October 2021 Update

San Francisco, CA 

“This is the business we have chosen.” – Hyman Roth, The Godfather 

The markets roared back to life in October, in spite of its being the “scariest” month of  the year and in spite of the media’s infatuation with reminding everyone of the two  crashes many years ago (29’ & 87’). But we live in a different world now; algorithms  and Wall Street Bets traders are hardly students of history, or of markets for that matter.  

Momentum returned in force this month, particularly in a new host of meme stocks.  Highlighted by Digital World Acquisition Corp, which is a Donald Trump-linked SPAC  that soared almost 800% after debuting on the September 24th. Interestingly enough, the  old meme stocks Gamestop and AMC saw their prices decline precipitously as traders  sought out better action in different names and grew tired (based on the charts at least) of  these “old” meme stocks and their inability to capture the past glories of January and  February of this year.  

We only bring this up to emphasize the fact that the markets, despite the consistent low  VIX readings, are still full of active traders and are still dominated by passive funds that  use S&P 500 and Nasdaq 100 ETFs for instant exposure. We view all these observations  as market positives, not in the sense that they symbolize a stable environment (they  don’t), but more so that they continue to churn out lucrative trading opportunities for  those with quick time frames and void of any opinions. That remains our sole focus right  now.  

It has admittedly been tough to find our way with any long-term stories with regard to  stocks this year (Twitter being the poster child – more below). Aside from Bitcoin, we  have had much more success dating than looking for a long-term relationship. And as we  survey the landscape and begin to peer into 2022, we really don’t see that narrative  changing at all. In fact, we only see the dynamic strengthening. Our reasons for this  conviction are the same ones we have been yammering about all year, but they seem to  be intensifying. The Fed and taper talk is 100% in play now as evidenced by Chairman  Powell’s succinct words on October 22nd “Fed will begin tapering soon” 

Now throw in the wildcard of cryptocurrency becoming all the rage again and hitting a  definite fever pitch in both interest and price (Bitcoin pierced through its all-time highs on October 20th). This month Sushi and Shiba Unu coins were where the speculation was most fevered, Again, whether this is a telltale sign of a massive bubble or the  continuation of an asset appreciating for years to come is a conversation over a bottle of  wine on a Friday night – not a trade-able gauge.

We often use the tired line “trade the markets in front of you, not the ones you envision.”  But it truly remains maybe the sagest advice anyone could ever get when entering the  arena where we dwell daily.  

Another area that is witnessing a rebirth of sorts are the SPACs. They have been left for  dead for months now after being all the rage in Q1 this year. Part of the rebirth this  month was spurned by before mentioned Trump media company and a swath of new  acquisition corps in the electric vehicle/battery space. Also, a few bitcoin mining names  created some good trading opportunities as the transfer from China mainland miners to  other friendlier confines is well underway.  

But the real point here is that there are rotating pockets of speculation showing up daily  in the current market environment. Which can lead to some fruitful trading opportunities  for those with quick fingers and extreme focus. This again leads us to argue that the  future for our style and discipline remains on point.  

To sum up, 2021 thus far has been marked by intense speculative fervor highlighted by  the meme stocks in Q1. That signaled a short-term top and led to a long period of massive  divergences between the placid indices and terminally underperforming small caps. That  was also highlighted by a complete wipeout in in the SPAC space, a 50%+ drawdown in  Bitcoin, and the slow leaking of air out of all the meme stocks (AMC 43% off highs,  Gamestop 39% off highs)  

But the fall has resulted in a complete one-eighty of the above scenarios. Bitcoin rallied  back to new highs, SPACs saw a bit of a rebirth as shorts began to get squeezed and  certain issues rallied in multiples of 100%. Also, the Russell small-cap index saw a nice  move off the lows as it attempted to break out of its ascending triangle and provide some  more momentum for active daily traders.  

No one promised that this would be easy, and it certainly isn’t. But we reiterate that the  landscape is full of opportunities daily, the likes of which we have not seen in years.  

We are knee deep into corporate earnings reporting season as we wind up October and  peer into November. Thus far, the reporting has gone well with well over 82% of the SP 500 companies beating estimates by an average of 10.3%. Furthermore, 75% of reporting  companies have exceeded analyst’s revenue estimates. 

In early September many market pundits were worried that earnings would be  disappointing given the soft year-over-year comparisons and could lead to a sell-off as  valuation concerns were reignited. Well, thus far that has hardly been the case. The  markets have embraced corporate America’s earning prowess and rich balance sheets. 

