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Municipal Market Newsletter Archive

Not Lower For Longer

May 7th, 2020 by Kurt L. Smith

Last month’s letter highlighted the opportunity available in managed fixed income funds. March 6th was a pivotal moment with record low US Treasury bond yields and historically low spreads for other bonds, such as municipals, that I believe fixed income fund performance may be negative for years to come.

The high prices for bonds on March 6th, I believe, are the bond corollary for the record highs in stock prices in February. The dramatic swoon down in prices in early March affected both asset classes. Diversification between the two offered little safety.

Now, approximately six weeks from the March lows, prices have bounced back strongly. Taking a long-term approach, both stocks and bonds remain near their record highs. Looking backwards, the patient investor appears to be sitting in a good place atop decades of bull market bond and stock performance.

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March 6th

March 30th, 2020 by Kurt L. Smith

I pray this letter finds you and your loved ones healthy. My prayers are with the first responders and the healthcare professionals on the front-line saving lives and protecting ours.

This is the most important letter I have ever written. My hope is you will pass it along to your loved ones and friends because I believe the message is very important.

I have spent my entire career, over thirty years focused on the bond markets. Long-time readers know I have been writing that the latest move in financial assets (stocks, bonds, gold) is the end of something, namely the end of their long-term bull markets. As tens of billions of dollars is now being poured into cash in the form of money market accounts, it appears some may agree, and they may be scared as well.

I know you have a choice with your money, and I appreciate your trust in me and my abilities especially in these volatile times. I believe it is important for you to more fully understand bonds as well as sharing this letter with others who may find it helpful.

In the United States, bonds account for about $33 trillion dollars in assets: US Treasury securities make up about $17 trillion, corporate bonds $10 trillion, mortgages $10 trillion and municipals $3.9 trillion (all courtesy of SIFMA.org). The Federal Reserve has recently increased its balance sheet to $5 trillion, primarily in US Treasuries and mortgages (courtesy federalreserve.gov) leaving a lot of bonds in other’s hands with the bulk either professionally managed including in mutual funds.

Mutual funds, with their quoted net asset values (NAV) and performance data available on the internet may appear to be similar as both can easily be reallocated with a point and a click.  Both have the same disclaimer: “Past success does not guarantee future performance.”  But they are as dissimilar as a stock is from a bond.

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Prepared?

March 5th, 2020 by Kurt L. Smith

From record high to worst week since the financial crisis in October 2008, stocks ended thirty-plus years of bull in dramatic fashion. The top bull in the better than best of recent asset pricing is taking the leadership role in the great deflate.

From a high of 29,568 on February 12 to an end of month low of 24,681, the Dow Jones Industrial Average has lost over 4,000 points with 3,600 of it in one week (source: Bloomberg). This is not your normal pull back. This is not the buy the dip (one more time!). This is the end we have been talking about since November 2017 in my letter, Top of Tops. In that letter I noted 23,500 as the all-time high turning point for stocks. The extra run since then was a bonus.

You all know I have been writing about asset prices being at the end of something. From the depths of the financial crisis in March 2009 to February 2020, it was quite a ride. A ride I believed would be over (in November 2017) but continued through Groundhog Day (after Groundhog Day) 2020.

Consequential? Unbelievably so. This isn’t even the worst part. From my point of view stock investors “haven’t lost anything” as they are still ahead of November 2017. No, the worst part is ahead of us because it involves the bond market.

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Ground Hog Day

February 24th, 2020 by Kurt L. Smith

Though Ground Hog Day was officially February 2nd, I am referencing the 1993 movie starring Bill Murray. I feel like I am reliving the same day over and over again in the market place.

The Dow Jones Industrials traded today at the same level it did six weeks ago. Yet every morning I am seemingly greeted with a new intraday high for stocks. Bonds are scarce, yet every day I hope to scratch and claw my way to several worthwhile pieces.

Last month I wrote that asset prices were Better Than Best. After weeks of Ground Hog Days, guess what?  Prices are still Better Than Best. That is the danger in delaying writing this letter in hopes of writing something new. There is nothing new.

Even when we think there is something new (in Washington or in Wuhan), it is seemingly of little consequence. I don’t write about those types of things anyway, preferring to watch what the markets are telling me. Obviously, they have been telling me the transition from upward trend in prices to downward trend is taking its time. Does that mean six more weeks of this like the groundhog prognosticates? We will know when the markets tell us.

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Better Than Best

January 24th, 2020 by Kurt L. Smith

Asset prices were high months ago and as stock prices continue to set records what appeared to be best is now better than best. What a great period to have been an investor!

Bond prices have been higher (and interest rates lower) but not appreciably. While prices have trended lower since their Labor Day high prices and low yields (per Bloomberg), movement so far is at the speed of a glacier.

