US Economy

  • 19 Nov
    Is WRK a smart choice in a sector that is gaining institutional favor?

    Is WRK a smart choice in a sector that is gaining institutional favor?

    The month of October put investors on notice that volatility in the stock market wasn’t going to go away anytime soon. I think it makes sense; investors are becoming more and more aware of the difficulty associated with extending an unprecedented period of economic expansion. More →

  • 08 Nov
    Why government gridlock could be a good thing for these 2 sectors

    Why government gridlock could be a good thing for these 2 sectors

    October was a rough month for the stock market, proven by the decline of the NASDAQ and Dow Jones Industrial Average into clear correction territory, while the S&P 500 halted its own slide just shy of that mark. It was enough to put a lot of investors and analysts on edge and start to wonder if the good times were finally coming to an end.

    What a difference a week makes! After closing out the worst October, and one-month period in a decade, the market has rebounded strongly over the last week. The Dow is up a little over 6.6%, the NASDAQ 8.3%, and the S&P 500 6.7% in that time. This week may have provided an unexpected catalyst for the market to push back and retest the all-time highs set in late September. Mid-term elections on Tuesday left Democrats in control of the House of Representatives, while Republicans kept their spot in the driver’s seat in the Senate.

    Depending on your political view, a divided government may not be a good thing; major reforms or initiatives from either side of aisle become more difficult without one party in control of both houses of government. It isn’t unreasonable to suggest that one of the reasons President Trump could afford to be as confrontational as he has, with a consistent, “my way or the highway” attitude about everything from tax reform, trade and most certainly his major staff advisors and political appointees is because Republicans controlled Congress and the Senate. That usually meant that even if a lot of Republicans and conservatives criticized his approach, the party at large generally fell into line behind him.

    As an investor, it’s not always easy to separate investing discipline and objectivity from political opinion and preference. That becomes harder when politics have a clear and direct impact on economic progress and market behavior. The Tax Reform Act at the end of last year is a good example; the tax savings that became available almost immediately to corporate America were certainly a catalyst for the market’s recovery from its first correction at the beginning of the year. In that light, the impact that midterm elections has on the market now could come from the government’s likely inability for the next couple of years to push any major changes.

    I’ve always believed that if there is anything the market really doesn’t like, and is most likely to react negatively to, it’s change. Investors like predictability, and we rely on measurements that offer a certain level of reliability to guide investment decisions. The status quo means that the things we use to drive our decisions remain relatively constant, and we don’t have to worry as much about changing our method or our approach. When something threatens to change the investing landscape, investors naturally get nervous.

    After eight years of a long, sustained bullish run that made a lot of investors think the easiest and best way to make money way in the stock market was to buy a passive index fund and just let it ride – “invest it and forget it,” if you will – the market rediscovered volatility this year. A big part of that was influenced by openly aggressive and confrontational politics from the Trump administration. Tariffs imposed every one of America’s largest and most important trading partners may indeed prove to have been the right move in the long run, but the tensions that came from seeing those long-standing trade relationships continue to keep the market on edge. A split government may not be able to put the cat back int the bag of things the Trump administration has already put back in place, the lack of consensus is also likely to make continued progress and changes that much harder to come by. The hope that the market seems to be keying on right now is that a natural check from a split House against the Oval Office could help restore the status quo and give investors a return at least some kind of  predictability that can help keep the stock market’s bullish trend in place.

    Assuming this happens, it’s entirely possible that the market could stage yet another broad-based rally to a new set of all-time highs. Which are the sectors that might be the biggest beneficiaries? I think there are two; here they are.


    While a divided House may blunt many of the reforms and initiatives the Trump administration still has plans for, one of the things that both sides seem to agree on is the need for improved infrastructure. A major spending bill may be hard to come by, but any progress on this front should act as a positive for this sector. Consider also that tariff and trade concerns have put major pressure on the sector throughout the year; even with the sector’s rebound since the end of October, which is about 10% from October 30th to now as measured by the SPDR Industrial Sector ETF (XLI), it remains down by a little over 10% from its 52-week highs. That gives the industry lots of room to rally even more, with increased chances that the absence of political complications could contribute even more.


