Posts tagged ‘inflation’

Rising Tide Lifts All COVID Boats

While COVID cases have been sinking here in the United States, new jobs are rising (559,000 in May), corporate profits are rising, housing prices are rising, commodities are rising, consumer confidence is rising, the economy (i.e., GDP) is rising, and stock prices are rising. More specifically, the S&P 500 was up +2.2% last month (+14.4% for the year), the NASDAQ climbed even faster +5.5% (+12.5% for 2021), and the Dow Jones Industrial Average was flat (+12.7% year-to-date).

Although the economic tide may be lifting all boats, there is a small leak spreading in the boat in the form of inflation. Rising prices can slowly sink all boats by eroding away income and wealth creation. Fortunately, Jerome Powell, the Federal Reserve Chairman is doing his best to patch the inflation hole by signaling an end to Quantitative Easing and eventually initiating interest rate hikes by 2023. Inflation is currently running hot at 5% over the last 12 months (see chart below), but the long-term trajectory remains consistent with 2% trendline growth (see Calafia Beach Pundit).

Source: U.S. Inflation Calculator

Gas prices certainly have not gone down as you can see from the gasoline data below from GasBuddy.

The Fed still perceives inflation as temporary (i.e., “transitory”) due to short-lived, supply-related bottlenecks caused by a surge in demand after the broad, post-COVID economic reopening. Restaurants are filled; hotels and flights are packed; cruise ships are back out at sea; and workers are returning to the office. All these factors are causing a big swell in demand for goods and services, while suppliers are finding it difficult to hire workers fast enough to meet the flood of orders. Just last week, American Airlines (ticker: AAL) canceled 950 flights in part due to its short-staffing and inability to meet the avalanche of demand.

Infrastructure Spending Serves as Life Jacket

The U.S. economy has been anchored by increased federal debt but Congress has opened the spending spigots with trillions of dollars in additional stimulus spending. Most recently, President Biden has coalesced an agreement on a $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill with the goal of further aiding the economic recovery from the 2020 recession. But as you can see from the chart below, there still remains a multi-trillion dollar deficit between spending and tax revenues. If the gap does not narrow from more measured spending and/or accelerated tax revenues, then the debt issue will only become greater.

Source: Calafia Beach Pundit

Fortunately for the government and Americans, interest rates are near historically low levels – the monthly yield on the 10-Year Treasury Note closed at 1.44%. Given these dramatically low interest rates, the government is able to shoulder larger amounts of debt just like an individual is able to hold a larger mortgage on his/her house if the interest rate is at 1% rather than 10%. The chart below illustrates that despite record debt levels, the interest payments being made on this debt is at 60-year low levels.

Source: Calafia Beach Pundit

The post-COVID recession recovery continues, and this rising tide is lifting most sectors of the economy that were sinking 15 months ago. To meet this rising tide of demand, employers continue to hire. Even with millions of new jobs added in recent months, there are a multi-decade number of job openings (9.3 million) – see 2000-2021 chart below. The expansion won’t last forever, but until the next slowdown, investors are “all aboard!”

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

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, 2021). 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 AAL 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 1, 2021 at 9:48 am 1 comment

Return to Rationality?

As the worst pandemic in more than a generation is winding down in the U.S., people are readjusting their personal lives and investing worlds as they transition from ridiculousness to rationality. After many months of non-stop lockdowns, social distancing, hand-sanitizers, mask-wearing, and vaccines, Americans feel like caged tigers ready to roam back into the wild. An incredible amount of pent-up demand is just now being unleashed not only by consumers, but also by businesses and the economy overall. This reality was also felt in the stock market as the Dow Jones Industrial Average powered ahead another 654 points last month (+1.9%) to a new record level (34,529) and the S&P 500 also closed at a new monthly high (+0.6% to 4,204). For the year, the bull market remains intact with the Dow gaining almost 4,000 points (+12.8%), while the S&P 500 has also registered a respectable +11.9% return.

