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.
The International Monetary Fund (IMF) raised its global growth forecast for 2017 and 2018 due to a broad-based recovery around the world. In its latest World Economic Outlook, the IMF adjusted their forecast up 0.1 percentage point to 3.6 percent in 2017 and 3.7 percent in 2018.
If you look at the headlines on a daily basis, you are often left wondering when the market is going to crash. However we are pondering a different question. Are we just at the beginning of a long secular bull market? We believe that it is a distinct possibility. When I graduated from college in 1997, the market essentially went sideways for over 11 years. After the Great Recession, the recovery has been slower than usual but the global economy is now rising in tandem. Here is a chart of the secular bulls and bears since 1900 and the pattern is quite easy to read. For our clients, we will go into more detail on this subject on our quarterly conference call. If you are not a client and are interested in tuning in, please ping firstname.lastname@example.org for the details.
This week Warren Buffett made headlines by predicting the Dow Jones Industrial Average will surpass one million in 100 years. Given that the Dow is at 22359 at the close of Thursday, one million sounds like a big number however as Buffett said, "The Dow will be over a million and that is not a ridiculous forecast at all if you do the math." I agree 100% and in fact, Buffett is likely conservative in his one million prediction.
Yesterday the rhetoric between the US and North Korea escalated further with President Trump saying the US would "totally destroy North Korea" if forced to defend itself or its allies. He said that while the US "has strength and patience," its options would soon run out. This follows the president's comments from August 9th when he said "North Korea best not make any more threats to the United States. They will be met with fire and fury like the world has never seen ... he has been very threatening beyond a normal state. They will be met with fire, fury and frankly power the likes of which this world has never seen before." So far the markets have shrugged it all off, but can Kim Jong-un sink this long running bull market?
Yesterday the S&P 500 closed at a record high so it is unsurprising that you see headlines asking if the market is overvalued or is this a bubble? Many pundits are calling this stock market a bubble and predicting doom. In Bank of America Merrill Lynch's August fund manager survey of global investors, a record 46 percent of fund managers said that U.S. stocks are overvalued. In July, Goldman Sachs research highlighted "elevated valuation on almost every metric" in its weekly report on markets.
This weekend, the crazy dictator in North Korea stepped up the insanity by supposedly testing out a hydrogen bomb. Whether they actually did this is debatable but the rhetoric is going beyond words with missiles and bomb tests. What Kim Jon Un is trying to accomplish is anyone's guess because he isn't winning any friends with ballistic missiles over Japan or nuclear tests. We just hope that a strategic miscalculation doesn't lead to a serious war.
As money managers, we have to decipher whether this is good or bad for the stock market. In April, Barron's Mark Hulbert wrote a piece titled "War is Hell - but Not for the Stock Market." Is this true?
US consumer confidence rose for the 4th straight month and posted its second highest reading in the last 16 years. The Conference Board said its consumer confidence index increased to a reading of 122.9 in August which was above expectations. US consumers remain upbeat thanks to the strong stock market, rising real estate prices and a tight labor market. Consumers have thus far shaken off the news of violence in Charlottesville and the increasing tensions between North Korea and the US. While war is always a risk to markets, we believe that cooler heads will prevail. Tougher sanctions will likely be the next step against North Korea unless they do something really crazy. Keep in mind that North Korea is so puny that it is almost laughable. It is like boxer Floyd Merriweather showing up to your house for a fight. For comparison, in one day, the US makes up over 2x the size of North Korea's annual GDP.
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