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No Outcome? No Surprise. No Problem!

We expected it to be this way, right? Historically, the market has always gotten a bit crazy both before, and after, the election:

Since Election Day on Tuesday, the S&P 500 has rallied 4%, and has enjoyed its best start to the month of November ever, up 7.4% in four days.

At Towerpoint Wealth, we believe there are a few reasons for this big jump:

  1. While investors do expect a fiscal stimulus package out of Washington D.C. in the near future, perhaps before January, the size of a deal reached in a divided Congress is likely to be much smaller than it would be under a Democratic-controlled Congress. However, sometimes bad news equals good news on Wall Street, and this had led investors to believe that more pressure will be on the U.S. Federal Reserve (“the Fed”) to pump more funds into the financial system, theoretically supporting stock prices. Just yesterday, Fed Chair Jerome Powell said more stimulus is “absolutely essential” to economic recovery.
  2. Assuming Republicans hold the Senate, the likelihood of significant increases in both regulations and income taxes is significantly decreased.
  3. Interest rate and inflation expectations have recently dropped:
         Interest Rates       
Inflation

Additionally, as the Chart of the Week towards the bottom of this newsletter indicates, gridlock has historically been good for the equity markets. And while ballots are still being tallied, and Arizona, Georgia, Nevada, and Pennsylvania remaining in focus, it does appear that Joe Biden is on the brink of victory, and that we are much closer to having a clear winner, possibly by tomorrow or Sunday. The betting markets on the Presidency sure seem to agree:

There are many reasons for us here at Towerpoint Wealth to be paying close attention to events out of our control, but no reason to be reactionary to any of them. In addition to the recent interest rate and inflation-expectation adjustments, some of the other post-election, split-Congress items bearing scrutiny include:

  1. Renewed weakness in the financial sector
  2. Growth stocks outperforming value stocks
  3. Industrial and materials sector stocks lagging
  4. The volatility of the U.S. dollar
  5. Strengthening emerging market stocks
  6. Continued strengthening of technology sector stocks
  7. Potential weakness in tax-free municipal bond prices
  8. Weakness in healthcare sector stocks
  9. Weakness in renewable energy stocks


All of these moving parts and variables can make it tempting to consider second-guessing your investment strategy and philosophy. The constant struggle between the desire for growth and protection is natural, and the goal of managing a well-diversified portfolio is to be prepared for any market environment or political change.


Ultimately, when we put aside all of those “uncontrollables,” we keep the following graph in focus (hopefully the trend is an obvious one):

What’s Happening at TPW?

The Towerpoint Wealth family enjoyed an afternoon of teambuilding and camaraderie on the Sacramento river earlier this week, taking a quick voyage on the Sacramento Brew Boat up and back to the iconic Virgin Sturgeon restaurant for lunch.

While on their adventure, they also helped our newest family member and wealth advisor, Matt Regan, celebrate his birthday!

TPW Service Highlight – Morningstar Portfolio “Instant X-Ray”

Often enough, clients ask us what stocks they have exposure to within the various mutual funds and exchange traded funds (ETFs) that comprise their portfolio. We now have a sophisticated tool available to us that not only does a deep-dive in evaluating your specific asset allocation and sector weightings, but also the actual individual underlying holdings you have exposure to.

Think you are properly diversified? There is only one way to find out for sure – ask us to run a Morningstar portfolio Instant X-Ray report, and we will dissect your portfolio to uncover concentrated positions, areas of unexpected overlap, and provide detailed insights into your portfolio’s diversification, illuminating what is truly driving your portfolio’s risk and performance.

Chart of the Week

The odds right now seem to favor a Biden presidency, a Republican Senate, and a Democrat House. The chart below, from LPL Financial Research, shows how a split Congress has been historically good for the stock market.

As always, we sincerely value our relationships and partnerships with each of you, as well as your trust and confidence in us here at Towerpoint Wealth. We encourage you to reach out to us at any time (916-405-9140, info@towerpointwealth.com) with any questions, concerns, or needs you may have. The world continues to be an extremely complicated place, and we are here to help you properly plan for and make sense of it.

CLICK Here To Download Towerpoint Wealth PDFs

– Steve, Jonathan, Lori, Joseph, Raquel, Nathan, and Matt

Towerpoint Wealth Our Team Sacramento Wealth
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Should We Fret Over the Threat of $27 trillion of U.S. Debt?

