Posts

September 9, 2019

Global Market Comments
September 9, 2019
Fiat Lux

Featured Trade:

(MARKET OUTLOOK FOR THE WEEK AHEAD, or SAVED BY A HURRICANE)
(FXB), (M), (XOM), (BAC), (FB), (AAPL),
 (AMZN), (ROKU), (VIX), (GS), (MS),

 

The Market Outlook for the Week Ahead, or Saved by a Hurricane

This was the week when the stock market was saved by Hurricane Dorian.

Why a hurricane?

Because it gave President Trump something else to Tweet about beside China and Jay Powell. The White House went totally silent, at least on matters concerning the stock market. There, the focus instead turned on whether Trump predicted Dorian was going to hit Alabama (it didn’t).

Thank goodness for small favors.

Instead, investors got to hear about progress was purported to be made on the China trade talks with a possible October meeting.

It all reminds me of the 1968 Paris peace talks, which I visited, where I remember Ambassador Avril Harriman storming out of the Majestic Hotel with a very stern expression on his face. They had just spent a year arguing with the North Vietnamese over the shape of the table (they finally settled on an oval).

Brexit finally started lurching towards its inevitable demise. Hard Brexit failed in Parliament, a disaster for Prime Minister Boris Johnson, whose own party and even his own brother voted against him.

Elections will follow which will finally plunge a dagger through the heart of Britain’s attempt to leave the European Community. If this happens, it will be a huge positive for risk markets globally. This is the beginning of the end. Get ready to buy the pound (FXB).

The bad news? Don’t count on this happening again this week, unless we get another hurricane. When a stock market rally is led by sectors with the worst fundamentals, like retail (M), energy (XOM), and banks (BAC), you want to run a mile. It means the rally was driven by short-covering, we are now at a market high, and the short players have a ton of cash.

I have been pounded with questions all week if the bottom is in and if it’s time to load the boat with tech stocks yet again. I have to answer with a firm “Not yet!” We still have three weeks to go in September with plenty of time for more volatility.

If the Fed cuts interest rates by 25 basis points, the Dow average could crater by 1,000 points. If they don’t cut, which I give a 50/50 chance, it will be down by 2,000 points.

They will be encouraged to cut by an August Nonfarm Payroll Report that came in at a tepid 130,000. The headline Unemployment Rate remained unchanged at 3.7%, a 50-year low. Average Hourly Earnings were an inflationary 0.4%, or 3.2% YOY. June and July were revised down.

The 2020 census was a big factor in August, where the US government hired 25,000 workers to prepare for next year. Without this, August would have come in at a weak 105,000 jobs.

Manufacturing hiring amounted to only 3,000, while Retail lost 11,000 jobs for the seventh consecutive monthly decline. The broader U-6 “discouraged worker” unemployment rate rose from 7.0% to 7.2%.

To demonstrate how much value you are gaining with this service, I generated the chart below. Since January 26, 2018 when the S&P 500 peaked, the total return has been zero, with a lot of heart-stopping volatility, including one 20% drawdown.

That has been the cost to the stock market of the trade war, which started only a few days later. The profit created by the Mad Hedge Fund Trader during the same period has been 58.97%.

You couldn’t even beat the Mad Hedge Fund Trader by pouring all your money into big technology stocks. Over the same time, Facebook (FB) fell 4.1%, Apple (AAPL) rose 21.7%, and Amazon (AMZN) by 22.2%.

The only way you could have topped my performance was to pour your life savings into Roku (ROKU), right when Amazon was about to put it out of business. Jeff Bezos partnered with Roku instead of delivering a 225% pop in the shares.

You might think such a performance is blown out of proportion, exaggerated, and fake. However, it is perfectly consistent with the numbers generated for the in-house trading books by senior traders at Goldman Sachs (GS) and Morgan Stanley (MS) where I come from.

In fact, during my day, if a trader earned less than 30% a year on his capital, he got fired or transferred over to covering retail accounts because the firm had so many better places to invest. They are also consistent with the performance of the top-end hedge managers, of which I used to be one.

Chinese Manufacturing Activity fell for four consecutive months taking the Purchasing Managers Index below a recessionary 50. If you wreck the economy of the world’s largest customer, the rest of the world goes into recession.

