Leading Indicators

For the past few years, I’ve made many references, both in conversation and in print[1], to various “leading indicators” that I use to assess the probability of an impending recession and concurrent market downturn.  I’ve spotlighted charts on a number of these indicators such as The Fed Indicator, Small Business Confidence and Light Vehicle Sales.  I think it would be helpful, given the current uncertain state of the stock market, to review these and give you a more complete picture.

Before any of these trends and stats go into my “Leading Indicators’ Index,” they must first have a track record of flashing a warning sign not only before a recession starts, but in a timely enough fashion to allow you to profitably lighten up on your stock market exposure.  An indicator that always flashes red 6 months into a recession is wonderfully consistent, but no help at all.  Here are the twenty two indicators I am currently monitoring, grouped into five categories:

Monetary Policy
Real Fed Funds Rate
1-10 yr. Treasury Slope
Corporate Financial Health
2 yr Swap Spreads
 Corporate Credit Spreads
Corp Profits as a % of GDP
Business Trends
Institute for Supply Mgn PMI
Capacity Utilization
Chemical Activity
24 Month Payroll
Small Business Optimism
Small Business Hiring
General
Bloomberg Business Conditions
Consumer Confidence
Light Vehicle Sales
Unemployment Rate
Weekly Unemployment
Year/Year Change Employment

      Housing

Components of Residential Investment

Housing Starts

NAHB Housing Market Index

Year/Year New Home Starts

New Homes Month’s Supply

Housing, General, Business Trends and Corporate Financial Health each have an overall equal weighting, while Monetary Policy is weighted about 50% more than these other 4 categories.  Within each category, I weight each individual component according to its past reliability. If a component is not negative at any given time, it earns a “0.”  If it is negative, it earns a number based on its weighting.  For example, if New Home Starts are giving off a warning signal, I add 5 to the Index because that component makes up 5% of it.

Here is a history of the index since the recession of 1990. (red boxes are recessions).

The plot points were calculated:

  • At the market top just before the beginning of each recession
  • At the beginning of each year
  • On 10/30/18

Observations:

  • The index rose sharply before each recession – 1990 (87), 2000 (86), 2008 (98).
    • There is a good deal of “chatter” in the years before a recession starts. Indicators frequently give off false positives.  For example, Small Business Optimism was in a clear downtrend before each of the last 3 recessions.[2]  However, there was a great deal of waxing and waning during the interim years as the market advanced.

  • The key is the cumulative weight of each indicator. There is a very clear pattern that has proceeded the last 3 recessions.  First, monetary policy becomes restrictive.  Short term rates climb to where they exceed longer term rates (1-10 Slope).  The Federal Reserve increases the Fed Funds rate significantly above the inflation rate (Real Fed Funds).  This usually occurs at least a year before the onset of a recession.[3]

This restrictive monetary policy then works its way through the economy, leading to negative trends in most of the other indicators.  In the 1990 recession, the yield curve inverted at the beginning of 1989, but the downtrend in Year-over-Year Change in Employment did not become apparent for a year.[4]

Where Are We  Now?

As of 10/30/18, our Leading Indicator’s level stands at 10.  Year-over-Year New Home Sales and Months of New Home Supply have just turned negative.  But as you can see, these indicators can be very volatile.  In the most recent expansion, the New Home Sales have turned negative three times.

Bottom Line – We believe there is a low probability of the recent market downturn being a precursor to a recession.  However, we are watching the Monetary Policy indicators very closely.

[1] The Next Bear Market II http://capitalistinvestment.com/2018/10/the-next-bear-market-ii/, The Next Bear Market http://capitalistinvestment.com/2018/01/the-next-bear-market/, Stock and Bond Market Update http://capitalistinvestment.com/2017/11/stock-and-bond-market-update/

[2] Calculated Risk Blog https://www.calculatedriskblog.com/2015/09/bls-jobs-openings-increased-to-58.html

[3] Calafia Beach Pundit http://scottgrannis.blogspot.com/2018/

[4] Calculated Risk Blog https://www.calculatedriskblog.com/2015/09/bls-jobs-openings-increased-to-58.h

Opinions expressed in the attached article are those of Don Harrison, Scott Grannis and Bill Mcbride, and are not necessarily those of Raymond James. All opinions are as of this date and are subject to change without notice. This information, developed by an independent third party, has been obtained from sources considered to be reliable, but Raymond James Financial Services, Inc. does not guarantee that the foregoing material is accurate or complete. This information is not a complete summary or statement of all available data necessary for making an investment decision and does not constitute a recommendation. Links are being provided for information purposes only. Past performance is not indicative of future results. Investing always involves risk and you may incur a profit or loss. No investment strategy can guarantee success.  There is no guarantee that these statements, opinions or forecasts provided herein will prove to be correct.

 

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Martin Balsam Is Gone, but Allardyce T. Meriweather Lives On!

After my religion period, I took up with a swindler: Allardyce Meriweather.

Jack Crabbe, Little Big Man

I promise the immortal Meriweather may have something to do with the market.  Just have patience.

Allardyce Meriweather is a character in Thomas Berger’s novel Little Big Man, which centers around the adventures of Jack Crabbe, the only white survivor of The Little Big Horn.  In the film version, Jack is played by Dustin Hoffman, and Martin Balsam portrays Meriweather.

Allardyce is a con artist, a four-flushing, thimblerigging flim-flam man — a direct descendant of Mark Twain’s King and Duke.  He makes a living via his wits and the gullibility of his fellow man.  As he puts it:

Men will believe anything, the more preposterous the better: Whales speak French at the bottom of the sea.  The horses of Arabia have silver wings. Pygmies mate with elephants in darkest Africa.  I have sold all those propositions.

