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: Economic numbers have surprised to the downside this week. Oil is off 20% from its high of a few weeks ago. Home ownership is at its lowest since 1965. GDP came in 50% below expectations. Some are saying the U.S. economy is stalling. Central bank activity has likewise been muted. The Bank of England and the Bank of Japan were both supposed to initiate massive stimulus programs. It didn’t happen. The Fed met this week and did nothing. Ennui, exhaustion or summertime blues, no matter. Financial markets took the poor numbers as confirmation that slowing economies would keep interest rates lower for longer. Poor economic numbers should keep the monetary printing presses running full-out.
Food for Thought: Thank you Talking Heads, Supreme Court Justices, former Mayors and other professional blowhards. We get it. The Donald is dangerous and The Hillary is a criminal. The Donald is the most dangerous man in the history of the planet. Worse than Cain, worse than Attila, worse than Stalin. The Hillary is the worst criminal in the history of the planet. Worse than Jezebel, worse than Bloody Mary Queen of Scots, worse than Bonnie Parker. That’s why as Americans we’ve selected them to be our Champions. Because warts and all, they are Our Champions. Now, let’s get on with it.
Music of the Week: The Essential Etta James.
The Economy: Fed Chair Yellen appeared before Congress this week; Tuesday before the Senate, Wednesday before the House. Hostility towards Yellen was palpable with House members reducing her to confusion and gestures of helplessness. Global distain for authority in general and Central Bankers in particular was evident in spades. But the Mother of All Events was the Brexit vote on Thursday. Pollsters and pundits got it all wrong with their incessant predictions of a landslide win for “Remain.” Flashing the Longbowman’s “V” the Brits moved to reestablish their national sovereignty and leave the EU. Financial markets crashed in shock and awe on Friday. (Only fools are going to buy this dip.) The uncertainty of Brexit was quickly on display. Though the process is supposed to take 2-years, British politicians began to call to immediately disregard many EU laws; particularly those on immigration and banking. Political parties throughout Europe began to call for Exit Referendums in their own countries. This is the death knell for the EU. Great Britain is the second largest economy in the EU. Saying the EU will survive is akin to saying that a marriage is still intact after one of the spouses has left after leaving an “I’m thru with U” note nailed to the front door. It’s gonna get messy.
Food for Thought: For over 70-years global bureaucrats and central bankers have pushed the secular, one-world agenda characterized by multiculturalism, globalization and the tyranny of the minority. These mostly unelected officials, while deriding the Divine Right of Kings, have ruled with the arrogance of dictators. They have ignored the social contract based on the consent of the governed. Brexit signals the beginning of the end of their failed reign. Despite the near universal, and very vocal, support of “Remain” by global politicians and despite the total support by the mainstream media for “Remain” the Brits revolted against the overlords and their propagandists. Political ramifications were immediate with British Prime Minister Cameron resigning. The ripples are beginning to roil outwards from ground zero with economic changes in the wind. If a slowing global economy, negative interest rates and the failure of global monetary policy weren’t enough, Brexit adds to the uncertainty that has so paralyzed Janet nd the Seven Dwarfs. However, we see opportunity in chaos. Contact us for how to protect your assets in the coming roller coaster ride.
1. We overestimate our abilities, our uniqueness, and our objectivity, even more so when under emotional strain. We have all seen the studies: 90% of people say they are above average drivers. Rarely do people think those around them work harder or better than they do. And so on…
2. We systematically understate the role of ‘random’. We crave order, and we are willing to torture the facts to get there. But sometime things just happen, and sometimes problems don’t have solutions. No fundamental cause, no guilty party, no concrete answers. Moreover, on the up side, when random does break our way it’s appropriated as skill. The investment world is shockingly bad at separating outcome and process—yes, even those who drone on and on to prospects about their processes.
3. People will find a way to believe what they are incented to believe. As the saying goes, “The most dangerous place to stand is in between someone and what they want to believe”. In my experience, it’s hard to overestimate the power of this statement. Starting with the conclusion and reverse-engineering the supporting arguments is central to the human condition and, surprisingly, serves and important role in our evolution.
4. When presented with points 1, 2, and 3, almost everyone recognizes their validity, but believes at some level that he/she is exempt. The typical reaction is “Yeah, for sure, of course that’s how [other] people act”. It is always easier to see others’ mistakes than one’s own. And this is one of the reasons we have a very hard time changing our cognitive biases. All of us.
