Tag Archives: economics

Why Public Investment Really Is a Free Lunch

US economyMy Comments: The author of this article, which appeared in the Financial Times, is no stranger to economists, investors, and politicians.

My first reaction, however, was that it tends to endorse Keynesian economics, from a source that up to now has argued that the way to achieve economic recovery and more jobs, is for there to be much less government, lower taxes, strict austerity. This is strongly echoed by our national politics with the Tea Party on one side and the Democrats on the other.

Europe has to a great extent followed the Austrian model, the antithesis of the Keynesian model. Today, there is strong evidence Europe is experiencing signs of recession once again, while our approach is steadily moving toward recovery and growth. What follows is an argument that it is within our ability to further boost our recovery and by extension, our standard of living.

By Lawrence Summers / October 6, 2014

The IMF finds that a dollar of spending increases output by nearly $3

It has been joked that the letters IMF stand for “it’s mostly fiscal”. The International Monetary Fund has long been a stalwart advocate of austerity as the route out of financial crisis, and every year it chastises dozens of countries for their fiscal indiscipline. Fiscal consolidation – a euphemism for cuts to government spending – is a staple of the fund’s rescue programmes. A year ago the IMF was suggesting that the US had a fiscal gap of as much as 10 per cent of gross domestic product.

All of this makes the IMF’s recently published World Economic Outlook a remarkable and important document. In its flagship publication, the IMF advocates substantially increased public infrastructure investment, and not just in the US but much of the world. It asserts that when unemployment is high, as it is in much of the industrialised world, the stimulative impact will be greater if investment is paid for by borrowing, rather than cutting other spending or raising taxes.

Most notably, the IMF asserts that properly designed infrastructure investment will reduce rather than increase government debt burdens. Public infrastructure investments can pay for themselves.

Why does the IMF reach these conclusions? Consider a hypothetical investment in a new highway financed entirely with debt. Assume – counterfactually and conservatively – that the process of building the highway provides no stimulative benefit. Further assume that the investment earns only a 6 per cent real return, also a very conservative assumption given widely accepted estimates of the benefits of public investment. Then, annual tax collections adjusted for inflation would increase by 1.5 per cent of the amount invested, since the government claims about 25 cents out of every additional dollar of income. Real interest costs, that is interest costs less inflation, are below 1 per cent in the US and much of the industrialised world over horizons of up to 30 years. So infrastructure investment actually makes it possible to reduce burdens on future generations.

In fact, this calculation understates the positive budgetary impact of well-designed infrastructure investment, as the IMF recognised. It neglects the tax revenue that comes from the stimulative benefit of putting people to work constructing infrastructure, as well as the possible long-run benefits that come from combating recession. It neglects the reality that deferring infrastructure renewal places a burden on future generations just as surely as does government borrowing.

It ignores the fact that by increasing the economy’s capacity, infrastructure investment increases the ability to handle any given level of debt. Critically, it takes no account of the fact that in many cases government can catalyse a dollar of infrastructure investment at a cost of much less than a dollar by providing a tranche of equity financing, a tax subsidy or a loan guarantee.

When it takes these factors into account, the IMF finds that a dollar of investment increases output by nearly $3. The budgetary arithmetic associated with infrastructure investment is especially attractive at a time when there are enough unused resources that greater infrastructure investment need not come at the expense of other spending. If we are entering a period of secular stagnation, unemployed resources could be available in much of the industrial world for quite some time.

While the case for investment applies almost everywhere – possibly excepting China, where infrastructure investment has been used a stimulus tool for some time – the appropriate strategy for doing more differs around the world.

The US needs long-term budgeting for infrastructure that recognises benefits as well as costs. Projects should be approved with reasonable speed. The government can contribute by supporting private investments in areas such as telecommunications and energy.

Europe needs mechanisms for carrying out self-financing infrastructure projects outside existing budget caps. This may be possible through the expansion of the European Investment Bank or more use of capital budget concepts in implementing fiscal reviews.

Emerging markets need to make sure that projects are chosen in a reasonable way based on economic benefit.

