Weighing the Week Ahead: Is This as Good as It Gets?

Last week I wrote that there was so much on the calendar that it was impossible to choose a single theme. This week presents the opposite problem. In the wake of the big news, what will command attention? As I studied the data, I was struck by the confluence of record results. Put that together with record stock prices, and there is a natural question for the ever-skeptical punditry:

Is this as good as it gets?

Last Week Recap

In the last edition of WTWA I predicted a paradise for the punditry, gorging on a feast of data, Fed news, and policy proposals. That was a pretty easy call, and it did give us a chance to think about a range of key issues. I noted that a lot of news does not necessarily translate into volatility – and so it was. The market shrugged off the appointment of a new Fed Chair, Mueller’s indictments, and the GOP tax proposal. The economic data was mixed, and so was the market.

The Story in One Chart

I always start my personal review of the week by looking at this great chart from Doug Short via Jill Mislinski. She notes the gain of 0.26% on the week, after Friday’s strength. Once again, it was a week of very low volatility; the intra-week range was less than 1%. Historically 1% moves are commonplace — each day!

Doug has a special knack for pulling together all the relevant information. His charts save more than a thousand words! Read the entire post for several more charts providing long-term perspective, including the size and frequency of drawdowns.

The News

Each week I break down events into good and bad. For our purposes, “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 news has been mostly positive, as summarized by New Deal Democrat’s list of long, short, and coincident indicators.

The Good

  • Lumber futures are stronger. Mark Hulbert navigates the complexities of trends and tariffs, concluding that this is a useful leading indicator for stocks.
  • Auto sales continued a “hot streak” (WSJ). The SAAR is now 18.1 million, with good prospects for the end of 2017.
  • Jerome Powell’s nomination as Fed Chair was quietly accepted by markets. With New York Fed President William Dudley reportedly about to announce his retirement, there are four more openings to fill.

  • Consumer confidence measured by the Conference Board is at the highest level in 17 years. Jill Mislinski’s analysis is comprehensive and the summary chart is great. Bespoke’s charts show that future confidence is lower than the present.


  • Earnings reports remained strong (FactSet) with earning beat rates 4.8% higher than average and revenue beat rates 1.2% higher. Bespoke has a nice summary of the biggest winners and losers.
  • Initial jobless claims hit the lowest level since 1973 (four-week moving average). Once again, let us look at Jill Mislinski’s informative chart. It helpfully shows the long-term view, but with a focus on the last year.


The Bad

  • ISM manufacturing is cooling from a hot September reports Bespoke. The decline to 58.7 from last month’s thirteen-year high is “modest” they suggest. They are also encouraged by the comments:


  • The rally is somewhat narrow. Lara Crigger (ETF.com) describes the presence of the “Four Horseman” in many ETFs. The heavy weighting of these stocks can generate an exaggerated impression of overall strength.
  • The employment news. While the report was mixed, the headline number missed expectations, so I’ll score this as “bad.”
    • PBS highlights the lower labor force participation and lack of wage growth, up only 2.4% over the last year.
    • The miss in the headline number was much smaller when considering upward revisions to the prior months.
    • ADP private job growth was solid. (James Picerno)
    • New Deal Democrat summarizes the data and reaches the following conclusion:

      This was an excellent report in terms of labor utilization, decent in terms of jobs growth, and poor in terms of wages.

      The big declines in unemployment, underemployment, involuntary part time employment, and persons who want a job now but haven’t looked have nudged us very close to what has been “full employment” in the past two expansions.  We may be as little as 1.5 million jobs away.

The Neutral

This week had some news worth mentioning, but without a real market effect.

  • The GOP tax reform proposal. I have predicted that this would have no market effect, and that proved true this week. The original proposal sparked hundreds of articles on who would benefit from each provision. This is a necessary process, of course, because information is needed before deciding. That said, the proposal is not close to mustering a Congressional majority. Michael Kitces has a nice, detailed review of the proposal. It includes the summary table below. If you see yourself has getting a tax reduction, what should you do? I consulted Mrs. OldProf, who tracks issues like this with care (although not as much as used following the Packers). Her recommendation: Do not spend the tax reform money just yet!


The Ugly

Kids’ play time is overwhelming geared to screens. 18.6 hours per week and 2.7 on homework?


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.

The Calendar

We have a very light data calendar. The JOLTS report is interesting to wonks, but usually spun into an inferior read on job growth. The President’s Asia trip will capture the news, but few would venture a guess about the market effect. We are past the peak of the earnings season, but some important news remains.

