Stocks exit 2020 with strong gains and are riding a tailwind, but already in the dawn of the new year, the market could face its first big challenge.
The final outcome of the 2020 election plays out Tuesday, when voters in Georgia will pick their senators and decide which party controls the U.S. Senate.
With President-elect Joe Biden heading to the White House and a Democratic-controlled House of Representatives, Wall Street has been comfortable with the view that Biden and the Democrats could not succeed with tax hikes and more progressive policy changes while Republicans hold the Senate.
The runoff election for the two Senate seats Tuesday is widely expected to result in one or both of the incumbent Republican senators retaining their seats. But Democrats are close in the polls and should they win, each party would have 50 seats with Vice President-elect Kamala Harris the tie breaker.
“Georgia is the most important thing to the Biden presidency for the next two years,” said Ed Mills, Washington policy analyst at Raymond James. “It’s going to determine what is the legislative agenda and who can get confirmed by the United States Senate.”
Sen. David Perdue is being challenged by Democrat Jon Ossoff, while GOP Sen. Kelly Loeffler is running against Democrat Raphael Warnock. None of the candidates had more than 50% of the vote in the Nov. 3 election, so Georgia law requires a runoff election between the two leading candidates for each seat.
“It’s a binary event,” said Mills, adding it’s of growing interest to markets. “The general sense for the market is that Republicans are well positioned to maintain their majority in the Senate. But I think the 2020 election as well as the 2016 election and to some extent, the 2018 election has humbled us … The Senate outcomes, in particular, seem to be less predictable than almost any other elections.”
Mills said the results may take several days to determine, adding to the uncertainty the event could hold for markets. According to an RBC investor survey, 88% expect Republicans to maintain control, and most say that is a positive for the stock market.
“The market tends to shoot first and ask questions later. There will certainly be a reaction if Democrats win both those seats,” said Peter Boockvar, chief investment officer at Bleakley Advisory Group. Strategists say there could be a relief rally if Republican incumbents see a clear victory.
“That totally dominates [trading] because it’s about do we have status quo or do we have Democrats controlling all parts of Washington and what that means for spending and taxes,” Boockvar said. “I think you could see the worries about taxes overwhelming any thoughts on the benefits of more spending” by Democrats.
By the numbers
A year of extreme volatility ended with a big win for stocks, as the pandemic steered the course for markets. The S&P 500 was up 16.3% for the year, ending at 3,756. That gain comes after a 34% decline early in the year, followed by a powerful more-than 65% rebound. Technology was the big winner for the year, and the Nasdaq was up 43.6% at 12,888.
Besides the runoff vote, the market will be watching a stream of data in the coming week, including the important December jobs report Friday. That could show fewer than 100,000 jobs were added as the spreading virus impacted hiring and layoffs. There were 245,000 jobs created in November.
There is also ISM manufacturing data Tuesday, and a number of Fed speakers, including Vice Chairman Richard Clarida on Friday.
The virus itself could also be a factor for stocks.
Conventional wisdom for the coming year has been that vaccines will be widely distributed, and by the second half things will start to get back to normal and the economy will pick up. But the initial distribution has been slow, and far short of the 20 million targeted for December by President Donald Trump’s task force.
In that recent RBC survey, three quarters of investors were optimistic about vaccine distribution with 80% expecting a majority to be vaccinated by the end of 2021. “We suspect that the positive outlook for the stock market and the economy would deteriorate if expectations for a smooth vaccine rollout are not met,” RBC strategists wrote.
They also noted that nearly 60% of the investors surveyed believe high stock market valuations are problematic.
“This suggests to us that any threat to the economic and earnings recovery story could spark profit-taking. On this point, it is worth noting that the vaccine was the No. 1 issue keeping investors up at night, closely followed by monetary policy and excessive optimism on the recovery,” the strategists noted.
Chris Rupkey, chief financial economist at MUFG Union Bank, said investors will also be watching the formal acceptance of the Electoral College vote Wednesday. Strategists expect the vote count to confirm Biden’s presidency.
However, Missouri Sen. Josh Hawley says he will challenge the certification, and several House Republicans have already vowed to contest the election at that time. If one House member and a senator jointly object to a state’s slate of electors, the two houses of Congress must separately debate and vote on the objection.
Strategists see little chance of any impact on the election outcome, but there could be fireworks. Trump has been claiming since the election that there was fraud but multiple courts failed to find any truth to the claims.
Rupkey said investors are not taking into account enough potential for political risk from the deep animosity between the two political parties.
“I think the additional stimulus and hopes for additional stimulus, and infrastructure spending in 2021, I don’t know that that is such a slam dunk, because of the issue of political instability,” he said.
