Actual Q4 earnings are still showing growth but revenue is sliding and future guidance has been weak.
The volatility last week was huge with triple digit Dow moves almost every day. However, despite the triple digit moves in both directions the Dow only gained +21 points for the week. That was the first weekly gain for the year and it was joined by the Nasdaq and Russell 2000. The S&P is still struggling with a -4 point loss for the week.
Weighing on the market is an abnormal number of warnings on earnings and guidance. Companies appear to be hitting the earnings per share numbers with 58% meeting or beating. Revenue continues to be light with cost cutting and share buybacks the driving force behind the earnings gains.
Economics have not been a drag on the market. The continuing trend of mixed reports is preventing the taper cloud from growing more ominous but supports the idea that conditions are slowly improving.
On Friday the new residential construction permits for December declined from 1.107 million to 0.999 million. The -9.8% month to month decline was not a material surprise given the horrible weather in December. November was revised higher from 1.091 million to 1.107 million units. Single family starts declined -7% and multifamily starts fell -14.9%. Housing permits declined -3% overall.
Total completions were 744,000 compared to 834,000 in November. The harsh winter weather caught most of the blame and the continuation of super cold temperatures in January suggests the numbers for January could be weak as well.
Industrial production rose +0.3% in December compared to +1.0% growth in November. The majority of the growth came from motor vehicles and parts at +1.6% and the high tech sector at +1.8%. Ironically utility production declined -1.6% despite all the heating demand in December.
On the bright side capacity utilization rose +0.1% to 79.2% and manufacturing utilization rose +0.3% to 77.2% and a new cyclical high.
The labor market was flat in November according to the Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey. Job openings rose to 4.0 million from 3.9 million but the hiring rate was unchanged at 2.8%. Hiring held at 4.5 million with separations at 4.3 million. That suggests a gain of +200,000 jobs and the Nonfarm Payrolls for November showed a gain of +241,000. Since this is a lagging report for November it was mostly ignored.
Consumer Sentiment for January fell over two points from 82.5 to 80.4 compared to expectations for a +1 point gain. The present conditions component suffered the biggest decline from 98.6 to 95.2. The expectations component declined from 72.1 to 70.9. The headline drop was significantly below the +7.4 point spike in December. Analysts attribute this to the holiday cheer in December and the arrival of credit card bills in January.
Analysts don't think we are going to see a major decline in sentiment. As long as job growth continues and the government stays out of the headlines we should see a continued climb in sentiment. Analysts believe we will see a gain of 2.75 million jobs in 2014. That is more than the 1.8 million jobs it takes to employ the 150,000 new workers added to the workforce every month. If we do get that 2.75 million we would reduce the unemployed ranks by nearly one million. That would be positive for sentiment.
As you can see the economics were lackluster but not really disappointing. There was no surge in the data that would force the Fed to accelerate their tapering. Therefore the economics were neutral for the market.
The economic calendar for next week is pretty sparse. Only Thursday has any material reports. The Chicago and Kansas Fed surveys are important but not as much so as the Philly Fed from last week. They are not expected to produce any strong numbers like we saw in the Philly report. For those of you that missed it the Philly Fed Manufacturing Survey rose from 6.4 to 9.4 when most economists were expecting a small decline. The internals were mixed so the market reaction to the report was muted.
The biggest thing about next week is that when it is over another FOMC meeting is just a couple days away. That is the key event for the rest of the month.
The real market driver for next week will of course be earnings. With roughly 50 S&P companies already reported only 50% have beaten on earnings and 14% reported in line. The recent average on beats is about 69%. I don't have the exact details on the number of earnings warnings but it is well over 50% of those giving guidance. Even those companies beating on earnings per share are warning on guidance.
Even though the pace of earnings accelerates next week there is a lack of clumping up by major companies. This is normally the busiest week of earnings with the majority of tech giants all reporting. However, this cycle the reports are spaced out with companies like Apple and Google reporting the following week.
We still have some big events like IBM, EBAY, MSFT, NFLX and SBUX just to name a few. Let's hope the quality of earnings improves significantly over last week.
I don't have room to delve into all the earnings misses and warnings from last week but I will try to hit the high spots. One of the most surprising is UPS. The company warned on Q4 and lowered estimates for the full year. UPS said earnings would be in the range of $1.25 compared to estimates for $1.43. Full year earnings would be in the range of $4.57 compared to the prior range of $4.65-$4.85.
