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Markets Look Past Chaotic Start to the Year

By
Tom Wald, CFA®, Chief Investment Officer, Transamerica Asset Management, Inc.

Less than a month into 2021, markets and broader society are dealing with events and developments never seen in our nation’s history. Following the tumultuous year that has just concluded, the early weeks of 2021 show no signs of an end to historically anomalous developments with potential market impacts.

With this in mind, a variety of unprecedented market conditions and catalysts are intersecting within the investment world. These include:

Markets have successfully looked past the deeply disturbing assault and siege upon the U.S. Capitol building. The shocking and horrifying images of the January 6 deadly riots and attack upon the Senate proceedings confirming President Biden’s electoral college victory will long be remembered as a dark day for our country. From a purely financial perspective however, we believe markets are now looking beyond this ugly episode and appear to be focusing on potential virus and economic solutions in the months ahead.

COVID-19 cases and fatality trends continue to rise rapidly. Though vaccines appear seemingly within reach for millions, the tragic numbers of infections and fatalities continue to increase almost exponentially and will likely continue to do so in the weeks ahead. In addition to the human tragedy induced by the second wave, potential business restrictions and closures will likely hinder 1Q economic growth and could lead to downside market volatility in the early months of the year, particularly as initial vaccine distribution efforts have fallen behind schedule.

Investors anxiously await new rounds of fiscal stimulus potentially playing a key role in bridging the gap between now and wider vaccine distribution. With a new Democrat majority in the Senate now at his side, President Biden has announced bringing forward the “American Rescue Plan,” a $1.9 trillion economic stimulus package focusing on immediate financial relief to individuals and families, assistance to local governments and small businesses, and pandemic response efforts including the national vaccination program. While the dollar amount and specific provisions of this soon-to-be proposed legislation will need to be approved by Congress and are subject to change, plans are already in the works for a second stimulus package, perhaps in February or March. This provision is expected to deal more directly with economic factors such as job creation and infrastructure spending. We view this higher-than-previously anticipated fiscal stimulus as favorable to the markets and potentially a crucial bridge to wider spread vaccine distribution later in the year.

This additional fiscal stimulus is needed, as the economic recovery appears to be slowing into 1Q21. As these fiscal stimulus plans potentially head toward implementation in the near future, it is clear the pace of economic recovery is slowing. Early economic data so far have displayed job losses of 140,000 for the month of December and the second consecutive month of negative retail sales growth. We believe as COVID-19 cases continue to rise, 1Q21 could be a very challenging quarter and potentially even fall back into negative GDP growth. While this would likely be temporary as the economy waits upon stimulus and vaccine distribution to filter through later in the year, a short-term economic downturn could still have market impacts. Given the strong recent performance in the equity and credit markets, we believe this could result in downside risk to stocks during the early months of 2021.

Potential new entrant could broaden vaccine supply. While the initial distribution of Pfizer and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines have hit early bottlenecks, vaccine supply could be enhanced in upcoming months by the potential launch of Johnson & Johnson’s (JNJ) vaccine candidate, which is expected to release Phase III clinical data perhaps by the end of January. With a single-dose regiment and favorable storage profile, this new vaccine could meaningfully improve overall distribution expectations should its efficacy prove comparable to Pfizer and Moderna’s.

Favorable longer-term market dynamics and catalysts remain in place. While the early months of 2021 could see downside activity in stocks and credit-oriented bonds, we believe equity markets remain well positioned for the latter part of the year and beyond based in large part on the following:

  • Strong economic and corporate earnings recoveries in 2H21 as vaccines achieve wider dissemination
  • Additional fiscal stimulus enabling consumers and corporations to weather the months prior to broad vaccine distribution
  • Continuing lower-for-longer short-term interest rate environment
  • Ongoing monetary stimulus from the Fed in the form of open market large-scale asset purchases
  • Reasonable stock valuations when comparing earnings yields to longer-term interest rates
  • We maintain a year-end price target on the S&P 500® of 4,200

 

In these early days of 2021, investors have witnessed the continuing rage of the worst pandemic in a century, frustrating delays on the dissemination of recently approved vaccines, and a mob assault upon the U.S. government — yet the markets continue to look forward. So while there could be some rough patches and downside volatility between now and springtime, we continue to believe the longer-term opportunities remain attractive as we look ahead to the latter parts of the year.

 

Investments are subject to market risk, including the loss of principal. Asset classes or investment strategies described may not be suitable for all investors.

Past performance does not guarantee future results.

Fixed income investing is subject to credit rate risk, interest rate risk, and inflation risk. Credit risk is the risk that the issuer of a bond won’t meet their payments. Inflation risk is the risk that inflation could outpace a bond’s interest income. Interest rate risk is the risk that fluctuations in interest rates will affect the price of a bond. Investing in floating rate loans may be subject to greater volatility and increased risks.

Equities are subject to market risk meaning that stock prices in general may decline over short or extended periods of time.

Investments in global/international markets involve risks not associated with U.S. markets, such as currency fluctuations, adverse social and political developments, and the relatively small size and lesser liquidity of some markets. These risks may be greater in emerging markets.

The S&P 500® is an unmanaged index used as general measures of market performance. It is not possible to invest directly into an index. 

The COVID-19 pandemic has caused substantial market disruption and dislocation around the world including the U.S. Economies and financial markets throughout the world are increasingly interconnected. Economic, financial or political events, trading and tariff arrangements, terrorism, technology and data interruptions, natural disasters, and other circumstances in one or more countries or regions could be highly disruptive to, and have profound impacts on, global economies or markets. 

The information included in this document should not be construed as investment advice or a recommendation for the purchase or sale of any security. This material contains general information only on investment matters; it should not be considered as a comprehensive statement on any matter and should not be relied upon as such. The information does not take into account any investor’s investment objectives, particular needs, or financial situation. The value of any investment may fluctuate. This information has been developed by Transamerica Asset Management, Inc. and may incorporate third-party data, text, images, and other content to be deemed reliable.

Comments and general market-related projections are based on information available at the time of writing and believed to be accurate; are for informational purposes only, are not intended as individual or specific advice, may not represent the opinions of the entire firm, and may not be relied upon for future investing. Investors are advised to consult with their investment professional about their specific financial needs and goals before making any investment decisions.

Transamerica Asset Management, Inc. is an SEC-registered investment adviser. The funds advised and sponsored by Transamerica Asset Management, Inc. include Transamerica Funds, Transamerica Series Trust and DeltaShares® exchange-traded funds. Transamerica Asset Management, Inc., is an indirect wholly owned subsidiary of Aegon N.V., an international life insurance, pension, and asset management company.