US Manufacturing hit a three-year low, the ISM Manufacturing PMI diving from an average 56.5 to 49.1 in August. Anything below 50 is a recession indicator. Hoping that China will bleed worse than us in a trade war is not a winning strategy. Stocks dove 300 points and the Volatility Index (VIX) shot up to $21 on the news. Avoid risk, as this is going to be a terrible month.

The prospect of a China meeting popped stocks 400 points, with an agreement to meet in October, citing progress on a phone call. Boy, I’m getting tired of this. When can we go back to looking at earnings, dividends, and book value?

The European Central Bank will almost certainly ease this week. It hasn’t worked for ten years so let’s try it again. They’re obviously not printing enough Euros. Overnight rates will fall from -0.4% to -0.6%. Some 30 billion euros a month will hit the economy in a new QE.

The Atlanta Fed downgraded the economy, cutting its Q3 GDP growth forecast from 2.0% to 1.5%. Expect a string of poor data points in the coming months as the delayed effect of an escalated trade war. However, the non-manufacturing service economy remains strong. That’s me, and probably you too.

The Mad Hedge Trader Alert Service has posted its best month in two years. Some 22 or the last 23 round trips, or 95.6%, have been profitable, generating one of the biggest performance jumps in our 12-year history.

My Global Trading Dispatch has hit a new all-time high of 334.48% and my year-to-date shot up to +34.35%. My ten-year average annualized profit bobbed up to +34.30%. 

Better yet, since July 31, we generated a 20% profit for the trade alert service while the gain in the Dow Average was absolutely zero!

I raked in an envious 16.01% in August. All of you people who just subscribed in June and July are looking like geniuses. My staff and I have been working to the point of exhaustion, but it’s worth it if I can print these kinds of numbers.

As long as the Volatility Index (VIX) stays above $20, deep in-the-money options spreads are offering free money. I am now 40% long big tech. It rarely gets this easy.

The coming week will be a snore, as it always is after the jobs data.

On Monday, September 9 at 11:00 AM, August Consumer Inflation Expectations are out.

On Tuesday, September 10 at 12:00 PM, the NFIB Business Optimism Index for August is released.

On Wednesday, September 11, at 8:30 AM, the US Producer Price Index is announced.

On Thursday, September 12 at 8:30 AM, the Weekly Jobless Claims are printed. At the same time, the US Inflation Rate is published.

On Friday, September 13 at 8:30 AM, the US Retails Sales are printed. The Baker Hughes Rig Count follows at 2:00 PM.

As for me, I’ll be driving up to Lake Tahoe to make final preparations for the October 25-26 Mad Hedge Lake Tahoe Conference. A record number of black bears have been breaking into homes this summer and I just want to make sure my lakefront estate is OK.

It seems that Airbnb tenants have been leaving trails of cookies to their front doors and painting their refrigerators with peanut butter so they can get better selfies with their ursine neighbors.

Not a good idea.

I’ll be avoiding Interstate 80. A truck carrying 1,000 live chickens crashed there yesterday and the California Highway Patrol was last seen chasing them down the freeway.

Good luck and good trading.

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

August 22, 2019

Global Market Comments
August 22, 2019
Fiat Lux

Featured Trade:


(WHAT THE NEXT RECESSION WILL LOOK LIKE),

(FB), (AAPL), (NFLX), (GOOGL), (KSS), (VIX), (MS), (GS),
(TESTIMONIAL)

What the Next Recession Will Look Like

The probability of a recession taking place over the next 12 months is now ranging as high as 40%. If the trade war with China escalates, you can mark that up to 100%.

And here’s the scary part. Bear markets front-run recessions by 6-12 months, i.e. now. The bear case is now more persuasive than at any time in the last decade.

We’ll get a better read when the Chinese announce their retaliation for the last American escalation of tariffs on September 1, or in eight trading days. The timing couldn’t be worse. The bad news will come over the US three-day Labor Day weekend, allowing market volatility (VIX) to bunch up, setting up an explosive Tuesday, September 3 opening.

