Wednesday, February 10, 2021

There Is Light At The End Of The Tunnel ... And It Is Not A Train Coming

From the Desk of Joe Rollins

There is so much good news to report this month that I am bewildered by the overall tone of the news you read every day.  I guess it has become so commonplace to be negative that people just cannot see the good from the bad, so this month I would like to talk about things that I believe you would be interested in and my projections regarding the U.S. economy.  I will discuss the extraordinarily good news regarding housing in the U.S, the pent-up demand that will come at the end of the pandemic and will stun you with the current earnings of Big Tech in America today.  I will also give you a heads up on the inflation that is coming and its causes, and the extraordinarily good news regarding the economy.  It is hard to keep down the excitement as we see the economy shift from a total shutdown to accelerating and growing again. 

I also must discuss the facts regarding the pandemic and what the scientists told us.  All of this affects the economy in a way that should get you excited about the upcoming year.  We finished the year 2020 with one of the best financial years of all time.  A gain of 18.4% is certainly something to be proud of in a pandemic.  Given the extraordinary circumstances of 2020, who would ever have expected that the stock market performance could be one of the best.  I have so much to report on and so little space, I guess I need to get started.  


Ava on her first day of school in 2013 and in 2021 – they grow up so fast!

As I always do before discussing more interesting things, I need to give you the scorecard for the stock market for the month of January 2021.  The S&P 500 was down 1.0% for the month of January, however its one-year return is still excellent at 17.3%.  The NASDAQ Composite was up 1.5% during January and its one-year performance is at 44.1%.  The Dow Jones Industrial Average was down 2% for the month of January, but up 8.5% for the one-year period.  Just as a basis of comparison, the Bloomberg Barclays Aggregate Bond Index was down 0.7% for the month of January and has a one-year return of 4.9%.  

It is hard to believe that we are not even at the one-year anniversary of the true start of the pandemic.  So much has happened over the last year, it is hard to believe it has only been 12 short months, seems much longer.  As I wrote in the first quarter of 2020, to solve the issue of the pandemic we need to turn loose the American Spirit and let corporate America solve the issue of this current virus which turned into a pandemic.  In this short one-year period, we saw our Federal government step up and fund research that led to vaccinations being approved at a record pace.  Even though we are not at the one-year anniversary, during this one-year period we not only created and tested a vaccine, we rolled it out to many Americans.  

As I write this posting, there have been 42.4 million Americans already vaccinated for the virus.  In addition, there have been roughly 27 million cases in the United States.  With a combination of the two, we have roughly 69 million Americans that already have some form of protection from the virus continuing to spread.  Whether you realize it or not, just a short 6 weeks have elapsed since the first vaccination and we already have close to 20% of the U.S. population that has some sort of protection from additional spread.  This is a remarkable rollout by anyone’s definition.  Whatever the newspapers and television media are talking about – I have no idea.  

But the best part is only beginning.  This morning Pfizer announced that they were increasing their production of vaccines by a full 50%.  Johnson & Johnson will receive their emergency approval of their vaccination this month.  By some accounts, there are roughly 15 additional vaccinations in the final stages of approval.  We will have more than enough supply; the implementation will be the challenge.  What is even more fascinating to me is that, as of today, there are 20 million doses of the vaccine sitting on shelves that have yet to be administered.  We are currently vaccinating at a rate of 1.5 million people per day.  This will be a low point as we roll out vaccinations in the coming weeks to the common man in drug stores and then retail stores.  It is now estimated that 40,000 drug stores and retail stores have applied for licenses to administer the vaccination in the coming weeks.  As we provide the supply of vaccinations to the drug stores, I fully expect the number of vaccinations a day to increase substantially.  

Caroline Schultz (7) celebrating her birthday weekend

From March 1st until June 30th, there are 122 days.  If you assume that we can continue to vaccinate 1.5 million people at a minimum per day, that is another 183 million vaccinations to be added to the ones already completed.  It is fully conceivable that by June 30th we will have vaccinated nearly everybody in the U.S. who actually wants to be vaccinated.  Whenever that day comes, you will see such a rush of spending and increase in commerce, unlike anything we have seen in this country in many generations.  It is going to be exciting!  

Notwithstanding all the negative news you hear about the vaccine and its rollout, no matter how hard you squint, or what angle you look at it from, the coronavirus vaccinations are an overwhelming triumph.  You want the actual proof of their success?  With only 20% of the U.S. population currently vaccinated, the number of new cases in the U.S. over the past two weeks is down 35%.  There are some states now that have only a few thousand active cases.  For all the things that have gone wrong and for all of the criticism levied on the Federal government over the last few years, the vaccinations themselves have shattered even the most ambitious expectations.  Not only has the American Spirit pitched in to solve a pandemic in record time, it also bodes well for the future where vaccinations can be created, tested and implemented over a short period of time.  Unquestionably, this will lead to a healthier world population due to the experiences learned over the last 12 months.  

It is already true that the economy is improving dramatically.  The unemployment report for the month of January indicated an unemployment rate of 6.3%.  There is no question that there are still 10 million people unemployed, but the government has funded these unemployed with lucrative benefits of unemployment and continues to extend those unemployment benefits well into 2021.  As the vaccinations roll out in the spring, you will see restaurants reopen and retail stores get back to full employment.  It would appear to me that employment should move up dramatically in only a few short months from where we sit today.  

Caroline enjoying her sweet birthday treat

Every day I read about the pandemic and all the various mutations of the virus that could bring down the world economy.  I am not exactly sure where these people get their facts since the scientific evidence, overall, is quite overwhelmingly positive.  It is now estimated by some that the GDP in the United States will exceed 7.5% for the year 2021.  That rate of growth has not been accomplished for decades in the U.S.  What we now know from prior investing experience is that the one sure-fire reason that the market will go down is due to a recession forthcoming.  Nothing that I have indicated so far would call for anything close to a recession in the year 2021.  

I read with great interest that so many of the experts were forecasting the demise of Big Tech in America.  Surely since the stocks had run up during the year 2020, we would see a gigantic pull-back in the performance of these large companies.  After reviewing the fourth quarter earnings of the largest tech companies, it was almost breathtaking.  Just look at the quarterly net income of Big Tech.  During the fourth quarter, Apple earned a net profit of $29 billion.  That was not gross, that was net.  Add to that Google and Microsoft both had net profits of $15 billion for the quarter.  Lowly Facebook, that sells no products only advertising, had an $11 billion net profit.  And Amazon clocked in with a profit of $8 billion.  By any definition, those performances were beyond extraordinary.  

Take into comparison the former most profitable company in the world, ExxonMobil, which had a loss in the fourth quarter of 2020 of -$20 billion.  At one time, it was thought that Congress was going to create a windfall profit tax because Exxon was making too many profits.  It is now known that Apple makes more profits now than Exxon ever dreamed about in its heyday.  

If you want good news about your home, then you do not have to look very far to get it.  During December, existing home sales are up 22%, but more importantly, the average home price had increased a cool year-over-year at 12.9%.  If you think about it for a second, an increase of almost 13% of the value of every home in the United States is a staggering amount of money.  New home sales were also strong, going up 19% with the median price increasing by 8%.  Keep in mind, the consumer’s net worth is directly linked to the value of his real estate.  

As the value of someone’s home goes up, the value of their net worth increases, and their disposable income is freed up for consumer goods.  This increase in housing prices bodes well for future spending by consumers.  Now it can be said that home prices are directly attributable to the low interest rates we enjoy today, and I am sure that is true.  However, never before have we seen interest rates stay this low for such a long period of time.  You can attribute that directly to the Federal Reserve’s stated intent of keeping interest rates low for the next two years.  

