Blackthorn Quarterly Letter April 2018

 Roaring

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

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

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

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

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

What Changed?

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

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

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

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

Until Something Breaks

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 What’s Next

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

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

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

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

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

Emotional Capital

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

 lighthouse

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

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

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Terry@BlackthornAsset.com

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

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FANG’s Lay an Egg

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

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

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

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

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

To learn more about us and Blackthorn Asset Management LLC visit our website at www.BlackthornAsset.com .

 

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

 

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

The Ides of March

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

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

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

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

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

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

To learn more about us and Blackthorn Asset Management LLC visit our website at www.BlackthornAsset.com .

lighthouse

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

 

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

Trump Stepping on The Gas

As Warren Buffett famously said, “When the tide goes out you find out who has been swimming naked”. That tide may be rising interest rates. The tide has only begun to recede and yet it appears we may have found some to be swimming naked. In recent weeks we have seen unexpected announcements from the likes of Met Life and GE in regards to accounting irregularities and large conglomerates in China and the Netherlands with liquidity issues. HNA Group which owns Hilton Hotels is desperately searching for liquidity. The tide hasn’t even gone out yet. This could be the tip of the iceberg as zombie companies which have been left alive due to central bank zero interest rates may now fight to stay afloat. The rising tide of interest rates should bring us more instances of who has been swimming naked.

Coming off one of the worst weeks in years for equities we now have one of the best weeks in years. Don’t be lulled into complacency. This was to be expected as investors have now reversed half of the sell off after retesting the lows at the key 200 day moving average. We do not think that the all clear can be given yet. The selloff was violent from extremely elevated levels and that should give us caution. The true test, as we have been warning, is the retest of the old highs. The old highs were hit with such fervor that we do not think that the amplitude will be the same when we get there again. The swift and violent move off of the extreme highs has brought doubt into the equation for the first time in awhile. Let’s see if equities can pass this exam.

It appears that the expected outcomes by market participants may have changed the moment the tax bill was passed. Fiscal stimulus this late in the business cycle with a performing economy could force the central bank to tighten quicker than it had planned. That only increases the level of difficulty of the high wire act that the central bank is already attempting. The odds of a central bank policy mistake are rising and that contributed to the selloff along with rising inflation and the prospect of higher interest rates. Another contributing factor of the sell off was that Wall Street can smell weakness. Much had been made about the overzealousness of the volatility selling crowd. Those sellers were ripe for a lesson and Wall Street gave it to them. Wall Street, when sensing weakness, will press the case against the weak. Much like culling the slow and weak from a herd Wall Street feeds on the same. We have no doubt that the case was pressed against vol sellers until they capitulated. That gave rise to further de leveraging which spurred the computers into an all out rout. The key question here is, has the tide turned? We will see soon enough when the highs on the S&P 500 are tested once again.

Point here being that the uber-ambiguous “something has changed in the market” meme that’s been going-around is based-upon the underlying change in perception with regard to a bond market that is waking from its slumber due to a new-found Central Bank willingness to normalize policy on account of actual signs of “growth” and “inflation”—ESPECIALLY after being “put over the top” by US fiscal stimulus.  The above observations are simply the manifestations of this mentality-shift in the market….qualitative observation into quantitative phenomenon.- From Charlie Mcelligott, head of Nomura’s Cross-Asset Strategy

We have been writing that the Trump policies would give the FOMC cover to raise interest rates but those same policies may be too much of a good thing. Fiscal stimulus, tax reform, deregulation and infrastructure spending may force the Fed to raise rates faster than they would like. As the Fed is hitting the brakes Trump is stepping on the gas.

We continue to hold short duration bonds coupled with a slight underweight in equities. However, we did cautiously add to equities during the selloff. We continue to add to new positions that prepare for a further rise in inflation. We believe that we are in the late stage of the business cycle where commodities tend to prosper. Current central bank positioning combined with fiscal stimulus could lead to a quicker than expected rise in inflation. We are positioning for a surprise to the upside.

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

To learn more about us and Blackthorn Asset Management LLC visit our website at www.BlackthornAsset.com .