Crabbe encounters him from time to time, and can’t help but notice that there seems to be less of Meriweather each time they meet:

Meriweather was one of the smartest men I ever knowed, but he tended to lose parts of himself.  When I joined him, his left hand and his left ear were already gone. During my years with Meriweather, he lost an eye as a result of a fifth ace dropping out his sleeve in a poker game.

It didn’t faze him, though.  Deception was his life’s blood, even if it caused him to get whittled down kind of gradual like.

When their paths cross for the last time, Jack admonishes him: You don’t know when you’re licked!   To which Allardyce replies: Licked?  I’m not licked.  I’m tarred and feathered, that’s all.

On that note, I give you the graphic below:

It’s a chart of the S&P 500’s ascent since 2012, with predictions about its future course.   The quotes may not be legible, but here’s a sample[1]:

[1] www.tradernavigator.com

7/31/12The real crash is dead ahead. Paul B. Farrell

11/13/12Prepare for massive market meltdown. Marc Faber

1/10/13Crash in Q3 2013 and continuing for a year and a half.   Harry Dent

9/26/13Decent chance stocks will crash 30% in next year.  Henry Blodget

10/15/131929 parallel warns of crash, it’s preordained.  Tom DeMark

7/29/14Stocks are in a bubble and will crash.   Ron Paul

9/5/15100% risk of a 50% crash if Trump wins nomination.  Paul B. Farrel

1/11/16Sell everything, brace for a cataclysmic year.  RBS

8/9/16Can easily give back 5 yrs. of gains to 1100.   Marc Faber

11/9/16Very probably looking at a global recession, with no end in sight. Paul Krugman

6/24/17epic decline ahead, stocks to plummet 40%.  Marc Faber.

1/18/18The data is clear, 50% unemployment, a 90% stock market drop, and 100% annual inflation starting as soon as next year.  Robert Weidemer

10/25/18French-speaking whales have heard from the silver-winged horses of Arabia that a black swan is flying in from Armageddon.  Sell Everything! Dr. A. Meriweather

(Just checking to see if you’re paying attention)

It is remarkable that the business news will continue to quote these perpetually bearish broken watches no matter how preposterous their predictions.  It’s “preordained?”  When is anything in the market preordained?  “100% risk of a 50% crash?”  I guess that’s a more precisely convincing way of saying “preordained.”    “The data is clear, 50% unemployment, a 90% stock market drop, and 100% annual inflation starting as soon as next year?”  You better have some mighty powerful data to predict the mother of all Depressions!  On a positive note, at least Henry Blodget had the humility to say “decent chance.”

Now, I don’t mean to suggest that any of these talking heads engage in premediated swindling, a la the indefatigable Meriweather.   Reading their minds is beyond my mortal powers.  I also don’t mean to imply that our current market correction could absolutely not be the start of a major bear market.  But what I can say for sure is that, unlike Meriweather, they never seem to get a piece taken out of them.  Their reputations remain intact no matter how much harm their snake oil inflicts.  They are never licked, never tarred and feathered, never run out of town on a rail.  The news media knows that there will always be a market for their silver-winged Arabian horses.

Just make sure you don’t buy into that market!

Since there is always a possibility that we are on the cusp of a major bear market, I’ll post before the end of the week with an update on my leading indicators, and what they’re saying about the odds of a significant market decline.

 

Don Harrison

President, CIS Br Mgr,  RJFS

Opinions expressed in the attached article are those of Don Harrison, and are not necessarily those of Raymond James. All opinions are as of this date and are subject to change without notice. There is no assurance any of the trends mentioned will continue or forecasts will occur.  The information has been obtained from sources considered to be reliable, but Raymond James does not guarantee that the foregoing material is accurate or complete.  Raymond James is not affiliated with and does not endorse the opinions or services of independent third parties named.  The S&P 500 is an unmanaged index of 500 widely held stocks that is generally considered representative of the U.S. stock market.  Keep in mind that individuals cannot invest directly in any index, and index performance does not include transaction costs or other fees, which will affect actual investment performance.  Individual investor’s results will vary.  This information is not a complete summary or statement of all available data necessary for making an investment decision and does not constitute a recommendation. Links are being provided for information purposes only. Past performance is not indicative of future results. Investing always involves risk and you may incur a profit or loss. No investment strategy can guarantee success.

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The Next Bear Market II

Back in January, I posted a piece entitled The Next Bear Market In it, I opined that we are in a “secular bull market,”[1] but that another recession is inevitable – though probably a few years away – and now is the time to start formulating a portfolio game plan to deal with it.

Well, yesterday “Roberto Rates” knocked “Sugar Ray Earnings”[2] for a loop, but that has not changed my, nor Raymond James Chief Investment Strategist Jeff Saut’s, opinion: we believe that we are in a long term bull market that still has a respectable amount of time to run.  As Jeff put it today[3] (10/11/18):

Our sense, after writing repeatedly last week that folks should sell trading positions, is that people should get ready to buy . . . .  Our sense is that things are approaching a totally “washed out” level similarly to the February undercut low of 2-9-18.

Jeff also quotes Leon Tuey:

Fear surged today globally. Few realize that the sell-off presents an outstanding buying opportunity as the market is grossly oversold and pessimism is at an extreme (conditions seen at market bottoms). As mentioned in my most recent report, investors should be buying into further weakness as further weakness will cause the market to reverse to the up side.   Earlier tonight, the Dow Future was down 228 points, but has recovered more than 50% at this writing. Clearly, the market is showing downside resistance. Hence, if the market drops further, redeploy cash. A more detailed illustrated report will be sent tomorrow. Remember what Warren Buffett said: “Be fearful when others are greedy and be greedy when others are fearful.” Refrain from joining the crowd.

