Fed Does a 180

Does the most dramatic change in the Federal Reserve’s policy outlook indicate a change in the economy?

Prior to December 1, the Fed had widely broadcast that it intended to raise it benchmark rate 3 more times in 2019.   At the December meeting, they lowered that to 2 times in 2019.  In January after the horrid December stock market fall, the Fed changed once again, removing expectations of further rate increases.

The Fed has claimed to be data-dependent and the major economic data points have been indicating slowing growth for most of 2018, and more so since Q2 2018.   The Fed may have realized it overtightened, having raised the Wu-Xia Federal Funds Shadow Rate (Atlanta FRB) by more than 5%.  This was the fastest rate of increase in almost 40 years.

Now the Fed’s balance sheet normalization plan is being questioned and pundits are calling for an early cessation.   In November 2017 the median targeted estimate for the Fed’s balance sheet was just under $3 trillion.   The balance sheet peaked at $4.5 trillion and is currently a tick under $4T.  At the beginning of 2008 it was $800 billion.

So, from a target Fed Funds rate of 3% and Fed balance sheet of $2.75T, to a ‘normalized’ rate of 2.25% and a Fed balance sheet of $4 trillion.    The last few recessions we have seen the Fed raise rates right into economic weakness, only to cease then ease as the recession begins.   With that kind of track record its no wonder people believe the Fed to either be behind the ball, or the outright cause of recessions.

The irony is that the US may have crossed the Rubicon regarding diminishing returns from cheap credit (low rates) aka velocity of money.   While over the past 40 years we have lowered the cost of credit to induce consumption, each recession we must lower the rate below the previous recession lows.  And while we ramp up credit expansion to boost the economy (borrowing more and spending more today) each time, we are getting less and less growth for each dollar borrowed/spent (velocity continues to decrease).  And when there is low velocity, in order to create growth, exponentially larger amounts of money (credit) are required.

I have seen a few reports discussing the idea that low rates decrease future potential growth.  Essentially low rates fail to attract capital, reducing investment, reducing future productivity gains which reduces overall growth.

We have seen the Fed essentially stop tightening (balance sheet runoff should continue to at least this summer) the next step will be for the Fed to ease again, indicating a recession has begun.

Blame the Fed! (for following through on previously telegraphed guidance)

The Federal Reserve today reiterated it plans to continue what it has been doing and said it would continue to do, much to the chagrin of market participants.

While the last Fed minutes showed more dovishness, actual actions that are indeed ‘dovish’ have yet to occur.  Reducing expected rate increases from 3 to 2 in 2019 was widely interpreted as, ‘the Fed might stop raising rates’, for some reason.  History shows us that the Fed telegraphs well in advance what it intends to do.  Thanks to Alan Greenspan, this has been the case for more than 20 years now.

What has the Fed said it will do in 2019?  Raise rates two more times and continue to drain liquidity from the system via its bond roll-off program.  It is also expected that other nations’ central banks will also cease adding liquidity this year. China may not have gotten the memo though, as they just lower their Reserve Requirement Ratio by 1%, freeing up approximately $100 billion in bank liquidity.  This was announced on Friday, January 4, but was not even mentioned in the Saturday Wall Street Journal!

Here is a picture of global liquidity for 2019.  From adding more than any given year in 2017, to net withdrawal in 2019.   Adjust your expectations accordingly.

qt central bank 10 2018

 

The 1031 Roadmap

Advantages of a 1031 exchange include many things aside from the tax benefits. Investors can consolidate, diversify, move markets, or increase income potential on their current investment property. dst 2 black-01

Some people choose to do a 1031 exchange to acquire more income. For example, they can exchange vacant land for commercial or residential real estate. The investor is able to increase income potential by exchanging a property that is not generating any revenue, such as land, into real estate that has greater income potential like commercial and residential real estate.

