This Week in Barrons – 7-9-2017:
“Dog bites man – that’s not news. Man bites dog – now that’s news.” MJP circa 1990
Joey ‘Jaws’ Chestnut won the Nathan's Hot Dog Eating Contest – for a record-setting 10th time. He beat his own record – eating 72 hot dogs (with buns) in 10 minutes. I don’t know how anyone can eat 72 dogs in 10 minutes, but that’s just one of the elements that didn’t make sense to me this past week.
This week Deutsche Bank Research told us that the top 20% of all wage earners spend 60% of their earnings on luxury goods and 40% on necessities. The part that doesn’t make sense to me is that the lowest-income families still spend over 40% of their earnings on luxury items. It seems that spending (in general) is driven as much by emotions as it is by rational thought. And even though the lower fifth of wage earners cannot afford to spend money on luxuries – their emotions require it.
This week Tesla’s shares plummeted almost 20% - from $384 to as low as $310. The price drop doesn’t surprise me, but what doesn’t make sense is that it happened in spite of announcing that their launch of the much-anticipated Model 3 is two weeks ahead of schedule. Unfortunately, recent sales fell short of expectations, and Goldman Sachs came out and cut Tesla’s expected share price in half. In the past, investors were able to look past the numbers, but it seems looking past negative PR maybe too difficult for even the most diehard Tesla believer.
This past week the Trump administration called for increased fossil fuel extraction. This came on the same day that ‘Nature Magazine’ commented on rising sea-levels, drought, famine and the other challenges that face us if we don’t change our stance on climate change within the next three years. The group also said that the Trump administration “will result in the end of a livable climate as we know it.”
Environmentally on cue, Volvo announced that from 2019 forward their product line will only include hybrid or vehicles powered solely by batteries. Also, last week, Volvo successfully completed tests of their autonomous vehicle technology in Australia. Except for one small detail. It seems that Volvo’s autonomous driving system has no problem detecting moose, deer, elk, or caribou – but they are having an issue with hopping kangaroos. They are not worried, and don’t expect any production delays.
A new study showed that single people pay more attention to their investments than married people. But the part of the study that surprised me was that: (a) single people are more connected, (b) have more friends, and (c) value a meaningful workplace more highly.
Finally, if you wish to buy happiness – a recent study advises buying a pet instead of Prada. According to the ASPCA, the average pet will cost you $1,270 during the first year. Studies show that pets provide us with social support that is critical for psychological and physical well-being. The interesting part to me was that pet owners: (a) had greater self-esteem, (b) got more exercise, (c) were less likely to shy away from relationships for fear of being hurt, and (d) were able to more easily stave off negativity caused by social rejection.
So, congrats to Joey ‘Jaws’ Chestnut for setting a record that I hope no one will ever break – because it’s just too much of a ‘man eat dog’ world out there.
“Good ideas keep you awake during the day. Great ideas keep you awake at night”…Marilyn vos Savant
On Friday, the street was talking about how wonderful the jobs number was. The headline said that we created 222,000 jobs in June. But once you subtract the 35,000 government jobs along with 102,000 created by the Birth/Death model – you are left with a meager 85,000 real jobs created in June. Sad, isn't it?
Word out of Europe is that they are beginning to believe that the ECB is going to start tapering their QE program. It’s my belief that without QE, without corporate bond buying, and without the Central banks buying stocks – I just don't see how we can hold the market levels that we've attained. That's not a today thing, in fact in the short term we could see markets reclaiming their old highs.
Last week the International Monetary Fund (IMF) pared its outlook on U.S. economic growth, due to growing uncertainties around our nation’s fiscal policies. The IMF’s U.S. GDP growth forecast for 2017 has dropped to 2.1%. The Trump administration has predicted that annual GDP growth will reach 3% by 2021, and continue that rate through 2027. However according to the IMF, these projections are unlikely to materialize since this implied level of acceleration has only occurred during periods of strong global demand and during recoveries from major recessions. They also mentioned slowing productivity gains and an aging population as potential headwinds to our nation’s growth. But the IMF’s moderately negative adjustments to growth forecasts for the next few years should not spell bearish sentiments for U.S. markets, especially amid solid corporate earnings. More than policies, it will be fundamentals that ultimately define a market’s long-term potential.
Marketwatch published it’s 8 Market Threats for the last half of 2017:
- The ‘Season of the Witch’ is right around the corner. Historically, August is the most volatile month for stocks – because September and October often bring the largest market declines.
- Investors are too complacent. Overly-confident investors are more likely to be shocked by negative news, and sell when it happens.
- There is a changing of the guard at the top. Much of the 2017 market gains can be attributed to the FAANG stocks (Facebook, Amazon, Apple, Netflix and Google). That changed in early June, and currently the market is awaiting its next leadership group.
- Baby boomers are programmed to mess things up. Boomers are not prepared for retirement, and returns on cash and bonds are excruciatingly low. They have piled into stocks, but pull their money out on any decline – further amplifying downside moves.
- Disliking Wall Street banks is coming back to haunt us. With fewer institutions making markets, liquidity is reduced and trading is thinner. This will amplify declines when volatility strikes.
- Geopolitical risks could boil over at any moment. North Korea is regularly testing ICBM missiles. ISIS-inspired terror attacks are everywhere. China is flexing its muscles in the waters off its coastline. European voters are rebelling against the European Union. And President Trump has been termed a ‘real wild card’ by his peers.
