Heading into 2018, I listened to many strategy calls from the leading Wall Street players and the consensus view was pounding the table on international stocks over US stocks. Their call was in favor of international because of cheaper valuations and long-term under-performance. This didn't sit well with me. Sure valuation is cheaper but there is a reason for it. The European economy has been recovering from significant issues with a deep Greek recession, the surprise Brexit, and Deutsche Bank whose stock is trading below its crisis 2009 low. Just this week, the ECB cut their growth forecasts and announced they will keep rates at record lows for at least another year.
Today, when you hear people talk about money, from politicians to central bankers, there are a lot of zeros involved. Hundreds, Thousands, Millions, Billions, Trillions... do you know what comes next? Quadrillions.
Rather than look at a single overwhelming number, you can get a better feel by starting with a familiar reference point and then doing a relative comparison. For global asset classes, it does not get much clearer than this infographic created by Jeff Desjardins of the Visual Capitalist.
In a recent US poll, 88% of respondents said that they had never heard of Alibaba. If you are one of those who don't know the Chinese e-commerce giant, then you can have a quick primer with this epic infographic from 16best.net. Here are a few interesting facts before you dive in:
- Alibaba has a market capitalization of $511 billion as of 3/16/18, just a hair less than Facebook's $535 billion.
- Alibaba has 528 million mobile active users.
- Interestingly 11.1% of Alibaba's visitors are from the US.
- CEO/Founder Jack Ma set up Alibaba with $60k that he borrowed from 18 people. At the end of 2017, the company employed over 50,000 people.
- The company sold over $25 billion in just one day on Singles Day.
The northeast has had a brutal last couple of weeks. Yesterday we saw a third nor'easter bring more snow to the area. The first had wind gusts of 50mph and knocked power out at our office for a week. The second brought close to 2 feet of snow and took down many trees and power lines. Many homes in my area were without power for 5+ days. I was one of the unlucky ones losing power on Wednesday night. Temperatures in my house dropped steadily down to a low of 46 degrees by day 3. The food in the refrigerator was a lost cause but the biggest worry was freezing pipes causing significant damage. Three of my surrounding neighbors had full-house generators and I'm sure many people that lived without power are now seriously considering installing one even at the cost of $8-10k.
The constituents of the S&P 500 are wrapping up an extremely strong 4th quarter earnings season. Even before tax reform kicks in, corporations reached record operating profit margins at 10.4%. Furthermore, companies beat on the top and bottom line with over 75% beating estimates which is an eight-year high. Looking ahead, it is no surprise that earnings revisions are trending higher across all sectors.
Today in the bond auction, the 1-year Treasury bill yield hit a 10-year high at 2.02 percent. This is good news for savers as they are finally starting to see some risk free returns on their money in the bank. Furthermore, new Fed Chair Jerome Powell testified on Capitol Hill and suggested that there will be 3-4 more hikes this year. That means that we may see 3 percent rates by year end. Powell said, “At the December meeting, the median [FOMC] participant called for three rate increases in 2018,” Powell said. “Now since then, what we’ve seen is incoming data that suggests a strengthening in the economy.”
Today marks the New Year of lunar calendar. We turn the page on the Year of the Rooster and welcome the Year of the (Earth) Dog. Some famous dogs are Winston Churchill, Mother Teresa, Elvis Presley, President Donald Trump, former Presidents Bill Clinton and George W Bush, Michael Jackson, Madonna and Steven Spielberg. Clearly lots of creative people and powerful leaders, but that isn't important to us. We wonder what the Year of the Dog has in store for the stock market.
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:
Today I want to give you a tip to keep you out of trouble: never invest in something that you don't understand. That includes bitcoin, MLPs, annuities, structured products and even stocks. This may seem obvious but I have seen people make this simple mistake because they are chasing the hottest thing in the moment. Early in my career, it was internet stocks. People were buying companies with no earnings and no business plan and were simply interested because the price was going up. Years later, it was subprime loans. The worst quality mortgages were sliced and diced and then packaged as supposedly A rated bonds. When things are too good to be true and you can't understand how it is possible, trust your gut and run away as fast as possible.
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.
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