2016 in Review: Best of the Silver Bullet Awards Part One

Since the earliest days of A Dash of Insight, Jeff has brought attention to journalists and bloggers who dispel myths in financial media. We congratulate these writers with the Silver Bullet Award – named in honor of the Lone Ranger, who lived by a strict code: “…that all things change but truth, and that truth alone, lives on forever.”

In a year rife with misinformation and disinformation, it is fitting that we gave out a record 23 Silver Bullet Awards in 2016. For that reason, we’ll be doing this year in two parts; our winners for the first half of the year are summarized below. Readers may also want to check into our 20132014, and 2015 compilations, as many of the same issues persist to this day.

Have any thoughts or predictions on what will dominate news cycles in 2017? Know of a great analyst flying below our radar? Feel free to post in the comments with any suggestions or nominations.

1/3/16

It didn’t take long to find our first Silver Bullet winner of 2016. Matt Busigin took on US Recession Callers ahead of the ISM data release:

Through a combination of quackery, charlatanism, and inadequate utilisation of mathematics, callers for US recession in 2016 are embarrassing themselves. Again.

The most prominent reason for recession calling may well be the Institute of Supply Management’s Manufacturing Purchasing Manager Index. The problem with this recession forecasting methodology is that it doesn’t work.

As we now know, the US economy did not slip into a recession in 2016 – lending further credence to Busigin’s critique of these methods.

2/7/16

Paul Hickey of Bespoke Investment earned the second Silver Bullet award of 2016. While others were content to see doom and gloom in the level of margin debt on the NYSE, Hickey dismissed this as a minor concern.

Although declining margin levels are often cited as a bearish signal for the market, Hickey believes that it is a small concern given the indicator’s coincidental nature. On the other hand, the prospect of rising rates spooks investors much more, and holds them back from buying stocks.

“Margin debt rises when the market rises and falls when the market falls,” Hickey said. “If you look at the S&P 500’s average returns after periods when margin debt falls 10 percent from a record high, the forward returns aren’t much different than the overall returns for all periods.”

3/5/16

The causation-correlation fallacy is a favorite of ours on A Dash. Robert Novy-Marx distinguished himself with an excellent paper titled “Predicting anomaly performance with politics, the weather, global warming, sunspots, and the stars.”

“This paper shows that several interesting variables appear to have power predicting the performance of some of the best known anomalies. Standard predictive regressions fail to reject the hypothesis that the party of the US President, the weather in Manhattan, global warming, El Niño, sunspots, or the conjunctions of the planets are significantly related to anomaly performance. These results are striking and surprising. In fact, some readers might be inclined to reject some of this paper’s conclusions solely on the grounds of plausibility.”

We often note how bloggers and media search back to find tedious explanations and tie a day together. For more reading, we recommend our old post “The Costly Craving for Explanations.”

3/20/16

“Davidson,” by way of Todd Sullivan, was recognized for writing on the confusion of nominal and real data on Retain and Food Service Sales. His key takeaway:

Retail and Food Service Sales are at the highest levels ever measured and trending higher. Would you believe that today’s pace is more than 35% higher than our last recovery. Comments in the media would lead you to believe otherwise. Perhaps you have heard a number of recession forecasts. I have heard at least a dozen well known investors say a recession will occur before this year is out. My view differs considerably and remains very positive.

3/26/16

Jacob Wolinsky found it suspicious that Harry Dent was predicting the next big crash – and happened to have just the product to help investors cope. This “Rounded Top” chart had started to make its way across the panicky world of financial media:

The whole of Wolinsky’s article is still worth a read (especially given its twist ending).

4/3/16

The economic impact of lower oil prices in early 2016 was surprising to many observers. We recognized Professor Tim Duy for his research on the economic impact of lower oil prices.

This problem, however, just scratches the surface. Look at either of the first two charts above and two red flags should leap off the screen. The first is the different scales, often used to overemphasize the strength of a correlation. The second is the short time span, often used to disguise the lack of any real long term relationship (I hope I remember these two points the next time I am inclined to post such a chart).

Consider a time span that encompassed the entirety of the 5-year, 5-year forward inflation expectations:

4/10/16

If we spent a little time looking for the newest conspiracy theory about the Federal Reserve, we could probably give out the Silver Bullet every week. Ethan Harris of Bank of America Merril Lynch (via Business Insider) got this week’s award for shutting down a new “theory” about central banks and the dollar.

“There is a much simpler explanation for all of this. Central banks have turned more dovish because they are being hurt by common shocks: slower global growth and a risk-off trade in global capital markets,” he argued.

“Hence it is in the individual interest of the ECB to stimulate credit and bank lending, the BOJ to push interest rates into negative territory and the Fed to move more cautiously in hiking rates,” he continued.

Some may also point out that there’s a gap between Yellen’s recent messages and some of the recent speeches from FOMC members.

But Harris has thoughts on this, too:

  1. Yellen has consistently leaned more dovish than others.
  2. Most of those more hawkish speeches were from nonvoting members.

4/17/16

The mythology surrounding the Fed bled over into the next week as well. We gave Steven Saville a Silver Bullet award for targeting ZeroHedge with this very thorough rebuttal:

A post at ZeroHedge (ZH) on 8th April discusses an 11th April Fed meeting as if it were an important and unusual event. According to the ZH post:

With everyone’s focus sharply attuned on anything to do with the Fed’s rate hike policy, many will probably wonder why yesterday the Fed announced that this coming Monday, April 11, the Fed will hold a closed meeting “under expedited procedures” during which the Board of Governors will review and determine advance and discount rates charged by the Fed banks.

As a reminder, the last time the Fed held such a meeting was on November 21, less than a month before it launched its first rate hike in years.

As explained at the TSI Blog last November in response to a similar ZH post, these “expedited, closed” Fed meetings happen with monotonous regularity. For example, there were 5 in March, 4 in February and 5 in January. Furthermore, ZH’s statement that 21 November was the last time the Fed held such a meeting to “review and determine advance and discount rates charged by the Fed banks” is an outright falsehood. The fact is that a meeting for this purpose happens at least once per month. For example, there were 2 such meetings in March and 1 in February.

4/23/16

During the economic recovery following the Great Recession, critics often argued that net job creation emphasized part-time and low-paying jobs. Jeffry Bartash of MarketWatch thought to look at the data, and concluded the US economy is still creating well-paid jobs. The key takeaway is in the following chart:

5/8/16

Breaking down mean averages can produce some strange results, and you can never be sure how financial bloggers might spin that data. We gave a Silver Bullet award to Jeff Reeves for breaking down this baffling valuation of Tesla.

$620,000 for every car it delivered last year, or $63,000 for every car it hopes to produce in 2020.

By comparison, General Motors Co’s (GM.N) $48 billion market value is equivalent to about $4,800 for every vehicle it sold last year.

Reeves’ full article, still available on MarketWatch, is still very smart and very readable.

5/21/16

The “flattening” yield curve had become the newest scare issue by late May. Barron’s Gene Epstein and Bonddad’s New Deal Democrat both took this to task, with satisfying results. In particular, the latter’s article had a solid mix of compelling charts with snappy writing:

In the last week or so there have been a spate of articles – from the usual Doomer sources but also from some semi-respectable sites like Business Insider vans an investment adviser or two ,see here ( https://lplresearch.com/2016/05/19/is-the-yield-curve-signaling-trouble-… ) – to the effect that the yield curve is flattening and OMG RECESSION!!! Here’s a typical Doomer graph – that draws a trend line that ignores the 1970s and neglects to mention that 2 of the 4 inversions even within the time specified don’t fit:

5/29/16

We gave this week’s award to the former President of the Minneapolis Fed, Narayana Kocherlakota. As conspiracy theories persisted, he explained the nature of Fed meetings and their timing:

Timing alone, though, hardly merits so much attention. To understand why, consider two possible scenarios. In one, the Fed starts raising rates in June and then adds another quarter percentage point at every second policy-making meeting (once every three months) for the next three years. In the other, the Fed waits until the second half of 2017 and then adds a quarter percentage point at each of the next 12 meetings. The second path represents slightly easier monetary policy, but most economic models would suggest that there would be almost no difference in the effect on employment or inflation.

6/12/16

New Deal Democrat earned a second Silver Bullet award for his work debunking a notoriously deceptive chart:

“The problem with this graph is that includes two slightly to significantly lagging indicators.  Your employer doesn’t start paying withholding taxes until after you are hired.  State tax receipts aren’t paid until a month or a quarter after the spending or other taxable event has occurred.  Worse, since both have seasonality, both have to be measured on a YoY basis, which means the turn in the data will come after the actual turn in the economy.”

Conclusion – Part One

As always, you can feel free to contact us with recommendations for future Silver Bullet prize winners at any time. Whenever someone takes interest in defending a thankless but essential cause, we hope you’ll find them here. Expect to see Part Two of our Silver Bullet review later on in the week. Happy New Year!

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.

Weighing the Week Ahead: Time for Some Clarity?

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

Will the election results provide clarity for financial markets?

Personal Note

 

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

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

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

Last Week

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

Theme Recap

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

The Story in One Chart

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

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

 

The News

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

The Good

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

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

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

 

The environment has stayed slow and steady

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

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

Still, there’s a pervasive sense of uncertainty

CEOs are waiting to see what happens in the election

Companies are setting strategic plans that assume weakness

The consumer has been slowing

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

Inventories are much leaner than they have been

And pricing pressures are building

 

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

 

The Bad

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

The Ugly

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

The Silver Bullet

I occasionally give the Silver Bullet award to someone who takes up an unpopular or thankless cause, doing the real work to demonstrate the facts. This week’s winner is Bill McBride of Calculated Risk. Debunking recession calls is not popular. It is not the way to get page views. Please read Bill’s entire post to see the full story about the endless parade of recession calls. Here are some of the key points:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bill cites this chart:

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

The Week Ahead

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

The Calendar

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

The “A” List

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

The “B” List

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

     

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

Next Week’s Theme

 

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

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

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

Will we finally get some clarity?