Here’s an update of some of my favorite leading indicators:

1) The Fed Indicator[4] – Recessions are typically preceded by tight money.  One measure of the degree of Federal Reserve tightening is the Real Fed Funds rate, the difference between inflation and the Fed Funds rate.  The average rise preceding the last 6 recessions has been roughly 5%, with the smallest increase around 3%.  At the moment the RFF has risen 2%.  Another indicator of tight money is the 1-10 Slope, the difference between the yield on 1 and 10 year Treasury securities.  Usually, this goes negative 1-2 years before the onset of a recession.  At the moment it is not negative.  The 1 yr. yield is 2.67% and the 10 yr. is 3.22%.

2) Confidence[5] – Both Consumer and Small Business confidence usually begin declining before a recession. That is obviously not the case now.

3) New Home Sales – The chart below is Year over Year Change in New Home Sales vs. Recessions.  According to Bill McBride (Calculated Risk)[6], who has extensively researched this issue, “new home sales appear to be an excellent leading indicator” and “currently new home sales (and housing starts) are up year-over-year, and this suggests there is no recession in sight.”  The year-over-year increase in new home sales has turned negative and been at a minimum of -9% before each of the last 6 recessions.  It currently stands at +6%.

Bottom Line – Stay the course.  The end is not nigh.

[1] For a definition of a “secular bull market,” see my post of 11/16/17 http://capitalistinvestment.com/2017/11/stock-and-bond-market-update/

[2] For a recap of the contest between interest rates and earnings, see my post The Tale of the Tape and This Correction http://capitalistinvestment.com/2018/02/the-tale-of-the-tape-and-this-correction/

[3] The Earnings Picture Is Getting Complicated https://myrjnet.rjf.com/ResearchandPlanning/InvestmentStrategy/MarketandEconomicCommentary/MarketStrategybyJeffSaut/Pages/default.aspx

[4] Real Yields vs. Yield Curve Slope from Calafia Beach Pundit Interest rates are rising because the economy is strengthening http://scottgrannis.blogspot.com/2018/10/interest-rates-are-rising-because.html

[5] Both Confidence charts from Calafia Beach Pundit An emerging and important secular trend  http://scottgrannis.blogspot.com/2018/09/an-emerging-and-important-secular-trend.html

[6] New Home Sales from Calculated Risk Investment and Recessions 10/10/18 https://www.calculatedriskblog.com/

Opinions expressed in the attached article are those of Don Harrison, Scott Grannis and Bill McBride and are not necessarily those of Raymond James. All opinions are as of this date and are subject to change without notice. This information, developed by an independent third party, has been obtained from sources considered to be reliable, but Raymond James Financial Services, Inc. does not guarantee that the foregoing material is accurate or complete. This information is not a complete summary or statement of all available data necessary for making an investment decision and does not constitute a recommendation. Links are being provided for information purposes only. Past performance is not indicative of future results. Investing always involves risk and you may incur a profit or loss. No investment strategy can guarantee success.
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Thanks for the Bull Market, CNBC!

Thanks for the Bull Market, CNBC!

As many of you know, I have been a long-time critic of the various television business networks.  While they purport to provide viewers with usable information about business and investment markets, their true mission is to sell advertising, and what sells advertising is more eyeballs glued to the screen, and what drives those eyeballs is sensationalism – especially of the Armageddon variety.  We don’t tune in to hear that business conditions are pretty good and the stock market might go up 7% this year; we can’t help but tune in if we hear trumpets and see flashing graphics announcing the next black swan event that will drive the market down 50%.

But here’s the good news about all this seeming bad news: it’s helping to sustain this bull market.  What keeps a bull market going is the same thing that sells advertising – worry, and the more the better.   As the old saying goes, bull markets “climb a wall of worry.”

Raymond James Chief Investment Strategist Jeff Saut recently offered his friend Leon Tuey’s thoughts on this paradox. Leon is a retired Canadian technical analyst.

SENTIMENT FACTORS: Sir John Templeton accurately observed that “bull markets are born on pessimism, grow on skepticism, mature on optimism, and die on euphoria”. Despite the longevity and power of this great bull market, investors are far from euphoric. In fact, in early February, investors panicked globally as fear skyrocketed, most unusual as this is the sentiment evident at major market bottoms, not at market tops.

 SUPPLY/DEMAND FACTORS: Typically, at important market tops, investors are heavily invested in equities and hold very little cash whereas at major market bottoms, investors hold little equities and sit on a mountain of cash.  What is unusual about this bull market is that despite the spectacular gains already achieved and the longevity of this bull market, investors are still sitting on a mountain of cash and very little equities.  In my more than 55 years of experience in this business, I have never seen such supply/demand imbalance, so much money chasing so few stocks.

 The supply/demand condition can’t be more bullish.  Note the following.  For years, stock listing on the NYSE has been plunging.  At one time, over 8,000 issues were traded and today, less than 4,000.  (Moreover) helped by the tax cut, share buybacks have skyrocketed.  The IPO market is quiet as a mouse as firms are flush with cash.  Investors, big and small, have been exiting the market.  In the first quarter of the year, BAML reported that “investors yanked $29.4 billion out of exchange traded funds and mutual funds, the most for a three-month stretch since 2016.”  While supply has contracted significantly, potential demand has surged.  Individual and institutional managers are sitting on a mountain of cash.  Amazing![1]

 I don’t see this “bad news manufacturing facility” – which is what the mainstream business media has become – being shut down any time soon.  It pays too well!

And in the hyper-politicized era in which we now live, at least 50% of the population will always be unhappy and inclined to pessimism because of the party affiliation of whoever might be occupying the White House.

