The Economy: Caution best describes the economy. Mixed economic data is being released into the most toxic political environment in decades. Global central bankers continue to add liquidity at unprecedented rates. $1 trillion in liquidity was injected into the global system in the first quarter 2017. Central bankers are committed to supporting real estate and stock markets at all costs. Tens of billions of dollars have flowed into U.S. stock markets from European Central bankers. As with the binary political landscape, economists and investors are split on how the economic landscape will play out. Will there be a day of reckoning based on historic metrics or have interconnected global markets evolved to a new and unknown model. The result of this is that each data release creates more questions than it answers. Banks are easing lending standards but loan demand is down. Why? The Fed is tightening into the weakest recovery in history. Why? Automakers are coming off a huge selling cycle; but incentives and liar loans have fueled sales. Why? The EU is reporting record growth in many areas yet the ECB keeps interest rates at historic lows while continuing to pump record stimulus. Why? Consumer confidence is up but retailers are closing stores at a record pace. Why? These macro questions eventually filter down to local decision making. Hence our emphasis on how your organization views the horizon.
Food for Thought: The S&P 500 Volatility Index (VIX) is known as The Fear Index. It’s used as an indication of investor complacency. The VIX is now at multi-decade lows; recently touching lows not seen since 1993. In the course of the past 8-years Central Bankers have rescued stock markets with such frequency that “Buy The Dip” has become a sound strategy for many investors. After a 3% pullback stock markets have regularly rebounded to new highs. Black Swans have ceased to be meaningful as investors have accepted that Central Bankers will always, successfully come to the rescue. Investors have the constitutional right to make money by investing in stocks and real estate. The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse have been replaced by The Four Horsemen of Guaranteed Investment Profits. Risk is Dead and markets will go up forever. Yet, as Bob Farrell famously noted, “When all the experts and forecasts agree – something else is going to happen.”
Music of the Week: Dire Straits’ “Dire Straits”
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: 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”
The Economy: With the exception of consumer confidence, economic numbers have disappointed this week. Is this the pause that refreshes, or is it the beginning of the end, or is it the end of the beginning? You choose. We remain cautious. It’s important to understand that financial markets have been disconnected from the economy for a while now. Your organization or business may be doing better or worse than the numbers spewing out of Wall Street and Washington. Global trade appears to be slowing as China’s economy decelerates. The energy sector is sluggish. Mining and raw materials have hit a speed bump. Fortress America has remained largely untouched by these developments. The consumer confidence numbers tell us that Americans are happy as clams. That’s good for business. Buy now; tell me how.
Food for Thought: The third quarter is history … and never too soon. After 4-years of unbridled euphoria stocks took a beating in August and September. Markets are down about 11% from their highs; 8% in the past 2-months. While we still see this as a healthy correction, we encourage you to have an exit strategy. The “I’m ready to bail at any moment” crowd is out in force. Hope is not a strategy and planning to hold losing positons through a major downturn is a recipe for disaster. Murphy’s Law is alive and well. Letting the market turn your 401k into a 101k is not sound financial planning. Contact us if you’d like help. We Quarterback Money®.