This study suggests that rates could go higher. That’s tough on real estate, hard on bonds and perhaps, short term, tough on stock markets as well. To put it in context, we’ve had historically absurd low interest rates for years now. To quote this well-written essay: “Bottom Line: Incoming data continues to support the Fed’s basic forecast that rates need to climb higher. I think the data increasingly supports the case that rates need to move in a restrictive zone before the Fed can breathe easier, but much depends on the evolution of the inflation data.” https://blogs.uoregon.edu/timduyfedwatch/2018/10/07/jobs-report-clears-path-for-the-fed/
Consider Putin’s efforts to rebuild the Russian empire from the standpoint of organized crime seeking to optimize itself financially. The amount of disinformation, hate-baiting, distraction, and violence is astonishing, but all that covers up an even more awsome level of mindful corruption. I believe that Putin intends to literally corrupt the entire western financial system for financial gain and political control. Is the Putin organization willing to destroy the financial underpinnings of the west? Probably only if it stands to gain financially. Thus our plan to keep investments simple and diversified seems appropriate. https://euobserver.com/justice/142726
My last entry on January 30th, 2018, suggested that US stock markets were potentially overvalued. Apparently others agreed with that assessment, because early in February, in the face of rising interest rates, American stock markets dropped (almost) 10%. At that point I was guessing…a perfect word for it…that the financial markets would continue to decline to more reasonable levels. However, I chose to do no trading because I wasn’t confident.
Good choice. This week, U.S. stock markets strongly reversed, producing one of the best weeks in years. I suppose that had I been courageous we could have bought the dip, but I was too conservative for that.
Meanwhile international markets fell more, and have recovered less.
With the prospect of rising interest rates in mind, I perceive that the possibility of a downturn more wrenching than what we have experienced is still quite possible. Where we were before somewhat vulnerable, we are now substantially more vulnerable. My guess is that this week’s recovery is driven by FOMO, Fear Of Missing Out, not from any rational expectation.
Meanwhile I’m watching the bond market, and interest rates finally seem to be stirring, moving up. That’s a real, genuine game changer, potentially negatively, for many reasons.
Bottom line: for the time being, I’m maintaining our current asset allocations. But I’m targeting potential bargains, and I’m watching the horizon. Something profound may be happening. Frankly probably not, because most warnings don’t actually materialize into anything real. But what if…? Read more here.
I was reminded of that today when a client called up and asked what return he could expect on his investments. I said we really can’t predict, but a long term average of 7% has historically been both attractive and doable, with discipline. We really can’t say what the future will bring.
What does “discipline” mean? To some degree it means that we ignore the day to day noise and focus on long term realities.
Reality: Bitcoin is probably a bubble. Thus we should approach cautiously if at all.
Reality: The economy is profoundly leveraged, “in debt up to our eyeballs”. That always has negative consequences.
Reality: The financial markets are probably overvalued. A downturn in the future is probably inevitable. The downturn will probably be followed by an upturn, as day follows night.
Reality: history tells us that we really can’t guess. In the decade or longer time horizon, by buying low and avoiding bubbles, we will probably steer our investments towards attractive gains. In other words, in the long run, most of the above doesn’t matter. Stay the course. Stay diversified. Patience pays.
As last night’s 8.2 magnitude earthquake in Mexico illustrates, risk happens fast. We are now conditioned to three beliefs: things will continue as they are today indefinitely, the Federal Reserve will always save us, and we’ll be able to dodge out of the way.
Nine years ago today, that wasn’t the case. One of the largest investment banks, Lehman Brothers, was allowed to go bankrupt and default on its bonds. The stock market fell 25% in one month. The decision to let Lehman Brothers sink beneath the waves was a political choice, based on traditional attitudes towards free capital markets, and one lesson we all learned was that some corporations are “too big to fail.” The global political aftermath of the Lehman Brothers debacle was so painful that it’s doubtful it would happen again.
But the choice to rescue any and all carries risks as well, doesn’t it? We risk rescuing businesses which OUGHT TO FAIL and we reduce the efficiency and effectiveness of the global economy as a result.
It’s worth remembering also that almost nobody was able to dodge out of the way of the Lehman default. Our asset allocations going into the chaos determined our overall performance. As Mark Hulbert and Doug Kass have written, risk happens fast, too fast to dodge out of the way. Diversification has a price, but it also has a benefit.
