Full Swing

One of the most positively anticipated earnings seasons in years is in full swing and most of the news has gone according to plan. As earnings seasons go this has been very good Corporate America. Here is the problem. Markets haven’t budged. That in essence shows how the market is a discount mechanism. Great earnings were widely expected and were priced in months ago. Inflation is the new worry and the statistics that we get next week will most likely show inflation rising above the 2% goal of the Federal Reserve. Next week could signal more rate hikes on the way and a higher 10 Yr Treasury. That could prove negative for stocks.

It seems that we are not the only ones signaling caution as we are seeing that in the positioning of public investors/institutions and sentiment numbers. The key takeaway here is that as investors become more cautious in their positioning it makes it more likely that when we break out of our current range the upside will be exaggerated and the downside could be more limited. Conservative positioning will leave us all with more dry powder and buying power as a group. We are not saying which way it will break but we are trying to decipher which way to lean.

We continue to invest for inflation and anticipate stocks will continue to struggle with their current range. We have low duration with our bond portfolio and continue to add commodities to our asset allocation. The commodity sector is one of the best performing asset classes in 2018. Another focus is our cash and generating for the first time in a decade returns there. Not sexy. Just smart. The market continues to struggle and is stuck in the range between 2550-2700 on the S&P 500. The longer it stays in the range the better it is for the bulls and the harder the breakout will be when it comes. We see the market breaking to 2850 and new highs or a trapdoor opening with a swift move to 2400 or lower. The market still struggles with 2666 as we closed the week at 2669. We are stuck, for now, in a range between the 100 Day Moving Average (DMA) and the 200 DMA and that range is growing tighter each week. Something will have to give. Keep an eye on the door. When these ranges break things will change rapidly – but for now we wait.

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 .

lighthouse

A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty. – Winston Churchill

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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Tension Builds

We hope that you enjoyed reading our quarterly letter last week. We got some great feedback from people we admire in the industry and we hope that you found it useful as well. If you haven’t read it yet we would encourage you to. Here is the link to our quarterly letter.

2018 is going to be a huge year for corporate buybacks with an expected $800 billion in buybacks but the rest of April may be a bit sparse. Buybacks have, at times, carried this market. The rest of April could struggle with corporations in blackout periods due to earnings. It is interesting to note that Goldman Sachs suspended their buyback for the rest of this quarter. They are investing the money back into their business. Hmmm…

We can now say that the gap has been filled at 2700 in the S&P 500 but it also seems to be proving to be resistance for the time being. We watch gaps because gaps show us where the emotion lies in the market. A break in emotion whether good or bad creates gaps in charts. A healthy dose of good news and we rocket higher creating a gap. Bad news and we see a break lower. We have seen two major breaks in 2018 and they are both in the bears favor. When we get back to those gaps it is natural resistance (support) for markets.

By way of Arthur Cashin comes a note from his friend Jim Brown at Option Investor. It seems that Brown see that buybacks are escalating while the public steps back from the market.

On the public, Jim wrote: Bank of America said equity ownership in individual accounts has declined to 29% compared to the 41% in January. The 29% is an 18 month low. That can be seen as positive from a contrarian perspective. If the market continues higher, individual investors could begin scrambling to add equities to their portfolio. Since the average individual investor functions in a herd mentality, the surge of new buying a couple weeks from now could be at a market top. I wrote back in January that I expected a market decline in late April, early May once all the major earnings had been released. I was not expecting a February decline but my outlook for May is still cautious.

We have been calling for the market to struggle for 9-18 months since we hit 2666 and we continue to trade within 130 points of that number.  We are stuck, for now, in a range between the 100 Day Moving Average (DMA) and the 200 DMA. The 200 DMA is the number most watched by the momentum crowd. If we break below the 200 DMA there are very large funds that will go from 100% long to 100% short. The range that we are building also builds tension. When that tension is released the market will move in conjunction with how much pressure has built. Gold and the 10 Yr Treasury have been stuck in a range for a year. Keep an eye on the door. When these ranges break out things will change rapidly – but for now we wait.

lighthouse

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 .

 

A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty. – Winston Churchill

 

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.

