January 16, 4:00 pm EST

Stocks reversed after a hot opening today.  With a quiet data week ahead, the focus is on the prospects of a government shutdown.

If this sounds familiar to you, it should.  Government debt is the, often played, go-to political football.

It was only last month that we were facing a similar threat.  But with some policy-making tailwinds on one side of the aisle, the fight was politically less palatable in December.  With that, Congress passed a temporary funding bill to kick the can to this month.

And just three months prior to that, in September, we had the same showdown, same result.  The “government shutdown” card was being played aggressively until the hurricanes rolled through. From that point, politicians had major political risk in trying to fight hurricane aid.  They kicked the can to December to approve that funding.

Now, the Democrats feel like they have some leverage, and their using the threat of a government shutdown to make gains on their policy agenda.  So, how concerned should we be about a government shutdown (which could come on Friday)? Would it derail stocks?

If you recall, there was a lot of fuss and draconian warnings about an impending government shutdown back in 2013.  The government was shutdown for 16 days.  Stocks went up about 2%.    Before that was 1995-1996 (stocks were flat), and 1990 (stocks were flat).

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January 4, 4:40 pm EST

We kicked off the New Year continuing to discuss the theme of a hot stock market ahead (again) and a hotter than average economy (finally).  Stocks continue to comply, with a big start – led by Japanese stocks today, up 2% on the day and up 4% on the year already.

It’s important to realize, the economic crisis was global.  The central bank response was globally coordinated, led by the Fed.  And, as we discussed early last year, everyone should hope Trumponomics works, because the global economy will benefit in coordination.  And that’s what we’ve been seeing over the past year.

Of course, now we’re getting policy execution on that front, and we’re seeing the rising tide of the U.S. economy lifting all boats.

How high will that tide rise?  As I said yesterday, if we add pro-growth policies that are being executed out of Washington, to an economy with near record low unemployment, cheap gas, near record low mortgage rates, record high consumer credit worthiness, record high household net worth, a record high stock market and near record low inflation, it’s hard to imagine the economy can’t do better than the long term average (3% growth) this year.

Let’s take a closer look at that economic growth picture.

Remember, in typical recessions, we should expect to get a big pop in growth to follow, due to policymaker responses to the slowdown and the natural upturn in the business cycle. In the Great Recession, we haven’t gotten it — after TEN years.

For the more than 50 years of history prior to the global financial crisis, U.S. economic growth averaged 3.5% (rolling four quarters). We’ve since averaged just 1.5% (over the past ten years). With that underperformance, the U.S. economy has foregone about $3 trillion dollars in real GDP growth, from being knocked off path by the global economic crisis. We’re due for a period to make up that ground.

On Tuesday we talked about the prospects of a return of “animal spirits” this year, for the first time in a long time.  This is what can drive a period of economic growth that does better than the long term average.  This animal spirits kicker may be the real theme of 2018.

But what is it?

Economics is about incentives. Economists think you’ll make rational decisions, with the incentive to best serve your interests.  But emotions come into play.  These emotions might cause you to be more risk-aversein times where policies incentivize you to take more risks, and vice versa.
This “emotion override” has been the problem over the past decade. The Fed gave us all abundant incentives to go out and borrow and spend, to stimulate the economy.  But the scars of the housing crash, joblessness and overindebtedness were too great.  People saved.  They paid down debt.  That didn’t trust the outlook. The Fed wanted us to take risk and they got risk aversion.

It has taken a regime change and an ultra-aggressive fiscal stimulus and structural reform response to finally break that mindset.  The execution on tax cuts looks like the catalyst that has gotten more people off the fence, and believing in a rosier outlook.  But I don’t think anyone would argue that confidence is broadly running hot (animal spirits) – much less, in a state of euphoria (which would justify concern of a top in markets and the recovery).

Robert Shiller (Yale economist) describes animal spirits like this: There are good times when people have substantial trust… They make decisions spontaneously. They believe instinctively that they will be successful.”

We’re not there yet, but we may begin seeing it/feeling it this year.  And with that, we may see some hot growth over the coming years.

