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The Bull Is Back? Portfolio Positioning For An Overbought Market

The Bull Is Back! Markets Charge As Economy Lags 06-05-20

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This article was originally published by Real Investment Advice.

 
In this issue of “The Bull Is Back! Markets Charge As Economy Lags”
  • A Note About That Jobs Number
  • Investors Are Too Optimistic
  • Technical Review
  • Portfolio Positioning
  • MacroView: Rationalizing High Valuations Won’t Improve Outcomes
  • Sector & Market Analysis
  • 401k Plan Manager
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A Note About That Jobs Number

On Friday, the Bureau Of Labor Statistics released the widely expected employment report for May. Despite continued weekly jobless claims over the last month exceeding more than 8-million, the BLS reported an increase of more than 2.5 million jobs in May. The unemployment rate came in at just 13.3% well below the consensus estimates of 17-19%. Both of these numbers were historical records surpassing any period back to the “Great Depression.”  Let’s start by taking a look at the raw numbers from the BLS. From May 2019 to May 2020:
  • The civilian population grew by just 1.186 million. (This is a historically slow growth rate for the population which speaks to the demographic problem.)
  • The labor force shrank by 4.555 million. (We assume these people no longer want to work.)
  • The number of employed individuals fell by 19.602 million. 
  • The number of unemployed persons rose by 15,047.
Again, these are numbers never before seen in history. Importantly, the drop in the unemployment rate is due specifically to the substantial drop in the labor force. Since February, 6.3 million people have decided they no longer wanted to work, according to the BLS. Such is substantially more than would be expected even based on the large increase in unemployment. Therefore, if we adjust for the labor force, and count the extra 4.9 million people who were “not at work for other reasons,” the “realistic unemployment rate” was 17.1 percent in May. While that number is down from April, it is still higher than any other unemployment rate in over 70 years. (But the 13.3% number was as well.)

BLS Admits Error And Confirms The Math

From the BLS:
“There were also a large number of workers who were classified as employed but absent from work. As was the case in March and April, household survey interviewers were instructed to classify employed persons absent from work due to coronavirus-related business closures as unemployed on temporary layoff However, not all such workers were so classified. If the workers who were recorded as employed but absent from work…had been classified as unemployed on temporary layoff, the overall unemployment rate would have been about 3 percentage points higher than reported (on a not seasonally adjusted basis).
In other words, the unemployment rate was 16.3% even using their own data, which suggests the number of unemployed is closer to 26 million. But this isn’t a new problem suggesting unemployment numbers have been in error for quite some time. To wit from the BLS:
“BLS and the Census Bureau are investigating why this misclassification error continues to occur and are taking additional steps to address the issue. However, according to the usual practice, the data from the household survey are accepted as recorded. To maintain data integrity, no ad hoc actions are taken to reclassify survey responses.”

The Missing Millions

Once we assume this error in counting as been prevalent, understanding the massive gap between the BLS numbers and reality begins to crystallize. Since the beginning of the last economic expansion, the working-age population has grown by 25.3 million while employment has fallen by 1.14 million through May. As the BLS confirms above, there are over 26 million who are “missing” due to the manner in which employment is calculated. What is crucially important to the economy is full-time employment which is what creates enough income to expand economic growth. The number of full-time employees to the working-age population is at 44.81% which is not high enough to support economic growth. Then, of course, it is also hard to square the BLS claim that a record number (345,000) of small businesses were opened during the month of May when the entire economy was shutdown. The birth/death adjustment is a complete guess by the BLS and heavily flawed. Over the last decade it has added millions of jobs to the employment data even as business creation has fallen. While the market rallied sharply on Friday due to the “better than expected” number, investors may be getting too far ahead of themselves in the short-term. The data will be heavily revised over the months ahead, but markets don’t care much about revisions. What the market does care about, ultimately, is earnings.  