Blackthorn Quarterly Letter April 2018

 Roaring

For some time we have been warning about a melt up in the markets. The stage had been set for asset prices to roar higher. Well, 2018 came roaring in like a lion with, what appears to be, the late stages of a market melt up.  At its zenith the S&P 500 was up almost 7.5% for the month! The incredible start to 2018 was clearly unsustainable and it was obvious that some sort of correction in 2018 was likely. February was clearly much different than January, in that, the S&P 500 that we had come to enjoy over the last 13 months had now turned south.  The volatility quake of February was just what the market needed to wake it from its relentless sleep walk higher. While we have enjoyed the last 9 quarters of positive pricing it was just a matter of time before markets reverted closer to their historical glide path

While we have made note in our letters of historically elevated valuation metrics we see further anecdotal evidence of that elevated pricing in legendary investor Warren Buffett’s latest Annual Letter. Buffett is well known to be constantly on the search for deals in the marketplace. His job is to allocate capital and he does that in buying stocks in companies or preferably entire companies as he adds to his portfolio. One of the main challenges in running Berkshire Hathaway is consistently putting newly acquired capital to work as it is a capital generating machine. In his latest annual address he notes that prices for assets are challenging. He described that finding a deal ata sensible purchase price” has become a challenge”.Berkshire Hathaway Annual Letter 2/26/2018

Why are prices so elevated? As you know from our writings, it is our opinion that elevated prices are directly related to central bank policy around the globe. A policy that, if even spoken of in polite circles a decade ago, would have gotten you laughed out of a room of economists. This past decade has been filled with rising asset prices due to the fire hose of central bank policy. Historically low interest rates, growing balance sheets, and low volatility all combined in excel spreadsheets to justify higher valuations for assets.

This never before attempted policy is now being seen by central bankers as being long in the tooth. Central bankers are now enacting tighter policy if only to have “bullets in the gun”. There is always another crisis and policymakers know they will be expected to respond. Policy maker’s response to the next crisis would be limited in scope if interest rates are along the zero bound and they hold an inordinately large balance sheet. Federal Reserve officials have been more overt in their recent communications that they are concerned about having the capacity to respond to a crisis in the future.

“Long-term risks include reduced capacity of both fiscal and monetary policy to act against downturns. Eric Rosengren Boston Fed President speech 4/13/18

What Changed?

What has changed is the tax cut. The tax plan really started in the middle of September and that’s when you saw the bond market reacting. …At that point, the market had shifted from its disinflationary mindset to a moderate inflation mindset. And that’s the repricing that has been taking place. Jeff  Sherman CIO Doubleline Funds

Central bankers are right to be concerned as the market perceives a change in mindset. Change can create volatility. Volatility can create fear. Fear can manifest itself in a lack of faith in the Fed to maintain stability. Instability creates lower asset prices.  Investors are seeing inflation on the horizon for the first time in a decade and that necessitates a rotation into a different investment game plan. Currently, investors are walking a tightrope between investing for inflation and investing for deflation. A deflationary game plan includes investing in longer term bonds and buying stocks when central bankers inject capital. An inflationary game plan includes commodities, low duration bonds and equities when inflation is controlled. We are walking a tightrope of investing options as the two outcomes are polar opposites.

“We have to deal with the possibility that at one point the Fed and other central banks may have to take more drastic action than they currently anticipate” and rates “may go higher and faster than people expect.” – JP Morgan CEO Jamie Dimon Annual Letter 2018

Ironically, the next crisis will probably be caused by the central banker’s actions (or inactions) as they try to pare down their balance sheets and normalize interest rates.

Until Something Breaks

And if you respect financial history, what the Fed has always done is hike until something breaks. We definitely had the debt build up. Looking at debt to GDP, people talk a lot about a bond bubble. But it’s not in the treasury market and it’s not in the housing market. It’s in Corporate America – Jeff Sherman CIO Doubleline Funds

What could break? We surmise that it may be the corporate debt market. Currently the 2 year US Treasury is the highest it has been since 2008 and if interest rates continue to rise there is concern that corporations may not be able to refinance debt that is coming due in the next two years. The artificially low interest rate regime that has prevailed since the GFC has given rise to zombie companies. Zombie companies are corporations that would have otherwise, with normalized interest rates, not been able to refinance their debt and stay alive. Those companies may not be able to stay afloat with rising interest rates and with less access to capital. That could create a significant drag on the economy as they close their doors. An additional concern is the rising share of the US budget that is being outlaid to interest payments. If rates were to normalize then the US budget is in danger of becoming a slave to its interest payments. That is the cross for the Federal Reserve to bear. How much is tightening is too much? How much can they tighten before something breaks?

Asset prices, which have risen on the back of loose central bank policy, should now, theoretically, reverse given central bankers current goal of tightening monetary policy. Central bankers are walking a fine line when trying to reverse their experimental policy. The trick here is for central bankers strike a balance where they are able to rein in policy without collapsing asset prices.

One of the biggest keys to success in this environment will be how the Fed responds to the markets’ response to any change in policy. If the market falls into a bear market a key driver will be how the Federal Reserve responds to any market correction. That response is likely to determine how long and how deep any correction might be. Our first clues may not come from the equity market as to markets overall response but from the bond market. Bond yields may be the risk temperature gauge for markets. Rising/falling bond yields or a continued flattening of the yield curve may portend equity market action.

