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Stock Market Halloween Edition!

Frights and Delights of Investing

As Halloween approaches, our thoughts turn to carving jack-o’-lanterns, trick-or-treating, haunted houses, festive costumes, and scary movies.  Halloween is the only holiday that has the ability to both delight and fright.  Costumed children gleefully celebrate their plunder from a neighborhood trick-or-treat.  Others brave the ghoulish horrors of a haunted house or ghastly terrors of Halloween movies.

In a way, markets have the same ability:  to both delight and fright.  After the better part of the year in market turmoil, it is probably starting to feel like we’ve been locked in a haunted house too long!

A client recently shared with us that he appreciates the “pep talks” our letters provide, but he would like to see something more technical from time-to-time.  So, we’re going to do just that.

To make this a little fun, however, see if you can identify who said the headings of each section of this letter!  Just in case, we’ve included the answers at the end.

LIONS AND TIGERS AND BEARS, OH MY!

In the present environment, we can’t talk about inflation without talking about interest rates.  The US inflation rate has declined somewhat, reaching 8.2% in September.  This is the lowest level in the past seven months, falling from a high of 9.1% in June of this year.1

This has occurred amidst a series of interest rate hikes.  The Federal Reserve has raised rates five times so far this year, with a likelihood of at least one more in 2022.2  The cause-and-effect between declining inflation and rising interest rates is not coincidental; it’s consequential.  Simply put, the Fed is using interest rate increases to slow down consumer demand.  Companies and consumers tend to borrow and spend less when the cost of doing so goes up.  As borrowing and spending decline, inflation declines.

This isn’t the first time the Federal Reserve used this strategy.  In the early 1980s, the Fed used aggressive rate hikes to tame double-digit inflation and restore balance to the US economy and markets.3

So, is the strategy working today?  It appears to be.  Inflation is declining, slowly, but declining.

What is a “good” inflation rate?  The Federal Reserve would like inflation to recede to near 2%.2

How long will that take?  Like a hot car engine, inflation takes time to cool.  The important thing to remember is that steady progress toward lower inflation may be as important to Wall Street as reaching the goal.  Why?  Because steady progress is better than uncertainty, and we know Wall Street does not like uncertainty.

A final thought on rising interest rates.  While rising rates are currently pressuring bond values, increased rates are finally making bonds, treasuries, CDs, and other fixed income attractive again.  This is long overdue in our opinion.  Investment-grade fixed income is usually a helpful risk-management element of a portfolio.  It hasn’t been performing to its potential for some time because of the historically low interest rate environment.  Rising rates should ultimately be positive for fixed income.

DOUBLE, DOUBLE TOIL AND TROUBLE

When high inflation and rising interest rates come together, higher unemployment usually follows.  So far, however, this is not the case in the US economy.  The September unemployment rate was 3.5%, falling from a high of 4.0% in January.4  Recently revised projections by Goldman Sachs see a slight uptick to 3.7% by year-end and possibly 4.1% by the end of 2023.5

The number of job openings in the US shrank notably from 11.2 million in July to 10.1 million in August.  Layoffs remain historically low, and overall hiring is largely unchanged.  In essence, employers may be getting more selective about hiring, but they aren’t slashing jobs or refusing to add jobs.6

Add to these facts that business borrowing by US companies remains relatively healthy.  In other words, companies have a positive enough outlook to acquire the goods and services needed to respond to customer demand.7  If companies felt financial trouble was on the horizon, they would be cutting budgets and laying off employees.  That doesn’t seem to be happening, at least not yet.

I GOT A ROCK

That probably summarizes how most of us feel about investments right now.

However, when putting together all the things we just reviewed, it may mean that the Federal Reserve’s plan to slow down the economy without triggering a recession could be working.  That said, this chapter in the US economy is not yet at an end.  There are some hints suggesting that we’re moving in the right direction, but those hints need to turn into steady progress.  Until then, volatility will likely remain.

So, what does all of this mean for your investments?  We haven’t gotten out of the haunted house yet, but there are glimpses of light suggesting we might be moving closer to the exit.

JUST BECAUSE I CANNOT SEE IT, DOESN’T MEAN I CAN’T BELIEVE IT

We know what you’re thinking.  “Seriously, are you really going to tell us yet again to stay the course?!?”

We understand.  Fatigue and weariness are setting in while we wait for some signs of better markets ahead.  Truth is, we’ve been rather spoiled in the 14 years since the Great Recession of 2008.  Only two times since then did we experience a bear market.  Markets fell 27.62% between January and March 2009, but recovered in just 62 days.  The second bear market occurred during just 4 short weeks between February and March 2020.  Markets declined 33.92%, but speedily recovered in a mere 33 days.8  Markets rebounded so quickly, some probably never noticed these events.

You’re noticing now, however, and that’s simply because markets are taking longer to recover.

So, are markets going to recover?  We believe, yes.  Over the last 70 years of market history, there have been nine bear markets (defined as a 20% decline or more).  The average decline was 33%.  The average length was about 14 months.  Conversely, the average bull market return during that same period was 268%.  The average expansion lasted 70 months.9 Let’s think about those averages in the form of a question:  Is one year of market pain worth nearly six years of market gain?

This is why trying to time the market is so very tricky.  Between 1930 to 2020, the S&P 500 cumulatively returned 17,715%.  Yes, you read that figure correctly.  Now, let’s exclude the 10 best days per decade.  Some quick math tells us that’s just 90 days out of about 21,600 trading days.  Remove those 90 best days, and the cumulative return is 28%.10  Yes, you read that figure correctly, too!

Now, you might be thinking, “Why can’t you figure out something to at least save us from the worst days?”  We agree that would be great, except no one knows a “worst day” IS happening until it HAS actually happened.  The same applies to the market’s best days.  The “timing” trap gets more complicated when you know that the market’s best days most often follow closely after the market’s worst days.  In fact, over the past 30 years, ALL of the ten (10) best trading days in terms of percentage increase occurred during recessions.11

THINGS ARE NEVER QUITE AS SCARY WHEN YOU’VE GOT A BEST FRIEND

We may not be your best friends, but we are your trusted financial advisors!  And part of our job is to take the scary out of the markets.  Your investment strategies are tuned to your financial goals and objectives.  They are built with the expectation that we will experience good and bad markets.  Staying true to your strategy is what helps us and you meet your goals and objectives.

As Halloween approaches, we here at Vaughan & Co. Securities, Inc. encourage you to leave the fright, the dark, the scary, and the terrifying for the Halloween movies and haunted houses of the season.  The delight of good markets comes with the occasional fright of bad markets.  Savvy investors don’t let emotions of those occasions steer them away from time-tested strategies designed to achieve their goals and objectives.

As always, we are here for you.  If you have any questions or concerns, please call us.  Have a happy Halloween!

 

 

1 “United States Inflation Rate,” Trading Economics, https://tradingeconomics.com/united-states/inflation-cpi

2 “The Fed forecasts hiking rates as high as 4.6% before ending inflation fight,” CNBC, September 21, 2026.  https://www.cnbc.com/2022/09/21/the-fed-forecasts-hiking-rates-as-high-as-4point6percent-before-ending-inflation-fight.html

3 “Paul Volcker,” Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paul_Volcker

4 “United States Unemployment Rate,” Trading Economics, https://tradingeconomics.com/united-states/unemployment-rate

5 “Goldman Sachs cuts 2023 outlook for US growth,” Fox Business, https://www.foxbusiness.com/economy/goldman-sachs-cuts-2023-outlook-us-growth

6 “United States Job Openings,” Trading Economics, https://tradingeconomics.com/united-states/job-offers

7 “U.S. Business Borrowing for Equipment Rises 6% in September,” US News, https://money.usnews.com/investing/news/articles/2021-10-25/us-business-borrowing-for-equipment-rises-6-in-september-elfa

8 “The Complete History of Bear Markets,” Seeking Alpha, https://seekingalpha.com/article/4483348-bear-market-history

9 “Bear markets look less fierce with a long-term perspective,” Capital Group, https://www.capitalgroup.com/individual/insights/articles/bull-bear-history.html

10 “This chart shows why investors should never try to time the stock market,” CNBC, https://www.cnbc.com/2021/03/24/this-chart-shows-why-investors-should-never-try-to-time-the-stock-market.html

11 “The perils of trying to time volatile markets,” Wells Fargo, https://www.wellsfargo.com/investment-institute/sr-perils-time-volatile-markets/

 

QUOTES QUIZ ANSWERS:

“Lions and tigers and bears, oh my!” – Dorothy, The Wizard of Oz

“Double, double toil and trouble” – Three Witches, Macbeth, William Shakespeare

“I got a rock” – Charlie Brown, It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown, George Shultz

“Just because I can’t see it, doesn’t mean I can’t believe it” – Jack Skellington, Nightmare Before Christmas

“Things are never quite as scary when you’ve got a best friend” – Calvin and Hobbes, Bill Watterson

 

 

The Recession Question 2022

If I wanted to see if it was raining in, say, Zimbabwe, all I’d have to do is load my favorite weather app and I’d know within seconds.  Similarly, if I wanted to find out if which baseballs team won last night, all I’d have to do is fire up Google.

