Weighing the Week Ahead: Trump V. Yellen Round One

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

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

Trump v. Yellen, round one.

Last Week

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

Theme Recap

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

The Story in One Chart

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

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

The News

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

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

The Good

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

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

 

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

The Bad

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

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

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

The Ugly

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

 

The Silver Bullet

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


The Week Ahead

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

The Calendar

We have a normal week for economic data.

The “A” List

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

The “B” List

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

     

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

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

Next Week’s Theme

 

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

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

Trump v. Yellen, Round One

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

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

Here is what Yellen might do.

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

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

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

Quant Corner

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

Risk Analysis

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

The Indicator Snapshot

 

 

The Featured Sources:

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

How to Use WTWA (especially important for new readers)

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

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

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

 

Best Advice for the Week Ahead

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

Insight for Traders

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

Felix and Holmes

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

Top Trading Advice

 

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

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

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

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

Insight for Investors

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

Best of the Week

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

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

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

Stock Ideas

 

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

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

 

Seeking yield?

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

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

Portfolio Management

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

Personal Finance

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

 

Thinking about Social Security?

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

 

Watch out for…

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

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

And more on value investing

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

 

Final Thoughts

 

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

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

What about the Fed?

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

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

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

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

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

11 thoughts on “Weighing the Week Ahead: Trump V. Yellen Round One”

  1. “Holmes (who has been very hot)… Holmes is worth watching.”
    Jeff, just want to note that this type of commentary departs from your typically rock-solid reasoning. I’m sure you don’t want your readers to pay attention to Holmes simply because it has done well over the past several weeks. I’m also sure that all of your models are developed with rigorous statistical analysis, and that’s the type of backing I would love to see!

    1. Phil,

      Anyone who would like more information about Holmes should arrange an appointment. I have written about our development methods at some length, but I would do more in person. Generally speaking, there is a training period, an out-of-sample test period, and then real time. We look for performance to be excellent in all three periods. Holmes has been operating in real time for more than a year. I watch it closely. If I were not convinced, I would recommend it to my clients.

      It is dangerous and difficult to post performance information without violating compliance rules. You will not find many RIA’s who are doing so. Mutual funds have their own set of rules.

      So yes — the models are developed and tested following a rigorous technology. I invite interested people to learn more, but I cannot write more on the Internet.

      Thanks for bringing this up!

      Jeff

  2. “Since that community has over-emphasized the Fed for the entire rally, unable to explain the gains any other way,”
    Hmmm, wonder where traders may have gotten such a notion?
    “This approach eased financial conditions in the past and, so far, looks to be effective again. Stock prices rose and long-term interest rates fell when investors began to anticipate this additional action. Easier financial conditions will promote economic growth. For example, lower mortgage rates will make housing more affordable and allow more homeowners to refinance. Lower corporate bond rates will encourage investment. And higher stock prices will boost consumer wealth and help increase confidence, which can also spur spending. Increased spending will lead to higher incomes and profits that, in a virtuous circle, will further support economic expansion. ”
    https://www.federalreserve.gov/newsevents/other/o_bernanke20101105a.htm

    1. Phil — Yes, out of the many things Bernanke said and wrote, that is the paragraph most often cited by those with what I believe to be a losing viewpoint. Most such people maintained that the Fed was “printing” and “pumping” money directly into assets. In fact, only the indirect stimulative effects of a better economy showed that the policy worked. The markets are one, and only one measure the Fed uses to set policy. Healthy markets reflect better economic conditions. Since so many fought the rally, they had to have an explanation for their losing viewpoint. I wrote about this several years ago: http://dashofinsight.com/the-fed-as-a-fig-leaf/.

      As the economy has gotten better, the Fed is withdrawing accommodation. Many predicted disaster when policy shifted, but they were wrong.

      This mistake has been the single most costly one for many investors, partly because the Fed became part of a political debate.

      Jeff

  3. IMO, Fed policy has been and continues to be a factor in stock prices. Note, I say prices vs. value. Values increase as the economy improves and cash flow grows. Prices correspond to value increases but also are a function of interest rates i.e., Fed policy. The lower the “risk free rate” or cost of capital, the present value of future cash flows increases. Straightforward math. A host of factors come in to play, certainly as it is not binary. So, as the Fed tightens, rates trend upward, pressing the value of future cash flows lower along with P/E’s — all else being equal, which they never are. As such, I remain bullish but growing more cautions as time goes by.

    1. We should keep in mind that the Fed controls the short end, but only has some influence over the ten-year, for example, which I think is more relevant for stocks. I agree about the future cash flow argument. Do you think that stock prices currently reflect a 2.5% interest rate?

      My research shows that this relationship is curvilinear. The very low rates reflect a widespread perception of economic weakness, so there is little confidence in the “E.” As the ten year goes to the 4-5% range, the economy and confidence improve and stock prices move higher. The multiple on forward earnings moves higher as well. Somewhere around 5% the effect you describe kicks in. JP Morgan frequently publishes a chart on this, and I have run it a few times.

  4. Does the market reflect 2.5%? Good question. I will have to ponder that a bit. As to confidence in earnings, I think that is key. Tepid GNP; tepid wage increases; high debt levels; All beg the question–will the consumer keep spending. I am leaning toward no but keeping an open mind. I do recall your work on the 4-5% rate threshold and take it to heart as it is based on solid data. We shall see if it plays out the same. Good discussion by the way on a lazy Sunday afternoon post football. Pitchers and catchers report soon. White Sox trade of Sale probably a good long term move as there apparently have been some “other” issues surrounding him . Already have tickets for the Sox/Angels in Anaheim in May.

    1. “Pitchers and catchers report” is one of the happiest phrases! Let me know if you find yourself coming my way. We’ll catch a game and maybe you can visit the office.

      Thanks for a good set of questions and the discussion.

      Jeff

  5. Jeff,
    I love the comment under the Silver Bullet award regarding the misuse of dual axes in a chart.

    When I use dual axes I usually do the following:
    1) Measure the same underlying metric.
    2) Put the absolute number on one axis and the rate of change on the other axis. This helps ensure that there is not a spurious rate of growth (due to a small base number, a reversal from positive to negative, etc.).

    There is no end, it seems, to deceptive use of statistics.

    In your Final Thoughts you are spot on: People are using Trump simplistically and lazily. Political analysis of capital markets is often a snare, since it is so easy to talk about and so hard to use in a profitable, actionable manner.
    I’ll stick to the fundamentals that I can understand: the economy, interest rates, and economic growth. Thank you for your contribution to my understanding of these fundamentals.

    I hope all is well with you.
    Rob

    1. Thanks, Rob.

      Now put those skills to work and pick up a Silver Bullet Award! Your excellent skills are just what the world needs.

      Jeff

Comments are closed.