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Real Economics vs. Trump’s Washington Buzz

As has been the case since the election, the political noise in the market is deafening.

But cutting through that noise, the reality is this: The gap between market expectations from Washington and the current reality has grown significantly in the month since Trump’s inauguration, and it is not an understatement to say that political disappointment risk is now very high.

Is Trump News Affecting Markets?

Specifically, Trump noise aside, all signs point to massive fractures in the Republican Party over the repeal/replace of Obamacare, and over border adjustments (the key to any material corporate tax reform).

To boot, the constant drama and infighting is draining Trump’s political capital even before we get close to deals on Obamacare and taxes. Specifically, the immigration ban battle, the Gen. Flynn drama, and the Puzder (the Labor Secretary nominee) withdrawal (where a full 12 Republican Senators would have voted against him) all are combining to reduce the likelihood of anything substantial on taxes.

Bottom line, the only thing politically that really matters to markets is tax cuts. But given the fractures appearing on Obamacare and border adjustments, the likelihood of material, pro-growth policy is fading… and fast.

Last week, Trump again touted fantastic things coming up, and Ryan promised an Obamacare repeal/replace by the end of February. Yet neither actually mean any progress (for that we need Republican support for bills in the Senate, and that’s lacking).

Going forward, a key date emerging on the calendar is February 28, when Trump is due to give an address before Congress (first year Presidents give this address instead of a State of the Union).

If there is no material progress on a compromise on a Obamacare repeal/replace or border adjustments within corporate tax reform by this address, then the political reality could begin to weigh on markets as investors begin to lose hope of pro-growth reforms in 2017.

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“Is the Stock Market Too Expensive?” February 23, 2017

“Is the Stock Market Too Expensive?” 

That’s a question I’m getting asked a lot lately by subscribers and colleagues.

With stocks at record highs, there is a lot of worry that the market is unsustainably expensive. But, that’s simply not the case.

Yesterday, in the full edition of The Sevens Report, we broke it down.

  • Provided a three-part analysis of what makes the market 1) Expensive, 2) Fairly Valued (with some room for upside) and 3) Cheap
  • Named each catalyst that would decide that valuation level
  • Listed specific sector and style ETFs that we believe can outperform in this valuation environment.

Excerpt from that research below:

Valuation Update: How Overvalued Are Stocks?

It’s no secret that stocks are richly valued, but while those high valuations make me generally uncomfortable (I’m a value investor at heart) I do feel the need to push back a bit on the idea that valuations, alone, are a reason to lighten up on equity exposure.

Yes, in some scenarios the stock market is simply “too expensive.” Still, there are other, more plausible scenarios where I can show the market as reasonably valued or even cheap. Here are a few of those scenarios.

The Market is Too Expensive If: You’re Looking at Current Year Earnings. Looking at current year earnings, the S&P 500 is historically very expensive. With consensus $128 2017 S&P 500 EPS, the S&P 500 is trading at a whopping 18.44X current year earnings. Anything above 18X has proven (longer term) historically unsustainable.

The Market Is Not Too Expensive (Yet) If: You Look At Next Year’s (2018) Earnings (And This is Without Any Tax Cuts). Consensus 2018 (so next year) EPS are around $135, which does not include any benefit from a corporate tax cut. At $135, the S&P 500 is trading at 17.4X next year’s earnings. Yes, that is expensive (the 20-year average is 17.2X per FactSet) but it’s not unsustainable, not in an environment with historically low interest rates and an apparent macro-economic acceleration.

In fact, if the macro set up doesn’t change (and we don’t get any definitively bad news from Washington), I could see investors pushing that multiple to 18X, or 2,430 in the S&P 500 (about 3% higher from here).

Above that, I think the market would get somewhat prohibitively expensive, but that would depend on what’s happening with the economy, inflation and rates.

