Thursday, April 8, 2021

“It’s Tough to Make Predictions, Especially About the Future” – Yogi Berra

Every time I read the quote from Yogi Berra above, I have to nod my head in agreement.  He definitely had a way of simplifying complex subjects.  Predictions are difficult when the facts are unknown and the conditions heading into the future are unpredictable.  We found ourselves in that exact predicament one year ago, in March 2020.  Rarely have I seen as much fear by investors than I saw in that month when the first lockdown occurred.  

At that time, investors were falling all over themselves to get out of the market and into cash, which was earning nothing.  I tried to assure them that the economy would quickly turn around and the stock market would react positively with the economic support of the federal government.  When you throw basically $3 trillion into the economy at one time, that money is going to get spent and is going to create economic activity which will lead to higher profits and higher GDP.  

Ava celebrating winning first place in
 her Figure Skating division

So Yogi, we actually projected that one correctly.  If you look at the time period from March 2020-2021, the S&P was up 56.3%.  The NASDAQ Composite was up 73.4% and the Dow Jones Industrial Average was up 53.8% over that one-year period.  Those types of gains are not normal.  They are extraordinary gains based on extraordinary circumstances.  The one thing we absolutely know when it comes to economics is that money creates spending and spending creates profits.  Remember, the most important driving force in making stock prices go up is earnings. 

As I sit here today reading all the financial information, I am blown away by the positive nature of the economy, yet the negative nature of so many investors.  All around, commerce is returning to normal, yet for some reason there is a high level of skepticism by the public based on fear or unknown economic circumstances that I am not aware of.  I will attempt to cover some of those items as well as some other information that I find interesting.  

As I must provide in all my postings, here are the rates of return for the month.  The Standard & Poor’s Index of 500 stocks was up 4.4% in March.  Year-to-date it is up 6.2% and as mentioned up 56.3% for one-year.  The NASDAQ Composite was basically breakeven at 0.5%, year-to-date is up 3% and for the one-year period is up 73.4%.  The Dow Jones Industrial Average was up 6.8% during March, up 8.3% for the year 2021 and up 53.8% for the one-year period.  Just for purposes of comparison, the Bloomberg Barclays Aggregate Bond Index was down 1.3% for the month of March, down 3.5% for the year 2021 and for the one-year period was up a measly 0.4%.  During the month of March there was this highly publicized conversion from growth into value type stocks.  As you see the excellent month that Dow Jones Industrial had, that is because many of its components are value-related stocks.  I think that will be a temporary shift and as earnings start to come in during the month of April, investors will convert back to growth investments.  

Cameron, 13, enjoying virtual “band class”
 while his parents are at work

Everyone asks me about the so-called axioms of investing - the unwritten rules of traders.  One of those axioms that has been illustrated lately is the concept that if interest rates go up, you sell growth investments.  The theory goes something like this.  If interest rates are going up that means the Federal Reserve is doing so to slow down the economy.  If you slow down the economy, then growth instruments would clearly suffer.  Therefore, one of the axioms that is held dearly to trader’s philosophy is that once interest rates start to go up you must sell growth and buy value-related investments.  

As we all know, axioms sometimes fail because they are not supported by facts.  In this particular cycle, we already had the Federal Reserve telling us that they have no intention whatsoever to increase interest rates until 2023.  We are in a situation now where the economy is exploding with growth and the government keeps throwing gasoline on the fire with new stimulus and governmental spending.  In March of 2020, the U.S. came into that month with a deficit of roughly $22 trillion.  Over the intervening 14 months, if the infrastructure bill is passed we will have added another almost $6 trillion in debt over a one-year period.  If you truly don’t believe that $6 trillion is going to move the economy, then you do not really understand economics.  If the GDP in the United States is $23 trillion this year, but you dispose another $6 trillion worth of stimulus into the economy, whatever the Federal Reserve does to try to slow that down would be a complete waste of time.   

I am not sure where most people get their economic facts, but as we sit here today this economy is getting ready to explode upward.  As we have learned, the most important component to making the economy come back is the vaccinations.  As of this morning, roughly 162 million Americans have been vaccinated.  Based on the last 30 days, we are newly vaccinating 3 million people a day and the simple arithmetic would be that by the end of April we should have at least 250 million Americans vaccinated out of the 330 million population.  I am absolutely positive that everyone will not get vaccinated, but we don’t need 100% to reach herd immunity.  

Reid and Caroline at 
Drive, Chip & Putt

Everywhere you look the economy is picking up.  The Employment Report that just posted yesterday was nothing short of gangbusters.  That report showed that not only was the hiring of new employees paramount, but we also saw hiring in such industries as entertainment, restaurants and hospitality.  You may rest assured those employers would not be hiring if they did not feel safe after vaccination.  

