Nolte Notes 11.29.21

November 29, 2021

The “Nu” variant of the Covid virus is making the rounds in South Africa and has put the fear back into investors that we are once again heading for economic lock/shut down. Friday’s trading is usually very quiet with a few folks coming in to trade a bit and head back home to finish off the Thanksgiving leftovers. However, this year, trading was the worst in 70 years as investors sold anything that benefits from an open economy. Even energy prices fell 10%. The economic data from earlier in the week was solid, with the weekly jobless claims the lowest since 1969 and consumer spending still robust. That all got tossed out the window Friday. The weekend should provide some information that may help investors assess the economic and markets risks heading into December. As usual, technology did better, and bond prices rallied as investors warmed to working at home longer and a Fed that is not likely (now) to be raising rates. If the focus turns more toward the latest variant, then the economic data won’t matter as it will be considered “old news”.

The markets have been trading poorly over the last two weeks, with only one day showing more stocks rising than falling. Friday was the culmination of a bad string, with nine times more declining volume than advancing on the NYSE. The last occurrence was back in September, just before the markets bottomed, resulting in a big October run. At least in the short-term, the selling may have peaked. That doesn’t mean stocks trade higher but expect more ragged trading as we get deeper in the Christmas season. Much of the trading next week will likely center on the path of the new Covid variant. If it is determined to be relatively mild, stocks could regain much of the losses. However, if it poses more risks, then stocks could trade lower still. The employment figures will end the week. The report should be very good and could bolster the markets. Although stocks may be once again beholden to the path of the virus.

As stocks declined, bonds rallied, and interest rates declined. Investors are now expecting the Fed to slow down their pace of tapering their bond purchases and are willing to keep interest rates low. The yield curve has continued to flatten and is now the flattest in eight months. One other concern is the high yield spreads, which are widening. This combination, were it to continue for a few more weeks, could put additional pressure on stocks. For bond investors, treasuries will likely also be a safe port in a storm. The decline in interest rates is likely to continue as commodity prices are showing more signs of rolling over as well. If demand for goods and services wanes in the coming months, prices (and inflation) are likely to moderate.

Friday’s decline was across the board and left few parts of the market unscathed. As mentioned above, the bond market is beginning to signal that stocks could be facing some headwinds in the coming months. Historically, when we see the difference in yields between high yield bonds and treasuries widen out, the stock market runs into trouble down the road. The lead time is anywhere between three months to over a year, so it makes sense to begin watching the markets a bit more closely. The final part of the “market signal” is the flatter yield curve. When the difference between the two- and ten-year yields on treasuries begins to narrow, it is a sign that financial conditions are beginning to tighten. Again, this is not a call for the end of the bull market but is worth keeping an eye on in the coming months. Whenever the markets decide they have had enough, there are likely to be a few hiding places. Better parts of the market will likely be those that have not really participated over the past year, like value and international holdings.

Whether the new variant is at the center of the markets concern or a Fed that may be making a policy mistake, the markets are beginning to pay attention. If things begin getting rougher, treasuries will be a good hiding place.

The opinions expressed in the Investment Newsletter are those of the author and are based upon information that is believed to be accurate and reliable but are opinions and do not constitute a guarantee of present or future financial market conditions.

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Nolte Notes 9.20.21

September 20, 2021

It is way early to be getting ready for Halloween, but I’m hearing “I’ve got a spell on you” running around in my head when looking at the market action of the past few weeks. From monetary policy to fiscal policy, the continued rise in Covid cases and economic slowing as a result, the markets are struggling to figure out what to do next. This past week was the (now) much-anticipated consumer price index that came in below expectations. The higher product prices and lower consumer prices mean that corporate margins will likely be under some pressure in the coming quarters. Even as concerns over rising inflation show up near the top of consumer worry list, interest rates have remained very stable around current levels. This week we’ll hear from the Fed directly as they likely make their “ho-hum” announcement that their target for interest rates will not be changing. What will be more interesting is how Chair Powell discusses their plan to reduce the amount of bonds they are buying, which will also start the clock on when the Fed is likely to raise interest rates. Maybe less the spell and more the sound of silence.

We are smack in the middle of what has historically been the worst 12 weeks for the financial markets, yet the SP500 is slightly higher over the past six weeks. The economic data, as has been highlighted over the past month or so, has been coming in “worse than expected” and many attribute the weakness to the rise in the Delta variant. When checking out TSA daily “activity”, there is a noticeable decline in travel since early August vs. a “normal” 2019 that remained stable through the summer months. Consumer surveys are highlighting worries about rising inflation. Certainly, businesses are feeling the pinch. Many cannot get the stuff they need to sell to the end consumer or finish their products for sale. The reduced supply of goods is one of the key factors behind the higher inflation reports. Chair Powell will likely address some of those “transient” pieces at his press conference. However, supply chains do not look to be getting repaired soon and outages of various products will likely be a feature as we get closer to the holiday season.

