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.

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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.

One More Thing to Consider in Retirement

One of the next big crisis’ in the United States is pension funding. If you think that this will not affect you think again. It will hit you right in your wallet when you can least afford it – in your retirement. As a good portion of my readers and clients are approaching retirement this probable pension crisis should factor into where you retire.

I have been reading John Mauldin’s Thoughts From the Frontline for over twenty years on the recommendation of Arthur Cashin. If you haven’t read John’s work here is a link to his website. It is sent to over 1 million readers a week. It is well worth your time. Here are the highlights from John’s latest letter in regards to the looming pension crisis.

Total unfunded liabilities in state and local pensions have roughly quintupled in the last decade.

According to a 2014 Pew study, only 15 states follow policies that have funded at least 100% of their pension needs.

The only way to bring it out of the spiral is with huge cuts to other needed services or with massive tax cuts to pension benefits.

But wait, it gets worse. The graph we showed earlier stated that unfunded pension liabilities for state and local governments was $2 trillion. But that assumes an average 7% compound return. What if we assume 4% compound returns? Now the admitted unfunded pension liability is $4 trillion. But what if we have a recession and the stock market goes down by the past average of more than 40%? Now you have an unfunded liability in the range of $7–8 trillion.

We throw the words a trillion dollars around, not realizing how much that actually is. Combined state and local revenues for the US total around $2.6 trillion.

This issue is going to set neighbor against neighbor and retirees against taxpayers. It will become one of the most heated battles of my lifetime. It will make the Trump-Clinton campaigns look like a school kids’ tiddlywinks smackdown.

http://www.mauldineconomics.com/frontlinethoughts/pension-storm-warning

The ten year Treasury hit 2.28% mid week and looks to be headed back to resistance at 2.5%. A decisive break through the 2.7-2.8% level could mean that rates are headed higher longer term breaking the 30 year down move.  The punch through 2480 on the S&P 500 still has the bulls in control. The next target on the S&P 500 is 2540. The market is still firmly in an uptrend but there are signs that bulls may not be all that strong. Gallup poll has 68% of investors optimistic about the stock market over the next year. That matches the record high for that poll set in January of 2000.  Investor sentiment is very high which is a contra indicator while valuations are in the 90th percentile historically. The animal spirits are unpredictable. Gotta be in it to win it but maybe just a little less in. Keep an eye on the 10 year and commodities.

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.

 

 

 

The Great Escape

It is a 10 year anniversary for us this week. This week marks 10 years since our move to Georgia. It also marks the 10th anniversary of the dawn of the financial crisis. Not a coincidence I assure you. Having traded through the Internet Bubble and watched Lucent Technologies, which was that bubbles’ “Darling” stock, trade from $79 to 79 cents we knew the real estate market would have also have to get as bad as it was good. And in 2006 -07 it was very good. We foresaw the real estate crisis and sold our house in New Jersey for an exorbitant price which according to Zillow it still has not climbed back to. As a side note, Lucent never got back to $79 either. We say this not to brag but as an investment lesson learned well. Trees do not grow to the sky. Know when to cut back on your risk.

Not much is being made of the 10th Anniversary of the Great Financial Crisis (GFC) but there has been a lot of consternation surrounding the Federal Reserve’s most recent decision and path going forward. If we have established that the growth in central bank balance sheets around the world has been responsible for the run up in asset prices it stands to reason that any shrinking of those balance sheets would diminish asset prices. Here is another timeless lesson of investing. Never fight the Fed. While the Fed has spent the last 10 years injecting liquidity into the system to pump up asset prices it is now talking about taking liquidity out – Quantitative Tightening (QT). Ironically, during our time on Wall Street the phrase QT was a questionable trade, an error that needed to be resolved and it usually cost you money. The question facing us now is the Federal Reserve making a questionable trade and will it cost you money?

The economy is growing, albeit slowing. That is due to the immense amount of debt on the United States balance sheet. This slow growth is now being met by a central bank that seeks to raise rates and shrink its own balance sheet. Now instead of a tailwind, the economy and markets are looking at a headwind. As we have written in prior posts, the Federal Reserve could have been acting since December with the impulse that more stimulative fiscal policy was going to come out of Washington, in the post election period. The new administration Trumpeted the advent of a new era with tax reform and deregulation at its forefront. The Fed sought to get ahead of the curve by applying tighter money policy. Well, Washington is at a standstill and has provided none of the above.

Is the Federal Reserve making the ultimate central banker mistake? Are they tightening into a slowdown? The bond market seems to think so. The yield curve is flattening which indicates that bond investors do not see inflation on the horizon and see subpar growth in the economy. Yet the stock market keeps chugging along. Who is right? Generally, we always go with the bond market.  We believe that the Fed is tightening due to financial conditions and not economic conditions. That is what the stock market is missing. As long as the market expects the Fed to stop tightening because of slowing economic conditions then the market will continue to rally and the Fed will continue raising rates. Someone is going to blink first.

We think that the animal spirits playbook is still alive. Markets have not broken down and still seem to be headed higher. Higher markets may force investors to chase it even higher.

The Federal Reserve’s thinking has two main problems. One is that the Fed believes in stock and not flow which means that the Fed believes a big balance sheet helps the market. We believe it is the flow that determines the direction of markets. Flow is the direction in which the Fed and policy are headed. The Fed also believes that the market will discount their talking points as they move towards QT. We believe that the market will change when the flow changes.

Oil continues to get pounded as it is down 20% from March highs even though things in the Middle East heat up. Oil may try to find a bottom here as oil production will slow below $40 a barrel, at least here in the US. Biotech has had a great week as investors rotate there as the pressure from Washington on that sector seems to have ebbed. Equities are still in the middle of what we anticipate to be the new range on the S&P 500. For now we see support at 2400 on the S&P 500 with 2475 providing resistance. Interest rates may have seen their interim low for awhile.

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

Crackdown, Smackdown and Fever

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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