Market Volatility Continues
It has been quite a different year for investors. Investments can be classified in a few main categories: 1) Financial: stocks, bonds or cash; 2) Real: real estate, 3) Alternative: gold, bitcoin, commodities and 4) Personal: jewelry or perhaps collectibles.
War, rising interest rates and bond yields and inflation have had major impacts on asset prices. Stocks are down 10 percent YTD, bonds are down 10 percent. However, cash (based upon yields only) has climbed to approximately .25 percent from at or near zero at the start of the year. Bitcoin has had an increasing amount of volatility and commodities for the most part have rallied.
What is Driving the Volatility?
Uncertainty over the short term has traditionally added a lot to volatility for most asset classes. While a long-term perspective (in line with an investor’s risk tolerance, investment objective or goal and time frame) offers the best approach, in our opinion, the volatility can lead to a lot of concern for investors.
The big three are 1) the horrific war in Ukraine and the fallout; 2) rising rates and their impact on the economy and earnings; and 3) inflation (at a four-decade highs).
The war has brought uncertainty to grain supplies, specialty gasses and minerals and metals, oil and gas as well as impacts to world security. It has meant strong short-term returns for defense stocks but has added to inflation and overall uncertainty.
Rising rates have continued to affect growth-oriented stocks (technology for example) as well as the current value of bonds. Rising rates mean bond prices have fallen. Rising rates are also affecting the mortgage lending market as long-term mortgage rates crossed 5 percent for the first time in more than a decade.
Inflation has continued to increase with the latest CPI reading of 8.5 percent. This is a rate not seen in over four decades. That impacts yields, earnings, cost of borrowing and the potential value of the dollar (although the dollar is up over 5 percent YTD).
What Might Bring Inflation Down?
In our view, housing costs could be slowing and the main reason for that is rising mortgage rates. Housing accounts for approximately 40 percent of CPI. That is not to mean the growth of housing as an investment but rather something called the Owner Equivalent Rent of an owned home. As housing values grew (over 18 percent in 2021 for example) that had a major impact on CPI.
We now consider this: Mortgage rates have climbed from the low 3s to over 5 percent in a few short months. The cost to borrow is higher and that cost is starting to squeeze out would be buyers. The Washington Times reported recently that when rates crossed 5 percent, over 10 million would-be homebuyers would be pushed out of the borrowing market. That is because the rates to borrow and or amount they can borrow worked against their ability to quality. We also consider so called demand destruction: As an asset climbs in cost, demand goes down. The cost to build (materials and labor) as well as inventory are beginning to work against housing prices and that, we believe, will have a mitigating effect on inflation. We agree with a lot of what we see and hear: Inflation is likely to move to 5 percent or lower by year’s end, mainly due to housing.
The Fed Raising Rates
We learned at the start of the year that 2022 was the year of “Don’t Fight the Fed,” according to Global X, a provider of exchange traded funds. The action of the Federal Reserve on two main fronts are of importance to investors: 1) raising the Federal Funds rate (currently at .25 percent) in May as well as perhaps in June, July and at other intervals for the remainder of the year and 2) The Fed’s balance sheet. That has a significant impact on the supply of money or liquidity in the economy. The Fed is yet to start reducing that (it is approaching $9 trillion). We understand the Fed intends to start reducing that in June. Fewer dollars could also have a mitigating effect on inflation as well. We think the balance sheet has greater impact than raising rates.
Where Might Markets be Headed
Predictions we believe take a back seat to objectives, time frame and risk tolerance. While equities and real estate have historically outperformed most other assets classes as well as inflation, their returns have not been uniform. Timing the markets is not a strategy but time in the markets we think is a strategy. According to Jim Cramer of CNBC, panic is not a strategy either. Expectations and hope have not factored in to achieving investment goals or targets either. Timing, conviction, and patience have proven to serve investors well in our view.
According to Ibbotson, Morningstar (data from Raymond James) large cap stocks (which make up 70 percent of market value) have returned 10.5 percent from 1926 to 2021. That includes reinvested dividends as opposed to dividends taken in cash. Government bonds have averaged 5.5 percent, Treasury bills (close to cash) 3.3 percent and inflation 2.9 percent.
Many institutions suggest that investors might anticipate lower returns on equities (stocks) over the next decade. Vanguard (vanguard.com) recently suspected that U.S. equities might return just 3.3 percent over the next decade. They feel at this point that global (non USA) equities could fare better at 6.2 percent. See their website for greater detail.
Valuations are always important for investors to note. Most would agree that valuations (costs) of many investments, such as stocks, are high. That means for valuations to come down, stocks would have to continue to sell off or earnings would need to rise. It is important to note, at least at this writing, that U.S. companies continue to report strong earnings and strong growth.
Headwinds and Tailwinds
Goldman Sachs recently commented on inflation’s direction and pointed more toward tailwinds for decreased inflation with three main points: 1) slowing growth of energy costs 2) slowing growth of wage costs (unretirements have been reversing the great resignation with 55+ year olds and hence a greater labor pool, lowering wage pressures) and 3) rising mortgage rates slowing the cost of housing (a major component of CPI as noted earlier).
While the world and the markets are climbing a wall of uncertainty, investors and would-be investors might want to review and update their goals and strategies. We believe this should be done at least annually and that investments should be reviewed at least quarterly. When goals, time frames or risk tolerances change, a plan matching those should be developed and implemented.
The First Wealth Management is located at First Florida Bank, a division of The First Bank, 2000 98 Palms Blvd, Destin, with branch offices in Niceville, Mary Esther, Miramar Beach, Freeport and Panama City. Phone 654.8122.
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