Mike Lipper’s Monday Morning Musings Momentum is Slowing under Too Many Cross-Trends Editors: Frank Harrison 1997-2018, Hylton Phillips-Page 2018 – The human mind prefers simple actions leading to success in order to address present issues. As a ...
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Momentum is Slowing under Too Many Cross-Trends - Weekly Blog # 651

 



Mike Lipper’s Monday Morning Musings


Momentum is Slowing under Too Many Cross-Trends


Editors: Frank Harrison 1997-2018, Hylton Phillips-Page 2018 –




The human mind prefers simple actions leading to success in order to address present issues. As a professional investor with fiduciary responsibilities, that is what I want. However, the discipline of preparing a weekly blog does not often lead to straight-forward conclusions. This is such a week and the best I can do is to briefly outline the various cross-trends that I perceived. I ask subscribers to select the options that direct them to an investment conclusion, which hopefully they’ll share.


The following is a list of the trends in no order:

  1. Seeing signs of smart professional bottom fishing buyers in Energy, particularly natural gas related and an array of financial services-banks, funds, brokers, and service providers.
  2. A minority of professionals appear to be bullish and a sizable minority of the public are bearish. The rest are confused and waiting for direction, with more than normal cash reserves.
  3. Myopically cheap securities can be value traps due to outmoded statistical measures and/or inappropriate timing.
  4. Alibaba, Ant Group, and Tencent’s securities are being found in  institutional portfolios. These groups are becoming more global rather than focusing on Chinese holdings. (Almost all companies are influenced by trends beyond their headquarters’ locations, some more than others.)
  5. In the weekend WSJ, only 42% of price aggregations rose this week.
  6. “More than 40% of total US equity trading volume now takes place outside of public stock exchanges”, according to the Chicago Board Options Exchange.
  7. The NASDAQ Composite gained +0.79% and the NYSE Composite declined -0.63% this week. As there is less passive trading in the NASDAQ relative to the NYSE, I believe it is a better indicator of professional investors thinking.
  8. The JOC-ECRI Industrial Price Index is up +6.69% from a year ago, signaling inflation.
  9. For the week, the average Large-Cap Growth Equity Fund was up +1.81%, S&P 500 index funds were up +1.07% and Value funds were down -0.29%. Not the expected change in momentum pundits were expecting.
  10. According to the National Bureau of Economic Research, most stimulus payments were saved or applied to reducing debt. Hedge fund performance fees do not protect investors from paying for poor performance.
  11. PwC’s view of the World in 2050 is based on the following points: 
    • World GDP will double by 2037 and almost triple by 2050.
    • China is already the largest based on currency purchasing power(CPP) on market exchange rates (MER) and will be number 1 in 2028. 
    • India will be the 2nd largest in 2050 (CPP) and 3rd in (MER).
    • Mexico and Indonesia will replace the UK and France by 2030.
    • Nigeria and Vietnam will be the fastest growing by 2050.
    • There will be a significant gap between the top three: China, India, and the US vs the rest.
    • The US will remain the wealthiest.


Working Conclusion:

Some of these observations may prove to be useful to long-term investors, but probably not all. The timing of their value is also uncertain. I therefore suggest you have a global orientation with a reasonable amount of liquidity (cash or highly liquid stocks). Any high-quality fixed income holdings beyond a 2-year maturity could be a burden. The appropriate investment objective is to first avoid losing purchasing power, with an additional reserve for being wrong. The second objective is to build capital opportunities in a number of places and different vehicles when possible.


Questions for the week:

  1. What do you think of the list?
  2. Will anything mentioned cause you to make any changes?
  3. What are the other trends we should be tracking?




Did you miss my blog last week? Click here to read.

https://mikelipper.blogspot.com/2020/10/mike-lippers-monday-morning-musings-are.html


https://mikelipper.blogspot.com/2020/10/what-is-nasdaq-saying-to-whom-weekly.html


https://mikelipper.blogspot.com/2020/09/there-is-incredible-shortage-weekly.html




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Copyright © 2008 - 2020


A. Michael Lipper, CFA

All rights reserved

Contact author for limited redistribution permission.


