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Weekly Economic and Stock Market Commentary – February 1, 2021


As for the stock market specifically: Last week was a wild ride for investors and traders alike.  Generally speaking, it was a bad week, and while all the major indices were down a substantial amount, international markets were off nearly 4%. This week’s market commentary will have some serious comments, as well as a little bit of fun.

Let’s start with the fun stuff, which I call the offbeat indicators.

  • We will start with the January effect.  The short version which measures the first week of trading says 2021 will be a good year.  The long version, which consists of using the entire month, says 2021 will be a bad year.  For 2020, both versions had accurate predictions of a good year.
  • This Sunday we will get the Super Bowl.  The Super Bowl indicator for 2020 predicted a down year, since a team from the old AFL won the game.  This week’s matchup consists of a team that did not exist at the time of the AFL/NFL merger against an AFL team.  In my opinion, the Super Bowl indicator does not come into play if Tampa wins.  As for the game itself, history tells me you don’t have to bet on Tom Brady, but is dangerous to bet against him.
  • There is a fellow who uses astrology to make investment decisions.  While I cannot use astrology to make investment decisions with a straight face, I cannot argue with his results.
  • The final indicator is an old-time favorite…. The Hemline Indicator.  Originated back in 1926 by George Taylor, an economist at the famed Wharton School.  Taylor was first to make the correlation between the hemlines of women’s skirts and the stock market.  He observed that women’s skirts were shorter in thriving times, so they could show off their silk stockings. When finances were tight, hemlines dropped as women hid that they couldn’t afford hosiery. Since then, market analysts have studied the correlation, and while the theory is far from foolproof, there is a proven relationship between hemlines and the economy.  Besides, it’s off-beat, and off-beat things are fun to consider.

It’s time to get serious for some time.  I have a couple of aspects to this – current events, and market action.

Last week saw major news regarding a phenomenon known as a “short squeeze.”  Shorting a stock is a strategy where someone sells stock they don’t own, in the expectation that the price will decline, and will then purchase the stock later at a lower price and closing the transaction.
The squeeze occurs when buying occurs to the extent that those short begin panic buying to cover the short, close out the trade.  This can become very frenzied, and the stock skyrockets.
Last week some brokerage firms limited trading of certain stocks, reportedly because hedge funds were on the wrong side of the squeeze.  The hedge funds argued that if they, and their investors lost on the trades, the entire financial system would collapse.

If that is the case, that is major baloney.  In other words, too bad for the hedge funds.

By a very wide margin, nearly every account I manage is what is known in our industry as an “advisory” account.  As such, I (advisory accounts) am/are prohibited to short stocks because shorting exposes the investor to unlimited losses.
Shorting is allowed in speculative accounts, where margin is available.  These accounts are speculative.  As a business decision, and for multiple reasons, I do not wish my clients to be involved in these strategies.
Shorting individual stocks is not allowed in IRA accounts.
I don’t comment on individual holdings in this space, but will say that the stocks that made news for short squeezes last week are not stocks that likely would have met the criteria for ownership in the accounts I manage.  Feel free to give me a call and I’ll demonstrate why this is so.
The market action last week changed the risk as I define it.  We clearly are in WEALTH PRESERVATION mode.  This comes from above the 70% red line that some may remember from the white board in my office.  That does not mean I am ready to run for the hills.  I will manage the risk right now on a position by position basis.
Remember, Xs mean OFFENSE or wealth accumulation, while Os mean DEFENSE, or wealth preservation.
For this week’s market commentary, below is where our indicators stand as of January 29, 2021 (Courtesy Dorsey, Wright, and Associates).

On a general note:

The Department of Commerce reported the US economy grew at an annualized rate of 4.0 % in the fourth quarter.  That was in-line with expectations.  For the year, the economy contracted by 3.5%.  I won’t bore you with the attribution for the economic decline in 2020.  The report is interesting for the comments that I didn’t hear.  In recent years, there have been many comments regarding GDP as “a backward indicator,” to which I commented all economic reports are for things that happened already.

In another report from the Commerce Department, we learned that December Household Income rose 0.6%.  That was the first gain in 3 months.  It also coincided with the return of enhanced unemployment benefits, and direct payments from the government from the virus relief act passed and signed into law in December.  The personal savings rate also rose to 13.7%, which is far higher than the pre-pandemic rate of 8%.

The employees in the Commerce Department earned their pay last week by providing another report.  This one told December Durable Goods Orders rose 0.2% compared to November.  While that was the 8th consecutive gain, it was the smallest gain of that duration.  It also was well below the 0.8% gain many economists expected.
Finally, I rarely bring anything from the International Monetary Fund, but last week they had numbers that backed up what most of us already expected.  The IMF informed us that U.S. government debt as a percentage to U.S. GDP rose to 98%.  In English, government borrowing is almost as large as the country’s combined economic output.
Please contact me with any questions about this week’s market commentary.