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Quarterly Letter Excerpt: From John Bird’s Desk

Thanks to all of you who were able to join us at our annual Albion ski day. As most of you know our roots as a firm are in Alta, Utah. We began our investment management and financial advising journey in the basement of the Alta Lodge in 1982 and through the rest of the 1980’s officed up at the end of Little Cottonwood Canyon. While we’ve long since moved down into the Salt Lake valley our hearts are still attached to that mountain oasis. On to this quarters’ musings.

Money Laundering. Shell games. Hiding the true owner of assets for nefarious purposes. These are a handful of reasons behind one of Washingtons’ efforts; the Corporate Transparency Act (“CTA”), a part of the Money Laundering Act of 2020. Turns out rulemakers believe our current system of LLC’s, Partnerships, and Corporations allow the actual humans who own these entities to hide behind a nearly impenetrable wall of structures to mask their ownership. And perhaps through these opaque structures engage in illegal activities with very little risk of being discovered. The purpose of this law is to pierce that veil.

Unfortunately this will apply to many of our clients. Those with closely held businesses, family partnerships and/or limited liability companies, and closely held entities will find themselves subject to the reporting requirements.

The provided information is not public. Rather, the gathering entity – the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (“FinCEN”) is authorized to disclose information to U.S. federal law enforcement agencies, with court approval to certain other agencies, to non-US law enforcement agencies upon request of a US federal law enforcement agency, and with consent of the reporting company to financial institutions and their regulators.

Prior to this act the burden of collecting beneficial ownership information fell on financial institutions. This shifts the burden to the entities themselves.

None of us are happy about additional reporting requirements and what feels like further intrusion of the federal government into our affairs. And this note could wax philosophic for paragraphs on the topic. But we’ll spare you such a soliloquy. And focus instead on who this applies to and what you must do to comply. To be clear we are not attorneys and nothing here should be considered legal advice. We encourage every reader to consult with counsel to determine if they have a reporting requirement under the act and if so to ensure reports are filed in a timely manner.

There are twenty-three exempt categories which can be summarized in a few categories. First are financial institutions; for example banks, securities issuers, credit unions, bank holding companies, broker-dealers, money services businesses, securities exchanges and clearing companies, investment companies and investment advisors, venture capital fund advisers, insurance companies, state licensed insurance producers, entities registered with commodity exchanges, accounting firms, pooled investment vehicles. These entities already have stringent reporting requirements.

The next significant category is made up of governmental entities. This includes federal, state and tribal entities and includes political subdivisions which means counties, cities, towns and school districts.

The final category are “large” operating companies. For this law “large” is considered to be companies with over twenty employees, over $5,000,000 in gross receipts from US customers, and with an operating presence at a physical office within the United States.

Know that the entities as outlined above are but an approximate summary of exempt organizations. It’s essential to dive into the details and if there is any question to retain counsel to determine whether or not your entity is exempt. Fines for non-compliance are punitive and run up to $500 per day of non-compliance which can accumulate up to $10,000. None of us want to get this wrong.

So what types of entities will be subject to the reporting requirements? Unfortunately many of the small family partnerships, LLC’s, trusts, and corporations we and our clients work with on a daily basis are subject to this law.

The information required with the reporting includes the legal name, any trade names, DBA’s or trading as names, the current street address and principal place of business, the jurisdiction of formation or registration, and the tax ID number. Beneficial owners must report their name, date of birth, residential address, an ID from an acceptable document (passport, US driver’s license), and the name of state or jurisdiction issuing the document. An image of the document must be provided and it cannot be expired.

Businesses in existence prior to January 1, 2023 must file by January 1, 2025. Businesses formed during calendar year 2024 must report within 90 days of creation of the entity and businesses formed after January 1, 2025 must file within 30 days of creation of the entity.

More information can be found through your legal counsel and online at fincen.gov/boi.

This quarterly note differs from the usual fare. However given the circumstances we believe it’s important to front and center with all of you regarding this new requirement as year end (and the risk of non-compliance) will be here in the blink of an eye.


Albion Financial Group is an SEC registered investment advisor. The information provided is intended solely for educational purposes and should not be construed as an offer or solicitation for the purchase or sale of any particular securities product, service, or investment strategy. Past performance is not indicative of future performance.