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

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

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

Quant Corner

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

Risk Analysis

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

The Indicator Snapshot

 

 

The Featured Sources:

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

How to Use WTWA (important for new readers)

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

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

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

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

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

Best Advice for the Week Ahead

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

Insight for Traders

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

Felix and Holmes

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

Top Trading Advice

 

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

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

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

Insight for Investors

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

Best of the Week

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

And a key quotation:

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

Stock Ideas

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Personal Finance

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

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

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

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

Watch out for…

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

Final Thoughts

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Things I Don’t Care About — And Neither Should You!!

One of the biggest challenges for investors is filtering out bad, useless, or even costly “information.”  I have a method for screening out the noise and using my time more effectively.  Part of it is keeping the TV on mute and using TIVO to check out anything that is really significant.  You can also just skip articles that obviously do not meet the test.

Here is a good starting list of what to ignore.  Feel free to suggest additions.

  • The Hindenburg Omen – or any other method using BO (i.e. backtested overfitting) and failing the smell test.
  • Commentary from people who are famous for being famous – their websites confuse media appearances with credentials.
  • Tobin’s Q – a great idea fifty years ago, but not relevant for modern companies.
  • Bond guys opinions about stocks – don’t ask your barber if you need a haircut (Warren Buffett)
  • Stock guys opinions about bonds – see above.
  • PMI data lacking multiple business cycles – you have to start somewhere, but we do not need to believe it.
  • Recession predictions from some “expert” who cooked up a model last week – too few cases, too many variables.

You can save many hours and also avoid some bad decisions by rejecting this useless and harmful noise.

Weighing the Week Ahead: Has the Market Rotation Begun?

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

Has a market rotation begun?

 

Last Week

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

Theme Recap

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

The Story in One Chart

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

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

The News

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

The Good

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

  • Initial jobless claims also show labor market strength.

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

 

The Bad

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

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

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

The Ugly

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

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

The Silver Bullet

I occasionally give the Silver Bullet award to someone who takes up an unpopular or thankless cause, doing the real work to demonstrate the facts. No award this week. Nominations welcome. I also note that Dr. Ed Yardeni joined us in applauding the Justin Lahart article on CAPE. Dr. Ed provides his own thoughts about market valuation and the advantages of forward earnings.

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

The Week Ahead

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

The Calendar

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

The “A” List

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

The “B” List

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

 

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

Next Week’s Theme

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

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

Has a market rotation begun?

There is some evidence.

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

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

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

And also….

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

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

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

Quant Corner

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

Risk Analysis

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

The Indicator Snapshot

 

The Featured Sources:

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

How to Use WTWA (important for new readers)

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

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

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

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

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

Best Advice for the Week Ahead

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

Insight for Traders

We consider both our models and also the best advice from sources we follow.

Felix and Holmes

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

Top Trading Advice

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

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

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

Insight for Investors

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

Best of the Week

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

 

Stock Ideas

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

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

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

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

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

Personal Finance

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

 

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

Market Outlook

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

 

Final Thoughts

 

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

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

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

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

Weighing the Week Ahead: Time for the Bond Correction?

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

Last Week

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

Theme Recap

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

The Story in One Chart

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

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

 

The News

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

The Good

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Bad

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

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

 

The Ugly

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

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

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

The Silver Bullet

I occasionally give the Silver Bullet award to someone who takes up an unpopular or thankless cause, doing the real work to demonstrate the facts. This week’s award goes to Chris Ciovacco (See It Market) for his great explanation of the VIX. Featuring a prior piece by Jeff Macke, he emphasizes that the VIX is not really about fear, but expected volatility.

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

See also runner-up Adam H. Grimes with similar conclusions on the same topic.

 

The Week Ahead

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

The Calendar

We have a very light week for economic data, featuring the FOMC decision and Yellen press conference. While personally I watch everything on the calendar, you do not need to! I highlight only the most important items in WTWA. Focus is essential.

The “A” List

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

The “B” List

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

 

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

Next Week’s Theme

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

JP Morganseems to be on the same page.

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

Quant Corner

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

Risk Analysis

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

The Indicator Snapshot

 

The Featured Sources:

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

How to Use WTWA

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

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

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

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

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

Best Advice for the Week Ahead

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

Insight for Traders

We consider both our models and also the best advice from sources we follow.

Felix and Holmes

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

Top Trading Advice

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Insight for Investors

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

Best of the Week

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

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

Stock Ideas

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

OK, here is another….

You can get some great ideas from this approach.

Personal Finance

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

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

Market Outlook

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

This week I was struck by two excellent posts.

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

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

Watch out for…

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

Final Thoughts

 

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

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

The long end reflects (at least) five factors:

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

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

Investment Implications

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

Holdings to reduce or avoid include:

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

Holdings to emphasize include:

  • Technology
  • Banks
  • Homebuilders

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

Weighing the Week Ahead: Should We Fear the Fed?

The calendar has little important data. Friday’s sharp selling was widely attributed to the fear of a Fed rate hike in September. Is it time? Should we fear the Fed?

Last Week

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

Theme Recap

In my last WTWA, I predicted a continuing discussion of the Fed and the timing of the first rate increase, combined with concern over a September market correction. The first part was pretty accurate all week, but the market remained quiet. The modest trading range ended spectacularly on Friday., The “C” word is now on the lips of many.

The Story in One Chart

I always start my personal review of the week by looking at this great chart from Doug Short. The overall range, once again, is very narrow. Doug’s take is that Friday was all about the Fed. He writes as follows:

Today’s action essentially confirms the metaphor of an equity market infant nursing on mother Fed’s breast. The selloff was triggered initially by hawkish remarks by the normally dovish Boston Fed President Eric Rosengren, a voting member of the FOMC. But more surprising was the announcement of an unannounced speech by even more dovish Lael Brainard at the open of the FOMC week, which runs counter to the general policy a silent Fed prior to the FOMC meeting end.

As you will see in today’s “Final Thought,” I have a very different interpretation, still consistent with the data.

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

A Two-Question Quiz

  1. The recent Purchasing managers index for manufacturing recently registered 49.4. Last week’s “services” index came in at 51.4. Each data series has a long-term relationship with GDP. Which of these reports implies the higher rate of economic growth? Which one implies an impending recession? [See conclusion for the answer.]
  2. Suppose you are in an NFL “survivor” pool. You just need to pick a team that will not lose that week. No point spread. What are your odds of making it through two weeks? You may pick the biggest favorite each week.

The News

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

The Good

  • Initial jobless claims fell to 259K, down from the prior week and continuing recent low levels.
  • The Beige Book was mildly positive, providing support for the modest growth scenario.
  • Framing lumber prices remain strong. (Calculated Risk).
  • Sentiment remains bullish. Dana Lyons looks at the ISE Call/Put ratio to refute the idea of a “frothy” market.

  • Durable goods orders had a solid rebound from earlier weakness, increasing 4.4%
  • The JOLTS report registered a new high in job openings and continued strength reflected in the quit rate. This shows the number of people voluntarily leaving their jobs. Josh Brown has a good discussion of this point. The labor market structure from the report is less encouraging. The ratio of unemployment to job vacancies confirms non-recessionary conditions, but also a mismatch between available jobs and workers. (Simple explanation here. Also a good chart via The Daily Shot).

The Bad

  • Employment benchmark revisions showed a decrease of 150K jobs over a one-year period ending last March (BLS). While this is a preliminary report, it is usually a good estimate of what we will see in the actual revisions this coming March. Essentially, this means that the job growth over the one-year period ending last March was over-estimated by 150K jobs, described as 0.1% of the labor force. It is a much larger percentage of the reported net job growth. I frequently cite this report as the most accurate count, but one that arrives too late to be of interest to those in the news and financial communities. If you missed my challenging quiz on the employment report, please take a look.
  • Rail traffic had another bad week. Steven Hansen (GEI) reports on the 5.7% decline for the month of August.
  • ISM non-manufacturing dropped to 51.4. As Bespoke notes, this was the biggest monthly decline since 2008.

Here is some color from the actual report:

WHAT RESPONDENTS ARE SAYING …

“Relatively stable August, with no sharp increase or decrease in sales or pricing. Labor availability and cost remains a very high focal point.” (Accommodation & Food Services)

“Overall, the oil and gas industry remain in [a] ‘wait and watch’ mode. The price of oil has impacted investment considerably.” (Construction)

“No significant changes to report. Still on track for expansion efforts to begin fourth quarter 2016.” (Finance & Insurance)

“Still recovering from the current downturn in the renewable energy market which is expected to pick up in the fourth quarter.” (Professional, Scientific & Technical Services)

“Stable with some increase in construction activity.” (Public Administration)

“The business environment has softened a bit over the last month. There are now opportunities to fill in the marketplace.” (Retail Trade)

“Midyear [is a] slow time for us, summer build is over, fall is historically light, holiday peak build September and October for peak time November and December.” (Transportation & Warehousing)

“Good, but slowing from previous months.” (Wholesale Trade)

 

The Ugly

North Korea is a multiple winner of my “ugly” award. The recent nuclear test is viewed as completely unacceptable by most of the world. Can leaders find an action that peacefully accomplishes widespread objectives? Will those having the most influence over N. Korea cooperate? These are important questions, beyond our normal concerns over investments.

