Posts tagged ‘fixed income’

Chinese Checkers or Chess?

chess

There’s been a high stakes economic game of trade going on between the United States and China, but it’s unclear what actual game is being played or what the rules are? Is it Chinese checkers, chess, or some other game?

Currently, the rules of the U.S.-China trade war game are continually changing. Most recently, the U.S. has implemented 15% in added tariffs (on approximately $125 billion in Chinese consumer imports) on September 1st. The president and his administration appreciate the significance of trade negotiations, especially as it relates to his second term reelection campaign, which is beginning to swing into full gear. However, game enthusiasts also understand you can’t win or truly play a game, if you don’t know the rules? In that same vein, investors have been confused about the U.S.-China trade game as the president’s Twitter account has been blowing up with tariff threats and trade discussion updates. As a negotiating tactic, the current unpredictable trade talks spearheaded by the Trump administration have been keeping investors guessing whether there will be a successful deal payoff. Until then, market participants have been sitting on the sidelines watching the stock market volatility unfold, one tweet at a time.

Here’s what the president has planned for other tariffs:

  • October 1: Tariffs on $250 billion in Chinese goods rise to 30%.
  • November 17: Europe auto tariff deadline.
  • December 15: 15% tariffs on $160 billion in Chinese goods.

This uncertain game translated into all the major stock market averages vacillating to an eventual decline last month, with a price chart resembling a cardiogram. More specifically, after bouncing around wildly, the S&P 500 decreased -1.8% last month (see chart below), the Dow Jones Industrial Average dropped -1.7%, and the tech-heavy Nasdaq fell -2.6%.

sp aug

Politically, there is bipartisan support to establish new trade rules and there is acknowledgement that China has been cheating and breaking trade rules for decades. The consensus among most constituencies is especially clear as it relates to Chinese theft of our intellectual property, forced technology transfer, and barriers for U.S. companies to invest in China.

Beyond trade talks, China has been stirring the geopolitical pot through its involvement in the political instability occurring in Hong Kong, which is a Special Administrative Region (SAR) of China. For over five months Hong Kong has had to deal with mass demonstration and clashes with police primarily over a proposed extradition bill that Hong Kong people fear would give mainland China control and jurisdiction over the region. Time will tell whether the protests will allow Hong Kong to remain relatively independent, or the Chinese Communist party will eventually lose patience and use an authoritarian response to the protesters.

Inverted Yield Curve: Fed No Longer Slamming Breaks in Front of Feared Recession

Another issue contributing to recent financial market volatility has been the so-called “inverted yield curve.” Typically, an economic recession has been caused by the Federal Reserve slamming the breaks on an overheated economy by raising short-term interest rates (Federal Funds target rate). Historically, as short-term rates rise and increase borrowing costs (i.e., slow down economic activity), long-term interest rates eventually fall amid expected weak economic activity. When declining long-term interest rates fall below short-term interest rates…voila, you have an inverted yield curve. Why is this scary? Ever since World War II, history has informed us that whenever this phenomenon has occurred, this dynamic has been a great predictor for a looming recession.

What’s different this time? Unlike the past, is it possible the next recession can be averted or delayed? One major difference is the explosion in negative interest rate yielding bonds now reaching $17 trillion.

neg bonds

Yes, you read that correctly, investors are lining up in droves for guaranteed losses – if these bonds are held until maturity. This widespread perception as a move to perceived safety has not protected the U.S. from the global rate anchor sinking our long-term interest rates. United States interest rates have not turned negative (yet?), but rates have fallen by more than half over the last 10 months from +3.24% to +1.51% on the 10-Year Treasury Note. Will this stimulate businesses to borrow and consumers to buy homes (i.e., through lower cost mortgages), or are these negative rates a sign of a massive global slowdown? The debate continues, but in the meantime, I’m going to take advantage of a 0%-interest rate loan to buy me an 85″ big screen television for my new home!

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 (September 3, 2019). Subscribe on the right side of the page for the complete text.

DISCLOSURE: Sidoxia Capital Management (SCM) and some of its clients hold positions 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.

