• CWS Market Review – September 8, 2017
    Posted by on September 8th, 2017 at 7:08 am

    “Investing without research is like playing stud poker and never looking at the cards.” – Peter Lynch

    Tomorrow will mark 8-1/2 years of the great bull market. On March 9, 2009, the S&P 500 reached its closing low of 676.53. The previous Friday, March 6, the index touched its sinister-sounding intra-day low of 666.79. To give you an idea of how bleak things were, that morning the government reported that the unemployment rate touched a 25-year high, and the non-farm payrolls report for February came in at -651,000. Yikes!

    Things are quite different today. Going by Thursday’s close, the S&P 500 Total Return Index has gained 332.64% in this bull market. That’s enough to turn every $1 into $4.32. This has been one of the longest and strongest bull markets in history, but what’s fascinating is how hated it’s been. Some people just can’t stand to see the indexes rise higher and higher.

    We’re constantly told that it’s a reckless bubble that’s all about to crash. Or it’s all due to manipulation from the Fed, and it’s all about to crash. Please. Predicting that the world is about to end is one of the favorite pastimes on Wall Street. Still, the bull marches on. In fact, this year may turn out to be the lowest year on record for the stock market’s volatility.

    If there’s a golden rule for long-term investing, it’s that betting on disaster is always overpriced, and betting on “it’ll all work itself out” is always a bargain. In this week’s CWS Market Review, we’ll look at some of the recent economic news. I’ll update you on some Buy List stocks. First, we’ll survey what’s in store for the Federal Reserve. Soon, the Fed will be down to just three members left on the seven-member board.

    What’s Next for the Federal Reserve?

    Stanley Fischer, the vice-chair of the Federal Reserve, announced this week that he’s stepping down next month. This brings us to an unusual moment for the Fed since there will be four vacancies on the Federal Reserve Board. By law, the FRB has seven slots. By my math, this means that the labor force participation rate for Fed governors is only 43%.

    It will soon go even lower since Janet Yellen’s term as Fed chair ends in February. This gives President Trump a big opportunity to put his stamp on the Fed. Officially, Trump has not ruled out reappointing Janet Yellen to another term as Fed chair, but that probably won’t happen. She recently defended some of the post-crisis financial regulations which Trump has promised to repeal.

    Quick side note: The appointments to the Fed and of the Fed chair are separate presidential appointments. So if President Trump doesn’t reappoint Yellen as chair, she would still be a Fed member. However, it’s generally assumed she would resign if she were no longer Fed chair.

    Fed watchers had assumed that Gary Cohn was Trump’s top choice to replace Janet Yellen. But this week, the Dow Jones reported that it’s “unlikely” Cohn will get the nod due to his criticisms of the president’s response to the terrible events in Charlottesville. Jake Tapper tweeted that one White House source said that Cohn was more likely to get the electric chair than the Fed chair. Ouch.

    So who’s next for the position of Fed Poobah? A few names have been thrown around. I would guess that John Taylor at Stanford would be a front runner. He’s widely known for the “Taylor Rule,” which is a guideline for determining where interest rates should be. Frankly, I’m a skeptic on these rules. They’re great in theory, but I’m not sure how they work in real time. But there’s no doubt that Taylor is a highly-qualified choice. Some other contenders are Kevin Warsh, Glenn Hubbard and Jerome Powell.

    President Trump has described himself as a “low-interest-rate person,” but I doubt he’s very ideological on monetary matters. This is an important time for the Fed. The central bank wants to unwind its gigantic balance sheet at the same time it’s looking to raise interest rates. It’s not an easy task. With low rates, that weakens the dollar. The euro is near a 33-month high versus the greenback.

    I’ve been critical of the Fed lately because I think they’ve moved too quickly on rates. Lately, however, I think the Fed is coming around to my side (more on that in a bit). I think the Fed will remain on a pragmatic and accommodative course over the next few years, and that’s good for investors.

    The U.S. Economy Is Gaining Strength

    Speaking of the Fed, last Friday we got the August jobs report. It was on the weak side, but nothing too dramatic. Last month, the U.S. economy created 156,000 net new jobs. The numbers for June and July were revised downward. The unemployment rate ticked up to 4.4%, but it’s still near a 16-year low. For the most part, the U.S. economy has created an average of 200,000 jobs a month every month for the last seven years. The numbers haven’t deviated very far from that trend.