Source: Investors.com

The story was different last year. The economy and stock market temporarily fell off a cliff and came to a grinding halt in the first quarter of 2020. However, with broad distribution of the vaccines and antibodies gained by the previously infected, herd immunity has effectively been reached. As a result, the U.S. COVID-19 pandemic has essentially come to an end for now and stock prices have continued their upward surge since last March.

Insanity to Sanity?

With the help of the Federal Reserve keeping interest rates at near-0% levels, coupled with trillions of dollars in stimulus and proposed infrastructure spending, corporate profits have been racing ahead. All this free money has pushed speculation into areas such as cryptocurrencies (i.e., Bitcoin, Dogecoin, Ethereum), SPACs (Special Purpose Acquisition Companies), Reddit meme stocks (GameStop Corp, AMC Entertainment), and highly valued, money-losing companies (e.g., Spotify, Uber, Snowflake, Palantir Technologies, Lyft, Peloton, and others). The good news, at least in the short-term, is that some of these areas of insanity have gone from stratospheric levels to just nosebleed heights. Take for example, Cathie Wood’s ARK Innovation Fund (ARKK) that invests in pricey stocks averaging a 91x price-earnings ratio, which exceeds 4x’s the valuation of the average S&P 500 stock. The ARK exchange traded fund that touts investments in buzzword technologies like artificial intelligence, machine learning, and cryptocurrencies rocketed +149% last year in the middle of a pandemic, but is down -10.0% this year. The Grayscale Bitcoin Trust fund (GBTC) that skyrocketed +291% in 2020 has fallen -5.6% in 2021 and -48.1% from its peak. What’s more, after climbing by more than +50% in less than four months, the Defiance NextGen SPAC fund (SPAK) has declined by -28.9% from its apex just a few months ago in February. You can see the dramatic 2021 underperformance in these areas in the chart below.

Source: Marketsmith

Inflation Rearing its Ugly Head?

The economic resurgence, weaker value of the U.S. dollar, and rising stock prices have pushed up inflation in commodities such as corn, gasoline, lumber, automobiles, housing, and a whole host of other goods (see chart below). Whether this phenomenon is “transitory” in nature, as Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell likes to describe this trend, or if this is the beginning of a longer phase of continued rising prices, the answer will be determined in the coming months. It’s clear the Federal Reserve has its hands full as it attempts to keep a lid on inflation and interest rates. The Fed’s success, or lack thereof, will have significant ramifications for all financial markets, and also have meaningful consequences for retirees looking to survive on fixed income budgets.

Source: Calafia Beach Pundit

As we have worked our way through this pandemic, all Americans and investors look to change their routines from an environment of irrationality to rationality, and insanity to sanity. Although the bull market remains alive and well in the stock market, inflation, interest rates, and speculative areas like cryptocurrencies, SPACs, meme-stocks, and nosebleed-priced stocks remain areas of caution. Stick to a disciplined and diversified investment approach that incorporates valuation into the process or contact an experienced advisor like Sidoxia Capital Management to assist you through these volatile times.

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, 2021). 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 GME, AMC, SPOT, UBER, SNOW, PLTR, LYFT, PTON, GBTC, SPAK, ARKK 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.

June 1, 2021 at 3:30 pm 3 comments

April Flowers Have Investors Cheering Wow-sers!

Normally April showers bring May flowers, but last month the spring weather was dominated by sunshine that caused stock prices to blossom to new, all-time record highs across all major indexes. More specifically, the S&P 500 jumped +5.2% last month, the NASDAQ catapulted +5.4%, and the Dow Jones Industrial Average rose +2.7%. For the year, the Dow and S&P 500 index both up double-digit percentages (11%), while the NASDAQ is up a few percentage points less than that (8%).

What has led to such a bright and beaming outlook by investors? For starters, economic optimism has gained momentum as the global coronavirus pandemic appears to be improving after approximately 16 months. Not only are COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations rates declining, but COVID-19 related deaths are dropping as well. A large portion of the progress can be attributed to the 246 million vaccine doses administered so far in the United States.

