Download the Schwab app from iTunes®Close

WashingtonWise: Episode 50


Listen on Apple Podcasts, Google PodcastsSpotify or copy to your RSS reader.

Reading the Signs of Change and Finding Opportunity

Liz Ann Sonders comes back to discuss what investors should be watching for as markets react to changes in the supply chain, the workforce, economic policies, and more.

In this episode of WashingtonWise, Mike Townsend continues his discussion with Liz Ann Sonders, Schwab’s chief investment strategist. They dive into the myriad changes currently buffeting the economy, including reductions in the labor market, bottlenecks in the supply chain, evolving views on work/life balance, and new policies coming out of Washington. Liz Ann shares her perspective on what it all means for the markets, where investors might find opportunities, and what investors should be watching for in the months ahead.

Mike provides updates on the latest developments in the fast-moving debate over economic legislation on Capitol Hill and the potential for a very different approach to tax increases. He also discusses the prospects for the long-delayed infrastructure bill, a new report from the SEC on the "meme stock" trading frenzy, and why the new head of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is someone to watch.

WashingtonWise is an original podcast from Charles Schwab.

If you enjoy the show, please leave a rating or review on Apple Podcasts.

Click to show the transcript

MIKE TOWNSEND: As we reach the end of October, the pace of action in Washington is accelerating. After months of talks about a major infrastructure bill and a sweeping overhaul of social programs, Democrats are feeling the pressure to deliver on their promises.

But internal feuds over the size and scope of these programs and over how to pay for it all are being played out in front of the cameras. Policy proposals that felt like they were central to the president’s agenda are being dropped as Democratic leaders try to find the magic combination of spending and tax increases that will get a package through Congress with their razor-thin majorities.

It’s the legislative sausage-making process on full display―and it’s not pretty.

Welcome to WashingtonWise, an original podcast from Charles Schwab. I’m your host, Mike Townsend, and on this show, our goal is to cut through the noise and confusion of the nation’s capital and help investors figure out what’s really worth paying attention to.

Today is a milestone in the history of our little podcast―this is Episode Number 50. I am so grateful to our thousands of listeners who support the show and have found it a useful way to help navigate the intersection between politics and the markets.

This week, I’m really pleased to welcome back to the podcast Liz Ann Sonders, Schwab’s chief investment strategist, for part two of our discussion about what’s going on in the markets and the economy and how Washington’s policy decisions could impact both. In our last episode, we focused on the state of the economy, inflation, the impact of rising debt, and other concerns. In just a few minutes, Liz Ann and I will talk about the problems in the supply chain, the changing nature of “work” and its impact on the economy, and more.

But before Liz Ann joins me, let’s catch up on the some on the key headlines coming out of Washington.

As everyone is undoubtedly aware by now, House Democrats drafted legislation last month that would spend about $3.5 trillion on new programs, with significant tax increases on corporations and wealthy individuals to pay for the new spending. But that proposal was always just a starting point. Moderate Democrats in the Senate―particularly Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Senator Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona―have been clear for months that they had no intention of supporting a plan anywhere near that scope or size.

Last weekend, negotiations among progressive and moderate Democrats picked up speed, with President Biden and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York meeting with Manchin in Delaware to try to put the finishing touches on a package of somewhere between $1.75 trillion and $2 trillion in spending.

But while those discussions were going on, news emerged that was much more important for individual taxpayers and investors. Senator Sinema reportedly made it clear that she would oppose any increase in the corporate tax rate, the individual income tax rates, or the tax rate for capital gains. Increases in all three formed the backbone of the House proposal.

Instead, Senate Democrats are reportedly looking at a very different set of tax provisions, including a tax on stock buybacks by companies and a minimum 15% corporate tax to ensure that some companies aren’t using incentives and loopholes in the tax code to pay dramatically lower tax rates.

But the big news is the emergence of a plan to tax the unrealized gains of billionaires. While the proposed tax would only affect a handful of the wealthiest Americans―about 700 people, by some estimates―the approach represents a fundamental change in the taxation of assets. Indeed, The New York Times described the proposal as “an entirely new tax system.”

As I record this podcast, the specifics about how this proposal would actually work were still being debated and drafted. But the general understanding is anyone with a billion dollars in assets or $100 million in income for three consecutive years would be required to pay taxes on the gains their assets accrued over the course of the year, regardless of whether they sold the assets and realized those gains.

