Investing

What Could Investors Expect in 2021?

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Each year naturally brings more surprises than certainties, so outlooks and predictions of any kind quickly become futile. (We’ve already experienced a dramatic and unusual first week of January.) At least at this point in time, noted are a few key issues to monitor as 2021 gets going:

Covid Pandemic

This is the one carryover from 2020 everyone would like to forget. Unfortunately, it remains the single most important issue for both global medical and economic health going into 2021. While acknowledging the loss and hardship for many over the past year, the pandemic has also led to many examples of resiliency. It has resulted in a relatively smooth transition into work-from-home environments for some, but has also caused immeasurable problems for vulnerable cyclical industries forced to close or operate at reduced capacity. The development of several effective vaccines has taken an open-ended economic disaster and turned it into one with a clearer end game, assuming their distribution and effectiveness across populations go as planned. Mid-2021 is the current estimate for higher levels of implementation across the broader population (a goal of near-herd immunity) and some semblance of a ‘back to normal.’ But so far, logistics have been slow for vaccine rollout, so the economic normalization process seem more likely to be pushed back than bumped up, but the situation remains fluid. (Many are watching the rollout process in Israel, which has handled logistics very quickly and already inoculated nearly a quarter of their population, for clues.) The discovery of a new strain of Covid adds additional uncertainty to the mix, with hopes from health professionals that current vaccine technology won’t be derailed by this or further virus mutations.

Presidential Actions

The election of Joe Biden has led to assumed better consistency of behavior in the executive branch, but has also moved policy several ticks toward the left. Relative to others in the Democratic party, though, Biden is considered a ‘centrist’ and finder of common ground. In the best case, this may result in legislation backed by both sides of the aisle. However, the January 6th riot at the U.S. Capitol is an important reminder of how divided the nation remains, which could challenge the effort of national reconciliation. Some tempering of rhetoric and actions could be seen in the areas of tariffs/trade and executive orders, where the President has broader unilateral authority.

Senate

The two U.S. Senate runoff elections in Georgia on Jan. 5 were as closely-watched as any in recent years. While Republicans were expected to retain the seats, pollsters ended up with egg on their faces again, as both Democratic candidates won by narrow margins. This puts the Senate at 50-50, for only the fourth time in history. (Officially, the Democratic 50 includes two independent Senators, one of which is Bernie Sanders, who caucuses with the Democrats.) This equal split puts the deciding vote into the hands of incoming Vice President-Elect Kamala Harris, which is significant. While early descriptions of this result were as a ‘blue wave,’ many pundits have downgraded the impact to more like a ‘blue ripple’ in reality. This Democratic majority, albeit by narrower margins, could well result in further stimulus (early in 2021) and movement on infrastructure (which both parties actually agree on in principle, despite differing details—mostly in the green energy area). This could also include tightening up ACA/Obamacare, as well as procedural changes like altering the filibuster rule. Importantly, the majority gives Biden a smoother road for Senate-required approval of certain Presidential nominations. At the same time, the slim margin, and reduced Democratic majority in the House after the 2020 election, makes more extreme initiatives in health care (as in a full ‘Medicare for All’), the environment, tax law, etc. a bit more difficult to push through.

Economic Growth

The recovery in the economy continues to be almost completely dependent on the course of the pandemic and its abatement, driving estimates in both directions in recent months, along with unpredictable virus case counts. The expected -3% to -5% decline in U.S. GDP growth in 2020 is predicted to reverse to a potential mid-single digit gain in 2021 (give or take a few percent). Despite the initial trepidation about the Georgia race, the expected additional stimulus to be rolled out by a Democratic administration and Congress would be sure to have a positive effect on business and consumer spending in 2021-22, leading to even stronger GDP growth than with the late 2020 stimulus alone. (This is despite concerns of the budget deficit and high debt load down the road.) The recovery growth rate could be roughly double long-term trend growth of 2.0-2.5%, but relies on the mid-year majority vaccination timeline. With the pandemic-led recession marking the end of the last (and historically-long) business cycle, a new cycle is beginning anew. This is expected to lead to recovered corporate earnings growth in coming years—the critical long-term driver of equity returns. While some bearish observers see financial markets as looking too optimistic on 2021, based on higher price multiples, more bullish watchers see the pandemic recovery potentially more akin to the years after World War II, which benefited from a liftoff from stagnant production and pent-up consumer demand. In fact, some have gone as far as to label the coming decade a potential new ‘Roaring Twenties.’ (Interestingly, the original ‘Roaring 1920’s’ came after the 1918 influenza pandemic.)

Interest Rates

As they’ve stated directly, the Federal Reserve is committed to keeping rates low through the pandemic and for a while beyond. Some feared rates might be taken into negative territory, as in Europe, but that appears increasingly less likely due to logistical reasons, and far more pushback against it in the U.S. Long rates are also held lower by Fed purchases of treasuries and mortgages, but if inflation expectations were to rise, pressure could be felt on the long end of the yield curve first. The overall accommodative stance is likely to continue until recovery has taken hold, and until inflation picks up (over 2.0-2.5%) for a period of time. In the the first week of 2021, the 10-year treasury rose over 1.0% again as higher political odds for more stimulus (and a greater debt load) have raised the chances of higher economic growth and accompanying inflation. Overall, though, continued secular trends based on aging demographics and inconsistent productivity growth point to a consensus view that interest rates overall could stay relatively low for some time.

Financial Stability

This is an area not often discussed, due to so much focus on the short-term. What determines stability? For the most part, it’s an absence of excesses—that often include over-speculation in certain asset classes, taking on too much leverage, and higher destabilizing inflation. The 2007 housing market is a recent historical example of such an inflating and bursting bubble, but there are many historical examples. Due to well-known economist Hyman Minsky’s work in this area, the popping of such an unsustainable condition has been referred to as a ‘Minsky Moment.’ This is akin to the single snowflake that triggers a seemingly random avalanche, which is actually not random at all, but a condition that becomes increasingly likely over time as conditions build to more unstable levels. This may not be the case at the moment, being on the back end of a recession. But, over time, red flags such as exuberant sentiment without regard to any fundamentals, continued rising debt levels without regard for consequences, or the ignoring of any bad news that could derail a recovery, could all be signs of growing financial instability.

Investment Markets:

U.S. stocks. Investors have looked at the equity market with amazement, as stock prices moved almost straight back up after a -33% crash. Historically, though, such a result is not so unusual, with stocks often discounting the worst news and looking ahead toward a brighter future (even if a year or more away in reality). Valuations are a bit rich, based on expectations for 2021 revenue and earnings, with multiples appearing to look further into 2022 and even 2023 for fundamentals that justify current pricing. ‘Growth’ stocks, especially in technology and communications feature strong fundamentals, which have resulted in higher valuations, especially with today’s low interest rates. Are signs of the late 2020 rally in cyclical ‘value’ companies here to stay? Or, will a reemergence of challenges cause investors to again seek out the stability of ‘growth’? Uncertainty remains, but the coming year may offer more clues.

Antitrust issues and growth stocks. It’s been wondered whether current conditions are like the 2000 dot-com bubble, based on the extreme differential between ‘growth’ and ‘value’ sector performance. One difference, though, is that fundamentals (like profits) for today’s tech and communications companies are far more robust than at that time (in 2000, profits were often more hope than reality). In fact, high scores for the ‘quality’ factor have been a reason for the strong positive sentiment for that group. The pandemic’s challenges for smaller firms have caused even more consolidation of market share towards the biggest players. This begs the question: are these firms too dominant? There has been some increasing pressure for anti-trust legislation aimed at several mega-cap tech companies, but uncertainty about how that would look. There are some problematic legal issues. Does Congress really want to ‘punish’ the segment of the economy that has proven most resilient and efficient during the pandemic? Anti-trust typically requires a ‘damaged’ party, via price gouging or anti-competitive behavior. Do these services take unfair advantage of consumers (since they’re often free)? Do they suppress competition (or merely offer a better product)? These aren’t easily rectified.

