Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Interview With Financial Sense on Identifying the Next Bear Market

We were interviewed by Cris Sheridan of Financial Sense on August 24th. During the interview we discuss current market technicals, the macro-economic environment, the investor sentiment backdrop and the prospect for future equity returns. One theme of our discussion is what to look for ahead of a bear market in US equities. Another theme is how the current period of low volatility will likely resolve.

Our thanks to Cris for the opportunity to speak with him and to his editor for making these disparate thoughts seem cogent.

Listen here.

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Sunday, August 6, 2017

Profit Margins Expand to New Highs to Boost 2Q17 Results

Summary: The headline numbers for 2Q17 financial reports are good: S&P profits are up 19% yoy; sales are 6% higher; profit margins are at new highs. This is in stark contrast to early 2016, when profits had declined by 15% and most investors expected a recession and a new bear market to be underway.

These strong results are not due to better oil prices. Sales for the sectors with the highest weighting in the S&P have grown an average of 9% in the past year. Moreover, margins outside of energy have expanded to 10.8%, a new high.

Bearish pundits continue to repeat claims that are more than 20 years old: that "operating earnings" are deviating more than usual from GAAP measurements, and that share reductions (buybacks) are behind most EPS growth. These are both wrong. Continued growth in employment, wages and consumption tell us that corporate financial results should be improving, as they have in fact done.

Where critics have a valid point is valuation: even excluding energy, the S&P is now more highly valued than anytime outside of the 1998-2000 dot com bubble. With economic growth of 4-5% (nominal) and margins already at new highs, it will likely take excessive bullishness among investors to propel S&P price appreciation at a significantly faster rate.

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84% of the companies in the S&P 500 have released their 2Q17 financial reports. The headline numbers are good. Overall sales are 6% higher than a year ago, the second best growth rate in more than 5 years. Earnings (GAAP-basis) are 19% higher than a year ago. Profit margins are at new highs of 10.3%, exceeding the prior highs from 2014.

Before looking at the details of the current reports, it's worth addressing some common misconceptions regularly cited by bearish pundits.

First, are earnings reports meaningfully manipulated? This concern has been echoed by none other than the chief accountant of the SEC, who has complained about non-GAAP earnings numbers being "EBS", or "everything but bad stuff." Enlarge any image by clicking on it.

Saturday, August 5, 2017

August Macro Update: Slowing Growth in Employment and Consumption

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.

The bond market agrees with the macro data. The yield curve has 'inverted' (10 year yields less than 2-year yields) ahead of every recession in the past 40 years (arrows). The lag between inversion and the start of the next recession has been long: at least a year and in several instances as long as 2-3 years. On this basis, the current expansion will last well into 2018 at a minimum. Enlarge any image by clicking on it.