Santa Claus rally, No, No, No?

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Is there any hope for a Santa Claus rally this year? What are the chances the markets could reverse the worst December since 1931?

A Santa Claus rally, which would begin on Monday, is a very specific event. It is the tendency for the market to rise in the last five trading days of the year and the first two of the New Year. According to the Stock Trader’s Almanac, it is good for an average gain of 1.3% in the S&P since 1950.

What caused the Dow Jones Industrial Average to have its worst week since the financial crisis in 2008, down nearly 7 percent and cause the Nasdaq to close down into bear market territory?

  1. The Federal Reserve’s rate hike on Wednesday drove the losses this week and investors were hoping for a more dovish tone regarding future rate hikes. Despite the fact that Chairman Powell reduced the projected number rate hikes from three to two and reduced the neutral rate to 2.8% from 3%.
  2. In my humble opinion, President Trump is partly to blame for the severity of the losses this week due to his criticism of the Fed.  He backed Powell into a corner and forced him to show that the Fed is an independent institution. (the Fed could have put more emphasis on being data dependent) According to some reports, Trump has also discussed firing Powell privately because of his frustration with stock market losses in recent months.
  3. In an extensive interview at the White House on Thursday, Trump’s trade adviser, Peter Navarro said that it would be “difficult” for the U.S. and China to arrive at an agreement after the 90-day period of talks unless Beijing was prepared for a full overhaul of its trade and industrial practices.
  4. Political chaos in Washington with partial government shutdown, sudden withdrawal of troops out of Syria and the resignation of Defensive Secretary Mattis.

Investors are still worried about:

  • A slowdown in economic growth as more companies scale back their sales growth and profit outlook for 2019
  • Fear that a flat yield curve will invert if the Fed continues to hike short-term interest rates
  • The unwinding of the Fed’s balance sheet will reduce the availability of credit for corporations
  • The trade war with China will escalate causing more inflation
  • More economists are jumping on the recession bandwagon for 2020
  • Political chaos in Washington will get even worse when the Democrats take power in January

A dead cat bounce is a possibility in January

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dead cat bounce is a small short-lived recovery from a prolonged decline or a bear market that is followed by the continuation of the down turn. You need nerves of steel to trade a dead cat bounce but for long-term investors it could be a good time to reduce market risk and re-balance your portfolio.

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Blame Yellen and Trump for rapid raising U.S. interest rates

  

I believe that the former head of the Federal Reserve, Janet Yellen, is partly responsible for rapid raising U.S. interest rates. Although, GDP growth wasn’t overheating during her term, she could have started to unwind the Fed’s balance sheet which had 4 trillion dollars’ worth of treasuries. Instead she bought more treasuries after they matured and expanded the balance sheet by buying more treasuries with the interest earned.

This kept long term interest rate extremely low and allowed corporations to borrow money at low rates to buy back their shares. The Fed’s lack of action has help fuel the longest bull market in history.

Sorry Trump supporters but your man is also to blame. His policies are inflationary!

  1. The trump’s administration decision to pull out of the Iran deal has cause oil prices to rise. One million barrels of oil a day is being taken off the market.
  2. Trump’s tariff war with China and other trading partners will force corporations to increase prices because their costs are going up. Costs could go up even higher if Trump increases tariffs on imports from China from 10% to 25% in January 2019
  3. The corporate tax cuts and government spending has juiced the economy causing unemployment to fall to the lowest level in nearly fifty years sparking fears of raising wage growth.

The Trump’s administration spin that the tax cuts will pay for themselves is simply not true. Both the Reagan and Bush tax cuts added to the fiscal deficit.

The new Fed chairman, Jerome Powell has a difficult job of unwinding the Fed’s balance sheet by buying less treasuries just as the federal government is issuing more debt to cover the Trump’s tax cuts. Trump will add another trillion dollars to the deficit. More supply of treasuries plus less buyers equals raising interest rates.

Trump blaming Powell for the massive drop in the stock market last week is ridiculous. No one knows for sure what caused investors to hit the sell button. Was it fear of raising interest rates, a forecast of slower global growth by the IMF, fear of an escalating trade war with China or fear of runaway inflation.

My guess is all or none of the above. Maybe the stock market was just due for a correction.

 

 

 

 

Trump criticized the Federal Reserve’s interest-rate increases, it’s the economy, stupid

President Trump blasts the Federal Reserve’s interest-rate increases last week, breaking with more than two decades of White House tradition of avoiding comments on monetary policy out of respect for the independence of the U.S. central bank.

The Fed has raised interest rates five times since Trump took office in January 2017, with two of those coming this year under Chairman Jerome Powell, the president’s pick to replace Janet Yellen.

“I am not happy about it. But at the same time I’m letting them do what they feel is best,” Trump said. In the interview, Trump called Powell a “very good man.”

Since 1977, the Federal Reserve has operated under a mandate from Congress to “promote effectively the goals of maximum employment, stable prices, and moderate long term interest rates”, what is now commonly referred to as the Fed’s “dual mandate.”

