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Recent Government Initiatives in Response to COVID-19

What the Stimulus Package Will (and Won’t) Do for the Economy

Presented by John B. Steiger, AIF®, CFP®

The Federal Reserve (Fed) has been consistently ahead of the coronavirus crisis. To help ensure that this medical crisis does not transmute into a financial one, the Fed stepped up early and hard. Not only did it cut interest rates essentially to zero, it also eased restrictions on banks to enable faster and more business lending. Plus, the Fed has taken unlimited measures to support the financial system as a whole, restarting programs from the last financial crisis to purchase bonds and inject money into the system.

So far, it seems the Fed has been successful in its efforts. The Fed and monetary policy have done what they can do, and they are poised to do more as needed. But monetary policy—think interest rates and bank regulation—can only do so much. What’s been missing, until now, has been direct policy support (i.e., writing checks) for workers and businesses. Spending money, known as fiscal policy, is the province of Congress. Now, it appears the two parties have agreed on a stimulus deal aimed at providing financial support—checks—directly to workers and businesses.

This deal is the missing piece in the needed policy support for the economy, and it should significantly mitigate the damage. Let’s take a closer look at what the stimulus package will (and won’t) do for the economy, starting with the numbers.

Unpacking the Stimulus Package

The package totals about $2 trillion, or almost 10 percent of the economy as a whole. It also includes provisions to enable the Fed and commercial banks to add up to another $6 trillion in temporary financing. This is real money, larger than what was done in 2008. Although it took longer, Congress has now gone big and hard to get ahead of the damage. And, like the Fed, there is likely more there if needed.

Nearly half of the package is direct payments to both people and firms. Individuals will get a $1,200 check, with an additional $500 per child, up to an income limit. Loan guarantees are available to small businesses, which convert to grants if the businesses maintain their payrolls. Unemployment insurance is now for 100 percent of lost wages for up to four months. There is also money to support the health care system, as well as state and local governments. Finally, a significant part will go to large businesses affected by the crisis, such as airlines.

In other words, there is something for pretty much everyone here. While there will undoubtedly be mistakes, it provides the framework for getting the economy through the crisis until something like normality returns. This program is what is needed to mitigate the long-term damage from the crisis.

What the Stimulus Won’t Do

What this package, and the Fed’s actions, will not do is prevent a significant short-term drop in the economy. The second quarter will be terrible, and the third quarter won’t be great either. With the lockdowns in place, with people unable to work or spend, preventing that decline is impossible.

What It Will Do

What can be done—and what the package is designed to do—is allow people and companies to survive during that period, despite that slowdown. People will be able to pay their rent and buy food, first with the initial check and then with the expanded unemployment insurance. Companies will be able to pay their rent, other expenses, and, in many cases, their people. Critically, with that support, both individuals and companies will be around to start working and spending again when the lockdown eases and when the economy starts up again—which is the goal.

There will certainly be collateral damage here. People will suffer, and some companies won’t make it through. But this program will help minimize that damage and help ensure that we have a functioning economy in a couple of months when the virus is brought under control.

Between the Fed and the proposed congressional action, we will have the policy response in place that we need to get through the next difficult weeks. There will still be damage, and there will likely be a need for additional policy response. If that’s the case, the signs are that both the Fed and the government will do what is needed, when it is needed.

The Real Message

There are two messages from the stimulus package. The first is that the money will be there, which is critical. It will support confidence from consumers and businesses, and it will help preserve both the capability and the confidence needed to keep the economy going.

The second, and in some ways more important, is that the U.S. government is up to the challenge of this crisis. That position will also help preserve confidence, which will help more than anything to resolve this crisis as quickly as possible.

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John B. Steiger is a financial advisor located at Wealth Planning Resources, LLC 460 Totten Pond Road Suite 600 Waltham, MA 02451. He offers securities and advisory services as a Registered Representative and Investment Adviser Representative of Commonwealth Financial Network®, Member FINRA/SIPC, a Registered Investment Adviser. He can be reached at 781.547.5621 or at john@wprplanning.com

Authored by Brad McMillan, CFA®, CAIA, MAI, managing principal, chief investment officer, at Commonwealth Financial Network®.

© 2020 Commonwealth Financial Network®

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This communication strictly intended for individuals residing in the states of CA, CT, DC, FL, IL, IN, MA, MD, ME, NC, NH, NJ, NY, RI, SC, TX, VA, VT, WA. No offers may be made or accepted from any resident outside these states due to various state regulations and registration requirements regarding investment products and services. Investments are not FDIC- or NCUA-insured, are not guaranteed by a bank/financial institution, and are subject to risks, including possible loss of the principal invested. Securities and advisory services offered through Commonwealth Financial Network®, Member FINRASIPC, a Registered Investment Advisor.

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Market Update

Market Update for the Quarter Ending December 31, 2020

Presented by John B. Steiger, CFP®™, AIF® 

Strong December caps off solid year for markets

Markets continued to rally in December. The Nasdaq Composite led the way with a 5.71 percent gain for the month. The S&P 500 gained 3.84 percent, and the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJIA) rose by 3.41 percent. These results contributed to a strong quarter for markets. The Nasdaq returned 15.63 percent while the S&P 500 gained 12.15 percent and the DJIA returned 10.73 percent. For the year, DJIA gained 9.72 percent, the S&P 500 returned 18.40 percent, and the Nasdaq gained 44.92 percent.

