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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.  

 

 

 

How Far Can Stocks Fall?

The question repeatedly asked of us last week is how much more can the stock market fall? We don’t have a crystal ball and we cannot predict the future but we can take steps to prepare for it.  Our analysis and understanding of history allow us to use many different fundamental and technical models to create a broad range of possible answers to the question. With that range of potential outcomes we adjust our risk tolerance as appropriate.

For example, in our daily series of RIA Pro charts and the weekly Newsletter, we lay out key technical, sentiment, and momentum measures for many markets, sectors, and stocks. In doing so, we provide a range of potential shorter-term outcomes. We also depend on feedback from other reliable independent services such as Brett Freeze at Global Technical Analysis. His work is exclusively and routinely featured every month in Cartography Corner on RIA Pro.

In this article, we move beyond technical analysis and share a simple fundamental valuation analysis to help provide more guidance as to where the market may trade in the coming months and even years. This analysis can be viewed as bullish or bearish. Our goal is not to persuade you towards one direction or the other, but to open your eyes to the wide range of possibilities.

CAPE

The data employed in this analysis is as of the market close on March 13, 2020.

Shiller’s Cyclically Adjusted Price to Earnings (CAPE 10) is one of our preferred valuation measures. Robert Shiller developed the CAPE 10 model to help investors assess valuations based on dependable, longer-term earnings trends. The most common CAPE analysis uses ten years of earnings data. The period is not too sensitive to transitory gyrations in earnings and it frequently includes a full economic cycle.

As shown below, monthly readings of CAPE fluctuate around the historical average (dotted line). The variance of valuations around the mean is put into further context with the right side y-axis, which shows how many sigma’s (standard deviations) each reading is from the average. The current CAPE of 25.36, or +1.10 sigma’s from the mean.

Data Courtesy Robert Shiller

The average CAPE over the 120+ years is 17.06, the maximum was 44.20, and the minimum was 4.78.   

If we use more recent data, say from 1980 to current, the average CAPE is 22.29. Due to the higher average over the period, which includes the late 90s dot com bubble and the housing bubble, the current reading is only .36 sigma’s above its average.

The following tables, using both time frames, provide price guidance based on where the S&P 500 would need to be if CAPE were to move to its average, maximum, and minimum, as well as plus or minus one sigma from the mean.

The graph below shows the S&P 500 price in relation to that which would occur if the CAPE ratio went to its average, maximum, minimum, and plus or minus one sigma from the last 120 years.

It is important to stress that the denominator, earnings, includes data from March 2010 to February 2020. That ten years did not include a recession, which, over the 120+ years in this analysis, only happened briefly one other time, the late 1990’s.

The Corona Virus will no doubt hurt earnings for at least a few quarters and could push the economy into a recession. Accordingly, the denominator in CAPE will likely be declining. Whether or not CAPE rises for falls depends on the price action of the index.

Summary

Stocks are not cheap. As shown, a reversion to the average of the last 120 years, would result in an additional 33% decline from current levels. While the massive range of outcomes may appear daunting, this analysis is designed to help better understand the bounds of the market.

The S&P 500 certainly has room to trade much lower. It can also double in price and stay within the bounds of history. Lastly, given the unprecedented nature of current circumstances, it may be different this time and write new history.   

 

McDonald’s, Not A Shelter In The Coming Storm

The amount of time and effort that investors spend assessing the risks versus the potential returns of their portfolio should shift as the economy and markets cycle over time. For example, when an economic recovery finally breaks the grip of a recession, and asset prices and valuations have fallen to average or below-average levels, price and economic risks are greatly diminished. That is not to say there is no risk, just less risk.  

Market and economic troughs are akin to the aftermath of a forest fire. After a fire has ravaged a forest, the risks for another fire are not zero, but they are below average. Counter-intuitively, it is at these points in time when people are most fearful of fire or, in the case of investing, most worried about losses. With reduced risks, investors during these times should be more focused on the better than average rewards offered by the markets and not as concerned with the risks entailed in reaping those rewards.

Conversely, in the ninth inning of a bull market when valuations are well above the norm, and the economy has expanded for a long period, investors need to shift focus heavily to the potential risks. That is not to say there are no more rewards to come, but the overwhelming risks are substantial, and they can result in a permanent loss of wealth. As human beings are prone to do, we often zig when we should zag.

In January, we wrote Gimme Shelter to highlight that risk can be hard to detect. Sure, high flying companies with massive price gains and repeated net losses like Tesla or Netflix are easy to spot. More difficult, though, are those tried and true value stocks of companies that have flourished for decades. Specifically, we provided readers with an in-depth analysis of Coca-Cola (KO). While KO is a name brand known around the world with a long record of dependable earnings growth, its stock price has greatly exceeded its fair value.

We did not say that KO is a sure-fire short sale or even a sell. Instead, we conveyed that when a significant market drawdown occurs, KO has a lot more risk than is likely perceived by most investors. Simply, it is not the place investors should seek shelter in a market storm as they may have in the past.

We now take the opportunity to discuss another “value” company that many investors may consider a stock market shelter or safe haven.

We follow in this series with a review of McDonald’s (MCD).

You Deserve a Break Today

Please note the models and computations employed in this series use earnings per share and net income. Stock buybacks warp earnings per share (EPS), making earnings appear better than they would have without buybacks. The more positive result is simply due to a declining share count or denominator in the EPS equation. Net income and revenue data are unaffected by share buybacks and therefore deliver a more accurate appraisal of a company’s value.

Over the last ten years, the price of MCD has grown at a 13% annual rate, more than double its EPS, and over five times the rate of growth of its net income. The pace at which the growth of its stock price has surpassed its fundamentals has increased sharply over the last three years. During this period, the stock price has increased 46% annually, which is almost four times its EPS growth and more than six times the growth of its net income. 

Of further concern, revenues have declined 5% annually over the last three years, and the most recently reported annual revenues are now less than they were ten years ago when the U.S. and global GDP were only about 60% the size they are today. To pile on, the amount of debt MCD has incurred over the last ten years has increased by 355%.

MCD is a good company and, like KO, is one of the most well-known brands on the globe. Rated at BBB+, default or bankruptcy risk for MCD is remote, and because of its product line, it will probably see earnings hold up well during the next recession. For many, it is cheaper to eat at a McDonald’s restaurant than to cook at home. Although their operating business is valuable and dependable, those are not reasons to acquire or hold the stock. The issue is what price I am willing to pay in order to try to avoid a loss and secure a reasonable return.

Valuations

Using a simple price to earnings (P/E) valuation, as shown below, MCD’s current P/E for the trailing twelve months is 28, which is about 40% greater than its average over the last two decades.

The following graphs, tables, and data use the same models and methods we used to evaluate KO. For a further description, please read Gimme Shelter.    

Currently, as shown below, MCD is trading 85% above its fair value using our earnings growth model. It is worth noting that MCD, as shown with green shading, was typically valued as cheap using this model. The table below the graph shows that, on average, from 2002-2013, the stock traded 13% below fair value.

We support the graph and table above with a cash flow analysis. We assumed McDonald’s 5.6% long-run income growth rate to forecast earnings for the next 30 years. When these forecasted earnings are then discounted at the appropriate discounting rate of 7%, representing longer-term equity returns, MCD is currently overvalued by 72%.

Lastly, as we did in Gimme Shelter, we asked our friend David Robertson from Arete Asset Management to evaluate MCD’s intrinsic value. His cash flow-based model assigns an intrinsic share price value of 97.27. Based on his work, MCD is currently overvalued by 124%.

Summary

Like KO, we are not making a recommendation on MCD as a short or a sell candidate, but by our analysis, MCD stock appears to be trading at a very high valuation. Much of what we see in large-cap stocks today, MCD included, is being driven by indiscriminate buying by passive investment funds. Such buying can certainly continue, but at some point, the gross overvaluations will correct as all extremes do.

Even if MCD were to “only” decline back to a normal valuation, the losses could be significant and might even exceed those of the benchmark index, the S&P 500. Now consider that MCD may correct beyond the average and could once again trade below fair value.  Even assuming MCD earnings are not hurt during a recession, the correction in its stock price to more reasonable levels could be painful for shareholders.

Quick Take: The Great “Tesla” Hysteria Of 2020

“Let us see how high we can fly before the sun melts the wax in our wings.” – E. O. Wilson

Since January 1, 2020, Tesla’s (TSLA) stock price has risen by $462 or 110%. TSLA’s market cap now exceeds every automaker except for Toyota. In fact, it exceeds not only the combined value of the “big three” automakers GM, Ford, and Chrysler/Fiat, but also companies like Charles Schwab, Target, Deere, Eli Lily, and Marriot to name a few large companies.

Seem crazy? Not as crazy as what comes next. Crazy are the expectations of Catherine Wood of ARK Invest. This well-known “disruptive innovation” based investor put out the following chart showing an expected price of $7,000 in 2024 with a $15,000 upside target.

Siren songs such as the one shown above encourage investors to chase the stock higher with reckless abandon, and maybe that is ARK’s intent. Given their large holding of TSLA, it certainly makes more sense than their price targets. Instead of taking her recommendations with blind faith, here are some statistics to illustrate what is required for TSLA to reach such lofty goals.

To start, let’s compare TSLA to their peer group, the auto industry. The chart below shows that TSLA has the second largest market cap in the auto industry, only behind Toyota. Despite the market cap, its sales are the lowest in the industry and by a lot. According to figures published on their website, TSLA sold 367,500 cars in 2019. General Motors sold 2.9 million and Ford sold 2.4 million.

Clearly investors are betting on the future, so let’s put ARK’s forecast into context.  

If the TSLA share price were to rise to their baseline forecast of 7,000, the market cap would increase to $1.26 trillion. Currently, the auto industry, as shown above, and including TSLA, aggregates to $772 billion. At the upside scenario of 15,000, the market cap of TSLA ($2.7 trillion) would be almost four times the current market cap of the entire auto industry.  More stunning, it would be greater than the combined value of Apple and Microsoft.

Even if we make the ridiculous assumption that TSLA will be the world’s only automaker, a price of 15,000 still implies a valuation that is three to four times the current industry average based on price to sales and price to earnings. At 7,000, its valuation would be 1.6 times the industry average. Again, and we stress, that is if TSLA is the world’s only automaker.

Summary

Tesla is one of a few poster children for the latest surge in the current bull market. That said, it’s worth remembering some examples from the past. For instance, Qualcomm (QCOM) was a poster child for the tech boom in the late 1990s. Below is a chart comparing the final surge in QCOM (Q4 1999) to the last three months of trading for TSLA.

In the last quarter of 1999, QCOM’s price rose by 277%. TSLA is only up 181% in the last three months and may catch up to QCOM’s meteoric rise. However, if history is any guide, QCOM likely offers what a textbook example of a blow-off top is. By 2003 QCOM lost 90% of its value and would not recapture the 1999 highs for 15 years. 

Tesla may be the next great automaker and, in doing so, own a sizeable portion of market share. However, to have estimates as high as those proposed by ARK, they must be the only automaker and assume fantastic growth in the number of cars bought worldwide. Given their technology is replicable and given the enormous incentives for competitors, we not only find ARK’s wild forecast exceedingly optimistic, but we believe it is already trading near a best-case scenario level.

One final factor that ARK Invest also seems to have neglected is the risk of an economic downturn. Although they do highlight a “Bear Case” price target of $1,500, that too seems incoherent. Given that TSLA is still losing money and is also heavily indebted, an economic slowdown would raise the risk of their demise. In such an instance, TSLA would probably become the property of one of the major car companies for less than $50 per share.

TSLA’s stock may run higher. Its price is now a function of all the key speculative ingredients – momentum, greed, FOMO, and of course, short covering. The sky always seems to be the limit in the short run, but as Icarus found out, be careful aiming for the sun.

**As we published the article Tesla was up 20% on the day. The one day jump raised their market cap by an amount greater than the respective market caps of KIA, Hyundai, Nissan, and Fiat/Chrysler!!

Collecting Tolls On The Energy Express

The recent surge in passive investment strategies, and corresponding decline in active investment strategies, is causing strong price correlations amongst a broad swath of equities. This dynamic has caused a large majority of stocks to rise lockstep with the market, while a few unpopular stocks have been left behind. It is these lagging assets that provide an opportunity. Overlooked and underappreciated stocks potentially offer outsized returns and low correlation to the market. Finding these “misfits” is one way we are taking advantage of a glaring market inefficiency.

In July 2019, we recommended that investors consider a specific and underfollowed sector of REITs that pay double-digit dividends and could see reasonable price appreciation. In this article, we shed light on another underfollowed gem that also offers a high dividend yield, albeit with a vastly different fundamental profile.

The Case for MLP’s

Master Limited Partnerships (MLPs) are similar in legal structure to REITs in that they pass through a large majority of income to investors. As such, many MLP’s tend to pay higher than average dividends. That is where the similarities between REITs and MLPs end. 

The particular class of MLPs that interest us are called mid-stream MLPs. We like to think of these MLPs as the toll booth on the energy express. These MLPs own the pipelines that deliver energy products from the exploration fields (upstream) to the refiners and distributors (downstream). Like a toll road, these MLPs’ profitability is based on the volume of cars on the road, not the value of the cars on it. In other words, mid-stream MLPs care about the volume of energy they carry, not the price of that energy. That said, low oil prices can reduce the volume flowing through the pipelines and, provide energy producers, refiners, and distributors leverage to renegotiate pipeline fees.

Because the income of MLPs is the result of the volume of products flowing through their pipelines and not the cost of the products, their sales revenue, income, and dividend payouts are not well correlated to the price of oil or other energy products. Despite a different earnings profile than most energy companies, MLP stock prices have been strongly correlated to the energy sector. This correlation has always been positive, but the correlation is even greater today, largely due to the surge of passive investment strategies.

Passive investors tend to buy indexes and sectors containing stocks with similar traits. As passive investors become a larger part of the market, the prices of the underlying constituents’ trade more in line with each other despite variances in their businesses, valuations, outlooks, and risks. As this occurs, those marginal active investors that differentiate between stocks and their associated fundamentals play a lesser role in setting prices. With this pricing dynamic, inefficiencies flourish.

The graph below compares the tight correlation of the Alerian MLP Infrastructure Index (MLPI) and the State Street Energy Sector ETF (XLE).

Data Courtesy Bloomberg

Before further discussing MLP’s, it is worth pointing out the value proposition that the entire energy sector affords investors. While MLP cash flows and dividends are not necessarily similar to those companies in the broad energy sector, given the strong correlation, we must factor in the fundamental prospects of the entire energy sector.

The following table compares valuation fundamentals, returns, volatility, and dividends for XLE and the S&P 500. As shown, XLE has traded poorly versus the S&P 500 despite a better value proposition. XLE also pays more than twice the dividend of the S&P 500. However, it trades with about 50% more volatility than the index.  

The following table compares two valuation metrics and the dividend yield of the top 6 holdings of Alerian MLP ETF (AMLP) and the S&P 500. A similar value story emerges.

As XLE has grossly underperformed the market, so have MLPs. It is important for value investors to understand the decline in MLP’s is largely in sympathy with the gross underperformance of the energy sector and not the fundamentals of the MLP sector itself. The graph below shows the steadily rising earnings per share of the MLP sector versus the entire energy sector.

Data Courtesy Bloomberg

Illustrating the Value Proposition

The following graphs help better define the value of owning MLPs at current valuations.

The scatter graph below compares 60-day changes to the price of oil with 60-day changes in AMLP’s dividend yield. At current levels (the orange dot) either oil should be $10.30 lower given AMLP’s current dividend yield, or the dividend yield should be 1.14% lower based on current oil prices. A decline in the dividend yield to the norm, assuming the dividend payout is unchanged, would result in a price increase of 13.17% for AMLP. Alternatively if oil declined about 20% in value, the current AMLP dividend yield would then be fairly priced. We consider this a significant margin of safety should the price of oil fall, as it likely would if the U.S. enters a recession in the near future.   

Data Courtesy Alerian and Bloomberg

The graph below highlights that AMLP’s dividend yield is historically high, albeit below three short term spikes occurring over the last 25 years. In all three cases oil fell precipitously due to a recession or a sharp slowdown of global growth.

Data Courtesy Alerian and Bloomberg

Due to their high dividend yields and volatility, MLP’s are frequently compared to higher-yielding, lower-rated corporate debt securities. The graph below shows that the spread of AMLP’s dividend yield to the yield on junk-rated BB corporate bonds is the largest in at least 25 years. The current spread is 5.66%, which is 5.18% above the average since 1995.

Data Courtesy Alerian and St. Louis Federal Reserve

To help us better quantify the pricing of MLPs, we created a two-factor model. This model forecasts the price of MLPI based on changes to the price of XLE and the yield of U.S. Ten-year Treasury Notes. The model below has an R-squared of .76, meaning 76% of the price change of MLPI is attributable to the price changes of energy stocks and Treasury yields. Currently the model shows that MLPI is 20% undervalued (gray bars).  The last two times MLPI was undervalued by over 20%, its price rose 49% (2016) and 15% (2018) in the following three months.

The following summarizes some of the more important pros and cons of investing in MLPs.

Pros

  • Dividend yields are very high on an absolute basis and versus other higher-yielding securities
  • Valuations are cheap
  • Earnings are growing in a dependable trend
  • Balance sheets are in good shape
  • Potential for stock buybacks as balance sheets improve and stock prices offer value

Cons

  • Strong correlation to oil prices and energy stocks
  • “Peak oil demand” – electric cars/solar
  • Sensitivity to global trade, economy, and broad asset prices
  • Political uncertainty/green movement
  • High volatility

Summary

The stronger the market influence that passive investors have, the greater the potential for market dislocations. Simply, as individual stock prices become more correlated with markets and each other, specific out of favor companies are punished. We believe this explains why MLP’s have traded so poorly and why they are so cheap today.

We urge caution as buying MLPs in today’s environment is a “catching the falling knife” trade. AMLP has fallen nearly 25% over the last few months and may continue to fall further, especially as tax selling occurs over the coming weeks. It has also been in a longer-term downtrend since 2017.  We are unlikely to call the market bottom in MLPs and therefore intend to scale into a larger position over time. We will likely buy our first set of shares opportunistically over the next few weeks or possibly in early 2020. Readers will be alerted at the time. We may possibly use leveraged MLP funds in addition to AMLP.

It is worth noting this position is a small part of our portfolio and fits within the construct of the entire portfolio. While the value proposition is great, we must remain cognizant of the current price trend, the risks of owning MLPs, and how this investment changes our exposure to equities and interest rates.

This article focuses predominately on the current pricing and value proposition. We suggest that if you are interested in MLPs, read more on MLP legal structures, their tax treatment, and specific risks they entail.

AMLP does not require investors to file a K-1 tax form. Many ETFs and all individual MLPs have this requirement.

*MLPI and AMLP were used in this article as a proxy for MLPs. They are both extremely correlated to each other. Usage was based on the data needed.

UNLOCKED: 3 Quality Blue Chip Stocks For Rising Dividends

This is a guest contribution by Bob Ciura with Sure Dividend.  Sure Dividend helps individual investors build and maintain their high quality dividend growth portfolios rising passive income over the long run.

There is no exact definition of what constitutes a “blue-chip” stock, but at Sure Dividend we generally define a blue chip as a stock that belongs to one of three lists. In our view, a blue chip is a dividend stock that is either a Dividend Achiever (10+ consecutive years of dividend increases); Dividend Aristocrat (25+ years); or Dividend King (50+ years).

We have compiled a list of companies that currently qualify as blue chip stocks, as well as our top-ranked blue chip stocks. The following 3 stocks are among our favorite blue chip stocks for dividend growth investors interested in rising dividend income over the long term. These 3 stocks combine strong business models with future growth potential, as well as high current yields.

Blue Chip Stock #3: Exxon Mobil (XOM)

Exxon Mobil is an integrated oil and gas supermajor. It is the largest U.S. energy company, with a market capitalization above $300 billion. It has also increased its dividend for over 30 years in a row, making it a member of the Dividend Aristocrats. The stock has a current yield of 4.9%, which is significantly above the ~2% dividend yield of the broader S&P 500 Index.

Exxon Mobil continues to struggle with weak oil prices, but thanks to its diversified business model, the company still generates impressive cash flows. In the most recent quarter, Exxon Mobil grew its upstream liquids production by 5% over last year’s quarter mostly thanks to impressive growth in the Permian Basin, where output grew 4% for the quarter. Exxon Mobil generated over $9 billion in operating cash flow last quarter, as the company is highly profitable across its large upstream, downstream, and refining businesses.

Despite the difficult short-term conditions, investors should remain confident of Exxon Mobil’s long-term prospects. Production growth will fuel higher profits going forward, as Exxon Mobil expects production to increase 25% by 2025, to 5.0 million barrels per day. The Permian Basin will be a major growth driver, which Exxon Mobil expects to account for more than 1.0 million barrels per day of its production by 2024.

Exxon Mobil continues to generate strong cash flow, which it uses to reward shareholders with annual dividend increases, including the 6% increase in April 2019. It also has the best balance sheet of all the integrated oil and gas majors, which further boosts its dividend sustainability. With a nearly 5% dividend yield, Exxon Mobil is among the safest dividend stocks in the energy sector.

