Mar

24

"If the best horse always won, this stuff would be so easy," the Old Frenchman used to tell me.

But it sure helps when the best horse is running against a field of nags. Similarly, I don't recall, in forty years, what appears to be a easier setup than right now in equities.

Not even close. Ever.

Let's start with the backdrop, which is decidedly negative at least in terms of recent news - global slowing, yield curve inverting, earnings trailing off etc.

Great.

Now, let's just look at the reality. In terms of what's going on with rates–a contrived situation on the short end, entirely inconsistent with quality spreads which have narrowed in the past couple of months, considerably, even with respect to junk.

Whatever global slowing was going on in 2018 has decidedly and abruptly turned. Since the first of the year, Shanghai is up 24%, Oil is up 27%. Global Slowdown?

To think we're still in a slowdown period is to miss what's already going on.

Employment in the US is very strong, evidenced again by this past week's jobless claims, and should be evermore evident after the next monthly jobs number where it should become clear the February number was a shutdown-induced aberration.

In fact, the basic indicator I keep (and many others do, of essentially the same thing, in various forms) of commodities prices relative to employment has again turned up–and at already high levels. This is very strong.

Earnings, here we are, end of Q1 and month-on-month S&P earnings are still growing. That;s right, despite the 21 1/2% growth in earnings on the S&P 500 last year, and the fact that they were to be contracting by now, are STILL growing, month-on-month.

The sentiment is still quite negative, and there are actually people out there who, for whatever natural-glass-half-empty they harbor, think the December lows will be challenged here. In December, we saw sentiment readings in surveys, in the press, in put/call ratios and in VIX futures that were negative along the lines of what we saw in late 2008! Such readings occur, typically, before protracted gains, bull runs that last many months. The following chart shows the 13 week rate-of-change of the S&P, as percentage, as of this Friday's close.

We haven't seen a move this vigorous, up and outta here, since 2009 Q2. Does this look like a market about to roll over? All of this backdrop, historically, set the stage for a prolonged bull run–which we are again in the early throes of it would appear.

"Roy's Red" –the six week coefficient of variance (I call it that after my late friend and fellow trader, Roy Klopper, who cooked it up with me years ago trading value line futures on hourly data) has again dipped below .10, indicating an imminent move (i.e. we're coming up and out of this congestion we've been in the past month or so–a congestion which has had an upward bias, indicative of strength coming when we break up out of it). The last time we had a reading this low in Roy's Red, this imminent of a move, of an impending and imminent trending move, was in early October last year.

The volume bars of Friday (tight, profitable-quarter-ending-stops being played) indicate one should be a buyer on weakness Monday - even if things collapse Monday, you gotta be a buyer. ESPECIALLY if you can be a buyer below Friday's close (I don't know if we'll get this chance, or if Monday is a further collapse, on heavier volume–I doubt it, the setup is such that Friday should be made up and then some in the coming week). Even if things work a little lower, the bigger picture is so strong right now, that backdrop story so counter to what's actually going on in the numbers, and the forecast so strong here, and the daily so set up for a buy I just don't recall things ever being easier than right now.

Could I be more unequivocal?

Alex Forshaw replies:

Ralph,

A few devil's advocate arguments:

1. Shanghai composite was trading at 10x forward earnings 3-4 months ago with aggressive supply side government stimulus. that has historically always been a good time for a trading bounce. There hasn't been a material shift in on the ground economic fundamentals in China.

2. By my math the SPX is trading at 17x 12m forward EPS. The range has been 15-18x in the past 3 years. The SPX traded over 18x forward earnings 4 times in the last 100 years — 1929, 1936, 1999, and january 2018. In each of those occasions, the SPX's sharpe ratio for the following 12-36 months ranged from quite bad to historically atrocious. so unless there's a massive expansion in earnings in the near term, the SPX is not valued attractively right now.

3. Earnings season just ended. There won't be material movement in the "E" for another month.

4. While the yield curve doesn't historically correlate with fwd 12m equity returns, how do forward 12-month returns look when we are at least 6 years into an economic expansion and the yield curve has flattened? It's one thing for the yield curve to flatten 2 or 3 years into a bull market. but 10 years? Seems like the context is materially different from a lot of the past contexts around this statistic, although I haven't studied it closely.

5. Employment is a coincident to very slightly leading economic indicator, but hasn't it decelerated very markedly recently?