 

These strong results coincided with improving fundamentals. According to Bloomberg Intelligence, as of December 24 with 99 percent of companies having reported, the blended third-quarter earnings decline for the S&P 500 came in at 6.9 percent. This result is significantly better than the initial forecast for a 21.5 percent decline.

 

Technical factors were also supportive. All three major indices remained above their respective 200-day moving averages for the sixth consecutive month, indicating technical support for markets throughout the second half of the year.

 

International markets also finished the year strong. The MSCI EAFE Index gained 4.65 percent in December, which contributed to the 16.05 percent increase during the quarter and a 7.82 percent annual gain. The MSCI Emerging Markets Index gained 7.40 percent during the month, 19.77 percent for the quarter, and 18.69 percent for the year. Technicals were supportive for international markets at year-end, with both indices finishing December above their 200-day moving averages.

 

Fixed income markets also ended the year with positive results. The Bloomberg Barclays U.S. Aggregate Bond Index gained 0.14 percent during the month, 0.67 percent for the quarter, and an impressive 7.51 percent for the year. The 3-month U.S. Treasury yield fell from 1.54 percent at the start of the year to 0.09 percent at year-end. Long-term rates also fell. The 10-year began the year at 1.88 percent and dropped to 0.93 percent by year-end.

 

High-yield fixed income returned 1.88 percent during the month, 6.45 percent for the quarter, and 7.11 percent for the year. High-yield credit spreads finished the year at 3.87 percent—an improvement from the pandemic-induced high of 10.87 percent in March.

 

Signs of pandemic progress   

We saw signs of progress on the public health front during the month. New cases per day showed improvement at month-end, although it’s likely the holidays contributed to a lull in reporting. If case growth is in fact slowing, we could see a peak in the next few weeks.

 

Testing also showed some improvement. A slowdown in testing around the holidays led to the positive test rate increasing modestly at month-end, however. The positive test rate finished the month below the recent highs we’ve seen during the third wave, which is a good sign.

 

Another positive development was the start of the public vaccination process. The number of vaccinations was relatively low at year-end, but the pace should pick up as state and local governments build out the necessary public health infrastructure.

 

Economic headwinds remain
The third wave still presents risks to the economic recovery. Retail sales and personal spending fell in November, highlighting the headwinds created by increased shutdown measures. As you can see in Figure 1, this was the first drop for personal spending since initial lockdowns were lifted in April. There is hope that the second stimulus bill and continued public health progress will spur spending growth.

Figure 1. Personal Consumer Expenditures, December 2018-Present

 

 

 

 

 

Business confidence and spending held up well despite rising case counts. Both manufacturer and service sector confidence remain near or above pre-pandemic levels. These strong confidence figures have translated into faster spending and output growth.

Risks moderate to start 2021

December’s updates highlighted the risks presented by rising case counts and increased local restrictions. But the resilient economy, combined with the expected tailwinds from additional stimulus and further public health progress, indicates we are in a relatively good place to start the year. Given the short-term uncertainty, a well-diversified portfolio that matches investor goals and timelines remains the best path forward for most. But if concerns remain, contact your financial advisor to review your financial plan.

All information according to Bloomberg, unless stated otherwise.

 

Disclosure: Certain sections of this commentary contain forward-looking statements based on our reasonable expectations, estimates, projections, and assumptions. Forward-looking statements are not guarantees of future performance and involve certain risks and uncertainties, which are difficult to predict. Past performance is not indicative of future results. Diversification does not assure a profit or protect against loss in declining markets. All indices are unmanaged and investors cannot invest directly into an index. The Dow Jones Industrial Average is a price-weighted average of 30 actively traded blue-chip stocks. The S&P 500 Index is a broad-based measurement of changes in stock market conditions based on the average performance of 500 widely held common stocks. The Nasdaq Composite Index measures the performance of all issues listed in the Nasdaq Stock Market, except for rights, warrants, units, and convertible debentures. The MSCI EAFE Index is a float-adjusted market capitalization index designed to measure developed market equity performance, excluding the U.S. and Canada. The MSCI Emerging Markets Index is a market capitalization-weighted index composed of companies representative of the market structure of 26 emerging market countries in Europe, Latin America, and the Pacific Basin. It excludes closed markets and those shares in otherwise free markets that are not purchasable by foreigners. The Bloomberg Barclays Aggregate Bond Index is an unmanaged market value-weighted index representing securities that are SEC-registered, taxable, and dollar-denominated. It covers the U.S. investment-grade fixed-rate bond market, with index components for a combination of the Bloomberg Barclays government and corporate securities, mortgage-backed pass-through securities, and asset-backed securities. The Bloomberg Barclays U.S. Corporate High Yield Index covers the USD-denominated, non-investment-grade, fixed-rate, taxable corporate bond market. Securities are classified as high-yield if the middle rating of Moody’s, Fitch, and S&P is Ba1/BB+/BB+ or below

                   

John B. Steiger is a financial professional with Wealth Planning Resources, LLC at 460 Totten Pond Road ,Suite 600 ,Waltham, MA 02451.  He offers securities as a Registered Representative of Commonwealth Financial Network®, Member FINRA/SIPC. He can be reached at  781.547.5621 or at  john@wprplanning.com.

Authored by Brad McMillan, CFA®, CAIA, MAI, managing principal, chief investment officer, and Sam Millette, senior investment research analyst, at Commonwealth Financial Network®.

© 2020 Commonwealth Financial Network®