Carl Icahn is worried…Should You be, too?

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Carl Icahn In His Latest Video: "Danger Ahead"

Carl Icahn In His Latest Video: “Danger Ahead”

For those of you who don’t know, Carl Icahn is a famous, “shareholder activist” billionaire. He’s even been called a corporate raider for those wanting to insult him.

But, in my opinion, he and his cohorts are a positive force in the market. When there’s an undervalued asset, bad management or other opportunity, these are the guys that shake things up. They own a lot of that particular corporate stock and if you do, too, then you’re in good company. And, most importantly, your stock may go up significantly.

With that said, I have to take his latest video with not a grain, but a wheelbarrow, of salt. I agree with about 90% of what he says except Icahn’s BIG PREDICTION: he thinks there will be a market crash soon that will make all crashes since the 1960’s look minor. I have to say: “Hogwash!”

For context, the worst crash since the 1960’s was The Great Recession we just endured from 2008-09. Very simply, the big fundamentals were going down. Both GDP (the size of our economy) and corporate earnings (the stock market’s major indicator of health or weakness) were going down. And we were at the end of a massive real estate/lending bubble. In other words, the market deserved to go down 50 percent. Which it did.

So, Mr. Icahn, where are GDP and corp. earnings now? Hitting new records. Like they’ve been doing for the last several years. Like they’re estimated to do for as far as can be forecast.

Just a side note: the wealthy and the politicians seem to have lost touch with Main Street. The video also mentioned various bubbles, one of which was an art bubble! Who cares about an art bubble except the ultra-wealthy? It certainly doesn’t cause a tumble in the U.S. economy….

Here’s a link to the complete video via The New York Times: video

Take a look at Icahn’s video. It is really worth watching. Let me know what you think about this billionaire’s thoughts. Please feel free to comment below or contact me any time at RonPhillipsAdvisor@gmail.com

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Will China contagion infect the U.s.?

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china pic2

BIGGER NEWS THAN GREECE OR PUERTO RICO

The Chinese stock bubble popping, their economy slowing and China using less resources…that’s a pretty big deal. These things will impact economies, markets and companies.

HOW IMPORTANT IS THE CHINA BUBBLE?

It’s actually a lot less of an impact on U.S. investors than the media lets on. First of all, the major bubble is in “A” shares which American investors can’t even directly own. Those indexes have dropped over 40 percent.

As a comparison, the largest China ETF (exchange-traded fund), the one most U.S. investors would have, has only dropped about 20 percent. The fund is called iShares China Large-Cap (symbol: FXI). It dropped but only half as bad.

This stock run-up, and drop, was mainly caused by heavy margin buying. Chinese investors are accumulating shares with debt, encouraged by their government to do so. The government was still encouraging it during the plummet.

Leveraging like that can be very dangerous. Especially in an over-valued market. The price and euphoria reminds me a lot of the Tech Boom…and Bust. Even the P/E ratio is similar, a little over forty. This is very high for any major index. The higher this climb, the more over-valued the shares, the harder the drop will be.

CHINA IS BEGINNING TO EXPERIENCE AN ACTUAL “NEW NORMAL”

Bill Gross should be happy now. There is a dynamic economy experiencing his vaunted new normal. It’s just not the U.S. like he predicted. It’s China having the slow-down. The government even conceded, in their estimates, that the economy will “only” grow at 7.5% a year for the near future. This is lower than their previous double-digit GDP growth.

MORE AMERICAN COMPANIES EXPERIENCING REVENUE DECLINES

Besides the weakness in commodities like copper, which China is the largest user of, there are many drops in multi-national company sales. Not all of it’s caused by the overseas slowdown but it must be impacting revenue somewhat.

There could be opportunities in natural resources, China and other Chinese “plays” like Australia. I haven’t fully looked into these yet but, if the drop continues, it could make those investments more attractive. And I certainly wouldn’t bet against this giant economy for the long-term.

