The Economy: Economic numbers come in two broad categories: 1) Hard data such as trade balances or housing starts and 2) Soft data such as sentiment or confidence surveys. Hard data is based on numbers. Soft data is based on how the respondent is feeling at that moment in time. You can dispute the numbers but the argument will remain grounded in statistics. Surveys based on feelings are completely subjective and should be taken with a dose of skepticism. Numbers this week neatly fell into these two categories. Hard data was mixed with initial jobless claims up, existing home sales and durable goods down. Soft data and surveys were positive with optimism and odds of a December rate hike falling below 50%. Geopolitical concerns have continued to weigh on markets as NOKO, Iran and trade wars remain unresolved. Stocks swooned over the Italians … But it’s officially summertime so don’t worry be happy. Grab the beach toys and head for the water.
Food for Thought: In keeping with the never-ending 73-year old Italian Opera Buffa, check out the Video of the Week link below. Few know that Christopher Walken is an accomplished hoofer. Lighten your day and watch him here or there. Courage! The latest Sign of the Apocalypse is another Italian Meltdown. Financial markets are having a hissy fit. It’s almost as if traders are trying to stay relevant in a world where the only thing that matters is what the Central Banks are doing. … and that remains unchanged . The 2012 ECB vow that they will do “whatever it takes” to keep the punchbowl full of moonshine remains in force. With the exception of the Fed, global central banks remain committed to free-money, for all, forever. How this ultimately plays out is anybody’s guess. Many investors see asset bubbles in both stocks and real estate. Others see compelling bargains. Both have seen years of gains. But while we know that all trends reverse, we don’t see anything to indicate an inflection point. Pick your poison. … onward into the Summer Doldrums.
Music of The Week: Beegie Adair’s “Dancing in the Dark”
Video of The Week: Christopher Walken Dances
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The Economy: After being dissed and dormant for a decade, inflation is front and center for financial markets. Concerns are being voiced by many. Fed members are among the loudest. Is inflation real or is the Fedspeak a stalking horse? Only your hairdresser knows for sure. While technology has driven labor and hardware costs down, a comparison of basic items in the grocery stores shows price increases of 40% or more over the past decade. The “Lies, Damned Lies and Statistics” crowd is complaining that economic numbers don’t measure the appropriate output. One recently asked how we could have tight labor markets with no wage growth. The cry is that the laws of supply and demand don’t seem to apply in the Goldilocks Economy. Meanwhile, stocks are off their January highs and moving sideways. This breather is either the calm before the storm or the pause that refreshes. Regardless of the metrics, the only thing that matters is whether you can sleep at night. Watch inflation; watch the Fed.
Food for Thought: China has a new Emperor. It took a few years after the death of Emperor Mao. But the song remains the same: a thousand years of dynasties with the occasional disruption. The Qing Dynasty ended in 1912. More than three decades of internal strife between warlords followed. Then the communist warlord Mao Zedong assumed The Mantle. A new Imperial Chinese dynasty was born: the Communist Dynasty. Now a successor to Mao has emerged: Emperor Xi. Likewise Russia. The Romanov Dynasty ended in 1917. Eventually the warlord Stalin emerged as the new Tsar. Then Brezhnev and now Tsar Putin. Triumvirate Great Power politics reignited. Will Turkey make it a fourplay? The investment opportunities are countless.
Music of The Week: Atlantic 5 Jazz Band’s “Bar Music Moods – The Piano Edition Vol. 1”
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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: 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 week’s economic highlight was Wednesday’s release of the Fed’s Beige Book. It showed moderate growth and little inflation. Lower demand in the economy is discussed as being the result of higher healthcare deductibles for consumers. More out of pocket for healthcare means less available for other spending. The Fed remains on track to again raise rates in December. The Beige Book was almost an afterthought to a week of upbeat economic news: Low inflation; retail sales up; manufacturing up; global stocks reaching record highs; investors pouring money into stocks; Industrial production up; housing up; Philly Fed Index up; Bloomberg Consumer Sentiment up. What’s not to like?
Food for Thought: My good friend Sam commented that my “More Money” email appears to be increasingly amazed at the non-stop rampaging bull market. He’s right. … You can slice and dice the metrics, the geopolitical environment and every conspiracy theory out there. Compelling arguments abound. To rest easier and become one with nature, simply accept that stocks will continue to go up until they don’t.
Music of The Week: Ziggy Marley’s “Conscious Party”
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The Economy: The Fed finished its two day meeting today with historic action: They announced a specific plan for shrinking their bloated balance sheet. This is a tightening of monetary policy. The plan goes into effect next month; October. The details are straight forward and, in an economist’s perfect world, would result in interest rates moving up. However, the economist’s model doesn’t account for market forces. One reason that U.S. interest rates have remained stubbornly low is because of those very market forces. U.S. Treasuries are treated as a safe-haven in an increasingly volatile world dominated by the lowest interest rates in history. Global demand for Treasuries drives prices up and yields down.
Food for Thought: Bitcoin has been in the spotlight as the best-known of the cryptocurrencies. But rather than focus on which cryptocurrency will eventually emerge as the benchmark, focus on the underlying technology which is Blockchain. Blockchain is the next example of technology’s creative destruction. When you hear Blockchain think “Trust.” Blockchain technology will dramatically reduce or eliminate the plague of knockoffs and false or hard to verify information that has corrupted our everyday lives. Blockchain technology users will have access to an independently verifiable trail that allow anyone to validate the subject at hand. Examples are consumer products, food, shipping data, news, trade data, financial information, personal information … the list is endless. All verifiable to whatever granularity you desire. Blockchain technology is trust. Cryptocurrencies will validate Blockchain just as email validated the internet. Bitcoin may prove to be like the Netscape Navigator. Focus on Blockchain.
Music of the Week: Elton John’s “Rocket Man” from the album “Honky Chateau”
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: 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: 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: 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”