Washington unrest

By Michael T Townsend, Charles Schwab

In a scene unprecedented in modern times, a mob protesting the outcome of the presidential election overran the U.S. Capitol building Wednesday afternoon, interrupting a joint session of Congress that had convened to count the electoral college votes and certify President-elect Joe Biden’s victory.

After the Capitol building was secured, Congress reconvened on Wednesday night to continue the count and President-elect Biden’s victory was certified early Thursday morning.

Meanwhile, both Democratic candidates in Georgia were declared winners of Tuesday’s twin run-off elections for the state’s two Senate seats. The outcome means there will be a 50-50 tie in the Senate.

Tie votes are broken by the vice president, so once Vice President-elect Kamala Harris takes the oath of office on January 20th, Democrats will have the narrowest of majorities in the chamber. Coupled with their narrow majority in the House of Representatives, the party will have full control of Washington after Inauguration Day. 

Markets were mostly unperturbed by the developments, with the S&P 500 gaining about 0.6% during trading on Wednesday, but giving back some of its earlier gains in the final hours as the turmoil in Washington escalated. The unexpected events and the uncertainty of when tensions will ease could produce market volatility in the coming days.

Democrats Control the Policy Agenda, But will Face Significant Challenges

Key implications of the Democrats capturing the Senate majority:

President-elect Joe Biden’s Cabinet nominees should have a smooth path to confirmation

The president-elect’s Cabinet choices, as well as heads of various regulatory agencies, should proceed smoothly and quickly through the Senate confirmation process, ensuring that the new president’s team is in place relatively soon after the inauguration.

The 2021 policy agenda is coming into clearer focus…but the razor-thin margins in Congress will act as a brake on Democratic ambitions

With narrow majorities in both the House and Senate, the incoming Biden administration will have more freedom to pursue its policy priorities than it would have if it was facing a split Congress.

But the narrow margins – a single-digit majority in the House and the narrowest possible majority in the Senate – and the lack of Democratic unanimity on many issues will curb most of the ambitious campaign proposals of the president-elect.

Markets will likely take comfort that the administration may need to scale back its plans in areas like climate change, health care, and tax increases. And major structural reforms such as ending the filibuster in the Senate, expanding the Supreme Court and changing the Electoral College will be much harder to achieve in the narrowly divided Congress, where some Senate Democrats have already publicly opposed such changes.

But there are areas where Democrats are optimistic they can succeed — expect another economic stimulus/coronavirus relief package to top the priority list 

There was already growing bipartisan support for increasing stimulus payments to $2,000; that could be a core feature of the next package. 

Democratic priorities, including aid to state and local governments, more funding for vaccine distribution, a further extension of enhanced unemployment benefits (currently due to expire March 14th), an extension of the moratorium on evictions (currently due to expire at the end of January) and further student loan relief, are among the contenders for inclusion in another round of stimulus.

Infrastructure remains a candidate for bipartisan action later in 2021

Both parties support more spending on roads, bridges and other infrastructure needs, but have been stymied by how to pay for it. While that issue will still need to be sorted out, infrastructure spending is likely to be a top priority for the incoming administration.

Tax increases are on the table — some may be more realistic than others

Tax increases are likely to be used to offset the cost of the new administration’s spending plans. Ideas like a modest increase in the corporate tax rate and returning the top individual tax rate to 39.6% have the highest chance of success.

But there is far less agreement among Democrats on other ideas, such as making changes to the estate tax or the increasing taxes on capital gains and dividends for wealthier filers. Those may be tougher to get through Congress, even with Democrats in control of both chambers.

Any tax increases in 2021 are unlikely to take effect before 2022

If individual tax code changes are approved this year, there is little historical precedent for those changes to be retroactive to the beginning of the year. Investors should have time to understand and plan for any changes to the tax code before they go into effect.

Expect a lot of executive orders

One tool that Biden will have available to him is the ability to sign executive orders. These edicts allow the White House to set policy without consulting Congress. Biden is expected to issue numerous executive orders in the early days of his presidency to reverse Trump-era regulations in areas like immigration and the environment.

But executive orders have their limits. The president, for example, cannot alter the tax code via executive order — taxes are the responsibility of Congress. So, expect the new president to push for policy changes that can navigate the tricky paths of a narrowly divided Capitol Hill.

Takeaways for Investors

Mark Riepe, head of the Schwab Center for Financial Research, says, “It remains to be seen how Wednesday’s unrest in Washington will affect stock trading, and there are no specific actions for investors to take right away. However, here are some things to consider now (and whenever markets face potential volatility):

Make sure your portfolio is consistent with your goals, risk tolerance, and preferences

If you are uncomfortable with market volatility and have short-term goals, make sure you don’t have too much invested in risk assets and that you have a plan to meet cash-flow needs.

Revisit your goals and objectives

If you don’t have a plan, or if it hasn’t been updated in a while, now would be a good time to develop one.

Don’t try to time the market

Attempting to time the market rarely works — but it’s especially difficult to try to time the market around unexpected geopolitical events, like elections or COVID-19. Focus on the time horizon for each goal.

Active traders should be prepared for volatility

Equity traders should consider reducing average share size and dollar amounts in the near term.”


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Important Disclosures

This information was developed as a general guide to educate plan sponsors and is not intended as authoritative guidance, tax, legal or investment advice. Each plan has unique requirements and you should consult your attorney or tax adviser for guidance on your specific situation. In no way does Lawton Retirement Plan Consultants, LLC assure that, by using the information provided, a plan sponsor will be in compliance with ERISA regulations. Investors should carefully consider investment objectives, risks, charges, and expenses. The statements in this publication are the opinions and beliefs of the commentator expressed when the commentary was made and are not intended to represent that person’s opinions and beliefs at any other time. The commentary does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Lawton Retirement Plan Consultants, LLC and should not be construed as recommendations or investment advice. Lawton Retirement Plan Consultants, LLC offers no tax, legal or accounting advice and any advice contained herein is not specific to any individual, entity or retirement plan, but rather general in nature and, therefore, should not be relied upon for specific investment situations. Lawton Retirement Plan Consultants, LLC is a Wisconsin Registered Investment Adviser and accepts clients outside of Wisconsin based upon applicable state registration regulations and the “de minimus” exception.

Additional Important Disclosures

The information provided here is for general informational purposes only and should not be considered an individualized recommendation or personalized investment advice. The investment strategies mentioned here may not be suitable for everyone. Each investor needs to review an investment strategy for his or her own particular situation before making any investment decision. All expressions of opinion are subject to change without notice in reaction to shifting market conditions. Data contained herein from third-party providers is obtained from what are considered reliable sources. However, its accuracy, completeness or reliability cannot be guaranteed. The policy analysis provided by the Charles Schwab & Co., Inc., does not constitute and should not be interpreted as an endorsement of any political party. Investing involves risk, including loss of principal. Indexes are unmanaged, do not incur management fees, costs and expenses and cannot be invested in directly.