The Closing Bell
Current Economic Forecast
2018 estimates (revised)
Real Growth in Gross Domestic Product 1.5-2.5%
Corporate Profits 10-15%
Real Growth in Gross Domestic Product 1.5-2.5%
Corporate Profits 5-6%
Current Market Forecast
Dow Jones Industrial Average
Current Trend (revised):
Short Term Uptrend 23600-33840
Intermediate Term Uptrend 14513-30732 (?)
Long Term Uptrend 6849-30311(?)
2018 Year End Fair Value 13800-14000
2019 Year End Fair Value 14500-14700
Standard & Poor’s 500
Current Trend (revised):
Short Term Uptrend 2590-3490
Intermediate Term Uptrend 1383-3193 (?) Long Term Uptrend 937-3217 (?)
2018 Year End Fair Value 1700-1720
2019 Year End Fair Value 1790-1810
Percentage Cash in Our Portfolios
Dividend Growth Portfolio 56%
High Yield Portfolio 55%
Aggressive Growth Portfolio 56%
The Trump economy is a neutral for equity valuations. This week’s data was mixed: above estimates: weekly jobless claims, weekly mortgage/purchase applications, August consumer inflation expectations, September consumer sentiment, July wholesale inventories/sales; below estimates: month to date retail chain store sales, the July job opening report, the August small business optimism index, the August budget deficit; in line with estimates: August retail sales/ex autos, July business inventories/sales.
Dealers choice: July consumer credit (which soared); August CPI and PPI/core PPI (which were higher than expected), August export/import prices (lower than anticipated). I rated these as dealer’s choice because whether they are interpreted as positive or negative depends on your perspective. Higher consumer credit could be viewed as signifying growth and positive consumer sentiment or it could be seen as the last gasp of an overextended consumer. Higher CPI/PPI would be considered a plus by the Fed (approaching their goal; though it would a negative for the Market in that would likely slow/halt monetary easing) but a negative if you are a consumer. The reverse would be true for August export/import prices.
And there is always the chance that those numbers could be bad for everyone.
The primary indicators were neutral: August retail sales/ex autos (0). The call is neutral. Score: in the last 204 weeks, sixty-six were positive, ninety-one negative and forty-seven neutral.
This leaves the yellow warning light flashing.
Overseas, the stats were positive, led by good numbers out of the UK. This is, of course, a hopeful sign but one week is no trend; and if there is a hard Brexit in October, those upbeat stats will likely reverse. So, I need to see more of this before altering my opinion that the global economy is a drag on our own.
[a] the July German trade balance was larger than anticipated, August CPI was in line while PPI was down; July UK construction spending, GDP growth, personal income and industrial production were above estimates while the trade deficit was less than forecast; the unemployment rate was below projections; July EU industrial production was very disappointing but the July trade surplus was a positive,
[b] Q2 Japanese GDP growth, the price index and private consumption were in line, capital expenditures, August machine tool orders and PPI were well below estimates while July industrial production and capacity utilization were above,
[c] August Chinese vehicle sales were disappointing, CPI and PPI ran hotter than consensus, while loan growth was in line.
Developments this week that impact the economy:
- trade: the US/Chinese trade talks were a fountain of good news this week. The Chinese first reduced tariffs on a number of products ahead of next month’s negotiation; Trump responded by delaying the increased tariffs until October 15th; and the Chinese then lifted the restrictions on the import of US agricultural products. If this de-escalation leads to a meaningful resolution to Trump’s concerns [unfair industrial policy and IP theft], Hallelujah. Clearly, it is a meaningful start. However, for the moment, I remain ever the skeptic:
[a] the Chinese communist party has its 70th anniversary in October. This is a major celebration for them and they undoubtedly want it free of any controversial headlines.
[b] Trump has more to lose on a short term basis than China, i.e. he has a 2020 election to worry about and Xi doesn’t. In the absence of him folding, the Chinese can afford to string Trump along until, at least the 2020 elections and I continue to believe that they will do just that.
