The Economy: Sex, Taxes and Bitcoin; need I say more? As has been the case for quite a while, the US economy continues to go its own way on slow but steady growth. China is having some type of inscrutable implosion in the commodities sector; the UK is stumbling and fumbling around Brexit and the Middle East continues on its path of peace on earth and goodwill to all. For Americans it’s Ho Ho Ho as the scythe has swept through Hollywood, New York and now Washington. The Emperor has no clothes has taken on literal meaning. Ho Ho Ho on Taxes as Santa’s gift bag rains goodies from the sky. … and of course, HO HO HO for Bitcoin up 50% this month. It’s High Cotton! Merry Christmas, Happy New Year and Happy Holidays!
Food for Thought: Our Thoughts and Prayers go out to those enduring hardship this Holiday Season. From our men and women in uniform, separated from loved ones and facing danger; to those affected by the Southern California fires. Tis the season to count our blessings and be grateful.
Music of The Week: Rod Stewart’s “Merry Christmas”
We Quarterback Money®
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”
We Quarterback Money®
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: 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: Central Bankers dominated this week with the ECB’s Draghi reiterating that more stimulus is sure-fire Nirvana. Then Yellen and her crew called the stock market expensive while continuing to talk up higher interest rates. They ignore that higher interest rates have been the death knell of every bull market. Now that he’s in the Oval office and staring down the barrel of the Federal debt, The Donald has become an advocate of low interest rates. Higher interest rates jeopardize all of his campaign promises and programs. History teaches us that when the Fed begins to talk about stocks being expensive, the bull has further to run. Yet, we’re perplexed that the Fed would warn of an overpriced stock market. After all, they have finally achieved their objective of a runaway stock market that continues to race higher. Risk has been banished as investors have finally accepted that Central Bankers will always do whatever it takes to keep stocks going up forever. … to infinity and beyond!
Food for Thought: 4th of July! All Citizens are Patriots; regardless of which side of the aisle. Just ask us. So we can safely say, without being accused of hate speech, “My Country right or wrong, still My Country.” Have a great 4th of July!
Music of the Week: Rod Stewart’s “It Had to be You”
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: Caution best describes the economy. Mixed economic data is being released into the most toxic political environment in decades. Global central bankers continue to add liquidity at unprecedented rates. $1 trillion in liquidity was injected into the global system in the first quarter 2017. Central bankers are committed to supporting real estate and stock markets at all costs. Tens of billions of dollars have flowed into U.S. stock markets from European Central bankers. As with the binary political landscape, economists and investors are split on how the economic landscape will play out. Will there be a day of reckoning based on historic metrics or have interconnected global markets evolved to a new and unknown model. The result of this is that each data release creates more questions than it answers. Banks are easing lending standards but loan demand is down. Why? The Fed is tightening into the weakest recovery in history. Why? Automakers are coming off a huge selling cycle; but incentives and liar loans have fueled sales. Why? The EU is reporting record growth in many areas yet the ECB keeps interest rates at historic lows while continuing to pump record stimulus. Why? Consumer confidence is up but retailers are closing stores at a record pace. Why? These macro questions eventually filter down to local decision making. Hence our emphasis on how your organization views the horizon.
Food for Thought: The S&P 500 Volatility Index (VIX) is known as The Fear Index. It’s used as an indication of investor complacency. The VIX is now at multi-decade lows; recently touching lows not seen since 1993. In the course of the past 8-years Central Bankers have rescued stock markets with such frequency that “Buy The Dip” has become a sound strategy for many investors. After a 3% pullback stock markets have regularly rebounded to new highs. Black Swans have ceased to be meaningful as investors have accepted that Central Bankers will always, successfully come to the rescue. Investors have the constitutional right to make money by investing in stocks and real estate. The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse have been replaced by The Four Horsemen of Guaranteed Investment Profits. Risk is Dead and markets will go up forever. Yet, as Bob Farrell famously noted, “When all the experts and forecasts agree – something else is going to happen.”
Music of the Week: Dire Straits’ “Dire Straits”
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”