Blossoming Economy

As a result of the improving COVID-19 health climate, economic activity, as measured by Gross Domestic Product (GDP), expanded by a healthy +6.4% rate during the first quarter. Economists are forecasting second quarter growth to accelerate to an even more brilliant rate of +10%.

As the economy further re-opens and pent-up consumer demand is unleashed, activity is sprouting up in areas like airlines, hotels, restaurants, bars, movie theaters and gyms. An example of consumer demand climbing can be seen in the volume of passenger traffic in U.S. airports, which has increased substantially from the lows a year ago, as shown below in the TSA (Transportation Security Administration) data.

Source: Calafia Beach Pundit

A germinating economy also means a healthier employment market and more jobs. The chart below shows the dramatic decline in the number of jobless receiving benefits and pandemic unemployment assistance.

Fed Fertilizer & Congressional Candy

Monetary and fiscal stimulus are creating fertile ground for the surge in growth as well. The Federal Reserve has been clear in their support for the economy by effectively maintaining its key interest rate target at 0%, while also maintaining its monthly bond buying program at $120 billion – designed to sustain low interest rates for the benefit of consumers and businesses.

From a fiscal perspective, Congress is serving up some sweet candy by doling out free money to Americans. So far, roughly $4 trillion of COVID-19 related stimulus and relief have passed Congress (see also Consumer Confidence Flies), and now President Biden is proposing roughly an additional $4 trillion of stimulus in the form of a $2 trillion jobs and infrastructure plan and a $1.8 trillion American Families Plan.

Candy and Spinach

While Congress is serving up trillions in candy, eventually, Americans are going to have to eat some less appetizing spinach in the form of higher taxes. Generally speaking, nobody likes higher taxes, so the question becomes, how does the government raise the most revenue (taxes) without upsetting a large number of voters? As 17th century French statesman Jean-Baptiste Colbert proclaimed, “The art of taxation consists in so plucking the goose as to get the most feathers with the least hissing.”

President Biden has stated he will only increase income taxes on people earning more than $400,000 annually and increase capital gains taxes for those earning more than $1,000,000 per year. According to CNBC, those earning more than $400,000 only represents 1.8% of total taxpayers.

Bitter tasting spinach for Americans may also come in the form of higher inflation (i.e., a general rise in a basket of goods and services), which silently eats away at everyone’s purchasing power, especially those retirees surviving on a fixed income. Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell sees any increase in inflation as transitory, but if prices keep rising, the Federal Reserve will be forced to increase interest rates. Such a reversal in rates could choke off economic growth and potentially force the economy into a recession.

 If you strip out volatile energy prices, the good news is that underlying inflation has not spiraled higher out of control, as you can see from the chart below.

Source: Calafia Beach Pundit

In addition to the concerns of potential higher taxes, inflation, and rising interest rate policies from the Federal Reserve, for many months I have written about my apprehension about the speculation in SPACs (Special Purpose Acquisition Companies) and cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin. There are logical explanations to invest selectively into SPACs and purchase Bitcoin as a non-correlated asset for diversification purposes and a hedge against the dollar. But unfortunately, if history repeats itself, speculators will eventually end up in a pool of tears.

While there are certainly some storm clouds on the horizon (e.g., taxes, inflation, rising interest rates, speculative trading), April bloomed a lot of flowers, and the near-term forecast remains very sunny as the economy emerges from a global pandemic. As long as the government continues to provide candy to millions of Americans; the Federal Reserve remains accommodative in its policies; and the surge in pent-up demand persists to drive economic growth, we likely have some more time before we are forced to eat our spinach.

