By Bryan Rich 

October 10, 2017, 3:00 pm EST

BR caricatureCrude oil was the biggest mover of the day across global markets, up almost 3%, and back above the $50 level.

Though oil has been stuck, oscillating around this $50 mark for some time, we’ve talked about the prospects for much higher oil prices.  So, when?

Remember, back in May I spoke with one of the best research-driven commodities funds on the planet, led by the star commodities investor Leigh Goehring and his long-time research head Adam Rozencwajg.  They do some of the most thorough supply/demand work on oil and broader commodities.

Earlier this year, they were pounding the table on the fundamental case for $100 oil again.  Since then, as oil prices haven’t complied.  With that, we’ve seen Andy Hall’s departure from the market, of one of the biggest oil bulls, and one of the best and most successful tactical traders of oil in the world.

Meanwhile, the fundamentals have continued to build in favor of much
higher oil prices.  We’ve seen supply drawdown for the better part of the past seven months – to the tune of more than $60 million barrels of oil taken out of the market.

I checked back in with Goehring and Rozencwajg and they are now more bullish than before.  They say demand is raging, supply is faltering, and the world has overestimated what the shale industry is capable of producing – and the market is leaning, heavily, the wrong way (i.e. “maximum bearishness”).  They think we’ve now hit the tipping point for prices – where we will see the price of oil accelerate.

They’re calling for $75-$110 oil by early next year, based on their historical analysis of price and inventory levels.

We’ll talk more about their work on the oil market in the coming days, and their very interesting work on the broader commodities markets – both of which support the themes we’ve been discussing in recent months.

By Bryan Rich 

October 9, 2017, 4:00 pm EST

BR caricatureAs we know, one of the pillars of the Trump administration’s growth policies has been deregulation.  With that, today the head of the EPA signaled the withdrawal from the Clean Power Plan – an Obama regulation to fight climate change.

What does this mean for coal stocks?

Let’s take a look at the two largest American coal producers, both of which filed bankruptcy last year: Peabody Energy and Arch coal.

These are now two post-bankruptcy stocks!  Peabody emerged from bankruptcy earlier this year after shedding about $5 billion in debt. Similar story for Arch coal.  They filed early last year and emerged from bankruptcy late last year, eliminating $5 billion in debt in the process. So shareholders were wiped out and debt holders became stock holders in new low debt, cash flow positive companies with deregulation coming down the pike.  With that, you would think the stocks would be screaming higher.  That hasn’t been the case.

Here’s a look at the charts…

 



So we now have Peabody Energy, the leading coal producer in America with a $3 billion market cap.  And Arch Coal, number two, has just a $1.7 billion market cap.

Are these cheap stocks?

Let’s take a look at who owns them…

The biggest shareholder in Peabody is billionaire Paul Singer’s hedge fund, Elliott Management.  They own half a billion dollar’s worth of the stock and it’s a top ten position.  As for ARCH – the top shareholder is the $5 billion hedge fund Monarch Alternative Capital. ARCH makes up 20% of their highly concentrated long equity portfolio (their biggest single stock position).  If you’re going to dip your toe in the water on a post-bankruptcy stock, there are few better places to look for guidance than Paul Singer – a former attorney, turned one of the most influential and successful investors in the world.

By Bryan Rich 

October 6, 2017, 4:00 pm EST

BR caricatureAs we head into the weekend, today I want to talk a bit about the 401k. 

I’m looking today at a relatives 401k offering.  Nothing has made Wall Street richer than the advent of the 401k. They get a constant monthly stream of fresh capital to skim fees and commissions from, and you get all of the market risk.

For the average person, selecting from the “options” in their 401k plan is a practice of picking the highest number. No surprise, the fund providers know that, and play plenty of games to show you the best numbers possible.

Here’s an example:  As I’m looking through the limited choices in this particular 401k plan provider, there is a common theme in the “inception date” of most of the company’s mutual fund offerings.  They tend to have track records that start in 2002 at or near the bottom of the internet bubble-induced stock market crash, OR they start in 2009 AFTER the 50% collapse in stocks, OR they start in late 1987 AFTER the crash.