    This sector has been one of the biggest underperformers throughout the year, as pricing and supply pressures among chipmakers have pushed stocks lower. A major argument for the President’s aggressive trade stance towards China has centered around the semiconductor industry and concerns about intellectual property protections and even theft. Many of the pricing pressures that have pushed semi stocks lower may not abate quickly. I also think, however that a changed political reality could force the Trump administration to try to make a trade deal with China more quickly than it might do otherwise; and I would expect that to provide at least an emotional reason for investors to start making new bets on a sector that has been beaten down by almost 15%, based on the Ishares Semiconductor ETF (SOXX) from its 52-week highs.

  • 19 Oct
    Want to get defensive? Stay away from this value trap

    Want to get defensive? Stay away from this value trap

    The market’s volatility over the last week and a half has started to put a lot of people on edge. I’ve noticed an increasing number of talking heads on market media starting to throw out words that just don’t apply to the market yet, like “correction” and even “bear market” in a few cases. It’s pretty easy to get caught up in the hand-wringing and anxious nerves that always seem come when market volatility starts to pick up. More →

  • 12 Oct
    These 2 sectors have taken the biggest beating from the latest market rout

    These 2 sectors have taken the biggest beating from the latest market rout

    There’s really nothing like a little bit of volatility in the stock market to make people sit up and take notice. Whether you’re a seasoned, everyday investor or a relative neophyte putting a couple of hundred dollars each month into a 401(k) account, the last couple of days have prompted just about anybody that is trying to make their money work for them with the stock market wonder what is going on. More →

  • 28 Sep
    Which auto stock is a better investment right now: FCAU, GM or F?

    Which auto stock is a better investment right now: FCAU, GM or F?

    Earlier this week, I wrote about recent opinions I’ve seen that suggest that the stock market’s long, extended bullish run still has plenty of life left to keep going. One of the most compelling arguments supporting that opinion is the fact that, after the market’s big correction in the early part of this year, most of the market’s recovery has been led by beaten-down stocks in previously under-appreciated and oversold industries. That suggests the bullish momentum that has pushed the market higher since April when it found a corrective bottom is driven by an emphasis on value, which does offer some very compelling food for thought. Value-driven market rotation usually happens at the beginning of a bull market, not in the latter stages of one, so I think there could more than a little truth behind the notion.

    Let’s go ahead assume for the time being that this idea is correct; it begs the next question, which is naturally, where am I going to find the best values in the market right now? It’s one thing to tell you to look for beaten-down stocks in depressed industries; it’s quite another to actually recognize what some of those areas of the market are right now.

    As I previously mentioned, the auto industry is an area of the market that has really come under a lot of pressure. While the broad market has seen a nice rally since April of this year, the Big Three automakers have all seen significant drops in price. Fiat Chrysler Automotive (FCAU), Ford Motor Company (F) and General Motors Company (GM) are all down around 25% since reversing lower from their respective high points in April and June. Yes, a not-insignificant part of that drop has been driven by trade-related tensions with all four of America’s largest trading partners, and for as long as those tensions persist, there remains an element of risk that could keep pushing these stocks lower. Even so, the fact they are all down in bear market territory should at least have any sensible value-oriented investor sit up, take notice, and consider whether there is an opportunity worth thinking about.

    What follows is a comparison of all of the Big Three U.S. automakers, side by side, to determine which of the three actually poses the best value-based argument right now. Does that mean that you should think about taking a position in the winner right now? That is for you to decide.

    Earnings/Sales Growth

    • Ford: Over the last twelve months, earnings decreased by almost 52% while sales were mostly flat, declining by only about 2%. The company operates with a narrow margin profile that saw Net Income at 4.2% of Revenues over the last twelve months, and decreased to only about 2.7% in the last quarter.
    • GM: The twelve-month pattern for GM shows earnings decreasing only a little over 4%, and sales mostly flat, declining about .6%. GM’s margin profile over the last twelve months showed Net Income was a negative 3.2%, but improved in the last quarter to positive 6.5%.
    • Fiat Chrysler: Earnings over the last twelve months declined 2.63% for FCAU versus sales growth of 12.62%. The company’s margin profile showed Net Income as 3.1% of Revenues in the last twelve months, and declining to 2.5% for the most recent quarter.

