July 15, 2020

Yesterday we talked about the banks, in particular, the record Q2 performance of JP Morgan. If you needed more convincing that the trillions of dollars in stimulus were a gift to the banks, Goldman Sachs should have convinced you today. 

Goldman grew revenues by 41% compared to the same period a year ago (second biggest quarter ever).  And they beat the street’s estimate on earnings by 65%.  That’s one of the best quarters ever, and that’s after they stripped out (set aside) almost a billion dollars in profits for “provisions for litigation and regulatory proceedings.”  This is Goldman’s version of earnings management, nothing different the $26 billion set aside yesterday by Citi, JPM and Wells for “provisions for bad loans.” 

Bottom line, with the Fed absorbing all credit risk, and flooding the country with money, the banks are profit printing machines

With that, as we discussed yesterday, this should be a greenlight to buy the bank stocks.  And that’s supported by this very compelling chart …

In this chart, you can see we have a big technical reversal signal (an outside day) in technology stocks (the XLK) on Monday.  And now we have the banks revealing their position of strength in this bazooka-stimulus world.  Perhaps we have a reason to finally see some money rotate out of the high flying tech giants and into financials. 
 

July 14, 2020

JP Morgan and Citi reported this morning before the open.  We talked about the backdrop for these reports yesterday. 

We expected to see big loan loss provisions.  Check.  JP Morgan, Citi and Wells Fargo set aside more than $26 billion in allowance for futures losses on loans. 

And yet we talked about the likelihood of seeing good, and maybe very good performance from the banks on the quarter.  For JP Morgan, the biggest U.S. based global money center bank, it wasn't just good, it was record setting good.  

They reported a record $33 billion in revenue — a 15% growth rate, year-over-year.  That's one of the largest banks in the world growing at 15%

Wall Street was looking for EPS of $1.04 (that's down 63% from the same period a year ago).  They reported $1.38.  That's a beat.  Great.  But that doesn't nearly describe the quarter. 

Let's take a look at what really happened. 

As we discussed, it was a given that the banks would take advantage of the environment and take a huge provision for loan losses.  In JPM's case, they set aside over $10 billion from the quarter, to ramp up an already huge loan loss reserve war chest. 

On the one hand, it looks like they're positioning themselves as ultra-conservative on the economic outlook.  On the other hand, if a worst-case scenario were to unfold, having the JPM war chest of $34 billion wouldn't come close to absorbing the losses.

That's why the Fed, Treasury and Congress had to, and did, go all-in — and did so quickly — to neutralize the economic apocalypse scenario.  And there is no pulling back.  If they need to do more, they will.

With that in mind, as we discussed yesterday, because policymakers have protected the balance sheets of consumers and businesses, and because policymakers have pumped trillions of dollars into the economy, and intervened to ward off threats to the financial system, the banks were given glidepath to print profits. 

With that, JPM reported record markets revenue (up 79%) in the quarter.  Investment banking fees were up 54% in the quarter.  Deposits were up 20% in their consumer business and 41% in their commercial business.  Loans were up 13%.  Overall, JP Morgan created $1.2 trillion of credit in the second quarter. 

Bottom line:  We expected the banks to "take cover" from a broad economic crisis, to manufacture lower earnings.  They did.  But if we strip out the loan loss provisions, things look very different.  JPM would have made a record $3.57 in EPS.  That's 27% earnings growth from the same period a year ago. 

It's time to buy the bank stocks. 
 

July 13, 2020

Second quarter earnings kick into gear this week.  We’ll hear from the big four banks in the coming days. 

JP Morgan and Citi will report tomorrow before the open.  We hear from Wells Fargo tomorrow too.  And then Bank of America on Thursday. 

We should expect all of corporate America to take this opportunity, in their Q2 earnings reports, to put all of the bad news they can muster on the table. 

In a widespread economic crisis, this is their chance to write down the value of anything they can justify, take loss provisions on as much as they can, and set the bar as low as they can, so that in the quarters ahead, they can outperform expectations. 

