The Market’s Violent Transition

“There are decades where nothing happens; and there are weeks where decades happen.” 
― 
Vladimir Ilyich Lenin

This was another busy week for the markets in the aftermath of the Trump victory. There has been a sea change in the outlook for markets going forward which is much more predicated on the House, Senate and White House being controlled by Republicans than it is solely about Trump. A stranglehold on DC by the Republicans will enable them to pass legislation to help stimulate the economy and perhaps stoke the fan of inflation. We had some bright minds check in with their thoughts this week. Ray Dalio proffered his thoughts on LinkedIn this week on the Trump win and where that takes the investing landscape. Dalio feels that we are at a major reversal point that may last a decade.

As a result, whereas the previous period was characterized by 1) increasing globalization, free trade, and global connectedness, 2) relatively innocuous fiscal policies, and 3) sluggish domestic growth, low inflation, and falling bond yields, the new period is more likely to be characterized by 1) decreasing globalization, free trade, and global connectedness, 2) aggressively stimulative fiscal policies, and 3) increased US growth, higher inflation, and rising bond yields. 

As for the effects of this particular ideological/environmental shift, we think that there’s a significant likelihood that we have made the 30-year top in bond prices. We probably have made both the secular low in inflation and the secular low in bond yields relative to inflation. 

 The question will be when will this move short-circuit itself—i.e., when will the rise in nominal (and, more importantly, real) bond yields and risk premiums start hurting other asset prices. 

https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/reflections-trump-presidency-one-week-after-election-ray-dalio?trk=hp-feed-article-title-publish

The key to success here will asset allocation. The early winning sectors out of the gate are financials, materials and industrials. The losers are bonds, utilities and REIT’s. We will be looking towards oil as we have been writing about for several weeks. The bottom may be in for oil as $60 a barrel looks far likelier than a revisit to the lows of $20 a barrel. US Treasuries have been absolutely hammered since the election and we suspect while the 30 bond bull market in bonds is dead but a trade-able low in bonds may be at hand as bonds are oversold.

We have been prepared for this upward move in bond yields as we sought cover by lowering our duration for our investors. We believe the 30 Year could move to 5% over the next five years. We were shocked to hear Jeffrey Gundlach, whose prescient calls we follow in the bond market, is predicting a move in the 10 Year to over 6% in the next five years. A move of that magnitude is what Dalio is speaking of when he relates that at some point bond yields will move too high for stocks. At some level investors will prefer bond yields to stocks and stocks will falter. At what level that occurs is the current $1 Trillion dollar question.

 Future inflation expectations are soaring. We believe in the sea change that Dalio and Gundlach are espousing with regards to inflation and higher bond yields. In the short term it appears as if everything is currently either overbought or oversold as we have entered this violent rotation out of bonds and bond like instruments into equities. The markets going forward may soon turn their attention to an exit from the EU by Italy as their referendum is fast approaching. For now, 2190-2200 on the S&P 500 is resistance while support is anywhere lower as the buy the dip crowd is back, although, investors will be buying financials rather than utilities. Things may have moved too far too fast. We think that bond yields will soon revert lower if only to relieve their oversold condition but it appears the 30 year trend has changed.

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.

You’ve Got Mail

Just when I thought I was out. They pull me back in.

 – Michael Corleone Godfather III

Was it Michael Corleone or James Comey Director of the FBI? Comey has to be thinking the same as the Godfather as Anthony Weiner’s emails have pulled Comey back into the Clinton investigation and thrown the election and markets for a loop. The S&P 500 was holding support above the 2130 level that we spoke of last week until the explosive news of a reopening of the Clinton email investigation hit the tape on Friday. Markets closed under 2130 for the second time triggering Jeffrey Gundlach’s warning. Monday is going to be a very important day for the short term direction of the market.

Mega mergers are not typically seen as very good for markets. In fact they usually serve as a warning post and signs of a potential top. We were served up with the news of three merger/takeovers last Monday morning. The largest being the ATT Time Warner deal. The AOL Time Warner deal served as the warning bell at the top of the 2000 bull market and the subsequent tech crash. When large companies have squeezed the last drop of growth out of their companies and the business cycle is near the top the playbook calls for buying growth. At the end of the business cycle the only thing left to do is acquire the growth that is not obtainable organically. ATT has recently seen a slowdown in the growth of subscribers. Is this the Hail Mary Pass for ATT? The AOL Time Warner merger is now studied in business classes as the classic failed mega merger. How will history see the ATT Time Warner merger? Better we suspect but sometimes they do ring bells at the top.

