Will Your Vote Move the Market?

Election seasons are highly polarized and leave investors from both sides of the political aisle paralyzed by what-ifs and fear of the other. This seems more true now than ever. Given COVID-19, supreme court implications, and an incredibly divided nation in terms of policy wishes, we expect a volatile finish to 2020. Due to an expected record number of mail-in ballots due to the election, it’s even possible the results aren’t known for days or even weeks. It’s normal to be concerned, but does the data support it? Does taking investment action make sense?

Believe it or not, I wrote the above days before President Trump and the First Lady contracted COVID-19. Can 2020 have any more twists and turns? Our team at Warren Street sends our thoughts and well wishes to them both, their families, and their staff. We hope a speedy and full recovery ensues. The diagnosis for President Trump is undoubtedly troubling given his age and possible pre-existing conditions, it’s sure to inject additional doubt into investors’ minds. CDC data however is still dramatically in his favor and it’s safe to assume he’ll receive best-in-class care. Historically, election seasons have in-fact provided for increased volatility in the markets. In addition, the dispersion in results and returns has been all over the map especially in the short term. You should find comfort however in the fact that long term returns have generally been positive regardless of who’s been at the Presidential helm or a split vs. unified congress. More details to come.

Let’s start with volatility (chart below). Taking a look back to 1929 you’ll see that the election year realized volatility exceeds non-election year volatility in September-November by a rather dramatic amount as measured by daily standard deviation in returns. I can’t say whether the current September 2020  volatility is caused or simply correlated to this phenomena. With U.S. stocks down over 7% 9/1-9/23 there’s plenty going on in the world to not simply chalk this up to election hysteria.

Now that volatility is out of the way, let’s talk returns, starting with short term returns. It is abundantly clear what investors prefer, and it isn’t what you’d think. The President is less significant than the balance of power. Returns tend to be best with a split congress, or in the best performing case a Democrat for President with a Republican congress. Why might that be? Gridlock. Investors love the status quo, but more so corporations love the predictability that comes with it. The ability to invest, forecast, and produce without the prospects of a changing playing field often lends itself to unimpeded growth.

We all learned in 2016 that polling is VERY fallible. Here we find ourselves again with a rapidly changing landscape of polling results, and most of which seem to be consolidating into the margin for error. Meaning both the Presidential and the Congressional races can go any which way. If we were betting, we’d likely expect a blue wave (Biden win and Democrats take over the Senate). Most of this is because incumbents just simply don’t win while in a recession, it’s only happened once in the last 100 years. The bad news, a Democratic sweep is actually one of the worst outcomes for investment markets historically over the corresponding 2 years (blue below) post election. The good news, you can barely tell a difference after 4 years (light blue below) regardless of who is in office, Presidential or Congressional.

Source: FMRCo

So what do we do now? Proceed with caution. Obviously this election is unparalleled in so many ways, and because of that we can’t solely rely on historical data to give us permission to proceed with blinders on. Having said that, you can make a bullish case for U.S. and Global securities regardless of who wins. What types of companies and which geographies you favor might look very different however. Each party has a different impact on tax code, currency stability, trade relations, etc. It’s important to construct your portfolio with these varied outcomes in mind and not be married to one outcome to succeed.

If you want to review your current investment posture as we head toward the stretch of election season 2020, please don’t hesitate to reach out to our team.

Blake Street, CFA, CFP®

Wealth Advisor, Warren Street Wealth Advisors

Investment Advisor Representative, Warren Street Wealth Advisors, LLC., a Registered Investment Advisor

The information presented here represents opinions and is not meant as personal or actionable advice to any individual, corporation, or other entity. Any investments discussed carry unique risks and should be carefully considered and reviewed by you and your financial professional. Nothing in this document is a solicitation to buy or sell any securities, or an attempt to furnish personal investment advice. Warren Street Wealth Advisors may own securities referenced in this document. Due to the static nature of content, securities held may change over time and current trades may be contrary to outdated publications. Form ADV available upon request 714-876-6200.

Gold Rush of 2020

In 1848, thousands of people grabbed their shovels and crossed land and sea to Sutter’s Mill with hopes of striking gold. Almost 150 years later in 2020, a similar parallel is happening not in San Francisco, but rather in the investable market for this hot commodity.

Year-to-date (YTD), gold has experienced more inflows than other broad stock and bond funds, including SPY and AGG which track the S&P 500 and Barclay’s Aggregate Bond Index, respectively. Amongst a myriad of asset classes, investors are choosing gold as their choice for safekeeping, thus driving gold prices to an all-time high. This year alone, gold is up 33.53% YTD compared to U.S. Stocks at 4.69% YTD and U.S. bonds at 7.83% YTD. But why exactly is a gold rush taking place in 2020?

Source: YCharts

Data as of 8/05/2020

You may attribute the surge in gold prices to the pandemic, but mine deeper and you will find more.