As we change administrations, you have the unwelcome influence of government, which is a negative in many aspects of our economy.  Newly elected President Biden during his first week in office made moves to restrict the exportation and drilling of oil in the United States.  By immediately canceling the Keystone Pipeline and revoking leases on the drilling of oil on Federal land, we all know (including him) this will lead to higher oil prices in the future.  In fact, in a period of less than three weeks, the price of oil has gone up $10/barrel due to these actions.  Part of the increase, I am sure, relates to the anticipated stronger economy coming this summer, but when you restrict exportation and drilling coupled with a stronger economy of people wanting to travel after the pandemic, certainly you will see higher oil prices.  

There is not a more critical component of future inflation than the price of oil.  The price of oil figures into virtually every aspect of every item we purchase.  Due to transportation and the cost of manufacturing, this increase in the price of oil will be passed along to consumer goods, which almost assuredly will increase inflation.  

Ava and Josh at the Statue of Liberty

So, what we are already seeing is that an increase in interest rates is taking place.  The 10-year treasury now is up to 1.017%, considerably higher than it was less than 90 days ago.  The 30-year treasury is still trading below 2%, but it is nearing that level for the first time in over one year.  As explained here many times before, this increase in inflation will diminish the return on bonds, since they move inversely to the increase in these rates and very likely will provide a negative rate of total return for bonds for the year 2021.  As I have predicted before, there is a high likelihood that cash will outperform bonds during this year of 2021.  

We all understand the concept of political payback and we understand why President Biden moved quickly to support the environmental cause of many of his supporters.  However, if he had moved more slowly and announced these changes to come up in the future, we probably would not have had this shock of inflation so quickly.  The real danger, of course, is that if inflation starts to gain momentum, we could see the Federal Reserve change its theory of prolonged low interest rates and begin to increase them again.  

If, by chance, the Federal Reserve started increasing interest rates, prior to their stated timetable of constant rates through 2023, that would certainly have a negative effect on the U.S. economy.  Oil producing third world countries around the world must be applauding President Biden’s actions.  The super-producers in the Middle East and Russia will receive instant gratifications of higher rates with these actions in the U.S. with President Biden doing more to support the economy in Russia in one week than President Trump did in four years.  

What we know about the pandemic now, is that it was a terrible tragedy for the United States - for both the people who got sick and died as well as for the U.S. economy.  What is fascinating to me, is the amount of conflicting information we received at the beginning of and during the process of the pandemic.  You will recall, there were projections that we may lose as much as 5% of the population who would die from this pandemic.  That would have been a death rate close to 15 million total.  In the United States, we have tragically lost 473,000 deaths due to the pandemic, although many of those deaths were inevitable due to old age and ill health.  But certainly, nowhere close to 5% of the population.  

Partners Danielle Van Lear, Robby Schultz, 
Joe Rollins and Eddie Wilcox 

We were told that if you lock down your economy, you will prevent the spread of the virus and on the other end of the lockdowns, you will isolate and come out quicker.  Just take the case of New York, where they proved the opposite to be true.  Even though New York went through an extended period of lockdown, they have one of the worst records in all the United States.  They are still mostly on lockdown today.  In the process of shutting down their economy, they have destroyed their hospitality industry and have crippled their tourism business, maybe forever.  And to what end did they accomplish this draconic shutdown?  

New York has the largest number of deaths of any state in the union with almost 45,000.  The state of Georgia, which has roughly 50% of the population of New York State, has lost a tragic 15,000 lives, but has a much better record than the state of New York.  Florida which has a larger population than the state of New York, which did not put its economy through long periods of lockdown, had only 28,000 deaths as compared to New York’s 45,000 deaths.  So, with the expressed desire to shut businesses down, they have accomplished virtually nothing positive in fighting the pandemic.  Today Disneyland in California is still closed while Disney World in Florida has been open for months.  

The poster boy for doing what is right during the pandemic was Governor Andrew Cuomo, who argued that he needed 40,000 ventilators, which he never used to fight the pandemic.  Yet, his state has the worst record of any state when it comes to controlling the pandemic.

None of us know really what the long-term effect of children missing an entire year of school will be.  My 9-year-old will go to her first class on February 8th.  I guess you can say that this year was a total waste of her education, since clearly sitting in front of a computer for seven hours a day was not the equivalent of in-person educational instruction.  That is a year of education that can never be recovered.  

There are many lessons we have learned over the last year that hopefully will be beneficial in the future.  What we now know is that large, enforced shutdowns were not the answer and clearly should not be in the future.  But we have learned lessons regarding medicine that will benefit all of us going forward.  In a record amount of time, we have created vaccines that not only work but are relatively inexpensive and are highly efficient.  It is now believed that these vaccines can be adapted and used for many things which can be highly beneficial to future potential pandemics.

Partner Robby Schultz with 35-year client Mary Trupo

I just do not know how you can get more excited about the economy going forward.  The economy is already building steam and it is highly likely that by late spring anyone who wants to go back to work would be allowed to do so.  The projections of GDP growth in 2021 at 7.5%, which is almost too high to believe. Notwithstanding the very positive prospects of future economic growth, Congress and its ultimate wisdom will likely approve a $1.9 trillion stimulus sometime in the coming weeks.  

If you recall the last stimulus about one year ago, was roughly $3.2 trillion, the one right at Christmas was close to $1 trillion and you have another $1.9 trillion this year.  There is no question that putting this amount of money into the economy will be an economic boom of commerce and of individual consumer spending.  As this money starts to flow through the system in the spring, along with the reopening of the economy and the hospitality and travel industry, you should see an economic explosion unparallel in multiple decades.  

Ava and Dakota with 35-year clients
 Gerry and Allen Davidson

While stock prices are clearly high, you must compare them with the extortionary low interest rates.  Given that my projection is that bonds will have a negative return in 2021 and cash will earn virtually zero, stocks have become the only game in town.  If compared to long-term interest rates, today stocks are actually not overpriced, but rather fairly priced.

In retrospect, when you think about it, the Federal government has or will put roughly $7 trillion worth of stimulus in the economy over the year; it is a mind-blowing reality.  People ask me all the time how it is that they can create $7 trillion of new money.  When you own the printing presses you can virtually create any amount of money you want.  

Sheryl Matton, Gary McDade, Kathryn and 
Mark Keramidas celebrating Mark’s
 birthday in Deer Valley, Utah

There is absolutely no question that this is a long-term negative for the United States economy, but there is also no question that it is a short-term positive.  No one knows what the future holds, but at some point, that $7 trillion will have to be repaid by future generations.  You would expect that this flooding of the economy creating demand for commodities such as oil, food and housing will certainly increase the rate of inflation.  Moderate inflation is actually good for the economy in many regards.  It is not good if it is out of control.  The combination of higher inflation and the potential of higher rates to reduce inflation will almost surely be a negative for the economy in 2023 and 2024.  However, that is two years away and we need to enjoy the ride until the ugly inflation gauge stars to go higher.

On that note, come visit with us and discuss your goals and financial plans. If you are interested in discussing your specific financial situation, please feel free to call or email.

As always, the foregoing includes my opinions, assumptions and forecasts. It is perfectly possible that I am wrong.

Best Regards,
Joe Rollins 

Wednesday, January 13, 2021

“Bull Markets Are Born On Pessimism, Grown on Skepticism, Mature On Optimism and Die On Euphoria” – Sir John Templeton

From the Desk of Joe Rollins

I often refer to the above quote by the famous investor Sir John Templeton to explain what is currently going on in marketplaces. Not a single day goes by that I am not confronted by the question from clients regarding the ever-advancing stock markets. It seems that everyone would like to project the decline in the market since everyone now has become an expert on valuations of stock. In each of those cases, I attempt to talk clients out of any rash moves since we all know that “market timing” is virtually impossible, but it is really difficult to convince clients of that fact. So in this writing, I thought I would explain why we have not reached the level of “euphoria”, referred to above, by Sir John Templeton. 

