Lock In Now Before It's Too Late

I’ve been shopping for brokered certificates of deposit, and the rates between one-year and five-year CDs aren’t a whole lot different. Rates at my broker range from 2.4% for one-year to 2.65% for five, with two- and three-year rates in between.

My first inclination was to stay short. Why lock up my money for five years when I can get nearly the same rate for one, two, or three years? What if rates go up in the meantime?

Fat chance. Given the Federal Reserve’s past behavior, the odds of that happening are pretty slim, if nonexistent. It may make more sense to lock up your money – if you don’t want to risk it in the stock or bond market – for as long as possible now.

With all of the betting now on the Fed cutting – not raising – interest rates this year, market interest rates are only likely to go down from here, not up. Despite its recent track record of quick monetary policy reversals in the face of market volatility, shifting from a restrictive policy to a more accommodative one – i.e., lower interest rates – just makes the Fed more comfortable. Other than savers – who most people with any influence ignore – everyone loves low rates, and if nothing else the Fed wants to be loved. Continue reading "Lock In Now Before It's Too Late"

The Bank That Couldn't Shoot Straight

Other than President Donald J. Trump, Wells Fargo CEO Timothy Sloan has to be the most hated man in Washington, or at least he was this week.

On Monday, the New York Times published a story which said employees at the bank “remain under heavy pressure to squeeze extra money out of customers” despite “years [of] publicly apologizing for deceiving customers with fake bank accounts, unwarranted fees and unwanted products” and claims by top executives that they “have eliminated the aggressive sales targets that spurred bad behavior.” That was a reference to the 2016 scandal in which over a period of many years, thousands of bank employees opened millions of accounts without customers’ knowledge or consent.

But that proved to be only the beginning of the bank’s problems. Since then there has been a steady drip of one scandal after another, from forcing auto loan customers to buy insurance they didn’t need to allegedly overcharging military veterans for mortgage refinances.

Indeed, “each time a new scandal breaks, Wells Fargo promises to get to the bottom of it. It promises to make sure it doesn’t happen again, but then a few months later, we hear about another case of dishonest sales practices or gross mismanagement,” Rep. Patrick McHenry, R-N.C., told Sloan at a House Financial Services Committee hearing on Tuesday.

At the hearing, members of both parties lambasted Sloan and his bank. Continue reading "The Bank That Couldn't Shoot Straight"

How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love The Deficit

John Maynard Keynes is generally given credit for the economic axiom, “We owe it to ourselves.” That idea has caught fire with the left in our country, who are now trumpeting a world where government deficits and debt – at least at the federal level – simply don’t matter, because, well, see Lord Keynes.

This idea even seems to have gotten sympathy – or at least, seems to be taken more seriously than you would have thought – by formerly level-headed financial publications such as the Wall Street Journal and Bloomberg BusinessWeek. Both of them have published lengthy stories recently which have come to the same conclusion, namely that, yeah, this could actually work.

Last week, the Journal’s story was headlined “Worry About Debt? Not So Fast, Some Economists Say,” supported by the subhead, “U.S. deficits may not matter so much after all—and it might not hurt to expand them for the right reasons.” A couple of weeks before that Businessweek’s cover story featured the grande dame of the so-called progressive wing of the Democrat Party, Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Continue reading "How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love The Deficit"

Fed Chairman Powell Resuscitates Financial Cohort

The market-wide sell-off in the fourth quarter of 2018 was largely induced by the Federal Reserve and its alleged commitment to sequential interest rate increases into 2019. This was largely viewed as reckless and misguided while turning a blind eye to broader economic data-driven decision making about further interest rate hikes. The stock indices responded to the sequential interest rate hike stance with overwhelming negative sentiment, logging double-digit declines across the broader markets. Many market observers were questioning the Federal Reserve’s aggressive stance as companies issued weakness in ancillary economic metrics (slowing global growth, strong U.S. dollar, trade war, government shutdown, weak housing numbers, retail weakness, auto sluggishness, and oil decline) as an indication that cracks in the economic cycle were materializing. The strong labor market and record low unemployment served as a basis to rationalize increasing rates to tame inflation however these aforementioned economic headwinds appeared to cause the Federal Reserve to pivot in its aggressive stance. As Chairman Jerome Powell began to issue a softer stance on future interest rate hikes, January saw very healthy stock market gains after being decimated for months prior. On January 30th, Jerome Powell issued language that the markets were craving to levitate higher as he left interest rates unchanged and exercised caution and patience as a path forward. Using data-driven decision making as a path forward was cheered by market participants as the broader indices popped for healthy gains on top of the already robust gains throughout January.

Financial Cohort Squeezed

The financial cohort was stuck in a precarious situation in the latter half of 2018. On the one hand, a rising interest rate environment would provide boosts to bottom line revenue as a function of the increased rates on their deposit base. Banks had domestic and global economic expansion tailwinds at their back while posting accelerating revenue growth, increasing dividend payouts, engaging in a record number of share buybacks, benefiting from tax reform and deregulation. Augmenting this positive backdrop was a record number of IPOs, a record number of global merger and acquisitions along with consulting fees regarding mergers and acquisitions and trading around market volatility. All of these elements ostensibly provided an ideal confluence that boded well for the financial sector. JP Morgan (JPM), Citi (C), Wells Fargo (WFC), Goldman Sachs (GS) and Bank of America (BAC) seemed to be poised to continue to benefit from the favorable economic backdrop. Despite all these elements, 2018 was terrible for the financials which performed horribly, especially during the fourth quarter as rapid rate hikes were in the cards. Continue reading "Fed Chairman Powell Resuscitates Financial Cohort"

Amigos 1 & 2 Arrive, #3 Is Still Out There

The 3 Amigos were a blogger’s way of not boring himself to death while fleshing out important macro indicators month after month.

Amigo #1 (SPX/Gold ratio) got home and dropped from target. What’s more, it has taken back the ratio’s equivalent of the entire Trump rally and that is an eventuality we are very open to on nominal SPX as well.

The gaps are interesting and among several possibilities for 2019 we could see fear, loathing and a fill of the lower gap (a greed gap of sorts) prior to a filling of the upper gap, which could blow out the stock bull in manic fashion one day. Relax, it’s just one of several possible roadmaps. For now, we simply state that SPX/Gold reached a very viable target and dutifully dropped with the market stress.

Yield

Amigo #2 (30yr Treasury yield AKA the Continuum) got the bond bears on the wrong side of the boat and kept them there for a couple of months before the big reversal (back below the monthly EMA 100) that came along with the risk ‘off’ rush amid Q4 2018’s market stress. Continue reading "Amigos 1 & 2 Arrive, #3 Is Still Out There"