Pressure is Building and Hurricane Relief Homework

The markets perceived safe havens of gold and the US Treasuries continue to rally. The yield on the 10 year is back to flirting with the 2% level. Gold is trying to break through $1300 an ounce and was outperforming the S&P 500 for 2017. Those are not exactly confidence builders for stock investors. Those are flight to safety trades.

 While lower interest rates have been a hallmark of this bull market, used to justify virtually any valuation, the lens through which investors view them is nuanced. Too low and they start to suggest economic stress.

After rallying in sync for much of 2017, bonds and stocks have become disjointed as economic data misses expectations for the third straight month. The one-month correlation between the S&P 500 and the Bloomberg Barclays Global Aggregate Bond Index is at the lowest since April, with the S&P 500 flat lining since its Aug. 7 high, as 10-year yields dropped 11 basis points.

We grown concerned when the bond market looks anxious and the stock market ignores it but this is not your father’s stock market. This market has shrugged off thermonuclear war fears with North Korea, Presidential special prosecutors, the firing of a sitting FBI Director, a potential debt ceiling debate/default, rising interest rates and the expected shrinking of the Federal Reserve balance sheet.

The S&P 500 rallied off of its lows of 2430 to close the week at 2476. That brings us back to the resistance levels that we have been talking about since mid July. The market has rebounded quite quickly. What is interesting is that investors have been seemingly unanimous in calling for a market setback in the August – October timeframe. If that selloff does not come we may that melt up we have been talking about (ala 1987). Fund managers are under invested and do not wish to disappoint clients come year end. Time is money. A punch through 2480 on the S&P 500 could give the bulls room to run. The rally off of the lows of last week has been anything but active. A low volume run up doesn’t bring with it much conviction but the animal spirits could take over regardless with a swift punch through 2480.

Hurricane Harvey may be helping the stock market by taking a debt ceiling fight off of the table but you wouldn’t know it by looking at the short term bond market. The calendar around when we suspect the government will run out of money has grown quite active and its pricing is indicating that the bond market doesn’t have that much faith in Washington.

Since 1950, August and September are the worst performing months for the S&P 500. However, in the last ten years it is January and June that have taken the mantle of worst performing months. While the caution signs are there the market is still firmly in an uptrend. Support on the S&P 500 is very strong at its 100 Day Moving Average (DMA) and the 2420-2400 area is support for now. Trading desks have been understaffed since Memorial Day and markets have gone nowhere. Oil is stuck between $45-50 a barrel while gold struggles with $1300. The S&P 500 is range bound for now between 2420-2480. The ten year Treasury has been stuck between 2.1% and 2.40% since April. The pressure is building. With staff back in town things may get very interesting very quickly.

Harvey may bring some shortages up and down the east coast. Fill up before you leave the house. Have a great Holiday weekend!

Our old friends at Charity Navigator have done the homework for you and listed a few highly rated organizations for Hurricane Harvey relief. You can see more at their link below.

If you’re looking for a local charity to support in the wake of Hurricane Harvey please consider Houston SPCAHouston Humane SocietyHouston Food BankFood Bank of Corpus Christi, or San Antonio Humane Society. These highly-rated organizations are located in the most-affected areas and are providing support to individuals and animals.

– Charity Navigator

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

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

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

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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.

 

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.

Elevator or the Stairs??

Small caps have been our roadmap as we continue to assess the risk/reward conundrum that investing in a central bank dominated world presents. Small caps led us to see the shortcomings in the market before its brief fall in mid October which allowed us to use some dry powder and positively influence our returns this quarter. While the selloff was brief and somewhat violent the aftermath has been anything but. A long slow grind higher has all those who missed the selloff regretting their reticence. This bull market has been built on low volatility interspersed with infrequent violent selloffs. The market has a way of taking the stairs up and the elevator down. Our vigilance to any signs of volatility is of paramount importance and will continue to portend downside moves.

Our antenna is raised to any talk of increased bands of volatility in markets, of letting markets run. In the Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) October minutes there is one paragraph that stands out for us and that is its mention of volatility. When markets began to rally in mid October its rally can traced to a Federal Reserve official commenting that it would be possible to delay the end of its Quantitative Easing (QE) program. It is evident in the committee minutes that it does not want markets to get used to officials jawboning markets when they become volatile. The emphasis is ours in the following statement but it does appear that the committee is willing to expand the bands of volatility. Stairs up and elevator down.

…members considered the advantages and disadvantages of adding language to the statement to acknowledge recent developments in financial markets. On the one hand, including a reference would show that the Committee was monitoring financial developments while also providing an opportunity to note that financial conditions remained highly supportive of growth. On the other hand, including a reference risked the possibility of suggesting greater concern on the part of the Committee than was actually the case, perhaps leading to the misimpression that monetary policy was likely to respond to increases in volatility. In the end, the Committee decided not to include such a reference. 

Minutes of the Federal Open Market Committee October 28-29, 2014

http://www.federalreserve.gov/monetarypolicy/fomcminutes20141029.htm

Bill Gross of Janus is out with his latest missive and in it he complains of Central Banks trying to cure this debt crisis with more debt and the consequences of such. He is one of several high profile investors calling for low future investing returns and the need for investors to have cash on hand.

Markets are reaching the point of low return and diminishing liquidity. Investors may want to begin to take some chips off the table: raise asset quality, reduce duration, and prepare for at least a halt of asset appreciation engineered upon a false central bank premise of artificial yields, QE and the trickling down of faux wealth to the working class. If the nursery rhyme theme is apropos to the future, as well as the past, investors should remember that while “Jack and Jill went up the hill,” that “Jack fell down, broke his crown, and Jill came tumbling after.

Bill Gross Janus 12/04/2014

https://www.janus.com/bill-gross-investment-outlook

One of our favorite investment letters to read is Jeremy Grantham as he takes a quantitative approach to value investing. His study of bubbles in markets has led him and his team to conclude that bubble territory is 2250 on the S&P 500. Here are his comments from his latest letter.

Nevertheless, despite my nervousness I am still a believer that the Fed will engineer a fully-fledged bubble (S&P 500 over 2250) before a very serious decline.

My personal fond hope and expectation is still for a market that runs deep into bubble territory (which starts, as mentioned earlier, at 2250 on the S&P 500 on our data) before crashing as it always does. Hopefully by then, but depending on what the rest of the world’s equities do, our holdings of global equities will be down to 20% or less. Usually the bubble excitement – which seems inevitably to be led by U.S. markets – starts about now, entering the sweet spot of the Presidential Cycle’s year three, but occasionally, as you have probably discovered the hard way already, history can be a snare and not a help.

http://www.gmo.com/websitecontent/GMO_QtlyLetter_3Q14_full.pdf

Investors have reason to be excited. From a seasonal perspective this period of time from November 2014 to March of 2015 would represent, historically, the best period of returns. Market players may have a hard time resisting a rise in stock prices as the stars are aligned for further gains in this cycle if history and seasonality is any guide. It could however lead to a buying panic as equity valuations become further stretched and investor’s party like its 1999.

For the last few years the time to take profits has been when volatility shows up. When volatility calms down it is time to ride markets slow grind higher. Keep both hands on the wheel. When volatility rises take cover. When the storm passes you can advance. Volatility is the key. Higher volatility equals lower stocks.

Watch the Russell 2000 for clues to equity prices. Lower oil. Is it a supply issue or a demand issue? We think it both. It could lead to more geopolitical issues.

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.