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Did the Fed make a mistake? – “A Few Minutes with Marcia”

Welcome back to A Few Minutes with Marcia. My name is Marcia Clark, senior research analyst at Warren Street Wealth Advisors.

Today we’re going to spend a few minutes considering the pros and cons of the Federal Reserve Open Market Committee holding short-term interest rates steady at its June meeting. Most of my comments today are based on the FOMC announcement published on June 19, the press conference with Chairman Jerome Powell shortly thereafter, and remarks by Federal Reserve Governor Lael Brainard on June 21st.

Watch:

 

On June 19, the Federal Reserve Open Market Committee announced its decision to keep short-term interest rates unchanged at 2.25%-2.5%. Did they make a mistake?

To answer this question, let’s put ourselves in the shoes of the Fed and attempt to base our opinion on the available data. The Fed should reduce rates if they see the economy struggling. Is that what they see?

During a speech in Cincinnati on June 21st, Fed Governor Lael Brainard stated his assessment that the most likely path for the economy remains solid. He noted strength in consumer spending and consumer confidence, as well as unemployment at a 50-year low.

He did note a few areas of concern: cautious business investment due to policy uncertainty, slow growth overseas, and muted inflation.

  • Mr. Brainard said: “The downside risks, if they materialize, could weigh on economic activity. Basic principles of risk management in a low neutral rate environment with compressed conventional policy space would argue for softening the expected path of policy when risks shift to the downside.” But what does he mean by ‘compressed conventional policy space’?

The Fed has limited room to maneuver because interest rates are already low, and inflation and employment have not responded to changes in interest rates as predictably as they have in the past. 

  • On the plus side, this means the labor market can strengthen a lot without an acceleration in inflation
  • On the other hand, this low sensitivity along with already low interest rates gives the Fed less ability to buffer the economy in a downturn

 

If the Fed doesn’t get their interest rate call right, the economy could begin to spiral too far up or too far down.

Let’s take a deeper look at why low interest rates present a challenge for the Fed.

  • In the past, the Federal Reserve has cut interest rates 4 to 5 percentage points in order to combat past recessions
  • The chart on slide 6 shows the current Fed Funds rate sitting at less than half where it was before the last two recessions. 
  • Clearly there is less room to run if a recession hits

 

The chart also shows GDP beginning to stabilize at the end of 2016. With GDP on a more steady path, back in 2017 the Fed started raising short-term interest rates toward a more normal level in order to have some ‘dry powder’ for the next recession.

How did we get to this delicate balance point?

In December 2018, the Fed said more rate hikes were appropriate given the strengthening economy. The stock market reacted badly as at the same time trade talks with China were going nowhere and portions of the Treasury yield curve were inverted. Recession fears were on everyone’s mind.

In March 2019, Federal Reserve officials reassure markets that they will be “patient” with increasing short-term interest rates. To quote the FOMC statement after the March meeting: “the case for raising rates has weakened…” Notice that they didn’t say the case for cutting rates has strengthened.

And in June, the FOMC held interest rates steady and stated that the current level of interest rates is consistent with its mission to promote full employment and price stability. In its post-meeting statement, the committee said that the timing and size of future adjustments will be based on economic conditions relative to these two objectives. 

After the announcement, both stocks and bonds reacted positively to the decision, with the stock market indexes touching new highs before falling back a bit at the end of the week. 

Commentators speculated that the markets reacted well because a rate cut could be imminent. Equally likely, however, is that the markets reacted to the lack of a rate hike and prospects that a recession is not around the corner. 

During a press conference after the announcement, Fed chairman Jerome Powell responded to a question by saying that being independent of political pressure or market sentiment has served the country well and would do so in the future. He stated that the FOMC will react to data and trends that are sustainable rather than individual data points that can be volatile

But despite all the evidence, as we approach the end of June an astonishing 100% of futures investors are betting on a rate cut in July. These investors are wrong. 