    While this report wasn’t that bad, I think it finally clued in the bond market that the Fed isn’t going to move on interest rates anytime soon. The equation is simple. When someone asks, “Are stocks cheap?,” the answer is always, “Compared with what?” (Yes, we answer questions with questions.) That’s why interest rates are so important to equity valuations.

    Last Thursday, the government released personal-income and spending numbers for July. That report includes the PCE price index, which is the Fed’s preferred measure for tracking inflation. The core PCE number for July rose by just 0.1%. It was the same in June. For the past year, core PCE is up 1.4%. In other words, inflation is hardly a problem. Next week, we’ll get the CPI report for August, and I expect to see much of the same.

    With so little happening with inflation the Fed may be convinced to back down. The FOMC is set to meet again on September 20, and I strongly doubt they’ll do anything. The futures market thinks there’s only a 26% chance the Fed will raise rates before the end of the year. I’d say that’s about 20% too high. The Fed funds futures are now priced to show a 54% chance of no rate hike in the next 12 months. That’s a stunning reversal of sentiment. Late last year, the Fed was calling for three hikes this year, plus three more in 2018 and three more in 2019. All that’s gone now.

    One potential roadblock for the economy could be the impact of Harvey and Irma. We don’t know yet the full measure of these events. On Thursday, we got our first glimpse of what Harvey could mean. Initial jobless claims soared to 298,000. That’s a rise of 62,000. As a metric, initial jobless claims have the benefit of being early, but that’s at the expense of being noisy. We saw similar jumps with previous storms.

    The recent economic numbers look quite good. Q2 GDP came in at 3%. Last week, we learned that personal income rose by 0.4% in July while personal spending rose by 0.3%. That’s quite good. Also, Friday’s ISM report was the best in six years. This suggests the economy got off to a strong start for Q3. The Atlanta Fed’s GDPNow model now says that Q3 GDP grew by 3.3%. I’m wary of such models, but I hope that number is right.

    Buy List Updates

    Cinemark (CNK) got trashed for a 5% loss on Thursday. What happened? Disney came out with details on its streaming service. Marvel and Star Wars will be exclusive to Disney and not on Netflix. This was a rough summer for the movie biz, but as far as earnings go, Cinemark is doing well. They missed earnings last quarter by one penny per share, yet the stock has been hammered. Cinemark is now going for less than 14 times next year’s estimate. As of now, there’s no evidence that the recent news is hurting CNK’s business. I’m looking for a turnaround for shares of CNK.

    Cerner (CERN) broke out to a new 52-week high this week. CERN is still shy of its all-time high of $75 from two years ago. The stock is having a great year for us (+45.7%). I’m going to hold off raising my $68 Buy Below price for now. Cerner could turn into a big winner for us.

    I’m ready to declare Signature Bank (SBNY) a very good bargain. The shares are now down to $122. The bank has basically erased nearly everything it gained in the post-election boom. Yes, SBNY has its issues, but the numbers have been solid. I think it’s possible SBNY can earn $10 per share next year.

    That’s all for now. There’s not much in the way of economic news next week. I’ll be keeping an eye out for Wednesday’s report on the Federal Budget. The deficit is shaping up to be worse than originally thought. This comes after years of decreasing deficits. On Thursday, we’ll get the CPI report for August. Inflation has been quite tame for the last few months. Let’s see if that trend continues. Be sure to keep checking the blog for daily updates. I’ll have more market analysis for you in the next issue of CWS Market Review!

    – Eddy

  • Morning News: September 8, 2017
    Posted by on September 8th, 2017 at 7:01 am

    Why Europe’s Central Bank Shouldn’t Worry About the Euro

    Will Saudi Aramco Deliver World Record Profit For Next Year’s IPO?

    Oil Steady as Irma Heads For Florida, Saudi Arabia Cuts Supply

    In World of Supposed Bubbles Here’s What Investors Fear Most

    Equifax Says Cyberattack May Have Affected 143 Million Customers

    Amazon Plans Second Headquarters, Opening a Bidding War Among Cities

    Who Will Win the Great Airfare War of 2017?