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December 10, 4:00 pm EST

We had a jobs report this past Friday.  The unemployment rate is at 4.1%.  We’re adding about 172k jobs a month on average, over the past twelve months.  These are great looking numbers (and have been for quite some time).  Yet employees, broadly speaking, still haven’t been able to command higher wages.  Wage growth continues to be on the soft side.

With little leverage in the job market, consumers tend not to chase prices in goods and services higher — and they tend not to take much risk.  This tells you something about the health of the job market (beneath the headline numbers) and about the robustness of the economy.  And this lack of wage growth plays into the weak inflation surprise that has perplexed the Fed.  And the weak growth that has perplexed all policy makers (post-crisis). That’s why fiscal stimulus is needed!

And this could all change with the impending corporate tax cut. The biggest winners in a corporate tax cut are workers.  The Tax Foundation thinks a cut in the corporate tax rate would double the current annual change in wages.

As I’ve said, I think we’re in the cusp of an economic boom period — one that we’ve desperately needed, following a decade of global deleveraging.  And today is the first time I’ve heard the talking heads in the financial media discuss this possibility — that we may be entering an economic boom.

Now, we’ve talked quite a bit about the run in the big tech giants through the post-crisis era — driven by a formula of favor from the Obama administration, which included regulatory advantages and outright government funding (in the case of Tesla).  And we’ve talked about the risk that this run could be coming to an end, courtesy of tighter regulation.

Uber has already run into bans in key markets. We’ve had the repeal of “net neutrality” which may ultimate lead big platforms like Google, Twitter, Facebook and Uber, to transparency of their practices and accountability for the actions of its users (that would be a game changer).  And we now know that Trump is considering that Amazon might be a monopoly and harmful to the economy.

With this in mind, and with fiscal stimulus in store for next year, 2018 may be the year of the bounce back in the industries that have been crushed by the “winner takes all” platform that these internet giants have benefited from over the past decade.

That’s probably not great for the FAANG stocks, but very good for beaten down survivors in retail, energy, media (to name a few).

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June 5, 2017, 4:30pm EST               Invest Alongside Billionaires For $297/Qtr


Last week we looked at the some of the clear evidence that the economy is as primed as it can possibly get for a catalyst to come in and pop growth.That catalyst, despite all of the scrutiny, will be Trumponomics.

At the very least, a corporate tax cut will directly hit the bottom line of corporate America.  And one of the huge drags on demand, structurally, is the lack of wage growth.  And as we discussed, the big winner in a corporate tax cut will be workers/wage growth — a non-partisan tax think tank thinks it can pop wage growth, by as much as doublethe current growth rate.  That would be huge, especially for one of the key pillars of the recovery — housing.Remember, the two biggest drivers of recovery have been: 1) stocks, and 2) housing.  Those two assets have done the lion’s share of work when it comes to restoring confidence. And a lot of other key pieces fall into place when confidence comes back.

On the housing front, over the past year, both mortgage rates and house prices have gone UP – a new dynamic in the post crisis recovery (adding higher rates into the mix).  So owning a house has become more expensive over the past year.  But how much?

Let’s take a look at how that has affected the monthly outlay for new homeowners over the course of the past year.

From March 2016 to March 2017, the average 30 year fixed mortgage went from 3.70% to 4.20%.

The Case-Shiller housing price index of the top 20 markets in the U.S. is up 6% over that twelve month period (the most recent data).  That’s increased the monthly outlay (principal and interest) for new homeowners by 11% over the past year.

Now, with that said, we look at the recent behavior of the 10 year note (the benchmark government bond yield that heavily influences mortgage rates).  It’s been in world of its own — sliding back to seven month lows, while stocks are hitting record highs.  Manipulation?  Likely. As I’ve said before, don’t underestimate the value of QE that is still in full force around the world — namely in Japan and Europe.  That’s freshly printed money that can continue to buy our Treasuries, keeping a cap on interest rates, which keeps a cap on mortgage rates, which keeps the housing recovery and the recovery in consumer credit demand intact.

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February 28, 2017, 4:30pm EST                                                                                Invest Alongside Billionaires For $297/Qtr

Markets are quiet as we head into President Trump’s address to Congress tonight.  As we’ve discussed over the past week or so, the markets seem to have run the course on the outlook of fiscal stimulus and regulatory reform within an environment of a gradual rise in interest rates.

