Tag Archives: economy

Technically Speaking: The 4-Phases Of A Full-Market Cycle

In a recent post, I discussed the “3-stages of a bear market.”  To wit:

“Yes, the market will rally, and likely substantially so.  But, let me remind you of Bob Farrell’s Rule #8 from our recent newsletter:

Bear markets have three stages – sharp down, reflexive rebound and a drawn-out fundamental downtrend

  1. Bear markets often START with a sharp and swift decline.
  2. After this decline, there is an oversold bounce that retraces a portion of that decline.
  3. The longer-term decline then continues, at a slower and more grinding pace, as the fundamentals deteriorate.

Dow Theory also suggests that bear markets consist of three down legs with reflexive rebounds in between.

However, the “bear market” is only one-half of a vastly more important concept – the “Full Market Cycle.”

The Full Market Cycle

Over the last decade, the media has focused on the bull market, making an assumption that the current trend would last indefinitely. However, throughout history, bull market cycles make up on one-half of the “full market” cycle. During every “bull market” cycle, the market and economy build up excesses, which must ultimately be reversed through a market reversion and economic recession. In the other words, as Sir Issac Newton discovered:

“What goes up, must come down.” 

The chart below shows the full market cycles over time. Since the current “full market” cycle is yet to be completed, I have drawn a long-term trend line with the most logical completion point of the current cycle.

[Note: I am not stating the markets are about to crash to the 1600 level on the S&P 500. I am simply showing where the current uptrend line intersects with the price. The longer that it takes for the markets to mean revert, the higher the intersection point will be. Furthermore, the 1600 level is not out of the question either. Famed investor Jack Bogle stated that over the next decade we are likely to see two more 50% declines.  A 50% decline from the all-time highs would put the market at 1600.]

As I have often stated, I am not bullish or bearish. My job as a portfolio manager is simple; invest money in a manner that creates returns on a short-term basis, but reduces the possibility of catastrophic losses, which wipe out years of growth.

Nobody tends to believe that philosophy until the markets wipe about 30% of portfolio values in a month.

The 4-Phases

AlphaTrends previously put together an excellent diagram laying out the 4-phases of the full-market cycle. To wit:

“Is it possible to time the market cycle to capture big gains? Like many controversial topics in investing, there is no real professional consensus on market timing. Academics claim that it’s not possible, while traders and chartists swear by the idea.

The following infographic explains the four important phases of market trends, based on the methodology of the famous stock market authority Richard Wyckoff. The theory is that the better an investor can identify these phases of the market cycle, the more profits can be made on the ride upwards of a buying opportunity.”

So, the question to answer, obviously, is:

“Where are we now?”

Let’s take a look at the past two full-market cycles, using Wyckoff’s methodology, as compared to the current post-financial-crisis half-cycle. While actual market cycles will not exactly replicate the chart above, you can clearly see Wyckoff’s theory in action.

1992-2003

The accumulation phase, following the 1991 recessionary environment, was evident as it preceded the “internet trading boom” and the rise of the “dot.com” bubble from 1995-1999. As I noted previously:

“Following the recession of 1991, the Federal Reserve drastically lowered interest rates to spur economic growth. However, the two events which laid the foundation for the ‘dot.com’ crisis was the rule-change which allowed the nation’s pension funds to own equities and the repeal of Glass-Steagall, which unleashed Wall Street upon a nation of unsuspecting investors.

The major banks could now use their massive balance sheet to engage in investment-banking, market-making, and proprietary trading. The markets exploded as money flooded the financial markets. Of course, since there were not enough ‘legitimate’ deals to fill demand and Wall Street bankers are paid to produce deals, Wall Street floated any offering it could despite the risk to investors.”

The distribution phase became evident in early-2000 as stocks began to struggle.

Names like Enron, WorldCom, Global Crossing, Lucent Technologies, Nortel, Sun Micro, and a host of others, are “ghosts of the past.” Importantly, they are the relics of an era the majority of investors in the market today are unaware of, but were the poster children for the “greed and excess” of the preceding bull market frenzy.

As the distribution phase gained traction, it is worth remembering the media and Wall Street were touting the continuation of the bull market indefinitely into the future. 

Then, came the decline.

2003-2009

Following the “dot.com” crash, investors had all learned their lessons about the value of managing risk in portfolios, not chasing returns, and focusing on capital preservation as the core for long-term investing.

Okay. Not really.

It took about 27-minutes for investors to completely forget about the previous pain of the bear market and jump headlong back into the creation of the next bubble leading to the “financial crisis.” 

During the mark-up phase, investors once again piled into leverage. This time not just into stocks, but real estate, as well as Wall Street, found a new way to extract capital from Main Street through the creation of exotic loan structures. Of course, everything was fine as long as interest rates remained low, but as with all things, the “party eventually ends.”

Once again, during the distribution phase of the market, the analysts, media, Wall Street, and rise of bloggers, all touted “this time was different.” There were “green shoots,” it was a “Goldilocks economy,” and there was “no recession in sight.” 

They were disastrously wrong.

Sound familiar?

2009-Present

So, here we are, a decade into the current economic recovery and a market that has risen steadily on the back of excessively accommodative monetary policy and massive liquidity injections by Central Banks globally.

Once again, due to the length of the “mark up” phase, most investors today have once again forgotten the “ghosts of bear markets past.”

Despite a year-long distribution in the market, the same messages seen at previous market peaks were steadily hitting the headlines: “there is no recession in sight,” “the bull market is cheap” and “this time is different because of Central Banking.”

Well, as we warned more than once, all that was required was an “exogenous” event, which would spark a credit-event in an overly leveraged, overly extended, and overly bullish market. The “virus” was that exogenous event.

Lost And Found

There is a sizable contingent of investors, and advisors, today who have never been through a real bear market. After a decade long bull-market cycle, fueled by Central Bank liquidity, it is understandable why mainstream analysis believed the markets could only go higher. What was always a concern to us was the rather cavalier attitude they took about the risk.

“Sure, a correction will eventually come, but that is just part of the deal.”

As we repeatedly warned, what gets lost during bull cycles, and is always found in the most brutal of fashions, is the devastation caused to financial wealth during the inevitable decline. It isn’t just the loss of financial wealth, but also the loss of employment, defaults, and bankruptcies caused by the coincident recession.

This is the story told by the S&P 500 inflation-adjusted total return index. The chart shows all of the measurement lines for all the previous bull and bear markets, along with the number of years required to get back to even.

What you should notice is that in many cases bear markets wiped out essentially all or a very substantial portion of the previous bull market advance.

There are many signs suggesting the current Wyckoff cycle has entered into its fourth, and final stage. Whether, or not, the current decline phase is complete, is the question we are all working on answering now.

Bear market cycles are rarely ended in a month. While there is a lot of “hope” the Fed’s flood of liquidity can arrest the market decline, there is still a tremendous amount of economic damage to contend with over the months to come.

In the end, it does not matter IF you are “bullish” or “bearish.” What matters, in terms of achieving long-term investment success, is not necessarily being “right” during the first half of the cycle, but by not being “wrong” during the second half.

Previous Employment Concerns Becoming An Ugly Reality

Last week, we saw the first glimpse of the employment fallout caused by the shutdown of the economy due to the virus. To wit:

“On Thursday, initial jobless claims jumped by 3.3 million. This was the single largest jump in claims ever on record. The chart below shows the 4-week average to give a better scale.”

This number will be MUCH worse when claims are reported later this morning, as many individuals were slow to file claims, didn’t know how, and states were slow to report them.

The importance is that unemployment rates in the U.S. are about to spike to levels not seen since the “Great Depression.” Based on the number of claims being filed, we can estimate that unemployment will jump to 15-20% over the next quarter as economic growth slides 8%, or more. (I am probably overly optimistic.)

The erosion in employment will lead to a sharp deceleration in economic and consumer confidence, as was seen Tuesday in the release of the Conference Board’s consumer confidence index, which plunged from 132.6 to 120 in March.

This is a critical point. Consumer confidence is the primary factor of consumptive behaviors, which is why the Federal Reserve acted so quickly to inject liquidity into the financial markets. While the Fed’s actions may prop up financial markets in the short-term, it does little to affect the most significant factor weighing on consumers – their jobs.

The chart below is our “composite” confidence index, which combines several confidence surveys into one measure. Notice that during each of the previous two bear market cycles, confidence dropped by an average of 58 points.

With consumer confidence just starting its reversion from high levels, it suggests that as job losses rise, confidence will slide further, putting further pressure on asset prices. Another way to analyze confidence data is to look at the composite consumer expectations index minus the current situation index in the reports.

Similarly, given we have only started the reversion process, bear markets end when deviations reverse. The differential between expectations and the current situation, as you can see below, is worse than the last cycle, and only slightly higher than before the “dot.com” crash.

If you are betting on a fast economic recovery, I wouldn’t.

There is a fairly predictable cycle, starting with CEO’s moving to protect profitability, which gets worked through until exhaustion is reached.

As unemployment rises, we are going to begin to see the faults in the previous employment numbers that I have repeatedly warned about over the last 18-months. To wit:

“There is little argument the streak of employment growth is quite phenomenal and comes amid hopes the economy is beginning to shift into high gear. But while most economists focus at employment data from one month to the next for clues as to the strength of the economy, it is the ‘trend’ of the data, which is far more important to understand.”

That “trend” of employment data has been turning negative since President Trump was elected, which warned the economy was actually substantially weaker than headlines suggested. More than once, we warned that an “unexpected exogenous event” would exposure the soft-underbelly of the economy.

The virus was just such an event.

While many economists and media personalities are expecting a “V”-shaped recovery as soon as the virus passes, the employment data suggests an entirely different outcome.

The chart below shows the peak annual rate of change for employment prior to the onset of a recession. The current cycle peaked at 2.2% in 2015, and has been on a steady decline ever since. At 1.3%, which predated the virus, it was the lowest level ever preceding a recessionary event. All that was needed was an “event” to start the dominoes falling. When we see the first round of unemployment data, we are likely to test the lows seen during the financial crisis confirming a recession has started. 

No Recession In 2020?

It is worth noting that NO mainstream economists, or mainstream media, were predicting a recession in 2020. However, as we noted in 2019, the inversion of the “yield curve,” predicted exactly that outcome.

“To CNBC’s point, based on this lagging, and currently unrevised, economic data, there is ‘NO recession in sight,’ so you should be long equities, right?

Which indicator should you follow? The yield curve is an easy answer.

While everybody is ‘freaking out’ over the ‘inversion,’it is when the yield-curve ‘un-inverts’ that is the most important.

The chart below shows that when the Fed is aggressively cutting rates, the yield curve un-inverts as the short-end of the curve falls faster than the long-end. (This is because money is leaving ‘risk’ to seek the absolute ‘safety’ of money markets, i.e. ‘market crash.’)”

I have dated a few of the key points of the “inversion of the curve.” As of today, the yield-curve is now fully un-inverted, denoting a recession has started.

While recent employment reports were slightly above expectations, the annual rate of growth has been slowing. The 3-month average of the seasonally-adjusted employment report, also confirms that employment was already in a precarious position and too weak to absorb a significant shock. (The 3-month average smooths out some of the volatility.)

What we will see in the next several employment reports are vastly negative numbers as the economy unwinds.

Lastly, while the BLS continually adjusts and fiddles with the data to mathematically adjust for seasonal variations, the purpose of the entire process is to smooth volatile monthly data into a more normalized trend. The problem, of course, with manipulating data through mathematical adjustments, revisions, and tweaks, is the risk of contamination of bias.

We previously proposed a much simpler method to use for smoothing volatile monthly data using a 12-month moving average of the raw data as shown below.

Notice that near peaks of employment cycles the BLS employment data deviates from the 12-month average, or rather “overstates” the reality. However, as we will now see to be the case, the BLS data will rapidly reconnect with 12-month average as reality emerges.

Sometimes, “simpler” gives us a better understanding of the data.

Importantly, there is one aspect to all the charts above which remains constant. No matter how you choose to look at the data, peaks in employment growth occur prior to economic contractions, rather than an acceleration of growth. 

“Okay Boomer”

Just as “baby boomers” were finally getting back to the position of being able to retire following the 2008 crash, the “bear market” has once again put those dreams on hold. Of course, there were already more individuals over the age of 55, as a percentage of that age group, in the workforce than at anytime in the last 50-years. However, we are likely going to see a very sharp drop in those numbers as “forced retirement” will surge.

The group that will to be hit the hardest are those between 25-54 years of age. With more than 15-million restaurant workers being terminated, along with retail, clerical, leisure, and hospitality workers, the damage to this demographic will be the heaviest.

There is a decent correlation between surges in the unemployment rate and the decline in the labor-force participation rate of the 25-54 age group. Given the expectation of a 15%, or greater, unemployment rate, the damage to this particular age group is going to be significant.

Unfortunately, the prime working-age group of labor force participants had only just returned to pre-2008 levels, and the same levels seen previously in 1988. Unfortunately, it may be another decade before we see those employment levels again.

Why This Matters

The employment impact is going to felt for far longer, and will be far deeper, than the majority of the mainstream media and economists expect. This is because they are still viewing this as a “singular” problem of a transitory virus.

It isn’t.

The virus was simply the catalyst which started the unwind of a decade-long period of debt accumulation and speculative excesses. Businesses, both small and large, will now go through a period of “culling the herd,” to lower operating costs and maintain profitability.

There are many businesses that will close, and never reopen. Most others will cut employment down to the bone and will be very slow to rehire as the economy begins to recover. Most importantly, wage growth was already on the decline, and will be cut deeply in the months to come.

Lower wage growth, unemployment, and a collapse in consumer confidence is going to increase the depth and duration of the recession over the months to come. The contraction in consumption will further reduce revenues and earnings for businesses which will require a deeper revaluation of asset prices. 

I just want to leave you with a statement I made previously:

“Every financial crisis, market upheaval, major correction, recession, etc. all came from one thing – an exogenous event that was not forecast or expected.

This is why bear markets are always vicious, brutal, devastating, and fast. It is the exogenous event, usually credit-related, which sucks the liquidity out of the market, causing prices to plunge. As prices fall, investors begin to panic-sell driving prices lower which forces more selling in the market until, ultimately, sellers are exhausted.

It is the same every time.”

Over the last several years, investors have insisted the markets were NOT in a bubble. We reminded them that everyone thought the same in 1999 and 2007.

Throughout history, financial bubbles have only been recognized in hindsight when their existence becomes “apparently obvious” to everyone. Of course, by that point is was far too late to be of any use to investors and the subsequent destruction of invested capital.

It turned out, “this time indeed was not different.” Only the catalyst, magnitude, and duration was.

Pay attention to employment and wages. The data suggests the current “bear market” cycle has only just begun.

Shedlock: Recession Will Be Deeper Than The Great Financial Crisis

Economists at IHS Markit downgraded their economic forecast to a deep recession.

Please consider COVID-19 Recession to be Deeper Than That of 2008-2009

Our interim global forecast is the second prepared in March and is much more pessimistic than our 17 March regularly scheduled outlook. It is based on major downgrades to forecasts of the US economy and oil prices. The risks remain overwhelmingly on the downside and further downgrades are almost assured.

IHS Markit now believes the COVID-19 recession will be deeper than the one following the global financial crisis in 2008-09. Real world GDP should plunge 2.8% in 2020 compared with a drop of 1.7% in 2009. Many key economies will see double-digit declines (at annualized rates) in the second quarter, with the contraction continuing into the third quarter.

It will likely take two to three years for most economies to return to their pre-pandemic levels of output. More troubling is the likelihood that, because of the negative effects of the uncertainty associated with the virus on capital spending, the path of potential GDP will be lower than before. This happened in the wake of the global financial crisis.

Six Key Points

  1. Based on recent data and developments, IHS Markit has slashed the US 2020 forecast to a contraction of 5.4%.
  2. Because of the deep US recession and collapsing oil prices, IHS Markit expects Canada’s economy to contract 3.3% this year, before seeing a modest recovery in 2021.
  3. Europe, where the number of cases continues to grow rapidly and lockdowns are pervasive, will see some of the worst recessions in the developed world, with 2020 real GDP drops of approximately 4.5% in the eurozone and UK economies. Italy faces a decline of 6% or more. The peak GDP contractions expected in the second quarter of 2020 will far exceed those at the height of the global financial crisis.
  4. Japan was already in recession, before the pandemic. The postponement of the summer Tokyo Olympics will make the downturn even deeper. IHS Markit expects a real GDP contraction of 2.5% this year and a very weak recovery next year.
  5. China’s economic activity is expected to have plummeted at a near-double-digit rate in the first quarter. It will then recover sooner than other countries, where the spread of the virus has occurred later. IHS Markit predicts growth of just 2.0% in 2020, followed by a stronger-than-average rebound in 2021, because of its earlier recovery from the pandemic.
  6. Emerging markets growth will also be hammered. Not only are infection rates rising rapidly in key economies, such as India, but the combination of the deepest global recession since the 1930s, plunging commodity prices, and depreciating currencies (compounding already dangerous debt burdens) will push many of these economies to the breaking point.

No V-Shaped Recovery

With that, Markit came around to my point of view all along. Those expecting a V-shaped recovery are sadly mistaken.

I have been amused by Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley predictions of a strong rebound in the third quarter.

For example Goldman Projects a Catastrophic GDP Decline Worse than Great Depression followed by a fantasyland recovery.

  • Other GDP Estimates
  • Delusional Forecast
  • Advice Ignored by Trump
  • Fast Rebound Fantasies

I do not get these fast rebound fantasies, and neither does Jim Bianco. He retweeted a Goldman Sachs estimate which is not the same as endorsing it.

I do not know how deep this gets, but the rebound will not be quick, no matter what.

Fictional Reserve Lending

Please note that Fictional Reserve Lending Is the New Official Policy

The Fed officially cut reserve requirements of banks to zero in a desperate attempt to spur lending.

It won’t help. As I explain, bank reserves were effectively zero long ago.

US Output Drops at Fastest Rate in a Decade

Meanwhile US Output Drops at Fastest Rate in a Decade

In Europe, we see Largest Collapse in Eurozone Business Activity Ever.

Lies From China

If you believe the lies (I don’t), China is allegedly recovered.

OK, precisely who will China be delivering the goods to? Demand in the US, Eurozone, and rest of the world has collapse.

We have gone from praying China will soon start delivering goods to not wanting them even if China can produce them.

Nothing is Working Now: What’s Next for America?

On March 23, I wrote Nothing is Working Now: What’s Next for America?

I noted 20 “What’s Next?” things.

It’s a list of projections from an excellent must see video presentation by Jim Bianco. I added my own thoughts on the key points.

The bottom line is don’t expect a v-shaped recovery. We will not return to the old way of doing business.

Globalization is not over, but the rush to globalize everything is. This will impact earnings for years to come.

Finally, stimulus checks are on the way, but there will be no quick return to buying cars, eating out, or traveling as much.

Boomers who felt they finally had enough retirement money just had a quarter of it or more wiped out.

It will take a long time, if ever, for the same sentiment to return. Spending will not recover. Boomers will die first, and they are the ones with the most money.

Technically Speaking: 5-Questions Bulls Need To Answer Now.

In last Tuesday’s Technically Speaking post, I stated:

From a purely technical basis, the extreme downside extension, and potential selling exhaustion, has set the markets up for a fairly strong reflexive bounce. This is where fun with math comes in.

As shown in the chart below, after a 35% decline in the markets from the previous highs, a rally to the 38.2% Fibonacci retracement would encompass a 20% advance.

Such an advance will ‘lure’ investors back into the market, thinking the ‘bear market’ is over.”

Chart Updated Through Monday

Not surprisingly, as we noted in this weekend’s newsletter, the headlines from the mainstream media aligned with our expectations:

So, is the bear market over? 

Are the bulls now back in charge?

Honestly, no one knows for certain. However, there are 5-questions that “Market Bulls” need to answer if the current rally is to be sustained.

These questions are not entirely technical, but since “technical analysis” is simply the visualization of market psychology, how you answer the questions will ultimately be reflected by the price dynamics of the market.

Let’s get to work.

Employment

Employment is the lifeblood of the economy.  Individuals cannot consume goods and services if they do not have a job from which they can derive income. From that consumption comes corporate profits and earnings.

Therefore, for individuals to consume at a rate to provide for sustainable, organic (non-Fed supported), economic growth they must work at a level that provides a sustainable living wage above the poverty level. This means full-time employment that provides benefits, and a livable wage. The chart below shows the number of full-time employees relative to the population. I have also overlaid jobless claims (inverted scale), which shows that when claims fall to current levels, it has generally marked the end of the employment cycle and preceded the onset of a recession.

This erosion in jobless claims has only just begun. As jobless claims and continuing claims rise, it will lead to a sharp deceleration in economic confidence. Confidence is the primary factor of consumptive behaviors, which is why the Federal Reserve acted so quickly to inject liquidity into the financial markets. While the Fed’s actions may prop up financial markets in the short-term, it does little to affect the most significant factor weighing on consumers – their job. 


Question:  Given that employment is just starting to decline, does such support the assumption of a continued bull market?


Personal Consumption Expenditures (PCE)

Following through from employment, once individuals receive their paycheck, they then consume goods and services in order to live.

This is a crucial economic concept to understand, which is the order in which the economy functions. Consumers must “produce” first, so they receive a paycheck, before they can “consume.”  This is also the primary problem of Stephanie Kelton’s “Modern Monetary Theory,” which disincentivizes the productive capacity of the population.

Given that Personal Consumption Expenditures (PCE) is a measure of that consumption, and comprises roughly 70% of the GDP calculation, its relative strength has great bearing on the outcome of economic growth.

More importantly, PCE is the direct contributor to the sales of corporations, which generates their gross revenue. So goes personal consumption – so goes revenue. The lower the revenue that flows into company coffers, the more inclined businesses are to cut costs, including employment and stock buybacks, to maintain profit margins.

The chart below is a comparison of the annualized change in PCE to corporate fixed investment and employment. I have made some estimates for the first quarter based on recent data points.


Question: Does the current weakness in PCE and Fixed Investment support the expectations for a continued bull market from current price levels? 


Junk Bonds & Margin Debt

While global Central Banks have lulled investors into an expanded sense of complacency through years of monetary support, it has led to willful blindness of underlying risk. As we discussed in “Investor’s Dilemma:”

Classical conditioning (also known as Pavlovian or respondent conditioning) refers to a learning procedure in which a potent stimulus (e.g. food) is paired with a previously neutral stimulus (e.g. a bell). What Pavlov discovered is that when the neutral stimulus was introduced, the dogs would begin to salivate in anticipation of the potent stimulus, even though it was not currently present. This learning process results from the psychological “pairing” of the stimuli.”

That “stimuli” over the last decade has been Central Bank interventions. During that period, the complete lack of “fear” in markets, combined with a “chase for yield,” drove “risk” assets to record levels along with leverage. The chart below shows the relationship between margin debt (leverage), stocks, and junk bond yields (which have been inverted for better relevance.)

While asset prices declined sharply in March, it has done little to significantly revert either junk bond yields or margin debt to levels normally consistent with the beginning of a new “bull market.”

With oil prices falling below $20/bbl, a tremendous amount of debt tied to the energy space, and the impact the energy sector has on the broader economy, it is likely too soon to suggest the markets have fully “priced in” the damage being done.


Question:  What happens to asset prices if more bankruptcies and forced deleveraging occurs?


Corporate Profits/Earnings

As noted above, if the “bull market” is back, then stocks should be pricing in stronger earnings going forward. However, given the potential shakeout in employment, which will lower consumption, stronger earnings, and corporate profits, are not likely in the near term.

The risk to earnings is even higher than many suspect, given that over the last several years, companies have manufactured profitability through a variety of accounting gimmicks, but primarily through share buybacks from increased leverage. That cycle has now come to an end, but before it did it created a massive deviation of the stock market from corporate profitability.

“If the economy is slowing down, revenue and corporate profit growth will decline also. However, it is this point which the ‘bulls’ should be paying attention to. Many are dismissing currently high valuations under the guise of ‘low interest rates,’ however, the one thing you should not dismiss, and cannot make an excuse for, is the massive deviation between the market and corporate profits after tax. The only other time in history the difference was this great was in 1999.”

It isn’t just the deviation of asset prices from corporate profitability, which is skewed, but also reported earnings per share.

The impending recession, and consumption freeze, is going to start the mean-reversion process in both corporate profits, and earnings. I have projected the potential reversion in the chart below. The reversion in GAAP earnings is pretty calculable as swings from peaks to troughs have run on a fairly consistent trend.

Using that historical context, we can project a recession will reduce earnings to roughly $100/share. (Goldman Sachs currently estimates $110.) The resulting decline asset prices to revert valuations to a level of 18x (still high) trailing earnings would suggest a level of 1800 for the S&P 500 index. (Yesterday’s close of 2626 is still way to elevated.)

The decline in economic growth epitomizes the problem that corporations face today in trying to maintain profitability. The chart below shows corporate profits as a percentage of GDP relative to the annual change in GDP. The last time that corporate profits diverged from GDP, it was unable to sustain that divergence for long. As the economy declines, so will corporate profits and earnings.


Question: How long can asset prices remain divorced from falling corporate profits and weaker economic growth?


Technical Pressure

Given all of the issues discussed above, which must ultimately be reflected in market prices, the technical picture of the market also suggests the recent “bear market” rally will likely fade sooner than later. As noted above”

Such an advance will ‘lure’ investors back into the market, thinking the ‘bear market’ is over.”

Importantly, despite the sizable rally, participation has remained extraordinarily weak. If the market was seeing strong buying, as suggested by the media, then we should see sizable upticks in the percent measures of advancing issues, issues at new highs, and a rising number of stocks above their 200-dma.

However, on a longer-term basis, since this is the end of the month, and quarter, we can look at our quarterly buy/sell indication which has triggered a “sell” signal for the first time since 2015. While such a signal does not demand a major reversion, it does suggest there is likely more risk to the markets currently than many expect.


Question:  Does the technical backdrop currently support the resumption of a bull market?


There are reasons to be optimistic on the markets in the very short-term. However, we are continuing to extend the amount of time the economy will be “shut down,” which will exacerbate the decline in the unemployment and personal consumption data. The feedback loop from that data into corporate profits and earnings is going to make valuations more problematic even with low interest rates currently. 

While Central Banks have rushed into a “burning building with a fire hose” of liquidity, there is the risk that after a decade of excess debt, leverage, and misallocation of assets, the “fire” may be too hot for them to put out.

Assuming that the “bear market” is over already may be a bit premature, and chasing what seems like a “raging bull market” is likely going to disappoint you.

Bear markets have a way of “suckering” investors back into the market to inflict the most pain possible. This is why “bear markets” never end with optimism, but in despair.

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Bull Market? No, The Bear Still Rules For Now.

Last week, we asked the question, “Is the bear market over?”

Our answer was simple: The ‘Bear Market’ won’t be over until the credit markets get fixed.”

On Monday, the market sold off to new lows, forcing the Federal Reserve to inject more liquidity to try and stabilize the “broken” credit market.  Then on Tuesday, before the markets opened, we wrote:

“From a purely technical basis, the extreme downside extension, and potential selling exhaustion, has set the markets up for a fairly strong reflexive bounce. This is where fun with math comes in.

As shown in the chart below, after a 35% decline in the markets from the previous highs, a rally to the 38.2% Fibonacci retracement would encompass a 20% advance.

Such an advance will ‘lure’ investors back into the market, thinking the ‘bear market’ is over.”

Chart Updated Through Friday

Not surprisingly, here were the headlines, almost exactly as we wrote them:

Well, you get the idea.

While it was indeed a sharp “reflex rally,” and expected, “bear markets” are not resolved in a single month. More importantly, “bear markets” only end when NO ONE wants to buy it.” 

Fed Can’t Fix It

As noted above, the “bear market” will NOT be over until the credit market is fixed. We are a long way from that being done, given the blowout in yields currently occurring.

However, the Fed is throwing the proverbial “kitchen sink” at the issue. As Jim Bianco noted on Friday:

“In just these past few weeks:

  • The Fed has cut rates by 150 basis points to near zero and run through its entire 2008 crisis handbook.
  • That wasn’t enough to calm markets, though — so the central bank also announced $1 trillion a day in repurchase agreements and unlimited quantitative easing, which includes a hard-to-understand $625 billion of bond-buying a week going forward. At this rate, the Fed will own two-thirds of the Treasury market in a year.

But it’s the alphabet soup of new programs that deserve special consideration, as they could have profound long-term consequences for the functioning of the Fed and the allocation of capital in financial markets. Specifically, these are:

  • CPFF (Commercial Paper Funding Facility) – buying commercial paper from the issuer.
  • PMCCF (Primary Market Corporate Credit Facility) – buying corporate bonds from the issuer.
  • TALF (Term Asset-Backed Securities Loan Facility) – funding backstop for asset-backed securities.
  • SMCCF (Secondary Market Corporate Credit Facility) – buying corporate bonds and bond ETFs in the secondary market.
  • MSBLP (Main Street Business Lending Program) – Details are to come, but it will lend to eligible small and medium-sized businesses, complementing efforts by the Small Business Association.

To put it bluntly, the Fed isn’t allowed to do any of this.”

However, on Friday, the Federal Reserve ran into a problem, which could poses a risk for the markets going forward. As Jim noted, the mind-boggling pace of bond purchases quickly hit the limits of what was available to pledge for collateral.

Or rather, the Fed’s “unlimited QE,” may not be so “unlimited” after all.

The consequence is the Fed is already having to start cutting back on its QE program. That news fueled the late-day sell-off Friday afternoon. (Charts courtesy of Zerohedge)

While Congress did pass the “CARES” act on Friday, it will do little to backstop what is about to happen to the economy for two primary reasons:

  1. The package will only support the economy for up to two months. Unfortunately, there is no framework for effective and timely deployment; firms are already struggling to pay rents, there are pockets of funding stress in credit markets as default risks build, and earnings guidance is abandoned. 
  2. The unprecedented uncertainty facing financial markets on the duration of social distancing, the depth of the economic shock and when the infection rate curve will flatten, and there are many unknowns which will further undermine confidence.

Both of these points are addressed in this week’s Macroview but here are the two salient points to support my statement:

Most importantly, as shown below, the majority of businesses will run out of money long before SBA loans, or financial assistance, can be provided. This will lead to higher and longer-duration of, unemployment.”

“While there is much hope that the current ‘economic shutdown’ will end quickly, we are still very early in the infection cycle relative to other countries. Importantly, we are substantially larger than most, and on a GDP basis, the damage will be worse.”

What the cycle tells us is that jobless claims, unemployment, and economic growth are going to worsen materially over the next couple of quarters.

The problem with the current economic backdrop, and mounting job losses, is the vast majority of American’s were woefully unprepared for any type of disruption to their income going into the recession. As job losses mount, a virtual spiral in the economy begins as reductions in spending put further pressures on corporate profitability. Lower profits leads to higher unemployment and lower asset prices until the cycle is complete.

The Bear Still Rules

This past week, we published several pieces of analysis for our RIAPro Subscribers (30-Day Risk Free Trial) discussing why this was a “bear market rally” to be sold into. On Friday, our colleague, Jeffery Marcus of TP Analystics, penned the following:

  1. The long term bull pattern that existed since the 3/9/09 is over. That means the pattern of investors confidently buying every decline is over.
  2. The market became historically oversold on 3/23 using many metrics, and that oversold condition coincided with the long term support area of S&P 500 2110-2180.
  3. The short-covering and rebalancing had a lot to do with the size and speed of the 3-day rally.  Also, we know the lack of  ETF liquidity played a huge role as well as algorithmic trading.
  4. Technically the market can still go up 6.9% higher from here to hit the 50% retracement level (3386 – 2237 = 1149/2 = 574 + 2237 = 2811….2811/2630 = +6.9%.) I would not bet on it.
  5. The market only sustains a rally once there is light at the Coronavirus tunnel. 
  6. I do not think the S&P 500 will hit a new high this year. Maybe not in 2021, either.

His analysis agrees with our own, which we discussed with you last week.

“The good news is the markets are now more extremely oversold on a variety of measures than at just about any other point in history.

Warning: Any reversal will NOT BE the bear market bottom. It will be a ‘bear market’ rally you will want to ‘sell’ into. The reason is there are still many investors trapped in ‘buy and hold’ and ‘passive indexing’ strategies that are actively seeking an exit. Any rallies will be met with redemptions.

Most importantly, all of our long-term weekly ‘sell signals’ have now been triggered. Such would suggest that a rally back to the ‘bullish trend line’ from 2009 will likely be the best opportunity to ‘sell’ before the ‘bear market’ finds its final low.”

Last week’s chart updated through Friday’s close.

While the recent lows may indeed turn out to be “the bottom,” I highly suspect they won’t. Given the sell signals have been registered at such high levels, the time, and distance, needed to reverse the excesses will require a deeper market draw.

As Jeff Hirsch from Stocktrader’s Alamanc noted:

“While we are all rooting for the market to find support here so much damage has been done. A great deal of uncertainty remains for the economy and health crisis. This looks like a bear market bounce. 

History suggests that we are in for some tough sledding in the market this year with quite a bit of chop. When the January Barometer came in with a negative reading, our outlook for 2020 began to diminish as every down January since 1950 has been followed by a new or continuing bear market, a 10% correction, or a flat year. Then another warning sign flashed when DJIA closed below its December closing low on February 26, 2020 as the impact of this novel coronavirus began to take its toll on Wall Street.

In the March Outlook, we presented this graph of the composite seasonal pattern for the 22 years since 1950 when both the January Barometer as measured by the S&P 500 were down, and the Dow closed below its previous December closing low in the first quarter. Below is a graph of DJIA, S&P 500 and NASDAQ Composite for 2020 year-to-date as of the close on March 25. Comparing 2020 market action to these 22 years, suggests a choppy year ahead with the potential for several tests of the recent low.”

“The depth of this waterfall decline may be too deep for the market to rebound quickly. This bear market also put this year’s Best Six Months (November-April) at risk of being negative. The record of down Best Six Months is not encouraging and it reminds us of a salient quote from the Almanac from an old market sage,

If the market does not rally, as it should during bullish seasonal periods, it is a sign that other forces are stronger and that when the seasonal period ends those forces will really have their say.’— Edson Gould (Stock market analyst, Findings & Forecasts, 1902-1987)'”

On a short-term basis, the market is also suggesting some risk. The daily chart below shows the market rallied to, and failed at, the first level of the Fibonacci retracement we outlined last week, suggesting profits be taken at this level. While there are two remaining targets for the bear market rally, the probabilities weigh heavily against them. (This doesn’t mean they can’t be achieved, it is “possible,” just not “probable.”)

Furthermore, with the “Death Cross” triggering on Friday (the 50-dma crossing below the 200-dma), this will put further downside pressure on any “bear market” advance from current levels.

Given the magnitude, and multiple confirmations, of these signals, it is far too soon to assume the “bear market” is over. This is particularly the case, given the sell-off is less than one-month-old.

Bear markets, and recessions, tend to last 18-months on average.

The current bear market and recession are not the results of just the “coronavirus” shock. It is the result of many simultaneous shocks from:

  • Economic disruption
  • Surging unemployment
  • Oil price shock
  • Collapsing consumer confidence, and
  • Most importantly, a “credit event.”

We likely have more to go before we can safely assume we have turned the corner.

In the meantime, use rallies to raise cash. Don’t worry about trying to “buy the bottom.” There will be plenty of time to see “THE” bottom is in, and having cash will allow you to “buy stocks” from the last of the “weak hands.” 


The MacroView

If you need help or have questions, we are always glad to help. Just email me.

See You Next Week

By Lance Roberts, CIO


Market & Sector Analysis

Data Analysis Of The Market & Sectors For Traders


S&P 500 Tear Sheet


Performance Analysis


Technical Composite

Note: The technical gauge bounced from the lowest level since both the “Dot.com” and “Financial Crisis.” However, note the gauge bottoms BEFORE the market bottoms. In 2002, lows were retested. In 2008, there was an additional 22% decline in early 2009.


ETF Model Relative Performance Analysis


Sector & Market Analysis:

Be sure and catch our updates on Major Markets (Monday) and Major Sectors (Tuesday) with updated buy/stop/sell levels

Sector-by-Sector

Finally, the markets bounced this past week.

However, don’t get too excited; there has been a tremendous amount of technical damage done which keeps us on the sidelines for now.

Improving – Discretionary (XLY), and Real Estate (XLRE)

We previously reduced our weightings to Real Estate and liquidated Discretionary entirely over concerns of the virus and impact on the economy. No change this week. We are getting more interested in REITs again, but are going to select individual holdings versus the ETF due to leverage concerns in the REITs.

Discretionary is going to remain under pressure due to people being able to go out and shop. This sector will eventually get a bid, so we are watching it, but we need to see an eventual end to the isolation of consumers.