 

Are We in Boiling Water? And Understanding Value - Weekly Blog # 650

 



Mike Lipper’s Monday Morning Musings


Are We in Boiling Water?  And Understanding Value


Editors: Frank Harrison 1997-2018, Hylton Phillips-Page 2018 –




Where are we (in the market)? Many of us have traveled with impatient children that too frequently ask “are we there yet?” What they should be asking is, where are we and what difference does it make? Plenty. This is where a frog and a pot of water is useful. Placing the frog in a pot of cold water will be greeted by the frog jumping out. Place the frog in mildly heated water that is a comfortable temperature and the frog stays put. If you raise the temperature slowly the frog is not conscious of the slowly rising temperature until it reaches a boiling level, which kills the unfortunate frog.


In terms of the current US stock market expansion measured by the popular indices, is the temperature rising? There is some evidence from the last four weeks that we should be getting ready to jump out of the market indices led market. Over the past four weeks ended October 8th, the average S&P 500 Index fund gained +3.31%. This compares to gains of +4.35% for the average Large-Cap Growth Fund and +5.60% for the average US Diversified Equity Fund, comprised of 7,336 funds. Earlier in 2020 index funds were clearly in the lead, for three reasons:

  1. They were fully invested and thus had no retarding cash
  2. They had no brokerage and other operating expenses
  3. They had a large commitment to information technology stocks


What is causing the change waking up us frogs? Both brokers and the media need investors to transact to meet their commercial needs. Considering that in the current year we had a record decline and recovery in terms of annual rates of change. As this is unusual, it generates nervousness. In September the shrillness of the political campaigns upset some investors, causing them to question whether their current investments will serve them well in the next couple of years. 


Turning to specific concerns, the final publication of the majority report from a House Committee advocated for a new type of anti-trust legislation that would splinter large info-tech corporations. Evidence of these concerns can be found in the short positions of the tech heavy NASDAQ market, which rose 3%. This compares to the short positions on the NYSE, which rose only 0.5 %. Volatility has risen over the last three weeks compared to levels a year ago. The performance of the NASDAQ Composite has led the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJIA) and the S&P 500 for some time, but it is no longer the clear leader.


Getting Ready to Jump to “Value” Stocks

Advocates of change are reducing exposure to tech in favor of adding to “value”. As with many labels, it covers a wide range of different types of actions and securities and could well be jumping from the “frying pan into the fire”. In terms of the professional academic literature, the earliest text I know about was titled “Security Analysis” by Benjamin Graham and David Dodd, who were professors at Columbia University during the Depression. The book was so successful in academic circles that it went through five editions. I was extremely lucky, as I took David Dodd’s Security Analysis course toward the end of his distinguished career. 


In reading his text in class, it became clear that he was describing value as liquidating value. This was a very good way to make respectable investment returns starting in the depression. Remember, this approach was that of an academic, not a business person, so there was reliance on published financial statements. As students, our first task was to recast the balance sheet by revaluing the assets and liabilities. The critical key to the analysis was to value the preferred shares and debt at their current market value, not their stated value on the balance sheet. Furthermore, assets were revalued to what they could bring in a quick sale. This meant that only finished product inventory had any real value and that was subjected to a discount. Plant and equipment were assigned little to no value. The next step was to augment the balance sheet with undisclosed assets and liabilities, including items such as leases, rights-of-way, and the net value of pensions. This type of analysis led to the conclusion that some bankrupt companies could be worth more than the lackluster common stock price. This type of analysis allowed Graham and Dodd to buy and liquidate companies in their fund.


Max Heine, founder of Mutual Shares, and Ruth Axe, founder with her husband of the Axe Houghton funds, did similar operations of railroads. Axe Houghton at one point controlled the Missouri Pacific Railroad by being the dominant holder of a cumulative preferred issue, which had not been paid dividends for many years and had to be paid off before the railroad could be sold with its attractive right-of-way real estate assets. (In a similar way, as a small investor I participated in a defaulted cumulative preferred, which over time was gaining voter control of the board of Pittsburgh Steel.) The key point of this deeper understanding of “Value” is that one does not rely on published balance sheets, but uses them as a beginning to find other assets and liabilities to recast a more realistic picture.


