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The U.S. Economy in 2018

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Fact is, there is much noise and chatter surrounding the current Trump presidency. A lot of it, arguably, is self-inflicted: Russia, Jim Acosta, the controversial Tweets, even Rain Gate and Rake Gate. Lost in all of this, though, is the job President Trump has done in steering the U.S. economy, which is booming at the moment.

With that in mind, here is a look at how the U.S. economy has so far fared in 2018, under the stewardship of President Trump. This review will delve into some important sectors, all of which impact the economy to varying degrees. But before tackling these sectors, it is worth emphasizing yet again how the president has led this remarkable economic resurgence. In the words of finance expert Jeff Cox, President Trump “has set economic growth on fire,” and this boom is “uniquely his” and his alone.

Jobs

One of the hallmarks of the Trump Administration has been job creation, and that has continued this year. Data from Trading Economics show that from February of this year up to October, the employment rate in the U.S. has held steady at over 60.3% — a full percentage point higher than the 68-year average of 59.33%. Nonfarm payrolls have also increased this year, even breaching 250,000 in October. But just as important, wages have increased as well. In fact, wages this year are at their highest levels since April 2009. This means that more Americans now have jobs, and are actually earning more.

Notably, President Trump’s economic policies reversed an Obama-era trend where the overall employment rate grew much faster vis-à-vis employment in the manufacturing industry. In other words, more and more manufacturing-related jobs are being created under this administration as compared to its predecessor. A Forbes comparison of the last 21 months of the Obama presidency and the first 21 months of the Trump administration shows that the latter has been able to create far more jobs — up to 10 times more, in fact — in the manufacturing industry as opposed to the former. Much of this renaissance, obviously, can be traced to President Trump, who has restored business confidence pretty much across the board.

Business

As stated earlier, business confidence in the U.S., has been restored under this administration, and is in fact soaring. The reason for this, mainly, is President Trump’s decision to soften regulatory requirements and push for more across-the-board deregulation, thereby making it easier to put up a business. With the president relaxing federal rules, business leaders began investing more capital as worries about red tape and capricious changes in rules dissipated. The manufacturing industry has been one of the biggest beneficiaries of President Trump’s business-centric policies, along with the mining and leasing sectors.

Stock Market

The U.S. stock market is a beacon of strength as pointed out here previously on Moneyball Economics. It has remained largely flat throughout 2018 even as President Trump started trade wars against China and Germany. The former’s Shanghai Composite actually dropped by 25% since February of this year, while the latter’s DAX fell 10% in the same period. The U.S. stock market, in contrast, did not falter, although it has shown signs of cracking these past two months, largely due to fears of economic deceleration and the fading impact of tax cuts. The recent drops in Nasdaq, the Dow, and the S&P 500 has somewhat undone their gains for the year, but the fact that they have held steady for much of 2018 is undeniable proof of how robust the U.S. economy is.

Real Estate

Real estate has not exactly boomed per se in 2018, but it hasn’t died a painful death either. There is a slowdown, yes. But curiously, it can actually be attributed to the vibrant, growing U.S. economy. The housing market is “a victim of the economy’s success,” with the Federal Reserve raising interest rates to keep inflation in check. This has resulted in more expensive mortgages, which have caused hesitation among buyers, even with their increased purchasing power. There are, of course, other factors at play that have contributed to this real estate slowdown. Two such factors are the tariffs on imported lumber and the crackdown on immigrants, both of which have made homebuilding more expensive in the first place. Exacerbating the situation are real estate-related taxes that make buying property needlessly costlier. The mortgage recording tax — imposed on the states of Alabama, Florida, Kansas, Minnesota, New York, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Virginia, and Washington, D.C. — is a prime example in this regard. This levy is charged when inputting a transaction as a matter of public record. New York’s archaic mansion tax is another example. Yoreevo explains how the mansion tax hasn’t changed since it was introduced in 1989. This means that a million dollar apartment in 1989 would have bought you a much larger property than today, where buyers now have to pay double the amount for the same type of apartment. Despite all this, real estate experts foresee things balancing out, perhaps as early as next year, on the strength of the healthy economy and the equally robust labor market. In other words, property buyers will eventually start buying homes and other property because the strong economy have given them the capability to do so.

The U.S. economy is a good as it has ever been, and the president, despite all the noise and chatter, deserves plenty of credit. He has helped steered the economic juggernaut that is the United States of America into a historic 2018, and an even better 2019 looks infinitely possible.

It’s Time To Get Bullish

By | charts, data, economics, economy, statistics, Uncategorized | No Comments

There are many reasons to get a little bullish today.

Let’s talk first about where we are and then talk about where we are heading.

So, why did the market drop?  The recent market blow-off has been quite breathtaking: the S&P was down -10% in 2 months.  Facebook down -35%!  Amazon down -22%.