Blue Chip Stock #2: Walgreens Boots Alliance (WBA)

Next up is pharmacy retail giant Walgreens Boots Alliance, which like Exxon Mobil is on the list of Dividend Aristocrats. Walgreens has a global presence with over 18,000 stores in 11 countries, and a market capitalization of approximately $50 billion. Walgreens has increased its dividend for 44 consecutive years, which makes it a member of the Dividend Aristocrats.

Walgreens faces heightened competition, both from established retailers as well as the looming threat of Amazon (AMZN) which purchased online pharmacy PillPack for nearly $1 billion. But Walgreens continues to generate sales growth, including 2.6% comparable revenue growth in the most recent quarter. Pharmacy sales increased 5.4% on a comparable basis, primarily due to higher brand inflation, and prescription volume growth. Pharmacy sales should continue to provide growth for Walgreens, particularly because of the aging U.S. population. Walgreens is also a highly recession-resistant company, as consumers are unlikely to cut spending on prescriptions and other healthcare products even during a recession. Walgreens is one of the most recognized brands in retail, and its huge store count serves as a competitive advantage.

Walgreens is also working aggressively to cut costs to improve its profitability. The company recently raised its cost-cutting target from $1.5 billion, to over $1.8 billion by fiscal 2022. Walgreens returns a significant portion of its profits to shareholders in the form of dividends. The company has a current dividend yield of 3%, and has increased its dividend each year for more than 40 consecutive years.

Blue Chip Stock #1: Altria Group (MO)

Altria Group is a consumer staples giant. Its main product is the Marlboro cigarette brand, but Altria has a diversified product portfolio that also includes smokeless tobacco, wine, and a 10% equity stake in global beer giant Anheuser Busch Inbev (BUD).

Altria stock has performed poorly this year, with a year-to-date decline of 7% versus a 23% gain for the S&P 500 Index. The company is struggling with the persistent trend of declining smoking rates in the United States. Altria expects cigarette volumes will decline at a 4% to 6% annual rate through 2023.

In response, Altria has invested heavily in expanding its product portfolio beyond traditional cigarettes. Its most recent investments include a $1.8 billion investment for 45% of Canadian marijuana producer Cronos Group (CRON). Separately, Altria invested $12.8 billion in e-vapor manufacturer JUUL Labs for a 35% equity stake in the company. In June, Altria announced that it took control of Burger Söhne, a Swiss company that makes oral nicotine pouches. The 80% stake was purchased for $372 million.  

These investments have allowed Altria to continue generating growth in its core metrics this year. In late October, Altria reported strong third-quarter earnings. Revenue (net of excise taxes) increased 2.3% year-over-year to $5.4 billion. Adjusted earnings-per-share came of $1.19 increased 10% over the year-ago period. Revenue and earnings-per-share both beat analyst expectations. Altria said it was on track to achieve $575 million in annual cost savings this year as it combats lower smoking rates in its markets.

Altria took a non-cash impairment charge of $4.5 billion related to its investment in Juul. But its investments in Juul, Cronos Group, and Burger Söhne represent major growth opportunities and the company’s best chance to diversify away from cigarettes. These investments will fuel Altria’s long-term growth. Altria expects 5% to 7% growth in adjusted earnings-per-share in 2019, as well as 5% to 8% adjusted EPS growth from 2020-2022. This growth will allow Altria to continue increasing its dividend to shareholders, as it has done for 50 consecutive years, making Altria a member of the Dividend Kings list.

Final Thoughts

Dividend growth investors are generally interested in a strong current yield that is well above the market average, and a sustainable dividend with room for growth over the long term. Blue chip stocks are a great place to look for stocks that combine both qualities. The three stocks in this article have dividend yields that significantly exceed the S&P 500 Index average. And, thanks to their steady profitability, durable competitive advantages, and future growth potential, they are likely to continue increasing their dividends each year for the foreseeable future.

Corporate Profits Are Worse Than You Think – Addendum

We recently published Corporate Profits Are Worse Than You Think to expose stock prices that have surged well beyond levels that are justified by corporate profits. 

A topic not raised in the article, but a frequent theme of ours, is the role that share buybacks have played in this bull market. Corporations have not only been the largest buyer of stocks over the last few years, but share buybacks result in misleading earnings per share data, which warp valuations and makes stocks look cheaper. Over the last five years, corporations have been heavily leaning on the issuance of corporate debt to facilitate share buybacks. In doing so, earnings per share appear to sustain a healthy upward trajectory, but only because the denominator of the ratio (number of shares) is being reduced as debt on the balance sheet rises. This corporate shell game is one of the most obvious and egregious manifestations of imprudent Federal Reserve policies of the past decade.

Given the importance of debt to share buybacks, we provide two graphs below which question the sustainability of this practice.

The first graph below compares the growth of corporate debt and corporate profits since the early 1950s. The growing divergence, especially as of late, is a clear warning that debt is not being used for productive purposes. If it were, profits would be rising in a manner commensurate or even greater than the debt curve. The unproductive nature of corporate debt is also seen in the rising ratio of corporate debt to GDP, which now stands at all-time highs. Too much debt is being used for buybacks that curtail capital investment, innovation, productivity, and ultimately profits.  

Data Courtesy St. Louis Federal Reserve

The next graph uses the same data but presents the growth rates of profits and debt since 2015. Keep in mind the bump up in corporate profits in 2018 was largely due to tax legislation.

Data Courtesy St. Louis Federal Reserve

Lastly, we present a favorite chart of ours showing how the universe of corporate debt has migrated towards the lower end of the investment-grade bucket. Many investment-grade companies (AAA – BBB-) are issuing debt until they reach the risk of a credit downgrade to junk status (BB+ or lower). We believe many companies are now limited in their use of debt for fear of downgrades, which will naturally restrict their further ability to conduct buybacks. For more on this graph, please read The Corporate Maginot Line.

3 Quality Blue Chip Stocks For Rising Dividends

This is a guest contribution by Bob Ciura with Sure Dividend.  Sure Dividend helps individual investors build and maintain their high quality dividend growth portfolios rising passive income over the long run.

There is no exact definition of what constitutes a “blue-chip” stock, but at Sure Dividend we generally define a blue chip as a stock that belongs to one of three lists. In our view, a blue chip is a dividend stock that is either a Dividend Achiever (10+ consecutive years of dividend increases); Dividend Aristocrat (25+ years); or Dividend King (50+ years).

We have compiled a list of companies that currently qualify as blue chip stocks, as well as our top-ranked blue chip stocks. The following 3 stocks are among our favorite blue chip stocks for dividend growth investors interested in rising dividend income over the long term. These 3 stocks combine strong business models with future growth potential, as well as high current yields.

Blue Chip Stock #3: Exxon Mobil (XOM)

Exxon Mobil is an integrated oil and gas super-major. It is the largest U.S. energy company, with a market capitalization above $300 billion. It has also increased its dividend for over 30 years in a row, making it a member of the Dividend Aristocrats. The stock has a current yield of 4.9%, which is significantly above the ~2% dividend yield of the broader S&P 500 Index.

Exxon Mobil continues to struggle with weak oil prices, but thanks to its diversified business model, the company still generates impressive cash flows. In the most recent quarter, Exxon Mobil grew its upstream liquids production by 5% over last year’s quarter mostly thanks to impressive growth in the Permian Basin, where output grew 4% for the quarter. Exxon Mobil generated over $9 billion in operating cash flow last quarter, as the company is highly profitable across its large upstream, downstream, and refining businesses.

Despite the difficult short-term conditions, investors should remain confident of Exxon Mobil’s long-term prospects. Production growth will fuel higher profits going forward, as Exxon Mobil expects production to increase 25% by 2025, to 5.0 million barrels per day. The Permian Basin will be a major growth driver, which Exxon Mobil expects to account for more than 1.0 million barrels per day of its production by 2024.

Exxon Mobil continues to generate strong cash flow, which it uses to reward shareholders with annual dividend increases, including the 6% increase in April 2019. It also has the best balance sheet of all the integrated oil and gas majors, which further boosts its dividend sustainability. With a nearly 5% dividend yield, Exxon Mobil is among the safest dividend stocks in the energy sector.

Blue Chip Stock #2: Walgreens Boots Alliance (WBA)

Next up is pharmacy retail giant Walgreens Boots Alliance, which like Exxon Mobil is on the list of Dividend Aristocrats. Walgreens has a global presence with over 18,000 stores in 11 countries, and a market capitalization of approximately $50 billion. Walgreens has increased its dividend for 44 consecutive years, which makes it a member of the Dividend Aristocrats.

Walgreens faces heightened competition, both from established retailers as well as the looming threat of Amazon (AMZN) which purchased online pharmacy PillPack for nearly $1 billion. But Walgreens continues to generate sales growth, including 2.6% comparable revenue growth in the most recent quarter. Pharmacy sales increased 5.4% on a comparable basis, primarily due to higher brand inflation, and prescription volume growth. Pharmacy sales should continue to provide growth for Walgreens, particularly because of the aging U.S. population. Walgreens is also a highly recession-resistant company, as consumers are unlikely to cut spending on prescriptions and other healthcare products even during a recession. Walgreens is one of the most recognized brands in retail, and its huge store count serves as a competitive advantage.

Walgreens is also working aggressively to cut costs to improve its profitability. The company recently raised its cost-cutting target from $1.5 billion, to over $1.8 billion by fiscal 2022. Walgreens returns a significant portion of its profits to shareholders in the form of dividends. The company has a current dividend yield of 3%, and has increased its dividend each year for more than 40 consecutive years.

Blue Chip Stock #1: Altria Group (MO)

Altria Group is a consumer staples giant. Its main product is the Marlboro cigarette brand, but Altria has a diversified product portfolio that also includes smokeless tobacco, wine, and a 10% equity stake in global beer giant Anheuser Busch Inbev (BUD).

Altria stock has performed poorly this year, with a year-to-date decline of 7% versus a 23% gain for the S&P 500 Index. The company is struggling with the persistent trend of declining smoking rates in the United States. Altria expects cigarette volumes will decline at a 4% to 6% annual rate through 2023.

In response, Altria has invested heavily in expanding its product portfolio beyond traditional cigarettes. Its most recent investments include a $1.8 billion investment for 45% of Canadian marijuana producer Cronos Group (CRON). Separately, Altria invested $12.8 billion in e-vapor manufacturer JUUL Labs for a 35% equity stake in the company. In June, Altria announced that it took control of Burger Söhne, a Swiss company that makes oral nicotine pouches. The 80% stake was purchased for $372 million.  

These investments have allowed Altria to continue generating growth in its core metrics this year. In late October, Altria reported strong third-quarter earnings. Revenue (net of excise taxes) increased 2.3% year-over-year to $5.4 billion. Adjusted earnings-per-share came of $1.19 increased 10% over the year-ago period. Revenue and earnings-per-share both beat analyst expectations. Altria said it was on track to achieve $575 million in annual cost savings this year as it combats lower smoking rates in its markets.

Altria took a non-cash impairment charge of $4.5 billion related to its investment in Juul. But its investments in Juul, Cronos Group, and Burger Söhne represent major growth opportunities and the company’s best chance to diversify away from cigarettes. These investments will fuel Altria’s long-term growth. Altria expects 5% to 7% growth in adjusted earnings-per-share in 2019, as well as 5% to 8% adjusted EPS growth from 2020-2022. This growth will allow Altria to continue increasing its dividend to shareholders, as it has done for 50 consecutive years, making Altria a member of the Dividend Kings list.

Final Thoughts

Dividend growth investors are generally interested in a strong current yield that is well above the market average, and a sustainable dividend with room for growth over the long term. Blue chip stocks are a great place to look for stocks that combine both qualities. The three stocks in this article have dividend yields that significantly exceed the S&P 500 Index average. And, thanks to their steady profitability, durable competitive advantages, and future growth potential, they are likely to continue increasing their dividends each year for the foreseeable future.

Powell’s Revelation And A TIP For Defense

I think we would need to see a really significant move up in inflation that’s persistent before we even consider raising rates to address inflation concerns.” – Jerome Powell 10/30/2019

The recent quote above from Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell is powerful, to say the least. We cannot remember a time in the last 30 years when a Fed Chairman has so clearly articulated such a strong desire for more inflation.

In particular, let’s dissect the bolded words in the quote for further clarification. 

  • “Really Significant”– Powell is not only saying that the Fed will allow a substantial boost to inflation but does one better by adding the word “really.”
  • “Persistent”– Unlike the prior few Fed Chairman who claimed to be vigilant towards inflation, Powell is clearly telling us that he will not react to inflation that is not only a “really significant” leap from current levels, but a rate that lasts for a while.
  • “Even Consider”– The language he uses here conveys the seriousness of the Fed’s commitment. The rise in inflation must not only be “really significant” but also “persistent.” Powell is saying both conditions must be met before they will even discuss rate hikes. A significant rise in inflation but one they do not deem to be persistent will not suffice. Nor would a persistent move in inflation but one they do not measure as significant. Both conditions must be present together based on his language.

We are stunned by the choice of words Powell used to describe the Fed’s view on inflation. We are even more shocked that the markets and the media are ignoring it. Maybe, they are failing to focus on the three bolded sections.

In fact, what they probably think they heard was:

I think we would need to see a move up in inflation before we consider raising rates to address inflation concerns.

Such a statement is more in line with traditional Fed-speak. The other alternative is that Powell has altered his language in so many different ways over the past year that nobody seems to be paying attention to his words anymore. If so, he has lost credibility.

This article presents Treasury Inflation-Protected Securities (TIPS) as a hedge against Jerome Powell and the Fed getting what they want.

Inflation and Stable Prices – Apples and Oranges

Before a discussion on using TIPS as a way to protect your investments from the deleterious effects of inflation, we need to examine how the Fed gauges inflation and debunk the narrative that terms inflation and price stability as one and the same. Price data going back about 250 years, as shown below, shows the stark difference between inflation and price stability.  

Data Courtesy: Lawrence H. Officer and Samuel H. Williamson, ‘The Annual Consumer Price Index for the United States, 1774-Present

The orange line plots annual price changes before the Fed was established in 1913. As shown, prices were volatile year to year, but cumulative inflation over the entire 138 year period was negligible at 23% or .15% annualized. Dare we say prices were stable?

Compare that to the era after the Fed’s creation (represented by the blue line above). Annual inflation rates were less volatile but largely positive. The cumulative growth of prices has been an astonishing 2491% in the post-Fed area, which equates to 3.1% annually. There is nothing stable about such massive price inflation. 

Here is another graph to shed more light on price stability.

Stable prices should be defined as prices that are constant. In other words, a dollar today can purchase the same basket of goods that it did yesterday. Inflation must be near zero over longer periods for this to occur.

The Fed’s definition of stable denotes a consistent rate of annual inflation. Based on their actions and words, they have little regard for the destruction of a dollar’s purchasing power caused by a steady inflation rate. The Fed benefits from this linguistic imprecision because it allows for economic expansion via the accumulation of debt while their Congressional mandates are achieved. This is why the Fed wants to produce inflation. It reduces the amount of debt on an inflation-adjusted basis. The Fed wants inflation but disguises it under the banner of price stability.

With Federal deficits now topping $1 trillion and corporate debt and consumer debt and financial liabilities at all-time highs as a percentage of GDP, we must think about hedging our equity and fixed income portfolios in case the Fed gets more inflation than the 2% goal they consider stable.

Despite what the Fed leads us to believe, they have little control over the rate of inflation and they do not know how to accurately measure it. As occurred 50 years ago, they can easily lose control of prices.

We urge you to focus on the forgotten leg of wealth, purchasing power. The opportunity costs of owning TIPS are minimal and the potential hedge value of TIPS tremendous. Change can happen in a hurry, and the only way to protect yourself or profit from it is to anticipate it.

The rest of this article is for RIA Pro subscribers only. If you are not a subscriber and want to learn about the mechanics of TIPS and how they can protect you in an inflationary or deflationary environment, please SIGN UP HERE for a 30-day free trial.

Cartography Corner – November 2019

J. Brett Freeze and his firm Global Technical Analysis (GTA) provides RIA Pro subscribers Cartography Corner on a monthly basis. Brett’s analysis offers readers a truly unique brand of technical insight and risk framework. We personally rely on Brett’s research to help better gauge market trends, their durability, and support and resistance price levels.

GTA presents their monthly analysis on a wide range of asset classes, indices, and securities. At times the analysis may agree with RIA Pro technical opinions, and other times it will run contrary to our thoughts. Our goal is not to push a single view or opinion, but provide research to help you better understand the markets. Please contact us with any questions or comments.  If you are interested in learning more about GTA’s services, please connect with them through the links provided in the article.

The link below penned by GTA provides a user’s guide and a sample of his analysis.

GTA Users Guide


A Review of October

Random Length Lumber Futures

We begin with a review of Random Length Lumber Futures (LBX9, LBF0) during October 2019. In our October 2019 edition of The Cartography Corner, we wrote the following:

In isolation, monthly support and resistance levels for October are:

  • o M4         447.90
  • o M1         407.70
  • o PMH       393.50
  • o Close      367.10
  • MTrend   364.03
  • M3           363.20
  • M2         357.10             
  • PML        348.10                         
  • M5           316.90

Active traders can use 363.20 as the pivot, whereby they maintain a long position above that level and a flat or short position below it.

In our October edition, we anticipated a breakout from consolidation and recognized our ignorance as to which direction by highlighting, “The lumber market has been building energy for the next substantial move for four quarters and four months, respectively.  Relative to our technical methodology, it is a 50-50 proposition as to which direction.”

Figure 1 below displays the daily price action for October 2019 in a candlestick chart, with support and resistance levels isolated by our methodology represented as dashed lines.  The first eight trading sessions were spent with Lumber oscillating around our isolated pivot level of 363.20.  Longs and shorts were battling to establish a sustained directional move away from equilibrium at MTrend: 364.03. 

Astute readers will notice that the low price of the month was realized at the price of 357.50.  That price was four ticks above October’s M2 level of 357.10.  M2 was the first monthly support level under our isolated pivot.

The following seven trading sessions were spent with Lumber making an assault upon, and settling above, September’s high at PMH: 393.50.  The final eight trading sessions saw Lumber achieve and exceed our isolated resistance level at M1: 407.70.

Conservatively, active traders following our analysis had the opportunity to capture most of the trade up which equated to an approximate 10.5% profit. 

Figure 1:

E-Mini S&P 500 Futures

We continue with a review of E-Mini S&P 500 Futures during October 2019.  In our October 2019 edition of The Cartography Corner, we wrote the following:

In isolation, monthly support and resistance levels for October are:

  • M4                 3275.75
  • M1                 3037.25
  • M3                 3032.25
  • PMH              3025.75
  • M2               3002.25      
  • Close             2978.50
  • MTrend         2952.81     
  • PML               2889.00     
  • M5                2763.75

Active traders can use 3037.25 as the upside pivot, whereby they maintain a long position above that level.  Active traders can use 2952.81 as the downside pivot, whereby they maintain a flat or short position below that level.

Figure 2 below displays the daily price action for October 2019 in a candlestick chart, with support and resistance levels isolated by our methodology represented as dashed lines.  We commented in October, “… the slope of the Weekly Trend could be in the initial stage of forming a rounded top.”  The first two- and one-half trading sessions of October saw the market price descend 123.50 points from September’s settlement price.  The decline accelerated once it settled below our isolated pivot level at MTrend: 2952.81.

The low price for the month was realized (early in the session) on Thursday, October 3rd at the price of 2855.00.  Please pay attention to the commentary that follows next, as it highlights the importance of our multi-time-period analysis.  The Weekly Downside Exhaustion level for the week of September 30th was at W5: 2868.00.  Once our Weekly Downside Exhaustion level was reached, we were immediately anticipating a two-week high to occur over the following four to six weeks.  This was reason one to cover any shorts.  Quarterly Trend for the fourth quarter of 2019 resides at 2840.92.  As we have communicated before, this is the most important level in our analysis and, at a minimum, we expect Quarterly Trend to be defended vigorously on the first approach.  This was reason two to cover any shorts.  By the time of the market’s close on October 3rd, the price had rotated back above September’s low price at PML: 2889.00.  The following five trading sessions were spent with the market price oscillating between MTrend: 2952.81, now acting as resistance, and support at PML: 2889.00.

On October 11th, the market price ascended above and settled above MTrend: 2952.81.  This afforded the market the opportunity to make an assault on our next isolated resistance level at M2: 3002.25.  Two trading sessions later, on October 15th, the market price achieved a high price of 3003.25.  This is notable because it achieved the two-week high that we were anticipating from October 3rd.   The following five trading sessions were spent with the market price oscillating around our isolated resistance level at M2: 3002.25.

On October 23rd, the market price settled above M2 and began its final ascent into the October 30th FOMC meeting.  It is worth noting that the market did not settle above our isolated upside pivot level at 3037.25 prior to October 30thWith one trading session remaining in October, common sense suggested waiting for November’s analysis to be produced in lieu of committing capital on the day of the FOMC meeting.

Humbly offered, our analysis captured the trade down early in the month, the rally into the pre-FOMC high, and the significant pivots in between.

Figure 2:

November 2019 Analysis

We begin by providing a monthly time-period analysis of E-Mini S&P 500 Futures (ESZ9).  The same analysis can be completed for any time-period or in aggregate.

