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 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: 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”