The Market Is Cheap If: Real, Material Corporate Tax Cuts Get Implemented. If we do get material corporate tax cuts in 2017, most analysts think that would add at least $10/share to S&P 500 EPS, bringing the 2018 number from $135 to $145.

At $145 EPS, the S&P 500 would be trading at just 16.3X next year’s earnings, which in this environment could easily be considered reasonable if not outright cheap.

“Is the stock market too expensive?”

Six Value ETFs That Can (and Have) Outperformed

From a practical standpoint, the fact that the stock market is on the expensive side historically does reinforce my preference for value-oriented ETFs. Since late 2016, we’ve focused our tactical strategies on sectors we considered a “value” and they have handily outperformed the S&P 500:

  • In September of 2016, we strongly advocated getting long banks due to 1) Compelling valuation and 2) The start of the uptrend in bond yields. Since that call on September 26, our preferred bank ETF has risen 41%!
  • In late 2016, while many analysts were chasing cyclical sectors in the wake of the election, we instead advocated buying value in super-cap internet stocks. Our preferred internet ETF has risen 9.8% in 2017, handily outperforming the S&P 500.
  • At the start of 2017, we cited the maligned healthcare sector as our preferred contrarian play for 2017, based on the idea that overly negative political fears had created a value opportunity. Our two preferred healthcare ETFs have risen 7.3% and 7.5% so far in 2017, and we think that trend of outperformance will continue. 
  • More broadly, we have identified two “Value” style ETFs that we believe will outperform the markets in this current macro-environment, and these two broad ETFs remain our preferred vehicle to be generically “long” the market.

The Sevens Report doesn’t just help you cut through the noise and focus on what’s truly driving markets – we also provide tactical idea generation and technical analysis to help our subscribers outperform. You can sign up for your free trial today: www.7sReport.com.

“This is a huge value add. If I can avoid even a modest portion of significant market pullbacks, and be well-invested during bull markets based on your Dow Theory calls, my clients will be extremely happy with me. I already look like a genius to them!” – Financial Advisor with a National Brokerage Firm, New York, NY. 

Disappointing Numbers from Flash February Manufacturing & Service PMIs: February 22, 2017

Below is an excerpt from the “Economics” section of the Sevens Report. The Sevens Report has everything you need to know about the markets by 7am each morning in 7 minutes or less—can get a free trial if you sign up now.

Flash February Manufacturing & Service PMIs

  • Feb. Manufacturing PMI declined to 54.3 vs. (E) 55.5.
  • Fed. Service PMI declined to 53.9 vs. (E) 55.9.

Takeaway

In what was a surprising contradiction to last week’s very strong Empire and Philly manufacturing PMIs, both flash PMIs declined, and implied increased stagflation risk, signaling that further economic acceleration is not a foregone conclusion.

Now, to be clear, neither number was outright bad in an absolute sense. Both numbers in aggregate are reflective of a decently strong economy. Yet in order to power stocks higher in the context of growing political dysfunction, data needs to continue to show acceleration, and neither of these flash PMIs showed acceleration.

Declines in Nearly Every Sub Index of the PMI

Looking specifically at the manufacturing PMI, New Orders, the leading indicator in the Report, dipped to 56.2 from 57.4 (still a very high absolute reading but a decline nonetheless). In fact, virtually every sub index declined in February except for input prices, which rose slightly to 56.1 from 56.0. Notably, output prices (i.e. selling prices) dipped slightly to 51.7 vs. 51.9, which is indicative of margin compression. One number doesn’t make a trend, but that’s something to keep an eye on.

Bottom line, the flash PMIs are one of the bigger economic numbers each month, and this was a surprising disappointment. It won’t change the trajectory of the rally near term, but strong (and stronger) economic data is a critical support to this market, especially in the face of growing doubts in Washington. So, the rest of February’s data just got a lot more interesting.

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Economics: This Week and Last Week. February 21, 2017

An excerpt from today’s Sevens Report. Subscribe now to get the full report in your inbox before 7am each morning.

