By Keith Bonjour, Vice President, Portfolio Manager
Both the stock and bond markets have traded in a more volatile and choppy fashion in the 1st quarter of 2021, with longer term bonds pulling back more than short term bonds on renewed worries over inflation after the additional stimulus measure enacted by Congress. The recent stimulus package, called the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021, provides an additional $1.9 trillion of stimulus via stimulus checks, extending unemployment benefits, expanding tax credits, along with aid to state and municipalities as well as other payments. The additional stimulus package on top of the large stimulus provided in 2020, along with the global economy gaining momentum on reopening hopes, has created worries in the market about rising inflation and weighed heavy on bond prices in the first quarter of 2021. The Federal Reserve is continuing their accommodative stance and have indicated they are not concerned about increasing inflation expectations. The Fed has stated they feel the increase in inflation will not last with inflation coming back in line with the Fed’s 2.0% mandate in 2022 and that they still do not foresee any increases in the Fed funds rate until at least 2023.
With the passage of the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021, expectations have increased for GDP growth in the United States this year. The market is pricing in a strong recovery in the second half of 2021 as more Americans become fully vaccinated and both businesses and consumers begin to open their wallets due to pent up demand. Consumers are expected to increase their spending on travel and entertainment which has helped drive a shift out of some of the best performing sectors (IE: Technology) in 2020 to the worst performing sectors (IE: Energy and Travel/Leisure). The increase in inflation expectations along with government inquiries into big technology companies have also been weighing on technology stock returns this year. We continue to recommend maintaining a well-diversified portfolio to weather the volatility.
COVID-19 infections rates have come down in the U.S. and vaccinations have ramped up in a meaningful way. However, the increased travel this spring and states beginning to re-open and lift restrictions has caused a recent uptick in infection rates. We are also seeing a more meaningful uptick in Europe and Latin America so even with the increase in available vaccines, the various strains of the virus still pose a risk to growth assumptions this year. It will be important for the market to continue to show signs of positive earnings growth and for the economy to continue its expected strong recovery without any new lockdown measures imposed in the second half of the year. President Biden is also proposing a new infrastructure package in a two-part proposal, the American Jobs Plan and the American Families Plan, which could aid GDP growth if enacted this year. However, it will be important to see what tax hikes are in the proposal to fund the infrastructure package and what effects those tax increases may have on corporate earnings.
We continue to be mindful of risks facing the market in 2021 as COVID-19 cases are on the rise again, and stocks and bonds still trade expensive compared to their historical averages. However, central banks and governments continue to provide massive amounts of stimulus that are driving up asset prices. We continue to recommend staying the course with your investment objective and to continue to rebalance your portfolio by selling strengths and buying into weaknesses to adjust to movements in the market over time. We also recommend determining any short-term cash needs that you may be need over the next six months. Creating this cash can help protect against an increase in volatility and short-term moves in the market. We recommend maintaining a more long-term focus on investment goals and objectives, and not reacting to short term up or down movements in the market.