About 23226594

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.

2020 Oil Crash

Oil Prices Fall Below Zero

How can something cost less than $0?

That’s the question many people have been asking this week.  It all started on Monday, April 20, when headlines like this dominated the news:

U.S. Oil Prices Fall Below Zero For the First Time in History1

That same day, plummeting oil took the stock market down with it – the Dow, for example, slid nearly 600 points.2  And while oil prices have risen since Monday, they are still in historically low territory.  The questions, then, are obvious: why are oil prices crashing?  How can they be less than $0?  What does that mean for the stock market?  And what does that mean for us at the pump?

I’ll answer those questions now.

Q: Why has the price of oil dropped so much lately?

First, let’s define what it is we’re actually talking about here. 

Generally speaking, when you hear about oil prices in the media, you’re hearing about the price of crude oil.  Crude oil is raw, unrefined petroleum extracted from the earth.  After extraction, it can then be refined into various products – gasoline being the most well-known.

Historically, oil prices are tied to two different benchmarks: Brent Crude, and West Texas Intermediate (WTI).  Brent is extracted from the North Sea in Europe; WTI from – you guessed it – western Texas.  There are many types of crude oil, but their prices usually follow the price of Brent and WTI, simply because that makes it easier for buyers and sellers to do business.  That means as these two benchmarks go, so goes the rest of the oil industry.

The price of both Brent and WTI have dropped dramatically in recent months, although the news about oil falling below zero is specific to WTI.  (We’ll get to that in a minute.)

There are many reasons why oil prices fluctuate, but they all come back to one: The Law of Supply and Demand.  When the demand for oil is greater than the supply, the price rises.  Conversely, when the supply of oil is greater than the demand for it, the price drops.  This is essentially what’s happening now.  Due to the coronavirus, the world’s appetite for oil is at an all-time low.  Right now, planes aren’t flying, because people aren’t traveling.  Cars aren’t driving as much, because more people are staying home.  Fewer goods are being transported, which means fewer factories are operating.

In short, the world has more of the black stuff than it needs right now.

Sometimes, nations can influence the price of oil by either increasing or decreasing the production of oil.  For example, earlier in April, countries like Saudi Arabia and Russia pledged to cut production by 9.7 million barrels per day. 3  The hope is that by decreasing supply, prices will stabilize.  And they did.  Briefly.

There are two problems here.  The first problem is that the world’s demand for oil is still far, far below that.  In fact, some experts calculate that demand has fallen by 25-35 million barrels per day.3  Think about that number for a moment.  It’s staggering.  So, despite the production cuts, supply will still outpace demand – by a lot.

For the second problem, let’s move on to the next question:

Q: How can oil prices drop below $0? 

Chances are, you have never gone into a store and seen something worth negative dollars.  Just typing the phrase “negative dollars” seems only slightly less crazy than if I had typed, “the sun rose in the west today.”  Nevertheless, the price of West Texas Intermediate did drop below $0 a barrel.  Now, I’ll tell you why.  Bear with me, though, because this is where things get a little tricky.

When it comes to selling oil, there are actually two different markets: the physical market, and the futures market.  The physical market is similar to the way most of us buy and sell things.  A producer, say, Exxon Mobil, sells its oil – usually via an intermediary – to a buyer, like a refinery.  They agree upon a price, the oil is shipped, and that’s that.  This mostly takes place out of the public eye, and it’s not what we’re talking about here.

When you hear the media talk about oil prices, they’re usually discussing the futures market.  This is where futures contracts are traded between brokers, banks, and other entities.  An oil futures contract is for 1,000 barrels of crude, set to be delivered for a specific price at a specific date in the future.  Both buyers and sellers find them handy because the contracts enable them to lock in current prices.

For example, let’s say Bob wants to buy oil from Betty.  If Bob purchases a futures contract at $20 per barrel, and oil prices rise to $21 between the time he bought the contract and when the oil is delivered, he just saved money.  ($1,000, in fact, as that $1 change is multiplied by 1,000 barrels.)  On the other hand, if oil prices fall, then Betty, the seller, will receive more money than if she had sold later.  Either way, producers use future contracts to guarantee they can sell their crude at a later date, no matter what happens.  Buyers who need crude for their own business – like refineries, for example – use them to ensure they have adequate supplies in the future, at a price they can afford.

