We could almost hear our history professor espousing Hoffer’s works recently when we were asked by a particularly smart media type if trust and character would really command a “premium” price earnings (P/E) ratio in today’s environment? Our response was “of course,” and as an example we offered up a quote from John Pierpont Morgan...
Employment, Wages, and the Fed
The year-over-year increase in average hourly earnings was a bit exaggerated in the October employment report, but the underlying trend is higher. Growth in nonfarm payrolls rebounded from the effects of Hurricane Florence, while Hurricane Michael “had no discernible effect,” according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
The Advance GDP Estimate
Real GDP rose at a 3.5% annual rate in the advance estimate for 3Q18, about as expected. However, there were a few surprises in the details. Consumer spending growth was even stronger than anticipated. However, business fixed investment was unexpectedly weak.
Odds and Ends
Periods of low market volatility (or complacency) are often followed by turbulent readjustments, including sharp intraday moves lower and higher. There has been a long list of concerns in the last few months: the November 6 election, tighter Fed policy, higher long-term interest rates, trade policy disruptions, risks to the global economy, labor market constraints, and so on.
Maybe I’m Amazed
My friend and mentor Ray DeVoe use to say that going over old reports can be an exercise in humility, as you cringe while reading some errant forecast of another time. “How could I have been so stupid?” is the unsaid reaction. On the other hand it can be an ego trip, as you proudly go over some forecasts that were right on target.
If You Can Keep Your Head When All About You Are Losing Theirs
We really like Rudyard Kipling’s line, “If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you, but make allowance for their doubting too;” and clearly “men” doubted us when on October 2 our short-term proprietary model flashed a sell signal and we subsequently advised selling trading positions.
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. Why did the stock market fall? No reason, and every reason. There doesn’t need to be a catalyst. Sometimes the market is simply going to do whatever the market is going to do, but the list of worries was already there.
NAFTA 0.8, Employment, & the Fed
The United Stated Mexico Canada Agreement (USMCA), which must still be approved by Congress, is mostly the same as the old agreement, but don’t call it NAFTA 2.0. The agreement should not have much of an impact on overall economic growth or inflation, but it is a hurdle cleared.
John Maynard Keynes, the British economist whose ideas fundamentally changed the theory and practice of economics, once said, “When the facts change, I change my mind - what do you do, sir?” So on a short-term trading basis, we came into last week believing the S&P 500 (SPX/2885.57) was going to grind higher into our envisioned mid-November’s “energy peak.”
Stock Market Timing?
We have heard the statement, “Nobody can consistently time the stock market’s ups and downs;” and, for the most part we agree with that. However, if one listens to the message of the market, one can certainly decide if one should be “playing hard,” or not playing so hard.
Has the U.S. Economy Peaked?
Judging by incoming calls and emails, investors are becoming more concerned about the possibility of recession. The flatter yield curve may be partly to blame, but there are growing concerns about the impact of the president’s trade wars and Fed rate increases have created some anxieties.
You Did It!
Well, “you did it,” as the senior index followed most of the other indices to new all-time highs. We have repeatedly written that this was going to happen given the Advance-Decline Line’s continuing new highs, as well as the stock market’s strong breadth.
The Economic Impact of the Trade War
There is currently little doubt that the U.S. and China are in a trade war, where retaliation begets retaliation. Conflicts with Mexico, Canada, and the European Union are effectively in a temporary ceasefire, but remain unresolved.
Rich Man, Poor Man
After nearly 48 years in this business, we have seen a number of cycles and developed a long-term perspective. We have often spoken about the difference between a “secular bull market” and what many consider to be a bull market because it is up 20%+. The reciprocal is that a 20%+ decline represents a bear market.
Being wrong and admitting it, what a novel idea, yet as Bernstein states, “It helps to know that being wrong is inevitable and normal, not some terrible tragedy, not some awful failing in reasoning, not even bad luck in most instances. Being wrong comes with the franchise of an activity whose outcome depends on an unknown future.” Indeed, the real trick is to be wrong quickly for a de minimis loss of capital.
The Endless Summer
The Endless Summer (1966) is the crown jewel to ten years of Bruce Brown surfing documentaries. Brown follows two young surfers around the world in search of the perfect wave, and ends up finding quite a few in addition to some colorful local characters (Endless Summer).
Ten Years After
For financial market participants, the ten-year anniversary of the financial crisis will bring back a lot of bad memories, chiefly among them is the failure of Lehman Brothers (Sept. 15, 2008). In the weeks ahead, we’ll see retrospectives on the events that led to the crisis, the failure to predict how bad things would get, and how we should prevent a similar setback.
Fed Policy Outlook: Certainly Uncertain
The minutes of the July 31-August 1 Fed policy meeting and Chairman Powell’s Jackson Hole speech reinforce the view that the central bank will raise short-term interest rates again on September 26. The pace of monetary tightening beyond that is unclear, reflecting a number of uncertainties.
Powell at Fed Camp
The Kansas City Fed’s annual monetary policy symposium begins later this week in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. Around 120 people attend the conference, including central bankers from around the world. In the past, the Fed chair’s speech has often been a big deal for the financial markets.
So, as most of you know we were on a road trip last week. We flew into Albany, New York on Sunday only to be greeted with hotter temperatures than what we left in Florida. The mountain drive to Manchester, Vermont was spectacular, but hereto the temperatures were hotter than Florida.
