S&P 500 fueled by the Fed

The S&P 500 continues, unwavering, in a strong up-trend.

S&P 500

But compare the growth in the S&P 500 index relative to growth in the money supply (M2). In relative terms, the S&P 500 appreciated only 29%, or 2.6% p.a., over the past decade. Most of the stellar performance over the past 10 years can be attributed to the Fed’s expansionary monetary policy.

S&P 500/M2 Money Supply

Dollar Index

The Dollar Index continues to test support at 90. A Trend Index peak below zero warns of strong selling pressure. Breach of support is likely and would signal another primary decline.

Dollar Index

The Chinese Yuan, however, has halted in its appreciation against the Dollar. Trend Index peak below the 7-week MA warns of secondary selling pressure. Breach of support at 15.4 US cents would warn of a correction.

CNYUSD

Conclusion

The S&P 500 is likely to continue rising for as long as the Fed expands the money supply. The Dollar, however, is expected to weaken for the same reason.

Global stock market correction

Strong red candles across major market indices warn of a global correction.

Breach of 3650 on the S&P 500 would warn of a test of the strong band of support between 3250 and 3400. Bearish divergence on Twiggs Money Flow continues to warn of long-term selling pressure.

S&P 500

The European Stoxx 600 threatens a similar secondary correction with a test of support at 375.

DJ Euro Stoxx 600

The Footsie is testing support between 6300 and 6500, while Money Flow reversal below zero warns of strong selling pressure. Breach of 6300 is likely and would indicate a strong correction, with primary support at 5500.

FTSE 100

The reaction on China’s Shanghai Composite is of similar weight to the S&P and STOXX. Breach of medium-term support at 3400 would warn of a test of primary support at 3200.

Shanghai Composite

The reaction on Japan’s Nikkei 225 appears secondary and likely to test the rising trendline at 26000.

Nikkei 225

The Seoul Composite is similar, with a rising trendline at 2700.

Seoul Composite

Selling on India’s Nifty 50 is heavier, flagged by a sharp fall in Money Flow over the past three weeks. Support at the rising trendline is unlikely to hold — which would mean a test of support at 12500.

Nifty 50

Conclusion

The correction across global stock markets appears secondary at this stage and likely to test medium-term support levels. Selling is heaviest on the FTSE 100 and India’s Nifty 50. These are the canary in the coal mine and should be monitored for unusual activity. Further falls on strong volume would indicate that sellers are overwhelming support.

Can the Fed keep a lid on inflation?

Jeremy Siegel, Wharton finance professor, says the Fed has poured a tremendous amount of money into the economy in response to the pandemic, which will eventually cause higher inflation. David Rosenberg of Rosenberg Research argues that velocity of money is declining and the US economy has a large output gap so inflation is unlikely to materialize.

CNBC VideoClick to play

Both are right, just in different time frames.

Putting the cart before the horse

The velocity of money is simply the ratio of GDP to the money supply. Fluctuations in the velocity of money have more to do with fluctuations in GDP than in the money supply. If GDP recovers, so will the velocity of money. Equating velocity of money with inflation is putting the cart before the horse. Contractions in GDP coincide with low/negative inflation while rapid expansions in GDP are normally accompanied, after a lag, by rising inflation.

CPI & GDP

Money supply and interest rates

Inflation is likely to rise when consumption grows at a faster rate than output. Prices rise when supply is scarce — when we consume more than we produce. Interest rates play a key role in this.

Low interest rates mean cheap credit, making it easy for people to borrow and consume more than they earn. Low rates also boost the stock market, raising corporate earnings because of lower interest costs, but most importantly, raising earnings multiples as the cost of capital falls. Speculators also take advantage of low interest rates to leverage their investments, driving up prices.

S&P 500

In the housing market, prices rise as cheap mortgage finance attracts buyers, pushing up demand and facilitating greater leverage.

Housing: Building Starts & Permits

Wealth effect

Higher stock and house prices create a wealth effect. Consumers are more ready to borrow and spend when they feel wealthier.

High interest rates, on the other hand, have the exact opposite effect. Credit is expensive and consumption falls. Speculation fades as stock earnings multiples fall and housing buyers are scarce.

Money supply is only a factor in inflation to the extent that it affects interest rates. There is also a lag between lower interest rates and rising consumption. It takes time for consumers and investors to rebuild confidence after an economic contraction.