    F.D.A. Accuses EpPen Maker of Failing to Investigate Malfunctions

    Amazon Shoppers Complain of Price-Gouging During Hurricane Irma

    Comcast Stock Plunges On Video Subscriber Losses, Hurricane Impact

    Using Silicon Valley Tactics, LinkedIn’s Founder Is Working to Blunt Trump

    Hedge Fund Wannabes Busted for Trading on Illegal Amazon Tips

    Howard Lindzon: Identity…Here We Go Again

    Jeff Miller: Are You Trying To Win Every Trade?

    Cullen Roche: Yes, Getting Rid of the Debt Ceiling is Smart

    Be sure to follow me on Twitter.

  • The Impact of Harvey
    Posted by on September 7th, 2017 at 11:03 am

    There’s been a lot of talk about the economic impact of Hurricane Harvey. Much of this we simply don’t know yet. This morning, we got one of our first looks. Notice the jump in initial jobless claims.

    Jobless claims came in at 298,000. That’s enough to keep our sub-300,000 streak going. The last time jobless claims printed over 300,000 was in February 2015.

  • Morning News: September 7, 2017
    Posted by on September 7th, 2017 at 7:10 am

    It’s Time for Draghi to Talk About the Elephant in the Room

    Self-Driving Cars’ Prospects Rise With Vote by House

    Nuclear Plants in Irma’s Path Plan Shutdowns Ahead of Storm

    Amid Preparations For Hurricane Irma, Amazon Draws Scrutiny For Price Increases

    Amazon is Building a $5 Billion Secondary U.S. HQ and Wants Local Governments to Submit Proposals

    IBM Invests $240 Million Into AI Research Lab With MIT As It Struggles In AI Battle

    Kohl’s Enlists Amazon as Ally in Bid to Drive Store Traffic

    Toys `R’ Us Is Said to Hire Advisers to Help Weigh Bankruptcy

    After Scrapping Monsanto Deal, Deere Agrees to Buy Precision Farming Startup Blue River for $305 Million

    From Software to Staffers, Tesla and SpaceX Share More Than Musk

    We’re Going to Need More Lithium

    Attacked By Rotten Tomatoes

    Football Champs and CEOs Alike Sidestep Taxes With Private Jets

    Ben Carlson: How Stocks Took Over Asset Allocation

    Jeff Carter: Should Google Be Broken Up?

    Be sure to follow me on Twitter.

  • Morning News: September 6, 2017
    Posted by on September 6th, 2017 at 6:59 am

    Simmering Korea Tensions Hit Global Stocks and Dollar

    What the ECB Will and Won’t Do This Week

    Nafta Talks Lurch Ahead Without Signs of Major Progress

    This Bond’s Rollercoaster Ride is Far From Over

    Chief Executives See a `Sad Day’ After Trump’s DACA Decision

    Intel Wins Boost in Fight Over $1.26 Billion Antitrust Fine

    Lego Will Cut 1,400 Jobs as Profit Dips, Despite Big-Screen Heroics

    Wells Fargo Scandal: Banks Tap Watson To Monitor Employee Activity

    The World’s Largest Chocolate Maker Is Committing $1 Billion to Fight Climate Change

    Don’t Call It Pink Chocolate

    Coupa Software Narrows Fiscal Q2 Loss, Revenue Tops Views

    Toshiba Board Reaches No Verdict on New Western Digital Chip Proposal

    Nissan Aims to Double Sales of the Leaf With New Features

    Joshua Brown: When The Hedge Is Worse Than The Thing Being Hedged

    Roger Nusbaum: August Was Complicated But Markets Took It In Stride

    Be sure to follow me on Twitter.

  • The Worst Time of the Year for Stocks
    Posted by on September 5th, 2017 at 2:51 pm

    I’ve crunched the entire history of the Dow Jones Industrial Average and come up with the average year for the index. As it turns out, we’re about to start what has been the worst time of the year historically for stocks.

    The historic Dow reaches a peak on September 6 and falls 2.31% by October 29. For any one year, that’s not a big fall, but it’s equivalent to nearly one-third of the Dow’s average annual return. Here’s what the Dow’s average year looks like:

    To be clear, I would never make an investment decision based on this kind of analysis. I just think it’s interesting.

