Strong Consumer Spending Lifts Stocks as Investors Await Stimulus Deal

October 16, 2020

Better than expected retail spending figures and a strong start to the Q3 earnings season lifted the S&P 500 to its third straight winning week. The third quarter earnings season kicked off in earnest this week with financial giants Goldman Sachs and JPMorgan leading banks to better than expected results as they set aside less for future credit losses and posted a notable rise in bond trading revenue. In other U.S. economic news, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported consumer and producer price inflation remained modest. Overseas, the Chinese economy continued to show building momentum with strong exports and import figures for September. For the week, the S&P 500 added 0.20%.
Retail Sales Spending Crushes Estimates
Consumer spending remained strong in September despite a lack of additional stimulus aid out of Washington. U.S. retail sales rose 1.90%, crushing Dow Jones consensus estimates for a 0.70% gain. Excluding autos, retail sales climbed 1.50% for the month, which was also a notable increase over August’s 0.60% gain. The gains were broad-based, led by clothing and accessories and music and books which were higher by 11% and 5.70%, respectively. The rise in these categories points to stronger than expected back to school spending despite many students attending school remotely. Although markets remain concerned consumers will cut back on their holiday shopping this season, they may yet again prove the economists wrong. With less travelling, fewer large events, and more people avoiding crowded indoor places, they may opt to spend more online or on higher ticket items instead.    
Inflation Remains Modest Amid Economic Slack
Consumer prices rose 0.20% in September, a slowdown from August’s 0.40% gain. A drop in energy, transportation, and apparel prices managed to more than offset the 6.70% gain in used car and truck prices. The pandemic has resulted in odd supply/demand imbalances in areas that normally would be more susceptible to recessionary pressures. The used car market is one of them, having tightened amid consumers’ shift away from mass transit due to social distancing concerns. Year-over-year (yoy) consumer price inflation remained modest, rising only 1.40%. Core consumer prices, which exclude food and energy, were also up mildly 1.70% yoy. Conversely, producer prices, which measure prices received by businesses, rose 0.40% in September. This was slightly higher than August’s 0.30% gain. September’s gain was fueled by a rise in hospitality and lodging costs, who saw their service expenses rise by 3.90%, while an increase in building materials, hardware, transportation, and medical care also contributed to the month’s gain. Despite the back to back monthly increase in producer prices, it is important to keep this in context since they were up a mere 0.40% from year ago levels. Core producer prices, which, here again, exclude the volatile food, energy, and trade services, were up 0.70% from year ago levels. Inflation has not been a concern in recent memory, and with most of the world’s economies operating in some form of altered pandemic mode, it means inflation is not likely to be an issue in the near term despite the amount of recent fiscal and monetary injection.
Strong Global Demand Leads China Exports Higher
Chinese factories continued to ramp up production as orders continued to pour in for medical equipment and work from home gear for the sixth straight month. Exports rose 9.90% yoy in September. That was their quickest pace in more than a year. Imports also rose during the month, up 13.20% from year ago levels. The strong rise reflects improving domestic demand and Beijing fulfilling its agricultural goods commitments under the Phase 1 trade deal it struck with Washington earlier this year as its imports from the U.S. soared 24.80% yoy. Overall, the strong export and import figures point to a robust recovery at hand and put China back on track to its pre-Covid GDP growth trajectory of between 5.00% and 6.00%.
Gains on Monday and Friday managed to offset midweek declines, allowing the S&P 500 to essentially finish flat for the week. The back and forth in the market mirrored investors’ sentiment as they grappled with data reflecting a surprisingly resilient economy amidst worries that we are seeing the front edge of the long-awaited second-wave in coronavirus cases with the autumn season increasingly moving people indoors and in closer proximity to one another. Consumers are technically still flush with cash with the personal savings rate standing at 14.10% as of August. This has been cut from the 33% savings rate seen in April just following the first-round of stimulus, but it is nearly double the 7-8% range averaged since the last recession. The issues for the market continue to be what they’ve been from the beginning of all this, however, with the market trying to assess the burn rate (i.e. rate at which the economy reopens) relative to the timing and magnitude of supplemental transfers (i.e. direct payments to consumers and businesses).  The strong Q3 retail sales report was an unexpected surprise and while a new stimulus bill is likely on hold until after the election, markets remain optimistic that enough juice remains in the tank and that a new stimulus bill will be delivered just in time for consumers to hit their Black Friday deals. 


The Week Ahead

Housing has been one of the hottest sectors of the economy for much of the pandemic. The momentum is set to continue into September with the release of existing home sales and housing starts. In international news, China releases Q3 GDP while the Eurozone reports composite PMI numbers.

Evaluating an Early Retirement Offer?

A growing number of companies are adopting strategies to cut costs during the pandemic, including offering employees a buyout, early retirement, or voluntary severance in order to trim the size of their workforce. Typically, more senior employees who may be earning higher salaries are targeted, but not always.
One of our advisors, Tyler Ozanne, CFP®, has seen a surge in recent months in early retirement packages being offered. He indicated they can include a set number of weeks of pay for each year of service and may include a continuation of health coverage and other benefits. While a buyout might sound appealing during these uncertain times, Tyler cautions that rarely is an early retirement offer a no brainer. He shared that it requires thoughtful analysis and consideration of a number of factors and can be an emotional decision as well, particularly if the offer was unexpected. Below are some of the major considerations.
Tyler explains that timing is an important factor, and for employees close to retirement, a buyout may be a blessing. Those who need to replace any lost income should consider the likelihood of securing other employment given the current job market and economic conditions and whether the retirement package is sufficient to bridge the gap until you find another job. If you plan to use the severance package to retire, Tyler advises clients to evaluate whether the offer is substantial enough to act as a springboard for your retirement plan.
A lump-sum buyout that doubles or triples your income for the year could push you into a higher tax bracket. Employees may be able to negotiate with their employer to spread out the payments over time to avoid a big tax hit, but if the offer is part of a large layoff, there may not be any negotiating room. If an individual needs to make withdrawals from a traditional IRA or 401(k) to help make ends meet, bear in mind that early withdrawals will incur income tax and may trigger a penalty for those who haven’t yet reached retirement age.
Job Security
An employee who turns down a severance package may still find themselves out of work if their employer ends up doing massive layoffs (where there may be no guarantee of severance). Assessing the health of your company, industry, and sector should be part of the decision. Depending on your industry, you may have to sign a non-compete clause which could complicate a job search should one become necessary.
Employee Benefits
Under federal law, companies with 20 or more employees generally must allow departing workers a temporary extension of health plan coverage. However, insurance premiums can quickly erode the benefit of a severance package. A buyout could trigger the loss of stock options or any vesting schedule. Tyler advises individuals to read the fine print and understand if the buyout triggers unexpected events such as the loss of deferred compensation, stock options, and other benefits, and how it may affect your financial plan in the short- and long-term. 
Social Security
Early retirement can reduce the amount of Social Security you would otherwise be eligible to receive. Social Security is calculated on your top 35 earning years before age 60. Additionally, Social Security payments increase for every year a beneficiary between ages 62 and 70 delays taking benefits. 
Tyler shares that consulting with your advisor about the possibility of accepting an early retirement package can help to put things into perspective. Our advisors are available to help you evaluate an early retirement offer as well as to conduct a financial wellness check-up. Please feel free to call our office at (214) 891-8131 if we may be of service to you.

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