Source: YCharts

Data as of 8/05/2020

Source: YCharts

Low Yield Environment: Earlier in March, the Federal Reserve cut the federal funds rate to 0 – 0.25% to stimulate the economy amid an economic crisis. As a result, treasury yields fell drastically. The 10 Year Treasury rate started the year at 1.88% and now only yields an all-time low of 0.52%, or -1.05% adjusted for inflation. Although treasuries are often used as a safe haven during uncertain times, negative real yields alongside inflation expectations might make gold a more attractive store of value.

Inflation Expectations: Fiscal stimulus through a $2.2 trillion package, rapid money printing, and unprecedented quantitative easing has prompted investors to seek gold as an inflation hedge. Current levels of inflation, however, do remain low at 1.19% year-over-year relative to the Fed’s target of 2.0%, and are likely to stay low in the short term (due to aggregate demand and supply shocks). While there is no tell-all sign indicating future long-term inflation is upon us, the following is certain: whether gold investors are overreacting or whether U.S. inflation is a ticking time bomb remains to be seen.

A Weakening U.S. Dollar: With fiscal debt as a percentage of GDP and M2 Money Supply at an all-time high, confidence in the U.S. dollar is diminishing relative to other currencies including the Euro. This comes at a time where the European Union appears to maintain a tighter grasp on COVID-19 outbreaks, alongside newfound unity in the form of a centralized stimulus package and debt mutualization. Overall, supposed weakness in the U.S. dollar has turned investors towards gold to maintain the purchasing power of their greenbacks.

With this context, it seems like anyone would jump at the chance to own gold; but to avoid grabbing a handful of pyrite (fool’s gold), let’s evaluate gold’s performance and properties as an asset class. During the 1980’s and 1990’s, gold yielded less than ideal returns. In the late 2000’s, the metal’s performance accelerated as investor confidence faltered during the Great Recession, but subsequently dipped in the 2010’s when the U.S. economy proceeded onto its longest economic expansion.

Source: YCharts

Data spanning 1/01/1980 to 12/31/2019

Based on history, we can draw two conclusions: 1) gold’s volatile nature indicates that its current run may not be sustainable over long periods of time and 2) gold’s performance suffers when investors regain confidence and begin to adopt a risk-on posture. To see gold’s performance coming out of recessions, see Appendix A. (link)

5-Year Correlation Matrix (Rolling Monthly Returns)

Data as of 8/07/2020

Source: YCharts

Gold generates zero passive income, so why do investors hold it? One reason is simply because it’s different and provides a diversification benefit. This metal exhibits less correlation compared to broader asset classes, meaning it simply behaves differently. A correlation of 1 indicates that the assets’ return behaviors are identical, while a correlation of -1 means they move in completely opposite directions. Given gold’s weaker correlations, it is likely to thrive when stocks or other asset classes experience large drawdowns. In other words, gold zigs while others zag.

Having understood the nuances of gold as investable asset and its diversification benefit over a long-time horizon, Warren Street Wealth Advisors previously made the decision to maintain gold exposure through Gold Minishares (GLDM) in our Diversifiers sleeve. Our investment strategies are now reaping the benefits of gold’s recent rally and allow for different courses of action. For example, with current gold prices bid up relative to historical levels, we can trim profits to invest in cheaper assets classes with higher potential for appreciation. This in essence, is buying low and selling high.

Gold prices will likely stay in the headlines and continue to gain traction in coming months. Regardless, we encourage you to start with your long-term asset allocation in mind and refrain from overthinking market entry/exit timing on any specific asset class. Preventing permanent capital impairment and building portfolios for your short term and long-term needs remains our top priority. We will diligently tax loss harvest and perform recurring rebalances along the way to take advantage of tactical long-term opportunities we see appropriate. That to us, is striking gold in 2020.

Appendix A:

Phillip Law

Portfolio Analyst, Warren Street Wealth Advisors

Warren Street Wealth Advisors, a Registered Investment Advisor. The information contained herein does not involve the rendering of personalized investment advice but is limited to the dissemination of general information. A professional advisor should be consulted before implementing any of the strategies or options presented. Any investments discussed carry unique risks and should be carefully considered and reviewed by you and your financial professional. Past performance may not be indicative of future results. All investment strategies have the potential for profit or loss.  

PPP Flex Act

There was some good news for our small business owners as the Paycheck Protection Program Flexibility Act of 2020 was signed into law today (aka PPP Flex Act).  The PPP Flex Act amends certain provisions of the CARES Act relating to PPP loans.  You can view the full text here:  Text – H.R.7010 – 116th Congress (2019-2020): Paycheck Protection Program Flexibility Act of 2020

Highlights include: 

1. Minimum PPP loan maturity of 5 years, and an allowance that lenders and borrowers can mutually agree to modify loan terms. 

2. Borrowers now have until the earlier of 24 weeks after loan origination or 12/31/20 to spend potentially forgivable loan proceeds (the original deadline was 8 weeks after loan origination).  