The company said results were negatively impacted by a shift of package volume into late December. UPS said the peak shipping day came 6 days later than normal and had +7.5% more packages than expected. On December 23rd the company delivered more than 31 million packages, which was a record and +13% over the prior peak delivery day.
The number of deliveries as a result of online shopping was three times larger than expected and tended to accelerate closer to Christmas. Because of the shorter shopping calendar in 2013 and the acceleration of package volumes UPS was forced to add 85,000 temporary workers. This was 30,000 more than planned.
Because the package volume overwhelmed the UPS delivery chain more than 1.5 million packages were undelivered before Christmas. UPS was forced to refund millions of dollars in fees for non-delivery. Plus, the company had to pay for those 30,000 additional workers plus overtime for regular workers to offset the massive package volume.
Despite the profit warning UPS affirmed their 2014 guidance to grow in the range of 10% to 15% compared to 2013.
UPS shares dipped to $97 on the news, down from their $105 high on December 31st. Several analysts recommending buying the dip saying having too much business is a sign of the times where online shopping will continue growing and feeding the shipping volumes. With rapidly rising demand UPS can raise rates in 2014 and increase profits.
General Electric (GE) reported earnings of 53 cents that were in line with consensus. Revenues rose +3.1% to $40.38 billion and slightly over the consensus of $40.21 billion. Q4 order growth was +8% in the U.S., +13% in emerging markets and +3% in Europe. Six of seven divisions had positive earnings growth. Infrastructure orders for the quarter were $30.7 billion. GE's backlog rose +$15 billion to $244 billion and a record high. During the quarter GE Capital Corp paid $2 billion in dividends to the parent company. Cash generated during the quarter totaled $17.4 billion.
While that is all very positive for GE the stock dropped -3% on lower than expected profit margins and the relatively low revenue growth of +3.1%. GE had pledged to raise margins +70 basis points in Q4 and only managed a +66 point gain. GE also said supply problems were hurting the wind turbine business and they had a weaker than expected profit in the energy management business. GE Healthcare saw sales decline -1% on weakness in Russia and China. GE said it would spin off its credit card business in 2014.
Intel (INTC) reported earnings on Thursday evening and missed estimates by a penny. The company said PC sales were firming but their actions did not express much confidence. They announced on Friday they were cutting 5,000 workers or 5% of their workforce. When added to the current 34,000 job cuts at Hewlett Packard it suggests sales are not firming fast enough.
The company said the new $5 billion chip plant in Chandler Arizona would not open on schedule and would remain "mothballed" for the foreseeable future. Intel still plans on quadrupling chip volume to 40 million units in 2014. The company said it was going to subsidize its customers engineering and manufacturing expenses to essentially buy their way into the market. This effort will reduce gross margins in 2014 by -1.5%. Intel warned that 2014 revenue to be flat with 2013 and that was essentially an earnings warning.
On the positive side of the earnings ledger American Express (AXP) rallied +4% to an all time high after reporting earnings of $1.21 compared to 56 cents in the year ago quarter. However, analysts were expecting earnings of $1.26. Four times the average volume traded. If you are trying to figure out why a 5 cent earnings miss resulted in a new historic high it came on the back of several upgrades and the fact they doubled year ago comparison earnings.
Morgan Stanley (MS) reported adjusted earnings of 50 cents that beat estimates by a nickel. Retail brokerage produced $3.73 billion in revenue, up from $3.33 billion. The Smith Barney unit they bought from Citigroup saw margins rise to 20%. MS said it would raise margins to 22-25% by 2015, up from prior guidance of 20-22%. Shares of MS spiked +4.4% on the news.
Target (TGT) shares hit a new 52-week low as more information began to appear about their credit card breach. Multiple security sites have confirmed that a hacker named Rescator had posted the code to BlackPOS online for sale for $1,800 for the bare bones version and $2,300 for the enhanced version. Rescator is thought to be a hacker in Odessa, Ukraine.
