March Market Madness

During this time last year, the NCAA canceled March Madness. With college basketball off the table, we were given a different type of madness: Market Madness. The S&P 500 drew down a total of 34% from peak to trough as COVID-19 wreaked havoc across global markets. This week marked the one year anniversary of that drawdown’s market bottom.

In September 2020, we wrote about the astounding fiscal and monetary policy action delivered by both the Federal Reserve and congressional lawmakers in response to the coronavirus. Although we complimented both the central bank and congress, the 2020 Most Valuable Player award quite honestly belongs to Jerome Powell and the Fed.

Today, after fending off last March’s Market Madness, the ball is no longer in the Fed’s court. Instead, The Fed is embodying a more reactive approach, awaiting signs of inflation to cross their 2% target before considering rate hikes or tools such as yield-curve control. Now, it’s our congressional leaders’ turn to play offense using fiscal policy. Their most recent time-out play is the $1.9 trillion stimulus package with embedded $1,400 stimulus payments expected to boost inflation.

Is Inflation Bad?

Let’s take a step back and consider why the Fed is setting a target with inflation. It’s important to distinguish that inflation isn’t as daunting as what’s ingrained in our history books. Sure, the inflationary tales of Zimbabwe and the Weimar Republic might seem scary, but the truth is such situations are rare and due to mismanaged policy in less-developed nations. Typically, mild inflation is a sign of rising consumption and increased demand. Today, this type of inflation can be recognized as reflation1; and in our case, reflation would signify that a return to normalcy is en route. 

Market expectations for inflation are no laughing matter. A re-opening is expected to usher in increased spending in the form of pent-up demand. Input prices such as lumber and copper are already soaring. The five year breakeven treasury rate, which measures investor expectations for inflation, rose to its highest over point ever since 2014. Bonds, whose kryptonite is inflation, witnessed a sell-off that trickled into tech stocks.

But are markets correct to expect this much inflation? Or are markets overshooting their expectations by falling for this inflation pump fake? Perhaps our stay-at-home habits will prevail in the long-run and spending will not stay elevated, resulting in lower inflationary pressures. If so, we could see a rebound in bond prices and tech names. Nevertheless, this is the hotly debated topic among investors at the moment. 

Run The Play

This brings us back to the analogy with our administration’s most recent time-out-play. The $1.9 trillion relief bill is bringing hope to the workers, businesses, institutions, and communities that have struggled throughout this pandemic. As you can see in the chart below, the $1,400 stimulus payments represent a large percent of the package totalling $422 billion. It makes sense for investors to expect increased inflation as consumers now have higher disposable incomes and propensity to consume – but there is a catch.

Source: Committee For a Responsible Federal Budget (CRFB)

What will happen to actual inflation if these stimulus payments don’t make it back into the economy, but instead find their way into the stock market? A survey by Deutsche Bank revealed that individuals between the ages of 25 to 34 intend on placing 50% of the received payment into the stock market. Ultimately, the survey found that younger and high income earners eyed the stock market as the targeted destination for this income.

Source: Deutsche Bank Asset Allocation, dgDIG, RealVisionFinance
Data presented on 3/08/2021

The Deutsche Bank survey, like any other, is going to be scrutinized for sampling error, but we don’t see something like the above being too far-fetched. The recent retail frenzy with “meme stocks2” like GameStop, Blackberry, and AMC has given rise to retail investing. Popular communities like r/WallStreetBets on Reddit have become a breeding ground for investors to commingle. Even more likely are your neighbors, who watched people get rich on the market’s 2020 rally, itching to pummel some of their stimulus money into the S&P 500.

These $1,400 payments are intended to increase demand for goods and prompt businesses to hire more workers, eventually raising wages. If these payments seek risk-assets instead, we could see a halt in the reflation narrative and a prolonged unemployment recovery.

Another risk to consider is the risk of financial stability. We’re seeing speculative behavior, especially from retail investors piling into stocks with less regard for the underlying fundamentals. At the end of the day, it’s quite possible to see a lack of wage growth in the economy while management teams of inefficient and highly-indebted companies get rewarded for little to no profitability.

The Bottom Line

We aren’t here to debate whether or not you should save or spend the money, let’s leave that to Reddit and Twitter. However, should a substantial portion of stimulus payments see capital markets as a more attractive destination than the underlying economy, the risks to reflation and financial stability must not be overlooked.     