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Quarterly Letter Excerpt: Economy and Markets

If something cannot go on forever, it will stop. Economist Herbert Stein articulated this principle nearly forty years ago when discussing growing trade deficits with lawmakers. This humble insight can be applied to many situations. These days it feels as though post-pandemic economic strength will go on forever. Yet, we know that it won’t. It can’t. Our central theme of “normalization” is evident over the past eighteen months, and eventually the business cycle will overcorrect causing recession (not to be feared entirely as contractions cleanse the system). But that day isn’t today. Indeed, as we exit the first quarter the US economy is doing fine. Better than fine really, it’s quite robust. Consumer spending is resilient, jobs are plentiful, businesses are investing, and government budgets are expansionary. Real GDP grew by +2.5% in 2023, accelerating from the previous year, and estimates for Q1 sit around +2%. While these are backward-looking figures, more current information – like spending data from credit and debit card companies, retail sales, services PMIs, jobless claims, and even (recently) improving consumer confidence – suggests that momentum has carried into 2024.

But why the potency? The simple truth is economic strength is closely tied to jobs, which remains solid. And because the economy is strong that keeps the labor market strong as business profits support employment and wages. It’s a virtuous loop. And while signs of normalization (there’s that word again) in the labor are present, like softer demand for workers and increased supply, layoffs are low and hiring is steady. This balance is beneficial nurturing a more secure foundation. Until this situation changes, economic expansion should continue. The critical question is now, can we successfully move from too tight to well-adjusted in the jobs market without the pendulum swinging negative? Time will tell.

Inflation’s stride has also cooled over the past 20 months, from over 9% to roughly 3%. While much progress has been made, Jerome Powell asserts more work and greater confidence in the trend is needed to declare victory. We agree. The Fed’s target is ~2% and the “last mile” won’t be easy. Still, our long-held view endures – the contemporary war against inflation will be won.

Speaking of the Fed, last July we opined that the central bank was done hiking interest rates. Be it lucky or good, that view proved correct. We continue to reason that the Fed won’t need to raise rates further. We’ve gone from 0% to ~5.5%, a ton of credit tightening, and without a jump in unemployment. Job well done. The new Wall Street parlor game centers on how long the Fed will maintain its current stance before lowering rates. The answer hinges on the trajectory of the economy, employment, and inflation. Our best guess is the first cut will occur in the second half of this year.

All told, “soft landing” odds have increased compared to a year ago, a time when our preferred forward indicators signaled maximum caution. Several indicators have improved, meaning there’s been considerable diminution of risk over the past year. At this point we see recession odds at about a coin toss (down from over 80%). Historically, in any given year it’s ~15%.

In bonds, the action will likely be on the front end of the yield curve as big moves further out have mostly occurred. While things can move cyclically based on data and mood, structurally speaking longer duration securities appear sensibly priced for the current environment.

Meanwhile, firms are in good shape with profits holding steady in 2023. Despite “no growth”, revenues were higher last year due to an advancing economy and increasing prices. But so too were costs, in many cases more than revenues, resulting in compressed operating margins and inert profits. Looking ahead, analysts predict energetic earnings growth of +11% in 2024 and +13% for 2025, driven by a healthy economy and margin re-expansion. Those are high bars. From our perch, margins may have indeed bottomed if we can avoid a downturn. Thus the near-term direction of profits will largely hinge on the macroeconomy. Regardless, our primary attention is the longer-term outlook. Especially for those investments we own on your behalf. And here, we are optimistic for the years ahead.

For its part, the stock market has continued its momentum, driven by expectations of no recession and Fed rate cuts. Despite unease over the looming election, investor attitudes are (unsurprisingly) cheerful on the back of impressive recent performance. Moreover, the inflation problem is under control and geopolitics, while tense, sit more at a simmer than a boil. Yet risks remain if fundamentals, including lofty earnings expectations, fail to deliver.

On valuation, there’s some level of enthusiasm to be sure, particularly in areas like AI. However, at this juncture, this verve is probably more rational than irrational (paging Alan Greenspan and Bob Shiller!). As declared, the economy is sound, inflation is falling, the 10-year Treasury yield is off its peak, the Fed has finished raising rates, corporate earnings are ample, and technology is bliss. Given this backdrop, although the stock market is not exactly cheap, it is also not overly expensive when you consider where key factors like inflation, interest rates, and profits are expected to be in the coming years. Moreover, there is still approximately $6 trillion in cash “on the sidelines,” mainly in money market funds, a portion of which (not all, but some) will likely seek higher returns when the Fed eventually begins to ease.

Bottom line: while short-term estimates vary, our longer run outlook for US equities remains wildly bullish.

As always, there is perpetual motion in economics and financial markets, so it’s vital to make decisions based on the available information. We find great joy in this important vocation. Which I suppose leads us back to where we began, with Mr. Stein’s observation … but with a twist. What happens if something, like the work of a steadfast financial advisor, can go on forever? Thanks for your unrelenting trust.