3. Borrowers may qualify for loan forgiveness without regard to reduction in full-time employees if they can document:   inability to hire or rehire employees OR inability to return to normal business activities due to HHS, CDC, or OSHA guidance or requirements.  

4. To qualify for forgiveness, 60% of loan proceeds must be used for payroll costs (the original requirement was 75%).  This means that up to 40% of the forgivable loan proceeds can be used for mortgage payments, rent, or utilities.  

5. Small businesses that receive PPP loan forgiveness can also now defer the Employer portion of Social Security taxes from 3/27/20 through 12/31/20.  

6. Notably, the PPP Flex Act did not fix the issue of expenses paid by forgiven loan proceeds being non-tax-deductible.  We do expect this technical fix to come eventually.  

We expect more clarification as additional legislation is passed this year, so stay tuned.  Please reach out to us with any questions as to how these changes apply to your business.  

As such, before proceeding, please consult with us and other appropriate professionals, such as your accountant, and/or estate planning attorney on any details specific to you. Please don’t hesitate to reach out to us with your questions and comments. It’s what we are here for.

Emily Balmages, CFP®, CRTP

Director of Financial Planning, Warren Street Wealth Advisors

Investment Advisor Representative, Warren Street Wealth Advisors, LLC., a Registered Investment Advisor

If you have questions about any of this or would like to schedule a complimentary review you can Contact Us or call 714-876-6200 to book a free consultation.

The information presented here represents opinions and is not meant as personal or actionable advice to any individual, corporation, or other entity. Any investments discussed carry unique risks and should be carefully considered and reviewed by you and your financial professional. Nothing in this document is a solicitation to buy or sell any securities, or an attempt to furnish personal investment advice. Warren Street Wealth Advisors may own securities referenced in this document. Due to the static nature of content, securities held may change over time and current trades may be contrary to outdated publications. Form ADV available upon request 714-876-6200.

Update: Relief Is On The Way: A CARES Act Overview

This is a follow up to our first piece https://warrenstreetwealth.com/relief-is-on-the-way-a-cares-act-overview/ so if you have not yet read this first blog, please do so as this is a follow up to it.

With frequent updates from Washington and elsewhere regarding the policy response to COVID-19, we will continue to provide you with summary updates.  Please reach out to us with any questions you might have.

CHECKS

Many of you have received your stimulus checks via direct deposit.  If not, here is some additional information.  

If you did not file a 2018 or 2019 tax return, but are still eligible for a stimulus check, you can enter your information into this IRS website to receive your check: 

Non-Filers: Enter Payment Info Here

If you did not request direct deposit on your 2018 or 2019 tax return, but you would like to receive your stimulus check via direct deposit, you can enter your direct deposit information on this IRS website:

Get My Payment

It has been reported that both of the websites above have experienced technical issues since being launched, so patience and perseverance may be required.

If you prefer to receive your stimulus payment by paper check, you may have to wait several weeks for the payment to arrive. 

TAXES

The Treasury Department and IRS have delayed the Federal tax filing deadline for 2019 taxes to July 15, 2020.

California, along with most states (though not all), has conformed to the Federal deadline.

2020 Q1 and Q2 Federal estimated taxes are also now due July 15th. 

SMALL BUSINESSES

There are several updates regarding small business relief offered in the CARES Act.

1. EIDL

Originally the CARES Act called for the SBA to offer one-time emergency grants of $10k per business through the EIDL (Economic Injury Disaster Loan) program. Many of our small business owner clients applied. Recently, the SBA released an email to EIDL grant applicants, announcing that due to high demand, they’ve limited the one-time EIDL grant to $1k per employee (with a maximum of $10k total).

2. PPP

The demand for PPP (Paycheck Protection Program) loans has been extremely high. So high, in fact, that just 14 days after the program opened, the SBA announced that it had committed all of the originally allotted $349 billion.  As of Friday, April 24th, Congress and the President approved an additional $310 billion in funds for the program which offers potentially forgivable loans for small businesses and non-profits.  We expect this second round of funding to go quickly, so please reach out to us for guidance if you have not yet applied.  $60 billion of the new funding was specifically set aside for loans made by smaller institutions like credit unions and community banks, so we recommend considering one of these options first.    

3. Main Street Lending Program

Another relief option for small to medium sized businesses (up to 10,000 employees) may be the Federal Reserve’s new Main Street Lending Program: 

Main Street Lending Program

Details of the program are still being clarified, but as of this writing, here are some highlights:

  • Borrowers who received SBA PPP loans are eligible to apply for the MSLP as well.
  • Unlike PPP loans that can be potentially forgiven, MSLP loans do not offer a forgiveness provision.
  • Current proposed terms are 4 year repayment, $1 million minimum loan size, principal and interest payments are deferred for one year, relatively low interest rates.
  • Several other restrictions apply.  If you are a small or medium size business owner in need of funding, please reach out to us for further discussion.

