PPG Insights

Quarter 2 2021 Market Overview
Stocks Enjoy Another Record Quarter As Pandemic Recedes

We made it! I’m sitting here typing this in the office thinking about all the fun I had last week on Lake Sunapee with my family. For a lot of us, it was the first time we had seen each other in over eighteen months. The weather didn’t cooperate but that didn’t matter. It was just so refreshing to spend time with loved ones again, without masks, enjoying some quality time at the lake. For the last five quarterly letters we have been talking about the pandemic and what it would feel like to get back to a sense of normalcy again and we are finally there. We have the entire staff back in the office and we are so excited to see all of you again in person! It feels so good to finally be able to say those words. We hope that you are all happy and safe and looking forward to enjoying your summer with your loved ones as well.

The S&P 500 rose to another record high during the second quarter as a substantial decline in U.S. COVID-19 cases combined with a near-total economic reopening across the country led a surge in economic growth that helped stocks rally to new highs over the past three months.

The S&P 500 had a strong start to the second quarter thanks to numerous positive developments. First, the pace of vaccinations in the U.S. accelerated meaningfully in April, with daily vaccinations hitting a peak of more than three million per day by the middle of the month. The increased pace of vaccinations combined with a decline in COVID-19 cases helped numerous states more fully reopen their economies or prompted the announcement of plans to do so in the near future. That served as a positive signal to investors that a return to pre-pandemic normal was now likely just a matter of time.

Meanwhile, the Federal Reserve reiterated its support for the economy and promised not to remove any accommodation in the near term. That continued “safety net” gave investors confidence in the future economic outlook and the sustainability of the economic recovery. Finally, first-quarter corporate earnings were very strong, as the vast majority of U.S. companies beat earnings estimates. These positive factors helped stocks rally throughout the month, as the S&P 500 hit a new record above 4,200 during the final days of April. 

The rally paused in May, however, thanks to uncertainty regarding inflation, the labor market and when the Federal Reserve would begin to reduce, or taper, its quantitative easing (QE) program. A disappointing jobs number in early May implied the labor market might not be recovering as quickly as expected. But after some volatility early in the month, it became apparent that the lackluster job growth was more a function of a labor supply issue rather than there not being enough jobs available, and investors came to believe that issue will resolve itself as the economy and society continues to return to pre-pandemic “normal.” Meanwhile, Federal Reserve officials reiterated their long-held position that any increase in inflation would be temporary and due to pandemic-related supply chain disruptions and not the return of 1970’s style inflation problems. Investors were comforted enough for stocks to rebound in mid-May and close the month with a small gain. 

Stocks resumed the rally in early June, as more state economies returned to pre-pandemic normal (most notably California), measures of economic activity remained strong, and certain inflation statistics implied that inflation pressures were starting to ease, possibly validating the Fed’s belief that surging inflation is just temporary. The June Fed meeting provided a small surprise to markets, as it revealed that Federal Reserve officials began discussions about when to reduce the current quantitative easing program, while Federal Reserve forecasts showed interest rates could start to rise late in 2022, sooner than previously expected. Those two surprises caused some mild market volatility late in June, although ultimately investors remained confident that the Federal Reserve will not remove economic support too quickly and the S&P 500 hit another record high during the last few days of the quarter. 

In sum, the strong gains of the second quarter and the first half of 2021 reflected continued government support for the economy combined with a material improvement in the pandemic in the U.S., and as we start the second half of 2021, we are happy to say the world looks a lot more like it did pre-pandemic than it did for most of 2020, and that sentiment is supportive of risk assets going forward. 

2nd Quarter Performance Review

In a reversal from the first quarter, the Nasdaq outperformed both the S&P 500 and Dow Jones Industrial Average thanks to a June rally in technology shares, as investors began to consider that the intensity of the economic recovery had possibly peaked now that virtually all state economies had fully reopened. Additionally, the Federal Reserve signaling that it has begun discussions to reduce its QE program made some investors nervous that economic growth could slow in the future, contributing to that rotation back towards technology stocks, which tend to be less sensitive to changes in economic growth compared to other market sectors.

By market capitalization, large-cap stocks outperformed small-cap stocks, which was a reversal from the previous two quarters. Small-cap stocks tend to outperform during periods of accelerating economic growth, like we saw in the fourth quarter of 2020 and the first quarter of 2021. But with investors considering that the intensity of the economic recovery may have peaked in the second quarter and that the Fed may reduce QE in the future, they rotated back into large caps as the outlook for future economic growth became slightly less certain. 

From an investment-style standpoint, growth handily outperformed value thanks to the aforementioned tech sector rally, as again investors positioned for the possibility that the intensity of the economic recovery may wane in the coming months. 

On a sector level, 10 of the 11 S&P 500 sectors realized positive returns in the second quarter with real estate and tech outperforming. The real estate sector was boosted by a decline in mortgage rates combined with consumers returning to malls and shopping centers, while a drop in Treasury bond yields helped fuel the rotation back to tech stocks.