As far as the technicals go the 50 Day Moving Average (DMA) on the S&P 500 is now declining. Also, the last two weeks have seen market swoons instead of rallies at the end of the market day. Both serve as warning signs for a tired market. We are entering, which is historically, the best part of the year for stocks. The election and the Federal Reserve may have something to say about that. We are now staring at an election in chaos and a Federal Reserve committee meeting in December where they have all but promised the market that they will raise rates. Will they still raise rates if Trump wins and markets swoon? 2130 is being tested. Pass or fail?

The S&P 500 has now closed below its 100 day moving average for the third straight week. If 2130 fails then the next real level of support is the always critical 200 day moving average at 2078 on the S&P 500.

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.

Squeezing the Lemon – Dalio and Gundlach

Ray Dalio spoke at the Delivering Alpha Conference with CNBC. He made interesting note that interest rates cannot be made materially lower and may in fact “go the other way”. As bond yields go down it has the effect of making stocks more valuable. The bond bull market that has seen interest rates on the US 10 Year sink from 15% in the early 1980’s to 1.5% today may be over and that tailwind that it has given us to invest may becoming a headwind. Interestingly, Jeffrey Gundlach of Double Line Funds presented his latest webcast focused on the same idea. The lemon has been squeezed. It is time to look at bonds a bit differently. Those of you have followed us for the last several years know that we have been bullish on bonds longer than most and that has served us well. It may be time to change that thinking.

http://www.cnbc.com/2016/09/13/bridgewaters-dalio-theres-a-dangerous-situation-in-the-debt-market-now.html

Deutsche Bank got word that the Department of Justice (DOJ) was looking for $14 billion to settle a probe tied to activity in mortgage backed securities. That is with a B. Why are we concerned about Deutsche Bank? DB is one of the world’s largest derivative dealers. They are a key linchpin in the financial ecosystem. The settlement will be much lower than $14B but any number above $4billion could bring into question Deutsche Bank’s capital position. European banks are already under extreme pressure with negative interest rates severely impairing their ability to make money. DB and Italian banks are on our watch list.

Explosive devices in NYC lend help to Trump. Markets may not react positively to a Trump victory and may be leaning a bit too heavily towards factoring in a Clinton victory. Not making a statement here. The deal is Wall Street doesn’t like uncertainty. Trump has no political track record and the Street has no way of knowing where to place bets on a Trump victory except that he just might shake things up. Clinton is the status quo. The Street doesn’t like uncertainty.

Federal Reserve and Bank of Japan opine this week. Things may be quiet until then. We don’t expect much. The Fed is going to be wary of raising rates in front of an election that is running very close. It is also a great excuse to hold steady as they are terrified that the market might go down on a rate hike. The Fed may never raise rates again until there is a change in leadership at the Fed. Their current policy of waiting until the perfect time will never work. There is always something to be afraid of.

Stocks and bonds have been uncomfortably correlated. That means stocks and bonds have been going in the same direction. An asset allocation between them relies on them going in opposite directions. Risk Parity funds have been taking a hit of late. They could be forced to de-lever and raise cash. Market is sitting right on its 100 day moving average and that has Momentum traders on edge.  Market could swing sharply in either direction. Watch how stocks and bonds relate. Stay on your toes.

The13th Beer

Welcome back! So completes THE most boring summer in investing history. Well maybe not quite but pretty damn close. It is astounding that markets have been so complacent in front of the fall investing season with a litany of worries globally including our own US Presidential election less than 90 days away. I myself am much less anxious about that result since I swore off watching the nightly news shows. I highly recommend it.  What was once entertaining turned dark and depressing very quickly. All of my friends that I have un-followed for posting political fodder I apologize. I will be back after the election when things return to normal.

Speaking of returning to normal, the Federal Reserve is contemplating a rate rise at their September meeting. It seems that Fed officials may be worrying about the negative consequences of 0% interest rates. Why is this important? Savers have been punished for far too long. Pension funds and insurance companies are the biggest savers in the world and have a very important role in planning for our later years. They have been paralyzed by the 0% and negative interest rate game. The unintended consequences of the zero bound are mounting. Zombie companies stumble in the dark here in the US as they are able to float debt in the current 0% interest rate environment. Much as we criticized Japan for harboring zombies companies in the 1990’s we continue to harbor them as well.

