Posts tagged ‘Investing Caffeine’

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

Markets Fly as Media Noise Goes By

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

That loud pitched noise is not a frightening scream from Halloween, but rather what you are likely hearing is the deafening noise coming from Washington D.C or cries from concerned Americans watching senseless acts of terrorism. Thanks to the explosion of real-time social media and smart phones, coupled with the divisive politics and depressing headlines blasted across all media outlets, it is almost impossible to ignore the daily avalanche of informational irrelevance.

As I have been writing for some time, the good news for long-term investors is the financial markets continue to plug their ears and ignore poisonous politics and the spread of F.U.D. (Fear, Uncertainty & Doubt). There is a financial benefit to turning off the TV and disregarding political rants over your Facebook feed. Regardless of your political views, President Trump’s approval ratings have objectively been going down, but that really doesn’t matter…the stock market keeps going up (see chart below).

Source: Bespoke

While politicians on both sides scream at each other, investment portfolios have been screaming higher. Stock prices are more focused on the items that really matter, which include corporate profits, interest rates, valuations (price levels), and sentiment (i.e., determining whether investors are too optimistic or too pessimistic). The proof is in the pudding. Stock prices continue to set new records, as witnessed by the 7th consecutive monthly high registered by the Dow Jones Industrial Average to a level of 23,377. For the month, these results translate into an astonishing +4.3% gain. For the year, this outcome equates to an even more impressive +18.3% return. This definitely beats the near-0% rate earned on your checking account and cash stuffed under the mattress.

On the surface, 2017 has been quite remarkable, but over the last decade, stock market returns have proved to be even more extraordinary. Bolstering my contention that politics rarely matter to your long-term pocketbook, one can simply observe history. We are now approaching the 10-year anniversary of the 2008-2009 Financial Crisis – arguably the worst recession experienced in a generation. Over the last decade, despite political power in Washington bouncing around like a hot potato, stock performance has skyrocketed. From early 2009, when the Dow briefly touched a low of 6,470, the index has almost quadrupled above the 23,000 threshold (see chart below).

Source: Barchart.com

To place this spectacular period into better context, one should look at the political control dynamics across Congress and the White House over the same time frame (see the right side of the chart below). Whether you can decipher the chart or not, anyone can recognize that the colors consistently change from red (Republican) to blue (Democrat), and then from blue to red.

More specifically, since the end of 2007, the Democrats have controlled the Senate for approximately 80% of the time; the Republicans have controlled the House of Representatives for 60% of the time; and the Oval Office has switched between three different presidents (two Republicans and one Democrat). And if that is not enough diversity for you, we have also had two Federal Reserve Chairs (Ben Bernanke and Janet Yellen) who controlled the world’s most powerful monetary system, and a Congressional mid-term election taking place in twelve short months. There are two morals to this story: 1) No matter how sad or excited you are about your candidate/political party, you can bank on the control eventually changing; and 2) One person alone cannot save the economy, nor can that same person singlehandedly crater the economy.

Source: Wikipedia

Waterfall of Worries

If you simply read the newspapers and watched the news on TV all day, you would be shocked to learn about the magnificent magnitude of this equity bull market. Reaching these new highs has not been a walk in the park for most investors. There certainly has been no shortage of issues to worry about, including the following:

  • Special Counsel Indictments: After the abrupt firing of former FBI Director James Comey by President Donald Trump, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein established a special counsel in May and appointed ex-FBI official and attorney Robert Mueller to investigate potential Russian meddling into the 2016 presidential elections. Just this week, Mueller indicted Paul Manafort, the former Trump campaign chairman, and Manafort’s business partner and Trump campaign volunteer, Rick Gates. The special counsel also announced the guilty plea of George Papadopoulos, a former foreign policy adviser for the Trump campaign who admitted lying to the FBI regarding interactions between Russian officials and the Trump campaign.
  • Terrorist Attacks: Senseless murders of eight people in New York  by a 29-year-old man from Uzbekistan, and 59 people shot dead by a 64-year-old shooter from a Las Vegas casino  have created a chilling blanket of concern over American psyches.
  • New Money Chief? The term of current Federal Reserve Chair, Janet Yellen, ends this February. President Trump has fueled speculation he will announce the appointment of a new Fed chief as early as this week. Although the president has recently praised Yellen, a registered Democrat, many pundits believe Trump wants to select Jerome Powell, a Republican, who currently sits on the Federal Board of Governors.
  • North Korea Rocket Launches: So far in 2017, North Korea has launched 22 missiles and tested a hydrogen bomb, while simultaneously threatening to fire missiles over the US territory of Guam and conduct an atmospheric nuclear test. Saber rattling has diminished somewhat in recent weeks since the last North Korean missile launch took place on September 15th. Nevertheless, tensions could rise at any moment, if missile launches resume.

