Economic Impact of March Market Madness

By Dean Barber

March 3, 2022

Economic Impact of March Market Madness

Key Points – Economic Impact of March Market Madness

  • Breaking Down Recent Market Returns (Or Lack Thereof)
  • Avoiding Emotional Economic Decisions
  • Shifting from Quantitative Easing to Quantitative Tightening
  • Uncertainty Is an Unsettling Economic Impact
  • What Will Come from the Fed’s March 16 Meeting?
  • 20 minutes to read

March Madness Has a Double Meaning This Year

Dean Barber: Thanks so much to those who join us on America’s Wealth Management Show. I’m your host, Dean Barber, along with Bud Kasper. It’s March.

Bud Kasper: It is. St. Patrick’s Day is coming up.

Dean Barber: It’s coming right up. I would say there’s March madness as well, but it has nothing to do with college basketball.

An Uncomfortable Economic Impact

There are a lot of things going on right now. The markets have been crazy. We get these huge up days, then huge down days. They’re all over the place. While what’s happening today is not unfamiliar to everyone, the economic impact is still uncomfortable—even for us. We have a massive amount of uncertainty when it comes to political environment, the Fed, and with the Russia/Ukraine issue.

All those uncertainties have combined to cause the markets to whipsaw back and forth. Look at where the NASDAQ is today. It was the same place 11 months ago, which means that we’ve gone for 11 months with zero return on the NASDAQ.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average is also right where it was 11 months ago. The S&P 500 is where it was eight months ago, so it’s faring slightly better. We can look at the market performances and see that we’ve essentially had no return for almost a year. If you fell asleep 11 months ago and then woke up yesterday and looked at the markets, you’d say, ”Wow. They’re exactly where they were. There was no action, right? It was flat.”

Emotional Economic Decisions Can Lead to Mistakes

But it was far from flat. When we start getting these wild gyrations in the market, the economic impact causes emotions coming into play. And when those emotions come into play, that’s when people start making mistakes. This is why I said that even though it’s not unfamiliar for us, the economic impact is uncomfortable for us.

Nobody likes this uncertainty. We can’t predict what’s going to happen over the course of the next six months. We don’t know. While we can say that we think certain might turn out in a specific way, we don’t know. That uncertainty leads us back to the overall financial plan that we construct for people and makes us ask ourselves what we should be doing.

Bud Kasper: Sure. When do you think about it, common sense tells you that the market can’t go on forever without it having some upsets along the way. Some of these might be manmade as opposed to economic results. But regardless of it, we’ve seen this kind of economic impact before. It’s familiar to us.

People need to take solstice in what Dean is talking about. Even though we see these gyrations and can be prone to react emotionally to these quick drops in market value and things like that, the reality is what Dean just said. We are essentially in the same market positions that we were in eight to 11 months ago. It doesn’t mean that we’re eliminating concerns. Yes, there are a lot of concern out there, but we need to manage it intelligently, prudently, and judiciously.

Going Back to Your Financial Plan

Dean Barber: And to do that, you go back to the plan and ask, “What does my money need to do?” You need to arrive at what Bud and I call your Personal Return Index. We came up with that years ago. You need to understand what type of return your portfolio needs to get, on average, over time to accomplish your objectives.

And you can’t just say that you want it to make money because that’s nebulous. What level of risk do you want to take on? If you’re going to identify what your money needs to do, then and only then, can you come back and determine the proper allocation for uncertain times or when the sun is shining and things are great. Those allocations can be fluid.

Bud Kasper: And they should be. There are times where you lighten up in certain areas of your portfolio and times when you increase your exposure. But either way, you simply need to pay attention to it and understand what the objective of the money is in the first place.

Will the March Market Madness Intensify Following the Fed’s Next Meeting?

Now, there is a big deal coming up on March 16 with the Federal Reserve meeting. At that time, it’s fully anticipated that the Federal Reserve will raise interest rates. The question is, will it be 0.25% hike or 0.50% hike? There’s a 70% probability that it will be 0.25% and 30% that it will be 0.25%. That will likely be the start of a series of increases that we’re going to see from the Federal Reserve. There is already a lot of anticipation in the marketplace for that increase(s).

