U.S. & World Economy by Mark:
While the upticks in both U.S. sentiment and the stock market are in part a reflection of the optimism over President Trump’s pro-growth plans, there is more to the story. The other main contributor is the collective recognition that we finally have a moderately growing global economy with few weak spots. The U.S. was the cause of the global financial crisis of 2008, the first to bottom and the longest to recover. The rest of the world’s GDP expansion has been years shorter and is still catching up to our higher valuations. Secondly, after five quarters of Wall Street corporate profits dropping (the last quarter was 3Q2016), the first and second quarters of 2017 look positive with a deliberate buildup of inventories on optimism. However, that is largely behind us now as the financial markets often project six months or more in advance. The failure to address Obamacare – even with a Republican majority – makes the rest of Trump’s business-friendly agenda much less certain leaving global growth as the remaining reason for bullish optimism. We expect the markets’ sentiments have shifted from “tell me” to “show me” which will cause the financial markets to back and fill until the second half of 2017 becomes clearer.
January 6, 2017: 1Q2017 Economic Update
A large part of Trump’s political capital will be used to rewrite the tax code to lower personal and corporate tax rates and limit deductions (besides replacing Obamacare, increasing infrastructure spending, rolling back excess government regulations and probably a little tightening on immigration and increased nationalism to give red meat to his constituents). Therefore, an initial assumption would be to expect lower tax receipts and rising government budget deficit after the proposed tax cuts.
However, upon reviewing the most recent large tax reductions in history (under President Kennedy, President Reagan and President Clinton specifically), it appears the opposite occurred. Under President Kennedy, tax revenues increased 62% from 1961 – 1968, unemployment went from 5.5% down to 3.9%, and the stock market doubled. Under President Reagan, tax revenues went up 99% throughout the 1980s, unemployment peaked at 10.8% in 1983 then dropped to about 5.8% in 1990, and the stock market tripled. Under President Clinton, tax cuts in 1997 led to a 59% gain in tax revenue, eventually producing a budget surplus of $198 billion by 2000, unemployment continued down from 5.8% to under 4%, and the stock market doubled from 1997 – 2000.
In all three of the above cases, citizens in the top income tax bracket felt an upsurge in their share of the tax burden (lower % but higher $) while real wages grew across the board. The heart of the problem is declining median income and this directly contributed to Trump’s popularity in the recent election. The average U.S. median income of $57,423.00 in 2007 dropped down to $53,718.00 by 2014 while the top 10% of income earners grew. It is Main Street’s hope to gain real wage increases again.
The Volatile Path Back to “Old Normal”
After 2 weeks of absorbing the U.S. election results, watching the financial markets and reading countless market and economic commentaries, we offer the following condensed thoughts.
What was Expected?
While the election was thought to be close, the odds makers and thus the financial markets were clearly expecting a Clinton victory. That meant continued heavy entitlements, higher taxes, very low GDP growth, low inflation and a decent chance of a recession in 2017. All of this led to ultra-low interest rates and a relatively high stock market based on no real alternatives for positive risk based returns.
But Trump won. Now if, and a big if, Trump’s Republican-led houses get their way, we will see lower taxes (lower personal and corporate taxes and no 3.8% Obamacare tax), less regulation and all manner of fiscal stimulus that has so far been absent in our weak recovery over the last eight years. This would lead to higher GDP, higher wages, no recession and eventually higher inflation. The new premise is that we are headed back to the “old normal” of 3-4% GDP, 3%+ 10 year government bonds and higher corporate growth rates. Therefore, valuations multiples would also “normalize” with lower P/E ratios and higher cap rates for real estate.
Financial Markets Review by Mark:
U.S. and World Economy –
The calm before the storm. Developed world financial markets (U.S., Japan and Europe) have become numb to the long-term effects of unprecedented monetary stimulus. The companies in the S&P500 are now reporting their 6th quarterly drop in revenue and 4th quarterly drop in corporate profits. The labor recovery peaked 8 months ago (job openings and unemployment) as weak hiring is catching up to weak GDP growth. After a 1% revised first half U.S. GDP growth, the second half of the year was supposed to bounce back – it has not. Yet both stock and bond markets remain near all-time highs amidst very low (by historic standards) volatility. The developed world stock markets have benefited from very low cost borrowing to facilitate share buy-backs, artificially creating higher earnings per share; bonds have benefited from Central Bank buy-backs as well.
However, these monetary maneuvers may have peaked this summer. Since then, interest rates have moved higher and the stocks which moved highest the first half of the year have dropped the most in the second half (REITs, utilities, tech). In addition, near-term election cycles here and in Europe have raised the voice of nationalism, border and trade protection. There is talk of “Italeave” ala “Brexit”. We believe that the next major downturn will start in Europe where low and negative interest rates have pulled business forward as much as possible, bringing the weak economic expansion to an earlier than expected close. Initially, the U.S. will be the beneficiary of a flight to quality, but a stronger Dollar set against a falling Yen and Euro will hurt our exports and lead to our own recession.
