which measures retail investors’ behavior and sentiment, based on a sample of accounts that completed trades in the past month. Their interests have been shifting toward less volatile names and more stable holdings like shorter-term bonds, the firm said.

Ms. Hellmann, who started actively trading in the early days of the pandemic, said she was sticking with it, learning more and refining her approach as she goes along.

She often rises at 3 a.m. and turns on CNBC to begin plotting her strategy for the day, which involves studying stocks’ price movements, a process she compared to learning to catch a softball — watching its arc, then trying to figure out the physics of where it will land. “That is what I’m doing with price and volume,” she said.

Long a buy-and-hold investor, she began with roughly $50,000 — money that came from shares of ConocoPhillips that she inherited in 2014 after the death of her grandfather, who had been a propane salesman. Her approach has grown increasingly complex over the past two years: Last fall, she took a large position in an exchange-traded fund that bets against the price of natural gas — which has gone up as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine roiled energy markets.

“The war causing natural gas to spike up at a time when it seasonally comes down did not help me much,” she said.

Even so, she’s more than quintupled her money since early 2020, riding the strength of a rally that has the S&P 500 up nearly 80 percent since it bottomed out in March 2020, even with its recent fall.

Experiencing losses after a period of gains can be instructive, said Dan Egan, vice president of behavioral finance and investing at Betterment, which builds and manages diversified portfolios of low-cost funds and provides financial planning services.

“If you have a good initial experience with investing, you see this is part of it, it will be OK,” he said. “We get bumps and bruises that you need to learn what pain feels like,” he said.

Eric Lipchus, 40, has felt plenty of pain in his nearly two decades of full-time day trading — he owned options on Lehman Brothers, the investment bank that imploded during the financial crisis of 2008-9. Before that, he had watched his older brother and father dabble in the markets during the dot-com boom and bust.

“I have been on a roller coaster,” he said. “I am making OK money this year but it’s been up and it’s been down. It seems like it could be a tough year — not as much upside as in previous years.”

Challenging conditions like investors are now facing can get stressful in a hurry, Mr. Lipchus said. Right now, he’s keeping half his portfolio in cash — and is taking a fishing trip to the Thousand Islands in a couple of weeks to clear his head.

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As Stocks Fall, Economic Fears Rise, Along With Inflation

Broadly speaking, earnings reports have shown that profit growth continues, and results from some big firms, like Microsoft and Facebook’s parent, Meta Platforms, did briefly ease the panic on Wall Street. About 80 percent of companies in the S&P 500 to report results through Thursday did better than analysts had expected, data from FactSet shows.

But other companies have only added to the downdraft. Netflix plunged after it said last week that it expected to lose subscribers — 200,000 in the first three months of the year, and an additional two million in the current quarter. The stock dropped more than 49 percent for the month.

On Friday, Amazon slid 14.1 percent after it reported its first quarterly loss since 2015, citing rising fuel and labor costs and warning that sales would slow. Its shares fell 23.8 percent in April.

General Electric warned on Tuesday that the economic fallout from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine would weigh on its results. Its shares fell 10 percent that day and about 18.5 percent for the month.

The war, which began in February, brought a new risk to the fragile global supply chain: Western countries’ sanctions on Russia, including a ban on oil imports from the country by the United States, and European promises to limit purchases of Russian oil and gas.

Now, executives are also assessing how the Covid-19 lockdowns in China, which has the world’s second-largest economy, could affect profit margins. Multiple Chinese cities are on lockdown, and although factories remain open, the country’s draconian “zero Covid” policy has led to interruptions in shipments and delays in delivery times.

Texas Instruments Inc. and the machinery maker Caterpillar cautioned investors this week that the lockdowns in China were affecting the company’s manufacturing operations. On Thursday, Apple also warned that the outbreak there would hamper demand and production of iPhones and other products. The company’s shares fell 3.7 percent on Friday, and ended April with a loss of 9.7 percent.