Basically the hackers penetrated a Target server where it sat undetected for six days. At that point it began uploading code to the thousands of Point of Sale (POS) card swipe terminals in Target stores. The code in the POS was structured to capture the credit card information when the card was swiped and then transmit that information to the corrupted server in Target's datacenter. In order to avoid detection associated with automatically sending the information over the Internet the server simply collected the data and waited for the hacker to log back in to an authorized session to pick up the data. Link to larger story
Initially Rescator was selling the code with a "profit sharing" agreement. You use it and any profits you make selling the captured card numbers you have to split with me. As the capture program sucked up millions of card numbers the theft became too large for one person or group to handle. They began selling the Target card data in smaller blocks that any card cloner could use. Within days of the initial theft the credit card processors began alerting Target that card data may have been compromised. Target looked at their systems and found no problems since the database servers were not compromised. It took another week before they began to suspect the POS terminals may have been attacked because none of the malicious code was detected by the network firewalls and the antivirus programs.
Now we are learning that Neiman Marcus was infected with the same malware several months ago and was not successful in eliminating it until last Saturday. Reportedly six more large retailers have also been infected but they have not yet admitted to the breach and the government is keeping quiet about their breaches in an effort to backtrack the card collection process and locate the culprits. With the software for sale on the internet along with millions of Target card numbers it should not be too hard to work the links backwards to the sellers.
This massive multi-company breach has revealed a glaring hole in the credit card security used in the USA. It will likely accelerate the conversion to chip and pin card security used in Europe. U.S. vendors had planned on converting from the magnetic strip to the new system by 2020 but over the last couple days I have been hearing about advancing that date to 2015.
Target has agreed to testify to Congress in early February and since we should know by then who the other retailers are I would expect them to testify as well. This could be the catalyst for forcing the security change.
Nuskin (NUS) is wishing their problems were as simple as a credit card breach. China announced on Thursday they were investigating Nuskin and determine if the company is running an illegal pyramid scheme. Nuskin has been investigated for that numerous times but never in China. That country is not bound by the same rule of law that we use in the USA. The outcome of the investigation could be determined by the size of the bribe, excuse me, licensing fee, that Nuskin is required to pay to operate in China.
The news crushed Nuskin shares for the third day. Shares have lost -$56 in three days since the rumor began to circulate. This may not see a quick resolution and Nuskin shares may continue to fall until they reach strong support at $40.
Fellow multilevel marketer Herbalife (HLF) has given back $11 since Tuesday's close on worries that a Chinese investigation into Nuskin could expand into an investigation into Herbalife's operations in China as well. It was rumored on Thr/Fri that Bill Ackman was adding to his $1 billion short position on Herbalife as a result of the Chinese investigation. I would not put it past Ackman to try and get Chinese officials to look at Herbalife as well.
Yahoo's new CEO, Marissa Mayer, fired COO Henrique de Castro for "disappointing performance" in raising Yahoo's ad revenue. De Castro will exit Yahoo with a golden parachute worth a reported $64 million. The former Google executive was only at Yahoo for 15 months. His 2012 compensation was estimated at $38.2 million and that was more than Mayer received. The bulk of it was a $20 million signing bonus to compensate him for Google bonuses he lost when leaving Google. His termination accelerated all his other bonuses and stock options to give him a severance package worth about $64.6 million according to research firm Equilar. I am reminded of the Br'er Rabbit fable. You can almost see De Castro telling Mayer, "please don't throw me into the briar patch of unemployment" while knowing that his termination would be worth $60 million.
The Editor in Chief quit abruptly on Friday with no notice as a result of changes Mayer was making in the media unit. Jai Singh was managing editor at the Huffington Post before joining Yahoo in 2011. I think the Marissa Mayer honeymoon at Yahoo is about over. Stories are starting to filter out about her management style almost weekly. Apparently it is "Mayer way or the highway."
The only thing holding Yahoo shares at $40 is the anticipation of the Alibaba IPO later this year. Some analysts believe Alibaba could IPO for as much as $180 billion and Yahoo owns 24% of the company. Alibaba is twice as big as Amazon with $160 billion in online sales in 2012. One analyst pointed out the difference like this. One shopping day in November more than 300 million people visited the website. More than 50 million made a purchase. Those purchases caused 158 million packages to be shipped. Amazon sold $89 billion in 2012 compared to Alibaba's $160 billion. This will be the largest and hottest IPO in decades. Once it occurs Yahoo shares should crash.