Current Positions: No Positions

Outperforming – Technology (XLK), Communications (XLC), Staples (XLP), Healthcare (XLV), and Utilities (XLU)

Early last week, we shifted exposures in portfolios and added to our Technology and Communications sectors, bringing them up to weight. We also added QQQ, which was closed out on Friday.

Current Positions: XLK, XLC, 1/2 weight XLP, XLV

Weakening – None

No sectors in this quadrant.

Current Position: None

Lagging – Industrials (XLI), Financials (XLF), Materials (XLB), and Energy (XLE)

No change from last week, with the exception that performance continued to be worse than the overall market.

These sectors are THE most sensitive to Fed actions (XLF) and the shutdown of the economy. We eliminated all holdings in late February and early March.

Current Position: None

Market By Market

Small-Cap (SLY) and Mid Cap (MDY) – Four weeks ago, we sold all small-cap and mid-cap exposure over concerns of the impact of the coronavirus. We remain out of these sectors for now.

Current Position: None

Emerging, International (EEM) & Total International Markets (EFA)

Same as small-cap and mid-cap. Given the spread of the virus and the impact on the global supply chain. Trading opportunities only.

Current Position: None

S&P 500 Index (Core Holding) – Given the rapid deterioration of the broad market, we sold our entire core position holdings for the safety of cash. We did add a small trading position in QQQ on Monday afternoon, and sold it on Friday.

Current Position: None

Gold (GLD) – We added a small position in GDX recently, and increased our position in IAU early this week. With the Fed going crazy with liquidity, this will be good for gold long-term, so we continue to add to our holdings on corrections.

Current Position: 1/4th weight GDX, 1/2 weight IAU

Bonds (TLT) –

Bonds regained their footing this week, as the Fed became the “buyer” of both “first” and “last” resort. Simply, “bonds will not be allowed to default,” as the Fed will guarantee payments to creditors. We have now reduced our total bond exposure to 20% of the portfolio from 40% since we are only carrying 10% equity currently. (Rebalanced our hedge.) 

Current Positions: SHY, IEF, BIL

Sector / Market Recommendations

The table below shows thoughts on specific actions related to the current market environment.

(These are not recommendations or solicitations to take any action. This is for informational purposes only related to market extremes and contrarian positioning within portfolios. Use at your own risk and peril.)

Portfolio/Client Update:

Despite the headlines of the “biggest rally in history” this past week, it’s easy to get sucked into the “Media headline” hype. However, let’s put this into some perspective:

Over the last “X” days the S&P 500 is:

  • 5-days: +10.2% 
  • 6-days: +5.4%
  • 10-days: -6.25%

It is much less exciting when compared to the fastest 30% plunge in history.

Keeping some perspective on where we are currently is very important. It’s easy to get swayed by the media headlines, which can lead us into making emotional investment mistakes. More often than not, emotional decisions turn out poorly.

We are starting our process of adding equities to the ETF models. As we head out of this bear market, ETF’s will have less value relative to our selective strategies.

This doesn’t mean we won’t use ETF’s at all, but we will selectively use them to fill in gaps to our individual equity selection, or for short-term trading opportunities.

Such was the case on Monday when we took on a position in QQQ for a bounce, and was subsequently closed out on Friday.

We also added small holdings of CLX and MRK to our long-term equity portfolio, as well as increased our exposure to IAU.

We continue to remain very defensive, and are in an excellent position with plenty of cash, reduced bond holdings, and minimal equity exposure in companies we want to own for the next 10-years.

We are just patiently waiting for the right opportunity to buy large chunks of these holdings with both stable, and higher yields.

Let me repeat from last week:

  1. The ONLY people who care more about your money than you, is all of us at RIA Advisors.
  2. We will NOT “buy the bottom” of the market. We will buy when we SEE the bottom of the market is in and risk/reward ratios are clearly in our favor. 
  3. This has been THE fastest bear market in history. We are doing our best to preserve your capital so that you meet your financial goals. Bear markets are never fun, but they are necessary for future gains. 
  4. We’ve got this.

Please don’t hesitate to contact us if you have any questions, or concerns.

Lance Roberts

CIO


THE REAL 401k PLAN MANAGER

A Conservative Strategy For Long-Term Investors


Model performance is based on a two-asset model of stocks and bonds relative to the weighting changes made each week in the newsletter. This is strictly for informational and educational purposes only and should not be relied upon for any reason. Past performance is not a guarantee of future results. Use at your own risk and peril.

401k Plan Manager Live Model

As an RIA PRO subscriber (You get your first 30-days free) you have access to our live 401k p

The code will give you access to the entire site during the 401k-BETA testing process, so not only will you get to help us work out the bugs on the 401k plan manager, you can submit your comments about the rest of the site as well.

We are building models specific to company plans. So, if you would like to see your company plan included specifically, send me the following:

  • Name of the company
  • Plan Sponsor
  • A print out of your plan choices. (Fund Symbol and Fund Name)

If you would like to offer our service to your employees at a deeply discounted corporate rate, please contact me.

Bull Market? No, The Bear Still Rules For Now.


  • Bull Market? No, The Bear Still Rules
  • MacroView: The Fed Can’t Fix What’s Broken
  • Sector & Market Analysis
  • 401k Plan Manager

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2020 Investment Summit – April 2nd.

The “2020 SOCIALLY DISTANT INVESTMENT SUMMIT” is coming on Thursday, April 2nd.

Click the link below to receive an email with a special “invitation only” link when the summit goes “live.” (Current newsletter subscribers are already registered.)


Catch Up On What You Missed Last Week


Bull Market? No, The Bear Still Rules For Now.

Last week, we asked the question, “Is the bear market over?”

Our answer was simple: The ‘Bear Market’ won’t be over until the credit markets get fixed.”

On Monday, the market sold off to new lows, forcing the Federal Reserve to inject more liquidity to try and stabilize the “broken” credit market.  Then on Tuesday, before the markets opened, we wrote:

“From a purely technical basis, the extreme downside extension, and potential selling exhaustion, has set the markets up for a fairly strong reflexive bounce. This is where fun with math comes in.

As shown in the chart below, after a 35% decline in the markets from the previous highs, a rally to the 38.2% Fibonacci retracement would encompass a 20% advance.

Such an advance will ‘lure’ investors back into the market, thinking the ‘bear market’ is over.”

Chart Updated Through Friday

Not surprisingly, here were the headlines, almost exactly as we wrote them:

Well, you get the idea.

While it was indeed a sharp “reflex rally,” and expected, “bear markets” are not resolved in a single month. More importantly, “bear markets” only end when NO ONE wants to buy it.” 

Fed Can’t Fix It

As noted above, the “bear market” will NOT be over until the credit market is fixed. We are a long way from that being done, given the blowout in yields currently occurring.

However, the Fed is throwing the proverbial “kitchen sink” at the issue. As Jim Bianco noted on Friday:

“In just these past few weeks:

  • The Fed has cut rates by 150 basis points to near zero and run through its entire 2008 crisis handbook.
  • That wasn’t enough to calm markets, though — so the central bank also announced $1 trillion a day in repurchase agreements and unlimited quantitative easing, which includes a hard-to-understand $625 billion of bond-buying a week going forward. At this rate, the Fed will own two-thirds of the Treasury market in a year.

But it’s the alphabet soup of new programs that deserve special consideration, as they could have profound long-term consequences for the functioning of the Fed and the allocation of capital in financial markets. Specifically, these are:

  • CPFF (Commercial Paper Funding Facility) – buying commercial paper from the issuer.
  • PMCCF (Primary Market Corporate Credit Facility) – buying corporate bonds from the issuer.
  • TALF (Term Asset-Backed Securities Loan Facility) – funding backstop for asset-backed securities.
  • SMCCF (Secondary Market Corporate Credit Facility) – buying corporate bonds and bond ETFs in the secondary market.
  • MSBLP (Main Street Business Lending Program) – Details are to come, but it will lend to eligible small and medium-sized businesses, complementing efforts by the Small Business Association.

To put it bluntly, the Fed isn’t allowed to do any of this.”

However, on Friday, the Federal Reserve ran into a problem, which could poses a risk for the markets going forward. As Jim noted, the mind-boggling pace of bond purchases quickly hit the limits of what was available to pledge for collateral.

Or rather, the Fed’s “unlimited QE,” may not be so “unlimited” after all.

The consequence is the Fed is already having to start cutting back on its QE program. That news fueled the late-day sell-off Friday afternoon. (Charts courtesy of Zerohedge)

While Congress did pass the “CARES” act on Friday, it will do little to backstop what is about to happen to the economy for two primary reasons:

  1. The package will only support the economy for up to two months. Unfortunately, there is no framework for effective and timely deployment; firms are already struggling to pay rents, there are pockets of funding stress in credit markets as default risks build, and earnings guidance is abandoned. 
  2. The unprecedented uncertainty facing financial markets on the duration of social distancing, the depth of the economic shock and when the infection rate curve will flatten, and there are many unknowns which will further undermine confidence.

Both of these points are addressed in this week’s Macroview but here are the two salient points to support my statement:

Most importantly, as shown below, the majority of businesses will run out of money long before SBA loans, or financial assistance, can be provided. This will lead to higher and longer-duration of, unemployment.”

“While there is much hope that the current ‘economic shutdown’ will end quickly, we are still very early in the infection cycle relative to other countries. Importantly, we are substantially larger than most, and on a GDP basis, the damage will be worse.”

What the cycle tells us is that jobless claims, unemployment, and economic growth are going to worsen materially over the next couple of quarters.

The problem with the current economic backdrop, and mounting job losses, is the vast majority of American’s were woefully unprepared for any type of disruption to their income going into the recession. As job losses mount, a virtual spiral in the economy begins as reductions in spending put further pressures on corporate profitability. Lower profits leads to higher unemployment and lower asset prices until the cycle is complete.

The Bear Still Rules

This past week, we published several pieces of analysis for our RIAPro Subscribers (30-Day Risk Free Trial) discussing why this was a “bear market rally” to be sold into. On Friday, our colleague, Jeffery Marcus of TP Analystics, penned the following:

  1. The long term bull pattern that existed since the 3/9/09 is over. That means the pattern of investors confidently buying every decline is over.
  2. The market became historically oversold on 3/23 using many metrics, and that oversold condition coincided with the long term support area of S&P 500 2110-2180.
  3. The short-covering and rebalancing had a lot to do with the size and speed of the 3-day rally.  Also, we know the lack of  ETF liquidity played a huge role as well as algorithmic trading.
  4. Technically the market can still go up 6.9% higher from here to hit the 50% retracement level (3386 – 2237 = 1149/2 = 574 + 2237 = 2811….2811/2630 = +6.9%.) I would not bet on it.
  5. The market only sustains a rally once there is light at the Coronavirus tunnel. 
  6. I do not think the S&P 500 will hit a new high this year. Maybe not in 2021, either.

His analysis agrees with our own, which we discussed with you last week.

“The good news is the markets are now more extremely oversold on a variety of measures than at just about any other point in history.

Warning: Any reversal will NOT BE the bear market bottom. It will be a ‘bear market’ rally you will want to ‘sell’ into. The reason is there are still many investors trapped in ‘buy and hold’ and ‘passive indexing’ strategies that are actively seeking an exit. Any rallies will be met with redemptions.

Most importantly, all of our long-term weekly ‘sell signals’ have now been triggered. Such would suggest that a rally back to the ‘bullish trend line’ from 2009 will likely be the best opportunity to ‘sell’ before the ‘bear market’ finds its final low.”

Last week’s chart updated through Friday’s close.

While the recent lows may indeed turn out to be “the bottom,” I highly suspect they won’t. Given the sell signals have been registered at such high levels, the time, and distance, needed to reverse the excesses will require a deeper market draw.

As Jeff Hirsch from Stocktrader’s Alamanc noted:

“While we are all rooting for the market to find support here so much damage has been done. A great deal of uncertainty remains for the economy and health crisis. This looks like a bear market bounce. 

History suggests that we are in for some tough sledding in the market this year with quite a bit of chop. When the January Barometer came in with a negative reading, our outlook for 2020 began to diminish as every down January since 1950 has been followed by a new or continuing bear market, a 10% correction, or a flat year. Then another warning sign flashed when DJIA closed below its December closing low on February 26, 2020 as the impact of this novel coronavirus began to take its toll on Wall Street.

In the March Outlook, we presented this graph of the composite seasonal pattern for the 22 years since 1950 when both the January Barometer as measured by the S&P 500 were down, and the Dow closed below its previous December closing low in the first quarter. Below is a graph of DJIA, S&P 500 and NASDAQ Composite for 2020 year-to-date as of the close on March 25. Comparing 2020 market action to these 22 years, suggests a choppy year ahead with the potential for several tests of the recent low.”

“The depth of this waterfall decline may be too deep for the market to rebound quickly. This bear market also put this year’s Best Six Months (November-April) at risk of being negative. The record of down Best Six Months is not encouraging and it reminds us of a salient quote from the Almanac from an old market sage,

If the market does not rally, as it should during bullish seasonal periods, it is a sign that other forces are stronger and that when the seasonal period ends those forces will really have their say.’— Edson Gould (Stock market analyst, Findings & Forecasts, 1902-1987)'”

On a short-term basis, the market is also suggesting some risk. The daily chart below shows the market rallied to, and failed at, the first level of the Fibonacci retracement we outlined last week, suggesting profits be taken at this level. While there are two remaining targets for the bear market rally, the probabilities weigh heavily against them. (This doesn’t mean they can’t be achieved, it is “possible,” just not “probable.”)

Furthermore, with the “Death Cross” triggering on Friday (the 50-dma crossing below the 200-dma), this will put further downside pressure on any “bear market” advance from current levels.

Given the magnitude, and multiple confirmations, of these signals, it is far too soon to assume the “bear market” is over. This is particularly the case, given the sell-off is less than one-month-old.

Bear markets, and recessions, tend to last 18-months on average.

The current bear market and recession are not the results of just the “coronavirus” shock. It is the result of many simultaneous shocks from:

  • Economic disruption
  • Surging unemployment
  • Oil price shock
  • Collapsing consumer confidence, and
  • Most importantly, a “credit event.”

We likely have more to go before we can safely assume we have turned the corner.

In the meantime, use rallies to raise cash. Don’t worry about trying to “buy the bottom.” There will be plenty of time to see “THE” bottom is in, and having cash will allow you to “buy stocks” from the last of the “weak hands.” 


The MacroView

If you need help or have questions, we are always glad to help. Just email me.

See You Next Week

By Lance Roberts, CIO


Market & Sector Analysis

Data Analysis Of The Market & Sectors For Traders


S&P 500 Tear Sheet


Performance Analysis


Technical Composite

Note: The technical gauge bounced from the lowest level since both the “Dot.com” and “Financial Crisis.” However, note the gauge bottoms BEFORE the market bottoms. In 2002, lows were retested. In 2008, there was an additional 22% decline in early 2009.


ETF Model Relative Performance Analysis


Sector & Market Analysis:

Be sure and catch our updates on Major Markets (Monday) and Major Sectors (Tuesday) with updated buy/stop/sell levels

Sector-by-Sector

Finally, the markets bounced this past week.

However, don’t get too excited; there has been a tremendous amount of technical damage done which keeps us on the sidelines for now.

Improving – Discretionary (XLY), and Real Estate (XLRE)

We previously reduced our weightings to Real Estate and liquidated Discretionary entirely over concerns of the virus and impact on the economy. No change this week. We are getting more interested in REITs again, but are going to select individual holdings versus the ETF due to leverage concerns in the REITs.

Discretionary is going to remain under pressure due to people being able to go out and shop. This sector will eventually get a bid, so we are watching it, but we need to see an eventual end to the isolation of consumers.

Current Positions: No Positions

Outperforming – Technology (XLK), Communications (XLC), Staples (XLP), Healthcare (XLV), and Utilities (XLU)

Early last week, we shifted exposures in portfolios and added to our Technology and Communications sectors, bringing them up to weight. We also added QQQ, which was closed out on Friday.

Current Positions: XLK, XLC, 1/2 weight XLP, XLV

Weakening – None

No sectors in this quadrant.

Current Position: None

Lagging – Industrials (XLI), Financials (XLF), Materials (XLB), and Energy (XLE)

No change from last week, with the exception that performance continued to be worse than the overall market.

These sectors are THE most sensitive to Fed actions (XLF) and the shutdown of the economy. We eliminated all holdings in late February and early March.

Current Position: None

Market By Market

Small-Cap (SLY) and Mid Cap (MDY) – Four weeks ago, we sold all small-cap and mid-cap exposure over concerns of the impact of the coronavirus. We remain out of these sectors for now.

Current Position: None

Emerging, International (EEM) & Total International Markets (EFA)

Same as small-cap and mid-cap. Given the spread of the virus and the impact on the global supply chain. Trading opportunities only.

Current Position: None

S&P 500 Index (Core Holding) – Given the rapid deterioration of the broad market, we sold our entire core position holdings for the safety of cash. We did add a small trading position in QQQ on Monday afternoon, and sold it on Friday.

Current Position: None

Gold (GLD) – We added a small position in GDX recently, and increased our position in IAU early this week. With the Fed going crazy with liquidity, this will be good for gold long-term, so we continue to add to our holdings on corrections.

Current Position: 1/4th weight GDX, 1/2 weight IAU

Bonds (TLT) –

Bonds regained their footing this week, as the Fed became the “buyer” of both “first” and “last” resort. Simply, “bonds will not be allowed to default,” as the Fed will guarantee payments to creditors. We have now reduced our total bond exposure to 20% of the portfolio from 40% since we are only carrying 10% equity currently. (Rebalanced our hedge.) 

Current Positions: SHY, IEF, BIL

Sector / Market Recommendations

The table below shows thoughts on specific actions related to the current market environment.

(These are not recommendations or solicitations to take any action. This is for informational purposes only related to market extremes and contrarian positioning within portfolios. Use at your own risk and peril.)

Portfolio/Client Update:

Despite the headlines of the “biggest rally in history” this past week, it’s easy to get sucked into the “Media headline” hype. However, let’s put this into some perspective:

Over the last “X” days the S&P 500 is:

  • 5-days: +10.2% 
  • 6-days: +5.4%
  • 10-days: -6.25%

It is much less exciting when compared to the fastest 30% plunge in history.

Keeping some perspective on where we are currently is very important. It’s easy to get swayed by the media headlines, which can lead us into making emotional investment mistakes. More often than not, emotional decisions turn out poorly.

We are continuing our process of blending the Equity and ETF models. As we head out of this bear market, ETF’s will have much less value relative to our selective strategies.

This doesn’t mean we won’t use ETF’s at all, but we will selectively use them to fill in gaps to our individual equity selection, or for short-term trading opportunities.

Such was the case on Monday when we took on a position in QQQ for a bounce, and was subsequently closed out on Friday.

We also added small holdings of CLX and MRK to our long-term portfolio, as well as increased our exposure to IAU.

We continue to remain very defensive, and are in an excellent position with plenty of cash, reduced bond holdings, and minimal equity exposure in companies we want to own for the next 10-years.

We are just patiently waiting for the right opportunity to buy large chunks of these holdings with both stable, and higher yields.

Let me repeat from last week:

  1. The ONLY people who care more about your money than you, is all of us at RIA Advisors.
  2. We will NOT “buy the bottom” of the market. We will buy when we SEE the bottom of the market is in and risk/reward ratios are clearly in our favor. 
  3. This has been THE fastest bear market in history. We are doing our best to preserve your capital so that you meet your financial goals. Bear markets are never fun, but they are necessary for future gains. 
  4. We’ve got this.

Please don’t hesitate to contact us if you have any questions, or concerns.

Lance Roberts

CIO


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Fed Trying To Inflate A 4th Bubble To Fix The Third

Over the last couple of years, we have often discussed the impact of the Federal Reserve’s ongoing liquidity injections, which was causing distortions in financial markets, mal-investment, and the expansion of the “wealth gap.” 

Our concerns were readily dismissed as bearish as asset prices were rising. The excuse:

“Don’t fight the Fed”

However, after years of zero interest rates, never-ending support of accommodative monetary policy, and a lack of regulatory oversight, the consequences of excess have come home to roost. 

This is not an “I Told You So,” but rather the realization of the inevitable outcome to which investors turned a blind-eye too in the quest for “easy money” in the stock market. 

It’s a reminder of the consequences of “greed.” 

The Liquidity Trap

We previously discussed the “liquidity trap” the Fed has gotten themselves into, along with Japan, which will plague economic growth in the future. To wit:

“The signature characteristics of a liquidity trap are short-term interest rates that are near zero and fluctuations in the monetary base that fail to translate into fluctuations in general price levels.

Our “economic composite” indicator is comprised of 10-year rates, inflation (CPI), wages, and the dollar index. Importantly, downturns in the composite index leads GDP. (I have estimated the impact to GDP for the first quarter at -2% growth, but my numbers may be optimistic)

The Fed’s problem is not only are they caught in an “economic liquidity trap,” where monetary policy has become ineffective in stimulating economic growth, but are also captive to a “market liquidity trap.”

Whenever the Fed, or other Global Central Banks, have engaged in “accommodative monetary policy,” such as QE and rate cuts, asset prices have risen. However, general economic activity has not, which has led to a widening of the “wealth gap” between the top 10% and the bottom 90%. At the same time, corporations levered up their balance sheets, and used cheap debt to aggressively buy back shares providing the illusion of increased profitability while revenue growth remained weak. 

As I have shown previously, while earnings have risen sharply since 2009, it was from the constant reduction in shares outstanding rather than a marked increase in revenue from a strongly growing economy. 

Now, the Fed is engaged in the fight of its life trying to counteract a “credit-event” which is larger, and more insidious, than what was seen during the 2008 “financial crisis.”  

Over the course of the next several months, the Federal Reserve will increase its balance sheet towards $10 Trillion in an attempt to stop the implosion of the credit markets. The liquidity being provided may, or may not be enough, to offset the risk of a global economy which is levered roughly 3-to-1 according to CFO.com:

“The global debt-to-GDP ratio hit a new all-time high in the third quarter of 2019, raising concerns about the financing of infrastructure projects.

The Institute of International Finance reported Monday that debt-to-GDP rose to 322%, with total debt reaching close to $253 trillion and total debt across the household, government, financial and non-financial corporate sectors surging by some $9 trillion in the first three quarters of 2019.”

Read that last part again.

In 2019, debt surged by some $9 Trillion while the Fed is injecting roughly $6 Trillion to offset the collapse. In other words, it is likely going to require all of the Fed’s liquidity just to stabilize the debt and credit markets. 

Bubbles, Bubbles, Bubbles

Jerome Powell clearly understands that after a decade of monetary infusions and low interest rates, he has created an asset bubble larger than any other in history. However, they were trapped by their own policies, and any reversal led to almost immediate catastrophe as seen in 2018.

As I wrote previously:

“In the U.S., the Federal Reserve has been the catalyst behind every preceding financial event since they became ‘active,’ monetarily policy-wise, in the late 70’s.”

For quite some time now, we have warned investors against the belief that no matter what happens, the Fed can bail out the markets, and keep the bull market. Nevertheless, it was widely believed by the financial media that, to quote Dr. Irving Fisher:

“Stocks have reached a permanently high plateau.”

What is important to understand is that it was imperative for the Fed that market participants, and consumers, believed in this idea. With the entirety of the financial ecosystem more heavily levered than ever, due to the Fed’s profligate measures of suppressing interest rates and flooding the system with excessive levels of liquidity, the “instability of stability” was the most significant risk. 

“The ‘stability/instability paradox’ assumes that all players are rational, and such rationality implies avoidance of complete destruction. In other words, all players will act rationally, and no one will push ‘the big red button.’”

The Fed had hoped they would have time, and the “room” needed, after more than 10-years of the most unprecedented monetary policy program in U.S. history, to try and navigate the risks that had built up in the system. 

Unfortunately, they ran out of time, and the markets stopped “acting rationally.”

This is the predicament the Federal Reserve currently finds itself in. 

Following each market crisis, the Fed has lowered interest rates, and instituted policies to “support markets.” However, these actions led to unintended consequences which have led to repeated “booms and busts” in the financial markets.  

While the market has currently corrected nearly 25% year-to-date, it is hard to suggest that such a small correction will reset markets from the liquidity-fueled advance over the last decade.

To understand why the Fed is trapped, we have to go back to what Ben Bernanke said in 2010 as he launched the second round of QE:

“This approach eased financial conditions in the past and, so far, looks to be effective again. Stock prices rose and long-term interest rates fell when investors began to anticipate the most recent action. Easier financial conditions will promote economic growth. For example, lower mortgage rates will make housing more affordable and allow more homeowners to refinance. Lower corporate bond rates will encourage investment. And higher stock prices will boost consumer wealth and help increase confidence, which can also spur spending.”

I highlight the last sentence because it is the most important. Consumer spending makes up roughly 70% of GDP; therefore increased consumer confidence is critical to keeping consumers in action. The problem is the economy is no longer a “productive” economy, but rather a “financial” one. A point made by Ellen Brown previously:

“The financialized economy – including stocks, corporate bonds and real estate – is now booming. Meanwhile, the bulk of the population struggles to meet daily expenses. The world’s 500 richest people got $12 trillion richer in 2019, while 45% of Americans have no savings, and nearly 70% could not come up with $1,000 in an emergency without borrowing.

Central bank policies intended to boost the real economy have had the effect only of boosting the financial economy. The policies’ stated purpose is to increase spending by increasing lending by banks, which are supposed to be the vehicles for liquidity to flow from the financial to the real economy. But this transmission mechanism isn’t working, because consumers are tapped out.”

This was shown in a recent set of studies:

The “Stock Market” Is NOT The “Economy.”

Roughly 90% of the population gets little, or no, direct benefit from the rise in stock market prices.

Another way to view this issue is by looking at household net worth growth between the top 10% to everyone else.

Since 2007, the ONLY group that has seen an increase in net worth is the top 10% of the population.

“This is not economic prosperity. This is a distortion of economics.”

As I stated previously:

“If consumption retrenches, so does the economy.

When this happens debt defaults rise, the financial system reverts, and bad things happen economically.”

That is where we are today. 

The Federal Reserve is desperate to “bail out” the financial and credit markets, which it may  be successful in doing, however, the real economy may not recover for a very long-time. 

With 70% of employment driven by small to mid-size businesses, the shutdown of the economy for an extended period of time may eliminate a substantial number of businesses entirely. Corporations are going to retrench on employment, cut back on capital expenditures, and close ranks. 

While the Government is working on a fiscal relief package, it will fall well short of what is needed by the overall economy and a couple of months of “helicopter money,” will do little to revive an already over leveraged, undersaved, consumer. 

The 4th-Bubble

As I stated previously:

“The current belief is that QE will be implemented at the first hint of a more protracted downturn in the market. However, as suggested by the Fed, QE will likely only be employed when rate reductions aren’t enough.”

The implosion of the credit markets made rate reductions completely ineffective and has pushed the Fed into the most extreme monetary policy bailout in the history of the world. 

The Fed is hopeful they can inflate another asset bubble to restore consumer confidence and stabilize the functioning of the credit markets. The problem is that since the Fed never unwound their previous policies, current policies are having a much more muted effect. 

However, even if the Fed is able to inflate another bubble to offset the damage from the deflation of the last bubble, there is little evidence it is doing much to support economic growth, a broader increase in consumer wealth, or create a more stable financial environment. 

It has taken a massive amount of interventions by Central Banks to keep economies afloat globally over the last decade, and there is little evidence that growth will recover following this crisis to the degree many anticipate.

There are numerous problems which the Fed’s current policies can not fix:

  • A decline in savings rates
  • An aging demographic
  • A heavily indebted economy
  • A decline in exports
  • Slowing domestic economic growth rates.
  • An underemployed younger demographic.
  • An inelastic supply-demand curve
  • Weak industrial production
  • Dependence on productivity increases

The lynchpin in the U.S., remains demographics, and interest rates. As the aging population grows, they are becoming a net drag on “savings,” the dependency on the “social welfare net” will explode as employment and economic stability plummets, and the “pension problem” has yet to be realized.

While the current surge in QE may indeed be successful in inflating another bubble, there is a limit to the ability to continue pulling forward future consumption to stimulate economic activity. In other words, there are only so many autos, houses, etc., which can be purchased within a given cycle. 

There is evidence the cycle peak has already been reached.

One thing is for certain, the Federal Reserve will never be able to raise rates, or reduce monetary policy ever again. 

Welcome to United States of Japan.

How COVID-19 May Move Markets

As the pandemic drives markets to the 2018 lows, certain relationships in trends between the markets and the COVID-19 virus are evident.  As social distancing increases, markets continue to fall. So, by looking at the expected breakout levels of the virus, we can assess possible market reactions. The chart below shows the inverse correlation between the expected peaks of the virus and potential lows in the markets: 

Source: FIPhysician – & Patrick Hill  – 3/18/20

In the COVID-19 – SPX model above, the steep red line is a forecast of new cases if social distancing were not in place.  The green line shows how social distancing will flatten the curve of new cases. The blue curve shows how growth in the pandemic may unfold doubling every 4 – 7 days.  The lower chart shows how social distancing correlates to movements in the SPX. As the number of cases peak, there is a related trough in the SPX. Looking at present levels, we are likely to see more selling as the number of cases increases to a possible low of 2000 in the May-June time frame.

Epidemiologists currently forecast the COVID -19 pandemic will unfold in two waves, with the current breakout and remission during the summer followed by a possible second breakout in the fall and winter of this year.  Researchers think the closest analog to the COVID -19 pandemic is the Spanish Flu in 1918, which came roaring back the following winter resulting in a second wave of even greater infections and death. 

The first blue dot shows where the SPX is today at this early stage in the pandemic.  The SPX index may continue to fall as the economic damage increases and GDP declines in the first and second quarters. Two consecutive declines will officially put the economy in a recession.  

The SPX may fall to 2030 in this first wave, which represents a Fibonacci retracement of 50 % from the 2008 low to the 2020 peak.  From there, markets may rebound back up to 2350, a Fibonacci retracement of 61% as the virus breakout fades, relief rally emerges, and economic activity picks up.  However, as this occurs, higher interest rates from massive stimulus spending may weigh on financial markets, as seen in the spike of bond yields, the decline in gold prices and other safe haven assets. 

Consumers who are already financially stretched are being furloughed or laid off, which will trigger loan defaults.  Finally, corporations are now at the highest level of debt since 2008 and are experiencing a steep decline in sales, causing a cash squeeze leading to layoffs.  The most important consideration is that the virus is exposing the heavy reliance on debt on major institutions and consumers in our economic system.

The slide into a recession is evident in announced layoffs by significant corporations. Marriott and other hotels have announced thousands of layoffs. Other hospitality industry companies will follow. Harley-Davidson, GM, Ford, Fiat Chrysler, Nissan, and Tesla have all suspended manufacturing for several weeks in the U.S. Thousands of workers are on furlough until manufacturing resumes. There is a growing risk consumer demand may not return to pre coronavirus levels forcing permanent layoffs.

While manufacturing is 30% of GDP, services contribute 70% of GDP.  Many services can be offered online or via web conferencing.  The present social distancing experiment will provide significant insights into how well the economy can perform when many knowledge workers are working from home.  If working from home is successful, we expect to see more companies permanently move employees to their homes to reduce office space and cut expenses. This has grave implications for the commercial real estate industry and investors of those properties. 

The diverse U.S. economy is likely to recover quicker than the world economy.  However, an earnings recovery may stall due to the fact most S&P 100 companies derive 55% of their sales from overseas and 60% of their profits from international markets.  

Looking at a possible second virus wave in the fall, it is likely that economic damage will grow worse due to increasing unemployment, declining corporate spending, falling consumer spending, and a resumption of social distancing. The second wave fits a decline model seen in 2000 from the Y2K software bug scare.  That crisis was an external event, causing a demand shock, though little supply shock.  The bottom for the NDX did not happen until 18 months after the market peak. The virus seems to be compressing the market drop period as there have been three trading halts of 7% in the markets in just eight days of trading.  SPX support is near 1810 – 1867 in 2016, just above the Fibonacci 38% level of 1708.

In our post of February 14th about the coronavirus triggering a downturn, we saw the strong possibility of the economy sliding into a recession.  In the post we noted that Allianz Chief Economic Advisor, Mohammed El-Arian observed that we are likely headed into a U or L shaped recession:

“…analysts and modelers should respect the degree of uncertainty in play, including the inconvenient realization that the possibility of a U or, worse, an L for 2020 is still too high for comfort.”

Hope is not a strategy. Of course, we hope the virus is contained, lives saved, and the economy can weather the stress on corporations and consumers.  However, as long term investors, we need to look at the reality of what may happen based on research and plan our strategic investments accordingly. Plan for the worst, and hope for the best.


Patrick Hill is the Editor of The Progressive Ensign, writes from the heart of Silicon Valley, leveraging 20 years of experience as an executive at firms like HP, Genentech, Verigy, Informatica, and Okta to provide investment and economic insights. Twitter: @PatrickHill1677.

Everyone Wanting To Buy Suggests The Bear Still Prowls (Full Report)


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Everyone Wanting To Buy Suggests The Bear Still Prowls

“If you own 10% equities, as we do, and the market falls 100%, you will lose 10%. That said, you have 90 cents on the dollar to buy equities for free.” – Michael Lebowitz

Let me explain his comment.

Last week, we wrote a piece titled: Risk Limits Hit. When Too Little Is Too Much in which we discussed reducing our equity risk to our lowest levels. 

For the last several months, we have been issuing repeated warnings about the market. While such comments are often mistaken for “being bearish,” we have often stated it is our process of managing “risk,” which is most important.

Beginning in mid-January, we began taking profits out of our portfolios and reducing risk. To wit:

‘On Friday, we began the orderly process of reducing exposure in our portfolios to take in profits, reduce portfolio risk, and raise cash levels.’

Importantly, we did not ‘sell everything’ and go to cash.

Since then, we took profits and rebalanced risk again in late January and early February as well.

On Friday/Monday, our ‘limits’ were breached, which required us to sell more.”

There are a couple of important things to understand about our current equity exposure. 

To begin with, we never go to 100% cash. The reason is that “psychologically” it is too difficult for clients to start “buying” when the market finally bottoms. Seeing the market begin to recover, along with their portfolio, makes it easier to fight the fear the market is “going to zero.”

Secondly, and most importantly, at just 10% in current equity exposure, the market could literally fall 100% and our portfolios would only decline by 10%. (Of course, given we still have 90% of our capital left, we can buy a tremendous amount of “free assets.”)

Of course, the market isn’t going to zero.

However, let’s map out a more realistic example. 

In this week’s MacroView, we discussed the “valuation” issue

“If our, and Mr. Rosenberg’s, estimates are correct of a 5-8% recessionary drag in the second quarter of 2020, then an average reduction in earnings of 30% is most likely overly optimistic. 

However, here is the math:

  • Current Earnings = 132.90
  • 30% Reduction = $100 (rounding down for easier math)

At various P/E multiples, we can predict where “fair value” for the market is based on historical assumptions:

  • 20x earnings:  Historically high but markets have traded at high valuations for the last decade. 
  • 18x earnings: Still historically high.
  • 15x earnings: Long-Term Average
  • 13x earnings: Undervalued 
  • 10x earnings: Extremely undervalued but aligned with secular bear market bottoms.

You can pick your own level where you think P/E’s will account for the global recession but the chart below prices it into the market.”

So, let’s assume our numbers are optimistically in the “ballpark” of a valuation reversion, and earnings are only cut by 30% while the market bottoms at 1800, or 18x earnings. (I say optimistically because normal valuation reversions are 15x earnings or less.)

Here’s the math:

  • For a “buy and hold” investor (who is already down 20-30% from the peak) will lose an additional 22%. 
  • For a client with 10% equity exposure, they will lose an additional 2.2%. 

When the market does eventually bottom, and it will, it will be far easier for our clients to recover 10% of their portfolio versus 50% for most “buy and hold” strategies. 

As we have often stated, “getting back to even is not an investment strategy.”  

Is The Bear Market Over?

This is THE QUESTION for investors. Here are a few articles from the past couple of days:

And then you have clueless economists, like Brian Wesbury from First Trust, who have never seen a “bear market,” or “recession,” until it’s over.

March 6th.

Why is this important? Because “bear markets don’t bottom with optimism, they end with despair.”

As I wrote last week:

“Bob Farrell, a legendary investor, is famous for his 10-Investment Rules to follow.

Bear markets have three stages – sharp down, reflexive rebound and a drawn-out fundamental downtrend – Rule #8

  1. Bear markets often START with a sharp and swift decline.
  2. After this decline, there is an oversold bounce that retraces a portion of that decline.
  3. The longer-term decline then continues, at a slower and more grinding pace, as the fundamentals deteriorate.

Dow Theory also suggests that bear markets consist of three down legs with reflexive rebounds in between.

The chart above shows the stages of the last two primary cyclical bear markets versus today (the 2020 scale has been adjusted to match.)

