Yesterday President Trump surprised many of his own advisors when he announced that he would impose steel tariffs of 25% and aluminum tariffs of 10% on national security grounds. There are rumors that his top economic advisor Gary Cohn is so unhappy with the decision that he is on the brink of leaving the White House. The market voted a thumbs down on the decision as the Dow fell close to 1000 points before closing some of the gap on Friday. While the tariffs aren't yet finalized, many of our trading partners from Canada to Germany are seeking exemptions so it isn't yet clear how this will play out. If it is a broad based tariff, it would likely cause ripple effects in global trade and the end result is higher inflation.
This morning on Yahoo Finance, the top story is titled "Market experts are starting to see parallels to the financial crisis." According to writer Dion Rabouin, some market analysts and fund managers believe that the current environment is beginning to look like the early days of the financial crisis of 2007-2009. The key argument is that the volatility products that collapsed on Monday are similar to the leverage in subprime mortgages. Here is an excerpt:
On Friday, the Dow Jones Industrial average fell 666 points. The scary headlines followed suit. "Dow plunges 666 points -- worst day since Brexit" "Dow drops 666 points and posts its worst week since 2016" It's no surprise that over the weekend, I had several conversations and all of them were about the stock market drop (well at least until the Super Bowl began). Friends wanted to know what I think about the sell off. To sum up my answer, I will use a favorite Coldplay song: DON'T PANIC.
Warren Buffett believes that the corporate tax reform is very bullish for the US stock market, and more importantly, isn't fully priced in to stock prices.
"The tax act is a huge factor in valuation," he said on CNBC's "Squawk Box" on Wednesday. "You had this major change in the silent stock holder in American business who has been content with 35 percent... and now instead of getting 35 percent interest in the earnings they get a 21 percent and that makes the remaining stock more valuable."
Over the last few days, I've been listening to Wall Street firms talk about their expectations for the year ahead. Almost all of them have a positive view but it is the same standard presentation over and over. Most of them conclude that they prefer international stocks over US stocks because of valuation. While Europe is certainly trading at a lower multiple than the US, their growth is also expected to slow in 2018. Also note that European markets significantly underperformed US markets in the 2nd half of last year.
For Runnymede, we are certainly intrigued by the long-term opportunities in emerging markets because they have better fundamentals and lower valuations. In terms of the developed markets, we believe that investors aren't bullish enough on US markets. As I wrote a couple of weeks ago, Wall Street strategists have a target of 2848 for the S&P which I believe will be too conservative especially if interest rates stay low. Here are a couple of reasons why investors aren't bullish enough.
Sales of new single-family homes surprised economists in October to the upside. Sales rose last month hitting their highest level in 10 years amid robust demand across the country. The Commerce Department said new home sales increased by 6.2 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 685,000 units. That was the highest level since October 2007 and followed September's strong 645,000 units. It was the third straight month of rising new home sales growth showing the strength underpinning the US economy.
We are just a week away from Thanksgiving and then the holiday season really kicks into high gear. While many headlines warn of overvaluation and Grinch predictions of market pullbacks, Runnymede remains bullish. Since last summer, we have been beating the drum on strong global earnings driving stock markets higher and higher. Nothing has stopped the above trend profit growth and now we are in the strong seasonal part of the year.
This week, Fitch Ratings warned that record junk bond prices combined with risky corporate bond issuance is creating "increasing uncertainty" and is raising the chances of a sharp turnaround in the European high-yield, aka junk bond, credit market. Thanks to massive quantitative easing by the European Central Bank, yields on Euro junk bonds have been dropping steadily since early 2016 when the ECB began buying huge amounts of corporate debt. The most popular benchmark for European junk bonds fell below two percent for the first time ever last week. This is flat out crazy as investors are taking significant risk for just a two percent yield, less than a 5-year US Treasury Note which is considered the safest bond in the world. Fitch warned that recent market calm and the distorting impact of monetary policy "obscure the true risk-return dynamics faced by investors."
President Trump is said to be considering tapping Stanford economist John Taylor as the next Fed Chairman. If Taylor gets the nod, it is possible that the Fed adopts the Taylor rule to set the Fed funds rates. The so-called Taylor rule is a formula that he proposed in 1993 for setting the federal funds rate -- the overnight bank lending rate used by the Fed to fight inflation or stimulate the economy. It challenges the Fed’s traditional reliance on the Federal Open Market Committee’s ad hoc judgment.
Today marks the 30th anniversary of Black Monday where the Dow Jones Industrial Average crashed 23%, the worst one day drop in stock market history. This afternoon, I had lunch with eight money managers that lived through it and they remember it like it was yesterday. One was working at a DLJ trading desk and he said that there were no buyers and as the market fell, their solution was to not pick up the phone. Another stated that it was so horrific that the only thought was to enjoy dinner while their credit cards still worked. They feared that the job losses would be enormous. Then it was my father Sam's turn to speak. He was managing the Bank of New York's pension assets and other institutions like the Dow Jones profit sharing plan. He had seen the writing on the wall in August of 1987. I recall that we were on vacation in Switzerland and he went to the front desk of the hotel to get his valuation runs which were faxed over from New York. Because interest rates were rising quickly, valuations moved from fairly valued to grossly overvalued and he made the critical decision to start selling. In the November 2, 1987 issue of Barron's quoted Sam saying, "I raised about 20% cash in the first two weeks of August. At that point, there were a great number of signs pointing to an imminent bear market... and by the end of August, my institutional accounts already went to 35% cash, and individual accounts went to about 55% cash." His economic model was spot on and not only was it right, but he took decisive action and made the bold call to move to cash when the market was still up over 40% for the year and hitting new highs.
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