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Why Interest Rates Are Lower Than Ever

Piggy Bank 1My Comments: Please keep reading…

Paul J. Lim,  July 6, 2016

If you think the financial panic over Brexit is over — because stocks have bounced back somewhat from their initial sell off — think again.

As scared investors continue to seek shelter in boring government bonds, fixed income prices have soared while yields on 10-year Treasury securities plummeted to as low as 1.34%, marking the lowest levels ever seen in U.S. history.

In early morning trading Wednesday, yields bounced slightly to 1.37%. But that’s a far cry from the 5% yields on 10-year Treasuries before the global financial crisis.

Overseas, the situation has gotten even worse: 10-year German and Japanese bonds have sunk further into negative yield territory, which means investors are so concerned about the economy that they’re willing to pay officials for the right to park their money with the government.
Aren’t record low rates a good thing?

Normally, investors crave low interest rates because cheap borrowing costs encourage spending and capital investments, which fuel economic activity and growth. Low rates also offer relief for debt-laden governments and consumers, who can now refinance existing loans at better terms.
But ultra-low interest rates can also be a sign that investors are so worried about stagnation or recession that their primary focus is on the safe return of their capital—that is, making sure they can simply get it back—not earning big returns on their capital.

The uncertainty caused by Britain’s unprecedented move to leave the European Union has fueled fear over what’s to come for the global economy. And in times of fear, investors generally flock to bonds, which drives up their prices and drives down their yields. (Market interest rates move in the opposite direction of bond prices.)

Less than two weeks after the vote, economists have already been ratcheting down their expectations for growth overseas. IHS Global Insight, for instance, now believes the gross domestic product among countries in the Eurozone will grow just 1.4% this year and 0.9% next year. Before Brexit, the economic research firm had been forecasting Euroepean economic growth of 1.7% this year and 1.8% in 2017.

How scared should you be?

It’s far too soon to tell if the U.S. is also headed for negative rates. But one thing is clear: The so-called “yield curve” is flattening out. And that normally spells trouble for the economy.

The yield curve refers to the spectrum of rates paid by Treasuries of various maturities. Normally, longer-dated Treasuries — such as 10- or 30-year bonds that require investors to tie up their money for extended periods of time — pay substantially more than short-term debt, which poses less risk.

Yet when fear over the economy bubbles over, investors tend to flock into long-term bonds, driving down long-term yields. And when that happens, the gap between what short- and long-term bonds are paying decreases and the yield curve “flattens.”

Ed Yardeni, president and chief investment officer at Yardeni Research, points out that the spread between yields on 10-year and two-year Treasuries is the flattest it has been since November 14, 2007. Indeed, the spread between 10-year and two-year yields is down to just 0.8 percentage points. A year earlier, it was roughly double that.

Why is this important? Because Nov. 14, 2007 was just two weeks before the start of the 2007-2009 recession that coincided with the global financial crisis.

If the yield curve actually inverts — meaning 10-year Treasuries start paying less than two-year Treasuries — it’s virtually certain that the economy is in or headed for recession.

If the economy is so scary, why are stocks doing reasonably well?

That’s a good question. IHS Global Insight economist Patrick Newport points out that “the seemingly contradictory demand for stocks given the rally in bonds is likely driven by the perception that the Federal Reserve will further delay raising rates in the wake of the Brexit vote, making stocks more attractive in terms of returns.”

Income-oriented investors, who’ve been frustrated by the paltry yields being paid by bonds, may also be driving this trend.

Back in the early 1980s 10-year Treasuries were yielding 10 percentage points more than the dividend yield on blue chip U.S. stocks, notes Jack Ablin, chief investment officer at BMO Private Bank. “Nowadays that gap has disappeared and then some,” he said. Indeed, today, the dividend yield on the S&P 500—what you get for holding the stocks above and beyond stock price appreciation—is more than half a percentage point higher than what 10-year Treasuries are paying.

This trend could persist and stocks could keep rising for months on the strength of income investors. The problem is, if the bond market is right and the economy is this weak, eventually the stock market will get the message too.

My delayed comment: there is a sizeable number of people in this country who are convinced we are in the ‘end of days’ scenario which I think is patently stupid. But constant talk about this assumed chaos can be a self-fulfilling prophecy when leadership elements keep pushing and pushing. But it makes no sense economically.

How Much Will Your Health Expenses Be In Retirement?

Cost-of-careMy Comments: Having access to medical care is a big deal. Having access to medical care that you can afford is a big deal. And it becomes a bigger deal when you are no longer employed and attempting to live the rest of your life with some degree of financial freedom.

By Glenn Ruffenach July 15, 2016

Question: My wife and I are trying to set up a budget for retirement, and we’re wrestling, in particular, with health-care expenses. How can we estimate what our medical bills will look like in the future?