Another advantage of doing a 1031 exchange is consolidation. Depending on the investor’s situation, they may not want to manage multiple properties. They can exchange their properties into one larger investment property that is easier to manage. Others are tired of managing properties and of being a landlord altogether. These investors can exchange from a residential or commercial property into a more manageable and less time consuming piece of land.

Some investors are looking to diversify. With a 1031 exchange they can exchange one property for multiple property types. For example, an investor can exchange their residential investment property into a commercial, residential, and vacant piece of land. This is one of the most attractive of the advantages of a 1031 exchange!

A 1031 exchange is great for investors who have multiple properties in other states or for investors who are moving markets. Instead of traveling from state to state to manage multiple properties, investors can exchange the out of state real estate into property that’s in one state. If the investor is moving markets, for example from one state to another, they can exchange their investment property in the current states for an investment property in another state.

Every situation is unique when considering the advantages of a 1031 exchange, and it is always advised that the taxpayer consult with his or her tax advisors before making any decisions!

For more information, visit www.DST.investments.

Winter Solstice

They say its always darkest before the dawn, which seems appropriate as we meet the Winter Solstice today, at the lows of 2018.

There is a lot of commentary out there right now about hos investors are ‘worried’ about certain things like Brexit, slowing economies in China and Europe and if that slowing will seep into the U.S.  All these areas of concern have been with us for most of the year.  I have pointed out the Chinese credit impulse (slowing) more than a few times.  Housing and auto sales have been slowing for months.  The only difference is now there is a market decline and all these issues are being discussed.   If the market had not been declining these issues would still be with us, only accompanied by the tag line: “Investors shrug at concerns in Europe”.

In past posts I have described the coming year over year comparisons, 2018 v 2019, regarding earnings and GDP growth.  Every time I have mentioned that 2019 will look much worse than the stellar numbers put up in 2018, thanks largely in part to the one time cut in taxes.   That gave markets a boost and it was hoped that business investment, and wages would go up as a result.  Well it’s the end of 2018 and were still waiting.

The Federal Reserve gave a modest tip of the hat towards global economic concerns by reducing its estimate of rate increases in 2019 from 3 to 2.   There were even rumors that the Fed would skip raising its rate on December 19th and guide to 0 rate increases in 2019.   The Fed NEVER overtly bows to market or political pressures outside of an official recession or panic.   The Fed is in the process (as usual) of raising rates into the beginning of a recession.   Besides the yield curve, there are several other indicators that make recession in 2019 likely.  These indicators have been leaning this way for several months, and finally have tipped far enough that the markets are now concerned and discounting this likelihood.

As this is likely the beginning of a bear market (average -33% post WW2 era), we should expect large rapid moves, both down AND up in the markets.  During the bull market, a 2-4% pullback was common and quickly bought.  Today we see 2-4% intraday moves that continue to fall to hold support.  I expect several more percentage points south before a significant rally in stocks in the first few months of the year.   This will be an opportune time to reassess one’s risk tolerance and goals over the next 1-3 years, as well as make sure that one’s portfolio is properly diversified across asset classes. When stocks go down there are often other asset classes that are performing better, the core idea behind diversification.

It Doesnt Take a Weatherman….

Volatility Continues

2018 is sizing up to be a very volatile year.  Including today, there have been 11 2% down days this year.  There were 0 in 2017, 0 in 2006, and 11 in 2007.

The major indices are currently holding their lows from late October and Thanksgiving week, approximately 2625 on the SP500.  The interim highs were just over 2800, a 6% swing.

The big question of the quarter is if the highs or lows will break first.  Volume today is extremely heavy, so if the markets can close in the top half of todays range, that should bode well for the next few days.

Looking at the big picture, the 200- and 100- day moving averages are flat, the 50 day is sloping downward.  We see the longer term trend is flat while the short term trend is down.  The 50 day and 200 day are at the same level and the 100 day is near 2815.   The averages are clustered together near current prices while the markets intraday are given to large swings in both directions.