Foreign stocks. Covid has challenged populations and businesses on a global level. While U.S. markets were seen as a safe haven in 2020 due to demand for leading technology/communications firms residing in the U.S., foreign markets offer more cyclicality, so an embedded ‘value’ bet of sorts. They also offer more relatively attractive valuations, less positive sentiment, and have been on the losing end of the U.S. vs. World equity performance trade for several years (the typical historical length for such dominance prior to a reversal). Emerging markets, in particular, have suffered high costs during the pandemic, and offer strong potential for recovery growth, due to a more modest starting point and more favorable demographics.

Bonds. An important relationship in fixed income is that total returns one should expect for coming years are mathematically tied to starting yields. This doesn’t bode well for those hoping for results like the past few decades, where rates were in a steady decline (from a peak in the early 1980’s) to today’s low levels. Credit spreads are also tighter than they were in much of 2020, with corporate improvement priced in. At the same time, while one shouldn’t necessarily expect great things from fixed income, the diversification element remains important should risk markets experience volatility. As a case in point, while interest rates were already considered low a year ago, and caution for bonds was everywhere, long-term U.S. treasuries earned 15%+ returns in 2020. Foreign bonds are an even more challenged environment, with a substantial percentage of debt offering negative yields, with price returns largely driven by currency markets.

Real estate. Last year was best described as one split between the ‘haves’ and ‘have-nots’ in the real property realm. Winners included newer niches of real estate markets that benefit from technological immersion, such as data centers and cell phone towers, and distribution centers that catered to online shopping. Valuations have risen for these assets, although fundamentals remain strong as they take a greater place in REIT indexes. Losing groups include the obvious, such as shopping malls, other retail, and travel/lodging. These represent the industries most heavily affected by lockdowns, although valuations have fallen to depressed levels, and could offer attractive sensitivity to further recovery. Office properties look to remain mixed, with some faring better than expected in the near-term, while the long-term strategic trend toward less office space/working from home has accelerated. Real estate in general has been supported by record-low financing rates, which is of course Fed-dependent.

It’s easy for investors to forget that the real estate universe is the world’s largest asset class, by overall size, and is extremely diverse. Owners of real estate assets are similarly quite diverse. On one end are residential homes and small commercial properties, which experienced contrasting results during the pandemic—strong house price increases bookended by retail locations having trouble making lease payments. So, the knee-jerk response is to cast commercial property overall in the bucket of ‘doomed’ asset. In some cases, this may be true, and has been for some time (notably in weaker strip malls in less desirable locations, and the like). However, as an institutional investment asset class, REITs generally focus their efforts on the largest, highest quality properties, in the most desirable locations (such as New York, London, etc.). While these are still sensitive to the business cycle, they’re often far less so (by design), and are far more liquid, than stand-alone properties profiled in news stories or owned in private partnerships. While there is some overlap due to similar inputs, high-quality REITs and generic Main Street real estate can provide varying results.

Commodities. Index composition varies, but energy futures contracts remain the most famous member of the asset class. Petroleum demand is more predictable in normal times, but fell off a cliff in 2020 as the pandemic put a damper on both industrial production and consumer mobility. Manufacturing has bounced back first, in China and other Asian nations, with lockdowns eased earlier. As the global economy recovers, prices for crude oil and industrial metals may also rise, as they often do when economies ‘reflate.’ Precious metals earned strong returns in 2020 due to their ‘safe haven’ tendencies, although that faded later in the year when investors sought riskier assets. A continued weaker U.S. dollar and any signs of higher inflation readings could serve to be two of the more important catalysts for commodities movement in 2021. Their most important role, however, is their lack of correlation to other asset classes in a portfolio—which can be hard to find elsewhere and often goes unappreciated.

Currencies. The U.S. dollar weakened by -7% in 2020 relative to a basket of developed market currencies, but was little changed versus emerging market currencies. As always, currency movements represent a ‘two-way street.’ This was a slight erosion in confidence in the dollar’s safe haven status, due to unprecedented amounts of fiscal and monetary stimulus, but also expectations in improved growth abroad—particularly the euro and U.K. pound as markets look past Brexit. Will this trend continue? Currency markets are fickle to say the least, but a cyclical rebound could continue to favor foreign currencies, which could translate to tailwinds for international stocks and bonds, which have lagged those of the U.S. in recent years.

These represent only a few items to watch. No doubt 2021 will bring its share of more (and hopefully positive) surprises.

Sources

  1. LSA Portfolio Analytics

5 Biases That Affect Our Financial Choices and What To Do About It

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Investors are routinely warned about allowing their emotions to influence their decisions. However, they are less routinely cautioned about their preconceptions and biases that may color their financial choices.

Examples of Biases

In a battle between the facts & biases, our biases may win. If we acknowledge this tendency, we may be able to avoid some unexamined choices when it comes to personal finance. It may actually “pay” to recognize blind spots and biases with investing. Here are some common examples of bias creeping into our financial lives.

1) Letting Emotions Run the Show

An investor thinks, “I got a great return from that decision,” instead of thinking, “that was a good decision because __.” (1)

How many investment decisions do we make that have a predictable outcome? Hardly any. In retrospect, it is all too easy to prize the gain from a decision over the wisdom of the decision, and to, therefore, believe that the findings with the best outcomes were the best decisions (not necessarily true). Putting some distance between your impulse to make a change and the action you want to take to help get some distance from your emotions. (1)

2) Valuing Facts We “Know” & “See” More Than “Abstract” Facts

Information that seems abstract may seem less valid or valuable than information that relates to personal experience. This is true when we consider different types of investments, the state of the markets, and the economy’s health. (2)

3) Valuing the Latest Information Most

In the investment world, the latest news is often more valuable than old news. But when the latest news is consistently good (or consistently bad), memories of previous market climate(s) may become too distant. If we are not careful, our minds may subconsciously dismiss the eventual emergence of the next bear (or bull) market. (2)

4) Being Overconfident

The more experienced we are at investing, the more confidence we have about our investment choices. When the market is going up, and a clear majority of our investment choices work out well, this reinforces our confidence, sometimes to a point where we may start to feel we can do little wrong, thanks to the state of the market, our investing acumen, or both. This can be dangerous. (3)

5) The Herd Mentality

You know how this goes: if everyone is doing something, they must be doing it for sound and logical reasons. The herd mentality is what leads many investors to buy high (and sell low). It can also promote panic selling. The advent of social media hasn’t helped with this idea. Above all, it encourages market timing, and when investors try to time the market, they frequently realize subpar returns. (4)

Sometimes, asking ourselves what our certainty is based on and reflecting about ourselves can be a helpful and informative step. Examining our preconceptions may help us as we invest.

Sources

  1. CNBC.com, September 28, 2020
  2. Forbes.com, March 26, 2020
  3. Forbes.com, March 19, 2020
  4. CNBC.com, June 26, 2020

This material was prepared by MarketingPro, Inc., and does not necessarily represent the views of the presenting party, nor their affiliates. This information has been derived from sources believed to be accurate. Please note – investing involves risk, and past performance is no guarantee of future results. The publisher is not engaged in rendering legal, accounting or other professional services. If assistance is needed, the reader is advised to engage the services of a competent professional. This information should not be construed as investment, tax or legal advice and may not be relied on for the purpose of avoiding any Federal tax penalty. This is neither a solicitation nor recommendation to purchase or sell any investment or insurance product or service, and should not be relied upon as such. All indices are unmanaged and are not illustrative of any particular investment.

How Important is the Dow Reaching 30,000?

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It’s a new high, but not dissimilar to celebrating say, 29,999 as a new peak, although the odd number didn’t receive the same level of media attention. These round market levels, whether it be the Dow Jones Industrial Average, Nasdaq, or others, tend to generate high visibility (especially in the slower post-election news cycle). If an index is old enough, and tends to show positive performance (as stocks have over the long haul), you’ll end up reaching new and higher milestones. The seemingly-large 30,000 level is just a reflection of how long the index has been in existence. (It was first assembled in 1896 by its namesake Charles Dow, former Wall Street Journal editor, in a day where calculating the price levels of a dozen stocks by hand on paper was ‘cutting edge indexing.’) We won’t go into how the Dow is a less desirable index to track relative to others, due to its outdated price-weighted construction methodology and concentrated membership of 30 stocks, but it remains well-watched regardless due to this historical legacy. The S&P 500, more widely used by financial professionals, has gained public traction over time, but its lower and less sexy 3,000-ish level is simply a reflection of its more recent creation (early 1950’s). Total return percentages matter much more than index levels.