My advice: encourage acquaintances you don’t really care about to watch the business news as much as possible and fill up on doom and gloom, while you keep a level head and refuse to be taken in.

Don Harrison

[1] Raymond James Morning Tack, 5/24/18, The Big Chill

Opinions expressed in the attached article are those of Don Harrison and are not necessarily those of Raymond James. All opinions are as of this date and are subject to change without notice. This information, developed by an independent third party, has been obtained from sources considered to be reliable, but Raymond James Financial Services, Inc. does not guarantee that the foregoing material is accurate or complete. This information is not a complete summary or statement of all available data necessary for making an investment decision and does not constitute a recommendation. Links are being provided for information purposes only. Past performance is not indicative of future results. Investing always involves risk and you may incur a profit or loss. No investment strategy can guarantee success.
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The Tale of the Tape and This Correction

I pay almost no attention to boxing anymore, but back in the day when I eagerly awaited every epic battle between Ali and Frazier or Leonard and Duran, there was always a pre-fight analysis called the “tale of the tape.”  This was exactly what the name implied.  It compared a boxer’s height, reach, weight and age – statistics that were easily measurable – to try to determine who might have an advantage.

One way to look at the behavior of the stock market over a full market cycle – from bull to bear and back again – is to think of it in terms of a boxing match.  In one corner we have “Sugar Ray Earnings” – the total earnings of all the stocks in the market.  In the other corner stands “Roberto Rates” – the level of interest rates and the relationship between short and long-term levels.

When the bell rings at the start of a bull market, “Earnings” looks a little tentative at first but soon he’s peppering “Rates” with left jabs and smacking him in the snoot with hard rights.  “Rates” is almost helpless as “Earnings” – younger, faster, taller –drives him around the ring at will.  But from time to time, the always tough and resilient “Rates” lands a left cross or a right to the gut that staggers “Earnings” but doesn’t quite knock him down.  Eventually, “Earnings” exhausts himself and one of those hard punches knocks him to canvas and ushers in a bear market.

But of course, unlike a real boxing match, this fight never ends.  “Earnings” gets up, goes to his corner for a whiff of smelling salts, and comes out swinging to start the next bull market.

Right now, “Earnings” is firing on all cylinders.  According to CNBC’s Bob Pisani:

      Half of the S&P will have reported by the end of the day today, and it is turning into an extraordinary quarter. Earnings are up nearly 15% from the same period a year ago, and keep rising, according to Thomson Reuters. That is a blended estimate, and includes companies that have not reported yet. If you just count the companies that have already reported, the actual earnings are up 17.3%. That would be the highest growth since the third quarter of 2011. Far more are beating estimates (nearly 80%) than the average (64%), and they are beating by a wider margin.

     Most importantly, revenue growth has returned. The earnings gains are no longer coming primarily from cost cutting: revenue growth, at 8.0 percent, is the highest since the third quarter of 2011, and 82% are beating the revenue estimates (also far higher than the 60% average). As with earnings, they are beating by a wider margin (6.1percent), more than twice the average of 3.1 percent.[1]

Even more impressive, we’re pretty far along in this current match.  The growth in 2011 was not too soon after the bell had rung to start this bull market, when “Sugar Ray Earnings” was fresh and energetic.  I think some of this second wind for “Earnings” comes from the fact that we had an oil-induced mini-recession in 2015, and the yield on the 10-year Treasury Note fell from 2.5% to 1.3%.

But “Roberto Rates” has now gathered himself enough to land a hard punch.  As I pointed out on January 19th,[2]  the direction in which key interest rates are moving means that a recession is closer than it was a few years ago.  I think the recent market correction was “Roberto” knocking the wind out of “Sugar Ray.”  This happens on a fairly regular basis during bull markets.  Since 1932, the S&P 500 has corrected 5%, on average, every 7.1 months and corrected 10%, on average, every 25.9 months.[3]  But I also believe that “Earnings” still has a number of rounds left before he ends up on the canvas.

[4]

Two Interesting Charts

I think there is decent chance that rising interest rates could take longer than normal to unbalance the economic ecosystem.  The chart below shows total U.S. household’s debt as a percentage of total assets.[5]  It is now lower than the level that preceded both of the last recessions.  This time around, increasing rates could have less effect on consumers.

This chart compares truck tonnage to the S&P 500.  It looks to me like it’s a pretty good leading indicator.  Before each of the last 4 recessions, it either declined sharply or flattened out.  Right now it looks like a rocket launch.[6]

The information contained in this report does not purport to be a complete description of the markets, or developments referred to in this material. The information has been obtained from sources considered to be reliable, but we do not guarantee that the foregoing material is accurate or complete. Any information is not a complete summary or statement of all available data necessary for making an investment decision and does not constitute a recommendation. Any opinions are those of Don Harrison, and are not necessarily those of RJFS or Raymond James. Expressions of opinion are as of this date and are subject to change without notice.

Investing for the long-term does not ensure a profitable outcome. Investing involves risk and you may incur a profit or loss regardless of strategy selected. The S&P 500 is an unmanaged index of 500 widely held stocks that is generally considered representative of the U.S. stock market. Keep in mind that individuals cannot invest directly in any index, and index performance does not include transaction costs or other fees, which will affect actual investment performance. Individual investor’s results will vary. Past performance does not guarantee future results

Links are being provided for information purposes only. Raymond James is not affiliated with and does not endorse, authorize or sponsor any of the listed websites or their respective sponsors. Raymond James is not responsible for the content of any website or the collection or use of information regarding any website’s users and/or members.

