Trumponomy: Make the Economy Great Again?

Income Tax Cuts
Republicans want to simplify income tax brackets from 7 to 3 and allow everyone to pay less. It could be like an economic sugar rush. The question is: Will it turn into enough growth that it will help not hurt the national debt?

Corporate Taxes
Currently at 35 percent, a drop to 15 percent could be a shot of adrenaline to profits (according to The Wall Street Journal, with deductions, companies average 29 percent). There is also a plan to help corporations bring cash home from overseas. Do companies boost productivity or just spend on dividends and stock buybacks? Good for investors either way, but long-term we need productivity.

Infrastructure Spending
Trump promised a $500 billion stimulus, but more debt isn’t popular. Implementation will take some time and the actual budget may be smaller than promised (unless President Trump gets support from Democrats who have been working to pass infrastructure stimulus for years).

U.S. Debt
Americans are not watching this as closely as they were a couple years ago, but our debt is about to reach $20 trillion. If we ignore it, interest rates will rise and our debt will only get worse–Time to balance the budget?

 

2017 Predictions

Market movement since Election Day has been massive and investors see this as confirmation of just how good Republicans are going to be for the economy. How could so many investors be wrong? Actually, fairly easily.

Right or wrong, investors should be careful not to get carried away. There is a high amount of uncertainty and no way to know what the future will bring.

(1) Trump Rally
The big move in stocks in November and December has been an acceleration of the positive momentum already taking place in the economy. It has been characteristic of many presidential election years with a good economy.

It is completely normal to get excited, but don’t let it lead to overconfidence. Few things last forever and most years have their ups and downs.

It is not unusual to see inauguration day (Friday, January 20, 2017) mark a change for investors as they realize the new president does not have a magic wand.

(2) Dow 20K
The Dow stock index has been flirting with 20,000. It just could not quite get there in 2016. In 2017, I believe it will! And it will likely cross that mark many times.

The first time the Dow reached 10,000 came in March of 1999. Over the next 11 years, it crossed that level on 34 days until it surpassed it a final time in the summer of 2010.

It’s hard to fight gravity and it’s hard to turn a large ship. There is so much positive momentum right now that I expect it to continue. Unemployment is falling. Wages are rising. Confidence is climbing.

One unknown is the impact of policy changes on global trade, which may decline this year as the United States turns its focus inward.

(3) Fed Does Its Job
The Federal Reserve is likely to “take away the punch bowl just as the party is getting started.”

For two consecutive years I have accurately predicted that the Fed would be more cautious than its own forecast. This year, I am accepting the Fed’s forecast that it will raise rates 3 times in 2017.

Of course, no one knows with certainty because with each rate hike, I expect investors will become more concerned.

2016 Review

“If you want to see the sunshine you have to weather the storm.” In its first 3 weeks, 2016 delivered investors more than a 10 percent loss–the worst start in 80 years. Our natural human instinct at such moments is to feel that it will continue, but predicting the markets is extremely difficult.

In a dramatic turnaround, the U.S. stock market rose in February and March–recording the best recovery in 83 years.

(1) Fed will move slowly. The Federal Reserve planned to raise rates 4 times in 2016. This aggressive forecast in combination with falling oil prices spooked investors. Then came the uncertainty of Brexit and the U.S. elections. By year end, the Fed raised rates just once (in December).

(2) Election years are not recession years. I expected the economy to grow and for the market to continue to rise as our bull market entered its 8th year.

This positive outlook proved beneficial in the early days of 2016 when the resolve of many investors was tested. The market turned positive and remained there for most of the year.

(3) United States grows and the dollar slows. A strong U.S. dollar is not as good as it sounds. Sure, it’s great for Americans traveling overseas, but it presents challenges for large U.S. companies and investors.

The year began with too much strength: From July 2014 to January 2016, our dollar rose against every major currency around the globe! It gained 20 percent versus the euro and 54 percent versus the Russian ruble!

Fortunately, the U.S. dollar spent 9 of the last 12 months below January 2016 levels. That gave investors more opportunity as we invested globally.

This international diversification helped a great deal until a great divide formed in November.

These investments have taken a break as U.S. stocks rose in November, but I believe the worldwide economy still looks positive and may offer benefits to investors again in 2017.

Election Impact

President-elect Donald Trump made a lot of promises to Americans on the campaign trail. Yes, he proposed building a wall on the Mexican border and blocking certain groups from immigrating to the United States, but none were more important to voters than how the candidate would impact their money.

