Monthly Archives: August 2017

Harvey’s Destruction “May Have Solved The Auto Industry’s Inventory Problem”

On Tuesday, during the peak of the Harvey-related flooding, we reported that the hurricane may leave a greater trail of automobile destruction than even Katrina, the most expensive natural disaster in US history. In August 2005, Katrina wiped out some 500,000-600,000 vehicles but William Armstrong of CL King warned that Houston has about 5x more people than New Orleans did at the time.

Cars

The news was especially bad for retailers and auto dealers: storms of this magnitude bring not only millions in salvage-related charge offs for the auto industry but a loss of critical "selling days" for one of the biggest markets in the country.  As CNBC pointed out, Citi analyst Itay Michaeli figures Hurricane Harvey could knock about 500,000 units off the August auto SAAR to be reported tomorrow. Michaeli now estimates Harvey will affect some 125 counties in Texas and about 60 percent of the state's auto sales.

Before Harvey, Michaeli estimated the August sales pace for the country was going to be in the mid-16 million range. As the storm lingers over the area, Michaeli has dropped his estimate. "Our analysis suggests that Hurricane Harvey could push this down to the low-16 million unit range," Michaeli wrote in a note to clients.

"This is bad; real bad," said Marc Cannon, an AutoNation executive vice president. "Right now, we are focused on making sure all of our employees are safe and taken care of. At the same time, we're focusing on getting all of our stores up and running." AutoNation's 18 dealerships in the Houston remain shut as widespread flooding has not only swamped thousands of buildings in the Houston area, it's likely damaged hundreds, perhaps thousands of new cars and trucks parked on dealership lots.

Which, while terrible news to dealers - many of whom face bankruptcy if their insurance policies don't cover all the damages - may be just what the struggling U.S. OEM and supplier industry ordered, according to a new report by RBC. As bank analyst Joseph Spak writes, "while the devastation from Tropical Storm Harvey continues and our thoughts remain with the affected areas, we are beginning to wonder if the storm can, at least near-term, change the auto narrative. Harvey may have removed a number of the overhangs that caused investors to sour on the group."

The RBC strategist then lays out his reasoning why Harvey may have helped the US auto industry in terms of the 4 most pressing narratives: bloated inventory, demand concerns, peak mix, and used vehicles pricing. In fact, as he puts it, "In short, Harvey may have solved the industry's inventory problem."

Here is the spin:

  • Overhang 1: Bloated inventory. July 2017 days inventory stood at 68 days, 8 days higher than July 2016 and 13 days higher than the 10-year July average. This led investors to be worried about production cuts. Absolute inventory (at July 2017) was up ~330k units y/y. Edmunds estimates approximately 366k new cars and light trucks are on dealer lots in Texas that could be affected by Harvey. We believe a significant number of those could be damaged. Once Houston is stabilized, we see an opportunity for automakers to help re-position inventory from other geographies (we suspect GM could take advantage of this). In short, Harvey may have solved the industry's inventory problem.
  • Overhang 2: Demand concerns. We expect there could be a modest impact to August SAAR (we hedged by ~0.1mm to 16.4mm), but also believe the market won't put a lot of credence into the print. We would expect a further impact into early September before delayed purchases start to come back. Then over late 2017 and into 2018, replacement would occur. The actual damage to existing vehicles in operation is unknown but likely extensive. Cox Automotive estimates ~500k vehicles could ultimately be scrapped (they estimate Sandy was ~250k). As a result, we believe future NA production forecasts could be positively revised – a good catalyst for suppliers.
  • Overhang 3: Peak mix concerns. Moreover, this should be a rich mix as Texas is a key truck market (~14% of all full-size trucks, vs. 9% of overall sales; 1 out of 5 vehicles sold in Texas is a full-size truck). Key pickup truck suppliers AXL, TEN, BWA could benefit. We would favor Ford and F-150 suppliers and Ram and their suppliers over GM and K2XX suppliers given GM may not be able to participate as much given constraints from their program changeover.
  • Overhang 4: Used vehicle pricing concerns. We would expect near-term used vehicle pricing to improve given a rush of demand for loaner vehicles. This could help consumers looking to trade-in vehicles and potentially residual values for new leases.

