Covington Investment Advisors, Inc. Blog
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Incredible to think about, but the S&P 500 has advanced over 18% year-to-date and roughly 30% over the last 12 months. From the post-pandemic low last March equities have rallied over 100%. I made the graphic above before the recent 2% sell-off, but nevertheless equities have bounced back much faster than any post-recession period in history. What’s more is that this rebound has been absent of virtually any volatility. The S&P 500 has notched over 45 all-time high closings so far in 2021 while going over 10 months without a 5% pullback. Recently our President sent out a letter conveying our premonition that markets would be undergoing a “transition period” whereas they would adjust to peak growth rates & liquidity, and also to reinforce why our investment strategy and philosophy is well positioned to move into this new phase (His letter is available here). When stepping back and taking into account...
Earlier this year stories started to break that the Biden Administration was planning to raise the capital gains tax rate on wealthy Americans to 39.6% and recently whispers are floating around that the new rate could be even higher. Rumors of rising taxes usually invokes an anxious response by markets especially after a strong run like we have had. But the effect to the overall market from the capital gains hike may not be as significant as people think as it will only affect a minority portion of today’s equity accounts. In 1965 80% of US corporate equity was owned in taxable accounts. Today only roughly 30% is owned in taxable vehicles with much of the US holdings shifting to tax deferred accounts which are not affected by capital gains taxes. Foreign investment has also eaten up a large share of domestic equity holdings as the US runs ever...
Inflation continues to be the hot topic in financial markets and is shaping up to be a defining macro story of the next decade. One aspect of the inflation debate which we did not touch on in our Inflation Fixation note is what about the monetary and fiscal stimulus? US Government spending in response to fighting Covid was the highest since World War 2 at over 30% of GDP with more spending in the pipeline. The spending is high in a vacuum but it is also coordinated throughout the World by both Central Banks and Governments. What’s more is we have a new Presidential regime which has made spending a pillar of its social policy signaling that austerity is probably not in the cards. Could this combination of a hesitant Fed, aggressive stimulus injection, and ambitious future spending goals signal that the Fed will be behind the ball on curbing...
Maybe some would say a good problem to have when considering where things were a year ago, but a primary risk to markets now is that the economy is overheating. We have made note of the inflation readings that have jumped meaningfully over the past several months, but why could this signal a risk for markets? Because it raises the possibility of Central Banks pulling back some of the stimulus which has helped support markets since last March. In response to the inflation jump Fed officials have been adamant about portraying the price spikes as transitory. But at the same time have begun to discuss the possible tapering of asset purchases leading many investors to bring forward their expectations for the first rate hike. In our view this will be the key source of volatility for markets in the second half of the year, particularly in August during the...
If you have tried to buy something like a car or washing machine lately you probably know firsthand about the challenges of lean inventories & price pressures and are not surprised by the surge in inflation readings that have filled media headlines. Inflation is not only salient because it affects businesses/consumers but also because of its effect on interest rates, and therefore asset prices. But inflation is also an economic phenomenon in the sense that it is maybe the most discussed financial topic but also the least understood by forecasters when applied to real world developed economies. In our January 2021 Economic Outlook we highlighted runaway inflation as a key risk for the economy in the New Year, but also why the long-term picture is not as clear. The view by the Federal Reserve and one which we largely share is that inflation will be transitory driven by supply chain...
One principle of investing that we constantly reiterate because we believe it is so foundational is the concept of keeping a long term mindset in the capital markets. This is especially difficult in today's world that is rife with instant transmission of information and fast money strategies revolving around SPACs, Crypto, and reddit “meme” stocks. In fact it almost feels inhuman to be indifferent to the constant hurling of strong opinions easily transmitted through social media and instead see the big picture. But history has proven time and time again that the most effective strategy to growing wealth is to purchase shares of strong businesses at reasonable prices and then simply let time and compound interest do its work. Most American fortunes were earned via ownership of strong businesses for many years. Not only does time allow stocks to execute their compounding nature but it also lowers the risk...
Market drawdowns and Bear Markets are a reality when it comes to investing in the equity markets. Part of the reason equity holders receive a higher long-term return over ‘safer’ investments such as bonds is that they take on additional risk and the likelihood that their investment will be negative over stretches of time. Of course no investor wants to experience their investment losing money but this year illustrates perfectly why sticking to a plan and staying invested while owning proven enterprises with strong balance sheets is the prudent approach. This fact of investing is nothing new but the rise of social media and the competitiveness for media headlines since 2010 have given way to a flood of negative market calls which naturally appeals to human negativity bias and our survivorship instincts. This appeal strategy has worked in part because the flood of calls followed two of the deepest bear...