CHARITABLE GIVING AND WAYS TO HELP

Food banks around the country have seen increased demands over the last several weeks. If you are looking for a way to help, you might want to check with your local food bank.  

The Red Cross is also reporting a severe blood shortage as a result of donor cancellations across the country.

This concludes our quick update.  News is flowing rapidly and changes to some of this information are inevitable.  We will continue to provide updates, but please contact us with any questions, comments or concerns.  Wishing you health and safety during these unprecedented times.  

As such, before proceeding, please consult with us and other appropriate professionals, such as your accountant, and/or estate planning attorney on any details specific to you. Please don’t hesitate to reach out to us with your questions and comments. It’s what we are here for.

Emily Balmages, CFP®, CRTP

Director of Financial Planning, Warren Street Wealth Advisors

Investment Advisor Representative, Warren Street Wealth Advisors, LLC., a Registered Investment Advisor

If you have questions about any of this or would like to schedule a complimentary review you can Contact Us or call 714-876-6200 to book a free consultation.

The information presented here represents opinions and is not meant as personal or actionable advice to any individual, corporation, or other entity. Any investments discussed carry unique risks and should be carefully considered and reviewed by you and your financial professional. Nothing in this document is a solicitation to buy or sell any securities, or an attempt to furnish personal investment advice. Warren Street Wealth Advisors may own securities referenced in this document. Due to the static nature of content, securities held may change over time and current trades may be contrary to outdated publications. Form ADV available upon request 714-876-6200.

Relief Is On The Way: A CARES Act Overview

Last Friday, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, President Trump signed into law The CARES Act, a $2 trillion economic stimulus bill.

This bill, which appears to be the largest ever of its kind, will be studied and analyzed for months to come. 

Every Warren Street client will be impacted in some way.  Accordingly, we are reviewing every client situation to determine what proactive steps you can take to maximize the benefits available within this legislation.  We will provide some highlights here, and will be following up with each of you directly over the coming weeks.  As always, please reach out to us at any time with questions. 

In General

  • CHECKS!  : Most Americans can expect to receive rebates from Uncle Sam. Depending on your household income, expect up to $1,200 per adult and $500 per dependent child under age 17. To calculate your payment, the Federal government will look at your 2019 Adjusted Gross Income (AGI) if it is available, or your 2018 AGI if it is not. However, you will receive an extra 2020 tax credit if your 2020 AGI ends up lower than the figure used to calculate your rebate.
  • Taxpayers with Adjusted Gross Income (AGI) above certain thresholds start to lose benefits.  The phaseouts start at:

Married Joint:  $150,000

Head of Household:  $112,500

All Other Filers:  $75,000

From Michael Kitces at Nerd’s Eye View; reprinted with permission.

  • The reported plan is to send the rebates to direct deposit accounts linked to Social Security payments or the most recent tax return on file.  Paper checks will be sent to last known mailing addresses. 
  • ****TWO TIPS:
  •  If your 2019 income is lower than 2018 and moves you below the phaseout range, file your 2019 tax return ASAP.
  •  If you have recently moved, notify the IRS via this form:  Form 8822 (Rev. October 2015)
  • Retirement account distributions for coronavirus-related needs: You can tap into your retirement account prior to age 59.5 in 2020 for a coronavirus-related distribution of up to $100,000, without incurring the usual 10% penalty or mandatory 20% Federal withholding. You will still owe income tax on the distributions, but you can prorate the payment of these taxes across 3 years. You also can repay distributions to your account within 3 years to avoid paying income taxes, or to claim a refund on taxes paid.

***If cash flow is a problem right now, please reach out to us and we will help you strategize. 

  • Various healthcare-related incentives: For example, certain over-the-counter medical expenses previously disallowed under some healthcare plans now qualify for coverage. Also, Medicare restrictions have been relaxed for telehealth and other services (such as COVID-19 vaccinations, once they become available). Other details apply.

For Retirees (and Retirement Account Beneficiaries)

  • RMD relief: Required Minimum Distributions (RMDs) go on a holiday in 2020 for retirees, as well as beneficiaries with inherited retirement accounts. If you have not yet taken your 2020 RMD, don’t! If you have, please be in touch with us to explore potential remedies.

For Charitable Donors

  • “Above-the-line” charitable deductions: Deduct up to $300 in 2020 qualified charitable contributions (excluding Donor Advised Funds) if you are taking the standard deduction.
  • Donate all of your 2020 AGI: You can effectively eliminate 2020 taxes owed, and then some, by donating up to, or beyond your AGI. If you donate more than your AGI, you can carry forward the excess up to 5 years. Donor Advised Fund contributions are excluded.