What is crucial everywhere is the recognition that in a time of economic shortfall and inadequate public investment, there is for once a free lunch – a way for governments to strengthen both the economy and their own financial positions. The IMF, a bastion of “tough love” austerity, has come to this important realisation. Countries with the wisdom to follow its lead will benefit.

The writer is Charles W Eliot university professor at Harvard and a former US Treasury secretary

Social Security Cost-of-living Adjustments Projected to Increase Slightly in 2015

Social Security cardMy Comments: Those of us old enough to be taking SSA benefits have experienced minimal increases in the last few years. That’s because the ‘official’ numbers for inflation have been low. There is an argument they should be even lower as a way to keep the so-called SSA reserves from going to empty. In my opinion, that would be a stupid way to correct the problem.

Most of us who are interested in this issue know there are much less painful remedies available. With the SSA system now in place for over 80 years, much of the US economy has adjusted with large segments of the population relying on it as we age. To disrupt that could have dramatic consequences.

If you are near 62 or beyond and have not yet signed up for benefits, get in touch with me for a comprehensive analysis of how and when to put yourself on the receiving end of a monthly check. You’ll be surprised how big a mistake it can be if you do it wrong.

By Mary Beth Franklin / Oct 1, 2014

Social Security benefits are likely to increase by 1.7% in 2015, slightly more than this year’s 1.5% increase but still well below average increases over the past few decades, according to an unofficial projection by the Senior Citizens League.

The Social Security Administration will issue an official announcement about the 2015 cost-of-living adjustments for both benefits and taxable wages later this month.

Based on the latest consumer price index data through August, the advocacy group’s projection of a 1.7% increase in Social Security benefits for 2015 “would make the sixth consecutive year of record-low COLAs,” Ed Cates, chairman of the Senior Citizens League, said in a written statement. “That’s unprecedented since the COLA first became automatic in 1975.”

Inflation over the past five years has been growing so slowly that the annual increase has averaged only 1.4 % per year since 2010, less than half of the 3% average during the prior decade. In 2010 and 2011, benefits didn’t increase at all, following a 5.8% hike in 2009.

Although the annual adjustment is provided to protect the buying power of Social Security payments, beneficiaries report a big disparity between the benefit increases they receive and the increase in costs. The majority of Social Security recipients said that their benefits rose by less than $19 in 2014, yet their monthly expenses rose by more than $119, according to a recent national survey by the advocacy group.

Social Security beneficiaries have lost nearly one-third of their buying power since 2000, according to a study by the organization. Low COLAs affect not only people currently receiving benefits, but also those who have turned 60 and who have not yet filed a claim. The COLA is part of the formula used to determine initial benefits and can mean a somewhat lower initial retirement benefit.

A 1.7% increase would increase average Social Security benefits by about $20 next year and boost the maximum amount of wages subject to payroll taxes by nearly $2,000 above this year’s $117,000 level.

Despite the fact that Social Security benefits are not keeping up with inflation, COLA reductions remain a key proposal under consideration in Congress to reduce Social Security deficits. A leading proposal would use the “chained” consumer price index — which grows more slowly — to calculate the annual increase.

The group warned that the “chained COLA” proposal may come under debate again soon. The Social Security Trustees recently forecast that the Social Security Disability Trust Fund is facing insolvency by 2016, and that changes to the program will have to be made to avoid a reduction in disability benefits.

The organization supports legislation that would provide a different measure of inflation by using the Consumer Price Index for the Elderly, which would likely result in higher annual increases than under the current method.

Corporate U.S. Healthiest in Decades Under Obama With Lower Debt

coins and flagMy Comments: I admit to a strong bias in favor of the Democrats and the values they deem important. As someone with a good understanding of economics and finance, this article that appeared about ten days ago itemizes several positives that have become clear during the past six years of Obama’s presidency. They are worth noting as we steer our way into the next election cycle.

October 2, 2014 / By Bloomberg News Service

Steve Wynn, founder of the Wynn Resorts Ltd. (WYNN) casino empire, once called President Barack Obama’s administration “the greatest wet blanket to business and progress and job creation in my lifetime.” Barry Sternlicht, chief executive officer of Starwood Property Trust Inc. (STWD), said Obamacare was driving down wage growth and “affecting spending and the desire to buy houses and everything else.”