Although media headlines are often depressing, F.U.D. will never go away – it’s only the list of worries that change over time. As noted earlier, the entrepreneurial DNA of the financial markets is focused on more important economic factors like the economy, rather than politics or terrorism. One barometer of economic health can be gauged by the chart below – Consumer Confidence is at the highest level since 2000.

Source: Bespoke

This trend is important because consumers make up approximately 70% of our nation’s economic output. Therefore, it should come as no surprise that Americans are feeling considerably better due to the following factors:

  • Strong Job Market: The 4.2% unemployment rate is at the lowest level in 16 years.
  • Strong Economy: Despite the dampening effect of the hurricanes, the economy is poised to register its best six-month performance of at least 3% growth in three years.
  • Strong Housing Market: Just-released data shows an acceleration in national home price appreciation by +6.1% compared to a year ago.
  • Low Interest Rates: Inflation has been low, credit has been cheap, and the Federal Reserve has been cautious in raising interest rates. These low rates have improved the affordability of credit, which has been stimulative for the economy.

Tax Reform Could be the Norm

The icing on the stock market cake has been the optimism surrounding the potential passage of tax reform, likely in the shape of corporate & personal tax cuts, foreign profit repatriation, and tax simplification. The process has been slow, but by passing a budget, the Republican-led Congress was able to pave the way for substantive new tax reform, something not seen since the Ronald Reagan administration, some 30-years ago. Everybody loves paying lower taxes, but victory cannot be claimed yet. Democrats and some fiscally conservative Republicans are not interested in exploding our country’s already-large deficits and debt levels. In order to achieve responsible tax legislation, Congress is looking to remove certain tax loopholes and is negotiating precious tax breaks such as mortgage interest deductibility, state/local tax deductibility, 401(k) tax incentives, and corporate interest expense deductibility, among many other possible iterations. Although corporate tax discussions have been heated, the chart below demonstrates individual income tax legislation is much more important for tax reform legislation because the government collects a much larger share of taxes from individuals vs. corporations.

Source: Calafia Beach Pundit

In spite of all the deafening political noise heard over social media and traditional media, it’s important to block out all the F.U.D. and concentrate on how to achieve your long-term financial goals. If you don’t have the time, energy, or emotional fortitude to follow a disciplined financial plan, I urge you to find an experienced investment advisor who is also a fiduciary. If you need assistance finding one, I am confident Sidoxia Capital Management can help you with this endeavor.

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) and FB, 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.

November 1, 2017 at 4:57 pm 1 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

Hot Dogs, Political Fireworks, and Our Nation’s Birthday

This article is an excerpt from a previously released Sidoxia Capital Management complimentary newsletter (July 3, 2017). Subscribe on the right side of the page for the complete text.

The 4th of July has arrived once again as we celebrate our country’s 241st birthday of independence. Besides being a time to binge on hot dogs, apple pie, fireworks, and baseball, this national holiday allows Americans to also reflect on the greatness created by our nation’s separation from the British Empire.

As our Founding Fathers fought for freedom and believed in a more prosperous future, I’m not sure if the signers of our Declaration of Independence (Below [left to right]: Roger Sherman, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, and Robert Livingston) envisioned a world with tweeting Presidents, driverless Uber taxis, internet dating, biotechnology medical breakthroughs, cloud storage, and countless other innovations that have raised the standard of living for billions of people around the world.

