Posts

April 8, 2019

Global Market Comments
April 8, 2019
Fiat Lux

Featured Trade:

(MARKET OUTLOOK FOR THE WEEK AHEAD, OR THE FLIP-FLOPPING MARKET),
(SPY), (TLT), (TSLA), (BA), (LUV), (DAL)

The Market Outlook for the Week Ahead, or the Flip-Flopping Market

Easy come easy go.

Flip flop, flip flop.

Up until March 25, the bond market was discounting a 2019 recession. Bonds soared and stocks ground sideways. Exactly on that day, it pushed that recession out a year to 2020.

For that was the day that bond prices hit a multiyear peak and ten-year US Treasury yields (TLT) plunged all the way to 2.33%. Since then, interest rates have gone straight up, to 2.52% as of today.

There was also another interesting turn of the calendar. Markets now seem to be discounting economic activity a quarter ahead. So, the 20% nosedive we saw in stocks in Q4 anticipated a melting Q1 for the economy, which is thought to come in under 1%.

What happens next? A rebounding stock market in Q2 is expecting an economic bounce back in Q2 and Q3. What follows is anyone’s guess. Either continuing trade wars drag us back into a global recession and the stock market gives up the $4,500 points it just gained.

Or the wars end and we continue with a slow 2% GDP growth rate and the market grinds up slowly, maybe 5% a year.

Which leads us to the current quandary besieging strategists and economists around the world. Why is the government pressing for large interest rate cuts in the face of a growing economy and joblessness at record lows?

Of course, you have to ask the question of “what does the president know that we don’t.” The only conceivable reason for a sharp cut in interest rates during “the strongest economy in American history” is that the China trade talks are not going as well as advertised.

In fact, they might not be happening at all. Witness the ever-failing deadlines that always seem just beyond grasp. The proposed rate cut might be damage control in advance of failed trade talks that would certainly lead to a stock market crash, the only known measure of the administration view of the economy.

This also explains why politicization of the Fed is moving forward at an unprecedented rate. You can include political hack Stephen Moore who called for interest rate RISES during the entire eight years of the Obama administration but now wants them taken to zero in the face of an exploding national debt. There is also presidential candidate Herman Cain.

Both want the US to return to the gold standard which will almost certainly cause another Great Depression (that’s why we went off it last time, first in 1933 and finally in 1971). The problem with gold is that it’s finite. Economic growth would be tied to the amount of new gold mined every year where supplies have been FALLING for a decade.

The problem with politicization of the Fed is that once the genie is out of the bottle, it is out for good. BOTH parties will use interest rates to manipulate election outcomes in perpetuity. The independence of the Fed will be a thing of the past.

It has suddenly become a binary world. It either is, or it isn’t.

Positive China rumors lifted markets all week. Is this the upside breakout we’ve been looking for? Buy (FXI). While US markets are up 12% so far in 2019, Chinese ones have doubled that.

The Semiconductor Index, far and away the most China-sensitive sector of the market, hit a new all-time high. Advanced Micro Devices (AMD), a Mad Hedge favorite, soared 9% in one day. It’s the future so why not? This is in the face of semiconductor demand and prices that are still collapsing. Buy dips.

Verizon beat the world with its surprise 5G rollout. It’s really all about bragging rights as it is available only in Chicago and Minneapolis and it will take time for 5G phones to get to the store. 5G iPhones are not expected until 2020. Still, I can’t WAIT to download the next Star Wars movie on my phone in only ten seconds.

US auto sales were terrible in Q1, the worst quarter in a decade, and continue to die a horrible death. General Motors (GM) suffered a 7% decline, with Silverado pickups off 16% and Suburban SUVs plunging 25%. Is this a prelude to the Q1 GDP number? Risk is rising. You have to wonder how much electric cars are eating their lunch, which now accounts for 4% of all new US sales.

Tesla (TSLA) disappointed big time, and the stock dove $30. Q1 deliveries came in at only 63,000 as I expected, compared to 90,700 in Q4, down 30.5%. I knew it would be a bad number but got squeezed out of my short the day before for a small loss. That’s show business. It’s all about damping the volatility of profits.

By cutting the electric car subsidy by half from $7,500 in 2019 and to zero in 2020, the administration seems intent on putting Tesla out of business at any cost. I hear the company has installed a revolving door at its Fremont headquarters to facilitate the daily visits by the Justice Department and the SEC. Did I mention that the oil industry sees Tesla as an existential threat?

