Saturday, December 10, 2016

Stocks Continue Surging Into Year-End; Fed Rate Hike Baked In, Unsubstantial

He said, "Call the doctor. I think I'm gonna crash."
"The doctor say he's comin', but you gotta pay him cash."
They went rushin' down that freeway,
messed around and got lost
They didn't care they were just dyin' to get off

--Life in the Fast Lane, Eagles, 1976

Stocks careened higher on Friday, finishing off a week that saw increased investor buying virtually across the board. It was the best week for stocks, especially on the Dow, since the week immediately following the US elections, an odd scenario for analysts and talking media heads who predicted turmoil and collapse if anybody but Hillary Clinton was elected president.

Since the election of Donald Trump, we now know that what emerges from the mouths of Wall Street psychopaths and media slaves is usually incorrect, politically driven and nine times out of ten wrong. What we still don't understand is why the same people are relied upon for their opinions, having been proven completely wrong over and over again, the best examples of this kind of nepotistic following being seen regularly on the financial networks, Bloomberg, Fox, and notoriously, CNBC, which has its own designated cheerleader, Jim Cramer.

How could all of these pundits and overpaid professionals have gotten it so wrong? Easy. The chances of stocks advancing or declining is almost always a 50/50 proposition, but, anybody reading the tea leaves from leftover elections would have known that a Republican president following a lame duck incumbent makes for a major bull market (that's made up, but it's probably true anyhow, and, in the age of "fake news" all one needs is a headline and story, right?).

Maybe people with money think Donald Trump's various positions on trade, immigration, wages, borders and culture will usher in another gilded age of American exceptionalism. For the most part, anybody with half a brain still in working order would welcome such a change. More than likely, following the initial post-election stock surge the rest of the advances have been driven largely by herd behavior.

It should be widely accepted, though it isn't, that stocks are valued extremely high, but the right thing is that bonds have been collapsing over the past five weeks, at the same time stocks have been rising. That's not your run-of-the-mill pair trade, but it is imaginative. As bonds fall, yields rise, making them more attractive as safety plays. In the meantime, with interest rates largely remaining at bargain basement levels, stocks have continued to be the investment de jour.

If there's a cloudy lining inside the silver cloud of stocks, it's that a correction is long overdue. However, bears and shorts have been saying that for the better part of the past four years and it hasn't happened. Instead, we happen to be in the midst of a massive valuation expansion. Whether or not individual stocks are good or bad investments presently does not seem to matter. There's an explosion of cash coming into the market, the same cash that was being hoarded pre-election. Once that money is exploited and exposed, the intensity of the rally should subside, but probably not until the calendar turn to 2017, the attractiveness and continual pimping of the "Santa Claus Rally" expected to be the main driver over the remaining weeks of 2016.

So, if a crash is coming, January's your huckleberry, or, right after the Fed raises the federal funds rate next week, which has evolved from a possibility to a near-certainty. The Fed and their one quarter of one percent hike in overnight lending is more a canard than a reality. Only the monumentally stupid or disconnected will suffer on a small rate increase. It's so tiny that almost nobody will notice. Certainly, it's not the kind of event that will cause a run, a panic, a rout, so the best action for next week is probably inaction.

Crashes and sudden downturns in the market normally come from out of the blue, caused by forces to which nobody (or only a select, ridiculed few) had been paying attention. If there's going to be a turn, the most likely causes are going to come from Japan or China or Europe, possibly even Brazil or another major portion of Latin America. More likely is that after Mr. Trump is inaugurated, US markets stabilize and places such as those mentioned above suffer. Such is the way of the world. There will be winners and losers. If America is going to be "great again" other countries are going to be not so great. The market is economics in motion and the chances for a crash in America are minimal over the short term. Longer term, dependent on too many factors to delineate here, corrections and crashes are bound to occur. The truth of the matter, is that the usually-wrong analysis from Wall Street is actually right on this account: if your time horizon is 20 or more years, crashes and corrections are buying opportunities and nothing more. The world won't end tomorrow or the next day, or the next month or the next year.