One wonders how long they can continue to distort policy and have the system survive. The Federal Reserve continues to give the patient more monetary heroin in the thought that it will make the patient better. One of my favorite professors in college was a gentleman from the London School of Economics. He taught us the Law of Diminishing Returns. Not much economic theory works in the real world, but this law is absolute. In short, if I have one beer on a hot summer day it tastes great. The second tastes pretty good as well. The thirteenth? Not so much. Central bankers are ordering their 13th beer.

The problem is that you cannot get away from this crisis without feeling the pain of lower asset prices. The Piper must be paid. The Federal Reserve stepped in front of this crisis and has been left there alone by our fiscal policy friends in Congress. Politicians worldwide have left central banks to do the heavy lifting. Here is the problem. Monetary policy alone was never expected to rescue and stimulate the system. It was just to buy politicians time to deregulate, simplify tax codes and stimulate the economy fiscally. With no help coming from the fiscal side central banks around the world kept supplying more monetary support to the patient. The Federal Reserve wishes to get the patient off of monetary policy support. Here is the problem. The patient is not ready to stand on their own and Congress does not wish to step in and help care (fiscally) for the patient. Complicating matters is that if the patient falters Congress will blame the Federal Reserve. Don’t forget that Congress is the Federal Reserve’s boss. Since the crisis began we have all known that eventually monetary support would have to be withdrawn. Problem is, now everyone is afraid to do it. The negative unintended consequences rage on.  Central banks at some point will have to withdraw support and financial markets will shudder, shake and cry out for more medicine. Eventually they will be fine. It is time to bring the patient around. Problem is – they won’t. The Federal Reserve has too much to lose as Congress will blame them.

Until you have fiscal responsibility you are not going to have effective monetary policy.

 It (current fiscal policy) drives monetary policy to be increasingly irresponsible. – Richard Fisher former Dallas Federal Reserve President CNBC 9/8/016

http://www.cnbc.com/2016/09/08/private-equity-giant-kkr-says-the-fed-to-keep-funds-rate-below-1-percent-through-at-least-2020.html

This Friday, markets shuddered as they contemplated a rate hike in September. The data doesn’t currently support a rate hike. Could the Federal Reserve be putting subtle pressure on Congress for their support? It may not last long. If markets stumble we would expect the Fed to announce that the market has reacted so negatively that they must continue policy as is. Around and around we go.

We are a bit unnerved as the market seems to be experiencing a seemingly irrational exuberance when it comes to valuations especially when it comes to dividend paying stocks.  As long as central banks continue to expand liquidity and investors keep the faith asset prices will head higher.

Precious metals are insurance against investors losing their faith in central banks.  While investors have been pulling money from the market two buyers have been out there keeping the home fires burning. Two buyers who are not price sensitive. Corporations in the form of buybacks and central bankers. Markets could roar higher as professionals are underinvested and markets could sink lower due to a change in central bank policy. Either way, after such a quiet summer, markets are ready to move. Be prepared for anything. Welcome back.

The Coming Retirement Crisis

It is hard to believe but over twenty years ago while on the floor of the NYSE I asked Arthur Cashin whose work should I be reading. He recommended a, then little known, writer of financial information by the name of John Mauldin. Little would I suspect that over two decades later I would still be enjoying John’s insights. He has access to some highly placed sources and savvy investors. John’s email list for his letter has grown to over 1 million subscribers. It is free so sign up. Here is the link to John Mauldin’s Letter Thoughts from the Frontline.

In this week’s letter John touches on the issue closest to my client’s hearts. When can I retire? We have an expectation in the United States of being able to retire at the age 65 and possibly even earlier. We even base our career success on how many years before 65 we are able to retire. The concept of retirement is a relatively new concept. The advent of Social Security under the FDR administration in 1935 was developed as a safety net for our elderly. The age of 65 was considered because the poverty rate of the elderly in 1935 was over 50%. The life expectancy of a male in the US in 1935 was 59.9 years old.

In 2016 that number has risen to over 76 years of age.

I’ve said this before, but it’s worth repeating: “retirement” is a new concept. For most of human history, people worked as long as they were physically able and died soon thereafter.

Defined-benefit pensions are rare in the private sector and unstable for government retirees. Individual investors tend to lose their money in market crashes and are often lucky just to break even. Even government plans like Social Security are in increasingly questionable shape. – John Mauldin

The answer is pretty simple but it is the one no one really wants to hear. Don’t retire! The reality is that according to the Social Security Administration a man who turns 65 today can expect to live on average to 84.4 years old. A woman turning 65 today can expect to live on average until the age of 86.7. That is just the average. In this day and age of better healthcare and advances in biotechnology one must plan to live until 100 years of age. That is 30 years of retirement if one chooses to work until 70!! That’s a lot of golf.

