Trade War Bark: Hold Tight or Nasty Bite?

bark

In recent weeks, President Trump has come out viciously barking about potential trade wars, not only with China, but also with other allies, including key trade collaborators in Europe, Canada, and Mexico. What does this all mean? Should you brace for a nasty financial bite in your portfolio, or should you remain calm and hold tight?

Let’s take a closer look. Recent talks of trade wars and tit-for-tat retaliations have produced mixed results for the stock market. For the month, the S&P 500 index advanced +0.5% (+1.7% year-to-date), while the Dow Jones Industrial Average modestly retreated -0.6% (-1.8% YTD). Despite trade war concerns and anxiety over a responsibly cautious Federal Reserve increasing interest rates, the economy remains strong. Not only is unemployment at an impressively low level of 3.8% (tying the lowest rate seen since 1969), but corporate profits are at record levels, thanks to a healthy economy and stimulative tax cuts. Consumers are feeling quite well regarding their financial situation too. For instance, household net worth has surpassed $100 trillion dollars, while debt ratios are declining (see chart below).

house balance

Source:  Scott Grannis

Although trade is presently top-of-mind among many investors, a lot of the fiery rhetoric emanating from Washington should come as no surprise. The president heavily campaigned on the idea of reducing uniform unfair Chinese trade policies and leveling the trade playing field. It took about a year and a half before the president actually pulled out the tariff guns. The first $50 billion tariff salvo has been launched by the Trump administration against China, and an additional $200 billion in tariffs have been threatened. So far, Trump has enacted tariffs on imported steel, aluminum, solar panels, washing machines and other Chinese imports.

It’s important to understand, we are in the very early innings of tariff implementation and trade negotiations. Therefore, the scale and potential impact from tariffs and trade wars should be placed in the proper context relative to our $20 trillion U.S. economy (annual Gross Domestic Product) and the $16 trillion in annual global trade.

Stated differently, even if the president’s proposed $50 billion in Chinese tariffs quadruples in value to $200 billion, the impact on the overall economy will be minimal – less than 1% of the total. Even if you go further and consider our country’s $375 billion trade deficit with China for physical goods (see chart below), significant reductions in the Chinese trade deficit will still not dramatically change the trajectory of economic growth.

china trade

Source: BBC 

The Tax Foundation adds support to the idea that current tariffs should have minimal influence:

“The tariffs enacted so far by the Trump administration would reduce long-run GDP by 0.06 percent ($15 billion) and wages by 0.04 percent and eliminate 48,585 full-time equivalent jobs.”

Of course, if the China trade skirmish explodes into an all-out global trade war into key regions like Europe, Mexico, Canada, and Japan, then all bets are off. Not only would inflationary pressures be a drag on the economy, but consumer and business confidence would dive and they would drastically cut back on spending and negatively pressure the economy.

Most investors, economists, and consumers recognize the significant benefits accrued from free trade in the form of lower-prices and a broadened selection. In the case of China, cheaper Chinese imports allow the American masses to buy bargain toys from Wal-Mart, big-screen televisions from Best Buy, and/or leading-edge iPhones from the Apple Store. Most reasonable people also understand these previously mentioned consumer benefits can be somewhat offset by the costs of intellectual property/trade secret theft and unfair business practices levied on current and future American businesses doing business in China.

Trump Playing Chicken

Right now, Trump is playing a game of chicken with our global trading partners, including our largest partner, China. If his threats of imposing stiffer tariffs and trade restrictions result in new and better bilateral trade agreements (see South Korean trade deal), then his tactics could prove beneficial. However, if the threat and imposition of new tariffs merely leads to retaliatory tariffs, higher prices (i.e., inflation), and no new deals, then this mutually destructive outcome will likely leave our economy worse off.

Critics of Trump’s tariff strategy point to the high profile announcement by Harley-Davidson to move manufacturing production from the United States to overseas plants. Harley made the decision because the tariffs are estimated to cost the company up to $100 million to move production overseas. As part of this strategy, Harley has also been forced to consider motorcycle price hikes of $2,200 each. On the other hand, proponents of Trump’s trade and economic policies (i.e., tariffs, reduced regulations, lower taxes) point to the recent announcement by Foxconn, China’s largest private employer. Foxconn works with technology companies like Apple, Amazon, and HP to help manufacture a wide array of products. Due to tax incentives, Foxconn is planning to build a $10 billion plant in Wisconsin that will create 13,00015,000 high-paying jobs. Wherever you stand on the political or economic philosophy spectrum, ultimately Americans will vote for the candidates and policies that benefit their personal wallets/purses. So, if retaliatory measures by foreign countries introduces inflation and slowly grinds trade to a halt, voter backlash will likely result in politicians being voted out of office due to failed trade policies.

eps jul 18

Source: Dr. Ed’s Blog

Time will tell whether the current trade policies and actions implemented by the current administration will lead to higher costs or greater benefits. Talk about China tariffs, NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement), TPP (Trans Pacific Partnership), and other reciprocal trade negotiations will persist, but these trading relationships are extremely complex and will take a long time to resolve. While I am explicitly against tariff policies in general, I am not an alarmist or doomsayer, at this point. Currently, the trade war bark is worse than the bite. If the situation worsens, the history of politics proves nothing is permanent. Circumstances and opinions are continually changing, which highlights why politics has a way of improving or changing policies through the power of the vote. While many news stories paint a picture of imminent, critical tariff pain, I believe it is way too early to come to that conclusion. The economy remains strong, corporate profits are at record levels (see chart above), interest rates remain low historically, and consumers overall are feeling better about their financial situation. It is by no means a certainty, but if improved trade agreements can be established with our key trading partners, fears of an undisciplined barking and biting trade dog could turn into a tame smooching puppy that loves trade.

investment-questions-border

www.Sidoxia.com

Wade W. Slome, CFA, CFP®

Plan. Invest. Prosper.