I still don’t know what triggered the drop. It seemed more technical based instead of fundamental based.

That is to say, yes, the market was overbought and ripe for a pullback… but a drop of 9%?

You may cite the trade war, tax loss selling come early, some disappointing forecasts… but most of that was already priced in.

One thing I do know: this was a massive margin call.  And it appears to be over.

In a previous report, I walked through the use of margin (aka debt).  Basically investors borrow from investment banks using their current assets as collateral.

This is a good thing in a bullish market: the underlying collateral assets rise in value – enabling more borrowing – and the newly purchased assets also rise in value.

Investors can borrow at 1% per month and watch their portfolios grow 3% or more. (This is simplified, but it’s basically 2% on the underlying asset and 2% on the assets bought on margin, minus the 1% borrowed). This is market beating that makes for big bonuses yearend by Wall Street and hedge funds.

But being over-leveraged is bad when the market turns bearish. It forces fire sales at prices the holder didn’t want to sell at. But their brokers are forcing them to sell to meet the margin calls.

Which then pushes the market down. Causing more margin calls. Rinse and repeat.  Banks are calling in IOUs and the borrowers must cover them immediately.

Evidence of extreme margin calls

When you have to sell, sell your most profitable assets to lock in gains.

Amazon was up 80% for the year before this October-November drop.  Apple was up over 30%.

In other words, the companies that seem to have been most decimated are also the companies that had some of the biggest runs.

Bitcoin (BTC) was another target for slaughter.

Demand for BTC has been steadily falling – if demand is defined as volume purchases.  Worse, anyone who bought and held BTC in the last 16 months is now losing money.  Not a lot of people are buying into it.  And that makes a sell-off more powerful.

But the biggest evidence of margin calls is in the margin debt data itself.

Margin debt is tracked by FINRA and it peaked in July. It pulled back a bit before outright collapsing (-6%) in October.  November was probably more of the same (waiting for the data).

It’s very simple: buyers had turned into net sellers.

Bullishness Ahead

I don’t know if we have bottomed. But I know we’re at or close to a short-term bottom. The markets are up 4% since November 23rd.

There are finally more buyers than sellers.

With the margin calls over, the worst of the selloff is here.  (There could be more as year-end approaches, but that’s more individual than institutional.)

I think you’ll see  pension funds and other big institutional buyers jumping in at this time of year.

Remember, a bull market is simple. There are more buyers than sellers.

Another reason to be thinking bullishness: future prospects look brighter.

China still hasn’t capitulated, which has added risk to the markets. But they will. And when they do, it’s back to business and a serious market surge.

Sincerely,

Andrew Zatlin

Editor of Moneyball Economics

P.S. Struggling to make sense of the market? Is the volatility keeping you up at night?

Well, Moneyball Traders have had opportunities to make massive gains... even through the whipsaw of October.

The returns speak for themselves. And they’re CRUSHING the market returns. Check it out here.

November 2018 Market Update – Trade War + Bitcoin

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Stay calm.  All is well in the markets.

Remember this time last year Trump unleashed a massive tax cut.

The tax cuts are what sparked the sugar rush of spending to this day.

But things aren’t as powerful anymore on a year-over-year (yr/yr) perspective.

Add in the blowback from tariffs and a whiff of uncertainty enters the picture… and you get the deep, dark red in your portfolio.

As I said last week:

At this point the market will bounce up or down depending on the latest trade war news item.  The market is hostage to the trade war. Trump is playing hard ball. He started the fight and must see it through.

The market clearly wants a deal to get made. News of Trump willing to meet with Chinese President Xi sent stocks up. Then signs of an impasse brought it right back down.

Now the story is fear the Fed will make a policy mistake. One it’s done over and over: raise rates into an economic slowdown.
For example, I was wrong about inflation: CPI was pretty mild.  Although the producer’s inflation rose (PPI).

Nervousness is not something the market handles well. And we’re in the middle of absolute uncertainty today.

I am changing my near-term read of things.

I no longer expect China to blink this month.

I expected some movement post-midterms. I believed China would wait in order to calibrate their response to how Trump emerged.

I rightly predicted that he would emerge unfettered. Nevertheless, China is standing firm.

I can’t tell how much is just playing to the audience and how much is real positioning.

If it’s positioning, then they are making serious policy errors because it means they continue to misread Trump’s willingness to go to the full distance. Which means the trade war gets dragged out into February.
————-

Bitcoin’s fading promise

Cash is not a bad move.  Or gold.  Same thing.

But not Bitcoin (BTC).

BTC fell to a 12 month low – now at just under $4,400. All the other cryptos got crushed too. But what does this all mean?

First, let me repeat my overall take of crypto currency.

I believe that crypto is here to stay for at least 2 reasons.

One is that it enables rapid, low-cost transactions. It is the thing that banks fear the most: a way to bypass them.

