Tom Essaye Quoted in TheStar on June 7, 2021

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Six Charts That Explain This Market from the Sevens Report

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Below you’ll find six charts, spanning asset classes and economic data.

The charts are divided up into two groups.

Group 1 is comprised of four charts that explain why stocks have rallied so nicely in 2017, and why, in the near term, the trend in markets is still higher.

Group 2 is comprised of two charts that look into the future, and show that despite a bullish set up right now, there are real, serious reasons to be worried about how long this rally can last. Point being, these indicators are telling you not to be complacent!

Group 1: Why Stocks Have Rallied

Chart 1:  Economic Data 

Chart 2:  Earnings Growth  

Earnings and Economic Data – The Unsung Heroes of 2017

We have said since the early summer that an acceleration in economic data and earnings growth have been the unsung heroes of the 2017 rally.

And, as long as both of these factors continue to trend higher, that will underpin a continued rise in U.S. stocks, regardless of noise from Washington, North Korea, Russia, etc.

Chart 3:  S&P 500 

The Trend Is Your Friend

The trend in stocks has been relentlessly higher since early in 2016, and the S&P 500 has held that trend line through multiple tests.

Bottom line, the technical outlook on this market remains powerfully positive.

Chart 4:  Commodities (Oil & Copper)

There are few better indicators of global economic growth than industrial commodities, and two or the most important (oil and copper) have been telling us for months that global growth is accelerating.

And, as long as oil and copper are grinding to new highs, that will be a tailwind not just on U.S. stocks, but on global stocks as well.

Group 2:  Risks to This Rally

While the four charts above explain why stocks have rallied and why the outlook remains, broadly, positive, there are still risks to this rally and this market.

Don’t be fooled into being complacent with risk management, because while trends in U.S. and economic growth, earnings and the stock market are all still higher, there are warning signs looming on the horizon.

Chart 5:  Inflation (Warning Sign #1)

Non-Confirmation: Why Isn’t Inflation Rising?

Inflation remains inexplicably low, considering that we’re near full employment and global economic growth is accelerating.

And, accelerating inflation remains the missing piece of a true “Reflation Rally” that can carry stocks 10%, 15% or even 20% higher over the coming quarters and years.

But, it’s not just about missed opportunity.

The lack of inflation is a big “non-confirmation” signal on this whole 2017 rally, and if we do not see inflation start to rise, and soon, that will be a major warning sign for stocks, because…

Chart 6: The Yield Curve – Will It Invert?

Yield Curve: Sending a Warning Signal? 

If the outlook for stocks is so positive, then why did the yield curve (represented here by the 10’s – 2’s Treasury yield spread) equal 2017 lows on Wednesday?

Simply put, if we’re seeing accelerating economic growth, rising earnings, potential tax cuts and all these other positive market events, the yield curve should be steepening, not flattening.

So, if this 10’s – 2’s spread continues to decline, and turns negative (inverts) then that will be a sign that investors need to begin to exit the stock market, because a serious recession is looming, and the Fed won’t have much ammunition to fight it.

If I was stuck on a desert island (with an internet connection and access to my trading accounts of course) and could only have one indicator to watch to tell me when to reduce exposure in the markets, this 10’s – 2’s spread would be it – and it’s not sending positive signals for 2018!

3 Catalysts for the Market, Plus a Wildcard to Watch, September 5, 2017

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Ever since I started my career I’ve viewed the post Labor Day time in the market as the “make or break” period of the year—because I’ve found the September-December months provide an inordinate share of both risks and opportunities for portfolios… and I believe this year will be no different.

So, as we start this “stretch run” into the end of the year, the current market set up remains as follows: Stocks have had a great year from a return standpoint, and momentum and the benefit of the doubt remain with the bulls. Yet at the same time, cracks are appearing in this Teflon market, and as such I view the market as being at much more of a tipping point than most analysts.