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 3, 2021). 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 GME 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, 2021 at 3:55 pm Leave a comment

Consumer Confidence Flies as Stock Market Hits New Highs

As the economy starts reopening from a global pandemic that is improving, consumers and businesses are beginning to see a light at the end of the tunnel. The surge in the recently reported Consumer Confidence figures to a new one-year high (see chart below) is evidence the recovery is well on its way. A stock market reaching new record highs is further evidence of the reopening recovery. More specifically, the Dow Jones Industrial Average catapulted 2,094 points higher (+6.2%) for the month to 32,981 and the S&P 500 index soared +4.2%. A rise in interest rate yields on the 10-Year Treasury Note to 1.7% from 1.4% last month placed pressure on technology growth stocks, which led to a more modest gain of +0.4% in the tech-heavy NASDAQ index during March.

Source: MarketWatch

Comeback from COVID

With a combination of 150 million vaccine doses administered and 30 million cumulative COVID cases, the U.S. population has creeped closer toward herd immunity protection against the virus and pushed down hospitalizations dramatically (see chart below).

Source: Centers for Disease Control (CDC)

Also contributing to investor optimism have been the rising values of investments and real estate assets thanks to an improving economy and COVID case count. As you can see from the chart below, the net worth of American households has more than doubled from the 2008-2009 financial crisis to approximately $130 trillion dollars, which in turn has allowed consumers to responsibly control and manage their personal debt. Unfortunately, the U.S. government hasn’t been as successful in keeping debt levels in check.

Source: Calafia Beach Pundit

Spending and Paying for Infrastructure Growth

Besides focusing on positive COVID trends, investors have also centered their attention on the passage of a $1.9 trillion stimulus bill last month and a new proposed $2.3 trillion infrastructure bill that President Biden unveiled details on yesterday. At the heart of the multi-trillion dollar spending are the following components (see also graphic below):

  • $621 billion modernize transportation infrastructure
  • $400 billion to assist the aging and disabled
  • $300 billion to boost the manufacturing industry
  • $213 billion to build and retrofit affordable housing
  • $100 billion to expand broadband access
Source: The Wall Street Journal

With over $28 trillion in government debt, how will all this spending be funded? According to The Fiscal Times, there are four main tax categories to help in the funding:

Corporate Taxes: Raising the corporate tax rate to 28% from 21% is expected to raise $730 billion over 10 years

Foreign Corporate Subsidiary Tax: A new global minimum tax on foreign subsidiaries of American corporations is estimated to raise $550 billion

Capital Gains Tax on Wealthy: Increasing income tax rates on capital gains for wealthy individuals is forecasted to raise $370 billion

Income Tax on Wealthy: Lifting the top individual tax rate back to 39.6% for households earning more than $400,000 per year is seen to bring in $110 billion

Besides the economy being supported by government spending, growth and appreciation in the housing market are contributing to GDP growth. The recently released housing data shows housing prices accelerating significantly above the peak levels last seen before the last financial crisis (see chart below).

Source: Calculated Risk

Although the economy appears to be on solid footing and stock prices have marched higher to new record levels, there are still plenty of potential factors that could derail the current bull market advance. For starters, increased debt and deficit spending could lead to rising inflation and higher interest rates, which could potentially choke off economic growth. Bad things can always happen when large financial institutions take on too much leverage (i.e., debt) and speculate too much (see also Long-Term Capital Management: When Genius Failed). The lesson from the latest, crazy blow-up (Archegos Capital Management) reminds us of how individual financial companies can cause billions in losses and cause ripple-through effects to the whole financial system. And if that’s not enough to worry about, you have rampant speculation in SPACs (Special Purpose Acquisition Companies), Reddit meme stocks (e.g., GameStop Corp. – GME), cryptocurrencies, and NFTs (Non-Fungible Tokens).

Successful investing requires a mixture of art and science – not everything is clear and you can always find reasons to be concerned. At Sidoxia Capital Management, we continue to find attractive opportunities as we strive to navigate through areas of excess speculation. At the end of the day, we remain disciplined in following our fundamental strategy and process that integrates the four key legs of our financial stool: corporate profits, interest rates, valuations, and sentiment (see also Don’t Be a Fool, Follow the Stool). As long as the balance of these factors still signal strength, we will remain confident in our outlook just like consumers and investors are currently.

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, 2021). 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 GME 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.