While it is certainly not 1999 again, for too many reasons to explain, I will give you the basics of the difference between then and now. And we certainly cannot party like it is 1999 any longer. Also, I want to reflect back on the incredible year of 2020, which none of us are sad to see pass. If you are not excited about the upcoming 2021 year, you really do not have a firm concept of basic economics. In Economics 101 we learned the importance of supply and demand. We all learned that if the demand is higher than the supply, then prices will most assuredly rise. We learned many other basic economic provisions during those years in school that will come into play during the 2021 year. I will try to explain all of those. 

Ava (9) and CiCi enjoying a Florida Christmas

At the beginning of every year, I try to make a projection for the upcoming year. If you refer to my blog posted in January 2020, you will note that I projected that the S&P 500 Index would be at a level of 3600 at the end of 2020. That projection reflected a total gain in that index of 13%. I am not disappointed to report that I actually missed that projection by roughly 5%. The S&P 500 Index finished the year at 3756, with a total return of 18.4% for the year 2020. But quite honestly, that does not tell the entire story. 

So many investors have been lured into the mistaken concept that they can invest strictly in an index fund and outperform professionals who actually manage money. The year 2020 was a clear example of how flawed that concept really is. Most of the actively managed mutual funds with professional management teams outperform the S&P 500 Index by a multiple of 1.5 to 2 times that rate of return. It was not unusual to find many actively managed growth funds that returned 35%-45% during 2020, far exceeding the level of index funds. There are many reasons for this outperformance, some of which I would like to point out later in this writing. Of course, I want to give you my projection for 2021, which is always based on my reading of the economic data. If anyone could accurately forecast the future, they would certainly be too wealthy to write this monthly posting. 

The Wilcox family taking in the view
 from Rabun Bald 

I have so much to discuss and so little space, but I must give you the excellent financial results for the year 2020. Who would have ever thought in March of 2020, when the markets declined over 30%, that we would end the year setting all-time records in virtually all indexes? I guess you could say maybe I projected that, but even I had an uncertain comfort level with that projection. As the markets came roaring back in April through the rest of the year, there were many that fought the concept of higher returns and did not participate. In many cases, I talked until I was literally hoarse to convince clients to stay invested, but many elected otherwise. They missed the basic concept of economics that drives stocks higher. In this period of time liquidity exceeded the number of stocks available to buy and coupled with the avalanche of cash the government threw into the economy, stocks moved higher, notwithstanding the economy. 

During the year 2020, the Standard & Poor’s Index of 500 stocks had a total return of 18.4% for the year. The five-year annual average for this index is 15.2% and the 10-year at 13.9%. The Dow Jones Industrial Average returned a total return of 9.7% during 2020 and has a five-year average return of 14.7% and a 10-year average return of 13%. The NASDAQ Composite, once again, was the leader having a sterling return in 2020 of 44.9% with a five-year average at 22.1% and a 10-year average at 18.5%. As you can tell, all of the one-year, five-year and 10-year numbers were excellent rates of return. Just to form a comparison, the Bloomberg Barclays Aggregate Bond Index was up 7.8% for 2020, has a five-year annual increase at 4.5% and 10-year annual increase of 3.8%. As you can tell, the bond index has not kept up with the sterling returns that the stock indexes have returned over the last decade. 

The Schultz family spending their Christmas
in beautiful Amelia Island, Florida

Recently, the 10-year Treasury Bond jumped over 1%, which by any definition is a historically low level. However, with the flush of cash provided to the economy by the Federal Reserve, almost assuredly we are facing inflation going forward. You could not expect that the Treasury furnishing $3.5 trillion worth of liquidity into the economy would not create a supply and demand issue related to certain hard assets. When this demand for hard assets exceeds the supply, you will eventually get inflation. It is my projection that by the end of 2021, the 10-year Treasury Bond will be closer to 2% than the 1% it is today. If that forecast is correct, during the year 2021, there is a high likelihood that cash earning the meager rates that it currently earns, will outperform the total return on bonds for the year 2021. 

For those of you that are concerned about the current chaos in Washington, the only comfort level I can give you is that with the Congress being equally divided in both houses, there is hardly any likelihood of major change that will occur very quickly. It would be a miracle of legislative speed if a tax bill could be approved by Congress within a two-year period. Given that the Senate is exactly 50/50, it only takes one sitting Senator to make any bill impossible to pass. I think it speaks very well for the economy that Congress is likely to be in a period of chaos for some time to come. As we all know, the best years ever in investing occurs during times when the politicians do not affect our pocketbooks. 

I have so many people that try to give the impression that the year 2020 was like the year 1999. Most investors today really weren’t around in 1999 and did not understand the dynamics of the market. That was a time when Dr. Alan Greenspan, as chairman of the Federal Reserve, was very concerned about the Y2K problems and flooded the economy in 1999 with a ridiculous amount of liquidity in order to avoid any potential risk of a Y2K meltdown. During that time, the so-called “dot.com” stocks came on selling at many times their value, given the potential of the newly formed internet. You can easily see where a company coming out of nowhere that can reach virtually everyone in the world at no cost would have huge potential. What we now know is, of course, many of these are not real companies and the run-up in the dot.com marketplace quickly failed in the year 2000. However, the major difference did not relate to any of these matters. The major difference related to what the Federal Reserve did to close down the dot.com era. In March of 2000, Dr. Greenspan immediately restricted the money flow and “choked” the financial markets to a major correction. Just as he hyperinflated the market in 1999, he deflated it in 2000. The strangulation of the economy was solely at his desire to burst the bubble of speculation in the dot.com era. Fortunately, we do not have a similar situation in 2020. 

Caroline (6) and Reid (5) Schultz taking 
Santa’s chair in Rosemary Beach, Florida 

As the new Congress comes to be at the end of January 2021, you can expect that the spigots of governmental spending will explode. You can expect another stimulus package of higher rebates to taxpayers and more than ever before governmental spending for municipal projects and supporting municipal governments. If we had a Federal Reserve that was conscious regarding reducing the speculation, they would not have announced that there would be no significant rate increases through the end of 2023, three years from the beginning of this year. 

As I have pointed out before, the decade that ended in 2019 was the only decade ever in the history of American finance that we did not have a recession. We actually did have a recession in 2020 for a couple of months, but the Federal Reserve dumped $3.5 trillion into the economy and, in turn, the economy came roaring back. Just in the last couple of weeks, Congress has approved to add an additional $900 billion stimulus directly into the economy. Along with that, I project, we will see a couple trillion dollars more in stimulus will come almost immediately. All of this money will create a gush of cash in the economy which will not only bring the economy back to life, but will almost assuredly lead to higher stock prices. There are many commentators that have pointed out that cash levels sitting in checking accounts are at all-time highs. One of the reasons for this is when the economic fallout occurred in March of 2020, the average citizen in the U.S. was concerned about their future employment and the savings rate spiked to an all-time high of 35% in April of 2020. At the end of 2020, cash levels sitting in checking accounts were 15.3% higher than they were at the beginning of 2020. Now we are not talking about money in investments, we are talking about actual cash sitting in checking accounts. What has been proven over and over again is that cash sitting in checking accounts is not a savings vehicle, but rather a spending vehicle. It is only a matter of time before this cash will be put back to work, either in additional consumer goods or that cash will be invested. Even though we are standing at record levels of cash today in checking accounts, this number is only going to get larger as the Federal Government flows through additional stimulus that will end up in people’s checking accounts. 

