The Weekly Summary

Star Wars ‘The Last Jedi’ topped $100 million on opening weekend, only the second film to do it, the first being Star Wars ‘The Force Awakens’. Americans are feeling good right now watching movies and buying Christmas gifts, as all-time high equity markets have their portfolios in great shape. Mergers and acquisitions are popping off with Disney buying assets from Fox and several other big-name deals announced this week. These are great times. It has been an incredible bull market. In fact, they say this past year was the least volatile on record in a hundred years. From the depths of the Financial Crisis to today marks an amazing journey for the markets. We can’t help but keep stressing that it won’t always be this good.

We’re not worried – just watching. We heard a presentation from a research specialist from Citibank on Thursday and he talked about and gave us charts on where the market is historically. He said the PE of the market (S&P 500) is 26, way above the historical average of 16. He said the VIX (^VIX) is sitting at about 10, way below the historical average of 14 or so. And he said the market ALWAYS REVERTS TO THE HISTORICAL MEAN. We took this all in, have thought about it for days and much before that and we must say that we effectively agree with this analysis. Remember the phrase “the new normal”? They said this about Internet stocks in 1999-2000 – remember what happened. They said that about the bull market leading up to 2008. Remember what happened. And they are saying that about this bull market and the low interest rate environment that we have seen for decades, with the 10-year Treasury still at historic lows of 2.35%.

Again, we’re not worried – but we are watching. We think this bull can run for another two years at a minimum.

No matter what is happening out there, there is always a bull market here at The Bull Market Report! This week we highlight some of our favorite stocks where we think you can still make good money, including: Bristol-Myers Squibb, Nutanix, Annaly, Tesla, Twilio and asset managers (Blackstone, BlackRock, and Carlyle Group).

 

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BMR Companies & Commentary

Asset Managers:
Blackstone (BX: $33)
BlackRock (BLK: $517)
The Carlyle Group (CG: $22)

Asset managers sure look like a compelling place to put money to work. We highlight some of the key data points about current market conditions. The strong fundamentals point to more and more money being made on Wall Street, which means more money for asset managers, and in turn more money for the investors in asset managers, meaning you of course.

Investment banking data were mixed in the week. Equity underwriting volume was 12% above the 4Q17 weekly average, and announced M&A volume was 67% above the 4Q17 weekly average, while completed M&A and debt underwriting were 45% and 20% below the 4Q17 weekly average, respectively; debt underwriting is steady.

Equity trading volume was 8% above the 4Q17 weekly average level, while equity option volume was 10% below the 4Q17 weekly average.

Corporate bond trading volume was steady. The 10-year Treasury yield increased 1 bp to 2.38% (up 4 bps quarter to date (QTD)), the Bank of America U.S. High yield increased 3 bps (up 32 bps QTD), and MBS securities yields (15-year and 30-year) declined 3 bps and 0 bps, respectively (up 14 bps and up 4 bps QTD, respectively).

Equity fund outflows (on a one-week lag) persisted, totaling $3.6B ($36B QTD), while bond fund inflows (also on a one-week lag) continued, totaling $4.3B ($52.0B QTD). This is certainly not good and amazing that the stock market has been able to absorb this negative news and rally like it has.

BMR Take: Take your pick between Blackstone, BlackRock, and The Carlyle Group, or own them all. These companies make money from all of the fees, deals, and rising asset prices. They are a center of profits. We see opportunity for meaningful stock price appreciation if current fundamental trends persist, as we believe it will. They are WAY UNDERVALUED in our opinion.

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Bristol-Myers Squibb (BMY: $61)

Bristol-Myers Squibb has licensed a phase 1 immuno-oncology drug from Japan’s Ono in a $40 million upfront pact. This geographically complex deal, which builds on a collaboration the pair have had for a number of years now, sees Bristol-Myers solely responsible for the development, manufacturing and commercialization of Ono’s selective Prostaglandin E2 receptor 4 antagonist. This program is aimed at targeting immuno-suppressive factors in the tumor microenvironment.