In short, yet another twist on the familiar broken window, or in this case, busted car fallacy, which of course is great in capturing the flow impact on metrics such as GDP and consumption, but completely ignores the capital lost as a result of the inherent destruction, something which insurers, and perhaps the US taxpayer, will ultimately be on the hook for. Naturally, there is only so far that this type of "obligation transfer" can stretch before the whole construct falls apart, or else every time the US entered a recession a few strategically placed nukes would be sufficient to unleash a new economic golden age until the next contraction in the business cycle. Luckily, economists haven't gone that far yet. Unluckily, it is becoming increasingly obvious to everyone that the "next best thing" may be needed to boost growth. War.

As for cars, here is Spak's advice on how to trade the Texas tragedy:

"Time to tactically increase auto exposure. Net, with valuations that will screen attractive relative to other potential Harvey recovery plays, we would tactically look to increase exposure to the group. Separately, suppliers with meaningful Europe exposure should benefit from the Euro move. Among suppliers, larger beneficiaries could be: AXL, BWA, DAN, TEN. For OEMs, we would look to F."

If he is right, how long before a populist outcry demands that any industries benefiting from Harvey's destruction should be taxed more?

For now one thing is certain - stocks of RV makers have surged on the Harvey news, whether on expectations that just like during Katrina, FEMA will splurge on recreational vehicles to house the tens of thousands of emergency workers, or simply on expectations that with their homes - and car - badly damaged, tens of thousands of Texans will opt to buy the one object that combines the two.

Which just may push US GDP even more into the green: recall that in the first quarter, the biggest contributor to personal spending came from sales of... recreational goods and vehicles.

Incidentally, for those who wonder, FEMA's 2005 purchase of RVs ended up being a big hit to taxpayers. Back then, FEMA hurriedly bought 145,000 trailers and mobile homes just before and after Katrina hit, spending $2.7 billion largely through no-bid contracts. It then scrambled - unsuccessfully - to sell as many as 41,000 of the homes, netting about 40 cents on each dollar spent by taxpayers.

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Boomers Are Turning 71 – These 4 Charts Paint A Perfect Storm It Will Set Off For Investors

Authored by Stephen McBride via MauldinEconomics.com,

Few investors understand the magnitude of the looming demographic crisis and its ramifications.

The first Baby Boomers turned 70 last year. At the same time, the US fertility rate is at its lowest point since records began in 1909.

This disastrous combination means by 2030, those aged 65 and older will make up over 20% of the population.

Source: Mauldin Economics

In the meantime, the percentage of working-age cohorts are in decline. Combined together, these trends create a perfect demographic storm for the US economy.

Here’s why.

A Deflationary Environment

The chart below shows that growth in the working-age population has been a leading indicator of nominal GDP for decades.

Source: Census Bureau, Bureau of Economic Analysis

One of the reasons for that is that spending drops on average by 37.5% in retirement. Given that consumption accounts for 70% of US economic activity, this is a major deflationary force.

Economic growth and corporate profits go hand in hand. Which means this trend will cut down company earnings and, in turn, investors’ returns will go down further.

That’s not yet the worst news. Along with declining profits, America’s aging population has ever more profound implications for investors.

A Big Shift in Financial Markets

According to BlackRock, the average Boomer has only $136,000 saved for retirement. Even assuming 7% returns—when they’re more like 2%—it’s a yearly income of only $9,000. That’s $36,000 shy of the ideal retirement income.

This huge funding gap in pensions means Boomers will be forced to look for income elsewhere. Historically, that has come from bonds.

The research shows once you hit the age of 65, you go through the most profound asset class shift since you were in your 30s. You start to trim your equity and start to raise your bond exposure.

Source: Mauldin Economics

This shift has been visible for decades. However, it’s about to become much more pronounced.

Bearish for Stocks

As mentioned above, the first Boomers turned 70 in 2016. That means this year they turn 71.

Due to IRS mandatory minimum drawdown laws for retirement plans like IRAs and 401(k)s, when you turn 70 ½, you are forced to withdraw at least 5% of the value of the plan each year.

This spells trouble for the stock market as Boomers have 70% of their portfolios in equities.

