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Friday Fantasy – Infrastructure Paired back to $1.2Tn with No Tax Hikes

While Biden's away.

A bipartisan group of 10 Senators have agreed to $579Bn in additional spending (from the Republican's first offer) over 8 years and, rather than raise taxes to pay for it, they have played with the numbers enough to show no tax hikes are necessary – even though we are currently running a $3.6Tn deficit by spending $7Tn and only collecting $3.4Tn (Corporations are paying $231Bn).  This is not a problem that's going to fix itself.

$3.6Tn is close to 20% of our GDP and we're already 128% of our GDP in debt and the solution is not to raise taxes – even though the markets and jobs and inflation data are indicating tremendous economic strength.  If we can't raise taxes now, when can we ever?  And, if we can't ever raise taxes, then the debt will simply keep growing until it's completely out of control and wrecks the economy – that seems to be our current plan.

$1.2Tn is still $500Bn below Biden's proposed $1.7Tn.  The proposal is limited to core physical infrastructure and omits the social programs such as elderly care Biden included in his “American Jobs Plan.”  There is also the possibility of a gasoline tax, which is a tax the Republicans don't mind as it disproportionately taxes poor people.  But the White House has made it clear to lawmakers that such a measure, as well as any discussion about an electric vehicle mileage tax, would violate Biden’s red line of not raising taxes on Americans who earn under $400,000 a year, and cannot be part of any package,

The current Federal Gasoline Tax is 0.184/gallon and hasn't changed since 1993, when gas was $1.  We use about 125Bn gallons of gas so we're talking $23Bn and adding 0.368 (proportional) would bring in $46Bn of additional revenue – still nowhere near enough but at least we didn't ask Jeff Bezos to chip in – that would have been a catastrophe, right?  Jeff is leaving the planet next month – so he won't be subject to US taxes anyway.  

Speaking of taxes, we'll have to pay some on our Oil (/CL) shorts as the $70.50 line has been working so far with a nice dip to $69 yesterday for a $1,500 per contract gain and this morning we've been able to short it again at $70.50 and our goal is to take 1/2 off the table at $70 or lower and then we can use $70.25 as a stop line to lock in gains.  I don't mind holding 2 short contracts over the weekend as I really think oil is overpriced at the moment though, of course, this is a dangerous play with July 4th just around the corner.  

Still, it's Econ 101 that a gas tax should impact demand in the World's largest consumer of gasoline – we just have to wait for analysts to put 2 and 2 together over the weekend (they'll probably get 3).  A gasoline tax is not so good for Valero (VLO) who we have in the Long-Term Portfolio like this:

VLO Long Call 2023 20-JAN 60.00 CALL [VLO @ $81.94 $0.00] 15 2/8/2021 (588) $20,250 $13.50 $10.75 $13.50     $24.25 $0.00 $16,125 79.6% $36,375
VLO Short Call 2023 20-JAN 80.00 CALL [VLO @ $81.94 $0.00] -15 2/8/2021 (588) $-10,500 $7.00 $5.13     $12.13 $0.00 $-7,688 -73.2% $-18,188
VLO Short Put 2023 20-JAN 50.00 PUT [VLO @ $81.94 $0.00] -5 2/9/2021 (588) $-4,750 $9.50 $-6.32     $3.19 $0.00 $3,158 66.5% $-1,593

This is a good time for us to sell 5 July $80 calls in the LTP for $4.50 ($2,250) to protect our gains.  We're currently well over our target of $80 and we entered the spread at net $5,000 in February and we're already up $11,594 (231%) at $16,594 on the $30,000 spread so plenty of room to run if VLO holds $80 so the short calls aren't likely to hurt us much and it's a nice little 35-day bonus income while we wait.  

Bitcoin is off its mid-April record highMeanwhile, in other speculations:  The Basel Committee on Banking Supervision proposed that a 1,250% risk weight be applied to a bank’s exposure to Bitcoin and certain other cryptocurrencies. Bitcoin was trading around $36,200 this morning.  It would make it extremely costly for banks to hold digital tokens on their balance sheets, potentially delaying crypto’s wider adoption.  “The only consistency has been the volatility — it’s been big spikes, tons of enthusiasm, followed by big selloffs,” Ross Mayfield, investment strategy analyst at Robert W. Baird & Co., said of Bitcoin’s moves. “If you believe in it you’re probably to stomach the volatility, but if you’re just in it because it seems like the hot way to get a quick buck, that volatility is going to be hard to deal with.”

