Glenn Stevens is unique among central bankers worldwide: he is enjoying the results of both disciplined fiscal policies through the credit boom and prudently measured responses to the bust.
The decision to keep rates flat at 3.25% today represents an acknowledgement that the Australian economy is as strong as it can be given the external factors beyond the government’s control. That is not to say that the situation for the land down under is rosy, but simply that any further rate cuts right now would be superfluous at best (Australian mortgage rates are at historic lows and consumer credit is not frozen like in the US) and at worst could spur inflationary pressure. For now, Stevens has decided to keep his powder dry and wait.
We finally went long the Australian equity market via the etf EWA yesterday, and expect that the relative strength of the economy there, combined with increasing commodity demand from an emerging China, will provide significant upside potential. It is at times of extreme stress such as the one we find ourselves in that the incremental advantage of good leadership is felt in the fullest. Stevens has proven himself to be a solid leader.
Good on Ya’ Mate!
Two of the four sectors showing positive growth don’t seem too out of line, but the XLP (Consumer Staples) seems to be aggressive at 12% growth. And, the expected 18.2% operating EPS growth for the XLF (Financials) seems completely out of line.
A closer look at the number shows that it is being driven by three companies – Wells Fargo (projected 73% 2009 EPS growth translates into a market weighted 6.5% contribution to the XLF’s overall growth), Goldman Sachs (6.1% growth contribution based on 91% expected EPS growth) and JP Morgan Chase (12.7% growth contribution based on 97% expected EPS growth). It is important to note that these sector EPS growth rates are based on street estimates, and therefore, are only as good as the estimates. That being said, with the S&P 500 -55% below the all time high set in October 2007, an earnings recovery story in three of the nation’s leading financial institutions does not seem plausible.
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Let me pose that question a different way. Would you choose to live in a state with a higher unemployment rate, a 25% higher cost of living, a higher sales tax, and a state income tax rate of 9.3%? Or would you rather live in a bordering state with no state income tax? That is the alternative facing California residents who are likely to face even higher taxes as soon as April to balance the state budget in the coming years.
If you run a small business, or any business for that matter, it may make sense to forgo that 8.84% state corporate income tax and pay zero by relocating to Nevada. I’m sure many of your employees would appreciate the higher take home pay. The economic differentials between the two states are highlighted in the table below.
While Nevada has its own budget issues, it remains in a good spot to capitalize on California’s demise. I would never put it past government to ruin a good thing, but Nevada has a history of pro-growth, somewhat libertarian government and hopefully that will last. A continued low tax environment and a favorable climate should keep them coming. Unless the Nevada state government pulls a California (i.e. shoots itself in the foot), the Las Vegas locals market will retain a pretty unique characteristic among gaming markets: population growth. BYD looks to be the primary beneficiary.
Make no mistake, the governing intermediate Trend here is one of a raging bear market… and it will continue to be for some time. That’s the price we are going to pay for trading away our financial system’s credibility. My call this morning was, and continues to be, to buy/cover for a Trade. I have refreshed my macro model for prices registered at 11AM EST.
Keith R. McCullough
CEO & Chief Investment Officer
"I'll study and get ready, and then the chance will come."
After a statistically significant weather aberration here in the North East, it's a little chilly here in the New Haven office this morning. However, in preparation to write this note I am warming up to the idea of getting invested again in America.
No, I'm not interested in investing in them bubbly US Treasuries that everyone from China to Japan is chalk full of (Mr. Buffett, thank you for having our back on that bond bubble call in your annual letter). And no, I'm definitely not getting into them butter fly wing nut derivative things that the sell side taped together and slapped a ticker on either. I'm thinking plain vanilla US stocks, for a "Trade"...
Do not mistake this call as a "Trend" - the intermediate Trend in the US market will likely remain a bearish one for a long time now... but everything in markets has a time and a price. Now is the time to be buying American again, for a Trade.
The US stock market is seeing its lowest prices since 1996 (down -22.5% for 2009 to-date), taking those who "invested for the long run" in October of 2007 down -55% from being walked off the Investment Banking Inc. cliff of the willfully blind. The prices I am seeing are definitely compelling - if you can't at least cover shorts here, I don't know when you'll ever be able to.
Why is it that most institutional investors love to buy everything on sale in this country other than stocks? I'd like to say that I do not know... but anyone who has spent more than a year in this business knows... it's sad and its silly, but its true - the art of managing money is having money to manage - and if you can outperform whatever benchmark your marketing department has established for you, heck... just tone it down and start buying after the brave soul next to you does.
I took our cash position down from 76% to 68% yesterday. I took my Asset Allocation to US Equities back up to 17% (I was at 9% at month end) and, to be clear, I am buying American for a Trade. Trade? Yes, my name is Keith McCullough - I am a risk manager, and I trade.
When you are locked under the dominating intermediate "Trend" (3 months or more) of a bear market, pretty much the only time you can really make money is by buying things when no one else is ALLOWED to. For all of the preaching that I do on proactively managing the risk associated with your factor exposures, the reality is that a lot of people out there still manage money based on the reactive relative performance model of chasing price. Price momentum is a one factor model - and it's not that complicated to predict.
I use a multi-factor risk management model that has 27 macro inputs. The factors run across asset classes and geographies. The factors are dynamic. As prices change, I do. This is not Keynesian. This is simply the only way I can attempt to remove emotion, and remain objective.
Do I make mistakes? Of course I do. I wouldn't be down -1.7% (I was down -0.1% yesterday) in our Asset Allocation Portfolio for 2009 to-date if I didn't. But when it comes to the big macro moves, I rarely get caught with my pants down as those massive tides roll out.
As of yesterday's close, my macro model has immediate term "Trade" downside in the SP500 and Nasdaq of less than 1% versus immediate term upside of +8%. That's the best risk reward scenario I have seen in terms of the US market's prices since November the 20th, 2008. Are things nasty out there? You bet your Madoff they are - this -22.5% down move to start 2009 is only rivaled by the years of 1933 and 1938 in terms of the expediency of the decline.
The savings rate in this country just shot up yesterday to 5%. The US savings rate was almost -800 basis points lower in Q3 of 2005 (at -2.7%, Americans had a NEGATIVE savings rate). On its own, this has been a massively relevant drag on consumer spending in America (close to $900B from the peak of negative US savings to now). Given that consumer spending represents almost 70% of American GDP, the slowdown that has been marked to market in your stock portfolios is very much a fundamental one. The good news here is that this is no longer new news...
There are two things that really matter to an American's economic confidence interval: the value of their homes and price of their portfolios. My Partner, Howard Penney, has done some great work on US housing prices as of late, and without belaboring the analysis that we have written on to support this (see macro portal at www.researchedgellc.com), our main conclusion here that matters when it comes to the values of US homes is that they will start to decline at a lesser rate come Q2 of this year. The good news here is that no one agrees with us that this will be new news...
If house prices begin to stabilize, and the US stock market starts to decline at a lesser rate... that will be very good news. In the meantime, study the people around you... "get ready... and then your chance will come." Buy low.
Best of luck out there today.
CURRENT ETF ALLOCATION
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