Tag Archives: China

Tectonic Shifts – Looking Ahead to 2017

The election has created tectonic shifts in government and promises to make bold changes in the economy.  We have been gathering consensus views from some leading financial analysts for 2017

  • Global interest rates are going up.
  • Global inflation is going up.
  • Global growth is going up.
  • Recession risk is going down.

A new consensus is also building.  The rise of nationalistic self-interest is upsetting the old order the world over.  For the past decade central bankers have been in control of economic policy throughout the world.  It has resulted in low or even negative interest rates in an effort to stimulate economic growth.  The result has been like pushing on a string.  Growth has been slow (the string as a whole hasn’t been moving) and the middle class in the developed world has seen their wages stagnate and their jobs disappear (the middle of the string) while those at the top (the far end of the string) have been virtually unaffected.  It’s part of the reason for the change in political leadership in the U.S. and the re-emergence of economic nationalism as evidenced by the Brexit vote in Britain.

As central bank leadership takes a back seat to aggressive fiscal policy, we can expect political leadership to focus on job growth and economic relief for the long-neglected middle class.  Domestically, here is what we expect to see:

Tax reform:  Trump’s campaign promised corporate tax reform.  To make American companies more competitive globally, he has proposed reducing corporate tax rates from 35% to 15%.  A special 10% rate is designed to repatriate corporate profits held offshore.

Individuals will be taxed at three rates depending on income: 12%, 25% and 33%.

Fiscal policy: The Trump administration wants to spend new money on infrastructure: transportation, clean water, the electric grid, telecommunications, security, and energy.

Health care: Trump wants to repeal and replace Obamacare.

Trade: The new administration has vowed to withdraw from TPP (Trans Pacific Partnership) and renegotiate NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement).  They also intend to challenge China regarding currency manipulation and unfair trade practices.

Immigration: President-elect Trump intends to establish new, tougher immigration controls to boost wages, build a wall along the U.S./Mexico border, deport criminal aliens and end sanctuary cities.

Economy: 25 million new jobs over the next decade is the goal of the incoming administration.  They aim to boost economic growth from 1.5% to 3.5% or 4.0% annually.

The Trump administration will focus on job creation, economic growth, infrastructure spending, reduced regulation, and energy independence while reducing governmental efforts to prevent climate change.  The people that Donald Trump has chosen for his cabinet are largely from the private sector; people that have backgrounds in running successful businesses and creating jobs.

These things are the primary reason that the stock market has reacted well to the election of Donald Trump.  Corporate earnings have been essentially flat for the past three years.  Professional investors see opportunities for renewed economic growth, which will increase corporate profits.  While we view this development with optimism, we always remain cautious.  We expect increased market volatility, especially if terrorist attacks continue throughout the globe.  We also expect interest rates to rise as the Federal Reserve brings rates to a more historically normal level.

We also see opportunities for the creation of new companies.  The number of publicly traded companies has dropped by nearly 50% since 2000.  At the same time, the number of companies that are held by private equity firms has grown explosively – by a factor of six!  This provides a great opportunity for privately held companies to go public and provide yet another opportunity for greater market growth.

As always, we remain cautious in keeping with our philosophy of preserving our clients’ capital.  Over the long term, we see the potential for a new American renaissance.

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Numbers, the Law of Averages, and the Dow Jones

As we wrote last week, volatility is back.  Two weeks ago today, August 20, saw the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJIA) dip by 358 points.  Since then the stock market has taken investors on a wild ride.

We were wondering what the average daily price movement was during the past couple of weeks, and after a little research and some Excel wizardry, got the answer:

  • The last 10 trading days (August 20 – September 2) have seen an average move of 356 points in the DJIA.