Briefing.com has a good U.S. economic calendar for the week (and many other good features which I monitor each day). Here are the main U.S. releases.


Next Week’s Theme

With little on the calendar and so much space and time to fill for the financial media, what will be the focus next week. It is the opposite of last week, when there were many possibilities. As I was preparing the updates on data, I noticed that many economic indicators are reaching record levels – right along with stocks.

I suspect that this will be fertile ground for discussion next week. Since the financial punditry always must dig deeper, I expect to hear the question – Is this as good as it gets?

Here are some perspectives, in my customary bearish to bullish range.

  • Yes. Some of these levels just cannot get much better. Unemployment claims, unemployment, consumer confidence and the VIX are good examples. And of course, the over-valued stock market will follow when these measures roll over.
  • Maybe. The pros and the individual investors disagree. (David Templeton of HORAN). The interesting charts show that bearish individual sentiment at the end of August coincided with the next leg of a rally. The active manager exposure index has declined from 71.7% to 60.2%, but this is viewed as a slightly lagging or concurrent indicator.
  • Eventually. Volatility is at a record low. Fund manager Ploutos provides an interesting analysis of historical VIX readings, with this conclusion:

    What did I take away from this study? Equity volatility does not change from ultra-low to high overnight. With equity volatility historically low, do not expect a sharp economic or financial market correction absent some exogenous shock. While equity multiples in the U.S. continue to be historically extended, we could continue to see low volatility and rising stock prices over the next 12 months. When equity volatility persists at an above-average rate for an extended period of time – as it did in 1999 and late 2007 and early 2008 – it may be time to pare your risk and accumulate dry powder for a correction.


  • Not yet. The record earnings expectations march higher, and the stock multiple has not caught up. (Brian Gilmartin).
  • Good is good. Do not second-guess the obvious. The Fear and Greed Trader wisely notes the need for advance planning followed by calm execution. He reaches a conclusion like Urban Carmel’s:

    So the first myth that needs to be abolished is that one won’t have the time to get out before the next crash. Not true, the 2007/2008 financial crisis is the first example showing that to be the case. Anyone care to point out a more dire time in equity market history?

  • The best is yet ahead. Barry Ritholtz notes that “sell in May” missed s 7.9% gain. He cites LPL’s Ryan Detrick who showed that such contra-seasonality gains have nearly always been associated with a further rally in the next six months.

  • Maybe a lot higher. “Davidson,” who has been very accurate throughout the rally, analyzes economic fundamentals, reaching the following conclusion in what Todd Sullivan calls “some of his best work”:

    Economic indicators provide investment signals well before investor market psychology begins to shift. Investors remain decently pessimistic while economic indicators forecast continued economic growth and higher profits. As more investors turn optimistic, markets should continue to rise higher. I expect markets to rise as long as the T-Bill/10yr Treasury rate spread remains favorable. One cannot predict how high. One can only discuss the potential. The SP500 in 3yrs+ has the potential to reach $3,500-$4,500. A wide range and over-valued, but it is impossible to predict how optimistic market psychology can become. For now, the best one can do is to simply say “higher”.

    The cutoff point for equity investing will be in my opinion the T-Bill/10yr Treasury rate spread narrowing to 0.20%. At 1.35% today, we have 2yrs-3yrs of higher equity markets ahead in my opinion.

As usual, I’ll have more in the Final Thought, where I always emphasize my own conclusions. In this case, it includes what I see as most important.

Quant Corner

We follow some regular featured sources and the best other quant news from the week.

Risk Analysis

I have a rule for my investment clients. 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: Business cycle analysis via the “C Score.

RecessionAlert: Strong quantitative indicators for both economic and market analysis.

Brian Gilmartin: All things earnings, for the overall market as well as many individual companies.

Georg Vrba: Business cycle indicator and market timing tools. This week Georg suggests a method for improving the popular Shiller CAPE valuation indicator. A key is that he takes a 35-year moving average to include multiple business cycles and smooth the effects of changes in earnings reporting. This is an interesting approach, but it does not leave very many cases of signals. Quants will really love this article.

Doug Short: Regular updating of an array of indicators. Great charts and analysis. With all the recent data, it is time for another look at the Big Four indicators most relevant for recession dating. (via Jill Mislinski).


Guest Sources:

Urban Carmel joins the many who see the near-term recession risk as low. Check out his chart-filled post for details.

Want to know more about the Atlanta Fed’s GDP Now program? Here is a link to a podcast interview with Pat Higgins, a policy adviser and economist who created the tool. Let’s also look at the most recent forecast for Q417.

