The Economy: After being dissed and dormant for a decade, inflation is front and center for financial markets. Concerns are being voiced by many. Fed members are among the loudest. Is inflation real or is the Fedspeak a stalking horse? Only your hairdresser knows for sure. While technology has driven labor and hardware costs down, a comparison of basic items in the grocery stores shows price increases of 40% or more over the past decade. The “Lies, Damned Lies and Statistics” crowd is complaining that economic numbers don’t measure the appropriate output. One recently asked how we could have tight labor markets with no wage growth. The cry is that the laws of supply and demand don’t seem to apply in the Goldilocks Economy. Meanwhile, stocks are off their January highs and moving sideways. This breather is either the calm before the storm or the pause that refreshes. Regardless of the metrics, the only thing that matters is whether you can sleep at night. Watch inflation; watch the Fed.
Food for Thought: China has a new Emperor. It took a few years after the death of Emperor Mao. But the song remains the same: a thousand years of dynasties with the occasional disruption. The Qing Dynasty ended in 1912. More than three decades of internal strife between warlords followed. Then the communist warlord Mao Zedong assumed The Mantle. A new Imperial Chinese dynasty was born: the Communist Dynasty. Now a successor to Mao has emerged: Emperor Xi. Likewise Russia. The Romanov Dynasty ended in 1917. Eventually the warlord Stalin emerged as the new Tsar. Then Brezhnev and now Tsar Putin. Triumvirate Great Power politics reignited. Will Turkey make it a fourplay? The investment opportunities are countless.
Music of The Week: Atlantic 5 Jazz Band’s “Bar Music Moods – The Piano Edition Vol. 1”
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The Economy: The Holidays are upon us and All is Beautiful. Synchronized global growth, led by the US is producing some of the best economic numbers since the Financial Crisis of 2008. Donald Trump’s foreign policy speech has outlined an America First approach that should produce economic benefits. Congress has passed the first rewrite of the Tax Code in 3-decades. Financial markets are comforted to have another unknown out of the way. Corporate profits that have been held overseas are expected to flow back to the US next year and used for dividends/share buy-backs. Share buy-backs along with the expanding economy should bode well for stock markets in 2018. San Diego continues on its growth trajectory with high/med-tech, military spending, services and tourism helping to keep the downtown skyline full of construction cranes. Pessimists still call for circling the wagons. Optimists see the Endless Summer of perfect barrels.
Food for Thought: Merry Christmas and Happy New Year! Happy Holidays! It’s been a pleasure writing for you this year. … and what a year it’s been! 2017 goes down as one of the most excitement filled years in memory. Good Excitement; Bad Excitement; Real Excitement; Fake Excitement; Lurid Excitement; Questionable Excitement. How’er ya gonna keep ’em down on the farm after all that jazz. With markets heading into the 10th year of their rocket run, US mid-term elections, Brexit moving forward, Japan re-arming, a new Federal Reserve, Draghi on his way out, more central bankers tightening the screws, 2018 will be every bit as exciting as 2017.
Music of The Week: Dean Martin’s “The Dean Martin Christmas Album”
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The Economy: Sex, Taxes and Bitcoin; need I say more? As has been the case for quite a while, the US economy continues to go its own way on slow but steady growth. China is having some type of inscrutable implosion in the commodities sector; the UK is stumbling and fumbling around Brexit and the Middle East continues on its path of peace on earth and goodwill to all. For Americans it’s Ho Ho Ho as the scythe has swept through Hollywood, New York and now Washington. The Emperor has no clothes has taken on literal meaning. Ho Ho Ho on Taxes as Santa’s gift bag rains goodies from the sky. … and of course, HO HO HO for Bitcoin up 50% this month. It’s High Cotton! Merry Christmas, Happy New Year and Happy Holidays!
Food for Thought: Our Thoughts and Prayers go out to those enduring hardship this Holiday Season. From our men and women in uniform, separated from loved ones and facing danger; to those affected by the Southern California fires. Tis the season to count our blessings and be grateful.
