Posts

December 20, 2019

Global Market Comments
December 20, 2019
Fiat Lux

Featured Trade:

(DECEMBER 18 BIWEEKLY STRATEGY WEBINAR Q&A),
(BA), (CRSP), (BABA), (GLD), (PANW), (VIX), (VXX)

December 16, 2019

Global Market Comments
December 16, 2019
Fiat Lux

Featured Trade:

(MARKET OUTLOOK FOR THE WEEK AHEAD, or THE GOOD NEWS IS OUT)
(FXI), (AAPL), (FXB), (VIX), (USO), (BABA), (NSC), (MSFT), (GOOGL)

December 6, 2019

Global Market Comments
December 6, 2019
Fiat Lux

Featured Trade:

 

(DECEMBER 4 BIWEEKLY STRATEGY WEBINAR Q&A),
(SPY), (TSLA), (TLT), (BABA), (CCI), (VIX)

October 9, 2019

Global Market Comments
October 9, 2019
Fiat Lux

Featured Trade:

(HOW FINTECH IS EATING THE BANKS’ LUNCH),
(BAC), (C), (WFC), (SQ), (PYPL),
 (WCAGY), (FISV), (INTU), (BABA),

How Fintech is Eating the Banks’ Lunch

It was another dreadful DAY for the banks. All bank shares are now down in 2019 with the sole exception of JP Morgan, which is up a modest 10% since January 1. Although their core business is good, the share price hasn’t even bothered to mail it in.

So, I thought it would be time to take another look at what is disrupting the 200-year-old business model of this sector. And that would be Fintech, shorthand for Financial Technology.

To say that fintech was gobbling up the financial industry’s lunch would be a vast understatement. But here’s the problem. Fintech is taking over the world one transaction at a time in an industry that sees billions of transactions a year. The change is almost invisible. If someone were blowing up bank branches on a large scale this would be a far easier trend to see, but the net effect is the same.

The potential market is enormous. While the world’s physical money totals $5 trillion, actual assets controlled by banks today total a staggering $90 trillion.

Why this is all happening now is due to a confluence of several independent technologies. The number of people on the Internet has soared from 1.8 billion in 2010 to 4 billion today, to 8 billion by 2024.

Smartphone usage is diffusing at a similar rate. The roll out of 5G wireless assures that all communications will occur seamlessly, quickly, including financial transactions. Blockchain is enabling encryption on an industrial scale.

This has enabled the rise of a number of online firms over just the last few years that are rapidly taking over a number of traditional banking functions.

So far, the greatest impact has been overseas. Many countries that lack banking infrastructure are leapfrogging straight to mobile. It makes a ton of sense. Poor countries lack the capital to build expensive branch networks to raise fund, and the expertise on how to invest the deposits once in hand.

Good Money (https://goodmoney.com ) is an example of the new online banks that have burst onto the scene. The company offers depositors a generous 1.8% interest rate on overnight funds. Legacy banks are still paying close to zero, even though the Fed has raised rates seven times in three years.

US banks charge an average of $400 in fees a year for a full-service account. Good Money charges nothing. 

You will never know where the money goes when you place it with Citibank (C), Bank of America (BAC) or Wells Fargo (WFC). At Good Money, you can specify that your funds be lent to a certain industry or even a specific company. While this means nothing to you or me, it is important issue to oriented Millennials.

Such efforts are called Crowdlending. It first took off in the US with startups like Prosper and Lending Club in the mid 2000s. We’re not talking small potatoes here, or a market that might develop someday. In 2018, some 22,000 businesses extended $380 billion in such loans.

There are other big markets ripe for disruption. I had to pay a Filipino developer $500 for some work he did on my website. Wells Fargo wanted to charge me $50 and the wire transfer would have taken a week. An outfit called Payoneer, Israel-based, did it for $5 and it took 5 seconds.

Wire transfer fees are in fact a global industry worth billions of dollars a year that is there for the taking. The SWIFT international transfer network alone processes some 24 million transactions per day.

It may not surprise many of you that China already has a huge lead in this area. It’s logical since their established banking system is primitive at best. China has three times more mobile phones than the US, five times more Internet customers, sees 10 times more eat-out orders, and 50 times more mobile transactions. In a future where data is currency, this is huge.

Ant Financial, an affiliate of Alibaba (BABA), is in the forefront, facilitating an eye-popping $8 trillion worth of transactions in 2017. Using artificial intelligence to scour public records for past borrowing, income, education, web surfing preferences, and even political leanings, smart finance can use artificial intelligence to gin up a quickie FICO score and generate a new $200 micro loan in as little as eight seconds.

Bank of America eat your heart out.

