U.S. stocks limped into the weekend on a sluggish final day of trading, while the dollar fluctuated with oil as investors assessed data showing the U.S. economy on solid footing.
The S&P 500 Index moved between gains and losses before closing higher by less than a point -- good enough for a seventh straight gain and fresh record in trading 25 percent below the 30-day average.
The U.S. economy’s first quarter GDP came in this Friday and it wasn’t so miserable after all, as consumption contributed more to growth and business investment was even stronger than thought.
The S&P 500 and Nasdaq indexes both hit record highs this week, and the Dow flirted with its own all-time high. Investors seem to be signalling that everything is honky-dory even as the political headlines remain concerning. Tax and healthcare reform appear to be even further out of reach as the investigations into the Trump administration (now Jared Kushner under scrutiny) deepen.
But are these headlines so concerning? In the short-term political events can trigger short term buying opportunities but research has shown that political crises rarely have a lasting impact on markets. There is an abundance of liquidity in this market with a lot of cheap money chasing a returns. This is no doubt one factor contributing to the rally, but more importantly investors are focusing on the strengthening economy, signs from the central bank that interest rates will continue to rise, and the best quarter of corporate-earnings growth in five years.
Furthermore, there still exists a record amount of bearishness. The S&P 500 Index has climbed 7.9 percent since January, including its biggest gain since April in the just-completed week. At the same time, short interest as a proportion of total shares outstanding has also expanded, rising by 0.3 percentage point to 3.9 percent. Never before has an equity advance as big as this year’s occurred simultaneously with more short sales, according to exchange data compiled by Bloomberg that goes back to 2008.
There is no euphoria!
Bloomberg this week reported that investors are pulling money out of stocks after the initial rush to buy faded along with the optimism over Trump’s pro-growth policy. They have withdrawn $20 billion from exchange-traded funds and mutual funds this quarter, reversing about one third of the inflows seen between November and March, according to data compiled by Bloomberg and Investment Company Institute.
Bullish bets are also shrinking in the futures market. Net long positions in S&P 500 contracts held by large speculators fell in seven of the last eight weeks and were closer to turning net short than any time since December, data compiled by Commodity Futures Trading Commission show.
The challenge for short sellers is how long they can stay solvent before being forced to buy back the shares that they have borrowed and sold. And the pressure to cover is building. The potential for a swift melt up is increasing…..
Last weekend I was on vacation and had the opportunity to read a wonderful book “Charlie Munger: The Complete Investor” by Tren Griffin. Munger is one of the world’s most successful investors better known as Warren Buffett’s partner at Berkshire Hathaway.
What is most interesting about Munger is not his success as an investor but the way he thinks and keeps his emotions under control.
The book offers a great overview of Munger’s ideas and methods which can help us make better decisions, be happier and live a more fulfilling life. Why? Because investing, like life is about decision making. Everyday we are faced with a spectrum of possible decisions which will set us along one path or another.
As such, misjudgement can wreak havoc upon the outcomes of our lives.
What is the psychology of human misjudgement?
Humans have developed simple rules of thumb called heuristics, which enable them to efficiently make decisions. Heuristics are essential as without them humans would be unable to process the vast amount of information they face on a daily basis.
The problem is that these shortcuts can sometimes result in tendencies to do certain things that are dysfunctional.
The upside is that we can learn to identify these dysfunctional tendencies and overcome them. This is the key to better decision making. What are some of the most common of these tendencies? There are over 20 explained in the book but these are those that stood out most:
People tend to ignore or deny the faults of people they love and also tend to distort the facts to facilitate love.
People are reluctant to change even when they have been given new information that conflicts with what they already believe. The desire to resist any change in a given conclusion or belief is particularly strong if a person has invested a lot of effort in reaching that conclusion or belief.
Kantian Fairness Tendency
Humans will often act irrationally to punish people who are not fair. In other words they may act irrationally when presented with a situation that they feel is unfair. Some would rather lose money in an investment than see another person benefit from “perceived” unfairness.
Very primal emotions are triggered when humans see someone with something they don’t have often causing dysfunctional thoughts and actions. In this world of abundance there is nothing but unhappiness to be gained from envy.
The urge to reciprocate favors and disfavors is so strong that people will feel uncomfortable until they can extinguish the debt.
Simple, Pain-Avoiding Denial
People hate to hear bad news or anything inconsistent with their existing opinions and conclusions. If something is painful people will work to even deny the reality.
Excessive Self-Regard Tendency
People tend to vastly overestimate their own capabilities. The most effective way to reduce risk in any situation is to genuinely know what you are doing.