Now, there are some big questions here. How would the taxpayer or the IRS assess the value of artwork, for example, or other hard-to-value assets? If an asset loses value over the course of a year, wouldn’t that trigger potentially huge tax refunds for the billionaire? Couldn’t the proposal create wild volatility in the amount of taxes paid or refunded to wealthy individuals year to year, creating an unpredictable revenue stream for the federal government?

And many critics were quick to point out that while the idea could start with a tiny handful of the very wealthiest Americans, it’s not too much of a stretch to think that in the future the threshold for triggering this tax regime could get lower and lower and lower, until eventually it begins to apply to a significantly wider swath of investors.

Some tax experts have raised questions about whether such a tax is even constitutional, and that question could apply to the proposed tax on unrealized gains.

So what does all this mean? Well, a couple of thoughts.

First, it represents a dramatic change of direction from what was originally proposed. For months we’ve been talking about an increase in the top individual income tax rate and a modest increase in the corporate tax rate, two ideas that seemed like a virtual certainty up to about a week ago. And we’ve been talking about changes to the capital gains tax rate and the estate tax, both of which had the potential to impact millions of investors.

Over the course of the weekend, however, those basic elements seem to be on the verge of disappearing completely. If that happens, the vast majority of taxpayers would see no major changes at all―something that seemed nearly unthinkable over most of this year.

And second, the level of complication here really is extraordinary. The IRS would have to come up with new rules to implement this change, rules that could set precedents for generations to come. And while the initial target may be just a handful of the wealthiest Americans, the risk of mission creep in the years ahead is causing real concern.

Importantly, nothing here is final―indeed, as I record this podcast, no formal paper on this plan has been released by Congress yet. So it could all fall apart, and Congress could go back to what they have been discussing since March. Or some new idea could be thrown into the mix. We’ve talked about uncertainty for months―so what’s another week or two?

One other aspect of all this debate is that it could trigger quick action on the other big pending legislation: the infrastructure bill. Progressives have been blocking final action on the infrastructure bill in the House of Representatives until an agreement has been reached on the second bill. If that happens this week, look for a vote on the infrastructure bill, which has broad support among Democrats and should pass the House without too much trouble. Since the Senate has already passed the bill with a strong bipartisan majority, House approval would send the bill to the president’s desk for his signature.

Democratic leaders would love to wrap up the infrastructure bill this week, as a temporary agreement to fund surface transportation projects runs out at the end of October. If the infrastructure bill, which would jumpstart that funding, doesn’t look like it’s going to pass, Congress may have to pass another temporary extension of the surface transportation bill before the end of the week.

Elsewhere, there’s one other story to know. Last week, the SEC released its much-anticipated report on what has become known as the “meme stock” trading frenzy of early this year. The report focused on January 2021, when retail trading mania broke out in GameStop Corporation, AMC Entertainment Holdings, and other low-priced stocks, sending them on a crazy rollercoaster ride to all-time highs.

Now, none of this is news, of course. What people were interested in seeing in the report is the SEC’s explanation for why this happened and what policy recommendations agency staff would make to address any issues it found.

On both counts, however, readers of the report came away disappointed. Ultimately, the SEC concluded that the markets worked pretty well throughout the period. And the report made no policy recommendations at all.

Instead, the report concluded with some vague language about how the events of January 2021 presented “an opportunity to reflect on the market structure and regulatory framework and identify additional areas for potential study and further consideration.”

SEC Chairman Gary Gensler has outlined all of these issues in numerous public appearances and testimony on Capitol Hill and discussed his intention to undertake a broad review of equity markets. The report, if nothing else, added some sound data underpinnings to that effort. When it comes to the equity markets, the regulatory issues the SEC is looking at are complex and controversial, and it will take a long time to move them forward. Expect these issues to be a priority on the SEC’s 2022 regulatory agenda.

On my deeper dive, I’m thrilled to bring back Liz Ann Sonders, Schwab’s chief investment strategist, for part two of a conversation we began on the last episode. Liz Ann, thanks so much for making time today to resume our conversation.

LIZ ANN SONDERS: Oh, my pleasure. I am always thrilled to do these with you, too. So thanks for having me, as always, Mike.

