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April 30th: Weathering the Coronavirus Market Downturn Thumbnail

April 30th: Weathering the Coronavirus Market Downturn

In this call recording, Simon Quick CIO, Christopher Moore, Head of Investments, Wayne Yi, and Head of Financial Planning, Bill Lalor, discuss the market downturn in light of the coronavirus. As referenced during the call, please be sure to read our first quarter market newsletter! Please feel free to reach out to us with any additional questions.


The below transcript was produced using a transcription software and may not be verbatim. Please refer to the video recording for exact phrasing or increased clarity.

Darcy O'Brien: [00:00:00] Good afternoon. And thank you for joining us for today's live call weathering the coronavirus market downturn. My name is Darcy O'Brien and I am the chief marketing officer at Simon Quick, and I will be moderating today's discussion. I would like to personally, thank you for joining us on the call today. I would also like to mention that there is a visual component to this call.

So, if you have access to a screen, go ahead and click on the Zoom link, which will allow you to see my video and some slides with useful information. If you can believe it. This is the eighth live call we have hosted since the outset of the coronavirus. While initially our hope was to ease investor concerns.

When the market was in what appeared to be a freefall. More recently markets have remained volatile, but with some significant rallies. Today we are bringing our specialists together here to help you capitalize on the recent changes in global financial markets. I continue to be impressed by the thoughtful and diverse questions we have received on these calls.

So please do keep them coming. Your input is what makes these discussions so interesting. I would also like to announce that our first quarter market newsletter written by Wayne Yi will be posted to our website today. I got a sneak peek of it yesterday and it provides a great overview of what is occurred in markets during the quarter with a touch of Wayne signature sense of humor, which we have all come to appreciate.

It is a great read and it will be circulated over email tomorrow alongside a recording of today's call. Please note the questions can be submitted through the Q and A function on Zoom. You may also submit questions by emailing me directly at dobrien@simonquickadvisors.com. Now, before I dive into the questions, please note the following disclaimers.

This presentation is for information and discussion purposes only. Please remember that past performance may not be indicative of future results. And there is no guarantee that the concepts and ideas discussed during the presentation will be profitable or proved successful. Now let us introduce our panelists.

Today, we have with us, our chief investment officer and managing partner, Chris Moore.

Chris Moore: [00:02:20] Thanks, Darcy. Happy to be here.

Darcy O'Brien: [00:02:22] Hi Chris. We also have our head of investment research, Wayne Yi

Wayne Yi: [00:02:27] Hi Darcy.

Darcy O'Brien: [00:02:29] And lastly, we have our head of financial planning, Bill Lalor.

Bill Lalor: [00:02:34] Thanks Darcy.

Darcy O'Brien: [00:02:36] So I am going to start with the questions we have received over email, and then we will dive into the queue and respond to questions in the order in which they were received.

First question comes in from Suresh and it has two parts. How is the fed going to be able to manage the exploding balance sheet and will this lead to inflation?

Chris Moore: [00:02:57] I can start with that one. Yeah, believe it or not, before the global financial crisis of 2008, the fed only had about $850 billion on its balance sheet. That quickly exploded as the fed responded to the crisis in 2008. To the point where it peaked around, call it, four and a half trillion dollars and started trending downward through September of last year. And then in the last six months, with really the coronavirus being the big impetus for recent fed action, the balance sheet is now ballooned to over six and a half trillion dollars. And it is expected to continue to increase as the fed supports the economy through quantitative easing and what will likely be a challenging period for the economy over the next quarter or two.

The question about how does the fed manage that? How does the fed unwind it? It is a really good one and one that we were, grappling with post 2008. You know, the question was how long are rates going to stay low? How is the fed ever going to get out of this? There's this overhang and the truth is there was quite a bit of concern even in post 2008, that we would see inflation spike, to potentially severe levels and the potential impact that that it would have on, you know, fixed income markets and just the consumer overall.