Both economic growth and inflation accelerated according to last week’s data, and while the former continues to help support stocks despite a darkening outlook from Washington, the latter also is increasing the likelihood of a more hawkish-than-expected Fed in 2017, and a resumption of the uptrend in interest rates. For now, though, the benefit of the former is outweighing the risk of the latter.

If, however, we do not see any dip in the data between now and early May, I do expect the Fed to hike rates at that May meeting, which would be a marginal hawkish surprise. To boot, if we get a strong Jobs report (out Friday, March 3), then a March rate hike two weeks later isn’t out of the question. Point being, upward pressure is building on interest rates again.

Last Week

Both economic growth and inflation accelerated according to last week’s data.

Looking at last week’s data, it was almost universally strong. Retail Sales, which was the key number last week, handily beat expectations as the headline rose 0.4% vs. (E) 0.1% while the more important “Control” retail sales (which is the best measure of discretionary consumer spending) rose 0.4% vs. (E) 0.3%. Additionally, there were positive revisions to the December data, and clearly the US consumer continues to spend (which is more directly positive for the credit card companies).

Additionally, the first look at February manufacturing data was very strong. Empire Manufacturing beat estimates, rising to 18.7 vs. (E) 7.5, a 2-1/2 year high. However, it was outdone by Philly Fed, which surged to 43.3 vs. (E) 19.3, the highest reading since 1983! Both regional manufacturing surveys are volatile, but clearly they show an uptick in activity, which everyone now expects to be reflected in the national flash PMI.

Even housing data was decent as Housing Starts beat estimates on the headline, while the more important single family starts (the better gauge of the residential real estate market) rose 1.9%. Single family permits, a leading indicator for single family starts, did dip by 2.7%, but even so the important takeaway from this data is that so far, higher interest rates don’t appear to be negatively impacting the residential housing market, and a stable housing market is a key, but underappreciated, ingredient to economic acceleration.

Finally, looking at the Fed, Yellen’s commentary was marginally hawkish, as she was upbeat on the economy, basically saying the nation had achieved full employment and was closing on 2% inflation, and reiterated that a rate hike should be considered at upcoming meetings. None of her comments were new, but the reiteration of them reminds us that the Fed is in a hiking cycle, and the risk is for more hikes… not less.

This Week

The big number this week is the February global flash manufacturing PMI, out Tuesday. With last week’s strong Empire and Philly Surveys, expectations will be pretty elevated for the flash manufacturing PMI, so there is some risk of mild disappointment. On the flip side, if this number is very strong (like Empire and Philly) you will likely see a hawkish reaction out of the markets (dollar/bond yields up) and the expectation for a rate hike before June increases. That, by itself, shouldn’t cause a pullback in stocks, but upward pressure will build on interest rates.

Outside of the flash manufacturing PMIs, the FOMC minutes from the January meeting will be released Wednesday, and investors will parse the comments for any clues as to the likelihood of a March increase. Yet given the amount of political/fiscal uncertainty, and considering the FOMC meeting was before the strong January jobs report and recent acceleration in data, I’d be surprised if the minutes are very hawkish (although given they are dated, I don’t think that not-dovish minutes reduces the chances of a May or even March hike).

Bottom line, the focus will be on the flash manufacturing PMIs, and a good number this week will be supportive for stocks.

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What impact are Trump’s headlines having on markets?

Trump makes a lot of headlines, but what actually impacts the market?

After impacting the markets with his comment about a forthcoming “phenomenal” tax plan, the markets have been surprisingly unmoved by any of the headlines coming in from Washington D.C.

This week, we’ve seen stocks focusing on the good economic data (retail sales, Empire Manufacturing) and ignoring the political drama (Trump’s Labor Secretary nominee, Andrew Puzder, withdrew yesterday). Earlier this week, the market also remained steady after the news of National Security Administration Michael Flynn’s resignation.

