@theMarket: Pandemic Fears Decimate Markets
The COVID Crash of 2020 crushed the world's stock markets this week. The average decline in the United States topped 14 percent. How much further will they fall and, more importantly, what should you do about it?
My first bit of advice is to refrain from checking how much you lost in your retirement account. Why? Because it will only increase your angst and might trigger the emotional impulse to sell everything before you lose even more.
Next, lets look at the markets. There are two unknowns driving the markets lower. The first is the fear that the Coronavirus (COVID19) will get worse. Investors fear that self-imposed quarantines will be announced here in the U.S. and people will get sick and may even die. That could happen.
Whether our worst fears are realized or not, the damage done by this virus worldwide has already had an impact on global economies. We just don't know how much and for how long. That is the crux of the matter as far as stock and bond markets are concerned.
It is too early to predict the economic fallout from this calamity, but it doesn't stop Wall Street from guessing. Unfortunately, these guesstimates take on a life of their own. One analyst predicts that China, for example, will see zero growth in the first quarter of the year. The next strategist does one better and predicts negative growth. As time goes by, and the markets fall lower, the case for the worst-case scenario builds and builds.
By Friday, for example, the general sentiment among traders was that earnings for American companies would need to be drastically reduced for this year. And if that is the case, stocks just have to be too expensive at their present level. As the expectations for earnings drop, so do stock prices.
And it isn't just stocks that are falling. Commodities are plummeting as well. Oil has dropped below $45 a barrel. Gold, supposedly a safe haven, while initially rising, has reversed and is also falling toward $1,600 ounce. The dollar is gyrating as well. The only real safe haven so far appears to be U.S. Treasury bonds. Our government bond benchmark, the 10-year U.S. Treasury bond, is at its lowest yield ever recorded. Friday, it touched 1.17 percent and could drop to 1 percent before all is said and done.
In the past, whenever this kind of selling hit, the financial markets looked to the Federal Reserve Bank to come to the rescue. This time around, while the Fed may step in and cut rates, the impact would be largely symbolic. It would not hinder the spread of the virus and by the time the effects of an interest rate cut hit and worked their way through the economy, the COVID19 damage would already have been done.
So, what are my readers to do as the averages are once again in free-fall on a Friday? Last week, I suggested that if the S&P 500 Index broke a certain level, we could see a fairly steep decline. That happened, although the extent of the decline surprised everyone, including me. I expect we will see a bounce of some magnitude soon, possibly sometime next week. If so, it would likely signal a period of ups and downs as the markets attempt to find a floor.
My suspicion is that one should not expect a "V" shaped recovery in stocks this time around. There will be a bounce, then a re-test and then we will see. Until there is more and better information of how badly the global economy has been damaged by this COVID19, markets will remain unsettled. In the meantime, if you have any cash, pick your spots and begin to invest it.
@theMarket: Corvid-19 Impact Coming Home to Roost
It began Sunday night with a warning from one of America's largest icons. Through the week, other companies followed suit, issuing warnings that the China-spawned virus is beginning to impact revenues and profits. Investors are bracing for further announcements in the days ahead.
Now that the Corvid-19 virus has been spreading out through the world for more than three weeks, some companies are beginning to get a handle on at least some of the damage that will incur to their businesses as the virus persists. Apple was the first major company to warn investors that their iPhone sales in China will take a hit in the first quarter. Since then, a number of companies have sounded the alarm as well.
But it isn't only corporations that have businesses in China. Companies as diverse as General Motors and Nintendo are telling analysts that their supply chains, which begin in China (where many components are made), have resulted in shortages. Some investors were caught up short by the news.
The markets assumed that once the Lunar New Year was over and quarantines were lifted in various cities, millions of workers, who were visiting their hometowns, would return to their factory jobs in the big cities. Instead, these workers stayed put. Fear of catching the infection at work convinced many to remain where they were. Others were afraid that if they did show up for work, they would be forced into quarantine.
Compounding this dilemma, new findings indicate that some recovered patients still show traces of the virus when tested. Similar cases were discovered in Canada. This further complicates the situation for both workers and quarantine officials. Li Xinggian, who runs China's Commerce Ministry's foreign trade department, is warning everyone that the growth rate for China's imports and exports will decline sharply in January and February.
And while officials in China and elsewhere are still optimistic that the economic downturn will be swift but short, Chinese President Xi Jinping, was quoted in the South China Morning Post on Friday as saying the corona virus epidemic has not reached its peak despite a two-day drop in the daily number of infections reported.
Last week, I advised readers that the future of the stock market depended upon the next development in the epidemic. If things were perceived to be getting worse, the markets would pull back. That is happening as you read this. The question is by how much? Again, that depends on the virus.
More and more companies may need to forewarn the markets that up coming quarterly earning's reports won't be nearly as robust as investors expected. In addition, the longer the fallout in production persists, the longer it will take for the supply chains that feed so many companies' profits and sales will require to get back to normal. Remember, too, that the benchmark index, the S&P, is made up of 500 companies, most of which are large multinationals that derive the lion's share of their profits from overseas.