Fear and Greed

Most importantly, these announcements can often cause investors to react in one of two ways: (1) consider buying, after they’re reminded of their FOMO (‘fear of missing out’); or, (2) consider selling, as they see the new milestone high as feeling ‘expensive.’ Neither is an ideal approach, based on news coverage alone.

Market Realities

The new highs for several U.S. equity indexes are a reflection of the unusual year we’ve experienced. Following a dramatic (-33%) drawdown in March, stocks have recovered—and then some (+65%). The rebound triggers opposing investor emotions largely because of what this extreme movement represents, in realities on the ground as well as anticipated future realities. While fundamentals (revenues and earnings) have improved as lockdowns eased mid-year, we’re now in the throes of a second wave which could dampen the recovery outlook again. Yet, promising vaccine data gives markets more of what they really want, which is the removal of uncertainty about an ending point for the pandemic. If sometime in 2021 provides virus containment and herd immunity, today’s multiples are expected to ‘grow into’ 2021 and 2022 earnings expectations. The damage from the lockdowns earlier this year were such that higher-than-average recovery growth, at the current path, could be the case for several quarters, if not a few years. The Fed also looks to remain on hold during that time. As important as anything, low interest rates tend to be an extremely powerful and positive input into fair values for stocks and real estate

Smart Investing

With the end of the year approaching, it’s likely a good time to reevaluate portfolio positioning. Reacting to recent equity strength by a knee-jerk extreme of going ‘all in,’ or ‘getting out’ completely can be disruptive, especially since the second question of ‘now what?’ offers few alternative. Rather, if one’s risk allocation level needs to be adjusted, doing so by a notch or two can provide continued market exposure, yet not cause one to completely miss out on potential market gains over time (or even sharp movements from the ‘best days’). Stock market timing is extremely difficult, if not impossible. Therefore, any move that changes exposure to that growth engine, relative to the stabilizing force of bonds in portfolio creates risk-return trade-offs. ‘Regret’ is a real force discussed many times by economists involved in behavioral finance.

▲ Impact of Being out of The Market

During periods of extreme market declines, a natural emotional reaction can be to sell out of the market and seek safety in cash. The results of this reaction can be devastating because often the best days occur close to the worst days during periods of market volatility. This chart compares an individual who was fully invested for the past 20 years in the S&P 500 to investors who missed some of the best days as a result of being out of the market for a period of time. Missing the top 10 best days will halve the annualized return; missing the top 30 days will result in a negative annualized return on the original $10,000 investment. Rather than emotionally reacting to or trying to time the market, adopting a disciplined long-term investment strategy may produce a better retirement outcome.

Sources

  1. LSA Portfolio Analytics
  2. JP Morgan Asset Management: Guide to Retirement

How Elections Move Markets in 5 Charts

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How much do elections impact the stock market and portfolio returns? Should elections even matter to long-term investors in the first place? These are the questions investors and financial professionals are facing as we approach November 3rd. To provide answers, Capital Group has analyzed more than 85 years of data and identified five ways that elections influence markets and investor behavior.

1) Markets have tended to predict election results

A simple stock market metric has correctly predicted the winner in 20 of the last 23 presidential elections since 1936 — a track record that might make even the top pollsters jealous. If the S&P 500 Index is up in the three months prior to Election Day, the incumbent party usually wins. If markets are down during that period, the opposing party typically claims victory.

Why is this? It’s because equities tend to look ahead and “price in” uncertainty — including that caused by an upcoming election.

When the stock market and the economy are strong, there is usually less motivation for a change in leadership. In those years, stocks may not need to discount the uncertainty, which often allows stocks to continue rising, further bolstering the incumbent’s chance of reelection.

When the political and economic climate are more challenging, there is a greater chance that the opposing party will win. The market discounts the added uncertainty of the election outcome and what policy changes may occur, which can lead to higher volatility.

What does this mean for 2020? As of September 15, the S&P 500 is up 3% since August 3rd (three months prior to Election Day) and 5% year-to-date. In more normal times that would favor the incumbent, but today’s shaky economy offers a different story. Since 1912, only once has a president been reelected if he oversaw a recession within two years of the election. While this trend may be interesting, investors shouldn’t use it as an excuse to try to time markets. Historically, whether the incumbent wins or loses, election volatility has usually been short-lived and quickly given way to upward moving markets.

2) Gridlock or sweep? Equities have gone up either way

One of the biggest concerns investors have this election cycle is the possibility of a Democratic sweep of the White House and Congress. Many assume this so-called “blue wave” will lead to a reversal of policies like deregulation or the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017. While it’s true that a new party typically brings its own policy agenda, assuming such an outcome will lead to meaningfully lower stock prices is probably over-simplifying the complexities of stock markets.

History shows that stocks have done well regardless of the makeup of Washington. Since 1933, there have been 42 years where one party has controlled the White House and both chambers of Congress at the same time. During such periods, stocks have averaged double-digit returns. This is nearly identical to the average gains in years when Congress was split between the two parties. Historically the “least good” outcome has been when Congress is controlled by the opposite party of the president. But even this scenario notched a solid 7.4% average return.

What does this mean for 2020? This year’s election will almost certainly end in either a unified government under a blue wave or a split Congress, which could happen with either a Trump or Biden victory. Voters may have a strong preference, but investors should take comfort that both scenarios have historically produced strong equity returns.

3) Markets have trended higher regardless of which party wins the election

Politics can bring out strong emotions and biases, but investors would be wise to tune out the noise and focus on the long term. That’s because elections have, historically speaking, made essentially no difference when it comes to long-term investment returns.

Which party is in power hasn’t made a meaningful difference to stocks either. Over the last 85 years, there have been seven Democratic and seven Republican presidents, and the general direction of the market has always been up. What should matter more to investors than election results is staying invested.

What does this mean for 2020? Some have called the 2020 election the most important in our lifetime. But that has been said about previous elections and will be said again about future elections. This year has been unique in countless ways, but a look at past election cycles shows that controversy and uncertainty have surrounded many campaigns. And in each case the market continued to be resilient. By maintaining a long-term focus, investors can position themselves for a brighter future regardless of the outcome on Election Day.

4) Investors often become more conservative in election years

It can be tough to avoid the negative messaging around election coverage. And it’s natural to allow the rhetoric of political campaigns to make us emotional. History has shown that elections have had a clear impact on investor behavior, but it’s important that investors don’t allow pessimism to steer them away from their long-term investment plan.

Investors have poured assets into money market funds — traditionally one of the lowest risk investment vehicles — to a much greater degree in election years. By contrast, equity funds have seen the highest net inflows in the year immediately following an election.

This suggests that investors want to minimize risk during election years and wait until any uncertainty has subsided to revisit riskier assets like stocks. But market timing is rarely a winning investment strategy, and it can pose a major problem for portfolio returns.

What does this mean for 2020? This trend accelerated in 2020: Through July 31, net money market flows increased $546 billion while net equity fund flows decreased $36 billion. Of course, part of this year’s flight to safety was related to the pandemic-induced recession and not the election. Still, equity funds saw their largest monthly outflows in July, indicating that investors are remaining conservative ahead of the election.

5) Moving to cash in election years can reduce long-term portfolio returns

What has been the best way to invest in election years? It isn’t by sitting on the sidelines.

To verify this, we looked at three hypothetical investors, each with a different investment approach. We then calculated the ending value of each of their portfolios over the last 22 election cycles, assuming a four-year holding period.

The investor who stayed on the sidelines had the worst outcome 16 times and only had the best outcome three times. Meanwhile, investors that were fully invested or made monthly contributions during election years came out on top. These investors had higher average portfolio balances over the full period and more frequently outpaced the investor who stayed in cash longer. These results reflect four-year holding periods, but the divergence would be even wider if compounded over longer time frames.

Sticking with a sound long-term investment plan based on individual investment objectives is usually the best course of action. Whether that strategy is to be fully invested throughout the year or to consistently invest through a vehicle such as a 401(k) plan, the bottom line is that investors should avoid market timing around politics. As is often the case with investing, the key is to put aside short-term noise and focus on long-term goals.

