VNFA NEWS

Our team will be taking a break to celebrate the holiday season and the close of our 34th year in business this Friday afternoon. Our offices will close at 11:30, but we will be accessible via phone should you need us.

The Markets This Week

by Connor Darrell CFA, Assistant Vice President – Head of Investments
Global equity markets ended the week higher as Friday’s very strong U.S. employment report helped erase losses from earlier in the week. Of particular note was that the report showed evidence of strong growth in the manufacturing sector, an area which has been a source of concern due to the uncertainty of global trade. From almost every angle, the report provided reason for optimism. The unemployment rate ticked back down to match its 50-year low of 3.5% and wage growth was over 3%; well above the current inflation rate. The data continues to suggest that the strength of the U.S. consumer is helping the economy to weather the impact of the ongoing U.S.-China trade war.

The Impact of E-Commerce on U.S. Employment
No matter how the data is sliced and diced, Friday’s jobs report was a blockbuster. But it’s interesting to note some trends that have emerged with respect to employment patterns during the holiday season. It’s no secret that over the past several years, holiday shoppers have begun to favor making purchases from the comfort of their own homes rather than braving the elements and long lines at brick and mortar retailers. As a result, there’s been a shift in hiring practices for seasonal employees in the jobs data. Last week’s employment report showed a 6% decline in retail employment gains compared to just one year ago, but that loss was more than made up for in other areas such as wholesale (likely a result of more hiring at warehouses and fulfillment centers supporting online shopping). It’s still debatable whether the methodology used to track retail sales data does enough to capture the massive shift in consumer preferences toward online shopping, but this week’s round of retail sales data should help lend further support to the idea that the U.S. consumer can continue to carry the expansion forward. 

“Your Financial Choices”

The show airs on WDIY Wednesday evenings, from 6-7 p.m. The show is hosted by Valley National’s Laurie Siebert CPA, CFP®, AEP®.

This week Laurie will dedicate the show to listener questions – past and present: “What Questions Do You Have?” Laurie will take your questions live on the air at 610-758-8810 or in advance via yourfinancialchoices.com/contactlaurie.

Recordings of past shows are available to listen or download at both yourfinancialchoices.com and wdiy.org.

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 excluding dividends. Interest Rates: Federal Reserve, Freddie Mac

U.S. ECONOMIC HEAT MAP
The health of the U.S. economy is a key driver of long-term returns in the stock market. Below, we grade 5 key economic conditions that we believe are of particular importance to investors.

CONSUMER SPENDING

A

Our consumer spending grade remains an A despite recent softening in retail sales numbers. US consumer confidence remains high, and we anticipate a strong holiday shopping season. The consumer has been the bedrock of the US economy through much of the current expansion.

FED POLICIES

A-

The Federal Reserve cut its interest rate target three times during 2019, but Chairman Jerome Powell signaled to markets that the most recent cut may be the last adjustment to the Fed’s policy target until there is a meaningful shift in the economic data (either positive or negative).

BUSINESS PROFITABILITY

B-

As was largely expected by markets, corporate earnings growth was weak during Q3 as a result of the global slowdown and trade policy uncertainty. However, according to Factset, 75% of S&P 500 companies reported a positive earnings surprise, meaning things were not quite as weak as many had feared.

EMPLOYMENT

A

November’s headline jobs growth number of 266,000 smashed consensus estimates and provided further evidence that the US economy remains on solid footing.

INFLATION

A

Inflation is often a sign of “tightening” in the economy, and can be a signal that growth is peaking. Recent inflationary data has increased slightly, but inflation remains benign at this time, which bodes well for the extension of the economic cycle.

OTHER CONCERNS

INTERNATIONAL RISKS

7

Despite the US & China being close to a “Phase One” agreement, we are keeping our “international risks” metric at an elevated level of 7 for now. Other key areas of focus for markets include the ongoing Brexit negotiations, rising economic nationalism around the globe, and escalating tensions in the Middle East.

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.

The Markets This Week

by Connor Darrell CFA, Assistant Vice President – Head of Investments
Equities climbed higher during the holiday shortened week, bolstered by rising optimism surrounding the anticipated “Phase One” trade deal between the U.S. and China. It’s beginning to look as if the proposed agreement will be more comprehensive than many had anticipated, with stronger intellectual property protections being included in the discussions.

