Friday, December 6, 2019

Weekend Reads

Quantum Economics

Today’s economists may think that’s [inductive reasoning] what they are doing, but they often aren’t. They begin with models that purport to include all the important variables, then fit facts into the model. When the facts don’t fit, they look for new ones, never considering that the model itself may be flawed.

Furthermore, as I have shown time and time again, they assume away reality in order to construct models that are in “equilibrium” with themselves. This is supposed to give us insight into the reality that has been assumed away. 


Comparing Capital Gains Tax Proposals by 2020 Presidential Candidates

In less than two months, voters will cast their choice in the Iowa caucus to begin the process of selecting the next Democratic presidential candidate. The candidates currently in the top 3 polling positions—former Vice President Joe Biden, Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), and Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT)—have all proposed sweeping changes to the tax code, especially the taxation of capital gains and dividends.

Class-Warfare Taxation, Government Spending, and Economic Growth

Arthur Okun was a well-known left-of-center economist last century. He taught at Yale, was Chairman of the Council of Economic Advisors for President Lyndon Johnson, and also did a stint at Brookings.

In today’s column, I’m not going to blame him for any of LBJ’s mistakes (being a big spender, creating Medicare and Medicaid).

Instead, I’m going to praise Okun for his honesty. Is his book, Equality and Efficiency: The Big Trade Off, he openly acknowledged that higher taxes and bigger government – policies he often favored – hindered economic performance.

More Americans Want Bigger Government, But Not Socialism

In September and October, Gallup conducted in-depth surveys on Americans’ views on the role government should play in our lives. The result was that most Americans believe the government should do more to solve problems and make our lives better. In short, most Americans want bigger government.

The problem is, they don’t want higher taxes to pay for it. And for now, at least, a majority doesn’t believe socialism is the answer. There is a lot of interesting information to be gleaned from the latest slew of Gallup polls released in November.

Job Numbers Higher, Unemployment Rate 3.5 Percent

Nonfarm payrolls (chart) jumped by 266,000 jobs month-over-month (m/m) in November, compared to the Bloomberg forecast of an 180,000 increase. The rise of 128,000 seen in October was revised to a gain of 156,000 jobs. Excluding government hiring and firing, private sector payrolls increased by 254,000, versus the forecasted gain of 178,000, after rising by 163,000 in October, revised from the 131,000 increase that was initially reported.

Note: Job numbers include 50,000 GM workers who returned to work. 

The unemployment rate dipped to 3.5% from October's 3.6% rate, where it was expected to remain, while average hourly earnings were up 0.2% m/m, below projections of a 0.3% increase, but October's initially-reported 0.2% rise was adjusted upward to a 0.4% gain. Y/Y, wage gains were 3.1% higher, versus estimates of a 3.0% pace, and versus October's upwardly-revised 3.2% increase. Finally, average weekly hours remained at 34.4, matching estimates. 

Today's upbeat Labor Report followed yesterday's unexpected drop in jobless claims to aid sentiment as employment data continues to be a key to watch for any signs of a breakdown in the bifurcation in the economy between weak manufacturing/capex and stronger services/consumption.

The University of Michigan's Consumer Sentiment Index rose to 99.2, above the consensus of 94.7 to 97.5 and higher than November's 96.8 level.


Thursday, December 5, 2019

SPY ETF Closing Price

Tuesday, December 3, 2019

Markets Turn as December Opens

As I write this, the market is down (DJIA) about 325 points, or 1.2 percent. After a loss of 268 yesterday, this is the largest decline in more than two months. The decline is reportedly a reaction to weaker manufacturing data and Trump's remarks on a trade deal.

I've been talking about this possibility for longer than that. See What Do I Do Now, from Sept 24; This Pattern Is Another Warning Sign, Nov 2;  and of course, some advice in general portfolio management for any market: What should my investment strategy be right now if a recession is imminent? or Have a Smart Trade Plan Before You Invest.

Many brokers and advisors and other "experts" on portfolio management prescribe the buy and hold, yet reallocate, method. This involves deciding on a mix of investments, for example 60 percent stocks and 40 percent bonds (or fixed income). Then on a regular basis, you re-balance the portfolio to maintain that ratio.

There are studies that show this is a valid method that creates higher annual returns over a long-term period, such as 30 years. If you have 30 years until you plan to retire, it might be worth your benefit to explore this theory of portfolio management.

But if you are at least 50 years old and thinking about retiring, or have already retired, this is not for you. If the market tanks, you can't wait six to 10 years for the market to break even. If you're using your portfolio to supplement your retirement earnings, if your portfolio's value sinks 50 percent, how would this affect those draws?

I have written several articles over the last year about this. You can start with this on from last January: Beware Your Broker. You can then browse the posts from this year on the blog archive list at the right.