Jonathan D. Pollack (Brookings) has a good explanation of why the recent test is different and more threatening than those in the past.

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 Wisconsin economist Menzie Chinn, who earned a belt full of bullets in a single article. The context is a post for a class in economics. Since so many current financial commentators take pride in not having taken Economics 101, it is a great illustration of why they are wrong! So many mistakes of this sort are made by financial pundits, including intentional misrepresentations. Prof. Chinn illustrates one of the most frequent errors – not using log scales in charts when they are appropriate. Note the deception it would generate in this example, which actually shows a constant rate of increase.

He also debunks the data conspiracy stories, using several links and good explanations. This post might be the single most profitable thing for investors to read this week.

 

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 another light week for economic data. While personally I watch everything on the calendar, you do not need to! I highlight only the most important items in WTWA. Focus is essential.

The “A” List

  • Retail sales (T). The biggest report of the week. The odds of a rate hike will increase if this is positive.
  • Michigan sentiment (F). Consumer confidence has been strong, helping to support the stock market.
  • Initial claims (Th). The best concurrent indicator for employment trends. Quiet strength is the long-term trend, so a spike would be worrisome.

The “B” List

  • Industrial production (Th). Volatile data with a big gain last month. Not much is expected, but this remains important.
  • CPI (F). Still not important, but this number will start to approach the Fed’s 2% inflation target as year-over-year gasoline prices stabilize.
  • PPI (Th). See CPI above.
  • Business inventories (Th). July data, but it is another piece in the Q2 GDP puzzle.
  • Crude inventories (W). Often has a significant impact on oil markets, a focal point for traders of everything.

 

FedSpeak will enter the pre-meeting blackout period after Monday. Fed Governor Lael Brainard has been dovish, so her Monday presentation will get plenty of attention.

Next Week’s Theme

Last week brought us more quiet for the first part of the abbreviated week. Friday was a very different story. The sharp decline, ending a two-month string of quiet days, commanded attention. What was going on?

The instant conclusion was fear of a September rate increase from the Fed. That sets the tone for next week. Everyone will be asking: Should we fear the Fed?

Normally I recommend spending very little time on yesterday’s news. As I wrote a few months ago, investors do not get paid for this knowledge – only pundits who get to sound smart after the fact!

This week is a bit different. Having a good sense about what happened Friday is important to our advance preparation. Here is an abbreviated sequence of events:

  • Stock futures were set up for a flat opening, just as we had seen all week.
  • Boston Fed President Eric Rosengren, repeating a speech made in August, stated that gradually removing accommodation was the best way to extend the duration of the recovery. The Boston Globe states that this pushed the Dow 400 points lower.
  • Stock futures moved lower by about ½ of one percent when the speech was reported.
  • Since markets are not expecting a September rate increase, and only a 60% chance of one before the end of the year, the original move attracted a lot of discussion.
  • When the Dow declined a little more, CNBC started running the headline that Fed fears were slamming stocks.
  • Several commentators cited the possible end of the Fed support for asset prices. Art Cashin fed the fire, noting in mid-afternoon that if stocks were down 300 on just the hint, an actual increase might take them down 1000.

You will see plenty of commentary on these themes. Feel free to add your own thoughts in the comments, including anything I have missed.

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

Quant Corner

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

Risk Analysis

Whether you are a trader or an investor, you need to understand risk. Think risk first, reward second. I monitor many quantitative reports and highlight the best methods in this weekly update.

The Indicator Snapshot

 

The Featured Sources:

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Brian Gilmartin: Analysis of expected earnings for the overall market as well as coverage of many individual companies. This week he further explains the possible turning point in earnings. Most people will not understand this until it is too late to profit.

 

How to Use WTWA

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

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

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

  • Understanding Risk – what we all should know.
  • Income investing – better yield than the standard dividend portfolio, and also less risk.
  • Holmes – the top artificial intelligence techniques in action.
  • Why 2016 could be the Year 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 or suggestions for new topics.)

Best Advice for the Week Ahead

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

Insight for Traders

We consider both our models and also the best advice from sources we follow.

Felix and Holmes

We continue with a strongly bullish market forecast. Felix is fully invested. Oscar holds several aggressive sectors. The more cautious Holmes also remains fully invested.

Top Trading Advice

Brett Steenbarger is posting many great ideas. Traders should make a daily visit. I sense another book coming! My favorite this week is How to Extract Greater Profits from Our Trading.

If we don’t see the market gain a second wind after our having made an initial entry, the conditional probabilities of getting the move in the other direction continue to increase.  We are getting further confirmation that buyers can push the market no higher or sellers can push prices no lower.  It is when we see that our initial position is not getting torched and subsequent market behavior is in line with our thesis that we can add a second unit of risk to the trade.  We extract more from our trading by being largest when we’re “rightest” and smallest when we’re wrong.

Dr. Brett is also helping with the psychological aspects of your trading – Three Trading Techniques for Building Positive Trading Patterns.

Paul Tudor Jones: Decide on your stop point before you enter a trade. Finance Trends discusses this and some other advice from the great trader. Holmes is barking approvingly.

Another piece of advance preparation is asking yourself whether the prospective trade really has enough edge. Don’t forget to keep the volatility of expected results in mind! Adam H. Grimes takes up this question and provides links to some prior related work.

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 WSJ warning about “structured CD’s.” (subscription required, but you can find it if you Google the title). Many unwitting investors are biting on a pitch that you can double your money in six years with no risk. Some of those needing early access to funds actually lose money on the CD. Performance data are not available for this product, unregulated by the SEC. The WSJ managed to get some results, and they are abysmal.

Stock Ideas

Chuck Carnevale has some good lessons about how to select dividend stocks. For the buy-and-hold income investor he seeks continuity of the dividend as well as limited volatility in the underlying stock. His analysis is rich with stock ideas — some to consider and some to avoid. I hope DIY stock-pickers are reading Chuck’s stories closely. It is important to learn technique and analysis, not just follow someone else’s stock picks.

Abba – no not ABBA – likes T. Rowe Price (TROW). His analysis is based upon a dividend valuation model. I also like the stock, but we write calls against the position to enhance yield.

Market Folly monitors the moves of big investors with good attention to the most recent moves. Warren Buffett now has nearly 80 million shares of Phillips 66 (PSX).

Ready for some biotech stocks? Bret Jensen serves up regular ideas in his forum. His most recent update includes a key stock in the news, Valeant (VRX), which we own as a trade for technical reasons.

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

Personal Finance

Professional investors and traders have been making Abnormal Returns a daily stop for over ten years. The average investor should make time (even if not able to read AR every day as I do) for a weekly trip on Wednesday. Tadas always has first-rate links for investors in his weekly special edition. This was a really great post. There are several great choices worth reading, including my pick for best advice of the week. My personal favorite is the timely and entertaining advice from Tim Maurer, How Fantasy Ruins Football (and Investing). He discusses several popular financial fantasies. He writes:

Fantasy: Gold is a good hedge against inflation. (Or a good hedge against currency risk, or a good investment. Just take your pick.)

Truth: Of the many traits often attributed to gold as an investment, the only one that really holds up is that the precious metal historically has risen in price when stocks are in deep decline. People tend to buy gold when they are scared (and sell it when they aren’t). But good luck shaving off some of your bullion for bread when The Hunger Games start (or when any dystopian tween books series becomes a reality).

Felix disagrees. That is what makes a market!

I also really liked Ben Carlson’s list of things he learned in his 30’s, especially numbers 9 and 10 (negotiating and saving).

Gil Weinreich of Seeking Alpha takes a helpful look at the “retirement crisis.” There is plenty of good advice. Gil’s series is aimed at investment advisors, but has also attracted many DIY investors, including some who are quite skeptical. It is a good dialogue which figures to help both groups. I am trying both to share and to learn.

Market Outlook

The trade for the next 35 years? Short bonds and long equities! Rupert Hargreaves of ValueWalk reports on Deutsche Bank’s advice and rationale.

Most investors are ill-positioned for this scenario. HORAN Capital Advisors reports on the continuing dramatic shift between stock and bond fund flows.

Final Thoughts

 

There really wasn’t any fresh news on Friday, but there must always be an explanation. Consumers demand it! It is a requirement for news reporters. I am reminded of an old book from my student days –a description of how reporters covered a Presidential campaign. The news world was very different in those days. Without instant communications the various news services had quite different deadlines. The wire services had to be the fastest and Walter Mears of the AP was regarded as the best at determining the lead from a complex story. Everyone also wanted to know how the NYT was going to play any news. The Rolling Stone version of the story (from 1972) is an enjoyable read and captures the flavor. Why is it relevant now?

News executives expect solid work, usually judged by reports of other leaders in the field. If you are going to deviate from the accepted lead, you need some special analysis. This is great for investors if they are able to look a little beyond the obvious and tune out the noise. Remember the following:

  • Simple dominates – even if it is simplistic.
  • Any recent event is a candidate to be the cause.
  • Support for popular themes and theories is encouraged. Oil prices were down over 2%, for example. For many this signals economic weakness. Ignore the recent increase in prices.
  • Don’t worry if the timing seems a bit wrong. You can explain that. The market was “digesting” the information. Or it was a “delayed reaction.”
  • And finally – make it into a big story!

A Reality Check

Not everyone bought into this theme. A number of investment managers questioned the logic. It is hard to sound intelligent when the market is plummeting, unless you have an instant explanation. I do not question Art Cashin’s trader take. There was a lot of money available to traders who perceived the potential for a big directional move. The algorithms joined in, technical levels were violated, and many were waiting for a break from the recent trading range. Those who profit from making sure that people are “scared witless” (TM OldProf) piled on.