Jennifer, Harper (11) and Lucy (9) Wilcox 
admiring the festive light display

So, what we can assume in 2021 is that as we move forward, we are going to see less of the influence of the virus on the economy. As of this writing, it is believed that 23 million Americans have already contracted the virus and roughly 10 million have been vaccinated against the virus. Therefore, we have already reached a level of 10% of the population that has some level of immunity going forward. It is believed, and I concur, that there will be vaccination rollouts to the general public, which will lead to vaccinations of roughly 1 million per day going forward. If we are able to vaccinate 100 million people in the U.S. before the end of the first quarter of 2021, along with the people that have already contracted the virus, we will have reached the level where businesses can reopen, and a level of normal activity can return. 

It is now projected that corporate earnings would increase roughly 38% in 2021 over earnings in 2020. What you will see almost assuredly is a flood of Americans this summer wanting to go on vacation and spending money for pleasure that they have missed during the pandemic and a rush to visit restaurants, movie theatres, cruise ships and airlines. All of this bodes extraordinarily well for earnings and the economy, and ultimately for stock prices. 

What we will not see like we did in 1999 is the Federal Reserve pulling out the rug and tripping the economy. The Federal Reserve has already committed to long-term low interest rates and they intend to allow the economy to continue to accelerate which should be nothing but great for stock prices. I fully anticipate that the current euphoria in real estate prices will continue as more and more money chases hard assets such as real estate. We are seeing the effect of supply and demand on virtually all commodities. You are seeing record prices in copper, gold and other commodities that give you the impression that certainly inflation will eventually follow. 

Printing all this money that the Federal Reserve is pushing into the economy is certainly a long-term negative and a short-term positive which, at some point, some generation will be tasked with the obligation of repaying. However, that is likely decades, rather than years, away. At the current time, the need to stimulate the economy was important in March 2020 but it appears that the economy has quickly recovered on its own and an additional stimulus will probably only accelerate asset appreciation in the coming months. Even though the negative for the future is well documented, we have years to prepare for that and we should participate in any market increases that occur due to this flooding of cash by our Federal Government. 

Mia Musciano-Howard and her
family enjoying their annual, 
traditional Christmas PJ picture

Sometimes, I like to reflect upon the growth of our firm here in Atlanta. In 2015, CNBC ranked our firm the 20th best financial advisor in the country. This is not an award that we asked for, applied for, paid for, or even actually knew was even going on. At that time, the information they utilized was from our SEC filing that listed our assets at $274 million. Today, five years later, we are approaching $1 billion dollars in assets with clients all over the United States, as well as clients in Europe and Asia. It has been a remarkable run of accumulation of assets and we are truly blessed with the clients that rewarded us with their hard-owned assets and allowed us to grow those assets for them. 

At the beginning of every year, I give you my projection for the upcoming year for investing. It is impossible to project for 2021 based upon any type of documented price/earnings ratio. All these calculations are totally out of whack because of the extraordinarily low interest rates that we are enjoying today and the earnings that were unfairly punished during the pandemic in 2020. What would be different in 2021 is that we expect the earnings to come roaring back as the economy loosens up and we return to a normal lifestyle in the second half of 2021. But interestingly, we do not anticipate a large increase in interest rates which would normally be the result of a strengthened economy in 2021. 

Morgan Miner and her cat, Drake, 
who is on the naughty list this year 

Since the Federal Reserve has essentially guaranteed low interest rates for three more years, it appears that will allow the economy to accelerate based on its earnings without interruption of governmental intervention. Therefore, I expect that during 2021 we should see another excellent investment year that will be very satisfying for your long-term retirement needs. I see the S&P 500 Index ending the year at a level of 4400, which would mean that it would gain 644 points during 2021. This would be a total increase of 17%. In addition to that, the annual dividend rate of this index is roughly 2%. So, I project today that the total return for the S&P 500 for the year 2021 would be a total return of roughly 19%. This would be another extraordinary excellent year. I really hope I am correct. 

What I do not expect to happen is that this really nice gain in 2021 will be straight up. I fully expect that it will be choppy along the way and there will be periods of time where there will be extraordinary volatility. Once again, I want to point out that any short-term disruption in the market is likely to be very short-term. While you will always have traders attempting to move the market to their benefit, just exactly where are they going to go to invest? As illustrated above, we do not believe that bonds form a reasonable alternative to stocks and the very low rates of returns on cash are not very attractive. Therefore, while the traders may move in and out of stocks, it is unlikely that they will be out very long. So, while you may see major swings of the market, these will only be temporary and will lead to a very satisfactory year before year-end. 

We are also seeing strength throughout the world as the economies recover. Already in Asia, their economies are back to full capacity. You are seeing major advances in Vietnam, Indonesia, Malaysia, and Southeast Asia. Already China is back in full production even though their political issues continue to overwhelm their financial markets. While Europe is not fully recovered, they are making significant progress. With the advent of the rollout of vaccines throughout the world by the summer of 2021, virtually all economies will have at least stabilized and start to move higher. All of this will lead to a worldwide rally in stock markets which is likely to be unprecedented in its coordinated move higher. Make no mistake that this coordination of higher economies is solely due to the assistance with the central governments of all those countries flooding their economies with liquidity. If for whatever reason the central governments elect not to continue to fund the economy, this projection may change. However, I highly doubt that any change will be in the offering in 2021. 

Musciano-Howard twins, Mitch and Marti (16)

So, in summary I am very optimistic for 2021 as compared to the pessimistic view held by many. One of the things I have been able to do to successfully invest, is to separate my feelings regarding most everything and rely upon all my instincts of economics regarding stock prices. Every time I hear a client express the negativity of restaurants not being open as a reason why the economy will not succeed gives me greater confidence that I am correct. As we went through 2020, we suffered huge economic declines, buy yet cash continued to accumulate in peoples checking accounts. Even though many will forever distain the activity of 2020, the vast majority of investors have benefited even from the turmoil of that year. 

I fully expect 2021 to go through major ups and downs, but by the Fall of 2021 the outlook should be much clearer and more positive than today. For those of you that are not invested and refuse to invest due to your perceived conceptual idea of stock prices being too high really are not taking into account the economic benefits of the gusher of money reaching the economy by the Federal Government.      

On that note, come visit with us and discuss your goals and financial plans. If you are interested in discussing your specific financial situation, please feel free to call or email.

As always, the foregoing includes my opinions, assumptions and forecasts. It is perfectly possible that I am wrong.

Best Regards,
Joe Rollins 

Wednesday, December 23, 2020

Happy Holidays!

In celebration of the Christmas holiday, the offices of Rollins Financial and Rollins & Van Lear will be closed on Thursday, December 24th and Friday, December 25th. Our regular office hours will resume on Monday, December 28th.

AND, in celebration of the New Year holiday, our offices will be closed on Friday, January 1st. We will resume normal office hours on Monday, January 4th.


If you have a matter that requires immediate attention while our offices are closed, please contact Joe at jrollins@rollinsfinancial.com

You can also contact Eddie Wilcox at ewilcox@rollinsfinancial.com, Robby Schultz at rschultz@rollinsfinancial.com or Danielle Van Lear at dvanlear@rollinsfinancial.com.

The Partners at Rollins Financial and Rollins & Van Lear wish you a Wonderful Holiday and a very Happy New Year!

Best Personal Regards,
Rollins Financial, Inc.