Why am I so sure they won’t cut rates when commentators and the futures market clearly think differently?

You may have heard the expression ‘pushing on a string’. What this means is that applying force to something with no rigidity won’t have any impact – the string absorbs the force and the force doesn’t go any further. This is the current situation with monetary policy.

Imagine pushing a sofa across your carpeted living room versus pushing a mattress across the same room.

Once the feet of the sofa get out of the dent they made in the carpet, the sofa will move fairly easily. That’s because the sofa is rigid – when you apply force at one end, the sofa moves away from the force.

But a mattress is much more resistant to shifting. That’s because much of the force you apply is absorbed by the cushioning already in the mattress. The mattress will often bend before it will move. The force doesn’t go anywhere or accomplish anything.

The current U.S. economy is like the mattress in this example. The U.S. economy has plenty of available capital and interest rates are already low. Reducing the Fed Funds target from 2.375% to 2.00% is unlikely to accomplish much other than encouraging unwise borrowing and ultimately sparking inflation.

Yes, bad things can happen to our economy and the Fed needs to guard against a recession. But a recession overseas is much more likely than in the U.S., and no U.S. recession has ever been caused by a recession overseas. Dropping interest rates to ease market concerns or satisfy political sentiment is not the Fed’s mandate and would be counterproductive.

Barring some catastrophic political event or natural disaster, the U.S. economy is unlikely to falter between now and mid-July. 

Recognizing the Fed’s dual mandate of stable prices and full employment are both being met at the current level of short-term interest rates, right now the downside risk of lowering rates outweighs the potential stimulus benefit. The FOMC should keep the Fed Funds rate steady when they meet in July.

This has been ‘A Few Minutes with Marcia’. I hope you are a bit clearer on how to assess the likelihood of Fed policy decisions going forward. As always, comments and questions are welcome!

Sources:

 

Marcia Clark, CFA, MBA
Senior Research Analyst
Warren Street Wealth Advisors

Warren Street Wealth Advisors, a Registered Investment Advisor. The information contained herein does not involve the rendering of personalized investment advice but is limited to the dissemination of general information. A professional advisor should be consulted before implementing any of the strategies or options presented. Any investments discussed carry unique risks and should be carefully considered and reviewed by you and your financial professional. Past performance may not be indicative of future results. All investment strategies have the potential for profit or loss. 

 

DISCLOSURES

Investment Advisor Representative, Warren Street Wealth Advisors, LLC., a Registered Investment Advisor

The information presented here represents opinions and is not meant as personal or actionable advice to any individual, corporation, or other entity. Any investments discussed carry unique risks and should be carefully considered and reviewed by you and your financial professional. Nothing in this document is a solicitation to buy or sell any securities, or an attempt to furnish personal investment advice. Warren Street Wealth Advisors may own securities referenced in this document. Due to the static nature of content, securities held may change over time and current trades may be contrary to outdated publications.

Form ADV available upon request 714-876-6200

The bulls are back! But for how long?

Key Takeaways

  • The U.S. economy just exceeded the record for the longest business cycle expansion since economists started recording expansions in the 1930s (120 months plus 1 day)
  • Global trade tensions are impacting manufacturing sectors all around the world; only the U.S. and France show continued expansion, with Germany falling the most
  • Despite these concerns, June 2019 was among the strongest months for the U.S. stock market since 1955, driven largely by the FOMC decision to keep interest rates low and expectations of moderating trade tensions between the U.S. and China
  • An astonishing 100% of futures markets participants expect the Fed to cut the Federal Funds rate between 0.25% and 0.50% in July. Conventional wisdom states that when 100% of market participants expect something, it’s time for rational investors to exit.
  • Conclusion: Forecasts for multiple cuts in the Federal Funds rate are overdone; investors should be prepared for the stock market to react badly if expected rate cuts don’t materialize in July.

When the FOMC announced they would not raise the Federal Funds rate in June, global stock markets cheered.

