Client Note May 2021

June 8, 2021

After a brief pullback in early May, the S&P500 continued is upward grind, managing to eke out a slight gain, .66%, for the month.  Foreign shares did much better with Europe up more than 4% on the month.  Precious metals were the big winners with gold up 7.6% and silver gaining 7.8%   Precious metals outpaced other commodities, which generally fell during May.  Lumber is almost 25% below its peak in early May.  After an initial rise, bond prices were flat as interest rates stabilized. 

We may be seeing the initial switch back to technology and small-cap stock outperformance after a few months of underperformance.  Technology shares fell sharply early in the month and despite a solid rebound ended down 1.2% on the month.  However, since mid-May, the value-over-growth meme that we have seen the past few months has begun to reverse.  Small stocks and tech have begun outpacing cyclicals/value.   I expect this to continue through the summer.   Stocks remain in an uptrend.  Technology and small companies are seeing prices revived; gold has caught back up to equities and interest rates have been easing.   Sentiment indicators have moved from short term negative to neutral.  For me, this means the market has room to move up as it climbs a ‘wall of worry’ regarding inflation.  Once no one is worried, and everyone has ‘bought in’, THEN we need to be concerned as there will be fewer buyers left to buy.

The main, seemingly only topic, in the news is inflation and the employment situation.  The current narrative is that inflation is being caused not only by supply chain issues, but also by wage pressures.  The idea behind wage pressures is that, if wages continue to climb, prices for goods and services will increase as well, resulting in inflation. 

There is littlereason to think that the pace of wage increases coming out of the recession will continue to climb at the current pace after this summer.   We still have more than 7 million fewer people working than at the end of 2020.   During the recession low wage areas like food service and hospitality bore the brunt of the layoffs.  As people leave unemployment benefits, their new wages will be very similar to the benefits they have been receiving.  Some may earn less.  We are now seeing the peak of wage gains and expectations.  Upward pressure will ease over the summer hiring season ends and bottlenecks dissipate.

The key idea is that wages and prices dropped dramatically and have now rebounded.  This base effect, comparing last year to this year is very substantial.  The error is assuming this pace of gain will continue. The rate of increase in employment, wages, inflation and possibly, earnings will likely level off and slow.  How stock prices react in that environment will be interesting.  Sustained higher stock prices due to low inflation/low interest rates, or will slower growth be seen as a risk to earnings and thus stock prices.

Adam Waszkowski, CFA

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Happy Memorial Day

On Memorial Day, we honor those who have sacrificed their lives in service of protecting our great democracy. We also honor the families who love them and the sacrifices they, too, have made. Our country owes them all a debt of gratitude.
This Memorial Day, please join us in giving thanks to those who have sacrificed so much. We wish everyone a peaceful holiday.

Client Note April 2021

May 10, 2021

The close of April brings us 1/3 of the way through 2021.  After a very rapid start in January and subsequent pullback, April was a strong month across all asset classes.  For the month, the S&P500 gained 5.8%, gold gained 3.8%, corporate bonds gained 1% and long-term Treasuries gained 2.4%. Stocks in Asia have weakened while European shares have been catching up to the US.  Portfolios gained in April and the average Moderate portfolio is up 6% year to date.

We are still in a “value over growth” market, where traditional industries like materials, industrials, financials, utilities are outpacing the growth areas like technology and biotech.  We had been in a market were large-cap growth” (aka technology, aka FAANG) and small-cap stocks had been dominating, but since mid-February markets have been driven by dividend paying stocks and other cyclical areas.  This will likely continue until evidence that we are not going to grow as rapidly as investors currently believe.   Friday’s massive miss in unemployment (1million new jobs expected; 266,000 actual) may be the first data point that could show a much more moderate pace of growth going forward.

The still high expectations of rapid growth see inflation data as evidence that the economy is about to run red-hot.   If we read below the headlines, we can see that commodity prices like lumber are being driven by more than US housing demand.  A years-ago beetle infestation in Canada has limited US lumber imports; sawmill shutdowns due to Covid, AND housing have been sources of supply disruption.  The combination has pushed prices to extreme levels.  China is the world’s largest consumer of raw materials.  China’s early control of Covid-19 and truly massive stimulus spending (approximately 10% of GDP in 2020) has underpinned demand for such commodities and agricultural products.    This makes much more sense than inflation driven by US aspirations to get back to pre-Covid levels, which saw sub-2% growth for several years.  In addition, supply chain disruption due to a varied array of local shutdown conditions across the US has made year over year comparisons and identifying specific bottlenecks a challenge.   Currently, China’s credit impulse is on the wane, while US stimulus takes the reins in 2021.  US stimulus usually takes longer to impact the economy, however.  In the longer run, the US needs to maintain our reserve currency status—by creating enough US dollars for the rest of the world to use—but that is a topic for another day.

