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May 02, 2024

Yesterday, after the Fed shot down concerns of stagflation or any prospects of rate hikes, the December Fed Funds futures posted an outside day (a technical reversal signal), and so did the dollar.

What does that portend?  Rates lower, which is good for stocks.  Dollar lower, which should continue to fuel commodities prices.

Let’s take a look at what might be the best place for investment returns in 2024.

Asian stocks.  We already know Japanese stocks have been on a tear — up as much as 24% this year (at the March highs).

Here’s the Hang Seng Index (Hong Kong) …

It was up 2.5% overnight and has just broken out of this down trend that started in Q1 of 2021.

And there’s a similar chart in Chinese stocks …

Stocks were in decline to start the year in China, on weak growth prospects for 2024.

The Chinese government responded on January 22 with promises to prop up the stock market.  That was the bottom in FXI and the Hang Seng.

The Chinese central bank cut the reserve requirement ratio by 50 basis points on February 5th, to stimulate the economy.  It was the biggest cut in two years, and it put the bottom in the Shanghai Composite (the broad Chinese stock market).

On March 4th the Chinese government said they would target “around 5%” growth this year, at the annual National People’s Congress legislative session — implying more aggressive fiscal and monetary policy fuel.

And with the bottom of U.S. stocks in April (on the de-escalation of Iran/Israel, reduced global risk), Asian stocks have had the relative strength.







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May 01, 2024

We entered the Fed decision today with the 2-year yield above 5% and the S&P 500 having just delivered a down 4.7% month.  And with GDP in the first quarter having just been revised down dramatically, to under 2%.

These are circumstances that were brought to us by the Fed.

By the Fed’s historically high level of real interest rates (Fed Funds rate minus the inflation rate).  And by the Fed’s “sentiment manipulation” (“communications strategy”).

On the latter, the numerous public speaking engagements by Fed officials over the past three months successfully moved market expectations from one extreme (expecting as many as seven rate cuts by year-end) to the other extreme.

How extreme had expectations shifted?

As of yesterday’s close, the interest rate market was pricing in less than one full rate cut by year-end.  And based on recent comments from a voting Fed member, some in the investment community had even begun to speculate that rate hikes could once again be back in play.

Moreover, if we look at the year-end expectations on where the Fed Funds rate will be, it’s projecting higher today than it was back in October.  And at that time, the Fed was projecting an additional rate hike in December, and still engaged in the tightening cycle.

Now, not only does this dramatic swing in market interest rates and expectations tighten financial conditions (adding to an already historically tight real interest rate, set by the Fed), but it increases the risk of a liquidity shock.

With that, as we discussed in my Monday note, it was crucial in today’s Fed decision/press conference that they move the rate expectations pendulum back toward the middle.

So, what did the Fed Chair, Jerome Powell, have to say today?

He shot down the notion that Tuesday’s hotter wage report was an inflation concern.

He shot down the notion that the economy is settling into a stagflation stage (i.e. slow growth, high inflation).  He said growth is neither slow, nor is inflation high (relative to historic stagflation periods).

And he shot down the notion that the policy path could include a rate hike as the next move.  He said the discussion at the Fed is not about direction, but “how long to hold rates in restrictive territory.”

This was clearly a dovish message from the Fed today. And it countered a market that was positioned for something ranging from hawkish to very hawkish.

That should take pressure off of the interest rate market.  And should provide support for stocks, coming out of an April retracement.







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April 30, 2024

There was broad-based selling across markets today:  Stocks, bonds, commodities, everything.

It started with hotter than expected wage data (Q1 employment cost index).  With the Fed decision tomorrow, on the back of hotter than expected inflation data in recent months, the influence of rising wages on the inflation picture spooked markets.

But it’s an overreaction.  Why?

Remember, we’re in a productivity boom!

We averaged just 1% productivity growth for the decade prior to the pandemic, and negative 0.7% from the fourth quarter of 2020 through early last year.   Since then, productivity growth has averaged 3.7%.

And as Jerome Powell has said in the past, wage gains should equal productivity gains plus inflation (a formula of non-inflationary wage growth).

The latest inflation of 2.7% plus 3.7% productivity, gives us year-over-year wage gains of 6.4%.   The wage number this morning was 4.2% (year-over-year rise).  That means wages should be rising faster.

With the above said, among the important events of the week (Fed, earnings, Friday’s job report), the Q1 productivity report on Thursday is a big one.

