Navigating the Changing Landscape of Income Generation: Bonds vs. Stocks

Investors can earn income in one of two primary ways – dividends paid on stocks or interest paid on bonds. While both generate income, stocks and bonds have remarkably different risk profiles. Stocks tend to be more volatile than bonds because stocks are more sensitive to the state of the economy and changes in a company’s financial performance. Stocks also face a higher degree of income uncertainty since companies may choose, but are not obligated, to pay dividends to shareholders. In contrast, borrowers are contractually required to pay interest on their bonds at specified intervals. Bondholders also rank more senior in a company’s capital structure and are typically paid back before stockholders if a company declares bankruptcy. While bonds tend to produce lower price returns, their contractual interest payments and seniority may make them a less risky income source.

The last decade of low interest rates made it difficult for savers to generate income. If savers wanted to earn more income than bonds offered, they turned to the stock market. Figure 1 below tracks the number of S&P 500 companies with a dividend yield above the yield on a 5-year Treasury bond. From 2008 through 2022, many S&P 500 companies offered higher yields than the 5-year Treasury bond. However, the situation changed considerably during the past 12 months as interest rates rose. As of July 11th, only 51 companies in the S&P 500 paid a dividend yield above the yield on a 5-year Treasury bond. It is the fewest companies since 2007, a period when savers could generate more income by owning bonds rather than stocks.

Bonds sold off in 2022 as the Federal Reserve raised interest rates, but those interest rate hikes now present an opportunity for savers. Figure 2, which graphs the yield across various U.S. Treasury maturities, shows bonds are now more competitive as an income source. Yields on shorter maturity Treasuries approach 5.5%, and investors can lock in a yield near 4% on longer maturity Treasuries. Rather than relying on stocks to generate income, savers can now earn a higher level of income by owning bonds and diversifying their portfolio.

Important Notices & Disclaimer

The information and opinions expressed herein are solely those of PFG Private Wealth Management, LLC (PFG), are provided for informational purposes only and are not intended as recommendations to buy or sell a security, nor as an offer to buy or sell a security. Recipients of the information provided herein should consult with their financial advisor before purchasing or selling a security.

The information and opinions provided herein are provided as general market commentary only, and do not consider the specific investment objectives, financial situation or particular needs of any one client. The information in this report is not intended to be used as the primary basis of investment decisions, and because of individual client objectives, should not be construed as advice designed to meet the particular investment needs of any investor.

The comments may not be relied upon as recommendations, investment advice or an indication of trading intent. PFG is not soliciting any action based on this document. Investors should consult with their financial adviser before making any investment decisions. There is no guarantee that any future event discussed herein will come to pass. The data used in this publication may have been obtained from a variety of sources including U.S. Federal Reserve, FactSet, Bloomberg, Bank of America Merrill Lynch, iShares, Vanguard and State Street, which we believe to be reliable, but PFG cannot be held responsible for the accuracy of data used herein. Any use of graphs, text or other material from this report by the recipient must acknowledge MarketDesk Research as the source. Past performance does not guarantee or indicate future results.   Investing   involves   risk,   including   the possible loss of principal and fluctuation of value. PFG disclaims responsibility for updating information. In addition, PFG disclaims responsibility for third-party content, including information accessed through hyperlinks.

No mention of a particular security, index, derivative or other instrument in the report constitutes a recommendation to buy, sell, or hold that or any other security, nor does it constitute an opinion on the suitability of any security, index, or derivative. The report is strictly an information publication and has been prepared without regard to the particular investments and circumstances of the recipient.

READERS   SHOULD   VERIFY   ALL   CLAIMS   AND   COMPLETE    THEIR    OWN RESEARCH AND CONSULT A REGISTERED FINANCIAL PROFESSIONAL BEFORE INVESTING IN ANY INVESTMENTS MENTIONED IN THE PUBLICATION. INVESTING IN SECURITIES AND DERIVATIVES IS SPECULATIVE AND CARRIES A HIGH DEGREE OF RISK, AND READERS MAY LOSE MONEY TRADING AND INVESTING IN SUCH INVESTMENTS.

PFG Private Wealth Management, LLC is a registered investment advisor.

2Q 2023 Recap & 3Q 2023 Outlook

Financial Markets Rebound in the First Half of 2023

A year can make a big difference. One year ago, the market was trying to catch its breath after a chaotic start to 2022. The Federal Reserve had raised interest rates by 1.5% in a little over three months. Inflation touched 9% as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine upended commodity markets and competition for employees resulted in wage inflation. The S&P 500’s first half 2022 return was its worst start to a calendar year since 1970. Fast forward 12 months, and the backdrop is markedly different. Oil prices are -33% lower, inflation is running at a 4.1% pace, and the S&P 500 is up +16.7% this year. This letter reviews the second quarter, recaps the strong start to 2023, and discusses the outlook for the second half of the year.

