Sunday, November 13, 2016

“Trump is about to make inflation great again.” --Luke Kawa and Sid Verma

TRUMP WON'T TRUMP ENTRENCHED TRENDS (November 13, 2016): There has been a "yuge" amount of chatter on the internet and in the media about the alleged impact of Donald J. Trump as the next U.S. President. As with most simplistic theories, there is a kernel of truth and a pile of confusion. It is important to figure out what makes sense logically, and especially not to be overly influenced by the short-term reaction by the financial markets which will often be the opposite of what will happen over the next year or two.

The long-term trend is your friend.

In the financial markets, trends which are in place tend to remain in place for years no matter what happens with news events, because these trends are based upon economic cycles which have existed for decades or centuries and are only modestly affected by whatever happens along the way. In 2016, there are two primary trends which will continue at least for several more months and probably much longer: 1) On January 20, 2016, nearly all shares of commodity producers and emerging-market securities completed bear markets which had mostly begun in April 2011 and initiated major bull markets. Because of the extended and severe nature of their previous declines, including all-time record outflows in the months prior to their final bottoms, most investors psychologically have not yet accepted the fact that these assets are in powerful uptrends. 2) In July and early August 2016, high-dividend and low-volatility shares which had been in bull markets since October 4, 2011 and had enjoyed all-time record inflows for any sector in history transitioned to major bear markets. Because these assets had become so popular in the media, and because investors embraced these investments since it gave them 3%-4% dividends which banks and mutual funds were no longer paying on money market savings accounts, investors have been reluctant to acknowledge that these have switched to severe downtrends.

Enter Donald Trump. What has changed?

While the election of Donald J. Trump as U.S. President was a dramatic and unexpected event, even the most dramatic and unexpected events in the past have had little impact on the financial markets in the long run. On 9/11, the worst terrorist attack in U.S. history had occurred while U.S. equity indices were in the middle of bear markets since March 2000 which was 1-1/2 years earlier. Following 9/11, there was a one-week slump for U.S. stocks followed by a rebound into early January 2002. However, the bear market then resumed in full force until it bottomed on October 10, 2002. Similarly, gold had been in a bull market since April 1, 2001. The events of 9/11 caused a brief upward spike, then a retreat, then sideways movement into the middle of December 2001. Gold's bull market then continued in full force. Thus, even something like 9/11, after a brief interruption, merely delayed two major financial trends by a few months.

Thus, while Donald J. Trump is likely to lead to new policies and other changes, with some expected and some surprises, the two primary trends for inflation-loving and deflation-loving assets listed above are not going to be meaningfully altered. These trends exist due to long-term cyclical behavior in the global financial markets. The trajectory of these trends will be somewhat impacted, which I will discuss in this essay. However, do not believe analyses which tell you that everything is going to be entirely different, because patterns which have been established for centuries or longer will always repeat themselves with minor variations.

Be careful not to reach false cause-and-effect conclusions.

In the financial markets, if a particular news event occurs and there is a sharp market reaction afterward, then far too many investors will conclude that the event caused the reaction. Almost always there is a very different kind of behavior which is occurring. Consider how gold, which can be measured by the exchange-traded funds GLD and IAU, acted around the U.S. election. Gold has been in an uptrend with periodic corrections since December 14, 2015, two days before the U.S. Federal Reserve made their first rate hike. Gold is likely to remain in a bull market until almost exactly the time when the Fed decides to begin cutting rates again--which perhaps will be in early 2018, although it is too early to say with any accuracy. However, there was a lot of media hype about how Hillary Clinton was allegedly bearish for gold while Donald J. Trump was supposedly bullish. Therefore, gold had been retreating in price for a few months leading up to the U.S. election. It then rallied sharply on Tuesday night until around midnight when the initial surprise of a Trump victory became increasingly probable. After ascending rapidly to 1338.30 U.S. dollars per troy ounce, gold thereafter plummeted to 1218.70 at 1:35 p.m. on Friday, November 11, 2016. This is a drop of almost exactly 120 dollars which even for a volatile year like 2016 is a significant percentage loss.

A simplistic conclusion would be that Trump is actually "bad for gold."

Many investors therefore revised their initial opinion of Trump to conclude that since he was elected, and gold subsequently slumped, then Trump must be bearish for gold. Since he will be around for either four or eight years, this encouraged panic selling in the assumption that this three-day trend would continue indefinitely. As a result, there have been massive outflows in recent days from funds of precious metals and the shares of their producers including GDX, GDXJ, SIL, and related assets. This is a dangerous example of what is known as outcome bias. If a particular event is followed by a particular form of behavior, then we tend to believe that the event caused the outcome. However, it is far more likely that when gold moved above 1300, there were many technical buyers who jumped in just as they did after Brexit when gold made a similar upward spike. The financial markets will always defeat any large group of participants, and did so by knocking out these new buyers with a subsequent pullback below 1300 to trigger their sell stops. When other investors saw this decline, they falsely concluded that gold was in a new bear market.

