Friday, January 27, 2017

Forget Dow 20,000… This Indicator Tells the Real Story

By Justin Spittler

It finally happened. For the last six weeks, the Dow Jones Industrial Average has been bumping against a ceiling. Yesterday, it broke through. The Dow topped 20,000 for the first time ever. Most investors are excited about this. After all, 20,000 is a big, round number. It feels like a psychological win for the bulls.

But it’s not an invitation to dive into stocks…not yet, at least. We need to see if the Dow can hold this level.
If it closes the week above 20,000, stocks could keep rallying. If it doesn’t, nothing has really changed. It could even be a warning sign. Until then, sit tight. Don’t chase stocks higher…stick to your stop losses…and hold on to your gold.

Don’t lose sight of the big picture, either.…

Remember, U.S. stocks are still very risky:
➢ They’re expensive. The S&P 500 is trading at a cyclically adjusted price-to-earnings ratio (CAPE) of 28.4. That means large U.S. stocks are 70% more expensive than their historical average.
➢ We’re still in a profits recession. Profits for companies in the S&P 500 stopped growing in 2014.
➢ And Donald Trump is president of the United States. Trump could do wonders for the economy and stock market. But he could also unleash a major financial crisis. It's still too early to tell.

As you can see, "Dow 2,000" isn't necessarily a reason to celebrate. In fact, as we told you two weeks ago, there's something much more important you should be watching right now.

The bond market is flashing danger.…
The bond market is where companies borrow money. It’s the cornerstone of the global financial system.
It’s also bigger and more liquid than the stock market. This is why the bond market often signals danger long before it shows up in stocks.

The bond market started to unravel last summer.…
Just look at U.S. Treasury bonds. In July, the 10-year U.S. Treasury hit a record low of 1.37%. Since then, it’s nearly doubled to 2.55%. This is a serious red flag. You see, a bond’s yield rises when its price falls. In this case, yields skyrocketed because bond prices tanked. The same thing has happened in long term Treasury, municipal, and corporate bonds.

Bill Gross thinks bonds are entering a long-term bear market.…
Gross is one of the world’s top bond experts. He founded PIMCO, one of the world’s largest asset managers. He now runs a giant bond fund at Janus Capital. Two weeks ago, Gross said the bull market in bonds would come to an end when the 10-year yield tops 2.6%. Keep in mind, bonds have technically been in a bull market since the 1980s.

According to Gross, this number is far more important than Dow 20,000. And we’re only 50 basis points (0.5%) from hitting it. In other words, the nearly four-decade bull market in bonds could end any day now.
When it does, Gross says bonds will enter a secular bear market... meaning bonds could fall for years, even decades. This is why Casey Research founder Doug Casey has urged you to “sell all your bonds.”

If you haven’t already taken Doug’s advice, we encourage you to do so now.…
You should also take a good look at your other holdings. After all, problems in the bond market could soon spill over into the stock market. If this happens, utility stocks could be in big trouble. Utility companies provide electricity, gas, and water to our homes and businesses. They sell things we can’t live without. Because of this, most utility companies generate steady revenues. This helps them pay dependable dividends.

Many investors own utility stocks just for their dividends.…
That’s why a lot of people call them “bond proxies.” Utility stocks don’t just pay generous income like bonds, either. They also trade with bonds. You can see this in the chart below. It compares the performance of the Utilities Select Sector SPDR ETF (XLU) with the iShares 20+ Year Treasury Bond ETF (TLT). XLU holds 28 utility stocks. TLT holds long-term Treasury bonds. XLU has traded with TLT for the better part of the last year. Both funds crashed after the election, too. But XLU has since rebounded.

You might find this odd. After all, the two funds basically moved in lockstep until a couple months ago.
But there’s a perfectly good explanation for this.…

Utility stocks pay more than Treasury bonds.…
Right now, XLU yields 3.4%. TLT yields 2.6%. That might not sound like big deal. But those extra 80 basis points (0.8%) provide a margin of safety. You see, the annual inflation rate is currently running at about 2.1%. That means the U.S. dollar is losing 2.1% of its value every year.

That’s bad news for everyday Americans. It’s also bad for bondholders. It means investors who own TLT are earning a “real” return (its dividend yield minus inflation) of 0.5%. Meanwhile, you’d be earning a real return of 1.3% if you owned XLU. Of course, utility stocks should pay more than government bonds. They’re riskier, after all. Unlike the government, utility companies can’t print money whenever they want. If they run into financial problems, they could go out of business.

Today, investors don’t seem to mind taking on extra risk for more income. But that could soon change…

Inflation could skyrocket under Donald Trump.…
If you’ve been reading the Dispatch, you know why. For one, Trump wants to spend $1 trillion on infrastructure projects. While this could help the economy in the short run, the U.S. government will have to borrow money to fix the country’s decrepit roads, bridges, and power lines. This would likely produce a lot more inflation. If that happens, real returns could shrink even more. And that could trigger a selloff in utility stocks and other "bond proxies," like telecom and real estate stocks. In short, if you own these types of stocks just for their dividends, you might want to consider selling them now.

We recommend sticking to dividend-paying stocks that meet the following criteria.…
The company should be growing. If it isn’t, you probably own the stock just for its dividend. That’s a bad strategy right now. It should have a low payout ratio. A payout ratio can tell us if a company’s dividend is sustainable or not. A payout ratio above 100% means a company is paying out more in dividends than it earns in income. Avoid these companies whenever possible.

It shouldn’t depend on cheap credit. After the 2008 financial crisis, a lot of companies borrowed money at rock-bottom rates to pay out dividends. If rates keep rising, these companies could have a tough time paying those dividends. If you own stocks that check these boxes, your income stream should be in good shape for now.

Chart of the Day

“Trump Years” stocks are on a tear. We all know U.S. stocks took off after the election. But some stocks did better than others. Bank stocks spiked on hopes that Trump would deregulate the financial sector. Oil and gas stocks rallied because Trump is pro-energy. Industrial stocks have also surged since Election Day.

Industrial companies manufacture and distribute goods. They include construction companies and equipment makers. E.B. Tucker, editor of The Casey Report, thinks these companies will stay very busy while Trump rebuilds America’s hollowed out economy.

He’s so sure of it that he recommended four “Trump Years” stocks last month. One of those stocks is up 11% in just six weeks. Yesterday, it spiked 8% after the company crushed its fourth quarter earnings report.
The company announced higher sales, fatter profits, and lower taxes. It raised its guidance for the year. In other words, it expects to make a lot more money this year…now that Trump’s in charge.

You can learn about this company and E.B.’s other “Trump Years” stocks by signing up for The Casey Report. Click here to begin your free trial.

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