Make sense?  Good.  Now, let’s throw in a slight twist in the form of speculators. 

Many traders in the oil futures market are speculators.  These traders have no desire to physically own oil any more than you do.  Instead, they make money by betting – speculating – on whether oil prices will go up or down.  (To do this, they simply close their positions before the contract expires by swapping contracts with buyers who actually need it.)

So, now that you understand how things work, here’s what happened.  The contracts for WTI crude set for delivery in May expired on Tuesday, April 20.  (That means Tuesday was the last day these May contracts could be traded.)  Normally, traders who don’t want to take possession of oil treat the last few days as a chance to swap contracts with buyers who do.  In the meantime, crude set for final delivery in May is stored at facilities in Cushing, Oklahoma, and the entire process is usually neat and orderly.

But this was when traders ran into the second problem I alluded to above.  Thanks to overwhelming supply and underwhelming demand, oil prices had already plummeted.  But now there was a new problem: storage.  Simply put, the world is running out of space to store all this excess oil – and Cushing is projected to be at 100% capacity in mid-May!4  As a result, all these traders with May contracts faced the proposition of taking possession of millions of barrels of crude –with no ability to actually store it.  That led to a fire sale of historic proportions.  With most of the usual buyers not buying, traders with neither the desire nor the ability to actually take the oil had no choice but to pay others to take the barrels off their hands.  The result?  WTI prices fell below zero for the first time in history – because the sellers weren’t actually selling.  They were paying others as much as $37.63 a barrel to take the oil for them.5

Whew!  We’ve covered a lot of ground.  Congratulations, because you’ve just completed a crash course in the byzantine world of oil prices.  Let’s end by quickly covering two simpler questions:

Q: How will this affect gas prices?   

The answer: probably not as much as you’d think.

Oil prices and gasoline prices are related but not identical.  Gasoline is made from distilled petroleum, usually with a number of special additives.  It’s sold by different companies than those that extracted the petroleum in the first place.  Gasoline futures are an entirely different type of contract governed by a different set of factors.  Transportation, marketing, and refining costs all contribute to the price.  So do federal and state taxes, the latter of which can vary widely.  And of course, different gas stations can set different prices.  There’s no governing body or set of regulations to follow.

Still, falling oil prices do tend to lead to falling gas prices.  As of Tuesday, April 21, the average price per gallon in the United States was $1.81.6  That’s 36 cents lower than a month ago, and more than a dollar cheaper than this time last year.  So, you can expect to pay less at the pump for the time being.  Just don’t expect it to get anywhere near zero!

Q: So how does this affect the stock market? 

Still reeling from the pandemic, oil volatility is the last thing the stock market needs right now.  That’s because falling oil prices make life harder for energy companies.  It can lead to significant layoffs, at a time when unemployment is already skyrocketing.  Nations that are particularly dependent on oil production – Canada comes to mind – may feel the effects even more.  That said, oil prices have been turbulent all year long, so moving forward, much of the economic pain may already be priced into the stock markets.  And with dozens of countries pledging to cut production or prop up the industry, we may see prices stabilize soon.

That said, this is not a problem that’s going to end anytime soon.  (The price of June WTI contracts has fallen recently, too.)  It will likely be months, at best, before demand overtakes supply again.  Storage space is increasingly scarce.  So, this is definitely something we will keep an eye on moving forward.  We will scrutinize your portfolio for any possible weaknesses, and let you know if we feel a change is needed.

We hope you found this analysis interesting.  At the very least, now you can impress your family with your knowledge of how oil futures work!  (I know they’re all just dying to learn.)  In the meantime, let me know if you have any questions.  As this pandemic goes on, always remember that my team and I are here for you.  We are constantly working to keep you on track to your financial goals.