Then we wanted to see what the DJIA did the 10 trading days prior to August 20:

  • From August 6 – August 19, the two weeks prior to this recent two-week period of volatility, the DJIA moved an average of 96 points per day.
  • The average daily price movement these last two weeks is more than 3.7 times the average price movement the prior two weeks.
  • Even more telling, from August 6 – August 19, there were 6 days that the index moved less than 100 points. From August 20 – September 2, there was only one such day.
  • During the month of July, the DJIA moved an average of just under 103 points per day, or less than a third of the average daily price movement these last two weeks.

DJIA Avg Daily Price Movements

(Another interesting tidbit that seemed to escape mention by the talking screaming heads on TV: despite last Monday’s big drop, both the DJIA and the S&P 500 closed up for the week ending August 28.  The DJIA was up 1.17% while the S&P 500 was up 0.95%.)

Eventually we will revert to the mean.  We are still not convinced that interest rates, China’s growth rate or currency movements are that big a deal.  Put another way, we do not think those things are enough to derail the slow “plow horse” economic improvement domestically.

We urge everyone to take a long-term view on investing and keep a cool head during bouts of market volatility.  We will continue to monitor the markets, economic conditions and our clients’ portfolios.  If you have any questions, concerns or comments, please do not hesitate to contact us!

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On Recent Market Volatility. An Open Letter to Our Clients.

And you thought we saw volatility last Thursday and Friday?…

It is normal to for you to wonder how all of this volatility affects your wealth.  As we are hearing it, China seems to be the straw that broke the camel’s market’s back.  Other forces added to the weight, including uncertainty over the timing of the Fed raising interest rates and the Greek debacle.  However, we do not think that any of these things are cause for long-term concern regarding your portfolios.  If you are feeling some stress because of the recent market volatility, remember:

Stock markets are supposed to go up and down

There have been over a dozen market pullbacks of at least 5% since March 2009, so this isn’t unprecedented.  We all realize that stocks are inherently volatile investments, and we must accept the fact in order to earn the expected higher long-term returns.  You have all undoubtedly heard us preach asset allocation and the importance of having a long-term, strategic view.  Your portfolio is invested in a model based on your unique financial and personal circumstances.  It is important to take the long view and realize that it is typical for bull markets to have corrections of 5% – 10%.

Market timing is a sucker’s game

None of us has a crystal ball.  Not even the traders and speculators on TV that want you to think that they do.  Luckily, you do not need a crystal ball to be a successful investor.  In times like these, it is best to keep your cool and stay invested.  Studies consistently show that missing just a few days of strong returns can affect your performance dramatically.  It is important to stay disciplined and not make short-term trading decisions based on fear and emotion.

Your portfolios are properly diversified

This is our most important point.  As we mentioned, we have invested your money in an appropriate allocation for you, so those investments that have not done as well as the stock indices the past couple of years (looking at you, bonds) should help cushion the blow from this market correction.  That is exactly why they are in there.  Having a mix of different types of investments is like having shocks and struts on your car – these things provide a smoother and more stable ride for your portfolio.  When the stock markets are going great, these other investments do cause drag, but we do not invest to beat an arbitrary benchmark, rather we invest to help you achieve your financial goals with the least amount of risk possible.

The things that are causing this correction are just noise

China is slowing.  So what?  To say that their growth rate is slowing is admitting that they are still growing, just at a slower pace.  Did anyone really expect them to grow at 20% per year forever?  Moreover, if you look at it from a numbers perspective, exports to China only account for 0.7% of U.S. GDP.

The Yuan is falling.  Just a few months ago weren’t the talking heads lamenting the thought of the Chinese yuan as the world’s new reserve currency?  Now that talking heads who brought you that idea are being proven wrong, they want you to believe that this is supposed to be bad, too?  Which is it that we are supposed to fear again?  We wrote a blog piece about this last week, so we won’t go into great detail rehashing it here, but our general reaction is, again: So what?

The Fed is going to raise interest rates. (Eventually.)  It was not that long ago that tapering was supposed to bring financial ruin to us all…  Look, we all know that the Fed is eventually going to raise rates.  We can argue about the timing, but whenever it finally happens and the federal funds rate increases by 0.25%, does anyone really think that will keep Apple from introducing the latest re-iteration of their products?  Or keep anyone from buying them?

