Interest Rates

Man’s Inability To Sit Quietly In A Room Alone

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Good Morning,
 

Stocks were little changed on Friday as investors took a breather following a wild month of trading and Trump tweeting (nowadays they seem to go hand in hand). 

The equity market entered the week in an oversold condition. Eight of the eleven S&P sectors were oversold, with four of the eight coming in extremely oversold. Only Staples, Real Estate and Utilities remained in “neutral”.

The major indexes posted their worst monthly performance since May. The Dow fell 1.7% in August while the S&P 500 lost 1.8%. The Nasdaq pulled back 2.6%. U.S.-China trade relations intensified this month, rattling investors. 

The Cboe Volatility Index (VIX), widely considered to be the best fear gauge on Wall Street, traded as high as 24.81 in August before pulling back to around 18. Investors also loaded up on traditionally safer assets such as gold and silver this month. The SPDR Gold Trust (GLD) rose 8% in August while the iShares Silver Trust (SLV) surged 12.8%.

Choppy intraday market action continued during the month as traders stayed fixated on the 2/10 Treasury spread and the Trade/Tweet situation.

Last week, China retaliated against U.S. tariffs by unveiling levies of its own that target $75 billion in U.S. products. President Donald Trump then said the U.S. would hike tariffs on a slew of Chinese products. 

Our Take


In our view, despite signs of global economic weakness markets want to go higher. Nevertheless, without proof of actual movement towards a trade ‘truce, in addition to a cooling of Trump rhetoric lambasting the Fed, American Business as well as China, the probability of a self inflicted recession is growing. 

Charles Schwab sees leading indicators flashing limited recession warning:

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Although the levels of the leading and coincident indicators remain mostly green (strong) and yellow (fair); there has been a pickup in the number of red (worsening) trend readings; albeit having improved from the prior month in the case of the LEI.

Although the tariffs in place remain a drop in the bucket of this 20 Trillion dollar Amercican economy, the onset of a downturn is as much a matter of mood as of money. Although recessions can be linked to the after effects of shocks, they can also be linked to periods of time when people and firms fail to use valuable resources as they become available. In these garden variety slumps, people and firms with the capacity to spend more, who might normally leap at the chance to buy discounted goods or hire overqualified workers, instead allow their cash to pile up. Sound familiar? 

In a recent Economist article, we are reminded that at the heart of this behaviour is a matter of mass psychology, or “animal spirits”, as John Maynard Keynes put it. “Economies are great chains of earning and spending, held together by shared expectations that all will continue as normal. People spend incomes freely, on everything from homes to haircuts, in the belief that their jobs will not disappear and their incomes wither. Faith in economic expansion is self-fulfilling. But it is not invulnerable. Contagious pessimism can flip an economy from one equilibrium to another, in which cautious consumers spend less and hiring and investment fall accordingly. If the mood in markets and on Main Street is sour enough, even a modest nudge may push an economy into a slump.” Is Trump’s frantic leadership style helping or hindering this “faith in economic expansion”? 

Instead, we are witnessing an erosion of such faith as each time consumers or market participants attempt to be optimistic about the outlook for the U.S. economy, they are punched in the gut by a Trump tweet.

Considering the big picture, it is conceivable that China just might be able to doom Trump’s reelection chances—just as Russia helped put him in office in the first place by interfering in the 2016 presidential election in what the Mueller Report called “sweeping and systematic fashion.”

As recently reported in Bloomberg: “China is suffering more from the trade war than the U.S. is, as Trump has accurately observed. The difference is that Chinese President Xi Jinping does not have to worry about an upcoming election. His new strategy seems to be to outlast Trump and hope that the next occupant of the White House will be more reasonable.” 

As the U.S. economy is beginning to show signs of weakness, Trump has reason to fret. He has built his argument for reelection on American prosperity. His hopes for winning the race may hinge in no small part on stopping the U.S. from tumbling into a recession before November 2020.

Only two presidents since World War II — Democrats Harry Truman and Jimmy Carter — have run for reelection in the same year as a recession. While Truman won and Carter lost, history suggests an economic slump would damage Trump’s chances in what will already be a tough 2020 race.