But if I wanted to find out if we’re in a recession or not?  Well, that’s a little harder to get an answer to.

Ever since summer began, people have been wondering whether we’re in a recession.  Many of my clients have asked me lately, too.  Unfortunately, it’s not as simple a question as it seems.  Why?  Because the very act of defining a recession is not as easy as you might think.

The popular definition of a recession, oft repeated in the media, is two straight quarters of declining economic growth.  But most economists don’t think of recessions that way – it’s too simplistic and may not accurately describe what’s going on in the economy.  Meanwhile, the technical definition, per the National Bureau of Economic Research – more on them in a bit – is “a significant decline in economic activity spread across the market, lasting more than a few months, normally visible in real GDP, real income, employment, industrial production, and wholesale-retail sales.”1

But this word salad raises more questions than answers.  For starters, how do you define “significant?”  How many months is “a few?”  Two?  Three?  Four?  And finally, what if you see a decline in, say, GDP, but not in employment?  Is it still a recession?

There’s no question that there’s a ton of economic uncertainty in our country right now.  Skyrocketing inflation means we’re paying more on everything from gas to groceries.  To counter this, the Federal Reserve recently hiked interest rates for the third time in 2022.  When interest rates rise quickly, it often – but not always – triggers a recession.  So, there are good reasons to think a recession is in the cards.

But are we in one right now?  Let’s examine that question in a little more detail, before addressing what the answer means to us as investors.

The argument for a recession

The case for a recession is simple: The economy has shrunk for two straight quarters.  In this argument, the popular definition of a recession is the correct one.

When I say, “the economy,” what I really mean here is our nation’s gross domestic product, or GDP.  You probably remember hearing this term a lot in your college economics class, but in case you need a refresher, GDP measures the market value of all the goods and services a country produces in a specific period.  In this case, the U.S.’s GDP fell by 0.9% from April through June, the second quarter in a row in which that’s happened.2  (In the first quarter, GDP dropped by 1.6%.2)

There are many reasons GDP can decline.  Data shows, however, that this particular decline was for one main reason: a drop in business inventory levels.

Okay, bear with me here, because we’re about to get wonky.  One component of how GDP is measured is how much inventory businesses have of whatever it is they actually sell.  It’s a small component – usually less than 1% of GDP3 – but it’s an extremely important one.  That’s because changes to these inventories can be a very effective signal for what business activity will look like in the future.  For example, if businesses across the country stock up on their inventory, it often signals strong demand.  Consumers want these products, are likely to continue wanting these products, and are willing to pay for them.  In other words, there’s likely to be a lot of buying and selling – i.e., business activity – in the short term.

Between April and June, however, inventories dropped.  Businesses simply didn’t see a need to invest in their inventory.  They foresee supply outpacing demand – which is good for inflation, because it may bring prices down – but not for the overall economy.  It’s a signal of declining business activity, which is one of the hallmarks of a recession.  Hence, a decline in GDP.

(We’ll come back to this in a bit, because there’s an interesting counterargument to the inventory angle.)

Another piece of evidence that we’re in a recession is something called the inverted yield curve. 

Okay, before I break down this piece of financial jargon, my advice is to get comfortable.  If you’re reading this during the day, make yourself a nice glass of lemonade and head outside to the hammock if you have one.  If it’s nighttime, get your fluffiest slippers and put the kettle on.

Ready?  Okay, here we go.

A yield curve is a graph that depicts the relationship between long-term bond interest rates and short-term bond interest rates.  Typically, longer-term bonds come with higher rates than short-term bonds because the bondholder needs to be compensated for investing for longer.  (If I’m going to lend my money for ten years, as opposed to one, I expect to get extra compensation for it.)

Sometimes, however, the yield curve inverts, or flips over.  When this happens, it’s because interest rates for long-term bonds fall lower than those for short-term bonds.  What prompts the flip?  Investors getting nervous about what the immediate future holds.  If bond investors feel that it’s riskier to lend money in the short term than the long-term, then they start demanding higher interest rates.  Otherwise, they’d prefer to just sock their money away for ten or twenty years and forget about it, thank you very much.

Why does this matter?  Because almost every recession for the past sixty years has been preceded by an inverted yield curve.  It’s one of the major recession indicators that investors – and the media – watch for.

(We’re not to “The Case Against a Recession” yet, but I want to clear up something before we go any further: An inverted yield curve does not cause a recession.  It merely predates one.  Remember, correlation does not equal causation.  It’s also important to note that, historically, recessions have occurred anywhere from 6 to 24 months after the yield curve inverts.4  So, while such curves may have a Nostradamus-like reputation, they’re an imperfect indicator at best.)

Another predictor for a recession is rising interest rates.  Between June 2021 and June 2022, prices in the U.S. rose by 9.1%.5  That’s a level of inflation we haven’t seen in decades.  To bring prices under control, the Federal Reserve recently approved another interest rate hike.  While higher interest rates are a proven tool for tamping down on inflation, they can also trigger recessions.

The final argument for a recession is that most consumers already think we are in a recession.

Here in the U.S., consumer confidence has slipped for three straight months, and is now the lowest it’s been since early 2021.6  That’s important, because when people have low expectations about the economy, they tend to make recessions a self-fulfilling prophecy.  When consumer confidence is low, people spend less.  When people spend less, businesses sell less.  When businesses sell less, industries produce less.

Add it all up and you have a declining GDP, a shrinking economy…and a recession.

The argument against a recession

Whoo-boy!  That was a lot of words about why we’re in a recession, wasn’t it?  So much so that it might seem overwhelming.  But if you’re someone who prefers to look on the bright side, always finds a silver lining, and sees the glass as half-full, you’re in luck.  Because there’s evidence against a recession, too.

Let’s knock these out one by one.  First up, for every bit of data that suggests a recession, there’s data that suggests the economy is actually doing okay.  One of the most important is the labor market.  As of June, 98% of the jobs lost during the pandemic have been recovered.  The economy has added 2.2 million jobs since January.  And the unemployment level has remained steady at 3.6%, which is just above where we were before COVID became a thing.7  So while, yes, GDP has declined, it only tells half the story.  Normal recessions show a decline in economic activity across the board, including both GDP and unemployment.  So, while businesses may be reducing their inventories, they are still adding jobs.

There’s also a possibility that the GDP argument is overblown right now.  For one thing, remember how I said that GDP fell by 0.9% between April and June?  That may turn out to be inaccurate.  Quarterly GDP data is always revised several times as the relevant bureaus who gather and analyze said data – the Bureau of Labor Statistics and the Bureau of Economic Analysis – collect and refine more information.  Sometimes, it turns out that the economy will have actually grown in the previous quarter when at first it looked like it fell.  (The opposite is also true: It’s possible that Q2 GDP could end up looking worse than first thought.)

Some economists also believe the business inventory data I mentioned may be a bit of a misnomer.  You see, in 2021, many businesses ended up overstocking on goods they didn’t actually need.  Why?  Because they wanted to ensure that future issues with global supply chains didn’t leave them high and dry later.  Think of it like going to the grocery store just before a blizzard hits.  If you think it will be a while before you can get groceries again, you may end up buying more food than you can actually eat – food that will go to waste or sit unused in your pantry.  This is what many businesses did in 2021.

So, what’s an overstocked business to do?  Simple: Balance things out by investing less in their inventory.  There’s a possibility this is why inventory levels fell so much during the second quarter.  If so, it would suggest that the decline in GDP was largely artificial.  Especially because, if you take inventory data out of the equation, our GDP would have actually gone up in Q2!

Want more data about why our economy might be okay?  I can give you more. So far this summer, wages and salaries have increased along with jobs – hardly a sign of a recession.  And while consumer confidence is down, consumer spending is up, having grown 1.1% in June.7

Add all this evidence up, and you have a picture that looks more like an economic cooldown than an economic recession.  Which, of course, is exactly what the Federal Reserve hoped for when it started raising interest rates to bring down inflation.

Who decides whether it’s a recession, anyway?

Over the last decade or so, economic data has become weaponized by politicians hoping to win the next round of political football.  Every time there’s a slowdown in the economy, the party that holds power in Washington has an incentive to declare “Everything’s fine” so that they can stay in power.  And the party that wants to be in power has the incentive to say, “Everything’s falling apart.”

That’s what we’re seeing now.

So, after reading all the arguments for and against a recession, you’re probably wondering whose job it is to figure out the answer officially.  Early in this message, I mentioned an organization called the National Bureau of Economic Research.  (NBER for short.)  Inside the NBER is a small group of economists called the “Business Cycle Dating Committee.”  This is the body that officially declares a recession.

While this group is officially part of the government, they have a long history of nonpartisanship.  The proof of that is in how long they take to issue pronouncements.  You see, the committee does not analyze whether we’re in a recession or not in real time.  Instead, they take months to make the call, usually waiting until the evidence is overwhelming and undeniable.  (Clearly, we’re a long way from this.)  Sometimes, the recession may have already come and gone before the committee says anything.  While this can be frustrating, there’s a good reason for it: Their research is for the benefit of historians and economists who are seeking to learn from the past.  Not politicians and pundits who are looking for easy talking points.  So, it may be a long time before we officially know the answer to the question I posed at the beginning of this message.  That means we need to take everything we hear in the media, or out of Washington, with many grains of salt and not overreact to any one piece of data.

