Paradox

 The catch is, a boat this big doesn’t exactly stop on a dime.

Seaman Jones – Hunt for Red October

 Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it is time to pause and reflect. ~ Mark Twain

Paradox

The word of the year just might be paradox. In a normal year the market is full of conflicting information and contradictory conclusions. 2018 and its historical asset valuations may set a new bar when it comes to investing paradox. A recent Bank of America Global Fund Manager survey shows a record high number of managers feel that stocks are overvalued yet cash levels continue to fall. The upshot is that even though managers feel that markets are overvalued they are forced to chase the market ever higher and deploy their cash holdings. An explanation for this data point is that managers act in this way in an effort to provide themselves with insurance against career risk. Chasing markets higher can be, in itself, just an effort to assuage investors who see the market returns and expect the same despite manager’s historical models telling them to act more cautiously.

One data point that simply jumps off of the page from the fund manager survey is that close to 70% of fund managers believe that tax reform will lead to higher stocks in 2018. If 70% of managers feel that tax reform will lead to higher stock prices, and the stock market is a discounting mechanism, then shouldn’t that idea already be factored into stock prices? In a world where for every buyer there is a seller 70% is practical unanimity.

Here is yet another paradox. Low rates are a commonly ascribed reason as to why equity valuations are so high. Doesn’t everyone expect rates to rise in 2018 including the Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC)? The FOMC itself has stated that they expect to raise rates three times in 2018.  If it is widely expected that rates will rise and low rates are the reason for expensive equity valuations then shouldn’t equities be falling? We are left with the idea that the current market is in melt up mode due to the twin engines of human psychology and market structure.

New Regime

Current market structure is built on self reinforcing algorithms engineered by computers. Computers run by market makers see buy orders and place other buy orders ahead of clients in order to implement more liquidity into the system. Market makers, by design, restrict themselves as to how much capital they put at risk. At a certain level, dictated by management, a market maker will cover their short or dispose of their long in order to manage risk. A high and rising market will lead to a market maker buying more and a lower market will lead to a market maker dumping their position into a falling market. That leads to self reinforcing loops. We now find ourselves in an era with lower volatility and grinding markets with self reinforcing feedback. While we believe that the lower volatility regime is partly a response to the lower human emotional component of investing the emotions are still present and impactful.  Investors currently find themselves chasing the market ever higher as their models have told them to reduce their allocations to stocks but yet stocks push ever higher and clients demand higher returns. Hence, another self reinforcing feedback loop.

“…algorithmic traders and institutional investors are a larger presence in various markets than previously, and the willingness of these institutions to support liquidity in stressful conditions is uncertain.”- Janet Yellen FOMC Chair Jackson Hole 8/25/17

We are currently seeing record low volatility with continued rising asset valuations, all while being in an era of experimental monetary policy attempted globally for the first time in history. After conducting their experiment of adding liquidity to ward off the greatest financial crisis since the Great Depression central bankers have now begun to drain liquidity and lift interest rates.

Prices of bonds and stocks continue to advance further away from median historical valuations. That tells us that there is too much money in the system and it needs to be drained. The Fed and BIS (Bank of International Settlements) see that too and are anxious to drain or, at the very least, stop adding liquidity. That tipping point of global central bank balance sheets draining liquidity instead of adding may happen sometime in the summer of 2018 if markets allow.

Central bankers have never attempted this before and will now, in the next six months, begin to attempt the most difficult part of their act. In the face of this never before attempted trick by central bankers we find investors are taking on even more risk.  Are investors waiting to see who runs for the door first in an elaborate game of chicken? “Prices are still rising. I can’t sell. I will miss out. I will get out before the other guy.” It will be a small door when the music stops. It’s like the boiled frog. A frog will jump out of a hot pot but put him in a cool pot that slowly boils he won’t perceive the danger until it’s too late. Investors are the frog as central banks slowly raise interest rates and drain liquidity. They won’t know what hit them. Note the following quotes (courtesy of ZeroHedge) from Jerome Powell, the newly appointed Chair of the FOMC, from the FOMC Minutes in October of 2012.