Investors have time to analyze and to think more carefully about the causal model. The trading community believes that the economy is weak and fears that the Fed will tighten rates at a bad time. Both elements are necessary. Not only does the Fed see a stronger economy; it is committed to start with modest moves. The early stages of a cycle where very low rates are increased is bullish for stocks and bearish for bonds.

The overwhelming majority of investors made no trades on Friday. Many did not even know what happened until it was over. The vast majority of others are not going to take any action next week. This is good. Investors who try to compete with traders are playing a game they cannot win.

Quiz Answers

  1. The manufacturing index of 49.4, if annualized, corresponds to an annual increase in real GDP of 2%. The ISM non-manufacturing index of 51.4 similarly corresponds to real growth of 1%.

    One way to think about this is that the economy is still growing even when the secular decline in manufacturing is continuing.

  2. About 50-50. Even a two-touchdown favorite in the NFL is only about 75% to win. .75 squared is your chance of winning both games. Why should you care? People naturally take apparently obvious events and turn them into sure things. They become way too confident.

Weighing the Week Ahead: What Might Derail the Stock Market Rally?

This week’s calendar includes a light schedule for data with an emphasis on housing. Earnings season is in full swing with important reports every day. The early reception has been surprisingly good, creating plenty of mystified pundits. The financial media will be asking: What Can Derail the Rally in Stocks?

Last Week

The economic news was excellent, and the market reaction was strong. The continuing market rebound has caught many off base. This week’s review is mostly positive on economic data.

Theme Recap

In my last WTWA, I predicted that the post-Brexit rally now depended on earnings, especially management discussions of outlook. I noted that there were a record number of appearances by Fed participants as well as the release of the Beige Book, but felt that would be much less important. This proved to be a very accurate guess. In particular, the reception to some key earnings reports was quite strong. CNBC had a couple of short pieces on the FedSpeak, basically proving the expected lack of fresh news.

I hope readers have stayed with the rally during the post-Brexit move. It is important to know what to watch.

The Story in One Chart

I always start my personal review of the week by looking at this great chart from Doug Short. You can clearly see the two big rally days and the quiet Friday. Doug has a special knack for pulling together all of the relevant information. His charts save more than a thousand words! Read his entire post where he adds analysis and several other charts providing long-term perspective.

SPX-five-day

 

The News

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

The Good

  • Rail traffic is shows continuing improvement. Steven Hansen helpfully covers the weekly data and various comparisons. Part of the improvement relates to comparisons to weaker 2015 data, so it is not all good news.
  • High frequency indicators have turned better – nearly all of them. New Deal Democrat’s weekly update is very helpful for those wanting a comprehensive survey.
  • The Labor Market Conditions Index (recently weak) has improved. “Fred” has the data.

Labor Market Conditions

  • Wholesale sales improved so I am scoring it as a positive. Steven Hansen goes beyond the seasonally adjusted data, noting that sales are still at “levels associated with recessions’ and there is “degradation in the 3 month averages.”
  • Industrial production rose 0.6%, beating expectations of a 0.2% gain. This is a nice rebound in an important sector.
  • Initial unemployment claims handily beat expectations at 254K. The extremely low level of new jobless claims continues.
  • Retail sales soundly beat expectations with a gain of 0.6% versus 0.2% expected. Ex-auto the results were even better. This was reassuring to those worried about the consumer. (Calculated Risk).

RetailJune2016

The Bad

  • JOLT’s showed a decline in job openings but the important voluntary quit rate was the same. Many observes mistakenly try to use this report to coax out stories about net job growth. That is not the point of this research. It is both slower and less accurate than the regular payroll report. It is much more important for labor market tightness and structure.
  • Congress is leaving on recess. Normally I list this under “good news” but this time there are quite a few issues that were not addressed. After the political conventions the return will be brief. Our legislators naturally need to get back to the campaign trail! Maybe it is time to consider a more efficient way of changing leadership. The Hill has the story about work left undone.
  • Michigan sentiment declined and missed expectations. The experts at Michigan noted concern about Brexit among the high-income respondents. (Steven Goldstein at MarketWatch). This will be interesting to watch. As usual, Doug Short has the best chart summarizing the series.

Michigan-consumer-sentiment-index

 

The Ugly

This week our hearts go out to the French. I am really hoping for a week without ugliness.

 

The Silver Bullet

I occasionally give the Silver Bullet award to someone who takes up an unpopular or thankless cause, doing the real work to demonstrate the facts. No award this week. Nominations are always welcome. There is plenty of misinformation to refute!

The Week Ahead

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

The Calendar

We have a rather light week for economic data, with an emphasis on housing news. While I watch everything, I highlight only the most important items in WTWA. It is important to focus.

The “A” List

  • Housing starts and building permits (T). An important sector, but a modest decline is expected in starts. I am more interested in permits.
  • Leading indicators (Th). A rebound expected in a series widely followed as a recession signal.
  • Initial claims (Th). The best concurrent indicator for employment trends.

The “B” List

  • Existing home sales (Th). Less important for the economy than new construction, but a good read on the overall market.
  • Philly Fed (Th). Attracting more information as the earliest data with a label from the prior month.
  • Crude inventories (W). Often has a significant impact on oil markets, a focal point for traders of everything.

 

The big story will still be corporate earnings, as reporting season moves into full swing. The Republican Convention will grab plenty of news. FedSpeak will die down after last week’s thirteen appearances.

And of course, we can expect more updates on international crises.

Next Week’s Theme

Markets seem to have digested the Brexit story, and surprisingly shrugged off the terrorist violence. The economic data have quieted recession worries. The post-holiday FedSpeak was not threatening. Early earnings reports were OK, but not great.

So why is the stock market reaction so positive? The punditry is already hard at work on this question. I expect the discussion to continue. The market reaction is clearly at odds with what many call “the fundamentals.” If markets keep going higher, the questions will increase. If stocks pull back, we can expect a parade of pundits explaining why.

Either way, everyone will be asking:

What can derail the rally in stocks?

Feel free to join the discussion in the comments, but I see several worry themes:

  • Terrorism. The world is a nasty place and seems to be getting worse.
  • Economic concerns.
    • Deflation – signaled by falling commodity prices, especially cheap oil. Or alternatively–
    • Inflation – signaled by rising commodity prices, especially higher oil prices.
  • Politics.
    • Trump would be a disaster for the U.S. and world economies.
    • Clinton would be a disaster for the U.S. and world economies.
    • Uncertainty. Not knowing who will be elected is a disaster for the U.S. and world economies.
  • Central banks. They painted themselves into a curve, merely delaying the inevitable economic disaster. (I actually heard one of the Fast Money guys use one of mixed metaphors about the Fed. Maybe it was an accident, but he certainly didn’t cite the OldProf!)
  • Market valuation. Markets are too expensive. All of them. Investors cannot expect any reasonable return over the next twelve years (except gold, of course).
  • Technical indicators.
    • Stocks were declining – lacking leadership.
    • Stocks are now overbought and frothy.
    • Stocks are stuck in a trading range.
    • There was a Hindenburg omen – when was that?
  • Weak and mistaken leadership worldwide.
  • Delayed Brexit effects.
  • Global hot spots – South China Sea, Korea

 

Quant Corner

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

Risk Analysis

Whether you are a trader or an investor, you need to understand risk. Risk first, rewards second. I monitor many quantitative reports and highlight the best methods in this weekly update.

The Indicator Snapshot

 

indicator snapshot 071516

The Featured Sources:

Brian Gilmartin: Analysis of expected earnings for the overall market as well as coverage of many individual companies. This week he expresses more confidence about growth in earnings.

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

The recession odds (in nine months) have nudged closer to 10%. This does not completely reflect Brexit effects, so we may get a further revision.

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

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

Big-Four-Indicators-Since-2009-Trough

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

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

Georg Vrba: The Business Cycle Indicator, and much more. Check out his site for an array of interesting methods. His latest update describes the elements of the indicator we cite every week.

BCI-Fig-1-7-14-2016

How to Use WTWA

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

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

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

  • Understanding Risk – what we all should know.
  • Income investing – better yield than the standard dividend portfolio, and also less risk.
  • Holmes – the top artificial intelligence techniques in action.
  • Why 2016 could be the Year 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 or suggestions for new topics.)

 

Best Advice for the Week Ahead

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

Insight for Traders

We consider both our models and also the best advice from sources we follow.

Felix and Holmes

We continue our neutral market forecast. Felix is once again fully invested, including some more aggressive sectors. That continues to work well during the rally. The more cautious Holmes is still fully invested, in a diverse group of 16 stocks from a universe of nearly 1000, selected mostly by liquidity. Sometimes we have had only 14 or 15 stocks. That is revealing. Even when the overall market is neutral, there will often be some strong candidates. That is what we see now. It is not a resounding endorsement of the overall market, but a vote for opportunistic trading. I am curious about what it will take for Holmes to turn “mildly bullish.”

Top Trading Advice

Who is participating in the current market? How and at what levels? Know the background before trading! (Brett Steenbarger).

When you have met your “goal” for a session or a time period, do you stop trading? There is a great discussion at daily speculations. I have a strong opinion on this one, but I am interested in your comments.

Do you use Twitter in your trading? Finding other opinions? Breaking news? Here are some ideas.

Why a systematic daily approach is important to your trading. Holmes was barking appreciatively at the ideas from Pradeep Bonde, especially the unemotional focus on setups and execution. (Easy for him to say!)

