The Economy: The U.S. economy appears to be accelerating from its modest expansion over the past several years. While purists may argue the validity of the numbers that are released, they are the numbers that move markets and investors. After years of insisting that inflation is too low, we may be seeing that monster rearing its ugly head. The Fed’s Beige Book shows inflation increasing across a broad range. Consistent with increasing inflation, the Fed is now warning that higher interest rates are on the way. They have 4 hikes planned for 2018 and are leaving the door open for more. In the meantime, information overload is the order of the day. The actionable news is further confirmation that the Fed is in a tightening cycle. Loans of all types will continue to become more expensive. Those economic sectors that benefited from a decade of low rates may see increasing headwinds as rates continue to ratchet up.
Food for Thought: Stock markets are suddenly a hot topic of conversation. After years of the lockstep rise in global asset values, stocks have shown that they can go down as well as up. But let’s face it, making changes to an investment portfolio is like watching paint dry when compared to wine tasting or hiking Nepal. Sailors know that a rising tide floats all boats … and the reverse is true. The last bear market showed that diversification is no protection when all asset classes are getting crushed. But that message will have to be relearned. The FANGs may be particularly vulnerable. Regulatory issues could loom as Americans are waking up to the privacy/government surveillance/freedom of speech issues posed by big tech and social media. Anti-trust happened to the railroads, big oil, autos and airlines.
Music of The Week: Govi’s “Andalusian Nights”
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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: The State of The Union clearly showed the sharp divide in the U.S. electorate. Pick your flavor. Markets have cheered Trump since the election. Given the ongoing economic expansion, expect the Fed to continue to tap-the-brakes with further interest rate hikes. Jay Powell replaces Yellen as Fed Chair at cob today. Yellen was the most dovish Fed Chair in history. Powell, by contrast is on record as saying, “… it is not the Fed’s job to stop people from losing money.” This in itself will be a sea-change, if there is follow through, since the Fed has been stock market driven since the Financial Crisis. Markets, the media and investors in particular have been enamored with synchronized global growth, tax cuts, profit repatriation, one-time bonuses and historically low unemployment. The Fed interest rate moves have created every expansion and every recession; every bull and every bear market. Party on Garth!
Food for Thought: What is your long-game? Gonzo Hunter Thompson spoke for some when he said, “Life should not be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside in a cloud of smoke, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming “Wow! What a Ride!” For most however, there are more prosaic goals such as planning for retirement, creating an estate or other bequeaths to family, friends and charitable organizations. Annuities may be the appropriate way to achieve funding needs. Contact us if you have questions about Annuities.
Music of The Week: Chaka Khan “Chaka”
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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: 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”
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The Economy: Eight years into the current economic expansion there is nothing on the horizon likely to disrupt things for the next 6-12 months. Of course this could change at any moment. However we don’t see anything at present. The geopolitical situation could change at any moment. Some unforeseen event could trigger a meltdown in any number of national economies. But at present we see the immediate future as a continuation of the recent economic past. Central banks appear to be on a synchronized path of higher interest rates. Eventually this will impact global stock markets. But when that occurs is an unknown. For every economic number released there are pundits in support and opposed. Choose your poison. We continue to emphasize that you should keep an eye on the horizon while staying focused on your own specific situation.
Food for Thought: Stocks remain on a rocket ride with new records set almost every day. We’re 8-years into what is now the second longest bull market in history. It is crystal clear that regardless of age or valuations, this market will continue to go up until it doesn’t. Like the global economic expansion, there is nothing on the horizon that spells the end. We may see a correction that ushers in a final run to the top. … or there may be several corrections that eventually end the institutionalized Buy-The-Dip reaction to all pullbacks we’ve seen in the past 8-years. Of interest is that on separate occasions I was told by individual investors that the Dow will go to 30,000 before the ride is over; another stated that the Dow would be at 100,000 in 10-years. Reminds me of Ella Fitzgerald’s Blue Skies: “Never saw the sun shining so bright, Never saw things going so right …”
Music of The Week: Ken Navarro’s “Smooth Sensation”
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The Economy: The Fed’s Beige Book, a measure of the national economy, was released last week. It showed a soft economy. The preamble was optimistic but the details were less so. Combined with the economic hit form Harvey and Irma, the Fed is likely on hold through year end. This continues the “lower for longer” interest rate scenario we had for the past several years. The hurricanes have dominated the headlines for the past week. NAFTA, the White House half-life of Gary Cohn and North Korean threats have faded to black … at least for the moment. Since the world didn’t end with either NOKO’s nuclear war threats or the hurricanes, stocks are again on a rocket-ride to infinity and beyond. This despite comments by the following scaredy cats: 2017_09_06: Deutsche Bank Chief Executive Officer John Cryan “We’re now seeing bubbles everywhere”; 2017_09_06 Lloyd Blankfein, CEO, Goldman Sachs: … (world financial markets) “have been going up for too long”; 2017_09_11 Seth Klarman of Baupost Group: “… plans to return capital to investors by year-end due to a lack of opportunities”; 2017_09_12 John Hussman of The Hussman Funds: “I view the market as having no investment merit at all here.” Like I said, scaredy cats! They should be tarred, feathered and run out of town on a rail for thinking that stocks could possibly do anything other than go up forever.
Food for Thought: Taki Magazine reports that in a tip of the hat to globalism, multiculturalism and identity politics, “… the British Broadcasting Company (BBC) has launched a website in Pidgin English. The BBC points out that Pidgin English is ‘an informal lingua franca. It is a language that really unites people and cuts across all sorts of barriers—ethnic, regional and socio-economic.” The new site’s headlines feature Pidgin droppings such as “Indian woman divorce husband because dem get no toilet,” “Why dem dey call Hurricane human being name,” “How Tanzania dey kill mosquito,” and our personal favorite, “Why China dey chop African Donkey.” Nothing new here. Anyone who’s had children in school recognizes this patois as proficient english for graduating seniors. Next up, Gullah.
Music of the Week: Bruno Mars’ “It Will Rain”
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: 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: 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”