Early last week Pfizer announced data on the clinical trial of their COVID-19 Vaccine candidate which was followed up this week by results from Moderna. It’s easy to see why there is so much excitement over the news as the reported 90 and 94.5 percent effectiveness would put the vaccine on par with the Chickenpox, Mumps, Polio, and Whooping Cough vaccine, and much further ahead than our typical flu vaccine. The logistics of distributing the vaccine will be difficult and likely take months but progress in the development aspect is hopeful. The news comes at the same time that daily cases and hospitalizations are reaching all-time highs. We now have more clarity on what the end destination looks like (vaccine rollout and distribution in second half of 2021) but perhaps less clarity on the path as the spike in cases will weigh on consumer spending in the near-term. At the...
Although a presidential winner may not be determined until potentially the end of the week, one takeaway from election night is that the Republicans will likely keep control of the senate, meaning congress will be divided. This could be partially responsible for the large rally in equities following last night’s initial election results. Historically, equity markets have performed well in this environment with stocks being higher in the last ten years with a split congress. Although this election is far from over with a recount/legal challenge likely, a split congress actually adds some clarity as any significant legislative bill for either party will be difficult to pass. This includes a repeal of the 2017 Tax Cuts & Jobs Act which we wrote about in June and can be found here. Commentary Disclosures: Covington Investment Advisors, Inc. prepared this material for informational purposes only and is not an...
Is cash still king? In the world of global payments, not so much anymore. Cash usage is at an all-time low giving way to the transformation to card/digital. According to the latest Nilson report, cash made up less than 20% of US payment volume in 2019 (by total reportable $ value), and is forecasted to fall to less than 15% by 2023. The demise of cash is one of the trends that has been in place for decades but has been accelerated by circumstances arising from COVID-19. The ability for card payments to now be administered in a contactless manner via ‘tap-to-pay’ has been a useful tool for consumers that want to avoid contact at the checkout aisle. Pair this with most consumer spending shifting to Ecommerce channels during quarantine and the demise of cash has been expedited. The scale of the large pure-play payment networks, Visa and Mastercard, is...
A historical blend of events in 2020 including the COVID-19 pandemic, shift to a work-from-home economy, and record low interest rates, created the perfect storm for large-cap US tech to structurally outperform the broader market. This outperformance has reversed in recent days with the S&P 500 falling 2.27% and the tech-heavy NASDAQ falling 3.25% last week. This sell-off might have been unavoidable given how stretched some of the valuations for the headline growth names have become relative to their historical ranges and profits began to be taken. It is difficult to see how operationally these tech companies will not continue to benefit as they have for so long, but in the near term a “catch up” rotation could be taking place in the market as the reopening of the economy accelerates, and those industries that have been decimated revert to the mean. In our previous blog post "Air Traffic Data...
Although our investment holdings at Covington consist mainly of large multinational corporations, small businesses make up the backbone of the US economy. The most effective policies for defeating the virus are also the worst for small businesses (absent a vaccine). The mandatory shutdowns created a record number of “temporarily unemployed” workers who were laid off but expected to return to work quickly. To help small businesses deal with this the government developed the PPP program to maintain their employment levels. This program was certainly not without its flaws, but all things considered, helped cushion the blow at least partially. The $600 additional unemployment benefits was also established. This did help buoy consumer spending but not in a proportional way to benefit small businesses as in lockdown most spending had to go through online shops. The $600/week supplement also created the problem of trying to rehire workers quickly as some low...
Cases continue to rise with the US registering its new daily record of over 70,000 cases on Friday. Deaths have also increased, but not with the same magnitude as case growth. The disconnect in deaths and cases is partially attributed to the continued ramp in daily testing. The US is now testing over 700,000 citizens a day. One of the attached charts shows the positivity rate (daily new positive tests divided by daily total tests) overlapping daily cases to show the relationship. The positivity rate gives a clearer picture of what the true infection growth is. Lawmakers look at this positivity rate in their respective states/counties as one of the key metrics to decide whether to relax, or tighten social distancing measures. If the infection rate is not tamed, it could mean that those industries most affected by shutdowns (Leisure and hospitality) will not be able to open. ...
The European Commission recently released their ‘Summer Forecast’ for the EU/Euro Area economy where they downgraded their own projection from earlier in the year. The original -7.4% GDP contraction expected for the EU economy has been reassessed to -8.3%. Even despite the swift and comprehensive policy response from the European Central Bank and EU governments, the lack of resilient technology giants like the US possesses, along with less diversified economies has hurt the European bloc proportionally worse. Also, social distancing measures were stricter in most EU countries meaning better virus control but worse economic damage to this point. Italy has shouldered the brunt of damage with GDP projected to fall 11.2% in 2020, while Sweden and Denmark are so far the least scathed projecting a < 5.50% decline. 7/10/2020 Commentary Disclosures: Covington Investment Advisors, Inc. prepared this material for informational purposes only and is not an offer...