MIKE: Well, Liz Ann, I want to begin by asking you about something you’ve been addressing during your recent client events and writing quite a bit about. You’ve been making the case that we are moving from a period of abundance to a period of scarcity, which, on its face, sounds kind of scary. So what exactly do you mean by that?

LIZ ANN: Well, I think it’s only scary if it’s persistent, and, admittedly, the jury is still out as to the persistence of some of these issues around scarcity and supply chain bottlenecks. But it is what it is. We went from an environment where, courtesy of lots of forces—synchronized global growth, decently strong U.S. growth here, globalization—that we had access to pretty much all the goods and services we demanded. And then the unique nature of the pandemic was such that we developed an imbalance with all the liquidity that was provided during the worst part of the pandemic that juiced consumption and demand at a time when supply was constrained. And then especially when we opened the economy back up and demand remained relatively strong, if not was even more robust, you had had supply shutdowns, not to mention the constraints associated with the virus, and the fact that parts of the world would shut down more quickly than others. And you’re just in this period of time now where there’s a scarcity of resources, of goods, increasingly of labor. And it’s having an impact not just on kind of the psyche of players in the global economy, but also on economic growth. We’re in that period now where high prices is now actually causing lower forecast for economic growth.

MIKE: So one of the big factors you mention, of course, is the bottlenecks in the supply chains. I think it’s something everyone is talking about, and I certainly feel like almost every day I come across a picture of someone paddle boarding around these giant container ships that are just sitting off of Long Beach or Los Angeles waiting to be unloaded. So what’s happening here, and what will it take to get the supply chain working better?

LIZ ANN: I think that there are really four types, maybe, of causes for these shortages. So you’ve got, as I mentioned, the scarcity of labor that has fed into some of the port issues, because even if they can get some of these containers into the ports, there’s a lack of rail operators, a lack of truck drivers. So that’s been a force. Obviously, pandemic-related impacts, both to demand and to supply—that’s added to bottlenecks. And then in many cases, or across many goods or services, there have been, in some cases, pretty severe weather disruptions, too. So those are sort of the causes.

And then there’s all the interdependencies, and you add that to very low inventories, because prior to the pandemic, we were all living in a world of just-in-time inventory management, which I think is giving way to a rethinking of that and maybe more of a, “Boy, we need some just-in-case inventories, as well,” has at least for now just created a more fragile global trading system that has become more vulnerable to shocks, to demand shocks, to supply shocks, to virus-related shocks. And it’s probably not permanent, but it is less transitory than what I think many officials, not least being central bank officials, would have thought even six months ago.

MIKE: You probably get this question a lot at your events, but with the demand for goods continuing to grow and the expectation that the supply chain is going to take a long time to sort out, is there an investing opportunity here, maybe companies that aren’t as impacted by supply chain issues, companies that are more self-contained, make things here in the U.S.? Are there opportunities out there?

LIZ ANN: Yeah, broadly, I think yes. I think you can … if you’re a stock picker or an industry picker, I think that there are sort of avenues you can go down in terms of what you are looking for. It’s not necessarily just being, say, a domestic company versus a multinational company. It really depends on what your input costs are, what your pricing power and flexibility is, who your end customer is, whether you benefit from higher producer prices, or you are a user of those production inputs. So there’s lots of threads that go into how to take advantage of this.

But, of course, the market in this environment of being still fairly passively oriented, index oriented, I think one of the reasons for some relative improvement in the performance of smaller cap stocks, because they tend to be a bit more domestic in nature, could have that whole idea as an underpinning. But that, by no means, suggests that you can just blindly buy an index like the Russell 2000, as a pure play that benefits from some of these supply chain disruptions. I think there’s still a lot of work that has to go into the mix in terms of whether you’re on the beneficiary side or on the side that is more hurt by this.

And pricing power, I think is one of the real keys. The ability to maintain profit margins, either because they’re not impacted by the higher input costs or they’re successfully being able to pass it on, and in this environment where economic growth has been constrained, the ability to grow, continue to grow earnings at an above average pace.

So those would be the broad type of factors that I think stock pickers should look for in the context of everything going on, not just global shortages.