Paycheck Protection Program Update April 20, 2020

Loan Disbursement

We received an email Friday night with our PPP documents. (Thank you to Columbia Bank for working late!)

 

The loan documents were straight forward and allowed an email response. No surprises.

 

Columbia Bank stated in their transmittal email that the funds might be deposited into our business account on Monday April 20- even if the loan documents were not signed. However, we would not be able to use the funds until the documents were executed and returned. In fact, the funds were deposited in our account on Saturday. Interesting.

 

As we continue going through this process, we want to keep you informed as much as possible. As always if you have any questions or concerns, do not hesitate to contact us.

 

Sincerely,

 

Vaughan & Co. Securities Inc.

Paycheck Program Update April 10, 2020

Dear Business Owner Clients

The following is the latest update.

Most of it came from a client who has an ongoing, long term relationship with a bank. Their application will move quickly through the process.

My client has been advised to send everything in a single email. The bank loan officers are working from home and have been inundated with applications.

Your payroll company may have a PPP payroll data report available for your use. Paychex calls theirs Paychex PPP Data Report. A local high service competitor Balance Point Payroll has a report that you can access here.

Because of our 401k business we have a lot of experience with different Payroll and Human Resource Service providers.

We submitted our application last Friday. No response from the bank.

For your use here is the link to the SBA PPP application. https://www.sba.gov/document/sba-form--paycheck-protection-program-borrower-application-form

Please send us any information that might be useful to fellow applicants.

NAICS Code

Paycheck Protection Program Update April 8, 2020

Dear Business Owner Clients,

A client reports that his loan officer requested a copy of his lease, utilities, date of incorporation and NAICS Description Code. You can get your NAICS Code here.

NAICS Code Description

Client was also informed that until the Bank has everything they need he did not have an SBA Number. We are not sure of the significance of an SBA Number but it sounds important.

We intend to send in our information before the Bank (the same Bank) contacts us.

Thank you for sending me any information that you find.

The CARES Act

Breaking Down the CARES Act

As you know, the coronavirus pandemic has created both a health crisis and an economic crisis.  As of this writing, there are over 160,000 known cases.1  By the time you read this, there will certainly be more – and that number does not reflect those who have been infected but not tested.  The economic cost, meanwhile, has resulted in millions of Americans losing their jobs.  Some economists at the Federal Reserve estimate the unemployment rate could rise as high as 32%!2 

To help address both crises, Congress recently passed the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act.  It’s a massive, $2 trillion stimulus package designed to help everything from hospitals, to individuals, to businesses large and small.  Time will tell if it will be enough to blunt the impact of this pandemic, but the fact Congress was able to pass something so significant, so quickly, is a rare feat worth celebrating. 

Charles Darwin once said, “It is the long history of humankind that those who learned to collaborate and improvise most effectively have prevailed.”  For many years now, that is not a quote you could usually apply to the United States Congress.  Political partisanship has meant that gridlock usually prevails over collaboration.  Thankfully, both sides of the aisle recently proved the institution still works when people put aside their differences and work together for the common good. 

This is major legislation, with benefits for almost every American.  Some of the bill’s provisions are especially important for retirees.  So, to help you understand what the CARES Act does, and how it will impact you, I have prepared a special breakdown.  As I am sending this to all my clients, some information may apply to you, and some may not.  Please read it carefully, and then let me know if you have any questions.      

 We at Vaughan & Co. Securities Inc, hope you and your family are staying healthy and safe.  Please let us know if there is anything we can do for you!                                  

Important Provisions of the CARES Act

The CARES Act is designed “to provide emergency assistance and health care response for individuals, families, and businesses affected by the 2020 coronavirus pandemic.”3  Think of it as a kind of massive care package.  Just as an actual care package is meant to get somebody through a tough time, that’s what the CARES Act is designed to do.  Because so many people have either lost their job, seen their hours cut back, or experienced drastic changes to their daily lives, many Americans must now contend with potential cashflow problems.  The CARES Act contains a number of provisions to help individuals and businesses handle those problems, at least for the short-term.