In 2016, the Tax Policy Center found that 37% of the US stock market was owned by retirement accounts like IRAs and 401(k)s.

Therefore, this wave of forced selling will flood the market with billions of dollars’ worth of equities and bonds, which will push down prices.

With millions of retirees forced to divest their portfolios over the next decade, and markets sitting at all-time highs, investors should start thinking about exit strategies.

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Peso Tumbles After Mexico Hints May Balk On NAFTA, “Preparing Alternatives”

Mexico’s Economy Minister Ildefonso Guajardo sent the Mexican peso reeling Thursday afternoon after he hinted Mexico may balk on trade talks with the US, telling lawmakers from Mexico’s ruling PRI that Mexico’s trade representatives would not negotiate with the US “under threat,” highlighting the intensifying tensions between the US, Mexico and Canada a day before the second round of Nafta negotiations is set to begin.

A day after he hinted that Mexico was working on a “Plan B” should the talks fail and Nafta be allowed to dissolve, Guajardo unveiled that Mexico is in advanced negotiations with Europe, and that talks with Latin American neighbors Brazil and Argentina are moving forward. He also said that the Pacific Alliance, a Latin American trade bloc, is in discussions to admit New Zealand and Singapore.

The strongly worded speech came after Trump repeatedly threatened to “terminate” the US’s Nafta membership – something that’s allowed under the treaty, given 180 days’ notice, with the most recent threat coming during yesterday’s speech in Missouri. Details from the meeting were released on one PRI’s twitter accounts.

This is how  Bloomberg summarized the comments:

  • MEXICO NEEDS TO PREPARE ITS ALTERNATIVE: GUAJARDO
  • EUROPE, BRAZIL, ARGENTINA TALKS ADVANCED: GUAJARDO
  • MEXICO LOOKS TO INCORPORATE AUSTRALIA IN NEW TRADE DEALS: MIN

Guajardo's comments sent the dollar higher against its Mexican rival...

Guajardo's comments echoed similar remarks made by Meixco's Foreign Minister Luis Videgaray, who threatened to “walk away” from the negotiating table if Trump decides to withdraw the US from the trade bloc.

Here’s Reuters:

“Asked in Washington if Mexico would continue negotiating if Trump pulled the trigger on the six-month process of withdrawing from the trade deal, Videgaray responded with an emphatic ‘No.’”

According to Reuters, the first five-day round of talks between the three countries concluded in Washington on Aug. 20, with all sides committing to follow an accelerated process in revamping the agreement. Unsurprisingly, the talks appear to have already hit a snag. As we reported shortly after the conclusion of the first round, Mexico, the US and Canada already disagree over the US’s demand that the revamped agreement require that a “substantial” portion of autos and auto parts produced under the pact be manufactured in the US.

A clause in the NAFTA agreement allows any of the three countries to withdraw from the deal after giving 180 days notice, and Trump has proven more than willing to use this as a cudgel.

Of course, this kind of tough rhetoric fits in with the US negotiating strategy outlined in a 17-page document that was released back in July. In it, Lighthizer lays out a simple objective: “improve the U.S. trade balance and reduce the trade deficit with Nafta countries.”

Among other things, the document makes the unexpected assertion that no country should manipulate currency exchange to gain an unfair competitive advantage, which, according to a team of economists from Citi, was its only notable surprise:

“That line of focus centers on FX: “Through an appropriate mechanism, ensure that the Nafta countries avoid manipulating exchange rates in order to prevent effective balance of payments adjustment or to gain an unfair competitive advantage.”

 

Citi Economics highlighted this as one of the most controversial risks of inclusion in these guidelines. However, it also cited belief that if included in the principles, this issue may need to be addressed separately. Specifically for countries like CAD and MXN.”

Seeing as unilaterally withdrawing from the agreement risks igniting a global trade war – something the Trump administration, for all its bluster on trade, has appeared hesitant to do – Trump’s threats are probably just that. However, with the administration increasingly desperate for a ‘W’, walking away isn't out of the question.

Given Trump’s history of maintaining a hard line during negotiations, we imagine he will instruct his people not to relent until they've wrung a few face-saving concessions from the US's "partners."

For his part, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has said only that his government will work "seriously" to improve Nafta.