The GOP’s tax cuts put the petal to the metal in an already accelerating U.S. economy. The unemployment rate which was heading lower got some extra juice. A 4 percent unemployment rate is very close to the Fed’s goal of maximum employment. However, wage inflation hasn’t show up yet as corporations are increasing dividends and buying back shares instead of increasing employee wages. (So much for trickle-down economics)

The real threat to the U.S. economy is inflation which has started to rear its ugly head due to a rebound in oil prices. The Fed is concern that the Trump administration’s use of tariffs to get better trading deals from all its trading partners will eventually lead to higher inflation. The Federal Reserve can let inflation run a little hotter temporally but it may be forced to accelerate interest rate increases.

Powell addressed Congress last week and told lawmakers that “for now — the best way forward is to keep gradually raising the federal funds rate.” Fed officials have penciled in two more hikes this year. That is one more rate hike then when Yellen was heading the Fed.

The probability that investors assigned to a Fed rate hike in September was little changed near 90 percent after the president’s remarks, while the probability of a December hike was also holding near 65 percent, according to trading in federal funds futures.

Will tariffs clause more inflation and or job loses?

The impact of tariffs takes time to make its way through the economy. Corporations will try to pass on higher input costs to their customers. Higher prices could lead to a decease in sales, causing corporations to cut costs by reducing their work force.

In my humble opinion, it all depends on the amount of the tariff. A 10 percent tariff will add to inflation but a 25 percent tariff will clause job loses.

Case in point, American farmers are feeling the pain of increase tariffs levied by U.S.  trading partners.

Trade conflicts “are having a real and costly impact on the rural economy and the ability of rural businesses to keep their doors open,” said Wisconsin Senator Tammy Baldwin, a Democrat, asking Trump to develop a farm plan. “Without prompt action, we could lose farmers and the rural businesses they support and depend on at an even more rapid rate.”

The Trump administration announced that it will deliver US$12 billion in aid to farmers who’ve been hit by dropping prices for crops and livestock amid a burgeoning trade war in which agriculture is a main target for retaliation against U.S. tariffs.

I am confused, Trump wants U.S. trading partners to eliminate all tariffs and subsidies. Yet, he is threatening more tariffs and providing more subsidies.

 

 

Why China will outlast the U.S. in trade war

In the political terms, President Xi Jinping runs a communist country that has just granted him the ability to rule for life. He enjoys advantages that may allow him to cope with the economic fallout far better than President Trump. His authoritarian grip on the news media and the party means there is little room for criticism of his policies, while Trump must contend with complaints from American companies and consumers before important midterm elections in November.

The Chinese government also has much greater control over their economy, allowing it to shield the public from job cuts or factory closings by ordering banks to support industries suffering from American tariffs. It can spread the pain of a trade war while tolerating years of losses from state-run companies that dominate major sectors of the economy. In addition, China is also sitting on top of about $3 trillion in surplus cash.

At best, the American actions could shave one-tenth of a percentage point off China’s economic growth. Not enough to force a drastic reversal of policies, given the enormous benefits that Chinese leaders see in the state-heavy economic model they have relied on in recent decades.

Chinese tariffs on the American agricultural sector is very influential in the Congress. Many states that have voted republican in the past will be hardest hit by these tariffs.

Hopefully the president is just blowing off steam again but, if he’s even half-serious, this is nuts,” said Senator Ben Sasse, a Republican from Nebraska, “China is guilty of many things, but the president has no actual plan to win right now. He’s threatening to light American agriculture on fire.”

In addition to agriculture, China threatened to retaliate with tariffs on American cars, chemicals and other products. The 106 goods, many produced in parts of the country that have supported Mr. Trump, were selected to deliver a warning that American workers and consumers would suffer in a protracted standoff.

The mere talk of a possible trade war has sent investors on a rolling coaster ride of uncertainty. The six month chart of the S&P 500 below clearly illustrates increased volatility.

China also has the upper hand because it holds $1.2 trillion dollars of American debt. Trump’s tax cuts and infrastructure spending will require issuing more debt. The U.S. government has relied on foreigners to purchase treasuries to finance their spending because American saving rates are so low and they can’t participate fully. Add the fact that the biggest buyer of treasuries was the Federal Reserve which has started to sell it’s holdings.

What would happen to the bond yields if China doesn’t buy additional American debt?

The economic law of supply and demand dictates that more supply will cause prices to fall. If bond prices fall then yields will go up, causing interest rates to raise. Wage and price pressures are already rising, higher tariffs would only intensify these pressures forcing the Fed to raise interest rates even more.

A worst case scenario, the talking war turns into a trade war that could slow U.S. growth, tank the stock market and cause a U.S. recession.

 

President Trump is approaching this like does everything else, by talking tough and expecting his opponent to give in. Unfortunately for Trump, it’s not the 80s anymore. China was dramatically underdeveloped then and it wanted access to Western technology and manufacturing techniques. China is relatively mature today and it can easily obtain what it needs from other vendors outside the United States. While the U.S. market looked enticing a few decades ago, Beijing is more interested in newer emerging market countries.

Trump is not only gambling his political future but the financial well-being of Americans if he starts a trade war.

