• The stock market is filled with individuals who know the price of everything, but the value of nothing.

    Philip Arthur Fisher

Subscribe to our updates

Iron Capital Insights

Our insights, reflections and musings on the most timely topics relevant to managing your investments.


© Panuwat Dangsungnoen Link License
  • Iron Capital Insights
  • June 5, 2024
  • Chuck Osborne

I Was Wrong

In the post-pandemic world, thus far Iron Capital has been spot on in terms of economic forecasts, and that is saying something considering how incredibly wrong most of Wall Street has been. We try to do things differently here: We try to be correct, and that means we have to admit when we are wrong so that we know when it is time to change our minds.


© DNY59 Link License
  • Iron Capital Insights
  • May 2, 2024
  • Chuck Osborne

Stagflation?

“I don’t see the stag or the flation.” ~ Fed Chair Jerome Powell, May 1, 2024

The initial reading for first quarter 2024 GDP came in at 1.6 percent growth, lower than expected and much lower than fourth quarter 2023. Inflation readings have come in above expectations, leading a few pundits lately to claim that we are heading for “stagflation.” Are we?


© aydinmutlu Link License
  • Iron Capital Insights
  • April 10, 2024
  • Chuck Osborne

Still on Course

Inflation is back in the news: The latest reading of the consumer price index (CPI) came in at 3.5 percent. Does this mean all is lost in the Fed’s fight and it is time to sell everything? No, of course not. Nevertheless, Stocks have sold off on this data and of course the pundits are predicting doom as per usual.


© MicroStockHub Link License
  • Iron Capital Insights
  • March 14, 2024
  • Chuck Osborne

Those Last Ten Pounds

Have you ever been on a diet? They all go great to start; next thing you know, you have only 10 more pounds to lose…and then it all slows down. So it goes with the Fed’s fight against inflation. CPI and PPI both came in this week slightly higher than last month. Does this mean the battle is lost? Unlike last month’s inflation surprise, the market has thus far shrugged it off.


© AlpamayoPhoto Link License
  • Iron Capital Insights
  • February 15, 2024
  • Chuck Osborne

Headlines vs. Reality

The market dropped dramatically on Tuesday because of the “HOT” inflation report – CPI indicated that inflation is running at an annual rate of 3.1 percent. The market pundits remain fixated on the Fed and interest rates, worrying that a slower drop in inflation means rates stay put for longer. In our opinion, this worry is misplaced.

  • I was on a roll. In the post-pandemic world, thus far Iron Capital has been spot on in terms of economic forecasts, and that is saying something considering how incredibly wrong most of Wall Street has been. The majority view has been that we are heading into a recession, and we have been consistent in saying that is wrong. When they had been wrong for an embarrassingly long time, they finally shifted to saying that we are headed for a “soft landing.”

    A “soft landing” means that the economy will slow, maybe even stall, but avoid an actual recession. The description is often put forward by the press as something the Fed is trying to accomplish. The image they paint is the economy as an airplane and the Fed is the pilot. It is a very bad analogy; the Fed does not control the economy and neither does Congress or the president. I can still remember my college micro-economics professor stating boldly that the economy is more powerful than any government. I didn’t understand what he meant at the time, but I do now.

    The economy is nothing more or less than the cumulative financial behavior of all the citizens put together. Regardless of government policy we are going to buy groceries, houses, cars, computers etc. This is not to say that policy doesn’t have an influence at the margins: We will spend more when we get to keep more of our income, we will start more new companies when regulations make it easier to start a new company, and we may buy a bigger house if interest rates are lower. These things do impact the margins. However, the main driver of the economy is its natural cycle.

    Where most pundits went wrong is that they refuse to admit the reality of the recession of 2022. We had a recession is 2022, just two years after the self-induced recession of 2020. Therefore, we have been in the recovery phase of the economic cycle, which is as far from recession as one can get. It has been muted as recoveries go, due to the shallowness of the recession itself and really bad fiscal policy partnered with relatively restrictive monetary policy.

    © Panuwat Dangsungnoen

    This explains why we have been right while so many others have been wrong. When the initial reading of first quarter GDP came in at 1.6 percent, I said we were still on course. I told several clients I would wager that the revisions of GDP would come in higher. I was wrong. The first revision came in at 1.3 percent. In addition, the Atlanta Fed’s GDPNow measure of real time GDP has dropped from more than 3 percent growth to 1.8 percent on June 3. We are still growing, but growth is slowing.