April 1, 2021 at 2:10 pm 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

A Recipe for Disaster

Justice does not always get served in the stock market because financial markets are not always efficient in the short-run (see Black-Eyes to Classic Economists). However, over the long-run, financial markets usually get it right. And when the laws of economics and physics are functioning properly, I must admit it, I do find it especially refreshing.

There can be numerous reasons for stocks to plummet in price, but common attributes to stock price declines often include profit losses and/or disproportionately high valuations (a.k.a. “bubbles”). Normally, your garden variety, recipe for disaster consists of one part highly valued company and one part money-losing operation (or deteriorating financials). The reverse holds true for a winning stock recipe. Flavorful results usually involve cheaply valued stocks paired with improving financial results.

Unfortunately, just because you have the proper recipe of investment ingredients, doesn’t mean you will immediately get to enjoy a satisfying feast. In other words, there isn’t a dinner bell rung to signal the timing of a crash or spike – sometimes there is a conspicuous catalyst and sometimes there is not. Frequently, investments require a longer expected bake time before the anticipated output is produced.

As I alluded to at the beginning of my post, justice is not always served immediately, but for some high profile IPOs, low-quality ingredients have indeed produced low-quality results.

Snap Inc. (SNAP): Let’s first start with the high-flying social media darling Snap, which priced its IPO at $17 per share in March, earlier this year. How can a beloved social media company that generates $515 million in annual revenue (up +286% in the recent quarter) see its stock plummet -48% from its high of $29.44 to $15.27 in just four short months? Well, one way of achieving these dismal results is to burn through more cash than you’re generating in revenue. Snap actually scorched through more than -$745 million dollars over the last year, as the company reported accounting losses of -$618 million (excluding -$2 billion of stock-based compensation expenses). We’ll find out if the financial bleeding will eventually stop, but even after this year’s stock price crash, investors are still giving the company the benefit of the doubt by valuing the company at $18 billion today.

Source: Barchart.com

Blue Apron Holdings Inc. (APRN): Online meal delivery favorite, Blue Apron, is another company suffering from the post-IPO blues. After initially targeting an opening IPO price of $15-$17 per share a few weeks ago, tepid demand forced Blue Apron executives to cut the price to $10. Fast forward to today, and the stock closed at $7.36, down -26% from the IPO price, and -57% below the high-end of the originally planned range. Although the company isn’t hemorrhaging losses at the same absolute level of Snap, it’s not a pretty picture. Blue Apron has still managed to burn -$83 million of cash on $795 million in annual sales. Unlike Snap (high margin advertising revenues), Blue Apron will become a low-profit margin business, even if the company has the fortune of reaching high volume scale. Even after considering Blue Apron’s $1 billion annual revenue run rate, which is 50% greater than Snap’s $600 million run-rate, Blue Apron’s $1.4 billion market value is sadly less than 10% of Snap’s market value.

Source: Barchart.com

Groupon Inc. (GRPN): Unlike Snap and Blue Apron, Groupon also has the flattering distinction of reporting an accounting profit, albeit a small one. However, on a cash-based analysis, Groupon looks a little better than the previous two companies mentioned, if you consider an annual -$7 million cash burn “better”. Competition in the online discounting space has been fierce, and as such, Groupon has experienced a competitive haircut in its share price. Groupon’s original IPO price was $20 in January 2011 before briefly spiking to $31. Today, the stock has languished to $4 (-87% from the 2011 peak).

Source: Barchart.com

Stock Market Recipe?

Similar ingredients (i.e., valuations and profit trajectory) that apply to stock performance also apply to stock market performance. Despite record corporate profits (growing double digits), low unemployment, low inflation, low-interest rates, and a recovering global economy, bears and even rational observers have been worried about a looming market crash. Not only have the broader masses been worried today, yesterday, last week, last month, and last year, but they have also been worried for the last nine years. As I have documented repeatedly (see also Market Champagne Sits on Ice), the market has more than tripled to new record highs since early 2009, despite the strong under-current of endless cynicism.