For Business Owners (and Certain Not-for-Profits)

  • Paycheck Protection Program loans (potentially forgivable): The Small Business Administration (SBA) Paycheck Protection Program is making loans available for qualified businesses and not-for-profits (typically under 500 employees), sole proprietors, and independent contractors. Loans for up to 2.5x monthly payroll, up to $10 million, 2-year maturity, interest rate 1%. Payments are deferred and, if certain employment retention and other requirements are met, the loan may be forgiven.
  • Economic Injury Disaster Loans (with forgivable advance): In coordination with your state, SBA disaster assistance also offers Economic Injury Disaster Loans of up to $2 million to qualified small businesses and non-profits, “to help overcome the temporary loss of revenue they are experiencing.” Interest rates are under 4%, with potential repayment terms of up to 30 years. Applicants also are eligible for an advance on the loan of up to $10,000. The advance will not need to be repaid, even if the loan is denied.
  • Payroll tax credits and deferrals: For qualified businesses who are not taking a loan.
  • Employee retention credit: An additional employee retention credit (as a payroll tax credit), “equal to 50 percent of the qualified wages with respect to each employee of such employer for such calendar quarter.” Excludes businesses receiving PPP loans, and may exclude those who have taken the EIDL loans.
  • Net Operating Loss rules relaxed: Carry back 2018–2020 losses up to five years, on up to 100% of taxable income from these same years.
  • Immediate expensing for qualified improvements: Section 168 of the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 is amended to allow immediate expensing rather than multi-year depreciation.
  • Dollars set aside for industry-specific relief: Please be in touch for a more detailed discussion if your entity may be eligible for industry-specific relief (e.g., airlines, hospitals and state/local governments).

For Employees/Plan Participants

  • Retirement plan loans and distributions: Maximum amount increased to $100,000 on up to the entire vested amount for coronavirus-related loans. Delay repayment up to a year for loans taken from March 27–year-end 2020. Distributions described above in In General.
  • Paid sick leave: Paid sick leave benefits for COVID-19 victims are described in the separate, March 18 H.R. 6201 Families First Coronavirus Response Act, and are above and beyond any benefits received through the CARES Act. Whether in your role as an employer or an employee, we’re happy to discuss the details with you upon request.

For Employers/Plan Sponsors

  • Relief for funding defined benefit plans: Due date for 2020 funding is extended to Jan. 1, 2021. Also, the funding percentage (AFTAP) can be calculated based on your 2019 status.
  • Relief for facilitating pre-retirement plan distributions and expanded loans: As described above for Employees/Plan Participants, employers “may rely on an employee’s certification that the employee satisfies the conditions” to be eligible for relief. The participant is required to self-certify in writing that they or a direct dependent have been diagnosed, or they have been financially impacted by the pandemic. No additional evidence (such as a doctor’s release) is required.  
  • Potential extension for filing Form 5500: While the Dept. of Labor (DOL) has not yet granted an extension, the CARES Act permits the DOL to postpone this filing deadline.
  • Exclude student loan pay-down compensation: Through year-end, employers can help employees pay off current educational expenses and/or student loan balances, and exclude up to $5,250 of either kind of payment from their income.

For Unemployed/Laid Off Americans

  • Increased unemployment compensation: Federal funding increases standard unemployment compensation by $600/week, and coverage is extended 13 weeks.
  • Federal funding covers first week of unemployment: The one-week waiting period to start collecting benefits is waived.
  • Pandemic unemployment assistance: Unemployment coverage is extended to self-employed individuals for up to 39 weeks. Plus, the Act offers incentives for states to establish “short-time compensation programs” for semi-employed individuals.

For Students (or those with student loans)

  • Student loan payments deferred to Sept. 30, 2020:  No interest will accrue either. Important: Voluntary payments will continue unless you explicitly pause them. Plus, the deferral period will still count toward any loan forgiveness program you’re in. So, be sure to pause payments if this applies to you, lest you pay on debt that will ultimately be forgiven.
  • Delinquent debt collection suspended through Sept. 30, 2020: Including wage, tax refund, and other Federal benefit garnishments.
  • Employer-paid student loan repayments excluded from 2020 income: From the date of the CARES Act enactment through year-end, your employer can pay up to $5,250 toward your student debt or your current education without it counting as taxable income to you.
  • Pell Grant relief: There are several clauses that ease Pell Grant limits, while not eliminating them. It would be best if we go over these with you in person if they may apply to you.

For Estates/Beneficiaries

  • A break for “non-designated” beneficiaries: 2020 can be ignored when applying the 5-year rule for “non-designated” beneficiaries with inherited retirement accounts. The 5-Year Rule effectively ends up becoming a 6-Year Rule for current non-designated beneficiaries.

You’re now familiar with much of the critical content of the CARES Act! That said, given the complexities involved and unprecedented current conditions, there will undoubtedly be updates, clarifications, additions, system glitches, and other adjustments to these summary points. The results could leave a wide gap between intention and reality.