Metrics such as the University of Michigan Consumer Sentiment Index help track consumers views’ on and expectations for the economy. The metric typically plummets during recessions. Over the survey’s history back to the mid-20th century, it has “largely” found that “if the index is low, the incumbent doesn’t get reelected,” said Richard Curtin, director of surveys of consumers at the University of Michigan.

What have you done for me lately? 

The longer this trade war drags on the answer for Trump is increasingly trending towards a big: “nothing”...


Musings



In a recent article Michael Batnick reminds us that investors are always told to think long-term, but how are we supposed to do this in a world that gives presidential candidates 30 seconds to make a point?

This point rings more true today than at any other point in my investing career. Multiple daily market moving headlines is the new norm. One worries about how the day will end let alone the month, quarter or decade. 

During a recent conversation with a potential investor I was asked how we at Logos LP handle this seemingly minute by minute investing climate. 

The way we approach this question is through the lens of Pascal’s suggestion that “All of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone.” It is in our human nature to want to tinker. Dissatisfaction and unease are inherent parts of human nature as this kind of suffering is biologically useful. 

It is nature’s preferred agent for inspiring change. We have evolved to always live with a certain degree of dissatisfaction and insecurity, because it’s the mildly dissatisfied and insecure creature that’s going to do the most work to innovate and survive. As Mark Manson writes in his book: “This constant dissatisfaction has kept our species fighting and striving, building and conquering. So no- our own pain and misery aren’t a bug of human evolution; they are a feature.” 

Thus, our own human nature can stand in the way of superior investment results ie. thinking long term, tuning out the noise and staying the course. 

If you are willing to accept and maintain a certain faith in long-term sustained economic expansion, thinking long-term when it comes to investing simply means that you maintain an acute awareness of your “human” penchant for dissatisfaction and unease. That you recognize your desire to tinker and don’t act on it. You don’t act out of emotion. You stick to the plan despite your troubles and your insecurities. 

As Aristotle once said: “Knowing yourself is the beginning of all wisdom.”

Charts of the Month

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Net worth is at an all-time high, while leverage is down to levels seen in the 1980's. All of this evidence supports the notion that the consumer is well positioned to keep the economy on level footing.

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Chart Courtesy of Urban Carmel, Data Source; J.P. Morgan.

J.P.Morgan notes;

Fund flows into equity mutual funds and ETFs was strong before both the 2000-02 and 2007-09 bear markets, and even before the 2015-16 mini-bear market (blue circles). In comparison, fund flows have been negative for 5 of the past 8 quarters (red circle)



Logos LP July 2019 Performance


July 2019 Return: 4.45%
 

2019 YTD (July) Return: 30.93%
 

Trailing Twelve Month Return: 8.33%
 

Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) since inception March 26, 2014:+16.02%


 

Thought of the Month


"Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself.”-Leo Tolstoy




Articles and Ideas of Interest

  • The next recession will destroy millennials. My generation just can’t catch a break. The trade war is dragging on. The yield curve is inverting. Investors are fleeing to safety. Global growth is slowing. The stock market is dipping. Millennials are already in debt and without savings. After the next downturn, they’ll be in even bigger trouble. In addition low interest rates benefit pensioners not millennials…

  • Is our economy in The Upside Down? Something is strange with the economy. Normally, in good times, the government seeks to balance its books a bit, borrowing less, paying off some debt or — gasp — maybe even aiming for a budget surplus. And right now, on some important measures, economic times are good. But the government has been increasing spending and cutting taxes — and the budget deficit is projected to grow to nearly $1 trillion, an increase of over 35% since the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act was passed in 2017. Meanwhile, the Federal Reserve would normally be raising interest rates to make sure the price of everything doesn't get out of control. But high inflation is nowhere to be seen, and the Fed is now cutting interest rates. We're living in the Upside Down. It's an alternate dimension where economic textbooks are being thrown out the window. A scary place where despite big deficits and easy money, the economy is slowing down to a rate below historical averages and wage growth remains disappointing. And it's a place where frightening monsters, or demogorgons, continue to scare away investment and productivity while kids now dream of being YouTubers rather than astronauts.... Slaying these monsters is the key to growth and prosperity, but we seem to be stuck in this new world where investment and productivity will not come roaring back. Can we escape?

