The Economy: Data continues to confirm that the global economy in general and the US economy in particular are accelerating. Industrial production is the latest metric to blow through expectations. The Fed’s Beige Book also confirms expansion and modest inflation. Euphoria continues to build support for increased consumer/business spending as the US tax cuts bring the bacon home. Not surprisingly, members of the Fed are beginning to voice caution about the economy overheating. The Fed has also expressed concern that markets are ignoring the interest rate tightening cycle which has already increased the Fed Funds rate by 125 basis points. When the Fed raises rates, its intention is to tighten financial conditions. Borrowing gets harder and more costly at all levels. Investors and banks become less willing to lend and borrowers become less reckless. Credit cools off and the economy slows. … not that we’ve seen any of this yet. By contrast we seem to be at the beginning of a new phase of “Damn the torpedoes; full steam ahead” in business.
Food for Thought: Retirement. One of life’s major events. Some start thinking retirement in high school. Others not until AARP comes calling. Most retirees are shocked at how inflexible their overhead is when they retire. The solution for many boomers is to try to make up for lost time by being aggressively invested in this stock market. George Santayana famously said, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” Bitcoin is the latest example of how quickly things can change. Bitcoin has lost 50% of its value since reaching a high in December. A 50% loss in less than one month. US stock markets have been on a rocket ride since Trump was elected. Those approaching retirement and those who are retired should be especially cautious of this market. Structuring an income producing portfolio should be your priority.
Music of The Week: Elvis “Elvis Forever”
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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: 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: 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: 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: The news has been all about the Fed. Trump made it clear during the election that he wanted to remake both the Supreme Court and the Federal Reserve. Word is that Randy Quarles will be Trump’s nominee as Vice Chair and the Fed’s Bank Supervisor. He comes from the private equity/private investment world. Quarles is considered to be a conservative counterweight to Yellen. Quarles would bring a fresh perspective to the Fed which has become dominated by academicians with little real world experience. Speculation has also focused on replacing Fed Chair Yellen in 2018. Trump’s Fed Chair nominee is expected to be National Economic Council Director Gary Cohn. Cohn comes from the investment banking world and would be the first Fed chair in 40-years who isn’t an economist. Within the Trump administration this is viewed as a plus since Trump wants practical experience over academic credentials. The downside is that Cohn is another Goldman Sachs alumnus; all of whom are detested by Trump’s core followers. Regardless of the accuracy of these reports, it’s obvious that Trump is determined to put a different Fed in place. A Fed that is more oriented towards pro-growth real world experience.
Food for Thought: Whenever we get out in the economy we’re impressed with how robust it looks. Restaurants are packed with diners day and night. Real estate continues to appreciate. New cars flood the streets. Everyone seems to be taking extended vacations. Yet in her Congressional testimony today, Fed Chair Yellen was surprisingly dovish. She expressed concern that inflation was below expectations and implied that the economy wasn’t performing as well as expected. Financial markets loved this narrative as it indicated that Yellen would keep her highly stimulative policies in place rather than continuing to turn off the spigots. But sooner or later the stimulus must end. It’s the human condition to project the recent past into the future; to assume that the future is going to unfold like the past. So it’s always interesting to hear a well-respected figure like Jamie Dimon, CEO JPMorgan speak candidly about the ongoing change in monetary policy. Commenting on the Feds move to end 8+ years of stimulus, he said, “We act like we know exactly how it’s going to happen and we don’t.”
Music of the Week: Josef Franz Wagner’s “Across the Pond”
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: 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”