The New Trump Economy

We have been talking about the “Plow Horse Economy” for quite a while now.  Low interest rates designed to spur economic growth have been offset by other government policies that have acted as a “Plow” holding the economy back.

Market watchers have assumed that the November election would see a continuation of those policies.  The general prediction was for slow growth, falling corporate profits, a possible deflationary spiral, and flat yield curves.

What a difference a week makes.  The market shocked political prognosticators by standing those expectations on their heads.

Bank of America surveyed 177 fund managers in the week following the elections who say they’re putting cash to work this month at the fastest pace since August 2009.

The U.S. election result is “seen as unambiguously positive for nominal GDP,” writes Bank of America Merrill Lynch Chief Investment Strategist Michael Hartnett, in a note accompanying the monthly survey. 

The stock market has reached several new all-time highs, moving the DJIA to a record 18,924 on November 15th, up 3.6% in one week.

Interest rates on the benchmark 10-year US Treasury bond have risen from 1.83% on November 7th to 2.25% today (November 17th), a 23% increase.  Expectations for the yield curve to steepen — in other words, for the gap between short and long-term rates to widen — saw their biggest monthly jump on record.

 WealthManagement.com says that

Global growth and inflation expectations are also tracking the ascent of Trump. The net share of fund managers expecting a stronger economy nearly doubled from last month’s reading, while those surveyed are the most bullish on the prospect of a pick-up in inflation since June 2004.

Investors are now also more optimistic about profit growth than they have been in 15 months.

Whether this new-found optimism is justified is something that only time will tell.  In the meantime to US market is reacting well to Trump’s plans for tax cuts and infrastructure spending.  Spending on roads, bridges and other parts of the infrastructure has been part of Trump’s platform since he entered the race for President.  It’s the tax reform that could be the key to a new economic stimulus.

According to CNBC American corporations are holding $2.5 trillion dollars in cash overseas. That’s equal to 14% of the US gross domestic product.  If companies bring that back to the US it would be taxed at the current corporate tax rate of 35%.  The US has the highest corporate tax rate in the world.  The promise of lower corporate tax rates – Trump has spoken of 15% – could spur the repatriation of that cash to the US, giving a big boost to a slow growth US economy.

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The Election is Over. Now What?

The general election is over and the people have spoken.  Donald Trump will be the 45th President of the United States.

The run-up to November 8th has shown that our country is sharply divided politically.  Some people will be happy and others disappointed by the result.  However, it’s important to avoid letting your personal political beliefs and emotions cloud your long-term investment decisions.

Our job as your financial advisor is to help you navigate your way through the upcoming economic and political changes.  Forecasters can be wrong, and we have seen that pollsters can be too.  We avoid making big bets based on crystal ball gazing.  So how do we see the future?

As students of history we think that countries that keep their governments relatively small, in terms of spending, regulation, and tax rates, will provide their residents with an advantage in pursuing financial prosperity.  Regardless of who won this year’s election, we think that economic growth in the U.S. will generally continue, even with the policy mistakes the winner may make.

Since 2009, we have experienced what we’ve been referring to as a “Plow Horse Economy.”  That means that the macro-economy has gradually recovered even as many people have not seen much of an improvement in their individual economic lives.  The overall economy has grown despite the fact that debt, regulation and political turmoil have acted as a “Plow” holding the economy back.  Despite this drag, the major U.S. stock indexes are up almost 50% over the past four years.

We remain constructive on the economy and the markets.  With the election in the rear view mirror, we expect the Federal Reserve to begin its long, slow walk to raising interest rates from today’s near-zero percent.  We expect those moves to be very gradual and to have little long-term effect on the market.

One other statistic makes us optimistic for the future.  Consumer spending is said to account for 70% of the U.S. economy.  Unfortunately, that vast middle class that we think of as the “average consumer” has not seen much in the way of a fatter wallet over the last few decades.  That was one reason for the popularity of Trump’s message to the middle class that he would restore good paying middle class jobs.  We believe that if he is able to follow through on this promise, a resurgence of earnings growth by the middle class will be a positive for the American economy, and hope that he is able to implement feasible policies to promote such growth.

