Global Market Comments
September 16, 2020
(THE BULL CASE FOR BANKS),
(JPM), (BAC), (C), (WFC), (GS), (MS)
Global Market Comments
September 16, 2020
(THE BULL CASE FOR BANKS),
(JPM), (BAC), (C), (WFC), (GS), (MS)
Banks have certainly been the red-headed stepchild of equity investment in 2020.
While technology shares have rocketed by two, three, and four-fold, banks have remained mire in the muck, down 35% on the year while the S&P 500 is up 6%.
However, all that is about to change.
Banks have become the call option on a US economic recovery. When the economic data runs hot, banks rally. When it’s cold, they sell-off. So, in recent months bank share prices have been flat-lining.
You have to now ask the question of when the data stay hot, how high will banks run?
There also is a huge sector rotation issue staring you in the face. Where would you rather put new money, stocks at all-time highs trading at ridiculous multiples, or a quality sector in the bargain basement? Big institutions have already decided what to do and are buying every dip.
Banks certainly took it on the nose with the onset of the pandemic. Interest rates went to zero and loan default rates soared, demanding a massive increase in loan loss provisions.
Much more stringent accounting rules also kicked in during January known as “Current Expected Credit Losses.” That requires banks to write off 100% of their losses immediately, rather than spread them out over a period of years.
Then in June, the Federal Reserve banned bank share buybacks and froze dividends to preserve capital in expectation of more loan defaults.
So what happens next?
For a start, fall down on your knees and thank Dodd-Frank, the Obama era financial regulation bill.
Banks carped for years that it unnecessarily and unfairly tied their hands by limiting leverage ratios to only 10:1. Morgan Stanley reached 40:1 going into the Great Recession and barely made it out alive, while ill-fated Lehman Brothers reached a suicidal 100:1 and didn’t.
That meant the banks went into the pandemic with the strongest balance sheets in decades. No financial crisis here.
Thanks to government efforts to bring the current Great Depression to a quick end, generous fees have been raining down on the banks from the numerous loan programs they are helping to implement.
And trading profits? You may have noticed that options trading volume is up a monster 95% so far in 2020 and increased by a positively meteoric 120% in August. That falls straight to the banks’ bottom lines. If you’re wondering why your online trading platform keeps crashing, that’s why.
I list below my favorite bank investments using the logic that during depressions, you want to buy Rolls Royces, Teslas, and Cadillacs at deep discounts, not Volkswagens, Fiats, or Trabants.
JP Morgan (JPM) – Is the crown jewel of the sector, with the best balance sheet and the strongest customers. It has over reserved for losses that are probably never going to happen, stowing away some $25 billion in the last quarter alone.
Morgan Stanley (MS) – Brokerage-oriented ones like Morgan Stanley (MS) and Goldman Sachs (GS) are benefiting the most from the explosion in stock and options trading. I’ll pick my former employer (MS), where I once accounted for 80% of equity division profits, as (GS) is still mired in the aftermath of the $5 billion Malaysia scandal.
Bank of America (BAC) – is another quality play with a fortress balance sheet.
Citigroup (C) – Is the leveraged play in the sector with a slightly weaker balance sheet and more aggressive marketing strategy. It seems like they’re always trying to catch up with (JPM). This week’s revelation of a surprise $900 million “operational loss” and the penalties to follow knocked 13% of the share price. This is the high volatility play in the sector.
And what about Wells Fargo (WFC), you may ask, the cheapest bank of all? Unfortunately, it still has to wear a hair suit because of its many regulatory transgressions, before, during, and after the financial crisis so I’ll give it a miss. Oh, and Warren Buffet is selling too.
Global Market Comments
June 5, 2020
(JUNE 3 BIWEEKLY STRATEGY WEBINAR Q&A),
(FB), (M), (UAL), (LVS) , (WYNN), (MS), (SPX), (TBT), (TLT), (AAPL), (FB), (MSFT), (SDS), (SPX), (AMZN) (LEN), (KBI), (PHM), (TSLA)
Below please find subscribers’ Q&A for the June 3 Mad Hedge Fund Trader 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: Domino’s Pizza (DPZ) is at all-time highs? Would you buy this name right here, right now?