The outlook for the economy, the effects of the Ukraine invasion, the lockdowns in China and exactly how fast the Fed will raise interest rates are still not clear. Markets are likely to stay volatile until they are.

“There are definitely a lot of open-ended and unquantified risks looming,” said Victoria Greene, the chief investment officer at G Squared Private Wealth, an advisory firm. “The U.S. economy lives and dies for the consumer, and as soon as this consumer starts to slow down, I think that will hit the economy hard.”

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Stock Markets Off to Worst Start Since 2016 as Fed Fights Inflation

After falling for a fourth day in a row on Friday, the stock market suffered its worst week in nearly two years, and so far in January the S&P 500 is off to its worst start since 2016. Technology stocks have been hit especially hard, with the Nasdaq Composite Index dropping more than 10 percent from its most recent high, which qualifies as a correction in Wall Street talk.

That’s not all. The bond market is also in disarray, with rates rising sharply and bond prices, which move in the opposite direction, falling. Inflation is red hot, and supply chain disruptions continue.

Until now, the markets looked past such issues during the pandemic, which brought big increases in the value of all kinds of assets.

Yet a crucial factor has changed, which gives some market watchers reason to worry that the recent decline may be consequential. That element is the Federal Reserve.

intervened to save desperately wounded financial markets back in early 2020.

This could be a good thing if it beats back inflation without derailing the economic recovery. But removing this support also inevitably cools the markets as investors move money around, searching for assets that perform better when interest rates are high.

“The Fed’s policies basically got the current bull market started,” said Edward Yardeni, an independent Wall Street economist. “I don’t think they are going to end it all now, but the environment is changing and the Fed is responsible for a lot of this.”

The central bank is tightening monetary policy partly because it has worked. It helped stimulate economic growth by holding short-term interest rates near zero and pumping trillions of dollars into the economy.

This flood of easy money also contributed to the rapid rise in prices of commodities, like food and energy, and financial assets, like stocks, bonds, homes and even cryptocurrency.

said in 1955, the central bank finds itself acting as the adult in the room, “who has ordered the punch bowl removed just when the party was really warming up.”

The mood of the markets shifted on Jan. 5, Mr. Yardeni said, when Fed officials released the minutes of their December policymaking meeting, revealing that they were on the verge of embracing a much tighter monetary policy. A week later, new data showed inflation climbing to its highest level in 40 years.

Putting the two together, it seemed, the Fed would have no choice but to react to curb rapidly rising prices. Stocks began a disorderly decline.

Financial markets now expect the Fed to raise its key interest rate at least three times this year and to start to shrink its balance sheet as soon as this spring. It has reduced the level of its bond buying already. Fed policymakers will meet next week to decide on their next steps, and market strategists will be watching.

Low interest rates made certain sectors especially appealing, foremost among them tech stocks. The S&P 500 information technology sector, which includes Apple and Microsoft, has risen 54 percent on an annualized basis since the market’s pandemic-induced trough in March 2020. One reason for this is that low interest rates amplify the value of the expected future returns of growth-oriented companies like these. If rates rise, this calculus can change abruptly.

The very prospect of higher interest rates has made technology the worst-performing sector in the S&P 500 this year. Since its peak in late December, it has fallen more than 11 percent.

The S&P’s three best-performing sectors in the early days of 2022, on the other hand, are energy, financial services and consumer staples.

like Netflix and Peloton, have begun to flag as people venture out more.

Some astute market analysts foresee bigger problems. Jeremy Grantham, one of the founders of GMO, an asset manager, predicts a catastrophic end to what he calls a “superbubble.”

But the current losses could be beneficial if they let a little air out of a potential bubble, without bursting investor portfolios. This year’s declines erase only a small share of the market’s gains in recent years: The S&P 500 rose nearly 27 percent last year, more than 16 percent in 2020 and nearly 29 percent in 2019.