Trump believes his economic plans will double U.S. growth, which is currently at 2.9 percent. He plans to focus on cutting taxes for the rich, increasing government spending, and negotiate better trade deals with foreign countries. If necessary, he has even suggested imposing tariffs on imports of goods to the United States.

Republicans will control the Senate and House of Representatives, so the next president may find it easier to get things done, especially at first. Here are a few of the promises made during Trump’s campaign.

Jobs

The foundation of the United States is firm and its economy is strengthening. Unemployment numbers cannot get much better than current levels. Wage growth may be a more valuable measure of economic health. Infrastructure spending of $500 billion may help by boosting productivity of Americans in the long-term.

Education and Family

  • Require paid maternity leave for 6 weeks.
  • Make child care expenses tax deductible.
  • Allow “dependent care savings accounts.”

Healthcare

    When it comes to healthcare, any president faces an aging population and rising costs of new medical technology. Trump plans to repeal the Affordable Care Act and replace it with something different.
  • Make health insurance premiums tax deductible.
  • Encourage health insurance to be sold across state lines (something already allowed by federal law).
  • Allow imports of foreign drugs where prices are cheaper.

Taxes

    Trump has proposed many changes to the tax code. The greatest impact will be on the top one percent of earners who are estimated to save about $100,000 in taxes every year.
  • Increase the standard deduction to $30,000 for joint filers from its current level of $12,600.
  • Eliminate the personal exemption of $4,050 per dependent that parents use.
  • Eliminate estate tax.
  • Eliminate alternative minimum tax.
  • Lower corporate tax to 15 percent.

Investments

In the coming months very little should change. Increased government spending on infrastructure combined with tax cuts roughly the same size could boost growth in the coming year or two. It would also increase the national debt significantly. This could depress the value of existing bonds as interest rates rise on U.S. debt.

If we raise tariffs and other countries do the same then global trade could decrease and the cost of goods could rise. Less trade would also decrease profitability for U.S. exporters. This could even cost workers their jobs.

Our advice? Vote with your ballot, not your portfolio. Think of all the missed opportunity if one withdrew whenever there was uncertainty. Whether your favored candidates were elected or not, we want to reinforce the importance of sticking to your long-term plans.

The Promise of Prosperity

Americans want a strong country and growing economy. That much we agree on. Of all the promises we heard this election year, none may be more difficult to keep than the commitment to boost growth up to levels last seen decades ago.

Since 2009, the U.S. economy has increased at a rate of 2 percent. Many countries envy that number, but Americans expect more. Our increases were twice as big 20 years ago.

In all of human history I know of no other time with such miraculous growth as post World War II. We have come to accept boom times as normal.

From 1948 to 1973 the average economic output of an American worker doubled. That productivity trend continued until the early 2000s when it suddenly slowed.

prosperity

Consumers Carried the Economy
The “Great Recession” of 2008-2009 complicated things further by drastically altering Americans’ perception of stability and diminishing their tolerance for government debt.

This led to tighter limits on government spending, which has been a huge drag on economic growth. The federal government has cut spending 4 of the last 5 years. This is good short-term because it reduces debt. The long-term impact is less certain.

How much can our economy grow when the government is cutting spending? Who picks up the slack? Businesses have been hesitant to reinvest large amounts in long-term projects. So the responsibility for economic growth has fallen on the shoulders of the U.S. consumer.

Politicians Turned to Spending
Today, politicians and economists are calling for stimulus. What form this takes is yet to be seen, but the popularity of such an idea is rising. Both presidential candidates announced plans to increase government spending to improve infrastructure and stimulate an atmosphere of growth. Donald Trump plans to increase spending by $500 billion. (Hillary Clinton proposed bumping it up by $275 billion.)

Will Stimulus Work?
The answer for decades following the Great Depression was “yes.” The theory is that for every dollar the government spends it can boost the economy by several dollars—creating more wealth than was spent as the dollars circulate through the country.

It fell out of favor in the 1980s and 1990s. Now it’s back.

If stimulus is going to work then it should be concentrated on “fiscal multipliers.” These are the best places and they are often described as levers that can be pulled to actually create growth in the economy.

For stimulus to work it should be focused on the most effective area: infrastructure. Why?
1. Immediate creation of jobs
2. Jump in demand for construction materials
3. Greater efficiency for the entire economy
4. Investment in the future of America

Our bridges, airports, and freeway systems are in need of repair. Our electric grid is outdated and vulnerable as well. Technological advancements have redefined living. It may be time to apply some innovative American ingenuity to our infrastructure.

