A Divided Electorate

The lead editorial in Thursday’s Wall Street Journal began, “A polarized but closely divided America elected a closely divided Congress on Tuesday.” If the Republicans do take control of the House, it will mark the 8th time in the last 9 elections that control has switched leaving some policy confusion for corporate leaders trying to do long-range planning. Nevertheless, the November -April period in midterm election years has been by far the strongest of the election cycle with not a single negative return in the post-WWII period.

In the meantime, with over 92% of the S&P 500 companies reporting third quarter results, revenues and earnings have both come in above consensus expectations. Profit margins are coming under pressure in several industries as overall revenues for the quarter were up 12% while earnings rose only 4%. Energy and consumer discretionary sectors have been the leaders in both sales and earnings growth while communications, financials and materials have had the worst year-over-year earnings comparisons. A decline in the leading economic indicators and an inverted yield curve (where short-term interest rates are higher than longer-term rates) could signal a recession in 2023. If that were to occur, current earnings estimates will be reduced further.

The Federal Reserve Board has now raised the Fed Funds 75 basis points (0.75%) for the fourth time and indicated that while the pace of future increases would likely slow, the ultimate level of interest rates may be higher than previously thought. This suggests keeping fixed income maturities short and avoiding the more richly valued equities. With the Fed tightening and profits decelerating, sub-par equity returns are possible over the next few quarters. However, the stock market will turn up well before the economy does, and bull markets have always followed bear markets.

A bullish narrative could be 1) inflation has peaked and is now falling, 2) the Fed will cease interest rate increases post year-end, and 3) earnings continue to hold up better than expected.

IRS Raises Gift, Estate Tax Exemptions for 2023

The Internal Revenue Service recently adjusted various tax provisions in response to inflation, including the gift tax annual exclusion and the lifetime exemption. The annual exclusion per donor has been raised to $17,000 per person for 2023, up from $16,000 for 2022. The lifetime exemption, meanwhile, has increased to $12.92 million for 2023. That’s up from $12.06 million for 2022. If Congress doesn’t take action, in 2026 the lifetime exemption will revert to 2011’s original $5 million, adjusted for inflation.

The IRS said in November 2019 “that individuals taking advantage of the increased gift tax exclusion amount in effect from 2018 to 2025 will not be adversely impacted after 2025 when the exclusion amount is scheduled to drop to pre-2018 levels.”

Thank you, Veterans!

We know that freedom is not free and so, to all our veterans and their families, we extend our heartfelt thanks for your service and sacrifice.

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