And the prospects for corporate earnings remain good. Once the Fed starts to act, and the effects are better understood, the stock market party could continue — at a less giddy pace.

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Stocks Hit a Record as Investors See Progress Toward a Spending Deal

Wall Street likes what it’s hearing from Washington lately.

The S&P 500 inched to a new high on Thursday, continuing a rally aided by signs of progress in spending talks that could pave the way for an injection of some $3 trillion into the U.S. economy.

The index rose 0.3 percent to 4,549.78, its seventh straight day of gains and a fresh peak after more than a month of volatile trading driven by nervousness over the still-wobbly economic recovery and policy fights in Washington.

market swoon that began in September.

Share prices began to rise this month when congressional leaders struck a deal to allow the government to avoid breaching the debt ceiling, ending a standoff that threatened to make it impossible for the country to pay its bills. The rally has gained momentum as investors and analysts grow increasingly confident about a government spending package using a recipe Wall Street can live with: big enough to bolster economic growth, but with smaller corporate tax increases than President Biden’s original $3.5 trillion spending blueprint.

continuing supply chain snarls, higher prices for businesses and consumers and the Federal Reserve’s signals that it would begin dialing back its stimulus efforts all helped sour investor confidence. The S&P 500’s 4.8 percent drop in September was its worst month since the start of the pandemic.

It has made up for it in October, rising 5.6 percent this month. But it’s not just updates out of Washington that have renewed investors’ optimism.

The country has seen a sharp drop in coronavirus infections in recent weeks, raising, once again, the prospect that economic activity can begin to normalize. And the recent round of corporate earnings results that began in earnest this month has started better than many analysts expected. Large Wall Street banks, in particular, reported blockbuster results fueled by juicy fees paid to the banks’ deal makers, thanks to a surge of merger activity.

Elsewhere, shares of energy giants have also buoyed the broad stock market. The price of crude oil recently climbed back above $80 a barrel for the first time in roughly seven years, translating into an instant boost to revenues for energy companies.

debt limit, is a cap on the total amount of money that the federal government is authorized to borrow via U.S. Treasury bills and savings bonds to fulfill its financial obligations. Because the U.S. runs budget deficits, it must borrow huge sums of money to pay its bills.

On Thursday, analysts spotlighted the news that the White House and congressional Democrats were moving toward dropping corporate tax increases they had wanted to include in the bill, as they hoped to forge a deal that could clear the Senate. A spending deal without corporate tax increases would be a potential boon to profits and share prices.

“A stay of execution on higher corporate tax rates would seem a potentially noteworthy development,” Daragh Maher, a currency analyst with HSBC Securities, wrote in a note to clients on Thursday.

An agreement among Democrats on what’s expected to be a roughly $2 trillion spending plan would also open the door to a separate $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure plan moving through Congress. Progressives in the House are blocking the infrastructure bill until agreement is reached on the larger bill.

But the prospects for an agreement have helped to lift shares of major engineering and construction materials companies. Terex, which makes equipment used for handling construction materials like stone and asphalt, has jumped more than 5 percent this week. The asphalt maker Vulcan Materials has risen more than 4 percent. Dycom, which specializes in construction and engineering of telecommunication networking systems, was up more than 9 percent.

The renewed confidence remains fragile, with good reason. The coronavirus continues to affect business operations around the world, and the Delta variant demonstrated just how disruptive a new iteration of the virus can be.

Another lingering concern involves the higher costs companies face for everything from raw materials to shipping to labor. If they are unable to pass those higher costs on to consumers, it will cut into their profits.

“That would be big,” Mr. McKnight said. “That would be a material impact to the markets.”

But going into the final months of the year — traditionally a good time for stocks — the market also has plenty of reasons to push higher.

The recent weeks of bumpy trading may have chased shareholders with low confidence — sometimes known as “weak hands” on Wall Street — out of the market, offering potential bargains to long-term buyers.