Thus, the outlook for stocks remains fairly solid, albeit a bit on the high side right now. Since the election, the Dow is more than 1400 points higher, a gain of nearly eight percent. That's a pretty healthy gain for five weeks and something that should be taken into account whatever investment decision one is making or about to make.

Friday's Closing Quotes:
Dow: 19,756.85, +142.04 (0.72%)
S&P 500: 2,259.53. +13.34 (0.59%)
NASDAQ: 5,444.50, +27.14 (0.50%)
NYSE Composite: 11,191.79, +41.83 (0.38%)

For the Week Ending 12/09/16:
Dow: +586.43 (+3.06%)
S&P 500: +67.58 (+3.08%)
NASDAQ: +188.85 (+3.59%)
NYSE Composite: +353.21 (+3.26%)

Friday, December 2, 2016

December Jobs Report OK; Look For FedRes To Raise Rates

The U.S. economy added 178,000 net new jobs last month while the unemployment rate fell to 4.6%, the lowest since 2007, the Labor Department said Friday.

That's about all one needs to know about what the Fed may do at the next meeting of the FOMC in less than two weeks, December 13 and 14.

The economy seems to have picked up some confidence from the Trump election, and there's the possibility that the Fed may consider more rate hikes at a faster pace if economic conditions continue to improve (it's about time). what the Fed doesn't want to do is slam the door shut on any expansion by raising rates too quickly, but, after eight years of moribund global flim-flammery, it's apparent that the Fed doesn't want to do anything that might draw undue attention to itself.

As the year enters the final month of a very turbulent 2016, the signs are good that the eight years of non-recovery (except for stocks) may be about to usher in a new prosperity and at least a couple of good years for the US economy. While the rest of the world is in somewhat dubious condition, especially Japan and Europe, with their mountains of debt and negative interest rates, the US seems poised to again take the lead in economic matters.

It may take a while and it may take a pullback in stocks, which hasn't happened since '09, but things do seem to be on the improve.

Other than the Dow Industrials, stocks took a bit of a beating this week, ending on a down note as the Friday rally failed to maintain momentum. This could be the beginning of a Wall Street hissy fit over rate hikes. Then again, stocks are close to all-time highs.

Stay tuned and keep that power dry.

Closing Bell, Friday 12/02/16
Dow: 19,170.42, -21.51 (-0.11%)
NASDAQ: 5,255.65, +4.55 (0.09%)
S&P 500: 2,191.95, +0.87 (0.04%)
NYSE Composite: 10,841.64, +12.65 (0.12%)

For the week:

Dow: +18.28 (+0.10%)
NASDAQ: -143.27 (-2.65%)
S&P 500: -21.40 (-0.98%)
NYSE Composite: -38.98 (-0.36%)

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Is The Economy Changing? What To Buy Now

Since Donald Trump won the presidential election roughly a month ago, the reaction on Wall Street has been, in a word, enthusiastic.

The investing class is betting that Trump will have a positive impact on corporate bottom lines and all indications are that he will try to slash US corporation tax rates and repatriate corporate money from abroad to pump back into the US economy.

But, it's not at all that simple. Stocks are at record highs already, so, if you're invested in a 401k or other plan at work, sit tight. If you're one of the three dozen or so active individual investors out there still standing after years of mauling and manipulation, you have to notice that p/e ratios are at pretty high atmospheric levels.

Stocks are great if you have the patience and appetite for the ups and downs of active markets, but buying at these levels would seem a bit on the foolhardy side. There's likely to be a pullback if the business cycle still has any tethers to reality. Besides, the FOMC is going to raise interest rates, making bonds, gold and silver and other fixed investments appear more palatable.

Who knows? Banks might actually be offering 4-5% interest on savings in a few years, though it's a dubious call. A return to normalcy in markets and credit would cause the national debt to skyrocket immediately, as in "overnight," and that's not something a president Trump (or any other president for that matter) wants on his historical resume.

So, what's a bargain? As usual, the central banks and their cronies (yes, despite the Donald, there's still plenty of crony capitalism to go around. One is not going to destroy Rome in a day or even one term.) put the kibosh on the precious metals just after the election and they don't seem to be relenting at this point.