They are among a chorus of corporate executives and lobbying groups that regularly assail Obama for policies that they say are stifling investment and hurting companies.

Corporate and economic statistics almost six years into his administration paint a different picture. Companies in the Standard & Poor’s 500 (SPX) Index are the healthiest in decades, with the lowest net debt to earnings ratio in at least 24 years, $3.59 trillion in cash and marketable securities, and record earnings per share. They are headed this year toward the fastest average monthly job creation since 1999, manufacturing is recovering and the U.S. has returned as an engine for global growth. The recovery, which stands in contrast to weak growth in Europe and Asia, has underpinned an almost threefold gain in the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index since March 2009.

Wynn has been part of that recovery. Since Obama first took the oath on Jan. 21, 2009, the shares of his luxury hotel company have surged fivefold while the S&P 500 Index more than doubled. Starwood Property Trust, Sternlicht’s Greenwich, Connecticut-based real estate company, has risen 36 percent since its August 2009 initial public offering, while an index of real estate investment trusts declined.

Accelerating Growth
“The U.S. is leading the way — we’re the only major economy with accelerating growth,” said Mark Zandi, chief economist in West Chester, Pennsylvania, for Moody’s Analytics Inc. and a registered Democrat who has advised both the Obama administration and Senator John McCain, a Republican. “Obama deserves some credit for that, but he probably won’t get it.”

Tom Johnson, a spokesman for Sternlicht’s closely held Starwood Capital Group who works for Abernathy MacGregor Group in New York, and Michael Weaver, spokesman for Las Vegas-based Wynn, declined to comment. Wynn gets about 70 percent of its sales outside the U.S.

With Democrats fighting to hold control of the Senate in the November elections, Obama will attempt to focus attention on the economy in a speech today at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management in Evanston, Illinois.

Parsing Credit
While Zandi lauds Obama’s $787 billion in stimulus spending and auto bailouts as “textbook” responses to the recession, one question for history is whether the Federal Reserve should instead get the credit. The Fed’s decision to drive down interest rates to zero allowed companies to refinance debt at lower costs, helping spur corporate growth, said Todd Lowenstein, a fund manager with San Francisco-based HighMark Capital Management Inc.

Barring any major disruptions, the economy is setting up for Obama to leave office on a high note, said Douglas Brinkley, a presidential historian and professor at Rice University in Houston.

“History will eventually show that Obama inherited the Great Recession and resuscitated the economy,” Brinkley said in an interview. “He’s going to be seen as much more centrist and even friendly to business.”

Profits are showing that. In the second quarter, S&P 500 companies reported adjusted earnings that exceeded $30 a share for the first time, soaring from a 16-year low of $5.55 at the end of 2008 as Obama prepared to assume office. Earnings for those companies rose about 5.1 percent in the third quarter from a year earlier, according to average estimates compiled by Bloomberg.

Corporate Earnings
In total, S&P 500 profit as measured by Ebitda — earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization — increased to $1.84 trillion for the 12 months through the end of last quarter from $1.2 trillion in 2009.

The jump in earnings has meant that companies can service their debt more easily. In the six years since Obama became president, corporate debt as measured against earnings has fallen to the lowest point since at least 1990. For companies in the S&P 500, the ratio of net debt to Ebitda is currently 1.6, down from a high of 4.9 in 2003, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

That ratio, a marker of corporate health, has also been helped by the cash that companies are piling up. Those holdings for S&P 500 companies have jumped to $3.59 trillion from $2.28 trillion four years ago, a build-up that lowers their net debt.

“When I came into office, our economy was in crisis.” Obama said in an interview aired Sept. 28 on CBS television’s “60 Minutes.” Now, in addition to a lower unemployment rate and a cut in federal deficits, “corporate balance sheets are probably the best they’ve been in the last several decades.”

