The onset of the most recent Covid variant, known as Omicron, stands to stall a global economic resurgence which has been gradual and fragile. The World Health Organization (WHO) reported that the new variant may pose a greater reinfection risk and be more transmissible than previous variants leading to reimposed travel restrictions and restricted trade.
Some economists believe that excessive stimulus efforts to offset the pandemic slowdown may have led to inflationary pressures as enormous amounts of federal debt were issued and consumers spent stimulus funds in a short period.
Elevated food and energy prices may start to hinder consumer expenditures and dampen economic growth heading into 2022. Both food and energy account for a significant portion of household expenditures for millions of Americans, leaving less available for discretionary expenditures.
The Federal Reserve faces a new dilemma, slowing inflation simultaneously while also trying to maintain gradual economic expansion. Comments by Fed Chair Jerome Powell validated that the Federal Reserve now recognizes inflation as not transitory but becoming longer term. It is expected that the Federal Reserve will continue to slow its pace of bond buying as a stimulus effort, resulting in a removal of liquidity from the financial markets. Such a strategy is expected to produce higher rates and increased market volatility.
Global equity markets saw a pullback in late November as heightened virus fears drove uncertainty throughout the financial markets. Concern surrounding revised growth estimates drove rates lower as bond prices rose.
The growing popularity of using cryptocurrency for transactions and as an investment is expected to trigger tax consequences for those venturing into the digital currency arena. The IRS announced plans to track and identify digital currency transactions in order to tax gains on transactions. Many are being caught off guard.
The most recent Inflation data rose 6.2% year over year from October 2020 to October 2021, the largest annual increase since 1990. Supply constraints along with increased consumer demand for goods propelled overall prices higher throughout the economy. (Sources: Fed, WHO, Labor Dept., IRS)
IRS Introduces New Tax Brackets & Standard Deductions For 2022 – Tax Planning
Heading into the new year, the recent higher than expected inflation numbers will also be affecting tax rates for everyone. The IRS has adjusted 2022 tax brackets to reflect the most recent inflation data. Ironically, the adjustment for higher inflation will amount to lower tax rates for many taxpayers. For those earning more in 2022 than in 2021, the applicable tax bracket may actually be lower than the prior tax year because of the inflation adjustment. Standard deductions and estate tax exclusions have also risen for tax year 2022.
Sources: IRS, taxpolicycenter.org, taxfoundation.org
Rates In Flux As Omicron Creates Uncertainty – Fixed Income Overview
The renomination of Fed Chair Jerome Powell for another four years is not expected to result in any changes to monetary policy objectives. With the emergence of the new Covid variant, the Fed now has the challenge of taming inflation while not stifling a sensitive economic recovery. Comments by the Fed Chair conveyed that the Fed will start raising rates once it has ceased buying treasury and mortgage bonds as a stimulus effort. It signaled that it may start that process before the third quarter of 2022.
Tapering objectives by the Federal Reserve may be modified should the latest Covid variant prove to hinder economic recovery, yet the Fed is still on track to add another $420 billion to its already inflated $8 trillion balance sheet.
Rates were in a state of flux at the end of November as short-term government bond yields rose simultaneously as longer term yields fell. Economists view this dynamic as a flattening yield curve representative of slowing economic growth. The yield curve flattened to levels not reached since the onset of the pandemic in 2020.
Sources: Fed, U.S. Treasury
Domestic Equities Diverge From International Equities – Global Markets Overview
Global equity markets pulled back at month end as heightened virus fears drove uncertainty. Energy sector stocks saw a reversal from ongoing appreciation throughout the year, yet still stand as the top performing sector of the S&P 500 Index. Uncertainty in global growth tends to influence commodities and energy, in turn driving volatility higher.
Domestic equities have been trending higher relative to international equities where certain regions are seeing negative year to date returns. Earnings for U.S. based companies continue to show expansion even with lingering supply and production issues.
Some market analysts believe that inflation will abate over the next few months with a continuation of loose monetary policy, which is expected to bode well for equity markets.
Sources: Bloomberg, S&P
How Inflation Might Ease – Consumer Behavior
The pandemic pulled forward or accelerated an enormous amount of consumer spending that was pent up for months during lock downs and closures. As a result, demand for automobiles, homes, furniture, and appliances all skyrocketed, driving prices higher and evaporating inventories.