This article is an excerpt from a previously released Sidoxia Capital Management complimentary newsletter (July 3, 2018). Subscribe on the right side of the page for the complete text.

DISCLOSURE: Sidoxia Capital Management (SCM) and some of its clients hold positions in AAPL, AMZN, and certain exchange traded funds (ETFs), but at the time of publishing had no direct position in WMT, HOG, HPQ, or any other security referenced in this article. No information accessed through the Investing Caffeine (IC) website constitutes investment, financial, legal, tax or other advice nor is to be relied on in making an investment or other decision. Please read disclosure language on IC Contact page.

July 5, 2018 at 1:59 pm Leave a comment

S.T.I.N.K. – Deja Vu All Over Again

Source: military.com

Yogi Berra is a Baseball Hall of Fame catcher and manager who played 18 out of 19 seasons with the New York Yankees. Besides his incredible baseball skills, Berra was also known for his humorous and witty quotes, which were called Yogi-isms.” Reportedly, one of Berra’s most famous Yogi-isms occurred after he observed fellow teammates, Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris, continually hitting back-to-back home runs:

“It’s déjà vu all over again.”

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines déjà vu as “a feeling that one has seen or heard something before.” I experienced the same sense last month as I was bombarded with ominous news headlines. Some of you may recall the panic attack over the PIIGS regions during the 2010 – 2012 timeframe (Solving Europe & Deadbeat Cousin). I’m obviously not referring to the pork product, but rather Portugal, Italy, Ireland, Greece, and Spain, which rocked financial markets due to investor fears that Greece’s fiscal irresponsibility may force the country to leave the eurozone and drag the rest of Europe into financial ruin.

Suffice it to say, the imploding Greece/Europe disaster scenario did not happen. If you fast forward to today, the fear has returned again, however with a different acronym spin. Rather than speak about PIIGS, today the talking heads are fretting over S.T.I.N.K. – Spain, Tariffs, Italy, and North Korea.

*Worth noting, the letter “I” in S.T.I.N.K. could also be sustained or replaced by the word Iran, given the Trump administration’s desire to exit the Iran Nuclear Deal. The move comes despite support by our country’s tight NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization) allies who want the U.S. to remain in the agreement.

An overview of S.T.I.N.K. unease is summarized here:

Spain: After a reign of six years, Spain’s Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy is on the verge of being ousted to socialist opposition leader, Pedro Sanchez. Corruption convictions involving former members in Rajoy’s conservative Popular Party only increases the probability that the imminent no-confidence vote in the Spanish parliament will lead to Rajoy’s exit.

Tariffs: President Trump is lifting the temporary steel and aluminum tariff exemptions provided to many of our allies, including Canada, Mexico, and the European Union. Recent breakdowns in trade discussions with allies like Mexico and Canada are likely to make the renegotiation of NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement) even more challenging. Handicapping President Trump’s global trade rhetoric can be difficult, especially given the periodic inconsistency in Trump’s actions relative to his words. Time will tell whether Trump’s tough trade talk is merely a negotiating tool designed to gain better trade terms for the U.S., or whether this strategy backfires, and trading partner allies choose to retaliate with tariffs of their own. For example, the EU has threatened to impose import taxes on bourbon; Mexico has warned about levying taxes on American farm products; and Canada is focused on the same steel and aluminum tariffs that Trump has been referencing.

Italy: Pandemonium temporarily set in when Italy’s President Sergio Mattarella essentially vetoed the finance minister selection by Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte. Initially, Italian bond prices plummeted and interest rates spiked as fears of an Italian exit from the euro currency, but after the rejection of the original finance chief, the populist Five Star and League coalition parties agreed to institute a more moderate finance minister and bond prices/rates stabilized.

North Korea: The on-again-off-again denuclearization summit between the U.S. and North Korea may actually take place in Singapore on June 12th. In recent days, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has held face-to-face meetings with North Korean General Kim Yong Chol in New York. The senior North Korean leader is also planning to hand deliver a letter from Korean leader Kim Jong Un to President Trump in preparation for the nuclear summit. The U.S. is attempting to incentivize North Korea with economic relief in return for North Korea giving up their nuclear capabilities.

Thanks to S.T.I.N.K., volatility has risen, but the downdrafts have been relatively muted as evidenced by the moves in the stock averages this month. More specifically, the S&P 500 index rose +2.2% last month, while the technology-heavy Nasdaq index catapulted +5.3%. Nevertheless, not all indexes are created equally as witnessed by the Dow Jones Industrial Index, which climbed a more muted +1.1% for the month. For the year, the Dow is down -1.2%, while the S&P and Nasdaq indexes are higher by +1.2% and +7.8%, respectively.