Insight for Traders

We have not quit our discussion of trading ideas. The weekly Stock Exchange column is bigger and better than ever. We combine links to trading articles, topical themes, and ideas from our trading models. This week’s post is about the advantage of diversity when a pullback is threatened. To illustrate, we provided some historical data on the trading models. And of course, there are updated ratings lists for Felix and Oscar, this week featuring small caps. Blue Harbinger has taken the lead role on this post, using information from me and from the models. He is doing a great job.

Insight for Investors

Investors should have a long-term horizon. They can often exploit 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 Bespoke’s brief and sharp take on politics and investing. As usual, they make their argument with charts. In this case, the topic should be familiar to WTWA readers: Don’t mix political opinions and investing. I maintain that understanding likely policy outcomes will improve investment results. Some readers confuse this with political advocacy. Sometimes the policy issues matter to the market, and we should all pay attention.

Bespoke provides two excellent charts, the first showing President Trumps plummeting approval rating.

The second shows approval ratings and the stock market during the Trump administration.

This is like the early response to President Obama. We must monitor events, but do so without getting political passions involved.

Stock Ideas

David Fish updates his list of dividend champions and contenders for November.

Financial engineering? An activist investor looks deeply into the debate over Restoration Hardware (RH), suspecting a near-term spike higher.

Want to participate in the bot revolution? Here are two ETFs to consider.

Simply Safe Dividends analyzes AT&T (T) asking whether this high-yielding dividend aristocrat is a value trap. (I don’t think so, but selling near-term calls against stocks like this is a winning long-term strategy).

Lee Jackson (24/7) highlights four dividend stocks recommended by UBS.

Electric vehicles and Nickel?

Personal Finance

Seeking Alpha Senior Editor Gil Weinreich has an interesting topic every day. His own commentary adds insight and ties together key current articles. As usual this week he had several good articles, but my favorite this week discusses takes up the question of whether retirees should use a “bucketing” approach or treat assets as a unitary portfolio. He cites a provocative post by investment manager Ron Surz.

Alan Steel (HNW Magazine) has a witty analysis of the many predictions of Albert Edwards. Look at the article titles as well as the publications featuring his viewpoints.

Abnormal Returns is always interesting, but the Wednesday edition is especially geared to individual investors. My favorite this week raises the 3 great misconceptions about retirement saving.

Suze Orman says you should not retire until you are 70. Walter Updegrave (Money) disagrees.

Watch out for….

Morningstar ratings. Those stars describe history. Not so good at helping you think about the future. (WSJ)

Unproven claims that marijuana can cure cancer (FDA). If that does not matter to you, here are the fifteen states most likely to legalize the drug. Gallup reports than 64% of Americans support legalization for recreational use.

Final Thoughts

Can we expect to identify market tops from the record strength in economic indicators? No.

This is one of the most deceptive practices, and sadly, a common one. Writers who are perpetually bearish (or bullish) will interpret data in a straightforward fashion when it suits their purpose. When it does not, the predict something like “the sunset always follows the sunrise.” I call this the Chauncey Gardiner approach. It is just as naive as it is in the movie, and verges on intellectual dishonesty. If I seem unusually exercised by this topic, you are reading me right!

When indicators and markets finally roll over and get worse, we will be able to look back and spot the “top.” That is much different from a real-time forecast. The current level of economic strength can continue or improve – perhaps for years. Many pounce on the first decline in an indicator and leap to an unwarranted conclusion.

This is not just a bearish trait. When the market was reaching new lows in 2008, the same argument was made by bulls, including Mr. Buffett. How long can things go? Buy when there is fear. These comments were right, but it took several months. While a relatively short time on a historical stock chart, it seemed like an eternity to investors as markets declined much further.

Trying to guess the top (or bottom) from improving (or worsening) indicators is a fool’s errand.

Stocks are driven by earnings and interest rate expectations. These factors remain favorable, as I record each week. We have no special threats to financial stability, and plenty of fear built into the market. I also expect the “slower” economic indicators to follow the “soft” data that many try to dismiss.

Monitoring these factors is one of the prime missions of WTWA.

What worries me…

  • Mueller indictments and President Trump’s response. This is still on my list. The first indictments showed an inclination to move up a chain of possible offenders. If a Trump family member is included and the President fires Mueller, the Nixon-era Saturday Night Massacre comparisons will get headlines. N.B., I refer not to the substance of the issue, but to the market reaction.
  • The Asian trip. I wish the President had more willingness to use expert advice. With important trade and security matters at stake, it is an opportunity to improve some ties with needed allies.

