On Thursday, the two largest economies in the world began the second round of trade talks. But President Donald Trump told reporters he doubted the negotiations would be successful.
Later, reports emerged saying China would offer the U.S. a $200 billion trade surplus cut. Those reports, however, were quickly denied by a Chinese ministry spokesman on Friday.
Investors are closely watching progress on the latest China-U.S. trade talks for signs of a breakthrough that could reignite a recent rally in global equities, while factoring in oil prices at a four-year high and a 10-year Treasury yield now firmly above 3 percent. Politics in peripheral Europe are also back in the spotlight after Italy’s populist leaders sealed a coalition agreement and a plan for reforms seen as a challenge to the European Union establishment.
In a bull market pushing through its 10th year, market timing has again become a preoccupation. One week stocks are climbing to reflect fundamentals ie. stellar earnings growth. The next they’re dropping as yields jump, trade talks with China stall and an executive suggests “peak earnings” on a call. The cost is less to the wallet than the psyche, given that we are coming off two years of relatively straight line low volatility gains.
Furthermore, both stock market bulls and bears can marshal data in their favor. Considering the S&P 500’s current forward P/E which runs above its 5 and 10 year averages, as well as its elevated CAPE ratio, the market looks rich. On the other hand, looking at the market’s PEG ratio or a P/E that accounts for earnings growth, stocks appear to be trading at their cheapest level since 2012...
Best to focus on particular businesses rather than on market prices. How could the business create value in the years ahead? As Thomas Phelps reminds us: “When experienced investors frown on gambling with price fluctuations in the stock market, it is not because they don’t like money, but because both experience and history have convinced them that enduring fortunes are not built that way.”
Chart of the Month
Source: More Than Never. Less Than Always
This month, the current U.S. expansion reaches the 107-month mark, making it the second longest business cycle expansion in the post-war period. It’s looking increasingly likely that this expansion will continue for more than a year and will become the longest since World War II. Most economists will tell you that expansions don’t die of old age, but the odds of fatal mistakes and excesses increase the older they get.
The age of this bull market is the elephant in the room for investors who each year get less enthusiastic about increasing long exposure. How worried should we be? What should we make of comments suggesting that things have “peaked”?
What should be remembered is that output growth during this expansion has severely lagged other expansions. There has been no robust recovery. The slow start in this expansion in the wake of the Great Recession was counterintuitive to the thinking of most analysts, who expected a robust recovery following the worst recession in a generation. However, there is evidence indicating that recessions caused by financial crises tend to be deeper and have longer recovery times than normal recessions.
In addition, this expansion has seen comparatively low rates of personal consumption. Personal consumption which comprises nearly 70% of GDP, has been a major contributor to the overall slow economic performance in the current expansion. Real consumption has grown by 23% since the summer of 2009, compared to growth rates of 41% and 50% at the same point in the expansions of 1991-2001 and 1961-1969, respectively.
Consumers are not the only group that has shown uncharacteristic restraint during this expansion; investment by the private (non-government) sector has also lagged since the last recession. Real private fixed investment has grown by 50% in this expansion, compared to growth rates of 89% and 76% at comparable points in the 1991-2001 and 1961-1969 expansions, respectively.
Perhaps one of the most interesting aspects of this U.S. expansion is its global ubiquity. The subpar economic growth seen in the U.S. following the global financial crisis has been simultaneously experienced by many other countries. Whatever the causes of mediocre economic growth in the U.S., the same factors have been at work around the world due to the increasing level of global economic interdependence.
All we can say at this point is that the mediocre growth of the U.S. economy since the Great Recession is likely a contributing factor in this expansion’s length. As such, although there appears to be pockets of excess across the market (see below), there doesn’t seem to be the kind of widespread excess and economic robustness which is typically characteristic of an expansion’s “final inning”. This time may be “different”, yet the faster and higher you climb, the further and faster you fall. Have we climbed high? Have we climbed fast?
Long-term investors should be wary of remaining “underinvested” on the sidelines waiting for the cycle to turn, as the wait may be longer than planned.