What gives the Chinese such an advantage here is their huge market, with some 800 million online participants. The money Ant Financial makes isn’t important now. It’s the digitized data they’re collecting and the way it can be manipulated with artificial intelligence. That gives them immense market power. Remember, in the new world, data is the new currency and the Chinese are creating more than we ever will.

The problem with early, under-the-radar but broad-ranging trends, it can be tough to flesh out pure investment plays. Listed liquid tradable stocks are few and far between. You can simply go out and buy Square (SQ) and PayPal (PYPL) and you’d be half the way there in getting some good exposure.

Here’s the problem with that plan. PayPal has tripled in the last two years, while Square has gone ballistic with a 2,000% gain. I expect further appreciation from here, but those ships have already sailed.

A better way to participate might be the Global X Fintech Thematic ETF (FINX), granted you have all the usual problems with specialized ETFs here such as liquidity, high management fees, and tracking error. But you do get exposure to a number of companies that are either domiciled abroad or are not yet publicly listed.

The five largest holdings of (FINX) include Square (SQ), Wirecard AG (WCAGY), Temenos Group AG, Fiserve Inc (FISV), and Intuit (INTU).

You could also simply buy Alibaba. However, as long as America’s trade war with China continues, all Chinese stocks will perform poorly. Given the stubbornness of both sides, the earliest that can happen is January, 2021.

To learn more about (FINX), please go to the manager’s website by clicking here.

 

 

 

 

 

Days Gone By

October 1, 2019

Global Market Comments
October 1, 2019
Fiat Lux

Featured Trade:

(LAUNCHING THE NEW MAD HEDGE BIOTECH AND HEALTHCARE LETTER)
(THE NEW AI BOOK THAT INVESTORS ARE SCRAMBLING FOR),
(GOOG), (FB), (AMZN), MSFT), (BABA), (BIDU),
(TENCENT), (TSLA), (NVDA), (AMD), (MU), (LRCX)

The New AI Book That Investors are Scrambling For

A better headline for this piece would be “The Future of You,” as artificial intelligence is about to become so integral to your work, your investment portfolio, and even your very existence that you won’t be able to live without it quite literally.

Well, do I have some great news for you. A blockbuster book about the state of play on all things AI was released in September last year, and I managed to obtain and read a copy before it was released. The title is AI Superpowers: China, Silicon Valley, and the New World Order by Dr. Kai-Fu Lee.

The bottom line: The future is even more unbelievable than you remotely imagined. We are in the very early days of this giant megatrend, and the investment opportunities will be nothing less than spectacular.

And here is a barn burner. The price of AI is dropping fast as hundreds of thousands of new programmers pour into the field. Those $10 million signing bonuses are about to become a thing of the past.

Dr. Lee is certainly someone to take seriously. He obtained one of the first PhDs in AI from Carnegie Mellon University. He was the president of Google (GOOG) China and put in stints at Microsoft (MSFT) and Apple (AAPL). Today, he is the CEO of Sinovation Ventures, the largest AI venture capital firm in China, and is a board director of Alibaba (BABA).

AI is nothing more than deep learning, or super pattern recognition. Dr. Lee dates the onset of artificial intelligence to 1952 when an IBM mainframe computer learned to play checkers and beat human opponents. By 1955, it learned to develop strategies on its own.

Dr. Lee sees the AI field ultimately divided into two spheres of dominance, the U.S. and China. No one else is devoting a fraction of the resources needed to become a serious player. The good news is that Russia and Iran are nowhere in the game.

While the U.S. dominates in the original theory and algorithms that founded AI, China is about to take the lead in applications. It can do this because it has access to mountains of data that dwarf those available in America. China processes three times more mobile phones, five times more Internet customers, 10 times more eat-out orders, and 50 times more mobile transactions. In a future where data is the currency, this is huge.

The wake-up call for China in applications took place two years ago when U.S. and Korean AI programs beat grandmasters in the traditional Chinese game of Go. Long a goal of AI programmers, this great leap forward took place 20 years earlier than had been anticipated. This created an AI stampede in the Middle Kingdom that led to the current bubble.

The result has been applications that are still in the realm of science fiction in the U.S. The Chinese equivalent of eBay (EBAY), Taobao, doesn’t charge fees because its customer base is so big it can remain profitable on ad revenues only. Want to be more beautiful in your selfies sent to friends? A Chinese app will do that for you, Beauty Plus.

The Chinese equivalent of Yelp, Dianping, has 600,000 deliverymen on mopeds. The number of takeout meals is so vast that it has been able to drop delivery costs from $6 a meal to 60 cents. As a result, traditional restaurants are dying out in China.

Teachers in Chinese schools no longer take attendance. Students are checked off when they enter the classroom by facial recognition software. And heaven help you if you jaywalk in a Chinese city. Similar software will automatically issue you a citation with a fine and send it to your home.