I believe we will either get the positive catalysts that will send stocks higher between now and year end, or the forces that have powered stocks higher throughout 2017 (earnings growth, momentum) will begin to recede, potentially opening an “air pocket” like we saw in August 2015 and early 2016.

I want to spend time today focusing on the key catalysts that I believe will decide whether the market extends the 2017 gains between now and year end, or whether we see a pullback.

But before I go into these catalysts, with regards to the weekend’s news, it goes without saying that a military conflict with North Korea is a near-term bearish gamechanger.

To be clear, I do not think that it will happen, but at the same time the level of tension here is rising considerably. If there is a military strike against North Korea, reducing tactical positions will be prudent, and it’s one reason why I continue to advocate buying puts on the Nasdaq or Russell with September or October expirations.

Away from North Korea, the catalysts that, in our opinion, will make or break 2017 are: Tax cuts, earnings, and the ECB/Fed decisions.

3 market catalysts to watch

Catalyst 1: Tax Cuts. Why This Matters—It Could Spark Another 5% Rally (Easily). Tax cut disappointment is a risk to the markets, but in reality, the likely market implications for the tax cut issue are either 1) Nothing, or 2) Positive.

I say that for a simple reason… the market is expecting very little in the way of tax cuts (28% corporate rate, foreign profit repatriation). So, it’ll take literally no change to the tax code to really disappoint markets and cause a tax cut related pullback. Conversely, the market has not priced in 25% (or lower) corporate tax rates and aggressive foreign profit repatriation. If that happens, expected 2018 S&P 500 EPS will rise immediately to $145/share (conservatively), which should allow the S&P 500 to rally close to 5% and still not breach 18X 2018 earnings.

Key Dates: There needs to be a formal bill introduced into one of the chambers of Congress by mid-October if we’re going to get something done by early 2018. If there’s no bill by then, look for stocks to be mildly disappointed. If there’s nothing by year end, look for it to be a headwind.

Catalyst 2: Earnings. Why This Matters—It Could Make the Market Too Expensive on a Valuation Basis. The 2017 earnings estimate for the S&P 500 is about $131/share. The 2018 S&P 500 earnings estimate is $140/ share. That’s about 7% yoy earnings growth—so that’s accounted for the vast majority of the S&P 500’s 10% YTD return.

But, there are some early signs that the growth rate of earnings is starting to peak. More specifically, a good Q2 earnings season failed to spark much of a rally in the market, so if Q3 earnings disappoint (even a little bit) that could cause some concern about that $140 2018 S&P 500 EPS, and investors might begin to book profits, which could easily snowball given extended valuations.

Key Dates: Oct. 9. That’s the unofficial start of Q3 earnings season (the big banks report that week).

Catalysts 3: Fed/ECB. Why This Matters—The Dollar. The ECB decision on the announcement of tapering (which will come this Thursday), and the Fed’s commentary at the meeting on Sept. 20, will be important for the markets for one main reason—currencies.

The Dollar Index is near multi-year lows on the expectation of ECB tapering, and that’s been an unsung tailwind on the markets so far in 2017. But, if the ECB surprises this Thursday and doesn’t announce its intention to taper QE starting in 2018, the dollar will surge and the euro will drop, and that could be a surprise headwind on U.S. stocks.

Additionally, since July the market has largely convinced itself that the Fed won’t hike rates in December, but it’s important to realize that Fed leadership (Yellen, Dudley, Fisher) haven’t really confirmed that expectation. If economic data gets better between now and then, even with low inflation, the market could have to price in another rate hike, which could also be a near-term head-wind.

Key Dates: Sept. 7 (ECB Meeting), Sept. 20 (FOMC meeting).

Wildcard to Watch: Withheld for subscribers. Unlock with a free two-week trial subscription to the Sevens Report.

Why the Phillips Curve Matters to You, August 8, 2017

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Pushing unemployment lower should, eventually, cause inflation—unless this entire theory (upon which most of monetary policy is based) is incorrect.

Pushing unemployment lower should, eventually, cause inflation—unless this entire theory (upon which most of monetary policy is based) is incorrect.

