The Economy: Comrades Unite! Commissar Chairman Powell has arrived … and in the famous last words of Alexander Haig, “is in control.” The Star Chamber Bucking Bronco that we know as the Federal Reserve showed its new face to The Swamp today. In a welcome break with hoary tradition, Powell has real world experience as a businessman. Imagine the folly of having a businessman run the central bank of the greatest capitalist country in the history of the planet. But alas our joy, like a second marriage, may be the triumph of hope over experience. In his appearance on The Hill, Powell stated that 1) Further QE remains as viable monetary policy (All Hail Mammon); 2) The Fed saved the Post-Crisis World (All Hail Self-Praise); 3) Banking regulations are pillars of strength (All Hail TBTF). Long story short; The Beat Goes On. … the economy continues to expand; some indicators positive; some negative … .
Food for Thought: It’s human nature to assume that the future is going to look like the immediate past. So stocks and real estate will go up forever. Interest rates will remain low forever. Central Bankers will be able to manipulate the global economy forever. The political pendulum will swing left forever. China is a benevolent capitalist player forever. The dollar will remain the world’s reserve currency forever. Renewable energy subsidies will remain forever. The Manchurian Candidate has landed and Vlad Rules forever. The crypto-currencies world should be ignored forever. … If you see chinks in any of this armor, that is where “the next big thing” is shining like a diamond in the rough.
Music of The Week: Paul Carrack’s “Live at the London Palladium”
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The Economy: The economic numbers have been dwarfed by bungee jumping global stock markets. However, economic numbers do not support all the gloom and doom talk generated by the wild ride in stocks. Global and U.S expansion remains steady. Global and U.S. monetary policies remain very accommodative. In spite of 5 interest rate hikes in the U.S., inflation adjusted interest rates remain at historic lows. Tax cuts, stimulative deregulation and a Federal Reserve committed to supporting the stock market should continue to juice U.S. economic expansion.
Food for Thought: The Bungee Jumping stock markets have been dominated by money managers, pension funds, hedgies and other professionals. Individual investors have remained firm in their belief that markets will rebound and continue to move higher. The brief 2-day, 10% drop is already forgotten. That 10% drop is seen as nothing more than as having eliminated the “no 5% pullback in 400+ days” boogeyman. The assumption, based on a decade of monetary policy stimulus, is that the way is now clear for the next leg up in stocks. However, as I pointed out yesterday in my special report, investors approaching retirement should be increasingly cautious. The market volatility of the past few days are rumblings that shouldn’t be ignored by those who no longer have decades to recoup losses. The zeitgeist is that stocks will go up forever … so you have to stay on the dance floor. We simply recommend that you dance closer to the exit door.
Music of The Week: Lara & Ryes’ “Exotico”
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The Economy: Happy New Year! … and a happy new year it is for global economic numbers with Germany growing at a blistering pace with the best employment numbers in years. The U.S. economy is likewise continuing to expand with no end in sight. Stocks are up, bonds are up, real estate is up, oil is up, manufacturing is up, optimism is up. Chicken Little is running in circles screaming about high asset valuations. But investors are looking at the Trump income tax trump and singing Happy Days Are Here Again. After all, in addition to the endless self-praise from The Swamp, Central Bankers have proven that at the slightest hiccup, inventive new types of monetary stimulus will rain down like Helicopter Money. Manna!
Food for Thought: Year end and into tax season. Financial planning rewrites. Annual portfolio reviews, document updating. What is the status of your wills, trusts, POAs, medical directives? Get them updated now! We do Monte Carlo Simulations for retirement planning. If we can help, please give us a call.
Music of The Week: Luna Blanca’s “Guitar Island”
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The Economy: Eight years into the current economic expansion there is nothing on the horizon likely to disrupt things for the next 6-12 months. Of course this could change at any moment. However we don’t see anything at present. The geopolitical situation could change at any moment. Some unforeseen event could trigger a meltdown in any number of national economies. But at present we see the immediate future as a continuation of the recent economic past. Central banks appear to be on a synchronized path of higher interest rates. Eventually this will impact global stock markets. But when that occurs is an unknown. For every economic number released there are pundits in support and opposed. Choose your poison. We continue to emphasize that you should keep an eye on the horizon while staying focused on your own specific situation.
Food for Thought: Stocks remain on a rocket ride with new records set almost every day. We’re 8-years into what is now the second longest bull market in history. It is crystal clear that regardless of age or valuations, this market will continue to go up until it doesn’t. Like the global economic expansion, there is nothing on the horizon that spells the end. We may see a correction that ushers in a final run to the top. … or there may be several corrections that eventually end the institutionalized Buy-The-Dip reaction to all pullbacks we’ve seen in the past 8-years. Of interest is that on separate occasions I was told by individual investors that the Dow will go to 30,000 before the ride is over; another stated that the Dow would be at 100,000 in 10-years. Reminds me of Ella Fitzgerald’s Blue Skies: “Never saw the sun shining so bright, Never saw things going so right …”
Music of The Week: Ken Navarro’s “Smooth Sensation”
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The Economy: “Synchronized Global Expansion” is the latest buzzword describing our global and national economy. While the Fed begins reducing their balance sheet this month, the rest of global central banks continue to print money with abandon; piling on more debt for future generations. How this house of cards ends is anyone’s guess. While we shake our heads in wonder, the flip side of the coin is that the Good Ole USA might actually pull it off. Natural and man-made disasters aside, Armageddon may not occur. Not to sound like a shill, but as a nation we have a history of coming back from the brink. While Americans appear to be more divided than ever before, the numbers show an optimism that can’t be denied. Consumer confidence is at all-time highs. Manufacturing indices are surging. Inflation remains historically low. Last but not least, the stock market continues to set new records. You can argue that the economic expansion is in the 7 or 8th inning. You can debate equity valuations or comparisons. You can read the tea leaves till you’re blue in the face. But one thing is clear; stocks are saying that the good times will continue.