The role of the Fed

Fed Chairman, William McChesney Martin, described the role of the Federal Reserve as:

“…..to take away the punch bowl just as the party gets going.”

In other words, to raise interest rates just as the economic recovery starts to build up steam — to avoid a build up of inflationary pressures.

The Fed’s mandate is to maintain stable prices but there are times, like the present, when their hands are tied.

Federal government debt is currently above 120% of GDP.

Federal Debt/GDP

GDP is likely to rise as the economy recovers but so is federal debt as the government injects more stimulus and embarks on an infrastructure program to lift the economy.

With federal debt at record levels of GDP, raising interest rates could blow the federal deficit wide open as the cost of servicing Treasury debt threatens to overtake tax revenues.

Conclusion

Inflation is likely to remain low until GDP recovers. But the need to maintain low interest rates — to support Treasury markets and keep a lid on the federal deficit — will then hamper the Fed’s ability to contain a buildup of inflationary pressure.

S&P 500 bubble risk

S&P 500 valuations are higher than the 1929 (Black Friday) Wall Street crash and the October 1987 (Black Monday) crash. The Dotcom bubble is the only time in the last 120 years that the ratio between Price and highest trailing earnings (PEmax) was higher.

S&P 500 PE of Highest Trailing Earnings (PEmax)

PEmax eliminates distortions in the price/earnings multiple caused by sharp falls in earnings during recessions. The current multiple of 26.93 compares the index at December 31, 2020 to highest trailing earnings of 139.47 (for the 12 months ended December 2019) rather than expected earnings of 95.22 for the 12 months ended December 2020. Highest trailing earnings in such a case are a far better reflection of future earnings potential than more recent results.

Payback model

Using our payback valuation model, we arrive at a fair value estimate of 2331 for the S&P 500 based on:

  • highest trailing earnings of 139.47;
  • a long-term growth rate of 5% (the highest nominal GDP growth achieved in recent years was 6.0% in Q2 2018); and
  • a payback period of 12 years — normally only used for stable companies with a strong defensive market position.

The LT growth rate required to match the current index value (3851) is 12.0%. The only time such a growth rate was achieved, post WWII, is in the 1980s, when inflation was in double-digits.

Nominal GDP & Inflation (CPI)

Conclusion

Stock prices are in a bubble of epic proportions. Risk of a major collapse remains elevated.

Markets that are likely to outperform in 2021

There is no reliable benchmark for assessing performance of different markets (stocks, bonds, precious metals, commodities, etc.) since central banks have flooded financial markets with more than $8 trillion in freshly printed currency since the start of 2020. The chart below from Ed Yardeni shows total assets of the five major central banks (Fed, ECB, BOC, BOE and BOJ) expanded to $27.9T at the end of November 2020, from below $20T at the start of the year.

Central Banks: Total Assets

With no convenient benchmark, the best way to measure performance is using relative strength between two prices/indices.

Measured in Gold (rather than Dollars) the S&P 500 iShares ETF (IVV) has underperformed since mid-2019. Respect of the red descending trendline would confirm further weakness ahead (or outperformance for Gold).

S&P 500 iShares ETF/Gold

But if we take a broad basket of commodities, stocks are still outperforming. Reversal of the current up-trend would signal that he global economy is recovering, with rising demand for commodities as manufacturing output increases. Breach of the latest, sharply rising trendline would warn of a correction to the long-term rising trendline and, most likely, even further.

S&P 500 iShares ETF/DJ-UBS Commodity Index

Commodities

There are pockets of rising prices in commodities but the broader indices remain weak.

Copper shows signs of a recovery. Breakout above -0.5 would signal outperformance relative to Gold.

Copper/Gold

Brent crude shows a similar rally. Breakout above the declining red trendline would suggest outperformance ahead.

Brent Crude/Gold

But the broad basket of commodities measured by the DJ-UBS Commodity Index is still in a down-trend.

DJ-UBS Commodity Index/Gold

Precious Metals

Silver broke out of its downward trend channel relative to Gold. Completion of the recent pullback (at zero) confirms the breakout and signals future outperformance.

