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These Times

|Includes: AMZN, J.C. Penney Company Inc. (JCP)

We were recently shocked - shocked! - to discover there are men and women running the world who don't remember watching the Beatles on the Ed Sullivan Show. They don't remember, it turns out, because they weren't alive.

As you can imagine, gentle reader, this has discombobulated your correspondent, who has been much bewildered as 2016 charges ahead without him. Much as Brian Wilson felt 50 years ago, "I guess I just wasn't made for these times" (Pet Sounds, The Beach Boys, 1966).

We hear you, Brian. Consider these irruptions on the usually smooth felt of our space-time pool table:

  • Outrageously low interest rates. The republic has never been held in such high regard by creditors. The 10-year U.S. Treasury note yields just1.58%, which is pretty darn low.
  • Stubbornly high U.S. stock prices. The market capitalization ofU.S . equities is 119% of nominal gross domestic product, which is prettydarn rich.
  • Striking correlation of oil prices and stock prices in 2016, which is pretty darn (pun alert) crude. See the charts below:


Wilshire 5000

Now, these phenomena are not without explanations. A global savings glut and central bank largesse are keeping interest rates depressed, we are told. With fixed-income yields so low, investors are forced into equities, boosting stock prices even as corporate earnings decline.

Brexit proved a brief scare, even though Great Britain is the world's fifth largest economy, but recent employment and retail sales data have made the case that the U.S. can resist the drag from sclerotic Europe and a slowing China.

All this leads us to believe it could be different this time. This, we hear you say,is the bell rung at the top, a sign that the final fool has rushed in and all must be spanked vigorously by a market god that cannot be mocked for long.

Nevertheless, as we have sighed before, we can't call a top, so we can't let go. Given the apparent spending propensity of the American consumer and signs in the latest jobs numbers that wages are at last perking up, we still like two disparate retail names - Amazon (NASDAQ:AMZN), the online velociraptor, and J.C.Penney (NYSE:JCP), the undervalued brick and mortar dinosaur.

Meanwhile, we confess to remaining one bewildered baby boomer. Just the other day we drove our golf cart to the first tee without loading our clubs. However, once we retrieved the sticks, we sweetly striped our Titleist, splitting the fairway and convincing us we were infallible -- until we four-putted for double bogey.

Disclosure: I am/we are long JCP.