If you are in municipal bonds you may want to check with your broker. Puerto Rico is on the verge of a default on some bonds and 69.6% of the muni bond funds in the U.S. own bonds from Puerto Rico.
The island of Puerto Rico has about $70 billion in public debt or $17,500 per person. If you include underfunded pensions and healthcare obligations the amount of debt per person rises to $46,000. To put this in perspective Texas has $40 billion in debt and it is 70 times the size of Puerto Rico. Puerto Rico has 3.6 million people. California has 38 million people and $99 billion in debt. New York State has 19 million people and $62 billion in debt. Unemployment in Puerto Rico is 14.7% with 27% of citizens on food stamps. Only 41% of the population has a job. More than 92 people leave Puerto Rico every day. Puerto Rico may not be in danger of immediate default but its debt is rising faster than they can ever pay for it. Default is inevitable but the timing is unknown. When this happens it will significantly impact the bond market and force a rethinking of muni bond market pricing.
Remember Greece? Their never ending saga of bailouts is about to reach another milestone. Currently Greece is receiving routine bailout payments from the Troika. However, those payments are not actually going to Greece. The new bailout funds are going to pay principal and interest on the old bailout loans. The Troika gives Greece money and then that money goes to pay the Troika back for prior loans. It is kind of like getting a cash advance on your credit card to make your monthly credit card payment. In 2014 the total payments due are 31.6 billion Euros and the funds available from the Troika to make these payments are 17.5 billion Euros. Compare that with the budget surplus from Greece at 800 million Euros that is available to pay on the debt.
This house of cards will implode in May when Greece has over Euro 10 billion in principal and interest payments coming due. The Troika will have to either extend the loan terms indefinitely or agree to lend Greece even more money to make the payments back to the Troika. The entire situation is so ridiculous that it is laughable. Greece is insolvent and the debt to the Troika will never be paid. To continue loaning them more money just to make the loan payments on the rising loan balance is the ultimate in stupidity. Greece is watching its loan balance increase every month with no hope of repayment. Greece will eventually default and tell the Troika to take a hike. Look for something to happen in May.
Last week Goldman Sachs warned that the market was overvalued by multiple metrics. They suggested we are due for a 10% correction and it should be soon. This week Citigroup warned that they doubt higher highs will be sustained for long. Citi warned that the large gap between the 50 and 200 day averages was similar to prior markets, which were followed by 20% corrections. "The trend is mature and is as stretched as it was in 2000." Also, "We are concerned here with the S&P from a medium term perspective."
Citi's additional factors to worry the market were:
Consumer confidence appears fragile and likely to move lower.
The Fed is taking their foot off the gas, which was the primary driver of the multiyear rally.
Bonds at 3% are yielding more than equities at 1.9%.
Comstock Partners warned on Thursday, "The market is in dangerously high territory." They cited data from Ned Davis Research that "stock market capitalization as a percentage of GDP is now 126%, compared to 87% in 1929, 164% in 2000 and 125% in 2007. This compares to 31% at the 1982 low and 58% at the March 2009 low."
The American Association of Individual Investors (AAII) showed investors allocating 68% to stocks, compared to 77% in 2000 and 70% in 2007. Cash allocations at 16% is at decade lows.
The Investor Intelligence Survey of market newsletters showed 56% bullish this week and 60% the prior week. That is also near the highs of 2000 and 2007. Only 15% of newsletter writers were bearish and that is the lowest since 1987.
Margin debt is 2.04% of market value compared to a 69 year average of 1.18%. The only time margin debt was higher was in 2007. Everyone is "all in" and that is dangerous.
At Wednesday's high 69% of the S&P stocks were above their 50-day average and 79% over the 200 day average. That is the lowest rate at any 52-week high since 2007. In October over 600 stocks were making new daily highs. Only about 200 are doing that today.
Comstock said, "In sum, the market appears to be losing momentum at a time when it is significantly overvalued and when investors are highly bullish. If history is any guide----and we believe that it is----stocks are in dangerously high territory, and the potential upside rewards compare unfavorably to the substantial downside risks." Link
Back in June 94% of the S&P were above their 200-day averages. That has declined to 79% today and the trend is worsening. It is not just a factor of the weak start to 2014 but it has been worsening since that June high. Over the same period the S&P has moved to new highs. Note the correlation between stocks falling below their 200-day and the S&P declining every time except the last six months.