In the world of real commodities, Corn is becoming a big problem, with supplies at their lowest since 2013, when corn topped out at $850 (now $650 – usually $300).  Corn is mainly used as feedstock for cattle and hogs and that drives food inflation (5% in yesterday's CPI) and this is a Global shortage – with China going everywhere trying to feed their rapidly expanding hog herd.  Not only does it take a year to plant more crops, making this a long-term problem, but the crops we have are in peril with droughts and heatwaves in the US Corn Belt (soybeans will be affected too).  Should the non-existent Global Warming wreck this year's corn and soy crops (and don't forget the locust in Africa), the next crisis we ignore will be food insecurity on a massive scale.  

We're going to be running around giving vaccines to people who would rather have a loaf of bread….

A man runs, chasing away a swarm of desert locusts early in the morning in Samburu County, Kenya.

Have a great weekend,

- Phil

 


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  1. Good Morning.


  2. Consumer Confidence pretty good but current conditions slowing sharply:

    • University of Michigan June Consumer Sentiment86.4 vs. 84.0 expected and 82.9 prior.
    • Current Economic Conditions: 90.6 vs. 92.3 expected and 89.4 prior.
    • Index of Consumer Expectations: 83.8 vs 79.0 expected and 78.8 prior.
    • Inflation Expectations: 4.0% vs. 4.6% prior

  3. Surveys of Consumers chief economist, Richard Curtin
    Consumer sentiment rose in early June, recouping two-thirds of May's loss. The early June gain was mainly among middle and upper income households and for future economic prospects rather than current conditions. Stronger growth in the national economy was anticipated, with an all-time record number of consumers anticipating a net decline in unemployment. Rising inflation remained a top concern of consumers, although the expected rate of inflation declined in early June. Spontaneous references to market prices for homes, vehicles, and household durables fell to their worst level since the all-time record in November 1974 (see the chart). These unfavorable perceptions of market prices reduced overall buying attitudes for vehicles and homes to their lowest point since 1982. These declines were especially sharp among those with incomes in the top third, who account for more than half of the dollar volume of retail sales. Fortunately, in the emergence from the pandemic, consumers are temporarily less sensitive to prices due to pent-up demand and record savings as well as improved job and income prospects. The acceptance of price increases as due to the pandemic, makes inflationary psychology more likely to gain a foothold if the exit is lengthy. While expansive monetary and fiscal policies are still warranted, the accompanying rise in inflation will cause uneven distributional impacts. Those impacts have already been noticed in June among the elderly and lower income households. A shift in the Fed's policy language could douse any incipient inflationary psychology, it would be no surprise to consumers, as two-thirds already expect higher interest rates in the year ahead.

    Subject: The Impact of Emotions on Expectations January 22, 2021

    From: Richard Curtin, Director Economic expectations are formed to make optimal self-interested decisions. People use all of their mental faculties to form expectations. While conscious deliberation is important, most expectations are usually formed by nonconscious information processing and learning. Emotions also play a central role in forming expectations.

    Economics has long recognized that “irrational” emotions cause spending booms and extend spending busts. What has not been fully appreciated is that emotions play an integral role in the formation of economic expectations between the extremes of booms and busts.

    Indeed, the nation is now experiencing the impact of two dominant emotional influences on economic expectations: the Trump presidency and the coronavirus pandemic. The Trump presidency has generated a sharp partisan divide that has been fueled by emotions. These emotional forces have driven an almost instant and extreme change in economic expectations among supporters and foes when Trump was first elected, and then in the opposite direction when Biden was elected.

    While these opposing shifts were largely neutralized in terms of their impact on aggregate economy, the strongly felt partisan emotions have nonetheless had a devastating impact on social cohesion and civility. Closing the partisan gap depends more on actions than on words. The emotional impact of the coronavirus pandemic on economic expectations has been quite different.