[1] Investment Strategy: “The 7% Solution”, Jeffrey Saut, Raymond James Investment Strategy, https://myrjnet.rjf.com/ResearchandPlanning/InvestmentStrategy/MarketandEconomicCommentary/MarketStrategybyJeffSaut/Pages/default.aspx

[2] The Next Bear Market, Don Harrison, Capitalist Investment Services Blog, 1/19/18 http://capitalistinvestment.com/2018/01/the-next-bear-market/

[3] Charts of the Week, Andrew Adams, Raymond James Investment Strategy, 2/7/18 https://myrjnet.rjf.com/ResearchandPlanning/InvestmentStrategy/MarketandEconomicCommentary/MarketStrategybyJeffSaut/Pages/default.aspx

[4] The Fed Is Not Yet a Problem, Scott Grannis, Calafia Beach Pundit, 12/14/17 http://scottgrannis.blogspot.com/2017/12/the-fed-is-not-yet-problem.html

[5] Wealthier and Wealthier, Scott Grannis, Calafia Beach Pundit, 12/7/17. http://scottgrannis.blogspot.com/2017/12/wealthier-and-wealthier.html

[6] Truck Tonnage Is Impressive, Scott Grannis, Calafia Beach Pundit, 12/21/17  http://scottgrannis.blogspot.com/2017/12/truck-tonnage-is-impressive.html

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The Next Bear Market

According to Wikipedia,

Happy Days Are Here Again is a song copyrighted in 1929 by Milton Anger (music) and Jack Yellen (lyrics).  The song was recorded by Leo Reisman and His Orchestra, with Lou Levin, vocal (November, 1929).  It was featured in the 1930 film Chasing Rainbows.  The song concluded the picture, in what film historian Edwin Bradley described as a “pull-out-all-the-stops Technicolor finale.”

Well, 1930’s Hollywood has come to 21st Century Wall St. and, at the moment, it is certainly “pull out all the stops!”  Not only has the Dow hit 25,000, but just about every sector of the market is making new highs: U.S. small and mid-cap stocks, and even overseas developed and emerging markets.  About the only laggard has been oil and commodities, and they look like they may have bottomed in the 3rd quarter of 2017 and are now rising sharply.  So why am I talking about the next Bear Market?

We believe that we are currently in a Secular Bull Market that still has a number of years to run.  (For a definition, see my Blog post of 11/16/17 “Stock and Bond Market Update.”)   However, recessions and significant downturns (20+%) do occur within Secular Bull Markets.  During the post-war advance that ran from the early 50’s to the late 60’s, there were 3 recessions.  Even the great Reagan-Clinton bull market had a recession in 1990.  Though we certainly don’t see an imminent recession, there are distant storm clouds forming on the horizon.

Scott Grannis at Calafia Beach Pundit is worried that rising business and consumer confidence, coupled with potential Fed mismanagement of the enormous amount of excess reserves that banks now hold, will lead to higher inflation, higher interest rates and a recession. (See his article here.)  He cautions that “none of this is as yet scary or off the charts, but it is worrisome.”

The chart below, which I’ve presented many times before, is my favorite leading recession indicator.

At the moment, the 1-10 slope has not gone negative, and the Real Fed Funds rate has not risen to the 2%+ range that usually precedes a recession.  However, the lines are now moving in the wrong direction and closer to downturn territory than at any time since the last recession.

Though a recession may be a few years off, I think it’s wise to make your own personal plans now in a calm, reasoned, dispassionate manner.  If you wait to build a storm shelter until the tornado is roaring down your street, you’re likely to panic and make a mess of things.

Your first order of business should be to ask yourself this question: when the signs do point to the likely possibility of a recession, and you make a decision to stay in the market or to get out, where do you want to make your mistake?  Do you want to err on the side of caution, or get hurt by being overly aggressive?  Leading indicators aren’t foolproof crystal balls; they sometimes give false signals, and even when correct, are often early.

Which of these two scenarios would be more upsetting and damaging to you?  You decide to stay in the market, and it declines 20%?  Or you go to the sidelines, and the market continues to rise – maybe up 10% over the next 6 months — and you rue the missed opportunity, get back in, and then we get our large decline?  Getting out of the market has its own risks.

One final thing to keep in mind:  if a recession is on the horizon, the investment “experts” at CNBC and other media outlets will not ring a bell.  They will probably downplay the negative yield curve and other indicators that have a decent track record of forecasting recessions.   They will talk up the low unemployment rate, high small business confidence and other stats that are either lagging indicators or have a very spotty predictive history.  (See my Great Googamooga posts of 12/18/15 and 2/19/16).  They will be saying “All is well” like Kevin Bacon at the end of Animal House, but unlike the movie–the truth will not be that obvious.

Now is the time to talk to your Financial Advisor and make plans, not when the rest of the world realizes “all is not well.”

The information contained in this report does not purport to be a complete description of the markets, or developments referred to in this material. The information has been obtained from sources considered to be reliable, but we do not guarantee that the foregoing material is accurate or complete. Any information is not a complete summary or statement of all available data necessary for making an investment decision and does not constitute a recommendation. Any opinions are those of Don Harrison  and not necessarily those of RJFS or Raymond James. Expressions of opinion are as of this date and are subject to change without notice

Links are being provided for information purposes only. Raymond James is not affiliated with and does not endorse, authorize or sponsor any of the listed websites or their respective sponsors. Raymond James is not responsible for the content of any website or the collection or use of information regarding any website’s users and or members.

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Stock and Bond Market Update

While all the world focuses on the debris rising up in the tornadoes engulfing Hollywood and Washington (Roy Moore, Harvey Weinstein, Kevin Spacey, Trump and Russia, Hillary and Russia, etc.), the stock market continues to drift pleasantly higher.  How much longer can this continue?  What is the long term outlook for the stock and bond market?