    Winner: FCAU, on the basis of superior earnings and sales results in the last year versus F or GM.

    Free Cash Flow

    • Ford: F’s free cash flow is quite healthy, at more than $9.1 billion over the last twelve months. That translates to a Free Cash Flow Yield of 23.5%, which is extremely attractive.
    • GM: GM has operated with negative Free Cash Flow since the last quarter of 2016, and as of the last quarter this number was a little more than -$12.3 billion dollars.
    • Fiat Chrysler: FCAU’s Free Cash Flow over the last twelve months is healthy at a little more than $4.9 billion. That translates to a Free Cash Flow Yield of 13.8%

    Winner: F, with the highest total dollar amount in Free Cash Flow over the twelve months along with the most attractive Free Cash Flow Yield.

    Debt to Equity

    • Ford: F has a debt/equity ratio of 2.8. High debt/equity ratios aren’t unusual for automotive stocks, however it should be noted that F’s debt/equity is the highest among the Big Three auto companies. The company’s balance sheet demonstrates their operating profits are sufficient to service their debt, with healthy liquidity to make up any potential difference if that changes.
    • GM: GM’s debt/equity ratio is 1.81, which is also pretty high, but below that for F. The difference, however is that while GM’s operating profits should be adequate to service their debt, they may not have enough liquidity to make up any potential operating shortfall.
    • Fiat Chrysler: FCAU’s debt/equity ratio is the lowest of the group, at .46. That alone puts them well ahead of the other two in this category; but it is also worth noting that the company’s cash and liquid assets are more than 34% higher than their long-term debt. That gives them the best actual financial base to operate from out of any of the Big Three.

    Winner: FCAU. Not even close.


    • Ford: F pays an annual dividend of $.60 per share, which translates to a very impressive yield of more than 6% per year.
    • GM: GM’s dividend is $1.52 per year, translating to an annual yield of 4.51%
    • Fiat Chrysler: FCAU does not pay a dividend.

    Winner: F. Dividends are the low-hanging fruit that every value-oriented investor should look out for.

    Value Analysis

    • Ford: F’s Price/Book value is $9.18 per share and translates to a Price/Book ratio of 1.07 at the stock’s current price. Their historical average Price/Book ratio is 2.12, which suggests the stock is trading right now at a discount of more than 97%. The stock is also trading about 60% below its historical Price/Cash Flow ratio.
    • GM: GM’s Price/Book value is $27.38 and translates to a Price/Book ratio of 1.23 at the stock’s current price. Their historical average Price/Book ratio is 1.9, which suggests the stock is trading right now at a discount of 54%. The stock is also trading more than 129% below its historical Price/Cash Flow ratio.
    • Fiat Chrysler: FCAU’s Price/Book value is $13.87 and translates to a Price/Book ratio of 1.29 at the stock’s current price. Their historical Price/Book ratio is 1.32, suggesting the stock is trading at a discount of 2.3%. The stock is also trading 55% above its historical average Price/Cash Flow ratio, suggesting the stock remains significantly overvalued, even at its current price.

    Winner: F, edging out GM for best overall value proposition, but not by a wide margin.

    The net winner? While FCAU has the best overall fundamental profile, it offers the least upside potential, with a significant level of downside risk. That puts F squarely in the winner’s circle for the best overall opportunity among the Big Three automakers under current market conditions. On the other hand, the greatest overall risk remains with GM, who despite the upside offered by its value measurements, has some big fundamental question marks that make the value proposition hard to justify.

  • 25 Jun
    “Buy the Dip” is a terrific, time-proven bullish strategy – has its time passed?

    “Buy the Dip” is a terrific, time-proven bullish strategy – has its time passed?

    No matter whether we look at the market and economy with a short or long-term perspective, and no matter what method we usually use to make money in our investments, as investors we are all limited by our inability to see the future. Since we can’t see or know what’s going to happen, we’re left to do our best at making semi-educated guesses using imperfect information. That also means relying on historical data to make forward-looking decisions like what to do with our money. We assume that because a certain method, strategy, or technique worked under certain conditions in the past, it should work again now, or in the future when conditions appear similar.

