Letter to Clients: 2nd Quarter 2017

Dear Clients and Friends:

Spring is a time of renewal as we leave the dreary cold of winter behind to enjoy the warmth and hope of brighter days ahead. And taxes; let’s not forget about taxes. It is also an excellent opportunity to do some “spring cleaning” and get rid of documents. At DV Financial, we shred to protect your identity and encourage you to do the same. Remember, you can bring in any documents you would like to have us shred. Keep this in mind as you come across old and out dated documents. In addition to shredding, another perk of our relationship includes complementary notary public services.

Sometimes we hear the same question from many different people. Right now the question on everyone’s mind seems to be if the “Trump Bump” is an indication of impending doom or a sign to be “all in” the markets. As we begin the second quarter, let’s see if we can’t provide some insight into that question.

Confidence and the economy

A stirring of the “animal spirits” is seemingly a prerequisite for economic activity. Without rising optimism, consumers and businesses are less likely to spend and boost economic growth. Surveys of consumer and business confidence have surged since the election, including the Conference Board’s survey and the NFIB’s survey of small business sentiment.

At the March meeting of the Federal Reserve, central bankers raised the fed funds rate by 0.25%, to a range of 0.75%-1.00%, and Fed Chief Janet Yellen took a cautiously optimistic stance on the economy. However, in response to a question at her quarterly press conference, she noted:

“I wouldn’t say at this point that I have seen hard evidence of any change in spending decisions based on expectations about the future.

“I think it’s fair to say that many of my colleagues and I note a much more optimistic frame of mind among many, many businesses in recent months. But, I’d say, most of the business people that we’ve talked to also have a wait-and-see attitude and are very hopeful that they will be able to expand investment.…I’m not seeing that at this point (increased spending), but the shift in sentiment is obvious and notable.”

In other words, the good cheer being reflected in confidence surveys, including the highest reading in almost 17 years from the Conference Board’s Consumer Confidence Index, has yet to materially translate into faster growth. One vivid example–the widely followed GDPNow model from the Atlanta Fed suggests Q1 GDP is set to rise a scant 0.9% on an annualized basis. That may change between the March 31 reading and the release of the GDP report at month’s end, but it is not a ringing endorsement of economic activity.

Confidence and the political angle

The University of Michigan’s survey of consumer sentiment included this nugget in its late-March release:

“Democrats expect an imminent recession, higher unemployment, lower income gains, and more rapid inflation, while Republicans anticipate a new era of robust growth in incomes, job prospects, and lower inflation.

“It is a rare situation that combines increasing optimism, which promotes spending, and rising uncertainty which makes consumers more cautious spenders.”

Consumers are not viewing economic prospects through the eyes of their favored political lens. Those who identify themselves with the Republican Party won’t throw caution to the wind and ramp up spending to unsustainable levels, and those who are Democrats won’t settle into an economic bunker.

The reality is likely somewhere in the middle, with the hard data (spending and industrial production) meeting the soft surveys (confidence). Notably, we are already seeing evidence that manufacturing has entered recovery mode.

Speaking of politics…

There was no shortage of angst in the investment community that a Donald Trump presidential victory would send shares down sharply, at least in the immediate aftermath.  In reality, the opposite happened with stocks surging in the wake of his surprise victory. The pre-election day conventional wisdom didn’t pan out. Instead, investors quickly warmed to the idea that a Republican President and a Republican Congress would quickly enact a pro-business agenda that would fuel economic growth, and by extension, corporate profit growth.

Rather than examine activity in Washington from a political perspective, we would be better served to view what is happening on Capitol Hill through the eyes of a non-partisan investor.

The President’s ambitious agenda includes a steep cut in corporate taxes, individual tax cuts, tax reform, regulatory reform, and new outlays for infrastructure and national defense. Traditionally, Republicans have not been fond of boosting domestic spending, but tax cuts and regulatory relief has always been a staple of the conservative agenda. Democrats will likely support much-needed spending on roads, bridges, and airports.