Why the question doesn’t matter as much as you might think

Make no mistake: Recessions are a big deal.  But as investors, the real danger is less about whether we’re in a recession or not, and more about whether we overreact or not.  To illustrate what I mean, I’d like to tell you a story.  This is an old fable that first appeared in magazines at least as far back as the 1950s, but it’s still relevant to us today.

There was once a man who sold hot dogs on the side of the road.  He was hard of hearing, so he had no radio.  He had trouble with his eyes, so he never watched television.  But he sold good hot dogs.

He put up a sign on the highway, telling people how good they were.  He stood by the side of the road and cried, “Buy a hotdog, mister!”  And people bought.

He increased his meat and bun order and bought a bigger stove so he could make more hot dogs.  Then he asked his son, who was home from college for the summer, to help him.  But then something happened.  His son said, “Dad, haven’t you been following the news?  There’s a recession coming.  The international situation is terrible, and the domestic situation is even worse.”

The man thought, “Well, my son is very smart.  He watches the news, so he ought to know.”  So, the man cut down on his bun order.  He took down his advertising signs.  He worked fewer hours. And he never cried, “Buy a hot dog!” because times were hard, and he figured nobody would or could.

His hot dog sales fell overnight.

“You were right, son,” the man said.  “We are certainly in the middle of a recession.”

The worst mistake an investor can make during times like these is to stop making decisions based on what they know in favor of what they don’t.  The man in the story knew how to make good hot dogs.  We, in turn, know how to make sound investment decisions.  Our investment strategy is designed to work over the long-term, in good times and bad, and so long as we stick to that – so long as we keep making good hot dogs – then we will keep moving forward to your long-term financial goals.

So, are we in a recession?  I’ll leave that for the economists to decide.  All I know is that I remain confident in the direction we are going, and I look forward to helping you continue in that direction for years to come.  As always, please let me know if you have any questions or concerns.  My team and I are always here for you.  Enjoy the rest of your summer!   

 

Sources

1 “Business Cycle Dating Committee Announcement,” National Bureau of Economic Research, January 7, 2008.  https://www.nber.org/news/business-cycle-dating-committee-announcement-january-7-2008

2 “U.S. economy shrank at annual rate of 0.9% in the second quarter,” CNBC, July 28, 2022.  https://www.cbsnews.com/news/gdp-us-economy-2022-q2/

3 “Changes in Inventories (from NIPA accounts),” NYU Stern School of Business.  https://pages.stern.nyu.edu/~nroubini/bci/Inventories.html

4 “Inversion of key U.S. yield curve slice is a recession alarm,” Reuters, March 30, 2022.  https://www.reuters.com/business/finance/us-2-year10-year-yield-curve-inverts-first-time-since-sept-2019-2022-03-29/

5 “Consumer prices up 9.1% over the year ended June 2022, largest increase in 40 years,” U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, July 18, 2022.  https://www.bls.gov/opub/ted/2022/consumer-prices-up-9-1-percent-over-the-year-ended-june-2022-largest-increase-in-40-years.htm

6 “US Consumer Confidence Drops to Lowest Since February 2021,” Bloomberg, July 26, 2022.  https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2022-07-26/us-consumer-confidence-drops-to-lowest-since-february-2021

7 “So are we in a recession, or not?” CNN Business, July 29, 2022.  https://www.cnn.com/2022/07/29/economy/gdp-recession-fed/index.html

How to Handle Market Corrections

Market Corrections

If you’ve been paying attention to the news, you know the markets have endured a topsy-turvy month of January. As a result, the S&P 500 and Dow Jones are both on the verge of what analysts call a market correction.1 (Something the NASDAQ already entered last week.1)  Should this volatility continue, you’re likely to see that term a lot in the days ahead.

Headlines proclaiming a market correction can often look very scary. That’s a problem because fear is every investor’s worst enemy.  It’s what drives investors to make irrational and shortsighted decisions instead of sticking to their long-term strategy. So, in this letter I’m going to give you a few simple steps for dealing with the market correction that will never go out of date.

Step 1: Know What a Correction Is

Quick refresher in case you’ve forgotten or are unfamiliar with the term: A market correction is defined as a decline of 10% or more from the most recent peak.

It’s important to know this so you understand why corrections are not the end of the world. For example, it’s hypothetically possible for a stock to drop 10% and still be higher than it was a week ago. And while corrections can sometimes worsen into bear markets — defined as a drop of 20% or more — they usually don’t. In fact, on average, corrections last only around three to four months.2

Step 2: Remember That Corrections Are Common

Unlike bear markets, market corrections are also surprisingly common.  Prior to this month, we’ve had ten since the turn of the century alone…of which three turned into bear markets.3 You see, “a drop from a recent peak” doesn’t mean the sky is falling. It simply means that, for whatever reason, investors are feeling pessimistic and have decided it’s time to lock in the gains and sell, or move their money to less volatile investments like bonds. Invest for long enough and you’ll live through dozens of corrections in your lifetime.  They’re like getting a stomach bug: Unpleasant and unavoidable, but usually short-lived.

Step 3: Understand Why This Correction Is Happening

So why are investors retreating? Well, there are two main drivers of the current correction. The first is an old story, one we’ve been dealing with for over a year now. The second is newer, at least to those of us living on this side of the Atlantic.

I’m referring, of course, to inflation and Ukraine.

Let’s start with inflation. As you know, the ongoing pandemic has wreaked havoc on global supply chains.  This has caused prices to rise on everything from cars to food to toiletries.  At the same time, the economy has expanded, partially due to the Fed keeping interest rates at historic lows. The result? Skyrocketing inflation.

Early in the recovery, the Fed hoped that inflation would be transitory, meaning temporary and short-lived. But inflation has proven stubbornly persistent.  After all, COVID-19 has not gone away, choosing to spit out new variants instead.

For months, investors have been expecting the Fed to raise interest rates to combat inflation. (Higher interest rates slows the economy by encouraging consumers and businesses to save rather than borrow or spend. This, in turn, leads producers to lower prices to attract new business.) Now, in 2022, many analysts anticipate the Fed will raise interest rates several times this year. And it could happen as early as this week. The Fed is gathering for a two-day meeting on January 25, and investors are waiting with bated breath to see whether they’ll announce an interest rate hike.

Why do stock investors fear the prospect of higher interest rates?  Well, low interest rates mean that many securities, like bonds, simply don’t provide the same return on investment as they would in a high-interest-rate environment.  That drives more into the stock market to get the returns they need.  Higher interest rates could potentially reverse this trend, leading to money flowing out of the stock market and into other areas.  When that happens, stock prices typically fall.

As we have discussed, when attempting to reduce risk by switching to bonds in response to stock market volatility, you often trade one risk for another risk. When you switch to bonds you are vulnerable to purchasing power risk. Purchasing power risk is when inflation is growing faster than your money.

For these reasons, the interest rate/inflation story is unlikely to go away anytime soon. But now, the markets have a new question to deal with: The prospect of Russia invading Ukraine.

Now, this is hardly the place to dive into the long and controversial history of the Russian-Ukrainian relations. So, let’s just cover the basics. In recent weeks, Russia has moved over 100,000 troops near the Ukrainian border.4 This has NATO — of which the US is a leading member — understandably concerned. (Remember, Russia forcibly annexed Crimea from Ukraine back in 2014.) All the major nations in the region are currently engaged in diplomatic talks, but the situation is growing so serious that the U.S. has ordered all family members of embassy personnel in Kiev to leave Ukraine.

Compared to inflation, it may be hard to see why this story has any effect on the markets at all. The reason can be boiled down to a single word: uncertainty. Will Russia really invade Ukraine? No one’s certain. What would happen if Russia did?  No one’s certain.  What will the US and other Western countries do about it? No one’s certain. If, theoretically, the US were to levy sanctions against Russia, or prevent Russian banks from doing business with the US financial system, what would that do to global trade? No one’s certain.

The markets hate uncertainty.  When investors encounter it, they tend to draw the curtains, head for the hills, and circle the wagons.  So, when you see a broad selloff after news like this, keep in mind that it’s not because investors know what will happen.  It’s because they don’t.

The good news is that geopolitical events tend to have a very short-lived effect on the markets.  That’s because, as the situation clarifies and uncertainty is replaced by understanding, the markets will settle down and go back to focusing on more domestic concerns.  However, my team and I will keep a close eye on this.  If the Russia-Ukraine crisis continues to impact the markets over the coming weeks, I will cover the subject in greater depth in a future message.

Step 4: Determine Whether a Correction Is Likely to Affect Any Short-Term Needs

Now that you know what a correction is and why this one is happening, the next step is to determine whether we need to do anything about it. For most long-term investors, the answer is usually no. However, if you have a major life event coming up, or feel you may need access to your money in the coming weeks, it’s possible your answer will be different. Should this be the case, please reach out to me as soon as possible so we can plan accordingly.

