Category: Macro Analysis

My playbook for “backing up the truck” in this market. Putting my buy-decision thoughts completely out there $SPY

I did a post yesterday on some data points to consider before buying in this market.  I’ve been nibbling on the way down, but looking at some of the data points, I have to agree with what Gavin Baker has said in a recent post: this is a tremendous demand shock that we have not seen the likes of before. It will be very difficult to navigate it this time because its almost like a 9/11 and a 2008 demand shock rolled into one (but not a financial crisis like 2008 was).

The market clearly priced some of this in. The chart below shows the Russell 2000 drawdowns in the past. We’ve already surpassed the drawdown of 2001-2002 and did so much more swiftly. If anything, this drawdown is looking like 2008 just from the slope of the line (its steep).

IWM Chart

IWM data by YCharts

The Fed has acted quickly, congress knows it needs to get its act together, Trump views the stock market as the best polls, proposals are coming together to give every American $1,000 to bridge the gap, and there is plenty of talk of bail outs. Seems like some lessons were learned from 2008… act fast.

But is that enough? Is everything “priced in”? How will the market react to new information of cases vs. stimulus? That’s a billion dollar question. Personally, I think we have further to go before I can say we all need to “back up the truck“. Yes, I view this as temporary and there will be pent up demand, but as I think through what happens over the coming months, it goes something like this:

  1. Markets have tanked, fear is palpable, there have been runs on grocery stores. Consumers are literally quarantined so the only thing they can think about is the pandemic which drives more fear
  2. Congress and Fed act quickly, but this also tells people that things are serious. Congress puts together a bill to give $1,000 to every American; agrees to provide some loans to essential industries
  3. Just like GM – I don’t see why Congress would give a subordinated loan to these industries. In other words, it primes (or comes in front of) existing lenders plus equity holders. It’s hard for me to see how equity holders get out scot-free here, as well as bond holders. Haircuts will be taken.
  4. Even with Congress taking action, if I work in the restaurant, bar, travel, event hosting, leisure, or any service industry remotely attached to that, I’m thankful for $1,000, but I am worried about my job. I pull back spending considerably. As a consumer, thanks for the grand, but I still am not spending much.
  5. This ripples through the economy. First pullbacks on major purchases (vacations clearly cut, but also autos and home buying) and that continues through everything else.
  6. All the while, US count of the virus will likely grow considerably. We likely reach 100,000+ cases as more tests come out. This will cause the market to freak out and people will go from thinking this is a four week thing to a 12 week thing… maybe longer. The market always assumes the bad things will last much longer than they do.
  7. Media headlines will run rampant.
  8. You will also see bankruptcies of small and large businesses. BDCs and middle market private equity that invested (& levered up) companies with major customer risk and exposure to small business? See ya later.
  9. Elsewhere, cases will begin to decline. Markets will take a deep breath that the measures are working, even if they continue to climb in the US. The market is forward looking so they will see hopes for the US.

So what does that mean for equity prices? I think we have further to fall, unfortunately. Don’t get me wrong – I fundamentally do not believe you can time these things (“Well gee, you sure did waste a lot of text writing about what you think will happen…”) and I have bought many names throughout this bear market. As I noted in my cruise lines post, which was really clickbait for readers to see that long-term intrinsic values of businesses will be fine,  I think this creates a good opportunity to buy high quality businesses.

At the same time, I look at the market and it is just below / slightly above Dec 2018 lows depending on which market you’re looking at. As a quick barometer or sanity check, that doesn’t seem low enough for truly pricing in a destruction to GDP in Q2 this year and people worrying about systemic issues.

Backing it up to a P/E ratio: If we did $164 in EPS for 2019. There’s probably 0% chance we’re up from that number. We can haircut it though and multiple to see where things could shake out this year.  You can argue that because these are depressed earnings and we all likely expect a rebound, that the market should trade at a premium multiple. However, I rarely see that play out in real life. Panic causes people to over shoot. And again, this is a cheapness indicator, not an intrinsic value indicator because one year of bad earnings does little to impact your DCF.