Silver/Gold

Stock Markets

Comparing major stock indices, the S&P 500 has outperformed the DJ Stoxx Euro 600 since 2010. Lately the up-trend has accelerated and breach of the latest rising trendline would warn of reversion to at least the long-term trendline. More likely even further.

S&P 500 iShares ETF/Euro Stoxx 600

The S&P 500 shows a similar accelerating up-trend relative to the ASX 200. Breach of the latest trendline would similarly signal reversion to the LT trendline and most likely further.

S&P 500 iShares ETF/ASX 200

Reversion is already under way with India’s Nifty 50 (NSX), now outperforming the S&P 500.

S&P 500 iShares ETF/Nifty 50

S&P 500 performance relative to the Shanghai Composite plateaued at around +0.4. Breakout would signal further gains but respect of resistance is as likely.

S&P 500 iShares ETF/Shanghai Composite

Growth/Value

Looking within the Russell 1000 large caps index, Growth stocks (IWF) have clearly outperformed Value (IWD) since 2006. Breach of the latest, incredibly steep trendline, however, warns of reversion to the mean. We are likely to see Value outperform Growth in 2021.

Russell 1000 Value/Growth

Bonds

The S&P 500 has made strong gains against Treasury bonds since March (iShares 20+ Year Treasury Bond ETF [TLT]) but is expected to run into resistance between 1.3 and 1.4. Rising inflation fears, however, may lower bond prices, spurring further outperformance by stocks.

S&P 500 iShares ETF/Long_term Bond ETF (TLT)

Currencies

The US Dollar is weakening against a basket of major currencies. Euro breakout above resistance at $1.25 would signal a long-term up-trend.

Euro/Dollar

China’s Yuan has already broken resistance at 14.6 US cents, signaling a long-term up-trend.

Yuan/Dollar

India’s Rupee remains sluggish.

Indian Rupee/Dollar

But the Australian Dollar is surging. The recent correction that respected support at 70 US cents suggests an advance to at least 80 cents.

Australian Dollar/Dollar

Gold, surprisingly, retraced over the last few months despite the weakening US Dollar. But respect of support at $1800/ounce would signal another primary advance.

Spot Gold/Dollar

Conclusion

Silver is expected to outperform Gold.
Gold is expected to outperform stocks.
Value stocks are expected to outperform Growth.
India’s Nifty 50 is expected to outperform other major indices. This is likely to be followed by the Stoxx Euro 600 and ASX 200 but only if they break their latest, sharply rising trendlines. That leaves the S&P 500 and Shanghai Composite filling the minor placings.
Copper and Crude show signs of a recovery but the broad basket of currencies is expected to underperform stocks and precious metals.
The Greenback is expected to weaken against most major currencies, while rising inflation is likely to leave bond investors holding the wooden spoon.

Stock prices: Jay Powell is talking through his hat

Daily COVID-19 cases in the US continue to climb, reaching 236,211 on Thursday 17th.

USA: COVID19 Daily Cases

Unemployment claims jumped by 1.6 million in the week ending November 28, exceeding more than 1 in 8 of the total workforce (Feb 2020).

DOL: Total Unemployment Claims, 28Nov2020

Initial claims under state programs climbed to 935,138 (unadjusted) by week ending December 12, compared to 718,522 for w/e November 28, while initial claims under pandemic assistance programs run by the federal government jumped to 455,037 compared to 288,234 for w/e November 28.

Further escalation of both daily COVID-19 cases and unemployment claims is likely before vaccine distribution achieves a wide enough reach to make a difference. A major obstacle will be public reluctance to get the vaccine shot:

As states frantically prepare to begin months of vaccinations that could end the pandemic, a new poll finds only about half of Americans are ready to roll up their sleeves when their turn comes.

The survey from The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research shows about a quarter of U.S. adults aren’t sure if they want to get vaccinated against the coronavirus. Roughly another quarter say they won’t. (Associated Press, December 10, 2020)

Federal assistance

Further federal assistance may soften the impact of rising unemployment on the economy but Senate leaders are yet to conclude a deal. Both sides claim to want a deal but it seems unlikely that agreement will be reached before the Georgia run-off elections on January 5th. If the Democrats win both seats, and a Senate majority, they will not need to compromise. Unfortunately, large numbers of the least fortunate will suffer before then. Real leadership from the White House, needed to break the logjam, is sadly absent.

