OP-ED: Democracy Wins!

Published November 13, 2020

William RutherfordFormer Vice President Joe Biden, Democrat nominee for president, gathered the largest vote total for a candidate in the history of U.S. presidential elections. President Trump repudiated the results, claiming that he had the most legitimate votes; few people backed his claims. Trump says the election is far from over. No doubt extensive litigation is still to come.

The election process was exceedingly slow, but exceedingly meticulous, as Biden ground through the primaries, defeating foe after foe. Newscasters are framing his election as an example to all of us of the importance of never giving up on one’s dream. The general election saw record voter turnout, not only in person but also by mail. Because of the turnout, the counting process took several days, but in the end America’s democracy survived and stood firm. The election was a triumph of our democracy. The result will be noted all over the world and in history books.

In transitional times like these, our enemies perceive an opportunity to undermine us. China and Russia are pointing to the aftermath of our election as an indicator of our failing democracy. There are many autocratic regimes that see the success of our democracy as the biggest threat to their illegitimate holds on power. They may seek to take advantage of our troubled times. Fortunately, Biden’s experience with our allies will help ensure that we won’t have to deal with these threats all on our own.

Now the work begins. The work is to restore balance and trust in our nation and restoration of the rule of law. Those who supported Biden believe he is up to the task. The first […]

November 16th, 2020|Categories: Daily Journal of Commerce|Comments Off on OP-ED: Democracy Wins!

OP-ED: After Strong Push, U.S. Slouches Toward More Stimulus

Published October 9, 2020

William RutherfordAlthough the Federal Reserve is doing as much as it can to stimulate the economy, it has said repeatedly that the executive and legislative branches need to do likewise. There is little downside risk to taking action, the Fed chairman says. But even as the economy remains soft and layoffs continue, Congress and the White House have been dragging their feet in reaching an agreement on another stimulus package. It should be noted that nearly 4 trillion dollars have been spent so far in shoring up the economy from the effects of the virus.

The White House has continued its trade war with China – the second largest economy in the world. The trade war seems to have little positive benefit for the U.S., as our trade imbalance widens but the Chinese economy grows.

The coronavirus, which has been shaping the economy for months, took on the executive branch this past week. The personal health of top military officers and legislators suffered. The result is paralysis for both branches: an attempted coup by the virus to take over the government fewer than 30 days before Election Day.

The ability of the Senate to preside over the hearings for President Trump’s Supreme Court nomination has been thrown into doubt. At a time when the nation needs leadership, the virus usurps control.

Equity markets took heart from the notion that the president’s virus diagnosis would encourage Congress to pass a stimulus package. Yet after pushing hard for legislative action, the president abruptly stopped discussions, saying they would resume after the elections.  The Dow fell 375 points on the day. It is hard to rationalize the change of heart, […]

October 13th, 2020|Categories: Daily Journal of Commerce|Comments Off on OP-ED: After Strong Push, U.S. Slouches Toward More Stimulus

OP-ED: Tech Bubble Bursts… Or At Least Becomes A Lot Smaller

Published September 11, 2020

William RutherfordAfter the markets hit new all-time highs, the tech bubble burst and erased $1.7 trillion in value. However, investors are still up $13 trillion, or more than 56 percent, since March lows.

The Nasdaq is up about 26 percent year to date and up 63.58 percent from its 52-week low of 6,631.42 on March 23. After remarkable gains in August, the market started September with more gains and then losses. The Dow Jones dropped 1.8 percent in the week leading up to Labor Day, while the tech-heavy Nasdaq dropped 3.3 percent, losing nearly half of its August gains.

Some observers blamed earnings disappointments, and some blamed whale-size option trading by SoftBank. Possibly it was concern over the virus, lack of progress on another relief bill and increasing tensions with China. Was it a warning?

Like the chief in “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,” investors seemed stoic. By Friday afternoon, prior to Labor Day weekend, selling had turned to buying. Apple turned an 8.3 percent drop into a 0.1 percent advance. Was it a buying opportunity?