To improve long-term outcomes for more patients with cancer, Bristol believes more immuno-oncology-based combinations may be required, and they are pleased to continue the long-standing collaboration with Ono with this focus in mind. This new program offers the potential to develop targeted therapies that counteract the effects of an immunosuppressive tumor microenvironment. Researching Prostaglandin E2 receptor antagonists in combination with the oncology portfolio has the potential to result in an enhanced response in a broad range of tumors.

BMR Take: Bristol is going to generate $3.00 of EPS this year and around $3.25 next year, then growing toward $4.50 by 2020 as the immune-oncology drugs gain traction. That means the stock is dirt cheap and now is a great entry point. Remember, activist investor Carl Icahn is in the stock and we could see him push for a sale of the company resulting in a huge M&A premium some day in the future.

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Nutanix (NTNX: $35, up 3% last week)

Wow, Nutanix has doubled in recent months. Got your attention now? Let’s review what’s happening.

Nutanix started out as a hyperconverged (HCI) vendor. Starting in 2009, they created the market for HCI. They thought that HCI was a step in the journey to where organizations were headed, which was around becoming truly enterprise cloud software companies. This is what you hear and see Nutanix focusing all their energy on. Nutanix customers are looking at HCI as a critical step in this new era journey. They're looking at Nutanix as a full stack offering that allows them to build this platform, above, that's beyond storage and compute and includes virtualization. It helps them with networking, security, but most importantly now helps them with the transition that's happening in the market around the world of multiple clouds, where customers are trying to figure out how to handle a hybrid cloud environment, where customers want to put some of their workloads in the public cloud, but they also have a private cloud infrastructure that gives them the security that actually is probably even more cost effective for their enterprise apps like SAP, Microsoft and Splunk.

BMR Take: Look, we can’t explain all the finer details around the inner workings of HCI. However, we know that tech-savvy people are thrilled about what is going on at Nutanix. The company is on track to swing from losses to over $1 of EPS in 2021. The company’s customer base has doubled. The stock has doubled. We see all the elements of success and continue to like the stock at this level.

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Annaly Capital Mortgage (NLY: $12.01, up 2%)

The Fed raised rates and guess what, Annaly’s stock went up. What? The company is going to be able to navigate the interest-rate environment just fine. In fact, the Chairman of the Board just bought 125,000 shares this week at $12. At the end of the day, it’s been proven by numerous studies, that following insider buying from key business leaders is a way to make money in the markets. People sell stocks for all sorts of reasons, but they only buy stocks with one thought in mind, “I am going to make money on this purchase.” When that buyer is the Chairman of the Board with all that insight and industry expertise, you have to assume either this guy is a reckless idiot with his money or he is on to something.

Who is Denahan J. Wellington? She is Chairman of the Board of Directors and Executive Chairman of Annaly. Ms. Denahan is a co-founder of Annaly and has over 20 years of financial services experience. She was one of the co-founders of Annaly in 1994 and has been with the firm all this time. Ms. Denahan holds a B.A. in Finance from Florida State University and is the third-highest paid female CEO making over $26 million a year.

BMR Take: We see value in Annaly shares which are trading just above book value of $11.20 with a dividend yield of 10%. We think placing your capital alongside Ms. Denahan is a smart move. We have to say we love this company. We’ve loved them for about 20 years through high interest rate environments, through bull and bear equity markets, through negative naysayers both personally and on the Street, and they just keep coming through year after year. Sorry for gushing!

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Tesla (TSLA: $329, up 9%)

Tesla looks to be catching a break in Congress, as electric vehicle tax breaks appear to be maintained in the current legislation.

House and Senate negotiators have agreed to spare the electric-vehicle tax credit and wind production tax credit in their compromise package, according to a Republican familiar with the process. As part of the $1.5 trillion House tax bill, the $7,500 electric-vehicle tax credit would have been eliminated and the wind production tax credit would have been curtailed. The Senate bill didn’t do either, and that is part of the package set for release.

The vehicle tax credit, adopted as part of the 2009 stimulus bill, helps automakers from Detroit to Yokohama bet big on an electric future with plans to spend billions of dollars on new pure-electric models to be rolled-out in the coming years despite limited sales of the vehicles to-date. Availability of the credit has been capped at the first 200,000 qualifying vehicles sold by each manufacturer. No automaker has reached that cap yet. Tesla sold about 127,000 Model S sedans and Model X sport utility vehicles through August.