But they also recognize a winner when they see one and they are trying to harness the underlying blockchain technology to obsolete their workers.

Second, BTC enables China, Russia, Iran and others to pursue non-dollar transactions.

In fact, the entire starting point for Satoshi’s creation is de-dollarization. Put differently, BTC will always have a home for those who don’t want U.S. dollars.

The real question isn’t Bitcoin – yes-or-no?  The real question has always been – what is Bitcoin really worth?

Last week the market said that BTC was worth 15% less than it was worth the previous week.

Some people will claim that it is tied to a branch in the crypto currency. No. That would not affect all cryptos.

More basically, this has been a trend based selloff.

Bitcoin continued to make new lows since January – when Bitcoin futures became available. And it was able to effectively be “shorted.”

A technical read says that is an indication of further lows ahead. Sure it could bounce back in the near-term. But it looks like the future isn’t as strong as many thought.

And this is BTC specific. The market was relatively unaffected.  Crypto currencies just….collapsed.

It could be connected: maybe a major BTC owner had a margin call somewhere else and decided to close BTC positions to cover.  I leave that to better informed people to figure out.

This leaves two major problems with Bitcoin overall.

BIG PROBLEM #1: Bitcoin has failed it’s first big test. It is clearly not a hedge against market crashes or volatility.  And frankly that is the only reason to own it.

BIG PROBLEM #2: Most owners are underwater. Anyone who bought in the last 15 months and held is now losing money. And over half of buyers bought in the last 12 months.

It’s clearly been a fad over the last 15 or so months (maybe longer?)  Not to everyone. But to many.

It’s evident in the trading volume, which has steadily drooped 50% in just the last 6 months.

Buyer interest is tapped out. As the fad part continues to wane, BTC will be left with more down days ahead.

Avoid Bitcoin for now…

 

Sincerely,

Andrew Zatlin

Editor of Moneyball Economics

P.S. Struggling to make sense of the market? Is the volatility keeping you up at night?

Well, Moneyball Traders have had opportunities to make massive gains... even through the whipsaw of October.

The returns speak for themselves. And they’re CRUSHING the market returns. Check it out here.

What’s Next for the Cannabis Economy?

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What’s Next for the Cannabis Economy?

Two more U.S. states voted to legalize recreational marijuana during the primaries: Michigan and North Dakota.

Michigan voted for it. North Dakota against it. That brings the number of states that allow recreational marijuana to 10.

Approximately 1⁄4 of Americans have voted to legalize recreational marijuana.

Almost all states now allow medical marijuana today.

A Gallup poll showed the bulk of Americans now favor legalization. The social stigma that marijuana is harmful continues to fade away to nothing.

Even 64% of Republicans are in favor of legalizing it. Why? Because of the tax revenue.

California generated $75M in tax revenues in the 2nd quarter of 2018. On
track to deliver a cool $300M in extra money in 2018. (And that’s only the beginning: although legal, access is severely restricted.)

Even our law enforcement are disregarding marijuana as an issue..

In Florida, Lee County Sheriff Mike Scott said “Marijuana is probably the least of our problems.” (Even better, law enforcement officials see cannabis tax revenues as a welcome boost to their own budgets. As a telling example, Colorado’s law enforcement officials requested 10% of the State’s gross cannabis tax revenues.)

And it goes without saying that businesses love marijuana too. Retail recreational sales of cannabis are now $6.5 billion (bn) across the 10 states.

So what will happen when marijuana becomes legal across all 50 states? Expect a straight-line up and to the right – to the tune of $30bn in recreational pot. Add another $20bn in marijuana related products and medications.

Federal Government: THE Big Impediment

However, marijuana is a Schedule 1 drug for some reason. That means, per Federal law, it is absolutely illegal and no prescriptions can be written for it. Also included in that list: Heroin, LSD, and quaaludes (among
others). The Alice in Wonderland situation: pot is illegal by Federal mandate and legal in most
States.

The key here is the restriction is mandated by a Federal agency: the DEA (Drug Enforcement
Agency). The DEA decides what drugs are on the restricted list. Removal can be determined by either:
(1) Congressional vote or (2) Executive action.

If States now legally sell marijuana, Why does Federal legalization matter?

One word: banking.

Inter-state commerce is illegal which prevents banks and credit card companies from engaging.

This simple obstacle creates a world of pain for the pot business. Retailers are cash-only, and
become lightning rods for crime. In turn, local legislation mandates costly security. And on and
on and on.

Without Federal legalization, cannabis is radioactive to banks. Legalization leads to big
opportunities. For example, a national market will lead to the rapid emergence of marijuana
futures.

My Prediction: Trump Will Legalize Marijuana

Politics suggest Trump will legalize marijuana.

The process is incredibly easy: the Executive branch can direct the DEA to reschedule it as a less controlled substance. Poof – pot becomes legal.