Historically market tops have been marked by a period of excesses, including excessive emotions (i.e., euphoria). It has been a long time since the last recession, but economic downturns are also often marked with excessive leverage (e.g., housing in the mid-2000s), excessive capital (e.g., technology IPOs [Initial Public Offerings] in the late-1990s), and excessive investment (e.g., construction / manufacturing in early-1990s).

To date, we have seen little evidence of these markers. Certainly there have been pockets of excesses, including overpriced billion dollar tech unicorns (see Dying Unicorns), exorbitant commercial real estate prices, and a bubble in global sovereign debt, but on a broad basis, I have consistently said stocks are reasonably priced in light of record-low interest rates, a view also held by Warren Buffett.

The key lessons to learn, whether you are investing in individual stocks or the stock market more broadly, are that prices will follow the direction of earnings over the long-run. This helps explain why stock prices always go down in recessions (and are volatile in anticipation of recessions).

If you are looking for a recipe for disaster, just find an overpriced investment with money-losing (or deteriorating) characteristics. Avoiding these investments and identifying investments with cheap growth qualities is much easier said than done. However, by mixing an objective, quantitative framework with more artistic fundamental analysis, you will be in a position of enjoying tastier returns.

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, SCM had no direct position in SNAP, APRN, GRPN, 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 the information to be relied on in making an investment or other decision. Please read disclosure language on IC Contact page.

 

July 14, 2017 at 11:54 pm 3 comments

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

Sweating Your Way to Investment Success

There are many ways to make money in the financial markets, but if this was such an easy endeavor, then everybody would be trading while drinking umbrella drinks on their private islands. I mean with all the bright blinking lights, talking baby day traders, and software bells and whistles, how difficult could it actually be?

Unfortunately, financial markets have a way of driving grown men (and women) to tears, usually when confidence is at or near a peak. The best investors leave their emotions at the door and follow a systematic disciplined process. Investing can be a meat grinder, but the good news is one does not need to have a 90% success rate to make it lucrative. Take it from Peter Lynch, who averaged a +29% return per year while managing the Magellan Fund at Fidelity Investments from 1977-1990. “If you’re terrific in this business you’re right six times out of 10,” says Lynch.

Sweating Way to Success

If investing is so tough, then what is the recipe for investment success? As the saying goes, money management requires 10% inspiration and 90% perspiration. Or as strategist and long-time investor Don Hays notes, “You are only right on your stock purchases and sales when you are sweating.” Buying what’s working and selling what’s not, doesn’t require a lot of thinking or sweating (see Riding the Wave), just basic pattern recognition. Universally loved stocks may enjoy the inertia of upward momentum, but when the music stops for the Wall Street darlings, investors rarely can hit the escape button fast enough. Cutting corners and taking short-cuts may work in the short-run, but usually ends badly.

Real profits are made through unique insights that have not been fully discovered by market participants, or in other words, distancing oneself from the herd. Typically this means investing in reasonably priced companies with significant growth prospects, or cheap out-of-favor investments. Like dieting, this is easy to understand, but difficult to execute. Pulling the trigger on unanimously hated investments or purchasing seemingly expensive growth stocks requires a lot of blood, sweat, and tears. Eating doughnuts won’t generate the conviction necessary to justify the valuation and excess expected return for analyzed securities.

Times Have Changed

Investing in stocks is difficult enough with equity fund flows hemorrhaging out of investor accounts like the asset class is going out of style. Stocks’ popularity haven’t been helped by the heightened volatility, as evidenced by the multi-year trend in the schizophrenic  volatility index (VIX) –  escalated by the international geopolitics and presidential elections. Globalization, which has been accelerated by technology, has only increased correlations between domestic market and international markets. In decades past,  concerns over economic activity in Iceland, Dubai, and Greece may not even make the back pages of The Wall Street Journal. Today, news travels at the speed of a “Tweet” and eventually results in a sprawling front page headline.