That said, let’s take a look at what the market is expecting from the big banks.

The market is looking for a 63% decline in earnings at JP Morgan, compared to the same period last year.  The consensus view on Citi is an 85% decline (yoy EPS).  At Wells Fargo, their looking for a swing from $1.30 a share in Q2 of 2019, to a loss of 20 cents a share.  And at Bank of America, their looking for a 63% decline.  

Now, we’ll see the kitchen sink of loan loss provisions (i.e. guesses on what losses may materialize in the future) in these reports.  They will put these out there, because they can.  But remember, the Fed, Treasury and Congress have already pumped trillions of dollars into the economy to keep consumers and businesses solvent. That’s a direct backstop (protection) against these “provisional loan losses.”   

Add to that, the Fed has created tremendous revenue opportunities for the banks. They’ve eliminated the reserve requirement for banks — taking the ratio from 10% to zero.  The banks are now incentivized to make an infinite amount of loans.  The Fed has also become a buyer of corporate bonds, reducing risk in the credit markets, which has driven record first half volume in new corporate debt issuance.  That drives investment banking business at the big banks. And the liquidity deluge from the Fed has created a broad stock market boom, which drives trading revenue. 

With all of this said, don’t be surprised if the bank earnings (ignoring loan loss provisions) come in better, and maybe much better, than expected.  We will see.   

July 10, 2020

The NY Fed’s GDP forecasting model is now looking for a contraction of only 15% for Q2.   

This is a dramatically improved outlook from just a little more than a month ago, when it was projecting a down 35% quarter. 

Of course, we’ve been looking at the Atlanta Fed’s model here in my daily Pro Perspectives notes, which has been projecting as dire as -54%— again, as recent as just a month ago. 

That model is now projecting down 35%

As I said in my June 4th note, at the trough of these projections, these expectations are set to be beaten.  And they have been. 

Here’s the latest snapshot of the evolution of these models …

So if we assumed an outcome somewhere between these two models, we’re talking about a loss of economic output in the range of $750 billion to $1.8 trillion

Now, with this in mind, remember the simple theme we’ve been discussing here for the past few months, as the data began rolling in. 

 
The theme: “The response (by policymakers) is far greater than the damage.

Remember, we have $3.3 trillion in fiscal stimulus now working through the economy.  And the Fed has pumped $3 trillion into the system since March.  That’s a total of $6.6 trillion.  And it’s estimated that, with the Fed’s other facilities, the Fed could inject up to another $3 trillion+. 

This doesn’t even include the massive amounts of money the banks are creating, with a zero reserve requirement. On that note, if we look back at the Global Financial Crisis response, where the Fed expanded the balance sheet from $870 billion to $4.5 trillion.  The money supply grew from $7.4 trillion to almost $14 trillion.  That’s a double in the money supply.  If the money supply doubled this time, we’d be looking at over $15 trillion of new money circulating in the economy.

 
Let’s do some math:  $15 trillion minus $1.8 trillion equals a lot of excess money.

The response is far greater than the damage.  Again, this means, the nominal price of practically everything is going higher – much higher.  

July 9, 2020

Yesterday we talked about the Chinese government's initiative to promote a "wealth effect" from the Chinese stock market.

There are about 230 Chinese companies listed on the Nasdaq and New York Stock  Exchange. 

Let's take a look how a few of the biggest Chinese stocks, listed and tradable on U.S. exchanges, are performing. 

First we have Alibaba (symbol BABA), China's biggest (and one of the world's biggest) e-commerce platforms and one of the biggest cloud companies…

It has broken out.  This is a $650 billion company that is up 24% since early last week.  

Next, is JD.com (symbol JD).  JD is China's biggest e-retailer, and with its infrastructure, the closest to China's version of Amazon.  