Food for Thought: “Bless her heart” is Southern Belle code. Spoken in sympathetic tones, it translates into “That gal is out of control!” Such is the case of Senator Elizabeth Warren’s quixotic effort to put Wells Fargo out of business because of its ongoing regulatory problems. Bless her heart! Liz confuses herself with Moses and the Golden Calf. Bless her heart. First, there’s the matter of elevation: There is no Mount Sinai; she’s in The Swamp. Second, the Golden Calf is the Federal Reserve which is the Titanium Transformer; stronger than dirt and able to leap tall buildings in a single bound. Bless her heart. Third, hurling tablets don’t work no mo. The good Senator from Massachusetts would be more effective chasing Salem witches than tackling a TBTF bank.
Music of The Week: Tom Petty’s “Southern Accents.” Tom Petty passed away this week at 66.
The Economy: The numbers were again mixed and eclipsed this week by politics. Housing starts and building permits were down. Jobless claims up, Industrial Production down. Fed minutes were, as usual, a sleeper … watching Yellen kick the can down the road is tedious at best. The excitement was reserved for the NOKO Doughboy, who blinked; for the rewriting of U.S. history that occurred in North Carolina and for the continuing Circus on the Potomac. With the exit of Steve Bannon from the White House, Chief of Staff John Kelly appears to have consolidated his control. If true, we may begin to see a unified message from the Trump Administration. Even if that message is via tweet, it may be an improvement over the noise that has become a distraction. With the uncertainty of the past few weeks, stocks have weakened while bonds have been in a holding pattern.
Food for Thought: Stocks are making some investors nervous. After relentlessly moving up this year, markets have stalled. Is it because August is usually a weak month, or is something else at play? U.S. markets have failed to hold their highs and the FANGs are down about 10%. Bulls see Dow 30,000 around the corner. Bears are salivating for a 20% correction. Central Banks continue to pump trillions into the global economy. As long as Fed Policy is “Free Money Forever” there will be an upward bias to stocks. Yet warnings abound. Fiscal policy along with Trump Initiatives are DOA. Political gridlock under Obama was astonishing; under The Donald it is simply unbelievable. Clearly stocks can’t go up forever. This begs the question for investors who are on the sidelines or short, “Do you want to be right or do you want to make money?” Which of course leads to the caveat, “Markets can remain irrational longer than you can remain solvent.”
Music of the Week: Shakira’s “Can’t Remember to Forget You”
The Economy: Economic data is weak as we go into the Fed’s expected interest rate increase later today. Inflation remains below expectations. Retail sales x-autos is down. Auto sales have begun to disappoint. Bond yields remain stubbornly low as foreign money pours into U.S. Treasuries. Treasuries are a global safe haven with attractive yields. Regardless of what the Fed does to raise interest rates, market forces continue to suppress those levels. The Lesson: “The Market is Always Right.” Even central bankers must bow to Market Gods. They just haven’t figured this out yet … and are too arrogant to learn from history. Stocks?!? … clearly they are going to go up forever with absolutely no risk.
Food for Thought: Global central banks continue to pump $30-billion/month into the global economy; $1.5-trillion so far this year. As a result, there are reports of global recovery. A recovery based on massive debt … and we are assured that debt is irrelevant. Venezuela is bankrupt, Puerto Rico is bankrupt, Illinois is bankrupt, Stockton is bankrupt … because of debt. But central bankers continue to spout that debt is irrelevant at the global level. Good luck with that myopic nonsense. The debt of Louis XIV bankrupted France and Louis XVI got the French Revolution. The Debt of WWI bankrupted Germany and Weimar got the hyper inflation where 1 million Marks bought a loaf of bread. The Debt of WWII bankrupted Great Britain and the U.S. muscled past the Brits and into the position as the pre-eminent super power. Bread and circuses for the masses. Contact us for innovative help with your money.
Music of the Week: Heart’s “Tell it Like It Is”
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: 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 global economy appears to be on the mend. While we’re optimistic, we’re cautious because there’s been so much financial engineering and Central Bank intervention since the financial crisis. Every developed economy has engaged in currency manipulation and all government statistics are suspect. Nevertheless, this is the playing field. The Fed minutes were released this week; a non-event. The usual, “perhaps, maybe, somehow, if only, somewhere” had the Talking Heads all aflutter. The rest of the planet yawned and went about its business. After a decade of having the headlines to themselves, Central Bankers have taken a back seat to politics. … and what a show it is. Brexit is proceeding; France is Frexit; Italy is rudderless; Greece is broke; Russia is conniving; China is posturing, North Korea is flexing. Through it all, Trump is pumping, humping and dumping.
Food for Thought: Global financial markets are enthralled with all this uncertainty and excitement. In an alternate universe there might be concern. Not now, not nowhere. This time is different!
Music of the Week: Kim Waters “Midnight Love”