This has helped keep the overvaluation arguments in check somewhat. It is also what has  helped reignite the animal spirits we have detailed in the pages above.    

Looking Forward and other Market Commentary:

The main event in  November will take place in just a few days when the Fed holds its second-to-last  meeting of the year. We have already pontificated above on the Fed, but as we have been  reiterating in recent updates, the need to follow other central bank actions these days is as  important as ever. For example, on October 27th, the Bank of Canada opted to hold its  benchmark rate steady at 0.25% but signaled higher rates were ahead and abruptly ended  its quantitative easing program. Also, this month the ECB opted to slightly reduce its  monthly bond buying pace and upped its inflation forecast a tad. It did, however, push  back against any rate increases in 2022. This narrative loosely falls in line with other  developed central banks and maps out a blueprint of sorts for our Fed.  

This is further evidenced by the fact that the German 10-year yield, while still negative,  has rallied to 0.54 basis points in less than a year and now yields -0.10%.  

The Bank of Japan also had a meeting in late October and cut its inflation forecast from  0.6% to 0.0%. It must agree with Cathie Wood that this supply-chain debacle is  transitory. This also means that the BOJ is not the Bank of Canada and will stay  accommodating for quite a while.  

The Bank of England on the 4th and the Royal Bank of Australia on the 2nd are the only  other developed central bank that will meet in November aside from the Fed on the 3rd.  

It is clear that 2022 will finally be the year of changing monetary global policy. We saw  some instances of bond pushback this month on the shorter end of the curve in Canada,  Australia, and here in the US 2-year note. Is this a sign of yield curve control gone awry  and a harbinger of things to come or a one-off weird week? This week’s Fed meeting  should give us some more insight.  

Legendary trader Paul Tudor Jones, in an interview on CNBC on the 19th, expressed  concern that if inflation keeps accelerating and the Fed is forced into hiking short-term  rates, the P/E ratios across the market will likely plunge as higher rates makes debt  financing more expensive,  

If the Fed hikes short-term rates to 4% or 5% (from the zero-bound), for stocks, “you’re  talking about a P/E of 17 or 18…and the market’s down 35%.”  

We would hate to see what kind of inflation would earn a 4%-5% rate. While his point is  well taken, it seems a bit draconian to us. Especially when we know that a sure-fire way  to at least tamp down inflation is to get the supply chains loosened up. There has been  talk of the national guard stepping in to help and the military. Maybe that is just a short term fix, but then again maybe that’s all it will take. There is a lot of money sitting idle  in ships near ports around the globe. We believe it gets partially resolved sooner than  later. 

As is the case now, the CPI and PPI readings have taken on significantly more meaning  for macro positioning. They have become market movers and have practically replaced  the importance of the monthly jobs report. Everyone knows there are plenty of jobs of  available out there. The more important input is what it will now cost to get them filled.  

Add in the continued supply chain debacle and persistent (not transitory) inflation, which  has lent itself to creating sharp opportunities in the commodity, rate, and currency  markets. Areas which were void of much action or participation just a couple of years  ago. If you think we are overstating that just look at the Deutsche Bank news this month  when they are now re-committed to opening a commodities trading division- after  shutting it down in 2016.  

“Currently, supply-chain congestion continues in the Transpacific trade lane, with the  combination of inventory restocking, peak season and ongoing elevated consumption  trends. We expect these conditions to remain largely in place at least through mid-year  2022.” Matson CEO Matt Cox  

If indeed, Mr. Cox is correct, and all signs unfortunately point to him being so, then  Chairman Powell and the rest of the FOMC are going to have a very interesting 2022 to  grapple with. With tapering on the way (their words) and no plans to hike rates (also  their words), we will sit back and watch how they deal with this inflation problem that we  can all agree now has gone from “transitory” to “sticky.” Oil is hovering in the mid- $80s, industrial metals, soft commodities, and coal all are surging in prices and helping spread inflation from construction to heating homes to heading to the grocery store.  

Earnings season marches on for at least a couple more weeks. While we have heard from  a good chunk of the biggest companies in America, there are still a handful of names we  are anxious to hear from. They include: Snowflake, Palantir, Expedia, Cirrus Logic,  ZoomInfo, Pfizer, Akamai, Zillow, Wingstop, Clorox, Booking Holdings, Trupanion,  Alibaba, and Barrick Gold. To name a few.  

