examples.

  • Millions of people attempt to paint, but only a handful are successful. Could you pick the winners?
  • Millions attempt to write, but there are few best-sellers. Could you guess them in advance?
  • Worldwide wine consumption is over 30 billion bottles. How many are really good?
  • In the U.S., 11 million people are playing baseball in a given year. Fewer than 900 are in the major leagues. There is so little difference that only an expert could identify the best players by watching them bat.

Finding the best in any large field is a real challenge!

The issue is especially important for financial analysis. I have been pondering this question for weeks. How can I best explain an important but unpopular viewpoint? I recently began this theme with by citing a bogus analysis in the New York Times. In simple fashion, I showed that if you only had the long-term average – that the market returned a positive result 2/3 of the time – you would do much better to predict “Up” every year rather than guessing 2/3 up and 1/3 down. This counter-intuitive result should be cause for thought, since it is an expensive and common investor mistake.

Ben Carlson inspired another approach. He publishes consistently strong work at his blog, A Wealth of Common Sense, which I always read and frequently cite. He discusses the difficulty of selecting the best stocks and sectors. This is the updated sector asset quilt he created, followed by his principal conclusion.

Like any asset quilt, there’s no rhyme or reason from one year to the next. I’m sure you could torture the data here using a momentum or value-based strategy to improve upon the results of the S&P 500, but unless you’re using a rules-based approach, you’re really just guessing when attempting to figure out which sectors will perform best over any given time frame.

That conclusion seems persuasive to a very intelligent observer using annual ranking changes. Can a first-rate forecaster add any value?

 

Finding the Real Experts

Ben is quite correct in noting that most contrived explanations will torture the data. Is this true of every approach? Here are some things I look for in evaluating a model:

  • It does not use too many variables compared to the available data
  • It has a good record using “out of sample” data as well as in real time
  • The underlying method is logical, proceeding from a theory
  • The modeler has both experience and expertise

Two sharply contrasting success stories reflect the two most common model types, trend following and mean reversion.

Dr. Robert Shiller is a leading economist at a top university, a Nobel Laureate, author of many papers and books of value to investors, and a popular media guest. Among investors, he is probably best known for his Cyclically Adjusted Price to Earnings ratio (CAPE) method. One of the methods that he endorses is the Barclays ETN, CAPE. Barclays implements CAPE in a mean reversion method. They look at the historical CAPE for each sector choosing the sectors most under-valued by this comparison (throwing out the bottom one). This is a mean-reversion method based upon fundamental data. At the introduction over four years ago, Barclays had promising backtest data. This did not attract many investors, most of whom cite CAPE as a method for timing the overall market – which Dr. Shiller himself does not do. After four years, the fund remains very small (under $34 million).

How has it done in real time?

Probably riskier than buy and hold the market, but much stronger returns. Those choosing to use CAPE as a reason to exit the market (not Dr. Shiller’s recommendation) would have done better to buy the ETN.

Dr. Vincent Castelli is not a professor at a top university, but he could have been. He will not win a Nobel prize, because his best work was top secret. He spent a career making U.S. armed forces safer and more effective, heading a group of other scientists from various disciplines. His modeling is known in quant circles, where he demonstrates, advises, and coaches. He is probably not going to become famous on CNBC.

His approach to sector analysis begins with the time-tested method of trend following. The tricks are in separating signal from noise, recognizing trends in a timely fashion, and exiting while you can protect profits. As an expert in modeling, Vince touches all the bases for sound work — ruthlessly pruning variables, a generous out-of-sample test, and real-time comparisons.

These two brilliant men took quite different approaches to life and later to analyzing stock sectors. Each found a profitable approach where most of us would see nothing.

Conclusion

There are many paths to successful investing. Remain open to profit opportunities by giving open-minded consideration to other approaches. Finding the best experts is just as important as finding the best stocks or sectors.

Weighing the Week Ahead: New Year, New Highs, and a New List of Worries

There is a normal dose of economic data this week, but we are entering a quiet, pre-holiday period. As the rally faltered a bit, the Dow 20K talk yielded to a discussion of what could go wrong. I expect this discussion to continue in the coming week, and perhaps the next one as well. The punditry will be asking:

What can derail the rally?

Last Week

In a reversal from the last month, most of the economic news was soft. There was little apparent market effect.

Theme Recap

In my last WTWA, I predicted a week-long fixation on the Dow 20K story. That was very accurate, with the closest call coming just as I arrived at Chicago’s NBC tower for a CNBC interview on my 2010 forecast. I think it represents a delay rather than a jinx. Some might attribute the selling to the Fed and Chair Yellen’s press conference, an “effect” that was reversed the next day. It must have been meJ I’ll stay at the office for the rest of the year!

The Story in One Chart

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

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

Personal

I will have several year-end posts planned for the next two weeks, but will probably skip WTWA next weekend. I am planning a Weighing the Year Ahead installment, probably in two weeks.

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.

The Good

  • Framing lumber prices are higher, year-over-year. Calculated Risk sees this as an important leading indicator for housing, so we should, too.
  • Initial jobless claims edged lower, to 254K.
  • Hotels are close to an occupancy record. (Calculated Risk).
  • The Fed provided the expected increase in rates with almost no market reaction. (That is the good part). Tim Duy provides some insight. See also “Davidson” via Todd Sullivan.
  • The Philly Fed showed a big gain to 21.5 (7.6 prior) and trouncing expectations. I am not very interested in the Empire State survey, but it mirrored the Philly result. Business and consumer confidence have both strengthened since the election. Confidence is essential for spending, investment, and economic strength.
  • Inflation is still tame, even as it creeps toward the Fed’s target.
  • Household balance sheets are much stronger. Scott Grannis regularly produces this chart. It is far more valuable than material from those focusing exclusively on debt, and ignoring assets.

  • Homebuilder confidence hits the highest level since 2005. (Calculated Risk).