The March Nonfarm Payroll Report rebounded to a healthy 196,000, just under the 110-month average. Weekly Jobless Claims dropped to New 49-Year Low. Whatever the problems the economy has, it’s not with job creation. But at what cost? Of course, we have to cut interest rates!

Boeing successfully tested new software, even taking the CEO for a ride. Maybe it will work this time. Airlines will love it. (BA) shares have already made back half their $80 losses since the recent crash and we caught the entire move. Buy (BA), (DAL), and (LUV).

The Mad Hedge Fund Trader hit a new all-time high briefly, up 15.46% year to date, and beating the pants off the Dow Average. Good thing I didn’t buy the bearish argument. There’s too much cash floating around the world. However, my downside hedges in Disney and Tesla cost me some money when I stopped out. I was late by a day.

We are taking profits on a six-month peak of 13 positions across the GTD and Tech Letter services and will wait for markets to tell us what to do next.

March turned positive in a final burst, up +1.78%.  April is so far down -1.76%. My 2019 year to date return retreated to +13.69%,  paring my trailing one-year return back up to +26.59%. 

My nine and a half year return recovered to +313.83%, pennies short of a new all-time high. The average annualized return appreciated to +33.62%. I am now 80% in cash and 20% long, and my entire portfolio expires at the April 18 option expiration day in 9 trading days.

The Mad Hedge Technology Letter has gone ballistic, with an aggressive and unhedged 40% long, rising in value almost every day. It is maintaining positions in Microsoft (MSFT), Alphabet (GOOGL), and PayPal (PYPL), and Amazon (AMZN), which are clearly going to new highs.

It’s going to be a dull week on the data front after last week’s fireworks.

On Monday, April 8 at 10:00 AM, February Factory Orders are released.

On Tuesday, April 9, 6:00 AM EST, the March NFIB Small Business Optimism Index is published.

On Wednesday, April 10 at 8:30 AM, we get the March Consumer Price Index. 

On Thursday, April 11 at 8:30 AM EST, the Weekly Jobless Claims are announced. The March Producer Price Index is printed at the same time.

On Friday, April 12 at 10:00 AM, the April Consumer Sentiment Index is published.

The Baker-Hughes Rig Count follows at 1:00 PM.

As for me, I have two hours until the next snow storm pounds the High Sierras and closes Donner Pass. So I have to pack up and head back to San Francisco.

But I have to get a haircut first.

Incline Village, Nevada is the only place in the world where you can get a haircut from a 78-year-old retired Marine Master Sargent, Louie’s First Class Barbers. Civilian barbers can never grasp the concept of “high and tight with a shadow”, a cut only combat pilots are entitled to. He’ll regale me with stories of the Old Corps the whole time he is clipping away. I wouldn’t miss it for the world. 

Good luck and good trading.

John Thomas
CEO & Publisher
The Diary of a Mad Hedge Fund Trader

 

 

 

 

 

 

Delta Airlines is Cleared for Takeoff

When I was a young, clueless investment banker at Morgan Stanley 30 years ago, the head of equity sales took me aside to give me some fatherly advice. Never touch the airlines.

The profitability of this industry was totally dependent on fuel costs, interest rates and the state of the economy, and management hadn’t the slightest idea of what any of these were going to do. If I were ever tempted to buy an airline stock, I should lie down and take a long nap first.

At the time, the industry had just been deregulated, and was still dominated by giants like Pan Am, TWA, Eastern Air, Western, Laker, Braniff, and a new low cost upstart called People Express. None of these companies exist today. It was the best investment advice that I ever got.

If you total up the P&L’s of all of the US airlines that ever existed since Orville and Wilber Wright first flew in 1903 (their pictures are on my new anti-terrorism edition commercial pilots license), it is a giant negative number, well in excess of $100 billion. This is despite the massive government subsidies that have prevailed for much of the industry’s existence.

The sector today is hugely leveraged, capital intensive, heavily regulated, highly unionized, offers customers terrible service, and is constantly flirting with, or is in bankruptcy. Its track record is horrendous. It is a prime terrorist target. A worse nightmare of an industry never existed.

I became all too aware of the travails of this business while operating my own charter airline in Europe as a sideline to my investment business during the 1980?s.