General Motors
One example is General Motors Co. (GM), which last week regained its investment-grade debt rating from Standard & Poor’s only five years after the government-backed bankruptcy. S&P cited GM’s $28 billion of cash and “meaningful” cash generation even with the extra cost of recalls this year. Detroit-based GM is predicted to post its 16th straight profitable quarter since emerging from bankruptcy in 2009.

Obama’s $49.5 billion bailout of the automaker in exchange for taxpayers owning 61 percent of the company kept it from being liquidated, an outcome that could have crippled parts suppliers and economies throughout most of 50 states, not just the Midwest.

To be sure, not all companies have been able to improve their balance sheets. The riskiest firms are adding debt, according to a Sept. 24 report by Goldman Sachs Group Inc. Net debt for speculative-grade companies, which are rated below BBB-at S&P, climbed to 2.77 times operating income before depreciation last quarter, up from 2.65 times a year earlier.

Economic Conditions

In the broader economy, consumers are buying again and homebuilding is increasing. The unemployment rate has declined to 6.1 percent, the lowest since 2008. The economy expanded at a 4.6 percent annualized rate in April through June, after a 2.1 percent contraction in the first quarter marred by poor winter weather conditions. The last time the economy was growing so fast was in the first quarter of 2006.

Meanwhile, the economies of Europe and Japan are sluggish. The recovery for the euro area — including the countries France and Italy — stalled, with gross domestic product unchanged from the first quarter to the second, according to Eurostat, the European Union’s statistics office in Luxembourg. Japan contracted by the most in more than five years, with GDP shrinking an annualized 7.1 percent, data from the government Cabinet Office in Tokyo show.

Obama may also leave his eight-year presidency with the resurgence of the U.S. as an oil producer and the reversal of a decade-long manufacturing decline, helping buff his legacy, according to historian Brinkley.

Energy Impetus
The U.S. Energy Information Administration projects oil production will jump to 9.53 million barrels of oil per day next year, a 45-year high and a 28 percent increase over 2013, as a combination of horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing has unlocked resources trapped in shale formations from the Bakken in North Dakota to the Eagle Ford in Texas.

Critics say it’s unfair to credit Obama with the oil boom. The private sector drove the expansion over hurdles erected by his administration, such as delaying the Keystone XL oil pipeline from Canadian crude to the U.S. Gulf Coast, retaining limits on crude exports and imposing stiffer regulations on offshore drilling, said Joseph LaVorgna, chief U.S. economist at Deutsche Bank Securities Inc. in New York.

Still, the drilling is translating into cheap and abundant energy in the U.S. that will spur manufacturing, said Keith Nosbusch, CEO of Rockwell Automation (ROK) Inc., a Milwaukee-based company that sells factory software to companies including Nestle SA and Ford Motor Co.

Manufacturing Growth
Manufacturing jobs rose to 12.16 million in August from a low of 11.45 million in 2010. “The U.S. is in the middle of an accelerated growth in manufacturing,” said Nosbusch, whose company’s cash and marketable securities have more than doubled to $1.75 billion in about three years and are now larger than its total debt.

The rebounding economy and record profits haven’t been enough to win over some business leaders still upset by overhauls of the health-care and financial systems — the source of much vitriol toward Obama over the years. John Mackey, the co-chief executive officer of Whole Foods Markets Inc. (WFM) who has described himself as a free-market libertarian, referred to Obamacare as socialism in 2009 — and in 2013 likened it to “more like fascism.”

Mackey promptly wrote a blog post in which he said he regretted using the word fascism, said Kate Lowery, a spokeswoman for Austin, Texas-based Whole Foods.

Medicare Costs
Rising corporate profits are due mainly to cost cutting that came amid added expenses from new health-care, environmental and banking regulations, said Martin Regalia, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s chief economist and senior vice president for economic and tax policy.

After doubling in the past two decades, medical expenses rose 2 percent last year, the least in 65 years, helped by Medicare reimbursement cuts, according to data compiled by the U.S. Labor Department. Obama’s 2010 health-care program will hold down consumer prices for years to come as millions of Americans obtain coverage, BNP Paribas SA and Credit Suisse Group AG said.

