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The Closing Bell

The Closing Bell

12/8/18

Statistical Summary

Current Economic Forecast

2018 estimates (revised)

Real Growth in Gross Domestic Product 1.5-2.5%

Inflation +1.5-2%

Corporate Profits 10-15%

2019

Real Growth in Gross Domestic Product 1.5-2.5%

Inflation +1.5-2.5%

Corporate Profits 5-6%

Current Market Forecast

Dow Jones Industrial Average

Current Trend (revised):

Short Term Trading Range 21691-26646

Intermediate Term Uptrend 13824-30031

Long Term Uptrend 6410-29847

2018 Year End Fair Value 13800-14000

Standard & Poor’s 500

Current Trend (revised):

Short Term Trading Range 2536-2942

Intermediate Term Uptrend 1323-3138 Long Term Uptrend 905-3065

2018 Year End Fair Value 1700-1720

Percentage Cash in Our Portfolios

Dividend Growth Portfolio 59%

High Yield Portfolio 55%

Aggressive Growth Portfolio 55%

Economics/Politics

The Trump economy is a neutral for equity valuations. The data flow this week was just slightly positive: above estimates: weekly mortgage and purchase applications, November light vehicle sales, the November ADP private payroll report, third quarter unit labor costs, December consumer sentiment, November ISM manufacturing and nonmanufacturing indices, the November services PMI; below estimates: weekly jobless claims, November nonfarm payrolls, month to date retail chain store sales, October construction spending, October factory orders, October wholesale inventories/sales, the October trade deficit; in line with estimates: the November manufacturing PMI, third quarter productivity.

However, the primary indicators were all negative: October construction spending (-), October factory orders (-) and November nonfarm payrolls (-). I am giving this week a minus rating. Score: in the last 165 weeks, fifty-three were positive, seventy-four negative and thirty-eight neutral.

Update on big four economic indicators.

The Big Four Economic Indicators: November Nonfarm Employment - dshort - Advisor Perspectives

The data from overseas was actually pretty good though a bit parse. However, I can’t see this as trend setting given the ongoing turmoil over Brexit, the riots in France, the Chinese/US trade relations and Italy’s budget dispute with the EU.

My forecast:

A number of Trump policy changes should have a positive impact on what is now a below average long term secular economic growth rate. These include less government regulation with possible minor help from the recent agreements with Mexico/Canada/South Korea. There is the potential that Trump’s trade negotiations with Japan, the EU and China could prove to be another bonus; but unfortunately, the Donald’s negotiating skills are starting to remind me of George Costanza’s---sound tough and settle for less. Possible spending cuts could also lead to a further improvement in our long term secular growth rate.

However, the explosion in deficit spending, especially at a time when the government should be running a surplus, is a secular negative. My thesis on this issue is that at the current high level of national debt, the cost of servicing the debt more than offsets (1) any stimulative benefit of tax cuts and (2) the secular positives of less government regulation and fairer trade [at least on the agreements that have been renegotiated].

On a cyclical basis, while the second quarter numbers were definitely better than the first, third quarter stats showed slower growth and current expectations for the fourth quarter are even lower. Perhaps more concerning is the forward sales/earnings guidance from leaders in major sectors of the economy suggesting a further slowdown in growth that is more pronounced than current consensus.

So my current assumption remains intact---an economy growing slowly though the risk of recession may be mitigated somewhat by a less hawkish Fed.

The negatives:

  1. a vulnerable global banking [financial] system.

Banks are changing their business model to offset the decline in liquidity resulting from the shrinkage in central bank balance sheets.

https://ftalphaville.ft.com/2018/12/06/1544089571000/Bank-business-model-shift-softens-impact-of-stimulus-withdrawal/

  1. fiscal/regulatory policy.

Trade remains the most immediate issue. The results of last weekend’s Trump/Xi are still a matter of debate. The Donald said that it was the greatest thing since sliced bread; his advisors walked that back a bit; and Chinese balked then said that they would buy more US products. Not coincidentally I am sure, the time for the purchases to begin is after the ninety day deadline that Trump imposed for reaching a deal. That whole dialogue seemed something north of nothing burger.

However, on Thursday the CFO of a leading Chinese tech company was arrested on charges of violating US sanctions against Iran. Clearly, that can’t have made happy; though there has been no reaction to date. Still, I think this has to be stirred in to Trump’s big pot of Chinese/US love stew.

My reaction was a big ‘atta boy’ for the Donald. As you know I am about to give up on anything substantive coming from his stated policy of revamping the global trade regime---NAFTA 2.0 was joke and, at least to date, the supposed ‘come to Jesus’ meeting with Xi at the G20 seems likely to have the same impact as wart on goat’s ass.