Music of The Week: Rod Stewart’s “Merry Christmas”
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The Economy: Synchronized global growth, central bank easy money and politics as usual remain the norm. China finished up its Party Conference and deified Xi alongside Mao and Deng. The ECB and the Fed met and left their respective rates unchanged. No surprise there, as global growth is still viewed as delicate. So Synchronized but delicate would be a more accurate description of global growth. But the Fed is taking the lead in normalizing monetary policy. In October it did shrink its balance sheet by about $10 billion. They also indicated that another interest rate hike was on tap for December. Thursday, Trump is expected to announce Powell as the new Fed Chair. Powell is seen as dovish and if selected is expected to maintain the lower for longer policies we’ve come to know and love.
Food for Thought: Stocks continue to march higher. A week without new records now feels like a personal insult. The rally may continue through year-end as investors pile into the markets to make up for lost time. Algorithms are appearing daily that show how markets will go up for years to come. Everyone is an aggressive risk-taker when they are making money. But how do you feel about losses? Know your risk profile.
Music of The Week: Tim Bowman’s “Circles”
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The Economy: Politics continue to trump economics; though the numbers continue to show an economy expanding below expectations. August which is supposed to be the sleepy month of vacations has turned out to be action packed. The latest episode of House of Cards opened with the rush to World War 3; narrowly averted when the NOKO Doughboy blinked or The Donald turned a blind eye to further threats; your choice. Financial markets had a fit then recovered from the head-fake. Next up The Charlottesville Brawl and subsequent slugfest masquerading as a press conference. This was followed by the orchestrated exit of business leaders from the administration’s lineup. Two national business advisory councils were then dissolved and the rumor was that Trump’s chief economic advisor, Gary Cohn, was going to resign. Instead, Friday saw the White House departure of Steve Bannon who vied with Vladimir Putin for the administration’s title of “Master Puppeteer.” Again, markets spasmed into another head-fake. Stay on vacation; The Circus will still be in town when your return.
Food for Thought: Just when you hoped that your money would become more interesting, your dreams have been shattered by more fun and games. Except for checking your parachute there’s little to thrill with markets again near all-time highs and Kumbaya sung from every bank, brokerage firm and advisor. This week sees the Jackson Hole confab for the Master of The Universe Wannabes. Super Mario Draghi will croon “I’m Just a Gigolo.” Yellen will speak on “Financial Stability.” Interest rates will be lower for longer and come September there will be more kicking the can down the road because shrinking the Fed balance sheet will be cause for the Fed to sing A Cappella, AC/DCs “Highway to Hell.”
Music of the Week: Daft Punk’s “Random Access Memories”
The Economy: The numbers were again mixed and eclipsed this week by politics. Housing starts and building permits were down. Jobless claims up, Industrial Production down. Fed minutes were, as usual, a sleeper … watching Yellen kick the can down the road is tedious at best. The excitement was reserved for the NOKO Doughboy, who blinked; for the rewriting of U.S. history that occurred in North Carolina and for the continuing Circus on the Potomac. With the exit of Steve Bannon from the White House, Chief of Staff John Kelly appears to have consolidated his control. If true, we may begin to see a unified message from the Trump Administration. Even if that message is via tweet, it may be an improvement over the noise that has become a distraction. With the uncertainty of the past few weeks, stocks have weakened while bonds have been in a holding pattern.
Food for Thought: Stocks are making some investors nervous. After relentlessly moving up this year, markets have stalled. Is it because August is usually a weak month, or is something else at play? U.S. markets have failed to hold their highs and the FANGs are down about 10%. Bulls see Dow 30,000 around the corner. Bears are salivating for a 20% correction. Central Banks continue to pump trillions into the global economy. As long as Fed Policy is “Free Money Forever” there will be an upward bias to stocks. Yet warnings abound. Fiscal policy along with Trump Initiatives are DOA. Political gridlock under Obama was astonishing; under The Donald it is simply unbelievable. Clearly stocks can’t go up forever. This begs the question for investors who are on the sidelines or short, “Do you want to be right or do you want to make money?” Which of course leads to the caveat, “Markets can remain irrational longer than you can remain solvent.”
