Landmark Links November 18th – Hiding in Plain Sight

hiding

Lead Story….  There are two types of correct forecasts.  The first type is the broken clock forecast.  It consists of someone predicting the same thing over and over again, and being mostly wrong and occasionally correct.  Nobel laureate Paul Samuelson’s “The stock market has forecast nine of the last five recessions” quote comes to mind as do all of the folks that have been telling us that “interest rates have nowhere to go but up” since 2009. Taking advice from anyone who makes these types of predictions is useless at best and possibly detrimental.  The second type of prediction is data based and not subject to the author’s biases.  There are very few people who can pull this sort of clear minded analysis off.  Bill McBride of Calculated Risk comes to mind as does reigning bond king Jeff Gundlach of DoubleLine Capital.  Today I want to focus on Gundlach who has correctly predicted every presidential election result since 1972.  What made this year unique even by Gundlach’s standards is that he predicted that:

  1. Trump would win the election back in January BEFORE the presidential primaries even began.
  2. The 10-Year Treasury would yield over 2% by year end back in January when Treasuries yielded a paltry 1.35%.

Today, I want to focus on Gundlach and why he got both of these forecasts right when so many others were incorrect.  Robert Huebscher of Advisor Perspectives published a post earlier this week called How Gundlach Predicted Trump’s Victory  I’m going to post it in it’s entirety today since it contains a lot of terrific insight on Gundlach’s methodology as well as some valuable commentary about where we are headed next:

How Gundlach Predicted Trump’s Victory

Hillary Clinton was a uniquely bad candidate, he said, because of her failure to beat President Obama in 2008, followed by her problems with the email server and a “basic lack of honesty.”

Why did Trump win? Gundlach said that people felt abandoned by the economy, with the median worker having suffered low or negative wage growth since 1973. This came while the top 5% realized a 51% real increase in their purchasing power. He said that the corresponding increase for the top .01% was so large it would have “blown the scale” of his graph.

“The ownership of wealth has shifted,” Gundlach said. “But those trends are about to reverse.” Gundlach said that wealth inequality will decrease.

A big contributor to Clinton’s defeat was the release of the Obamacare data on November 1, Gundlach said, which showed a “massive” increase in premiums. He said that those responsible for scheduling that release must have expected a great piece of news, not the negative “shock” it actually delivered.

Gundlach commented on what the election result means for the markets and specifically how investors should position their bond portfolios.

The markets are confused

“The markets remain completely confused as to what will be the trend direction from the election,” he said.

As evidence of that confusion, he said he was struck by the many pundits who called for a crash and global depression following Trump’s victory; many of them, Gundlach said, now claim Trump is great for stocks.

Trump does not have a “magic wand” to offer instantaneous improvement for the economy, Gundlach said. Investors should expect a bumpy ride while Trump strives to deliver on his promises, he said.

Gundlach has been warning against a rise in interest rates. He turned negative in July, when the 10-year bond was yielding 1.35%; it is now just over 2%.

An interest rate rise will not be positive for the economy or the housing market, he said. Monthly mortgage payments are already up 15%, he said, and could go up 20-25% relative to their mid-year levels. Median rents have been “skyrocketing” and renters have had a “horrible decade,” Gundlach said; those benefits in the housing market have accrued to homeowners.

“That is not positive for the psyche of the middle class,” he said.

Nor will Trump’s victory be positive for consumer spending in the short term, according to Gundlach. Trump’s supporters are not economically in a position to spend.

Gundlach warned against overanalyzing the effects of Trump’s ascendency. Since 1988, the same institutions have been in place, he said, with politics dominated by the Bushes, Clintons and Obama. “The trends of the past 28 years cannot be relied upon,” he said.

Gundlach was emphatic about one group of stocks. He said to “avoid the FANGs in a big way” – Facebook, Amazon, Netflix and Google. “It is not a good idea to bet on ideas whose trends are correlated to things that won’t continue,” he said, especially since the market had priced a Clinton victory into the prices of those stocks. Instead, he said to overweight financials, materials and industrials “for the quarters to come.”

Silicon Valley put a lot of money behind Clinton, he said. The irony is that Trump would have lost if not for Twitter, according to Gundlach.

“The people who hate Trump the most were responsible for his winning the election,” he said.

The recession and inflation forecast

Gundlach said the probability of a recession has increased based on his indicator, which measures the unemployment rate relative to its historical moving average. But he did not say a recession is imminent.