He won’t see any opposition either. We have a remarkable convergence in favor of legalization coming from social, political, and business interests.

Legalizing marijuana is consistent with various Trump agenda items:

• Trade: Canadian pot is legal and entering the US. Trump would prefer a home-grown source
• Mexican cartels: Pot is a major revenue source for the cartels. And Trump hates the
cartels
• Law Enforcement: A lot of resources get tied up in prosecuting marijuana crimes.

Why legalize now?

With an economy likely to slow in 2019, enabling an offsetting $50bn market is very attractive. Given that it takes time to emerge, better start now and have a win to discuss for the 2020 election.

Politics is really the main reason to move forward now.

First, it undermines the Democrats. Legalization is a progressive move that steals thunder from the Democratic party (the party that tends to be branded as progressive).

The Dems can’t possibly vote against it. Meanwhile, the Republicans will get the credit.

Second, and probably most important, pot legalization would be an incredibly welcome distraction.

Legalization would dominate the airwaves and political environment. And Trump may need that distraction with a Congress bent on attacking him and his agenda.

Take Russia, for example. Which is more likely to generate popular support: a move to legalize pot or a 3rd year of Russia investigations?

It was a fortuitous coincidence that Jeff Sessions was just forced to retire. He was the lone voice
in the Administration against cannabis legalization, and as Attorney General, his voice mattered.

Now he is gone.

How To Invest In The Cannabis Industry

My suggestions is to invest in pot stocks with a very short-term perspective (2~3 quarters).
As background, consider history and the uncanny resemblance to what happened when alcohol was legalized in the U.S. following prohibition.
At the time, alcohol was legal in Canada and illegal in the U.S.  In the run-up to legalization in the U.S., Canadian liquor companies saw their stock prices surge. After all, they had the production facilities and brand names.
But then reality set in. The barriers to entry were actually low: alcohol distillation is a simple industrial process and the U.S. had plenty of raw materials for the process. Prices would drop from competition.
The result: the Canadian companies stock prices collapsed.
Compare that to the cannabis market and you will see an identical set up.
Another problem is choosing the winners.
If you must, avoid names and buy into cannabis with an ETF like MJ.
KEY POINT: Legalization of pot in the US is actually a very bad thing for currently traded pot stocks.”

Sincerely,

Andrew Zatlin

Editor of Moneyball Economics

P.S. Struggling to make sense of the market? Is the volatility keeping you up at night?

Well, Moneyball Traders have had opportunities to make massive gains... even through the whipsaw of October.

The returns speak for themselves. And they’re CRUSHING the market returns. Check it out here.

Quick Market Outlook (November 9, 2018)

By | charts, data, economics, economy, statistics, Uncategorized | No Comments

It was a rough October. And although this week saw a massive rally, we ended the week with the S&P falling 0.9% and the Nasdaq 1.65%.

What’s Happening?

There’s a quality-of-earnings problem.
Of the companies that have reported earnings:

  • Revenues above estimates: 59% (a low number)
  • Avg. revenue surprise: 0.8%
  • Q4 Guidance: 63% have guided down

Growth has peaked.

The stock market is concerned.

In one month (October) stock market annual growth has shuddered to a halt: from a 15% rate to 3%.  Not gradual.  Sudden.

Why it’s happening.

It’s risk off for stocks.

Fundamentals and liquidity are combining to push down stock prices.

  • Economic growth is set to slow:  China and Europe were already slowing. But tariffs have added enough uncertainty that trade has slumped harder, and there’s more blowback coming through to the U.S. economy.
  • Higher rates make stocks look pricey.

I still haven’t seen a good explanation this newfound volatility downward. I still am not certain about the catalyst. And that’s a problem for me.

Let’s go with the idea that the market is prescient and is pricing in something close to a recession. That still doesn’t explain the suddenness of the drop.

I’m left with the view that the September Fed hike made investors finally sit up and notice.

The Fed fund rate hit 2.25% and the economy is set to slow to ~2.5% in 2019. The Fed is talking about adding another 100 basis points (bps) – equivalent to a full percentage point – to bring the rate to 3.25%.

That implies negative real growth. This is making money managers nervous. Why raise rates as growth is slowing?

I happen to think the tide shifts again this month. Here’s my prediction:

I think China will blink. The Russian collusion nonsense will finally be closed. And the Fed will start to signal that 2019 rate hikes may be slowed.

This will be good news to the markets.

For this week, expect the market to grope for a catalyst for growth.

Sincerely,

Andrew Zatlin

Editor of Moneyball Economics

P.S. Struggling to make sense of the market? Is the volatility keeping you up at night?

Well, Moneyball Traders have had opportunities to make massive gains... even through the whipsaw of October.

The returns speak for themselves. And they’re CRUSHING the market returns. Check it out here.