Since we don't know the future risk posed by Corvid-19, what can we do? Is the present pullback the start of something deeper, or simply a much-needed dip? My advice is to watch the levels of the S&P 500 Index. So far, it is simply a dip. We could get down to the 3,325 area (give or take) and bounce from there. If, on the other hand, we cut through that level, then readers can expect a further drop of maybe another 3 percent or so, at the worse.
@theMarket: Central Banks Stem Coronavirus Fallout
Financial markets rebounded this week, despite the escalation of the number of coronavirus cases worldwide. The upturn may have surprised some, but their mistake was underestimating the power of central banks to support the markets.
The bear case last Sunday evening was that the Chinese stock market would crater upon opening after being closed for Golden Week, the traditional Chinese New Year. While Shanghai did open down 9 percent, it quickly reversed and spent the rest of the week climbing out of that hole.
The main reason for this rebound was the announcement by Chinese authorities that they were prepared to support their financial markets. Publicly, they announced a $22 billion injection into the banking system to provide additional liquidity and support the Chinese currency, the yuan. Here at home, our Federal Reserve Bank continues its "Not QE" repo market operations. Who knows what other actions other central banks have also implemented to calm markets this week?
The end result of all this additional money hitting the system was that financial markets once again climbed higher and higher until U.S. markets not only recovered all they had lost (less than 3 percent), but went on to make new historical highs.
Last week, I advised investors to look beyond this coronavirus scare. I was expecting no more than a 5 percent correction at worse, so the quick dip and recovery seems to have confirmed my views. That said, we do need a pause of sorts after five days of gains and that was what happened on Friday.
The labor market seems to be hanging in there, according to the latest non-farm payroll data announced on Friday. U.S. employers hired more workers than economists had expected. Forecasts were for gains of 165,000 jobs, but the number came in at 225,000. Wage gains were modest, bringing the total to 3.1 percent year-over-year. While a good report, I wouldn’t get too excited about it.
The good weather we have had over the last month had more to do with the surprise wage gains than the economy. That’s not to say it wasn’t a good number; just a little inflated in my opinion. I expect that there will be some ups and downs in the macroeconomic numbers both here at home and around the world over the next few months. The vast majority of economists are convinced that the Chinese-born epidemic will have an impact on economic growth. Exactly how much is impossible to predict.
China appears to be doing all they can to alleviate the worst effects on the economy. They have already lifted tariffs on a number of American goods this week and are promising a great deal of fiscal and additional monetary stimulus to combat the expected slowdown in the economy due to the coronavirus. However, there will be an impact and when China sneezes, the rest of the world catches a cold, including our own country.
One positive by-product of the unfortunate virus and subsequent sell-off is the US Advisors Sentiment survey. Regular readers know I watch bullish sentiment as a contrarian indicator of where the markets might be heading. This week, the number of bulls tumbled from 52.8 percent (a sure-fire indicator that a correction was in the offing) to below 48 percent, which is a much more reasonable number.
I know that the higher the markets climb, the more nervous investors may get. That’s a good thing. There is very little exuberance among my clients and given the continuous stream of negative events (geopolitical or otherwise) that we face on almost a daily basis, it is understandable. Yet, remember my "Walls of Worry" principle — markets climb walls of worry. I see further gains ahead, so stay the course. The upside may surprise you.
The Independent Investor: The Great Tax Migration
Americans have been moving from high tax states to lower tax states for decades.
Climate, cheaper housing prices, less congestion, and jobs are some of the reasons behind such moves. That trend, however, has added taxes to that list, thanks to the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017.
Many of those reasons for moving have been with us ever since Horace Greeley, the American author and newspaper man, reportedly first advised America's youth to "Go west." Back in 19th-century America, the country had embraced the concept of "Manifest Destiny." The Horace Greeleys of the world had argued that it was inevitable, justified, and our God-given right to expand throughout the continent. That turned out to be good for the white guys but bad for the Indians, but that's a different story.
Today, I would amend that saying to include the South and any other state where there are lower, or no state income taxes. In truth, most state residents are concerned about their total tax burden — property taxes, incomes taxes, and sales and excise taxes. But over the last two years, many of those who have moved have done so based on the changes in the federal tax code.
The 2017 federal tax law, which President Trump signed after a party-line vote in Congress, limited to $10,000 the state and local tax payments that families can write off on their federal income taxes if they itemize deductions.
The impact was devastating to those taxpayers in income tax states that were singled out by the Republican-controlled Congress. For many lower-income or retired families, it was the straw that broke the camel's bank. Those who live in New York state, for example, found that they were now paying 2 1/2 times the tax burden of their counterparts in Alaska. As a result, a great migration appears to be gathering steam. The top states Americans are fleeing from include New Jersey, New York, Illinois, Connecticut, California and others.
Those states which are "benefiting" from this trend include Florida, Texas, New Mexico, North and South Carolina, Washington, and Arizona, among others. If you look at the total tax burden (as opposed to just the state income tax), Americans are still clearly being driven by the overall tax burdens. The average state tax burden of the inbound migration states totals 7.88 percent compared to 9.55 percent for the top 10 outbound states.