Ironically, the research pretty much universally shows that many people working past normal retirement age do so for their own personal reasons rather than out of necessity. The data in the United Kingdom, which is not much different from the picture in the rest of the developed world, suggests that almost half the people working past traditional retirement age are doing so simply because they don’t want to stop working. And many people who say they are “retired” still work long hours just to “keep busy.”

Alicia H. Munnell, a Boston College economist who was previously Assistant Treasury Secretary in the Clinton administration spoke recently about the coming retirement crisis in her speech titled, “Falling Short: The Coming Retirement Crisis and What to Do About It.”

Her main thesis is that you should prepare to work longer and yet still enjoy retirement as long as or longer than your parents and grandparents did.

Assuming you started work at age 20, rising life expectancy means that if you retire at age 70 in 2020, you will have the same work/retirement ratio as someone who retired at age 65 in 1940. My generation is enjoying better health in our later years than our parents did. We work longer simply because we can and because we enjoy it.

By Munnell’s calculations, simply working until age 70 will do the trick for most people. The extra working years will give your savings more time to accumulate. Your Social Security benefits will also be higher once you do retire.

JPMorgan’s Marko Kolanovic has been spot on for the last several months as he has picked the bottoms and tops of the market moves since last October. He is out with a different warning this week. He is looking at the market from a more macro perspective and I happen to agree with his thoughts. The next move from governments and central banks may be fiscal policy. It is the only weapon left and it may have serious implications on your investing.

Central banks, Inflation, and Debt Endgame

With the Fed and BoJ meetings behind us, markets are increasingly accepting that central banks are nearly out of options. Central banks can hardly raise interest rates, and there is a growing realization that negative interest rates simply make no sense. Unconventional approaches of buying corporate bonds (ECB) and stocks (Japan) so far have not produced significant results, and run the risk of tainting these assets for private investors. The next attempt to boost the economy or prevent a potential market crisis will likely need to be accomplished by fiscal measures.

Increased government spending, financed by central banks could indeed create inflation, but will further elevate the problem of debt viability

We always keep an eye on seasonal factors. The old saw of “Sell in May and go away” harkens back to days when we were an agrarian society. Money was put into the fields in the spring and when harvest came in the fall money was put back into banks and markets. To this day we are creatures of habit. Money managers are likely to take risk off of the table and less likely to put money to work in new ideas because summer is coming. Liz Ann Sonders from Charles Schwab had a recent note on the “Sell in May” theory.

We are in that “season” when you will hear a lot about whether it’s appropriate this year to “sell in May and go away,” which is one of the most time-honored market adages, and for good reason. Since 1950, nearly all of the S&P 500’s gains have occurred between October and April. The mean return since 1950 for the S&P 500 during May through October was 1.3%; while for November through April it was 7.1%.

Markets are also more susceptible to geopolitical developments or changes in monetary policy due to skeleton crews on trading desks in the US and Europe. Moves can be outsized. We will continue to look for opportunities given any developments. In our last blog post we asked you to keep an eye on gold. We feel that investors could find solace here as the games of currency wars and negative interest rates heat up. That has been a good place to be. Inflation is also increasingly on our minds. Not because it is showing up in the statistics but because it will be the only way out for indebted nations around the world. Their only exit from their extreme debt positions will be to inflate away their debt.

Not recommendation just information. Investing is not a game of perfect.  It is a game of probabilities.

 

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.

Ride the Wave

So much has happened and so much to talk about. We could talk about the seemingly globally coordinated easing from central banks around the globe. Central banks easing policy in the last two weeks have included Norway, Sweden, the Bank Of Japan (BOJ), the European Central Bank (ECB), the Chinese central bank and of course our own recent dovish statement from the US Federal Reserve,. We could talk about how that has led to a weaker US Dollar which in turn has helped oil, precious metal and emerging markets stage a turnaround in fortunes. Or perhaps we should discuss how Central bank maneuvers have helped US markets regain all of the ground they had lost so far in 2016.

We could talk about all this but here is what we think would be most useful right now. The key to making money in these markets lies in Investor Psychology. How we understand it and our own emotions when it comes to investing our money is the key to success.  Here are two charts that can help you be more successful in understanding how emotions play a role in your investing process.  Courtesy of CNBC, the first chart shows two 12% rallies in the last 7 months. The second is a chart of investor psychology. After our second 12% rally in 7 months you should ask yourself, Where are you on this chart? Are you relieved? Optimistic? Thrilled? Sell risk when prices are rising and buy risk when prices are falling. Understanding and keeping your emotions in check is the key to making money in markets like these. Ride the wave.