Let’s take a look at a couple of charts as we head into tomorrow’s Fed decision …


Relating to the above chart, it’s important to remember that the Fed made an official policy change in the way they evaluate their 2% inflation target back in September of 2020

Inflation had been too low, for too long.  For the better part of the prior decade, inflation ran well below their two percent target.

So, Jay and company told us explicitly that they would let inflation run hot, to bring inflation back to 2% on averageover time.

They’ve done just that.  The above is the chart of the Fed’s stated inflation target, “annual change in the price index for personal consumption expenditures (PCE).”  They countered thirteen years of weak inflation, with two years of hot inflation, for an average of 2%.

Let’s see how the path of inflation looks if we extrapolate out a 2% annualized rate of growth in the PCE index, from the pre-Lehman peak of 2008.


This chart shows us what the actual path (the blue line) PCE looks like compared to its desired 2% annualized inflation path (the orange line).

Remember, the Fed told us throughout the extended period of weaker than trend inflation, that they would let inflation run hot, to bring inflation back to 2% on averageover time.

This chart would argue that the Fed should be less concerned about splitting hairs over tenths of a tick on inflation readings (especially as it resides comfortably under 3%), and it should be more concerned with its overly-tight policy stance impeding an economic boom, which could recover the underperformance of the prior decade (the decade that also delivered below target inflation).






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April 29, 2024

We're halfway through Q1 earnings season.  Thus far, earnings growth is in-line with Wall Street's 3%+ growth expectations.
And Q1 is expected to have been the weakest quarter for earnings growth we will see all year.
FactSet has full year S&P 500 earnings growth at 10.8%.  Excluding the "re-opening" bounceback in corporate earnings in 2021, this year is projected to be the hottest earnings growth since 2018. 
And that's despite the swing in rate expectations, from anticipating an aggressive easing campaign from the Fed (earlier this year), to (now) maybe no easing.
With that, the Fed meets this week.  Here's the latest look at the Fed's inflation barometer, PCE.
So inflation is 71 basis points away from the Fed's target.  But the Fed has the Fed Funds rate (still) 262 basis points ABOVE the rate of inflation.  That's historically very, very tight monetary policy. 
And yet the market is only pricing in one full rate cut by year end.
That rate outlook has the 2-year yield trading back to 5% … the 10-year yield back to early November levels (as high as 4.74% last week) … and has influenced a negative surprise in Q1 GDP growth (under 2% growth).
With that backdrop, Jerome Powell should be talking down the interest rate market on Wednesday, attempting to move the rate expectations pendulum back toward the middle.    
After all, it's the Fed's manipulated wide interest rate differential between the U.S. and Japan that has driven sharp declines in the yen. 
As we've discussed often in my daily notes, a weak yen is intentional and works in Japan's favor — inflating away debt, and increasing export competitiveness.  It's by the design BOJ (and Fed) monetary policy.  But they can't risk losing control (i.e. a rapid decline in the yen). 
So, to slow the pace of the yen decline, the Bank of Japan was forced to intervene in the currency markets overnight to support the yen.
With that, if the Fed needed a nudge on "messaging dovish" on Wednesday, this BOJ action should be the nudge.  






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April 25, 2024

We heard from Meta after the close yesterday, which we discussed in my last note.

They grew revenues by 27%, compared to the same quarter last year.  They grew net income by 114%.  And they expanded operating margins from 25% to 38%.

Meta was scrutinized for its ongoing massive investment in AI infrastructure.  They are in the third year of what will be a $100 billion three-year spend on servers, data centers and network infrastructure.

The stock was punished.

Today we heard from Google (Alphabet) and Microsoft.

Google grew revenues by 15% compared to the same quarter last year.  They grew net income by 57%.  And they expanded operating margins from 25% to 32%.

Microsoft grew revenues by 17% compared to the same quarter last year.  They grew net income by 20%.  And they expanded operating margins from 42% to 45%.

Like Meta, both Google and Microsoft are making massive investments in building AI infrastructure capacity.  Both stocks went up after earnings (Google, about 10%).

From 2022 through this year, all of the AI barons are spending in the neighborhood of $100 billion in capex on AI infrastructure.  And they will do more, to build the capacity needed to meet the insatiable customer demand for computing resources to run AI products and services.

As Microsoft put it, in the their call this afternoon, this is just the first wave, and they are building for the “second wave” of AI.