The bond market is also under “the spell”, as it has moved very little over the past few weeks. The difference between short and long-term rates is also stuck. Worries about inflation, economic slowing, or robust growth do not show up in the bond market just yet. The bond model used to project interest rates over the short-term also indicates lower yields ahead with only commodity and utility prices showing up negative in the five-factor model. How much of the inflation fears are grounded in the transitory discussion or will be a long-term issue will not be known for at least the next six months, if not longer. By that time, we should have a better sense of what “transitory” really means.

The last few weeks of the third quarter should determine whether the broader market can regain its mojo. This quarter has been led by technology and surprisingly, utility companies, with the difference between large-cap growth and value, exceeding 5 percentage points. The “why” is likely due to the rising virus counts and overall weaker economic data that investors believe will be around for a while. If the economy struggles, technology has become the safe play. Valuations remain extremely high, however by themselves do not “make” the market decline. Once things get going on the downside, though, they are likely to end somewhere around “fair” value. Based upon today’s earnings, that would mean a 20-30% decline. That is not a “call” that the markets will do that over the next few weeks or even months, but something to watch for whenever the markets begin to unravel.

The short-term direction of the markets may be lower, but the Fed meeting this week should provide investors plenty to chew on as we start the fourth quarter soon. Bond should provide direction, so we will be watching their reaction to the press conference later this week.

The opinions expressed in the Investment Newsletter are those of the author and are based upon information that is believed to be accurate and reliable but are opinions and do not constitute a guarantee of present or future financial market conditions.

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Nolte Notes 9.6.21

September 6, 2021

In what may be considered “Delta Dawn”, the current variation of Covid is beginning to show up in the economic data. Friday’s huge miss on employment (250k vs est of 750k) caused barely a ripple in the financial markets. After much head scratching, investor’s figured that the Fed would continue to keep rates lower for longer as well as postponing their tapering of bond buying. Bad news is good news when it comes to the financial markets today. The surprises continue to occur on the downside, from employment to the various assessments of economic activity. Employment in the “customer facing” portions of the economy were essentially flat from the prior month. Manufacturing added jobs and the employment rate fell again, getting close to 5%, as the total workforce is contracting with more retiring all together. This week will be light on economic data, save for the produce price report on Friday. The next focus for the markets is inflation, as worries are beginning to surface that growth is slowing with inflation not being as transitory as the Fed expects.

The markets continue to grind higher, making 50+ new all-time highs this year and pushing the valuation levels of the market to all-time highs as well. Why? Investors are back to the belief that there is no alternative to stocks. Bond yields are very low, money market rates are essentially zero and the Fed continues to support “risk taking” by keeping rates low. How long can it last? Longer than many currently believe. Yes, a correction of 3-5% is long overdue, however a larger decline is not yet on the horizon. At some point the markets will have enough of the debt creation and decline, but so far, the signs of a larger decline are not evident. The market internals remain less than stellar, with stocks making new all-time highs still lower than their peak in June. The number of stocks above their long-term average price has been falling since March, another indication that investors are focused on the largest of the large US stocks. The markets have shifted back toward growth and away from the “re opening” trades, fearing that Covid will continue to make any economic recovery very uneven. If inflationary pressures continue to build and economic activity slows further, investors may indeed decide that the Fed will have no alternative but to raise rates. That could drop the curtain on the advance, but that may be months away.

The bond market has reversed course a bit over the last few weeks as the difference between short and intermediate term treasuries is getting larger. The difference between high yield and treasuries is also contracting. Both conditions have been supportive of risk taking in the markets and has led to the recent rally in stocks. Until the markets believe that the Fed will be raising rates to combat inflation, the interest rate environment should support stocks. Worries about a larger decline in stocks are usually preceded by a flatter Treasury curve and widening spread between high yield and Treasuries, which is not the case today. The tipping point will likely occur when investors begin to worry more about the likelihood that inflation is not transitory. The Fed’s favorite indicators of inflation are all well above their 2% target and rising. So far, the markets are buying the transitory label on inflation.