The Stock Market

      The S&P 500 has been on quite a winning streak for the last two years.  On November 10th, it recorded the longest streak since 1928 without a 3 % correction.[1]

It is also one of the longest rallies on record without at least a 10% decline.[2]

So does that mean a major bear market is just over the horizon?  Though these uninterrupted streaks certainly call for caution in the short term, our Chief Investment Strategist Jeff Saut has argued for quite some time that we are in a long term secular bull market: “The stock market since 1900 shows that secular bull markets tend to last 14+ years. So, even if you want to measure from the 2009 nominal price lows (we are not so sure that’s the right starting point), we still should have years left in this Bull Run.”[3]

I concur with Jeff.

As I’ve mentioned a number of times in previous posts, there is always a great deal of noise regarding the outlook for the stock market and the economy.  Every day on CNBC you can find a chart or two that is supposedly pointing to a rise or fall in the market.  Most of these “leading indicators” only lead investors astray; their track record is usually very spotty.  I try to focus on indicators which have performed reliably in the past.  Below are 3 of my favorites.  None of them are behaving as if there is a recession on the immediate horizon.  (Shaded areas are previous recessions.)

The Bond Market

        I’m a long term stock-market bull, but the exact opposite regarding the bond market.   Interest rates have been in a steady decline since the early 1980’s, as you can see from the chart of the 30-Year Treasury Bond below. [4]  This means that bond prices have been in an almost uninterrupted rise during this entire period.  (When rates decline, long term bond prices rise.)  I believe that the bond bull market is over, and in all probability ended on 7/06/16 when the yield on the 10-Year Treasury Note touched 1.33%.  We look like we are in the early stages of a worldwide pickup in economic growth, which will lead to at least some increase in inflation and a subsequent rise in rates.

What does that mean if you’re a bond investor?  From July to December of last year the yield on the 10 Year Treasury Note rose from 1.33% to 2.61%.  You can see the effect on bond prices below.

During this period, the price of the 10-Year declined 7.5% and the price of the 30-Year sank a bear-market-qualifying 16%.  You can expect more of the same if rates continue to rise.

Does that mean that bond investors should sell all their bond holdings and jump into the stock market?  Absolutely not!  There are potential ways you can protect yourself.

First, shorten the maturities in your bond holdings.  If you own bond funds, look at the average duration of the bonds they own and make sure it is no more than 4 years.  When rates rise, short term bond prices decline much less than long-term prices.

Second, there are types of bonds whose prices typically fare better when rates rise.  These tend to be credit sensitive issues such as bank loans and high yield which benefit from improving business conditions as the economy picks up. [5]

Bottom line: be prepared for a short term correction in the stock market, but longer term, stay bullish.  Also, be prepared for the media to beat the doom and gloom drums once that correction occurs.   With regards to bonds, shorten those maturities!

 

 

[1] Raymond James Morning Tack 11/10/17 (here)

[2] Raymond James Morning Tack 11/10/17 (here)

[3] Raymond James Gleanings 7/25/17 (here)

[4] MacroTrends website, 11/14/17

[5] Blackrock

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Mid-Year Market Update

“How in the world can the market be doing so well when everything in Washington seems to be a disaster?”  I’ve been asked this question many times in the past few months, and I think there are two parts to the answer:

  1. With regards to the economy and the markets, things in Washington are better than the alarmist media want you to believe.
  2. Though government policies – fiscal, tax, regulatory, and monetary – are certainly very important to the financial markets, they are not the be-all and end-all.

        Better Than the Media Wants You to Know – I’ve said this many times before: bad news pays.  The media is in the business of selling advertising, and what drives eyeballs to TV and computer screens is the threat of disaster.  It is also overwhelmingly liberal, and absolutely loathes the Trump administration.   Consequently, the media has a financial and emotional interest in portraying almost everything coming out of Washington as the end of days.

In reality, I believe one of the reasons the market has been rallying since the day after the election is that many of the policies that the new administration has proposed could have beneficial effects on the financial markets.  Though attempts to repeal and replace Obamacare are garnering all the headlines right now, the promise of tax and regulatory reform is one of the drivers of this bull market.  Keep in mind that before the election almost everyone believed that Hillary would win, and we would have more of the same constricting policies that led President Obama to be the first president in history to not have at least 1 year of 3%+ GDP growth during his administration.  This has been an almost 9 month relief rally.

 

        The Economy Is an Ecosystem — We frequently hear economists talk about the economy as if it’s a machine: it’s overheating, running out of gas, stalling, etc.  But it’s not an internal combustion engine; it’s an ecosystem.  That is, it’s a complex, dynamic web of billions of people interacting with each to produce profits for themselves and their companies.  And when tsunamis like the mortgage disaster of 2008-09 hit, people adjust.  Bad D.C. policies hurt, but economies recover because people work at it.