Trends:

  • Daily Trend             3038.39       
  • Current Settle         3035.75
  • Weekly Trend         2980.58       
  • Monthly Trend        2950.42       
  • Quarterly Trend      2840.92

In the quarterly time-period, the chart shows that E-Mini S&P 500 Futures have been “Trend Up” for three quarters.  Stepping down one time-period, the monthly chart shows that E-Mini S&P 500 Futures have been “Trend Up” for five months.  Stepping down to the weekly time-period, the chart shows that E-Mini S&P 500 Futures have been “Trend Up” for three weeks.  The relative positioning of the Trend Levels is bullishly aligned.  The market price is above all of them (with exception of Daily Trend) which is bullish as well.

In the monthly time-period, the “signal” was given in August 2019 to anticipate a two-month high within the following four to six months.  That two-month high was realized in October 2019, with the trade above 3025.75.

 

Support/Resistance:

In isolation, monthly support and resistance levels for November are:

  • M4                 3221.00
  • M3                 3093.00
  • M1                 3084.25
  • PMH              3055.00
  • Close             3035.75     
  • MTrend         2950.42
  • PML               2855.00     
  • M2                 2821.00    
  • M5                2684.25

Active traders can use 3055.00 as the upside pivot, whereby they maintain a long position above that level.  Active traders can use 2950.42 as the downside pivot, whereby they maintain a flat or short position below that level.

New Zealand Dollar Futures

For the month of November, we focus on New Zealand Dollar Futures (“Kiwi”).  We provide a monthly time-period analysis of 6NZ9.  The same analysis can be completed for any time-period or in aggregate.

Trends:

  • Quarterly Trend    0.6640           
  • Current Settle       0.6416
  • Daily Trend           0.6382           
  • Monthly Trend      0.6361           
  • Weekly Trend        0.6354

As can be seen in the quarterly chart below, Kiwi is in “Consolidation”.  Stepping down one time-period, the monthly chart shows that Kiwi has been “Trend Down” for four months.  Stepping down to the weekly time-period, the chart shows that Kiwi has been “Trend Up” for three weeks.

In the monthly time-period, the “signal” was given in August 2019 to anticipate a two-month high within the following four to six months.  That two-month high can be realized in November 2019 with a trade above 0.6462.

Our first priority in performing technical analysis is to identify the beginning of a new trend, the reversal of an existing trend, or a consolidation area.  With that in mind, we chose to focus on Kiwi for the month of November.  Since its peak in 2Q2017, Kiwi has traded down in five of the previous eight quarters.  In the calendar year 2019, it has only traded up in three months out of ten.  But something caught our attention… Monthly Trend for November has “quietly tiptoed” beneath the market.  In our judgment, the risk-reward is favorable for anticipating a trend reversal.    

Support/Resistance:

In isolation, monthly support and resistance levels for November are:

  • M4         0.6627
  • M3         0.6558
  • PMH       0.6444
  • M1         0.6426
  • Close       0.6416
  • MTrend   0.6361
  • PML        0.6215             
  • M2         0.6169                         
  • M5           0.5968

Active traders can use 0.6361 as the pivot, whereby they maintain a long position above that level and a flat or short position below it.

 

Summary

The power of technical analysis is in its ability to reduce multi-dimensional markets into a filtered two-dimensional space of price and time.  Our methodology applies a consistent framework that identifies key measures of trend, distinct levels of support and resistance, and identification of potential trading ranges.  Our methodology can be applied to any security or index, across markets, for which we can attain a reliable price history.  We look forward to bringing you our unique brand of technical analysis and insight into many different markets.  If you are a professional market participant and are open to discovering more, please connect with us.  We are not asking for a subscription; we are asking you to listen.

Powell’s Revelation And A TIP For Defense

I think we would need to see a really significant move up in inflation that’s persistent before we even consider raising rates to address inflation concerns.” – Jerome Powell 10/30/2019

The recent quote above from Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell is powerful, to say the least. We cannot remember a time in the last 30 years when a Fed Chairman has so clearly articulated such a strong desire for more inflation.

In particular, let’s dissect the bolded words in the quote for further clarification. 

  • “Really Significant”– Powell is not only saying that the Fed will allow a substantial boost to inflation but does one better by adding the word “really.”
  • “Persistent”– Unlike the prior few Fed Chairman who claimed to be vigilant towards inflation, Powell is clearly telling us that he will not react to inflation that is not only a “really significant” leap from current levels, but a rate that lasts for a while.
  • “Even Consider”– The language he uses here conveys the seriousness of the Fed’s commitment. The rise in inflation must not only be “really significant” but also “persistent.” Powell is saying both conditions must be met before they will even discuss rate hikes. A significant rise in inflation but one they do not deem to be persistent will not suffice. Nor would a persistent move in inflation but one they do not measure as significant. Both conditions must be present together based on his language.

We are stunned by the choice of words Powell used to describe the Fed’s view on inflation. We are even more shocked that the markets and the media are ignoring it. Maybe, they are failing to focus on the three bolded sections.

In fact, what they probably think they heard was:

I think we would need to see a move up in inflation before we consider raising rates to address inflation concerns.

Such a statement is more in line with traditional Fed-speak. The other alternative is that Powell has altered his language in so many different ways over the past year that nobody seems to be paying attention to his words anymore. If so, he has lost credibility.

This article presents Treasury Inflation-Protected Securities (TIPS) as a hedge against Jerome Powell and the Fed getting what they want.

Inflation and Stable Prices – Apples and Oranges

Before a discussion on using TIPS as a way to protect your investments from the deleterious effects of inflation, we need to examine how the Fed gauges inflation and debunk the narrative that terms inflation and price stability as one and the same. Price data going back about 250 years, as shown below, shows the stark difference between inflation and price stability.  

Data Courtesy: Lawrence H. Officer and Samuel H. Williamson, ‘The Annual Consumer Price Index for the United States, 1774-Present

The orange line plots annual price changes before the Fed was established in 1913. As shown, prices were volatile year to year, but cumulative inflation over the entire 138 year period was negligible at 23% or .15% annualized. Dare we say prices were stable?

Compare that to the era after the Fed’s creation (represented by the blue line above). Annual inflation rates were less volatile but largely positive. The cumulative growth of prices has been an astonishing 2491% in the post-Fed area, which equates to 3.1% annually. There is nothing stable about such massive price inflation. 

Here is another graph to shed more light on price stability.

Stable prices should be defined as prices that are constant. In other words, a dollar today can purchase the same basket of goods that it did yesterday. Inflation must be near zero over longer periods for this to occur.

The Fed’s definition of stable denotes a consistent rate of annual inflation. Based on their actions and words, they have little regard for the destruction of a dollar’s purchasing power caused by a steady inflation rate. The Fed benefits from this linguistic imprecision because it allows for economic expansion via the accumulation of debt while their Congressional mandates are achieved. This is why the Fed wants to produce inflation. It reduces the amount of debt on an inflation-adjusted basis. The Fed wants inflation but disguises it under the banner of price stability.

With Federal deficits now topping $1 trillion and corporate debt and consumer debt and financial liabilities at all-time highs as a percentage of GDP, we must think about hedging our equity and fixed income portfolios in case the Fed gets more inflation than the 2% goal they consider stable.

Despite what the Fed leads us to believe, they have little control over the rate of inflation and they do not know how to accurately measure it. As occurred 50 years ago, they can easily lose control of prices.

We urge you to focus on the forgotten leg of wealth, purchasing power. The opportunity costs of owning TIPS are minimal and the potential hedge value of TIPS tremendous. Change can happen in a hurry, and the only way to protect yourself or profit from it is to anticipate it.

Part two of this article is for RIA Pro subscribers only. If you are not a subscriber and want to learn about the mechanics of TIPS and how they can protect you in an inflationary or deflationary environment, please SIGN UP HERE for a 30-day free trial.

TIPS Mechanics

Few investors truly understand the mechanics of TIPS, so let’s review the basics.

TIPS are debt securities issued by the U.S. government.  Like most U.S. Treasury securities, TIPS have a stated maturity and coupon. Unlike other securities, the principal value of TIPS adjust based on changes in the rate of inflation. The principal value can increase or decrease but will never fall below the bond’s initial par value. The semi-annual coupon on TIPS are a function of the yield of a like-maturity Treasury bond less the expected inflation rate over the life of the security, known as the break-even inflation rate.

The tables below compare the cash flows of a typical fixed coupon Treasury bond, referred to as a nominal coupon bond, and a TIPS bond to help further clarify.

The table above shows the cash flows that an investor pays and receives when purchasing a five-year bond with a fixed coupon of 4% a year. The investor initially invests $1,000 in the bond and in return receives $40 or 4% a year plus a return of the original investment ($1,000) at maturity. In our example, the annual return to the bondholder is 4%. While the price and yield of the security will change during the life of the bond, an investor holding the bond to maturity will be guaranteed the cash flows, as shown.

The TIPS table above shows the cash flows an investor pays and receives when purchasing a five-year TIPS bond with a fixed coupon of 2% a year. Like the fixed coupon bond, the investor initially pays $1,000 to purchase the bond. The similarities end here. Every six months the principal value adjusts for inflation. The coupon payment for each period is then calculated based on the new principal value (and not on the original par value. The principal value can adjust downward, but it cannot fall below the original value. This is an important safety feature that guarantees a minimum return equal to the coupon times the original principal value.  At maturity, the investor receives the final adjusted principal value, not the original principal value. Please note that if a TIPS is bought in the secondary market at a principal value exceeding its original value, the investor can lose the premium and returns can be negative in a deflationary environment.

In the hypothetical example above and excluding reinvestment of coupon payments, an investor in the nominal bond will receive $1,200 in cumulative cash flows over the life of the security. The TIPS investor would receive $1,209.12 in cumulative cash flows.

TIPS are a bet or a hedge on the breakeven inflation rate. If realized inflation over the life of a TIPS is less than the breakeven rate the investor earns a lower return than on a nominal Treasury bond with the same coupon rate. As shown in our example, if inflation is greater than the breakeven rate, then the TIPS investor earns a higher return than a nominal Treasury bond with the same coupon.

The following charts show the return profiles under various inflation scenarios, for the fixed coupon and TIPS examples used in the tables above.

The first graph shows the real (inflation-adjusted) coupon payments at various levels of inflation and deflation. In deflationary environments, both bonds provide positive real returns with the fixed coupon bond outperforming by the 2% breakeven rate. As inflation rises above the breakeven rate, the real return on the TIPS bond increasingly outperforms the fixed bond.

The next graph shows the nominal coupons of both bonds, assuming the investor holds them to maturity. The fixed bond earns the 4% coupon through all inflation scenarios. The TIPS bond earns a constant 2% coupon through all deflationary scenarios while the coupon rises in value as inflation increases. 

At any point in a TIPS life, investors may incur mark to market losses, and if the bonds are sold before maturity, this can result in a permanent loss. Any TIPS bond held from issuance to maturity will have a real positive gain assuming the coupon is above zero, the same is not true for a fixed rate bond.

Current environment

Various inflation surveys, as well as market-implied readings, suggest investors expect low levels of inflation to continue for at least the next ten years. The following graph provides a historical perspective on inflation trends and current long term inflation expectations as measured by 5, 10, and 20-year TIPS breakeven inflation rates.

Data Courtesy: St. Louis Federal Reserve (FRED)

The rate of inflation over the last 20 years, as measured by the consumer price index, has generally been decelerating. In other words, prices are rising but at a progressively slower pace.  Since 1985, the year over year change in inflation has averaged 2.6%, and since 2015, it has averaged 1.5%.

The market determined break-even inflation rate, or the differential between TIPS yields and like maturity fixed coupon yields, for the next 5, 10, and 20 years is currently 1.39%, 1.59%, and 1.65%, respectively. Inflation expectations for the next twenty years are consistent with the actual rate of inflation for the last ten years.

The Case For TIPS

While most forecasts are based on the past and therefore do not predict meaningful inflation, we must remain cognizant that since the Great Financial Crisis in 2008/09, the Federal Reserve (FED) and many other central banks have taken extraordinary monetary policy actions. The Fed lowered their targeted interest rates to zero while central banks in Japan and Europe have gone even further and introduced negative interest rates. Additionally, banks have sharply increased their balance sheets. These actions are being employed to incentivize additional borrowing to foster economic growth and boost inflation. More recently, as we are now seeing with a new round of QE, it appears the Fed is now using monetary policy to help facilitate trillion-dollar Federal deficits. 

Investors must be careful with the market’s assumption that the Fed’s efforts to stimulate inflation will lead to the same inflation rates of the past decade. Further, if “warranted”, a central bank can literally print money and hand it out to its citizens or directly fund the government. These alternative methods of monetary policy, deemed “helicopter money” by Ben Bernanke, would most likely cause prices to rise significantly.   

“Too much” inflation would be a detriment to the equity and bond markets. If inflation rates greater than three or four percent were to occur, a large majority of investors would pay dearly. Such circumstances would depreciate investor asset values and simultaneously reduce their purchasing power. With this double-edged sword in mind, TIPS should be considered by all investors.

The graph below, courtesy Doug Short and Advisor Perspectives, shows that equity valuations tend to be at their highest when inflation ranges between zero and two percent. Outside of that band, valuations are lower.  Currently, the market is making a big bet that valuations can remain near historical highs and inflation will remain in its recent range.

The worst case scenario for TIPS, as shown in the graphs, is a continuation of the inflation trends of yesterday. In those circumstances, TIPS would provide a return on par with or slightly less than comparable maturity nominal Treasury bonds. Investors also need to incorporate the opportunity cost of not allocating those funds towards stocks or riskier bonds should inflation remain subdued.

For those conservative investors sitting on excess cash, TIPS can be effectively employed as a surrogate to cash but with the added benefits of coupon payments and protection against the uncertainty of inflation.  In a worst case scenario, TIPS provide a return similar to those found on money market mutual funds. In the event of deflation and/or negative rates, TIPS should outperform these funds, which could easily experience negative returns.

Summary

Markets have a long history of assuming the future will be just like the past. Such assumptions and complacency work great until they don’t.  We do not profess to know when inflation may pick up in earnest, and we do not have a good economic explanation for what would cause that to happen. That being said, monetary policy around the world is managed by aggressive central bankers with strong and misplaced beliefs about the benefits of inflation. At some point, there is a greater than zero likelihood central bankers will be pushed to take actions that are truly inflationary. While the markets may initially cheer, the inevitable consequences may be dire for anyone not focused on preserving their purchasing power.

We urge you to focus on the forgotten leg of wealth, purchasing power. The opportunity costs of owning TIPS are minimal and the potential hedge value of TIPS is tremendous. Change can happen in a hurry, and the only way to protect and or profit from it is to anticipate it. As has been said, you cannot predict the future, but you can prepare for it.

We leave you with an important quote from our recent article- Warning, No Life Guards on Duty.

Another “lifeguard” is Daniel Oliver of Myrmikan Capital. In a recently published article entitled QE for the People, Oliver eloquently sums up the Fed’s policy situation this way:

The new QE will take place near the end of a credit cycle, as overcapacity starts to bite and in a relatively steady interest rate environment. Corporate America is already choked with too much debt. As the economy sours, so too will the appetite for more debt. This coming QE, therefore, will go mostly toward government transfer payments to be used for consumption. This is the “QE for the people” for which leftwing economists and politicians have been clamoring. It is “Milton Friedman’s famous ‘helicopter drop’ of money.” The Fed wants inflation and now it’s going to get it, good and hard.”

UNLOCKED: Three Of Our Favorite Dividend Kings For Rising Income

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Dividend growth stocks can offer strong shareholder returns over the long term. One place to look for high-quality dividend growth stocks is the list of Dividend Kings, which have increased their dividends for at least 50 consecutive years.

In order for a company to raise its dividend for over five decades, it must have durable competitive advantages and consistent growth. It must also have a shareholder-friendly management team dedicated to raising its dividend.

The Dividend Kings have raised their dividends each year, no matter the condition of the broader economy. They have outlasted recessions, wars, and a variety of other challenges, while continuing to increase their dividends every year.

With this in mind, these three Dividend Kings are attractive for rising dividend income over the long term.

Dividend King #1: Genuine Parts Company (GPC)

Genuine Parts Company is a diversified distributor of auto and industrial parts, as well as office products. Its biggest business is its auto parts group, which includes the NAPA brand. Genuine Parts has the world’s largest global auto parts network, with over 6,700 NAPA stores in North America and over 2,000 stores in Europe. Genuine Parts generated over $18 billion of revenue in 2018.

Genuine Parts is benefiting from changing consumer trends, which is that consumers are holding onto their cars longer. Rather than buy new cars frequently, consumers are increasingly choosing to make minor repairs. At the same time, repair costs increase as a car ages, which directly benefits Genuine Parts. For example, Genuine Parts stats that average annual spend for a vehicle aged six to 12 years is $855, compared with $555 for a vehicle aged one to five years.

Vehicles aged six years or older now represent over 70% of cars on the road, and Genuine Parts has fully capitalized on the market opportunity. The company has reported record sales and earnings per share in seven of the past 10 years. As the total U.S. vehicle fleet is growing, and the average age of the fleet is increasing, Genuine Parts has a positive growth outlook.

Acquisitions will also help pave the way for Genuine Parts’ future growth, particularly in the international markets. In 2017, it acquired Alliance Automotive Group, a European distributor of vehicle parts, tools, and workshop equipment. The $2 billion acquisition gave Genuine Parts an instant foothold in Europe, as Alliance Automotive holds a top 3 market share position in Europe’s largest automotive aftermarkets.

The company has reported steady growth for decades. In fact, profits have increased in 75 years out of its 91-year history. This has allowed the company to raise its dividend every year since it went public in 1948, and for the past 63 consecutive years. The stock has a current dividend yield of 3.3%.

Dividend King #2: Altria Group (MO)

Altria is a tobacco giant with a wide variety of products including cigarettes, chewing tobacco, cigars, e-cigarettes and wine. The company also has a 10% equity stake in Anheuser Busch Inbev (BUD).

Altria is challenged by the continued decline in U.S. smoking rates. However, last quarter Altria still managed 5% revenue growth from the same quarter last year. Its core smokeable product segment reported 7.4% sales growth, as price increases more than offset volume declines. Adjusted earnings-per-share increased 9% for the quarter, and Altria expects 4%-7% growth in adjusted EPS for 2019.

This growth allowed Altria to raise its dividend by 5% in late August, marking its 50th consecutive year of dividend increases.

Altria has tremendous competitive advantages. It has the most valuable cigarette brand in the U.S., Marlboro, which commands greater than a 40% domestic retail share. This gives Altria the ability to raise prices to drive revenue growth, as it has done for many years.

Going forward, Altria is preparing for a continued decline in the U.S. smoking rate, primarily by investing in new product categories. In addition to its sizable investment stake in ABInbev, Altria invested nearly $13 billion in e-cigarette manufacturer Juul, as well as a nearly $2 billion investment in Canadian marijuana producer Cronos Group (CRON).

Altria also recently invested $372 million to acquire an 80% ownership stake in Swiss tobacco company, Burger Söhne Group, to commercialize its on! oral nicotine pouches. Lastly, Altria is preparing its own e-cigarette product IQOS, which is being readied for an imminent nationwide launch.

Like Coca-Cola, Altria is taking the necessary steps to respond to changing consumer preferences. This is how companies adapt, which is necessary to maintain such a long streak of annual dividend growth.

Dividend King #3: Dover Corporation (DOV)

Dover Corporation is a diversified global industrial manufacturer with annual revenues of ~$7 billion and a market capitalization of $14 billion. Dover has benefited from the steady growth of the global economy in the years following the Great Recession of 2008-2009. In the most recent quarter, Dover grew earnings-per-share by 20% excluding the spinoff of Dover’s energy business Apergy. Revenue from continuing operations increased 1%.

It may be a surprise to see an industrial manufacturer on the list of Dividend Kings. Indeed, companies in the industrial sector are highly sensitive to the global economy. Industrial manufacturers tend to struggle more than many other sectors when the economy enters recession. But Dover has maintained an impressive streak of 64 years of annual dividend increases, one of the longest streaks of any U.S. company. One reason it has done this despite the inherent cyclicality of its business model is because of the company’s diversified portfolio.

Dover spun off its energy unit, which is especially vulnerable to recessions. Of its remaining segments, many service industries that see resilient demand, even during recessions, such as refrigeration and food equipment.

Dover expects to generate adjusted earnings-per-share in a range of $5.75 to $5.85. At the midpoint, Dover would earn $5.80 per share for 2019. With a current annual dividend payout of $1.96 per share, Dover is projected to have a 34% dividend payout ratio for 2019. This is a modest payout ratio which leaves more than enough room for continued dividend increases next year and beyond.

Dover has a current dividend yield of 2.1%, which is near the average yield of the broader S&P 500 Index. While the stock does not have an extremely high yield, it makes up for this with consistent dividend increases each year.

Final Thoughts

It is not easy to become a Dividend King, which is why there are only 27 of them. Of the ~5000 stocks that comprise the Wilshire 5000, the most widely-used index of the total stock market, only 27 have increased their dividends for at least 50 consecutive years.

Because of this, the Dividend Kings are a suitable group of stocks for income investors looking for high-quality dividend growth stocks. In particular, the three stocks on this list have competitive advantages, future growth potential, and high dividend yields that make them highly attractive for income investors.

In The Fed We TRUST – Part 2: What is Money?

Part one of this article can be found HERE.

President Trump recently nominated Judy Shelton to fill an open seat on the Federal Reserve Board. She was recently quoted by the Washington Post as follows: “(I) would lower rates as fast, as efficiently, and as expeditiously as possible.” From a political perspective there is no doubting that Shelton is conservative.