So, it’s time to start asking the question of what the next recession will look like. Are we in for another 2008-2009 meltdown, when friends and relatives lost homes, jobs, and their entire net worth? Or can we look forward to a mild pullback that only economists and data junkies like myself will notice?

I’ll paraphrase one of my favorite Russian authors, Fyodor Dostoevsky, who in Anna Karenina might have said, “all economic expansions are all alike, while recessions are all miserable in their own way.”

Let’s look at some major pillars in the economy. A hallmark of the last recession was the near collapse of the financial system, where the ATMs were probably within a week of shutting down nationally. The government had to step in with the TARP, and mandatory 5% equity ownership in the country’s 20 largest banks.

Back then, banks were leveraged 40:1 in the case of Morgan Stanley (MS) and Goldman Sachs (GS), while Lehman Brothers and Bear Stearns were leveraged 100:1. In that case, the most heavily borrowed companies only needed markets to move 1% against them to wipe out their entire capital. That’s exactly what happened. (MS) and (GS) came within a hair’s breadth of going the same way.

Thanks to the Dodd Frank financial regulation bill, banks cannot leverage themselves more than 10:1. They have spent a decade rebuilding balance sheets and reserves. They are now among the healthiest in the world, having become low margin, very low-risk utilities. It is now European and Chinese banks that are going down the tubes.

How about real estate, another major cause of angst in the last recession? The market couldn’t be any more different today. There is a structural shortage of housing, especially at entry-level affordable prices. While liar loans and house flipping are starting to make a comeback, they are nowhere near as prevalent a decade ago. And the mis-rating of mortgage-backed securities from single “C” to triple “A” is now a distant memory. (I still can’t believe no one ever went to jail for that!).

And interest rates? We went into the last recession with a 6% overnight rate and 7% 30-year fixed rate mortgage. Now, overnight rates are at 2.25% and the 30-year is at 3.6% with both falling like a stone. It’s hard to imagine a real estate crisis with rates at zero and a shortage of supply.

The auto industry has been in a mild recession for the past two years, with annual production stalling at 16.8 million units, versus a 2009 low of 9 million units. In any case, the challenges to the industry are now more structural than cyclical, with new buyers decamping en masse to electric vehicles made on the west coast.

Of far greater concern are industries that are already in recession now. Energy has been flagging since oil prices peaked seven years ago, despite massive tax subsidies. It is suffering from a structural over supply and falling demand.

Retailers have been in a Great Depression for five years, squeezed on one side by Amazon and the other by China. A decade into store closings and the US is STILL over stored. However, many of these shares are already so close to zero that the marginal impact on the major indexes will be small.

Financials and legacy banks are also facing a double squeeze from Fintech innovation and collapsing interest rates. There isn’t much margin in a loan where the customer is paying only 3.6%, and 2% in a year. All of those expensive national networks with branches on every street corner will be gone in the 2020s.

And no matter how bad the coming recession gets, technology, now 26% of the S&P 500, will keep powering on. Combined revenues of the four FANGs in Q2 came in at $118.7 billion and earnings were at $26.5 billion. That leaves a mighty big cushion for any slowdown. That’s a lot more than the “eyeballs” and market shares they possessed of a decade ago.

So, netting all this out, how bad will the next recession be? Not bad at all. I’m looking at a couple of quarters small negative numbers. Then the end of the China trade war, which can’t last any more than 18 months, and ultra-low interest rates, will enable recovery and probably another decade of decent US growth.

The stock market, however, is another kettle of fish. While the economy may slow from a 2.2% annual rate to -0.1% or -0.2%, the major indexes could fall much more than that, say 30% to 40%. Don’t forget, we already saw a horrendous 20% swan dive in the run-up to last December.

Earnings multiples are still at a 17X high compared to a 9X low in 2009. Shares would have to drop 47% just to match the last low, and earnings are already falling. Equity weightings in portfolios are high. Money is pouring out of stock funds into bond ones.

Corporations buying back their own shares have been the principal prop from the market for the past three years. Some large companies, like Kohls (KSS), have retired as much as 50% of their outstanding equity in ten years.

So get used to the high market volatility (VIX) we have seen in August. It could be only the trailer for the main show.