The answer to the question is simply this:

“When is it time to start buying the market? When you do NOT want to.”

Bond Market Implosion

At the moment, the Federal Reserve is fighting a potentially losing battle – the bond market. 

  • After cutting rates to zero and launching QE of $700 billion – the markets crashed. 
  • The ECB starts an $800 billion QE program, and the markets fail to move. 
  • The Fed injected liquidity into money markets, the credit market, and is buying municipal bonds. 
  • And the market crashed more. 

The Fed has literally turned on a “garden hose” to extinguish a literal “bon(d)fire.” 

This was no more evident than their action this past week to revive a program from the financial crisis called the Primary Dealer Credit Facility (PDCF) to bailout hedge funds and banks. Via Mike Witney:

The Fed is reopening its most controversial and despised crisis-era bailout facility, the Primary Dealer Credit Facility. The facility’s real purpose is to transfer the toxic bonds and securities from failing financial institutions and corporations (through an intermediary) onto the Fed’s balance sheet.

The objective of this sleight of hand is to recapitalize big investors who, through their own bad bets, are now either underwater or in deep trouble. Just like 2008, the Fed is now doing everything in its power to save its friends and mop up the ocean of red ink that was generated during the 10-year orgy of speculation that has ended in crashing markets and a wave of deflation. Check out this excerpt from an article at Wall Street on Parade. Here’s an excerpt:

“Veterans on Wall Street think of the PDCF as the cash-for-trash facility, where Wall Street’s toxic waste from a decade of irresponsible trading and lending, will be purged from the balance sheets of the Wall Street firms and handed over to the balance sheet of the Federal Reserve – just as it was during the last financial crisis on Wall Street.”

– (“Fed Announces Program for Wall Street Banks to Pledge Plunging Stocks to Get Trillions in Loans at ¼ Percent Interest” Wall Street on Parade)

In other words, the PDCF is a landfill for distressed assets that have lost much of their value and for which there is little or no demand. And, as bad as that sounds, the details about the resuscitated PDCF are much worse.”

If you have any doubt how bad it is in the bond market, just take a look at what happened to both investment grade and junk bond spreads. (Charts courtesy of David Rosenberg)

As they say: “That clearly ain’t normal.” 

More importantly, the “Bear Market” won’t be over until the credit markets get fixed.

Hunting The Bear

It was a pretty stunning week in the market. Over the last 5-days, the market declined an astonishing, or should I say breathtaking, 15%. The last time we saw a one week decline of that magnitude was during the “Lehman” crisis. (Of course, with hedge funds blowing up all week, this is precisely what the Fed has been bailing out.)

Since the peak of the market at the end of February, the market is now down a whopping 32%.

Surely, we are close to a bottom?

Let’s revisit our daily and weekly charts for some clues as to where we are, what could happen next, and what actions to take.

On a daily basis, the market is extremely stretched and deviated to the downside. Friday’s selloff smacked of an “Oriental Rug Company” where it was an “Everything Must Go Liquidation Event.” 

Remember all those headlines from early this year:

Well….

This selloff completely reversed the entire advance from the 2018 lows. That’s the bad news.

The good news is the markets are now more extremely oversold on a variety of measures than at just about any other point in history. 

Such a reversal, particularly given the “speed and magnitude” of the decline, argues for a “reversal” of some sort. 

Warning: Any reversal will NOT BE the bear market bottom. It will be a “bear market” rally you will want to “sell” into. The reason is there are still many investors trapped in “buy and hold” and “passive indexing” strategies which are actively seeking an exit. Any rallies will be met with redemptions.

As noted above, bear markets do not end with investors wanting to “buy” the market. They end when “everyone wants to sell.” 

And, NO, investors are “not different this time.” 

This “bear market” rally scenario becomes more evident when we view our longer-term weekly “sell signals.”  As we warned last week:

“With all of our signals now triggered from fairly high levels, it suggests the current selloff is not over as of yet. In other words, we will see a rally, followed by a secondary failure to lower lows, before the ultimate bottom is put in.” 

Unfortunately, we have yet to see any attempt at a sustained rally. 

More importantly, with the failure of the markets to hold lows this week, both of our long-term weekly “sell signals” have now been triggered. Such would suggest that a rally back to the “bullish trend line” from 2009 will likely be the best opportunity to “sell” before the “bear market” finds its final low.

Where will that low likely be:

Let’s update our mapping from last week:

  1. A retest of current lows that holds is a 27% decline. – Failed
  2. A retest of the 2018 lows, which is most likely, an average recessionary decline of 32.8% – Current
  3. A retest of the 2016 lows, coincident with a “credit event,” would entail a 50.9% decline.  – Pending Possibility.

Given the magnitude, and multiple confirmations, of these signals, it is far too soon to assume the “bear market” is over. This is particularly the case, given the selloff is less than one-month old.

Bear markets, and recessions, tend to last 18-months on average.

The current bear market and recession are not the result of just the “coronavirus” shock. It is the result of many simultaneous shocks from:

  • Economic disruption
  • Surging unemployment
  • Oil price shock
  • Collapsing consumer confidence, and
  • A “credit event.”

We likely have more to go before we can safely assume we have turned the corner.

In the meantime, use rallies to raise cash. Don’t worry about trying to “buy the bottom.” There will be plenty of time to see “THE” bottom is in, and having cash will allow you to “buy stocks” from the last of the “weak hands.” 


The MacroView

If you need help or have questions, we are always glad to help. Just email me.

See You Next Week

By Lance Roberts, CIO


Market & Sector Analysis

Data Analysis Of The Market & Sectors For Traders


S&P 500 Tear Sheet  


Performance Analysis


Technical Composite

Note: The technical gauge is now at the lowest level since both the “Dot.com” and “Financial Crisis.” However, note the gauge bottoms BEFORE the market bottoms. In 2002, lows were retested. In 2008, there was an additional 22% decline into early 2009.


ETF Model Relative Performance Analysis


Sector & Market Analysis:

Be sure and catch our updates on Major Markets (Monday) and Major Sectors (Tuesday) with updated buy/stop/sell levels

Sector-by-Sector

For the 3rd week in a row:

“Everything was crushed again this past week, so the difference between leading and lagging sectors is which sector fell faster or slower than the S&P 500 index itself.” 

Improving – Discretionary (XLY), and Real Estate (XLRE)

We previously reduced our weightings to Real Estate and liquidated Discretionary entirely over concerns of the virus and impact to the economy. No change this week. 

Current Positions: 1.2 weight XLRE

Outperforming – Technology (XLK), Communications (XLC), Staples (XLP), Healthcare (XLV), and Utilities (XLU)

The correction in Technology last week broke support at the 200-dma but finished the week very close to the May 2019 lows. Communication and Utilities didn’t perform as well but also held up better during the decline on a relative basis. The same is true for Utilities and Staples. These are our core ETF’s right now at which we are carrying substantially reduced exposure.

Current Positions: 1/2 weight XLK, XLC, XLU, XLP, XLV

Weakening – None

No sectors in this quadrant.

Current Position: None

Lagging – Industrials (XLI), Financials (XLF), Materials (XLB), and Energy (XLE)

No change from last week, with the exception that performance continued to be worse than the overall market.

These sectors are THE most sensitive to Fed actions (XLF) and the shutdown of the economy. We eliminated all holdings in late February and early March. 

Current Position: None

Market By Market

Small-Cap (SLY) and Mid Cap (MDY) – Three weeks ago, we sold all small-cap and mid-cap exposure over concerns of the impact of the coronavirus. Remain out of these sectors for now. 

Current Position: None

Emerging, International (EEM) & Total International Markets (EFA)

Same as small-cap and mid-cap. Given the spread of the virus and the impact on the global supply chain. Trading opportunities only. 

Current Position: None

S&P 500 Index (Core Holding) – Given the rapid deterioration of the broad market, we sold our entire core position holdings for the safety of cash.

Current Position: None

Gold (GLD) – Gold broke our stop, and we sold our holdings. We are now on the watch for an entry point if Gold can climb back above the 200-dma. 

Current Position: None

Bonds (TLT) –

Bonds collapsed last week as the “credit event” we have been concerned about took shape. We had previously taken profits and reduced our bond holdings duration and increased credit quality. We have now reduced our total bond exposure to 20% of the portfolio from 40% since we are only carrying 10% equity currently. (Rebalanced our hedge.) 

Current Positions: SHY, IEF, BIL

Sector / Market Recommendations

The table below shows thoughts on specific actions related to the current market environment.

(These are not recommendations or solicitations to take any action. This is for informational purposes only related to market extremes and contrarian positioning within portfolios. Use at your own risk and peril.)

Portfolio/Client Update:

I know it is ugly. 

The S&P 500 is down nearly 32% in just three weeks. 

That’s scary.

However, it is important to keep some perspective on where we are currently. 

Last Monday, we further reduced our equity to just 10% (from 25% previously) of the portfolio

What does that mean?  Here is some math:

If the market goes to ZERO from here, (it’s not going to) your MAXIMUM loss is just 10%.

This is recoverable, particularly if we could buy a portfolio of assets for FREE.

We currently expect a maximum decline from current levels of 20%. This would be a 2% net hit to portfolios leaving us with a LOT of cash to buy distressed assets at 50% off. 

This is the opportunity we have been waiting for during the entire last decade.

Currently, we are busy rebuilding all of our portfolio models, rethinking risk management in a post-bear market environment, and what role the future of “fixed income” will play in asset allocations.

These are all essential questions that we need solid answers for.

We are in an excellent position with plenty of cash, reduced bond holdings, and minimal equity exposure in companies we want to own for the next 10-years. We are just patiently waiting to buy large chunks of these holdings soon with both stable and higher yields. 

Let me assure you of four things;

  1. The ONLY people who care more about your money than you, is all of us at RIA Advisors.
  2. We will NOT “buy the bottom” of the market. We will buy when we SEE the bottom of the market is in and risk/reward ratios are clearly in our favor. 
  3. This has been THE fastest bear market in history. We are doing our best to preserve your capital so that you meet your financial goals. Bear markets are never fun, but they are necessary for future gains. 
  4. We’ve got this.

Please don’t hesitate to contact us if you have any questions, or concerns. 

Lance Roberts

CIO


THE REAL 401k PLAN MANAGER

A Conservative Strategy For Long-Term Investors


Model performance is based on a two-asset model of stocks and bonds relative to the weighting changes made each week in the newsletter. This is strictly for informational and educational purposes only and should not be relied upon for any reason. Past performance is not a guarantee of future results. Use at your own risk and peril.

401k Plan Manager Live Model

As an RIA PRO subscriber (You get your first 30-days free) you have access to our live 401k p

The code will give you access to the entire site during the 401k-BETA testing process, so not only will you get to help us work out the bugs on the 401k plan manager, you can submit your comments about the rest of the site as well.

We are building models specific to company plans. So, if you would like to see your company plan included specifically, send me the following:

  • Name of the company
  • Plan Sponsor
  • A print out of your plan choices. (Fund Symbol and Fund Name)

If you would like to offer our service to your employees at a deeply discounted corporate rate, please contact me.

Everyone Wanting To Buy Suggests The Bear Still Prowls


  • Everyone Wanting To Buy Suggests The Bear Still Prowls
  • MacroView: Mnuchin & Kudlow Say No Recession?
  • Sector & Market Analysis
  • 401k Plan Manager

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Catch Up On What You Missed Last Week


Everyone Wanting To Buy Suggests The Bear Still Prowls

“If you own 10% equities, as we do, and the market falls 100%, you will lose 10%. That said, you have 90 cents on the dollar to buy equities for free.” – Michael Lebowitz

Let me explain his comment.

Last week, we wrote a piece titled: Risk Limits Hit. When Too Little Is Too Much in which we discussed reducing our equity risk to our lowest levels. 

For the last several months, we have been issuing repeated warnings about the market. While such comments are often mistaken for “being bearish,” we have often stated it is our process of managing “risk,” which is most important.

Beginning in mid-January, we began taking profits out of our portfolios and reducing risk. To wit:

‘On Friday, we began the orderly process of reducing exposure in our portfolios to take in profits, reduce portfolio risk, and raise cash levels.’

Importantly, we did not ‘sell everything’ and go to cash.

Since then, we took profits and rebalanced risk again in late January and early February as well.

On Friday/Monday, our ‘limits’ were breached, which required us to sell more.”

There are a couple of important things to understand about our current equity exposure. 

To begin with, we never go to 100% cash. The reason is that “psychologically” it is too difficult for clients to start “buying” when the market finally bottoms. Seeing the market begin to recover, along with their portfolio, makes it easier to fight the fear the market is “going to zero.”

Secondly, and most importantly, at just 10% in current equity exposure, the market could literally fall 100% and our portfolios would only decline by 10%. (Of course, given we still have 90% of our capital left, we can buy a tremendous amount of “free assets.”)

Of course, the market isn’t going to zero.

However, let’s map out a more realistic example. 

In this week’s MacroView, we discussed the “valuation” issue

“If our, and Mr. Rosenberg’s, estimates are correct of a 5-8% recessionary drag in the second quarter of 2020, then an average reduction in earnings of 30% is most likely overly optimistic. 

However, here is the math:

  • Current Earnings = 132.90
  • 30% Reduction = $100 (rounding down for easier math)

At various P/E multiples, we can predict where “fair value” for the market is based on historical assumptions:

  • 20x earnings:  Historically high but markets have traded at high valuations for the last decade. 
  • 18x earnings: Still historically high.
  • 15x earnings: Long-Term Average
  • 13x earnings: Undervalued 
  • 10x earnings: Extremely undervalued but aligned with secular bear market bottoms.

You can pick your own level where you think P/E’s will account for the global recession but the chart below prices it into the market.”

So, let’s assume our numbers are optimistically in the “ballpark” of a valuation reversion, and earnings are only cut by 30% while the market bottoms at 1800, or 18x earnings. (I say optimistically because normal valuation reversions are 15x earnings or less.)

Here’s the math:

  • For a “buy and hold” investor (who is already down 20-30% from the peak) will lose an additional 22%. 
  • For a client with 10% equity exposure, they will lose an additional 2.2%. 

When the market does eventually bottom, and it will, it will be far easier for our clients to recover 10% of their portfolio versus 50% for most “buy and hold” strategies. 

As we have often stated, “getting back to even is not an investment strategy.”  

Is The Bear Market Over?

This is THE QUESTION for investors. Here are a few articles from the past couple of days:

And then you have clueless economists, like Brian Wesbury from First Trust, who have never seen a “bear market,” or “recession,” until it’s over.

March 6th.

Why is this important? Because “bear markets don’t bottom with optimism, they end with despair.”

As I wrote last week:

“Bob Farrell, a legendary investor, is famous for his 10-Investment Rules to follow.

Bear markets have three stages – sharp down, reflexive rebound and a drawn-out fundamental downtrend – Rule #\8

  1. Bear markets often START with a sharp and swift decline.
  2. After this decline, there is an oversold bounce that retraces a portion of that decline.
  3. The longer-term decline then continues, at a slower and more grinding pace, as the fundamentals deteriorate.

Dow Theory also suggests that bear markets consist of three down legs with reflexive rebounds in between.

The chart above shows the stages of the last two primary cyclical bear markets versus today (the 2020 scale has been adjusted to match.)

The answer to the question is simply this:

“When is it time to start buying the market? When you do NOT want to.”

Bond Market Implosion

At the moment, the Federal Reserve is fighting a potentially losing battle – the bond market. 

  • After cutting rates to zero and launching QE of $700 billion – the markets crashed. 
  • The ECB starts an $800 billion QE program, and the markets fail to move. 
  • The Fed injected liquidity into money markets, the credit market, and is buying municipal bonds. 
  • And the market crashed more. 

The Fed has literally turned on a “garden hose” to extinguish a literal “bon(d)fire.” 

This was no more evident than their action this past week to revive a program from the financial crisis called the Primary Dealer Credit Facility (PDCF) to bailout hedge funds and banks. Via Mike Witney:

The Fed is reopening its most controversial and despised crisis-era bailout facility, the Primary Dealer Credit Facility. The facility’s real purpose is to transfer the toxic bonds and securities from failing financial institutions and corporations (through an intermediary) onto the Fed’s balance sheet.

The objective of this sleight of hand is to recapitalize big investors who, through their own bad bets, are now either underwater or in deep trouble. Just like 2008, the Fed is now doing everything in its power to save its friends and mop up the ocean of red ink that was generated during the 10-year orgy of speculation that has ended in crashing markets and a wave of deflation. Check out this excerpt from an article at Wall Street on Parade. Here’s an excerpt:

“Veterans on Wall Street think of the PDCF as the cash-for-trash facility, where Wall Street’s toxic waste from a decade of irresponsible trading and lending, will be purged from the balance sheets of the Wall Street firms and handed over to the balance sheet of the Federal Reserve – just as it was during the last financial crisis on Wall Street.”

– (“Fed Announces Program for Wall Street Banks to Pledge Plunging Stocks to Get Trillions in Loans at ¼ Percent Interest” Wall Street on Parade)

In other words, the PDCF is a landfill for distressed assets that have lost much of their value and for which there is little or no demand. And, as bad as that sounds, the details about the resuscitated PDCF are much worse.”

If you have any doubt how bad it is in the bond market, just take a look at what happened to both investment grade and junk bond spreads. (Charts courtesy of David Rosenberg)

As they say: “That clearly ain’t normal.” 

More importantly, the “Bear Market” won’t be over until the credit markets get fixed.

Hunting The Bear

It was a pretty stunning week in the market. Over the last 5-days, the market declined an astonishing, or should I say breathtaking, 15%. The last time we saw a one week decline of that magnitude was during the “Lehman” crisis. (Of course, with hedge funds blowing up all week, this is precisely what the Fed has been bailing out.)

Since the peak of the market at the end of February, the market is now down a whopping 32%.

Surely, we are close to a bottom?

Let’s revisit our daily and weekly charts for some clues as to where we are, what could happen next, and what actions to take.

On a daily basis, the market is extremely stretched and deviated to the downside. Friday’s selloff smacked of an “Oriental Rug Company” where it was an “Everything Must Go Liquidation Event.” 

Remember all those headlines from early this year:

Well….

This selloff completely reversed the entire advance from the 2018 lows. That’s the bad news.

The good news is the markets are now more extremely oversold on a variety of measures than at just about any other point in history. 

Such a reversal, particularly given the “speed and magnitude” of the decline, argues for a “reversal” of some sort. 

Warning: Any reversal will NOT BE the bear market bottom. It will be a “bear market” rally you will want to “sell” into. The reason is there are still many investors trapped in “buy and hold” and “passive indexing” strategies which are actively seeking an exit. Any rallies will be met with redemptions.

As noted above, bear markets do not end with investors wanting to “buy” the market. They end when “everyone wants to sell.” 

And, NO, investors are “not different this time.” 

This “bear market” rally scenario becomes more evident when we view our longer-term weekly “sell signals.”  As we warned last week:

“With all of our signals now triggered from fairly high levels, it suggests the current selloff is not over as of yet. In other words, we will see a rally, followed by a secondary failure to lower lows, before the ultimate bottom is put in.” 

Unfortunately, we have yet to see any attempt at a sustained rally. 

More importantly, with the failure of the markets to hold lows this week, both of our long-term weekly “sell signals” have now been triggered. Such would suggest that a rally back to the “bullish trend line” from 2009 will likely be the best opportunity to “sell” before the “bear market” finds its final low.

Where will that low likely be:

Let’s update our mapping from last week:

  1. A retest of current lows that holds is a 27% decline. – Failed
  2. A retest of the 2018 lows, which is most likely, an average recessionary decline of 32.8% – Current
  3. A retest of the 2016 lows, coincident with a “credit event,” would entail a 50.9% decline.  – Pending Possibility.

Given the magnitude, and multiple confirmations, of these signals, it is far too soon to assume the “bear market” is over. This is particularly the case, given the selloff is less than one-month old.

Bear markets, and recessions, tend to last 18-months on average.

The current bear market and recession are not the result of just the “coronavirus” shock. It is the result of many simultaneous shocks from:

  • Economic disruption
  • Surging unemployment
  • Oil price shock
  • Collapsing consumer confidence, and
  • A “credit event.”

We likely have more to go before we can safely assume we have turned the corner.

In the meantime, use rallies to raise cash. Don’t worry about trying to “buy the bottom.” There will be plenty of time to see “THE” bottom is in, and having cash will allow you to “buy stocks” from the last of the “weak hands.” 


The MacroView

If you need help or have questions, we are always glad to help. Just email me.

See You Next Week

By Lance Roberts, CIO


Market & Sector Analysis

Data Analysis Of The Market & Sectors For Traders


S&P 500 Tear Sheet  


Performance Analysis


Technical Composite

Note: The technical gauge is now at the lowest level since both the “Dot.com” and “Financial Crisis.” However, note the gauge bottoms BEFORE the market bottoms. In 2002, lows were retested. In 2008, there was an additional 22% decline into early 2009.


ETF Model Relative Performance Analysis


Sector & Market Analysis:

Be sure and catch our updates on Major Markets (Monday) and Major Sectors (Tuesday) with updated buy/stop/sell levels

Sector-by-Sector

For the 3rd week in a row:

“Everything was crushed again this past week, so the difference between leading and lagging sectors is which sector fell faster or slower than the S&P 500 index itself.” 

Improving – Discretionary (XLY), and Real Estate (XLRE)

We previously reduced our weightings to Real Estate and liquidated Discretionary entirely over concerns of the virus and impact to the economy. No change this week. 

Current Positions: 1.2 weight XLRE

Outperforming – Technology (XLK), Communications (XLC), Staples (XLP), Healthcare (XLV), and Utilities (XLU)

The correction in Technology last week broke support at the 200-dma but finished the week very close to the May 2019 lows. Communication and Utilities didn’t perform as well but also held up better during the decline on a relative basis. The same is true for Utilities and Staples. These are our core ETF’s right now at which we are carrying substantially reduced exposure.

Current Positions: 1/2 weight XLK, XLC, XLU, XLP, XLV

Weakening – None

No sectors in this quadrant.

Current Position: None

Lagging – Industrials (XLI), Financials (XLF), Materials (XLB), and Energy (XLE)

No change from last week, with the exception that performance continued to be worse than the overall market.

These sectors are THE most sensitive to Fed actions (XLF) and the shutdown of the economy. We eliminated all holdings in late February and early March. 

Current Position: None

Market By Market

Small-Cap (SLY) and Mid Cap (MDY) – Three weeks ago, we sold all small-cap and mid-cap exposure over concerns of the impact of the coronavirus. Remain out of these sectors for now. 

Current Position: None

Emerging, International (EEM) & Total International Markets (EFA)

Same as small-cap and mid-cap. Given the spread of the virus and the impact on the global supply chain. Trading opportunities only. 

Current Position: None

S&P 500 Index (Core Holding) – Given the rapid deterioration of the broad market, we sold our entire core position holdings for the safety of cash.

Current Position: None

Gold (GLD) – Gold broke our stop, and we sold our holdings. We are now on the watch for an entry point if Gold can climb back above the 200-dma. 

Current Position: None

Bonds (TLT) –

Bonds collapsed last week as the “credit event” we have been concerned about took shape. We had previously taken profits and reduced our bond holdings duration and increased credit quality. We have now reduced our total bond exposure to 20% of the portfolio from 40% since we are only carrying 10% equity currently. (Rebalanced our hedge.) 

Current Positions: SHY, IEF, BIL

Sector / Market Recommendations

The table below shows thoughts on specific actions related to the current market environment.

(These are not recommendations or solicitations to take any action. This is for informational purposes only related to market extremes and contrarian positioning within portfolios. Use at your own risk and peril.)

Portfolio/Client Update:

I know it is ugly. 

The S&P 500 is down nearly 32% in just three weeks. 

That’s scary.

However, it is important to keep some perspective on where we are currently. 

Last Monday, we further reduced our equity to just 10% (from 25% previously) of the portfolio

What does that mean?  Here is some math:

If the market goes to ZERO from here, (it’s not going to) your MAXIMUM loss is just 10%.

This is recoverable, particularly if we could buy a portfolio of assets for FREE.

We currently expect a maximum decline from current levels of 20%. This would be a 2% net hit to portfolios leaving us with a LOT of cash to buy distressed assets at 50% off. 

This is the opportunity we have been waiting for during the entire last decade.

Currently, we are busy rebuilding all of our portfolio models, rethinking risk management in a post-bear market environment, and what role the future of “fixed income” will play in asset allocations.

These are all essential questions that we need solid answers for.

We are in an excellent position with plenty of cash, reduced bond holdings, and minimal equity exposure in companies we want to own for the next 10-years. We are just patiently waiting to buy large chunks of these holdings soon with both stable and higher yields. 

Let me assure you of four things;

  1. The ONLY people who care more about your money than you, is all of us at RIA Advisors.
  2. We will NOT “buy the bottom” of the market. We will buy when we SEE the bottom of the market is in and risk/reward ratios are clearly in our favor. 
  3. This has been THE fastest bear market in history. We are doing our best to preserve your capital so that you meet your financial goals. Bear markets are never fun, but they are necessary for future gains. 
  4. We’ve got this.

Please don’t hesitate to contact us if you have any questions, or concerns. 

Lance Roberts

CIO


THE REAL 401k PLAN MANAGER

A Conservative Strategy For Long-Term Investors


Model performance is based on a two-asset model of stocks and bonds relative to the weighting changes made each week in the newsletter. This is strictly for informational and educational purposes only and should not be relied upon for any reason. Past performance is not a guarantee of future results. Use at your own risk and peril.

401k Plan Manager Live Model

As an RIA PRO subscriber (You get your first 30-days free) you have access to our live 401k p

The code will give you access to the entire site during the 401k-BETA testing process, so not only will you get to help us work out the bugs on the 401k plan manager, you can submit your comments about the rest of the site as well.

We are building models specific to company plans. So, if you would like to see your company plan included specifically, send me the following:

  • Name of the company
  • Plan Sponsor
  • A print out of your plan choices. (Fund Symbol and Fund Name)

If you would like to offer our service to your employees at a deeply discounted corporate rate, please contact me.

 

Shedlock: Fed Trying To Save The Bond Market As Unemployment Explodes

Bond market volatility remains a sight to behold, even at the low end of the curve.

Bond Market Dislocations Remain

The yield on a 3-month T-Bill fell to 1.3 basis points then surged to 16.8 basis points in a matter of hours. The yield then quickly crashed to 3 basis points and now sits at 5.1 basis points.

The Fed is struggling even with the low end of the Treasury curve.

$IRX 3-Month Yield

Stockcharts shows the 3-month yield ($IRX) dipping below zero but Investing.Com does not show the yield went below zero.

Regardless, these swings are not normal.

Cash Crunch

Bloomberg reports All the Signs a Cash Crunch Is Gripping Markets and the Economy

In a crisis, it is said, all correlations go to one. Threats get so overwhelming that everything reacts in unison. And the common thread running through all facets of financial markets and the real economy right now is simple: a global cash crunch of epic proportions.

Investors piled $137 billion into cash-like assets in the five days ending March 11, according to a Bank of America report citing EPFR Global data. Its monthly fund manager survey showed the fourth-largest monthly jump in allocations to cash ever, from 4% to 5.1%.

“Cash has become the king as the short-term government funds have had massive deposits, with ~$13 billion inflows last week (a 10-standard deviation move),” adds Maneesh Dehspande, head of equity derivatives strategy at Barclays.

4th Largest Jump in History

It’s quite telling that a jump of a mere 1.1 percentage point to 5.1% cash is the 4th largest cash jump in history.

Margin and Short Covering

“In aggregate, the market saw a large outflow, with $9 billion of long liquidation and $6 billion of short covering,” said Michael Haigh, global head of commodity research at Societe Generale. “This general and non-directional closure of money manager positions could be explained by a need for cash to pay margin calls on other derivatives contracts.

The comment is somewhat inaccurate. Sideline cash did not change “in aggregate” although cash balances t various fund managers did.

This is what happens when leveraged longs get a trillion dollar derivatives margin call or whatever the heck it was.

Need a Better Hedge

With the S&P 500 down more than 12% in the five sessions ending March 17, the Japanese yen is weaker against the greenback, the 10-year Treasury future is down, and gold is too.

That’s another sign dollars are top of mind, and investors are selling not only what they want to, but also what they have to.

Dash to Cash

It’s one thing to see exchange-traded products stuffed full of relatively illiquid corporate bonds trade below the purported sum of the value of their holdings. It’s quite another to see such a massive discount develop in a more plain-vanilla product like the Vanguard Total Bond Market ETF (BND) as investors ditched the product to raise cash despite not quite getting their money’s worth.

The fund closed Tuesday at a discount of nearly 2% to its net asset value, which blew out to above 6% last week amid accelerating, record outflows. That exceeded its prior record discount from 2008.

It is impossible for everyone to go to cash at the same time.

Someone must hold every stock, every bond and every dollar.

Fed Opens More Dollar Swap Lines

Moments ago Reuters reported Fed Opens Dollar Swap Lines for Nine Additional Foreign Central Banks.

The Fed said the swaps, in which the Fed accepts other currencies in exchange for dollars, will for at least the next six months allow the central banks of Australia, Brazil, South Korea, Mexico, Singapore, Sweden, Denmark, Norway and New Zealand to tap up to a combined total of $450 billion, money to ensure the world’s dollar-dependent financial system continues to function.

The new swap lines “like those already established between the Federal Reserve and other central banks, are designed to help lessen strains in global U.S. dollar funding markets, thereby mitigating the effects of these strains on the supply of credit to households and businesses, both domestically and abroad,” the Fed said in a statement.

The central banks of South Korea, Singapore, Mexico and Sweden all said in separate statements they intended to use them.

Fed Does Another Emergency Repo and Relaunches Commercial Paper Facility

Yesterday I commented Fed Does Another Emergency Repo and Relaunches Commercial Paper Facility

Very Deflationary Outcome Has Begun: Blame the Fed

The Fed is struggling mightily to alleviate the mess it is largely responsible for.

I previously commented a Very Deflationary Outcome Has Begun: Blame the Fed

The Fed blew three economic bubbles in succession. A deflationary bust has started. They blew bubbles trying to prevent “deflation” defined as falling consumer prices.


BIS Deflation Study

The BIS did a historical study and found routine price deflation was not any problem at all.

“Deflation may actually boost output. Lower prices increase real incomes and wealth. And they may also make export goods more competitive,” stated the BIS study.

For a discussion of the study, please see Historical Perspective on CPI Deflations: How Damaging are They?

Deflation is not really about prices. It’s about the value of debt on the books of banks that cannot be paid back by zombie corporations and individuals.

Blowing bubbles in absurd attempts to arrest “price deflation” is crazy. The bigger the bubbles the bigger the resultant “asset bubble deflation”. Falling consumer prices do not have severe negative repercussions. Asset bubble deflations are another matter.

Assessing the Blame

Central banks are not responsible for the coronavirus. But they are responsible for blowing economic bubbles prone to crash.

The equities bubbles before the coronavirus hit were the largest on record.

Dollar Irony

The irony in this madness is the US will be printing the most currency and have the biggest budget deficits as a result. Yet central banks can’t seem to get enough dollars. In that aspect, the dollar ought to be sinking.

But given the US 10-year Treasury yield at 1.126% is among the highest in the world, why not exchange everything one can for dollars earning positive yield.

This is all such circular madness, it’s hard to say when or how it ends.

Unemployment Set To Explode

A SurveyUSA poll reveals 9% of the US is out of a job due to the coronavirus.

Please consider the Results of SurveyUSA Coronavirus News Poll.

Key Findings

  1. 9% of Working Americans (14 Million) So Far Have Been Laid Off As Result of Coronavirus; 1 in 4 Workers Have Had Their Hours Reduced;
  2. 2% Have Been Fired; 20% Have Postponed a Business Trip; Shock Waves Just Now Beginning to Ripple Through Once-Roaring US Economy:
  3. Early markers on the road from recession to depression as the Coronavirus threatens to stop the world from spinning on its axis show that 1 in 4 working Americans have had their hours reduced as a result of COVID-19, according to SurveyUSA’s latest time-series tracking poll conducted 03/18/20 and 03/19/20.
  4. Approximately 160 million Americans were employed in the robust Trump economy 2 months ago. If 26% have had their hours reduced, that translates to 41 million Americans who this week will take home less money than last, twice as many as SurveyUSA found in an identical poll 1 week ago. Time-series tracking graphs available here.
  5. 9% of working Americans, or 14 million of your friends and neighbors, will take home no paycheck this week, because they were laid off, up from 1% in an identical SurveyUSA poll 1 week ago. Time-series tracking graphs available here.
  6. Unlike those laid-off workers who have some hope of being recalled once the worst of the virus has past, 2% of Americans say they have lost their jobs altogether as a result of the virus, up from 1% last week.
  7. Of working Americans, 26% are working from home either some days or every day, up from 17% last week. A majority, 56%, no longer go to their place of employment, which means they are not spending money on gasoline or transit tokens.

About: SurveyUSA interviewed 1,000 USA adults nationwide 03/18/20 through 03/19/20. Of the adults, approximately 60% were, before the virus, employed full-time or part-time outside of the home and were asked the layoff and reduced-hours questions. Approximately half of the interviews for this survey were completed before the Big 3 Detroit automakers announced they were shutting down their Michigan assembly lines. For most Americans, events continue to unfold faster than a human mind is able to process the consequences.

Grim Survey of Reduced Hours

Current Unemployment Stats

Data from latest BLS Jobs Report.

If we assume the SurveyUSA numbers are accurate and will not get worse, we can arrive at some U3 and U6 unemployment estimates.

Baseline Unemployment Estimate (U3)

  • Unemployed: 5.787 million + 14 million = 19.787 million unemployed
  • Civilian Labor Force: 164.546 million (unchanged)
  • Unemployment Rate: 19.787 / 164.546 = 12.0%

That puts my off the top of the head 15.0% estimate a few days in the ballpark.

Underemployment Estimate (U6)

  • Employed: 158.759 million.
  • 26% have hours reduced = 41.277 million
  • Part Time for Economic Reasons: 4.318 million + 41.277 million = 45.595 million underemployed
  • 45.595 million underemployed + 19.787 million unemployed = 65.382 million
  • Civilian Labor Force: 164.546 million (unchanged)
  • U6 Unemployment Rate: 65.382 / 164.546 = 39.7%

Whoa Nellie

Wow, that’s not a recession. A depression is the only word.

Note that economists coined a new word “recession” after the 1929 crash and stopped using the word depression assuming it would never happen again.

Prior to 1929 every economic slowdown was called a depression. So if you give credit to the Fed for halting depressions, they haven’t. Ity’s just a matter of semantics.

Depression is a very fitting word if those numbers are even close to what’s going to happen.

Meanwhile, It’s no wonder the Fed Still Struggles to Get a Grip on the Bond Market and there is a struggled “Dash to Cash”.

Very Deflationary Outcome Has Begun: Blame the Fed

The Fed is struggling mightily to alleviate the mess it is largely responsible for.

I previously commented a Very Deflationary Outcome Has Begun: Blame the Fed

The Fed blew three economic bubbles in succession. A deflationary bust has started. They blew bubbles trying to prevent “deflation” defined as falling consumer prices.

BIS Deflation Study

The BIS did a historical study and found routine price deflation was not any problem at all.

“Deflation may actually boost output. Lower prices increase real incomes and wealth. And they may also make export goods more competitive,” stated the BIS study.

For a discussion of the study, please see Historical Perspective on CPI Deflations: How Damaging are They?

Deflation is not really about prices. It’s about the value of debt on the books of banks that cannot be paid back by zombie corporations and individuals.

Blowing bubbles in absurd attempts to arrest “price deflation” is crazy. The bigger the bubbles the bigger the resultant “asset bubble deflation”. Falling consumer prices do not have severe negative repercussions. Asset bubble deflations are another matter.

Assessing the Blame

Central banks are not responsible for the coronavirus. But they are responsible for blowing economic bubbles prone to crash.

The equities bubbles before the coronavirus hit were the largest on record.

Dollar Irony

The irony in this madness is the US will be printing the most currency and have the biggest budget deficits as a result. Yet central banks can’t seem to get enough dollars. In that aspect, the dollar ought to be sinking.

But given the US 10-year Treasury yield at 1.126% is among the highest in the world, why not exchange everything one can for dollars earning positive yield.

This is all such circular madness, it’s hard to say when or how it ends.

Quick Take: The Dollar Problem

Over the last two weeks, the U.S. dollar index has risen by 6%. That may not seem like much to investors who are watching stocks rise and fall by that amount, and even more daily or bond yields falling in half and then doubling, but trust us; it is.

The dollar is unlike any other asset because it is the world’s reserve currency. When a Canadian tire company buys rubber from a Philippine rubber company, the payment occurs in U.S. dollars. Both countries have their own currencies, but neither currency has the liquidity, deep credit markets, and quite frankly, the world’s largest economy and military power backing it.

