Category Archives: Inflation

Market Commentary by Bill Miller

Here are some selected comments by highly regarded portfolio manager Bill Miller:

The year 2017 surprised most pundits in several ways. It was the only year since good records have been kept where stocks were up every single month. It was the lowest volatility year on record. It had no correction of even 3%, which was unprecedented. Economic growth accelerated globally as the year progressed and the US economy enjoyed a couple of quarters of 3% growth.

Earnings grew double digits. Stocks were up over 20%, and the OECD indicates that the 45 largest economies in the world are all growing, something not seen in over a decade. The consensus appears to be “more of the same” in 2018. Strategists and investors generally are bullish on the economy, most also seem to be bullish on stocks.

There is growing concern that the great bond bull market that began in late 1981 is over (this is surely correct in my view), but divergence on what that might mean for stocks…….

In the Barron’s Roundtable, several commented that rising rates could compress valuations if yields went above 3% and that stocks could end the year down. I think that is wrong.

I believe that if rates rise in 2018, taking the 10-year treasury above 3%, that will propel stocks significantly higher, as money exits bond funds for only the second year in the past 10, and moves into stock funds as happened in 2013. Stocks that year were up 30%, mostly as result of that shift in fund flows. …

I think we are also likely to see inflation begin to stir, perhaps in a year, as labor force slack and excess manufacturing capacity both decline. Finally, I think the effects of the tax cut are only partially in the stock market. The market appears to have discounted the earnings boost to companies whose profits are mainly domestically sourced. It is not clear that a potentially material pickup in consumption has made its way into stock prices.

Many US companies have already announced special bonuses to employees or increases in their minimum wage as a result of the business tax cut and the ability to repatriate the trillions of cash currently held overseas. The employees getting such bonuses likely have a marginal propensity to consume approaching 100%.

Very little will be saved; almost all will be spent, which could add significantly to growth. I think we could print 4 quarters of 3% growth or better of real GDP. If inflation hits the Fed’s target of 2%, that would imply 5% nominal GDP growth. In a “normal” world 10-year rates would tend to be around the same as nominal GDP, yet another reason to be wary of investing in bonds.

Overall, I continue to think, as I have since the financial crisis ended, that the path of least resistance for stocks is higher.

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A prediction for 2018 from Brian Wesbury of First Trust

Last December we wrote “we finally have more than just hope to believe that this year, 2017, is the year the Plow Horse Economy finally gets a spring in its step.” We expected real GDP growth to accelerate from 2.0% in 2016 to “about 2.6%” in 2017. Our optimism was, in large part, based on our belief that the incoming Trump Administration would wield a lighter regulatory touch and move toward lower tax rates.

So far, so good. Right now, we’re tracking fourth quarter real GDP growth at a 3.0% annual rate, which would mean 2.7% growth for 2017 and we expect some more acceleration in 2018.

The only question is: how much? Yes, a major corporate tax cut (which should have happened 20 years ago) is finally taking place. And, yes, the Trump Administration is cutting regulation. But, it has not reigned in government spending. As a result, we’re forecasting real GDP growth at a 3.0% rate in 2018, the fastest annual growth since 2005.

The only caveat to this forecast is that it seems as if the velocity of money is picking up. With $2 trillion of excess reserves in the banking system, the risk is highly tilted toward an upside surprise for growth, with little risk to the downside. Meanwhile, this easy monetary policy suggests inflation should pick up, as well. The consumer price index should be up about 2.5% in 2018, which would be the largest increase since 2011.

Unemployment already surprised to the downside in 2017. We forecast 4.4%; instead, it’s already dropped to 4.1% and looks poised to move even lower in the year ahead. Our best guess is that the jobless rate falls to 3.7%, which would be the lowest unemployment rate since the late 1960s.

A year ago, we expected the Fed to finally deliver multiple rate hikes in 2017. It did, and we expect that pattern will continue in 2018, with the Fed signaling three rate hikes and delivering at least that number, maybe four. Longer-term interest rates are heading up as well. Look for the 10-year Treasury yield to finish 2018 at 3.00%.

For the stock market, get ready for a continued bull market in 2018. Stocks will probably not climb as much as this year, and a correction is always possible, but we think investors would be wise to stay invested in equities throughout the year.

We use a Capitalized Profits Model (the government’s measure of profits from the GDP reports divided by interest rates) to measure fair value for stocks. Our traditional measure, using a current 10-year Treasury yield of 2.35% suggests the S&P 500 is still massively undervalued.

If we use our 2018 forecast of 3.0% for the 10-year yield, the model says fair value for the S&P 500 is 3351, which is 25% higher than Friday’s close. The model needs a 10-year yield of about 3.75% to conclude that the S&P 500 is already at fair value, with current profits.

