Policy Shifts May Challenge Markets

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Fiscal stimulus, which was central to the market rebound in the last year, may start moving to the sidelines over the rest of 2021 and into 2022 as the recovery continues. Economic growth can compensate for the loss of government checks to households and businesses, but potential tax increases may be more challenging for markets to navigate. Business tax increases, in particular, may gradually pull gains out of markets about equal to their size, but with economic growth supporting corporate earnings, we believe a positive backdrop for equities remains in place.

During much of 2020 and early 2021, markets were focused on fiscal policy due to massive government efforts to help bridge the economy past the impact of COVID-19 restrictions. Markets liked stimulus as much in 2020 and 2021 as in 2009, and, to a smaller extent, 2018. Policy will still matter over the rest of 2021 and into 2022, but it will matter far less—despite some important debates going on in Washington. Markets may anticipate an increase in government spending if Congress passes some version of the Biden administration’s Build Back Better (BBB) initiative, but that spending will likely be spread out over almost a decade. The biggest risk may be around taxes, with businesses and wealthy households both facing the prospect of a higher tax burden to pay for BBB and help manage the deficit.

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Stock Market Gains Likely to Slow

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After one of the best starts to a bull market in history, the rally has started to show signs of fatigue. A strong economic recovery lies ahead as the roepening continues, bolstering a very strong earnings outlook that is helping stocks grow into elevated valuations. However, in the second half of the year, as inflationary pressures build, interest rates potentially rise further, and this bull market gets a little older, the pace of stock market gains will likely slow and come with more volatility.

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Proceed with Caution in the Bond Market

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After one of the worst starts to a year for fixed income, returns may not get much better from here. Long-term interest rates have traded sideways recently but we expect rates to potentially rise further, which would put downward pressure on bond prices. We’re not giving up on high-quality fixed income though, as Treasury securities have shown to be the best diversifier during times of equity market stresses.

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Economy Picking Up Speed

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The economic recovery continues, as the recipe of vaccines, the reopening, and record stimulus all have combined to produce what should be one of the best years for growth ever. Although some economic indicators could be peaking or about to peak, the stage is set for this cycle of growth to continue for many years, which may surprise some investors. We discuss why inflation might be in the headlines, but still shouldn’t be a major worry for investors.

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