The Economy: The U.S. economy appeared to be motoring along in slow gear until last Friday. Then the abysmal jobs report was released and it cast uncertainty into the equation. Immediately, the odds of a Fed hike in June went to zero as investors recalibrated their tactics. Then on Monday of this week Fed Chair Yellen warned against putting too much emphasis on one report. She indicated that rate hikes were still in the cards for 2016. Yep … like a snow ball’s chance … . The bottom line is this: The Fed doesn’t believe that the U.S. economy is strong enough to allow for normalization of interest rates. We are stuck at the zero bound which is causing havoc for savers, banks and insurance companies. But the Fed lacks the confidence in the economy to end financial repression. How this plays out is anyone’s guess. The Battle of The Analysts is in full swing with some insisting that the end of the world is nigh. Others are equally vocal in calling for an end to cash so that governments can more accurately monitor the economy. The NSA must be salivating over the prospect of knowing where every nickel you spend is going. We’ve never been fond of Central Banks, run by academics, trying to impose economic theory on the real world. For a beautiful example of Central Banker Mindset, see Paxton Whitehead as economics Professor Philip Barbay, in Rodney Dangerfield’s 1986 comedy “Back to School.” He truly gets no respect.
Food for Thought: Global growth rates continue to be cut. This is occurring while global stock markets rebound from their first quarter swoon. Is this divergence evidence of The Greater Fool Theory or is it The Dawning of the Age of Aquarius? Your choice. We remain strapped to the rocket but have both hands on the ejection lever. The principals here at Higgins Capital have lived through several market crashes. The crashes follow the same script: Months of warnings culminate in a tipping point that seems to catch everyone by surprise. Far too many investors go from rompin’ stompin’ bulls to deer in the headlights unable to process the environment until they’re down 40%. Do not let this happen to you. Have an exit strategy. Know what you own and why you own it. Have real or mental stops on your portfolio. Trust your own personal experience over that of experts. Are things in your personal economic life or the economic life of your organization going so well as to justify new highs in a 7-year old bull market? Why do we continue to hear about new and more economic stimulus? Beware of Central Bankers bearing gifts.
The Economy: Another quiet week highlighted by the release of the Fed Minutes. As usual, the Minutes caused a hissy fit in global financial markets. Why? Well, why not? It was more of the same Elmer Fudd stuttering opacity that financial markets have become addicted to. For the rest of the world it’s much ado about nothing. The Fed emphasized that their decision on interest rates was data dependent. … as it has been since the Fed was founded in 1913. Duh! Economic numbers may move one tenth or one hundredth of a percent. In response, financial markets go haywire. Out of a US population of 320 million, a reported employment change of 15,000 will create massive gyrations in financial markets; over a .0047% change. When was the last time you based a decision on a .0047% change in anything? Recently? Ok you must be a quant or an engineer. For the rest of the planet, it’s statistically insignificant; not even a rounding error. As a result of this, we see the financial markets as being disconnected from the economy. Massive and misguided Central Bank manipulation, global fiscal irresponsibility, political gridlock by elected and appointed Peter Principled Lilliputians has failed to halt US economic growth. It’s a testament to the resilience of the American people. Every day is a holiday; every meal is a banquet.
Food for Thought: We are always conducting informal surveys to keep the mainstream media noise and click-bait in perspective. We continue to find the average Joe (or Josephine) well grounded. The basic American character of “Question Authority” remains intact. The prevailing outlook is local optimism tempered with frustration with the national and international scenes. America remains the clear choice to pursue personal and professional dreams. No other country or culture comes close. So spare us the incessant jabbering about the imminent demise of the American Goliath or the American way of life. The isolationist/interventionist dichotomy of the American political will has been a constant since George Washington warned of the “peril of foreign entanglements” in 1796. Rather than seeing the 20th century as the American Century, we see the 21st century as the true American Century. The 19th was only the prelude. We see the US increasing its global dominance. American innovation technological prowess will continue to reign supreme. In the global community, the US remains the headstrong, determined adolescent that will muscle its way to the head of the line. For Joe and Josephine American, “My Country right or wrong; still My Country” still rings true.
The Economy: Economic numbers have disappointed this week. Housing disappointed. Manufacturing disappointed. The Fed met and as expected, maintained the status quo; no change to interest rates for the foreseeable future. Lower for longer or never forever. With respect to oil, for decades the mantra was that low oil prices were good for the USA. In the past 6-months policy wonks have championed the idea that low oil prices are bad for the ol’ USA. Oil prices are up almost 50% in the past few weeks. That must be a good thing as we spend more on everything petroleum. So who’s on First? Oil is up 50% and that’s now a good thing. So, oil moving back up to $140 must be a great thing. Confused? You should be. The mindless noise is deafening. Here’s a sample of recent headlines from the chattering media class courtesy of the “Daily Reckoning” website:
4/5: Dollar Rises as Investors Anticipate U.S. Data
4/6: Dollar Falls on Fed Minutes
4/13: Dollar Climbs Before Data Forecast
4/15: Dollar Falls on Lackluster U.S. Data
4/21: Dollar Rises After Solid U.S. Data
4/25: Dollar Sinks After Q1 Growth Takes Another Hit
You got that?