 

Future Outlook

 

        Pessimism Is Good – Wall St. legend John Templeton once said “bull markets are born on pessimism, grow on skepticism, mature on optimism and die on euphoria.”  Building on Templeton’s observation, Ray Devoe has broken secular bull markets into 6 phases 1) Aftershock/Rebuilding;  2) Guarded Optimism; 3) Enthusiasm; 4) Exuberance; 5) Unreality; 6) Cold water (the bubble bursts).   Our Chief Investment Strategist Jeff Saut believes we are still just in the “Guarded Optimism” phase. [1]  Leon Tuey, formerly of BMO Nesbitt Burns and RBC Capital Markets, concurs:

 

        Although long retired, many fund managers in Europe, Asia, and North America still call me and seek my view of the market.  I can report to you that worldwide, investors are skeptical and fearful.  Most are sitting on a mountain of cash.  As you know, that is very bullish.[2]

 

Scott Grannis at Calafia Beach Pundit has more details on the same theme:

 

        If you want bad news and arguments for why the market is due to collapse any day now, just spend a few hours reading Zero Hedge or browsing the media and punditry. Very few observers these days are willing to pound the table for stocks, considering they have been rising for more than 8 years and are hitting new highs almost every day. Is there anyone who isn’t dismayed that Trump and the Repubs haven’t been able to repeal and replace Obamacare after years of trying? Is there anyone who is confident that Trump and the Repubs will succeed in massively lowering tax rates? I don’t see any evidence that the market is pricing in a stronger economy: 5-yr real yields on TIPS are a mere 0.15%, a level that suggests the market is priced to sluggish growth for as far as the eye can see. Investors are on the horns of a dilemma: it’s tough to be bullish, but it’s also expensive to be bearish. The earnings yield on stocks is still quite high relative to the yield on cash and bond market alternatives; so hiding out in cash means giving up a lot of precious yield. But almost $9 trillion in bank savings deposits paying almost nothing says that there are lots of people who are reluctant to take on market risk. Indeed, when I look at the market, I see more evidence of caution than I do of exuberance. Bill Miller, a long-time friend and former colleague, maintains that the market is still in a “safety bubble” after the shock of 2008. I’ve long observed that real yields on TIPS are miserably low, and for that matter nominal yields on sovereign bond markets nearly everywhere are very low. So it’s not at all obvious that the market is running on fumes.[3]

 

This doesn’t sound like the “irrational exuberance” of Devoe’s Stage 6 .

 

        An Earnings Driven Bull – Warren Buffet’s mentor Ben Graham often stated, “in the short run, the market is a voting machine, but in the long run, it is a weighing machine.”  What he meant was that in the short term the fear and greed of “voters” (investors) drive the market, but in the long run the heavy and ever-increasing accumulation of earnings determines the market’s price.  Leon Tuey believes that this great bull market is only in the early stages of the second leg.[4]  The first leg was from October 10, 2008 and ended in May, 2015, which was driven by an easy/accommodative monetary policy.  The second leg started in February, 2016 which is always the longest and strongest as it is driven by improving economic conditions (due to the monetary stimulation of the past eight years) and accelerating earnings momentum which is what investors are seeing.[5]

 

So far this quarter, 65% of companies reporting earnings have bettered estimates and 67.1% have beaten revenue projections.[6]  For the year, earnings for the S&P 500 are expected to be up 6-8%.[7]

 

        Some Leading Indicators – Credit Default Swaps are one of the better indicators of the health of corporations.  They are not showing stress and trending upwards as they did before the last recession.

The prices of industrial metals are moving up.  Usually they are in decline before a recession.

 

        In each of the past 5 recessions, new home sales have dropped significantly before the recession started; they have now been in a steady uptrend since 2011.

Finally, how does my favorite indicator – “The Fed Indicator” – look?  As you can see, though the Real Fed Funds rate (the difference the Federal Funds rate and the rate of inflation) and the 1-10 Slope (the difference between the yield on 1-Year and 10-Year Treasury securities) are both moving in the wrong direction, they are nowhere near the levels that have preceded previous recessions.

 

In spite of all the sturm und drang in the media, it looks like we are in the early to middle stage of a long term, secular bull market, with no apparent storm clouds on the horizon.

 

[1] Raymond James Gleanings, 6/23/17

[2] Raymond James Investment Strategy 7/17/17 click here

[3] Calafia Beach Pundit, 7/20/17

[4] He is referring to the “second leg” of this “secular bull market.”  For a better understanding of this type of bull market, see my blog post of 4/6/17 Stay Rational My Friends.

[5] Raymond James Investment Strategy, 7/17/17 click here

[6] Raymond James Investment Strategy, 7/24/17 click here

[7] Raymond James Investment Strategy, 7/17/17 click here

The information contained in this report does not purport to be a complete description of the markets, or developments referred to in this material. The information has been obtained from sources considered to be reliable, but we do not guarantee that the foregoing material is accurate or complete. Any information is not a complete summary or statement of all available data necessary for making an investment decision and does not constitute a recommendation. Any opinions are those of Don Harrison, and are not necessarily those of RJFS or Raymond James. Expressions of opinion are as of this date and are subject to change without notice.

Investing for the long-term does not ensure a profitable outcome. Investing involves risk and you may incur a profit or loss regardless of strategy selected. The S&P 500 is an unmanaged index of 500 widely held stocks that is generally considered representative of the U.S. stock market. Keep in mind that individuals cannot invest directly in any index, and index performance does not include transaction costs or other fees, which will affect actual investment performance. Individual investor’s results will vary. Past performance does not guarantee future results

Links are being provided for information purposes only. Raymond James is not affiliated with and does not endorse, authorize or sponsor any of the listed websites or their respective sponsors. Raymond James is not responsible for the content of any website or the collection or use of information regarding any website’s users and/or members.

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Stay Rational My Friends

It’s hard to know what to www.instapax.com believe these days.  Did Trump campaign members conspire with Russia to help win the election?  Did Susan Rice and others in the Obama administration abuse their power to unmask the names of Trump supporters uncovered during sweeps of foreign intelligence data?  Will there ever be any changes to current healthcare laws?  Is Trump’s tax plan dead in the water?  Will the Senate adopt the ridiculously named “nuclear option” to confirm Judge Gorsuch?