  • The non-weirdness of negative interest rates. Savers in Europe are having to pay to store their wealth. That’s not so crazy when saving is all too plentiful. We are now at $17 trillion in negative yields globally in addition to certain european banks who are now paying customers to take out mortgages by offering negative interest rates. Banks paying people to borrow money is a bad sign for the global economy as it suggests that a fast-rising share of investors are so nervous about the future they’re willing to actually lose a little money by lending it to a borrower that is almost certain to pay it back, rather than risk betting on something that could go bust. In a healthy economy, investors would put their money to work in profit-making ventures such as factories or office buildings. There’s an obvious, persistent and continuous glut of underutilized capital and there’s no place in the advanced world for that capital to be invested without excess risk. The problem is that such negative rates don’t seem to be having the desired effect of stimulating the creation of profit making ventures and therefore growth. Research shows that negative rates actually CUT lending as they don’t create the right incentives to spend and invest.

 

  • We’ve reached peak wellness. Most of it is nonsense. In Silicon Valley, techies are swooning over tarot-card readers. In New York, you can hook up to a “detox” IV at a lounge. In the Midwest, the Neurocore Brain Performance Center markets brain training for everything from ADHD, anxiety, and depression to migraines, stress, autism-spectrum disorder, athletic performance, memory, and cognition. And online, companies like Goop promote “8 Crystals For Better Energy” and a detox-delivery meal kit, complete with “nutritional supplements, probiotics, detox and beauty tinctures, and beauty and detox teas.” Across the country, everyone is looking for a cure for what ails them, which has led to a booming billion-dollar industry—what some have come to call the Wellness Industrial Complex. The problem is that so much of what’s sold in the name of modern-day wellness has little to no evidence of working.

  • It has gotten too hard to strike it rich in America. Many of the traditional ways of accumulating wealth are out of reach. In a free-market economy everyone is supposed to have the chance to get rich. The dream of making it big motivates people to take risks, start businesses, stay in school and work hard. Unfortunately, in the U.S., that dream seems to be dying. There are still plenty of rich people in the U.S., and their wealth is increasing. But people outside that top echelon are having a tougher time breaking in. A 2017 study by the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland found that the probability that a household outside the top 10% made it into the highest tier within 10 years was twice as high during 1984-1994 as it was during 2003-2013.

     

  • Want to beat venture capitalists’ returns? Invest in publicly listed innovators through the NASDAQ. Everyone has heard that story about an angel or vc fund that invested in a start-up company at seed or early stage and reaped 100-1000 times returns. Investors hear about such stories and, wanting to reap the same returns for themselves, start exploring angel and venture capital investments. The above instances are exceptions, but given the extraordinary returns generated, they get talked about. However, for every such exceptional investment, there are at least a 100 or possibly 1000 investments where the capital is completely destroyed. Once you account for those, what are the returns to Venture Capitalists? According to a study by Cambridge Associates, the US Venture Capital investors got compounded annual returns of 12.83 per cent (net) over the 10 years from 2008 to 2018, in USD terms. Now, that is not something small. However, over the same period the Nasdaq composite returned 15.45 per cent annually with full liquidity...Headlines sell, facts deliver.

  • Evidence shows you’re not open-minded. Do you think of yourself as open-minded? For a 2017 study, scientists asked 2,400 well-educated adults to consider arguments on politically controversial issues — same-sex marriage, gun control, marijuana legalization — that ran counter to their beliefs. Both liberals and conservatives, they found, were similarly adamant about avoiding contrary opinions. The lesson is clear enough: Most of us are probably not as open-minded as we think. That is unfortunate and something we can change. A hallmark of teams that make good predictions about the world around them is something psychologists call “active open mindedness.” People who exhibit this trait do something, alone or together, as a matter of routine that rarely occurs to most of us: They imagine their own views as hypotheses in need of testing.


Our best wishes for a fulfilling August,

Logos LP


The Disciplined Pursuit of Less

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Good Morning,
 

Stocks fell from all-time highs on Friday after the release of stronger jobs data dampened hope for easier Federal Reserve monetary policy. 

