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”
We Quarterback Money®
The Economy: On the surface things appear to be moving along quite nicely with synchronized global growth still the order of the day. Beneath the surface, changes are coming. Trump has appointed Powell as the next Fed Chair. He’ll take the helm in February 2018 and may not be the same as the old boss. With his Wall Street background, he has a different perspective. Likewise Japan where the government pension system has been authorized to invest hundreds of billions in global stock markets. Saudi Arabia is undergoing change with historic upheaval in the royal family. While the House of Saud may reap a $800 billion windfall from wealth confiscations, the end result may be the unprecedented end of support for terrorism and a rapport with Israel. Brexit continues to muddle through with calls for the end of the world becoming more muted over time. Mankind is in holiday mode as year-end approaches.
Food for Thought: After a rip-snortin’ run, stocks have taken a breather lately. Anything less than daily triple-digit gains are seen by many investors as signs of doom. Whether recent market action is the pause that refreshes or something more significant is best addressed by Donald Rumsfeld’s famous quote: “There are known knowns. There are things we know that we know. There are known unknowns. That is to say, there are things that we now know we don’t know.” Markets will either go up, or they will go down, or they will go sideways. Have a great weekend.
Music of The Week: Tamba Trio “Pure Bossa Nova”
The Economy: Good News/Bad News. The numbers continue to show an economy that is slowly expanding. On the whole, this has been the case for the past few years. You know you’re heading into a recession when the economic numbers are consistently negative. None of that for the U.S. The bad news, Hurricane Harvey will adversely affect the economy in a variety of ways. Rebuilding aside, natural disasters are never good for any economy. So Harvey is a negative and most likely more so than Katrina since Houston has a bigger economic/industrial footprint than New Orleans. Other bad news: The NOKO Doughboy continues to poke The Donald with a sharp stick. This time around, the POTUS reaction was more restrained than in previous instances. A focus on the domestic priority of Houston is one reason. Another possible reason is that WH Chief of Staff Kelly may have imposed some order on the spontaneity of WH communications. Regardless, financial markets have simply loved the Houston disaster and the increasing tensions with NOKO. Sensing that monetary policy will remain unchanged at the September FOMC meeting, stocks have rallied in anticipation of lower interest rates for longer … and more can kicking on shrinking the Fed balance sheet. To Infinity and Beyond!
Food for Thought: Life Insurance is probably only second to having your teeth pulled as a topic to avoid. It’s essential but infrequently attended to. September is National Life Insurance Awareness Month. So it’s a good time to evaluate your life insurance needs. If you have any questions or specific insurance needs, please contact us. The uses of life insurance have become more creative over time. Don’t leave home without it. Call us.
Music of the Week: Toni Braxton’s “Pulse”
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: 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 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: 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: Caution over mixed economic numbers continued this week with Housing Starts unexpectedly weak and Industrial Production unexpectedly strong. Looking ahead, one has to ask if U.S. political turmoil will be reflected in the economy. Today, Texas Representative Al Green, speaking from the floor of The House, called for Trump’s impeachment. So it’s official; the knife fight is on. Consequences be damned. Ideology Rules Supreme. The drama weighed on stock markets as a minor pull-back took hold. Indices were down 1 1/2 to 3% on the day. The VIX (S&P500 Fear Index) was up 46%. But this is not a Black Swan; nothing unexpected here. If the past 8-years are any indication, We can expect today’s losses to be erased before the week is out. Failing Buy-The-Dip, we can expect the Fed to announce another round of stimulus programs to save stock markets. If not a stimulus fix like a QE-4, perhaps a suspension of any further interest rate increases for 2017. After all, Nixon’s Watergate only shaved 45% from stock market valuations. So the Fed has its work cut out for it.
Food for Thought: “If The Glove don’t fit, Impeach!”
Music of the Week: Frank Black’s “Frank Black”
The Economy: This holiday shortened week has seen few economic releases. The Donald will have the opportunity to appoint a new Fed governor. This may result in a more hawkish Fed stance. In one public appearance, Fed Chair Yellen congratulated herself on a job well done; clearly the age of “Self praise is no praise” is a thing of the past. Increasingly the Fed is indicating that they’re considering “normalizing” their balance sheet. This means shrinking it over time. If and when this occurs, it will have the effect of further tightening in the credit markets. This prudence all sounds well and good. But the Fed has made it crystal clear that they will do whatever it takes to keep the stock market going up. Give Janet and the Boys a 3% market correction and the spigots are opened full blast as the Fed floods markets with free money. To say this will end badly is to sound like Chicken Little screeching about the sky falling. So we won’t bore you with arcane details like market liquidity, counterparty risk or dark pools.
Food for Thought: The Donald suited up as El Cid and smote the Syrians. It was a grand opening to Easter and Passover Week. The aptly named Tomahawks found their mark. Half of those were fired by the USS Porter (DDG-78). The Commanding Officer of Porter is Navy Commander Andria Slough, Naval Academy ’81. Women in every walk of American life should be proud that one of their own proved to be the cream of the crop in a highly competitive, male dominated, uber-macho profession; no glass-ceiling for her. The positive response, to the strike, from both sides of the aisle was deafening. Overnight, Trump-the-simpleton-Russian-spy-and-Putin-Dupe morphed into Trump-The-Decisive-Embodiment-of-American-Leadership. Then he swore Neil Gorsuch in as the newest Supreme Court Justice. Have a great Holiday!
Music of the Week: George Michael’s “Ladies and Gentlemen”