Longboat Retirement Solutions LLC

The Fed’s Presence In The Markets Is Pretty Clear January 27, 2013

BY: Lance Roberts, Street Talk Live

Jan. 25, 2013

There has been an burst of exuberance as of late as the market, after four arduous years, got back to its pre-crisis levels.  Much has been attributed to the recent burst of optimism in the financial markets from:

1) Better than expected earnings – not counting the fact that expectations had been dramatically lowered over the last quarter.  If you lower the bar enough you will get better results.  However, if expectations levels had remained where they were previously every single report would have missed so far.

2) Stronger economic growth ahead – expectations are once again, as we have seen over the last 3 years, that the economy will grow at 3% or better in the coming year.  Unfortunately, most of the economic data suggests that 2013 will remain mired closer to 2% after a very lackluster first half of the year.

3) The end of the bond bubble is near – like the economy; bond bears have been calling for the end of bond bubble.  Will 2013 be the year?  Most likely not as the chase for yield continues as masses of baby boomers move into retirement needing income to maintain their standard of living.

4) The long term outlook is getting better – this is true but how much of the long term outlook is already priced in?  How much of the long term outlook is due to artificial stimulus versus organic economic growth?

5) Valuations are cheap – the argument of cheap valuations is a hollow one.  First, comparing forward operating earnings expectations to trailing reported GAAP earnings is apples and oranges.  Using the Shiller 10-year median P/E – valuations are at levels normally associated with bull market peaks.  Secondly, the argument of earnings yield compared to bond yields is garbage.  Bond yields are being artificially suppressed which distorts the argument from reality.  Furthermore, investors do not receive the earnings yield from stocks but they DO receive the interest income from bonds.

6) The great rotation is here – for the third year in a row we are once again hearing that the “mountains of cash” piled on the sidelines is about to flow into the markets.  That has yet to happen and there is little indication as of yet that 2013 will be any different.

The point to made here is that each time the market has rallied the media, and analysts, try to attribute the rally to a fundamental support.  In most cases the arguments boil down to“hope” more than “reality.”   However, what is really driving the current rally is likely far more simplistic:  $85 billion a month.

With the Federal Reserve currently engaged in two simultaneous quantitative easing programs (QE 3 and 4) totaling $85 billion a month in purchases of both mortgage backed and treasury bonds – the excess reserve accounts of the banks have soared in recent weeks.   There is a very high historical correlation (85%) between the expansion of the Fed’s balance sheet and the stock market.

The chart below shows the relationship between the financial market and the expansion/contraction of excess reserves held by banks.  Historically, these excess reserves, prior to 2008, averaged about 18.9 billion.  Today those excess reserves amount to $1.58 Trillion.

 

pastedGraphic.pdf

 

Each market rally is always expected to continue indefinitely into the future.  The reality is that this is never the case and that the inevitable correction is always completely “unexpected.”  The current rally, as shown in the next chart and table, will likely proceed along the same course as we have seen with each previous QE program.  Our current target for the rally is 1560 on the S&P 500 which would be an 11% return from the start of QE3.  Should this target be reached it will continue the pattern of diminished rates of return as these liquidity driven surges have become more fully priced into the markets.

 

pastedGraphic_1.pdf

 
It is clear that the visible hand of the Federal Reserve is firmly in control of the markets at the moment as liquidity flows are increased. However, extrapolating the current advance indefinitely into the future becomes somewhat dangerous.  Each previous program cycle has ended with a fairly nasty decline, in both the markets and the economy, as the fundamental drivers were being supported solely by artificial interventions.  Those declines would have likely been far worse had they not been halted by the next round of “liquidity injected goodness.”   

While the Fed programs that we have witnessed since the financial crisis are historically unique – liquidity driven markets are not.  We have witnessed the effects of excess liquidity in the bull market cycle prior to the 2008 financial crisis.  The only difference during that cycle was that, through government intervention, real estate was turned into an ATM allowing mortgage equity withdrawals to be the liquidity source for the economy and the markets.  The chart below shows the extremely high correlation between these two bull market cycles.

 

pastedGraphic_2.pdf

 
There are many similarities between the peak of the market in 2008 and today.  Investor sentiment is pushing extreme levels, the markets are exceedingly overbought, earnings are weakening, complacency is higher, multiples are expanding, the consumer is beginning to sputter and headlines are beginning to push the boundaries of manic optimism.

One doesn’t haven’t to think back too far to remember that at the peak of the markets in 2008 there was no recession in sight, even though it had already started, as it was a “goldilocks”economy.  Earnings were expected to continue to grow into the coming year and equities were the only investment of choice.  Come to think of it – that is what we heard in 1999 as well.

David Rosenberg summed this up well in his most recent missive:

“As imperfect souls, we as human beings simply don’t see that the existing situation will somehow be resolved and come to an end, and that in the ensuing three to five years, we will either be belly aching over a new bear market or celebrating a bull phase.  And in either case, it’s called ‘living in the moment.’  But the most dangerous thing anyone can do is extrapolate the most recent experience, as enduring as it may seem, into the future.  Good, bad or indifferent, we will be talking about something completely different three to five years from now than we have been for the past number of years.”