Despite Friday’s losses, the major indexes posted solid weekly gains. The Dow and S&P 500 rose more than 1% each this week while the Nasdaq gained nearly 2%. Stocks also posted all-time highs on Wednesday.

The U.S. economy added 224,000 jobs in June. Economists had forecast the U.S. added 165,000 jobs in June, after a stunningly low 75,000 jobs were created in May, according to Dow Jones.

Our Take

 

Summer is upon us and the market has so far continued to reward the bulls after what has been a great first half of the year. In fact, we just witnessed the best June for the S&P since 1955. Pretty impressive given the noise we heard from the “Sell in May Crowd”. The latest market high was the 210th for the S&P 500 since 2013. Funnily enough, for those paying attention, every one of them was called THE top…
 

Having said that, we are finding it more difficult than ever to find fairly/under priced assets of ANY kind. Looking across public, private, alternative and real estate markets we see little opportunity for outsized returns moving forward. 

The balance of probabilities is beginning to tilt to the downside rather than to the upside as most of the silver bullets have been fired: tax cuts, rate cuts, accommodative monetary policy, share buybacks and animal spirits. What drives earnings higher and further multiple expansion we are beginning to become unsure...at the end of the day as Michael Batnick has recently reminded us the last 10 years have been the best ten ever for U.S. stocks: "Can this bull market continue? Yes, of course. It’s already gone on longer than many people thought it would, myself included. But is it likely to be as strong as it was over the last ten years? No, almost certainly not."

In other news, our CIO Peter was featured on MOI Global to discuss Zscaler


Musings


Last month I took a much needed week off and early into my European vacation, something startling occurred: my cellphone vanished. As someone typically attached to their phone, as a “necessary work evil”, my initial reaction was panic. 

How was I to know what was going on without my notifications? How would I be aware of the “newsworthy” developments as they transpired? How were my clients to reach me on a whim? How would I be able to react with immediacy and urgency upon notification? How would I be privy to my professional network’s latest career “humble brags” on LinkedIn? And of course (I’ll admit it), how would I be able to observe what my “friends” on Instagram were up to? 

I saw my options as two-fold: 1) get a new phone 2) spend my week of vacation without a phone and use my laptop to periodically check emails 

After a bit of deliberation, looking out over the Mediteranean, I decided to choose option 2. I found the first day without my phone hard. I became acutely aware of the habit I had built up which many of us seem to share: the urge to reach for one’s cell. I felt it on numerous occasions. At times precipitated by seeing my friends reaching for/looking at their phones and at other times simply a habit in which I would feel myself reaching only to find nothing to grasp. 

As the days rolled by, the habit began to fade. Instead of yearning for my phone seeing others on theirs, I began feeling more intimately connected with the present moment. Riding in a taxi became about observing the beauty of the scenery as it flashed by and laying on the beach became about reflecting on my life, rather than scrolling through emails, reading the news or worse scrolling through curated images and videos of other people’s lives. 

What I learnt in my week without a phone was the following equation: 

No phone = less noise = more presence in the moment = more clarity. 

This isn’t to say I didn’t get a phone when I returned from my vacation, but it is to say that my experience brought to my attention what Greg McKeown has dubbed “the clarity paradox”. 

The clarity paradox can be summed up in four phases: 

Phase 1: When we really have clarity of purpose, it leads to success.

Phase 2: When we have success, it leads to more options and opportunities.

Phase 3: When we have increased options and opportunities, it leads to diffused efforts.

Phase 4: Diffused efforts undermine the very clarity that led to our success in the first place.

Curiously, success can be a catalyst for failure. When we reach a certain level of success, we often then pursue more of it in an undisciplined way. We become attached and get side tracked. We get off course attracted by the allure of the “next opportunity” or “next thing”. 

What my cell phone experience opened my eyes to, were phases 3 and 4 of the clarity paradox. Unenlightened about our phone’s ability to clutter our minds with increased options and opportunities, we often allow our attention to be diffused at best, or completely monopolized at worst. 