What might Trump do to impact the market? After campaigning with somewhat hostile trade rhetoric, we’ve the realities of global trade soften his tone a bit. For example, he embraced the “One China” policy of governance over Taiwan. Similarly, so far Trump has resisted instructing the Treasury Department to label China a “currency manipulator” in its semi-annual currency report, due out in late March/early April. That would obviously be bad for stocks.

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What’s the Specific Word Trump Said That Sent the S&P 500 Through 2300 Last Week?

What’s the Specific Word Trump Said That Sent the S&P 500 Through 2300 Last Week?

Last week started off a little down on Monday, then flat on Tuesday and Wednesday. Thursday looked like it was going to be another boring day until President Trump made comments during an airline CEO meeting that he would present a “phenomenal” tax plan in a few weeks. Those comments were followed by a more legitimately positive article from The Hill that said Trump may be willing to cut entitlements to pay for tax cuts. Stocks jumped on the headlines and markets moved to all-time highs.

The momentum continued on Friday as political expectations continue to rise, and stocks rallied small in quiet trade. And with no news to break that momentum, stocks drifted higher into the close and with modest gains on the week.

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A More Hawkish-Than-Anticipated Federal Reserve: February 15, 2017

An excerpt from the Sevens Report. Sign up for a two-week free trial of the full report at www.7sReport.com.

Yesterday I began profiling a couple of non-political risks to explore when making decisions for your clients and talking with prospects. Here’s the second:

Non-Political Risk 2: A More Hawkish-Than-Anticipated Federal Reserve

Profiling this risk seemed only natural, given Yellen’s Humphrey-Hawkins testimony yesterday, and her marginally hawkish comments served as a good reminder that the market is pretty complacent with regards to expected Fed rate hikes in 2017.

Yellen’s comments to the Fed on Tuesday, February 14th, were slightly hawkish.

Starting with Yellen, she was slightly hawkish in her comments mainly because of her upbeat assessment of the economy combined with her reiteration that waiting too long to hike rates would be “unwise,” and that the Fed will consider further increases at “upcoming meetings.” Finally, Yellen repeated that she expects a “few” rate hikes this year (she cited the median dots were three hikes in 2017).

While none of those comments were new, it was a reiteration that the economy is doing relatively well and that the Fed is focused on removing accommodation, and markets reacted slightly hawkishly as the dollar rose while Treasuries declined/yields rose.

From an equity standpoint, the fact that the Fed has not been hawkish so far in 2017 has helped stocks rally, as the 10-year Treasury yield has backed away from the 2.60% level. Above that we believe higher rates will start to become a headwind on stocks. But, there is clearly a risk that rates rise higher than current expectations, and as such we want to profile that risk.

Probability of 3 rate hikes this year (one more than expected)? > 50%. This is my opinion, and it’s higher than the current consensus, but to me it makes sense. If investors think that better growth is going to support the stock market, then why do they expect that acceleration in growth not to invite more interest rate hikes from the Fed? The answer is because the Fed has been ultra dovish for years, but I believe that is changing due to multiple factors.

First, growth is as good as it’s been in years. Second, dis-inflation/deflation is no longer a threat (we think this is an underappreciated change in the macro-economic dynamic). Even in ’13 and ’14, when growth had periods of acceleration, inflation was still trending downward and the Fed was in full QE mode. Now, inflation is trending upwards. Third, the composition of the Fed will change as Trump can nominate three Fed members this year, and it’s a good bet they will be more on the hawkish side. So, while it’s still Yellen’s Fed, the scales should start to tilt toward the hawks later this year.

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Economic Growth Slows: February 14, 2017

An excerpt from today’s Sevens Report.

Non-Political Risk #1: Economic Growth Slows.

Stronger economic data remains an unsung hero of this post-election rally, and while Trump gets the headlines, it’s really the economic data that’s enabling this rally as better economic growth is allowing the market to continue to give Trump and the Republicans the benefit of the doubt.

