Saturday, June 24, 2017

This Is What A Bubble Looks Like: Japan 1989 Edition

Summary: Take the US tech bubble of the 1990s, add the subsequent real estate bubble of the 2000s, multiply by two, and you have a good approximation of the events leading to Japan's stock market crash in 1990.

The Nikkei stock index rose more than 900% in the 15 years before it finally topped. It was a frenzy powered by a belief that Japan Inc. was on its way to taking over nearly every major industry worldwide. The stock market bubble was further fueled by a massive real estate bubble at least twice the size of the one the US experienced in the 2000s. Tokyo alone became more valuable than all the land in the US.  In short, it was the product of a tsunami of monumental and concurrent events that are unlike anything present in the US today.

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Long advances in the stock market bring out fears that the rise will end in a crash. A current meme is how the US market today is just like the one leading up to the 1987 crash. That same argument was made in 2013, 2014 and 2016, and failed each time. More on that in a recent post here.

Today's stock market is sometimes compared to Japan's main stock index, the Nikkei, in the years leading up to its brutal crash in 1990.

Some might recall the Nikkei's spectacular advance. The index rose 30% in 1989 alone, but this came after a long bull market. Over the last 5 years of that bull market, the Nikkei rose 3.4 times; over the last 15 years, it rose more than 10 times. The rise was relentless.

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Weekly Market Summary

Summary:  Most of the US indices made new all-time highs this week. SPY is making 'higher highs' and 'higher lows' and is above all of its rising moving averages; this is the definition of an uptrend. Moreover, the cumulative advance-decline lines made new highs this week, indicating that breadth generally remains supportive. Net, there appears to be little reason to suspect the indices have reached an important top.

That said, NDX has opened a noteworthy crack in US equities. NDX has fallen 4.5% in the past week. In the past 7 years, falls of more than 4% in NDX have preceded falls in SPY of at least 3%. That doesn't sound like much, but it would be the largest drop so far in 2017. A key watch out now is whether NDX weakens further and breaks both its 50-d as well as its mid-May low; if so, then SPY is likely to follow with its first 5% correction since the US election. These are the consistent historical patterns. Moreover, by at least one measure, bullish sentiment is at a 3-1/2 year high.

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Our overall message continues to be that (a) trend persistence in equity prices, together with decent underlying macro data, is likely to lead US indices higher over the next several months and probably through year-end; and (b) an interim drawdown of at least 3-5%, sooner rather than later, seems to be odds-on.  A number of studies supporting this view were recently detailed here.

This week, SPY, DJIA, NYSE and RUT all closed at new all-time highs (ATH) on Tuesday. SPX has made 23 new ATHs this year. NDX, meanwhile, has closed above its 50-dma for more than 130 days in a row, the longest such streak since 1995 (from Bespoke). Both of these are clear indications of strong trend persistence. Enlarge any chart by clicking on it.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Fund Managers' Current Asset Allocation - June

Summary: Global equities have risen 5% in the past 3 months and nearly 20% in the past year, yet fund managers continue to hold significant amounts of cash, suggesting lingering doubts and fears. They have become more bullish towards equities, but not excessively so: less than half expect better profits and a better economy in the next 12 months.

Allocations to US equities dropped to their lowest level in 9 years in April and remain nearly this low in June: this is when US equities typically start to outperform. In contrast, weighting towards Europe and emerging markets have jumped to levels that suggest these regions are likely to underperform.

Fund managers remain stubbornly underweight global bonds. Current allocations have often marked a point where yields turn lower and bonds outperform equities.

For the first time in seven months, the dollar is no longer considered highly overvalued. Since November, the dollar has fallen 4%. A headwind to dollar appreciation has dissipated.

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Among the various ways of measuring investor sentiment, the BAML survey of global fund managers is one of the better as the results reflect how managers are allocated in various asset classes. These managers oversee a combined $600b in assets.