A: No, I would not even buy their pizza. You would be crazy to buy them right now up here this high. I prefer Round Table, the pizza not the stock. All of these “reopening” stocks are way overextended.
Q: Will the riots delay the recovery?
A: Yes, they will, it could take as much as another 1% off the current GDP growth rate. It’s hitting the already worst-hit sector—retailers. Many retailers will not come back from these, especially the small ones. These businesses were just returning from being closed for two months when they got burned down. But we won’t see it in the macro data for many months because its happening largely at the micro level. If you didn’t like Macy’s (M) before when it was headed for Chapter 11, you definitely won’t like it now that it is burning down.
Q: If airlines like United Airlines (UAL) can’t use the middle seat, do you see ticket prices going up 10%, 25%, or 50%?
A: Yes. In theory, to just cover the middle seat, they have to increase prices 33%. And there will be a whole lot of new costs that the airlines have to endure as part of this pandemic, such as extra cleaning, disinfecting, and temperature taking. So, they’re really going to need to increase prices by 50% or more just to break even. My guess is that the airline industry will shrink in half in the fall when all the government bailout money runs out. So, I’ve been telling people to take profits on the airlines, especially if you have a double or triple in them, or if you have the LEAPS.
Q: Is Facebook (FB) immune from any big selloff?
A: No, nobody is immune—look how much Facebook sold off in March, some 35%. Mark Zuckerberg seems to be making a deal with the devil, accommodating the president with unrestricted incendiary Facebook posts. And the consequences of a Democratic win for Facebook could be hugely negative, so I am not participating in that one. Mark doesn’t have a lot of friends in congress right now so regulation looms.
Q: What do you think about buying Las Vegas Sands (LVS) or Wynn Resorts (WYNN) on the expectation of reopening?
A: I’m a Nevada resident and get frequently updated on the casino news. They’re only going to be allowed half of peak casino visitors that they had in January, so they will generate huge losses. Almost all companies are being allowed to reopen back to half the level that guarantees bankruptcy in 3-6 months. But we won’t see that in the numbers for many months either. I’m negative on any industry that depends on packing people in, like airlines, cruise lines, and movie theaters.
Q: What are the chances of a mass student debt cancellation?
A: That is a possibility if the Democrats win in November, and it has already been proposed. It is about a $1.5 trillion ticket. If you’re bailing out large companies, small companies, airlines, and the oil industry, why not students? It would have the benefit of adding 10 million more consumers to the economy, who are not current participants because they have massive student debts that are appreciating at 10% a year and have terrible credit ratings. So that would be another great economic stimulus measure. By the way, I paid off my student loans 40 years ago in a lump sum payment with my first paycheck from Morgan Stanley (MS). How much did four years of college cost during the 1960s? $3,000. Such a deal.
Q: What’s the next resistance level on the S&P 500 (SPX)?
A: The target we’ve been looking for is $3,125. I’m looking for roughly $40 points above that level—it should be about $3,165. We’re in uncharted territory here because nobody’s ever seen a market rise 40% in two months, so any technical recommendation has to be bearish except for a very short term, like intra-day or daily views.
Q: Any correlation between the 1918 epidemic and now?
A: Here is your History of Virology Lesson 101 for today. There is some similarity, but the 1918 flu actually originated on a farm in Kansas, had a 2% death rate, took a trip to Europe, mutated, came back months later, and then had a death rate of 50%. We haven’t seen that second wave yet, or major mutations. We have seen a couple of different DNA strands out there though, meaning we would need multiple different vaccines when we get them. By the way, it was called the “Spanish Flu” because during WWI, every country had censorship except Spain because it was not a combatant. So, the pandemic was only reported in the Spanish newspapers.
Q: Would you get out of any of the previously recommended LEAPS?
A: Yes, I would be taking profits on all of your LEAPS—whether tech, domestic, “recovery”, or whatever else—so if we do get a correction over the summer, you can get back in at better prices, with longer expirations. You can go two years out from say August for example. The risk/reward today is terrible.