As it would likely lead to higher interest rates. The truth is we never really experienced much inflation after 2008 and the ballooning fed balance sheet. And I think it was 2017 or 2018 maybe where, we had kind of the strongest year post 2008, for GDP growth. And even in that scenario, it was kind of 3-3.5%. It was nothing to be super excited about by any means. That ultimately led to, you know, fed tightening. But it was never at a kind of an extreme level. So as we think about coming out of this crisis and how the fed is going to manage, this much bigger balance sheet, my hope, our hope, is that the comments from chairman Powell and Dallas said president Robert Kaplan, I've seen it from both of them.

I am sure there are other officials that have mentioned it too, but their plan is to be more aggressive at unwinding the balance sheet posts this crisis than they were post the 2008 crisis. I say that because they both said once the economy starts to rebound, we want to get

back to where we were or closer to where we were as far as interest rate policy and, quantitative easing goes.

So, the hope is that if we have kind of a rebound in the latter half of this year and early next year of economic growth, as the economy starts to function more normally, not saying it will be functioning as normally as it was in January or February of this year, but certainly more normally than today.

The hope is that, you know, interest rates will slowly start to creep back up. And, the fed balance sheet will slowly start to unwind as those securities are sold back into markets. In 2008, that process took a long time for that process to unwind the fed was very slow to increase rates again.

And really did not start unwinding the balance sheet until just the last couple of years. So, the hope is that this time around, maybe they learned from the post 2008 crisis that they need to be quicker in getting a monetary policy, moving back to where it should be.

Darcy O'Brien: [00:07:32] Thanks Chris. And the follow up question there is, assuming that the fed does the right thing and unwinds the stimulus over time, starting in 12 to 18 months.

What steps, if any, would your team take or recommend that investors take to better position our portfolios as the rates normalize and the stimulus is unwelcomed.

Chris Moore: [00:07:54] Sure. The biggest impact will likely be in the bond market because as rates increase, that is a negative for bonds, especially kind of longer dated bonds. As we think about that, we would likely be heavily tilted towards shorter duration, fixed income within our client portfolios. That would actually benefit from the shorter end of the curve, increasing as rates moved higher.

As it relates to kind of equities, it would certainly be dependent on the rate at which the fed is increasing rates. Again, if it's slow and steady and the economy is healthy and fundamentals are relatively sound in Corporate America, owning equities would still be a sound decision and a prudent way to generate returns because it's likely the fed is increasing rates because the fed feels that the economy can support a higher interest rate environment.

If that is generally the case, it means that corporate America is doing well enough, such that, equities would be a good investment for client portfolios. I think where we would be concerned is, you know, which companies in particular or sectors or industries or regions, would have a harder time managing through a higher interest rate environment.

And that is where we would be thoughtful about client portfolio exposure within their equity allocation.

Darcy O'Brien: [00:09:51] Thank you, Chris. The next question comes in from Paul. With U.S. rates near zero, which are now less attractive compared to other sovereign nations. Are we concerned that there will be an outflow of foreign investment in U.S. treasuries? And if so, how might that impact the strength of the dollar?

Wayne Yi: [00:10:10] This is Wayne. I will tackle that one. I would say globally, there has been a global synchronized effort to ease from a monetary perspective into stimulate different fiscal perspective, kind of across the board, whether it is the U.S., Asia, or Europe. They may be different in certain ways, but they are very similar cause they're just making sure that they could pump money into the system where possible, as well as getting money into their constituents so that the recession, driven by, kind of state home mandates is dampened.

Having said that, yeah, the U.S. fed funds being now targeted is zero to 25 basis point range.

It is low, but that is still a better position than lots of other economies and countries. And, just kind of thinking about where the U.S. versus other kind of developed international markets are. Taking a 10 year, for example. The U.S. is still trading wide of Japan, of UK, France, Germany, there is many countries in Europe that we can still find a negative yielding out there.

So just from that perspective, the U.S is still attractive from a relative perspective. Now China is more expensive, or China is yielding more, but China has historically yielded more as well. So, kind of recognizing that, we would say that the U.S. is still attractive from a nominal basis.