So, these are trillion-dollar plus companies, growing at an accelerating double-digit pace, rapidly adding new products and services, with smaller headcount, and at a higher and higher rate of profitability.  And they’re not expensive (Meta – 23x forward PE, Google 22x, MSFT 31x).

It’s still the early days of the most productivity enhancing technology advancement of our lifetime: generative AI.






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April 24, 2024

We had Meta earnings after the close today.  They grew revenues by 27% compared to the same quarter last year.  They grew net income by 114%.  And they expanded operating margins from 25% to 38%.  
Sounds quite good.  But the stock was crushed in after-hours trading.
The "sell" algorithms were assumably triggered by 1) Meta's guidance for the next quarter, which will be relatively flat quarter-to-quarter revenue growth, and 2) their plan to spend more than they originally guided in capex for the year.
On the former, keep in mind, Meta has rolled out its new large language model across its family of apps, and has yet to attempt to monetize it (which will be a fresh revenue growth catalyst, along with other AI products).  
On the latter, the capex spend is a continued massive investment in infrastructure to support AI.  The top end of this year's guidance will put them at $100 billion worth of investment over the past three years on: data centers, servers and network infrastructure.
Meta's goal is to be the leading AI company in the world.  And the bigger the spend, all funded by cash flow, the more dominant their position in AI is assured. 
With that, we'll hear from Microsoft and Google tomorrow.  They too will report massive investments in AI infrastructure and new product development. 
For these companies, the Wall Street scrutiny over "mid-points of guidance" and such, on the quarter, is a meaningless exercise.  
These earnings calls from the big tech giants are about discovery.  What are they learning?  What are they building?  How fast is the technology revolution progressing?  And how do they see it unfolding?  
In a lot of ways, this reminds me of the Q3 earnings season, back in October.  The tech giants were putting up big numbers.  It was hard to find something to be disappointed about, with how they were performing and reorienting their businesses around generative AI.  But the stocks were being sold. 
Broadly, stocks were in a correction at that time, driven by a Fed that had spent the prior few months reupping threats of more tightening.  And that had sent the 10-year yield surging to 5%
Stocks bottomed the week of big tech earnings, and on the day of the PCE (inflation) report
That PCE report showed a continued decline in the rate of inflation.  And with that, given that the 10-year yield was at a very restrictrive level and stocks were in a correction, the Fed signaled the end of the tightening cycle.  
Fast forward to today, and we're in a stock market correction.  The 10-year yield has had another sharp rise, trading last week to the highest level since early November of last year (4.7%).  And we get the PCE report on Friday. 
For perspective, core PCE is almost a percentage point lower than it was last October when the Fed signaled the end of the tightening cycle.  Rates are more restrictive today, than last October. 





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April 23, 2024

We had a big bounce back in stocks today.  The rally was broad-based but was led, all day, by the Russell 2000 (small caps).  And that move in the Russell index was ignited by a weak PMI report this morning.
This U.S. PMI report is based on surveys done by S&P Global on a panel of around 800 companies based in U.S. manufacturing and service sectors.  And this is a "flash" estimate, which takes about 85% of the responses within the current month.   So this is an assessment of April — three weeks into this month, which is the first month of the second quarter.
Here are the takeaways:  "The U.S. economic upturn lost momentum at the start of the second quarter" … "The more challenging business environment prompted companies to cut payroll numbers at a rate not seen since the global financial crisis (excluding the lockdown period) … "The deterioration of demand and cooling of labor market fed through to lower price pressures."  
So, slowing growth, weakening labor market, and cooling price pressures.  It's only a few weeks, but a continuation of those attributes in the second quarter would absolutely swing the pendulum of Fed rate path expectations back in the other direction.  
This weakening view suggests the Fed may get its wish in the coming months, to see a return of the "good inflation readings" they saw in the second half of last year.  But the "good inflation readings" this time would be driven by cracks in the job market, which would put the Fed in its familiar position, of reactionary policy
Yields fell sharply on the PMI report … 
So, this is "bad news is good news."  It relieves pressure in the interest rate market, which is positive for stocks.
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April 22, 2024