MIKE: I want to go back to something you said a few minutes ago about the labor shortage. It’s easy to see how a lack of workers who unload container ships impacts a supply chain, but a lack of personnel is, actually, a trend across all sorts of sectors.

People seem to be fundamentally rethinking what they want out of a job. We’re seeing this perhaps most acutely in the service sector. Restaurants can’t find enough staff to be open every day of the week. I’ve been traveling a little bit recently. Every hotel I’ve been to has prominent signs saying they have to cut back on housekeeping services. I arrived at my hotel last month. There was no one there to check me in, and that’s because the one person who was working the front desk had ducked into the laundry room, where she was putting a load of pillowcases into the dryer.

We’re seeing it in white collar jobs, too, where people are realizing they don’t need to commute to a downtown office building; they can work remotely. But those decisions impact lunch spots around all those empty offices buildings, as well as other small businesses. It really feels like we’re going through a kind of giant resetting of how we define work. What implications do you think this has for the economy going forward?

LIZ ANN: So, first of all, I completely agree with you. I think we are in the process of a redefinition of work, work-life balance, how we work, when we work, and as I’ve said often, I think the genie is definitively out of the bottle and not going back in with some of these changes that have erupted. At some point we’re going to be in person again and seeing each other, and there will be some movement back to offices, but I think that there’s been a big shift. So those are some of the secular forces.

I think there are some cyclical forces, though, too, that could fade. In terms of the most recent surge in what they call the quits rate, which was almost 3% of the entire workforce quit their jobs. So I think it was for September, but it was a record high quits rate. And the dominant reasons have to do … well, number one, if you’re voluntarily quitting your job, it typically means you have high confidence in finding another job. So I think that that great resignation angle to this is maybe cyclical, but certainly not going away anytime soon, especially because if you look at job switchers, the average wage gain for job switchers is about 5.5%, where for job stayers, it’s about 3.5%. So that helps to explain some of the movement that is happening.

In terms of the very low rebound in the labor force participation rate, people are just opting to stay out of the workforce. The two or three most common reasons cited are either financial stability, you’ve had enough, whether it’s income or appreciation in financial assets, the stock market, real estate, that it’s given you that financial cushion to at least say, “You know what? I’m not jumping back into the labor pool anytime.” Of course, retirements have been part of the mix. That’s the more secular piece of it. For some people it’s that they have a working spouse, and it just doesn’t make sense, given all the added costs, to have both people working out of the home, even if it’s partly in the home. There’s the work-life balance piece of it. There’s also the gig economy, and the fact that many lower wage service workers that had jobs that were and would continue to be very much in-person jobs, to the extent that there’s any health concerns associated with that, many of them have said, “Even though it’s maybe less stable and less sure, I’d rather work in the gig economy with flexible hours, the ability to define when and where and how I work, even if I sacrifice something either from the benefits standpoint or the guaranteed number of hours.”

I think that there’s a lot of forces at play, again, some of which are cyclical and will fade. Some of them, though, I think are secular. And I think the drop in the labor force participation rate may be secular, which would mean, to the latter part of your question, a possible disappointing recovery in real economic activity after we get out of this shortage supply-bottleneck-fueled slowdown, and that could be accompanied by wage and price growth remaining elevated. I don’t think that suggests stagflation in the traditional sense of the word, but a bit of a different economic backdrop than we had in the past cycle.

MIKE: Is this an American phenomenon, or is this happening around the world?

LIZ ANN: No, we’re seeing it globally, a bit more in developed markets, mature, developed markets, less so in emerging markets. The dynamics there are entirely different. But it’s not, interestingly, getting as much attention in some of these other developed markets. It’s not as kind of top of the fold, to use the media terminology, in other parts of the world, as it is here in the United States, less in terms of wage pressure. I think some of the reason why it’s a little bit less distinguished outside the U.S. is also because the amount of … the combination of fiscal and monetary stimulus, whether you do it as per capita or as a percentage of GDP, wasn’t as extreme outside the United States as in the United States. So that massive liquidity cushion that provided that comfort backdrop for a lot of people to make the decisions that they’re making with regard to job switching or staying out of the workforce longer, that was aided by virtue of more of a financial support that was provided through the combination of what was done on the monetary and the fiscal side.