 

The Bad

  • Industrial production declined by 0.4% from October to November.
  • The rail contraction continues. Steven Hansen continues his coverage with multiple takes and time frames. Check it out!
  • China/drone incident. The drone seizure coincided with Friday selling, a hint of market reaction to sensitive international issues. China will return the drone and claims that the story was “hyped up.”
  • High frequency indicators edge lower. NDD’s useful weekly compilation shows continuing strength in short leading indicators, neutral in the coincident group, and some weakness in the long term. He is downplaying the effects due to seasonality, but it bears watching.
  • Housing starts dropped by 18.7%. This was a very bad headline number. Various sources suggest that it emphasizes multi-family while single-family is strong. This is a shift that is quite acceptable, so we should follow it closely. Calculated Risk, our go-to source on all things housing, has a great analysis and this chart.

The Ugly

The Young. Colleges are profiting from helping credit card companies. The choices are frequently worse than the student could find otherwise.

The Old. Brett Arends opines that cost-of-living adjustments may soon end. Already the inflation rate for seniors, mostly because of medical costs, exceeds the standard CPI calculation.

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, but opportunities abound and nominations are welcome!
The Week Ahead

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

The Calendar

We have a normal week for data, loaded into the latter part of the week. Things will get very quiet after Friday’s opening.

The “A” List

  • Michigan sentiment (F). Confidence is important right now. Will the mid-month preliminary high hold up?
  • New home sales (F). Not much change expected in this important sector.
  • Leading indicators (Th). This widely followed measure is likely to be flat.
  • Personal income and spending (Th). This important read on the economy is expected to show solid growth.
  • Initial claims (Th). The best concurrent indicator for employment trends.

The “B” List

  • Existing home sales (W). A small decline is expected. Less important than new construction, but still relevant.
  • PCE price index (Th). The Fed’s favorite inflation indicator – still very tame at a touch over 1%.
  • Q3 GDP third estimate (Th). Little change expected in what is now viewed as “old news.”
  • Durable goods orders (Th). This volatile series is expected to be much weaker than the October data.
  • Crude inventories (W). Recently showing even more impact on oil prices. Rightly or wrongly, that spills over to stocks.

     

Despite the end of the FOMC quiet period, we have little FedSpeak. Chair Yellen makes an early-week appearance, and that is all I see.

Next Week’s Theme

 

Last week attention focused on Dow 20K. This was true even though it is a rather meaningless round number in a flawed index. It shows the power of symbolism to attract attention. When the rally fizzled out, the story swiftly turned. Everyone questions rapid, short-term moves, so it is a natural for the punditry.

I expect it to carry over into a quiet week, with plenty of focus on 2017. The popular question will be about what could stop the rally. What should we worry about? It is time to rebuild the wall or worry.

What could go wrong?

Pundits were already hard at work last week:

You should ignore the lists or 2017 winners.

Trump’s policies might not get enacted, disappointing markets. S&P businesses are in line for $87.1 billion.

Trump’s policies might be enacted, hurting the economy and markets. (Think trade matters).

Trump might make a bad decision in a crisis. An ill-timed tweet?

Valuations are still excessive. Stocks are too pricey to buy.

The Fed and a strong dollar might hurt earnings.

Stocks might get too expensive for dividend reinvestment. (You can’t make this up).

Bonds are sending a warning.

Or maybe we should look at the bright side?

A nice reversal from the negativity of last January, the worst start to a year ever. (Josh Brown).

The rally is real. Brian Wesbury’s valuation model showed stocks as 30% under-valued on election day.

20% upside for next year? Brian Gilmartin sticks to the facts. This is an earnings-based conclusion.

 

What should investors conclude from these sharply conflicting ideas? As usual, I’ll have a few ideas of my own in today’s “Final Thoughts”.

Quant Corner

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

Risk Analysis

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

The Indicator Snapshot

 

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

The Featured Sources:

 

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

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

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

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

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). Jill Mislinski updates the ECRI coverage, noting that their public leading index is at the highest point since 2010. Surprisingly, the ECRI public statements remain bearish on the U.S. economy, the global economy, and stocks. It is as if they never recovered from the bad recession call in 2011. They have been out of step ever since.

James Picerno highlights an important, oft-ignored relationship. Many worry about higher interest rates. He notes the relationship between higher rates and stronger economic growth.

 

How to Use WTWA (especially important for new readers)

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

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

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

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

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

 

Best Advice for the Week Ahead

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

Insight for Traders

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

Felix and Holmes

We continue with a strongly bullish market forecast. Felix is fully invested. Oscar is fully invested in aggressive sectors. The more cautious Holmes also remains fully invested, but with continued profit-taking and position switching. The group meets weekly for a discussion they call the “Stock Exchange.” This week we had a great topic – whether the focus on Dow20K had an effect on technical analysis. The prior two segments were on limiting risk and maximizing returns. (We report exits from announced Holmes positions if you ask to be on that list. Write to holmes at newarc dot com).

Top Trading Advice

 

Brett Steenbarger continues to provide almost daily insights for traders. Sometimes the ideas draw upon his expertise in psychology. Sometimes they emphasize his skills in training traders. Sometimes there are specific trading themes. They all deserve reading. This week I especially liked the following:

Adam H. Grimes has an excellent piece on finding ideas. You must be experienced, but also avoid confirmation bias. Dr. Brett gives a HT and follows up.

Brendan Mullooly takes one of my favorite approaches – drawing a lesson from outside trading, especially from sports. This approach helps rid us of confirmation bias, providing a fresh look. Check out the full post for data on the impact from overtrading. And the sports analogy? Teams that keep switching quarterbacks!

[This chart was approved by Mrs. OldProf, a native of Green Bay and a knowledgeable football fan.]

 

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 advice from legendary investor Peter Lynch. Instead of finding something from the last week, I wanted to find the best choice for current conditions. Ben Carlson did the Peter Lynch report about two years ago, starting with this very relevant quotation:

Far more money has been lost by investors preparing for corrections, or trying to anticipate corrections, than has been lost in corrections themselves.

And also….

Now no one seems to know when they are gonna happen. At least if they know about ’em, they’re not telling anybody about ’em. I don’t remember anybody predicting the market right more than once, and they predict a lot. So they’re gonna happen. If you’re in the market, you have to know there’s going to be declines. And they’re going to cap and every couple of years you’re going to get a 10 percent correction. That’s a euphemism for losing a lot of money rapidly. That’s what a “correction” is called. And a bear market is 20-25-30 percent decline.