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

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

It’s Just Math

So much to say and so little space. Let’s jump right in.

What Happened?

Investors are convinced that Interest rates have begun to move higher and may have broken their 30 year + downtrend. The US 10 year has gone from 2% to 2.85% in just 5 months. The 10 year is in every risk calculation. The risk free rate is a base from which just about every valuation springs from. Has the 30 year bond bull market ended? It seems more and more are in that camp.

It can’t be just Bonds. Can it?

No. The severity of the move was exacerbated by the short volatility trade (see our warnings Very Superstitious, Less In and Fall is In the Air) and market structure which we warned about My Name is Mario, Paradox and Caution Flags.

Short Volatility Trade

In the next sharp market move volatility will be the driver as investors scramble to cover their shorts wiping out many involved in that trade. Blog Post 10/21/2017 “Very Superstitious

Bonds, the Vol Trade and Risk Parity

We continue to fret about risk parity and volatility selling. When stocks go down we will look at bond prices. At some point they will both go down in tandem and selling will beget selling. If there is a meltdown, we believe that is where we will see it start. Blog PostLess In” 11/18/2017

Market Structure – Or Why the Market Fell So Fast

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

You may have pundits who say that it cannot be bond yields. They will say, “Four years ago the 10 year was at 3%. 3% 10-year yields didn’t stop the bull market then”.  Yes, but 3 years ago the S&P 500 was at 2000. It is now closer to 3000 with a high of 2872 put in a month ago. The S&P 500 at 2000 with a 3% ten year yield is a lot more palatable than when the S&P 500 is at 3000. Stocks are more expensive and have a lower dividend yield in 2018. Remember, stocks are valued in light of the risk free rate – the 10 year yield.

We are now in the late part of the short-term debt/business cycle when demand is increasing faster than the capacity to produce, so interest rates rise to put the breaks on and that hurts investment asset prices before it hurts the economy. -Ray Dalio Bridgewater Associates LinkedIn 2/8/18

The three legged stool of a higher stock market since the GFC has been stronger economic growth, low inflation and central bank stimulus. Those components of a stronger stock market may become a headwind in 2018. Currently, the Atlanta Fed is predicting 4% GDP in Q1 of 2018. That tells us that if growth gets much stronger central banks will have to take away stimulus at a more rapid pace. Inflation is rising with higher wages and central banks are already scheduled to take away stimulus in 2018. Don’t fall for the stronger economy = stronger stock market argument. A stronger economy and higher inflation will only lead to the Fed tightening faster. Trump’s policies may force the Fed to take away stimulus.

The combination of experimental central bank monetary policy and the Trump administration’s stated goals, if not enacted in concert, raise the risks that something is going to break. Those stated policy goals, while giving the Federal Reserve cover to raise rates, also make the Federal Reserve’s exit from their easy money polices of the last 8 years particularly tricky. To be frank their exit was never going to be easy. Blog Post Witches’ Brew 4/8/2017

Governments want inflation – just not too much inflation. Great investing minds such as Jeff Gundlach and Paul Tudor Jones are telling us that inflation is coming and commodities should play out well this late in the cycle. Central banks still have negative rates in parts of the world and in the US we have a President trying to stimulate the economy and having success. Right policies, wrong timing. Central banks are now behind the curve and markets may not like faster tightening. Another issue is the Fed Put. The Fed Put has given investors enormous confidence to buy ever rising stocks. Where will the Fed step in if markets get in trouble? We think that as inflation rises the Fed Put moves lower. The Fed cannot repeat the mistakes of the Weimar Republic and let inflation rage out of control. They will need to stop inflation and the acceptance of more volatility and a lower stock market may be the price.

The fundamentals have changed. Good news has become bad news. Any positive developments on the economy may be translated to a need for more tightening from the Fed. As Main Street benefits in higher wages Wall Street may suffer. Inflation will create the regime change from global economic recovery to global stimulus withdrawal. Governments want some inflation. Some inflation is good. From a government’s perspective deflation is always bad. That is why the Fed will support the market in a deflationary environment but not support it as quickly when it comes to too much inflation. Their support of the market is much, much slower to arrive in an inflationary environment especially when it sees a White House that is already stimulating the economy fiscally.