What follows is a brief overview of the provisions that could affect you and your finances.  Let’s start with:

Direct Payments4

What’s the quickest way to ensure people get the money they need?  Pay them directly.  Perhaps the most newsworthy aspect of this bill is that many taxpayers will receive a one-time direct payment to help them cover expenses. 

Here’s a breakdown of how it will work. 

Individuals who made up to $75,000 in 2019 will receive $1,200

Heads of Household (single parents, for example) who made up to $112,500 in 2019 will receive $1,200.

Married couples filing a joint tax return who made up to $150,000 in 2019 will receive $2,400.

On top of this, each taxpayer will receive up to $500 for each child they have under the age of 17.  So, for example, a married couple with two children would receive $3,400.

Note that payments decrease for individuals and married couples with income above their respective thresholds.  Specifically, payments shrink by $5 for every $100 earned above the $75,000/$150,000 limits.  The payments disappear entirely for individuals who made $99,000 or more, and for married couples who made $198,000 or more. 

So, when will this money actually arrive?  It’s unclear.  The IRS could start issuing payments sometime in April or May, but an official schedule has not been released.  (The CARES Act itself only mandates that payments be made “as rapidly as possible.”4)  It’s likely that those who filed their 2019 tax returns with direct-deposit information will receive payments first.  

If you haven’t filed your tax return for 2019 yet, please let me know.  We would be happy to work with your tax preparer to expedite the process. 

Speaking of tax filing…

New Tax Deadlines5

This isn’t technically part of the CARES Act, but I’m going to cover it anyway because it’s important.  Due to the pandemic, IRS has extended this year’s tax-filing and payment deadlines.  Now, taxpayers have until July 15 – up from the standard April 15 – to file their 2019 tax returns.  The deadline to make IRA and Roth IRA contributions is now July 15 as well. 

Note that this new deadline applies to everyone, not just those who are sick, under quarantine, or materially affected by the coronavirus in some way.  And if you’ve already filed your return, you should still receive your refund around the same time you would during a typical tax season.

Unemployment4

Let’s get back to the CARES Act.

I said a moment ago that direct payments were the most newsworthy aspect of the bill.  But for the overall economy, the bill’s unemployment provisions are probably the most important.  Unemployment claims rose by 3.28 million between March 15-21.  That’s the highest weekly surge in history.  The previous record?  695,000.6 

To help combat this, the CARES Act provides approximately $260 billion in unemployment assistance for those who lose their jobs.  This includes freelancers, independent contractors, and other self-employed workers.  That’s a major change, because under normal circumstances, they can’t apply for unemployment benefits. 

Generally, workers who lose their jobs will receive $600 per week for four months, in addition to what their state unemployment program pays.  The CARES Act also adds an additional thirteen months of federal unemployment insurance on top of a person’s state benefits.

If any family members lose their job, please let me know.  We would be happy to answer their questions or provide any assistance we can. 

Business Support4

Even those who don’t lose their jobs will still want to keep a close eye on our nation’s unemployment rate.  More people out of work means less people spending money on the economy – which can have a profound influence on the markets.  That’s why one of the most critical things the government can do right now is help businesses avoid laying people off. 

Roughly $350 billion of the legislation’s price tag is geared towards just that.  Companies with up to 500 employees can receive loans of up to $10 million.  Any portion of the loan used to maintain payroll or retain workers – at least through the end of June – will be forgiven.  In addition, businesses can apply for grants of up to $10,000 to cover their operating costs. 

For larger businesses, the CARES Act sets aside around $500 billion in loans and grants, especially for hard-hit industries like airlines.  And for companies that are forced to close or furlough workers, the legislation “covers to 50% of payroll on the first $10,000 of compensation, including health benefits, for each employee.”7

These are all necessary steps to keep our economy going.  Will they be enough?  That’s an open question.  The answer largely depends on how long the pandemic lasts – and how well Americans commit to social distancing to stop the virus’ spread.  Watch this space.             

Retirement Funds4

Certain aspects of the CARES Act’s provisions are especially important for retirees.  Let’s cover those now.