- Doubters of our FED may be in for a big surprise. FED members expect three rate hikes this year, next year, and in 2019. However, a lot of investors aren’t buying it, and are unprepared for it to come true.
- The market is developing a split-personality. Signs of market divergence are everywhere, and this can be an early warning sign of greater volatility ahead. "As the indices make new highs, you want to see more stocks participating" says Leuthold’s Ramsey. “Without market uniformity, you’re generally putting too few eggs in one basket.”
We are now in that crazy period where whoever is not in the market, could throw in the towel and go all in. And with the Bank of International Settlements (BIS) getting ready to throttle back the global Central banks on QE, investors could be the last to know. A major sticking point will be the massive under-funding of our pension plans. Some major pension plans are running 60% underfunded, and could be a disaster for millions coming up on retirement. One way to know if our Central banks are going to push the market to DOW 30k, 40k, or even 50K – is to see if the big banksters start to mention pension funds changing their charters and being able to put more money into the stock market instead of bonds. That would mean that pension funds would be allowed to offset their shortfalls by investing more in stocks, and that would tell me that banksters would continue to drive this market higher. Absent any kind of pension plan discussion, this market could be in ‘wait and see’ mode until after earnings.
In the later stages of a recovery: (a) debt levels expand, (b) spending picks up, (c) interest rates start to rise and (d) eventually choke off the rate of expansion. There are plenty of reasons to think that we are near the end of the post-financial crisis recovery. The signs of a recession are: (a) people stop borrowing and spend less, (b) people try and pay off debts and save more, (c) interest rates fall, and (d) corporate earnings drop – along with asset values.
In terms of debt levels, American household debt levels hit $12.73T in the first quarter of 2017 – which is slightly higher than where they stood when the financial crisis kicked off 10 years ago. In terms of spending, both home and auto sales have been declining for a few months. Morgan Stanley has lowered its auto sales projections for 2017 through 2020, and Ford had already announced layoffs and salary cuts to offset their sales slowdown. Finally, oil prices continue to be weak. When oil prices rallied after OPEC agreed to extend production cuts, U.S. oil companies started drilling like crazy and banks started lending to oil companies again. If oil prices continue to fall, oil companies will have to cut drilling and jobs, cash flows will shrink, and banks will once again be overexposed to a weak sector of the economy.
The irony of all of this is that both consumer and business sentiments are high, earnings should be good, and stocks are at elevated levels. Many people interpret this to mean that growth is on the verge of accelerating. The problem I have is that the numbers are getting weaker instead of stronger. Housing costs are up 19% over the last year. Tax burdens are up 10%. Auto insurance is up 9%, and wages are not rising. Consumer spending (which accounts for two-thirds of the U.S. economy) has been flat for the past two months. I simply don't see much reason to think spending is going to suddenly accelerate.
What can you do about it? Consider buying portfolio insurance. Purchase put options or hedging ETFs such as: HDGE. Both of these options increase in value when markets decline – and eventually even this market will revert back to the averages.
“Some things you learn best in calm, and some best in storm”… Willa Cather
Do I think that a recession is imminent? No is my short answer, and here is why:
- The Standard and Poor’s 500 Index (SPX) closed yesterday firmly within its trading range – telling me that once again the bulls bought the dip.
- The Russell 2000 Index (RUT) also swung all the way back last week to trade comfortably near its highs.
- The NASDAQ Composite Index has been the most bullish this year, but the Goldman Sachs critique of the FAANG stocks on June 9th took the NASDAQ down and it has not yet recovered. The index opened on June 9th at 6330 and closed yesterday at 6153, up 64 for the day, but remaining well off of its earlier highs.
- The S&P volatility Index (VIX) closed yesterday at 11.2%, well within its yearly range. If we examine the November 2016 correction when the VIX moved from 12.9% to 23% in 9 days – we are currently not seeing that kind of volatility movement.
- Trading volume is another critical market indicator. Above average trading volume reinforces the momentum of price movement. This past week’s volume is slightly below normal, telling me that traders are not panicked or making any large moves.
- When comparing several stats to the last major market correction in November 2016:
o The Put/Call ratio is now 0.66 vs. 0.99 in Nov. 2016.
o The percentage of NYSE stocks above their 200-day moving average is 65% - compared to 54% in November.
o The SKEW Index (where lower scores are better) is currently 132, vs. 141 in November of 2016, and 154 in March of 2017.
o And lately traders are buying (rather than selling) when markets hit their intraday lows.
I remain cautiously optimistic, and my recommendations include:
- SPY (S&P) is up 8.5% year to date (YTD), and has a 68% probability of ending the year between 210 and 260.
- QQQ (NASDAQ) is up 15.2% YTD, and should end the year between 114 and 150.
- IWM (Russell Small Cap) is up 5.2% YTD, and should end the year between 119 and 155.
- American Airlines (AAL) – look at SELLING the July 14th, +49.5 / -51.0 Put Credit Spread
- And Resmed (RMD) moved to all-time highs during the month of June (see below). Over the past couple of weeks, it has pulled back to its rising 20 period EMA on the daily chart. If it can hold this general $76 area – I like it for a continuation move higher.
To follow me on StockTwits.com to get my daily thoughts and trades – my handle is: taylorpamm.
Please be safe out there!
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