Janet Yellen, a Ph.D. economist from Brooklyn, New York, appointed by President Barack Obama, was the most liberal Fed Chairman in the last thirty years.

Despite what appears to be polar opposite political views, Mrs. Shelton and Mrs. Yellen have nearly identical approaches regarding their philosophy in prescribing monetary policy. Simply put, they are uber-liberal when it comes to monetary policy, making them consistent with past chairmen such as Ben Bernanke and Alan Greenspan and current chairman Jay Powell.

In fact, it was Fed Chairman Paul Volcker (1979 to 1987), a Democrat appointed by President Jimmy Carter, who last demonstrated a conservative approach towards monetary policy. During his term, Volcker defied presidential “advice” on multiple occasions and raised interest rates aggressively to choke off inflation. In the short-term, he harmed the markets and cooled economic activity. In the long run, his actions arrested double-digit inflation that was crippling the nation and laid the foundation for a 20-year economic expansion.

Today, there are no conservative monetary policy makers at the Fed. Since Volcker, the Fed has been run by self-described liberals and conservatives preaching easy money from the same pulpit. Their extraordinary policies of the last 20 years are based almost entirely on creating more debt to support the debt of yesteryear as well as economic and market activity today. These economic leaders show little to no regard for tomorrow and the consequences that arise from their policies. They are clearly focused on political expediency.

Different Roads but the Same Path –Government

Bernie Sanders, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Elizabeth Warren, and a host of others from the left-wing of the Democrat party are pushing for more social spending. To support their platform they promote an economic policy called Modern Monetary Theory (MMT). Read HERE and HERE for our thoughts on MMT. 

In general, MMT would authorize the Fed to print money to support government spending with the intention of boosting economic activity. The idealized outcome of this scheme is greater prosperity for all U.S. citizens. The critical part of MMT is that it would enable the government to spend well beyond tax revenue yet not owe a dime.   

President Trump blamed the Fed for employing conservative monetary policy and limiting economic growth when he opined, “Frankly, if we didn’t have somebody that would raise interest rates and do quantitative tightening (Powell), we would have been at over 4 instead of a 3.1.” 

Since President Trump took office, U.S government debt has risen by approximately $1 trillion per year. The remainder of the post-financial crisis period saw increases in U.S. government debt outstanding of less than half that amount. Despite what appears to be polar opposite views on just about everything, under both Republican and Democratic leadership, Congress has not done anything to slow spending or even consider the unsustainable fiscal path we are on. The last time the government ran such exorbitant deficits while the economy was at full employment and growing was during the Lyndon B. Johnson administration. The inflationary mess it created were those that Fed Chairman Volcker was charged with cleaning up.

From the top down, the U.S. government is and has been stacked with fiscal policymakers who, despite their political leanings, are far too undisciplined on the fiscal front.

We frequently assume that a candidate of a certain political party has views corresponding with those traditionally associated with their party. However, in the realm of fiscal and monetary policy, any such distinctions have long since been abandoned.

TRUST

Now consider the current stance of Democratic and Republican fiscal and monetary policy within the TRUST framework. Government leaders are pushing for unprecedented doses of economic stimulus. Their secondary goal is to maximize growth via debt-driven spending. Such policies are fully supported by the Fed who keeps interest rates well below what would be considered normal. The primary goal of these policies is to retain power.

To keep interest rates lower than a healthy market would prescribe, the Fed prints money. When policy consistently leans toward lower than normal rates, as has been the case, the money supply rises. In the wake of the described Fed-Government partnership lies a currency declining in value. As discussed in prior articles, inflation, which damages the value of a currency, is always the result of monetary policy decisions.

If the value of a currency rests on its limited supply, are we now entering a phase where the value of the dollar will begin to get questioned? We don’t have a definitive answer but we know with 100% certainty that the damage is already done and the damage proposed by both political parties increases the odds that the almighty dollar will lose value, and with that, TRUST will erode. Recall the graph of the dollar’s declining purchasing power that we showed in Part 1.

Data Courtesy St. Louis Federal Reserve

Got Money? 

If the value of the dollar and other fiat currencies are under liberal monetary and fiscal policy assault and at risk of losing the valued TRUST on which they are 100% dependent, we must consider protective measures for our hard-earned wealth.

With an underlying appreciation of the TRUST supporting our dollars, the definition of terms becomes critically important. What, precisely, is the difference between currency and money? 

Gold is defined as natural element number 79 on the periodic table, but what interests us is not its definition but its use. Although gold is and has been used for many things, its chief purpose throughout the 5,000-year history of civilization has been as money.

In testimony to Congress on December 18, 1912, J.P. Morgan stated: “Money is gold, and nothing else.” Notably, what he intentionally did not say was money is the dollar or the pound sterling. What his statement reveals, which has long since been forgotten, is that people are paid for their labor through a process that is the backbone of our capitalist society. “Money,” properly defined, is a store of labor and only gold is money.

In the same way that cut glass or cubic zirconium may be made to look like diamonds and offer the appearance of wealth, they are not diamonds and are not valued as such. What we commonly confuse for money today – dollars, yen, euro, pounds – are money-substitutes. Under an evolution of legal tender laws since 1933, global fiat currencies have displaced the use of gold as currency. Banker-generated currencies like the dollar and euro are not based on expended labor; they are based on credit. In other words, they do not rely on labor and time to produce anything. Unlike the efforts required to mine gold from the ground, currencies are nearly costless to produce and are purely backed by a promise to deliver value in exchange for labor.

Merchants and workers are willing to accept paper currency in exchange for their goods and services in part because they are required by law to do so. We must TRUST that we are being compensated in a paper currency that will be equally TRUSTed by others, domestically, and internationally. But, unlike money, credit includes the uncertainty of “value” and repayment.

Currency is a bank liability which explains why failing banks with large loan losses are not able to fully redeem the savings of those who have their currency deposited there. Gold does not have that risk as there is no intermediary between it and value (i.e., the U.S. government or the Japanese government). Gold is money and harbors none of these risks, while currency is credit. Said again for emphasis, only gold is money, currency is credit.

There is a reason gold has been the money of choice for the entirety of civilization. The last 90 years is the exception and not the rule.

Despite their actions and words, the value of gold, and disTRUST of the dollar is not lost on Central Bankers. Since 2013, global central banks have bought $140 billion of gold and sold $130 billion of U.S. Treasury bonds. Might we say they are trading TRUST for surety?

Summary

To repeat, currency, whether dollars, pounds, or wampum, are based on nothing more than TRUST. Gold and its 5000 year history as money represents a dependable store of labor and real value; TRUST is not required to hold gold. No currency in the history of humankind, the almighty U.S. dollar included, can boast of the same track record.

TRUST hinges on decision makers who are people of character and integrity and willingness to do what is best for the nation, not the few. Currently, both political parties are taking actions that destroy TRUST to gain votes. While political party narratives are worlds apart, their actions are similar. Deficits do matter because as they accumulate, TRUST withers.

This article is not a call to action to trade all of your currency for gold, but we TRUST this article provokes you to think more about what money is.

Three Of Our Favorite Dividend Kings For Rising Income

This is a guest contribution by Bob Ciura with Sure Dividend.  Sure Dividend helps individual investors build and maintain their high quality dividend growth portfolios rising passive income over the long run.

Dividend growth stocks can offer strong shareholder returns over the long term. One place to look for high-quality dividend growth stocks is the list of Dividend Kings, which have increased their dividends for at least 50 consecutive years.

In order for a company to raise its dividend for over five decades, it must have durable competitive advantages and consistent growth. It must also have a shareholder-friendly management team dedicated to raising its dividend.

The Dividend Kings have raised their dividends each year, no matter the condition of the broader economy. They have outlasted recessions, wars, and a variety of other challenges, while continuing to increase their dividends every year.

With this in mind, these three Dividend Kings are attractive for rising dividend income over the long term.

Dividend King #1: Genuine Parts Company (GPC)

Genuine Parts Company is a diversified distributor of auto and industrial parts, as well as office products. Its biggest business is its auto parts group, which includes the NAPA brand. Genuine Parts has the world’s largest global auto parts network, with over 6,700 NAPA stores in North America and over 2,000 stores in Europe. Genuine Parts generated over $18 billion of revenue in 2018.

Genuine Parts is benefiting from changing consumer trends, which is that consumers are holding onto their cars longer. Rather than buy new cars frequently, consumers are increasingly choosing to make minor repairs. At the same time, repair costs increase as a car ages, which directly benefits Genuine Parts. For example, Genuine Parts stats that average annual spend for a vehicle aged six to 12 years is $855, compared with $555 for a vehicle aged one to five years.

Vehicles aged six years or older now represent over 70% of cars on the road, and Genuine Parts has fully capitalized on the market opportunity. The company has reported record sales and earnings per share in seven of the past 10 years. As the total U.S. vehicle fleet is growing, and the average age of the fleet is increasing, Genuine Parts has a positive growth outlook.

Acquisitions will also help pave the way for Genuine Parts’ future growth, particularly in the international markets. In 2017, it acquired Alliance Automotive Group, a European distributor of vehicle parts, tools, and workshop equipment. The $2 billion acquisition gave Genuine Parts an instant foothold in Europe, as Alliance Automotive holds a top 3 market share position in Europe’s largest automotive aftermarkets.

The company has reported steady growth for decades. In fact, profits have increased in 75 years out of its 91-year history. This has allowed the company to raise its dividend every year since it went public in 1948, and for the past 63 consecutive years. The stock has a current dividend yield of 3.3%.

Dividend King #2: Altria Group (MO)

Altria is a tobacco giant with a wide variety of products including cigarettes, chewing tobacco, cigars, e-cigarettes and wine. The company also has a 10% equity stake in Anheuser Busch Inbev (BUD).

Altria is challenged by the continued decline in U.S. smoking rates. However, last quarter Altria still managed 5% revenue growth from the same quarter last year. Its core smokeable product segment reported 7.4% sales growth, as price increases more than offset volume declines. Adjusted earnings-per-share increased 9% for the quarter, and Altria expects 4%-7% growth in adjusted EPS for 2019.

This growth allowed Altria to raise its dividend by 5% in late August, marking its 50th consecutive year of dividend increases.

Altria has tremendous competitive advantages. It has the most valuable cigarette brand in the U.S., Marlboro, which commands greater than a 40% domestic retail share. This gives Altria the ability to raise prices to drive revenue growth, as it has done for many years.

Going forward, Altria is preparing for a continued decline in the U.S. smoking rate, primarily by investing in new product categories. In addition to its sizable investment stake in ABInbev, Altria invested nearly $13 billion in e-cigarette manufacturer Juul, as well as a nearly $2 billion investment in Canadian marijuana producer Cronos Group (CRON).

Altria also recently invested $372 million to acquire an 80% ownership stake in Swiss tobacco company, Burger Söhne Group, to commercialize its on! oral nicotine pouches. Lastly, Altria is preparing its own e-cigarette product IQOS, which is being readied for an imminent nationwide launch.

Like Coca-Cola, Altria is taking the necessary steps to respond to changing consumer preferences. This is how companies adapt, which is necessary to maintain such a long streak of annual dividend growth.

Dividend King #3: Dover Corporation (DOV)

Dover Corporation is a diversified global industrial manufacturer with annual revenues of ~$7 billion and a market capitalization of $14 billion. Dover has benefited from the steady growth of the global economy in the years following the Great Recession of 2008-2009. In the most recent quarter, Dover grew earnings-per-share by 20% excluding the spinoff of Dover’s energy business Apergy. Revenue from continuing operations increased 1%.

It may be a surprise to see an industrial manufacturer on the list of Dividend Kings. Indeed, companies in the industrial sector are highly sensitive to the global economy. Industrial manufacturers tend to struggle more than many other sectors when the economy enters recession. But Dover has maintained an impressive streak of 64 years of annual dividend increases, one of the longest streaks of any U.S. company. One reason it has done this despite the inherent cyclicality of its business model is because of the company’s diversified portfolio.

Dover spun off its energy unit, which is especially vulnerable to recessions. Of its remaining segments, many service industries that see resilient demand, even during recessions, such as refrigeration and food equipment.

Dover expects to generate adjusted earnings-per-share in a range of $5.75 to $5.85. At the midpoint, Dover would earn $5.80 per share for 2019. With a current annual dividend payout of $1.96 per share, Dover is projected to have a 34% dividend payout ratio for 2019. This is a modest payout ratio which leaves more than enough room for continued dividend increases next year and beyond.

Dover has a current dividend yield of 2.1%, which is near the average yield of the broader S&P 500 Index. While the stock does not have an extremely high yield, it makes up for this with consistent dividend increases each year.

Final Thoughts

It is not easy to become a Dividend King, which is why there are only 27 of them. Of the ~5000 stocks that comprise the Wilshire 5000, the most widely-used index of the total stock market, only 27 have increased their dividends for at least 50 consecutive years.

Because of this, the Dividend Kings are a suitable group of stocks for income investors looking for high-quality dividend growth stocks. In particular, the three stocks on this list have competitive advantages, future growth potential, and high dividend yields that make them highly attractive for income investors.

Value Your Wealth – Part Six: Fundamental Factors

In this final article of our Value Your Wealth Series we explore four more fundamental factors. The first four articles in the Series researched what are deemed to be the two most important fundamental factors governing relative stock performance – the trade-off between growth and value. In Part Five, we explored how returns fared over time based on companies market cap. Thus far, we have learned that leaning towards value over growth and smaller market caps is historically an investment style that generates positive alpha. However, there are periods such as now, when these trends fail investors.

The last ten years has generally bucked long-standing trends in many factor/return relationships. This doesn’t mean these factors will not provide an edge in the future, but it does mean we need to adapt to what the market is telling us today and prepare for the day when the historical trend reverts to normal.  When they do, there will likely be abundant opportunities for investors to capture significant alpha.

The five prior articles in the Value Your Wealth series are linked below:

Part One: Introduction

Part Two: Quantifying the Value Proposition

Part Three: Sector Analysis

Part Four: Mutual Fund and ETF Analysis

Part Five: Market Cap

Four Factors

In this section, we explore four well-followed factors to understand how they performed in the past and how we might want to use them within our investment decision-making process.

The graphs in this article are based on data from Kenneth French and can be found HERE.  The data encompasses a wide universe of domestic stocks that trade on the NYSE, Amex, and NASDAQ exchanges.

Earnings to Price

Investors betting on companies with a higher ratio of Earnings to Price (E/P), also known as the earnings yield, have historically outperformed investors betting on companies with lower E/P ratios. Such outperformance of companies priced at relatively cheap valuations should be expected over time.

The following chart compares monthly, ten year annually compounded returns for the highest and lowest E/P deciles. 

The graph of E/P is very similar to what we showed for growth versus value. Other than a period in the 1990s and the current period value outperformed growth and the top E/P companies outperformed the bottom ones. This correlation is not surprising as E/P is a key component that help define value and growth.

Investors buying the top ten percent of the cheapest companies, using E/P, have been docked almost 5% annually or about 50% since the recovery following the financial crisis versus those buying the lowest ten percent of companies using this measure.

Given our fundamental faith in mean reversion, we have no doubt this trend will begin to normalize in due time. To help us gauge the potential return differential of an E/P reversion, we calculate future returns based on what would happen if the ten-year return went back to its average in three years. This is what occurred after the tech bust in 2000. In other words, if the ten year annualized compounded return in late 2022 is average (4.81%) what must the relative outperformance of high E/P to low E/P companies be over the next three years? If this occurs by 2022, investors will earn an annual outperformance premium of 28.1% for each of the next three years. The returns increase if the time to reversion is shorter and declines if longer. If normalization occurs in five years the annual returns drop to (only) 14.75%.

Needless to say, picking out fundamentally solid stocks seems like a no-brainer at this point but there is no saying how much longer speculation will rule over value.

Cash Flow to Price

The graph below charts the top ten percent of companies with the largest ratio of cash flow to price and compares it to the lowest ones. Like E/P, cash flow to price is also a component in value and growth analysis.

Not surprisingly, this graph looks a lot like the E/P and value vs. growth graphs. Again, investors have shunned value stocks in favor of speculative entities meaning they are neglecting high quality companies that pay a healthy dividend and instead chasing the high-flying, over-priced “Hollywood” stocks. Also similar to our potential return analysis with E/P, those electing to receive the most cash flows per dollar of share price will be paid handsomely when this factor reverts to normal.

Dividend Yield

Over the last 100 years, using dividend yields to help gain alpha has not been as helpful as value versus growth, market cap, earnings, and cash flows as the chart below shows.

On average, higher dividend stocks have paid a slight premium versus the lowest dividend stocks.While dividend yields are considered a fundamental factor it is also subject to the level of interest rates and competing yields on corporate bonds.If we expect Treasury yield levels to be low in the future then the case for high dividend stocks may be good as investors look for alternative yield as income. The caveat is that if rates decline or even go negative, the dividend yield may be too low to meet investors’ bogeys and they may chase lower dividend stocks that have offered higher price returns.

Momentum

Momentum, in this analysis, is calculated by ranking total returns from the prior ten months for each company and then sorting them. Before we created the graph below, we assumed that favoring momentum stocks would be a dependable investment strategy. Our assumption was correct as judged by the average 10.89% annual outperformance. However, we also would have guessed that the last few years would have been good for such a momentum strategy.

Quite to the contrary, momentum has underperformed since 2009. The last time momentum underperformed, albeit to a much a larger degree, was the Great Depression.

Our initial expectation was based on the significant rise of passive investing which favors those companies exhibiting strong momentum. As share prices rise relative to the average share price, the market cap also rises versus the average share and becomes a bigger part of indexes.  If we took the top 1 or 2% of companies using momentum we think the strategy would have greatly outperformed the lower momentum companies, but when the top and bottom ten percent are included momentum has not recently been a good strategy.

Summary

Factors give investors an informational edge. However, despite long term trends that offer favorable guidance, there are no sure things in investing. The most durable factors that have supplied decades of cycle guidance go through extended periods of unreliability. The reasons for this vary but certainly a speculative environment encouraged by ultra-low and negative interest rates has influence. Investors must recognize when they are in such periods and account for it. More importantly, though, they must also understand that when the trends are inclined to reverse back to normal. The potential for outsized relative gains at such times are large.

At RIA Advisors, Factor analysis is just one of many tools we use to help us manage our portfolios and select investments. We are currently leaning towards value over growth with the belief that the next market correction will see a revival of the value growth trends of the past. That said, we are not jumping into the trade as we also understand that growth may continue to beat value for months or even years to come.

Patience, discipline, and awareness are essential to good investing. 

Cartography Corner – October 2019

J. Brett Freeze and his firm Global Technical Analysis (GTA) provides RIA Pro subscribers Cartography Corner on a monthly basis. Brett’s analysis offers readers a truly unique brand of technical insight and risk framework. We personally rely on Brett’s research to help better gauge market trends, their durability, and support and resistance price levels.

GTA presents their monthly analysis on a wide range of asset classes, indices, and securities. At times the analysis may agree with RIA Pro technical opinions, and other times it will run contrary to our thoughts. Our goal is not to push a single view or opinion, but provide research to help you better understand the markets. Please contact us with any questions or comments.  If you are interested in learning more about GTA’s services, please connect with them through the links provided in the article.

The link below penned by GTA provides a user’s guide and a sample of his analysis.

GTA Users Guide


A Review of September

U.S. Treasury Bond Futures

We begin with a review of U.S. Treasury Bond Futures (USZ9) during September 2019. In our September 2019 edition of The Cartography Corner, we wrote the following:

In isolation, monthly support and resistance levels for September are:

  • M4         181-00
  • M1         176-26
  • M3         174-29
  • PMH       166-30
  • Close        165-08
  • MTrend    157-17
  • M2         157-02             
  • PML        154-31                          
  • M5            152-28

Active traders can use 166-30 as the pivot, whereby they maintain a long position above that level and a flat or short position below it.

In our September edition, we anticipated weakness and cautioned, “Short-time-period-focused market participants. . . Caveat Emptor.”  Figure 1 below displays the daily price action for September 2019 in a candlestick chart, with support and resistance levels isolated by our methodology represented as dashed lines.  The first nine trading sessions were spent with bonds descending in price by seven points and twenty-two thirty seconds.  Ours was a most timely warning. 

Astute readers will notice that the low price of the month was realized at the price of 157 18/32.  That price was one tick above September’s Monthly Trend level of 157 17/32.  Monthly Trend was also the first monthly support level offered by our analysis.   Another prime example of the importance of Monthly Trend as a significant pivot level.

The final eleven trading sessions were spent with bonds retracing as much as 75% of the initial decline.

Active traders following our analysis had the opportunity to capture the entire trade down, which equated to a $7,687.50 profit per contract.  Once Monthly Trend held, drawing from their understanding of our analysis, they also would have known it was worth using the Monthly Trend to acquire a long position with a well-defined stop in place (clustered support at Monthly Trend / M2) to limit risk.

Figure 1:

E-Mini S&P 500 Futures

We continue with a review of E-Mini S&P 500 Futures during September 2019.  In our September 2019 edition of The Cartography Corner, we wrote the following:

In isolation, monthly support and resistance levels for September are:

  • M4                 3073.00
  • PMH              3014.25
  • M1                 2999.00
  • MTrend        2924.92
  • Close            2924.75      
  • M3                 2867.25
  • PML               2775.75     
  • M2                 2596.00    
  • M5                2522.00

Active traders can use 2924.92 as the pivot, whereby they maintain a long position above that level and a flat or short position below it.