“History Does Not Repeat Itself, But It Does Rhyme”

In some respects the search for attractive value investments may be similar to the period of Graham & Dodd’s depression analysis, at least in questioning book value as shown on published balance sheets. There have been many accounting rules changes, but a few things remain the same. In most cases land is carried at cost and buildings and equipment are carried at depreciated value. While at this point in our recovery I don’t know what the future will bring from the pandemic, my working assumption is that WFH (work from home) will reduce the number of people in office buildings and will likely impact the value of the buildings. There may also be less value in being in major cities. (I do recognize that some of these properties may be successfully repurposed, usually by private real estate people.) We have already seen a remarkable shift in the use of equipment to produce masks and similar products. Nevertheless, I question whether that will be the case in the new era.


This Week Brought an Example of a New Right of Way Deal.

The Missouri Pacific example of using the right of way real estate value to generate a higher than current market price still works today, but in a different form. This week, Morgan Stanley announced they will acquire Eaton Vance with a combination of stock and cash, at a 40% premium to the price it was selling prior to the surprise announcement. In some respects it was similar to depression type value creation. Eaton Vance is one of the oldest mutual fund management companies, starting life as the principal underwriter for the first publicly traded mutual fund, Massachusetts Investment Trust. It later started its own funds and through a Boston merger entered the investment counsel business. Over the years it raised money through sales to various brokerage firms and investment advisers. In recent years, it was successful in developing imaginative fixed income funds and low-cost index portfolio products. 


These distribution relationships were not on their balance sheet, but was what Morgan Stanley found attractive. (Morgan Stanley itself is the largest brokerage firm using Eaton’s funds.) Morgan Stanley found that 95% of Eaton Vance’s sales were to US and Canadian clients. They were under distributed internationally, which is where Morgan Stanley has considerable strength. There is another element that makes this merger attractive to the acquiree. The CEO of Morgan Stanley publicly announced that he was wrong to have sold Van Kampen, another fund management company with a strong distribution organization. Morgan Stanley also sharply curtailed its capital absorbing fixed income trading a few years ago.  They will be using a limited amount of its accumulated capital for this deal. All companies make mistakes, but few admit to them. I believe a former “sinner” is more likely to be a good partner in the future.


There are a couple of additional personal pluses to this deal. In the development of my own firm, when we generated sufficient capital beyond our operating needs we began investing in our clients. The main purpose was to avail ourselves of a shareholders’ view of our clients. In 1981 I purchased some shares in Eaton Vance for the firm. Luckily, when Reuters acquired our assets in 1998 they did not want our small portfolio, as they did not see the intelligence value of the holdings. Thus, today we are the pleased owners of a few shares that cost under 9 cents a share due to splits. (To demonstrate that it is better to be lucky than smart, over the years we have sold some of these shares for other portfolio operations.) As a member of a number of investment committees, I believe long term ownership of reasonably diversified portfolios of common stocks to be very capital productive over a long period of time.


Concluding Thoughts

We may or may not be at a pivot point in the stock market. If not, it is only a matter of time before performance leadership changes. At that point, some of the leadership will be labeled value. However, I believe future success in terms of stock prices will not be based on published book value. Attractiveness will be the result of finding unrecognized assets and ways to reduce liabilities. So, Professor Dodd will once again be correct.  




Did you miss my blog last week? Click here to read.

https://mikelipper.blogspot.com/2020/10/what-is-nasdaq-saying-to-whom-weekly.html


https://mikelipper.blogspot.com/2020/09/there-is-incredible-shortage-weekly.html


https://mikelipper.blogspot.com/2020/09/headlines-excite-dictate-or-respond-not.html




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Copyright © 2008 - 2020


A. Michael Lipper, CFA

All rights reserved

Contact author for limited redistribution permission.


 

What is the NASDAQ Saying to Whom? - Weekly Blog # 649

 



Mike Lipper’s Monday Morning Musings


What is the NASDAQ Saying to Whom?


Editors: Frank Harrison 1997-2018, Hylton Phillips-Page 2018 –




Prior to Friday, the performance of the NASDAQ Composite Index led all other stock price indices in performance, and in my opinion, was an indicator of the future direction of the more diversified market.


Then on Friday we experienced an October surprise. The President of the US, the most prominent media political personality in the world, was diagnosed as having contracted COVID-19. An “October Surprise” has been a feature of American presidential politics and some believe it changed enough votes to swing elections. One should remember that voters do not take a verified test as to why they voted the way they did at the time of voting. There is some evidence that voters tell pollsters what they believe they want to hear, or who they think will win. Thus, there is no verifiable way to know how any specific individual voted, or why.