    Is that enough to alter our outlook? Not yet, but it cannot be ignored, and it is concerning. We must be willing to change course if the data requires. This leads to the other problem with Wall Street pundits: The vast majority make up their minds as to what will happen and then look for data to support that conclusion. Thus, many well-paid Wall Street pundits live by the broken-watch-is-right-twice-a-day rule. If they just keep saying the same thing, then eventually they will be correct.

    Jamie Diamond, CEO of JP Morgan, is one of the best bank CEOs in the world. He is very good at his job. I can’t tell you if he has made any economic predictions lately, but I can tell you that if he has, it was all gloom and doom. His cautious nature makes him exactly what one would want in a banker, but a really bad economic forecaster.

    I have not read Fundstrat’s Tom Lee’s latest report, but I can guarantee it is bullish. How do I know? Because Lee is always bullish, and he continues in a long and distinguished line of Wall Street strategists who are permanently bullish.

    The broken watch philosophy works for one’s career; those who are always bullish have the advantage of being correct the vast majority of the time, as markets generally go up. Those who are permanently bearish have the advantage of being right at the most impactful times, as losses impact us psychologically far greater than gains. How many times have you seen someone brag about predicting the last X number of market selloffs? They just don’t mention the hundreds of selloffs they predicted that didn’t happen.

    We try to do things differently here. We try to be correct, and that means we have to admit when we are wrong so that we know when it is time to change our minds. It also means knowing oneself. I am naturally optimistic, so I continually remind myself to be cautious, and that starts with accepting the data instead of explaining it away. We have seen a slowdown in growth, and caution is in order.

    Warm regards,

    Chuck Osborne, CFA
    Managing Director

    ~I Was Wrong

  • “I don’t see the stag or the flation.” ~ Fed Chair Jerome Powell, May 1, 2024

    The initial reading for first quarter 2024 GDP came in at 1.6 percent growth, lower than expected and much lower than the 3.4 percent seen in the fourth quarter of 2023. Inflation readings have come in above expectations, leading a few pundits lately to claim that we are heading for “stagflation.”

    Stagflation was a term first used in Britain by Iain Macleod in a 1965 speech before the House of Commons. Most Americans attribute it to Jimmy Carter, whose administration brought us a combination of double-digit unemployment with very high inflation and negative GDP growth. In short, stagflation is an economic term that represents the worst of all combinations.

    What caused it? Stagflation is a combination of bad outcomes and likewise doesn’t have one single cause, but instead arises from a confluence of poor economic policies. The list of policy mistakes includes deficit spending, over regulating, and overly progressive taxation, accompanied by high levels of unionization.

    Deficit spending stimulates demand in the economy. Regulation and taxes constrain supply. High demand and constrained supply give us inflation. Inflation became embedded in 1960s Britain and 1970s USA because unions pushed for higher wages to offset the sting of inflation. This makes sense on the surface, but the problem is, one cannot get blood out of a turnip. The money for those raises wasn’t there, so companies had to reduce the workforce to pay higher wages to those who remained. This may sound controversial today, but at the time, union leaders openly admitted this was their goal. That drove up unemployment and further constrained supply, which made inflation worse, creating a reinforcing feedback loop.

    Before I’m accused of being political, note that much of this bad policy in the U.S. came from the Nixon administration, and the reversal of this destructive path began under Carter. It is also important to note that many of these things were being tried for the first time, so leaders of the day did not know the consequences as we do – or rather, should – today.

    © DNY59

    If this stew of poor policy sounds familiar, it is because we are heading down the same path currently. This track, along with the GDP and inflation data, are leading some to claim that stagflation is back. Is it?

    No, we are not experiencing stagflation today. As Jay Powell brilliantly pointed out in his post-Fed decision press conference, “I don’t see the stag or the flation.” First the “stag”: Our economy is still growing. Yes, the 1.6 percent headline is disappointing, but we need to look under the hood. The slowdown relative to the fourth quarter was driven by a slowdown in consumer spending, exports, and government spending. Imports increased, which are actually a negative for the GDP calculation, but not for the economy in reality. The economy must be strong for consumers to be able to purchase foreign goods.

    The slowdown in consumer spending was on goods, while services actually increased. So, services increased, and imports increased; that hardly reflects a weak consumer. We must also remember that this is only the first reading. It will get revised, and I would wager the revision will be higher. GDPNow, the real-time GDP calculation provided by the Atlanta Fed, finished last quarter over 2 percent. It has been very close to the final reading, which it should be as it is purely based on the data with no assumptions. Currently it says we are growing at 3.3 percent. It is early and that will likely drop as more data comes in this quarter, but it is still solid growth. The economy is not stagnating.