Friday, December 18, 2020

“It Was the Best of Times, It Was the Worst of Times, It Was the Age of Wisdom, It Was the Age of Foolishness, It Was the Epoch of Belief, It Was the Epoch of Incredulity, …” – Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities

From the Desk of Joe Rollins

Hopefully, Charles Dickens will forgive my use above of his famous quote from A Tale of Two Cities, although written in 1859 it seems to readily apply to today’s feeling in the U.S. As we move quickly into the, supposedly, “merry” holiday season, I began wondering why so many people have such a bad attitude nowadays. We have so much to be thankful for this year, even with all its problems and concerns. In my opinion, the list of things that are just great far exceed the things that are just bad. However, for reasons unclear to me, the public seems to have such a bad attitude about virtually everything. You have to think that from a stock market perspective, this lack of optimism is a true indicator of better things to come. 

I decided to write this blog and try to remind you of all the good things that are going on, as compared to the bad. I sat down and made a list of the things I could quickly think of as positives and the negatives hardly create even a list. This has been nothing short of a fabulous investment year, yet all we hear about are the negatives in the media about things for which we had no control. So, I decided since no one else will do it, I will give you the list of positives I see in the current economy. 

Dakota and Ava looking at a wonderful Christmas light display

Additionally, I visited the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio recently and I thought I would share my thoughts on that famous building. Also, just to point out, much of the memorabilia we have here in our office is sports related, but we have other pieces that I think you would find of interest as well. I could not write about all of these things without also commenting on the progress with COVID-19 and the incredible successes made by the government in trying to control this terrible virus. I know it is a lot to cover in four short pages, but I thought I would at least give it a try. Always seems like plenty to discuss. 

Before I jump into those more interesting topics, I must reflect upon what was just a fabulous investment period during the month of November. I wish I could even quantify the number of clients that told me they did not want to be invested during the election month. I tried to explain that regardless of who wins the election, economics would win, and the economy was strong and getting stronger, and the earnings were high and getting higher. This almost assuredly would outweigh the political influence of who wins the election. The results for November soundly supported my conclusion and led to record gains in the month of November. 

The Standard & Poor’s Index of 500 stocks was up 10.9% during the month of November. Year-to-date in 2020, it is up double digits at 14%. The increase in this index is 17.5% for one year and, on average, 14.2% over the 10-year period. The Dow Jones Industrial Average was up 12.1% in November and is up 6.1% for the year 2020. The increase for this index is 8.1% for one year and 13.5% for the 10-year average. The NASDAQ Composite was up 11.9% for the month of November and up a sterling 37.1% for the year 2020. The one-year total return is 42.1% and the 10-year average is 18.5%. 

Just for purposes of comparison, the Bloomberg Barclays Aggregate Bond Index was up 1.1% in November, up 7.8% in the year 2020, the one-year total return is 7.4% and the 10-year average return in the bond index is 3.7%. As you can see, any three of the major market indexes is three to four times higher than the bond index over the last 10-year period. Even as I dictate these returns, I think it is important that you realize that the year 2020 has been a stock-pickers paradise. Even though the S&P 500 Index is up double digits through November, virtually all the best managed mutual funds are up two to three times higher than the S&P 500 Index. It is years like this where highly qualified stock-pickers can vastly beat the index returns. This year virtually all well-run mutual funds with qualified managers have returns far in excess of the indexes noted above. 

I thought I would just make a list of all the things that are going well in 2020 as you may not get this information anywhere but here. We have enjoyed a fabulous stock market in 2020, which has turned out to be one of the best total return markets of all time. The United States led the world in developing a vaccine for COVID-19 in a period of a little over six months and now this vaccine is rolling out in the United Kingdom and the U.S. beginning this week. Not only was this vaccine developed in record time and with a new and novel approach, but its efficiency level is also at a historic high, believed to be greater than 95%. I will comment further on the current state of the virus later in these writings. 

Corporate earnings have recovered and for the third quarter of 2020, were actually higher than they were in the third quarter of 2019. Who would have thought, given the depth of the recession that we suffered due to governmental shutdowns, corporate earnings would recover and even be higher than the previous year? We have record low interest rates, fueling a huge increase in home values and making refinancing available to everyone. Not only are interest rates low, but the Federal Reserve has promised to keep interest rates low for another 2-4 years. 

A beautiful Florida sunset

We have an inept Congress that is split totally on an ideological basis, which can be nothing but good for investors. The less Congress does, the better it will be for investing. If it were not for a split Congress, the newly elected administration most assuredly would try to increase tax rates, making profits lower and, by definition, the stock market would be less robust. We are thankful to have the inept and mixed Congress, so as they are not likely to do that much harm. 

We have a great economy in the U.S. that has rebounded completely from a recession back to a booming economy. Corporate profits are increasing, and entrepreneurs are able to issue stock on new and exciting ideas at record prices. As the stock market goes up, citizen’s 401(k)s are increased, increasing the likelihood of strong retirement years. GDP for all of 2021 is forecasted at 4.2%, excellent. 

In just a few short years we have seen the conversion from internal combustion engines to electric cars. Even a decade ago, it was a wild dream to think that someone could produce an electric car that was efficient and have a daily mileage limit that would be useful. These cars now exist, and every major car manufacturer is falling over themselves to produce them. As more electric cars are on the road, we solve one of the great problems of America; air quality and the very destructive production of fossil fuels to create gasoline for automobiles. You do not have to look too far in the future to see that electric vehicles will be prominent in the decades to come. Notwithstanding their inability to do anything useful, there is a high likelihood that Congress will pass an additional stimulus bill which will help many small businesses get back on their feet and open for business. 

If you go back and read the blogs I wrote in March and April of 2020, I implored you to avoid all the headlines and, as is often quoted from Jerry Maguire, “Show me the money”. Since I have studied basic economics all my life, the one thing that we absolutely know for sure is that if you inject cash into the economy, eventually that cash will show up as commerce that will eventually find its way to investing. During March and April of 2020, the Federal Reserve, along with the CARES Act and its buying bond program, ejected roughly $3 trillion into the U.S. economy. If you understand the velocity of money, which argues that money is spent seven times before it is saved, that would imply an injection of capital of $21 trillion over a 90 day period. Just to put that into perspective, that amount of GDP is greater than the annual GDP of China, which is the second largest GDP country in the world. 

Treasure Island, FL, a view that never gets old

I argued at that time that there is no way that $21 trillion worth of stimulus would not create a better economy. Almost immediately we saw businesses employing people and retail opening to the public. As the economy strengthened due to the governmental money the stock market came roaring back and recently the Dow has passed the 30,000 level and all major market indexes have hit all time highs early in December 2020. You might ask how I felt so confident about that turn around. It has nothing to do with politics, but it has everything to do with money. If you put money in the economy, people will spend it to create commerce and eventually they will save it to create higher stock prices. It is estimated still that there is $4 trillion in cash sitting on the sidelines waiting to be invested. If you knew no other number other than that one fact, you have to feel good about the stock market going forward. 

I am often asked what my projections for the future are regarding the market and what would be the driving forces of the market’s advances. It is pretty simple to look up the expected earnings of the S&P 500 stocks. It is estimated that the earnings for 2020 will be $156/share. In 2021, that number is supposed to be $182/share, a 16% increase and in 2022, $200/share for another 10% increase. A couple of those excellent numbers, with the pledge of the Federal Reserve not to increase interest rates for the next two years, and you can see that the potential gains on the market could be substantial over the coming two years. Given that interest-sensitive investments (bonds and CDs) at the current time appear to be a loss leader, higher interest rates will not draw money out of the stock market, but rather low interest rates will force money into it. Given that scenario, it is highly likely that stock prices will continue to go up over the next two years. 

