@theMarket: Here Comes Santa
With less than two weeks until Santa Claus shimmies down your chimney, investors are betting that what the Big Man has in his sack is lots and lots of gains to finish out 2017.
Now some might say that the signing of a massive tax cut is all the present investors need. After all, despite the rhetoric, we all know that the Republican tax cut is solely directed toward the wealthy, big business, and the stock market. As such, the indexes should continue to levitate between now and the New Year.
Investors are stocking up on the shares of those companies that will benefit most from the windfall profits they will receive as part of the reduction in the corporate tax rate from 35 percent to around 21 percent. Many of these Fortune 500 companies, such as Cisco Systems, Pfizer Inc. and Coca-Cola, have already said they will turn over their tax cut gains to shareholders.
Jamie Dimon, JP Morgan Chase Chairman and CEO, says companies will buy other companies, raise their dividends and buy back stock. Some may even raise wages, he added, as an afterthought. These stated plans fly in the face of claims by President Trump and Republican lawmakers. They have promised that corporations will invest this money in plant and equipment, use the funds to raise wages, and hire new workers-- none of those statements appear to be true.
The very politicians who decry "fake news" have been working overtime to spread their own brand of this dubious commodity.
Since my focus has always been on the economy and financial markets, I see some troubling ramifications of this tax cut for the future. As readers know, the U.S. economy as well as the global economy, has been picking up steam. Our economy should finish the year with a gain of between 2.3-2.5 percent. The global economy will do better (3.4 percent or so). Next year should see our economy nudge up to 2.9 percent while worldwide growth should hit 3.7 percent. This is before the effect of any tax cut.
Now, the political rhetoric maintains that we should see our economy explode next year, based on all this corporate tax cut money. Yet, few economists outside of those paid by the GOP to come up with rosy forecasts, see much evidence that the tax cut will have any impact on growth next year. But let's say the Republicans and their president are correct; what happens
There is a high probability that the Federal Reserve Bank, which would then be headed by Trump appointees (who are decidedly more hawkish than the Yellen crowd), would be forced to hike interest rates sharply in order to stave off any inflation threat. This is an especially clear and present danger, if all this supposed new growth creates job openings in an economy that is already at an historic low rate of unemployment.
As it is, corporations still cannot fill many of the job vacancies they have because they can't find enough skilled labor. Even if the Fortune 500 embarked on a massive job training drive, it will be several years before the first graduates could fill the existing job openings. In the meantime, a bidding war could ensue, sparking unbridled wage growth. The Fed wouldn't like that either.
These would be luxury problems as far as the economy is concerned. The stock market, on the other hand, might see it differently. The good news, however, is that these potential scenarios will not appear until at least the second half of next year, if they do at all. In the meantime, I expect we will see future gains into the first half of 2018.
@theMarket: Should Be Good Month for Stocks
The House passed a stop-gap spending bill averting a government shut-down late Thursday night. As a result, markets moved higher. We can expect more of the same until the next deadline, which is just before Christmas.
To be honest, investors have become so used to these eleventh hour deals out of Congress that the markets hardly budge when the drama begins. Dec. 22 is the new date investors will be watching. We will see whether a compromise can be reached on the budget for 2018 by then.
In the meantime, the markets will remain focused on the Republican tax deal. The hope is that a compromise between the House and Senate will be reached in time for President Trump to sign it into law by Christmas. The stop-gap move by the House now frees the decks for legislators to focus on tax reform between now and then.
Next week, the Fed meets again. Investors are expecting another Fed Funds rate hike by the end of the FOMC meeting next Wednesday. That will make three this year. There should be no surprises there, since traders have been expecting such a rate hike for weeks now. The only risk may be if Janet Yellen, the Fed chairwoman, says something unexpected during her remarks after the announcement.
In the meantime, the markets are seeing quite a bit of rotational activity. While the indexes may appear to be simply consolidating across time, individual stocks and sectors are undergoing some gut-wrenching moves. This week energy, financials, technology and utilities, among others, have seen their values gyrate based on what investors perceive as under or overvalued.
At the same time, overseas markets have been correcting as well. Emerging markets and Europe, over all, have seen 2-3 percent declines recently as investors are taking some profits in those areas. Stock markets there have done exceptionally well this year. The truth is that foreign markets have been outperforming the U.S. markets ever since the elections.
