Posts tagged ‘President Trump’

Will Santa Leave a Lump of Coal?

As we enter the last month of the year, the holiday season is kicking into full gear, decorations are popping up everywhere, and the burning question arises, “Will Santa Claus bring gifts for stock market investors, or will he leave a lump of coal in their stockings?”

It was a bumpy sleigh ride last month, but we ultimately entered December in a festive mood with joyful monthly gains of +1.7% in the Dow Jones Industrial Average, and +1.8% in the S&P 500. There have been some naughty and nice factors leading to some turbulent but modest gains in 2018. For the first 11 months of the year, the Dow has rejoiced with a +3.3% advance, and the S&P 500 has celebrated a rise of +3.2% – and these results exclude additional dividends of approximately 2%.

Despite the monthly gains, not everything has been sugar plums. President Trump has been repeatedly sparring with the Federal Reserve Chairman, Jerome Powell, treating him more like the Grinch due to his stingy interest rate increases than Santa. As stockholders have contemplated the future path of interest rates, the major stock indexes temporarily slipped into negative territory for the year, until Mr. Powell gave stock and bond investors an early Christmas present last week by signaling interest rates are “just below” the nebulous neutral target. The dovish comment implied we are closer to the end of the economy-slowing rate-hike cycle than we are to the beginning.

Trade has also contributed to the recent spike in stock market volatility, despite the fresh establishment of the trade agreement reached between the U.S., Mexico, and Canada (USMCA – U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement), a.k.a., NAFTA 2.0. Despite the positive progress with our Mexican and Canadian neighbors, uncertainty surrounding our country’s trade relations with China has been challenging due to multiple factors including, Chinese theft of American intellectual property, cyber-attacks, forced technology transfer, agricultural trade, and other crucial issues. Fortunately, optimism for a substantive agreement between the world’s two super-powers advanced this weekend at the summit of the Group of 20 nations in Argentina, when a truce was reached to delay an additional $200 billion in tariffs for 90 days, while the two countries further negotiate in an attempt to finalize a comprehensive trade pact.

Source:  Financial Times

Economic Tailwinds

Besides positive developments on the interest rate and trade fronts, the economy has benefited from tailwinds in some other important areas, such as the following:

Low Unemployment: The economy keeps adding jobs at a healthy clip with the unemployment rate reaching a 48-year low of 3.7%.

Source: Calculated Risk

Rising Consumer Confidence: Although there was a slight downtick in the November Consumer Confidence reading, you can see the rising long-term, 10-year trend has been on a clear upward trajectory.

Source: Chad Moutray

Solid Economic Growth: As the chart below indicates, the last two quarters of economic growth, measured by GDP (Gross Domestic Product), have been running at multi-year highs. Forecasts for the 4th quarter currently stand at a respectable mid-2% range.

Source: BEA

Uncertain Weather Forecast

Although the majority of economic data may have observers presently singing “Joy to the World,” the uncertain political weather forecast could require Rudolph’s red-nose assistance to navigate the foggy climate. The mid-term elections have created a split Congress with the Republicans holding a majority in the Senate, and the Democrats gaining control of the House of Representatives. As we learned in the last presidential term, gridlock is not necessarily a bad thing (see also, Who Said Gridlock is Bad?). For instance, a lack of government control can place more power in the hands of the private sector. Political ambiguity also surrounds the timing and outcome of Robert Mueller’s Special Counsel investigation into potential Russian interference and collusion, however as I have continually reminded followers, there are more important factors than politics as it relates to the performance of the stock market (see also, Markets Fly as Media Noise Goes By).

From an economic standpoint, some speculative areas have been pricked – for example the decline in FAANG stocks or the burst of the Bitcoin bubble as the price has declined from roughly $19,000 from its peak to roughly $4000 today (see chart below).

Source: Coindesk

On the housing front, unit sales of new and existing homes have not been immune to the rising interest rate policies of the Federal Reserve. Nevertheless, as you can witness below, housing prices remain at all-time record high prices, according to the recent Case-Shiller data.

Source: Calculated Risk

I like to point out to my investors there is never a shortage of things to worry about. Even when the economy is Jingle Bell Rocking, the issues of inflation and Fed policy inevitably begin to creep into investor psyches. While prognosticators and talking heads will continue trying to forecast whether Santa Claus will place presents or coal into investors’ stockings this season, at Sidoxia we understand predictions are a fool’s errand. Regardless of Santa’s generosity (or lack thereof), we continue to find attractive opportunities for our investors, as we look to balance the risk and rewards presented to us during both stable and volatile periods.