Because so many foreign countries and companies transact with dollars, they need to borrow in dollars, despite the fact their revenue is often not in dollars. This creates a mismatch between revenues and expenses as currency values fluctuate. If the mismatch is not hedged, as is frequently the case, foreign borrowers of U.S. dollars are subject to higher borrowing costs if the dollar rises versus their local currency. Simply the local currency depreciates versus the dollar; therefore, they need more of the local currency to make good on their debt. Because of this construct, a stronger dollar is effectively a tightening of financial conditions on the rest of the world.

This is what is occurring today as the virus is severely impacting the global economy. Revenues are deteriorating and the cost of dollar-denominated foreign debt is rising rapidly. As borrowers scramble to raise more dollars to meet their obligations, the situation worsens as the demand for dollars forces the dollar higher. In layman’s terms, there is a global run on the dollar and, in circular fashion, the run is pushing the dollar higher. Either the global economy will break or the dollar. Right now it seems that despite massive liquidity from the Fed the dollar does not want to back down.  

 

 

 

Technically Speaking: Risk Limits Hit, When Too Little Is Too Much

For the last several months, we have been issuing repeated warnings about the market. While such comments are often mistaken for “being bearish,” we have often stated it is our process of managing “risk” which is most important.

Beginning in mid-January, we began taking profits out of our portfolios and reducing risk. To wit:

“On Friday, we began the orderly process of reducing exposure in our portfolios to take in profits, reduce portfolio risk, and raise cash levels.”

Importantly, we did not “sell everything” and go to cash.

Since then, we took profits and rebalanced risk again in late January and early February as well.

Our clients, their families, their financial and emotional “well being,” rest in our hands. We take that responsibility very seriously, and work closely with our clients to ensure that not only are they financially successful, but they are emotionally stable in the process.

This is, and has been, our biggest argument against “buy and hold,” and “passive investing.” While there are plenty of case studies showing why individuals will eventually get back to even, the vast majority of individuals have a “pain point,” where they will sell.

So, we approach portfolio management from a perspective of “risk management,” but not just in terms of “portfolio risk,” but “emotional risk” as well. By reducing our holdings to raise cash to protect capital, we can reduce the risk of our clients hitting that “threashold” where they potentially make very poor decisions.

In investing, the worst decisions are always made at the moment of the most pain. Either at the bottom of the market or near the peaks. 

Investing is not always easy. Our portfolios are designed to have longer-term holding periods, but we also understand that things do not always go as planned.

This is why we have limits, and when things go wrong, we sell.

So, why do I tell you this?

On Friday/Monday, our “limits” were breached, which required us to sell more.

Two Things

Two things have now happened, which signaled us to reduce risk further in portfolios.

On Sunday, the Federal Reserve dropped a monetary “nuclear bomb,” on the markets. My colleague Caroline Baum noted the details:

“After an emergency 50-basis-point rate cut on March 3, the Federal Reserve doubled down Sunday evening, lowering its benchmark rate by an additional 100 basis points to a range of 0%-0.25% following another emergency meeting.

After ramping up its $60 billion of monthly Treasury bill purchases to include Treasuries of all maturities and offering $1.5 trillion of liquidity to the market via repurchase agreements on March 3, the Fed doubled down Sunday evening with announced purchases of at least $500 billion of Treasuries and at least $200 billion of agency mortgage-backed securities.

In addition, the Fed reduced reserve requirements to zero, encouraged banks to borrow from its discount window at a rate of 0.25%, and, in coordination with five other central banks, lowered the price of U.S. dollar swap arrangements to facilitate dollar liquidity abroad”

We had been anticipating the Federal Reserve to try and rescue the markets, which is why we didn’t sell even more aggressively previously. The lesson investors have been taught repeatedly over the last decade was “Don’t Fight The Fed.”

One of the reasons we reduced our exposure in the prior days was out of concern the Fed’s actions wouldn’t be successful. 

On Monday, we found out the answer. The Fed may be fighting a battle it can’t win as markets not only failed to respond to the Fed’s monetary interventions but also broke the “bullish trend line” from the 2009 lows.  (While the markets are oversold short-term, the long-term “sell signals” in the bottom panels are just being triggered from fairly high levels. This suggests more difficulty near-term for stocks. 

This was the “Red Line” we laid out in our Special Report for our RIAPro Subscribers (Risk-Free 30-Day Trial) last week:

“As you can see in the chart below, this is a massive surge of liquidity, hitting the market at a time the market is testing important long-term trend support.”

It is now, or never, for the markets.

With our portfolios already at very reduced equity levels, the break of this trendline will take our portfolios to our lowest levels of exposure.

What happened today was an event we have been worried about, but didn’t expect to see until after a break of the trendline – “margin calls.” This is why we saw outsized selling in “safe assets” such as REITs, utilities, bonds, and gold.

Cash was the only safe place to hide.

We aren’t anxious to “fight the Fed,” but the markets may have a different view this time.

Use rallies to raise cash, and rebalance portfolio risk accordingly.

We are looking to be heavy buyers of equities when the market forms a bottom, we just aren’t there as of yet.”

On Monday morning, with that important trendline broken, we took some action.

  • Did we sell everything? No. We still own 10% equity, bonds, and a short S&P 500 hedge. 
  • Did we sell the bottom? Maybe.

We will only know in hindsight for certain, and we are not willing to risk more of our client’s capital currently. 

There are too many non-quantifiable risks with a global recession looming, as noted by David Rosenberg:

“The pandemic is a clear ‘black swan’ event. There will be a whole range of knock-on effects. Fully 40 million American workers, or one-third of the private-sector labor force, are directly affected ─ retail, entertainment, events, sports, theme parks, conferences, travel, tourism, restaurants and, of course, energy.

This doesn’t include all the multiplier effects on other industries. It would not surprise me at all if real GDP in Q2 contracts at something close to an 8% annual rate (matching what happened in the fourth quarter of 2008, which was a financial event alone).

The hit to GDP can be expected to be anywhere from $400 billion to $600 billion for the year. But the market was in trouble even before COVID-19 began to spread, with valuations and complacency at cycle highs and equity portfolio managers sitting with record-low cash buffers. Hence the forced selling in other asset classes.

If you haven’t made recession a base-case scenario, you probably should. All four pandemics of the past century coincided with recession. This won’t be any different. It’s tough to generate growth when we’re busy “social distancing.” I am amazed that the latest WSJ poll of economists conducted between March 6-10th showed only 49% seeing a recession coming”.

The importance of his commentary is that from an “investment standpoint,” we can not quantify whether this “economic shock” has been priced into equities as of yet. However, we can do some math based on currently available data:

The chart below is the annual change in nominal GDP, and S&P 500 GAAP earnings.

I am sure you will not be shocked to learn that during “recessions,” corporate “earnings’ tend to fall. Historically, the average drawdown of earnings is about 20%; however, since the 1990’s, those drawdowns have risen to about 30%.

As of March 13th, Standard & Poors has earnings estimates for the first quarter of 2020 at $139.20 / share. This is down just $0.20 from the fourth quarter of 2019 estimates of $139.53.

In other words, Wall Street estimates are still in “fantasy land.” 

If our, and Mr. Rosenberg’s, estimates are correct of a 5-8% recessionary drag in the second quarter of 2020, then an average reduction in earnings of 30% is most likely overly optimistic. 

However, here is the math:

  • Current Earnings = 132.90
  • 30% Reduction = $100 (rounding down for easier math)

At various P/E multiples, we can predict where “fair value” for the market is based on historical assumptions:

  • 20x earnings:  Historically high but markets have traded at high valuations for the last decade. 
  • 18x earnings: Still historically high.
  • 15x earnings: Long-Term Average
  • 13x earnings: Undervalued 
  • 10x earnings: Extremely undervalued but aligned with secular bear market bottoms.

You can pick your own level where you think P/E’s will account for the global recession but the chart below prices it into the market.

With the S&P 500 closing yesterday at 2386, this equates to downside risk of:

  • 20x Earnings = -16% (Total decline from peak = – 40%)
  • 18x Earnings = 24.5% (Total decline from peak = – 46%)
  • 15x Earnings = -37.1% (Total decline from peak = – 55%)
  • 13x Earnings = 45.5% (Total decline from peak = – 61%)
  • 10x Earnings = 58.0% (Total decline from peak = – 70%)

NOTE: I am not suggesting the market is about to decline 60-70% from the recent peak. I am simply laying out various multiples based on assumed risk to earnings. However, 15-18x earnings is extremely reasonable and possible. 

When Too Little Is Too Much

With our risk limits hit, and in order to protect our clients from both financial and emotional duress, we made the decision that even the reduced risk we were carrying was still too much.

One concern, which weighed heavily into our decision process, was the rising talk of the “closing the markets” entirely for a week or two to allow the panic to pass. We have clients that depend on liquidity from their accounts to sustain their retirement lifestyle. In our view, a closure of the markets would lead to two outcomes which pose a real risk to our clients:

  1. They need access to liquidity, and with markets closed are unable to “sell” and raise cash; and,
  2. When you trap investors in markets, when they do open again, there is a potential “rush” of sellers to get of the market to protect themselves. 

That risk, combined with the issue that major moves in markets are happening outside of transaction hours, are outside of our ability to hedge, or control.

This is what we consider to be an unacceptable risk for the time being.

We will likely miss the ultimate “bottom” of the market.

Probably.

But that’s okay, we have done our job of protecting our client’s second most precious asset behind their family, the capital they have to support them.

The good news is that a great “buying” opportunity is coming. Just don’t be in a “rush” to try and buy the bottom.

I can assure you, when we see ultimately see a clear “risk/reward” set up to start taking on equity risk again, we will do so “with both hands.” 

And we are sitting on a lot of cash just for that reason.Save

RIA PRO: Risk Limits Hit

For the last several months we have been issuing repeated warnings about the market. While such comments are often mistaken for “being bearish,” we have often stated it is our process of managing “risk” which is most important.

Beginning in mid-January, we began taking profits out of our portfolios and reducing risk. To wit:

“On Friday, we began the orderly process of reducing exposure in our portfolios to take in profits, reduce portfolio risk, and raise cash levels.”

Since then, as you know, we have taken profits, and rebalanced risk several times within the portfolios.

Importantly, we approach portfolio management from a perspective of “risk management,” but not just in terms of “portfolio risk,” but “emotional risk” as well. By reducing our holdings to raise cash to protect capital, we can reduce the risk of our clients hitting that “threshold” where they potentially make very poor decisions.

In investing, the worst decisions are always made at the moment of the most pain. Either at the bottom of the market or near the peaks. 

Investing is not always easy. Our portfolios are designed to have longer-term holding periods, but we also understand that things do not always go as planned.

This is why we have limits, and when things go wrong, we sell.

So, why do I tell you this?

On Friday/Monday, our “limits” were breached, which required us to sell more.

Two Things

Two things have now happened which signaled us to reduce risk further in portfolios.

On Sunday, the Federal Reserve dropped a monetary “nuclear bomb,” on the markets. My colleague Caroline Baum noted the details:

“After an emergency 50-basis-point rate cut on March 3, the Federal Reserve doubled down Sunday evening, lowering its benchmark rate by an additional 100 basis points to a range of 0%-0.25% following another emergency meeting.

After ramping up its $60 billion of monthly Treasury bill purchases to include Treasuries of all maturities and offering $1.5 trillion of liquidity to the market via repurchase agreements on March 3, the Fed doubled down Sunday evening with announced purchases of at least $500 billion of Treasuries and at least $200 billion of agency mortgage-backed securities.

In addition, the Fed reduced reserve requirements to zero, encouraged banks to borrow from its discount window at a rate of 0.25%, and, in coordination with five other central banks, lowered the price of U.S. dollar swap arrangements to facilitate dollar liquidity abroad”

We had been anticipating the Federal Reserve to try and rescue the markets, which is why we didn’t sell even more aggressively previously. The lesson investors have been taught repeatedly over the last decade was “Don’t Fight The Fed.”

One of the reasons we reduced our exposure in the prior days was out of concern we didn’t know if the Fed’s actions would be successful. 

On Monday, we found out the answer. The Fed may be fighting a battle it can’t win as markets not only failed to respond to the Fed’s monetary interventions, but also broke the “bullish trend line” from the 2009 lows.  (While the markets are oversold short-term, the long-term “sell signals” in the bottom panels are just being triggered from fairly high levels. This suggests more difficulty near-term for stocks. 

This was the “Red Line” we laid out in our last week, in the Special Report Red Line In The Sand:

“As you can see in the chart below, this is a massive surge of liquidity hitting the market at a time the market is hitting important long-term trend support.”

It is now, or never, for the markets.

With our portfolios already at very reduced equity levels, the break of this trendline will take our portfolios to our lowest levels of exposure. However, given the extreme oversold condition, noted above, it is likely we are going to see a bounce, which we will use to reduce risk into.

What happened today was an event we have been worried about, but didn’t expect to see until after a break of the trendline – “margin calls.”

This is why we saw outsized selling in “safe assets” such as REITs, utilities, bonds, and gold.

Cash was the only safe place to hide.

This also explains why the market “failed to rally” when the Fed announced $500 billion today. There is another $500 billion coming tomorrow. We will see what happens.

We aren’t anxious to “fight the Fed,” but the markets may have a different view this time.

Use rallies to raise cash, and rebalance portfolio risk accordingly.

We are looking to be heavy buyers of equities when the market forms a bottom, we just aren’t there as of yet.”

On Monday morning, we took some action.

  • Did we sell everything? No. We still own 10% equity, bonds, and a short S&P 500 hedge. 
  • Did we sell the bottom? Maybe.

We will only know in hindsight for certain, and we are not willing to risk more of our client’s capital currently. 

There are too many non-quantifiable risks with a global recession looming, as noted by David Rosenberg:

“The pandemic is a clear ‘black swan’ event. There will be a whole range of knock-on effects. Fully 40 million American workers, or one-third of the private sector labor force, are directly affected ─ retail, entertainment, events, sports, theme parks, conferences, travel, tourism, restaurants and, of course, energy.

This doesn’t include all the multiplier effects on other industries. It would not surprise me at all if real GDP in Q2 contracts at something close to an 8% annual rate (matching what happened in the fourth quarter of 2008 which was a financial event alone).

The hit to GDP can be expected to be anywhere from $400 billion to $600 billion for the year. But the market was in trouble even before COVID-19 began to spread, with valuations and complacency at cycle highs and equity portfolio managers sitting with record-low cash buffers. Hence the forced selling in other asset classes.

If you haven’t made recession a base-case scenario, you probably should. All four pandemics of the past century coincided with recession. This won’t be any different. It’s tough to generate growth when we’re busy “social distancing.” I am amazed that the latest WSJ poll of economists conducted between March 6-10th showed only 49% seeing a recession coming”.

The importance of his commentary is that from an “investment standpoint,” we can not quantify whether this “economic shock” has been priced into equities as of yet. However, we can do some math based on currently available data:

The chart below is annual nominal GDP, and S&P 500 GAAP earnings.

I am sure you will not be shocked to learn that during “recessions,” corporate “earnings’ tend to fall. Historically, the average drawdown of earnings is about 20%, however, since the 1990’s, those drawdowns have risen to about 30%.

As of March 13th, Standard & Poors has earnings estimates for the first quarter of 2020 at $139.20/share. This is down just $0.20 from the fourth quarter of 2019 estimates of $139.53.

If our, and Mr. Rosenberg’s, estimates are correct of a 5-8% recessionary drag in the second quarter of 2020, then an average reduction in earnings of 30% is most likely overly optimistic. 

However, here is the math:

  • Current Earnings = 132.90
  • 30% Reduction = $100 (rounding down for easier math)

At various P/E multiples we can predict where “fair value” for the market is based on historical assumptions:

  • 20x earnings:  Historically high but markets have traded at high valuations for the last decade. 
  • 18x earnings: Still historically high.
  • 15x earnings: Long-Term Average
  • 13x earnings: Undervalued 
  • 10x earnings: Extremely undervalued but aligned with secular bear market bottoms.

You can pick your own level where you think P/E’s will account for the global recession but the chart below prices it into the market.

With the S&P 500 closing yesterday at 2386, this equates to downside risk of:

  • 20x Earnings = -16% (Total decline from peak = – 40%)
  • 18x Earnings = 24.5% (Total decline from peak = – 46%)
  • 15x Earnings = -37.1% (Total decline from peak = – 55%)
  • 13x Earnings = 45.5% (Total decline from peak = – 61%)
  • 10x Earnings = 58.0% (Total decline from peak = – 70%)

NOTE: I am not suggesting the market is about to decline 60-70% from the recent peak. I am simply laying out various multiples based on assumed risk to earnings. However, 15-18x earnings is extremely reasonable and possible. 

When Too Little Is Too Much

With our risk limits hit, and in order to protect our clients from both financial and emotional duress, we made the decision that even the reduced risk we were carrying was still too much.

One concern, which weighed heavily into our decision process, was the rising talk of the “closing the markets” entirely for a week or two to allow the panic to pass. We have clients that depend on liquidity from their accounts to sustain their retirement lifestyle. In our view, a closure of the markets would lead to two outcomes which pose a real risk to our clients:

  1. They need access to liquidity, and with markets closed are unable to “sell” and raise cash; and,
  2. When you trap investors in markets, when they do open again there is a potential “rush” of sellers to get of the market to protect themselves. 

That risk, combined with the issue that major moves in markets are happening outside of transaction hours, are outside of our ability to hedge, or control.

This is what we consider to be unacceptable risk for the time being.

We will likely miss the ultimate “bottom” of the market?

Probably.

But that’s okay, we have done our job of protecting our client’s second most precious asset behind their family, the capital they have to support them.

The good news is that a great “buying” opportunity is coming. Just don’t be in a “rush” to try and buy the bottom.

I can assure you that when we see ultimately see a clear “risk/reward” set up to start taking on equity risk again, we will do so “with both hands.” 

And we are sitting on a lot of cash just for that reason.Save

Market Crash. Is It Over, Or Is It The “Revenant”


  • Market Crash: Is It Over, Or Is It The Revenant?
  • MacroView: Fed Launches A Bazooka To Kill A Virus
  • Financial Planning Corner: Tips For A Volatile Market
  • Sector & Market Analysis
  • 401k Plan Manager

Follow Us On: Twitter, Facebook, Linked-In, Sound Cloud, Seeking Alpha



Catch Up On What You Missed Last Week


Market Crash. Is It Over, Or Is The “Revenant?”

If you haven’t seen the movie “The Revenant” with Leonardo DiCaprio, it is a 2015 American survival drama describing frontiersman Hugh Glass’s experiences in 1823. Early in the movie, Hugh, an expert hunter, and tracker, is mauled by a grizzly bear. (Warning: the scene is very graphic)

In the scene, the attack comes in three distinct waves.

  1. The bear attacks, and brutally mauls Hugh, who plays dead to survive. The attack subsides.
  2. The bear comes back, and Hugh shoots it, provoking the bear to maul him some more.
  3. Finally, Hugh pulls out his knife as the bear attacks for a final fight to the death. (Hugh wins if you don’t want to watch the video.)

Interestingly, this is also how a “bear market” works.

Bob Farrell, a legendary investor, is famous for his 10-Investment Rules to follow.

Rule #8 states:

Bear markets have three stages – sharp down, reflexive rebound and a drawn-out fundamental downtrend

  1. Bear markets often START with a sharp and swift decline.
  2. After this decline, there is an oversold bounce that retraces a portion of that decline.
  3. The longer-term decline then continues, at a slower and more grinding pace, as the fundamentals deteriorate.

Dow Theory also suggests that bear markets consist of three down legs with reflexive rebounds in between.

The chart above shows the stages of the last two primary cyclical bear markets versus today (the 2020 scale has been adjusted to match.)

As would be expected, the “Phase 1” selloff has been brutal.

That selloff sets up a “reflexive bounce.”  For many individuals, they will feel like” they are “safe.” This is how “bear market rallies” lure investors back in just before they are mauled again in “Phase 3.”

Just like in 2000, and 2008, the media/Wall Street will be telling you to just “hold on.” Unfortunately, by the time “Phase 3” was finished, there was no one wanting to “buy” anything. 

One of the reasons we are fairly certain of a further decline is due to the dual impacts of the “COVID-19” virus, and oil price shock. As noted in our MacroView:

“With the U.S. now shutting down and entrenching itself in response to the virus, the economic impact will be worsened. However, given that economic data is lagging, and we only have numbers that were mostly pre-virus, the reports over the next couple of months will ultimately reveal the extent of the damage.

With oil prices now at $30/bbl and 10-year breakeven rates to 0.9%, the math is significantly worse, and that is what the severity of the recent selloff is telling us. Over the next two quarters, we could see as much as a 3% clip off of current GDP.”

Unfortunately, while asset prices have declined, they have likely not fully accounted for the impact to earnings, permanently lost revenues, and the recessionary impact from falling consumer confidence. Historically, the gap between asset prices and corporate profits gets filled. 

In Playing Defense: We Don’t Know What Happens Next,” I estimated the impact on earnings that is still coming.

What we know, with almost absolute certainty, is that we will be in an economic recession within the next couple of quarters. We also know that earnings estimates are still way too elevated to account for the disruption coming from the COVID-19.”

“What we DON’T KNOW is where the ultimate bottom for the market is. All we can do is navigate the volatility to the best of our ability and recalibrate portfolios to adjust for downside risk without sacrificing the portfolio’s ability to adjust for a massive ” bazooka-style ” monetary intervention from global Central Banks if needed quickly. 

This is why, over the last 6-weeks, we have been getting more “defensive” by increasing our CASH holdings to 15% of the portfolio, with our 40% in bonds doing the majority of the heavy lifting in mitigating the risk in our remaining equity holdings. 

Interestingly, the Federal Reserve DID show up on Thursday as expected. In a statement from the New York Fed:

The Federal Reserve said it would inject more than $1.5 trillion of temporary liquidity into Wall Street on Thursday and Friday to prevent ominous trading conditions from creating a sharper economic contraction.

If the transactions are fully subscribed, they would swell the central bank’s $4.2 trillion asset portfolio by more than 35%.” – WSJ

As you can see in the chart below, this is a massive surge of liquidity hitting the market at a time the market is sitting on critical long-term trend support.

Of course, this is what the market has been hoping for.

  • Rate cuts? Check
  • Liquidity? Check

On Friday, the market surged, and ALMOST recouped the previous day’s losses. (Sorry, it wasn’t President Trump’s speech that boosted the market.)

However, this rally, and liquidity flush, most likely does not negate the continuation of the bear market. The amount of technical damage combined with a recession, and a potential surge in credit defaults almost ensures another leg of the beg market is yet to come. 

A look at the charts can also help us better understand where we currently reside.

Trading The Bounce

In January, when we discussed taking profits out of our portfolios, we noted the markets were trading at 3-standard deviations above their 200-dma, which suggested a pullback, or correction, was likely.

Now, it is the same comment in reverse. The correction over the last couple of weeks has completely reversed the previous bullish exuberance into extreme pessimism. On a daily basis, the market is back to oversold. Historically, this condition has been sufficient for a bounce. Given the oversold condition (top panel) is combined with a very deep “sell signal” in the bottom panel, it suggests a fairly vicious reflexive rally is likely as we saw on Friday.

The question, of course, is where do you sell?

Looking at the chart above, it is possible for a rally to the 38.2%, or 50% retracement levels. However, with the severity of the break below the 200-dma, the 61.8% retracement level, where the 200-dma now resides, will be very formidable resistance. With the Fed’s liquidity push, it is possible for a strong “Phase 2” rally. Our plan will be to reduce equity exposure at each level of resistance and increase our equity hedges before the “Phase 3” mauling ensues. 

The following chart is a longer-term analysis of the market and is the format we use for “onboarding” our clients into allocation models. (Vertical black lines are buy periods)

“But Lance, how do you know that Friday wasn’t THE bottom?”

A look at longer-term time-frames gives us some clues.

With all of our longer-term weekly “sell signals” now triggered from fairly high levels, it suggests the current selloff is not over as of yet. In other words, we will see a rally, followed by a secondary failure to lower lows, before the ultimate bottom is put in. 

I have mapped out the three most logical secondary bottoms for the market, so you can assess your portfolio risk accordingly. 

  1. A retest of current lows that holds is a 27% decline.
  2. A retest of the 2018 lows, most likely, is an average recessionary decline of 32.8%
  3. A retest of the 2016 lows, coincident with a “credit event,” would entail a 50.9% decline. 

Given the weekly signals have only recently triggered, we can look at monthly data to confirm we still remain confined to a “bearish market” currently. 

On a monthly basis, sell signals have been triggered. However, these signals are NOT VALID until the end of the month. However, given the depth of the decline, it would likely require a rally back to all-time highs to reverse those signals. This is a very high improbability.

Assuming the signals remain, there is an important message being sent, as noted in the top panel. The “negative divergence” of relative strength has only been seen prior to the start of the previous two bear markets, and the 2015-2016 slog. While the current selloff resembles what we saw in late 2015, there is a risk of this developing into a recessionary bear market later this summer. The market is holding the 4-year moving average, which is “make or break” for the bull market trend from the 2009 lows.

However, we suspect those levels will eventually be taken out. Caution is advised.

What We Are Thinking

Since January, we have been regularly discussing taking profits in positions, rebalancing portfolio risks, and, most recently, moving out of areas subject to slower economic growth, supply-chain shutdowns, and the collapse in energy prices. This led us to eliminate all holdings in international, emerging markets, small-cap, mid-cap, financials, transportation, industrials, materials, and energy markets. (RIAPRO Subscribers were notified real-time of changes to our portfolios.)

There is “some truth” to the statement “that no one” could have seen the fallout of the “coronavirus” being escalated by an “oil price” war. However, there have been mounting risks for quite some time from valuations, to price deviations, and a complete disregard of risk by investors. While we have been discussing these issues with you, and making you aware of the risks, it was often deemed as “just being bearish” in the midst of a “bullish rally.” However, it is managing these types of risks, which is ultimately what clients pay advisors for.

It isn’t a perfect science. In times like these, it gets downright messy. But this is where working to preserve capital and limit drawdowns becomes most important. Not just from reducing the recovery time back to breakeven, but in also reducing the “psychological stress,” which leads individuals to make poor investment decisions over time.

As noted last week:

“Given the extreme oversold and deviated measures of current market prices, we are looking for a reflexive rally that we can further reduce risk into, add hedges, and stabilize portfolios for the duration of the correction. When it is clear, the correction, or worse a bear market, is complete, we will reallocate capital back to equities at better risk/reward measures.”

We highly suspect that we have seen the highs for the year. Most likely, we are moving into an environment where portfolio management will be more tactical in nature, versus buying and holding. 

Take some action on this rally. 

If this is a “Phase 2” relief rally of a bear market, you really don’t want to be around for the “final mauling.”


The MacroView

If you need help or have questions, we are always glad to help. Just email me.

See You Next Week

By Lance Roberts, CIO


Financial Planning Corner

You’ll be hearing more about more specific strategies to diversify soon, but don’t hesitate to give me any suggestions or questions.

by Danny Ratliff, CFP®


Market & Sector Analysis

Data Analysis Of The Market & Sectors For Traders

NOT A RIAPro SUBSCRIBER YET? 

WE ARE UNLOCKING OUR SUBSCRIBER SECTION AGAIN THIS WEEK TO ASSIST YOU IN MANAGING YOUR PORTFOLIO IN THESE CHALLENGING TIMES. 

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S&P 500 Tear Sheet  


Performance Analysis


Technical Composite


ETF Model Relative Performance Analysis


Sector & Market Analysis:

Be sure and catch our updates on Major Markets (Monday) and Major Sectors (Tuesday) with updated buy/stop/sell levels

Sector-by-Sector

Everything was crushed again this past week, so the difference between leading and lagging sectors is which sector fell faster or slower than the S&P 500 index itself. 

Improving – Discretionary (XLY), Real Estate (XLRE), and Staples (XLP)

Last week, we rebalanced our weightings in Real Estate and Staples, as these sectors are now improving in terms of relative performance. After getting very beaten up, we are looking not only for the “risk hedge” of non-virus related sectors but an eventual outperformance of the groups. 

We sold our entire stake in Discretionary due to potential earnings impacts from a slowdown in consumption, supply chain problems, and inventory issues. This worked well as Discretionary fell sharply last week. 

Current Positions: Target Weight XLU, XLRE

Outperforming – Technology (XLK), Communications (XLC), and Utilities (XLU)

The correction in Technology this past week broke support at the 200-dma but finished the week very close to our entry point, where we had slightly increased our exposure. These have “anti-virus” properties, so we are looking for the “risk hedge” relative to the broader market. Communication and Utilities didn’t perform as well but also held up better during the decline on a relative basis. We are watching Utilities and may reduce exposure if interest rates begin to rise due to the Fed. The same with Real Estate as well. 

Current Positions: Target weight XLK, XLC, XLU

Weakening – Healthcare (XLV)

We did bring our healthcare positioning back to portfolio weight as the sector will ultimately benefit from a “cure” for the “coronavirus.” Also, with Bernie Sanders now lagging Joe Biden on the Democratic ticket, this removes some of the risks of “nationalized healthcare” from the sector. 

Current Position: Target weight (XLV)

Lagging – Industrials (XLI), Financials (XLF), Materials (XLB), and Energy (XLE)

We had started to buy a little energy exposure previously but closed out of the positions as we were stopped out of our holdings week before last. We are going to continue to monitor the space due to its extreme oversold condition and relative value and will re-enter our positions when stability starts to take hold. 

We also sold Financials due to the financial risk from a recessionary impact on the outstanding corporate debt which currently exists. The Fed’s rate cut also impacts the bank’s Net Interest Margins, which makes them less attractive. Industrials and Materials have too much exposure to the “virus risk” for now.

Current Position: None

Market By Market

Small-Cap (SLY) and Mid Cap (MDY) – Week before last, we sold all small-cap and mid-cap exposure over concerns of the impact of the coronavirus. Remain out of these sectors for now. However, given that Central Banks are going “all in” on stimulus, we may look for a trade in these sectors short-term.

Current Position: None

Emerging, International (EEM) & Total International Markets (EFA)

Same as small-cap and mid-cap. Given the spread of the virus and the impact on the global supply chain. Trading opportunity only. 

Current Position: None

Dividends (VYM), Market (IVV), and Equal Weight (RSP) – We have decided to consolidate our long-term “core” holding into IVV only. We sold RSP and VYM and added to IVV. The reason for doing this is the disparity of performance between the 3-holdings. Since we want an “exact hedge” for our portfolio, IVV is the best match for a short-S&P 500 ETF.

Current Position: IVV

Gold (GLD) – This past week, Gold sold off as the Fed introduced liquidity giving the bulls hope and removing the “fear” factor in stocks. There was also a massive “margin call” that led to a liquidation event. Gold is VERY oversold currently. Add positions to portfolios with a stop $140. We sold our GDX position due to the fact mining is people-intensive and is located in countries most susceptible to the virus. 

Current Position: IAU (GOLD)

Bonds (TLT) –

Bonds also broke out to new highs as the correction ensued. Last Friday, we took profits in our 20-year bond position (TLT) to reduce our duration slightly, raise cash, and take in some profits. Bonds are extremely overbought now, so be cautious, we are maintaining the rest of our exposures for now, but we did rebalance our duration by selling 1/2 of IEF and adding to BIL. 

Current Positions: DBLTX, SHY, IEF, PTIAX, BIL

Sector / Market Recommendations

The table below shows thoughts on specific actions related to the current market environment.

(These are not recommendations or solicitations to take any action. This is for informational purposes only related to market extremes and contrarian positioning within portfolios. Use at your own risk and peril.)

Portfolio/Client Update:

Thank goodness. The market finally responded to the Fed on Friday. 

Please read “Trading The Bounce” above as it details our plan on how we are going to trade this liquidity rally. 

As noted last week:

“Staying true to our discipline and strategy is difficult when you have this type of volatility. We question everything, every day. Are we in the right place? Do we have too much risk? Are we missing something? 

The ghosts of 2000, and 2008, stalk us both, and we are overly protective of YOUR money. We do not take our jobs lightly.”

We took some further actions to increase cash, further rebalance risks this past week. We are now using this rally to add hedges, and reduce equities until the current “sell signals” reverse. As noted, this is most likely a “bear market” rally that will fail. 

However, if it is the beginning of a new “bull market,” then we will simply remove hedges and add to our equity longs. 

Be assured we are watching your portfolios very closely. However, if you have ANY questions, comments, or concerns, please don’t hesitate to email me.

Portfolio Actions Taken Last Week

  • New clients: Only adding new positions as needed.
  • Dynamic Model: Sold VOOG, and hedged portfolio. Currently unhedged. 
  • Equity Model: Sold IEF and added to BIL to shorten bond portfolio duration. Sold RSP and VYM, and added slightly to IVV to rebalance our CORE holdings for more effective hedges. 
  • ETF Model: Same as Equity Model.

Note for new clients:

It is important to understand that when we add to our equity allocations, ALL purchases are initially “trades” that can, and will, be closed out quickly if they fail to work as anticipated. This is why we “step” into positions initially. Once a “trade” begins to work as anticipated, it is then brought to the appropriate portfolio weight and becomes a long-term investment. We will unwind these actions either by reducing, selling, or hedging if the market environment changes for the worse.


THE REAL 401k PLAN MANAGER

A Conservative Strategy For Long-Term Investors


 

Model performance is based on a two-asset model of stocks and bonds relative to the weighting changes made each week in the newsletter. This is strictly for informational and educational purposes only and should not be relied upon for any reason. Past performance is not a guarantee of future results. Use at your own risk and peril.

 

401k Plan Manager Live Model

As an RIA PRO subscriber (You get your first 30-days free) you have access to our live 401k p

The code will give you access to the entire site during the 401k-BETA testing process, so not only will you get to help us work out the bugs on the 401k plan manager, you can submit your comments about the rest of the site as well.

We are building models specific to company plans. So, if you would like to see your company plan included specifically, send me the following:

  • Name of the company
  • Plan Sponsor
  • A print out of your plan choices. (Fund Symbol and Fund Name)

If you would like to offer our service to your employees at a deeply discounted corporate rate, please contact me.

 

Market Crash. Is It Over, Or Is It The “Revenant”


  • Market Crash: Is It Over, Or Is It The Revenant?
  • MacroView: Fed Launches A Bazooka To Kill A Virus
  • Financial Planning Corner: Tips For A Volatile Market
  • Sector & Market Analysis
  • 401k Plan Manager

Follow Us On: Twitter, Facebook, Linked-In, Sound Cloud, Seeking Alpha



Catch Up On What You Missed Last Week


Market Crash. Is It Over, Or Is The “Revenant?”

If you haven’t seen the moving “The Revenant” with Leonardo DiCaprio, it is a 2015 American survival drama describing frontiersman Hugh Glass’s experiences in 1823. Early in the movie, Hugh, an expert hunter, and tracker, is mauled by a grizzly bear. (Warning: the scene is very graphic)

In the scene, the attack comes in three distinct waves.

  1. The bear attacks, and brutally mauls Hugh, who plays dead to survive. The attack subsides.
  2. The bear comes back, and Huge shoots it, provoking the bear to maul him some more.
  3. Finally, Huge pulls out his knife as the bear attacks for a final fight to the death. (Hugh wins if you don’t want to watch the video.)

Interestingly, this is also how a “bear market” works.

Bob Farrell, a legendary investor, is famous for his 10-Investment Rules to follow.

Rule #8 states:

Bear markets have three stages – sharp down, reflexive rebound and a drawn-out fundamental downtrend

  1. Bear markets often START with a sharp and swift decline.
  2. After this decline, there is an oversold bounce that retraces a portion of that decline.
  3. The longer-term decline then continues, at a slower and more grinding pace, as the fundamentals deteriorate.

Dow Theory also suggests that bear markets consist of three down legs with reflexive rebounds in between.

The chart above shows the stages of the last two primary cyclical bear markets versus today (the 2020 scale has been adjusted to match.)

As would be expected, the “Phase 1” selloff has been brutal.

That selloff sets up a “reflexive bounce.”  For many individuals, they will feel like” they are “safe.” This is how “bear market rallies” lure investors back in just before they are mauled again in “Phase 3.”

Just like in 2000, and 2008, the media/Wall Street will be telling you to just “hold on.” Unfortunately, by the time “Phase 3” was finished, there was no one wanting to “buy” anything. 

One of the reasons we are fairly certain of a further decline is due to the dual impacts of the “COVID-19” virus, and oil price shock. As noted in our MacroView:

“With the U.S. now shutting down and entrenching itself in response to the virus, the economic impact will be worsened. However, given that economic data is lagging, and we only have numbers that were mostly pre-virus, the reports over the next couple of months will ultimately reveal the extent of the damage.

With oil prices now at $30/bbl and 10-year breakeven rates to 0.9%, the math is significantly worse, and that is what the severity of the recent selloff is telling us. Over the next two quarters, we could see as much as a 3% clip off of current GDP.”