Week ahead calendar
9:45 a.m. Manufacturing PMI
10:00 a.m. Construction spending
10:00 a.m. Chicago Fed President Charles Evans
12:15 p.m. Cleveland Fed President Loretta Mester
6:00 p.m. Cleveland Fed’s Mester
10:00 a.m. ISM manufacturing
3:45 p.m. New York Fed President John Williams
3:45 p.m. Chicago Fed’s Evans
8:15 a.m. ADP payroll data
9:45 a.m. Services PMI
10:00 a.m. Factory orders
2:00 p.m. Fed minutes
8:30 a.m. Initial jobless claims
8:30 a.m. International trade
9:00 a.m. Philadelphia Fed President Patrick Harker
10:00 a.m. ISM nonmanufacturing
11:00 a.m. St. Louis Fed President James Bullard
1:00 p.m. Chicago Fed’s Evans
3:00 p.m. San Francisco Fed President Mary Daly
8:30 a.m. Employment report
10:00 a.m. Wholesale trade
11:00 a.m. Fed Vice Chairman Richard Clarida
3:00 p.m. Consumer credit
Crosbie vows to clean up ‘Liberal corruption’ in Newfoundland and Labrador politics – TheChronicleHerald.ca
While campaigning in Marystown on Thursday, Progressive Conservative Leader Ches Crosbie berated the Liberals over their governance of the province, saying he would put an end to “Liberal corruption.”
Though technical issues interrupted the livestream of Crosbie’s speech, a transcript was sent to reporters, and Crosbie took questions by phone.
Crosbie again said the most critical issue in the province is jobs, “but Liberal corruption, scandal and cronyism are barriers to job growth.”
Crosbie says after filing a freedom-of-information request for the draft of a report commissioned by the Liberal government and done by consulting firm Goss Gilroy, a discrepancy between the final report and the draft was discovered.
The $22,000 report asked people who had left the province why they left and what it would take for them to return.
“They tried to bury the finding that … a leading reason for not working in Newfoundland and Labrador is the perception that it was who you know that would get you a job,” Crosbie said.
Crosbie said the PCs would hire people based on merit, and the government has a role in setting an example for everyone, including the private sector.
When asked why Newfoundland and Labrador voters should trust this wouldn’t happen if he is elected, Crosbie said voters can look to his decades-long career as a lawyer.
“My practice has consistently been all about holding corporations and governments to account,” he said.
Crosbie said, “(Industry, Energy and Technology Minister Andrew) Parsons is still in cabinet … despite being investigated by police. This is banana republic stuff. You can quote me on that.”
RNC officer Joe Smyth alleges political interference by Parsons, who was formally the justice minister, regarding a previous charge of obstruction of justice against Smyth that was dropped. The allegations are currently being investigated by the Nova Scotia RCMP.
Parsons responded to Crosbie’s corruption comments on behalf of the Liberals Thursday.
“Well, It’s the same old song and dance from Ches and the same Conservative line. Normally, I don’t care too much about what he says, but I do get frustrated when he impugns my character wrongly and he knows this,” Parsons said in a phone interview from his district on the west coast.
“If he wants to talk about ethics, I don’t need a lecture from him. Let’s me and him have a little contest and go back and talk about personal ethics. … If he wants to talk about the PCs, the biggest corruption job on the people of this province ever committed was the billion-dollar
Muskrat debacle that was committed on the backs of Newfoundlanders and Labradorians that he supports.”
Parsons said the PCs have former cabinet minister Nick McGrath running in Labrador, despite the Humber Valley Paving controversy.
And he slammed Crosbie for slinging mud when politicians should be moving away from personal attacks to policy discussions.
“Ches talks a big game and it’s too bad — he’s not putting forward any semblance of a plan why people should trust him,” Parsons said.
“His goal is to smear everybody and hope it makes him looks good in comparison.”
Meanwhile, Crosbie said people have the right to know who’s donating money to political parties and how much.
“Right now, we have a system where there’s no limit on donations and there’s nothing to prevent corporations, or unions for that matter, making donations,” he said. “There’s no better disinfectant than sunlight.”
He says they will look into the code of conduct for MHAs and introduce recall legislation so, “voters have recourse when their elected representatives are not doing their jobs.”
On Wednesday, Crosbie called for the immediate release of the interim report of the Dame Moya Greene-led Economic Recovery Team.
Premier Andrew Furey said there is no report, but a group of individuals tasked with coming up with ideas.
Crosbie said he laughed when he heard Furey’s comments.
“Either it’s not a report yet, because it hasn’t been written yet, or he’s appointed a bunch of people to sit around and shoot the breeze and have good ideas and none of us are ever going to know what those ideas are because they’re not going to be written down,” Crosbie said. “That last explanation would be absurd.”
At a media event Thursday morning, Furey said he doesn’t want to rush Greene and her team, as that’s how the government has made mistakes and economic flops in the past. An interim report is due later in February, and a final report at the end of April.
“I’m trying to shift decision-making more to a more rational, logical approach, and this is one I think will work,” Furey said.
“I think this is a solid decision-making process. We’re going to gather evidence, and broadly consult with all stakeholders. Every person in Newfoundland and Labrador will have an opportunity to have a say should they choose. Then we are going to table that to the House of Assembly as a very open and transparent process.”
Fixing the province’s financial troubles will require short-, medium- and long-term solutions and lots of collaboration, Furey said.
“There is no simple solution to this. There’s not going to be like an incredibly blunt and frightful budget that shocks everybody into their basements,” he said.
