In this week’s show, we sit down with Joe Keating, one of today’s leading economists. We discuss all things related to the recent Q2 economic data, his forecast for the rest of the year, and where rates might be headed in the future.

The views, information, or opinions expressed during this show are solely those of the participants involved and do not necessarily represent those of CenterState Bank and its employees.

Intro: Elvin community bankers grow themselves, their team, and their profits. This is the Community Bank Podcasts. Now, here are your hosts, Eric Bagwell, and Tom Fitzgerald.

Eric: Welcome to the seventh episode of the community bank podcast. I’m Eric Bagwell, director of sales and marketing with the correspondent division at Center State Bank. Joining me as always is Tom Fitzgerald. Tom is the director of strategy and research with the correspondent division. Tom, you’re doing okay?

Tom: Eric. I’m doing just fine and I’m really looking forward to talking to our guests today.

Eric: No doubt. It’s a very timely episode with the recent fed meeting, we’ve had jobs report was out today. We had Joe Keating. Joe was with us actually about, I guess, two months ago on our first kind of test a podcast show that we did, Joe is a very familiar to bankers around the Southeast. Joe is the chief investment officer at NBC securities, and he has supported our division since 2005 and continues to support our division today. Joe, you’re doing okay?

Joe: Eric I’m doing great.

Eric: Good deal. We appreciate you being on. Let’s just jump right in and, and kind of go over through some data. Last week, the Bureau of economic analysis reported historically bad data for the economy over the second quarter for 2020. Can you cover the highlights and lowlights that was contained in that data?

Joe: Sure, and you know, Eric it’s far more lowlights than highlights. You’ve probably all seen the data that the economy is reported to have contracted at a startling -32.9% annual rate in the second quarter after the government mandated a shutdown of the economy in mid-March. This is the fastest pace of a decline in the economy since the depression. For perspective, previously the worst quarter since the military wind down following world war II was the first quarter of 1958 when real GDP fell at a -10% annual rate when, not by coincidence, the US economy was hit by the Asian flu. So, the rate of decline here is more than three times the worst that we had seen since world war II. But the pace of economic activity accelerated to the downside during April sending the unemployment rates surging to 14.7% compared to 3 1/2 in February. Last quarter was dropped followed a 5% decline in the first quarter of 2020 which officially brought the longest economic expansion in US history to an end. No sector of the economy was spare last quarter. As consumer spending, so now we’re talking 70% of the economy, fell at a 34.6% rate, business capital spending at a 27% rate and residential construction is almost up 39% annual rate. The shutdown was most pronounced in consumer spending on services, which fell a 43 1/2 annual rate as all non-essential stores were closed, elective surgeries were suspended to free up hospital beds and doctor visits were barred. Now listen to these numbers in the services sector. Spending on recreation plunged at a 93 1/2% rate.

Eric: Wow.

Joe: Transportation services at an 83.9% rate restaurant, bars, and hotels, and an 81.2% rate and healthcare at a 52.7% rate; all brutally bad. Now here’s the good news, the good news in the second quarter data is old news and the economy has already started to recover as the States began reopening during May and 9 million jobs were regained over the May, June and as reported this morning, July timeframe after 22 million jobs were lost during March and April. We continue to say that the recession ended in late April May, and that we’ve started a new expansion. We also need to keep in mind as we look at this data that the quarterly real GDP data are annualized figures, which extrapolate what would happen if the economy grew or contracted at the same rate over four quarters as in the quarter being measured. So, the economy was not almost 33% smaller in two Q, 2020, then in one Q 2020. There was nine and a half percent smaller, which is still a big number, but nine and a half percent feels a lot better than 33%, and in my opinion, the key is that in the second quarter, the economy was 10.6% smaller than in the fourth quarter of 2019 prior to the pandemic hitting. The economy has already been hit with a horse of the crisis. We are seeing some slowdown in the pace of the recovery with the pickup in new cases, particularly in the South and in the West but the worst is behind us.

Consider that even if the economy is flat this quarter, compared to where second quarter 2020 ended with a bottom economic activity happening in April, and the economy growing in May and June, the economy would rebound at a pace near 15% in an annual rate in the third quarter which would be the fastest quarterly growth rate in more than 40 years. Same thing what happened happen with industrial production. If Industrial production is unchanged in the third quarter from where it ended in June, the third quarter of growth rate for industrial production would be higher by 17% annual rate compared to the second quarter. So, we are in our opinion on the path to recovery, but all these numbers are suspect much as a measure of economic activity that did happen in the second quarter was supported by government intervention, to consumers, through unemployment benefits or checks from the IRS.