Deprival Super-Reaction Tendency
Loss aversion- we irrationally avoid risk when we face the potential for gain, but irrationally seek risk when there is a potential for loss.
Social Proof Tendency
Humans have a natural tendency to follow a herd of other humans. We view a behaviour as more correct to the degree we see others performing it. This is how bubbles form. The herd is rarely correct.
People tend to follow people who they believe are authorities or have the right credentials. Especially when they face risk, uncertainty or ignorance.
Thought of the Week
"“The best thing a human being can do is help another human being know more.” - Charlie Munger
Articles and Ideas of Interest
- The meaning of life in a world without work. As technology renders jobs obsolete, what will keep us busy? Sapiens author Yuval Noah Harari examines ‘the useless class’ and a new quest for purpose. Could playing virtual reality games be the answer? But what about truth? What about reality? Do we really want to live in a world in which billions of people are immersed in fantasies, pursuing make-believe goals and obeying imaginary laws? Well, like it or not, Harari suggests that may be the world we have been living in for thousands of years already...
- Why you should learn to say no more often. The NYT suggests that humans are social animals who thrive on reciprocity. It’s in our nature to be socially obliging, and the word no feels like a confrontation that threatens a potential bond. But when we dole out an easy yes instead of a difficult no we tend to overcommit our time, energy and finances. Do you have the ability to communicate ‘no’ and reflect that you are actually in the driver’s seat of your own life?
- The cryptocurrency mania may just be starting. Practically this entire week on CNBC the top 5 most popular articles were bitcoin related with bitcoin more than doubling in price this year alone and its closest rival Ether up over 2,300 percent! Yes 2,300 percent. There are a few theories for why the currencies have been rallying so much the most convincing being that bitcoin has been getting support from certain governments and investors and that the ethereum blockchain has been getting serious backing by major corporations wishing to use the technology for smart contract applications. I have no interest in trading currency or speculating on its price action but what worries me about products like Ether is that they can be cloned. The people buying Ether are buying a specific blockchain while the technology underlying it is what is most valuable. Cryptocurrencies are proliferating with new currencies being launched at record speeds. Canada-based Kik's cryptocurrency, Kin just launched this week which is also based on the ethereum blockchain. If I were to invest in a crypto currency I would look at bitcoin and take 1% or less of what I own, buy bitcoin with it, and then forget about it for at least the next five years; ideally the next decade. The way I see it you will either lose 1% of your net worth or make incredibly large sums. You can find the ways to buy it here.
- Toronto homeowners are suddenly in a rush to sell. Toronto’s hot housing market has entered a new phase: jittery. After a double whammy of government intervention and the near-collapse of Home Capital Group Inc., sellers are rushing to list their homes to avoid missing out on the recent price gains. The new dynamic has buyers rethinking purchases and sellers asking why they aren’t attracting the bidding wars their neighbors saw just a few weeks ago in Canada’s largest city. Interestingly, a Canadian regulator this week said it disciplined two mortgage brokers who funneled business to Home Capital Group Inc., marking the first disclosure of action taken against dealers who submitted fraudulent loan applications to the embattled mortgage lender. The Financial Services Commission of Ontario conducted its own review into Home Capital in relation to the company severing ties in 2015 with 45 brokers who used falsified client income on applications. This is a big deal….this means that many Canadians may be delinquent or be under real stress in affording their home since who knows what they put down as income. According to Equifax, mortgage fraud jumped 52 percent last year from 2011, showing the issue may only be growing. House of cards? No wonder a recent Manulife study indicated that a mere 10% hike to mortgage payments would sink almost ¾ of Canadian homeowners. Robert Shiller for the NYT reminds us how tales of “flippers” led to the last housing bubble.
- The phrase “late capitalism” is suddenly everywhere. The Atlantic suggests that “Late capitalism,” in its current usage, is a catchall phrase for the indignities and absurdities of our contemporary economy, with its yawning inequality (new research suggests that your financial fate is sealed by the time you turn 25) and super-powered corporations (new research also suggests that employers often implicitly, and sometimes explicitly, act to prevent the forces of competition from enabling workers to earn what a competitive market would dictate, and from working where they would prefer to work) and shrinking middle class. Interesting read chronicling the perverse ways our “developed” economy is progressing. What do growth and productivity even mean in an economy that has moved from manufacturing (whose products can be counted) to services (which can't be)? Do economies driven by information and software need new metrics for progress? And what, if anything, can an economy at the technological frontier do to make living standards rise faster?
Our best wishes for a fulfilling week,