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2018 Meltdown and What to Think of 2019?

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Good Morning,
 

Santa Claus rally? No Santa Claus rally? Naughty or nice? One thing is for sure the last two weeks on Wall Street have been gut wrenching. Not for the faint of heart. During that time, the major U.S. stock indexes have suffered losses that put them on track for their worst December performance since the Great Depression. Investors have also been gripped by volatile swings in the market as they grapple with a host of issues.
 

The S&P 500 has logged six moves of more than 1 percent over the period, three of which were of more than 2 percent. For context, the broad index posted just eight 1 percent moves in all of 2017.
 

The Dow Jones Industrial Average, meanwhile, has seen seven days of moves greater than 1 percent. Its intraday points ranges also widely expanded. The 30-stock index has swung at least 548 points in eight of its past nine sessions, and also posted its first single-day 1,000-point gain ever on Wednesday. The index ended down 76 points Friday after vacillating throughout the session.
 

These moves are remarkable and what has been equally remarkable has been the fact that many pundits and astute market veterans haven’t had much of a satisfying explanation; fears of the Fed after Chairman Jerome Powell said he did not anticipate the central bank changing its strategy for trimming its massive balance sheet, a U.S. federal government shutdown, disfunction in Washington (almost every part of Trump's life is now under investigation), slowing global growth, weaker data coming out of the U.S., “end of cycle”, and thus fears of a recession. All of which seem convincing as a root cause of this vicious selling. Watching CNBC has been almost comical with pundits like Jim Cramer recommending gold one day only to recommend nibbling on stock as markets move higher the next.
 

2018 was the year nothing worked: In fact, in 2018, just about every single asset class one can invest in — from stocks around the globe to government debt to corporate bonds to commodities — have posted negative returns or unchanged performance year to date.
 

Even during the financial crisis in 2008, government bonds and gold worked...
 

What gives?


Our Take

While any 20 percent sell-off hurts (both the Russell 2000 and Nasdaq led the way into bear market territory. The S&P 500 (-19.8%) and the Dow 30 (-18.8%) did manage to fall just short of the 20% threshold yet the average stock is down far more than that) the one happening now is far from unheard of in terms of depth or velocity. Over the past 100 years, there are almost too many examples to count of stocks tumbling with comparable force.
 

THIS IS INEVITABLE AND NORMAL. WELCOME TO THE STOCK MARKET.

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Investors over the Holidays have time to reflect on history, now that stocks have avoided a fourth straight down week via the biggest one-day rally since 2009. After coming within a few points of a bear market on Wednesday, the damage in the S&P 500 stands at 15 percent since Sept. 20.
 

This is normal but seems abnormal because we are all talking about it from morning to night.
 

As we are reminded by a recent article in Bloomberg: “A fair amount of complaining has gone on in recent months about the role of high-frequency traders and quantitative funds in the drubbing that reached its peak around Christmas. Perhaps. Those groups are big, and in the search for villains, they make easy targets. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin is among the people who have made the connection.
 

One thing that makes it tough to lay blame for the meltdown on machine-based traders is the many past instances when markets fell just as hard without their help. The Crash of 1929 is one big example. However bad this market is, it’s a walk in the park compared with then.”
 

This pattern holds for the Dot-com Bust (S&P 500 lost 35 percent over the course of two months), Black Monday of 1987 (S&P 500 rose 36 percent between January and August 1987 in what was set to be the best year in almost three decades. Then the October sell-off pushed the S&P into a 31 percent correction over just 15 days), 1974 Sell-Off (the S&P 500 saw the index fall 33 percent in 115 days as a weakening economy, rising unemployment and spiking inflation pushed investors to head for the exits. Stocks subsequently rebounded, surging more than 50 percent between October 1974 and July 1975), 1962 Rout (S&P 500 Index lost a quarter of its value between March and June 1962), Not so Fat ‘57 (20 percent correction over 99 days in 1957).
 

Last I checked there were no high frequency traders then BUT there were equally dysfunctional administrations and equally irrational humans…
 

The selling is likely overdone. When the SP 500 peaked in late September '18, the forward 4 quarter estimate was $168.72; today, that same estimate is $169.58. The point is with the S&P 500 index falling some 15%, the forward estimate on which it's valued is actually slightly higher. The question is will these estimates hold. Clearly the stock market is not so sure despite the fact that the U.S. economy is in a good position to sustain a 2.5-3 percent growth rate in 2019.
 

