Wall Street ignoring the economic pain on Main Street

Are you mystified that the S&P 500 is only down 13% from its February high and the NASDAQ is slightly positive year to date? You would think that all the bad economic numbers would dampen investor’s confidence in owning stocks. However, publicly trading companies on Wall Street have a number of advantages over Main Street.

  1. When it comes to government bailouts and subsidies, large public companies seem to be first in line. There are always claims that help is needed to save jobs or what they produce is an essential product or service. However, many of these companies used their cash to buy back stock and pay big executive bonuses instead of saving for a rainy day. (Airline industry)
  2. The Federal Reserve’s zero interest rate policy helps large public companies to sell bonds at low rates to stay afloat, a huge advantage over small and medium sized privately owned companies.
  3. The Federal Reserve has the bond and stock market’s back.  They are adding liquidity to the bond market by buying corporate debt and even buying high yield or junk bonds to keep interest rates low. This allows even the worst run companies to avoid bankruptcy.

Why I think that Wall Street shouldn’t be so optimistic regarding an economic recovery:

I agree with comments made by Fed Chair Jerome Powell who cautioned of a potential credit crunch as stimulus dollars start to dry up. The result would be the loss of thousands of small and medium sized businesses across the country. Owners of many bars, restaurants, gyms and clothing stores have stated that they are fearful of being able to cover their operating costs while limiting the number of customers allowed into their premises.

So far, 32 publicly traded companies have already filed for bankruptcy protection under chapter 11 which leaves many of their employees, suppliers and shareholders high and dry. The economic pain from Covid 19 could be long lasting as more companies file for bankruptcy protection. The recovery may take some time to gather momentum as some jobs will never come back.

It is hard to comprehend that Wall Street is dismissing the fact that all the jobs that were created over the past ten years have disappeared in just under three months. . The weekly jobless claims will continue to be momentous and don’t included workers who want a full time job but are working part time. It also doesn’t include many Americans who are out of work and don’t qualify for unemployment insurance.

I wonder, is it even possible to get people back to work without safely opening up schools and daycares? France reopened their schools last week and 70 new cases of Covid 19 were found in seven schools forcing them to close them again. A new concern for parents is an outbreak of a inflammatory syndrome in children that is linked to Covid 19. Cases of Inflammatory syndrome  have been diagnosed in 27 states in the United States.

Doctors have warned that many U.S. states have reopened without meeting CDC guidelines. The number of positive cases have spiked already in 14 states over the past few weeks. A rising death toll in the U.S. hasn’t stop many Americans from avoiding large social gatherings, ignoring social distancing guidelines and refusing to wearing a mask. There is a high probability that another spike in cases and deaths will dampen consumer spending.

Lastly baby boomers, (60 to 75 years old) have the most disposable income and also face the highest risk of dying from Covid 19. As a baby boomer, I will be avoiding the all travel and leisure activities.

  • Air travel
  • Cruising
  • Resorts and hotels
  • Movie theatres
  • Sit down restaurants
  • Casinos
  • Theme parks
  • Sporting events
  • Concerts

I will avoid anywhere there is large gathering or requires close personal contact.  I am not going to risk my life to get a haircut or go to my local pub to watch a sporting event. It is just a matter of time when Wall Street profits will be affected by lack of consumer spending.

 

Signs that this recession will be more severe than 2008-09

 

The last time we had zero interest rates was during the great recession of 2008-09. If you are a movie buff, that was one scary horror movie. Unfortunately, the sequel maybe even scarier. The plot, so far, is similar in many ways. The world faces a major crisis with high unemployment, massive government spending (bailouts), zero interest rates and central banks printing money.

How do you make a horror movie scarier than the original? The writer has to intensify the plot line and add some terrifying developments not seen in the original movie.

  • This crisis affects the whole world with every economy feeling the pain.
  • The percentage of people unemployed could be worse than the great depression of the 1930’s (25% or more)
  • The government stimulus package was in the billions last time and now in the trillions with more to come.
  • Central banks are buying huge amounts of government debt and now are buying low grade corporate debt. (Even some junk bonds)

More terrifying developments

  • Although tragic that many consumers lost their homes in the last recession, small business failures will have a more negative effect on the economy. Small businesses are responsible for employing 48% of the U.S. workforce and have generated 65% of net new jobs over the past 17 years. The unemployment rate will be higher for longer.
  • Consumer spending accounts for 70% of economy growth. Unemployed consumers will have less money to spend. Plus, images of body bags and continuing daily death counts will inhibit consumers from risking their lives to go out and even spend money.  The last recession had little impact on travel, movie theaters, theme parks, sporting events, restaurants and bars. These businesses will continue to suffer until consumer confidence returns
  • The last recession didn’t produce long lines at grocery stores. Disruption of food production was unheard of and has become a real concern as some meat packaging plants have been forced to temporarily shut down. A shortage of fruit and vegetables could be next as migrate workers could face high rates of infection.
  • Normally a drop in oil prices has a positive effect on consumer spending but a total collapse does more harm than good. Oil companies have started to suspend capital expenditures, cut dividend payouts and reduced their workforce. Countries which depend on revenues from oil production will face large budget deficits making it harder for them to stimulate their economies.
  • Food banks are experiencing a surge from a high number of people who have never needed their help before. Images of long line ups are popping up all over the United States.