Credit card fraud is actually on the decline in China as dubious transactions are blocked by facial matching software. The bank simply calls you, asks you to look into your phone, takes your picture, and then matches it with the image they have on file.

Dr. Lee sees AI unfolding in four waves, and there are currently companies operating in every one of these (see graph below):

1) Internet AI

The creation of black boxes and specialized algorithms that opened the door to monetizing code. This was the path for today’s giants that dominate online commerce, Google (GOOG), Amazon (AMZN), JD.com (JD), and Facebook (FB). Alibaba (BABA), Baidu (BIDU), and Tencent followed.

2) Business AI

Think big data. This is the era we just entered where massive data from online customers, financial transactions, and healthcare led to the writing of new algorithms that maximize profitability. Suddenly, companies can turn magic knobs to achieve desired goals, such as stepping up penetration or monetization.

3) Perception AI

Using trillions of sensors worldwide, analog data on any movement, facial expression, sound, and image are converted into digital data and then mined for conclusions by more advanced algorithms. Cameras are suddenly everywhere. Amazon’s Alexa is the first step in this process, where your conversations are recorded and then mined for keywords about your every want and desire.

Think of autonomous fast food where you walk in your local joint and it immediately recognizes you, offers you your preferred dishes, and then auto bills your online account for your purchase. Amazon has already done this with a Whole Foods store in Seattle.

4) Autonomous AI

Think every kind of motion. AI will get applied to autonomous driving, local shuttles, factory forklifts, assembly lines, and inspections of every kind. Again, data and processing demand take an enormous leap upward. Tesla (TSLA), Waymo (GOOG), and Uber are already very active in this field.

The book focuses a lot on the future of work. Dr. Lee creates a four-part scatter chart predicting the viability of several types of skills based on optimization, compassion, creativity, and strategy (see below).

If you are a truck driver, in customer support, or a dishwasher, or engage in any other repetitive and redundant profession, your outlook is grim. If you can supplement AI, such as a CEO, economist, or marketing head, you’ll do fine. People who can do what AI can’t, such as teachers and artists, will prosper.

The Investment Angle

There have been only two ways to invest in AI until now. You can buy shares in any of the seven giants above whose shares have already risen for 100- or 1,000-fold.

You can invest in the nets and bolts parts providers, such as NVIDIA (NVDA), Advanced Micro Devices (AMD), Micron Technology (MU), and Lam Research (LRCX), which provide the basic building blocks for the Internet infrastructure.

Fortunately for our paid subscribers, the Mad Hedge Trade Alert Service caught all of these very early.

What’s missing is the “in-between companies,” which are out of your reach because they are locked up in university labs or venture capital funds. Many of these never see the light of day as public companies because they get taken over by the tech giants above. It’s effectively a closed club that won’t let outsiders in. It’s a dilemma that vexes any serious technology investor.

When quantum computing arrives in a decade, you can take all the functionality above and multiply it by a trillion-fold, while costs drop a similar amount. That’s when things really get interesting. But then, I’ve seen trillion-fold increases in technology before.

I hope I live to see another.

 

 

 

 

Personally, I Prefer the Original

September 20, 2019

Global Market Comments
September 20, 2019
Fiat Lux

Featured Trade:

(SEPTEMBER 18 BIWEEKLY STRATEGY WEBINAR Q&A),
(TLT), (FDX), (FB), (HYG), (JNK), (EEM), (BABA), (JD), (TBT), (FXE), (UUP), (AMZN), (FB), (DIS), (MSFT), (USO), (INDU),
(THE GREAT TRADING GURU SPEAKS)

September 18 Biweekly Strategy Webinar Q&A

Below please find subscribers’ Q&A for the Mad Hedge Fund Trader September 18 Global Strategy Webinar broadcast from Silicon Valley, CA with my guest and co-host Bill Davis of the Mad Day Trader. Keep those questions coming!

Q: What would happen to the United States Treasury Bond Fund (TLT) if the Fed does not lower rates?

A: My bet is that it would immediately have a selloff—probably several points—but after that, recession worries will take bond prices up again and yields down. I don’t think we have seen the final lows in interest rates by a long shot. That’s why I bought the (TLT) last week.

Q: Is it good to buy FedEx (FDX) considering the 13% fall today?

A: I use the 3-day rule on these situations. That’s how long it takes for the dust to settle from an earnings shock like this and find the real price. The problem with FedEx is that it’s a great early recession predictor. When the number of delivered packages decreases, it’s always an indicator that the economy as a whole is slowing down, which we know has been happening. It’s one of the most cyclical stocks out there, therefore one of the most dangerous. I wouldn’t bother with FedEx right now. Go take a long nap instead.

Q: Would you be a buyer of Facebook (FB) here, given they seem to have weathered all the recent attacks from Washington?