Data Highlights U.S. Economy’s Momentum

While the backdrop has significantly changed, second quarter economic data highlighted the U.S. economy’s continued resilience. In the housing market, new home sales rose more than 10% year-over-year in both April and May as tight inventories pushed homebuyers to the new construction market. Personal income, which measures an individual’s total income from wages, investments, and other sources, continued to grow along with wages and interest income. While unemployment rose slightly to 3.7%, companies added ~300,000 jobs in both April and May. Revised data showed the economy expanded at a faster pace in Q1 than previously estimated. First quarter U.S. GDP growth was revised up to a 2% annualized pace from the initial 1.3% estimate, reflecting upward revisions to exports and consumer spending.

The data underscores the economy’s momentum, but it’s backward-looking rather than forward-looking. How much longer can the U.S. sustain its economic strength? An index of leading economic datapoints suggests the U.S. may be near a turning point. Figure 1 compares the year-over-year change in the Leading Economic Index (LEI) against the Coincident Economic Index (CEI). For context, the LEI is an index of ten economic datapoints whose changes tend to precede changes in the overall economy, such as unemployment claims, building permits, and manufacturing hours worked. The CEI is an index of four datapoints that tend to move with the economy and provide an indication of the current state of the economy, such as industrial production and personal income. The gray shades represent past U.S. recessions.

The chart shows the LEI declined -8% during the past 12 months, an indication the economy may be approaching a turning point as the Fed’s interest rate hikes take effect. In contrast, the CEI rose +2% over the same period, an indication the economy currently remains strong. What does the LEI/CEI divergence imply? Positive CEI doesn’t necessarily mean the economy has avoided a recession, but CEI’s rise does provide additional evidence showing the U.S. economy’s resilience despite higher interest rates. On a related note, the chart shows it’s not uncommon for the LEI to decline even as the CEI remains positive. The red circles highlight prior instances like today, where LEI declined first and then CEI declined later. However, the gay shades show the U.S. economy has been near the start of a recession each time the LEI fell by more than -5% in 12 months.

S&P 500 Companies Beat Q1 Earnings Estimates

Corporate earnings tell a similar story to economic data. While the S&P 500’s earnings declined -2% year-over-year in the first quarter, an increasing number of companies reported results that exceeded analysts’ estimates. Figure 2 graphs the percentage of S&P 500 companies beating sales and earnings estimates during Q1 earnings season. The top chart shows 75% of companies beat their sales estimate in Q1, up from 65% the prior quarter and above the 5-year average of 69%.  From an earnings perspective, 78% of companies beat their estimate, up from 69% the prior quarter and slightly above the 5-year average of 76%. Like the economy, investors appear to be underestimating corporate earnings strength.

A look ahead to Q2 earnings season reveals a dynamic that is similar to the LEI/CEI divergence. The S&P 500’s earnings are forecasted to decline -7.1% year-over-year in Q2 2023. For reference, analysts forecasted a -4.7% earnings decline back on March 31 before Q1 earnings season. It’s not uncommon for analysts to revise earnings estimates during earnings season as they get more up-to-date information from companies. The downward revision indicates analysts remain skeptical about companies’ ability to grow earnings in an environment with higher interest rates and the economy returning to trend after a period of strong growth over the past few years. Like economic data, the question is whether the downbeat earnings forecast or Q1’s better-than-expected actual results is more indicative of the path forward.

An Update on the U.S. Banking System

It’s been four months since the first signs of bank turmoil in early March, and data indicates the stress is easing. Bank deposits plunged in March after steadily declining for almost a year, but data from the Federal Reserve shows deposits stabilized in Q2. On a related note, there were concerns deposit outflows would cause banks to slow, and potentially shrink, their lending activity. However, another Federal Reserve dataset shows loans and leases on bank balance sheets held relatively steady in Q2. While banks are not increasing their lending activity, the data indicates they are not pulling back either.

The data suggests banks are on more stable footing today, but there are still questions about the banking system. Recent stability doesn’t necessarily rule out the risk of deposits continuing to trend lower, especially with interest rates remaining elevated. In addition, profitability is a concern. Why? Broadly speaking, banks make money by charging a higher interest rate on loans than the interest rate they pay on deposits. Now that depositors can earn a higher yield on bonds, banks must pay a higher interest rate on deposits. However, banks’ interest income is still tied to loans made during the past few years when interest rates were lower. An increase in interest expense without an offsetting increase in interest income means banks’ profit margins may decline. In addition, there is concern banks may lose money on consumer, business, and real estate loans if the economy weakens. The pressure on deposits eased in Q2, but banks may not be in the clear yet.