    There is no more emotionally laden situation than the possibility of your own death, the demise of family members, close relations, or friends. Pandemic emotions are universally negative and supersede concerns about the economy. As repeatedly noted in these reports, no complete renewal of economic expectations is possible without the assured defeat of the virus. Before detailing how pandemic emotions will shape future trends in economic expectations, a brief review of the underlying theory is warranted.

    The centuries old view is that emotions are the root cause of biased and volatile economic expectations. The universal claim is that passion must be removed from reason in order to form accurate expectations. Darwinian evolutionary forces that promote the survival of the fittest have never eliminated or even diminished the power of passion. That objective was from the start a fool’s errand since emotions and reason are both necessary to make rational decisions.

    Emotions play critical roles in setting the goals of decisions, energizing actions to form expectations, and driving the timely formation of expectations. The most important impact of emotions on expectations comes from the automatic attachment of an evaluation to each piece of economic information that is perceived by consumers. Emotional responses occur much faster than conscious awareness of the same information, and these emotional responses are attached to the information by the time of conscious awareness.

    People realize, for example, that their heart began racing and their foot had already begun to apply the vehicle’s breaks before they became consciously aware of any danger. It is a common occurrence that the automatic evaluation affects people’s interpretation of the event, including both its causes and their responses. A negative evaluation is likely to diminish the influence of a positive change, just as a positive evaluation is likely to downplay negative events.

    While the conscious mind can override the attached evaluation, it is uncommon since emotions are learned and constantly revised with experience. This finding is challenging since it implies that evaluations typically occur before not after the conscious awareness of an event. The negative emotions associated with the pandemic will have a significant impact on how information is interpreted and how it affects economic behavior.

    It is widely repeated that success against the pandemic is a critical first step to restoring robust economic growth, but that success is tallied over many smaller steps, with failures having much greater weight than successes. The pace of vaccinations and priority assignments will be more vulnerable to negative assessments, especially given the wide variations across states.

    The pandemic emotions mean that people will interpret even favorable news about the decline in the spread and increase in the numbers vaccinated as less negative rather than positive news. Moreover, Biden has effectively set the lowest acceptable minimum at 100 million vaccinations in his first 100 days. He must exceed that number by a substantial amount for people to view it as a positive development, and he has to provide vaccinations of another 150 million in the following 100 days; combined this schedule would account for the likely maximum of about 80% of the U.S. population who would agree to be vaccinated.

    People, whether vaccinated or not, will react negatively to delays into late 2021. The other problem is to simultaneously promote growth in jobs and spending. To be sure, relief funds to protect households from the devastating financial impact from the pandemic is required. It is just as important to carefully consider who should qualify for relief payments. Much of the funds going to those with jobs has been held as precautionary savings in anticipation of future pandemic needs, or held back due to the limited spending options in the pandemic.

    Those accumulated funds represent a huge potential stimulus to the economy. While some have anticipated that the pandemic impact on the economy would suddenly disappear, it is much more likely that it will slowly fade but still have a negative impact until at least the end of 2022.

    Moreover, the amount of fiscal and monetary stimulus to states and local governments as well as much needed investments in infrastructure, combined with debt relief to households and the accumulated delayed impact of increased consumer spending, could spark increases in inflation and interest rates. The benefits are now seen as worth the risks, but it would be foolish to ignore these negative impacts as well as the indicators that would be used to signal potential excesses.


  4. Dow took a little dive but Oil popped higher – over $71.  Interesting as gasoline is down.

        

    Honey badger never cares,

    This is all about that $100 oil headline.  Nonsense and not even supported by the article's content but the headline is in Barron's. 


    • The FDA has determined that 60M doses of Johnson & Johnson's (NYSE:JNJ) COVID-19 vaccine produced at a troubled Emergent BioSolutions (NYSE:EBS) plant must be discarded because of possible contamination, The New York Times reports.
    • The FDA has been weighing what to do with about 100M J&J doses produced at the Baltimore plant that were put on hold after a manufacturing mishap ruined 15M doses.
    • About 70M doses of AstraZeneca's vaccine, produced at the same factory, were also put on hold.
    • The FDA will allow about 10M J&J doses made at the facility to be distributed, but with a warning the manufacturer, Emergent, cannot guarantee it followed good manufacturing practices.
    • J&J shares are down 1.3% to $164.90 in morning trading
    • House lawmakers are set to propose a bipartisan bill that would require Amazon (AMZN -0.1%) and other tech giants to either split into two companies or spinoff their private-label product businesses.
    • Wall Street Journal sources say the bill could be announced today along with a second bill addressing tech giants favoring their own products on their e-commerce platforms.
    • Recent news: Yesterday, reports said Amazon is facing a potential $425M fine in the EU for data violations.