First up, Required Minimum Distributions, or RMDs.  In a normal year, anyone 72 years or older would need to withdraw a minimum amount from their IRA or 401(k).  Not this year.  Under the CARES Act, all RMDs are suspended in 2020.  That means you can leave that money in your retirement account for the year if you don’t need it now.  Note that this applies both to retirement account owners and beneficiaries.

People who have already taken their distribution for 2020 can potentially return the money to their account if they want.  This could be a slightly complicated process, so I won’t cover it here.  However, if you want further information about it, let me know.

The CARES Act also waives the 10% early withdrawal penalty for retirement accounts.  Withdrawals will still be taxed, but spread over a three-year period.  Under most circumstances, my advice is to leave your retirement savings where they are, but it’s nice to know that early withdrawals are an option if you need them.

Finally, the CARES Act increases the 401(k) loan-limit from $50,000 to $100,000.

If you have questions about any of these provisions, or how they apply to you, let’s chat!

Combatting the Coronavirus4

Finally, it should come as a great comfort to know that the brave doctors, nurses, and scientists on the front lines are getting assistance, too.  Specifically, the CARES Act provides $100 billion for hospitals, $1.32 billion for community health centers, $11 billion for coronavirus treatments and vaccines, $16 billion for additional medical supplies, like ventilators and masks, and $20 billion for veterans’ health care.  You should know, too, that the Act includes a telehealth program so that if you can’t leave home, you can still have a virtual appointment with your doctor.

Our hearts goes out to all those giving their time, talents – and sometimes, lives – to keep the rest of us safe.  They are true heroes, and we are so grateful for them.  Let’s all do our part to make their jobs just a little easier by maintaining our distance, keeping clean, and staying home as much as possible.

Conclusion

As you can see, the CARES Act is a loaded piece of legislation.  Time will tell whether more measures are needed, but this is definitely a good start.

Of course, our team will continue poring over these changes.  If there is anything else we feel you need to know, we’ll reach out to you.  In the meantime, if you have any questions about:

·         Getting a direct payment

·         Filing your taxes

·         Protecting your paycheck and/or income

·         Your retirement accounts

Please don’t hesitate to let us know.  Whether we’re in the office or working from our own homes, my team and I are always here for you.

Stay healthy, and stay safe.

Attention Business Owners

Paycheck Protection Program

My first analysis of this loan program is that it will be attractive for  small business owner clients –Your business and Mine.

As first time applicants we will have to learn fast. We will tell you what we find as we go along. Please let us know any Best Practices that you discover.

Here is a Summary of the Paycheck Protection Program.    The business  can borrow from the SBA an amount equal to our  monthly occupancy costs-rent, utilities, employee salary costs  and health insurance. Looks like any employee who earns more than $100,000 is excluded from the calculation.

After the monthly amount is determined then the monthly amount is multiplied by 2.5 to equal the amount of the loan. The loan interest rate is 4% and can have terms of up to ten years.

The program has a powerful incentive since the loan is forgiven as you pay occupancy costs and employee costs. Any of these costs incurred between Feb 15, 2020 and June 30, 2020 will reduce the loan balance.  The forgiven loan is not taxable income.

I have introduced myself to the head of SBA lending at Columbia Bank who was with Atlantic Stewardship Bank.

As a Northern NJ Business Owners who has Never Applied for an SBA Loan  we intend to learn with you.

CPAs will have to do a lot of work assembling the data to support the application-in the middle of tax season!

The program appears to be so attractive that the banks who are SBA lenders may be overwhelmed by applications-an advantage to those who are organized and can act quickly.

The Best information that I found so far is from Gibson Dunn law firm. https://www.gibsondunn.com/sba-paycheck-protection-loan-program-under-the-cares-act/ and a memo from Senator Marco Rubio’s office.

https://www.rubio.senate.gov/public/_cache/files/ac3081f6-14ae-4e6f-9197-172ede28badd/71AB6CB05A08E369E0D488A80B3874A5.faqs---paycheck-protection-program-faqs-for-small-businesses.pdf

Please forward this to any of your Small business Owner Friends and Family.