Much like a UFC fighting match, things got ugly fast when the Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare, was top of the agenda. Republicans haven’t been shy about trying to repeal President Obama’s signature accomplishment ever since they obtained majorities in the House and Senate. Healthcare is a complicated issue. Leadership quickly discovered that proposing policy changes is one thing, enacting those changes is quite another.

Stocks and a political brick wall

If Republicans can’t enact their agenda, won’t that quash the so-called Trump rally? Since a fair number of headlines suggest such a scenario, let’s address it. Perhaps the stock market reaction to the failed repeal and replace effort could shed some light as to how the market may react to the potential gridlock over tax reform.

The failure of the Republican health care plan highlights major divisions within the Republican Party. No longer do investors expect corporate and individual tax reform to sail through Congress – a stark contrast to market sentiment late last year. However, while the road to tax reform may be rocky, it’s not completely blocked.

Trump and the Republicans in Congress share common goals including a reduction in the corporate tax rate to 15%-20%, tax simplification, a reduction in individual tax rates, elimination of the estate tax and the Alternative Minimum Tax, and a reduced rate on the repatriation of foreign earnings of U.S. companies. If the healthcare issue taught us anything, we learned that the devil is always in the details. How these goals may be accomplished is unclear. One way to pay for tax cuts is by enacting a ‘border-adjustment tax’, which raises taxes on imports and subsidizes exports, but such a move would be extremely controversial. It appears to be a nonstarter in the Senate, and there is powerful opposition to it from some business interests.

Will stocks take a beating if tax reform goes the way of repeal and replace? Unlike the mixed reaction to health care reform, investors have been salivating over the prospect of a cut in the corporate tax rates. There was little fallout in the market from the failure of the Republican health care referendum. Most major indexes went up in the week following the decision to shelve the bill. While a cut in corporate taxes might be considered the “crown jewel” for the market, what investors really want is respectable economic growth that produces respectable growth in corporate profits.

Political uncertainty creates noise and may temporarily dampen investor sentiment. But looking long term, it’s a growing economy and expectations for higher profits that support stocks.

Your portfolio should be about economic fundamentals and having long-term investments which can withstand temporary setbacks. Investing is not without risks, but risks can be managed. Market timing rarely works because conventional wisdom is not always correct.

Conventional wisdom said a Trump win would clobber stocks short term. Just the opposite happened.

Conventional wisdom suggested the demise of the Republican health care plan would trip up shares. It hasn’t.

Conventional wisdom also suggests Republican gridlock and failure to enact business-friendly legislation will drive a stake through the heart of the Trump rally. While volatility is likely, it’s the growing economy and rising profits that we are focused on. Put another way, if it doesn’t materially impact the U.S. economy and the economic outlook, investors have historically turned their focus back to the fundamentals.

Our current situation

As of March 31, Thomson Reuters estimates that Q1 S&P 500 profits will rise a strong 10.2%, the best year-over-year advance in over two years. And estimates for the remainder of the year are promising.

There will be winners and losers among the politicos on Capitol Hill. Some will celebrate while others will seek solace. Ultimately, investors who maintain a disciplined approach and avoid being whipsawed by shifting bullish/bearish sentiment stand the best chance of reaching their financial .

For the long-term investor, it all revolves around economic activity and earnings growth. I recognize I’ve hammered this theme home before and I suspect we will bring it up in the future too. The whole point is to help you reach the goals we’ve talked about. Getting sidetracked by the story of the month will only serve to delay or derail the achievement of your goals.

It is our job to assist you! If there are any additional questions or concerns you may have, feel free to email or call. That’s why we are here and we are happy to offer additional insights and explain the effects on your personal finances. As always, I’m honored and humbled to serve as your financial advisor.

Enjoy the warmer weather and we will check in with you mid-summer.

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.