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 Aaron Task’s 3 Reasons the Stock Market Is Rising Even As the World Feels Like It’s Falling Apart. Here is a key quotation:

The World Isn’t Ending: While there’s plenty to worry about—including global terrorism, uncertainty over what Brexit really means, anxiety over how U.S. election plays out, and much more—the global economy is expanding, albeit slowly, and the U.S. looks pretty good relative to other developed economies. (Insert “best looking horse in the glue factory” joke here.) And despite legitimate concerns about anti-globalization forces being on the rise here and abroad, the volume of global trade is expected to rise 2.6% this year after climbing 2.8% in 2015.

An old Wall Street saying also helps explain why stocks have fared well despite all the negative headlines: The market climbs a wall of worry.

You should be more worried about the stock market when “everyone” is bullish and the conventional wisdom says buying stocks (or real estate or any other asset) is a “no brainer.” That is certainly not the case today: UBS says wealthy investors are holding on to record levels of cash and 84% believe the election will have a significant impact on their financial health, Reuters reports.

The entire article acknowledges some current concerns, but brings the story back to data.

Stock Ideas

Chuck Carnevale remains cautious, even including top dividend candidates. Anyone seriously interested in finding great stocks should be following his series closely. It provides suggestions, but also the underlying reasoning and data.

Barron’s has a cover story on Royal Dutch Shell. The analysis covers dividends, cost-cutting, and oil prices. Even if you do not agree with the conclusion, this is an interesting approach.

Barron’s also cites Madison Square Garden as almost 60% undervalued on a sum-of-the parts analysis of trophy properties. Once again, this combines an interesting pick with a useful method of analysis.

2016_07_18_cmyk_NL_

Market Overview and Outlook

Traders see a conspiracy to keep the market higher. (Art Cashin). I believe that Art is accurately conveying a widespread sentiment.

The Fear and Greed Trader has a nice overall market summary, providing a refreshing balance to the normal daily news. It is a comprehensive summary and well worth reading in its entirety, but here is a key quotation:

The new highs are being dismissed for one reason or another. Maybe those that are saying that are on to something. I prefer that investors, do some research, draw a conclusion, and exhort all to run far away from the rhetoric that has been wrong now for months and years.

I don’t know where the S&P can trade to now with any certainty as momentum is hard to quantify. What I do know is that the entire market dynamic has now changed given this breakout.

Eddy Elfenbein is musing about Dow 20,000, which he thinks might happen this year.

I agree that this is a good time to buy or own stocks, even for those who have missed out so far. Please check out my own recent update on the market potential and how to find the best stocks and sectors.

Personal Finance

Professional investors and traders have been making Abnormal Returns a daily stop for over ten years. The average investor should make time (even if not able to read AR every day as I do) for a weekly trip on Wednesday. Tadas always has first-rate links for investors in his weekly special edition. There are several great choices worth reading, but my favorite is the simple and accurate message from Carl Richards:

When I first start working with clients, there’s a period of time I refer to as the financial pornography detox. It’s when you’ll get calls from clients wanting to know what they should do based on what some talking head said or some headline they read. Your job as a real financial advisor is to help them detox from this nonsense and understand they don’t need to do pay any attention to this so-called investment news.

Check the full post for the helpful illustration and the full podcast.

Brexit News

There is continuing interest about implications beyond the immediate effects. I follow these developments in three different ways.

  • Fundamental economics. Focus Economics has an excellent update on expectations for the UK as well as implications for other countries. (See also).

focuseconomics_uk_afterbrexit_infographic

 

  • Earnings data. We know the outlook is important. What sort of factors are coming up in the conference calls? FactSet offers this distribution:

FactSet earnings calls

  • Extra “color” from the earnings calls. Avondale does a great job with this. I found the JP Morgan comments on loan demand and spending to be especially interesting.

Value Stocks

Value strategies have lagged for the last few years. This year the trend seems to be shifting. (The Capital Spectator).

R1000.val_.gro_.2016-07-13

Watch out for….

Any story mentioning the “aging bull.” This popular theme has been taken up by some of the best sources – probably because it resonates with the instincts of the average reader. It is now competing with “self-taught in Austrian economics” as the most dangerous phrase in the investment lexicon. I will omit citing the multiple references last week, but do not be convinced. There is no relationship between the length of a bull market and the expected number of years remaining.

Even bond king Gundlach warns about the current risk in bonds, with the setup in the ten-year Treasury the “worst in his career.”

 

Final Thoughts

The simple reason for the market rally? Many stocks were priced as if we were already in a recession. As the economic data refuted this notion, prices partially normalized. There is plenty of remaining room, especially in economically sensitive sectors.

Of course there is plenty to worry about. Everyone should be aware of national and world problems, and try to act constructively. Compassion toward those suffering is in the nature of most people, regardless of their values or religious background.

When you think about investments, the problem is sharply different. It is expected and even desirable that the world is filled with problems. The challenge is to understand which problems are actually meaningful for your investments.

One way to keep your eye on the ball (since it is baseball season) is to evaluate the impact of any events on corporate earnings. Look at overall earnings, sectors, and stocks. Be specific. Do not use any lightweight arguments like “the first domino” or “if you see one cockroach.” Brian Gilmartin’s work is a great source for regular updates on earnings trends, combined with his insights. His latest post notes the reversal in both earnings and revenue, a turning point that he accurately predicted.

If your disciplined investigation cannot determine a link to profits, the news may still be very bad — but not for your investments. Embrace times when everyone else seems to have emotional worries.

Afterword – Worries Circa 2010

From one of my key posts in 2010. Please look at the reasons why so many were depressed about the market six years ago. You probably do not even remember some of them, but they were prominent at the time.

Here is a list of worries that I have noted, in no particular order:

  • ETF liquidation doomsday scenario
  • Flash crash — and overall worries about market manipulation
  • Bush-era tax cut expiration
  • Collapse of the euro and/or European Union
  • The Hindenburg Omen
  • Increase in US budget deficits
  • Ominous head-and-shoulders pattern in market averages
  • Dow 5000
  • Dow 2000
  • Dow 1000
  • The collapse of the US consumer
  • The double-dip recession
  • Sell in May
  • Sell in October
  • Sell, Mortimer, Sell (OK, I sneaked that one in for those who know).
  • The BP spill
  • Fear of Obama
  • Obamacare
  • Weakness in the dollar
  • Strength in the dollar
  • Weakness in China’s economy
  • Strength in China, leading to higher rates
  • Korea
  • Iran
  • Initial claims spiking to over 500K
  • Initial claims falling, but results skewed by seasonality
  • Shadow housing inventory
  • Foreclosure robo signing
  • Overstated and exaggerated corporate earnings
  • Fed blunders — QE II
  • High frequency trading
  • Worldwide collapse and deflation
  • Worldwide hyperinflation

 

The single most important thing for the investor to understand — right now — is the value of worries.  If you are looking for good investment returns, you need a time when others are worried.

The concept of the “wall of worry” is difficult for the average investor.  They seem to think it is bad when there are many worries.  In fact, the lack of worry is a sign of a market top.  Let me simplify.

Here is the image of the market top:  “What?  Me Worry?”

6a00d83451ddb269e20148c6fca9d9970c-450wi

 

Weighing the Week Ahead: The Fed, Brexit, and the Markets

This week’s economic calendar is back to normal, with Wednesday’s FOMC announcement the highlight. Last Friday’s trading put the Brexit effects on the front burner, so I expect two themes for the week ahead. The first few days will be all about the Fed and any hints about the pace of rate increases. After the Fed meeting the emphasis will shift to the Brexit build-up, culminating next week.

Expect some punditry magic. The regular Fed experts will morph into Brexit gurus by Thursday morning!

Last Week

There was little economic news. What we had was encouraging. Once again, markets were pretty firm—until Friday!

Theme Recap

In my last WTWA, I predicted plenty of attention to the weak employment report and the implications for stocks. That was a pretty good guess for the early part of the week. There were some who joined me in noting the problems with this report and also plenty who created those “rolling over” curves that are so popular. Every day there was another story from a big-name trader or manager expressing concern about the weak global economy. (More on that topic in the Investor section below).

The Story in One Chart

I always start my personal review of the week by looking at this great chart from Doug Short. You can clearly see the quiet market, at least until Friday! Doug has a special knack for pulling together all of the relevant information. His charts save more than a thousand words! Read his entire post where he adds analysis and several other charts providing long-term perspective.

SPX-five-day

 

The News

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

 

The Good

Households Balance Sheet

 

  • Consumer sentiment from the Michigan survey remains solid. The Doug Short chart (via associate Jill Mislinski) has a great combination of history, the GDP relationship, and past recessions.

 

Michigan-consumer-sentiment-index

 

The Bad

  • The rail contraction is getting worse. Steven Hansen (GEI) has the update.
  • Brexit odds increased. A poll showed a big shift, with a ten percent lead for the “Leave” faction. The immediate reaction was the this (questionable) chain: lower pound à lower Euro à stronger dollar à lower commodity prices à implication of slower growth à RISK OFF!!
  • Downbeat economy makes June action by the Fed unlikely. Our go-to Fed expert, Tim Duy, looks at the data in the wake of the employment report. He also provides a Fed preview, highlighting labor conditions.

-1x-1

 

The Ugly

The candidate reaction. I have seen many elections where people were unhappy with the choices, but nothing quite like this. 10% of homebuyers say they will consider moving if their candidate loses. It is probably an exaggeration, but still an interesting reflection on the times.