Regrets We Will Not Have

Four Things Others Will Wish They Had Done – That We’re Already Do

As you know, the coronavirus situation continues to hammer the markets.  All over the world, investors large and small are facing a level of uncertainty we haven’t experienced in over a decade.  But I’m proud to say that, based on the conversations I’ve had with you and my other clients, there may be no group of people in the world who are handling this situation better.  The majority of my clients have all told me some variation of the same thing:

“It’s not fun, but I’m not stressing about it too much.  I know the markets will recover eventually.”

In other words, they know that, while what goes up must come down, what goes down will eventually bounce back up.

I was also proud when a client asked me a very simple, but very smart question the other day:

“When this is all over, what will I wish I had done?”

This question really got me thinking.  Investors are bombarded every day with opinions (informed or otherwise), data (informative or misleading), and news (real or fake).  As a result, many investors have panicked.  When the coronavirus pandemic resolves and the markets rebound, what will they wish they had done?

Here are my answers:

  1. They’ll wish they had focused on the long-term instead of the short.

Investing, by its very nature, is a long-term activity.  Even people who are close to retirement are still investing for the long-term.  That’s why, while bear markets are uncomfortable, they’re also somewhat overrated.  Markets fall over days, weeks, and sometimes, months.  But history has shown that they rise over the course of years and decades, which is good for us, because we’ll be investing for years to come!

Investors who forget this, who think that what’s happening now will happen always, are falling prey to recency bias.  And that never ends well.

  1. They’ll wish they had double-checked our asset allocation before all this started.

Asset allocation – the process of spreading your investments across different asset classes – is one of the most important things an investor can do to balance risk versus reward.  During bear markets, the investors who get burned the most are the ones who “put all their eggs in one basket.”  That’s because they didn’t stop to think what would happen if they let their basket drop.       

Investors who have spread their money across a variety of asset classes – who have truly diversified – know they have plenty of eggs left to cook with.

  1. They’ll wish they hadn’t tried to take shortcuts.

Think of the last time you were caught in a traffic jam.  You’re sitting there, idling in traffic, when suddenly, the lane next to you starts to move.  So, you quickly merge into that lane, only to get stuck again.  Meanwhile, the lane you were just in is now moving…and all the cars that were once behind you are now speeding ahead.

Maddening, isn’t it?

When bear markets hit, investors often panic.  Instead of sticking to their long-term strategy, they sell, sell, sell – at a time when everyone is selling.  This means they are selling low.  In other words, they try to change lanes in the middle of a traffic jam.

But again, we’re in this for the long-term.  The road we’re on stretches for miles.  Sometimes, the speed limit is 75 miles per hour.  Sometimes, it’s only 25.  Trying to take shortcuts just leads to longer delays.

  1. They’ll wish they had positioned themselves to take advantage of when the markets rebound.

It happened after the Great Depression.  It happened after the stock market crash of ’87. It happened after the dot-com bubble burst.  It happened after the financial crisis of 2008.  It happened after the fourth quarter of 2018.  The markets recovered – and climbed to new heights.

Just as bear markets are inevitable, so too are bull markets.  Investors who don’t think long-term, who try to take shortcuts, who don’t try to balance risk and reward, will not be positioned to take advantage of the next one.  Which means that when this is all over and the markets rebound, when they look over at the lane next to them and see people zooming ahead, they’ll be wishing they had done things differently.

But here’s the good news. When this is all over, we won’t be wishing we had done these things.  Why?  Because we’re already doing them!  So, while headlines probably won’t be pleasant over the next several weeks, we can take comfort in this very simple fact:

When this is all over, we won’t need to look back and regret.  All we’ll need to do is keep looking forward.

No matter what headlines you see over the coming weeks and months, always remember that my team and I are here for you.  We’re here to answer your questions.  We’re here to keep an eye on your money.  We’re here to help you hold to your long-term dreams and plans.  So, if there’s ever anything more we can do, please don’t hesitate to let us know.

Because we’re here.