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02082016 February 8, 2016

Posted by easterntiger in economic history, economy, financial, markets, oil, stocks.
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Current Positions  (Changes)

I(Intl) – exit; S(Small Cap) – exit; C(S&P) –exit

F(bonds) – up to 75%; G (money market) – remainder

======================================================

Weekly Momentum Indicator (WMI) last 4 weeks, thru 2/8/16

(S&P100 compared to exactly 3 weeks before***)

-2.98, +7.92, -62.99, -77.25

======================================================

(Friday from 3 Fridays ago; 2 Fri’s fm 4 Friday’s ago; 3 Fri’s fm 5 Friday’s ago; 4 Fri’s fm 6 Friday’s ago)

****The majority of this report was completed before the nearly 2% decline of today****

TSP

Here are images of where the respective TSP funds have positioned themselves, for the past year, with respect to the emerging appeal of ‘flight to safety’ of bond funds, and, in our case, the F fund.  Notice the rapidly rising risk of losses in any/all of the equity funds since the middle of last year (as I repeatedly used the high risk/low reward aspect).

S fund to F fund (small caps to bond fund)

FSEMX-AGG

You should only expect these aspects to remain as they are here for at least the next 4-10 quarters.   There will be no substantial, or long-term, impact from changes in Fed policy, as in the past.

I fund to F fund (international funds to bond fund)

EFA

Those techniques have run their course.  They have created a $4 trillion liability, known as the Fed balance sheet.  Even larger liabilities are either underway or already put in place in Europe and Japan.  These ‘freebie’ policies have short-term benefits and very long term consequences, which must be ‘unwound’ in some fashion that has yet to be determined.

C fund to F fund (S&P 500 to bond fund)

PEOPX-AGG

F fund proxy, AGG for comparison

AGGYEAR END SUMMARY

When the whistle blew at the close of trading Thursday, New Year’s Eve, the stock market finished a disappointing week and year, with both posting a nearly 1% loss. In light of the optimism that rang in 2015, there was little joy on Wall Street.

The annual drop was the first since 2008.  So much, too, for the traditional Santa Claus rally: Stocks fell 1.8% in December. In quiet, holiday-shortened trading in the final week, equities moved in lockstep with oil prices. Oil ended the year at $37.04 a barrel, down 3% in the final week, and off 31% for the year, not far from seven-year lows.  It’s now almost $6 per barrel lower after 6 weeks, or, -18.5% year to date, near twelve-year lows.

This is where major asset classes wound up at the end of December, end of the year, end of three years (annualized), and end of five years (annualized).

TotalReturns2015

For the week, the S&P 500 took its largest dive in a month, as investors blanched at weak economic data out of the U.S., including an uninspiring jobs report Friday. The S&P 500 tumbled 1.8% on Friday, with technology stocks leading the way down.

“The market is reacting to what it sees as rising recessionary risks,” said Jason Pride, the director of investment strategy at Glenmede.

Last week, the Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 261 points, or 1.6%, to 16,204.97, and the Standard & Poor’s 500 index dropped 60 points, or 3.1% to 1880.05. The Nasdaq tanked 251 points, or 5.4%, to 4363.14. LinkedIn (ticker: LNKD) led the index down, dropping 44% after releasing weak 2016 guidance.

Energy was “the” story in 2015, according to Jonathan Golub, chief equity strategist at RBC Capital Markets. The price of oil “significantly affected both its own sector and the rest of the market.” It’s no coincidence, he adds, that the market’s poor 2015 performance reflected weak growth in the S&P 500 index’s earnings per share.

OIL/COMMODITIES/DOLLAR/ECONOMY

We hear every day that low oil prices are good for the economy. U.S. consumers are saving billions from low gasoline prices. We also hear that low interest rates are great for the economy because it reduces borrowing costs for consumers and businesses. We have both low oil prices and low interest rates but the economy grew at only +0.7% in Q4 and jobs appear to be slowing. Why? Enquiring minds want to know.  You know the Fed is going crazy trying to figure out the answer.

Ironically, the world economy badly needs higher oil prices. The problem is that the world’s economy relies far more today on ’emerging’ countries that rely on oil sales, than 15 or 25 years ago – the last periods of ultra-low oil prices.  Most big emerging countries are heavily dependent on oil and other commodities, such as copper and iron ore. (Brazilian iron-ore miner Vale SA <VALE5.SA> said it will no longer pay a dividend to shareholders). Such economies now account for 42% of the world’s economic output, about double their share in 1990.  From Russia to Saudi Arabia, Nigeria to Brazil, economic growth is slowing down to a crawl and, in many cases, is contracting.

Citi helped spread some doom and gloom on Friday when strategist Jonathan Stubbs said the global economy seems trapped in a ‘death spiral’ that could lead to further weakness in oil prices, recession and a serious equity bear market.  He is definitely going for the scary headlines in this note.

He said the stronger dollar, weaker oil/commodity prices, weaker world trade, petrodollar liquidity, weaker emerging markets and global growth, etc, could lead to “Oilmageddon,” a significant and “synchronized” global recession and modern-day bear market.

He did say that some analysts at Citi predicted the dollar would weaken in 2016 and oil prices would likely bottom. “The death spiral is in nobody’s interest. Rational behavior, most likely will prevail.”

So, release the report with scary headlines and then end it with “rational behavior, most likely will prevail.”  Hmmmm….