The Phillips curve is a term you’re likely seeing and hearing more recently than at any time previously in your career (regardless of how long it is). The reason the Phillips curve is being discussed so much is simple: There’s a growing school of thought that thinks the Phillips curve is broken, and if that’s the case, then the Fed and other central banks may be largely powerless to spur inflation (which is a potential negative for the broad markets).

Before we get into this issue, though, first lets get a bit of background on the Phillips curve. Basically, the Phillips curve is just a graph of this simple idea: Low unemployment creates higher inflation.

From a commonsense standpoint, it is logical. Less available workers and robust business activity (so low supply and high demand for workers) will cause salaries (the “price” of a worker) to rise, and that in turn will flow through to the entire economy and spur price inflation.

So, put simply, the Phillips curve says low unemployment will spur inflation. And, this idea has been the cornerstone of Fed policy for decades and largely explains the Fed’s strategy post financial crisis.

Plunging unemployment: At some point, this must create inflation, or at least that’s what Yellen believes.

Plunging unemployment: At some point, this must create inflation, or at least that’s what Yellen believes.

But, there’s a small problem: It doesn’t appear to be working in today’s economy, as historically low unemployment is failing to spur inflation.

Now, this may seem like a theoretical, academic conversation, but it has real, near-term market consequences.

For instance, the entire mid-July rally in stocks came because the Fed began to note low inflation more than low unemployment.

That caused the decline in Treasury yields and exacerbated the drop in the dollar—and that helped spur a rally in stocks.

However, that may have changed with Friday’s jobs report. The unemployment rate hit 4.3%, matching a fresh low for this expansion (i.e. since the financial crisis). And, unemployment that low will get the Fed’s attention (at least Yellen’s attention) because while there is a debate about the Phillips curve still being accurate, the bottom line is that the Fed still follows it. At some point, if unemployment continues to drop, the Fed will have to continue with rate increases regardless of what’s happening with inflation.

And, that could have an important impact on returns and performance.

Here’s why: If unemployment grinds towards 4% or below, the Fed will have to get hawkish or either 1) Abandon decades of monetary policy that has largely worked, or 2) Risk a significant rise in inflation down the road (according to the Phillips curve) that would require a sharp, painful increase in interest rates—a move that almost certainly would put the US economy into recession.

The practical investment takeaways are this: (withheld for subscribers of the 7sReport—sign up for your free two-week trial to unlock). 

Weekly Market Cheat Sheet, July 31, 2017

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Last Week in Review

Data has been remarkably consistent the last few weeks, including last week: “OK” but not great economic growth, and consistent signs that inflation is losing momentum. As such, the economic data continues to point to a “Stagnation” set up for stocks and other assets.

Given that inflation trends are more important than growth trends right now, I’ll start with the Quarterly Employment Cost Index, which, like many other inflation indicators in Q2, slightly missed estimates. The Q2 ECI rose 0.5% vs. (E) 0.6, maintaining a 2.4% yoy increase from Q1, but slightly disappointing vs. expectations.

Additionally on Friday, the PCE Price Indices from the Q2 GDP report showed deceleration in the pace of inflation. The PCE Price Index rose just 1% in Q2 vs. (E) 1.2%. Now, none of these inflation statistics are particularly bad. Yet from a policy standpoint, these numbers won’t make the Fed eager to tighten policy ahead of the current schedule (balance sheet reduction in September, rate hike, probably, in December).

Turning to actual growth data, it was “ok” but not great. Q2 GDP met expectations with a 2.6% yoy gain, and that was a true number as Final Sales of Domestic Product (which is GDP less inventories) was also 2.6%. Consumer Spending, or PCE as it’s known in the GDP report, rose 2.8%, again a solid but unspectacular number.

Similarly, June Durable Goods, while a decent report, wasn’t that strong. The headline was a big beat at 6.5% vs. (E) 3.5%, but that was because of one-time airline orders. New Orders for Non-Defense Capital Goods ex-aircraft, the best proxy for corporate spending and investment, was revised higher in May but dipped 0.1% in June.

