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 economy continues to expand, the deficit continues to grow and the Fed continues to tighten. Sooner or later the tightening will bite … if Fed Chairman Powell can hold the line and not initiate QE-4 at the slightest hint of economic distress. What … worry? Every investor knows the Bull is long in the tooth. The question on everyone’s mind is, “When do I sell and what do I do next?” The bi-polar investment community continues to parse goat entrails, tarot cards, cloud formations and sentiment at the bottom of wine bottles in the age old quest to divine the future of the economy and financial markets. Glass half-full or half empty … when’s the next leg up or when does it implode? Do you care … or is catching that flight to Kauai more important than risk-proofing your assets? The 3 rules of Money are simple to understand: a) 1+1 will always = 2; b) If it sounds too good to be it is; c) Save it or spend it. The time of buy and hold may be nearing an end after almost 10-years. Passive investing as well. Every market crash has produced an altered investment landscape. ETFs may be the wild-card here. Do you have your next move or are you gonna ride this rocket back down and into the ground? If you’re doing it right, you should be sleeping soundly because you have a high probability of achieving your goals. Can you handle the truth?
Food for Thought: How to transfer investment or retirement accounts: Recently we’ve fielded questions from investors who want to transfer their investment or retirement accounts to a new advisor. Retirees in a 401k, people changing jobs and investors who just want a change have the same question, “How do I move my account?” The answer is a simple and easy 3-step process:
Step 1: Open an account with your new advisor; 30-minutes.
Step 2: Email your most recent account statement to your new advisor; 30-seconds.
Step 3: Have your new advisor initiate the transfer process; 0.
The transfer process is seamless, automated and does not require you to have contact with the advisor you are leaving. Most accounts transfer through an automated process called the Automated Customer Account Transfer Service (ACATS). In most cases, the transfer is complete in three to six days. No muss no fuss; no tearful exit interviews; no broken hearts. No more cousin Billy, your advisor for decades, knowing too much about your personal affairs. Move on to the land of milk and honey. Just Do It!
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: The CPI and PPI prints were hotter than expected and have helped to juice the stock market indices to a 50% rebound. The feel good mood has been further enhanced by the Olympics. Winners all. Inflation indicators watched by the Fed are are heating up. … and bond vigilantes seem to be on the loose with interest rates accelerating higher. As has always been the case, the Fed will follow the markets. There are few consumers who remember interest rate hikes that crimp economic activity. Fewer still who remember being priced out of a home or auto loan because interest rates moved against them. … remember when an 8% home mortgage was to die for? How many real estate players could handle those metrics today. How about those halcyon days of 16% home mortgages? Fun!
Food for Thought: Annuities and life insurance have evolved in ways that work well with investors seeking income or the possibility of establishing an estate. In specific situations they may be a prudent investment for retirees. Contact us if you have questions about creating or supplementing your retirement income.
Music of The Week: Sade’s “Lovers Rock”
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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: 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: Economic data was light last week; what was released was weak. The stream of conflicting data continues unabated with Europe flipping between Teutonic Strength and Greco/Italian Tragedy. Japan is showing strength while dodging North Korean (NK) missiles. China boasts of their booming economy while trying to contain their Haircut-Impaired-NK-Doughboy. Geopolitics again stole the spotlight from the economy as Fed-Speak was absent except for comments from The Bernank. Big Ben opined that the Fed might keep its bloated balance sheet for the foreseeable future. … couldn’t shrink it without tanking the economy. Rumor is that Grandma Yellen is trying to apply the Art of the Deal to The Donald himself. The Trade: She stays at the Fed for another term in exchange for keeping interest rates low. … not bad if she can pull it off … and why not. The Federal budget has little room for an increase in debt service … might take away from all those shiny toys that The Pentagon wants.
Food for Thought: “Peace through strength” was a phrase championed by Ronald Reagan. The current “America First” rhetoric apparently does not mean withdrawal from the world. Rather, it appears to be a policy of strongly protecting American interests, with force. North Korea is problematic but hardly a Gordian Knot. As we look out on the investing landscape we see geopolitical risk as increasingly likely to effect financial markets. Stock markets have stalled as this reality comes home.
Music of the Week: Tom Jones’ “Tom Jones”
The Economy: Much of what we’re hearing about the U.S. and global economy is positive. In addition, there is a growing sense of optimism led by the business sector which is ecstatic over the idea of tax cuts and less regulation. The ecstasy has yet to be tempered by the reality of the choices that will have to be made. The World Bank has pointed out that some of the benefits of tax cuts will be offset by rising protectionism. As a result, they’ve lowered their projections for global growth. However, financial markets remain upbeat and in rally mode. The animal spirits that have been unleashed since the election may become the self-fulfilling prophecy that ignites higher U.S. economic growth. A great deal depends on how much of the Trump agenda can be enacted and how quickly it can be done.
Food for Thought: There will be a flurry of Executive Orders on January 20th that will stop or unwind years of government and business activity. How that plays out is up to speculation. Follow-up legislation is also subject. Facing what may be the most dramatic change in decades; investors seem to be confident that this sea-change will occur quickly and painlessly. Obamacare will be replaced without any of the healthcare players suffering. Strategic realignment away from free trade, global warming and bilateral defense treaties will occur without impact on profits. Strict constructionism will take place without consequence. 80-years of immigration will be changed without economic effect. Mom used to tell us, “You can’t make an omelette without breaking eggs.” Review your exposure.
The Economy: The Economy took a back seat to politics this week with the historic Trump upset and Washington now firmly under Republican control. Republican control of both the executive and legislative branches is a double-edged sword. Now there are no excuses for gridlock. The agenda had better be enacted quickly and it better show results. The demand for change which swept the elections is just that: a demand. There will be little patience for failure.
Food for Thought: Global financial markets gyrated dramatically with the Trump victory. Overseas markets tanked. U.S. stock markets fell off a cliff then bounced and screamed higher. The bond market sold off with interest rates moving higher. How this plays out is anyone’s guess. As we move into the last weeks of the year, we encourage you to review your financial picture. Year-end is always a workup to tax time. It’s a prudent idea to check your goals.
Music of the Week: Annie Lennox “Diva”
The Economy: The Fed’s latest buzz-word is the “High Pressure Economy.” … as in The Fed is going to run a “High Pressure Economy.” The High Pressure Economy is one in which inflation is allowed to run beyond levels deemed prudent. It’s the latest Fed-Speak for managing a sluggish economy that refuses to respond to 8-years of unbridled stimulus and low interest rates. While the focus is on whether the Fed will raise interest rates in December, attention might be better placed in the future. Another ¼ point hike in rates isn’t going to do much more than blow marginal players out of dubious deals. But keeping interest rates artificially low for several more years will have a significant impact on many aspects of society. Pension plans are especially at risk. Yellen rules until at least 2018 possibly 2022. Bigly. Come the new year, the voting members of the Fed Open Market Committee (FOMC) who are hawks, reach the end of their terms. Coincidently, their replacements are uber-doves who will play into Yellen’s “lower for longer” policy. Inflation is persistently running below target. The U.S. and global economies are showing weak to inconsistent metrics. Why would the Fed feel compelled to raise rates at all?
Food for Thought: Finding safe income in a zero interest rate environment is a desperate challenge for investors in general and retirees in particular. Bank deposits and money markets are losers when you figure in taxes and inflation. The long treasury at 2.49% is a bust as well. Dividend paying stocks are now being touted as the answer. But the dividend can always be cut and the stock can always plunge in value; even when inside an Exchange Traded Fund (ETF) or a mutual fund.
Music of the Week: Halie Loren’s “After Dark”