 

 

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Exploding health care costs

Here are some scary projections about the cost of health care for retirees:

 The average lifetime retirement health care premium costs for a 65-year-old healthy couple retiring this year and covered by Medicare Parts B, D, and a supplemental insurance policy will be $266,589. (It is assumed in this report that Medicare subscribers paid Medicare taxes while employed, and therefore will not be responsible for Medicare Part A premiums.)

If we were to include the couple’s total health care (dental, vision, co-pays, and all out-of-pockets), their costs would rise to $394,954. For a 55-year-old couple retiring in 10 years, total lifetime health care costs would be $463,849.

These projections come from Health View Services.

“Obamacare” enrollment has just begun for the coming year and premiums are increasing an average of 22% even as deductibles have increased to $6,000 for the “Bronze” plan before insurance actually pays anything.   The number of companies offering health insurance to individuals is shrinking and some of the larger companies have stopped offering individual policies altogether.

Many people tell us that health care is one of their top concerns in retirement, right up there with running out of money.  Unfortunately the majority has not even begun to put money aside for retirement and those who have underestimate the cost of doctors, hospitals and drugs during their retirement years.

No matter where you are in your life cycle, you should take action now to get to know a knowledgeable financial advisor, preferable a fee-only Registered Investment Advisor (RIA) who specializes in retirement and who can provide guidance on these issues.

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A reader asks: what’s the difference between risk tolerance and risk capacity?

Korving -1016 RET web

That’s an interesting question and it depends on who you ask.  The investment industry measures risk in terms of volatility, taking the opportunity for both gains and losses into consideration.

I will answer with a focus on losses rather than gains because, for most people, risk implies the chance that they will lose money rather than make money.

 Risk tolerance is your emotional capacity to withstand losses without panicking.  For example, during the financial crisis of 2008 – 2009 people with a low or modest risk tolerance, who saw their investment portfolios decline by as much as 50% because they were heavily invested in stocks, sold out and did not recoup their losses when the stock market recovered.  Their risk tolerance was not aligned with the risk they were taking in their portfolio.  In many cases they were not aware of the risks they were taking because they had been lulled by the gains they had experienced in the prior years.

People who bought homes in the run-up to the real estate crash of 2008 were unaware of the risk they were taking because they believed that home prices would always go up.  When prices plunged they were left with properties that were worth less than the mortgage they owed.

This exposed them to the issue of risk capacity.

Risk capacity is your ability to absorb losses without affecting your lifestyle.  The wealthy have the capacity to lose thousands, millions, or even billions of dollars.  Jeff Bezos, founder of Amazon, recently lost $6 billion dollars in a few hours when his company’s stock dropped dramatically.  Despite this loss,  he was still worth over $56 billion.    His risk capacity is orders of magnitude greater than most people’s net worth.

The unlucky home buyer who bought a house at an inflated price using creative financing found out that the losses they faced exceeded their net worth.  As a result many people lost their homes and many declared bankruptcy.

There are some new tools available to measure your risk tolerance and determine how well your portfolio is aligned with your risk number.  Click HERE to get your risk number.

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What’s Your Risk Number?

risk

Defining how much risk someone is willing to take can be difficult.  But in the investment world it’s critical.

Fear of risk keeps a lot of people away from investing their money, leaving them at the mercy of the banks and the people at the Federal Reserve.  The Fed has kept interest rates near zero for years, hoping that low rates will cause a rebound in the economy.  The downside of this policy is that traditional savings methods (saving accounts, CDs, buy & hold Treasuries) yield almost no growth.

Investors who are unsure of their risk tolerance and those who completely misjudge it are never quite sure if they are properly invested.  Fearing losses, they may put too much of their funds into “safe” investments, passing up chances to grow their money at more reasonable rates.  Then, fearing that they’ll miss all the upside potential, they get back into more “risky” investments and wind up investing too aggressively.  Then when the markets pull back, they end up pulling the plug, selling at market bottoms, locking in horrible losses, and sitting out the next market recovery until the market “feels safe” again to reinvest near the top and repeating the cycle.

There is a new tool available that help people define their personal “risk number.”

What is your risk number?

Your risk number defines how much risk you are prepared to take by walking you through several market scenarios, asking you to select which scenarios you are more comfortable with.     Let’s say that you have a $100,000 portfolio and in one scenario it could decline to $80,000 in a Bear Market or grow to $130,000 in a Bull Market, in another scenario it could decline to $70,000 or grow to $140,000, and in the third scenario it could decline to $90,000 or grow to $110,000.  Based on your responses, to the various scenarios, the system will generate your risk number.

