What to Expect For Expense Deductions if You’ve Taken a Paycheck Protection Program Loan

Earlier in 2020 the “Paycheck Protection Program” was passed, which allowed for much needed aid for struggling small businesses during the Coronavirus pandemic. One of the main features of the Paycheck Protection Program was the ability to potentially have your loan amount forgiven, tax free. 

While this is a great benefit, one of the many grey areas that arose was whether or not expenses that were paid by the business using PPP funds were eligible for a tax deduction. While the funds may have been spent on business related items that would normally be tax deductible, it was unclear whether this same treatment would be available for those who received tax free PPP loan forgiveness.

On November 18th, 2020 the IRS and Treasury Department Secretary Steven Mnuchin issued some additional guidance to assist in clearing up some of the confusion. The statement issued expressed that “since businesses are not taxed on the proceeds of a forgiven PPP loan, the expenses are not deductible. This results in neither a tax benefit nor tax harm since the taxpayer has not paid anything out of pocket.” It then went on to state that “if a business reasonably believes that a PPP loan will be forgiven in the future, expenses related to the loan are not deductible, whether the business has filed for forgiveness or not.”  Therefore, they encouraged businesses to file for forgiveness as soon as possible. In the case where a PPP loan was expected to be forgiven, and it is not, the statement outlined that businesses will be able to deduct those expenses.

As you can imagine, this was not the desired outcome for many business owners. Currently there is a fight within Congress, the Treasury Department, as well as in the business and tax communities regarding this interpretation of the PPP language. Many in Congress from both sides of the aisle argue that this interpretation of the language in the Bill does not align with Congressional intent. For example, Senate Finance Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and Ranking Member Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) released a joint statement expressing their opinion that the expenses should be considered deductible. With Congress currently negotiating both a spending bill and second stimulus package, many hope the rules around deductibility of these expenses will be specifically outlined soon.

If you are a business owner impacted by this, unfortunately the best course of action is to remain patient with hopes of some additional Congressional action coming shortly. As always with Congress, it is unclear when they will act and what will be in the final version of the Bill. Ideally, this will be addressed prior to Congress’ holiday adjournment on December 18th, 2020. For the time being we are forced to assume that these expenses will not be deductible until additional Congressional action says otherwise. As always, when it comes to anything tax-related, your best course of action is always to work directly with your CPA and tax professional.

Source – https://home.treasury.gov/news/press-releases/sm1187

Source – https://www.jdsupra.com/legalnews/the-irs-forgiven-ppp-loans-and-business-88352/#_edn25

Source- https://www.finance.senate.gov/chairmans-news/grassley-wyden-treasury-misses-the-mark-on-ppp-loan-expense-deductibility-guidance

Justin Rucci, 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.

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.

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/

September 2019 Market Review

With competing economic data, where should investors turn?

Oil shocks, impeachment, and Brexit – Oh My!

Key Takeaways

  • U.S. stock and bond markets closed the 3rd quarter with an impressive – though volatile – year-to-date return. The S&P 500 index ended September up nearly 19%, the best 3-quarter return since 1997, while the Barclays Aggregate Bond index posted an outstanding return near 8%.
  • Economic data remained mixed. The U.S. Consumer Confidence index fell by -9.1%, much more than expected, but unemployment fell to 3.5%, the lowest in 50 years.
  • The House of Representatives initiated an impeachment investigation of President Trump after a ‘whistleblower’ leaked information about the President asking Ukrainian officials to investigate Democratic candidate Joe Biden’s son.
  • Drone strikes on Saudi Arabian oil installations shut down 50% of Saudi oil production, about 5% of world production, briefly sending oil prices off the rails and adding to recession fears.
  • Prime Minister Boris Johnson was deemed to have acted illegally by shutting down the U.K. Parliament, putting pressure on him to come to a Brexit resolution with the European Union.
  • Conclusion: The U.S. economy remains on track for a good year. Despite the markets’ willingness to shrug off trade wars and geopolitical uncertainty, significant challenges are still out there. Investors should prepare  for renewed market turbulence as these issues resolve themselves over the coming months.