The world has changed, but it's probably too early to tell what effects those changes are going to have on businesses or investing or sectors or bonds or anything. Give it a little time, but bear in mind that the FOMC is meeting on the 13th and 14th of December and the odds are very, very good that they're going to hike the federal funds rate another 25 besis points or 0.25%, bringing the effective rate to 0.50-0.75.

Now, there's nothing special about those rates except that they're still historically low. The world is still recovering from the devastation from the crimes of 2008 that were never reconciled. It's unclear whether the Trump administration is going to get tougher on Wall Street shenanigans or allow them free reign, but either way, there's still a price ot be paid for recklessness. The trick is to know when the piper shows up and nobody is that good.

Until then, silver still looks like the bargain of the century, though leaning towards outright purchases of solar panels and the associated technology is still a viable plan.

At the bottom of it all, Americans should be investing in their own businesses. Run from home or a storefront or on a shoestring, we may be entering a time of unfettered capitalism from the ground up.

Go for it.

Closing Prices for Thursday, 12/01/16:
DOW: 19,191.93, +68.35 (0.36%)
NASDAQ: 5,251.11, -72.57 (-1.36%)
S&P 500: 2,191.08, -7.73 (-0.35%)
NYSE Composite: 10,821.85, -16.61 (-0.15%)

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

No Shortage Of Stupidity In The New USA

While many Americans are happy or relieved that the incoming president is going to be one Donald J.Trump rather than a Hillary R. Clinton, the level of stupidity and derision following the November 8 election cannot be underestimated nor easily dismissed.

Within hours of the election results being boomed around the world and drummed into the heads of the mainstream media (TV) pundits and nitwits, protests sprang forth in some large cities.The usual suspects were the main venues for these particular acts of organized convulsion. Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, Portland, Philadelphia and New York City - all bastions of sanctuary for liberal mind-numbness and “gimme” passions - were singed with the callous chanting and protesting of the election results. Ostensibly, the protesters were recruited, rounded up and bussed into the streets by the monied interest of George Soros, the criminal billionaire who has helped fund the destruction of Europe and was intent on bringing the philosophical wrecking ball to the United States.

Additionally, spontaneous demonstrations of grief, loathing, fear, and discontent erupted upon college campuses, those former institutions learning which have devolved into self-pitying, protected safe spaces for all manner of moronic manifestations.

These protests and demonstrations lasted about a week and died a slow, painful death, the adherents of liberal ideology apparently content to wreak havoc for a little while, collect their pay and slide back into the slimy holes from which they came.

Of course, their positions atop the “we’re all gonna die” narrative were quickly taken up by far more qualified idiots in the television and newspaper media and their lap-dog, sound-horn political hacks, who commandeered the airwaves with threats to undo or, at least, minimize the Trump victory, making various noises and guttural moaning about the rights of illegal immigrants, women, minorities and whatever other simple-minded antithetical nonsense they could foist upon the not-so-unsuspecting viewing and reading public.

Andrew Cuomo, governor of New York, issued a proclamation and a new law (heaped upon the hundreds of other laws which are not enforceable and cannot and will not be enforced) guaranteeing that any illegal threatened with deportation by the federal government will have his or her or its legal bills attended to by the overtly generous and sublimely stupid state of New York.

Mayors across the country insisted that their little fiefdoms would remain sanctuary cities, in direct conflict with the laws of the federal government. Legislation was introduced in the congress to abolish the electoral college. And finally, the left, left, left hop-skip march of the Green Party - which is nothing more than an unofficial subsidiary of the now-defunct and discredited Democrat party - sauntered into the battleground states of Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Michigan, promising a full investigation and recount of the vote that went narrowly to Trump and bumped him over the electoral college hump.

And then, Hillary’s people chimed in, on queue, just in time for the Sunday political talk shows, saying snidely that they owed it to the people who voted for Hillary (note: no respect for those who voted for the actual winner, Trump) to ensure that the vote tally was accurate.

