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The Bull Is Back… Will It Keep Charging?

On August 18, 2020, the S&P 500 set a record high for the first time since COVID-19 ushered in a bear market on February 19. The cycle from peak to peak was just 126 trading days, the fastest recovery in the history of the index, erasing losses from an equally historic plunge of almost 34% in February and March.1

Based on the traditional definition of market cycles, the new record confirms that a bull market began on March 23 when the index closed at its official low point. This also confirms that the February-March bear market was the shortest on record, lasting just 33 days.2

Although the strong comeback is good news for investors, there is a striking disconnect between the buoyant market and an economy still struggling with high unemployment and a public health crisis. The market is not the economy, but the economy certainly affects the market. So it may seem puzzling that the market could reach a record high not long after the largest quarterly decline in gross domestic product

(GDP) in U.S. history.3

Optimism vs. exuberance

Whereas GDP measures current economic activity, the stock market is forward looking. The rapid bounceback suggests that investors believe the pandemic will be controlled in the not-too-distant future and that business activity will return to normal. Whether this optimism is warranted remains to be seen. The current economic situation remains tenuous, but there are hopeful signs. A vaccine could be available in early 2021, later than anticipated but offering light at the end of the tunnel.4 In the meantime, the virus continues to suppress business activity. The 10.2% July unemployment rate represented a big improvement over the previous three months, but it was still higher than at any time during the Great Recession.5 Recent projections of corporate earnings suggest they will not contract as much as expected, but they will still contract.6 GDP is projected to make up ground in the third and fourth quarters but remain negative for the year.7 The extreme of market optimism is irrational exuberance, and there may be some of that at work in the current situation. The proliferation of low-cost trading apps has encouraged less-experienced investors to trade aggressively, which might be driving some of the market surge.8

Economic stimulus

The single, most important factor behind the market recovery is the deep commitment from the Federal Reserve to provide unlimited support through low interest rates and bondbuying programs. For some investors, the fact that the economy is still struggling has a strangely positive effect in guaranteeing that the Fed will keep the money flowing.9

Further support from the federal government is more uncertain, but the strong market suggests that investors may be counting on a second stimulus package.10

Nowhere else to go

Low interest rates make it easier for businesses and individuals to borrow, but they have reduced bond yields to the point that many investors are willing to take on greater risk in equities in order to generate income. Money that might normally be invested in the bond market has poured into stocks, driving prices higher. This situation has its own acronym: TINA, There Is No Alternative to Stocks.11

Big tech at the wheel

While the S&P 500 is generally considered representative of the U.S. stock market as a whole, the recovery has centered around technology companies, which have helped provide goods and services throughout the pandemic. The Big Six tech stocks — Apple, Facebook, Amazon, Netflix, Microsoft, and Alphabet (Google’s parent) — were up collectively by more than 43% for the year through August 18. By contrast, the rest of the companies in the S&P 500 were down collectively by about 4%. The Big Six tech companies now represent more than one-fourth of the total market capitalization of the S&P 500 and thus have an outsized effect on index performance.12 One question facing investors is whether to chase the winners or look to stocks and sectors that still lag their previous highs and may have greater growth potential. Chasing performance is seldom a good idea, but there are solid reasons why certain stocks have been so successful in the current environment.

Are stocks overvalued?

The most common measure of stock value is price/earnings (P/E) ratio, which represents the stock price divided by corporate earnings over the previous 12 months or by projected earnings over the next 12 months. The projected P/E ratio for the S&P 500 on August 18 was 22.6, the highest since March 2000 at the peak of the dot-com bubble. Big tech stocks were even higher, trading at 26 times their projected earnings, and the Big Six were higher still at more than 40 times projected earnings.13-14

A different measure of stock value compares the total market capitalization of all U.S. stocks with GDP. By this measure, the market was 77.6% overvalued on August 18, by far the highest valuation ever recorded. The previous highs were 49.3% in January 2018 and 49.0% in March 2000. This extreme ratio illustrates the current disconnect between the stock market and GDP, but a significant GDP increase during the third quarter could bring it down.15

In considering these valuations, keep in mind that these are extraordinary times, and traditional expectations and measures of value may not tell the whole story. If nothing else, the extreme volatility and rapid market cycles of 2020 have illustrated the importance of maintaining a diversified all-weather portfolio and the danger of overreacting to market movements. While new records are exciting, they are only signposts along the road to achieving your long-term goals. The return and principal value of stocks and bonds fluctuate with changes in market conditions. Shares, when sold, and bonds redeemed prior to maturity may be worth more or less than their original cost. Investments seeking to achieve higher yields also involve a higher degree of risk. Diversification is a method used to help manage investment risk; it does not guarantee a profit or protect against investment loss.