The 200-day moving averages were broken to the downside for GDXJ, SIL, and similar securities.

When the 200-day moving averages were broken to the downside for many gold and silver mining shares, this encouraged additional selling by technical traders--as well as those who were disappointed that Trump's victory didn't lead to higher gold prices and sold for emotional reasons. As a result, most assets in this sector plummeted to their lowest levels since early June or late May 2016. However, the fundamental reality of being in a Fed rate hike cycle which had begun at the end of 2015 hasn't changed. All the reasons for being bullish on gold prior to Trump's election are just as true today, and more so because of the likely magnified pro-inflation slant.

Increased government spending and lower taxes are a recipe for rising inflationary expectations.

The shares of all commodity producers including gold and silver mining shares are helped whenever inflation expectations are climbing most rapidly. Similarly, high-dividend shares such as utilities (XLU, VPU, FXU), REITs (VNQ, IYR, RWR), consumer staples (XLP, VDC, FXG), and low-volatility favorites (SPHD, USMV, EFAV) are harmed proportionately by such behavior, since their yields then have to compete with higher yields on other investments including complete safe bank accounts and certificates of deposit (CDs). The downtrends for high-dividend and low-volatility assets have been accelerating in recent weeks, well before Trump's election, and have continued after the election. Clearly it doesn't make sense that rising inflation would be bearish for high-dividend shares but not bullish for commodity producers.

There are also divergences within assets which favor rising inflation.

There are also divergences within assets which love the prospect of rising inflation. The shares of copper producers and their funds including COPX, along with other base-metal producers, have been mostly accelerating their uptrends in November 2016. Financial shares including banks which had suffered huge negative effects from deflation have been rebounding sharply in the expectation of rising inflation and steepening yield curves. At the same time, as mentioned earlier, gold and silver mining shares have recently slumped. Since these assets have a strong positive correlation with rising inflationary expectations, those which are diverging will eventually have to get back in line with the others. It is like kids who are friends on a playground during recess; one or two might split off from the group to check out the sandbox or some interesting game, but eventually they will go back to their group of friends. Acting differently is anomalous and inconsistent with centuries of history. Birds of a feather flock together.

If something seems to be illogical than it usually is.

There is a famous test, repeated in various forms, in which participants are given a list of facts and asked to reach a conclusion about what will happen next. Usually they reach the correct conclusion. In a variation, some participants are given exactly the same facts, but are given one of four possible outcomes. They are told that a particular outcome actually occurred, and then asked like the first group to give a cause-and-effect explanation. When told what the correct outcome has been, the explanations are completely altered from those of the first group to reflect the known result. What the participants don't realize is that each of four test groups is told a different final outcome. Regardless of the twisted logic required to incorporate actual events with what makes sense, people will consistently alter their explanations dramatically to fit what they believe to be the actual behavior. When investors observe what has recently been happening with asset valuations, such price changes cause most people to entirely alter their previous expectations--even when their original conclusions had been valid.

The financial media are experts at repeatedly rewriting history to try to fit the latest facts. I have frequently seen news stories which tell you in the morning why a particular government news report was bullish for a certain asset which has since moved higher; if this asset slumps later the same day, they will unashamedly tell you why the same government report was allegedly bearish for that asset.

If logic enables you to reach a reasonable conclusion, do not allow yourself to be swayed by recent contradictory behavior.

As a result, if most people observe that gold has plummeted after the election of Donald J. Trump, then it doesn't matter if they had correctly reasoned that Trump's victory would mean greater spending, lower taxes, much higher deficits, rising inflation, and thus significantly higher prices for precious metals and the shares of their producers. Investors are discarding those clearly accurate conclusions and allowing the short-term price movement to override their logical thinking.

The same kind of false reasoning happens repeatedly in the financial markets.

A useful example would be when U.S. housing prices had peaked near the end of 2006 and then began to slump in 2007. Many observers in the media and on the internet correctly concluded that if housing prices were falling, especially when combined with the prevalence of subprime mortgages and other dangerous lending tactics, it would lead to a recession and much lower stock prices. However, after an initial pullback, U.S. equity indices climbed and then surged through October 2007--even as housing prices continued to retreat and mortgage defaults skyrocketed. Thus, investors concluded based upon the market behavior that there was nothing to worry about after all; the climb in the S&P 500 "proved" that the stock market wouldn't be negatively affected by the housing collapse. Afterward, of course, we experienced the most crushing bear market since the Great Depression. Investors' and analysts' original conclusions about the negative effect of the housing bubble were accurate, but the market's interim rally caused almost all of them to foolishly change their minds.