They’re gonna happen. When they’re gonna start, no one knows. If you’re not ready for that, you shouldn’t be in the stock market. I mean the stomach is the key organ here. It’s not the brain. Do you have the stomach for these kinds of declines? And what’s your timing like? Is your horizon one year? Is your horizon ten years or 20 years?

What the market’s going to do in one or two years, you don’t know. Time is on your side in the stock market.

 

Stock Ideas

Lee Jackson has an interesting screen that produced 5 Dividend Stocks that You Can Still Buy With Market at Record Highs. “We screened the Merrill Lynch research data base for stocks that are rated Buy, pay a dividend and haven’t gone parabolic this year. We found five that make good sense for investors”.

Wind energy stocks have been left behind in the “Trump rally.” Buying opportunity or victim of policy changes?

But keep in mind that solar is now cheaper than wind energy. Tom Randall (Bloomberg Technology) has a helpful analysis of how much and why.

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 Holmes likes Amgen (AMGN). Check out the post for my own reaction, and more information about the trading models.

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

Some Merrill Lynch top picks for 2017 (via 24/7 Wall Street).

Ben Levisohn (Barron’s) sees 23% upside for FedEx.

Interested in REITs? Try health care.

Get ready for Eddy Elfenbein’s new buy list. This annual event is a great source of ideas for investors who like to think in a time frame of at least a year. You can also join in the whole list via Eddy’s new ETF (CWS). It is both convenient and inexpensive.

Personal Finance

Professional investors and traders have been making Abnormal Returns a daily stop for over ten years. If you are a serious investor managing your own account, you should join us in adding this to your daily reading. Every investor should make time for a weekly trip on Wednesday. Tadas always has first-rate links for investors in his weekly special edition. There are always several great choices worth reading. My personal favorite this week is the important article by Jonathan Clements on your personal risk-free rate. It is not the T-Bill or T-Note from financial analysis, but your own most costly loan. This may seem obvious, but many people fail to consider it in their financial calculations.

Seeking Alpha Editor Gil Weinreich’s Financial Advisors’ Daily Digest is a must-read for financial professionals. The topics are frequently important for active individual investors, so the series is worth following regularly. This week I especially liked the discussion of financial literacy. Even active investors are unable to answer basic questions. WTWA readers would get them all right, so it may seem very surprising.

Watch out for…

Bonds cratering while stocks rally. Eddy Elfenbein presents a telling chart.

Final Thoughts

 

My biggest reason for the 2010 Dow20K post was to alert investors to the idea of “upside risk.” There is always – always – a list of plausible worries. These dominate the news and the financial discussions. The other side is difficult. It is boring to say repeatedly that things are normal and promising. Talking about some new development seems smart – attracting viewers, page views, more gigs to make you famous, and even investors who seek confirmation.

The natural process leads to a focus on problems. These are easy to see, while solutions are not. Therefore, most investors do not understand the ill-named concept of the wall of worry.

The new list of worries, all well-known and reflected in current market prices, is a replacement for those listed on my current “investor fears” page, which replaced those from the 2010 era. It seems smart to study world events and use that knowledge to guide your investment decisions. But it is not!

You cannot make these calls as well as the market does. You are almost certain to over-react.

The investor mistakes I highlighted in 2010 are still with us:

  1. Excessive attention to headline events;
  2. Reliance on poor forecasts of the economy, especially recessions; (James Picerno has a great list of typical forecasts)
  3. Too much reliance on backward-looking earnings, reflective of unusual events and times.
  4. Ignoring the long-term economic forces putting idle assets to work. (Mark Hulbert on 24K)
  5. Emphasizing politics instead of investing. In 2008 many investors hated the prospects and principles of the Obama administration. They sat out the start, and never found an entry point.

It is more profitable to accept a measure of uncertainty, rely upon the best recession and earnings indicators, and remain agnostic about politics.

 

This is a good time to ask yourself about how have you done? If you are wondering whether you might do better with a financial advisor, check out my latest paper, The Top Twelve Investor Pitfalls – and How to Avoid Them. If you regularly navigate these problems, you can fly solo! That is true for 99% of my readers, whom I am trying to help. Some readers might well benefit from our help. Readers of WTWA can get a free copy by sending an email to info at newarc dot com. We will not share your address with anyone.

Weighing the Week Ahead: Dow 20K?

The post-election market run has been accompanied by improving economic data and increasing confidence. The result has the punditry asking a question that seemed crazy in January:

Will the Dow hit 20K?

Before reading this week’s installment, “Sherman, set the WABAC machine to” mid-year, 2010. The Dow was at 10K and many famous pundits were predicting a fall to 5000. In order to appreciate the psychology of the time, please read my post and especially the comments at Seeking Alpha. You will see some very colorful criticisms of my work! You will enjoy a few good laughs. I’ll comment more on this below, but it is a great place to start.

Last Week

Once again, last week’s calendar of economic news was nearly all good, supporting the market gains.

Theme Recap

In my last WTWA (two weeks ago), I predicted a period of stronger economic news and the possibility of a more positive market reaction. This is what has happened, but most commentators still are not emphasizing the main theme. It is not all about the Fed.

The Story in One Chart

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

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

 

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.

The Good

  • Rail traffic finally scores a slight positive. Steven Hansen provides the current data, as well as the more negative long-term perspective.
  • Senate passes stopgap funding. This is not getting a lot of attention, but it is a big shift from the past eight years, especially 2011, when the last correction came for this very reason. (The Hill).
  • OPEC reached a production limit agreement. Whether this will attract cooperation from non-OPEC countries is open to question. We might also ask whether a floor under energy prices is a positive. That said, the oil price/stock correlation has been a factor since the energy collapse. Months ago, I suggested that we were entering a sweet spot for oil pricing. The OPEC participants see a cap of about $60/barrel, which makes sense.
  • Jobless claims down ticked, and remain near all-time lows. See Calculated Risk for the story and charts.
  • Productivity rose over 3%.
  • Michigan sentiment spiked to 98 on the preliminary estimate. LPL shows why this is important.

  • Borrowers continue to move out of negative equity on their homes. 384K in Q3 (Calculated Risk).
  • ISM non-manufacturing strengthened to 57.2. Doug Short has the story and this chart:

 

The Bad

  • Gas prices rose over five cents. (GEI).