Figure 2 below displays the daily price action for September 2019 in a candlestick chart, with support and resistance levels isolated by our methodology represented as dashed lines.  The first nine trading sessions of September saw the market price ascend 101.00 points from August’s settlement price.  The gains accelerated once it settled above our isolated pivot level at MTrend: 2924.92.  The high price for the month was realized on September 13th, the exact same day that the low price in bonds was achieved.       

The purpose of every trading month is to surpass the high or low of the previous trading month.  As can be seen in Figure 2, the high price for August 2019 was at PMH: 3014.25.  The price action exceeded PMH: 3014.25, running the “obvious brothers’” buy-stops in the process.  However, the market did not settle above that level which signaled that it was time for active traders following our analysis to take profits on their purchases.

On September 20th, the market price rotated and settled back below M1: 2999.00, now acting as support.  If active traders following our work had not previously sold their long positions, they should have on that day. The final six sessions of September were spent with the market price declining back towards Monthly Trend.

Active traders following our analysis had the opportunity to capture the initial trade up, which equated to a $4,412.50 profit per contract.

Figure 2:

October 2019 Analysis

We begin by providing a monthly time-period analysis of E-Mini S&P 500 Futures (ESZ9).  The same analysis can be completed for any time-period or in aggregate.

Trends:

  • Weekly Trend         2989.90       
  • Current Settle         2978.50
  • Daily Trend             2974.61       
  • Monthly Trend        2952.81       
  • Quarterly Trend      2840.92

In the quarterly time-period, the chart shows that E-Mini S&P 500 Futures have been “Trend Up” for three quarters.  Stepping down one time-period, the monthly chart shows that E-Mini S&P 500 Futures have been “Trend Up” for four months.  Stepping down to the weekly time-period, the chart shows that E-Mini S&P 500 Futures are in “Consolidation”.

Like we commented in August, the slope of the Weekly Trend could be in the initial stage of forming a rounded top.  Also, the market price has settled below Weekly Trend for two consecutive weeks.  Weekly Trend for this week is at 2989.90.  This deserves focus from short time-period-focused market participants.  A trend change in the short time-period is often a precursor to a trend change in the longer time-period(s).  We will watch closely to see if this occurs, bolstering the case for a topping pattern.

Support/Resistance:

In isolation, monthly support and resistance levels for October are:

  • M4                 3275.75
  • M1                 3037.25
  • M3                 3032.25
  • PMH              3025.75
  • M2               3002.25      
  • Close             2978.50
  • MTrend         2952.81     
  • PML               2889.00     
  • M5                2763.75

Active traders can use 3037.25 as the upside pivot, whereby they maintain a long position above that level.  Active traders can use 2952.81 as the downside pivot, whereby they maintain a flat or short position below that level.

Random Length Lumber Futures

For the month of October, we focus on Random Length Lumber Futures.  Lumber prices are often seen as an indicator of economic activity due to its widespread use in real estate.  Regardless of whether you may trade lumber, the analysis and price action of lumber may provide some clues as to the future direction of the economy.  We provide a monthly time-period analysis of LBX9.  The same analysis can be completed for any time-period or in aggregate.

Trends:

  • Weekly Trend        376.33          
  • Daily Trend            370.83
  • Current Settle        367.10          
  • Quarterly Trend     366.80          
  • Monthly Trend       364.03

As can be seen in the quarterly chart below, lumber is in “Consolidation”.  Stepping down one time-period, the monthly chart shows that lumber has been “Trend Up” for four months.  Stepping down to the weekly time-period, the chart shows that lumber has been “Trend Up” for three weeks.

In the quarterly time-period, the lumber market realized its last “substantial” price move (lower) in 3Q2018.  It has been consolidating since.  In the monthly time-period, the lumber market realized its last “substantial” price move from February 2019 to May 2019.  It has been consolidating since.  Astute readers will also notice that the current market price is resting just above BOTH Quarterly Trend and Monthly Trend.  The lumber market has been building energy for the next substantial move for four quarters and four months, respectively.  Relative to our technical methodology, it is a 50-50 proposition as to which direction.  As noted earlier, once this direction reveals itself, we may be simultaneously gifted with an indication of the state of the economy.

Support/Resistance:

In isolation, monthly support and resistance levels for October are:

  • M4         447.90
  • M1         407.70
  • PMH       393.50
  • Close      367.10
  • MTrend   364.03
  • M3           363.20
  • M2         357.10             
  • PML        348.10                         
  • M5           316.90

Active traders can use 363.20 as the pivot, whereby they maintain a long position above that level and a flat or short position below it.

Summary

The power of technical analysis is in its ability to reduce multi-dimensional markets into a filtered two-dimensional space of price and time.  Our methodology applies a consistent framework that identifies key measures of trend, distinct levels of support and resistance, and identification of potential trading ranges.  Our methodology can be applied to any security or index, across markets, for which we can attain a reliable price history.  We look forward to bringing you our unique brand of technical analysis and insight into many different markets.  If you are a professional market participant and are open to discovering more, please connect with us.  We are not asking for a subscription; we are asking you to listen.

Surging Repo Rates- Why Should I Care?

A subscriber emailed us regarding our repurchase agreement (repo) analysis from Tuesday’s Daily Commentary. Her question is, “why should I care about a surge in repo rates?” The commentary she refers to is at the end of this article.

Before answering her question, it is worth emphasizing that it is rare for overnight Fed Funds or Repo rates to spike, as happened this week, other than at quarter and year ends when bank balance sheets have little flexibility. Clearly, balance sheet constraints due to the end of a quarter or year are not causing the current situation.  Some say the current situation may be due to a lack of bank reserves which are used to make loans, but banks have almost $2 trillion in excess cash reserves. Although there may likely be an explanation related to general bank liquidity, there is also a chance the surge in funding costs is due to a credit or geopolitical event with a bank or other entity that has yet to be disclosed to the public.

Before moving ahead, let us take a moment to clarify our definitional terms.

Fed Funds are daily overnight loans between banks that are unsecured, or not collateralized. Overnight Repo funding are also daily overnight loans but unlike Fed Funds, are backed with assets, typically U.S. Treasuries or mortgage-backed securities. The Federal Reserve has the authority to conduct financing transactions to add or subtract liquidity to ensure overnight markets trade close to the Fed Funds target. These transactions are referred to as open market operations which involve the buying or selling of Treasury bonds to increase or decrease the amount of reserves (money) in the system. Reserves regulate how much money a bank can lend. When reserves are limited, short-term interest rates among and between banks rise and conversely when reserves are abundant, funding costs fall. QE, for instance, boosted reserves by nearly $3.5 trillion which enabled banks to provide liquidity to markets and make loans at low interest rates.

Our financial system and economy are highly leveraged. Currently, in the U.S., there is over $60 trillion in debt versus a monetary base of $3.3 trillion. Further, there is at least another $10-15 trillion of dollar-based debt owed outside of the U.S. 

Banks frequently have daily liquidity shortfalls or overages as they facilitate the massive amount of cash moving through the banking system. To balance their books daily, they borrow from or lend to other banks in the overnight markets to satisfy these daily imbalances. When there is more demand than supply or vice versa for overnight funds, the Fed intervenes to ensure that the overnight markets trade at, or close to, the current Fed Funds rate.

If overnight funding remains volatile and costly, banks will increase the amount of cash on hand (liquidity) to avoid higher daily costs. To facilitate more short term cash on their books, funds must be conjured by liquidating other assets they hold. The easiest assets to sell are those in the financial markets such as U.S. Treasuries, investment-grade corporate bonds, stocks, currencies, and commodities.  We may be seeing this already. To wit the following is from Bloomberg:  

“What started out as a funding shortage in a key U.S. money market is now making it more costly to get hold of dollars globally. After a sudden surge in the overnight rate on Treasury repurchase agreements, demand for the dollar is showing up in swap rates from euros, pounds, yen and even Australia’s currency. As an example, the cost to borrow dollars for one week in FX markets while lending euros almost doubled.”

A day or two of unruly behavior in the overnight markets is not likely to meaningfully affect banks’ behaviors. However, if the banks think this will continue, they will take more aggressive actions to bolster their liquidity.

To directly answer our reader’s question and reiterating an important point made, if banks bolster liquidity, the financial markets will probably be the first place from which banks draw funds. In turn, this means that banks and their counterparties will be forced to reduce leverage used in the financial markets. Stocks, bonds, currencies, and commodities are all highly leveraged by banks and their clientele. As such, all of these markets are susceptible to selling pressure if this occurs.

We leave you with a couple of thoughts-

  • If the repo rate is 3-4% above the Fed Funds rate, the borrower must either not be a bank or one that is seriously distressed. As such, is this repo event related to a hedge fund, bank or other entity that blew up when oil surged over 10% on Monday? Could it be a geopolitical related issue given events in the Middle East? 
  • The common explanation seems to blame the massive funding outlays due to the combination of Treasury debt funding and corporate tax remittances. While plausible, these cash flow were easy to predict and plan for weeks in advance. This does not seem like a valid excuse.

In case you missed it, here is Tuesday’s RIA repo commentary:  Yesterday afternoon, overnight borrowing costs for banks surged to 7%, well above the 2.25% Fed Funds rate. Typically the rate stays within 5-10 basis points of the Fed Funds rate. Larger variations are usually reserved for quarter and year ends when banks face balance sheet constraints. It is believed the settlement of new issue Treasury securities and the corporate tax date caused a funding shortage for banks. If that is the case, the situation should clear up in a day or two. Regardless of the cause, the condition points to a lack of liquidity in the banking sector. We will follow the situation closely as it may impact markets if it continues.

Quick Take: Revising The Data

“The United States economy is an extremely complex and dynamic system. Trying to measure the level and pace of economic growth, employment, inflation, and productivity are very difficult, if not impossible tasks. The various government and private agencies bearing the responsibility for such measurement do their best in what must be acknowledged as a highly imperfect effort. Initial readings are always revised, sometimes heavily, especially at key turning points in the economy.”  –The Fed Body Count (LINK)

In the preliminary annual employment benchmark revision based on state unemployment insurance records, the Labor Department recently revised job gains recorded in the period from April 2018 through March 2019 down by 501,000. As shown below, that is the largest downward revision in the past ten years. The unusually large negative adjustment means that job growth averaged only 170,000 per month versus the previous estimate of 210,000 per month for the period.

Two of the biggest revisions came in the bellwether industries of leisure & hospitality and retail, down 175,000 and 146,000 respectively. Professional and business services employment was revised lower by 163,000. The economy needs to produce 150,000- 200,000 jobs per month in order to keep the unemployment rate from rising. What this report from the Bureau of Labor Services (BLS) suggests is that employment was significantly weaker than believed through March 2019 and the unemployment rate may not be as good as is generally believed.

That downward revision is surprising given the tax cuts, large boost to fiscal spending, and solid GDP growth throughout 2018. Unfortunately, it appears that while the tax cuts helped corporate bottom lines, few companies used their windfall towards endeavors that generate economic activity. As we have harped on in the past, stock buybacks and larger dividends have little effect on economic growth.

These labor market revisions argue that the momentum in the economy is far weaker than previously believed.

The numbers in themselves are disappointing but more importantly and as described in previous articles, such revisions tend to reveal themselves points in time when the economy is at critical turning points. For investors, economic uncertainty may be further cause for defensive posturing.

The graph below shows the cyclical nature of the unemployment rate. Importantly to today, the rate tends to level out prior to rising into a recession. Today’s unemployment rate is showing signs of leveling off but has yet to increase. These revisions coupled with slowing growth makes employment a key indicator to follow.

UPDATE: Profiting From A Steepening Yield Curve

In June we wrote an RIA Pro article entitled Profiting From A Steepening Yield Curve, in which we discussed the opportunity to profit from a steepening yield curve with specific investments in mortgage REITs. We backed up our words by purchasing AGNC, NLY, and REM for RIA Advisor clients. The same trades were shared with RIA Pro subscribers and can be viewed in the RIA Pro Portfolios under the Portfolio tab.

We knew when we published the article and placed the trades that the short term risk to our investment thesis was, and still is, a further flattening and even an inversion of the yield curve. That is precisely what happened. In mid to late August the curve inverted by four basis points but has since widened back out.

The graph below compares the 2s/10s yield curve (blue) with AGNC (orange) and NLY (green). Beneath the graph is two smaller graphs showing the rolling 20-day correlation between AGNC and NLY versus the yield curve.

Since writing the article and purchasing the shares, the securities have fallen by about 5%, although much of the price loss is offset by double digit dividends (AGNC 13.20%, NLY 10.73%, and REM 9.06%). While we are not happy with even a small loss, we are emboldened by the strong correlation between the share prices and the yield curve. The trade is largely a yield curve bet, so it is comforting to see the securities tracking the yield curve so closely.

We still think the yield curve will steepen significantly. In our opinion, this will likely occur as slowing growth will prompt the Fed to be more aggressive than their current posture. We also think that there is a high probability that when the Fed decides to become more aggressive they will reduce rates at a faster clip than the market thinks. As we discussed in Investors Are Grossly Underestimating the Fed, when the Fed is actively raising or reducing rates, the market underestimates that path.

To wit:  If the Fed initiates rate cuts and if the data in the graphs prove prescient, then current estimates for a Fed Funds rate of 1.50% to 1.75% in the spring of 2020 may be well above what we ultimately see. Taking it a step further, it is not farfetched to think that that Fed Funds rate could be back at the zero-bound, or even negative, at some point sooner than anyone can fathom today.

Heading into the financial crisis, it took the Fed 15 months to go from a 5.25% Fed funds rate to zero. Given their sensitivities today, how much faster might they respond to an economic slowdown or financial market dislocation from the current level of 2.25%?”

Bolstering our view for a steeper yield curve is that the Fed, first and foremost, is concerned with the financial health of its member banks. The Fed will fight an inverted yield curve because it hurts banks profit margins and therefore reduces their ability to lend money. Because of this and regardless of the economic climate, the Fed will use words and monetary policy actions to promote a steeper yield curve.

We are very comfortable with the premise behind our trades, and in fact in mid-August we doubled our position in AGNC. We will also likely add to NLY soon.

For more on this investment thesis, please watch the following Real Vision interview Steepening Yield Curve Could Yield Generational Opportunities.

The Dreaded “R” Word

In early July, Michael Lebowitz appeared on Real Vision’s, “Investment Ideas” (LINK), with Edward Harrison. In the interview, Michael stated that the window for a recession was open but that a recession was not necessarily imminent. He based this opinion on the premise that the benefits of increased government spending and recent tax reform are waning and economic headwinds such as China-U.S. trade discussions, slowing European growth, Iran, and a disorderly BREXIT are all serving to slow the growth of the economy. Importantly, he warned that historically the catalyst for recession is often something that is not easy to forecast or predict.

Over the last month, we have noted the “R” word increasingly bandied about by the media. This potential recession catalyst is in everyone’s face, literally, but few recognize it.

Consumers Drive the Bus

Almost 70% of U.S. GDP results from personal consumption. Since 1993, retail sales and GDP have a correlation of 78%, meaning that over three-quarters of the quarterly change in GDP is attributable to the change in retail sales.  

The table below shows the dominant role consumption plays in the GDP calculation. In this hypothetical example, 2.5% consumption growth more than offsets a 4% decline in every other GDP category (an increase in net exports negatively affects GDP). If in the same example consumption was 1% weaker at +1.5%, GDP would go from positive .12% to negative .58%.

Spending decisions, whether for low dollar items such as coffee or dinner or bigger ticket items like a new TV, vacation, or housing, are influenced by our economic outlooks. If we are confident in our job, financial situation, and the economy, we are likely to maintain the pace of consumption or even spend more. If we fear an economic slowdown with financial repercussions, we are likely to tighten our purse strings. Whether we skimp on a cup of Starbucks once a week or postpone the purchase of a car or house, these one-off decisions, when replicated by the masses, sway the economic barometer.

Our economic outlooks and spending habits are primarily based on gut analysis, essentially what we see and hear. Accordingly, print, television, and social media play a large role in molding our economic view.

Recession Fear Mongering

Increasingly, the media has been playing up the possibility of a recession. For example, on August 15, 2019, the day after the yield curve inverted for the first time in over a decade, the lead article on the Washington Post’s front page was entitled Markets Sink on Recession Signal. The signal, per the Washington Post, is the inverted curve. The New York Times followed a few days later with an article entitled How the Recession of 2020 Could Happen. Since mid-August, the number of articles mentioning recession has skyrocketed, as shown below. Furthermore, the number of Google searches for the “R” word has risen to levels not seen since the last recession.

Data Courtesy Google Trends

We have little doubt that the media airing recession warnings are partially politically motivated, but regardless of their motivation, these articles present a growing threat to the consumer psyche and economic growth. 

The more the media mentions “recession,” the higher the likelihood that consumers will retrench in response. Small decisions like not going out to dinner once a week may seem inconsequential, but when similar actions occur throughout a population of hundreds of millions of people, the result can be impactful.  To wit, in The Dog Whistle Heard Around the World, we personalized how our decisions play an important role in measuring economic activity:

Picture your favorite restaurant, one that is always packed and with a long waiting list. One Saturday night you arrive expecting to wait for a table, but to your delight, the hostess says you can sit immediately. The restaurant is crowded, but uncharacteristically there are a couple of empty tables. Those empty tables, while seemingly insignificant, may mean the restaurant’s sales that night will be down a few percent from the norm.

A few percent may not seem like a lot, but consider that the average annual recessionary GDP trough was only -1.88% for the last five recessions.

If economic growth is starting from a relatively weak point, as it is today, then it requires even smaller reductions in consumption habits than in the past to take the economy from expansion to contraction. GDP growth before the last three recessions peaked at 4.47%, 5.29%, and 4.32% respectively. The recent peak in GDP growth was 3.13%, leaving at least 25% less of a cushion than prior peaks.

Summary

Recessions are difficult to predict because they are usually borne out of slight changes in consumer behavior. Needless to say, changes in short term behavioral patterns are difficult to predict at best for a large population and likely impossible.  

Whether or not a recession is imminent is an open question, but the window for a recession is open, allowing a strong negative catalyst to push the economy into contraction. What if that catalyst is as simple as the media repeatedly using the dreaded “R” word?

Over the coming months, we will pay close attention to consumer confidence and expectations surveys for signs that consumer spending is slowing. We leave you with the most recent consumer sentiment and expectations surveys from the University of Michigan and the Conference Board. At this point, neither set of surveys are overly concerning, but we caution they can change quickly.

Data Courtesy Bloomberg

Cartography Corner – September 2019

J. Brett Freeze and his firm Global Technical Analysis (GTA) provides RIA Pro subscribers Cartography Corner on a monthly basis. Brett’s analysis offers readers a truly unique brand of technical insight and risk framework. We personally rely on Brett’s research to help better gauge market trends, their durability, and support and resistance price levels.

GTA presents their monthly analysis on a wide range of asset classes, indices, and securities. At times the analysis may agree with RIA Pro technical opinions, and other times it will run contrary to our thoughts. Our goal is not to push a single view or opinion, but provide research to help you better understand the markets. Please contact us with any questions or comments.  If you are interested in learning more about GTA’s services, please connect with them through the links provided in the article.

The link below penned by GTA provides a user’s guide and a sample of his analysis.

GTA Users Guide


In addition to the normal format in which we review last month’s commentary and present new analysis for the month ahead, we provide you with interesting research on long-term market cycles.

A Review of August

Silver Futures

We begin with a review of Silver Futures (SIU9/SIZ9) during August 2019. In our August 2019 edition of The Cartography Corner, we wrote the following:

In isolation, monthly support and resistance levels for August are:

  • M4         18.805
  • M1         17.745
  • M3           17.469
  • PMH       16.685
  • Close        16.405
  • M2           15.265
  • MTrend   15.263             
  • PML          14.915                        
  • M5            14.205

Active traders can use 16.685 as the pivot, whereby they maintain a long position above that level and a flat or short position below it.

Figure 1 below displays the daily price action for August 2019 in a candlestick chart, with support and resistance levels isolated by our methodology represented as dashed lines.  The first five trading sessions were spent with silver ascending to and settling above, our isolated pivot level at PMH: 16.685.  Silver’s rally, which began in June, extended significantly in August. 

The following twelve trading sessions were spent with silver consolidating with an upward bias, testing our clustered resistance levels at M3: 17.469 and M1: 17.745.  On August 26th, silver settled above M1: 17.745 and proceeded over the following three trading sessions to test our Monthly Upside Exhaustion level at M4: 18.805.   The high price for August 2019 was achieved on August 29th at 18.760, a difference from M4 of 0.24%.

 Active traders following our analysis had the opportunity to capture a 12.4% profit.

 

Figure 1:

E-Mini S&P 500 Futures

We continue with a review of E-Mini S&P 500 Futures during August 2019.  In our August 2019 edition of The Cartography Corner, we wrote the following:

In isolation, monthly support and resistance levels for August are:

  • M4                3330.25
  • M2                3182.25
  • M1                3089.75
  • PMH              3029.50
  • M3               3020.25      
  • Close             2982.25
  • PML               2955.50     
  • M5                 2941.75    
  • MTrend         2897.03

Active traders can use 3029.50 as the pivot, whereby they maintain a long position above that level and a flat or short position below it.