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 (December 3, 2018). Subscribe on the right side of the page for the complete text.

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

December 3, 2018 at 5:58 pm Leave a comment

Arm Wrestling the Economy & Tariffs

 

Financial markets have been battling back and forth like a championship arm-wrestling match as economic and political forces continue to collide. Despite these clashing dynamics, capitalism won the arm wrestling match this month as investors saw the winning results of the Dow Jones Industrial Average adding +4.7% and the S&P 500 index advancing +3.6%.

Fueling the strength this month was U.S. economic activity, which registered robust 2nd quarter growth of +4.1% – the highest rate of growth achieved in four years (see below).

The job market is on fire too with U.S. jobless claims hitting their lowest level in 48 years (see chart below). This chart shows the lowest number of people in a generation are waiting in line to collect unemployment checks.

Source: Dr. Ed’s Blog

If that isn’t enough, so far, the record corporate profits being reported for Q2 are up a jaw-dropping +23.5% from a year ago. What can possibly be wrong?

Excess Supply of Concern

While the economic backdrop is largely positive, there is never a shortage of things to worry about – even during decade-long bull market of appreciation. More specifically, investors have witnessed the S&P 500 index more than quadruple from a March 2009 low of 666 to 2,816 today (+322%). Despite the massive gains achieved over the last decade, there have been plenty of volatility and geopolitics to worry about. Have you already forgotten about the Flash Crash, Arab Spring, Occupy Wall Street, Government Shutdowns, Sequestration, Taper Tantrum, Ebola, Iranian nuclear threat, plunging oil prices, skyrocketing oil prices, Brexit, China scares, Elections, and now tariffs, trade, and the Federal Reserve monetary policy?

Today, tariffs, trade, Federal Reserve monetary policy, and inflation are top-of-mind investor concerns, but history insures there will be new issues to worry about tomorrow. Ever since the bull market began a decade ago, there have been numerous perma-bears incorrectly calling for a deathly market collapse, and I have written a substantial amount about these prognosticators’ foggy crystal balls (see Emperor Schiff Has No Clothes [2009] & Clashing Views with Dr. Roubin [2009]. While these doomsdayers get a lot less attention today, similar bears like John Hussman, who like a broken record, has erroneously called for a market crash every year for the last seven years (click chart link).

Although many investment accounts are up over the last 10 years, many people quickly forget it has not been all rainbows and unicorns. While the stock market has more than quadrupled in value since 2009, we have lived through about a dozen alarming corrections, including the worrisome -12% pullback we experienced in February. If we encounter another -5 -10% correction this year, this is perfectly healthy, normal, and should not be surprising. More often than not, these temporary drops provide opportunistic openings to scoop up valued bargains.

Longtime readers and followers of Sidoxia’s investment philosophy and Investing Caffeine understand the majority of these economic predictions and political headlines are useless noise. Social media, addiction to smart phones, and the 24/7 news cycle create imaginary, scary mountains out of harmless molehills. As I have preached for years, the stock market does not care about politics and opinions – the stock market cares about 1) corporate profits (at record levels) – see chart below; 2) interest rates (rising, but still near historically low levels); 3) the price of the stock market/valuation (which is getting cheaper as profits soar from tax cuts); and 4) sentiment (a favorable contrarian indicator until euphoria kicks in).

Source: Dr. Ed’s Blog

Famed investor manager, Peter Lynch, who earned +29% annually from 1977-1990 also urged investors to ignore attempts of predicting the direction of the economy. Lynch stated, “I’ve always said if you spend 13 minutes a year on economics, you’ve wasted 10 minutes.”

I pay more attention to successful long-term investors, like Warren Buffett (the greatest investor of all-time), who remains optimistic about the stock market. As I’ve noted before, although we remain constructive on the markets over the intermediate to long-term periods, nobody has been able to consistently prophesize about the short-term direction of financial markets.

At Sidoxia, rather than hopelessly try to predict every twist and turn in the market, or react to every meaningless molehill, we objectively analyze the available data without getting emotional, and then take advantage of the opportunities presented to us in the marketplace. Certain asset classes, stocks, and bonds, will constantly move in and out of favor, which allows us to continually find new opportunities. A contentious arm wrestling struggle between uncertain tariffs/rising interest rates and stimulative tax cuts/strong economy is presently transpiring. As always, we will continually monitor the evolving data, but for the time being, the economy is flexing its muscle and winning the battle.

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 (August 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.