 

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 New Deal Democrat at the Bonddad Blog. Not only did he take on an extremely popular and deceptive chart, he put the research together and reacted in a timely fashion. Here is the bogus chart:

blogger-image--1828015261

 

The chart quickly spread as the “Doomer graph du jour.” I saw it on several sites. There is widespread lust for “evidence” of a new recession. Charts like this are frustrating – so many misleading stories, so little time.

The Silver Bullet winners should get appropriate and timely recognition.

As is often the case with these bad charts, the original author does not provide either data or sources! Everyone who wants attention and confirmation bias republishes the chart. NDD demonstrates that the timing of the recession calls is completely wrong if one accounts for the actual availability of the data. This is a common amateur blunder.

I encourage you to read the painstaking efforts to reconstruct and explain the data at Bonddad and also Matt Trivisonno’s blog.

The Week Ahead

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

The Calendar

We have a fairly big week for economic data and news. I highlight only the most important items, helping us all to focus.

The “A” List

  • FOMC rate decision (W). The Yellen press conference will get close attention.
  • Housing starts and building permits (F). Will the rebound continue?
  • Retail sales (T). Of special interest in the wake of weak earnings from some retailers.
  • Industrial production (W). A highly volatile series, but important.
  • Initial claims (Th). The best concurrent indicator for employment trends.

The “B” List

  • CPI (Th). Inflation is not getting much attention. It will take a few hot reports before this regains significance.
  • PPI (W). See CPI above.
  • Business inventories (T). April data, but relevant for Q2 GDP.
  • Philly Fed (Th). One of the two regional surveys that has some market impact.
  • Crude inventories (W). Often has a significant impact on oil markets, a focal point for traders of everything.

 

Beyond the FOMC meeting itself, there is no FedSpeak.

Next Week’s Theme

 

It is a rather normal week for economic data, with the FOMC announcement on Wednesday at the highlight. I expect the Fed to be the focus for the first part of the week, with attention shifting to Brexit on Thursday. Next week will feature an even larger Brexit focus. We therefore have a twin theme:

Will the Fed signal any change in the pace of rate increases?

Will the Brexit odds change, and what are the implications?

There is little to add on the Fed issue, which is probably the most over-analyzed in history.

Concerning Brexit, we have three questions (at least):

  1. What are the odds of the June 23rd vote? The most recent poll shows a 10% bulge for Leave, but the bookies do not really endorse this.
  2. What are the issues? It is helpful to understand both the facts and what people believe to be at stake – things like immigration, membership costs, trade relationships, impact on health care, and availability of employment. Does any of this have a familiar sound? Putting aside whatever opinion you might have, what are the implications?
  3. What are the Brexit consequences? For Britain, for Europe, and for the rest of the world?

Quant Corner

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

Risk Analysis

Whether you are a trader or an investor, you need to understand risk. Risk first, rewards second. I monitor many quantitative reports and highlight the best methods in this weekly update.

The Indicator Snapshot

Indicator Snapshot 061016

 

The Featured Sources:

Brian Gilmartin: Analysis of expected earnings for the overall market as well as coverage of many individual companies. This week he expresses more confidence about growth in earnings.

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). Monthly reports including both an economic overview of the economy and employment.

RecessionAlert: Many strong quantitative indicators for both economic and market analysis. While we feature the recession analysis, Dwaine also has a number of interesting approaches to asset allocation.

Georg Vrba: The Business Cycle Indicator, and much more. Check out his site for an array of interesting methods. His latest update features his unemployment rate recession indicator. A recession is unlikely “any time soon.”

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

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

 

The ECRI has been dropped from our weekly update. It was not so much because of the bad call in 2011, but the stubborn adherence to this position despite plenty of evidence to the contrary. You can still follow them via Doug Short and Jill Mislinski. Their commentary remains bearish despite the upturn in their own index. While no one really knows what is in the black box, I suggested years ago that they incorrectly emphasized too many commodity series, falling victim to multi-colinearity. Commodity prices fooled them in 2011. Now they seem to be ignoring the rebound.

Big-Four-Indicators-Since-2009-Trough

How to Use WTWA

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

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

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

  • Understanding Risk – what we all should know.
  • Income investing – better yield than the standard dividend portfolio.
  • Felix and Holmes – top artificial intelligence techniques in action.
  • Why 2016 – The Year of the 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. (Please send any questions or suggestions for new topics.)

 

Best Advice for the Week Ahead

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

Insight for Traders

We consider both our models and also the best advice from sources we follow.

Felix and Holmes

We continue our neutral market forecast. Felix is fully invested, but the sector balance has become more conservative. Most sectors remain in the penalty box. The (usually) more cautious Holmes is almost fully invested. Holmes uses a universe of nearly 1000 stocks, selected mostly by liquidity. Even when the overall market is neutral, there will often be some strong candidates. That is what we see now. It is not a resounding endorsement of the overall market, but a vote for opportunistic trading.

Top Trading Advice

 

Anora Mahmudova (MarketWatch) exposes a deceptive chart pattern – the head-and-shoulders. I am interested in hearing from traders about this, but these complex charts seem open to misinterpretation. We rarely hear about failing setups.

Pradeep Bonde has some good advice for improving on a daily basis. He notes that it takes five years for traders to develop the needed skill.

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, it would be a split decision. There is plenty of dangerous and deceptive information about the alleged warnings of big fund managers. Some of these were incorrect, while others were just misleading. In one case the always-bearish prognosticator, Mr. Dow 5000, cannot decide if the Fed has engineered deflation or hyper-inflation. (A supernova can either implode or explodes, he explains). It is all going to blow up somehow, so you should own his bond fund instead. OK….

Here are some helpful articles. If you read them, you will have some inoculation against hype.

  • Ichan is out of Apple while Buffett is in. Valuation guru Aswath Damodaran looks at time frames, methods of analysis, and the perspective of traders versus investors. It is tough work for most readers, but if you want to make good decisions as an individual investor, you need to understand this.

AppleIcahnBuffetteffect

 

As well as the entire process —

Price vs value simple picture

 

  • Soros reports related to his family office. We don’t know why or when viewpoints might change. (Josh Brown)
  • Soros has (supposedly) been wrong on many prior “turning point” occasions. (Cullen Roche)
  • And last, but I hope not least, I have demonstrated that government filings are completely worthless. Because they do not report short positions, you only see a part of each trade. This is especially bad on option positions, where the media report long positions in puts (a short instrument) without description of the entire spread. The notion that being short a put is actually a long position in the underlying befuddles nearly everyone. Even the most prominent media sources provide absolutely no help on this subject. Instead the reporters are assigned a story about the Soros put holdings. My multiple articles on this have not gotten much attention, despite the careful research and examples.

Stock Ideas

We have some diverse suggestions this week.

Think outside the box with James Altucher. He brainstorms on how we can profit now from something we know is coming: the driverless car. This fits my definition of something you will not read about in tomorrow’s paper.

I tried to provide another example (Finding the Best Contrarian Stocks), answering some reader questions from last week about why I preferred banks to utilities.

Sometimes you know the theme from current events, but you might not know the best stock play. I am not a big fan of anonymous authors, but sometimes follow them until I am convinced of the quality. Valuentum explains why Palo Alto Networks is more attractive than one might originally think. Hint: free cash flow. We reached the same conclusion a few weeks ago.

Sector Ideas

Energy prices have been less wild, which is probably good for investors. Some experts are even picking up my recent theme that $50 oil may be something of a barrier, with current prices representing a “sweet spot” for the economy. Oil Insider asks, Have Oil Prices Hit the Sweet Spot? (subscription required, but here is a key chart).

92d34a40-10f3-45ea-b190-fbd2753d56d3

 

Anyone interested in energy eagerly awaits the annual Statistical Review of World Energy from BP. Here is a key summary chart:

BP Oil Consumption and Production

Housing has been one of my favorite themes this year, and it got plenty of attention this week.

  • Housing is “eating the economy” says Conor Sen. Here is a key part of his case for further expansion:

    One way to show how much more growth housing, and construction more generally, has in front of us is to look at construction’s share of total employment. It’s currently 4.6%, and in every cycle ever it’s gotten to at least 5%. Given 1) the size and hence housing needs of the Millennial generation in years to come, 2) the lack of construction, of single family especially, since the financial crisis, 3) the potential for infrastructure spending from the next president, whether it’s the Hillary/Dem version or the Trump “build a wall” version, 5% seems like a reasonable conservative target for how high this will go over the next 3-5 years.

    tumblr_inline_o8axtpc21f1rufy3f_500

     

  • Ben Carlson asks, Has There Even Been a Better Time to be a Homebuyer? After describing interesting data showing the difference between today’s houses and those built in 1973, he summarizes:

    Houses today also have wireless Internet connectivity, better appliances, and are generally more energy efficient. They aren’t making enough of them in my estimation — and I may be stating the obvious here — but new homes today look better, have more features and are higher quality than those built in the past.

    To summarize — houses today have fewer people living in them with more space, more bedrooms, more bathrooms and more comfortable living conditions.

    But wait…there’s more.

    Mortgage rates are at record lows:

    Screen-Shot-2016-06-06-at-11.16.55-AM

  • Ivy Zelman, a leading housing expert noted for frank and accurate analysis, did an interview with Barron’s. Here is a key quotation:

    Barron’s: April new home sales soared 17%. Where are we in the housing recovery?

