April 30, 5:00 pm EST

As we head into a Fed decision tomorrow, we’ve talked about the prospects of a Fed rate cut.  It’s highly unlikely.

It’s even more unlikely today, after Trump pushed for, not just a cut, but a full point cut …


Unfortunately, the influence Trump tried to wield late last year, is probably why the Fed hiked in December — just to prove to the world that they (the Fed) wouldn’t be politically influenced.

With that, we now have an economy growing at 3%+, stocks near record highs and subdued inflation.  And yet we have a ten-year yield at 2.5%.  It doesn’t fit.  The interest rate market is still sending the message that the December rate hike was a mistake.

With that, if we did get a cut by this summer, I suspect the interest rate market would adjust to reflect a more optimistic economic outlook.  By that, I mean, with a cut in the Fed funds rate, the long end of the yield curve (specifically, 10-year yields) would probably go UP not down –steepening the yield curve.

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January 29, 7:00 pm EST

For the first time in a decade, the mood at the World Economic Forum in Davos was of optimism and opportunity.  And Trump economic policies have had a lot to do with it.

That optimism has continued to drive markets higher this year: global stocks, global interest rates, global commodities – practically everything.

The S&P 500 is up nearly 7% on the year now — just a little less than a month into the New Year.  And we’ve yet to see the real impact of tax incentives hit earnings and investment.

But, with the rising price of oil (now above $65), and improving consumption (on the better outlook), we will likely start seeing the inflation numbers tick up.

Now, what will be the catalyst to cap this very sharp run higher in stocks to start the year?  It will probably be the first “hotter than expected” inflation number.

That would start the speculation that the Fed might need to move rates faster, and it might speed-up the exit talks from QE in Europe and Japan.

If the inflation outlook triggers a correction (which would be healthy), that would set the table for hotter earnings and hotter economic growth (coming down the pike) to ultimately drive the remainder of stock returns for the year.

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December 15, 9:00 pm EST

Last week we had the merger of Fox and Disney, and the repeal of the Net Neutrality rule.  And the tax bill continues to inch toward the finish line.

That said, this would typically be the time of year when markets go quiet as money managers close the books on the year, decision makers at companies go on holiday and politicians do the same.

But that wasn’t the case last year, as President-elect Trump was holding meetings in Trump towers and telegraphing policy changes.  And it may not be the case this year, as the tax plan may be approved before year end.  The final votes are said to come next week, and the bill is tracking to be on the President’s desk by Christmas.

With that, and with the lack of market liquidity into the year end, we may get a further melt-up in last trading days of the year.

Yesterday we talked about the other side of the Net Neutrality story that doesn’t get much acknowledgement in the press.  In short, the tech giants that have emerged over the past decade, to dominate, have done so because of regulatory favor. This favor has decimated industries and has dangerously consolidated power into the hands of few.  The repeal of this rule is turning that regulatory tide.

It looks like the playing field might be leveling.  That means a higher cost of doing business may be coming for Silicon Valley, with fewer advantages and more competition from the old-economy brands that have been investing to compete online. That means potentially slower earnings growth for the big internet giants, for those that are making money, and an even more uncertain future for those that aren’t (e.g. Tesla).

With this in mind, at the moment Amazon is valued at twice the size of Walmart.  Uber is valued at almost 40 times the size of Hertz.  And Tesla, which has lost $2.5 billion over the past five years is valued the same as General Motors, which has made $43 billion over the same period.

Next year could be the year these valuation anomalies correct.

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November 24, 2017, 12:30 pm EST

BR caricatureWe talked last week about what may be the bottom in the “decline of the retail store” story.

Walmart may be leading the way back for traditional retail. And it’s doing so, in part, by pouring money into e-commerce to fight back against Amazon.

Just as the energy industry has been beaten down by the rise of electric vehicles and clean energy, the bricks and mortar retail industry has been beaten down by the rise of Amazon. But those energy and retail companies that have survived the storm may have magnificent comebacks. They’re getting fiscal stimulus, which will lower their tax rates and should pop consumer demand. And they may be getting help with the competition. The regulatory game may be changing for the Internet giants that have nearly put them out of business.

Over the past decade, the Internet giants of today have had a confluence of advantages. They’ve played by a different rule book (one with practically no rules in it). And many of the giants that have emerged as dominant powers today, did so through direct government funding or through favor with the Obama administration.

One of the cofounders of Facebook became the manager of Obama’s online campaign in early 2007. In 2008, the DNC convention in Denver gave birth to Airbnb. By 2009, the nearly $800 billion stimulus package included $100 billion worth of funding and grants for the “the discovery, development and implementation of various technologies.” In June 2009, the government loaned Tesla $465 million to build the model S. In 2014, Uber hired David Plouffe, a senior advisor to President Obama and his former campaign manager to fight regulation.

The U.K.’s Guardian has a very good piece (here) on what this has turned into, and the power that has come with it, calling it “winner takes all capitalism.”

This all makes today’s decision to repeal “net neutrality” very interesting. Is this the event that will ultimately lead to the reigning in the powerful tech giants? For the big platforms like Google, Twitter, Facebook and Uber, will it lead to transparency of their practices and accountability for the actions of its users? If so, the business models change and the Wild West days of the Internet may be coming to an end.

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October 23, 2017, 4:00 pm EST

BR caricatureForbes has just ranked the top 400 richest people in America for 2017.