Albion Financial Group is an SEC registered investment advisor. The information provided is intended solely for educational purposes and should not be construed as an offer or solicitation for the purchase or sale of any particular securities product, service, or investment strategy. Past performance is not indicative of future performance.

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Quarterly Letter Excerpt: Planners Corner

Retirement planning in America is constantly transforming. The widely accepted concept that everyone can retire is only a few generations old. In such a rapidly changing world, how we achieve such a feat will also continue to evolve, which means that traditional approaches to securing retirement income need to be revised. Longevity is on the rise, traditional pensions (defined benefit plans) are becoming relics of the past, and the onus of retirement planning now squarely rests on the individual.


Given the statistical likelihood of living well into our 90s, especially for non-smokers and those of higher socioeconomic status, the necessity for robust and foolproof retirement planning strategies has never been more apparent. This reality drives us to rethink and innovate in how we protect your financial future.


When creating comprehensive retirement plans for clients, it is important to identify and address some of the potential hurdles future retirees face. I often return to a list that author Larry Swedroe coined as the “Five Horsemen of the Retirement Apocalypse.” One of these five included “historically low bond yields,” which is no longer as relevant today, but I still find this list useful when trying to understand how to best plan for our clients’ futures. So, the following Four Horsemen remain top of mind for retirement planning in 2024:

  • Historically High Equity Valuations: With the U.S. stock market’s long bull run, it is wise to adjust expectations and prepare for potential downturns in equity investments.

  • Increased Longevity: As life expectancy rises, retirement planning must account for potentially longer retirement periods, necessitating a portfolio that can last 30+ years.

  • Long-Term Care Costs: With the likelihood of needing long-term care increasing with age, planning for these costs is essential to avoid financial burden and ensure quality of life.

  • Social Security and Medicare Benefits: There’s a chance that benefits could be reduced or taxes might go up to support these programs. We need to plan for multiple outcomes.

All we have to do is look at annuity sales in 2023 to see that consumers and advisors alike are turning to insurance contracts for peace of mind in the face of these headwinds. In ways, it’s unfortunate to see a record 25% increase in year-over-year annuity sales, as often, it’s primarily the agents who benefit from these products. Most annuity sales tactics use the same general concerns discussed above to incite fear and force quick action at the client’s own peril. My general thought process for insurance and annuities is straightforward: insurance is a great risk transfer tool but an expensive way to invest. If an annuity contract cannot be clearly explained, including all fees and market-based outcomes, I’m not interested.


A critical, yet often missed, step in sound financial planning is customizing withdrawal strategies to suit individual needs. This should usually be the first move in crafting a tailored retirement income strategy. When done in concert with a comprehensive financial plan, customized retirement withdrawal strategies can provide greater financial security because they allow for flexibility. None of us know what the future holds and unlike an annuity contract that locks you into a particular set of terms with possible penalties for making changes, customized income strategies allow you to make adjustments at the margins or pivot when necessary as your retirement years unfold.


As we consider the often jarring transition from saving to spending, it is essential to understand the various withdrawal strategies for portfolio assets available in retirement, which broadly fall into four categories:

  • Constant-Dollar Withdrawal: Start with a fixed percentage, then adjust annually for inflation. It can suit those needing a consistent income to cover fixed expenses.
  • Constant-Percentage Withdrawal: Withdraw a consistent percentage of your portfolio each year. Nice for those with flexible spending needs and lower fixed costs.
  • Variable-Percentage Withdrawal: The withdrawal percentage adjusts based on your portfolio’s annual value. Suitable for flexible spenders without the aim to leave a significant inheritance.
  • Spend Only the Income: This approach only spends dividends and interest, preserving the principal. It suits individuals with low expenses compared to their portfolio size or those wishing to use their current asset base for legacy planning.

Note that none of these strategies are a set-it-and-forget-it approach. They are part of a constant discussion about how we can help you most efficiently and comfortably spend the money you have worked so hard to earn.

Morgan Housel’s “The Psychology of Money” emphasizes the personal nature of financial decisions, reminding us of the wide variance in how people view and manage money. This diversity points to the absence of a one-size-fits-all approach to retirement planning. The goal is to find a strategy that aligns with your needs, ensures stability, and adapts to life’s uncertainties.


As your financial planners, we’re dedicated to navigating the complex landscape of retirement planning with you. If you have friends or family who require sound advice and a comprehensive review of retirement income planning options, please reach out and refer them to our team. Our goal is to ensure that our client’s retirement strategies are not only robust and tailored to their needs but also flexible and ready to adjust to the constantly evolving financial world.