So, while we sit around for all of 2020 feeling sorry for ourselves and bemoaning the fact that we cannot go on vacation, eat in restaurants, or go to movie theaters, what has happened to the net worth of Americans? Due to the strong effects of the stock market and the housing market, the effects have been electric for household wealth. During the 3rd quarter of 2020, household wealth went up by a cool $3.8 trillion. If you say it did not happen to you, you just have not thought about it recently. With the strong gains in the stock market, your 401(k) went up significantly and the value of your house increased due to the strong housing market. 

It is now estimated that the net worth of the households in the United States is $123.52 trillion, as estimated by the Federal Reserve last week. Roll that number around in your mind awhile and realize we are talking about trillions of dollars that is spread through the 338 million residents of the United States. It is estimated that residential real estate went up by a cool $30 billion in the latest quarter alone, and that over the course of this year in 2020 due to the abnormally low interest rates and strong housing market, the net equity in real estate by all Americans will have gone up by $1 trillion by the end of the year. So, I guess it could be said that while you were sitting around feeling sorry for yourself in 2020, your net worth went up substantially without you working too hard to increase it. Are you starting to feel wealthier now? 

Carter and Ava enjoying a day at the park

I really get irritated sometimes when I read the talking points about how the stock market only affects the wealthy and not the average American. It is now estimated that over 100 million Americans save in a 401(k) plan. Back in 1990, that number was 19 million, so it has gone up five times over the intervening 30 years. In addition to 401(k) plans, there are many savers in IRAs, 403(b)s and 529 college savings plans. Before, it could be said that roughly one out of every three Americans have a direct link to the stock market and the success of the stock market but I see this changing in kids coming out of college today. They all understand the value of saving early and often, unlike their parents who waited until later in life. Considering a large portion of the population are minors, if you broke it down into households, it is more likely one out of every two households were directly invested in one of these investment vehicles, which would be their primary form of income once they reach retirement age. When President Trump took office on election day in 2016, the S&P 500 stood at 2140. Right before the market plunged due to the coronavirus shutdown, the market had increased close to 60% during the intervening three and a half years. As I write this, the S&P 500 is at 3700, a 73% increase. 

Think about the wealth that was created during this time period due to the increase in the stock market valuations. Also understand that this increase will lead directly to better retirement years for senior citizens and a better way of life for Americans in retirement. Those that argue that stock markets are only related to the rich clearly do not understand the broad appeal of 401(k) plans today. Any plan to increase taxes to the detriment of stock prices would have a detrimental effect on 50% of Americans and clearly would have a detrimental effect on their potential retirement. 

You cannot help but read the articles everyday regarding the current impact that COVID-19 is having on Americans. Of course, I am a skeptic of these articles because I really cannot understand what their motivation is. For instance, as of today, there are 16.5 million cases of coronavirus in the United States, according to the famous website on the subject. How exactly does the fact that 16 million cases, many occurring back in March, April, and May, provide us any additional information now that these people are well. What is a more important consideration is how many active cases are there today and where we stand in connection with protecting the public’s health. Based on this website, there are roughly 6.6 million active coronavirus cases today. You have to keep in perspective that that is only 2% of the population in the United States. Therefore, if you had a room with 100 people, only two of those 100 people, on average, are likely to be infected. 

Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio

What we also know now is that the governmental actions to limit the spread of the virus were totally ineffective. I look back over this time period and wonder exactly what someone could have done to help the matter. I hear so many outspoken critics say that the U.S. completely mishandled the virus to the detriment of Americans. I do not hear any of these critics saying what they would do differently. It seems to be a common trend that these critics argue that the only way to snuff out the virus would have been to have a complete and total shutdown of the U.S. for a prolonged period until the virus was gone. Economically, that is complete and total nonsense. 

Economically, you could never have shut down the American economy for that period without severe economic consequences. And it does not appear to have even worked anyway. If you look at California and New York, which suffered through very long government-enforced shutdowns, it really has not helped their situation. California has banned indoor dining, sporting events, theme parks, or any type of public gathering however, their number of virus cases continue to grow at the highest level of any state in the United States. New York once again has shut down indoor dining, creating devastating effects on millions of hospitality workers, yet their virus numbers continue to grow. How well did that work? 

So, if we agree that shutdowns are ineffective, what exactly could we have done to stop the virus in America? It seems to me that what we did was exactly the right thing. We used the government’s money to fund the creation of a vaccine in record time in order to vaccinate the public. When I was growing up, we used to have what was termed “polio days.” We would have an outbreak of polio in the community and people would stay home from school to avoid polio. Vaccinations have eliminated polio in the United States. Vaccinations are the answer for many diseases such as the elimination of smallpox, chickenpox and the measles as well. 

The issue was how do we get vaccinations to the public as quick as possible, and the government did an excellent job in providing the money necessary to make that happen. What went wrong in this process is that local governmental officials thinking they knew more about public health than they obviously did and forced absolutely crazy rules on businesses, creating economic strife for families and industries. In retrospect, I doubt very seriously that the results of this virus would have been much different if we had not shut down at all. 

A concert ticket, song list and book of 
The Beatles from their show in Atlanta

I hear people all the time saying, “let’s follow the scientists and determine what they say.” If we had followed the scientists that forecasted over two million deaths in America, think about how bad of economic consequences we would have today. It is true today after almost nine months of the coronavirus that if you are under the age of 40, you have a statistical zero chance of dying from this virus. Yet, to this day we still have shut down our colleges and public school systems to accommodate a fear of death that absolutely does not exist. I am not arguing that this is not a terrible disease that many people have died from. All I argue is that it was such an unknown that I really doubt anyone could have done any better to prevent the consequences that we see today. But with the hope of vaccinations, we will lead to normalcy by spring. 

I happened to be in Cleveland, Ohio recently and decided to go by the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio. I guess I have heard about the Hall of Fame my entire life and I have never been in the area or never wanted to make a special trip to see it. First off, Canton is pretty much out of the way and the area where the Hall of Fame sits is not a booming economic metropolis. After paying my $25 to get in, I walked through the exhibits for several hours. What I found was that, for the most part, their idea of “exhibits” was jerseys of famous players during their eras. I think I have more signed jerseys in my office than they do in the Hall of Fame. 

For the most part, these jerseys that are on exhibit at the Hall of Fame can be purchased from virtually any source. They do not even have a Joe Namath signed picture, but I do, several in fact. Sometime when you are in the area, maybe you could take a tour of our offices. We have other pieces other than sports memorabilia. In 1965, The Beatles actually played in Atlanta at the old Fulton County stadium. They played 11 songs that night and were on the stage for 21 total minutes. I actually have the program from that concert, the original ticket from the concert, and the playlist posted in my office. You could have bought that ticket to see that concert in 1965 for $5.50. See above. 

The Beatles right after their famous Pan Am flight

In 1963, The Beatles came to the United States for the first time. Their famous landing at LaGuardia Airport on a Pan Am flight was legendary. One of my clients was the original beat reporter for Life Magazine on the tour of The Beatles when they first toured the United States in 1963. I have a picture posted in my office that was in the original Life Magazine of The Beatles in the Pan Am plane that was taken by her. I also have the trademark of Life Magazine that indicated the picture belonged to them. We have many other interesting memorabilia pieces that you are welcome to view on your next visit, including a picture of the Enola Gay signed by the captain, Paul Tibbets. 

In summary, as bad as 2020 has been for all the reasons above, it has been a quite spectacular year financially. Virtually all Americans have increased their net worth, even with the hardships imposed upon them by ill-informed governments. I am very excited about 2021 and 2022 economically. If we can avoid governmental intervention and an ill-informed Congress, there is a high likelihood that we will set additional stock market records in both 2021 and 2022. You will not set any records sitting in cash.   

