Category Archives: Invest

Cascade 2020 Year End Review

Wow, what a year is the first thing that comes to mind. It’s almost hard to imagine that 12 months ago life was without Coronavirus, the election hadn’t really begun and the economy was continuing to run at a historical rate. Fast-forward to January 1, 2021 and it feels like the world took a collective breath as we sighed “Whew, glad that’s over.” While 2020 is definitely in the rear view mirror, the effects of a global pandemic are still being felt.

2020 began with an incredible start. Through February the global financial markets were hitting all time highs and economies everywhere were running at an incredible pace. Then as we all experienced in March, we saw something we never thought possible. In over 20 years investing I have never seen something so strong come to such a quick stop. The S&P 500 dropped over 30% from February 10th to March 16th, just over 4 weeks time. To give some historical context the 2008 financial crisis from high to low took over 11 months. The speed of the decline in 2020 was unlike anything we have ever experienced.

Despite this rapid decline and massive economic impact if you were invested in the market you had a good year. March was obviously a very difficult month, but government responses around the globe were not only swift but large in scale. The US Government pumped trillions of dollars into the economy, the Fed provided massive liquidity to the capital markets and because of moves like these the US economy was brought out of what would have been a prolonged and crushing downturn. In Q2 we saw GDP drop over 32%. This was more than three times larger than the previous record of quarterly contraction. As the government and Fed intervened we saw Q3 expand at over 33%. Q4 again provided growth at 6%. All total the US economy did contract last year, but everything that transpired, it could have been much worse. With stay-in-place orders in effect in March and massive uncertainty, we easily could have faced a prolonged recession or even depression. We are obviously very pleased with the outcome thus far.

So what to expect in 2021 and beyond?

As many of you have heard us jest “our crystal ball stopped working about 15 years ago,” and we obviously can’t provide an exact picture of what things will be this year. There are a number of things we do feel good about.  

First, we feel that the companies that come out of the pandemic will be stronger and better prepared for any future type event that may be similar. While we don’t expect that to happen, it is reassuring to know that companies will have gone through this and better know how to manage it.

Second, the companies that did well last year will continue to do so in 2021. Companies that saw little interruptions in their business as employees worked from home, others that provided infrastructure for remote working, all saw large increases to their bottom lines. We feel this will continue into 2021 and beyond and may be a large part of the “new normal” going forward.

Third, companies that relied heavily on in-person interaction or travel had a brutal year in 2020. This will continue into early 2021 and will be one of the limiting factors of our economy early in the year. We do feel however these businesses are poised to grow significantly as economies open back up. We expect to see restaurants return to more normal operations, travel to increase and things like concerts and sporting events to return. Companies that service these industries will definitely benefit as things reopen.

Fourth, opening back can only happen as vaccines are distributed. Currently the US is on pace to reach the new administrations goal of 100 million doses in the first 100 days. This is great news. As the vaccine to Covid 19 gets administered globally we anticipate this will help industries like travel, entertainment and the like, return to 2019 levels. The vaccine should continue to be a massive contributor towards growth as the year moves on.

Fifth, low interest rates. The Fed has said they will continue to maintain low interest rates for the foreseeable future. This benefits industries across the economy and will be another significant factor to economic growth in 2021. We are glad to see the Fed maintaining this policy.

Sixth and finally, we have a new administration in Washington. With Democrats now controlling all three branches of government we expect to see a bent towards legislation favored by the Democrats. However, with a razor thin margin in the Senate we don’t expect to see sweeping legislative changes. In the 2022 mid-term elections there are a greater number of Democratic senators up for reelection and many of those senators come from either “conservative” or moderate states. This will probably influence voting until those elections. We are hopeful the rhetoric out of DC will be more along the lines of compromise going forward.

2021 will be an interesting year, most likely the tale of two halves. The first half will be much like 2020, lock downs still in place in many cities and states, limited gatherings and minimal travel. The second half should look much closer to the “days of yesteryear” in our opinion. The vaccine should be largely distributed by summer. This should allow most everything to resume and we are cautiously optimistic that by late summer/early fall life will look much more like it did in 2019 than in 2020. There are of course things that can disrupt this and we will continue to plan, react and reallocate accordingly. We continue to look for diversification strategies that protect your capital and find high quality companies that can weather storms and perform well over the long haul.

Thank you for your continued trust in us and allowing us to work with you through an unprecedented year. We know it wasn’t easy, but we have all come out stronger knowing we can handle what is hopefully the greatest collective challenge of our lives. Stay Safe. Stay Strong.