Unfortunately, while asset prices have declined, they have likely not fully accounted for the impact to earnings, permanently lost revenues, and the recessionary impact from falling consumer confidence. Historically, the gap between asset prices and corporate profits gets filled. 

In Playing Defense: We Don’t Know What Happens Next,” I estimated the impact on earnings that is still coming.

What we know, with almost absolute certainty, is that we will be in an economic recession within the next couple of quarters. We also know that earnings estimates are still way too elevated to account for the disruption coming from the COVID-19.”

“What we DON’T KNOW is where the ultimate bottom for the market is. All we can do is navigate the volatility to the best of our ability and recalibrate portfolios to adjust for downside risk without sacrificing the portfolio’s ability to adjust for a massive ” bazooka-style ” monetary intervention from global Central Banks if needed quickly. 

This is why, over the last 6-weeks, we have been getting more “defensive” by increasing our CASH holdings to 15% of the portfolio, with our 40% in bonds doing the majority of the heavy lifting in mitigating the risk in our remaining equity holdings. 

Interestingly, the Federal Reserve DID show up on Thursday as expected. In a statement from the New York Fed:

The Federal Reserve said it would inject more than $1.5 trillion of temporary liquidity into Wall Street on Thursday and Friday to prevent ominous trading conditions from creating a sharper economic contraction.

If the transactions are fully subscribed, they would swell the central bank’s $4.2 trillion asset portfolio by more than 35%.” – WSJ

As you can see in the chart below, this is a massive surge of liquidity hitting the market at a time the market is sitting on critical long-term trend support.

Of course, this is what the market has been hoping for.

  • Rate cuts? Check
  • Liquidity? Check

On Friday, the market surged, and ALMOST recouped the previous days losses. (Sorry, it wasn’t President Trump’s speech that boosted the market.)

However, this rally, and liquidity flush, most likely does not negate the continuation of the bear market. The amount of technical damage combined with a recession, and a potential surge in credit defaults almost ensures another leg of the beg market is yet to come. 

A look at the charts can also help us better understand where we currently reside.

Trading The Bounce

In January, when we discussed taking profits out of our portfolios, we noted the markets were trading at 3-standard deviations above their 200-dma, which suggested a pullback, or correction, was likely.

Now, it is the same comment in reverse. The correction over the last couple of weeks has completely reversed the previous bullish exuberance into extreme pessimism. On a daily basis, the market is back to oversold. Historically, this condition has been sufficient for a bounce. Given the oversold condition (top panel) is combined with a very deep “sell signal” in the bottom panel, it suggests a fairly vicious reflexive rally is likely as we saw on Friday.

The question, of course, is where do you sell?

Looking at the chart above, it is possible for a rally to the 38.2%, or 50% retracement levels. However, with the severity of the break below the 200-dma, the 61.8% retracement level, where the 200-dma now resides, will be very formidable resistance. With the Fed’s liquidity push, it is possible for a strong “Phase 2” rally. Our plan will be to reduce equity exposure at each level of resistance and increase our equity hedges before the “Phase 3” mauling ensues. 

The following chart is a longer-term analysis of the market and is the format we use for “onboarding” our clients into allocation models. (Vertical black lines are buy periods)

“But Lance, how do you know that Friday wasn’t THE bottom?”

A look at longer-term time-frames gives us some clues.

With all of our longer-term weekly “sell signals” now triggered from fairly high levels, it suggests the current selloff is not over as of yet. In other words, we will see a rally, followed by a secondary failure to lower lows, before the ultimate bottom is put in. 

I have mapped out the three most logical secondary bottoms for the market, so you can assess your portfolio risk accordingly. 

  1. A retest of current lows that holds is a 27% decline.
  2. A retest of the 2018 lows, most likely, is an average recessionary decline of 32.8%
  3. A retest of the 2016 lows, coincident with a “credit event,” would entail a 50.9% decline. 

Given the weekly signals have only recently triggered, we can look at monthly data to confirm we still remain confined to a “bearish market” currently. 

On a monthly basis, sell signals have been triggered. However, these signals are NOT VALID until the end of the month. However, given the depth of the decline, it would likely require a rally back to all-time highs to reverse those signals. This is a very high improbability.

Assuming the signals remain, there is an important message being sent, as noted in the top panel. The “negative divergence” of relative strength has only been seen prior to the start of the previous two bear markets, and the 2015-2016 slog. While the current selloff resembles what we saw in late 2015, there is a risk of this developing into a recessionary bear market later this summer. The market is holding the 4-year moving average, which is “make or break” for the bull market trend from the 2009 lows.

However, we suspect those levels will eventually be taken out. Caution is advised.

What We Are Thinking

Since January, we have been regularly discussing taking profits in positions, rebalancing portfolio risks, and, most recently, moving out of areas subject to slower economic growth, supply-chain shutdowns, and the collapse in energy prices. This led us to eliminate all holdings in international, emerging markets, small-cap, mid-cap, financials, transportation, industrials, materials, and energy markets. (RIAPRO Subscribers were notified real-time of changes to our portfolios.)

There is “some truth” to the statement “that no one” could have seen the fallout of the “coronavirus” being escalated by an “oil price” war. However, there have been mounting risks for quite some time from valuations, to price deviations, and a complete disregard of risk by investors. While we have been discussing these issues with you, and making you aware of the risks, it was often deemed as “just being bearish” in the midst of a “bullish rally.” However, it is managing these types of risks, which is ultimately what clients pay advisors for.

It isn’t a perfect science. In times like these, it gets downright messy. But this is where working to preserve capital and limit drawdowns becomes most important. Not just from reducing the recovery time back to breakeven, but in also reducing the “psychological stress,” which leads individuals to make poor investment decisions over time.

As noted last week:

“Given the extreme oversold and deviated measures of current market prices, we are looking for a reflexive rally that we can further reduce risk into, add hedges, and stabilize portfolios for the duration of the correction. When it is clear, the correction, or worse a bear market, is complete, we will reallocate capital back to equities at better risk/reward measures.”

We highly suspect that we have seen the highs for the year. Most likely, we are moving into an environment where portfolio management will be more tactical in nature, versus buying and holding. 

Take some action on this rally. 

If this is a “Phase 2” relief rally of a bear market, you really don’t want to be around for the “final mauling.”


The MacroView

If you need help or have questions, we are always glad to help. Just email me.

See You Next Week

By Lance Roberts, CIO


Financial Planning Corner

You’ll be hearing more about more specific strategies to diversify soon, but don’t hesitate to give me any suggestions or questions.

by Danny Ratliff, CFP®


Market & Sector Analysis

Data Analysis Of The Market & Sectors For Traders


S&P 500 Tear Sheet  


Performance Analysis


Technical Composite


ETF Model Relative Performance Analysis


Sector & Market Analysis:

Be sure and catch our updates on Major Markets (Monday) and Major Sectors (Tuesday) with updated buy/stop/sell levels

Sector-by-Sector

Everything was crushed again this past week, so the difference between leading and lagging sectors is which sector fell faster or slower than the S&P 500 index itself. 

Improving – Discretionary (XLY), Real Estate (XLRE), and Staples (XLP)

Last week, we rebalanced our weightings in Real Estate and Staples, as these sectors are now improving in terms of relative performance. After getting very beaten up, we are looking not only for the “risk hedge” of non-virus related sectors but an eventual outperformance of the groups. 

We sold our entire stake in Discretionary due to potential earnings impacts from a slowdown in consumption, supply chain problems, and inventory issues. This worked well as Discretionary fell sharply last week. 

Current Positions: Target Weight XLU, XLRE

Outperforming – Technology (XLK), Communications (XLC), and Utilities (XLU)

The correction in Technology this past week broke support at the 200-dma but finished the week very close to our entry point, where we had slightly increased our exposure. These have “anti-virus” properties, so we are looking for the “risk hedge” relative to the broader market. Communication and Utilities didn’t perform as well but also held up better during the decline on a relative basis. We are watching Utilities and may reduce exposure if interest rates begin to rise due to the Fed. The same with Real Estate as well. 

Current Positions: Target weight XLK, XLC, XLU

Weakening – Healthcare (XLV)

We did bring our healthcare positioning back to portfolio weight as the sector will ultimately benefit from a “cure” for the “coronavirus.” Also, with Bernie Sanders now lagging Joe Biden on the Democratic ticket, this removes some of the risks of “nationalized healthcare” from the sector. 

Current Position: Target weight (XLV)

Lagging – Industrials (XLI), Financials (XLF), Materials (XLB), and Energy (XLE)

We had started to buy a little energy exposure previously but closed out of the positions as we were stopped out of our holdings week before last. We are going to continue to monitor the space due to its extreme oversold condition and relative value and will re-enter our positions when stability starts to take hold. 

We also sold Financials due to the financial risk from a recessionary impact on the outstanding corporate debt which currently exists. The Fed’s rate cut also impacts the bank’s Net Interest Margins, which makes them less attractive. Industrials and Materials have too much exposure to the “virus risk” for now.

Current Position: None

Market By Market

Small-Cap (SLY) and Mid Cap (MDY) – Week before last, we sold all small-cap and mid-cap exposure over concerns of the impact of the coronavirus. Remain out of these sectors for now. However, given that Central Banks are going “all in” on stimulus, we may look for a trade in these sectors short-term.

Current Position: None

Emerging, International (EEM) & Total International Markets (EFA)

Same as small-cap and mid-cap. Given the spread of the virus and the impact on the global supply chain. Trading opportunity only. 

Current Position: None

Dividends (VYM), Market (IVV), and Equal Weight (RSP) – We have decided to consolidate our long-term “core” holding into IVV only. We sold RSP and VYM and added to IVV. The reason for doing this is the disparity of performance between the 3-holdings. Since we want an “exact hedge” for our portfolio, IVV is the best match for a short-S&P 500 ETF.

Current Position: IVV

Gold (GLD) – This past week, Gold sold off as the Fed introduced liquidity giving the bulls hope and removing the “fear” factor in stocks. There was also a massive “margin call” that led to a liquidation event. Gold is VERY oversold currently. Add positions to portfolios with a stop $140. We sold our GDX position due to the fact mining is people-intensive and is located in countries most susceptible to the virus. 

Current Position: IAU (GOLD)

Bonds (TLT) –

Bonds also broke out to new highs as the correction ensued. Last Friday, we took profits in our 20-year bond position (TLT) to reduce our duration slightly, raise cash, and take in some profits. Bonds are extremely overbought now, so be cautious, we are maintaining the rest of our exposures for now, but we did rebalance our duration by selling 1/2 of IEF and adding to BIL. 

Current Positions: DBLTX, SHY, IEF, PTIAX, BIL

Sector / Market Recommendations

The table below shows thoughts on specific actions related to the current market environment.

(These are not recommendations or solicitations to take any action. This is for informational purposes only related to market extremes and contrarian positioning within portfolios. Use at your own risk and peril.)

Portfolio/Client Update:

Thank goodness. The market finally responded to the Fed on Friday. 

Please read “Trading The Bounce” above as it details our plan on how we are going to trade this liquidity rally. 

As noted last week:

“Staying true to our discipline and strategy is difficult when you have this type of volatility. We question everything, every day. Are we in the right place? Do we have too much risk? Are we missing something? 

The ghosts of 2000, and 2008, stalk us both, and we are overly protective of YOUR money. We do not take our jobs lightly.”

We took some further actions to increase cash, further rebalance risks this past week. We are now using this rally to add hedges, and reduce equities until the current “sell signals” reverse. As noted, this is most likely a “bear market” rally that will fail. 

However, if it is the beginning of a new “bull market,” then we will simply remove hedges and add to our equity longs. 

Be assured we are watching your portfolios very closely. However, if you have ANY questions, comments, or concerns, please don’t hesitate to email me.

Portfolio Actions Taken Last Week

  • New clients: Only adding new positions as needed.
  • Dynamic Model: Sold VOOG, and hedged portfolio. Currently unhedged. 
  • Equity Model: Sold IEF and added to BIL to shorten bond portfolio duration. Sold RSP and VYM, and added slightly to IVV to rebalance our CORE holdings for more effective hedges. 
  • ETF Model: Same as Equity Model.

Note for new clients:

It is important to understand that when we add to our equity allocations, ALL purchases are initially “trades” that can, and will, be closed out quickly if they fail to work as anticipated. This is why we “step” into positions initially. Once a “trade” begins to work as anticipated, it is then brought to the appropriate portfolio weight and becomes a long-term investment. We will unwind these actions either by reducing, selling, or hedging if the market environment changes for the worse.


THE REAL 401k PLAN MANAGER

A Conservative Strategy For Long-Term Investors


 

Model performance is based on a two-asset model of stocks and bonds relative to the weighting changes made each week in the newsletter. This is strictly for informational and educational purposes only and should not be relied upon for any reason. Past performance is not a guarantee of future results. Use at your own risk and peril.

 

401k Plan Manager Live Model

As an RIA PRO subscriber (You get your first 30-days free) you have access to our live 401k p

The code will give you access to the entire site during the 401k-BETA testing process, so not only will you get to help us work out the bugs on the 401k plan manager, you can submit your comments about the rest of the site as well.

We are building models specific to company plans. So, if you would like to see your company plan included specifically, send me the following:

  • Name of the company
  • Plan Sponsor
  • A print out of your plan choices. (Fund Symbol and Fund Name)

If you would like to offer our service to your employees at a deeply discounted corporate rate, please contact me.

 

#MacroView: Fed Launches A Bazooka To Kill A Virus

Last week, we discussed in Fed’s ‘Emergency Rate Cut’ Reveals Recession Risks” that while current economic data may not suggest a possibility of a recession was imminent, other “off the run” data didn’t agree.

We are likely experiencing more than just a ‘soft patch’ currently despite the mainstream analysts’ rhetoric to the contrary. There is clearly something amiss within the economic landscape, even before the impact of COVID-19, and the ongoing decline of inflationary pressures longer term was already telling us just that.”

The plunge in both 5- and 10-year “breakeven inflation rates,” are currently suggesting that economic growth over the next couple of quarters will drop markedly. The last time there was such a sharp drop in inflation expectations at the beginning of the “financial crisis.”

In the meantime, the markets have been rocked as concerns over the spread of the“COVID-19” virus in the U.S. have shut down sporting events, travel, consumer activities, and a host of other economically sensitive inputs. As we discussed previously:

“Given that U.S. exporters have already been under pressure from the impact of the ‘trade war,’ the current outbreak could lead to further deterioration of exports to and from China, South Korea, and Japan. This is not inconsequential as exports make up about 40% of corporate profits in the U.S. With economic growth already struggling to maintain 2% growth currently, the virus could shave between 1-1.5% off that number.”

As noted, with the U.S. now shutting down and entrenching itself in response to the virus, the economic impact will be worsened. However, given that economic data is lagging, and we only have numbers that were mostly pre-virus, the reports over the next couple of months will ultimately reveal the extent of the damage.

We suspect that it will be more significant than most analysts currently expect.

With our Economic Output Composite Indicator (EOCI) at levels which have previously warned of recessions, the “timing” of the virus, and the shutdown of activity in response, will push the indications lower.

“Given the current level of the index as compared to the 6-Month rate of change of the Leading Economic Index, there is a risk of a recessionary drag within the next 6-months.”

(The EOCI is comprised of the Fed Regional Surveys, CFNAI, Chicago PMI, NFIB, LEI, and ISM Composites. The indicator is a broad measure of hard and soft data of the U.S. economy)”

One reason we are confident the economic data will worsen near term is the correlation between the index and the annual rate of change of the S&P 500 index.

The financial markets lead the economy by about 6-months as markets begin to “price in” changes to earnings due to the outlook for economic strength. The recent plunge in the S&P 500 has deviated from the current EOCI index reading suggesting the index will decline towards recessionary levels over the next few months.

What the chart above obfuscates is the severity of the recent market rout. As shown below, in just three very short weeks, the market has reversed almost the entirety of the “Trump Stock Market” gains since he took office on January 20th.

The estimation of substantially weaker economic growth is not just a random assumption. In a post next week, I am going through the math of our analysis. Here is a snippet.

“Over the last sixty years, the yield on the 10-year has approximated real GDP plus inflation (shown in the chart below). Given this historical fact, we can do some basic math to determine what yields are currently predicting for the U.S. economy currently.”

Doug Kass recently did the math:

“Given ZIRP and QE policies around the globe which has pulled an extraordinary amount of sovereign debt into negative territory coupled with secular headwinds to energy prices, I have assumed that the 10 year yield will fall from 1.0x nominal GDP and average about 0.8x nominal GDP. 

According to my pal Peter Boockvar, the 10-year inflation breakeven (in the tips market) stands at 1.41% this morning:

So, let’s solve for what the market expects Real GDP to be (over the next 1-2 years) with this formula:

10-Year Yield (0.744% Actual) = 0.8x (Real GDP + 1.41% Actual (inflation))

The implied U.S. Real GDP of this equation is now negative — at -0.48%. (This compares to the consensus 2020 Real GDP growth forecast of between +1.75% to +2.00%) It also implies that nominal GDP (Real GDP plus Inflation) will be only about +0.93% – substantially below consensus expectations of slightly above 3%.”

Doug’s estimates were before to the recent collapse in oil prices, and breakeven inflation rates. With oil prices now at $30/bbl and 10-year breakeven rates to 0.9%, the math is significantly worse, and that is what the severity of the recent selloff is telling us. Over the next two quarters, we could see as much as a 3% clip off of current GDP.

This data is not lost on the Federal Reserve and is why they have been taking action over the last two weeks.

The Fed Bazooka

It’s quite amazing that in mid-February, which now seems like a lifetime ago, we were discussing the markets being 3-standard deviations above their 200-dma, which is a rarity. Three short weeks later, the markets are now 4-standard deviations below, which is even a rarer event. 

That swing in asset prices has cut the “wealth effect” from the market, and will severely impact consumer confidence over the next few months. The decline in confidence, combined with the impact of the loss of activity from the virus, will sharply reduce consumption, which is 70% of the economy.

This is why the Fed cut rates in an “emergency action” by 0.50% previously. Then on Wednesday, increased “Repo operations” to $175 Billion.

However, like hitting a patient with a defibrillator, the was no response from the market.

Then yesterday, the Fed brought out their “big gun.”  In a statement from the New York Fed:

The Federal Reserve said it would inject more than $1.5 trillion of temporary liquidity into Wall Street on Thursday and Friday to prevent ominous trading conditions from creating a sharper economic contraction.

‘These changes are being made to address highly unusual disruptions in Treasury financing markets associated with the coronavirus outbreak.’

The New York Fed said it would conduct three additional repo offerings worth an additional $1.5 trillion this week, with two separate $500 billion offerings that will last for three months and a third that will mature in one month.

If the transactions are fully subscribed, they would swell the central bank’s $4.2 trillion asset portfolio by more than 35%.” – WSJ

As Mish Shedlock noted,

“The Fed can label this however they want, but it’s another round of QE.”

As you can see in the chart below, this is a massive surge of liquidity hitting the market at a time the market is sitting on critical long-term trend support.

Of course, this is what the market has been hoping for:

  • Rate cuts? Check
  • Liquidity? Check

For about 15-minutes yesterday, stocks responded by surging higher and reversing half of the day’s losses. Unfortunately, the enthusiasm was short-lived as sellers quickly returned to continue their “panic selling.” 

This has been frustrating for investors and portfolio managers, as the ingrained belief over the last decade has been “Don’t worry, the Fed’s got this.”

All of a sudden, it looks like they don’t.

Will It Work This Time?

There is a singular risk that we have worried about for quite some time.

Margin debt.

Here is a snip from an article I wrote in December 2018.

Margin debt is the ‘gasoline,’ which drives markets higher as the leverage provides for the additional purchasing power of assets. However, that ‘leverage’ also works in reverse as it provides the accelerant for larger declines as lenders ‘force’ the sale of assets to cover credit lines without regard to the borrower’s position.

That last sentence is the most important. The issue with margin debt, in particular, is that the unwinding of leverage is NOT at the investor’s discretion. It is at the discretion of the broker-dealers that extended that leverage in the first place. (In other words, if you don’t sell to cover, the broker-dealer will do it for you.) When lenders fear they may not be able to recoup their credit-lines, they force the borrower to either put in more cash or sell assets to cover the debt. The problem is that “margin calls” generally happen all at once as falling asset prices impact all lenders simultaneously.

Margin debt is NOT an issue – until it is.”

Given the magnitude of the declines in recent days, and the lack of response to the Federal Reserve’s inputs, it certainly has the feel of a margin debt liquidation process. This was also an observation made by David Rosenberg:

“The fact that Treasuries, munis, and gold are getting hit tells me that everything is for sale right now. One giant margin call where even the safe-havens aren’t safe anymore. Except for cash.”

Unfortunately, FINRA only updates margin debt in arrears, so as of this writing, the latest margin debt stats are for January. What we do know is that due to the market decline, negative free cash balances have likely declined markedly. That’s the good news.

Back to my previous discussion for a moment:

“When an event eventually occurs, it creates a rush to liquidate holdings. The subsequent decline in prices eventually reaches a point which triggers an initial round of margin calls. Since margin debt is a function of the value of the underlying ‘collateral,’ the forced sale of assets will reduce the value of the collateral, further triggering further margin calls. Those margin calls will trigger more selling forcing, more margin calls, so forth and so on.

Given the lack of ‘fear’ shown by investors during the recent decline, it is unlikely that the recent drop in margin debt is a function of ‘forced liquidations.’ As I noted above, it will likely take a correction of more than 20%, or a ‘credit related’ event, which sparks broker-dealer concerns about repayment of their credit lines.

The risk to the market is ‘when’ those ‘margin calls’ are made.

It is not the rising level of debt that is the problem; it is the decline which marks peaks in both market and economic expansions.”

That is precisely what we have seen over the last three weeks.

While the Federal Reserve’s influx of liquidity may stem the tide temporarily, it is likely not a “cure” for what ails the market.

However, with that said, the Federal Reserve, and Central Banks globally, are not going to quietly into the night. Expect more stimulus, more liquidity, and more rate cuts. If that doesn’t work, expect more until it does.

We have already reduced a lot of equity risk in portfolios so far, but are going to continue lifting exposures and reducing risk until a bottom is formed in the market. The biggest concern is trying to figure out exactly where that is.

One thing is now certain.

We are in a bear market and a recession. It just hasn’t been announced as of yet.

That is something the Fed can’t fix right away with monetary policy alone, and, unfortunately, there won’t be any help coming from the Government until after the election.

Technically Speaking: On The Cusp Of A Bear Market

“Tops are a process, and bottoms are an event”

Over the last couple of years, we have discussed the ongoing litany of issues that plagued the underbelly of the financial markets.

  1. The “corporate credit” markets are at risk of a wave of defaults.
  2. Earnings estimates for 2019 fell sharply, and 2020 estimates are now on the decline.
  3. Stock market targets for 2020 are still too high, along with 2021.
  4. Rising geopolitical tensions between Russia, Saudi Arabia, China, Iran, etc. 
  5. The effect of the tax cut legislation has disappeared as year-over-year comparisons are reverting back to normalized growth rates.
  6. Economic growth is slowing.
  7. Chinese economic data has weakened further.
  8. The impact of the “coronavirus,” and the shutdown of the global supply chain, will impact exports (which make up 40-50% of corporate profits) and economic growth.
  9. The collapse in oil prices is deflationary and can spark a wave of credit defaults in the energy complex.
  10. European growth, already weak, continues to weaken, and most of the EU will likely be in recession in the next 2-quarters.
  11. Valuations remain at expensive levels.
  12. Long-term technical signals have become negative. 
  13. The collapse in equity prices, and coronavirus fears, will weigh on consumer confidence.
  14. Rising loan delinquency rates.
  15. Auto sales are signaling economic stress.
  16. The yield curve is sending a clear message that something is wrong with the economy.
  17. Rising stress on the consumption side of the equation from retail sales and personal consumption.

I could go on, but you get the idea.

In that time, these issues have gone unaddressed, and worse dismissed, because of the ongoing interventions of Central Banks.

However, as we have stated many times in the past, there would eventually be an unexpected, exogenous event, or rather a “Black Swan,” which would “light the fuse” of a bear market reversion.

Over the last few weeks, the market was hit with not one, but two, “black swans” as the “coronavirus” shutdown the global supply chain, and Saudi Arabia pulled the plug on oil price support. Amazingly, we went from “no recession in sight”, to full-blown “recession fears,” in less than month.

“Given that U.S. exporters have already been under pressure from the impact of the “trade war,” the current outbreak could lead to further deterioration of exports to and from China, South Korea, and Japan. This is not inconsequential as exports make up about 40% of corporate profits in the U.S. With economic growth already struggling to maintain 2% growth currently, the virus could shave between 1-1.5% off that number. 

With our Economic Output Composite Indicator (EOCI) already at levels which has previously denoted recessions, the “timing” of the virus could have more serious consequences than currently expected by overzealous market investors.”

On The Cusp Of A Bear Market

Let me start by making a point.

“Bull and bear markets are NOT defined by a 20% move. They are defined by a change of direction in the trend of prices.” 

There was a point in history where a 20% move was significant enough to achieve that change in overall price trends. However, today that is no longer the case.

Bull and bear markets today are better defined as:

“During a bull market, prices trade above the long-term moving average. However, when the trend changes to a bear market prices trade below that moving average.”

This is shown in the chart below, which compares the market to the 75-week moving average. During “bullish trends,” the market tends to trade above the long-term moving average and below it during “bearish trends.”

In the last decade, there have been three previous occasions where the long-term moving average was violated but did not lead to a longer-term change in the trend.

  • The first was in 2011, as the U.S. was dealing with a potential debt-ceiling and threat of a downgrade of the U.S. debt rating. Then Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke came to the rescue with the second round of quantitative easing (QE), which flooded the financial markets with liquidity.
  • The second came in late-2015 and early-2016 as the market dealt with a Federal Reserve, which had started lifting interest rates combined with the threat of the economic fallout from Britain leaving the European Union (Brexit). Given the U.S. Federal Reserve had already committed to hiking interest rates, and a process to begin unwinding their $4-Trillion balance sheet, the ECB stepped in with their own version of QE to pick up the slack.
  • The latest event was in December 2018 as the markets fell due to the Fed’s hiking of interest rates and reduction of their balance sheet. Of course, the decline was cut short by the Fed reversal of policy and subsequently, a reduction in interest rates and a re-expansion of their balance sheet.

Had it not been for these artificial influences, it is highly likely the markets would have experienced deeper corrections than what occurred.

On Monday, we have once again violated that long-term moving average. However, Central Banks globally have been mostly quiet. Yes, there have been promises of support, but as of yet, there have not been any substantive actions.

However, the good news is that the bullish trend support of the 3-Year moving average (orange line) remains intact for now. That line is the “last line of defense” of the bull market. The only two periods where that moving average was breached was during the “Dot.com Crash” and the “Financial Crisis.”

(One important note is that the “monthly sell trigger,” (lower panel) was initiated at the end of February which suggested there was more downside risk at the time.)

None of this should have been surprising, as I have written previously, prices can only move so far in one direction before the laws of physics take over. To wit”

Like a rubber band that has been stretched too far – it must be relaxed before it can be stretched again. This is exactly the same for stock prices that are anchored to their moving averages. Trends that get overextended in one direction, or another, always return to their long-term average. Even during a strong uptrend or strong downtrend, prices often move back (revert) to a long-term moving average.”

With the markets previously more than 20% of their long-term mean, the correction was inevitable, it just lacked the right catalyst.

The difference between a “bull market” and a “bear market” is when the deviations begin to occur BELOW the long-term moving average on a consistent basis. With the market already trading below the 75-week moving average, a failure to recover in a fairly short period, will most likely facilitate a break below the 3-year average.

If that occurs, the “bear market” will be official and will require substantially lower levels of equity risk exposure in portfolios until a reversal occurs.

Currently, it is still too early to know for sure whether this is just a “correction” or a “change in the trend” of the market. As I noted previously, there are substantial differences, which suggest a more cautious outlook. To wit:

  • Downside Risk Dwarfs Upside Reward. 
  • Global Growth Is Less Synchronized
  • Market Structure Is One-Sided and Worrisome. 
  • COVID-19 Impacts To The Global Supply Chain Are Intensifying
  • Any Semblance of Fiscal Responsibility Has Been Thrown Out the Window
  • Peak Buybacks
  • China, Europe, and the Emerging Market Economic Data All Signal a Slowdown
  • The Democrats Control The House Which Effectively Nullifies Fiscal Policy Agenda.
  • The Leadership Of The Market (FAANG) Has Faltered.

Most importantly, the collapse in interest rates, as well as the annual rate of change in rates, is screaming that something “has broken,” economically speaking.

Here is the important point.

Understanding that a change is occurring, and reacting to it, is what is important. The reason so many investors “get trapped” in bear markets is that by the time they realize what is happening, it has been far too late to do anything about it.

Let me leave you with some important points from the legendary Marty Zweig: (h/t Doug Kass.)

  • Patience is one of the most valuable attributes in investing.
  • Big money is made in the stock market by being on the right side of the major moves. The idea is to get in harmony with the market. It’s suicidal to fight trends. They have a higher probability of continuing than not.
  • Success means making profits and avoiding losses.
  • Monetary conditions exert an enormous influence on stock prices. Indeed, the monetary climate – primarily the trend in interest rates and Federal Reserve policy – is the dominant factor in determining the stock market’s major decision.
  • The trend is your friend.
  • The problem with most people who play the market is that they are not flexible.
  • Near the top of the market, investors are extraordinarily optimistic because they’ve seen mostly higher prices for a year or two. The sell-offs witnessed during that span were usually brief. Even when they were severe, the market bounced back quickly and always rose to loftier levels. At the top, optimism is king; speculation is running wild, stocks carry high price/earnings ratios, and liquidity has evaporated. 
  • I measure what’s going on, and I adapt to it. I try to get my ego out of the way. The market is smarter than I am, so I bend.
  • To me, the “tape” is the final arbiter of any investment decision. I have a cardinal rule: Never fight the tape!
  • The idea is to buy when the probability is greatest that the market is going to advance.

Most importantly, and something that is most applicable to the current market:

“It’s okay to be wrong; it’s just unforgivable to stay wrong.” – Marty Zweig

There action this year is very reminiscent of previous market topping processes. Tops are hard to identify during the process as “change happens slowly.” The mainstream media, economists, and Wall Street will dismiss pickup in volatility as simply a corrective process. But when the topping process completes, it will seem as if the change occurred “all at once.”

The same media which told you “not to worry,” will now tell you, “no one could have seen it coming.”

The market may be telling you something important, if you will only listen.

Save

Shedlock: Supply And Demand Shocks Coming Up

Dual economic shocks are underway simultaneously. There are shortages of some things and lack of demand for others.

Rare Supply-Demand Shocks

Bloomberg has an excellent article on how the Global Economy Is Gripped by Rare Twin Supply-Demand Shock.

The coronavirus is delivering a one-two punch to the world economy, laying it low for months to come and forcing investors to reprice equities and bonds to account for lower company earnings.

From one side, the epidemic is hammering the capacity to produce goods as swathes of Chinese factories remain shuttered and workers housebound. That’s stopping production of goods there and depriving companies elsewhere of the materials they need for their own businesses.

With the virus no longer contained to China, increasingly worried consumers everywhere are reluctant to shop, travel or eat out. As a result, companies are likely not only to send workers home, but to cease hiring or investing — worsening the hit to spending.

How the two shocks will reverberate has sparked some debate among economists, with Harvard University Professor Kenneth Rogoff writing this week that a 1970s style supply-shortage-induced inflation jolt can’t be ruled out. Others contend another round of weakening inflation is pending.

Some economists argue that what’s happened is mostly a supply side shock, others have highlighted the wallop to demand as well, to the degree that the distinction matters.

Slowest Since the Financial Crisis


Inflationary or Deflationary?

In terms of prices, it’s a bit of both, but mostly the latter.

There’s a run on sanitizers, face masks, toilet paper ect. Prices on face masks, if you can find them, have gone up.

But that is dwarfed by the demand shock coming from lack of wages for not working, not traveling, not eating out etc.

The lost wages for 60 million people in China locked in will be a staggering hit alone.

That has also hit Italy. It will soon hit the US.

Next add in the fear from falling markets. People, especially boomers proud of their accounts (and buying cars like mad) will stop doing so.

It will be sudden.

Bad Timing

Stockpiling

Deflation Risk Rising

Another Reason to Avoid Stores – Deflationary

Hugely Deflationary – Weak Demand

This was the subject of a Twitter thread last week. I agreed with Robin Brooks’ take and did so in advance but I cannot find the thread.

I did find this.

Deflation is not really about prices. It’s about the value of debt on the books of banks that cannot be paid back by zombie corporations and individuals.

That is what the Fed fears. It takes lower and lower yields to prevent a debt crash. But it is entirely counterproductive and it does not help the consumer, only the asset holders. Fed (global central bank) policy is to blame.

These are the important point all the inflationistas miss.

Playing Defense: We Don’t Know What Happens Next


  • Playing Defense: We Don’t Know What Happens Next
  • MacroView: Fed Emergency Cut Exposes “Recession” Risks
  • Financial Planning Corner: Tips For A Volatile Market
  • Sector & Market Analysis
  • 401k Plan Manager

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Catch Up On What You Missed Last Week


Playing Defense: We Don’t Know What Happens Next

Last week, we discussed Navigating What Happens Next,” and set out to answer 3-important questions:

  1. Is the correction over?
  2. Is this a buying opportunity?
  3. Has the decade long bull market ended?

We also included a set of “rules to follow,” based on our analysis. (For your review, you will find them posted again at the bottom)

Importantly, while we have adhered to our investment process and discipline, to protect capital while participating in the markets, the volatility over the last couple of weeks has been unnerving to say the least. The chart below shows the daily percentage swings.

With markets swinging wildly by 2-3% daily, it has been more nauseating than the 418-foot drop of the Kingda Ka roller coaster in Jackson, NJ. While it seems like last week was another “horrible” week for the market, it actually ended slightly above where we ended last week.

It’s important to keep some perspective with respect to your portfolio management, particularly when volatility surges. Emotions are the biggest risk to your investments, and capital, over time. 

We Really Don’t Know

While we laid out a fairly detailed game plan last week, looking a daily, weekly, and monthly indicators, the reality is that we don’t know with any certainty what happens next, particularly when you have an exogenous situation like “COVID-19.”

However, we agree with Carl Swenlin that you can’t rule out a “bear market” has now started, like we saw in 2018, and the highs of the year are in.

Even though it is not officially a bear market, I think we should begin to interpret charts and indicators in the context of a bear market template.”

We agree, particularly within the scope of the comments made by my colleague Doug Kass on Friday morning:

The proximate cause for the precipitous drop in yields is the spread of the coronavirus which is delivering a body blow to global economic growth (which will come to a standstill in the months ahead).

In all likelihood, world GDP growth will likely be flat over the next few months – to unnaturally low levels of activity. To be sure some segments of the economy (in this reset) will not recoup sales and will have a permanent loss, i.e., hotels, travel, etc.

However, other segments of the economy – like technology – will likely recoup almost all the growth delayed by the coronavirus shock.

The next few months will be challenging from an economic standpoint and volatile from a stock market perspective. Moreover, evolving market structure issues will introduce more uncertainty – and likely deliver a continuation of the extreme volatility seen since mid-February.”

We agree with Doug’s view and have spent the last month moving OUT of areas like Basic Materials (XLB), Industrials (XLI), Discretionary (XLY), Energy (XLE), Transports (XTN), and Financials (XLF).

While financials don’t have as much direct “virus” related risk, the risk to major banks is two-fold:

  1. The collapse in “net interest margins” as the Fed cuts rates; and
  2. Potential for a wave of corporate-debt defaults coming from the economic slowdown/recession, particularly in the Energy sector.

The second point was noted by Mish Shedlock on Friday:

“There is a credit implosion coming up. A lot of leveraged drillers and crude suppliers dependent on prices above $50/bbl are going to facing credit defaults.

This will lead to a deflationary outcome. But you can blame the Fed.

Deflation is not really about prices. It’s about the value of debt on the books of banks that cannot be paid back by zombie corporations and individuals.”

Collapsing yields, oil prices, and “emergency rate cuts,” are signs which suggest something has “broken” in the economy. These ramifications are not inconsequential. My friend Eric Hickman, of Kessler Investment Advisors, sent me an excellent note on Friday:

“Unsurprisingly, I think that the Coronavirus is the catalyst to tip the U.S. into a recession. We all know that recessions are not good for stocks, but by how much, and which ones? 

The last two recessions hit all sectors of the S&P 500 significantly. Even so-called “defensive sectors” like consumer staples and healthcare got hit by at least a third of their value (33%). We are just two weeks, and 11% away from an all-time high in the S&P 500. There is plenty of downside left.”

He is right. 