  • Interest rate components of long leading indicators are weakening. (New Deal Democrat). This is mostly a positive story, but the long-term interest effects are worth watching. NDD’s report of high frequency indicators is a regular read for me, and should be for other frequent traders.

 

The Ugly

Secret outside influence on U.S. elections. Foreign countries frequently have an interest in the most important elections. There is nothing new or unusual about that. Voters can weigh the opinions and arguments in the same way they use other information. Actions that are secret are another matter, especially when following the “dirty tricks” approach.

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, but opportunities abound and nominations are welcome!
The Week Ahead

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

The Calendar

We have a big week for data.

The “A” List

  • FOMC rate decision (W). An increase is widely expected. The statement and Yellen’s press conference may yield hints about next year.
  • Housing starts and building permits (F). Softening pace expected in this important sector.
  • Retail sales (W). November data following a very strong October.
  • Industrial production (W). Any improvement in this economic weak spot?
  • Initial claims (Th). The best concurrent indicator for employment trends.

The “B” List

  • PPI (W). Interest in inflation measures is increasing, but prices are not.
  • CPI (Th). See PPI above. Eventually these will be important.
  • Philly Fed (Th). The first look at December data is expected to be positive.
  • Business inventories (W). Significant for Q4 GDP, but little change is expected.
  • Crude inventories (W). Recently showing even more impact on oil prices. Rightly or wrongly, that spills over to stocks.

     

With the FOMC meeting at mid-week, FedSpeak is on mute. Expect plenty more news on possible Trump policies.

Next Week’s Theme

 

The strong data continues, as does the market rise. We still do not see a reflection in forward earnings, but the earnings recession has ended. The Fed is about to raise rates, and no one cares. It is not all about the Fed, and more are learning that. As the market hits new highs, including a big round number on the DOW, the focus this week will be on DOW 20K.

In my 2010 articles I tried to emphasize the right focus for investors. Too many were paralyzed by fear from the frequent disaster predictions. Their upside risk was huge. This section was crucial:

Asking the Right Questions

The bias is inherent in the situation. The problems are known. If you write for a major publication, you are rewarded for analyzing the negativity. If you go on TV, you are expected to parrot the analysis of problems. This makes you seem smart.

By contrast, the solutions are vague and unknown. If you even talk about them, all the “hot shots” are skeptical.

That should be your clue to pay attention. Repeating the known news does not make you money. Try asking these questions:

What if unemployment falls to 8%?

What if the annual budget deficit is reduced?

What if housing prices and sales show a clear bottom?

What if mortgage rates remain low?

What if politicians negotiate a compromise on tax increases?

What if Europe stabilizes?

What if China and other emerging countries resume a solid growth path?

What if earnings for US companies continue to surge, leaving the 10-year trailing earnings in the dust?

What if the US rationalizes immigration?

If you have not thought about these possibilities, you have a fixation on negativity. My Dow 20K concept is designed to set you free — to get you thinking about the long sweep of history and the potential for success. If even a few of these things happen, what would be the market reaction?

This list of worries seems so old….

Two years later the New York Times ran a story with the analysis from a big firm. The reasoning was like mine, but missing the first 30% of the move.

Josh Brown takes note of the Barron’s cover. Since magazine covers are often viewed as contrary indicators, he adroitly includes a few others that might have been viewed as signals of a top. Great insight, and great fun.

Scott Grannis shows the wall of worry climb (but I still like my own version better!)

Eddy Elfenbein highlights the sharp contrast between now and January as well as the impact of the banking sector.

Remember how the start of 2016 was one of the worst market starts in Wall Street history? Howard Silverblatt noted this stat: At the market’s February, low, the S&P 500 was down 10.5% YTD, yet the Financials were down 17.7%. Since then, the S&P 500 has rallied 21.5%, while the Financials are up 45.6%. It’s as if the entire market were the dog being wagged by the banking sector’s tail.

None of this really answers the DOW 20K question, but the information is great. As usual, I’ll have a few ideas of my own in today’s “Final Thoughts”.

Quant Corner

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

Risk Analysis

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

The Indicator Snapshot

 

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

The Featured Sources:

 

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

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

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

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

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

Georg Vrba: The Business Cycle Indicator 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.

There is a Correlation Nosedive says Nick Colas (via Josh Brown). This signals an opportunity for those who can identify the best stocks and sectors. The phrase “stock-picker’s market” is oft-repeated. Now it makes some sense.

Dr. Brett analyzes the divergences and the implications.

Brian Gilmartin reports on the recent Chicago CFA luncheon where “Dan Clifton of Strategas Partners gave a great presentation on the coming fiscal stimulus and what it might look like and what it might mean for the US economy in 2017”. This means plenty of money for share buybacks and earnings increases. Brian (who has been very good on both earnings and the market) reaches this conclusion:

In year-end meetings with clients, I’m telling clients from both sides of the aisle that the SP 500 could be up 20% next year. Prior to the election and since last Spring ’16, the SP 500 was already looking at its best year of expected earnings growth in 5 years. The proposed President-elect and Congressional fiscal policy could be another level of earnings growth above what was already built into the numbers, before November 8th.

Personally, the $1 trillion repatriation estimate that Dan Clifton threw out seemed on the lighter side to me. Apple alone has $250 billion sitting on its own balance sheet, which is 1/4 of the expected total.

This is something we all should be monitoring.

 

How to Use WTWA (especially important for new readers)

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

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

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

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

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

 

Best Advice for the Week Ahead

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

Insight for Traders

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

Felix and Holmes

We continue with a strongly bullish market forecast. Felix is fully invested. Oscar is fully invested in aggressive sectors. The more cautious Holmes also remains fully invested, but with continued profit-taking and position switching. The group meets weekly for a discussion they call the “Stock Exchange.” This week we talked about maximizing gains. Last week the topic was minimizing risk. (We report exits from announced Holmes positions if you ask to be on that list. Write to holmes at newarc dot com).

Special thanks to our guest expert, Blue Harbinger, who provided first-rate fundamental analysis, providing counterpoint for our technical models.

