2Q Newsletter
Market Update
(all values as of 08.31.2020)

Stock Indices:

Dow Jones 28,430
S&P 500 3,500
Nasdaq 11,775

Bond Sector Yields:

2 Yr Treasury 0.14%
10 Yr Treasury 0.72%
10 Yr Municipal 0.81%
High Yield 5.38%

YTD Market Returns:

Dow Jones -0.38%
S&P 500 8.34%
Nasdaq 31.24%
MSCI-EAFE -6.23%
MSCI-Europe -7.39%
MSCI-Pacific -4.42%
MSCI-Emg Mkt -1.18%
 
US Agg Bond 6.85%
US Corp Bond 6.94%
US Gov’t Bond 8.09%

Commodity Prices:

Gold 1,973
Silver 28.43
Oil (WTI) 42.82

Currencies:

Dollar / Euro 1.19
Dollar / Pound 1.33
Yen / Dollar 105.37
Dollar / Canadian 0.76
 

Macro Overview

Trade and tariffs disrupted markets in June as the U.S. Commerce Department announced tariffs on $250 billion worth of Chinese imports. The 25% tariffs will be imposed on 1,300 items encompassing a variety of products including aluminum, iron, gas turbines, snow blowers, milking machines, and dental drills.

A flattening yield curve, characteristic of rising short-term rates along with lingering long-term rates, startled fixed income markets. Higher interest rates reflect expectations of inflationary pressures and robust growth, while lower rates imply less inflation and dismal economic expansion. As expected by economists and the markets, the Federal Reserve raised its short-term key policy rate, the federal funds rate, by 25 basis points to 1.75% – 2.00%. The gradual rise in rates is seen as a normalization of interest rates as the U.S. economy continues to expand. The Fed is accelerating the rate of tightening with increases slated for 2019 and 2020 now expected to occur in 2018 and 2019.

Reports from various Federal Reserve district banks reveal that a robust economy, growing tariff pressures, rising wage costs, and a tight labor market are contributing to consumer inflation. The Atlanta Federal Reserve’s economic growth model, GDPNow, estimates GDP growth for the second quarter of 2018 at 4.5%, adding to inflationary pressures. The Fed also reported that household wealth reached $100 trillion for the first time ever, double of where household wealth was at the lows of the financial crisis in 2009.

The Supreme Court ruled in June that public sector unions cannot charge fees to government employees who do not support the union and who do not want to pay. The decision is expected to further weaken the influence of unions, which have been in a decades-long decline.

Volatility in the second quarter didn’t deter equity indices, as the S&P 500 was up 2.9% and the Dow Jones was up 0.7%. The tech heavy Nasdaq advanced 6.3% for the quarter, driven by buyers seeking shelter from the imposed tariffs. A stronger U.S. dollar is starting to weigh on the technology sector as earnings may become affected.

The Social Security program’s cost will exceed its income this year for the first time since 1982, forcing the program to access a $3 trillion trust fund to cover future benefits. It is estimated that the trust fund will be depleted by 2034, meaning that Social Security recipients may no longer be receiving full scheduled benefits. (Sources: U.S. Commerce Dept., Federal Reserve, U.S. Treasury, https://www.supremecourt.gov, Bloomberg, S&P,Dow Jones, Nasdaq, Social Security Admin.)

 
25 COMPANIES IN THE S&P ACCOUNT FOR OVER 55% OF THE $1.9 TRILLION IN CASH

Equities Achieve Positive Quarter Despite Volatility – Domestic Equity Markets Update

Energy and technology sector stocks led the markets in the second quarter. All three major indices ended the quarter positively, in light of volatility and trade policy tensions. The S&P 500 was up 2.9% and the Dow Jones was up 0.7%. The tech heavy Nasdaq advanced 6.3% for the quarter.

With oil prices climbing, the energy sector was the market’s top performer for the second quarter, marking its single largest quarterly gain since 2011. Technology sector stocks were also up for the quarter as the sector dodged the tariff turmoil during most of the second quarter, but may be adversely affected by a continuing strengthening dollar. US intellectual property and the growing prominence of technology in the global economy is becoming forefront for regulators, as the administration focuses on protecting U.S. intellectual assets.