Despite continuing uncertainty about trade tariffs, the decision not to raise rates was a relief to investors. Stock prices in both Europe and the U.S. jumped immediately after the announcement and held their gains through the rest of the week. Treasury bond prices rallied as well, bringing the 10-year interest rate below 2% for the first time since November 2016.

Source: finance.yahoo.com

This enthusiasm may be warranted as the U.S. economy has reached the longest expansion since economists started recording expansions in the 1930s (120 months plus 1 day), edging past the expansion of 1991 to 2001.

But the markets seem a bit schizophrenic lately in their response to economic data.

Longest expansion since 1930s

After their meeting in mid-June, Federal Reserve officials indicated that monetary policy can remain accomodative because concerns about a weakening economy had increased.

Here is the schizophrenic part: If the economy is indeed slowing, shouldn’t the stock market be cautious since corporate profits are expected to slow? But despite a few bad days and weeks from time to time, the U.S. stock market has hit new highs in 2019. If the Fed becomes more confident about the economy and raises interest rates slightly, this should signal stronger future corporate profits and boost the stock market. But instead of cheers, the prospect of the Fed continuing to ‘normalize’ short-term interest rates has been met with stock market tumbles.

This fearful reaction might be based on historical precedents which are no longer relevant. Some past expansions were indeed derailed by the Fed increasing rates too much. But the last 3 recessions in the U.S. were not sparked by interest rate increases but by market excesses: the Dot Com boom and bust in 1999-2000 and the housing price bubble in 2007-2008 being prime examples.

To better gauge when and if the economic expansion has run its course, investors would be wise to worry less about the Federal Funds rate and more about asset values, business activity, and the strength of labor markets.

According to Dr. David Kelly, chief global strategist for J.P. Morgan Asset Management, the four key areas to watch in regard to ‘expansion killers’ are home building, business fixed investment, motor vehicle sales, and change in inventories.

Dr. David Kelly’s ‘expansion killers’

Recessions since the late 90s have been associated less with interest rates and more with booms and busts in at least one of these areas. Since none of these factors are in ‘boom’ territory, it’s difficult to imagine a ‘bust’ scenario around the corner. As Dr. Kelly said, it’s hard to hurt yourself when jumping out a basement window.

The only leading indicator sitting on the second floor – rather than the basement – is the level of U.S. stock prices relative to earnings. As reported by Ned Davis Research, S&P 500 valuations in June were higher than average, but not by much. Whether you look at current earnings or forward earnings projections, the stock market seems to be fairly valued.

U.S. stock market valuation seems fair

In any case, the Fed may have less ability to influence the economy than people think.

These days inflation seems more responsive to changes in global dynamics such as oil prices rather than domestic economic factors. Changing the Federal Funds rate isn’t likely to make much difference in the current economic environment.

Low wage growth keeps inflation under control

Despite record low unemployment, wage growth has remained subdued helping keep inflation low as participants have begun returning to the job market after being sidelined during the ‘Great Recession’ of 2008-2009.

Range-bound oil prices are also putting downward pressure on inflation. OPEC has been trying to limit oil production for 2 years now, with mixed results. Their goal is to balance excess supply with less demand given the slowing Chinese economy, tariffs, and other political concerns. Despite these efforts, oil supplies are plentiful and prices remain restrained.

U.S. oil production offsets OPEC cuts

Has the Fed done too much? Or perhaps too little? When looking at the Federal Funds rate from a historical perspective, the FOMC has been extraordinarily cautious in its pace of increasing interest rates. Fed governors could certainly make a mistake, but it seems like their slow and steady pace is a wise approach for the foreseeable future. There’s no urgent need to raise rates, and limited value in lowering rates.

FOMC has been cautious ‘normalizing’ interest rates

The primary risk to the global economy, particularly the manufacturing sector, isn’t interest rates but rather trade tensions. The U.S. and France are the only developed economies with manufacturing sectors still in expansion territory. Overseas, Germany’s manufacturing sector has fallen the most as much of its manufactured goods have traditionally been exported to the U.S. and other countries.