This created a weird phenomenon where GDP fell, but personal income actually increased at a 32.6% rate. So, while private sector wages or salaries fell at a rate more than 27%, small business income fell at a rate more than 43%. Overall personal income actually rose due to government borrowing and redistribution, so you take that actual increase in personal income a little bit over 32% in the second quarter with consumption falling more than a 34% rate. We saw the savings rate go from 7 1/2%during 2019 to 9 1/2% during the first quarter of 2020 to almost 26% in the second quarter of 2020. The strongest household sector currently is housing. Consider that housing starts in January well 1.6 million. The low was April at 891,000 by a 45% decline. In May and June, we we’re running at about 1.2 million so we’re 40% off the low. How about existing home sales? They were running at a pace of 51/2 million in January. We hit a low in May of just under 4 million so about a 29% decline. In June, they’re running 4.7 million so 51% off the low.

New home sales, well, they were running at a pace of 764,000 in January. They fell 18%, to 627,000 in March. We’re actually higher today by 2% in June at 776,000 than we were in January. The weakest part of the economy remains eating out restaurants and bars, airlines, hotels, casinos, cruise ships, small retailers, all things that need a vaccine in order to truly recover. The manufacturing ISM index is over 50 in July which is really good, and it’s two forward-looking components-new orders and production were both above 60 so the manufacturing sector is coming back.

If you take a look at the ISM per services, it was also over 50 in July at 58% and once again, the forward-looking indices business activity and new orders were both above 60, during July so positive things there. In all, the recovery in the economy is going to be bumpy over the next couple of quarters, but we expect the reopening process to continue with businesses, entrepreneurs, and consumers using science and logic along with the massive support from the Federal Reserve and the Trump administration and Congress to keep moving forward. Although the pace of the recovery has slowed a bit after our initial sprint because the recovery has wounds from the shutdown that is going to take a long time heal. We’ve got a long way to go, but we’re moving in the right direction. Here’s the big concern. The big concern is the number of jobs that have been permanently destroyed by big company bankruptcies.

Listen to this list Herts, Lauren and Taylor Neme and Marcus, Frontier Communications, JC Penny, Brooks, Brothers, GNC, J Crew, Art Van Furniture, Pure One, Men’s Warehouse plus several oil companies. All of these firms have gone bankrupt and think about the number of local restaurants, bars, and small retailers that have closed up shop despite the best efforts of Washington to provide relief. That’s why the economy will grow but faces a long, hard slog to get back to its level in the fourth quarter of 2019. Also consider how much economic activity has been disrupted for the foreseeable future. Think about airlines, hotels, casinos, retailers, cruise ships, entertainment, think Disney college towns and their businesses, the sports world, professional college, and high school. We’ve got a long way to go, but the bottom line is we’re on the right path. The success is getting the spread of the virus under control and now more than ever keeping it under control will ultimately determine the pace of getting America back to work again until the vaccine is successfully developed or widely distributed. So as the course of the virus goes, so will the course of the economy until we get the vaccine. It’s a very complicated and complex picture, but that’s where we stand today.

Eric: That’s a very good overview, Joe. I think you’ve covered a lot of different areas in there that a lot of people are concerned about and want to know kind of where we go from here, and I think that was a very good summation of that. You can’t have any kind of economic discussion without looking at expectations for inflation or in cases for us right now, deflation, and there’s really been a dichotomy in the market, and I’m sure you’ve noticed it. I know you’re a big fan of the tips market and what the breakeven rates are doing there. What we’ve seen is breakeven and rates starting to climb higher which implies some segment of the market expects higher inflation. We’ve seen the dollar index decline which is also another indication of possible inflation down the road. Just give us some of your thoughts. Are we facing more of an inflationary environment in the upcoming months and years or are we still having to fight the deflationary impacts of this pandemic?