And also, this goes across the board where capital continued to flow into higher quality assets, regardless of where it's from, in the sense that. just looking at equities, the U.S. has been expensive from a multiple basis. When you look at U.S. stocks versus European stocks or even emerging market stocks, the U.S. market has done incredibly well through 2019.

So I think just the fact that it's steeper or less attractive doesn't necessarily mean that it's going to move away from the U.S. Obviously, if I were to look for a yield and enhance return opportunities wherever they can find it. But I think there still is a general defensive posture across investors.

Whether that is your individual investor or your pensions looking for safety and security in the midst of this time period and looking forward to protecting assets currently, versus trying to buy into riskier assets. So that is a part of the U.S. market and if I think about the component about the dollar, I mean, dollar has actually been stronger, right?

We use the DXY as a proxy to the dollar strength and it has been stronger. It has been stronger through 2019 and currently stronger. And I think it just goes back to where the safety and security is. Where the U.S. is just more diversified from an economy, from the breadth and depth of the economy.

And I think not having to be overly reliant on trade and being able to be more insular and being able to manage in that sort of biosphere. I think works pretty well from a sustainability perspective. So, you have seen strengthened the dollar and all this can change as everyone try to repress it in, kind of debt balances. But I would say the quality trade has still been, domestic versus international, at least in the current state.

Darcy O'Brien: [00:14:00] Thank you, Wayne. I am going to jump to our next question, which comes in from Al. The equities part of the market has, despite all of the volatility made a significant recovery through April, however, other types of assets, bonds and alternatives also were hurt in the first quarter.

But I wonder if on a macro basis, if we can expect that bonds and other alternative assets to have had a recovery in April, in essence, an update to Wayne's soon to be published, Q1 commentary letter.

Wayne Yi: [00:14:36] Yeah, I guess I am being called out on it. I should tackle that one, But yeah, it is an interesting market, right?

You look at the S&P and the S&P I mean, barring today, just kind of looking through yesterday, we are up almost 14% on the month. Getting back to a kind of recovering everything from the March sell off. Now obviously, we are still off the peak, but, when you look at the P, we have definitely made a lot of headway.

Now that is just the S&P looking at the largest companies and looking at a growth tilted. Now everyone talks about the things and the things have performed well, generally. I just saw Amazon numbers coming in, it looks like it is pretty disappointing from that perspective, but the overall, there's still been a good kind of foundation and support for technology and the larger participants within that technology sector.

So when you step away from the S&P or NASDAQ, would you even kind of expresses that to a more dramatic effect, the rest of the equity markets are softer and continue to be more sickly bias and exhibit greater volatility and are more meaningfully off their peaks.

And whether that's like the value comp component, or if you look at the S&P from an equal weighted perspective, or if you look at a small and mid-caps, like there's still a significant pressure from that perspective. So how we read into that is, that the market is paying up or hiding in higher quality, more secularly driven industries, where you can be a little bit more protective.

Maybe you do not have the best upside if the market's rip higher or if the economy kind of re accelerates suddenly. But it is a much more defensible position versus if you are in an industrial business manufacturing or smaller business, that just did not have the benefits of a of deep balance sheets or sources over access or access to capital.

So that is where you see pressure. Once again, you see pressure in European international in emerging markets equities as well. And then when you play that to the other parts of the capital structure. High yield has rebounded a little bit. Obviously, the high-quality investment grade and muni sectors have rebounded and meaningfully as well but have not fully rebounded.

And I think a lot of that is because there still is uncertainty. There still is some technical pressure around it where obviously muni’s had gotten really, really cheap, partially because of illiquidity and technical effects. But, but now that we've kind of normalize that a little bit, we are still on the wider end.

So, I think there's still more room to run from a credit perspective. And if our margins have been reaching out and talking to our clients, our clients are definitely been hearing the pitch around the dislocation opportunity, whether it's in triple-A rated securitized paper or in corporate restructuring.

There's significant opportunity out there today where we get it. March was painful. First quarter was painful, but this is the opportunity that is now in front of us where yes, you need to maintain some equity exposure, but there is a lot to do now. There's a lot of conviction opportunities to invest in. Let us call it the credit part portion of the market because it is more institutionally held.