Top Trading Advice

 

Brett Steenbarger continues to provide almost daily insights for traders. Sometimes the ideas draw upon his expertise in psychology. Sometimes they emphasize his skills in training traders. Sometimes there are specific trading themes. They all deserve reading. This week I especially liked the following, each reflecting one of the main themes:

 

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 post on The Art and Science of Investing. I am delighted that he is keeping his promise to keep writing, leading the effort at a new, multi-contributor blog. This entry, as is the case with much of the best investing work, does not emphasize immediately “actionable” advice, designed to attract plenty of page view. The concept is great, and the post is worth a careful read. Here is the thesis:

This drives people crazy, because the more important a field is, the more scientific and predictable we want it to be. People take scientists seriously because they can count of them. Art is taken less seriously because it comes and goes.

But most fields outside academia are both science and art.

Including investing.

An example?

There is scientific data showing the best way to invest is to buy the cheapest set of companies you can find. There’s equally persuasive data showing the best way to invest is to buy the fastest-growing set of companies, which tend to be expensive. Some investors obsess over brand and intangibles. Others say ignore those and only look at fundamentals. Neither is right or wrong. You just have to appreciate that each strategy lives in its own context, and that market trends come and go. It’s an art.

I love this concept! There are many ways to profit from trading and investing. Arguments about approach may either distract or enlighten.

 

Stock Ideas

 

Brad Thomas suggests two REITs for the new Commander-in-Chief. Besides the recommendations, Brad analyzes some potential losers.

Still wondering about winners from the election? Marc Gerstein’s stock screening methods generate a great list of stocks and sectors.

Looking for safe yield? Who isn’t!! Blue Harbinger provides a first-rate analysis of Saratoga Investment Corp. (SAR). There are plenty of traps in the Business Development Company (BDC) universe. Mark’s analysis shows how carefully you must consider the data in finding sound choices. He carefully considers the implications from higher rates.

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

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

But Tom Armistead warns that there is too much enthusiasm about Deere.

Personal Finance

Professional investors and traders have been making Abnormal Returns a daily stop for over ten years. If you are a serious investor managing your own account, you should join us in adding this to your daily reading. Every investor should make time for a weekly trip on Wednesday. Tadas always has first-rate links for investors in his weekly special edition. There are always several great choices worth reading. My personal favorite this week is the Bloomberg analysis of when it is right to wait before claiming Social Security benefits. While it is an individual choice and calculation, delay is good for many. (See also “Watch out for” below.)

Seeking Alpha Editor Gil Weinreich’s Financial Advisors’ Daily Digest is a must-read for financial professionals. The topics are frequently important for active individual investors. Gil is on a well-deserved vacation, but his last post is very helpful. He takes a nice look at the current risks and rewards from the market rotation away from bonds.

Watch out for…

Structured products. Larry Swedroe (ETF.com) provides a careful analysis of what the investor is really getting. Most have inflated notions about the returns and are not properly informed about risks. In many cases, a simple fixed-income security would be better. This is a complicated story, but it is worth reading carefully if you, like so many, are considering these investments.

 

Final Thoughts

 

Will we reach DOW 20K? And stay there? I expect us to touch that level soon. When the market gets close to such numbers there is a magnetic attraction. Sellers see it as inevitable, so they back away. It becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Whether the level holds will be a trickier question. It will, but perhaps not right away. No one really knows.

My purpose in the DOW 20K project, including buying the domain name, was to help individual investors to focus on the right problem: Missing the upside because of the paralysis of fear. Consider the following:

  • For many years, anyone forecasting more than an 8% gain in the market was tagged as super-bullish.
  • Since 2010 there have been incessant warnings of another market crash, a decline of 50% or more.
  • A market doubling in 6 ½ years represents 11% compounded growth.

It was not a prediction of rush to 20,000, but an emphasis on taking the right perspective. There are always market worries. The big negative predictions always get the attention. It is always difficult to stay the course.

Is DOW20K the end? Definitely not. The fundamentals are all better than in 2010, and the worries are different. I’ll write soon about the methods behind the original call and the current implications. For now, I’ll just say that the upside/downside risk is still attractive.

Investors need not just “buy and hold.” Recessions are the biggest risk, so I watch that closely. The right allocation among asset classes deserves a regular review.

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

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

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

Can the market embrace some good news?

Last Week

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

Theme Recap

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

The Story in One Chart

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

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

Personal Note

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

The News

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

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

The Good

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

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

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

The Bad

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

 

The Ugly Beautiful

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

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

 

 

The Silver Bullet

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


The Week Ahead

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

The Calendar

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

The “A” List

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

The “B” List

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

     

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

Next Week’s Theme

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Quant Corner

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

Risk Analysis

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

The Indicator Snapshot

 

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

The Featured Sources:

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This is very good advice to the recession worrywarts.

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

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

 

How to Use WTWA (especially important for new readers)

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

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

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

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

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

 

Best Advice for the Week Ahead

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

Insight for Traders

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

Felix and Holmes

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

Top Trading Advice

 

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

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

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

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

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

Insight for Investors

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

Best of the Week

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

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

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

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

Stock Ideas

 

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

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

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

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

Personal Finance

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

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

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

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

Market Outlook

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

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

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

Value Investing

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

Watch out for…

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

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

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

And also this:

 

1955-2014:

            Interest rate range           average P/E

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

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

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

Final Thoughts

 

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

When does change start?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Weighing the Week Ahead: Time for a Portfolio “Transition?”

There is some important data on the schedule for this week, along with earnings and the expected doses of FedSpeak. None of that will attract much attention. Instead expect “all Trump, all the time”. The slant in financial media will be the implications for investors. As we get news of the leadership transition, I expect the punditry to be asking:

Do investment portfolios need a transition?

Last Week

Last week’s economic news was all good, but less important than the election.

Theme Recap

In my last WTWA, I predicted a focus on the election and the chances for greater economic and financial clarity. The election expectation was obvious, and there was indeed a focus on the implications for investors. That said, I embraced the consensus expectations which proved to be dramatically incorrect. I did correctly note that the crystal ball would remain cloudy, but that proved to be quite an understatement.

The Story in One Chart

I always start my personal review of the week by looking at this great chart from Doug Short. He captures the post-election rally as well as the Friday fizzling.

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. Here is one additional example.