The amount of paperwork involved in a single international flight was excruciating. Every country piled on fees and taxes wherever possible. The French air traffic controllers were always on strike, the Swiss were arrogant, and the Italians unintelligible and out of fuel.

The Greek military controllers once lost me over the Aegean Sea for two hours, while the Yugoslavs sent out two MIG fighter jets to intercept me. As for the US? Did you know that every rivet going into an American built aircraft must first be inspected by the government and painted yellow before it can be used in manufacture?

While flying a Red Cross mission into Croatia, I got shot down by the Serbians, crash landed at a small Austrian Alpine river, and lost a disc in my back. I had to make a $300 donation to the Zell Am Zee fire department Christmas fund to get their crane to lift my damaged aircraft out of the river (see picture below). Talk about killing the competition!

Anyway, I diverge.

So you may be shocked to hear that I think there is a great opportunity here in airline stocks. A Darwinian weeding out has taken place over the last 30 years that has concentrated the industry so much that it would attract the interest of antitrust lawyers, if consumers weren?t such huge beneficiaries.

With the American-US Air (AAL) deal done, the top four carriers (along with United-Continental (UAL), Delta (DAL), and Southwest (LUV) will control 90% of the market.

That is up from 60% only five years ago. The industry has fewer seats than in 1982; while inflation adjusted fares are down 40%. Analysts are referring to this as the industry?s new ?oligopoly advantage.?

Any surprise bump up in oil prices is met with a blizzard of higher fares, baggage fees, and fuel surcharges. I can’t remember the last time I saw an empty seat on a plane, and I travel a lot. Lost luggage rates are near all time lows because so few now check in bags. Interest rates staying at zero don?t hurt either.

The real kicker here is that stock in an airline is, in effect, a free undated put on the price of oil. If the price of oil stays in the $80 handle for a prolonged period of time, which it should, or continues to fall, airline stocks will rocket. This is on top of a $27 plunge in the price of Texas tea, the largest single cost item for the airline industry.

If you are looking for another indirect play, look at the bond market. With a new Boeing 787 Dreamliner costing up to $300 million each, airlines are massive borrowers of capital. With interest rates at all time lows, another huge source of costs have just been lifted off the airlines? backs.

The Ebola virus is an additional sweetener (if you could use such a term for a deadly disease), because it is enabling us to buy the stock down 30% than it would be otherwise. Delta Airlines (DAL) just so happened to be the airline that brought the first Ebola carrier to the US, so it has suffered the most. As frightening as this disease is (I studied it in my Army bacteriological warfare days), I doubt we will see more than a dozen cases in the US.

At least we are finally getting something for our $120 billion investment in Homeland Security since 2002. How much do you want to bet that they don?t cut the budget for the Center for Disease Control (CDC) this year, as they have for the past dozen!

On top of the massive fuel savings, a recovering US economy should boost profitability, given its recent maniacal pursuit of controlling costs. Some airlines have become so cost conscious that they are no longer painting their planes to gain fuel savings from carrying 100 pounds less weight! Just the missing pretzels alone should be worth a few cents a share in earnings.

This is not just a US development, but an international one. The International Air Transport Association (IATA) has just raised its forecast of member earnings from $7.6 billion in 2012 to $10.6 billion in 2013, a gain of 40%. The biggest earnings are based in Asia (China Southern Airlines, China Eastern Airlines, Air China), followed by those in the US, with $3.6 billion in profits.

Add all this together, and the conclusion is clear. The checklist is complete, the IFR clearance is in hand, and it is now time to push the throttles to the firewall for the airline stocks and get this bird off the ground.

And no, I didn’t get free frequent flier points for writing this piece.

Meet the New Big Four

DAL 10-15-14

UAL 10-15-14

AAL 10-15-14

LUV 10-15-14

John Thomas CroatiaMaybe I Should Try Hedge Fund Trading?

 

Delta Airplane

Airline Stocks are Cleared for Take Off

When I was a young, clueless investment banker at Morgan Stanley 30 years ago, the head of equity sales took me aside to give me some fatherly advice. Never touch the airlines.

The profitability of this industry was totally dependent on fuel costs, interest rates and the state of the economy and management hadn’t the slightest idea of what any of these were going to do. If I were ever tempted to buy an airline stock, I should lie down and take a long nap first.

