This Week in Barrons – 5-28-2017:
“It’s the end of the world as we know it…” R.E.M – circa 1987
Within the next 5 years, the world as we know it will end. From self-checkout, to robot greeters and helpers, to autonomous drivers – the balance of power will shift. Tony Seba (RethinkX co-founder and Stanford University Professor and Economist) predicts that oil demand will peak within the next 3 to 4 years, and will drop 100 million barrels thereafter. That means in 5 years, the price of oil will be less than HALF of today’s price. Therefore, if an oil company can’t compete at $25 a barrel, they will be holding worthless inventory. Seba said: "At $25 a barrel, most deep-water and shale-oil fields will be stranded along with their associated refineries, pipelines, and bank loans. It all comes down to money. We will substantively switch to self-driving, electric vehicles – which will become part of a much larger ride-sharing economy. The day that autonomous vehicles are approved – the combination of ride-hailing, electric, and autonomous means that it's going to be ten times cheaper to use a robot taxi as a service car than it is to own a car."
“Think of a world with 80% fewer cars. Think of all of the parking spaces and garages that will be vacant. Within 8 years there will be no more petrol or diesel cars, buses and trucks sold anywhere in the world, and that also eliminates the need for car dealers. Auto insurance rates will drop dramatically because you just removed human driver element from the equation. Essentially transportation is going to be so cheap, that it will be cheaper for Starbucks to drive you to work for free in exchange for you buying a cup of their coffee." Seba says: “The amount that households will save on automobiles will drive higher consumer spending and propel GDP higher by an additional $1 Trillion.”
But just as powerful as the transformation of the energy and transportation industries – will be the paradigm shift associated with our retail environment. A major study revealed that:
- Half of our 16m retail workers are at risk of losing their jobs to a robot within the next 5 years, and 73% of those lost workers will be women.
- Sales jobs will be replaced by smart phones, smart tags, smart shelves, and self-checkouts.
- The shift will represent a 10% addition to our unemployment rate, and will remove 6% of our GDP.
In many ways, the retail situation mirrors the decline of U.S. manufacturing.
- Mobile devices enable us to scan a barcode and/or take a picture of a product to access product information and find other colors and sizes.
- Self-checkout stations allow us finalize purchases.
- Digital kiosks permit us to view product reviews, and place orders.
- Proximity beacons alert us to promotions and provide sales associates with information on our buying habits.
- RFID tags enable enhanced inventory tracking.
- Smart robots aid in areas ranging from advising customers on desired products to inventory management.
- Smart price tags can be changed in real time based on demand or other trends.
- Contactless checkout allows for automatic scanning of products as the customer exits the store.
- And smart shelves can detect when inventory is low.
Lowe's has been using robots (pictured) for years. The robots allow people to find any item simply by letting the machine ‘see it’. Between store closures and technology, the retail employment landscape in America is changing. Erika Karp, Cornerstone founder and chief executive officer said: “Retailers are facing a perfect storm – needing to balance the demand for increased wages with the negative optics of future job losses. The winners in retail will be companies that provide retention and training for workers, and innovate with future store strategies.”
Every Memorial Day I say thanks to my father and my father-in-law for fighting in WWII. I tip my hat to anyone brave enough to have ever gone into war, and their families that have had to suffer the losses. And certainly, my gratitude goes out to all of those still fighting. Those brave men and women trying to do the right thing – yet often sent out for the wrong reasons. The VA did a study last June, and found that 22 veterans per day commit suicide – and that’s probably a low number. I pray that our veterans (when they make it home) can shed themselves of the memories, and enjoy a wonderful life. After all, “These times – they are a changin” – Bob Dylan – circa 1964.
“Between China and Bitcoin – they’re changing everything”… David Stockton
This week, Moody’s downgraded China over their slowing economy and growing debt. Moody's said China's economy-wide debt levels are expected to further increase in the years ahead (to 40% of GDP by 2018), and likely to slow their growth rate. Marie Diron, senior vice president for Moody's sovereign rating group said: “It was Moody's first downgrade for the country since 1989, and our official growth targets are also moving downward. It's really the size and trends in debt accumulation along with debt servicing capabilities of the institutions that have us worried. Slowing growth points toward slower profitability, and weaker debt servicing capacity.”