As such, before proceeding, please consult with us and other appropriate professionals, such as your accountant, and/or estate planning attorney on any details specific to you. Please don’t hesitate to reach out to us with your questions and comments. It’s what we are here for.

Emily Balmages, CFP®, CRTP

Director of Financial Planning, Warren Street Wealth Advisors

Investment Advisor Representative, Warren Street Wealth Advisors, LLC., a Registered Investment Advisor

If you have questions about any of this or would like to schedule a complimentary review you can Contact Us or call 714-876-6200 to book a free consultation.

DISCLOSURES

Reference Materials:

Investment Advisor Representative, Warren Street Wealth Advisors, LLC., a Registered Investment Advisor

The information presented here represents opinions and is not meant as personal or actionable advice to any individual, corporation, or other entity. Any investments discussed carry unique risks and should be carefully considered and reviewed by you and your financial professional. Nothing in this document is a solicitation to buy or sell any securities, or an attempt to furnish personal investment advice. Warren Street Wealth Advisors may own securities referenced in this document. Due to the static nature of content, securities held may change over time and current trades may be contrary to outdated publications. Form ADV available upon request 714-876-6200.

Coronavirus: Here’s a Portfolio Treatment Plan

Wow! Our last published piece on the blog was “2019: A Year for the Record Books”. Two months later and the peace and quiet of yesteryear seem a distant memory. Scary days have arrived, thanks to the concern over how coronavirus might impact our global economy. As we draft this update, headlines are reporting the biggest weekly stock market losses since 2008.

We do not know whether the current correction will deepen or soon dissipate. It is important to remember that what was good advice in mild markets remains good advice today. Given the current climate, let’s take a look at a sound unemotional treatment plan for your nest-egg.

We continue to advise against panicked reactions to market conditions, or trying to predict an unknowable future. That being said, we are aggressively looking for ways to help our clients make lemonade out of this week’s lemons – such as through disciplined portfolio rebalancing and strategic tax loss harvesting. On Friday February 28th, we executed both on behalf of our private wealth clients.

Other lemonade ideas include refinancing your mortgage as interest rates have hit historic lows or executing a ROTH conversion while your portfolio is down, turning the recovery into tax free growth. More than anything, as you’ll see below, a long term perspective during an epidemic pays.

*First Trust

In 11 of the 12 cases above, the U.S. Stock Market was positive 6 months after an epidemic broke out, with an average return of 8.8%. In 9 of the 11 cases the U.S. Stock Market was positive 12 months after with an average return of 13.6%. It’s also important to note diversification worked last week with U.S. Bonds actually netting a positive return while U.S. stocks were down 11.5%.

@StockCharts – US Market represented by SPY. US Bonds by AGG.

If we can be of assistance or you want to talk through any of this, please do not hesitate to reach out to our team. In the meantime, here are 10 things you can do right now while markets are at least temporarily tanking.


1. Don’t panic (or pretend not to). It’s easy to believe you’re immune from panic when the financial sun is shining, but it’s hard to avoid indulging in it during a crisis. If you’re entertaining seemingly logical excuses to bail out during a steep or sustained market downturn, remember: It’s highly likely your behavioral biases are doing the talking. Even if you only pretend to be calm, that’s fine, as long as it prevents you from acting on your fears.

“Every time someone says, ‘There is a lot of cash on the sidelines,’ a tiny part of my soul dies. There are no sidelines.” – Cliff Asness, AQR Capital Management


2. Redirect your energy. No matter how logical it may be to sit on your hands during market downturns, your “fight or flight” instincts can trick you into acting anyway. Fortunately, there are productive moves you can make instead – such as all 10 actions here – to satisfy the itch to act without overhauling your investments at potentially the worst possible time.

“My advice to a prospective active do-it-yourself investor is to learn to golf. You’ll get a little exercise, some fresh air and time with your friends. Sure, green fees can be steep, but not as steep as the hit your portfolio will take if you become an active do-it-yourself investor.” – Terrance Odean, behavioral finance professor


3. Remember the evidence. One way to ignore your self-doubts during market crises is to heed what decades of practical and academic evidence have taught us about investing: Capital markets’ long-term trajectories have been upward. Thus, if you sell when markets are down, you’re far more likely to lock in permanent losses than come out ahead.

“Do the math. Expect catastrophes. Whatever happens, stay the course.” – William Bernstein, MD, PhD, financial theorist and neurologist


4. Manage your exposure to breaking news. There’s a difference between following current events versus fixating on them. In today’s multitasking, multimedia world, it’s easier than ever to be inundated by late-breaking news. When you become mired in the minutiae, it’s hard to retain your long-term perspective.