With the selling frenzy pushing stock prices lower, investors are now pricing in zero growth in earnings for 2019. Is this reasonable? 2018 earnings will come in at around $162 for the year. Clearly, the market has lost a lot of confidence in the staying power of earnings and the health of the economy. If we apply a conservative 14-15 multiple to that, it yields a range for the S&P at 2,268-2,430. So with the index closing at 2,488 Friday, we are just above that range. The issue is that the stock market generally overshoots in either direction when it sees change. Emotion takes over and causes the rapid move.
 

Despite existing negativity, the market’s valuation has changed for the better. The S&P 500 is actually heading into 2019 with a P/E ratio right in line with its historical average going back to 1929. And if you look just at the last 30 years going back to 1990, it is actually undervalued.
 

Unless one sees another financial crisis upon us (which at this time we do not), the probability is high that this could also mark a near term low.
 

As for investor sentiment, bearishness sits at record highs. In fact, half of individual investors now describe themselves as “bearish” for the first time since 2013. The latest AAII Sentiment Survey shows greater polarization, with neutral sentiment falling to an eight-year low.
 

On December 24 73% of financial stocks hit 52-week lows. That exceeds all days from the worldwide financial crisis…
 

In the past 28 years, there have been 2 times when every stock in the 2&P 500 Energy sector was below their 10-, 50-, and 200 day average and more than half were trading at 52 week lows.
1) During the depths of the 2008 financial crisis
2) Now

The pendulum of the market may be set for a swing in the other direction.


A Few Things We Like for 2019 That We Have Been Nibbling On During The 2018 Rout

Cerner Corp. (CERN:NASDAQ): major player in the healthcare IT industry as its software is highly integrated into the operations of several large provider networks. The firm has internally developed much of its software, which makes its product lineup close to seamless and effective within the healthcare IT sector. The secular demand tailwinds for Cerner’s products are robust given ACA mandates that require providers to upgrade their health records management systems. This highly positive trend will be enhanced over the next several years by changing payer reimbursement structures. Trading at a roughly 30% discount to intrinsic value (earnings based DCF), 10 year low P/E, P/S and P/FCF.

CGI Group Inc. (GIB.A:TSX): deeply embedded in government agencies across North America and Europe. Gained greater scale with its acquisition of Logica in 2012. This scale will allow the firm to better meet the needs of global clients. The firm has a backlog of signed contracts of more than CAD 21 billion, with an average duration of approximately five to seven years. Growing IT complexity is expected to support long-term demand for IT services as companies look to simplify and streamline their IT landscape. Trading at a roughly 20% discount to intrinsic value (earnings based DCF), attractive 10 year low P/E, PEG ratio and EV/EBIT.


Chart(s) of the Month 

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“Equity prices are said to have far outpaced earnings during this bull market. In fact, better profits accounts for about 70% of the appreciation in the S&P over the past 8 years. Of course valuations have also risen, that is a feature of every bull market, as investors transition from pessimism to optimism. But this has been a much smaller contributor. In comparison, 75% of the gain in the S&P between 1982-2000 was derived from a valuation increase (that data from Barry Ritholtz).”
 

Musings

I began reading a fantastic book over the break which I highly recommend entitled “The Laws of Human Nature” by Robert Greene. The book takes as its fundamental premise that we humans tend to think of our behaviour as largely conscious and willed. To imagine that we are not always in control of what we do is a frightening thought, but in fact is the reality. We live on the surface, reacting emotionally to what people say and do. We settle for the easiest and most convenient story to tell ourselves.
 

Greene writes: “Human nature is stronger than any individual, than any institution or technological invention. It ends up shaping what we create to reflect itself and its primitive roots. It moves us like pawns. Ignore the laws at your own peril. Refusing to come to terms with human nature means that you are dooming yourself to patterns beyond your control and to feelings of confusion and helplessness.”
 

