VNFA NEWS

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Current Market Observations

by William Henderson, Vice President / Head of Investments
All three broader market indices showed negative returns for the week as portfolio rebalancing reallocating took place. The Dow Jones Industrial Average returned (-.91%), the S&P 500 Index (-1.48%) and the NASDAQ (1.54%). Market average for the full year 2021 remain in positive territory with year-to-date figures at +0.73 for the Dow Jones Industrial Average, +0.39% for the S&P 500 Index and +0.87% for the NASDAQ. Washington was relatively calm, and the markets are looking at a Martin Luther King Jr. holiday shortened week punctuated by the inauguration of President Biden and a peaceful transition of government.

The market will begin a laser-like focus on President Biden and his immediate actions as the new Commander in Chief. Already, President-elect Biden has announced his plans on a flurry of executive orders after his inauguration. Some will roll back Trump administration orders like immigration restrictions and others will be forward actions such as rejoining the Paris climate agreement, a mandate on mask wearing during travel and an extension on the pause on student loan payments. A clear focus on the distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine will remain and attention will be paid to the seemingly slower than expected rollout and distribution of vaccines that has thus far taken place. To be sure, mass vaccination, herd immunity and a roughly 75% vaccination rate is the catalyst the economy needs to continue its recovery. 

President-elect Biden also announced the proposal of an additional $1.9 trillion stimulus package early in 2021. Even with a full Democrat-controlled Congress, another $1.9 trillion on top of December’s $900 billion stimulus may be a bit of a pipe dream for Biden and could have difficulty getting approved. All the fiscal and monetary stimulus aside, experts agree that the key to releasing the $20 trillion of cash in money market funds, savings accounts and commercial bank accounts into the economy remains solely focused on the distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine. Each positive indicator of a rebounding economy; whether it be record December e-commerce sales or strong foot traffic at U.S. ski resorts, runs smack into the pandemic and its needed vaccine. 

The market will continue to take its cues from further government intervention in the form of fiscal stimulus, fourth-quarter and year-end corporate earnings releases and developments and improvements in the distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine. We believe the Biden administration will focus on the vaccine, an additional stimulus package and “green” initiatives that a loosely unified government will be able to get behind and move forward. Patience, diversification and a sound financial plan will be critical in 2021. 

The Numbers & “Heat Map”

THE NUMBERS
Sources: Index Returns: Morningstar Workstation. Past performance is no guarantee of future results. Indices are unmanaged and cannot be invested into directly. Three, five and ten year returns are annualized. Interest Rates: Federal Reserve, Mortgage Bankers Association.

MARKET HEAT MAP
The health of the economy is a key driver of long-term returns in the stock market. Below, we assess the key economic conditions that we believe are of particular importance to investors.

US ECONOMY

CONSUMER HEALTH

NEUTRAL

Retail sales declined by 0.7% in December, the third consecutive month during which the metric was negative. Economic activity is expected to remain muted over the next few months, until a meaningful percentage of the population has been vaccinated.

CORPORATE EARNINGS

NEUTRAL

Q4 earnings season kicked off last week as several major banks reported results. According to FactSet, S&P 500 earnings are expected to decline by roughly 7%, year-over-year.

EMPLOYMENT

NEGATIVE

The unemployment rate was stagnant in December at 6.7%. This is the first month since April in which the unemployment rate did not improve.

INFLATION

POSITIVE

The Fed plans to allow inflation to temporarily overshoot its 2% target such that the long-term average is 2%. Inflation has been tame since the Great Financial Crisis, less than 2%.

FISCAL POLICY

POSITIVE

President Biden unveiled a $1.9 trillion stimulus package last week. Should the bill pass through Congress, the U.S. economy will have received a total of approximately $4 trillion in stimulus over the trailing eleven months.

MONETARY POLICY

VERY POSITIVE

The Federal Reserve supported asset markets with unprecedented speed and magnitude in response to COVID-19.

GLOBAL CONSIDERATIONS

GEOPOLITICAL RISKS

NEUTRAL

There are few, if any, looming geopolitical risks that could upset the economic recovery.

ECONOMIC RISKS

NEUTRAL

Although economic activity mostly remains below 2019’s levels, improvement has occurred across nearly every measure since the April nadir. With multiple vaccines in distribution, a second fiscal package in place, and interest rates low, 2021 is positioning to be a strong economic year.

The “Heat Map” is a subjective analysis based upon metrics that VNFA’s investment committee believes are important to financial markets and the economy. The “Heat Map” is designed for informational purposes only and is not intended for use as a basis for investment decisions.

“Your Financial Choices”

Tune in Wednesday, 6 PM for “Your Financial Choices” show on WDIY 88.1FM: Updates on Tax Filing – past and present, including stimulus payments.

Laurie can take your questions live on the air at 610-758-8810, or address those submitted via  yourfinancialchoices.com. Recordings of past shows are available to listen or download at both yourfinancialchoices.com and wdiy.org.

VNFA NEWS

Tax Preparation season has begun for 2020 returns. Our VNFA Tax Department is ready to get started.

For our clients, please visit valleynationalgroup.com/tax for instructions, forms, news and important tips from our team. Click here for a PDF highlighting some Tax FAQ for Clients and refer to videos on our website for further guidance from our professional team.

You will be receiving an initial e-mail or mailed packet this week with instructions to complete our 2020 Tax Questionnaire and other related forms, as needed for your specific situation. Please complete these steps at your earliest convenience and send us your supporting tax-related documents once you have all or most of what you expect collected.

For the safety of our employees and our clients, our team continues to work remotely, so please call ahead to schedule an appointment if you have a need to visit our office to drop off or pick up documents.

If you have questions at any time, you may ask to speak with our Tax Department at 610-868-9000 or e-mail the team directly at tax@valleynationalgroup.com.