 

 

  • There was a coordinated world response to the financial crisis which is sorely lacking in dealing with this pandemic. Too many leaders are more concern with keeping their jobs than going their job.

 

 

The spread of misinformation by some world leaders and some media outlets could cause a second wave of this virus. The image below is an example of irresponsible leadership. Some of these people will get sick and some may even die. However, they will also spread the virus to their families, their friends and critical medical personal at hospitals. Being a Canadian, I hope that a change in leadership in the United States will help the North American economies recover sooner rather than later.

How will this horror movie end? My best guess is when a scientist shows up holding a treatment in one hand and a vaccine in the other!

 

Stay tune for some investment ideas during these turbulent times.

 

 

 

Why interest rate cuts won’t save the economy or the stock market

This week, after an emergency call with central bank leaders around the world, the Federal Reserve cut interest rates. A somewhat surprising move coming about two weeks before its next scheduled meeting. It was the first emergency rate cut by the Fed since the financial crisis in 2008 and a strong signal that the central bank is taking the threat of the virus seriously.

The problem is that cutting interest rates, which were already very low, isn’t likely to do much to solve the kinds of economic problems posed by a pandemic.

Think of it like this: if more people get sick, more people can’t work. Businesses become less productive and ailing workers without paid sick leave don’t earn money. (They might also go to work sick.) Meanwhile, others who are either sick or afraid of catching the virus stop going out and spending money.

Restaurants, movie theaters, hotels and airlines have already experienced less revenue. More workers will lose their jobs temporary, so fewer people will have money to spend. Its classic cause of an economic downturn since the U.S. economy depends on consumers’ spending money.

Crucially, all the people out of work will still need money for food and housing costs. The new record-low mortgage rates aren’t going to solve that immediate problem, especially not for renters. Nearly 4 in 10 adults would have trouble handling a $400 emergency expense, according to a recent study from the Federal Reserve.

An economic downturn is coming, the problem is no one knows how severe it will be and how long will it last. China’s economy took a big hit and government took some draconian measures that can’t be done here in North America.

Some precautionary financial steps

  1. Top up your emergency fund
  2. Living pay check to paycheck: then get a line of credit or increase the limits on your credit cards
  3. Start looking for day care services in case of school closures
  4. Don’t put any new money into the stock market until the coronavirus is contained. (Too early to buy the dips, however make an investment shopping list)
  5. Get ready to refinance your debt, but keep in mind that there could be more rate cuts.

Why you shouldn’t panic over a decline in stock market prices

The chart below illustrate what happen to stock market values during the financial crisis. (Jan 2008 until Mar 2011) The left side of the graph shows the market hit bottom in Mar of 2009 and recovered most of it losses by Mar of 2011. I not suggesting that this current market downturn will get that bad.

Keep in mind that the stock market has gone straight up since the market hit bottom back in march of 2009 with a few little blips. The chart below illustrates that the current downturn could be just another blip. This virus will only have a temporary effect on the economy and consumer spending will recover. People will travel again, visit theme parks, eat out and business will be profitable again.

Back in September, I wrote a post to reduce some of your risk and move some money into dividend paying stocks. I hope that you followed my advice.  Dividend income should help to offset some of the fall in value of your portfolio.

 

 

 

Some recommendations for new investors with not allot of capital

 

 

One Size Doesn’t Fit All

 

It has been a long time since one of my readers posed a question that could be answered in a blog post.

Do you have any recommendations for new investors with not allot of capital to start with? $5000 – $10000. Just wondering if there are any things you wish you knew when you started or good resources you would recommend for learning some important basics. Maybe even specific to Canada, allot of the books I have been reading are by American authors.

Before choosing what to invest in, you have to think about your time frame. Is this money going to be tied up short term (1 to 5 years) or long term?  Next you have to decide on a savings goal. For example; are you saving to get married, buying a home or saving for retirement. Finally, you have measure your risk tolerance.