What we know, with almost absolute certainty, is that we will be in an economic recession within the next couple of quarters. We also know that earnings estimates are still way too elevated to account for the disruption coming from the COVID-19.

What we DON’T KNOW is where the ultimate bottom for the market is. All we can do is navigate the volatility to the best of our ability and recalibrate portfolio risk to adjust for downside risk without sacrificing the portfolio’s ability to quickly adjust for a massive “bazooka-style” monetary intervention from global Central Banks if needed. 

This is why, over the last 6-weeks, we have been getting more “defensive” by increasing our CASH holdings to 15% of the portfolio, with our 40% in bonds doing the majority of the heavy lifting in mitigating the risk in our remaining equity holdings. 

Regardless, of the hedges and cash, the portfolio management process over the last two weeks has not been pretty and has frayed our nerves. (Despite our best efforts, we are still subject to human emotions). However, for the year, the Sector Rotation model is down 1.7% versus 9% for the S&P 500.

That is volatility we can live with.

Back To Selling Rallies

At market extremes you are trading nothing but psychology. So…is it time to sell panic? Or is the hysteria just beginning?  What’s your time frame? What’s your pain threshold? Volatility has exploded as liquidity has vanished. Bid/offer spreads are wide but not deep. Credit spreads are widening. Here are some stats from the past week:

  • The 10 year UST yield has dropped from ~1.6% to ~0.8% in just 12 trading sessions.
  • Gold is up ~$100,
  • WTI is down ~$12 (a 4 year low,)
  • S&P is down ~500 points, and
  • The US Dollar Index has tumbled from a 2 year high to a 1 year low.
  • The CNN Fear/Greed barometer is at 5.Victor Adair, Polar Futures Group

I have been in this business for a long-time and have rarely seen moves this extreme in a two-week period. For the average investor, it is nearly impossible to stomach. It is times like these, which we have repeatedly warned about, that “buy and hold” strategies become “How Do I Get Out?”

Last week, we discussed the risk with our RIAPro Subscribers (30-Day Risk-Free Trial):

“With the markets extremely extended to the downside so a reflexive rally is likely. However, SPY will trigger a sell signal in the lower panel suggesting that any initial rally will fail and retest of support is likely.”

That is exactly what happened this past week. While we will likely get another reflexive rally in the next week or so, any advance will be one of your better opportunities to raise cash, and reduce overall equity risk, for the time being. 

The “equity exposure” in our portfolio models is driven by a series of “weekly signals” which we use to control risk. Importantly, it requires a “confirmation” of the indicators to adjust risk exposure in portfolios accordingly. 

On Friday, the markets confirmed that risk exposure in portfolios should be reduced lower for now. Fortunately, we have been reducing risk over the last 6-weeks, as noted above, but the signals have now confirmed our previous actions were correct. If the market breaks the 2-year moving average, we will need to substantially reduce risk further. 

As I said above, I am reprinting our rules from last week to use on any rally into the “sell zone” over the next week.

These are the same rules we use to reduce the risk in our portfolio management process, with the exception of #7.

  1. Move slowly. There is no rush in making dramatic changes. Doing anything in a moment of “panic” tends to be the wrong thing.
  2. If you are over-weight equities, DO NOT try and fully adjust your portfolio to your target allocation in one move. Again, after big declines, individuals feel like they “must” do something. Think logically above where you want to be and use the rally to adjust to that level.
  3. Begin by selling laggards and losers. These positions were dragging on performance as the market rose and they led on the way down.
  4. Add to sectors, or positions, that are performing with, or outperforming the broader market if you need risk exposure.
  5. Move “stop-loss” levels up to recent lows for each position. Managing a portfolio without “stop-loss” levels is like driving with your eyes closed.
  6. Be prepared to sell into the rally and reduce overall portfolio risk. There are a lot of positions you are going to sell at a loss simply because you overpaid for them to begin with. Selling at a loss DOES NOT make you a loser. It just means you made a mistake. Sell it, and move on with managing your portfolio. Not every trade will always be a winner. But keeping a loser will make you a loser of both capital and opportunity. 
  7. If none of this makes any sense to you – please consider hiring someone to manage your portfolio for you. It will be worth the additional expense over the long term.

In the short-term, there is no need to take on exceptional risk. It is time to take precautionary measures and tighten up stops, add non-correlated assets, raise cash levels, and hedge risk opportunistically on any rally.

As noted last week, this just our approach to controlling risk.

The only unacceptable method of managing risk at this juncture is not having a method to begin with.


The MacroView

If you need help or have questions, we are always glad to help. Just email me.

See You Next Week

By Lance Roberts, CIO


Financial Planning Corner

You’ll be hearing more about more specific strategies to diversify soon, but don’t hesitate to give me any suggestions or questions.

by Danny Ratliff, CFP®


Market & Sector Analysis

Data Analysis Of The Market & Sectors For Traders


S&P 500 Tear Sheet 


Performance Analysis


Technical Composite


ETF Model Relative Performance Analysis


Sector & Market Analysis:

Be sure and catch our updates on Major Markets (Monday) and Major Sectors (Tuesday) with updated buy/stop/sell levels

Sector-by-Sector

Everything was crushed again this past week, so the difference between leading and lagging sectors is which sector fell faster or slower than the S&P 500 index itself. 

Improving – Discretionary (XLY), Real Estate (XLRE), and Staples (XLP)

Last week, we rebalanced our weightings in Real Estate and Staples, as these sectors are now improving in terms of relative performance. After getting very beaten up, we are looking not only for the “risk hedge” of non-virus related sectors but an eventual outperformance of the groups. 

We sold our entire stake in Discretionary due to potential earnings impacts from a slowdown in consumption, to supply chain problems, and inventory issues.

Current Positions: Target Weight XLU, XLRE

Outperforming – Technology (XLK), Communications (XLC), and Utilities (XLU)

The correction this past week found support at the 200-dma and we used that opportunity to bring our weightings in all three sectors back to target weights for now. These have “anti-virus” properties, so we are looking for the “risk hedge” relative to the broader market. 

Current Positions: Target weight XLK, XLC, XLU

Weakening – Healthcare (XLV)

We did bring our healthcare positioning back to portfolio weight as the sector will ultimately benefit from a “cure” for the “coronavirus.” Also, with Bernie Sanders now lagging Joe Biden on the Democratic ticket, this removes some of the risk of “nationalized healthcare” from the sector. 

Current Position: Target weight (XLV)

Lagging – Industrials (XLI), Financials (XLF), Materials (XLB), and Energy (XLE)

We had started to buy a little energy exposure previously, but closed out of the positions as we were stopped out of our holdings for now. We are going to continue to monitor the space due to its extreme oversold condition and relative value, and will re-enter our positions when stability starts to take hold. 

We also sold Financials due to the financial risk from a recessionary impact on the outstanding corporate debt which currently exists. The Fed’s rate cut also impacts the banks Net Interest Margins which makes them less attractive. 

Current Position: None

Market By Market

Small-Cap (SLY) and Mid Cap (MDY) – Early last week we sold all small-cap and mid-cap exposure over concerns of the impact of the coronavirus. Remain out of these sectors for now. 

Current Position: None

Emerging, International (EEM) & Total International Markets (EFA)

Same as small-cap and mid-cap. Given the spread of the virus and the impact on the global supply chain.

Current Position: None

Dividends (VYM), Market (IVV), and Equal Weight (RSP) – These positions are our long-term “core” positions for the portfolio given that over the long-term markets do rise with economic growth and inflation. We are currently maintaining our core positions unhedged for now. However, on a rally back to short-term resistance we will add hedges to the core. 

Current Position: RSP, VYM, IVV, VOOG

Gold (GLD) – This past week, Gold continued its surge higher as stocks plunged lower. Gold is extremely overbought, so be patient for now and move stops up to the recent breakout levels.  We sold our GDX position due to the fact mining is people-intensive and is located in countries most susceptible to the virus. 

Current Position: IAU (GOLD)

Bonds (TLT) –

Bonds also broke out to new highs as the correction ensued. On Friday, we took profits in our 20-year bond position (TLT) to reduce our duration slightly, raise cash, and take in some profits. Bonds are extremely overbought now, so be cautious, we are maintaining the rest of our exposures for now but will look to hedge if we begin to see a reversal in rates. 

Current Positions: DBLTX, SHY, IEF, PTIAX

Sector / Market Recommendations

The table below shows thoughts on specific actions related to the current market environment.

(These are not recommendations or solicitations to take any action. This is for informational purposes only related to market extremes and contrarian positioning within portfolios. Use at your own risk and peril.)

Portfolio/Client Update:

It’s been a brutal couple of weeks. 

This is when portfolio management gets extremely difficult. It is when we have the biggest urge to give in to our emotions. It is when Mike and I lose the most sleep. 

Staying true to our discipline and strategy is difficult in times like these. We question everything, every day. Are we in the right place? Do we have too much risk? Are we missing something? 

The ghosts of 2000, and 2008, stalk us both, and we are overly protective of YOUR money. We do not take our jobs lightly. 

Again this past week, we made some additional changes to the portfolio composition to reduce risk away from the “COVID-19” virus. This rebalancing of risk lowered overall equity exposure, and continued to shift away from risk. 

As noted last week, we use WEEKLY signals in order to manage equity exposures and make portfolio adjustments. Therefore, signals are ONLY VALID after the close of business on Friday. Yesterday, we now have a CONFIRMED sell signal to reduce portfolio exposures to 75% of our target allocations.

Fortunately, we are already there, and the hedges in our portfolios, along with bonds, are doing their jobs. We took some further actions to increase cash, and take some profits, and sell some of our laggards. 

Be assured we are watching your portfolios very closely. However, if you have ANY questions, comments, or concerns, please don’t hesitate to email me.

Portfolio Actions Taken Last Week

  • New clients: Only adding new positions as needed.
  • Dynamic Model: Sold all energy holdings RDS/A, AMLP. 
  • Equity Model: Sold all energy holdings RDS/A, AMLP, and XOM. We were too early on the trade and got stopped out. We will watch for a bottom to re-enter the positions. Sold DOV, VMC, JPM to reduce exposure to Fed rate cuts and virus areas. 
  • ETF Model: Sold XLB, XLI, AMLP, and XLF

Note for new clients:

It is important to understand that when we add to our equity allocations, ALL purchases are initially “trades” that can, and will, be closed out quickly if they fail to work as anticipated. This is why we “step” into positions initially. Once a “trade” begins to work as anticipated, it is then brought to the appropriate portfolio weight and becomes a long-term investment. We will unwind these actions either by reducing, selling, or hedging if the market environment changes for the worse.


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#MacroView: Fed’s “Emergency Rate Cut” Reveals Recession Risks

Last week, I discussed in “Recession Risks Tick Up” that while current data may not suggest a possibility of a recession was imminent, other “off the run” data didn’t agree.

“The problem with most of the current analysis, which suggests a “no recession” scenario, is based heavily on lagging economic data, which is highly subject to negative revisions. The stock market, however, is a strong leading indicator of investor expectations of growth over the next 12-months. Historically, stock market returns are typically favorable until about 6-months prior to the start of a recession.”

“The compilation of the data all suggests the risk of recession is markedly higher than what the media currently suggests. Yields and commodities are suggesting something quite different.”

In this particular case, while the market is suggesting there is an economic problem coming, we also discussed the impact of the “coronavirus,” or “COVID-19,” on the economy. Specifically, I stated:

But it isn’t just China. It is also hitting two other economically important countries: Japan and South Korea, which will further stall exports and imports to the U.S. 

Given that U.S. exporters have already been under pressure from the impact of the “trade war,” the current outbreak could lead to further deterioration of exports to and from China, South Korea, and Japan. This is not inconsequential as exports make up about 40% of corporate profits in the U.S. With economic growth already struggling to maintain 2% growth currently, the virus could shave between 1-1.5% off that number. 

With our Economic Output Composite Indicator (EOCI) already at levels which has previously denoted recessions, the “timing” of the virus could have more serious consequences than currently expected by overzealous market investors. 

(The EOCI is comprised of the Fed Regional Surveys, CFNAI, Chicago PMI, NFIB, LEI, and ISM Composites. The indicator is a broad measure of hard and soft data of the U.S. economy)”

“Given the current level of the index as compared to the 6-Month rate of change of the Leading Economic Index, there is a rising risk of a recessionary drag within the next 6-months.”

That analysis seemed to largely bypass the mainstream economists, and the Fed, who were focused on the “number of people getting sick,” rather than the economic disruption from the shutdown of the supply chain.

On Tuesday, the Federal Reserve shocked the markets with an “emergency rate cut” of 50-basis points. While the futures market had been predicting the Fed to cut rates at their next meeting on March 18th, the half-percent cut shocked equity markets as the Fed now seems more concerned about the economy than they previously acknowledged.

It is one thing for the Fed to cut rates to support economic growth. It is quite another for the Fed to slash rates by 50 basis points between meetings.

It smacks of “fear.” 

Previously, such emergency rate cuts have not been done lightly, but in response to a bigger crisis which was simultaneously unfolding.

While we have spilled a good bit of digital ink as of late warning about the ramifications of COVID-19:

“Clearly, the ‘flu’ is a much bigger problem than COVID-19 in terms of the number of people getting sick. The difference, however, is that during ‘flu season,’ we don’t shut down airports, shipping, manufacturing, schools, etc. The negative impact on exports and imports, business investment, and potential consumer spending are all direct inputs into the GDP calculation and will be reflected in corporate earnings and profits.”

This is not a trivial matter.

“Nearly half of U.S. companies in China said they expect revenue to decrease this year if business can’t return to normal by the end of April, according to a survey conducted Feb. 17 to 20 by the American Chamber of Commerce in China, or AmCham, to which 169 member companies responded. One-fifth of respondents said 2020 revenue from China would decline more than 50% if the epidemic continues through Aug. 30..”WSJ

That drop in revenue, and ultimately earnings, has not yet been factored into earnings estimates. This is a point I made on Tuesday:

“More importantly, the earnings estimates have not been ratcheted down yet to account for the impact of the “shutdown” to the global supply chain. Once we adjust (dotted blue line) for a negative earnings environment in 2020, with a recovery in 2021, you can see just how far estimates will slide over the coming months. This will put downward pressure on stocks over the course of this year.”

It is quite possible even my estimates may still be too high.

While the markets have been largely dismissing the impact of the virus, the Fed’s “panic” move on Tuesday was confirming evidence that we are on the right track.

The market’s wild correction over the past two weeks, also begins to align with the Fed’s previous rate-cutting cycles. While it initially appeared “this time was different,” as the market continued to rise due to the Fed’s flood of liquidity, the markets seem to be playing catch up to previous rate-cutting cycles. If the economic data begins to weaken markedly, we may will see an alignment with the previous starts of bear markets and recessions.

Of course, we need to add some context to the chart above. Historically, the reason the Fed cuts rates, and interest rates fall, is because the Fed has acted in response to a crisis, recession, or both. The chart below shows when there is an inversion between the Fed Funds rate, and the 10-year Treasury, it has been associated with recessionary onset. (This curve will invert when the Fed cuts rates further at their next meeting.)

Not surprisingly, as suggested by the historical data above, the stock market has yielded a negative return a year after an emergency rate cut was initiated.

There is another risk the Fed may not be prepared for, an inflationary spike in prices. What could potentially impact the economy, and inflationary pressures, is the shutdown of the global supply chain which creates a lack of supply to meet immediate demand. Basic economics suggests this could lead to inflationary pressures as inventories become extremely lean, and products become unavailable. Even a short-term inflationary spike would put the Federal Reserve on the “wrong-side” of the trade, rendering the Fed’s monetary policies ineffective.

The rising recession risk is also being signaled by the collapse in the 10-year Treasury yield, a point which I have made repeatedly over the last several years in discussing why interest rates were headed toward zero.

“Outside of other events such as the S&L Crisis, Asian Contagion, Long-Term Capital Management, etc. which all drove money out of stocks and into bonds pushing rates lower, recessionary environments are especially prone at suppressing rates further. But, given the inflation of multiple asset bubbles, a credit-driven event that impacts the corporate bond market will drive rates to zero.

Furthermore, given rates are already negative in many parts of the world, which will likely be even more negative during a global recessionary environment, zero yields will still remain more attractive to foreign investors. This will be from both a potential capital appreciation perspective (expectations of negative rates in the U.S.) and the perceived safety and liquidity of the U.S. Treasury market. 

Rates are ultimately directly impacted by the strength of economic growth and the demand for credit. While short-term dynamics may move rates, ultimately the fundamentals combined with the demand for safety and liquidity will be the ultimate arbiter.”

A chart of monetary velocity tells you there is a problem in the economy as lower interest rates fails to spark an uptick in the flow of money.

My friend Caroline Baum summed up the Fed’s primary problem given the issue of plunging rates:

“All of a sudden, the reality of revisiting the zero lower bound, which the Fed now refers to as the effective lower bound (ELB), is no longer off in the distance. It could be right around the corner.

And this at a time when Fed officials are still saying that the economy and monetary policy are ‘in a good place’ and the fundamentals are sound. So what do policymakers do when the good place deteriorates into something mediocre, and the fundamentals turn sour?

Forward guidance, which I like to call talk therapy? Large-scale asset purchases? Unfortunately, the Fed goes to war with the tools it has, not the tools it might want or wish to have.”

Unfortunately, the Fed is still misdiagnosing what ails the economy, and monetary policy is unlikely to change the outcome in the U.S.

The reasons are simple. You can’t cure a debt problem with more debt. Therefore, monetary interventions, and government spending, don’t create organic, sustainable, economic growth. Simply pulling forward future consumption through monetary policy continues to leave an ever-growing void in the future that must be filled.

There is already evidence that lower rates are not leading to expanding consumption, business investment, or economic activity. Furthermore, while QE may temporarily lift asset prices, the lack of economic growth, resulting in lower earnings growth, will eventually lead to a repricing of assets.

Furthermore, there is likely no help coming from fiscal policy, either. As Caroline noted:

“Fiscal-policy measures, which entail tax cuts and government spending, will be difficult to enact in this highly charged political environment. There is little evidence that the Republicans and Democrats can put partisan differences aside to work together.”

Or, as Chuck Schumer said to Ben Bernanke just prior to the “financial crisis:”

“You’re the only game in town.” 

The real concern for investors, and individuals, is the real economy.

We are likely experiencing more than just a “soft patch” currently despite the mainstream analysts’ rhetoric to the contrary. There is clearly something amiss within the economic landscape, even before the impact of COVID-19, and the ongoing decline of inflationary pressures longer term was already telling us just that.

The Fed already realizes they have a problem, as noted by Fed Chair Powell on Tuesday:

“A rate cut will not reduce the rate of infection. It won’t fix a broken supply chain. We get that.”

More importantly, this is no longer a domestic question, but rather a global one. Since every major central bank is now engaged in a coordinated infusion of liquidity, fighting slowing economic growth, a rising level of negative yields, and a spreading virus shutting down economic activity, it is “all hands on deck.”

The Federal Reserve is currently betting on a “one trick pony” which is that by increasing the “wealth effect,” it will ultimately lead to a return of consumer confidence, and mitigate the effect of a global contagion.

Unfortunately, there mounting evidence it may not work.

A Black Swan In The Ointment

A good person is as rare as a black swan”- Decimus Juvenal

In 2007, Nassim Taleb wrote a bestselling and highly impactful book titled The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable. The book uses the analogy of a black swan to describe negative events that appear to be very rare and occur without warning.  Since the book was published, the term black swan has been overused to describe all kinds of events that were predictable to some degree.

Last April, we wrote A Fly in the Ointment, which was one of a few articles that pointed out the risk of higher inflation to the markets and economy. Thinking about inflation in the context of the Corona Virus and the Fed’s aggressive monetary policy, might our fly be a black swan.

Corona Virus

The economic impact of the Corona Virus has been negligible thus far in the U.S., but in a growing list of other countries, the impact is high. In China, cities more populated than New York City are being quarantined. Citizens are being told to stay at home, and schools, factories, and shops are closed. Japan just closed all of its schools for at least a month. Airlines have reduced or suspended flights to these troubled regions.

From an inflation perspective, the impact of these actions will be two-fold.

Consumers and businesses will spend less, especially on elastic goods. Elastic goods are products that are easy to forego or replace with another good. Examples are things like movies, coffee at Starbucks, cruises, and other non-necessities. Inelastic goods are indispensable or those with no suitable replacement. Examples are essential medicines, water, and food. Many items fall somewhere between perfectly elastic and perfectly inelastic, and in many cases, the classification is dependent upon the consumer.

On the supply side of the inflation equation, production suspensions are leading to shortages of parts and final goods. Companies must either do without them and slow/suspend production or find new and more expensive sources.

We are purposely leaving out the role that the supply of money plays in inflation for now.

With that as a backdrop, we pose the following questions to help you assess how the virus may impact prices.

  • Will producers of elastic goods lower prices if demand falters?
  • If so, will lower prices induce more consumption?
  • Can producers lower the prices of goods if the cost to produce those goods rise?
  • How much margin compression can companies tolerate?
  • Will producers of inelastic goods try to pass on the higher costs of goods, due to supply chain problems, to consumers?
  • Inflationary or deflationary?

We do not have the answers to the questions but make no mistake; inflation related to hampered supply lines could more than offset weakened demand and pose a real inflation risk.

The Fed’s Conundrum

Monetary policy has a direct impact on prices. To quote from our recent article, Jerome Powell & The Fed’s Great Betrayal:

“One of the most pernicious of these issues in our “modern and sophisticated” intellectual age is that of inflation. Most people, when asked to define inflation, would say “rising prices” with no appreciation for the fact that price movements are an effect, not a cause. They are a symptom of monetary circumstances. Inflation defined is, in fact, a disequilibrium between the amount of currency entering an economic system relative to the productive output of that same system.”

For the past decade, the Fed has consistently sought to generate more inflation. They have kept interest rates lower than normal given the tepid economic growth trends. Further, they employed four rounds of QE. QE provides reserves to banks, which increases their ability to create money. Easy money policies, the type we have grown accustomed to, is designed to increase inflation.

On March 3, 2020, the Fed cut interest rates to try to offset the negative economic impact of the Corona Virus.  How lower interest rates will cure a disease is a question for another day. Today’s big question is the Fed fueling the embers of inflation with this sudden rate cut?

Enter the Black Swan

What would the Fed need to do if inflation were to rise due to compromised supply lines and overly aggressive Fed actions? If inflation becomes a problem, they would need to do the opposite of what they have been doing, raise interest rates and reduce the assets on their balance sheet (QT).

Such policy worked well in the 1970s when Fed Chairman Paul Volker increased Fed Funds to 20% and restricted money supply to bring down double-digit inflation. Today, however, such a prudent policy response would be incredibly problematic due to the massive amount of debt the U.S. and its citizens have accumulated. The graph below shows that there is about three and a half times more debt than annual economic activity currently in the U.S.

Unlike the 1970s, when household, corporate, and public debt levels were much lower, higher interest rates and less liquidity today would inevitably result in massive defaults by both consumers and corporations. Further, it would cause a surge in the Federal budget deficit as interest expense on U.S. Treasury debt would rise.

Over the last few decades, we have seen a steady decline in interest rates. At times in this cycle, rates have risen moderately. Each time this occurred, a crisis developed as funding problems arose. What would happen today if mortgage rates rose to 7% and auto loans to 5%? What would happen to corporate profits if borrowing rates doubled from current levels? How would corporations that depend on routine, cheap refinancing of their debt obtain it?

In such an environment, taking on new debt would be much less appealing and servicing existing debt would require a larger portion of the budget. Clearly, an inflationary outbreak accompanied by higher interest rates would result in a severe recession.

Summary

What is a black swan? A black swan is an unforeseen event like the rapid spreading of the Corona Virus that results in inflation. It is not the obvious outcome but rather an obscure second or third-order effect. Our modern economic policy framework is not designed for inflation, nor are many people even thinking about it as a possibility. That is a black swan.  

Inflation is the one thing that prevents the Fed and other central banks from supporting the economy and markets in the way they have become accustomed.

As discussed in prior articles, we believe there is ample evidence of problematic inflation data for those who choose to look. At the same time, global central bankers continue to engage in imprudent policies that are inflationary in nature. Lastly, the Corona Virus threatens to hamper supply lines and change consumer spending habits.

Whether or not those factors result in inflation is unknown. Although one cannot predict the future, one can prepare for it. Inflation is not dead, but it has been hibernating for decades. Even if the odds of inflation are relatively low, that does not mean we should ignore them. As the sub-title to Taleb’s book says, “The Impact of the Highly Improbable” can be important. An event that has a 1% chance of occurring but would cause a massive loss of wealth should not be ignored.

Technically Speaking: Sellable Rally, Or The Return Of The Bull?

Normally, “Technically Speaking,” is analysis based on Monday’s market action. However, this week, we are UPDATING the analysis posted in this past weekend’s newsletter, “Market Crash & Navigating What Happens Next.”

Specifically, we broke down the market into three specific time frames looking at the short, intermediate, and long-term technical backdrop of the markets. In that analysis, we laid out the premise for a “reflexive bounce” in the markets, and what to do during the process of that move. To wit:

“On a daily basis, the market is back to a level of oversold (top panel) rarely seen from a historical perspective. Furthermore, the rapid decline this week took the markets 5-standard deviations below the 50-dma.”

Chart updated through Monday

“To put this into some perspective, prices tend to exist within a 2-standard deviation range above and below the 50-dma. The top or bottom of that range constitutes 95.45% of ALL POSSIBLE price movements within a given period.

A 5-standard deviation event equates to 99.9999% of all potential price movement in a given direction. 

This is the equivalent of taking a rubber band and stretching it to its absolute maximum.”

Importantly, like a rubber band, this suggests the market “snap back” could be fairly substantial, and should be used to reduce equity risk, raise cash, and add hedges.”

Importantly, read that last sentence again.

The current belief is that the “virus” is limited in scope and once the spread is contained, the markets will immediately bounce back in a “V-shaped” recovery.  Much of this analysis is based on assumptions that “COVID-19” is like “SARS” in 2003 which had a very limited impact on the markets.

However, this is likely a mistake as there is one very important difference between COVID-19 and SARS, as I noted previously:

“Currently, the more prominent comparison is how the market performed following the ‘SARS’ outbreak in 2003, as it also was a member of the ‘corona virus’ family. Clearly, if you just remained invested, there was a quick recovery from the market impact, and the bull market resumed. At least it seems that way.”

“While the chart is not intentionally deceiving, it hides a very important fact about the market decline and the potential impact of the SARS virus. Let’s expand the time frame of the chart to get a better understanding.”

“Following a nearly 50% decline in asset prices, a mean-reversion in valuations, and an economic recession ending, the impact of the SARS virus was negligible given the bulk of the ‘risk’ was already removed from asset prices and economic growth. Today’s economic environment could not be more opposed.”

This was also a point noted by the WSJ on Monday:

Unlike today, the S&P 500 ETF (SPY) spent about a year below its 200-day moving average (dot-com crash) prior to the SARS 2003 outbreak. Price action is much different now. SPY was well above its 200-day moving average before the coronavirus outbreak, leaving plenty of room for profit-taking.”

Importantly, the concern we have in the intermediate-term is not “people getting sick.” We currently have the “flu” in the U.S. which, according to the CDC, has affected 32-45 MILLION people which has already resulted in 18-46,000 deaths.

Clearly, the “flu” is a much bigger problem than COVID-19 in terms of the number of people getting sick. The difference, however, is that during “flu season,” we don’t shut down airports, shipping, manufacturing, schools, etc. The negative impact to exports and imports, business investment, and potentially consumer spending, which are all direct inputs into the GDP calculation, is going to be reflected in corporate earnings and profits. 

The recent slide, not withstanding the “reflexive bounce” on Monday, was beginning the process of pricing in negative earnings growth through the end of 2020.

More importantly, the earnings estimates have not be ratcheted down yet to account for the impact of the “shutdown” to the global supply chain. Once we adjust (dotted blue line) for the a negative earnings environment in 2020, with a recovery in 2021, you can see just how far estimates will slide over the coming months. This will put downward pressure on stocks over the course of this year.

Given this backdrop of weaker earnings, which will be derived from weaker economic growth, in the months to come is why we suspect we could well see this year play out much like 2015-2016. In 2015, the Fed was beginning to discuss tapering their balance sheet which initially led to a decline. Given there was still plenty of liquidity, the market rallied back before “Brexit” risk entered the picture. The market plunged on expectations for a negative economic impact, but sprung back after Janet Yellen coordinated with the BOE, and ECB, to launch QE in the Eurozone.

Using that model for a reflexive rally, we will likely see a failed rally, and a retest of last weeks lows, or potentially even set new lows, as economic and earnings risks are factored in. 

Rally To Sell

As expected, the market rallied hard on Monday on hopes the Federal Reserve, and Central Banks globally, will intervene with a “shot of liquidity” to cure the market’s “COVID-19” infection.

The good news is the rally yesterday did clear initial resistance at the 200-dma which keeps that important break of support from being confirmed. This clears the way for the market to rally back into the initial “sell zone” we laid out this past weekend.

Importantly, while the volume of the rally on Monday was not as large as Friday’s sell-off, it was a very strong day nonetheless and confirmed the conviction of buyers. With the markets clearing the 200-dma, and still oversold on multiple levels, there is a high probability the market will rally into our “sell zone” before failing.

For now look for rallies to be “sold.”

The End Of The Bull

I want to reprint the last part of this weekend’s newsletter as the any rally that occurs over the next couple of weeks will NOT reverse the current market dynamics.

“The most important WARNING is the negative divergence in relative strength (top panel).  This negative divergence was seen at every important market correction event over the last 25-years.”

“As shown in the bottom two panels, both of the monthly ‘buy’ signals are very close to reversing. It will take a breakout to ‘all-time highs’ at this point to keep those signals from triggering.

For longer-term investors, people close to, or in, retirement, or for individuals who don’t pay close attention to the markets or their investments, this is NOT a buying opportunity.

Let me be clear.

There is currently EVERY indication given the speed and magnitude of the decline, that any short-term reflexive bounce will likely fail. Such a failure will lead to a retest of the recent lows, or worse, the beginning of a bear market brought on by a recession.

Please read that last sentence again. 

Bulls Still In Charge

The purpose of the analysis above is to provide you with the information to make educated guesses about the “probabilities” versus the “possibilities” of what could occur in the markets over the weeks, and months, ahead.

It is absolutely “possible” the markets could find a reason to rally back to all-time highs and continue the bullish trend. (For us, such would be the easiest and best outcome.) Currently, the good news for the bulls, is the bullish trend line from the 2015 lows held. However, weekly “sell signals” are close to triggering, which does increase short-term risks.

With the seasonally strong period of the market coming to its inevitable conclusion, economic and earnings data under pressure, and the virus yet to be contained, it is likely a good idea to use the current rally to rebalance portfolio risk and adjust allocations accordingly.

As I stated in mid-January, and again in early February, we reduced exposure in portfolios by raising cash and rebalancing portfolios back to target weightings. We had also added interest rate sensitive hedges to portfolios, and removed all of our international and emerging market exposures.

We will be using this rally to remove basic materials and industrials, which are susceptible to supply shocks, and financials which will be impacted by an economic slowdown/recession which will likely trigger rising defaults in the credit market.

Here are the guidelines we recommend for adjusting your portfolio risk:

Step 1) Clean Up Your Portfolio

  1. Tighten up stop-loss levels to current support levels for each position.
  2. Take profits in positions that have been big winners
  3. Sell laggards and losers
  4. Raise cash and rebalance portfolios to target weightings.

Step 2) Compare Your Portfolio Allocation To Your Model Allocation.

  1. Determine areas requiring new or increased exposure.
  2. Determine how many shares need to be purchased to fill allocation requirements.
  3. Determine cash requirements to make purchases.
  4. Re-examine portfolio to rebalance and raise sufficient cash for requirements.
  5. Determine entry price levels for each new position.
  6. Determine “stop loss” levels for each position.
  7. Determine “sell/profit taking” levels for each position.

(Note: the primary rule of investing that should NEVER be broken is: “Never invest money without knowing where you are going to sell if you are wrong, and if you are right.”)

Step 3) Have positions ready to execute accordingly given the proper market set up. In this case, we are adjusting exposure to areas we like now, and using the rally to reduce/remove the sectors we do not want exposure too.

Stay alert, things are finally getting interesting.

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Market Crash & Navigating What Happens Next 02-28-20


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Catch Up On What You Missed Last Week


Market Crash & Navigating What Happens Next

Just last week, we discussed with our RIAPRO subscribers (Try for 30-days RISK FREE) the risk of the market not paying attention to the virus. To wit:

“With the market now trading 12% above its 200-dma, and well into 3-standard deviations of the mean, a correction is coming.’ But the belief is currently ‘more stimulus’ will offset the ‘virus.’

This is probably a wrong guess.

Extensions to this degree rarely last long without a correction. Maintain exposures, but tighten up stop-losses.”

Unfortunately, it escalated more rapidly than even we anticipated.

It only took the S&P 500 six days to fall from an all-time high into correction levels, marking the broad index’s fastest drop of that magnitude outside of a one-day crash. Friday’s losses built on this week’s massive losses. The Dow and S&P 500 have fallen 14% and 13%, respectively, week to date. The two indexes were on pace for their biggest one-week loss since the 2008 financial crisis. The Nasdaq has lost 12.3% this week.” – CNBC

If that headline doesn’t startle you, you are also probably lacking a pulse.

However, it was two Monday’s ago, CNBC was cheering the market’s record highs and dismissing the impact of the virus as “it was just people getting sick in China.” We disagreed, which is why over the last several weeks, we have been detailing our warnings.

The correction this past week has been in the making for a while. It is why we have discussed carrying extra cash, adjusting our bond positioning, and rebalancing portfolio risks weekly for the past couple of months. Just as a reminder, this is what we wrote last week:

  • We have been concerned about the potential for a correction for the last three weeks.
  • We previously took profits near the market peak in January.
  • However, we did extend the duration of our bond portfolio a bit, and changed some of the underlying mixes of bonds, to prepare for a correction.
  • We are using this correction to rebalance some of our equity risks as well.
  • The bull market is still intact, so it is not time to be bearish in terms of positioning, just yet.
  • We are maintaining our hedges for now until we get a better understanding of where the markets are headed next.

While those actions did not entirely shield our portfolios for such a steep and swift correction, it did limit the damage to a great degree. 

This now gives us an opportunity to use the correction as an opportunity to “buy assets” which are now oversold and have a much improved “risk vs reward” profile. 

This is the advantage of “risk management” versus a “buy and hold” strategy. You can’t “buy cheap” if you don’t have any cash to “buy” with. 

I want to use the rest the article this week to quickly review the market after the brutal selloff this past week. Here are the questions we want to answer:

  1. Is the correction over?
  2. Is this a buying opportunity?
  3. Has the decade long bull market ended?

Let’s review some charts, and I will answer these questions at the end.

Daily

On a daily basis, the market is back to a level of oversold (top panel) rarely seen from a historical perspective. Furthermore, the rapid decline this week took the markets 5-standard deviations below the 50-dma. 

To put this into some perspective, prices tend to exist within a 2-standard deviation range above and below the 50-dma. The top or bottom of that range constitutes 95.45% of ALL POSSIBLE price movements within a given period. 

A 5-standard deviation event equates to 99.9999% of all potential price movement in a given direction. 

This is the equivalent of taking a rubber band and stretching it to its absolute maximum. 

Importantly, like a rubber band, this suggests the market “snap back” could be fairly substantial, and should be used to reduce equity risk, raise cash, and add hedges.

If we rework the analysis a bit, we can see in both the top and bottom panels the more extreme oversold condition. Assuming a short-term bottom was put in on Friday, a reflexive “counter-trend” rally will likely see the markets retrace back 38.2% to 50% of the previous decline.

Given the beating that many investors took over the past week, it is highly likely any short-term rallies will be met with more selling as investors try and “get out” of the market.

Weekly

On a weekly basis, the rising “bull trend support” from the 2016 lows is clear. That trend also coincides with our longer-term moving average which drives our allocation models.

Importantly, the market decline this past week DID NOT violate that trend currently, which suggests maintaining our allocation to equity risk in portfolios currently. However, the two longer-term sell signals, bottom panels, are close to registering a “risk reduction” change to our portfolios. (This will reduce our model from 100% to 75%) 

With the market currently very oversold, individuals are quick to assume this is 2018 all over again. However, the technical backdrop from where the signals are being triggered is more akin to 2015-2016 (yellow highlights). Such suggests that a rally will likely give way to another decline before the final bottom is in place.

Monthly

This chart has ONE purpose, to tell us when a “bear market” has officially started. 

On a monthly basis, the bulls remain in control. The decline in the market this past week wiped out all the “Fed Repo” gains from last October. 

However, there are some VERY important points of concern that we will likely see play out over the rest of 2020.

