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posted on 29 May 2016

The Week Ahead: Risk-Reward Tradeoffs For Stocks

from the Jeff Miller, A Dash of Insight

This week's economic calendar is loaded, and packed into a holiday-shortened week. There will also be plenty of FedSpeak, encouraging the favorite game of not just reporting data, but wondering how the Fed will see it.

When it comes time to put it all together, pundits will be asking:

What is the risk/reward tradeoff for stocks?

risk.reward

Last Week

The news was very good, and the market responded.

Theme Recap

In my last WTWA, I predicted that the pundits would be focused on the oil price rally and what it meant for investors in stocks. That was a good call, with the theme continuing through week's end. Several sources even cited both the recent strength and the apparent ceiling at $50/barrel. As a bonus, the strong housing data revived the "springtime for housing" theme from two weeks ago. Despite the competition from election news, these were important stories. If you prepared in advance, you were better able to handle the news.

The Story in One Chart

I always start my personal review of the week by looking at this great chart from Doug Short. He has a special knack for pulling together all of the relevant information. His charts save more than a thousand words! Read his entire post where he adds analysis and several other charts providing long-term perspective.

The News

Each week I break down events into good and bad. Often there is an "ugly" and on rare occasion something really good. My working definition of "good" has two components. The news must be market friendly and better than expectations. I avoid using my personal preferences in evaluating news - and you should, too!

The most important economic and market news was quite good.

The Good

  • Q1 GDP was revised higher, up 0.8% instead of 0.5. This is old news, but it does provide a slightly stronger base for the year. More importantly, the current data suggests that Q2 will be much stronger - some estimates now reaching 3 %.

  • Jobless claims declined again, to 268K. People are not losing jobs, especially when considering the higher working population. We also need job creation. Bespoke has the story, and a great chart.

  • Industrial production jumped 5.8%, the most in eighteen months. Utilities were behind much of the gain.

  • The Michigan sentiment index showed a surprising increase of 5.7 points, for the highest reading in nearly a year. Jill Mislinski provides a complete analysis and Doug Short's chart. You can readily see that the index is back at healthy levels, topped only by the Y2K era.

  • Housing data showed real strength.

    • Pending home sales popped 5.1%. (Calculated Risk)

    • New homes sales had the best showing since 2008. Inventory is now down to 4.7 months. (Calculated Risk)

The Bad

  • April durable goods fell 0.8%, worse than expectations of a 0.3% decline. (BI).

  • Transportation "stunk in April" according to New Deal Democrat. It has certainly been the worst part of the economic story. Check out the full post for details. Steven Hansen at GEI has a thoughtful analysis suggesting that this was a "huge recession which never came." Think about coal.

  • Puerto Rico debt measure is stalled in the Senate after progress in the House. This represents more than the specific issue. It is something of a litmus test for Speaker Ryan's ability to negotiate. That is the real market significance.

The Ugly

The vulnerability of government technology. The multi-year pressure on government spending has had a definite effect on equipment. Upgrades that would be routine in business simply do not happen in government. It is a vicious cycle. The older the equipment and software get, the higher the maintenance costs. Barbara Kollmeyer has a good analysis of the problem, including this chart.

This problem is deeper than general obsolescence. The determined hackers are looking for vulnerable systems. There is a likely collision course, already seen in prior attacks.

The Silver Bullet

I occasionally give the Silver Bullet award to someone who takes up an unpopular or thankless cause, doing the real work to demonstrate the facts. Think of The Lone Ranger. This week's award goes to Narayana Kocherlakota, former President of the Minneapolis Fed. Many of those who have moved on from a roles as official participants in Fed meetings are speaking out. This valuable information gives us an inside look. Sometimes the message is that we are making too many unjustified inferences. Kocherlakota writes:

Timing alone, though, hardly merits so much attention. To understand why, consider two possible scenarios. In one, the Fed starts raising rates in June and then adds another quarter percentage point at every second policy-making meeting (once every three months) for the next three years. In the other, the Fed waits until the second half of 2017 and then adds a quarter percentage point at each of the next 12 meetings. The second path represents slightly easier monetary policy, but most economic models would suggest that there would be almost no difference in the effect on employment or inflation.

It is possible that no information will be more important for investors over the next two years or so.

The Week Ahead

We would all like to know the direction of the market in advance. Good luck with that! Second best is planning what to look for and how to react. That is the purpose of considering possible themes for the week ahead. You can make your own predictions in the comments.

The Calendar

We have a very big four-day week for economic data. (Dare I say HUGE?) I highlight the most important items, helping us all to focus.

The "A" List

  • The employment report (F). Remains the biggest news of all.

  • ISM index (W). Great read on an important sector. Concurrent with some leading qualities.

  • Personal Income and spending (T). April data, but a continuing rebound here is important for economic expansion to continue.

  • Auto sales . A strong indicator of economic growth. F150 sales? Many believe this is linked to construction and small business.