Investors Are Too Optimistic

There are several measures of optimism we can look at which have historically corresponded with short-term market peaks and corrections. Currently, non-commercial speculators are carrying the one of the largest net-short positions on the S&P 500 in recent history. While such positioning doesn’t necessarily mean the market will crash, it has historically aligned with short-term peaks and bear markets. The total put-call ratio all suggests similar positioning. With investors getting extremely aggressive by buying call options, the ratio is back to more extreme elevations. The last time the put-call ratio was this elevated was in January. The issue at hand is the markets have priced in a “V-shaped” recovery which is well ahead of what the economic data suggests. Such was seen in Friday’s employment report fiasco.

Technical Review Of The Market

Regardless, the markets are bullish biased and we must be respectful of that reality. As noted in last week’s report:
“No matter how you want to slice the data, the markets are back to more egregious overbought conditions on a short-term basis.”
The break above the 200-dma set the bulls in motion and triggered a parabolic advance in the market over the last week. Given the market is now pushing a 3-standard deviation move to the upside, with indicators very overbought, a short-term corrective action is likely. (Note the market was just 3-standard deviations BELOW the 50-dma in March.) Also,  as noted previously, with 95% of stocks now trading above the 50-dma, such has historically signaled short-term corrections to resolve the overbought conditions. Currently, while the market has been rising, the number of stocks above their 50-dma has stalled at one of the highest levels in a decade. Watch for a deterioration in the percentage to signal an upcoming correction. Lastly, all of the overbought/sold indicators have aligned, along with the vast majority of stocks being above the 50-dma. As noted by the red circles below, every measure is in, or exceeding, historical overbought conditions. Such also suggests a correction is likely in the short-term which will provide a better opportunity to increase exposure accordingly.

The Recovery Trade

Lastly, the market has rallied over the past week on “better than expected” economic data which supports hope of a “V-shaped” economic recovery. However, as noted by the Citi Economic Surprise Index, that is likely to change over the next month as data begins to disappoint. Peaks in the surprise index have coincided with short-term corrections, or more, in the market. With “coronavirus cases” likely to rise sharply following Memorial Day celebrations and recent crowded protests, the risk of disappointment has risen. This has been an exceptionally rally. All of our equity positions are now extremely stretched and overbought. Conversely, all of our hedges VERY oversold. Caution is advised.

Updating Risk Ranges

As I wrote previously, the break above the 200-dma had changed the complexion of the market.
“If the markets can break above the 200-dma, and maintain that level, it would suggest the bull market is back in play. Such would change the focus from a retest of previous support to a push back to all-time highs. While such would be hard to believe, given the economic devastation currently at hand, technically, it would suggest the decline in March was only a ‘correction’ and not the beginning of a ‘bear market.'”
The rally this past week now confirms the selloff in March was a “correction” and not a “bear market.” Such has important considerations in allocation models and portfolio positioning. In corrections, recoveries back to previous highs are the norm as the bullish trend of the market continues. During bear markets, expect rallies to fail and price trends to change to negative. While it certainly seemed that was the case in March, given the severity of the decline, the rapid recovery has changed the narrative. However, even as we update the risk/reward trading ranges, the probabilities still remain negative. With the market very overbought short-term (orange indicator in the background), downside risk outweighs the upside return in the short-term. With the S&P 500 is now only 5% from all-time highs, all measures are now based against that advance. A breakout to all-time highs, should such occur, will reset all parameters. We have assigned probabilities to pullback ranges short-term.
  • -6.6% to the 200-dma vs. +5% to all-time highs. Negative (70% probability)
  • -11.2% to the 50-dma vs. +5% to all-time highs. Negative (20%)
  • -14.4% to previous consolidation lows vs. +5% to all-time highs. Negative (5%)
  • -18.3% to March bounce peak vs. +5% to all-time highs. Negative (5%)

