Market Commentary: Aiming for Amazing

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by Gayl Mileszko

1784 was another one of those years when nothing was normal. The Treaty of Paris with Great Britain was ratified, ending the American Revolutionary War.  New guidelines were being adopted for adding to the original 13 states. The New York Governor asked Congress for a declaration of war against Vermont. The first successful daily newspaper was published in Pennsylvania, and the bifocal spectacles needed by some to read it were invented by Benjamin Franklin. In Massachusetts, Governor John Hancock signed the charter for Leicester Academy, a private school initially funded by the town and its citizens, later supported for a time with state monies. Its purpose was to “promote true piety and virtue” along with the study of the English, Latin, Greek, and French languages, arithmetic and the art of speaking. Soon after its founding, the Academy broke some new ground by admitting young women. Among its earliest graduates was Eli Whitney and one of its most prominent buildings was a stop on the Underground Railroad.  Over the decades, the school moved, expanded and contracted several times, adapted to new laws making education compulsory and then prohibiting public funding of private schools, and trained cadets that served in the Union Army and World Wars I and II. The Academy eventually merged with Leicester Junior College in 1954 and with Becker Business College in 1977. Becker College, as it became known, features two campuses six miles apart in Leicester and Worcester, and offers 40 undergraduate degrees including veterinary science and e-sports management along with master’s degrees in nursing and mental health counseling. It has been the home of the state-designated Massachusetts Digital Games Institute and proudly features one of nation’s the top five video game design programs.

As with many small, private colleges, however, Becker has suffered from declining enrollment in recent years and in the 2020 Fall Semester the total fell to a low of 1,500 students. Several years of hundred thousand-dollar deficits were plugged with endowment funds that have rapidly declined to $5 million. College leadership tried mightily to bolster its finances by renegotiating contracts, selling assets, consolidating departments, cutting staff and salaries, and aggressively pursuing affiliations and mergers. But the Pandemic exacerbated the revenue loss and no alliances materialized. Despite $3.31 million from the Paycheck Protection Program, and $1.6 million of CARES Act funds, the state’s Department of Higher Education concluded in early March that the school’s financial situation was such that it was unlikely to make it through the next academic year. After a weekend of agonizing discussion, the school which has boasted its status as one of the 25 oldest academic institutions in the country, just announced on Monday that it would close in August and arrange for its students, all Becker “Hawks”, to transfer to one of 18 other local schools to complete their degrees.

The closings of longstanding schools and businesses — unimaginable just one year ago — continue to make headlines, although at a rate well below the terrifying forecasts of last Spring in large part due to the $5.2 trillion of federal stimulus that has propped up income for millions. The American “can-do” spirit is, however, never to be discounted. Despite many devastating losses, more than 4.4 million new businesses have been created in the past year according to the Census Bureau, a half million this past January alone. This is an extremely hopeful sign for those of us who still remain hesitant to take public transit, sit in a crowded stadium, attend a church service, wedding or college graduation, or open or expand a dream business whether it is a restaurant, barber shop, senior living facility, charter school, mask distributor, ionizer manufacturer, entertainment venue, residential and commercial building contractor, home care provider, or reliable news source.

We join the hundreds of millions thrilled with every new report of students returning to classrooms, workers returning to offices, drivers back on toll roads, fans back in arenas, shoppers returning to brick and mortar stores, travelers booking flights and hotel rooms, seniors and their families once again scouting best places for retirement and care. The first quarter of 2021 has come to an end and the country yearns for what some call a return to normal, with hopes fueled by the widespread COVID-19 vaccinations. But the Google searches for “normal” which spiked highest last April, ebbed then rose once more with the start of the new school year and again over Thanksgiving, have since fallen off.  With no disrespect to our veterans and the sacrifices that they and their families  have made in time of war, this Pandemic has cost our nation in dollar terms far more than World War II and it has a death toll now counting greater than that of WWII, Korea and Vietnam combined.  Our aspirations for having control over our lives once again have escalated but we are still unsure about how persistently vicious this coronavirus and its variants could be.  After 14 months of the unthinkable, we are adjusting to a new normal, perhaps and hopefully on its way to a becoming better one. As the poet Maya Angelou once so aptly put it, “If you are always trying to be normal, you will never know how amazing you can be.”

