Keep an Eye on Inflation

In October 1968, with the United States fighting wars against poverty at home and perceived communist threats abroad, the S&P 500 Index climbed on the back of an overheated economy to record highs in both real and nominal terms. The boom times were not to last. Adjusted for inflation, stocks would not return to their late 1968 levels until mid-1992 (chart data). In nominal terms, full recovery took about seven years from a January 1973 peak.

I offer this cautionary tale by way of explaining why recent decades have differed so dramatically for equity market investors from those generally unprofitable years a generation or two ago. Unlike current conditions, what characterized the period beginning in the late 1960’s were cost of living increases that compelled President Richard Nixon to impose wage and price controls and the Federal Reserve to raise interest rates to levels that today would seem unfathomable.

At the vanguard of the Fed’s anti-inflation effort was the late Paul Volcker, the central bank’s chairman from 1979-1987. Volcker allowed benchmark rates to reach nearly 20%, but his tough love approach to price stability is widely credited with subduing inflationary expectations and thus sowing the seeds for the long economic expansions and bull markets to follow.

So, while recessions are the most obvious and direct causes of severe market declines, it’s rising inflation that triggers economic downturns by motivating the Fed to take away the monetary punchbowl. Of course, recessions cause corporate profits to fall as well, but earnings are only half the story. The other half concerns the impact of rates on valuations.

Historically, the equity market’s price-earnings ratio has moved inversely to bond yields as money flowed out of stocks and into higher-yielding assets. Viewed another way, the equity market’s earnings yield – its P/E ratio expressed as a percent – closely tracked the yield on Treasury bonds. (A P/E ratio of 20 equals an earning yield of 5%, or 1.00/20=0.05)

Which brings our story to the outlook for stocks in the months ahead.

Among the enduring mysteries of what’s become the longest expansion on record is the breakdown in the relationship between unemployment and inflation, also known as the Phillips Curve. In the past, tight labor markets have fueled fast-rising wages and benefits, which in turn fed through to consumer prices and finally to higher interest rates. This time, not so much. Despite the lowest jobless rate since the boom days of the late 1960’s, inflation has consistently undershot the Fed’s 2% target, as measured by the central bank’s preferred metric, the Core Personal Consumption Expenditures Price Index. That’s allowed rates to stay low by historical standards, thus extending the bull market in stocks.

Some economists believe the recent failure of the Phillips Curve to explain inflation can be attributed to a changed definition of full employment while others think a myriad of complex global factors are at work.


What matters most for investors, however, is that inflation expectations remain anchored and that core inflation stays at or below the Fed’s 2% target. Until that changes, we aren’t likely to find the Fed’s fingerprints on whatever weapon eventually brings about the demise of the longest bull market in U.S. history.

Still interested in understanding more when it comes to inflation? If so, contact our firm at 843-999-1570 and someone will be able to explain more in depth of what you need to know when it comes to what’s ahead for stocks and inflation! With that said, “We have great challenges & great opportunities, and with our help we’ll meet them together!” – Jason Pries

Bonus websites of interest…

Federal Open Market Committee Leaves Rates Unchanged

In a not surprising fashion, the Federal Reserve held interest rates unchanged with the federal funds rate at 1.5% to 1.75% and adjusted its post-meeting statement to reflect what appears to be a stronger commitment to push up inflation. The decision was unanimous.

Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell quoted, “We believe the current stance of monetary policy is appropriate to support sustained economic growth, a strong labor market and inflation returning to our symmetric 2% objective,” Fed Chair Jerome Powell said at a news conference following the central bank’s unanimous decision to maintain the key overnight lending rate in a range of between 1.50% and 1.75%.

Meeting market expectations, the FOMC said Wednesday it will hold its benchmark funds rate, a range where it has been since the latter part of last year. Officials hope they can allure inflation higher by committing to keeping rates low until the inflation level rises. They even indicated, through the “symmetric” terminology, that they will allow inflation to run above target for some time.

Fed Powell also noted signs that global economic growth was stabilizing and diminishing uncertainties around trade policy, concern about both of which were major factors in the Fed’s decisions to cut rates three times last year.

After indicating a list of positive developments, including the initial trade agreement reached recently by the United States and China and some suggestion in global manufacturing hitting a possible bottom, Powell noted China’s economy would see at least a short-term hit from the coronavirus outbreak.

On another note, there was not much in regards to comments in their statement. There were few changes in the statement, outside of the change of date and rotating members, there were changes to the wording of the statement comparative to December: the dampening of household spending was characterized as rising at a “moderate” pace (downgraded from “strong”) and inflation was seen as “returning to” target (instead of “near”).None of this really teetered the scales in a meaningful way, and the decision to extend overnight and term repos will more than likely be received positively by financial markets.

With Federal Reserve officials likely to hold interest rates steady, the focus of their meeting today shifts to modifying their control of short-term rates. The Fed’s statement did not announce any immediate changes to the central bank’s current exercise of buying $60 billion monthly of U.S. Treasury bills to ensure adequate short-term liquidity in bank funding markets.

The overnight and term repo market shook the financial world in September when an unexpected rate spike upset short-term lending, prompting the Federal Reserve to intervene. The Federal Reserve successfully flooded markets with cash in the fourth quarter of last year to avoid a spike in overnight lending rates and ensure the central bank keeps control of the federal funds rate.

Powell said the Fed would likely begin scaling back that amount sometime in April-June 2020, when the amount of reserves in the banking system would likely be deemed suitable. After that, purchases would be made and the Fed’s balance sheet expanded as necessary to ensure the level of bank reserves remained “ample,” he said.