Dean Barber: I agree. Bud and I talked about that a little bit last week. A lot of what the Fed has been talking about has been baked in, but then you throw the Russia/Ukraine conflict and that provides even more uncertainty with the economic impact.

We’ve seen oil spike now to levels that we haven’t seen in almost a decade. That’s going to cause inflation to continue to rear its ugly head. It causes pain for the average person that is buying groceries, putting gas in their car, heating their homes, and those types of things. It’s a huge economic impact.

Shifting from Quantitative Easing to Quantitative Tightening

Bud Kasper: Exactly. But as we assess this situation, this leads right into the shift we’ve seen from quantitative easing (QE) to quantitative tightening (QT). We had experienced quantitative easing dating back to the COVID-19 outbreak in February 2020, but it’s moving toward quantitative tightening.

Dean Barber: Right. And we saw that happen after the financial crisis. We did the whole thing where quantitative easing went on for probably three to four years. Then, it was suddenly tightening again. We had to go into QE again because of COVID and know what the effects of QT will be.

What I want people to understand is that we are here to help you make the right decisions on a non-emotional basis. That is key. It’s all about having your financial plan in place and making necessary adjustments to accommodate for any sort of economic impact.

Utilizing resources like our Retirement Plan Checklist can also be helpful. It covers the things that you should be doing as you near retirement. Even if you’re already retired, it’s still important to keep reviewing the checklist because the things on there don’t just go away. In fact, things get more complicated once you’re retired.

What Has Led to Quantitative Tightening?

Let’s go back to talking about shifting from quantitative easing to quantitative tightening. Quantitative tightening really began late last year when the Fed started tapering its bond buying program. That was designed to add liquidity to the financial markets, especially in the fixed income sector. Now, we’re talking about additional quantitative tightening with the increase in interest rates.

Bud Kasper: Well, the first thing that people need to realize is that Federal Reserve has the power to change these interest rates. That’s probably going to directly impact the direction of bonds and the stock market as well.

Since going into QE in February and March of 2020, $120 billion per month has been in the bond buying program. As they are buying these bonds, they are actively trying to move the direction of the economy in a favorable manner.

Shrinking the Federal Reserve’s Balance Sheet

The fact that they started dropping it to $60 billion per month tells us that they’re actively trying to shrink their balance sheet. We know that our country unfortunately is over $30 trillion in debt. The debt that the Federal Reserve has on its balance sheet is $8.5 trillion.

As they start moving forward and stop buying bonds, which could be in conjunction with raising interest rates, I believe that the Federal Reserve could drop the bond buying program altogether at this March meeting. Should they go down to zero, the function will be purely from interest rates at that point.

But the Federal Reserve has a massive amount of bonds that they own. Those are maturing every month. When those have matured in the past, they take that money and they buy more bonds. Now they won’t, though. It will just fall off the balance sheet and reduce the debt that the Federal Reserve has created. Over time, that’s a good thing.

The Economy Is Too Hot

Dean Barber: And if we think about the economic impact of rising rates and effects of quantitative tightening, all need to do is go back to about 2010. Look at what the economy and the markets did from 2010 up through early 2020 and even into 2022. We have had an expanding economy. The stock market has performed extremely well over that time. We also had fixed income that performed well over that time.

It wasn’t as good as it was in the 1990s or early 2000s, but the point is that the Fed beginning a quantitative tightening program means that the economy is too hot. There’s too much. That is what is pushing this inflation higher and we’re feeling the economic impact of it.

A lot of that is obviously fueled by the higher energy prices and the supply chain issues. But the supply chain is loosening up and getting better. If it wasn’t for the Russia/Ukraine situation, I think we would have energy prices way lower than what they are today. But that’s something that’s there and we can’t change it.

Back to Economic Fundamentals

Let’s step back and look at the fundamentals of the U.S. economy and corporate America right now. We could argue that things look amazing. They look great. So, why in the world is the market all over the place? It goes back to the uncertainty that’s out there today.