This essentially tells me that my “back up the truck” moment for S&P500 is somewhere around 2,000 and below and I’ll still be a buyer at around 2,300 because I believe the storm clouds will eventually pass and this shows if we go back to 18x $164 in earnings, that is very solid upside.

Ok – I put my thoughts out there. I open myself to being wrong in the future and this post won’t be deleted. Where do you think we shake out? Why?

Time to buy stocks? Here are data points worth considering. $SPY

The market is clearly in panic. Americans and other global citizens in quarantine will clearly not help most businesses (and therefore it doesn’t help stocks). So should we buy stocks now?

One piece of data I came across this weekend was Open Table’s data on restaurant reservations, found here.  As shown below, the US saw a ~42% decline in reservations Y/Y and globally they are down 40%.

Not to mention, we have many public school closures, work travel has been postponed, cruises are putting up ships, and restaurants and bars are limited to take-out meals only. Heck, I can’t even go to the gym anymore. This will clearly crimp many businesses and could pressure liquidity.

This feels like SARS and 9/11 rolled into one. After 9/11, business confidence was hammered and many consumers were fearful and did not want to travel or go out to eat as much. United’s CEO said that this experience has been worse than 9/11 –

After 9/11, revenue was down 40% for two months and then began a gradual recovery… Our gross bookings in the Pacific are down about 70%, so there are still some bookings occurring even in the Pacific region. In Europe, our gross bookings are now down about 50%. Domestically, we’re currently seeing net bookings down about 70% and gross bookings down about 25%. While those numbers are encouraging compared to international, we’re planning for the public concern about the virus to get worse before it gets better.”

After 9/11, we had a tremendous shock to the system and it took some time to recover. Peak to trough, the S&P declined ~30% but within time, we recovered relatively quickly. Recall at this time, we entered a recession and also had a lot of air coming out of the tech bubble as well.

So on one hand, we have an extreme scenario. Short-term funding for a wide array of industries will need to be provided and I personally think we will need to see the US government step in meaningfully.

On the other hand, let’s look at the positives.

  • Short-term pain, long-term gain. It appears the US is now taking the virus more seriously. While there will be short-term pain from a quasi-quarantine, this will help damped the rapid spread of the virus. This will also prevent a overrun of our hospitals and healthcare system
  • Authorities acting relatively quickly. The fed has now cut rates 2x and initiated bond buying (QE5). Although this won’t cure the virus, it could help calm financial markets which will then allow for liquidity to flow through to businesses who need it now. While not established yet, I bet we will see a cut to banks’ reserve requirements to also help the system
  • Not a financial crisis. While there are financial aspects to this (i.e. liquidity, companies drawing on revolvers) this is not like the 2008 mortgage crisis. Although banks are now cutting GDP estimates for Q2 and Q3 2020, many expect that demand will rebound meaningfully.
  • The US is behind the curve, and that is a good thing. Although the outbreak is hitting US shores later than Europe and China, it also means we can look at their data to when cases tend to peak and level out. The US now is essentially in quarantine and that will help fight the spread. (Note, I thoroughly enjoyed the charts posted in this WaPo article for how social distancing actually does work). I think the market will move up even if cases in the US are rising once we see Italy, South Korea and China under control.
  • The biggest companies in the world are flush with cash. Add up the cash held by Apple, Microsoft, Google, Berkshire Hathaway, and Facebook. These businesses fortunately will not be facing liquidity needs, represent large proportions of the S&P, and have longer time horizons than most investors today.

With many stocks I look at down 50-60%, this could be an opportunity of a lifetime given they are pricing in a long-term pronounced downturn. As discussed previously, a one-year impact to earnings that everyone largely expects will be temporary has little impact on the intrinsic value of businesses.

In sum, do I think stocks can continue to go down? Yes. They have historically over shot in both directions. But we can’t time it. I personally am looking at a collection of businesses that will continue to compound earnings at extremely attractive rates.

In this case, I think the situation will be written about extensively. There will be things we don’t even know about yet that books will be published on. But as you think about the past and uncertainty, realize that those times are actually the best in terms of investing. Buying when everything looks amazing and nothing can go wrong typically turn out to be poor outcomes (e.g. peak of tech bubble, the calm before the 2008 storm). Everyone knows in hindsight to buy when others are fearful. I’d also add the richest people in the US are typically perma-optimists, not perma-bears.