Portfolio Positioning For An Overbought Market

While the negative risk/reward dynamics are evident, the more negative outcomes are becoming less probabilistic. However, a deeper correction becomes possible on a longer-term basis, given the deviation in prices from the underlying fundamentals.  I understand if this seems confusing, but it is the difference between chasing markets short-term versus longer-term outcomes for portfolios. This analysis is part of our thought process as we continue to weigh “equity risk” within our portfolios. As noted last week, the positioning in our portfolios continues to relative to the overall risk we are willing to assume. This past week we continued to make changes in our portfolios by adding to sectors that are positioned to take advantage of the economic recovery. As we detailed to our RIAPRO subscribers (30-day Risk-Free Trial). We continue to add equity exposure in areas that we like, focusing on dividend yield, and continuing to hedge that equity risk with offsetting bond and dollar exposures. (Bonds and the dollar are extremely overseen, so rotation is likely near term, coinciding with a short-term market correction or consolidation)
“In the EQUITY PORTFOLIO, we are adding:
  • CVS – 1.5%  – With people returning to activity, sales should pick up on the retail side.
  • UPS – 1.5% – Economic reopening should see a pick up in shipping rates.
  • NSC – 1.5%  – Same with transportation.
In the ETF PORTFOLIO we added:
  • XLU – 1% addition to current holdings.
  • IYT – 3% – Transportation sector to capture an increase in shipping with reopening.
In BOTH PORTFOLIOS, we hedged the increases in equity risk with an addition of 2.5% to TLT, which is currently deeply oversold relative to equities.”

We Like Bonds

The important point is that we are balancing increases in exposure to defensive positioning. In a “risk-off” rotation money will flow into bonds from equities, which will shield the portfolio from a decline. Given bonds are deeply oversold, versus a grossly overbought market, that rotation is likely coming sooner rather than later.
(As opposed to the S&P 500, bonds are more than 3-standard deviations oversold and on Friday began a reversal rally. We recently added to our positions to take advantage of a risk rotation.)
Obviously, we don’t care for the risk/reward of the market currently. As such, we suspect a better opportunity to increase equity risk will come later this summer.

Winning The War

I want to conclude with this quote from our MacroView this week:

Our goal is to win a war, and we may need to lose a few battles in the interim.

Yes, we want to make money, but it is even more important not to lose it. If the market continues to mount even higher, we will likely lag. The stocks we own will become fully valued, and we’ll sell them. If our cash balances continue to rise, then they will. We are not going to sacrifice our standards and thus let our portfolio be a byproduct of forced or irrational decisions.

We are willing to lose a few battles, but those losses will be necessary to win the war. Timing the market is an impossible endeavor. We don’t know anyone who has done it successfully on a consistent and repeated basis. In the short run, stock market movements are completely random – as random as you’re trying to guess the next card at the blackjack table.” – Vitaliy Katsenelson

I agree, and while such may be the case for the moment, markets like this have a nasty habit of delivering unpleasant surprises. We are in this to win the “war.” But I will be honest; I don’t like losing battles even for the best of reasons. 


The MacroView

If you need help or have questions, we are always glad to help. Just email me. See You Next Week By Lance Roberts, CIO

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Economics

Here’s Why Royal Caribbean, Carnival Stock Are Good Buys

Yes, Carnival reported a bigger-than-expected loss but in this case, unlike taking a cruise, it’s the destination not the journey for the cruise lines.

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Yes, Carnival reported a bigger-than-expected loss but in this case, unlike taking a cruise, it's the destination not the journey for the cruise lines.

For the past two years, since the covid pandemic hit in late-February 2020, the cruise industry has taken one punch after another. And, while the situation has improved from the extended period when cruises were not allowed to sail from United States ports, that does not mean that it's back to 2019 for Royal Caribbean International (RCL) - Get Royal Caribbean Group Report, Carnival Cruise Line (CCL) - Get Carnival Corporation Report, and Norwegian Cruise Line (NCLH) - Get Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings Ltd. Report.

The industry has done a remarkable job bringing operations back to near-normal. All three cruise lines not only have put all their ships back in service, they're also still moving forward with plans for new ships and other investments including improvements to private islands, and developing new ports.