Uncertainty Is an Unsettling Economic Impact

Bud Kasper: Uncertainty is the perfect word to sum things up. People hate uncertainty. The market hates uncertainty. Look at oil prices. Those are impacting all of us. I was using premium, but I filled up the other day and it was about $3.90 a gallon. It wasn’t something that I wanted to pay, but it’s a byproduct of what is happening with the supply. I think we should have continued with the Keystone Pipeline.

Dean Barber: I 100% agree.

Dreaming of Energy Independence

Bud Kasper: I think everybody would agree that it would be good to be self-reliant and produce our own energy. Isn’t that kind of what Americans are about? We could even have a surplus and help countries like Germany that are dependent on their oil from Russia. That cuts that tie and takes some of the pressure off the politicians to keep oil prices relatively low over in Germany, Ukraine, or any other of the NATO nations that are importing oil to their countries for the purpose of obviously fuel.

Dean Barber: What if we had true energy independence and weren’t reliant at all on fossil fuels? What if we really did have the green energy that was there with the wind, solar, electric, and those types of things. Think about if every country, regardless of their natural resources of fossil fuels within that country, being energy independent through the Green Initiative?

Bud Kasper: It hugely changes the dynamic and economic impact.

Dean Barber: It changes everything. Let’s step back and take the whole fossil fuel thing out of this because we know that we’re gradually moving toward greener energy.

Bud Kasper: Yeah. And I’m in favor of that.

Dean Barber: If we reduce the dependence on fossil fuels altogether, that can be a good thing. Think about where the conflict has come from and the wars that have been fought. A lot of it is all around oil and energy.

If everybody has the same thing—the sun and the wind— it doesn’t matter if you’re in South Africa, the United States, Mexico, Canada, or wherever. You don’t need to have that natural resource of fossil fuels.

Thinking About Going Green from an Investment Perspective

Bud Kasper: And you lower the leverage that countries like Saudi Arabia and Russia have over the world because they happen to be rich in that particular commodity.

Dean Barber: If that is going to be the wave of the future, what companies will lead that wave? How do you invest in those companies? How do you add that to part of your portfolio, as opposed to looking at the energy portion of your portfolio as fossil fuels, transportation, pipelines, and those types of things?

I think that causes you to step back and think a little bit differently about energy independence. There’s more than one way to get to energy independence. I think what Bud is saying is at that at this point when we don’t have the infrastructure and everything isn’t there for total non-fossil fuel type of energy, we still need to be energy independent in the United States so that we don’t depend on Russia and can help other countries.

I totally agree with that. But if we look further as investors, where should we be looking to invest? Where can we find the companies that could be the winners in the green energy in the long term?

Bud Kasper: There are companies and ETFs that are focusing on that direction. But the profitability of some of these companies are not there yet. When that changes, then the entire dynamic will change. That’s still going to be years into the future, but that doesn’t mean you can’t make money in the near term.

There Is Opportunity That Lies within Uncertainty

When you look at these in terms of ESG, which is looking at the environment and being favorable to it, who doesn’t want that? I don’t think there’s anybody who doesn’t. But in the same token, it still comes down to costs. You can invest in them today and possibly get a huge reward further down the line. But my guess would be that the immediacy of that is not here yet.

Dean Barber: Let’s look back at a similar situation with the Dot-Com Bubble and the darlings of the late ’90s. A lot of them aren’t even in existence today.

Bud Kasper: And government subsidies.

Dean Barber: Sure. The government subsidies are helping all the companies that are going with the green initiatives.

Bud Kasper: Absolutely.

Dean Barber: Here’s the thing. There is uncertainty, but there are opportunities within that uncertainty. We’re here to help you find those opportunities and educate you and help you become smarter when it comes to your financial future. We have the Social Security Decisions Guide, Tax Reduction Strategies Guide, Retirement Plan Checklist, and so much more.

The Roller Coaster of Market Volatility

The economic impact we’re experiencing from the market volatility kind of reminds me of listening to The Rolling Stones because we can’t get no satisfaction. The markets are up 1% one day and then down 1% the next. Then, they’re up 3% and 2.5% the next. It’s like a wild roller coaster ride that you don’t want to be on.

Bud Kasper: So, what we need is more cowbell.