The “Medicare cost miracle” resulted at least in part from Obama’s Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, Nobel-Prize winning economist Paul Krugman wrote in a Sept. 1 New York times article.

While large cash holdings often are viewed as a sign of financial health, they reflect companies’ lack of confidence to invest, said Michael Englund, chief economist at Action Economics LLC in Boulder, Colorado.

“We’re not making the risky investments needed to achieve a higher level of growth,” he said. “So to a certain degree the rebuilding of corporate balance sheets has come at the expense of growth.”

Fed Policies
Companies have also refinanced debt at lower cost thanks to the Fed, not Obama, said HighMark Capital’s Lowenstein. Corporate bond issues in the U.S. this year have exceeded $1.2 trillion, topping 2013’s record pace, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. The central bank has kept its target for the overnight interbank interest rate at zero to 0.25 percent since December 2008.

“That’s been a huge benefit to their margin structure in terms of lowering the cost of debt,” Lowenstein said. “It’s been one of the pillars of peak profits.”

Ending his tenure with a strengthened economy would put Obama more in line with Republican Ronald Reagan and Democrat Bill Clinton than other recent predecessors. Jimmy Carter was shackled with stagflation while a slump marred George H.W. Bush’s bid for a second term. George W. Bush’s presidency, scarred by the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, ended with the deepest recession in six decades and a global financial crisis.

Presidential Legacy
John Carey, a Boston-based fund manager with Pioneer Investment Management Inc. and a Republican, gives Obama a B+ grade on the economy and business environment. Growth is steady, financial markets are robust and deficit spending has come down, he said.

“I don’t think they’ve done a terrible job,” said Carey, whose firm oversees $230 billion. “My main issue with President Obama is that he just doesn’t seem to be enough of a booster — an enthusiastic advocate of America and our economy.”

Such comments reflect how some business executives are likely to see the gains as being in spite of Obama instead of spurred by the president, Moody’s Zandi said.

“The perceptions have been solidified in that regard,” Zandi said. “It’s going to be pretty hard for him to shake that.”

Why Income Inequality Is a Drag On Economies

money mazeMy Comments: I’ve written before that it’s my belief that at some point, if income inequality between the haves and the have nots gets too large, social chaos will follow. The spread or relative level of spendable income between these two groups is continuing to widen. So it becomes just a matter of time until national leadership makes an effort to reverse the trend, or we as a people will make it happen. And it probably won’t be pretty.

Now I find there is a current economic cost for this inequality. Which means that to some extent a cost is being paid today by all of us, you and I and our families. It’s not somewhere down the road, it’s NOW. If this concerns you, you should make your concerns known.

By Martin Wolf / September 30, 2014

Big divides in wealth and power have hollowed out republics before and could do so again

The US – both the most important high-income economy and in many respects, the most unequal – is providing a test bed for the economic impact of inequality. The results are worrying.

This realisation has now spread to institutions that would not normally be accused of socialism. A report written by the chief US economist of Standard & Poor’s, and another from Morgan Stanley, agree that inequality is not only rising but having damaging effects on the US economy.

According to the Federal Reserve, the upper 3 per cent of the income distribution received 30.5 per cent of total incomes in 2013. The next 7 per cent received just 16.8 per cent. This left barely over half of total incomes to the remaining 90 per cent. The upper 3 per cent was also the only group to have enjoyed a rising share in incomes since the early 1990s. Since 2010, median family incomes fell, while the mean rose. Inequality keeps rising. The Morgan Stanley study lists among causes of the rise in inequality: the growing proportion of poorly paid and insecure low-skilled jobs; the rising wage premium for educated people; and the fact that tax and spending policies are less redistributive than they used to be a few decades ago.

Thus, in 2012, says the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, the US ranked highest among the high-income countries in the share of relatively low-paying jobs. Moreover, the bottom quintile of the income distribution received only 36 per cent of federal transfer payments in 2010, down from 54 per cent in 1979.

Regressive payroll taxes, which cost the poor proportionally more than the rich, are projected to raise 32 per cent of federal revenue in fiscal year 2015, against 46 per cent for federal income tax, the burden of which falls more on higher earners.