(These Founding Fathers may use different pictures for their Facebook profile, if they were alive today.)

I tend to agree with the wealthiest billionaire investor on the planet, Warren Buffett, that being born in the United States is the equivalent of winning the “Ovarian Lottery.” The opportunities for finding success are exponentially higher, if you were born in America vs. Bangladesh, for example. Surprisingly, the U.S. only accounts for about 4% of the global population (325 million out of 7.5 billion world total). However, even though we Americans make up such a small portion of the of the people on the planet, we still manage to generate over $18 trillion in goods and services, which makes us the world’s largest economy. As the #1 economy, we account for almost 25% of the world’s total economic output (see table & graphic below).

Rank Country GDP (Nominal, 2015) Share of Global Economy (%)
#1 United States $18.0 trillion 24.3%
#2 China $11.0 trillion 14.8%
#3 Japan $4.4 trillion 5.9%
#4 Germany $3.4 trillion 4.5%
#5 United Kingdom $2.9 trillion 3.9%

Source: Visual Capitalist

How do we create six times the output of our population (i.e., 4% of world’s population producing 25% of the world’s output)? Despite the nasty, imperfect, mudslinging politics we live through daily, the U.S. has perfected the art of capitalism, which has landed us on top of the economic Mt. Everest. Although, there is always room for improvement, culturally, the winning “entrepreneurial” strain is born into our American DNA. The recent merger announcement between Amazon.com Inc. (AMZN) and Whole Foods (WFM), the leading natural and organic foods supermarket, is evidence of this entrepreneurial strain. Amazon has come a long way and gained significant steam since its founding in July 1994 by CEO Jeff Bezos. Consequently, the momentum of this internet giant has it steamrolling the entire retail industry, which has led to a flood of store closings, including department store chains, Macy’s, J.C. Penney, Sears and Kmart. The Amazon-Whole Foods merger announcement was not a huge surprise to my family because we actually order more than half of our groceries from AmazonFresh (Amazon’s food delivery program). What’s more, since I despise shopping, I continually find myself taking advantage of Amazon’s “Prime Now” 2-hour delivery option to my office, which is free to all Prime subscribers. It won’t be long before Amazon’s multi-channel strategy will allow me to make same-day orders for groceries, electronics, and general merchandise from my office, then pick up those items on my way home from work at the local Whole Foods store.

Leading the Pack

Replicating this competitive advantage around the world is a challenge for competing countries, and our nation remains leap years ahead of others, regardless of their efforts. However, the United States does not have a monopoly on capitalism. We are slowly exporting our entrepreneurial secret sauce abroad with the help of technology and globalization. Just consider these three Chinese companies alone are valued at almost $1 trillion (Alibaba Group $360B [BABA]; Tencent Holdings $340B [TCEHY]; and China Mobile $220B [CHL]), and the largest expected IPO (Initial Public Offering) in the world could be a Saudi Arabian company valued at $2 trillion (Saudi Aramco). When 96% of the world’s population lies outside of the U.S., this reality helps explain why exporting our advancements should not be considered a bad thing. In fact, a growing international pie means more American jobs and more dollars will flow back to the U.S., as we export more value-added products and services abroad.

Even if other countries are narrowing the entrepreneurial competitive gap with the United States, we still remain a beacon of light for others to follow. Despite what you may read in the newspaper or hear on the TV, Americans are dramatically better off financially over the last 20 years. Not only has net worth increased spectacularly, but consumers have also responsibly reduced debt leverage ratios (see chart below).

Source: Calafia Beach Pundit

If you were a bright CEO working for an innovative new start-up company, would you choose to launch your company in a closed, censored society like China? How about a fractured Britain that is pushing to break away from the European Union? Better yet, how about Japan with its exploding debt levels, a declining population, and a stock market that is about half the level it peaked at 28 years ago? Do emerging markets like Brazil with widespread corruption scandals blanketing a new president (after a recently impeached president) seem like the best location for a hot new venture? The answer to all these questions is a resounding “no”, even when compared to the warts and flaws that come with our durable democracy.

