The Economy: The U.S. economy appears to be accelerating from its modest expansion over the past several years. While purists may argue the validity of the numbers that are released, they are the numbers that move markets and investors. After years of insisting that inflation is too low, we may be seeing that monster rearing its ugly head. The Fed’s Beige Book shows inflation increasing across a broad range. Consistent with increasing inflation, the Fed is now warning that higher interest rates are on the way. They have 4 hikes planned for 2018 and are leaving the door open for more. In the meantime, information overload is the order of the day. The actionable news is further confirmation that the Fed is in a tightening cycle. Loans of all types will continue to become more expensive. Those economic sectors that benefited from a decade of low rates may see increasing headwinds as rates continue to ratchet up.
Food for Thought: Stock markets are suddenly a hot topic of conversation. After years of the lockstep rise in global asset values, stocks have shown that they can go down as well as up. But let’s face it, making changes to an investment portfolio is like watching paint dry when compared to wine tasting or hiking Nepal. Sailors know that a rising tide floats all boats … and the reverse is true. The last bear market showed that diversification is no protection when all asset classes are getting crushed. But that message will have to be relearned. The FANGs may be particularly vulnerable. Regulatory issues could loom as Americans are waking up to the privacy/government surveillance/freedom of speech issues posed by big tech and social media. Anti-trust happened to the railroads, big oil, autos and airlines.
Music of The Week: Govi’s “Andalusian Nights”
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The Economy: All systems are go on a global economy that shows signs of continuing to expand. Easy money from central banks remains the order of the day. Trump tax cuts and deregulation have bolstered business confidence. The holidays showed Americans on a spending spree. Naysayers see the band on the Titanic bravely playing as she went down. Optimists see hundreds of billions in repatriated US corporate profits, tight labor markets, inflation and Trumponomics as the next leg up in the economy and the 9-year bull market in stocks. Ray Dalio of Bridgewater has called this a new bear market in bonds as Jerome Powell was confirmed by the Senate as the new Fed Chair. Powell is seen as dovish and a continuation of the Bernanke/Yellen school of gradualism in monetary policy. But it pays to remember that markets tend to drive the Fed and not the other way around. Interest rates are rising. Gold has broken through its $1,300 resistance and oil is at multi-year highs. With global expansion, investors are complacent that central banks will keep stock markets and real estate moving up forever.
Food for Thought: Davos, billed as the Global Economic Summit is in full swing. Over time it has morphed into another rich kid’s confab with the glamorous and notorious. It is known as the Bastion of The Globalists. This year Donald Trump will upset the apple cart as he presents America First Shock and Awe with his appearance and speech on Friday. The annual ego rush of whose private jet is bigger will be sadly missing Prince Alwaleed’s private 747 with the gold throne. The Prince is apparently still confined by his King who reportedly wants billions in return for a kiss-and-make-up return to business as usual.
Music of The Week: Chaka Khan “Chaka”
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The Economy: Good News/Bad News. The numbers continue to show an economy that is slowly expanding. On the whole, this has been the case for the past few years. You know you’re heading into a recession when the economic numbers are consistently negative. None of that for the U.S. The bad news, Hurricane Harvey will adversely affect the economy in a variety of ways. Rebuilding aside, natural disasters are never good for any economy. So Harvey is a negative and most likely more so than Katrina since Houston has a bigger economic/industrial footprint than New Orleans. Other bad news: The NOKO Doughboy continues to poke The Donald with a sharp stick. This time around, the POTUS reaction was more restrained than in previous instances. A focus on the domestic priority of Houston is one reason. Another possible reason is that WH Chief of Staff Kelly may have imposed some order on the spontaneity of WH communications. Regardless, financial markets have simply loved the Houston disaster and the increasing tensions with NOKO. Sensing that monetary policy will remain unchanged at the September FOMC meeting, stocks have rallied in anticipation of lower interest rates for longer … and more can kicking on shrinking the Fed balance sheet. To Infinity and Beyond!
Food for Thought: Life Insurance is probably only second to having your teeth pulled as a topic to avoid. It’s essential but infrequently attended to. September is National Life Insurance Awareness Month. So it’s a good time to evaluate your life insurance needs. If you have any questions or specific insurance needs, please contact us. The uses of life insurance have become more creative over time. Don’t leave home without it. Call us.
Music of the Week: Toni Braxton’s “Pulse”
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: 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”
The Economy: The only data of note was that Existing Home Sales surprised to the downside. But all talk of the economy was framed by the new administration. True to his word Trump began working the day of his inauguration with an executive order that formally put Obama Care in the crosshairs. Monday there were executive orders withdrawing from TPP, renegotiating NAFTA, freezing Federal hiring except for the military and freezing all new and pending regulations. Tuesday were executive orders for the Keystone and Dakota Pipelines. Wednesday were executive orders for the wall and to bring “Sanctuary Cities” to heel. All of these are seminal events that will have enormous economic impact. Their final forms are unknown, but with the Republican legislature and SCOTUS appointments you can expect dramatic changes. The military is expecting a windfall; many non-profits are feeling the chill wind of fewer Federal grants.
Food for Thought: China appears to be the centerpiece of a new U.S. foreign policy that openly acknowledges the adversarial relationship between two super powers. Gone is the benign acceptance of Chinese activity in the hope that U.S. companies will benefit. There appears to be a muscular, new U.S. approach that puts American national self-interest first. Expect confrontations as the U.S. reasserts its military and economic hegemony in Asia. “… you don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows.”