I can go through the litany of reports, but whether it’s PMIs, the Jobs Report, or Business Investment, the data has been accelerating since mid to late 2016, and that’s created the proverbial “rising tide” that’s helped under-write both policy optimism and the rally in stocks.

But, while hope may be growing that there will be less drama from the administration (the reason for Monday’s rally), at the same time there’s growing evidence that actual policy reality will not meet market expectations.

So, in the near term, it’s going to be up to economic data to continue to provide a reason for markets to give Washington the benefit of the doubt, otherwise the sober reality of a market that now trades well over 18X current-year earnings will begin to cause problems.

Bottom line, if economic growth slows in the near term, that will cause a pullback in stocks. So, in today’s Sevens Report for subscribers, I go into detail on: 1) How likely is an economic slow down? 2) What are the leading indicators to watch? and, 3) How do we position if it happens?

First, how likely is an economic slow down? > 50%.

A probability that high may surprise people, but I have several reasons for it: First, we’ve seen an acceleration in economic activity, but we still haven’t really achieved the “breakout” pace of consistent 3% GDP growth that tends to feed on itself and further stimulate the economy. For all the excitement, we’re still in a 2%ish GDP regime (GDP Now from the Atlanta Fed has Q1 GDP at 2.7% in Q1). Point being, things down have to slow very much before the economy is right back in neutral.

Second, the consumer has powered this economic acceleration, but the consumer is tired. Credit creation is slowing, and retail sales reports have been lackluster of late. To boot, the job market remains basically at full employment and while wages are rising, they aren’t rising fast enough to power incremental acceleration consumer spending. Unless we see proof consumers are accessing the equity in their homes, I don’t see what will cause consumer spending to grind higher.

The Citi Economic Surprise Index rose steadily through Q4 of 2016 as economic data consistently beat expectations. Going forward, this index is now an important leading indicator for the market, as any material move back down towards zero will create a headwind on stocks.

Third, business investment has accelerated lately and that is good, but the uncertainty over the tax code changes (and trade in general) has the potential to be-come a headwind on business investment. Here’s my point: The tax changes being discussed in Congress could eliminate interest deductibility and change a host of other tax issues. If I’m a business and I’m thinking of getting a big loan to finance expansion, I’m likely going to wait until there’s more clarity on these and trade issues be-fore taking on too much risk.

Finally, leading indicator of growth for the global economy, China, is actively trying to slow its economy. China’s credit-fueled expansion back in February 2016 marked an inflection point in the global economy and things have been better since. But with a year of stimulus be-hind it, currency issues, and once again overheating property and asset markets, Chinese authorities are trying to cool their economy. The effects aren’t immediate or direct on the US economy, but the fact is that a slow-ing Chinese economy will become a headwind on the US at some point (how much of a headwind depends on how well the cooling is managed).

“Leading Indicators” and, “How do we position if it happens?” sections are restricted to subscribers.

Take advantage of the limited time special offer—if you subscribe to the Sevens Report today, and after the first two weeks you are not completely satisfied, we will refund your first quarterly payment, in full, no questions asked.

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Economic Cheat Sheet: February 13, 2017

Last Week:

There was very little incremental economic data last week, and what reports did come met expectations and importantly did nothing to change the perception that economic activity is legitimately accelerating—a perception that continues to support stocks broadly.

From a domestic data viewpoint, there isn’t a lot to talk about. Jobless claims continued to fall and hit another multi-decade low (a 43-year low), and that’s even more impressive when you consider how much the population has grown since then. Internationally, there was mixed data from China as their foreign exchange reserves dropped below the psychologically important $3 trillion level. While that was ignored by markets this week, China continues to bubble as a potential macro surprise in Q1/early Q2. These foreign currency reserves are a story we need to continue to watch.

But, January Trade Balance was much stronger than expected (exports up 7.9% vs. (E) 3.1%), and that data point early Friday helped alleviate some concern. Still, China’s currency reserves are declining, and authorities are actively trying to pull leverage from their economy and cool growth. More often than not, that leads to some sort of macro-economic growth scare—so just a heads up for the coming months.