Joe: Well, I think we’re in a low inflation environment and from a cyclical perspective since we don’t see the level of economic activity returning to us for Q2 2019 level until late 2021 at the earliest. We think there’s very little demand-pull inflation that we’re going to see. Now, near term, we had seen some significant weak weakness in pricing for, this is back March, April, May for gasoline, hotels, airfare, apparel, used cars. In June and July, there’s been a reversal of that historic decline, which took place in over the March to May period, but that upward movement will slowly fade. There had been some price pressures on groceries particularly on meats, but that appears to be a little bit in reversal at the moment. There’s also been an interesting. Some services have actually increased their costs. My haircuts are up, dental care is up, eye care is up, deliveries are up. In fact, it’s interesting you could take consumer inflation in the second quarter. It was down, it was deflation at a 1.9% annual rate for the service sector. It was actually positive, not very much, 0.2%, but it was positive.

So, gross domestic purchases, that’s where we use imports rather than net exports. We’re down at a 1 1/2%t rate inflating prices lower in the second the quarter. If you took the core gross domestic purchases down at a 1% rate, I already mentioned consumer spending down at a 1.9% rate, core consumer down at a 1.1% rate. Capital spending down actually up at a 7/10 of 1% rate largely led by intellectual property products and residential construction up at a 1.1% rate. Tommy mentioned following their tips markets and it’s interesting, I always take the nominal treasury yield and I use the tenure and then I subtracted the tip yield out of it to get what the implied inflation outlook is. And if you go back to the end of 2019, the ten-year implied inflation outlook was 1.8%. If you go to March the nine, when we hit the previous low in the yield on the tenure of 54 basis points, it was at 1.02%. And if we go to the end of July, when we hit 0.53 on the tenure, we actually had seen the breakeven or the implied inflation expectation go up to 1.5, 6%. So, higher but still below the Fed’s long run target. Some folks fear that the ramp up in the money supply and the federal equity has inflation implications longer term, but we continue to expect that the secular or structural forces, think about the internet for comparison shopping, sourcing goods from around the globe, technology, aging population, really importantly, inflation targeting by central banks around the globe, which started the early 1990s, that these things will continue to swamp any cyclical pressures like we might’ve had at the end of 2019 was when the expansion was 10 and a half years old. So, think we’re still dealing for the time being with low inflation in the economy. I don’t see us falling into deflation more low inflation.

Eric: Joe, the fed took a very dovish stance at the FOMC meeting at the end of July. What’s your, what’s your outlook for the fed and monetary policy going forward?

Joe: Well at the previous of FOMC meeting, which was June 9, 10 Mr. Paul in his press conference made a very interesting comment, and he repeated it at last week’s press conference. He said, “We’re not thinking about raising rates. We are not even thinking about thinking about raising rates.” So that’s the bottom line. Look for monetary policy to remain very accommodating for an extended period of time as the federal reserve continues to keep rates at the very low level that they have them and also acting as a buyer of last resort in the financial markets, no buying. I mean you name the security, and the federal reserve is buying it except for stocks including corporate bonds today. Now the one thing that I think we need to keep an eye on is I think we’re all aware that the fed spent the last year doing a yearlong policy review that they have not been happy that the rate of inflation over the last two decades has averaged 1.9% and despite their best efforts over the last decade or so, they can’t get the rate of inflation over their 2% target.

So, the target has become a ceiling they’re really committed to having inflation average 2% as opposed to 2% of being a target or a ceiling. So, expect the fed in coming up 1C meetings to commit to low interest rates for years to come to pursue an agenda of higher inflation and return to full employment and they’re going to move to the concept that’s going to be average inflation targeting rather than our target which became a ceiling. So, we expect to see inflation moving up moderately, but getting above the 2% level. So, here’s something to look at. So, the fed moved off their zero lower bound back in 2015 at the December 15, 16 F1MC meeting, the unemployment rate hit 5% in October of 2015, and then at the next FOMC meeting, the fed began to raise rates. So, the reaction function was they raised rates once the unemployment rate hit 5%. Don’t expect them to do that this time around. They’re going to let the unemployment rate fall further than 5% this time around to make sure they get that average inflation rate up over 2% and that’s going to be a change in policy going forward.