Concurrent news topics are the recent good news item of a 90- day trade war truce, and the bad news topics are the problems with Brexit, and the arrest of the vice-chairperson of Huawei, China’s largest cell phone maker.  She is a Party member, daughter of the founder who is also a Party member and has close ties to China’s military.  Maybe not the best person to arrest if one is trying to negotiate a Trade Truce.

My forecast from late 2017 was for large swings in market prices and we have certainly seen this play out.  When compared to past market tops, 2001 and 2007, one can plainly see plus and minus 10% moves as the market tops out then finally breaks down.  Its my opinion that a bear market has likely started, and we have a few opportunities to sell at “high” prices, and get positioned for 2019.

Fundamentally while employment and earnings are good, these are backwards looking indicators.  These are the results of a good economy, not indicators it will persist.  Housing and autos are slowing; defensive stocks are outperforming growth stocks, and forecasts for 2019 earnings range from 0% to 8%, a far cry from 2018’s +20% earnings growth rate.

So, what to do?  Is it more difficult to ‘sell high’ or ‘buy low’?   One is fraught with fears of missing out, the other fears of further declines.   Selling into market strength and perceived ‘resolutions’ to our economic headwinds might be the best bet.  Especially considering the chart below, where in 2019 the global Central Banks will be withdrawing liquidity until further notice, while the Fed insists on raising rates further.

cb balance sheets QT

Happy Thanksgiving !

Please note our office will be closed on Thursday, November 22 and Friday, November 23, 2018 in observance of the Thanksgiving holiday.  Normal operating hours will resume on Monday, November 26, 2018.

Feel free to contact me should you have any questions or if you have specific needs that require special attention.  You can reach me at 239-287-3789 or via email at pmcintyre@namcoa.com.

Have a safe and happy holiday!

 

Due Diligence for Commercial Real Estate Transactions

Due diligence usually refers to the time after signing a contract that the buyer has to inspect the property and make a decision whether they want to buy the property or lease the property or otherwise go forward with the transaction.

It’s important during due diligence period that you gather all of your information. You have to get your inspections done, you have to get your environmental inspections done, you have to gather all the documents that relate to the property, you have to do your zoning checks and you generally have to be one hundred percent certain that you are going to go forward with this deal.

If you don’t gather all that information, when due diligence expires, your deposit money may become non-refundable. Before due diligence expires, you can still walk away. It’s what’s also called a Free Look Period. It’s important to have a good broker and a good team of professionals around you to conduct all of these inspections, gather all of the documents, tell you what everything means and advise you whether you should go forward or not. A good broker will quarterback all of these players and make sure that everything is done timely and keep you on track.

The scope, intensity and focus of any due diligence investigation of commercial real estate depends upon the objectives of the party for whom the investigation is conducted.

A  “Due Diligence Review” will address issues important to the Seller, Developer and Lender including:  

  • WHAT IS CONSIDERED TO BE “THE PROPERTY”Bank Property
  • PURCHASE PRICE & OTHER CONSIDERATION
  • TITLE
  • SURVEY
  • BUILDING INSPECTION
  • THIRD PARTY SERVICE AGREEMENTS
  • ZONING
  • EXISTING LEASES
  • PURCHASER FINANCING
  • ENVIRONMENTAL ISSUES

Market Volatility–October

I believe we’re seeing a large repricing of growth expectations. The one time tax reform boost will wear off into next year, and higher borrowing costs, fuel costs are reducing discretionary income. 

In addition there is a great deal of leverage in the markets which will exacerbate declines. 

Often, at the end of bull markets/beginning of bear markets we will see relatively large price movements, 6-12%, down and up. I believe this correction has a good chance of bottoming or at least slowing in the immediate term, and  it’s bounce back could be half the decline, maybe more, which will be several percentage points. 

 

Focusing on keeping portfolio declines to the single digits while raising cash to be able to redeploy later can aid longer term returns–one has to have cash in order to buy low!   There is a very large amount of ‘bond shorts’ in the market which could set up a large ‘short squeeze’. Bonds were positive today. This is reminiscent of other recent periods when many bond speculators saw bond prices move very rapidly against them (UP) as they rushed to cover their deteriorating short positions.