  • Consumer confidence . This is the Conference Board version. It provides information on job creation and spending plans that you will not get elsewhere.

  • ADP private employment (Th). This independent read on private employment growth, using contemporaneous data, deserves more attention.

  • Initial claims (Th). The best concurrent indicator for employment trends.

The "B" List

  • Fed Beige Book . The anecdotal report that will inform participants at the upcoming Fed meeting will not tell us much, but pundits will find something!

  • PCE prices . The Fed's favorite inflation measure. Not much change expected.

  • Construction spending . Volatile April data is still relevant because of the importance of this sector.

  • ISM services . Not quite as important as manufacturing, but only because the data series is shorter. Will recent strength continue?

  • Trade balance . April data relevant for Q2 GDP calculation.

  • Crude inventories . Often has a significant impact on oil markets, a focal point for traders of everything.

Not much will be happening at the start of the week, with many slow to return from a long weekend. Expect volume to pick up.

There is also a full slate of Fed speakers, including Chair Yellen.

Next Week's Theme

It is a big economic calendar and a holiday-shortened week. There will be a trifecta of questions:

  1. Economics. Will the recent data rebound continue?

  2. The Fed. Will strong data increase the pace and timing of rate increases?

  3. Stocks. How will stocks react? Will good news be good?

The pundits will circle around these topics. Even the pundit-in-chief seems to be shifting with the winds. They will analyze the data, emphasize how important Friday will be for the Fed, and wind up asking:

What is the risk/reward tradeoff for stocks?

Quant Corner

We follow some regular great sources and also the best insights from each week.

Risk Analysis

Whether you are a trader or an investor, you need to understand risk. Risk first, rewards second. I monitor many quantitative reports and highlight the best methods in this weekly update.

The Indicator Snapshot

The Featured Sources:

Doug Short: The Big Four Update, the World Markets Weekend Update (and much more).

Brian Gilmartin: Analysis of expected earnings for the overall market as well as coverage of many individual companies. This week he observes that more people are using forward earnings, and many are thinking about 2017.

Bob Dieli: The "C Score" which is a weekly estimate of his Enhanced Aggregate Spread (the most accurate real-time recession forecasting method over the last few decades). Monthly reports including both an economic overview the economy and employment.

RecessionAlert: Many strong quantitative indicators for both economic and market analysis. While we feature the recession analysis, Dwaine also has a number of interesting approaches to asset allocation.

Georg Vrba: The Business Cycle Indicator, and much more. Check out his sitefor an array of interesting methods.

Holmes: Our cautious and clever watchdog, who sniffs out opportunity like a great detective, but emphasizes guarding assets.

Noteworthy this week:

How to Use WTWA

In this series I share my preparation for the coming week. I write each post as if I were speaking directly to one of my clients. For most readers, they can just "listen in." If you are unhappy with your current investment approach, we will be happy to talk with you. I start with a specific assessment of your personal situation. There is no rush and no cookie-cutter approach. Each client is different, so I have six different programs ranging from very conservative bond ladders to very aggressive trading programs. A key question:

Are you preserving wealth, or like most of us, do you need to create more wealth?

My objective is to help all readers, so I provide a number of free resources. Just write to info at newarc dot com. We will send whatever you request. We never share your email address with others, and send only what you seek. (Like you, we hate spam!) Free reports include the following:

  • Understanding Risk - what we all should know.

  • Income investing - better yield than the standard dividend portfolio.

  • Felix and Holmes - top artificial intelligence techniques in action.

  • Why 2016 - The Year of the Value Stocks - finding cheap stocks based on long-term earnings.

You can also check out my website for Tips for Individual Investors, and a discussion of the biggest market fears. (Please send any questions or suggestions for new topics.)

Best Advice for the Week Ahead

The right move often depends on your time horizon. Are you a trader or an investor?

Insight for Traders

We consider both our models and also the best advice from sources we follow.

Felix and Holmes

We continue our neutral market forecast. Felix is fully invested, and with more aggressive sectors. Most sectors remain in the penalty box. The (usually) more cautious Holmes is once again fully invested. Holmes uses a universe of nearly 1000 stocks, selected mostly by liquidity. Even when the overall market is neutral, there will often be some strong candidates. That is what we see now.

Top Trading Advice

Dr. Brett Steenbarger emphasizes emotion-free trading. He writes:

The emotionally intelligent trader can prepare for frustration, fear, greed, and other seemingly disruptive states. By anticipating them, rehearsing our response to them, and channeling their energy constructively, we turn our experience into a powerful trading asset.

Holmes is barking enthusiastic agreement, and Felix is nodding wisely!

12 good points from Paul Tudor Jones (via New Trader U). They are all worth considering, but my favorite is #9:

"Always think of your entry point as last night's close."

Insight for Investors

Investors have a longer time horizon. The best moves frequently involve taking advantage of trading volatility!

