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: 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: Synchronized global growth, central bank easy money and politics as usual remain the norm. China finished up its Party Conference and deified Xi alongside Mao and Deng. The ECB and the Fed met and left their respective rates unchanged. No surprise there, as global growth is still viewed as delicate. So Synchronized but delicate would be a more accurate description of global growth. But the Fed is taking the lead in normalizing monetary policy. In October it did shrink its balance sheet by about $10 billion. They also indicated that another interest rate hike was on tap for December. Thursday, Trump is expected to announce Powell as the new Fed Chair. Powell is seen as dovish and if selected is expected to maintain the lower for longer policies we’ve come to know and love.
Food for Thought: Stocks continue to march higher. A week without new records now feels like a personal insult. The rally may continue through year-end as investors pile into the markets to make up for lost time. Algorithms are appearing daily that show how markets will go up for years to come. Everyone is an aggressive risk-taker when they are making money. But how do you feel about losses? Know your risk profile.
Music of The Week: Tim Bowman’s “Circles”
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The Economy: Economic numbers have turned mixed as the hurricane effect kicks in. Whatever economic bump may occur as a result of the disasters will be temporary. The longer-term effect will be a headwind for the economy; though how much is an unknown. Last week the Fed continued tightening monetary policy. Fed Chair Yellen is sounding more hawkish as labor-market hiring is strong and global growth is recovering. As such, odds are for another quarter point rate hike come December. 8-years on, financial markets continue hitting new highs. Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these markets. Global Central Banks have bought up a majority of government debt. They have been buying and now own trillions in stocks. Now, on par with The Bilderberg Group and Nibiru, comes word of The Plunge Protection Team (PTT). Hear tell, the PTT is a shadowy coalition of officials and bankers. They rush to the rescue at the slightest sign of market weakness; pumping in billions of taxpayer dollars to keep markets from ever going down. Yep … and I have a bridge in Brooklyn that I’ll sell ya.
Food for Thought: Robotics and demographics are trends with lasting impact. The first generation of bots eliminated factory jobs. The latest generation is replacing CPAs, analysts, doctors and other professionals. Stepford husbands and wives may be next. The economy is increasingly becoming two-tiered: Do it your selfers (DIY) and those willing and able to pay for personal service. Boomers are out and millennials are inheriting the earth. Out with Tim Allen and in with Jenna Marbles.
Music of The Week: Craig Chaquico’s “Shadow and Light”
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: Amidst weak economic numbers the DOW punched through 22,000 and is holding as we go to press. The Fed, which backed off their intent to normalize monetary policy, has provided another leg up to the markets. During the election Trump castigated Yellen for keeping interest rates abnormally low. Now he supports lower for longer. Likewise stock market valuations. During the election Trump called stocks, “a big fat ugly bubble.” Now he’s taken ownership and claims credit for the surge since the election. Yellen, who is decidedly anti-Trump has the power to crush this market. Yet she also has her legacy to think about. Trump has vowed to replace her in 2018. The question is, “Does she want her legacy to be that of the Fed Chair that crashed the market or is she going to manipulate things so that her successor has to face the music?”
Food for Thought: Shoot the Messenger! The MSM is aflutter about the blowout earnings season. But the Financial Times has this to say in the section titled, ’Reasons to be Skeptical About the Earnings Recovery,’ “These are far from reassuring numbers. The picture they reinforce is that US large companies have been able to grow earnings through financial engineering even though their cash flows are flat, or even declining. …the apparent earnings recovery of large US listed companies … may have been something of a mirage.” For example, the DOW is a price weighted average, so Boeing (BA), with its $235 price has been responsible for ¾ of the DOW’s recent 278 point increase. After eight years of the bull market, no one is thinking about risk anymore.
Music of the Week: Dean Martin’s “Italian Love Songs”
The Economy: Central Banks have again re-emerged as the biggest influence on financial markets. This follows a period, earlier this year, when global politics ruled. Since then, global and national politics have resumed their traditional role of all talk, no action; all hat, no cattle. Gridlock. Obstructionist, Stumblebum Democrats. Obstructionist, Stumblebum Republicans. “This time is different” turned on its head once again. So we’re back to relying on Fed Chair Yellen to provide us with our daily diet of comedic relief. This year the Fed has convinced markets that interest rates were going up to preserve the integrity of the financial system. In last week’s Congressional testimony, Yellen backtracked on that carefully crafted plan. Now markets are convinced that we’ll see lower for longer in interest rates. The Fed’s inability to adhere to any type of Monetary Policy other than whimsy, has again proven to be the case. Stocks and real estate continue their run to infinity and beyond.
Food for Thought: Free money continues to be the official policy of the Fed. Savers have gotten crushed for 8-years. Markets have levitated. According to some, the FANGs now account for 30% of stock market returns. We saw it in the 60s with the Nifty Fifty. Stocks and real estate have been immune to shocks of any kind. So there is now an entire generation of investors who are convinced that markets only go up. There are bold investors and there are old investors but there are no bold, old investors. We continue to see a disconnect between an expanding economy and the need for unceasing stimulus. More Cowbell! It is a no-win situation. With markets relentlessly rising you have to stay on the dance floor. Keep dancing but do it closer to the door.
Music of the Week: Steely Dan’s “Everything Must Go”