As we enter 2020, the migration continues unabated. Conservatives are crowing over the trend, while liberals believe they have been singled out for retribution by the GOP and the president. They complain that it is no longer a country of the people, by the people, and for the people unless you are a Trump supporter. As blue states struggle with maintaining services for their enormous population centers, more and more middle and lower-income families have had enough. And that's the rub.
Take me, solidly middle-class. I moved from a higher tax state (New York) to a lower tax state (Massachusetts). Granted, Massachusetts taxes are not much lower, but it did make a difference, especially when it came to state and local property taxes. And given that mortgage tax deductions are now capped, I decided not to take out a mortgage on my new condo. Bottom line: I reduced my overall tax burden considerably. It was a win-win for me, but not so much for Massachusetts.
I am in my 70s, and since moving, my health has deteriorated. Over the last five years, my hospital visits have been numerous. As you might imagine, my overall medical expenses have gone up, but the costs to my new state Medicare department have skyrocketed because of me. In addition, I am enjoying all the benefits the state offers in infrastructure, elder-care centers, discounts, etc. and pay relatively little back in taxes. And because I downsized when I moved, I no longer pay much in property taxes because my condo is much smaller than the house I sold in New York.
Good for me, but not so good for Massachusetts.
How many other migrants are like me? We already know that many who are moving are retirees or the elderly (think Florida and the Carolinas), who no longer pay much in income taxes anyway. Like me, they are also more likely to buy something much smaller, or may even decide to rent. You can bet, as they get older, they too will be consuming a larger and larger share of these low-tax states' goods and services. And since most of them are coming from blue states, they will be bringing their high-brow, liberal political thinking with them.
There might come a time in the not-too-distant future where some of these inbound states will not only be forced to raise taxes just to keep up with all this new demand for governmental services, but may even need to legislate their own state income tax.
Texas, a traditionally conservative "red" state, with no income tax, is a good example of what might be in store for other historically political and fiscally conservative states. Californians have flocked to this great state over the years. However, that is not the entire picture. Property taxes have been the answer for local politicians in their battle to juggle services, an expanding population, and growth.
Today, Texas ranks among the states with the highest share of taxpayers who pay more than $10,000 in property taxes, according to the National Association of Home Builders. At the same time, thanks to all those old hippies from California, Dallas is now a "blue" city. Texas old-timers are complaining that liberals are now making inroads and gaining more political influence in other metropolitan areas. The moral of this tale is to be careful what you legislate. It could turn out that when all is said and done the politicians may have shot themselves in the foot once again.
@theMarket: Coronavirus Correction
The death toll mounts. The number of cases worldwide builds. Every new update drives the stock market up or down. Where it will end is anyone's guess.
It is called a "geopolitical" event. We suffer through them from time to time. The assassination of Iran's key military leader followed by the Iranian rocket attack on two Iraqi military base that injured dozens of American servicemen was the last such event. We never know when they will occur and, in some ways, these events are simply the price of doing business in the financial markets.
Some market watchers, while recognizing the severity of the coronavirus outbreak, argue that the markets needed to correct anyway. This outbreak was simply the excuse investors needed to pull the trigger and take profits. I believe there is some truth to that opinion.
However, we should recognize that the coronavirus will most likely put a dent in economic growth around the world. Certainly, in the case of China and other nations closer to the epicenter of the outbreak, we can expect a slowdown in economic growth. After all, you simply can't shut down 16-plus major cities during the Chinese New Year, the largest consumer spending day in that country, without consequences to business.
In the U.S., a host of companies should also feel the heat as they too suspend business in their Chinese operations. This quarter's earnings season revealed that 25 percent of company managers expect some impact to their bottom line as a result of this calamity.
There have been some reports in the media (and accusations by others) that the number of cases reported by the Chinese government are being deliberately low-balled in order to soften the blow on business and to reduce the chance of whole-sale panic. So far, the World Health Organization, while sounding a global health emergency, is more concerned about the spread of the virus in countries with weaker health systems than what is happening in China, where more than 10,000 cases have been reported.
While no one can know for sure how long, or what ultimate impact this disaster will have on economies and markets, I believe that like all geopolitical events, they have limited impact and are of short duration. I can see a 5 percent decline in the S&P 500 Index as a predictable outcome, but not much more than that. We are already off 3 percent from historical highs, so I am not talking about much, maybe a decline to 3,200 or a little below that on the index.
This week's Federal Open Market Committee's decision to hold interest rates steady turned out to be a snooze fest for investors. In the Q&A session after the announcement, Chairman Jerome Powell did mention that the Fed planned to begin tapering their purchases of short-term U.S. Treasury bills by the second quarter of this year. He reiterated that the purchases they have made since last September were "not QE" and the Fed could not be held responsible if the financial markets thought differently. Maybe investors are finally beginning to believe that, which may also have contributed to the present sell-off.
As of Friday's close, I suspect that we will have given back most (if not all) of the gains we have enjoyed since the beginning of the year. That should have been expected, since historically, we usually have a late January-into-February pullback in the markets. My advice is to look beyond this event and focus instead on regaining the record highs sometime before the end of the first quarter.