Sunday, December 1, 2019

Have a Smart Trade Plan Before You Invest

When you buy a stock, it’s likely because you sense an opportunity. But how often do you establish the parameters for making profits? How will you know when to get in or out of a trade?

These are questions you should ask yourself before entering a trade. Creating a step-by-step trade plan—a blueprint for how to build positions and reshape them as conditions warrant—can help you develop a disciplined approach to your trading.

Before beginning any trade plan, perform a quick self-evaluation:
  • Are you buying a stock for fundamental or technical reasons?
  • Which investing style do you prefer (e.g., growth or value, trend or countertrend)?
  • Determine your view of market sentiment: Is momentum generally tilted up or down?
Once you have your bearings, and you’ve identified a list of stocks or exchange traded funds (ETFs) based on your research analysis method—fundamental, technical or both—you’re ready to embark on the actual planning. Here are five key steps to help you create a smart trade plan:

Know your time horizon

How long do you plan to hold a stock? What purpose will it serve in your portfolio?

Your trade time frame depends on your trading strategy. Generally speaking, traders fit into one of three categories:
  • Single-session traders are very active and are looking to gain from small price variations over very short periods of time.
  • Swing traders target trades that can be completed in a few days to a few weeks.
  • Position traders seek larger gains and recognize that it often takes longer than a few weeks to achieve them.
Determine your entry strategy

Once you have a list of stocks and ETFs you’re considering, look for entry signals—for instance, divergences from trend lines and support levels—to help you place your trades. The signals you employ and the orders you use to make good on them hinge on your trading style and preferences.

Trading is risky. A good trade plan will establish ground rules for how much you are willing to risk on any single trade. Say, for example, you don’t want to risk losing more than 2–3% of your account on a single trade, you could consider exercising portion control, or sizing positions to fit your budget.

Here’s a scenario: A trader with $150,000 in total capital is interested in a stock trading at $67 a share. This trader’s maximum budget per trade is $15,000, or 10% of the account. That means the maximum number of shares of this stock the trader can buy is 223 ($15,000 ÷ $67). Let’s say the trader’s risk per trade is 2%, meaning the trader wants to lose no more than $3,000 of his or her total $150,000 on the trade. Dividing that sum by 223 shares reveals how much the stock can drop per share ($13.45), establishing a stop price for limiting losses ($53.55). The trader may never have to use this stop order, but at least it’s in place if the trade moves the wrong way.

Review your trade performance

Are you making or losing money with your trades? And importantly, do you understand why?

First, examine your trading history by calculating your theoretical “trade expectancy”—your average gain (or loss) per trade. To do this, figure out the percentage of your trades that have been profitable vs. unprofitable. This is known as your win/loss ratio. Next, compute your average gain for profitable trades and average loss for unprofitable trades. Then, subtract you average loss from your average gain to get your trade expectancy.

A positive trade expectancy indicates that, overall, your trading was profitable. If your trade expectancy is negative, it’s probably time to review your exit criteria for trades.

The final step is to look at your individual trades and try to identify trends. Technical traders can review moving averages, for example, and see whether some were more profitable than others when used for setting stop orders (e.g., 20-day vs. 50-day).

Sticking to it

Even with a solid trade plan, emotions can knock you off course. This is particularly true when a trade has gone your way. Being on the winning side of a single trade is easy; it’s cultivating a continuum of winning trades that matters. Creating a trade plan is the first step in helping you think about the next trade.

Wednesday, November 27, 2019

Advice Worth Taking

Year-end is rapidly approaching, which means it's time to review your investing or trading rules. Below, I have some time-honored advice that may help. Both Dennis Gartman and Bob Farrell are legendary traders, and they kindly shared the rules they’ve found most helpful.

Both these guys are traders, rather than investors, but a lot of the advice is helpful regardless of the long-term strategy you use.

NEVER, EVER, EVER ADD TO A LOSING POSITION: Adding to a losing position eventually leads to ruin, remembering Enron, Long Term Capital Management, Nick Leeson and myriad others.

TRADE LIKE A MERCENARY SOLDIER: As traders/investors we are to fight on the winning side of the trade, not on the side of the trade we may believe to be economically correct. We are pragmatists first, foremost and always.

MENTAL CAPITAL TRUMPS REAL CAPITAL: Capital comes in two forms... mental and real... and defending losing positions diminishes one’s finite and measurable real capital and one’s infinite and immeasurable mental capital accordingly and always.

WE ARE NOT IN THE BUSINESS OF BUYING LOW AND SELLING HIGH: We are in the business of buying high and selling higher, or of selling low and buying lower. Strength begets strength; weakness more weakness.

IN BULL MARKETS ONE MUST TRY ALWAYS TO BE LONG OR NEUTRAL: The corollary, obviously, is that in bear markets one must try always to be short or neutral. There are exceptions, but they are very, very rare.