$27 trillion. That is where the United States’ current debt load currently stands as of 10:40 a.m. today:

The budget deficit is expected to be $3.3 trillion just for 2020, as the Federal government seeks to provide stimulus to our economy in the face of the COVID-19 crisis. This has added $2 trillion to our national debt, on which in most months we are spending more than $1 billion a day just in interest. 

For perspective, here is a sobering infographic (yes, that is a football field in front of the Statue of Liberty) depicting what $20 trillion looks like. Each pallet, or “brick,” represents $100 million:

Infographic courtesy of www.demoncracy.info

Unless there is some new economic or societal model that none of us are aware of, our country’s debt will almost assuredly never be paid back. Politicians love promising us the world, and when the cash is not there to keep their promises, our government borrows money. Paying back this debt would require making extremely difficult decisions, and concurrently, losing votes. It is much easier to avoid this problem, kick the can down the road, and borrow from our children’s future than responsibly address it.

The politicians’ solution? Inflate our way out of the problem. The path of least resistance is to manufacture (read: print more) money to pay the debt back. By doing so, we are able to meet and satisfy our debt obligations (at least on paper). However, what this means is the holders of U.S. debt will receive back less than they loan in real dollars, as the purchasing power of a dollar declines as inflation occurs.

Most economists agree with and are untroubled by such massive amounts of borrowing, understanding our economy is currently in peril. The national debt was barely a concern when we passed the CARES Act, a cornerstone $2.2 trillion coronavirus economic stimulus bill, almost unanimously in March.

The two major concerns about carrying such a major debt load (higher interest rates and higher inflation) have not yet come to pass, as interest rates are extremely low and inflation remains quite muted. And because of that, our government is able to focus on providing the above-mentioned stimulus to combat the COVID-19 pandemic, and not have our national debt constrain our response. Seeing that we have been “forced” to borrow aggressively, at least we have been able to do so quite cheaply!


Make no mistake about it, questions remain about what the actual impact of this aggressive borrowing and economic stimulus will be. At Towerpoint Wealth, we believe the politics will eventually have to switch towards reining in the deficit. As this occurs, expect potentially massive implications for government spending, focused in areas like pension and medical spending, especially as our economy and our citizens age.


However, while we do feel there may be a transition to and an increased focus on debt reduction here in the United States at some point, the way we see it for the foreseeable future:

  1. The U.S. economic engine will remain a powerful one
  2. The urgency of the COVID-19 crisis will continue to underscore the demand for “safe haven” assets like U.S. Treasurys 
  3. The U.S. dollar will remain the world’s reserve currency
  4. The U.S. Federal Reserve will continue to print vast amounts of money to buy our debt
  5. Once business start to reopen and growth returns to more “normal” levels, tax revenues will increase substantially.

What’s Happening at TPW?

It was great to have a Towerpoint Wealth quorum downtown yesterday, with everyone looking good and dressed nicely to boot!

She said yes!

Our Partner, Wealth Manager, Jonathan LaTurner, *finally* popped the question to his long-time partner, Katie McDonald, while at Carmel by the Sea this past weekend.


A huge congratulations to both Jon and Katie, we can’t wait for your wedding!

TPW Service Highlight – Concentrated Stock Management

Have you amassed personal wealth through equity-based compensation, the inheritance of a large single-stock position, or from receiving stock as part of the sale of a closely-held business? Does this stock represent more than 10 or 15% of your overall portfolio? Do you recognize and are you concerned about the risk that this position may represent to your overall net worth? If the stock has appreciated, are you worried about the potential income and capital gains tax consequences of selling it?

We are experts in helping our clients manage and mitigate the risk and tax consequences of owning a concentrated stock position – click HERE or scroll to the bottom of this newsletter to download the white paper we recently published on this very important issue.

Graph of the Week

Researchers around the world are working around the clock to find a vaccine against COVID-19. In addition to a number of individual companies, the pandemic has created a number of unprecedented public/private partnerships in search of promising vaccine candidates:

  • BioNTech / Pfizer
  • Oxford / AstraZeneca
  • GSK / Sanofi
  • Novavax
  • Gamaleya Research Institute of Epidemiology and Microbiology
  • Moderna
  • Sinovac
  • Janssen
  • Valneva
  • CureVac

Below you will find a chart that outlines these current major partnerships and companies, as well as geographic distribution of the anticipated vaccine.

