October 8, 2020
September saw the S&P500 slip approximately 3.8%, ending a streak of 5 positive months in a row. While equity markets and precious metals (oddly) are moving together, our cash and bond holdings kept average portfolio declines to approximately 1.5% on the month. Year to date through September 30, the S&P 500 is up 5.6%, while our average Moderate Portfolio is up almost 10% year to date. The fact that financial markets are up this year, despite 2020 being on track for the worst GDP contraction since 1946, is remarkable.
Estimates for 2020 GDP growth will come in around -4%, while the 2007/2008 era saw only a 2.7% contraction. But this time markets are faring far better. The key difference between today and 2008 is the emergency actions of the Fed. The Fed acted far faster and far more substantially than it did in 2008. The labor market bottomed out in February 2010 with total losses of 8.8 million jobs. Not until May 2014 did the US recover all the jobs lost. Currently, we have recovered half of the 22 million jobs lost. IF, the now-slowing recovery is similar to post 2008, it could be 5 years before all jobs are recovered. Fortunately, the S&P500 mirrors the Fed’s balance sheet growth more than the economic data.
History shows us that markets recover more quickly than jobs or the economy. As such, it appears equity markets have priced in a full profit recovery in the coming year. In 2008, corporate profits bottomed almost the same time markets did. Profits and markets grew alongside each other for several years. This time, markets have already recovered and are waiting on profits to back fill the massive valuation gap that now exists. Because of this mis-match in timing, we could see a few more bouts of 20% gains and declines, as data/news shows economic activity slowing or increasing; as governments decide to add fiscal support or skip it; and as hot spots of the Covid virus spike and recede over the next year or longer.
Some analysts see rising inflation and higher rates coming because of economic growth. In order to create the ‘good’ inflation (demand-pull), consumers need to spend. They spend wages, new credit (loans/credit cards) and transfer payments (social security/welfare/stimulus checks). Banks’ lending standards are increasing; lending is decreasing. Aggregate wages have declined each month since May. Finally, in August the Cares Act $600/week stimulus ran out while 10 million remain unemployed, keeping pressure on consumer spending. The Chairman of the Federal Reserve has asked Congress for fiscal stimulus to lift the economy. As it stands now, there is no real impetus for market rates to rise, and may bode well for bond prices, as rates stay low or perhaps decline again.
My outlook for markets and rates remains the same as during the Summer. Rates remain low and there is a good likelihood of large swings in market prices. That outlook will remain until either a large stimulus package with money going right to consumers or control of the spread of the virus occur, maybe both. I am expecting a post-election rally that may start mid to late October, simply because regardless of the winner, markets like certainty. Precious metals appear to have completed their correction and a nascent rally may have started.
Adam Waszkowski, CFA
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