Equity Market Recap – The Rally Broadens Out

Equity markets are off to a strong start this year. After a steep sell-off in the first half of 2022, the S&P 500 returned +16.7% in the first half of 2023. The year-to-date gain ranks as the fifth strongest first half return since 1989. The biggest Technology stocks performed even better, with the Nasdaq 100 returning +15.3% in Q2 after its +20.7% Q1 return. The Nasdaq 100’s +39.1% return is the strongest first half year return since 1989, ranking ahead of both 1998 and 1999 during the dot-com bubble. Small cap stocks also participated in the rally, returning +8.1% through the end of June. The year-to-date equity market gains have lifted portfolios after a difficult 2022.

While the S&P 500’s headline return is impressive, a look underneath the surface tells a different story. Figure 3 compares the performance of the S&P 500 Index against an equal weight version of the S&P 500 Index. Why is this relevant? The S&P 500 Index is weighted by market cap, which means the biggest stocks can significantly impact the index’s headline return. An equal weight index neutralizes the impact of the biggest stocks and allows investors to track how the average stock is performing. The chart shows the two versions of the S&P 500 Index traded together in January and February, an indication market cap didn’t significantly impact performance.

However, the market cap and equal weight versions of the S&P 500 diverged in March when the first signs of regional bank turmoil appeared. The S&P 500 traded higher in April and May, while the Equal Weight S&P 500 traded sideways. The split indicates the biggest stocks drove a large portion of the S&P 500’s gain in Q2. While the S&P 500 ended the first half of 2023 with a strong return, the average stock’s return was noticeably smaller and indicates the first half rally was top-heavy. Investors will be watching to see if the first half S&P 500 rally broadens in the second half of the year.

After outperforming in the first quarter, international stocks underperformed U.S. stocks in the second quarter. The MSCI EAFE Index of developed market stocks gained +3.2%, outperforming the MSCI Emerging Market Index’s +1.0% return but underperforming the S&P 500 by -5.5%. Looking across international markets, Latin America was the top performing international region as both Brazil and Mexico traded higher. Latin America is benefitting from geopolitical tensions between the U.S. and China, which is pushing investment toward the region. Within developed markets, Asia outperformed Europe as Japanese stocks traded to a 30-year high. The catch – Japanese stocks are only now getting back to breakeven after the country’s late-1980s real estate bubble popped and the stock market crashed.

Third Quarter Outlook – Can the Good Times Continue?

The first half of 2023 was marked by continued economic resilience and a rebound in the equity market. The U.S. economy outperformed expectations despite the Fed’s aggressive 2022 rate hikes, with new home sales rising, personal income growing, and continued job creation. Corporate earnings exceeded expectations, and the S&P 500 gained more than 15%. In the credit market, the riskiest corporate bonds outperformed as investors collected higher yields.

As the market enters the second half of 2023, investors are left asking whether the good times can continue. The LEI indicates the U.S. economy may be nearing a turning point, and the economic data may start to show the cumulative effect of the Fed’s interest rate hikes. Plus, there is the potential for additional rate hikes in Q3. While the S&P 500 rally was impressive, it was also top-heavy, with larger stocks driving a significant portion of the gains. Corporate earnings are forecasted to decline, and bankruptcy filings could rise further if borrowers struggle to refinance and/or profit margins decline.

While the first half of 2023 was relatively calm, the economy and market face potential challenges in the second half of the year. Our team will continue monitoring conditions as they evolve and will be prepared to adapt portfolios if needed as the second half plays out.

Important Notices & Disclaimer

The information and opinions expressed herein are solely those of PFG Private Wealth Management, LLC (PFG), are provided for informational purposes only and are not intended as recommendations to buy or sell a security, nor as an offer to buy or sell a security. Recipients of the information provided herein should consult with their financial advisor before purchasing or selling a security.

The information and opinions provided herein are provided as general market commentary only, and do not consider the specific investment objectives, financial situation or particular needs of any one client. The information in this report is not intended to be used as the primary basis of investment decisions, and because of individual client objectives, should not be construed as advice designed to meet the particular investment needs of any investor.

The comments may not be relied upon as recommendations, investment advice or an indication of trading intent. PFG is not soliciting any action based on this document. Investors should consult with their financial adviser before making any investment decisions. There is no guarantee that any future event discussed herein will come to pass. The data used in this publication may have been obtained from a variety of sources including U.S. Federal Reserve, FactSet, Bloomberg, Bank of America Merrill Lynch, iShares, Vanguard and State Street, which we believe to be reliable, but PFG cannot be held responsible for the accuracy of data used herein. Any use of graphs, text or other material from this report by the recipient must acknowledge MarketDesk Research as the source. Past performance does not guarantee or indicate future results.   Investing   involves   risk,   including   the possible loss of principal and fluctuation of value. PFG disclaims responsibility for updating information. In addition, PFG disclaims responsibility for third-party content, including information accessed through hyperlinks.