  • Morning News: September 5, 2017
    Posted by on September 5th, 2017 at 6:36 am

    UK Economy Losing Momentum As Brexit Worries Weigh

    Trump’s South Korea Trade Talk Is Just That

    Chill, Bitcoin’s Still Cool. What’s That Burning?

    `Too Big to Fail’ Label May Shrink for Some Firms Under Trump

    Airlines’ $10 Billion August Swoon Keeps Wall Street on Edge

    United Tech Forges Aerospace Giant With $23 Billion Rockwell Buy

    Lego Cuts Jobs as Profit Declines Amid Change of Leadership

    Novartis Calls the Doctor to Push Breakthrough Drugs Forward

    Amazon Fears Sink Blackstone’s $2.8 Billion Australian Mall Sale

    An `Angry Birds’ Empire: Games, Toys, Movies and Now an I.P.O.

    Lilium, a Flying Car Start-up, Raises $90 Million

    Noble Group in Talks to Extend $2 Billion Credit Facility Deadline

    Howard Lindzon: Momentum Monday on Tuesday…Moore’s Law and Quantum Computing

    Michael Batnick: These Are The Goods

    Ben Carlson: An Alternative Solution to the Retirement Crisis

    Be sure to follow me on Twitter.

  • Morning News: September 4, 2017
    Posted by on September 4th, 2017 at 7:05 am

    Xi Calls for BRICS to Play a Bigger Role in World Governance

    Beijing’s Coin Offerings Clampdown Could Hit 105,000 Investors in China

    Kim Can Disturb Japan’s Zen, Not Yen

    Investor With 30% in Cash Says North Korea Selloff Will Come

    Trump Shifts Labor Policy Focus From Worker to Entrepreneur

    Texas Edges Closer to Recovery After Harvey as Key Pipeline Restarts

    Hurricane Harvey’s Massive Flooding Also Destroyed Hundreds of Thousands of Cars

    To Understand Rising Inequality, Consider the Janitors at Two Top Companies, Then and Now

    Mark Zuckerberg, Warren Buffett, Mary Barra Among More Than 300 Business Titans Who Implored Trump to Preserve DACA, the Obama-era Policy Protecting Immigrants

    Novartis CEO Jimenez to Quit, Giving Reins to Harvard Doctor

    Fiat Chrysler Set for Parts-Unit Separation as Big Deal on Hold

    Latest Air Berlin Bidder Looks to Focus on Holiday Routes

    Why Drugs Cost Less in the U.K. Than in the U.S.

    Jeff Miller: Time to Ask What Could Go Wrong?

    Jeff Carter: Driverless Will Affect Everything

    Be sure to follow me on Twitter.

  • August NFP +156k, Unemployment 4.4%
    Posted by on September 1st, 2017 at 10:37 am

    The August jobs report is out. The U.S. economy created 156,000 net new jobs last month, although there were downward revisions to June and July. The unemployment rate ticked up to 4.4%. Average hourly earnings rose just three cents to $26.39. That’s up 2.5% in the last year.

    “Growth was slower in August, but that’s because there were fewer gains in growing industries, not because we’re seeing more losses in shrinking industries,” said Jed Kolko, chief economist at Indeed.com. “We’re actually at a point of unusual stability.”

    The report does not include any impact from Hurricane Harvey and the devastation it unleashed in Texas, as the collection of the data used for the report was completed before the storm struck.

    Employees also worked a bit less in August, with the average workweek falling .3 percent to 34.4 hours.

    I think we can forget about the Fed raising rates again this year — and probably not for the first half of next year.

  • CWS Market Review – September 1, 2017
    Posted by on September 1st, 2017 at 7:08 am

    “The race is not always to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, but that’s how the smart money bets.” – Damon Runyon

    Like many of you, I’ve been distraught by the scenes of destruction caused by Hurricane Harvey in Texas. It always feels a bit improper to discuss the financial impact of such terrible events, yet it’s an important subject. For these areas to rebuild, they need investment, and that’s what we talk about around here.

    Fortunately, the financial disruption from Harvey, while serious, appears to be contained at this point. That’s a relief, especially considering the sheer amount of rain brought on by the storm. The stock market has been calm, as it was before the hurricane. The Nasdaq Composite (see below) just closed at an all-time high, and the S&P 500 Total Return has now closed higher for the tenth month in a row.

