A year ago, annuities looked like a product that had outlived its regulatory life cycle. The pending DOL fiduciary rule seemed completely incompatible with the product and its selling practices, so annuities appeared likely to take a big hit. Then the rule got shot down in court, and the whole picture changed. Data is now in on 2018 annuity sales and it looks strong—sales smashed all previous records. In virtually every category of annuities, sales were up considerably, in many case 20% or more.
FINSUM: The annuity sales outlook has completely changed. The next five years—as the number of people 65 or older hits 60 million—looks to be very strong.
You certainly won’t think of it this way, but Morgan Stanley is arguing that Apple is now a great healthcare play. The bank’s research team says Apple is on the verge of a major new product that will transform the healthcare space, meaning there could be a lot of value in the stock that is not being priced in. Katy Hubert of MS says “Apple is building a healthcare ecosystem and is poised to emerge as a leader in consumer-centric healthcare … Healthcare is a large, greenfield services opportunity for Apple”. She continued, saying “Unlike recent announcements on news, gaming, video, and payments, where Apple is joining existing competitors, healthcare is a market where Apple has the potential to lead digital disruption”. The stock is up strongly this year because investors are happy with its shift to a more services-oriented business model.
FINSUM: It is hard to speculate on the potential impact without know the product, but we must say Apple does seem to have a major opportunity if it can map a healthcare product onto the hundreds of millions of users of its products in the US alone.
JP Morgan looks like it is about to push further into wealth management. JP Morgan has always had a solid wealth management practice, but one much smaller than wirehouses or other large broker-dealers. However, the firm has now announced that it is planning to grow headcount in the area by nearly 20%, adding over 1,000 new advisors. According to CEO Jamie Dimon, “We are expanding our footprint to capture more of the opportunity across the U.S. wealth management spectrum — from mass affluent ($500,000 to $3 million) to high-net-worth ($3 million to $10 million) to ultra-high-net-worth ($10 million or greater)”.
FINSUM: Wealth management is a very good business if you can get assets, and it seems like JP Morgan is waking up to the fact that it has a better opportunity in the area than it formerly realized.
What is the biggest short-term risk to markets? Is it a recession, China trade relations, and EU meltdown? None of the above. Rather, it is the upside risk of better economic data. A short burst of good US economic data, and the resulting comments from the Fed, could send US bond markets into a tailspin after the huge rallies of the last several weeks. The market for long-term Treasuries looks overbought, which means a reversal in economic data could bring a lot of volatility which could even whiplash equities.
FINSUM: At this point, a round of good economic data, and a stray hawkish comment from the Fed, would deeply wound bonds and hurt equities too (because everyone would again grow fearful of hikes).
Do you remember those glory years between the taper tantrum and the end of 2017? The time when inflation was low, but not totally weak, growth was solid but not great, and the Fed decided to do nothing and say little? That was the time when the market surged. Well, those days may be here again as the economic signals right now, and the Fed’s language, are starting to look like they are returning to the post-Crisis “new normal” of moderate growth and inflation, but not enough to bring on a policy response.
FINSUM: Our own view is that we are not headed for recession, but rather a return to the pre-tax cut rate of growth and inflation. This is a solid setup for markets as it produces a dependable environment and a good atmosphere for corporate earnings growth.