Huawei CFO Charged With Fraud, Deemed "Flight Risk" Whose Bail "Couldn't Be High Enough"

So I am now in a ‘wait and see’ mode. I have growing doubts that Trump is really willing to do what is right regarding China’s egregious policies [theft of intellectual property] because to do so will cause pain; and given the Donald’s Market based personal rating system, he has yet to show that he willing to take that pain for a greater good.

Chinese imports from US down 25%.

Chinese Imports From The US Plummet 25% As Trade War Takes Toll

Another issue is the funding of the border wall which Trump has tied to a partial government funding measure that needs to be enacted shortly. Trump wants $5 billion and says that he will shut down the government if he doesn’t get it. The dems say that all he gets is $1.6 billion. So here we are in another one of those showdowns in which the Donald either blinks or shuts down the government---an action that has never proved a plus for the economy.

My bottom line, aside from my usual rant about the weakening effects of an outsized federal debt/deficit on the economy, is that I am losing confidence that Trump will achieve a reformed trade policy, and, hence, have a positive impact on the long term secular growth rate of this country.

  1. the potential negative impact of central bank money printing: The key point here is that [a] the Fed has inflated bank reserves far beyond any comparable level in history and [b] while this hasn’t been an economic problem to date, {i} it still has to withdraw all those reserves from the system without creating any disruptions---a task that I regularly point out it has proven inept at in the past and {ii} it has created asset bubbles in the stock market as well as in the auto, student and mortgage loan markets.

Nothing really new on this front this week. The Fed did release its latest Beige Book which I don’t think added anything to the current debate of just how hawkish or dovish Powell/the Fed really is.

I did get some feedback that the nothing has changed regarding the unwinding of the Fed’s balance sheet---which as you know, I consider a lot more important than what the Fed does with interest rates; that is, lower interest rates might help the economy and unwinding of QE will have little effect---though it reverse the gross mispricing and misallocation of assets.

And speaking of the mispricing of assets, look what is going on in the leveraged loan market.

Credit "Death Spiral" Accelerates As Loan ETF Sees Record Outflow, Primary Market Freezes

  1. geopolitical risks:

Brexit, civil unrest in France, the EU/Italy standoff; and now Russia and Ukraine are threatening each other. They all could be much to do about nothing; or any one could cause serious negative financial consequences. I have no clue on any potential outcome; but they can’t be ignored.

  1. economic difficulties around the globe. The stats this week were positive: third quarter EU GDP was up, in line; the November EU and UK manufacturing PMI’s were above estimates as were October German factory orders; though October German industrial production was poor.

There was more good news out of OPEC---it agreed to larger than expected production cuts [***warning, these guys lie a lot].

OPEC Meeting Ends With Members Agreeing To Bigger Than Expected Production Cut

Bottom line: on a secular basis, the US economy is growing at an historically below average secular rate although I assume decreased regulation, the likely successful completion of the NAFTA 2.0 agreement and Trump’s spending cuts (assuming implementation) will improve that rate somewhat.

However, these potential long term positives are being offset by a totally irresponsible fiscal policy. To be sure, the Trump mandated spending cuts would be a great start to correcting this problem. Further, political gridlock could shut down any new tax cut/spending increase measures. For that, we should all be thankful. But until evidence proves otherwise, my thesis is that cost of servicing the current level of the national debt and budget deficit is simply too high to allow any meaningful pick up in long term secular economic growth derived from deregulation or the current somewhat improved trade regime.

Cyclically, growth in the second quarter sped up, helped along by the tax cuts. Plus (1) removing the uncertainty of no NAFTA treaty should help return economic conditions within the three countries to what they were before and (2) a slowdown in the rise of short term interest rates will likely improve economic sentiment. On the other hand, trade fears [China] and a weakening global economy point to slower growth if not outright recession. As I noted above, that is not my forecast at the moment.

The Market-Disciplined Investing

Technical

The Averages (DJIA 24388, S&P 2633) had another rough day. They finished below both moving averages; and having set a second lower high last Friday, they made a new lower low. In short, the indices’ charts continued to deteriorate. However, they are getting very oversold, so some rally is to be expected.

Volume rose and breadth was negative. But again neither had any of the characteristics of a selling climax.

The VIX was up another 9 ½ %, so its chart remains positive (bad for stocks) and actually got more upbeat as its 100 DMA is crossing above its 200 DMA.

The long bond rose again, finishing above its 100 DMA for a third day, reverting to support, and above its 200 DMA for a third day (now resistance; if it remains there through the close next Monday, it will revert to support). In sum, its chart is being turned on its head. Follow through is still needed to confirm the aforementioned challenges. But clearly, bond investors are embracing the flattening yield curve scenario (recession) enthusiastically…...

The dollar was down, ending below the lower boundary of its very short term up trend (if it remains there through the close on Monday, the trend will be voided), but remains in a short term uptrend as well as above both MA’s. So the chart continues to be technically strong.

GLD traded up almost a point, continuing to improve technically. It remains above its 100 DMA and is developing a very short term uptrend. This is not unusual given the carnage in stocks and a move lower in interest rates. In fact, I am surprised that gold has not done better.