The day after the holiday weekend, all the indices nosedived again. Then, on Sept. 9, the Nasdaq was up strong on the day in a continuance of market volatility.

Why is there still such buying interest at lofty (by historical standards) multiples? Low interest rates make the market look cheap. Federal Reserve Chairman Powell says low interest rates will last for years, and the Fed isn’t even thinking about thinking about rate increases. We can expect easy monetary policy for years to come, and that’s generally good news for […]

September 14th, 2020|Categories: Daily Journal of Commerce|Comments Off on OP-ED: Tech Bubble Bursts… Or At Least Becomes A Lot Smaller

OP-ED: US Economy Suffers Record Downturn; Nasdaq Hits All-Time High

Published August 7, 2020

William RutherfordThe U.S. economy contracted at a record rate last quarter. A slowing job market became another sign of a slowing economy. A summer surge in virus infections added to worries.

The Commerce Department said that the U.S. gross domestic product declined at a seasonally and inflation-adjusted 32.9 percent annual rate. It was the steepest drop in 70 years of record-keeping. The U.S. economy is driven by consumer spending, which represents about 70 percent of the U.S. economy. But if one can’t go to a restaurant or the hair salon, spending will decline. Spending on nondurable goods such as clothing and groceries fell by 15.95 percent. At the same time, spending on durable goods fell only by 1.4 percent. Plenty of stimulus money was not spent. The personal savings rate swelled, as worries over the virus and the economy caused people to retain cash.

The unemployment rate increased, with the number of people receiving unemployment benefits rising to 17 million in the week ending July 18.

While the economy slowed, the tech-heavy U.S. Nasdaq stock market traded at its highs, owing to stimulus from the government and the increase in money supply from the Federal Reserve. Without the stimulus, the economic decline would have been worse. However, some of the stimulus is running out.

Because of job losses, housing will become an issue as people are no longer able to afford their rent or mortgages. Commercial and retail real estate, which historically provided reliable cash flow and income, is also under pressure due to the bankruptcies of many well-known companies and the reconfiguration of how and where people work.

The time of late August and early September normally […]

August 10th, 2020|Categories: Daily Journal of Commerce|Comments Off on OP-ED: US Economy Suffers Record Downturn; Nasdaq Hits All-Time High

OP-ED; Market Disconnects From Virus, Takes Its Own Walk In The Park

Published July 10, 2020

William RutherfordWith the first half of the year in the record books, we can reflect back. The S&P began the year at 3,231 and climbed to 3,386 on Feb. 19, when it took a sharp drop ending at 2,237 on March 23. Then the market began a seemingly V-shaped recovery and bounced up to the current level of 3,100 on June 30.

The market was aided by very supportive actions from the government. The Federal Reserve announced that it would do whatever it takes to keep the economy strong. The administration offered strong fiscal support through stimulus packages. The virus appeared to take a breather, which gave the market optimism.

As the stimulus packages began to wear out and the virus began to resurge, only the Federal Reserve was able to continue its support for the market. The Fed has almost unlimited ability to support the market through monetary policy, including even buying assets.

The administration has an appetite for disbursing money through various methods, but that could have a practical and political limit. The virus seems to be in charge. Hope for a vaccine stimulates the market, but fears of a new virus and resurgence of the current virus raise market concerns. It is too early to tell who or what wins this contest. Individuals have the ability to influence the outcome by employing safe health practices, but will they oblige?

In the meantime, the market seems to have disconnected from reality, with stocks surging and soaring to ever higher levels. Every new hope for a vaccine elevates stock prices.

