Kingsview SVP Paul Nolte discusses employment, economically sensitive cyclicals and small caps.
March 22, 2021
The days are longer than the nights and the weather is beginning to warm up. Baseball starts in 10 days! Summer is just around the corner. The economic “issue” is that inflation is beginning to heat up as well. Getting lumber or copper for homebuilding or gas for your car is costing a whole lot more than a year ago. As a result, interest rates are rising and pushing the Fed to recognize that an ill wind that blows does nobody good. Inflation, in the words of the Fed, may be transitory, but for how long? Expectations are for an economy to be blowing hot during the summer as economies open around the world. With all the stimulus and people going back to work with extra money in their wallets, inflation may be around for something more than a transitory period. To be fair, the Fed has pulled the punch bowl from the party well ahead of things getting out of hand, but this time wants to wait until they start seeing the party really rolling before raising rates.
Last week’s economic data was less than stellar, but the key report will not be showing up until April’s jobs report. The weekly jobless data is stuck in low gear, without much change since Halloween. However, the continuing claims are about double that of early 2019 and about two-thirds of the peak in 2008/09. Other data points are indicating the economy is healing, albeit very slowly. The coming jobs report will be informative as to the type of jobs coming back. In early March, the jobs report showed a large pick-up in hospitality jobs, restaurant, hotel, and bars. The trend is expected to continue as various states are loosening the restrictions of the past six months or so. Commodity prices are beginning to roll over a bit, energy prices have dropped from their recent highs and agriculture prices are down for March. So, while inflation indices could continue to rise in the months ahead, some prices are beginning to decline. As vaccinations increase and economies open, the main debate is how much pent-up demand is out there. Many are hungry to get out, others remain cautious. Trying to guess human behavior after this year is a fool’s errand. We will watch how things unfold rather than trying to guess.
The direction of interest rates has been the focus of investors over the past month as rates on the 10-year bond is now at the highest level in over a year. However, looking back at the 10-year yield, rates have been in a range between 1.50% and 3% since mid-2011. Before collapsing to under 0.60% last summer, the yield on 10-year bonds was near 2%. The concern today is that inflation is going to spike, and the Fed will have to step in to raise rates. The Fed has stepped in early, anticipating the inflation that never came. Today, they want to see inflation before beginning to tighten rates. They should be on the sidelines until sometime in 2022.
The battle between growth and value continues to rage during March and has been dependent upon the direction of interest rates. When rates rise, growth stocks falter. When rates ease, growth races higher. Growth stocks are all about future expectations for earnings that get discounted back to a price today. As rates increase, that discount rate also increases, pushing today’s value lower. More cyclical stocks that are tied to economic growth benefit from a better economy. They tend to be very leveraged to economic growth, doing very well as the economy recovers and booms, and collapsing when the economy hits a recession. We have been concerned that growth stocks have “discounted” every possible bit of good news in their price, so any change could mean much lower prices if those expectations are not met. While not necessarily as egregiously priced as the tech bubble in 2000, many growth stocks are still priced for perfection and could fall dramatically if those expectations are not met. Meanwhile, little is expected of the consumer related stocks in the face of the pandemic. As the economy opens, many will do very well as consumers return and spend money. That rotation from growth to value is likely to continue in the weeks/months ahead as people start to feel better about mingling with others.
Interest rates are likely to continue to rise as economic growth should also rise dramatically over the summer months. While that growth may be temporary, investors will still fret about potentially higher inflation and a Fed that may begin to tighten monetary policy and push interest rates higher still.
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.
May 15, 2021
As we “celebrate” the first anniversary of the “just two-week lockdown” to bend the curve, the economy remains a mess even though Wall Street is doing fine. Another $1.9 trillion will be doled out over the coming weeks and months to help the economy and those impacted by job loss recover. Until the economy opens fully, it will be hard to restore jobs, especially in the service sector. Market psychology has shifted from benefiting companies helped by working/staying at home to a hopeful reopening of the economy. The bond market is sniffing inflationary pressures and concerns about the time when the population is unleashed from a restricted lifestyle. Interest rates have increased significantly and this week we will hear from Fed Chair Powell regarding their position on keeping rates low for longer and when it will begin to shift. As the weather warms and vaccines find arms, the summer is expected to be “more normal”. Anything less will be a huge disappointment after the past year.
The economic damage of the past year is still very evident in the weekly jobless claims figures. The average of the past year is roughly 50% higher than the average during the financial crisis. The response from the government has been multiples more than during 2008-’09. Unlike that period, this one is completely health related and will take broader vaccination and local governments to relax restrictions on the service economy to realize a stronger recovery. The inflationary worries have not yet shown up in the “official” data, as both consumer and producer prices were as expected and are still well below the Fed’s 2% target. That will change in the coming months as commodity prices have jumped by over 20% since the end of last March. Even pulling out the usually volatile food and energy, prices are expected to soon be above that 2% level. If consumers have money to pay the higher prices, inflation can linger. The extension of various programs into fall may allow many to have money in their pockets and keep the pressure on prices. Once the economy fully recovers, wage growth will be the key driver for “durable” inflation. This dynamic will be under the microscope at the Fed meeting and the press conference that will follow. The markets are sure to react.
The bond market has been at the center of investor’s focus as longer-term bond yields have been rising in response to expectations for higher economic growth and inflation. The impact has been felt more in the treasury market and to a lesser extent the corporate bond. Corporate bond (and to a lesser extent) municipal bonds are dependent upon the health of the specific issuer. Better economic growth and higher local tax revenue will benefit these parts of the bond market. The huge issuance of treasury bonds to pay for the various pandemic programs will have a tougher time to be absorbed within the market, pushing rates up on government bonds.
After being neglected for the better part of 10 years, other parts of the markets are indeed waking up. Small stocks are up better than 20% just this year. Energy, the black gold variety, is up over 40%. While much of the attention has gone toward technology, this shift toward “everything else” has been picking up steam over the past six months. Some of this is due to expectations for better economic growth. Energy has been pushed down so far that it was impossible to find storage a year ago and you could get paid to hold it (assuming you had a few tankers in the backyard!). Today, pump prices are at or over $3/gal. Smaller stocks tend to be more domestic and do not have as much international exposure as their larger cousins. Many of these companies suffered in the early days of the pandemic and for those surviving, they are likely to thrive as growth picks up.
Interest rates and investor ebullience may be the only things to derail the markets over the long-term. Over the short-term, stocks may take a rest especially in front of the Fed meeting this week. Volatility has not subsided, but few notice it when stocks rise!
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