I expect forward-looking estimates of growth in the US to decline to more normal levels and at the same time, interest rates and inflation expectations to decline moderately.  Interest rates have been sideways now for almost 10 weeks. I will be looking for further confirmation of this in economic data into the end of the quarter.

 

Adam Waszkowski, CFA

 This commentary is not intended as investment advice or an investment recommendation. Past performance is not a guarantee of future results. Price and yield are subject to daily change and as of the specified date. Information provided is solely the opinion or our investment managers at the time of writing. Nothing in the commentary should be construed as a solicitation to buy or sell securities. Information provided has been prepared from sources deemed to be reliable but is not guaranteed by NAMCO and may not be a complete summary or statement of all available data necessary for making an investment decision. Liquid securities, such as those held within managed portfolios, can fall in value. Naples Asset Management Company, LLC is an SEC Registered Investment Adviser. For more information, please contact us at awaszkowski@namcoa.com.

Client Note March 2021

April 13, 2021

The first quarter was marked by two distinct phases. The first phase was a continuation of markets climb from the late October early November lows which peaked in mid-February. The second phase was characterized by a distinct outperformance in value or cyclical areas of the market. This is the third instance in the past 16 months where we have seen value outperform growth.  Generally, this does not persist for more than a month or two.

The S&P 500 gained 5.5% during the first quarter while the aggregate bond index fell 3.7%.  Oil gained 26%, aiding the energy sector’s gains of 31% and gold fell by 10%    Corporate bond prices fell by 5.4%. Junk bond prices were unchanged.  This is a slightly odd relationship, but indicative of ‘risk-on’ alongside a rise in interest rates.   The gain in the general stock market and decline in bonds (and gold) left most balanced and multi-asset portfolios flat or in the low single digits.  With energy up, bonds and gold down, and seemingly only the largest companies are carrying the general stock indices higher.

Most recently, gold appears to have formed a “double bottom” in late March and has made slight gains. Stocks continue to grind up, but with the largest names leading.  This contrasts with the period from April 2020 to February where micro- and small-cap stocks dramatically outperformed large stocks.  If we do not see a re-rotation into smaller stocks and those outside the major indices may be the prelude to a larger market pause in the coming months.

Bonds too may have realized a bottom in mid-March as prices have been net sideways.  A bit more improvement in prices (rates lower) should begin a nice rally, giving a reprieve to the general investor who have gained in stock prices, but lost some on bonds, especially for the more conservative.

How could or would interest rates actually decline?  Again, we see in the media how ‘everyone’ knows rates are going higher and inflation is at the door due to either ‘cash on the sidelines’ (doesn’t exist), or bank savings, or ‘pent up demand’.  Once ‘everyone’ knows something its more likely the near-term trend is over or soon will be.  We may already see this in gold and bonds, as interest in these areas is low, while SPACSs and cryptocurrency are all the rage currently.

Inflation concerns are due to the recent and quick rise in rates that have its roots in price increases due to supply-chain problems and the Asian/China resurgence and stimulus.  Supply chains issues will be resolved on their own in short order.  High prices attract businesses to produce more/fix problems which lead to lower prices, the essence of a free market.   Very recent news tells us that China’s credit impulse/stimulus has begun to wane.  The past 10 years we have seen two previous large credit cycles in China.  China is a massive buyer of raw materials and we have seen prices in commodities rise the past year driven by easy money from China.  There is about a 3–6-month lag time until we see the impact of a change   in China’s rate of credit creation.   Given that this China credit data is already 4 months old should mean, as recent price action alludes, a decline in interest rates and commodity prices and thusly, inflation expectations.

While stocks look to have another 5-7% upside momentum, the asset classes that have faired worse recently should see gains alongside stocks.  As mentioned in the past Notes, its post July 4 that concerns me the most when we may see a flattening of economic growth and decline in expectations of rapid growth which can weigh on risk assets.

The reason I am concerned about the second half of the year comes from a few places.  Valuations are exceptionally high right now.  Many metrics are above 1999 levels.  This is commonly discounted due to the low interest rates.  If we are elevated over 1999 levels, how much more elevated should we accept? Another element to today’s market is the ever-present Fed liquidity.  Yes, the Fed could continue as long as there is dollar-denominated debt to liquify.   And finally, there is the current expectations that we are entering a new era of high growth.   Its this last item that is most sensitive to changes in short term economic and Covid data.

The high growth thesis stems from stimulus in the pipeline and the observations that inflation is occurring.   Stimulus, or government infrastructure spending will take years to filter through the economy.  Inflation as measured by the CPI varies greatly, while the PCE is smoother (and what the Fed watches).  One can clearly see the past overshoots of the CPI vs. the PCE, and PCE is trending down.  Once supply chain issues are resolved/lessened and Chinas credit impulse fade, its likely CPI will catch down to PCE.

If inflation expectations come down, while job growth and spending data come in cool, beginning in the next few months, we could see forward expectations and valuations come down, pulling ‘risk assets’ with it.  Add in any kind of Covid 4th wave or failure at herd immunity via vaccinations, we could see the most powerful driver of asset prices, optimism, take a hit; and along with it create a more volatile period for stocks.