We’ll see whether or not the $1.9 trillion time-out play will win the economic recovery game and prevent further Market Madness… if not, let’s hope it at least takes us into overtime.

Footnotes:

  1. Reflation represents increased price levels as a result of monetary or fiscal policy as a means to combat deflation.  
  2. “Meme stocks” are stocks that have gained traction from retail audiences such as Reddit or investment communities. GameStop and AMC are just a few of the many names with this retail comradery, earning these stocks the nickname “meme stocks” and causing a surge in prices throughout early 2021.

Sources: 

Committee For a Responsible Congressional Budget 

Deustche Bank Survey

YCharts

Phillip Law, Portfolio Analyst

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.

Is Tesla Flying Too Close to the Sun?

743%. That’s how much Tesla stock (Ticker: TSLA) returned in 20201. Most of us are aware of the bifurcation between the market’s seemingly invisible ceiling and the economy’s continued disarray, but nobody could have foreseen that Elon Musk and his army of “musketeers” would be amongst those most rewarded for owning increased allocations of TSLA stock.

In fact, 2020 was an eventful year for the electric vehicle company. Among a series of roller coaster weeks, a stock split announcement, and raging debate over analyst price targets, perhaps TSLA’s most noteworthy 2020 phenomenon was its inclusion in the S&P 500 Index – a profound move that has us concerned over the stock’s perceived immortality at the forefront.

On December 21, 2020, the S&P 500 Index committee formally added the “profitable” carmaker to the index after denying TSLA index entry earlier in the year. The circumstances around this inclusion eerily resembles something we’ve seen before. Does “You’ve Got Mail” ring a bell? That’s right – we see multiple uncanny parallels between the TSLA and former net stock giant: American Online (AOL).

Echoes of The Past

On December 23, 1998, Standard & Poor’s announced it would make American Online the first “net” stock featured in the S&P 500 Index. Leading up to the announcement, AOL rallied 510% year-to-date2, before ending the year with a return of 585%. Compare this to TSLA, which had run-up 388%3 by the time the committee made its announcement on November 16, 2020. As mentioned previously, TSLA’s 2020 return was 743%. Notice here that a large proportion of TSLA’s 2020 return came in the last month and a half in the year…talk about upward volatility.

Arguably, the most intriguing similarity between these two stocks is the amount of price action driven by momentum and fear of missing out (FOMO). Investors overlooked red flags related to both AOL’s fundamentals and underlying profitability of tech stocks. AOL eventually lost 91%4 of its market value after a failed merger with Time-Warner cable. Meanwhile, valuations of tech stocks (represented by the Nasdaq Index) peaked in early 2000 before seeing 78%5 of its value disintegrate. Fast forward to the end of 2020, you have Tesla, a company whose “profitability” is primarily tied to energy credits, octupling (8x) its stock price to levels many investors deem uncomfortable.

Will TSLA suffer the same fate as AOL and other dotcom counterparts? Obviously 2021 is a different year. The carmaker makes electric-powered cars, not an instant messaging platform. We do acknowledge that historical performance is not indicative of future performance; and that correlation does not equal causation. However, it’s important to remember that those who don’t learn from history are doomed to repeat it.

How Much TSLA Do You REALLY Own?

TSLA’s inclusion in the S&P 500 Index raises a new challenge for investors: hidden concentration risk. With TSLA now a part of the NASDAQ, Russell 1000, and widely regarded S&P 500, owning index funds inherently carries TSLA exposure. Borrowing from our friends over at WisdomTree, imagine a scenario where Portfolio A holds broad index funds in addition to a few well-known names.

What investors thought was a 2.50% allocation to TSLA is at 4.00%6. I know, I know. 4% doesn’t seem like a big deal. Besides, what investor puts 90% of their equity allocation into only broad U.S. ETFs? (You’d be surprised). The more important point though, is that volatile price action with TSLA can hide how much of the stock you really own.

At the end of 2019, TSLA shares were at $83.67. As of Friday, January 15, 2021 – the stock sits at $824.91 – almost ten times over its stock price just a year ago. Let’s say you owned Portfolio A on December 31, 2019. As of January 15 this year, TSLA would comprise 19% of Portfolio A’s exposure (see Appendix A). Obviously, price appreciation and concentration risk create their own problems (e.g., skewed returns, tax consequences), but when the underlying rationale for that price appreciation is in question by the investment community at large, you could have an even bigger problem on your hands.

