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: 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: On the surface things appear to be moving along quite nicely with synchronized global growth still the order of the day. Beneath the surface, changes are coming. Trump has appointed Powell as the next Fed Chair. He’ll take the helm in February 2018 and may not be the same as the old boss. With his Wall Street background, he has a different perspective. Likewise Japan where the government pension system has been authorized to invest hundreds of billions in global stock markets. Saudi Arabia is undergoing change with historic upheaval in the royal family. While the House of Saud may reap a $800 billion windfall from wealth confiscations, the end result may be the unprecedented end of support for terrorism and a rapport with Israel. Brexit continues to muddle through with calls for the end of the world becoming more muted over time. Mankind is in holiday mode as year-end approaches.
Food for Thought: After a rip-snortin’ run, stocks have taken a breather lately. Anything less than daily triple-digit gains are seen by many investors as signs of doom. Whether recent market action is the pause that refreshes or something more significant is best addressed by Donald Rumsfeld’s famous quote: “There are known knowns. There are things we know that we know. There are known unknowns. That is to say, there are things that we now know we don’t know.” Markets will either go up, or they will go down, or they will go sideways. Have a great weekend.
Music of The Week: Tamba Trio “Pure Bossa Nova”
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 news this week has been all about Q2 corporate earnings … with a nod to the Fed’s 2-day meeting and announcement … and of course the Circus on the Potomac. Earnings have been strong with most beating expectations. The FANGS have led the way. Whether earnings justify stock valuations is up to you. Goldman Sachs thinks the market is overvalued with the market PE at 22.1 versus a 10-year average of 16.7. The other side of the coin are those saying, “This time it’s different.” The Fed’s 2-day meeting was a non-event. On Wednesday they announced no change in interest rates with a hazy comment about normalizing the balance sheet. In short the Dovish Fed is firmly committed to doing nothing. The Circus on the Potomac has continued its dazzling performance in the Theater of The Absurd. The Republicans were given a mandate to do something but seem to be incapable. Amazing. The Donald is moving closer to firing Apprentice Jeff Sessions. Sean Spicer is toast and The Mooch is sharpening his knives for future victims. There are no Summer Doldrums.
Food for Thought: As the poker player says, “Read ‘em and Weep.”
The Overvalued Market
This Time Is Different
Einhorn down 4% Q2
David Stockman on Peak Bull
A Bearish Citi Warns
Passive Investing poses risk
Music of the Week: Don Henley’s “Building The Perfect Beast”
The Economy: We end the month of May with a review, since the election, of comments on the economy and the financial markets:
2016_11_09: Jeff Gundlach of DoubleLine: “Buy This Market on Trump, Growth and Inflation.”
2016_11_09: Stanley Druckenmiller: “Buy This Market.”
2017_01_31: Kyle Bass, of Hayman Capital Management: A lower corporate tax rate … will be “extremely stimulative.”
2017_02_02: Dan Loeb Hedgie: “The … election was the most significant event of the year …”
2017_02_08: Larry Fink BlackRock CEO: “I believe we’re in the midst of a slowdown … because of all the uncertainty.”
2017_02_12: Jim Rogers: “We’re about to have the worst economic problems of a lifetime … ”
2017_03_02: Raymond James’ Jeff Saut: “I’ve never seen anything like this market, so I’m not going to play.”
2017_03_09: Bill Gross Janus Capital Group: ”…our highly levered financial system is like a truckload of nitro glycerin on a bumpy road …”
2017_04_01: Jamie Dimon CEO JP Morgan: “It is clear that something is wrong” with the nation.”
2017_05_10: Jeff Gundlach of DoubleLine: “The VIX Is Insanely Low”
2017_05_09: Lloyd Blankfein Goldman Sachs CEO: … low volatility… is not a “normal resting state” for markets.
2017_05_09: Art Cashin, of UBS: “It’s not normal … people are so blasé about what’s happening,”
2017_05_13: Ray Dalio of Bridgewater: “…the downturn … will likely produce much greater social and political conflict than currently exists.”
2017_05_30: Paul Singer of Elliott Management: When, Trump’s pro-growth agenda fails to be implemented, “all hell will break loose” …
2017_05_31: Benjamin Bowler, Bank of America Strategist: …”these markets are very weird”… US equities continue to set long-term records for instability”…
Food for Thought: My original entry for this paragraph was a commentary on Kathy Griffin. However, the Higgins Capital editors/censors, comprised of my wife and daughter, redacted so much of my reaction to Griffin’s wanton act of pure evil and hatred that the result looked like something like this from the CIA: “At__point__. Ultimately__media__internet__; __silent__”high__What’s__Award.” Long story short, my rant on decency and graciousness ended up on the cutting room floor.
Music of the Week: Cat Stevens’ “Tea for the Tillerman”
The Economy: Caution over mixed economic numbers continued this week with Housing Starts unexpectedly weak and Industrial Production unexpectedly strong. Looking ahead, one has to ask if U.S. political turmoil will be reflected in the economy. Today, Texas Representative Al Green, speaking from the floor of The House, called for Trump’s impeachment. So it’s official; the knife fight is on. Consequences be damned. Ideology Rules Supreme. The drama weighed on stock markets as a minor pull-back took hold. Indices were down 1 1/2 to 3% on the day. The VIX (S&P500 Fear Index) was up 46%. But this is not a Black Swan; nothing unexpected here. If the past 8-years are any indication, We can expect today’s losses to be erased before the week is out. Failing Buy-The-Dip, we can expect the Fed to announce another round of stimulus programs to save stock markets. If not a stimulus fix like a QE-4, perhaps a suspension of any further interest rate increases for 2017. After all, Nixon’s Watergate only shaved 45% from stock market valuations. So the Fed has its work cut out for it.
Food for Thought: “If The Glove don’t fit, Impeach!”
Music of the Week: Frank Black’s “Frank Black”
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”