We have grown weary of hearing one pundit after another tell us that “The fundamentals have not changed; that the economy is strong and that stocks will go higher once this correction has run its course.” It is precisely because the fundamentals have not changed that stocks are weak, for the history of equities is to discount the future and the equity markets are looking beyond today’s economic fundamentals… which are, again, very strong… and are looking to the future when those fundamentals will eventually change for the worse. That is the job of the capital markets: to discount the future by looking into the future and not looking at the present. Dennis Gartman – The Gartman Letter

Bull market tops are a process and are usually not an event. We believe that we are at the beginning of that process. Fixed income is becoming more attractive as rates rise and central bankers will now attempt to step away from their support of assets. We do not think that they will have any luck but we think that the next 12-18 months in markets will be difficult with a strong increase in volatility.

This is what we had to say last month.

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. Paradox 1/8/18

 

We were prepared for this selloff and continue to position our clients for success in this environment. We have been underweight equities and have shortened bond duration as far we can stand. We continue to expect volatility and market shocks while being prepared for the return of inflation and to profit from both.

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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.

The Risk to the Rally

The Risk to the Rally is the Rally itself. We came across a note from a research firm that we will not name. We highly respect the firm but the comment struck us like a thunderbolt. “Nothing can seemingly stop this market in 2018”. That is a very bold statement with 11 months to go in the year. A great start that has us running with the bulls but investors may be getting just a bit ahead of ourselves.

“With a 6.1 percent year to date gain and just three down days in the fifteen trading days of 2018, nothing can seemingly stop this market in 2018,” the firm’s analysts wrote Wednesday.

So far in 2018 we have rising bond yields, full employment, a Federal Reserve that is raising rates, trade friction, a falling US Dollar, tax reform and a runaway stock market. The punch line is that we might as well be talking about 1987. We wrote last year that the Trump Administration’s policies may give the FOMC the cover that they need to raise rates. The problem now is that Trump Administration policies could force the Fed to raise rates faster than they would like. A seemingly lower US Dollar policy, tax reform, trade wars and deregulation all could help foster that inflation the FOMC has been wishing for and force them to be more hawkish when it comes to monetary policy. At some point those rising yields will put pressure on risk assets.

“Obviously a weaker dollar is good for us as it relates to trade and opportunities,” Mnuchin told reporters in Davos. Mnuchin said recent declines in the value of the dollar against other currencies were “not a concern of ours at all.” – Steven Mnuchin US Treasury Secretary

From our good friends over at the Global Macro Monitor blog here is their thoughts on the latest developments out of Washington DC.

We have voiced our concern as we have noticed over the past few weeks the dollar weakening as interest rates are rising. A red flag.

Bad Timing 

The U.S. economy is humming at full capacity with inflation already on the cusp of moving higher. A weaker dollar is, effectively, a monetary easing and makes the Fed’s job that much harder at a time when financial conditions are incredibly loose.

The Administration also just announced the implementation of tariffs on solar panels and washing machines. LG Electronics has already announced they plan to raise prices on some of its models.  Retaliation by our trading partners seems likely.  Ergo inflationary pressures increase on the margin

https://macromon.wordpress.com/

The measured pace of the Federal Reserve is much like the measured pace of the Greenspan Fed in the mid 2000’s. The paradox then was that as the Fed kept raising rates at a measured pace the market kept roaring higher. Effectively, financial conditions got easier the more the Fed raised rates. That is the same paradox we have today. Financial conditions indicate easier conditions as the market heads higher with rising yields.