 Will TSLA Fall Back Down to Earth?

Today, it seems as if TSLA has really shot over the moon, multiplying its stock price ten times in a little over a year. Will the carmaker continue to defy odds throughout 2021? Or, is Tesla a ticking-time bomb waiting to explode?

We at Warren Street Wealth Advisors aren’t equity research moguls here to publish a Buy, Sell, or Hold on this highly debated stock. However, we do acknowledge that no company is immune from idiosyncratic risk. Whether Tesla can stay above the influx of foreign competition (e.g., NIO, Volkswagen), or whether or not valuations are outstretched represent just a few of many risks to the company’s stock price.

One observation fueling TSLA’s controversy is that despite having a much larger market cap relative to other established vehicle manufacturers (see above), the company only generated $28.2 billion in sales7. Compare this to a combined $1.1 trillion in sales7 for all its auto competitors listed above. How can a company, which does a fraction of its competitors’ sales, be worth more than all of them combined? Again, TSLA isn’t just a car company – it’s thought to be a generational leader driving the next revolution in clean energy; but nevertheless, some food for thought while you’re on the road.

Tesla’s ride sure was wild in 2020, and nobody can guarantee what will happen in 2021. However, as prudent investors, it’s important to not overlook the implications that a high-flying stock can have on client portfolios. We’re not here to argue whether Tesla’s run has just begun or if the stock’s price is dangerously inflated. But if the latter of those two ideas rings true, the world could be shocked when it sees electricity and a bubble come together.

Footnotes:

  1. YTD total return as of 12/31/2020 sourced to YCharts.
  2. YTD total return for 12/23/1998 and 12/31/1998 sourced to historicalstockprice.com.
  3. YTD total return as of 11/16/2020.
  4. AOL’s market cap plummeted from $226 billion to roughly $20 billion in 2003, sourced to Bezinga.
  5. NASDAQ percent off high spanning 12/31/1997 to 12/31/2003.
  6. 4.04% is the summation of multiplying TSLA weight in index by index weight in portfolio.
  7. Trailing twelve-month figures.

Appendix A

For any questions regarding international investments, emerging markets, or wealth management, please call 714-876-6200 or email phillip@warrenstreetwealth.com

Phillip Law, Portfolio Analyst

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.

How Will Emerging Markets “Emerge” From 2020?

It’s no doubt that U.S. equities remain the protagonist of the past decade. The longest U.S. economic expansion, coupled with the blossoming of numerous tech stocks like Amazon and Tesla, helped the S&P 500 climb to record highs. That was soon followed by the U.S. stock market’s astounding recovery in 2020, which continues to capture the attention of global investors.

Many forget, however, that the decade before looked entirely different. Back then, we had an entirely different “darling” called emerging markets which left the S&P 500 in the dust.

Data spanning 12-31-1999 to 12-31-2009

During the 2000’s, emerging market investments drastically outperformed the S&P 500 by 188.1% on a total return basis. Steadying economic data and optimistic outlooks for EM nations including Brazil, Russia, India, and China, or the BRIC nations, painted narratives of a new global convergence. Meanwhile, U.S. stocks continued limping from the aftermath of the dotcom bubble.

The Case for Emerging Markets

EM investments invest in the securities of a less developed country with improving economic conditions and increased involvement with the global economy. Aside from the BRIC nations, this includes countries such as Vietnam, Indonesia, Africa, and Argentina. EM regions are attractive for the following reasons:

  • Growing Contribution to GDP: Over the past few years, emerging economies contributed an increasingly higher percent share to global productivity. EM contribution to GDP was 56.9% in 2019, while advanced economies contributed 43.1%. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) forecasts this trend to continue into 2024, making emerging markets an attractive long-term investment opportunity.
Data as of 6-30-2020. Source: IMF
  • Favorable Demographics: 85% of the world’s population, or about 6 billion people, reside within emerging countries. Over 50% of the global population under the age of 30 live in EM nations. This will fuel a rising-middle class in years to come. Increased productivity amongst large-working populations will also uplift the region’s standard of living.
  • Hot Spot for Disruptive Innovation: Emerging markets typically lack the infrastructure and technologies of developed nations. This presents ample opportunity for the region’s younger, more tech-savvy population to embrace innovation. Global leaders including the World Bank have also recognized the tech disparity and have provided funding for infrastructure enhancements.