September 4, 2019 at 3:51 pm Leave a comment

March Madness Leads to Gladness

jump ball

As usual, there was plenty of “madness” in March, and this year did not disappoint. Just as is the case with the annual NCAA basketball tournament, certain investors suffered the agony of defeat in the financial markets, but overall, the thrill of victory triumphed in March. So much so that the S&P 500 index posted its largest first-quarter gain in more than 20 years. Not only did the major indexes post gains for the month, but the winning record looks even better for the year-to-date results. For 2019, the S&P 500 index is up +13.1%; the Dow Jones Industrial Average +11.2%; and the tech-heavy NASDAQ index +16.5% for the year. The monthly gains in the major indexes were more muted, ranging from 0% for the Dow to +2.6% for the NASDAQ.

Busy? Listen to Wade discuss this article and other topics each week on the Weekly Grind podcast:

 

While 2018 ended with a painful injury (S&P 500 -6.2% in Q4), on fears of a deteriorating China trade deal and a potentially overly aggressive Federal Reserve hiking interest rates, the stock market ultimately recovered in 2019 on changing perceptions. Jerome Powell, the Federal Reserve Chairman, indicated the Fed would be more “patient” going forward in increasing interest rates, and President Trump’s tweet-storm on balance has been optimistic regarding the chances of hammering out a successful trade deal with China.

With the new cautious Fed perspective on interest rates, the yield on the 10-Year Treasury Note fell by -0.28% for the quarter from 2.69% to 2.41%. In fact, investors are currently betting there is a greater than 50% probability the Fed will cut interest rates before year-end. Moreover, in testimony before Congress, Powell signaled the economic dampening policy of reducing the Fed’s balance sheet was almost complete. All else equal, the shift from a perceived rate-hiking Fed to a potentially rate-cutting Fed has effectively turned an apparent headwind into tailwind. Consumers are benefiting from this trend in the housing market, as evidenced by lower 30-year fixed mortgage rates, which in some cases have dropped below 4%.

Economy: No Slam Dunk

However, not everything is a slam dunk in the financial markets. Much of the change in stance by the Fed can be attributed to slowing economic growth seen both here domestically and abroad, internationally.

Here in the U.S., the widely followed monthly jobs number last month only showed a gain of 20,000 jobs, well below estimates of 180,000 jobs. This negative jobs surprise was the biggest miss in more than 10 years. Furthermore, the overall measure for our nation’s economic activity, growth in Gross Domestic Product (GDP), was revised downward to +2.2% in Q4, below a previous estimate of +2.6%. The so-called “inverted yield curve” (i.e., short-term interest rates are higher than long-term interest rates), historically a precursor to a recession, is consistent with slowing growth expectations. This inversion temporarily caused investors some heartburn last month.

If you combine slowing domestic economic growth figures with decelerating manufacturing growth in Europe and China (e.g. contracting Purchasing Managers’ Index), then suddenly you end up with a slowing global growth picture. In recent months, the U.S. economy’s strength was perceived as decoupling from the rest of the world, however recent data could be changing that view.

Fortunately, the ECB (European Central Bank) and China have not been sitting on their hands. ECB President Mario Draghi announced three measures last month that could cumulatively add up to some modest economic stimulus. First, it “expects the key ECB interest rates to remain at their present levels at least through the end of 2019.” Second, it committed to reinvesting all maturing bond principal payments in new debt “for an extended period of time.” And third, the ECB announced a new batch of “Targeted Long-Term Refinancing Operations” starting in September. Also, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang announced the government will reduce taxes, primarily Value Added Taxes (VAT) and social security taxes (SST). Based on the rally in equities, it appears investors are optimistic these stimulus efforts will eventually succeed in reigniting growth.