Those stocks over their 50-day average peaked at 93.4% in January 2013 and has declined to 66% today. Over that period of time the dips have become progressively shallower suggesting the market was growing progressively more bullish. However, the deterioration over the last three months shows that fewer and fewer stocks are moving higher.
Another interesting chart is the Wilshire 5000 Composite also known as the Total Market Index. Note that the volume of shares traded in green has been declining steadily since 2009 yet the market is at historic highs. I don't know what to blame this on except that baby boomers were scared out of the market by the generational low in 2009 and things like the Flash Crash. As they approach retirement they no longer want to risk their nest egg in a volatile stock market. The shrinking volume should make the market even more volatile in the years ahead.
Reviewing market history is an exercise worth doing but it rarely has any direct and immediate relevance to current market action. You can't predict the market direction next week by reviewing the last decade. While it can give you a historical basis for what to expect in the future it is not an accurate predictor of short term direction. We need to be aware of the historical factors but not let them forces us into a "sky is falling" mentality. The market is not falling until real time indicators breakout of their current trends.
Once enough people begin believing something will happen the opposite is normally the case. If the entire investing community turns bullish then a correction is imminent. The buyers are "all in" and there is nobody left to buy. The inverse is true of bearish sentiment. If everyone is bearish then their positions are bearish and we all know how a short squeeze works.
Currently the investing community is "mostly bullish" with the record margin debt and the complete lack of volatility. The VIX is hovering right near nine-month lows at 12.0 and there was barely even a blip when the Dow plunged triple digits last week. That means nobody was buying puts to protect their portfolios.
Based on historical patterns I believe we are nearing an inflection point where the investing public will decide that caution is game plan worth executing. We have not had a 20% correction in 835 days and no 10% correction since August 2011. We came close in May 2012 at -9.9% so in my book that would be close enough. Even so that means it has been 19 months since a 10% dip. Historically we average a 10% dip about 2.2 times a year. That means we are long overdue.
The markets can continue to push higher without a significant dip as long as fundamentals continue to improve. Despite some decent economic numbers over the last two weeks the overall economic outlook is still mixed. Put that brick in our wall of worry. The Q4 earnings are marginal at best with only 50% of companies beating on earnings and 50% warning on guidance. So far 94 of the S&P 500 companies have warned on Q4. That is the most in seven years. Add that brick to the wall of worry.
On the plus side every time somebody warns either ahead of earnings or in their guidance with earnings that lowers the bar for future results. It makes it easier to beat estimates in future quarters. Company officials decide it is better to take some short term pain in their stock price for a long term gain of lowered expectations. Apple is a prime example. They always beat and then lower expectations.
At some point the beat and lower game will turn into a situation where lowered expectations cause PE compression and the market will go lower. If S&P earnings are expected to be $115 for 2014 that equates to a PE of 16 for example purposes or S&P 1,840, then a lowering of earnings expectations to $105 means the same 16 PE equates to S&P 1,680. The beat and lower game is dangerous. If expectations are being lowered because of an actual decline in profits as we have seen in the retail sector over the last couple weeks then the PE valuation compresses from say 16 to 14 because the fundamentals of the market can no longer command the higher PE. That is PE compression.
The point of this entire discussion is that we are seeing a large number of companies guide lower both before and after earnings. At some point this large number of warnings will impact the expectations for the entire S&P and investors will have to decide if they want to continue holding all their cards with the outlook for a winning hand declining.
Are we there yet? I don't think so. We need to get another week or two of earnings behind us. So far the expectations for S&P earnings growth for Q4 have only declined from +7.1% to +6.3% according to S&P Capital IQ. Personally I think they are optimistic but my opinion does not count. If that growth did pan out then the market should continue higher and the dips would continue to be bought. However, if the lowered forward guidance began to shrink S&P estimates then an inflection point would appear.
Add in the Fed's likely continuation of QE tapering and there would be less cash sloshing around in the market. The QE cash may only be declining by $10 billion a month but investors can do the math. It is the trend in QE that will be important not the exact monthly number.
To summarize we are seeing a large number of guidance warnings that could impact future expectations and fundamentals for the S&P. The economics reports are showing pockets of strength but potholes as well suggesting the economy is growing slowly but not accelerating. The Fed is on course to eliminate QE over the next nine months. Interest rates are rising but there is little economic growth to support higher rates. All of these factors represent the wall of worry that bull markets must climb. Unfortunately history has shown us that bull markets do not have a safety rope and one misstep can produce a significant fall.