    Houston is, of course, a crucial city for the energy industry. Right now, one-fifth of the nation’s refinery capacity has been shut down. At the moment, 3.6 million barrels per day are offline. That costs money. According to GasBuddy, the retail price for gasoline is up 11 cents per gallon in the past week. There simply isn’t enough fuel to fill the pipelines to supply other areas of the country. Gasoline futures just touched a two-year high.

    In this week’s issue, I’ll discuss what it all means for us and our portfolios. We’ll also look at interest rates. Remember all those forecasts from the Fed for higher and higher interest rates? Well, that seems to be off the table. Later on, I’ll examine how some of our Buy List stocks are reacting. But first, let’s take a broader look at where we are now.

    The Disruptions from Harvey Won’t Last Long

    On Thursday, the Nasdaq Composite closed at an all-time high, and the S&P 500 is less than 0.4% from its all-time high close. So despite the terrible destruction from Harvey, investors continue to be optimistic. The S&P 500 hasn’t posted a weekly decline of more than 2% in nearly a year.

    This week, unlike in weeks past, we don’t have any earnings reports to discuss, or upcoming earnings to preview. Earnings season is past us. The summer is over, and we’re coming up on what’s historically been the rough time of the year for the stock market.

    I tend not to place a great deal of faith in these kinds of trends, but I’ll note that September 6th has historically been a peak for the market. From September 6th to October 29th, the Dow has lost an average of 2.3%. Of course, that’s the average for 120 years, so we can’t say too much about any one particular year.

    When looking at the impact of an event such as Harvey, it’s important to remember how dynamic markets are. For example, if people can’t get oil from Houston, then foreign suppliers rush in to fill the void. In the near term, I expect to see gasoline prices rise, which normally happens at this time of year anyway.

    We’ll also see a drop in employment and a rise in consumer prices, but I expect both will be short-lived. This also happened during other recent natural disasters. While the cost of Harvey is in the tens of billions, overall U.S. GDP is close to $20 trillion, so we need to maintain our perspective. I assume that many planned new car purchases have been delayed, but we’ll see a rise in car buying soon. I would also expect that in the post-Harvey environment, lawmakers are much less inclined to see a government shutdown. At least, I hope they are.

    So far, insurance stocks are holding up fairly well. On our Buy List, shares of AFLAC (AFL) have broken out to a new all-time high. I’ll have more on AFL later. One of the more surprising reactions to Harvey is the surge in shares of Continental Building Products (CBPX). Of course, since the company specializes in gypsum wallboard, the rally makes sense, but I certainly didn’t see the uptick coming.

    One month ago, CBPX reported a three-cent earnings miss; still, the shares jumped after the earnings report. I suspect traders were expecting even worse news. The problem is that product costs have been rising, but Continental hasn’t been able to pass that along to their customers. That may soon change.

    This has been a very good week for Continental. On Monday, shares of CBPX rose 3.6%, followed by a 0.4% gain on Tuesday and a jump of 7% on Wednesday (see above). It’s now in the black for us this year. Three weeks ago, I dropped my Buy Below from $26 to $23 per share. I probably moved to soon, but I want to hold off raising it for now. The recent rally is due to expectations of more business, and I’d prefer to see proof. This is a good example of the effects of a natural disaster that you might not expect.

    You Can Forget About That Parade of Rate Hikes

    On Wednesday, the government updated its report on Q2 GDP growth. The initial report in July said the economy grew in real, annualized terms by 2.6%. This week, that was raised to 3.0%. That’s the best quarter for the economy for the past nine quarters.

    From the 60s until the last recession, the U.S. economy tended to grow in real terms by about 3%. Since then, the economy has grown in slower terms, around 2%. While the last GDP was encouraging, I doubt it’s the beginning of a growth resurgence. The Atlanta Fed has a model that tries to predict the GDP numbers. For Q3, the model currently says 3.3%. That would be very good.

    Later today, the government will release the employment report for August. The numbers recently have been pretty solid. Unemployment is currently at 4.3%, which is tied for a 16-year low. The economy has added an average of 200,000 jobs every month for the last seven years.

    For our purposes, what’s been most interesting has been the lack of inflation. Traditional economics (don’t laugh) suggests that prices should rise as we get close to full employment. If anything, inflation has been going down as more people are working. The Fed likes to watch the PCE price index. That rose by just 1.4% in July.