Political Pyrotechnics

Besides the bombs bursting in air during the 4th of July celebration, there were plenty of political fireworks blasting in our nation’s capital last month. No matter what side of the political fence you stand on, last month was explosive. Consider ousted FBI Director Jim Comey’s impassioned testimony relating to his firing by President Donald Trump; the contentious Attorney General Jeff Sessions Senate Intelligence Committee interview; the politically driven Republican baseball shooting; and the Special Counsel leader Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference and potential Trump administration collusion into the 2016 elections.

Despite the combative atmosphere in Washington D.C., the stock market managed to notch another record high last month, with the Dow Jones Industrial Average index advancing another 340.98 points (+1.6%) for the month, and +8.0% for the first half of 2017. As I have written numerous times, the scary headlines accumulating since 2009 have prevented investors, strategists, economists, and even professionals from adequately participating in the almost quadrupling in stock prices since early 2009. Unfortunately, to the detriment of many, large swaths of investors who were burned by the 2008-2009 Financial Crisis have been scarred to almost permanent risk aversion. The fact of the matter is stock prices care more about economic factors than political / news headlines (see Moving on Beyond Politics).

The bitter, vitriolic political discourse is unlikely to disappear anytime soon, so do yourself a favor, and focus on the more important factors driving financial markets to new record highs – mainly corporate profits, interest rates, valuations, and sentiment (see Don’t Be a Fool). During this year’s 4th of July, partaking in hot dogs, apple pie, fireworks, and baseball are wholly encouraged, but please also take the time to celebrate and acknowledge the magnitude of our country’s greatness. That’s a birthday wish, I think we can all agree upon.

 

 

Wade W. Slome, CFA, CFP®

Plan. Invest. Prosper.

www.Sidoxia.com

DISCLOSURE: Sidoxia Capital Management (SCM) and some of its clients hold positions in AMZN and certain exchange traded funds (ETFs), but at the time of publishing had no direct position in WFM, BABA, TCEHY, CHL, 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 3, 2017 at 12:24 pm Leave a comment

No April Fool’s Joke – Another Record

This article is an excerpt from a previously released Sidoxia Capital Management complimentary newsletter (April 3, 2017). Subscribe on the right side of the page for the complete text.

Having children is great, but a disadvantage to having younger kids are the April Fool’s jokes they like to play on parents. Fortunately, this year was fairly benign as I only suffered a nail-polish covered bar of soap in the shower. However, what has not been a joke has been the serious series of new record highs achieved in the stock market. While it is true the S&P 500 index finished roughly flat for the month (-0.0%) after hitting new highs earlier in March, the technology-laden NASDAQ index continued its dominating run, advancing +1.5% in March contributing to the impressive +10% jump in the first quarter. For 2017, the NASDAQ supremacy has been aided by the stalwart gains realized by leaders like Apple Inc. (up +24%), Facebook Inc. (up +23%), and Amazon.com Inc. (up +18%). The surprising fact to many is that these records have come in the face of immense political turmoil – most recently President Trump’s failure to deliver on a campaign promise to repeal and replace the Obamacare healthcare system.

Like a broken record, I’ve repeated there are much more important factors impacting investment portfolios and the stock market other than politics (see also Politics Schmolitics). In fact, many casual observers of the stock market don’t realize we have been in the midst of a synchronized, global economic expansion, helped in part by the stabilization in the value of the U.S. dollar over the last couple of years.

Source: Investing.com

As you can see above, there was an approximate +25% appreciation in the value of the dollar in late-2014, early-2015. This spike in the value of the dollar suddenly made U.S. goods sold abroad +25% more expensive, resulting in U.S. multinational companies experiencing a dramatic profitability squeeze over a short period of time. The good news is that over the last two years the dollar has stabilized around an index value of 100. What does this mean? In short, this has provided U.S. multinational companies time to adjust operations, thereby neutralizing the currency headwinds and allowing the companies to return to profitability growth.

Source: Calafia Beach Pundit

And profits are back on the rise indeed. The six decade long chart above shows there is a significant correlation between the stock market (red line – S&P 500) and corporate profits (blue line). The skeptics and naysayers have been out in full force ever since the 2008-2009 financial crisis – I profiled these so-called “sideliners” in Get out of Stocks!.