Gold prices are also near their highest since their 2011 peak of $1921, trading at $1611 earlier this month. And then there are stocks, which appear to be in their own stratosphere. In my November letter I noted how both bonds and gold spurted about twenty percent to their peaks. I didn’t give stocks a chance for a similar nod; I was wrong.

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High Demand for (Low) Yield

December 16th, 2019 by Kurt L. Smith

Long-time readers are well aware of my call to the end of the thirty-plus year bond bull market in 2012. That’s seven years now behind us. For long-term bonds this period has been quite a topping process (in 2012, 2016 and again in 2019) with the primary result being the tremendous issuance of new debt.

Treasury debt has exploded from $4.3 trillion in 2006 to $15.9 trillion in 2019 (Q2). My debt figures come from a wonderful website, www.sifma.org, check it out.  Luckily the Federal Reserve has been there as the primary buyer, expanding their balance sheet in various quantitative easing programs.

Right behind treasuries in debt expansion is corporate debt, rising from $4.9 in 2006 to $9.5 trillion (Q2). Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell said in October that “leverage among corporations and other forms of business, private businesses, is historically high” –Bloomberg.

Indeed, not only are bond prices high (yields low) but there are more of them! As long as “lower-for-longer” holds, values should hold. Interest rates are low, so low it would appear that negative interest rates are a closer reality than higher interest rates.

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Bonds Rolled Over (Again)

November 18th, 2019 by Kurt L. Smith

From the front pages this summer, the story on bonds is they are no longer a story. Prices have rolled over as yields have risen and investors who bought on the price dips lately may be rethinking their commitment.

I have spent most of the last few years, as well as the last few months telling you this was the end of the run, not the beginning of a new one. The performance of the bond market over these years fits my description.

After several years of higher yields and lower bond prices, the bond market began a price correction late last year. But it was the performance of long-term treasury bonds in July and August of this year that received the out-sized attention. One of the longest treasury bonds, the 2.875% of 2049, rallied from about 100 in May, to 105 in July and 122 in August (source: Bloomberg, with prices rounded for conversation sake). Quite a move for a bond yielding less than 3%.

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The Bigger Picture

October 15th, 2019 by Kurt L. Smith

Summer was extended down here in Dallas. Ninety-plus degree days almost every day in September. Seemingly the same thing every day, like the markets these past many months. Change will happen, though it seemingly hasn’t yet.

When we drew our line in the sand, almost two years ago, that the next move for stocks would be down, little did we know how long the wait might be. Obviously I stand by my call because I bring it up often. More importantly it still holds up well. What have you missed in stocks?

But if you haven’t sold some of your stocks you haven’t built up your cash and you haven’t increased your commitment to The Select ApproachTM. Unlike every other investor, you have The Select ApproachTM as an alternative to stocks, bonds, gold, commodities, real estate, private equity and whatever other mash up you may or may not have tried.

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Sell Bonds

September 12th, 2019 by Kurt L. Smith

The Select ApproachTM believes the bond market correction of the past nine months is now over.

Last month we talked about the giddiness of bonds and that giddiness delivered bonds onto the front pages of the major dailies. The New York Times on August 28th probably marked the high prices with this headline “While Wall St. Talks of a Recession, Bond Investors Make a Killing. You should have bought bonds. They’re going great.”

The NY Times also included a nice chart of year to date returns. “Thirty year Treasury bond +26.4%, Long-term bonds +23.5%, Investment-grade corporates +14.1% and Ten Year Treasury notes +12.6%.” Indeed, stellar returns essentially describes the bond market correction of the past nine months.

In order to reap the rewards of this year’s bond market moves, one must sell. Not your Select ApproachTM bonds, but everything else. This market move was a trade, and a short-term one at that, and now it is over. The bond market is in a long-term bear market since 2012. Prices move down (yields rise) setting the trend and in order for the market to continue to lower prices, a correction needs to occur. Ebb and flow happens but the important part is the direction of the trend for bond prices is lower.

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The Topping Process Continues

August 8th, 2019 by Kurt L. Smith

The Dow Jones Industrial Average sold off almost 2,000 points in just a few days recently. The Dow now trades at the same level as it did back in January 2018.

Bonds meanwhile continue their move higher in price (lower in yield) as unlike stocks, their corrective move had added momentum. When it comes to bonds, we hear statements like highest prices (or lowest yields) since 2016. That’s because the current bond market rally is a correction of the downward price trend in bonds that dates back to 2016 (for me 2012).

Last month’s letter discussed how I expected asset prices of bonds, stocks and gold to soon complete. We have seen the initial move down for stocks and I look for similar strong downward moves to begin in bonds and gold at any time.

“At any time” is the operative word. Last month’s market focus was based on the movements of the asset markets over the past weeks as well as the past several years. Markets behave like markets, despite the actions of central bankers or presidents, war or peace. So last month’s giddy didn’t indicate a continuation of trend, but rather the end of a move.

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NEWS FEED

The $247 trillion global debt bomb washingtonpost.com/opinions/the-2…