The big story of the trading week does not show up in the stock market data. As the Trump victory became apparent, overnight trading in stock futures showed a massive decline. This chart shows the selling and the morning rebound.

The News

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

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

The Good

  • Election uncertainty ended. This was a known, market-friendly event, although the amount of the reaction was a surprise.
  • Framing lumber demand drives higher prices. Those who prefer market data to other source should take note of the data from Calculated Risk.
  • Earnings reports continue strength on all measures. Earnings growth, results versus expectations, sales versus expectations, and outlook are all solid (FactSet). It is not getting much attention, but the “earnings recession” is over. Brian Gilmartin provided the first alert on this dramatic shift, and now points to a possible expansion in multiples. Ed Yardeni shows the impact via changed expectations.

  • Michigan sentiment showed strength with a reading of 91.6, solidly beating the prior month and expectations. The survey was before the election.
  • JOLTS remained positive. This may be the most misunderstood indicator. Pundits use it to analyze job growth, because that is what they want to know about. Many other measures do that job better. JOLTS is about the structure of the labor market. How tight things are and whether employees freely leave jobs for others. If you do not understand the Beveridge Curve, you do not understand JOLTS.

  • Initial jobless claims declined to 254K, marking 88 consecutive weeks below 300K. This is the best record since 1970. Calculated Risk has the story and a helpful chart.

The Bad

  • OPEC output jumped. This calls into question the planned production cuts. Whether you agree with me that stock prices should not be linked to oil prices, that continues to be the reality. Thus – this news is market unfriendly. (MarketWatch)

 

The Ugly

Financial abuse of the elderly. Reshma Kapadia of Barron’s has a great feature article on this topic, describing the various scams and consequences. Here are a few of the top ones:

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.
Noteworthy

Could you pass the U.S. Citizenship Test? You might enjoy the quiz from BuzzFeed. Example: Who was not one of the writers of the Federalist papers? John Jay, James Madison, Alexander Hamilton, or Thomas Jefferson? Mrs. OldProf tells me that this one is too easy if you scored a ticket to Hamilton and paid attention.

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 an important week for economic data, with a special focus on housing.

The “A” List

  • Housing starts and building permits (Th). Different directions in recent reports.
  • Retail sales (T). Continuing strength expected.
  • Initial claims (Th). The best concurrent indicator for employment trends.

The “B” List

  • Philly Fed (Th). Continuing small gains expected in an early read on November.
  • Industrial production (W). Small growth expected despite recent weakness.
  • PPI (W). Still not a major market factor, but moving higher.
  • CPI (Th). Not the Fed’s “official” inflation indicator, but it is moving beyond the target.
  • Business inventories (T). September data, but relevant for final Q3 GDP.
  • Crude inventories (W). Recently showing even more impact on oil prices. Rightly or wrongly, that spills over to stocks.

     

There are still some earnings reports, including housing stocks. Once again we also have almost daily Fedspeak. We’ll get to watch some dancing around the political questions.

Next Week’s Theme

 

In a different year, this would be a week for special attention to housing. The economic data feature some important forward-looking indicators and earnings reports include important housing-related stocks. Instead, the surprised investment community is scrambling to identify the implications of a Trump presidency and a GOP Congress. Regular media will have daily reports of transition plans, cabinet appointments, and shifting policy stances. Financial media will focus on what it means for investors. Expect this question to be a common theme:

Does your portfolio need a complete remake?

Here are the important issues:

  • Has the best asset allocation shifted? More stocks, less bonds?
  • Is the overall market more dangerous? Time for more cash?
  • What are the likely economic consequences, in both the short and long terms? The WSJ has a nice general summary, loaded with charts, about the economy Mr. Trump will inherit.
  • Which stock sectors are likely to benefit, and by how much?
  • Are there specific stock favorites?

Traders rushed to act, frequently on hastily and ill-formed ideas. The overnight futures trading is a spectacular example, but most of the other conclusions are also quite speculative. Consider how wrong many of the big names in investments have been. Citi, Goldman and Bridgewater Associates all expected declines of 3 – 10% on a Trump victory. Even after the market was rallying, many of the pros were expecting the story to end at any moment. As Time notes, the three errors included the event itself, the impact, and the aftermath.

I advised caution in a message to my readers “the morning after.” (Clients got more detail). Check out the post for my list of four key points.

As one person noted in the comments, using patience left you behind on some day-trading possibilities. True enough, if you guessed well. Would stocks down 6% continue to decline or stocks up 6% keep ascending.

I’ll have a few ideas of my own about what comes next in today’s “Final Thoughts”.

Quant Corner

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

Risk Analysis

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

The Indicator Snapshot

 

The increased yield on the ten-year note has lowered the risk premium a bit. I suspect much more to come.

The Featured Sources:

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

How to Use WTWA (important for new readers)

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

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

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

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

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

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

Best Advice for the Week Ahead

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

Insight for Traders

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

Felix and Holmes

We continue with a strongly bullish market forecast. Felix is fully invested. Oscar holds several aggressive sectors. The more cautious Holmes also remains fully invested. Now joined by Athena, the group has a regular Thursday night discussion which they call the “Stock Exchange.” This week’s question was the effectiveness of technical analysis in the aftermath of a disruptive event. You can see that discussion as well as the most recent ideas for consideration – and you can ask questions!

Top Trading Advice

 

Brett Steenbarger warns against overtrading simply because things are boring. Not so much this week, but that might make it the best time to consider a great lesson.

He also presents an update on his market trading models, an interesting comparison to our approaches.

Bill Luby shows that the volatility crush was among the top 25 in history. If you have been trading VIX as a long, plenty of agility was necessary to limit your losses. If it was a hedge, you needed significant positions in the right sectors to make a profit. Check out VIX and More for the full story.

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 the cool-headed and accurate analysis from Liz Ann Sonders: Don’t Fear a Recession or Market Overvaluation. This coverage of Schwab’s IMPACT 2016, the largest conference in the investor business. Robert Huebscher continually brings the best analysis to advisors through special posts. I always read them along with many other advisors, but they are not a secret. You too can see what the advisor community is following. Here is a key quote on valuation:

“Valuation metrics can support any view of the market,” she said. The metrics that are dependent on an inflation or interest-rate component show that the market is cheap, she said. But metrics such as the forward P/E ratio show a median valuation. Sonders said that valuations tend to be highest when inflation is 2-3%, just above its current range. “But inflation going higher is a risk for P/E ratios,” she explained.