Adam Waszkowski, CFA

 This commentary is not intended as investment advice or an investment recommendation. Past performance is not a guarantee of future results. Price and yield are subject to daily change and as of the specified date. Information provided is solely the opinion or our investment managers at the time of writing. Nothing in the commentary should be construed as a solicitation to buy or sell securities. Information provided has been prepared from sources deemed to be reliable but is not guaranteed by NAMCO and may not be a complete summary or statement of all available data necessary for making an investment decision. Liquid securities, such as those held within managed portfolios, can fall in value. Naples Asset Management Company, LLC is an SEC Registered Investment Adviser. For more information, please contact us at awaszkowski@namcoa.com.

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It’s a natural tendency for you to wonder how long your retirement income will last – especially when you consider health care, your longevity and volatile financial markets. After the last major market downturn in 2008, a $500,000 portfolio was reduced to $259,971.1 Waiting for retirement savings to recover can be tough, especially for the 53% of people who retire earlier than expected – and most often not by choice.2

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1 Final portfolio value on November 20, 2008 based on starting January 1, 2008 value of  $500,000. Calculated by Protective Life using data from the S&P 500 Index Daily Returns.
2 Based on data from LIMRA Secure Retirement Institute, The Inner Workings of Retirement Timing, Consumer Behavior and Attitudes. 2018.
 Society of Actuaries. Retirement Survey Report Key Findings and Issues: 2017 Risks and Process of Retirement Survey. January 2018.

Client Note February 2021

March 2, 2021

February was a bit of a roller coaster, as the S&P 500 gained 6.5% into mid-month, then fell back 3.5% to end with a monthly gain of 2.7%, and year to date at 1.6%.   Gold continued its drawdown, losing almost 10% year to date.   Interest rates have been rising for over a year now.  The rise in rates, news of commodity gains (rising for year as well), and thus inflation concerns are in the headlines which likely means we are likely to see a reversal in these trends of some degree soon.

With our current and recent equity exposure overweight energy and technology we have been able to offset the negative impacts of bonds and precious metals, providing year to date gains for moderate and aggressive portfolios.  Conservative portfolios will likely get in the game as interest rates pull back.

Inflation, ‘reflation-trade’, and the rise in interest rates lately is very much in the news.  All have been rising since the market crash in Spring of 2020.  Recent readings remain below pre-covid levels.  In September 2019, the CPI index was rising at 1.75% annual rate and the 10-year Treasury bond yielded 1.7%.  Today we see 1.4% inflation and 1.41% on the 10year Treasury.  CPI has been at 1.2%-1.4% since August.    While the inflation rate has remained relatively flat, market interest rates after initially lagging inflation have caught up recently.  This recent surge in rates catching up, is what is in the news.  

What drives market rates are expectations of inflation.  Vaccine roll-out and a dramatic decline in deaths and hospitalizations is allowing for predictions of robust growth to gain traction.  The assumption is that mass vaccinations will allow people to return to work, earn and spend money, growing the economy to pre-covid levels (2007-2019 GDP averaged 2.3% annually).  I have doubts as to how quickly we will get back to pre-covid employment levels.    Here in Florida, we have had in-school teaching since August and bars and restaurants fully open back in September.  Since then, the Florida unemployment rate dropped from 7.3% to 6.1% in December.  The US unemployment rate went from 8.4% to 6.7%.   There may not be significant improvement in employment nationally for quite some time.  But in the very near term, a new round of stimulus will go out in March and impact short term spending and income statistics just as the first stimulus did, potentially giving us a false read on how strong incomes and spending are, and thus an ‘overshoot’ on inflation and interest rates.

Inflation is a slow moving, long term phenomenon.  Over the long term, stocks and gold hold their value against inflation.  For income investors the days of the bond mutual fund are over.  Buying short term bonds to hold to maturity then reinvesting the principle into another bond as rates rise is a short to medium term strategy.   The rise in rates has overshot inflation, and longer term were likely to remain range bound between 1.5% and .9% on the 10-year treasury. Right now, I am not seeing any scenario of rapid uncontrolled increase in inflation or interest rates.

Adam Waszkowski, CFA

 This commentary is not intended as investment advice or an investment recommendation. Past performance is not a guarantee of future results. Price and yield are subject to daily change and as of the specified date. Information provided is solely the opinion or our investment managers at the time of writing. Nothing in the commentary should be construed as a solicitation to buy or sell securities. Information provided has been prepared from sources deemed to be reliable but is not guaranteed by NAMCO and may not be a complete summary or statement of all available data necessary for making an investment decision. Liquid securities, such as those held within managed portfolios, can fall in value. Naples Asset Management Company, LLC is an SEC Registered Investment Adviser. For more information, please contact us at awaszkowski@namcoa.com.