That being said, Carnival just reported its second-quarter earnings and the market did not like the numbers at all. Shares of all three cruise lines were down double digits on Sept. 30, but traders clearly missed that aside from rising costs and a loss (both of which were expected) the cruise line largely delivered good news.

Image source: Shutterstock

Carnival Did Well in Areas it Controls  

Carnival reported a GAAP net loss of $770 million for the quarter. That was driven by higher costs with the company specifically citing advertising expenses and having some of its fleet unavailable to produce revenue.

While the company's year-to-date adjusted cruise costs excluding fuel per ALBD during 2022 has benefited from the sale of smaller-less efficient ships and the delivery of larger-more efficient ships, this benefit is offset by a portion of its fleet being in pause status for part of the year, restart related expenses, an increase in the number of dry dock days, the cost of maintaining enhanced health and safety protocols, inflation and supply chain disruptions. The company anticipates that many of these costs and expenses will end in 2022.

If you're investing in any cruise line you have to do so on a very long-term basis. That makes profitability less of a concern than the company building back its business and Carnival showed some very positive signs in that direction.

  • Revenue increased by nearly 80% in the third quarter of 2022 compared to second quarter 2022, reflecting continued sequential improvement.
  • Onboard and other revenue per PCD for the third quarter of 2022 increased significantly compared to a strong 2019
  • Total customer deposits were $4.8 billion as of August 31, 2022, approaching the $4.9 billion as of August 31, 2019, which was a record third quarter.

  • New bookings during the third quarter of 2022 primarily offset the historical third quarter seasonal decline in customer deposits ($0.3 billion decline in the third quarter of 2022 compared to $1.1 billion decline for the same period in 2019).

Carnival (and likely all the cruise lines) is being hurt by prices generally being depressed and some passengers paying for their trips using future cruise credits from cruises canceled during the pandemic. That's not really what matters though. Carnival has been increasing passenger loads and getting people back on its ships.

"Since announcing the relaxation of our protocols last month, we have seen a meaningful improvement in booking volumes and are now running considerably ahead of strong 2019 levels," Carnival CEO Josh Weinstein said. "We expect to further capitalize on this momentum with renewed efforts to generate demand. We are focused on delivering significant revenue growth over the long-term while taking advantage of near-term tactics to quickly capture price and bookings in the interim."

Basically, cruise prices are cheap right now because it's more important to get customers back on board than it is to maintain pricing integrity. That's a tactic that could hurt long-term pricing, but the cruise industry is less vulnerable than other vacation options because there have always been large pricing variations based on the calendar and the age of the ship being booked.

It's a Long Voyage for Cruise Lines

Carnival was trading at its 52-week low after it reported. That's a pretty major overreaction given that the cruise industry was barely operating in the fall of 2021.

Yes, the industry has a long way to go. All three major cruise lines took on billions of dollars of debt during the pandemic. Refinancing that debt in an environment with higher interest rates is a challenge, but it's one Carnival (and its rivals) have been meeting.

That has come with some shareholder dilution. Carnival sold $1.15 billion in new stock during the quarter, but the company has over $7.4 billion in liquidity. Weinstein is optimistic (he has to be, that's part of his job) about the future.

"During our third quarter, our business continued its positive trajectory, achieving over $300 million of adjusted EBITDA and reaching nearly 90% occupancy on our August sailings. We are continuing to close the gap to 2019 as we progress through the year, building occupancy on higher capacity and lower unit costs," he said.

Usually it's easy to dismiss a CEO making upbeat comments after posting a loss, but in this case, Carnival has basically followed the recovery path it laid out once it returned to sailing. Both Royal Caribbean and Norwegian have followed similar paths and while meaningful shareholder returns may take time, these are strong companies built for the long-term that made a lot of money before the pandemic and should do so again. 

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Spread & Containment

Three reasons a weak pound is bad news for the environment

Financial turmoil will make it harder to invest in climate action on a massive scale.