A slavish devotion to valuation indicators that ignore low interest rates has been an expensive mistake for investors. Here is a chart of the ETF modeled on Prof Shiller’s famous CAPE ratio. Despite the professor’s repeated statements that he is personally invested and recommends a significant stock allocation, his work is most frequently cited as indicating potential for a market crash. That is not his personal interpretation. The Barclay’s ETF uses CAPE to find the most attractive sectors, and it remains fully invested.

Suppose that each of the CAPE devotees who went to cash because of alarming valuations had allocated just 25% of the portfolio to the CAPE fund. (Not that this has been the very best choice, but it illustrates the Shiller contrast very well.)

 

Stock Ideas

 

Companies that may participate in “rebuilding the aging infrastructure.” Here are eleven stocks (24/7 Wall St) that could benefit from the $2.75 trillion that The American Society of Civil Engineers sees as necessary. Some of the ideas might surprise you.

Barron’s has a summary of other stock ideas, for those interested in immediate pursuit of the Trump theme.

 

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

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

Marc Gerstein plays the “semi-contrarian” with his EBAY idea.

Chuck Carnevale has a very important post combining an analysis of the risk from increased market volatility, with the analysis of specific stocks. Investors should be reading Chuck’s work carefully every week.

Personal Finance

Professional investors and traders have been making Abnormal Returns a daily stop for over ten years. If you are a serious investor managing your own account, you should join us in adding this to your daily reading. Every investor should make time for a weekly trip on Wednesday. Tadas always has first-rate links for investors in his weekly special edition. There are always several great choices worth reading. My personal favorite this week is the advice on how to handle market volatility from Christine Benz (Morningstar). She easily clears the first hurdle – the temptation to give blanket advice. Each investor is different. She offers time frame as one important consideration. If investors want to copy what I do with clients, this article provides a good basic outline.

As you gauge whether to make any changes in light of the volatility, the really important concept to keep on your radar is risk capacity–what sort of losses can you endure without having to rework a goal?

If you still have a reasonably long time until retirement–say, 10 years or more—you have a fairly high risk capacity. That means that regardless of how you feel about near-term losses, you’re likely to recover from them during your time horizon. In fact, stocks have generated positive returns in more than 90% of rolling 10-year periods. For that reason, such investors ought to have aggressively positioned portfolios with at least 50% in stocks; given today’s low bond and cash yields, a more conservatively positioned portfolio will barely preserve purchasing power, let alone grow.

Seeking Alpha Editor Gil Weinreich was one of the few to highlight the possibility of a Trump victory, and do so with confidence. He reasoned from the Brexit precedent and a sense of the popular uprising. In a helpful and constructive fashion, he disagreed with my highlighted sources in last week’s WTWA. While his work is popular among investment advisors writing on Seeking Alpha, the topics are frequently important for active individual investors.

Out of the several helpful posts last week, my favorite was the individual investor advice (and appreciated the mention) to follow your plan rather than the election. This is especially persuasive from someone who called the election result. The money line from Gil?

But as we all know, investing is best accomplished unemotionally.

Other ideas?

For the most conservative investors, who normally stick to Treasuries, it may be time to switch to TIPS. Barron’s explains that inflation fears have now given the edge to the inflation-protected securities.

Emergency fund idea bad advice? Sally Krawcheck explains why paying off credit cards is more important. Do the math!

Blue Harbinger provides an update on Business Development Companies (BDCs). The article ranks many of the opportunities, and provides criteria for evaluation. This is a good start for anyone considering investments in this space.

Watch out for…

Dividend stocks? Many observers opined that this week’s decline in the bond substitutes was only the start. (I agree). The dividend investment gurus have a different take. While they are looking for buying opportunities, here are the early returns.

Final Thoughts

 

Last week I embraced the conclusions from the polling community, which was dramatically incorrect. They are preparing post-mortems. They will try to figure out the sources of error and improve their methods, because that is what professionals do. Of the sources I cited last week, Nate Silver was the best. Even his methods gave Mr. Trump only about a 30% chance. That is not high enough to predict the outcome, but it should get one’s attention. I will be doing my own review of what went wrong with the pollsters, and whether we gave them too much credit.

I was more accurate concerning what investors should be doing about the election. I have expected a market rally after the election, if only because a big element of uncertainty would be removed. I also have warned that plenty of uncertainty will remain!

If you allowed your political preferences to influence your investing, you probably have had poor results. If you have been sticking to the fundamentals – a solid portfolio of cheap stocks – you are doing well.

What’s Next?

As I write this we have already seen a change in the Trump transition leadership and acceptance of some elements of ObamaCare. Each policy needs fresh scrutiny, using the following elements:

  • The possible difference between candidate Trump and President Trump
    • Which proposals were serious
    • The effect of actual responsibility
    • The influence of the team
  • The limitations of power (See this great take on what Truman said about Eisenhower)
  • The potential for compromises

I will look at these questions on a policy-by-policy basis, discovering the changes in value in the related stocks. Many journalists and pundits are on this job, of course, but the instant conclusions are unreliable. Even the best journalists and financial analysts have little experience in analyzing the workings of the policymaking process.

For most investors, a portfolio review is in order, and a remake might be. As the leadership transitions, so should your asset allocation and stock selection. It is a job that should be done carefully, and done right. You have a lot at stake.

Stock Exchange: Is Technical Analysis Effective Post-Election?

A truly disruptive event generates surprisingly large moves – sectors, stocks, and sometimes the overall market. Methods that work well in normal times may break down under this stress. Traders and investors must ask:

  • Is my system still working?
  • Should I adjust?
  • Should I suspend operations for a time?

When trading based upon scientifically developed models, these questions are somewhat easier to answer. We have solid expectations for behavior and performance, because of extensive testing on a generous helping of out-of-sample data. Most importantly, the human managers know and understand the model inputs.

We have great respect for our group of models, but we retain human control. This week, for example, Oscar liked our solar sector. We knew something that Oscar didn’t – the likely effect of Trump policy on solar stocks. What appeared to be a buying opportunity, might be an illusion. The trade might still work, but there are other, safer choices that are nearly as good.