BMR Take: The tax credit is a nice incentive for sales of Tesla vehicles. More sales means more cash flow. More cash flow means a greater franchise value on the stock. We like what we see happening with Tesla, from innovation to DC policies. Keep this stock tucked away in your portfolio (but know that is one of your most speculative holdings.)

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Economic Calendar

Initial Claims
Thursday, December 21st, 10 AM
Period: 12/16
Actual: N/A
Consensus: 235,000
Prior: 225,000

New Home Sales
Friday, December 22nd, 10 AM
Period: November
Actual: N/A
Consensus: 655,000
Prior: 685,000

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Update on Twilio (TWLO: $25, up 3%)

Twilio hosted its first-ever investor day two weeks ago. Despite many quarters of strong results, the stock has remained under pressure.

Twilio aims to be the "future of communications," the way other cloud platforms like AWS has reshaped compute infrastructure and Stripe has revolutionized payments.

Twilio addresses a huge marketplace and has the potential to scale into a much larger company than it is today. The company continues to grow at a 40% rate, even as it approaches a $500 million run-rate.

Twilio's gross margin is much lower than most software companies due to its position of being a "middleman" between developers and telecom networks. The rise of possible competition from services like AWS is a concern.
Based on research from Gartner, the leading software industry analyst, Twilio believes its opportunity in communications to be 40% of the global IT market ($3.6 trillion).

Twilio also reminded investors that its sales model is unique among enterprise software companies by focusing on software developers rather than enterprise CIOs, attributing to its lower spending on sales and marketing. In its most recent quarter, it spent just 23% of its revenues on sales and marketing. This is low compared to the majority of high-growth software companies, that can typically spend upwards of 50% of revenues on sales and marketing.

Twilio also plans to greatly expand its count of quota-carrying reps (QCRs). At the end of 2016, Twilio's sales organization only had 23% of its headcount as QCRs - indicating that the bulk of the company's new sales hires weren't fully ramped yet to the $1.5-$2 million in revenue that the typical QCR brings in. At the end of 2017, however, Twilio estimates that 46% of its sales organization will be QCRs. This will drive further growth in the company.

Revenue guidance calls for $104 million, a strong 25% growth rate. More good news is that active developer accounts are up 35% over last year, and customer retention rate is literally close to 100%.
The company has generated 56% in gross margins year-to-date, the company believes it can attain gross margins of up to 65% in the long term. Twilio is operating at near-breakeven now, but the company expects to attain an operating margin of at least 20% in the future.

BMR Take: We are hanging tough with this great company. Patience will win out in the end, as revenues drive all.

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Cryptocurrency Update
Bitcoin (BTC-USD, $15,100 – prices change by the minute and trade 24-7)

The bitcoin boom is raging. It’s being discussed on every news network, in every paper, and even in questions asked to the Chairman of the Federal Reserve. The bitcoin rage is best exemplified by the following tale, which is a true story. Erik Finman invested a $1,000 cash gift from his grandmother into bitcoin six years ago. He was 12 years old. Erik is now a millionaire at 18. There are dozens and dozens of these situations being reported. Bitcoin has turned into a full-blown frenzy. It is said that the wealth created in bitcoin has served as an economic stimulus for millennials. Many feel that it going much higher The future of digital gold is here. The end of government controlled fiat money manipulation is upon us. That is what they are saying. But some more cautious investors are saying we will look back and call this the obvious bitcoin bubble. Will we? Only time will tell. Either way the frenzy is an exciting dynamic rarely seen in the markets. Place your bets wisely on the future of cryptocurrencies.

If you wish to learn more about bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies, go to www.Bitcoin.com and sign up for their daily newsletter. Also, www.CoinTelegraph.com has a great one. For info on the 1300 ICOs – Initial Coin Offerings – go to www.CoinMarketCap.com.

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A Word from Gary Jefferson
Jefferson Financial Group
First Vice-President, Investments
UBS Financial Services, Inc.