With most of the developed world struggling to stay in positive territory, global demand and supply dynamics are likely to keep U.S. inflation near or below the Fed’s 2% target indefinitely.

Global manufacturing feels the bite of tariffs

Despite the modestly positive economic landscape, an astonishing 100% of Eurodollar futures participants expect the Fed to cut the rates between 0.25% and 0.50% in July.

Since the Fed’s decision in June to keep interest rates the same, futures market participants began enthusiastically betting on not just one 0.25% cut, but two cuts in the Federal Funds rate when the FOMC meets in July. Conventional wisdom states that when 100% of market participants expect something, it’s time for rational investors to exit.

After the first flurry of press reports forecasting a rate cut in July, more Fed officials have been speaking publicly about their base case economic scenario being steady, not requiring a rate cut. In recent days futures markets have slowly begun migrating away from projecting two rate cuts in July to only one, but even one cut isn’t justified by the data…at least not yet.

Futures expectations for July rate cuts

If we look forward to the end of the year, according to the CME Group ‘Countdown to FOMC’ as of July 1st over 13% of futures market participants think the Fed Funds rate will end the year between 2% and 2.25% (0.25% below the current level); another 13% believe the rate will be between 1.25% and 1.50% (1% below the current level!); and the median expectation is split with about 35% forecasting a Fed Funds rate between 1.5% and 1.75% (0.75% below the current level) and another 35% forecasting the Fed Funds rate to be between 1.75% and 2.0% by December (0.50% below the current level).

Barring a steep recession in the near term, expectations for multiple cuts in the Federal Funds rate are misguided. As my colleague at WSWA put it, the Fed is stuck in the unenviable position of a parent in the supermarket with a fractious child demanding candy before dinner. The right thing is to say No, but it’s difficult for both the parent (the Fed) and bystanders not to give in to the pressure.

Futures forecast for rate hikes by December

 

With all this uncertainty, where can investors find good opportunities?

The answer is: In the global equity markets, particularly in Europe. The U.S. market should be fine going forward, but the best returns may have already come and gone. Though European economies are having a tough time right now, the European stock markets have been punished perhaps more than is warranted. In fact, the price of European stocks as of May 31st is less than 13 times compared to the U.S. stock market at close to 16 times earnings.

International stock valuation cheaper than U.S.

The way ahead in Europe is not going to be smooth, but long-term investors should consider dipping into international markets where stock valuations are more attractive. Overseas countries are generally behind the U.S. in their business cycles and have more growth to come.

Conclusion: Investors and the Fed should stay the course. Sometimes the best decision is to do nothing…for now.

Yes, the global economy is struggling right now. Corporations and governments have been issuing too much debt. Trade tensions and uncertainty make it difficult for businesses to develop long-term growth strategies. Political tensions across Europe and the U.K. are adding uncertainty to global economies.

Despite these concerns, the Fed should not lower interest rates. In fact, there is a case to be made to raise rates to balance outcomes between savers and speculators, plus keep some dry powder for the next recession.

Long-term investors should consider international assets. This is not the environment to make big bets either in or out of the financial markets. Instead, investors should stay engaged in the markets and be selective about segments likely to provide a reasonable risk/return profile over the remaining business cycle. With government bond yields extremely low and U.S. stock prices fully valued, carefully selected international securities may be the right choice for patient investors able to handle some bumps along the way.

Marcia Clark, CFA
Senior Research Analyst

DISCLOSURES

Investment Advisor Representative, Warren Street Wealth Advisors, LLC., a Registered Investment Advisor

The information presented here represents opinions and is not meant as personal or actionable advice to any individual, corporation, or other entity. Any investments discussed carry unique risks and should be carefully considered and reviewed by you and your financial professional. Nothing in this document is a solicitation to buy or sell any securities, or an attempt to furnish personal investment advice. Warren Street Wealth Advisors may own securities referenced in this document. Due to the static nature of content, securities held may change over time and current trades may be contrary to outdated publications.