Albion Financial Group is an SEC registered investment advisor. The information provided is intended solely for educational purposes and should not be construed as an offer or solicitation for the purchase or sale of any particular securities product, service, or investment strategy. Past performance is not indicative of future performance.

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Weekly Market Recap – April 12, 2024

Weekly Recap:

Sticky inflation put market participants on edge last week. For the 3rd month in a row, CPI came in slightly above expectations, and the deceleration of the disinflation trend is in danger of turning into a complete halt. Investors are slowly accepting that the last 1-2% in the journey to get back to the Fed’s 2% inflation target will not be speedy or smooth.

Immediately after the CPI print, futures markets took yet another 25bp rate cut out of the forecast for 2024, leaving only two such cuts (50bp total) implied. Markets were pricing six cuts for a total of 150bp at the start of the year; four of those have now been removed from expectations in just a few months.

In response, rates rose across the Treasury yield curve, especially in the front end. Much like last year, it has been a tough start for bonds in 2024. Tighter credit spreads have helped limit some of the price declines in corporates, but bonds of nearly all stripes are lower YTD.

Other news was also less than positive last week. Oil prices rose on escalation of the conflict between Israel and its neighbors in the middle east. And Q1 earnings reports from some large US banks included mildly disappointing guidance for 2024 net interest income. Deposit migration towards higher yielding CDs and money market vehicles continues to put pressure on funding costs, suggesting that the bank sector may have already seen peak net interest margin for this cycle.

This cocktail of challenges resulted in lower stock prices across all sectors, market caps, and geographies.

Chart of the Week: Consumer Price Index (y/y change)

Albion’s “Four Pillars”:

Economy & Earnings

The US economy has been resilient despite the higher interest rate environment. Analysts are forecasting low double digit EPS growth in 2024; growth of that magnitude will depend on the economy avoiding recession.

Valuation

The S&P 500’s forward P/E of 20.6x is above the long run average, so valuation could be a headwind to future returns. More predictive metrics like CAPE, Tobin’s Q, and the Buffett Indicator (Eq Mkt Cap / GDP) suggest that compound annual returns over the next decade are likely to be in the mid single digits.

Interest Rates

Futures markets imply that the Fed will cut overnight interest rates twice in 2024, beginning at some point in the 2nd half of the year. Rate cut expectations have been tempered recently due to sticky inflation prints.

Inflation

After falling rapidly in late 2022 and all of 2023, inflation has become sticky in the 3-4% range in early 2024. Services inflation remains somewhat elevated, in part due to heavily lagged shelter costs. Rising oil prices driven by armed conflicts in Ukraine and the middle east are also a risk to the inflation outlook.

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Smart Money Moves: Tax Misconceptions

  

As we end another tax season, it’s crucial to address prevalent misconceptions surrounding taxes. Despite their annual familiarity, taxes remain a topic shrouded in confusion and misunderstanding. In this guide, we aim to shed light on some of the most pervasive myths and clarify the nuances of tax deductions, credits, penalties, refunds, and more. By debunking these misconceptions, we hope to empower readers with a clearer understanding of their tax obligations and opportunities for financial optimization.    


Tax Deductions  

There’s a common misconception that tax deductions automatically translate into a dollar-for-dollar reduction in taxes owed. This is not the case. While they do lower taxable income and can result in less taxes owed, tax savings thanks to deductions are based on your tax rate, unlike tax credits which offer a direct offset of taxes.   

Deduction Example:  

Last year, we aided a client in donating $20,000 worth of equipment to charity. Despite the substantial donation, the actual tax benefit depends on various factors, most significantly the client’s tax bracket. If the client’s income were to put them into the highest federal income tax bracket of 37%, the donation would lead to a total tax reduction of $7,400, not $20,000 ($20,000*0.37). A deductible expense simply means that you get a discount on the expense and are not required to pay income tax on the purchase.  


Tax Credits  

When it comes to tax credits, it is often understood that they’re interchangeable with tax deductions, which is not true. Tax credits directly reduce the amount of tax owed, dollar for dollar. Once your taxes have been calculated, any tax credits will subtract the total amount of taxes owed.  

Tax Credit Example:   

Take, for instance, the Child Tax Credit, which offers a $2,000 credit for a child 17 and under who is claimed as a dependent. If a single parent with a young child has a federal tax liability of $5,000, they could likely claim this credit thus reducing their tax liability to $3,000.  

Additionally, it’s important to note that tax credits aren’t necessarily free money. While they can be an added bonus, most credits only provide a refund if you owed taxes to begin with, meaning you earned enough in taxable income during the year to qualify for the credit, but not too much to no longer qualify. Understanding these distinctions is key to maximizing your tax benefits and avoiding misconceptions.  