Figure 2 below displays the daily price action for August 2019 in a candlestick chart, with support and resistance levels isolated by our methodology represented as dashed lines.  The first four trading sessions of August saw the market price collapse 206.50 points from July’s settlement price.  The descent accelerated once our isolated support levels at PML: 2955.50 and M5: 2941.75 were breached.  When August Monthly Trend at MTrend: 2897.03 was breached, the descent accelerated again.      

The remaining trading sessions of August 2019 were spent with the market price oscillating between 2817.00 (roughly) and our isolated support level at M5: 2941.75, now acting as resistance.  As can be seen in Figure 2, there were essentially five swing trades during the remainder of August, three up and two down.  Each swing covered approximately 125 points.

The war between bulls and bears continues with the battles becoming fiercer.

Figure 2:

September 2019 Analysis

We begin by providing a monthly time-period analysis of E-Mini S&P 500 Futures (ESU9).  The same analysis can be completed for any time-period or in aggregate.

Trends:

  • Monthly Trend        2924.92       
  • Current Settle         2924.75
  • Daily Trend             2905.47       
  • Weekly Trend         2884.92       
  • Quarterly Trend      2727.50

In the quarterly time-period, the chart shows that E-Mini S&P 500 Futures are in “Consolidation”.  Stepping down one time-period, the monthly chart shows that E-Mini S&P 500 Futures have been “Trend Up” for three months.  Stepping down to the weekly time-period, the chart shows that E-Mini S&P 500 Futures are in “Consolidation”.

We commented in August:

“We would like to point out the slope of the Weekly Trend has been forming a rounded top over the previous three weeks.  Weekly Trend is currently developing at 2996.58 for the week of August 5, 2019.  If that developing level holds (or develops lower), the topping process will be complete (in the weekly time-period) as 2996.58 is lower than this week’s Weekly Trend level of 2999.83.  Also, a weekly settlement this week below 2999.83 will end the current eight-week uptrend.”

The formation of the rounded top in the Weekly Trend was an excellent indicator of the directional turn in the short time period. 

Support/Resistance:

In isolation, monthly support and resistance levels for September are:

  • M4                 3073.00
  • PMH              3014.25
  • M1                 2999.00
  • MTrend        2924.92
  • Close            2924.75      
  • M3                 2867.25
  • PML               2775.75     
  • M2                 2596.00    
  • M5                2522.00

Active traders can use 2924.92 as the pivot, whereby they maintain a long position above that level and a flat or short position below it.

U.S. Treasury Bond Futures

For the month of September, we focus on U.S. Treasury Bond Futures (“bonds”).  We provide a monthly time-period analysis of USZ9.  The same analysis can be completed for any time-period or in aggregate.

Trends:

  • Daily Trend            165-20          
  • Current Settle        165-08
  • Weekly Trend        164-22          
  • Monthly Trend       157-17          
  • Quarterly Trend     147-27

As can be seen in the quarterly chart below, bonds have been “Trend Up” for three quarters.  Stepping down one time-period, the monthly chart also shows that bonds have been “Trend Up” for nine months.  Stepping down to the weekly time-period, the chart shows that bonds have been “Trend Up” for five weeks.

The condition was met in August 2019 that makes us anticipate a two-month low within the next four to six months.  That would be fulfilled with a trade below 152-28 in September 2019.  This is the second “signal” that has been given since this nine-month uptrend began.  The first was given in December 2018 and the two-month low was realized three months later.  In the week of July 29th, the condition was met that made us anticipate a two-week low within the next four to six weeks from that week.  The market is entering the fifth week of that time window and a two-week low can be realized this week with a trade below 162-06.

Like the rounded top highlighted in E-Mini S&P 500 futures in the August 2019 edition of The Cartography Corner, the Weekly Trend in bonds is beginning to take on the same curvature.  Short-time-period-focused market participants. . . Caveat Emptor.

 

Support/Resistance:

In isolation, monthly support and resistance levels for September are:

  • M4         181-00
  • M1         176-26
  • M3         174-29
  • PMH       166-30
  • Close        165-08
  • MTrend    157-17
  • M2         157-02             
  • PML        154-31                          
  • M5            152-28

Active traders can use 166-30 as the pivot, whereby they maintain a long position above that level and a flat or short position below it.

 

Equity Cycle, 1799 – 2061

What if the basis of causation in human affairs, economics, and markets is embedded in the law of vibration of nature?  Sound, light, and heat are all forms of vibration.  Sound is energy vibrating at a frequency that the ear can perceive.  Light is energy vibrating at a frequency that the eye can perceive.  Heat is energy that vibrates at a frequency that our internal thermometers can perceive.  Radiation that penetrates the Earth’s atmosphere causes proven psychological changes in people.

My dog barking at 2:30 each afternoon does not cause the mailman to deliver the mail to my house.  However, when my dog barks at 2:30 each afternoon, I can reliably trust that the mail is being delivered.  Similarly, it is not necessary for the market participant to answer in-depth questions of how or why, with regards to causation.  It is only necessary to answer the question of correlation and, if a correlation exists, what are the results?  Market participants of old, including W.D. Gann, Louise McWhirter, Donald Bradley, and others, not only recognized but successfully utilized the law of vibration across many individual markets.

We spent significant time collecting, organizing, and processing planetary data in the identification and construction of the composite equity cycle graphed on the following three pages.  The composite equity cycle is comprised of six individual cycles, each with a different phase, amplitude, and length.  The average cycle length is 13.5 years.

Our data series of the nominal equity index level spans 220 years, with a low value of 2.85 and high value of 26,864.27.  We faced the challenge of how to graphically present this data series in the most aesthetic manner.  We started by graphing lognormal values, but the result did not “tell the story” in a legible way.  We finally were enlightened (thank you, Jack) to present a rolling return.  The benefit of using a rolling return is that the range of values is relatively narrow and presents itself well graphically.  We set the length of the rolling return equal to the average cycle length.

The first graph displays the cycle over the entire time period, 1799 – 2061.

The second graph highlights the peaks in the cycle and how well they line up with peaks in the rolling 13.5Y annualized return in the Dow Jones Industrial Average.  The dashed lines represent anticipated future peaks.

The third graph highlights the troughs in the cycle and how well they line up with troughs in the rolling 13.5Y annualized return in the Dow Jones Industrial Average.  The dashed lines represent anticipated future troughs.

Compelling.

CLICK TO ENLARGE

Summary

The power of technical analysis is in its ability to reduce multi-dimensional markets into a filtered two-dimensional space of price and time.  Our methodology applies a consistent framework that identifies key measures of trend, distinct levels of support and resistance, and identification of potential trading ranges.  Our methodology can be applied to any security or index, across markets, for which we can attain a reliable price history.  We look forward to bringing you our unique brand of technical analysis and insight into many different markets.  If you are a professional market participant and are open to discovering more, please connect with us.  We are not asking for a subscription; we are asking you to listen.

Comparing Yield Curves

Since August of 1978, there have been seven instances where the yields on ten-year Treasury Notes were lower than those on two-year Treasury Notes, commonly referred to as “yield curve inversion.” That count includes the current episode which only just occurred. In all six prior instances a recession followed, although in some cases with a lag of up to two years.

Given the yield curve’s impeccable 30+ year track record of signaling recessions, we think it is appropriate to compare the current inversion to those of the past. In doing so, we can further refine our economic and market expectations.

Bull or Bear Flattening

In this section, we graph the seven yield curve inversions since 1978, showing how ten-year U.S. Treasuries (UST), two-year UST and the 10-year/2 year curve performed in the year before the inversion.

Before progressing, it is worth defining some bond trading lingo:

  • Steepener- Describes a situation in which the difference between the yield on the 10-year UST and the yield on the 2y-year UST is increasing. Steepeners can occur when both securities are trending up or down in yield or when the 2-year yield declines while the 10-year yield increases.
  • Flattener- A flattener is the opposite of a steepener, and the difference between yields is declining.  As shown in the graph above, the slope of the curve has been in a flattening trend for the last five years.
  • Bullish/Bearish- The terms steepener and flattener are typically preceded with the descriptor bullish or bearish. Bullish means yields are declining (bond prices are rising) while bearish means yields are rising (bond prices are falling). For instance, a bullish flattener means that both 2s and 10s are declining in yield but 10s are declining at a quicker pace. A bearish flattener implies that yields for 2s and 10s are rising with 2s increasing at a faster pace.  Currently, we are witnessing a bullish flattener. All inversions, by definition, are preceded by a flattening trend.

As shown in the seven graphs below, there are two distinct patterns, bullish flatteners and bearish flatteners, which emerged before each of the last seven inversions. The red arrows highlight the general trend of yields during the year leading up to the curve inversion.  

Data for all graphs courtesy St. Louis Federal Reserve

Five of the seven instances exhibited a bearish flattening before inversion. In other words, yields rose for both two and ten year Treasuries and two year yields were rising more than tens. The exceptions are 1998 and the current period. These two instances were/are bullish flatteners.

Bearish Flattener

As the amount of debt outstanding outpaces growth in the economy, the reliance on debt and the level of interest rates becomes a larger factor driving economic activity and monetary and fiscal policy decisions. In five of the seven instances graphed, interest rates rose as economic growth accelerated and consumer prices perked up. While the seven periods are different in many ways, higher interest rates were a key factor leading to recession. Higher interest rates reduce the incentive to borrow, ultimately slowing growth and in these cases resulted in a recession.

Bullish Insurance Flattener

As noted, the current period and 1998 are different from the other periods shown. Today, as in 1998, yields are falling as the 10-year Treasury yield drops faster than the 2-year Treasury yield. The curve thus flattens and ultimately inverts.

Seven years into the economic expansion, during the fall of 1998, the Fed cut rates in three 25 basis point increments. Deemed “insurance cuts,” the purpose was to counteract concerns about sluggish growth overseas and financial market concerns stemming from the Asian crisis, Russian default, and the failure of hedge fund giant Long Term Capital. The yield curve inversion was another factor driving the Fed. The domestic economy during the period was strong, with real GDP staying above 4%, well above the natural growth rate.  

The current period is somewhat similar. The U.S. economy, while not nearly as strong as the ’98 experience, has registered above-trend economic growth for the last two years. Also similar to 1998, there are exogenous factors that are concerning for the Fed. At the top of the list are the trade war and sharply slowing economic activity in Europe and China. Like in 1998, we can add the newly inverted yield curve to the list.

The Fed reduced rates by 25 basis points on July 31, 2019. Chairman Powell characterized the cut as a “mid-cycle adjustment” designed to ensure solid economic growth and support the record-long expansion. Some Fed members are describing the cuts as an insurance measure, similar to the language employed in 1998.

If 1998-like “insurance” measures are the Fed’s game plan to counteract recessionary pressures, we must ask if the periods are similar enough to ascertain what may happen this time.

A key differentiating factor between today and the late 1990s is not only the amount of debt but the dependence on it.   Over the last 20 years, the amount of total debt as a ratio to GDP increased from 2.5x to over 3.5x.

Data Courtesy St. Louis Federal Reserve

In 1998, believe it or not, the U.S. government ran a fiscal surplus and Treasury debt issuance was declining. Today, the reliance on debt for new economic activity and the burden of servicing old debt has never been greater in the United States. Because rates are already at or near 300-year lows, unlike 1998, the marginal benefits from borrowing and spending as a result of lower rates are much less economically significant currently.

In 1998, the internet was in its infancy and its productive benefits were just being discovered. Productivity, an essential element for economic growth, was booming. By comparison, current productivity growth has been lifeless for well over the last decade.

Demographics, the other key factor driving economic activity, was also a significant component of economic growth. Twenty years ago, the baby boomers were in their spending and investing prime. Today they are retiring at a rate of 10,000 per day, reducing their consumption and drawing down their investment accounts.

The key point is that lower rates are far less likely to spur economic activity today than in 1998. Additionally, the natural rate of economic growth is lower today, so the economy is more susceptible to recession given a smaller decline in economic activity than it was in 1998.

The 1998 rate cuts led to an explosion of speculative behavior primarily in the tech sectors. From October of 1998 when the Fed first cut rates, to the market peak in March of 2000, the NASDAQ index rose over 300%. Many equity valuation ratios from the period set records.

We have witnessed a similar but broader-based speculative fervor over the last five years. Valuations in some cases have exceeded those of the late 1990s and in other cases stand right below them. While the economic, productivity, and demographic backdrops are not the same, we cannot rule out that Fed cuts might fuel another explosive rally. If this were to occur, it will further reduce expected returns and could lead to a crushing decline in the years following as occurred in the early 2000s.  

Summary

A yield curve inversion is the bond market’s way of telegraphing concern that economic growth will slow in the coming months. Markets do not offer guarantees, but the 2s-10s yield curve has been right every time in the last 30 years it voiced this concern. As the book of Ecclesiastes reminds us, “the race does not always go to the swift nor the battle to the strong…”, but that’s the way to bet.

Insurance rate cuts may buy the record-long economic expansion another year or two as they did 20 years ago, but the marginal benefit of lower rates is not nearly as powerful today as it was in 1998.

Whether the Fed combats a recession in the months ahead as the bond market warns or in a couple of years, they are very limited in their abilities. In 2000 and 2001, the Fed cut rates by a total of 575 basis points, leaving the Fed Funds rate at 1.00%. This time around, the Fed can only cut rates by 225 basis points until it reaches zero percent. When we reach that point, and historical precedence argues it will be quicker than many assume, we must then ask how negative rates, QE, or both will affect the economy and markets. For this there is no prescriptive answer.

Fixed Income Review – July 2019

We delayed publishing the July Fixed Income Review so we can present fresh data and comment on the surge in volatility following the Fed meeting (7/31) and new tariffs on China (8/1). 

In general, the fixed income markets were mostly sleep-walking through July in anticipation of a July 31st Federal Reserve rate cut and a much-anticipated dovish statement from the Fed.  As if on autopilot, stock markets slogged higher and credit spreads moved tighter throughout the month. Meanwhile, Treasury yields rose modestly after their dramatic declines in May and June. Indeed, as the table below reflects, Treasuries were the only major fixed-income class to lose ground on a total return basis in July. All other categories posted positive returns for the month.

In stark contrast, the ETF table below highlights some of the significant changes we have seen since the beginning of August.

Following the Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) meeting on July 31 and the subsequent press conference delivered by Chairman Jerome Powell, the future of monetary policy was suddenly in question. For the first time in several months, the Fed failed to deliver a dovish surprise.

Part of Powell’s response to the first question in the press conference regarding the “hurdle” for further rate cuts was as follows:

“…the committee is really thinking of this as a way of adjusting policy to a somewhat more accommodative stance to further the three objectives that I mentioned. To ensure against downside risks, to provide support to the economy that those factors are pushing down on economic growth and then to support inflation. So, we do think it’ll serve all of those goals. But again, we’re thinking of it as essentially in the nature of a midcycle adjustment to policy.”

Despite the evidence and assurances of rate cuts to provide a firebreak against any potential weakening of the economy, Powell’s reference to “a midcycle adjustment” suddenly raised doubts about their conviction for further easing.  

Given the strength of the U.S. economy, the “downside risks” he refers to are clearly emanating from foreign sources. Now add a Fed that may not be ready to cut rates further and the renewed escalation of the trade war between the U.S. and China and one has a potent cocktail for the volatility seen since the end of July.

As can be seen in the tables above, fixed-income markets in July were mostly a non-event but the first several days of August have been full of fireworks. The table below illustrates the move in U.S. Treasury yields since July 31.

Investment grade and high yield markets reacted with some displeasure to Jerome Powell’s comments and new rhetoric from the administration on trade and tariff challenges associated with China. Although the magnitude of the spread changes did not breach any meaningful technical levels, the speed of the change was rather head-snapping.

We end up in a familiar place. If we are to take the Chairman at his word and potential downside risks warrant a rate cut, it becomes even more challenging to justify the valuations investors are being asked to pay to own risky assets. Despite having posted new highs in recent weeks, the S&P 500 has produced a 3.48% annualized total return over the past 18 months along with volatility of 15.5%. High yield bonds have delivered annualized total returns of 4.80% with 12.9% volatility. Net out the most recent inflation data of 1.6% from those numbers and we struggle to understand why investors have been so enthusiastic.

Eighteen months ago, one could buy 10-year Treasuries at a 2.85% yield. The 7-10 year ETF (Ticker: IEF) has delivered 3.55% total return and with only 4.4% volatility. Needless to say, while not glamorous, the risk-free route provided returns on par with stocks and high-yield but with significantly less volatility. Given the risks Chairman Powell has outlined, might Treasuries, despite near-record low yields, be the safe place to hide in fixed income for the time being? Astute, rational investors will either figure that out on their own or the market will impose its will.

All Data Courtesy Barclays

Value Your Wealth – Part Five: Market Cap

The first four articles in this series focused on what might be the most important pair of fundamental factors – growth and value. Those factors have provided investors long-standing, dependable above-market returns.  Now, we take the series in a different direction and focus on other factors that may also give us a leg up on the market. 

The term “a leg up” is important to clarify. In general, factor-based investing is used to gain positive alpha or performance that is relatively better than the market. While “better” than market returns are nice, investing based on factor analysis should not be the only protection you have when you fear that markets may decline sharply. The combination of factor investing and adjustments to your total equity exposure is a time-trusted recipe to avoid large drawdowns that impair your ability to compound wealth.

We continue this series with a discussion of market capitalization.

The four prior articles in the Value Your Wealth series are linked below:

Part One: Introduction

Part Two: Quantifying the Value Proposition

Part Three: Sector Analysis

Part Four: Mutual Fund and ETF Analysis

Market Cap

Market capitalization, commonly known as market cap, is a simple calculation that returns the current value or size of publicly traded companies. The formula is the number of shares outstanding times the price per share. For example as we wrote this article, Apple has 4.601 billion shares outstanding and Apple’s stock trades at roughly $210 per share. Apple’s market cap is $966.21 billion. 

Most investors, along with those in the financial media, tend to distinguish companies market caps/size by grouping them into three broad tiers – small-cap, mid-cap, and large-cap. Over most periods, stocks in the three categories are well correlated. However, there are periods when they diverge, and we are currently amidst such a deviation. Since September 1, 2018, the price of the Large Cap S&P 500 Index has risen by 4.1%, while the price of the Small Cap S&P 600 Index is down 12.9%.  Deviations in historical relationships, whether short or long-term in nature, can provide investors an opportunity to capitalize on the normalization of the relationship, but timing is everything. 

Historical Relative Performance

The following graphs are based on data from Kenneth French and can be found HERE.  The data encompasses a wide universe of domestic stocks that trade on the NYSE, Amex, and NASDAQ exchanges.

The data set provides returns based on market cap groupings based on deciles. The first graph compares annualized total return and annualized volatility since 1926 of the top three (High) and bottom three (Low) market cap deciles as well as the average of those six deciles. To be clear, a decile is a discrete range of market caps reflecting the stocks in that group. For example, in a portfolio of 100 stocks, decile 1 is the bottom ten stocks, or the smallest ten market cap stocks, decile two is the next ten smallest cap stocks, etc.

The next graph below uses monthly ten year rolling returns to compare total returns of the highest and lowest deciles. This graph is a barometer of the premium that small-cap investing typically delivers to long term investors.

The takeaway from both graphs is that small-cap stocks tend to outperform large-cap stocks more often than not. However, the historical premium does not come without a price. As shown in the first graph, volatility for the lowest size stocks is almost twice that of the largest. If you have a long time horizon and are able and willing to stay invested through volatile periods, small caps should fare better than large caps. 

Small-cap stocks, in general, have high expected growth rates because they are not limited by the constraints that hamper growth at larger companies. Unfortunately, small-cap earnings are more vulnerable to changes in industry trends, consumer preferences, economic conditions, market conditions, and other factors that larger companies are better equipped and diversified to manage. 

Periods of Divergence

The second graph above shows there are only three periods where large caps outperformed small caps stocks since 1926. Those three exceptions, the 1950’s, 1990’s and, the post-financial crisis-era are worth considering in depth.

The 1950s The Nifty Fifty- The end of World War II coupled with a decade of historically low interest rates disproportionately helped larger companies. These firms, many global, benefited most from the efforts to rebuild Europe and partake in the mass suburbanization of America.

The 1990s Tech Boom- With double-digit inflation a distant memory and the swelling technology boom, larger companies that typically benefited most from lower rates, less inflation, and new technologies prospered. While this new technology benefited all companies in one form or another, larger ones had the investment budgets and borrowing capacity to leverage the movement and profit most. 

The 2010’s Post Financial Crisis Era –The current period of large-cap outperformance is unique as economic growth has been prolonged but below average and productivity growth has been negligible. Despite relatively weak economic factors, massive amounts of monetary stimulus has fueled record low corporate borrowing rates, which in turn have fueled stock buybacks. Further, the mass adaptation of passive cap-weighted investment strategies naturally favors companies with large market caps. Circularly, passive investing feeds on itself as indexed ETFs and mutual funds must increasingly allocate more to large caps which grow in size relative to the other holdings.

To reiterate an important point: the current period of outperformance is not based on solid economic fundamentals and resulting corporate earnings growth as in the two prior periods described. This episode is a byproduct of monetary actions.

The graph below highlights the distinction between the current period and the two prior periods where large caps outperformed.  

Summary

Historically, small-cap stocks tend to provide a return premium over large-cap stocks. However, as we pointed out, there are periods where that is not the case. Currently, large-cap stocks are the beneficiaries of overly generous monetary and fiscal policy. We do believe the relationship will return to normal, but that will likely not occur until a bear market begins.