Also, the October jobs report will be released two days after the Fed meeting, but we  have a sneaky suspicion that the FOMC members might get a little preview of that  number before their two-day meeting wraps up. Just a guess of course.  

The next two FOMC meetings are obviously important (as we touched on above), but  even more so when we begin to consider the fact that Chairman Powell’s tenure may be  coming to an end much earlier than had been expected. The current betting odds have  him at just over 50% to keep his job, down from 71% just weeks ago.  Democrat party to remove Chairman Powell and replace him with a more liberal, climate-change-focused, easier-money-focused. If President Biden goes along with these wishes, then we may officially see the  acceptance of Modern Monetary Theory, or MMT, become federal reserve policy. Now,  many will argue that we are already there and that MMT is alive and well despite not  being officially adopted. And it’s hard to dissuade that narrative when one studies the  enormous expansion of the Fed balance sheet for the past few years combined with the  massive amounts of stimulus doled out by the government since the pandemic began.  

In this world of massively irresponsible monetary policy, won’t at some point the metals  resume their role as the equalizer? And wouldn’t it be ironic to see gold surge as the Fed  begins to tighten, seeing as it certainly ignored most of the expansion. And, yes we are  very cognizant that cryptocurrency has garnered some of the metal’s liquidity.  Furthermore, we are pleased to see it as it has created a whole new asset class in which  we can participate.  

Crypto Update:

It was another month chock-full of encouraging news for those who  believe cryptocurrency will continue to march on as a legitimate asset class for years to  come. Here are a few highlights:  

A Bitcoin ETFs finally came to market this month after months and months of  wrangling with the SEC. ProShares Bitcoin Strategy ETF debuted on the 19th of  this month and now makes it easier for individual investors to gain access.  

Fixed Income behemoth Pimco’s CIO admitted they were already dabbling in  cryptocurrency and were introducing plans to gradually offer more digital assets  to their clients.  

Mastercard announced they will soon allow the thousands of banks and millions  of merchants on its payment network to integrate crypto into their products. They  will be partnering with crypto firm Bakkt.  

Robinhood announced they would be offering a crypto wallet to customers soon  and immediately saw the wait list surge to over one million customers.  Coinbase, a stock we like, announced Coinbase NFT, a peer-to-peer marketplace  that will help simplify NFTs. It also saw “substantial” sign-ups for its wait list  but declined to provide a number.  

The Wharton School of Business announced they will now accept Bitcoin to pay  tuition costs.  

As much as we like this area and are excited as it matures into a legitimate asset class, we  are starting to feel the tingling sensation that is usually associated with frothy markets.  Surely, Bitcoin trading back to a new all-time high spurned the froth. But the continued  craze in the NFT space, the surge in some altcoins such as Sushi and Shibu Uni, along  with the 39% rise in Coinbase this month have us a little on edge for a healthy, warranted  pullback.  

Staying with Coinbase: We feel that in the past few months it has become the de facto  stock for Bitcoin exposure and crypto in general, overtaking MicroStrategy, which is  essentially a balance sheet full of Bitcoin. In fact, it seems to us that traders are using MicroStrategy as a source of funds to finance both Coinbase and the newly formed  Bitcoin ETFs purchases.  

Facebook is going through a rough patch these days as scrutiny continues to build around  their ad targeting and messaging controversies, the latest involving teenage girls and  mental health. The company also reported their earnings on the 25th and by Facebook  standards they were sub-par. The social media giant beat earnings by $0.03 but came up  light on revenues and average revenue per user (ARPU) missed by $0.15.  

The stock was initially buoyed by a $50 billion stock buyback, but quickly succumbed to  selling pressure and closed down 7% on the 26th and is now down 13% in just two  months. Which makes it one of the worst big-cap performers in the NASDAQ-100.  Some are trying to compare Facebook to the tobacco companies of the 80s. And judging  by how everyone is obsessed with Instagram and their Facebook news feeds we would be  hard pressed to argue it isn’t as addictive as nicotine – at least mentally.  

But we would hesitate to lump Facebook with Phillip Morris right now. The fact is that  members of our society are addicted to their screens, constant newsfeeds, photos of what  they and their friends are doing daily, and to arguing somewhat anonymously with each  

other. And the simple fact is that there aren’t a ton of places to achieve all that. Smoking  has been banned indoors in the vast majority of places and the focus on better physical  health/diet has increased exponentially in the past twenty years.  