Music of the Week: Shakira’s “Can’t Remember to Forget You”
The Economy: NOKO is the only news that’s fit to print this week. Who cares about GDP, IP or l,m,n,o,p when the fate of humanity may hang in the balance. As a Navy Junior, Veteran, investor, political hack and history buff, it’s fascinating to watch this “situation” unfold. For primers, go watch “Dr. Strangelove” and then “Wag The Dog”. The Chicken Hawks see Munich in every blip in the firmament. Snowflakes believe that the NOKO Doughboy can be cajoled into nice. We’ll list what we see as important considerations for investors: 1) We have a President committed to “America First.” This means geopolitically as well as economically. He has the earmarks of a War Leader … or Monger, depending on your leanings. He’s a Big-Picture guy who plays the long-game. 2) No one has ever crossed the U.S. with impunity: Saddam, dead; Gaddafi, dead; Noriega, dead. Escobar, dead; Mosaddegh, dead. Hitler, dead. Tojo, dead … Doughboy is on the wrong side of history. 3) Nukes are a part our warfighting history and doctrine. We’ve already used them. 4) A non-Nuke surgical strike is probably the opening gambit. With 2 Carrier Task Groups off the coast, there are about 1,000 cruise missiles available to neutralize command and control, air defense, naval and air force assets on short notice. 5) Depending on your persuasion, Just War Theory either does or doesn’t support a pre-emptive U.S. move. 6) The U.S. will be roundly condemned for taking any action before allowing NOKO to nuke American territory. 7) Trump, Cabinet Secretaries, The Joint Chiefs of Staff and the theater commanders will be called war criminals by many in the international community. … Whatever happened to those halcyon days when our only concerns were the central bankers?
Food for Thought: The Trump-Doughboy Cage Fight has put a cloud on the investment horizon. For the first time in months, if not years, “buy the dip” is not happening (though 2-days does not a trend make). Whether the bots are on hold, rewriting their own code before another endless round of buying, or whether living, breathing human beings are exercising prudence in the face of uncertainty, markets have stalled. We’ve counseled caution several times in the past, only to be proven wrong by a market that sees bad news as good news: financial engineering is terrific; financial repression is better; mortgaging your grandchildren’s futures with hundreds of trillions in debt is best. … but we’re George Reeves Superman fans and believe that Truth, Justice and the American Way will out. So we’re skeptical about markets that go up forever. Dow 30,000 … we’ll probably see 5,000 before that happens.
Music of the Week: Jesse Cook’s “Free Fall”
The Economy: “Summertime and the livin’ is easy.” Economic data has been scarce. The Fed continues to indicate that they are now in a tightening cycle. We’ll believe it when the stock market has a correction and the Fed actually continues to raise rates; rather than follow their usual action of doing everything possible to support the asset bubble. The Fed has also indicated that they will be shrinking their bloated balance sheet. This will also have a tightening effect. Again, we’ll believe it when we see it. In the meantime, stocks continue to move higher led by the FANGs. Stocks remain a pure-play in central bank manipulation with the Bank of Japan now buying stocks like never before. Oil, on the other hand, entered bear market territory this week; crashing to $42/barrel WTI. The ripple effect has yet to be felt in the economy. A few short weeks ago oil was the biggest bull story around. … goes to show how quickly the story can change.
Food for Thought: We’re officially into summer. Time to find a good read and relax. “The Fourth Turning: An American Prophecy …” by Strauss & Howe frames today’s world in a way that you might find thought provoking. Are we in an era of increasing instability or is it simply a matter of the ever-present media. Most of the time, things tend to change only at the periphery. Occasionally events are life altering: wars, economic collapse, revolution are three macro events that come to mind. It’s all happened before … on numerous occasions … and the world is still turning. We’re cockeyed optimists and far beyond the sky-is-falling. Having said that, we continue to encourage you to have an exit strategy for these financial markets.
