economy, income, interest rates, retirement, risk management

Where to from here? July 2020

It has been a difficult year on many levels. Given the past few months I want to catch up in several areas… with what has transpired since the spring, where things currently stand in the economy, and what I foresee going into the second half of the year and beyond. This may take a while…

As a reminder, the current economic downturn did not occur spontaneously due to COVID. In September of 2019 Repo rates indicated problems in lending markets. For several year’s companies have been borrowing extensively, especially at lower levels of credit quality. In the Fall of 2019 Morgan Stanley noted that over 20% of corporate borrowers were “zombie companies”; companies with no positive cashflow, excessive debt, and borrowing to stay afloat. This was the situation when the economy was “healthy”.

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economy, interest rates, retirement, risk management

Fed Reluctant To Raise Rates While Raising Questions Around The Economy

On July 29th, 2020 the federal reserve committed to keeping interest rates pinned to the zero bound and stated their expectation to maintain this position for years to come.

In his meeting with reporters to discuss fed policy, fed chair Powell stated, “We haven’t even thought about thinking when we plan to raise rates.” The FOMC statement explained why; The path of the economy will depend significantly on the course of the virus. The ongoing public health crisis will weigh heavily on economic activity, employment, and inflation in the near term, and poses considerable risks to the economic outlook over the medium term. In light of these developments, the Committee decided to maintain the target range for the federal funds rate at 0 to 1/4 percent. The Committee expects to maintain this target range until it is confident that the economy has weathered recent events and is on track to achieve its maximum employment and price stability goals.” (1)

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economy, interest rates, retirement, risk management

What is the Long-Term Economic Impact of nCov19?

In the Spring of 2020 the Coronavirus led to the quarantine of 800 million people in China. As the virus spread to other countries, economies were forced to close in order to limit the spread of the virus and protect populations.

As economies implemented social distancing policies and closed down, unemployment skyrocketed and GDP plummeted. The economic impact was faster and more severe then the Great Financial Crisis (GFC); some even compared conditions to the Great Depression of the 1930’s.

In April 2020 PIMCO sponsored a virtual forum with Dr. Ben Bernanke. Bernanke is a senior advisor for PIMCO and a policy advisor at Brookings. Bernanke was chairman of the Federal Reserve during the GFC and is an expert on the Great Depression. His insights during the current crisis are valuable on many levels.

Bernanke was asked how is this crisis different from the GFC?

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economy, interest rates, retirement, risk management

The End of the 10 Year Bull Market

There is a Chinese curse… “May you live in interesting times.” (1)

 

Given the past month, we clearly live in interesting times. Twice this week the market has opened down more than 5% triggering circuit breakers. While these breaks helped, the market still declined.

 

As of March 12, 2020 the SP500 is down 26%.

 

On March 3, 2020 the Federal Reserve announced a 50 basis point rate cut and are expected to cut rates another 100 basis points at its March 18th meeting. (2) On March 12, 2020 the Fed announced a $5.5 trillion program to assist in Repo operations. (3)

Yes… $5.5 trillion… The scale of the program is beyond anything ever attempted to stabilize markets.

 

WHAT ARE THE ISSUES THAT ARE FEEDING INTO EACH OTHER? HOW DID WE GET HERE?

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Climate change, economy, environment, ESG, interest rates, retirement, risk management, Socially Responsible Investing, SRI

Mixed Economic Signals, Debt Issues and Fossil Fuel Companies

Several years ago, Bloomberg Businessweek did a bio pic on Hank Paulson, Bush’s Treasury secretary who served during the Financial Crisis of 2008. After reviewing the events that led to the Crisis, connecting the dots, and seeing the impact of what happened, Paulson had this to say at the end of the film…

“The whole reason I’m doing this, is not because I want to look back, but because I have increasingly come to the view that it’s important that there be a historical record for those that come after me, so we don’t replay this movie all over again.” (1)

Fast-forward to November 2019, and we see many positive and negative conditions developing that raise questions about the longevity of the 10-year bull market in stocks and the health of the US economy.

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income, interest rates, protection, retirement

How to Guarantee Retirement?

Several years ago I read a post on LinkedIn which sounded the alarm bells that the “time is running out” for your retirement account.

I found it offensive and in poor taste, playing on the fears of the public at large. Throughout most of 2019 there has been a palatable undercurrent of fear in the market… on the part of investors, on the part of money managers, on the part of economists…

The 20% pullback in 2018 in the market reinforces that fear for some.

There is no doubt that the current environment is challenging when it comes to managing investments and making suitable choices.

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economy, income, interest rates, retirement, risk management, Taxes

Trick or Treat? Revisiting The Potential Downside of Tax Reform for Investors

There is an old story that goes “beware what you wish for…” Things don’t always turn out as expected. Two years ago the President proposed and Congress approved a huge tax cut plan… the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA). The results have been controversial.

Along those lines I watched a fascinating interview of Tom Lee, head of research at Fundstrat, on Bloomberg two years ago. His insight proved very valuable and accurate. (1)

His feeling is that a Tax cut, as it was being discussed, could be negative for investors long term. “There’s two reasons; First, when cutting tax rate you raise the after tax cost of debt. Leverage becomes a problem for a lot of businesses. Second, because you are cutting tax rates you are effectively giving cash to all businesses, even businesses where you want to reduce allocation.“

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economy, income, interest rates, retirement, risk management

Economic Fears and Managing Risks

The economy continues to slow and is having an effect on markets. Incoming ECB President Christine Lagarde stated the US trade war with China has “dented global economic growth.”

“You can’t adjust to the unknown. So, what do you do? You build buffers. You build savings. You wonder what comes next. That’s not propitious to economic development,” said Lagarde.

“It means less investment, less jobs, more unemployment, reduced growth. So of course, it has an impact,” she said.

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income, interest rates, retirement, risk management

Being Too Fearful Can Hurt Financial Security

I have spoken to many people in the past year who are fearful in the current market environment… High market valuation, trade war fears, warnings from pundits, Fed policy moves, volatility… Because of fear, many people have decided to sit in cash or even liquidate their retirement savings.

In a recent study the World Economic Forum examined the savings shortfall around the world… the situation where due to increasing longevity people are expected to outlive their savings. One of the key findings was the demonstration that Japanese savers are extremely conservative in their investing style, avoiding equities and only using cash and bond equivalents for saving. The result is Japanese women face a savings shortfall of 20 years compared to American women who have a savings shortfall of 10.9 years. A lack of growth in assets hurts financial security. (1)

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economy, income, interest rates, retirement, risk management

Negative Yielding Bonds and Risk

Bonds are traditionally used within investment portfolios to reduce equity risk and generate income through the yields they carry. For example, a 10 year bond with a face value of $10,000 with a 5% yield generates $500 in income. Most recently the US 10 year yield was 2%.

However, over the past few years central banks in Europe and Japan have experimented with Quantitative Easing and driven rates below zero%. In late June 2019, the amount of negative yielding bonds reached over $12 trillion. Yields in Europe continue to fall as the ECB in June indicated its plans to lower the discount rate further in upcoming meetings. A slow-down in the European economy and low inflation has left businesses and economists frustrated. (1)

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