Stock and bond markets rebound from August’s slump

The 3rd quarter was quite a roller coaster ride! Gold and other ‘safe’ assets were the go-to market segments for the quarter. Gold led the way with a return of +4.26%[1], despite a slip in late September. U.S. bonds took second place, edging out U.S. stocks with a return of 2.34% versus 1.75%. International stocks were the top performers in September at +3.7%, but continued to lag the U.S. for the quarter at -0.79%. Emerging markets equities were in second place for the month at +1.91%, but are far behind for the year and quarter, losing -4.75% between July 1st and September 30th.

Market returns 7/1/2019 – 10/4/2019

https://stockcharts.com/h-perf/ui

The financial markets continued to react strongly to economic news and geopolitical events, though the magnitude of the swings began to subside. This moderation is a bit surprising given the unexpected -9% drop in Consumer Confidence and the Purchasing Manufacturers Index falling to its lowest level since June 2009. But investor fatigue is bound to set in sooner or later, and current events just seem to build on a base with which investors have become wearily familiar.

Source: https://ycharts.com/indicators/us_pmi

The economy created only 136,000 new jobs in September – certainly nothing to brag about, but good enough this late in the expansion. At the same time, the unemployment rate fell to 3.5% – the lowest in half a century – and the overall employment ratio increased to 61%, the highest since December 2008. Apparently, the U.S. job market is alive and well…at least for the time being.

Despite competing political and economic pressures, U.S. and developed international stock markets are on track for a very strong year. As of October 7, the S&P 500 was up more than 19%, gold was up over 16%, and the Europe, Australasia, and Far East index was up nearly 12%. But be wary of another 4th quarter slump like we saw in 2018! Given mixed economic data, the impeachment inquiry of President Trump, and continuing trade tensions, any of these could derail the markets – at least temporarily – between now and December 31st.

Market returns 1/1/2019 – 10/4/2019

https://stockcharts.com/h-perf/ui

One of the less-reported casualties in the U.S.-China trade war is the agricultural sector. Inflation-adjusted prices for corn, wheat, and soybeans have been declining for decades, largely due to increased productivity and reduced global population growth. Add trade tariffs and the wettest 12 months on record[3], and farmers are facing a ‘perfect storm’ of negative events. Smaller farms are going out of business, and the number of farms in the U.S. is heading below 2 million, the lowest in nearly a century.

But despite the significant challenges facing the agriculture and manufacturing sectors, the U.S. economy is holding steady. Personal income and consumer spending rose in August for the second month in a row. Retail sales were good, and housing showed signs of renewed activity.

 

As reported by the Wall Street Journal on September 25, U.S. home-price growth is slowing and mortgage rates are historically low at around 4%[4]. With such low interest rates, home price affordability remains within reach as indicated by the sharp drop in the Case-Shiller Home Price Index in 2019, shown on the chart above.

Forecasters expect housing to contribute slightly to GDP for the first time since 2017 as home sales and construction increased in August.

With so much going on in the world, it’s hard to know which direction to turn! For a straightforward summary of the likely impact of these competing economic factors on global growth, we refer you to the graphic below prepared by The Conference Board (publisher of the Leading Economic Indicator index.)

The Conference Board economic outlook

Bottom line: the U.S. economy is on track for solid growth in 2019, slowing somewhat thereafter. A recession is not in the forecast for the next 12 months, though demographic factors point to slower growth worldwide in the coming years.

Given the myriad challenges facing the global economy right now, negative surprises are definitely a possibility as we navigate the final quarter of 2019. Investors may just have to close their eyes, hold on tight to a prudent investment plan, and ride out the inevitable turbulence in the coming months.

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] Performance represented by ETFs designed to track various market segments: SPY (S&P 500), AGG (Barclay’s Aggregate Bond index), EEM (emerging markets equity), EFA (developed international equity), GLD (gold prices)

[2] Performance represented by ETFs designed to track various market segments: SPY (S&P 500), AGG (Barclay’s Aggregate Bond index), EEM (emerging markets equity), EFA (developed international equity), GLD (gold prices)

[3] https://www.wsj.com/graphics/us-farmers-miserable-year/?mod=article_inline&mod=hp_lead_pos5

[4] https://blogs.wsj.com/economics/2019/09/25/newsletter-housings-maybe-rebound-chinas-decoupling-warning-and-consumers-cloudy-crystal-ball/?guid=BL-REB-39607&dsk=y

August market commentary

In an uncertain market environment, which is better?