The song remains the same in the equity markets, the largest US stocks are doing well, while the rest of the markets suffer. International stocks gained some traction with the decline in the US dollar. The dollar has been relatively strong as the US economy has performed better than many of their international competitors. Looking over the longer term, the dollar has been bouncing within a range since last July. A break lower could indicate better strength internationally, higher would mean a stronger US relative to others. A declining dollar would also mean that international holdings would fare well as those gains buy more of an ever-cheaper dollar. The international markets, especially emerging markets, are among the best long-term estimated returns. However, that is predicated upon a more normal functioning global economy.

The long-term key to the markets may lie in strength of inflation and investor’s fears that it is more than transitory. That is not likely to show up in the next inflation report or two, but persistence into yearend may concern investors.

The opinions expressed in the Investment Newsletter are those of the author and are based upon information that is believed to be accurate and reliable but are opinions and do not constitute a guarantee of present or future financial market conditions.

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Nolte Notes 8.30.21

August 30, 2021

Everybody’s working for the weekend, or until Friday when Fed Chair Powell started his talk on policy. The Jackson Hole confab has been known to be a spot where new policies are rolled out, from the Bernanke tapering to Powell’s inflation target changes last year. Investors were concerned that another bombshell could be dropped. However, what was said was music to investors ears. Tapering but not raising rates for a looonngg time was the tune. Subsequently, Fridays “everything rally” put stocks again at new all-time highs and the delivered promise of lower rates for even longer. This could keep stocks rising. The economic data remains ok, while inflationary pressure continue to build. This time, however, inflation is due to supply problems that adjusting rates won’t fix. This week’s employment report comes ahead of a long weekend ending the summer doldrums. What happens next is likely to be driven by inflation and Covid, which is well out of the Fed’s purview. The markets have held up well during one of the poorer months in the calendar, but the next two historically have been just as poor.

Even after Friday’s rally, the markets are looking a bit ragged. The largest stocks are once again taking the performance lead. That in turn has meant the bulk of stocks are not following the indices to all-time highs. The shine has come off the “reopening” trade. The enthusiasm for a full economic recovery is following the slowdown in air travel and lower energy prices. The economic backdrop remains challenging as many locations are going back to masking mandates. Those steps “backwards” are keeping many companies from going back “full-time” and giving consumers pause before heading to the mall or other activities. The combination of stimulus rollback in a few weeks and increasing fear or the virus may put another kink in the road to recovery. The markets are not reacting to the economic data as much as to the still very easy monetary policy. The reason the markets rallied so strongly Friday was a clear indication that investors are hyper focused on the direction of monetary policy. Stocks are likely to continue to get bid for as long as the fed remains accommodative.

Chair Powell’s comments got the bond market going too. Unfortunately, there are more questions than answers. How long will tapering take? At what point do rates rise after tapering finishes? How will the path of the virus impact policy? Just how transitory is inflation? Will slowing economic data keep the fed involved in the financial markets longer than expected? The yield spread remains well below spring levels when it was anticipated the economy would be roaring back. Yet it has not collapsed to a point that would start investors worrying about a completely different set of outcomes. Investors also piled back into high yield bonds, supporting the dregs within the bond market world. Another indication of investor’s desire to take on risk, no matter the asset class.

The rotation back toward the largest companies also means a move toward technology. The momentum has been waning for the various sectors within the SP500 since May, with technology getting back up to the “very overbought” territory. Fridays everything rally may start a new leg higher for some forgotten parts of the market. Small and international stocks were among the big winners on Friday after underperforming the broad market for the last few months. From strictly a valuation perspective, companies outside of the US are much cheaper than similar ones inside the US. Better returns from international markets require better growth there vs. here and a weaker dollar to translate those returns to the dollar. The biggest knock-on international stocks are the lack of technology stocks. Domestic weights are around 30% and less than 20% overseas. After a decade of US dominance in the performance race, there should be a rotation to overseas, but until tech takes a back seat, it will remain a US-centric performance race.

The market continues to churn higher but is showing some signs of internal weakness that could (maybe?) push stocks lower over the next few months. At this point, nothing more than a much-needed rest/reset for investors. That said, even the 2+% decline of two weeks ago was seen as a buying opportunity. At some point the “buy the dip” will not be working as well as it has over the past 16 months

The opinions expressed in the Investment Newsletter are those of the author and are based upon information that is believed to be accurate and reliable but are opinions and do not constitute a guarantee of present or future financial market conditions.

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SVP Paul Nolte Interviewed on WGN Radio 8.24.21

Senior VP Paul Nolte, a Senior VP talks about bitcoin, supply chain issues, and the struggle to get materials. He also discusses how workers currently have a little more leverage and negotiation power due to an employee shortage.