The data should be viewed mostly from a contrarian perspective; that is, when equities fall in price, allocations to cash go higher and allocations to equities go lower as investors become bearish, setting up a buy signal. When prices rise, the opposite occurs, setting up a sell signal. We did a recap of this pattern in December 2014 (post).

Let's review the highlights from the past month.

Overall: Relative to history, managers are overweight equities and cash and very underweight bonds. Enlarge any image by clicking on it.
Within equities, the US is significantly underweight while Europe is significantly overweight. 
A pure contrarian would overweight US equities relative to Europe and emerging markets, and overweight global bonds relative to a 60-30-10 basket. 

Monday, June 12, 2017

Higher Environmental Standards Are Not Killing Jobs or Economic Growth

Summary: Higher environmental standards are being blamed for job losses in mining and manufacturing. A few months ago, foreign trade was to blame. Both reasons are wrong: 80% of these job losses are due to new technologies, not trade or environmental standards.

It's hard to argue that reducing carbon emissions has been economically harmful: the US is in the midst of its longest streak of jobs growth in its history. Coal employment fell 75% in the 20 years before the Environmental Protection Agency was even founded. Solar jobs are now 3 times greater than coal jobs, and growing fast. Cities like Pittsburgh have shed manufacturing jobs but gained three times as many "new economy" jobs in healthcare and technology. For these reasons, many Fortune 500 companies - including Exxon-Mobil, Chevron and Conoco - support efforts to curb emissions. American voters support the Paris Agreement by a wide 5:1 margin.

It's true that China is the world's largest source of annual CO2 emissions and home to many of Earth's most polluted cities. But China's emissions are overwhelmingly a function of its enormous size and its booming exports to the rest of the world. On a consumption basis, China's emissions are 20% more than the US but its population is 330% larger.  About 30% of China's emissions are due to consumption in the US and elsewhere.

The uncomfortable truth is that the US and the EU are the largest polluters in history. They are responsible for well over half the cumulative buildup of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. The consumer habits of the average American creates emissions that are twice that of the average European, nearly 4 times that of the average Chinese and 18 times that of the average Indian.

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Higher environmental standards are being blamed for job losses in mining and manufacturing. A few months ago, foreign trade was to blame. Both reasons are wrong: 80% of job losses in these areas are due to new technologies (article). We discussed this in a recent post here.

It's hard to argue that reducing emissions in the US has been economically harmful: regulations are far more stringent now than at any other time yet the US is in the midst of its longest streak of jobs growth - 79 straight months - in its history. The current economic expansion is the 3rd longest in history. Enlarge any chart by clicking on it.

Monday, June 5, 2017

Today Is Not Just Like 1987

Summary:  Today is not just like 1987.

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In 1987, the stock market crashed.

Saturday, June 3, 2017

Weekly Market Summary

Summary:  All of the main US indices made new all-time highs this week. The indices appear to be supported by strong breadth, with 7 of the 10 SPX sectors also making new highs. This post reviews several studies that suggest price momentum is likely to carry the indices higher over the next several months and through year-end. That does not preclude an interim drawdown of at least 5% - we regard that as very likely, sooner rather than later - but any weakness has a strong probability of being only temporary.

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SPX, NDX, COMPQ, DJIA and NYSE all made new all-time highs (ATH) again this week. The lagging small cap index, RUT, closed less than 1% from its ATH. The primary trend remains higher.

The new highs for the US indices were accompanied by ATHs in a majority of sectors: technology, industrials, consumer discretionary, utilities, staples, healthcare and materials. With broad indices like the NYSE (which includes 2800 stocks) and 7 of 10 sectors at new ATHs, it's hard to say that healthy breadth is lacking (more on breadth in a new post here).

SPX has risen 8 of the past 10 sessions. The only two loses were a mere 0.05% and 0.12%. The recent persistence of trend has been fairly remarkable and is likely to continue to provide a tailwind for equities.

