Posts tagged ‘Trump’

The COVID Comeback

Rocky Balboa (“The Italian Stallion”) the underdog boxer from the movie, Rocky, was down and out until he was given the opportunity to fight World Heavyweight Champion, Apollo Creed. Like the stock market during early 2020, Rocky was up against the ropes and got knocked down, but eventually he picked himself up and rebounded to victory in his rematch with Creed.

The stock market comeback also persisted last month as the COVID-19 pandemic health situation continued to stabilize and the broader economy accelerated business re-openings. For the month, the Dow Jones Industrial Average increased +4.3% (+1,037 points to 25,383), while the S&P 500 index bounced+5.3%, and the NASDAQ catapulted the most by +6.8%.

How can the stock market (i.e., the Dow) rebound +39%, or more than 7,100 points, from the March 2020 lows? The large move is even more surprising once you consider 41 million people have lost their jobs since the epidemic hit American soil (see chart below), and COVID-19 related deaths have climbed to over 100,000 people.

Source: PBS

Getting Back to Fighting Shape

By the time we reached Rocky VI, Rocky Balboa was retired and recovered from brain damage. But Rocky is no quitter, and he trained himself into championship fighting condition and got back into the boxing ring. With unemployment rates approaching Great Depression levels, the U.S. economy has been experiencing challenging circumstances as well – a self-induced coma (shutdown). Fortunately, our country has been slowly recovering day-by-day, and week-by-week. The economy may not be back to peak fighting shape, but activity is slowly and consistently getting better.

There are many different perspectives in looking at this extremely complex, unprecedented coronavirus pandemic. The speed and pace of selling stocks during February and March reached radically-high panic levels, as measured by objective indicators like the Volatility Index (i.e., the VIX – or Fear Gauge). However, like a coiled spring, the stock market sprung back up during April and May as stay-at-home orders and quarantine measures around the world significantly bent the curve of COVID-19 infections and deaths (see chart below). As you can see, with the exception of a few countries globally (e.g., Brazil and Russia), the number of daily confirmed deaths has been broadly declining for many weeks.

Source: Our World in Data

Estimated infections have been coming down as well, according to the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IMHE). IMHE estimates also show the number of daily infections has consistently been coming down over the last couple months.

Source: IMHE

In addition to the stay-at-home orders and social distancing protocols, what has also contributed to the declines in COVID-19 deaths and infections? Two words…”increased testing.” Although, arguably COVID-19 testing got off to a rough start, as seen in the chart below, nevertheless daily tests have risen dramatically over the last couple months from about 100,000 per day to roughly 500,000 per day (see chart below). Increased testing capacity has and will continue to help better control the spread (or lack thereof) of the virus.

Source: Calculated Risk

Not only has the spread of the coronavirus been substantially mitigated, but the fighting economy has also received an adrenaline shot in the form of trillions of dollars of fiscal and monetary support as I described in my previous article ( see also Recovering from the Coma).

Investors Need to Keep Guard Up

Like Rocky Balboa, the U.S. is a strong, respected fighter but even though strength is being regained, the economy and stock market is susceptible to a surprise upper-cut punch or hook. What could potentially hurt the financial comeback?

  • Flare Ups & Second Wave: As cities, counties, and states carry on with expanded business openings, we could experience “flare ups” of COVID-19 infections or a “second wave.” But the good news is, we should be in much better shape to handle these scenarios thanks to expanded stockpiles of ventilators; larger supplies of PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) for frontline workers; increased production of therapeutic drugs like remdesivir from Gilead Sciences Inc. (GILD); and improved contact tracing from the magnified number of tests. And this analysis doesn’t even contemplate the more  than 100 vaccines being developed (i.e., a potential cure) for COVID-19, which could be available in limited quantities as early as the end of this year.
  • Social Unrest: The death of George Floyd, an African-American man who died after a Minneapolis police officer forcefully restrained George by keeping his knee on his neck, which triggered lethal complications to the victim. As a result, nationwide racial injustice protests and disruptive violence have erupted, thereby forcing government intervention with the hope of limiting violence and damage caused by non-peaceful protesters.
  • Strained Relations with China Due to Actions in Hong Kong: Recent political actions mandated by the Chinese government to strip autonomy from Hong Kong has strained relations with the United States, and progress made with the previous U.S. – China trade deal could erode.
  • Inflation: Despite no near-term evidence of rising prices, the unparalleled increase of trillions of dollars in fiscal debt and deficits has the credible long-term potential of creating incendiary inflation that could burn through consumers’ buying power.