Eric: Okay, Joe, I know everybody listening says that’s all well and good, but what does he think about rates and where rates are headed? And it’s interesting we are recording this just after the July jobs report so a decent report. It was better than expectations, certainly off the numbers we saw in June, but a good report nonetheless, and you still saw Treasury’s pretty much shrugged their shoulders to that and they’ve also shrugged their shoulders to this equity rally that is, I think the S and P is what within 2% of its all-time high.
Joe: Right.

Eric: So, it becomes a point of what exactly is the treasury market. What’s going to get the treasury market to kind of change that attitude and start to move rates higher. Are we just going to be in this grinding range-bound market for as far as the eye can see?

Joe: Well two things one the lower end of the curve, the short end of the curve is going to remain anchored by the federal reserve keeping rates at zero, and from what I just talked about with a potential change in implementation of policy coming I don’t think you’re going to see the fed raising rates until I don’t know, 2025 or something like that. It’s going to be a long way out there before you see the fed raised rates. At the longer end of the curve in the near term, it’s all a function of what goes on with the discussions in Washington right now about extending the unemployment benefits or another stimulus chapter to households, but that’s really not important in terms of the longer term. What’s important for the longer term is getting the virus excuse me, the vaccine in place to combat the virus.

I think once we see the vaccine come into play effective and widely distributed that’s when I think you will see, I always focus on the tenure, you’ll see the yield on the tenure make a run back at 1%, but until that happens, I think that this level of 50 basis points to 70 basis points is wherever we’re going to see the yield on the tenure hang in there. In terms of other sorts of fixed income securities, if you think about the mortgage back market it seems to us right now that 30-year paper is the place to go because there’s really no fear of rates rising anytime soon and pools that have lower prepayment liabilities and very high-quality borrowers with lower coupons to lower the refinance likelihood, I think is the place to be. Yield spreads and investment grade corporate bonds are inside a long-term average, as well as yield spreads on non-investment grade corporate bonds. They’re both inside a long run average, but if you ever take a look at a chart of those yield spreads, the yield spreads spend very little time below the long run average, but they do spend some period of time above the long run average when there’s periods of stress in the market. So, actually I think the way we need to look at that is that the average is actually an adjusted average of the good times. And so therefore I think it’s appropriate even though we’re inside the long run average to hang on to corporate bonds, both investment grade and non-investment grade because I think that that yield spread particularly with the fed remaining very easy is appropriate to hold. The most interesting place for investors in the fixed income markets in our opinion today is the preferred stock banking companies. The yield spread is still at 459 basis points versus a long run average of 386 and so we think that that’s probably the most interesting place within the fixed income markets today for investors to go get some deal.

Eric: So I would say you always think about okay this time, when you see those spreads tightening especially when you move down the credit curve and some of the instruments you talked about that always kind of gets me a little bit queasy that we’re kind of in that ready to have some kind of a turn, but with the feds large GS into the marketplace and with what we’re facing economically, I guess you’re probably saying this time it is going to be a little bit different in that we don’t expect to see a real backup or widening in these spreads.

Joe: Well, the widening in the spreads largely comes from a pickup in the expected rate of bankruptcies and defaults and that’s why the spreads were so dramatically wide if you go back to mid late March and yet they’ve come in markedly from there because with the fed stepping to the plate and the Trump administration and Congress stepping to the plate, so the likelihood of massive defaults and bankruptcies has fallen. We think that the spread product in the corporate side is still a good place to be, but investors remain concerned about the pace of the economic recovery and that’s part of the reason why treasury yields in general are as low as they are.
Eric: Well, let’s finish up Joe with the talk about equities and kind of what you see there. Obviously, we’ve come a long way from the lows on March 23rd so what are your outlook for stocks in general? I’ve kind of written a few times about the dichotomy between what the stock market sees and what the treasury market sees because they both seem to be going in different directions between yields and prices. I suspect we’ll have to resolve that difference at some point in the future, but it may be a while. So, give us kind of your outlook where you see stocks heading for the, for the rest of this year.

Joe: Sure. Well, I think when you think about the stock market, you have to consider the fact that the advance has been very narrow. It’s been concentrated in a handful of companies benefiting from the acceleration of the economies dependent on technology companies and a number of defensive staple companies, very broadly defined whose products and services have remained in demand throughout the recession and during the reopening process which is still challenged by social distancing requirements. So, consider that while the S and P is now higher on the year by 3 1/2% this through last night, only 191 of the 500 stocks and 38% are higher in the year. Likewise, with the dull as of last night now lower by 4% on the year, only 8 of the 30 stocks are higher on the year, and while the NASDAQ composite is solidly positive through last night of 23%, only 979 of the almost 2,600 stocks in the composite or 38% are positive on year.