“Wow,” was All I Could Muster For a Shocked Response

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The other day I picked up a copy of the Wall Street Journal. There was an article about The Great Depression by Morgan Housel. He mentioned a big hedge fund manager thinking that today’s economy is like the 1930s.

The two times are hugely different!

“Let me count the ways”:

1. Today’s economy: Up over 2% versus down 45% then

2. Today’s economy: 89% private and 11% government vs. about three percent federal government spending in The Great Depression (government spending = more diverse economy and on-going stimulus)(also, this doesn’t include current government payouts like Social Security, Medicare, etc. and their impact in the economy)

3. Today’s economy: internet, smart phones, apps, technology, biotechnology, alternative energies vs. none of that (in other words, we have a much-stronger, more-diverse economy)

4. Today’s unemployment: 5.5% vs. 25%

5. Today’s stock market: near historic highs vs. Dow Jones down 89% (and the current market is at an historically average price, when looking at forward 12-month earnings)

6. Today’s banking: FDIC insurance covering $250,000 per account vs. no bank insurance

7. Today’s brokerage: SIPC insurance covering $500,000 per account vs. no brokerage insurance during the 1930s

8. Today’s brokerage: margin limits of $1 equity to $1 debt vs. $1 equity and up to $9 debt! (this made the stock bubble and crash of the 1930s significantly worse and is even blamed for starting the depression)

9. Today’s retirement: Social Security income vs. none

10. Today’s retirement: Medicare coverage vs. none

(Both of these programs create an on-going stimulus from government dollars and a more-stable economy)

11. Today’s liquidity: corporate and personal cash of over $4.148 trillion vs. ??? (I really don’t know how much cash was around back then. I’m pretty sure that it was less than trillions, even adjusted for inflation)

12. Today’s Federal Reserve: experienced and aware of volatility caused by rate moves vs. inexperienced and short-sighted in The Great Depression

This list could be longer but you get the idea.

What was the hedge fund guru, Ray Dalio’s point? That the Federal Reserve is ready to raise rates and this could cause a market panic and drop. So have a lot of cash.

I agree with the “have cash” idea but that’s pretty well covered with over $4 trillion in cash.

Mr. Dalio’s other point was that the Fed Reserve was going to raise rates (like in the 1930s). That’s absolutely true. Rates are at zero. Most likely, there’s only one way to go with them…up. See my post for my predictions for 2015, including rate moves.

So worry not, dear investors, we will have stock market volatility. Probably a correction. Maybe even a moderate bear market. But we may also have a near-repeat of the record gains started in the late 1980s and running all the way through the 1990s.

You don’t want to miss a “super bull market.” Have cash but own a lot of equity….

The Outlandish Prediction by Bill Gross

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Bill Gross is know as “The Bond King.” And with good reason: he co-founded PIMCO and helped grow it to almost $2 trillion in assets. Two trillion! He’s recently left the company, headed to Janus and he always has strong opinions.

A recent Bloomberg headline read: “Bill Gross Says the Good Times Are Over”. Is this really so?

I’ve written about Mr. Gross in the past. He’s also well-known for creating/popularizing the term “new normal.” Basically, new normal means the U.S. will experience a European-style economy: regular high-unemployment and stagnant/low GDP growth in the area of 1-2 percent yearly. My previous article disagreed with this notion. We were simply experiencing multiple bubbles popping over the last full decade (Tech Bubble, Housing Bubble, Commodities Bubble, Credit Bubble, etc. from 1999-2009).

With unemployment steadily dropping and GDP growing 4 and 5 percent in the most recent quarters, The Bond King is being proven very wrong.

But is he right about the current stock market party being over? Yes and no.

I completely agree that we’ll have a market correction (10-20% drop in stock prices) at any time. The U.S. markets have made record new highs and been up for six years straight. So, yes, the party’s over…in the short term.

But long term I think the party’s just begun. If you look at the past 90 years of the market, we have long up and down cycles. They usually last 15-22 years. It’s very, very clear when you look at a chart of stock index prices for this 9-decade period.