As we wait for a normalization of valuations and traditional relationships that have become so disfigured in this cycle, we consider the current relative valuations on small-cap stocks similar to those we described in value stocks earlier in this series. The time to weight your stock portfolio allocation more heavily toward small-cap opportunities is coming, but every investor must decide on their own or with good counsel from an advisor when to make that adjustment.  When appropriate, a gradual shift to small-cap stocks from large caps depends on an investor’s risk appetite and defensive preference.

More importantly, have a plan in place because when the market does meaningfully correct, the premium small-cap stocks provide will likely help cushion against a stock market correction. 

The Prospects of a Weaker Dollar Policy- RIA Pro

This version, for RIA Pro subscribers, contains a correlation table at the end of the article to help better quantify short and longer term relationships between the dollar and other financial assets.

“Let me be clear, what I said was, it’s not the beginning of a long series of rate cuts.”- Fed Chairman Jerome Powell -7/31/2019

“What the Market wanted to hear from Jay Powell and the Federal Reserve was that this was the beginning of a lengthy and aggressive rate-cutting cycle which would keep pace with China, The European Union and other countries around the world….” – President Donald Trump – Twitter 7/31/2019

With the July 31, 2019 Fed meeting in the books, President Trump is up in arms that the Fed is not on a “lengthy and aggressive rate-cutting” path. Given his disappointment, we need to ask what else the President can do to stimulate economic growth and keep stock investors happy. History conveys that is the winning combination to win a reelection bid.

Traditionally, a President’s most effective tool to spur economic activity and boost stock prices is fiscal policy. With a hotly contested election in a little more than a year and the House firmly in Democratic control, the odds of meaningful fiscal stimulus before the election is low.

Without fiscal support, a weak dollar policy might be where Donald Trump goes next. A weaker dollar could stimulate export growth as goods and services produced in the U.S. become cheaper abroad. Further, a weaker dollar makes imports more expensive, which would increase prices and in turn push nominal GDP higher, giving the appearance, albeit false, of stronger economic growth.

In this article, we explore a few different ways that President Trump may try to weaken the dollar. 

Weaker Dollar Policy

The impetus to write this article came from the following Wall Street Journal article: Trump Rejected Proposal to Weaken Dollar through Market Intervention. In particular, the following two paragraphs contradict one another and lead us to believe that a weaker dollar policy is a possibility. 

On Friday, Mr. Kudlow said Mr. Trump “ruled out any currency intervention” after meeting with his economic team earlier this week. The comments led the dollar to rise slightly against other currencies, the WSJ Dollar index showed.

But on Friday afternoon, Mr. Trump held out the possibility that he could take action in the future by saying he hadn’t ruled anything out. “I could do that in two seconds if I wanted to,” he said when asked about a proposal to intervene. “I didn’t say I’m not going to do something.”

Based on the article, Trump’s advisers are against manipulating the dollar lower as they don’t believe they can succeed. That said, on numerous occasions, Trump has shared his anger over other countries that are “using exchange rates to seek short-term advantages.”

As shown below, two measures of the U.S. dollar highlight the substance of frustrations being expressed by Trump. The DXY dollar index has appreciated considerably from the early 2018 lows but is still well below levels at the beginning of the century. This index is inordinately influenced by the euro and therefore not 100% representative of the true effect that the dollar has on trade. The Trade-weighted dollar which is weighted by the amount of trade that actually takes place between the U.S. and other countries. That index has also bounced from early 2018 lows and, unlike DXY, has reached the highs of 2002.

Data Courtesy Bloomberg

Trump’s Dollar War Chest

The following section provides details on how the President can weaken the dollar and how effective such actions might be.

Currency Market Intervention

Intervening in the currency markets by actively selling US dollars would likely push the dollar lower. The problem, as Trump’s advisers note, is that any weakness achieved via direct intervention is likely to be short-lived.

The US economy is stronger than most other developed countries and has higher interest rates. Both are reasons that foreign investors are flocking to the dollar and adding to its recent appreciation. Assuming economic activity does not decline rapidly and interest rates do not plummet, a weaker dollar would further incentivize foreign flows into the dollar and partially or fully offset any intervention.

More importantly, there is a global dollar shortage to consider. It has been estimated by the Bank of International Settlements (BIS) that there is $12.8 trillion in dollar-denominated liabilities owed by foreign entities. A stronger dollar causes interest and principal payments on this debt to become more onerous for the borrowers. Dollar weakness would be an opportunity for some of these borrowers to buy dollars, pay down their debts and reduce dollar risk. Again, such buying would offset the Treasury’s actions to depress the dollar.  

Instead of direct intervention in the currency markets, Trump and Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin can use speeches and tweets to jawbone the dollar lower. Like direct intervention, we also think that indirect intervention via words would have a limited effect at best.

The economic and interest rate fundamentals driving the stronger dollar may be too much for direct or indirect intervention to overcome.

From a legal perspective intervening in the currency markets is allowed and does not require approval from Congress. Per the Wall Street Journal article, “The 1934 Gold Reserve Act gives the White House broad powers to intervene, and the Treasury maintains a fund, currently of around $95 billion, to carry out such operations.” The author states that the Treasury has not conducted any interventions since 2000. That is not entirely true as they conducted a massive amount of currency swaps with other nations during and after the financial crisis. By keeping these large market-moving trades off the currency markets, they very effectively manipulated the dollar and other currencies.

Hounding the Fed

The President aggressively chastised Fed Chairman Powell for not cutting interest rates or ending QT as quickly as he prefers. Lowering interest rates to levels that are closer to those of other large nations would potentially weaken the dollar. The only problem is that the Fed does not appear willing to move at the President’s pace as they deem such action is not warranted. We believe the Fed is very aware that taking unjustifiable actions at the behest of the President would damage the perception of their independence and, therefore, their integrity.

To solve this problem, Trump could take the controversial and unprecedented step of firing or demoting Fed Chairman Powell.  In Powell’s place he could put someone willing to lower rates aggressively and possibly reintroduce QE. These steps might push financial asset prices higher, weaken the dollar, and provide the economic pickup Trump seeks but it is also fraught with risks. We have written two articles on the topic of the President firing the Fed Chairman as follows: Chairman Powell You’re Fired and Market Implications for Removing Fed Chair Powell.

It is not clear whether the President can get away with firing or even demoting Chairman Powell. We guess that he understands this which may explain why he has not done it already. If he cannot change Fed leadership, he can continue to pressure the Fed with Tweets, speeches, and direct meetings. We do not think this strategy can be effective unless the Fed has ample reason to cut rates. Thus far, the Fed’s mandates of “maximum employment, stable prices, and moderate long-term interest rates” do not provide the Fed such justification.

Getting Help Abroad

One of the core topics in the U.S. – China trade talks has been the Chinese Yuan. In particular, Trump is negotiating to stop the Chinese from using their currency to promote their economic self-interests at our expense. As of writing this, the U.S. Treasury deemed China a currency manipulator. Per the Treasury: “As a result of this determination (currency manipulator), Secretary Mnuchin will engage with the International Monetary Fund to eliminate the unfair competitive advantage created by China’s latest actions.” Said differently, the U.S. and other nations can now manipulate their currency versus the Chinese Yuan.

It is plausible that Trump might pressure other countries, including our allies in Europe and Japan as well as Mexico and Canada, to strengthen their respective currencies against the dollar. Trump can threaten nations with trade restrictions and tariffs if they do not comply. If tariffs are enacted, however, all bets are off due to the economic inefficiencies of tariffs or trade restrictions. To the President’s dismay, such action weaken the economy and scare investors as we are seeing with China. 

Threats of trade actions, trade-related actions, or trade agreements might work to weaken the dollar, but such tactics would require time and pinpoint diplomacy. Of all the options, this one requires longer-term patience in awaiting their effect and may not satisfy the President’s desire for short-term results.

Summary

Before summarizing we leave you with one important thought and certainly a topic for future writings. Globally coordinated monetary policy is morphing into globally competitive monetary policy. This may be the most significant Macro development since the Plaza Accord in 1985 when the Reagan administration, along with other developed nations (West Germany, France, Japan, the UK), coordinated to weaken the U.S. dollar.

With the Presidential election in about 15 months, we have no doubt that President Trump will do everything in his power to keep financial markets and the economy humming along. The problem facing the President is a Democrat-controlled House, a Fed that is dragging their feet in terms of rate cuts, weakening global growth, and a stronger U.S. dollar.

We believe the odds that the President tries to weaken the dollar will rise quickly if signs of further economic weakness emerge. Given the situation, investors need to understand what the President can and cannot do to spike economic growth and further how it might affect the prices of financial assets.

On the equity front, a weaker dollar bodes well for companies that are more global in nature. Most of the companies that have driven the equity indices higher are indeed multi-national. Conversely, it harms domestic companies that rely on imported goods and commodities to manufacture their products. The price of commodities and precious metals are likely to rise with a weaker dollar. A weaker dollar and any price pressures that result would likely push bond yields higher.

The relationships between the dollar and various asset classes are important to monitoring how intentional changes in the value of the dollar may impact all varieties of asset classes. The addendum below quantifies short and longer-term correlations.

Addendum – Short & Long-term Asset Correlations

The following tables present short term daily correlations and longer-term weekly correlations between the dollar and several asset classes and sub-asset classes. The correlation data for each asset quantifies how much the price of the asset is affected by the price of the dollar. A positive correlation means the dollar and the asset tend to move in similar directions. Conversely, a negative relationship means they move in opposite directions. We highlighted all relationships that are +/- .30. The closer the number is to 1 or -1, the stronger the relationship. CLICK TO ENLARGE

Cartography Corner – August 2019

J. Brett Freeze and his firm Global Technical Analysis (GTA) provides RIA Pro subscribers Cartography Corner on a monthly basis. Brett’s analysis offers readers a truly unique brand of technical insight and risk framework. We personally rely on Brett’s research to help better gauge market trends, their durability, and support and resistance price levels.

GTA presents their monthly analysis on a wide range of asset classes, indices, and securities. At times the analysis may agree with RIA Pro technical opinions, and other times it will run contrary to our thoughts. Our goal is not to push a single view or opinion, but provide research to help you better understand the markets. Please contact us with any questions or comments.  If you are interested in learning more about GTA’s services, please connect with them through the links provided in the article.

The link below penned by GTA provides a user’s guide and a sample of his analysis.

GTA Users Guide


A Review of July

Investment Grade Corporate Bond ETF    

We begin with a review of the Investment Corporate Bond ETF (LQD) during July 2019. In our July 2019 edition of The Cartography Corner, we wrote the following:

In isolation, monthly support and resistance levels for July are:

  • M4         130.59
  • M1         128.04
  • M3           127.91
  • PMH       124.44
  • Close        124.37
  • M2           122.54                
  • MTrend   120.69             
  • PML          120.41                        
  • M5            119.99

Active traders can use 124.44 as the upside pivot, whereby they maintain a long position above that level.  Active traders can use 122.54 as the downside pivot, whereby they maintain a flat or short position below it.    

Figure 1 below displays the daily price action for July 2019 in a candlestick chart, with support and resistance levels isolated by our methodology represented as dashed lines.  The first three trading sessions were spent with LQD challenging and settling above, our isolated upside pivot level at PMH: 124.44.  However, that early strength failed. 

On July 5th the market price gapped lower, rotating back below our isolated upside pivot level.  Over the next seven trading sessions, the market price continued its descent towards our isolated downside pivot level at M2: 122.54.  The low price for July 2019 was achieved on July 16th at 122.71.

Over the following eleven trading sessions, LQD ascended back to our isolated upside pivot level at PMH: 124.44.  Essentially, the entire month was spent in a two-point “range-trade” bounded by our pivot levels. This was partially a result of anticipation of the July 31, 2019 FOMC policy announcement. 

Figure 1:

E-Mini S&P 500 Futures

We continue with a review of E-Mini S&P 500 Futures during July 2019.  In our July 2019 edition of The Cartography Corner, we wrote the following:

In isolation, monthly support and resistance levels for July are:

  • M4                3188.50
  • M3                3136.00
  • M1                2977.25
  • PMH              2969.25          
  • Close             2944.25     
  • MTrend        2872.83
  • PML               2728.75     
  • M2                 2707.50    
  • M5                 2496.25

Active traders can use 2977.25 as the pivot, whereby they maintain a long position above that level and a flat or short position below it.

Figure 2 below displays the daily price action for July 2019 in a candlestick chart, with support and resistance levels isolated by our methodology represented as dashed lines.  The first two trading sessions of July saw the market price oscillate above and below our isolated pivot level at M1: 2977.25 intra-session, with the July 2nd settlement above that level  

The remaining trading sessions of July 2019 were spent with the market price oscillating between our isolated pivot level at M1: 2977.25 and our isolated Quarterly resistance level at Q2: 3019.00.  Like LQD, the entire month was spent in a “range-trade” in anticipation of the July 31, 2019 FOMC policy announcement.  In the last two hours of trading after the July 31st FOMC meeting the entire month’s range (essentially) was traversed and held.

Figure 2:


August 2019 Analysis

We begin by providing a monthly time-period analysis of E-Mini S&P 500 Futures.  The same analysis can be completed for any time-period or in aggregate.

Trends:

  • Daily Trend             3007.42       
  • Weekly Trend         2999.83
  • Current Settle         2982.25       
  • Monthly Trend        2897.03       
  • Quarterly Trend      2727.50

The relative positioning of the Trend Levels, as shown above, is aligned in the most bullish posture possible.  However, our overall characterization of E-Mini S&P 500 Futures is “mixed”, as the market price has fallen below both the Daily Trend and Weekly Trend.  Also, as discussed below, the Weekly Trend appears to be completing a topping process.

In the quarterly time-period, the chart shows that E-Mini S&P 500 Futures are in “Consolidation”.  Stepping down one time-period, the monthly chart shows that E-Mini S&P 500 Futures are in “Consolidation”.  Stepping down to the weekly time-period, the chart shows that E-Mini S&P 500 Futures have been “Trend Up” for eight weeks.

We would like to point out the slope of the Weekly Trend has been forming a rounded top over the previous three weeks.  Weekly Trend is currently developing at 2996.58 for the week of August 5, 2019.  If that developing level holds (or develops lower), the topping process will be complete (in the weekly time-period) as 2996.58 is lower than this week’s Weekly Trend level of 2999.83.  Also, a weekly settlement this week below 2999.83 will end the current eight-week uptrend.

Support/Resistance:

In isolation, monthly support and resistance levels for August are:

  • M4                3330.25
  • M2                3182.25
  • M1                3089.75
  • PMH              3029.50
  • M3               3020.25      
  • Close             2982.25
  • PML               2955.50     
  • M5                 2941.75    
  • MTrend         2897.03

Active traders can use 3029.50 as the pivot, whereby they maintain a long position above that level and a flat or short position below it.

Silver Futures

For the month of August, we focus on Silver Futures.  We provide a monthly time-period analysis of SIU9.  The same analysis can be completed for any time-period or in aggregate.

Trends:

  • Daily Trend            16.459          
  • Current Settle        16.405
  • Weekly Trend        15.870          
  • Monthly Trend       15.263          
  • Quarterly Trend     15.173

As can be seen in the quarterly chart below, Silver is in “Consolidation”.  Stepping down one time-period, the monthly chart also shows that Silver is in “Consolidation”.  Stepping down to the weekly time-period, the chart shows that Silver is in “Consolidation”.  Despite the aggressive move higher in price this past month, it is not definitive that this most recent move is not transitory, like the December 2018 – January 2019 experience.  That brief and aggressive move higher in price was immediately followed by a four-month decline that dropped below the December 2018 low price.

The condition was met the week of July 22, 2019 that makes us anticipate a two-week low within the next three to five weeks.  That would be fulfilled with a trade below 15.190 this week.  The condition was met in July 2019 that makes us anticipate a two-month low within the next four to six months.  That would be fulfilled with a trade below 14.570 in August 2019.  In 2Q2019 the condition was met that made us anticipate a two-quarter high within the next four to six quarters.  That was fulfilled with the trade above 16.300 in July 2019.

While Silver certainly had a good month, in our judgment, it has some technical concerns on a weekly and monthly basis to contend with.

Support/Resistance:

In isolation, monthly support and resistance levels for August are:

  • M4         18.805
  • M1         17.745
  • M3           17.469
  • PMH       16.685
  • Close        16.405
  • M2           15.265
  • MTrend   15.263             
  • PML          14.915                        
  • M5            14.205

Active traders can use 16.685 as the pivot, whereby they maintain a long position above that level and a flat or short position below it.

Summary

The power of technical analysis is in its ability to reduce multi-dimensional markets into a filtered two-dimensional space of price and time.  Our methodology applies a consistent framework that identifies key measures of trend, distinct levels of support and resistance, and identification of potential trading ranges.  Our methodology can be applied to any security or index, across markets, for which we can attain a reliable price history.  We look forward to bringing you our unique brand of technical analysis and insight into many different markets.  If you are a professional market participant and are open to discovering more, please connect with us.  We are not asking for a subscription; we are asking you to listen.

Understanding The Bullish Case

“It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends on him not understanding it.” Upton Sinclair

Recently, we listened to Stephan Auth, an uber-bullish Chief Investment Officer from Federated Investors, waltz around a bearish argument. Specifically, the interviewer asked how he reconciled his optimism with Shiller’s CAPE10 price to earnings calculation, which currently portends a high valuation, ergo a significant drawdown.

His argument against using Shiller’s CAPE, which compares the current price to the average of earnings from the last ten years, is that the current ten year data set includes poor earnings from the Financial Crisis. His preference is to compare prices to expected future earnings.

While we would like to share in Auth’s optimism, the truth is that prior earnings are a very good predictor of the future earnings, and forward earnings expectations are quite often abused by Wall Street to make stocks appear cheaper. The incentive for this bias is obvious in that people who work on Wall Street make money by selling financial instruments and their analysis is directed toward advancing that purpose.

In this piece, we provide both qualitative and quantitative analysis to take the basis of his arguments to task — namely, his rationale for using unknown earnings expectations versus known historical earnings. Our opinion, as you may surmise by the opening quote, is that such a perspective on valuations is not only wrong but likely the “spin” of a spokesman that makes a much better living when markets are rising.

Flawed Arguments

Before presenting quantitative analysis showing that excluding earnings data from the crisis period does not make stocks cheaper, let us first explain why using long term earnings is appropriate and why recessionary data should be included.

First and foremost, despite what any salesman says, recessions and stretches of declining earnings are commonplace and occur with regularity. Per Wikipedia and the NBER:

The National Bureau of Economic Research dates recessions on a monthly basis back to 1854; according to their chronology, from 1854 to 1919, there were 16 cycles. The average recession lasted 22 months, and the average expansion 27. From 1919 to 1945, there were six cycles; recessions lasted an average 18 months and expansions for 35. From 1945 to 2001, and 10 cycles, recessions lasted an average 10 months and expansions an average of 57 months.

As tracked by the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER), the average period of economic expansion has increased since 1945 to 57 months or 4.75 years. In other words, in any ten-year period chosen at random, there are likely to be two recessionary periods. Recessions are a natural part of the economic cycle and should be expected. Given this fact, is it really analytically irresponsible to factor in recessions and periods of weaker earnings into equity analysis? On the contrary, it is irresponsible to diminish or ignore entirely such periods.

CAPE10 uses ten years of earnings and, in our opinion, provides a long enough period, containing full economic cycles, through which to evaluate future earnings and the premium paid for those earnings. The flaw of CAPE, as pointed out correctly by Auth, is that it is not forward-looking. Unfortunately, forward looking analysis that is not tethered to the past is likely the result of using crystal balls, tarot cards and a good measure of hope. Just ask yourself, how many professional investors and esteemed economists saw the 2008 financial crisis coming in advance? Indeed, former Fed Chairman Bernanke denied the likelihood of a recession four months after it had already begun!

If one thinks the pattern of earnings will change notably in the future, then the value of CAPE analysis is compromised. In Auth’s defense, if one thinks, for example, that earnings will grow at twice the rate seen historically, then valuations may be cheap.

The graph below shows the evolution of earnings growth over the past 100+ years. The upward trend in earnings growth peaked decades ago.  Stephen Auth may have some special insight, but the economic and earnings trends of the past 50 years leave us little reason to suspect that tomorrow will be vastly different than yesterday. Taking it a step further, earnings growth, a record ten years into an economic expansion, is only peaking at the point where prior earnings growth troughed over the last 50 years. More concerning, this is occurring despite a decade of extraordinary monetary and fiscal stimulus.

Data Courtesy Robert Shiller/Yale

Data

If you agree that earnings are likely to take their cue from the past, then we should explore the price-to-earnings ratio using various time frames and not just the “misleading” ten-year CAPE.

In the analysis below, we compare price to earnings from the trailing twelve months (TTM) as denoted in the charts below as well as for terms of three years, five years, seven years, ten years (CAPE), 15 years, and 20 years. The four shortest time frames are void of data from the 2008 crisis or any recessions. The three longest time frames include the crisis, and in the case of the 20-year period also include the recession of 2001.

The graph below shows the minimum and maximum range of the seven P/Es for every given month over the past 100+ years.

Data Courtesy Shiller/Yale

As shown by the horizontal dotted lines, the current lowest (TTM) and highest valuation (20-year) of the seven time-frames are more expensive than all prior valuations except those of the late ‘90s tech bubble. To emphasize, even the “friendliest” of the seven time frame P/Es deem the markets historically expensive.

The graphs below detail current P/E valuations for the seven periods using average and standard deviation from the norm.