"MARKETS CAN REMAIN ILLOGICAL FAR LONGER THAN YOU OR I CAN REMAIN SOLVENT:" So said Lord Keynes many years ago and he was... and is... right, for illogic does often reign, despite what the academics would have us believe.

BUY THAT WHICH SHOWS THE GREATEST STRENGTH; SELL THAT WHICH SHOWS THE GREATEST WEAKNESS: Metaphorically, the wettest paper sacks break most easily and the strongest winds carry ships the farthest, fastest.

THINK LIKE A FUNDAMENTALIST; TRADE LIKE A TECHNICIAN: Be bullish... or bearish... only when the technicals and the fundamentals, as you understand them, run in tandem.

TRADING RUNS IN CYCLES; SOME GOOD, MOST BAD: In the “Good Times” even one’s errors are profitable; in the inevitable “Bad Times” even the most well researched trade shall go awry. This is the nature of trading; accept it and move on.

KEEP YOUR SYSTEMS SIMPLE: Complication breeds confusion; simplicity breeds elegance and profitability.

UNDERSTANDING MASS PSYCHOLOGY IS ALMOST ALWAYS MORE IMPORTANT THAN UNDERSTANDING ECONOMICS: Or more simply put, "When they’re cryin’ you should be buyin’ and when they’re yellin’ you should be sellin’!"

REMEMBER, THERE IS NEVER JUST ONE COCKROACH: The lesson of bad news is that more shall follow... usually hard upon and always with worsening impact.

BE PATIENT WITH WINNING TRADES; BE ENORMOUSLY IMPATIENT WITH LOSERS: Need we really say more?

DO MORE OF THAT WHICH IS WORKING AND LESS OF THAT WHICH IS NOT: This works well in life as well as trading. If there is a “secret” to trading... and to life... this is it.

CLEAN UP AFTER YOURSELF: Need we really say more? Errors only get worse.

SOMEONE’S ALWAYS GOT A BIGGER JUNK YARD DOG: No matter how much “work” we do on a trade, someone knows more and is more prepared than are we... and has more capital!
PAY ATTENTION: The market sends signals more often than not missed and/or disregarded... so pay attention!

WHEN THE FACTS CHANGE, CHANGE! Lord Keynes... again... once said that “ When the facts change, I change; what do you do, Sir?” When the technicals or the fundamentals of a position change, change your position, or at least reduced your exposure and perhaps exit entirely.

ALL RULES ARE MEANT TO BE BROKEN: But they are to be broken only rarely and true genius comes with knowing when, where and why!

Bob Farrell was a widely followed genius at Merrill Lynch. Wall Street people still speak of him reverently. Some of the greatest traders and investors I know referred to his rules on a frequent basis, and I suggest you do the same. Here are his rules with commentary from MarketWatch’s Jonathan Burton.

1. Markets tend to return to the mean over time

By "return to the mean," Farrell means that when stocks go too far in one direction, they come back. If that sounds elementary, then remember that both euphoric and pessimistic markets can cloud people's heads.

"It's so easy to get caught up in the heat of the moment and not have perspective," says Bob Doll, global chief investment officer for equities at money manager BlackRock Inc. "Those that have a plan and stick to it tend to be more successful."
Excesses in one direction will lead to an opposite excess in the other direction

2. Think of the market as a constant dieter who struggles to stay within a desired weight range but can't always hit the mark.

"In the 1990s when we were advancing by 20% per year, we were heading for disappointment," says Sam Stovall, chief investment strategist at Standard & Poor's Inc. "Sooner or later, you pay it back."

There are no new eras -- excesses are never permanent

This harkens to the first two rules. Many investors try to find the latest hot sector, and soon a fever builds that "this time it's different." Of course, it never really is. When that sector cools, individual shareholders are usually among the last to know and are forced to sell at lower prices.

"It's so hard to switch and time the changes from one sector to another," says John Buckingham, editor of The Prudent Speculator newsletter. "Find a strategy that you believe in and stay put."
Exponential rapidly rising or falling markets usually go further than you think, but they do not correct by going sideways

This is Farrell's way of saying that a popular sector can stay hot for a long while, but will fall hard when a correction comes. Chinese stocks not long ago were market darlings posting parabolic gains, but investors who came late to this party have been sorry.
The public buys the most at the top and the least at the bottom

Sure, and if they didn't, contrarian-minded investors would have nothing to crow about. Accordingly, many market technicians use sentiment indicators to gauge investor pessimism or optimism, then recommend that investors head in the opposite direction.
Fear and greed are stronger than long-term resolve

3. Investors can be their own worst enemy, particularly when emotions take hold.

Stock market gains "make us exuberant; they enhance well-being and promote optimism," says Meir Statman, a finance professor at Santa Clara University in California who studies investor behavior. "Losses bring sadness, disgust, fear, regret. Fear increases the sense of risk and some react by shunning stocks."

