Tag: Cliff Asness

Weekend Reading: Tax Cut Wish List

Authored by Lance Roberts via RealInvestmentAdvice.com,

On Wednesday, the President announced his plan to cut taxes for Americans, return jobs to America and return the country to economic prosperity.

It’s a tall order to fill, and the proposed tax reform is a “Christmas Wish List” that will have to checked twice to determine which parts are “naughty” and “nice.”

As I pointed out yesterday,

“The belief that tax cuts will eventually become revenue neutral due to expanded economic growth is a fallacy. As the CRFB noted:

 

‘Given today’s record-high levels of national debt, the country cannot afford a deficit-financed tax cut. Tax reform that adds to the debt is likely to slow, rather than improve, long-term economic growth.’

 

The problem with the claims that tax cuts reduce the deficit is that there is NO evidence to support the claim. The increases in deficit spending to supplant weaker economic growth has been apparent with larger deficits leading to further weakness in economic growth. In fact, ever since Reagan first lowered taxes in the ’80’s both GDP growth and the deficit have only headed in one direction – lower.’

That little green bump in the deficit was when President Clinton “borrowed” $2 trillion from Social Security to balance the budget, and since there were no cuts to spending, led a surplus that lasted about 20-minutes.

The problem is that the tax plan may not provide the benefits as hoped. While President Trump suggests the plan will return “trillions” of dollars locked up overseas to create jobs, the reality, according to Goldman Sachs, is likely closer to $250 billion that will primarily go to share buybacks, dividends, and executive compensation.  

Of course, such actions do not boost economic growth but are a boon to Wall Street and the 10% of the economy that invest in the market. 

But here is the key point with respect to tax cuts. History is replete with evidence that shows tax cuts DO NOT lead to a rapid growth in the economy. As shown below, the slope of economic growth has been trending lower since the “Reagan tax cuts” were implemented.

Lastly, tax cuts have relatively low economic multipliers particularly when they primarily only benefit those at the top of the income spectrum. With the average household heavily indebted, credit is being used to sustain the standard of living, there is likely to be little transfer of “tax savings” back into the economy.

It is a simple function of math. But the following chart shows why this has likely come to the inevitable conclusion, and why tax cuts and reforms are unlikely to spur higher rates of economic growth.”

As is always the case…“it’s the debt, stupid.” 

However, here are plenty of discussions both for and against the tax plan so you can decide for yourself.


Trump Tax Cut Plan


Markets


Research / Interesting Reads


A bull market is like sex. It feels best just before it ends.” – Warren Buffett

http://WarMachines.com

Weekend Reading: Yellen Takes Away The Punchbowl

Authored by Lance Roberts via RealInvestmentAdvice.com,

September 20th, 2017 will likely be a day that goes down in market history.

It will either be remembered as one of the greatest achievements in the history of monetary policy experiments, or the beginning of the next bear market or worse.

Given the Fed’s inability to spark either inflation or economic growth, as witnessed by their dismal forecasting record shown below, I would lean towards the latter.

The media is very interesting. Despite the fact there is clear evidence that unbridled Central Bank interventions supported the market on the way up, there is now a consensus that believes the “unwinding” will have “no effect” on the market.

This would seem to be naive given that, as shown below, the biggest injections of liquidity from the Fed have come near market bottoms. Without the proverbial “punch bowl,” where does the “support” come from to stem declines?

I tend to agree with BofA who recently warned” the paint may be drying but the wall is about to crumble.”

This point can be summarized simply as follows: there is $1 trillion in excess TSY supply coming down the line, and either yields will have to jump for the net issuance to be absorbed, or equities will have to plunge 30% for the incremental demand to appear.”

“An unwind of the Fed’s balance sheet also increases UST supply to the public. Ultimately, the Treasury needs to borrow from the public to pay back principal to the Fed resulting in an increase in marketable issuance. We estimate the Treasury’s borrowing needs will increase roughly by $1tn over the next five years due to the Fed roll offs. However, not all increases in UST supply are made equal. This will be the first time UST supply is projected to increase when EM reserve growth likely remains benign.