Ever since the 2008-2009 financial crisis, observers have incessantly and anxiously waited for the return of a “stinky” economic and/or geopolitical catastrophe that will wreck the American economy. Unfortunately for the pessimists, stock prices have more than quadrupled in value since early-2009. Yogi Berra may have been correct when he said, “It’s déjà vu all over again,” but just like PIIGS concerns failed to cause global economic contagion, STINK concerns are unlikely to cause significant economic damage either. Over the last year, the only “stink” occurring has been the stink of cool, hard cash.

www.Sidoxia.com

Wade W. Slome, CFA, CFP®

Plan. Invest. Prosper.

This article is an excerpt from a previously released Sidoxia Capital Management complimentary newsletter (June 1, 2018). Subscribe on the right side of the page for the complete text.

DISCLOSURE: Sidoxia Capital Management (SCM) and some of its clients hold positions in certain exchange traded funds (ETFs), but at the time of publishing had no direct position in any other security referenced in this article. No information accessed through the Investing Caffeine (IC) website constitutes investment, financial, legal, tax or other advice nor is to be relied on in making an investment or other decision. Please read disclosure language on IC Contact page.

June 1, 2018 at 2:55 pm Leave a comment

Why the Masses Missed the 10-Year Bull Market

The investing masses generally are notoriously short-termed focused. Although the overall stock market notched another gain this month, stock values are still down roughly -8% from the January peak, which has caused some investor angst. Despite this nervousness, stock prices have quadrupled and the bull market has entered its 10th year after the March 2009 low (S&P 500: 666). Given this remarkable accomplishment, we can now look back and ask, “Did investors take advantage of this massive advance?” The short answer is “No.” For the most part, the fearful masses missed the decade-long, U.S. bull market. We know this dynamic to be true because data regarding stock ownership has gone down significantly, and hundreds of billions of dollars have been pulled from U.S. equity funds over the duration. For instance, Gallup, the survey and analytics company, annually polls the average percentage of Americans who own stocks and they found ownership has dropped from 62% of Americans in 2008 to 54% in 2017 (see chart below).

Much of the negativity that has dominated investor behavior over the last decade can be explained by important behavioral biases. As I describe in Controlling the Investment Lizard Brain, evolution created an almond-sized tissue in the prefrontal cortex of the brain (amygdala), which controls reasoning. Originally, the amygdala triggered the instinctual survival flight response for lizards to avoid hungry hawks and humans to flee ferocious lions. In today’s modern society, the probability of getting eaten by a lion is infinitesimal, so rather than fretting over a potential lion slaughtering, humans now worry about their finances getting eaten by financial crises, Federal Reserve interest rate hikes, and/or geopolitical risks.

Even with the spectacular +300% appreciation in stock values from early 2009, academic research can help us understand how pessimism can outweigh optimism, even in the wake of a raging bull market. Consider the important risk aversion research conducted by Nobel Prize winner Daniel Kahneman and his partner Amos Tversky (see Pleasure/Pain Principle). Their research pointed out the pain of losses can be twice as painful as the pleasure experienced through gains (see diagram below).

Given this backdrop, how can these gargantuan gains be maintained (or improved upon) when investors are continually draining money out of riskier stocks and pouring cash into more conservative bonds? (see Fund Flows Paradox). There are several major factors that can explain the colossal gains in the face of a stock investor exodus:

  • Share Buybacks: While investors might not be buying loads of stocks, corporations have purchased trillions of dollars in stocks since the financial crisis. As you can see from the chart below, the table is set for 2018 to be a record year in share buybacks ($842 billion estimate), thanks to record profits and tax legislation that is making it cheaper for corporations to bring back foreign profits abroad.

Source: Marketwatch

  • Mergers & Acquisitions (M&A): Record profits, low interest rates, and high cash levels have led to trillions of dollars in U.S. M&A activity (almost $2 trillion in 2017) – see chart below. Not all of this was funded with cash and debt, but suffice it to say, enormous amounts of equity have been removed from the stock market.

Source: IMAA Institute

  • Limited IPOs: Certainly, we have seen a few high-profile, stock deals hit the market in the form of initial public offerings (IPOs) over the last year. Some prominent IPOs over the last year, include Dropbox Inc. (DBX), Spotify Technology (SPOT), and Snap Inc. (SNAP), however this limited supply of new deals is a drop in the bucket. As you can see from the chart below, the number of IPOs is significantly below the 1999-2000 peak and the recent added supply pales in comparison to the latest supply-sucking share buybacks and acquisitions.

Source: Statista

Just as important as these supply related issues are to the stock market, demand related issues are important as well. While individual U.S. investors have been scarred by the 2008-2009 financial crisis, ultimately, over the long run, money does not care about behavioral biases. Money goes where it is treated best. Theoretically, the best treatment could be in U.S. stocks or U.S. bonds, or it could be in pork bellies or the Thai baht currency, among many other asset classes (e.g., real estate, commodities, venture capital, Bitcoin, etc.). Much like a trip to the grocery store, global money flows search for the best deals. If beef prices spike by +30% and chicken prices drop by -20%, guess what? Shoppers will now buy more chicken and less beef. Similarly, when Japanese 10-year bonds are yielding 0.04%, German 10-year bonds 0.56%, and U.K. 10-year bonds 1.42%, then U.S. 10-year Treasuries with a 2.96% yield don’t look so bad.