The July Employment Report
Nonfarm payrolls rose less than anticipated in the initial estimate for July, but figures for May and June were revised higher. The unemployment rate edged down, but the trend has been relatively flat this year – at odds with the strong trend in nonfarm payrolls.
Real GDP rose at a 4.1%, annual rate in the advance estimate for 2Q18, about as anticipated. That followed a 2.2% pace in the first quarter (revised from +2.0%). Second quarter strength was concentrated in consumer spending (rebounding from a soft 1Q18) and a surge in agricultural exports (which may have been in anticipation of an escalation in trade tensions).
Fascinating but Deadly
“Do you have the mental fortitude to accept huge gains?” is a line from The Elliott Wave Theorist’s Robert Prechter in an era gone by. But it is as true today as it was when first penned in the 1970s. And to do that, one has to ignore the ticker and hold stocks through a long market swing.
The Week That Was
Recent economic data reports, while mixed, continued to paint a picture of a strengthening economy in 2Q18. This improvement, expected to be seen in the GDP report to be released this Friday, partly reflects a rebound from a “soft” 1Q18. Averaging the two quarters should show a robust pace of growth in the first half of the year.
Master Limited Partnerships
Readers of these missives know that we have been favorable on the midstream Master Limited Partnership (MLP) space for a number of months. The reasons for that strategy have often been mentioned in these letters. First, the midstream MLPs sold off when the upstream MLPs blew up with most of them going bankrupt.
The June Employment Report
Nonfarm payrolls rose more than expected in June, but the unemployment rate rose and average hourly earnings rose moderately. That’s a seemingly sweet combination for investors. The economy remains strong, but not so much that the Fed has to slam on the brakes.
At the Turn
The year began with two key themes. The first was that the economy ended 2017 with a good deal of momentum that should have continued into early 2018. The second was that the outlook for the second half of the year was considerably more clouded, reflecting fiscal stimulus, more binding constraints in the labor market, and tighter monetary policy.
It was a relatively thin week for economic data. Housing starts rose 5.0% (±10.2%) in May – a strong gain, but not statistically significant. Single-family permits, the key figure in the residential construction report, fell 2.2% (±1.0%) in May, but were up 7.7% (±1.3%) from a year earlier.
James Howard Kunstler?!
It was back in November 2010 when James Howard Kunstler first wrote the aforementioned quote. We recalled that quote while spending last week in Nashville seeing institutional accounts and speaking at events for our financial advisors and their clients where the question du jour was, “What’s going on with the potential trade war?”
As expected, the Fed raised short-term interest rates following the June 12-13 policy meeting. Investors were more concerned about the pace of future rate increases and the revised dot plot showed a median of four rate increases in 2018, although (as in the March plot), most fed officials were divided between three and four.
I Should Have
We have used this quip from the book Why You Win or Lose: The Psychology of Speculation by Fred C. Kelly many times in our missives over the past nearly five decades because the wisdom of its message is timeless. We recalled it last week in many of our meetings in New York City when we heard certain individual investors, as well as portfolio managers (PMs), say “I should have!”
I’ll Go Along With the Rest of the Boys!
You might think institutions with their large staffs of highly-paid and experienced investment professionals would be a force for stability and reason in financial markets. They are not; stocks heavily owned, and constantly monitored by institutions, have often been among the most inappropriately valued.
The May Employment Report
Nonfarm payrolls rose by 223,000 in the initial estimate for May, stronger than expected, but not statistically outside of the moderately strong trend of the last year. We need a little less than 100,000 jobs per month to absorb new entrants into the workforce. Hence, it’s no surprise that the broad range of data has indicated a further tightening in labor market conditions.
I can’t quite remember how I met Craig Drill, captain of Drill Capital Management, but meet him I did over a decade ago and we have become kindred spirts. Maybe it’s because we both have been in the business a long time, or maybe it is because of our connection to First Boston in a life gone by.
The Beverly Hillbillies?!
Readers of these missives should know our fundamental energy analysts have been bullish on oil for quite some time, as have we. In fact, we have been bullish on commodities in general, often noting they are the cheapest relative to equities as they have been since the 1960s. Yet last week crude oil’s decline spooked energy investors, raising the question, “Is the crude oil rally over?”
Oil and the Economy
The rise in oil prices is expected to have mixed effects on the U.S. economy. Higher gasoline prices will restrain consumer spending growth to some extent. However, increased energy exploration implies more capital spending, adding to GDP growth. For Federal Reserve policymakers, the key question is whether higher costs of transporting goods may be passed along to consumer prices.
Just One Thing
We have always liked the movie “City Slickers” and particularly one scene. It’s the scene where Curly (Jack Palance) turns to Mitch Robbins (Billy Crystal) and says, “Do you know the secret of life?” The punchline is, “It’s just one thing” (one thing). For investors we agree, all you need to know is just one thing.
The Job Market, Inflation, and the Fed
The April inflation reports were a bit on the soft side of expectations, reducing somewhat the fears that we’re on the verge of an upside breakout in inflation. There’s no sign that a strong economy is putting much upward pressure on consumer prices.
Today, we revisit the military preparedness question following President Trump’s nearly $700 billion military budget to attempt to make our military readiness better. We think the recent weakness in the defense sector stocks provides an interesting entry spot for investors.