We just don’t see Facebook going away in any significant fashion. They are currently in  the midst of a total rebrand to Metaverse, which in part is likely to expel them from the bad press and societal pushback they have received recently. Nor do we believe  regulators will be able to deliver much of a punch, as witnessed by previous attempts  with Google and Microsoft. This doesn’t mean we love the stock here, we prefer Twitter,  but the calls of its immediate demise seem impulsive.  

Twitter reported their earnings a day after Facebook, and in usual fashion, they were a bit  confusing, a bit underwhelming, and a bit messy. The top line estimates missed by a  $0.74 – mainly due to a $766 million litigation charge. Revenues rose 37.1% year-over year to $1.28 billion which were in line. The company sees in-line revenue guidance for  Q4. Average mDAU was 174 million for Q3, compared to 152 million for the same  period and 169 million in the previous quarter.  

The stock rose a few dollars immediately following the release but quickly succumbed to  selling pressure and fell 8% on the 27th. Again, it wasn’t an outstanding quarter, but they  did see a +51% US ad growth versus +31% for Facebook and 39% for Google. And  valued at less than $50 billion, with Facebook falling out of favor at least temporarily,  and Snap delivering a bummer of a quarter on the 22nd. It might have stood to reason  that Twitter would be the beneficiary for the next quarter or two of social media capital  looking for a home; similar to Coinbase and MicroStrategy. But, once again, Twitter grabbed defeat from the jaws of victory and is again regulated to  price purgatory as it sits near where it IPO’d eight years ago.  

We had a bullish call spread on for the report in case Twitter actually rose to the  occasion, which, judging by the price reaction, it clearly did not judging by the price  reaction. So, we come into the last two months of 2021 flat the name and are back in a  “wait and see” mode. Very frustrating company to navigate. 

The last week of the month was laden with big cap tech earnings as we heard from  Facebook (bad), Twitter (see above), Microsoft (good), Google (good), Amazon (bad for  a second straight Q) and Apple (bad – first revenue miss since 2017)  

Big cap tech has been the driver of the markets for most of the year and nothing reported,  even Amazon’s mess, is going to stop that anytime soon. We would argue that only a  sharp rise in rates would quell this momentum, as we have seen that correlation hold for  brief periods throughout the year – particularly in late September/early October.  

There is more to the world than tech, seriously. And the 12% surge in the transportation  average this month certainly confirmed that. This month we were treated to good  quarters by Union Pacific, UPS, Caterpillar, Kansas City Southern, General Electric, and  Roper Technologies. The only real disappointing report was from Lockheed Martin. All  the companies listed above, as was the case with just about every conference call, cited  supply chain issues as their top concern.

As we look forward to the holiday season, the stock market, based on history, is also  looking forward to the last two months. Since 1980, the SP-500 has been higher nearly  three-quarters (73 pct) of the time in the last two months. of the year, and up an average  of +3.3 pct overall. When the S&P is higher in November and December, it’s gained an  average of 5.6 pct compared to a loss of 3.1 pct during years with a negative return for  those two months.  

The Street’s 2021 SP-500 corporate earnings estimates are up 22 pct since the start of the  year, which coincides perfectly with the approximate advance in the indices this year.  Hardly a coincidence. But it also brings into question how easy this will be to replicate in  2022.  

The VIX has dropped by an average of 4.5 pct in November/December over the last 3  decades. If that holds true, that will put the VIX in the 13-14 range which seems awfully  complacent as we peer into 2022 and begin to tackle some pretty heavy issues, plus likely  undergo a rate environment change. Obviously, trends can be broken, and maybe the 27%  is the case this year for equities. But those bearish stocks should study some history – just in case it isn’t different this time. 

However, there is one item we continue to find disconcerting with regard to stocks.  Currently, Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google, Microsoft, and Tesla now make up 24%  of the S&P 500. Which is an incredible statistic.  

Currently, only 45% of all stocks are over their 200-day simple moving average of price,  and only 58% are over their 40-day simple moving average of price. A sharp contrast to  what the major indices reflects.  

Also, the Russell 2000 index has not made a new high since March 15th and remains in a  massive channel as of this writing after a failed attempted breakout in late October.  Currently, 1/3 of all companies listed in the Russell are unprofitable. Another incredible statistic, but one that implies a direct correlation between the ability to finance (i.e.  corporate bond spreads) and the strength of the index.  

Those circumstances help explain the divergences we have and correlate with the  frustration many have had this year with stock picking when equated to the general  indices.  

Occasio Partners, LLC 465 California Street, San Francisco, CA