MIKE: What I hear you saying, Liz Ann, is that this phenomenon is sort of partly permanent, maybe, and partly a product of the pandemic that could, at least, come back part way when … if and when, you know, we start to return to a true state of normalcy. Given that, what should investors be thinking about maybe longer term about how these changes in the labor force may impact different sectors and different kinds of companies?

LIZ ANN: I think, increasingly, the focus will be less on just earnings and more on the combination of earnings and profit margins. I think pricing power, the ability to maintain a trajectory of earnings growth in at least a more volatile earnings environment, I think will sort of separate the wheat from the chaff, so to speak. But I think that that is going to increasingly be in focus. So far, in the third quarter reporting season, we have not seen a significant hit to profit margins, but it may be a little bit too soon to judge the turning point as having been in the third quarter. But I think that is increasingly what we want to look for.

In terms of when we start to see an easing in these bottlenecks … and there is some good news on that front, there are some nascent signs of improvement, some nascent signs that maybe we peaked out in terms of the length of supplier deliveries, there’s some easing of price pressures across a few different global shipping channels, so you are starting to see some light at the end of the tunnel. And those would be the types of metrics that I think you need to keep an eye on.

Thinking about sort of broader secular cycles, I think really key to watch, to get a sense of whether a lot of this really is cyclical and we’re going back to what we would define as the pre-pandemic norm, or something more akin to an environment or a backdrop that, ultimately, fueled 1970s, would be to keep an eye on the relationship between bond yields and stock prices. So, for about 30 years, starting in the mid-1960s, bond yields and stock prices were negatively correlated. That reversed around the late 1990s into around 2000, and, essentially, for the past two decades, we have seen yields and stock prices positively correlated.

We recently dipped into negative correlation territory between bond yields and stock prices. We pop back out, we pop back in, but if that starts to remain a negative correlation sustainably, that, to me, would be the quantifiable metric that would suggest this more esoteric sort of psychology around are we in an inflationary backdrop or a deflationary backdrop could be cemented and could represent just a secular change.

So it is esoteric when we talk about the psychology of inflation. There’s not one thing you can point to, but if I had to come up with a metric that I’m keeping a close eye on to get a sense of what the market is telling us, it’s that correlation.

MIKE: Let’s talk more about what’s going on in the markets, because you’ve hinted around this a little bit in your comments, but you’ve been saying recently that while it’s true that the major indexes are up significantly for the year, that has been masking some more complex dynamics just beneath the surface, where most of the component companies of the major indexes have had a much more mixed year in terms of performance. Has that been acting as kind of a pressure release? Have minor corrections in specific areas been holding down a more problematic across-the-board pullback?

LIZ ANN: I think there are two broad ways you can go through a corrective phase. You can see it happen via a process of rotational corrections, which is what we’ve had for much of this year, or it happens in one fell swoop, where an entire index drops to, say, 10 or 15% all at once. Trust me, and as I’m sure most investors would agree to, the former is the more benign scenario―not necessarily without pain, especially if you catch yourself, you know, over-invested in whatever pocket of the market goes through its corrective phase and you don’t have the offsetting pockets of strength represented in your portfolio, which is one of the reasons why we have not only been reinforcing the benefit of diversification, but make sure you use rebalancing to your favor by trimming some of the pockets that have had outsized strength and adding to those that have outsize weakened and stay in gear through this process of rotation without having to try to guess in advance, “OK, what’s the next pocket of strength? What’s the next pocket of weakness?”

But here are the eye-popping numbers. So S&P is up about, you know, 20% year-to-date, the vast majority of the components of the S&P are up year-to-date. Same for the NASDAQ and the Russell 2000, a little bit lower exposure year-to-date, but strongly positive, high percentage of components have positive year-to-date returns. But more than 90% of both the S&P and the NASDAQ, and 98% of the Russell 2000, have had at least 10% corrections at some point this year. And, in fact, the average drawdown across all 500 S&P stocks is 18%. That’s almost bear market territory. For the NASDAQ, it’s minus 38%. For the Russell 2000, it’s minus 34%. The way we avoid, in the case of the S&P, anything more than a 5.2% drawdown is when you have some of these pockets of severe weakness, you have pockets of offsetting strength, and there’s the wash effect that has kept the indexes, broadly, from not having that kind of level of a correction. But under the surface, it has been more severe.