More importantly, as it relates to stock prices, there has been a mass divergence between the interest rate yields earned on Treasuries and the earnings yield (E/P or the inverse P/E ratio) since this 10-year bull market began (Ed Yardeni has a great chart of this Fed Valuation chart). Stocks, as they are valued today, are effectively providing double the yield of bonds (roughly a 6% yield vs 3% yield, respectively). As long as this phenomenon remains intact over the medium term, stocks could continue to significantly outperform bonds. Eventually a spike in stock prices and/or an earnings decline caused by a recession will lower the earnings yield on stocks, but until then, nervous investors will likely continue to underperform.

What the almost 10-year bull market teaches us is that our behavioral shortcomings can be a drag on performance and stock values, but the economic laws of supply and demand can play an even more significant role in the direction of the stock market. Learning how to control your lizard brain (amygdala), and understand how the pain of losses (risk aversion) can distort decision making processes can help you more clearly see how record profits (see chart below), share buybacks, M&A activity, and limited stock issuance (i.e. IPOs) will impact stock prices. Understanding these lessons will better prepare the masses in navigating through future bull and bear markets.

Source: FACTSET

www.Sidoxia.com

Wade W. Slome, CFA, CFP®

Plan. Invest. Prosper.

This article is an excerpt from a previously released Sidoxia Capital Management complimentary newsletter (May 1, 2018). Subscribe on the right side of the page for the complete text.

DISCLOSURE: Sidoxia Capital Management (SCM) and some of its clients hold positions in certain exchange traded funds (ETFs), but at the time of publishing had no direct position in DBX, SPOT, SNAP, or any other security referenced in this article. No information accessed through the Investing Caffeine (IC) website constitutes investment, financial, legal, tax or other advice nor is to be relied on in making an investment or other decision. Please read disclosure language on IC Contact page.

 

May 3, 2018 at 10:23 am Leave a comment

Tariff, Fed, & Facebook Fears but No Easter Bunny Tears

After an explosive 2017 (+19.4%) and first month of 2018 (+5.6%), the Easter Bunny came out and laid an egg last month (-2.7%). It is normal for financial markets to take a breather, especially after an Energizer Bunny bull market, which is now expanding into its 10th year of cumulative gains (up +296% since the lows of March 2009). Investors, like rabbits, can be skittish when frightened by uncertainty or unexpected events, and over the last two months, that’s exactly what we have seen.

Fears of Tariffs/Trade War: On March 8th, President Trump officially announced his 25% tariffs on steel and 10% on aluminum. The backlash was swift, not only in Washington, but also from international trading partners. In response, Trump and his economic team attempted to diffuse the situation by providing temporary tariff exemptions to allied trading partners, including Canada, Mexico, the European Union, and Australia. Adding fuel to the fire, Trump subsequently announced another $50-$60 billion in tariffs placed on Chinese imports. To place these numbers in context, let’s first understand that the trade value of steel (roughly $300 billion – see chart below), aluminum, and $60 billion in Chinese products represent a small fraction of our country’s $19 trillion economy (Gross Domestic Product). Nevertheless, financial markets sold off swiftly this month in unison with these announcements. The selloff did not necessarily occur because of the narrow scope of these specific announcements, but rather out of fear that this trade skirmish may result in large retaliatory tariffs on American exports, and ultimately these actions could blow up into a full-out trade war and trigger a spate of inflation.

Source: Bloomberg

These trade concerns are valid, but at this point, I am not buying the conspiracy theories quite yet. President Trump has been known to use fiery rhetoric in the past, whether talking about building “The Wall” or threats to defense contractors regarding the pricing of a legacy Air Force One contract. Often, the heated language is solely used as a first foray into more favorable negotiations. President Trump’s tough tariff talk is likely another example of this strategy.

Interest Rate/Inflation Phobia: Beginning in early February, anxiety in the equity markets intensified as interest rates on the benchmark 10-year Treasury note have now risen from a September-low yield of 2.40% to a 2018-high of 2.94%. Since that short-term high this year, rates have moderated to +2.74%. Adding to this month’s worries, Fed Chairman Jerome Powell hiked interest rates on the Federal Funds interest rate target by +0.25% to a range of 1.50% to 1.75%. While the direction of rate increases may be unnerving to some, both the absolute level of interest rates and the level of inflation remain relatively low, historically speaking (see 2008-2018 inflation chart below). Inflation of 1.5% is nowhere near the double digit inflation experienced in the late-1970s and early 1980s .

Source: Dr. Ed’s Blog

It is true that rates on mortgages, car loans, and credit cards might have crept up a little, but from a longer-term perspective rates still remain significantly below historical averages. Even if the Federal Reserve increases their interest rate target range another two to three times in 2018 as currently forecasted, we will still be at below-average levels, which should still invigorate economic growth (all else equal). In car terms, if the current strategy continues, the Fed will be moving from a strategy in which they are flooring the economic pedal to the medal, to a point where they will only be going 10 miles per hour over the speed limit. The strategy is still stimulative, but just not as stimulative as before. At some point, rising interest rates will slow down (or choke off) growth in the economy, but I believe we are still a long way from that happening.

Why am I not worried about runaway interest rates or inflation? For starters, I believe it is very important for investors to remove the myopic blinders, so they can open their eyes to what’s occurring with global interest rate trends. Although, U.S. rates have more than doubled from July 2016 to 2.74%, as long as interest rates in developed markets like Japan, the European Union, and Canada, remain near historically low levels (see chart below), the probabilities of runaway higher interest rates and inflation are unlikely to transpire.