Form ADV available upon request 714-876-6200

April showers bring May flowers?…or thunderstorms??

Key Takeaways

  • The stock market stumbled in May after strong performance in April. The decline was likely due to concerns over the impact of proposed tariffs on Mexican goods, especially given that Chinese trade negotiations are still unresolved.
  • Treasury yields hit new lows in May as investors fled stock market volatility. However, a 10-year Treasury yield of 2.1% is not sustainable when inflation is hovering around the same level. We expect Treasury rates to increase rather than decrease from here.
  • Futures contracts indicate an 80% chance of the FOMC decreasing interest rates in July. This expectation is not supported by the economic data nor the plentiful level of liquidity already in the system. Futures investors are inferring more into dovish Fed comments than they should.
  • Despite pockets of weakness, the U.S. economy is still on track to grow by about 2% in 2019.
  • Conclusion: Stock market recoveries based on expectations of falling interest rates are vulnerable to ‘headline risk’, but the underlying economic fundamentals remain modestly positive.

 

When 1st quarter GDP came in at 3.2% many commentators expected an adjustment downward. That revision came in May…to 3.1%

1st quarter GDP adjusted by a scant -0.1%

Despite persistent pessimism about the imminent demise of the U.S. economy, we at Warren Street Wealth stand by our assessment that the economy will continue to grow at a modestly positive pace. Even with the drag on growth from increasing trade tariffs, the International Monetary Fund forecasts U.S. GDP to end 2019 at 2.3%, which is about average for the past few years.

We should be ready for a bumpy ride along the way, however! With global growth clearly slowing – Eurozone GDP is forecast to be only 1.3% this year and China is slowing to about 6.3% – major factors such as oil prices and other commodities are struggling to find a new equilibrium between global supply and demand.

Some market watchers see falling oil prices as a sign of recession, but we believe the energy market will find the proper balance once the long-term impact of current geopolitical tensions is better understood.

Oil prices add to market volatility

 

Though consumer spending was down in April, spending was strong in March. April’s decline is most likely due to consumers taking a breath after enjoying some extra purchases in March when wages began rising, rather than the beginning of a downward trend.

And don’t overlook the increase in disposal income in April. It isn’t huge, only +0.1%, but to quote one of our clients: “up is up, and up feels good!”

Consumer spending takes a breath after spiking in April

 

Another area which disappointed investors in May was job growth, which came in much lower than expected at +75,000. The unemployment rate remained steady at 3.6%, however.

Job growth slows, but is still trending higher

 

So is the economic glass half full or half empty? We’re going with half full. Patient investors who can withstand the market zigging and zagging based on startling headlines or surprising Twitter posts should be OK in the end.

 

If consumers are still buying and people are still working, where is the real pain in the economy?

Businesses who rely on global trade, either for inputs into their manufacturing process or to sell their finished goods, are feeling the pinch of rising tariffs. Manufacturers who need raw materials such as steel and aluminum are paying higher prices. Farmers growing soy beans and corn can barely make enough money to cover their expenses as the price of labor and farm equipment goes up while demand for their crops goes down.

As reported in the Wall Street Journal, manufacturers in the U.S. and China are still in growth territory with the Purchasing Managers Index slightly above 50, but Europe is clearly struggling.

We’re keeping a close eye on international markets in case weakness there begins to put more pressure on the U.S. economy.

European manufacturing dips into recession

 

The final factor we’re watching is the level of interest rates.

Without getting into a debate about whether the current inversion of short-term Treasury rates is forecasting a recession or not – see ‘A Few Minutes with Marcia’ video on inverted yield curves – 10-year Treasury rates at around 2.1% are simply not sustainable.

Negative interest rates in other developed countries and instability in our own stock market have led to high demand for ‘safe’ assets. But with Treasury yields barely keeping up with inflation, at some point U.S. investors will be forced to look elsewhere to preserve purchasing power.