It's no surprise to me that in a recent article on CNBC, the biggest complaint millennials had about their lives is: “I have too many choices and I can’t decide what to do. What if I make the wrong choice?”.

When faced with too many choices: 

  1. Quality of decision making goes down

  2. Satisfaction with choices goes down 

  3. Decision paralysis sets in and no choice is made at all 

Now home with a new phone, armed with a more enlightened understanding of its impact on my psyche, I’ve resolved to do things a bit differently in my personal and professional life, to engage in the “disciplined pursuit of less”: 

  1. Remove clutter by narrowing focus:  If you don’t absolutely love something then eliminate it. Don’t settle for good opportunities, focus on great ones which sit at the intersection between: your talents, what the world needs more of and what you are passionate about. 
     

  2. Ask what is essential and eliminate the rest: We naturally gravitate towards clutter and attachment, we hoard, we suffer from loss aversion, the sunk cost fallacy and the endowment effect ie. we value an item more once we own it and we make the things we are attached to a part of our identities. We prefer to hold onto people, places, things and investments rather than let them go. If we can instead ask “is this necessary?” we will quickly realize most things aren’t. Remove them. Want to try something new? Get rid of something old first. 
     

  3. Practice self-awareness and equanimity: This is the most important factor in attaining and maintaining clarity. Make a habit of looking in the proverbial “mirror” and asking “who am I?” What is important to me right now? How do I feel about my current situation? We as humans suffer from attachment which refers to the unrelenting drive to succeed, to acquire, to compete, to control, and to the inability to let go. Without the things we attach to, our views of ourselves become unacceptable, as if the house, the car, the job title, the watch or the fancy friends make us worthy and enhances our self esteem and position in the world. On the other hand equanimity refers to the ability to accept what is without resistance. When you resist, not only do you suffer but you also perpetuate suffering. The reality is that when you resist, suffering persists. Resisting what arises internally causes concentration, clarity and equanimity to decrease and as they decrease, suffering increases. Lost the promotion? Couldn’t afford the new watch? Startup has collapsed? Practicing equanimity and non-attachment allows us to avoid suffering and maintain clarity. This isn’t to suggest a passive or indifferent attitude. It is instead to embrace “a gentle matter of factness” with your sensory experience. “Equanimity” means balance; and in practical terms means “don’t fight with yourself” accept people and situations for what they are not as you wish they were. 

Whether as an organization or as an individual the ability to establish and maintain clarity will have an enormous impact on whether outcomes will be positive or negative. Purposefully having the courage to address “the undisciplined pursuit of more” by practicing “the disciplined pursuit of less” will differentiate your outcomes from the crowd, whether you throw your cellphone to the wind or not. 

Charts of the Month


The current expansion has just tied the 1990s' expansion for the longest in history, and then anything after that will be a record. Good news, but the recovery has also been the weakest.

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Monthly data from the Conference Board showed that the leading versus coincident indicator ratio was down slightly on the month.

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Household debt in the USA may be at record levels yet household debt as a percentage of personal income is at a 40 year low.

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Logos LP June 2019 Performance


June 2019 Return: 5.57%
 

2019 YTD (June) Return: 25.35%
 

Trailing Twelve Month Return: 3.25%
 

Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) since inception March 26, 2014:+15.31%


 

Thought of the Month


"An intense love of solitude, distaste for involvement in worldly affairs, persistence in knowing the Self and awareness of the goal of knowing-all this is called true knowledge.” -The Bhagavad Gita


Articles and Ideas of Interest

  • What you lose when you gain a spouse. What if marriage is not the social good that so many believe and want it to be? The Atlantic explores the notion that marriage is the best answer to the deep human desire for connection and belonging finding it to be incredibly seductive.

  • The advantage of being underemployed. The five-day, 40 hour workweek is incredibly outdated. The irony is that people can get some of their most important work done outside of work, when they’re free to think and ponder. The struggle is that we take time off maybe once a year, without realizing that time to think is a key element of many jobs, and one that a traditional work schedule doesn’t accommodate very well.