  

Tax Deductions vs. Tax Credits  

Consider the comparison of tax deductions and tax credits in a shopping context. A tax deduction resembles a favorable promo code, providing a certain percentage off your total purchase—equivalent to your marginal tax rate (or the highest rate your income is taxed). Conversely, a tax credit operates akin to a gift card, offering a specific dollar amount reduction from your overall purchase. While not precisely free money, it’s a close second.    


Tax Penalties  

Another misconception exists around tax penalties, which are often believed to apply solely to those intentionally evading taxes. Tax penalties can stem from various factors, including underpayment, late filing, or inaccuracies on your tax return, regardless of intent.   

Tax Penalty Example:  

I received a letter a couple years back detailing an underpayment penalty on my tax return. The letter outlined that I owed more than what was listed on my tax return. Since it had been many months since filing my return, I was also being charged additional fees on the “late” amount because the additional taxes were due by April 15 (as federal taxes always are). Despite the stressful process, I enlisted the help of a CPA to appeal the penalty and avoided owing the additional taxes and penalties. If you end up owing more tax than originally paid, you will owe penalties on top of the underpayment amount for however long it takes for the IRS to notify you of the underpayment amount.    


Tax Refunds

Regarding tax refunds, many believe that refunds are free money from the government. It’s important to understand that a tax refund is not a gift from Uncle Sam, but rather signifies the return of your overpaid taxes throughout the year, though that doesn’t stop them from feeling oh so nice to receive.  

Tax Refund Example:  

If you owe $10,000 in federal taxes for 2023 and $9,000 was withheld from your paycheck for federal taxes throughout the year, you will owe $1,000 at tax time. Conversely, if $11,000 was withheld, you would receive a $1,000 refund. I spoke with a CPA friend recently who said that the only thing clients ever want is a refund, joking that he would be seen as a magician if he increased his clients’ paycheck withholdings for them to get massive refunds upon filing their tax returns. Many personal finance gurus have strong opinions for how to optimize withholdings. Find what works for you, just withhold enough that you don’t incur penalties.  


Business Write-Offs/Deductions

There’s a common misbelief that all business expenses are automatically deductible. Not all expenses qualify for deductions. Business expenses must meet the criteria of being regular, ordinary, and necessary for the operation of your business to be deductible, with certain limitations and rules in place.  

Business Deduction Example:  

An individual takes a business trip to a tropical destination, intending to deduct all associated expenses, such as hotel stays and meals. The IRS may deny such deductions if the trip is deemed primarily for personal enjoyment rather than business purposes. Make sure your business expenses qualify to be deducted prior to spending money you hope will be tax deductible.  


Gifting  

It is often believed that gifting will result in taxation for gifts exceeding the annual gift exclusion limit. While true in a way, it’s essential to understand that the tax-free exclusion amount—$17,000 for 2023 and $18,000 for 2024—applies on a per person basis. Also, individuals can give up to $13.61 million (2024 amount) in tax-free gifts in their lifetime (known as the lifetime gift exclusion), so this exclusion of $18,000 (for 2024) is the amount that can be gifted without counting against the lifetime exclusion. This can get very complex as there are varying gifting strategies to consider, and attempting to implement any of them on your own can be extremely difficult.  

Gifting Example:  

Consider an older couple aiming to provide generous gifts to their two married children without incurring taxes. In this situation, each spouse could gift $18,000 to both children and their spouses, totaling $72,000 in tax-free gifts per spouse or an impressive $144,000 collectively as a couple. All of this could be done without counting against the lifetime amount in tax-free gifts that can be given.   


529 to Roth Conversions  

A common misconception exists regarding education savings and deductions, particularly regarding the conversion of unused 529 balances to a Roth IRA (a new strategy from the Secure Act 2.0). While there is some truth to this notion, it’s crucial to understand the limitations involved.   

529 to Roth Example:  

Consider a scenario where you have $50,000 sitting in a 529 account but decide not to pursue further education. In such a case, you may contemplate rolling the funds into a Roth IRA, which could be an option. This maneuver comes with restrictions. For instance, the 529 account must have been open for at least 15 years, and the rollover cannot exceed the current year’s Roth contribution limits—$7,000 for 2024. There’s also a lifetime maximum of $35,000 per beneficiary for these rollovers. While there are more intricacies to be aware of, the process is not as straightforward as commonly believed.  


Tax Preparer Liability  

There’s a common belief that the liability for errors or inaccuracies associated with tax returns is solely on the tax preparer. It’s imperative to recognize that the individual, the taxpayer, is responsible for the accuracy of their tax returns, regardless of professional assistance.   