MIKE: Those are incredible numbers. I don’t think the average investor, you know, the index-type investor, has any idea that that kind of range has been going on sort of beneath the surface. Fascinating.

LIZ ANN: I think you’re right.

MIKE: Well, Liz Ann, this has been a great conversation. I want to end where we started, way back in part one of our discussion a couple weeks ago, and that’s Washington and the policy decisions that are still being debated. As we’re recording this, we still don’t have an infrastructure bill, which I think everyone thinks would be good for the markets. Democrats are slowly, painfully, reducing the size of the second bill. When, or, perhaps, I should say if that bill passes, it’s going to have a lot less than originally envisioned in terms of healthcare changes, climate change provisions, new social programs, so maybe there’s going to be some market disappointment there. And the way to fund it is still being re-evaluated. We don’t have a clear idea right now about new taxes. Then we’ve got another debt ceiling fight looming in a few weeks. We’ve got the likely announcement from the Fed next month about whether it’s going to start easing its monetary policy. It’s just a lot of unknowns. So to what degree do you think the markets are paying attention to all this, or is this just a case of investors rolling their eyes at another round of the usual games in Washington?

LIZ ANN: To some degree it’s probably the last thing you said, Mike. I think we’re all as market participants and D.C. watchers getting somewhat immune to some of the antics and sausage-making that goes on. You have to live, eat, and breathe it every day, but I think a lot of investors just consider it a bit of a background noise.

That said … first of all, it’s always hard to know what’s priced in and what’s not priced in to the market. I think it’s hard to say that the market has priced in a lot of this uncertainty, and, therefore, once we alleviate some of that uncertainty, the market is set to ramp from here. I think the market has largely been immune to some of these risks, which suggests that if they actually come to fruition, if the deal, the spending package, is inclusive of significant tax increases, which at this point doesn’t look like that’s possible, given as, you know, Kyrsten Sinema’s adamant stance against tax rates going higher, but I think somehow were she or other moderates to capitulate and we’re back into a conversation about a significant increase in corporate taxes or capital gains taxes, I don’t see that as a positive for the market in any way, shape, or form.

That said, I don’t know whether the market is just in sort of neutral mode right now with regard to taxes, and if, ultimately, when the ink is dried, there are no significant tax increases, yeah, that, in theory is beneficial for the market, but the market is at all-time highs. So it is hard to judge what is priced in.

I think the debt ceiling piece is the trickier one. And, Mike, you and I talked about this on the last podcast, the can-kick to December may have been beneficial purely from a calendar, at least we don’t have to worry about it right now, but may represent a period of time it’s even harder to get done. And we have to remember what happened in August 2011, where we, ultimately, didn’t default on our debt, but we, again, came, you know, close to the line and we had a downgrade of U.S. debt by one of the ratings agencies and an 18% decline in the stock market from a period of, I believe, late July to sometime in October. So I think going down that path and running the risk of default, even if it doesn’t happen, and/or another downgrade, or maybe a bit of sort of writhing in the credit markets, I don’t think that that’s priced in.

So I think that there are, arguably, in my opinion, more downside risks than significant possible upside as we get answers to all these D.C.-related questions.

MIKE: Yeah, I absolutely agree with you, Liz Ann. I think the debt ceiling continues to be sort of underappreciated by investors. Particularly, the timing now, right after Thanksgiving, I think it’s kind of lost in the noise, and could catch people by surprise. So we’ll see how that plays out.

Well, Liz Ann, as usual, it’s been great to talk to you, and I’m so grateful for your willingness to come back for a second round of conversation. Thank you very much.

LIZ ANN: My pleasure, Mike. It’s always such a fun conversation. I’m very happy to have been here.

MIKE: That’s Liz Ann Sonders, Schwab’s chief investment strategist. Don’t forget to follow her on Twitter @LizAnnSonders.

Finally, on my Why It Matters segment, I like to note something interesting that is happening in Washington that may have been below the radar screen and explain why I think it’s important.

This week, it’s a name you need to know: Rohit Chopra. Chopra was confirmed earlier this month by the Senate to be the director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, or CFPB.