Markets are attempting to decipher what industry and companies may be hindered by the newly imposed tariffs. Some companies plan to absorb a portion of the tariffs while others will pass along the costs in the form of higher prices to customers.

Liquidity among S&P 500 companies is distributed unevenly, with the top 25 companies in the index accounting for over 55% of the $1.9 trillion in corporate cash. The bottom 250 companies in the S&P 500 hold essentially no cash.

(Sources: S&P, Dow Jones, Nasdaq, Bloomberg)

Trucks Delivering More – Economic Dynamics

A critical component of the economy proving fluid movement between companies and consumers are logistics and shipping services provided by the trucking industry. Trucks provide some of the most ample delivery logistics in the country, delivering packages and goods from Alaska to Florida spanning over 164,000 miles of highways nationwide.

There are over 1 million trucking companies spanning the country, from California and Hawaii to Alaska and Florida, transporting everything imaginable from food and milk to gasoline, cars and mail.

As a vital component of the labor market, the trucking industry employs roughly 7.3 million people, with 3.5 million of them as truck drivers. Economic growth also creates more shipping activity throughout the country, as companies ship products to other businesses and consumers. The Federal Reserve carefully tracks the amount of cargo shipped by trucks, viewed as a gauge of economic activity throughout the nation. Data is compiled as the Truck Tonnage Index, representing all shipments via trucks in the country. The index has been steadily increasing over the past 18 months, reaching a high of 149.3 in January 2018. (Sources: trucking.org, Dept. of Transportation, Federal Reserve)

 
RECIPIENTS MIGHT RECEIVE ABOUT THREE-QUARTERS OF SCHEDULED BENEFITS AFTER 2034

Social Security Taps Trust Fund – Financial Planning

The Social Security program’s cost will exceed its income this year for the first time since 1982, forcing the program to access a $3 trillion trust fund to cover future benefits. Social Security is funded by two trust funds, one for retiree benefits and another for disability benefits.

The latest annual report issued by the trustees of Social Security and Medicare revealed that by 2034, the program’s trust fund will be depleted. Depletion means that Social Security recipients will no longer be receiving full scheduled benefits. Recipients would receive about three-quarters of their scheduled benefits after 2034. The report also mentioned that Medicare’s hospital insurance fund would be depleted in 2026, three years earlier than anticipated in last year’s report. The trustees noted that the aging population of the country has placed additional pressure on both the Social Security and Medicare programs. A decade ago, roughly 12% of Americans were age 65 or older, today 16% of Americans have already surpassed 65, the eligibility age for Medicare. The Social Security Administration considers various factors in projecting its estimates, including fertility, immigration, wages, health, and economic growth. A recent drop in U.S. birthrates along with stagnant wages has placed additional burden on the viability of future benefit payments. (Sources: https://www.ssa.gov/oact/TR/2018/index.html)

Not Many Raises Even With Unemployment At 3.8% – Labor Market Update

Historically, as unemployment rises, wages tend to rise due to a tight labor market where companies compete for a limited workforce. Recently released research from the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco shows that an abnormally high share of employees in the same job capacity for the past 12 months did not receive a pay raise. This unusual dynamic is referred by economists as “wage rigidity”. Fed data shows that over 14% of American workers are not getting pay raises, even though the unemployment rate reached 3.8%, an 18-year low.

Another finding over the years has also revealed that future wage growth in the U.S. tends to rise more slowly than usual when a high number of employees are not receiving pay raises.

The most recent data available shows that U.S. wages increased at a 2.6% annual rate as of the end of April. Historically, when unemployment is at such low levels as it currently is, wages have risen 3.5% to 4.5% per year.

Past data shows that increasing unemployment leads to inflation as companies pay more, resulting in wage inflation. Yet, inflation has risen 2.7% over the past year, ahead of wages, which have only grown by 2.5% during the same period. Source: Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco

 
THE PERSONAL SAVINGS RATE INCREASED TO 3.1% OF DISPOSABLE INCOME AS OF MARCH

Personal Savings Rate Indicates Consumer Sentiment – Consumer Behavior

Federal Reserve data show that the average consumer checking account balance, a measure of consumer personal savings, has increased in 23 of the past 30 quarters. Recent data from December 2017 through March 2018, illustrates an increase in the savings rate to 3.1% of disposable personal income as of March 2018. Economists view this increase as a possible pause in economic growth until consumers feel more confident about spending.