When they do, selling pressure will push Treasury prices down and yields up.

2 yr. and 10 yr. Treasury rates hover near inflation

 

Because of mixed economic data and a slightly inverted yield curve, pessimists are expressing their opinion through Federal Funds futures contracts. 

As reported by the Chicago Mercantile Exchange ‘Countdown to FOMC’, as of June 10 over 80% of futures contracts were betting on the Fed decreasing short-term rates when the FOMC meets in July. We don’t agree.

Despite Fed chairman Jerome Powell’s accommodating tone in recent weeks, there is already more than enough liquidity in the financial system to support growth. A decrease in rates would just put upward pressure on inflation, potentially above the Fed’s target rate of 2%.

Fed Funds futures investors bet on falling rates

 

If we’re correct and the Fed does not decrease rates in July, we may see another dip in the stock market as investors re-calibrate their expectations. For now, just hold tight, watch the data, and wait for spring rains to bring summer sunshine…eventually…

Marcia Clark, CFA, MBA

Senior Research Analyst, Warren Street Wealth Advisors

 

 

 

 

 

DISCLOSURES

Investment Advisor Representative, Warren Street Wealth Advisors, LLC., a Registered Investment Advisor

The information presented here represents opinions and is not meant as personal or actionable advice to any individual, corporation, or other entity. Any investments discussed carry unique risks and should be carefully considered and reviewed by you and your financial professional. Nothing in this document is a solicitation to buy or sell any securities, or an attempt to furnish personal investment advice. Warren Street Wealth Advisors may own securities referenced in this document. Due to the static nature of content, securities held may change over time and current trades may be contrary to outdated publications.

Form ADV available upon request 714-876-6200

Word on the Street – November 27th – December 1st

Word on the Street – November 27th – December 1st

Another brief conversation with our CIO on current events in the investing world…

A sit down with Blake Street, CFA, CFP® to discuss some current events in the news, their impact on investors, and his sentiment on some issues. Enjoy…

Trade War talks are still present as people were worried about the G20 meeting. Since our last conversation, where do you think we are now with the trade talks?

Blake Street: Specific to the US and China, much remains to be seen. At this point, we are still on the light end of threatened tariffs with escalation due here soon without further intervention. In recent days, the President has new motivation to come up with some type of remedy to re-instill confidence in the markets. One way would be to calm US & China trade tensions and get global growth back on track. It remains to be seen if this is the case. As we have seen in the recent past, sometimes these summits result in a lot of talk and no action. The G20 Summit resulted in a “truce” or “ceasefire” of sorts between the US & China, however, very little clarity has been provided and an arrest of the CFO of Huawei, China’s largest tech company, this morning (12/6/2018) could further inflame tensions.

General Motors seems to have suffered greatly due to the tariffs, among other things. Do you think that this is going to be a reoccurring theme for some US companies, or is this just a casualty of war?

B.S.: I don’t know if you can say they suffered greatly, but they are doing what every company should do which is look out for their long-term interests. They have spotted changes in their own market landscape that require a change in where they produce their products and what products they produce for consumers. Tariffs have certainly hurt their bottom line by increasing certain input costs and while this seems obvious in hindsight, a lot of industries from automotive manufacturers to agricultural producers have been harmed by trade tensions and tariffs.

Oil prices are down again as well. How with this impact both consumers at the pump and investors? What do you think the long-term trend will be?

B.S.: Consumers during the holiday season will benefit by keeping more money in their pocket. However, falling crude prices can also come with other adverse impacts such as slowing economies and weak investment markets. Historically, 30% declines in crude oil prices have correlated strongly to short-term bear markets, not always a recession.

Personally, I think the most recent selloff is overdone, and we will return to higher oil prices in the not too distant future. Case and point, I don’t think that demand has dropped off in a meaningful way, and we have not seen the type of supply buildups reminiscent of 2015, the last time we saw oil prices collapse.