“Choosing what to ignore – turning off constant market updates, tuning out pundits purveying the latest Armageddon – is critical to maintaining a long-term focus.” – Jason Zweig, The Wall Street Journal


5. Revisit your carefully crafted investment plans (or make some). Even if you yearn to go by gut feel during a financial crisis, remember: You promised yourself you wouldn’t do that. When did you promise? When you planned your personalized investment portfolio, carefully allocated to various sources of expected returns, globally diversified to dampen the risks involved, and sensibly executed with low-cost funds managed in an evidence-based manner. What if you’ve not yet made these sorts of plans or established this kind of portfolio? Then these are actions we encourage you to take at your earliest convenience.

“Thus, the prudent strategy for investors is to act like a postage stamp. The lowly postage stamp does only one thing, but it does it exceedingly well – it adheres to its letter until it reaches its destination. Similarly, investors should adhere to their investment plan – asset allocation.” – Larry Swedroe, financial author


6. Reconsider your risk tolerance (but don’t act on it just yet). When you craft a personalized investment portfolio, you also commit to accepting a measure of market risk in exchange for those expected market returns. Unfortunately, during quiet times, it’s easy to overestimate how much risk you can stomach. If you discover you’re miserable to the point of breaking during even modest market declines, you may need to re-think your investment plans. Start planning for prudent portfolio adjustments, preferably working with an objective advisor to help you implement them judiciously over time. 

“Our aversion to leverage has dampened our returns over the years. But Charlie [Munger] and I sleep well. Both of us believe it is insane to risk what you have and need in order to obtain what you don’t need.” – Warren Buffett, Berkshire Hathaway


7. Double down on your risk exposure – if you’re able. If, on the other hand, you’ve got nerves of steel, market downturns can be opportunities to buy more of the depressed (low-price) holdings that fit into your investment plans. You can do this with new money, or by rebalancing what you’ve got (selling appreciated assets to buy the underdogs). This is not for the timid! You’re buying holdings other investors are fleeing in droves. But if can do this and hold tight, you’re especially well-positioned to make the most of the expected recovery.

“Pick your risk exposure, and then diversify the hell out of it.” – Eugene Fama, Nobel  laureate economist


8. Tax-loss harvest. Depending on market conditions and your own circumstances, you may be able to use tax-loss harvesting during market downturns. A successful tax-loss harvest lowers your tax bill without substantially altering or impacting your long-term investment outcomes. This action is not without its tricks and traps, however, so it’s best done in alliance with a financial professional who is well-versed in navigating the challenges involved.

“In investing, you get what you don’t pay for.” – John  C. Bogle, Vanguard founder


9, Revisit this article. There is no better time to re-read this article than when the going gets tough, when yesterday’s practice run is no longer an exercise but a real event. Maybe it will take your mind off the barrage of breaking news.

“We’d never buy a shirt for full price then be O.K. returning it in exchange for the sale price. ‘Scary’ markets convince people this unequal exchange makes sense.” – Carl Richards, Behavior Gap


10. Talk to us. We didn’t know when. We still don’t know how severe it will be, or how long it will last. But we do know markets inevitably tank now and then; we also fully expect they’ll eventually recover and continue upward. Since there’s never a bad time to receive good advice, we hope you’ll be in touch if we can help.

“In the old legend the wise men finally boiled down the history of mortal affairs into the single phrase, ‘This too will pass.’”
Benjamin Graham, economist, “father of value investing”


Blake Street, CFA, CFP ®
Founding Partner
Chief Investment Officer
Warren Street Wealth Advisors

Investment Advisor Representative, Warren Street Wealth Advisors, LLC., a Registered Investment Advisor

The information presented here represents opinions and is not meant as personal or actionable advice to any individual, corporation, or other entity. Any investments discussed carry unique risks and should be carefully considered and reviewed by you and your financial professional. Nothing in this document is a solicitation to buy or sell any securities, or an attempt to furnish personal investment advice. Warren Street Wealth Advisors may own securities referenced in this document. Due to the static nature of content, securities held may change over time and current trades may be contrary to outdated publications. Form ADV available upon request 714-876-6200.

2019: A Year for the Record Books

Key Takeaways

2019 turned out to be one of the best years for the financial markets in recent history. To understand how we got there, it’s helpful to consider where we began. Factset did a very good job of this on its website insight.factset.com: “As we began 2019, the big economic stories were the Fed’s series of interest rate hikes (four in 2018), the ongoing U.S. government shutdown, the December 2018 stock market drop (S&P 500: -9.2%, DJIA: -8.7%), and the escalating U.S.-China trade war. As the year progressed, we saw movement on all fronts.” The bullet points below provide a useful summary:

  • The Fed’s 2018 interest rate hikes were partially reversed as the FOMC cut rates three times in the second half of the year in reaction to a growing number of signals flashing recession.
  • The 35-day U.S. government shutdown, which ended on January 25, 2019, was the longest U.S. government shutdown in history. With many federal agencies closed and federal employees across the country furloughed or working without pay, the Congressional Budget Office estimates that the shutdown cost the economy $11 billion, $3 billion of which was permanently lost.
  • The ups and downs of U.S.-China trade negotiations sent global stock markets on a roller coaster ride throughout the year. As the year comes to a close, the U.S. has reached a so-called “Phase 1” trade agreement with China that reduces some of the tariffs imposed over the last 18 months and stops the imposition of a new set of tariffs set to go into effect on December 15. For its part, China has agreed to purchase more U.S. agricultural products. While the agreement helps to diffuse global anxiety surrounding the growing trade tensions, it fails to address significant concerns around technology and intellectual property rights. Still, equity markets have responded positively to the news, surging to new highs.