If that’s not the case, then proceed to…

Step 5: Keep the Long View

You knew this was coming, didn’t you?  But this fifth and final step always bears repeating, because it’s so important.

Think back on everything we just covered: Corrections are common.  Historically, corrections are short-lived.  Most investors will experience many corrections in their lifetime.  Corrections occur because investors want to lock in gains or reduce their personal volatility.  Investors do this not because they know what the future holds, but because they don’t.

Put it all together, and it becomes clear: Corrections really aren’t worth overreacting to, are they?

That’s why keeping the long view is so crucial.  Generally speaking, it’s not the markets that determine whether we reach our financial goals or not.  It’s our own decisions.  Which, in some respects, can be a bit of a struggle, because it means we must stay disciplined all the time.  But it’s also an enormous comfort, because it means the power to control our financial future is always in our hands.

So, there you have it,  your guide to dealing with market corrections.  Simple, right?  Of course, simple doesn’t always mean easy.  So, if you have any questions or concerns that I didn’t address in this message, please feel free to contact me.  I’m always happy to speak with you!

In the meantime, always remember that my team and I are here for you.  From inflation to Ukraine and everything in between, we’ll keep monitoring the situation, so you don’t have to…and inform you immediately if there’s ever anything else you need to know.

1 “Dow, S&P 500 and Nasdaq all in ‘correction’ territory as inflation and geopolitical tensions flare,” CBS News, January 24, 2022.  https://www.cbsnews.com/news/stocks-s-p-500-dow-nasdaq-correction-inflation-russia-ukraine-2022-01-24/

2 “Correction,” Investopedia, updated January 24, 2022.  https://www.investopedia.com/terms/c/correction.asp

3 “What is a stock market correction?” The NY Times, January 24, 2022.  https://www.nytimes.com/article/stock-market-correction.html

4 “How Russia’s Military is Positioned to Threaten Ukraine,” The NY Times, January 7, 2022.  https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2022/01/07/world/europe/ukraine-maps.html

The 20th Anniversary of 9/11

A Story From the South Tower

 

It was 20 years ago this month when Stanley Praimnath saw the plane coming right at him.

The morning of September 11, 2001 was as clear, bright, and beautiful as could possibly be in downtown Manhattan.  On that day, Stanley worked as a bank executive on the 81st floor of the World Trade Center’s South Tower.  When the first plane struck the North Tower at 8:46 AM, Stanley wasted no time and made to leave the building.  But when he reached the ground floor, tower security told him to go back to his office.  The building, they said, was secure.

Stanley went back up.

The phone was ringing when he returned to his desk.  It was a colleague from Chicago, calling to see if he was okay.  He assured her that everything was fine.  Then, by pure chance, he turned toward his window.  As Stanley later described it:

“…for no reason, in mid-sentence I just raised my head and looked to the Statue of Liberty and what I see is a big plane coming towards me…a big gray plane, with a red stripe.  I dropped the phone, screamed, dove under my desk and said, ‘Lord, you take over. I can’t do this.’”1 

Within seconds, the tip of the plane’s left wing sliced through his office.  Stanley was covered in debris, but the good news was that he was alive.  The bad news was that he was trapped.

Three floors above, a man named Brian Clark was wrestling with the most important decision of his life: Up or down?  As the volunteer fire warden for his company, Brian had gathered several survivors together.  They began going down, until they were met by a woman who told them the stairs were impassable.  They would have to go up, she said, to get away from the fire and smoke.

While the group debated, Brian heard a banging sound.  Then, in the distance, a voice shouted, “Help, I’m buried and can’t breathe.  Can anybody hear me?”

There was hardly any time.  The floor was becoming engulfed in smoke, and Brian’s group had already decided to go back up.  But Brian and another man decided to stay.  “We’ve got to go get this guy,” he said.  Brian squeezed through a partially blocked doorway to make it onto the 81st floor.  Then, he began searching through the darkness and wreckage with a small flashlight.  He clambered over debris and moved fallen drywall while the voice guided him.

Finally, Brian reached a wall of fallen rubble.  Near the top was a gap, and through the gap stretched a desperate hand.  It was Stanley Praimnath.

By this point, Brian’s colleague found the smoke too unbearable and went back to join the others on a higher floor.  (He would eventually change his mind and head back down and was the last person to escape before the tower collapsed.)  Stanley, too, kept repeating that he couldn’t breathe, that he was suffocating.  The heat and the smoke must have been immense, but Brian refused to leave.  He cleared the blockage as best he could, until finally he was able to peer over the top of a fallen wall and see the man he was trying to rescue.

“You must jump,” Brian said.  “You’ve got to jump out of there.”1

So, Stanley jumped – just high enough for Brian to grab him and pull him over.  The two fell in a heap and embraced.  “I’m Brian,” one said.  “I’m Stanley,” said the other.  The two men had worked in the World Trade Center for years, just three floors from each other, but it was the first time they had ever met.

When the plane crashed into the South Tower it severed two of the three emergency stairwells in the building’s core.  But the last stairwell, the one farthest from the plane’s impact, was miraculously spared.  This was the stairwell Brian and Stanley went down.  Carefully, leaning on the railing and on each other, they navigated through the smoke, over collapsed drywall, and around running water from severed sprinkler lines.  Stanley’s leg was injured, so they had to go especially slow.  At some points, the walls were cracked, and they could actually see flames spreading through the building.  But they kept going, rescuer and rescuee, all the way down to the bottom.  Eighty-one flights of stairs in less than fifty minutes.

When they reached the ground, they made their way to a nearby church.  That’s when Stanley finally broke down and cried.  “I think this man saved my life,” he told the ministers.  But Brian didn’t think of himself as a hero.  He knew that if he hadn’t stopped to listen to that voice in the darkness, if he hadn’t had the courage to find Stanley’s hand in the chaos, if he hadn’t had the strength to grip that hand as tight as he could and say, “Jump!”, then he may well have gone up the stairs, too – for which there would be no coming down.

“Stanley,” he said, “I think you might have saved mine, too.”

***

The September 11 attacks were the worst acts of terrorism our country has ever known.  No one who witnessed the tragedy, either in person or on television, can forget the fear and pain we felt.  But twenty years later, it’s not terror that endures, but inspiration.  Countless people performed countless acts of bravery, charity, and sacrifice that day.  Bonds were forged on 9/11 that cannot be broken.  Bonds between victims’ families.  Bonds between survivors.  (Brian and Stanley remain close friends to this day.)  While the towers fell, the country remained standing.  Over time, fear fades.  Pain eases.  But hope and heroism endure forever.  All because of people like Brian Clark, who, in the midst of smoke and flame, heard a voice call for help…and went towards it.

As we observe the twentieth anniversary of that fateful day, I wish you and your family hope, inspiration, and peace.  May we never forget the strength and sacrifice shown by so many on that clear, bright morning – and in remembering, grow stronger ourselves.

 

P.S. This story was part of a documentary series by National Geographic. The documentary series can be streamed on Hulu (Link Below).

9/11: One Day in America

 

 

Vaughan & Co. 401(k) Review

Features & Services Provided by Vaughan & Co.

 

Here at Vaughan & Co. helping owners manage their 401(k) plans is one of the key focuses of our local family run firm.

We can help you manage all three (3) aspects of your plan:

  • Funds, Fees, Fiduciary:
    • Are the fees charged to your plan reasonable and can you provide documentation to demonstrate you have done your due diligence.  Many companies have not done reviewed fees and cannot document the review. Department of Labor Regulations require this step.
  • Do you understand your Fiduciary responsibility and how you can reduce risk by using certain services that are designed to protect employers.
  • The plans investments should have a competitive investment line-up with enough choices for different employees to be properly invested.

 

  • Plan Design and Operations:
    • Your plan design (eligibility period, match, automatic enrollment, Roth feature, etc.) should be periodically reviewed. You might be able to improve the plan in terms of both being competitive and most importantly being aligned with ownership’s objective for the plan.
  • Plan Recordkeeping is a ever changing competitive business. We can help you determine if there are better recordkeeper’s available to you.  Many companies I have worked with have grown out of their current provider and don’t even know it.  I can help you graduate to a better provider if that is the case.

 

  • Participant Support and Guidance:
    • Each employee and group of employees should have access to the education, tools and resources to ensure they are on the right path to meet their retirement goals.
    • We place a call to each plan participant annually to make investment recommendations and answer general financial questions.
  • We assist you to evaluate recordkeepers in the marketplace to make sure the various tools and resources they offer will meet each of your employees unique needs.

Would you like a plan review?

 

You will receive three benefits:

  1. You will determine that your plan’s fees are competitive and provide you with the documentation to demonstrate you are aware of and compliant with the DOL’s fee disclosure regulations.
  2. Provide you with specific recommendations to improve your plan.
  3. Identify better service providers if you have outgrown your current provider.

The best part of this offer is that this service is complimentary. We only need to collect a couple of pieces of information from you.  Each of the below documents should be available on the site you have access to as a Plan Sponsor / Administrator:

  • A plan level statement showing the investments being used and their respective balances (no personal information).
  • A recent Plan Level Fee Disclosure Document (408b2) notice.