We've now had an 8.5% drawdown in Nasdaq futures over the past month.  S&P futures have lost 7% peak-to-trough.  And the small cap index, -11.6%.
That brings us to earnings week for half of the tech giants.  We'll hear from Meta on Wednesday, Microsoft on Thursday and Alphabet (Google) on Friday.  And the "not-so-giant" (at the moment), Tesla reports tomorrow.
With the exception of Tesla, they will all put up big numbers.   
Keep in mind, these are the companies working on the frontier of generative AI, a technology expected to be so life transforming that it has been compared to the advent of electricity
These tech giants are investing tens of billions of dollars in AI infrastructure.  And they're developing the AI models, and products and services surrounding those models, that will power the Fourth Industrial Revolution.  They are building the products and services we will all be using for the foreseeable future.   
With that, as we've discussed, from the Nvidia moment of last May, the competitive moat only grew wider for these monopolies. 
Why?  They are among a limited class that can afford to buy the computing power to meet the demands of generative AI.  Moreover, they control the deepest and most diverse data in the world, with world class talent.  If they weren't modern day oil and rail barons before generative AI, they are now.  
So, we've now had a correction in the broad stock market. 
Is it over? 
As we've discussed here in my daily notes, the technical reversal signal in stocks, back on April 1, was triggered by Israel's strike of the Iranian consulate in Syria.  With that, the market correction may have ended with what appears to be the end of the tit-for-tat Israel/Iran attacks, with Thursday night's "limited" strike on Iran by Israel.
That presents a catalyst, in this week's earnings from the AI barons, for a resumption of the economic and stock market boom (at least in nominal dollar terms). 
On the economy:  We'll get a first estimate on Q1 GDP on Thursday, which the Atlanta Fed GDP model projects to be a strong 2.9% annual rate.
And then we'll get March PCE on Friday (the Fed's favored inflation gauge).  On that note, the pendulum on rate path expectations has swung from one extreme to the other, over the past four months.  That sentiment extreme means the risk of a negative market outcome from the data should be very limited, which means a positive surprise would provide a burst of fuel for markets.
For my AI-Innovation Portfolio members, please keep an eye out for a note from me tomorrow morning.  We will be making a new addition to the portfolio.  If you are not a member, you can join us here.   





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April 18, 2024

Stocks put in another lower low today, in this recent correction.
And it appears that the weight of geopolitical uncertainty will remain through the weekend, which should continue to weigh on stocks.
Let's take a look at oil … 
When Israel struck the Iranian consulate in Syria on April 1, oil broke this big trendline from the $130 highs of two years ago. 
It topped out last Friday, prior to the retaliatory attack from Iran over the weekend.  And even with the threat of escalation, the price has (strangely) fallen as much as 7% this week. 
With the Middle East on a "knife-edge" (in the words of the UN Chief), the price of oil isn't reflecting the supply disruption risk — certainly not supply shock risk. 
Add to this, one of the best research-driven commodities analyst teams of the past three decades (Leigh Goehring and Adam Rozencwajg) have recently drawn attention to what they believe are overstated U.S. oil production data. 
They think the new EIA Administrator's restatement of data, in the middle of last year, to account for a new "adjustment factor" resulted in overstating crude growth by 40%.  Moreover, they see risk of U.S. production growth turning negative in the coming reporting months.  
That would put OPEC+ back in the driver's seat to determine oil prices.  And higher prices serve their interest.   





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April 17, 2024

The correction in stocks continues.
The S&P futures are now down 5.3% from the April 1 record high.  Nasdaq futures are down 5.8%.  Dow is down 6.2%.  And the Russell is down 9.5% (20% lower than the record highs of November 2021).  
Interestingly, it's not the broad indiscriminate selling of stocks you might find in an economic shock, or the unwinding of a grossly overvalued market.
Over 40% of the S&P 500 stocks were up today (4 out of 10 sectors).
This continues to look like a technical correction in a bull market.  Not only do we have the catalyst of a new industrial revolution underway, but the economy continues to be flush with cash. 
Remember, we've looked at this chart of money supply …
The money supply remains trillions of dollars above trend.  And Biden's proposed 2025 budget would require printing another $1.8 trillion.
And if we extrapolate out the trend (crudely) in money market funds, the balance there is around $1 trillion above trend. 
So, the correction is a buy in stocks.  It's a matter of when.  
As we discussed yesterday (here), given the adjustment in rate expectations, and the headline risk with Israel/Iran, it's fair to expect a deeper correction, still.  With that, based on historical performance of the S&P 500 we should expect intra-year corrections, on average, of better than 10%.