Also important are huge increases in the relative pay of executives, together with the shift in incomes from labour to capital. The Federal Reserve’s policies have also benefited the relatively well off; it is trying to raise the prices of assets which are overwhelmingly owned by the rich. These reports bring out two economic consequences of rising inequality: weak demand and lagging progress in raising educational levels.

The argument on demand is that, up to the time of the crisis, many of those who were not enjoying rising real incomes borrowed instead. Rising house prices made this possible. By late 2007, debt peaked at 135 per cent of disposable incomes.

Then came the crash. Left with huge debts and unable to borrow more, people on low incomes have been forced to spend less. Withdrawal of mortgage equity, financed by borrowing, has collapsed. The result has been an exceptionally weak recovery of consumption.

It makes no sense to lend recklessly to those who cannot afford it. Yet this suggests that the economy will not become buoyant again without a redistribution of income towards spenders or the emergence of another source of demand. Unfortunately, it is not at all clear what the latter might be. Government spending is constrained. Business investment is curbed by weak prospective growth of demand. It is also unlikely to be net exports: everybody else wants export-led growth, too.

American education has also deteriorated. It is the only high-income country whose 25-34 year olds are no better educated than its 55-64 year olds. This is partly because other countries have caught up on the US, which pioneered mass college education. It is also because children from poor backgrounds are handicapped in completing college.

The S&P report notes that for the poorest households college graduation rates increased by only about 4 percentage points between the generation born in the early 1960s and that born in the early 1980s. The graduation rate for the wealthiest households increased by almost 20 percentage points over the same period. Yet, without a college degree, the chances of upward mobility are now quite limited. As a result, children of prosperous families are likely to stay well-off and children of poor families likely to remain poor.

This is not just a problem for those whose talents are not fulfilled. The failure to raise educational standards is also likely to impair the economy’s longer-term success. Some of the returns to education may just be the reward to obtaining a positional good: the educated do better because they have won a zero-sum race. Yet a better educated population would also raise everybody to a higher level of prosperity.

The costs to society of rising inequality go further. To my mind, the greatest costs are the erosion of the republican ideal of shared citizenship.

As the US Supreme Court seeks to bend the constitution to the will of plutocrats, the peril is to the politically egalitarian premises of the republic. Enormous divergences in wealth and power have hollowed out republics before now. They could well do so in our age.

Yet even for those who do not share such concerns, the economic costs should matter. The “secular stagnation” in demand, to which Lawrence Summers, the former US Treasury secretary, has referred, is related to shifts in the distribution of income.

Equally, the transmission of educational disadvantages across the generations is also a growing handicap to the economy. A debt-addicted economy with stagnant levels of education is likely to fare ill in future.

What Should We Expect From Our Stock Investments?

investment-tipsMy Comments: Lots of questions about the markets these days. I came across this short summary and thought it relevant. I didn’t understand the chart until after I finished reading, so be warned. I’m in a very cautious mode and have my clients positioned to avoid large losses and perhaps make money as things go down.

The intent here is to give you an idea about the future, one that includes a major correction. If you are willing to accept some serious pain in the short term, the current number from which to make a judgement is 26.3. Find that on the chart and you have an idea what the future holds in the medium turn, that is if you think 5 -10 years is medium. ( I once knew someone who traded currencies, and for him, a medium term hold was 48 hours! )

Brad McMillan , Oct. 2, 2014

With the market recently bouncing off all-time highs, it seems like a good time to consider what the future holds.

Are we poised for more of a run-up over the next several years, or is the market likely to disappoint in its returns?

The answer very probably depends on the timeframe we look at. Over one year, it’s anybody’s guess. Over three to five years, we can probably make a reasonable estimation. And over ten years, we likely have a pretty good idea. Let’s take a look at what history tells us about returns going forward.

Selecting a valuation indicator
How do we characterize today’s market environment in relation to past market environments? There are several ways to measure the market, but the best revolve around valuation. How we measure valuation can make a significant difference in the results we get. A good indicator of market value should have a meaningful relationship with future returns. If not, what’s the point?

