Fortis Wealth Management

(888) 336-7847 (3FORTIS)

www.investfortis.com

October 2023
Market Update
(all values as of 03.29.2024)

Stock Indices:

Dow Jones 39,807
S&P 500 5,254
Nasdaq 16,379

Bond Sector Yields:

2 Yr Treasury 4.59%
10 Yr Treasury 4.20%
10 Yr Municipal 2.52%
High Yield 7.44%

YTD Market Returns:

Dow Jones 5.62%
S&P 500 10.16%
Nasdaq 9.11%
MSCI-EAFE 5.06%
MSCI-Europe 4.60%
MSCI-Pacific 5.82%
MSCI-Emg Mkt 1.90%
 
US Agg Bond -0.78%
US Corp Bond -0.40%
US Gov’t Bond -0.72%

Commodity Prices:

Gold 2,254
Silver 25.10
Oil (WTI) 83.12

Currencies:

Dollar / Euro 1.08
Dollar / Pound 1.26
Yen / Dollar 151.35
Canadian /Dollar 0.73

Macro Overview

A federal government shutdown was averted on September 30th, when Congress voted to fund government operations until mid-November. Volatility in the financial markets increased during September, as uncertainty persisted regarding a resolution. Congress now has just over a month to pass a federal budget and avoid a shutdown. Should a shutdown occur, the impact on the economy would likely initially be minimal, and could possibly expand as millions of government workers go without salary. Private sector contractors would be impacted with delayed payments, while consumer uncertainty may hinder spending.

The federal government shutdown dilemma has increased the possibility of a credit downgrade by Moody’s, the last agency with a AAA rating on government debt. Credit agencies S&P and Fitch have already lowered their ratings on U.S. government debt to AA+, down from the top tier rating of AAA. Another downgrade is expected to increase the cost for the government to borrow funds and maintain high debt levels. The last downgrade was on August 1st, when Fitch lowered its rating to AA+ from AAA.

A shutdown of the federal government is expected to affect only government operations and payments that are not funded by permanent appropriations. Those funded by permanent appropriations such as the Postal Service, and entitlement programs including Social Security and Medicare, will not be affected. Other essential and critical departments and agencies of the government, such as the Defense Department and the Treasury Department, would also continue operations. Scheduled debt payments such as on Treasury bills, notes and bonds would also continue.

Relentless rising oil prices are hindering portions of the economy, imposing rising costs on transportation, manufacturing, and food distribution. Equity analysts project that some companies may see compressed earnings as lofty fuel costs increase operating expenses. Higher costs are typically passed on to consumers in the form of higher prices.

Medicare open enrollment is from October 15th to December 7th, allowing changes for existing Medicare recipients and enrollments for new members. Any changes and new enrollments are effective January 1, 2024. The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) reports that there are currently over  65.7 million people enrolled in Medicare. (Sources: Social Security Administration, Medicare.gov, Treasury Dept., Federal Reserve)

 
consumer spending makes up over 65% of the nation's economy

Equities React To Congressional Uncertainty – Global Equity Overview

Domestic equities saw mostly negative returns in September, as stocks retracted further with shutdown concerns increasing towards the end of the quarter. Rising interest rates and labor union strikes contributed to market anxiety, as uncertainty drove volatility higher throughout the month.

The energy and communication services sector were the only positive sectors for the third quarter. Elevated fuel prices and improved technology earnings supported the rise in the sectors. Pessimism amid renewed inflation concerns hindered broad equity momentum during the quarter.

Developed and emerging foreign market equities also pulled back in September as uncertainty surrounding the U.S. dollar and elevated fuel prices drove valuations lower.  (Sources: S&P, Dow Jones, Nasdaq, MSCI, Bloomberg)

Yields On The Rise – Fixed Income Overview

Looming government shutdown threats pressured bond markets as concerns regarding heightened funding costs for the government came into focus. Yields on U.S. Treasury bills, notes, and bonds rose in September as the odds of a federal budget compromise diminished. Analysts expect the rise in government debt yields to be temporary unless Congress reaches an impasse mid-November budget deliberations. The yield on the 10-year Treasury bond surpassed 4.5% at the end of September, luring investors away from equity volatility. (Sources: Treasury Dept., Congress.gov)

Consumption Decreases As Environment Changes – Economic Dynamics

Over 65% of the country’s economic growth, as measured by Gross Domestic Production (GDP) is driven by consumers. Sentiment and confidence are critical components to consumer spending behavior, influencing spending patterns and habits. Recently released data from the Bureau of Economic Analysis reveals that consumers are spending less than they have been.

Factors affecting consumer spending include income, sentiment, job status, and confidence. As consumers perceive changes in their economic situation, they tend to modify spending to accommodate those perceptions.