Eurozone Equities are NOT that Cheap $VGK $EZU $IEUR $IEV

Are European equities cheap? I keep hearing that European that they are cheap relative to the US at least. It follows then that because the US has outperformed so much over the past 10 years, there is bound to be a reversion to the mean. This chart is often thrown around with no real context other than lower P/E means great buy:

I wanted to break that down and test the hypothesis. I downloaded the holdings for the S&P500 (from iShares IVV) and the Eurozone equities fund (EZU). But before we go through that, check out the relative performance.

Bottom line: Europe has gotten its A$$ kicked.

But wait – this isn’t totally true. We can’t forget currency’s impact on performance. The dollar has strengthened massively (since the US is the best house in a bad neighborhood). Here is the hedged Euro performance. Not nearly as bad as some pundits might have you believe over the past few years…

So how do the companies that make up the index compare? Here is my simple pivot tables using the weighted avg to assess the relative forward P/E multiples.

Note: the amounts don’t add to 100% due to rounding plus a small amount of cash held in the ETFs.

As we can see, looking 2 years out the S&P trades at 20.8x earnings compared to 16.0x for Eurozone. That does indeed seem steep. What is driving it?

Several sectors stick out: Consumer Discretionary, Tech, Real Estate and Financials.

Why does Consumer Discretionary trade so much higher in the US?

One word: Amazon. The company is labeled as consumer discretionary vs. Tech. Watch what happens when I relabel Amazon as a tech company.

It drops precipitously! Given Amazon is such a big weight in the index, it has a dramatic impact on the sector. It is still high relative to Eurozone, but not crazy.

Technology:

I personally thought that the US would rank higher in P/E solely because of Tech. And that does seem to be a big driver. Including Amazon, Tech weighs in at almost a quarter of the S&P500. If I include Facebook and Google (currently in the communication sector) it would be close to 30%!  

 

While remnants of the tech bubble make this a concern, I would rather have these businesses than not and think they actually trade at reasonable valuations. They grow 20% a year and are secular growth stories while also requiring little capital to grow.

So another adjustment here, but we’re starting to parse out the large drivers here.

Real Estate:

One reason for the high multiples in the US is REITs. These entities pay no income taxes and should therefore trade for higher multiples. However, that’s not the whole story. Think about the best businesses in the REIT space: oligopolies, contractual rent escalators, increasing demand each year… Yes the tower REITs.

American Tower, Crown Castle and SBA Communications dominate the real estate sector. Arguably tech exposed as well, this is the big driver. In addition, they are investing heavily for growth and REITs tend to carry higher leverage. This means increased EBITDA but EPS can be pinched by interest in the short-term.

Financials:

Last but not least… Financials. Look at where they trade in the US vs. Europe. More importantly, look at their relative weights. We all know the struggles of European banks due to (i) negative interest rates and (ii) weaker economies. Do I want to own those banks? Perhaps because some day their troubles will reverse… but for now, I’ll pass.

Bottom line: I don’t think Eurozone equities are THAT cheap. The further and further you peel back the onion, the more I want to buy the US vs. Europe. Is the multiple higher than Europe? Yes. Is it a concern how big tech has become in the US indices? Yes, but I also want to own those companies. As they continue to disrupt and change the way we do things, Europe’s older economy may be left holding the bag.

As one final comparison, here is what you are buying. In my view, missing secular growth and asset light businesses in exchange for “cheap” cyclical names (banks, Oil and  Gas, Autos, Chems). I think the US will compound at a much higher rate going forward as well and should perform much better in a recession. If you think the US$ will depreciate or that we are headed for a tech crash, then sure, go with europe.

Is a recession looming? past recessions have begun with unemployment bottoming… $SPY $TLT

The million dollar question 10 years into an expansion like this is, “When is the next recession?”

We have heard pundit after pundit claim that 2012 was the top. No 2013. No 2015. No 2018. Each, so far, has been wrong.

It makes sense why they do it. If they are seen as the investor that “called the top”, they instantly gain success for the balance of their careers. That means more media coverage, more book deals, and better asset inflows if they manage money.