 

Inflation scare is not the culprit here as inflation rates are slowing in several areas.  Something recent is that with the Fed raising interest rates, the yield, on 1-year and longer bonds is greater than inflation,  a positive “real rate” which is new to this economic cycle and takes a lot away from the ‘bonds dont pay so buy stocks’ argument.  The Fed further reiterated that it currently plans to continue to raise rates through 2019–even though we have already raised rates MORE than in past rate-raising eras.  I will have a chart of this in my Observations and Outlook this weekend.

Please reach out to me with any comments or questions.

 

Adam Waszkowski, CFA

Summertime Wanes while Bull Market Waxes

Trade tensions, moderating global growth, political drama, rising interest rates that boost borrowing costs, and a gripe with Turkey and others – all be damned! While these matters may pose risks, they haven’t collectively prevented key stock market indices from claiming new highs.

Last week the Russell 2000 (small cap) index closed at new highs as did the S&P Mid Cap Index as well as the large and mega-cap index, the S&P 500. It took the S&P nearly 7 months to take out its previous high from late January. The S&P closed at 2,898 on Tuesday (August 28th), and appears that it’s only a matter of time before we pierce 3,000. Amazingly, 50 years ago (June, 4, 1968) the S&P first broke through 100!

Asset Class Returns since March 2009 - July 2018
Asset Class Returns since March 2009 – July 2018

Since March 2009 through late August 2018, the S&P 500 is up nearly 325%. While short-term risks have rocked the boat, U.S. stocks have outpaced other global markets – over that time, and particularly this year – on strong corporate earnings growth and more favorable economic fundamentals.

While this year’s rally had been largely driven by a few large tech names, as summer rolls along it’s become more broad-based than tied to a handful of stocks which is healthier for investors.

Let’s quickly look back as to what’s driven the market rally for the past 9 ½ years. Mainly it’s been fundamentals – record corporate profits; an expanding economy; an accommodating Federal Reserve that gave us quantitative easing (QE) and zero interest rate policy (ZIRP) to get the economy back on track (and today, rates are still low and rate hikes are gradual, encouraging investors to look to riskier assets); low inflation that supports higher valuations; record stock buybacks; and economic confidence that supports higher valuations.

What’s held investors back from truly embracing the rally? The Wall of Worry!

This bull market run has been questioned frequently as there have been lots of concerns to sidetrack one from sticking to their long-term investment aims and financial goals – European Union economic turmoil; U.S. federal debt downgrade; QE’s end; China worries; extended valuations; collapse in oil prices; Brexit; political turmoil at home; Fed rate hikes; trade tensions; and the occasional currency crisis (to name a handful).

Like a car, you drive by looking ahead not in your rearview mirror, so let’s look ahead. Barring an unforeseen shock, bear markets coincide with recessions. While we’re late in the cycle, leading indicators suggest odds of a near-term recession are low. Last week the Atlanta Fed raised their estimates for 3rd quarter GDP to +4.6%, marking an economy that’s getting stronger.

GDP Growth - Economic Growth on Pace for Best Year since 2005
GDP Growth – Economic Growth on Pace for Best Year since 2005

Stock fundamentals, while stretched, remain favorable. Today’s forward price-to-earnings (P/E) ratio for the S&P 500 is 16.6, according to FactSet. While it’s above the 5-year average of 16.2 and the 10-year average of 14.4, it’s high but not unreasonable. Low inflation and low interest rates support higher valuations.

