June 1, 2021
What was Hollywood’s six-million-dollar man is now Washington’s six-billion-dollar man. Inflation impacts everything! The new budget rollout late on Friday will be the starting point for wrangling about deficits (do they matter?), spending programs (remember shovel ready?) and initiatives the current administration would like to put forward. An interesting provision is an increase in capital gains tax rates that would be retroactive to April. While many are wringing their hands about the proposals, what gets passed, should make for some interesting beach reading this summer. Back at the economy, the inflationary figures continue to run “hot” as the economy continues to lurch toward a full re-opening. Supplies channels are still not operating correctly and are unlikely to get back to normal before year end. Employment is getting better as the weekly jobless claims’ numbers fell again last week. The coming data dump for the first week of June will include the “official” jobs report that should see some improvement over last month’s disappointing figures.
The markets continue to chug along, even in the face of data that historically would have had the markets falling. Higher inflation and large job gains are generally a recipe for hiking interest rates. However, looking at the bond market, you would have to shake a few traders to get them to move. Ten-year treasury rates remain below their March peak, and “risky” high yield bonds have traded well. Investors are amazingly comfortable with a Federal Reserve that has been buying large quantities of Treasury securities every week. Along with a commitment to keep interest rates lower for longer, investors have little choice but to buy equities to get any kind of return. That has pushed valuations of the equity markets to extremely high levels, rivaling those of 1929 and 2000. What is currently missing is a reason to sell. Until the Fed begins to discuss withdrawing from their purchase program, or we begin to see investors move out of risky portions of the markets, the momentum is still on the bull’s side and stocks can get pricier still. The warm sun calls and living is easy…for now.
After a very rough first quarter, bond investors have been rewarded with “staying the course” as returns have been positive in each of the last two months. Bonds have even given stocks a run for their money since late April, providing essentially the same return without the daily swings. If there are concerns in the bond market, it is that the bond model has swung negative, indicating the direction for interest rates may be higher in the coming weeks. The model has been negative much of this year and even as rates have moderated, they really have not dropped too far from their March peaks. Commodity prices are likely to be the key driver for interest rates going forward.
The markets have been swinging back and forth between growth and value for much of the past six months, however value has been the “winner” overall, as it has been two steps forward, one step back for value stocks. These are the parts of the markets that will benefit from the continued opening of the economy as we go from virtual meetings to in person, from FaceTime to face-to-face. There have been and will be plenty of bumps along the way, however the differences in valuations between these two asset classes tends to favor value ahead of growth. Comparing technology’s performance vs. nearly every other S&P500 sector shows technology’s performance peaking in the third quarter of last year and underperforming since. Even comparing technology to international, shows a similar relationship. The rotation away from technology is hard for investors to do, as the allure of high growth keeps them from moving. However, the valuation on technology stocks in general is well ahead of their historical norms, while valuations of other sectors and asset classes remain near or below historical norms.
“Sell in May and go away” is a Wall Street adage that historically shows the markets doing poorly in the summer. However, the last few years it would be better to hold the stocks and just go away. Will this year be any different? Or will the Fed keep the good times rolling with as easy monetary policy? Stay tuned.
The opinions expressed in the Investment Newsletter are those of the author and are based upon information that is believed to be accurate and reliable but are opinions and do not constitute a guarantee of present or future financial market conditions.