Please fill out the survey below to receive more information on the 401k services we provide. (It takes less than 3 minutes to fill out.) We thank you in advance.401k Info Survey

Inflation and Interest Rates 2021

Bulls and Bears

One year.  It seems incredible, but it has been one year since COVID-19 struck our shores.  One year since the World Health Organization declared a pandemic.  One year since the markets crashed and the schools closed, and we realized just how much we take toilet paper for granted. Since then, the markets have recovered and risen to new heights.  The economy, meanwhile, has recovered more slowly.  Now, a quarter of the way through 2021, we have a new president, several new vaccines, and a completely different world than the one we knew before all this started. We have also seen some renewed volatility in recent weeks.  This has many of my clients asking, “Where are the markets going next?  What should we expect for the rest of 2021?”  We’ll address those questions in this letter.

As you know, there are two types of long-term market situations: Bull markets and bear markets.  But the whole “bull vs bear” concept can also be used to describe two types of investor sentiment.  Bulls are investors who have a positive, or “bullish”, view of where the markets are headed.  Bears, meanwhile, generally have negative, or “bearish” expectations.  So, in this letter, I’m going to let both animals debate each other, each presenting their case for why the markets will have a positive year or a negative one. We’ll start with the Bull, move onto the Bear, and then give the Bull a chance for a short rebuttal.  Finally, as your financial professionals, We’ll give you our view.

The Bullish View

Last year’s market crash was sudden, swift, and deep.  But in the grand scheme of things, it didn’t last very long.  In fact, it took only six months for the markets to recover.  (By contrast, it took the markets almost six years to recover after the Great Recession.)  Since then, the markets have risen to new highs.  Three things propelled the markets to this remarkable turnaround: Low interest rates, federal stimulus, and the expectation of a major economic recovery.  Let’s start with the first one.  To help juice up the economy, the Federal Reserve lowered interest rates to a historic degree.  Low interest rates promote more borrowing and spending, two pillars our economy is based on.  They also help people buy homes and encourage businesses to invest more in themselves.  (Including hiring more workers.)

Congress, meanwhile, has passed three major stimulus packages in the last year.  The most recent bill was signed by President Biden on March 11.  The America Rescue Plan Act of 2021, as it’s called, provides $1.9 trillion in aid for both businesses and consumers.1  Among other things, the Act extends COVID unemployment benefits through Labor Day, provides $1,400 direct payments to individuals, expands certain tax credits, and grants billions to small businesses to help meet payroll and retain workers.1 The first two stimulus packages had a positive impact on things like retail sales and consumer spending, and it’s widely expected that this one will, too.

This combination of low interest rates and government stimulus have helped the economy tread water while we deal with the virus.  But much of the market’s rise is due to something else: Expectation.  Specifically, expectation that the pandemic will end, and the economy will hit the accelerator. As more people are vaccinated and case numbers fall, the thinking goes, more and more of society will re-open, releasing a flood of pent-up demand.  Demand to travel, to eat out, to catch a movie in theaters, you name it.  Add the latest round of stimulus to the mix, and suddenly Americans have both extra money in their pocket and the means to spend it.  In other words, all the ingredients are there for a major economic comeback, the likes of which we haven’t seen in decades.

Now, we seem closer than ever to that expectation becoming reality.  As of this writing, there are three approved vaccines in the U.S., with more than 115 million doses administered.2   (40 million people are currently considered fully vaccinated, approximately 12.3% of the total population. 2)  Currently, our nation is averaging over 2 million shots each day.2  It's no surprise, then, that cases in the U.S. have been falling for weeks.  In fact, as of March 19, cases are down over 14% over the last two weeks.3  We’re not out of the woods yet, not by a long shot.  Masks and social distancing will continue to be a part of our lives for some time yet, and of course there are relatively new variants of the coronavirus to deal with.  But if we can maintain this trajectory, increasing the number of people vaccinated and reducing the number of people sick, that could do wonders for our economy.  It could lead to more of society re-opening, leading in turn to more jobs, more consumer spending, and greater company earnings.  Greater earnings, of course, usually lead to higher stock prices.

The Bearish View

So, in light of all this, how can anyone have a negative view of where the markets are headed?  It all comes down to a single word:  Inflation.

Inflation.  It’s a scary-sounding word that conjures up images of German children stacking useless money in the 1920s, or gas rationing in the 1970s.  For decades, economists have monitored it relentlessly. The Federal Reserve considers managing inflation to be a core aspect of its mission.  That’s partly why our nation’s inflation rate has been relatively stable over the last twenty years.  But recently, some analysts and investors have begun stressing over inflation again.  They don’t deny that the economy is poised to grow.  They just worry that it will grow too much, too fast.  There’s a word for this, too.  Economists call it overheating. When an economy overheats, it essentially no longer has the capacity to meet all the demand it faces from consumers.  Some producers will simply not be able to supply all the goods their customers want.  Other producers, to keep up with that demand, will be forced to raise prices.  It’s a classic example of the Law of Supply and Demand.  (When the demand for something outpaces its supply, the price goes up.)  For example, if everyone suddenly decides to fly to that vacation spot they’ve been putting off for a year, the cost of air travel would skyrocket.

If the economy were to grow too quickly, prices would rise across the board – and the value of our currency would drop.  This, essentially, is inflation: When the general price level rises, a dollar simply pays for less than it used to.  That makes it much harder for people to buy the goods and services they need.  Or to pay off their debts.  It makes it harder for businesses to hire new workers or pay the workers they already have.  The upshot?  When inflation gets too high, consumer spending plummets, unemployment jumps, and economic booms turn into economic busts. Some experts worry this is what’s in store in 2021.  They see the economy as a garden hose that’s been tied up into a knot.  Untie the knot – or re-open the economy too quickly – and the water will burst out with sudden, savage force.

So, here’s what this has to do with the stock market.  Normally, the Federal Reserve combats inflation by raising interest rates.  Higher interest rates tend to cool off the economy, because they prompt people to save their money instead of spending or borrowing it.  A cooler economy decreases inflation, and gradually things go back to normal.  The problem is the stock market has become accustomed to the Fed’s low interest, “easy money” policies.  Low interest rates mean that many types of investments, most notably bonds, simply don’t provide the same return on investment as they would in a high-interest rate environment.  That drives more and more investors into the stock market to get the returns they need.  But what happens when interest rates go up?  Consumers and businesses could cut back on spending, which in turn could cause earnings to fall and stock prices to drop.

Fear of inflation, and fear of higher interest rates.  That’s the bearish view in a nutshell.

Rebuttal

We promised the Bull would have the opportunity for a short rebuttal, so here it is.  There are two main reasons for thinking this fear of high interest rates are overblown.  The first is that, even if inflation does go up – which it likely will – we have a lot of room to work with before it becomes a problem.  In 2020, the inflation rate was only 1.2%.4  That’s well below the 2% mark the Fed generally aims for, and nowhere close to the mindboggling numbers we saw in the late 70s and early 80s.  (In 1979, for example, the inflation rate was 13.3%.4)

The other reason is that there’s no reason to assume the Federal Reserve will automatically raise interest rates just because inflation goes up.  Why?  Because the Fed itself has said that it won’t!5  Currently, the Fed sees stimulating the economy and boosting employment to be far bigger priorities than tamping down on inflation, and recently, the Fed Chairman suggested interest rates would remain low at least until 2022.

Our View

Now that we have told you what the Bulls and Bears think.  So, here’s what we think.  Go watch a video on YouTube and then read the comments.  Ever notice how many people like to say “First”?  In my experience, a lot of investors – be they Bulls or Bears – are like that.  They stress over “getting ahead” or “being first”, and as a result, they overreact to the slightest provocations.

Here at Vaughan & Co. Securities, Inc., we don't worry about being first. We only care about moving forward.  That’s why we focus on one thing: Investing for the long term without trying to guess whether the Bulls or the Bears will dominate.  That means positioning ourselves to take advantage of bull markets while being prepared – mentally and financially – for bears.Historically, an improving economy leads to a stronger stock market.  If that happens in 2021, wonderful!  But if interest rate fears worsen and volatility goes up, experience has taught us not to overreact.  Remember, we’re not investing for next week, or next month, or next quarter.  We’re investing for years.  Any general rise in prices is likely to be temporary, just as any bouts of volatility are temporary, too.

It’s been a year since the pandemic began.  A year since some of the worst market turmoil in a long time.  We got through that by being disciplined and patient, and we’ve been rewarded.  So, that’s what we’ll continue to do.  Other investors can worry about being a Bull, or a Bear, or “first”.  We’ll just continue being disciplined and patient.