Jay Powell and stock prices

Jay Powell says he is relaxed about stock prices:

Stocks at record highs and bond yields not far from their historic lows are telling two different stories, but Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell said he isn’t worried about the disparity.

In fact, the central bank chief said during a news conference Wednesday, the low rates are helping justify an equity surge that has gone on largely unabated since the March pandemic crisis lows.

“The broad financial stability picture is kind of mixed I would say,” Powell said in response to a CNBC question at the post-meeting media Q&A. “Asset prices are a little high in that metric in my view, but overall you have a mixed picture. You don’t have a lot of red flags on that.” (CNBC, December 16, 2020)

There is just one problem: bond yields are distorted by the Fed and do not reflect market forces.

S&P 500 PEmax

If we take the S&P 500 Price-Earnings ratio based on the highest trailing earnings (PEmax), this eliminates distortions from sharp falls in earnings during a recession. The current multiple of 26.69 is the second highest peak in the past 120 years, exceeded only by the Dotcom bubble. By comparison, peaks for the 1929 stock market crash (Black Friday) and 1987 (Black Monday) both had earnings multiples below 20.

S&P 500 PE of Maximum Trailing Earnings (PEmax)

Payback model

If we use our payback model, we arrive at a fair value estimate of 2169.50 for the S&P 500 based on:

  • projected earnings for the next four quarters as provided by S&P;
  • a long-term growth rate of 5%, equal to nominal GDP growth in recent years; and
  • a payback period of 12 years, normally used for the most stable companies (with a strong defensive market position).

The LT growth rate required to match the current index value (3709.41) is 14.0%. The only time such a growth rate was achieved, post WWII, is in the 1980s, when inflation was spiraling out of control.

Nominal GDP & Inflation (CPI)

Conclusion

Stock prices are in a bubble of epic proportions. Risk is elevated and we are likely to witness a major collapse in prices in 2021 unless inflation spikes upwards as in the 1970s to early 1980s.

S&P 500: Leaders no longer leading

Daily new cases of COVID-19 continue to spike upwards, warning of further shutdowns as medical facilities are overrun.

USA: Daily COVID-19 cases

Payrolls

The latest labor report disappointed, especially as the November survey came before the latest round of layoffs after states imposed tighter restrictions.

Payroll growth flattened, leaving total payroll down 5.99% compared to November last year.

Payrolls Annual Change

Hours worked are slightly more encouraging, down 4.68% on an annual basis, compared to -2.9% change in real GDP.

Real GDP & Hours Worked

Vaccines

Encouraging news on the vaccine front but “when you hear the cavalry is coming to your rescue, you don’t stop shooting. You redouble your efforts.” (Dr Anthony Fauci)

Now This News

Stocks

Progress in manufacturing vaccines that will soon be widely available has buoyed stocks despite the dismal economic outlook. The S&P 500 made new highs, assisted by hopes of further stimulus and ultra-low interest rates. The large megaphone pattern is a poor indicator of future direction but does flag unusual volatility.

S&P 500 SPDR (SPY)

Growth in the big five technology stocks has slowed in recent months, with only Alphabet (GOOGL) breaking above its September high. Too early to tell, but failure of market leaders to make new highs is typical of the late stages of a bull market.

AAPL, AMZN, GOOGL, MSFT, FB

Conclusion

Vaccines should succeed in flattening the third wave and suppressing future outbreaks but are unlikely to succeed in restoring the economy to normalcy.

Federal debt is at a record 123% of GDP and growing. Further stimulus is required to support the still-fragile recovery.

The Fed will continue to expand its balance sheet to support Treasury issuance.

Ultra-low interest rates are likely to stay for a number of years.

If massive federal debt, QE and ultra-low interest rates does not cause a spike in inflation, that will encourage authorities to push the envelope even further (we fear this would have disastrous consequences).

Unemployment is expected to remain high and GDP growth likely to remain low.

Zombie corporations and commercial real estate with unsustainable debt levels will continue to be a drag on economic growth.

Growth stocks are expected to remain overpriced relative to current and future earnings.

Bearish divergence warns of tech stock retracement

The US recorded more than 75,000 new COVID19 cases on July 16th. The CCP must be smiling behind their masks after successfully containing last month’s outbreak in Beijing.