August 1, 2018 at 2:41 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

‘Tis the Season for Giving

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

Holiday season is in full swing, and that means it’s the primetime period for giving. The stock market has provided its fair share of giving to investors in the form of a +2.7% monthly return in the S&P 500 index (up +18% in 2017). For long-term investors, stocks have been the gift that keeps on giving. As we approach the 10-year anniversary of the 2008 Financial Crisis, stocks have returned +68% from the October 2007 peak and roughly +297% from the March 2009 low. If you include the contributions of dividends over the last decade, these numbers look even more charitable.

Compared to stocks, however, bonds have acted more like a stingy Ebenezer Scrooge than a generous Mother Theresa. For the year, the iShares Core Aggregate bond ETF (AGG) has returned a meager +1%, excluding dividends. Contributing to the lackluster bond results has been the Federal Reserve’s miserly monetary policy, which will soon be managed under new leadership. In fact, earlier this week, Jerome Powell began Congressional confirmation hearings as part of the process to replace the current Fed chair, Janet Yellen. As the Dow Jones Industrial Average rose for the 8th consecutive month to 24,272 (the longest winning streak for the stock index in 20 years), investors managed to take comfort in Powell’s commentary because he communicated a steady continuation of Yellen’s plan to slowly reverse stimulative policies (i.e., raise interest rate targets and bleed off assets from the Fed’s balance sheet).

Because the pace of the Federal Funds interest rate hikes have occurred glacially from unprecedented low levels (0%), the resulting change in bond prices has been relatively meager thus far in 2017. In that same deliberate vein, the Fed is meeting in just a few weeks, with the expectation of inching the Federal Funds rate higher by 0.25% to a target level of 1.5%. If confirmed, Powell plans to also chip away at the Fed’s gigantic $4.5 trillion balance sheet over time, which will slowly suck asset-supporting liquidity out of financial markets.

Economy Driving Stocks and Interest Rates Higher

Presents don’t grow on trees and stock prices also don’t generally grow without some fundamental underpinnings. With the holidays here, consumers need money to fulfill the demanding requests of gift-receiving individuals, and a healthy economy is the perfect prescription to cure consumers’ empty wallet and purse sickness.

Besides the Federal Reserve signaling strength by increasing interest rates, how do we know the economy is on firm footing? While economic growth may not be expanding at a barn-burning rate, there still are plenty of indications the economy keeps chugging along. Here are a few economic bright spots to highlight:

  • Accelerating GDP Growth: As you can see from the chart below, broad economic growth, as measured by Gross Domestic Product (GDP), accelerated to a very respectable +3.3% growth rate during the third quarter of 2017 (the fastest percentage gain in three years). These GDP calculations are notoriously volatile figures, nevertheless, the recent results are encouraging, especially considering these third quarter statistics include the dampening effects of Hurricane Harvey and Irma.

Source: Bloomberg

  • Recovering Housing Market: The housing market may not have rebounded as quickly and sharply as the U.S. stock market since the Financial Crisis, but as the chart below shows, new home sales have been on a steady climb since 2011. What’s more, a historically low level of housing inventory should support the continued growth in home prices and home sales for the foreseeable future. The confidence instilled from rising home equity values should also further encourage consumers’ cash and credit card spending habits.

Source: Calculated Risk

  • Healthy Employment Gains: Growth in the U.S. coupled with global synchronous economic expansion in Europe, Asia, and South America have given rise to stronger corporate profits and increased job hiring. The graph highlighted below confirms the 4.1% unemployment rate is the lowest in 17 years, and puts the current rate more than 50% below the last peak of 10.0% hit in 2009.

Source: Calculated Risk

Turbo Tax Time

Adding fuel to the confidence fire is the prospect of the president signing the TCJA (Tax Cuts and Jobs Act). At the time this article went to press, Congress was still feverishly attempting to vote on the most significant tax-code changes since 1986. Republicans by-and-large all want tax reform and tax cut legislation, but the party’s narrow majority in the House and Senate leaves little wiggle room for disagreement. Whether compromises can be met in the coming days/weeks will determine whether a surprise holiday package will be delivered this year or postponed by the Grinch.

Unresolved components of the tax legislation include, the feasibility of cutting the corporate tax rate from 35% to 20%; the deductibility of state and local income taxes (SALT); the potential implementation of a tax cut limit “trigger”, if forecasted economic growth is not achieved; the potential repeal of the estate tax (a.k.a., “death tax”); mortgage interest deductibility; potential repeal of the Obamacare individual mandate; the palatability of legislation expanding deficits by $1 trillion+; debates over the distribution of tax cuts across various taxpayer income brackets; and other exciting proposals that will heighten accountants’ job security, if the TCJA is instituted.