Technical analysts can always be tempted by confirmation bias and their knowledge of events. When using models, you very sparingly use exceptions. If you view every trade as a suggestion, you wind up doing your own trading, with your model advice used only for (biased) confirmation.

The Stock Exchange provides an expert-level debate on technical and fundamental analysis. I have placed more background at the end of the article. Comments, dissent, and specific stock questions are welcome!

This Week—Athena Loves Amgen

This week’s featured expert is Athena. Vince (our modeling guru) designed Athena to be very aggressive in finding new positions, but swift to exit those that were not working. These are not “stops” as we normally think of them. Exits are not based upon specific downside limits. Instead, there is an increased risk warning (IRW) that signals a change of behavior in how the stock is trading. The result is exceptionally good risk control both for individual positions and the overall portfolio. While we have not told the other models, Athena is Vince’s favorite.

Here are the ideas for this week, beginning with Athena, our featured expert.

Athena

I love to make a quick buck finding trends. An insider secret: There’s nothing trendier than the baseless speculation following a big election. My pick this week is AMGN, one of many biotech stocks rocketing skyward since this week’s big news. It’s still attractive at this price, but I’ll dump it in a heartbeat, maybe by Inauguration Day.

[J] You actually know about the election?

[A] Yes, but don’t tell the other models. They already resent my wisdom. I do not use fundamental information, but I am aware of it.

[J] This choice does seem logical on an earnings basis, as you can see from this chart. The stock trades at a discount and has a nice 2.7% dividend yield as well.

[A] It is nice to see that you finally agree with me on a choice. My other picks have also done well.

Felix

I look for long-term themes. Oil and gas stocks have been a very long-term holding. We are picking up and I still am adding to the sector. I am going to pick ECR as the example this week. This is a fairly small company with modest revenue but the chart reflects that of the big boys. That is a good sign and something that I like immensely.

[J] You have been early (a euphemism for “wrong” on energy and mining).

[F] I sold some miners, as I will do when necessary. The energy investments will prove out in the long run.

[J] I have suggested a ceiling on energy prices in the low 50’s, mostly due to more supply returning.

[F] That is a short-sighted, I mean short-term viewpoint. You will see.

Questions for Felix

From Seeking Alpha

 Tiki Bar Capital comments:

Great call on healthcare, Jeff! And BMRN in particular.

The biotech sector is close to retesting its lows. Biotech and pharma in general seem like the sectors that will see the biggest rallies once the smoke clears after the election.

1234gel joins in:

Ditto the BMRN call…

[F] Those were not comments for me—or for you. BMRN was an Oscar pick.

From A Dash

Phil

Comments on my two favorites- AAPL & BRK/B?

[F] AAPL is a weak buy and BRK/A as about neutral.

[J] I like AAPL a lot.

[F] This is my question section. I need more of them since I am saving up for Spring Break.

[J] It is only November…

[F] With what you are paying me for each answer, that is how long it will take for a nice trip.

Oscar

Basketball season is back in full swing, which means I’m looking for a rebound. My favorite sector this week is Diversified REITs, demonstrated here by CMO. This area was already looking up at the beginning of October, and now we’re seeing gains as a part of the broad based post-election rally. Grab the rebound, make an easy layup, and move on to the next play.

[J] I thought that Holmes was our rebound specialist.

[O] Sometimes the dog and I agree.

[J] This one has fundamental appeal as well. The dividend of 9.5% is great. The PE is 12.3, above the average level of the last nine years, 7.9. What will happen as interest rates rise? Chuck Carnevale’s excellent tools help us out on that question. This chart shows the P/E versus interest rates over the last nine years.

Holmes

This week I’m picking TSCO, Tractor Supply a specialty consumer cyclical stock. After a sharp decline in September, this stock has proceeded to consolidate and backfill making a low of 61.62 on October 28th. This is a logical place for a stop. I bought this stock a few days ago at 65.91 so it is slightly higher now. I am looking for a nice rebound to low 80s. If we start to rally, I’ll be moving up my stop aggressively. Risking $4.30 to make $15.00 is the sort of Risk/Reward scenario I like. If I’m right just half the time, I can still be a big winner.

[J] There are plenty of these stores around here. It is not just tractors. Think clothing, footwear, hunting supplies, garden, parts, and more. If they do not have it, you probably do not need it. The costal elites do not understand this.

[H] As I told you last week, you only need to track the information from technical data.

[J] You were right about BMRN.

[H] As I told you last week, and I quote “The stock prices tell you everything you need to know about upcoming events, including this election. If a Clinton victory is expected and is negative for health care, that is already reflected in the stock price. My trade works if this sentiment is overdone, and it works big if Mr. Trump wins.”

[J] You were right.

[H] My YTD results are also great.

[J] It is unseemly to boast. See how you can do in the poker game!

 

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.” 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.

What is this about? Since launching this series I have had good questions on three general themes. Here are the questions and some brief answers.

  1. The model characters are fun, but please tell me more about what they do.

    I include the general personality of the model at the end of each article. I will begin featuring one approach each week with more detail, and soon provide a reference page for readers.

  2. Why don’t you show a track record on performance?

    I understand that those trying to sell a newsletter or chat room often provide some sort of time-stamped real-time record. You will find that most of these people are not subject to compliance rules. The “track records” tell you nothing, since they do not have enough trades to get into the “long run.” Confidence in a model comes from knowing how it is developed and tested. I would rather ask a few questions to a developer than see a few months of real-time picks. It is easy to spot the amateurs.

  3. Why should I care about these model picks?

    You probably read many articles with stock ideas. Some are a single idea based upon technical analysis from a source you do not know about. At the Stock Exchange, you get four different recommendations from technical “experts” as well as some fundamental commentary as a rebuttal. I am not trying to sell anything. We are developing an institutional product. The results are good enough that I am willing to share and discuss with readers. Some of my clients are invested in these models, so I am not going to provide every trade in real time. It is supposed to be interesting and fun! Look at the ideas and do your own research.

 

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).

Cast of Characters

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

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

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

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

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

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

And finally, you can learn about the eternal debate between technical analysts and those using fundamentals.