“Spreads between corporate bonds and 10-yr Treasuries has fallen to relatively low levels, notes studies have showing investor confidence that generates low credit spreads often precedes subsequent economic reversals.” – Eric Rosengren Boston Fed President

The rising specter of inflation may have been the initial culprit of the recent sell off in February but that is normal for this late in the cycle. Pundits are saying “but the economy is doing so well”. The reason markets sell off when the economy is doing well is due to the central bank and its efforts to maintain a balance between prices and a strong economy. If the economy is doing well central banks will raise rates to slow the economy as inflation begins to rise. The reverse is true as well. If deflation arises and the economy is performing poorly central banks will lower rates to stir the economy and its concerns about inflation go on the back burner.

Then the acceleration of demand into capacity constraints and rise in prices and profits causes interest rates to rise and central banks to tighten monetary policy, which causes stock and other asset prices to fall because all assets are priced as the present value of their future cash flows and interest rates are the discount rate used to calculate present values. That is why it is not unusual to see strong economies accompanied by falling stock and other asset prices, which is curious to people who wonder why stocks go down when the economy is strong and don’t understand how this dynamic works. -Ray Dalio Bridgewater Associates

We continue to believe that central bank purchases will dictate asset pricing and while we can try and predict when asset flows will turn negative we cannot predict when markets will react to that reversal in flow. Buy the dip may have turned into sell the rip. The 3% level on the 10 year is the key. Equity markets continue to tumble whenever bond yields rise and bond yields fall whenever equity markets stumble. We are stuck in a loop. Markets may be stuck in neutral until central bankers either stop tightening or tighten too much.

 What’s Next

For one thing, I’m convinced the easy money has been made.  … the one thing we can say for sure is that the current prospects for making money in U.S. equities aren’t what they were half a dozen years ago.  And if that’s the case, isn’t it appropriate to take less risk in equities than one took six years ago? – Howard Marks Co-Chairman Oaktree Capital 1/23/2018

The lack of volatility in recent years has led to a one way market – up. So far in 2018 we have seen the return of volatility that has been missing from market advances in recent years. As we see a rise in the fear gauge we expect a repricing of assets and, with that, markets are going to be increasingly volatile and move in two ways- both up and down- rather than what we have seen over the last 9 quarters. While it may become more difficult to make money in this environment we feel that opportunities will present themselves to readjust asset allocations to our benefit. In the past 25 sessions, as we write, we have seen the Dow move triple digits in 21 of those sessions. While that may offer opportunities it also may indicate that something is not quite right under the surface. How do we position ourselves at the current time when it comes to equities? Here is some advice from Benjamin Graham, Warren Buffett’s mentor.

We can urge that in general the investor should not have more than one half in equities unless he has strong confidence in the soundness of his stock position and is sure that he could view a market decline of the 1969-70 type with equanimity. It is hard for us to see how strong confidence can be justified at the levels existing in early 1972. Thus, we would counsel against a greater than 50% apportionment to common stocks at this time. -Benjamin Graham The Intelligent Investor

 From Graham’s perspective he saw a massive run higher in the Dow Jones from 1942 -66 and, subsequently, saw markets struggle in 1969-70 period. The move lower from 1969-70 totaled a 35% loss in equities. That is the kind of loss Graham is talking about. Graham’s lack of confidence in 1972 was well founded as a massive bear market would take place from 1972-74.

We wholeheartedly agree with Graham as to strategy. We also think that Graham would agree with us on the market’s current position and the highly elevated valuations that we see today. We are not saying that a massive bear market is around the corner. What we are saying is that equities are at historical valuations. Is it not prudent to take less risk in equities than one took 6 years ago? The current markets may consolidate and then move higher still but we are not willing to bet the farm on that. We expect a long period of consolidation and a move higher or a shorter period of consolidation and a move lower. We must position accordingly.

Emotional Capital

We have spent a good deal of time lately talking to clients about emotional capital. When cycles reach a more mature stage it is prudent to sell some winners and build a cash (and emotional) cushion with which to buy future bargains. That way when market losses come you are keenly aware that you prepared for this moment and this money was set aside to buy assets at bargain prices. If you are holding too much in the way of assets when they begin to fall you will be tempted to start selling. It is then that you will be managing your money from an emotional point of view.