He was more focused on the prospects for higher inflation.

Inflation measures, including hourly earnings, the core CPI and core PCE, have “bottomed out,” he said. They are all moving higher, as well as the internet-based Pricestats inflation gauge. In July, the market was predicting 1% inflation “forever,” Gundlach said; now it is saying that outcome is impossible, and inflation will likely be above 2.5% by April.

As a result, Gundlach said he has liked TIPS since September. In the Flexible fund, he said every Treasury bond was a nominal bond at mid-year; now 100% of its Treasury holdings are TIPS. Over the same time, he said, the Core fund went from having 0% to 30% of its Treasury holdings in TIPS.

Where rates are heading and will the EU will break up

Gundlach offered a number of forecasts across the asset-class spectrum, as well as a prediction for the future of the European Union.

Crude oil could find its way to $60/barrel, he said, and it will be hard for it to drop below $40. From oil’s low January at $26/barrel, it may have a 100% price increase.

Gundlach is “somewhat neutral” on gold over the short term and not as positive on it as he was at year end. He advocated “paring back” gold holdings.

He said he was positive on the dollar from 2011 until mid-2015. Now he is positive again, and said the dollar will “move to higher levels.” The dollar has been a leading indicator of Treasury rates, according to Gundlach. With the dollar at a high level, he advised against buying bonds until the 10-year Treasury reaches 2.30% or 2.35%.

But he said he has “relaxed” the “negative sentiment” he had on interest rates in July. He said he is less likely to forecast higher rates now, but is not predicting an instantaneous reversal of yields to the downside.

“The 10-year yield is higher than its average the past five years,” he said. “This is not my definition of a bull market.”

Has said that the 10-year yield could be 6% in five years, but this is not necessarily negative for bond funds. It depends, he said, on how those funds are positioned and the path that rates take to get to a higher level. Some funds, he said, will do fine reinvesting their coupons at progressively higher rates.

The cash flows from bonds go up when prices go down, he said, whereas when stocks drop in price it is because of unfavorable earnings or economic news, which can lead to dividend cuts.

“There are a lot of reasons to be less negative on Treasury bonds than we were four months ago,” he said.

Virtually all other sectors of the bond market are “on the rich side,” Gundlach said, including mortgages, CMBS, corporate bonds (including junk bonds), leveraged loans, emerging markets and municipals. He said the worst thing to own are 30-year corporate bonds.

If you want to own fixed income, he said to “play it in Treasury bonds.”

At the end of the question-and-answer period, he was asked whether he expects another Brexit event and whether the Eurozone would collapse.

There will be another exit, he said, but he doesn’t know which country it will be.

“There is never one cockroach,” Gundlach said.

Jeff Gundlach has proven time and again that he is not a broken clock.  Ignore at your own risk.

Economy

Overshoot?  Has the post election bond sell off that led to higher interest rates gone too far?

Blinded: Paul Krugman’s election night tweets and blog posts are just the latest example of why political bias & business cycle analysis NEVER  mix.

Welcome to the 21st Century: US Manufacturing is about to get more high tech but still has a ways to go.

Trouble: US consumers are increasingly defaulting on loans made online.  It seems that startups that aimed to revolutionize the banking industry underestimated the risks involved in consumer lending.  Color me shocked.

Commercial

Evolution: Co-working company WeWork which has soared to a $17 billion valuation by leasing space from landlords and then renting it out at a higher price.  However, newcomers in the space look a lot more like hotel operators where landlords pay co-working operators a fee and keep most of the profits, reducing the operators risk profile.

Residential

The Tax Man Cometh: Vancouver, BC seems hellbent on cratering their housing market.  Earlier this year they introduced a 15% surcharge on home purchases by foreign buyers that drove transactions off a cliff.  Apparently, that wasn’t enough because now they are adding a new tax of C$10,000 a year that will be charged to homeowners who let their homes sit vacant.  Those who lie about whether their property is occupied or not will be fined C$10,000 a day, or $7,425, U.S.  In related news, Seattle is looking really, really good to a lot of foreign buyers right about now.   See Also: Why the world’s largest real estate binge is coming to a city near you.  And: As markets waver, the rich are parking money in luxury homes.

Exodus: Data analysis firm CoreLogic found that for every new home buyer coming into California, another three are selling their homes and moving somewhere less expensive as we’ve effectively priced out the middle class through restricting development.

