Eq: Large Cap
It is that time of the year again, and investors need to watch out. January is historically the top month for retail bankruptcies, and it seems likely there is going to be another cull this year. Last year saw a furious pace of retail bankruptcies, with more companies going bust than during the Great Recession. January is traditionally when most companies file, according to data going back to 1981.
FINSUM: Christmas sales were a little better than feared this year, so a couple of zombies might linger on longer than January, but this is certainly going to be another year of retail bankruptcies.
Well-known hedge fund manager Jeremy Grantham has published an article in Barron’s considering the state of the US equity market. His piece is well-thought out and communicated and comes to a clear conclusion—the bull market has more room to run. Basing his argument on a mix of historical market data, economic info, and psychological analysis, Grantham reluctantly comes to the conclusion that the bull market may be entering its final “melt up” phase. He says that while this is one of the priciest markets in history, “strangely, I find the less statistical data more compelling in this bubble context than the simple fact of overpricing”.
FINSUM: We know Grantham personally and respect his views. He was a pioneer in the statistical study of markets, but here says he leans away from that view, which is very noteworthy.
Consider this a warning shot across the bow on a piece of information that no one seems to see coming. The Wall Street Journal has put out a piece saying that fourth quarter earnings season, set to start soon, is going to be miserable. The reason why is that many companies are going to intentionally incur some huge expenses as occurring in the fourth quarter as a way to take best advantage of the new tax regime being brought in during 2018. This will heavily cut into fourth quarter profits, leaving some very ugly numbers.
FINSUM: The piece says this is going to be the weirdest earnings season in years, and that seems right as these losses are somewhat artificial. However, it is never good to have some very poor numbers come out, which could lead to some short-term misunderstandings and volatility.
Barron’s has put out a headline article by one of their most favored columnists, the well-known Byron Wien, which argues that stocks are in for a 10% correction this year. The argument is that the economy is going to keep doing well, which will lead to speculative buying getting out of hand. This, coupled with higher interest rates, will then cause a pullback of ten percent on the S&P 500 to around 2,300, but the market will rally strongly later, bringing it back to 3,000 for the end of the year.
FINSUM: This is a fairly complex call given the fall-then-rally argument. We overall don’t like this view, as we think if the market falls significantly, it might remain that way for several months.
Anyone on the lookout for signs of a correction might want to pay attention to this. New data shows that US investors are avoiding US stock funds. Of the $4.1 bn poured into mutual funds and ETFs in the week ending December 27th, around 70% of the money flowed overseas. The trend is nothing new though, as US stock funds saw their third straight year of net outflows despite the market rising strongly. Taxable bond funds and international stock funds have seen 56 straight weeks of inflows.
FINSUM: We don’t think this is a warning sign of anything other than good times to come. US investors tend to put more money overseas when they are bullish, so this is not a negative sign.
While they are far from young or immature businesses, so-called FNAG stocks have all stuck to the current entrepreneurial mantra of not paying a dividend. That may be about to change as Facebook may soon be compelled to start issuing one. The company has 2 bn users and is reaching the limits of its growth potential. If headline growth starts to slow, which it almost inevitably will, expect investors to start demanding dividends and buybacks. Non FANG, but closely related stocks, such as Apple, Microsoft, and Intel, are all paying or raising dividends.
FINSUM: Dividends and buybacks would be a very positive driver for Facebook’s stock price, especially if they started before growth began to wane.