What does this mean for 2020? It’s too early to know what the impact of this year’s flight to cash will be on investors’ long-term portfolio returns. But with the S&P 500 soaring over 50% since the March bottom and net equity selling continuing throughout the year, it is safe to assume many investors missed at least some of this powerful equity rally and remain on the sidelines ahead of the November election.

Source

  1. https://www.capitalgroup.com/ria/insights/articles/how-elections-move-markets-5-charts.html

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What Could the Impact of a Biden Presidency be on the Stock Market?

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The impact of a potential new President on stock market returns is always a key question in the weeks prior to a general election. It’s important to keep in mind that, despite frequent worries around this time of year, and that financial markets may react in the shorter-term term to poll results and election outcomes (especially surprises), the longer-term effects of any administration’s policies appear to be disconnected from financial market results. Instead, stocks especially tend to follow earnings, which follow economic growth trends. Nevertheless, there are always policy distinctions that could affect various industries to some extent.

In contrast to election season norms in prior decades, polarization between the two parties has become more pronounced, with more extreme positions on both sides forcing candidates away from traditional ‘centrist’ policy often adopted during general election campaigns. A Biden victory has the potential of moving policy toward a more progressive stance, although this is not as simple of a story as in past years, with the current administration having taken a variety of unconventional stances in its own right.

The potential retaking of the Senate by Democrats, in addition to their already holding power in the House, would heighten the risk of more progressive policies being voted in—with minimal opposition. On the other hand, Republicans successfully retaining the Senate would continue to act as an effective counterbalance against legislation from the House, potentially resulting in a policy log jam for the next four years. (Some see this as a best-case scenario, although doing little to alleviate the high current levels of political disagreement.)

The following represent a few areas that could be most impacted by a new Democratic administration, through either new legislation, reversals of prior policies, or no change:

Taxes

It is assumed that the corporate and personal tax cuts put into place in the current regime could be reversed—partially or fully—towards prior levels. Personal income tax policy rhetoric during the campaign has been aimed at the ultra-wealthy, but with high budget deficits and an unprecedented level of fiscal debt, higher tax rates for even middle-income Americans have been feared. This includes higher capital gains tax rates, seen as benefitting the wealthy the most, as they own the majority of financial assets. ‘Wealth taxes’ based on assets are out there as a wildcard as well (although targeted at billionaires). Even if corporate rates do not return to prior max levels of 35%, they are likely not to remain at 21%, either. Most directly, higher tax rates for companies directly erode multi-year earnings projections, which could result in lower stock valuation assessments.

Environment

This multi-faceted policy area includes not only ‘green’ legislation (likely to be promoted by a Biden administration), but also important carryover effects related to the energy industry broadly. It would likely be unfavorable for traditional petroleum- and coal-based energy production (and emissions), including limitations for drilling, and increased regulation of impacts. Conversely, alternative energy sources would likely be promoted—including wind and solar—as well as the potential taxation of carbon emissions.

U.S.-China Relations and Trade

This is a more challenging policy point, as both parties have adopted a hard line on China—for a variety of different reasons. The current administration has taken a more confrontational approach. This has been unique relative to prior regimes, which, at least at the surface, had attempted to avoid outright hostile language and direct economic sanctions. While the two parties agree in principle for a tougher stance, Republicans have focused this effort on corporate intellectual property, while Democrats have also included human rights concerns; specifically, based on the treatment of several ethnic and religious minority groups within the country. This remains a wildcard to some degree, but the majority of Americans and politicians now favor a tougher stance toward China—a rare point of policy agreement.

Antitrust Legislation

This wouldn’t normally surface as a key policy platform, but the rise of several technology behemoths has raised questions over the competitive environment and growing economic power of these firms. In prior decades, pro-business conservative politicians have been more reluctant to attack oligopolistic entities, while populist/progressive movements had been responsible for breaking up dominant ‘Robber Baron’ firms—such as Rockefeller’s Standard Oil in the early 1900’s. In recent years, though, the more progressively-minded tech giants have been supportive of the Democratic agenda and drawing the ire of Republicans—creating a role reversal. The pressure on these firms may continue to some degree, depending on who’s in charge. Some of this oligopolistic power is due to the structures of the industries. They’ve remained among the most fundamentally solid from a financial standpoint during the pandemic, which has rewarded investors. Of course, many small businesses have not fared nearly as well, fanning the flames of resentment.

Workers

Republican policies over the years have generally been focused on letting ‘laissez faire’ (free market) forces determine market competition and pricing dynamics—favored by many mainstream economists. Biden policies would likely offer more worker-friendly populist concessions, such as a higher minimum wage, better health coverage, paid leave, student loan relief, etc. On one hand, additional benefits and pay cut into company profit margins. On the other hand, more money in the pockets of consumers could be a catalyst for broader personal spending and consumption growth broadly, which benefits the broader economy in its own way.

Healthcare

The formation of the Affordable Care Act (‘Obamacare’) was followed by an immediate battle for repeal by Republicans and expansion by Democrats. This fight is likely to continue, with any enhancements in coverage (like ‘Medicare For All’) or other changes aimed at high prescription drug prices (also favored by the current administration, despite potential impact on corporate profits). Some pharmaceutical firms have acted to pre-emptively curb pricing for some drugs in efforts to stem the criticism and potentially unfavorable legislation. These firms counter that such high prices act as the funding mechanism for continued research and development on new therapeutics, which many politicians have accepted. The convoluted health care system, though, continues to overwhelm attempts at reform, which has led to a lower financial market probability for radical change in the near-term.

Defense

In prior years, a strong defense budget and global projection of power has been a Republican party tenet. Lately, this has taken a bit of an opposite turn with conservatives moving more towards a stance of isolation, and progressives seeking to maintain greater globalism. This may be an area with little net change, absent geopolitical surprises (which can be counted on).

Immigration

This doesn’t seem like a market-related topic at first glance, but movement of people across borders affects demographics, which, in turn, affects the size of the labor force and productivity—and ultimately economic growth. This has been a divisive issue throughout America’s history, and each side currently has a mixed relationship with it. Generally, economists argue that a more lenient immigration policy provides a larger pool of workers, which results in not only higher production but also higher consumption. Companies have often silently been in favor of these less restrictive policies, which brings in a higher supply of workers, which lowers wages and boosts profits. On the other side, and often in conflict with other elements of the party, Democratic politicians have tended to have strong support from unionized U.S. workers, which often oppose globalism and foreign worker competition—in efforts to retain jobs and sustain higher wages domestically. Realistically, on net, there could be few extreme changes due to these continual conflicts.

Fiscal Policy

In decades of old, Republicans were seen as the fiscally spendthrift party, while Democrats were cast in debates as ‘tax-and-spend.’ But even prior to the Covid recession, these traditional labels were less applicable, with higher spending proposed on all sides. Due to economic woes from the pandemic likely carrying over into 2021, and perhaps 2022, as well as increasing acceptance of policies such as Modern Monetary Theory (MMT), it appears the accepted spending may continue regardless of the party in office. However, at the fringes, Democrats have proposed more direct relief to workers, and Republicans to small businesses, in keeping with other distinct policy preferences.

Monetary Policy

This should be unaffected by politics, and largely has been over the years. Of course, there have been notable and theatrical exceptions, such as the Fed Chair being physically bullied at LBJ’s Texas ranch in the 1960’s, and the current President’s urging of low rates via social media. A Biden presidency could likely feature more restraint, and a conventional ‘hands off’ approach. However, the Fed could be increasingly impacted by the large Federal deficit and rising debt load, which affects both interest payment obligations as well as credit rating—which affect rates outside of the Fed’s control.

In short, by looking at individual industries, the outlook may not appear to change that much, aside from policy preferences one way or another. The key differences relate to tax policy, the broader regulatory environment, and fiscal spending policies.

It’s important to remember that an elected President has very little effect on market results, historically. In fact, some of the stronger periods of market performance have been under Democratic administrations, contrary to popular assumption. (1)

Avoid Market Timing Around Politics

Sticking with a sound long-term investment plan based on individual investment objectives is usually the best course of action. Whether that strategy is to be fully invested throughout the year or to consistently invest through a vehicle such as a 401(k) plan, the bottom line is that investors should avoid market timing around politics. As is often the case with investing, the key is to put aside short-term noise and focus on long-term goals.