One former Mexican diplomat offered some perspective for US investors that we thought was interesting. Jorge Guajardo, a former Mexican ambassador to China, said that people in the US don't understand how politically unpopular the appearance of collaboration with the Trump government might be for Mexico's ruling party - this could suggest that the talks might be futile, because Mexico's politicians, nor Trump, can afford to lose face with the public.

Whatever the outcome, it appears currency traders aren’t willing to give the Trump administration the benefit of the doubt, just like the T-bills market appears to be taking the threat of a debt-ceiling breach seriously.
Yet, oddly, none of this has meaningfully translated to stocks.

 

 

Whatever the outcome, it appears currency traders aren’t willing to give the Trump administration the benefit of the doubt. A similar pattern of behavior has been playing out in the T-bills market, which appears to be taking the threat of a debt-ceiling breach seriously.  Of course, none of this has had any impact on stocks...

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Gold Pops, S&P Stops, And Bonds Have Best Month Since Brexit

One look at the last few days in stocks and all we can say is...

 

Gold and The Long Bond were the best performers in August with stocks and the dollar unchanged-ish

 

Trannies were best among the major indices in August followed by Nasdaq. Small Caps lagged. S&P just managed to close green for August.

 

Treasury yields tumbled in August... the biggest monthly drop for 10Y yields since Brexit (June 2016)

 

With the yield curve flattening dramatically... August saw 2s10s collapsed 15bps to below 80bps (the biggest flattening since Feb 2016) near its flattest level since Aug 2016

 

Debt Ceiling anxiety has exploded during August...

 

Despite the last two days panic-buying, The Dollar Index ended the month lower - the 6th monthly loss in a row... (NOTE the morning's spike on ECB leaks failed to hold and keep the dollar green for the month)

 

And notably, of all the majors, Yuan was the strongest against the greenback and cable weakest on the month (this was GBP's weakest month since Oct 2016)...

 

In virtual currency-land, Bitcoin surged 65% on the month to a new record high...

*  *  *

Back to this week's action...

Today's biggest headline-maker was the 14% explosion in September RBOB futures as they expired (amid zero liquidity), but Oct Futs also spiked as more refiners were shut down...

 

Rather oddly, given the huge cut in demand (from refinery shutdowns), WTI futures spike today magically, back above $47...

 

All that mattered in stock land today was gettingh the cash S&P above 2470.3 for a green month... Sheer panic right at the close saved the day (S&P now up 9 of last 10 months)

 

FANG Stocks ended the month unchanged despite a massive 5% rip in the last week...

 

This week's meltup in stocks is entirely opposite to the strength in bonds and bullion...

 

10Y yields rolled back to a 2.11% handle today...

 

The Dollar Index spiked this morning as EUR tumbled on a Reuters story about ECB, but Mnuchin spoiled the party and the dollar started sinking...

 

Gold flash-crashed overnight (with spot breaking below $1300), but precious metals players just bought the dip and sent it back to the post-Korea-Missile highs...

 

Finally, we note that gas prices at the pump hit a 2-year high today... and The Fed's about to get its transitory inflation if RBOB plays through...

 

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Bitcoin Surges To New Record High, Overtakes Paypal & Netflix, Nears Morgan Stanley’s Market Cap

Amid chaotic swings in the dollar, and flash-crashes in precious metals, it seems anxious global investors have pushed into cryptocurrencies as a safe-haven overnight with the top 5 virtual currencies all soaring.

Bitcoin has reached a new record high at $4740...

 

Pushing its total market cap near that of Morgan Stanley.

Bitcoin is now bigger than 425 of the S&P's 500 members.

On a side note, GBTC (the bitcoin investment trust) is now trading at $927 (implying a Bitcoin price of $9270!) and trading at a $120% premium to NAV...

Buyer beware!

 

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New Evidence Reveals Comey Drafted Statement Exonerating Hillary Before Key Witness Interviews

A new letter from Senators Chuck Grassley and Lindsey Graham reveal testimony from new witnesses suggesting that former FBI Director James Comey had already started drafting documentation exonerating Hillary Clinton long before interviewing key witnesses, including Hillary herself. 