Sector laggards last quarter included consumer staples and utilities as the former registered a small gain while the latter was the only S&P 500 sector to finish negative for the quarter. Those traditionally defensive sectors outperform when investors expect an outright economic slowdown, and while some investors believe the acceleration in the economic recovery may have peaked, most analysts are expecting the economic recovery to continue, just at a moderating pace, making defensive sectors such as utilities and consumer staples less attractive. 

US Equity Indexes

Q2 Return

YTD

S&P 500

8.95%

15.25%

DJ Industrial Average

4.81%

13.79%

NASDAQ 100

13.07%

13.34%

S&P MidCap 400

3.57%

17.38%

Russell 2000

5.47%

17.54%

Source: YCharts

Internationally, foreign markets saw positive returns in the second quarter thanks to further declines in COVID-19 cases, rising vaccination rates, and more widespread economic reopenings across the EU and UK. Emerging markets also rallied in the second quarter on hopes of a global economic recovery, although they slightly underperformed foreign developed markets as the Chinese government reduced support for its economy following a large increase in inflation indicators. Foreign developed markets again lagged the S&P 500.

International Equity Indexes

Q2 Return

YTD

MSCI EAFE TR USD (Foreign Developed)

5.03%

9.17%

MSCI EM TR USD (Emerging Markets)

4.88%

7.58%

MSCI ACWI Ex USA TR USD (Foreign Dev & EM)

5.38%

9.45%

Source: YCharts

Switching to fixed income markets, second quarter total returns for most bond classes were positive, a reversal from the first quarter. Despite inflation indicators surging to multi-year highs in recent months, investors viewed those increases as temporary phenomena related to the global economic reopening and short-term supply chain issues. As such, investors took advantage of relatively higher bond yields in the second quarter. 

Looking deeper into the bond markets, longer-duration bonds outperformed those with shorter durations in the first quarter. That substantial outperformance was driven by the market’s view that the increase in inflation was indeed temporary, combined with effective messaging by the Fed that interest rates would remain near 0% for the foreseeable future.

In the corporate debt markets, investment grade bonds solidly outperformed lower-quality, higher-yielding bonds. That investment grade outperformance reflects confidence in the sustainability of the U.S. economic recovery but also acknowledges that the pace of economic growth may moderate in the coming months.

US Bond Indexes

Q2 Return

YTD

BBgBarc US Agg Bond

1.82%

-1.60%

BBgBarc US T-Bill 1-3 Mon

0.00%

0.02%

ICE US T-Bond 7-10 Year

2.50%

-3.30%

BBgBarc US MBS (Mortgage-backed)

0.36%

-0.77%

BBgBarc Municipal

1.40%

1.06%

BBgBarc US Corporate Invest Grade

3.70%

-1.27%

BBgBarc US Corporate High Yield

2.96%

3.62%

Source: YCharts

3rd Quarter Market Outlook

Markets reflected a legitimate improvement in the macroeconomic outlook during the second quarter as substantial progress against the pandemic helped underwrite the gains in stocks over the past three months. But that strong performance should not be taken as a signal that risks no longer remain, and in fact the next three months will bring important clarity on several unknowns including inflation, future Federal Reserve policy, and the pandemic. 

The Federal Reserve, meanwhile, has started the process of communicating how it will begin to reduce support for the economy via “tapering” or reducing, its quantitative easing program. The last time the Fed had to deliver that message, they triggered the “Taper Tantrum” of 2013, which saw stock and bond market volatility rise significantly; and it remains to be seen how expected removal of accommodation and an eventual increase in interest rates will impact markets.

Finally, despite significant progress against COVID-19 here in the U.S., the pandemic is not over. Vaccination rates for most countries are well behind that of the United States, and the second quarter saw an explosion of COVID-19 cases in India, and an outbreak in China. Meanwhile, England delayed its planned economic reopening over concerns about the spread of the “Delta” COVID-19 variant that was behind the surge in cases in India. Then, late in the month, both Australia and South Africa reimplemented local lockdowns due to rising cases of the Delta variant. Point being, there remains a possibility that a new COVID-19 variant appears and renders the vaccines less effective. If that happens, markets will become concerned that progress towards a return to economic “normal” will be reversed, and that will cause volatility. 

In sum, while there has been material progress made in the United States against the pandemic, and life as we know it has thankfully returned mostly to normal, now is not a time to become complacent as numerous economic and pandemic-related risks remain. As such, while the macroeconomic outlook is still decidedly positive, we should all remain prepared for bouts of market volatility. 

Yet while risks remain to the markets and the economy, as they always do, it is important to remember that a well-executed and diversified, long-term-focused financial plan can overcome bouts of even intense volatility, like we have seen over the last 18 months.

We understand the risks facing both the markets and the economy, and we are committed to helping you effectively navigate this still-challenging investment environment. Successful investing is a marathon, not a sprint, and even temporary bouts of volatility like we experienced during the height of the pandemic are unlikely to alter a diversified approach set up to meet your long-term investment goals. 

Therefore, it’s critical for you to stay invested, remain patient, and stick to the plan, as we’ve worked with you to establish a unique, personal allocation target based on your financial position, risk tolerance, and investment timeline.