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First, widespread fear is your friend as an investor, because it serves up bargain purchases. Second, personal fear is your enemy. – Warren Buffett

As investors, our job is NOT making the case for why markets will go up. Making the case for why markets will rise is a pointless endeavor because we are already invested. If the markets rise, terrific. We all made money, and we are the better for it. However, that is not our job. Our job, is to analyze, understand, measure, and prepare for what will reduce the value of our invested capital. –Lance Roberts

 

 

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 CEO of Goldman Sachs

 

Moreover, the years ahead will occasionally deliver major market declines – even panics – that will affect virtually all stocks…During such scary periods, you should never forget two things: First, widespread fear is your friend as an investor, because it serves up bargain purchases. Second, personal fear is your enemy. It will also be unwarranted. Investors who avoid high and unnecessary costs and simply sit for an extended period with a collection of large, conservatively-financed American businesses will almost certainly do well.Warren Buffett

 

5845 Ettington Drive

Suwanee, Georgia 30024

678-696-1087

Terry@BlackthornAsset.com

 

 

 

 

Disclosure: According to SEC Custody Rule 206(4)-(a)(2), Blackthorn urges you to compare statements/reports initiated by your Blackthorn with the Account Statement from the custodian of your account for data consistency. To that end, if you find any discrepancy between these reports and the statement(s) that you received from your account’s custodian, please contact your Advisor or custodian. Also, please notify your Advisor promptly if you do not receive a statement(s) from your custodian on at least a quarterly basis.

Blackthorn is an investment adviser registered in the state of Georgia. Blackthorn is primarily engaged in providing discretionary investment advisory services for high net worth individuals.

All information provided herein is for informational purposes only and should not be deemed as a recommendation to buy or sell securities. All investments involve risk including the loss of principal. This transmission is confidential and may not be redistributed without the express written consent of Blackthorn Asset Management LLC and does not constitute an offer to sell or the solicitation of an offer to purchase any security or investment product. Any such offer or solicitation may only be made by means of delivery of an approved confidential offering memorandum.

Trapdoor

The bears won last week as any and all moves by the bulls were rebuffed. The bounces that are coming are of the bear market variety. They are large bounces on light volume as buy interest wanes. The gaps continue to remain unfilled at 2850 and 2700. The bear case is being validated. The 200 Day Moving Average (DMA) is what the entire street will be watching this week. The 200 DMA is a widely used gauge for investors as it is used as a barometer as to whether we are in a bear market or a bull market. We closed the week practically sitting on it. We have not been below the 200 DMA in almost two years since June of 2016. When we violated the 200 DMA in September of 2015 the market struggled for 10 months. We have been calling for the market to struggle for 9-18 months since we hit 2666 on the S&P 500 in December of 2017. We are now 5 months into that struggle. I can hear the question. Why not then just get out of the market? The market can do three things. Go Up, Go Down, or Go Sideways. By being invested you make money in two of those three scenarios. We don’t know that the market is going to go down. We have made some sales at these elevated valuations and with those proceeds we are prepared to makes purchases at lower prices.

If the 200 DMA is violated by a close this week we could see trapdoor selling. By that I mean that bids will be pulled and those who were once buyers become sellers.  Trump made noise again last week on the tariff issue but markets sensed something different in his tone. He tweeted that he would accept a stock market drop because it was up so much already and that trade tariffs are in the best interest of American long term. He might get some push back on that thought, especially, from the bulls.

April, which is historically the best month for the Dow, is off to a very bad start. New money for the month did not help tip the scales in favor of the bulls. The bulls do not have a lot of conviction and if the 200 DMA is violated momentum funds will become sellers further driving the market lower. We expected the market to test 2550 and we did see 2555. Close enough for government work. We now expect the 200 DMA to be tested and for Wall Street to fail that test. We did not see the market bounce into the 2700-2750 area and that gives more power to the bears. The stock market is primed and ready for a drop.

A short one today as we tee up our quarterly letter for next week. I think we will have plenty to talk about.

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 .

 

A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty. – Winston Churchill

 

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.

FANG’s Lay an Egg

The attack on the FANG’s is the second attack of 2018. The first was the short volatility trade that blew up in February. Each attack has a lasting effect on the market. The short vol trade suppressed the price of volatility which helped elevate stock prices. The dismantling of this trade is still reverberating through markets. The next break down is what we call the shooting of the Generals. The leaders of the market have been producing an outsized portion of the gains and those leaders are now being questioned by the market. The move lower in the FANG’s has the market on its heels and investors are nervous. Where will the new market leadership come from? When will it arrive? This is a tough blow for stocks. New leadership cannot come quickly enough and large enough to steady the market. Tech is 25% of the S&P 500 with Apple, Amazon , Google, Microsoft and Facebook making up 14% of the S&P 500. You can see how weakness in just those five stocks will have an outsized negative effect on the S&P 500. The Generals of the market are the leaders. Those leaders, when shot, need to be replaced before the market loses confidence. The market is growing increasingly rudderless. There will be a third shoe to drop.