[W]hen it is time for us (the Federal Reserve)to sell, or even to stop buying, the response could be quite strong; there is every reason to expect a strong response. – Jerome Powell FOMC Committee Minutes October 2012

 

Moral Hazard

I think we are actually at a point of encouraging risk-taking, and that should give us pause. Investors really do understand now that we will be there to prevent serious losses. It is not that it is easy for them to make money but that they have every incentive to take more risk, and they are doing so. – Jerome Powell FOMC Chair FOMC Minutes Oct 2012

Since the election of Donald Trump in November of 2016 we have postulated that we were on the precipice of a melt up in stocks. Since that time we have seen the S&P 500 rally by over 28%. It was not the election of Trump that led to that thought process it was an amalgamation of set points that had come together at that instant to provide the fuel for the rally. The election released the Animal Spirits of the market. We felt that investors would be spurred by the idea that deregulation, tax reform and infrastructure spending would lead an economy, which was primed and ready, to go to greater heights. But most importantly, the groundwork for this rally was put into place prior to the election by the members of the FOMC. What the FOMC had put into place was similar to kindling and gasoline looking for a spark and that spark arrived in the form of tax reform and deregulation.

The above quote from Powell deserves to be read again. By engineering QE, the FOMC took steps to actually encourage risk taking and, with that, the FOMC had created a moral hazard. Moral hazard is the idea that investors could and should count on the Federal Reserve to effectively bail them out if things went wrong. Investors have been trained to think that if there is a significant selloff in the market then the Fed will add liquidity. Perhaps even begin a new round of QE if the selloff is bad enough. That leads investors to think Why Sell? No one sells. The market just heads higher. People have adjusted to the new paradigm. Whenever the market gets in trouble the Fed bails it out. 1987. 1998. 2001. 2007. 2011.2012. 2015. That has investors asking “Why EVER Sell”?

The moral hazard of the Fed gave rise to what became known as The Greenspan Put. The put was the level in the market, which if the market ever fell to, the Federal Reserve would ride to the rescue, add liquidity and save markets from themselves. The Federal Reserve gave no reason for investors NOT to take on risk and substantial risk at that.

Another factor in the rise of animal spirits has been the parabolic rise in the price of bitcoin and the mania surrounding it. It has helped drive investors to an extreme in bullishness anticipating future investing profits. Now, bullishness in itself is not bad and, in fact, an extreme level of bullishness can portend further gains but we do believe that it sets markets up for difficult comparisons. Most major tops and bottoms in the market in recent years have what is seen as a negative divergence in its level of Relative Strength (RSI). We are currently seeing extreme levels of RSI in the broader market. Having hit this level of extreme bullishness we should see some sort of selloff or just a breather in markets rise. Having had that breather when we approach these levels again comparisons become very difficult. If those levels of bullishness do not hit prior levels investors may see that as a negative divergence and begin to take off risk. Bitcoin’s parabolic rise is a sign of mania in markets and caution should be paid. The FOMO Fear of Missing Out has investors, perhaps, getting in a little over their heads.

Giddy Up and Getting Giddy

We learn far more when we listen than when we talk so when smart people talk we listen. David Swenson is the Chief Investment Officer of the Yale Endowment. He is seen as the Michael Jordan of endowment investing. We have rarely seen interviews of him but we came across this one in November of last year at the Council on Foreign Relations. He was interviewed by Robert Rubin the former US Treasury Secretary and CEO of Goldman Sachs. My take on “uncorrelated assets” is that a good portion of what he is talking about is cash or cash like instruments that do not move with the stock market.

RUBIN: Did I hear you say that you have 32 percent now in uncorrelated assets?

SWENSEN: That’s correct.

RUBIN: More than you had in ’08, when we were in recession?