Logos LP April 2018 Performance
April 2018 Return: -3.84%
2018 YTD (April) Return: -3.79%
Trailing Twelve Month Return: +8.22%
CAGR since inception March 26, 2014: +18.39%
Thought of the Month
“Over all, 76 percent of the companies that went public last year were unprofitable on a per-share basis in the year leading up to their initial offerings, according to data compiled by Jay Ritter, a professor at the University of Florida’s Warrington College of Business. That was the largest number since the peak of the dot-com boom in 2000, when 81 percent of newly public companies were unprofitable. Of the 15 technology companies that have gone public so far in 2018, only three had positive earnings per share in the preceding year, according to Mr. Ritter.” -Kevin Roose
Articles and Ideas of Interest
- Hooray for unprofitable companies! Interesting article in the NYT that discusses an omnipresent characteristic of this cycle: the proliferation of unprofitable companies. The start-up pitch is basically this: “It’s called the 75 Cent Dollar Store. We’re going to sell dollar bills for 75 cents — no service charges, no hidden fees, just crisp $1 bills for the price of three quarters. It’ll be huge. You’re probably thinking: Wait, won’t your store go out of business? Nope. I’ve got that part figured out, too. The plan is to get tons of people addicted to buying 75-cent dollars so that, in a year or two, we can jack up the price to $1.50 or $2 without losing any customers. Or maybe we’ll get so big that the Treasury Department will start selling us dollar bills at a discount. We could also collect data about our customers and sell it to the highest bidder. Honestly, we’ve got plenty of options. If you’re still skeptical, I don’t blame you. It used to be that in order to survive, businesses had to sell goods or services above cost. But that model is so 20th century. The new way to make it in business is to spend big, grow fast and use Kilimanjaro-size piles of investor cash to subsidize your losses, with a plan to become profitable somewhere down the road.” Instead of pointing the finger at Musk and his unprofitable counterparts the author makes an interesting suggestion: For consumers who are willing to do their research, though, this can be a golden age of deals. May you reap the benefits of artificially cheap goods and services while investors soak up the losses. What could go wrong?
- Who’s winning the self-driving car race? A scorecard breaking down everyone from Alphabet’s Waymo to Zoox. Spoiler alert: Tesla isn’t even top contender.
- Could Argentina’s woes be the tip of the iceberg of an even bigger crisis for the world economy? Tightening U.S. monetary policy could threaten a broad range of emerging markets. Tighter monetary policy will drain liquidity and lift borrowing costs for much of the world economy. Debtors beware.
- You’re not just imagining it. Your job is absolute BS. Anthropologist David Graeber’s new book accuses the global economy of churning out meaningless jobs that are killing the human spirit. There is no doubt that many jobs could be erased from the Earth and no one would be worse off, but this is a tough argument to make as personal fulfillment is relative. Furthermore, in his comfortable seat as a professor at an esteemed institution, musing amusedly about the mind-numbing hours most working people have to put in and put up with—even at jobs that have lively, meaningful moments—appears to fit neatly in his own category of a BS job…
- Bitcoin fans troll Warren Buffett with ‘Rat Posion Squared’ clothing line. Oh it's on! A 10 year wager perhaps between the CCI30(A Crypto Currencies Index) against the SPY (a low cost S&P 500 ETF)? Any takers?
- Why winners keep winning and why accepting luck as a primary determinant in your life is a freeing worldview. Cumulative advantage goes a long way to explain a moat. The Matthew effect, and explains how those who start with an advantage relative to others can retain that advantage over long periods of time. This effect has also been shown to describe how music gets popular, but applies to any domain that can result in fame or social status. As for luck, when you realize the magnitude of happenstance and serendipity in your life, you can stop judging yourself on your outcomes and start focusing on your efforts. It’s the only thing you can control.
- The epic mistake about manufacturing that’s cost Americans millions of jobs. Quartz suggests that it turns out that Trump’s story of US manufacturing decline was much closer to being right than the story of technological progress being spun in Washington, New York, and Cambridge. Thanks to a painstaking analysis by a handful of economists, it’s become clear that the data that underpin the dominant narrative—or more precisely, the way most economists interpreted the data—were way off-base. Foreign competition, not automation, was behind the stunning loss in factory jobs. And that means America’s manufacturing sector is in far worse shape than the media, politicians, and even most academics realize.
The burbs are back. Americans are once more fleeing the cities to the suburbs. According to the National Association of Realtors, a trade association for estate agents, more than half of Americans under the age of 37—the majority of home-buyers—are settling in suburban places. In 2017, the Census Bureau released data suggesting that 25- to 29-year-olds are a quarter more likely to move from the city to the suburbs than to go in the opposite direction; older millennials are more than twice as likely. Economic recovery and easier mortgages have helped them on their way. Watch this trend continue as interest rates rise and large mortgages become even more difficult to obtain.
Biology will be the next great computing platform. Just as the exponential miniaturization of silicon wafers propelled the computing industry forward, so too will the massive parallelization of gene editing push the boundaries of biology into the future.
Our best wishes for a fulfilling month,