We realize that we have been having some fun with things that may cause some of you serious concern.  What we do not take lightly as your advisors and financial fiduciaries is the amount of concern and care we place on your financial well-being.  In times like these, it is important to stay calm and avoid making hasty decisions that could harm you financially.  We will continue to monitor your portfolios with vigilance, and as always, please do not hesitate to contact us if you have any questions or concerns.

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Chinese guarantees and the illusion of safety

A “guarantee” is only as good as the guarantor. If you buy a car with a ten year parts and labor guarantee, you make the assumption that the company will be around for that long and able to make good on its promise.

That’s becoming a potential problem in China. The Wall Street Journal shows how a lot of Chinese loans are ‘guaranteed” by guarantors who may not be able to make good in case of trouble.

Since 2007, the central government has instructed banks to lend more to small firms run by entrepreneurs, the most efficient part of the economy but one that banks have traditionally eschewed. Banks prefer to lend to large and state-owned firms that have sufficient collateral – typically land – to cover their loans.
The banks’ solution has been to insist that in the absence of collateral, someone else guarantee the loan – absolving banks of the need to look too closely at borrowers’ ability to pay, while giving loans the veneer of being safe. In some cases, the guarantee will come from another small firm – maybe a neighboring factory, and a company run by a close friend.

This would not be a problem for the industrialized world if China had not become the world’s largest economy. Major firms throughout the world are making big bets on the Chinese economy. The Chinese are known for their “creative” accounting.   The next big “Black Swan” event could come at us out of the Orient.

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China’s Illusory Growth Numbers

As i read today’s story in the Wall Street Journal I was reminded of an old joke.  It seems that machine politics in one city had gotten so corrupt that when thieves broke into the mayor’s safe all they found were the results of next year’s elections.

We know that China has all the economic trappings of a capitalist society and the government of a communist dictatorship.  Totalitarian governments that set production goals have ways of providing statistics that show those goals have been met.  The question people are asking is whether those statistics are believable.

Beijing appears to be on track, yet again, to hit its official growth target. According to China’s National Bureau of Statistics, gross domestic product rose 7.8% in the third quarter of 2013, well on its way toward hitting the official target of 7.5% GDP growth for the year.

But can these numbers be trusted? Beijing has a long tradition of setting and then claiming to exceed high growth targets, which makes growth appear both rapid and stable. For years, China reported much less volatile economic growth than other developing nations, but lately volatility has all but disappeared. Since the start of 2012, China has reported a GDP growth rate within a few decimal points of the official target—every quarter.

Another reason to question these numbers is that China’s second most powerful official has. In a 2007 cable revealed by WikiLeaks in late 2010, Chinese Premier                                       Li Keqiang was quoted acknowledging that official GDP numbers are “man-made.” Mr. Li, who was head of the Communist Party in northeastern Liaoning province at the time, told then-U.S. Ambassador to China Clark Randt that he looked to more reliable numbers—on bank loans, rail cargo and electricity consumption—to get a fix on the actual growth rate.

Some economists now call these economic indicators the “LKQ Index.” That index shows that China’s economic growth was a lot weaker than officially claimed in the first half of 2013 and picked up in the third quarter only on a new round of stimulus to meet the annual GDP target of 7.5%.

Questions about China’s economy are not just of academic importance.  China, with its huge population and it’s rapidly growing economy has a tremendous impact on the rest of the world.  They are not just the producer of low-cost consumer goods but also the consumer of huge amounts of raw materials.   China is the U.S. second largest trading partner.   They are the world’s largest importer of oil and coal in the world.  They not only export but also import hundreds of billions of dollars of electronic equipment.  If the Chinese are not growing as rapidly as their statistics indicate, they may be creating a “bubble” economy which can explode like the housing bubble did in 2008 with a very dramatic economic impact felt throughout the world and with the potential for social instability inside China itself.

Keep a very close eye on China.

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