SWENSEN: Slightly more, yeah.

RUBIN: Do you think we’re in recession, or what scares you that you really want to have a recession-level of cash?

SWENSEN: Yeah. So I’m not worried about the economy so much. I have no idea what economic performance is going to be over the next five or 10 years. What I’m concerned about is valuation. I think when you look at pretty much any asset class anywhere in the world, it feels expensive. And the handful of areas that I talked about where I thought there were opportunities are kind of niche-y—short-selling, Japan, I think there’s some opportunities in China and India, although it’s hard to call either of those markets screamingly cheap either. So it’s really a question of valuation, not a question of economic fundamentals.

For now we ride markets higher. We ride them higher with lower equity exposure and lower durations but ride them we must as our clients need a return on their assets to provide for current and future liabilities.  But we grow in caution as giddy investors confidence grows with their account balances. We are concerned because valuations are historically high because interest rates are historically low. If we believe that asset valuations are a derivative of the risk free interest rate then shouldn’t valuations be falling as interest rates are rising? Or, perhaps, valuations will just drop off a cliff when interest rates hit some theoretical number? Will it be 3% on the 10 year? 4%? 5%? No one knows this theoretical number so is it not prudent to scale back your risk allocation given that higher interest rates are on the way? The frog is in the pot. The water is getting warmer. You cannot plan to get out before everyone else. We recalibrate our risk perspective. The trick is that human nature has us chasing higher and higher equity prices because we have fear of missing out.

The market is a massive naval ship running full steam ahead. It doesn’t stop on a dime. The markets could continue to rage. We recalibrate and adjust our asset allocations because when turning points come they will come quickly and seemingly come out of the blue. The Fed cannot react to every market twitch and if they are truly dedicated to reducing their balance sheet then they will have to raise their pain threshold and that makes the Fed Put lower (and more painful) in terms of the level of the S&P 500. For now we recalibrate, accept slightly lower rates of return and brace for a shock with non correlated assets as our cushion.

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. For now buy the dip still reigns while volatility selling strategies are de rigueur. In a self reinforcing loop the current paradigm reflects an assumption of the continuance of the status quo and trades built upon that will grow ever higher in AUM. That will make the break all the more painful and swift.

 What’s Next?

In economics, things take longer to happen than you think they will, and then they happen faster than you thought they could.”– Rudiger Dornbusch

Since November of 2016 we have postulated that we were on the verge of an animal spirits led melt up and we projected that much like 1987 we would see a 30-35% rally in markets before a letdown in prices. We may have underestimated the animal spirits. A strong 2017 followed by a strong start to 2018 could lead to further gains. We may also have underestimated current market structure as it may be causing markets to have longer, less volatile regimes and that regime change may become less and less frequent.

We feel that while we are in the late stages of a bull market it is best to pull back on risk and while late stages of bull markets can see spectacular returns we nor anyone else knows when that comes to an end. So for now we are in it to win it but just a little less in.

2018 has come in like a lion. We think that a correction in 2018 is likely and how the Federal Reserve responds to that correction is likely to determine how long and how deep that correction is. Tax reform is priced in and economic news has been positive. While those positives are now baked in the cake disappointing actual results from tax reform could impact pricing. Also, impact could be felt from rising bond yields as investors seek safe haven in bonds over stocks. This week the rate on the 2 year bill rose above that of the S&P 500 yield for the first time since 2008. Investors may begin to see bonds as an alternative to equities. If a correction should come we would expect it to be sharp and scary but will set equities up for another leg higher in 2019 and beyond.  We believe it is prudent to be a bit more conservatively positioned this late in the cycle and expect lower returns in order to be prepared to profit from others panic and flawed market structure.

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

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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.