Here’s another way to look at it. If you take the NASDAQ 1000, excuse me, the NASDAQ 100, 6 technology companies, Apple, Amazon, Microsoft, Google, Facebook, and Visa account for 49% of the market cap. I think about the NASDAQ composite, going back to that almost 2,600 stock composite, those same six technology stocks account for 41% of the market cap so the rebound has been very narrow when you’ve had to be appropriately positioned in the equity market in order to have benefited. If you haven’t been, you’re still down double digit on year. So, we expect stock prices to be higher a year from now largely as a successful development, a distribution of a vaccine facilitates society and economic activity returning to some semblance of normalcy. But we do expect the stock market indices to be somewhat range bound over the next few months without a lot of upside or downside.
So, let me give you a couple of reasons why I think that the market currently has limited downside.

First is the scale and scope of the policy response by the Trump administration or Congress and the federal reserve in the past four months and the key there is that we need to see this negotiation of Washington at the moment come out with a favorable outcome, and we’re already talking about all the great things the fed has done. So, you can think of these extraordinary fiscal and monetary measures as providing a bridge to what I call the almost full recovery in the economy once an effective vaccine is widely available. I say almost fully full recovery because despite the best efforts of Washington to support the economy during the recession and the reopening process, bankruptcies have accelerated and are likely to continue to Mount and that goes back to the comment or the observation I made earlier about how many of these job losses are going to be permanent as opposed to temporary.

Secondly, there will be reopening process in the economy is underway and while it’s challenged a bit, we think it will continue and that we will continue to see the economic recovery move forward. The good news is that there are signs that the hospitalizations and cases and hotspots in the South or west level engulf are decreasing, and at the median age of new cases that has fallen from the 50’s and 60’s in March and April to the 30’s currently, meaning it’s the younger population that’s getting affected. As a result, deaths and the fatality rate have fallen significantly as the mortality rate is significantly lower among people, less than 40 than among patients in their 80’s or 90’s.

And third, there are very positive signs of progress towards a coronavirus vaccine by a number of firms Moderna Pfizer, AstraZeneca, et cetera and for all of those reasons. I mean, think about it. Are you going to want to be out of the stock market or are you going to bond to the short coming stocks when the news of development of the vaccine and approval of vaccine is received? So, for that reason, we think the downside is limited. We also think the upside is limited for a couple of reasons.

One’s kind of valuation, and rather than getting lock in evaluation, just think about the fact that as of last night, the S and P is up 48% from its low on March 23 is higher by about 3 1/2% since the beginning of the year with the economy not likely to recapture it’s four to 2019 level of activity for the second half of 2021 at the earliest.

Secondly, investors are beginning to turn their attention to the presidential election particularly with the lead that Mr. Biden currently has on President Trump in the polls. Now, while we think COVID related hospitalizations and deaths and economic developments are more important, but the campaign rhetoric is bound to intensify over the next three months, and we’ll have some impact on investors. I’m going to cover two divided government scenarios, which I think represents the best outcome. So common stocks are consistent with the continued rise of stock prices as they will significantly curtail the scope for any radical changes in policy. So, there’s three main scenarios. You’ve got the status quo scenario where government remains divided, and we would assume there’s one little additional fiscal policy with the possible exception of some bipartisan support infrastructure spending a further easing of regulation. It’s also possible that Mr. Trump, President Trump will replace a reserve chairman drone poll in early 2022, when his term is up given his criticism of Mr. Powell during 2018 and 2019, and the stock price would likely rise into year-end as more heavy-handed regulation or higher taxpayers are on round and then rise in line with a rebound in earnings over the next couple of years.

The upside could be tempered a bit by renewed trade tensions with China. In the scenario that Mr. Biden wins the election, but the Republicans retain the Senate, we would expect that divided government outcome to be very similar to the status quo scenario including the outlook for common stocks with the possible exception of a lowering of trade tensions with China. While a rise in regulatory burdens is likely with a Biden presidency, the Trump tax cuts would remain in place and given the central banks key role in regulating the financial system, it’s likely that Mr. Biden would also look to replace Mr. Powell as chair of the federal reserve with a candidate, someone more hawkish on regulation.