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Dragon Claws / shutterstock

The day before new UK chancellor Kwasi Kwarteng’s mini-budget plan for economic growth, a pound would buy you about $1.13. After financial markets rejected the plan, the pound suddenly sunk to around $1.07. Though it has since rallied thanks to major intervention from the Bank of England, the currency remains volatile and far below its value earlier this year.

A lot has been written about how this will affect people’s incomes, the housing market or overall political and economic conditions. But we want to look at why the weak pound is bad news for the UK’s natural environment and its ability to hit climate targets.

1. The low-carbon economy just became a lot more expensive

The fall in sterling’s value partly signals a loss in confidence in the value of UK assets following the unfunded tax commitments contained in the mini-budget. The government’s aim to achieve net zero by 2050 requires substantial public and private investment in energy technologies such as solar and wind as well as carbon storage, insulation and electric cars.

But the loss in investor confidence threatens to derail these investments, because firms may be unwilling to commit the substantial budgets required in an uncertain economic environment. The cost of these investments may also rise as a result of the falling pound because many of the materials and inputs needed for these technologies, such as batteries, are imported and a falling pound increases their prices.

Aerial view of wind farm with forest and fields in background
UK wind power relies on lots of imported parts. Richard Whitcombe / shutterstock

2. High interest rates may rule out large investment

To support the pound and to control inflation, interest rates are expected to rise further. The UK is already experiencing record levels of inflation, fuelled by pandemic-related spending and Russia’s war on Ukraine. Rising consumer prices developed into a full-blown cost of living crisis, with fuel and food poverty, financial hardship and the collapse of businesses looming large on this winter’s horizon.

While the anticipated increase in interest rates might ease the cost of living crisis, it also increases the cost of government borrowing at a time when we rapidly need to increase low-carbon investment for net zero by 2050. The government’s official climate change advisory committee estimates that an additional £4 billion to £6 billion of annual public spending will be needed by 2030.

Some of this money should be raised through carbon taxes. But in reality, at least for as long as the cost of living crisis is ongoing, if the government is serious about green investment it will have to borrow.

Rising interest rates will push up the cost of borrowing relentlessly and present a tough political choice that seemingly pits the environment against economic recovery. As any future incoming government will inherit these same rates, a falling pound threatens to make it much harder to take large-scale, rapid environmental action.

3. Imports will become pricier

In addition to increased supply prices for firms and rising borrowing costs, it will lead to a significant rise in import prices for consumers. Given the UK’s reliance on imports, this is likely to affect prices for food, clothing and manufactured goods.

At the consumer level, this will immediately impact marginal spending as necessary expenditures (housing, energy, basic food and so on) lower the budget available for products such as eco-friendly cleaning products, organic foods or ethically made clothes. Buying “greener” products typically cost a family of four around £2,000 a year.

Instead, people may have to rely on cheaper goods that also come with larger greenhouse gas footprints and wider impacts on the environment through pollution and increased waste. See this calculator for direct comparisons.

Of course, some spending changes will be positive for the environment, for example if people use their cars less or take fewer holidays abroad. However, high-income individuals who will benefit the most from the mini-budget tax cuts will be less affected by the falling pound and they tend to fly more, buy more things, and have multiple cars and bigger homes to heat.

This raises profound questions about inequality and injustice in UK society. Alongside increased fuel poverty and foodbank use, we will see an uptick in the purchasing power of the wealthiest.

What’s next

Interest rate rises increase the cost of servicing government debt as well as the cost of new borrowing. One estimate says that the combined cost to government of the new tax cuts and higher cost of borrowing is around £250 billion. This substantial loss in government income reduces the budget available for climate change mitigation and improvements to infrastructure.

The government’s growth plan also seems to be based on an increased use of fossil fuels through technologies such as fracking. Given the scant evidence for absolutely decoupling economic growth from resource use, the opposition’s “green growth” proposal is also unlikely to decarbonise at the rate required to get to net zero by 2050 and avert catastrophic climate change.