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Cross Your Fingers

The parade of famous money managers coming out to proclaim that asset valuations are too high continues. This week’s contestants included Paul Singer of Elliott Management and Bill Gross from Janus funds. Speaking at the Bloomberg Invest summit in New York, Bill Gross proclaimed that in regard to US markets as an investor you are “buying high and crossing your fingers”. Bloomberg

Singer had the following to say:

“I don’t think that the fixes that have been put into place have actually created a sound financial system. I don’t believe that confidence is justified in policy makers and central bankers.”

If and when confidence is lost, it could be lost in a very abrupt fashion causing conceivably a ruckus in bond markets, stock markets and in financial institutions.” – Paul Singer

While we agree with the parade of money managers that markets are overvalued, overly complacent and apathetic to growing risks, until markets recognize those risks, assets prices will continue to rise. Here is our next level of thinking on the subject. Singer has just raised $5 billion in ready cash and he is anxious to deploy it. He, like other underinvested money managers, needs lower prices. We think that the animal spirits playbook is still alive. Markets have not broken down and still seem to be headed higher. Higher markets may force investors to chase it even higher.

While there was plenty of potential for fireworks as we came into the week it went out with a real thud. Most eyes were on Thursday and the Comey congressional testimony but it was Friday that provided the only action of the week. In a week that saw the world’s largest natural gas supplier, Qatar, being cut off from supplies and creating food shortages in one of the richest nations on earth, markets didn’t even blink. While the much hyped James Comey testimony and a hung parliament in the United Kingdom election didn’t move markets it was a reevaluation of tech stock prices on Friday that gave the week any life at all. The fireworks were provided by Face book, Amazon and Apple. The street has been making noise that the high flying tech stocks needed a breather and they got that breather on Friday. The key is will we see a real rotation out of tech and growth and into value stocks and the 2017 YTD laggards. We will see next week if that is what we have in store for the summer of 2017.

Equities are still in the middle of what we anticipate to be the new range on the S&P 500. For now we see support at 2400 on the S&P 500 with 2475 providing resistance. Interest rates may have seen their interim low for awhile. Financials and energy were the standout performers on Friday with small and mid cap stocks getting a day in the sun. Small and mid cap stocks have lagged so far in 2017.Perhaps they have further to run if this rotation continues.

If you are not currently receiving our blog by email you can sign up for free at https://terencereilly.wordpress.com/ .

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/ .

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 Drive Higher

The big story this week was that the Federal Open Market Committee’s (FOMC) minutes were released from its last meeting. In those minutes it becomes clear that the FOMC is looking to reduce its balance sheet. Long time readers know that we feel that it was the increase in that balance sheet that helped greatly influence the stock market rally and raise prices of virtually all asset classes in the post crisis period. Any reduction in that balance sheet would logically have the opposite effect at some point. If the FOMC were to roll off its balance sheet the valuations of equity markets, driven higher due to easy money policies, may not be able to maintain their currently elevated plateau. Earnings alone will not be able to expand market multiples.

The bottom line is that the Fed needs more weapons to fight the next recession. The Fed must reduce its balance sheet before they raise rates further. If they begin to roll off the balance sheet it becomes another weapon for them to use because they can stop and start the process or move it faster or slower. If they remain static it is a liability and not an asset.

We have been pointing towards a looming crisis in the municipal finance area. The latest on our radar is the state of Connecticut. Connecticut’s largest moneymakers have been leaving town and sticking the state with the bill. Big earners know tax law and are incentivized to leave the state for greener pastures of low tax states like Florida. Atlas is shrugging. Courtesy of zero hedge comes the following.

The latest figures showed that tax revenue from the state’s top 100 highest-paying taxpayers declined 45% from 2015 to 2016. The drop adds up to a $200 million revenue loss for Connecticut. Connecticut Tax Cut

Oil had a rough week but it did manage to crawl back and close higher on Friday. It failed to close above the critical $50 a barrel on West Texas Crude (WTI). Equities are breaking out of the range that they has been trapped in for the last 3 months. The range of 2330-2400 on the S&P 500 was broken this week as the market closed on Friday at the 2415 level. This breakout could extend to 2475 if it gets legs. For now, volume is low and the few big leaders are influencing the advance. Summer markets are more prone to sharp moves as investors head to the beach. Our main thesis still holds that the market heads higher post Donald Trump’s victory with a move much akin to 1987.