In Washington, where no day is ever normal, and the cherry blossoms have peaked early this year, intelligence agencies are scouring for details of the new 25-year, $400 billion China-Iran pact. Among other threats, our military is monitoring the three Russian nuclear submarines putting on a show in the Arctic. Immigration and border patrol agents are overwhelmed with the migrant surge on the Mexican border. Health officials are studying whether new vaccines or treatments will be needed to counteract new variants in countries with low vaccination rates, if booster shots will be required in four or six months, how much value to place in the recent World Health Organization study on the origins of Covid-19. Labor and Commerce officials are exploring the implications of various policies for mandating vaccinations for certain employees, for requiring proof of vaccinations for certain activities. Education officials are addressing the myriad of issues related to in-person versus virtual instruction. NASA is focused on the Mars rover searching for signs of past life and its potential for habitation.

On Wall Street, throughout this Pandemic and indeed for the past 13 years, most normal days have involved rallies for stock and bond investors. Many are being rattled by the prospect of inflation linked to federal stimulus that may exceed $8 trillion by the end of the year if another $3 trillion of major infrastructure proposals are adopted. In response, Treasury yields have risen alongside the belief that the Federal Reserve will step in to raise rates well in advance of the 2024 target reflected in its latest dot plots. As if we have not had enough of new entries in the U.S. record books, we have just seen one of the largest margin calls of all time. Archegos Capital Management is a family office that has been employing total return swaps to amass huge stakes in major companies without having to disclose them to regulators. Archegos (Greek for “one who leads the way”) has leveraged trading partnerships with major banks including Nomura Holdings Inc., Morgan Stanley, Deutsche Bank AG and Credit Suisse Group AG, all of whom have had to liquidate huge chunks of shares in block trades at many fire sale prices. The first quarter results of these banks are now being impacted to the tune of $5 to $10 billion.

In the wake of years-long risky high yield trading and huge IPO and SPAC investment by those in desperate search of positive real yield and returns, traditional risk management tools developed in Manhattan, London, Zurich and Tokyo appear no longer appear to prevail. With respect to risk to the global supply chain, last disrupted by the shutdowns in the airline industry, the world has truly been shaken by the sight of hundreds and hundreds of ships laden with cargo blocked from entry into the Suez Canal by just one beached container vessel, the Ever Given. In the context of data privacy, hackers have reduced and revealed the little that apparently remains.

At this writing, with two days to go until the close of the first quarter in the financial markets, stocks are up across board since the start of the year. The Dow is up over 8%, the S&P 500 more than 5%, the Nasdaq over 1% and the Russell 2000 well over 9%.  Oil prices at $61.56 have gained 27% while gold is down 9.6% to $1,713 per ounce and silver is down 6% to $24.75. Bitcoin has doubled in value to $57,610. In the bond markets, yields in short maturities have been stable: over the past three months, the 2-year Treasury has increased only 2 basis points to 0.14% while the tax-exempt AAA municipal general obligation bond yield has remained flat at 0.14%. The comparable Baa rated corporate bond yield has fallen 5 basis points to 1.73%. The 10-year and 30-year Treasury benchmark yields have, however, risen by more than 76 basis points to 1.70% and 2.40%, respectively. 10-year Baa corporate yields are up 61 basis points to 3.26%.  Municipals have outperformed their taxable counterparts by the most of any quarter since 2009, although intermediate and long-term yields have increased by more than 34 basis points since January: the 10-year AAA muni currently yields 1.10% and the 30-year yields 1.73%. Returns in the general municipal market are expected to be in the range of negative 0.3% for the quarter, while Treasuries will end the quarter down 4.2%. High yield municipal bond returns are among the fixed income leaders, with index returns in the range of 2.11% year-to-date.