Among the top 50, a fifth have created their wealth from some sort of Wall Street activity (mostly hedge funds, but also brokerage and asset management). There’s not much new there–the rich have gotten richer on Wall Street despite the challenges of the past decade. But as we’ve discussed, the torch was, in many respects, passed to Silicon Valley over the past decade, as the best spot to create–that’s where the biggest proportion of the wealthiest 50 have built their wealth.

But much of that technology wealth can be refined down to the very industries that are being displaced on the wealth list, such as publishing, energy and retail.

That makes you wonder how long some of these companies can command a software-like valuation when the core of their business models are rather traditional things like selling ads, distributing content, making cars or selling retail products.

To this point, as long as they started in Silicon Valley, they tend to get a very long leash. They can lose money with immunity.

Consider this: GM is valued at $66 billion. Telsa is valued at $57 billion. GM has made (net profit) $43 billion over the past six years. Tesla has lost$2.5 billion over the past six years. Meanwhile, Elon Musk, Tesla’s founder, has amassed a $20 billion net worth.

The question is how defensible are these businesses (Facebook, Netflix, Tesla, Twitter)? How wide is their moat? A couple of years ago, the answer was probably very wide–very defensible given the adoption, the scale, and the deep pocket investors that were willing to continue plowing money into them. But, as we’ve discussed, if the regulatory environment becomes less favorable and the money dries up (in the case of private companies, like Uber), the operating advantages can begin to evaporate. This bubble-up of regulatory scrutiny on tech is something to keep a close eye on. It may become one of the big themes in the coming year.


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.

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March 21, 2017, 4:00pm EST                                                                                 Invest Alongside Billionaires For $297/Qtr

Over the past week, I’ve talked about the potential for disruption in what has been very smooth sailing for financial markets (led by stocks).  While the picture has grown increasingly murkier, markets had been pricing in the exact opposite – which makes things even more vulnerable to a shakeout of the weak hands.

With that, it looked like we are indeed working on a correction in stocks. But it’s not just because stocks are down.  It’s because we have some very important technical developments across key markets.  The Trump trend has been broken.

Let’s take a look at the charts …


The above chart is the S&P 500.  We looked at a break in the futures market last week.  Today we get a big break in the cash market.  This trendline represents the nice 45 degree climb in stocks since election night on November 8th. We have a clean break today.

mar 21 yields

Stocks ran up on the prospects that Trumponomics can end the decade long malaise in, not just the U.S. economy, but the global economy too.  With that, the money that has been parked in U.S. Treasuries begins to leave. Moreover, any speculators that were betting the U.S. would follow the world into negative rate territory run for the exit doors.  That sends Treasury bond prices lower and yields higher (as you can see in the chart above).  So today, we also get a break of this “Trump trend” in rates as well (the yellow line). Remember, this is after the Fed’s rate hike last week — rates are moving lower, not higher.

Next up, gold …

mar 21 gold

I talked about gold yesterday — as being the clearest trade (higher) in an increasingly murkier picture for global financial markets.  You can see in the chart above, gold is now knocking on the door of a break in this post-election Trump trend.

Remember, we’ve talked about the buy-the-rumor sell-the-fact phenomenon in markets. The beginning of the Trump trend in stocks started on election night (buying “the rumor” in anticipation of pro-growth policies). The top in stocks came the day following the President’s speech to the joint sessions of Congress (selling “the fact”, entering the “show me” phase).

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February 9, 2017, 3:00pm EST                                                                                  Invest Alongside Billionaires For $297/Qtr


Stocks are hitting new record highs today.  That includes the Dow, the S&P 500 and the Nasdaq.

We’ve now seen about 60% of the earnings for Q4, and earnings are very good. As we’ve discussed, earnings guidance and consensus views are made to be beaten.  Factset says that, on average, about 67% of S&P 500 companies beat the consensus view on earnings.  For Q4, that number, as of last Friday, was 65%.

More importantly, the earnings growth rate for Q4 is +4.6% thus far.  That’s better than the 3.1% that was predicted, coming into the earnings season.  And that’s the first two consecutive quarters of year-over-year positive EPS growth in a couple of years.

So we have positive earnings surprises driving stocks higher.  And finally, revenue growth is coming.  After six consecutive quarters of revenue contraction, earnings for U.S. companies had a second consecutive quarter of growth.  And the quarters ahead should be much better.

Clearly, in the weak growth environment, the focus has clearly been cutting costs, refinancing debt, selling non-core assets, and buying back shares.  That’s all a recipe for juicing EPS, even though revenue growth is sluggish, if existent.

So for all of the people that are constantly hand wringing about the levels of the stock market, ask them this:  What happens when you take these companies that are growing earnings by optimizing margins in a 1% growth world, and you give them 3%-4% economic growth? Earnings go up. What happens when you take a profitable company and cut the tax burden by 15 to 20 percentage points?  Earnings go up.

When earnings go up, price to earnings goes down.  And valuations can become very, very cheap.

We have companies that have been forced to streamline to survive. And now we’re in the early days of a regime shift, where tax cuts will work for them, deregulation will work for them, and a big infrastructure spend will pop demand, to actually fuel some revenue growth.

Below is a nice chart from Yardeni.  You can see the flattish revenue growth, but earnings divergence over the past five years.

rev and earnings

On the right hand axis, next year’s earnings on the S&P 500 are expected around $133.  That doesn’t take into account the impact of a corporate tax cut, which Standard & Poors research has suggested could bump that number up to the mid $150s ($1.31 added for every 1% cut in the corporate tax rate). That would dramatically widen the revenue, earnings divergence — or make the closing of this gap that much more aggressive.

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