Q: Would you hold on to the (SDS) right now, or wait for the pullback
A: No, we have offsetting profits on all of our (SDS) positions, until today—if the market keeps accelerating to the upside, SDS losses will start to offset our profits on the positions, so that’s why I would get out.
Q: Should I buy the ProShares Ultra-Short 20 + Year Treasury Bond Fund (TBT)? I don’t do options.
A: You don’t need to do options, (TBT) is an ETF; anybody can buy that, it’s just like buying a stock.
Q: What is happening with the Australian market?
A: It will trade with the US stock market tick for tick, which means they’ve had a fantastic rally, overdue for a selloff. Wait to buy the next dip.
Q: If markets are going to go down soon, why exit the (SDS)
A: It may go up first before it goes down. And in any case, I have a great profit on the combined position of long (SDS) and short bonds. These days, I like taking big profits rather than praying they become bigger. It’s about risk control and knowing what you can get away with in certain market conditions.
Q: Is now the time to sell the highflyers in tech?
A: Yes, I would be selling Apple (AAPL), Facebook (FB), Microsoft (MSFT), and Amazon (AMZN). Get dry powder, which is worth a lot after you’ve seen a move like this; especially if the economy gets worse, which is likely. My late mentor Barton Biggs taught me to always leave the last 10% of a move for the next guy.
Q: At what point do you buy the ProShares Ultra Short S&P 500 ETF (SDS) outright?
A: Only if there is an immediate collapse in the market, which I can’t foresee with any certainty. When you play these bear ETFs, the costs are very high. You are short double the (SPX) dividend, which is about 5% a year, plus hefty management fees. So, you really have to catch a quick, large move to the downside to make any real money.
Q: Real estate seems like the big winner of the pandemic. Will prices be up by the end of the year or is this just a temporary spike?
A: They will be up at the end of the year. I have been telling readers all year that their home will be their best investment in 2020 and that is coming true. Real estate has a massive tailwind behind it which has really been in place for a couple of years now, and that is the millennials upgrading and buying houses. The pandemic has really poured gasoline on the fire and triggered a stampede out of the city and into the suburbs. Having 85 millennials ready to upgrade their homes is a huge positive for the real estate market, and I’d be looking to buy the homebuilders on any dip. That’s probably the best domestic play out there. Buy Lennar Corp. (LEN) and Pulte Homes (PHM) on dips.
Q: Post pandemic, will manufacturing have any way of helping US economic growth, or is bringing back the supply chains fake news?
A: It is fake news because if companies bring back production, it will be machines and not people making things. Unless you want to pay $10,000 for an iPhone, or $5,000 for a low-end laptop. Oh yes, and the stocks which made these things would be 90% lower as well. That’s what those products cost in today’s dollars if they were made in the United States. I wouldn’t count on any repatriation of US jobs unless people want to work for $3 a day like the Chinese do. Offshoring happened for a reason.
Q: How do I hedge a municipal bond portfolio?
A: You might think about taking profits in muni bonds. They’re yielding around 2% and change. And they could get hit with a nice little 20-point decline if the US Treasury bond market (TLT) falls apart, which it will. Then you can think about buying them back. If you really want to hedge, you sell short the (TLT) against your long muni bond portfolio. But that is an imperfect hedge because the default rate on munis is going to be much higher than it is now than it was in 2008-2009, and much higher than US Treasuries, which never defaults despite what the president has said.
Q: What is dry powder?
A: It means having cash to buy stocks at market bottom. In the 1800s before cartridges were invented, black powder got wet whenever it rained causing guns to fail to shoot. That is the historical analogy.
Q: What do we do now if we’re getting started?
A: It will require a lot of discipline on your part as coming in at market tops is always risky. Wait for the next trade alert. Every one of these is meant to work on a standalone basis. I would do nothing unless you see one of these things happen; any 2 or 3-point rally in bonds (TLT), you want to sell short. We’re just at the beginning of a multiyear trade here so it’s not too late to get back into that. Gold (GLD) is probably safe to buy on the dip here since we are at the very beginning of a historic expansion of the global money supply. I wouldn’t touch any stocks unless we get at least a 10% drop and then I’ll start putting out call spread recommendations on single stocks. But right here, on top of the biggest bounceback in stocks in market history, don’t do anything. Just read the research and make lists of things to buy when they do dip—something I do for you anyway.
