I don’t know if it was the intent of the Fed, but Jerome Powell has managed to trigger a rush into stocks more frenzied than the one that engulfed the last days of the dot.com/techbubble. The vertical ascent since Christmas in the Dow/SPX is unprecedented on a percentage basis over an 8-week period of time. All sense of logic, sound analysis and fear of risk has disappeared. I don’t know how much longer this move will last, but it will likely be followed by a spectacular reversal.
What I can say with 100% certainty is that the stock market continues to dislocate from economic reality. This is a situation that will be corrected sooner or later, with the stock market re-pricing significantly lower to a level that better reflects the deterioration in both the global and U.S. economy.
A perfect example of this is housing starts, which were released today for December and showed an 11.2% drop from November. The better comparison is the 11% plunge from December 2017, as “seasonal [statistical] adjustments” are used to obfuscate the real data trends month to month. The year/year comp is somewhat “cleansed” from “seasonal”
The mainstream media is already putting a positive spin the starts number by explaining that permits rose. A permit is not indicative of a future start. Homebuilders have been loading up on land, as tends to happen at the end of housing cycles. A permit is a cheap “option” to initiate a start if the market picks up. In fact, starts should be increasing right now. It takes 3-5 months to build the average priced new home. If homebuilders truly thought that the market was going to improve, housing starts should be increasing in November/December in anticipation of peak selling season in June.
Funny thing about the housing starts commentary. Most homebuilders are sitting on a record level of inventory. An example is LGI Homes, which just reported this morning. LGI’s year-end inventory soared 34% from year-end 2017. The Company financed most of this with debt. Home closings for 2018 were up 11% but decelerated during the year and new orders were down in January 2019 vs 2018. Given the big jump in existing home inventory during the 2nd half of 2018, it’s safe to say that most homebuilders will likely try to work off existing inventory before starting new homes in excess of what is sold.
The housing market and all the related economic activity connected to building, selling, and financing home sales represents 20-25% of the GDP. Inflating the money supply and dropping interest rates is not a valid method of stimulating economic activity when most households are over-burdened with debt, living paycheck to paycheck and depleting savings just to remain on the gerbil wheel.
Notwithstanding the propaganda coming from policy makers, Wall Street and the hand-puppet mainstream media, the economy is sinking. The current spike in the stock market is nothing more than a rabid bear market rally of historic proportions. The stock market is not trading higher on fundamentals or hedge funds plowing investment capital back into the market (away from algo-based momentum trading).
According to data tracked by Goldman Sachs, hedge fund exposure to the stock market is well below levels registered during the last 18 months. As it turns out, corporate stock buybacks and short-covering are driving stocks higher. Buybacks YTD are tracking 91% higher than the same period last year. Short interest in the S&P 500 is now at the lowest level since 2007. The stocks that have performed the best since Christmas are the most heavily shorted stocks.
We’re not hearing anymore whining about the hedge fund computers dictating the direction of the market as was commonplace during the December sell-off. But when this market rolls over and rips in reverse, the Leon Cooperman’s of the world will be spilling tears all over the Wall Street Journal and CNBC complaining about hedge fund algos driving stocks lower. Funny thing, that…
The commentary above is partially excerpted from the latest Short Seller’s Journal. This is a weekly subscription service which analyzes economic data and trends in support of ideas for shorting market sectors and individual stocks, including ideas for using options. You can learn more about this here: Short Seller’s Journal information.