Most people responsible for the ownership of common stocks are long-term investors, and although they participate in the parlor game of expressing their view that it motivates their voting, it does not. Thus, the movement of stock prices or indices is not guaranteed to be predictive of voting results.


NASDAQ Against the World

Trading began on Friday after the announcement of the President’s medical condition, sending stock prices down by more than 400 Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJIA) points. Sharply fallen prices brought buyers into the market and by the end of the day the DJIA was down only -0.48%. What alerted me to something potentially signaling a major change was the NASDAQ falling -2.2%. Since reaching their all-time high on September 2nd, the S&P 500 and NASDAQ have been falling. (Remember my warning that due to changes in composition and weighting the DJIA is likely to be less reliable due to its greater tech orientation.) Until some time passes, the S&P 500 will be a more useful than the dollar weighted market indicator. By Friday’s close, the S&P 500 had dropped -6.49% for the month since achieving its high point. Over the same period the NASDAQ fell -8.14%, the difference being Friday’s price movement. Thus, Friday’s bigger decline could be significant.


What Did NASDAQ’s Friday Bigger Drop Signify?

The NASDAQ index is labeled “tech-heavy” and consequently the performance of tech stocks is disproportionately important to its investors. The only two mutual fund investment category averages gaining over 30% through the Thursday year to date period were Precious Metals +35.68% and Global Science & Tech +35.27%. (Five other investment categories were up in excess +20%) 


Someone with an eye on the political statements made by the leading candidates, and more significantly by some other political leaders concerning the large Tech companies, might ponder the implications of Friday’s tech stock price movement. The popular view is that the Democrats would like to see the economic marketing power of the leading tech companies restricted. Is that the reason the “tech heavy” NASDAQ Composite Index declined materially on Friday? (Prior to Friday, the NASDAQ’s decline from its peak was right in line with the fall of S&P 500.) What makes this view curious is that most CEOs of Tech companies are major Democrat supporters. (It is not unusual for successful candidates, upon being elected, to turn on their supporters and attempt to broaden their mandate.)


Changes in Marketplace Structure Could Be More Important Than NASDAQ Price Movements

While most investors only pay attention to the movement of the prices of their stocks, I also focus on the “inside baseball”. Who is executing and initiating the orders and how their marketing efforts are influencing what we think about their investments. It is interesting that there is rising concern over the marketing power of major tech companies, while there seems to be a parallel concern in the investment marketplace. Recently, it was noted that the five largest asset managers, in aggregate, manage more dollars than attributed to the US GDP. Even greater concentration was indicated by two announcements this week.


Wilshire Associates, a data supplier and asset manager, was sold to two private equity managers willing to provide more capital to expand Wilshire’s business. Also this week, Trian Fund Management announced that they have taken a 9.9% position in both Invesco and Janus Henderson, and announced that there should be greater merger & acquisition activity in the investment management business. These smart people were successful with their investment in Legg Mason, generating a gain of 55% for them. This area is of great interest to me, as I manage a private fund invested in Financial Services stocks.




Did you miss my blog last week? Click here to read.

https://mikelipper.blogspot.com/2020/09/there-is-incredible-shortage-weekly.html


https://mikelipper.blogspot.com/2020/09/headlines-excite-dictate-or-respond-not.html


https://mikelipper.blogspot.com/2020/09/mike-lippers-monday-morning-musings-who.html




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Copyright © 2008 - 2020


A. Michael Lipper, CFA

All rights reserved

Contact author for limited redistribution permission.


 

There Is an Incredible Shortage… - Weekly Blog # 648

 



Mike Lipper’s Monday Morning Musings


There Is an Incredible Shortage…


Editors: Frank Harrison 1997-2018, Hylton Phillips-Page 2018 –




“There is an incredible shortage” How often do we read such headlines? Is it true or just a clever ploy of some marketer trying to move extra inventory? Historically, one of the better clues to the existence of rising prices is the number of global locations in which they rise. Nevertheless, in an electronically connected world one needs to be on guard against manipulation, or the new term spoofing, which is an effort to represent a larger supply or demand than actually exists. The very fact that prices are moving suggests, at least temporary, that there is an imbalance between supply and demand.


