By Stephen Kyne, CFP
There is an old curse that reads, “May you live in interesting times.” I think we can all agree that we are certainly in interesting times. From the pandemic and the economy, to the political climate, 2020 (and so far, 2021) will long be remembered as a consequential year. The question now: Where do we go from here?
2020 was a tale of two economies. Small businesses experienced a very different reality last year than large businesses. We all know local business owners who are struggling, or who have gone out of business, altogether. We know service sector workers whose financial lives are in complete collapse. Yet, on the other side, many large national businesses are booming. It’s a travesty, and our hearts go out to those suffering.
Things will get better.
For investors who stayed invested during 2020, it turned out to be a surprisingly positive year, especially in the technology sector.
This pandemic would have been untenable without recent technological innovations. Not only has technology allowed us to stay connected to loved ones during shutdowns, it has also allowed more people to work productively from home than ever before. As a result, non-tech companies, their employees and customers, have been direct beneficiaries since these companies have not had to shut down, could retain their employees, and consumers could still gain access to products and services which are essential to modern life. Imagine how much worse things would be if this had struck in the ‘90s.
What do we see for 2021?
For all of the relative insanity we’ve experienced so far this year, there are some reasons to be optimistic about the next 12 months.
Technological innovations will continue to revolutionize the way we function in our everyday lives, and will do so at an ever-increasing pace. This is because we have all now been conditioned to accept new technologies when we otherwise might have been hesitant. We expect technology, as a sector, to continue to do well.
Fact: The Moderna vaccine had already been designed by Jan. 13, 2020, just two days after the COVID gene sequence had been made public! It will end up saving millions of lives—possibly yours—and we have technology to thank for it.
As more become vaccinated, and shutdowns end, we expect the greater economy to begin to normalize. It may take well into the second quarter, but it is an eventuality.
Some are worried about what a single-party-controlled federal government means, so let’s address that.
Markets typically like gridlock, because it is easier for businesses to plan if they know the rules are not going to change. Normally a sweep by either party would be cause for concern, but this year, markets are reacting positively. This is largely because there is only a technical majority in the Senate, with the vice president acting as the tie-breaker. This will force compromise, which is ultimately beneficial.
One thing that will almost certainly pass in the next few weeks is additional stimulus and relief for the American public, which markets are applauding as well. Expect another round of direct payments (checks), as well as a delay in initiatives to raise taxes on anyone, rich or poor. In fact, we expect a repeal of the cap on state and local tax (SALT) deductions, which would actually, disproportionately, benefit the wealthy.
It is also very conceivable that Congress extends provisions of the CARES act in 2021, including an elimination of early withdrawal penalties for hardship withdrawals, and another break on required minimum distributions.
To that end, if you do not need your required minimum distributions in order to maintain your cash flow, you may want to wait to take them in case Congress eliminates them for 2021, as it did in 2020.
Here’s an interesting idea for any high school seniors graduating this year. Freshman applications and admissions are down more than 20 percent at some schools, leaving schools in a position to have to compete aggressively for students to fill their rolls. Couple that with the fact that most students don’t have SAT/ACT scores to report, and you may find that the dream school you thought was scholastically unattainable is suddenly an option!
As the pandemic comes under control and our lives are allowed to regain some semblance of normalcy, we expect the economy to continue to improve. With that, we expect the broader US stock indices to grow by 10-15 percent in 2021. We also believe that technology will again continue to be a driver of growth.
By Stephen Kyne, CFP