Investor demand for tax-exempt securities has been magnified by tax chatter in Washington. The Biden Administration is proposing some of the largest tax increases since 1942 and this is enhancing the perceived value of munis, even at these still relatively low historic yields.  There are also several other favorable conditions prevailing for muni buyers. Investors have added $26.1 billion to muni bond funds and ETFs so far this year, reflecting retail demand for every available tax-advantaged dollar. History also shows that the muni market does well during the first 100 days of a Democratic president’s first 100 days in office. In addition, supply has been suppressed as state, local and nonprofit borrowers have awaited news of agreement on the extent of stimulus funds for more than six months. Now that federal funding has reduced the need for some deficit borrowing, volume could decline for several months to come.  On top of all this, the IRS has delayed the 2020 tax filing deadline to May, which forestalls the need for some of the usual seasonal sales for another month.

This is a week in which many around the world celebrate very precious holidays. We at HJ Sims wish you and your families happy and healthy celebrations. Your HJ Sims representatives look forward to sharing the best of these moments and, based upon your investment goals and sensible risk parameters, helping you to try and improve results you have come to see as normal in your portfolios. We appreciate all that you have endured and managed during this past year and stand alongside you as you look to move forward with your investment and borrowing plans.  We are dedicated to working for you and, as always, aim for amazing.

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Aging Redefined

How old "we feel" is changing our expectations about retirement

The world is preparing to welcome a new generational powerhouse in that of “seniors” and those considered of “retirement age.” A transition is occurring, establishing the largest projected population of retirees and senior citizens in human history. This trend can be attributed to various factors, including the reduced physical demands of many jobs today, advancements in healthcare, a greater focus on healthy living, and technological advances, which are expanding global lifespans and the median age of adults.

Dr. Joseph Coughlin, Director of the MIT AgeLab, (also keynote speaker of this year’s HJ Sims Annual Late Winter Conference), discusses the trends of aging and longevity. Drawing upon his extensive and varied experience in academia and advising global firms, Dr. Coughlin shares insight gained from his position as instructor in MIT’s Department of Urban Studies and Planning and Sloan School’s Advanced Management Program. Dr. Coughlin is also the author of The Longevity Economy: Inside the World’s Fastest Growing, Most Misunderstood Market.

 

Dr. Coughlin cites the leading indicators of the pattern of retirees and consequent implications for product and service providers in countries throughout the world.

 

  • In Germany: the country is recognizing the trending population of older adults and creating an anti-aging beer
  • In Japan: the sale of adult diapers has surpassed those sold for infants
  • In the U.S.: an adult turns the age of 75 every seven seconds and 13% of all online dating services are being utilized by persons aged 65+ and older

With the population aging as whole, in the U.S., the baby boomers will redefine the standards of retirement. These standards are being driven by educated consumers and corporations recognizing the demand of this growing population with expectations and wants that differ markedly from prior generations. If combined into an aggregate economy, the “aging population” would create the world’s third largest driver of global spending. Furthermore, adults above the age of sixty have the highest concentration of wealth in the world, and are living longer now.

 

Not only are adults living longer, they are staying active. A growing majority of these aging adults are the baby boomers who grew up in a counter-culture era soaked in rebellion and quasi-revolution. Dr. Coughlin amusingly quotes the musician Jimmy Buffet describing baby boomers as, “the people our parents warned us about.” This “warning” is being increasingly heeded by consumers and producers. The stereotypical parent of a baby boomer was polite, hardworking, patient and easily appeased, explains Dr. Coughlin. These generational qualities helped shape many of the current products and services for seniors.

 

For context, Dr. Coughlin draws a parallel to product offerings, between the two age groups, using coffee, as an example. The current population in their mid-70’s and older most likely had two options for coffee growing-up: decaffeinated and caffeinated. The younger generation has experienced a multitude of options from which to choose: frappuccinos, lattes, espressos and even white chocolate caramel macchiatos served hot, warm, chilled and iced. “They (baby boomers] are creating a new generational gap, a gap of expectations,” exclaims Dr. Coughlin. That gap is what will drive innovation and pave the way for what Coughlin defines as the Longevity Economy.