Point being, like most growth data recently, it wasn’t a bad report, but it’s not the kind of strength that will spur a reflationary rally.

Finally, the one economic data point that was strong last week was the July flash manufacturing PMI. It rose to 54.2 vs. (E) 53.2, but while that is a potential positive (it’s a July report so it’s the most current) the PMIs are surveys, and the gap between soft survey data and “hard” economic numbers remains wide.

Turning to the Fed meeting last week, the two takeaways were: 1) The Fed confirmed that they will reduce the balance sheet in September, barring any big economic or inflation surprises. 2) The Fed did slightly downgrade the inflation outlook, but importantly it kept open the option to hike rates at any meeting, and as such a December rate hike is still likely).

This Week’s Preview

As stated, inflation is more important than growth data right now, so that means two most important numbers this week will be tomorrow’s Core PCE Price Index (contained in the Personal Income and Outlays report) and Friday’s wage data in the jobs report.

Stocks have rallied since Yellen turned incrementally dovish at her Humphrey-Hawkins testimony, and soft inflation data will further that sentiment and underpin stocks.

Conversely, if we see inflation bounce back, that will push bond yields higher and help reflation assets (banks, small caps, inverse bond funds, cyclicals).

But, inflation stats aren’t the only important numbers this week as we get the latest final manufacturing and composite US and global PMIs. They remain important because they will provide anecdotal insight into the pace of the US and global economy. But again, it would be a pretty big surprise if the data suddenly showed slowing in the global economy.

On the flip side, at least for the US, a strong report would be welcome, because strong economic data won’t cause the Fed to get more “hawkish” unless inflation ticks higher.

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FOMC Takeaways, July 27, 2017

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FOMC Decision
• As expected, the Fed left rates unchanged and did not alter its balance sheet.

The Fed decision met our “What’s Expected” scenario, as the Fed said balance sheet reduction “relatively soon,” which is Fed speak for September.

To boot, as was also generally expected, the Fed slightly downgraded the outlook for inflation, saying that inflation was running “below 2%,” as opposed to the previous “running somewhat” below 2%. It’s a minor change that largely reflects the Fed’s recent cautious language on inflation. However, the Fed said that risks to the recovery remained “roughly balanced,” which is Fed speak for “We still can hike rates at any meeting.” That last point is important, because risks remaining “roughly balanced” leaves a rate hike in December on the table (Fed fund futures odds have it at 50/50).

Currency and bond markets reacted “dovishly” to the decision, but again that’s due more to a Pavlovian dovish response to any Fed decision rather than an accurate reflection of the Fed yesterday. In reality, the Fed wasn’t materially dovish.

Bottom line, the policy outlook remains the same: The Fed will reduce its balance sheet in September, and likely will hike rates again in December, barring any economic slowdown or further decline in inflation statistics (at which point both events will become less certain). That was the market’s expectation before the Fed meeting Wednesday, and that’s the market expectation
after the Fed decision.


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FOMC Preview and Projections plus the Wildcard to Watch, July 25, 2017

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Tomorrow’s FOMC meeting is important to markets for multiple reasons, because it will give us additional color on when the Fed will begin to reduce its balance sheet, and whether a December rate hike is still on the table.

Those revelations will be the latest catalyst for the ongoing battle between “reflation” (which means cyclical sectors like banks, industrials and small caps outperform) or “stagnation” (super-cap tech and defensive sector out-performance).

Given the latter sectors have been the key to outperforming the markets in 2017, understanding what the Fed means for these sectors is critically important. Remember, it was the Fed’s “hawkish” June statement that saw Treasury yields rise and banks and small caps outperform from June through mid-July. And, it was Yellen’s “dovish” Humphrey-Hawkins testimony that reversed the rise in yields and resulted in the two-week outperformance of super-cap tech (FDN) and defensive sectors such as utilities. So again, while not dominating the headlines, the Fed is still an important influence over the markets, just on more of a micro-economic level.