Investors should practice caution, even as they fear missing out on the uptick in the market. A barbell approach may be in order: […]

July 16th, 2020|Categories: Daily Journal of Commerce|Comments Off on OP-ED; Market Disconnects From Virus, Takes Its Own Walk In The Park

OP-ED: Stock Market Bounces Back; Economy Still Fragile

Published June 5, 2020

William RutherfordFinancial results for the first quarter of 2020 have been reported by most members of the S&P 500, showing corporate earnings down 11.2 percent year on year, even though revenues were up 1.9 percent. Due to the COVID-19 virus, S&P earnings for the full year 2020 are expected to be down 23 percent or more. Growth is expected to resume next year, largely because of the easy comparisons with this year.

In the meantime, unemployment remains very high and rising. The Labor Department’s monthly employment report for April shows the jobless rate soared to 14.7 percent – the highest level since the Great Depression. The U.S. has lost 20.5 million jobs amid the coronavirus pandemic. Almost all the job growth achieved during the 11-year recovery from the Great Recession has now been lost in one month.

On June 5 (after this column was written), the Labor Department was to have released May’s employment report, and expectations were for 9 million additional people to have lost their jobs. This would increase the unemployment rate to slightly more than 20 percent. The Labor Department says the real unemployment rate is likely higher, because about 7.5 million workers should have been classified as “unemployed on temporary layoff,” instead of employed but not at work.

The stock market has gone up even as the economy has weakened and riots in many cities have destroyed businesses already teetering from the impacts of virus-related shutdowns. The market seems to have disconnected from the economy and the social unrest, largely because the White House and Federal Reserve continue to provide monetary stimulation.

European economies burdened with troubled industries, like car manufacturing, energy and […]

June 9th, 2020|Categories: Daily Journal of Commerce|Comments Off on OP-ED: Stock Market Bounces Back; Economy Still Fragile

OP-ED: Lessons Learned: U.S. Equity Market Reels, But Attempts To Recover

Published May 8, 2020

William RutherfordAt the beginning of this year, the U.S. stock market showed robust strength. Negative headlines were not enough to keep the market from rising; it continued its record-setting bull market run.

Then, just like that, it was over. The bull market did not end because of economic issues. This bull market ended because of a virus, and the growing realization of its impact on the global economy. The end of the market run was sudden and ferocious. Veteran investors were shocked and surprised. Warren Buffett observed that in all his years of investing, he had never seen anything like it.

Since the market is usually a forecaster of the economy, it appeared that the market was forecasting an event as big as the Great Depression, with unemployment at levels unseen at any time previously. Liz Sonders, chief investment strategist for Charles Schwab, said it was the Great Depression, the crash of 1987 and the 9-11 attacks all rolled into one.

Then on March 23, the U.S. equity market struck its low point for the year thus far. Since March 23, the market has been on a tear. First dismissed as a bear market rally, the market rose by more than 23 percent, qualifying it as a new bull market. The rise erased one half of the market drop since late February. The lessons: Do not give up on the American economy. Stay invested. Do not try to time the market.

Global efforts by central banks in the U.S. and worldwide to buoy the system led to the sudden and steep rise. Citibank estimates that central banks this year will buy $5 trillion in bonds, which is […]

May 11th, 2020|Categories: Daily Journal of Commerce|Comments Off on OP-ED: Lessons Learned: U.S. Equity Market Reels, But Attempts To Recover

OP-ED: Stock Market Fights Off Coronavirus

Published April 10, 2020

William RutherfordFrom its all-time high on Feb. 12, the S&P 500 hit a bottom of 2,237 on March 23. But will it still go lower this year? After the longest bull market in stock market history, the coronavirus dealt a body blow to the market. The market drop was the most precipitous in history. History tells us that the market will recover, but over what time period? Will it be a V-shaped or U-shaped or L-shaped recovery?

Since 1929, the S&P has suffered 14 bear markets, defined as peak-to-trough losses of 20 percent or more. That being said, bear markets result in declines of 39 percent on average, and last about 19 months. If this one feels particularly bad, it’s because it is. We’ve had a decline almost on a par with a typical full bear market cycle in just about three weeks.