According to the letter, which is based on testimony from James Rybicki, Comey’s Chief of Staff, and Trisha Anderson, the Principal Deputy General Counsel of National Security and Cyberlaw, Comey began drafting a statement to announce the conclusion of the Hillary investigation in April or May 2016, well before he had interviewed up to 17 key witnesses. 

Meanwhile, as if that weren't bad enough, the Comey statement was also drafted before immunity deals were struck with Cheryl Mills and Heather Samuelson who seemingly ran point, along with Platte River Networks, to destroy Hillary's emails after a Congressional subpoena had been issued mandating their preservation.

Here is a summary from the Grassley/Graham letter:

Transcripts reviewed by the Senate Judiciary Committee reveal that former FBI Director James Comey began drafting an exoneration statement in the Clinton email investigation before the FBI had interviewed key witnesses.  Chairman Chuck Grassley and Senator Lindsey Graham, chairman of the Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime and Terrorism, requested all records relating to the drafting of the statement as the committee continues to review the circumstances surrounding Comey’s removal from the Bureau.

 

“Conclusion first, fact-gathering second—that’s no way to run an investigation.  The FBI should be held to a higher standard than that, especially in a matter of such great public interest and controversy,” the senators wrote in a letter today to the FBI.

 

Last fall, following allegations from Democrats in Congress, the Office of Special Counsel (OSC) began investigating whether Comey’s actions in the Clinton email investigation violated the Hatch Act, which prohibits government employees from using their official position to influence an election.  In the course of that investigation, OSC interviewed two FBI officials close to Comey: James Rybicki, Comey’s Chief of Staff, and Trisha Anderson, the Principal Deputy General Counsel of National Security and Cyberlaw.  OSC provided transcripts of those interviews at Grassley’s request after it closed the investigation due to Comey’s termination.

 

Both transcripts are heavily redacted without explanation. However, they indicate that Comey began drafting a statement to announce the conclusion of the Clinton email investigation in April or May of 2016, before the FBI interviewed up to 17 key witnesses including former Secretary Clinton and several of her closest aides.  The draft statement also came before the Department entered into immunity agreements with Cheryl Mills and Heather Samuelson where the Department agreed to a very limited review of Secretary Clinton’s emails and to destroy their laptops after review.

Comey

And here is a key excerpt from Ms. Anderson's testimony:

Q:  So moving along to the first public statement on the case or Director Comey’s first statement the July 5, 2016 statement.  When did you first learn that Director Comey was planning to make some kind of public statement about the outcome of the Clinton email investigation?

 

A:  The idea, I’m not entirely sure exactly when the idea of the public statement um first emerged.  Um it was, I just, I can’t put a precise timeframe on it um but [redaction].  And then I believe it was in early May of 2016 that the Director himself wrote a draft of that statement …

 

Q:  So when you found out in early May that there was, that the Director had written a draft of what the statement might look like, how did you learn about that?

 

A:  [Redacted] gave me a hard copy of it…

 

Q:  So what happened next with respect to the draft?

 

A:  I don’t know for sure um, I don’t know. There were many iterations, at some point there were many iterations of the draft that circulated…

Meanwhile, as a reminder of the timing, if Comey was already drafting a statement clearing Clinton of any wrongdoing in April then it came before any of the following interviews....keep in mind that many people on this list were also granted immunity deals...apparently after Comey had already made up his mind that nothing happened.

1.      May 3, 2016 – Paul Combetta
2.      May 12, 2016 – Sean Misko
3.      May 17, 2016 – Unnamed CIA employee
4.      May 19, 2016 – Unnamed CIA employee
5.      May 24, 2016 – Heather Samuelson
6.      May 26, 2016 - Marcel Lehel (aka Guccifer)
7.      May 28, 2016 – Cheryl Mills
8.      June 3, 2016 – Charlie Wisecarver
9.      June 10, 2016 – John Bentel
10.  June 15, 2016 – Lewis Lukens
11.  June 21, 2016 – Justin Cooper
12.  June 21, 2016 – Unnamed State Dept. Employee
13.  June 21, 2016 – Bryan Pagliano
14.  June 21, 2016 – Purcell Lee
15.  June 23, 2016 – Monica Hanley
16.  June 29, 2016 – Hannah Richert
17.  July 2, 2016 – Hillary Clinton