Volume of Political Noise Ratcheted Higher

While I continually try to remind investors to ignore politics when it comes to their investment portfolios, the deafening noise was especially difficult to overlook considering the following:

  • Mueller Report Completed: Robert Mueller’s Special Counsel investigation into potential collusion as it relates Russian election interference and alleged obstruction of justice concluded.
  • Michael Cohen Testifies: Former President Trump lawyer, Michael Cohen, testified in closed sessions before the House and Senate intelligence committees, and in public to the House Oversight Committee. In the open session, Cohen, admitted to paying hush money to two women during the election. Cohen called President Trump a racist, a conman, and a cheat but Cohen is the one heading to jail after being sentenced for lying to Congress among other charges.
  • Manafort Sentenced: Former Trump Campaign Chairman Paul Manafort was sentenced to prison on bank and tax fraud charges.
  • North Korea No Nuke Deal: In geopolitics,President Trump flew 21 hours to Vietnam to meet for a second time with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un on denuclearization of the Korean peninsula. The U.S. president ended up leaving early, empty handed, without signing an agreement, after talks broke down over sanction differences.
  • Brexit Drama Continues: The House of Commons in the lower house of the U.K. Parliament continued to stifle Prime Minister Theresa May’s plan to exit the European Union with repeated votes rejecting her proposals. Brexit outcomes remain in flux, however the European Union did approve an extension to May 22 to work out kinks, if the House can approve May’s plan.

Positive Signals Remain

March Madness reminds us that a big lead can be lost quickly, however a few good adjustments can also swiftly shift momentum in the positive direction. Although growth appears to be slowing both here and internationally, corporate profits are not falling off a cliff, and earnings remain near record highs (see chart below).

corp prof

Source: Calafia Beach Pundit

Similar to the stock market, commodities can be a good general barometer of current and future economic activity. As you can see from the chart below, not only have commodity prices remained stable in the face of slowing economic data, but gold prices have not spiked as they did during the last financial crisis.

gld v cmmd

Source: Calafia Beach Pundit

After 2018 brought record growth in corporate profits and negative returns, 2019 is producing a reverse mirror image – slow profit growth and record returns. The volatile ending to 2018 and triumphant beginning to 2019 is a reminder that “March Madness” does not need to bring sadness…it can bring gladness.

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 (April 1, 2019). Subscribe on the right side of the page for the complete text.

DISCLOSURE: Sidoxia Capital Management (SCM) and some of its clients hold positions 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 1, 2019 at 1:37 pm Leave a comment

The Dirty Little Stock Market Secret

Shhhh…don’t tell anyone, I have a dirty little secret. Are you ready? Are you sure? The world is not going to end…really.

Despite lingering trade concerns (see Trump Hits China with Tariffs on $200 Billion in Goods), Elon Musk being sued by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) for tweeting his controversial intentions to take Tesla Inc. (TSLA) private, and Supreme Court nominee, Brett Kavanaugh, facing scandalous sexual assault allegations when he was in high school, life goes on. In the face of these heated headlines, stocks still managed to rise to another record in September (see Another Month, Another Record). For the month, the Dow Jones Industrial Average climbed +1.9% (+7.0% for 2018), the S&P 500 notched a +0.4% gain (+9.0% for 2018), while the hot, tech-laden NASDAQ index cooled modestly by -0.8% after a scorching +17.5% gain for the year.

If the world were indeed in the process of ending and we were looking down into the abyss of another severe recession, we most likely would not see the following tangible and objective facts occurring in our economy.

  • New Revamped NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement) 2.0 trade deal between the U.S., Mexico, and Canada was finalized (new deal is called United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement).
  • Leading Economic Indicators are at a record high (a predictive statistic that historically falls before recessionary periods – in gray)

Source: Yardeni.com

  • Unemployment Rate of 3.9% is near a record low
  • Small Business Optimism is near record highs
  • Consumer Confidence is near record highs

Source: Scott Grannis

  • Corporate Profits are at record highs
  • Interest Rates remain at historically low levels despite the Federal Reserve’s actions to slowly migrate their interest rate target higher
  • Economic Growth (GDP) accelerating to +4.2% growth rate in the recent quarter

Source: Scott Grannis

Are we closer to a recession with the stock market potentially falling 20-30% in value? As I have written on numerous occasions, so-called pundits have been falsely forecasting recessions over the last decade, for as long as this bull market has been alive (see Professional Double-Dip Guesses are “Probably” Wrong).

Why so much investor angst as stock prices continue to chug along to record levels?  One reason is investors are used to historically experiencing a recession approximately twice a decade on average, and we have yet to suffer one since the Great Recession around 10 years ago. While the mantra “we are due” for a recession might be a true statement, the fact also remains that this economic recovery has been the slowest since World War II, which logically could argue for a longer expansionary period.