Did You Know? TAX TIP

1099 Tax Reminders
Once again, it is the time of year to think about your filing requirements as a small business owner, self-employed individual, or owner of rental property. If you operate for gain or profit, the IRS considers you to be engaged in a trade or business and therefore required to file certain information returns. Information related specifically to the Form 1099-MISC, Miscellaneous Income, and the newly re-introduced Form 1099-NEC, Nonemployee Compensation, can be found at irs.gov/instructions/i1099msc.   

Form 1099-NEC is due on or before February 1, 2021, using either paper or electronic filing procedures.

File Form 1099-MISC by March 1, 2021, if you file on paper, or March 31, 2021, if you file electronically.

The IRS operates a centralized call site to answer questions about reporting on Form 1099 and other information returns. If you have questions related to reporting on information returns, the IRS centralized call site can be reached at 866-455-7438. In addition, please feel free to contact our VNFA Tax Department at tax@valleynationalgroup.com or 610-868-9000.

Quarterly Commentary – Q4 2020

View/Download PDF version of Q4 Commentary (or read text below)

Equities

In an eventful Q4, the stock market performed very well, as the S&P 500, Nasdaq 100, and Dow Jones Industrial Average were up 12.15%, 13.09%, and 10.73%, respectively. News was largely supportive of stocks this quarter, as a clear Presidential winner was announced, multiple vaccines entered distribution and a second fiscal relief bill was passed. On a full-year basis, the Nasdaq 100, which is populated mostly by technology companies, delivered a nearly 49% return, its best year since 2009, while the bellwether S&P 500 Index gained 18.4% and the “seasoned economy” Dow increased almost 10%. International and Emerging Market stocks also had strongly positive performance this year.

2020 was astonishing in that both the stock market and the economy (as measured by GDP) experienced their most rapid declines and corresponding recoveries in history. In response to lockdowns – which portended a nearly totally dormant nation – the Federal Reserve acted swiftly and vociferously by lowering interest rates and buying treasury bonds, thereby injecting much needed liquidity into a frightened financial market. Also buoyed by a large fiscal stimulus bill in March, the markets recovered as it became clear that COVID’s negative economic impacts would be mostly transient.

Fixed Income
Interest rates collapsed to nearly zero in 2020 as a result of central bank action and investor flight to safe haven assets. Indeed, the 10-year treasury bond touched a historical nadir of 0.52% on August 4, down from 1.88% at the start of 2020. The 10-year treasury – a good proxy for the holistic interest rate environment – spent much of the year close to 0.70% and sits today just above 0.90%. Bond prices rise when interest rates fall, so investors experienced capital gains in their fixed income holdings. However, likely the most important impact that the rate decline had was on stocks, as investors passed on paltry bond yields in favor of equity investments.

Outlook
The economic fundamentals heading into 2021 are firmly optimistic: several vaccines are entering distribution, a second fiscal bill will have positive impacts, and yet, interest rates remain in the basement (which is both stimulative to the real economy and to stocks). The question, however, is to what extent such fundamentals are already reflected in asset prices after such a robust market recovery beginning on March 23. Another salient question on the mind of investors is to what degree trends which strengthened during the pandemic – such as e-commerce, food delivery and teleconferencing – will persist, or give way to “the old way” of doing things. We expect healthy economic performance as the American population gets inoculated through the year and, as always, will be following the markets closely and adjusting our views as fit.

Current Market Observations

by William Henderson, Vice President / Head of Investments
The first week of trading in 2021 continued the market rally we saw for a good portion of 2020. For the week, the Dow Jones Industrial Average returned +1.61%, the S&P 500 Index +1.83% and the NASDAQ + 2.43%. Technology and “green” stocks continued to do very well as the realization that a Biden administration bolstered by a Democrat-controlled U.S. Congress will push green energy, improved technology, and eventually infrastructure. 

Last week saw events in Washington DC that sadly shocked the world. Protesters stormed the U.S. Capitol building and temporarily shut down the activities of Congress. Perhaps Americans wrongly assumed that protests, riots, and general unrest was over with the U.S. Presidential Election finally behind us, but this was not the case. Political uncertainly continues to pose risks to the markets and is difficult to predict and quantify. For example, as noted above, the technology sector is poised to grow much stronger than the overall economy, but we are seeing politics impact social media companies like Twitter, Facebook and Parler as some sites banned President Trump from use. What will the outcome and impact be on those companies is yet to be played out, but it creates, and unknown risk and markets hate unknown risks. Arguments will abound about whether social media companies are broadcast companies, news outlets, utilities or just fun pastimes and what, if any, regulations should be imposed on their actions. The argument that social media companies are utilities is specious at best, as you can live without Twitter but not without water, electricity or even a phone. But our U.S. Congress has reign to do many things, all of which create risks and unknowns. 

The U.S. Federal Reserve continues to be the one core bedrock of the economic recovery with a firm position by Fed Chair Jerome Powell to keep interest rates low for as long as necessary. The Fed Funds Rate, the interest rate that banks charge other banks for lending excess cash, remains near zero, while the 10-year U.S. Treasury Note moved a few basis points higher last week and now stands at 1.11%. Finally, there is steepness in the yield curve. Banks make money when the yield curve is steep – they borrow low and lend high. This week, we will see the first of the large banks reporting fourth quarter earnings – JP Morgan Chase, PNC Bank and Wells Fargo, among others, are all slated to report by week’s end.  

Headwinds exist today from the COVID-19 pandemic and serious political unrest. Tailwinds also exist with investments in technology, green energy and infrastructure and a willing Fed to keep the pump primed for economic expansion. Lastly, a pent-up consumer is sitting on the sidelines waiting for a vaccine and an “all clear” sign for leisure activities to open up again.