And here's some more background from the letter:

Mr. Comey’s final statement acknowledged “there is evidence of potential violations of the statutes regarding the handling of classified information” but nonetheless cleared Secretary Clinton because he claimed there was no intent or obstruction of justice. Yet, evidence of destruction of emails known to be under subpoena by the House of Representatives, and subject to congressional preservation requests, was obtained in interviews around the time that Mr. Comey began drafting his exoneration statement.[8]  Moreover, the Justice Department entered into highly unusual immunity agreements with Cheryl Mills and Heather Samuelson in June 2016—after Mr. Comey began drafting his exoneration statement—to review Clinton email archives on their laptops.[9]

 

The immunity agreements limited the FBI’s ability to review Clinton email archives from Platte River Networks that were created after June 1, 2014, and before February 1, 2015, and which had been sent or received from Secretary Clinton’s four email addresses during her tenure as Secretary of State.[10]  These limitations prevented the FBI from reviewing records surrounding a March 2015 conference call that Paul Combetta, an employee of Platte River Networks, had with David Kendall and Ms. Mills, the attorneys for Secretary Clinton.[11]  After having been initially untruthful and then receiving his own immunity agreement, Mr. Combetta admitted in his third FBI interview, in May 2016, that after a March 2015 conference call with Secretary Clinton’s attorneys, he used BleachBit to destroy any remaining copies of Clinton’s emails.[12]

 

The limitations in the immunity agreements with Ms. Mills and Ms. Samuelson also kept the FBI from looking at emails after Secretary Clinton left office—the period in which communications regarding destruction or concealment of federal records would have most likely taken place.[13]  And finally, the agreements provided that the Department would destroy any records which it retrieved that were not turned over to the investigative team and would destroy the laptops.[14]  Despite public claims by the FBI that the laptops were not in fact destroyed, the purpose of that promise to destroy them has not been explained.[15]  However, Judiciary Committee staff reviewed the immunity agreements as part of their oversight work, so there is no question that the terms of the agreement called for the Department to destroy evidence that had not been fully and completely reviewed.[16]

But, we're sure this is just another attempt to "criminalize behavior that is normal."

Here is the full letter:

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Breadth, Bonds, Bills, & Bear Funds Signal Trouble Ahead For Stocks

The 'resilience' of stock markets is proclaimed as self-reflectingly positive, as they surge higher, enthusiastically embracing debt ceiling anxiety, nuclear armageddon, and biblical floods. However, below the surface all is very much not rosy...

As Bloomberg reports, this is a warning for stock traders entranced by a market that remains resilient to surprises. Even though the S&P 500 is less than 1 percent away from a record set this month, the best move is to wait out more selling, according to Strategas Research Partners.

Breadth has deteriorated as the benchmark gauge has been mostly listless. Only about 48 percent of stocks in the S&P 500 are currently trading above their 50-day moving averages, near the fewest of the year and down from 74 percent last month, data compiled by Bloomberg show.

And longer-term trends are just as bad with only 65% of S&P members above their 200-day average...

“Tepid momentum is often consistent with below average returns in the short-run,” Strategas analysts led by Chris Verrone wrote in a research note Tuesday.

*  *  *

Bonds are not buying the bounce in stocks at all.

Treasury yields are at 2017 lows (despite strong GDP and strong ADP?) signaling a total lack of belief in the global growth vision being sold to the world's equity investors.

*  *  *

Treasury Bills are signaling massive concerns over debt ceiling discussions.

The pre-debt-ceiling bills are massively bid...

 

Sending debt ceiling anxiety premiums to record highs.,..

As S&P analysts warn, if this hits, it will be catastrophic.

*  *  *

And finally, Bear Fund Assets have collapsed to record lows...

The squeeze ammunition is running very low for the next leg higher in stocks.

*  *  *

Bloomberg concludes, that caution is the buzzword at Raymond James & Associates, which is advising clients to be patient and pick their entry points carefully amid thinner markets and gold prices that look poised to break through a “longer-term downtrend,” according to Andrew Adams, a strategist at the firm.

We continue to exercise patience in the near term, as most of the indicators we follow are still weak-to-neutral and not really flashing that ‘attractive opening’ that we look for,” St. Petersburg, Florida-based Adams wrote in a note Tuesday morning.