But, the public had been heard. Trump had won and the millions who voted for him and the millions who quietly supported him refused to listen, refused to be deterred, refused to be fooled again. No, governor Cuomo, we’re not paying our taxes so that you can appear the savior of the downtrodden at our expense. No, Hillary, your vote recount won’t amount to anything. No, George Soros. Go back to Hungary, you cretin.

It seemed that some sanity had finally emerged, until I ran across this little oddity on a Facebook page. The person upon whose page it was posted (and whose face I have conveniently erased at left) went to a Catholic grammar school, a Catholic high school and eventually went to work in the Human Resources department of a public school district. For the record, there's really no position more loathsome than one in Human Resources, aka HR. It's about as low on the job totem pole one can smoke and doing this kind of work for a public school system is like smoking dirt through a straw pipe. Anyhow, this is why the education system should be scrapped: because people like this are hauling down enormous salaries and pensions while inflicting the youth under their care to ill-informed, nonsensical, downright bad advice.

This woman is no more a Muslim than I am a green-eyed Martian. She was brought up in a middle class American home, schooled privately during her formative years and had all the privilege and pampering that suburban life for young, white girls offered. Apparently, college and a lifetime of servitude to a corrupt, derelict education system which favors mediocrity over success, conformity over individuality, and the dishonesty of the diversity chorus over actual learning, turned a normal American woman into a screeching, tongue-twisted, limpid half-wit with no more original thinking than the average 30-second TV commercial. And the woman next to her in the photo (whose face I also have blotted out... to protect the guilty, as it is) is likely thinking of how she’ll cut out the heart of this insipid infidel when the time is ripe.

Such is the level of stupidity in America.

H. L. Mencken, who coined the phrase, “Nobody ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American public,” is having convulsions in his grave.

While we’re on the subject of stupid, let’s look at solar technology. I recently had the opportunity to state my concerns and throw out some ideas about solar power on a local radio show (this part is for you, Bob).

Western states, especially those blessed with abundant sunshine, have built enormous solar farms which feed electricity into the grid and eventually into people’s homes. Some such plans have recently come to the attention to our local mob boss or governor, who wishes to have the state of New York take lands (probably under eminent domain) and turn them over to giant utility corporations in order to bring the solar energy collective to New York.

This is a canard designed to fool stupid people, of which there is no shortage in New York or anywhere else in this country. New York’s taxpayers are not as gullible or deep-pocketed as our countrymen out West. We’re tired of paying taxes and then paying again for subsidies to giant corporations. My advice on this radio show was for people to construct their own off-the-grid solar systems, at least partially offsetting the costs of centrally-distributed power.

Here’s how it goes. In most of New York, utility companies are allowed to assess a “customer charge,” a monthly stipend to the utility for the individual privilege of being a customer. There’s nothing more to it. It’s just an additional cost on your bill, sanctioned by our genius legislators, amounting to roughly $35 a month.

Considering that you’re going to stay on the gird for a number of years, that $35 a month becomes $420 a year and eventually, $4200 in ten years. Yes, $4200 just to be a sheep being sheared by the power company. If you took just that $4200 could easily purchase eight 250-watt solar panels at a cost of roughly $250 each (so, there’s $2000). An inverter, a voltage regulator, and a bank of four deep cycle batteries (which last 5-7 years, so they would have to be replaced at some point) should cost about $600-700. The solar panels have a useful life of twenty years, so, do the math (I know, it’s hard) and you’ll see how far ahead you could be.

Such a system can produce two kilowatts (that’s 2000 watts, son) of energy per hour on a sunny day. On average, upstate New Yorkers get about five hours of sun per day. On average. That’s important, because the sun doesn’t always shine (though modern solar panels can get some power from moonlight - it’s a modern marvel of technology). So, this setup will, on average, produce 10 kilowatt hours per day, or 300 Kwh per month. The average household uses somewhere between 400 and 800, but, being stupid, we waste a lot of that energy. Conservation (which is a derivative of conserve, just like conservative politics) is an important element in the quest to be not stupid, otherwise known as “smart.”