If you are not currently receiving our blog by email you can sign up for free at https://terencereilly.wordpress.com/ .

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/ .

 

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.

 

Crackdown, Smackdown and Fever

Two areas of asset pricing that we always keep an eye on in an attempt to decipher the market’s next move are US Treasuries and the oil patch. Let’s take a look at the current oil market and the commodity sector. Falling oil prices indicate lessening demand and therefore a lagging economy. In a nasty selloff oil is now down 11% in the last 3 weeks. There are rumors of major oil focused hedge funds liquidating or taking all risk off of their books as the price of oil swiftly moves lower. All of this while copper takes a tumble too. A falling oil price (and copper for that matter) does not bode well for the economy, high yield stocks or the stock market. When we talk weak commodities our thoughts immediately turn to China. The recent selloff in the commodity sector is being linked to a tightening of monetary conditions in China. A crackdown by the Chinese government is leading to higher interest rates and a tightening of the money supply in an effort to deleverage the economy. That, in turn, leads to lower commodity prices as China is one of the world’s largest consumers of commodities. A slowdown in China needs to be on our radar.

We have also been seeing a drift lower in hard data on the US economy. This data has been dragging since the failure of Trump & Co. to repeal Obama Care the first time in March. It seems that the market is waiting on some good to come out of Washington DC. We should never count on anything to come out of Washington DC.

The market is stuck in consolidation mode. In spite of recent data on a slowing economy we still expect the market to break out of its recent range to the upside and in favor of the bulls. More often than not when a market consolidates a major move it breaks out of that pattern the same way that it came into it. It’s all about momentum and the animal spirits of the market. That would mean we break out to the upside. There are lots of negatives about like weak US data, a Chinese slowdown and massive insider selling by US Corporate executives but the market refuses to break down. Many astute investors are warning about valuations in the market and are taking down risk.  They could be forced to chase the market higher adding fuel to the fire of animal spirits.

There is currently a massive speculative fervor in the crypto currencies like Bit Coin and Ethereum. A speculative fever has broken out and it is suspected that a lot of that money is coming out of China as capital controls are implemented and from Japan where a tax on investing in crypto currencies is going to be waived soon. Please approach with caution! This market is moving fast.

This may be a bit too inside baseball but the lack of volatility is important to watch. One of the most popular trades on the street over the last few years has been to sell volatility. Massive selling of volatility compresses the price of volatility, the numbers of players executing this strategy increases with the trade’s success and it brings in more and more investors to the trade. The word is that 95% of the float in VXX (Volatility ETN) is being used to short volatility. Ladies and gentlemen 30% would be large, but 95%!! The boat is listing to port as too many investors are in on this trade. This will explode violently in their faces. We don’t know when but it will. It always does. The risk parity trade and the selling of volatility combined with the reliance on passive investing ETF’s with High Frequency Trading market makers create a structural weakness in the market and will at some point create an opportunity for those with cash when the time comes. Forewarned is forearmed.

If you are not currently receiving our blog by email you can sign up for free at https://terencereilly.wordpress.com/ .

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/ .

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.

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.

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.

When Everyone Agrees

Here is a short blog today as we are currently writing our end of the year letter and formulating our investment thesis for 2017. Bob Farrell was an absolute legend during his 5 decades on Wall Street and finished his career on the Street as the Chief Strategist at Merrill Lynch. Farrell encapsulated his 45 years of experience in his widely distributed 10 Rules for Investing.  As our thoughts turn to what is going to happen in 2017 we find ourselves turning to his sage like wisdom. While they are all of equal importance we find ourselves drawn to #9 as 2017 dawns.