No mention of a particular security, index, derivative or other instrument in the report constitutes a recommendation to buy, sell, or hold that or any other security, nor does it constitute an opinion on the suitability of any security, index, or derivative. The report is strictly an information publication and has been prepared without regard to the particular investments and circumstances of the recipient.

READERS   SHOULD   VERIFY   ALL   CLAIMS   AND   COMPLETE    THEIR    OWN RESEARCH AND CONSULT A REGISTERED FINANCIAL PROFESSIONAL BEFORE INVESTING IN ANY INVESTMENTS MENTIONED IN THE PUBLICATION. INVESTING IN SECURITIES AND DERIVATIVES IS SPECULATIVE AND CARRIES A HIGH DEGREE OF RISK, AND READERS MAY LOSE MONEY TRADING AND INVESTING IN SUCH INVESTMENTS.

PFG Private Wealth Management, LLC is a registered investment advisor.

Data Point– Fewer Shipping Containers Arriving at U.S. Ports

This month’s chart explores an alternative dataset, the number of shipping containers coming into U.S. ports. Alternative datasets like this are often used by institutional investors, such as hedge funds, to identify patterns and trends that may not be visible in traditional economic datasets. Why are shipping containers relevant? The volume of loaded container imports can act as a predictor of upcoming economic activity, as they represent expected demand for goods, which is closely connected to consumer spending and overall economic growth.

Figure 1 graphs the total loaded container imports across six major U.S. ports every month for the last five years. The years 2018 and 2019 establish a pre-pandemic baseline, including seasonal trends, for monthly container imports. Container volumes were normal in January 2020 but then plunged in February and March and remained weak for multiple months as the pandemic shut down the global economy. Import volumes rebounded in the second half of 2020 as the economy reopened and remained above-average in 2021 as consumers spent heavily on goods. Container volumes peaked in May 2022, but since then, have declined in seven of the last nine months. February 2023’s import volume was the third lowest month in the last five years, behind only February and March 2020 in the early months of the pandemic.

What is the data telling us? Fewer container imports indicate the economy is reverting to pre-pandemic norms. This drop could help alleviate supply chain bottlenecks and ease inflationary pressures, a positive development after inflation rose to a 40-year high during the pandemic. In addition, the decline in container imports may provide insight into upcoming economic trends. Businesses typically import less goods when demand is anticipated to decline, and declining imports could be an indication that businesses expect economic activity to slow. The question is whether the drop in shipping container volume is related to seasonal trends or the Federal Reserve’s interest rate hikes, which are designed to ease inflation by reducing demand.

Important Notices & Disclaimer

The information and opinions expressed herein are solely those of PFG Private Wealth Management, LLC (PFG), are provided for informational purposes only and are not intended as recommendations to buy or sell a security, nor as an offer to buy or sell a security. Recipients of the information provided herein should consult with their financial advisor before purchasing or selling a security.

The information and opinions provided herein are provided as general market commentary only, and do not consider the specific investment objectives, financial situation or particular needs of any one client. The information in this report is not intended to be used as the primary basis of investment decisions, and because of individual client objectives, should not be construed as advice designed to meet the particular investment needs of any investor.

The comments may not be relied upon as recommendations, investment advice or an indication of trading intent. PFG is not soliciting any action based on this document. Investors should consult with their financial adviser before making any investment decisions. There is no guarantee that any future event discussed herein will come to pass. The data used in this publication may have been obtained from a variety of sources including U.S. Federal Reserve, FactSet, Bloomberg, Bank of America Merrill Lynch, iShares, Vanguard and State Street, which we believe to be reliable, but PFG cannot be held responsible for the accuracy of data used herein. Any use of graphs, text or other material from this report by the recipient must acknowledge MarketDesk Research as the source. Past performance does not guarantee or indicate future results.   Investing   involves   risk,   including   the possible loss of principal and fluctuation of value. PFG disclaims responsibility for updating information. In addition, PFG disclaims responsibility for third-party content, including information accessed through hyperlinks.

No mention of a particular security, index, derivative or other instrument in the report constitutes a recommendation to buy, sell, or hold that or any other security, nor does it constitute an opinion on the suitability of any security, index, or derivative. The report is strictly an information publication and has been prepared without regard to the particular investments and circumstances of the recipient.

READERS   SHOULD   VERIFY   ALL   CLAIMS   AND   COMPLETE    THEIR    OWN RESEARCH AND CONSULT A REGISTERED FINANCIAL PROFESSIONAL BEFORE INVESTING IN ANY INVESTMENTS MENTIONED IN THE PUBLICATION. INVESTING IN SECURITIES AND DERIVATIVES IS SPECULATIVE AND CARRIES A HIGH DEGREE OF RISK, AND READERS MAY LOSE MONEY TRADING AND INVESTING IN SUCH INVESTMENTS.

