The Economy: The economy appears to be expanding quite nicely and business optimism continues to rise as it approaches new records. The Left Coast, with its gateway to Asian trade, technology and Pentagon spending continues to boom along. Construction cranes fill the skies. New homes are stuffed into every nook and cranny. Roadwork and infrastructure projects are everywhere. New cars abound. Recently launched multi-million dollar yachts overwhelm the docks. Planes are jammed. Restaurants are packed. Exotic vacations are booked years ahead. The stock market confirms this rock ‘n roll fantasy narrative with many indices at or near their highs. Understand that only 3 tech stocks account for 70% of index gains this year. So the question is, “Can you be a cockeyed optimist and a contrarian at the same time?” The answer is yes. Now we’re entering earnings season with projections for year-over-year increases of 20%, Is this the beginning, the end of the beginning or the beginning of the end. Only Elon Musk knows for sure. China, Russia, North Korea, Syria, Turkey, UN, NATO, Trade Wars, Immigration Wars, SCOTUS Wars, Mid-Term Election Wars, Culture Wars, Religious Wars … and rising interest rates. Not to worry.
Food for Thought: Youth is wasted on the young and the wisdom of the ages is simply wasted. We will continue to emphasize the importance of interest rates and what the yield curve is telling us. While there will always be a bull market somewhere, most investors have a significant portion of their financial assets in fixed income. The old saw, “Stocks, bonds and cash.” The beginning point for most portfolio allocations is about 40% in fixed income; e.g. the bond market. So when I emphasize having an exit strategy, I’m particularly talking about having an exit strategy for fixed income. Contact me if you have questions on how to risk proof your portfolio.
The Economy: The U.S. economy appears to be powering ahead with unemployment at a 48-year low. There are more jobs available than there are job seekers to fill them. Average hours worked are up; construction spending is up; manufacturing is up; factory orders are up … the list goes on. Economic strength continues to give the Fed leeway to raise rates. Another 25 basis point (1/4%) hike in June is a given. The longer Powell is at the helm of the Fed, the more observers believe that he’s cut from different cloth than we saw with Greenspan, Bernanke or Yellen. Some observers liken Powell to former Fed Chair Paul Volcker. It was Volcker who trounced inflation in the early 1980’s with interest rates in excess of 20%. The economic pain of Volcker’s reign was enormous. But it ended an inflationary cycle that threatened to spiral out of control. It also laid the groundwork for the robust expansion of the 1980s and 90s. The stock market took off with Volcker and has never looked back. The rocket ride accelerated with Greenspan. … almost 40-years of stocks and real estate going up with only the occasional pause. No wonder my doctor friend blithely talks DOW 100,000 as if it’s already here. The trick for Powell will be to keep the good times rolling while simultaneously taking away the moonshine punchbowl of free money.
Food for Thought: The “China Card” is huge; whether you’re talking politics, military or socio-economic. Check out today’s “Video of The Week” below for a compelling take on why culture may limit China’s rise. Then look at how San Diego,riding the crest of a building boom, has about $3.5 billion in downtown projects underway. Papa Doug Manchester’s Pacific Gateway project represents $1.5 billion or 43% of this amount. The Gateway project is the redevelopment of the 12 acres near the Broadway Pier. That aside, housing units are driving much of the building boom as the urban lifestyle is attracting both working folks and retirees. Prices reflect the demand with higher prices the norm. Downtown is happening. While the Gaslamp draws tourists, San Diegans are flocking to Little Italy for its charm, restaurants and the weekly Saturday farmers market.
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: 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: The news has been all about the Fed. Trump made it clear during the election that he wanted to remake both the Supreme Court and the Federal Reserve. Word is that Randy Quarles will be Trump’s nominee as Vice Chair and the Fed’s Bank Supervisor. He comes from the private equity/private investment world. Quarles is considered to be a conservative counterweight to Yellen. Quarles would bring a fresh perspective to the Fed which has become dominated by academicians with little real world experience. Speculation has also focused on replacing Fed Chair Yellen in 2018. Trump’s Fed Chair nominee is expected to be National Economic Council Director Gary Cohn. Cohn comes from the investment banking world and would be the first Fed chair in 40-years who isn’t an economist. Within the Trump administration this is viewed as a plus since Trump wants practical experience over academic credentials. The downside is that Cohn is another Goldman Sachs alumnus; all of whom are detested by Trump’s core followers. Regardless of the accuracy of these reports, it’s obvious that Trump is determined to put a different Fed in place. A Fed that is more oriented towards pro-growth real world experience.
Food for Thought: Whenever we get out in the economy we’re impressed with how robust it looks. Restaurants are packed with diners day and night. Real estate continues to appreciate. New cars flood the streets. Everyone seems to be taking extended vacations. Yet in her Congressional testimony today, Fed Chair Yellen was surprisingly dovish. She expressed concern that inflation was below expectations and implied that the economy wasn’t performing as well as expected. Financial markets loved this narrative as it indicated that Yellen would keep her highly stimulative policies in place rather than continuing to turn off the spigots. But sooner or later the stimulus must end. It’s the human condition to project the recent past into the future; to assume that the future is going to unfold like the past. So it’s always interesting to hear a well-respected figure like Jamie Dimon, CEO JPMorgan speak candidly about the ongoing change in monetary policy. Commenting on the Feds move to end 8+ years of stimulus, he said, “We act like we know exactly how it’s going to happen and we don’t.”