As a result, we’re calling for the S&P 500 to finish at 3,100 next year, up almost 16% from Friday’s close. The Dow Jones Industrial Average should finish at 28,500.

Yes, this is optimistic, but a year ago we were forecasting the Dow would finish this year at 23,750 with the S&P 500 at 2,700. This was a much more bullish call than anyone else we’ve seen, but we stuck with the fundamentals over the relatively pessimistic calls of “conventional wisdom,” and we believe the same course is warranted for 2018. Those who have faith in free markets should continue to be richly rewarded in the year ahead.

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Don’t Fear Higher Interest Rates

Here’s some weekly commentary from Brian Wesbury of First Trust 

The Federal Reserve has a problem.  At 4.1%, the jobless rate is already well below the 4.6% it thinks unemployment would/could/should average over the long run.  We think the unemployment rate should get to 3.5% by the end of 2019 and wouldn’t be shocked if it got that low in 2018, either.

Add in extra economic growth from tax cuts and the Fed will be worried that it is “behind the curve.”  As a result, we think the Fed will raise rates three times next year, on top of this year’s three rate hikes, counting the almost certain hike this month.  And a fourth rate hike in 2018 is still certainly on the table.  By contrast, the futures market is only pricing in one or two rate hikes next year – exactly as it did for 2017.  In other words, the futures markets are likely to be wrong for the second year in a row.

And as short-term interest rates head higher, we expect long-term interest rates to head up as well.  So, get ready, because the bears will seize on this rising rate environment as one more reason for the bull market in stocks to end.

They’ll be wrong again.  The bull market, and the US economy, have further to run.  Rising rates won’t kill the recovery or bull market anytime in the near future.

Higher interest rates reflect a higher after-tax return to capital, a natural result of cutting taxes on corporate investment via a lower tax rate on corporate profits as well as shifting to full expensing of equipment and away from depreciation for tax purposes.

Lower taxes on capital means business will more aggressively pursue investment opportunities, helping boost economic growth and the demand for labor – leading to more jobs and higher wages.  Stronger growth means higher rates.

For a recent example of why higher rates don’t mean the end of the bull market in stocks look no further than 2013.  Economic growth accelerated that year, with real GDP growing 2.7% versus 1.3% the year before.  Meanwhile, the yield on the 10-year Treasury Note jumped to 3.04% from 1.78%.  And during that year the S&P 500 jumped 29.6%, the best calendar year performance since 1997.

This was not a fluke.  The 10-year yield rose in 2003 and 2006, by 44 and 32 basis points, respectively.  How did the S&P 500 do those years: up 26.4% in 2003, up 13.8% in 2006.

Sure, in theory, if interest rates climb to reflect the risk of rising inflation, without any corresponding increase in real GDP growth, then higher interest rates would not be a good sign for equities.  That’d be like the late 1960s through the early 1980s.  But with Congress and the president likely to soon agree to major pro-growth changes in the tax code on top of an ongoing shift toward deregulation, we think the growth trend is positive, not negative.

It’s also true that interest on the national debt will rise as well.  But federal interest costs relative to both GDP and tax revenue are still hovering near the lowest levels of the past fifty years.  As we’ve argued, sensible debt financing that locks in today’s low rates would be prudent. However, it will take many years for higher interest rates to lift the cost of borrowing needed to finance the government back to the levels we saw for much of the 1980s and 1990s.  And as we all remember the 80s and 90s were not bad for stocks.

Bottom line: interest rates across the yield curve are headed higher.  But, for stocks, it’s just another wall of worry not a signal that the bull market is anywhere near an end.

 

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What is the right amount to save when aiming for a certain retirement goal?

Question from middle-aged worker to Investopedia:

I am 58 years old earning $100,000 per year and have investments in multiple retirement accounts totaling $686,250. I’m retiring at the age of 65. I am currently investing $16,000 per year in my accounts. I project to have $848,819 in my retirement accounts at the age of 65. I will be collecting $2,200 in Social Security when I retire. I also do not own my home due to my divorce. How much money will I need to hit my projection? Should I be saving more?

My answer:

I believe that you may be asking the wrong question. For most people, a retirement goal is the ability to live in a certain lifestyle. To afford a nice place to live, travel; buy a new car from time to time, etc. By viewing retirement goals from that perspective you can “back into” the amount of money you need to have at retirement.

To do that correctly you need a retirement plan that takes all those factors into consideration. At age 65 you probably have 20 to 30 years of retirement ahead of you. During that time inflation will affect the amount of income it takes to maintain your lifestyle. You will also have to estimate the return on your investment assets. As you can see, there are lots of moving parts in your decision making process. You need the guidance of an experienced financial planner who has access to a sophisticated financial planning program. Check out his or her credentials and ask if, at the end of the process, you will get just a written plan or have access to the program so that you can play “what if” and see if there are any hidden surprises in your future.

