The Covid-19 crisis has led to a truly unprecedented environment for the global economy, markets, and society as a whole. With so many variables at play, it’s logical to wonder how a myriad of factors will impact portfolios and investments.
In just six months, the Fed went from hiking interest rates to, as of last week, opening the doors for future interest rate cuts. This makes the hike last December look a bit silly given the stock market was in freefall, economic data was deteriorating, and trade tensions were escalating. To make matters worse, President Trump tweeted it is “incredible” that the Fed “is even considering another interest rate hike” before the Fed raised last December. Since then, the Twitter handle @realDonaldTrump has been exceedingly critical with regards to Fed policy and tightening too aggressively. It’s worth noting that almost every other president in history has steered clear of publicly criticizing the Fed, which makes this situation even more precarious and unprecedented.
About once a decade here in the Pacific Northwest, we encounter what’s been dubbed Snowmaggedon, where, as we witnessed in February, locals load up on groceries; city officials prep and treat roads, bridges and walkways; and families cozy up and stay close to home.
Financial markets have been breathtakingly strong so far in 2019. In fact, it’s been the best start for the US stock market since 1992, with the S&P 500 posting a 13.1% total return through mid-March. Another impressive stat is that the NASDAQ began the year with nine straight up weeks – a feat not seen since 1964. International stocks, corporate bonds, REITs, and midstream energy assets have also posted remarkable returns.
Over the last year, it has been a challenging environment for bond investors as interest rates continue to grind higher. Inflation readings registering multi-year highs are certainly one factor causing higher borrowing costs. However, perhaps the biggest influence on higher rates is the shifting supply and demand dynamic from fiscal and monetary policy changes. On the fiscal side, the tax overhaul, along with increased military and domestic spending, is expected to significantly widen our budget deficit, which means a surge in treasury borrowing.