The third scenario is, is the blue suite. The Democrats sweep the white house and the Congress, and we would expect more government spending, higher corporate and individual taxes. On the corporate side, Trump took us from 35 to 21. Biden saying, he’d like to take it back to 28-we’ll see the higher, it goes, the more we’re going to see headquarters being moved overseas again, US companies. On the personal side, he’s saying that he wants to see the personal rates go from 37 back up to 39.6, a new payroll tax or incomes over 400,000 and capital gains over million back to regular income and maybe dividends also. We assume there’ll be additional infrastructure, healthcare education, and green energy spending. I think the tax increases might be less than proposed and delayed until 2022, as the unemployment rate will still be elevated through 2022 and regulations, both financial and environmental will likely be ramped up, and again for Mr. Powell, I think he’ll be replaced as chair of the federal reserve. We also would expect a $10,000 cap on state and local tax deductions to be lifted as many blue States are high tax States. So, under that scenario, I could see stock prices initial falling in the order of 5% as higher corporate individual tax rates are discounted under a democratic suite, but at a very low level of interest rates will continue to support stock prices. We don’t expect a larger decline because both fiscal policy and monetary policy will remain very accommodated given the likely state of the economic recovery in late 2020, early 2021.

And then following that pullback, I would expect to see stock prices rise in line with rebound in earnings. So, in sum, we’re not expecting a material rise or decline in stock prices over the next few months, as the economy has one foot in an economic recovery and one foot in a pandemic. However, a range in our market for a period of time would give common stocks a chance for their fundamentals to improve and grow into the current level of stock prices. Of course, the successful development and widespread distribution of vaccine would be a game changer as it would all show on return to pre virus normalcy boosting the economy earnings and stock prices. So, as a nation, we will live, we will need to live with the virus risks including the reopening process that is heavily dependent on trial and error while fortifying the healthcare system, reinforcing social distancing guidelines, and protecting the most vulnerable in society.

The younger generation will need to be reminded that the virus is still around and that while social distancing fatigue is understandable, it’s not acceptable. Headlines of hotspots occurring will create pullbacks along the path to recovery, providing opportunities for investors to put additional money to work. As investors, we’re going to have to contend with the flare ups until the vaccine is developed. So, as I’ve mentioned in the last couple of strategy statements never underestimate the ability of the American spirit and ingenuity and the capitalistic profit motor to be able to win the day while the bad news on the economy has been plentiful recently, we need to remember that our economy is a resilient engine with natural recuperative powers, which are being supplemented by very aggressive fiscal and monetary policies. While we understand that some behavioral adjustments have occurred and it will take time and a vaccine for these behaviors return to some semblance of normalcy, it’s a loser’s game folks to bet against America.

Eric: That’s a great way to end this podcast said Joe Thomas flown by as always, you have brought us a tremendous value and things to think about. You’re our first repeat guest, and we hope that you are a regular guest going forward. So, thanks for joining us today. We really appreciate it, man.

Joe: It’s been my pleasure.

Eric: Well, that was a lot of good information from Joe as usual and I think we had him on about three months ago, and I think we’ll try to make that a regular quarterly event because he does bring a lot of information that I think all of our listeners are keen to hear. And he does another great thing that I think in the year of 2020, trying to end on a positive note and kind of illustrate some positivity it’s a challenging thing to do, but he manages to do it.

Tom: Absolutely. He started out kind of rough just to hear, but he ended on a bang.

Eric: That’s right.

Tom: So, Eric, what do we have for, for the next few episodes?

Eric: Well, we’ve got some really cool shows. We think we’ve got a digital banking, another topic. We’re going to talk about virtual branch, online account opening; we’ve got a sales show, how to sell in this world of COVID. And then we’re going to get back to a very popular show that we did a few weeks ago. We’re going to do another bond portfolio strategy session with a couple of our bond salesman here in the correspondence division. So, we appreciate everybody that has tuned into every episode. We do have a few folks that have reached out and let us know you’ve done that. If you have not subscribed, please do on Spotify and iTunes, just make us a regular part of your week. You will get a notification when a new episode is put out. So please do that. Thanks again for joining us. And we’ll talk to you next time.

 

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