The U.S. stock market feasts on recession fears before regaining its risk appetite in late August

Key Takeaways

  • President Trump added, then delayed, another tariff on Chinese goods, exacerbating trade tensions and concerns about the strength of the global economy. As talks with China resume, Britain’s new prime minister attempts to achieve a ‘hard Brexit’, and the Eurozone PMI index falls into contraction territory.
  • The U.S. economic menu included something for everyone: for the pessimist, softer than expected gain in overall jobs with only 130,000 payroll growth in August. For the optimist, the broader measure of civilian employment surged by 590,000. Manufacturing remains a worry as contraction in that sector continues. Despite the generally stable U.S. economy, the Fed cut rates by -0.25% in July and is expected to cut again in September.
  • Conclusion: Tariffs and political uncertainty are depressing an already delicate global appetite for risk. The U.S. is buffered by its large domestic market and expanding trade with alternative suppliers, but isn’t immune to a global slowdown. Lower interest rates may provide a brief energy boost, but won’t develop core strength in business investment. With no political solution in sight, prudent investors should diversify exposure to provide a steady diet of modest returns while avoiding the binge/purge cycle of ‘chasing yield’.

Stocks are near record levels, but investors are uneasy

4Q2019 repeats 4Q2018?

As reported in the Wall Street Journal on September 9, despite a buoyant stock market so far this month, some investors fear the market may repeat the ‘binge and purge’ cycle experienced in 2018.

Looking as far back as 1928, September is historically the worst month of the year.[1] Given that most of the tensions which led to the market tumble last year are still present – trade tensions, global manufacturing slowdown, falling growth of corporate profits, and political uncertainty at home and abroad – concern may be warranted. Combine these headwinds with diminishing marginal returns from accommodative monetary policy, and we might finally be nearing the end of the longest economic expansion in recent memory. Not that we’re calling for a recession! Just that the growth engines of the global economy are beginning to run out of fuel.

[1] https://www.wsj.com/articles/stocks-are-back-near-records-but-memories-of-2018-leave-investors-uneasy-11568021402

Bonds have been a dietary staple during stock market volatility in recent quarters.

Despite the S&P 500 posting a year-to-date return of nearly 20% as of August 31st, bonds have actually outpaced stocks for the trailing 12-months. The severe tumble of the stock market in late 2018 and again in late July/early August gobbled up more losses than the 2019 recovery has been able to replenish. This despite continuing strength in the U.S. economy and corporate earnings generally surprising on the upside of – admittedly cautious – analyst expectations.

The Fed’s rate cut at the end of July sparked an increase in recession fears, though economic data remains modestly positive.

10-year Treasury yield barely above inflation

Decreasing short-term interest rates are unlikely to spark business appetites for borrowing or lending. While 2% short-term rates are great for speculators, they aren’t that much more enticing than 2.25% or 2.50% interest rates for strategic business investments. In fact, 10-year Treasury bond yields dropped so low in September that they provided no more than 0.25% returns above inflation. While marginal borrowers may consume more debt at these rates, long-term investors will need to look beyond the safest assets for a risk/reward balance that preserves purchasing power while promoting healthy growth.

Manufacturing businesses suffer from a restrictive diet of trade tariffs and global uncertainty.

While the U.S. economy overall remains on solid footing, trade-related businesses are hungry.

Housing starts stabilize

Jobless claims remain low

Retail sales rebound

Housing starts are stable, retail sales have rebounded, and initial claims for unemployment are the lowest in more than a decade…

 

 

…but U.S. manufacturers are in desperate need of an economic shot of Red Bull.

Rising global trade tensions in the wake of U.S. tariffs on steel, aluminum, and lumber imports, as well as those targeted specifically at China, are directly impacting manufacturing activity. According to the National Association for Business Economics (NABE)[1], 76% of goods-producing sector panelists and 42% of TUIC (transportation, utilities, information, communications) panelists reported negative net tariff impacts at their companies.

