On Our Minds

Digital Currencies Gaining Legitimacy

The creation of cryptocurrencies or digital currencies such as Bitcoin has bankers, financiers and governments pondering the long-term potential economic and political ramifications for the future. While the increasing use of digital currencies demonstrates the power of a secure, secretive payment transfer system, it also has created a loophole from government control.

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Biden Creating New "New Deal"

The S&P 500 Index grew 5.8% in the first quarter in response to the massive fiscal stimulus and the anticipation of a significant economic rebound. The recent passage of the $1.9 trillion federal stimulus package added to the previous five major stimulus bills totaling over $5.2 trillion. Lawmakers as well as the Federal Reserve have responded dramatically to the COVID pandemic flooding the market with liquidity and the markets responded positively. The COVID-relief money flooding into depository institutions is being used for consumption and investment and helping corporate earnings rebound quickly.

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Economic recovery is underway

With the completion of the fourth quarter of 2020 corporate earnings releases, investors are monitoring daily COVID headlines, rising interest rates, and the potential for a new stimulus program. Corporate earnings were mostly better than expected and guidance for the year ahead was surprisingly strong.

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Initial market in President Biden's first days

The S&P 500 Index was down 1% in January based on investors’ revised expectations of corporate revenue growth and earnings. First, the COVID-19 vaccine distribution and inoculation process is proceeding slowly while the virus is mutating. The new strains appear to be slightly more virulent and the vaccination timeline will take longer and delay economic normalization. Second, the peaceful installation of the Biden Administration with impactful policy changes have added uncertainty. New executive orders are being launched daily with an emphasis so far on changing carbon emissions, raising the minimum wage and bringing about social justice. Third, the expectation for further fiscal stimulus in the next 100 days is losing its enthusiasm. The passage of another $1.9 trillion relief package so soon after the recently passed $900-million package seems excessive even for the new Congress.

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Investment Market Update, Q3 2020

The S&P 500 and Nasdaq index had wonderful performance during the third quarter, with returns of 8.5% and 11%, respectively. However, pre-election politics obstructing a new federal stimulus package and an escalation in COVID cases caused both indexes to decline in September. The political stalemate over aid to bailout states and cities is dampening confidence. A multi-trillion-dollar stimulus package will eventually be implemented that should focus support for small businesses and unemployed individuals. The interminable wait for a COVID vaccine is also weighing on the markets and suppressing economic activity. The year-end target for a vaccine is unlikely, although a “cocktail” of antibiotics and steroids has shown to help patients recover, so the management of the virus is becoming more tenable. With the health crisis reduced, we should expect a gradual return to a stable growth economy.

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Market Starting to Show Improvement

I hope you are having a healthy summer and thought I would provide a summary of the August market activity.

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Market showing resiliency in some sectors

Despite the concerns about strained relations with China, increased COVID infections, social protests, weaker earnings, high U.S. unemployment and the November election, the S&P 500 Index is up 1% for the year while the Nasdaq Index is up 19.7%. The increasing spread of the virus is suppressing a healthy economic recovery as consumers and businesses remain conservative in their spending. U.S. leadership in Washington is debating another stimulus package.

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Investment Market Update, Q2 2020

The S&P 500 Index showed great resilience to the negative news flow and achieved the best quarterly performance since 1998. Despite media reports about the virus infection rate increases, potential new tariffs on European and Chinese goods, and early Presidential election polls, the market rebounded from the first quarter decline. The S&P 500 Index is still down by 4% year-to-date, but the Nasdaq is up 12.1%. This disparity is the real news for the markets as investors crowd into the digital age/new economy companies while remaining indifferent to the deep value and cyclically-oriented sectors. Apple, Amazon, Alphabet, Microsoft and Facebook were the dominant market leaders while Boeing, Caterpillar, General Electric and General Motors all declined. The information technology sector rose 31% in the first half of the year, basic materials declined 4%, industrials fell 10%, financials dropped 17%, and energy cratered 40%. Small cap and mid-cap indexes underperformed, with declines of 13% each, which indicates investors are wary of the heavy-weightings in deeply cyclical bank, retail and REIT stocks.

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Growth is on the Horizon

The S&P 500 Index has rebounded 35% from the low on March 23 and is now only down 6% year-to-date. The rally was slow and deliberate as the headlines shifted from a virus-induced economic lockdown to a gradual re-opening. The economic re-start will revitalize small and large business activity and inspire consumers to emerge from their shelter-in-place.

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Growth Poised to Follow Re-opening of the Economy

Investors reconsidered the emotionally-oversold market in the month of April and bravely pushed the market higher by 12.7% even before news about the virus infection curve flattening. Since the “shelter-at-home” policies have reduced the infection rate, government policymakers are announcing dates for re-opening the economy. After an economic full-stop and 26 million Americans losing jobs, an economic restart will be a slow process.  By staging a deliberately slow ramp-up in economic activity, the government hopes to prevent the healthcare system from being overwhelmed. While Wall Street and the markets are anticipating a “V-shaped” economic recovery, Main Street may experience more of a Nike “swoosh-shaped” recovery. 

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