    There are a lot of investing techniques and strategies out there, and a lot of the most popular ones use a really catchy turn of phrase so you can remember them easily. “The trend is your friend” is one that I learned early in my investing career to help me determine which direction, bullish or bearish, my trades should generally be taking. Another one that has been really popular for the last few years is “buy the dip.” This is one that worked out really well for short-term traders all the way through 2016 and 2017. Here’s what I mean. The chart below is for the SPY, which is an exchange-traded-fund (ETF) that tracks the movement of the &P 500 index.


    The green diagonal is a good reference for the market’s long-term trend line during the two-year period shown here. “Buy the dip” means that whenever the stock market experiences a short-term drop – how much really depends on the individual’s preference, and can be a percentage from the last high, a total number, or a visual reference such as the one I’m using here – it’s really an opportunity to buy in and ride the next wave higher. If you’re a short-term trader, using a trend line like the one I’ve drawn would have provided an excellent reference point. I’ve highlighted four difference points over the last two years where a drop to or near to the trend line provided a really good entry point for a bullish trade. While you can’t buy the index, you can trade options on it, or you can work with an ETF like the SPY to go long on the stock or to use call options at a lower cost than index options would carry. If you buy on these kinds of dips, you would hold for as long as the market is showing solid bullish momentum, and then sell when you see the next short-term dip. Taking that approach on any of these four entry points would have generated excellent profits.

    Another approach that really became popular during this period is what you’ve probably heard called “passive investing.” It also relies on the same kind of signals for an entry, but then suggests that since the market is going to experience the same kind of short-term ebbs and flows, all you really need to do is find the next entry point and then ride the next several waves higher. If you were fortunate enough to get in on the dip in July 2016, around $201 and then followed the passive investing mindset, by the end of 2017 you would have been looking at almost $70 per share in profit from the SPY. That’s a two-year return of almost 34%! It’s really no wonder that so many people gravitated to passive investing using ETFs or stock index mutual funds like the Vanguard 500 Index Fund during this time; it really seemed like the market was a no-brainer, can’t-miss kind of investment.

    The problem that underlies methods like passive investing, or even the normal “buy the dip” mentality is that most investors lose the discipline to pay attention to signals that the market is changing. It usually means they just assume the upward run will never end, and the latest drop is just another “dip” in the latest series of dips before it picks up again. That puts the average investor at big risk when the broad market experiences the kind of rare, “sea change” shifts that only come along once or twice a decade. The last economic cycle that ended in a recession in 2008 is a perfect example.

    As with the last chart, I’m using the green diagonal for the market’s long-term trend from late 2002 through the beginning of 2008. The blue circles highlight terrific “buy the dip” points that had a lot of people thinking the market was just going to keep going up forever. The red circle highlights a dip in the latter part of 2007 that by all appearances looked like just another dip in the longer trend, but really proved to be just the last desperate gasp of momentum the market had left. At the beginning of 2008, the SPY dropped below its long-term trend line and found a temporary bottom around $132 per share. That’s about a 9% drop from the entry around $145 that most “buy the dip” traders were taking in late 2007, and should have been a clear signal to exit the trade and cut your losses. If you didn’t recognize that signal, your loss could have been much, much bigger since the market didn’t find a bottom until early 2009, when the SPY was around $67 per share. That’s a drop of nearly 54% if you rode it all the way to bottom, and didn’t get reclaimed until late 2012. That’s the kind of loss, and extended, protracted recovery that most traders that love to “buy the dip” when the times are good can’t handle.

    One of the big keys to being successful with any investing strategy, no matter whether it works on a short-term basis or with a long-term perspective is really less about when you buy a stock than it is about when you sell. Smart “buy the dip” investors will usually sell when they see the market staging short-term weakness that could become a longer-term downward slide. That locks in their profits and opens up the opportunity to buy in again on that next dip, hopefully at a low point. Acting quickly on taking profits also would have the advantage of getting you out of the market before a “last gasp” rally turns into a market reversal.