We feel that looser financial conditions are being exacerbated by the Fed’s frog in the pot. If the Fed continues to slowly boil the water asset prices will continue to trend higher, however, the downturn in markets, when it comes, will be worse. The Fed, at some point, should shock markets and raise rates 50 BP. Unfortunately, we do not feel that they will have the political will to hit markets with a 50 BP rate rise. That would certainly get markets attention. Otherwise, it may be up to inflation or possibly a trade war to get the market’s attention.

https://www.zerohedge.com/news/2018-01-24/us-financial-conditions-easiest-2000-despite-5-fed-rate-hikes

https://www.bis.org/publ/qtrpdf/r_qt1712a.htm

Howard Marks is out with his latest memo this week and it is well worth the read. He has a new book coming out in October that we are looking forward to reading on cycles. Here are some of the highlights of what he had to say on his Latest Thinking this week. Go on to read the entire memo. It is worth the time.

The bottom line of the above is that some people are excited about the fundamentals, and others are wary of asset prices.  Both positions have merit, but as is often the case, the hard part is figuring out which one to weight more heavily.

 Closer to the bullish end of the spectrum or the bearish end?  Or balancing the two equally?  My answer today, as readers know, is that I would favor the defensive or cautious part of the spectrum.  In my view, the macro uncertainties, high valuations and risky investor behavior rule out aggressiveness and render defensiveness more sensible.

For one thing, I’m convinced the easy money has been made…., isn’t it appropriate to take less risk in equities than one took six years ago?

Prospective returns are well below normal for virtually every asset class.  Thus I don’t see a reason to be aggressive.

At times when the economy does well, risk doesn’t rear its head, risk-takers prosper and the returns on low-risk alternatives are unattractive, investors tend to drop their prudence and conclude that high prices aren’t a problem in and of themselves.  This usually turns out to be a mistake, but it can take years. – Howard Marks

https://www.oaktreecapital.com/insights/howard-marks-memos

Now it seems that everywhere there is talk of melt up. We pointed to that possibility over a year ago. We tend to be early. Being early is a good thing. It allows for us to prepare. It is time to prepare. We are preparing for higher interest rates, higher than expected  inflation so that leads us to consider adding commodities and further shortening our duration in bonds while also cutting back on risk overall. The January Barometer tells us that with January up 7.5% in 2018 that should lead to a positive year. Great start but no time to rest. Keep in mind there may be some bumps along the way.

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/ .

pexels-photo-722664.jpeg

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.

S&P To Triple in 2018

If you read our Quarterly Letter you know that the overriding question is at what level will bond yields begin to hurt stocks? Well, courtesy of “Bond King” Jeffrey Gundlach we have a number. Gundlach held his yearly January conference call this week which is always fascinating and filled with thought provoking ideas. In his conference call Gundlach stated that the 2.63% level on the 10 year is going to be a very important level and at which stocks may begin to suffer. The 10 year closed the week at 2.55% but touched a high of 2.597%.

I have spent the better part of the weekend in the office reading interviews with investing mavens and re-listening to conference calls, much to the chagrin of my wife. This week we heard from Jeffrey Gundlach, Bill Gross and Jeremy Grantham, all of whom we value highly in their opinions. If you have time check out Grantham’s latest missive titled “Bracing Yourself for A Melt Up”.  We, of course, agree with Grantham as we have been calling for a melt up in the markets since November 2017 and its subsequent 30% mark up. He makes what we believe are salient points in regards to his concept of bubbles and his feeling that one critical component is the acceleration of prices. Turning points in markets happen very quickly. That is why we stay invested. This melt up could run much further, higher and faster than any of us can predict. That is why we stay invested and simply recalibrate our allocations.

Another reason we have spent so much time in the office this weekend is that we believe that we are on the cusp of a regime change in markets. That regime change could spell the end of the bond bull market of the last 30 odd years and see a reemergence of inflation. Jim Paulsen, Chief Investment Strategist from the Leuthold Group had this to say back in November on the regime change.

“As financial markets are weaned off the juice they have been drinking for almost a decade, investors should prepare for a very different bull market in the balance of this recovery,” he said. “Without a chronic injection of financial liquidity, the stock market may struggle more frequently, overall returns are likely to be far lower, and bond yields may customarily rise.”

To be sure, Paulsen is not predicting a market collapse. Instead, he suggests investors will need to shift strategy away from the cyclical U.S.-centric approach that has worked for most of the past 8½ years, due to the likely contraction of money supply compared to nominal GDP growth.