This impact is illustrated by the significant drop in durable goods orders over the past year or so.

Durable goods orders fall sharply

[2] https://nabe.com/NABE/Surveys/Business_Conditions_Surveys/July_2019_Business_Conditions_Survey_Summary.aspx

[Preceding charts source www.macrotrends.net]

Increasing tariffs are not just eating the lunch of U.S. manufacturing companies. Global exporters are suffering greatly from decreased trade around the world. If we look back at the recovery from the Great Recession, emerging economies such as China are credited with helping the developed world get back on its feet. China in particular built roads, airports, and housing developments with abandon, which boosted earnings for global manufacturing companies, particularly steel and machinery.

But the Chinese economy has had its fill of infrastructure spending, reducing its appetite for imported goods going forward. Combined with the trade war between China and the U.S., exporters have lost a major customer. Eurozone manufacturers have already fallen into ‘contraction’ territory (PMI below 50), and the rest of the world isn’t much better.[3] And Fed Chairman Powell, if you’re listening, lower interest rates won’t have any effect on this trend! No matter how low rates go, businesses won’t go back to the buffet table when demand for their products is already satisfied.

[3] https://www.wsj.com/articles/chinas-power-to-boost-global-economy-is-fading-11564738205?mod=article_inline

Slowdown in China depresses global manufacturing

In an uncertain global economic environment with a reactionary U.S. stock market, diversification is even more important.

Barring major disruptions in trade negotiations, a disorderly ‘Brexit’, or increases in geopolitical unrest, the U.S. stock and bond markets could continue on their upward path for the rest of the year.

That being said, the chance of one of these elements going wrong is significant. Investors should continue to make healthy investment decisions to navigate this uncertain period. The best way to do this is to diversify.

Source: www.portfoliovizualizer.com

A balanced menu of stocks, bonds, and alternative asset classes such as natural resources can provide welcome reduction in volatility while still supporting the pursuit of gains suitable for most investors’ appetites. Which isn’t to say even the most well-diversified investors won’t experience some indigestion along the way! But putting your investment eggs in several market baskets can avoid catastrophic losses and help you achieve a healthy balance of risk and return over the long term.

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

Did the Fed make a mistake? – “A Few Minutes with Marcia”

Welcome back to A Few Minutes with Marcia. My name is Marcia Clark, senior research analyst at Warren Street Wealth Advisors.

Today we’re going to spend a few minutes considering the pros and cons of the Federal Reserve Open Market Committee holding short-term interest rates steady at its June meeting. Most of my comments today are based on the FOMC announcement published on June 19, the press conference with Chairman Jerome Powell shortly thereafter, and remarks by Federal Reserve Governor Lael Brainard on June 21st.

Watch:

 

On June 19, the Federal Reserve Open Market Committee announced its decision to keep short-term interest rates unchanged at 2.25%-2.5%. Did they make a mistake?

To answer this question, let’s put ourselves in the shoes of the Fed and attempt to base our opinion on the available data. The Fed should reduce rates if they see the economy struggling. Is that what they see?

During a speech in Cincinnati on June 21st, Fed Governor Lael Brainard stated his assessment that the most likely path for the economy remains solid. He noted strength in consumer spending and consumer confidence, as well as unemployment at a 50-year low.

He did note a few areas of concern: cautious business investment due to policy uncertainty, slow growth overseas, and muted inflation.

  • Mr. Brainard said: “The downside risks, if they materialize, could weigh on economic activity. Basic principles of risk management in a low neutral rate environment with compressed conventional policy space would argue for softening the expected path of policy when risks shift to the downside.” But what does he mean by ‘compressed conventional policy space’?

The Fed has limited room to maneuver because interest rates are already low, and inflation and employment have not responded to changes in interest rates as predictably as they have in the past. 

  • On the plus side, this means the labor market can strengthen a lot without an acceleration in inflation
  • On the other hand, this low sensitivity along with already low interest rates gives the Fed less ability to buffer the economy in a downturn

 

If the Fed doesn’t get their interest rate call right, the economy could begin to spiral too far up or too far down.