He did have one point right. The lack of a world economy floating on petrodollars is a very scary place. When oil was $100 every producing country was flush with dollars and they spent that money all around the world. This kept the global economy lubricated. With global producers now living on 30% of what they received two years ago, an entirely new dynamic is in place. These countries are broke and they are being forced to cancel/remove subsidies that kept their populations happy.

Gasoline for 20 cents a gallon is now 2-3 times that. Utility subsidies that kept electricity, gas and water flowing to poor citizens have been cancelled or reduced significantly. Government wages are being slashed, jobs cut, infrastructure projects cancelled, road maintenance postponed, etc. All of this is due to the 70% decline in oil prices. Hundreds of millions of people are living in countries where the current revenue can no longer support them in the manner in which they were accustomed.

It is no surprise that the global economy is slowing. There is a shortage of petrodollars to keep it lubricated.

This is not likely to change in the near future. Oil prices will rise in Q3/Q4 but it could be years before they return to a level where governments will be able to subsidize/support the population and economic activity like they did in the past.

Occidental Petroleum (OXY) reported last week that the all in cost for oil production in the Permian Basin in Texas was $22-$23 a barrel. Producers in that area can still make a few bucks on new production. However, that is the only area of the country that is profitable. Wood Mackenzie said 3.4 mbpd of global production was cash negative at $35 per Brent barrel. That means they actually lose money on every barrel produced.

Wood Mackenzie said not to expect many producers to actually shut in production. After factoring in the cost to shut off production, the cost to restart, the lost cash flow, negative or not and the danger to future production, prices would have to go a lot lower before producers would bite the bullet and shutdown the wells. When a well is shutdown, things happen underground. Producers spend millions of dollars to get oil to flow towards the pipe so it can be extracted. As long as that oil is flowing, it remains liquid. If production stops that oil can thicken and clog up the pores in the rock and when production is restarted, it may only be a fraction of what it was when it was halted. Wells need to continue running even if they are turned down to a very low rate just to keep the flows moving.

What the stock market is fighting is more evidence of a slowing economy, and not just in the U.S.  The global economy is slowing in unison (some faster than others) and this is the first time for this to occur since the 1930s.  This, of course, fits the general thesis that says we’ve been in a secular bear market since 2000 (since 1998 by measures other than price) and that the next cyclical bear within the secular bear could be a very painful move for those who hold long positions.

Further evidence of a global slowdown in the economy is what we see happening in the currency markets. Everyone is in a race to devalue their currencies in hopes of making their products cheaper for other countries to import. But with everyone doing it the only thing that’s been accomplished is a race to the bottom and a global devaluing of fiat currencies, which has created a deflationary cycle. That of course is what the central banks are trying to fight with their quantitative easing (QE) and zero interest rate policies (ZIRP)/negative interest rate policies (NIRP ) but each is negating the efforts of the other. In the past, as in the 1930s, this currency war tends to lead to very bad things between countries.

The Chairman of the OECD’s Review Committee, William White, wrote “We’re seeing true currency wars and everybody is doing it, and I have no idea where this is going to end. The global elastic has been stretched even further than it was in 2008 on the eve of the Great Recession. The excesses have reached almost every corner of the globe, and combined public/private debt is 20% of GDP higher today. We are holding a tiger by the tail.” We all know what happens when the tiger gets tired of us yanking on his tail.

The economic slowdown obviously affects businesses and we’re seeing that show up in the slowdown in earnings, which is making it more difficult to service the massive debts that they’ve taken on. Some of the debt has been for the development of new energy sources, such as the fracking. Think that debt might be in trouble. Much of the debt has been from companies borrowing heavily to buy back stock in an effort to boost earnings per share and hide the fact that actual earnings have been slowing. Again, a slowdown is now making it more difficult for those companies to service their debt and the slowdown is going to cause a double whammy to earnings.

STOCKS

020816Snapshot(Major indexes through last week)

The Fed keeps pinning their hopes on the employment picture but that picture is a lot dimmer than their simple observations of how people are employed (it’s part of their flawed economic models). The chart below is hard to read because I had to squish it to fit but basically it’s showing the inflation-adjusted price of SPX (on top) vs. the ratio of non-farm employment to part time employment. Each time the ratio has been in decline (meaning part time employment is becoming larger than non-farm (full) employment) we’ve been in a secular bear market. (Two-thirds of the jobs announced in last Friday’s jobs report were minimum wage jobs.) The dates of the first secular bear (pink band) is 1966-1982 and the second secular bear (pink band on the right) is from 1999. You can clearly see how the employment ratio has declined from its 1999 peak and since the 2009 low it hasn’t even recovered to the 2002 low. In other words, the employment picture remains weak but the

Fed feels it was strong enough to warrant a rate increase in December.

SPXAdj55-15

The chart above shows why it can’t be used as a timing tool but it does support why we’ve been in a secular bear, regardless of the new (non-inflation adjusted) price highs for the stock market in both 2007 and 2015. And if we’re still in the secular bear, as I’ve contended for many years, the new price highs into 2015 merely made the stock market more vulnerable to a market crash. Have we started that crash? It’s too early to tell but yes, I do believe we’ve started the next (and should be final) leg of the secular bear. But for those who think it’s a good idea to just sit tight and let the market recover after the decline, I think the recovery will be far slower than the one off the 2009 low. It could take a generation before prices recover back to the December highs.

MARGIN DEBT

A primary fuel for market progress, margin debt, now shows a peak in April, a month before market prices also peaked.  The last FOUR months have been below the 12-month moving average.  This is the first time since 2011 that this has happened.  That period coincides with a 20% decline in market prices around that point.

MarginDebtDec

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