Dean Barber: More cowbell.

Bud Kasper: It’s funny. I know it’s from Saturday Night Live, but I still don’t know what that means. I have never seen it, so I don’t know the context.

Dean Barber: All right. I’ll show it to you later. I don’t like you being in the dark, Bud.

Bud Kasper: Me neither.

Dean Barber: We said earlier that you could go back 11 months with the Dow Jones Industrial Average and the NASDAQ and would be at about the same levels that they are today. They would essentially net a zero return. Now, take Tesla as an example of a company that is investing in green energy. Bud, do you know what Tesla is?

Bud Kasper: I think I do.

Dean Barber: Over the last 12 months, Tesla is up by 26%. That’s a far cry from zero. Look at the ETF, XLE. It goes across all the energy companies and encompasses green and oil, fossil fuels, transportation of fossil fuels, natural gas, etc. XLE is up by almost 47% over the last 12 months. Again, that’s a far cry from the NASDAQ or the Dow.

Energy’s Boost to the S&P 500

You must understand that when you look at the S&P 500, a portion of it is energy companies. Those energy companies are lifting the S&P 500 a little bit. This is where we start talking about whether to overweight or underweight in certain areas at certain times. That is a tactical move. It’s far cry from what we call the buy, hold, and hope strategy. I don’t like that strategy at all.

I think that you can be more tactical in nature. When you’re more tactical in nature, you can smooth the ride out a little bit. You can take advantage of different opportunities that are taking place. But don’t do it in a way where you’re being greedy and chasing returns. Do it in a way where it fits into your overall financial plan. If you’re going to go a little heavier in energy, where do you want to lighten up at? You don’t want to overexpose to equities.

Bud Kasper: When you’re doing the overexposure, you’re making a bet. You’re no longer really investing in a portfolio that has a balance. That doesn’t mean you can’t tilt it from time to time to where you think you would have favorability.

Let’s use another example. The Federal Reserve is going to raise rates. I’m certain about that, whether it’s 0.25% or 0.50%. Esther George with the Kansas City Federal Reserve and Jim Bullard with the St. Louis Federal Reserve are favoring 0.50%.

Making the Most of Bad Situations

If we’re seeing this tilt in that particular direction, the issue is going to be the economic impact. Financials should do well as interest rates are rising because they can charge more money on the assets that they have in their portfolio. So, there are some good things that come out of a bad situation. You just need to be aware of them and make adjustments.

Dean Barber: But let’s be clear, Bud. The bad situation that we have right now is Ukraine/Russia. Our U.S. economy is in great shape. We’ve gone through rising interest rate environments before. Just look at how we came out of The Great Recession. We talked about that earlier with how the markets has done well during periods like that.

The economy is doing well because earnings are doing well. Look at the fundamentals right now and they’ll tell you that we should just be going gradually higher with the markets. Why aren’t we? Well, because we don’t really know exactly what the economic impact of the rising rates is going to be. Everybody always is fearful when the Fed starts raising rates. They think they’re going to send us into a recession because they’ll go too far, too fast.

That causes market volatility, but that market volatility can also create opportunity for deploying money into the market. We talked about rebalancing when equities got too heavy in your portfolio because of the returns last year. If you rebalanced on January 1 like you should have, equities are now a lower percentage of your portfolio than what they were then. So, it would be time to rebalance and get more back into equities because the prices have fallen. I know it’s uncomfortable, but those are the rules. That’s what you’re supposed to do.

Remembering the Taper Tantrum …

Bud Kasper: People have probably forgotten, but we had something called the Taper Tantrum in 2013. When that happened, we saw low reserves in the United States and foreign currency debt among other countries, both in Europe and emerging markets. The economic impact of that was higher interest rates.

I’m not saying this is a tantrum, but there are parallels associated what has happened. Quite frankly, we as advisors should understand what those are and vet a portfolio through those periods just to see how it would hold up. That’s the one thing about technology is that it allows us to do some of this research on behalf of our clients to see the reality of what would happen in circumstances similar to what we’re experiencing today.