The FANG’s (Facebook, Amazon, Apple, NetFlix, Google)moved even lower this week as the bears took full control. They are oversold and due for a bounce as is the market. Unfortunately, the bounces that are coming are of the bear market variety. They are very large bounces on light volume. Bear market rallies rise sharply and die in low volume.

The longer the gaps stay unfilled at 2850 and 2700 the more they are validated. The 200 DMA is the key as the market has used it as support but the bulls just can’t get lift off especially as the FANG’s are taking such a pounding. April is, historically, the best month for the Dow. Unfortunately, that number dips in midterm election years. New money for the new month could help but if it doesn’t – watch out. We still anticipate a move to at least touch and test 2550. We do not think the street has studied for the test and may fail. But first, we should see some bounce to test 2700-2750 at the very least. If we don’t retest then that is another win for the bears.

A short one today as it is Easter Sunday. We will also have an abbreviated note next week as we tee up our quarterly letter.

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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 .

 

A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty. – Winston Churchill

 

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.

Monday’s Blueprint for Markets

Here is our Blueprint for Monday and beyond. Since the election of Donald Trump we have been building an investing scenario that looked much like 1987. We were calling for a 1987 style melt up and then, a smack down.

A 30% run from the lows before Election Day, much like 1987, …would put us squarely in bubble territory as the S&P 500 would approach the 2750 area. A subsequent 30% retreat would bring us back to the 2000 area. (The S&P 500 was at 2360 as we wrote.) Witches’ Brew Blackthorn Quarterly Letter April 2017

We may have missed the top by 100 points on the S&P 500. Last month we backed off of the 1987 style melt down part of this scenario in light of everyone jumping on the 1987 bandwagon. We have begun to expect a more drawn out solution but you must be prepared for either in this environment.

This is what we had to say in our blog post Warning Shot Across the Bow published 2/4/18.

Our new scenario calls for a more drawn out selloff. First, we may see a drawdown in the magnitude of 5-15% followed by a retracement back to the old highs. From there (You Are Now Here) we should see a selloff of a larger magnitude leading to a bear market over the next 18-24 months. It’s not voodoo. Valuations show that historically we will see limited upside from these levels. Markets are high. Rates are rising. The yield curve is flattening. Markets tend to struggle in the second year of a Presidency as midterm elections approach. It’s not rocket science. It’s the study of psychology and history. We have seen the warning shot across the bow.  Buckle up. It’s going to be a bumpy ride. Watch the central bank balance sheets. If they stop tightening all bets are off.

As far back as October of 2017 we were warning about the 2666 level on the S&P 500 and a struggling market for 18-24 months.

We felt that the market would struggle for 18-24 months when it hit 2666 on the S&P 500. The market has spent time at each multiple of the 666 low in the S&P. 2664 is 4x the 666 level. You must remember we are dealing with algorithms written by humans. Levels like 666 and 2x, 3x and 4x are just levels in a computer program. Be careful of computers. They only do what they are told. As computer use has created a wondrous cycle of upward movement so we can have the vicious spiral downwards.

Market structure could exacerbate may any selloff. We have warned about market structure in the past and here is where you can do further reading from our blog posts – My Name is MarioParadox and Caution Flags.

The market is flawed in its design as its automated structure puts the momentum players, the market makers and algorithms in control. While it is pleasurable to see it go up every day it will be much quicker and painful when the market goes down in a one way fashion. For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. Blog Post “My Name is Mario” 10/28/2017

We mentioned on Twitter on Thursday morning that gaps at 2850 and 2700 would lead technicians to project a measured move lower to 2550. That was 4% lower as we wrote. We realized that a move of that magnitude would take the S&P down to test the lows from February’s vol quake. What we didn’t realize was how quickly we would get to that number. For next week the old school playbook is for a rough Monday and a chance for the bulls to turn things around Tuesday afternoon. We have a feeling that Wall Street didn’t study for this test. Market is very oversold and due for a bounce. How it reacts to the prior low (2550) will tell us a lot.

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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 .

A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty. – Winston Churchill

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.

Where Are We? – Emotional Capital City

Where are we? Markets are about cycles. We see them repeat over time. The question now is where are we in the cycle? One important reason why we need to be aware of cycles is because investing is an emotional roller coaster.  If we jump out of the market too soon we risk under performance and client angst. If we are too late clients may feel over invested and lack the courage to buy when others are selling. It is then that we run the risk of permanent capital loss. Our job as financial advisors is really about contingency planning, trying to anticipate what happens next and how to respond. An underappreciated part of investment management is how we, as advisors, react to our client’s emotional response. Our ability to respond to market cycles is directly influenced by where our clients are emotionally – their emotional capital.

