In the early part of the second quarter of 2020, many of our clients, and investors broadly, are asking this important question: How do we reconcile the recent equity market gains, particularly in the United States, with the poor state of the current economy and the weak outlook?
The answer involves recognizing that financial markets are forward-looking. Current pricing is based on expectations of the future. Markets are always incorporating new information and comparing it to current expectations. Investors are asking: Am I surprised by today’s news? Are things getting better than what I expected yesterday? Are they getting worse? Or are they about what I expected?
For example, hearing that 21 million people became unemployed in April (a month–over–month spike never seen before in U.S. history) and that the unemployment rate rose to 15% was terrible news. But however dreadful this sounded, it was already widely expected. Thus, the stock market did not sell off, as it had already factored in this news in advance. It wasn’t a negative surprise.
So, why does the market continue to rally in the face of negative news? No one knows for sure. There are so many variables that impact investor behavior. After all, financial markets are just like any other market: Prices are determined by the intersection of supply and demand at any given point in time.
The recent rally shows that investors think things are moving in the right direction. They seem to view the economy as a patient placed in a voluntarily induced coma, with government policy providing life support, to suppress the spread of the virus until we can resuscitate the patient and return to normal. Investors appear to be anticipating a rebound in the economy and employment starting in the second half of the year. This is based on a number of factors:
Despite the strong equity rally (the S&P 500 is now down only 12% in 2020), a great disparity has emerged underneath the surface of the broad stock market’s performance. Big Internet/tech stocks (names like Amazon.com, Netflix, and Microsoft) have generally held up well this year or rebounded strongly. The tech-heavy NASDAQ Index is actually positive for the year. In contrast, economically sensitive stocks in energy, financials, and other “value” areas have lagged. They are down around 24% so far this year. This suggests investors remain concerned that a strong economic rebound in the near term is less likely and that it is safer to hide in more defensive areas of the market.
We all hope the positive scenario that the overall stock market is currently factoring in does in fact play out and life starts getting back to normal. But hope is not a strategy. From an investment perspective and based on our understanding of the virus and all the unknowns still associated with it, we think that a near-term positive outcome is far from certain. There is significant risk that the market’s current outlook is overly optimistic. In which case, at some point in the next several months, the incremental news could be very disappointing relative to current expectations. We would then expect stocks to decline.
While we don’t have certainty or even a high degree of confidence in any particular scenario playing out, we are prepared for any number of scenarios, as both humans and investors. After the recent market rebound, our five-year return outlook for the U.S. stock market is still not terribly attractive. Our base–case scenario expectations show low–single–digit returns for U.S. stocks, and this drives most of our tactical portfolio allocation decisions. So at current market levels, we remain slightly underweight to U.S. stocks versus our neutral allocation. We will wait for a better buying opportunity.
If you would like to talk further about your own portfolio and allocation, please reach out to your Litman Gregory Advisor. We are here for you and are happy to talk through the right strategy for your situation.
Gretchen Hollstein and Monica Muñoz Named to 2021 Top Wealth Advisor Moms List
We are pleased to announce that Senior Advisors Gretchen Hollstein, CFP® and Monica Muñoz, CFP® have been named as two of the country’s Top Wealth Advisor Moms for 2021 by Working Mother. This recognition is a testament to their passion for both roles they hold, advisor and parent.
Commentary from Our CIO—Third Quarter 2021
Chief Investment Officer Jeremy DeGroot reviews key elements of the global macro environment and how they impact our financial market outlook: COVID-19, U.S. economic policy, growth, and inflation. He also covers our reasons for near-term caution on U.S. stocks, and an in-depth review of emerging market equities, in light of recent market headlines and regulatory developments in China.
Introducing Litman Gregory’s Updated Logo
For many years, our team has referred to the services we offer to our clients as "wealth management". To us, this communicates that we provide both investment management and financial planning in an integrated way to support their broader wealth planning goals. As of today, we have officially updated our name and logo.