  1. Markets tend to return to the mean over time.
  2. Excesses in one direction will lead to an opposite excess in the other direction.
  3. There are no new eras — excesses are never permanent.
  4. Exponential rising and falling markets usually go further than you think.
  5. The public buys the most at the top and the least at the bottom.
  6. Fear and greed are stronger than long-term resolve.
  7. Markets are strongest when they are broad and weakest when they narrow.
  8. Bear markets have three stages.
  9. When all the experts and forecasts agree, something else is going to happen.
  10. Bull markets are more fun than bear markets.

Seemingly, every single investing professional that we read or talk has the same expectations for 2017. Experts see a January dip being bought and Wall Street’s best and brightest see 2017 returning a rather staid 5% on average according to Barron’s. We have a funny feeling that isn’t quite how it’s going to work out. When everyone agrees – something else will happen. We will be back next week with our thoughts on how we feel it is going to work out. Hope you have a healthy, happy and prosperous 2017!!

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.

 

Buckle Up

In the 1st Quarter of 2017 it will mark 8 years of the bull. Valuations are elevated to say the least but new policies from the White House and Republicans may give another boost to the market. A new resident at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue can introduce risk to the market. A new leader in the Executive Office may prefer to take a recession or market rout early on in their term in order to blame the other guy. But this new leader seems to be unlike any other we have ever seen. In the short term moving into Q1 we think that there may be some buyer’s remorse on the Trump win. Not in relation to Trump (we are agnostic politically in terms of making investment returns) but in relation to getting those policies of decreased regulation, lower taxes and the repatriation of funds actually passed. The Supreme Court may have to come first.

January could find some bumps in the road but once a bull market gets this far we expect it to end in spectacular fashion. Two years come to mind that took place in a rising interest rate environment – 1981 and 1987. In 1981 Ronald Reagan came into the Oval Office with great expectations and saw stock prices up 5% in the first quarter of his Presidency.The market then fell over 19% in Reagan’s first nine months in office. While this does rhyme somewhat with the Trump Rally the landscape was very different in 1981. Although 1981 was a period of rising interest rates we saw a nation that was struggling with a 14 year bear market and an economy that was treading water with Fed Fund rates in the early teens and rising. 1981 was an environment of low valuations and high interest rates which is just the opposite of what we have today.

A year that might have more significance would be 1987. At the dawn of 1987 share prices had appreciated more than 100% from the lows put in 5 years earlier and the year began with a bang. The Dow Jones would be up 35% by August of that year. While the Federal Reserve was raising rates euphoria ran wild on Wall Street with seemingly daily mergers creating wealth for shareholders. “Animal Spirits” of a rising stock market took hold and shares ran higher with investors fearing that they were being left behind and easy money was being made on Wall Street. 2017 could bring something very similar. Investors are anxious as valuations are historically elevated and, while not wanting to take on added risk, there is a fear of being left behind. According to Sir John Templeton bull markets die in euphoria. We are at the point where we think this market is close to euphoria and it being more likely that this bull move ends with a bang and not with a whimper. While valuations have us cautious and protecting against negative shocks to the system what we could see is a shocking move higher.  

In Jeremy Grantham’s work on bubbles he postulated in June of last year that the market could run up to close to 3000 on the S&P 500 before breaking under the weight of excessive bubble – like valuations. That would be about 30% from here.

This week it became evident that Trump’s win could give rise to policies that would provide the Fed the cover that it needs to be more aggressive in raising rates. In their first post election meeting Janet Yellen and the Federal Reserve are predicted 3 interest rates hikes in 2017 rather than the 2 expected previously. While we all know the Fed is notoriously inept at predicting anything its current projections show a more aggressive hawkishness from its previous stance. This could help normalize interest rates into the range of 2-5% that the Fed prefers. This would be healthy from a longer term perspective and give the Federal Reserve ammunition should another crisis arise but it may produce some bumps in the road near term. We think that this normalization would be a net positive by giving business owners more confidence and more impetus to invest in their organizations which in the long term would be supportive to jobs and the economy.  