The year is basically over and we will leave it with the following comments on what may lie ahead. The only thing we can be sure of next year is that the vast majority of predictions or forecasts will end up missing the mark to one degree or another, as the market never follows a predictable pattern or does what everyone, especially the experts, expect. The bottom line to all the following information is simply this - Investors should not get all worked up about the numbers or economic forecasts for 2018. We believe the single most important economic fact that investors need to know is that the world is doing OK.

The current UBS "technical" forecast:
[Be prepared for some serious technical jargon.]

“It is remains our contention that the confusion within the US equity markets, pitting the bulls against the bears, lies in the lack of understanding by investors and traders about the significance of the two current powerful but competing market trends. That is, there is a maturing/aging cyclical bull trend (March 2009) operating within a newly confirmed structural bull trend (secular bull markets last an average of 8 to 20 years in length) that began in earnest in May 2013 via a breakout above 1,576/1,600, which was further validated in 2016 by a positive outside year. As with all cyclical trends, the current 9-year cyclical bull will likely end as early as the second half of 2018 and possibly into early 2019. This will be followed by either a deep correction (10–20%) or by a cyclical bear decline (20–30%) rather than by another structural bear decline (30%-plus). Since the current structural bull trend is only four years old, this long-term trend can sustain for another four years (2021) and possibly extend for another 16 years under ideal conditions. This would imply that the S&P 500 may quickly achieve our technical target of 2,850 as early as the first half of 2018 and possibly overshooting to 3,000 before sustaining a major drawdown. Under the backdrop of a structural bull trend, the S&P 500 can reach an optimistic technical target as high as 3,685 in the years ahead."

Thus, under a worst-case scenario where this new secular bull market which began in 2013 only lasts the minimum 8 years instead of the maximum 20 years - therefore lasting another four years - the technicians are forecasting the S&P 500 could reach 3685 over that 4 year period. This would equate to about 40% upside or 10% annually. However, trying to time this projected correction or cyclical bear decline in later 2018 or the first half of 2019 (or reaching the level of 2994-3045) will be nearly impossible, and could cause timers to miss an important move higher.

Keep in mind that this is a "technical" forecast based on charting and technical historical patterns. It is one of many tools used by money managers in reaching their final investment strategy and asset allocation decisions.
The UBS "fundamental" forecast also offers a positive outlook:

“US stocks rarely experience a sustained downturn outside of economic recessions. In fact, since 1960, the median S&P 500 calendar year total return is 15% in non-recession years. While gains in 2018 are unlikely to match the advance of this past year, US equities should continue to rise and outperform bonds as the US and global economic expansion continues. Historically, stocks rise 88% of the time in non-recession years.

2017 review: Solid S&P 500 EPS growth of 10% underpinned US equities in 2017. Market gains were amplified by higher valuations driven by strengthening and synchronized global growth and inflation generally undershooting market expectations.

2018 outlook. We forecast 2018 S&P 500 EPS to rise another 8% to $141 if tax reform is not passed. With expected tax reform benefits, profits could get an additional 6-10% boost. Solid and steady economic growth and still-low interest rates should continue to support above-average market valuations, although we are not assuming further multiple expansions. Putting it all together, we expect that the S&P 500 will end 2018 between 2,850 and 2,950 if tax reform legislation is enacted. Should tax reform efforts fail, 2,600-2,700 is a more likely base case."

At this point we are going to assume that tax reform happens. Thus, the read we get on the economy is overwhelmingly positive. Maybe it's the Christmas Spirit, but it seems there’s so much going on right now that investors should celebrate. We just had two consecutive quarters of 3%+ GDP growth. We have historically low interest rates which make it cheaper for consumers and businesses and the government to borrow and spend. Inflation, which is a great enemy of both bond and stock investors, has been kept in check through many things such as demographics and technology innovation. We have cheap energy thanks to the technological revolution in fracking and horizontal drilling, and, most importantly, we have rising corporate profits. Ultimately, as they have for all of history, share prices will follow earnings.

So, if you look at this confluence of events: strong economic growth, strong corporate profit growth, low inflation, low interest rates, cheap energy – it’s almost ideal. Several noted stock "gurus" even refer to it as a “Goldilocks economy” where things could hardly be much better. We remain positive about 2018.