What’s Expected: No Change to Interest Rates or Balance Sheet Policy. The Fed is not expected to make any change to rates (so no hike) or begin the reduction of the balance sheet. However, and this is important, the Fed is expected to clearly signal that balance sheet reduction will begin in September by altering the fifth paragraph to state that balance sheet normalization will begin “soon” or “at the next meeting.” Likely Market Reaction: Withheld for Sevens Report subscribers. Unlock by starting your free trial today.

Hawkish If: The Fed Reduces the Balance Sheet. This would be a legitimate hawkish shock, as everyone expects the Fed to start balance sheet reduction in September. Likely Market Reaction: Withheld for Sevens Report subscribers. Unlock by starting your free trial today.

Dovish If: No Hint At Balance Sheet Reduction. If the Fed leaves the language in paragraph five unchanged (and says balance sheet reduction will happen “this year”) markets will react dovishly, as balance sheet reduction likely won’t start until after September, and that means no more rate hikes in 2017. Likely Market Reaction: Withheld for Sevens Report subscribers. Unlock by starting your free trial today.

Wild Card to Watch: Inflation Language.

So far, the Fed has been pretty dismissive regarding the undershoot of inflation, but that may change in tomorrow’s statement. If the Fed reduces its outlook on inflation (implying low inflation isn’t just temporary) or, more significantly, implies the risks are no longer “roughly balanced” (which is Fed speak for we can hike at any meeting), then a December rate hike will be off the table, and that will result in a likely significantly dovish move. If made, that change will come at the end of the second paragraph.

Bottom Line

To the casual observer, this Fed meeting might look like a non-event, but there are a lot of potential changes that could have significant implications on sector performance over the next few months. So, again, getting this Fed meeting “right” will be important from an asset allocation standpoint.

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Oil Update & What It Means for the Market, July 20, 2017

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Yesterday’s weekly inventory report from the EIA was universally bullish on the headline level as there were sizeable draws in crude oil stockpiles as well as in the refined products. The market responded favorably to the supply drops and WTI futures finished the day up 1.61%.

Beginning with those aforementioned headlines, commercial crude oil stocks fell –4.7M bbls last week, larger than analysts expectations of –3.1M and opposite from the API report that showed a build of +1.628M bbls.

Gasoline supply fell –4.4M bbls yesterday, and while that was less than the draw reported by the API (-5.4M) it was much larger than the average analyst estimate of –600K bbls.

Distillate inventories also fell –2.1M vs. (E) -700K rounding out a broadly bullish set of headlines in the report.

The details of the report however, once again showed a continuation in the bearish trend of rising US production. Lower 48 production (which filters out the seasonally volatile Alaskan data) rose another +30K b/d last week, above the 2017 average pace of +26K b/d to

8.97M b/d. Lower 48 production is now up +729K b/d so far in 2017, the highest level since late July 2015.

Bottom line, a string of supply draws over the last three weeks in crude oil and gasoline stocks totaling –18.6M bbls and –9.8M bbls, respectively, has offered the market some support, and helped curb a decline that pushed oil prices down to new 2017 lows. And with sentiment being very bearish coming into the month of July, the market was due for an upside correction. But, the underlying fundamentals remain bearish and as of now, we believe this is a counter-trend rally in an otherwise still broadly downward trending energy market. We won’t fight the rising tide, and a run at $50/barrel in WTI is very plausible, but we will be looking for signs of the trend to break in the weeks ahead and for the market to turn back lower based on fundamentals, market internals (term structure), and longer term technicals.

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Chinese Data Recap and What it Means for Global Markets, July 18, 2017

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Chinese Economic Data

  • GDP held steady at 6.9% vs. (E) 6.8% in Q2
  • Fixed Asset Investment was 8.6% vs. (E) 8.4% in June
  • Industrial Production rose to 7.6% vs (E) 6.5% in June
  • Retail Sales rose to 11.0% vs. (E) 10.6% in June

Politics - Sevens Report (1)


The headlines tell the story of yesterday’s data dump in China. The reports were universally better than expected, but GDP was the report that warranted the most attention as the headline growth rate held steady at 6.9% rather than pulling back as expected.