With the dollar sitting near the lowest level in 2.5 years and the outlook for government funding murky, some traders say it may be the time to take the chips off the table.

“Perhaps take a percentage of your portfolio and put it in cash,” said Stephen Carl, principal and head equity trader at Williams Capital Group LP in New York. “You don’t go broke taking profits.”

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There’s Literally A ‘Token’ Called “Fuck” That’s Up 370% In The Last 24 Hours

Authored by Simon Black via SovereignMan.com,

I vividly remember having a conversation several years ago with a woman about her real estate investments in the United States.

It must have been around 2005 or 2006… the peak of the property bubble.

She was a psychologist from somewhere in the midwest, telling me about how she was flipping off-plan condominiums in Florida.

Basically she would put money down to secure a condo unit in a building before it broke ground, then sell her contract to someone else at a higher price when the building was closer to completion.

I remember as she told me this story she was practically cackling at how quickly and easily she was doubling and tripling her money, and at one point said, “It is just soooo easy for me.”

Those words stuck.

I remember thinking, “Investing isn’t supposed to be easy. There’s supposed to be risk and hard work involved.”

But she wasn’t alone. Legions of amateur investors were piling into the market doing exactly the same thing.

Everyone seemed to be flipping condos. And everyone seemed to be making money.

It didn’t add up.

I remember one investor explaining to me how he would flip his condo contract to someone else when the building was 30% complete. Then that buyer would flip the contract to another investor when the building was 60% complete. Then another sale when the building was 80% complete, etc.

“But who is the person at the end of the line?” I asked. “Someone has to eventually live in all of these condos and be willing to pay the highest price.”

 

“Oh there will ALWAYS be plenty of people who will live here,” he told me.

To these investors it was a foregone conclusion that required zero analysis: there will always be buyers, no matter how high the price gets.

One of the marks of a good investor is learning from his/her mistakes; when an investment performs poorly, a good investor will try to figure out WHY, and incorporate those lessons into future decisions.

But a GREAT investor will learn from his/her successes.

This is rare. Perhaps it’s part of our human nature. When we succeed, we automatically conclude that we’re really smart.

We seldom examine what really happened. Did we get lucky? Were we riding the wave of a giant bubble? Or, perhaps our analysis was spot-on and we nailed it.

It’s hard to say for sure without some serious self-reflection.

But again, it’s in our nature to presume that we’re brilliant.

And that may be one of the most dangerous things of all… because our infatuation with our own brilliance causes us to do irrational things.

Instead of thinking, “Whew, I got really lucky, I’d better take some money off the table before this market crashes,” we think, “I’m so smart… now I’m going to double down and make even more money.”

It’s like gamblers at the craps table– people delude themselves into believing that they’re on a ‘hot streak’ and ‘can’t lose’, so they keep increasing their bets instead of cashing in their chips.

Eventually the luck runs out… and the money vanishes quickly.

I’m telling you all of this because I see the same thing right now in the “ICO” market.

If you haven’t heard of ICOs, it stands for Initial Coin Offering. It’s a combination of venture capital and cryptofinance.

Traditionally, startup companies have raised the money they’ve needed from angel investors and VC funds.

These days, companies are raising money by selling digital ‘tokens’ to investors, most of whom typically pay in Bitcoin, Ether, or some other cryptocurrency.

Tokens often represent shares in the startup company, just in the same way that Apple stock represents shares in Apple.

And, just like shares of Apple, investors can buy and sell their tokens in the market.

There are countless startup companies now issuing tokens. And, just like the price of the cryptocurrencies themselves, many ICOs have soared in price.

There’s a token issued by Stratis, for example, that is up 101,168% since its ICO last summer. The NXT token is up 672,989%.

Those are not type-o’s.

There’s another token that’s actually called “Fuck” which is up 370% in the last 24 hours.

The returns are absurd… especially considering the assets are priced in Ether or Bitcoin, which have also soared to all-time highs.

So on top of a 1,000% return in Bitcoin, ICO investors have also made a 100,000% return in the token.

But I’m hearing exactly the same cackling that I heard from the real estate bubble days more than a decade ago.