As always, we sincerely value our relationships and partnerships with each of you, as well as your trust and confidence in us here at Towerpoint Wealth. We encourage you to reach out to us at any time (916-405-9140, info@towerpointwealth.com) with any questions, concerns, or needs you may have. The world continues to be an extremely complicated place, and we are here to help you properly plan for and make sense of it.

– Nathan, Raquel, Steve, Joseph, Lori, Jonathan, and Matt

Towerpoint Wealth Team : Sacramento Financial Advisor
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Will Who We Elect Make the Market Correct

It’s right around the corner, and it isn’t going to be pretty, so let’s discuss the election’s impact on the stock market now and get it out of the way.

For a good part of this calendar year, we have counseled you that it is prudent to give advance thought to the range of potential economic, regulatory, taxation, spending, budget deficit, societal, and financial market implications of the national election results, depending on whether Republicans or Democrats win one or more of the White House, the House of Representatives, and the Senate

After Labor Day, the campaign is likely to reflect increased amounts of political vociferousness, perhaps some degree of vehemence, and even apportionments of vitriol (we hope and pray not too much), with the potential to cause meaningful shorter-term shifts in financial asset prices. That is precisely why we recommend forming beforehand, and sticking to, a well-reasoned and disciplined asset allocation plan and investment strategy tailored to your personal and financial circumstances, time horizon, objectives, and temperament.

November 2020: The 59th Quadrennial Presidential Election

September, October, and then, the Election: With the VIX volatility index (see the Graph of the Week below) having risen an average of four points ahead of each of the last seven presidential elections since this measure was created, important issues to consider in the upcoming weeks ahead include:

  • How clearly (and energetically) each political party’s convention message was received, perceived by, and responded to by their respective loyal voter bases;
  • The nation’s reactions to the anticipated three presidential debates and one vice presidential debate;
  • Assessments of the strength of party identification among various segments of the voting population, as well as in the composition of the overall electorate; at the same time, taking into account the ability of each ticket to generate serious backing from less-supportive voter populations; 
  • Which candidate voters (considering demographic attributes, where they live, how they classify themselves on the political spectrum, and other characteristics) think can better confront America’s broad challenges, including the coronavirus pandemic, the economy, social issues, and pressing global concerns;  
  • The effectiveness of voting procedures, trust in mail-in balloting, the degree of putative social media and foreign-based election interference, actual voter participation, and the perceived veracity and legitimacy of the results; and 
  • The potential consequences of prolonged uncertainty associated with a contested election (should it occur) for social order and the financial markets.

Some Implications of Potential Scenarios

Roughly one in five workers are currently receiving jobless benefits, and early expectations of a V-shaped recovery have been hindered by renewed coronavirus outbreaks. Regardless of who wins the 2020 election and in what manner, financial asset valuations appear to be reflecting expectations that whenever the coronavirus pandemic ends, some degree of economic acceleration is likely to take place in the U.S.

As we have counseled for some time, it is important to devote thought and attention to the taxation, regulatory, economic, asset allocation, and investment strategy implications of the three leading potential electoral outcomes outlined below (while noting that both political parties have expressed interest in promoting the development of generic drugs, lowering drug prices, and containing healthcare costs; and the two parties have also been focusing on antitrust, platform liability, and privacy issues relating to many of America’s biggest technology enterprises):

  1. If President Trump is re-elected and wins the White House, Democrats keep control of the House of Representatives, and Republicans keep control of the Senate, such an outcome would likely favor securities in the following sectors: technology, defense, finance, healthcare, and energy, while potentially putting pressure on sectors and companies that could be harmed by further deterioration in  U.S-China relations;
  2. If Vice President Biden wins the White House, Democrats keep control of the House of Representatives, and Republicans keep control of the Senate, such an outcome would likely favor companies and sectors that would be deemed to have thereby avoided increased taxes and a heavier regulatory burden;
  3. If Vice President Biden wins the White House, Democrats keep control of the House of Representatives, and Democrats take control of the Senate(sometimes referred to in the media as a “blue wave”), such results would substantially raise the odds of higher taxes. Offsets to the latter outcome could come in the form of substantial additional spending on infrastructure, education, and healthcare. Securities in the following sectors, among others, are perceived to be disadvantaged by a “blue wave” Democratic sweep: defense, healthcare, financials (via increased regulation) and energy (with expectations of restricting fracking and limiting drilling on federal lands in Texas/New Mexico’s Delaware Basin and Southeast Montana/Northeast Wyoming’s Powder River Basin), while giving a lift to sectors and companies that could be helped by improving U.S-China relations.