A: Not here in particular, but I would buy it 20% down when it gets to the bottom edge of its upward channel—it still looks like it’s going crazy. They’re literally renting or buying buildings to hire an additional 50,000 people in San Francisco anticipating huge growth of their business, so that’s a better indicator of the future of Facebook than anything.

Q: Will junk bonds be more in demand now that rates are cratering?

A: Junk bonds (HYG), (JNK) are driven more by the stock market than the bond market, as you can see in the huge rally we just had. Junk bonds are great because their default ratios are usually far below that which the interest rate implies, but you really have to trade them like stocks. Think of them as preferred stocks with really high dividends. When the stock market tops, so will junk bonds. Remember in 2008, junk yields got all the way up to 15% compared to today’s 5.6%.

Q: What will happen to emerging markets (EEM) as rates lower?

A: If lower interest rates bring a weaker US dollar, that would be very positive for emerging markets over the long term and they would be a great buy. However, emerging markets will take the hardest hit if we actually do go into a recession. So, I would pass for now.

Q: What are your thoughts on Alibaba (BABA) and JD.com (JD)?

A: They are great for the long term. However, expect a lot of volatility in the short term. As long as the trade war is going on, these are going to be hard to trade until we get a settlement. (JD) is already up 50% this year but is still down 40% from pre trade war levels. These things will all be up 20-30% when that happens. If you can take the heat until then, they would probably be okay for a long-term portfolio globally diversified.

Q: What do you have to say about the ProShares Ultra Short 20+ Year Treasury ETF (TBT)—the short bond ETF?

A: If you have a position, I’d be selling now. We just had a massive 20%, 4-point rally from $22 to $27 and now would be a good time to take a profit, or at least get out closer to your cost. The zero interest rates story is not over yet.

Q: Would you short the US dollar?

A: I would most likely short it against the euro (FXE), which now has a massive economic stimulus and quantitative easing program coming into play which should be positive for it and negative for the US dollar (UUP). That’s most likely why the euro has stabilized over the last couple of weeks. That said, the dollar has been unexpected high all year despite falling interest rates so I have been avoiding the entire foreign exchange space. I try to stay away from things I don’t understand.

Q: If all our big tech September vertical bull call spreads are in the money, what should we do?

A: You do nothing. They all expire at the Friday close in two trading days. Your broker should automatically use your long call position to cover your short call position and credit your account with the total profit on the following Monday, as well as release the margin for holding that position. After that, we’ll probably wait for another good entry point on all the same names, (AMZN), (FB), (DIS), (MSFT).

Q: If the US fires a cruise missile at Iran, how would the market react?

A: It would selloff pretty big—markets hate wars. And the US wouldn’t send one missile at Iran; it would be more like 100, probably aimed at what little nuclear facilities they have. I doubt that is going to happen. The world has figured out that Trump is a wimp. He talks big but there is never any action or follow through. Inviting the Taliban to Camp David while they were still blowing up our people? Really?

Q: Will the housing market turn on the turbochargers after this dip in rates?

A: It wouldn’t turn on the turbochargers, but it might stabilize the market because money is available now at unprecedentedly low interest rates. However, we still have the loss of the SALT deductions—the state and local taxes and real estate taxes that came in with the Trump tax bill. Since then, real estate has been either unchanged or has fallen on both the East and West coast where the highest priced houses are. It’s the most expensive houses that take the loss of the SALT deduction the hardest. Don’t expect any movement in these markets until the SALT deduction comes back, probably in 16 months.

Q: What catalyst do you think would cause a 10% correction in the next 2-3 months?

A: Trump basically saying “screw you” to the Chinese—a tweet saying he’s going to bring another round of tariff increases. That’s worth a minimum of 2,000 points in the Dow Average (INDU), or about 7% percent. Either that or no move in Fed interest rates—that would also create a big selloff. My guess is that and adverse development in the trade war will be what does it. That’s why my positions are so small now.

Q: We have a big short position in the United States Oil Fund (USO) now. Are you going to run this into expiration until October $18?

A: Even though oil has already collapsed by 10% since we put this position on last Friday, premiums in oil options are still close to record levels. So, it pays us to hang on for the time decay. The world is still massively oversupplied in oil and the Saudis were able to bring half of the lost production back on in a day. Oil will keep falling unless there is another attack and it is unlikely we will see one again on this scale. And, we only have 20 more days to go to capture the full 14.8% profit.

Good luck and good trading.
John Thomas
CEO & Publisher
Diary of a Mad Hedge Fund Trader

 

 

 

 

You Can’t Do Enough Research

July 15, 2019

Mad Hedge Technology Letter
July 15, 2019
Fiat Lux

Featured Trade:

(HOW SOFTBANK IS TAKING OVER THE US VENTURE CAPITAL BUSINESS),
(SFTBY), (BABA), (GRUB), (WMT), (GM), (GS)