PFG Private Wealth Management, LLC is a registered investment advisor.

1Q 2023 Recap & 2Q Outlook

Financial Markets Start 2023 Strong But End the First Quarter on a Question Mark

First quarter economic data showed the U.S. economy entered 2023 with considerable momentum, even in light of the Federal Reserve’s interest rate hikes throughout 2022. Fourth quarter 2022 GDP data showed the U.S. economy grew at a +2.6% rate. The growth was largely driven by a resilient consumer, inventory restocking, and increased government spending, while businesses cut back their spending and the housing market remained weak. Additional economic data in Figure 1 highlights the broad economic trends. Jobs remain plentiful with job openings significantly above pre-pandemic trend, inflation is easing, and consumer spending remains above trend. The data shows growth is normalizing as the economy returns to its pre-pandemic trend but suggests the economy is withstanding higher interest rates thus far.

Financial markets turned rocky during the last month of the quarter. Three regional banks failed, and the U.S. Treasury bond market became more volatile as investors debated whether the Federal Reserve would continue to raise interest rates against an uncertain backdrop. This quarter’s recap discusses recent bank failures, including concerns about financial stability, and provides an update on year-to-date stock and bond returns.

Regional Banks Fail After Sudden Withdrawal Spree

Three regional banks failed in March as the banking industry faced a crisis of confidence and customers quickly withdrew deposits. The top chart in Figure 2 (next page) shows deposits at U.S. commercial banks rose from $13.2 trillion at the end of 2019 to a peak of $18.1 trillion in April 2022 as businesses and individuals flooded banks with new deposits during the pandemic. More recently, deposits at commercial banks decreased in 9 of the last 12 months. The bottom chart in Figure 2, which graphs the change in bank deposits from peak levels, shows total U.S. commercial bank deposits have declined -$607 billion since April 2022. The decline marks the biggest banking sector deposit outflow on record and is starting to stress bank balance sheets.

To meet withdrawal requests, banks maintain a portion of their assets as liquid reserves, such as government bonds and commercial paper, that can quickly be converted to cash. If banks exhaust the liquid reserves, they can either borrow from other banks and the Federal Reserve or sell assets, such as their bond holdings. This basic process helps explain why three banks failed.

Depositors overwhelmed the banks in early March with withdrawal requests. The banks exhausted their liquid reserves, could not obtain loans from other banks or the Federal Reserve in a time-efficient manner, and were forced to sell their most liquid assets, which consisted of U.S. Treasury bonds and mortgage-backed securities. The problem for the banks is interest rates are significantly higher than when the banks bought the bonds, and the bonds are now worth less. When the banks sold the bonds, the were forced to realize billions of dollars of losses, which drained their capital cushions and made them technically insolvent. State banking regulators and the FDIC immediately stepped in to take over the failed banks and protect depositors.

These recent bank failures have raised concerns about financial stability and drawn comparisons to 2008. However, there are important differences from 2008, including both regulatory changes and the causes of insolvency. Banking reforms after the 2008 crisis strengthened the overall financial system, and higher capital requirements now provide banks with a more robust financial cushion. In addition, regulators now possess greater authority to resolve issues in large, failed banks in order to avoid chaotic situations like the Lehman Brothers bankruptcy. In terms of cause, the 2008 crisis was primarily triggered by bad loans and complex securities. In contrast, recent bank failures resulted from the Federal Reserve’s rapid interest rate increases, which created paper losses for banks that made loans or purchased bonds at lower interest rates.

Navigating the Volatile Interest Rate Landscape

The Treasury market is experiencing more volatility and illiquidity because of conflicting signals about the strength of the U.S. economy and the Federal Reserve’s policy plans. Solid economic data in January showed the U.S. economy coping well with rising interest rates, suggesting the Federal Reserve may need to do more than anticipated to ease inflation. During early March congressional testimony, Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell spooked markets by suggesting the central bank would need to raise interest rates higher than initially thought and then keep interest rates higher for longer. The warning caused Treasury yields to rise and bonds to trade lower. Less than one week after Powell testified, multiple regional banks collapsed, causing worries about the U.S. financial system’s stability. Treasury yields reversed course and declined, causing bonds to trade higher. The two conflicting themes have resulted in wild price swings in the usually quiet Treasury market as traders place bets on the likelihood of future rate cuts.

Figure 3, which graphs the rolling 2-day percentage change in the 2-year U.S. Treasury yield, shows the recent spike in volatility. Taller bars indicate the 2-year Treasury yield experienced a bigger 2-day move. The chart looks like a heartbeat over the past 12 months, going up and down with occasional volatility as markets responded to new information. However, the far right of the chart shows a spike in both directions recently. The 2-year yield plunged -0.87% on March 13th after two regional banks failed over the weekend, its biggest 2-day decline since the Black Monday stock market crash in October 1987. After banking regulators took over control of the banks and the Federal Reserve introduced lending programs to stabilize the banking sector, the 2-year yield surged +0.35% on March 21st.