That means value over growth stocks, international over domestic, and inflationary sectors, like energy, materials and industrials, over disinflationary groups like telecom and utilities.

Here is what Dr. Ben Hunt at Epsilon Theory had to say on inflation and QE back in July of last year.

(As the Fed slowly raises rates) It will force companies to take on more risk. It will force companies to invest more in plant and equipment and technology. It will force companies to pay up for the skilled workers they need.

In exactly the same way that QE was deflationary in practice when it was inflationary in theory, so will the end of QE be inflationary in practice when it is deflationary in theory.

My view: as the tide of QE goes out, the tide of inflation comes in. And the more that the QE tide recedes, the more inflation comes in.

Dr. Ben Hunt Epsilon Theory

The timing on Trump’s tax reform is a bit late in the cycle and may end up exacerbating inflationary pressures. Central bankers have been pouring gasoline on the pyre for years with no effect. Pushing on a string. Higher rates (and tax reform) may be the match and with too much gasoline on the fire inflation may be the result.

(the economy) “will be getting an extra boost in 2018 and 2019 from the recently enacted tax legislation” which could lead to overheating. In which case, it would be necessary for the Fed to “press harder on the brakes”  –

NY Federal Reserve President William Dudley

The combination of higher rates, the end of QE and tax reform may push the market and economy into overheating. Late stages of bull markets tend to be very kind to commodity plays and we are beginning to see movement in the typical commodity plays. Transports are off to their best start since 1983. The S&P is off to its best start since 1987 while the Dow is off to its best start since 1997.At its current rate so far in 2018 the S&P 500 will triple by the end of the year. Not entirely likely. According to one of the many sentiment indicators that we follow the bulls are partying like it is 1987. It is starting to feel more like 1998-99. Watch for price acceleration.

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/ .

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.

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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BitCoin

Be greedy when others are fearful and fearful when others are greedy. – Warren Buffett

The most important aspect of investing to master is the psychology of investing. If one is not aware of one’s emotions surrounding money and gains and losses one can never master the art of investing. The parabolic price rise and constant chatter surrounding the rise of bitcoin has all of the hallmarks of a mania. The bitcoin mania has pundits and media types all aflutter. That emotion works its way into mainstream investing.

We are seeing very large money flows into the market as investors see the big returns of bitcoin and want some for themselves. That reminds us of another Warren Buffett quote. “What the wise man does in the beginning the fool does in the end.” According to CNBC, ETF inflows had their second biggest week in history. We believe that the parabolic rise in the price of bitcoin and the mania surrounding it has driven investors to an extreme in bullishness. That has led to the S&P 500 becoming overbought (According to its RSI) to a level not seen since 1995. Investors are plowing money into stocks excited by bitcoin’s parabolic rise. The FOMO Fear of Missing Out has investors, perhaps, getting in a little over their heads.

For months we have mentioned the idea that the market could stall at the 2666 level on the S&P 500. We made mention of the fact that 2666 is just about 4 times the bottom print in March of 2009 of 666 on the S&P 500. Also, our thesis included that this number, and its biblical significance, would play a part in Wall Street traders psychology and in Quantitative Funds computer programs. For those of you who thought we were nuts, by way of Zero Hedge, comes a chart which shows that the market has struggled with multiples of 666 since March of 2009. The S&P 500 when hitting 2x and 3x the low of 666 has spent the next 18-24 months in a consolidation pattern. Signposts like this along the way are good spots for investors to take a respite and reflect on how far we have come and whether the trend should continue. 2018 may be a Year of Reflection.

4x 666 S&P 500

 

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/ .

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.

Less In

One of our favorite bulls is changing his tone this week as Jim Paulsen of the Leuthold Group seems to be pouring a little cold water on this rally. In his piece titled “No More Juice” Paulsen, a long time bull, says investors should be prepared as central bankers try to wean markets off of the juice (QE). Paulsen has been spot on for years with the market rally since 2008 and when he speaks we listen. We agree with Paulsen and we do not see a market collapse but there is a need to constantly reevaluate and recalibrate where our investment money needs to be in this market.