On Wednesday (11/28/2018), Jerome Powell, Chair of the Federal Reserve, came out and said that the Fed Funds rate is approaching neutral. This news was a stark contrast to his October statements. What does this mean for the market as we approach 2019?

B.S.: Investors and markets alike were appeased to hear that we may be due for fewer rate hikes than initially priced in. Foreign markets have also been dealing with adverse effects of a strengthening US dollar and rising US interest rates. Markets overseas breathed a sigh of relief to hear of a potentially more accommodative Fed policy.

In my mind, an even bigger question mark is how the Fed continues to handle the unwinding of its balance sheet in the coming years. I’m also slightly concerned with President Trump’s recent politicization of the Fed. At the end of the day, Fed Chair Jerome Powell has a job to do, and it is not solely to provide octane to investment markets at the President’s request. I expect the Fed to remain focused on their traditional mandate and to shirk Presidential pressures.


 

Warren Street Wealth Advisors, a Registered Investment Advisor. The information contained herein does not involve the rendering of personalized investment advice but is limited to the dissemination of general information. A professional advisor should be consulted before implementing any of the strategies or options presented. Any investments discussed carry unique risks and should be carefully considered and reviewed by you and your financial professional. Past performance may not be indicative of future results. All investment strategies have the potential for profit or loss. 

 

Word on the Street – October 1st-5th

Word on the Street – October 1st – 5th

A brief conversation with our CIO, Blake Street, CFA, CFP®, on what’s going on in the world today.

We constantly want to deliver more content to our clients and followers on current events, and how we are viewing them from an investment or planning angle.

“Word on the Street” will be a series where I sit down with our Chief Investment Officer, Blake Street, CFA, CFP® to pick his brain on what’s going on in the news and what that means for you.

Here is the conversation I had with him on Friday, October 5th discussing the last couple weeks. Enjoy.

Alright, Blake. Let’s start with the new US trade deal that people are calling NAFTA 2.0. What’s your take and how will this new deal impact investors?

B.S.: NAFTA 2.0 or more accurately titled the U.S. Mexico Canada Agreement (USMCA) in my opinion is largely underwhelming. At its core, it should bring some manufacturing jobs back to the U.S. from Mexico, but I also expect this to result in increased cost to the end consumer. Considering the United States spends $500 billion a year on autos, cost increases will be noticed.

The reason I’m underwhelmed is the negotiation process wasn’t without collateral damage in trade relations and the ultimate outcomes are incremental at best. Essentially, Canada and Mexico agreed that 75% of parts for cars built for export would be made in North America. This is up from the original agreement of 62.5% under NAFTA. They also agreed that 45% of cars would be built by workers making more than $16 an hour by 2023, this was ultimately targeted at Mexico and should result in rising costs for domestic and imported production. Mexico also agreed to improve labor conditions but enforcement remains vague.

Canada agreed to increase import quotas for U.S. dairy into their market. I’ve seen estimates that this could result in $50-$100 million in activity for American dairy farmers. Not sure this moves the needle, especially in the face of what appears to be a $100-$400 million decline in Chinese imports of American dairy in the coming years.

Additionally, USMCA hasn’t officially been ratified yet. It has only been approved for a vote. If the midterm elections put more Democrats in Congress, then they have the opportunity to deny President Trump the victory of its passing.

We are entering the last quarter of the first year operating under tax reform. Do you think that it has been good or bad for investors?

B.S.: It’s hard to argue that is has been anything but great for investors. Three straight quarters of near-record earnings and US markets are oscillating around record highs. Taxpayers have yet to officially file under the new tax reform, so they have yet to even feel the full benefits.

It will be interesting to see how equity markets react as we get into 2019. The initial thrust of the tax cuts on earnings will wane over time, and it will be interesting to compare year-over-year numbers to post-tax cut figures.

Is there anything people might be surprised about as they go to file?