At the time, the industry had just been deregulated and was still dominated by giants like Pan Am, TWA, Eastern Air, Western, Laker, Braniff, and a new low cost upstart called People Express. None of these companies exist today. It was the best investment advice that I ever got.

If you total up the P&L’s of all of the US airlines that ever existed since Orville and Wilber Wright first flew in 1903 (their pictures are on my new anti-terrorism edition commercial pilots license), it is a giant negative number, well in excess of $100 billion. This is despite the massive government subsidies that have prevailed for much of the industry’s existence.

The sector today is hugely leveraged, capital intensive, heavily regulated, highly unionized, offers customers terrible service, and is constantly flirting with or is in bankruptcy. Its track record is horrendous. It is a prime terrorist target. A worse nightmare of an industry never existed.

I became all too aware of the travails of this business while operating my own charter airline in Europe as a sideline to my investment business. The amount of paperwork involved in a single international flight was excruciating. Every country piled on fees and taxes wherever possible. The French air traffic controllers were always on strike, the Swiss were arrogant, and the Italians unintelligible and out of fuel.

The Greek military controllers once lost me over the Aegean Sea for two hours, while the Yugoslavs sent out two MIG fighter jets to intercept me. As for the US? Did you know that every rivet going into an American built aircraft must first be inspected by the government and painted yellow before it can be used in manufacture?

While flying a Red Cross mission into Croatia, I got shot down by the Serbians, crash landed at a small Austrian Alpine river, and lost a disc in my back. I had to make a $300 donation to the Zell Am Zee fire department Christmas fund to get their crane to lift my damaged aircraft out of the river (see picture below). Talk about killing the competition!

So you may be shocked to hear that I think there is a great opportunity here in airline stocks. A Darwinian weeding out has taken place over the last 30 year that has concentrated the industry so much that it would attract the interest of antitrust lawyers, if consumers weren?t such huge beneficiaries.

With the American-US Air (AAL) deal done, the top four carriers (along with United-Continental (UAL), Delta (DAL), and Southwest (LUV) will control 90% of the market. That is up from 60% only five years ago. The industry has fewer seats than in 1982; while inflation adjusted fares are down 40%. Analysts are referring to this as the industry?s new ?oligopoly advantage.?

Any surprise bump up in oil prices is met with a blizzard of higher fares, baggage fees, and fuel surcharges. I can’t remember the last time I saw an empty seat on a plane, and I travel a lot. Lost luggage rates are near all time lows because so few now check in bags. Interest rates staying at zero don?t hurt either.

The real kicker here is that stock in an airline is, in effect, a free undated short volatility play on oil. If oil doesn?t move, airline stocks go up. You may have noticed that I have written at length on the rough balance that has emerged in the global oil markets, where rising Chinese demand is offset by increasing US production from fracking. The end result has been the lowest volatility in the oil market in years.

This is not a bad position to have when peace talks in Geneva with Iran threaten to collapse the price of oil. On top of that, you can add the huge economies offered by the new Boeing 787, known in the industry as the ?plastic fantastic, which uses 40% less fuel than existing models.

I picked United Continental Group (UAL) because it suffered from some integration problems from their recent merger, like a reservations system that wouldn?t work. That gives them the greatest snap back potential.

And even if the fuel savings turn out to be modest, a recovering US economy should boost profitability, given its recent maniacal pursuit of controlling costs. Some airlines have become so cost conscious that they are no longer painting their planes to gain fuel savings from carrying 100 pounds less weight! Just the missing pretzels alone should be worth a few cents a share in earnings.

This is not just a US development, but an international one. The International Air Transport Association (IATA) has just raised its forecast of member earnings from $7.6 billion in 2012 to $10.6 billion in 2013, a gain of 40%. The biggest earnings are based in Asia (China Southern Airlines, China Eastern Airlines, Air China), followed by those in the US, with $3.6 billion in profits.

Add all this together, and the conclusion is clear. The checklist is complete, the IFR clearance is in hand, and it is now time to push the throttles to the firewall for the airline stocks and get this bird off the ground.

And no, I didn’t get free frequent flier points for writing this piece.

Meet the New Big Four

LUV 1-22-14

AAL 1-22-14

UAL 1-22-14

DAL 1-22-14

John Thomas CroatiaTime to Consider Another Career

United AirplainFly the Friendly Skies with a Long Position