…and what doesn’t

  • Stock valuation. Since I regard the most popular levels as flawed, I focus on expected earnings and alternative opportunities. While some individual stocks seem richly valued, I am having little trouble finding attractive choices.
  • Low VIX readings. The so-called “fear gauge” is low because actual trading volatility is low. Again, this is something we document each week. If you have been trading on an expected increase in the “fear gauge” you have been losing.

Stock Exchange: Pullback Fear? Consider Uncorrelated Stocks

The Stock Exchange is all about trading. Each week we do the following:

  • Discuss an important issue for traders;
  • Highlight several technical trading methods, including current ideas;
  • Feature advice from top traders and writers; and,
  • Provide a few (minority) reactions from fundamental analysts.

We also have some fun. We welcome comments, links, and ideas to help us improve this resource for traders. If you have some ideas, please join in!

Review:

Our previous Stock Exchange explained some of the important differences between investing and trading. We used Bitcoin as a specific example. If you missed it, a glance at your news feed will show that the key points remain relevant.

This Week: Pullback Fear? Consider Uncorrelated Stocks

Just as a broken clock is right twice a day, pundits warn relentlessly of the next big stock market pullback… until one finally arrives. And considering our almost uninterrupted rally since the depths of the financial crisis more than eight years ago, it’s understandable that some stock market participants are nervous.

Historically, investors have been able to take some risk off the table by investing in bonds. And since the early 1980’s, investors have enjoyed the benefits of sinking interest rates (i.e. when interest rates go down, bond prices go up). But now the tables are turned, interest rates are low and they’re rising—this is a decidedly less attractive situation.

Investment strategies that are less correlated with the overall market (and still offer attractive returns) are compelling because they can significantly reduce risk while simultaneously making money.One of the benefits of our trading strategies is their low correlation with the overall stock market (more on this later).

Something New—More Data

This week we’re implementing something new for our readers. We’re including a table summarizing the results for our models, which work well when combined. The tables show the actual client results after commissions and fees (I watch this every day, and now readers can see it as well). We’ll share additional information, including test data, with those interested in investing. For our weekly updates, we use only real-time results.

The results in the table above include all of the positions (10 for Road Runner and Athena, 16 for Holmes, and 20 for Felix), not just the specific stock examples we discuss in the Stock Exchange every week (and sorry Oscar, you have too many individual stocks and trades to be part of this approach). We’ve included six months of data since that is the shortest real-time record we have. All of the models are expected to perform well over longer time periods. Holmes, for example, has returned over 22% in the last eighteen months.

Very importantly, the following correlation matrix shows the attractively low correlation of our strategies versus the market, as measured by the S&P 500 (SPY).

Unlike most equity strategies, our approach has a very low correlation to the market. This is an attractive quality because it can reduce risk (as measured by volatility) while simultaneously keeping returns high. So if you are fearing a market pullback, our lower correlation strategies can be attractive and worth considering.

Expert Picks from the Models:

This week’s Stock Exchange is being edited by Blue Harbinger (aka Mark Hines). Blue Harbinger is a source for independent investment ideas.

RoadRunner: This week I like Applied Materials (AMAT). I like to buy stocks that are at the bottom of a rising channel, and if you look at the chart below you can see why I like Applied Materials.

Blue Harbinger: Interesting pick Road Runner. Applied Materials’ price has been increasing significantly since the start of 2016. And considering your momentum-driven strategy, I can see why you think it may be going higher. From a fundamentals standpoint, the company supplies manufacturing equipment to the semiconductor industry, and this is an industry with tremendous long-term growth potential. Not only the continued proliferation and complexity of smart phones, but also artificial intelligence and the Internet of Things (“IoT”) will help this entire industry grow for many years to come.

RR: That’s nice, Blue Harbinger, that you’re looking “many years” into the future, but my typical holding period is only about 4-week. I’ll be in an out long before “5g” networks ever arrive.

BH: 4-weeks Road Runner? Really? And what will you do if the market turns south, like so many pundits and prognosticators are warning?

RR: First of all, I don’t let emotions like fear and greed impact my decisions. I am a data-driven model. I’m totally objective. And second of all, when my strategy is combined with the our other models (some of which are NOT momentum-driven) we do quite well, as the early table in this report shows.

BH: I’m impressed with your results so far, but more data is always nice. And if you change your mind, here is a look at some helpful fundamental data in the following Fast Graph from Chuck Carnevale—it’s good stuff.

RR: Thanks. How about you Holmes? What have you got this week?

Holmes: In a rare twist, I don’t have any new picks for you this week. I’m usually able to find something attractive, but I don’t force things when the opportunity is just not there.