The most important WARNING is the negative divergence in relative strength (top panel).  This negative divergence was seen at every important market correction event over the last 25-years. 

As we have noted previously: 

“The market had triggered a ‘buy’ signal in October of last year as the Fed ‘repo’ operations went into overdrive. These monthly signals are ‘important,’ but it won’t take a tremendous decline to reverse those signals.

It’s okay to remain optimistic short-term, just don’t be complacent.”

As shown in the bottom two panels, both of the monthly “buy” signals are very close to reversing. It will take a breakout to “all-time highs” at this point to keep those signals from triggering. This lends support to our thesis of how the rest of 2020 will play out.

Let’s Answer Those Important Questions

Is the correction over?

Given the extreme 5-standard deviation below the 50-dma, combined with the massive short-term oversold condition discussed above, it is very likely we have seen the bulk of the correction on a short-term basis. 

This is NOT an absolute statement, promise, or guarantee. It is the best guess. If there is a major outbreak of the virus in the U.S., or the Fed fails to act, or a myriad of other factors, another wave of selling could easily be sparked. 

Is this a buying opportunity?

For longer-term investors, people close to, or in, retirement, or for individuals who don’t pay close attention to the markets or their investments, this is NOT a buying opportunity. 

While we have, and will, likely add some “trading rentals” to our portfolio for a reflexive bounce, they will be sold appropriately, risk reduced, and hedges added accordingly. 

Let me be clear.

There is currently EVERY indication given the speed and magnitude of the decline, that any short-term reflexive bounce will likely fail. Such a failure will lead to a retest of the recent lows, or worse, the beginning of a bear market brought on by a recession.

Please read that last sentence again. 

Has the decade long bull market ended?

As noted in the last chart above, the bull market that began in 2009 has NOT ended as of yet. This keeps our portfolios primarily long-biased at the current time. 

With that said, our primary concern is that the impact on the global supply chain in China, South Korea, and Japan will have much more severe economic impacts than currently anticipated which will likely push the U.S. economy towards a recession later this year. (This is something the collapsing yield curve is already suggesting.)

Importantly, the global supply chain is an exogenous risk that monetary interventions can NOT alleviate. (Supplying liquidity to financial markets does not fix plants being closed, people slowing consumption, transportation being halted, etc.)

As noted in the monthly chart above, it is entirely possible that by mid-summer we could well be dealing with a recessionary economic environment, slower earnings growth, and rising unemployment. Such will cause markets to reprice current valuations leading to the onset of a bear market.

The purpose of the analysis above is to provide you with the information to make educated guesses about the “probabilities” versus the “possibilities” of what could occur in the markets over the months ahead.

It is absolutely “possible” the markets could find a reason to rally back to all-time highs and continue the bullish trend. (For us, such would be the easiest and best outcome.)

However, the analysis currently suggests the risks currently outweigh potential reward and a deeper correction is the most “probable” at this juncture.

Don’t take that statement lightly.

I am suggesting reducing risk opportunistically, and being pragmatic about your portfolio, and your money. 

Here are our rules that we will be following on the next rally.

  1. Move slowly. There is no rush in making dramatic changes. Doing anything in a moment of “panic” tends to be the wrong thing.
  2. If you are over-weight equities, DO NOT try and fully adjust your portfolio to your target allocation in one move. Again, after big declines, individuals feel like they “must” do something. Think logically above where you want to be and use the rally to adjust to that level.
  3. Begin by selling laggards and losers. These positions were dragging on performance as the market rose and they led on the way down.
  4. Add to sectors, or positions, that are performing with, or outperforming the broader market if you need risk exposure.
  5. Move “stop-loss” levels up to recent lows for each position. Managing a portfolio without “stop-loss” levels is like driving with your eyes closed.
  6. Be prepared to sell into the rally and reduce overall portfolio risk. There are a lot of positions you are going to sell at a loss simply because you overpaid for them to begin with. Selling at a loss DOES NOT make you a loser. It just means you made a mistake. Sell it, and move on with managing your portfolio. Not every trade will always be a winner. But keeping a loser will make you a loser of both capital and opportunity. 
  7. If none of this makes any sense to you – please consider hiring someone to manage your portfolio for you. It will be worth the additional expense over the long term.

While we remain optimistic about the markets currently, we are also taking precautionary steps of tightening up stops, adding non-correlated assets, raising some cash, and looking to hedge risk opportunistically on any rally.

Everyone approaches money management differently. This is just our approach to the process of controlling risk.

We hope you find something useful in it.


The MacroView

If you need help or have questions, we are always glad to help. Just email me.

See You Next Week

By Lance Roberts, CIO


Financial Planning Corner

You’ll be hearing more about more specific strategies to diversify soon, but don’t hesitate to give me any suggestions or questions.

by Danny Ratliff, CFP®


Market & Sector Analysis

Data Analysis Of The Market & Sectors For Traders


NOT A RIAPro SUBSCRIBER YET? 

This is what our RIAPRO.NET subscribers are reading right now!

  • Sector & Market Analysis
  • Technical Gauges
  • Sector Rotation Analysis
  • Portfolio Positioning
  • Sector & Market Recommendations
  • Client Portfolio Updates
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THE REAL 401k PLAN MANAGER

A Conservative Strategy For Long-Term Investors


The 401k plan allocation plan below follows the K.I.S.S. principle. By keeping the allocation simplified, it allows for better control of the allocation, and closer tracking to the benchmark objective over time. (If you want to make it more complicated, you can, however, statistics show simply adding more funds does not increase performance to any significant degree.)

If you need help after reading the alert; do not hesitate to contact me.

Click Here For The “LIVE” Version Of The 401k Plan Manager

See below for an example of a comparative model.


Model performance is based on a two-asset model of stocks and bonds relative to the weighting changes made each week in the newsletter. This is strictly for informational and educational purposes only and should not be relied upon for any reason. Past performance is not a guarantee of future results. Use at your own risk and peril.

401k Plan Manager Live Model

As an RIA PRO subscriber (You get your first 30-days free) you have access to our live 401k p

The code will give you access to the entire site during the 401k-BETA testing process, so not only will you get to help us work out the bugs on the 401k plan manager, you can submit your comments about the rest of the site as well.

We are building models specific to company plans. So, if you would like to see your company plan included specifically, send me the following:

  • Name of the company
  • Plan Sponsor
  • A print out of your plan choices. (Fund Symbol and Fund Name)

If you would like to offer our service to your employees at a deeply discounted corporate rate, please contact me.

Market Crash & Navigating What Happens Next


  • Market Crash & Navigating What Happens Next
  • MacroView: The Ghosts Of 2018
  • Sector & Market Analysis
  • 401k Plan Manager

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Catch Up On What You Missed Last Week


Market Crash & Navigating What Happens Next

Just last week, we discussed with our RIAPRO subscribers (Try for 30-days RISK FREE) the risk of the market not paying attention to the virus. To wit:

“With the market now trading 12% above its 200-dma, and well into 3-standard deviations of the mean, a correction is coming.’ But the belief is currently ‘more stimulus’ will offset the ‘virus.’

This is probably a wrong guess.

Extensions to this degree rarely last long without a correction. Maintain exposures, but tighten up stop-losses.”

Unfortunately, it escalated more rapidly than even we anticipated.

It only took the S&P 500 six days to fall from an all-time high into correction levels, marking the broad index’s fastest drop of that magnitude outside of a one-day crash. Friday’s losses built on this week’s massive losses. The Dow and S&P 500 have fallen 14% and 13%, respectively, week to date. The two indexes were on pace for their biggest one-week loss since the 2008 financial crisis. The Nasdaq has lost 12.3% this week.” – CNBC

If that headline doesn’t startle you, you are also probably lacking a pulse.

However, it was two Monday’s ago, CNBC was cheering the market’s record highs and dismissing the impact of the virus as “it was just people getting sick in China.” We disagreed, which is why over the last several weeks, we have been detailing our warnings.

The correction this past week has been in the making for a while. It is why we have discussed carrying extra cash, adjusting our bond positioning, and rebalancing portfolio risks weekly for the past couple of months. Just as a reminder, this is what we wrote last week:

  • We have been concerned about the potential for a correction for the last three weeks.
  • We previously took profits near the market peak in January.
  • However, we did extend the duration of our bond portfolio a bit, and changed some of the underlying mixes of bonds, to prepare for a correction.
  • We are using this correction to rebalance some of our equity risks as well.
  • The bull market is still intact, so it is not time to be bearish in terms of positioning, just yet.
  • We are maintaining our hedges for now until we get a better understanding of where the markets are headed next.

While those actions did not entirely shield our portfolios for such a steep and swift correction, it did limit the damage to a great degree. 

This now gives us an opportunity to use the correction as an opportunity to “buy assets” which are now oversold and have a much improved “risk vs reward” profile. 

This is the advantage of “risk management” versus a “buy and hold” strategy. You can’t “buy cheap” if you don’t have any cash to “buy” with. 

I want to use the rest the article this week to quickly review the market after the brutal selloff this past week. Here are the questions we want to answer:

  1. Is the correction over?
  2. Is this a buying opportunity?
  3. Has the decade long bull market ended?

Let’s review some charts, and I will answer these questions at the end.

Daily

On a daily basis, the market is back to a level of oversold (top panel) rarely seen from a historical perspective. Furthermore, the rapid decline this week took the markets 5-standard deviations below the 50-dma. 

To put this into some perspective, prices tend to exist within a 2-standard deviation range above and below the 50-dma. The top or bottom of that range constitutes 95.45% of ALL POSSIBLE price movements within a given period. 

A 5-standard deviation event equates to 99.9999% of all potential price movement in a given direction. 

This is the equivalent of taking a rubber band and stretching it to its absolute maximum. 

Importantly, like a rubber band, this suggests the market “snap back” could be fairly substantial, and should be used to reduce equity risk, raise cash, and add hedges.

If we rework the analysis a bit, we can see in both the top and bottom panels the more extreme oversold condition. Assuming a short-term bottom was put in on Friday, a reflexive “counter-trend” rally will likely see the markets retrace back 38.2% to 50% of the previous decline.

Given the beating that many investors took over the past week, it is highly likely any short-term rallies will be met with more selling as investors try and “get out” of the market.

Weekly

On a weekly basis, the rising “bull trend support” from the 2016 lows is clear. That trend also coincides with our longer-term moving average which drives our allocation models.

Importantly, the market decline this past week DID NOT violate that trend currently, which suggests maintaining our allocation to equity risk in portfolios currently. However, the two longer-term sell signals, bottom panels, are close to registering a “risk reduction” change to our portfolios. (This will reduce our model from 100% to 75%) 

With the market currently very oversold, individuals are quick to assume this is 2018 all over again. However, the technical backdrop from where the signals are being triggered is more akin to 2015-2016 (yellow highlights). Such suggests that a rally will likely give way to another decline before the final bottom is in place.

Monthly

This chart has ONE purpose, to tell us when a “bear market” has officially started. 

On a monthly basis, the bulls remain in control. The decline in the market this past week wiped out all the “Fed Repo” gains from last October. 

However, there are some VERY important points of concern that we will likely see play out over the rest of 2020.

The most important WARNING is the negative divergence in relative strength (top panel).  This negative divergence was seen at every important market correction event over the last 25-years. 

As we have noted previously: 

“The market had triggered a ‘buy’ signal in October of last year as the Fed ‘repo’ operations went into overdrive. These monthly signals are ‘important,’ but it won’t take a tremendous decline to reverse those signals.

It’s okay to remain optimistic short-term, just don’t be complacent.”

As shown in the bottom two panels, both of the monthly “buy” signals are very close to reversing. It will take a breakout to “all-time highs” at this point to keep those signals from triggering. This lends support to our thesis of how the rest of 2020 will play out.

Let’s Answer Those Important Questions

Is the correction over?

Given the extreme 5-standard deviation below the 50-dma, combined with the massive short-term oversold condition discussed above, it is very likely we have seen the bulk of the correction on a short-term basis. 

This is NOT an absolute statement, promise, or guarantee. It is the best guess. If there is a major outbreak of the virus in the U.S., or the Fed fails to act, or a myriad of other factors, another wave of selling could easily be sparked. 

Is this a buying opportunity?

For longer-term investors, people close to, or in, retirement, or for individuals who don’t pay close attention to the markets or their investments, this is NOT a buying opportunity. 

While we have, and will, likely add some “trading rentals” to our portfolio for a reflexive bounce, they will be sold appropriately, risk reduced, and hedges added accordingly. 

Let me be clear.

There is currently EVERY indication given the speed and magnitude of the decline, that any short-term reflexive bounce will likely fail. Such a failure will lead to a retest of the recent lows, or worse, the beginning of a bear market brought on by a recession.

Please read that last sentence again. 

Has the decade long bull market ended?

As noted in the last chart above, the bull market that began in 2009 has NOT ended as of yet. This keeps our portfolios primarily long-biased at the current time. 

With that said, our primary concern is that the impact on the global supply chain in China, South Korea, and Japan will have much more severe economic impacts than currently anticipated which will likely push the U.S. economy towards a recession later this year. (This is something the collapsing yield curve is already suggesting.)

Importantly, the global supply chain is an exogenous risk that monetary interventions can NOT alleviate. (Supplying liquidity to financial markets does not fix plants being closed, people slowing consumption, transportation being halted, etc.)

As noted in the monthly chart above, it is entirely possible that by mid-summer we could well be dealing with a recessionary economic environment, slower earnings growth, and rising unemployment. Such will cause markets to reprice current valuations leading to the onset of a bear market.

The purpose of the analysis above is to provide you with the information to make educated guesses about the “probabilities” versus the “possibilities” of what could occur in the markets over the months ahead.

It is absolutely “possible” the markets could find a reason to rally back to all-time highs and continue the bullish trend. (For us, such would be the easiest and best outcome.)

However, the analysis currently suggests the risks currently outweigh potential reward and a deeper correction is the most “probable” at this juncture.

Don’t take that statement lightly.

I am suggesting reducing risk opportunistically, and being pragmatic about your portfolio, and your money. 

Here are our rules that we will be following on the next rally.

  1. Move slowly. There is no rush in making dramatic changes. Doing anything in a moment of “panic” tends to be the wrong thing.
  2. If you are over-weight equities, DO NOT try and fully adjust your portfolio to your target allocation in one move. Again, after big declines, individuals feel like they “must” do something. Think logically above where you want to be and use the rally to adjust to that level.
  3. Begin by selling laggards and losers. These positions were dragging on performance as the market rose and they led on the way down.
  4. Add to sectors, or positions, that are performing with, or outperforming the broader market if you need risk exposure.
  5. Move “stop-loss” levels up to recent lows for each position. Managing a portfolio without “stop-loss” levels is like driving with your eyes closed.
  6. Be prepared to sell into the rally and reduce overall portfolio risk. There are a lot of positions you are going to sell at a loss simply because you overpaid for them to begin with. Selling at a loss DOES NOT make you a loser. It just means you made a mistake. Sell it, and move on with managing your portfolio. Not every trade will always be a winner. But keeping a loser will make you a loser of both capital and opportunity. 
  7. If none of this makes any sense to you – please consider hiring someone to manage your portfolio for you. It will be worth the additional expense over the long term.

While we remain optimistic about the markets currently, we are also taking precautionary steps of tightening up stops, adding non-correlated assets, raising some cash, and looking to hedge risk opportunistically on any rally.

Everyone approaches money management differently. This is just our approach to the process of controlling risk.

We hope you find something useful in it.


The MacroView

If you need help or have questions, we are always glad to help. Just email me.

See You Next Week

By Lance Roberts, CIO


Financial Planning Corner

You’ll be hearing more about more specific strategies to diversify soon, but don’t hesitate to give me any suggestions or questions.

by Danny Ratliff, CFP®


Market & Sector Analysis

Data Analysis Of The Market & Sectors For Traders


S&P 500 Tear Sheet


Performance Analysis


Technical Composite


ETF Model Relative Performance Analysis


Sector & Market Analysis:

Be sure and catch our updates on Major Markets (Monday) and Major Sectors (Tuesday) with updated buy/stop/sell levels

Sector-by-Sector

Everything was crushed this past week, so the difference between leading and lagging sectors is which sector fell faster or slower than the S&P 500 index itself. 

Improving – Discretionary (XLY), Real Estate (XLRE), and Utilities (XLU)

As noted previously, we reduced exposure to Utilities, Real Estate, and Discretionary due to their extreme overbought condition.

This past week, the correction alleviated much of that condition so we are now looking for opportunistic adds to our portfolio. However, since these sectors are interest rate sensitive, with yields extremely compressed, we will enter positions as needed very cautiously.

Current Positions: Reduced XLY, XLU, XLRE

Outperforming – Technology (XLK), Communications (XLC)

We previously recommended taking profits in Technology, which has not only been leading the market but has gotten extremely overbought. The correction this past week found support at the 200-dma and the sector is extremely oversold. We will look for a reasonable opportunity to add to our technology and communication sectors as they are less prone to the coronavirus impact. 

Current Positions: Target weight XLK, Reduced XLC

Weakening – Healthcare (XLV)

We noted previously we had added to our healthcare positioning slightly. The correction to this sector this past week was brutal but we are looking to add more to our holdings as healthcare will ultimately benefit from healthcare needs from the impact of the virus. 

Current Position: Target weight (XLV)

Lagging – Industrials (XLI), Financials (XLF), Staples (XLP), Materials (XLB), and Energy (XLE)

All of these sectors are back to oversold. We are looking for a counter-trend bounce to sell Industrials and Materials which are most susceptible to supply chain disruptions. We are starting to buy a little energy exposure this past week and are going to continue to add to that space due to its extreme oversold condition and relative value. We will also SELL Financials due to the financial risk from a recessionary impact on the outstanding corporate debt which currently exists.

Current Position: Reduced weight XLY, XLP, Full weight AMLP, 1/2 weight XLF, XLB and XLI

Market By Market

Small-Cap (SLY) and Mid Cap (MDY) – Early last week we sold all small-cap and mid-cap exposure over concerns of the impact of the coronavirus. Remain out of these sectors for now. 

Current Position: None

Emerging, International (EEM) & Total International Markets (EFA)

Same as small-cap and mid-cap. Given the spread of the virus and the impact on the global supply chain, not to mention the rising U.S. dollar, all exposures were sold early this past week. 

Current Position: None

Dividends (VYM), Market (IVV), and Equal Weight (RSP) – These positions are our long-term “core” positions for the portfolio given that over the long-term markets do rise with economic growth and inflation. We are currently maintaining our core positions unhedged for now. However, on a rally back to short-term resistance we will add hedges to the core. 

Current Position: RSP, VYM, IVV, VOOG

Gold (GLD) – This past week, Gold continued its surge higher as stock markets fell into a correction. Gold is extremely overbought, so be patient for now and move stops up to the recent breakout levels.  We sold our GDX position due to the fact mining is people-intensive and is located in countries most susceptible to the virus. 

Current Position: IAU (GOLD)

Bonds (TLT) –

Bonds also broke out to new highs as the correction ensued. On Friday, we took profits in our 20-year bond position (TLT) to reduce our duration slightly, raise cash, and take in some profits. Bonds are extremely overbought now, so be cautious, we are maintaining the rest of our exposures for now but will look to hedge if we begin to see a reversal in rates. 

Current Positions: DBLTX, SHY, IEF, PTIAX

Sector / Market Recommendations

The table below shows thoughts on specific actions related to the current market environment.

(These are not recommendations or solicitations to take any action. This is for informational purposes only related to market extremes and contrarian positioning within portfolios. Use at your own risk and peril.)

Portfolio/Client Update:

Wow.

As noted last week:

Over the last couple of weeks, we have made some minor changes to the portfolio which change very little in terms of the overall makeup. While this rebalancing of risk did not dramatically increase equity exposure, we are very aware of our positioning and risk and will take action accordingly.

We are being deliberately slow in on-boarding client portfolios into our models, and are monitoring risks very closely. We are not in a rush to make any drastic moves in either direction, and prefer to wait for the market to “tell us” what we need to do.

We have taken profits, moved up stop-loss levels, and have hedged our risks. We will take action when necessary.”

Here is the problem. 

We use WEEKLY signals in order to manage equity exposures and make portfolio adjustments. Therefore, signals are ONLY VALID after the close of business on Friday. 

This keeps portfolio turnover lower and reduces the “whipsaw” effect of one or two-day declines. However, weekly signals become ineffective when you have a 14% decline within a single week. 

Fortunately, we had already hedged our portfolios to some degree, and had taken some actions to increase cash, take some profits, and add some “rental trades” for a reflexive rally. Those “rentals” will be sold and replaced with hedges as necessary.

Be assured we are watching your portfolios very closely. However, if you have ANY questions, comments, or concerns, please don’t hesitate to email me.

Portfolio Actions Taken Last Week

  • New clients: Slowing adding exposure as needed.
  • Dynamic Model: Added to VOOG last week, sold our short-position to take in the profit. We also begin building some positions in RDS/A, AMLP and will be adding to XOM which are now 5-standard deviations oversold. We will sell some positions on a reflexive rally and reinstate our hedges. 
  • Equity Model: Sold TLT, GDX, DEM, EFV, and SLYV to raise cash. Added a small “rental” of VOOG and started building exposure in RDS/A. 
  • ETF Model: Sold TLT, DEM, EFV and SLYV.  Added a small “rental” of VOOG and added exposure in AMLP.  We will start building exposure to XLE shortly, and will be selling XLB, XLI, and XLF on a rally. 

Note for new clients:

It is important to understand that when we add to our equity allocations, ALL purchases are initially “trades” that can, and will, be closed out quickly if they fail to work as anticipated. This is why we “step” into positions initially. Once a “trade” begins to work as anticipated, it is then brought to the appropriate portfolio weight and becomes a long-term investment. We will unwind these actions either by reducing, selling, or hedging if the market environment changes for the worse.


THE REAL 401k PLAN MANAGER

A Conservative Strategy For Long-Term Investors


The 401k plan allocation plan below follows the K.I.S.S. principle. By keeping the allocation simplified, it allows for better control of the allocation, and closer tracking to the benchmark objective over time. (If you want to make it more complicated, you can, however, statistics show simply adding more funds does not increase performance to any significant degree.)

 

If you need help after reading the alert; do not hesitate to contact me.

Click Here For The “LIVE” Version Of The 401k Plan Manager

See below for an example of a comparative model.


Model performance is based on a two-asset model of stocks and bonds relative to the weighting changes made each week in the newsletter. This is strictly for informational and educational purposes only and should not be relied upon for any reason. Past performance is not a guarantee of future results. Use at your own risk and peril.

401k Plan Manager Live Model

As an RIA PRO subscriber (You get your first 30-days free) you have access to our live 401k p

The code will give you access to the entire site during the 401k-BETA testing process, so not only will you get to help us work out the bugs on the 401k plan manager, you can submit your comments about the rest of the site as well.

We are building models specific to company plans. So, if you would like to see your company plan included specifically, send me the following:

  • Name of the company
  • Plan Sponsor
  • A print out of your plan choices. (Fund Symbol and Fund Name)

If you would like to offer our service to your employees at a deeply discounted corporate rate, please contact me.

MacroView: The Ghosts Of 2018?

On Jan 3rd, I wrote an article entitled: “Will The Market Repeat The Start Of 2018?” At that time, the Federal Reserve was dumping a tremendous amount of money into the financial markets through their “Repo” operations. To wit:

“Don’t fight the Fed. That is the current mantra of the market as we begin 2020, and it certainly seems to be the right call. Over the last few months, the Federal Reserve has continued its “QE-Not QE” operations, which has dramatically expanded its balance sheet. Many argue, rightly, the current monetary interventions by the Fed are technically “Not QE” because they are purchasing Treasury Bills rather than longer-term Treasury Notes.

However, ‘Mr. Market’ doesn’t see it that way. As the old saying goes, ‘if it looks, walks, and quacks like a duck…it’s a duck.'” 

As I noted then, despite commentary to the contrary, there were only two conclusions to draw from the data:

  1. There is something functionally “broken” in the financial system which is requiring massive injections of liquidity to try and rectify, and;
  2. The surge in liquidity, whether you want to call it a “duck,” or not, is finding its way into the equity markets.

Let me remind you this was all BEFORE the outbreak of the Coronavirus.

The Ghosts Of 2018

“Well, this past week, the market tripped ‘over its own feet’ after prices had created a massive extension above the 50-dma as shown below. As I have previously warned, since that extension was so large, a correction just back to the moving average at this point will require nearly a -6% decline.”

“I have also repeatedly written over the last year:

‘The problem is that it has been so long since investors have even seen a 2-3% correction, a correction of 5%, or more, will ‘feel’ much worse than it actually is, which will lead to ’emotionally driven’ mistakes.’

The question now, of course, is do you “buy the dip” or ‘run for the hills?’”

Yesterday morning, the markets began the day deeply in the red, but by mid-morning were flirting with a push into positive territory. By the end of the day, the Dow had posted its largest one-day point loss in history.”

That was from February 6th, 2018 (Technically Speaking: Tis But A Flesh Wound)

Here is a chart of October 2019 to Present.

Besides the reality that the only thing that has occurred has been a reversal of the Fed’s “Repo” rally, there is a striking similarity to 2018. That got me to thinking about the corollary between the two periods, and how this might play out over the rest of 2020.

Let’s go back.

Heading in 2018, the markets were ebullient over President Trump’s recently passed tax reform and rate cut package. Expectations were that 2018 would see a massive surge in earnings growth, due to the lower tax rates, and there would be a sharp pickup in economic growth.

However, at the end of January, President Trump shocked the markets with his “Trade War” on China and the imposition of tariffs on a wide variety of products, which potentially impacted American companies. As we said at the time, there was likely to be unintended consequences and would kill the effect of tax reform.)

“While many have believed a ‘trade war’ will be resolved without consequence, there are two very important points that most of the mainstream analysis is overlooking. For investors, a trade war would likely negatively impact earnings and profitability while slowing economic growth through higher costs.”

Over the next few months, the market dealt, and came to terms with, the trade war and the Fed’s tightening of the balance sheet. As we discussed in May 2018, the trade war did wind up clipping earnings estimates to a large degree, but massive share repurchases helped buoy asset prices.

Then in September, the Fed did the unthinkable.

After having hiked rates previously, thereby tightening the monetary supply, they stated that monetary policy was not “close to the neutral rate,” suggesting more rate hikes were coming. The realization the Fed was intent on continuing to tighten policy, and further extracting liquidity by reducing their balance sheet, sent asset prices plunging 20% from the peak, to the lows on Christmas Eve.

It was then the Fed acquiesced to pressure from the White House and began to quickly reverse their stance and starting pumping liquidity back into the markets.

And the bull market was back.

Fast forward to 2020.

“The exuberance that surrounded the markets going into the end of last year, as fund managers ramped up allocations for end of the year reporting, spilled over into the start of the new with S&P hitting new record highs.

Of course, this is just a continuation of the advance that has been ongoing since the Trump election. The difference this time is the extreme push into 3-standard deviation territory above the moving average, which is concerning.” – Real Investment Report Jan, 5th 2018

As noted in the chart below, in both instances, the market reached 3-standard deviations above the 200-dma before mean-reverting.

Of course, while everyone was exuberant over the Fed’s injections of monetary support, we were discussing the continuing decline in earnings growth estimates, along with the lack of corporate profit growth To wit:

With equities now more than 30% higher than they were then, the Fed mostly on hold in terms of rate cuts, and ‘repo’ operations starting to slow, it certainly seems that expectations for substantially higher market values may be a bit optimistic.

Furthermore, as noted above, earnings expectations declined for the entirety of 2019, as shown in the chart below. However, the impact of the ‘coronavirus’ has not been adopted into these reduced estimates as of yet. These estimates WILL fall, and likely markedly so, which, as stated above, is going to make justifying record asset prices more problematic.”

Just as the “Trade War” shocked the markets and caused a repricing of assets in 2018, the “coronavirus” has finally infected the markets enough to cause investors to adjust their expectations for earnings growth. Importantly, as in 2018, earnings estimates have not been revised lower nearly enough to compensate for the global supply chain impact coming from the virus.

While the beginning of 2020 is playing out much like 2018, what about the rest of the year?

There are issues occurring which we believe will have a very similar “feel” to 2018, as the impact of the virus continues to ebb and flow through the economy. The chart below shows the S&P 500 re-scaled to 1000 for comparative purposes.

Currently, the expectation has risen to more than a 70% probability the Fed will cut rates 3x in 2020. Historically, the market tends to underestimate just how far the Fed will go as noted by Michael Lebowitz previously:

“The graph below tracks the comparative differentials (Fed Funds vs. Fed Fund futures) using the methodology outlined above. The gray rectangular areas represent periods where the Fed was systematically raising or lowering the Fed funds rate (blue line). The difference between Fed Funds and the futures contracts, colored green or red, calculates how much the market over (green) or under (red) estimated what the Fed Funds rate would ultimately be. In this analysis, the term overestimate means Fed Funds futures thought Fed Funds would be higher than it ultimately was. The term underestimate, means the market expectations were lower than what actually transpired.”

Our guess is that in the next few weeks, the Fed will start using “forward guidance” to try and stabilize the market. Rate cuts, and more “quantitative easing,” will likely follow.

Such actions should stabilize the market in the near-term as investors, who have been pre-conditioned to “buy” Fed liquidity, will once again run back into markets. This could very well lift the markets into second quarter of this year.

But it will likely be a “trap.”

While monetary policy will likely embolden the bulls short-term, it does little to offset an economic shock. As we move further into the year, the impact to the global supply chain will begin to work its way through the system resulting in slower economic growth, reduced corporate profitability, and potentially a recession. (See yesterday’s commentary)

This is a guess. There is a huge array of potential outcomes, and trying to predict the future tends to be a pointless exercise. However, it is the thought process that helps align expectations with potential outcomes to adjust for risk accordingly.

A Sellable Rally

Just as in February 2018, following the sharp decline, the market rallied back to a lower high before failing once again. For several reasons, we suspect we will see the same over the next week or two, as the push into extreme pessimism and oversold conditions will need to be reversed before the correction can continue.

While 2019 ended in an entirely dissimilar manner as compared to 2018, the current negative sentiment, as shown by CNN’s Fear & Greed Index is back to the extreme fear levels seen at the lows of the market in 2018.

On a short-term technical basis, the market is now extremely oversold, which is suggestive of a counter-trend rally over the next few days to a week or so.

It is highly advisable to use ANY reflexive rally to reduce portfolio risk, and rebalance portfolios. Most likely, another wave of selling will likely ensue before a stronger bottom is finally put into place. 

Lastly, our composite technical overbought/oversold gauge is also pushing more extreme oversold conditions, which are typical of a short-term oversold condition.

In other words, in 2019 “everyone was in the pool,” in 2020 we just found out “everyone was swimming naked.” 

Rules To Follow

One last chart.

I just want you to pay attention to the top panel and the shaded areas. (standard deviations from the 50-dma)

We were not this oversold even during the 2015-2016 decline, much less the two declines in 2018.

Currently, not only is the market extremely oversold on a short-term basis, but is currently 5-standard deviations below the 50-dma.

Let me put that into perspective for you.

  • 1-standard deviation = 68.26% of all possible price movement.
  • 2-standard deviations = 95.45% 
  • 3-standard deviations = 99.73%
  • 4-standard deviations = 99.993%
  • 5-standard deviations = 99.9999%

Mathematically speaking, the bulk of the decline is already priced into the market.

“I get it. We are gonna get a bounce. So, what do I do?”

I am glad you asked.

Step 1) Clean Up Your Portfolio

  1. Tighten up stop-loss levels to current support levels for each position.
  2. Take profits in positions that have outperformed during the rally.
  3. Sell laggards and losers (those that lagged the rally, probably led the decline)
  4. Raise cash, and rebalance portfolios to reduced risk levels for now.

Step 2) Compare Your Portfolio Allocation To Your Model Allocation.

  1. Determine areas where exposure needs to be increased, or decreased (bonds, cash, equities)
  2. Determine how many shares need to be bought or sold to rebalance allocation requirements.
  3. Determine cash requirements for hedging purposes
  4. Re-examine the portfolio to ensure allocations are adjusted for FORWARD market risk.
  5. Determine target price levels for each position.
  6. Determine “stop loss” levels for each position being maintained.

Step 3) Be Ready To Execute

  • Whatever bounce we get will likely be short-lived. So have your game plan together before-hand as the opportunity to rebalance risk will likely not be available for very long. 

This is just how we do it.

However, there are many ways to manage risk, and portfolios, which are all fine. What separates success and failure is 1) having a strategy to begin with, and; 2) the discipline to adhere to it.

The recent market spasm certainly reminds of 2018. And, if we are right, it will get better, before it gets worse.

Did The Market Just Get Infected? 02-22-20


  • Did The Market Just Get Infected?
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Catch Up On What You Missed Last Week


Did The Market Just Get Infected?

Just last week, we were asking the opposite question, as traders were believing that the market had immunity to the risks from the “coronavirus.”

This was a point we discussed with our RIAPRO subscribers (Try for 30-days RISK FREE) in Monday’s technical market update.

“As noted last week: ‘With the market now trading 12% above its 200-dma, and well into 3-standard deviations of the mean, a correction is coming.’ But the belief is currently ‘more stimulus’ will offset the ‘virus.’

This is probably a wrong guess.

Extensions to this degree rarely last long without a correction. Maintain exposures, but tighten up stop-losses.”

That correction came hard, and fast on Thursday and Friday.

For the week, the market declined, but it was the “5-Horseman Of The Rally” (Apple, Microsoft, Google, Facebook, Amazon) which led the way lower. This is the first time we have seen a real rotation out of the “momentum chase” into fixed income and was a point we discussed in Thursday’s RIAPRO Intermarket Analysis Report. To wit:

“Stocks and bonds play an interesting ‘risk on/risk off’ relationship over time. As shown above while stocks are extremely outperforming bonds currently, the relationship is now suppressed to levels where a reversion would be expected. This suggests that we will likely see a a correction in equity prices, and a rise in bond prices (yields lower), in the near future.”

Currently, this is just a correction within the ongoing bullish trend, however, there are things occurring that do not rule out the possibility of a larger correction in the short-term.

Carl Swenlin from Decision Point (h/t G. O’Brien) came to a similar conclusion.

“Yesterday (Thursday) SPY penetrated the bottom of a short-term rising wedge, but couldn’t make it stick. Today was a different story, but the support line drawn across the January top impeded excessive downward progress. The VIX didn’t quite reach the bottom Bollinger Band, but it is possible that we will see continued weak price action similar to the short January decline if the VIX breaks through the band. Being so close to the band, the VIX is also oversold, so it is also possible that we’ll see a bounce.”

“The intermediate-term market trend is UP and the condition is SOMEWHAT OVERBOUGHT. The negative divergences spell trouble, and all four indicators are below their signal line and falling.

The market has been so resilient that it is hard to think that anything more than a minor pullback is possible. A critical breakdown below the January top hasn’t happened yet, but that could be the first move on Monday. Indicators in the short- and intermediate-term are falling, and negative divergences are abundant, so I think that next week will be negative. That may just be the beginning.”

We agree with that assessment. Remember, it never just starts raining; clouds gather, skies darken, wind speeds pick up, and barometric pressures decline. When you have a consensus of the evidence, you typically carry an umbrella.

Evidence is clearly mounting, and one of the bigger concerns to the market, and particularly to the commodity space, is the surge in the U.S. dollar. This past Monday, we wrote:

“As noted previously, the dollar has rallied back to that all important previous resistance line. IF the dollar can break back above that level, and hold, then commodities, and oil, will likely struggle.”

That is exactly what happened over the last two weeks and the dollar has strengthened that rally as concerns over the ‘coronavirus’ persist. With the dollar testing previous highs, a break above that resistance could result in a sharp move higher for the dollar.

The rising dollar is not bullish for Oil, commodities or international exposures. The ‘sell’ signal has began to reverse. Pay attention.”

This surge in the dollar is also responsible for the sharp drop in bond yields as money is flooding into USD denominated assets due to the coming global impact from the coronavirus.

This is a substantial risk to the markets over the rest of this year which has not been factored into asset prices as of yet.

Furthermore, the main driver behind stock prices since last October has been the flood of liquidity from the Federal Reserve. However, that push of liquidity has quietly gone subsided over the last few weeks.

This was well telegraphed by the Fed previously but was reasserted this past week as the Fed noted it was in no rush to cut rates and would continue reducing “repo operations,” both into, and following, April.

Given the “bull thesis” has been “liquidity trumps all other risks,” with the Fed funds rate at 1.5% currently, and liquidity flows being reduced, “risks” now have a stronger hand. When you combine reduced liquidity with a surging U.S. Dollar, and collapsing yields, investors should reassess their positioning accordingly.