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

 

 

 

If the Dow Jones holds its gains for the next two weeks we will have seen the biggest quarterly comeback in stock markets since 1933. We don’t have to remind you that the 1933 rally took place smack in the middle of the Great Depression. Risks are rising after our second 12% rally in months. It is going to be hard to move higher from here but don’t bet against continued central bank largess. The stock market is up 12% in 26 trading days. Not bad. But it does remind us of a blog post from back in October of 2015.

October 2015 will go down as the best performing month for the S&P 500 in four years.  I think that we all enjoyed the ride back up in October. The S&P 500 rallied 8.3% and followed through with more gains today to get the S&P 500 into the plus column for 2015. Those gains would be nice gains for an entire year – never mind a month! Whenever we get to thinking how much we have gained we cannot help but to contemplate the downside. We must always be on guard to temper our greed/ego just as much as we would concentrate on opportunity when fear strikes.

As a reminder the S&P 500 closed October of 2015 at 2080. It would be 10% lower by January of 2016.

Central bank policy in Europe and the US is having the same effect. Earnings estimates are heading lower while stocks ride higher. Not a great recipe for success. Risk is rising.

We cannot predict with 100% accuracy every move in the market but what we can do is try and profit by tactically allocating and hedging our portfolio in times of market stress to take advantage of market volatility. Investing is not a game of perfection but of managing the risk inside one’s portfolio. We do not jump in and jump out of the market wholesale. By divesting ourselves of overpriced assets and availing ourselves of opportunities when prices are low allows us to take advantage of the long term benefits that the math of compounding brings.

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

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

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

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

Warren Buffett’s Favorite Metric

Warren Buffett’s favorite metric for the market over the years has been the Ratio of US Market Capitalization to United States GDP. Here is a copy of it below from Ned Davis Research. Ned Davis Research is one of the best independent research outfits in the business and I have followed their insights for over 25 years.

What I find fascinating about this chart is the high levels of valuation since the mid 1990’s. I believe that this time period should be considered the Golden Age of Central banking. This was the Era of Greenspan and the Greenspan Put. Alan Greenspan was the Chairman of the US Federal Reserve Bank from 1987-2006. It was Greenspan that realized the power of central banking. Central bankers in previous eras did not have the tools at their disposal to manage monetary policy as effectively as Greenspan. It was the removal of the Gold Standard by Richard Nixon which allowed central bankers in the US to pull forward growth in order to manage downturns more effectively. Note however that since 1995, valuations in the market have exceeded the average levels consistently with the exception of the 2008 crash. That leaves us with some very big questions. How long can central bankers keep pulling forward returns? How long will markets continue to give higher than normal valuations to markets based on central bank policy? Ned Davis Research

Ned Davis March 2016 Mkt Cap GDP

The one era most like our current one is that the late 1936 – early 1937 period. Current high levels of Price Earnings ratios, and, historically low 10 Year yields combine in a disturbing stew now as they did in 1937. Coming out of the Great Depression Federal Reserve officials saw prices in the stock market build to uncomfortable levels and with inflation on the horizon began to raise interest rates. The first tightening in August 1936 did not hurt stock prices or the economy, as is typical.

The tightening of interest rates was made worse by currency wars as European nations chose to move in the opposite direction of US monetary policy. The world began to demand US Dollars and gold. As inflation picked up to 5% the Federal Reserve raised rates further in March of 1937 and again in May 1937. This tighter monetary policy reduced liquidity and sent bond and stock prices much tumbling. Stocks would bottom a year later down 50% from prior levels.

Given the high level of valuations in the Golden Age of Central Banking how will assets perform if the Federal Reserve wants to exit the policies that brought forth those valuations? Central bankers may find that The Golden Age of Central Banking may give way to the Roach Motel of Central Banking. They can get in but they cannot get out.  It’s all about how markets react to the second and third rate hikes.

In our last blog post we mentioned the key levels for the market and now we are there. The bulls did not have much trouble surmounting the 1940 level but 2000 may prove more difficult.