    • Discovery (DISCA +0.6%) has set up a $2.5B revolving credit facility with a five-year term.
    • That replaces a similar existing agreement from 2016, which has been terminated.
    • The new agreement allows commitments to be increased by $3.5B (to a total of $6B) upon the closing of Discovery's combination with WarnerMedia (NYSE:T). Discovery may also request an increase in commitments from time to time up to an additional $1B.
    • Loans under the agreement will bear interest at Libor plus 77.5 basis points to Libor plus 135 basis points, dependent on Discovery's debt ratings
    • BHP (BHP +0.7%) says workers at its Spence copper mine in Chile voted to accept the company's final contract offer, averting a strike that could have further tightened supplies of the metal.
    • Workers had rejected a previous proposal, and BHP sought mediation that was extended through yesterday.
    • The deal comes after staff at a BHP operations center in Santiago ended a strike and returned to work earlier this week.
    • The new package includes a 2% wage increase and a 15.5M-peso ($21,600) bonus, as well as new benefits and other adjustments, according to the union president.
    • ETFs: CPERCOPXJJCTFJJC
    • Surging copper prices and company profits are emboldening unions, and attention now will shift to wage talks at BHP's giant Escondida mine
    • Boeing (BA -0.6%) has reduced its inventory of jets whose original buyers walked away from their deals during the pandemic, leaving the company with ~10 stored MAX aircraft still needing buyersWSJ reports.
    • Boeing had ~100 737 MAX jets needing buyers last July, but the faster than forecast recovery in air travel has helped the company find homes for the jets, the report says.
    • United Airlines and Alaska Air are among the recent buyers of the unclaimed jets, according to the report.
    • Separately, United reportedly has been in talks with Boeing about a potential order for as many as 150 additional jets
    • University of Michigan June Consumer Sentiment86.4 vs. 84.0 expected and 82.9 prior.
    • "The early June gain was mainly among middle and upper income households and for future economic prospects rather than current conditions," said UMich's Surveys of Consumers Chief Economist Richard Curtain.
    • Rising inflation remained a major concern for consumers, though the expected rate of inflation, 4.0%, fell from a 4.6% expectation in May.
    • Current Economic Conditions: 90.6 vs. 92.3 expected and 89.4 prior.
    • Index of Consumer Expectations: 83.8 vs 79.0 expected and 78.8 prior.
    • Concerns were especially acute market prices of homes, vehicles, and household durables, with spontaneous references to these prices falling to their worst level since the all-time record in November 1974.
    • "These unfavorable perceptions of market prices reduced overall buying attitudes for vehicles and homes to their lowest point since 1982," Curtain said.
    • "A shift in the Fed's policy language could douse any incipient inflationary psychology, it would be no surprise to consumers, as two-thirds already expect higher interest rates in the year ahead," he said.