The U.S. dollar index is a useful and much-maligned barometer.

In 2015, the U.S. dollar index completed a March peak at 100.39 and a slightly higher December 2, 2015 top of 100.51 which had marked its highest point in 12-2/3 years. Throughout 2016, most people think that the U.S. dollar index has remained in an uptrend, but it may have begun an important bear market which will eventually accelerate to the downside. In typical fashion, it has been making several last-gasp efforts to move higher, with three moves during the past month above 99. Instead of climbing to 110 or 120 as most analysts are anticipating in upcoming years, it is far more likely that the U.S. dollar index will instead retreat below 90 and will eventually trade below 80 probably within 1-1/2 years. The U.S. dollar index dropped below 80 for at least part of each year from 2007 through 2014, so this would merely be a return to its normal historic behavior.

The bull markets for mining and energy shares have been in place since January 20, 2016, and will eventually accelerate.

The bear markets for high-dividend shares since July 2016 and the bull markets for commodity producers and emerging-market securities since January 20, 2016 will remain intact at least through much of 2017 and perhaps considerably longer. These trends are an inevitable result of the end of the deflationary monetary stimulus cycle and the beginning of the inflationary fiscal stimulus cycle. With the end of gridlock, higher government spending, and lower taxes, these trends won't be fundamentally changed but they will likely become more intense and could perhaps last longer than they would have with a Hillary Clinton victory. Whatever is diverging in the short run from this pattern is therefore providing a trading opportunity. Whichever deflation-anticipating assets are rallying should be sold or sold short, while whichever inflation-anticipating assets including gold and silver mining shares which have been irrationally retreating should be purchased. The only reason investors aren't doing so is because recent market behavior seems to "prove" the opposite, which will end up being a false signal just like the rally for the S&P 500 in 2007.

Mexican equities and their funds including EWW make excellent investments for classic contrarian reasons.

Think back one year ago to when the Brazilian real and the Russian ruble were collapsing. Investors concluded that their weak currencies and political uncertainty would lead to lower equity prices. However, a weak currency led to increased exports and much lower wages when measured in U.S. dollar terms, while they were selling the same goods in U.S. dollars in world markets. Thus, their profit margins soared and, after an initial slump, Brazilian and Russian stocks have been the top two emerging markets in 2016. Following Brexit, the British stock market similarly plummeted on June 27, 2016 out of fears that a lower British pound would lead to a long-term economic slowdown in that country. Instead, the cheap British pound has led to British stocks being among the top-performing global bourses since then.

While Donald J. Trump is seen as allegedly negative for Mexico, that country is likely to be among the biggest beneficiaries of increased U.S. government spending and lower taxes.

The identical pattern can be seen in the recently plunging Mexican peso and a dramatic loss for Mexican equities and their funds including EWW. Far from being negative, the undervalued Mexican peso is making wages lower in U.S. dollars while increasing the total amount of exports given currency competitiveness. This will lead to much higher profit margins and Mexican stocks being among the top-performing emerging markets during the upcoming year. It is the exact same pattern as the above examples, and as with nearly all similar circumstances going back decades or longer.

I first noticed this common pattern as a much younger investor when Pinochet gave way to a Democratic government in Chile. The two listed Chilean securities on the NYSE, a telephone company and a closed-end equity fund, both plummeted to multi-year lows on the exact date of the transition out of fear and uncertainty about the future. The Chilean stock market was thereafter among the world's biggest winners over the subsequent five- and ten-year period.

Bridge players make the best traders, because they understand the difference between method and results.

Some investment firms only hire competitive bridge players (i.e., the card game), and there is a good reason for this. I have played bridge at a high competitive level, and the top players who are far better than me consistently make decisions based upon the probability of success. Thus, while a beginning bridge player is likely to frequently take a finesse--an easily-learned play which has a 50% chance of victory--a more experienced player will use end plays, squeezes, and other complex strategies which in combination will have an 80%-90% chance of prevailing. Being a card game with some element of luck, the most experienced players can tell you a day's worth of tales about tournaments where the inferior play actually succeeded. However, expert bridge players won't alter their strategies based upon periodic unfortunate results. They know that they won't always win, but they also know that if they make consistently logical and superior decisions then they will come out far ahead in the long run. Emotional investing methods or chasing after technical trends will sometimes work, but sticking with rational conclusions regardless of what the market does in the short run is almost always a superior method which will produce far greater profits over any period of decades.

Assets in bull markets which slide below their 200-day moving averages almost always represent ideal buying opportunities.