The next level for the bulls is the 2000 number on the S&P 500 and then 2020. We have a confluence of moving averages and resistance zones to overcome here but the bulls have the bears on the run and shorts are covering as they feel the pain.  The risk at the moment is skewed to the downside as we have come very far very fast since the lows of 1812 in mid February. The market is extremely overbought and needs to rest. Let’s see if the bears can push back the bulls. Markets are looking for central bank intervention and if not from China this weekend then perhaps the ECB next week. Shorts are feeling the pain and the bulls may have their hearts set on 2100 on the S&P

Clients have been asking what metrics we are looking at as far as taking more equity risk. The 200 Day Moving Average (DMA) is the Maginot Line when it comes to seeing markets as bull markets or bear markets. Obviously, we would take more equity risk if we felt that we are in a bull market. Currently with the S&P 500 below its 200 DMA we are inclined to believe that we are in a bear market and continue to hedge risk. Let’s see if the bulls can get above and stay above the 200 DMA.

Oil’s bounce is alleviating pressure on borrowers and drillers but prices need to get back above $50 a barrel to really stop the pain. Forced selling of oil and oil related debt may be easing for now but the pain may only be delayed. High yield debt has seen money pour into that sector in the last week. Investors may be catching a falling knife there with more pain to come.

In our last blog post we asked you to keep an eye on gold. We feel that foreign investors could find solace here as the games of currency wars and negative interest rates heat up. That continues to be the case. Gold has been the star of 2016 and this week was no different. The yellow metal may be due for a rest but it might a short one. Negative interest rates in Europe are helping as are the concurrent currency wars between Japan, China, the US and Europe. Hold on tight and keep an eye on gold. Ray Dalio was at the University of Texas this week telling retail investors that they should consider holding 5% of their assets in gold. Look at Sprott Physical Gold Trust (PHYS) ETF and SPDR Gold Trust (GLD) ETF if you are determined to hold gold in your portfolio. PHYS has had better performance this year than GLD.

Not recommendation just information. Investing is not a game of perfect.  It is a game of probabilities.

 

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 End of the World

The end of the world is a terribly bad bet but yet television pundits were out in force last week proclaiming the beginning of a bear market and perhaps the end of the world as we know it. The definition of a bear market is a market that is down 20% from its highs. At the S&P 500’s lows last week the market was already down 15%. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to predict that the market has a 50/50 chance of going down another 5%.

The reason that the pundits are out and about screaming like Chicken Little is that they were not prepared for a move lower in asset prices. We, on the other hand, had lowered our equity allocations and raised our cash position. That way we were prepared to outperform given a sharp move lower while having excess cash to deploy given better valuations and cheaper assets. Being an asset manager is a lot like being in charge of buying the groceries. If one is in charge of buying the groceries you haven’t done your job appropriately if when going to the grocery store and finding New York Strip marked down 15% you don’t have any cash in your pocket.

We have been underweight equities and overweight cash for some time now seeing an overvaluation in asset prices. This overvaluation in asset prices coupled with the unintended negative consequences of the Federal Reserve’s zero interest rate policy led us to surmise that a re-pricing of assets was in order. While underweight equities at that time we did not feel as though we would miss any truly outstanding returns. Given stretched equity valuations it seemed far better for us to have some insurance in case markets headed lower. Markets go down far faster than they go up and any underperformance is quickly made up with an outsized cash position. Suffice to say 2016 has been a boon to relative performance if one was prepared for this correction in the markets.

Howard Marks latest missive came across my desk this week and as my long time readers know I read everything from Mr. Marks that I can find. He is one of the great investing minds of our time and is kind enough to share his thoughts on investing. Mr. Marks has warned for some time that valuations were a bit rich by telling us to “move forward, but with caution”. It is now that he sees better values. While not saying that now is THE time to buy he does mention that now may be A time to buy.

As I mentioned above, since the middle of 2011 – by which time the quest for return had resulted in rather full prices for debt, over-generous capital markets and pro-risk investor behavior – Oaktree’s mantra has been “move forward, but with caution.”  We’ve felt it was right to invest in our markets, but also that our investments had to reflect a healthy dose of prudence.

Now, as discussed above, investors’ optimism has deflated a bit, some negativity has come into the equation, and prices have moved lower.  Depending importantly on which market we’re talking about and how it has fared in recent months, we consider it appropriate to move forward with a little less caution. – Howard Marks

 

We have fielded a larger number of calls this week from concerned clients and we take our role as counselor seriously.  Being in tune with one’s emotions is probably the most important criteria for investing success. As a former specialist on the NYSE it was our job to be a provider of contra liquidity. That is to say it was our job to be buying when others were selling and selling when others were buying. It was a great training ground to understand one’s own emotions and of the potential madness in crowds. It trained me to have a contrarian viewpoint. When confronted with excessive buying or selling by market participants it naturally became an instinct to question the extreme nature of the emotions driving that buying or selling.  It is not to say that the crowd was always wrong or that we do not feel the emotions of fear and greed. It is that we are keenly aware in that moment to be objective in our approach and to recognize when there is fear or panic in the sellers mind and act appropriately. By being aware of one’s emotions one can more easily use others fear or greed to profit.