This week President Trump released his first full budget – complete with his proposed funding cuts. At least now we know that those deep funding cuts will allow him to pay for his drastic increases in defense spending. I’ve highlighted some of the cuts on the chart below. Over 100 programs would be eliminated and include the: Corporation for Public Broadcasting, Institute of Museum and Library Services, National Endowment for the Arts, Rural Economic Development Program, Minority Business Development Agency, Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), Agency for Healthcare Research, Community Services, Low Income Home Energy Assistance, OSHA Training, National Infrastructure Investments, Energy Star and Climate Programs, and NASA.
Factually this past week:
- Ford’s CEO made his worst mistake – he (Mark Fields) focused on the car business rather than on stock buybacks, increasing debt, and raising the stock price. On Thursday, Mark Fields was abruptly fired, and James Hackett was put in his place. James came from the company’s self-driving car division – Ford Smart Mobility LLC.
- A bill has been introduced in Congress that would allow $1 Trillion in college loan debt to be expunged via bankruptcy.
- U.S. New Home Sales showed an April decline of 11%. When you break down the housing numbers you find that sales of homes from:
o $0 to $100k = were down 17%,
o $100k to $250k = were down 7%,
o $500k to $750k = were up 10%, and
o $750k to over $1m = were up 18%.
o It’s NOT the middle class buying houses above $1m.
- Bank of America cut its Q2 GDP forecast from 3.1% to 2.6%, and cut its Q1 GDP from 0.7% to 0.5% on worsening trade deficits and widening inventories.
- One of the largest subprime auto lenders - Santander Consumer USA – just revealed that it only checked the incomes of 8% of its approved applicants. (Subprime refers to loans made to people with poor credit.) Santander's behavior is reminiscent of the practices that led to the home loan crisis and last recession. Current losses on subprime auto loans in January hit 9.1% - their highest and worst level since 2010.
Coincident with China’s downgrade, Bitcoin (monthly graph shown above) hit an all-time-high of $2,770 on Wednesday, and settled at $1,992 on Friday. Both prices exemplify the amount of speculation that is running rampant in the market right now. This is clearly one of the most expensive markets in U.S. history with current P/E (price to earnings) ratios running around 26 times earnings – where historical norms are 14 times earnings. This market is making new highs on:
- Low trading volume,
- Narrow leadership (FAANG stocks = Facebook, Amazon, Apple, Netflix and Google)
- Higher earnings (but from a very low frame of reference),
- Huge insider selling,
- A June interest rate increase,
- A FED beginning to reduce its balance sheet,
- A September showdown concerning the debt ceiling, and
- Pensions being cut, and/or dissolved completely.
To quote David Stockman (Dir. Of OMB under President Reagan & Managing Director of Solomon Brothers): “There's just no other way to say it: the market is insanely overvalued right now. Right now, the S&P is trading at 24 times trailing earnings, and that is in history’s nosebleed section. It is absolutely not justified by fundamental economics. There is no reason why the market should be even near today's levels if markets were allowed to function normally. We are at the end of a 20-year credit bubble that has inflated the world economy beyond any sustainable level. We have never experienced eight years of effectively zero money market rates, even during the lowest point of the Depression in the 1930s. In 20 years, central banks have taken their balance sheets from about $2 trillion in 1995 to $21 trillion today. And the global economy is now buried under a $225 trillion mountain of debt. I recently came back from a 10-day trip to China and I can tell you that the world's greatest Ponzi scheme (the Chinese economy) is about to collapse. It appears that nearly 150 million sq. feet of retail space will close during 2017 – setting an all-time record. On a broader scale, markets are about to collide with reality. The S&P could easily drop 40% or more to 1,600 or 1,300 once the Trump fiscal stimulus fantasy ends. The stimulus is not going to happen. Congress can't pass a tax cut that large without a budget resolution that incorporates $10 trillion or $15 trillion in debt over the next decade. I think the ‘Trump Trade’ is the greatest sucker's rally we have ever seen. The markets are unsustainable. I don't believe there's any credible reason to own stock at this point. They may squeak out another two or three percent on the upside, but stocks are facing a 30% or 40% downward correction. The bottom line is that all this is coming to a halt. The Fed has finally run out of dry powder. It's stopping bond buying, and initiating the shrinkage of its balance sheet. There isn't going to be any more money printing, and that is the harsh reality the markets must face.”
