Letter to Clients: Third Quarter 2020

July 2020

Dear Clients and Friends:

Lest we think this is something new, it was the Greek philosopher Heraclitus who wrote
“The only constant in life is change.” The year 2020 may well be the Year of Heraclitus.

We started the year with typical optimism. By the end of the first quarter, society was shrouded in fear and uncertainty over a global pandemic. Now we are at the halfway point of the year, confronted with more information than ever, but still no clear understanding of exactly how to respond to this data. This quarter also added civil unrest and public protests to a degree that has not been seen for decades.

In this quarter’s letter we are going to address the current environment; at least from a financial perspective. We all have our own views of politics and social issues, but our role at DV Financial is to analyze, advise, and act independently from such perspective. Everyone is unique in their opinions and financial situation. As such, we will present the economic and market conditions, allowing you to draw your own conclusion.

Throughout this crisis, we have remained open and available. If you have questions, we can accommodate your preferences to meet either in person, virtually, or by telephone. Please do not hesitate to call if there is anything we can do to help. You can call the office at (515) 255-3354 or email me directly at adinkin@dvfin.com.

Before we begin our quarterly commentary, I would like to introduce the newest member of the DV Financial. We are proud to welcome Patrick Owens to the team as a Financial Advisor. Previously, he worked in the banking industry for 9 years; most recently at Wells Fargo Bank as a Senior Business Banking Specialist. Patrick and I will both be working to serve our DV Financial clients. By working together, we aim to provide even greater accessibility and outstanding service.

Economic Update

Much of the economic data over the past quarter was extremely negative with record declines in employment[1] and consumer spending[2]. The speed of the decline had no modern precedent. With government-imposed lockdowns and business closures, companies furloughed employees at a furious and painful pace. It is difficult and disheartening to see friends and family members sidelined from the workforce.

According to the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER), the official arbiter of recessions and expansions, we are now in a recession[3]. The prior expansion, which began in 2009, officially peaked in February having lasted a record 128 months. In making its determination, the NBER concluded, “The unprecedented magnitude of the decline in employment and production…warrants the designation of this episode as a recession, even if it turns out to be briefer than earlier contractions.” The shortest recession on record lasted just six months and occurred in 1980[4]. Second place: a seven-month recession in 1918-19, which was tied to the Spanish flu pandemic. There are five recessions that lasted eight months, including the 1957-58 recession that coincided with the Asian flu pandemic. While the economy is much different today, the recovery from the short but steep 1957-58 recession was robust[5].

Given surprisingly strong data in May, April may have marked the bottom of the economic cycle. If so, it will be the shortest recession on record. With massive support from the Federal Reserve, the federal government, and the reopening of previously closed businesses, employment in May unexpectedly surged a record 2.5 million. The private sector fared even better, with a gain of 3.1 million[6]. June showed even greater improvement when nonfarm payroll employment rose 4.8 million[7].

Consumer spending, which fell a record 6.6% in March, then another record 12.6% in April, rebounded by a record 8.2% in May[8]. Pent-up demand, stimulus checks, generous unemployment benefits, a rise in employment, and reopened businesses all supported sales. Consumer confidence is also improving according to the Conference Board’s Consumer Confidence Index. It remains well below pre-coronavirus levels, but rising confidence and re-openings are supportive of economic activity.

Still, not all is rosy; a strong recovery is not assured as visibility remains incredibly limited.

Layoffs, as measured by first-time jobless claims, are slowing but remain at unusually high levels[9]. The weekly layoff numbers have been more than double what we saw at the peak of the 2007-09 recession.

We are seeing an increase in Covid-19 cases in many states, which is creating a new round of uncertainty and has fueled choppier day-to-day activity in the market. Yet, at least so far, the bull market seems to be coexisting with the rise in cases.  Despite higher infection rates, deaths continue to trend lower. This reduces fear somewhat and in turn reduces odds of new lockdowns.

In his testimony before House committee on June 30, Fed Chief Powell said, “Many businesses are opening their doors, hiring is picking up, and spending is increasing. Employment moved higher, and consumer spending rebounded strongly in May. We have entered an important new phase and have done so sooner than expected.”[10] But he also recognized the need to keep the virus in check. “The path forward for the economy is extraordinarily uncertain and will depend in large part on our success in containing the virus. A full recovery is unlikely until people are confident that it is safe to reengage in a broad range of activities,” Powell added.

Application to the Financial Markets

Economists and analysts assign economic recoveries what might be called a letter grade when discussing possible paths. Instead of the traditional A through F scale though, the letter intuitively describes the shape of the recovery.

A V-shaped recovery would be ideal, as it would represent a robust bounce. The V-shaped recovery is an aggressive downturn in the markets, followed by an equally aggressive recovery. Data in May was unexpectedly strong and cautiously encouraging for a recovery equal but opposite of the downturn.

The strong rebound in stocks since the late-March low is astounding, especially given the economic damage. Fed support, rock bottom interest rates, the reopening of trade, and stronger economic data have helped. Apparently, investors are expecting an upturn in 2021 and are willing to look beyond this year’s hit to corporate profits.

Instead of a V, we may see the recovery take a different shape. It could be a U where we spend a little more time at the bottom before achieving recovery, a W where a V shaped recovery is followed by another V shaped downtown and rapid recovery. Thankfully, a L shape where markets sit idle at the bottom for a while before beginning the recovery seems to have already passed.

Ultimately, the virus will play the biggest role in how the economic and market recovery unfolds. The jump in daily cases has created some renewed volatility, and it bears watching, but it has yet to knock the bulls off course.