6. Europe is clearly slowing down dramatically again. China has had a valuation bounce but economic activity there is still quite weak judging from company earnings reports and anecdotal. The US has managed 3.1% GDP growth with a 5% deficit/GDP that dwarfs the OECD average.

7. Why would you pay 17x ftm eps for 3-5% estimated earnings growth? 17x for 20% eps growth (12% organic), a la 1h18, is one thing…

8. Given the volume of corp borrowing and debt issuance, and the peaking of the current rate cycle, why wouldn't the next downturn be much worse than the 2008 one? I think the "next downturn" risk is maybe 20% in next 6-9 months, but even if it's 20%, why would you pay 17x for that?

Ralph Vince writes: 

Alex,

All good points.

I'm considering valuations with respect to competing assets more so than historically, the notion being the investment dollars move someplace. Is the the "right" way to asses these? I don't know, it's how I usually try to look at it, but time will tell.)

Consider the long bond which is selling at a "multiple" of about 35 here vs the S&P 500 (whose earnings, as I say, are STILL rising; actual earnings, not future prognostications of events which have not transpired) of 21.48 (S&P500 PEs were riding above the long bond "multiple," dipped down and touched it around 88 and again in 95, by mid '05 the S&P500 PE dipped below the bond multiple, and has remained there ever since save for a period in 08-9 where the PE for stocks went haywire for several months. So one cannot say that the bond multiple naturally belongs above stock PEs, but they have for nearly a decade and half).

That's with the VERY rich US yields, relative to the rest of the world. The Bund, of course….a different animal here. Investment dollars flow someplace, the US, with earnings still gaining (despite the incredible gains of the past 14 months or so) look very attractive by comparison.

Employment is extremely healthy, so much so that wage pressure is finally returning. By my measures, last month was an aberration caused by the shutdown. A more accurate assessment, a proprietary one with respect to equities prices reveals: We're not even close to a sell by my employment measures.

On the more near-term, the next few weeks should see an end to this congestion we've been in for a month or a little longer in equities prices, per Roy's Red. Whereas it COULD be to the downside, I don't see it, the technicals (and sentiment) are acting far more lie 2009 Q2 here. Further, the pattern of volume (which is no different than how one might have read the tape 35, 40 years ago or before– only now we have the benefit of seeing bigger swaths of time, e.g. I look at yearly, monthly, weekly volumes as well) are ALL bullish here, all buy any weakness here. If I had to rely on jut one indicator, this would be it.

Alex Forshaw writes: 

To me, the S&P 500 is trading at almost the same valuation as it was in January 2018, except

1) S&P estimated earnings growth is 3-5%, instead of 20%
2) the 1yr/10yr spread (the most predictive of all the yield curve spreads) is slightly negative today, vs +80bps a year ago
3) all macro fundamentals have decelerated everywhere, and the rate of negative surprise has dramatically accelerated
4) SPX earnings yield minus 10 year yield (attached) is inline with its average over the past 10ish years, although if you go back further, it looks more favorable
5) there is no prospect of further policy stimulus until after the 2020 election, which remains a complete wild card, and seems like a "lose/no-win" coin toss for investors (the possible outcomes being untethered socialist idiocy or the dysfunctionally mediocre status quo)

In my experience, stocks-vs-bonds valuation logic is not very useful when stock valuations are rich by their own historical standards. It would have said to be aggressively buying through 2017/1h18 (if you were looking at the past 20 years of data) and the sharpe ratio would have been quite poor. It only takes 1 bad stretch to seriously derail one's financial career…

Ralph Vince writes: 

Re: "there is no prospect of further policy stimulus"

The transportation bill, likely to be proposed very soon, and highly stimulative. Think QE5. Giant barrel of uncooked pork.

China, among other things, agreeing to buy 500bln/yr ag and etc over next 6 years(my cheap seats guess), highly, HIGHLY stimulative (2 1/2% yr on a 20 trln economy, before any kind of a multiplier, which is at least 2, as that is just export, but goes into either consumption or investment 1x over 12 months, and that accumulates going forward).

Effects of "New Nafta" not yet felt online. We could go on and on hereon these various recent changes all of which are stimulative.

If you take away energy, and go back to our being a net importer of oil, and take away the repatriation effect of the recent tax bill (and AAPL agreeing to invest 350 bln, and Foxcon, and etc) , we would likely be at a GDP deficit here. Things haven't really gotten going yet is my point, but these are real numbers coming online. I don't for the life of me understand Atlanta Fed GDP projection.