COVID-19 in Emerging Markets – Some Juggle While Others Struggle

Contrary to expectations, emerging markets have weathered the pandemic better than expected. A younger population and lower obesity rates have helped certain emerging countries wither down mortality rates. Accommodative fiscal and monetary policy through asset purchases and fiscal stimulus modeled after developed nations helped keep many economies afloat.

East Asian countries, China in particular, have exemplified great handling of the Coronavirus. As a result, EM has rallied 24.3% since the market bottomed (data spanning March 23 to December 8). China is also the only country expected to report positive GDP growth for 2020. Although it’s best to view Chinese data with a skeptical eye, investors cannot deny the nation’s swift return to economic activity.

Data as of 12-08-2020

Nevertheless, China’s success isn’t shared by all. Developing nations dependent on oil exports, tourism, or general commodities have and will continue to struggle as trade activity remains low. Certain EM hotspots including Russia and Brazil are also finding difficulty with containing virus spread. Highly indebted economies face risks of debt sustainability with limited room for policy enactment.

The Emerging Markets Story…to be Valued

EM equities experienced a mass exodus in March as investors questioned whether the infrastructure and economic inexperience of developing countries could properly combat the Coronavirus. Fund flows faced pressures until investors began acknowledging fruitful economic and health responses to COVID-19. Even after rallying this year, the long-term valuations for emerging markets look attractive.

Data as of 9-30-2020. Source: StarCapital

According to StarCapital research, emerging markets have the cheapest cyclically adjusted price to earnings ratio (CAPE) and price-to-book (P/B) ratio relative to developed countries over the next 10-15 years. Factor in the expected structural improvements, emerging markets exhibit ample opportunity for value appreciation should the demographic and technological trends fall in line. You may also find comfort in knowing that emerging markets are expected to have the sharpest recovery post COVID-19.

Data as of 10-16-2020. Source: Wall Street Journal

What Will the Next Decade Look Like?

Despite some commendable pandemic responses and attractive valuations over the next decade, it is imperative to consider COVID-19’s impact on the region’s secular trends. Take China’s “Great Rebalancing,” for example. After years of export-driven GDP growth, the country adopted a “Great Rebalancing” plan to generate their economic prowess from organic consumer-driven activity rather than overseas trade.

When the Coronavirus struck, both Chinese businesses and consumers halted activity. Unwilling consumers, shocked by the events in Wuhan, emptied the streets as factories shut down. Once a recovery was en-route, business activity quickly climbed back to pre-pandemic levels, but scarred consumers left their homes thrift-conscious and hesitant. This led some to believe that China’s “Great Rebalancing” plan was at stake.

The Chinese customer today, has regained confidence, mainly from the government’s ability to eliminate almost any possibility of second wave. As we said earlier, China’s success is not shared by all, and whether or not secular trends will hold in other emerging nations — who have varying health and economic conditions – will be a mixed bag.

Bringing It All Home

Although prudent investors can exploit opportunities in countries that have exhibited short-term resiliency, the ability to maintain a long-term perspective and understand the landscape of your investments is keen. Here at Warren Street Wealth Advisers, our focus is not only to avoid home-country bias and to uncover the next areas of outperformance, but also to educate our clients about our long-term decision making.

For any questions regarding international investments, emerging markets, or wealth management, please call 714-876-6200 or email phillip@warrenstreetwealth.com

Phillip Law, Portfolio Analyst

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.  

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/

‘Risk On’ trades take the lead in October

‘Risk On’ trades take the lead in October

Key Takeaways

  • U.S. growth stocks and emerging markets jump-started the 4th quarter with returns of 2.82% and 4.22% respectively as investors shifted away from ‘risk off’ assets such as defensive stocks and U.S. Treasury bonds
  • The FOMC dropped its federal funds interest rate target for the 3rd time in 2019 to 1.5% – 1.75%. Chairman Powell indicated this cut was the last of the ‘midcycle adjustments’, causing investors to speculate about a pause in rate changes for the next few FOMC meetings.
  • The U.S. and China made progress toward a trade resolution, though the pace and magnitude of the agreement is unclear. Global economies seem to be successfully navigating geopolitical tensions in Hong Kong, unrest in Chile, water wars in Egypt, and the never-ending Brexit saga, among others.
  • Conclusion: Barring a major geopolitical misstep, the U.S. stock market could end the year with a return in the top 25% since 1998. U.S. bonds may end with their best return since 2010.