What also holds true is that corporate profits already experienced a significant “profit recession” during this economic cycle, post the 2008-2009 financial crisis. More specifically, S&P 500 operating profits declined for seven consecutive quarters from December 2014 through June 2016. The largest contributors to the 2014-2016 profit recession were collapsing oil and commodity prices, coupled with a rapid appreciation in the value of the U.S. dollar, which made our exports more expensive and squeezed multinational corporation profits. The stock market eventually digested these profit-crimping headwinds and resumed its ascent to record levels, but not before the S&P 500 remained flat to down for about a year and a half (2014-2016).

Doom-and-gloom, in conjunction with toxic politics, continue to reign supreme over the airwaves. If you want in on a beneficial dirty little secret, you and your investments would be best served by ignoring all of the media noise and realizing the world is not going to end any time soon.

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 (October 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 TSLA 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.

October 2, 2018 at 11:08 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 Summer Heats Up

This article is an excerpt from a previously released Sidoxia Capital Management complimentary newsletter (August 1, 2017). Subscribe on the right side of the page for the complete text.

The temperature in the stock market heated up again this month. Like a hot day at the beach, the Dow Jones Industrial Average stock index burned +542 points higher this month (+2.5%), while scorching +2,129 points ahead in 2017 (or +10.8%).

Despite these impressive gains (see 2009-2017 chart below), overall, investors remain concerned. Rather than stock participants calmly enjoying the sun, breeze, and refreshingly cool waters of the current markets, many investors have been more concerned about getting sunburned to a geopolitical crisp; overwhelmed by an unexpected economic tsunami; and/or drowned by a global central bank-induced interest rate crisis.

Stock market concerns rise, but so do stock prices.

The most recent cautionary warnings have come to the forefront by noted value investor Howard Marks, who grabbed headlines with last week’s forewarning memo, “Here They Go Again…Again.” The thoughtful, 23-page document is definitely worth reading, but like any prediction, it should be taken with a pound of salt, as I point out in my recent article Predictions – A Fool’s Errand. The reality is nobody has been able to consistently predict the future.

If you don’t believe my skepticism about crystal balls and palm readers, just listen to the author of the cautionary article himself. Like many other market soothsayers, Marks is forced to provide a mea culpa on the first page in which he admits his predictions have been wrong for the last six years. His dour but provocative position also faces another uphill battle, given that Marks’s conclusion flies in the face of value investing god, Warren Buffett, who was quoted this year as saying:

“Measured against interest rates, stocks actually are on the cheap side compared to historic valuations.”

Rather than crucify him, Marks should not be singled out for this commonly cautious view. In fact, most value investors are born with the gloom gene in their DNA, given the value mandate to discover and exploit distressed assets. This value-based endeavor has become increasingly difficult as the economy gains steam in this slow but sustainably long economic recovery. As I’ve mentioned on numerous occasions, bull markets don’t die of old age, but rather they die from excesses. So far the key components of the economy, the banking system and consumers, have yet to participate in euphoric excesses like previous economic cycles due to risk aversion caused by the last financial crisis.

Making matters worse for value investors, the value style of investing has underperformed since 2006 alongside other apocalyptic predictions from revered value peers like Seth Klarman and Ray Dalio, who have also been proved wrong over recent years.

However, worth stating, is experienced, long-term investors like Marks, Klarman, and Dalio deserve much more attention than the empty predictions spewed from the endless number of non-investing strategists and economists who I specifically reference in A Fool’s Errand.

Beach Cleanup in Washington

While beach conditions may be sunny, and stock market geeks like me continue debating future market weather conditions, media broadcasters and bloggers have been focused elsewhere – primarily the nasty political mess littered broadly across our American shores.