Should Politics Play A Role In Our Investments? – Forbes
With yesterday’s inauguration of Joe Biden, it seems the perfect time to consider the role that politics may play in our investments. Over the past weeks and months, politics has been a hot topic. Undoubtedly, we can expect the economy to change and the markets to react as policies and priorities shift. Many are worried about the outcome of the election—and many others are excited. So, with all of the different emotions at play, how do we think about politics as we make our investment decisions?
The Choice Facing Financial Advisors
As Commonwealth’s chief investment officer, I serve a wide range of advisors and clients. They all have political opinions, and I may fundamentally disagree with many of them (half?) on very important issues. How can I handle this disconnect?
As I see it, I have a choice. I can take public positions that might feel good but will both alienate and ill serve a substantial portion of my community, while convincing no one. Or, I can focus on communicating what I both know about and have been tasked to do, in order to help people, as investors, navigate the current turmoil.
All financial advisors face the same decision. For all of us, no matter what our opinions, stating them can make us less effective for a substantial portion of our clients. And we can’t sidestep the issue by saying we have no opinions, because of course we do. What to do?
The way I have tried to deal with it is by explicitly separating the two roles I have: as a citizen (where I have very strong opinions) and as an economist and investment advisor (where all that matters is the data). By decoupling the two, I acknowledge I have my own opinions, but I try to make them less relevant to the discussions we are having.
I might say something like this. “As a citizen, I certainly have my own opinions, which may (or may not) be the same as yours. As your advisor, however, they don’t matter. My job here is to help you navigate the uncertainty around these events in your investments, not in the rest of your life. Because of that, we can look at the economic and market facts, which is what I am here to do, and make a decision that is best for you. My only concern, sitting in this chair, is your financial future.” I have used something like this with multiple client groups, on both sides, and it has been effective.
A Focus on Long-Term Outcomes
Another way to approach this is to demonstrate how it works in practice. In the last two elections, for example, I had people—on different sides—who wanted to sell out when Obama was elected and when Trump was elected. In both cases, it would have been a mistake. This example is a good follow-up, as you can directly look at emotional decisions, tie them back to the factual results, and make the point that as an investor, data is what is needed most. And that is the job of an advisor. However good or bad things are now, investors need to be focused on the long-term outcomes, not the short-term headlines. Taking the politics out can and does yield better long-term results.
Bumps in the Middle of the Road
This approach doesn’t always work, of course. I typically get feedback, some of it ferocious, whenever I write a piece that touches on politics, with my recent blog post on Washington turning a light shade of blue a good example. Several people felt very strongly, based on that post, that I must be a hard-core Republican. Others thought that the piece showed a clear Democratic basis and needed to be rewritten.
What I tried to do, though, was write something straight down the middle, presenting the facts and reasonable conclusions in a nonpartisan way. With this one, more than some of the others, I clearly failed in the eyes of some readers. That is inevitable, and the feedback helps me get better, so I appreciate it. I will try to do better. But I also draw comfort from the fact that I got fire from both sides. The middle of the road can be an uncomfortable place as well.
Recognize the Disconnect
What if you are not an advisor but just concerned about your own investments? The advice is the same. Look at the data. Don’t make emotional decisions. Realize the U.S. economy and markets are largely disconnected from politics. And keep an eye on the long term. No matter how you feel about either administration, investing is a game of decades during which we will have a wide range of politics.
Nova Scotia finance minister says she will leave politics when next election called – Toronto Star
HALIFAX – A key member of outgoing Nova Scotia Premier Stephen McNeil’s cabinet says she too will leave politics once the next provincial election is called.
Finance Minister Karen Casey, who is also deputy premier, made the announcement following a cabinet meeting Thursday, saying that after 15 years representing the riding of Colchester North, she is ready to retire and wants to spend more time with her four grandchildren.
Casey said while she had been pondering her future for some time, she only made a final decision over the last week.
“Fifteen years, I think, is a good amount of public service to give to my constituents,” Casey told reporters. “I’m happy with the work that we (government) have achieved, and it’s time to let somebody else represent Colchester North.”
Casey, a former teacher, also served in the education and health portfolios and was named deputy premier in 2017.
Over her time in the education portfolio, she was instrumental in the Liberal government’s move to rein in contract demands by the province’s teachers — a battle that ultimately saw the imposition of a contract that ended a two-month work-to-rule campaign by public school teachers in February 2017.
As finance minister, Casey also played a part in helping the government table five consecutive balanced budgets.
“I learned a lot personally in the finance portfolio, but there were challenges there, and I quite like a challenge,” she said.
McNeil, who is leaving politics next month, said he counts Casey as a personal friend and believes she played an “integral role” in helping return the province to fiscal health.
“We have really run a duo operation here in lots of ways,” McNeil said. “She is one person that I have always sought counsel of in my most difficult days.”
Casey was a former interim leader of the Progressive Conservatives and defected to the Liberals in January, 2011 at McNeil’s invitation.
“That allowed me to join a caucus and a leader … whose values I thought I shared,” said Casey. “What motivated me? It would be knowing that my ideas and those of my constituents and me as a person would be respected.”
Casey confirmed she would stay on until the next election, which must be called by the spring of 2022.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 21, 2021.
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