Best of the Week

If I had to pick a single most important source for investors to read, it would be the overall market outlook from David Templeton at HORAN Capital Advisors. He covers many of the themes I regard as most important, but readers will enjoy getting the message from different sources.

In particular, he deals with the common argument about good news: The Fed will raise rates. He writes as follows:

Historically though, the initial moves in rate increases by the Fed is pursued to get rates back to a more normal level. As a result, when interest rates are increased from a level below 5% stocks tend to rise. In short, below the 5% level there is a positive correlation between interest rates and stocks.

Stock Ideas

Chuck Carnevale has a terrific follow-up to his prior article on Emerson Electric (NYSE:EMR). Individual investors who do their own stock picking should read this carefully. Not only does he provide great analysis and advice about entry points, it illustrates what your research should cover.

Time to buy Europe? Jason Zweig (WSJ) recounts all of the bad news, as well as the depressed stock levels. Is it time to "buy low?"

And for income investors - always consider the dividend kings. Here are eighteen companies that have increased dividends for at least 50 years. If that level of income is enough, this kind of stock may be the answer. Philip Van Doorn (MarketWatch)

Personal Finance

Professional investors and traders have been making Abnormal Returns a daily stop for over ten years. The average investor should make time (even if not able to read AR every day as I do) for a weekly trip on Wednesday. Tadas always has first-rate links for investors in his weekly special edition. There are always several great choices worth reading, but my favorite this week is from Ben Carlson for his discussion of Social Security Benefits. Here are but two points from a great post. You should read it all.

  • Social Security is a more important part of retirement than many realize, covering more than half of the needs for most people.

  • Waiting longer for benefits generally helps, if you are able to do it.

The article also has some links to good sources. Your financial advisor should be considering the Social Security contribution when figuring out your retirement needs and asset allocation.

Older investors pick their biggest mistake - not starting early enough in saving for retirement.

Value Stocks

How about AbbVie as a retirement holding? Looking at the numbers shows value, but perhaps no immediate catalyst. Where others see "value trap" I see an opportunity for enhancing good dividend yield by selling near term calls. Take what the market is giving you!

Energy Stocks

There is not a specific recommendation here, but the information is important. I am watching it, and so should you. What companies begin to profit at various levels of oil prices? (The Daily Shot)

Watch out for....

Safety stocks. Seth Masters asks, Are "Safety Stocks" Truly Safe? Many of the relevant sectors have been part of the recent quest for yield. With investors fearful about a weak economy - or even recession - something with a dividend yield looks great. If the economy improves, it is a different story, as this chart shows:

Bonds. In the "man bites dog" department, even Bill Gross is going negative on bonds. Mr. Dow 5000 is still not recommending stocks.

Final Thoughts

The risk/reward debate includes many viewpoints, but the worries usually dominate.

  • These stories are more newsworthy, so they get higher ratings. Barry Ritholtz has a good article on "click bait." One of his examples is the repeated story about George Soros buying puts. I have two different posts (here and here) showing the error of this approach, but the scary stories get the readership.

  • The negative predictions call for extreme outcomes (market 50% over-valued - various sources, we are already in a recession - Peter Schiff's claim this week, Europe and the rest of the world will crumble, or maybe it will be China. There is just enough plausibility in the arguments that many people are "scared witless" (TM OldProf euphemism). If you think the downside is 50% and the upside only 2%, what would you do?

  • The positive arguments are generally modest and restrained. Ed Yardeni (who also accurate downplayed the recession worries in January) sees a 10% upside for stocks in the next year. The Fast Money gang acted like he was crazy. "What needs to happen for that?" was the question. Not much, he explained. A little earnings growth, no recession, and a little inflation. It was a modest claim.

  • Politicians of all stripes find it useful to highlight dissatisfaction. This political approach is effective when running for election, but it is dangerous for investors. It is easy to think about societal ills rather than improving your investments. You cannot improve public policy by making poor investment decisions and losing your money!

For a change, why don't we ask what could go right? (The Barron's cover storythis week is on the right track, repeating some of our main themes --- but perhaps not analyzed as thoroughly. It is always helpful to have more voices helping investors).

  • The economy is not headed for recession, and actually shows promise on the big-purchase items like autos and homes.

  • Employment is good and improving.

  • Earnings may have troughed with the energy crash (apparently) behind us. Meanwhile, energy prices remain relatively low.

  • Interest rates remain low - this makes companies more profitable and stocks more attractive.

  • The dollar strength seems to have leveled off, helping the earnings of multi-national companies.

  • Economic and market cycles do not die of old age. A "mature" cycle has the same survival potential as a new one, despite the appealing metaphor of the doddering old person.

The market could easily gain 10% next year, and the year after that. Picking value stocks could increase your potential, since the economic skepticism has created recession pricing.

Most do not understand this key point: We could be having the same debate two years from now! Or even three.

And stocks could be 50% higher.

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