Over the past 25 years, there have been seven virus-related market episodes. While there were market dislocations during these episodes, none of the infections were as contagious as the current coronavirus. While the Ebola virus outbreak in West Africa was potentially more problematic, it was contained quite quickly and a wider contagion was avoided. With this history as background, it’s easy to see why governments globally were perhaps lulled into a state of relative complacency.

The litany of records broken is long, but that is history. Central banks around the world have reacted to the challenge. The U.S. and other governments have launched massive stimulus packages. Help is on the way, but will that help cause more problems?

The massive stimulus packages will be inflationary. Money will become less valuable and things more dear. That […]

April 15th, 2020|Categories: Daily Journal of Commerce|Comments Off on OP-ED: Stock Market Fights Off Coronavirus

OP-ED: Should Investors Care What The Financial Markets Do Each Day?

Published March 6, 2020

William RutherfordThis month I have received more than the usual amount of correspondence asking where my column is. It is flattering to know that people care, but pity the poor columnist in a market of volatility and government by tweet. Sometimes circumstances change so rapidly, I can’t keep up with the changes.  But should you care about the volatility anyway?

Investors are people, and people are often impatient. No one likes to wait in line or wait longer than necessary for something – especially today, when so much is just a click or two away.

This impatience also manifests itself in the financial markets. When stocks slip, for example, some investors grow uneasy. Their impulse is to sell, get out, and perhaps get back in later. If they give in to that impulse, they may pay a steep price.

Across 30 years through Dec. 31, 2018, the Standard & Poor’s 500 posted an average annual return of 10 percent. During the same period, the average mutual fund stock investor realized a yearly return of just 4.1 percent. Why the difference? It could partly stem from impatience.

It’s important to remember that past performance does not guarantee future results. The return and principal value of stocks will fluctuate over time, as market conditions change. And shares, when sold, may be worth more or less than their original cost.

Investors can worry too much. In the long run, an investor who glances at a portfolio once per quarter may end up making more progress toward his or her goals than one who anxiously pores over financial websites each day.

Too many investors make quick, emotional moves when the market dips. Logic may […]

March 9th, 2020|Categories: Daily Journal of Commerce|Comments Off on OP-ED: Should Investors Care What The Financial Markets Do Each Day?

OP-ED: Virus Disrupts Financial Markets’ Surge

Published February 7, 2020

William Rutherford“It’s very hard to say what is affecting financial markets with any precision or confidence.” – Jerome Powell, U.S. Federal Reserve Board chairman.

Longtime readers of this column will recall that I am fond of quoting Will Rogers, who had rare sagacity. He once said “it is very difficult to make predictions, especially about the future.” Now, our Federal Reserve chairman agrees with him.

As we started the year, rosy optimism prevailed. The equity markets were up. Strength in the markets begat more strength, and it looked like we were off to a good start for the year. A good start to the year usually means a good year; optimism prevailed. The Federal Reserve met and pronounced the economy solid. The Fed declined to move rates, because a cut wasn’t needed, and an increase was not warranted. President Trump did not agree: The Fed should get smart and cut rates, he opined, arguing that high interest rates were putting the U.S. at a competitive disadvantage. (Interest rates are at historically low levels.) The president yearned for the negative interest rates of Europe, but they weren’t forthcoming.

Unemployment remained low. Consumer confidence stayed strong, even as consumer stocks, as measured by their ETF, were weak. U.S. growth in domestic product was the slowest since 2016. The president blamed the Federal Reserve, but not the trade war.

As always, there was plenty to worry about. The markets were overextended, and a correction was due. Still, the equity market marched ahead; until it didn’t. News of a new virus spreading globally hit, and markets tumbled. Since it is hard to make predictions about the future, it is unknown at this […]

February 11th, 2020|Categories: Daily Journal of Commerce|Comments Off on OP-ED: Virus Disrupts Financial Markets’ Surge
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