Source: Ed Yardeni

With the Japanese 10-year government bond yielding 0.04% (near-zero percent), the German 10-year bond yielding 0.50%, and the U.K. 10-year bond yielding 1.35%, one of two scenarios is likely to occur: 1) global interest rates rise while U.S. rates decline or remain stable; or 2) U.S. interest rates decline while global rates decline or remain stable. While either scenario is possible, given the lack of rising inflation and the slack in our employment market, I believe scenario #2 is more likely to occur than scenario #1.

Privacy, Politics, and Facebook: A lot has recently been made of the 50 million user profiles that became exposed and potentially exploited for political uses in the 2016 presidential elections. How did this happen, and what was the involvement of Facebook Inc. (FB)? If you have ever logged into an internet website and been given the option to sign in with your Facebook password, then you have been exposed to third-party applications that are likely mining both your personal and Facebook “friend” data. The genesis of this particular situation began when Aleksandr Kogan, a Russian American who worked at the University of Cambridge created a Facebook quiz app that not only collected personal information from approximately 270,000 quiz-takers, but also extracted information from about 50 million Facebook friends of the quiz takers (data scandal explained here).

Mr. Kogan (believed to be in his early 30s) allegedly sold the Facebook data to a company called Cambridge Analytica, which employed Steve Bannon as a vice president. This is the same Steve Bannon who eventually became a senior adviser for the Trump Administration. Facebook has defended itself by blaming Aleksandr Kogan and Cambridge Analytica for violating Facebook’s commercial data sharing policies. Objectively, regardless of the culpability of Kogan, Cambridge Analytica, and/or Facebook, most observers, including Congress, believe that Facebook should have more closely monitored the data collected from third party app providers, and also done more to prevent such large amounts of data to be sold commercially. Now, the CEO (Chief Executive Officer) of Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg, faces an appointment in Washington DC, where he will receive tongue lashings and be raked over the coals, so politicians can better understand the breakdown of this data breach.

It is certainly possible that a large amount of data was compromised for political purposes relating to the 2016 presidential election. There has been some backlash as evidenced by a few high profile users threatening to leave the Facebook platform like actor/comedian Will Ferrell, Tesla CEO Elon Musk, and singer Cher, but since the data scandal was unearthed, there has been little evidence of mass defections. Even considering all the Facebook criticism, the stickiness and growth of Facebook’s 1.4 billion (with a “b”) monthly active users, coupled with the vast targeting capabilities available for a wide swath of advertisers, likely means any negative impact will be short-lived. Even if there are defectors, where will all these renegades go, Instagram? Well, if that were the case, Instagram is owned by Facebook. Snapchat, is another Facebook alternative, however this platform is skewed toward younger demographics, and few people who have invested years of sharing/saving memories on the Facebook cloud, are unlikely to delete these memories and migrate that data to a lesser-known platform.

Financial markets move up and financial markets down. The first quarter of 2018 reminded us that no matter how long a bull market may last, nothing money-related moves in a straight line forever. The fear du jour constantly changes, and last month, investors were fretting over tariffs, the Federal Reserve’s monetary policy, and a Facebook data scandal. Suffice it to say, next month will likely introduce new concerns, but one thing I do not need to worry about is an empty Easter basket. It will take me much longer than a month to work through all the jelly beans, chocolate bunnies, and marshmallow Peeps.

www.Sidoxia.com

Wade W. Slome, CFA, CFP®

Plan. Invest. Prosper.

This article is an excerpt from a previously released Sidoxia Capital Management complimentary newsletter (April 2, 2018). Subscribe on the right side of the page for the complete text.

DISCLOSURE: Sidoxia Capital Management (SCM) and some of its clients hold positions in FB, AMZN, TSLA, and certain exchange traded funds (ETFs), but at the time of publishing had no direct position in any other security referenced in this article. No information accessed through the Investing Caffeine (IC) website constitutes investment, financial, legal, tax or other advice nor is to be relied on in making an investment or other decision. Please read disclosure language on IC Contact page.

April 2, 2018 at 3:10 pm Leave a comment

The Scary Blip

I hated it when my mom reminded me when I was a younger, but now that I’ve survived into middle-aged adulthood, I will give you the same medicine she gave me:

“I told you so.”

As I cautioned in last month’s newsletter, “It’s important for investors to remember this pace of gains cannot be sustainable forever.” I added that there were a whole bunch of scenarios for stock prices to go down or “stock prices could simply go down due to profit-taking.”

And that is exactly what we saw. From the peak achieved in late January, stock prices quickly dropped by -12% at the low in early February, with little-to-no explanation other than a vague blame-game on rising interest rates – the 2018 yield on the 10-Year Treasury Note rose from 2.4% to 2.9%. This explanation holds little water if you take into account interest rates on the 10-Year increased from roughly 1.5% to 3.0% in 2013 (“Taper Tantrum”), yet stock prices still rose +20%. The good news, at least for now, is the stock correction has been contained or mitigated. A significant chunk of the latest double-digit loss has been recovered, resulting in stock prices declining by a more manageable -3.9% for the month. Despite the monthly loss, the subsequent rebound in late February has still left investors with a gain of 1.5% for 2018. Not too shabby, especially considering this modest return comes on the heels of a heroic +19.4% gain in 2017.

As you can see at from the 22-year stock market chart below for the S&P 500, the brief but painful drop was merely a scary blip in the long-term scheme of things.