 

SOURCES:

1 “The American Rescue Plan Act Greatly Expands Benefits through the Tax Code in 2021,” Tax Foundation, March 12, 2021.  https://taxfoundation.org/american-rescue-plan-covid-relief/

2 “How is the COVID-19 Vaccination Campaign Going In Your State?” NPR, March 19, 2021.  https://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2021/01/28/960901166/how-is-the-covid-19-vaccination-campaign-going-in-your-state

3 “How Severe is Your State’s Coronavirus Outbreak?” NPR, March 19, 2021.  https://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2020/09/01/816707182/map-tracking-the-spread-of-the-coronavirus-in-the-u-s

4 “US Inflation Rate by Year,” The Balance, March 1, 2021. https://www.thebalance.com/u-s-inflation-rate-history-by-year-and-forecast-3306093

5 “Powell Confirms Fed to Maintain Easy Money Policies, The Wall Street Journal, March 4, 2021.  https://www.wsj.com/articles/feds-powell-to-take-questions-on-job-market-interest-rates-bond-yields-11614872817

If you have any questions or concerns about the market, please feel free to contact me.  In the meantime, enjoy the upcoming spring season!

Summer 2020 Market Update

Our Thoughts on Investing Amid the Current Market Situation

 

Every year around this time, parents, grandparents, and guardians prepare for Back to School season.  This year is no different – except how they prepare may be very different indeed.  Due to the pandemic, parents now have some difficult choices to make.  Do they send their children back to school?  Do they choose online learning?  Should they homeschool for a year?  It’s a difficult question with no easy answer because there are so many factors to consider.  How many cases are in the area?  What options does the school actually provide?  What is the child’s health like?  What about the health of other family members?  How do parents balance their child’s education, social needs, and health with their other responsibilities?

Since the headline at the top of this letter says, “Summer Market Update,” you’re probably wondering why I’m talking about going back to school.  The reason is simple.  As you know, COVID-19 has completely upended our daily lives.  It has disrupted almost everything we used to think was “normal.”  And the problem is, there’s no playbook for how to adapt!  No cheat sheet that contains all the answers.  That’s certainly true for parents.

It's also true for investors.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot as I’ve studied the markets over the past few months.  There’s simply no cheat sheet – or even a roadmap – for how to invest in a period like this.  Think about it.  Even during “normal” times, it’s hard enough for institutions to know what to do.  But asking an investor who’s simply trying to save for retirement to navigate the markets during a recession and a health crisis?  Talk about dealing with uncertainty – the one thing investors hate most!

Just as parents have multiple options to consider, so do investors.  Be aggressive?  Be conservative?  Stay the course?  Get out of the markets altogether?  And again, there are so many factors and variables to consider – or at least, that’s what media pundits would have you believe.  So many, in fact, that trying to parse what matters and what doesn’t can feel like the world’s worst word search.

Those words are earnings, interest rates, COVID, second wave, vaccines, stimulus, China, oil, and elections if you don’t want to bother searching – and who could blame you?  If you believe the talking heads in the media, each of those words could signal either a glorious market recovery or a gloomy market pullback.  As a result, interpreting the markets can feel like looking at a blurry photograph and trying to guess what it shows.  That just leads to less clarity and more confusion.  Is the economy recovering, or is it still in decline?  Are the markets on solid ground, or the edge of a cliff?

The proof of all this can be found in how the markets have behaved over the past two months.  March’s bear market led to a sharp recovery, but since the beginning of June, the markets have been largely flat.  For example, on June 8th, the S&P 500 closed at 3,232.  On July 30, it closed at 3,246.1  There have been plenty of little bumps and shallow dips since then, but overall?  Flat.  And that’s with many investors staying out of the stock market altogether, with “nearly $5 trillion parked in money markets” as CNBC reported back in June.2

In school, we learned that for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.  That’s Newton’s Third Law of Motion, and when he wrote it, he was talking about physics.  But lately, it can also describe the physics of the markets.  For example, here’s a short list of what’s been driving the markets lately:

Event Market Action/Reaction
Good news about vaccine development!
But a rising number of COVID cases…
Unemployment claims fall!
But unemployment is still high…
Consumer spending is up!
But the stimulus that drove it is all used up
Federal Reserve keeps interest rates near zero!
Congress can’t agree on more stimulus

You get the idea.  For every bit of good news, there’s news that’s equally troubling.  For every action, there is a reaction.

In short, there is still a lot of uncertainty out there about what type of economic recovery we’re actually experiencing, and where the markets will go next?  When you talk to investors and analysts, there’s a sense that most of them are just waiting for a sign, a development, for something that’s infallible, incontrovertible, unmistakable.  Something that helps them feel certain about what to do.  Essentially, investors are tired of trying to read tea leaves and want road signs.

But even during normal times – there’s that word “normal” again – the road to growth is rarely straight.  There is, and will continue to be, major uncertainty in the months ahead.  We don’t know what the coronavirus will do.  We don’t know when a vaccine will be available.  We don’t know whether the economy is recovering or stalling.  We don’t know who the next U.S. president will be.  We can have educated expectations, but we don’t know. 

So, what do we do?

We remember the most important things.

I have good news, We don’t need to know all those things.

I say this all the time when dealing with a client who is nervous about the future (which is very rarely.)  Those who worry about what the markets do day-to-day, week-to-week, or month-to-month, are traders and short-term investors trying to make short-term money.  It’s a thrilling way to invest.  As a result, the media largely caters to that crowd, because that’s where the drama is.

What we must remember is that we are long-term investors.  That means we can deal with uncertainty better than anyone else by not trying to make decisions we don’t have to.  As the saying goes, it’s not timing the market, but time in the market that matters to us.  What happens over a month, a quarter, or even a year, is less important than what happens over a decade.

Here’s one way to think about it.  Imagine you were blowing bubbles into a glass of water.  If you looked at it up close under a magnifying glass, the bubbles would look like huge waves.  Take a step back, and they’re mere blips.  The same is true for the markets.  Waves in the short-term look like ripples in the long.  So, what’s the point in overreacting to each one?

When it comes to investing during this climate, we also must remember that, just as there’s no cheat sheet, there’s also no one right answer.  Just as parents must make the best decision for their situation, the same is true for us.  When it comes to our investment strategy, making sense of the word search above is simply not as important as asking ourselves: How much risk can we afford to take on?  What kind of return do your personal goals require?  How close are you to retirement?  Do we prioritize growing your money, or preserving it?  We’ll continue to let your answers dictate the decisions we do make, not how many COVID cases there are or when a vaccine will come.  That way, even when the market is flat, we’ll keep moving forward – secure in the knowledge that we’re doing what’s best for you. 

In the meantime, the markets will continue to act and react.  But we won’t.  There will be good weeks and bad days.  But we’ll continue to think in terms of years.  That’s why, when it comes to interpreting the markets, we don’t have to worry about being cleverer than everyone else.  We just need to worry about being more disciplined.

We hope you found this letter informative.  As always, please let us know if you have any questions or concerns.  We always love to speak with you.  Have a great rest of your summer!

The Bond Market

Interest Rates

The 30-year US Treasury Bond yields about 1.4% (Yield is calculated by dividing the annual interest paid by the bond by the price of the bond.)  The Federal Reserve (The central bank of the United States, which sets monetary policy.) has a long-held, clearly stated policy of inflating US currency by 2% per year.  Should the Federal Reserve succeed with this policy, the 30-year bond would provide a real yield (interest paid minus inflation) of -.6% each year.

 

However, 1.4% per year is taxable as current income.  To make my math easier, we will assume that you are in the 30% federal income tax bracket.  You would then pay about .4% per year in federal income taxes.  Combined with the .6% per year currency depreciation from inflation, the negative annual return is about 1% per year.  If the 30-year bond is held to maturity, then about 30% of the purchasing power of your money is lost.

 

If you are not planning to hold your 30-year Treasury bond until maturity - maybe you are just parking your money until markets settle down - you may find that interest rates have risen.  Since prices of existing bonds fall as interest rates rise, you may sustain a capital loss in what was supposed to be a risk-less asset.

 

Of course, you can decrease or eliminate the potential capital loss with shorter-term bonds. The 10-year US Treasury yields .9%, and money market funds are at .25%.  Essentially nothing.  To substitute Municipal bonds in this analysis, use a yield of about 2.27% per year (ETF: MUB).

Inflation reduces your return by 2% per year to .27% per year.  No adjustments have been made for the credit risk that some municipal bonds may not be paid in full.

 

Based on the stated policy of The Federal Reserve to generate 2% per year of inflation, the bond market promises negligible to negative returns per year.

 

What are your alternatives? If the bond holdings are part of the savings portions of your portfolio, we will recommend money market funds as a lower-risk alternative.

If the bonds are part of the wealth-building portion of your portfolio, we will recommend an increase in your allocation to quality common stocks.

 

As always, your comments are welcome.

Economic Recovery Outlook 2020

Coronavirus Economic Update

 

What will the economic recovery look like?  It’s the million-dollar question.

Will it be V-shaped, with the economy bouncing back as swiftly as it fell?  Or will it be more like the Nike swoosh – a swift drop, with a long but straight road back to the top?  Or maybe it will be like a rollercoaster, with plenty of stops, starts, hills, and valleys before the ride comes to a stop?  As we continue battling the coronavirus, the answer will influence how soon life returns to normal – and what normal actually is.