On that note, come visit with us and discuss your goals and financial plans. If you are interested in discussing your specific financial situation, please feel free to call or email.

As always, the foregoing includes my opinions, assumptions and forecasts. It is perfectly possible that I am wrong.

Best Regards,
Joe Rollins 

Tuesday, November 24, 2020

Happy Thanksgiving!

In observance of Thanksgiving, the offices of Rollins Financial and Rollins & Van Lear will be closed on Thursday, November 26th and Friday, November 27th. We will re-open for business on Monday, November 30th at 8:30 a.m.


If you have any pressing matters that require immediate attention on Thursday or Friday, please do not hesitate to contact any of our staff.

Please be safe, and enjoy the holiday! 

Best Regards,
Rollins Financial, Inc.

Wednesday, November 18, 2020

“Don’t Gamble; Take All Your Savings and Buy Some Good Stock and Hold It Till It Goes Up, Then Sell It. If It Don’t Go Up, Don’t Buy It.” – Will Rogers

From the Desk of Joe Rollins

You may have noticed that I took a couple months off from writing my monthly blog.  During the highly debated election season, I opted to just take some time off rather than create any unrest due to the friction of the election process.   Now that it is over and we are ready to move forward, I can get back to discussing some of the things that I find of interest without any political overtones. 

In this blog I want to reemphasize again the strength of the American economy which I have been discussing all year.  Contrary to what you hear in the media, the economy is strong and is getting stronger.  No question about it, there are weak spots and there will continue to be weak spots for months to come.   But clearly, there is light at the end of the tunnel, and it is time to position our portfolios for bigger and better gains.

Ava, Age 9, as a magician 
for Halloween this year

I also would like to discuss some of the impressions I have regarding the change in the environment of investing over the last decade.  Things have shifted so quickly the past ten years it is hard to believe that some of the companies that were once leaders are now laggers.  I will try to cover some of those events for you.  

Much has been said regarding the economy due to the election and what would happen if we had a “blue wave” in the Presidential election.  That clearly did not happen and in fact there is much positive news from the election whether you want to believe it or not.  I will try to point some of those items out for you, as well. 

Before I do all that, I must explain the month of October.  It was basically a down month, but mainly due to the final week of October leading into the election.  For that week, the market was down 5%, basically wiping out all profits for the month.  The real positive news came in November.  

The Standard & Poor’s Index 500 stock was down 2.7% for the month of October, but is higher for the year 2020 by 2.8%.  The NASDAQ Composite was down 2.2% for the month of October but is up a very satisfying 22.5% for the year 2020.  The Dow Jones Industrials was down 4.5% for the month of October and is down 5.4% for the year 2020.  And just for comparison, the Bloomberg Barclays US Aggregate Bond Index was down 0.5% for the month of October, but is up 6.4% for the year 2020.

Harper Wilcox, Age 11, as an Arctic huntress
 and Lucy Wilcox, Age 9, as Harry Potter  

While certainly October was a disappointing month from an investment standpoint, there is clearly strength in the financial markets; albeit it is difficult to identify given the avalanche of negative news related to the pandemic and election.  Just as an example, the one-year total return for the S&P 500 is 9.7%.  The NASDAQ Composite is up 32.9%.  Even the Dow Jones Industrial Average is up a little bit at 0.3% for the one-year period there ended.    

If you go back and read the blogs I have written for all of 2020, you will notice that I have consistently advocated that you stay invested at all times.  The unfortunate truth is that the only people that lost money during the pandemic sell-off of March and April 2020 are the people that actually sold.  I do not know how many ways we can say, never try to time the market, but yet there is always some investor that believes they have the absolute answer to market timing.  They could not be more wrong.  

The numbers above reflect the returns of the S&P 500 Index.  Quite frankly, for this year, actively traded mutual funds are significantly higher than the S&P 500 Index.  In many cases, the better managed funds have rates of return that are more than double the Broad-Based 500 Index.  It is all about stock picking.  The nest mutual funds have the best fund managers and we pick the best of the best.  It is often said only 10% of the mutual funds outperform the S&P 500 Index.  Yes, that may be true, but 10% of 6,000 available funds is over 600.  We invest in less than 50 mutual funds throughout our entire portfolio.  

For this entire year I have been emphasizing to you that the economy was much stronger than you realized and much stronger than is represented by the media. It has become a national embarrassment that so much of the media is now tainted by its own political bias and reporting of the news has become as obsolete as the buggy whip.  I long for the days when Walter Cronkite would just read the news to me.  I had no idea of the political leanings of Walter Cronkite until long after he retired.  Who would have ever suspected that Walter Cronkite was very much a liberal-leaning person? You would have never known it from hearing his news reports.  He should be the model for how all news reports should be handled today.

Reid Schultz, Age 5, working 
for NASA this Halloween   

For those of you who thought I was delusional for thinking that the economy was better, the news this month documented that reality.  For the 3rd quarter the GDP was up 33.1% on an annualized basis.  If you break it down to a quarterly basis that is roughly a 7.4% increase.  That is the highest increase in one quarter ever in the history of American finance.  Yes, I fully recognize that on an annualized basis the GDP is still down, but it is working its way back to zero.  As I write this, the Atlanta Federal Reserve is forecasting an increase in GDP for the final quarter at 3.2%.  If that quarterly increase becomes true, we will be at a very near breakeven for 2020.

Evidence of the increase in the economy is everywhere, but you don’t hear it in the news.  The Institute for Supply Management has said its manufacturing index rose 59.3% last month.  Incidentally, that was the highest since 2018.  How could manufacturing be so strong in the face of such negative financial news?  In addition, the forward-looking component of new orders for manufacturing was the highest it has been in over 17 years.  This is extraordinarily good news for the economy going forward.

The unemployment picture is improving.  Even with many states continuing to restrict their workers from their jobs, the unemployment rate fell to 6.9% during the month of October.  While certainly it is a high rate by recent standards in the U.S, it is a vast improvement over just four months ago and the components of unemployment were extraordinarily encouraging.  Much of the improvement in unemployment is related to hospitality and restaurants, which are just starting back to work.  

Finally, businesses are going back to work and putting their employees back on the job.  I forecast as we move forward, we will see greater improvements in these labor reports.   What is very surprising to most people is that the U.S. consumer is strong.  Retail sales have now risen in five straight months - the highest they have been even prior to pre-pandemic level.  Credit card spending is actually up, while credit card balances are down.  The average consumer credit score is at the highest level in the history of the U.S. Don’t you find it astonishing that the media is forecasting the demise of the average consumer, yet the economic facts are completely different?

The news on the vaccine is nothing short of remarkable. Pfizer reported their preliminary results of the vaccine with an over 90% effective rate.  The FDA had forecasted an effective rate of 50% to 60% on these proposed vaccines, but a 90% rate is beyond anyone’s anticipation.  When you get a 90% effective rate on a vaccine, you are talking about an effective rate similar to that of measles, smallpox and chicken pox.  Those particular viruses have a vaccine rate in excess of 90% and this vaccine holds the same promise of success.  As we roll out the vaccines over the next 12 months, you will see America return to normal.  People will no longer be in fear of crowds, travel, staying in hotels or even eating at their favorite restaurants.  I forecast that by this time next year, this will all be a bad dream. 
 
Caroline Schultz, Age 6, as
 a colorful butterfly    

The government has done an extraordinary job of funding and expediting the technology for these vaccines.  They have pre-funded roughly two billion doses for the vaccine, not only for the U.S but for the rest of the world.  Four to five vaccines could be fully authorized for emergency use prior to the end of 2020.  As these vaccines work through the population, you will see corporate America gear back up to its pre-pandemic strongest economy ever.  Remember we only need 50% of the population to get vaccines to reach mass immunity – very exciting.  