BH: Wow—that is a rare twist. You’ve usually got something. How about you, Athena? Do you have anything for us this week?

Athena: This week I like RH (RH) (formerly Restoration Hardware). I utilize a momentum strategy, my average holding period is 1-month, I use stops to control risks, and I exit when my price target is achieved. You can see RH’s recent performance in the following chart. It’s above its 50-day and 200-day simple moving averages, and it’s got room to run.

BH: Interesting pick, Athena. If you recall, Road Runner basically hit a home run with RH when he picked it during the week of August 25th (he typically holds for 4-weeks). And you also picked this one back in mid-July. How did that work out for you?

Athena: Last time I picked RH it worked out just fine. My recent track record is included in the table earlier in this report, and my 3-month record (i.e. since my last RH pick) is very strong.

BH: The CEO of this company keeps buying more shares. He recently owned over 2.2 million of the company’s 21 million shares outstanding. Insider buying can be a good sign. Fundamentally, this company’s profit margin has been thin, but revenues remain strong. Here is a look at the Fast Graph.

Athena: Thanks for that information. I usually hold for about 1-month, so check back with me then. How about you Felix, what have you got for us this week?

Felix: This week I ran the most liquid stocks in the Russell 2000 small cap index through my model, and I have included the top 20 in the table below.

BH: I see RH made your list. I suppose that makes some sense considering you and Athena are both momentum traders.

Felix: True. I am a momentum trader. But I tend hold things longer than the other traders, 66 weeks on average. I exit when my price target is reached, and I control risk by monitoring macro factors and using stops.

BH: RH has been an interesting one to follow considering the volatile price and the signifcant share buybacks. Thanks for sharing all 20 of those stocks. I see some names on there I recognize, and a few that I will look into. Anyway, how about you, Oscar? Have you got anything for us this week.

Oscar: This week I have provided a ranking of the high volume ETFs. They’re included in the following table.

BH: That is interesting. I recognize almost all of the ETFs on your list (except for TZA—I had to look that one up. It’s the Drexion Small Cap 3X Bear ETF). Considering you follow a momentum strategy, I can see why some of those ETFs make sense on your list, but some seem like an anomoly to me.

Oscar: You are correct, I am a momentum trader, but my average holding period is typically about 6-weeks. I rotate into another sector when it’s time to exit, and I also use stops to conrol risk.

BH: Thanks for sharing your list Oscar. I always enjoy hearing about what is interesting to you.

Conclusion:

Investment strategies that are uncorrelated with the market are attractive because of the diversification benefits they can offer. Specifically, uncorrelated return streams can keep total returns high, and portfolio risks (volatility) low. Our models have been designed to identify attractive securities, and our model strategies have low correlations to the overall stock market, as measured by the S&P 500. Combining our momentum and mean reversion strategies allows us to build attractive investment portfolios with less volatility. And if you’re afraid of a market pullback as described in the title of this article, strategies uncorrelated with the market can be quite compelling. 

Stock Exchange Character Guide:

 

Background on the Stock Exchange:

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

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

Getting Updates:

Readers are welcome to suggest individual stocks and/or ETFs to be added to our model lists. We keep a running list of all securities our readers recommend, and we share the results within this weekly “Stock Exchange” series when feasible. Send your ideas to “etf at newarc dot com”.  Also, we will share additional information about the models, including test data, with those interested in investing. Suggestions and comments about this weekly “Stock Exchange” report are welcome.

Weighing the Week Ahead: Fed Chair, Tax Proposal, Data Avalanche, Earnings – A Pundit’s Paradise

There is so much on the calendar next week that it is impossible to choose a single theme. The economic calendar includes all the major reports. It is still the heart of earnings season. Announcements are expected about a new Fed Chair (and perhaps other appointments), the tax reform proposal, and Special Counsel Mueller’s first indictment. The actual Fed rate decision, often the major focus, is almost an afterthought.

It is a paradise for the punditry!

Last Week Recap

In the last edition of WTWA I guessed that there would be plenty of discussion about the lack of fear in markets. That was a reasonable guess as well as an interesting topic to consider. Evidence of the focus on fear came from Wealth Advisor, which teed up a week-old story featured earlier by Business Insider. I had bookmarked this last week for more complete attention, but I was alarmed by an email showing the most popular stories.

The original story was based on an interview with John Hussman who explains every week that the stock market is “overvalued, overbullish, and overbought.” He explains that Mr. Buffett does not really understand the relationship between stock prices and interest rates, and discusses the interest effect on future cash flows. This completely misses the Buffett point, which compares the attractiveness of various assets. A balanced story would have done a better job of explaining the Buffett viewpoint, but it is always popular to predict a 60% market crash.