I don't know how many of you were investors during the 1995 - 2000 tech bubble. It was a ‘ton-o-fun’ going up, but when it was over - no one believed it. The majority didn’t sell. In fact, they bought more on the way down because they had been trained to ‘buy-the-dip’. Over and over they bought the dip, until one day they realized the bounce wasn't coming, and they sold. Please make sure you inject a bit of logic into your investment thinking. For example: three days ago, CNBC had a billionaire on one of their segments and he said: “The President’s Working Group on Financial Markets (the Plunge Patrol Team) is the only thing supporting this market.” Naturally that caused a ton of eye rolling and mocking from the talking heads on the panel. Unfortunately for the other panelists, Dr. Pippa Malmgren (a previous member of the President’s Working Group on Financial Markets) confirmed the gentleman’s suspicions and said: “As long as our Government continues to impose its price on the market, there is no longer price discovery. And without price discovery, there is no free market.”
In the near term (Tuesday), I wouldn't be surprised to see the market pull back a bit. We did a lot of heavy lifting last week – on really low volume. When traders come back from their 3-day holiday, they might not be in such a festive mood. But in the long term, this market is destined to go sideways and up – until the Central Banksters decide to pull the plug. Play accordingly.
“What’s left to buy?” … Breaking Bad
Stocks have seen an excellent rebound off the lows, but buying every new high isn't easy. That has me asking: What’s left to buy? The big picture trend for many months has been ‘trade sideways for a couple months and blast higher’. Back on March 1st we put in an all-time high on the S&P, and spent almost 3 months trading sideways. Now we've put in another all-time high – but where did all of the buying volume go? On the Wednesday selloff, we traded 172m contracts. When we broke to new highs we traded a measly 40m contracts. Where’s the volume and the conviction?
Right now, the performance of the S&P relies solely on technology (the FAANG stocks) and their ability to outperform. Every other sector is either underperforming and/or going lower – including the financial and energy sectors. Referring to the chart below, (a) the technology sector (XLK) has continued to climb and bear the brunt of this rally, while (b) the financials (XLF) are waning, and while (c) the next highest performing sector is the utility (XLU) sector (a historically defensive sector). Within the XLK, the volume concentrated to the FAANG stocks: Facebook (FB), Amazon (AMZN), Apple (AAPL), Netflix (NFLX), and Google (GOOGL).
If you’re going to buy stock, the pros use the following sequence:
- Sell puts on the stock you wish to own, at the price you want to pay,
- If/when the stock moves lower, get the stock ‘put’ to you at your price,
- Once you own the shares, then begin to sell covered calls on the stock,
- If/when the stock exceeds the ‘call strike’, the stock is called away, and
- If you wish to continue owning the stock – then rinse and repeat.
For this coming week, the S&P (2,416) is expected to move between 2,398 and 2,434 – an incredibly tight range. This is the lowest volatility recorded in the past 20 years. Most traders and algorithms will be watching the FAANG stocks to drive this market higher. The main issue is that any weakness in Google or Amazon will bring out the fragility of this market in a heartbeat.
- WYNN – Bullish, Sold the June 2: +121 / -124 Put Credit Spread,
- MSFT – Bullish, Bought the July 21: $70 Call,
- AMBA – Bullish, Bought the June 9: +63 Calls (run into earnings),
- VRTX – Bullish, Bought the June 16: +117 Calls (squeeze fired long),
- AMZN – Bullish, Buying calls – looking for a target of $1,070/share, and
- AAPL – Bullish, Buying calls – looking for new highs above $157/share.
To follow me on Twitter.com and on StockTwits.com to get my daily thoughts and trades – my handle is: taylorpamm.
Please be safe out there!
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