Very Superstitious

There is no getting around the 30th Anniversary of the Crash of 1987 and all of the attendant media coverage this week. We ourselves have been writing about it all year. While history doesn’t repeat it does rhyme and we fancy ourselves not as divine prognosticators but as contingency planners for your wealth. That is why we are slaves to history and attempt to continually create plausible scenarios and investing thesis.

When we look back on the Crash of ’87 we can learn several things. The overarching lesson is that it is never different this time. You can read more on that in our recent quarterly letter here. Here is a quote from Howard Marks and his experience on that October day in 1987. Marks was the Head of the High Yield Department at The Trust Company of the West at the time.

 Portfolio insurance convinced people that they could somehow own more stocks without increased risk, which is fanciful. And like all silver bullets, it didn’t work.

-Marks

 It is never different this time. Risk is still risk and the widely accepted reason for the excessive price action that day was portfolio insurance. The selling of volatility and risk parity are today’s version of portfolio insurance. Investors are selling volatility with abandon. That creates a lower implied risk environment. Those figures go into automated strategies that take on more and more risk as stocks rise and volatility falls. More stocks with less risk- Great idea! In the next sharp market move volatility will be the driver as investors scramble to cover their shorts wiping out many involved in that trade.

 One of the drivers of this relentless march higher in stock prices is that there seems to be a consensus that there is no reason to fear the Federal Reserve. After all if stock prices do come crashing down the Fed will be there to support markets. Right?! So why ever sell? You just buy more if prices fall because the Fed has your back. What could possibly go wrong?

Trump’s tax plan is looking to be moving along. A passage of that tax plan in an economy which is already at full employment could tip the Fed into aggressive tightening mode. A passage of this tax package may be “ill timed” to quote NY Federal Reserve’s Bill Dudley. Dudley is considered the second most powerful person at the Federal Reserve. His remarks mesh very well with Michael Hartnett’s recent comments over at Bank of America. Hartnett has been calling for a melt up this year as we have. Hartnett is looking for that end with a spike in wages and inflation. If Trump’s tax package is passed that may be just what we get. Higher wages and inflation may force the Fed’s hand to tighten more aggressively than planned and investors may again be shocked into “fearing the Fed”. Hartnett’s call is for a 10% correction and not a 1987 style crash. For the record, we also do not think that markets will crash because of the fervent belief in the “Fed Put” but a correction is well overdue.

The ten year Treasury is still stuck between 2.1 and 2.4%. If it breaks through 2.4% then 2.6% is the new area of resistance and that should be a tough area to get through. Why are we harping on the 10 year lately? It should be our canary in the coalmine for equities. Higher interest rates could break the back of this equity market. The question is what is the magic number? A decisive break through the 2.7-2.8% level could mean that rates are headed higher longer term breaking the 30 year down move.

The punch through 2500 on the S&P 500 still has the bulls in control. Like a running back that has open field in front of them the S&P is taking off. There are no real resistance points as it is all theoretical now. 2600 is the next logical stop. Much as 666 loomed large in early 2009 the number 2666 now looms large for the S&P 500. Wall Street and investors are a superstitious lot. The animal spirits are unpredictable and in control. All is still going according to our thesis of a 1987 type melt up. The tax agenda from the White House could be a “sell on the news” event. Gotta be in it to win it but, maybe just a little less in.

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I  think we aspire less to foresee the future and more to be a great contingency planner… you can respond very fast to what’s happening because you thought through all the possibilities, – Lloyd  Blankfein

To learn more about us and Blackthorn Asset Management LLC visit our website at www.BlackthornAsset.com  or check out our LinkedIn page at https://www.linkedin.com/in/terencereilly/ .

 

 

Disclosure: This blog is informational and is not a recommendation to buy or sell anything. If you are thinking about investing consider the risk. Everyone’s financial situation is different. Consult your financial advisor.

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