These principles are all the more relevant in light of 2018’s market action. What is interesting is that like this sell off (including the cryptocurrencies sell off), when we look back at other selloffs like that of 2008, most explanations emphasize our helplessness. We were tricked by greedy banking insiders, mortgage lenders, poor government oversight, computer models and algorithmic traders etc.
 

What is often not acknowledged is the basic irrationality that drove these millions of buyers and sellers up and down the line.
 

They became infected with the lure of easy money. The taste of wealth and the envy of their fellow market participants appearing to make effortless gains.
 

This made even the most rational, experienced and educated investor emotional. Hungry for his own slice of the action. Ideas were rounded up to fortify such behaviour such as “this is game changing technology, this time it is different and housing prices never go down”. A wave of unbridled optimism takes hold of the mind and panic sets in as reality clashes with the story most people have accepted.
 

Once “smart people” start looking like idiots, fingers begin to get pointed at outside forces to deflect the real sources of the madness. THIS IS NOTHING NEW. IT IS AS OLD AS THE HUMAN RACE.
 

Understand: Bubbles/corrections/bear markets “occur because of the intense emotional pull they have on people, which overwhelm any reasoning powers an individual mind might possess. They stimulate our natural tendencies toward greed, easy money, quick results and loss aversion."
 

It is hard to see other people making money and not want to join in. It is also equally hard to watch one’s assets drop in value day after day. THERE IS NO REGULATORY FORCE ON THE PLANET THAT CAN CONTROL HUMAN NATURE.
 

As demonstrated above, the occurrence of these selloffs will continue as they have until our fundamental human nature is altered or managed.
 

As such, it is important during these periods that we look inward to acknowledge and understand the true causes of these phenomenon and even take advantage of them as they occur. The most common emotion of all being the desire for pleasure and the avoidance of pain. The most meaningful experiences of pleasure typically follow the most most meaningful experiences of pain…

 

Logos LP November 2018 Performance

November 2018 Return: 0.15%

2018 YTD (November) Return: -11.06%

Trailing Twelve Month Return: -7.60%

CAGR since inception March 26, 2014: +14.06%


 

Thought of the Month


"If you have trouble imagining a 20% loss in the stock market, you shouldn't be in stocks."

-- John Bogle



Articles and Ideas of Interest

  • 2018: The Year of the Woeful World Leader. Trump, May, Macron, Merkel. Italy, Spain, Sweden, Latvia. Even the dictators stumbled. So much bad governing, so little time.   

  • What the Fall of the Roman Republic can teach us about America. The bad news is that the coming decades are unlikely to afford us many moments of calm and tranquillity. For though four generations stand between Tiberius Gracchus’ violent death and Augustus’ rapid ascent to plenipotentiary power, the intervening century was one of virtually incessant fear and chaos. If the central analogy that animates “Mortal Republic” is correct, the current challenge to America’s political system is likely to persist long after its present occupant has left the White House. 

  • Low fertility rates aren’t a cause for worry. AI, migration, and being healthier in old age mean that countries don’t need to rely on new births to keep growing economically.  

  • Start-Ups aren’t cool anymore. A lack of personal savings, competition from abroad, and the threat of another economic downturn make it harder for Millennials to thrive as entrepreneurs.

  • This McKinsey study of 300 companies reveals what every business needs to know about design for 2019. In a sweeping study of 2 million pieces of financial data and 100,000 design actions over five years, McKinsey finds that design-led companies had 32% more revenue and 56% higher total returns to shareholders compared with other companies.
     

  • What do we actually know about the risks of screen time and digital social media? Some tentative links are in place, but many crucial details are fuzzy.

  • Start-up economy is a 'Ponzi scheme,' says Chamath Palihapitiya. Tech investor Chamath Palihapitiya addressed concerns about his investment firm, Social Capital, while also calling the start-up economy "a multivariate kind of Ponzi scheme.”

Our best wishes for a fulfilling 2019, 

Logos LP

Do Bull Markets Die Of Old Age?

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Good Morning,
 

The S&P 500 and Nasdaq composite closed lower on Friday as tensions between the U.S. and China weighed on investor sentiment while both countries continued negotiations on trade.

 

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.
 


Our Take

 

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

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Source: More Than Never. Less Than Always


Musings
 

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.

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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.

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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.


So what?


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 suburbsAccording 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, 

Logos LP