Things do not snap back as quickly. It is hard for retail investors to buy a triple-A securitization, of a credit card receivable versus owning visa or MasterCard or owning an outright stock. So, I think because of that, there is a longer standing enrich opportunity within the credit markets let us call it.

That would also kind of play into the alternative side where merger, arbitrage, your traditional retail investors wouldn't be able to do that versus an institutional nature that can kind of parlay long ideas against short ideas, where it just creates more opportunity versus just hoping that markets rally from here.

Darcy O'Brien: [00:18:53] Thank you, Wayne. Sorry. I jumped in there a little too soon. Our next question comes in from Howard with the McConnell Trump tweets aimed at blue States. What will happen with airline municipal bonds and other local muni’s below the state level? And the second part of that says something about how the fed program would work.

So, I think what Howard's getting at is how they would be impacted by that program.

Wayne Yi: [00:19:20] Yeah. Just touching super superficial on the muni market. Everyone looks towards the muni market as the tax efficient way of getting treasury, like exposure and in normal markets that is relatively consistent.

Obviously, there should be some discounts to treasuries, but it is something that trades in that high-quality investment grade universe. Now that is at a very high-level kind of broad construct, but within municipals, there is risk. There are high yield issuances. There are more revenue driven businesses versus general obligation businesses and even hospitals. Hospitals and colleges, they all underwrite or put out bonds related to their own obligation.

So, there are risks across the municipal space. I would say where we tend to lean into is in more defensible, higher quality. We are willing to give up some return in munis to make sure that we are more defensible, protected assets. So, definitely in this transition, through March, transportation related, whether its airlines, toll road related, ferry related, or what have you, have come under pressure. I do not think it is fully clear, fully addressed, on how some of that will be solved. Now, at the economic recovery, we do see that come back pretty quickly in the second half of the year. It will be okay. We will make it through.

It is more a situation where the recovery is slower. Ridership is lower. There will need to be some renegotiations and restructuring there and outright default. I think those are big and a little bit more idiosyncratic and kind of specific to certain obligors, as opposed to a broad, kind of transport-based comment.

But that is where there is risk and that's where we have been (“we” meaning our online mentors) have been shying away from. But we are seeing the state continue to try to move through and push capital further down municipalities, apart from just the state level or the city level, but some of the underlying services where it is necessary and needed.

And you have also seen some of the pushback on the McConnell from some of his comments on his kind of rights around that, but we will continue to see headlines. We try to shy away from being too cute on our muni exposure to extract just the few basis points of additional return.

Darcy O'Brien: [00:22:11] Thank you, Wayne. This one comes in from Jones.

Unemployment has surged to 30 million Americans. What sort of drag do we expect this to have on the economy for the remainder of 2020?

Chris Moore: [00:22:28] I can take that one. Yeah, look, I think unemployment is certainly front and center right now. As we see the numbers just surging. You know, we are now the numbers of folks filing for an unemployment claims have now far exceeded all of the jobs created post the 2008 financial crisis. So clearly a significant number of individuals filing for unemployment.

And I would say one thing as it relates to that, in many cases, businesses had zero revenue coming in because of the shutdown and were more or less telling their employees, go file for unemployment, the government just expanded coverage and weekly benefits, you will make more through the government program than you will through working for me.

And I was speaking to a business owner friend of mine just recently. And he even said that some of the staff in his hotel are making more on unemployment right now than if they, you know, were to come back and not have the kind of the same level of business that they had previously. So, a lot of business owners were quick to lay off people and allow them to file for unemployment, so they would have at least some income coming in the door during this period.

As some states are starting to reopen, we will likely see, as we have seen in the last couple of weeks, the number of claims filed each week has, well, the numbers are still quite large. They are not as bad as they were in kind three weeks ago, when we first saw, the big number they have since trended down. But as states start to ramp up again, a lot of businesses will likely re-hire the folks that were laid off during this period. You know, it will likely be a long time before we get back to a three and a half percent unemployment rate.