Let’s take a deeper look at why low interest rates present a challenge for the Fed.

  • In the past, the Federal Reserve has cut interest rates 4 to 5 percentage points in order to combat past recessions
  • The chart on slide 6 shows the current Fed Funds rate sitting at less than half where it was before the last two recessions. 
  • Clearly there is less room to run if a recession hits

 

The chart also shows GDP beginning to stabilize at the end of 2016. With GDP on a more steady path, back in 2017 the Fed started raising short-term interest rates toward a more normal level in order to have some ‘dry powder’ for the next recession.

How did we get to this delicate balance point?

In December 2018, the Fed said more rate hikes were appropriate given the strengthening economy. The stock market reacted badly as at the same time trade talks with China were going nowhere and portions of the Treasury yield curve were inverted. Recession fears were on everyone’s mind.

In March 2019, Federal Reserve officials reassure markets that they will be “patient” with increasing short-term interest rates. To quote the FOMC statement after the March meeting: “the case for raising rates has weakened…” Notice that they didn’t say the case for cutting rates has strengthened.

And in June, the FOMC held interest rates steady and stated that the current level of interest rates is consistent with its mission to promote full employment and price stability. In its post-meeting statement, the committee said that the timing and size of future adjustments will be based on economic conditions relative to these two objectives. 

After the announcement, both stocks and bonds reacted positively to the decision, with the stock market indexes touching new highs before falling back a bit at the end of the week. 

Commentators speculated that the markets reacted well because a rate cut could be imminent. Equally likely, however, is that the markets reacted to the lack of a rate hike and prospects that a recession is not around the corner. 

During a press conference after the announcement, Fed chairman Jerome Powell responded to a question by saying that being independent of political pressure or market sentiment has served the country well and would do so in the future. He stated that the FOMC will react to data and trends that are sustainable rather than individual data points that can be volatile

But despite all the evidence, as we approach the end of June an astonishing 100% of futures investors are betting on a rate cut in July. These investors are wrong. 

Why am I so sure they won’t cut rates when commentators and the futures market clearly think differently?

You may have heard the expression ‘pushing on a string’. What this means is that applying force to something with no rigidity won’t have any impact – the string absorbs the force and the force doesn’t go any further. This is the current situation with monetary policy.

Imagine pushing a sofa across your carpeted living room versus pushing a mattress across the same room.

Once the feet of the sofa get out of the dent they made in the carpet, the sofa will move fairly easily. That’s because the sofa is rigid – when you apply force at one end, the sofa moves away from the force.

But a mattress is much more resistant to shifting. That’s because much of the force you apply is absorbed by the cushioning already in the mattress. The mattress will often bend before it will move. The force doesn’t go anywhere or accomplish anything.

The current U.S. economy is like the mattress in this example. The U.S. economy has plenty of available capital and interest rates are already low. Reducing the Fed Funds target from 2.375% to 2.00% is unlikely to accomplish much other than encouraging unwise borrowing and ultimately sparking inflation.

Yes, bad things can happen to our economy and the Fed needs to guard against a recession. But a recession overseas is much more likely than in the U.S., and no U.S. recession has ever been caused by a recession overseas. Dropping interest rates to ease market concerns or satisfy political sentiment is not the Fed’s mandate and would be counterproductive.

Barring some catastrophic political event or natural disaster, the U.S. economy is unlikely to falter between now and mid-July. 

Recognizing the Fed’s dual mandate of stable prices and full employment are both being met at the current level of short-term interest rates, right now the downside risk of lowering rates outweighs the potential stimulus benefit. The FOMC should keep the Fed Funds rate steady when they meet in July.

This has been ‘A Few Minutes with Marcia’. I hope you are a bit clearer on how to assess the likelihood of Fed policy decisions going forward. As always, comments and questions are welcome!

Sources:

 

Marcia Clark, CFA, MBA
Senior Research 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. 

 

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

The bulls are back! But for how long?