– It’s soooo easy to make money in ICOs.
– It’s a foregone conclusion that the tokens will go up in value.

Sorry, but it just doesn’t compute.

If the tokens represent ownership in a business, then the only thing that matters is whether or not the underlying business performs well.

Does the company have a compelling long-term strategic plan?

More importantly– are the managers successfully implementing the plan and achieving milestones?

Is the company on a path to financial sustainability?

Nobody seems to be paying attention to these details. They just buy tokens with the expectation that the price will rise.

And even if a business performs well, it’s ridiculous to think hat a startup company can be worth 100,000% more in a year. Or nearly 700,000% more in a couple of years.

To put these numbers in context, Peter Thiel invested $500,000 in Facebook back in 2004 as the company’s first big investor. In 2012 he sold most of it for $1 billion.

That’s a return of 200,000% in eight years… pretty tame by ICO standards.

Investing isn’t supposed to be easy, especially when speculating in startup companies. There’s supposed to be risk. Serious analysis. And lots of losers.

It’s not to say that there aren’t any good businesses issuing tokens. But it’s pretty clear this trend is a massive bubble.

 

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Los Angeles Changes ‘Columbus Day’ To ‘Indigenous Peoples Day’

Trump was obliterated by the mainstream media a few weeks back when he spoke out against decisions to dismantle confederate statues all around the country.  While he was branded a racist for his comments, his point was that the logical conclusion of the Left's crusade was the complete destruction of over 500 years worth of history since the Europeans first arrived in the 'New World'.

As it turns, it looks increasingly like Trump was absolutely right.  As just the latest example of the wave of insanity sweeping the nation, the Los Angeles Times points out today that the city of Los Angeles has officially decided to scrap Columbus Day and instead replace it with "Indigenous People Day"... you know, because it's just about time that everyone stop celebrating the "state-sponsored celebration of genocide of indigenous peoples."

The Los Angeles City Council voted Wednesday to eliminate Columbus Day from the city calendar, siding with activists who view the explorer as a symbol of genocide for native peoples in North America and elsewhere.

 

Over the objections of Italian American civic groups, the council made the second Monday in October a day in L.A. to commemorate “indigenous, aboriginal and native people.” It replaces a holiday that served as a touchstone for Italian Americans, marking the arrival of Christopher Columbus in the Caribbean.

 

Italian Americans voiced anguish over the proposal, telling council members it would erase a portion of their heritage. Some said they supported the creation of Indigenous Peoples Day as long as it is held on a different date.

LA

 

Of course, when logic attempted to enter the discussion and suggest that "Indigenous Peoples Day" could just be celebrated on some other day it was quickly shot down because "to make us celebrate on any other day would be a further injustice."

“On behalf of the Italian community, we want to celebrate with you,” said Ann Potenza, president of Federated Italo-Americans of Southern California, speaking in a room packed with Native American activists. “We just don’t want it to be at the expense of Columbus Day.”

 

That idea was unacceptable to Chrissie Castro, vice chairwoman of the Los Angeles City-County Native American Indian Commission. She argued that city lawmakers needed to “dismantle a state-sponsored celebration of genocide of indigenous peoples.”

 

“To make us celebrate on any other day would be a further injustice,” Castro said.

Meanwhile, Councilman Joe Buscaino, a first-generation Italian American raised in San Pedro, was the only person on the LA city council who publicly aired his 'racist' view that "all of our individual cultures matter."  He was quickly overruled by a 14-1 vote.

Councilman Joe Buscaino, a first-generation Italian American raised in San Pedro, had sought to replace Columbus Day with a different name, one that celebrates “all of the diverse cultures in the city.” Buscaino said many had forgotten the prejudice faced by Italian Americans in the United States — and asked his colleagues not to “cure one offense with another.”

 

“All of our individual cultures matter,” said Buscaino, who represents neighborhoods from Watts to San Pedro.

 

The council replaced Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples Day on a 14-1 vote, with Buscaino opposed. The move followed a fractious hearing, with Italian Americans and Native Americans cheering and jeering at different moments.

Perhaps these moronic members of LA's city council should go one step further and be the first to start the process of officially returning American lands to indigenous people...we hear that Germany is particularly welcoming to migrants.

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