Our overall message from last week remains unchanged and is paraphrased below:

SPX has risen 7 days in a row; that type of trend persistence has a strong tendency to carry the markets higher over the next week(s). Investors should not expect the bull market to be near an important top. Markets weaken before they reverse, and the existing trend has yet to weaken at all.  
That said, the month of June is seasonally weak and there are a number of reasons to suspect it will be again this year, not the least of which is the FOMC meeting mid-month. Markets anticipate the federal funds rate will be hiked for a 4th time: the prior three rate hikes have coincided with notable drawdowns in equities (as well as a fall in treasury yields). 

In February, we reviewed "a number of compelling studies suggesting that 2017 will probably continue to be a good year for US equities": that post is here.

This week, can add several more studies that further bolster the bullish case for equities over the next several months. That does not preclude the potential for an interim drawdown, but any weakness has a strong probability of being bought for at least a retest of the prior high.

Let's review.

First, when SPX has risen at least 6 days in a row, as it did last week, then SPX has closed higher 10 to 20 days later in 90% of instances since 2012. As the chart below shows, the typical pattern is for SPX to consolidate or retrace some of its gains in the middle of this period (corresponding to the next week and a half), followed by a higher high (from @Twillo using data from Enlarge any chart by clicking on it.

Friday, June 2, 2017

June Macro Update: Employment, Retail Sales and Housing Soft

SummaryThe macro data from the past month continues to mostly point to positive growth. On balance, the evidence suggests the imminent onset of a recession is unlikely.

One concern in recent months had been housing, but revised data shows housing starts breaking above the flattening level that has existed over the past two years. A resumption in growth appears to be starting. That said, housing starts grew only 1% in the past year. Permits are up only 2%. This data bears following closely.

That leaves two watch outs. The first is employment growth, which has been decelerating from over 2% last year to 1.6% now. It's not alarming but it is noteworthy that expansions weaken before they end, and slowing employment growth is a sign of some weakening that bears monitoring.

The second watch out is demand growth. Real retail sales excluding gas is in a decelerating trend. In April, growth was just 1.6% after having grown at more than 4% in 2015. Personal consumption accounts for about 70% of GDP so weakening retail sales bears watching closely.

Overall, the main positives from the recent data are in employment, consumption growth and housing:
  • Monthly employment gains have averaged 186,000 during the past year, with annual growth of 1.6% yoy.  Full-time employment is leading.
  • Recent compensation growth is among the highest in the past 8 years: 2.6% yoy in 1Q17. 
  • Most measures of demand show 2-3% real growth. Real personal consumption growth in April was 2.6%.  Real retail sales (including gas) grew 2.2% yoy in April, making a new ATH.
  • Housing sales made a 9-1/2 high in March. Sales grew 1% yoy in April. Starts grew 1% over the past year.
  • The core inflation rate is ticking higher but remains near the Fed's 2% target.
The main negatives have been concentrated in the manufacturing sector (which accounts for less than 10% of employment). Note, however, that recent data shows an improvement in manufacturing:
  • Core durable goods growth rose 6.0% yoy in April. It was weak during the winter of 2015-16 but has rebounded in recent months. 
  • Industrial production rose 2.2% in April, helped by the rebound in mining (oil/gas extraction). The manufacturing component grew 1.9% yoy in April.
Prior macro posts are here.

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Our key message over the past 5 years has been that (a) growth is positive but slow, in the range of ~2-3% (real), and; (b) current growth is lower than in prior periods of economic expansion and a return to 1980s or 1990s style growth does not appear likely.

Modest growth should not be a surprise. This is the typical pattern in the years following a financial crisis like the one experienced in 2008-09.

This is germane to equity markets in that macro growth drives corporate revenue, profit expansion and valuation levels. The saying that "the stock market is not the economy" is true on a day to day or even month to month basis, but over time these two move together. When they diverge, it is normally a function of emotion, whether measured in valuation premiums/discounts or sentiment extremes. Enlarge any image by clicking on it.