    • PG&E (PCG -0.3%) says it has begun gearing up for wildfire season weeks earlier than usual, and likely will need to proactively cut power to customers more frequently this fall because of extreme wildfire risk in its northern California service territory.
    • PG&E chief risk officer Sumeet Singh tells the Sacramento Bee that the current drought is drying out California's vegetation more quickly than normal, which combined with new shut-off criteria, could result in the need for more shut-offs than last year.
    • "The fuel moisture levels… are about a month or two months ahead of schedule," Strenfel said, adding that fire risk "continues to magnify and grow exponentially over the last couple of years."
    • in response to recommendations by the judge overseeing PG&E's criminal probation related to a 2010 gas pipeline explosion near San Francisco, the company will now consider whether its lines are at risk of getting hit by trees when deciding if they can operate safely during windstorms.
    • "The big, big variable that's unpredictable here is the wind," Singh says, but "we do not see ourselves getting back to the same kind of [power shut-off] events like we saw in 2019."
    • PG&E cut power on a huge scale in 2019, with nine outages that affected a total of 2M people
    • Some Chinese provinces follow up after China's renewed call to ban bitcoin mining and trading a few weeks ago.
    • Authorities in China's Qinghai province in northwest China and a district in adjacent Xinjiang instructed cryptocurrency mining projects to shut down this week, Reuters reports.
    • The news organization cites notices from the Qinghai officer of China's Ministry of Industry and Information Technology.
    • Cryptomining operations in Xinjiang's national Zhundong Economic-Technological Development Park were told to close, Reuters said.
    • Xinjiang is China's largest bitcoin mining center, home to about a third of total computing power, and Qinghai is ninth-largest, Reuters reports, citing University of Cambridge data.
    • Bitcoin (BTC-USD) is off ~1.7% in the past 24 hours to ~$37.2K and has stayed within a range of ~$31.8K to $39K since May 27.
    • Ethereum (ETH-USD) falls 3.9% to $2,458; Binance Coin (BNB-USD) -0.9% to $359.05; Cardano (ADA-USD) -3.7% to $1.51; and dogecoin (DOGE-USD) -4.2% to 32 cents.
    • Crypto-related stocks are mixed in premarket. Coinbase Global (NASDAQ:COIN) +0.6%, Riot Blockchain (NASDAQ:RIOT) flat, MicroStrategy (NASDAQ:MSTR) +0.4%,  Marathon Digital (NASDAQ:MARA) -0.5%,  Bit Ditigal (NASDAQ:BTBT) (+2.3%)
    • Stocks look set for a higher open, while bond yields are edging even lower after the market was able to shrug off 5% headline retail inflation.
    • Nasdaq 100 futures (NDX.IND) (NASDAQ:QQQ) lead the way, with S&P futures (SPX) (NYSEARCA:SPY) solidly higher and Dow futures (INDU) (NYSEARCA:DIA) ticking up a bit.
    • The 10-year Treasury yield (NYSEARCA:TBT) (NASDAQ:TLT) is off another 2 basis points to 1.44% after its slump yesterday.
    • There were reports that the drop was caused by a short squeeze, with lots of institutions betting against bonds going into the May CPI report. But others are arguing that with the current monetary policy, Treasuries just aren't a good gauge of inflation expectations anymore, compared to, say, fed funds futures.
    • In their Flow Show note today, BofA strategists say they are hearing: "Nobody knows how to trade inflation, everybody knows how to trade 'don’t fight the Fed.'"
    • Meme stocks like AMC (NYSE:AMC), GameStop (NYSE:GME) and Clover Health (NASDAQ:CLOV), which were hit hard yesterday, are rising about 5% in premarket trading.
    • Bitcoin (BTC-USD) is down about 2%, still off about 40% from its highs.
    • And BofA says they see the "pendulum of speculative froth" swinging.
    • The fact that real rates remain stubbornly negative says the market thinks that the Fed tapering bond purchases is a "paper tiger," BofA strategists led by Michael Hartnett write.
    • Investors know that the Fed will stop tapering at the first sign of trouble (the S&P down 10%), Hartnett says.
    • As "liquidity addiction remains, speculative froth has been hit in stocks & crypto but now swinging back to IG & junk credit," he adds. (See BofA's charts below.)

    • BofA saw "big inflows" of $1.7B in investment-grade bonds and emerging market debt last week and the smallest inflows into stocks year to date, although that's still $529B for 2021. Info Tech (NYSEARCA:XLK) had its fifth consecutive week of outflows and growth funds had their largest redemptions, $5.8B, since December 2020.
    • Meanwhile, investors focusing on inflation should also be on the lookout for stagflation, especially when it comes to the next couple of employment reports.
    • With weekly jobless claims closing in on the pre-COVID average of 300K, if the July and August reports show payrolls up and average hourly earnings down there will be a "stay-of-execution for Goldilocks," but if payrolls and earnings rise inflation is "here to stay," Hartnett writes.


  5. Phil, I just watched the replay of your TDA talk and thought it was great. You should have a link to it on your website for all new members to watch. 

    The slides you made were very clear. I particularly liked the slide for the covered strangle and what happens if the stock goes up, down or sideways.  