You are getting ready to see a tsunami of spending occur in America.  All the money that has not been spent over this last year for travel, vacations and outside entertainment has accumulated in people’s checking accounts.  It is estimated that today there is roughly $5 trillion in checking accounts waiting on some sort of resolution for the future.  It is my best guess that as we get closer to the summer you will see an explosion of spending unprecedented in the United States for many years.  

It was only announced this week by the CDC that if you have been vaccinated it is safe for you to travel again, yet airline travel is up dramatically over the last few weeks and it is reported in the hospitality industry that vacation hospitality has reached the level similar to that of pre-pandemic.  All of that is interesting but should also lead you to the conclusion that earnings will follow all this money.  If you have the general public taking vacations, flying on airplanes and staying in hotels, it will benefit the hospitality industry, the restaurants and everything in between, which is exactly what is happening today.  

Caroline, Reid and Flat Stanley 
resting in the park

Just so you do not think that I have lost all perspective in connection to basic economics, I will explain my position on the economy. There is absolutely no question that all the stimulus that the Federal government has put into the economy will help businesses put people back to work and help America grow.  It is, however, a wonderful short-term asset, but a very much long-term negative for the U.S. economy.  When the Federal government goes out and prints $6 trillion, at some point someone has to repay that debt.  At the current time, interest rates are extraordinarily low and it does not take a whole lot of money to serve as the debt structure to keep that debt in place.  That will not be the case forever.  While I focus on the positives in this newsletter, I just want you to be aware that all of these positive moves in 2021 will more likely be negative moves in 2031.  However, for now let’s just enjoy this runup of the stock market.  

While there are many states in the U.S. that have already recovered, it is now estimated that there are roughly 1.7 million jobs in the U.S. that cannot be filled due to lack of qualification by employees.  One of the strange coincidences that is happening is with all the federal government funding of unemployment, there is a high disincentive for people to go back to work in lower paying jobs.  If you can make more money at home with unemployment, why would you actually go back to a job that doesn’t pay a livable wage?  It was hoped by many employers that the unemployment subsidies would run out but with the newest stimulus package, even those employment benefits have been extended to the end of 2021.  

But it is fairly clear that some states are already back to normalized rates.  In Florida, only 4.7% of their population is unemployed.  Nationwide unemployment is at 6%, but to clarify there are still 8.4 million less jobs than there were at the start of the pandemic.  Even the state of Georgia now has unemployment of 4.8% and every client I know is seeking new employees but cannot find them.  Recently our firm advertised for a CPA for our company and we did not get even a single resume of a qualified CPA looking to change work.  If you get into the more technical areas, the number of people that can fill these jobs with expertise are just not available.  

There is no question that certain states are actually falling well behind this unemployment report.  You could argue that it is self-inflicted, however, I guess we will never know exactly the reason.  As you compare Georgia’s unemployment report at 4.8%, California is 8.5%.  If you compare Florida’s unemployment report at 4.7%, New York is at 8.9%.  Therefore, much can be done to bring the economy back to normalized, but it is these larger states that will have to do the most.  It can clearly be argued that roughly one-half of the states are already back to pre-pandemic levels, while the other half are dragging behind.  

Ava showing off her favorite horse
 “Why the long face?”

So the general consensus is that if you throw $6 trillion into the economy, by necessity you will have to create inflation.  Yes, it is true enough that in recent weeks the long-term interest in the 10-year treasury has gone up to 1.7%.  At the current time, that 10-year treasury rate of 1.7% is equal to the dividend rate of the S&P 500 index.  Many would argue that numerous investors will leave the 500 index and invest their money in 10-year treasuries because the income component is the same.  I find that assertion to be absolutely ridiculous.  

One of the reasons why bonds have returned negative rates of return, as illustrated above, is because interest rates are moving up and will likely move up further.  Also, I do not believe that a 1.7% treasury rate will actually draw money out of the stock market to buy that bond yield.  There will be a time when interest rates will be high enough where money that is currently in the stock market will be drawn into the bond market.  However, I think we are a long way from that point.  So therefore, should we fear inflation as we go forward in the current environment?  

As many of you know the Federal Reserve sits down every six weeks and makes projections of the future economic circumstances.  Remember these are very conservative members that make up the Federal Reserve.  They are not one to exaggerate or even take extreme positions on any economic event.  At the most recent meeting of the Federal Reserve each member was asked to vote relative to their projection on GDP growth and in the United States for the year 2021.  As unbelievable as it sounds, the average projected GDP rate by the Federal Reserve was 7.2% for this year.  If you take that into consideration, that number is so over the top as to be clearly unbelievable.  