What is causing the volatility? Investors now fear the Federal Reserve faces a tough set of choices. The central bank must balance bringing inflation under control with minimizing damage to the U.S. economy. One factor complicating the central bank’s task and contributing to interest rate volatility is the lagged effect of monetary policy – it is difficult to model how 2022’s interest rate hikes already have and will impact the economy. As a result, there is little consensus inside the Federal Reserve on the path of monetary policy. The central bank’s Summary of Economic Projections, which provides forecasts for key economic indicators and offers insights into the future direction of monetary policy, shows a wide range of interest rate projections. Projections for interest rates at the end of 2024 range from 3.4% to 5.6%, while the 2025 projection range is 2.4% to 5.6%. With even the Federal Reserve uncertain about policy, interest rates could remain volatile in the coming quarters.

How does the volatility impact businesses, consumers, and investors? Treasury securities are considered safe-haven assets, used as collateral for loans and other debts, and serve as a benchmark for pricing other financial securities, such as corporate and municipal bonds, mortgages and other asset-backed securities, and money market instruments. Increased volatility and illiquidity can disrupt the flow of credit, making it more challenging to price loans and various other financial products. While current volatility is linked to uncertainty about Federal Reserve policy rather than financial system stress, the risk is interest rate volatility spreads to other corners of financial markets. For businesses and consumers, this could mean higher financing costs and more difficulty obtaining loans. For investors, this could mean borrowers are unable to refinance their maturing bonds and end up defaulting on their principal and interest payments.

Equity Market Recap – A Reversal in Performance Trends During the First Quarter of 2023

Stocks traded higher in January before giving up some of their gains in February and March. The S&P 500 Index of large cap stocks ended the first quarter up +7.4%, outperforming the Russell 2000 Index’s +2.7% return. Most of the S&P 500’s relative outperformance occurred in March as investors de-risked their portfolios following the bank failures. There was also a sizable shift in factor performance during the first quarter. The Russell 1000 Growth Index gained +14.3%, outperforming Russell 1000 Value’s +0.9% return. Like the S&P 500, the Growth factor’s relative outperformance occurred in March after the bank failures. Growth stocks tend to be higher quality businesses with stronger fundamentals, and recent bank failures may have motivated investors to rotate into higher quality companies. Regardless of the cause, Growth’s outperformance is a significant change from 2022 when the Federal Reserve’s interest rate increases weighed on expensive stock valuations.

The Growth vs Value performance reversal also shows up in first quarter sector returns, with Growth-style sectors outperforming. Figure 4 is a scatterplot that compares each sector’s 2022 return (vertical y-axis) against its first quarter 2023 return (horizontal x-axis). In general, the worst performing sectors in 2022 are the top performing sectors in 2023, while 2022’s top performing sectors are broadly underperforming to start 2023. Beyond the year-to-date performance reversal, there was no obvious preference for defensive or cyclical sectors.

Turning to global markets, international stocks posted positive returns during the first quarter. The MSCI EAFE Index of developed market stocks gained +9.0%, outperforming the MSCI Emerging Market Index’s +4.1% return. Europe was the top performing international region and boosted developed markets’ performance. The region managed to avoid a major energy crisis during the winter months thanks to unseasonably warm weather and efforts to secure alternative natural gas sources after Russia cut off most of its supply. Short-term gas prices have fallen from record highs, preventing severe shortages and rationing, although utility bills remain high. In Asia, all eyes remain on China as the country reopens after relaxing its Covid-zero restrictions. The reopening is expected to boost China’s economy, and potentially the global economy, but it is unclear how strong or lasting the growth will be.

Bond Market Recap – Riskier Bonds Underperform Due to Concerns About Refinancing Risk

Bonds traded in both directions during the first quarter, initially trading higher in anticipation of the end of the tightening cycle before trading back lower as the Federal Reserve hinted at higher interest rates for longer. Corporate investment grade bonds ended the first quarter with a +4.6% total return, outperforming corporate high yield’s +3.7% total return. Like equities, investment grade’s outperformance primarily occurred in March after bank failures raised concerns of increased default risk.

Tighter bank lending standards are becoming a concern in credit markets. For perspective, banks aggressively tightened lending standards during the last 12 months in anticipation of the Federal Reserve’s interest rate hikes slowing economic growth. With recent bank failures causing banks to question the stability of checking deposits, there is a risk that banks will adopt a more cautious approach to lending and reduce the total amount of credit they offer. The decreased credit supply and access to credit could have a domino effect, impacting the economy and financial markets over time. Borrowers, specifically high-yield issuers, could default on their debt if it becomes difficult and too expensive to refinance their maturing loans. Credit markets will be watching for signs of refinancing stress in the coming months.