Clearly the long-term returns will look quite a bit better when you’re starting from a bottom, after a crash. And clearly returns will look better without hanging a negative 30%-50% in 2008 and then another negative 30%-40% in the early 2000s.

Maybe they are newer, better strategies and had the good fortune of launching at the right time?

More often, they close them down and reopen them under a new, tweaked name.  Add to that, they are constantly launching and running hundreds, if not thousands of funds, so that at any given time they can cherry pick the best performers over a certain period, to put them in front of a captive audience.

Bottom line: Big mutual fund giants are mass asset gatherers feeding on the passive 401k flow of capital, rather than astute investment managers. And the long term returns, after fees, prove it. People are locking their money up for a very long time, and getting a fraction of the market return.

When Congress invented the 401k in the 70s to transfer risk and obligations from the employer (traditional defined benefit pensions) to the employee (defined contributions), they didn’t do you any favors.

By Bryan Rich 

October 5, 2017, 4:00 pm EST

BR caricatureWe looked at small caps last week when the the Russell 2000 broke to new highs.

Remember, at that point, small–caps had done only 9% on the year at this point. That’s against 13% for the S&P and Dow.

Here’s the chart now…

The Russell 2000 is now up 12% since the lows of August (up 11% ytd) and if you bought the small cap index on the Monday before the elections last year, you’re up 26%.  But small caps continue to lag the bigger cap market. And that makes the last quarter a very intriguing opportunity to own small caps.

Bull markets tend to lift all boats.  And with that, equal-dollar weighted small caps tend to outperform equal-dollar weighted large caps in bull markets (in some cases by a lot). This one (bull market) looks like plenty of room to go in that regard.  And small cap companies should have more to gain from a corporate tax cut as the tend to have fewer ways to shelter income (relative to big multinationals).

Now, with that bull market assertion, let’s talk about the general uneasiness that seems to exist (and has for a while) from watching the continued climb in stocks.

As we’ve discussed, you often here the argument that the fundamentals don’t support the level of stocks.  It’s just not true.  The fundamental backdrop continues to justify and favor higher stocks.  We have the prospects of fiscal stimulus building, which will be poured onto an already fertile economic backdrop — with low rates, cheap commodities, record consumer high credit worthiness and low unemployment.

As the old market adage goes, “bull markets are born on pessimism, grow on skepticism, mature on optimism and die on euphoria.”  I don’t think anyone could argue we are currently in the state of euphoria for stocks. And as the great macro trader Paul Tudor Jones has said, “the last third of a great bull market is typically a blow-off, whereas the mania runs wild and prices go parabolic” (i.e. euphoria can last for a while).

Finally, let’s revisit this analysis from billionaire Larry Robbins on the influence of low interest rates, Fed policy and oil on markets.  He says every time ONE of these (following) conditions has existed, the market has produced positive returns.

Here they are:

  • When the 30 year bond yield begins the year below 4%, stocks go up 22.1%.
  • When investment grade bonds yield below 4%, stocks go up 16%.
  • When high yield bonds yield below 8%, stocks go up 11.6%.
  • When cash as a % of asset for non-financials is above 10%, stocks go up 17.6%.
  • When the Fed tightens 0-75 basis points in the year, stocks go up 22%.
  • When oil falls more than 20%, stocks go up 27.5%.

Again, his study showed that there has NEVER been a down year stocks, when any ONE of the above conditions is met.

It worked in 2015. It worked in 2016.  And now, not only does ONE of these conditions exist, but ALL of these conditions are (or have been) met for 2017.


 

oct5 russell

By Bryan Rich 

October 4, 2017, 4:00 pm EST

BR caricatureThe media is giving more attention today to the potential change in power at the Fed.  We talked about this on Monday. Remember, the President said last week that he expected an announcement to be made in the next two or three weeks on the future Fed Chair.