But some sectors of the economy will have a much harder time than others. As you know, certain industries are going to be impacted a whole lot more. Whether it is a hotel industry or restaurants or travel, you know, those industries will likely see unemployment rates much higher than other businesses that are maybe less impacted.

So, I think how is the economy going to digest this? It is going to be a painful second quarter for GDP, without a doubt. And third quarter, I have seen kind of a wide, wide range of estimates. I think it will largely be dependent on how long it will take for each state to kind of get ramped up based on their own particular plans. But you know the stimulus and the low interest rate environment will help the economy, whether a very high unemployment rate in the short term. The consumer spending retail sales are down significantly.

That is likely to be the case until people get back to work. So as we thought about the potential impact, certainly have a much higher unemployment rate on the economy we've maintained that our portfolios be less exposed to the more economically sensitive areas within the market and within the world because there are certainly plenty of unknowns.

There is a lot of uncertainty ahead of us and we want to be prudent as we consider that.

Darcy O'Brien: [00:26:48] Thank you, Chris. All right. So, I am going to move on to our next question in the queue, which comes from Cora. As of the close yesterday, markets were up, to what do we attribute this rally? And do we think it is sustainable?

Wayne Yi: [00:27:04] I will touch on a few of those points. There is a lot of different moving pieces here. Because the selloff was driven by uncertainty exacerbated by illiquidity, in that uncertainty being, where does the economy head? Where do we trough? And what is the potential recovery on the economy and how our corporates deal with that?

So, I would say really like from that March sell off to the trough was just filled with uncertainty with expanding illiquidity, that caused people day to day, just panic. Having said that, the rationale, or the reason why the market's been coming back as strong as it has is because there has just been more information out there. In the sense of, we're now in a point of kind of what is the phasing in of reopening the economy and what does that look like and how will businesses get back to work and even just kind of anecdotally.

Restaurants are kind of figuring it out, right? We've had restaurants in the city that were shut down for a few weeks, but have now figured out how to deliver, do take out, maintain social distancing, but still get food out the door and money back into their pockets. And obviously it is not to the same degree that they are making pre-shut down, but they are adapting.

And that adaptation, we expect that to continue to grow and drive innovation and future growth on top of that. The Gilliad drug, right? I cannot even pronounce the actual name of the drug, but just, the efficacy of that drug and that being rolled out and potentially being a viable option in addition to increase in testing.

And in addition to the cresting of infections and the decline of hospitalizations and deaths, all this, there is not one key element that is driving all of it. Now, the bigger question is: What does that mean for the economy? Now, obviously the economy will continue to remain under pressure for a while because unemployment doesn't just snap back the same way because if there's less hotel or less travel or less dining out in restaurants, it will just kind of take a big impact on the service industry.

So that will be impactful to the downside. But we are kind of stabilizing and kind of normalizing and figuring out a new way of kind of operating in this new dynamic with the potential for a drug and a solution down the line. And that is what has really been driving some of the positive sentiment, definitely on the large cap, S&P 500 space.

But you have seen a similar kind of move on smaller caps and other equity indices that have been impacted pretty dramatically. So, it is not a single thing, right? Even the fiscal part, the policy and the monetary policy, everyone got the monetary program, but the bazooka or the multiple bazooka of monetary policy and kind of GFC playbooks that have been opened up and implemented in addition to multiple rounds of fiscal stimulus, right.

Cares One, Cares Two, additional kind of programs or support municipals as well as small businesses. All this matter and are supportive of the economy to get it out, to trough it and to cause it to kind of recover. So those are kind of factors that drive it. Now, is it price in the appropriate way? I mean, that's kind of the bigger question, we don't want to be making a short term calls on the back of it, but we do think over the long term that it will be positive and impactful to equities across the risk spectrum.

As well as the long-term sustainability of credit risk and drive the restructuring opportunity down the line as well. So, those are all a lot of different factors that have been driving this rally, you know, supported by improved investor sentiment.

Darcy O'Brien: [00:31:18] Thank you, Wayne. What are the new IRA rules that we should be aware of?