Second Quarter Outlook – Back to the Fundamentals

The outlook is indecisive as financial markets close out the first quarter of 2023. Some investors believe the Federal Reserve’s actions will slow economic growth and tip the U.S. economy into a recession. This group points to recent bank failures as a warning sign that higher interest rates will have a negative impact. In contrast, some investors believe the U.S. economy is strong enough to withstand the Fed’s actions. This group points to first quarter economic data as a sign of strength and banking regulators’ actions as an indication the U.S. financial system is functioning as intended.

The back and forth is likely to continue until some of the market’s most pressing questions are answered. Key questions include the direction of Federal Reserve policy, the stability of the U.S. banking sector, inflation’s stickiness, corporate earnings growth, and the strength of the U.S. economy. Our team will be monitoring the answers to these questions in coming months to help guide investment portfolio positioning, with first quarter earnings season scheduled to start in mid-April.

As we have mentioned previously, the current investing environment requires a long-term outlook. Trend changes are frequent, fast, and driven by fluctuating market headlines, and keeping up with the day-to-day whims of the market can be emotionally taxing. Developing a financial plan and sticking to it are important steps to achieving your financial goals. Do not hesitate to reach out to our team if you have any questions or concerns about your financial plan or situation.

Important Notices & Disclaimer

The information and opinions expressed herein are solely those of PFG Private Wealth Management, LLC (PFG), are provided for informational purposes only and are not intended as recommendations to buy or sell a security, nor as an offer to buy or sell a security. Recipients of the information provided herein should consult with their financial advisor before purchasing or selling a security.

The information and opinions provided herein are provided as general market commentary only, and do not consider the specific investment objectives, financial situation or particular needs of any one client. The information in this report is not intended to be used as the primary basis of investment decisions, and because of individual client objectives, should not be construed as advice designed to meet the particular investment needs of any investor.

The comments may not be relied upon as recommendations, investment advice or an indication of trading intent. PFG is not soliciting any action based on this document. Investors should consult with their financial adviser before making any investment decisions. There is no guarantee that any future event discussed herein will come to pass. The data used in this publication may have been obtained from a variety of sources including U.S. Federal Reserve, FactSet, Bloomberg, Bank of America Merrill Lynch, iShares, Vanguard and State Street, which we believe to be reliable, but PFG cannot be held responsible for the accuracy of data used herein. Any use of graphs, text or other material from this report by the recipient must acknowledge MarketDesk Research as the source. Past performance does not guarantee or indicate future results.   Investing   involves   risk,   including   the possible loss of principal and fluctuation of value. PFG disclaims responsibility for updating information. In addition, PFG disclaims responsibility for third-party content, including information accessed through hyperlinks.

No mention of a particular security, index, derivative or other instrument in the report constitutes a recommendation to buy, sell, or hold that or any other security, nor does it constitute an opinion on the suitability of any security, index, or derivative. The report is strictly an information publication and has been prepared without regard to the particular investments and circumstances of the recipient.

READERS   SHOULD   VERIFY   ALL   CLAIMS   AND   COMPLETE    THEIR    OWN RESEARCH AND CONSULT A REGISTERED FINANCIAL PROFESSIONAL BEFORE INVESTING IN ANY INVESTMENTS MENTIONED IN THE PUBLICATION. INVESTING IN SECURITIES AND DERIVATIVES IS SPECULATIVE AND CARRIES A HIGH DEGREE OF RISK, AND READERS MAY LOSE MONEY TRADING AND INVESTING IN SUCH INVESTMENTS.

PFG Private Wealth Management, LLC is a registered investment advisor.

A Simple Explanation of Recent Bank Failures

The banking industry is experiencing a crisis of confidence as checking deposits are withdrawn after businesses and individuals flooded banks with new deposits during the pandemic. Figure 1 shows deposits at commercial banks rose from $13.2 trillion at the end of 2019 to a peak of $18.1 trillion in the first half of 2022. The increase in deposits occurred as the Federal Reserve doubled the size of its balance sheet by $4.5 trillion, the federal government distributed multiple rounds of stimulus checks, and social distancing restrictions limited consumer spending on services. More recently, Figure 2 shows deposits at commercial banks decreased in 9 of the last 12 months. The decline in deposits is occurring as the Federal Reserve shrinks its balance sheet and inflation weighs on consumer savings. Banks complained about too many deposits in the past few years, but now declining deposits are starting to pressure some bank balance sheets.