Though these are all important issues, they pale in comparison to what I consider to be the most pressing and confusing issue today: exactly WHO is The Most Interesting Man in the World?  Is it the man on the right, who “can speak Russian . . . in French,” whose “signature won a Pulitzer,” and whose beard has inspired “no less than 25 Mexican folk songs?”  Or is it the clown on the left, who kicks a coconut-football between two giraffe uprights like, well, like the Frenchman that he is in real life?  (And do coconuts even grow where giraffes live?)

If anyone can answer these important questions, please email me at don.harrison@raymondjames.com And while I’m at it, is there a secret cabal that has been working for decades in major corporations to destroy TV ads that people actually enjoy watching?  Maybe it’s the work of the DVR manufacturers, since one of the main uses for their product is to avoid ads.  But come to think of it, this goes back to the last days of “when EF Hutton talks, people listen,” which predates the digital era, so I guess that’s not the answer.   (If you want the inside scoop on how the greatest slogan in the history of financial services met its end, let me know.)

With all this uncertainty in the air, it’s more important than ever to remain as rational as possible regarding the investment markets.  First and foremost, stay focused on the long-term.  Our Chief Investment Strategist, Jeff Saut, believes that we are in a secular bull market that started in March of 2009.  As you can see from the chart, the last four bull runs of this type (blue lines) have lasted anywhere from 9 to 29 years, and the total gain has been between 266% and 466%.  This one is currently in year 7 with an increase of 177%.

One of the reasons I believe the current advance has longer to run is because this has been an unusual, slow-growth recovery, as you can see from U.S. Real GDP chart.  GDP would be $3 trillion higher today if the economy had advanced at its 3.1% average annual historical rate during the past seven years.  The recovery has been stretched out, without the typical surge in the first few snapback years, so I think there is a good chance that this could prolong the stock market advance.

I like to focus on leading indicators that have had a fairly consistent record foreshadowing recessions and bear markets.  The one below is my favorite, and is usually called the “Fed Indicator.”    “Real Fed Funds” is the difference between inflation and

the Fed Funds rate, and the “1-10 Slope” is the difference between the 1 year Treasury note yield and the 10 year Treasury bond.  Before each of the last 6 recessions, money was “tight,” with a negative 1-10 slope and Real Fed Funds above 2%.  Neither indicator is close to those levels today.

Each of the last 4 recessions has been preceded by a decline in small business optimism.  As you can see, since the election small business optimism has taken off like a rocket. Since 1975, the only time similar trajectories have occurred has been immediately after recessions and not at this stage of the cycle, which probably says a great deal about how the typical small business owner has viewed the “recovery” of the last 8 years.

So please stay rational, my friends.  Focus on what’s meaningful, and do your best to ignore the media fear mongers.  They will never cease ginning up doom and gloom to sell their advertising.

 

Don Harrison

The information contained in this report does not purport to be a complete description of the markets, or developments referred to in this material. The information has been obtained from sources considered to be reliable, but we do not guarantee that the foregoing material is accurate or complete. Any information is not a complete summary or statement of all available data necessary for making an investment decision and does not constitute a recommendation. Any opinions are those of Don Harrison, and are not necessarily those of RJFS or Raymond James. Expressions of opinion are as of this date and are subject to change without notice.

Investing for the long-term does not ensure a profitable outcome. Investing involves risk and you may incur a profit or loss regardless of strategy selected. The S&P 500 is an unmanaged index of 500 widely held stocks that is generally considered representative of the U.S. stock market. Keep in mind that individuals cannot invest directly in any index, and index performance does not include transaction costs or other fees, which will affect actual investment performance. Individual investor’s results will vary. Past performance does not guarantee future results.

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Brexit

       Freedom’s just another word for nothin’ left to lose    “Me and Bobby McGee”, Kris Kristofferson

Rejecting  Kristofferson’s cynicism, the majority of Great Britain’s electorate choose freedom over the prospect of continuing to live under the dictates of unelected European Union bureaucrats in Brussels.   We see this as a vote not just for freedom, but for prosperity.  As the Heritage Foundation has documented for many years (Index of Economic Freedom, http://www.heritage.org/index/ ), freedom and prosperity go hand in hand.  Though there will be short-term dislocations, in the long run we feel the effects of increased freedom in the U.K. should be positive.   The news media is currently buzzing with nothing but the purported disastrous consequences of Brexit; for a more upbeat perspective, see the five commentaries below.  Especially enlightening — and even inspiring — is the speech by Daniel Hannan, Member of the European Parliament.

http://scottgrannis.blogspot.com/2016/06/brexit-is-not-end-of-world-as-we-know-it.html

http://www.ftportfolios.com/blogs/EconBlog/2016/6/6/brexit-is-freedom

http://www.cnbc.com/2016/06/25/brexit-the-uks-magna-carta-20-good-for-freedom-good-for-growth.html

http://www.marketwatch.com/story/7-reasons-not-to-panic-about-markets-reaction-to-brexit-2016-06-24

It’s no wonder “Remain” lost; the best argument its most ardent supporters could seem to muster went something like “yes, the EU has been a disaster, but not as much of a disaster as the U.K. leaving it.”  That’s not a very persuasive sales pitch.

Don Harrison

The information contained in this report does not purport to be a complete description of the markets, or developments referred to in this material. The information has been obtained from sources considered to be reliable, but we do not guarantee that the foregoing material is accurate or complete. Any information is not a complete summary or statement of all available data necessary for making an investment decision and does not constitute a recommendation. Any opinions are those of Don Harrison, and are not necessarily those of RJFS or Raymond James. Expressions of opinion are as of this date and are subject to change without notice.

Links are being provided for information purposes only. Raymond James is not affiliated with and does not endorse, authorize or sponsor any of the listed websites or their respective sponsors. Raymond James is not responsible for the content of any website or the collection or use of information regarding any website’s users and/or members.

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