    How about inflation, or as Powell said, the “flation”? The readings have been higher of late, but as we have noted, this is in line with what should have been realistic expectations. Once inflation got down to 3 percent, that last 1 percent the Fed wants is going to take time, and month-to-month data will be lumpy. Powell stated that their read of inflation is that it is just under 3 percent, which is in line with the year-over-year readings for the Fed’s preferred measure, Personal Consumption Expenditures (PCE). That isn’t the 2 percent target, but it isn’t 2022 levels of inflation, let alone the 1970s.

    Meanwhile, corporate earnings are coming in strong for this quarter. In the long run that is what drives stock prices. Unemployment remains low and the labor market remains tight. This doesn’t mean that we should not be concerned about the deficit spending and the current regulatory onslaught, as these things can absolutely cause damage over the long term. However, we should not participate in the culture of hyperbole. We will let our yes be yes and our no be no. There is no stagflation today and to suggest otherwise is simply an attempt to be bold and grab attention. That may work for social media, but it doesn’t work for investment results. We will focus on the latter.

    Warm regards,

    Chuck Osborne, CFA
    Managing Director

    ~Stagflation?

  • Inflation is back in the news: The latest reading of the consumer price index (CPI) came in at 3.5 percent. Does this mean all is lost in the Fed’s fight and it is time to sell everything? No, of course not.

    The worry on Wall Street is that higher inflation means that interest rates will go higher, which will drive stock prices down. We have made two statements in our Research and Commentary over the past year that still hold true: The first is that it should surprise no one that the last 1 percent of inflation will be the most stubborn. This rise from 3.2 percent to 3.5 percent does not mean that the battle is lost and the Fed must keep rates higher. Nothing in nature goes in a straight line, and inflation will always vary from month to month.

    The other observation we have noted is that interest rates, and oil prices for that matter, are simply trading in a range. We were near the lows of that range when I wrote that, and sure enough, we are now heading to the top of the range. Interest rates on the 10-year Treasury are trading around 4 percent. They have gone as low as 3.8 percent and as high as 5 percent, and now are near 4.5 percent; this is closer to the top of the range, and they will likely head back down closer to 4 percent once more. Could they break out of the range and keep rising? Anything is possible, but it is not likely. As of now, nothing has really changed. We remain in a range.

    The same is true for oil. I said that oil was in a range between $70 and $90. When I noted that, oil was going down and was near $71. It is now going up and near $85. It is still in the range. Nothing has really changed.

    Stocks have sold off on this data and of course the pundits are predicting doom as per usual. The truth is that the market has come a long way over the last six months, and it would not be surprising at all to see a step backwards before going forward once more. This is how the market works. It does not go in a straight line; the trends, however, remain strongly upward.

    Can that continue if the Fed does not cut rates? Of course it can. The truth is that the economic data shows we do not need a rate cut. The economy continues to be resilient. The Atlanta Fed’s GDPNow reading shows the economy growing at 2.4 percent as of April 10. This means that corporations as a whole should be growing earnings, and it is earnings that drive stock prices, not interest rates.

    I have said it many times, but when it comes to the real economy, the power of the Fed seems to be greatly exaggerated. This won’t stop Wall Street traders from fixating on Fed policy, as it certainly has an impact on markets in the short term. Longer term investors, however, can rest assured that it is the real-world results from the companies themselves that drive long-term stock prices.

    We may get a correction if the Fed decides not to lower rates in June, but corrections are normal. Nothing goes in a straight line – not inflation, not oil prices, not interest rates, and certainly not stock prices. We are still on course.

    Warm regards,

    Chuck Osborne, CFA
    Managing Director

    ~Still on Course

  • Have you ever been on a diet? It doesn’t seem to matter which diet it is, they all go great to start. You start telling your friends about it and they get excited as they see the pounds melting off of you. Next thing you know, you have only 10 more pounds to lose…and then it all slows down.

    So it goes with the Fed’s fight against inflation. We have seen inflation just melt away from the super highs of last year, but now that we are down to the 3 percent range, everything is slowing down. Unlike last month’s inflation surprise, the market this time has thus far shrugged it off.

    © MicroStockHub

    The Consumer Price Index (CPI), which measures retail inflation, came in at 3.2 percent earlier this week, slightly higher than the 3.1 percent last month. The Produce Price Index (PPI), which measures wholesale prices, came in at 1.6 percent, up from 1 percent last month. Does this mean the battle is lost?

    No, it does not. Many of our clients have heard me say this all along, but it is not a surprise that the last 1 percent or so of the drop back to the Fed’s target rate of 2 percent would be the most stubborn. This does not mean that the Fed needs to go back to raising interest rates; they simply need to be patient.