Trivia question: When is the first time Dr. Hussman used the phrase “overvalued, overbullish, and overbought?” At some point he added “obscene.” Answer at the conclusion of today’s post. Hint: If you read the story on your mobile, you were using the iPhone 4!

The Story in One Chart

I always start my personal review of the week with a chart. This week I am using a chart of the S&P futures from Investing.com. If you visit the page, you can readily change chart style and time frame. The futures show you the overnight action as well as the trading during the day. The “N” indicators will show relevant news if you hover over them.

The change on the week was modest, as it has been in many prior weeks, but it adds up to another new record. Once again, notice that the volatility has been very low. The intra-week range was less than 1.5% and the weekly change only 60 bps. Those who believe that the VIX should be signaling more fear should realize that it has been anchored by the continuing low volatility in the underlying stocks.

Much of the gain was in the technology sector, which now constitutes 24.2% of the S&P 500. (Bespoke)

Eddy Elfenbein reports an amazing research result:

If you take all the days when the S&P 500 moved more than 1.14% in a day, up or down, the combined return comes out to zero. They completely balance each other out.

The entire return, more than 55-fold over 60 years, comes on the low-volatility days (up or down less than 1.14%).

Would you have guessed that?

The News

Each week I break down events into good and bad. For our purposes, “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 news has been mostly positive. 

The Good

  • Rail traffic is strong. Steven Hansen (GEI) provides the supporting evidence.


  • Durable goods increased 2.2%, handily beating expectations.
  • Earnings beat rate is 76%. The revenue beat rate of 67% is also above historical averages. The blended earnings rate is less encouraging, with a drag from insurance companies. The market is also reacting less to the strong reports and to earnings misses. (FactSet). Brian Gilmartin notes the continuing strength in forward estimates, musing on the possible tax cut effect. He wonders whether 2018’s earnings estimate might rise from $145.69 to $150.
  • New home sales registered 667K on the SAAR, handily beating expectations. Calculated Risk provides analysis about the “Harvey rebound.”
  • Michigan sentiment remains favorable. Jill Mislinski has my favorite chart on this topic, pulling together all the relevant themes.



The Bad


  • Pending home sales hit a three-year low. (Diana Olick). She reports that low supply remains a problem.

Following Up

Last week some readers were skeptical about the poll I cited showing pollution concerns. Statista’s data from The Lancet and NPR shows the overall deaths from pollution.


 

Similarly, Barry Ritholtz cites a powerful study discussing economic and other effects of climate change. He has little patience for climate change deniers. I’ll just suggest doing a lot of reading before making up your mind.

Methods used to estimate the potential economic effects of climate change in the United States—using linked climate science and economics models—are based on developing research. The methods and the studies that use them produce imprecise results because of modeling and other limitations but can convey insight into potential climate damages across sectors in the United States.

The Ugly

A possible pandemic? The IMF is tracking some early indicators and improving preparations, including a simulation at their last meeting.

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.

The Calendar

We have a massive economic data calendar. As usual, the employment report will claim the featured spot, but wait — there’s more. Both ISM reports, personal income, and auto sales are very important. There are several others that are less significant only by comparison.

It would be easier to say that I am interested in everything on this list, while most should focus on the items I listed above.

Briefing.com has a good U.S. economic calendar for the week (and many other good features which I monitor each day). Here are the main U.S. releases.


Next Week’s Theme

In addition to the big economic calendar, we have expected announcements on appointments, tax proposals, indictments. The Fed will announce a decision on rates. Earnings season is in full swing. I have gone out on a limb before in predicting the likely theme for the week, but this time it is impossible!

After the recent weeks without much solid, fresh news, there is a plethora. We should expect A paradise for pundits!

It is natural to expect a volatility spike from so much news in so little time. Perhaps. But oftentimes the results are expected, or one offsets another. Here is the short list of items to consider, with disparate viewpoints on each

  • Political
    • Fed chair announcement – with Powell in the lead over Yellen and Taylor.
    • Other Fed appointments – might include Taylor to balance Powell.
    • Tax reform proposal.
    • Special Counsel Mueller’s first indictment(s).
  • Economic
    • Most data reports have been stronger. Will this continue? Especially in employment?
    • Some have disparaged what they call “soft” data. Will that continue?
  • Earnings
    • Overall strength has been solid.
    • Sector variation has been important, and will keep the spotlight.
    • Reduced guidance is getting stern market punishment. Many are looking for reasons to sell.
  • Fed decision – No one is expecting a rate change, so the focus will be on the statement.