And because the sun doesn’t always shine, that’s why you’ll want four deep cycle batteries. They store the power you’re not using when the sun is shining. If the sun doesn’t shine for a few days, your batteries should have enough power to get you through, and then, when the sun shines again, they’ll recharge and store more power.

Thus, for the money most people are spending on just being a customer of a utility in New York, they could have their own electricity supplied from rooftop or ground  installed solar panels and still have money to spare. About $1500 over ten years. That’s not even taking into account the money these same people will be spending on electricity from the grid.

My advice is to forget the tax credits, the subsidies and tying into the grid. Construct your own solar system and keep it off the grid. The utilities don’t pay you nearly what they’re charging you for energy that you contribute back to the grid. Give the state of New York, the Public Service Commission, and the big utility company a robust middle finger, every month, month after month after month.

For those of you intimidated by electricity or solar technology or, for that matter, any technology, try it out for much less than the $2700 example cited above. Go to Harbor Freight and find the coupon or the monthly ad for the 45-watt solar panel kit. It should run between $129 and $179. It comes with all the wires, a voltage regulator, a couple of 12-volt lights (very cool), and instructions. You’ll also need at least one battery and an inverter (this turns DC electricity into AC). Those can be purchased at the same store. Anything from 400 watts to 1000 watts should work just fine.

The process is pretty simple and straightforward. A friend and I set this up and had power in under 20 minutes. It’s a plug-and-play system that probably any 15-year-old could set up and power up in the back yard. Use it in your garage, on your back porch or patio, for your camper, or for your shed. It’s fun, educational and a good first step before venturing into full-blown, off-the-grid freedom.

Oh, you say you need heat? Look into wood stoves, propane-powered or gas-powered generators and open up that little, collectivist mind for a bit.

Stupidity is one commodity that is free in America. That doesn’t mean you have to take the samples offered.

Friday, November 25, 2016

The Price Of Freedom: Shoveling Your Lawn

Editor’s Note: This post is being published simultaneously on the Money Daily and Accidental Farmer blogs.

Here’s something I thought I’d never say: “I just finished shoveling my lawn.”

Well, turns out, I did, the day after a two-day snow storm which, by most accounts, was the second, third, or fifth-worse November winter storm around these parts.

What made the storm so severe was not the amount of snow that fell, but the winds, which howled for the better part of two-and-a-half days at a sustained 20-30 mph, with frequent gusts of 40 mph or higher.

Yep, that's what a lawn driveway looks like.
Those who live in hurricane or twister areas may scoff at those numbers, but anything over forty miles per hour here in upstate New York know that those kinds of numbers are not a trifling matter. And, when you’re essentially living off the grid in a camper or (like me) a motorhome, a storm like that can be downright challenging.

But, those are the choices we make. Thankfully, I had secured the motorhome sufficiently and provided for enough emergency measures that I was barely impacted, if, by barely, one means no electricity. Since I’m on solar power for the most part and I haven’t yet gotten around to augmenting my battery backup to a higher level, I was pretty much electricity-free by Sunday evening.

The storm began gathering momentum just after noon on Saturday, when the winds began picking up. I spent most of the afternoon putting away loose items in the yard and covering up wood and other building materials with tarps. By the time the sun was going down, I had just about everything secured for what I figured might be some strong winds and maybe a half foot of snow.

Sunday wasn’t so bad, though the winds kept blowing and it snowed the better part of the day, though accumulation was light. I was actually laughing over the forecasters who had predicted a major event, but, when the winds kept howling into the night, I thought maybe they were on to something.

By Monday morning, most of upstate New York was blanketed with at least six inches of snow, When light came, I could see that there was plenty of snow, along with drifts approaching a couple of feet high. My antenna and solar panels had been blown over, so I ventured out and righted them, though the effort was pretty much for naught. No sun meant no power and no power meant no TV or lights. Fortunately, I had plenty of batteries, candles and lanterns and a solar-and-hand-cranked emergency radio-flashlight made the evening tolerable and even enjoyable.