I submit that there is an unusual shortage of good stocks to buy. The shortage is global and cuts through different market capitalization sizes and is possibly ending. FactSet identified a group of companies that have both price/earnings ratios over 20x and returns on equity of 20% or higher. They then compared their performance for the latest three months and one-year, as shown below:


Name                 Number   3-Month   1-Year

S&P 500                        +19.87%   +6.91%

S&P 500 20/20           107    +20.16    +7.32

S&P 500 Ex 20/20        395    +17.56   -10.43

Russell 2000                   +22.92    -8.48

Russell 2000 20/20       73    +30.08   +16.42

Russell 2000 Ex 20/20  1889    +25.53   -14.19

MSCI EAFE                       -5.18    +2.40

MSCI EAFE 20/20          97    +21.50   +12.47

MSCI EAFE Ex 20/20      819     -6.75    +5.15


Clearly, high P/E and ROE stocks performed much better for the 1-Year period and a little bit better for the 3-Month period. Better individual stock performance carried performance for a number of mutual funds. Year-to-date through Thursday, of the 104 equity-oriented mutual fund investment objective averages I examine each week, only 26 gained more than the average S&P 500 Index fund’s return of +1.63%. And just 12 groups had double digit gains. The lack of many winners is one reason 17 IPOs could be sold this week, a number of which are not profitable and were never profitable.


Not Everyone Believes

Rising stock markets thrive on the conversion of cash and other securities into equities. This process is well known as the market climbing a wall of worries. For many would be stock investors, we have a surplus of worries. There is at least $5 Trillion of cash in investors’ brokerage accounts that could come in. Also, I believe it is only a matter of time before bond and bond fund holdings are converted into stocks, hoping to repair the damage done by future rising rates of inflation and interest rates. 


There are no perfect forecasting indicators for determining the direction of the stock market, although one of the best for determining the future direction of the stock market incorrectly has been a sample survey of the membership of the American Association of Individual Investors (AAII). Each week they ask a sample of their large membership where the stock market will be in six months. The replies are divided into bullish, bearish, and neutral decisions. Many market analysts count on these judgements being wrong. 


Surprise!! we “smart guys” have been wrong. For most of the summer over 40% of the predictions have been bearish, as is the current reading. In addition, bullish predictions are currently the smallest of the three choices. Perhaps the redeeming/selling holders of mutual funds and ETFs have been following the AAII predictions, as they were net redeemers for the last seven weeks. The more active ETF holders, which are often traders, have primarily been selling index funds rather than actively managed vehicles.


There Are Some Long-Term Bulls

A very large brokerage firm with many brokers acting as investment advisors believes that we are in the early stages of a long bull market, which began with the pandemic. Additionally, a large bank complex sees no signs of a late stage bull market and sees the market expanding for at least the next three to four years.


My Advice

Investing is an individual art form. The correct long-term strategy consists primarily of setting your own long-term goals and finding different ways to accomplish them. The multiplicity of the roads you travel to meet your goals must hedge the almost guaranteed probability of being wrong or uncomfortable from time to time. For most of the rest of the current year, unless the market gives us a rare opportunity to buy some real bargains or prune existing holdings, is to relax and do nothing. Those who have true long-term investment objectives beyond the next bear market can dollar-cost average into sound businesses, allowing you to relax at night.


Question:

Are you helping your children and grandchildren understand what you are thinking during these unsettled times? It doesn’t matter if you are right or not. What is important is opening up communication about how you think and how you transition when wrong, as we all will be from time to time.

 



Did you miss my blog last week? Click here to read.

https://mikelipper.blogspot.com/2020/09/headlines-excite-dictate-or-respond-not.html


https://mikelipper.blogspot.com/2020/09/mike-lippers-monday-morning-musings-who.html


https://mikelipper.blogspot.com/2020/09/turning-point-or-bump-weekly-blog-645.html




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Copyright © 2008 - 2020


A. Michael Lipper, CFA

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Contact author for limited redistribution permission.


 

Headlines Excite, Dictate, or Respond, not Inform - Weekly Blog # 647

 



Mike Lipper’s Monday Morning Musings


Headlines Excite, Dictate, or Respond, not Inform


Editors: Frank Harrison 1997-2018, Hylton Phillips-Page 2018




As has been previously expressed, investment markets have entered an emotional trading phase. The combination of a US election, COVID-19, a new justice for the Supreme Court, and military accidents, primes the next four months for active trading and makes it inhospitable for long-term investing.