Key Takeaways

  • The U.S. economy just exceeded the record for the longest business cycle expansion since economists started recording expansions in the 1930s (120 months plus 1 day)
  • Global trade tensions are impacting manufacturing sectors all around the world; only the U.S. and France show continued expansion, with Germany falling the most
  • Despite these concerns, June 2019 was among the strongest months for the U.S. stock market since 1955, driven largely by the FOMC decision to keep interest rates low and expectations of moderating trade tensions between the U.S. and China
  • An astonishing 100% of futures markets participants expect the Fed to cut the Federal Funds rate between 0.25% and 0.50% in July. Conventional wisdom states that when 100% of market participants expect something, it’s time for rational investors to exit.
  • Conclusion: Forecasts for multiple cuts in the Federal Funds rate are overdone; investors should be prepared for the stock market to react badly if expected rate cuts don’t materialize in July.

When the FOMC announced they would not raise the Federal Funds rate in June, global stock markets cheered.

Despite continuing uncertainty about trade tariffs, the decision not to raise rates was a relief to investors. Stock prices in both Europe and the U.S. jumped immediately after the announcement and held their gains through the rest of the week. Treasury bond prices rallied as well, bringing the 10-year interest rate below 2% for the first time since November 2016.

Source: finance.yahoo.com

This enthusiasm may be warranted as the U.S. economy has reached the longest expansion since economists started recording expansions in the 1930s (120 months plus 1 day), edging past the expansion of 1991 to 2001.

But the markets seem a bit schizophrenic lately in their response to economic data.

Longest expansion since 1930s

After their meeting in mid-June, Federal Reserve officials indicated that monetary policy can remain accomodative because concerns about a weakening economy had increased.

Here is the schizophrenic part: If the economy is indeed slowing, shouldn’t the stock market be cautious since corporate profits are expected to slow? But despite a few bad days and weeks from time to time, the U.S. stock market has hit new highs in 2019. If the Fed becomes more confident about the economy and raises interest rates slightly, this should signal stronger future corporate profits and boost the stock market. But instead of cheers, the prospect of the Fed continuing to ‘normalize’ short-term interest rates has been met with stock market tumbles.

This fearful reaction might be based on historical precedents which are no longer relevant. Some past expansions were indeed derailed by the Fed increasing rates too much. But the last 3 recessions in the U.S. were not sparked by interest rate increases but by market excesses: the Dot Com boom and bust in 1999-2000 and the housing price bubble in 2007-2008 being prime examples.

To better gauge when and if the economic expansion has run its course, investors would be wise to worry less about the Federal Funds rate and more about asset values, business activity, and the strength of labor markets.

According to Dr. David Kelly, chief global strategist for J.P. Morgan Asset Management, the four key areas to watch in regard to ‘expansion killers’ are home building, business fixed investment, motor vehicle sales, and change in inventories.

Dr. David Kelly’s ‘expansion killers’

Recessions since the late 90s have been associated less with interest rates and more with booms and busts in at least one of these areas. Since none of these factors are in ‘boom’ territory, it’s difficult to imagine a ‘bust’ scenario around the corner. As Dr. Kelly said, it’s hard to hurt yourself when jumping out a basement window.

The only leading indicator sitting on the second floor – rather than the basement – is the level of U.S. stock prices relative to earnings. As reported by Ned Davis Research, S&P 500 valuations in June were higher than average, but not by much. Whether you look at current earnings or forward earnings projections, the stock market seems to be fairly valued.

U.S. stock market valuation seems fair

In any case, the Fed may have less ability to influence the economy than people think.

These days inflation seems more responsive to changes in global dynamics such as oil prices rather than domestic economic factors. Changing the Federal Funds rate isn’t likely to make much difference in the current economic environment.

Low wage growth keeps inflation under control

Despite record low unemployment, wage growth has remained subdued helping keep inflation low as participants have begun returning to the job market after being sidelined during the ‘Great Recession’ of 2008-2009.

Range-bound oil prices are also putting downward pressure on inflation. OPEC has been trying to limit oil production for 2 years now, with mixed results. Their goal is to balance excess supply with less demand given the slowing Chinese economy, tariffs, and other political concerns. Despite these efforts, oil supplies are plentiful and prices remain restrained.