Some pundits are worried by the price action. Since foreign markets have led the U.S. stock market up in price action this year, their present declines may be a forerunner of future declines here at home. If so, I do not believe we will see any fall out until January at the earliest. There are just too many seasonable and fundamental factors that will keep U.S. markets propped up or gaining for the rest of the year.
Tax reform itself has contributed mightily to the lack of tax loss selling this season. This has provided a great deal of support to the averages and will continue to do so until the end of 2017. And then there is the Santa Claus Rally that will soon be upon us.
Combined with a good economy, low interest rates, and low unemployment, this gives most investors few reasons to sell.
As a result, the stock market should close out the year at these levels or higher. Next year may not be as positive, but we will worry about that when the time comes. In the meantime, count your shekels.
@theMarket: Sweet Spot for the Markets
Thanksgiving weekend usually marks the beginning of a great seasonal run in the equity markets that continues through January of next year. There are some additional reasons why this year may prove to be a good one.
No one disputes the fact that we have had an unusual year for equities; all three U.S. indexes have gains in excess of 15 percent. That is more than twice the average gains of the S&P 500 Index on a historical basis. In addition, those spectacular gains have been accomplished without any declines of more than 3 percent all year. If that is not a record, it is pretty close to one.
The economy, unemployment and inflation have all been moving in the right direction. In addition, the nation's leading economic indicators are all pointing to further macro gains in the future. Earnings have been stellar for most of the year, while interest rates have remained at historically low levels. That makes investment alternatives to equities few and far between.
Investors are also waiting for an outcome to tax reform. The latest bets are that some kind of tax reform/cut will be on the president's desk before Christmas. At least that is what President Trump is tweeting. It is one of the main reasons why we have not seen anything more than a mild sell-off in stocks. Usually, investors would be busy combing through their portfolios after such a year of gains. The markets are up almost 25 percent since the election and normally professional investors would be locking in long-term capital gains. They would also be selling
losers, harvesting tax losses and rebalancing portfolios for the coming year. None of that is happening.
The reasoning is simple. Why take a chance on selling things now when next year there is a good chance that taxes will be lower. Better to wait at least until January before taking profits.
That way, even if tax reform does not take place until next year, investors will have until April 2019 to square up with the taxman.
In the meantime, equities are making new highs. Technically, the next stop is a little above 2,600 for the S&P 500 Index. So far this year, the most that can be said for past resistance areas, is that the indexes consolidated around the new levels and then forged higher. Given the seasonal impact of November through January, the upcoming Santa Claus Rally and the anticipation of tax reform, I would expect markets to continue to climb.
January may see a sell-off, but that all depends on what happens in Washington. If tax reform and tax cuts do materialize, then investors will celebrate. The lion's share of benefits of tax reform and cuts would accrue to large, stock market, listed companies. Savvy investors know that these companies will not be spending their new-found tax gains on investment and hiring.
They will do as they have done in the past and use that money to buy back stock and pay dividends to those who can afford to invest in the financial markets.
If for some reason tax reform/cuts fail to materialize than "look out below." Until then, enjoy the rally and have a Happy Thanksgiving.
@theMarket: Investors Underwhelmed by Tax Reform
With great fanfare, House Republicans rolled out a tax reform proposal that they promised would get this country going again and invigorate business, while creating jobs and huge savings for the middle class. What are they smoking?
Clearly, the entire reform package was simply a smoke screen to reduce taxes for American corporations with the majority of benefits directed at the country's largest companies. For the individual, depending on what you make and where you live, taxes will remain the same or go up.
Several legislators used a postcard as a prop claiming your individual tax return will be so simple it will fit on a postcard. The reason is simple. This plan will greatly reduce the few tax deductions we have left. State and local taxes will no longer be deductible, property taxes will be capped and a slew of other credits and deductions have been reduced or eliminated.
In my opinion what we have here is a classic distribution of wealth from the individual to the corporation. You may have noticed that while the GOP cut taxes on corporations permanently (from 35 percent to 20 percent); they did nothing to reduce or eliminate the mountains of tax credits, incentives and loopholes available to big business. If the truth be told, the effective tax rate of U.S. corporations, after taking advantage of these loopholes, is 12.6 percent. And that was before this proposed tax cut.
It doesn't take rocket science to figure out that if the Republican proposal passes, U.S. corporations could be effectively paying no taxes at all. The government may actually be paying them thanks to the various tax credits in place.