Along with any advancement on the fiscal stimulus front, the appointment of the next Fed Chair will be the most important news for markets and economy this year (though Yellen isn’t officially done until January of 2018).

Back in March I made the case for Trump ousting Yellen and hiring the Fed newbie, Neel Kashkari.  Admittedly, I didn’t think Yellen would last this long.  While Bernanke (the former Fed Chair) can be credited for averting a global apocalypse and keeping the patient alive, for as long as it took to bridge the gap to a real recovery.  Under Yellen’s leadership, the Fed has been doing it’s best to kill the patient, at precisely the time the real recovery could be taking shape, with the assistance of fiscal stimulus finally in the works.

If the Fed continues on its path, borrowing costs (or, as importantly, the perception of where they may go) may strangle the economy before fiscal stimulus gets out of the gate. This is why I’ve said Kashkari should be the President’s best friend at the Fed. He’s the lone dissenter on the rate hiking path, and he’s been vocal about leaving monetary policy alone until the inflation data warrants a move. 

Kashkari released an essay on Monday where he blames the Fed for creating its own low inflation surprise by tightening money and forecasting a tighter path for monetary policy, therefore creating a contractionary effect on the economy as consumers/businesses anticipated the negative effects of higher rates on the economy.

Guess who made this same case?  Bernanke.  He did so in a blog post last year, around this time. It was just as the world was spiraling into negative rates.  He said the Fed shot itself in the foot by publishing an overly optimistic trajectory and timeline for normalizing rates. And that the communication alone resulted in an effective tightening.

This is why the ten year yield (still at just 2.34% after four rate hikes) is pricing in something that looks a lot more like recession than a hot economy.

​​With the above in mind, there has been a roster of candidates for Fed Chair floated today, which did not include Neel Kashkari.  That was until word began to circulate that Jeff Gundlach, manager of the world’s biggest bond fund, said yesterday that he thinks Kashkari will get the nod, because he’s the most easy money guy. Still, it was refuted in the media that he was even a candidate.

By Bryan Rich
October 2, 2017, 4:00 pm EST

BR caricatureStocks open the week with another record high.  The dollar continues to do better. And as we open the new month, yields are now up 32 basis points from the lows of early last month.

​That’s a dramatic shift in the interest rate environment.  And in recent days, underpinning that strength, is the idea that a hawk could be taking over for Janet Yellen when her term ends at the end of January.

​Over the past few days the President has met with candidates for the Fed Chair job, and has said he will be announcing his decision in the next two to three weeks.  That’s a big deal for markets and the economy — something to keep a close eye on.

​His interview last Thursday was with a known hawk, former Fed governor Kevin Warsh  – who has publicly criticized the Fed for keeping rates too low.  He was also a hawk through some of the darkest days of the recovery – he’s been proven wrong for that view.  As for Yellen:  She has been among the most dovish Fed members throughout the crisis but has been leading the rate normalization phase (i.e. higher rates), which has proven to be questionable judgment, with missteps along the way resulting from the Fed’s overly optimistic and hawkish outlook.

​​Interestingly, though Trump criticized the Fed for keeping rates too low throughout the recovery, it’s higher rates, now, that are a significant threat to his growth policies.  So he needs the Fed to step out of the way, and do no harm to the hand-off from a monetary policy-driven recovery, to a fiscal policy driven-recovery.  Higher rates can choke off the positive effects of tax cuts and government spending.

​On that note, his friend on monetary policy should be (and I think will be) Neel Kashkari (a new Fed member).  Kashkari has been the lone dissenter on the Fed’s tightening path, arguing along the way to let the economy run hot, to ensure a robust recovery, before moving on rates.

​Over the past two years, Yellen has blamed their pauses in their tightening program to the lack of evidence that the economy is overheating.  It’s safe to say that the economy is not overheating (nor has it been), with both growth and inflation still undershooting long run averages.