U.S. oil production offsets OPEC cuts

Has the Fed done too much? Or perhaps too little? When looking at the Federal Funds rate from a historical perspective, the FOMC has been extraordinarily cautious in its pace of increasing interest rates. Fed governors could certainly make a mistake, but it seems like their slow and steady pace is a wise approach for the foreseeable future. There’s no urgent need to raise rates, and limited value in lowering rates.

FOMC has been cautious ‘normalizing’ interest rates

The primary risk to the global economy, particularly the manufacturing sector, isn’t interest rates but rather trade tensions. The U.S. and France are the only developed economies with manufacturing sectors still in expansion territory. Overseas, Germany’s manufacturing sector has fallen the most as much of its manufactured goods have traditionally been exported to the U.S. and other countries.

With most of the developed world struggling to stay in positive territory, global demand and supply dynamics are likely to keep U.S. inflation near or below the Fed’s 2% target indefinitely.

Global manufacturing feels the bite of tariffs

Despite the modestly positive economic landscape, an astonishing 100% of Eurodollar futures participants expect the Fed to cut the rates between 0.25% and 0.50% in July.

Since the Fed’s decision in June to keep interest rates the same, futures market participants began enthusiastically betting on not just one 0.25% cut, but two cuts in the Federal Funds rate when the FOMC meets in July. Conventional wisdom states that when 100% of market participants expect something, it’s time for rational investors to exit.

After the first flurry of press reports forecasting a rate cut in July, more Fed officials have been speaking publicly about their base case economic scenario being steady, not requiring a rate cut. In recent days futures markets have slowly begun migrating away from projecting two rate cuts in July to only one, but even one cut isn’t justified by the data…at least not yet.

Futures expectations for July rate cuts

If we look forward to the end of the year, according to the CME Group ‘Countdown to FOMC’ as of July 1st over 13% of futures market participants think the Fed Funds rate will end the year between 2% and 2.25% (0.25% below the current level); another 13% believe the rate will be between 1.25% and 1.50% (1% below the current level!); and the median expectation is split with about 35% forecasting a Fed Funds rate between 1.5% and 1.75% (0.75% below the current level) and another 35% forecasting the Fed Funds rate to be between 1.75% and 2.0% by December (0.50% below the current level).

Barring a steep recession in the near term, expectations for multiple cuts in the Federal Funds rate are misguided. As my colleague at WSWA put it, the Fed is stuck in the unenviable position of a parent in the supermarket with a fractious child demanding candy before dinner. The right thing is to say No, but it’s difficult for both the parent (the Fed) and bystanders not to give in to the pressure.

Futures forecast for rate hikes by December

 

With all this uncertainty, where can investors find good opportunities?

The answer is: In the global equity markets, particularly in Europe. The U.S. market should be fine going forward, but the best returns may have already come and gone. Though European economies are having a tough time right now, the European stock markets have been punished perhaps more than is warranted. In fact, the price of European stocks as of May 31st is less than 13 times compared to the U.S. stock market at close to 16 times earnings.

International stock valuation cheaper than U.S.

The way ahead in Europe is not going to be smooth, but long-term investors should consider dipping into international markets where stock valuations are more attractive. Overseas countries are generally behind the U.S. in their business cycles and have more growth to come.

Conclusion: Investors and the Fed should stay the course. Sometimes the best decision is to do nothing…for now.

Yes, the global economy is struggling right now. Corporations and governments have been issuing too much debt. Trade tensions and uncertainty make it difficult for businesses to develop long-term growth strategies. Political tensions across Europe and the U.K. are adding uncertainty to global economies.

Despite these concerns, the Fed should not lower interest rates. In fact, there is a case to be made to raise rates to balance outcomes between savers and speculators, plus keep some dry powder for the next recession.

Long-term investors should consider international assets. This is not the environment to make big bets either in or out of the financial markets. Instead, investors should stay engaged in the markets and be selective about segments likely to provide a reasonable risk/return profile over the remaining business cycle. With government bond yields extremely low and U.S. stock prices fully valued, carefully selected international securities may be the right choice for patient investors able to handle some bumps along the way.

Marcia Clark, CFA
Senior Research Analyst

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