Bitcoin Bubble?

If you have recently spent any time at the watercooler or at a cocktail party, you probably have not been able to escape the question of whether the digital blockchain currency, Bitcoin, is an opportunity of a lifetime or a vehicle to crush your financial dreams to pieces (see Bitcoin primer).

Let’s start with the facts: Bitcoin’s value traded below $1,000 at the beginning of this year and hit $11,000 this week before settling around $10,000 at month’s end (see chart below). In addition, blogger Josh Brown points out the scary reality that “Bitcoin has already crashed by -80% on five separate occasions over the last few years.” Suffice it to say, transacting in a currency that repeatedly loses 80% of its value can pose some challenges.

Source: CoinMarketCap.com  

Bubbles are not a new phenomenon. Not only have I lived through numerous bubbles, but I have also written on the topic (see also Sleeping and Napping through Bubbles). I find the Dutch Tulip Bulb Mania that lasted from 1634 – 1637 to be the most fascinating financial bubble of all (see chart below). At the peak of the euphoria, individual Dutch tulip bulbs were selling for the same prices as homes ($61,700 on an inflation-adjusted basis), and one historical account states 12 acres of land were offered for a single tulip bulb.

Forecasting the next peak of any speculative bubble is a fool’s errand in my mind, so I choose to sit on the sidelines instead. While I may be highly skeptical of the ethereal value placed on Bitcoin and other speculative markets (i.e. ICOs – Initial Coin Offerings), I fully accept the benefits of the digital blockchain payment technology and also acknowledge Bitcoin’s value could more than double from here. However, without any tangible or intellectual process of valuing the asset, history may eventually place Bitcoin in the same garbage heap as the 1630 tulips.

For some of you out there, if you are anything like me, your digestion system is still recovering from the massive quantities of food consumed over the Thanksgiving holiday. However, when it comes to your personal finances, digesting record-breaking stock performance, shifting Federal Reserve monetary policy, tax legislation, and volatile digital currencies can cause just as much heartburn. In the spirit of “giving”, if you are having difficulty in chewing through all the cryptic economic and political noise, “give” yourself a break by contacting an experienced, independent, professional advisor. That’s definitely a gift you deserve!

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.

December 2, 2017 at 6:30 am 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

What’s Important? Moving on Beyond Politics…

On a daily basis we turn on the TV or read about Democrats screaming at Republicans, or vice versa. Despite screams from the opposition, a Democratically-led Congress was able to successfully push Obamacare through the House and Senate in 2010 in a partisan fashion. The Republicans, however, were unable to jam repeal Obamacare legislation seven years later – at least on their first attempt.

While many Americans who sit at the opposite end of the political spectrum continue to scream at each other until they’re purple in the face, data indicates it is the Independents who are controlling the outcomes of elections. More specifically, a recent Gallup poll shows that 43% of voters identify as political independents, while over the last decade the percentage of voters identifying themselves with the traditional parties of Democrats and Republicans have declined to 30% and 26%, respectively.

It is true, President Trump potentially has a very limited party majority window before next year’s midterm elections. While Republicans do currently have an advantage over Democrats, as I’ve stated before, there are more important issues than these political ones, especially when it relates to your finances.

Whether the discussion revolves around healthcare, tax reform, defense spending, or immigration, the amount of influence you as a voter have on the political outcomes pales in comparison to the amount of control you ultimately have over your personal financial situation. As I’ve written in the past (see also Getting to Your Number), creating a secure financial plan will impact your long-term monetary success much more than senseless cheering or screaming for Obamacare’s long-run success or failure.

More critical than focusing on politics, the importance of calculating your budget, income sources, time horizon, and risk tolerance should be higher priorities. Everybody’s personal situation is different, therefore it is essential to explore a variety of other essential questions, including the following:

  • How many more years do you plan to work?
  • How much income will you need in retirement?
  • What is your expected return on investments, given your asset allocation?
  • How much debt do you presently have, and what are your plans to reduce it?
  • What are the probabilities of you gaining an inheritance, and at what estimated value?
  • Do you have an estate plan in place?
  • Do you have children, and if so, what are your educational goals, and what type of inheritance or financial support are you looking to provide your children?

Since every investor’s situation is unique, there are plenty of other items to investigate. Politics is a state of mind, so don’t let the vicissitudes of Washington DC affect your long-term financial well-being.

Wade W. Slome, CFA, CFP®

Plan. Invest. Prosper.

www.Sidoxia.com

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 27, 2017 at 12:13 am Leave a comment


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