When retail stores and restaurants began to reopen in 2021, consumers were ready to spend funds that had been sitting idle for nearly a year. Consumer consumption fell dramatically in April 2020, as stay-at-home mandates and retail closures went into effect, only to elevate to new highs in April 2021 once consumers were able to spend freely again. The most recent data trends confirm that consumers are spending less and perhaps with greater caution as economic uncertainty takes hold. (Sources: Labor Dept.,BEA)

 

 
savings reached 32% of disposable income during the pandemic

Medicare Coverage Heading Into 2024 – Retirement Planning

With open enrollment upon us, millions of Americans will be deciding on which, if any, changes to make to their Medicare coverage. The Open Enrollment Period for 2024 coverage is from October 15, 2023 to December 7, 2023. Coverage for any changes or new plans begins January 1, 2024.

Since Medicare doesn’t cover all medical expenses, the decision to buy supplemental insurance coverage or to obtain a Medicare Advantage Plan is important for millions of Medicare recipients. Medicare Advantage Plans allow a recipient to get both Medicare Part A and Part B coverage. Medicare Advantage Plans are sometimes called Part C or MA Plans, and are offered by Medicare-approved private companies. Medicare Supplemental Insurance or Medigap helps pay for gaps in coverage not paid for by Medicare. Even though Medicare pays for many procedures and services, some remaining expenses such as copayments, coinsurance, and deductibles are covered by supplemental plans. Some Medigap policies cover services that are not covered at all by Medicare, such as coverage while traveling abroad. So it’s worth shopping and determining what expenses are covered by the various supplemental insurance policies. (Source: medicare.gov)

Consumer Savings Lower – Consumer Behavior

According to the Bureau of Economic Analysis, data has revealed that Americans saved less over the past several years than previously thought. From 2017 through 2022, American consumers were reported to have saved an average of 9.4% of their disposable income. However, revised data figures have identified that the actual savings rate was 8.3%.

Economists view decreased savings as a signal that consumers may be shifting spending patterns. Inflationary pressures over the past two years redirected some consumer funds from non-essential goods and services to essential items like food and gasoline. Spending habits adjusted during the pandemic, as government stimulus funds padded consumer savings for millions. The National Bureau of Economic Research found that roughly 30% of stimulus checks went to consumer savings, while another 30% went to pay off debt. Personal savings reached a historical high in the midst of the pandemic, as retail stores and restaurants were shuttered and stimulus checks went unspent. The savings rate reached 32% of disposable income in April 2020, but fell to 3.9% this past August. (Sources: National Bureau of Economic Research, BEA)

 
117,483 bridges cover the nation’s highways

The Common Occurrence Of Government Shutdowns – Fiscal Policy

Government shutdowns have been a common occurrence over the years under nearly every president. The length of the shutdowns have varied from 2 days in 1981 under President Reagan, 21 days in 1995 under President Clinton, and 34 days in 2019 under President Trump. A shutdown occurs when Congress fails to pass or the President refuses to sign legislation funding federal government operations and agencies.

The cost of a government shutdown are difficult to estimate, with lost wages, exports, and government services critical to the operation of private sector businesses all affected. The extent to which a shutdown weighs on the economy may not be known until later in the year. Government shutdowns entail partial closure of certain agencies and departments, not complete closures. Departments affected during the most recent shutdown included Homeland Security, Housing & Urban Development, Commerce, FCC, Coast Guard, FEMA, Interior, Transportation, and the Executive Office of the President.

Federal employees deemed as “essential” among the various departments are required to work without pay until a funding bill is passed by Congress. The closures affect numerous private businesses that rely on and adhere to regulatory rules imposed by the Federal government, such as mortgage loans and Housing & Urban Development.

Sources: Congressional Records, https://www.congress.gov/congressional-record/2018/12/22

America’s Bridges Need Repair – Fiscal Expenditures

As Congress deliberates the federal budget for 2024, it faces contentious decisions regarding funding allocation. The vast landmass and distances between cities and population centers in the United States demands an expansive and organized network of highways. As the population of the country has grown, so has the number of automobiles and trucks traversing the enormous national highway system. Highways have expanded to accommodate more traffic and heavier loads, and roads and bridges have become integral components of the nation’s transportation system. Of the 117,483 bridges covering the nation’s highways, The Department of Transportation has identified 5,230 as structurally deficient. The District of Columbia alone has over 16% of its highway bridges deemed structurally deficient.

According to the Department of Transportation, there are more than 254 million registered automobiles on the highways of America, the largest passenger vehicle population of any country in the world. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has estimated the average weight of passenger vehicles and light trucks to be approximately 4,000 pounds. Large tractor-trailers and commercial vehicles can weigh in excess of 150,000 pounds, with 80,000 pounds as a maximum for many states. Over the years, automobiles and transport trucks have actually become heavier as engines are stronger and capable of hauling much heavier loads. The combination of increased weight and erosion from weather has degraded the structural integrity of thousands of bridges over the years. In addition to weight and erosion, fault lines and earthquakes have also taken a toll on bridges due to frequent seismic occurrences. (Source: Department of Transportation)