Last week saw the failure of two California banks and one New York bank serving niche industries that benefited from the recent period of 0% interest rates. Silvergate and Signature Bank operated as bankers to the crypto industry, and Silicon Valley Bank (SVB) catered to the venture capital and startup ecosystem. All three banks experienced a surge in deposits during the pandemic for industry-specific reasons. Silvergate and Signature Bank took in deposits from crypto exchanges and other industry participants that lacked access to banks due to regulatory constraints. SVB’s deposits grew rapidly as startups raised money from venture capital firms and parked it at the bank.

Bank analysts point to the three banks’ business models and lack of diversification as the cause of their issues. From a business model standpoint, the banks quickly took in a surge of deposits. Instead of using those deposits to make new loans to consumers and businesses, the banks purchased U.S. Treasury bonds and agency mortgage-backed securities with relatively long maturities. The banks primarily purchased bonds with long maturities because the bonds offered significantly more interest income than short maturity bonds, which offered relatively low income due to the Federal Reserve keeping interest rates near 0% during the pandemic. The risk for the banks was that the Federal Reserve increased interest rates and the bonds lost value, which is exactly what happened.

Fast forward to the start of 2023, the three banks experienced a flood of withdrawal requests. To meet the deposit withdrawal requests, the banks were forced to sell assets, including the Treasury bonds and mortgage-backed bonds the banks bought when interest rates were lower. The problem for the three banks is interest rates are significantly higher than when the banks bought the bonds, which resulted in the banks realizing billions of dollars of losses. The realized losses drained the banks’ capital cushions, making the banks technically insolvent. Silvergate voluntarily ceased operations and plans to liquidate its assets, while Signature Bank and SVB were both taken over by the FDIC.

The three bank failures are a unique situation, because the banks did not have bad assets in the form of risky loans or complex derivatives. To the contrary, the banks primarily held safe assets in the form of U.S. treasuries and mortgage-backed bonds. The banks’ undoing appears to be related to a mismatch between their liabilities (which were the concentrated deposits from niche industries) and their assets (which were the bonds with long maturities). In our view, the lesson from the three bank failures is not that banks are sitting on risky loans and complex derivatives but rather that aggressively raising interest rates from 0% to above 4% stressed the banks balance sheets and could stress the wider financial system.

While the banks’ failures are concerning, it is important to note bank analysts believe this is a unique situation due to specific client bases and their balance sheets. Although other banks could face similar isolated issues, analysts believe most banks managed and matched their assets and liabilities better than the three banks that failed. However, investors, the Federal Reserve, and regulators will be watching for signs of stress across the financial system this year.

Important Notices & Disclaimer

The information and opinions expressed herein are solely those of PFG Private Wealth Management, LLC (PFG), are provided for informational purposes only and are not intended as recommendations to buy or sell a security, nor as an offer to buy or sell a security. Recipients of the information provided herein should consult with their financial advisor before purchasing or selling a security.

The information and opinions provided herein are provided as general market commentary only, and do not consider the specific investment objectives, financial situation or particular needs of any one client. The information in this report is not intended to be used as the primary basis of investment decisions, and because of individual client objectives, should not be construed as advice designed to meet the particular investment needs of any investor.

The comments may not be relied upon as recommendations, investment advice or an indication of trading intent. PFG is not soliciting any action based on this document. Investors should consult with their financial adviser before making any investment decisions. There is no guarantee that any future event discussed herein will come to pass. The data used in this publication may have been obtained from a variety of sources including U.S. Federal Reserve, FactSet, Bloomberg, Bank of America Merrill Lynch, iShares, Vanguard and State Street, which we believe to be reliable, but PFG cannot be held responsible for the accuracy of data used herein. Any use of graphs, text or other material from this report by the recipient must acknowledge MarketDesk Research as the source. Past performance does not guarantee or indicate future results.   Investing   involves   risk,   including   the possible loss of principal and fluctuation of value. PFG disclaims responsibility for updating information. In addition, PFG disclaims responsibility for third-party content, including information accessed through hyperlinks.

No mention of a particular security, index, derivative or other instrument in the report constitutes a recommendation to buy, sell, or hold that or any other security, nor does it constitute an opinion on the suitability of any security, index, or derivative. The report is strictly an information publication and has been prepared without regard to the particular investments and circumstances of the recipient.

READERS   SHOULD   VERIFY   ALL   CLAIMS   AND   COMPLETE    THEIR    OWN RESEARCH AND CONSULT A REGISTERED FINANCIAL PROFESSIONAL BEFORE INVESTING IN ANY INVESTMENTS MENTIONED IN THE PUBLICATION. INVESTING IN SECURITIES AND DERIVATIVES IS SPECULATIVE AND CARRIES A HIGH DEGREE OF RISK, AND READERS MAY LOSE MONEY TRADING AND INVESTING IN SUCH INVESTMENTS.

PFG Private Wealth Management, LLC is a registered investment advisor.