Q: What about Beyond Meat (BYND)?
A: The burgers are not that bad, but the stock is way overpriced and you don’t want to touch it. It’s one of the fad stocks of the day.
Q: Can we access the slides after the webinar?
A: Yes, we post it on the website under your “Account” section about two hours after we’re done.
Q: Are you saying sell everything currently profitable?
A: Yes, I would be selling everything on a short term basis, keep tech and biotech on a long term basis. We are the most overbought in history and you don’t get asked twice to sell tops. But yes, it could go higher before the turn happens. From a risk-reward point of view, it’s terrible to do anything right now.
Q: Could we get a pullback to the $260-$270 area in the S&P 500 (SPY)?
A: Yes, especially if we get a second worse wave of corona and the stimulus takes much longer than we thought to get into the economy, or if the rioting continues.
Q: Should you sell CCI now?
A: Yes, I actually would. You have a 57% gain in the stock in ten weeks, so why not? Long term, it’s a hold.
Q: Are any retail stocks a buy?
A: No, they aren’t because a lot of them are going to go under but you don’t know which ones. After shutting down and losing 60% of their revenues, they’re now being burned down. The pros who do well in the sector are bankruptcy specialists who have massive research teams that analyze every lease in every mall and then cherry-pick. You and I don’t have the ability to do that so stay away.
Q: What is the best way to play real estate?
A: Buy a house. If not, then you buy (LEN), (KBI), and (PHM).
Q: Is it too late to get back in the stock market?
A: Yes, I’m afraid it is. Buying, because it has gone up, is a classic retail investor mistake. After this meltdown, maybe you will learn to buy stocks when everyone else is throwing up on their shoes. That’s what I was doing in March and we got returns of 50% to 100% on everything and 500% to 1,000% on the LEAPS (TSLA).
Q: Are you buying puts?
A: No, I am not taking outright short positions any more than I have now because we have a Fed-driven melt-up underway with a stimulus that’s 20x larger than that seen during the 2008-2009 Great Recession. When I don’t know what’s going to happen, I get out.
Good Luck and Stay Healthy.
CEO & Publisher
The Diary of a Mad Hedge Fund Trader
Global Market Comments
March 23, 2020
(MARKET OUTLOOK FOR THE WEEK AHEAD, or WELCOME TO THE GREAT DEPRESSION),
(INDU), (SPY), (GS), (MS), (FXI), (USO), (TSLA)
The neighborhood is alive with power tools.
These are the implements that were given as Christmas presents to dads years ago. But to afford life in the San Francisco Bay Area said dads have to work 12 hours a day and weekends. Now, suddenly they have all the free time in the world and those ancient gifts are coming out of decade-old original packaging.
I’ve noticed something else about my neighborhood. People have suddenly started to turn gray. Beauty salon appointments have been banned for weeks, not designated essential businesses.
The GDP forecasts released by Goldman Sachs (MS) last week have been turning a lot of other people gray as well. Q1 is thought to show a -6% annualized shrinkage and Q2 is expected to come in at -24%. The unemployment rate will peak at 9%. Not to be outdone, Morgan Stanley (MS) cut their Q2 forecast to -30%.
That means America’s GDP will shrink to the 2016 level of $18.62 trillion, down enormously from today’s $21.5 trillion. Yes, three years of economic growth will be gone in a puff of smoke. These are far worse than the last Great Recession when the worst two quarters came in at -2% and -8%. That’s double the worst figures of the Great Recession.
In the meantime, vast swaths of the American economy are moving online, never to return.
The good news is that growth will return at a historic 12% rate in Q3. That sets up an exaggerated “V” for the stock market. How soon should you start buying stocks if this economic scenario plays out? Probably a month, if not weeks, but only if you have the courage to do so.