Lack of Congressional legislation progress relating to healthcare, tax reform, and infrastructure, coupled with a nagging investigation into potential Russian interference into U.S. elections, have caused the White House to finally lose its patience. The end result? A swift cleanup of the political hierarchy. After deciding to tidy up the White House, President Trump’s first priority was to remove Sean Spicer, the former White House Press Secretary and add the controversial Wall Street executive Anthony Scaramucci as the new White House Communications Chief. Shortly thereafter, White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus was pushed to resign, and he was replaced by Secretary of Homeland Security, John F. Kelly. If this was not enough drama, after Scaramucci conducted a vulgar-laced tirade against Priebus in a New Yorker magazine interview, newly minted Chief of Staff Kelly felt compelled to quickly fire Scaramucci.

While the political beach party and soap opera have been entertaining to watch from the sidelines, I continue to remind observers that politics have little, if any, impact on the long-term direction of the financial markets. There have been much more important factors contributing to the nine-year bull market advance other than politics. For example, interest rates, corporate profits, valuations, and investor sentiment have been much more impactful forces behind the new record stock market highs.

Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen may not wear a bikini at the beach, but nevertheless she has become quite the spectacle in Washington, as investors speculate on the future direction of interest rates and other Fed monetary policies (i.e., unwinding the $4.5 trillion Fed balance sheet). In the hopes of not exhausting your patience too heavily, let’s briefly review interest rates, so they can be placed in the proper context. Specifically, it’s worth noting the spotlighted Federal Funds Rate target is sitting at enormously depressed levels (1.00% – 1.25%), despite the fact the Fed has increased the target four times within the last two years. How low has the Fed Funds rate been historically? As you can see from the historical chart below (1970 – 2017), this key benchmark rate reached a level as high as 20.00% in the early 1980s – a far cry from today’s 1.00% – 1.25% rate.

There are two crucial points to make here. First, even at 1.25%, interest rates are at extremely low levels, and this is significantly stimulative to our economy, even after considering the scenario of future interest rate hikes. The second main point is that that Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen has been exceedingly cautious about her careful, data-dependent intentions of increasing interest rates. As a matter of fact, the CME Fed Funds futures market currently indicates a 99% probability the Fed will maintain interest rates at this low level when the Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) meets in September.

Responsibly Have Fun but Use Protection

It’s imperative to remain vigilantly prudent with your investments because weather conditions will not always remain calm in the financial markets. You do not want to get burned by overheated markets or caught off guard by an unexpected economic storm. Blindly buying tech stocks exclusively without a systematic disciplined approach to valuation is a sure-fire way to lose money over the long-run. Instead, protection must be implemented across multiple vectors.

From a broader perspective, at Sidoxia we believe it’s essential to follow a low-cost, diversified, tax-efficient, strategy with a long-term time horizon. Rebalancing your portfolio as markets continue to appreciate will keep your investment portfolio balanced as financial markets gyrate. These investment basics have produced a winning formula for many investors, including some very satisfying long-term results at Sidoxia, which is quickly approaching its 10-year anniversary. You can have fun at the beach, just remember to bring sunscreen and a windbreaker, in case conditions change.

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.

August 1, 2017 at 12:16 pm Leave a comment

March Madness or Retirement Sadness?

bball

This article is an excerpt from a previously released Sidoxia Capital Management complimentary newsletter (March 1, 2017). Subscribe on the right side of the page for the complete text.

“March Madness” begins in a few weeks with a start of the 68-team NCAA college basketball tournament, but there has also been plenty of other economic and political madness going on in the background. As it relates to the stock market, the Dow Jones Industrial Average index reached a new, all-time record high last month, exceeding the psychologically prominent level of 20,000 (closing the month at 20,812). For the month, the Dow rose an impressive +4.8%, and since November’s presidential election it catapulted an even more remarkable +13.5%.

Despite our 45th president just completing his first State of the Union address to the nation, American voters remain sharply divided across political lines, and that bias is not likely to change any time soon. Fortunately, as I’ve written on numerous occasions (see Politics & Your Money), politics have no long-term impact on your finances and retirement. Sure, in the short-run, legislative policies can create winners and losers across particular companies and industries, but history is firmly on your side if you consider the positive track record of stocks over the last couple of centuries. As the chart below demonstrates, over the last 150 years or so, stock performance is roughly the same across parties (up +11% annually), whether you identify with a red elephant or a blue donkey.

dem-v-rep

Nevertheless, political rants flooding our Facebook news feeds can confuse investors and scare people into inaction. Pervasive fake news stories regarding the supposed policy benefits and shortcomings of immigration, tax reform, terrorism, entitlements, foreign policy, and economic issues often result in heightened misperception and anxiety.