The Pre- and Post-Election Tax and Spending Outlook

As shown in the panel below, the current taxation and spending policy positions of Vice President Biden contain numerous base-broadening elements that increase taxes by approximately $4 trillion, while increasing spending to the tune of approximately $6 trillion in areas including healthcare, infrastructure, education, energy research, and other initiatives.

Released on Wednesday, July 9, the 110-page report of the Unity Task Forces (created and staffed by individuals designated by Vice President Joe Biden and Senator Bernie Sanders) contains a detailed set of policy recommendations in six domestic policy areas: 

  1. Health care (while not supporting Medicare for All, the report proposes a public option, a government-administered plan “like Medicare” that would be available to all Americans; on drug pricing, the report recommends appointing a government board to set prices that Medicare would pay for new drugs);
  2. The economy (with $400 billion pledged for procurement of domestically made goods and $300 billion to support high-tech research);
  3. Climate change (here, a total of $2.0 trillion over four years is earmarked to shift millions of jobs into clean energy, with the goal of cutting emissions from power generation to zero by 2030, having net zero emissions by 2050, and introducing new fuel-economy standards);
  4. Criminal justice (proposing reforms to law enforcement and policing practices);
  5. Education (including universal preschool for three- and four-year-olds, at a cost of $775 billion over a decade), and 
  6. Immigration (proposing to end travel restrictions against 13 countries, and to maintain protections from deportation for approximately 700,000 young immigrants known as “Dreamers”).

Should Vice President Biden win the White House, financial asset prices in general, as well as specific industries and companies, are likely to be affected by the speed and degree to which the new Administration and Congress (whose degree of support depends on which party controls the House of Representatives and which party controls the Senate) might be able to implement priorities in these and other areas.

For further granularity, the following panel sets forth eight elements of personal taxes and four elements of corporate taxes: (i) under the current U.S. tax regime, which would not currently be expected to change much under President Trump (although the President has endorsed the idea of payroll tax reductions; tweeted about a potential capital gains cut; and vowed to extend the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017, which capped the so-called SALT (State and Local Tax) deduction at $10,000); and (ii) as currently outlined as taxation policy under a Biden administration.

Given that the process of turning taxation proposals into law takes time, it is likely to be at least June 2021 for new tax legislation to be enacted. On several aspects of tax planning (including the timing and forms of income and expenditures; tax gain-loss harvesting; and retirement, estate, and gifting strategies), it may be sensible to postpone any major moves until a judicious assessment can be made of the makeup of the post-election government and its specifically-expressed legislative agenda.

Regardless of the fireworks, and ultimate outcome, of the election, we will always believe that good, well-run, profitable companies will remain good, well-run, profitable companies, independent of a Trump or Biden win.

What’s Happening at TPW?

Happy to have him aboard, contributing, and part of the Towerpoint Wealth family, the TPW team has been indoctrinating Matt Regan, a.k.a. “the new guy,” over the past two weeks:

Our new Wealth Advisor, Matt Regan, connected with our President, Joseph Eschleman, and our Partner, Wealth Advisor, Jonathan LaTurner, for an enjoyable business lunch at the historic Sutter Club in downtown Sacramento earlier this week.

Our President, Joseph Eschleman, and his wife, Megan Eschleman, hosted Matt and his lovely wife Alyssa for an enjoyable evening of tri-tip, corn on the cob, chicken skewers, and Frank Familycabernet.

TPW Service Highlight – Social Security Optimization

Many investors are not prepared for retirement, and have not properly planned for how to structure their post-retirement income. With the popularity and availability of pension plans quickly waning, and rock bottom interest rates making it difficult to derive enough interest income from bonds, the importance of Social Security has never been greater.

Through careful planning and the development and utilization of a custom Social Security optimization analysis, our aim at Towerpoint Wealth is to help our clients structure a plan to ensure that they are not leaving any money on table when it comes to their Social Security benefits. According to the Annual Statistical Supplement to the Social Security Bulletin, 70% (!) of all retired workers started taking benefits before their normal retirement age. For some this may make sense, but for many, this will result in the forfeiture of tens, if not hundreds of thousands of dollars over their lifetime.

Let us help you scientifically analyze the myriad of Social Security claiming strategies available to you, and develop a customized plan to ensure you have properly maximized this hugely important retirement income benefit.