This stock (JD) has gone vertical since late May, which happens to be when the Senate passed a bill to de-list Chinese companies from U.S. exchanges.  Of course that would have to get through the House too, which seems unlikely. 
 
This chart above is Chinese Life Insurance (symbol LFC).  Unlike the two tech giants, this stock is moving off of the bottom.  It's up 36% since early last week. 

Another stock moving off of the bottom is Petro China (symbol PTR).  This is the fourth largest Chinese ADR, by market cap, and is up about 12% from last week.  

Finally, here's Tencent (symbol TCEHY).  This is one of the most powerful companies in China. This stock, too, has broken out in the past seven trading days. 

July 8, 2020

China kicked the week off with reports that the Chinese government wants to see a "wealth effect" from their stock market. 

So, let's take a look at how it's playing out. 

Here's a look at the Shanghai Composite …

You can see Chinese stocks are on the move.  The Shanghai Composite has jumped 14% since Tuesday of last week. 

And as you can see in the chart, if you scan back to the 2014-2015 period, the Chinese stock market can inflate, and can inflate quickly.

If the Chinese government wants it, they will get it.  Japan has, for some time now, been an outright buyer of Japanese stocks.  The Fed is now involved in the U.S. stock market, buying corporate bond ETFs.  China looks like it will follow suit, using stocks as a tool to promote economic recovery. 

With that, how do you play it?  

The top two (by assets) U.S. exchange traded ETFs on Chinese stocks are MCHI and FXI. Both are up over 15% since the middle of last week. 

July 7, 2020

Last Tuesday, with inflation data hitting that was confirming the rise in wages and the rise in input prices, our chart of the day was gold.

We looked at this chart of gold prices, at a new eight-year high, and just a few dollars away from breaking out.  

We had the breakout today. 

Gold has now cleared the way for a run to the 2011 highs of over $1,900.  But it won't stop there.  With trillions of dollars of new global money floating around, gold has all of the ingredients for a double, or more, from here.   

Sticking with the inflation-signaling commodities, here's a look at the chart of copper — which also looks like a technical break is coming in the days ahead …

Factoring into these two charts above, the mal incentives of the Federal unemployment subsidy are now being exposed, as employers are have trouble competing with the government to get employees back to work. 

As we've discussed, once low wage workers were given a glimpse of what the government deems to be a living wage (and it's higher than they were making at work), they demand a higher wage to return to work.  That's what's were seeing. And this will be just one of the many contributors to upward pressure on prices.   

Remember this chart … 

July 6, 2020

We've talked about the set up for positive surprises in the June economic data.  

The data delivered last week.  And we have more this morning. Here's another look at the big "V" recovery in theISM manufacturing index from last week's report.  

Today we had a look at the services component of the ISM survey.  That, too, was very hot —  another "V" shaped recovery.

Again, this is reflecting a policy response that was bigger than the damage.  That means we should expect the numbers to continue to come in hot. 

On that note, as stocks continue to rise, what's the appropriate multiple on a stock market where rates are zero, and where the Fed is a buyer of practically any asset that could become threatening to the economy (which already includes corporate bond ETFs, and would likely include broader stocks, if an unstable stock market became a risk)?

The answer is, the P/E on stocks can go much higher.  

Remember, Warren Buffett made this point a few years ago, about stock market valuations in zero interest rate environments:  He said when interest rates were 15% [in the early 80s], there was enormous pull on all assets, not just stocks.  Investors have a lot of choices at 15% rates.  It's very different when rates are zero. He said, in a world where investors knew that interest rates would be zero "forever," stocks would sell at 100 or 200 times earnings because there would be nowhere else to earn a return.  

We don't have a "forever" commitment from the Fed (thankfully), but the Fed has vowed to wait until recovery proves to be sustained, before they will start moving rates — i.e. they will let the economy run hot.  

At the moment, the P/E on forward earnings (estimates on S&P earnings over the next 12-months) is 21.8.  That's on an earnings estimate that has been dialed down dramatically (on what is a pure guess from Wall Street). 