We have spent a good deal of time lately talking to clients about emotional capital. When cycles reach a more mature stage it is prudent to sell some winners and build a cash (and emotional) cushion with which to buy future bargains. That way when market losses come you are keenly aware that you prepared for this moment and this money was set aside to buy assets at bargain prices. If you are holding too much in the way of assets when they begin to fall you will be tempted to start selling. It is then that you will be managing your money from an emotional point of view. We all know that losses hurt far more than gains feel good. Much as Joseph stored the grain in Egypt during the 7 years of plenty it is time to store some cash to prepare emotionally for when the lean times arrive. Leaving some gains on the table will make you a better investor over the long haul.

Now let Pharaoh look for a man discerning and wise, and set him over the land of Egypt. 34“Let Pharaoh take action to appoint overseers in charge of the land, and let him exact a fifth of the produce of the land of Egypt in the seven years of abundance. 35“Then let them gather all the food of these good years that are coming, and store up the grain for food in the cities under Pharaoh’s authority, and let them guard it. 36“Let the food become as a reserve for the land for the seven years of famine which will occur in the land of Egypt, so that the land will not perish during the famine.” -Genesis 41:34

We caution that we are not seeing anything imminent. We just know that trees don’t grow to the sky and bull markets end. We know that we are in the midst of one of the longest bull markets on record influenced by historical central bank largesse. We don’t know when but we are due for leaner years. We need to store some cash and build emotional capital. The people in the industry whose opinions we respect are advocating caution. Hopefully, it will only be a minor disruption but it is imperative that one is not “all in” when it arrives and we are emotionally prepared to purchase bargains. A recession is the big worry and that still seems some time away. 

The market is still struggling to supplant 2800 on the S&P 500. Bond yields are struggling with rising above 3% on the 10 year. Gold cannot seem to break out and hold above $1350.  The yield curve is flattening. The key takeaway here is that the pressure is building. We are at a crossroads. Bonds. Commodities and equities. We are all waiting.

The bears pushed back this week but we give a slight edge here to the bulls. Stocks are slightly oversold and bonds slightly overbought. The big option expiration came and went without incident. Next week, hopefully, will tell us more but we could just see the tension build. The bulls still need to get over the 2850 gap to really convince us but if they do things will progress quickly. Be on your toes.

pexels-photo-722664.jpeg

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 .

A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty. – Winston Churchill

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.

 

The Ides of March

“Beware the Ides of March.” As we know from Plutarch, a Greek biographer, a seer had prophesied to Julius Caesar that harm would come to him by the Ides of March. He would, in fact, be assassinated on that day. Wall Street is a superstitious lot but it’s the bears that may feel they got assassinated last week. Some of the feedback that we received on our blog last week was that we were a touch bleak. We don’t feel that it is our job to talk about sunshine and roses. Our job is to be the cynic. Our job is to find the risk and avoid it or profit from it. We are not bleak on the market. We are just looking to manage risk and get the best risk return ratio for our clients. We are still heavily invested in stocks for clients but just underweight them as we feel that the risk reward here is turning against investors. In what is probably the best investing book ever written Benjamin Graham, of whom Warren Buffett is a disciple, outlines how to allocate your investment portfolio.

We can urge that in general the investor should not have more than one half in equities unless he has strong confidence in the soundness of his stock position and is sure that he could view a market decline of the 1969-70 type with equanimity. It is hard for us to see how strong confidence can be justified at the levels existing in early 1972. Thus, we would counsel against a greater than 50% apportionment to common stocks at this time. -Benjamin Graham The Intelligent Investor 

We wholeheartedly agree with Graham as to strategy but we also think that Graham would agree with us on the market’s current position and how to allocate in 2018. After seeing a massive run in the Dow Jones from 1942 -66 markets were struggling in 1969-70 period. The move lower from 1968-70 totaled a 35% loss in equities. That is the kind of loss Graham is talking about. Graham’s lack of confidence in 1972 was well founded as a massive bear market would take place from 1972-74. 