Data Courtesy Robert Shiller/Yale

Summary

Investors are paying a high premium for earnings based on a wide spectrum of valuations.  Eliminating data from the financial crisis does not better justify current valuations as we have shown. Rather, it argues for more caution especially given the record-length of the current economic expansion and statistical likelihood that it will end sooner rather than later.

As noted earlier, forward valuations are optically cheap only because hope, expectations, and sales tactics are behind those highly optimistic earnings forecasts, which diverge widely from expected economic growth.

Stocks can certainly go higher, but we must apply analytical rigor to assess the data. History tells us stocks are currently very expensive regardless of which time frame we use to make the comparison. Saying otherwise is shoddy analysis at best and intellectually dishonest at worst.

Fixed Income Review – June 2019

As central banks have become collectively more dovish throughout 2019, monetary stimulus appears to be back in control of the economic cycle. The Federal Reserve ratcheted up their easing posture at the June Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) meeting as one voting member dissented from the group in favor of a rate cut. There were other non-voting members even arguing for a 50 basis point rate cut on concerns about the economic outlook and still muted inflation pressures. Keep in mind this abrupt flip in policy is coming despite unemployment at near half-century lows and inflation hovering around 2.0%, the supposed Fed target.

With that backdrop in play, it is no surprise that June was a good month for all risk assets. Within the Fixed income arena, the riskiest of bonds outperformed against the spectrum of safer fixed-income products. As the table below highlights, every major category performed well with emerging markets (EM) leading the way and investment grade (IG) and high yield (HY) corporate returns close behind.

Fixed income has now completed a “round trip” from June 2018 as yields and spreads in almost every category are back below the levels observed at the same time last year. The tables below illustrate those moves in both yields and spreads.

The anticipation of what is being called “insurance rate cuts” from the Fed as well as easing measures expected from the European Central Bank (ECB), offered investors comfort that these potential actions will keep downside risk and volatility at bay. The hope is that the central bankers are sufficiently ahead of the curve in combating weaker global growth.

Despite investor optimism about the outlook as evidenced in the first half performance, risks remain. Most notably, ongoing deceleration in trade and industrial activity could worsen and bring an end to the current record-long economic U.S. expansion. The United States is surrounded by economies that are faltering, including Canada, Australia, Europe, Japan, much of southeast Asia and, most importantly, China. The Trump trade policy agenda only adds to these risks, especially for those countries dependent on exports for economic growth.

If risks do not abate, then we should expect forceful actions from central bankers. The common response of Treasury yields and the yield curve is for the short end (out to two- or three-year maturities) to drop significantly and the long end to either hold steady or fall but much less so than short rates resulting in what is called a bullish curve steepener. As we discussed in Yesterday’s Perfect Recession Warning May Be Failing You, past episodes of rate cuts illustrate this effect.

With investors complacent, yields and spreads on risky assets back to extremely rich levels, and global trouble brewing, the pleasant by-product of recent Fed rhetoric might quickly be disrupted. If so, the gains of the first half of 2019 would become a vague memory.

Apart from slowing global trade and industrial activity, keep in mind there are plenty of other potentially disruptive issues at hand including China leverage, Brexit, the contentious circumstances between the U.S. and Iran, the Italian government fighting with the European Commission on fiscal issues, Turkish currency depreciation, on-going problems in Argentina and more.

At the moment, the Fed and the ECB appear to have the upper hand on the markets, and higher yielding asset alternatives that reward an investor for taking risk are benefiting. Still, a critical assessment of the current landscape demands that investors engage and think critically about the risk-reward trade-off under current circumstances. The Fed and the ECB are not hyper-cautious and dovish for no reason at all. There is more to the current economic dynamic than meets the passive observer’s eye.

All Data Courtesy Barclays

Cartography Corner – July 2019

J. Brett Freeze and his firm Global Technical Analysis (GTA) provides RIA Pro subscribers Cartography Corner on a monthly basis. Brett’s analysis offers readers a truly unique brand of technical insight and risk framework. We personally rely on Brett’s research to help better gauge market trends, their durability, and support and resistance price levels.

GTA presents their monthly analysis on a wide range of asset classes, indices, and securities. At times the analysis may agree with RIA Pro technical opinions, and other times it will run contrary to our thoughts. Our goal is not to push a single view or opinion, but provide research to help you better understand the markets. Please contact us with any questions or comments.  If you are interested in learning more about GTA’s services, please connect with them through the links provided in the article.

The link below penned by GTA provides a user’s guide and a sample of his analysis.

GTA Users Guide


A Review of June

U.S. Dollar Index Futures  

We begin with a review of U.S. Dollar Index Futures during June 2019. In our June 2019 edition of The Cartography Corner, we wrote the following:

In isolation, monthly support and resistance levels for June are:

  • M4         100.155
  • M1         98.435
  • PMH        98.260
  • M3           98.131
  • Close        97.666
  • M2            97.255           
  • MTrend  97.119
  • PML          96.810                        
  • M5            95.535

Active traders can use 98.260 as the upside pivot, whereby they maintain a long position above that level.  Active traders can use 97.119 as the downside pivot, whereby they maintain a flat or short position below it.

Figure 1 below displays the daily price action for June 2019 in a candlestick chart, with support and resistance levels isolated by our methodology represented as dashed lines.  The first four trading sessions were spent with U.S. Dollar Index Futures breaching our isolated downside pivot levels at M2: 97.255 and the downside pivot (MTrend): 97.119.  On the fifth trading session, the market price closed below May’s low price at PML: 96.810 and sustained below that level for the following four trading sessions.

On June 14th the market price rotated back above May’s low price and, over the next two trading sessions, tested our isolated support levels at MTrend: 97.119 and M2: 97.255, now acting as resistanceThat test failed.

Over the following four trading sessions, U.S. Dollar Index Futures achieved our downside exhaustion level at M5: 95.535.  The final four trading sessions in June were spent with the market price trading slightly above our downside exhaustion level.

The realized error between our isolated downside exhaustion level at M5: 95.535 and June’s low price equaled 0.18%.    

Figure 1:

E-Mini S&P 500 Futures

We continue with a review of E-Mini S&P 500 Futures during June 2019.  In our June 2019 edition of The Cartography Corner, we wrote the following:

In isolation, monthly support and resistance levels for June are:

  • M4                3078.00
  • M1                2966.00
  • PMH             2961.25
  • MTrend        2849.28
  • Close             2752.50     
  • PML               2750.00
  • M2                2655.50     
  • M3                 2556.50    
  • M5                 2543.50

Active traders can use 2750.00 as the pivot, whereby they maintain a long position above that level and a flat or short position below it.

Figure 2 below displays the daily price action for June 2019 in a candlestick chart, with support and resistance levels isolated by our methodology represented as dashed lines.  The first trading session of June saw the market price test our isolated pivot level at PML: 2750.00 intrasession, with the low price for June being realized at 2728.75.  Early weakness was overcome by strength and E-Mini S&P 500 Futures closed higher for the session.  The price action for that day is a good reminder of why market participants should judgmentally emphasize closing levels, relative to upside and downside pivots when initiating positions.  The market price closed within 0.50 points of our isolated pivot, with mechanical shorts suffering a fifty-point loss the following day while those respecting daily closing levels were spared.  

The following four trading sessions were spent with the market price ascending to, and closing above, our first isolated resistance level at MTrend: 2849.28.  The following ten trading sessions saw the market price continue its ascent, with our clustered resistance levels at PMH: 2961.25 and M1: 2966.00 being achieved and slightly exceeded intrasession on June 21stHowever, the market price did not close above those levels.

The final five trading sessions saw the market price pull back from (three sessions) and re-approach (two sessions) our clustered resistance levels.

Figure 2:


July 2019 Analysis

We begin by providing a monthly time-period analysis of E-Mini S&P 500 Futures.  The same analysis can be completed for any time-period or in aggregate.

Trends:

  • Current Settle         2944.25       
  • Daily Trend             2931.61
  • Weekly Trend         2923.12       
  • Monthly Trend        2872.83       
  • Quarterly Trend      2727.50

In our June 2019 edition of The Cartography Corner, we wrote the following:

We would like to bring your attention to two important points with respect to the Trend Levels.  First, the relative positioning of the trend levels is beginning to align in a very bearish manner.  Daily is below Weekly.  Weekly is below Monthly.  The final alignment that would increase our concern further is to have Quarterly at the top of the order.  The second point is that June Monthly Trend rose relative to May Monthly Trend.  The significance of this is that it informs us that there remain many “trapped” longs at prices 3.5% higher than the current settlement price.  May’s weakness introduced significant pressure on them.

What a difference a month’s price action can make.  The relative positioning of the Trend Levels, as shown above, is aligned in the most bullish posture possible.

In the quarterly time-period, the chart shows that E-Mini S&P 500 Futures are in “Consolidation”.  Stepping down one level in time-period, the monthly chart shows that E-Mini S&P 500 Futures are in “Consolidation”.  Stepping down to the weekly time-period, the chart shows that E-Mini S&P 500 Futures have been “Trend Up” for four weeks.

Within the context of the market price relative to the trend levels and the relative positioning of the trend levels to one another, technical analysis of E-Mini S&P 500 Futures is bullish.  The need for a two-month high that we highlighted in last month’s commentary was realized in June.

Facts are facts… and the fact is that the market is not sustaining weakness.  It is a trader’s market, prone to swift and violent price swings.  We are not abandoning our idea of being in the time window for a sustained reversal to occur.  However, we are increasing our respect for the possibility of continued strength.

There are two facets of this market that we are certain of:

  1. Energy is building and a large and sustained move is imminent.
  2. Our analysis will accurately identify the landmarks along the way.

Support/Resistance:

In isolation, monthly support and resistance levels for July are:

  • M4                3188.50
  • M3                3136.00
  • M1                2977.25
  • PMH              2969.25
  • Close             2944.25     
  • MTrend        2872.83
  • PML               2728.75     
  • M2                 2707.50    
  • M5                 2496.25

Active traders can use 2977.25 as the pivot, whereby they maintain a long position above that level and a flat or short position below it.

Investment Grade Corporate Bond ETF

For the month of July, we focus on the Investment Corporate Bond ETF.  We provide a monthly time-period analysis of LQD.  The same analysis can be completed for any time-period or in aggregate.

Trends:

  • Current Settle        124.37          
  • Daily Trend            123.90
  • Weekly Trend        122.90          
  • Monthly Trend       120.69          
  • Quarterly Trend     117.42

As can be seen in the quarterly chart below, LQD is in “Consolidation”.  Stepping down one time-period, the monthly chart shows that LQD has been “Trend Up” for six months.  Stepping down to the weekly time-period, the chart shows that LQD has been “Trend Up” for seven weeks.

Support/Resistance:

In isolation, monthly support and resistance levels for July are:

  • M4         130.59
  • M1         128.04
  • M3           127.91
  • PMH       124.44
  • Close        124.37
  • M2           122.54
  • MTrend   120.69             
  • PML          120.41                        
  • M5            119.99

Active traders can use 124.44 as the upside pivot, whereby they maintain a long position above that level.  Active traders can use 122.54 as the downside pivot, whereby they maintain a flat or short position below it.

Technical analysis of LQD is bullish.  Having said that, there are bearish technical factors to be cognizant of.  The condition was met on a quarterly basis in 1Q2019 that makes us anticipate a two-quarter low within the next three to five quarters.  That can be achieved this quarter with a trade below 112.78.  The condition was also met on a monthly basis in January 2019 that makes us anticipate a two-month low in July.  That can be achieved this month with a trade below 118.29.  Lastly, the condition was met on a weekly basis, the week of May 27th that makes us anticipate a two-week low within the next two weeks.  That can be achieved this week with a trade below 121.62.

Figure 3:

Figure 3 above displays an LQD monthly candlestick chart for the period of January 2005 through June 2019.  Inversely overlaid is the spread between Moody’s Seasoned Baa Corporate Bond Yields and the Bank Prime Rate, measured in basis points.  As Charles Gave explains:

“Artificially depressed prime rates below the natural rate of corporate credit have allowed banks to generate ‘artificial’ money, kept zombie companies alive, but most of all permitted most viable corporations to engage in ‘financial engineering’ such as issuing debt to repurchase stocks, all of which are predicated on cheap borrowing costs continuing indefinitely, the risk, of course, is that the credit-funded party ends once the curve inverts… When the private sector curve inverts, the zombie companies will fail, capital spending will be cut, workers will be laid off, and the economy will move into recession.”

In 2006, the spread reached a trough of -205 basis points.  We believe that the spread today, currently at -103 basis points will not be able to reach the 2006 level.  We also believe the pending market repricing in LQD could be much more exaggerated than the thirty-three-point decline experienced during the Great Financial Crisis.  We ask that you reflect upon the following:

  • In 2006, the Bank Prime Rate equaled 8.25% and Moody’s Seasoned Baa Corporate Bonds yielded 6.20%. Today those levels are 5.50% and 4.47%, respectively.  (Our next step is to normalize the spread relative to rate levels.)
  • The size of the corporate bond market in 2006 totaled $4.9 trillion. As of the end of 2018, it totaled $9.2 trillion.
  • As detailed by Michael Lebowitz in The Corporate Maginot Line, “50% of BBB companies, based solely on leverage, are at levels typically associated with lower rated companies. If 50% of BBB-rated bonds were to get downgraded, it would entail a shift of $1.30 trillion bonds to junk status. To put that into perspective, the entire junk market today is less than $1.25 trillion, and the subprime mortgage market that caused so many problems in 2008 peaked at $1.30 trillion.

Summary

The power of technical analysis is in its ability to reduce multi-dimensional markets into a filtered two-dimensional space of price and time.  Our methodology applies a consistent framework that identifies key measures of trend, distinct levels of support and resistance, and identification of potential trading ranges.  Our methodology can be applied to any security or index, across markets, for which we can attain a reliable price history.  We look forward to bringing you our unique brand of technical analysis and insight into many different markets.  If you are a professional market participant and are open to discovering more, please connect with us.  We are not asking for a subscription, we are asking you to listen.

Profiting From A Steepening Yield Curve

What is the yield curve and what does it mean for the economy and the markets?

Over the last few months, the financial media has obsessed on those questions. Given the yield curve’s importance, especially considering the large amount of debt being carried by individuals, corporations, and the government, we do not blame them. In fact, we have given our two cents quite a few times on what a flattening and inversion of various yield curves may be signaling. Taking our analysis a step further, we now look at investment ideas designed to take advantage of expected changes in the yield curve.

An inversion of the 2yr/10yr Treasury yield curve, where yields on 10-year Treasury notes are lower than those of 2-year Notes, has accurately predicted the last five recessions. This makes yield curve signaling significant, especially now. It is important to note that in the five prior instances of yield curve inversions, the recession actually started when, or shortly after, the yield curve started to steepen to a more normal positive slope following the inversion. In our opinion, the steepening, and not the flattening or inversion of the curve, is the recession indicator.  

As discussed in Yesterday’s Perfect Recession Warning May Be Failing You, we believe the 2yr/10yr curve may not invert before the next recession. It may have already troughed at a mere 0.11 basis points on December 19, 2018. If we are correct, the only recession warning investors will get could be the aforementioned curve steepening. Another widely followed curve spread, the yield difference between 3-month Treasury bills and 10-year Treasury notes, recently inverted and troughed at -25 basis points, which makes the likelihood of a near-term recession significant.

The remainder of this article focuses on REITs (real-estate investment trusts). Within this sector lies an opportunity that should benefit if the yield curve steepens, which we noted has occurred after an initial curve inversion and just before the onset of the last five recessions.  

What is an Agency Mortgage REIT?

REITs are companies that own income-producing real estate and/or the debt backing real estate. REITs tend to pay higher than normal dividends as they are legally required to pay out at least 90% of their taxable profits to shareholders annually. Therefore, ownership of REIT common equity requires that investors analyze the underlying assets and liabilities of the REIT to assess the potential flow of income, and thus dividends, in the future.  

The most popular types of REITs are called equity REITs. These REITs own equity in apartments and office buildings, shopping centers, hotels and a host of other property types. There is a smaller class of REITs, known as mortgage REITs (mREITs), which own the debt (mortgages) on real-estate properties. Within this sector is a subset known as Agency mREITs (AmREITs) that predominately own securitized residential mortgages guaranteed against default by Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, Ginnie Mae and ultimately the U.S. government.

From an investor’s point of view, a key distinguishing characteristic between equity REITs and mREITs is their risk profiles.  The shareholders of equity REITs are chiefly concerned with vacancy rates, rental rates, and property values.  Most mREIT shareholders, on the other hand, worry about credit risk and interest rate risk. Interest risk is the yield spread between borrowing rates and the return on assets. AmREITS that solely own agency guaranteed mortgages assume no credit risk as timely payment of principal and interest is advanced by the security issuer (again either Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, or Ginnie Mae, all of whom are essentially government guaranteed). Therefore, returns on AmREITs are heavily influenced by interest rate risk. Almost all REITs employ leverage, which enhances returns but adds another layer of risk.

Agency mREITs

Earnings for AmREITs are primarily the product of two sources; the amount of net income (yield on mortgages they hold less the cost of debt and hedging) and the amount of leverage.

A typical AmREIT is funded with equity financing and debt. The capital is used to purchase government-guaranteed mortgages. Debt funding allows them to leverage equity. For example, if a REIT bought $5 of assets with $1 of equity capital and $4 of debt, they would be considered 5x leveraged (5/1). Leverage is one way REITs enhance returns.

The second common way they enhance returns is to run a duration gap. A duration gap means the REIT is borrowing in shorter maturities and investing in long maturities. A 2-year duration gap implies the REIT has an average duration of their liabilities that is two years less than the duration of their assets. To better manage the duration gap and the associated risks, REIT portfolio managers hedge their portfolios. 

The Fed’s Next Move and AmREITs

With that bit of knowledge, now consider the Fed’s quickly changing policy stance, how the yield curve might perform going forward, and the potential impact on REITs.

Recent speeches from various Fed members including Chairman Powell and Vice Chairman Clarida are leading us and most market participants to believe the Fed could lower rates as early as the July 31st FOMC meeting. Most often, yield curves steepen when, or shortly before, the Fed starts lowering rates. While still too early to declare that the yield curve has troughed, it has risen meaningfully from recent lows and is now the steepest it has been since November of 2018.  

If we are correct that the Fed reduces the Fed Funds rate and the yield curve steepens, then AmREITs should benefit as their borrowing costs fall more than the yields of their assets. Further, if convinced of a steepening event, portfolio managers might reduce their hedging activity to further boost income. The book value of AmREITs have a strong positive correlation with the yield curve, and as a result, the book value per share of AmREITs should increase as the curve steepens.

The following two graphs compare the shape of the 2yr/10yr yield curve versus the book value per share for the two largest AmREITs, Annaly Capital Management (NLY) and AGNC Investment Corporation (AGNC). The third and fourth graphs below show the same data in scatter plots to appreciate the correlation better. The current level of book value per share and yield curve is represented by the orange blocks in each scatter plot. Statistically speaking, a one percent steepening of the yield curve should increase the book value per share by approximately $2 for both stocks. Given both stocks have dividend yields in the low double-digits, any book value appreciation that results in price appreciation would make a good return, great.

Data Courtesy Bloomberg

While a steepening yield curve will likely create more spread income and thus a higher book value for these REITs, we must also consider the role of leverage and the premium or discount to book value that investors are currently paying.  

  • NLY is employing 8.2x leverage, which is slightly higher than their average of 7.6x since 2010, but less than their 20+ year average of 9.94.
  • AGNC uses more leverage at 10.2x, which is higher than their average of 8.8x since 2010. The REIT was formed in late 2008, therefore we do not have as much data as NLY. 
  • NLY trades at a discounted price to book value of .94, slightly below their historical average
  • AGNC also trades at a discounted level of .92 and below their historical average.

The risks of buying AGNC or NLY are numerous.

  • We may be wrong about the timing of rate cuts and the curve may continue to invert, which would decrease book value. In such a case, we may see the book value decline, and potentially even more damaging, the discount to book value decreases further, harming shareholders.
  • Even if we are right and the yield curve steepens and the REITs asset/liability spreads widen, we run the risk that investors are nervous about real-estate going into recession and REITs trade to deeper discounts to book value and effectively offset any price appreciation due to the increase in book value.
  • Leverage is easy to maintain when markets are liquid; however, as we saw a decade ago, REITs were forced to sell assets and reduce leverage which can also negatively affect earnings and dividends. It is worth noting that NLY had an average of 12.90x leverage in 2007, which is significantly larger than their current 8.20x.

Summary

Despite double-digit dividend yields and the cushion such high dividends provide, buying NLY or AGNC is not a guaranteed home run. The two REITs introduce numerous risks as mentioned.  That said, these firms and other smaller AmREITs, offer investors a way to take advantage of a steepening yield curve while avoiding an earnings slowdown that may hamper many stocks in an economic downturn.

While NLY and AGNC are in the same industry, they use different portfolio tactics to express their views. As such, if you are interested in the sector, we recommend diversifying among these two companies and others to help reduce idiosyncratic portfolio risks. We also recommend investors assess the IShares Mortgage Real ETF (REM). Its two largest holdings, accounting for over 25% of the ETF, are NLY and AGNC.  It is worth noting however, this ETF introduces risks not found in the AmREITs. The ETF holds the shares of mortgage REITs that contain non-guaranteed mortgages as well as mortgages on commercial properties.