The numbers from China (FXI) this week are very encouraging, showing no increase in new cases. In February, they enacted the kind of severe lockdown which California enacted a week ago.
Hopefully, that means we will get the Chinese results in a month or two. But the problem is that these are Chinese numbers that may be intended more to please the government than shed light on the truth.
The first real look we get at the effectiveness of lockdown may be in Italy in a few weeks, which has been quarantined since February.
In the US, the states have abandoned all hope of help from Washington and are leading the charge with the most aggressive measures. In California, it is now illegal for 40 million people to go outside unless it is a trip to the grocery store, the pharmacy, or the doctor.
The Golden State is now on a WWII footing. Tesla (TSLA) is switching production to ventilators. The state national guard is setting up field hospitals in parks. I am growing my own victory garden in the back yard.
The state is seeking to double the number of hospital beds to 20,000 within weeks. It just bought an entire hospital in Oakland, Seton Hospital. It went bankrupt last year and the administrators couldn’t give it away. The state i taking control of abandoned college dormitories and leasing empty hotels and cruise ships.
I expect food rationing to hit in a month. The distribution system is strained but working now. It may start to fail in April or May when large numbers of workers get sick.
The good news is that shelter in place should work, possibly by May. Kids are out of school until August.
With Trump refusing to put the entire country on lockdown that raises the specter of those in red states dying, while those in blue ones live. The big blue states of New York, California, New Jersey, Connecticut, and Illinois were the first to order shelter-in-place and will certainly see lower and sooner peaks in disease and fatalities.
And guess who has a one-month supply of Chloroquine, along with antibiotics widely believed to be a cure for the Coronavirus? That would be me, who bought them to fight off malaria for my trip to Guadalcanal six weeks ago. I was planning on going back in June to collect more dog tags for the Marine Corps, so I have an extra supply. As long as you can read, I’ll still be writing.
There is one more unexpected aspect of the pandemic and the shelter-in-place orders. I expect a baby boom to ensue in about nine months, thanks to all this enforced togetherness. The US birth rate has been falling for decades and is now well below the replacement rate. It’s about time we found a way to turn it around. Just don’t count me in on this one. I already have five kids.
So, you’re still asking for a market bottom.
The futures in Asia are limit down as I write this, just above the Dow Average 17,000 handle (INDU), thanks to the Senate failure to pass a virus rescue bill. Near 15,000 seems within range, down 49% from the February high. Modern history is no longer relevant here. We have to go back to 1929 to see numbers this extreme. I’ll be doing the research on that in the coming days.
The 1987 crash was already revisited a week ago, with a 3,000-point plunge in the Dow Average, or 12%. Some 33 years ago, we saw a 20% single day haircut, which I remember too well. This is with the Federal Reserve throwing everything at the stock market but the kitchen sink. I never thought I’d live long enough to see another one of these.
The Fed took interest rates to zero to stave off a depression, but the stock market crashes in overnight trading anyway. That brings the total to 150 basis points in cuts in five days. The Treasury is to buy an eye-popping $700 billion in mortgage securities to clear out the refi market for the first time in a decade. The Fed has just fired its last bullets to save stocks.
Goldman Sachs is targeting 2,000 in the (SPX), down 10% from here and 41% from the top. That is a 14X multiple on a 2020 S&P 500 earnings decline from $165 to $143. Yes, it’s just a guess. Investors could care less now about fundamentals or technicals. Cash is king.
Oil (USO) is headed for the teens. Saudi Arabia is ramping up production to a record 13 million barrels a day. The recession is collapsing US demand from 20 to 15 million b/d, half of which is consumed by transportation.
Russian national income has just collapsed by 75%. Will there by a second Russian Revolution? The 3% of the US market capitalization accounted for by energy stocks will drop below 1%. Fill her up! Avoid energy, even though some are going for pennies on the dollar.
The only data point that counts now is the daily real-time Corona tally of cases and deaths from Johns Hopkins, (click here). All other economic data is now irrelevant. Right now we are at 335,997 cases worldwide and 14,641 deaths. The US is at a frightening 33,276 cases as of writing.