    Last December, the Fed said it sees raising interest rates three times in 2017, 2018 and 2019. I wrote, “Not to put too fine a point on it, but that’s nuts.” It looks like I was right. While the Fed has already raised rates twice this year, a third hike doesn’t look to be happening. In fact, the futures market doesn’t see another hike coming until June 2018.

    What’s been interesting is the behavior of the bond market. Long-term yields have been trending lower while short-term yields have been climbing higher. The three-year note is the dividing line. Anything longer than that means yields are going down. Shorter than that, they’ve been rising (see colorful chart below). This means that the yield curve is getting flatter. Traditionally, a flat yield curve is a warning sign for the stock market and the economy. While the yield curve is indeed getting flatter, we’re still a long way from the danger zone.

    The 10-year inflation-protected bond still yields you a measly 0.4%. A few years ago, I ran some numbers and said that the stock market does well until TIPs yield 2.4%. That shows you how much room we have. Of course, five years ago, 10-year TIPs were yielding -0.90%.

    I also wanted to touch on another interesting phenomenon: divergence between energy stocks and materials stocks. These two sectors tend to be decently correlated, but the connection is far from perfect. This year, however, they’re moving in different directions. This represents a major trend of 2017: metal prices are going higher, while energy prices, oil and natural gas, are going down. There’s no rule that extraction industries need to run parallel, but they generally have.

    Copper, for example, is now at a three-year high. Gold and silver have been coming to life recently as well. This may suggest that the global economy is getting back on its feet despite a sluggish energy patch. This may also explain the weak dollar this year. In fact, the Dow is actually down this year, if it were priced in euros. Overall, I think the financial markets are in a healthy state, and hopefully, the Houston area will be back as strong as ever. Now let’s look at some news from our Buy List.

    Buy List Updates

    On Thursday, shares of Microsoft (MSFT) closed at another all-time high. The stock is now a 20% winner for us this year. We added MSFT to our Buy List in 2014. It was almost exactly four years ago when Steve Ballmer announced his retirement. Shares of MSFT jumped 7.3% on the news. Just as a rule of thumb, if the company you lead gains $20 billion in market value on the news that you’ll be out the door, then the relationship probably wasn’t meant to be. Since the day of Ballmer’s announcement, shares of MSFT have gained more than 150%.

    Last earnings season, which was their fiscal Q4, Microsoft had another solid report. They beat Wall Street’s consensus by four cents per share. The software giant also gave upbeat guidance for the current quarter. The company said it expects Intelligent Cloud revenue to rise by between 8% and 11%. They also see Productivity and Business Processes revenue rising by 21% to 24%.

    I also expect to see a dividend increase fairly soon. In the past, the company has announced dividend increases toward the middle of September. They’ve been pretty generous as well. Over the last seven years, Microsoft has tripled its dividend. The company now pays out a quarterly dividend of 39 cents per share. Going by Thursday’s close, that works out to a yield of 2.1%. My guess is that Microsoft will soon bump up its dividend to 42 cents per share. Microsoft is a buy up to $76 per share.

    AFLAC (AFL) is one of two stocks left that have been on our Buy List all 12 years. The other is Fiserv. Shares of the duck stock have come to life in the past few weeks. Keeping with the animal theme, AFLAC is one of the stocks that acts like a rabbit. It will sit and sit and sit and then suddenly start hopping like mad.

    Seven months ago, AFLAC bombed its Q4 2016 earnings report. They missed by 17 cents per share. The stock dropped 4% that day. In the CWS Market Review from February 3rd, I wrote, “Let me be clear: I’m not at all worried about AFLAC. This is a very well-run firm, and the stock is going for just over 10 times this year’s earnings estimate.” The shares are up 23% since then. This week, I’m going to raise my Buy Below on AFLAC to $86 per share.

    That’s all for now. The August jobs report will be coming out later this morning. We may see a fresh 16-year low in the unemployment rate. The stock market will be closed on Monday for Labor Day. Next week, we’ll get the factory orders report on Tuesday. The important Beige Book comes out on Wednesday. Then on Thursday, we’ll get a look at the productivity report. Be sure to keep checking the blog for daily updates. I’ll have more market analysis for you in the next issue of CWS Market Review!

    – Eddy