Looking at the correlation between different valuation measures and future returns, a couple of things stand out:
• Forward price-earnings ratios have a relatively poor correlation with future returns.
• Trailing price-earnings ratios have a fairly strong relationship with future returns. This makes sense, as the trailing P/E ratio reflects actual rather than expected performance.

The valuation indicator that has the best correlation with future returns, however, is the Shiller price-earnings ratio. It’s my preferred metric for several reasons, and the actual numbers bear it out. If you’re looking to estimate returns over 5 to 10 years, the Shiller P/E is the best indicator to use.

So, what does the Shiller P/E tell us about future returns? Here’s what we can expect returns to be going forward, using the Shiller P/E as an indicator.
Shiller PE
This chart comes from an older study I did, but the numbers are still reasonably accurate. The main point is that the more expensive the market is, the lower future returns are likely to be.

With the current level at 26.3, per Shiller’s website, we can see that over the next five years, based on history, the average return may be in the 5 percent range, while the likely 10-year return may be in the 7.5 percent range.

Not too shabby, actually. As a basis for planning, this analysis constrains what we might hope for, but it doesn’t look all that bad, either.

There are other factors to consider, of course. Averages can conceal a multitude of sins, so tomorrow we’ll look at the data in more detail to see what else we can divine about future stock returns.

“Are We There Yet?”

108679-bruegel-wedding-dance-outsideAs a parent, I remember this question well from days past. This time, however, it’s being asked by those of us with money invested in the global stock and bond markets.

All of us are following a life path that includes stops along the way. Some stops we choose to make and others are forced on us. Some of them are in good places and others not so good places. These comments talk about a bad one on the horizon and how your life might be better if you don’t have to stop.

Sometime soon, most likely in the next three 3 years, many of us will hit a road block. With that in mind, what follows is designed to help the reader gain a better understanding about how to have money positioned before that happens. This is particularly important if you are soon to be, or are already, retired.

In retirement, your investment focus will shift away from the accumulation of money and focus instead on the distribution of money. That’s not to say your money will no longer accumulate, but the emphasis will change. This is because instead of you working FOR money, money now has to work for YOU.

None of us individually has any control over the markets. What we do have is control over where and how our money is working for us. For almost everyone, the rules that define successful accumulation are different from the rules that define successful distribution.

Two primary drivers that define success in either phase are the stock market and the bond market, which is driven by interest rates. Knowing more about why this is relevant is in your best interest. You will also find it’s in your best interest to avoid the coming road block if you can.

Let’s first look at interest rates. Following this paragraph is a chart that shows the general level of interest rates in the U.S. over the past 222 years. In that entire time, you see four high points in green and low points in orange. The time span from high points to low points has been 27 years, 37 years and 26 years. The last high point was in 1981, 34 years ago. What this suggests to me is that with current interest rates near zero, an upturn in rates is going to happen. How soon is up for debate, but inevitable.
200+year interest ratesWhen interest rates rise, the effect on bond values is negative. No one is going to pay you as much for a bond that yields 4%, if with the same money they can buy a bond that yields 5%. This is a fundamental law of finance. Before the shift happens, you should be out of bonds and into cash or into tactical approaches that help you avoid losses.

Let’s now look at the stock market. Instead of individual stocks, I’m going to focus on the S&P500 Index, widely regarded as representing the entire US stock market. It includes the 500 largest capitalized companies in the US, many of whom sell globally, so their performance to some degree reflects what is happening across the planet.

The next chart reflects the closing price of the S&P500 on every given trading day over the past 40 years. These years largely reflect how the dollars you had invested in the stock market performed as it accumulated. Your goal at the time was to grow your pile of money as large as reasonably possible.

Retirement was down the road, and if a road block happened, it didn’t matter so much. What you heard everywhere was “buy and hold” or “hang in there”. But now the rules are different and the big question you must ask is “When Will The Next Downturn Happen?”. Or perhaps “Are We There Yet?”.

1974-2013 SP500From 1975 -1982, the rise was imperceptible. Then it started upward and in spite of what happened in 1987, it was a lot of fun. Then came the internet bubble that burst in early 2000 and we all experienced the pain associated with large declines in our account values.