A valuable post on using macro data to improve trend following investment strategies can be found here.

Let's review each of these points in turn. We'll focus on four macro categories: labor market, inflation, end-demand and housing.

Employment and Wages

The May non-farm payroll was 138,000 new employees minus 66,000 in revisions.  In the past 12 months, the average monthly gain in employment was 186,000. Employment growth is decelerating.

Monthly NFP prints are normally volatile. Since the 1990s, NFP prints near 300,000 have been followed by ones near or under 100,000. That has been a pattern during every bull market; NFP was negative in 1993, 1995, 1996 and 1997. The low print of 50,000 this March, 86,000 in March 2015 and 43,000 in May 2016 fit the historical pattern. This is normal, not unusual or unexpected.

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Using Breadth To Anticipate Market Inflection Points

Summary:  When equity indices move higher, you will often hear commentators suggest the rise is suspect because leadership is narrow. "Breadth is lagging," "small caps are lagging," "breadth is diverging" or "the indices are lying because the average stock is underperforming" are common warnings.

It's conventional wisdom that new highs in the stock market should be confirmed by "healthy breadth." In other words, you want to see a large number of stocks in uptrends as the index price moves higher. Similarly, small cap stocks should outperform the relatively fewer number of large cap stocks as breadth broadens.

All of this sounds intuitively correct: a broader foundation should equal a more solid market. Conversely, a narrowing market should be a warning of a likely market top. This is how most pundits use breadth to anticipate market inflection points.

But there are two problems with this view on breadth.

Most importantly, the conventional wisdom about "healthy breadth" being critical for future stock market returns is empirically false. Indices have typically been driven higher based on a small number of stocks contributing disproportionately large gains. Over the past 20 years, just 4% of stocks have typically accounted for almost 70% of annual gains in the SPX.

Moreover, most market drops over the past 15 years, including those with declines of more than 10% or 20%, have started when 80-90% of stocks have been in an uptrend. In fact, over the past 5 years, the SPX has gained more than 3 times as much over the following month when breadth was weak compared to when breadth was "healthy." Risk/reward has been more than twice as favorable when breadth has been weak as when it was healthy. The conventional wisdom on breadth and future market returns has been exactly wrong.

The second problem is that stock pundits' views on breadth conflict with their views on investor sentiment.  Important market tops are defined by excessive investor bullishness: "everyone" is a bull by the end of a bull market. But think about what this means for breadth: if investors are bullish, they should be less selective about which stocks they own. They should seek to own the riskiest, highest beta stocks in the market. This means that market tops should be defined by broad, not narrow, breadth. By the time breadth is "healthy", investors are overwhelmingly bullish and the market tops.

No single indicator is sufficient in assessing market inflection points. Using breadth has serious drawbacks.  But this post suggests a far more logical and useful methodology for using breadth to anticipate market inflection points than "lagging breadth," "breadth divergences, " or outperformance by small caps stocks.

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It's conventional wisdom that new highs in the stock market should be confirmed by "healthy breadth." In other words, you want to see a large number of stocks in an uptrend, trading above their moving averages, as the index price moves higher.

Yet, consider the following:
At the October 2007 peak in the stock market, almost 85% of stocks were above their 50-dma. The index dropped 10% in the next month and 50% in the next year. 
In April 2010, almost 95% of stocks were above their 50-dma and 200-dma. The index dropped 15% in the next two months. 
In May 2011, 80% of stocks were above their 50-dma and more than 90% above their 200-dma. Just three months later, the index was 20% lower and feared to be in a new bear market. 
These are not isolated examples where breadth was considered "healthy" and the index was near a significant top. Others are highlighted below. In the past 15 years, almost every significant market drop was preceded by an overwhelming majority of stocks in the SPX being in an uptrend. An exception was the initial 10% fall in August 2015. Enlarge any chart by clicking on it.