Steve Ellison writes: 

Since 2010, the S&P 500 has not strayed too far in either direction from the level implied by a 2% dividend yield (see attached chart). From this perspective, the S&P got a little ahead of itself in 2017, and the 2018 correction overshot. In fourth quarter 2018, there was a plausible argument that the required dividend yield ought to adjust higher (implying the trend line should be pushed down lower), but the recent move in 10-year yields to multi-month lows seems to have taken that possibility off the table for now.

Dividends have been growing at roughly 8% per year recently.

Mar

24

A belated answer to the questions I have received about how "this time" can be different regarding the yield curve. My hopeless antiquarian bias tells me that the present trading in "fiat currencies" acts very much the way London, Paris and New York's exchanges behaved in the era of what academics call the gold standard. In actual commerce 150 years ago, "the money supply" was, as it is now, the amount of "good" credit that traders were happy to clip, shave and discount to each other. Gold and silver coin - what was, in the fantasy of Rothbardian history, the only money that mattered - had so little importance that it was shunted off into a room of its own away from the open trade and regular order spaces of the NYSE. Credit was all. Gold was not even the unit of account for the U.S. Prices for stocks, bonds and gold itself were quoted in "paper" dollars, not the dollar equivalent of sterling. The prices on the slate at the gold room were the premiums to be paid in greenbacks for an ounce of "real" money. Our present world does not have an absolute monetary standard; but it shares completely the circumstances of that period: all credit paper being used in trade and government borrowings was actively discounted against one another using prices set by an integrated foreign exchange market. In that period - the 40 years up to 1914, the term structure of U.S. dollar borrowings spent almost all of its time being "inverted". The commercial paper/call loan rate was equal to or higher than the railroad bond yields.

If, as is predicted, the world's extraordinary population growth of the last two centuries is coming to an end, then the primary driving force for what academics call inflation is being removed from the global political economy. If, because of the renewables and greatly improved drilling and transportation technologies, the supply of energy is expanding faster than its demand, the inescapable component cost of all goods and services is likely to decline - as it did in the last third of the 19th century. Quantitative easing and tightening matters to markets because "everybody knows" that central bank credit is the regulator of consumer borrowing and business investment, even though the correlation between the amounts of private borrowings and bank reserves has disappeared. In Europe government bond interest rates can be negative because the primary risk is not that governments will default but that government debt will be the only place where private savings can safely hide in plain sight without fear of tax collection amounting to confiscation. In Japan it is not the tax man savers fear but longevity itself. In a world of negative returns the incentive is to keep more and more money on hand. Against these deflationary forces, there is the threat of MMT, not theoretically but as practiced in China. But their credit expansions cannot be exported to the rest of the world; like QE in the West the lending is a perpetual motion swap of old bad debts for new never to be paid off ones.

If inversions were, in fact, a certain indicator of "recession" (in the 19th century they were not precise; declines were called "slumps" and "panics") the United States could hardly had managed a per capital economic growth that still outpaces China's remarkable record for the past quarter century (even if you take their numbers at face value).

Mar

24

The Atlanta Fed has done a very good job of explaining why "the poor" are literally trapped by the tax code. The marginal rate someone pays for leaving public assistance and working for a living is higher than the maximum "progressive" tax rate that a rich person pays on an extra dollar of income.

The Economic Report of the President (see Chapter 3) also makes this point.

If progressives really cared about "the poor", they would end this confiscation of the rewards of labor. Benefits would be taxed just like other incomes and the transition from public assistance to work incomes would be treated the same way retirees' incomes above the Social Security limit are taxed.

There is nothing inherently wrong with the idea of what the Brits call a "universal credit". In a system where everyone receives the same stipend and the stipend is subject to tax, "fairness" becomes a rhetorical question. What made Social Security and Medicare so attractive as a social program and what makes them the one part of the Federal budget that only a political fool talks about "cutting" was the fact that literally everyone with an income was treated the same way. In Stefan's magic system the universal tax rate would be 12%.

It would apply to all incomes people received of whatever kind, from whatever source. That one rate would replace all other Federal taxes, including Social Security, Medicare, unemployment, et al. The maximum rate would be 32%. The brackets can be left to the whims of the CBO. This would eliminate the massive frauds of the current Earned Income Tax Credit and reduce the administrative costs of Federal public assistance to the levels of the Social Security benefit administration, which are an order of magnitude lower than all other programs' costs (HUD housing, WIC, et al.).