Tax Preparer Liability Example:  

If someone hires a CPA to file their tax return but provides inaccurate income information or doesn’t send all required information/supporting documents, they remain accountable for any discrepancies. In the event of an IRS audit uncovering errors, the individual is liable for rectifying the mistakes and covering any resulting back taxes and penalties.  


Conclusion:  

As we end tax season for tax year 2023, we extend our gratitude to the remarkable CPAs we collaborate with. As we at Albion Financial Group are not accountants and do not give tax advice, their expertise ensures accurate tax filing and reporting, guiding us away from the pitfalls of common misconceptions. To those dedicated CPAs tirelessly navigating the complexities of the tax code, we salute your unwavering commitment. Here’s to the invaluable knowledge they impart and the smooth tax planning ahead!   


Albion Financial Group is an SEC registered investment advisor. The information provided is intended solely for educational purposes and should not be construed as an offer or solicitation for the purchase or sale of any particular securities product, service, or investment strategy. Past performance is not indicative of future performance.

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Weekly Market Recap – April 5, 2024

Weekly Recap:

Equities finished the week lower, driven in part by escalating geopolitical risk in the middle east. Oil prices rose to 6-month highs, with Brent crude breaching $90 per barrel for the first time since October of last year. Energy stocks finished the week higher, and the sector is now among the best-performing in the S&P 500 so far this year.

Bonds were lower on the week, thanks to a backup in rates. Several FOMC members made public comments during the course of the week, with a fairly consistent message: the Fed is still not in a hurry to lower overnight interest rates. Futures markets responded by shifting the first “odds on” rate cut from June to July, and Treasury yields moved higher across the curve.

Macro data released last week suggested that the US economy remains on first footing as we head into Q1 earnings season, with the manufacturing sector continuing to show signs of a recovery in activity. ISM’s US Manufacturing PMI printed at 50.3 for the month of March, the first print in expansion territory (>50) in roughly a year and a half. This echoes the move higher in S&P’s US Manufacturing PMI, which breached 50 in January and has moved a bit higher in the two months since (the final March print was 51.9).

Meanwhile, the labor market remains strong, as it has throughout the post-pandemic period:

* There are 8.75 million open jobs in the US per the JOLTS report

* 303k net new nonfarm payrolls were reported for the month of March

* U-3 unemployment fell 10bp sequentially to 3.8%

Chart of the Week: Net Nonfarm Payrolls Added

Albion’s “Four Pillars”:

Economy & Earnings

The US economy was resilient last year, and Wall Street analysts expect full-year 2023 corporate earnings to be roughly flat y/y versus 2022. Analysts are forecasting low double digit EPS growth in 2024; growth of that magnitude will depend on the economy avoiding recession.

Valuation

The S&P 500’s forward P/E of 20.5x is above the long run average, so valuation could be a headwind to future returns. More predictive metrics like CAPE, Tobin’s Q, and the Buffett Indicator (Eq Mkt Cap / GDP) suggest that compound annual returns over the next decade are likely to be in the mid single digits.

Interest Rates

Futures markets imply that the Fed will cut overnight interest rates several times in 2024, most likely beginning sometime this summer. The belly and long end of the curve have already priced in a rate cutting cycle, with yields falling more than 100bp in November/December of 2023.

Inflation

After reaching 40yr highs in mid-2022, inflation has moderated significantly over the past 18 months. Goods inflation has fallen due to softening demand and supply chain normalization, while services inflation remains somewhat elevated, in part due to heavily lagged shelter costs.

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Weekly Market Recap – March 29 2024

Weekly Recap:

Mild weakness in large cap tech pulled the Nasdaq lower, but otherwise the holiday-shortened week was a positive one for most US stocks. The S&P 500 set a fresh record high on Wednesday and again on Thursday, the 23rd and 24th such highs reached already in 2024 (see the Chart of the Week). Meanwhile, small caps outperformed last week, closing some (but certainly not all) of the YTD relative performance gap with large caps. International stocks also posted modest gains on the week.

Fixed income was mostly stable, with yields rising slightly towards the front end of the curve and falling a few basis points in the long end. Credit spreads were stable and remain on the tight side of long run averages. Muni bonds underperformed slightly on the week, perhaps from being used as a source of funds for the upcoming tax deadline.

In macro news, there were mixed signals regarding consumer confidence in March. The Conference Board’s Consumer Confidence Index printed at 104.7 versus consensus expectations of 107.0, and the February print was revised lower across the board. However, the University of Michigan’s Consumer Sentiment gauge rose nearly 3 points to 79.4 in the final March reading versus the preliminary figure of 76.5 from two weeks ago.

