What a challenging year! We know that you have faced struggles personally and professionally that you couldn’t see coming. For The Leaders Group, we’ve had a record year financially but have suffered a massive loss with the loss of founder and CEO Dave Wickersham. Dave was a great man, father, mentor, leader, and had an excellent reputation in the industry. He’ll be missed by so many.
2020 was full of changes. Like many, we also adjusted to remote working, video calls, and juggling a more challenging work/life balance where it’s not always clear whether we are working from home or living at work. I think we’re all ready to put 2020 behind us, but it’s important to remember that turning over the calendar doesn’t solve all our problems.
2020 has shown us once again that the market is not the economy. While we’ve had one of the most challenging years in our economy since the great recession, markets have performed relatively well as of the time of writing this.1 Even with a contested election and a politically divided country, the markets have fared well since the election. It seems as though the positive vaccine news and the likelihood of a divided government have helped markets stay relatively stable since early November.2 Economic news hasn’t been as good this year. Unemployment spiked at 14.7% back in April with the expectation that it would stay above 10% through the end of the year. The annualized GDP loss in Q2 was 32.9%. While the unemployment rate is well under the initial expectations for year-end, we still have over 10 million fewer jobs than before the pandemic, and many have dropped out of the workforce.3
Despite initial unemployment claims rising in early December, we have many good things to look forward to in 2021. There is an expectation that we’ll see more federal stimulus before year-end and potentially again once the new administration takes over.4 We will most likely have multiple effective vaccines to choose from in 2021, with a rollout to the broad population sometime in the spring; this should help things get back to normal as we move through 2021. Effective vaccine distribution will likely bolster expectations of 2021 GDP, raising consumer confidence and increasing hiring across many sectors that have been negatively impacted by the COVID recession.
Significant hurdles we’ll have to clear in order to get an idea of what to expect in 2021 likely occur early in the first quarter. The results of the Georgia runoff election have the potential to move markets in early January. Increased unemployment benefits and the eviction moratorium expire later this month unless a federal stimulus package addresses this.5 As I write this, congressional leaders have just agreed on a $900 billion stimulus package that includes additional unemployment benefits, rental assistance, another round of PPP loans, and a $600 per person stimulus check for most Americans. Economists have often described this as a K-Shaped recovery – meaning some have fared very well during the pandemic while others are falling further behind. We saw this juxtaposition earlier this year when the DJIA cracked the 30,000 mark, and extremely long lines for food pantries made national headlines on the same day.6 It’s important to remember that lingering high unemployment has the potential to negatively affect all industries over time while also causing intense suffering for those families trying to scrape by.
Many of our problems will be helped by an effective vaccine and, just as important, an effective distribution plan. Surveys show that there will be vaccine hesitation throughout many parts of the U.S.7 It’s important that we have several vaccines cleared so that we can have something available to all areas of the country, including those where the Pfizer vaccine is not as practical. If we can manage to do this, everyone that is willing to get a vaccine should have access. This will hopefully stop the virus in its tracks and get us back on a path to normalcy. As we see some of the year’s uncertainties going away, I would expect to see volatility in the markets decrease as 2021 moves forward.
Thank you again for sticking with The Leaders Group through this challenging year. We look forward to a day where we can hold in-person meetings and see everyone. Have a happy New Year!
Ben Tiller, Principal Financial Officer
 Contributor firstname.lastname@example.org (ETF Trends) ETF Trends. (2020, December 12). Markets at record highs despite COVID-19 surge. Retrieved December 18, 2020, from https://www.nasdaq.com/articles/markets-at-record-highs-despite-covid-19-surge-2020-12-12
 Winck, B. (2020, November 5). Why the stock market is loving the prospect of a divided government. Retrieved December 18, 2020, from https://markets.businessinsider.com/news/stocks/stock-market-analysis-divided-government-best-outcome-investors-stimulus-elections-2020-11-1029771646
 Hess, A. (2020, December 8). The U.S. still has 10 million fewer jobs now than before the pandemic. Retrieved December 18, 2020, from https://www.cnbc.com/2020/12/08/the-us-has-10-million-fewer-jobs-now-than-before-the-pandemic.html
 Sherman, J., & Everett, B. (2020, December 16). Congressional leaders near deal on Covid relief. Retrieved December 18, 2020, from https://www.politico.com/news/2020/12/16/congress-deal-covid-relief-446244
Nova, A. (2020, December 10). Next stimulus package may include eviction moratorium and $25 billion in rental assistance. Retrieved December 18, 2020, from https://www.cnbc.com/2020/12/09/next-stimulus-bill-may-include-eviction-moratorium.html
 Vandenberge, J. (2020, November 25). The Dow hit a record high. So did the Greater Cleveland Food Bank. Retrieved December 18, 2020, from https://www.news5cleveland.com/news/local-news/cleveland-metro/the-dow-hit-a-record-high-so-did-the-greater-cleveland-food-bank
 Elliott, P. (2020, December 04). We Almost Have a Vaccine. Not Enough People Want It. Retrieved December 18, 2020, from https://time.com/5918040/coronavirus-vaccine-hesitancy/