It would also eliminate unemployment insurance taxes and benefits because EVERYONE would be on the same dole. Most important, it would end the absurd posturing about "entitlements" - i.e. Social Security and Medicare - by having the society integrate the costs of the deserving with the undeserving instead of uselessly trying to separate them. If everyone is entitled to "universal" coverage, there is no incentive to try to separate society into categories of relative need. There is also an enormous incentive for people to save money so they can afford "more" than the universal minimum.

The greatest advantage of all would be that the rich - those evil people - would "pay more" even though their tax rates would be reduced. When societies genuinely honor people's rights equally and remove the threat of future confiscation, incomes literally soar. That explains the seeming illogic of PERMANENT reductions in tax rates producing PERMANENT increases in tax collections. It is truly amazing what risks people will take if they have confidence that they will, in fact, reap most of the rewards and have the government only collect on the same rate schedule that everyone has already agreed to pay.

Mar

22

 First, what Thucydides actually wrote (courtesy of someone who actually reads Greek):

The "aitia" (real cause) of the war was the Spartans' fear of the Athenians' growing power."

If Thucydides had wanted to make Allison's point for him, he would have used the word "aphourme", the excuse. He would also have substituted the word "Pericles" for "the Athenians". The Spartans were not the only Greeks who came to fear the Great Man's ambitions. Thucydides neglects to mention this; but then, he had already learned the first lesson of a popular historian: never, ever blaspheme the public saint. Thucydides does hint at the obvious - that Athens' democracy was very much like the Soviet Union's and China's today and "the people" were only allowed to have one voice; but he is careful to offer only praise for the Supreme leader. That survival tactic for a writer of history remains as valid as always. In a People's Republic only praise is worthy of being spoken. To this day, no one has published a biography of Stalin in Russian or one of Mao in Chinese that comes anywhere close to judging the men for what they did. If Thucydides had chosen to describe Pericles' follies in anything close to the painstakingly accurate detail with which German historians have now examined Hitler's, we would not have his history. It - and the historian - would have been destroyed; and Will Durant would have no hero for his saga of progressive civilization.

In his superficial comparisons Professor Allison is right: if one is looking for comparisons with the distant Greek past, it is appropriate to offer China as the analog to Athens. China's "Golden Age" is indisputable; its gleaming skyscrapers, high-speed trains and brand new airports are the modern equivalent of gleaming white marble buildings and heroic sculpture. But, contrary to Thucydides' narrative, the Spartans did not see themselves as being like the Kaiser and his General Staff in 1914 - who had to go to war before they were overtaken by the Russians' growing military strength. Having defeated Xerxes, they disagreed with the Athenians' belief that the Greeks could continue to occupy the western shores of Asia Minor. It was the Athenians who were determined to continue with military adventuring and Empire building.

In that regard, Trump's decision to change NATO into a hemispheric alliance and leave the Europeans and Russians to work out their coexistence and the Chinese to build their belt and road has a direct comparison with the Spartans' choosing to end their struggles against Persia.

Partisan footnote: One hopes, for the Republic's sake, that Trump's legacy has a happier outcome.

Mar

22

(Housing has higher returns than equity with half the variance)


The Rate of Return on Everything, 1870–2015

Oscar Jord, Katharina Knoll, Dmitry Kuvshinov, Moritz Schularick, Alan M. Taylor

November 2017

Abstract

This paper answers fundamental questions that have preoccupied modern economic thought since the 18th century. What is the aggregate real rate of return in the economy? Is it higher than the growth rate of the economy and, if so, by how much? Is there a tendency for returns to fall in the long-run? Which particular assets have the highest long-run returns? We answer these questions on the basis of a new and comprehensive dataset for all major asset classes, including—for the first time—total returns to the largest, but oft ignored, component of household wealth, housing. The annual data on total returns for equity, housing, bonds, and bills cover 16 advanced economies from 1870 to 2015, and our new evidence reveals many new insights and puzzles.

Mar

18

 Barry Lopez writes in his book Arctic Dreams about how eskimos hunt and perceive their environment and prey with different eyes, perception, and spirit than do Western scientists. They have an intimate relationship with their world and with their prey.

Chair opened my eyes to perceiving the spirit of the market. The public reads the news and looks at charts. We speculators see the natural spirit behind the market, more than the sum of the participants. It has a living spirit: Panicky, ebullient, overconfident, deceitful. Our tools go beyond math to see deeper meaning in the relationship between the market and our world.

Make no mistake about it: speculators are hunters, and to survive we must be one with our prey, know where it is, where it is going, and what its habits are. We must understand the interconnectedness of the markets as in the natural world. Hence the beauty of Chair's natural models.