If there ever was a time that Americans could benefit from this stimulus it would be following a lack of spending—a situation we now find ourselves in.

 

*Research by SFS. Data from the Federal Reserve Bank of St Louis. Past performance does not guarantee future results.

Subzero Rates Freeze Growth and Hold Back Your Portfolio

Crazy things are happening in the world! There is a chronic shortage of demand for goods in global economies. For years, governments have been fighting back—fighting back by dropping interest rates. Recently, rates overseas have fallen to subzero levels.

Negative rates—where lenders pay the borrowers—seemed unimaginable and foolish a few years ago. Now, they are beginning to feel like the new normal. How can individuals and countries flourish in such an environment? They can’t!

What is it like to live in a subzero-rate world?

1. The subzero world is so crazy that global interest rates are at their lowest level in 500 years of recorded history.1

2. The subzero world is so crazy that if you want the German government to borrow your money you have to pay! Hold that bond for ten years until it matures and the government promises to pay you back less than it borrowed.

3. The subzero world is so crazy that many homeowners in Denmark are no longer paying interest to banks for their mortgages. The banks are paying interest to them!

Hans Peter Christensen, a recipient of a check from his mortgage company in Denmark, said this after receiving his first payment: “My parents said I should frame it, to prove to coming generations that this ever happened.”2

The biggest borrowers in the world include the United States, United Kingdom, Germany, and Japan. The figure below shows how low these rates have become.

rates

Negative Rates Matter to Americans.
Low rates overseas make positive rates in the United States more attractive for investors, which pushes U.S. rates down as well. This makes it less expensive for us to take out a mortgage or a car loan. It creates opportunities for businesses to borrow and grow. On the surface, these low rates seem like a benefit.

Low Rates May Have Helped. Now They Hurt.
During the recession of 2008-2009, there was an economic emergency that required extraordinary effort to infuse calm and confidence.

The emergency is over. The economy should come off life support. The reluctance to move forward is now harming the very confidence it was meant to create.

Artificially low rates are also destroying natural incentives to borrow and lend.

Consumers and businesses do better when banks are healthy, but banks are not healthy. There is little profit to be made and a low incentive to offer loans when interest rates are so low. Why take the risk when the potential reward is so low?

Subzero and near-zero rates also encourage transactions that would not take place in a rational world. For example, many corporations now borrow just to pay dividends. Of the 500 largest companies in the country, 44 have paid more in dividends in the last year than their respective net income.3 This financial engineering helps investors now, but does nothing to strengthen a company or its employees.

End the Pessimism.
Despite all the positives in the economy, consumer confidence is low. Investor sentiment is terrible. Most Americans believe we still have not recovered from a recession that officially ended over six years ago.

Look around. Americans are in a good financial place. Most people who want to work have a job. Unemployment is at just 4.9 percent. In Salt Lake City, where SFS is located, that rate is just 3.6 percent.4

then-and-now

A Day of Reckoning Will Come.
The next financial scare could come after fantastic economic growth, leading to inflation and central banks would have to rapidly raise rates—shocking the economy. Or the storm could blow in from the opposite direction: economic slowdown.

If the Fed and other central banks don’t normalize rates now then there will be fewer options in the future to help keep the world economies going in a real emergency.

It’s Time to Begin Moving Back to Normal.
Central banks around the world should stop experimenting. The United States is strong enough to handle a more normal business environment. The Fed can do that by slowly bringing U.S. interest rates up.

The U.S. economy is not perfect, but it is good enough to handle borrowing one quarter of one percent higher. It could even help by sending a signal of confidence to the world—confident workers, businesses, and consumers.

Higher rates may cause the U.S. dollar to strengthen, and that could hurt American businesses that export. However, the United States has the best economy in the world and we are growing faster than any other developed country. Keeping our dollar artificially low may not be a good idea.

We can allow the dollar to rise a little as we bump up interest rates from their near-zero levels. This message of confidence may help increase demand worldwide—giving investors something to cheer about as well.

 

1. Bill Gross, “Negative Interest Rates a Supernova,” Janus Funds, June 2, 2016.
2. Charles Duxbury and David Gauthier-Villars, “Negative Rates Around the World,” Wall Street Journal, April 14, 2016.
3. Mike Bird, Vipal Mongaand, Aaron Kuriloff, “Dividends Eat Up Bigger Slice of Company Profits,” Wall Street Journal, August 18, 2016.
4. Federal Reserve Bank of St Louis.