    The current talk of the Fed is when to begin cutting. The pundits are obsessed with this, and they talk as if the market simply cannot keep rising without a rate cut. They have been wrong this whole cycle and they remain wrong. We do not need a rate cut. The economy is still chugging along; the Atlanta Fed’s GDPNow tracker has growth this quarter at 2.5 percent. Stocks prices, contrary to what many traders will tell you, track earnings growth, not interest rates. If earning are growing, stocks will rise.

    I know what you are thinking, “But we are at all-time highs.” That is one way to describe it; another is that we are back to where we were three years ago. Meanwhile the economy and corporate earnings have grown. Besides, only the favored few that skew the S&P 500 index are back; all the other areas of the market are still making their way and have room to run.

    The Fed may cut rates anyway, and if they do, the short-term traders will like it. They may decide to be more patient, and if they do, the short-term traders will not like it. Investors, however, make decisions from the bottom-up. We are looking at what is actually happening at the companies we own. For the vast majority Fed policy is low on their priority list.

    Starting in the last three months of 2023, the market has finally been acting the way it should. Nothing goes in straight lines and there will be down days. We will eventually see a correction in 2024 – we hardly ever go a year without one – but the overall direction should remain up, and it should be driven by all those areas of the market that are not deemed “Magnificent” by the pundits who just keep getting it wrong.

    Warm regards,


    Chuck Osborne, CFA
    Managing Director

    ~Those Last Ten Pounds

  • We live in a world of clickbait: Everything must be a crisis, and all is exaggerated. It gets very tiresome. On Tuesday the market dropped dramatically because of the “HOT” inflation report. The Consumer Price Index came out indicating that inflation is running at an annual rate of 3.1 percent. So-called core inflation, which is prices not including energy or food, rose 3.9 percent. So, is that hot?

    The story is that this is a bad report because it was higher than expected; the expectation was for inflation to be 2.9 percent and for core inflation to be 3.7 percent. So, relative to expectations we were a whopping 0.2 percent higher. However, based on the previous readings, inflation went from 3.4 percent to 3.1 percent. It was 3.7 percent as recently as September. Core inflation remained the same.

    Inflation is not actually heating back up, it is cooling; it simply did not cool as quickly as predicted. In the real world, things do not move in straight lines. Have you ever had to click that box online that says, “I am not a robot?” That test seems silly…couldn’t a robot simply click the box? It turns out that clicking the box is not the test. The test is the path one’s curser travels to get to the box, since only a robot can use a mouse to move the curser in a perfectly straight line. Inflation (as all economic data) reflects human activity: We don’t move in straight lines, thus neither does the data that reflects our activity. We humans do, however, move in a general direction; there is a trend, and the trend for inflation remains down.

    © AlpamayoPhoto

    The market pundits remain fixated on the Fed and interest rates, and they worry that a slower drop in inflation means rates stay where they are for longer. In our opinion, this worry is misplaced. Stock prices are determined by earnings. It is not that interest rates do not matter, they do – companies have to borrow money, and the interest that they pay will reduce earnings. Additionally, investors who calculate the future value of a company do so with what we refer to as a discount rate. The easiest way for non-mathematical people to understand this is that the potential return on stocks must be compared to what one could earn collecting interest from a very safe bond. If the rates on the bond are higher, then investors will theoretically be less willing to buy stocks, which drives prices down.

    Do these worries make sense? The first concern does not. As long as the economy keeps growing, then companies will continue to grow earnings. The initial reading for the fourth quarter GDP came in up 3.3 percent. The real-time reading from the Atlanta Fed’s GDPNow is 3.4 percent. Current interest rates are not stopping growth, so the idea that they must be cut for growth to occur is simply wrong.

    The discount rate issue is also greatly exaggerated. Most investors are using the 10-year Treasury for their discount rate. We do so because investing (as opposed to trading) is a long-term endeavor. The 10-year is in a range around 4 percent; this was normal before the Fed took extraordinary measures in response to the 2008 financial crisis, which was then deemed the “new normal.” After Covid they said it was a new-new normal. Today we are in the normal-normal, and that is not restrictive for stocks.

    Lastly, I feel confident saying the market pundits are wrong, because the market itself keeps telling them they are wrong. I am not sure how long they can all stay wrong and still be employed, but I assume that they believe there is safety in numbers.

    We are all human beings. We get it wrong sometimes at Iron Capital too, but we climbed out on a limb in 2023 when seemingly all the pundits were calling for a recession: we were right, they were wrong. Thus far in 2024, that is another trend that continues. We are not doing anything magical over here, we are simply ignoring the headlines and paying attention to reality.

    Warm regards,

    Chuck Osborne, CFA
    Managing Director

    ~Headlines vs. Reality