Bill Lalor: [00:31:25] You know, IRA account rules have been impacted by some recent legislation that was passed. You know, first in December of last year, the Secure Act was passed, and that changed some of the rules governing IRAs, some in the positive side, some of the negative side. On the positive side, the beginning age for required minimum distributions, RMDs, has been raised from 70 and a half to 72, for individuals turning 70 half this year and later.

That's great, you can let the money continue to go and these tax advantage accounts. Also, now individuals who are working past age 70 can make tax deductible contributions to their IRA accounts. Again, a benefit, however, on the negative side, they eliminated the stretch IRA. When an IRA is inherited, a spouse can always treat it as their own.

However, a non-spousal beneficiary, which is usually a younger, next generation has the ability to stretch their payments out over the lifetime and this was a huge benefit that was taken away. And this act implemented a new 10 year rule for non-spousal beneficiaries and basically this 10 year rule requires that all assets to be distributed out of the account, no later than December 31st of the year on the 10th anniversary of the owner's death.

One thing that was important to note that this rule does not require any kind of periodic or annual distribution, but the balance could be less than the account until the very last day of the 10-year period. So there's a lot of planning that needs to be done around that because for a beneficiaries who inherited these types of IRA accounts, maybe even larger ones, this can lead to some high income when distributions are made, which can have some negative impacts.

You know, if it is a college age beneficiary, the income is going to be taken into account when they apply for financial aid. There are some exceptions to the 10-year rule, but they tend to be fairly limited.

Also, with regards to your estate plan, if you had a trust that was set up to receive the IRA, if it is part of your estate plan, these new distribution rules could cause some issues. So, it is probably worth having a conversation with your teeny attorney. Also, this year as part of the stimulus, there was the Cares Act, that also impacted IRAs as well, but more on a temporary basis.

The biggest benefit is the Cares Act has waived 2020 required minimum distributions for all IRAs and inherited IRAs and also tax deferred accounts.

Like your 401k is your four and three B's and other similar retirement plans. This can be a pretty significant tax break for individuals who don't need these distributions to fund their lives. You know, it is great to let that money sit in the accounts for another year to rebound from this crisis and also to continue to grow. For taxpayers that turned 70 and a half last year and chose to delay their IRA into this year and take two on this year.

You can actually have both those RMDs waved this year so a nice benefit there as well.

You know, for some people who have actually already made their RMDs for this year. And, there is a 60-day window where you can actually undo any the RMDs made. However, this does not, it is not for inherited, it is only for traditional IRAs.

You know, because of a COVID-19 there was some things put in place for people impacted by it. IRA owners who were very adversely impacted by COVID-19 are eligible to take a tax favored distribution this year, above to a hundred thousand dollars. However, in order to qualify for this, you need to either you, your spouse or dependent being diagnosed, diagnosed with COVID and have suffered a financial consequence as a result. And if you qualify, they'll waive the 10% penalty, if you're under 59 and a half, and this distribution is still subject to taxes, but you can split the tax impact over three years and there's also a three year period where you can put the money back in the account and it's just considered a tax free roll over, not a contribution.

Now these changes to IRAs open up some interesting planning opportunities on the advisor side. We are working hard with our clients, to really make sure that they take advantage of them. Thanks Darcy.

Darcy O'Brien: [00:36:19] Thank you, Bill.

At this time, there are no remaining questions in the queue. I would like to thank everyone on the line for taking some time out of their day to participate in today's call. Thank you, Chris.

Chris Moore: [00:36:34] My pleasure, Darcy. Thanks.

Darcy O'Brien: [00:36:36] And thank you, Wayne.

Wayne Yi: [00:36:38] Thanks Darcy.

Darcy O'Brien: [00:36:38] And thank you, Bill.

Bill Lalor: [00:36:42] Thanks Darcy.

Darcy O'Brien: [00:36:44] If you have any additional questions that we were not able to address during the call, please do not hesitate to send them to me at dobrien@simonquickadvisors.com. We would be happy to address them offline.

Thanks again for joining us and have a great evening.


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