On another subject, a new Federal Reserve chairman has been selected. President Trump has bypassed Janet Yellen, a Democrat, for a second term. Instead, he has named Jerome Powell, a Republican and a "dove," who is not expected to rock the boat. He is reputed to be a "boring, predictable, Steady Eddie" who will maintain and continue existing monetary policy. This nomination was expected and telegraphed to the Street earlier in the week.
Friday's unemployment numbers (261,000 actual jobs created versus 310,000 expected) was a non-event since three hurricanes (Florida, Puerto Rico, Houston) will have skewed the numbers enough that the data cannot be relied upon to discern any kind of trend. What can be said is that the headline number on the unemployment rate is now down to 4.1 percent.
That historically low unemployment rate makes me wonder just who is going to fill all these new jobs that Republican politicians claim will be forthcoming as a result of their tax reform bill. As it stands, an increasing number of job vacancies around the nation can't be filled because the country lacks the skilled labor force that can qualify for these high-paying jobs.
Most of what I have seen thus far in new job growth coming out of the U.S. corporate sector is minimum wage jobs in the service industry. This week's data showed additional gains in the food service industry (think waiters and waitresses) and drinking places (bartenders). Wage growth was flat.
Like most market participants, the news out of Washington seems to be nothing more than a feeble attempt by the House to resuscitate the "Trickle Down" economic fairy tale of yester year. This tired myth has been soundly discredited over the last four decades.
Most corporations will simply pass on these new tax savings to shareholders or buy up assets rather than invest in their companies or employees. As for the markets, the S&P 500 Index has been trapped in a trading range for almost two weeks now. Look for the index to attempt a breakout soon to 2,600 or more.
@theMarket: Markets Are Waiting for Tax Reform
Stocks gyrated up and down this week as events in Washington competed with quarterly earnings results for investor's attention. Next week, we should find out more about both.
True to form, third-quarter earnings results have been in-line or better than expected. Over 70 percent of companies have "beat" earnings estimates, which is no surprise. Sales and earnings guidance have also been upbeat. For those unfortunate corporations who "missed" their targets on either the top or bottom line, retribution was swift and dramatic.
Some companies saw their stock price plummet 20 percent or more. And we are not just talking about penny stocks. Some mega-cap biotech names, for example, were taken to the woodshed and are still falling in price days later. On the other hand, some technology stocks, including the big momentum names such as the so-called "FANG" stocks saw their shares skyrocket on Friday as results more than beat analyst's estimates.
In the background, legislators in our nation's capital continued to march forward in their plans to cut and reform taxes. The House passed the Senate's version of the budget this week. That was a preliminary but necessary move that now allows tax reform to move forward through Congress with a simple majority vote.
No Democrats voted for the budget and some Republicans also abstained. The budget still passed, but by a slim majority. The political maneuvering behind the vote gave many investors the impression that next week's tax plan would not be as simple to pass as some might expect. However, traders are still giving Congress the benefit of the doubt, at least until next
Wednesday when the tax plan will be unveiled.
In the meantime, global markets are waiting with baited breath for President Trump to announce who will head the nation's central bank. Obviously, it is an important (some might say critical) job. Depending upon who you talk to, the front-runners are Jerome Powell, a Fed governor, who is thought to be in tune with current Fed policy under Chairwoman Janet Yellen.
John Taylor, a Stanford University economics professor, is the other candidate. He is a darling of conservative Republicans given his belief that the economy would generate stronger growth if the Fed would just get out of the way. However, Yellen is not out of the running just yet, since Trump said he still liked Yellen "a lot" for a second term. This week he said the decision was "very, very close."
The world's central bankers are on pins and needles as well, since much of monetary policy in the recent past has been a joint effort. This week, for example, Mario Draghi, the head of Europe's central bank, signaled that Europe would follow the lead of the U.S. central bank over the next year or so in throttling back its own stimulus of the European Union's economies.
Careful, steady, coordinated progress by central banks has been made in guiding the world's economies out of the financial crisis and Great Recession. Investors worry that a newcomer to the Fed chairmanship's job, especially one with different views, might rock the boat.
As for the markets, investors worry that at some point soon, the indexes will have to correct. There is an inescapable logic to that argument. But exactly when that will occur no one knows. In the meantime, stay invested.