Shedding some light on the violent stock market moves

Have you ever heard of the saying Be careful what you wished for? It turns out that traders wished to see some growth in average hourly wages, some inflation over deflation and yields on long duration bonds to go up. They got their wish which started a violent market correction.

Market watchers remain at odds over what tripped the sell switch. Primarily, the conversation comes down to fundamental vs. technical. In the days since the correction began the markets have recouped more than half the downside since the low point.

Plenty of theories, I call mine “The Domino Effect”

Inflation fears was the first domino to fall hitting the fear of raising interest rates. The next domino to fall was money managers and institutional investors were caught with a lot of leveraged positions. The sharp fall triggered margin calls causing massive sell orders. This initiated sell orders from funds that use technical analysis better known as quantitative funds. The last domino to fall was retail investors (who haven’t seen a correction in over two years) did some panic selling.

The Dow suffered two drops of 1,000 points. The fall seems big but the actual percentage was not extraordinary. There have been larger percentage drops in the past. In my 35 years of investing, I have experienced some worse percentage downward moves.

Rank Date Close Net change % change
1 October 19,1987 1,738.74 −508.00 −22.61
8 October 26, 1987 1,793.93 −156.83 −8.04
9 October 15, 2008 8,577.91 −733.08 −7.87

 

Is the correction over?

The market fundamentals haven’t really changed. U.S. corporate earnings are getting better and the Trump tax cuts should boost economic growth. Plus there is systematic economic growth happening in both developed and emerging markets.

I am not an expert on technical analysis and I don’t believe in buying or selling based on lines on chart. However, pension funds, hedge funds and quantitative funds use technical indicators to manage a large amount of investors’ money. 

Analysis from Kensho, a quantitative analytics tool used by hedge funds, looked at seven occasions of similarly sharp drops in the S&P 500 beginning in 1987. The study found that following such a drop, stocks tended to fall further, with a median decline of 2.29 percent one week later and a drop of 1.68 percent two weeks later.

 

This is the ABCD bullish chart:

This is the year to date chart of the S&P 500:

In my humble opinion, corrections tend to last more than nine days. I put some money to work last week and plan on dollar cost averaging on some more positions. If you are new to my blog, consider reading:  Dollar-cost averaging using an option strategy

What do you think? Are you buying the dips or selling into the rallies?

Are tax cuts already priced in U.S. stocks?

Many stock market pundits have conflicting opinions as to how much of the tax cuts are baked into current stock prices. Some experts believe that a selloff in the stock market will occur in January as money managers rotate out of technology and into other sectors that will benefit the most from tax reform.

Their rational is tech companies were in a low tax environment before tax reform was passed and it is better to take profits when lower personal tax rates take effect in 2018.

In comparison, sectors like transportation, telecom, retailing and banking have high tax rates. In addition, the new tax bill also offers substantial write offs for new capital expenditures. Industrials, energy as well as telecom companies require large capital expenditures in order to grow their businesses. However, it is difficult to predict if and when these expenditures will occur.

“In a special report to clients, Barclays Capital analyst Maneesh Deshpande and team calculate that the benefit is less than it appears: While the statutory corporate tax rate is set to fall from 35 percent to 21 percent, the effective rate for S&P 500 companies (the rate companies actually pay after all the accounting trickery) is set to fall from 26 percent to 20.7 percent.”

On the other hand, some market watchers believe that tech companies should still be in your portfolio. There is still room to run higher because they have an opportunity to take advantage of the repatriation tax holiday which reduces the tax rate from 35% to 15.5%. The top 5 U.S. tech companies that have cash overseas:

  1. Apple – 230 billion
  2. Microsoft – 113 billion
  3. Cisco – 62 billion
  4. Oracle – 52 billion
  5. Google – 49 billion

Although, the last repatriation tax holiday was at a much lower tax rate. The money was mostly given back to shareholders in the form of higher dividend payments and share buybacks.  Should you invest hoping for history to repeat itself?

Secretary of the Treasury, Steven Mnuchin said:

“There is no question that the rally in the stock market has baked into it reasonably high expectations of us getting tax cuts and tax reform done.”

I tend to agree that a large portion of tax cuts are already priced in most U.S. stocks. For example: Charles Schwab (SCHW, $52.04) has had enough of the tax man. The online stock broker and banker has paid out a stunning 37% of its income in taxes over the course of the past five years, versus a rate in the mid-20% range for most other American companies. It was trading around $45.00 in Nov and it is up $7.00 or 15.5% in just a few short weeks.

The chart below contains the one year return for tech (xlk), financials (xlf), industtials (xli) and energy (xle):

Three of those sectors have already had above average returns for 2017. The energy sector has lagged but tax reform alone will not be enough to propel the energy sector higher. The price of oil is still the main factor in increasing the value of oil stocks.

Another factor to consider is the labor market is extremely tight and the post-recession surplus of economic potential may have run out. The tax reform bill may end up boosting inflation by more than it lifts economic growth encouraging the Fed to be more aggressive with interest rate hikes in 2018.

I am cautious optimistic that U.S. stock market returns will be positive in 2018. I believe that volatility will come back next year and offer some good buying opportunities. It could turn out to be a stock pickers market.

Are you buying the dips or selling the rallies?