Mar

15

India election commission today announced that India will go to polls between 11th April to 19th May with election results to be announced on 23rd May 2019.

Mar

15

"When You're Cold, You Make Decisions in the Heat of the Moment"

anonymous writes: 

Not the way SAC does it.

Mar

12

 Larry Sabato's Coven at UVA has released their first prediction for 2020. It is surprisingly rational. It predicts Arizona's 11, Wisconsin's 10, Pennsylvania's 20, New Hampshire's 4 and 2 Nebraska's 4 electoral votes as Toss-Ups; and assumes that Trump enters into the contest for those 5 states having 248 EVs in hand.

The challenge for the Democrats is to somehow duplicate the "black" turnout in the Midwest that won for President Obama. They have to recapture Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin. The question is how.

After the Civil War, the Democrats were able to re-establish local and State political parity using the minority group identity grievance doctrine that has always been at the heart of their party's electoral appeal. But, with the exception of Grover Cleveland's hard money reform machine and Woodrow Wilson's luck in being able to run in a 3-way race, they were unable to find a candidate between 1868 and 1932 who could successfully appeal to every identity group within the coalition. The solution at the national level only came when they chose a candidate whose upbringing was patrician enough to allow him to be the ultimate minority.

If the Democrats can find another candidate as thoroughly and unashamedly preppy as Roosevelt, Kennedy and Obama were (and are), they will win. That is the key to Ms. Ocasio-Cortez's appeal; she is without any doubt about her democratic superiority and the power of enlightened togetherness.

Mar

9

Since 2000, what is the return the next week (SPY):
One-Sample T: NXT WEEK 
Test of mu = 0 vs not = 0
Variable       N  Mean  StDev   SE Mean  95% CI            T
NXT WEEK  29  -0.00  0.019  0.003  (-0.007, 0.007)  -0.00

Mar

9

"In life the intelligent man looks beyond the immediate effect he desired to produce to the more and more results that are likely to follow and studies them calmly and dispassionately" -Ben Boland, Famous Positions in the Game of Checkers.

Very good advice for the market in establishing a position. What if things go wrong and you are cornered. The roach motel, etc.

Jeff Hirsch writes: 

"Moses Shapiro (of General Instrument) told me: "Son, this is Talmudic wisdom. Always ask the question 'If not?' Few people have good strategies for when their assumptions are wrong." That's the best business advice I ever got."

- John C. Malone (Liberty Media, TCI, Fortune, 2/16/98)

Mar

9

I theorize 50's are penumbral centers. 100's are attractors and not so much barriers.

Mar

6

 I see I can buy a 1924 mint condition GOLD double eagle for $1,300 on ebay.

Had I invested that $20 in 1924 until now at 5% I would have $2,060…at 7% 12,373.

Rocky Humbert writes: 

I rarely post these days, but I think Larry's post need a rebuttal.

On January 22, 1924, the constituents of the Dow Jones Industrial Average were: American Can, Anaconda Copper, Studebaker, American Car & Foundry, Baldwin Locomotive Works, US Rubber, American Locomotive, Central Leather, US Steel, American Smelting, GE, Utah Copper, American Sugar, Mack Trucks, Western Union, AT&T, Republic Iron, Westinghouse Electric, American Tobacco, Sears Roebuck.

There was no way to invest in the index in 1924, and commissions were fixed and were likely to be more than 2% of the investment value. So, the odds of investing in a company that went bankrupt over the ensuing 90 years was significantly more than 50%. Additionally, it was illegal to hold gold from about 1933 to 1974….

There is no doubt that violating Federal Law and holding gold would have underperformed a diversified portfolio of stocks. However, the appropriate comparison is what cash, net of income tax, would have returned over this period. And here again calculating that is trickier than one might expect, because hundreds of banks failed in the 1930's and there was no FDIC insurance. And the Treasury didn't begin auctioning Tbills until 1929!

My point is not that gold was a good investment. My point is that the actual realized after-tax return that you would have gotten with the alternatives is also entirely unclear — except with 20/20 hindsight!!! So the best comparison would be, what is today's purchasing power of a US $20 bill that you stuck in a drawer versus the purchasing power of that gold coin… and I suspect the answer is that the gold coin did better than the $20 bill.

There is only one free lunch and that is diversification.

What? I can't use hindsight?? You spoil sports.

My one assumption is I would have rolled into all the new DJIA 30 stocks as they were added and subracted

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