How can you use that information?

If you are already an investor, you can determine whether you are taking an appropriate level of risk in your portfolio.  If the risk in your portfolio is much greater than your risk number, you can adjust your portfolio to become more conservative.  On the other hand, if you are more risk tolerant and you find that your portfolio is invested too conservatively, you can make adjustments to become less conservative.

Finding your risk number allows you to align your portfolio with your risk tolerance and achieve your personal financial goals.

To find out what your risk number is, click here .

 

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Economic Growth Does Not Kill People – The Opposite is the Case

Brian Wesbury, Chief Economist at First Trust, noted that members of the elite press are telling the people that they had better get used to slow growth.  That economic growth actually kills people.

Two weekend articles, in major US newspapers, left us shaking our heads. The Washington Post wrote that “economic growth actually kills people,” while The Wall Street Journal published a piece saying, ironically, we should get used to slow growth – it’s normal.

Both are ridiculous.

First, The Washington Post cited statistical studies that blame premature death on economic growth (more pollution, more work and more risk).

The statisticians found that pollution and alcohol were the #1 and #2 causes of death as economic growth accelerated. We couldn’t help but think about the Soviet Union, where pollution and alcoholism were rampant in the 1970s and 1980s, but economic growth was non-existent. Economic growth does not cause pollution; to say it does is a red herring. The air in Boston was much worse in the 1800s when wood-burning fireplaces were used to heat homes. Public health was a serious problem before sewage systems and water purification.

 

 The articles in the Post and the Wall Street Journal try to make the case that Americans need to forget about growth.  Rather, the government should focus on making the social safety net bigger, on rule-making, and making everyone more “equal.”  In fact, we are told that growth is a killer.

Evidence of the opposite exists.  Stagnating wages and loss of jobs in this country has been followed by alcoholism and rampant use of heavy-duty drugs like heroin, leading to an increase in premature deaths in America’s heartland.

There is no reason why the American economic engine cannot be revved up to the benefit of all.

Roughly 70% of the US economy depends on consumer spending.  The return of good paying jobs to communities thoroughly the country would result in a significant surge of economic growth.  And by good paying jobs we are not referring to the jobs created by the internet economy on the East or West Coasts.  The jobs produced by companies like Google, Facebook, Twitter and other Internet based “infotainment” companies produce great wealth for their creators but no actual consumer product.  What has surprised many economists – but should not have – is that they have not produced nearly the number of jobs that were predicted.  Meanwhile, industries that produce actual goods that people need to live – food, clothing, housing, fuel, medicine, cars – industries that once produced good paying jobs – are being outsourced or automated.

The country needs to focus on this issue or face increasing unrest among people who feel disrespected and marginalized.  Reviving American industries – in America – can be the spark that leads to a better future for everyone.

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Why Re-balance Portfolios?

The market rarely rings a bell when it’s time to buy or sell.  The time to buy is often the time when people are most afraid.  The time to sell is often when people are most optimistic about the market.  This was true in 2000 and 2009.

Rather than trying to guess or consult your crystal ball, portfolio re-balancing lets your portfolio tell you when to sell and when to buy.

You begin by creating a diversified portfolio that reflects your risk tolerance.  A “Moderate” investor, neither too aggressive or too conservative, may have a portfolio that contains 40 – 60% stocks and a corresponding ratio of bonds.

Checking your portfolio periodically will tell you when you begin to deviate from your chosen asset allocation.  During “Bull” markets your stock portfolio will begin to grow out of the range you have set for it, triggering a need to re-balance back to your preferred allocation.  During “Bear” markets your fixed income portfolio will grow out of its range.  Re-balancing at this point will cause you to add to the equity portion of your portfolio even as emotion urges you in the opposite direction.

If properly implemented and regularly applied, this will allow you to do what that old Wall Street sage tells you is the way to make money: “Buy Low and Sell High.”

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Diversification and Emerging Markets

A well-diversified portfolio typically includes emerging markets as one of its components.  “Emerging markets” is a generic term to identify those countries whose economies are developed, but still smaller than those of the world’s superpowers (i.e., USA, Europe, Japan).