Some short term investment ideas

Low risk investments are usually recommend for a short term saving goals. You don’t want to risk having less money then what you started with. Unfortunately, low risk means low returns. I personally like Exchange Traded Funds (ETFs) because the management fees are lower than mutual funds and they still offer the safely of diversification. Since this blog request came from a Canadian, I will use examples from a list of BMO’s Exchange Traded Funds

  • Low risk – BMO (ZGB) Government bond ETFs – offers 2.5 return
  • Medium risk – BMO (ZLC) Long Corporate bond – offers 4% return
  • Medium risk – BMO (ZWC) Canadian Dividend covered call – offers 6.9% return
  • High risk – BMO (ZJK) Corporate high yield bond ETFs – 7.25 % return

Some Long term investment ideas

  • Low risk – BMO (ZBAL) Balance ETF – 61% equities, 39% bonds
  • Medium risk – BMO (ZGRO) Growth – 81% equities, 19% bonds
  • High Risk – BMO (ZNQ) Nasdaq 100 – 100% U.S. equities

When it comes to investing, Canadians have some flexible options. One of the best options is opening a Tax Free Savings Account (TFSA) with a discount broker; very low trading commissions and no tax payable on income or capital gains. It can be used for both short term and long term savings goals.

Another option for people who are in a high tax bracket is a retirement account as long as you take the tax refund and reinvest it. For example: Someone in the 35% tax bracket would get a refund of $3,500 with a $10,000 contribution into a retirement account. (RRSP- Registered Retirement Savings Plan for Canadians)

For small investors, I highly recommend using a Dividend Reinvesting Plan (DRIP). Most EFTs offer the ability to reinvest the income into additional shares with no trading costs. DRIPs use a technique called dollar cost averaging which allows the investor to buy stock as it moves up and down. A great way to compound your returns.

Finally some reading resources for learning some important basics:

  1. The Wealthy Barber Returns
  2. The Good, Bad and the Downright Awful in Canadian Investments
  3. Canadian Securities Text Book ( buy it used on Kijiji )

Please do your own research, examples in this post are not recommendations.  

Merry Christmas!!!

Fall is a good time to do some tax planning

Being a retired senior, reducing income taxes is key when living on a fixed income. I usually joke with my friends that I fix my own income each year. I do my best to minimize my quarterly installment payments to the tax department.

With holiday season coming soon, you are going to be busy visiting with family & friends and Christmas shopping. You will be glad during tax filing season that you planned ahead! You could reduce your tax bill or generate a bigger tax refund.

Tip 1 – Add up your medical bills from this year and compare them to last year. If you have spent less, you may want to reschedule your dentist appointment from early January to December. Do you need new eyeglasses or hearing aids then buy them now. Planning a winter vacation that requires medical shots, get them ahead of time.

Tip 2 – Add up your charitable donations and compare them to last year. If you have donated less or nothing at all, now would be a good time to be generous. Wealthy people donate stocks, ETFs and mutual funds that have a capital gain instead of money. They don’t have to pay any tax on the gain and the full amount is tax-deductible creating a bigger tax deduction.

Tip 3 – Get out your lasts year’s tax return and see if this year’s income will be higher than last year. Will you be in a higher tax bracket? If yes, an extra contribution to your tax-deductible retirement account could generate a bigger tax saving. (Plus stock market returns have been known to be higher from November to April) If you are retired and your income is lower than last year, consider withdrawing a little extra from your retirement account and put it into a tax-free account.

Tip 4 – Have you sold any investments in 2019 that will generate a taxable capital gain?  Do some tax loss selling of investments that are underwater to offset the capital gains? In Canada, a capital gain loss can be carried back three taxation years to offset capital gains incurred in that year. You can always buy them back later. (You will have to wait 31 days to re-buy to avoid “superficial loss rules”)

Tip 5 – Postpone selling your investment winners in non-registered accounts until January to avoid paying tax in April. If you have losses, consider selling some winners and buy them back again to increase your cost base.

Tip 6 – Look for ways to legally split income by transferring income producing assets to family members that are in a lower tax bracket. For example, in Canada you can contribute to your spouses’ retirement fund and claim the deduction.

Tip 7 – Top up education savings plans for your children or grandchildren to ensure your plan gets any eligible government grants. (Canadian grants stop the year in which the child turns 18)

Tip 8 – Getting a big year-end bonus? It may be better to postpone getting it to January or have your employer deposit the bonus directly into your retirement account!

Tip 9 – Check to see if there are any changes to tax laws that could affect your tax return for 2019 & 2020. There could be some new tax deductions or some deductions that could be eliminated.

Tip 10 – Small business owners should go over their account receivables and make a list of potential bad debts. Consider writing off any bad debts that are more than 120 days overdue before tax season ends.

The tax man is happy to pick your pockets for more money. It is up to you to legally avoid paying them too much. Remember, rich people stay wealthy because they can afford the best tax specialist to reduce the amount of tax that they pay.

Do you have any year-end tax planning tips?

 

 

Is it time to switch from Bonds to dividend paying stocks?