Bryan, Thane, Gary and the Cascade Team

COVID, The Election and 2020 Update

Cascade Wealth Group

Late Year Update: November 2020

2020, what a year it’s been. To think 12 months ago the words Corona Virus and COVID 19 didn’t even exist in our vocabulary is almost impossible to wrap one’s mind around. How things have changed in just a few short months. Throw in racial and social unrest coupled with an election and you have more than enough ingredients to create turmoil around the globe. Just one of these events would typically be enough to add volatility to the markets, but combine all three and we get the ups and downs that have become almost commonplace this year.

As we have stated in previous letters, the market doesn’t like is uncertainty, which has been the single biggest contributor to volatility this year. Beginning in March and April the impact of the virus both short or long term was unknown and the markets reacted violently. As the year moved on and more data was acquired, the market began to price in what looks to be a relatively shorter-term event than a multi-year protracted impact. Now we don’t believe that the virus will “be gone by Easter” as once famously stated, but we also do feel a vaccine is likely in the coming months especially given the announcement this week from Pfizer. Looking 6-12 months out it’s hard not to see life and the economy returning to a more “normal” and pre-pandemic level. Will it reach the full levels of January 2020 in that time frame? Unlikely, but we do feel that things will continue to improve moving forward. Unemployment continues to decline, GDP numbers are improving and corporate earnings are largely ahead of expectations. It is important to take these numbers in context and understand the surprises to the upside are in large part due to surpassing numbers that were adjusted down, but either way this is positive. Things are not as bad, or put differently, better than expected.

The Two Elephants In The Room: COVID and an Election…

One: The rising COVID cases both globally and in the US.  We see a few positives to this. First, the overall case fatality rate continues to remain really low. While cases continue to increase hospitalizations and deaths have largely remained unchanged. Meaning that as the cases have gone up, deaths have not correspondingly spiked. Second, as we mentioned above, we feel a vaccine is likely in the coming months. Will it be before January? Again, unlikely, but before May, we feel this is a more realistic expectation.

Two: The election. This past week has been a surprise with the market rally for many investors and while the election is still partly unknown it appears there will be a divided government. As of the writing of this update it looks as thought the Senate may have a slim majority for the GOP and the Democrats in the House and Biden winning the White House. Georgia will be at the center of the political universe for the next 2 months as we await a final outcome in their two Senate races. If Senate control does go to the GOP, it will force compromise in order to move forward legislation.  The markets the past 5 days have clearly seen this as a positive and have moved up with their largest gains since April.

Overall the next 6 months should continue to provide good news and improving trends in the US and globally. A vaccine, declining COVID Cases, and election behind us are all positive contributors to both the economy and the markets. This year has been one we will probably all look forward to having behind us, but we remain optimistic about what 2021 and the future holds.

As always if you have any questions about anything above please don’t hesitate to reach out. Stay safe and healthy.

Best Regards,

Bryan, Thane, Gary and the Cascade Team.

Cascade 2018 Year in Review and 2019 Outlook

If there was one theme that stood out in 2018 it was the return of volatility. Last year marked one of the wildest rides we have seen in nearly a decade and was quite a deviation from what we have experienced over the past two years. 2018 marked the first time since 2008 that the S&P 500 had a negative return and not to be outdone, the DOW and Nasdaq both landed in negative territory for the year. The S&P returned -4.38%, the DOW was off -5.63% and the Nasdaq was down -3.83%.  Each of these indexes were positive going into the fourth quarter, but as investor sentiment weighed in and things like trade worries with China, Fed interest rates and BEXIT began to play out investors became more and more cautious and the market reacted sharply. In the fourth quarter the S&P lost nearly 15%. As we stated in our December letter we felt some of this was cause for concern, but for the most part it was an over reaction to economic uncertainty. This has borne itself in the first month of 2019. In January the S&P was up over 7.5% and the first few days of February has only continued this trend. So where does that leave us for 2019 and beyond?

Our CIO Thane Cleland had this to say:

“If Q4 estimates hold true, 2018 S&P 500 earnings will be up over 20% compared with 2017; a fantastic performance.  When you combine 20+% earnings growth with -5% (losses in) stock prices, you get a steep decrease in valuation.  The S&P 500 price-to-earnings multiple (P/E) fell 16% in 2018 landing at a very reasonable 14.2 times.  This is a level below both the 5-year and the 10-year averages. This tells us the market is discounting more economic roadblocks in the future.”

In other words stocks are cheaper now than they have been. If all of the issues come to fruition, which we feel is doubtful, then we could see further declines and volatility, but if they don’t, again the more likely outcome, then this should prove to be a positive year in the overall economy and the markets.

Thane also shared what we view are the most important issues that could affect the markets in 2019.