By Bryan Rich 

September 19, 2017, 6:00 pm EST              Invest Alongside Billionaires For $297/Qtr

BR caricatureWith a Fed decision queued up for tomorrow, let’s take a look at how the rates picture has evolved this year.

The Fed has continued to act like speculators, placing bets on the prospects of fiscal stimulus and hotter growth. And they’ve proven not to be very good.

​Remember, they finally kicked off their rate “normalization” plan in December of 2015.  With things relatively stable globally, the slow U.S. recovery still on path, and with U.S. stocks near the record highs, they pulled the trigger on a 25 basis point hike in late 2015.  And they projected at that time to hike another four times over the coming year (2016).

​Stocks proceeded to slide by 13% over the next month.  Market interest rates (the 10 year yield) went down, not up, following the hike — and not by a little, but by a lot.  The 10 year yield fell from 2.33% to 1.53% over the next two months.  And by April, the Fed walked back on their big promises for a tightening campaign.  And the messaging began turning dark.  The Fed went from talking about four hikes in a year, to talking about the prospects of going to negative interest rates.

​That was until the U.S. elections.  Suddenly, the outlook for the global economy changed, with the idea that big fiscal stimulus could be coming.  So without any data justification for changing gears (for an institution that constantly beats the drum of “data dependence”), the Fed went right back to its hawkish mantra/ tightening game plan.

​With that, they hit the reset button in December, and went back to the old game plan.  They hiked in December.  They told us more were coming this year.  And, so far, they’ve hiked in March and June.

​Below is how the interest rate market has responded.  Rates have gone lower after each hike.  Just in the past couple of days have, however, we returned to levels (and slightly above) where we stood going into the June hike.

But if you believe in the growing prospects of policy execution, which we’ve been discussing, you have to think this behavior in market rates (going lower) are coming to an end (i.e. higher rates).

As I said, the Hurricanes represented a crisis that May Be The Turning Point For Trump.  This was an opportunity for the President to show leadership in a time people were looking for leadership.  And it was a chance for the public perception to begin to shift.  And it did. The bottom was marked in Trump pessimism.  And much needed policy execution has been kickstarted by the need for Congress to come together to get the debt ceiling raised and hurricane aid approved.  And I suspect that Trump’s address to the U.N. today will add further support to this building momentum of sentiment turnaround for the administration. With this, I would expect to hear a hawkish Fed tomorrow.

Join our Billionaire’s Portfolio today to get your portfolio in line with the most influential investors in the world, and hear more of my actionable political, economic and market analysis. Click here to learn more. 

By Bryan Rich 

September 18, 2017, 4:30 pm EST              Invest Alongside Billionaires For $297/Qtr

BR caricatureAs I said on Friday, people continue to look for what could bust the economy from here, and are missing out on what looks like the early stages of a boom.

We constantly hear about how the fundamentals don’t support the move in stocks.  Yet, we’ve looked at plenty of fundamental reasons to believe that view (the gloom view) just doesn’t match the facts.

Remember, the two primary sources that carry the megahorn to feed the public’s appetite for market information both live in economic depression, relative to the pre-crisis days.  That’s 1) traditional media, and 2) Wall Street.

As we know, the traditional media business, has been made more and more obsolete. And both the media, and Wall Street, continue to suffer from what I call “bubble bias.”  Not the bubble of excess, but the bubble surrounding them that prevents them from understanding the real world and the real economy.

As I’ve said before, the Wall Street bubble for a very long time was a fat and happy one. But the for the past ten years, they came to the realization that Wall Street cash cow wasn’t going to return to the glory days.  And their buddies weren’t getting their jobs back.  And they’ve had market and economic crash goggles on ever since. Every data point they look at, every news item they see, every chart they study, seems to be viewed through the lens of “crash goggles.” Their bubble has been and continues to be dark.