Bottom line, economic growth remains an important pillar of this rally, and nothing last week changed that set up, which again was why at worst stocks were flat before the political headlines caused the late-week rally.

This Week:

As we’ve said, two of the biggest risks to the rally outside of Washington remain 1) Lackluster data and 2) A more hawkish Fed. Given those risks, the growth and inflation data this week is important.

Janet Yellen (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

However, the most important event of the week will be Fed Chair Yellen’s semi-annual Humphrey-Hawkins testimony to Congress, on Tuesday (the Senate) and Wednesday (the House). While she isn’t going to telegraph when the Fed will raise rates, her comments are still important considering the market remains complacent with regards to a Fed rate hike. There is no expectation of a March or May hike, and we continue to think the market is a little too complacent with regards to the potential for a May hike (we admit March seems remote).

Staying on the theme of Fed expectations, the next most important number this week is the January CPI report out Tuesday. The Fed does not believe inflation is accelerating meaningfully (due to the data), but if inflation does pick up pace that will be hawkish and will send yields higher—and most likely stocks lower.

Looking at growth data, Wednesday and Thursday are the key days to watch as we get January Retail Sales (Wed), Empire Manufacturing (Wed), January Industrial Production (Wed) and Feb. Philly Fed (Thursday). Of those four reports, the retail sales number is the most important, because consumer spending has been the engine of growth for the US economy, and it needs to maintain a decent pace because while business investment has picked up, it won’t offset a continued moderation in consumer spending.

The Empire and Philly Fed Indices are the next most important numbers next week, as they will give us the first look at February activity. Since better growth is a key support to this rally, they need to show continued strength. Neither number needs to accelerate meaningfully, but we can’t see much of a retracement, either. Bottom line, strong economic data and benign inflation data (Goldilocks numbers) have been an important support for this market as Washington reverts to the mean (gets more dysfunctional), and that needs to continue if stocks can hold recent gains in the face of confusing political headlines.

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Takeaway from Hawkish Fed Minutes

 

The bottom line of the minutes from The Fed’s March meeting was that there is little probability of the Fed doing any additional stimulus unless the economic data weakens.

In particular, this is the sentence that got markets moving: “A couple of members indicated that the initiation of additional stimulus could become necessary if the economy lost momentum or if inflation seemed likely to remain below two percent.”

The important part of that statement is “could become necessary” which signals that the committee does not view any additional QE as necessary at the moment.

Effect

The minutes had a big effect on markets. Stocks were already lower heading into the release, but fell sharply post release (Dow down over 100 points) as the realization hit traders that, for now, additional accommodation is off the table.

The U.S. dollar, Euro, Gold and Treasuries were also big movers off the release, as Gold and the Euro fell hard, while the U.S. Dollar and Treasury yields moved sharply higher.

Takeaway

I had said in Monday’s issue, and throughout last week, that I thought the market had misinterpreted Bernanke’s testimony from last Monday and that is wasn’t signaling additional QE. That turned out to be correct.

For a market that has become addicted to quantitative easing and accommodation from the Fed, this news is obviously disappointing in the short term.

But, we need to see the forest for the trees here. The Fed doesn’t see the need to do additional QE because the economy appears to be getting stronger and it isn’t needed.

That is a good thing for stocks if we look beyond the very short term. It is also a good thing for commodities, even through it doesn’t look like it right now. The reason is because The Fed is not going to raise rates any time soon, and we can expect the inflationary implications of The Fed’s previous actions to begin to filter through the economy, and continue the re-inflation that has already begun.

This is a time to use short term weakness to establish a position in equities and commodities. I’m not saying to do it today, as we probably have some more selling to be done—but I will view any decline in the commodities markets based on the disappointment of less stimulus as a buying opportunity. Get your shopping list ready.