3 Tips for Successful Investing in an Election Year

  1. Don’t allow election predictions and outcomes to influence investment decisions. History shows that election results have very little impact on long-term returns.
  2. Expect volatility, especially during primary season, but don’t fear it. View it as a potential opportunity.
  3. Stick to a long-term investment strategy instead of trying to time markets around elections. Investors who were fully invested or made regular, monthly investments did better than those who stayed in cash in election years. (3)

Sources

  1. https://www.capitalgroup.com/ria/insights/articles/election-watch-2020.html
  2. https://www.capitalgroup.com/advisor/pdf/shareholder/MFGEBR-121-632421.pdf
  3. https://www.capitalgroup.com/ria/insights/articles/3-investor-mistakes-election-year.html
  4. LSA Portfolio Analytics

What Could the Impact of a Trump Reelection be on the Stock Market?

Photo by Library of Congress on Unsplash

In many ways, policies to expect would likely be similar to what’s in place today, and largely opposite of those proposed under a Biden administration. At the same time, Trump’s policies have not followed ‘traditional’ Republican ideologies from decades past in a variety of areas. The Senate Republicans have been far more predictable from a policy standpoint, as have the Congressional Democrats.

The practical factor for the election continues to be whether or not the Democrats are able to take the Senate from the Republicans, which, in addition to holding the House, would allow for the ability to push through a greater volume of progressive legislation. A split-party legislative and/or administrative branch could result in four years of gridlock, with little net change in policy. (That might be perceived as the ‘worst case’ or ‘best case’ depending on the observer.)

Little may change from a higher-level view if the first Trump term morphs into a second. But, it’s important to remember from a financial markets perspective that the President in power has been relatively unimportant in driving longer-term sentiment and returns. Attempting to time election results or moving out of markets to avoid volatility can result in sub-optimal results, even though the weeks prior to an election can become more volatile. Interestingly, in the cases where an incumbent is seeking re-election, one of the few consistent tendencies over the past century is based on U.S. stock market results in the three months prior to Election Day. Based on the S&P 500, a positive return for that stretch has proven favorable for an incumbent’s chances, while a negative return has favored the challenger. (For perspective’s sake, from the window starting Aug. 3, the market is up 0.75% through Fri., Sept. 18—with several more weeks to go until Nov. 3.)

That said, while politics can coincide with day-to-day financial market movements at times, the two rarely correlate meaningfully over the long haul. The chart below bears this out fairly dramatically:

The following policy items assume that a Trump reelection is accompanied by Republicans retaining the Senate, which creates a ‘status quo’ situation. A newly Democratic senate majority would create more of a wildcard:

Taxes

It is probably safe to assume the tax cuts from 2017 would remain in place. These have served to benefit corporations, which receive an immediate boost to the bottom line, resulting in higher reported earnings. Consequently, this models out to higher multi-year growth and justifies higher equity valuations. Personal income tax rates would likely also remain low, along with capital gains rates. Traditional supply-side economists argue that stronger corporate performance and fewer hurdles (such as regulation and taxes) result in a larger ‘pot’ for everyone. However, this assumes that wealth trickles down proportionately to all workers, which has been debated in recent years as income equality between different groups has widened.

Environment

This would also be assumed to be status quo, which includes minimal promotion of green technologies. It would likely be coupled with a pushback on more stringent standards, such as those adopted by California (whose standards predate the EPA and are often stricter). While the energy sector has been struggling with low petroleum prices, due to weaker demand due to the pandemic, current policies would keep additional regulatory headwinds at bay. However, energy firms have been hurt far more by weaker demand from the pandemic than by other factors.
U.S.-China relations and trade. The geopolitical tension with China has been steadily growing, and a status quo result would assume more of the same. It’s been claimed by some China experts that the country is currently just playing a ‘waiting game’—for the Trump administration to eventually end, and to instead deal with the successor. As part of their 50- and 100-year national plans, such a delay is seen as just a temporary roadblock. The important component is that a tough U.S. stance on China has support across the aisle—it’s one of the few policy items both parties agree on. So, a longer-term decoupling is likely, although the public stances and negotiation styles could differ between administrations.

Antitrust Legislation

In years past, some Democratic platforms have been seen as anti-corporate (and conversely, pro-worker). This would have translated to a crackdown on large ‘oligopolies’ and a reining in of corporate power in the economy and society. In the current case, argued by some due to the more progressive political leanings of large tech companies, Democrats have appeared less interested in breaking up these firms. Republicans have certainly appeared more interested. Since it’s not quite clear where any ‘abuses’ lie and how consumers are adversely affected (many argue they’ve benefited greatly through both product variety and cost), this issue remains complex and path unclear.

Workers

In line with trends seen globally, not just in the U.S., both parties have taken on a more populist tone in recent years, largely in keeping with the larger societal income gaps. The polarization has taken place far more on the political side than the socioeconomic side, as all parties want to be seen as ‘pro-working class.’ This creates a conundrum, although no clear evolution in policy. Continued trade restrictions may help U.S. firms in the near term, although it’s not clear that benefits trickle down to workers longer-term and could hurt consumers through higher prices. Contrary to the Biden agenda, a second Trump administration would make more progressive items, such as a higher minimum wage and other benefits less likely—although these also depend on the Congressional makeup.

Healthcare

A Trump administration would likely continue to fight ‘Obamacare,’ and continue support for the current private insurance-based healthcare model. Despite the battles over universal coverage/single-payer format, there remains no constructed alternative to the current system for legislators to gravitate to. However, there is bi-partisan populist support for better regulation of high pharmaceutical prices and plugging some gaps to help reduce medical care costs for seniors. The industry has fought back on pharma prices, arguing that profits feed back into research and development for important new therapies, so this has largely resulted in a stalemate in recent years.

Defense

A traditional Republican policy platform has been a strong defense base. This is thought likely to persist, although the Trump administration has focused on far less global interventionism. This hasn’t manifested completely, but could continue to play a role in broader policy thinking. At the same time, China has been viewed as an increasing global military threat, which would necessitate further spending. The trend has been moving from conventional military spending towards new technologies, such as cyberwarfare, satellites, drones, etc.—all of which are technologically complex and expensive.

Immigration

The border ‘wall’ has largely been symbolic, as the Trump administration has clamped down on immigration mostly through policy, which would seem likely to continue in a second term. This has provided a seeming veil of protection for U.S. workers (championed by both candidates in different ways), but economists, who view labor in a global context, see increased restrictions of any kind as a hurdle to stronger economic performance. This is a complex issue, with outcomes the result of multi-decade trends, so the policy action of a single President may only provide a short-term impact on GDP growth. Demographics and business/worker competitiveness play a far more important role, with job training and education enhancements acting as a behind-the-scenes policy championed by many but not discussed as much by candidates in terms of specific plans.

Less stringent regulatory environment.

The President promised to rollback regulations imposed over the past administration, including the expanded use of executive orders, and that has certainly occurred. It’s likely another four years would continue regulation downsizing, in a generally pro-business way, including financial markets and their oversight.

Fiscal policy

The old stereotypes have been cast aside, as parties on both sides are in a spending mode. Republicans are a bit less in favor of direct stimulus to workers (at least in the same large amounts Democrats have been), and more in favor of corporate injections. During the pandemic, airlines and the travel industry have been lobbying especially hard for more aid. This pandemic will end up being expensive regardless of who ends up in the White House, with debt ramifications far beyond the next four years.
Monetary policy. As noted earlier, a central bank should be agnostic to political pressures, but that has been easier said than done. Pressure to lower rates or keep policy as ‘easy’ as possible is preferred, since it coincides with keeping the economy growing—which most administrations prefer under their watch. The U.S. Fed has sidestepped such pressure far better than in some countries, of course, but a continuation of the current administration and ‘tweeting’ about central bank decisions runs the risk of negatively influencing public opinion about the Fed and its functions. Politics can also appear in the nomination of certain new board members, such as the controversial Judy Shelton (who has favored revisiting the gold standard—a position rejected by many mainstream economists). Regardless, the Fed has continued to stay out of the political fray over the decades, despite a variety of administrations holding opposing views.