More important than reading Facebook political rants, watching March Madness basketball, or drinking green beer on St. Patrick’s Day, is saving money for retirement. While some of these diversions can be temporarily satisfying and entertaining, lost in the daily shuffle is the retirement epidemic quietly lurking in the background. Managing money makes people nervous even though it is an essential part of life. Retirement planning is critical because a mountain of the 76 million Baby Boomers born between 1946 – 1964 have already reached retirement age and are not ready (see chart below).

eld-pop-growth

The critical problem is most Americans are ill-prepared financially for retirement, and many of them run the risk of outliving their savings. A recent study conducted by the Economic Policy Institute (EPI) shows that nearly half of families have no retirement account savings at all. The findings go on to highlight that the median U.S. family only has $5,000 in savings (see also Getting to Your Number). Even after considering my tight-fisted habits, that kind of money wouldn’t be enough cash for me to survive on.

Saving and investing have never been more important. It doesn’t take a genius to understand that government entitlements like Social Security and Medicare are at risk for millions of Americans. While I am definitely not sounding the alarm for current retirees who have secure benefits, there are millions of others whose retirement benefits are in jeopardy.

Missing the 20,000 Point Boat? Dow 100,000

Making matters worse, saving and investing has never been more challenging. If you thought handling all of life’s responsibilities was tough enough already, try the impossible task of interpreting the avalanche of instantaneous political and economic headlines pouring over our electronic devices at lighting speed.

Knee-jerk reactions to headlines might give investors a false sense of security, but the near-impossibility of consistently timing the stock market has not stopped people from attempting to do so. For example, recently I have been bombarded with the same question, “Wade, don’t you think the stock market is overpriced now that we have eclipsed 20,000?” The short answer is “no,” given the current factors (see Don’t Be a Fool). Thankfully, I’m not alone in this response. Warren Buffett, the wealthiest billionaire investor on the planet, answered the same question this week after investing $20,000,000,000 more in stocks post the election:

“People talk about 20,000 being high. Well, I remember when it hit 200 and that was supposedly high….You know, you’re going to see a Dow [in your lifetime] that certainly approaches 100,000 and that doesn’t require any miracles, that just requires the American system continuing to function pretty much as it has.”

Like a deer in headlights, many Americans have been scared into complacency. To their detriment, many savers have sat silently on the sidelines earning near-0% returns on their savings, while the stock market has reached new all-time record highs. While Dow 20,000 might be new news for some, the reality is new all-time record highs have repeatedly been achieved in 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, and now 2017 (see chart below).

record-highs

While I am not advocating for all people to throw their entire savings into stocks, it is vitally important for individuals to construct diversified portfolios across a wide range of asset classes, subject to each person’s unique objectives, constraints, risk tolerance, and time horizon. The risk of outliving your savings is real, so if you need assistance, seek out an experienced professional. March Madness may be here, but don’t get distracted. Make investing a priority, so your daily madness doesn’t turn into retirement sadness.

investment-questions-border

Wade W. Slome, CFA, CFP®

Plan. Invest. Prosper.

www.Sidoxia.com

DISCLOSURE: Sidoxia Capital Management (SCM) and some of its clients hold positions in FB 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.

March 4, 2017 at 11:04 am 1 comment

Half Trump Empty, or Half Trump Full?

glass

This article is an excerpt from a previously released Sidoxia Capital Management complimentary newsletter (December 1, 2016). Subscribe on the right side of the page for the complete text.

It was a bitter U.S. presidential election, but fortunately, the nastiest election mudslinging has come to an end…at least until the next political contest. Unfortunately, like most elections, even after the president-elect has been selected, almost half the country remains divided and the challenges facing the president-elect have not disappeared.

While some non-Trump voters have looked at the glass as half empty, since the national elections, the stock market glass has been overflowing to new record highs. Similar to the unforeseen British Brexit outcome in which virtually all pollsters and pundits got the results wrong, U.S. experts and investors also initially took a brief half-glass full view of the populist victory of Donald Trump. More specifically, for a few hours on Election Day, stock values tied to the Dow Jones Industrial Average index collapsed by approximately -5%.