As usual, I’ll have more in the Final Thought, where I always emphasize my own conclusions. In this case, it includes what I see as most important.

Quant Corner

We follow some regular featured sources and the best other quant news from the week.

Risk Analysis

I have a rule for my investment clients. 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: Business cycle analysis via the “C Score.

RecessionAlert: Strong quantitative indicators for both economic and market analysis.

Brian Gilmartin: All things earnings, for the overall market as well as many individual companies.

Georg Vrba: Business cycle indicator and market timing tools. It is a good time to show the chart with the business cycle indicator.

Doug Short: Regular updating of an array of indicators. Great charts and analysis.

Guest Sources:

Steven Hansen looks at employment data, wondering whether the tables based upon education are most helpful. He notes that 100 million of the 125 million non-farm jobs are non-supervisory. Many times, the job requirements include credentialism versus actual needs. He makes an interesting argument that many can do better financially without a college education.

 

Insight for Traders

We have not quit our discussion of trading ideas. The weekly Stock Exchange column is bigger and better than ever. We combine links to trading articles, topical themes, and ideas from our trading models. This week’s post compared trading and investing with a focus on Bitcoin. Just for fun, we also added Bitcoin to the ratings list for Felix and Oscar. Blue Harbinger has taken the lead role on this post, using information from me and from the models. He is doing a great job.

Insight for Investors

Investors should have a long-term horizon. They can often exploit 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 Urban Carmel’s series (Two parts for now) on investor psychology. The first segment looks at how data framing in charts affects perception. Here is a chart of the S&P 500 the way it is often presented.

And how it looks on a log scale (which is necessary to make percentage changes over time equivalent) and also with an adjustment for inflation.

 

Part Two explains why following the stock market is bad for your returns. He writes as follows:

The human mind has a tendency to assess risk based on prominent events that are easily remembered. The 1987 crash, the tech bubble, the financial crisis and the flash crash in 2010 are all events that are easily recalled. The mind automatically assigns a high probability to prominent (but rare) events. It ignores the more important “base rate” probability that better informs decisions. The fact that the stock market rises in 76% of all years, that it gains an average of 7.5% per year and that annual falls greater than 20% occur less than 5% of the time, are ignored in decision making. The mind interprets every 10% correction as the beginning of something much worse, even though a 10% fall is a typical, annual occurrence during bull markets.

The overall analysis is excellent, including plenty of charts for your consideration.

Stock Ideas

I always try to illustrate methods of analysis as well as stock ideas. I do not always hold the positions mentioned, but I regard the idea and analysis worthy of consideration. With eight different investment programs, we have an extensive watch list. That is what I am trying to share.

Value Investing

Chuck Carnevale is the leading resource in this method. His tools are invaluable and inexpensive. His regular (free) articles provide a wealth of ideas as well as a master class in how to evaluate a stock. We never take on a new This week there are two great examples. First, he continues his series on the DJIA with a look at five fairly-valued names. Take time to study the method and check back on the prior entries which you might have missed.

And also, Celgene (CELG) still looks good, even after the reduction in earnings expectations.

Market Maker Hedging

Peter F. Way’s unique approach takes another look at IBM, especially considering the institutional ownership of the stock and market maker hedging. The market maker’s position is temporary, reflecting a professional judgment about how far the stock might move – in either direction.

Finding a Niche

Strong Bio (the work of a multiple PhD analyst) takes a careful look at Cara Therapeutics and analyzes their niche—pain management and pruritic. This may be especially interesting as an approach to dealing with the opioid epidemic.

Focus on Income

Blue Harbinger continues his focus on income with a review of preferred stocks and also some put sales in selected names. This method can work very well with sound stock selection and proper size.

Kirk Spano (endorsed by Mrs. OldProf because he is a Packer fan) combines the covered put approach with an analysis of energy and solar, recommending SunPower (SPWR). I urge readers to follow his advice that you should sell puts only when you are willing to buy the stock at the indicated price.

Assets Versus Currencies

Leading valuation expert Aswath Damodaran begins with an analysis of bitcoin. He uses this as a basis for explaining the differences between assets, commodities, currencies and collectibles. This is a great post, which most people will need to read twice. He also shows why bitcoin is a trading vehicle, not for investors. Here are the key distinctions:


Consistent with this attention to investing versus trading, I was especially interested in John Rhodes’ idea about Bitcoin miners. This would seem to be an asset rather than a currency. He ends by rejecting MGT Capital Investments (MGTI), but the concept is worth watching. I usually prefer buying gold mining stocks rather than the metal.