As we've discussed in the past, when you have an environment like this, corporate America will always take the opportunity to put all of the bad news and bad scenarios on the table.  If there's a write-down opportunity on an underperforming asset, now is the time to take it.  It all resets the earnings expectations bar to a very low level, which makes it easy to step over (i.e. to beat).  

But even if we assume the big earnings drawdown that Wall Street is projecting, and even if we remove zero rates from the argument, the average P/E on the S&P 500 is still cheap relative to the average P/E of the past 21 years (which is 25.4)

Plus, consider this: The valuation on stocks tends to run well above average, coming out of recession.  Coming out of the 2001 recession, the P/E on the S&P 500 was 46.  

With that, if we assumed a 20% decline in S&P 500 earnings and put a 30 multiple on it, we would have something around 4,200 in the S&P 500.  That’s 32% higher than current levels.  

July 2, 2020

We came into the week expecting to see the focus turn to the economic data, where the table was set for positive surprises. 

We've seen it.

And we finish the shortened holiday week with more positive surprises this morning — in the big June jobs report  (released today, instead of Friday, due to the holiday). 

Remember, last month, we had a huge positive surprise in the May jobs report.   The market was looking for 8 million in new job losses.  Instead, the report showed 2.5 million of job gains.

This morning, the June report showed job gains of 4.8 million, against expectations of 3 million. 

Again, this is all very good news. We're now 80 days into the reopening of the U.S. economy (which started in Georgia), the employment picture is continuing to reflect success in the policy response (keeping both employees and employers whole through the shutdown). 

What about wages?  This is the spot we've been watching for more evidence that inflation is coming.   

Remember, the Fed got excited last year when wage growth ticked up 3.5%, as a signal of economic health.  That was the hottest wage growth in more than a decade. Contrast that with these numbers …  

For June, average hourly earnings were up 5% compared to last year.  That follows an 8% jump in April and +6.7% in May. 

So, in the wake of historic joblessness, the wage numbers continue to print higher, not lower.  And these wage increases will have to stick, to compete with what the government has offered in unemployment compensation.  Add this to a supply disruption, and trillions of dollar of excess money in the economy, and we have a clear formula for higher prices

July 1, 2020

As we discussed on Monday, with the economic data rolling in this week, the table has been set for some positive surprises.

We're seeing it. 

And I thought we would see some inflation data that would begin shifting the attitude on the inflation outlook. I don't know about the attitude (yet) but we're getting the data.  

Check out this chart from this morning's numbers on manufacturing activity for the month of June. 

The month-over-month increase was the hottest since August of 1980. 

This is what you get when you turn demand on, like a light switch (lifting stay-at-home orders), and that demand is met with a supply chain disruption.

With that, I've been waiting to see the very important inflation component of this report (the ISM prices paid), which came in this morning.  

It was indeed a hot number.

In an economy where economists are forecasting a contraction for the second quarter, of anywhere from down 35% to down 45%, the price that manufacturers pay for raw materials in June had a huge jump. 

That leads to this index that shows buyers are no longer in the position of strength to negotiate on price.  And I suspect it's going to get a lot worse for them. 

Again, we've already seen higher prices in food/groceries.  Now, we will begin seeing it in other final products, as manufacturers are paying more for their inputs.

As we discussed frequently in my daily notes, surrounding the inflation story, a key piece in this story is wages.  And we'll get more on that tomorrow morning, in the jobs report (i.e. average hourly earnings).  

Remember, thanks to hazard pay and federally subsidized unemployment checks, we've had this jump in wages over the past two months. 

 

As we've discussed, the genie is out of the bottle, and higher wages are here to stay.  Trump signaled that today, as he said he'll have a "statement on minimum wage coming in the next two weeks." 

This is all continues to support the thesis we've discussed here, on "the global reset of prices and wages."  This is simply the product of global governments and central banks flooding the world with new money.