“Interest rates are relatively stable. Earnings are booming. Covid cases, thankfully, are dropping precipitously in the U.S.,” Mr. Zemsky said. “The weak hands have left the markets and there’s plenty of jobs. So why shouldn’t we have new highs?”

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Global Markets Swoon as Worries Mount Over Superpowers’ Plans

Investors on three continents dumped stocks on Monday, fretting that the governments of the world’s two largest economies — China and the United States — would act in ways that could undercut the nascent global economic recovery.

The Chinese government’s reluctance to step in and save a highly indebted property developer just days before a big interest payment is due signaled to investors that Beijing might break with its longstanding policy of bailing out its homegrown stars.

And in the United States, the globe’s No. 1 economy, investors worried that the Federal Reserve would soon begin cutting back its huge purchases of government bonds, which had helped drive stocks to a series of record highs since the coronavirus pandemic hit.

The sell-off started in Asia and spread to Europe — where exporters to China were slammed — before landing in the United States, where stocks appeared to be heading for their worst performance of the year before a rally at the end of the trading day. The S&P 500 closed down 1.7 percent, its worst daily performance since mid-May, after being down as much as 2.9 percent in the afternoon.

to ignore a variety of issues complicating the recovery — including the emergence of the Delta variant and the supply chain snarls that have bedeviled consumers and manufacturers alike.

But beginning this month, as Evergrande began to teeter and the likelihood of the Fed’s scaling back — or tapering — its bond-buying programs grew, the market’s protective bubble began to deflate. Some U.S. investors are also concerned that tax increases are in the offing — including on share buybacks and corporate profits — to help pay for a spending push by the federal government, the signature piece of which is President Biden’s proposed $3.5 trillion budget bill. Separately, Congress also must act to raise the government’s borrowing limit, a politically charged process that has at times thrown markets for a loop.

On Monday, those currents combined, reflecting the interconnectedness of the global markets as investors everywhere sold their holdings.

the rancorous debate about increasing the debt limit was accompanied by a sharp market slump, as representatives in Washington appeared to flirt with the idea of not raising the constraint on borrowing, which would effectively amount to a default on Treasury bonds.

“It’s going to be drama for the sake of politics,” said Lisa Shalett, chief investment officer at Morgan Stanley Wealth Management. “People don’t like that.”

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Stocks Rally but End the Week With a Loss

Wall Street ended Friday higher at the close of a broad rally, an upbeat conclusion to whipsaw week of buying and selling as signs of a rebounding economy did battle with mounting inflation jitters.

All three major U.S. indexes built on Thursday’s gains, when the S&P 500 notched its biggest one-day percentage bump in over a month.

“It’s a ‘buy everything’ day,” said Chuck Carlson, senior vice president at Wealthspire Advisors in New York.

Still, the indexes suffered their biggest weekly declines since late February.

Big swings this week were stoked by economic data, which fanned concerns that near-term price spikes could translate into long-term inflation, despite assurances to the contrary from the Federal Reserve.

Economic data released on Friday showed retail sales growth stalling and consumer sentiment dipping as prices continue to rise, suggesting that while the demand boom might be taking a breather, inflation has not.

But in an indication that economic activity could return to normal, revised guidance this week from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said fully vaccinated people no longer needed to wear masks outdoors and could avoid wearing them indoors in most places.

The S&P 500 gained 1.5 percent on Friday, but ended the week 1.4 percent below last week’s close. The Nasdaq composite jumped 2.3 percent on Friday.

All 11 major S&P sectors ended the session green, with energy, boosted by rebounding crude oil prices, enjoying the largest percentage gain.

Walt Disney Company shares dropped after the subscriber additions to its Disney+ streaming service fell short of expectations.

Airbnb reported a 52 percent jump in bookings, driving its stock higher.

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7 Steps to Take Now to Catch Up on Retirement Savings

Another option is applying for coverage through the Affordable Care Act, which offers a range of plans, including for those still unemployed.