The radio was a constant companion throughout the day on Monday, and it should be mentioned that heat was being supplied by two Mr. Heater portable propane units, one the Portable Buddy, as it is known, in the bedroom, and the Big Buddy, which packs essentially twice the heating punch, in the main ling area. For the entirety of the storm, a couple of 20-pound propane tanks attached by hoses to my heaters kept the motorhome right around a comfortable 67-72 degrees with little effort on my part. (That’s why, at Thanksgiving dinner, when we were called upon to recite the things we were thankful for, I made particular note of propane.)

The snow and high winds persisted throughout Monday into the evening, but by Tuesday morning, the snow had ceased, though the winds were still a bit gusty, having diminished to about a steady 15 mph with gusts up to 30-35. That’s when I made the decision to dg out. I had parked the van Saturday night close to the motorhome, maybe a mistake on this prepper’s part, but keeping essentials - like food and tools - close by was my decision.

So, since out here in flyover country, some of us don’t actually believe we need driveways, I had about 60 feet of lawn to clear, and the best way I knew how to do that was with my own hands and a shovel. It wasn’t nearly as imposing a task as I imagined. Sure, I could have bought a snow-blower and done what most of you do on your driveways, or hired a plow truck to come and clear the area in a matter of minutes, but, in an hour-and-a-half I had carved out a nice, winding path from the road to my appointed parking spot. An added benefit was the nice workout for my aging but still-able body which the shoveling provided. I’m telling you fellows out there in thermal world, don’t challenge me to arm-wrestling or other feats of strength. You’ll lose, and likely, very badly. The van fired up without incident and I was able to make my way back to civilization, without the need of snowshoes, an ATV or any kind of four-wheel-drive vehicle.

But I thought about shoveling my lawn, and how odd that was, took a picture and posted it here. My point is that whatever choices we make, we’re always left with consequences, some known, others unknown, some seen, some unforeseen. In my endless pursuit of freedom, my choices freed me from a number of civilized evils which most of you will know as monthly utility bills, monthly cable bills and, recently, a regularly-ghastly cellular phone bill, for what ostensibly all of you out there in the real world consider essential comforts. Seriously, I’ll trade a constant internet connection and Facebook updates for the serenity of a slowly flowing stream, chirping birds and the occasional deer or rabbit any damn day. Wi-fi is my friend, and it’s widely available at no cost.

I’m here to tell you that none of it, from dedicated internet service to electricity supplied by some faceless power company, to piped-in gas heat or pumped-in oil heat are entirely necessary. Sure, if you want to pay continuously for everything that keeps you alive (I forgot to mention running water, which I also do not currently have) and well, go right ahead. For almost all of my life I’ve done the same. By this time next year, I’ll have a more solar panels and more battery backup, a wood stove, an addition onto the motorhome which I’ll build myself, and running water courtesy of the clouds above, some 55-gallon holding barrels, gutters and pipes.

As many of you are surely aware, all of the creature comforts of our modern world can get expensive, so, as I got to my retirement years (what a joke, and a topic for another time), I thought I’d see just what living without all the niceties and essentials of civilized society would be like, and the result is not so bad. In fact, it’s downright liberating. Having to make do without what everybody just takes for granted gives one a feeling of self-reliance, but more importantly, freedom.

To know that one could survive - and I might add, survive quite well - without the monthly money-grubbing gatekeepers, is a joy and a liberty I wish everyone could experience. It’s been made even more possible by technology (seriously, our pioneer ancestors didn’t have solar panels and propane heaters and stoves, nor did they have well-built motorhomes, mobile homes, campers, computers and other gee-whiz gadgets.). Technology has made life off the grid not only possible, but actually very, very enjoyable and rewarding.

That is, if you don’t mind shoveling your lawn every now and then.

Happy Thanksgiving,

—Fearless Rick

Friday's Closing Prices:
Dow: 19,152.14, +68.96 (0.36%)
NASDAQ: 5,398.92, +18.24 (0.34%)
S&P 500: 2,213.35, +8.63 (0.39%)
NYSE Composite: 10,878.09, +42.19 (0.39%)