Whenever the market drops significantly over a short period of time, as it did this month, conspiracy theories usually come out of the woodwork in an attempt to explain the unexplainable. When human behavior is involved, rationalizing a true root cause can be very challenging, to say the least. It is certainly possible that technical factors contributed to the pace and scale of the recent decline, as has been the case in the past. Currently no smoking gun or fat finger has been discovered, however some pundits are arguing the popular usage of leveraged ETFs (Exchange Traded Funds) has contributed to the accelerated downdraft last month. Leveraged ETFs are special, extra-volatile trading funds that will move at amplified degrees – you can think of them as speculative trading vehicles on steroids. The low-cost nature, diversification benefits, and ability for traders to speculate on market swings and sector movements have led to an explosion in ETF assets to an estimated $4.6 trillion.

Regardless of the cause for the market drop, long-term investors have experienced these types of crashes in the past. Do you remember the 2010 Flash Crash (down -17%) or the October 1987 Crash (-23% one-day drop in the Dow Jones Industrial Average index)? Technology, or the lack thereof (circuit breakers), helped contribute to these past crashes. Since 1987, the networking and trading technologies have definitely become much more sophisticated, but so have the traders and their strategies.

Another risk I highlighted last month, which remains true today, is the potential for the new Federal Reserve chief, Jerome Powell, to institute a too aggressive monetary policy. During his recent testimony and answers to Congress, Powell dismissed the risks of an imminent recession. He blamed past recessions on previous Fed Chairmen who over enthusiastically increased interest rate targets too quickly. Powell’s comments should provide comfort to nervous investors. Regardless of short-term inflation fears, common sense dictates Powell will not want to crater the economy and his legacy by slamming the economic brakes via excessive rate hikes early during his Fed chief tenure.

Tax Cuts = Profit Gains

Despite the heightened volatility experienced in February, I remain fairly constructive on the equity investment outlook overall. The recently passed tax legislation (Tax Cuts and Job Act of 2017) has had an undeniably positive impact on corporate profits (see chart below of record profit forecasts – blue line). More specifically, approximately 75% of corporations (S&P 500 companies) have reported better-than-expected results for the past quarter ending December 31st. On an aggregate basis, quarterly profits have also risen an impressive +15% compared to last year. When you marry these stellar earnings results with the latest correction in stock prices, historically this combination of factors has proven to be a positive omen for investors.

Source: Dr. Ed’s Blog

Despite the rosy profit projections and recent economic strength, there is always an endless debate regarding the future direction of the economy and interest rates. This economic cycle is no different. When fundamentals are strong, stories of spiking inflation and overly aggressive interest rate hikes by the Fed rule the media airwaves. On the other hand, when fundamentals deteriorate or slow down, fears of a 2008-2009 financial crisis enter the zeitgeist. The same tug-of-war fundamental debate exists today. The stimulative impacts of tax cuts on corporate profits are undeniable, but investors remain anxious that the negative inflationary side-effects from a potential overheating economy could outweigh the positive economic momentum of a near full-employment economy gaining steam.

Rather than playing Goldilocks with your investment portfolio by trying to figure out whether the short-term stock market is too hot or too cold, you would be better served by focusing on your long-term asset allocation, and low-cost, tax-efficient investment strategy. If you don’t believe me, you should listen to the wealthiest, most successful investor of all-time, Warren Buffett (The Oracle of Omaha), who just published his annual shareholder letter. In his widely followed letter, Buffett stated, “Performance comes, performance goes. Fees never falter.” To emphasize his point, Buffett made a 10-year, $1 million bet for charity with a high-fee hedge fund manager (Protégé Partners). As part of the bet, Buffett claimed an investment in a low-fee S&P 500 index fund would outperform a selection of high-fee, hot-shot hedge fund managers. Unsurprisingly, the low-cost index fund trounced the hedge fund managers. From 2008-2017, Buffett’s index fund averaged +8.5% per year vs. +3.0% for the hedge fund managers.

During scary blips like the one experienced recently, lessons can be learned from successful, long-term billionaire investors like Warren Buffett, but lessons can also be learned from my mother. Do yourself a favor by getting your investment portfolio in order, so my mother won’t have to say, “I told you so.”

www.Sidoxia.com

Wade W. Slome, CFA, CFP®

Plan. Invest. Prosper.

This article is an excerpt from a previously released Sidoxia Capital Management complimentary newsletter (March 1, 2018). Subscribe on the right side of the page for the complete text.

DISCLOSURE: Sidoxia Capital Management (SCM) and some of its clients hold positions in certain exchange traded funds (ETFs), but at the time of publishing had no direct position in any other security referenced in this article. No information accessed through the Investing Caffeine (IC) website constitutes investment, financial, legal, tax or other advice nor is to be relied on in making an investment or other decision. Please read disclosure language on IC Contact page.

March 1, 2018 at 3:08 pm Leave a comment

Glass Moving from Half-Empty to Half-Full

This article is an excerpt from a previously released Sidoxia Capital Management complimentary newsletter (February 1, 2018). Subscribe on the right side of the page for the complete text.

Economic growth accelerated in 2017, the unemployment rate is sitting at a 17-year low, housing prices are up significantly, Consumer Confidence is near the highs of 2000, corporations are doing cartwheels thanks to tax cut legislation, and the stock market has recently set new records. Not a bad start to the year, eh?