Make catch-up contributions. If you’re 50 or older, the Internal Revenue Service gives you a little savings plum: You can save as much as an extra $6,500 annually in your defined contribution plans (which include 401(k)s, 403(b)s and 457s). If you have a SIMPLE (Savings Incentive Match Plan for Employees) individual retirement account or SIMPLE 401(k), the catch-up contribution is $3,000 annually; it’s $1,000 for a Roth I.R.A.

Automate your savings. If you’re working and offered a 401(k) with automatic payroll withdrawals, you can simply increase your contribution. Want to save even more? Many plans allow you to boost your 401(k) savings when you get a raise. Let’s say you’re 50 or older and save the maximum annual amount — $26,000. That’s $19,500 plus a $6,500 catch-up contribution. Also take your employer’s matching contribution, if it’s offered. This is the low-hanging fruit of retirement savings that most financial planners recommend — again, if you have access to it.

Adjust your portfolio. Just socking more money into a bank money-market account won’t help you catch up much at all. After all, the S&P 500 index is up a stunning amount: more than 40 percent this year. Yields on money markets are awful — the top rate nationally was 0.60 percent, according to Bankrate.com. The best way to achieve your goals is to invest in no-load mutual or exchange-traded funds, preferably with an annual expense ratio below 0.30 percent.

Most mutual fund companies offer dividend growth and income mutual and exchange-traded funds. Also avoid the trap in thinking that money in the bank is safe money. If it’s not beating inflation, which is currently running at an annual rate of just under 3 percent, you’re losing purchasing power. “Don’t keep too much money in a bank account,” Ms. Price warned. “You’re getting paid very little to keep it there.”

Retire later. If you’re able, one simple strategy is to retire after the “normal” age for Social Security benefits, which is 66 for most Americans. That will give you more time to save. Social Security will even pay you more each month if you wait until 70 to collect benefits. A “delayed retirement credit” will raise your retirement payments 8 percent annually every year you wait from age 66 until taking benefits at age 70 for those born in 1943 and later.

Set up your own plan. Small-business owners or those who are self-employed can set up their own plans, from Simplified Employee Pension I.R.A.s to 401(k)s. Ms. Price suggests those over 50 consider a Roth 401(k), if your employer offers it. While contributions are taxed, withdrawals are not. “You’re taxed on money going in, not on gains,” she said. “If you can’t afford to pay taxes on withdrawals later, this is a good idea.”

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Why Biden’s Plan to Raise Taxes for Rich Investors Isn’t Hurting Stocks

“Most Democrats seem to be on board with narrowing the differential between the tax rate on capital gains and ordinary income, but there’s opposition for treating the rates as the same,” wrote analysts with Beacon Policy Advisors, a political consultancy. “This means there’s probably a middle ground for raising the capital gains rate on top earners to, say, 28 percent.”

If stocks continued their climb, it would largely be in keeping with previous periods when capital gains taxes were raised.

In 2013, when the tax rose to the current 23.8 percent, from 15 percent, on Americans with the highest incomes, the S&P 500 climbed nearly 30 percent. It was the best year for stocks in the last two decades. And after the top rate rose to 28 percent, from 20 percent, at the end of 1986, the market continued to roar higher, by nearly 40 percent through most of 1987.

Stocks eventually suffered their worst single-day collapse ever on Black Monday in October 1987, but that crash had little to do with tax policy, and the markets ended the year slightly higher. In 1991, a small increase to 28.9 percent in the capital gains rate for those with the largest incomes coincided with a 26 percent rise in the S&P 500. The major driver for that gain had nothing to do with taxes; it was the emergence from a recession.

Similarly, investors appear to be focusing on evidence that the economy is on the brink of breakneck growth. That surge is being fueled by a river of federal government spending, rock-bottom interest rates and more Covid-19 vaccinations. In the first three months of the year, the economy grew at an annualized clip of 6.4 percent. At that pace, 2021 would be the best year for growth since 1984.