 

Dr. Coughlin notes that, in fact, even the word “retirement” has changed meaning throughout time. Originated as a word to describe the stage when a person ran out of “vital life” and ability to perform physical labor, retirement meant one could no longer function as a member of the working economy and likely would result in a person falling victim to poverty. The modern definition of retirement could not be further from its root of origin. Today, people will live almost one third of their adult lives as retirees. With this extended period of time, Dr. Coughlin characterizes retirement as having four phases:

 

  • Ambiguity: Should one keep working or not?
  • Big Decisions: Does one downsize, move or travel?
  • Complexity: Should decisions like housing, healthcare, etc. be  managed by a third party?
  • End of life: When does one begin preparing for the final chapter of life?

As it relates to the first three phases, observed trends indicate that when aging or retired baby boomers move-out of their current homes, they are often down-sizing into smaller townhomes or apartments in the community-at-large or in “active adult” communities. A meaningful component is also relocating, whether to warmer/more hospitable climates, locales that offer amenities of interest and to be closer to children/grandchildren, which may include smaller communal towns throughout the country.

 

A key desire among retirees is for a sense of community. This latter observation is coupled with the fact that advancing technology enables aging adults to remain in their homes longer. Dr. Coughlin cites numerous technologies; for example, utensils that indicate nutritional value of the food people consume, mirrors that can measure blood pressure, and, even a toilet that can gauge nutrient deficiencies. All of these tools possess the capability to upload information to a healthcare database for use by a product/services provider. Brands like Amazon, Walgreens, Best Buy and Walmart are developing in-home platforms for aging seniors that will likely enable adults to remain in their current homes for a longer period of time.

 

To conclude, the experience of retirement, like the approaching baby boomers, will not conform to the past. The notion of retirement or aging, as we have known it, has taken on a new definition with today’s more active and demanding adult consumer.

 

On your own terms

At HJ Sims, we recognize that retirement is neither traditional, nor is it dictated by a calendar or specific age – it’s a mindset, a second-act and an opportunity for a new journey. You are more interested in pursuing passions and creating a lifestyle to match your mindset. This is about your personal growth, identity, freedom and flexibility. Whether your investment goal is to save for milestones or retirement, our wealth experts take our entirement® approach, looking at your entire wealth picture, along with your lifestyle goals and needs. We work tirelessly to construct a portfolio that helps to enrich your life and the lives of your family members for years to come.

 

It’s your adventure: Planning for your journey should be exciting, freeing and empowering. Contact an HJ Sims’ Financial Professional today.  

Market Commentary: Galloping in on a White Horse

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by Gayl Mileszko

It is said that the difference between a good lawyer and a bad lawyer is that a bad lawyer can let a case drag out for several years while a good lawyer can make it last even longer. This is just one of the dozens of jokes we tell about attorneys. But it is no laughing matter when we have been hurt or wronged and need to hire the best legal mind to represent us. In the wake of the Pandemic, hundreds and hundreds of claims have been filed in state and federal courts against airlines, cruise lines, fitness chains, hospitals, colleges, insurers, and nursing homes, among others, challenging decisions made by companies, institutions and government officials during the crisis. These cases reflect much of the devastation, loss, and hardship suffered by individuals, families, employees, patients, residents, citizens, and consumers. They remind us of the steep economic toll that the coronavirus has taken, and that it is still rising.

Hunton Andrews Kurth is just one firm tracking cases and complaints related to the Pandemic. At last count, there were 9,521 in the U.S. Some ask for corrective actions, others seek monetary damages. There are family members who accuse senior care facility managers of failing to protect their residents and public health departments for failing to properly monitor the facilities they regulate. There are nurses suing the hospitals, cashiers suing grocers, ticket takers suing railways where they work for failing to provide proper protective equipment. Concert-goers and frequent flyers and cruisers are seeking cash refunds, students want tuition refunds, prisoners are seeking release, laid off workers are chasing unpaid wages, hospitals are suing patients for outstanding medical debt, restaurants are trying to have their business interruption insurance claims paid. Landlords, wedding reception venues and others are testing force majeure and other legal concepts alongside workplace class actions on compensation and discrimination. No doubt new standards if not precedents will be set in the months, perhaps years, to come.