Graph of the Week

The market anticipates some pretty incredible fireworks (as we probably all do) leading up to November’s elections. With Joe Biden’s lead over President Trump drifting lower since the late summer, there is now even more expected volatility around Election Day, and things almost assuredly will only heat up further as we get closer to November.

The graph below reflects the historical activity and pricing of the VIX, a popular index that measures future stock market volatility, used by investors to hedge against it. Currently, November’s election is the most expensive event risk on record. With many more absentee and mail-in ballots expected to be cast in this election, the possibility certainly exists that we do not know who the winner is on Wednesday, November 4.

Quoting Cameron Crise, Bloomberg macro strategist, “In the history of VIX futures contracts, we’ve never had an event risk command this sort of premium… That obviously suggests that markets anticipate some pretty incredible fireworks.”

Don’t say you haven’t been warned, keep your seatbelt firmly buckled, and most importantly, don’t be surprised nor overreact to the upcoming craziness!

As always, we sincerely value our relationships and partnerships with each of you, as well as your trust and confidence in us here at Towerpoint Wealth. We encourage you to reach out to us at any time (916-405-9140, info@towerpointwealth.com) with any questions, concerns, or needs you may have. The world continues to be an extremely complicated place, and we are here to help you properly plan for and make sense of it.

– Nathan, Raquel, Steve, Joseph, Lori, Jonathan, and Matt

Towerpoint Wealth Team : Sacramento Financial Advisor
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The Great Disconnect

The U.S. econom – way down.

The U.S. stock market – way up.

Why the big disconnect?

Click below to watch our President, Joseph F. Eschleman, CIMA, discuss that while longer-term stock market returns almost always have roots in a strong economy, shorter-term market fluctuations are rarely a good gauge for the economy.

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Potholes in the Rear View Mirror, Smoother Roads Lie Ahead

Any concerns about the economic carnage seen in the rear view mirror were overshadowed again this morning by the hope and optimism of the economic recovery that is seen when looking out the front windshield.

Yesterday, we were not surprised to receive confirmation from the U.S. Department of Commerce that an economic contraction of historic proportions occurred in the second quarter of this year, as the coronavirus-induced shutdowns battered the United States economy:

Yes, the U.S. economy shrank by one third just in the second quarter alone. Here is a graphical depiction of this GDP plunge:

With a headline number this horrific, one might expect the financial markets to immediately tank, and panic to ensue, exacerbating the depth and darkness of the hole that our economy cratered into between April and June of this year. However, chaos, fear, and a huge selloff were anything but the case.


Three reasons why the economy tanked but the financial markets have recovered:

  1. We are coming out of the crater, not driving into it (front windshield, not rear view mirror)
  2. Demand for technology companies, and tech stocks, continues to explode
  3. A large economic/GDP bounce back is expected in the third quarter:

FacebookAmazonApple, and Google (Alphabet) all reported their quarterly earnings results yesterday afternoon, and all four companies beat already-high expectations. Facebook posted 11% revenue growth and issued stronger-than-expected sales guidance for the current quarter. Amazon’s sales soared, and operating income nearly doubled compared with the big drop that analysts had expected. Apple easily exceeded sales and profit estimates, and announced a 4-for-1 stock split. And Alphabet investors, while tolerating the company’s first year-over-year decline in advertising revenue, had sales from its cloud-computing segment come in well above expectations.

Through yesterday, Amazon is up 61% and Apple is up 31% for the year (and both stocks appear set for additional gains based on trading so far today), while Facebook and Alphabet have both gained 14% so far in 2020. Truly a historic run for these tech behemoths.

We believe this outperformance should not come as a huge surprise, given the work-from-home trend the pandemic has advanced, further accelerating technology’s leadership position; however, the pace, and scope, of this outperformance has certainly been noteworthy.

All is certainly not well for the U.S. economy – far from it. And while a full economic recovery is still a long way off (we do not expect an unemployment rate below 4% until at least 2023 or 2024), the economy is at least generally headed in a better direction. And, while assuming the recovery will be anything but a smooth ride, we are confident that we are driving away from the worst of it, and looking at a better road ahead.

What’s Happening at TPW?

For many people, spending time in Mother Nature has been a welcome respite during the COVID-19 lockdowns, and this has held true true for several of us here at Towerpoint Wealth.

Our Partner, Wealth Manager, Jonathan LaTurner, in the throes of enjoying a large dose of the great outdoors in Mammoth Lakes, hiking and fly fishing on the San Joaquin River with his partner, Katie McDonald.