As the stock market continues to hit new record highs, the doubters continue to scream danger. There will always be volatility, but when the richest investor of all-time, Warren Buffett, continues to say that stocks are still attractively priced, given the current interest rate environment, that goes a long way to assuage investor concerns.

Politically, a lot could still go wrong as it relates to healthcare, tax reform, and infrastructure spending, to name a few issues. However, it’s still early, and it’s possible positive surprises could also occur. More importantly, as I’ve noted before, corporate profits, interest rates, valuations, and investor sentiment are much more important factors than politics, and on balance these factors are on the favorable side of the ledger. These factors will have a larger impact on the long-term direction of stock prices.

With approval ratings of Congress and the President at low levels, investors have had trouble finding humor in politics, even on April Fool’s Day. Another significant factor more important than politics is the issue of retirement savings by Americans, which is no joke. As you finalize your tax returns in the coming weeks, it behooves you to revisit your retirement plan and investment portfolio. Inefficiently investing your money or outliving your savings is no laughing matter. I’ll continue with my disciplined financial plan and leave the laughing to my kids, as they enjoy planning their next April Fool’s Day prank.

Wade W. Slome, CFA, CFP®

Plan. Invest. Prosper.

www.Sidoxia.com

DISCLOSURE: Sidoxia Capital Management (SCM) and some of its clients hold positions in AAPL, FB, AMZN, 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 3, 2017 at 12:03 pm Leave a comment

Super Bowl Blitz – Dow 20,000

team

This article is an excerpt from a previously released Sidoxia Capital Management complimentary newsletter (February 3, 2017). Subscribe on the right side of the page for the complete text.

If you have been following the sports headlines, then you know the Super Bowl 51 NFL football championship game between the four-time champion New England Patriots and the zero-time champion Atlanta Falcons is upon us. It’s that time of the year when more than 100 million people will congregate in front of big screen TVs across our nation and stare at ludicrous commercials (costing $5 million each); watch a semi-entertaining halftime show; and gorge on thousands of calories until stomachs bloat painfully.

The other headlines blasting across the media airwaves relate to the new all-time record milestone of 20,000 achieved by the Dow Jones Industrials Average (a.k.a., “The Dow”). For those people who are not glued to CNBC business television all day, the Dow is a basket of 30 large company stocks subjectively selected by the editors of the Wall Street Journal with the intent of creating an index that can mimic the overall economy. A lot of dynamics in our economy have transformed over the Dow’s 132 year history (1885), so it should come as no surprise that the index’s stock components have changed 51 times since 1896 – the most recent change occurred in March 2015 when Apple Inc. (AAPL) was added to the Dow and AT&T Inc. (T) was dropped.

20,000 Big Deal?

The last time the Dow closed above 10,000 was on March 29, 1999, so it has taken almost 18 years to double to 20,000. Is the Dow reaching the 20,000 landmark level a big deal in the whole scheme of things? The short answer is “No”. It is true the Dow can act as a fairly good barometer of the economy over longer periods of time. Over the 1998 – 2017 timeframe, economic activity has almost doubled to about $18 trillion (as measured by Gross Domestic Product – GDP) with the added help of a declining interest rate tailwind.

In the short-run, stock indexes like the Dow have a spottier record in correlating with economic variables. At the root of short-term stock price distortions are human behavioral biases and emotions, such as fear and greed. Investor panic and euphoria ultimately have a way of causing wild stock price overreactions, which in turn leads to poor decisions and results. We saw this firsthand during the inflation and subsequent bursting of the 2000 technology bubble. If that volatility wasn’t painful enough, last decade’s housing collapse, which resulted in the 2008-2009 financial crisis, is a constant reminder of how extreme emotions can lead to poor decision-making. For professionals, short-term volatility and overreactions provide lucrative opportunities, but casual investors and novices left to their own devices generally destroy wealth.