Judicial branch

The Supreme Court is typically not a top concern of financial markets, but with the passing of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, a position on the bench has opened. Any new appointee’s political leanings can tilt the balance of key decisions toward either the conservative or progressive end of the spectrum. So, this can have ramifications for decisions involving business, regulations, or any other economically-relevant area.

Avoid Market Timing Around Politics

Sticking with a sound long-term investment plan based on individual investment objectives is usually the best course of action. Whether that strategy is to be fully invested throughout the year or to consistently invest through a vehicle such as a 401(k) plan, the bottom line is that investors should avoid market timing around politics. As is often the case with investing, the key is to put aside short-term noise and focus on long-term goals.

3 Tips for Successful Investing in an Election Year

  1. Don’t allow election predictions and outcomes to influence investment decisions. History shows that election results have very little impact on long-term returns.
  2. Expect volatility, especially during primary season, but don’t fear it. View it as a potential opportunity.
  3. Stick to a long-term investment strategy instead of trying to time markets around elections. Investors who were fully invested or made regular, monthly investments did better than those who stayed in cash in election years. (3)

Sources

  1. LSA Portfolio Analytics
  2. https://www.capitalgroup.com/ria/insights/articles/election-watch-2020.html
  3. https://www.capitalgroup.com/advisor/pdf/shareholder/MFGEBR-121-632421.pdf
  4. https://www.capitalgroup.com/ria/insights/articles/3-investor-mistakes-election-year.html

What the 2020 U.S. Election Means for Investors: 4 Potential Scenarios

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Heading into 2020, there was little doubt that the U.S. presidential election would be the biggest story of the year. The coronavirus pandemic drastically changed that narrative, pushing the election aside as a health care crisis triggered the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression.

With the election now less than 100 days away, however, investors are turning their attention back to the November 3 ballot. Amid rising COVID-19 infections, a battered economy and civil unrest in several U.S. cities, President Donald Trump is trailing former Vice President Joe Biden by a wide margin in major polls.

Many pundits are predicting defeat for the president, but it’s far too early for investors to anchor on that outcome, says Capital Group veteran political economist Matt Miller.

“We have more than three months to go before the election. That’s a lifetime in politics,” Miller says. “Given the rapid pace of developments and a compressed news cycle, we could have many turns of the wheel between now and November. In my view, the race will tighten as the Republican and Democratic campaigns shift into overdrive.”

Election Scenario Planning

For long-term investors, the outcome of U.S. presidential elections hasn’t mattered as much as staying invested and maintaining a diversified portfolio. Markets have tended to power through presidential elections — with some volatility along the way — regardless of whether a Democrat or Republican won the White House.

That said, election scenario planning plays a role in macroeconomic analysis, particularly in recent years as governments have increasingly intervened in the financial markets during times of crisis.

Excluding a contested election — which is certainly within the realm of possibility — here’s a brief look at four scenarios that could play out in November and potential implications for investors.

SCENARIO #1
Democratic Sweep

Democrats win the White House, the Senate and maintain control of the House — otherwise known as a “blue wave.” This scenario would produce the greatest degree of political change, starting with the likely reversal of Trump’s policy agenda on many fronts, including taxes, immigration and regulation.

One result could be a full or partial rollback of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017, which included significant tax reductions. Overall corporate tax rates declined from 35% to 21%, providing a major boost to corporate earnings. A full or partial reversal would have the opposite effect, prompting investors to take that into account when estimating the overall corporate earnings outlook.

“We would see a much bigger emphasis on taxation and regulation across the board, with significant implications for the energy sector, telecommunications and technology companies,” Miller explains. “We could also see the elimination of the filibuster in the Senate, which, unlike today, would allow legislation to pass with a simple majority vote.”

SCENARIO #2
Gridlock

Biden wins the White House; Republicans maintain control of the Senate. This outcome would likely result in a gridlock scenario where it could be difficult to pass major legislation. Senate Republicans could block major Democratic initiatives, much as they did during the second term of the Obama presidency.

“In this case, I think we would see Biden governing through executive orders,” says Clarke Camper, head of government relations in Capital Group’s Washington, D.C. office. “There would be a great deal of pent-up frustration on both sides of the aisle. That’s an easy outcome to predict, though, perhaps not as easy to live with.”

Under this scenario, federal regulatory agencies would also likely exercise more power. From a financial markets perspective, that could mean more aggressive enforcement by the Securities and Exchange Commission, as well as a renewed policy push by the Department of Labor in connection with its oversight of employee retirement plans.

SCENARIO #3
Status Quo

Trump wins reelection, and Republicans keep the Senate. This scenario involves the least amount of change since it is, indeed, where we are today. The House is likely to remain in Democratic hands, so the current environment of political confrontation would continue — along with the rancorous attempts to approve COVID-19 relief legislation, including the $2 trillion CARES Act.

“Regardless of who is in the White House in January, there’s going to be a lot of post-COVID cleanup work to do,” explains Reagan Anderson, a senior vice president with Capital’s government relations team. “Today we are in stabilization mode, and we will hopefully be moving into recovery mode by 2021.”

SCENARIO #4
Unlikely Split

Trump wins reelection, and Democrats take the Senate. This scenario could set the stage for even greater hostility than we’ve seen in the past two years. While such an outcome is theoretically possible, it’s unlikely given the political dynamics of key Senate races, which increasingly track the presidential vote in each state.

“For instance, if Republicans lose key Senate races in Arizona, Colorado, Maine and North Carolina, then that’s clearly indicative of a ‘blue wave,’” Miller explains. “It’s hard to imagine Trump winning the White House if that happens.”

Either scenario involving Trump’s reelection raises another risk: If he wins without a majority of the popular vote as he did in 2016, Miller warns, that could lead to more civil unrest and further demands to abolish the Electoral College.

Investment Implications

Election season can be a tough time for investors to maintain a long-term perspective, given the strong emotions often evoked by politics. Campaign rhetoric tends to amplify negative and divisive issues. This election, in particular, is unprecedented in modern times — marked by the combination of a deadly pandemic, a global economic recession, widespread civil unrest and extreme market volatility.

Moving to the sidelines would be an understandable approach for anxious investors who prefer to wait and see what happens. As history has shown, however, that is often a mistake. What matters most is not election results, but staying invested.

Consider the historical performance of the Standard & Poor’s 500 Composite Index over the past eight decades. In 18 of 19 presidential elections, a hypothetical $10,000 investment made at the beginning of each election year would have gained value 10 years later. That’s regardless of which party’s candidate won. In 15 of those 10-year periods, a $10,000 investment would have more than doubled. While past results do not guarantee future returns, election-year jitters should not deter investors from maintaining a long-term perspective.

The only negative 10-year period followed the election of George W. Bush in the year 2000. During that decade, the S&P 500 posted a negative return amid two seismic events: the 2000 dot-com crash and 2008 global financial crisis.

In contrast, the biggest election year return would have been in 1988, when George H. W. Bush won office, and $10,000 would have grown to $52,567 by the end of 1997.

By design, elections have winners and losers, but the real winners have been investors who stayed the course and avoided the temptation to time the market.

Sources

  1. https://www.capitalgroup.com/ria/insights/articles/election-watch-2020.html
  2. https://www.capitalgroup.com/advisor/pdf/shareholder/MFGEBR-121-632421.pdf

Matt Miller is a political economist at Capital Group and host of the Capital Ideas podcast. He was formerly a senior advisor at McKinsey, a Washington Post columnist and author, host of public radio’s “Left, Right & Center” program, and a Clinton White House aide. He holds a law degree from Columbia and a bachelor’s degree in economics from Brown.

Clarke Camper is head of government relations at Capital Group. Prior to joining Capital, he was head of government affairs and public advocacy at NYSE Euronext. Before that, he was a vice president of external affairs at GE Capital. He holds a law degree and a master’s degree in public policy from Harvard, and a bachelor’s degree in public policy from Stanford.

Reagan Anderson is a member of the government relations team at Capital Group. Prior to joining Capital, Reagan worked as a senior vice president for congressional affairs at the Consumers Bankers Association. Before that, she held various positions in government affairs for the New York Stock Exchange and the Private Equity Growth Capital Council. Reagan holds a journalism degree from Ohio University.