    Zelman: Four years in. The first increase was in 2012. There are multiple years ahead. We are still 35% below a normalized level of starts, and that’s for a single-family. Every cycle is different. This cycle will be elongated, and the slope of the recovery is flatter than what we thought the trajectory would look like when we called the bottom in 2012. Builders have been slower to see the growth. There’s a shortage of shelter. We’re pretty indifferent whether shelter should be owned or rented. We’re just saying there isn’t enough. The U.S. is at a 30-year low of inventory available for sale. We are predicting double-digit housing-starts growth this year, next year, and in 2018.

    The interview includes a number of stock ideas, including two which we own (LEN and CAA).

  • Robert Shiller (via Mark Thoma) says that fears of being priced out of housing are “overinflated.” In analyzing fears based upon quite different factors, Prof. Shiller wonders, “(W)hy do people still worry that home prices are getting out of reach? The answer can’t be found in the housing data”.

Biotech is worth a look.

  • Charles Pennington notes the long-term success of biotech, using the Fidelity biotech fund as evidence. A better buy than in 1988?
  • Chuck Carnevale has five candidates for consideration. As always, he carefully notes which stocks might be better for a given investment objective. And of course you get a master class in using the F.A.S.T Graphs method. Here is one chart for one example. You need to read the entire post to appreciate the depth of the analysis.

     

426415-14655852213952541_origin

Personal Finance

Professional investors and traders have been making Abnormal Returns a daily stop for over ten years. The average investor should make time (even if not able to read AR every day as I do) for a weekly trip on Wednesday. Tadas always has first-rate links for investors in his weekly special edition. There are always several great choices worth reading, but my favorite this week is an article from Morningstar’s Russ Kinnel, 20 Common Investing Mistakes. It is a nice analysis of how emotions interfere with decision making and the need for planning. Here are two of my favorites, both very common:

Mistake 2 | Basing sell decision on cost basis.
You bought fund A at $10 and now its net asset value is at $5. You bought fund B at $10 and now it’s at $20. Which should you hold, and which should you sell? I have no idea. The amount you paid is relevant only to tax planning. What matters is which will have better returns over your investment horizon. If the answer is fund B, then sell fund A (you’ll have a tax benefit if it’s in a taxable account) and put the proceeds in fund B. The problem is that people have an emotional attachment to the price. Some are afraid to book losses, and others are too anxious to sell a winner for fear that they’ll miss out on gains. What matters is whether the funds have strong fundamentals.

Mistake 17 | Misreading your own abilities.
People who treat gambling addicts say that it’s the big winning bet that hooks gamblers. They get high and want to repeat that high. Fund investors can be a little like that. They remember that one time they accurately called the direction of the market or picked a sector fund, and they forget all the times their calls were off. Go back over your past investments. See what you do well, and figure out a solution for the areas where you didn’t do well. Maybe your individual stock picks aren’t that great overseas, so you should buy a foreign fund. Maybe your bond fund blew up, so you should change the way you pick bond funds and tone down the risk.

I try to include good advice for young investors, but there is a real shortage of material. MarketWatch has seven good tips for those in their 30’s. Many boomers wish they had known these when they were younger!

Watch out for….

Hedge funds (and similar opportunities). Rachael Levy explains, The secret to investing in hedge funds.

Cambridge Associates is one of the biggest investment consultants advising pensions and others on which funds to choose.

Their secret to picking hedge funds: avoid almost all of them.

“We think about 5% of the entire universe could be on a list of potential funds to look at,” Joe Marenda, a managing director at Cambridge, told Business Insider.

 

Final Thoughts

 

There could be a lot of volatility this week – important for traders, but pretty meaningless for investors. At least for those who keep their heads.

I expect nothing meaningful from the Fed meeting, but that will not stop the punditry. There will be massive efforts to infer something.

The Brexit story will include updated odds and I expect it to be the theme next week. I have no special insight about how this will turn out. I am watching my sources closely, especially concerning the possible economic impacts. I was accurate last week in noting this has something to watch, but no one really has a good handle on the implications.

Traders can try to guess the outcome and the reaction. Investors should approach the week ahead with a shopping list. Get ready to take advantage of opportunities. In this WTWA I tried to provide special emphasis on stock ideas. I hope it will provide some ideas for your own research.

Weighing the Week Ahead: How Should Investors React to the Oil Price Rally?

This week’s economic calendar is pretty light. Market participants will be looking to an early getaway for the long weekend. While there will be plenty of entertaining FedSpeak, I expect a different topic to be at the fore. Pundits will be asking:

Should investors react to the oil price rally?

Last Week

The news was pretty good, but the stock market was not.

Theme Recap

In my last WTWA, I predicted that the punditry would be asking whether it was “springtime for housing”. That was the recurring topic as housing news was reported on several different days and garnered plenty of discussion. Competition came from the Fed Minutes, some dramatic earnings reports, and the election race.

The Story in One Chart

I always start my personal review of the week by looking at this great chart from Doug Short. He has a special knack for pulling together all of the relevant information. His charts save more than a thousand words! Read his entire post where he adds analysis and several other charts providing long-term perspective.

SPX-five-day

The News

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

The economic and market news, on balance, was pretty good.

The Good

  • Housing starts increased to a 1.172 annual rate, beating expectations. Calculated Risk has a complete analysis. I am especially interested in single-family building permits, a good leading indicator. Bob Dieli’s monthly economic report always updates this chart:

Dieli Building Permits

 

  • Existing home sales were up 5.45 million (SAAR), the top of the Calculated Risk range for a solid report. Bill writes:

    Note that January and February are usually the slowest months of the year and March and April are the beginning of the “selling season”.  This is a solid start to the year.

    EHSNSAApr2016

  • Jobless claims down ticked to 278K, in line with estimates and below the 300K level that some have been citing. (The four-week moving average was up slightly).
  • Industrial production rose by 0.7%. Eddy Elfenbein has a good report, noting that this interrupts the downtrend since November, 2014. He also points out the effect on the Atlanta Fed’s GDP forecast for Q2, now up to 2.8%
  • Sentiment remains very negative. Urban Carmel summarizes asset allocations and economic skepticism. Ben Eisen of the WSJ cites four stats, including the fund flows in the chart below. Schwab’s Liz Ann Sonders agrees. She notes only negative questions from both investors and advisors, “all almost bordering on Armageddon.”

w1056

The Bad

  • The Philly Fed indexremained negative and essentially unchanged, -1.8 on the diffusion index. Employment improved dramatically, but remained marginally negative. The outlook fell a bit but remained strongly positive. There was little market reaction.
  • Fed minutes showed more chance for a June rate increase. Our go-to Fed expert, Tim Duy, sees a June hike as a bit less than 50-50 but July as quite possible. The Fed remains more confident about the economy than most market participants.
  • LA port traffic declined. Calculated Risk uses a rolling twelve-month average to control for seasonality. The decline was 0.7% for inbound traffic and 0.8% for outbound. Steven Hansen opines that this raises recession concerns.
  • Rail traffic “moves deeper into contraction”. Steven Hansen looks at a variety of rolling averages, including some analysis that adjusts for the declining coal shipments.

The Ugly

State and local pension funds. Chicago provides an example. A decision of the Illinois Supreme Court struck down an “overhaul” of the system, adding $11.5 billion to the deficit, now $18.6 billion. The fund covers 70,000 workers and in the absence of any changes, will run out of money in ten years. (Crain’s Chicago Business)

Noteworthy

Try this financial literacy quiz designed by economists from Wharton and George Washington. (via Shawn Langlois) I am confident that WTWA readers will do well. Keep in mind that less than 1/3 of the population could get all three questions right!

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. Think of The Lone Ranger. This week’s award goes jointly to Gene Epstein of Barron’s and New Deal Democrat of the Bonddad Blog and xe.com. Both take on the frequent current scary articles about the “flattening” yield curve, citing the yield difference between the ten-year and two year notes. That spread is currently 0.94 percentage points. Those on a mission often cherry-pick the part of the curve to analyze, and cry alarm whenever it gets a little smaller.

Epstein points out that until the curve actually inverts (a spread of less than zero) there is not a reliable recession indicator.

2016_05_23_cmyk_NL_

NDD has a great article with plenty of charts. He calls out the “doomers” with this commentary and chart:

In the last week or so there have been a spate of articles – from the usual Doomer sources but also from some semi-respectable sites like Business Insider vans an investment adviser or two ,see here ( https://lplresearch.com/2016/05/19/is-the-yield-curve-signaling-trouble-… ) – to the effect that the yield curve is flattening and OMG RECESSION!!! Here’s a typical Doomer graph – that draws a trend line that ignores the 1970s and neglects to mention that 2 of the 4 inversions even within the time specified don’t fit:

image_686

I wish that more publications would recognize the Silver Bullet winners and writers like them. It is difficult to call out weak and biased posts. There is little reward for good and courageous analysis.

The Week Ahead

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

The Calendar

We have a modest week for economic data. I highlight the most important items, helping us all to focus.

The “A” List

  • New home sales (T). Continuing strength in housing?
  • Durable goods (Th). Important April data. Continuing recent strength?
  • Initial claims (Th). The best concurrent indicator for employment trends.
  • Michigan sentiment (F). Best for job growth and prospective spending. Strength continuing?

The “B” List

  • Pending home sales (Th). Unlikely to match last month. Not as important as new sales, but a read on the market.
  • GDP second estimate for Q1 (F). This will get attention, but it is old news by now with Q2 more than half over.
  • Crude inventories (W). Often has a significant impact on oil markets, a focal point for traders of everything.

There is plenty of FedSpeak, including a Friday appearance by Chair Yellen. Things will be slowing down by Friday as some slip away early for a long weekend marking the unofficial start of summer.