Economic growth and corporate profits tend to rise together. And signs of additional oomph in the economy are already showing up in earnings reports from publicly traded companies.

Tech giants such as Tesla, Microsoft, Amazon, Apple and Google’s parent company, Alphabet, all reported first-quarter profits that trounced analyst expectations.

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California Is Awash in Cash, Thanks to a Booming Market

In the early days of the pandemic, no one would have looked to the stock market for salvation. From February to late March last year, the S&P 500 suffered one of its sharpest crashes ever, falling nearly 34 percent. But once the federal government began pumping money into the markets and the economy through bond-buying programs and stimulus, the market began rebounding.

And professional money managers kept buying stocks. Amateur investors, stuck at home, piled into the market and drove up stock prices further. After hitting a bottom in March 2020, the S&P 500 is up nearly 90 percent, creating close to $17 trillion in paper gains.

Much of that value was created by California companies. The market value of Apple, based in Cupertino, Calif., has risen by over $1 trillion in the past year. The gains for Alphabet and Facebook, combined, have created another $1 trillion in value. Tesla, based in Palo Alto, Calif., added over $500 billion.

The surge in market value created a significant amount of wealth for executives and workers, including in the technology sector. Executives at major companies typically have pre-established stock sale programs that are constantly converting some of their shares into cash. As they’ve sold into a rising market over the last year, those gains have been especially large; in August, Apple’s chief executive, Tim Cook, sold more than $130 million worth of his stock.

“When the stock market does well, they do very well,” said David Hitchcock, the primary analyst on California for the bond-rating firm S&P Global, of the state’s wealthy residents. “And in fact, it’s not just the stock market but initial public offerings. Because with Silicon Valley, when entrepreneurs get stock grants that they exercise, or stock options, California makes out very well.”

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Now That Everyone Is Bullish, Be Cautious

As businesses shuttered and workers stayed home, the gross domestic product, a broad measure of goods and services, plummeted in the United States. G.D.P. dropped 5 percent in the first quarter of 2020 and more than 31 percent in the second, according to the federal Bureau of Economic Analysis. The unemployment rate surged more than 10 percentage points from March to April last year, nearly reaching 15 percent. That was the highest level and the biggest increase since the Bureau of Labor Statistics began collecting data in January 1948.

In March 2020, the Federal Reserve stepped in. On its own, it couldn’t do much to combat the coronavirus itself — the last presidential administration’s efforts were dilatory at best, historians say. But the Fed and the federal government were able to prop up the markets, provide emergency aid for millions of people, help keep at least some small businesses afloat and put most major corporations in a position to reap big profits as the economy rebounded.

By now, the federal government has committed more than $5 trillion in a variety of coronavirus-related aid packages, and the Fed has made trillions more available in loans, intervened in financial markets, purchased vast quantities of bonds and held short-term interest rates near zero.

All of this is contributing to what looks like a “Biden boom economy,” as the Princeton economist Alan S. Blinder called it in The Wall Street Journal. Economic growth may exceed 7 percent for the first quarter, and will almost certainly be spectacular for the year as a whole, when compared with 2020.

But there’s the rub. These annual economic and financial numbers are comparisons with the depths of the pandemic. The statistics are warped, inevitably, by “base effects,” which is to say, in economic jargon, that the coronavirus-induced recession of last year is making many current numbers look unnaturally high. They don’t provide much insight about where we are heading in 2022 and later.

As Neil Irwin explained in The New York Times, the current uptick in inflation may not be as worrisome as it would otherwise seem because its comparisons are based on the depressed prices of a year ago, when so many people were huddled indoors.

What’s more, Alberto Cavallo, a Harvard economist who has studied inflation deeply, told me that by altering consumption and supply patterns radically, the pandemic has had many subtle effects. Lower-income people, for example, who pay a higher proportion of their income for food, have experienced greater inflation than those for whom food is a relatively minor expense.

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