Research by SFS. One cannot invest directly in an index. Diversification does not guarantee positive results. Past performance does not guarantee future results. The opinions and forecasts expressed are those of the author and may not actually come to pass. This information is subject to change at any time, based upon changing conditions. This is not a recommendation to purchase any type of investment.

Stocks Predict Elections

Yes, stocks can help predict who will be the next President of the United States. While this particular election season has been filled with an unusual amount of conflict, the stock market has been surprisingly calm.

What does this calm predict? Very little, so far. Direction of the market in the final 90 days is what matters.

election-prediction

In 19 of the 22 presidential elections the change in the stock market in the 90 days preceding the election has correctly revealed the winner.

When the market rises during these 90 days then the incumbent’s political party wins. When the market falls then the opposite occurs.

In August, the market was flat, which means that this election may be closer than some polls currently predict. Of course, there are no guarantees.

BREXIT Surprise: What Investors Hate More Than Uncertainty

“If you want to see the sunshine you have to weather the storm.” This advice from Frank Lane describes well the fortitude needed to invest successfully, especially in 2016.

This year began with two extremes: one of the worst starts ever for the stock market followed by a sharp reversal into positive territory. The second quarter gave us something completely different: calm—that is, until Britain’s exit vote from the European Union (BREXIT).

United Kingdom

Surprise!
Most experts did not expect the “exit side” to get 51 percent of the vote on June 23rd. This shocking outcome sent global stocks into a tailspin. After all, there is one thing investors hate more than uncertainty—surprise!

Then a reversal: Six days before the vote and six days after, the S&P 500 index was roughly equal.

We can’t dismiss this historical event completely. The BREXIT vote is profound, not just for its economic impact, but because it clearly demonstrates the extent of anger in Britain and the world with slow growth. The change is contrary to the way the world has been moving since WWII—a time of globalization that has been relatively peaceful and prosperous for the world.

Now, Pandora’s box has been opened and the discontented individuals around the globe may feel emboldened by the BREXIT outcome. The British will now try to stop Scotland and Northern Ireland from leaving the country, as well as businesses in the UK.

Global Trade
If the movement against global trade continues, there may be adverse effects. These could include lower growth and higher inflation.

U.S. Dollar
Uncertainty sends investors to “safer” areas like the U.S. dollar. As the dollar strengthens, imported goods become more affordable and “Made in the U.S.A.” goods become more expensive. A strong U.S. dollar can also hurt U.S. companies because their exports are more expensive to consumers outside this country. Of course, as investors, we are owners in many of these companies.

The strong dollar was a problem in 2014 and 2015 for corporate earnings and the stock market. How big of a problem it is in the future depends on how high it goes.

Interest Rates
Low interest rates may be around for a while longer. The Federal Reserve wants to raise rates back to “normal.” However, it can’t risk destabilizing the markets and it wants to stay away from influencing the election.

Consumers
Short-term benefits to consumers will come in the form of lower interest rates and a strong dollar. Rates could be even more attractive on mortgages, auto loans, and other forms of debt.

A strong dollar should also help make international travel and international goods a little less expensive. Even the rise in oil prices should slow down, which will help keep gasoline prices down for consumers.

Volatility in stocks may increase as investors adjust to the new realities. I would consider any significant drop as an opportunity.

BREXIT is unlikely to have a major impact on U.S. consumers’ jobs, wages, debt, or spending. U.S. consumers are strong and their spending drives 70 percent of U.S. economic growth!

This surprising storm has passed and the sunshine has appeared again. While uncertainty may drive the market over short periods of time, economic growth will drive it in the coming years.

Election Year Update on Markets

The bull market is seven years old. Global growth is anemic and corporate profits are no longer rising. These suggest that bad times are ahead, but I don’t believe it. I believe the U.S. consumer and the U.S. economy will continue to rise.

In January I made three predictions for the New Year. This month I would like to review these predictions with a special emphasis on the election—not only because I have been right (so far), but because each is helping the economy press forward.

Election Year

(1) The Fed will move slowly.
The Federal Reserve entered the year expecting to raise rates four times. In recognition of slow global economies, it now plans to encourage growth by keeping rates low. Moving rates up only twice this year could be better for stocks and bonds.

(2) Election years are not recession years.
Investors fear uncertainty, and election years have experienced greater fluctuations than other years. The stock market typically begins the year a little slower and then recovers before spring. Summer slowdowns occur most years, but in election years they come earlier.