Click here to listen to the interview

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SVP Paul Nolte Interviewed on WGN Radio 8.19.21

Senior VP Paul Nolte talks about jobless claims coming down again, concerns about the Delta variant, and when we might see inflation finally come down.

Click here to listen to the interview

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SVP Paul Nolte Interviewed on WGN Radio 8.10.21

Kingsview SVP Paul Nolte discusses the lack of movement in the market this week, inflation, the low-interest rate environment, and the likely path of reducing the amount of treasury purchases. He also talks about the bull market for stocks, and whether a correction is coming.

Click here to listen to the interview

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SVP Paul Nolte Interviewed on WGN Radio 8.3.21

Kingsview SVP Paul Nolte discusses recent earnings numbers, travel planning, and what we might expect to see through the end of the year.  He also talks about what’s happening with job numbers, the Fed’s focus and why they’re keeping interest rates low.

Click here to listen to the interview

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SVP Paul Nolte Interviewed on WGN Radio 7.15.21

Kingsview SVP Paul Nolte discusses weekly jobless claims, how long it will take to return to 2019 employment numbers, and the market reaction to jobless claims, earnings reports and Chairman Powell’s Congressional testimony.

Click here to listen to the interview

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Nolte Notes 7.12.21

July 12, 2021

“We’re all mad here, I’m mad. You’re mad.” And so down the rabbit hole we go! Just when you think you have it all figured out, the economy and/or the markets throw you a curveball. Maddening, sometimes. But we are in a deranged time where everyone is a bit crazy. We celebrate huge employment gains, yet at the recent pace, it will take another seven months to regain the old employment peak. Job openings continue to grow as companies of all stripes can not find willing workers. Many “consumer-facing” businesses have shortened hours due to a lack of employees. The Federal Reserve believes easy money can solve this problem, so they keep rates at historically low levels while pumping over $100B into the markets every month. “When you have a hammer…”Goods are having a tough time getting to market and prices for nearly everything are rising. Many believe this will work itself out over the next year as companies fully staff up and supply chains are working properly again. Some wonder if the economy is permanently damaged. The coming week will have inflation, retail sales and sentiment indices released. The madness is not likely to get resolved this week!

Worries about the Fed “starting to think about thinking about” cutting back their bond purchases knocked down stocks for a day, but the “buy the dip” crowd piled back in on Friday, pushing stocks to yet another record and 14th weekly gain in the last 19 weeks. Yes, there are some chinks in the armor, but the easy monetary policy is what rules the day. Over those 19 weeks, 90% of the stocks within the SP500 remain above their long-term average price, however the last few weeks, barely 50% are above their short-term average price. Meaning stocks have rallied so strongly that any short-term pullback has done little to dent the long-term picture. Within the S&P500 industry groups, all but telecom are above their long-term average, so until the market “technical” begin to break down in a more meaningful way, the path of least resistance looks to be higher. Growth has been the big winner over the past few weeks as interest rates have declined. Could the rate decline be warning the markets that the best/fastest economic growth has passed? Potentially, however, we would like to see a few more indicators pointing that way before beginning to worry about the next downturn.

The yield curve flattening is a warning sign of slower economic growth. However, without a signification push higher in the yield differential between junk and treasury bonds, long-term worries are not yet heightened. Earnings season gets started this week, and there will be plenty of commentary about what companies are seeing in their “end markets” and their capacity to fill demand. Finally, comments regarding pricing and inflationary pressures could also impact bond yields, pushing them back up if investors believe those pressures are more than just “transitory” as the Fed currently believes.

The quick rotation between “growth” and “value” has been driven by changes in interest rates. As interest rates rise, value does well. As rates fall, growth does well. Both are tied to the re-opening of the economy. If investors believe that the re-opening is going well and pricing pressures are building, value does well. If investors believe the best of the economic growth is now behind us and we are heading back to the recent average growth of 2%ish, then growth will do well. From a long-term perspective, growth is very overvalued, with various companies selling at their highest price to earnings multiples going back to 2000. While value is also expensive in absolute terms, relative to growth, it is about as cheap as it has been going back to the late 1990s. We believe that over the next few years, the overall market will struggle to provide meaningful gains, but that value should shine relative to growth as the economy slowly works its way back to “normal”.

Interest rates have been driving the markets as well as various parts of the markets for the past nine months and that is not likely to change. Hence, we will be watching yield differences between various asset classes for clues as to when markets are likely to make a significant shift. Not yet in the cards but watching closely!

The opinions expressed in the Investment Newsletter are those of the author and are based upon information that is believed to be accurate and reliable but are opinions and do not constitute a guarantee of present or future financial market conditions.

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