 

Our analysis suggests this would necessitate a significant rise in yields or a notable correction in equity markets to trigger the two largest remaining sources (pensions or mutual funds) to step up to meet the demand shortfall. Again, this is a slower moving trigger that tightens financial conditions either by necessitating higher yields or lower equities.”

Of course, as I have discussed previously, a surge in interest rates would lead to a massive recession in the economy. Therefore, while it is possible you could experience a short-term pop in rates, the end result will be a substantial decline in equities as money flees to the safety of bonds driving rates toward zero.

“From many perspectives, the real risk of the heavy equity exposure in portfolios is outweighed by the potential for further reward. The realization of ‘risk,’ when it occurs, will lead to a rapid unwinding of the markets pushing volatility higher and bond yields lower. This is why I continue to acquire bonds on rallies in the markets, which suppresses bond prices, to increase portfolio income and hedge against a future market dislocation.”

My best guess is the Fed has made a critical error. But just as a “turnover” early in the first-quarter of the game may not seem to be an issue, it can very well wind up being the single defining moment when the game was already lost. 

In the meantime, here is what I am reading this weekend.


Politics/Fed/Economy


Markets


Research / Interesting Reads


“If you are playing the rigged game of investing, the house always wins.” ? Robert Rolih

http://WarMachines.com

What The Buffett Indicator Is Really Predicting

Authored by Lance Roberts via RealInvestmentAdvice.com,

Every so often an article is produced that is so misleading that it must be addressed. The latest is from Sol Palha via the Huffington Post entitled: “Buffett Indicator Is Predicting A Stock Market Crash: Pure Nonsense.”  Sol jumps right in with both feet stating:

“Insanity equates to doing the same thing over and over again and hoping for a new outcome. These predictions have been off the mark for almost 10 years. One would think that would be enough for the experts to re-examine the situation, but instead, they use the same lines they used 10 years ago. One day they will get it right, as even a broken clock is correct twice a day.”

Sol should be careful of throwing stones at glass houses. While we are indeed currently in a very bullish trend of the market, there are two halves of every market cycle. 

“In the end, it does not matter IF you are ‘bullish’ or ‘bearish.’ The reality is that both ‘bulls’ and ‘bears’ are owned by the ‘broken clock’ syndrome during the full-market cycle. However, what is grossly important in achieving long-term investment success is not necessarily being ‘right’ during the first half of the cycle, but by not being ‘wrong’ during the second half.”

Will valuations currently pushing the 3rd highest level in history, it is only a function of time before the second-half of the full-market cycle ensues.

That is not a prediction of a crash.

It is just a fact.

The Buffett Indicator

It is also the issue of valuation that leads Sol astray in his article which focuses on one of Warren Buffett’s favorite measures of valuation: Market Capitalization to Gross Domestic Product. 

Sol err’s in the following statement:

Some Experts point out that Warren Buffet is betting on a Stock Market Crash. This claim is based on the fact that Buffett is sitting on $86 billion in cash. They use this information to create the illusion that this Buffett Indicator is predicting a stock market crash.”

First, valuations DO NOT predict market crashes.

Valuations are predictive of future returns on investments from current levels.

Period.

I recently quoted Cliff Asness on this issue in particular:

“Ten-year forward average returns fall nearly monotonically as starting Shiller P/E’s increase. Also, as starting Shiller P/E’s go up, worst cases get worse and best cases get weaker.

 

If today’s Shiller P/E is 22.2, and your long-term plan calls for a 10% nominal (or with today’s inflation about 7-8% real) return on the stock market, you are basically rooting for the absolute best case in history to play out again, and rooting for something drastically above the average case from these valuations.”

We can prove that by looking at forward 10-year total returns versus various levels of PE ratios historically.

Asness continues:

“It [Shiller’s CAPE] has very limited use for market timing (certainly on its own) and there is still great variability around its predictions over even decades. But, if you don’t lower your expectations when Shiller P/E’s are high without a good reason — and in my view, the critics have not provided a good reason this time around — I think you are making a mistake.”