Markets tend to go higher over time and the majority of annual returns in stocks are positive. We don’t need to tell you that stocks are a very good investment over the long haul. Our job is to look at risk/return ratios and know when to back off. You wouldn’t bet on Secretariat to win if a $5 bet would return $1. The metrics on stock valuations are historically elevated right now and history tells us that equity returns from here could be subpar. There is nothing wrong with rebalancing, taking profits and taking down risk. We are not out of the market just underweight stocks. 50% in and 50% out. We can find a reason to be happy whatever Monday brings. The key to what Graham is saying is can you weather the storm? If you are overweight and you get a discount in prices you either cannot buy because you are already all in or will not buy because you lack the psychological and emotional will. You should never be all out and never all in. That way, when Mr. Market offers you a ridiculous price on a stock that you have always wanted to buy you are financially and emotionally ready to take advantage. Not gloom and doom. Just proper risk management.

The Ides of March were known in ancient Rome as a time to settle debts. It looks like the bulls settled one with the bears a week early. Last week we said that the line on the bull/bear game was a push. We thought that with the market a touch oversold the bulls had a slight advantage but that neither the bulls nor the bears really had the upper hand. Well, the bulls made it clear they are not ready to go away yet and shrugged off potential trade wars and another high profile resignation from the White House. The bulls had an outstanding week and let the bears know who is really in charge. The bulls now have the gap at 2850 on the S&P 500 clearly in their sights.

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 .

lighthouse

A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty. – Winston Churchill

 

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.

Back to the Future

It has been our central operating thesis since the Great Financial Crisis that low interest rates+ low volatility+ larger central bank balance sheets would = higher asset prices. We are now entering an environment where we are seeing higher interest rates+ higher volatility+ smaller central bank balance sheets. We surmise that will = lower asset prices. It’s just math.

The big news this week was probably Trump’s trade policies and tariffs on steel. On that subject we do not believe that those tariffs will see the light of day. He will lose when he goes to the WTO and will be forced to retract them but, then again, we think that his threatened imposition of tariffs is probably only a negotiation tactic. We had several discussions this week on tariffs with people we respect. They made several interesting points about trade and steel and tariffs. My contention is that none of that matters. Wall Street and investors see tariffs and they think trade war. They think trade war then they think about the Great Depression and Smoot Hawley with a shooting war to follow. When it comes to trade wars investors will shoot first and ask questions later. A trade war = lower asset prices.

This week we saw the new Fed Chair go in front of Congress and act hawkish on inflation. Markets reacted negatively. The very next day he seemed to walk back his earlier comments. This is precisely why, as investors, that we need to prepare for inflation. No one wants to fight it. It is not politically acceptable until it is too late. No Fed chair will have the political will to fight inflation until it is raging and it begins to hurt Main Street. The biggest beneficiaries of inflation are the largest debt holders. Who are the largest debt holders? Governments. They need to inflate away their debt. They want inflation because it allows the very existence of bigger government. The political will to fight inflation will not be there until it hurts and hurts Main Street badly.

CONFIDENCE ON INFLATION GETTING STRONGER” – “Hawkish” Fed Chair Powell

NO STRONG EVIDENCE OF DECISIVE MOVE UP IN WAGES, MORE LABOR MARKET GAINS CAN OCCUR WITHOUT CAUSING INFLATION” – “Dovish “ Powell

By far, the most interesting part of the week for us was an interview from Goldman Sachs of Paul Tudor Jones, a legendary hedge fund manager who called the 1987 crash. He has run a Global Macro hedge fund for over 30 years investing in stocks, currencies and commodities. Check out the whole interview if you can. Here are some of the highlights (emphasis ours.)

Interview with Paul Tudor Jones

Allison Nathan: Is the market underestimating commodity-related inflation today? 

Paul Tudor Jones: Absolutely. The S&P GSCI index is up more than 65% from its trough two years ago. In fact, relative to financial assets, the GSCI is at one of its lowest points in history. That has historically been resolved by commodities putting on a stunner of a show, stoking inflation. I wouldn’t be surprised if that happened again.

 Allison Nathan: Does all of this just boil down to the Fed being behind the curve?

Paul Tudor Jones: … The mood is euphoricBut it is unsustainable and comes with costs such as bubbles in stocks and credit. Navigating these bubbles will be one of the most difficult jobs any Fed chair has ever faced.

 Allison Nathan: In this context, what do you want to own?

Paul Tudor Jones:  I want to own commodities, hard assets, and cash. When would I want to buy stocks? When the deficit is 2%, not 5%, and when real short-term rates are 100bp, not negative. With rates so low, you can’t trust asset prices today.

 Allison Nathan: You are well-known for calling Black Monday. Is the recent surge in volatility behind us?

Paul Tudor Jones: In my view, higher volatility is inevitable. Volatility collapsed after the crisis because of central bank manipulation. That game’s over. With inflation pressures now building, we will look back on this low-volatility period as a five standard- deviation event that won’t be repeated.