Please do not hesitate to contact us with any questions, comments, or to schedule a portfolio review.

Warmest Regards,

Michael Dembro
Chief Investment Officer, PPG
Registered Representative, RJFS

Material created by Sevens, an independent third party as of June 30, 2021.

The foregoing information has been obtained from sources considered to be reliable, but we do not guarantee that it is accurate or complete, it is not a statement of all available data necessary for making an investment decision, and it does not constitute a recommendation. Any opinions are those of the author and not necessarily those of Raymond James. Holding investments for the long term does not insure a profitable outcome. Keep in mind that there is no assurance that any strategy will ultimately be successful or profitable nor protect against a loss. Investing involves risk and investors may incur a profit or a loss.

The S&P 500 is an unmanaged index of 500 widely held stocks that is generally considered representative of the U.S. stock market. The NASDAQ composite is an unmanaged index of securities traded on the NASDAQ system. The Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJIA), commonly known as “The Dow” is an index representing 30 stock of companies maintained and reviewed by the editors of the Wall Street Journal. The Russell 2000 Index measures the performance of the 2,000 smallest companies in the Russell 3000 Index, which represent approximately 8% of the total market capitalization of the Russell 3000 Index. The S&P MidCap 400® provides investors with a benchmark for mid-sized companies. The index, which is distinct from the large-cap S&P 500®, measures the performance of mid-sized companies, reflecting the distinctive risk and return characteristics of this market segment. The MSCI EAFE (Europe, Australasia, and Far East) is a free float-adjusted market capitalization index that is designed to measure developed market equity performance, excluding the United States & Canada. The EAFE consists of the country indices of 22 developed nations. The MSCI ACWI ex USA Investable Market Index (IMI) captures large, mid and small cap representation across 22 of 23 Developed Markets (DM) countries (excluding the United States) and 24 Emerging Markets (EM) countries. With 6,211 constituents, the index covers approximately 99% of the global equity opportunity set outside the US. The MSCI Emerging Markets is designed to measure equity market performance in 25 emerging market indices. The index's three largest industries are materials, energy, and banks.

The Bloomberg Barclays US Aggregate Bond Index is a broad-based flagship benchmark that measures the investment grade, US dollar-denominated, fixed-rate taxable bond market. The Bloomberg Barclays 1-3 Month U.S. Treasury Bill Index includes all publicly issued zero-coupon U.S. Treasury Bills that have a remaining maturity of less than 3 months and more than 1 month, are rated investment grade, and have $250 million or more of outstanding face value. In addition, the securities must be denominated in U.S. dollars and must be fixed rate and non convertible. The ICE U.S. Treasury 7-10 Year Bond Index is part of a series of indices intended to assess the U.S. Treasury market. The Index is market value weighted and is designed to measure the performance of U.S. dollar-denominated, fixed rate securities with minimum term to maturity greater than seven years and less than or equal to ten years. The ICE U.S. Treasury Bond Index Series has an inception date of December 31, 2015. Index history is available back to December 31, 2004.

The Barclays Capital Municipal Bond is an unmanaged index of all investment grade municipal securities with at least 1 year to maturity. The Bloomberg Barclays US Mortgage Backed Securities (MBS) Index tracks agency mortgage backed pass-through securities (both fixed-rate and hybrid ARM) guaranteed by Ginnie Mae (GNMA), Fannie Mae (FNMA), and Freddie Mac (FHLMC). The index is constructed by grouping individual TBA-deliverable MBS pools into aggregates or generics based on program, coupon and vintage. The Bloomberg Barclays U.S. Corporate High Yield Bond Index is composed of fixed-rate, publicly issued, non-investment grade debt, is unmanaged, with dividends reinvested, and is not available for purchase. The index includes both corporate and non-corporate sectors. The corporate sectors are Industrial, Utility and Finance, which include both U.S. and non-U.S. corporations. The Bloomberg Barclays U.S. A Corporate Bond Index measures the investment-grade, fixed rate, taxable corporate bond market. It includes USD denominated securities publicly issued by US and non-US industrial, utility and financial issuers. Gold is subject to the special risks associated with investing in precious metals, including but not limited to: price may be subject to wide fluctuation; the market is relatively limited; the sources are concentrated in countries that have the potential for instability; and the market is unregulated. The LBMA Gold Price and LBMA Silver Price are the global benchmark prices for unallocated gold and silver delivered in London. SS&P GSCI Crude Oil is an index tracking changes in the spot price for crude oil. Investing in oil involves special risks, including the potential adverse effects of state and federal regulation and may not be suitable for all investors.

One cannot invest directly in an index. Past Performance does not guarantee future results.

Sector investments are companies engaged in business related to a specific sector. They are subject to fierce competition and their products and services may be subject to rapid obsolescence. There are additional risks associated with investing in an individual sector, including limited diversification. Investing in oil involves special risks, including the potential adverse effects of state and federal regulation and may not be suitable for all investors. Bond prices and yields are subject to change based upon market conditions and availability. International investing involves special risks, including currency fluctuations, differing financial accounting standards, and possible political and economic volatility.