- fiscal policy: as noted above, the August budget deficit was larger than anticipated and almost assures that this fiscal year’s deficit will be in excess of $1 trillion. Meanwhile, Trump wants another tax cut and every Dem presidential hopeful that is still breathing has their own Christmas list of spending projects. Growing the budget deficit and national debt will only make economic growth more difficult [assuming that the theory of excessive debt as a percentage of GDP inhibits growth is correct].
- monetary policy: Draghi delivered an early Christmas present to the Markets, lowering interest rates [with some provisions to offset the negative effects on bank reserves] and restarting QE; though as I noted in Friday’s Morning Call, the move wasn’t quite as dovish as originally thought. Still, it would appear that the race is on to ever lower rates and more QE. We will know soon enough as the FOMC and Bank of Japan meet next week.
You know my position: central bank monetary policy has been a negative [asset mispricing and misallocation] for global growth and will remain so as long as they pursue their irresponsible QE. To be clear, my point is that economic growth would have been more robust in the absence of QE. The only beneficiaries of this policy have been the securities market which are now grossly overvalued. (must read)
- global hotspots. the Middle East hostility continues to simmer, while Hong Kong, Italy, the UK [Brexit] and the Japanese/Korean spat have the potential for economic disruption.
Latest UK poll on Brexit.
Bottom line: on a secular basis, the US economy is growing at an historically below average rate and I see little reason for any improvement. The principal cause of the restraint being totally irresponsible fiscal (running monstrous deficits at full employment adding to too much debt) and monetary (pushing liquidity into the financial system that has done little to help the economy but has led to the gross mispricing and misallocation of assets) policies.
Cyclically, the US economy continues to limp along which is not surprising given the lethargic global economy and the continuing trade wars. Indeed, this progress is a miracle given all the aforementioned fiscal and monetary headwinds. That said, the yellow warning light is still flashing.
The Market-Disciplined Investing
The Averages (27219, 3007) turned in a mixed performance yesterday (Dow up, S&P down) but finished above both MA’s and in uptrends across all timeframes. Volume continues low while breadth pushed further into overbought territory. The two negatives that I see are (1) the indices failure to move higher on more positive trade and monetary policy news and (2) the gap up opens from eight days ago still have to be closed.
The VIX fell 3 3/8 %, ending below both MA’s (now resistance) and is mirroring the indices move toward their July highs. I am watching for any deviation from this symmetry as an indication of a Market reversal.
The long bond was down 2 1/8 %. It is continues to rapidly correct the strong advance from July. As I noted previously, TLT had reached extremely overbought territory; so, its pin action is not that surprising. It still remains above both MA’s and in uptrends across all timeframes. Therefore, on a longer term basis, the trend in rates remains to the downside. And that gap down open nine days ago still needs to be filled. Nonetheless, the recent increase in volatility, the lack of liquidity, the gap opens in all our indicators suggest that the level of investor uncertainty on trade and monetary policy is quite high---which leaves a question mark about where TLT is headed.
The dollar was down four cents, but is now the only indicator that reflects any kind of stability. This week, it has closed two gap opens and remains above both MA’s and in short and long term uptrends. I think that this at least partially reflects the global dollar shortage problem which I frequently refer to; and that is largely a result of lousy monetary policy---which is not apt to change.
GLD was down 7/8 %, closing above both MA’s, in very short term and short term uptrends. But it closed below that minor support level that I referred to on Friday. While it still needs to fill the gap down open from nine days ago, the yesterday’s pin action could be pointing at lower prices near term.
Bottom line: long term, the Averages are in uptrends across all timeframes; so, the assumption is that they will continue to advance. Short term, they have regained upward momentum; though I find it troubling that their advance has not been more dramatic given upbeat news on trade and monetary policy. However, they are only a short hair away from their July all-time highs (27398, 3027).
From a technical standpoint, those gap opens, the increase volatility and lack of liquidity make me uneasy. I think this a time to be firmly on the sidelines.
Friday in the charts.
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 notwithstanding. At the moment, the important factors bearing on Fair Value (corporate profitability and the rate at which it is discounted) are:
- the extent to which the economy is growing. The economy continues to struggle forward against multiple headwinds. The very recent data has become less bad---but that is no reason to stop the yellow warning light flashing. That said, in the last two weeks, the Market pin action is suggesting better times ahead---which could be correct in the short term if we get some kind of trade deal.
