“Facts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passion, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence.”
-John Adams, the 2nd President of the United States
Investors may not be currently celebrating all aspects of the current state of their lives but it would be understandable if they were to pause to tap their pocketbooks an extra time or two and proffer a smile. Three months ago investors were celebrating near breakeven but the 4th quarter made it a year of some cheer with the average 60/40 equity/fixed income investor up 11.2% for the quarter and 13.7% for the year.
At times, from the perspective of portfolio management, it’s best to spend the entirety of the twelve months dancing with “the one what brung you” but for this year’s 4th quarter it would have been an excellent idea to “change partners”. The S&P 500 was +18.4% for the year and +12.1% for the quarter. Not bad. Small-cap stocks though were +31.3% for the quarter but a more modest +11.3% for the year. Financial stocks were +23.2% for the quarter but -1.7% for the year. Technology was up 11.8% for the quarter matching the return of the S&P but their +43.9% for the year more than tripled it.
Inflection points, as they relate to financial markets, are particularly challenging because they happen very infrequently and yet when they do, a great deal that we found to be useful in understanding the past is of limited value in our understanding of the future. We need a new playbook because we’re playing in a different game.
So, let’s pause and entertain a number of “what if’s”. What if both inflation and interest rates are no longer going to remain at these levels but will instead be heading higher? What if we are poised to experience a migration in the “balance of power” from the financial markets to the real economy resulting in the returns of the financial markets becoming increasingly dependent upon the return those assets earn in the real economy? What if we are entering into a renaissance of work where working people earn more and capture more of the wealth that they create?
Lest the commentator be thought to have lingered too long at the holiday punch bowl, let’s add some facts to support this forecast of a future reality. Central Bankers. The good news is that they do have the ability to learn from their mistakes. The better news is they’ve made plenty so they’ve learned a great deal. After the Global Financial Crisis Ben Bernanke set out to save the financial system. And he did. Then he set out to help the economy by lowering interest rates believing that lower rates would lead to an increased demand for borrowing. But they didn’t as households were more focused upon survival than lifestyle enhancements. So all that money the Federal Reserve, and other central banks around the world, created got stuck on their balance sheets instead of flowing into the real economy.
The United States Government is aware that as it seeks to carry the economy through the pandemic the key to its success will be to migrate money from central bank balance sheets to household bank accounts. This year the budget deficit will be our friend as it will create additional economic demand as well as contributing to the wave of liquidity that will support the financial markets in the year ahead. That increased amount of money in your pocketbook? Spend some of it!
Mark H. Tekamp
January 3, 2021