That “expectation” backdrop seems to be pretty well priced in.  Now, it’s a matter of detail and timing, and that puts the new President squarely in focus for tonight.

We’ve already heard from his Treasury Secretary last week that tax reform wouldn’t be coming until August-ish.  And he said we shouldn’t expect that big growth bump from Trumponomics until 2018.  That’s been the first real downward management of the expectations that have been set over the past three months.

What hasn’t been discussed much is the big infrastructure spend, which is really at the core of the pro-growth policies of the Trump administration.  For years, the Fed has been begging Congress for help in stabilizing the economy and stimulating growth in it — from the FISCAL side.

Given the wounds of the debt crisis, it was politically unpalatable for Congress.  They ignored the calls.  And as a result, just six months ago we (and the rest of the world) were dangerously close to slipping back into crisis. Only this time, the central banks would not have had the ammunition to fight it.

So now we have Congress with the will and position to act.  It’s a matter of detailing a plan and getting it moving.  Of the many positive things that could come from tonight’s speech by President Trump, details and timeline on fiscal stimulus would be the biggest and most meaningful.

The bickering about deficits and debt will continue, but a big stimulus package will happen — it has to happen. A government spending led growth pop is, at this stage, the only chance we have of returning to a sustainable path of growth and ultimately reducing the debt load down the line, which now is about 100% of GDP.  A move back to 80% of GDP would make the U.S. debt load, relative to the rest of the world, a non-issue.

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January 23, 2017, 4:30pm EST

The new President Trump has wasted no time on carrying out his plan on trade.  He met with 12 major U.S. company leaders today and told them that they would pay to build outside of the U.S., but (importantly) they would save to build here.  And he wrote an executive order to withdraw from the Trans-Pacific Partnership, and one to renegotiate NAFTA.

There are plenty of people that have focused on the risks and the dangers with the Trump trade policies. Meanwhile, those most directly affected aren’t quite as draconian on the outlook — quite the opposite.  The executives that have walked out of Trump Tower, and now the White House have largely been optimistic. The same is said for trade partners.  Whether they mean it or not, they understand the value of doing business with the U.S. consumer.

As I’ve said, there are clear opportunities for win-wins – especially in a world that must rebalance trade to avoid more cycles of the booms and busts, like the boom-bust we experienced over the past two decades.  The administration has the leverage of power (with a Republican Congress), but they also have the leverage of rewards.  Despite what the media tells us, behind closed doors the new administration seems to negotiate by carrot rather than stick.  Trump comes to meetings bearing gifts, and that creates buy-in.

When you bring American CEOs in and tell them that you’re going to give them a 20 percentage point tax cut, you’re going to slash the regulation burden (by “75%” as he said today), you’re going to give them a 30+ percentage point tax cut on repatriating offshore money,  and your going to launch a trillion dollar infrastructure spend, all in an effort to juice the economy to a 4%+ growth rate, they’re going to be very excited — even if you tell them they can no longer access the cheapest production in the world.

In the end, they’d rather have a hot economy to sell into, than a stagnant economy, even if it comes with a higher cost of production.  And we may find that, in the end, the after-tax profit margins of these big U.S. corporates may be better given all of these incentives, even if they make things here. Better revenues, and maybe better margins to go with it.

Remember, the optimism of U.S. small business owners made the biggest jump since 1980 on the prospects of growth-friendly Trump policies.   GDP equals Consumption + Investment + Government Spending + Net Exports. Ultra easy monetary policies have made borrowing cheap, saving expensive and created the economic stability necessary to get hiring over the past several years.  That has all kept consumption going.

The “build it here” policies are a recipe for capital investment to finally ramp up.  Add to that, a big government infrastructure spend, and we’re getting the pieces of the puzzle in place to see much better economic growth. A hotter U.S. economy will mean a hotter global economy. With that, I suspect net exports will ultimately pick up as well, with a healthier, more sustainable global economy.

On that note, if we look at the USD/Mexican Peso exchange rate as a gauge of trade partner health, we’ve seen the peso hit hard through the campaigning period under the protectionist fears of a Trump administration.  Interestingly, since the inauguration, the peso has been strengthening, even as President Trump signed an executive order today to renegotiate NAFTA. The message behind that usually means: the U.S. does better, Mexico does better.

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