The CFPB is the agency that was created after the 2008 financial crisis to focus on consumer-oriented financial products―credit cards, auto loans, mortgages, student loans, the everyday products that most Americans use. In fact, it’s the financial agency that probably touches the most Americans. After all, while about 56% of the nation’s 125 million or so households are invested, that is dwarfed by the over 500 million credit cards currently in use. And more than 107 million Americans have auto loans.

So why does this matter? Well, the CFPB has a complicated and very partisan history. Republicans opposed its creation back when it opened in 2011. Under President Obama, the agency became an aggressive enforcer, cracking down on practices of big banks and doling out more than $12 billion in fines and penalties in its first six years in operation. When a Republican president took office in 2017, the administration sidelined the agency, significantly reducing enforcement actions and collecting a fraction of the fines and penalties. It attracted notice in 2020 for levying fines on 10 financial institutions of $1 apiece.

Now the pendulum is expected to swing back the other way again, and the CFPB is expected to return to its aggressive investigation and enforcement ways. In his first week on the job, Chopra sent orders to Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google, PayPal, Square, and other tech companies asking for information about how the companies use customer payment data and other financial information and whether their payment systems may be anti-competitive. While any investigation into these issues is in its infancy, it’s a notable signal that the CFPB is announcing itself as back on an aggressive footing.

Well, that’s all for this week’s episode of WashingtonWise. We’ll be back with a new show in two weeks. Please take a moment now to follow the show in your listening app so you don’t miss an episode. And if you like what you’ve heard, leave us a rating or a review—that really helps new listeners discover the show.

For important disclosures, see the show notes or, where you can also find a transcript.

I’m Mike Townsend, and this has been WashingtonWise. Wherever you are, stay safe, stay healthy, and keep investing wisely.

Important Disclosures:

The policy analysis provided by the Charles Schwab & Co., Inc., does not constitute and should not be interpreted as an endorsement of any political party.

The information provided here is for general informational purposes only and should not be considered an individualized recommendation or personalized investment advice. The investment strategies mentioned here may not be suitable for everyone. Each investor needs to review an investment strategy for his or her own particular situation before making any investment decision.

All expressions of opinion are subject to change without notice in reaction to shifting market conditions. Data contained herein from third-party providers is obtained from what are considered reliable sources. However, its accuracy, completeness or reliability cannot be guaranteed.

This information does not constitute and is not intended to be a substitute for specific individualized tax, legal, or investment planning advice. Where specific advice is necessary or appropriate, Schwab recommends consultation with a qualified tax advisor, CPA, financial planner, or investment manager.

Investing involves risk, including loss of principal.

All corporate names are for illustrative purposes only and are not a recommendation, offer to sell, or a solicitation of an offer to buy any security.

Past performance is no guarantee of future results and the opinions presented cannot be viewed as an indicator of future performance.

Currencies are speculative, very volatile and are not suitable for all investors.

Indexes are unmanaged, do not incur management fees, costs and expenses and cannot be invested in directly. For more information on indexes please see

Correlation is a statistical measure of how two investments have historically moved in relation to each other, and ranges from -1 to +1. A correlation of 1 indicates a perfect positive correlation, while a correlation of -1 indicates a perfect negative correlation. A correlation of zero means the assets are not correlated.

Diversification, asset allocation, and rebalancing strategies do not ensure a profit and do not protect against losses in declining markets. Rebalancing may cause investors to incur transaction costs and, when a nonretirement account is rebalanced, taxable events may be created that may affect your tax liability.

Apple Podcasts and the Apple logo are trademarks of Apple Inc., registered in the U.S. and other countries.

Google Podcasts and the Google Podcasts logo are trademarks of Google LLC.

Spotify and the Spotify logo are registered trademarks of Spotify AB.

©2021 Charles Schwab & Co., Inc. All rights reserved. Member SIPC.


Thumbs up / down votes are submitted voluntarily by readers and are not meant to suggest the future performance or suitability of any account type, product or service for any particular reader and may not be representative of the experience of other readers. When displayed, thumbs up / down vote counts represent whether people found the content helpful or not helpful and are not intended as a testimonial. Any written feedback or comments collected on this page will not be published. Charles Schwab & Co., Inc. may in its sole discretion re-set the vote count to zero, remove votes appearing to be generated by robots or scripts, or remove the modules used to collect feedback and votes.