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 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”
We Quarterback Money®
The Economy: Uncertainty has increased recently. Hurricanes Harvey and Irma will lower economic numbers going forward. The hydrogen bombs and loose-cannon missiles of the North Korean Crisis create their own questions. The issue of raising the debt ceiling has been kicked out to December. Inflation remains stubbornly below its 2% target. As a result, the Fed is probably on hold for any action for the remainder of the year. Both further interest rate increases and any balance sheet reduction would serve as a brake on an economy that is now more opaque than usual. Lower for longer; so mortgages and loans should remain near their historic lows. Our informal polls continue to confirm that a majority of respondents expect some type of an economic slowdown and a market pull-back. But stock markets continue to toy with their highs and bonds reflect the on/off of the flight-to-quality, safe haven depending on the geopolitical story of the day. September is historically the worst month for stocks. But with the current environment, all bets are off.
Food for Thought: Families with a net worth of $10 million or more have special needs. Taxes of all kinds, especially estate taxes are a major concern. Intergenerational wealth transfer is another issue. Many families are asset rich and cash poor. Wills, trusts, insurance and family businesses further cloud prudent action. Fees for these services frequently run to 6-figures. But the return is often several times that amount. Think about it.
Music of the Week: Peter White’s “Smile”
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: 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: 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: Global economies appear to be improving with Germany and France leading the way in Europe. The U.S. continues to present a mixed picture. The Fed released its minutes on Wednesday. They looked through the data to indicate another interest rate increase in June. While some see the Fed as increasingly hawkish, actions speak louder than words and the Fed has been unwilling to inflict the pain that rising rates will bring. With the explosion of information provided by the internet, a solid case can be made for any position that suits your fancy. Believers who warn of bubbles are countered by equally sage adherents on the other side of the argument. While we’re awash in the rhetoric of change, it’s questionable how much will be legislated given all of the animosity. The Trump budget proposes the largest cuts in decades. But like the rest of the agenda it’s so steeped in emotion that its final form is impossible to discern. Add the Special Prosecutor to this witches brew and you can almost hear the wheels of government grinding to a halt.
Food for Thought: Financial markets are unfazed by this circus and continue their 8-year bull run. Interest rates remain at historic lows. Bond yields remain suppressed. Investors are convinced that Central Banks will continue to inflate asset bubbles into the foreseeable future. Terrorism remains a blight; though the vernacular has morphed from calling them Freedom Fighters to calling them Losers. That’s an accurate step in the right direction. Never give in; never give up; never stop dreaming; never stop believing. Enjoy your Memorial Day Holiday!
Music of the Week: Bob Mamet’s “Day Into Night”
The Economy: This holiday shortened week has seen few economic releases. The Donald will have the opportunity to appoint a new Fed governor. This may result in a more hawkish Fed stance. In one public appearance, Fed Chair Yellen congratulated herself on a job well done; clearly the age of “Self praise is no praise” is a thing of the past. Increasingly the Fed is indicating that they’re considering “normalizing” their balance sheet. This means shrinking it over time. If and when this occurs, it will have the effect of further tightening in the credit markets. This prudence all sounds well and good. But the Fed has made it crystal clear that they will do whatever it takes to keep the stock market going up. Give Janet and the Boys a 3% market correction and the spigots are opened full blast as the Fed floods markets with free money. To say this will end badly is to sound like Chicken Little screeching about the sky falling. So we won’t bore you with arcane details like market liquidity, counterparty risk or dark pools.
Food for Thought: The Donald suited up as El Cid and smote the Syrians. It was a grand opening to Easter and Passover Week. The aptly named Tomahawks found their mark. Half of those were fired by the USS Porter (DDG-78). The Commanding Officer of Porter is Navy Commander Andria Slough, Naval Academy ’81. Women in every walk of American life should be proud that one of their own proved to be the cream of the crop in a highly competitive, male dominated, uber-macho profession; no glass-ceiling for her. The positive response, to the strike, from both sides of the aisle was deafening. Overnight, Trump-the-simpleton-Russian-spy-and-Putin-Dupe morphed into Trump-The-Decisive-Embodiment-of-American-Leadership. Then he swore Neil Gorsuch in as the newest Supreme Court Justice. Have a great Holiday!
Music of the Week: George Michael’s “Ladies and Gentlemen”
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”