August 2016: Optivest Wealth Management has been nominated and chosen as a 2016 finalist for the Invest in Others Charitable Foundation’s Corporate Philanthropy Award for its company-wide generous giving initiatives. Optivest advisors and employees are proud that the firm continuously donates 10% of gross revenue to philanthropic organizations worldwide through the Optivest Foundation.
“Invest in Others amplifies the charitable work of financial advisors, employees, and their firms by sharing their stories and awarding funding to the non-profits they care so much about.” Click here to learn more about the Invest in Others Charitable Foundation.
(As reported in the Orange County Business Journal, July 11, 2016):
In Spring 2016, Optivest announced Dee Cinquegrani as the company’s new Vice President of Finance and Development. Dee serves Optivest clients with over 20 years of experience in Business Development & Planning, Accounting and Human Resources. Her specialized contribution includes developing the OptiWealth online financial aggregator and working closely with CPAs, Attorneys and industry leaders to offer Optivest clients the peace of mind they deserve.
Dee is a member of AICPA, CalCPA, is a California Notary Public, holds a real estate Salesperson license for California, and is a graduate of Cal-State Fullerton. True to the Optivest culture that giving is living, you can often find Dee supporting local charitable organizations and community programs.
Financial Markets Review by Mark:
U.S. Economy –
The steep drop in financial markets early in the year aggravated fears of a near-term recession. Since then the markets have rebounded allowing fears to subside, yet we now have warning signs from the U.S. economy itself. Hiring is weak, sales are slipping and new business investments are dropping. Manufacturing remains weak and corporate profits have not gained ground in 3 quarters. All of these are classic signs of an impending economic downturn. Uneven economic growth throughout our 7-year expansion has given us several such scares in the past. The latest excuse is to blame slow growth on the rest of the world: i.e. America would be booming if not for China, which would be booming if not for Europe, which blames Japan, which in turn blames America. With uncertainty increasing from Brexit and U.S. election cycles, we continue to forecast a recession in the next 12 – 18 months.
Much has already been written and read concerning the “Brexit” decision on June 23rd. It caught the financial markets off guard and sent equities and commodities down (except gold) as bonds and REITs went up; then we had a quick reversal. It is very hard to plan for binary outcomes (i.e. heads or tails scenarios), however our “all accounts composite” only dipped 5 basis points between the time of the vote and second quarter-end. Our low equity exposure and larger real estate and alternatives allocations resulted in continued gains for the year, despite a weak stock market.
The Most Important Heir to Prepare:
Part 1 of Preparing Heirs Series
I have been helping high net-worth families with their finances for almost 40 years as a professional investment advisor, as a Tiger 21 peer and as a friend. Based on my experiences, after a wealthy family has successfully organized their retirement income for the first generation and helped their children launch, many change focus to preparing their heirs for future inheritance. This is a noble and important task which will likely take decades to conduct properly (I will expand upon this topic in future series). However, the family’s primary concern needs to be preparing the heir who will accede to the responsibility of stewarding the family resources after the head of household passes; most often, this is the spouse. (While I will refer to the “spouse” in this report, statistically the survivor is the female, non-income producer in the marriage.)
In my book, Cash Out, Cash In: The After Success Investment Guide, I wrote a chapter directed toward widows and divorcees who find themselves unprepared. I also recommend reading the chapter on writing a “what if…” letter to your spouse with instructions on practical issues that are not covered in your estate plan. There I outlined how to create a road map of your different holdings and advisors for your spouse.
There are so many elements to consider when planning for your future that it can seem overwhelming; yet, imagine the possible ramifications of not properly preparing your partner. And as we all know, we are not talking about an if, but a when… Here are a few tales of successes and averted tragedies that I hope will encourage you to prepare your precious heirs:
Financial Markets Review by Mark:
First Quarter 2016 Review –
What a wild first quarter! After the stock and corporate bond markets had one of the steepest sell-offs during the first 7 weeks of the year (and the S&P 500 was down over 10%), the markets rebounded to end the quarter virtually unchanged for the year. As frustrating and scary as this was, Optivest clients were aided by our defensive start, purchases on dips and continued advances on our REIT holdings, which collectively resulted in one of our best quarters ever.
U.S. Economy –
The year started off with one of the biggest “false alarm” market scares in years. Worries increased about global slowing/recession, deflation, Chinese devaluation, falling profits, excessive emerging market debt and corporate defaults due to cheap oil. The usual “safe haven” investments – gold, U.S. Treasuries and Swiss Franc – rallied, gaining momentum born from fear. Finally, oil appeared to bounce at about $28/barrel enticing “bottom fishers” who first gave the equity and commodity markets a push, then a retest of the bottom, followed by a 7 week rally ending right back where they started the year. “Safe haven” price gains have held while all of the worries remain, indicating future volatility.