Music of the Week: Michael Allen Harrison” “Horray for Hollywood”
The Economy: Economic data was light last week; what was released was weak. The stream of conflicting data continues unabated with Europe flipping between Teutonic Strength and Greco/Italian Tragedy. Japan is showing strength while dodging North Korean (NK) missiles. China boasts of their booming economy while trying to contain their Haircut-Impaired-NK-Doughboy. Geopolitics again stole the spotlight from the economy as Fed-Speak was absent except for comments from The Bernank. Big Ben opined that the Fed might keep its bloated balance sheet for the foreseeable future. … couldn’t shrink it without tanking the economy. Rumor is that Grandma Yellen is trying to apply the Art of the Deal to The Donald himself. The Trade: She stays at the Fed for another term in exchange for keeping interest rates low. … not bad if she can pull it off … and why not. The Federal budget has little room for an increase in debt service … might take away from all those shiny toys that The Pentagon wants.
Food for Thought: “Peace through strength” was a phrase championed by Ronald Reagan. The current “America First” rhetoric apparently does not mean withdrawal from the world. Rather, it appears to be a policy of strongly protecting American interests, with force. North Korea is problematic but hardly a Gordian Knot. As we look out on the investing landscape we see geopolitical risk as increasingly likely to effect financial markets. Stock markets have stalled as this reality comes home.
Music of the Week: Tom Jones’ “Tom Jones”
The Economy: The numbers released this week underscore the difficulty in evaluating the economy. Consumer confidence is at all-time highs; as is bullish sentiment. Auto Sales disappointed. ADP Jobs report on Wednesday were blow-out; far above expectations. Yet the very similar NonFarm Payrolls were far below expectations on Friday. Oil has rallied, dipped and rallied back on each OPEC announcement. Fed Minutes were released and showed a more hawkish stance towards raising interest rates. They also contained a comment that stocks may be overvalued. The nuclear option on Gorsuch was exercised without causing a ripple. This is the conundrum of soft versus hard data. Soft data is about how you feel or what you think. Hard data is information that has some basis in statistics. With the manipulation of statistics you now have to frame hard data in terms of what might be fake news. For example, are any numbers provided by the Chinese Communist Party real? For better or worse, they certainly drive the markets. For the U.S. the consensus is that the Trump rally is intact regardless of the healthcare fail, the headwinds of tax reform, a looming trade war with China and as of today, a possible hot war with Syria/Russia. We continue to hear that regardless of the macro picture, bank lending standards remain tight.
Food for Thought: The relentless upward bias of the stock market stumbled Wednesday when the Fed Minutes were released. Two comments were taken as bearish for stocks. First, further interest rate hikes are coming in 2017. Second, the statement that stocks may be overvalued was viewed as a warning. Together, these comments stopped the rally and caused the largest reversal in 15-months. Markets closed down dramatically. But like so many other issues that should have paused this bull market, the reversal was forgotten overnight. Stocks had a positive day as the prospect of a Syrian war and the adage, “buy on the sound of cannons, sell on the sound of trumpets” was heard. Last week Tillerson indicated that Syria was best left to the Syrians. Today, Trump bombed ‘em. U.S. military intervention in Syria. Perhaps it’s the Art of The Deal, but it seems that there’s a lot of U.S. saber rattling going on. We have U.S. troops in Poland, on the Russian border, for the first time in history. We’ve turned-up the anti-Russian volume on Ukraine. We’re threatening North Korea with unilateral action. We’re flashing the sabers at China over the South China Sea. Perhaps the Central Banker stock market, which has morphed into the Trump Bump market will evolve into the global war market. To Infinity and Beyond.
Music of the Week: Billy Idol’s “Charmed Life”