This clearly has been one of the most hated bull markets in history, but even I, a “bottoms-up” investor, must admit that I am watching for signs of the top.

That brings me to the unemployment rate. Each time it has gone below 5%, this usually signaled that things can’t possibly get better and a recession would loom.

The unemployment rate got down to 3.7% in December 2018 which is one of the lowest levels since the 1960s. Does this mean the end is near?

Not so fast. The unemployment rate represents those people who are unemployed that are still in the labor force. Those who are not in the labor force are not counted. If we look at the labor force participation rate, it is at the lowest level in decades

Let’s put some math behind it then.

Using the data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, I can see that a 4% unemployment rate equates to 6.5MM people looking for jobs. The flip side of that is that 162.5MM are in the labor force, but we know some have dropped out since the recession.

As such, let’s try to “normalize” the numbers. In other words, what if the participation rate went back up to ~66%. That would mean the labor force would grow by about 3%. That equates to 4.9MM workers. If these workers were counted in the participation rate, that would mean that the current unemployment rate is more like 6.8%.

Of course, these workers won’t enter the workforce without prospects of jobs, but even if 1/3 don’t, the unemployment rate ticks up to 4.8% from 4.0%.

Another factor this doesn’t include is underemployed workers. Think, college educated engineer who drives for Uber for employment. This is an exaggeration, but also not factored in the results.

Bottom Line: Be careful of scary statistics. “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics” Clearly unemployment is low, but that only tells one part of the story.

Market Déjà vu… kind of…. $SPY $USO $MCHI

The current market action and headlines is starting to sound eerily similar to that of late 2015. As a reminder, the world was concerned about global growth and China surprised the market with a currency devaluation, very rare for a country that pegs its currency and only allowed it to move with a band. This suggested China’s economy was weakening and a devalued currency would help the exporter nation bounce back. Since China is essentially a black box and essentially no one actually trusts the numbers they put out, this allowed the market to write its own narrative and that China’s economy had to be weak and that would drive everyone else down with it.

Recall oil at the time had also fallen from $100/bbl to $50-$60/bbl (and was about to drop to a low in the mid-$20s). This too pointed to China weakening and slow global growth. Lastly, corporate earnings were not that great. Especially among industrial names, such a Caterpillar, which is a bellwether for the global economy.

However, that actually didn’t seem to be the case. The market eventually rallied strongly, commodity prices rebounded (as it turns out excess supply could be absorbed and production curtailed),  and people became more comfortable that if anything, China was headed for a soft landing and going to go through a bit of a deleveraging stage.

That placated the market for a bit… until now. The narrative sounds too similar to ignore, but the surrounding facts around it all are different. For example:

  1. People are concerned about China: China posted the slowest growth in a decade. Forget that its still growing amazingly quickly for the third largest economy. Forget the well documented commentary about Xi Jinping wanting to move China to a service economy like the US, a dramatic move from its current export economy. Focus on the negative.  This time, its business confidence in China is low and the tariffs wont help…
  2.  Oil posts a 9 day losing streak: For now, people are associating the decline with supply, a mistake from last time I assume they don’t want to repeat, but there are some headlines that say for example “Oil’s unraveling shows global economy is in a tough spot.” Forget US output at record levels and OPEC pumping as much as it can since 2016.
  3. Earnings have not been good so far. And to provide the context for this time vs. ’15/’16, Caterpillar was down nearly 30% since it reported Q3 earnings. However, companies today are reporting “some softness” and most earnings trouble has been related to “inflation”. I put inflation in quotes because it is difficult for me to look at many companies who have benefited from oil falling (decline in raw materials) and able to hold price steady (boost to margins) that now are complaining about giving that back.   Freight and labor I’ll admit are real. Labor obviously because the slack from the financial crisis has been absorbed and freight is higher after new rules limited hours truckers can be on the road… and actually enforced it…

There are obviously other issues at hand such as interest rates at 3.2% for the 10-year (20bps above where it ended 2013, but OK I guess that will stifle growth…) and the impacts to housing.

Bottom line: I am avoiding the headlines which have had very little predictive success.