That’s one of the crazy things: in the real world, things generally fluctuate between “pretty good” and “not so hot.”  But in the world of investing, perception often swings from “flawless” to “hopeless.”  The pendulum careens from one extreme to the other, spending almost no time at “the happy medium” and rather little in the range of reasonableness.  First there’s denial, and then there’s capitulation. Howard Marks – Oaktree

The same concern seemed to be repeated one every client call this week. “Is this 2008 all over again?” Quite frankly, I don’t believe so. I think that this situation is different. I think that most investors are suffering from recency bias. Recency bias is the tendency to think that trends and patterns that have happened in the recent past will occur again. Investors burned by the 50% downturn in the Internet Bubble of 2000 and the 50% downturn in the Housing Bubble of 2008 are afraid that we are at that same precipice again. I do not have a crystal ball but I do not see the same excesses in current markets as I saw in 2000 and 2008 but I do see investors preparing for a coming storm. If investors are prepared then the storm effects will not be as bad as when they were not prepared in 2000 and 2008. Furthermore, it is our perception that there are overvaluations that need to be corrected but not bubble type excesses. Even in the oil sector there were not bubble like valuations but just simply a misallocation of resources due to Federal Reserve zero interest rate policy. The negative implications of which have obviously come to pass. It also seems that while the bursting of the Housing Bubble in 2008 did bring us to the brink of a global meltdown that was mostly due to the weak balance sheets of US banks. That is no longer the issue that it was in 2008 as the Federal Reserve has made sure that bank balance sheets, at least here in the US, are much less vulnerable than they were in 2008.

So let’s all back away from the ledge. It is not the end of the world as we know it. If we can understand our fear and use it to our advantage we will be better off for it in the long run. We are positioned appropriately and looking for that New York Strip to go on sale.  We will continue to maintain albeit somewhat higher levels of cash as equity valuations continue to become more reasonable and put those dry powder funds to work. We think it will be prudent to avoid exposure to momentum stocks and continue to rotate into more reasonably valued shares.

 

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.

Never Just One Cockroach

History suggests two immediate consequences from tightening: higher volatility and lower valuations, meaning earnings and ultimately the economy are left to drive prices. Psychologically, bulls and bears will get an answer to a question that has lingered over markets: how much of the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index’s 202 percent jump since March 2009 is sustainable without stimulus? – 12/16/15

http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2015-12-16/pulling-life-support-from-a-bull-market-on-the-brink-of-history

As you probably know the Federal Reserve raised interest rates this week for the first time in over 7 years. The changes to that policy are bound to have some sort of negative repercussions exacerbated by an environment where all other of the large central banks are still in easing mode. We have spoken before about the effect of the US Dollar on Emerging Markets and commodities and those effects will only be worsened by the changes in Fed policy. We are not saying that Fed policy is wrong we are just looking out for the Piper to be paid.

 The buildup in government debt, he said, “tries to prop up the economy at the expense of the future.” Zero-interest-rate policy pushes consumption forward and changes the discounting mechanism, he said. Indeed, there no discount mechanism, he said, so you “fully value everything.”

“Once you’ve done all of those things you are quite a few yards into the tractor pull,” he said. “And that sled is getting heavier and heavier and heavier. That is why it is getting harder and harder to make money.”- Jeffrey Gundlach Doubleline Funds 12/8/15

 There is never just one cockroach. The biggest headline for us over the last two weeks is not the Federal Reserve policy change, as that was widely anticipated, but the redemption requests and subsequent suspension of those requests from the Third Avenue High Yield Fund. Third Avenue is a highly respected player in the institutional money game. This is not some fly by night Ponzi scheme. The fact is that Third Avenue got caught swimming naked when the tide went out in the high yield market. As you well know, the high yield market is dominated by energy companies and the descent of oil from its lofty perch has decimated that space. Understand that a redemption request is just investors looking to get money out of a fund and cut their losses. That is usually not a problem. However, when a fund suspends those requests they are saying that they need more time to come up with the cash. Selling too much, too quickly may upset the market for those assets and cause the fund to sell at fire sales prices. As for the broader market this can cause a cascading effect. If this fund sells at a huge discount then other may be forced to sell and we create a viscous spiral. So they put up the gates. By putting up the gates investors search elsewhere for liquidity asking others funds for cash and forcing them to sell. And around and around we go. This is what crises are made of.