Bottom line: the Averages’ charts continue to deteriorate technically, making any meaningful Santa Claus rally ever more difficult. That said, given that they keep getting more and more oversold, some kind of rebound seems inevitable.

The pin action in the long bond continues to point to lower rates. While that may be good news with respect to Fed policy, it also suggests bad news for the economy (i.e. weaker). Both the dollar and gold look to be supporting that view.

Friday in the charts.

Goldilocks Is Dead: Stocks Slammed Despite Trade-Truce, OPEC Deal, & Jobs Gains

Fundamental-A Dividend Growth Investment Strategy

The DJIA and the S&P are well above ‘Fair Value’ (as calculated by our Valuation Model), the improved regulatory environment and the potential pluses from trade and spending cuts notwithstanding. At the moment, the important factors bearing on Fair Value (corporate profitability and the rate at which it is discounted) are:

  1. the extent to which the economy is growing. Economic activity in the third quarter slowed and everyone pretty much agrees that it will do so again in the fourth quarter. This is all borne out in the dataflow.

Also, lest we forget, the growth rate in rest of the global economy has slowed and appears to be slowing even further as fears of a prolonged US/China trade war impact corporate investment/spending plans. That can’t be good for our own prospects. It is certainly possible, even probable, that the US can continue to grow as the rest of the world slows. But the rate of growth will likely be declining nonetheless.

Further, while I don’t profess to know the exact reasoning for the Fed to turn dovish [data dependent], an obvious motivation would be a perceived slowdown in the economy.

My thesis is that, a trade war aside, the financing burden now posed by the massive [and growing] US deficit and debt is offsetting the positive effects of deregulation and fairer trade and will continue to constrain economic as well as profitability growth.

In short, the economy is not a negative [yet] but it is not a positive at current valuation levels.

  1. the success of current trade negotiations. If Trump is able to create a fairer political/trade regime, it would almost surely be a plus for secular earnings growth. That said, as I noted above, it is beginning to look to me that the Donald’s bombast is just so much fluff. In other words, the odds of success seem to me to be declining and, as a result, its potential positive impact on the long term secular growth rate of the country.

  1. the rate at which the global central banks unwind QE. The Fed appears to be pulling back from its move to hike the Fed Funds rate. However, that is less important to QT than the run off of its balance sheet---and, at the moment, it appears that it will continue unabated. In addition, the ECB appears on schedule to halt its bond purchase program.

On the other hand, the BOJ remains entrenched in its version of QE and the Chinese are using every policy tool available, including monetary easing, to stem the negative effects of the trade dispute with the US. I have no clue how this dance of conflicting monetary policy will play.

I remain convinced that [a] QE has done and will continue to do harm in terms of the mispricing and misallocation of assets, [b] sooner or later that mispricing/misallocation will be reversed and [c] given the fact that the Markets were the prime beneficiaries of QE, they will be the ones that take the pain of its demise.

  1. finally, valuations remain at record highs [at least as calculated by my Valuation Model] based on the current generally accepted economic/corporate profit scenario.

Whether or not I am right about overall valuation levels, investors seem to be balking at raising valuations any further. That doesn’t mean that a crash is imminent but it does suggest that, at a minimum, further upward progress may be limited.

Global Uncertainty Is Rising, and That is a Bad Omen for Growth | naked capitalism

Bottom line: a new regulatory regime plus an improvement in our trade policies along with proposed spending cuts should have a positive impact on secular growth and, hence, equity valuations. On the other hand, I believe that overall fiscal policy (growing deficits/debt) will have an opposite effect. Making matters worse, monetary policy, sooner or later, will have to correct the mispricing and misallocation of assets---and that will be a negative for the Market.

The math in our Valuation Model still shows that equities are way overpriced. That math is simple: the P/E now being paid for the historical long term secular growth rate of earnings is far above the norm.

As a long term investor, with equity valuations at historical highs, I would want to own some cash in my Portfolio; and if I didn’t have any, I would use any price strength to sell a portion of my winners and all of my losers.

As a reminder, my Portfolio’s cash position didn’t reach its current level as a result of the Valuation Models estimate of Fair Value for the Averages. Rather I apply it to each stock in my Portfolio and when a stock reaches its Sell Half Range (overvalued), I reduce the size of that holding. That forces me to recognize a portion of the profit of a successful investment and, just as important, build a reserve to buy stocks cheaply when the inevitable decline occurs.

DJIA S&P

Current 2018 Year End Fair Value* 13860 1711

Fair Value as of 12/31/18 13860 1711

Close this week 24338 2633

* Just a reminder that the Year End Fair Value number is based on the long term secular growth of the earning power of productive capacity of the US economy not the near term cyclical influences. The model is now accounting for somewhat below average secular growth for the next 3 to 5 years.

The Portfolios and Buy Lists are up to date.