WW III

We felt in recent months that there were too many people on the one side of the boat. That “side of the boat” was investors heavily shorting US Treasuries are they prepared for the Federal Reserve to raise rates three times this year. When everyone thinks something will happen you can almost guarantee that something else will. The 10 year closed Thursday at 2.23%. While a lot of because of geopolitical concerns and the long weekend we still think investors are too short Treasuries. This could be the last move lower in Treasuries as the short sellers’ force yields lower to cover their shorts and stop their pain. For now, we are still long duration but looking to sell into strength.

The last 30 minutes of trading have been abysmal. Four out of the last 5 trading sessions markets have moved lower in the last 30 minutes. We postulated in recent posts that the last 30 minutes are the “tell” in the market right now. Thursday was exacerbated by geopolitics and the long weekend so next week will help make that clue a bit more solid. Keep an eye on the last 30 minutes as that may be our best clue as to the near term direction of the market.

Strange week. Congress went out on Easter recess and so investors and the media began to focus (perhaps obsess) on geopolitics. The beneficiaries were the usual suspects of bonds and precious metals. Let’s see how things play out early next week if WW III doesn’t manage to break out this weekend.

Another week and another famous hedge fund manager is giving money back to clients. We take this as a sign that we could be at or near an inflection point. Jeff Ubben is a highly respected hedge fund manager and is giving 10% of his fund back to clients. He is finding it difficult to find value in this market. Valuations are stretched.

Active vs. Passive management has not been much of a fight over the last decade but we think that there are signs that perhaps we should be tilting more in the direction of adding some more active management. One of the headlines in Barron’s this weekend is “Can Humans Still Beat the Market”. This week Pennsylvania’s elected treasurer announced he is moving $1B from active to passive management to save $5M in fees. Treasurer Moving to Passive Investments

We know the argument all too well. Active is less predictable. It is more costly. It also pathetically tax inefficient. We think that investors have become too blind buying the whole market and there is room for active. The pendulum will swing back. We are diving back into researching for the active players who will outperform.

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.

Until Something Breaks

Until something breaks. The old Wall Street adage is 3 hikes and a stumble. In his latest webcast this week, Jeff Gundlach, the current bond maven on Wall Street, made it clear that he expects the Federal Reserve to begin a campaign of sequential interest rate hikes until “something breaks”. In Cashin’s Comments this week, Arthur notes that David Rosenberg’s (Gluskin Sheff) research shows that since World War II, the Fed has embarked on 13 tightening cycles. Ten of those cycles led to recessions. While we do not see a recession on the horizon we do believe the Fed is behind the curve and may need to hike more aggressively than they would like. That will create imbalances throughout the system much like the sequential rates hikes in 1982, 1987, 1990, 1997 and 2007. The crises ranged from the Latin American debt crisis in 1982 to the S&L crisis in 1990 to the subprime debt crisis of 2007.

The question remains, will history prove right or are things different this time? I always hesitate to say “things are different this time” because that is always the death knell. It’s like when Jim Nantz says, “this kicker hasn’t missed an extra point all season” and the kicker then goes on to botch the critical extra point.  The reality is that the Fed may be so far behind the curve that this rate hike, the third of this cycle or even the fourth rate hike doesn’t affect the market but sooner or later the Fed will hike and something will break. They are academics and they never anticipate change. It’s like driving using the rear view mirror (h/t BR). The data is from the past and doesn’t show what is happening now. They will hike until something breaks. If they do not raise rates next week the animal spirits in the market may take equity valuations even higher. The Fed is boxed in.

Valuations are quite extended and perhaps rate hikes will bring things gently back to earth. Much is being made of the idea that there seems to be a global upturn in economies. The global upturn and Trump’s policies could provide more cover for the Fed to raise rates to try and cool valuations off. You have to remember that they are not the only central bank adding fuel to the fire. Japan, China and Europe are all doing the same. We see some cracks in the foundation as High Yield and small cap stocks lagged this week. It is no surprise that high yield struggled as West Texas Crude dropped 9% on the week to finish under the psychological $50 mark.

Momentum is very powerful and still in the hands of the bulls. Lots of positives out there but things are priced for perfection. Keep an eye on crude next week. Lower crude could continue to pressure high yield. High yield and oil could be the canary in the coalmine.