Fat Wallets & Stuffed Purses

The strength of the economy, coupled with the optimism of business and consumers, has resulted in a financial boon for Americans, as shown in the chart below. Not only have financial assets and real estate gone up significantly since the 2008-2009 Financial Crisis, but household debt has also remained relatively stable. The combination of these factors have American households sitting on almost $1 trillion in household value, a new record.

Source: Calafia Beach Pundit

As we move ahead through the first month of 2018, the +5.8% gain in the Dow Jones Industrial Average, and the +5.6% advance in the S&P 500 index have further fattened wallets and stuffed the purses of equity investors. On an annual basis, the results only look even better, with the Dow up +32% and the S&P +24%. Given the sharp appreciation in value, casual observers might expect a flood of new investors to pile into stocks and equity mutual funds…not true. Actually, this buying phenomenon has yet to occur. However, it is true investor sentiment has begun shifting to a “glass half-full” perspective due to the vast number of positive economic headlines. Nevertheless, it’s important for investors to remember this pace of gains cannot be sustainable forever.

There is no theoretical limit on the number of potential market moving events. The stock market could temporarily get rattled by another North Korean nuclear test, a terrorist attack, a geopolitical standoff, an inflammatory tweet, an infinite number of other unforeseen events, or stock prices could simply go down due to profit-taking (i.e., investors sell to lock-in gains). Regardless, the economic momentum is palpable and the president did not waste any time at the recent State of the Union address to remind Americans.

Currently, there are limited signs of euphoric stock buying, but there will be a point in time, as in all economic cycles, when investment excesses will overwhelm demand and will therefore lead to a recession. Let’s not forget, an overzealous monetary policy (i.e., too many rate increases), led by a new Federal Reserve chief (Jerome Powell), is another scenario which could slam the breaks on an overheated economy.

Follow the Money

In attempting to read the tea leaves about the future direction of the stock market, we are inspired by the famous quote from the 1976 film All the President’s Men, “Follow the money.” Actions speak louder than words in our book, which is why at Sidoxia Capital Management (www.Sidoxia.com), we track the money buying and selling actions of investors. There is never a shortage of information, and the professionals at the ICI (Investment Company Institute) are kind enough to publish the Weekly Fund Flows data  (see chart below), which details the amount of dollars funneling in and out of stock and bond funds. Despite the stock market more than tripling in value, and contrary to common belief, more than -$200 billion has poured out of domestic stock funds and ETFs (Exchange Traded Funds) from 2015 through early 2018.

Source: ICI through 1-17-18

How can this counterintuitive money exodus transpire during a bull market? Quite simply, corporations have been using record piles of cash to buy trillions of dollars in stock through “stock buybacks” and “mergers & acquisitions” activity. All this corporate stock purchase activity has offset the money flowing out of funds, which has helped catapult stock prices higher. History tells us, that before this long-term bull market that started in 2009 ends, flows into U.S. stock mutual funds and ETFs will turn significantly positive after years of hemorrhaging.

Many speculators and traders waste time on a plethora of unreliable sentiment surveys and indicators (e.g., CBOE Volatility Index, AAII Sentiment Survey, Put-Call Ratio, etc), but my 25+ years of investment experience tells me the fund flows data works much better as a longer-term contrarian indicator. To put “contrarian” investing in English, famed billionaire investor, Warren Buffett, summed it up best when he said, “Be fearful when others are greedy and greedy when others are fearful.”

Sharing the Wealth

Speaking of greed, corporations have been greedy capitalists as they have watched profits surge to record levels. Yet many of these greedy corporations have decided to share some of the spoils garnered from the recent tax legislation with rank and file employees. For instance, consider the small sampling of the following large corporations that have decided to pay their employees bonuses:

Overall, even though trillions of savings remain in cash and money is still flowing out of US stock funds, the investment glass is shifting from a glass half-empty perception to a glass half-full impression. A time will come when the masses will believe the glass half-full will turn to a glass over-flowing. I don’t think anyone can predict with any certainty when that time will arrive, but I will continue doing my best to drink as much water as possible before it spills.

www.Sidoxia.com

Wade W. Slome, CFA, CFP®

Plan. Invest. Prosper.

DISCLOSURE: Sidoxia Capital Management (SCM) and some of its clients hold positions in T, CMCSA, DIS, and certain exchange traded funds (ETFs), but at the time of publishing had no direct position in AAL, BAC, JBLU, LUV, USB, or any other security referenced in this article. No information accessed through the Investing Caffeine (IC) website constitutes investment, financial, legal, tax or other advice nor is to be relied on in making an investment or other decision. Please read disclosure language on IC Contact page.

February 1, 2018 at 12:22 pm Leave a comment

Celebrating Another Year, Another Decade for Sidoxia

This article is an excerpt from a previously released Sidoxia Capital Management complimentary newsletter (January 2, 2018). Subscribe on the right side of the page for the complete text.

Not only is New Year’s the time to celebrate the year that has just passed, but it is also the time to set new resolutions for the year to come. For financial markets, especially the stock market, 2017 was a special year of celebration. In addition to the S&P 500 index rejoicing a +19% gain, the more narrowly focused Dow Jones Industrial Average (consisting solely of 30 stocks) partied to an even more impressive +25% advance. Out of the three major stock indexes, the icing on the cake can be savored by the technology-heavy NASDAQ index, which soared +28% in 2017.