 

Combining Technical Analysis with Dividends

Bonddad looks carefully at the attractions of Kimberly Clark. While there is an emphasis on dividends, fans of technical analysis will not be disappointed.

Sell-Side Recommendations

Morgan Stanley thinks that Broadcom is undervalued. (Paul Farrell, Barron’s)

And maybe biotech is a bargain (Barron’s).

Personal Finance

 

Seeking Alpha Senior Editor Gil Weinreich has an interesting topic every day. His own commentary adds insight and ties together key current articles. As usual this week he had several good articles, but my favorite this week discusses the timing of negative investment returns. It is a good explanation of the concern, but the answers are more complicated than the sources suggest.

The CBO (via GEI) has some good analysis on retirement needs. One reason I regularly read GEI is John Lounsbury’s widespread search for ideas and articles.

Tadas is back on the job with his regular Wednesday post on personal finance. My favorite this week is some solid advice on what to do if you know that your credit report has been compromised.

Value Investing

The balance between value and growth is once again tilting toward the latter. Does recent history provide evidence for the future?

James Picerno provides analysis and this interesting chart.


This was a week for the high-profile tech stocks, where the earnings and other metrics were celebrated.

David Van Knapp emphasizes that there are many ways to achieve investing success. Developing a process and sticking with it is the key. No method will be the best in each quarter. David’s well-reasoned article is a must-read piece regardless of your approach. Right now, it has special relevance for dividend and value investors.

Watch out for….

Lockheed Martin (LMT). Stone Fox Capital looks carefully at whether current values are justified.

Stone Fox Capital also warns about Sprint (S), especially if the planned merger does not come off.

 

Final Thoughts

I have my own expectations on each of the key question, including which are more important.

  • Political
    • The Fed Chair appointment will not matter much if it is Powell or Yellen. Anyone else will get a reaction.
    • Other appointments are fine if they are mainstream. A single exception will not matter much. The addition of a hard money, non-economist like Judy Shelton would attract a lot of attention. It would also be a good dissertation topic for some student.
    • The tax reform proposal will get plenty of buzz, including analyses of who would benefit. It is irrelevant, a mere step along the path to finding a centrist majority. Current market levels reflect little if any “Trump effect” despite the constant media chorus on this facile theme.
    • The original indictments are this week’s wild card. Will a Trump relative be included? How might the President respond? (Roll Call)
  • Economic – I expect the economic news to be solid, but perhaps affected by weather.
  • Earnings – expectations in most sectors have been beaten by more than the historical average levels.
  • Fed – I expect nothing from a policy change and little from the statement. I expect a rate hike in December and three more next year. This week’s Barron’s cites the Eurodollar market as implying two hikes in this time period. Eurodollars are futures based upon Libor at a specified future date. Many casual observers confuse this with the Euro currency market, which is quite different. Eurodollar trading is a deep and liquid market, where one can construct a trade for any point on the yield curve.

There is plenty to watch this week. As usual, understanding the schedule and expectations will help you navigate the waters.

What worries me…

  • Mueller indictments and President Trump’s response. If a Trump family member is included and the President fires Mueller, the Nixon-era Saturday Night Massacre comparisons will get headlines. N.B., I refer not to the substance of the issue, but to the market reaction.
  • Government computers. We all have a sense of dilapidated infrastructure in roads and bridges. Decades of cuts in government spending have had many under-the-radar effects. As a former government employee, I know how hard it was to get a new computer in a timely fashion. Put his together with recent news on hacking, and you will understand my concern.

…and what doesn’t

  • The Fed. We are still more than a year away from when changes in Fed policy will be important for stocks, despite the popular focus on this topic. It also does not matter (in the short run) whom President Trump selects to be the new Fed Chair, or his other appointments.
  • Low VIX readings. The so-called “fear gauge” is low because actual trading volatility is low.

Trivia question answer

The earliest time I could find was October of 2010. Reader corrections are welcome. That was the year of the BP oil spill and the OldProf’s Dow 20K call. I am still waiting for Dr. Hussman to respond to my post about his ever-changing chart. Many follow the conclusions from this chart; they understand Hussman’s point; but no one seems able to understand or replicate it. It keeps changing when prior forecasts did not work. It would help if, like Dr. Shiller, he shared his data and process with other investigators.

If I had been so wrong about something for so long, I would be taking a hard look at my methods. Instead of quoting ZH, I might be bringing in a few astute critics as consultants. Calling out Warren Buffett would be low on my list, although once you have blamed your own missed forecasts on the Fed, what is left?