The equity investing game may be more difficult today, but investing for retirement has never been more important. Stuffing money under the mattress in Treasuries, money market accounts, CDs, or other conservative investments may feel good in the short run, but will likely not cover inflation associated with rising fuel, food, healthcare, and leisure costs. Regardless of your investment strategy, if your goal is to earn excess returns, you may want to check the moistness of your armpits – successful long-term investing requires a lot of sweat.

Wade W. Slome, CFA, CFP®

Plan. Invest. Prosper.

www.Sidoxia.com

DISCLOSURE: Sidoxia Capital Management (SCM) and some of its clients own certain exchange traded funds, but at the time of publishing SCM had no direct position in ETFC, VXX, 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 16, 2016 at 5:10 pm Leave a comment

Pulling the Band-Aid Off Slowly

Bandaid

Federal Reserve monetary policy once again came to the forefront as the Fed released its April minutes this week. After living through years of a ZIRP (Zero Interest Rate Policy) coupled with QE (Quantitative Easing), many market participants and commentators are begging for a swifter move back to “normalization” (a Federal Funds Rate target set closer to historical averages). The economic wounds from the financial crisis may be healing, as seen in the improving employment data, but rather than ripping off the interest rate Band-Aid quickly and putting the pain behind investors, the dovish Fed Chair Janet Yellen has been signaling for months the Fed will increase rates at a “gradual” pace.

Despite the more hawkish tone regarding the possibility of an additional rate hike in June, Fed interest rate futures are currently still only factoring in about a 26% probability of a rate increase in June. As I have been saying for years (see “Fed Fatigue”), there has, and will likely continue to be, an overly, hyper-sensitive focus on monetary policy and language disseminated by members of the Feral Reserve Open Market Committee.

For example, in 1994, despite the Fed increasing target rates by +2.5% in a single year (from 3.0% to 5.5%), stock prices finished roughly flat for the year, and the market resumed its decade-long bull market run the subsequent year. Today, the higher bound of Fed Funds sits at a mere 0.5%, and the Fed has announced only one target increase this cycle (equaling a fraction of the ’94 pace). Even if investors are panicking over another potential quarter point in June or July, can you say, “overkill?”

While the Fed is approaching the lower-end of the range for its employment mandate (unemployment currently sitting at 5%), despite the recent bounce in oil prices, core inflation remains in check (see Calafia Pundit chart below). This long-term benign pricing trend gives the Fed a longer leash as it relates to the pace of future rate hikes.

Source: Calafia Beach Pundit

Source: Calafia Beach Pundit

Sure, ripping off the Fed Band-Aid with a small handful of +0.5% (50 bps) hikes might appease hawkish investors, but Janet Yellen, the “Fed Fairy Godmother,” has made it abundantly clear she is in no hurry to raise rates. Whether there is zero, one, or two additional rate hikes this year is much less important than other fundamental factors. Adding fuel to the Fed-speak fire in the short-run will be Yellen speeches on May 27th at Harvard University and on June 6th at the World Affairs Council of Philadelphia. And then following that, we will have the “Brexit” referendum (i.e., the vote on whether Britain should exit the EU); a steady stream of election noise; and many other unanticipated economic/geopolitical headlines.

As I continually state, the key factors driving the direction of long-term stock prices are profits, interest rates, valuations, and sentiment (see Follow the Stool). Profits (ex-energy) are growing near record levels; interest rates are near record lows (even with potential 2016 hikes); valuations remain near historical averages; and sentiment regarding stock ownership is firing strongly as a positive contrarian indicator.

While many pundits have been calling for and predicting the Fed to rip the Band-Aid off with a swift string of rate increases, persistently low inflation, coupled with a consistently dovish Fed Chair are likely to lead to a slow peeling of the monetary policy Band-Aid. Unfortunately, the endless flow of irrelevant monetary policy guesswork regarding the timing of future rate hikes will be more painful than the actual hikes themselves. In the end, any future hikes should be justified with a stronger economic foundation, which should represent future strength, rather than future weakness.

investment-questions-border

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.

May 21, 2016 at 10:21 pm Leave a comment

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