The Fed’s big problem now is figuring out when and how to wind down the program. The undertaking could be more complicated if some market participants are right that the moves have stimulated a stock market bull rally.

Yields on U.S. Treasury securities crushed lower as Powell spoke, while benchmark U.S. stock market indexes gave up all of their gains on the day.


In my opinion, the Fed is going to push it all in, as they would say in poker. I will remind people that there are 3 types of reasons people make decisions… One because of greed, two because of fear, and three because of need, so there is really no other decision but they need to do it. The Fed is in a box, what would anyone want them to do? Give up and say “well we did all we could do, good luck.”

Still interested in understanding more when it comes to Federal Reserve? If so, contact our firm at 843-999-1570 and someone will be able to explain more in depth of what you need to know when it comes to the Federal Open Market Committee! With that said, “We have great challenges & great opportunities, and with our help we’ll meet them together!” – Jason Pries

Classic Advice on When to Sell

I figured it seems fitting to write this article in the market environment in which we find ourselves today.

“If the job has been correctly done when a common stock is purchased, the time to sell it is — almost never.” — Philip A. Fisher, Common Stocks and Uncommon Profits, 1958

With the major market indices continuing to reach new highs, some investors are wondering if they should sell their stocks. After all, if prices are high & the holdings have been profitable, why not sell & take the gains?

On Wall Street, the preference to sell can be especially popular. Many brokerage & research firms publish price targets for stocks & recommend selling them once the target has been reached. Other firms routinely recommend moving to all-cash positions based on market, macroeconomic or geopolitical forecasts. Still others view stocks as little more than trading vehicles & move in/out many times over the course of a month, week, day or microsecond, as in the case of high-frequency traders.

At the other end of the spectrum are investors who never sell at all. In an article published in 1984, author Robert Kirby described a situation where his purchase recommendations were followed, but his sell recommendations were ignored. After many years, the result was an odd assortment of small holdings, several large holdings, & one huge holding of Haloid which later turned into a zillion shares of Xerox. Kirby, of course, had recommended that Haloid be sold.

In our investment club, our analytical work focuses on the underlying businesses of the stocks. We think of our club as part-owners of those businesses &, as long-term investors, our club owns the shares for as long as the company’s management team is doing its job to increase shareholder value. Given enough time, a company’s share price is likely to increase along with growth in its revenues, earnings, & dividends.

However, companies can change & industries evolve, & management teams can lose their way. Sometimes better opportunities develop elsewhere.

“If you are shopping for common stocks, choose them the way you would buy groceries, not the way you would buy perfume.” — Benjamin Graham, The Intelligent Investor, 1949


At the end of the day, investors are well-served if the job of analyzing a company includes a thorough review of its underlying business & fundamental characteristics — this holds true for selling & buying. If the company selected for purchase passes criteria on all counts, it could be a long time before it needs to be sold. And selling a high-quality, adeptly managed company just to take profits rarely is a viable long-term investment strategy.

Still interested in understanding more when it comes to selling a stock investment? If so, contact our Firm at 843-945-0051 and someone will be able to explain more in depth of what you need to know when it comes to stock market investing! With that said, “We have great challenges & great opportunities, and with our help we’ll meet them together!” – Jason Pries

To Infinity & Beyond

Bull Market – To Infinity & Beyond

This will almost sound like a broken record, but once again I hold not one single short position, in anything. I’m long U.S. and global stocks. But also managing cash and portfolio balance as usual while feeling as though I’m playing a game of Musical Chairs while the music still plays (did you catch the pun… Broken record, music still plays. I know, I’m here all night).

I have long equity positions because in a manic up phase I have little interest in eroding the situation with short hedging. Besides, gold stocks are doing that balancing job right now and that balancing act has been working well since June.

Below is an annual chart of the $SPX (each bar = a year) going back 92ish years. Long enough periods which included many crises, panics + wars – yet how many red bars do you see? Nobody knows when the next red bar will show up; but in the grand scheme of things, does it matter? We can also see the 2008 crash as merely a blip.


People will say… Just stay in and prosper! No problem in real time because the U.S. stock market always comes back… ALWAYS. This is the kind of stuff that appears near tops; like stuff that uses ultra-long-term yearly charts in log scale to smooth out the problems. So the next time this happens, try to forget that it was caused by epic policy distortions within the system and just remember it’s actually a smooth ride assuming the next thing is like the last thing and you live long enough to reap the benefits. The Macro Tourist notes in a recent blog that CNBC anchor Becky Quick got into something of a competition with her wealth manager guest, who is only 80% exposed to stocks. Becky’s all-in at 100%!

However, I would like to point out that Becky was not bragging about this allocation at any time during the past decade. No, she has chosen December 2019 with the S&P 500 up more than 360% since the bottom to let us know about her over-allocation.

Herein lays my point. Just like this summer when bonds had already ripped 13 handles higher, market participants usually express this sort of arrogance at points when they feel confident. Extremely confident.

What do I take from this? It’s not the time to be reaching for exposure. I don’t need to know anything else except that CNBC anchors are competing with their guests about the size of their stock allocations.

And of course there was the president with his dangerous “409 K” tweet taunting people as if merely performing in line with the S&P 500 (as opposed to near doubling its performance), which was a failure.

Conclusion, it’s a manic upside with investment managers all aboard, newsletters all aboard, CNBC anchors all aboard and all those discount brokerages that opened during the real sentiment blow off in January 2018.

These sentiment knee-jerks have refreshed the market on very short-term bases. It’s dangerous but as of in the now still ongoing and racing up the mountain.

With that said, “We have great challenges & great opportunities, and with our help we’ll meet them together!” – Jason Pries