Economists often use recession shapes to characterize recessions and their recoveries.  These shapes commonly take the form of letters in the alphabet, like V, U, W, and L.  Modern history provides many examples of each type of recovery.  Currently, there are good arguments to be made for each scenario.  That’s why, for the next several months at least, economists, investors, and analysts will all be looking anxiously at every bit of data they can find to determine which letter the recovery will resemble.

As part of my ongoing efforts to keep you up-to-date on how the coronavirus is affecting your investments, I thought it would be good to briefly cover each scenario.  We’ll look at why each shape may or may not happen and how each could impact us.   Before we begin, though, there’s one thing to remember.  As long-term investors, the long-term health of the economy plays a role in how we plan for the future.  Despite this, we must always remember that the economy and the markets are not the same.  They are related, but they don’t move in lockstep.  More often, the markets move ahead of the economy.  Investors are always looking towards the future, trying to gauge where the economy will go as opposed to where it is now.  That’s why, despite the spate of bad economic news lately, the markets have been fairly stable.  So, even if the economic recovery resembles a specific letter, that doesn’t mean the markets will look the same.

With that said, let’s begin with the most optimistic of letters:

The V-Shaped Recovery

V for victory, right?  In this case, victory over the pandemic’s effects on the economy.

Think of a V-shaped recovery like dropping a fully inflated basketball.  The fall will be swift and steep – but the ball will bounce back just as quickly.  In this case, the ball is the economy.  The pandemic caused a brutal drop in employment, stock prices, and GDP, but the recovery will be equally fast.  It’s probably the most optimistic scenario we can hope for.

The case for a V

There are three basic arguments for a V-shaped recovery.  First is that the U.S. economy was fairly strong before the pandemic.  Since the current recession was caused by external factors (like a virus) and not structural ones (like a change in fiscal policy or a credit crisis), the thinking is that the recovery will be equally strong.

The second argument is based on history.  V-shaped recoveries have happened before, with sharp drops often leading to equally sharp ascents.  One example is the recession of 1953.  America’s soaring post-war economy plummeted to earth thanks to skyrocketing interest rates.  Within a year, though, the economy recovered, with the country’s GDP returning near pre-recession levels.

The final argument for a V is the stock market.  On February 19, the S&P 500 was at 3,386.1  Roughly a month later, it had dropped over a thousand points to 2,237.2  That’s one of the fastest bear markets in history.  But by June, just over three months later, the S&P had risen 800 points.2  It’s not quite a V, but it’s close.  So, if the stock market can do it, why not the overall economy?

The case against a V

Unfortunately, the letter V also stands for “virus.”  So long as the virus continues to affect our daily lives, so too will it affect the economy.  That’s why many experts consider a V-shaped recovery to be overly optimistic.

Besides infecting over 1.5 million people3, let’s look at what the coronavirus has done in the United States.  Since March, over 38.6 million people have filed unemployment claims.4  The jobless rate has floated just under 15%, the highest since the Great Depression.5  Oil prices crashed due to plummeting demand.  Entire industries have seen business drop to drastic levels.

These kinds of effects don’t just get reversed overnight.

Again, the markets and the economy are not the same.  The markets have stabilized largely based on government stimulus, hope for a vaccine, and because all this economic pain has already been priced in.  Of these factors, only the first – government intervention – has any effect on the economy right now.  Most experts believe a widescale vaccine is still at least a year away.  And while government stimulus has helped, it’s only bandaging the wound, not healing it.

A V-shaped recovery would be wonderful, and it’s still a real possibility.  In fact, in May, the unemployment rate actually dropped to 13.3 percent!6  But even though the U.S. is starting to open back up, returning to normal could still take much longer.

The U-Shaped Recovery

Ah, the letter U.  Visually similar to the letter V, but more rounded, less dramatic.  That’s a perfect way to think of a U-shaped recovery.  Think of it like a V, except the recovery takes longer.  In this case, the nation’s GDP would shrink for 2-3 quarters in a row, and then slowly return to normal.  A good example of a U-shaped recovery occurred back in 1973.  After contracting sharply, the U.S. economy remained in the doldrums for roughly two years before rebounding to pre-recession levels.

A quick note about GDP

You probably learned about GDP in high school or college, but here’s a quick refresher in case you find it helpful.  A country’s gross domestic product, or GDP, is a measure of the total value of all goods and services produced in a specific time period.  Consumer spending, government spending, business investment, and national exports are all components of GDP.  While it has limitations, GDP is important, because it serves as a useful vital sign of our economy’s health.  Higher GDP signals both higher wages and more jobs, as businesses need more production to meet growing demand.  A declining GDP reflects layoffs, falling revenue, and lower consumer spending.

The case for a U

In a recent survey, nearly 45% of the economists who participated predicted the U.S. recovery would be U-shaped.7  It makes sense.  Remember above, when I said that so long as the virus affects our daily lives, it will affect our economy?  The U-shaped recovery reflects that.  Back in April, the World Health Organization warned that the coronavirus would likely “be with us for a long time.”8 Some experts think it will only go away once we have a widely available vaccine that helps us achieve herd immunity. So, in this scenario, the recovery will be slow and gradual. Only when we have a vaccine will it accelerate.

The case against a U

Economists and epidemiologists will both be hoping for the same thing here: No major surge of cases, especially in the winter.  If social distancing measures and increased testing are enough for businesses to reopen and bring back furloughed workers, a U is likely. But if the country reopens too fast, too soon or if the virus resurges with a vengeance in the winter, there may be no choice but to bring back stricter quarantine measures.  If that happens, the single-U recovery will likely devolve into…

The W-Shaped Recovery

The letter W – it looks more like a double-V than a double-U, doesn’t it?  And there lies the insidious nature of this type of recovery.  It’s essentially two recoveries…for two recessions.

Most of my clients probably remember the recession of the early 1980s.  In many ways, it was two recessions in one.  A weak economy devolved into a bad one.  Then, the recovery started – only for the economy to plummet again.  This is why a W-shaped recovery is also known as a “double-dip recession.”  What initially looks like a quick turnaround turns into something much longer.  Just when you thought it was safe to go back into the water…

The case for a W

It’s simple.  If we are hit with a second, or even third wave of infections, all our efforts to flatten the curve will be undone.  Should that happen, more lockdown measures will likely have to be enacted.  The result?  More economic pain, as our country rides a rollercoaster of good quarters and bad.

The case against a W

The good news is that W-shaped recoveries are relatively rare.  By some estimates, we’ve only had two in modern history: in the late ‘30s and early ‘80s.9  Both of these cases occurred largely due to internal factors.  Careful management of both our economy and our epidemiology should hopefully prevent a W from happening.

The L-Shaped Recovery

You have to tilt your head to see the L in this scenario, but in any case, it’s the least ideal letter.

In a sense, an L-shaped recovery is no recovery at all.  Because here, the economy takes years, sometimes even decades, to return to pre-recession levels.  Instead, a new normal sets in, and the economy’s baseline becomes lower than it used to be.  Certain jobs that were lost never come back. Certain spending habits never resume. Business investment is irrevocably altered.  In other words, the pandemic’s effect on our nation’s GDP is enduring, not temporary.

One of the most famous L’s in modern history occurred in Japan.  This was the so-called “lost decade” of the 1990s – and some economists think it was really two decades!  Closer to home, the United States experienced an L-shaped recovery of sorts after the financial crisis.  While the Great Recession is generally thought to have ended in 2009, it took over six years for the unemployment rate to drop below 5%.  (The GDP growth rate, meanwhile, is still lower than what it used to be.)

The case for an L

As of this writing, few economists seem to be forecasting an L-shaped recovery.  But it’s worth noting that a paper released by the National Bureau of Economic Research takes a gloomier view.  According to their data, a high unemployment rate is likely to stick around for some time.  That’s partially because some industries have been hit particularly hard, and likely won’t recover until the pandemic has ended.  (The travel and hospitality industries are good examples.)  Should that happen, the paper estimates that 35% of workers who have been laid off will not be recalled to their jobs.10  Such a large percentage of permanently unemployed workers would have a big impact on consumer spending, which accounts for roughly 67% of our nation’s GDP.11

The case against an L

Forecasts for an L-shaped recovery are definitely in the minority right now.  It’s certainly possible, but it assumes that the coronavirus spreads completely unchecked for years to come, without cure or even containment.  Remember, the government and the Federal Reserve have been working hard to shore up the economy.  Furthermore, an unprecedented amount of money and brainpower is being poured into the race to find treatments for the virus.  Finally, current economic data suggests that, while unemployment is still rising, weekly jobless claims may have peaked.  That means the worst would be behind us.

For these reasons, the consensus among economists seems to be that a U-shaped recovery is more likely.  Let’s keep our fingers crossed!

So, what does all this mean for the markets?

You’ve probably noticed it already, but each of these letters has something in common: They all start by plunging down.

Right now, our economy is in a recession.  Whichever letter the recovery ends up looking like, we’re currently on the downward side.  That’s why, over the last few weeks, many clients have asked me:

“How are the markets going up when unemployment and the economy are so bad?”

“Should I even trust the numbers I’m seeing in the markets right now?” 