The point here is that there are times when one should step back to look at the forest for the trees.  The catalysts that brought the financial markets to its knees in 2000-2002 or 2008-2009 will likely not be the same ones in the future.  Will the markets continue to play out as the chart above potentially forecasts?  I haven’t a clue.  With the Fed fully engaged in stimulus programs domestically, as well as the ECB and Japan globally, there is excess liquidity sloshing throughout the financial system.  The market rally could well rise farther, for longer, than most would expect possible.

The current belief is that the central banks will have the foresight to withdraw the stimulus before the next bubble is formed, unfortunately, there is no historical precedent that supports that claim.  However, with the markets fully inflated, we have reached the point that where even a small exogenous shock will likely have an exaggerated effect on the markets.  There are times that investors can safely “buy and hold” investments – this likely isn’t one of them.

 

The Fiscal Cliff – Explained January 18, 2013

January 18, 2013
Santiago, Chile

BY: Simon Black


There’s a funny take on the Fiscal Cliff floating around the Internet that several of our keen subscribers have passed along. 

Like most things floating around the Internet, though, the details are inaccurate. So I’ve gone back and modified the parody with accurate numbers, and a bit more plot. What follows is 100% accurate based on 2012/2013 data: 

2012 US Tax Revenue: $2,469,000,000,000
2012 Federal budget: $3,796,000,000,000
2012 Budget deficit: $1,327,000,000,000
US Federal Debt as of January 18, 2013: $16,432,620,067,491
Total interest paid on the debt in 2012: $359,796,008,919
Budget increase/decrease between 2012 and 2013: $38,500,000,000 INCREASE

Now… chop off eight zeros and imagine the same numbers for the Jones family:

Annual Jones family income: $24,690
Annual Jones family expenses: $37,960
Annual Jones family shortfall borrowed from friends and neighbors: $ 13,270
Total interest the Jones family paid last year: $3,598 (at practically 0% interest)
Total Jones family debt (mortgage, auto, credit card): $164,326
Change in Jones family spending this year: ++ $385

Not to mention, Aunt Bertha, Uncle Ned, and Grandpa are all coming to live with the Jones family this year… which is only going to increase household spending. And little Johnny, who is about to graduate from university, has no job prospects.

Further, the Jones family hasn’t made any substantial changes to their lives… no jobs training, no skill development, no investment in education. Yet somehow they feel confident that their income levels will rise much faster than the debt.

Friends and neighbors who have loaned them money are starting to get nervous. But Papa Jones has put a plan together. He aims to cut the family’s annual shortfall… so that, five years from now, they’ll -only- be short $8,000 per year instead of $13,000. 
 
He also insists that, because his great-grandfather was a hardworking professional with an excellent reputation, that the neighbors should just cut him some slack. 

The extended family is also getting nervous… but Papa Jones tells them not to worry. They believe him because he is very charismatic and has a great jump shot.

A few projections:

1) The Jones family is obvious too ignorant to know that they’re bankrupt. This ignorance is even more dangerous than their insolvency.

2) The kids are going to inherit all of this debt, and if they’re lucky enough to find work, will spend the rest of their lives paying interest and supporting the rest of the family.

3) Friends and neighbors who have loaned money to the Jones family have had enough, and they are slowly beginning to reduce their exposure to this disaster. 

4) Papa Jones is going to deal with this by grounding his children, raiding their piggy banks, and sending them next door to fight the neighbor’s kids.

When you look at it this way, it really seems absurd. Yet it’s true… a slow motion train wreck that you can see coming miles away.

This is why the principles of international diversification are so important– you live in one country, your money lives in another, your business lives in another, you have an escape hatch in another, etc.

This ‘multiple flags’ lifestyle is a strategy that anyone can adopt. And it’s one of the best ways to avoid ending up like the Jones kids. 

 
 

New Year’s Resolution January 9, 2013

Filed under: Uncategorized — larsfforsberg @ 11:00 pm
Tags: , ,

Did you make a New Year’s Resolution to get your finances together?

Have you taken stock of your retirement savings plan?

Are you afraid to look at your “portfolio”?

Call me crazy, but I think you should consider taking control of your retirement savings.

A Solo 401k can help you save, keep, and control more of your money.  Take your money out of the Wall Street Ponzi scheme and find real peace of mind.  Contact your current custodian and ask to get a breakdown of all fees that they charge you.  Tell them that you know that a new law has passed that requires them to provide this information in a digestible format.  Take a hard look at the costs you incur.  Take an honest inventory of your savings and your future plans.

Don’t take my word for it.  Find out for yourself, the real cost of your current retirement vehicle.

The process of getting control of your retirement and future is painless and the cost of not acting is huge.