Can the mojo of this festive bull market continue into its 10th year after the financial crisis? The short answer is “yes”, but there are numerous variables that can cause the performance gusts to swirl into a headwind or a tailwind. While many Americans are glued to the topic of politics and get caught up in the continual mudslinging, followers of Sidoxia Capital Management’s writings (see also Politics & Your Money) understand there are much more important factors impacting the long-term performance of your investments. More specifically, the following four factors I track on Sidoxia’s financial dashboard (Don’t Be a Fool)  have continued to act as significant tailwinds for positive stock performance:

  • Corporate profits
  • Interest rates
  • Valuations
  • Sentiment

Sidoxia’s 10-Year Anniversary

The year 2018 also happens to be a special year that marks a significant milestone in my professional career. A decade ago in late 2007, I ventured off from managing one of the largest multi-billion growth funds in the country (see How I Managed $20,000,000,000.00 by Age 32) and launched my own company, Sidoxia Capital Management in Newport Beach, California. At the time of the launch (December 2007), and subsequent to the bursting of the 2000 technology bubble, stock prices had about doubled over a five year period, starting in early 2003 (see chart).

On top of having the leading investment credentials (CFA, MBA, and CFP) and the experience of successfully managing a multi-billion fund, I also held the youthful confidence and optimism of a 30-something year-old (Trivia fact: the name Sidoxia is derived from the Greek word for “optimism”). What could possibly go wrong? How about the worst financial collapse in a generation (79 years)!

Suffice it to say, the global panic and recession that resulted in stock prices crumbling -50% (see chart below) temporarily bruised my youthful confidence and briefly punched my optimistic enthusiasm in the gut. In hindsight, what felt like a disaster at that point turned out to be a perfect time to start Sidoxia. The advantage of starting with virtually no clients meant that most of my early clients have enjoyed participating in a near quadrupling in stock prices to the near-record highs of today.

However, it wasn’t all rainbows and unicorns over Sidoxia’s first ten years (2007 – 2017). Despite the Dow advancing to 24,719 today from the 2009-low of 6,470, there were at least 11 substantial corrections (price drops) ranging from -5% to -22%. The extraordinary climb up the financial mountain included a “Flash Crash”, U.S. debt downgrade, eurozone economic crisis, Ebola scare, Brexit vote, multiple presidential elections, and China recession scares, among numerous other fear-grabbing headlines.

What Now?

As I have described on numerous occasions (see also Fool’s Errand), predicting short-term directions in the stock market is a fruitless effort. With that said, our correctly positioned positive stance over the years can be clearly documented on my blog (see InvestingCaffeine.com).

For example, 2017 was one of Sidoxia’s best years thanks in large part to our positive outlook (see Wiping Slate Clean), even though headlines were dominated by mass shootings, natural disasters, terrorist attacks, White House politics, Bitcoin/cryptocurrencies, and let’s not forget the sexual harassment revelations. But in going back to my previous comments, the key follow-up question becomes, “Do these headlines negatively impact the four key pillars of corporate profits, interest rates, valuations, and sentiment?” And the short answer is “No”.

On the positive side of the ledger, we have a newly minted tax legislation that dramatically loweres corporate tax rates from 35% to 21%. This move should significantly stimulate corporate profits, thereby creating extra cash for shareholder friendly actions like increased dividends and stock buybacks, not to mention more cash in corporate coffers for further acquisitions. Worth also noting, the global synchronized economic recovery continues to buoy the stellar U.S. performance. Evidence of the rising international tide lifting all global boats can be seen in the 2017 performance of various international equity markets*:

  • Vietnam: +48%
  • Hong Kong: +36%
  • Asia (Overall): +30%
  • India: +27%
  • Brazil: +26%
  • Europe (VGK): +23%
  • Japan: +17%

Source: CNBC 12/29 & Sidoxia

What could negatively impact investment results in 2018? For starters, overly aggressive (“hawkish”) monetary policy by the Federal Reserve could potentially slam the brakes on the economy. In my view this scenario is unlikely given the rhetoric and new composition of the Federal Open Market Committee, including new chief Jerome Powell. Regardless of the historically low Federal Funds rate, interest rate policy is definitely worth following in the coming months.

Another wildcard that could slow down the 10-year bull market is a spike in the value of the U.S. dollar. As we saw in 2015-2016, a higher valued dollar makes American goods more expensive abroad, which will crimp corporate profits. Beyond these known unknowns, there are always what Donald Rumsfeld likes to call unknown unknowns“. These unknowns can include things like terrorist attacks, currency crises, foreign bank defaults, natural disasters, etc. Short-term volatility typically ensues after these uncontrollable events, but history has proven our country’s resilience.

With the new tax legislation voted into law and shift of IRS calendar, a cohort of investors may now choose to temporarily sell stocks during January, which could briefly lower stock prices. I fully understand stock prices cannot go up forever, but as long as the previously discussed four key pillars remain positive on balance, the New Year’s celebration can continue.

www.Sidoxia.com

Wade W. Slome, CFA, CFP®

Plan. Invest. Prosper.

DISCLOSURE: Sidoxia Capital Management (SCM) and some of its clients hold positions in certain exchange traded funds (ETFs), but at the time of publishing had no direct position in any other security referenced in this article. No information accessed through the Investing Caffeine (IC) website constitutes investment, financial, legal, tax or other advice nor is to be relied on in making an investment or other decision. Please read disclosure language on IC Contact page.

January 2, 2018 at 1:12 pm 2 comments

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