“What if the markets drop again?  Should I start adding funds to my portfolio or should I wait?”

“What should I be doing as an investor right now?”   

The first question, at least, is fairly easy to answer.  I alluded to it earlier, but let’s quickly review how the markets work compared to the economy.

The economy moves based on activity, like production, consumption, and trade. The markets, on the other hand, move largely on anticipation. When investors expect something will happen, they make decisions based off that expectation. So, when the markets plummeted in March, it was based on the expectation that unemployment would rise, consumer spending would fall, and the economy would contract.  In other words, the markets fell because investors saw the downward slope coming a mile away.  Whether the recovery ends up resembling a V, a U, a W, or an L, they knew that economic pain would come before economic gain.

Well, that pain has happened.  So why haven’t the markets continued to slide?  Because that pain has already been “priced in.”  The massive swings we saw in March were based on what is happening right now.  By the same token, the markets have stabilized because of what investors expect in the future – that the economy will make like a V or a U and rise again.

Unfortunately, the other questions don’t have easy answers.  As we’ve already covered, there are cases to be made for and against each letter.  In fact, different industries will experience different letters.  Some industries may enjoy V-shaped recoveries.  Others may have to endure L’s.  Accordingly, different sectors of the markets may sink or swim.

As time passes, more economic data will come out.  So, at some point, we’ll be able to tell the shape of the recovery.  But again, what looks like a V could end up really being a W.  The letter U could actually be the beginning of a sideways-L.  There’s really no way to know ahead of time.

The economist John Kenneth Galbraith once said that “the only function of economic forecasting is to make astrology look respectable.”  That’s why we don’t make decisions based on economic predictions.  In the end, that’s just a type of gambling, and here at Vaughan & Co. Securities, Inc., we don’t gamble with your money.

With that in mind, let’s return to the last – and most important – question my clients have been asking lately:

What should I be doing as an investor right now?

There are three basic things everyone should be doing right now.

First is to remember why we invest.  We invest because you have long-term goals you want to accomplish.  There are things you want to do and places you want to go.  There are dreams you want to achieve and people you want to protect.  We invest so you will have financial means to live the life you’ve worked so hard for.

Second is to remember how we invest.  Because we invest for your (as in, nobody else’s) long-term goals (as in, the things you care about most) we don’t make decisions based on predicting whether we’ll have a V recovery or a W or any other letter.  Make no mistake, the type of recovery we see will have an impact on the markets – and by extension, on your portfolio.  So, as your financial advisor, I do track the economy closely, so we can prepare for what the future holds.  But how we invest – that’s based on determining what kind of risk and what kind of return you need to reach your goals.  That’s why you’ll never hear me say, “You should put more money in the markets because I think the economy is going to do better next month.”  Or, “You should take money out of the markets because I think the economy will do worse.”

Instead, I make recommendations based on what you need to achieve your goals, as well as what level of risk you can afford to take on.  That’s why some investors should consider adding funds while others just maintain their current portfolio.  There’s no “one size fits all” approach.

The third thing investors should do, then, is take this opportunity to assess whether their goals and needs have changed.  Imagine, for a moment, that you do know which type of economic recovery we’ll experience.  How would a U-type recovery, or a W-type recovery, be likely to affect your income?  Your expenses?  Your insurance coverage?  Your retirement date?  Your loved ones?  How would a long-term pandemic affect your goals?  Will some (like travel) need to be pushed back?  Can others (like landscaping your yard or contributing to charity) be moved up as a result?

The answers to these questions go a long way to determining whether we should maintain or adjust our current investment strategy.  When it comes to your personal finances, factoring the answers into our plan is more important than looking at the markets every day, or predicting what the economy will do.

So, here’s what I want you to do, «Salutation»Take a few minutes to think about everything you just read.  Think about your long-term goals and your short-term needs.  Has anything changed?  Does anything need to change?  If so, let’s talk.  We can meet over the phone or online to update your investment strategy or financial plan.  We can review your goals, adding and modifying as needed.  We can also review your financial needs, including your income, risk tolerance, and more.  In other words, we can lay out a new plan to make your personal economic recovery look however you want!

In the meantime, I hope you found this information interesting and helpful.  Please let me know if there is ever anything I can do for you.  Here’s to a great recovery!

 

Sources

1 “S&P 500 and Nasdaq jump to record highs, Dow climbs more than 100 points,” CNBC, February 19, 2020.  https://www.cnbc.com/2020/02/19/stock-market-wall-street-in-focus-amid-coronavirus-outbreak.html

2 “S&P 500 Historical Prices,” The Wall Street Journal, https://www.wsj.com/market-data/quotes/index/SPX/historical-prices

3 “Coronavirus Cases in the United States,” Google News, https://news.google.com/covid19/map?hl=en-US&mid=/m/09c7w0&gl=US&ceid=US:en

4 “38.6 Million Have Filed For Unemployment Since March,” NPR, https://www.npr.org/sections/coronavirus-live-updates/2020/05/21/859836248/38-6-million-have-filed-for-unemployment-since-march

5 “US unemployment rate soars to 14.7 percent,” The Washington Post, May 8, 2020.  https://www.washingtonpost.com/business/2020/05/08/april-2020-jobs-report/

6 “U.S. Unemployment Rate Fell to 13.3% in May,” The Wall Street Journal, June 5, 2020.  https://www.wsj.com/articles/may-jobs-report-coronavirus-2020-11591310177

7 “U.S. economy likely set for U-shaped recovery after deep rut,” Reuters, April 21, 2020.  https://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-economy-poll/u-s-economy-likely-set-for-u-shaped-recovery-after-deep-rut-reuters-poll-idUSKCN2231V6

8 “World Health Organization warns: Coronavirus remains ‘extremely dangerous’ and will be with us for a long time,” CNBC, April 22, 2020. https://www.cnbc.com/2020/04/22/world-health-organzation-warns-coronavirus-will-be-with-us-for-a-long-time.html

9 “Double-Dip Recession: Previous Experience and Current Prospect,” Congressional Research Service, June 19, 2012.  https://fas.org/sgp/crs/misc/R41444.pdf

10 “Pandemic Recession: L or V-Shaped?” National Bureau of Economic Research, May 2020.  https://www.nber.org/papers/w27105.pdf

11 “Shares of gross domestic product: Personal consumption expenditures,” Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, updated May 28, 2020.https://fred.stlouisfed.org/series/DPCERE1Q156NBEA

Paycheck Protection Program Update May 8, 2020

PPP

An additional $ 310,000,000 has been allocated to the SBA for use in funding the PPP  with an additional  $60,000,000 allocated to the smaller EDIL program. No changes were made to the procedures for applying for the loans.  The Monday morning technical problems seem to have been resolved. Clients continue to submit loans with one client submitting hers on Thursday afternoon. Most clients have been successful or are waiting for funding after approval. Two client even report a successful applications with a Big Bank! If you have not sent in an application, there is still time.

 

Loan Forgiveness- Clients who have received PPP loans are trying to figure out when to call their employees back. The extra $600 of Unemployment Benefit has created a problem. Many employees would receive less by returning to work. Should just the higher paid employees be recalled? Should  an employer wait until he reopens (May 15 or June 1) and pay overtime in anticipation of pent up demand? The employer only has an eight week period to use the funds. Of course, the employer can repay any unused funds.

 

What documentation will the lending bank want to support the Forgiveness application? We intend to send payroll information, health insurance , retirement deposits and Rent/Occupancy information. The bank may need copies of paid checks.  We expect significant scrutiny from our bank during the forgiveness process. We expect that our bank will want clear standards from the SBA before they proceed. 

 

The Treasury Department has announced that all PPP loans above $2 million will be audited with emphasis on a determination that the PPP loan was necessary.

 

Income Tax Treatment of Loan Forgiveness- The CARES act specifically says that a forgiven PPP loan is not taxable income. (Normally, under IRS rules a forgiven loan results in taxable income to the debtor.) The IRS announced today that although the Forgiven PPP loan does not create income, no deduction will be allowed for normally deductible payroll and occupancy expenses. Looks like the IRS wants to take back the tax advantage of the PPP loans. Here is  IRS Notice 2020-32 …maybe your CPA does not agree with the IRS interpretation. The PPP loan forgiveness specifically states that the forgiven PPP loan was not income…Interesting tax law question…we shall see.

 

Your thoughts on how to meet the Forgiveness Standard are welcome.

I suggest that you put your firms current Economic Uncertainty in writing. (There are many current events that you will want to forget!) What changes did you make? What changes did you contemplate but not make? Did any prospective clients or customers reduce, postpone or cancel orders? Keep a list of them. Since the standard is Uncertainty, did any clients or customers contact you to discuss reducing, postponing or canceling business. List them as well.

Did any employees or their families get the virus or were any worried about getting the virus?

Did you worry about paying your suppliers and getting paid by your clients and customers? These expenses are are not part of the PPP loan or forgiveness provisions but certainly would create uncertainty.

We should write a memo to ourselves in order to remember each financial event as we work through these uncertain times.

As always, if you have any thoughts or comments, please send them to me.