Even when the source is a generally respected, media headlines can be misleading. The wording of headlines is often not the choice or responsibility of the author or the assignment editor, but of a very busy headline editor quick to read, but not as familiar with the topic as others.  Each person that touches an element of the news views it through the lens of their own biases. In the current emotional period it is not unusual to see political bias in each of the news elements, including the headlines. This misdirects the audience and raises questions regarding the utility of the news elements.


In The Wall Street Journal weekend edition there is a headline “Stocks Fall for Third Straight Week”, which  makes it sound like we’ve entered a bear market. (That could please some reporters/editors who have different political views than the higher priced Editorial Board Members representing the official view of the publication.) When one reads the headline, the initial reaction is to expect a meaningful weekly decline, probably double digits. Nowhere in the article is it mentioned that the Dow Jones Industrial Average declined -0.03% for the week, or that the market went up three days during the week. The article neglected to mention something that is probably more bearish, that the Friday decline had a materially larger volume of shares traded. This may be the reason investors need professional analysts to review current market conditions.


One Day Difference, Distinctly Different Conclusions

Regular readers know that my first lens on the market is through the actions of the mutual fund professionals. Historically I have relied on fund performance for the five trading days ended Thursday. I do this for two reasons: 

  1. I used to hire good people from the “back offices” of fund groups and their custodians, where I learned of the natural pressure to quickly finish computations before leaving for the weekend on Friday. Consequently, the Friday calculations were generally not of the same quality as Thursday. 
  2. In addition, when stock specialists set transaction prices there is a natural tendency to reduce capital exposures over the weekend.


For the week ended Thursday, US Diversified Equity Funds (weighted by performance) averaged a gain of +0.98%. However, that is not the full story. Of the eighteen included investment objectives, only one was down for the week, Large-Cap Growth Funds -0.13%. The performance of these Large-Cap Growth portfolios has been dominated by well-known tech companies. To understand the impact of the media’s focus, look at the year to date numbers, where the US Diversified Equity macro group gained +4.71%. Performance was driven by the Large-Cap Growth Fund average return of +20.24%. However, that was not the critical number in understanding the impact of the markets, where the median fund was down -3.18%. (The median is the midpoint of the performance array.) This is significant because if one adds up all the money invested in Large Cap Growth funds plus the money invested in S&P 500 Index funds, it represents only 36.9% of the money invested in the US Diversified Equity group. Thus, it is of interest, but is not a full measure of the performance of the market. The extraordinary gain from the March bottom is not so large that a major overall correction is warranted, a view contrary to one you’d get from reading financial columns this weekend. Another thing not credited is the downward selling pressure exerted on some of the best performing stocks in order to fund the purchase of 17 IPOs which began trading thus week.


A Very Bullish View

A large US brokerage firm believes the initial impact of the Coronavirus began a new market cycle, with profit margins expanding into 2021. They could be correct in the absence of any new negatives appearing, although my own view is that they could be a year early.


Portfolio Management Views

  1. At some point in long-term portfolios there is a danger that every single position does well. This is dangerous because when the inevitable market decline happens, almost all the positions are likely to decline. Some late blooming positions are a sign of a prudent manager who wants to own something going up in almost all market conditions.
  2. By far the largest surprise in many portfolios is my belief that we are not in a permanent low interest rate environment. Since few people are looking for an explosion of interest rates, I am of the belief that good things don’t last forever.


Questions?

What surprises are on your worktable?       




Did you miss my blog last week? Click here to read.

https://mikelipper.blogspot.com/2020/09/mike-lippers-monday-morning-musings-who.html


https://mikelipper.blogspot.com/2020/09/turning-point-or-bump-weekly-blog-645.html


https://mikelipper.blogspot.com/2020/08/caution-ahead-emotional-turns-likely.html




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To receive Mike Lipper’s Blog each Monday morning, please subscribe by emailing me directly at AML@Lipperadvising.com


Copyright © 2008 - 2020


A. Michael Lipper, CFA

All rights reserved

Contact author for limited redistribution permission.