Therefore, rather than increasing the energy and materials going into the economy for the sake of GDP growth, we would argue the UK needs an economic reorientation that questions the need of growth for its own sake and orients it instead towards social equality and ecological sustainability.

The authors do not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and have disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

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Economics

Covid-19 roundup: Swiss biotech halts in-patient PhII study; Houston-based vaccine and Chinese mRNA shot nab EUAs in Indonesia

Another Covid-19 study is hitting the breaks as a Swiss biotech is pausing its Phase II trial in patients hospitalized with Covid-19.
Kinarus Therapeutics…

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Another Covid-19 study is hitting the breaks as a Swiss biotech is pausing its Phase II trial in patients hospitalized with Covid-19.

Kinarus Therapeutics announced on Friday that the Data and Safety Monitoring Board (DSMB) has reviewed the company’s Phase II study for its candidate KIN001 and has recommended that the study be stopped.

According to Kinarus, the DSMB stated that there was a low probability to show statistically significant results as the number of Covid-19 patients that are in the hospital is lower than at other points in the pandemic.

Thierry Fumeaux

“As many of our peers have learned since the beginning of the pandemic, it has become challenging to show the impact of therapeutic intervention at the current pandemic stage, given the disease characteristics in Covid-19 patients with severe disease. Moreover, there are also now relatively smaller numbers of patients that meet enrollment criteria, since fewer patients require hospitalization, in contrast to the situation earlier in the pandemic,” said Thierry Fumeaux, Kinarus CMO, in a statement.

Fumeaux continued to state that the drug will still be investigated in ambulatory Covid-19 patients who are not hospitalized, with the goal of reducing recovery time and the severity of the virus.

The KIN001 candidate is a combination of the small molecule inhibitor pamapimod and pioglitazone, which is currently used to treat type 2 diabetes.

The news has put a dampener on the company’s stock price $KNRS.SW, which is down 22% since opening on Friday.

Houston-developed vaccine and Chinese mRNA shot win EUAs in Indonesia

While Moderna and Pfizer/BioNTech’s mRNA shots to counter Covid-19 have dominated supplies worldwide, a Chinese-based mRNA developer and IndoVac, a recombinant protein-based vaccine, was created and engineered in Houston, Texas by the Texas Children’s Hospital Center for Vaccine Development  vaccine is finally ready to head to another nation.

Walvax and Suzhou Abogen’s mRNA vaccine, dubbed AWcorna, has been approved for emergency use for adults 18 and over by the Indonesian Food and Drug Authority.

Li Yunchun

“This is the first step, and we are hoping to see more families across the country and the rest of the globe protected, which is a shared goal for us all,” said Walvax Chairman Li Yunchun, in a statement.

According to Walvax, the vaccine is 83% effective against the “wild-type” of SARS-CoV-2 infection with the strength against the Omicron variants standing at around 71%. The shots are also not required to be stored in deep freeze conditions and can be put in storage at 2 to 8 degrees Celsius.

Walvax and Abogen have been making progress on their mRNA vaccine for a while. Last year, Abogen received a massive amount of funding as it was moving the candidate forward.

However, while the candidate is moving forward overseas, it’s still finding itself stuck in regulatory approval in China. According to a report from BNN Bloomberg, China has not approved any mRNA vaccines for domestic usage.

Meanwhile, PT Bio Farma, the holding company for state-owned pharma companies in Indonesia, is prepping to make 20 million doses of the IndoVac COVID-19 vaccine this year and 100 million doses by 2024.

IndoVac’s primary series vaccines include nearly 80% of locally sourced content. Indonesia is seeking Halal Certification for the vaccine since no animal cells or products were used in the production of the vaccine. IndoVac successfully completed an audit from the Indonesian Ulema Council Food and Drug Analysis Agency, and the Halal Certification Agency of the Religious Affairs Ministry is expected to grant their approval soon.

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