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Is your retirement plan a ticking time bomb?

In your mind’s eye, how do you see yourself living retirement?  Does it include the activities that you enjoy now … without the time you spend at work?  When you have the time, do you see yourself seeing the world?  Retirement presents an opportunity for some life-changing experiences.

But there are a few things that can cause those retirement dreams to become nightmares.

If your retirement plan includes a pension, you may want to consider the risk.  It is a fact that many private and public pension plans are sadly underfunded.  Some public pension plans are the worst offenders.  As an extreme example, the Illinois General Assembly Retirement System is only 13.5% funded.

A long period of very low interest rates means that pension plans with large bond investments have generated low returns.  It has caused others to take greater risk.  At some point that can affect the pensions of those who believed their Golden Years were paid for.

Living longer than you expected is another risk.  In 1950 the average life expectancy was 68.  That meant that the average worker retired at age 65 and died three years later.

Sixty years later, in 2010, the average life expectancy was 79 and many people are living longer.  In 2010 there were 1.9 million people over age 90 and three quarters of those were women.  One of the biggest concerns that retired people have is running out of money as savings are eroded by inflation.    How would living past age 90 affect your retirement plans?

The third thing that is causing the average worker concern about retiring is insufficient savings.  Fewer people are covered by pension plans.  Many employers have replaced guaranteed pensions called “Define Benefit Plans” with 401(k)s and 403(b)s known as “Defined Contribution Plans.”  This transfers the responsibility for retirement from the employer to the employee.  Too few people are taking advantage of these programs, not saving enough, and making unwise investment choices.  This can result in insufficient savings when the time comes to actually retire.  One result is that more and more people continue to work well past the traditional retirement age of 65.

What is to be done?

We have to accept a greater responsibility for our own retirement.  We have to be honest about how safe those pension promises are, whether we work of a large corporation or for a government entity.  We have to start saving early and make wise investment choices.  One of the wisest things people do as they prepare for retirement is get the services of a competent retirement professional who will guide them to a safe haven at the end of the road.

 

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Effective Retirement Plans Do Not End at Retirement

There are those fortunate individuals who, because of wise planning, are able to retire without having to worry about how much money they can spend after their paychecks stop.  These people can afford their needs and wants from sources like pensions and social security that adjust for inflation.  They have probably been saving all of their lives and have always lived below their means.  Others are not so fortunate.

Most middle class retirees fund their retirement spending from Social Security, a pension (perhaps), and income from investments.  Because people often live several decades after retirement, it’s vitally important to make estimates and projections about the future.

Here are just a few of the things that factor into how much it will cost to live once you retire:

  • Your basic living expenses; your “needs.”
  • The cost of your “wants” and “wishes” above your basic expenses
  • The age at which you want to retire.
  • The number of years in retirement.
  • Spousal income and, in two income families, the age at which each spouse retires.
  • Your pension benefits.
  • Life, disability and long-term-care needs.
  • The age at which you apply for Social Security.
  • The value of your investment assets at retirement.
  • The estimated return on your investment assets.
  • Your risk tolerance.
  • The rate of inflation during retirement.

Putting all these factors together is a complicated process that’s beyond the capability of most individuals who don’t work in finance.  Complex planning programs have been developed that can provide answers.  These answers typically provide a probability of success or failure via a procedure called “Monte Carlo” analysis.

We have found that people who begin planning early can make appropriate mid-course corrections while they still have time.  It also provides them with the peace of mind.  Having a well-thought-out plan for the future removes a great deal of worry an uncertainly.

If you are approaching retirement without a plan, give us a call for more information.  We would be happy to meet with you to discuss your needs.

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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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Inflation Ready to Rise

Brian Wesbury is one of our favorite economists and market commentators.  One of the key indicators the Federal Reserve is watching is the rate of inflation.  The Fed wants the “core” inflation rate to be 2%.  We are not in favor of any inflation at all, but we are not the Federal Reserve so it’s worth looking at the numbers they are looking at.

Wesbury:

The consumer price index is up only 1.1% in the past year. The Fed’s preferred measure of inflation – for personal consumption expenditures, or PCE – is up 1.0%. The US doesn’t face deflation, but the overall inflation statistics are, and have remained, low.

But the money supply is accelerating, the jobs market looks very tight, and underneath the calm exterior, there are some green shoots of inflationary pressure.

The “core” measures of inflation, which exclude volatile food and energy prices, are not nearly as contained as overall measures. And before you say everyone has to eat and drive, realize that both food an energy prices are volatile and global in nature. They don’t always reveal true underlying price pressures.