Prepared by Broadridge Investor Communication Solutions, Inc. Copyright 2020

The performance of an unmanaged index such as the S&P 500 is not indicative of the performance of any specific investment. Individuals cannot invest directly in an index. Past performance is not a guarantee of future results. Actual results will vary.

1, 3, 6, 8, 11, 13) The Wall Street Journal, August 18, 2020

2) CNBC, August 18, 2020

4, 9) The New York Times, August 18, 2020

5) U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2020

7) The Wall Street Journal Economic Forecasting Survey, August 2020

10) CNBC, August 14, 2020

12, 14) The Washington Post, August 20, 2020

15) Forbes, August 18, 2020

IMPORTANT DISCLOSURES The opinions expressed herein are those of Ballast Advisors, LLC and are subject to change without notice. The third-party material presented is derived from sources Ballast Advisors consider to be reliable, but the accuracy and completeness cannot be guaranteed. Past performance is not indicative of future results. Nothing contained herein is an offer to purchase or sell any product. This material is for informational purposes only and should not be considered investment advice. Ballast Advisors reserve the right to modify its current investment strategies and techniques based on changing market dynamics or client needs. Broadridge Investor Communication Solutions, Inc. does not provide investment, tax, legal, or retirement advice or recommendations. The information presented here is not specific to any individual’s personal circumstances. To the extent that this material concerns tax matters, it is not intended or written to be used, and cannot be used, by a taxpayer for the purpose of avoiding penalties that may be imposed by law. Each taxpayer should seek independent advice from a tax professional based on his or her individual circumstances. These materials are provided for general information and educational purposes based upon publicly available information from sources believed to be reliable — we cannot assure the accuracy or completeness of these materials. The information in these materials may change at any time and without notice. Ballast Advisors, LLC is a registered investment advisor under the Investment Advisers Act of 1940, as amended. Registration does not imply a certain level of skill or training. More information about the firm, including its services, strategies, and fees can be found in our ADV Part 2, which is available without charge upon request.

IRA and Retirement Plan Limits for 2020

IRA contribution limits

The maximum amount you can contribute to a traditional IRA or a Roth IRA in 2020 is $6,000 (or 100% of your earned income, if less), unchanged from 2019. The maximum catch-up contribution for those age 50 or older remains at $1,000. You can contribute to both a traditional IRA and a Roth IRA in 2020, but your total contributions can’t exceed these annual limits.

Traditional IRA income limits

If you are not covered by an employer retirement plan, your contributions to a traditional IRA are generally fully tax deductible. For those who are covered by an employer plan, the income limits for determining the deductibility of traditional IRA contributions in 2020 have increased. If your filing status is single or head of household, you can fully deduct your IRA contribution up to $6,000 ($7,000 if you are age 50 or older) in 2020 if your modified adjusted gross income (MAGI) is $65,000 or less (up from $64,000 in 2019). If you’re married and filing a joint return, you can fully deduct up to $6,000 ($7,000 if you are age 50 or older) in 2020 if your MAGI is $104,000 or less (up from $103,000 in 2019).

If your 2020 federal income tax filing status is: Your IRA deduction is limited if your MAGI is between: Your deduction is eliminated if your MAGI is:
Single or head of household $65,000 and $75,000 $75,000 or more
Married filing jointly or qualifying widow(er) $104,000 and $124,000 (combined) $124,000 or more (combined)
Married filing separately $0 and $10,000 $10,000 or more

If you’re not covered by an employer plan but your spouse is, and you file a joint return, your deduction is limited if your MAGI is $196,000 to $206,000 (up from $193,000 to $203,000 in 2019), and eliminated if your MAGI exceeds $206,000 (up from $203,000 in 2019).