US Treasury rates on the 10 year are hovering around 2.6% as they seemingly stabilized this week. As far as equities go investors kept their wallet on their hip this week and did not drive the market into further overbought territory. There is some angst over the end of the year and the memory of the last several January’s which saw equities move lower. We expect investors are ready and willing to buy the next dip. That dip will probably not be pronounced and may provide kindling for the animal spirits to drive the market higher in 2017.   

Chinese may be struggling as they saw had debt and currency issues this week. Their currency is falling rapidly as they try to maintain control. China’s economy and their relationship with the US is shaping up to be THE story of 2017.The Saudi’s still wish to see a higher oil price at least until the Aramco IPO gets floated in 2017. They will try and keep oil stable and rising until then. Watch the Aramco IPO for clues as to oil’s direction. Markets are still overbought and Santa has not even arrived yet. Market pundits are seemingly all calling for a low return year. What you expect is not usually what you get when it comes to the stock market. When everyone is leaning one way we lean the other. We see volatility coming back and some wide swings up and down. Buckle up.   

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.

Controlled Burn

I believe risk is most when we feel it least and the risk is least when we feel it most. -Steve Blumenthal CMG

I read Steve Blumenthal’s weekly blog On My Radar every week. I don’t always agree with Steve but he always makes me think. His take on risk really struck a chord with me. I read it over several times. When the wine if flowing and markets are rising we don’t notice that risk is rising. Market moves lower create sheer panic. That gets our attention. It is then that risk is lower. Tops may or may not be forming but the signs are there. Investor complacency. Mega deals. High valuations. Be on guard.

http://www.cmgwealth.com/ri/radar-youve-got-remember-two-things/

Oil has taken a beating over the last week. The negotiations between the OPEC nations have seen more posturing and negotiating and that has oil backing away from $50 a barrel. We think that they are closer to the end of the negotiations than the beginning. Things for the Saudi’s at home are running a little tight and they need higher oil prices. The Saudi’s are looking for cooperation and we think they will make a deal. Right now oil is in a bit of a panic selloff and may seek to retest the lows. Goldman Sachs has piled on by calling for lower oil prices. Doing the opposite of what Goldman says publicly has been a great strategy for years.

http://www.zerohedge.com/news/2016-11-01/goldman-warns-oil-headed-low-40-declining-probability-opec-deal

Arthur Cashin pointed out on Friday morning that the market is on an extended losing streak and it has been picking up steam since breaking through the 2130 level we warned about.

The negative close made it eight down sessions in a row something the S&P hasn’t done since October of 2008 in the days following the Lehman collapse. The severity of the selling was far sharper in 2008. That eight session sell off dinged the S&P for 23% while this move has only sliced 3% from the S&P. 11/4/2016

Friday’s close made it 9 down sessions in a row. That makes for the longest losing streak in 36 years. The market is down only 4.9% from its all time high so this is acting as a very controlled burn. A Trump win could make for more downside but another 5% would be a very healthy 10% correction which we haven’t seen in a while. The big question is will the Federal Reserve still raise rates if Trump wins? That could help propel the selloff. We have our doubts that the Fed will have the stomach for it. If they do we could see cheaper prices. We have had heavy cash positions for some time. One year returns have gone negative on the S&P. Valuations have been high and that justified our cash position. History tells us that markets have struggled to rise from these valuation levels. The market has been stuck in a rut. We would love to see cheaper prices.

Market closed at 2085 which is just above our support level of 2080. Even a blind squirrel finds a nut from time to time. A break of 2080 brings 2040 into play but markets are very oversold and looking for a bounce. 2080 is support for now. We would not be surprised if we do not have a winner on Tuesday night. Gore v Bush. Hold all tickets!

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.

 

 

 

 

 

Published in: on November 5, 2016 at 8:20 am  Leave a Comment  
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