And since we are discussing Mr. Buffett, let me remind Sol of one of Warren’s more insightful quotes:

“Price is what you pay, value is what you get.” 

Importantly, however, let’s take a look specifically at the “Buffett Indicator.”

Not surprisingly, like every other measure of valuation, forward return expectations are substantially lower over the next 10-years as opposed to the past 10-years.

The $86 Billion Question

Of course, while Sol didn’t make the connection between Buffett’s $86-billion in cash and forward-return estimates, he did get Buffett’s reasoning correct.

“Just because Warren Buffett is sitting on billions of cash does not mean he is waiting for the market to crash. He is probably waiting for a good deal; that’s all.

Some might point out that it’s the biggest hoard of cash the company has ever built up and that this indicates Buffett is nervous. Being nervous does not equate to betting on a stock market crash. Buffett is a value player and he is looking for a deal, so correction not crash might be all he is waiting for.

Unfortunately, “good deals” based on valuation levels and market crashes have typically been highly correlated.

But more importantly, Sol also misses an important point made by Buffett in terms of value investing:

“Buffett Does not believe stocks are overpriced; hence he is not expecting a stock market crash.”

However, he goes on to quote Buffett suggesting the possibility.

“While Buffett agrees the market can go through period of turbulence, he stated that ‘no one can tell you when these traumas occur.'”

And then states these “traumas” could range from mild to “extreme.”

Sounds like a crash to me.

But then he makes the most interesting point.

In a recent article, Buffett stated that stocks were on the cheap side; one does not make a comment like this if one believes the stock market is going to crash.”

That point doesn’t quite square with Buffett holding his largest cash pile in the history of the firm.

Buffett is a businessman that runs an investment company. Yelling “fire in a crowded theater” would likely not be well accepted well by his investors and legions of avid followers.

In the business, this is called “talking your book.”

However, what a portfolio manager says (“stocks are cheap”) and what they do ($86 billion in cash) are two very different things.

As the old saying goes: “Follow the money.” 

Fundamentals Don’t Matter

I will agree with Sol on his point that fundamentals don’t matter at the moment.

In a market that where momentum is driving an ever smaller group of participants, fundamentals are displaced by emotional biases. Such is the nature of market cycles and one of the primary ingredients necessary to create the proper environment for an eventual crash.

Notice, I said eventually.

I do agree with Sol that markets are indeed currently bullish and therefore, as an investment manager, portfolios should remain tilted towards equities currently.

But such will not always be the case.

As David Einhorn once stated:

The bulls explain that traditional valuation metrics no longer apply to certain stocks. The longs are confident that everyone else who holds these stocks understands the dynamic and won’t sell either. With holders reluctant to sell, the stocks can only go up – seemingly to infinity and beyond. We have seen this before.

 

There was no catalyst that we know of that burst the dot-com bubble in March 2000, and we don’t have a particular catalyst in mind here. That said, the top will be the top, and it’s hard to predict when it will happen.”

Is this time different?

Probably not.

James Montier summed it up perfectly in “Six Impossible Things Before Breakfast,” 

Current arguments as to why this time is different are cloaked in the economics of secular stagnation and standard finance workhorses like the equity risk premium model. Whilst these may lend a veneer of respectability to those dangerous words, taking arguments at face value without considering the evidence seems to me, at least, to be a common link with previous bubbles.

While investors insist the markets are currently NOT in a bubble, it would be wise to remember the same belief was held in 1999 and 2007. Throughout history, financial bubbles have only been recognized in hindsight when their existence becomes “apparently obvious” to everyone. Of course, by that point, it was far too late to be of any use to investors and the subsequent destruction of invested capital.

This time will not be different. Only the catalyst, magnitude, and duration will be.

Investors would do well to remember the words of the then-chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission Arthur Levitt in a 1998 speech entitled “The Numbers Game:”

“While the temptations are great, and the pressures strong, illusions in numbers are only that—ephemeral, and ultimately self-destructive.”

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