To forestall waves of action, a number of states have imposed various immunity measures for certain health care providers. Discussion of liability shields or protections for businesses has been underway in Washington for the first time since Y2K. Financial markets have been provided with a form of loss prevention shield for more than a dozen years now. The Federal Reserve has stepped in to protect, if not sustain, and propel markets in every way imaginable with dozens of heretofore unheard-of programs. Starting with tools first brought out in 2008 and new ones devised within days of the 2020 Pandemic’s declaration, the Fed has shielded the so-called free market from itself and kept the global markets afloat as well. Since March of 2009, there has been intermittent volatility, sometimes very pronounced, but the Dow is up 330 percent, the S&P 500 is up 394 percent, the Russell 200 has gained 436 percent, and the Nasdaq has gained 436 percent. Gold prices are up 89% to $1,740, and silver prices have doubled to $25.73. The 2-year Treasury yield has fallen 82% to 0.14%. The 10-year is down 37% to 1.69% and the 30-year has fallen 32% to 2.39%. The 10-year Baa corporate bond yield has dropped 409 basis points to 3.25%. In the tax-exempt market. The 2-year AAA general obligation bond benchmark yield has fallen more than 80% to 0.19%. The 10- and 30-year yields are down 63% to 1.16% and 1.79%, respectively.

This week, the Fed chair and Secretary of the Treasury appear together before the House Financial Services Committee and Senate Banking Committee to discuss the government’s response to the Pandemic plus the fear du jour – inflation – and explain why the Treasury and central bank have to keep galloping in on a white horse to save markets that were meant to be driven by supply and demand, not controlled by central authorities. Our economy is widely expected to surge in the next few months as a result of the nation’s extraordinary vaccination campaign and the multi-trillions of federal stimulus funds. Inflation, as calculated by the PCE (personal consumption expenditures) index will be 2.4% at the end of 2021 according to the Fed’s median forecast. But the Administration is planning another package of relief that could add another $3 trillion to the deficit. There could be some offsetting tax hikes proposed simultaneously or separately. Markets have suddenly turned aflutter over the prospect of big jumps in consumer prices, China’s new posture, the Fed’s decision to end regulatory capital relief for banks, and the resiliency of a Treasury market which will see $183 billion of new sales this week alone.

Municipal bonds have reacted with somewhat of a yawn to most of the goings on in Treasuries and the stock market. The Fed’s plan to keep short term rates as low as possible until 2023 and continue buying $120 billion of corporate and mortgage-backed bonds every month came as no surprise to the tax-exempt market, which has been fueled by all the Democratic leadership talk of tax increases, continued inflows into bond funds and ETFs, and light supply. High yield issuance, the center of most demand, has been paltry. Last week, buyers scooped up $1.25 billion of State of Illinois general obligation bonds at the lowest end of the investment grade scale at Baa3/BBB-/BBB-. The huge demand for bonds from the Land of Lincoln elevated prices to the point that buyers could only register a 2.75% maximum yield which came on term maturities in 2046. Among other higher yielding new issues, the Government of Guam sold $58 million of Ba1 rated refunding bonds due in 2040 with a 2.66% yield. Brooks Academies of Texas borrowed $42.9 million through the Arlington Higher Education Finance Corporation, including non-rated 2051 term bonds priced with a 5% coupon to yield 4.20%; Royal School System came 3 days earlier with a $9.9 million deal due in 2051 with a 6% yield. Oak Creek Charter School of Bonita Springs in Florida sold $17.8 million of non-rated revenue bonds structured with a 2055 term maturity that priced at par to yield 5.125%. As always, we encourage you to contact your HJ Sims representative for our latest views on pricing and our secondary market offerings.

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Is Your Organization Poised for Growth

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To grow or not to grow is a familiar topic of conversation heard around boardroom tables, at conference sessions, and from business pundits. HJ Sims recently surveyed LeadingAge LifePlan Community (LPC) members to uncover the motivation behind member organizations’ own growth initiatives and reveal the potential barriers impeding growth.

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If I Could Do It Over: The Senior Living Community Sentiment Reports

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Knowing what we know now after 10 months of living with the pandemic, if we now could magically blink our way back to February, what would we have changed about where we live and work? Who would we want to have closest to us for peace of mind and for help when needed? What items would we have procured ahead of time to make our homes more comfortable and secure? How differently would we have structured our days and finances to better cope with the long, uncertain period ahead?

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