The ‘core” CPI is up 2.3% in the past year, while the “core” PCE index is up 1.7%. In other words, a drop in food and energy prices has been masking underlying inflation that is already at or near the Fed’s 2% target. Energy prices have stabilized and food prices will rise again. As a result, soon, overall inflation measures are going to be running higher than the Fed’s target.

Housing costs are up 3.4% in the past year and medical care costs are up 3.4%.

Although some (usually Keynesian) analysts are waiting for much higher growth in wages before they fear rising inflation, the fact is that wage growth is already accelerating. Average hourly earnings are up 2.6% in the past year versus a 2.0% gain only two years ago. Moreover, as a paper earlier this year from the San Francisco Fed pointed out, this acceleration is happening in spite of the retirement of relatively high-wage Baby Boomers and the re-entry into the labor force of workers with below-average skills.

But we don’t think wages cause inflation – money does. Inflation is too much money chasing too few goods. The Fed has held short-term interest rates at artificially low levels for the past several years while it’s expanded its balance sheet to unprecedented levels. Monetary policy has been loose.

… M2 has expanded at an 8.6% annualized rate. More money brings more inflation.

None of this means hyperinflation is finally on its way. In the past, inflation has taken time to build, leaving room for the Fed to respond by shrinking its balance sheet and getting back to a more normal monetary policy.

In the meantime, this will be the last year in a long while, where we see inflation below the Fed’s 2% target. Look for both higher inflation and interest rates in the years ahead.

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How much annual retirement income will you have?

Most people believe that their home is their most expensive thing they’ll ever pay for.  They’re wrong.  The most expensive thing people ever pay for is retirement. And they’ll pay for it after they quit working.

That’s why it’s important to have a clear idea of what you’re getting into before you decide to tell your employer that you’re leaving.

The typical retiree’s sources of income include Social Security.  They may have a pension, although fewer companies are offering them.  If there is a gap between those sources of income and their spending plans, the difference is made up by using their retirement savings.

Running out of money is the single biggest concern of retirees.  The big question is how long we will live and the amount we can draw from our savings before they are depleted.

For simplicity, let’s assume: You’re ready to retire today and plan to have your retirement savings last 25 years. You’ve moved your savings into investments that you believe are appropriate for your retirement portfolio. The investments will provide a constant 6% annual return. You’ll withdraw the same amount at the end of each year.

If you saved this amount Here’s how much you could withdraw annually for 25 years
$100,000  $7,823
$200,000 $14,645
$300,000 $23,468
$400,000 $31,291
$500,000 $39,113
$600,000 $46,936
$700,000 $54,759
$800,000 $62,581
$900,000 $70,404
$1,000,000 $78,227

Keep in mind that these examples don’t include factors such as inflation and volatility that can have a big impact on your purchasing power and account value.

For example, if inflation were 4% a year, a withdrawal of $31,291 25 years from now would only be worth $11,738 in today’s dollars.

Investment losses would decrease your account’s growth potential in subsequent years. To account for these factors, you might need to save even more.

Many experts estimate that you’ll need 80% or more of your final annual salary each year in retirement. Social Security may only provide around 40% of what you need. And don’t forget that retirees typically have different types of expenses compared to people still in the workforce, such as increased health care and travel costs.

This is why planning is so important.  A financial plan will provide you with answers to many of these questions.  Retirees also need to reduce the chances that their portfolio will experience major losses due to market volatility or taking too much risk.  This is where a Registered Investment Advisor who is also a Certified Financial Planner (CFP®) can help.  At Korving & Company we prepare retirement plans and, once you approve of your plan, we will manage your retirement assets to give you peace of mind.

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You Could be Making the Biggest Mistake of Your Life

There are a few things in life you can do that you can’t undo.  You can’t turn back the clock.  Once you jump out of a plane at 15,000 feet, you’re committed to your parachute.  Retirement is another one of those things that is almost impossible to undo.  It’s literally a life-changing event.  So why do so many retire without a plan?

People retiring in their mid-60s will likely spend 20, 30, or more years as a retiree.  Before they make the plunge – “jump out of the plane” – they had better know that they have a parachute that works.

The Baby Boom generation is retiring at the rate of thousands a day and most haven’t planned adequately.  Over the coming decades there will be a lot of changes in their lives.  They will have to spend their time differently.  The cost of living will go up and they may face medical expenses as they grow older.  Their income may not match their expenses and they will need to figure out how to bridge the gap or where to cut back.

A good plan, prepared before you hand in your retirement notice, can take most of these issues into consideration.  If you don’t plan, you could be making the biggest mistake of your life.

Contact us.

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