    Any chance you'd be willing to make the same conceptual up/down/sideways slide for the BCS + short put trade? I know you've described what happens in words and in paragraph format many many many times but having it on a bullet point slide would be fabulous for us newbies.


  6. Thanks Steve – hopefully Ilene will have something up over the weekend.  

    I didn't actually make the slide – the TD guys did but I'm sure I can play with the one they have and adjust.


  7. Still going through the Financials and I'm up to the Gs and Genworth (GNW) is one we've played on dips before.  This one is Life Insurance, FNF was Home Insurance – very different.  $4.14 is $2Bn in market cap and these guys made $200M last year and should make $400M in a normal year and you know I love things that are only 5x earnings.  

    Even better, they have options that go out to 2023 and they are long-term rangy enough ($3-5 for the last 5 years) to be a butterfly play.  So, for the Butterfly Portfolio, let's add this spread:

    • Sell 50 GNW Jan $3.50 puts for 0.35 (if not 0.35 or better, not worth it) ($1,750)
    • Buy 50 GNW 2023 $3 calls for $1.85 ($9,250) 
    • Sell 40 GNW 2023 $5 calls for 0.85 ($3,400 – patience required) 
    • Sell 20 GNW Sept $4.50 calls for 0.35 ($700) 

    That's net $3,400 on the $10,000 spread that 1/2 in the money and we're using 98 of our 588 days to pull in $700 so maybe 5 more of those would be good for $3,500 to zero out our cost basis.  Worst case is, of course, owning 5,000 shares for $3.50 ($17,500) but if we owned that now and sold 50 Sept $4 calls for 0.45, we'd collect $2,250 (12.8%) for a 90-day sale that gives us 10% downside protection.  That's better than a dividend and that's our worst case!  


  8. Remember Two Harbors (TWO)?  They are a Mortgage REIT and rising rates are their friend.  Steady rates are also their friend, only declining rates bother these guys and that already happened, most of their early loans were paid off so now they make most of their money servicing.  $7.53 is $2Bn for them as well but pre-covid they were 100% higher.  They wrote off a tremendous amount of assets last year – so they won't be paying taxes for a very long time – a benefit to new shareholders.   I don't peg them for a lot of growth but they are paying 0.68 (8.9%) in dividends and we can take advantage of this in the Dividend Portfolio as follows:

    • Buy 2,000 shares of TWO for $7.53 ($15,060) 
    • Sell 20 TWO 2023 $7 puts for $1.50 ($3,000) 
    • Sell 20 TWO 2023 $7 calls for $1 ($2,000) 

    That's net $10,060 for 2,000 shares ($5.03) and, if we are assigned 2,000 more at $7, our average would be $6.015 – 20% off the current price.  That's our WORST case!  Best case is we collect 0.17 (3.37%) in quarterly dividends while we wait to get called away at $7 for a $1.97 (39%) profit.  


  9. Phil,

    I think that I have commented on TWO with you before. They are a steady income payer, you don't see results for awhile, then you are happy to own.  The CEO worked at UBS and holds a B.S. degree in physics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and M.S. and Ph.D. degrees in theoretical nuclear physics from the University of Washington.( That's always good for figuring out mortgage securities). Besides their office is in the the building next to where my wife works. I know where to find them!


  10. TWO/Randers – They are a real hidden gem.


  11. For the LTP, let's make a bit of a watch list out of my also-ran Financials.  These are all stocks I'd love to own if they get cheaper so we can raise a little cash in the LTP and remind ourselves to keep an eye on these:

    • Sell 10 AFL 2023 $50 puts for $4.70 ($4,700) 
    • Sell 10 SC Jan $35 puts for $2.60 ($2,600) 
    • Sell 20 CIM 2023 $15 puts for $3 ($6,000) 

    That's $13,300 in our pockets just for keeping an eye on stocks we'd love to buy anyway if they get cheaper.  In the LTP, which is now around $2M, our allocation blocks are $200,000 so none of these trades obligates us to be more than 1/4 invested as an initial position.


  12. The Sc puts did you mean the Jan 35 puts for 2.60 the 25 puts are .20 for the mid


  13. SC/Bert – Sorry, yes, it's the $35 puts! 

    Have a great weekend folks, 

    - Phil