Next came the mortgage bubble that burst in 2008-2009. Again there was a lot of pain and some of us are still recovering from that episode. For the past 3 years we’ve been watching what appears to be an inexorable climb up above previous historic highs.

I try to avoid promoting a sense of fear. However, there seems to be an inevitability about the fact that sometime, most likely in the next few years, there is going to be another bubble. Again there will be widespread pain and fear and gloom across the country, if not the entire planet. Perhaps a better question to ask is “Are You Ready For It?” Or maybe “When it Happens, Will You Be Able to Sleep At Night?”

My point is to cause you to evaluate or re-evaluate what you are doing now and consider options that will eliminate some of the pain that is sure to come, and to consider options that might even cause your accounts to grow.

While all of this is speculative, it is based on historical experience. And unless you plan to be dead in a few months, how all this plays out could dramatically influence your peace of mind and financial freedom in the years to come. Not to mention the financial freedom of those you leave behind.

All of us have different pain thresholds. The more money we have compared to our accepted standard of living, the less likely the pain. What you choose to do with your life in retirement, however, is up to you.

If you take appropriate steps to protect yourself, then chances of a succesful retirement from a financial perspective are better. Living a life free from fear about your financial future is possible.

It’s up to you what you do. But I encourage you to believe acting sooner rather than later will be in your best interest.

(The charts were found at finance.yahoo.com)

by Tony Kendzior, CLU, ChFC / October 1, 2014





Exactly Where We Are In This Cycle

retirementMy Comments: This is a major question for investors. Whether you are accumulating money for the future or are already retired and focused on making sure you have enough money to last, knowing what is likely to happen in the near future leads to peace of mind and financial freedom.

This is one opinion. Watch for another opinion in the next few days called “Are We There Yet?”.

Steve Sjuggerud, / Sep. 9, 2014

I was on stage at The California Club in Los Angeles… being put on the spot. And I didn’t have a good answer… It was a private meeting, so it was a small crowd of less than 50 people. At the end of my speech, I answered a few questions.

I like to give good answers when I can. But this time, I didn’t have a good answer. I fumbled around, sharing some facts. But I knew I could give a more accurate answer once I had run some numbers. I promised that I would respond more accurately in DailyWealth. So here goes…

“Steve, you did some great work on cycles years ago,” an attendee said. “So exactly where are we in this cycle, based on the last 100 years?”

He was asking for the BIG picture. I like that. Most people focus on today, and forget about the big picture. I could answer this question in a variety of ways. But the chart below is the simplest way to answer it…

The big idea is, the stock market goes in big cycles, from being loved to being hated. For example:
• Stocks were loved in the decade of the “Roaring Twenties.” Then they crashed in the Great Depression, and then World War II came along.
• Stocks were loved in the 1990s, then spent much of the 2000s going nowhere, delivering no return at all, really (when you adjust for inflation).

The question is ultimately getting at this: After soaring since 2009, are stocks overly loved right now? For your answer, take a look at this chart. It shows the 10-year annualized return on stocks (after inflation).

You can see the peaks were around the Roaring Twenties, and the dot-com boom. You can see the busts around the Great Depression and the inflationary 1970s. The important thing to look at is where we are today…

Take a look:
So, where are we in this cycle? Are stocks overly loved, like they were in 1929 or 1999? Or are they overly hated, like they were in the Great Depression or the 1970s?

Based on this simple chart, we are somewhere in the middle… Stocks aren’t overly hated, or overly loved. Based on history, we are somewhere in the middle of this cycle.

I will admit, this is not the most statistically robust way to look at things… After all, there are only three of these major cycles to look at over the past 100 years. How can we say for sure that stocks will peak in the same place they peaked the last three times? We can’t.

This is simply a rough look at history. I believe it’s about right, though…

I think we’re not at the bottom, and we’re not at the top either.

I think we have a couple more innings left in this great bull market. And based on history, the last inning often delivers some of the biggest gains.

So, in short, yes, stocks have moved up a lot since 2009. But based on the last three cycles over the past 100 years, there’s still plenty of room to run…

Good investing.