Also, when we hear all of the messaging, we have to remember that many of the “veterans” on the trading and the news desks have no career or real-world experience prior to the great recession.  Those in the low to mid 30s only know the horrors of the financial crisis and the global central bank sponsored economic world that we continue to live in today. What is viewed as a black swan event for the average person, is viewed as a high probability event for them. And why shouldn’t it?  They’ve seen the near collapse of the global economy and all of the calamity that has followed. Everything else looks quite possible!   

Still, as I’ve said, if you awoke today from a decade-long slumber, and I told you that unemployment was under 5%, inflation was ultra-low, gas was $2.60, mortgage rates were under 4%, you could finance a new car for 2% and the stock market was at record highs, you would probably say, 1) that makes sense (for stocks), and 2) things must be going really well!  Add to that, what we discussed on Friday:  household net worth is at record highs, credit growth is at record highs and credit worthiness is at record highs.

We had nearly all of the same conditions a year ago.  And I wrote precisely the same thing in one of my August Pro Perspective pieces.  Stocks are up 17% since.

And now we can add to this mix:  We have fiscal stimulus, which I think (for the reasons we’ve discussed over past weeks) is coming closer to fruition.

Join our Billionaire’s Portfolio today to get your portfolio in line with the most influential investors in the world, and hear more of my actionable political, economic and market analysis. Click here to learn more.

By Bryan Rich 

September 15, 2017, 4:00 pm EST              Invest Alongside Billionaires For $297/Qtr

BR caricatureWe’ve past yet another hurdle of concern for markets this past week.  Last Friday this time, we had a potential catastrophic category 5 hurricane projected to decimate Florida. 

Though there was plenty of destruction in Irma’s path, the weakening of the storm through the weekend ended in a positive surprise relative what could have been.

So we end with stocks on highs.  And remember, we’ve talked over past month about the quiet move in copper (and other base metals) as a signal that the global economy (and especially China) might be stronger than people think.  Reuters has a piece today where they overlay a chart of economist Ed Yardeni’s “boom-bust barometer” over the S&P 500.  It looks like the same chart.

What does that mean? The boom-bust barometer measures the strength of industrial commodities relative to jobless claims.  Higher commodities prices and lower unemployment claims equals a rising index as you might suspect (i.e. suggesting economic boom conditions, not bust).  And that represents the solid fundamental back drop that is supporting stocks.

With that in mind, consider this:  In the recent earnings quarter, earnings and revenue growth came in as good as we’ve seen in a long time for S&P 500 companies. We have 4.4% unemployment. The rise in equities and real estate have driven household net worth to $94 trillion – new record highs and well passed the pre-crisis peaks (chart below).

sept15 household net worth

Now, people love to worry about debt levels.  It’s always an eye-catching headline.

But what happens to be the key long-term driver of economic growth over time?  Credit creation (debt).  The good news: The appetite for borrowing is back.  And you can see how closely GDP (the purple line, economic output) tracks credit growth.

sept 15 gdp v credit

Meanwhile, and importantly, consumers have never been so credit worthy.  FICO scores in the U.S. have reached all-time highs.  So despite what the media and some of Wall Street are telling us, things look pretty darn good.  Low interests have produced recovery, without a ramp up in inflation.

But as I’ve said, it has proven to have its limits.  We need fiscal stimulus to get us over the hump – on track for a sustainable recovery.  And we now have, over the past two weeks, improving prospects that we will see fiscal stimulus materialize — i.e. policy execution in Washington.

To sum up:  People continue to look for what could bust the economy from here, and are missing out on what looks like the early stages of a boom.

 

By Bryan Rich 

June 23, 2016, 3:00pm EST

As we said yesterday, we’ve seen a slew of threatening events come and go over the course of the past seven years, and with each passing of those events, the heightened scrutiny of the economy comes and recession predictions.  Each has been wrong.  The Brexit vote is just the latest.

With the UK referendum results looming (as of this writing), today we want to revisit some of our bigger picture perspective on the U.S. economy.  The data just doesn’t support the gloom and doom scenarios.