The S&P 500 was in a bull market starting on March 6, 2009, and may still be in a bull market or may have transitioned to the early stages of a bear market. When was the best time to buy it, other than obviously at the exact bottom? It has been whenever the S&P 500 slumped below its 200-day simple moving average. In the beginning of October 2011, the S&P 500 made a brief plunge below that mark, and it was one of the most rewarding purchase points of the entire cycle. If you review the 35-year bull market for long-dated U.S. Treasuries, as measured by funds including VUSTX and TLT, these were also exceptionally good buys whenever they have dropped below their 200-day moving averages. Thus, funds like GDXJ and SIL, which even after their recent slumps remain among the top winners from their respective 52-week lows, are providing superior buying opportunities now that they have fallen below their respective 200-day moving averages. The selling by technical-minded traders and many disappointed investors when those levels were broken to the downside are providing even better discounts than would otherwise have been available.

Avoid succumbing to the outcome bias.

Do not allow yourself to be easily seduced into believing that assets which have made sharp moves following Trump's election are sending some kind of messages or indicating the "true" outcome--and especially be wary of concluding that the market behavior of the past few days will continue into the next several years. Following President Obama's initial election in November 2008, the shares of commodity producers slumped through November 20, 2008 and thereafter began powerful bull markets which persisted until April 2011. After Obama's re-election in November 2012, the S&P 500 and other U.S. equity indices slid for nearly two weeks and thereafter climbed strongly. The initial reaction can be either the "right" or the "wrong" one--or, more often, simply people chasing after what others have been doing in the frantic belief that doing something is better than doing nothing.

Trends which are intact will remain intact no matter what happens, because they are determined by events and cycles which unfold over periods of years or decades. The election of Donald J. Trump will eventually intensify and perhaps extend some of these trends, but don't expect any major changes in direction. Maintain your focus and gradually buy more of whatever has become irrationally undervalued while progressively selling whatever has become most overpriced.

Disclosure of current holdings:

Whenever they have appeared to be irrationally depressed, I have been buying the shares of funds which invest either in the shares of commodity producers or emerging-market stocks and bonds, since I believe these remain the two most undervalued sectors in that order. In a world where real estate and U.S. high-dividend securities have finally begun major bear markets from ridiculous overvaluations and all-time record inflows, these irrational favorites of recent years will transition to a completely new set of investors' darlings. As the greenback surprises most investors by accelerating its bear market, with the U.S. dollar index moving below 80 within 1-1/2 years instead of climbing above 100 as almost everyone is expecting, this will lead to a major upward revision in global inflationary expectations. The election of Donald J. Trump as U.S. President means "yuge" U.S. government spending and modestly lower taxes, which is a combination for a massive increase in the deficit along with higher inflation and interest rates. The latest irrational pullback for many commodity producers has created some compelling buying opportunities, so be sure to seize them before they disappear. From my largest to my smallest position, I currently am long GDXJ (many new), SIL (some new), KOL, GDX (some new), XME, COPX, EWZ, RSX, GOEX, URA, REMX, VGPMX, HDGE, ELD, GXG (some new), IDX, NGE, BGEIX, ECH, FCG, SEA (some new), VNM (some new), NORW, DXJ, BCS, EWW (many new), PGAL, GREK, EPOL, RBS, TUR, RSXJ, RGLD, SLW, SAND, SILJ, EPU, FTAG, SOIL, EPHE, and THD. I have short positions in IYR, XLU, FXG, and SPHD, in that order, largest to smallest.

I expect the S&P 500 to eventually lose two thirds of its August 23, 2016 intraday top of 2193.81, with its next bear-market bottom perhaps occurring near the end of 2018. As with all bear markets, the biggest losses will likely occur in its final months, and won't even be acknowledged as a bear market until then. While the media have been quick to trumpet new all-time highs for many U.S. equity indices throughout 2016, almost no one has noticed that several broad-based sectors have failed to surpass their peaks of June 2015 including IWC, a fund of 1,377 micro-cap U.S. companies (i.e., with total market capitalizations which are less than 300 million U.S. dollars). IWM, a fund of the two thousand companies in the Russell 2000, had been outperforming the S&P 500 by roughly 3:2 from the nadir in March 2009 through March 2014, but has since been generally underperforming and has barely surpassed its June 2015 peak. The failure of small-cap indices to outpace their large-cap counterparts as a group has frequently signaled major bear markets in past decades including 1928-1929, 1972-1973, and 2007. Those who have "forgotten" or never learned the lessons of previous bear markets are doomed to repeat their mistakes. The most overvalued sectors rely on the overhyped deflation trade and money which has been withdrawn from safe bank accounts by investors who begin with the premise that they want to generate income of 3%-4% and look for the most stable securities which can generate such yields. This popular and extraordinarily dangerous method of investing had created valuations in July 2016 at roughly double fair value for most consumer staples, real estate investment trusts, utilities, and low-volatility shares, all of which have been underperforming most other sectors since then and will eventually lose 60% or more of their peak valuations.