Music of the Week: US Military & Patriotic Favorites: “U.S. Navy Classics Vol.1”
The Economy: Economic numbers have surprised to the downside this week. Oil is off 20% from its high of a few weeks ago. Home ownership is at its lowest since 1965. GDP came in 50% below expectations. Some are saying the U.S. economy is stalling. Central bank activity has likewise been muted. The Bank of England and the Bank of Japan were both supposed to initiate massive stimulus programs. It didn’t happen. The Fed met this week and did nothing. Ennui, exhaustion or summertime blues, no matter. Financial markets took the poor numbers as confirmation that slowing economies would keep interest rates lower for longer. Poor economic numbers should keep the monetary printing presses running full-out.
Food for Thought: Thank you Talking Heads, Supreme Court Justices, former Mayors and other professional blowhards. We get it. The Donald is dangerous and The Hillary is a criminal. The Donald is the most dangerous man in the history of the planet. Worse than Cain, worse than Attila, worse than Stalin. The Hillary is the worst criminal in the history of the planet. Worse than Jezebel, worse than Bloody Mary Queen of Scots, worse than Bonnie Parker. That’s why as Americans we’ve selected them to be our Champions. Because warts and all, they are Our Champions. Now, let’s get on with it.
Music of the Week: The Essential Etta James.
The Economy: The U.S. economy is continuing on its path of sluggish growth. Once you dial-out the incessant noise you find that there’s been little change in trajectory. The End-of-The-World spasm that we saw with Brexit has been replaced with the usual complacency that central banks will provide additional trillions in debt to keep the global economy moving forward. Yet the Central Bank Follies are dwarfed by the global political circus. It’s May Day in Great Britain as the first woman PM since The Iron Lady, takes the helm. The Chinese claim to the South China Sea was slapped down by The Hague; a first step to internationally sanctioned military action. Our apolitical Supreme Court has jumped into Presidential Politics with one Justice proclaiming that The Donald is unfit to be President. In short, it’s business as usual.
Food for Thought: We continue to advise you to trust your personal experience as a guide to the direction of the economy. From a top-down perspective, the global economy appears to be slowing. Global stock markets are rallying in anticipation of increased central bank stimulus. To us, this is akin to giving a heroin addict more heroin. Though some indices have rallied to new highs, we find it noteworthy that many individual stocks and mutual funds have not participated in the party. For example: Citigroup is down 28% from its 2015 high; Boeing down 18%; Walmart down 19%. We remain cautious and advise taking profits. Restructuring your portfolio may be a prudent move.
The Economy: Another quiet week highlighted by the release of the Fed Minutes. As usual, the Minutes caused a hissy fit in global financial markets. Why? Well, why not? It was more of the same Elmer Fudd stuttering opacity that financial markets have become addicted to. For the rest of the world it’s much ado about nothing. The Fed emphasized that their decision on interest rates was data dependent. … as it has been since the Fed was founded in 1913. Duh! Economic numbers may move one tenth or one hundredth of a percent. In response, financial markets go haywire. Out of a US population of 320 million, a reported employment change of 15,000 will create massive gyrations in financial markets; over a .0047% change. When was the last time you based a decision on a .0047% change in anything? Recently? Ok you must be a quant or an engineer. For the rest of the planet, it’s statistically insignificant; not even a rounding error. As a result of this, we see the financial markets as being disconnected from the economy. Massive and misguided Central Bank manipulation, global fiscal irresponsibility, political gridlock by elected and appointed Peter Principled Lilliputians has failed to halt US economic growth. It’s a testament to the resilience of the American people. Every day is a holiday; every meal is a banquet.
Food for Thought: We are always conducting informal surveys to keep the mainstream media noise and click-bait in perspective. We continue to find the average Joe (or Josephine) well grounded. The basic American character of “Question Authority” remains intact. The prevailing outlook is local optimism tempered with frustration with the national and international scenes. America remains the clear choice to pursue personal and professional dreams. No other country or culture comes close. So spare us the incessant jabbering about the imminent demise of the American Goliath or the American way of life. The isolationist/interventionist dichotomy of the American political will has been a constant since George Washington warned of the “peril of foreign entanglements” in 1796. Rather than seeing the 20th century as the American Century, we see the 21st century as the true American Century. The 19th was only the prelude. We see the US increasing its global dominance. American innovation technological prowess will continue to reign supreme. In the global community, the US remains the headstrong, determined adolescent that will muscle its way to the head of the line. For Joe and Josephine American, “My Country right or wrong; still My Country” still rings true.
The Economy: Economic numbers have disappointed this week. Housing disappointed. Manufacturing disappointed. The Fed met and as expected, maintained the status quo; no change to interest rates for the foreseeable future. Lower for longer or never forever. With respect to oil, for decades the mantra was that low oil prices were good for the USA. In the past 6-months policy wonks have championed the idea that low oil prices are bad for the ol’ USA. Oil prices are up almost 50% in the past few weeks. That must be a good thing as we spend more on everything petroleum. So who’s on First? Oil is up 50% and that’s now a good thing. So, oil moving back up to $140 must be a great thing. Confused? You should be. The mindless noise is deafening. Here’s a sample of recent headlines from the chattering media class courtesy of the “Daily Reckoning” website:
4/5: Dollar Rises as Investors Anticipate U.S. Data
4/6: Dollar Falls on Fed Minutes
4/13: Dollar Climbs Before Data Forecast
4/15: Dollar Falls on Lackluster U.S. Data
4/21: Dollar Rises After Solid U.S. Data
4/25: Dollar Sinks After Q1 Growth Takes Another Hit
You got that?
Food for Thought: We’re midway through the first quarter earnings reporting season. Stock buybacks and dumbed-down earnings expectations have given us earnings that again are beating those reduced expectations. Lower the bar enough and any caveman can stumble over it. Financial markets are lovin’ it. But for many investors this seems to be the stock market rally to hate. Beware. We believe that the US economy is fundamentally sound but until the Fed decides to stop supporting asset bubbles, we’re leery. Protecting your assets should be at the forefront of your decision making.