To professional investors, a well-diversified portfolio includes many asset classes, not just the most obvious: U.S. Stocks (the S&P 500) and a U.S. bond fund.

The following illustration is a great illustration of the relative performance of some of the major asset classes.

callan-periodic-table-of-investment-returns

Here we have ten key indices ranked by performance over a 20-year period.  The best-performing index for each year is at the top of each column, and the worst is at the bottom.

It is natural for investors to want to own the stock, or the asset class that is currently “hot.”  It’s called the Bandwagon Effect and it’s one of the reasons that the average investor typically underperforms.  The top performer in any one year isn’t always the best performer the next year.

A successful investment strategy is to:

  • Maintain a portfolio diversified among asset classes,
  • Stick to an appropriate asset allocation for your particular goals and objectives,
  • Rebalance your portfolio once or twice a year to keep your asset allocation in line, essentially forcing you to sell what’s become expensive and buy what’s become cheap.

In other words, re-balance your portfolio regularly and you will benefit from the fact that some assets become cheap and provide buying opportunities and some become expensive and we should take some profits.

Which brings us to emerging markets, which have been a drag on the performance of diversified portfolios for several years.

“It was a summer of love for investment in emerging markets,” according to the latest MSCI Research Spotlight.  For example, Brazil, Taiwan, South Africa and India have all been big winners, MSCI said.

The MSCI Emerging Markets Index ended August up for the year 15 percent compared to a loss of 20 percent the prior year.

“We are seeing very strong performance,” Martin Small, head of U.S. i-Shares BlackRock, told the conference.

Emerging market equities “have outperformed the S&P so far this year by more than 800 basis points and the broader universe of developed markets by almost 1,000 basis points,” according to the October BlackRock report, “Is the Rally in Emerging Markets Sustainable?” The report said EM outperformance “is likely to continue into 2017.”

For investors who have included emerging markets in their portfolios, their patience and discipline is being rewarded this year.  For those who want to have a portfolio that’s properly diversified but don’t have the expertise to do it themselves, give us a call.

 

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The Public Pension Crisis

Government workers at all levels are likely to have pension plans but there is a big question about the plans’ ability to pay.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), 92% percent of full-time government employees like teachers and police officers are eligible for pensions, known as “defined benefit plans.”

According to the BLS about 22% of workers in the private sector have pensions, down from 42% in 1990.  In the private sector, retirement plans are much more likely to be 401(k) plans, known as “defined contribution plans.”  Part of the reason for this is that some large companies, like General Motors, accrued huge pension liabilities over the years that they were unable to pay.

Since the Federal Government can print money, federal employees are not worried.  However, states and municipalities depend on their tax base and can’t print money.  That’s where the problem comes in.  Some estimates claim the unfunded liability of public pension plans exceeded $3 trillion dollars.

According to Governing, the city of Chicago’s has an unfunded pension liability of almost $20,000 per capita.  Other cities are somewhat better off, but no big city has a fully funded pension account.  Dallas and Denver, for example are on the hook for between $8,000 and $9,000 per resident.  It’s difficult to even measure the amount of indebtedness because political leaders really don’t want to discuss it.

The problem has been exacerbated by rate-of-return assumptions that are unrealistic.  Most pension funds assume that their assets will grow at rates of seven to eight percent per year indefinitely, a virtual impossibility in this age of low interest rates and sluggish growth.

What does that mean for public employees?   They may want to cast a wary eye on Puerto Rico and some cities in California who have gone into default.  As a wise man once said, “something that can’t go on forever, won’t.”  A little planning ahead won’t hurt.

Whether you are a public employee or work in the private sector we welcome your inquiries.

 

 

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Retirement statistics

  • 65 – The age at which the average American expects to retire, up from 63 in 2002.
  • 26 – Percentage of baby boomers who expect to retire at age 70 or later.
  • $265,000 – the estimated amount a couple, both age 65, should expect to spend on health care.
  • 22 – Percentage of couples who factor health care costs into retirement.
  • 30 – Percentage of adults born in the 1940s and 1950s who have traditional pension plans.
  • 11 – Percentage of adults born in the 1980s who are expected to have a traditional pension plan.
  • 60 – Percentage of medical expenses that Medicare by itself covers.

If some of these statistics don’t scare you read them again.

For others, we may be able to help.

And read the first three chapters of Before I Go.

 

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