Finally, PCE Deflator data for February was released on Good Friday while markets were closed, and mostly came in right in line with consensus:

* PCE Deflator rose +0.3% m/m and +2.5% y/y (consensus = +0.4%; +2.5%)

* PCE Core Deflator rose +0.3% m/m and +2.8% y/y (consensus = +0.3%; +2.8%)

Chart of the Week: S&P 500 (* Denotes Record High)

Albion’s “Four Pillars”:

Economy & Earnings

The US economy was resilient last year, and Wall Street analysts expect full-year 2023 corporate earnings to be roughly flat y/y versus 2022. Analysts are forecasting low double digit EPS growth in 2024; growth of that magnitude will depend on the economy avoiding recession.

Valuation

The S&P 500’s forward P/E of 21x is above the long run average, so valuation could be a headwind to future returns. More predictive metrics like CAPE, Tobin’s Q, and the Buffett Indicator (Eq Mkt Cap / GDP) suggest that compound annual returns over the next decade are likely to be in the mid single digits.

Interest Rates

Futures markets imply that the Fed will cut overnight interest rates several times in 2024, most likely beginning mid-year. The belly and long end of the curve have already priced in a rate cutting cycle, with yields falling more than 100bp in November/December of 2023.

Inflation

After reaching 40yr highs in mid-2022, inflation has moderated significantly over the past 18 months. Goods inflation has fallen due to softening demand and supply chain normalization, while services inflation remains somewhat elevated, in part due to heavily lagged shelter costs.

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Weekly Market Recap – March 22, 2024

Weekly Recap:

Stocks and bonds of nearly all stripes enjoyed a strong week after a “goldilocks” FOMC meeting. While there was no uncertainty going into the meeting regarding the rate decision, investors were keenly focused on the committee’s outlook for the economy and future rate decisions, as reflected by the updated Summary of Economic Projections (SEP). And on that front, the committee delivered a welcome update, upgrading its consensus outlook for 2024 GDP growth while also maintaining a median projection of three 25 basis point rate cuts by year-end.

The front end of the Treasury curve breathed a sigh of relief, with 2y yields falling 14bp while 10y yields dropped 11bp. Meanwhile, credit spreads inched tighter yet again. The average OAS on Bloomberg’s US Corporate Credit Index finished the week at 88bp, a level not seen since Q4 of 2021.

Equity investors responded with enthusiasm. All three major US large cap benchmarks (the Dow, S&P, and Nasdaq) rose to fresh all time highs on Thursday. Small caps also posted solid gains, but remain well behind tech-dominated large cap benchmarks on a YTD basis. The same is true for international stocks, which continue to lag the US due to the more cyclical, less tech-heavy nature of international equity markets.

On the macro front, the most interesting development last week was the February release of the Conference Board’s Leading Economic Index (LEI). The index rose sequentially (+0.1% m/m) for the first time in nearly two years, extending what appears to be a recent stabilization after a long, protracted decline that began at the start of 2022 (see the Chart of the Week for a time series). The improvement in the LEI seemed to offer some corroboration of the Fed’s upgraded economic outlook, and was cheered by market participants.

Chart of the Week: Conference Board Leading Economic Index (Total)

Albion’s “Four Pillars”:

Economy & Earnings

The US economy was resilient last year, and Wall Street analysts expect full-year 2023 corporate earnings to be roughly flat y/y versus 2022. Analysts are forecasting low double digit EPS growth in 2024; growth of that magnitude will depend on the economy avoiding recession.

Valuation

The S&P 500’s forward P/E of 21x is above the long run average, so valuation could be a headwind to future returns. More predictive metrics like CAPE, Tobin’s Q, and the Buffett Indicator (Eq Mkt Cap / GDP) suggest that compound annual returns over the next decade are likely to be in the mid single digits.

Interest Rates

Futures markets imply that the Fed will cut overnight interest rates several times in 2024, most likely beginning mid-year. The belly and long end of the curve have already priced in a rate cutting cycle, with yields falling more than 100bp in November/December of 2023.

Inflation

After reaching 40yr highs in mid-2022, inflation has moderated significantly over the past 18 months. Goods inflation has fallen due to softening demand and supply chain normalization, while services inflation remains somewhat elevated, in part due to heavily lagged shelter costs.

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Weekly Market Recap – March 15, 2024

Weekly Recap:

Financial assets struggled last week after hotter-than-expected CPI and PPI prints tempered investors’ expectations regarding the upcoming Fed pivot.