The year 2020 will be looked at as an extraordinary year in many regards.  But one thing that I think will clearly be proven is that the shutdown of the American economy was a serious mistake.  Admittedly none of us knew exactly what might happen and what the effect would be.  What we are finding out though is that as the economies that were shut down have begun to reopen, the virus is spreading through areas where it had not been before.  We are now seeing a serious rise of cases in the Midwest, which previously had avoided any major virus spread.  The state of Georgia was one of the first states to reopen and to this point the pandemic has been under control.  The economy continues to strengthen in Georgia as we move forward with virtually all segments of industry now open.  

The reason I think we will look back on this time period with regret of shutting down the economy relates to the $3.5 trillion the Federal Reserve had to borrow to stimulate the economy.  It will take generations to pay off this much debt, which will be a drain on future Federal budgets.  I fully recognize that without this deficit spending the economy could have been much worse, and the outcome could have been different. However, the economy was shut down by governmental agencies as businesses that could have and wanted to work were prevented from doing so.  Even to this day many states are not open for their economy.  While there is some evidence that their infection rates are lower, I wonder whether anyone can justify the economic cost of these shutdowns.  The issue for school closings is complete nonsense – I will not go there this month.    

Erik Kramschuster’s dog, Knox,
 as a mighty lion

While certainly it is a tragedy that people continue to die of the virus, I personally think that the deaths of this virus is well overstated.  While certainly it is true that deaths recently are averaging at about a thousand a day, many of the experts contend that these deaths are mainly older people at the end of their life.  There is very little evidence that younger people are dying; the closing of schools is doing much more harm to the kids than the exposure of the virus. You do not hear about it too much in the press, but even before the pandemic roughly 7,000 people/day die in the U.S., and that is always a tragedy.  Whether the pandemic increased these numbers dramatically is debatable.  What is not debatable is that the shutdown had dire financial circumstances to the people prevented from working which may take generations to overcome.

It is now time for us to move forward and put industry back to work with the anticipation of a vaccine in the very near future.  It is forecasted that 20 million Americans will get vaccinated each month going forward.  There is light to be seen at the end of the tunnel.  

As a commentary of the election, those who forecasted a “blue wave” throughout the United States were clearly wrong.  There is a great deal of positivity in these election results that the average person does not even consider.  All the polls showed the Democratic party winning vast majorities in virtually every state.  However, that was not the case, and, in fact, they lost ground in many regards.  Even though the Democratic party won the White House, they did not win the Senate and they lost ground in the House.  

A divided Congress is truly great for stock market investing.  The biggest shock in this election was that the majority party in the House actually lost ground.  How could the polls have been so wrong when it came to the election results?  By losing six seats in Congress, it appears that the voting public is becoming more conservative rather than more progressive.  The wild forecast of the defunding of the police and lawlessness in some states led to a backlash of conservative voting.  

The face of education in America today   

How could you possibly explain how the state of Florida, with its elderly population, could have possibly voted for a President that the media solely blamed for the pandemic?  Throughout the voting in the United States it was clear that conservatism outweighed progressive causes.  That is very much a positive for the financial markets.  A Congress without any ability to increase taxes, increase regulations or slow the growth of business with progressive actions is very much pro-stock market.  Therefore, all the dire projections of a negative regulatory environment under a “blue wave” government will not happen for another two years at least.  

I was sitting around thinking about the changes that have occurred over the last decade and how extraordinary some of those have been.  When I first started in the business, the two giants of the American industry were General Electric and ExxonMobil.  If you have followed their stock prices, you would notice that they are no longer dominant.  GE is barely above survival and Exxon is cutting back while trying to protect what was once the most profitable company in the world.  No longer do the oil companies control the price of oil and, therefore, while the consumption of oil is down, the price of oil has plummeted.  Additionally, there have been so many other changes that you have to look at from a bigger perspective.  

Who would have ever thought that Netflix, which was a company that used to rent DVDs by mail, could now be bigger than all the broadcast networks combined?  Who would have ever thought that we would see CBS, NBC and ABC overtaken by a total streaming company? 

Who would have ever thought we would see the cab industry basically eliminated?  Uber and Lyft now control the ridesharing business and are putting many of the cab companies completely out of business.  Here in Atlanta, virtually no cab companies are profitable.  

Rollins & Van Lear, P.C.’s Morgan Miner
 enjoying a sunset on the coast   

Over the last decade, we have seen the explosion of Google.  They built the better browsing service and now are hugely profitable.  Would anyone prefer to own Proctor & Gamble with a 25 multiple as compared to Google with a 29 multiple?  That would be an easy selection for me.  Who had ever heard of the company Facebook 10+ years ago?  Can you even fathom that 1.8 billion people log on to Facebook daily around the world?  If it is true that there are over 7 billion people on this planet, then more than 20% of those people log on daily to this simple software application.  When you consider that a large portion of that population does not even have computer applications, that makes that number even more stunning.

There is so much criticism of Amazon today by people that really do not understand the significance of that company.  They have singlehandedly created a third-party manufacturing platform for small businesses to sell their goods.  Yes, they are a dominant company, but they provide an extraordinary service that has taken the place of shopping at brick-and-mortar.  I would never even consider driving to a mall to buy something when I could buy it from Amazon and have it delivered within a couple days.  

Oftentimes, when you go to the store, they do not even have what you want.  That would not be the case on Amazon since they have virtually everything.  The people that criticize Amazon truly do not understand the positive economic benefits it brings to the economy.  I was reading an article last night that forecasted that both Amazon and Apple would have sales in excess of $100 billion during the fourth quarter of 2020.  Here is Amazon, which was hardly a company at all 10 years ago, and Apple 10 years ago that was virtually bankrupt.  The past decade has been nothing short of breathtaking.  

Those who expressed concern regarding the government interfering with Big Tech really do not understand how ineffective any challenge would be.  First, technology is forever changing and you only have to look at IBM to understand that.  At one time IBM was the most powerful tech company of them all.  Today, it is an afterthought of a shrinking market taken over by entrepreneur-type companies.  Who would have ever thought a company like Apple, making consumer goods, could become, by far, the most profitable company in the United States?  If challenged by the Justice Department, it would take decades through the court system; you only have to look at Microsoft’s history to understand the impact.  

My bird friend visiting my deck in Florida 

Even though the Justice Department challenged Microsoft on antitrust, anticompetitive grounds, for over 10 years during that same time period Microsoft stock increased over 10 times the price that it started.  However, none of these tech companies are immune from new technology.  As new companies develop better and more technology, the names we know today as Tech Barons are likely to pass by the wayside.  

There is no question that the last 10 years have been an extraordinary time in American finance.  Things have happened that no one could have ever forecasted or believed.  I also believe that these are the types of changes in technology that will keep the American economy strong.  We have the best technology in the world and there is no one even close to second.  As long as we channel that American Spirit and increase the economy by creating new jobs with new technologies, no amount of governmental interference or regulation will slow that down.  We now have an opportunity for the next several years to build the economy back to where it was and growing again.  I think we are only a short time away from that happening.  If you want to be part of growing your retirement dollars for retirement years, you need to be fully invested in the American growth economy, which today is so clearly represented by technology.  

On that note, come visit with us and discuss your goals and financial plans. If you are interested in discussing your specific financial situation, please feel free to call or email.

As always, the foregoing includes my opinions, assumptions and forecasts. It is perfectly possible that I am wrong.

Best Regards,
Joe Rollins