Insider buying is exploding, with CEOs picking up their own stocks at 50%-70% discounts. Charles Scarf, president of Wells Fargo, just bought $5 million worth of (WFC) down 52% from the recent top. This is a legendary indicator that we may be within weeks of a market bottom.
The New York Stock Exchange closes its floor trading operations last week after several members tested positive for the Corona virus. Online trading will continue, where 95% of the business migrated years ago. It’s really just a TV stage now.
It’s all about hedge funds, triggering the massive volatility of the past month. They have been unwinding massive positions with up to 13X leverage in illiquid markets that can’t handle the massive volume.
When the last hedge fund is liquidated, the market will go up and the (VIX) will collapse. They may have started and the (VIX) plunged an incredible 25 points in hours.
Trump asked states to keep unemployment data secret to minimize market impact. Just what we need, less information, not more. The Weekly Jobless Claims were a bombshell, adding 70,000 to 271,000, the sharpest increase in a decade. Look for far worse to come in coming weeks as whole industries are shut down, and state unemployment computers explode from the weight of applications. Jobless Claims over 2 million are imminent!
Existing Home Sales soared by a stunning 6.5% in February, a 13-year high. The West saw an amazing 17% increase. The median home price jumped by 8% YOY. While the data is great, it’s all pre-Corona. It is illegal for people to go out to look at homes in many states, and no one wants to sell to keep strangers out of the house.
When we come out on the other side of this, we will be perfectly poised to launch into my new American Golden Age, or the next Roaring Twenties. With interest rates at zero, oil at $20 a barrel, and many stocks down by three quarters, there will be no reason not to.
My Global Trading Dispatch performance has had a great week, thanks to the collapse in market volatility, pulling back by -8.22% in March, taking my 2020 YTD return down to -11.14%. That compares to an incredible loss for the Dow Average of -37% at the Friday low. My trailing one-year return was pared back to 31.68%. My ten-year average annualized profit shrank to +33.56%.
I have been fighting a battle for the ages on a daily basis to limit my losses. My goal here is to make it back big time when the market comes roaring back in the second half.
My short volatility positions have largely recovered. I shorted the (VXX) when the Volatility Index (VIX) was at $35. It then went to an unbelievable $80 before falling back to $55. I was saved by only trading in very long maturity, very deep out-of-the-money (VXX) put options where time value will maintain a lot of their value. Now, we have time decay working in our favor. These will all come good well before their one-year expiration.
At the slightest sign of a break in the pandemic, the economy and shares should come roaring back. Right now, I have a 70% cash position.
On Monday, March 23 at 7:30 AM, the Chicago Fed National Activity Index is out.
On Tuesday, March 24 at 9:00 AM, the New Home Sales for February are released.
On Wednesday, March 25, at 7:30 AM, US Durable Goods for February are published.
On Thursday, March 26 at 7:30 AM, Weekly Jobless Claims are announced. The number could top 1,000,000. The final read on Q4 GDP is announced, although it is ancient history.
On Friday, March 27 at 9:00 AM, the US Personal Income for February is printed. The Baker Hughes Rig Count follows at 2:00 PM.
As for me, I will be in training doing daily ten-mile hikes with a 50-pound backpack. I will be leading the Boy Scouts on a 50-mile hike at Philmont in New Mexico. I expect the epidemic to peak well before then and normalcy to return.
Shelter in place will work. Please stay healthy.
CEO & Publisher
The Diary of a Mad Hedge Fund Trader
Global Market Comments
September 9, 2019
(MARKET OUTLOOK FOR THE WEEK AHEAD, or SAVED BY A HURRICANE)
(FXB), (M), (XOM), (BAC), (FB), (AAPL),
(AMZN), (ROKU), (VIX), (GS), (MS),
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.
CEO & Publisher
The Diary of a Mad Hedge Fund Trader
Global Market Comments
August 22, 2019
(WHAT THE NEXT RECESSION WILL LOOK LIKE),
(FB), (AAPL), (NFLX), (GOOGL), (KSS), (VIX), (MS), (GS),
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, and 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.
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