Last week the S&P produced a critical signal. The rebound from the Monday lows at 1,815 rallied all the way to resistance at 1,850 in only two days. That took us right back to the 2013 high at 1,849.44 but could not punch through with a close at 1,848 on Wednesday. On Thursday and Friday the index could not even equal that close with solid resistance appearing at 1,846. Friday's decline to 1,835 put it right back into the consolidation noise from the prior week.
This failure at resistance after two days of strong gains and followed by two days of lower lows suggests investors are starting to worry about the flood of guidance warnings and earnings misses. If the S&P were to move back below 1,830-1,825 I would be very worried. The end of week dip could just be an initial reaction to the shock of so many missed earnings and investors are taking money off the table ahead of an even busier calendar next week. If the earnings trend continues we need to be very watchful of the 1,825-1,830 support level. The 50-day average has been short term support numerous times in 2013 and it is now 1,807. The 100-day average is longer term support and it is currently 1,755. There are a rising number of analysts targeting that 1,755 number for a dip over the next several months. We need to watch 1,825 as our indicator of a potential stronger than normal dip ahead.
On the Dow a picture is worth 1,000 words. The rebound from Monday's low came to a dead stop at 16,500 and downtrend resistance. After the midweek dip the Friday rebound thanks to AXP (+3.19) and Visa (+10.41) was also stopped at that downtrend resistance and could not even recover the 16,500 level. Only 9 Dow stocks were positive on Friday.
The Dow chart is not bullish. With multiple Dow stocks reporting earnings next week we have the potential for some volatility in the index. IBM, TRV and VZ report on Tuesday and the biggest challenge could be IBM. Their sales have been hurt overseas by the NSA scandal. UTX on Wednesday should be neutral with a chance of upside thanks to the strong airline sector. On Thursday McDonalds and Microsoft could be trouble. McDonalds (MCD) is struggling with the lower priced menu and shrinking buyers as a result of low wages and high unemployment. Microsoft could be hurt by shrinking PC sales in Q4 hurting sales of Windows operating systems. There is the potential for an upside surprise if they announce the new CEO with earnings.
However, I believe there is more risk of downside for the Dow. The choppy chart and the weak earnings by the financials may have poisoned sentiment for the blue chips.
The 16,385 level is critical support followed by the low close for the week at 16,257.
The Nasdaq chart is still bullish after punching through the 4,200 level on Wednesday morning and then holding above that level for two days. The minor decline on Friday to knock it back to 4,196 came on some profit taking in Apple, some 3D printing stocks and Chinese Internet stocks.
Apple began selling the iPhone 5S in China on Friday and this was the obligatory sell on the news decline. The iPhone 5S with a 24 month contract is $906 and significantly higher than U.S. prices. Analysts worried if the high price would be a detriment to sales. Tim Cook said sale of the iPhone in China was a watershed moment but it remains to be seen if sales will be strong at that price.
The Nasdaq was supported by strong gains in ISRG, ICPT and ILMN among others.
As long as the index remains within striking distance of 4,200 the uptrend will remain intact. There was bound to be a little profit taking after the +123 point rebound from Monday's low.
Support is 4,176 and resistance 4,220.
The Russell 2000 broke above strong resistance at 1,165 and then used that level as support later in the week. This is a new high for the Russell and suggests future gains ahead. The Russell has strong support at 1,146 and should hold that level unless the market decides to correct. I view the Russell chart as bullish for the market but with the potential Dow volatility it may not be able to overcome persistent Dow weakness.
I am neutral on the market for next week. We should be earnings driven and earnings have not been that good. The majority of the economics are on Thursday but market direction may have already been determined before those numbers arrive. However, those economics will color analyst perception of the FOMC decision the following week. Good news is bad news, etc.
Like everyone reading this commentary I would like to see the return to a rising market but seldom do our desires matter. Just be aware that markets can move in both directions and don't be so overcommitted that a sudden move in the opposite direction causes significant damage to your investment capital. Consistent gains are preferable to betting the farm on a direction and being wrong.
Enter passively and exit aggressively!
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"The only function of economic forecasting is to make astrology look respectable."
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