The week also brought some encouraging economic news. Data on new home sales came in above analyst expectations and durable goods orders rebounded from recent lows. Additionally, the second estimate of U.S. GDP for the third quarter was revised upward and now stands at 2.1%. Particularly encouraging was that the upward revision was due to a smaller decline in business investment than was initially measured, suggesting that the impacts of the ongoing trade dispute may be starting to wane.

Some Perspective on the National Debt
Aside from the constant calls in the news media for an “impending recession,” there are few issues that seem to worry everyday investors more than the national debt (there’s even a popular website called “U.S. Debt Clock” which keeps a running tally). For many, the rising debt is an albatross that hangs over the markets and threatens the long-term sustainability of economic growth. However, it’s important for us to keep things in perspective, and even more important to keep our concerns as private citizens and taxpayers separate from our convictions as long-term investors.

The national debt continues to rise, and with the government currently running at a deficit, that trend is likely to continue well into the future. Looking through recent history, it’s clear that the size of the national debt and the annual budget deficit with which the government operates are, in large part, results of the fiscal decisions made during the 2008 financial crisis. The government responded to the crisis by ramping up spending in order to keep the financial system from collapsing and faced a $1.4 trillion deficit in 2009 as a result. At a little less than $1 trillion, the current deficit is a bit smaller than it was in the depths of the crisis but is still a staggeringly high number. Regardless of the magnitude of the deficit, it’s most likely that investors do not need to live in fear when it comes to their portfolios. When discussing debt levels, it’s not the absolute level of debt or annual deficits that are most important, but rather their size in relation to the overall economy.

With that in mind, while current deficits are inarguably high, they are still within historical norms after considering the size of the U.S. economy has also grown significantly. Even if the current deficit as a percentage of GDP (which currently sits at about 3.8%) were to rise by several percentage points over the next year or two, it will still remain well below the 10% levels observed in 2009 and right on par with where things stood back in the early 80s. In other words, while debt is not something to be ignored, it is unlikely to have a direct impact on the profitability of companies or the yield spreads on bonds. Another important consideration when thinking about the potential impacts of high debt levels is the cost of that debt. With interest rates still very low, the cost of servicing debt is much lower than it has been at most other points in our nation’s history, which makes carrying higher levels of debt more tolerable. For most investors, the current level of national debt should rank low on the list of potential concerns from a portfolio management perspective.

Did You Know…?

Today is Giving Tuesday!
#GivingTuesday is a global generosity movement created in 2012 as a simple way to encourage people to do good.

What will you give? Visit givingtuesday.org to search for organizations in our Lehigh Valley community who are in need of your time, voice, dollars, goods, kindness, talent.

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 excluding dividends. Interest Rates: Federal Reserve, Freddie Mac

U.S. ECONOMIC HEAT MAP
The health of the U.S. economy is a key driver of long-term returns in the stock market. Below, we grade 5 key economic conditions that we believe are of particular importance to investors.

CONSUMER SPENDING

A

Our consumer spending grade remains an A despite recent softening in retail sales numbers. US consumer confidence remains high, and we anticipate a strong holiday shopping season. The consumer has been the bedrock of the US economy through much of the current expansion.

FED POLICIES

A-

The Federal Reserve cut its interest rate target three times during 2019, but Chairman Jerome Powell signaled to markets that the most recent cut may be the last adjustment to the Fed’s policy target until there is a meaningful shift in the economic data (either positive or negative).

BUSINESS PROFITABILITY

B-

As was largely expected by markets, corporate earnings growth was weak during Q3 as a result of the global slowdown and trade policy uncertainty. However, according to Factset, 75% of S&P 500 companies reported a positive earnings surprise, meaning things were not quite as weak as many had feared.

EMPLOYMENT

A

The US economy added a healthy 128,000 new jobs in October. Furthermore, there were upward revisions to data from the September and August reports in addition to evidence of strong wage growth. Considering the slew of negative sentiment leading up to its release, this was one of the more uplifting release in recent memory.

INFLATION

A

Inflation is often a sign of “tightening” in the economy, and can be a signal that growth is peaking. Recent inflationary data has increased slightly, but inflation remains benign at this time, which bodes well for the extension of the economic cycle.

OTHER CONCERNS

INTERNATIONAL RISKS

7

Despite the US & China being close to a “Phase One” agreement, we are keeping our “international risks” metric at an elevated level of 7 for now. Other key areas of focus for markets include the ongoing Brexit negotiations, rising economic nationalism around the globe, and escalating tensions in the Middle East.

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.