If you are a regular reader you know that one of our biggest concerns is rising bond yields. By way of our friend, Arthur Cashin, comes some insight on those rising bond yields. Barry Habib is quoted from time to time in Arthur’s Daily Letter and his track record is nothing short of amazing.

 We are going to see 3.04% on the 10-year within the next couple of weeks. That will be the moment of truth. The level of 3.04% matches the top of the 30-year downtrend in yields, as well as the 0% retracement from the highs 4 years ago. In other words…it’s a big deal if this is convincingly broken to the upside, and strongly suggests that the 10-year will hit 3.80% before summer.

Interestingly, Paul Tudor Jones spoke of rising bond yields in his interview. His thought is that the 10 year goes to 3.75% by year end and that was a conservative target. We thought that the S&P 500 would make a run to the old highs but it seems that talk of trade wars has aborted that attempt. The struggle between the bulls and bears is a push right now. Either could take over. Markets are a bit oversold here which gives the edge to the bulls but the failure to trade to old highs and trade war talk tilts things in favor of the bears. So much to say in such a small space. We are looking forward to our quarterly letter where we will get more in depth in some of these issues.

From the Back to 1987 Department:

Gluskin Sheff’s David Rosenberg summed it all up nicely“Hmmm. Let’s see. Tariffs. Sharp bond selloff. Weak dollar policy. Massive twin deficits. New Fed Chairman. Cyclical inflationary pressures. Overvalued stock markets. Heightened volatility. Sounds eerily familiar (from someone who started his career on October 19th, 1987!).”

lighthouse

 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 .

A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty. – Winston Churchill

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.

Warren Buffett’s Latest Wisdom

One of my favorite days of the year is when the annual report of Berkshire Hathaway comes out. It is always on a weekend and we spend a good amount of time pouring over it for wisdom from the Oracle of Omaha – Warren Buffett. Here are our highlights from his latest missive.

On the Current Deal Making Environment:

 Buffett noted in his annual address that prices for assets are challenging. In his never-ending quest to deploy more money and buy companies he described that finding a deal at “a sensible purchase price” has become a challenge”.

Investment Lesson On Buying Stocks:

 As an investor’s investment horizon lengthens, however, a diversified portfolio of U.S. equities becomes progressively less risky than bonds, assuming that the stocks are purchased at a sensible multiple of earnings relative to then-prevailing interest rates. (emphasis mine)

Investment Lesson On Markets:

Though markets are generally rational, they occasionally do crazy things. Seizing the opportunities then offered does not require great intelligence, a degree in economics or a familiarity with Wall Street jargon such as alpha and beta. What investors then need instead is an ability to both disregard mob fears or enthusiasms and to focus on a few simple fundamentals. A willingness to look unimaginative for a sustained period – or even to look foolish – is also essential.

Given historically stretched valuations and Mr. Buffett’s comments validating the difficulty finding sensible acquisitions it demonstrates the difficulty in purchasing stocks at a sensible multiple of earnings given prevailing interest rates and interest rates trend higher. We do not mind looking unimaginative or even foolish at this period in time in being underweight assets and overweight cash.

Much has been made about new Fed Chair Powell and the hand dealt to him by the former chair. You could not pay me to take Powell’s job. He is doomed to fail – by design. Powell is left to try and reset monetary policy after almost a decade of emergency policy. His job is to tighten monetary policy and give the Fed room to respond to the next crisis with a smaller balance sheet and higher rates from which to cut. He will tighten until something breaks and break it will. How else will he know if he has tightened enough? It is his job to “fail” and he will be the fall guy for Congress and Trump.

Last week we spoke of zombie companies and pointed to HNA Group out of China. We were close to the mark as it was ANBANG a $315 Billion insurer that was bailed out by the Chinese government this week. Markets barely blinked. Rates are rising and taking the tide out with them. Who will be caught swimming naked next and when will markets care?

We are still pushing towards the old high in the S&P 500. Remember, that is the key test for the market. We keep hearing pundits suggest that we must test the lows put in during the VIX Crash. Not so. The bulls were running so hot since the election it is the old HIGHS and not the lows that hold the key to future market direction. 

The 10 year Treasury has moved to resistance at the 3% level. As the 10 year tries to push through 3% equities continue to sell off. As the 10 year backs off of its assault on 3% equities continue to run higher. We think that the 10 year should at least struggle to get through 3% and that should allow equities time to retest the old highs. The gap at 2850 should draw the bulls like a moth to flame. Gaps are technical indicators because it shows massive change in sentiment and the psychological underpinnings of the market. If the market should struggle and fail at 2850 on the S&P 500 (and see the 10 year rise above  3%) then the bears may be in charge.

lighthouse

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 .

A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty. – Winston Churchill

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.