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The High Yield Corner
By Michael Foster

We need to spend this week discussing one our favorites - Pimco.

For nearly two years, The Bull Market Report has recommended PIMCO Dynamic Income Fund (PDI: $30, down -3%) for two reasons. The first and most important is the income. The Dynamic Fund has a sustainable 8.9% dividend yield, and it has earned that dividend solidly for as long as the fund has been around. Such a high-income stream is hard to find anywhere - but finding one that is as sustainable and high as this is near impossible. So there has always been good reason to buy and hold the fund.

The second reason to hold this fund is the underlying trends that are good for the main asset class in this fund: mortgage-backed securities. Without getting into a slew of data, the U.S. economy is improving and Americans are paying their mortgages on time more frequently than they did a decade ago. That has translated into a solid run-up for MBSs, many of which were bid down to absurdly cheap levels shortly after the housing crisis in 2007-2009. That, by the way, is what caused Pimco to start the Dynamic fund in the first place; they saw a ton of attractive assets in the mortgage market that were discounted to as little as pennies on the dollar, and they knew those mortgages were a lot safer than the market expected. So they launched the fund to capitalize on that unusual inefficiency in the market, and the Dynamic fund has benefitted healthily since then. It’s up 18% per year on average since its IPO nearly 6 years ago.

That massive run-up is the result of two things: strong income from the portfolio and capital gains from the value of the bonds in the portfolio. In years past, one or the other caused extra upside. In 2017, the upside was from capital gains: the value of the bonds went up. Income, on the other hand, did not exceed expectations. The reasons for that are complicated, but it largely is the result of the MBS market getting crowded. Back in 2011-2013, many people were so terrified of the MBS market that they wouldn’t touch it with a 10-foot pole. Yet it was the absolute bottom of the market. Pimco realized this, and bought when the assets were cheap. They were cheap because the market was expecting net investment income (NII) to be a lot lower on those bonds, but in reality, the income turned out to be higher because defaults were going down. Pimco benefitted handsomely in excess NII.

Closed End Funds tend to return excess NII to investors in the form of a year-end dividend. That’s why at the end of 2016 there was a special $1.45 dividend payout. The fund paid an extra $1.00 in 2015. In 2013? An eye-watering $5.00 in extra income! The special payout in 2013 was so high because the market just wasn’t expecting MBSs to be as safe as they were, so the yield on those bond prices was extremely high. Over time, MBSs in the fund’s portfolio have matured, and Pimco has been buying MBSs at a higher price and lower yield. So NII has declined - but there is still less demand in the MBS market than an equilibrium would assume, so there are still NAV gains in the Pimco fund.

It’s a little complicated, but the moral of the story is this: 2017 saw the Dynamic Fund's NAV total return at 21% and an 18% total price return. PDI’s fundamentals are still outperforming the stock, which is very good. It also means PDI’s NAV is going up. NAV started 2017 at $25.90 and it’s now at $28.70 (11%). The Dynamic Fund is both an appreciating asset and a sustainable high yield asset - both things that The Bull Market Report looks for in its high yield portfolio.

There is just one problem: The lower NII means there isn’t extra income to pass out to investors in the form of a special dividend. We had been saying earlier this year that we did not expect PDI to pay out a special dividend, and it looks like we’re right. Last week on Friday, the company announced that one of its other funds would issue a small special dividend, and the Dynamic Fund would issue no extra dividend at all. This means its yield is going to stay at 8.9% instead of the huge double-digit yields we’ve seen in the past. But the normal dividend is going to remain, and NAV gains could continue throughout 2018 and beyond.

Is it time to sell? No. Although the fund’s special dividends may have come to an end, and with it the near 18% annualized returns, this fund is still good for 10% or more annualized for at least a few years. There will come a day when the MBS market is overbought and it’s time to sell this fund. That day has not come yet. The lack of a special dividend might be a slight disappointment now, but the long-term gains this fund has provided are not going to stop. Enjoy the 8.9% yield and sleep well at night knowing it’s not going to get cut anytime soon.

Good Investing,
Todd Shaver
Founder and CEO
The Bull Market Report
Since 1998