Rocky Balboa faced many formidable foes in the boxing ring, including Clubber Lang (Mr. T) and Russian Ivan Drago, but Rocky survived and persevered. The stock market is bound to face future punches from unforeseen challengers in the form of impending known and unknown threats, but the alarmist calls for a COVID knockout appear to be overstated.

www.Sidoxia.com

Wade W. Slome, CFA, CFP®

Plan. Invest. Prosper.

This article is an excerpt from a previously released Sidoxia Capital Management complimentary newsletter (June 1, 2020). 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 GILD 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.

June 1, 2020 at 1:26 pm Leave a comment

Missing the Financial Forest for the Political Trees

forest

In the never-ending, 24/7, polarizing political news cycle, headlines of Ukraine phone calls, China trade negotiations, impeachment hearings, presidential elections, Federal Reserve monetary policy, and other Washington based stories have traders and news junkies glued to their phones, Twitter feeds, news accounts, blog subscriptions, and Facebook stories. However, through the incessant, deafening noise, many investors are missing the overall financial forest as they get lost in the irrelevant D.C. details.

Meanwhile, as many investors fall prey to the mesmerizing, but inconsequential headlines, financial markets have not fallen asleep or gotten distracted. The S&P 500 stock market index rose another +1.7% last month, and for the year, the index has registered a +18.7% return. As we enter the volatile fourth quarter, many stock market participants remain shell-shocked from last year’s roughly -20% temporary collapse, even though the S&P 500 subsequently rallied +29% from the 2018 trough to the 2019 peak.

Why are many people missing the financial forest? A big key to the significant rally in 2019 stock prices can be attributed to two words…interest rates. Unlike last year’s fourth quarter, when the Federal Reserve was increasing interest rates (i.e., tapping the economic brakes), this year the Fed is cutting rates (i.e., hitting the economic accelerator). Interest rates are a key leg to Sidoxia’s financial four-legged stool (see Don’t Be a Fool, Follow the Stool). Interest rates are at or near generational lows, depending where on the geographic map you reside. For example, interest rates on 10-year German government bonds are -0.55%. Yes, it’s true. If you were to invest $10,000 in a negative yielding -0.55% German bond for 10-years starting in 2019, if you held the bond until maturity (2029), the investor would get back less than the original $10,000 invested. In other words, many bond investors are choosing to pay bond issuers for the privilege of giving the issuers money for the unpalatable right of receiving less money in the future.

The unprecedented negative-yielding bond market is reaching epic proportions, having eclipsed $17 trillion globally (see chart below). This gargantuan and growing dollar figure of negative-yielding bonds defies common sense and feels very reminiscent of the panic buying of technology stocks in the late 1990s.

negative yield crop

Source: Bloomberg

At Sidoxia Capital Management, we are implementing proprietary fixed income strategies to navigate this negative interest rate environment. However, the plummeting interest rates and skyrocketing bond prices only make our bond investing job tougher. On the other hand, declining rates, all else equal, also make my stock-picking job easier. Nevertheless, many market participants have gotten lost in the financial trees. More specifically, investors are losing sight of the key tenet that money goes where it is treated best (go where yields are highest and valuations lowest). With many bonds yielding low or negative interest rates, bond investors are being treated like criminals forced to serve jail time and pay large fines because future returns will become much tougher to accrue. In my Investing Caffeine blog, I have been writing about how the stock market’s earnings yield (current approximating +5.5%) and the S&P dividend yield of about +1.9% are handily outstripping the +1.7% yield on the 10-Year Treasury Note (see Going Shopping: Chicken vs. Beef ).

Unless our economy falls into a prolonged recession, interest rates spike substantially higher, or stock prices catapult appreciably, then any decline in stock prices will likely be temporary. Fortunately, the economy appears to be chugging along, albeit at a slower rate. For instance, 3rd quarter GDP (Gross Domestic Product) estimates are hovering around +2.0%.

Low Rates Aid Housing Market

Thanks to low interest rates, the housing markets remain strong. As you can see from the chart below, new home sales continue to ratchet higher over the last eight years, and lower mortgage rates are only helping this cause.

new home sales

Source: Calafia Beach Pundit

The same tailwind of lower interest rates can be seen below with rising home prices.

house prices

Source: Calculated Risk

Consumer Flexes Muscles

At 3.7%, the unemployment rate remains low and the number of workers collecting unemployment is near multi-decade lows (see chart below).

weekly unemploy

Source: Calafia Beach Pundit

It should come as no surprise that the more employed workers there are collecting paychecks, the more consumer confidence will rise (see chart below). As you can see, consumer confidence is near multi-decade record highs.

con con

Source: Calafia Beach Pundit

Although politics continue to dominate headlines and grab attention, many investors are missing the financial forest because the political noise is distracting the irrefutable, positive effect that low interest rates is contributing to the positive direction of the stock market and the economy. Do your best to not miss the forest – you don’t want your portfolio to suffer by you getting lost in the trees.