As I have discussed on my Investing Caffeine blog on numerous occasions, the march towards 20,000 occurred in the middle of arguably the most hated bull market in a generation or two (see The Most Hated Bull Market). It wasn’t until recently that the media began fixating on this arbitrary new all-time record high of 20,000. My frustration with the coverage is that the impressive phenomenon of this multi-year bull market advance has been largely ignored, in favor of gloom and doom, which sells more advertising – Madison Avenue execs enthusiastically say, “Thank you.” While the media hypes these stock records as new, this phenomenon is actually old news. In fact, stocks have been hitting new highs over the last five years (see chart below).

dji-07-17

More specifically, the Dow has hit consecutive, new all-time record highs in each year since 2013. This ignored bull market (see Gallup survey) may not be good for the investment industry, but it can be good for shrewd long-term investors, who react patiently and opportunistically.

Political Football

In Washington, there’s a different game currently going on, and it’s a game of political football. With a hotly contentious 2016 election still fresh in the minds of many voters, a subset of unsatisfied Americans are closely scrutinizing every move of the new administration. Love him or hate him, it is difficult for observers to accuse President Trump of sitting on his hands. In the first 11 days of his presidential term alone, Trump has been very active in enacting almost 20 Executive Orders and Memoranda (see the definitional difference here), as he tries to make supporters whole with his many previous campaign trail promises. The persistently increasing number of policies is rising by the day (…and tweet), and here’s a summarizing list of Trump’s executive actions so far:

  • Refugee Travel Ban
  • Keystone & Dakota Pipelines
  • Border Wall
  • Deportations/Sanctuary Cities
  • Manufacturing Regulation Relief
  • American Steel
  • Environmental Reviews
  • Affordable Care Act Requirements
  • Border Wall
  • Exit TPP Trade Deal
  • Federal Hiring Freeze
  • Federal Abortion Freeze
  • Regulation Freeze
  • Military Review
  • ISIS Fight Plan
  • Reorganization of Security Councils
  • Lobbyist Bans
  • Deregulation for Small Businesses

President Trump has thrown another political football bomb with his recent nomination of Judge Neil Gorsuch (age 49) to the Supreme Court in the hopes that no penalty flags will be thrown by the opposition. Gorsuch, the youngest nominee in 25 years, is a conservative federal appeals judge from Colorado who is looking to fill the seat left open by last year’s death of Justice Antonin Scalia at the age 79.

Politics – Schmolitics

When it comes to the stock market and the economy, many people like to make the president the hero or the scapegoat. Like a quarterback on the football field, the president certainly has influence in shaping the political and economic game plan, but he is not the only player. There is an infinite number of other factors that can (and do) contribute to our country’s success (or lack thereof).

Those economic game-changing factors include, but are not limited to: Congress, the Federal Reserve, Supreme Court, consumer sentiment, trade policy, demographics, regulations, tax policy, business confidence, interest rates, technology proliferation, inflation, capital investment, geopolitics, terrorism, environmental disruptions, immigration, rate of productivity, fiscal policy, foreign relations, sanctions, entitlements, debt levels, bank lending, mergers and acquisitions, labor rules, IPOs (Initial Public Offerings), stock buybacks, foreign exchange rates, local/state/national elections, and many, many, many other factors.

Regardless to which political team you affiliate, if you periodically flip through your social media stream (e.g., Facebook), or turn on the nightly news, you too have likely suffered some sort of political fatigue injury. As Winston Churchill famously stated, “Democracy is the worst form of government except for all the other forms that have been tried from time to time.”

When it comes to your finances, getting excited over Dow 20,000 or despondent over politics is not a useful or efficient strategy. Rather than becoming emotionally volatile, you will be better off by focusing on building (or executing) your long-term investment plan. Not much can be accomplished by yelling at a political charged Facebook rant or screaming at your TV during a football game, so why not calmly concentrate on ways to control your future (financial or otherwise). Actions, not fear, get results. Therefore, if this Super Bowl Sunday you’re not ready to review your asset allocation, budget your annual expenses, or contemplate your investment time horizon, then at least take control of your future by managing some nacho cheese dip and handling plenty of fried chicken.

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 AAPL, T, 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.

February 4, 2017 at 8:02 am Leave a comment

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