Happy election day, looks like the market has been rallying into a potential gridlock. Why? Remember, markets tend to do better when there's checks & balances and political stability. With no changes due to no new laws being enacted means no news, and no news is good news for the market. Continue doing business as you are without having to worry about what changes there may be tomorrow.
I don't want to get into historical average market returns post midterms based on who controls what. Frankly, it's boring, overdone by every asset manager, and my paragraph above briefly summarizes a whole article's worth and reason behind post midterm rallies without showing you an excel spreadsheet. So this post is kind of a brain dump of my thoughts from last Friday and conversations with people in the industry.
J. Powell Stays on the Gas, no Brakes Yet
Last week, the Fed raised rates by 75 basis points for the 4th time in a row. This is extremely fast. Note that in the past 30 years, we've seen 1 75 bp hike before this year, so 4/5 75 bp hikes in the past 30 years came in 2022.
Despite markets anticipating a pause or a pivot of rate hikes, last week confirmed that won't be happening. There was a lot of pause/pivot chatter. I've been ignoring that school of thought and happy to see it not entertained last meeting. The risk a pause/pivot runs is financial conditions easing overnight, yields dropping, money getting slightly cheaper again, so what would all of the tightening have been for? Powell put the pivot talks to an end when he came out and spoke. He said:
"I think to the extent rates have to go higher and stay higher for longer it becomes harder to see the path. It's narrowed... and I just think that the inflation picture has become more and more challenging over the course of this year, without question. That means we have to have a policy being more restrictive, and that narrows the path to a soft landing..."
He also mentioned a higher terminal rate (rate at which the Fed stops raising rates) next year. All this simply means to brace for a recession. He mentioned "pain" to households numerous times last time he spoke, wanting higher unemployment and less job openings, now mentions a higher terminal rate, and a soft landing being a low probability.
So brace for mild recession as many market participants forecast it to be in 2023. Waiting for a recession sucks, and I've been saying the sooner the better. I'd rather just rip the band aid off, but that risks growing investor psychology to position for faster economic boom and bust cycles rather than slowly peel it off for the slim chance of a soft landing. However, the Fed doesn't care what I'd do, but I will say that trying to time a recession is as difficult as trying to time a market bottom. So please save yourself the trouble.
Tech Layoffs - Contentedness Breeds Laziness and Unrest Breeds Innovation
We've started seeing incremental waves of tech layoffs this year. It started as early as February of 2022, with companies like Peloton then Coinbase and Robinhood followed in the summer. It was focused around companies whose valuations soared during the easy money era of 2020/21. They had high volumes of users which are now depleted. We saw the same thing with startups and privately held tech companies.
The layoffs in tech have felt behind the scene until recently because now we're seeing the biggest tech companies in the world (all of which are in the US) institute hiring freezes, restructuring, and or layoffs. Tech and communication services (Google and Meta aren't technology companies, they're communications... I don't classify them) were two sectors that hired the most. Things revert to the mean in my opinion, and that's the trend here. Money is more expensive given higher rates, inflation cuts into margins, user growth/sales are slowing, and at the end of the day employees and payrolls are an expense. With the exception of Saudi Aramco (not graphed below), there's 3 companies left in the trillion dollar club now.
These next 2 paragraphs may piss some of you off. Tech companies have been able to blow money, hire easily, and launch projects nobody wants for a long time now given the macro backdrop we've had in the US. In my short time in corporate America, I heard the phrase "we run like a start up" in numerous interviews, client visits, networking events, and more. It was always from sizeable companies with large market caps and thousands of employees. If it has to be told to you and not observed by you, it's bullshit and probably translates to, "we have deviated from our early days of operating lean, so it will take you a week+ for any approvals to advance your deliverables so you can sip lattes while browsing social media despite having unlimited PTO when you WFH". Maybe certain companies could learn from Musk's Twitter take over where the main focus right now is trimming the fat, if his take over succeeds that is.
On the bright side, I think the best innovations come from pissed off engineers. Until this year, nobody seemed angry professionally or in a business sense. Everyone seemed to be switching jobs, getting raises, getting higher bonuses, getting projects funded easily, and just plain out getting their way. Everyone was winning and everyone was happy, so what did we get? Crypto tokens, NFTs, Web 3 projects, and mostly stuff nobody asked for. Case and point, Meta (Facebook), nobody asked for the damn metaverse. With young people starting to get laid off in these fields, I believe there will emerge a small pissed off minority who will solve real problems, create solutions to drive productivity and efficiency, and I'm here for it.
Old School Cool
Investing isn't supposed to be sexy and exciting. It's been one of those years where your grandfather's economy is doing better than yours. Still is. Energy has been a big topic this year, and its tremendous gain has kept other "boring" or "old school" sectors and industries under the radar. I found this chart interesting, so I had to share.
Aerospace and Defense companies are doing well. There's war in Ukraine, and NATO members are finally moving towards meeting their defense spending quotas after years of underinvestment, they're now building up inventories. If there's one thing left that America builds better than anyone else, it's defense equipment.
Construction and Engineering has been a bright spot for the market for over a year now. American infrastructure is some of the worst rated in the world, old, underfunded, and deteriorating. Joe Biden's signing of the bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act has been a tremendous tailwind for the industry.
Insurance, one of those boring industries nobody has thought of since 2008, is a low valuation sub-sector within the financials sector. Unlike banks, it isn't as effected by inflation, interest rates, and doesn't rely on loan originations/sales of any kind. Insurance costs are largely passed onto consumers who absorb them whether its for cars, home, health, life, business, you name it. There's a hurricane about to hit Florida as I write this, find me a person who's going to decide not to renew their home insurance policy next week.
Like insurance, Food Products are something where rising costs are passed onto and absorbed by consumers. Butter, milk, eggs, apples, sugar, and more... prices increases? People still need to feed themselves and their family.
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