What are the risks facing us in the next year or two? The inversion of the yield curve which has happen on three separate occasions has me worried. It signals more stock market volatility, it is a sign that the bond market fears subpar economic growth and that a trade war could cause a global recession.

Historically an inverted yield curve has been a reliable, though not perfect, predictor of a recession. Each of the last five recessions was preceded by the two and 10 year Treasury yields inverting. (the two year yield is higher than the 10 year yield)

So, is the Bond Market Insane?

We now have $17 trillion worth of negative interest rate bonds, mostly in the sovereign bond space. That is about 25% of the entire bond market and 43% of bonds outside the US. In simple terms, you buy a $100 bond but pay $105 for it and you are guarantee to get $100 back when the bond matures. Who in their right mind would buy an investment that if held to maturity would lose money?

There has never been such an animal in the classification of bonds. Until a few years ago, traders and investors around the world would have considered negative rate bonds as imaginary as a children’s fairytale.

Mark Grant wrote this about negative interest rates in Europe:

While the European Union is not creating “Pixie Dust Money,” at the ECB, and then buying their own nations’ sovereign, and corporate debt, to purposefully hurt the financial markets, or the United States, that is exactly the “collateral damage,” that they are causing. The nations of the EU cannot afford to pay for their budgets, or their social programs, so the ECB has moved down their borrowing costs to less than zero, in most cases.

Check out their 5-year sovereign debt yields:

Why I am reducing my bond holdings and switching to dividend paying stocks.

  1. Since I am retired, the recommended withdraw rate from my retirement account is 4%.  Interest from bonds are not meeting my needs.
  2. Dividend paying stocks will lose some value during the next recession but less than the overall stock market. Plus, I will get paid to wait for the stock market to recover.
  3. In Canada, the dividend tax credit increases my after tax return by 25% over bonds.
  4. The next recession could be extra long because Central banks have already lowered interest rates. They will have less tools to stimulate the economy when a recession hits.
  5. The yield of both Canadian & U.S. 10 year bonds are below inflation which reduces the value of money over time.

 

Telecommunication companies like AT&T (Ticker: T) and Bell Canada (Ticker: BCE) have dividend yields of 5.7% and 5.08% which are much higher than bond yields. Some Canadian banks also have dividend yields in the 5% area and they continue to raise them. (ticker symbols:  BNS & CM).

These are not recommendations but examples to illustrate that they are a wide variety of dividend paying stocks with higher yields than bonds. They are not recession proof but do provide a steady income stream. Keep in mind that even cash isn’t safe because inflation will over time reduce its purchasing power.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Opinion: The Fed cutting interest rates could be a big mistake

Stock market watchers are expecting a rate cut this week because they believe that the U.S. economy is experiencing a slowdown. Second quarter GDP growth was 2.1% which is lower than the 3.1% growth rate during the first quarter. However, consumer spending rose 4.3% despite the fact that tax refunds were smaller than previous years. The GOP tax cuts did increase the weekly take home pay for consumers which accounts for some of the strong spending.

Growth deceleration in the second quarter was due mostly to tariffs and a fear of a global slowdown.  China’s economic growth has slumped to its lowest level in nearly three decades due to the prolonged trade war with the United States. However, the biggest drag on the U.S. economy has been a slump in business investment which was down 5.5 percent.

It is hard for corporations to spend money with Trump’s tariff threats on most of its trading partners. The new NAFTA or USMCA hasn’t even been approved by Congress; then add the uncertainty of a smooth Brexit (Britain leaving the European Union) and you a recipe for a slowdown in business spending.  In reality the Trump administration is partly to blame for the slump in world economic growth.

In order for the Trump administration to win the trade war they need interest rate cuts in order to lower the value of the U.S. dollar so that their tariffs are more effective. China can easily lower the value of their currency compared to the U.S. because the Federal Reserve is an independent agency.

Why I believe that lowering U.S. interest rates is a bad idea!

  1. Trump has relentlessly used social media to criticize the Fed. To remain independent, the Fed has to resist political pressure.
  2. Unemployment is at the lowest level in decades; the economy doesn’t need more stimulus.
  3. Lowering interest rates will enable Trump to pursue a more aggressive use of tariffs which in turn will further slow world economic growth.
  4. Cheap money will allow corporations to buy back more of their shares adding debt to their balance sheet.
  5. Low interest rates will encourage more wasteful government spending, adding to the already large national debt.
  6. Pension plans will get less interest on fixed income investments making it more difficult to meet their monthly commitments.
  7. Consumers will get less interest on their savings accounts.

Conclusion: Cutting interest rates could make matters worse. It could prolong the trade war with China and enable the Trump administration to actually follow through with threats of imposing more tariffs on their other trading partners.