… And the 2008 Financial Crisis

Dean Barber: I agree. I want to take back to the 2008 financial crisis. There were a lot of people in 2006 and 2007 that were saying that they were going to retire. Then, the 2008 financial crisis hit. Their portfolios were cut in half in many cases because they were overexposed to equities. There are so many people right now that are wanting to retire within the next three years and think that they’re positioned to do so.

If that’s you, I can’t tell you enough of how critical it is that you step back and make sure of that. If you’re still sure, these turbulent times are a time to take some risk off the table. But don’t take risk off the table without the certainty that it’s OK to do that currently.

What Comprehensive Financial Planning Is All About

If you’re wondering, “Am I there? Do I have enough? Am I positioned properly? Am I doing the right things from a tax perspective? Should I be doing a Roth 401(k) versus a traditional 401(k)? When should I claim my Social Security?” These are questions that should be on your mind if you’re preparing to retire.

Bud Kasper: Our specialty is comprehensive financial planning. It’s only way that I’m aware of in my 30-plus years of doing this that we can go in and create scenarios around difficult and good times so we can anticipate what the result would be to our clients who retired.

That opportunity is something that we provide to people who prospective clients that are interested in finding out. It doesn’t cost you anything to do that. We don’t have any products to sell. We’re fee-based and we do the planning associated with it. Sure, we get paid for what we do, but that’s an agreed-upon level of participation. We’re happy to share that information with you.

Dean Barber: Absolutely. One thing that I know is on a lot of people’s minds right now is bonds. If you look at the traditional bonds and in a rising interest rate environment, bonds can go negative. So, we have created the bond alternative portfolio that is designed specifically for a rising interest rate environment to keep that part of your portfolio that’s supposed to be safe and help buoy up any market volatility.

How High Will the Fed Funds Rate Be by Year’s End?

We’ll discuss bonds more shortly, but let’s do a quick review of what Bud and I have been talking about with quantitative easing, quantitative tightening, and all the things that are happening in the Fed’s world. March 16 is the big date coming with the Fed’s next meeting. Bud and I are predicting a 0.25% hike in the Fed funds rate.

Let’s break down the basic of this because it’s really affecting the overnight lending rate from bank to bank. Today, that’s basically at zero. It’s been at zero since COVID-19 hit back in 2020. For two years, we’ve had a Fed funds rate essentially at zero.

Now, we’re likely about to be at 0.25%. We’ll probably move to 0.50% by summertime and potentially to 1% or 1.25% by year’s end. If we look at that from a historical perspective, that’s still extremely low for interest rates.

Bud Kasper: I just heard that QuikTrip was going to sponsor the Federal Reserve since they are back into QT. So, there’s money to be made even in these difficult times. Excuse my levity. Dean is right with the Federal Reserve. Now we should be conscious and a little bit concerned of this because it does change the dynamics of the investments that we utilize in portfolios.

Dean has spent an inordinate amount of time working on portfolio solutions for a higher interest rate environment. People need to have a better understanding of it.

Bond Alternative Portfolios in Rising Interest Rate Environments

Dean Barber: Let’s talk about some of its components. We created what we’re calling a bond alternative portfolio. This is a bond alternative designed so that people can do well in a rising interest rate environment.

One component of that will be inflation-protected treasuries. The shorter-term inflation-protected treasuries are where you’ll get the most benefit in a rising interest rate environment. Look at an ETF that follows the zero-to-five-year treasury inflation protected securities. How is that doing? Year to date, it’s positive by 0.4%. Over the last 12 months, it’s positive by about 1%. It has a dividend yield of about 4.6%.

So, this is a place where you can put some money in fixed income. It’s designed for inflation. Now, I’m not saying to take all your money and put it into the short-term inflation-protected securities. That’s not a wise decision.

Diversification Is Key

You still need to have some diversification, so you’ll want to mix in some floating rate bonds. Those bonds, yields, float with current rates. If you’re in a rising interest rate environment, that means that the yield on those bonds will go up over time. Therefore, that takes away some of the downward pressure on the bond values.

You may want to look at mortgage-backed securities that have a high degree of equity in that real estate. You can get those yields in the 4% to 4.5% range depending upon where you go. There are other alternatives that you should be thinking about putting into that fixed income alternative as well.