Global stocks begin to close the gap with the U.S.

The 4th quarter is off to a great start! Despite a sharp decline the first few days of the month, global stock markets were very strong in October. Emerging Markets equity beat the S&P 500 for the second month in a row, up 4.22% versus 2.17%[1]. In typical ‘risk on’, ‘risk off’ fashion, bonds and gold lagged the field in October. Commodities stayed within sight of the leaders at +1.24% for the month, but U.S. and Emerging Markets bonds were far behind at +0.41% and +0.30%, respectively. For the year-to-date, Europe, Australasia, and Far East (EAFE) is picking up the pace with a return of 20.05% versus 23.16% for the S&P 500. The year-to-date leader as of October 31st is U.S. growth stocks at 26.77%.

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

This strong start to the 4th quarter can be attributed to progress with China/U.S. trade negotiations and no significant negative news about the other international worries facing the markets: Brexit, political uncertainty in the U.S. and overseas, tensions between Hong Kong and China, and soft business confidence around the world. If none of these go terribly wrong, 2019 is on track to be in the top 25% of S&P 500 stock market returns since 1988[2].

Amid this backdrop of relative stability, the Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) lowered its short-term target interest rate for the third time in 2019 to a range of 1.5% to 1.75%[3]. Fed Chairman Jerome Powell stated that U.S. economic growth is steady despite continued weakness in business investment and exports, and core inflation is running below the Fed’s 2% target. The October rate cut was characterized as the final ‘midcycle adjustment’ to help support the maturing U.S. economic expansion. Chairman Powell indicated the FOMC will continue to monitor economic activity to determine the appropriate level of the federal funds rate going forward. His remarks did not include previous language about the Fed acting “as appropriate to sustain the expansion”, causing market watchers to expect a pause in rate changes going forward.

Source: BNP Paribas Asset Management, Bloomberg as of 11/4/2019

In the days following the rate cut, intermediate and longer-term Treasury yields rose, reversing the yield curve inversion seen for much of 2019 and signaling diminishing investor expectations for a near-term recession.

The return to an upwardly-sloping yield curve is a relief to market watchers. A healthy banking system requires short term rates to be lower than long term rates for banks to maintain consistent profit margins. Higher long-term yields encourage investors to take a longer-term perspective and make more strategic investments. Institutions such as pension plans also have a better chance of satisfying their obligations to future retirees. In general, financial markets do a much better job allocating capital when short-term interest rates are lower than long term rates.

Source: www.treasury.gov

Looking beyond Treasuries, corporate bond yield spreads have drifted back toward the extremely low levels seen in early 2018. This is another indication that investors are comfortable taking risk right now. At Warren Street Wealth Advisors, we’re watching for excessive risk taking which could mean an asset price ‘bubble’ and potentially the end of the stock and bond rally. The occasional drops in market prices we see from time to time are a healthy sign that investors are making rational decisions rather than reckless speculation.

Corporate bond risk premiums drift near historic lows

Let’s not forget the global economy, which the Fed has often mentioned as one reason for reducing interest rates this year. Though the data remains mixed, the International Monetary Fund is forecasting global GDP to close 2019 up 3%, with the U.S. at 1.7% and Emerging and Developing Economies up nearly 4%[4]. The IMF expects global growth to improve in 2020 to 3.4% as Europe adjusts to the new tariff landscape and political uncertainties diminish.

Global GDP projected to remain low but positive

A global recession is highly unlikely through the end of 2020 and probably longer, but there are significant risks to this outlook! The IMF is urging political leaders to defuse trade tensions and reinvigorate multilateral cooperation, rather than focus solely on accommodative monetary policy to keep the world economy afloat.

Bottom line: The U.S. economic expansion remains on track and should end the year well, barring significant missteps in the global economic and political landscape. Though it’s been a bumpy ride, investors are likely to close the books on 2019 with healthy profits from both stocks and bonds, and meaningful progress toward achieving their financial goals.

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

Growth stocks take the lead year-to-date

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

[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] Source: www.stockcharts.com

[3] https://www.federalreserve.gov/monetarypolicy/files/monetary20191030a1.pdf

[4] https://www.imf.org/en/Publications/WEO/Issues/2019/10/01/world-economic-outlook-october-2019

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. 

 

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