As my friend Victor Adair from Polar Futures Group stated on Friday:

“The EURUSD jumped sharply (after falling steadily YTD) and the spooz took another leg down. Could there have been a European institutional account positioned in US stocks which suddenly decided, like the Jeremy Irons character in the Margin Call movie, that they didn’t “hear the music” anymore, and decide to sell? If they had owned US stocks without hedging their FX risk the temptation to hit the SELL button given the recent huge rallies in both US stocks and the US Dollar would have been huge! I think the S&P 500 can continue lower.”

Positioning Review & Update

We have been concerned about the potential for a correction for the last three weeks. Given that we previously took profits near the market peak in January, there was not a tremendous amount of work we needed to do on the equity side of the ledger.

However, this past Monday we did extend the duration of our bond portfolio a bit, and changed some of the underlying mixes of bonds, to prepare for a correction. With the sharp yield spike over the last couple of days, those positioning changes worked well to reduce volatility.

We are using this correction to rebalance some of our equity risks as well. The bull market is still intact, so it is not time to be bearish in terms of positioning, just yet. However, we are maintaining our hedges for now until we get a better understanding of where the markets are headed next.

Currently, there are several levels of support short-term. The market bounced off initial support at the 38.2% retracement level at the end of the day on Friday. However, we suspect we will likely see more follow-through next week, particularly if the dollar continues to strengthen. Downside risk currently resides at 3250, but a break below that level will suggest a much bigger correction is underway.

Longer-term, given the unrecognized impact of the virus on the economy, we expect a bigger decline down the road. As Doug Kass noted on Thursday:

“Caution is warranted. What we have all learned of the virus is that it is easily transmitted. It is asymptomatic, well established and it is spreading. As I have also noted its spreading has been under reported and, unlike other market headwinds, the liquidity provided by central bankers will have NO impact on the damage inflicted by the virus’ contagion.

Among other issues, global travel will be decimated and this will have unusual ‘knock on’ effects. Tourists, especially Chinese ones, spend lots of money. This will be a GLOBAL problem as China was to be a source of big growth for this sector. Retailers of EVERYTHING are going to miss budgets and economies like Japan and South Korea are going to be devastated by the impact.

In Japan, this will come after a massive (and ill timed) tax increase. Tech will play the role of major (not minor) collateral damage as long held supply chains are damaged/crushed.

Most investors, focused on price action, have little idea what could hit them.”

We are keenly aware of the risk, and while we are not “selling heavily and moving to cash” currently, it doesn’t mean we won’t.

We are paying attention to what the market is saying, and following directions accordingly.

Are you?



The MacroView

If you need help or have questions, we are always glad to help. Just email me.

See You Next Week

By Lance Roberts, CIO


Financial Planning Corner

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  • Where: Courtyard Houston Katy Mills, 25402 Katy Mills Parkway, Katy, TX, 77494

You’ll be hearing more about more specific strategies to diversify soon, but don’t hesitate to give me any suggestions or questions.

by Danny Ratliff, CFP®


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Data Analysis Of The Market & Sectors For Traders


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RIA PRO: Did The Market Just Get Infected?


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Follow Us On: Twitter, Facebook, Linked-In, Sound Cloud, Seeking Alpha



Catch Up On What You Missed Last Week


Did The Market Just Get Infected?

Just last week, we were asking the opposite question, as traders were believing that the market had immunity to the risks from the “coronavirus.”

This was a point we discussed with our RIAPRO subscribers (Try for 30-days RISK FREE) in Monday’s technical market update.

“As noted last week: ‘With the market now trading 12% above its 200-dma, and well into 3-standard deviations of the mean, a correction is coming.’ But the belief is currently ‘more stimulus’ will offset the ‘virus.’

This is probably a wrong guess.

Extensions to this degree rarely last long without a correction. Maintain exposures, but tighten up stop-losses.”

That correction came hard, and fast on Thursday and Friday.

For the week, the market declined, but it was the “5-Horseman Of The Rally” (Apple, Microsoft, Google, Facebook, Amazon) which led the way lower. This is the first time we have seen a real rotation out of the “momentum chase” into fixed income and was a point we discussed in Thursday’s RIAPRO Intermarket Analysis Report. To wit:

“Stocks and bonds play an interesting ‘risk on/risk off’ relationship over time. As shown above while stocks are extremely outperforming bonds currently, the relationship is now suppressed to levels where a reversion would be expected. This suggests that we will likely see a a correction in equity prices, and a rise in bond prices (yields lower), in the near future.”

Currently, this is just a correction within the ongoing bullish trend, however, there are things occurring that do not rule out the possibility of a larger correction in the short-term.

Carl Swenlin from Decision Point (h/t G. O’Brien) came to a similar conclusion.

“Yesterday (Thursday) SPY penetrated the bottom of a short-term rising wedge, but couldn’t make it stick. Today was a different story, but the support line drawn across the January top impeded excessive downward progress. The VIX didn’t quite reach the bottom Bollinger Band, but it is possible that we will see continued weak price action similar to the short January decline if the VIX breaks through the band. Being so close to the band, the VIX is also oversold, so it is also possible that we’ll see a bounce.”

“The intermediate-term market trend is UP and the condition is SOMEWHAT OVERBOUGHT. The negative divergences spell trouble., and all four indicators are below their signal line and falling.

The market has so resilient that it is hard to think that anything more than a minor pullback is possible. A critical breakdown below the January top hasn’t happened yet, but that could be the first move on Monday. Indicators in the short- and intermediate-term are falling, and negative divergences are abundant, so I think that next week will be negative. That may just be the beginning.”

We agree with that assessment. Remember, it never just starts raining; clouds gather, skies darken, wind speeds pick up, and barometric pressures decline. When you have a consensus of the evidence, you typically carry an umbrella.

Evidence is clearly mounting, and one of the bigger concerns to the market, and particularly to the commodity space, is the surge in the U.S. dollar. This past Monday, we wrote:

“As noted previously, the dollar has rallied back to that all important previous resistance line. IF the dollar can break back above that level, and hold, then commodities, and oil, will likely struggle.”

That is exactly what happened over the last two weeks and the dollar has strengthened that rally as concerns over the ‘coronavirus’ persist. With the dollar testing previous highs, a break above that resistance could result in a sharp move higher for the dollar.

The rising dollar is not bullish for Oil, commodities or international exposures. The ‘sell’ signal has began to reverse. Pay attention.”

This surge in the dollar is also responsible for the sharp drop in bond yields as money is flooding into USD denominated assets due to the coming global impact from the coronavirus.

This is a substantial risk to the markets over the rest of this year which has not been factored into asset prices as of yet.

Furthermore, the main driver behind stock prices since last October has been the flood of liquidity from the Federal Reserve. However, that push of liquidity has quietly gone subsided over the last few weeks.

This was well telegraphed by the Fed previously but was reasserted this past week as the Fed noted it was in no rush to cut rates and would continue reducing “repo operations,” both into, and following, April.

Given the “bull thesis” has been “liquidity trumps all other risks,” with the Fed funds rate at 1.5% currently, and liquidity flows being reduced, “risks” now have a stronger hand. When you combine reduced liquidity with a surging U.S. Dollar, and collapsing yields, investors should reassess their positioning accordingly.

As my friend Victor Adair from Polar Futures Group stated on Friday:

“The EURUSD jumped sharply (after falling steadily YTD) and the spooz took another leg down. Could there have been a European institutional account positioned in US stocks which suddenly decided, like the Jeremy Irons character in the Margin Call movie, that they didn’t “hear the music” anymore, and decide to sell? If they had owned US stocks without hedging their FX risk the temptation to hit the SELL button given the recent huge rallies in both US stocks and the US Dollar would have been huge! I think the S&P 500 can continue lower.”

Positioning Review & Update

We have been concerned about the potential for a correction for the last three weeks. Given that we previously took profits near the market peak in January, there was not a tremendous amount of work we needed to do on the equity side of the ledger.

However, this past Monday we did extend the duration of our bond portfolio a bit, and changed some of the underlying mixes of bonds, to prepare for a correction. With the sharp yield spike over the last couple of days, those positioning changes worked well to reduce volatility.

We are using this correction to rebalance some of our equity risks as well. The bull market is still intact, so it is not time to be bearish in terms of positioning, just yet. However, we are maintaining our hedges for now until we get a better understanding of where the markets are headed next.

Currently, there are several levels of support short-term. The market bounced off initial support at the 38.2% retracement level at the end of the day on Friday. However, we suspect we will likely see more follow-through next week, particularly if the dollar continues to strengthen. Downside risk currently resides at 3250, but a break below that level will suggest a much bigger correction is underway.

Longer-term, given the unrecognized impact of the virus on the economy, we expect a bigger decline down the road. As Doug Kass noted on Thursday:

“Caution is warranted. What we have all learned of the virus is that it is easily transmitted. It is asymptomatic, well established and it is spreading. As I have also noted its spreading has been under reported and, unlike other market headwinds, the liquidity provided by central bankers will have NO impact on the damage inflicted by the virus’ contagion.

Among other issues, global travel will be decimated and this will have unusual ‘knock on’ effects. Tourists, especially Chinese ones, spend lots of money. This will be a GLOBAL problem as China was to be a source of big growth for this sector. Retailers of EVERYTHING are going to miss budgets and economies like Japan and South Korea are going to be devastated by the impact.

In Japan, this will come after a massive (and ill timed) tax increase. Tech will play the role of major (not minor) collateral damage as long held supply chains are damaged/crushed.

Most investors, focused on price action, have little idea what could hit them.”

We are keenly aware of the risk, and while we are not “selling heavily and moving to cash” currently, it doesn’t mean we won’t.

We are paying attention to what the market is saying, and following directions accordingly.

Are you?



The MacroView

If you need help or have questions, we are always glad to help. Just email me.

See You Next Week

By Lance Roberts, CIO


Financial Planning Corner

  • REGISTER NOW: RIGHT-LANE RETIREMENT WORKSHOP
  • When: February 29th, 9-11 am (Social Security, Medicare, Income planning, Investing & More)
  • Where: Courtyard Houston Katy Mills, 25402 Katy Mills Parkway, Katy, TX, 77494

You’ll be hearing more about more specific strategies to diversify soon, but don’t hesitate to give me any suggestions or questions.

by Danny Ratliff, CFP®


Market & Sector Analysis

Data Analysis Of The Market & Sectors For Traders


S&P 500 Tear Sheet


Performance Analysis


Technical Composite


ETF Model Relative Performance Analysis


Sector & Market Analysis:

Be sure and catch our updates on Major Markets (Monday) and Major Sectors (Tuesday) with updated buy/stop/sell levels

Sector-by-Sector

Improving – Discretionary (XLY), Real Estate (XLRE), and Utilities (XLU)

As noted previously, we reduced exposure to Utilities, Real Estate, and Discretionary due to their extreme overbought condition. Unfortunately, that overbought extension has not been alleviated enough at this time to add back to our holdings. We started to see a bit of correction in Discretionary this past week, but the plunge in yields pushed Real Estate and Utilities further into orbit. We will see a correction in yield-related positions in the next couple of weeks.

Current Positions: Reduced XLY, XLU, XLRE

Outperforming – Technology (XLK), Communications (XLC)

We previously recommended taking profits in Technology, which has not only been leading the market but has gotten extremely overbought. The correction in the markets last week hit the Technology sector the hardest, but Communications fell also. Hold positions for now, and be patient and let this correction play itself out before adding exposure.

Current Positions: Target weight XLK, Reduced XLC

Weakening – Healthcare (XLV)

We noted previously we had added to our healthcare positioning slightly. No changes are required currently, but the current correction is pulling some of the overbought conditions out of the sector. We will re-evaluate our holdings next week.

Current Position: Target weight (XLV)

Lagging – Industrials (XLI), Financials (XLF), Staples (XLP), Materials (XLB), and Energy (XLE)

On Thursday and Friday, we finally begin to see the early signs of the correction we have been talking about over the last couple of weeks. The correction did little so far to work off the extreme overbought and extended conditions. However, it is a start and we will wait and see what happens from here.

If we get sectors back to oversold, and markets are holding the bullish trendline support, we will recommend adding exposure to these areas. For now, be patient.

Current Position: Reduced weight XLY, XLP, Full weight AMLP, 1/2 weight XLF, XLB and XLI

Market By Market

Small-Cap (SLY) and Mid Cap (MDY) – Despite the rally in the broader markets, Small- and Mid-caps continue to underperform currently. Both markets sold off on Friday, with Small-cap stocks breaking below support at the 50-dma. Mid-caps look stronger but failed at recent highs establishing a short-term double top. Neither small or mid-caps are oversold currently, so there is more risk to the downside particularly if we begin to see further economic impacts from the corona-virus.

Current Position: KGGIX, SLYV

Emerging, International (EEM) & Total International Markets (EFA)

Emerging and International Markets, look a lot like small-caps above. Both had gotten extremely overbought and needed to correct. That correction broke support and their respective 50-dma. With neither market oversold currently, and the dollar getting stronger, we are likely going to close our of our positions on any bounce next week that fails to move above the 50-dma.

Current Position: EFV, DEM

Dividends (VYM), Market (IVV), and Equal Weight (RSP) – These positions are our long-term “core” positions for the portfolio given that over the long-term markets do rise with economic growth and inflation. We are currently maintaining our core positions unhedged for now. If we see deterioration in the broader markets, we will begin to add short-positions to hedge our long-term core holdings.

Current Position: RSP, VYM, IVV

Gold (GLD) – Over the last few weeks, we have been discussing that gold has been consolidating near recent highs. This past week, Gold broke out and surged higher as stock markets fell into a correction. Gold is extremely overbought, so be patient for now and move stops up to the recent breakout levels.

Current Position: GDX (Gold Miners), IAU (GOLD)

Bonds (TLT) –

Bonds also broke out to new highs on Friday as the dollar rallied as money rotated into bonds for “safety” as the market weakened. After previously recommending adding to bonds, hold current positions for now. Bonds are extremely overbought now, so be cautious, we added a small portion of TLT to portfolios last week, and added PTIAX to rebalance weighting and extend our current duration.

Current Positions: DBLTX, SHY, IEF, Added TLT & PTIAX

Sector / Market Recommendations

The table below shows thoughts on specific actions related to the current market environment.

(These are not recommendations or solicitations to take any action. This is for informational purposes only related to market extremes and contrarian positioning within portfolios. Use at your own risk and peril.)

Portfolio/Client Update:

Finally, the market cracked last week and gave us a little room to operate. It is too early to become too “negative,” as the market is still convinced the Fed will intervene sooner, or later, with liquidity to offset the risk of the coronavirus. Despite the “sell-off” on Friday, investors don’t want to “miss out” on the liquidity party when it happens, so we will likely see the “buy the dip” crowd show up next week.

Over the last couple of weeks, we have made some minor changes to the portfolio which change very little in terms of the overall makeup. While this rebalancing of risk did not dramatically increase equity exposure, we are very aware of our positioning and risk and will take action accordingly.

We are being deliberately slow in on-boarding client portfolios into our models, and are monitoring risks very closely. We are not in a rush to make any drastic moves in either direction, and prefer to wait for the market to “tell us” what we need to do.

We taken profits, moved up stop-loss levels, and have hedged our risks. We will take action when necessary.

Be assured we are watching your portfolios very closely. However, if you have ANY questions, comments, or concerns, please don’t hesitate to email me.

Portfolio Actions Taken Last Week

  • New clients: Slowing adding exposure as needed.
  • Dynamic Model: Added 1/2 position in VOOG on Friday, as we continue to build out our “core” equity positioning in the portfolio. We still remain hedged with the Short-S&P 500 position to balance risk while trying to build out the overall model.
  • Equity Model: Sold 1/2 of DBLTX and added an equal amount of PTIAX to rebalance our bond exposure in portfolios to further hedge downside risk.
  • ETF Model: Sold 1/2 of DBLTX and added an equal amount of PTIAX to rebalance our bond exposure in portfolios to further hedge downside risk.

Note for new clients:

It is important to understand that when we add to our equity allocations, ALL purchases are initially “trades” that can, and will, be closed out quickly if they fail to work as anticipated. This is why we “step” into positions initially. Once a “trade” begins to work as anticipated, it is then brought to the appropriate portfolio weight and becomes a long-term investment. We will unwind these actions either by reducing, selling, or hedging if the market environment changes for the worse.


THE REAL 401k PLAN MANAGER

A Conservative Strategy For Long-Term Investors


The 401k plan allocation plan below follows the K.I.S.S. principle. By keeping the allocation simplified, it allows for better control of the allocation, and closer tracking to the benchmark objective over time. (If you want to make it more complicated, you can, however, statistics show simply adding more funds does not increase performance to any significant degree.)

If you need help after reading the alert; do not hesitate to contact me.

Click Here For The “LIVE” Version Of The 401k Plan Manager

See below for an example of a comparative model.


Model performance is based on a two-asset model of stocks and bonds relative to the weighting changes made each week in the newsletter. This is strictly for informational and educational purposes only and should not be relied upon for any reason. Past performance is not a guarantee of future results. Use at your own risk and peril.

401k Plan Manager Live Model

As an RIA PRO subscriber (You get your first 30-days free) you have access to our live 401k p

The code will give you access to the entire site during the 401k-BETA testing process, so not only will you get to help us work out the bugs on the 401k plan manager, you can submit your comments about the rest of the site as well.

We are building models specific to company plans. So, if you would like to see your company plan included specifically, send me the following:

  • Name of the company
  • Plan Sponsor
  • A print out of your plan choices. (Fund Symbol and Fund Name)

If you would like to offer our service to your employees at a deeply discounted corporate rate, please contact me.

#MacroView: Japan, The Fed, & The Limits Of QE

This past week saw a couple of interesting developments.

On Wednesday, the Fed released the minutes from their January meeting with comments which largely bypassed overly bullish investors.

“… several participants observed that equity, corporate debt, and CRE valuations were elevated and drew attention to  high levels of corporate indebtedness and weak underwriting standards in leveraged loan markets. Some participants expressed the concern that financial imbalances-including overvaluation and excessive indebtedness-could amplify an adverse shock to the economy …”

“… many participants remarked that the Committee should not rule out the possibility of adjusting the stance of monetary policy to mitigate financial stability risks, particularly when those risks have important implications for the economic outlook and when macroprudential tools had been or were likely to be ineffective at mitigating those risks…”

The Fed recognizes their ongoing monetary interventions have created financial risks in terms of asset bubbles across multiple asset classes. They are also aware that the majority of the policy tools are likely ineffective at mitigating financial risks in the future. This leaves them being dependent on expanding their balance sheet as their primary weapon.

Interestingly, the weapon they are dependent on may not be as effective as they hope. 

This past week, Japan reported a very sharp drop in economic growth in their latest reported quarter as a further increase in the sales-tax hit consumption. While the decline was quickly dismissed by the markets, this was a pre-coronovirus impact, which suggests that Japan will enter into an “official” recession in the next quarter.

There is more to this story.

Since the financial crisis, Japan has been running a massive “quantitative easing” program which, on a relative basis, is more than 3-times the size of that in the U.S. However, while stock markets have performed well with Central Bank interventions, economic prosperity is only slightly higher than it was prior to the turn of century.

Furthermore, despite the BOJ’s balance sheet consuming 80% of the ETF markets, not to mention a sizable chunk of the corporate and government debt market, Japan has been plagued by rolling recessions, low inflation, and low-interest rates. (Japan’s 10-year Treasury rate fell into negative territory for the second time in recent years.)

Why is this important? Because Japan is a microcosm of what is happening in the U.S. As I noted previously:

The U.S., like Japan, is caught in an ongoing ‘liquidity trap’ where maintaining ultra-low interest rates are the key to sustaining an economic pulse. The unintended consequence of such actions, as we are witnessing in the U.S. currently, is the battle with deflationary pressures. The lower interest rates go – the less economic return that can be generated. An ultra-low interest rate environment, contrary to mainstream thought, has a negative impact on making productive investments, and risk begins to outweigh the potential return.

Most importantly, while there are many calling for an end of the ‘Great Bond Bull Market,’ this is unlikely the case. As shown in the chart below, interest rates are relative globally. Rates can’t increase in one country while a majority of economies are pushing negative rates. As has been the case over the last 30-years, so goes Japan, so goes the U.S.”

As my colleague Doug Kass recently noted, Japan is a template of the fragility of global economic growth. 

“Global growth continues to slow and the negative impact on demand and the broad supply interruptions will likely expose the weakness of the foundation and trajectory of worldwide economic growth. This is particularly dangerous as the monetary ammunition has basically been used up.

As we have observed, monetary growth (and QE) can mechanically elevate and inflate the equity markets. For example, now in the U.S. market, basic theory is that in practice a side effect is that via the ‘repo’ market it is turned into leveraged trades into the equity markets. But, again, authorities are running out of bullets and have begun to question the efficacy of monetary largess.

Bigger picture takeaway is beyond the fact that financial engineering does not help an economy, it probably hurts it. If it helped, after mega-doses of the stuff in every imaginable form, the Japanese economy would be humming. But the Japanese economy is doing the opposite. Japan tried to substitute monetary policy for sound fiscal and economic policy. And the result is terrible.

While financial engineering clearly props up asset prices, I think Japan is a very good example that financial engineering not only does nothing for an economy over the medium to longer-term, it actually has negative consequences.” 

This is a key point.

The “Stock Market” Is NOT The “Economy.”

Roughly 90% of the population gets little, or no, direct benefit from the rise in stock market prices.

Another way to view this issue is by looking at household net worth growth between the top 10% to everyone else.

Since 2007, the ONLY group that has seen an increase in net worth is the top 10% of the population.


“This is not economic prosperity.

This is a distortion of economics.”


From 2009-2016, the Federal Reserve held rates at 0%, and flooded the financial system with 3-consecutive rounds of “Quantitative Easing” or “Q.E.” During that period, average real rates of economic growth rates never rose much above 2%.

Yes, asset prices surged as liquidity flooded the markets, but as noted above “Q.E.” programs did not translate into economic activity. The two 4-panel charts below shows the entirety of the Fed’s balance sheet expansion program (as a percentage) and its relative impact on various parts of the real economy. (The orange bar shows now many dollars of increase in the Fed’s balance sheet that it took to create an increase in each data point.)

As you can see, it took trillions in “QE” programs, not to mention trillions in a variety of other bailout programs, to create a relatively minimal increase in economic data. Of course, this explains the growing wealth gap, which currently exists as monetary policy lifted asset prices.

The table above shows that QE1 came immediately following the financial crisis and had an effective ratio of about 1.6:1. In other words, it took a 1.6% increase in the balance sheet to create a 1% advance in the S&P 500. However, once market participants figured out the transmission system, QE2 and QE3 had an almost perfect 1:1 ratio of effectiveness. The ECB’s QE program, which was implemented in 2015 to support concerns of an unruly “Brexit,” had an effective ratio of 1.5:1. Not surprisingly, the latest round of QE, which rang “Pavlov’s bell,” has moved back to a near perfect 1:1 ratio.

Clearly, QE worked well in lifting asset prices, but as shown above, not so much for the economy. In other words, QE was ultimately a massive “wealth transfer” from the middle class to the rich which has created one of the greatest wealth gaps in the history of the U.S., not to mention an asset bubble of historic proportions.

But Will It Work Next Time?

This is the single most important question for investors.

The current belief is that QE will be implemented at the first hint of a more protracted downturn in the market. However, as suggested by the Fed, QE will likely only be employed when rate reductions aren’t enough. This was a point made in 2016 by David Reifschneider, deputy director of the division of research and statistics for the Federal Reserve Board in Washington, D.C., released a staff working paper entitled “Gauging The Ability Of The FOMC To Respond To Future Recessions.” 

The conclusion was simply this:

“Simulations of the FRB/US model of a severe recession suggest that large-scale asset purchases and forward guidance about the future path of the federal funds rate should be able to provide enough additional accommodation to fully compensate for a more limited [ability] to cut short-term interest rates in most, but probably not all, circumstances.”

In other words, the Federal Reserve is rapidly becoming aware they have become caught in a liquidity trap keeping them unable to raise interest rates sufficiently to reload that particular policy tool. There are certainly growing indications the U.S. economy maybe be heading towards the next recession. 

Interestingly, David compared three policy approaches to offset the next recession.

  1. Fed funds goes into negative territory but there is no breakdown in the structure of economic relationships.
  2. Fed funds returns to zero and keeps it there long enough for unemployment to return to baseline.
  3. Fed funds returns to zero and the FOMC augments it with additional $2-4 Trillion of QE and forward guidance. 

In other words, the Fed is already factoring in a scenario in which a shock to the economy leads to additional QE of either $2 trillion, or in a worst case scenario, $4 trillion, effectively doubling the current size of the Fed’s balance sheet.

So, 2-years ago David lays out the plan, and on Wednesday, the Fed reiterates that plan.

Does the Fed see a recession on the horizon? Is this why there are concerns about valuations?

Maybe.

But there is a problem with the entire analysis. The effectiveness of QE, and zero interest rates, is based on the point at which you apply these measures.

In 2008, when the Fed launched into their “accommodative policy” emergency strategy to bail out the financial markets, the Fed’s balance sheet was running at $915 Billion. The Fed Funds rate was at 4.2%.

If the market fell into a recession tomorrow, the Fed would be starting with a $4.2 Trillion balance sheet with interest rates 3% lower than they were in 2009. In other words, the ability of the Fed to ‘bail out’ the markets today, is much more limited than it was in 2008.”

But there is more to the story than just the Fed’s balance sheet and funds rate. The entire backdrop is completely reversed. The table below compares a variety of financial and economic factors from 2009 to present.

Importantly, QE, and rate reductions, have the MOST effect when the economy, markets, and investors are extremely negative.

In other words, there is nowhere to go but up.

Such was the case in 2009. Not today.

This suggests that the Fed’s ability to stem the decline of the next recession, or offset a financial shock to the economy from falling asset prices, may be much more limited than the Fed, and most investors, currently believe.

Summary

It has taken a massive amount of interventions by Central Banks to keep economies afloat globally over the last decade, and there is rising evidence that growth is beginning to decelerate.

Furthermore, we have much more akin with Japan than many would like to believe.

  • A decline in savings rates
  • An aging demographic
  • A heavily indebted economy
  • A decline in exports
  • Slowing domestic economic growth rates.
  • An underemployed younger demographic.
  • An inelastic supply-demand curve
  • Weak industrial production
  • Dependence on productivity increases

The lynchpin to Japan, and the U.S., remains demographics and interest rates. As the aging population grows becoming a net drag on “savings,” the dependency on the “social welfare net” will continue to expand. The “pension problem” is only the tip of the iceberg.

While another $2-4 Trillion in QE might indeed be successful in keeping the bubble inflated for a while longer, there is a limit to the ability to continue pulling forward future consumption to stimulate economic activity. In other words, there are only so many autos, houses, etc., which can be purchased within a given cycle. There is evidence the cycle peak has been reached.

If the effectiveness of rate reductions and QE are diminished due to the reasons detailed herein, the subsequent destruction to the “wealth effect” will be larger than currently imagined. The Fed’s biggest fear is finding themselves powerless to offset the negative impacts of the next recession. 

If more “QE” works, great.

But as investors, with our retirement savings at risk, what if it doesn’t.

Market Believes It Has Immunity To Risks 02-15-20


  • Market Believes It Has Immunity To Risk
  • MacroView: Debt, Deficits & The Path To MMT
  • Financial Planning Corner: Why Dave Ramsey Is Wrong About Life Insurance
  • Sector & Market Analysis
  • 401k Plan Manager

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Catch Up On What You Missed Last Week


Market Believes It Has Immunity To Risks

As noted last week, the spread of the coronavirus has had little impact on the markets so far.

“”The market bounced firmly off the 50-dma and rallied back to new highs on Thursday. While Friday saw a bit of retracement, which isn’t surprising given the torrid move early in the week, the ‘virus correction’ was recovered. Importantly, sharp early-week rally kept ‘sell’ signal from triggering,

Chart Updated Through Friday

In review, we previously took some profits out of portfolios as we were expecting between a 3-5% correction to allow for a better entry point to add equity exposure. While the “virus correction” did encompass a correction of 3%, it was too shallow to reverse the rather extreme extension of the market.

The continued rally this past week has fully reversed the corrective process and returned the markets to 3-standard deviations above the 200-dma. Furthermore, all daily, weekly, and monthly conditions have returned to more extreme overbought levels as well.

This was a point we discussed with our RIAPRO subscribers (Try for 30-days RISK FREE) in Thursday’s technical market update. To wit:

  • On a weekly basis, the market backdrop remains bullish with a weekly buy signal still intact.
  • However, that buy signal is extremely extended and has started to reverse with the market extremely overbought on a weekly basis.
  • This is an ideal setup for a bigger correction so some caution is advised.
  • With the market trading above 2-standard deviations, and testing the third, of the intermediate term moving average, some caution is suggested in adding additional exposure. A correction is likely over the next month which will provide a better opportunity. Remain patient for now.

It is here that investors tend to go astray.

In the short-term, the market dynamics are indeed bullish which suggests that investors remain invested at the current time.

However, on a long-term basis, the picture becomes much more concerning.

  • As noted above, this chart is not about short-term trading but the long-term management of risks in portfolios. This is a quarterly chart of the market going back to 1920.
  • Note the market has, only on a few rare occasions, been as overbought as it is currently. The recent advance has pushed the market into 3-standard deviations above the 3-year moving average. In every single case, the reversion was not kind to investors.
  • Secondly, in the bottom panel, the market has never been this overbought and extended in history.
  • As an investor it is important to keep some perspective about where we are in the current cycle, there is every bit of evidence that a major mean reverting event will occur. Timing is always the issue which is why use daily and weekly measures to manage risk.
  • Don’t get lost in the mainstream media. This is a very important chart.

Nothing Out Of Kilter

This past week Ed Yardeni via Yardeni Research, made a good point:

“The markets must figure that the coronavirus outbreak will be contained soon and go into remission, as did SARS, MERS, and Ebola. If that doesn’t happen, then there will be a vaccine that will make us feel better. It won’t be a miracle cure coming from a drug company. Rather, it will be injections of more liquidity into the global financial markets by the major central banks.

On Tuesday, Fed Chair Jerome Powell implied that the Fed is on standby to do just that. In his testimony on monetary policy to Congress, he said, ‘Some of the uncertainties around trade have diminished recently, but risks to the outlook remain. In particular, we are closely monitoring the emergence of the coronavirus, which could lead to disruptions in China that spill over to the rest of the global economy.’”

Not surprisingly, the “ringing of Pavlov’s bell” once again sent investors scurrying to take on risk.

Interestingly, however, was that during Powell’s testimony to the Senate Banking Committee this past week, he said:

“There is nothing about this economy that is out of kilter or imbalanced.”

Okay, I’ll bite.

“Mr. Powell, if there is nothing out of kilter or imbalanced in the economy, then why are you flooding the system with a greater level of ’emergency’ measures than seen during the ‘financial crisis.'”

It is at this point that I feel like Mr. Lorensax from “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.”

“Anyone…Anyone…”

  • Side Note: The irony of that particular clip, is that Mr. Lorensax is asking his class about the “The Smoot-Hawley Act,” which was intended to raise revenue via tariffs and lift the U.S. out of the “Great Depression.” Just as with Trump’s recent “tariff” and “trade war,” neither worked as intended.

There is clearly something amiss within the financial complex. However, investors have been trained to disregard the “risk” under the assumption the Federal Reserve has everything under control.

Currently, it certainly seems to be the case as markets hover near all-time highs even as earnings, and corporate profit, growth has weakened. If the coronavirus impacts the global supply chain harder than is currently anticipated, which is likely, the deviation between prices and earnings will become tougher to justify.

Scott Minerd, the CIO of Guggenheim Investments, had a salient point:

Yet as a major economic problem looms on the horizon, the cognitive disconnect between current asset prices and reality feels like the market equivalent of “peace for our time.” The average BBB bond yields just 2.9 percent. A recent 10-year BB-rated healthcare bond came to market at 3.5 percent and subsequently was increased in size from $1 billion to $1.7 billion due to excess demand.

For those investors who perceive the disconnect between risk assets which are priced for a rosy outcome and the reality of the looming risks to growth and earnings, any attempt to reduce risk leads to underperformance. It is a mind-numbing exercise for investors who see the cognitive dissonance. The frantic race to accumulate securities has cast price discovery to the side.

I have never in my career seen anything as crazy as what’s going on right now, this will eventually end badly.

Of course, it will.

The only problem, as he notes, is that between now and then, there is a demand for performance regardless of the underlying risk. Or rather, there is a widely adopted belief the markets can never have a decline again as witnessed by an email I received last week:

“Why do you think there will ever be a correction when the central banks are never going to let credit contract. I see no corrections. Ever. When the US enters a recession, the reality is it will be the biggest buy signal yet. There is literally nowhere to go but up in this market.”

The lessons taught by previous bear markets are always forgotten during enduring bull markets which seem without end. The relearning of those lessons are always painful.

The Path Ahead

The path ahead for stocks is much less certain than in late 2018 when we were coming off deeply depressed sentiment levels, and the Fed was rapidly reversing monetary policy from “tightening” to “easing.”

With equities now more than 30% higher than they were then, the Fed mostly on hold in terms of rate cuts, and “repo” operations starting to slow, it certainly seems that expectations for substantially higher market values may be a bit optimistic.

Furthermore, as noted above, earnings expectations declined for the entirety of 2019, as shown in the chart below. However, the impact of the “coronavirus” has not been adopted into these reduced estimates as of yet. These estimates WILL fall, and likely markedly so, which as stated above, is going to make justifying record asset prices more problematic.

Conversely, if by some miracle, the economy does show actual improvement, it could result in yields rising on the long-end of the curve, which would also make stocks less attractive.

This is the problem of overpaying for value. The current environment is so richly priced there is little opportunity for investors to extract additional gains from risk-based investments.

There is one true axiom of the market which is always forgotten.

“Investors buy the most at the top, and the least at the bottom.”

If you feel you must chase the markets currently, then at least do it with a set of guidelines to follow in case things turn against you. We printed these a couple of weeks ago but felt there are worth mentioning again.

  1. Move slowly. There is no rush in adding equity exposure to your portfolio. Use pullbacks to previous support levels to make adjustments.
  2. If you are heavily UNDER-weight equities, DO NOT try and fully adjust your portfolio to your target allocation in one move. This could be disastrous if the market reverses sharply in the short term. Again, move slowly.
  3. Begin by selling laggards and losers. These positions are dragging on performance as the market rises and tends to lead when markets fall. Like “weeds choking a garden,” pull them.
  4. Add to sectors, or positions, that are performing with, or outperforming the broader market.
  5. Move “stop-loss” levels up to current breakout levels for each position. Managing a portfolio without “stop-loss” levels is like driving with your eyes closed.
  6. While the technical trends are intact, risk considerably outweighs the reward. If you are not comfortable with potentially having to sell at a LOSS what you just bought, then wait for a larger correction to add exposure more safely. There is no harm in waiting for the “fat pitch” as the current market setup is not one.
  7. If none of this makes any sense to you – please consider hiring someone to manage your portfolio for you. It will be worth the additional expense over the long term.

While we remain optimistic about the markets currently, we are also taking precautionary steps of tightening up stops, adding non-correlated assets, raising some cash, and looking to hedge risk opportunistically.

Just because it isn’t raining right now, doesn’t mean it won’t. Nobody has ever gotten hurt by keeping an umbrella handy.



The MacroView

If you need help or have questions, we are always glad to help. Just email me.

See You Next Week

By Lance Roberts, CIO


Financial Planning Corner

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You’ll be hearing more about more specific strategies to diversify soon, but don’t hesitate to give me any suggestions or questions.

by Danny Ratliff, CFP®


Market & Sector Analysis

Data Analysis Of The Market & Sectors For Traders


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THE REAL 401k PLAN MANAGER

A Conservative Strategy For Long-Term Investors


The 401k plan allocation plan below follows the K.I.S.S. principle. By keeping the allocation simplified, it allows for better control of the allocation, and closer tracking to the benchmark objective over time. (If you want to make it more complicated, you can, however, statistics show simply adding more funds does not increase performance to any significant degree.)

If you need help after reading the alert; do not hesitate to contact me.

Click Here For The “LIVE” Version Of The 401k Plan Manager

See below for an example of a comparative model.


Model performance is based on a two-asset model of stocks and bonds relative to the weighting changes made each week in the newsletter. This is strictly for informational and educational purposes only and should not be relied upon for any reason. Past performance is not a guarantee of future results. Use at your own risk and peril.

401k Plan Manager Live Model

As an RIA PRO subscriber (You get your first 30-days free) you have access to our live 401k p

The code will give you access to the entire site during the 401k-BETA testing process, so not only will you get to help us work out the bugs on the 401k plan manager, you can submit your comments about the rest of the site as well.

We are building models specific to company plans. So, if you would like to see your company plan included specifically, send me the following:

  • Name of the company
  • Plan Sponsor
  • A print out of your plan choices. (Fund Symbol and Fund Name)

If you would like to offer our service to your employees at a deeply discounted corporate rate, please contact me.