Music of the Week: Josef Franz Wagner’s “Across the Pond”
The Economy: Consumer confidence surged; Everything home-building looking positive. The US continues to post impressive economic numbers. Though nay-sayers shout “Fake News” with every number that’s posted. All news is good news with individual investors finally beginning to pour money into stocks. Brexit, Trump, the rise of populism, the assault on globalism, immigration and the environment are no reason to slow financial markets still feasting on $200 billion a month in central bank stimulus. Repealing and replacing Obamacare was to provide billions in tax savings. Those savings were to be factored into the overhaul of the tax code. The narrative was that passage was a slam dunk. The subsequent fail produced a new narrative that Tax Overhaul would sail through regardless. Markets were thrilled that billions in lost tax savings no longer mattered. True to form, a massive rally followed the fail.
Food for Thought: The Trump phenomenon continues to unfold in stark black and white. Love him or hate him he is a phenomenon. Polarizing in the extreme, he’s brought out the worst in many. The main stream media (MSM), Hollywood, the UN, NATO and foreign governments seem to be the most shocked. Sacred Cows everywhere are in retreat. All concerned are becoming aware that POTUS is a brawler who enjoys taking the fight to the street. As a businessman The Donald understands that the best way to gut a program or department is to decapitate administration and cut or curtail funding. No money, no staffing, no decisions, no activity, no continuation of programs outside the Trump Agenda. Brilliant or Brutal depending on your persuasion. How this ultimately plays out is anyone’s guess. How the financial markets respond is also anyone’s guess. With the stroke of a pen, Trump is undoing decades of U.S. policy and redirecting national priorities and resources. Markets continue to treat these unprecedented events as a win for all sectors of the economy. The prime example is Climate Change. The administration’s position is, “We’re not going to spend any more money on that.” Yet the response of financial markets is that the trillions invested in this sector are going to continue on the same growth trajectory as when they were darlings. Reminds us of PT Barnum’s “There’s a sucker born every minute.”
Music of the Week: Jack Johnson’s “Jack Johnson”
The Economy: The Holiday Cheer keeps coming. Last week it was Happy Holidays! It’s all good: Home prices up 5% year over year. The U.S. economy expanding at the fastest pace in 3-years. Consumer confidence far above expectations. This week it’s Happy Holidays Again!! It’s all good again: ISM non-manufacturing index rose to 57.2 in November; above consensus. October factory orders rose 2.7% also above expectations. Durable goods posted a 4.6% increase once again above expectations. JOLTS revised higher. The incoming administration has a Santa Bag full of action items to move the US in new directions: Obama Care, immigration, deregulation tax code, infrastructure, trade, education, defense, foreign policy. Financial markets have priced in immediate passage and implementation of every utterance. What comes out of the sausage making we call the legislative process, is anyone’s guess.
Food for Thought: Rock On! Markets have been on a roll since the Trump election. This has the feel of a Triple: Post election relief rally, Year-end performance chasing and the traditional Santa Clause rally. Trump supporters have the stage as they advocate a sea change. Hillary fans continue the fight with promises of disruptions in the Electoral College. I’m all for Dedication to The Cause but that’s why we call tilting at windmills Quixotic. After 2-years of flat returns, stocks have jumped to new highs in the past 4-weeks. The markets took 3-days to shake off-Brexit, 3-hours to shake-off the Trump election and 3-minutes to shake-off the Italian election. We’re on track for the next event to have 30-seconds of impact. Complacency Rules so remember Icarus and don’t fly to close to the sun. Have a Great Holiday!
Music of the Week: Dean Martin’s “A Winter Romance”
Bide your time.
There’s no time like the present
Forgive and forget.
Revenge is a dish best served cold
Never put off till tomorrow what you can do today.
Don’t cross the bridge until you come to it.
You’re never too old to learn.
You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.
A word to the wise is sufficient.
Talk is cheap.
It’s better to be safe than sorry.
Nothing ventured, nothing gained.
Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth.
Beware of Greeks bearing gifts.
Do unto others as you would have others do unto you.
Nice guys finish last.
Hitch your wagon to a star.
Don’t bite off more that you can chew.
Many hands make light work.
Too many cooks spoil the soup.
Don’t judge a book by its cover.
Clothes make the man.
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.
The Economy: Recent economic data has been like the weather in Indianapolis: If you don’t like it, wait a couple of minutes and it’ll change. Conflicting data continues to point to a slowly expanding US economy. 7-years into this same slow motion movie and you have to ask, “What next?” Global Central Banksters have given us more than 600 interest-rate cuts and $12 trillion of asset purchases during the past 7- years. With the latest meetings of the ECB and the Fed, the answer is more of the same. Events
outside of our borders are now dictating the course of Fed policy despite the fact that within our borders the economy has demonstrated that removal of monetary accommodation is overdue. Today it was reported that bonds yields of Sanofi, the French pharmaceutical company, and Royal Dutch Shell have turned negative. This is nonsense.
Food for Thought: We’ve had five years of a bull market in the San Diego commercial real estate rental market. Now it may be over. 2016 has seen office space availability increase dramatically. Year to date, 570,000 square feet of office space has come on the market. This is in addition to the 360,000 square feet of space vacated by Qualcomm in 2015. This supply does not include new construction. Rather, it is due to slowing demand and additional space becoming available in existing buildings. In addition, many start-ups are beginning to struggle and their deaths will add more inventory to the market in 2016. The maturing demand for office space is expected to limit rent increases. While the tenants market of 2009 is still in the future, the landlord’s market we’ve seen for the past 3-years is over. The exception to this scenario is Downtown’s Class A buildings. That market is hot with limited availability. However, the offshoot is that rents in Class B and C buildings, some of which are functionally archaic, are under pressure.
Music of The Week: Susie Arioli’s Album “That’s for Me”