Historically, Americans tend to save more as economic times become more difficult, and tend to spend during prosperous periods. Past slow downs such as in the mid 1970s and the early 1980s saw an increase in the savings rate, a barometer of consumer sentiment. The expansion during the mid-to-late 1990s saw a gradual drop in savings, as consumers spent more confidently as their incomes rose. 

Sources: https://fred.stlouisfed.org/series/PSAVERT

What Could Cost More In Retirement – Retirement Planning

As retirement nears for millions of aging baby boomers, the realization of how to pay for retirement becomes a challenge for many.

Expenses that one was accustomed to while still working and raising a family changes dramatically once retirement arrives. The biggest challenge for many is how to maintain the same lifestyle in retirement as during working years. 

Unfortunately, many have realized that Social Security and menial retirement savings just aren’t enough to make up for lost wages. This either forces many retirees to seek part-time employment or merely live a less desirable lifestyle in order to minimize expenses.

Unforeseen expenses such as an illness not covered by Medicare or health insurance, home repairs, and emergency cash outlays may deplete valuable cash savings and derail what was thought to be a well executed financial plan. Retirees have found that liquidity during retirement is critical, thus avoiding the necessity to sell investments at gains or losses and even reducing income derived from them.

The biggest surprise that retirees are having is the increasing costs of drugs and healthcare. The Employment Benefit Research Institute has identified a number of expenses not necessarily planned for that are common among retirees: Special diets with foods and ingredients that may be more expensive than average, medical & toiletry items such as supplements and diapers, special transportation, medicare part A & B items not covered.

Sources: Employment Benefit Research, Social Security Adm., Medicare.gov

 
ELECTRONIC DEVICES AND COMPUTERS HAVE THE LARGEST TRADE DEFICITS WITH THE U.S.

Stocks Enter A Trading Range – Equity Markets Update

Markets rebounded in April as fundamental factors drove prices higher. Among the factors influencing the markets were global expansion, positive domestic activity, increasing earnings, and capital spending increases.

Stocks traded sideways, with the S&P 500 temporarily trading below its 200-day moving average in early April and then bouncing back toward the middle of its recent trading range. This technical narrative is essentially positive, meaning that the market bounced from a low upward towards possible new highs.

Market watchers have termed the drop in equity prices in early February as a “shock drop”, resembling reactions driven by human behavioral activity. Since the initial down turn in February, there have been several intermediate-term downturns, alluding to fundamental weaknesses that have not materialized.

Correlations among various equity sectors has diminished as specific industries and companies are sought after rather than the broad indices. Analysts refer to this as a “stock picker’s market”.

Analysts raised their 2018 forecasts for revenue growth for S&P 500 companies to 7.2%, up from 5.4% in 2017. Financial and industrial stocks historically have seen earnings improvements during rising inflation and rising rate environments.

Sources: S&P, Bloomberg, Reuter

Chinese Products With The Largest Trade Deficits With U.S. – Trade Policy

Electronic devices and computers are the products with the largest trade deficits with the U.S. Over the past few years, American consumers have become accustomed to inexpensive Chinese made products available in every retail and online store across the country.

One of the biggest casualties of the imposed tariffs are auto manufacturers located in the United States. Ironically, there are currently 10 foreign auto manufacturers with plants in the U.S. compared to only two U.S. owned auto manufacturers. These manufacturers all rely on components primarily imported from Asia and China whose controlled costs are critical to the profitability of the companies.

A list of 1300 identified products imported from China are primarily used as components for larger more expensive products. The question is what percentage of these products are comprised of imported components subject to tariffs. Foreign manufacturers have skirted tariffs and manufacturing rifts over the years by having certain products assembled in the United States, but comprised of imported components. Hence the controversial tag noting “assembled in the USA”, which many consumers and consumer groups have found to be misleading. (Sources: U.S. Department of Commerce)