The Fed has manufactured a recovery by promoting stability.  And they’ve relied on two key asset prices to do it: stocks and housing.  Today we want to look at a few charts that show how important the stock and housing market recoveries have been.

While QE and the Fed’s ultra easy policy stance couldn’t directly create demand in a world of deleveraging, it did (and has) indirectly created demand by promoting stability, which restored confidence.  Without the confidence that the world will be stable, people don’t spend, borrow, lend or hire, and the economy goes into a deflationary vortex.

But by promising that they stand ready to act against any futures shocks to the economy (and financial markets), investors feel comfortable investing again (stocks go higher).  When stocks go higher and the environment proves stable, employers feel more confident to hire.  This all fuels demand and recovery.  And, of course, the Fed has pinned down mortgage rates at record lows, which promotes a housing recovery, and gives underwater homeowners (at one point, more than 25 million of them) a since that paper losses will at some point be overcome, and that gives them the confidence to spend money again, rather sit on it.

Along the path of the economic recovery, the Fed (and other key central banks) has been very sensitive to declines in stocks.  Why?  Because declining stocks has the ability to undo what they’ve done.  And it confidence breaks again, it will be far harder to restore it.

The first chart here is the S&P 500.  Stocks bottomed in March of 2009, when the Fed announced a $1 trillion QE program.

june 23 spx

Sources: Reuters, Billionaire’s Portfolio

Stocks surpassed the pre-crisis highs in 2013 after six years in the hole. But even after the dramatic rise you can see in the chart the damage from the crisis is far from restored.  If we applied the long term annual rate of growth of the S&P 500 (8%) to the pre-crisis highs of 1,576, the S&P 500 should be closer to 3,150.

How does housing look?  Of course, bursting of the housing bubble was the pin that pricked the global credit bubble.  Housing prices in the U.S. have been in recovery mode since 2012.  Still, housing has a ways to go.  This is a very important component for the Fed, for sustainable recovery.

june 23 case shiller

Sources: Reuters, Billionaire’s Portfolio

Housing prices have bounced 37% off of the lows (for 20 major cities in the index) – but remains about 10% off of the pre-crisis highs.

How has the recovery in stocks and housing reflected in the broader economy?

As stocks surpassed pre-crisis highs in 2013, so did U.S. per capita GDP.

 june 23 ps per capital gdp

Sources: Reuters, Billionaire’s Portfolio

While debt continues to be a big structural problem for the U.S and the rest of the world, growth goes a long way toward fixing that problem.

And growth, low interest rates, higher stocks and higher housing prices goes a long way toward restoring household net worth.  As you can see in the chart below, we have well recovered and surpassed pre-crisis levels in household net worth…

 june 23 us household net worth

Sources: Reuters, Billionaire’s Portfolio

What is the key long-term driver of economic growth overtime?  Credit creation.  In the next chart, you can see the sharp recovery in consumer credit since the depths of the economic crisis (in orange).  This excludes mortgages.  And you can see how closely GDP (economic output) tracks credit growth (the purple line).

june 23 credit to gdp

Sources: Reuters, Billionaire’s Portfolio

What about deleveraging?  It took 10 years to build the global credit bubble that erupted in 2007.  Based on historical credit bubbles, it typically takes about as long to de-lever.  So 10-years of deleveraging would put us at year 2017.

You can see in the chart below, the average annual growth rate of consumer credit over the past 55 years is 7.9%.  Over the past five years, consumer credit growth has been solid, just under the long term average.  Meanwhile, FICO scores in the U.S. have reached an all-time high.

 consumer credit growth rate

Sources: Reuters, Fed

With any volatility in stocks, there comes increased scrutiny on the economy and people like to wave the red flag anywhere they find soft economic data. But consumption makes up more than 2/3 of the U.S. economy.  And you can see from the charts above, the consumer is in a solid position.  Still, stocks and housing remain key drivers of the recovery.  The Fed is well aware of that.  With that, don’t expect the Fed, in the current economic environment, to do anything to alter the health of the housing and stock markets.

Have a great night.

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