The last time the United States enjoyed GDP growth of that rate was in 1984 when Ronald Reagan was President.  Those of you that lived through that period know that the first two years of the Reagan Administration were recession years designed to break the back on inflation, which it did.  As the economy turned in 1983 and 1984, we enjoyed a period of hyper-economic growth, but it was more a reflection coming out of the economy than anything.  We are not in that situation today.  While the economy was bad during the pandemic, it could be argued that we only had recession for two months during that time frame.  If the economy actually generated returns of 7. 2%, that means a large portion of this economic growth will occur at the end of 2021.  All this falls in place with my projections above.  Six trillion creates a lot of economic activity.  

Ava reveling in the snow
 in Akron, Ohio  

As we get into the summer months, the fear of the pandemic will ease with the vaccinations which have proven to be extraordinarily effective.  As more and more Americans utilize their capital, to travel, visit their grandchildren or just go on vacation, it will improve the economy everywhere.  Already we are suffering through severe shortages of components in the supply line to produce products.  Over the last few weeks, the automobile companies have been closing production because they cannot buy enough semiconductors to build cars.  Think of that term for a second.  With all the semiconductors produced in the world we cannot buy enough to keep automobile production running.    

We hear about the major docks in California and along the Eastern Seaboard where ships are lined up to get in, sometimes having to wait weeks to be unloaded.  I happen to know someone who works on the docks in Los Angeles, and they are working 24/7 trying to unload the boats.  Why are all these boats coming to America at this time?  It is a very simple concept - money draws products and products go where money treats it best.  Already the economy is turning to a consumption economy and is growing so quickly we cannot even supply the products.  If you assume that the consumer is 70% of GDP, all this plays into a higher GDP rate of 7.2% for this year.  

So here we have the situation where the economy would be hard pressed to be in better shape.  It is fairly clear that the corner has been turned and with the excellent effectiveness of the vaccines, more and more people will feel comfortable with traveling and spending more money.  If all of that is true, which the evidence is overwhelming that it is, the byproduct of all this spending will be higher earnings which will bring higher stock prices.  

Cameron heading back to school
 after one very long year

If the government had not already provided enough capital, now we are discussing a bill that would provide infrastructure to Americans.  Who could possibly not be for better roads, highways, and airports?  That is almost as good as American pie. However, it is a very precarious time to be putting more stimulus and more debt into the American economy.  In reading the most recent bill proposed by the President, it only allocates about $500 billion a year for these types of repairs.  In respect to a bill of $2.3 trillion, that is relatively a small amount.  It might be worthwhile to postpone that passage of the bill until the economy is more stabilized, probably in a year from now.  

So those who would argue that the government has spent too much money would have a stable platform, however, no one will ever know because Yogi Berra and I cannot forecast it.  As an example, in 2008, when the economy clearly collapsed the government stepped in and provided support for the banks, but not the general public.  That was a very painful recession that lasted for two years and many people got hurt.  

Reid and Caroline waiting patiently
 to tee up at Augusta

During 2020, the government stepped up immediately and funded the economy with $3 trillion, which brought back the economy after only 90 days.  I had clients call in during this timeframe and ask my opinion on how long I thought this recession would last.  I continuously quoted a 90-day time period for this recession, which turned out to be pretty close.  Not that I was any better than anyone else forecasting the future, but I did know that if you throw $3 trillion in the hands of consumers, it would create profits.  

So, the argument could be made that the government is injecting all this money into the economy, which will clearly create inflation.  No one wants inflation like we had in the 1970s, where inflation was growing double digits per year, however the last thing you want in this country is deflation.  Deflation is much more difficult to come out of than inflation. If you study the 1930s in America and the Great Depression, it was principally caused by deflation more that any one item.  Deflation is the most difficult of all economic events to satisfy.  You may recall that in the 1930s, we suffered through deflation and 25% unemployment in the United States for over 11 years.  Not until the U.S geared up for World War II was the back of deflation broken.  

In summary, the economy is actually quite good and anyone that tells you otherwise really has not been reading the current numbers.  As America wakes up and gets on the road again in the coming months, economic activity will accelerate.  As I projected earlier, this economic activity will lead to more commerce and higher earnings and almost assuredly higher stock prices.  If you are not invested, now is the time without question.  

On that note, come visit with us and discuss your goals and financial plans. If you are interested in discussing your specific financial situation, please feel free to call or email.

As always, the foregoing includes my opinions, assumptions and forecasts. It is perfectly possible that I am wrong.

Best Regards,
Joe Rollins