    The danger remains, however that could buy a dip expecting just another upward thrust, but ultimately see the market reverse right after you got in. That’s why it’s also important to pay attention to trends and recognize that when the market drops below major, long-term trend lines, the risk of a “sea change” reversal is incrementally higher than normal. If you bought the last dip in late 2007, for example, it would have been much better to recognize the drop below $140 for what it was. Even if you didn’t get out until the market found a temporary support point around $132, an 8% loss on that trade would have been far easier to deal with than riding the SPY all the way down to $67 hoping for an eventual turnaround.

    Okay, now let’s take all of that and talk about what the market is doing now. As of this writing, the market is down about 3% from its last high about two weeks ago. Is that just another “dip” that investors should treat as a buying opportunity, or maybe something more serious. Let’s take a look.

    The green diagonal line is, once again our proxy for the market’s long-term trend, with the dotted blue line acting as visual reference for its short-term trend. “Buying the dip” would have been really profitable if you bought in April, and dips in the early part of May, and then again late that month would have also have yielded some decent short-term gains. Notice that the index has dropped below that short-term trend line as of today. If it turns back to the upside, that could be another good short-term signal, but it also should be taken as a warning sign that it’s time to be a little bit cautious. Are we looking for a major, “sea change” kind of reversal? Not yet; but it’s also true that the index is just a short distance – less than 5%, in fact – away from the long-term trend line. A drop below $260 per share in the SPY is exactly the kind of signal that “buying the dip” is going to put you at an increasing risk of being on the wrong side of the market, at exactly the wrong time.

    What if the market proves the naysayers wrong yet again? The problem with the long-term trend right now is that the market’s activity since late January has forced that trend to flatten out, meaning that it is losing momentum and strength. Short-term traders who recognize this reality won’t necessarily stop trading, but they will usually act even more quickly than normal to close out winning trades and lock in profits than they might be to let their winners run. The fact is that until the market moves past its all-time high, reached in late January when the SPY peaked at almost $287 per share, it’s hard to make any kind of substantive case for any kind of continued bullish rally that would extend this bull market past its current nine-year run and possibly into the next decade.

  • 28 May
    This Stock Is A Canary In A Coal Mine For The Economy & You Should Be Paying Attention

    This Stock Is A Canary In A Coal Mine For The Economy & You Should Be Paying Attention

    History tells us that when the FED starts to raise interest rates, sooner or later the economy will be hit.

    Today, we’ll discuss what’s going on with rates and the economy, and where we are in the current economic cycle in order to determine portfolio risk exposures.

    The Relationship Between Interest Rates & The Economy

    If we take a look at the chart below representing the effective federal funds rate, we can see that usually but not always, a tightening period is followed by a recession depicted by the grey columns. More →

  • 15 May
    Are We In Another Real Estate Bubble?

    Are We In Another Real Estate Bubble?

    • The data resembles 2007, but there are other factors to think about.


    Recently, I was listening to an interview with Robert Shiller where he was explaining how they predicted the 2000s housing bubble. This got me thinking so I went to dig deeper and found the following chart.

    More →

  • 14 May
    Can You Hear The Economic Warning Bells Ringing?

    Can You Hear The Economic Warning Bells Ringing?

    A quick investment perspective on the current economic news will give us insight into what to do with our portfolio, what the best risk reward portfolio allocation is at this point in time, and what one can expect to happen.

    I’ll look at U.S. economic data, emerging market yields, and touch on Italy which is becoming a bigger and bigger risk.

    Economic Data – Strong, But Also Weak

    The headline consumer price index came in at 2.5% which is good, but might lead to higher interest rates which is a dance that has to stop at some point. More →

  • 25 Apr
    Here’s Why You Should Worry About What Happened In The Market Yesterday

    Here’s Why You Should Worry About What Happened In The Market Yesterday

    The thing with the stock market is that it gives you signals way ahead of time, but nobody wants to listen. The things I’ve been blabbering about over the past two years are the following:

    1. Higher interest rates will come just as the FED told us they would.
    2. Higher interest rates will squeeze valuations.
    3. Higher interest rates will slow down economic growth.
    4. Higher interest rates will slow down earnings growth.

    So, let’s start by discussing these.

    The 10-Year Treasury Passes 3%

    When the 10-year Treasury was below 3%, nobody seemed to care except a few crazy analysts like this scribe. However, when it crossed 3%, the market suddenly looked at what had been going on for nearly the last two years. More →

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