Thursday, August 30, 2018

More brief comments...

---Warren Buffett was interviewed on CNBC this morning for about 20 minutes.  He was his usual low key and congenial self, and not predisposed to give any broad directional comments about today's equity market.  As always, he looks to invest when he sees value, and not purportedly time the market.  He does currently have huge cash reserves now at his company, so obviously has not seen a major opportunity recently, actually in the last three years.  Comments of interest... he continues to modestly add to his Apple position, one in which he owns 5% of outstanding shares... he owns approximately 9.5% of the shares of each of the four major airlines, Delta, Southwest, American, United and that was not known here... but he is not as attracted to consumer branded products as he once was.  It was all interpreted here as having a degree of caution at the moment, but those airline investments?

---In the current New Yorker, there is an article about the journalist Glenn Greenwald.  It is fascinating, if at times a bit confusing.  Here, Greenwald has not surfaced much since his interactions with Edward Snowden and Julian Assuage were widely publicized.  The range of his interests and his style of life are covered here.  While he is the scourge of the elite Democratic establishment, he writes of Trump, "he is a criminal surrounded by fifth tier grifters who, under normal circumstances, would be generation Power Points to defraud pensioners."  Pinning down the mercurial Greenwald is not easy.

---This September 3rd issue of the magazine packed with things of interest... Louis Menand on Francis Fukayama's latest book, a review that must be read again to begin to fully understand it... Jon Lee Anderson on the Ortega regime in Nicaragua... a comment on the HBO program "Succession", an eight show series that presumably will continue, and was a program about business titans in general that was well done for the most part, despite some flaws I liked it...  Anthony Lane reviewing a documentary about John McEnroe by a French director, just in time for this U.S. Open...  and more of interest.  When there is an issue like this it is a treat, especially because magazines are so much easier than books to read in bed while waiting for sleep.

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Random market comments...

---Toll Brothers builders reported strong results today, which was seen by some as an affirmation of the housing market.  Their average house sells for $840,000.  That's across a range of cities, not just New York.  They are luxury builders that are not representative at all of the broader market.  In fact, this could be viewed as negative news because what it really affirms is that the bifurcation of wealth is becoming more extreme.  In the long run that is not sustainable, economically or politically.

---In recent days Elon Musk has shown that his brilliance does not extend to understanding how the stock market works.  Like everything else, he wants to solve it and control it in a way that seems to be becoming an obsession.  He needs to be told that his job is to focus on his businesses, only make decisions based on business needs, and not on trying to influence the stock price.  The market may not appreciate what he sees, but if it works the market will catch up.  His angst is the cause of market concern now.

---Trump has suggested that consideration be given to earnings reporting by corporations every six months and not quarterly.  Some in his cabal have convinced him that quarterly reporting is too time consuming, too costly, and not constructive to long term investing.  That is a terrible idea.  For some industries the argument could be made, I guess, but to many firms the variability in their operating environment makes quarterly reporting a necessity.  For financial firms, a quarterly credit check is essential for investors.  If Regulation FD is followed to the letter, six month reporting could be feasible, MAYBE, but Trump and his team are working to weaken Reg. FD already.  This makes no sense.  Hedge funds and active traders would just have a more open playing field and traditional investors would be less informed.  What should be done more rigorously? Companies in general should stop giving quarterly guidance.  Underscore that.

---When watching CNBC, there is the recurring thought here now that Jim Cramer is trying to put himself in position to be Secretary of the Treasury.  Ludicrous right, well maybe.  He frequently goes to extremes to rationalize Trump's policies now.  He loves attention and he has watched the constant CNBC contributor Larry Kudlow become a key economic adviser to Trump.  Cramer has been in his current gig for a long time and such a change would be a capstone to his minor celebrity life.  The creepy Mnuchin cannot be enjoying his role too much these days as he, at times, openly disagrees with Trump, in particular on trade, and has recently been more in the background.  He has just watched Trump minions bite the dust.

Watch Cramer for half an hour if you can stomach it, and see what I mean.

Sunday, August 19, 2018

So what goes with this equity market?

U.S. equities remain strong but investors are on edge and pundits, as always, are skeptical.  With 94% of Fortune 500 companies having reported second quarter results, 84% of companies have beat EPS estimates and 72% have been above revenue estimates from securities analysts.  That's pretty astounding.  We are getting into "It can't get any better than this territory" which sounds positive but to investors can be a bit scary.  "It can't get better?"

The big worry of the moment is about major tech names.  Many of China's major tech names, notably Tencent and Alibaba, have disappointed investors recently and seen share drops between 10% to 20% over the past few months.  Tech is global so this is not trivial.  Facebook and Netflix in the U.S. have retrenched in recent months, for totally different reasons, that's big tech showing some vulnerability.  Amazon, Google, and Apple remain solid.  On the consumer side, housing starts have been on the low side but consumer confidence remains strong.  Whether that confidence is due to consumer wealth capacity growing or due to looser lending standards in a more competitive retail market is the real question.  Opinion here is that it is the latter, which requires some thought.

Where is the right balancing point between desired wage and productivity growth and the possibility of some unexpected hiccup in inflation?  Really, all seems quiet on that front but that is the looming question.  The other overhang is having an unbalanced leader who could roil the geopolitical front or the domestic political front in a serious way at some point.  Who knows, but if he manages to make a major blunder the market has room to move down 10% without destroying anything but some retail and traders, but not institutions.  If he does something catastrophic, look out below.  We watch...

Still invested here at usual range of limits, a bit risky if one is into age based investing but that's not done here.

So we watch...