 

 

 

 

The Next Bear Market is Not Far Off

December 14, 2018

Global Market Comments
December 14, 2018
Fiat Lux

Featured Trade:

(DECEMBER 12 BIWEEKLY STRATEGY WEBINAR Q&A),
(SPX), (MU), (PYPL), (SPOT), (FXE), (FXY), (XLF), (MSFT), (AMZN), (TSLA), (XOM), 
(SIGN UP NOW FOR TEXT MESSAGING OF TRADE ALERTS)

September 24, 2018

Global Market Comments
September 24, 2018
Fiat Lux

Featured Trade:
(THE MARKET OUTLOOK FOR THE WEEK AHEAD, or IT’S FED WEEK),
(SPY), (XLI), (XLV), (XLP), (XLY), (HD), (LOW), (GS), (MS), (TLT),
(UUP), (FXE), (FCX), (EEM), (VIX), (VXX), (UPS), (TGT)
(TEN TIPS FOR SURVIVING A DAY OFF WITH ME)

Double Up or Bail on Your JC Penny Short?

The stock of the day last Friday was, no doubt, JC Penny (JCP), one of the most heavily shorted stocks in the market, which announced Q2, 2012 earnings. Despite a huge miss, the stock soared by 20% because the losses were not as bad as many expected. This leads to the question of whether traders should double up or bail on the existing short positions.

As the dispassionate analyst that I am, who only looks at numbers in the cold, harsh light of reality, the figures could not have been more disappointing. Q2 EPS showed a loss of $0.37/shares versus an expected loss of $0.25. Revenues came in at $3 billion compared to an estimate of $3.2 billion.

Worst of all, same store sales cratered by -21.7% YOY while traffic was off -12%. This is despite offering kids free haircuts. Gross margins shrank and Internet sales were off 30%. To top it all, the company announced that it would no longer provide future guidance. Moody?s immediately followed with a downgrade of the company?s debt from Ba1 to Ba3.

The new CEO, Ron Johnson, has no retail experience and says he needs 4 years for a turnaround. In the meantime, competitor Macys is making good money and selling at 11X earnings with the best CEO in business. Well established luxury brand Coach (COH) sells for a 14X multiple. If you fall in love with retail and absolutely have to be in this sector, there are far better fish to fry. Personally, I would rather lie down and take a long nap.

The hedgies still in this name are clearing gunning for a chapter 11. So a chance to sell again 20% higher than yesterday in the face of bad news has to be attractive. But with such a huge share of the company?s outstanding shares already sold short, the risk reward here is not great. I would have ridden the stock down from $40 to $20 and then said, ?Thank you very much?, rather than chase the last few dollars just to prove I?m right.

The company only has to get a little right to trigger a bigger short squeeze. Technicians were clearly focused on a potential multiyear double bottom on the charts. Besides, I was never one for sloppy seconds, and don?t need a haircut.

Looking for a better stock to sell short at the top of the recent range with dire fundamentals? I?d rather short Morgan Stanley on an up day.

 

 

 

 

JC Penny: Better Fish to Fry

 

Austerity Hits Wall Street

This year, your bonus is that you get to keep your job. That is the bad news that will be dished out to many disappointed staff during annual reviews at the major Wall Street firms this year.

We all know that volumes have been trading at subterranean levels which have created a real drought of commission incomes. New regulations imposed by Dodd-Frank and the Volker rule mean that banks have to become boring, no longer able to juice earnings with trading revenues. For boring, read less profitable, leading to smaller budgets for compensation. This is the price of preventing banks from committing suicide with your money in hand.

Industry compensation experts are seeing bonus cuts of up to 30%. Equity divisions are seeing the greatest cuts, followed by bond departments, and investment banking. Senior staff are being nudged toward early retirement to further reduce overhead. Only private wealth managers are seeing pay increases, thanks to their ability to charge rich fees for enhanced customer service and place high margin products, like local municipal bonds.

The scary thing is that shrinking payouts is a trend that could continue for years, unless a new bull market suddenly appears out of nowhere. When I first started working on Wall Street nearly 40 years ago, one out of three taxi drivers were brokers rendered jobless by deregulated commissions. Be careful next time you cross the street. You might get hit with some free investment advice.

 

 

 

Did You Say ?Buy? or ?Sell??