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 thing we look forward to every year is Warren Buffett’s annual letter that comes out in February. Here is more sage long term investing advice from the Oracle of Omaha.

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.

We, at Blackthorn, as Registered Investment Advisors, have a fiduciary obligation to our clients. We are very conscious of high and unnecessary costs and how they drive down our clients returns. Patience, discipline, a well thought out investing plan and low costs. Do yourself a favor and ask your advisor to explain any and all fees that you pay. Mutual fund fees, 12b-1 fees, Brokerage fees, Investment management fees, and Wrap fees are all examples of unnecessary fees and costs.  If you are using a broker and they cannot easily and transparently list and explain your fees and costs to you then move on to someone who has a fiduciary obligation to you.

Beware the Ides of March is what you will be seeing all week in the investing media headlines. March 15th is fraught with stumbling blocks this year. A Dutch election is scheduled for this week which could move markets. More importantly, the Federal Reserve is meeting and March 15th is the day we reach a debt ceiling deadline here in the United States. The Federal Reserve will be meeting and they seem to be boxed in a corner. Rate hike odds according to Bloomberg are pushing 90%. This is the key move we have been highlighting for 2017. If the Fed does not raise rates markets may soar even higher as retail investors and animal spirits push into the market. If the Fed does raise rates it could pour some cold water on investors and slow the rally.

Retail investors are pouring into ETF’s as shown by the fact that the SPY had its largest inflow since 2014 this week and its second largest daily inflow since 2011. As per a report from CNBC company insiders are dumping stock into the marketplace at accelerated rates. For the moment caution must be heeded. Wall Street lore suggests that the third rate hike is when markets start to falter. A rate rise in March 15th would be the third rate rise of this cycle with the stated goal of two more rate hikes in 2017. History rhymes. It does not repeat. It could be different this time as we are starting from such a low level. For now, momentum is with the bulls but if retail investors are in charge things could change very quickly.

Stocks are still extremely overbought but this week they showed some slowing in their ascent. Stocks have run a long way and should stop to rest and acclimate to their new elevation. Finally, this week we saw a close in the S&P more than 1% away from its previous close. We have now not seen a move 1% lower in over 90 sessions.  Animal spirits are running high as retail investors are pouring into ETF’s like the SPY. We continue to be wary of market structure and overreliance on ETF’s. Late day marches higher in SPY are being blamed on retail buyers late to the party. Know what you own. No pushback on the idea that Germany should leave the Euro. Need to follow that one further down the rabbit hole.

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.

 

Back to the Future – 1987 and Trump

The Trump Rally continues as we expected. Given our thesis in our January Letter the possibility of a policy error by the Federal Reserve and/or the Trump Administration looks to be increasing. We believe that a policy error could set the stage for a substantial rally and then fall ala 1987. 1987 should not be looked at in fear but in anticipation of an opportunity. The table looks like it is getting set. Combine the clamor and excitement over deregulation and tax reform with a slow moving Fed and you have room for the Animal Spirits to run as investor euphoria takes hold. A 30% run from the lows before Election Day 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. Currently at 2367 on the S&P 500 one can see the potential for misstep by exiting one’s holdings completely and trying to time reentry. One solution is to dial back risk as you see markets rising and adding when the risk premium is more in your favor. Always make sure that you have the ability to buy when discounts come.

United States 10 year yields peaked at 2.6% in mid December and have been steadily falling back to the 2.3% level. We still think that the lows are in for the 10 year but the steady drip lower in yields has us concerned. The bond market is the much wiser brother of the stock market. The actions in the bond market have us thinking that investors see risk on the horizon. 2 year bond yields in Germany have reached new lows of negative (0.90%). NEGATIVE!! You buy the bonds and pay the government!

The Fed is struggling to make the March meeting look Live. The Fed has proposed that they will raise rates three times in 2017 and that just might not be possible if they do not raise rates in March. We believe March is the first key to understanding where equity markets are headed. If the Federal Reserve drags their feet and does not raise rates at the March meeting equity markets could overheat. Fed officials will then be forced to overreact at later policy meetings as they get behind the curve. The time is ripe for a policy error and markets could react swiftly.

From our good friend and mentor Arthur Cashin’s Comments February 23, 2017.

