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Is it too late to get invested?

The S&P 500 hit a new record every day this week. Can you still join the party?

Before we begin, we wanted to express that our thoughts are with all those impacted by Hurricane Laura, which made landfall on the Gulf coast. Affecting parts of Louisiana and Texas, it’s the most powerful storm to hit the area since the 1850s. The storm has weakened slightly, but remains dangerous. We encourage all our readers to heed officials’ warnings and stay safe.

Markets in review

Record highs and a Fed shakeup

The S&P 500 has climbed another +2.6% so far this week, clocking several new all-time highs—there have now been 6 new highs since the start of the crisis and 19 since the start of the year. Sure, we’ve seen other years with more all-time highs, but that’s not usually the case for years that see a recession:

On a sector level, we saw more #gains for tech. Salesforce experienced its largest single day gain ever following its blowout Q2 earnings results (+26% on Wednesday) , Netflix saw its biggest single day gain in 3 years and rose to new highs (+11.6% on Wednesday), and Facebook popped as it announced its new Shop feature (an e-commerce platform for small and mid-sized businesses, +8.2% on Wednesday). Microsoft (+6.4% on the week), Amazon (+3.5% on the week), and Apple (+0.5% on the week) all played their part in helping lift the broad index higher this week, too. Outside the U.S., Chinese onshore and European stocks continued their rally. However, Japan’s TOPIX wavered, as word came that PM Shinzo Abe will resign due to health reasons.

The U.S. dollar continued its decline, and bond markets made major moves. The yield curve steepened, with 10-year Treasury yields rising over 10bps to 0.76% and 30-year yields rising close to 20bps to 1.53%—both the highest since June. Why the big move? Well…

The biggest news of the week came with Fed Chairman Powell’s address at the (virtual) Jackson Hole Symposium—an annual meeting where central bankers, finance ministers, market participants, and the like get together to talk about policy (sounds fun, right?). This year’s conference was about eventful as they get, as Powell announced the Fed’s shaking up how it views its policy mandate. Here’s what you need to know:

  • First, the background: The Fed has long since had a dual mandate, striving to achieve 1) “maximum employment” (all Americans that want to work are gainfully employed) and 2) “price stability” (which up until now, meant a target inflation rate of 2%). Now for the changes:
  • Inflation will be allowed to heat up (but in a good way): The central bank is officially moving to a mandate that will seek inflation that averages 2% over time. The move is in response to inflation that’s been persistently reaaalllly low and below 2% (averaging about 1.4% since the policy was enacted in 2012), and the new approach will allow price pressures to overshoot after periods of weakness. But, if inflation runs too hot, the Fed stands ready to act. Why the change? Some inflation is good for the economy: more raises, more consumption, more profits. Also, low inflation puts downward pressure on rates, and when rates are too low, the Fed has less policy room to stave off an economic downturn.
  • The employment mandate will take a backseat: The Fed is going to focus on “shortfalls” rather than “deviations” from maximum employment. Human speak: the economic theory that higher employment generates higher inflation has broken down. In action, this means that policymakers will step in to lend support to the economy if unemployment is too high, but they won’t try to pump the breaks and hike rates if unemployment is too low. After all, a tight and robust labor market has failed to get inflation up and dancing—before the crisis, the unemployment rate was at a 50-year low at 3.5%...yet inflation remained well below target. As long as inflation is under control, the Fed is likely to push the limits on full employment (again, the central bank will be less inclined to hike rates when the unemployment rate falls), which has the added benefit of helping to close inequality gaps. 
  • What it all means for you: This is an evolution, not a revolution, of Fed policy ——the new approach and further commitment to 2% inflation has long been expected. However, it does confirm our view that low Fed policy rates are here to stay: even with the new policy, it’s unlikely inflation moves above 2% anytime soon. In broad strokes, this should be cheered by long-term investors. 

And, let’s remember what monetary policy is all about in the first place: incentivizing people to borrow money. Now is a great time to consider borrowing if you’re looking to purchase a big ticket item (like a new house or a boat). At the same time, the yield on cash is also likely to remain near zero; it’s all the more important to be thoughtful about how much you’re holding onto—and the opportunity cost of doing so. Bottom line: monetary policy is one of the most important things for investors to consider, and right now, the Fed is your friend.

It seems more and more good news is being priced into markets. But all the euphoria has investors wondering if now is a good time to put money to work. Should you still invest at all-time highs?


Is it worth investing at all-time highs?

The market has run hard and fast over the past five months, rising +56% since the March lows. For investors sitting on cash, that may produce nervousness about getting invested today (“All the gains have been gotten, and I missed the opportunity.”). If you fall in that camp, we have good news: past performance is no guarantee of future results, but history suggests that now may be just as good of a time as any to put cash to work in the market – especially if you’re investing for the long run.

Don’t believe us? Consider the facts gathered over the past 30+ years.  

If you invested in the S&P 500 on any random day since the start of 1988 and reinvested all dividends, your investment made money over the course of the next year 83% of the time. On average, your one year total return was +11.7%.

Now, what do those figures look like if we only consider investments on days when the S&P 500 closed at an all-time high? They’re actually better! Your investment made money over the course of the next year 88% of the time, and your average total return was +14.6%.

And if we look at cumulative total returns three or five years after the original investment, the takeaway is the same.

But what about the current risks? We’re still dealing with the COVID-19 crisis, the election poses uncertainty, and so on…

There are (and always will be) reasons to feel anxious about the outlook for markets. But we continue to emphasize the importance of looking at the bigger and longer-term picture.

The U.S. economy is currently in recovery mode, which historically bodes well for risk asset returns. Furthermore, don’t underestimate the power of Fed policy to support financial markets – as we mentioned above, we expect them to remain accommodative for the foreseeable future. And in terms of the election uncertainty, we discussed last week why we see potential for markets to continue to grind higher regardless of the outcome.  

Markets can have bad weeks, months, and years, but the value of investments in the S&P 500 has risen over time. It may be prudent to adjust portfolio allocations to lean more heavily into areas of the market that stand to benefit in certain environments, or pare back positions that have exposure to negative dynamics. Regardless, getting invested and staying invested is a simple step an individual can take towards growing their capital over time.


The bears are at it again

And, actually no, we aren’t talking about the stock market. It’s almost Fat Bear Week! Every year, Katmai National Park and Preserve in Alaska livestreams its wild bears, who’ve grown rather rotund ahead of their winter snooze. Soon, thousands of folks like you and me will vote on our favorite plump grizzlies, who’ve gotten primed for the season by eating as much salmon as they can. While voting hasn’t yet begun, fat bear enthusiasts are already teeming over a potential heavyweight champion—Katmai webcams just caught an adult male bear (numbered 747, for your reference) that’s grown so hefty he’s having trouble walking up the river bank! And there’s room to grow—the bears have about another month before the vote kicks off. Here’s to the good kind of fat! 


MADRID, SPAIN - 2018/12/27: A Brown bear seen waiting for food at Madrid zoo. The brown bear (Ursus arctos) is the largest terrestrial carnivore. In wildlife it is distributed across much of northern Eurasia and North America. It remains listed as a least concern species by the IUCN with a total population of approximately 200,000. (Photo by John Milner/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)


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All market and economic data as of August 2020 and sourced from Bloomberg, FactSet and Gavekal unless otherwise stated.

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