Impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic have been felt across the Coachella Valley and the Inland Empire. Tourism in the region, for instance, suffered an estimated $3.1 billion economic loss in 2020 from its previous annual economic impact of $7 billion and more than 14 million visitors in 2019, according to Visit Palm Springs and HVS. Major events like the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival were cancelled; the McCallum Theater suspended performances; and the Palm Springs International Film Festival (on which I am a board member) cancelled its major event and black-tie gala.
Many businesses had to pivot as a result of the pandemic. Side streets on El Paseo were closed to enable outdoor dining; restaurant owners switched to takeout; and many businesses increased safety measures to stay open. Others, such as Fleming’s Steakhouse in Rancho Mirage and Togo’s in Palm Desert, were forced to close.
Yet in recent weeks and months, optimism has crept into the region. Housing prices are on the rise (good for existing homeowners), as people who can work remotely are drawn to the area. Many people returning to restaurants and shops.
Not everyone in the valley has been equally hard hit, as the stock market has held up relatively well; some businesses are doing well despite the current environment; and retirees and others less dependent on a consistent paycheck may be experiencing less financial stress.
Additionally, a new study from UBS sheds a positive light on investor and business-owner sentiment overall. In the recent report “Holding Steady. Optimism After Election and Vaccine News” more than 50 percent of investors said they feel good about the economy in their region for the fourth quarter of 2021. Some 33 percent expect it to “return to normal” before July. And respondents remain optimistic about the stock markets, with 44 percent optimistic about it for Q2, and 59 percent for Q4.
More than half (59 percent) say they expect election results to be good for the economy (while 10 percent don’t expect a big impact, and 31 percent suggest the results could hurt the economy). Some 71 percent expect the vaccines to be positive for the stock market.
Additionally, business owners in the study were feeling good: 38 percent plan to increase hiring in in the fourth quarter, up from 30 percent in the second quarter. And 46 percent plan to invest more in their business in the fourth quarter of 2021, up from 39 percent in the second quarter.
Though the recent UBS study is more national in scope, the findings appear to be consistent with what we are hearing from many in the valley, especially those in areas including many high earners, as we all start to consider the new normal.
As we’ve surpassed 500,000 COVID-19 vaccinations in Riverside County, there is promise that life may start to get back to some level of normalcy, even if there is still much uncertainty.
Increasingly, we are hearing many clients ask: Should I invest now, with the turbulence in the markets? What should I be investing in, as the economy reopens? How will I be impacted by the new tax laws?
Although the markets have had a good recovery relative to March last year, it is possible there may be a downturn at some point. While “stay at home” stocks have excelled, and financial and energy sectors were beaten up last year, the tides may change—and green tech, healthcare tech and fintech stocks may become popular.
It is also unclear what will happen with the tax-law changes. California’s Proposition 19 passed last year, as just one example, potentially making it more difficult to retain and pass on family homes that might have grown in value without significantly increasing the tax basis. We encourage investors to talk with their attorney for planning on these and other laws as details unfold.
While a common strategy for investors is to look at what did well in the past, it is also important to look ahead to the future. And in volatile/uncertain times, it may be even more important to plan with basics in mind.
Consider the most important questions: What do you want to accomplish in your life? Who are the people that matter most to you? What are your main concerns? How do you plan to achieve your goals? Here’s what you need to consider to assure that you are focusing on what is most important to you, taking charge of your financial future, and making the best money decisions for your current situation as a result.
• Immediate cash flow needs, including short-term expenses and your expected income stream over the next three years. We generally avoid raising liquidity in volatile times, but each investor needs to assess their own situation. Investors should look at their general living and entertainment expenses, taxes, the cost of purchasing a home (and Social Security and/or pension income if they are retired), as well as other expenses.
• Future needs. This should include assessing the assets you and your family will need four years from now to throughout your lifetimes. Consider your retirement needs, your future earnings potential, healthcare and long-term care expenses.
• Giving back. While most everyone realizes the need to give—to one’s own family and/or to organizations in which you believe, now or in the future—it is important to evaluate your ability to take care of your own finances first. Depending on your age, legacy planning may span over several decades.
It is important to assess your level of risk—as all investments have risk—and to develop strategies based on your goals, suitability and life-stage timeframes.
We also suggest developing a life book that contains copies of everything your family might need—important usernames and passwords to retrieve statements of accounts, payroll deposits, and online/automated bill payments; insurance documents; medical history; a will, living trust and powers of attorney, and so on—in case you or your spouse were to become incapacitated, very ill, or pass away unexpectedly. Many families may also have a backup of these items on a personal laptop or thumb drive, which they could use in the event of the owner’s passing, and that could be grabbed easily in case of an emergency such as a fire.
Finally, if you are able, consider how you can give back locally. Dine at local restaurants. Shop from local stores. Give to the charities you care about that have had difficulty raising money during this time. In fact, you might be able to take advantage of tax incentives in the new COVID relief bill (extending several provisions of the CARES Act from March 2020) that encourage charitable giving.
Jim Bruner is a financial advisor at UBS in Indian Wells. He is also on the board of the Palm Springs International Film Festival and a member of the Childhelp Palm Desert chapter. He has taught corporate finance at Cal State San Bernardino’s Palm Desert location.