No Privacy: Bathrooms with a view (for both you and potentially your neighbors) are a  hot feature for luxury condo units.

Profiles

Flying High: Drones are evolving from military to business tools and the potential market could be massive.  FYI, the graphics in the linked report from Goldman Sachs are incredible.

Yuge Infographic of the Day

Millennial Home Buyers

WTF

Dirty Money: A Royal Canadian Mint employee (allegedly) smuggled $140k of gold and sumggled it out by shoving it where the sun don’t shine.

Ramen Rampage: An ex con was arrested for domestic battery after striking his live-in boyfriend with a cup of ramen noodles, because Florida.

Mug Shot Competition: Former Oregon football player arrested for theft and a man who was terrifying El Segundo with a turbo charged air horn are locked in a fierce battle for Mugshot of the Week.

Landmark Links – A candid look at the economy, real estate, and other things sometimes related.

Visit us at Landmarkcapitaladvisors.com

Landmark Links November 18th – Hiding in Plain Sight

Landmark Links July 19th – One Size Fits All?

one-size-fits-all-rubber-duck

Lead Story…. Nobel Laureate Robert Shiller wrote a piece in the NY Times this weekend titled: Why Land and Homes Actually Tend to Be Disappointing Investments that caught my eye.  In the article, Professor Shiller discusses both farmland and residential land and makes a case they are both subpar investments over time (highlights are mine):

Over the century from 1915 to 2015, though, the real value of American farmland (deflated by the Consumer Price Index) increased only 3.1 times, according to the Department of Agriculture. That comes to an average increase of only 1.1 percent a year — and with a growing population, that’s barely enough to keep per capita real land value unchanged.

According to my own data (relying on the S&P/Case-Shiller U.S. National Home Price Index, which I helped create), real home prices rose even more slowly over the same period — a total increase of 1.8 times, which comes to an average of only 0.6 percent a year.What all that amounts to is that neither farmland nor housing has been a great place to invest money over the long term.

To put this in perspective, note that the real gross domestic product in the United States grew 15.5 times — or, on average, 3.2 percent a year — from 1929, the year official G.D.P. numbers began to be kept, to 2015. That’s a much higher growth rate than for real estate. But why?  For home prices, a good part of the answer comes from supply and demand. As prices rise, companies build more houses and the supply floods the market, keeping prices down.  

The supply response to increasing demand may help explain why real home prices nationwide fell 35 percent from 2006 to 2012 (and even more in some cities). Investment in residential structures in the United States was at near-record levels as a percentage of G.D.P. just before the price declines. Prices have been rebounding since then — and so has construction of new houses.

 

While the idea of supply and demand balancing out the housing market makes perfect sense from a textbook economic perspective, it quickly falls apart when you take into account the most local of all factors that has quite possibly the largest impact on both land and home prices: politics.  Essentially, there are two primary restrictions to developing more residential units.  The first is geographical.  This includes mountains, bodies of water and scarcity of available water resources for new units.  The second is political.  This includes restrictive zoning, discretionary approval rights, etc.

Shiller’s analysis is perfect for markets with little to no geographical restrictions and even fewer political restrictions.  For example, land and home prices are incredibly stable in a place like Houston, Texas where new homes can be added quickly.  However, it fits poorly in coastal California which is hemmed in by mountains and the pacific ocean, has incredibly restrictive zoning and a populace with political leanings typically hostile to new development.  I was a bit surprised that Shiller wrote this piece as he knows what I just wrote better than anyone.  In fact, the Case Shiller Index that bears his name tracks housing prices in individual cities and backs up what I just wrote.  For example, look no further than the difference between the Case Shiller Chicago Index (the don’t track Houston) and the Case Shiller San Francisco Index to see how land use restrictions can lead to explosive moves in asset pricing when coupled with real economic growth.

Shiller goes on to explain how adding density keeps land and housing prices stable over time (highlights are mine):

Of course, underneath every home is a piece of land. Although that is typically only a bit of former farmland, it is often in an urban or suburban area, where a plot of land tends to cost much more than in the country.

Sometimes that little piece of land dominates the value of the home, particularly in dense urban areas. But if we are to understand long-term trends, we need to realize what land represents, even in Manhattan or Silicon Valley or any booming area. People in such places usually aren’t buying land for its own sake but for the myriad services that housing provides. A home is not just a place to sleep and store clothing and keepsakes. It can be a place that is convenient to a stimulating place of work, good schools and entertainment and, indeed, part of an entire human community.