After grim trading days, it's easy to think you're the patsy at this card table. To counter those insecure feelings, practice self-control and keep long-range portfolio goals in perspective. That will help you to be proactive instead of reactive.

"It's critical for investors to understand how they're cut," says the Prudent Speculator's Buckingham. "If you can't handle a 15% or 20% downturn, you need to rethink how you invest."
Markets are strongest when they are broad and weakest when they narrow to a handful of blue-chip names

Markets and individual sectors can move in powerful waves that take all boats up or down in their wake. There's strength in numbers, and such broad momentum is hard to stop, Farrell observes. In these conditions you either lead, follow or get out of the way.

When momentum channels into a small number of stocks, it means that many worthy companies are being overlooked and investors essentially are crowding one side of the boat. That's what happened with the "Nifty 50" stocks of the early 1970s, when much of the U.S. market's gains came from the 50 biggest companies on the New York Stock Exchange. As their price-to-earnings ratios climbed to unsustainable levels, these "one-decision" stocks eventually sunk.

Bear markets have three stages -- sharp down, reflexive rebound and a drawn-out fundamental downtrend

4. When all the experts and forecasts agree -- something else is going to happen

As Stovall, the S&P investment strategist, puts it: "If everybody's optimistic, who is left to buy? If everybody's pessimistic, who's left to sell?"

Going against the herd as Farrell repeatedly suggests can be very profitable, especially for patient buyers who raise cash from frothy markets and reinvest it when sentiment is darkest.

5. Bull markets are more fun than bear markets

No Kidding

This is not the first time, nor will it be the last, when I bring these rules to your attention. I suggest, when you are feeling particularly bullish or disastrously bearish, pull up this post and reread it.

Saturday, November 23, 2019

Week in Review

I don't always do a week in review, but I thought it would be helpful to take a look at what's going on. (It's easy for individual investors to create their own week in review. Use the Economic Calendar, sign up for market reviews with your broker, and visit web sites such as CNBC, Yahoo Finance, Forbes, Seeking Alpha, Market Watch, etc.)

Markets Finish Session Higher, Fail to Post Weekly Advance

The U.S. equity markets finished the last trading session of the week modestly higher, but failed to post gains for the week, as the omnipresent uncertainty swirling around a U.S.-China "phase one" trade deal that has hampered conviction all week tempered some upbeat news on the manufacturing front and some mixed retail sector earnings reports. Markit's manufacturing and services sector reports came in stronger than expected, and the University of Michigan's Consumer Sentiment Index was unexpectedly revised higher.

Jobless Claims Indicate Slower Growth

The risks of marginally slower payroll growth in November as well as an incremental rise in the unemployment rate are the indications from initial unemployment claims which, in data that track the sample week of the monthly employment report, came in at a higher-than-expected 227,000 in the November 16 week. Comparisons with the sample week of the October employment report show a 9,000 increase in claims with the 4-week average, at 221,000 in the latest week, up nearly 6,000. The 221,000 4-week average is the highest since June.

Leading Indicators Signal Slowing Growth

The index of leading economic indicators continues to signal slowing growth going to into year end and next year. The index fell 0.1 percent in October and follows a revised 0.2 percent decline in September and another 0.2 percent decline in August. Weakness in manufacturing components has been the persistent theme in the slump with easing in labor strength also a negative factor for the index.

Existing Home Sales Jump

Favorable mortgage rates together with high levels of employment are giving housing, a sector that had been flat, a strong lift going into year end. Existing home sales rose 1.9 percent in October to a 5.460 million annual rate, lifting the year-on-year gain to 4.6 percent. Recent reports have been the best since early 2018.

Single-family resales jumped 2.1 percent in the month to a 4.870 million rate with year-on-year change at plus 5.4 percent. Condo resales came in steady at a 590,000 rate but, in contrast to the larger single-family category, are down 1.7 percent on the year. The median price for single-family sales, at $273,600, is 6.2 percent higher than a year ago with the median condo price, of $248,500, up 5.6 percent.

Market Warning Signal Still Valid

On Nov 2, I discussed high-yield bonds sending the stock market a warning sign. This continues to indicate a possible correction in the market. Note that HYG just formed a “lower low” on the chart. And that’s after a number of lower highs since the peak in late October. This signals the trend is shifting into more bearish action. We may not be there yet, but it's something to watch closely.

It looks to me that if HYG closes below $86.20 anytime over the next few sessions, then we’ll have a decisive breakdown from that pattern and junk bonds will be headed lower.

And, if junk bonds head lower, then the stock market should follow close behind.

Weekend Reads

Quantum Economics Today’s economists may think that’s [inductive reasoning] what they are doing, but they often aren’t. They begin with m...