* Headline CPI rose +0.4% m/m and +3.2% y/y (consensus = +3.1% y/y)

* Core CPI rose +0.4% m/m and +3.8% y/y (consensus = +3.7% y/y)

* Headline PPI rose +0.6% m/m and +1.6% y/y (consensus = +1.2% y/y)

* Core PPI rose +0.3% m/m and +2.0% y/y (consensus = +1.9% y/y)

In response, futures markets pulled another 25bp rate cut out of 2024, reducing the total number of implied cuts from four (100bp total) to three (75bp), while repricing the odds that the first cut will come in June from ~90% down to ~60%.

Predictably, rates moved higher across the Treasury yield curve, especially in the front end. 2y yields finished the week higher by 26bp. Credit spreads tightened on the week, softening the blow to US corporates.

Meanwhile, equities struggled across most sectors, market caps, and geographies, with rate-sensitive real estate names more heavily impacted. Small and midcap benchmarks underperformed, due in part to their higher REIT concentrations as compared to large cap indices.

In contrast, energy stocks were an upside outlier. A report from the International Energy Agency predicted a global supply deficit could persist for the balance of 2024, and US stockpiles recently saw their first drawdown in nearly two months, driving WTI and Brent crude to 4+ month highs.

Albion’s “Four Pillars”:

Economy & Earnings

The US economy was resilient last year, and Wall Street analysts expect full-year 2023 corporate earnings to be roughly flat y/y versus 2022. Analysts are forecasting low double digit EPS growth in 2024; growth of that magnitude will depend on the economy avoiding recession.

Valuation

The S&P 500’s forward P/E of 20.6x is above the long run average, so valuation could be a headwind to future returns. More predictive metrics like CAPE, Tobin’s Q, and the Buffett Indicator (Eq Mkt Cap / GDP) suggest that compound annual returns over the next decade are likely to be in the mid single digits.

Interest Rates

Futures markets imply that the Fed will cut overnight interest rates several times in 2024, most likely beginning mid-year. The belly and long end of the curve have already priced in a rate cutting cycle, with yields falling more than 100bp in November/December of 2023.

Inflation

After reaching 40yr highs in mid-2022, inflation has moderated significantly over the past 18 months. Goods inflation has fallen due to softening demand and supply chain normalization, while services inflation remains somewhat elevated, in part due to heavily lagged shelter costs.

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Weekly Market Recap – March 8, 2024

Weekly Recap:

For the first time all year, technology, communications, and consumer discretionary (collectively the “growth sectors”) all underperformed the broader market last week. Meanwhile, every cyclical and defensive sector outperformed. This same sector pattern resulted in small and midcap stocks beating large caps, and international benchmarks outperforming the US.

The bond market also reflected a mild risk-off sentiment last week, with rates falling 5-10 basis points across the curve. Jerome Powell’s congressional testimony made it clear that rate cuts are coming later this year unless inflation data inflects higher, but the committee is not ready to begin monetary easing just yet.

Much of the selloff in growth occurred on Friday in the wake of the February jobs report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. To our eyes, there was little in the report that was of particular concern.

* Nonfarm payrolls rose 275k (consensus estimate was 200k)

* Unemployment (U-3) ticked higher by 20 basis points to 3.9%

* Average hourly earnings rose 0.1% m/m, and are up 4.3% y/y

* Labor force participation held steady at 62.5%

Other labor market data was solid last week as well. Jobless claims remain low, the ADP reported a net gain of 150k payrolls, and the Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey (aka, the JOLTS Report) tallied 8.86 million open jobs in the US, down just slightly from 8.89 million the prior month.

Chart of the Week: Net Change in Nonfarm Payrolls

Albion’s “Four Pillars”:

Economy & Earnings

The US economy was resilient last year, and Wall Street analysts expect full-year 2023 corporate earnings to be roughly flat y/y versus 2022. Analysts are forecasting low double digit EPS growth in 2024; growth of that magnitude will depend on the economy avoiding recession.

Valuation

The S&P 500’s forward P/E of 20x is above the long run average, so valuation could be a headwind to future returns. More predictive metrics like CAPE, Tobin’s Q, and the Buffett Indicator (Eq Mkt Cap / GDP) suggest that compound annual returns over the next decade are likely to be in the mid single digits.

Interest Rates

Futures markets imply that the Fed will cut overnight interest rates several times in 2024, most likely beginning mid-year. The belly and long end of the curve have already priced in a rate cutting cycle, with yields falling more than 100bp in November/December of 2023.

Inflation

After reaching 40yr highs in mid-2022, inflation has moderated significantly over the past 18 months. Goods inflation has fallen due to softening demand and supply chain normalization, while services inflation remains somewhat elevated, in part due to heavily lagged shelter costs.