  Table 1: Key Index Returns

MTD% YTD%

Dow Jones Industrial Average

1.7

-9.6

NASDAQ Composite

6.0

12.1

S&P 500 Index

1.8

-4.0

Russell 2000 Index

3.4

-13.6

MSCI World ex-USA*

3.2

-12.7

MSCI Emerging Markets*

7.0

-10.7

US Aggregate Bond TR** 0.6

6.1

Source: Wall Street Journal, MSCI.com, Morningstar, MarketWatch

MTD returns: May 29, 2020 – June 30, 2020 

YTD returns: Dec 31, 2019 – June 30, 2020 

*in US dollars           **Bloomberg Barclays

 

The Disconnect Between Wall Street and Main Street

No matter which side you agree with, it is common for the country to feel divided in the months leading up to a presidential election, but the current division extends far beyond politics.

Some folks are itching to get back to “normal”, while others remain on guard against the disease and are taking a more cautious approach. It will take time for some businesses to fully recover. Some never will, and yet others have thrived. But nowhere is the disconnect more evident than when we look at the financial markets compared to the American household.

The impact of the economy has wreaked havoc on many families and households, yet the S&P500 increased over 25% in the second quarter. The great unknown is the short-term future. How long will it take millions of displaced workers to resume employment? Will the optimistic perspective of investors outlast this recession? Are we in the eye of a hurricane? Or is the worst of the storm behind us?

We do not have the answers, but we encourage you to consider a longer-term perspective, at least from a financial perspective. Try to look past the uncertainty and volatility and keep in mind that America and its financial markets have proven resilient for well over two centuries.

Now is an ideal time to revisit your financial plan. How did you fare, emotionally, when stocks took a beating? If you felt excessive fear or panic, perhaps we should reevaluate your tolerance for risk and make appropriate adjustments. If you are struggling, are you aware of the relief which may be available to you though the CARES Act which provides premature access to retirement funds to those in need?

None of us expected an economic upheaval spawned by a health crisis as the year began but the sound fundamentals on which we built your plan can help you weather this storm. A well-diversified portfolio of stocks has historically had an upside bias. Further, a healthy mix of fixed income producing assets helps cushion the declines.

While we of course monitor events and the markets over a shorter-term period, our main focus continues to be your longer-term goals.

 Action over Reaction

Be proactive, not reactive. You may find you are in a much better position than you realized. As always, we are here to help. Please feel free to reach out to us by email or call (515) 255-3354; you can also like and follow us on Facebook @dvfin. We especially enjoy when you share our value with others and consider it the highest form of compliment. If you know of others who seek answers to calm their financial nerves, we would appreciate the introduction.

Please keep yourself and others healthy.

Sincerely,

Art Dinkin, CFP®

This newsletter contains general information that may not be suitable for everyone. The information contained herein should not be construed as personalized investment advice. Past performance is no guarantee of future results. There is no guarantee that the views and opinions expressed in this newsletter will come to pass. Investing in the stock market involves gains and losses and may not be suitable for all investors. Information presented herein is subject to change without notice and should not be considered as a solicitation to buy or sell any security.

Diversification does not guarantee a profit or protect against a loss in a declining market. It is a method used to help manage investment risk.

Indices are unmanaged and investors cannot invest directly in an index. Unless otherwise noted, performance of indices does not account for any fees, commissions or other expenses that would be incurred. Returns do not include reinvested dividends.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJIA) is a price-weighted average of 30 actively traded “blue chip” stocks, primarily industrials, but includes financials and other service-oriented companies. The components, which change from time to time, represent between 15% and 20% of the market value of NYSE stocks.

The Nasdaq Composite Index is a market-capitalization weighted index of the more than 3,000 common equities listed on the Nasdaq stock exchange. The types of securities in the index include American depositary receipts, common stocks, real estate investment trusts (REITs) and tracking stocks. The index includes all Nasdaq listed stocks that are not derivatives, preferred shares, funds, exchange-traded funds (ETFs) or debentures.

The Standard & Poor's 500 (S&P 500) is an unmanaged group of securities considered to be representative of the stock market in general. It is a market value weighted index with each stock's weight in the index proportionate to its market value.

The Russell 2000 Index is an unmanaged index that measures the performance of the small-cap segment of the U.S. equity universe.

The MSCI All Country World Index ex USA Investable Market Index (IMI) captures large, mid and small cap representation across 22 of 23 Developed Markets (DM) countries (excluding the United States) and 23 Emerging Markets (EM) countries*. With 6,062 constituents, the index covers approximately 99% of the global equity opportunity set outside the US.

The MSCI Emerging Markets Index is a float-adjusted market capitalization index that consists of indices in 21 emerging economies: Brazil, Chile, China, Colombia, Czech Republic, Egypt, Hungary, India, Indonesia, Korea, Malaysia, Mexico, Morocco, Peru, Philippines, Poland, Russia, South Africa, Taiwan, Thailand, and Turkey.

Barclays Aggregate Bond Index includes U.S. government, corporate, and mortgage-backed securities with maturities of at least one year.

[1] U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics employment data

[2] U.S. BEA

[3] https://www.nber.org/cycles/june2020.html

[4] https://www.nber.org/cycles.html

[5] St. Louis Federal Reserve

[6] U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

[7] U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

[8] St. Louis Federal Reserve

[9] U.S. Department of Labor

[10] https://www.federalreserve.gov/newsevents/testimony/powell20200630a.htm