“This time it’s different” is a dangerous phase in the economics world. Recessions don’t typically result in personal income increasing, but this one has thanks to coordinated global fiscal/monetary support. However, soon the US faces a “benefits cliff” with the additional $600 per week of unemployment benefits set to end on July 31st and normal UI benefits for those who were part of the initial layoffs in March ending in September. Congress is expected to put together some kind of extension for these stimulus efforts but the two parties remain far apart on what exactly the next phase would look like. This stimulus is important because it has essentially buoyed consumer spending during the shutdowns. All income classes have seen their spending bounce significantly from the late March lows. But as we keep mentioning, stimulus efforts can only be temporary. Economies need to continue reopening and true economic activity needs...
Certain industries/pockets of the economy are seeing a quicker recovery than others. The TSA keeps track of the amount of passengers originating trips from US airports. On a normal day in March that number is over 2 million, at the height of government shutdowns this year it was less than 90,000. Recently air traffic has recovered with daily passengers in the last week eclipsing 700,000, but this is still a long ways off from a “V-Shaped” recovery in air travel. Keep in mind airlines have high fixed costs, large amounts of overhead, and razor thin margins. Most airlines are simply not solvent if air travel is less than half normal traffic for a prolonged period of time. We think this polarization in recoveries from one industry to another will continue and even worsen the longer the virus lingers in the economy. Some industries are seeing enormous demand tailwinds (Cloud, Ecommerce,...
Cases fell slightly from their peak over the weekend but still remain high, particularly in the new “hot spot” states (Arizona, Florida, Texas). Many of these states have now imposed stricter social distancing guidelines after remaining relatively open during the pandemic. Even after 10+ days deaths have still not followed the increase in case load. The lag time window is not an exact number of days but this is still encouraging. Commentary Disclosures: Covington Investment Advisors, Inc. prepared this material for informational purposes only and is not an offer or solicitation to buy or sell. The information provided is for general guidance and is not a personal recommendation for any particular investor or client and does not take into account the financial, investment or other objectives or needs of a particular investor or client. Clients and investors should consider other factors in making their investment decision while taking into account the current market environment....
US households have weathered the COVID crisis relatively well up to this point but there are two deadlines coming up for US consumers that could prove to stall out the economic recovery. On July 31st the extra $600 unemployment benefit per week as part of the CARES act will run out. Unemployment benefits normally last 26 weeks meaning workers who lost their job in March as part of the initial government shutdowns will exhaust all of their unemployment insurance benefits in September. Initial Jobless claims have fallen sharply from their peak but returning citizens to work may take longer than most are currently expecting. If more fiscal support is not extended to households by keeping the expanded unemployment benefits or implementing a fresh round of stimulus the risks will begin to rise that the US will experience a widespread solvency crisis in the household sector. Commentary Disclosures: Covington Investment...
Although the nationwide COVID-19 infection rate has tapered off from its peak in April, different regions are at different points in their cycle. Coastal population centers in the Northeast look to be for the most part past their peak, while states in the West and Southern regions have seen their cases tick up recently. A second wave of cases is to be expected as societal activity continues to resume and widespread testing is being implemented. As we mentioned in previous notes, reopening will be a process. The graphic below, sourced from visualcapitalist.com, shows US states sorted by their COVID-19 peak dates. Also included is our US COVID-19 slides from our June Chart Book showing US & global trends. We will continue to monitor these developments. Commentary Disclosures: Covington Investment Advisors, Inc. prepared this material for informational purposes only and is not an offer or solicitation to buy or sell....
In previous notes we mentioned the possibility of a “Second Wave” of cases popping up as activity resumes and social distancing measures are relaxed. In the last week cases have begun to rise across the nation, particularly in states that until recently have not seen a huge case load from the virus. The increase itself was to be expected but the severity of new case growth is still alarming. On June 26th the United States reported a new record in daily COVID-19 cases, most of which came from southern and western states. The encouraging sign from recent data is that so far daily deaths have not kept up with the pace of new cases. This implies that treatments are improving dramatically and testing remains robust. Keep in mind new deaths tend to lag cases so we remain hopeful that the fatality rate continues to fall. Also encouraging is that households...
Now that domestic COVID infection rates are falling, the country is beginning to reopen, and market volatility has subsided, it’s time to look ahead at what will most likely fill the media headlines in the second half of 2020: The Presidential election. The stock market is surprisingly President-agnostic over the long term. Whether it is a Democrat or Republican, the President does not have too much direct effect on the stock market and companies learn to adapt quickly to the current regime. But this does not mean that the President does not have any influence over market factors. Presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden is much more centric than former liberal contenders Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, but he still shares some of the same policy directives such as the push for a return to the more progressive tax policies of the Obama administration. Biden has proposed partially reversing the Tax...