Regardless of which party has a candidate in the lead, stocks typically improve as the election gets nearer. In fact, many investors are tempted to stay away until after Election Day. This simple strategy would have only delivered lost opportunity in most election years. The greatest gains actually occur in the months leading up to the election. By the way, keep an eye on the market in September and October, because a strong stock market preceding the election also appears to favor the incumbents and their parties.
I do not expect the current rally that began in February to continue without disruption. From February 11, 2016, through the end of March 2016, the S&P 500 rallied 12.6 percent. If it continued at that rate for the rest of the year, we would have a whopping 150 percent return. The market will slow down and election year history suggests this will take place in April.

Since 1927, the U.S. stock market has been positive in election years 80 percent of the time. Remember, there are no guarantees. An election year had not had a bear market loss of -20 percent anytime in the last 50 years, then came the worst presidential-election year. In 2008 the Dow lost over 38 percent. The best election year was in 1996 when the Dow gained 26 percent. Since 1900, the average has been a positive 7.3 percent.

I don’t recommend sticking our heads in the sand or placing our investment dollars on the sideline. Staying invested for the long-run is a critical part of a solid strategy.

(3) The United States will grow and the dollar will slow.
The 500 companies in the S&P 500 index receive roughly half of all their sales from overseas. So, when the dollar rises by 30 percent like it did in 2014 and 2015, it really depresses profits and makes stocks look less attractive.

The good news is that this trend has slowed down and maybe even reversed. The U.S. dollar declined in value by 4 percent in the first quarter of 2016. I view this as a positive, since we are coming off such lofty highs. The changing value of the dollar should improve U.S. growth in 2016.

When Will Stocks Go Higher?

Stocks got off to a rough start in January and February as investors began to fear another recession. At the same time, consumers continued to keep the U.S. economy moving in the right direction. This divergence caused us to ask, which one is right? Are things getting better or worse? If the market is going to improve how strong will it be? Below is a list of what I think we need for stocks to move to new highs. Feel free to check the boxes if they become a reality.

check

(1) Oil prices stabilize.
Investors need a dose of reality: low oil prices are good for the economy. Falling oil prices often follow, but do not lead to, recessions. What we need is for prices to stop declining so rapidly.

Oil is falling because the global supply is much
greater than demand. Even at these low prices, producers need to pump oil for cash. Fortunately, the decline is slowing. This is because demand and supply are getting close to a balanced level.

Global oil demand is at 96.5 million barrels/day and growing at 1.5%. Global supply is at 96.9 million barrels/day and is currently falling at a rate of -0.5%. This does not mean prices will move significantly higher, but they may stop falling.

With sanctions lifted, Iran could boost supply by 4 million barrels/day. Demand won’t grow fast enough to balance that much oil for a few years.

So, get used to low oil prices. They may be with us for a while–probably until several indebted producers cease oil production. At that point, oil prices could rise a little, fear over corporate debt should ease, and stocks will be more likely to climb.

(2) Political frontrunners emerge.
Who will be the next President of the United States? Investors are uncomfortable with this uncertainty, but they don’t have to wait until Election Day to feel better. With each election primary, the uncertainty diminishes.

(3) The Fed acknowledges global volatility.
What happened to “data dependence”? With its December rate hike the Federal Reserve announced that it intends to slowly raise rates in 2016 and 2017. It defined slowly as four rate hikes of 25 basis points each.

Rather than applaud transparency, investors have questioned the Fed’s determination.

Globally, central banks are doing the opposite: dropping rates to levels below zero in order to encourage risk taking, economic growth, and job creation.

(4) Evidence of consumer spending increases.
Will consumers continue to hold up this economy? The U.S. consumer represents 70% of the U.S. economy. China, on the other hand, represents approximately 2% of direct trade with the United States. That means that the consumer is 35 times more important.

Consumers are stronger than any time in the last 25 years. They are pocketing roughly $1,000 a year in energy savings. In 2015, spending increased 3% while purchases rose for autos (+5.8%) and homes (+7.5%).

With all of the good news about the consumer, the main concern is if these numbers are peaking. I think not. Unemployment is low (4.9%). Job postings are high (5.4 million). Wages and salaries increased by a reasonable and healthy level (+2.9%).

The final bit of good news on the consumer is that their debt-to-income levels are near their lowest point since the government started tracking them in 1981. That means there is still room for this 70% of the economy
to grow.