Our Director of Tax and Financial Planning, Steve Pitchford, on an eight mile hike on the Salmon Falls Bridge / Darrington Trail in El Dorado Hills.

TPW Service Highlight

Are you eligible for a 401(k)403(b)457TSPprofit sharing plan, or an employer-funded defined benefit (pension) plan through your employer? Do you have a Roth option available within your defined contribution retirement plan? Have you qualified for a single or multiple grants of restricted stock units (RSUs) or non-qualified stock options? Do you have an employee stock purchase plan (ESPP) available to you, perhaps offering a discount on shares of your employer’s stock? Is employer-sponsored (group) life insurance and long-term care insurance part of your benefits offering?

We welcome working side-by-side with you to conduct a thorough deep-dive and audit of all of the various perks and benefits your employer offers. Analyzing, leveraging, and maximizing your employee benefits package could be one of the most impactful decisions you make in the service of your longer-term economic health, and we stand by ready to offer our counsel, expertise, and experience in this multi-faceted and oftentimes confusing area. Click HERE to find out more.

Graph of the Week

Investing in the stock market can be volatile. For this reason, we believe it is important to keep proper perspective when stocks rise or fall over shorter periods of time. History has shown that the odds of achieving a positive return are dramaticallyincreased the longer the investment time horizon.

We think First Trust’s illustration below does an excellent job of conveying this ideal.

As always, we sincerely value our relationships and partnerships with each of you, as well as your trust and confidence in us here at Towerpoint Wealth. We encourage you to reach out to us at any time (916-405-9140, info@towerpointwealth.com) with any questions, concerns, or needs you may have. The world continues to be an extremely complicated place, and we are here to help you properly plan for and make sense of it.

– Nathan, Raquel, Steve, Joseph, Lori, and Jonathan

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How Do We Unlock the Lockdown

At least 316 million people (or more than 96% of the U.S. population) in 42 states are currently under a stay-at-home or shelter-in-place order as the coronavirus pandemic continues to upend life as we know it. However, as California’s Governor Gavin Newsom stated just last month, “This is not a permanent state, this is a moment of time,” and the good news is that we are seeing hopeful time-frames for reopening:

In the meantime, our economy is in an absolute tailspin due to the national lockdown, and Great Depression-esque numbers are expected for the second quarter:

  1. A total of 26 million Americans have filed for unemployment benefits in the past five weeks. That translates to a national unemployment rate expected to be as high as 15 or even 20% as a result of the pandemic that has forced millions of businesses to shutter and lay off employees, significantly higher than the 10% peak seen during the 2008 financial crisis.
  2. The U.S. economy is facing its biggest contraction ever, as GDP for the second quarter is expected to show an annual rate decline of 40%! As a comparison, the biggest drop in growth in U.S. history occurred in 1932, when the economy contracted by 12.9% during the worst year of the Great Depression.

And while it might sound crazy to say, understanding these are nothing short of horrific numbers, there is a clear light at the end of the tunnel.

Why is the stock market (as measured by the S&P 500) up 29% over the past month? One simple answer: The stock market is not a reflection of the current economy. Investors are forward-looking and future-oriented, and they are buying in advance of, and belief in, better days ahead. It can be confounding to grasp when the current state of affairs seems so grim, but it is an essential point for longer-term investors to note and internalize. Since 1953 (with one exception), the S&P 500 stock index has bottomed anywhere from three to 11 months prior to the official end of a recession. In other words, as Warren Buffett said : If you wait for the robins, spring will be over.

We encourage you to read Policy and Portfolio Impact of COVID-19 – A Talk With Dr. Ben Bernanke, as forceful actions by the Fed and bi-partisan Congressional stimulus packages have both led to a backstopping of the financial markets and a temporary de facto safety net for our economy.

The fact that the upcoming ugly U.S. economic figures and data are EXPECTED is especially important to note. While horrific, these numbers will come as no surprise to savvy investors, who understand that stocks almost always rebound before the economy does, and who understand that the market expects the pain experienced by the U.S. economy to be temporary. Questions remain about the shape of the economic recovery and the shape of our new lifestyles, but fortunately the correlation between the temporary nature of our economic pain and the temporary nature of our current shelter-in-place lifestyles cannot be denied.