COVID19 Daily New Cases

Source JHU CSSE

Technology stocks have screamed upwards despite the chaos, but bearish divergence on Twiggs Money Flow now warns of selling pressure. Expect retracement to test support at 2650 on the Dow Jones US Technology Index.

DJ US Technology Index

Dow Jones Banks Index is a more realistic representation of the broader US economy. The weak rally has fizzled out, with a Money Flow peak at zero now warning of strong selling pressure. Breach of short-term support at 320 would signal another test of primary support at 270/280.

DJ US Banks Index

Government support can only cushion the impact of a massive surge in unemployment for a limited time. Then we will witness the full extent of the damage.

Continued unemployment claims jumped to 17.355 million on July 4th, up by 840,000 from a week earlier. Judging by the rising virus count, further increases are likely.

Continuous Claims

But that is only the tip of the iceberg.

The latest Department of Labor update shows 32 million people claimed unemployment insurance benefits in all programs for the week ending June 27.

Department of Labor: PERSONS CLAIMING UI BENEFITS IN ALL PROGRAMS

…..21% of the 152.4 million non-farm workforce in February 2020.

Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) under the CARES Act, signed into law on March 27, 2020 provides benefits to those individuals “not eligible for regular unemployment compensation or extended benefits under state or Federal law or pandemic emergency unemployment compensation (PEUC), including those who have exhausted all rights to such benefits.”

The S&P 500 is inching upwards, reflecting the tug-of-war between technology stocks and the broader market. We expect retracement of the Technology Index to cause another test of support at 3000 (on the S&P 500).

S&P 500

A worm in the Apple

Apple Inc (AAPL) enjoyed stellar growth over the past 12 months, jumping more than 50%.

Apple Inc (AAPL)

But is that due to solid operating performance or window-dressing, with almost $140 billion of stock buybacks in the last two years?

Apple Inc (AAPL)

Free cash flow — operating cash flow less stock compensation and investment in plant and equipment — has been falling since 2015.

Apple Inc (AAPL)

And the company has depleted its cash reserves over the last two years, to fund stock buybacks. The graph below depicts the change in Apple’s net cash position (cash plus marketable securities less debt).

Apple Inc (AAPL)

So why the management enthusiasm for stock buybacks?

Is the stock a good investment? No. Free cash flow per share has barely lifted since 2015 despite $237.5 billion used to repurchase 1144 million shares.

Apple Inc (AAPL)

Apple have returned surplus cash to stockholders in the most tax-efficient way possible, by buying back stock rather than paying dividends. The added bonus is the reduced share count which gooses up earnings per share growth and return on equity.

Apple Inc (AAPL)

Investors in turn get excited and run up earnings multiples. The current price/free cash flow ratio of 23.2 exceeds that of the heady growth days up to 2015.

Apple Inc (AAPL)

The stock keeps climbing, supported by buybacks and rosy EPS projections. The problem for Apple is when they run out of cash, or exceed reasonable debt levels, then the band will stop playing and those heady multiples are likely to come crashing down to earth.

It’s not only Apple that’s doing this. The entire S&P 500 is distributing more by way of buybacks and dividends than it makes in earnings, eating into reserves meant to fund new investment.

S&P 500 Buybacks & Dividends

The result is likely to be low growth and even more precarious earnings multiples.

The S&P 500 and Plan B

The S&P 500 penetrated its rising trendline, warning of a re-test of support at 3000. But selling pressure on the Trend Index appears to be secondary.

S&P 500

Transport bellwether Fedex retreated below long-term support at 150 on the monthly chart — on fears of a slow-down in international trade. Follow-through below 140 would strengthen the bear signal, offering a target of 100. The bear-trend warns that economic activity is contracting.

Fedex

Brent crude dropped below $60/barrel on fears of a global slow-down. Expect a test of primary support at 50.

Brent Crude

Dow Jones – UBS Commodity Index broke primary support at 76 on the monthly chart, also anticipating a global slow-down.

DJ-UBS Commodity Index

South Korea’s KOSPI Index is a good barometer for global trade. Expect a re-test of primary support at 250.

KOSPI

While Dr Copper, another useful barometer, warns that the patient (the global economy) is in need of medical assistance.

Copper (S1)

The Fed can keep pumping Dollars into financial markets but at some point, the patient is going to stop responding. In which case you had better have a Plan B.