Read more here.
We send our prayers to those damaged by the earthquake and by Hurricanes Harvey and Irma. It’s a busy world out there.
The market for small stocks just turned negative for the year. That’s big news, and you aren’t likely to hear it elsewhere because it disrupts the narrative of a rising stock market.
Why is it happening? This article provides more data to suggest stock market overvaluation. In this case, it’s the small stock markets, exemplified by the Russell 2000 Index. What’s more, this downturn is a divergence: the performance of the Russell 2000 Index is now negative for the year whereas the market for large cap stocks is up. Shades of 2000.
However, this mild decline in the small stock arena, combined with the insecurity created by terrorism in Europe, is likely to trigger a Federal Reserve stall of plans to raise interest rates. So a decline is by no means certain. We simply need to remain aware. Since we are diversified and modestly defensive, if a real downturn DOES occur, we’ll be buyers. When that will actually happen is anyone’s guess.
Ten years ago today, French mega-bank BNP Paribas announced it couldn’t place a value on its US-created collateralized debt obligations, complex toxic “derivative” investments, and thus was suspending client withdrawals from the funds which held them.
That was the first indication that the most gigantic financial panic since the Great Depression in 1929 was about to unfold.
The world has changed a lot since then. But many of the same structural flaws remain, patched and propped but not repaired by governments or by central bank intervention. Vastly greater debt loads are even more of a potential problem than they were in 2007.
The greatest lesson of the 2007 Financial Panic was that central banks transformed the investment markets by intervening. Perhaps they helped, perhaps they hurt, perhaps in a variety of ways they did both. But there’s no denying that the central banks are now involved in our financial markets in ways that would have been unthinkable before August 9, 2007.
Another key lesson of the 2007 Financial Panic was that many sophisticated investors did just fine, thank you, while others got hammered.
Yet another lesson was that we all muddle by. If you stayed invested through the carnage of that awful event, you have probably done well, despite it all.
Read more here.
I’m reviewing clients’ portfolios this afternoon, and given that most of us are relatively conservative I’d say we’re on track for a nice finish for the 2nd quarter. I’m saying this while crossing all digits and holding my breath.
Our international holdings, especially our emerging market holdings, have done great so far this year, which is quite emotionally rewarding since after we bought them last year they laid down like raccoon road kill for some months, and were mostly a drag on our portfolios. Now, however, they have recovered, and more.
Likewise our decision to double down on health care has been rewarding, and our decision to stay in tech has been profitable as well.
However I remain nervous like a cat in a room full of pit bull dogs. As I wrote last week, this has been a very thin market especially domestically. Political risk remains high. Markets are overvalued.
So let’s stay cautious, please.
Read more scary stock market predictions here, hopefully with a small glass of oak-aged rum. Predictions do NOT all come true. However they ARE evidence that we should be careful.
Meanwhile we’ll stay invested and stay diversified. It’s a marathon, not a sprint.
One of the hallmarks of mature U.S. stock markets is when index funds are doing better than actively managed mutual funds. That’s because the “rational” active managers are scared so they begin to avoid risk. The result is lagging returns relative to fearless, mindless index funds. I’ve seen this in 1987, 1990, 2000, and 2007. It can go on for years.
Another indicator of mature stock markets is when the market concentrates into only a few big players. This time, the big players are the FANG stocks (Facebook, Amazon, Netflix, Google). Citibank broadens them out to the FANTASY stocks (Facebook, Amazon, Nvidia, Tesla, Alphabet, Salesforce.com and Yahoo). However you label them, they are up a lot so far this year, about 30% by some estimates, and account for the majority of the broader indices’ gains. Doesn’t this sound familiar to anyone?
Also according to Citibank they have an average P/E of over 60, which is way up there in the bubble zone. That’s more than overvalued. And of course they are skewing the large indices’ valuations higher.
Combine this with the cryptocurrency markets and you’ve got looneytunes right here, right now. This has bubble written all over it. But it’s NOT a bubble in the entire financial system. Yet.
What happens next?
This may go on for years. My thought is that there’s no need to rush for the exits as long as we stay diversified. And if we sell early we risk being left far, far behind.
On the other hand a political event could trigger the inevitable landslide.
Meanwhile, economies are growing and valuations are much cheaper overseas. I’m examining that option.
Stay diversified. We are sure to have an interesting year.
For more evidence, read here.