Investments are not FDIC-insured, nor are they deposits of or guaranteed by a bank or any other entity, so they may lose value.

Investors should carefully consider investment objectives, risks, charges and expenses. This and other important information is contained in the fund prospectuses and summary prospectuses, which can be obtained from a financial professional and should be read carefully before investing.

Statements attributed to an individual represent the opinions of that individual as of the date published and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Capital Group or its affiliates. This information is intended to highlight issues and should not be considered advice, an endorsement or a recommendation.

All Capital Group trademarks mentioned are owned by The Capital Group Companies, Inc., an affiliated company or fund. All other company and product names mentioned are the property of their respective companies.

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This content, developed by Capital Group, home of American Funds, should not be used as a primary basis for investment decisions and is not intended to serve as impartial investment or fiduciary advice.

Indexes are unmanaged and, therefore, have no expenses. Investors cannot invest directly in an index.

Standard & Poor’s 500 Composite Index is a market capitalization-weighted index based on the results of approximately 500 widely held common stocks. Standard & Poor’s 500 Composite Index (“Index”) is a product of S&P Dow Jones Indices LLC and/or its affiliates and has been licensed for use by Capital Group. Copyright © 2020 S&P Dow Jones Indices LLC, a division of S&P Global, and/or its affiliates. All rights reserved. Redistribution or reproduction in whole or in part is prohibited without written permission of S&P Dow Jones Indices LLC.

3 Mistakes Investors Make During Election Years and How to Avoid Them

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Investing during an election year can be tough on the nerves, and 2020 promises to be no different. Politics can bring out strong emotions and biases, but investors would be wise to put these aside when making investment decisions.

Benjamin Graham, the father of value investing, famously noted that “In the short run, the market is a voting machine but in the long run, it is a weighing machine.” He wasn’t literally referring to the intersection of elections and investing, but he could have been. Markets can be especially choppy during election years, with sentiment often changing as quickly as candidates open their mouths.

Graham first made his analogy in 1934, in his seminal book, “Security Analysis.” Since then there have been 22 election cycles. Highlighted below are three common mistakes made by investors in election years and ways to avoid these pitfalls to invest with confidence in 2020.

MISTAKE #1
Investors Worry Too Much About Which Party Wins The Election

There’s nothing wrong with wanting your candidate to win, but investors can run into trouble when they place too much importance on election results. That’s because elections have, historically speaking, made essentially no difference when it comes to long-term investment returns.

“Presidents get far too much credit, and far too much blame, for the health of the U.S. economy and the state of the financial markets,” says Capital Group economist Darrell Spence. “There are many other variables that determine economic growth and market returns and, frankly, presidents have very little influence over them.”

What should matter more to investors is staying invested. Although past results are not predictive of future returns, a $1,000 investment in the S&P 500 made when Franklin D. Roosevelt took office would have been worth over $14 million today. During this time there have been exactly seven Democratic and seven Republican presidents. Getting out of the market to avoid a certain party or candidate in office could have severely detracted from an investor’s long-term returns.

By design, elections have clear winners and losers. But the real winners were investors who avoided the temptation to base their decisions around election results and stayed invested for the long haul.

MISTAKE #2
Investors Get Spooked By Primary Season Volatility

Markets hate uncertainty, and that’s what primary season of an election year brings. For instance, with so many candidates on the campaign trail earlier this year — 11 Democrats were still running when primaries kicked off in early February — the range of outcomes were daunting.

But volatility caused by this uncertainty is often short-lived. After the primaries end and each party has selected its candidate, historically markets have tended to return to their normal trajectory.

Election year volatility can also bring select buying opportunities. Policy proposals during primaries often target specific industries, putting pressure on share prices. This cycle, it’s the health care sector that’s in the spotlight with proposed overhauls to drug pricing and the health care system.

Does that mean you should avoid this sector altogether? Not according to Rob Lovelace, an equity portfolio manager with 34 years of experience investing through many election cycles. “When everyone is worried that a new government policy is going to come along and destroy a sector, that concern is usually overblown,” Lovelace says. “Companies with good drugs that are really helping people will be able to get into the market, and they will get paid for it.”

In the past, those targeted sectors have often rallied after the campaign spotlight dimmed. It happened with health care following the 2016 presidential and 2018 midterm elections, and has happened with other sectors in the past. This can create buying opportunities for investors with a contrarian point of view and the ability to withstand short-term volatility.

MISTAKE #3
Investors Try to Time The Markets Around Politics

If you’re nervous about the markets in 2020, you’re not alone. Presidential candidates often draw attention to the country’s problems, and campaigns regularly amplify negative messages. So maybe it should be no surprise that investors have tended to be more conservative with their portfolios ahead of elections.

Since 1992, investors have poured assets into money market funds — traditionally one of the lowest risk investment vehicles — much more often leading up to elections. By contrast, equity funds have seen the highest net inflows in the year immediately after an election. This suggests that investors may prefer to minimize risk during election years and wait until after uncertainty has subsided to revisit riskier assets like stocks.

But market timing is rarely a winning long-term investment strategy, and it can pose a major problem for portfolio returns. To verify this, we analyzed investment returns over the last 22 election cycles to compare three hypothetical investment approaches: being fully invested in equities, making monthly contributions to equities, or staying in cash until after the election. We then calculated the portfolio returns after each cycle, assuming a four-year holding period.

The hypothetical investor who stayed in cash until after the election had the worst outcome of the three portfolios in 16 of 22 periods. Meanwhile, investors who were fully invested or made monthly contributions during election years came out on top. These investors had higher average portfolio balances over the full period and more often outpaced the investor who stayed on the sidelines longer.

Sticking with a sound long-term investment plan based on individual investment objectives is usually the best course of action. Whether that strategy is to be fully invested throughout the year or to consistently invest through a vehicle such as a 401(k) plan, the bottom line is that investors should avoid market timing around politics. As is often the case with investing, the key is to put aside short-term noise and focus on long-term goals.

How Can Investors Avoid These Mistakes?

  • Don’t allow election predictions and outcomes to influence investment decisions. History shows that election results have very little impact on long-term returns.
  • Expect volatility, especially during primary season, but don’t fear it. View it as a potential opportunity.
  • Stick to a long-term investment strategy instead of trying to time markets around elections. Investors who were fully invested or made regular, monthly investments did better than those who stayed in cash in election years.

Sources

  1. https://www.capitalgroup.com/ria/insights/articles/3-investor-mistakes-election-year.html

Rob Lovelace is vice chairman of Capital Group, president of Capital Research and Management Company, and serves on the Capital Group Management Committee. He has 34 years of investment experience, all with Capital. He holds a bachelor’s in geology from Princeton and is a CFA charterholder.

Darrell Spence is an economist and research director with 27 years of investment experience, all with Capital. He earned a bachelor’s degree in economics from Occidental College and is a CFA charterholder.

Investments are not FDIC-insured, nor are they deposits of or guaranteed by a bank or any other entity, so they may lose value.

Investors should carefully consider investment objectives, risks, charges and expenses. This and other important information is contained in the fund prospectuses and summary prospectuses, which can be obtained from a financial professional and should be read carefully before investing.

Investing outside the United States involves risks, such as currency fluctuations, periods of illiquidity and price volatility. These risks may be heightened in connection with investments in developing countries. Small-company stocks entail additional risks, and they can fluctuate in price more than larger company stocks.

Statements attributed to an individual represent the opinions of that individual as of the date published and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Capital Group or its affiliates. This information is intended to highlight issues and should not be considered advice, an endorsement or a recommendation.

American Funds Distributors, Inc., member FINRA.

This content, developed by Capital Group, home of American Funds, should not be used as a primary basis for investment decisions and is not intended to serve as impartial investment or fiduciary advice.