Much of the pulled forward demand is expected to ease especially among consumers and businesses that modified their business models in order to work from home. As the transition for millions has begun to settle and become complete, additional transitions are expected to be limited.
Elevated prices for essentials including food and gasoline will limit how much money consumers have for discretionary items such as movies, furniture, and automobiles. As discretionary income falls, so does consumer demand, alleviating inflationary pressures. Several economists are predicting a pullback in the inflation rate as consumers slow spending behaviors and overall demand eases.
The most recent inflation data revealed an annual inflation rate of 6.2% from October 2020 to October 2021, the steepest increase in 31 years. Economists and market analysts alike believe that inflation may be temporary for certain goods yet more lasting for others as consumers determine where to spend. (Sources: Bureau of Labor Statistics)
Labor Force Participation Rate Still Below Prior To Pandemic – Labor Market Update
Workers across all age groups are still not willing or able to work as they did before the pandemic. The participation rate is basically the percentage of the population that is either working or actively looking for work. That percentage has fallen to 61.8% as of November 2021, down from 63.3% in February 2020. The 1.5% difference may seem small yet still represents over 2.4 million workers that have essentially left the workforce. Those leaving the workforce include prime working age adults 25-54 years of age, as well as teenagers and 65 year olds.
There are various reasons why workers leave the workforce including health, lack of skill sets, and retirement. With the onset of
baby boomers retiring, succeeding generations will make up the majority of the workforce over the next few years. The pandemic brought
about early retirement for many workers in their 60s and 70s, removing tens of thousands from the workforce and eventually will be filled by younger workers. (Source: U.S. Department of Labor)
Year-End Tax Planning For Cryptocurrency Transactions – Tax Planning
As millions of investors dabbled in cryptocurrency this past year, the IRS has heightened its surveillance of transactions in order to tax gains. The pending infrastructure bill in Washington, Build Back Better, contains an entire section on identifying and taxing gains on cryptocurrency transactions. The rapid and extensive emergence of cryptocurrency transactions has brought about uncertainty surrounding taxing transactions as an asset, similar to a stock, rather than a currency. Some cryptocurrency trading platforms also pay interest on lended digital currency positions, creating yet another tax liability on the interest earned.
Since the federal government sees a tremendous tax revenue opportunity in taxing digital currency transactions, the IRS has already started to issue tax ramification guidelines applicable to such transactions. The U.S. government expects to raise about $28 billion over the next ten years by tracking and taxing transactions. Digital wallets, which hold cryptocurrencies, may be required to report holdings and transactions to the IRS, similar to traditional financial institutions. The IRS also plans
to crack down on taxpayers not reporting gains from crypto transactions, as noted on the most recent IRS tax return forms. Some crypto trading platforms intend to start issuing 1099-Misc and 1099-K forms in order to comply with IRS reporting requirements.
As consumers become more comfortable with making payments with digital currencies, each transaction may become a taxable event. The ability to store cryptocurrency in a digital wallet, then use it for a purchase, may trigger a tax consequence if the currency is sold at a gain in order to make the purchase. The IRS is expected to require platforms providing digital wallets to maintain the cost basis on all currency transactions. Should a 1099 form not be issued by the digital currency platform used, then the IRS is suggesting that taxpayers maintain a record of all purchases and sells in order to properly report any taxable gains or losses. (Source: IRS)
Release of Oil Reserves Hasn’t Reduced Gas Prices Much If Any – Oil Sector Review
The administration announced in November that it had authorized the release of 50 million barrels of oil from the strategic petroleum reserve (SPR) in order to help alleviate rising gasoline prices across the nation. Markets reacted to the release as non consequential, since the 50 million barrels of oil amount to roughly 5 days of U.S. oil production.
Some industry advocates argued that additional production might be warranted in order to ease pricing pressures. OPEC, as well as U.S. based oil producers, are reluctant to ramp up production due to the threat of another sudden global slowdown similar to what occurred last March and April 2020. Oil prices fell below $20 per barrel and traded negative at times in April 2020 as demand for oil collapsed. A severe shortage of oil storage in the weeks following the demand collapse drove several drillers and producers out of business. Ironically, the energy sector, which is primarily made up of oil industry companies, is the leading performing sector of the S&P 500 Index so far this year. (Sources: U.S. Energy Information Administration)