Roth IRA income limits

The income limits for determining how much you can contribute to a Roth IRA have also increased for 2020. If your filing status is single or head of household, you can contribute the full $6,000 ($7,000 if you are age 50 or older) to a Roth IRA if your MAGI is $124,000 or less (up from $122,000 in 2019). And if you’re married and filing a joint return, you can make a full contribution if your MAGI is $196,000 or less (up from $193,000 in 2019). (Again, contributions can’t exceed 100% of your earned income.)

If your 2020 federal income tax filing status is: Your Roth IRA contribution is limited if your MAGI is: You cannot contribute to a Roth IRA if your MAGI is:
Single or head of household More than $124,000 but under $139,000 $139,000 or more
Married filing jointly or qualifying widow(er) More than $196,000 but under $206,000 (combined) $206,000 or more (combined)
Married filing separately More than $0 but under $10,000 $10,000 or more

Employer retirement plans

Most of the significant employer retirement plan limits for 2020 have also increased. The maximum amount you can contribute (your “elective deferrals”) to a 401(k) plan is $19,500 in 2020 (up from $19,000 in 2019). This limit also applies to 403(b) and 457(b) plans, as well as the Federal Thrift Plan. If you’re age 50 or older, you can also make catch-up contributions of up to $6,500 to these plans in 2020 (up from $6,000 in 2019). (Special catch-up limits apply to certain participants in 403(b) and 457(b) plans.)

If you participate in more than one retirement plan, your total elective deferrals can’t exceed the annual limit ($19,500 in 2020 plus any applicable catch-up contributions). Deferrals to 401(k) plans, 403(b) plans, and SIMPLE plans are included in this aggregate limit, but deferrals to Section 457(b) plans are not. For example, if you participate in both a 403(b) plan and a 457(b) plan, you can defer the full dollar limit to each plan — a total of $39,000 in 2020 (plus any catch-up contributions).

The amount you can contribute to a SIMPLE IRA or SIMPLE 401(k) is $13,500 in 2020 (up from $13,000 in 2019), and the catch-up limit for those age 50 or older remains at $3,000.

Plan type: Annual dollar limit: Catch-up limit:
401(k), 403(b), governmental 457(b), Federal Thrift Plan $19,500 $6,500
SIMPLE plans $13,500 $3,000

Note: Contributions can’t exceed 100% of your income.

The maximum amount that can be allocated to your account in a defined contribution plan (for example, a 401(k) plan or profit-sharing plan) in 2020 is $57,000 (up from $56,000 in 2019) plus age 50 catch-up contributions. (This includes both your contributions and your employer’s contributions. Special rules apply if your employer sponsors more than one retirement plan.)

Finally, the maximum amount of compensation that can be taken into account in determining benefits for most plans in 2020 is $285,000 (up from $280,000 in 2019), and the dollar threshold for determining highly compensated employees (when 2020 is the look-back year) is $130,000 (up from $125,000 when 2019 is the look-back year).

Prepared by Broadridge Investor Communication Solutions, Inc. Copyright 2019

IMPORTANT DISCLOSURES Broadridge Investor Communication Solutions, Inc. does not provide investment, tax, legal, or retirement advice or recommendations. The information presented here is not specific to any individual’s personal circumstances. To the extent that this material concerns tax matters, it is not intended or written to be used, and cannot be used, by a taxpayer for the purpose of avoiding penalties that may be imposed by law. Each taxpayer should seek independent advice from a tax professional based on his or her individual circumstances. These materials are provided for general information and educational purposes based upon publicly available information from sources believed to be reliable — we cannot assure the accuracy or completeness of these materials. The information in these materials may change at any time and without notice.

Ballast Advisors, LLC is a registered investment advisor under the Investment Advisers Act of 1940, as amended. Registration does not imply a certain level of skill or training. More information about the firm, including its services, strategies, and fees can be found in our ADV Part 2, which is available without charge upon request. The opinions expressed herein are those of Ballast Advisors, LLC and are subject to change without notice.