When a pivotal economic event takes place like we are experiencing with the coronavirus pandemic there are certain trends that begin to either arise or quickly accelerate. We think the latter is currently happening with Ecommerce. It is no secret that for many years online shopping has been taking market share from brick and mortar retail. But never before have we seen a scenario where many brick and mortar retails were forced to close shop and deemed “non-essential”, while the large online market places became the essential way for consumers to get the goods they needed. Some could argue that Amazon & Walmart, the two largest Ecommerce retailers, became a staple of national security for their distribution capabilities as citizens are quarantined in their homes. Much of this gained business is due to many small retailers simply being forced to close for several months, but we think that Ecommerce retailers...
Federal Reserve Action and Market Volatility In late March the Federal Reserve established the SMCCF (Secondary Market Corporate Credit Facility) to support credit to employers and provide liquidity for financial markets. These new credit facilities gave the Federal Reserve the ability to purchase a larger array of financial products than traditional quantitative easing techniques previously allowed. This included the ability to purchase large amounts of investment grade corporate bonds through SPVs (Special Purpose Vehicles). As shown in the chart above, this action by the central bank had a profound impact on the financial markets. In particular, the creation of these credit facilities caused a peak in volatility in both equity and credit markets. The long-term impacts of the unprecedented monetary actions will remain to be foreseen. But for now, the Federal Reserve has been able to keep financial markets operating relatively calmly while the world navigates the Coronavirus pandemic. ...
One central part of our investment philosophy that we constantly preach is owning companies that have strong balance sheets. What this means is that they have limited liabilities including debt on their balance sheets as well as low working capital requirements. We also look for those companies that have large amounts of cash on their balance sheets. When these strong balance sheets are paired with good capital allocating management teams future returns tend to be strong in both up and down markets. Goldman Sachs recently created “strong balance sheet” and “week balance sheet” baskets of stocks with the former outperforming the latter.
The recent outbreak of the Wuhan Coronavirus is a topic that is at the forefront of all investors’ minds, particularly since information out of China is spotty and the numbers that are supplied by the Chinese government need to be met with high scrutiny. Many would wonder how the world’s second largest economy seemingly grinding to a halt would not cause a market sell off. The market reaction thus far has been relatively muted for several reasons: The first reason is the derivative effects of the virus that the market is currently pricing in. The market is confident that China will be able to relatively contain the virus before it becomes a full-on Global Pandemic. From what we know now, the mortality rate from Coronavirus is relatively low. Figure 1, located below, plots the Coronavirus mortality statistics against similar outbreaks. As this is being written, only two deaths have been...
One part of the financial industry that has eaten up a disproportionate amount of headlines in the last few years are IPOs and private equity. Seemingly every week a new, fast growing company makes its debut on the public markets with some having eye-popping share price movements in the market. It’s important to be aware of these companies and the private equity industry as a whole because they do have a ripple effect across the business landscape. A term that may be heard in tandem with IPOs or venture capital is “Unicorn”. A Unicorn is a private company that is valued at over $1 Billion. A common theme amongst most of these high flying “Unicorns” is that they are fueled by debt and low interest rates. Interest rates are near their historical lows with the ten year government bond yielding sub 2%. Historically, interest rates tend to mean...
Tariffs have been at the forefront of economic headlines over the past year. If the market headlines do not include “United States Threatens to Impose New Tariffs” then it most likely includes “Markets rise on the hope of a Trade Deal”. This has been the never ending cycle for the last year. On May 10th, 2019 the Trump Administration announced that a 25% tariff would be placed on an additional $250 Billion worth of Chinese goods being imported to the US. This tariff levying once again shocked markets and sent them trading lower the following week. Although we follow these developments daily it is important to understand the impact that this political risk has on your investments. Measuring The Effects Of The Trade War Trade tensions, specifically tariffs, affect the economy and market in a number of different ways. Certain aspects of a ‘Trade War’ are relatively easy to quantify...
The S&P 500 telecommunication sector is getting a new look. For years, the telecom sector has been one of the smallest sectors in the S&P and dominated by two names; Verizon and AT&T. This fall, the telecom sector will be replaced with a new sector labeled as the ‘Communication Services Sector’. As the name implies, the new sector will be more geared towards the way that media is now delivered to customers such as streaming and downloads. Morgan Stanley Capital International, typically abbreviated MSCI, summarized the new sector on their website: “The last several years have seen an evolution in the way we communicate and access entertainment content and other information. This evolution is a result of integration between telecommunications, media, and internet companies. Companies have further moved in this direction by consolidating through mergers and acquisitions and many now offer bundled services such as cable, internet services, and telephone...