  • Why startups are more successful than ever at unbundling incumbents. These companies are essentially product design teams that are focused on iterating fast to find product-market fit. They are able to offer fundamentally better products and services than the incumbents because of the product-centric DNA of the management teams. Second, these companies rent all aspects of operational scale from partners and eliminate any capital expenditures or operational inertia from their execution plans.

 

  • Liquidity and a ‘Lie’: Funds confront $30 trillion wall of worry. Now, with warnings growing louder about the risks money managers have taken with hard-to-trade investments, Wall Street is starting to wonder: Just where will this end? That question is reverberating across the financial world after the head of the Bank of England warned that funds pushing into a host of risky investments -- in some cases, without investors fully understanding the dangers -- have been “built on a lie.’’ Some $30 trillion is tied up in difficult-to-trade investments, he noted earlier this year. The big worry is that the now-troubled European funds that embraced such investments, only to stumble when investors asked for their money back, are just the tip of the iceberg. Exposure to illiquid assets and poor-quality bonds has crept into funds as managers hunt for whatever returns they can find in today’s low-interest-rate world. The troubles in Europe are reminders of the Icarus-style demise that active managers can meet when they wander into tough-to-trade products, while promising investors the ability to cash out easily. Lets also note that private equity dealmaking has reached new heights. It has swelled to its highest level(paywall) since before the 2008 global recession, and there’s no sign of slowing: buyout firms have nearly $2.5 trillion in unspent funds primed for investment.

  • Random darts beat hedge fund stars - again. A stock-picker’s market? Not so muchCan you successfully pick stocks with a dart board? The writers at The Wall Street Journal thought so. To test their idea, the writers threw darts at a stock list in the newspaper. From those random hits they built a portfolio to stack up against highflying financial elites. Those elites meet at the Sohn Investment Conference, held each May in New York. The attendees are full-time active investors, people who spend 365 days and nights a year thinking hard about what investments to own and why. So how did the dart-throwing journalists do this year? “The results were brutal,” recounts Spencer Jakab of the Journal. The random writer picks beat the pros by 27 percentage points in the year through April 22. “Only 3 of 12 of the Sohn picks even outperformed the S&P 500. Choose your managers wisely.. 

 

  • Could the U.S. be heading to a future of zero interest rates forever? It’s the obvious way to avert national bankruptcy as the country keeps piling on debt. If it decides to let the debt grow, it will have to borrow more and more in order to cover its increasing interest, and both borrowing and interest costs will snowball. That could provoke what the CBO calls a fiscal crisis -- a private investor panic about the government’s ability to repay its debt, causing a drop in bond prices that render financial institutions insolvent and causing an economic crisis. The government thus has a good reason not to let debt spiral out of control. And the easiest way to keep that from happening is for the Federal Reserve to cut interest rates to zero and keep them there. Welcome to Japan!

  • To succeed in America it’s better to be born rich than smart. Children in the U.S. are told from an early age that hard work pays off, starting with their time at school. But according to a recent report from the Georgetown Center on Education and the Workforce (CEW), “Born to Win, Schooled to Lose, ” being born wealthy is a better indicator of adult success in the U.S. than academic performance. “To succeed in America, it’s better to be born rich than smart,” Anthony P. Carnevale, director of the CEW and lead author of the report, tells CNBC Make It. “People with talent often don’t succeed. What we found in this study is that people with talent that come from disadvantaged households don’t do as well as people with very little talent from advantaged households.” How much longer will the majority allow this sorry state of affairs to persist?

  • Your professional decline is coming (much) sooner than you think. There is a message in this for those of us suffering from the Principle of Psychoprofessional Gravitation. Say you are a hard-charging, type-A lawyer, executive, entrepreneur, or—hypothetically, of course—president of a think tank. From early adulthood to middle age, your foot is on the gas, professionally. Living by your wits—by your fluid intelligence—you seek the material rewards of success, you attain a lot of them, and you are deeply attached to them. But the wisdom of Hindu philosophy—and indeed the wisdom of many philosophical traditions—suggests that you should be prepared to walk away from these rewards before you feel ready. Even if you’re at the height of your professional prestige, you probably need to scale back your career ambitions in order to scale up your metaphysical ones.


Our best wishes for a fulfilling July,

Logos LP