1. BREXIT:  “The UK is currently in an extremely difficult position.  On March 29th they will no longer be in the European Union.  The past two years have been spent on negotiations between UK Prime Minister Theresa May and the European Union to strike an agreement for the UK’s exit from the union.  The proposed deal is not what the British people expected and in the view of many, leaves the UK in a worse position than staying in the union.  The deal went to a vote of Parliament and was soundly defeated.  Time is running short and options are deteriorating.  PM May is trying to negotiate a better deal with the EU, but the EU is not inclined to listen.  The UK can ask for an extension of the March 29th deadline, but ALL 28 members of the EU must agree and that is a very tall order.  Lastly, the UK could take a second referendum to the people and see if they want to change their mind about leaving the EU.  This seems the only likely way to avoid the economic disaster that would ensue if they leave without any deal.  We get the feeling PM May is going down routes that she knows will fail and taking the clock down to the final seconds which will force the people of the UK to repeal their decision to leave the union two years ago.  If that is true, it would likely produce a reversal and the best outcome for all parties involved.  However, it is a dangerous game of chicken where failure would produce the worst possible outcome of a “no deal” exit. “

2. INTEREST RATES:  “The US Federal Reserve has been on a predictable and well telegraphed campaign to normalize interest rates from the excessively stimulative policies that have been in place since 2008. When the cracks in our expected growth outlook showed up in late September/early October, there was significant chatter about skipping the expected December rate increase.  President Trump took notice of the market sentiment and made several statements regarding his displeasure with Fed Chairman Jerome Powell and recommended a pause in the tightening process.  Chairman Powell verbally assured the markets that the Fed Chair is a non-partisan position and only the Federal Reserve is responsible for monetary policy decisions.  In early December, the fed raised the fed funds rate for the fourth and final time in 2018 and the markets reacted negatively in fear that the fed is getting too restrictive too quickly given the other headwinds our economy could face over the next several quarters.  In January however chairman Powell stated that the Fed is now in more of a wait and see mode for 2019. The markets responded very positively to this news and was the largest contributor to the positive returns we saw in January. We expect the fed to raise rates in 2019, but at a slower pace and probably less than expected.”

3. CHINESE TRADE:  “Far and away the most important issue facing short, intermediate, and long-term GDP growth prospects for the US and the rest of the world revolve around the growing trade war between the US and China.  Both sides have been imposing an increasing number of tariffs on individual goods, but the real issue revolves around the theft of intellectual property and the circumvention of sanctions on third party governments.  China has ignored the world’s patent laws for many years and most countries have turned their head to the issue because they are afraid of missing out on the world’s largest growth opportunity.  China admits that learning from the west and copying our success is a preferred model for growing their economy into what could eventually become the biggest and most powerful in the world.  The US has taken a stand against the disregard for international law and the consequences are yet to be determined for both sides.  The trade war escalated exponentially on December 5th when Canada announced they had arrested Meng Wanzhou, the chief financial officer of the Chinese company Huawei Technologies.  Huawei is the largest consumer electronics company in China (think of them as the Chinese version of Apple).  Not only is Ms. Wanzhou the CFO of Huawei, she is the daughter of the founder and a bit of a celebrity.  China has arrested two Canadian businessmen and sentenced to death a Canadian citizen convicted of a drug offense in China in retaliation for Canada’s actions.  The US is seeking extradition to the United States so Ms. Wanzhou can face charges that Huawei has been stealing American telecommunications technology and lying about its relationship with its Iranian subsidiary. The Chinese parent company claimed that it had sold its Iranian division, when actually it had kept control and ownership of it.  The two sides have agreed to a 90-day moratorium on any new sanctions or increasing any existing sanctions.  That period is up on March 31st and little-to-no progress has been made on any fronts.  This conflict has the potential to take significant growth out of the global GDP and is the most critical issue facing our economy.  Stay tuned.”

Each of these has the potential to change the direction of the overall economy and the markets this year. Our general feeling is that Britain will not let the calendar roll over to April 1st with no plan in place, the Fed will use caution this year as it implements monetary policy and China and the US will come to some form of agreement for both the short and long term.

As we sum up expectations for 2019 we share this quote: “We’ve been in such a state of euphoria that even a return to moderate growth may feel like a recession.” We couldn’t agree more. Overall we expect the economy to return to more moderate grow. GDP should be between 2 and 2.5%, corporate earnings should grow close to 8% and we should continue to see unemployment remain at historic lows. All of these are very healthy numbers by themselves, it’s when compared to 2017 and 2018 they look small. As we return to more normal growth it will feel different, but we believe the outlook for 2019 is positive.

We do believe we are positioned well to weather short-term volatility and still achieve your long-term goals. As always if you have any questions about anything above we welcome your call.

Best Regards,

Bryan and the Cascade Team