With this context in mind, how did the markets do in 2019?

Risk assets powered forward in December. After a rocky ride of positive and negative returns during the year, emerging markets stocks charged to the front of the pack in December. EM Equity crossed the finish line in the middle of the field with a return of 18.4%, about half the return of the winning asset class, U.S. Growth stocks (36.4%). U.S. Large Cap was 2nd at 31.5%, U.S. Value stocks came in 3rd at 26.5%, and International stocks were 4th at 24.63%. Though bonds trailed the field at 8.7%, this is more than twice the 10-year average for the Barclay’s Aggregate Bond Index, which was supercharged by falling Treasury yields as the Fed repeatedly lowered its short-term interest rate target.

The S&P500 total return for 2019 was the 18th best since 1926, 8th best since 1970, and 4th best since 1990[1]. The Barclays Aggregate bond index had its 13th best year since 1980[2].

What can we expect from the markets in 2020?

An era of the ‘haves’ and ‘have nots’. Technological innovations from industrial automation to ‘fracking’ to high speed data connections and the ‘internet of things’ has brought the world out of scarcity and into surplus. But this abundance is not felt by all – perhaps not even by most. Those with access to these technologies, either via infrastructure or financial resources, unlock a brave new world of possibilities. Those without such access are left behind. While wages generally have begun to increase, median incomes are not rising fast enough, causing the gap between economic winners and losers to widen. This situation has sparked political protests and dissatisfaction among working-class people around the world. Combined with the uncertain outcome of the presidential election in the U.S., never-ending Brexit negotiations in the U.K., and military conflicts and political posturing around the world, the global economy could stumble if government agents make a serious misstep.

Despite these risks, the IMF continues to forecast stronger global economies in 2020 and beyond. According to the latest update to the IMF World Economic Outlook[3], global growth is forecast to improve from 2.9% in 2019 to 3.3% in 2020 and 3.4% in 2021 due to easing trade tensions, strong labor markets and service sectors, and accommodative monetary policy. IMF economists also see welcome indications that the global slump in manufacturing and trade may have bottomed out.

This positive outlook is contingent on the recovery of less-developed countries currently dealing with stressed political and/or economic conditions: Argentina, Iran, Turkey, Brazil, India, and Mexico. Advanced economies such as Europe and the U.S. are likely to continue to grow less than 2% per year.

This outlook could change quickly if new trade tensions emerge or social unrest around the world intensifies. The IMF ‘vulnerabilities’ table below reports that the financial condition of sovereign nations is vulnerable to economic shocks. This vulnerability is due in part to a lack of room for fiscal or monetary agents to maneuver given high budget deficits and the very low level of government interest rates in many countries. Businesses and households in developed economies are generally solid, but households in emerging economies remain insecure.

Bottom line: Economic expansions don’t die of old age. U.S. and international economies successfully navigated a year full of social and political tensions and uncertainty, despite being in the late stage of a record-setting expansion. Low interest rates and muted inflation are enabling businesses and households to take on new ventures where they see a suitable potential reward. And unlike the expansion which preceded the financial crisis of 2008-2009, ‘asset bubbles’ and excessive risk-taking have been limited due to the many disruptions experienced during 2019 and the uncertain future outlook.

While risks to this outlook are clear and present, we are cautiously optimistic that policymakers and financial markets will continue to thread the needle between crisis and excess, and that 2020 will be a relatively peaceful and prosperous new year.

Marcia Clark, CFA, MBA

Senior Research Analyst, Warren Street Wealth Advisors

DISCLOSURES

Investment Advisor Representative, Warren Street Wealth Advisors, LLC., a Registered Investment Advisor

The information presented here represents opinions and is not meant as personal or actionable advice to any individual, corporation, or other entity. Any investments discussed carry unique risks and should be carefully considered and reviewed by you and your financial professional. Nothing in this document is a solicitation to buy or sell any securities, or an attempt to furnish personal investment advice. Warren Street Wealth Advisors may own securities referenced in this document. Due to the static nature of content, securities held may change over time and current trades may be contrary to outdated publications.

Form ADV available upon request 714-876-6200


[1] https://www.slickcharts.com/sp500/returns

[2] https://www.thebalance.com/stocks-and-bonds-calendar-year-performance-1980-2013-417028

[3] https://blogs.imf.org/2020/01/20/tentative-stabilization-sluggish-recovery/