Food for Thought: We’re midway through the first quarter earnings reporting season. Stock buybacks and dumbed-down earnings expectations have given us earnings that again are beating those reduced expectations. Lower the bar enough and any caveman can stumble over it. Financial markets are lovin’ it. But for many investors this seems to be the stock market rally to hate. Beware. We believe that the US economy is fundamentally sound but until the Fed decides to stop supporting asset bubbles, we’re leery. Protecting your assets should be at the forefront of your decision making.
The Economy: The Fed Beige Book was released today. It confirmed the “New Normal” of our slow growth economy. The Fed found the consumer healthy and spending. Ironically, the Commerce Department released the Retail Sales numbers today. Their numbers showed a decline in consumer spending with a sharp drop in automobile sales. Right Hand; Left Hand. Oil ministers meet this weekend in an attempt to prop-up the price of oil with a production cap. Iran is considered to be the linchpin in this effort but their oil minister will not be attending. Like a wedding with a runaway bride, the meeting is DOA without Iran. The Fed minutes and Yellen’s recent comments have been parsed for read-the-tea-leaves guidance to monetary policy. “Global” and “uncertain” were repeatedly used by Yellen to describe issues facing the Fed. One pundit noted that the Fed has never publically used the term “uncertain.” So again, the end of the world is nigh. We continue to temper our concerns for slow-growth megatrends. Demographics and student loans may be problematic but we don’t think entitlement laden Americans are anywhere near rioting in the streets as some talking heads have opined. After all, this Sunday is Opening Day at the San Diego Yacht Club.
Food for Thought: The Department of Labor (DOL) has released its proposed “fiduciary” rules. The proposed rules have significant impact on 401ks. Many 401ks and deferred compensation plans haven’t been reviewed since they were implemented. Now is a good time to get that review process going. Contact us if you would like help with this issue.
The Economy: Economic data released this week confirmed a growing U.S. economy: Pending home sales up; Personal income up; Consumer spending up; Home prices up; Consumer confidence up; ADP Employment report in line. But the headlines belonged to Fed Chair Yellen and her speech on Tuesday. Yellen assured markets that the Fed would go slowly on any future rate hikes … if in fact they occur in 2016 at all. The expanding U.S. economy is no longer reason to hike rates. Yellen cited global uncertainty and potential fallout from recent events as justifying a slower path of rate increases. She made it clear that the Fed still has room for additional stimulus but that it can hike if the economy grows faster than expected. Global financial markets were ecstatic over the prospect of continued easy money.
Food for Thought: In the 1970s we had “stagflation.” The economy was stagnating with little growth but inflation was a problem. Eventually inflation rocketed and it was the Volcker Fed that whipped inflation with 21% money markets and a 15% 30-year U.S. Treasury. Now we have a Fed beholden to zero interest rates (ZIRP), considering negative interest rates (NIRP) and thinking about helicopter money. Our concern is that the Fed induced financial engineering, which has driven stocks higher, will end with the gravy train going off a cliff. The first 10% correction in 4-years was met with panic by global central bankers intent on continuing to inflate asset bubbles. In this investing environment, know what you own and why you own it.
The Economy: Super Mario Draghi continues his legacy of Shock and Aw Shucks. We haven’t seen this kind of Italian Brass since Caesar crossed the Rubicon. Today Mario announced an aggressive expansion of ECB stimulus. Interest rates were cut further into deeper negative territory. Quantitative Easing was expanded by 30% from 60 Billion/month to 80 Billion/month. But the biggest change was adding corporate bonds to assets that the ECB can purchase. Global financial markets were not impressed. Moving into private sector debt is a Rubicon. What next? … Central Bank ownership of stocks, then real estate? Perhaps the ECB’s solution to slow growth is for the Central Bank to own all member assets and means of production. Nice way to come back to Marxism. Stalin and Mao must be gloating. Break out the Hammer and Sickle and fire up The Internationale.
Food for Thought: This week marks the 7th anniversary of the Bull Market. Stocks celebrated by trading down and breaking a 5-week rally. We continue to recommend that investors take profits and raise cash. The selloff that marked the first 6-weeks of the year has been arrested. But as we look out over the environment, we find it difficult find the drivers of growth that would power financial markets to meaningful new highs. Selling positions and moving into a money market fund is particularly prudent with retirement plan assets or annuities. In many cases investors can cherry-pick positions to sell within the same mutual fund. This is called a “Versus Purchase” transaction (VSP). We’re into tax season, now is a good time to review and protect your retirement assets. Buy and hold has worked for the past 7-years. Nothing lasts forever.