In addition to anticipating the end of conscientious sequestering and the slow birth of economic recovery, there have been a number of non-COVID-19 newsworthy events over the past few weeks that you may have missed:

As we have mentioned previously, it is important to take comfort that better days are set to return. We will be with our full families again. We will be with our friends and colleagues again. Together. And as always, we sincerely value our relationships and partnerships with each of you, as well as your trust and confidence in us here at Towerpoint Wealth. We encourage you to reach out to us at any time (916-405-9140, info@towerpointwealth.com) with any questions, concerns, or needs you may have. The world continues to be an extremely complicated place, and we are here for you.

– Nathan, Raquel, Steve, Joseph, Lori, and Jonathan

Towerpoint Wealth Team : Sacramento Financial Advisor
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Policy and Portfolio Impact of COVID-19

A Talk with Dr. Ben Bernanke, Former Chairman of the Federal Reserve

Our President, Joseph Eschleman, was recently invited to sit on a conference call led by Ben Bernanke, former Chairman of the Federal Reserve and PIMCO senior advisor. Bernanke discussed why recent policy moves made by the Federal Reserve (“the Fed”) and other central banks will be critical to a more stable future for the global economy and financial markets. Bernanke discussed why given today’s unpredictable environment, policy response must first focus on public health to promote recovery, and should be senior to current economic policy. To be clear, the role of monetary and fiscal policy, while hugely important during this pandemic, is primarily meant to keep things alive and to support the economy during this temporary economic downturn. The Fed has acted with alacrity in this current crisis to help support liquidity in the capital markets, help financial institutions have access to cash, and to keep credit flowing to the real economy. Domestically and globally, recovery will depend on 1.) public health, 2.) science and 3.) the public’s confidence in both. It will likely be slow, and with false starts, and it will assuredly be different across regions, industries, and businesses. And while 2020 will assuredly be a year of severe recession, our hope is that the economy will open up by the latter part of the year, especially as the medical situation improves, with growth prospects for 2021 being significantly better

Current Economic Environment

Bernanke did not waste any time pointing out that we are facing a deep global recession. And while there may be an emotional relationship between the COVID-19 crisis and the 2008 global financial crisis (primarily the stress created by uncertainty and similarities surrounding the extreme market volatility), the chain of causality is quite different. The ’08 recession was caused primarily by financial system dysfunction, which led to economic instability and weakness, while today’s COVID-19 recession has been caused not by problems in our financial system, but instead by a natural disaster bringing the global economy to a near standstill.

The good news is our banking system is strong and healthy, unlike in 2008. Debt issued by major banks and financial institutions has been backstopped by the Fed, and banks today are well-capitalized and a source of economic strength, opposite of the environment during the 2008 recession.

Today, the critical element will be public-health policy response to the pandemic, which is even more important than economic policy. Working towards a vaccine is obviously a critical step to recovery, with the purpose of monetary and fiscal stimulus to keep things alive in the shorter-term until a vaccine is ready and we can begin to get back to life as normal.

Bernanke said to expect the near-term economic numbers to be brutal, with -30% GDP and a double-digit unemployment rate here in the United States over the next few quarters. However, these unprecedented figures are expected to be temporary, and to some extent should be taken with a grain of salt. The key question: How long will the temporary shutdown last? One quarter? Two quarters? All of 2020? Longer? If it lasts through the summer, we could be looking at severe bankruptcies and permanent job losses and layoffs.

The Fed’s Toolkit

Currently, the Fed is operating at an unprecedented scale, and when compared to 2008, has already done much more, and quicker, to provide support to the economy and to the financial system. Current Fed Chair Jay Powell deserves credit for his swift decision-making, as well as his use of the monetary “playbook” that was established during the 2008 financial crisis. The Fed remains the global lender of last resort, and has already taken action to provide $2.3 trillion of loans to support the United States economy. The size of the Fed’s current balance sheet is $6 trillion (and growing), the biggest it has ever been. And while the sheer size of it concerns some economists, Bernanke was quick to point out that the Fed is acting as a lender, and not a grantor, and is lending on a collateralized basis. These loans are self-liquidating, meaning the money the Fed is loaning is being used to buy assets (bonds), which will in turn be used to then pay back the loan when the bonds mature. Over a period of time this will automatically cause the Fed’s balance sheet to shrink to a more normal level.

Additionally, the Fed recognizes that the U.S. dollar is still king, is still viewed as the world’s currency, and that the availability of dollars is critical to maintain global liquidity and to fuel global credit. Demand for dollars is very strong right now, and to satisfy that demand and to provide dollars to foreign central banks, the Fed has also opened dollar swap lines with 14 different foreign central banks, acting as a repo facility for these banks and collecting interest while doing so.