Quarter-on-quarter growth jumped to 1.7% from 1.3%, which suggests that the Chinese economy is starting to stabilize towards the top end of the government’s target range of 6.5%-7%.

Looking ahead, the solid growth level seems to be sustainable, and not just a short-lived spike in economic activity. Without getting deep into the details, the growth is consumption driven, and new government policy and reforms are poised to help continue fueling solid growth into H2’17.

Bottom line, yesterday’s strong set of Chinese economic reports were welcomed by economists, as they underscored the positive outlook for the global economy going forward. But the reason the data did not ignite a more pronounced rally in global equities is the fact that growth in China has become more of an expectation, and global growth as a whole is no longer a great concern (as it was back in the summer of 2015).

Instead, very low inflation rates in the US and Europe are the most notable concern, and until those statistics begin to firm, weak inflationary pressures will be a drag on risk assets like stocks in the months ahead.

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Goldilocks Jobs Report Preview, July 6, 2017

Goldilocks Jobs Report Preview: What Will Make the Report too Hot, too Cold, or Just Right?

Given the Fed’s newfound confidence in inflation and economic growth, the bigger risk for stocks will be if tomorrow’s number comes in “Too Cold,” and further implies the economy is losing momentum into a hiking cycle.

However, while a “Too Cold” scenario would likely be the worst outcome for stocks, “Too Hot” wouldn’t be ideal, either, as it would cause a resumption of the reflation trade we saw in June.

So, there are two-sided risks into tomorrow’s jobs report, and if it’s outside of the “Just Right” scenario, we will either see some important sector rotation, or a broader market movement.


jobs report

“Too Hot” Scenario (Potential for Two More Rate Hikes in 2017)

>250k Job Adds, < 4.1% Unemployment, > 2.9% YOY wage increase. A number this hot will open the discussion for another rate hike, likely in September or November.

Likely Market Reaction: We should see a powerful reengagement of the “reflation trade” from June… (withheld for subscribers only—unlock specifics and ETFs by signing up for a free two-week trial).

“Just Right” Scenario (Confirms expectations of September balance sheet reduction & December rate hike)

125k–250k Job Adds, > 4.1% Unemployment Rate, 2.5%-2.8% YOY wage increase. This is the best-case scenario for stocks, as it would reinforce the current expectation of balance sheet reduction in September, and one more 25-bps rate hike in December.

Likely Market Reaction: This is the most positive outcome for stocks… (withheld for subscribers only—unlock specifics and ETFs by signing up for a free two-week trial).

“Too Cold” Scenario (Economic Growth Potentially Stalling)

< 125k Job Adds. The key to a sustained, longer term breakout in stocks is stronger economic growth that leads to higher interest rates, and a soft number here would further undermine that outcome, and imply the Fed is hiking rates into an economy that is losing momentum.

Likely Market Reaction: (Withheld for subscribers only—unlock specifics and ETFs by signing up for a free two-week trial).

Again, given the Fed and other central banks newfound hawkishness, this is the worst outcome for stocks over the coming weeks and months.

Bottom Line

This jobs report isn’t important because it will materially alter the Fed’s near-term outlook. Instead, it’s important because if it prints “Too Cold” it could send bonds and bank stocks through their 2017 lows. And while I respect the fact that stocks have been able to withstand that underperformance so far in 2017, I don’t think the broad market can withstand new lows in yields and banks.

Cut through the noise and understand what’s truly driving markets, as this new political and economic reality evolves. The Sevens Report is the daily market cheat sheet our subscribers use to keep up on markets, seize opportunities, avoid risks and get more assets. Sign up for your free two-week trial today and see the difference 7 minutes can make.