B.S.: The biggest surprise to most will be the balance between an enhanced and expanded standard deduction, lower marginal rates, and aggressively capped state and local tax deductions. In addition, I expect the 20% pass-through deduction to surprise a lot of folks who don’t know how it works, in both a good and bad way.

How do you feel about Elon Musk and the SEC?

B.S.: He got off way too easy. He should have been stripped of his role as director and CEO in addition to losing his chairman position. His $20 million personal and $20 million corporate fines are a drop in the bucket compared to the market cap of Tesla and the potential money that was lost or made based on his manipulative behavior.

Leaking a takeover bid or the idea of taking a company private should force a stock price to the assumed target price. Any rational CEO would know this ahead of time. He coerced unknowing investors to buy into Tesla based on this information and blew out short positions which seemed to be his intention.

The amount of talk around marijuana stock is at a high again. How should investors approach it, if at all?

B.S.: Personally, it is not a sector I am interested in investing in for myself or for clients as it is still illegal at the federal level. Recent buzz escalated when Tilray, a Canadian pot producer, got approval for a clinical trial to use marijuana in pill form to treat seizures. They had about 10 million in sales last year, and the market cap soared to 15 billion, which is, frankly, absurd. A good piece of that market cap has been given back.

Should it ever become legal at the federal level, I expect a massive influx from titans of industry in alcohol, tobacco, and pharmaceuticals. Production will drive down cost quickly. If we were to invest, we would focus more on the picks and shovels, distribution, and manufacturing perspective. A diversified approach will likely pay as picking the winners of such a rapidly developing space may prove to be very difficult.

What do you find most interesting in the market right now?

B.S.: Emerging Markets.

Interesting response…why?

B.S.: They started the year at low relative valuations even after a monster 2017. As of the end of September, they were at a 20% drawdown from the year’s high. I continue to believe they will be the best place to be over the next 5-10 years for fundamental and demographic reasons. Dollar strength has caused a lot of pain in emerging market currency denominated holdings and the sell-off in emerging market stocks has reached seemingly oversold levels. The pain might not be fully over yet, so a disciplined approach to buying into recent weakness is needed.

The 10 year Treasury closed Friday at 3.23. What are some of your thoughts as rates rise?

B.S.: I believe we’re now 8 Fed Rate hikes in. The consensus seems to be that we are due for 3-4 more. It seems that the market is not fighting back and pushing yields down. It will continue to pay to be nimble, keep durations short, and invest in fixed income asset classes with lower rate sensitivity and look for opportunities abroad.

Do you see any opportunities or concerns with rates increasing?

B.S.: Rising rates have resulted in a strong dollar which puts pressure on emerging market debt causing yield spreads to widen. This has created possible valuation pockets within emerging market debt, and this opportunity should not be entered into lightly.

Concerns: If inflation and yields continue to rise, investors who are accustomed to long-term, stable outcomes will be surprised to find out how volatile bonds can be in a rising rate environment. Going back to 1976, bonds on average have only had 3 negative years. Count 2018 as the fourth. Would a fifth materially change investors perspectives on what bonds mean to portfolios? Or will investors continue to understand bonds importance in a well-diversified portfolio? This creates opportunity and concern.

Any closing remarks?

B.S.: Loss aversion is one of the most basic human tendencies I can think of. In a year where virtually every asset class other than US stocks is in the red, I can see a lot of potentially bad behavior starting to fester. It is important now more than ever that you don’t chase the hot dot. Stick to your plan, stick to your process, even if that means deferring to your advisor.


WSWA Team Compressed-19-squareJoe Occhipinti
Marketing Manager
Warren Street Wealth Advisors

Warren Street Wealth Advisors, a Registered Investment Advisor. The information contained herein does not involve the rendering of personalized investment advice but is limited to the dissemination of general information. A professional advisor should be consulted before implementing any of the strategies or options presented. Any investments discussed carry unique risks and should be carefully considered and reviewed by you and your financial professional. Past performance may not be indicative of future results. All investment strategies have the potential for profit or loss.