It didn’t take long for stock prices to quickly reverse course, and when all was said and done, the Dow Jones Industrial Average finished the month higher by almost +1,000 points (+5.4%) to finish at 19,124 – a new all-time record high (see chart below). Worth noting, stocks have registered a very respectable +10% return during 2016, and the year still isn’t over.

dji-2016

Source: Investors.com (IBD)

Drinking the Trump Egg Nog

Why are investors so cheery? The proof will be in the pudding, but current optimism is stemming from a fairly broad list of anticipated pro-growth policies.

At the heart of the reform is the largest expected tax reform since Ronald Reagan’s landmark legislation three decades ago. Not only is Trump proposing stimulative tax cuts for corporations, but also individual tax reductions targeted at low-to-middle income taxpayers. Other facets of the tax plan include simplification of the tax code; removal of tax loopholes; and repatriation of foreign cash parked abroad. Combined, these measures are designed to increase profits, wages, investment spending, productivity, and jobs.

On the regulatory front, the President-elect has promised to repeal the Obamacare healthcare system and also overhaul the Dodd-Frank financial legislation. These initiatives, along with talk of dialing back other regulatory burdensome laws and agencies have many onlookers hopeful such policies could aid economic growth.

Fueling further optimism is the prospect of a trillion dollar infrastructure spending program created to fix our crumbling roads and bridges, while simultaneously increasing jobs.

No Free Lunch

As is the case with any economic plan, there is never a free lunch. Every cost has a benefit, and every benefit has a cost. The cost of the 2008-2009 Financial crisis is reflected in the sluggish economic growth seen in the weak GDP (Gross Domestic Product) statistics, which have averaged a modest +1.6% growth rate over the last year. Scott Grannis points out how the slowest recovery since World War II has resulted in a $3 trillion economic gap (see chart below).

us-real-gdp

Source: Calafia Beach Pundit

The silver lining benefit to weak growth has been tame inflation and the lowest interest rate levels experienced in a generation. Notwithstanding the recent rate rise, this low rate phenomenon has spurred borrowing, and improved housing affordability. The sub-par inflation trends have also better preserved the spending power of American consumers on fixed incomes.

If executed properly, the benefits of pro-growth policies are obvious. Lower taxes should mean more money in the pockets of individuals and businesses to spend and invest on the economy. This in turn should create more jobs and growth. Regulatory reform and infrastructure spending should have similarly positive effects. However, there are some potential downside costs to the benefits of faster growth, including the following:

  • Higher interest rates
  • Rising inflation
  • Stronger dollar
  • Greater amount of debt
  • Larger deficits (see chart below)

trumpdeficit

Source: The Wall Street Journal

Even though President-elect Trump has not even stepped foot into the Oval Office yet, signs are already emerging that we could face some or all of the previously mentioned headwinds. For example, just since the election, the yield on 10-Year Treasury Notes have spiked +0.5% to 2.37%, and 30-Year Fixed Rate mortgages are flirting with 4.0%. Social and economic issues relating to immigration legislation and Supreme Court nominations are likely to raise additional uncertainties in the coming months and years.

Attempting to anticipate and forecast pending changes makes perfect sense, but before you turn your whole investment portfolio upside down, it’s important to realize that actions speak louder than words. Even though Republicans have control over the three branches of government (Executive, Legislative, Judicial), the amount of control is narrow (i.e., the Senate), and the nature of control is splintered. In other words, Trump will still have to institute the “art of the deal” to persuade all factions of the Republicans (including establishment, Tea-Party, and rural) and Democrats to follow along and pass his pro-growth policies.

Although I do not agree with all of Trump’s policies, including his rhetoric on trade (see Free Trade Boogeyman), I will continue paying closer attention to his current actions rather than his past words. Until proven otherwise, I will keep on my rose colored glasses and remain optimistic that the Trump glass is half full, not half empty.

investment-questions-border

Wade W. Slome, CFA, CFP®

www.Sidoxia.com

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.

December 3, 2016 at 8:00 am Leave a comment

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