The large spread between the top 10 stocks in the S&P 500 and the rest of the market is also flashing a warning signal. A bifurcation in the markets is a sign that the rally has gotten too constrained and is losing steam.

The S&P 500 has a big performance issue that should be a focus for investors: Too much of the index return is coming from too few of its stocks.

The 10 most valuable companies in the market are up roughly 14 percent as a group this year, versus a loss of close to 6 percent for the rest of the stock market.

That 20 percentage-point spread between the biggest stocks and the rest of the index is the widest since 1999, heading into the dot-com bust.

A widening of the spread between the market’s best performers and the rest of the market should be viewed as a cautionary sign. Jason Trennert Strategas Research Partners 12/9/2015

http://www.cnbc.com/2015/12/09/its-back-a-bad-sp-500-data-point-last-seen-at-dot-com-bust.html

We continue to see an upswing in volatility here in the 4th Quarter of 2015. We believe that will continue in 2016.  While we are cognizant of low returns in this environment we have believed it prudent to have cash on the sidelines. We are now getting closer to putting some of that to work given lower asset prices in response to Federal Reserve policies. We expect 2016 to be a year full of volatility and opportunity. We wish you all a very Merry Christmas and a Joyous Holiday!

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.

Bang!

2015 has certainly started with a bang. Seemingly, every day of trading has seen the range of the Dow Jones Industrials measured in hundreds of points.  It has become obvious to all that since the Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) ended its purchases under Quantitative Easing (QE) back in October that Central Bank policy had the effect of suppressing volatility and supporting asset prices. We had the expectation that with the end of QE that bond prices would rally and stock prices would at least stall in their ascent and perhaps move lower. That has been the case so far in 2015.

Worrisome is the increase in the intensity of currency wars being promulgated by the various central banks around the world. Central banks are playing a game of beggar thy neighbor and wish to reduce their currency below their trading partners. All is well and good and may in fact help those first actors but watch out what comes next.  Trade wars. When those losing the currency game become trade warriors and enact tariffs and embargoes we will all be brushing up on our Smoot Hawley references. For those of you that do not remember. The Smoot Hawley Tariff Act of 1930 is what is blamed for really setting the Great Depression in stone. Keep an eye out for Smoot Hawley’s around the world. Trade wars may be next.

While the US Dollar is soaring to ever greater heights the price of Gold is rallying as well. Usually when the US Dollar is going higher Gold struggles as it is priced in US Dollars. If you live in Russia or China it takes more Rubles or Yuan to buy the same amount of gold. Gold is moving higher in the face of a rising US Dollar. Why is that? The world is trending towards deflation. Why is Gold rising? The currency wars we referenced. Gold is being seen as a currency. A currency that you cannot debase. It is a store of value. If you are in Russia and the Ruble is getting badly damaged move your money into NYC real estate or gold. A store of value. Keep your eyes on Gold.

Equity prices have been stuck in a trading range between 1980 and 2080 on the S&P 500 since early December. Most of the time markets tend to break out of those ranges the way that they came in. It is a 60/40 proposition that it breaks higher. The end of QE with margin debt at all time highs and sky-high equity valuations have the bulls on edge. The trend of higher asset prices since 2009 has any bears that are left standing on edge. High yield bonds may also be signaling lower equity prices. Anecdotally, it has gotten slightly easier to make money on the short side of this market lately. Watch the trading range. The 200 Day Moving Average on the S&P 500 of 1978 will be closely watched for support. Trend following bulls may move to the sidelines on any breach. Federal Reserve officials have been protecting the lower end of the range with public comments. Bears will cave quickly on any move above 2080. Watch for the break out.

2015 is looking like it is going to be the Year of Volatility. The US Dollar is very overextended to the upside and that boat is very crowded on the long side of the trade. Currency moves tend to stay in trend for extended periods. Be careful. Everyone thinks that the Dollar is headed higher. That usually spells trouble. Stay on your toes. Jeffrey Gundlach of Double Line Funds has said that if oil goes to $40 the US 10 Year may move to 1%. So far in 2015 he has been spot on.  Right now the US 10 Year is at 1.64%. The German 10 Year is at 0.34%. That makes 1.64% look downright enticing.

We sent out our Quarterly Letter earlier this month which takes a more in-depth look at our views on the investing landscape for 2015. If you are interested in receiving it just drop us a line at terry@blackthornasset.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 .

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.