“As financial markets are weaned off the juice they have been drinking for almost a decade, investors should prepare for a very different bull market in the balance of this recovery,” he said. “Without a chronic injection of financial liquidity, the stock market may struggle more frequently, overall returns are likely to be far lower, and bond yields may customarily rise.”

To be sure, Paulsen is not predicting a market collapse. Instead, he suggests investors will need to shift strategy away from the cyclical U.S.-centric approach that has worked for most of the past 8½ years, due to the likely contraction of money supply compared to nominal GDP growth.

That means value over growth stocks, international over domestic, and inflationary sectors, like energy, materials and industrials, over disinflationary groups like telecom and utilities.

It is our job not to predict but to contingency plan. In order to do that we look to the horizon for what could trip up our investing plans or to find what investments may benefit from changes in the environment. One of biggest worries is China. The yield curve continues to invert in China. For those of you that are new to our blog an inverted yield curve is a sign that a recession may be approaching. A recession in China would have reverberations worldwide. According to FT, Chinese debt has grown from $6T at the beginning of the crisis in 2007 to over $29T today. The government there continues to want reform but needs to proceed with caution to avoid creating a crisis. The Chinese central bank added more reserves to their system this week in one of its biggest injections of 2017 and that helped soothe markets – for now.

In another sign of the imbalances created by central banks and QE it still boggles our minds that European High Yield has less of a yield attached to it than 10 Year US Treasuries. If we have a bubble then it is certainly there. In yet another great piece by John Mauldin, in his Thoughts from the Frontline, he notes the preponderance of negative yielding government bonds. Can you believe that Italy and Spain have short term negative yielding debt? Who would want to own debt from Italy and Spain at negative yields?!  Mauldin also points to Louis Gave and their research suggesting a currency peg could cause a waterfall of problems and they are pointing to Lebanon. It is a very interesting piece. If you don’t get John’s Thoughts From the Frontline, then sign up, it is free.

Market internals continue to deteriorate and that is especially important in light of historically high valuations. The market has entered what seems to be a new pattern of opening lower and rallying back throughout the day. The S&P 500 is up 12 months in a row and has only experienced pullbacks of less than 3% in 2017. The daily range in stocks is the lowest it has been since the 1960’s. The yield curve here in the US is the flattest it has been since 2007 and the curve in China is inverted. Trees cannot grow to the sky and what cannot continue – won’t.  Volatility will return it is only a matter of when. We see the relative strength on the S&P 500 reaching historically overbought levels. When the S&P reaches this level it makes the comparisons very tough. A pullback is warranted in the S&P and when it does the next rally will not be able to surpass these overbought levels. At that time investors will see it as a negative divergence. That is when the market may begin to struggle.

We continue to fret about risk parity and volatility selling. When stocks go down we will look at bond prices. At some point they will both go down in tandem and selling will beget selling. If there is a meltdown, we believe that is where we will see it start.

The Warren Buffet of endowment investing is David Swenson from Yale. We were able to watch an hour long interview with the investing legend and have included a link. The interview of Mr. Swenson is from a meeting of the Council on Foreign Relations conducted by former Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin. Here is the money quote.

But when you start out, you were talking about fundamental risks in this world. And when you compare the fundamental risks that we see all around the globe with the lack of volatility in our securities markets, it’s profoundly troubling, and makes me wonder if we’re not setting ourselves up for an ’87 or a ’98, or a 2008-2009. David Swenson Chief Investment Officer Yale University

So much to say and so little space this week. Obviously, we are a bit concerned that the rally is a little long in the tooth and investors may have lost respect for the power of markets amid market’s seeming invincibility. The animal spirits are unpredictable and still in control. Gotta be in it to win it but, maybe just a little less and a little less in. Tax reform passage could be a sell on the news event and we are, warily, watching the turn of the calendar.  Happy Thanksgiving everyone!! No blog next week as we will be still filling up on leftovers.

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/ .

 

 

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.