The bottom line is when you look at the bond aggregate year to date, it’s negative by almost 4%. It’s negative over the last 12 months. It lost money last year. If that bond aggregate, BND, or AGG are the safe money part of your portfolio, you need to start adding some different components to that to make it safer.

The Recent History of Bonds

Bud Kasper: That’s excellent advice. In 2020, bonds were brilliant. When things started getting dangerous with the onset of COVID period, money moved to safety. Bonds were a beautiful place to be. At that time, the aggregate bond index was up in double digit returns. That was significant.

We did not get anywhere close to that return last year and we’re not getting it so far this year. The likelihood of seeing it increase to a degree that everybody would like to be back into is not likely with the Federal Reserve raising rates. So, we have issues.

One of the things that Dean pointed out, though, was an ETF with 4% cash flow. Cash flow counts because that’s a positive coming in, regardless of what the situation is in terms of interest rates. When you have that coming in, it offsets some of the negativity of bonds when we have a rising interest rate environment. Keep that in mind as you’re constructing your portfolio. If you’d like to discuss that with us, we’d be happy to share our information with you.

Dean Barber: That’s right. Another way that you can look at this in a rising rate environment is to remember back when people used to ladder their CDs back when CDs made something. People would ladder CDs so that they’d have CDs maturing every six months or so. If interest rates were going to rise, whatever matured could be renewed at a little bit higher interest rate.

The Bond Aggregate Won’t Get It Done Right Now

Well, you can still do the same thing. While you can’t do it with CDs, you can do it with individual bonds—either corporate or municipal. You can buy those bonds at whatever price they’re selling for on that day and know exactly when they’re going to mature. You’ll know what the yield is on it and what your total return is going to be if held to maturity.

So, you can start staggering out some fixed income in that way. As interest rates rise and you have a bond that matures, you can deploy that money into a bond that could be yielding a little bit better. Or you could buy it at a cheaper price because interest rates have gone up. There are ways to play this rising interest rate environment, but it’s not as simple as buying the bond aggregate ETF. That’s not going to get it done right now.

The History of Transparency within the Federal Reserve

Bud Kasper: I want to give credit to Ben Bernanke, who was the Fed chairman during the financial crisis. He had a lot of pressure on him as he was trying to save our economy along with Lawrence Summers. He brought greater transparency to the action of the Federal Reserve, which was then carried forward by Janet Yellen and now Jerome Powell.

Janet is now the Secretary of the U.S. Department of Treasury. We have all these experts who have been through some very difficult periods to help us understand the direction that the Federal Reserve is going to be taking our country in terms of interest rates and their economic impact. There is a lot for us to pay attention to and learn from, but I like that the transparency is in place.

Stressing the Importance of Stress Testing

Dean Barber: One of the things that I think is important is stress testing. It’s part of financial planning. We can look at the portfolio of fixed income that you have today and stress test that through a rising interest rate environment. That way you can see how portfolios of fixed income did in past rising interest rate environments. What did the alternative that we’re talking about do and where should you have your money today?

Bonds are different from stocks. Stocks are going to be wildly volatile like a highly emotional teenager. You never know what you’re going to get. With fixed income, you can see it coming. We know that rates are going to go up. We know we’re going into a rising interest rate environment. So, take the fixed income that you have right now and let us stress test that fixed income portfolio through a rising interest rate environment so that you can see what it’s doing.

You could do that by getting a complimentary consultation or a 20-minute ask anything session with one of our CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ professionals. You can meet with us by phone, virtual meeting, or in person.

Providing Clarity Through Financial Education

Bud Kasper: This is an excellent time for us to remind people that we provide a service with America’s Wealth Management Show. Our goal is to bring some clarity to your lives through our interaction. We hope that has been the case for you.

Dean Barber: I hope so. We’ve been doing this for almost 20 years now.

Bud Kasper: What we need is more cowbell.

Dean Barber: More cowbell. Well, thanks for joining us on America’s Wealth Management Show. I’m Dean Barber, along with Bud Kasper. We hope you all stay healthy, stay safe, and get your questions answered.

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