Is The Past Prologue? Maybe We Should Hope Not – The ever vigilant Jason Goepfert at SentimenTrader combed his prodigious files to see how many times the Dow closed at record highs for nine straight days. Here’s what he discovered: The Dow climbed to its 9th straight record. Going back to 1897, the index has accomplished such a feat only 5 other times. The momentum persisted in the months ahead every time, with impressive returns. But when it ended, it led to 2 crashes, 1 bear market and 1 stretch of choppiness. The five instances were 1927; 1929; 1955; 1964 and 1987. Here’s how Jason summed up his review: Like many instances of massive momentum, however, when it stopped, it stopped hard. Two of them led up to the crash in 1929, one to the crash in 1987, one to the extended bear markets of the 1960- 1970s and the other a period of extended choppy price action. So a little something for everyone there.

Momentum is towards higher prices. Stocks are extremely overbought. The S&P 500 has not seen a close of up or down more than 1% in over 50 sessions. Complacency is high. Machines seem to be running the market. Right now we are wary of market structure and overreliance on ETF’s. Know what you own. Keep an eye on bonds both here and in Europe. Europe is bubbling again. What if Germany left the euro? Discuss.

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.

Trump Train or Bulldozer?

All eyes are on Trump and Washington DC as the Trump Train rolls through our capital. Trump has been even more aggressive in using Executive Orders and in speaking to foreign leaders than most suspected and that has the Street on edge. Maybe we need to rename the Trump Train to the Trump Bulldozer. While most eyes are on Trump we are increasingly focused on the Fed. The Fed must attempt to act in concert with the President and his fiscal policy to avoid overheating or stalling the economy but good luck to them anticipating his next move. The Fed has made noise in recent weeks that perhaps it could shrink the size of its portfolio. The Fed has been consistent, in that, there was an inherent belief at the Eccles Building that the Fed did not need to shrink its balance sheet and that doing so would be the last maneuver in its process of normalizing rates. Ben Bernanke, former Fed Chairman, took the time out to explain in his blog why that is simply not a good idea. Could it be that politics are playing a role at the Fed?

…best approach is to allow a passive runoff of maturing assets, without attempting to vary the pace of rundown for policy purposes. However, even with such a cautious approach, the effects of initiating a reduction in the Fed’s balance sheet are uncertain. Accordingly, it would be prudent not to initiate that process until the short-term interest rate is safely away from the effective lower bound. 

…the FOMC may still ultimately agree that the optimal balance sheet need not be radically smaller than its current level. If so, then the process of shrinking the balance sheet need not be rapid or urgently begun.  Ben Bernanke

 Why is the Fed now talking about shrinking its balance sheet and not raising rates? We would like to see more consistency from the Fed. They have insinuated that three rates hikes are due this year. After taking a pass on raising rates this week and not setting the table for one in March the market is now pricing in just two rate hikes. The first rate hike is due in June and the second in December. If you have not read our Quarterly Letter you can take a peak for a further discussion on the topic. The short version is, if the Fed raises rates too slowly Trump’s policies may overheat the stock market which is at already historical valuations.

 If Fed Speak can’t jawbone a March rate hike back onto the table, policymakers will have precious little room for error to make good on their promised three rate increases for the remainder of the year. Danielle DiMartino Booth

February is the worst performing month in the October – May period but investors are heavily loaded up on equities regardless.  By way of Arthur Cashin , here are the widely followed Jason Goepfert’s notes on the market’s latest gyrations or lack thereof.

 After spurting to a new all-time high in late January, the S&P 500 has had a daily change of less than 0.1% for five of the six sessions since then. That’s almost unprecedented, but there have been times when it has contracted into an extremely tight range after a breakout. Several of those have occurred in just the past few years, and all of them preceded a tough slog for stocks over the medium-term. Hedge funds are betting that the rally continues. Exposure to stocks among macro hedge funds is estimated to be the highest since July 2015 and the 4th-highest in the past decade. The three other times it got this high, stocks struggled as the funds reduced exposure and eventually went short.

Stocks have stalled. Investors are heavily exposed to equities. February is not the best month for equities so investors aren’t expecting much. The market has a way of surprising you. Could the market finally be ready to make a move? Investors seem to be heavily tilted to the rally side of the boat.

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.