Methodology for the hypothetical analysis referenced in the article: The three hypothetical investors each have $10K to invest during an election cycle and are invested in a combination of equities and cash at all times. The fully invested investor is always fully invested in equities. The investor who makes monthly contributions starts with $1K in equity and $9K in cash. At the start of each of the next nine months, this investor reduces cash by $1K and makes a $1K contribution to equities, after which they will have made the full $10K contribution to equities. The investor who stays in cash until after the election is entirely invested in cash during the first year. At the start of the second year, this investor reduces cash by $10K and makes a $10K contribution to equities. S&P 500 Index used for equity returns, and reflects the reinvestment of dividends. Ibbotson SBBI US 30-Day Treasury Bill Total Return Index used as a proxy for cash returns, and reflects the reinvestment of interest. Returns and portfolio values are calculated monthly and in USD. Analysis starts on January 1 of each election year and reflects a four-year holding period.

Standard & Poor’s 500 Composite Index (“Index”) is a product of S&P Dow Jones Indices LLC and/or its affiliates and has been licensed for use by Capital Group. Copyright © 2020 S&P Dow Jones Indices LLC, a division of S&P Global, and/or its affiliates. All rights reserved. Redistribution or reproduction in whole or in part is prohibited without written permission of S&P Dow Jones Indices LLC.

Standard & Poor’s 500 Composite Index is a market capitalization-weighted index based on the results of approximately 500 widely held common stocks.

©2020 Morningstar, Inc. All rights reserved. The information contained herein: (1) is proprietary to Morningstar and/or its content providers; (2) may not be copied or distributed; and (3) is not warranted to be accurate, complete or timely. Neither Morningstar nor its content providers are responsible for any damages or losses arising from any use of this information. Past performance is no guarantee of future results.

Is There a Disconnect Between Wall Street and Main Street Right Now?

Photo by Kaique Rocha from Pexels

Although they may appear to be disconnected on the surface, and near-term outcomes are impossible to predict, they’re likely no more disconnected than usual.

One of the more important considerations to keep in mind about financial markets is that they’ve always been forward looking. Economic data, by its nature and difficulty in tabulation, always reflects the past. Folks who sold in March probably don’t need a reminder of this, but many of the better buying opportunities for financial assets have surfaced during past recessions. As such, the state of the economy at the time had little bearing on prospects for future returns—in fact, the two are often negatively correlated. Additionally, by the time the recession is over, the larger discounts for risk assets are often long past.

Credit goes to Professor Jeremy Siegel at the Univ. of Pennsylvania (and author of Stocks for the Long Run) for the continual reminders of this during the time of Covid, but earnings for the next year or two represent a very small percentage of an underlying stock’s valuation (or for that of a broader stock index), when using a traditional dividend discount-type model. Although most investors aren’t modeling valuations constantly, the focus does remain on the future—the past is already done with and an investment’s value at any given point is reliant on longer-term future growth and cash flows. That said, with reopenings already occurring around the country (even if not working out ideally from a medical standpoint, especially during the last few weeks), the broader economy has moved on from deep self-imposed trough, and into recovery.

This recovery will likely be a gradual one, and as we’ve seen over the past few weeks, surprise virus hotspots, or comments from officials, may still result in market volatility. The main question now has moved from ‘if’ a recovery would happen, to still a degree of ‘when’ it would happen, as well as ‘how long’ it will take. The latter remains an open question, with social distancing and societal reluctance putting a damper on V-shaped sentiment. There will likely be additional bad news to come, especially for lower-margin businesses like restaurants and retail, where 25% or 50% of normal volume may not be enough to make ends meet. Additional government stimulus may be necessary (and is likely forthcoming), but there could be further economic damage for more indebted firms or others on the brink. Not every business can be saved—this is the nature of the risk involved with capitalism and unfair and unpredictable events. Just because the government has infused money into ‘fallen angel’ portions of the high yield bond market is not an all-clear signal for no more risk. This may also continue to exacerbate rotations away from challenged sectors, like brick and mortar retail, into new economy industries, such as certain segments of high tech, that have already been in progress prior to the pandemic.

(Click here for full report from PIMCO)

Another factor that has taken a back seat amidst the Covid news is the upcoming election. While many are hesitant to trust early results from polling (due to the surprise outcome that challenged the reliability of polls in 2016), former Vice President Biden has jumped to a substantial lead over President Trump—especially in key battleground states. Aside from the current divisive political landscape, financial market trepidation of a Biden presidency, and possible Democratic takeover of the Senate, are focused on the ‘Biden Tax Plan,’ which includes promises to re-raise corporate tax rates from 21% to 28% (albeit not all the way back up to the previous max 35%), and on the highest personal tax brackets. The direct impact is that a corporate tax increase would lower equity earnings, which lowers fair values. Naturally, with concerns over getting earnings back to normal in 2021, downward shocks aren’t being welcomed. Election probabilities will likely continue to be in the minds of investors through the summer and fall. Historically, recessions have been the Achilles heel of incumbent presidents for the last half-century, regardless of the cause.

(Click here for full report from Alliance Bernstein)

Financial market reactions were certainly as extreme as we’ve seen in decades over the past few months. With the medical landscape and prospects for a solution remaining uncertain, it would not be surprising to see volatility persist. As before, near-term financial market results remain generally tied to hopes/timing for a vaccine, further fiscal stimulus, and ‘normalization’ of life (financial and other). However, long-term results have been tied more closely to human innovation and ingenuity, which has been a difficult trend to derail.

Sources

  1. https://www.dropbox.com/s/h2zn2tg7ti1sxb7/International%2BBond%2BFund%2B%28US%2BHedged%29%2BQIR.pdf?dl=0
  2. https://www.dropbox.com/s/wp8148ldkh7a18o/CMO%20Presentation%203Q20.pdf?dl=0

How Rebalancing Can Help Keep Your Portfolio’s Risk Profile In Check

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Everyone loves a winner. If an investment is successful, most people naturally want to stick with it. But is that the best approach?

It may sound counterintuitive, but it may be possible to have too much of a good thing. Over time, the performance of different investments can shift a portfolio’s intent as well as its risk profile. It’s a phenomenon sometimes referred to as “risk creep,” and it happens when a portfolio’s risk profile shifts over time.

Balancing

When deciding how to allocate investments, many begin by considering their time horizon, risk tolerance, and specific goals. Next, individual investments are selected that pursue the overall objective. If all the investments selected had the same return, that balance – that allocation – would remain steady for a time. But if the investments have varying returns, over time, the portfolio may bear little resemblance to its original allocation. (1)

How Rebalancing Works

Rebalancing is the process of restoring a portfolio to its original risk profile. There are two ways to rebalance a portfolio.

The first is to use new money. When adding money to a portfolio, allocate these new funds to those assets or asset classes that have fallen.(1)

The second way of rebalancing is to sell enough of the “winners” to buy more underperforming assets. Ironically, this type of rebalancing forces you to buy low and sell high.

As you consider the pros and cons of rebalancing, here are a couple of key concepts to consider. First, asset allocation is an investment principle designed to manage risk. It does not guarantee against investment losses. Second, the process of rebalancing may create a taxable event. And the information in this material is not intended as tax or legal advice. It may not be used for the purpose of avoiding any federal tax penalties. Please consult a professional with legal or tax expertise regarding your situation.
Periodically rebalancing your portfolio to match your desired risk tolerance is a sound practice regardless of the market conditions. One approach is to set a specific time each year to schedule an appointment to review your portfolio and determine if adjustments are appropriate.

▲Diversification Benefits and Forced Rebalancing

The left hand side of this page shows the benefits of diversification during the most recent stock market correction while the right hand side shows how the market itself can rebalance portfolios overtime.

Sources

  1. kiplinger.com/article/investing/T023-C000-S002-rebalancing-your-portfolio-to-reduce-risk.html
  2. https://am.jpmorgan.com/us/en/asset-management/gim/protected/adv/insights/guide-to-the-markets/viewer

This material was prepared by MarketingPro, Inc., and does not necessarily represent the views of the presenting party, nor their affiliates. This information has been derived from sources believed to be accurate. Please note – investing involves risk, and past performance is no guarantee of future results. The publisher is not engaged in rendering legal, accounting or other professional services. If assistance is needed, the reader is advised to engage the services of a competent professional. This information should not be construed as investment, tax or legal advice and may not be relied on for the purpose of avoiding any Federal tax penalty. This is neither a solicitation nor recommendation to purchase or sell any investment or insurance product or service, and should not be relied upon as such. All indices are unmanaged and are not illustrative of any particular investment.