Investment Questions Border

www.Sidoxia.com

Wade W. Slome, CFA, CFP®

Plan. Invest. Prosper.

This article is an excerpt from a previously released Sidoxia Capital Management complimentary newsletter (October 1, 2019). Subscribe on the right side of the page for the complete text.

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

 

 

October 1, 2019 at 3:36 pm Leave a comment

The Rollercoaster December to Remember

coaster

Last month turned out to be a memorable one for stock market investors, but unforgettable for many of the wrong reasons. Santa Claus left more dark coal than shiny gifts, judging by the -9.2% correction last month in the S&P 500 index, making it the worst December since 1931. Overall, the damage for the year was much more palatable, down -6.2% for the 12-month period. This result contrasts with the +9.5% gain in 2016, +19.4% gain in 2018, and +276.0% gain achieved since the March 2009-low.

If I were to compare 2017 and 2018 to an amusement park, 2017 was more like a calm train ride (slow, smooth, and steady), while 2018 was more like a rollercoaster (fast, and rocky with lots of ups and downs). Stock market history tells us that on average stock prices should fall -5% three times per year and -10% one-time per year. Well, 2017 was like a walk in the park if you consider there were no -5% or -10% dips during the year, whereas in 2018, we had -12% and -20% corrections, before bouncing somewhat during the last week of the year. Rollercoaster rides can be fun, but if the bumpy ride lasts too long, park visitors will likely need a sick sack.

vix

The heightened level of volatility can be seen in the Fear Gauge or the Volatility Index – VIX (see chart above), which has been bouncing around like a spiking cardiogram in response to the following news headlines:

  • Government Shutdown
  • Global Trade (China)
  • Federal Reserve Interest Rate Policy
  • Mueller Investigation
  • New Balance of Power in Congress
  • Brexit Deal Uncertainty
  • Recession Fears

While there have been some signs of slowing growth in key areas like automobile and home sales, the overall economy has been doing quite well on the back of consumer spending, which accounts for upwards of 70% of our country’s economic activity (see GDP chart below). In fact, recently released Mastercard consumer retail holiday spending data grew +5.1% to a record level exceeding $850 billion.

Corporations, which are also helping propel continued growth in our $20 trillion economy, are producing record profits, as you can see from the chart below. This in turn has led to an amazingly low unemployment rate of 3.7%, the lowest jobless figure posted in 49 years.

gdp

Source: Calafia Beach Pundit

Overall, economic fundamentals may remain strong, but in the face of the positive data points, fears of an impending recession overpowered the good news last month, resulting in stock prices that are much more attractively valued right now. For example, if you are shopping at a department store, it’s much more advantageous for the buyer to purchase items on sale versus paying full price. Or as the most successful investor of all-time, Warren Buffett, famously notes, “Be fearful when others are greedy and greedy only when others are fearful.” And recently, investors have been very fearful. As you can see from the chart below, prices as measured by the Price-Earnings ratio (P/E) are below the long-term, multi-decade average. This fact is even more relevant in light of the historically low inflation and interest rates (10-Year Treasury Note at 2.69%). Unsurprisingly, during the 1970s and early 1980s, double digit interest rates and inflation were relatively high leading to low, single digit P/E stock ratios over many years.

pe

Source: Calafia Beach Pundit

Just because stock prices went down last month, does not mean they cannot go even lower. However, the rollercoaster ride experienced in recent months, coupled with the fresh turn of the calendar year, provide investors a perfect opportunity to revisit their asset allocation and potentially rebalance your portfolios to meet your long-term objectives and constraints. More attractive equity prices improves the timing of this exercise. Regardless, the adrenaline-filled ups and downs may be feel scary now, but the ride will be more enjoyable if you buckle up don’t lose sight of your long-term goals.

investment-questions-border

www.Sidoxia.com

Wade W. Slome, CFA, CFP®

Plan. Invest. Prosper.

This article is an excerpt from a previously released Sidoxia Capital Management complimentary newsletter (January 4, 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.

January 4, 2019 at 5:16 pm Leave a comment

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

Trade War Bark: Hold Tight or Nasty Bite?

bark

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

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

house balance

Source:  Scott Grannis

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

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

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

china trade

Source: BBC 

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

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

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

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

Trump Playing Chicken

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

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

eps jul 18

Source: Dr. Ed’s Blog

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

investment-questions-border

www.Sidoxia.com

Wade W. Slome, CFA, CFP®

Plan. Invest. Prosper.

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

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

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

‘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

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