These services have developed enormously over the last 100 years, changing the spatial and geographic dimensions of housing. There are vastly more highways and automobiles, telephones and various electronic connections, enabling people to leave center cities and still obtain the housing services they want. Thus, from a long-term perspective, these developments relieved a great deal of the upward pressure on home prices in cities.

Right now, there are some interesting developments in the supply of housing services that economize even further on urban land. We have recently seen interest in “micro-apartments,” which may be little more than 200 square feet but manage to squeeze in a kitchen, a bathroom and an entertainment center. For many people, this tiny space, with its proximity to like-minded people, interesting neighborhoods and restaurants, is preferable to living in a house in a far-flung suburb. Carrying this idea further, keepsakes can be kept in remote storage, maybe deliverable someday, on demand, with driverless cars. Already, rules are being changed in many cities, including New York, allowing the little apartments to be built and to accommodate many more people per acre of city land. These factors could lead to near-zero future demands on valuable urban land.

First off, micro-units are wonderful as a means to drive housing prices down for those wishing to live in a high-priced urban area IF AND ONLY IF YOU ARE ACTUALLY ABLE TO GET APPROVALS TO BUILD THEM.  Clearly Professor Shiller has not attempted to get such a micro-unit development approved in a wealthy, coastal region of California – say Orange County, for example.  If a developer were to propose such a thing in a high-priced neighborhood, he’d be run out of town on a rail or worse for even daring to bring it up.  This type of concept that works great in some places (cities without restrictive zoning and economics text books) and not at all in others (pretty much every major city on the west coast and a few on the east coast as well).  In addition, adding density typically results in INCREASING underlying land values rather than causing them to fall. Please note that I’m not disagreeing with Shiller as to the premise of his article from a strictly economic perspective (at least when it comes to homes – not necessarily land) only noting that politics MUST BE taken into account because they play such an out-sized role in some regions.

I am far from an uber-bull when it comes to housing prices.  Trees don’t grow to the sky and asset values can go up in a straight line for an extended period of time.  That line of thinking has been fully debunked by the debacle that was the housing crash and Great Recession.  IMO, one buys a house for stability and as a hedge against future rising rents, especially in supply constrained regions.  If you are looking at a house soley as a means of making a large return on investment, you are doing it wrong.  Unlike say tech stocks, housing is a necessity.  Therefore the only way to properly judge it as an investment is versus the alternative: renting.  You either do better over time as a renter or an owner depending largely on economic and political factors where you live.  All real estate is local and making broad generalizations about housing supply being able to meet demand regardless of location and political climate is next to impossible even for an economist as accomplished as Shiller.

Economy

Bass Ackwards: How negative interest rates have turned the world’s economy upside down.

Delay: Britain has now pushed the projected date of the Brexit back to 2019.  The odds of this thing actually occurring are falling by the day.

Reaching: Someone published a research note on Seeking Alpha theorizing that the Pokemon Go app will lead to higher oil prices.  Color me skeptical.

Commercial 

That Didn’t Take Long: WeWork is cutting it’s revenue forecast and its CEO is asking employees to change it’s “spending culture.”

Residential

Over the Falls: London luxury home sales are plunging post-Brexit.

Profiles

Class Act: Tim Duncan was the greatest basketball player of his generation – sorry Lakers fans but deep down you know its true and not all that close.  True to Duncan’s persona, he left quietly, shunning the typically season-long distraction/going away party that players of his caliber so often demand in the modern era.

Fading Away: Why golf is going the way to the three martini business lunch.

Chart of the Day

The condo development capital stack is becoming a convoluted mess as banks pull back (h/t Tom Farrell).

(Click to enlarge)

WTF

Such a Bummer: McDonalds has stopped allowing customers to stream porn on their free in-store wifi.  It will be interesting to watch how this impacts the bottom line as I’m pretty sure that the free porn was the only reason anyone still went to McDonalds.

Headline of the Year Contender: Woman Decapitated By Passing Train During Sex will be a difficult one to beat.  In a twist that should surprise no-one, this happened in Russia and she was drunk at the time.

Inevitable: Someone shot a gun at a couple of teenagers playing Pokemon Go. Did it happen in Florida? Of course it did.

Landmark Links – A candid look at the economy, real estate, and other things sometimes related.

Visit us at Landmarkcapitaladvisors.com

Landmark Links July 19th – One Size Fits All?