Next Week’s Theme

 

It is a pretty light economic calendar. In addition to the daily dose of analysis by pseudo-experts on the Fed, I expect to see some serious discussion about energy prices. Will the oil rally continue? What does that imply for investors and traders?

Voting a tentative “No” is Dana Lyons, who cites technical resistance and concludes as follows:

Will the oil rally stop here? We have no idea – but we wouldn’t be surprised to see the rally get clogged up, at least temporarily.

tumblr_inline_o750onwm8P1sq14jh_500

Oil & Energy Insider is also cautious but more bullish, mostly citing fundamentals. Their free edition includes this analysis:

Oil prices bounced around this week, flirting with $50 per barrel but stopping short of that key threshold. The major supply outages in Nigeria (now at 900,000 barrels per day) and Canada (more than 1 million barrels per day) continue to put upward pressure on oil prices as they are erasing the supply overhang. Still, much of that will be temporary. The EIA poured a bit of cold water on the rally this week, reporting a surprise uptick in oil stocks. At the same time, U.S. production continues to slowly erode. The markets are more confident than at any point in recent weeks that prices won’t crash back into the $30s, but more movement to the upside is not a given.

Their premium edition (which requires a subscription) is headlined Fundamentals Starting to Underpin Oil Price Rally. They cover a wide range of considerations, but include key questions: When might we expect Nigerian supply to rebound? Most investors would find their analysis quite helpful:

–    The Niger Delta Avengers have attacked pipelines and platforms in Nigeria, knocking 800,000 barrels per day offline.
–    Between 2006 and 2009 Nigeria suffered a similar level of attacks and outages, and a sweeping amnesty policy helped bring an end to the violence. The new President Muhammadu Buhari has taken a tougher line, ending patronage that existed in security contracts for many militia members, a move that has contributed to the resurgence in pipeline attacks.
–    Nigeria’s cash reserves are running low as its economy slows. Reserves have plunged from $49 billion in 2013 to $27 billion recently.
–    Eni (NYSE: E) suffered the latest attack this week. Fellow oil majors Royal Dutch Shell (NYSE: RDS.A) and Chevron (NYSE: CVX) have also seen their infrastructure taken out from explosions.
–    Nigeria’s oil production is at its lowest level since the 1980s. The attacks show no sign of letting up, and as of now the Nigerian government is unwilling to back down.

 

 

Quant Corner

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

Risk Analysis

Whether you are a trader or an investor, you need to understand risk. Risk first, rewards second. I monitor many quantitative reports and highlight the best methods in this weekly update.

The Indicator Snapshot

Indicator Snapshot 052016

The Featured Sources:

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

Brian Gilmartin: Analysis of expected earnings for the overall market as well as coverage of many individual companies. This week he observes that more people are using forward earnings, and many are thinking about 2017.

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). Monthly reports including both an economic overview the economy and employment.

RecessionAlert: Many strong quantitative indicators for both economic and market analysis. While we feature the recession analysis, Dwaine also has a number of interesting approaches to asset allocation. This week Dwaine opened to the public one of his subscriber-only research reports. He notes that one of his recession indicators has moved up to 60%. He goes on to explain that he uses a group of six different methods as his preferred approach. He writes as follows:

Another way to look at the RFE is to average the current recession probability showing on each of its six model components, which is currently showing a 14.6% probability of recession. This model appears to have served well in the past, with zero false positives above readings of 0.20.

2016-04-26_1743

Georg Vrba: The Business Cycle Indicator, and much more. Check out his site for an array of interesting methods.

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

Noteworthy this week:

Hedge funds are using artificial intelligence to analyze the Fed minutes. Guess who can do it faster – you or them?

Peter F. Way reports on the hedging techniques of “big money” traders, identifying candidates with the best risk/reward balance. Apple?

501110-14632831049172328

 

How to Use WTWA

In this series I share my preparation for the coming week. I write each post as if I were speaking directly to one of my clients. For most readers, they 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 and no cookie-cutter approach. Each client is different, so I have six different programs ranging from very conservative bond ladders to very aggressive trading programs. A key question:

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

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

  • Understanding Risk – what we all should know.
  • Income investing – better yield than the standard dividend portfolio.
  • Felix and Holmes – top artificial intelligence techniques in action.
  • Why 2016 – The Year of the 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. (Suggestions and questions welcome!)

 

Best Advice for the Week Ahead

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

Insight for Traders

We consider both our models and also the best advice from sources we follow.

Felix and Holmes

We continue our neutral market forecast. Felix is about 75% invested, and with less aggressive sectors. REITs and utilities have moved near the top of the list. The (usually) more cautious Holmes remains almost fully invested. Holmes uses a universe of nearly 1000 stocks, selected mostly by liquidity. Even when the overall market is neutral, there will often be some strong candidates.

Top Trading Advice

Dr. Brett Steenbarger has important advice about Seeing Beneath the Market Surface. He writes:

Markets move higher, markets move lower.  The question worth continually posing is, “Is the market getting stronger or weaker?”  This is a meaningful question because a market that moves higher can be getting weaker and a market that moves lower can be getting stronger.

Read the entire post as he explains how to apply this approach.

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, it would be this Forbes article by Brett Steenbarger (and not just because he has some kind words about WTWA, but thanks!) As a psychologist and trading coach he sees things missed by others and explains them very well. I share many of his themes, but often cannot communicate them as well. People need to be open to new ideas and unemotional in executing the plan.

Few can meet these tests.

Stock Ideas

Chuck Carnevale has a timely post on cyclical stocks. He shows how to use his tools to analyze valuation in this difficult sector. When can these stocks be right for dividend-oriented, conservative investors? Emerson Electric (EMR) is his illustration. If you agree with our experts that a recession is not imminent, cyclical stocks are a good place to shop.

How about Kroger? Hale Stewart makes this a good example of how to search for a good stock – find an interesting sector, a cheap stock, and a catalyst.

Retailers that might profit from the “Amazon effect.” (Philip Van Doorn) Hint: they need to change their business model.

Marc Gerstein has some interesting contrarian retail plays. Marc always uses some science in his method. Here he identifies desired characteristics, develops a screen, and looks for a catalyst. It is another article that goes beyond simply delivering stock ideas (although it does that). Stock screening meets Peter Lynch.

How about solar? If energy prices improve, solar stocks do as well. Travis Hoium has an interesting argument favoring First Solar (FSLR) over some alternatives.

Outlook

Why is it so attractive to be negative on your investments? One good answer lies in Morgan Housel’s explanation of volatility and how it can take investors off course. It is so easy to think about an account in terms of how far we are from the past high. In fact, that is the condition over 87% of the time. Each year includes a lot of big moves that seem small when you later look at the long-term stock chart. He uses 1998 as a year of major gains, but only if you were able to ride out the major swings. I like this chart showing time spend below the prior high:

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Personal Finance

Professional investors and traders have been making Abnormal Returns a daily stop for over ten years. The average investor should make time (even if not able to read AR every day as I do) for a weekly trip on Wednesday. Tadas always has first-rate links for investors in this special edition. There are always several great choices worth reading, but my favorite this week is from Carl Richards at Investment News. He suggests that a good financial advisor helps clients by turning off the news spigot. (If you do not use a financial advisor, I recommend that you turn it off anyway! You might make an exception for WTWA).

There’s a valuable role for us to play as real financial advisers, that of the human curator. Do our clients really need to spend hours sorting through their feeds and trying to decode the headlines or could we be doing that for them? What should they be paying attention to?

For instance, one friend shared with me that when he turned off the financial news spigot, he calculated that he saved two to three hours every night. Do the math and it ends up being a savings of 40 or so days each year.

Value Stocks

Time to buy again? They are cheaper than the broad market and that seemed to be the story last week.

Watch out for….

Boeing (BA). Barron’s warns that demand for fuel-efficient aircraft has declined.

Bonds and fund redemptions. If the ten-year note increases one percentage point, to something like 2.8%, you will immediately lose 9% on your investment. It would take a few years to make that up, even if rates moved no higher.

Investment big-shots using a platform to talk their book. Are they really there to help you? This is an interesting summary of recommendations at the recent SALT conference, which was breathlessly covered in the media. Most of the topics would require a lot of research, but the Sherwin-Williams (SHW) recommendation (You can’t buy paint online) caught my attention. It took about five seconds to discover the error of this assertion.

13F filings. Here is one example that highlights stocks from David Einhorn. This, and nearly everything written about 13F reports is misleading. This WSJ article headlining George Soros is especially misleading. I explained this carefully (for the second time) but no one cares. We can think of it as our secret!

Final Thoughts

Knowing economics helps to understand energy pricing, but the payoff for that knowledge has been delayed. In my most popular article ever on Seeking Alpha, I noted a few basic facts about energy including the relatively small gap between supply and demand. We are now observing the closing of that gap. It could (and will) continue in one of three ways:

  1. Reductions in supply through economic forces. U.S. producers responded, but most others have not – so far at least.
  2. Increases in demand through a growing economy. This is happening with record miles driven in the U.S. and many new consumers worldwide.
  3. External shocks, through weather, disasters, or war.

The same economic effects may well push against a price increase. The reduction in rig counts, for example, seems to have paused for the first time in eight weeks. Bespoke has one of their great charts using data from the primary source on drilling activity, the Baker-Hughes weekly report.

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Even if $50/barrel represents an intermediate high for oil prices there are important favorable consequences:

  1. The savings to the consumer, compared to recent years, remains large;
  2. The fears about failing companies and job losses, exaggerated and localized, will be less of a story.;
  3. The concern about banks failing due to oil company bankruptcies will be reduced.

Current oil prices may represent a sweet spot both for the energy sector and the overall stock market.