At the moment, I am sticking with my sluggish growth forecast which is a neutral for equities.
- the [lack of] success of current trade negotiations. If Trump can create a fairer political/trade regime, it would almost surely be constructive for secular earnings growth.
Everything was coming up roses this week as the Trump and the Chinese seem to be falling all over themselves to de-escalate trade tensions. I have observed previously that I believe the Chinese motivation is for calm during the 70th anniversary bash of the Chinese communist party---which is a major event for them. So, I am officially withholding judgement on the odds of a successful outcome to the trade negotiations until after the party is over.
Clearly, I could be dead wrong about the odds of an agreement that incorporates reform in Chinese industrial policy and IP theft. If Trump gets that, then the outlook for increased trade and a stronger economy improves markedly. If Trump gets out maneuvered, then while the short term prospects for growth will rise, the US will still stuck with the longer term burden on unfair Chinese industrial policies and IP theft.
- the resumption of QE by the global central banks. That is now occurring worldwide. [a] last week China lowered bank reserve requirements and [b] this week ECB lowered rates. The FOMC and the Bank of Japan meet next week. While we can’t know the outcome of these proceedings, the Market is pricing high odds at the moment for further easing by both.
I have maintained for some time that the key to the Market is monetary policy, more specifically, its co-dependency with the Fed. Investors recently began to question their faith in the Fed’s ability to navigate the US economy through an increasingly trying economic climate. Indeed, I was surprised this week by the relative lack of enthusiasm regarding the ECB cut. So far, there is not enough to suggest a change in the paradigm of central bank/stock market co-dependency. However, the risk is heightening that this could occur.
- current valuations. I believe that Averages are grossly overvalued [as determined by my Valuation Model], even considering:
[a] better economic data, which the recent pin action in the Markets suggests is happening or about to happen. At the moment, however, the US economic numbers are not that great. Neither are the global stats. So, there is no assurance that this is occurring.
[b] an improvement in the trade outlook. Progress seems to be happening. But, there is nothing clear on the real source of the US trade dispute with China---its industrial policy and IP theft. While any trade deal, good or bad, will almost assuredly improve the short term economic outlook, it will do nothing from long term valuations if the US doesn’t halt the aforementioned policies.
On the other hand, the real driving source of the Market’s advance is the global central banks being all in on their support of equity markets. For the last decade, they have measured their success by the performance of the stock Market, acted accordingly and been victorious. As long as that is the paradigm, fundamental economics and valuations will likely remain irrelevant.
However, I still believe that these monetary policies of the last decade have stymied not aided economic growth, that they have created valuation bubbles through the mispricing and misallocation of assets and that they have led to a pronounced inequality in the distribution of wealth. And I believe that the unwinding of these effects will not end well for equity holders.
As prices continue to rise, I will be primarily focused on those stocks that trade into their Sell Half Range and act accordingly. Despite the Averages being near all-time highs, there are certain segments of the economy/Market that have been punished severely (e.g. health care) with the stocks of the companies serving those industries down 30-70%. I am compiling a list of potential Buy candidates that can be bought on any correction in the Market; even a minor one. As you know, I recently added AbbVie to the Dividend Growth and High Yield Buy Lists.
Bottom line: fiscal policy is negatively impacting the E in P/E. On the other hand, a new regulatory environment is a plus. Any improvement in our trade regime with China should have a positive impact on secular growth and, hence, equity valuations---if it occurs. More important, a global central bank ‘put’ has returned and, if history is any guide, will almost assuredly be a plus for stock prices.
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.
Seeking Alpha's Disclosure: Past performance is no guarantee of future results. No recommendation or advice is being given as to whether any investment is suitable for a particular investor. Any views or opinions expressed above may not reflect those of Seeking Alpha as a whole. Seeking Alpha is not a licensed securities dealer, broker or US investment adviser or investment bank. Our analysts are third party authors that include both professional investors and individual investors who may not be licensed or certified by any institute or regulatory body.