Eq: Total Market
So headline economic data has been good lately. Yet the markets are leaning towards a bearish view on the economy and a dovish view on the Fed. With such confusion, it is hard to figure out what might happen. Therefore, we are going to focus on some alternative economic indicators and today we found an interesting one: lumber prices are slumping badly at the time of year they are supposed to be rising. Lumber prices usually rise in the spring as builders stock up for construction. However, poor weather and a lack of construction is badly hurting prices. In May 2018 prices were at $639 per thousand board feet, now they are just $334, or down about 50%! Mills are cutting back production as a response.
FINSUM: That is a pretty alarming price drop and another sign that the underlying health of the real estate market is not good.
One of the old adages of the market is to “sell in May and go away”, or get out of stocks in the summer and come back in the fall when everyone gets back to work. That axiom holds water when you look over many decades, but its record in recent years has been spotty, with summer returns over the last five years being quite solid (though still less than November-April). Over the last five years, the average return from May-October has been 4.31% while in November-April is has been 5.53%.
FINSUM: Anyone’s guess what will happen this year, but the last few summers have been more positive. 5 years is a pretty short sample size though.
The market is right around all time highs and economic and earnings figures are healthy, all signs that the market is headed higher. That said, prices could take a dip at any time and many are worried about a reversal. Some are particularly worried about funds having to sell stocks to rebalance their holdings of equities versus bonds (which have performed poorly of late). So how can one profit from a market fall? Here is a good options strategy for doing so: buy S&P 500 put options at $287 and simultaneously sell $285 put options, both of which expire May 3rd. The market volatility has been low, so the options are cheap, and the spread strategy limits losses.
FINSUM: If you are just playing for volatility based on a likely rough month-end rebalancing, then this could be a good strategy.
A top hedge fund manager known for correctly calling both the 200 and 2008 crises, has just put out a very bearish call. Jeremy Grantham, from GMO, is warning investors that the next 20 years of returns are going to be very disappointing. Grantham thinks that even a dovish Fed can’t save this market, saying “you can’t get blood out of a stone”. His view is that the market will return only 2% a year for the next decade, way lower than the ~6% average. “This is not incredibly painful, but it’s going to break a lot of hearts when we’re right”.
FINSUM: We have personally met Grantham and respect him, but this view is ridiculous to us, as it would be from anyone. Tell what the market might do for the next 2-3 years, fine, but making a call on the next two decades is hopeless.
Stocks are once again nearing all-time highs, which is understandably making investors nervous about a repeat of the fourth quarter occurring. While that fear is healthy, the reality is that the underlying conditions of the market are a world different now. Not only are valuations lower, but the economy is looking robust, and perhaps most importantly of all, the Fed has let off the gas pedal with hikes, which puts recession risk much lower. All of these factors seem to conspire to make a perfect environment for stock price appreciation.
FINSUM: Anyone who reads FINSUM knows we lean towards bearish news, but the truth is that our better judgment is telling us that now is probably a time to be optimistic, as the trifecta of reasonable valuations, a solid/strong economy, and a dovish Fed, are in place.
The ECB put out research today making an argument that we hadn’t heard very much—that any trade war would hurt the US most of all. According to the ECB, “if Donald Trump’s administration was to raise tariffs and other barriers on imports by another 10 per cent — and other countries were to retaliate — growth would drop more sharply in the US than in either the euro area or China” (quoted from FT). The ECB found that one year of heightened trade tensions could knock 2% off US GDP.
FINSUM: The analysis of the actual economic impact may be credible, but the ECB is totally missing the point about the China. The risk for them is not just economic, but social and political—because they have an unelected government, officials there are under extreme pressure to keep the people happy with economic growth.