This column is being written on July 4 as we celebrate “the land of the free and the home of the brave.” Yet it’s a 4th of July like no other. No Peachtree Road Race. No fireworks at Stone Mountain. Many beaches closed. At Dr. Fauci’s urgings, going out in public we look like a masked Lone Ranger. The states of New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut have added 16 states to their quarantine list, Georgia included, meaning 48% of America’s population is not free to travel as they wish without fear of harassment and fines if one does not isolate for two weeks on arrival.
The E.U. and other European countries began welcoming “some nonessential travelers” on July 1, but Americans were banned. At this writing, the U.S. State Department continues to advise avoidance of all international travel. In January 1971, the ill-fated Janis Joplin released her hit song “Me And Bobby McGee,” which included the line, “Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to loose.” Today’s COVID-19 restrictions have redefined freedom in terms of potential loss of life, health, and livelihood. Strange times, indeed. How are we doing on our trek back to whatever “new normal” might be? Even that’s a bit of an oxymoron. If it is “new,” is it really “normal?”
Take heart, there is good news. When challenged, Americans rise to the occasion like no others. Consider the creativity applied to solve the ventilator shortage. The speed at which cumbersome regulations were swept aside to accelerate the development of a potential vaccine for the virus. Entrepreneurs figure new ways of doing things to spur survival and the preservation of jobs. Obviously, all is not “wine and roses,” and challenges remain. But progress is being made, even as “yin and yang” continue to rule.
Consider headlines in The Wall Street Journal,. “Stocks End Best Quarter in Decades, Defy Crisis.” (July 1) and “U.S. Adds Jobs Amid Cloudy Outlook” (July 3). After stocks lost roughly 35% of value in about six quick weeks, falling into bear market territory, Mr. Market turned around and headed north at a brisk pace, defying pessimists of many stripes. The tech-heavy Nasdaq Composite Index hit an all-time high on July 2, just before stock exchanges closed on July 3 to observe the Independence Day holiday. While still below their all-time highs of the “pre-COVID halcyon days of mid-February” the Dow and S&P 500 indexes have climbed nicely out of the depths.
But Mr. Market hates uncertainty, and the surge in coronavirus cases complicates the job outlook, suppresses travel and face-to-face business meetings, and it reduces profit projections and stock valuations to pure guesswork. Moms are trying to figure out if the kids will be going back to school on time for the fall. Businesses that just opened in some locales are shut down again.
In the near future, stock market investors will begin to focus on the election. Any political comments risk the wrath of a Twitter mob, but remarks by Joe Biden are likely to worry market prognosticators and investors at some point. During a talk before potential campaign donors on June 29, 2020, Biden pledged to roll back most of the tax cuts put in place by the Trump administration should he win the presidency along with majorities in Congress. Said he, “I’m going to get rid of the bulk of Trump’s $2 trillion tax cut, and a lot of you may not like that, but I’m going to close loopholes like capital gains and stepped up basis.” He also indicated he would raise the corporate tax rate to 28%. Trump cut the corporate tax rate to 21% from 35%.
Some may not care, thinking only “fat cats” will pay the bills. But any move that diminishes net investment returns to investors and risk takers eventually cuts into overall economic activity and progress fueling and job growing investment. This would not be desirable at a time when we recognize the need to bring vital production of certain goods like pharmaceuticals back to the U.S. away from potentially unfriendly actors like China. The other day while working out on some exercise bars in a park, I noticed one of the pipe connectors was stamped with “Made in China.” What about “Made in Pittsburg” or Birmingham, Ala., for a change?
With very low interest rates in play for some time into the future, a diversified stock portfolio still plays a role in long-term wealth accumulation. Somewhere around August into September, the market will begin to focus on the odds of one outcome or the other in the election. Throw in civil unrest and other surprises yet to be seen, and a “new normal” will remain elusive, if there ever was such a thing. But keep the faith! Our democratic constitutional republic has endured for 244 years though tragedy and triumph. This July may we pray that our Creator continues to “God bless America!”
Lewis Walker, CFP®, is a financial life planning strategist at Capital Insight Group; 770-441-3553;email@example.com. Securities & advisory services offered through The Strategic Financial Alliance, Inc. (SFA). Lewis is a registered representative and investment adviser representative of SFA, otherwise unaffiliated with Capital Insight Group.