Local investment and banking professionals weigh in on 2023
– By Dan England –
The clouds gathered, and Dave Brown, like a lot of us, expected rain. But just like those afternoon Colorado storms that spray a little and then allow the sun to shine an hour later, Brown now sees much sunnier days ahead.
Brown is the CEO of the Weld Community Credit Union in Greeley, and though the weather is probably the most tired comparison we can use to describe what our economy may look like in 2023, it’s also an apt one. He’s a bit more optimistic than most, especially nationwide, but he’s also not as concerned about a recession as he once was, at least as the New Year struck.
“Several months ago, I thought there was a good chance of one,” Brown says. “But at this point things are looking much more positive. Now I’m not really thinking that as much.”
It’s true that nationally the outlook doesn’t look as grim as it once did, but Brown specifically mentions Northern Colorado and his city of Greeley as two insulated economies that may not reflect what’s going on nationwide.
The unemployment rate is 3-4 percent, meaning, basically, if you want a job, you can get one in the Greeley-Evans area, and probably a decent one too. Our housing market is stable as well, and even the interest rates aren’t as bad as you’ve probably heard, at least at his bank: They might approach 5 percent, but they could be lower, depending on your credit score. That’s the advantage of a local bank and living in Greeley, a place buoyed by jobs in commodities. Tech jobs were treasured at one point, but that industry appears to be struggling a bit (which we will get to later), and those jobs were the ones lifting Denver and Boulder.
“It doesn’t hurt that Weld County is rooted in commodities with relatively stable demand,” Brown says. “Everyone needs fuel and food. We saw higher peaks of unemployment in Denver and Boulder than what you see here.”
The feds’ approach may have worked too, Brown says, because inflation was starting to tick down as of press time, and that will eventually help bring down interest rates as well. Even if they don’t, banks such as his aren’t necessarily following what the government is doing.
“There is all this talk in the press about a recession,” Brown says. “We simply don’t see it.”
Still, because we ARE the press, there are warning signs that we may not have as rosy a summer as some such as Brown believes. It WAS a tough year for the stock market, for example, although it’s also possible that the market could rebound in a big way this year.
So, if you’d like to take cover in a shelter equipped with beef jerky, a Nintendo Switch and lots of bottled water, you can, and you may be grateful to be there this summer. But for now, Brown’s advice for 2023 is the same advice he’s been giving out during the good times. Because, for now, he says, they haven’t gone away.
“We don’t have any different advice at all,” he says. “We aren’t hearing concerns from our customers either, except for interest rates going higher, and we have low interest rates.”
Still, Brown tempers all this confidence in our economy with a small phrase that anyone who works in finances says often.
“We will see what happens,” Brown says. “Anything can happen.”
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This is why Jason Burkett tempers his own statements about the economy too. He likes to remind his clients that he’s not a wizard. If he were, he’d be richer.
“I tell people my crystal ball never works,” he says. “If it did, I’d be sitting on my own island.”
Yet he’s doing fine. He’s the managing director and a senior portfolio manager for Greyrock Wealth Advisors of RBC Wealth Management in Fort Collins. He has some advice for 2023, but he also wants you to know something first: The stock market, if they still call it that, tends to be about the future.
This is why some, if not many, tend to become angry at the stock market: It does well at times when the financial news is bad. But Burkett has an explanation for that.
“If you see that job numbers and housing numbers are not good, the market can do well because the investing public sees that and believes the government will stop raising interest rates,” he says. “That can lead to a quick recovery.”
This explains the rough year the market had in 2022, as, in some ways, people were anticipating some tough financial pain.
“The fed was really aggressive with how quickly it raised interest rates,” Burkett says. “The fear was that they would overshoot it into a recession. We are seeing pockets of that, but we haven’t seen that with many industries.”
That could still come, Burkett says: “This summer may feel like a recession. But it won’t be a near depression like it was before, and I don’t think it will be nearly as bad as everyone thought.”
Burkett is referring to technology companies such as Meta (Facebook), Apple, Alphabet (Google), Tesla, Microsoft, Amazon, Netflix. The market even had an acronym for it: MAATMAN. Those companies drove the market, he says, averaging 28 percent growth a year for the last eight years. But this year, they lost trillions in market value, and fortunes fade.
This tells Burkett that the market is shifting, and it’s possible that more conservative investments may pay off more now. There is some pain ahead, to be sure, but Burkett believes that pain will only be for the companies that don’t have any margin for error. He’s referring to Bed, Bath and Beyond, for instance, which has had some public struggles lately.
“Companies that had a lot of debt and really weren’t profitable will be the ones that struggle,” he says. “But companies that are doing well, we’ve seen them do OK in the market.”
Now that the flashy tech companies are fading, the stable longtime profitable companies, such as Proctor and Gamble, are still around and may even thrive. Inflation may allow companies to boost prices even if and when inflation goes down, Burkett says, so happy days are here again.
“Pricing won’t go all the way down, and that’s good even for small businesses,” he says. “Owning a piece of quality companies who are well-positioned to face whatever comes is a good idea. This is not a good time for the speculative ones.”
There is some merit to never looking at your portfolio and singing “Don’t Stop Believin’” for 30 years until you’re ready to retire. But Burkett says knowing what you own and what your mutual funds are keeping is a good idea. Even bonds, that old standby that stayed in the background while tech stocks boomed, are turning into a good investment again.
“Some were forced to own stocks just because they couldn’t make any money at bonds,” he says. “But now bonds are returning 5 percent, and some are OK with just 5 percent instead of the volatility of the stock market. Bonds do make sense for some people.”
The market will be tougher, Burkett says, and his advice reflects that. The days of finding a new brand of stock and cashing in after huge returns may be over for now. Tried and true investments won’t return Vegas dollars, but they will still provide a retirement.
“I like to compare it to boosting, and the last decade all you had to do was put up your sail,” Burkett says. “Now it might be 6-8 percent instead of 10-20 percent. Now we are facing a headwind.”
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Tonya Jenkins says she isn’t an economist, even if her job is in economics, as branch manager of Home Team Lending in Greeley. Her advice is more practical, she says, than a forecast of the future.
“They say you should save money for a rainy day,” says Jenkins, who prefers to go by TJ, and so that’s what we’ll call her too. “We’re getting to the rainy day now.”
TJ believes this year will start slow, maybe even dip into something like a recession—“but I’m not an economist,” she says—and so she advises her clients to save, if they can.
“It’s always good to have reserves,” she says.
Her clients appear to be following her mantra. Many might be preparing to buy a home but aren’t jumping it just yet.
“They are seeing what will happen,” TJ says. “This is my sweet spot. I’m an analysis person. This is a good time to monitor the market as the rates adjust.”
Interest rates are already going back down, she says, after peaking into the 7 percent range, and inflation appears to be going down as well.
“We are in the 6s now,” she says in mid-January. “It’s just been a rollercoaster.”
Buyers want to wait to see if rates will go down more, and TJ doesn’t mind that strategy, as planning is always a good idea. Prospective buyers should look at their employment and income, credit score and their cash on hand for a down payment.
“You can look and see how you are stacking up on all three,” TJ says. “There are things you can do if they aren’t great, and now is the time to fix it. Looking on Zillow doesn’t help you.”
The market is much better than it was, she says, and with a little planning, if you want to buy you have much more of a shot now. The market, during the height of the craze, had a seven-day supply of homes. The normal is six months.
“Scarcity was a thing, and building is now going up too,” TJ says. “You should be building a foundation for your future. You can be reactive or proactive.”
Dan England is NOCO Style’s assistant editor, and a freelance journalist based in Greeley.