Corporate Earnings Growth - Actual and Expected
Corporate Earnings Growth – Actual and Expected – By Quarter – as of August 2018

There is a lot of speculation about when the bull market will end. While I continually look for signs or the symptoms of an impending recession, I don’t see them now. Some are worried about the yield curve inverting (that is the term premium going away – or the extra yield that investors require to commit to holding longer-dated bonds than shorter-term bonds).  We still have further to go before the 10-year Treasury minus the 3-month Treasury spread inverts (2.87%-2.11%=+0.76%, as of August 28, 2018). The Fed could raise rates by another 1.0% over the next 9 months, so it’s important to monitor easy financial conditions as they gradually start to tighten. I’ll be paying attention as rising interest rates and wage inflation begin to weigh on peak corporate profit levels. Perhaps this is as good as it gets?! (reminds me of a Jack Nicholson movie 20 years ago).

Record Profit Margins of 9.73%, Net Income Relative to Sales for S&P500 through 2q2018 Earnings Season
Record Profit Margins of 9.73%, (net income relative to sales for the S&P 500 though 2q2018 earnings season) Source: Nuveen, LLC

If you’re an investor that has maintained a diversified, disciplined approach to investing over the duration of the bull market, you have benefited and should be applauded for sticking to your plan. One thing is certain, markets move in cycles and giant beanstalks don’t grow into the clouds. As such, the key is to make sure that your financial plan has the right asset allocation to help you keep moving toward your long-term goals as the market keeps moving too. Let me know (or one of my fellow advisors) if you have questions, happy to help.

Enjoy the vestiges of summer and your Labor Day weekend; I hope it’s relaxing and fun. And if you have kids/grand-kids, I wish them a good school year ahead. For me, it’s kick-off to football season and I’m ready to cheer on my favorite teams. In San Francisco autumn means warmer, sunnier days ahead than the persistent fog bank that’s called summertime.

Eric Linser, CFA

3rd Quarter Update: Earnings, GDP, U.S. Dollar All Higher

Earnings for companies in the S&P500 grew by more than 20% year over year during the second quarter, repeating first quarter’s Tax Reform-boosted performance.  Companies that beat estimates were rewarded, and companies that missed either on guidance or sales were pushed down, but not to the degree we saw in the first quarter.   The increase in earnings has taken the market (SP 500) trailing P/E ratio down from very expensive 24.3 to modestly expensive  22.6.   Sentiment remains constructive with investors mildly positive, but below average bullishness for stocks’ outlook over the next 6 months.

Economic data is coming in mixed.  While GDP for the second quarter (4.1%) came in at the 5th fastest pace over the past 9 years, a large portion of this can be attributed to increased govt spending and the ‘pull-forward’ effect the Trade War tariffs have had on areas affected by increased taxes.   Adjusting GDP for these areas to average still gives a GDP read in the upper 2% range which indicates growth in the second quarter was strong.    The last previous 4% reads were followed by sequentially lower GDP prints over the following year however.

Real wages have stagnated year over year as inflation has increased its pace.  Wages climbed 2.9% while inflation is running at 2.9% year over year.    Wages had been the feared cause of inflation arising from Tax Reform stimulus.   The 70% climb in oil prices, along with healthcare and housing costs and tariffs/taxes being passed along to consumers are the actual drivers over the past 12 months.

As I referred to in my January Observations and Outlook, the US Dollar was destined to climb in 2018 after an incessant decline throughout 2017 (despite many factors that should have supported the greenback).   In January large traders were certain the US Dollar would continue to fall, and European and Emerging stock markets would do at least as well as US stocks.   Now seven months later, indeed the US Dollar has climbed dramatically while most stock markets outside the US are negative year to date.    The strong dollar has also taken its toll on precious and base metals.  Given the price declines abroad (and attendant airtime and print space) and US Dollar rapid increase, pundits are talking about ‘how bad can it get’, and reasons why the US Dollar will continue to strengthen, it may be time to again take the contrarian side of the dollar argument.

Valuations in emerging markets look much more attractive at lower prices, and no one seems to own gold anymore.  Vanguard recently shuttered one of its metals and mining mutual funds.  The price you pay for an asset has a tremendous impact on the return one sees, and currently prices are low.