Bernanke also focused on the emergency credit programs originally introduced to deal with the strained credit conditions of the Great Depression, and utilized more recently during the 2008 financial crisis. Section 13(3) was added to the Federal Reserve Act in 1932 to expand the Fed’s lending authority beyond banks, permitting it to extend credit to individuals, partnerships, municipalities, and corporations – a type of “Main Street” lending facility. Credit markets have recently been extremely dysfunctional, and these 13(3) lending facilities have allowed the Fed to backstop the credit markets in a secure manner and reduce overall volatility. The popular Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) is authorized under section 13(3), and a $500 billion municipal liquidity facility has also been established to offer credit to state and local governments.

Monetary Policy

In addition to its lending capacity, the Fed also has monetary policy as ammunition to combat the severe economic slowdown. Short-term interest rates have been cut to zero, and the Fed is buying Treasury and mortgage-backed bonds to provide liquidity to the economy. This extremely loose monetary policy is meant to be a temporary placeholder and create an “economic bridge” until we are out of lockdown and the economy begins to pick up speed. Bernanke expressed concerns that people may start saving more and spending less after we see a loosening of the lockdown, and any additional Fed easing will be based on the pace of the economic recovery. It is going to take a while for the economy to get back on track and up and running again, with things not approaching normal in our economy until at least later 2021 and into 2022.

Negative interest rates were discussed as a possible economic policy tool in some circumstances, but the Fed is not inclined to pursue them over the near term. Why?

1. They have a very limited scope.

2. They may disrupt the money market industry.

3. They are most useful to fight deflation (see Japan in 2016), and the COVID-19 crisis is not deflationary.

4. The Fed is on record as saying they are not willing to consider negative rates.

Fiscal Policy and the Political Environment

The 2020 recession is very different when compared to 2008’s recession. It may sound surprising, but Congress is significantly more bi-partisan about today’s economic crisis than they were in ’08. Today, we are fighting a common problem – the virus; in 2008, the problem was the health of our banks, and bailing out the banks was an extremely unpopular issue. The fiscal response to today’s crisis has been very good, and Bernanke believes we will need more from fiscal policy as the economy begins to open back up. Our fiscal response is a de-facto relief package due to a natural disaster, but absolutely necessary to avoid even greater economic pain.

The United States is fortunate in our capacity to borrow, and demand for Treasuries is very high. The big question of how government can afford all of this stimulus and issue and backstop debt like this is a hugely important one, understanding the CARES Act was funded entirely by debt issuance. Bernanke was quick to note that he has no problems with what the U.S. has done to borrow substantially to stave off this crisis, especially understanding the financial burden of doing so is minimal with interest rates close to zero. Emergencies like the coronavirus pandemic are exactly why the United States has a deep debt capacity, although we certainly do need to do better longer-term planning about the structure of the U.S. budget.

Forward Guidance, Outlook and Recovery

It is clear that the shape, and extent, of the current recession will be directly correlated to the health response to COVID-19. Recovery will be directly correlated to the level of focus, energy, and resources placed on medicine, science, and public health. A vaccine may not be available for 12 to 18 months, and opening up the economy will be a slow and regional process, with false starts a reasonable expectation. How to keep proper distance between workers, and how to regularly test the work force for COVID-19 are key questions that will impact what the recovery will look like, as well as the seasonality of the virus. Hopefully the beginnings of a recovery begin this summer, although it remains to be seen if it will be “V” or “U” shaped, or possibly a more uneven “W” shape. Public confidence is key, as this is obviously a highly uncertain environment that requires caution and care. Bernanke holds hope that 2021 should be significantly better than 2020, as some of this year’s economic figures will be Depression-esque.
However, the Great Depression lasted 12 years, and we are hopeful this recession will be measured in months. And understanding the IMF made huge changes to its global growth expectations for 2020 (from +3% to -3%), their 2021 forecast is for growth of +6%.

The United States is institutionally strong (governors, mayors, CEOs, presidents of universities, etc.), having high levels of diversity and innovation. As a country, we have weathered many other crises in our collective past, each of which was unique in its circumstances and impact, and we are confident that this pandemic will prove to be no different.

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Joseph F. Eschleman, CIMA®, President, Towerpoint Wealth

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