Our latest down cycle started around the year 2000. I think the long term cycle, or secular bear market, ended in 2013 when the DJIA broke through to new records. That’s roughly fourteen years. Right on track with history.

Now, in my opinion, we’re starting a new secular (long term) bull market. The kind that can last 15-22 years. But it could be shorter. Things have sped up: information, investment trading, technology, product cycles, careers, etc. This could compress the current secular bull to a shorter time….

Why might we be in a super-bull market? The fundamentals. Michael Jordan said “You can have all the physical ability in the world, but you still have to know the fundamentals.” The fundamentals of the U.S. economy and stock market have never been better. We’re hitting new records in GDP and corporate earnings as far as estimates go into the future.

For example, GDP will go from $17.4 trillion in 2014 to $22.1 trillion in 2019, according to the IMF. And S&P 500 earnings have hit new records for the past four, or so, years and are estimated to hit new records this year and next.

Those are the big fundamentals. Add to that lowering unemployment, real estate sector growth, growing consumer wealth and saving, and lowering consumer and corporate debt and that equals a very positive future.

What Are the 3 Incredible Fed Reserve “Variables”?

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The Federal Reserve is being more transparent, trying to lead investors and the markets with better guidance on their potential actions.

They’ve now winded down their bond-buying program. Next in line is increasing the Fed interest rate. But what do they look at before they pull the trigger?

GDP, Unemployment and PCE Inflation

The brain trust looks at three different variables. Really its four but one is just two different, but very similar, inflation numbers. You can take a look at their latest projections in this PDF.

GDP is, of course, the biggie. If our economy is shrinking, slowing or growing that’s gonna make a huge difference to Fed behavior. Next year they predict a range of 2.1 to 3.2 percent growth. And we just got quarterly numbers saying GDP grew by 3.9 percent!

That’s good news and confirms the belief that they will raise rates in 2015. Fully fourteen, of seventeen, members think 2015 will be the right time to raise rates. Only two members think 2016 is the prime time. So its a good bet that next year we’ll see rates move up.

They also expect unemployment to drop to as low as 4.7% in 2017. Or as high as 5.8 percent, depending on which Fed member you believe. The lower number would be an even bigger improvement than we’ve already seen.

The inflation figure is based on Personal Consumption Expenditures, or PCE inflation. Here they project very moderate rates no higher than 2.4% and maybe as low as 1.5 percent. That’s very moderate and below the 3 percent historical average.

With inflation expectations low rates should move up pretty slowly. They don’t have to put on the brakes quickly to control runaway price increases.

What’s an investor to do? Make sure sure you have plenty of risk exposure, short-maturity bonds and alternative bonds that behave differently than traditional bonds. Also, make sure you’re long-term bond exposure is very light.

Unemployment Goes Down to 5.9%…Defies “The New Normal”

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The economy is chugging along. This drop in the unemployment rate is getting us back to a normalized economy. It was just a matter of time. I’ve been predicting this rate since 2010. In general, recovering from a harsh economy, the rate drops about 1% a year. So, not much of a prediction. More like a rule of thumb that most people didn’t believe any more.

Bill Gross, known as “The Bond King”, just left the company he co-founded, PIMCO. He and his company started this hogwash of a “new normal” economy. Basically, what they meant was the U.S. will be like Europe: regular high unemployment (e.g. 6-9% range) and slow GDP growth of, say, 1 percent annually. Before his departure, he and the company changed this idea to “new neutral”, a more optimistic view. I guess it was just a way of saying the economy is actually quite good and they may have been wrong.

So, yes, the labor participation rate hasn’t really moved. This rate could be considered a more accurate measure of unemployment. But there’s no denying we’ve catapulted out of the economic shed into our typical dynamic growth. When you look at GDP estimates and corporate profits estimates, we’ll hit new record highs for both as far into the future as there are estimates.

Bye bye New Normal.