An important — and vexing — question. For instance, a healthy person will have fewer and/or smaller medical bills in later life, right? Well…maybe not. As a recent study, “An Apple a Day: The Impact of Health Conditions on the Required Savings” noted, “Excellent health, ironically, can actually raise an individual’s lifetime health spending needs because of the likelihood that healthy 65-year-olds will live much longer.”

A good starting point (and a study worth reading in full) is the “2015 Retirement Health Care Costs Data Report” from HealthView Services Inc., a provider of health-care planning tools in Danvers, Mass. According to HealthView, a healthy 65-year-old couple can expect to pay, on average, $266,589 for insurance premiums and $128,365 for related expenses (dental, vision, copays and out-of-pocket bills) over their lifetime.

Another good resource—one with an emphasis on prescription-drug costs—is “Amount of Savings Needed for Health Expenses for People Eligible for Medicare” from the Employee Benefit Research Institute in Washington. The study estimates that a couple, where both spouses have median drug expenses, would need $259,000 to have a 90% chance of having enough money to cover health-care bills in retirement.

Note: Neither report accounts for possible long-term-care expenses. For that piece of the puzzle, check out Genworth Financial’s GNW, +2.72% 2016 “Cost of Care Survey.”

I am due to begin required withdrawals from my retirement savings. What are the advantages and disadvantages of an annual lump-sum withdrawal as opposed to a monthly payout?

In most cases, a required minimum distribution, or RMD, in the form of a single annual payout causes fewer problems — if you have a good amount of self-discipline.

Yes, monthly withdrawals act like a regular paycheck. But, to take a worst-case scenario, if you die midyear, your family must withdraw the remaining RMD, says Carolyn McClanahan, founder of Life Planning Partners Inc. in Jacksonville, Fla. Figuring out how much has already been withdrawn and how much remains to be withdrawn can (at times) be a hassle.

With a single lump sum, you can deposit the funds in a savings account and then arrange for monthly transfers to your checking account, creating (in effect) a regular paycheck. And if you wait until November or December to take an RMD — when you have a clear picture of all your income for that year — you can calculate your tax withholding on the withdrawal more accurately.

The one cautionary note about a single annual withdrawal: willpower, or the lack thereof. “Some people spend it all at once if they take it as a lump sum,” McClanahan says.

I have a question about paying my grandchildren’s tuition. I understand that if I pay the institution directly there is no tax consequence for my grandchild or me. Does this apply only to tuition or does it include room and board?

The answer: just tuition. But you have some flexibility here.

To start, the “tax consequence,” in this case, is the federal gift tax. You can give as much as $14,000 in cash or other assets to as many people as you wish each year, and those gifts won’t count against your (the giver’s) lifetime exemption. (In all, you can give away $5.45 million before gift taxes kick in.) If you exceed the $14,000 ceiling in a given year, you have to file a gift-tax return. That said, there are exceptions to these rules.

Under section 2503(e)(2) of the Tax Code, “any amount paid on behalf of an individual as tuition to an educational organization” is exempt from gift taxes. Note the wording: “tuition.” Period. There’s no mention of associated costs, like books, room and board, etc.

This shouldn’t stop you, however, from paying the grandchild’s tuition — and then either gifting him $14,000 to pay room and board, or paying room and board up to $14,000 directly, says Barry Kaplan, chief investment officer at Cambridge Wealth Counsel in Atlanta. And if both grandparents are alive, each can gift $14,000, for a total of $28,000.

My husband started taking Social Security at his full retirement age, but continued to work. He is now 75 and still working full time. Over the past 10 years, his benefit has gradually increased because of cost-of-living adjustments and his continuing contributions (via his paychecks) to Social Security. I am nearing full retirement age and am trying to figure out how much I would receive as a spousal benefit. I know that — at my full retirement age — I can qualify for half of my husband’s benefit. But do I get half of what he started receiving 10 years ago, or half of what he is receiving now, including the adjustments to his benefit?

Your spousal benefit would be based on your husband’s current payout, including the cost-of-living adjustments and any increases tied to his continued wages. To get a better idea of how much the spousal benefit will be, says Darren Lutz, a public affairs specialist with the Social Security Administration, your husband can create a “my Social Security” account at socialsecurity.gov/myaccount to see what his full benefit is, before deductions for Medicare premiums, etc. Then you can visit the agency’s retirement planner for spouses to learn more about potential benefits.

Glenn Ruffenach is a former reporter and editor for The Wall Street Journal, and co-author of “The Wall Street Journal Complete Retirement Guidebook.” Email your questions and comments to askencore@wsj.com.

11 Medicare Mistakes to Avoid

healthcare reformMy Comments: If you are 65 and older, Medicare is fantastic. Okay, it has its limitations, but coupled with what is known as a MediGap or MedSup plan, it’s fantastic.

You can argue all you want about how this country is slowly sinking into a socialist morass, but when you reach my age, health issues surface almost weekly, not annually. Being able to seek advice from medical professionals without first thinking how it might break the bank, is a huge component of financial freedom. HUGE, I say.

July 18, 2016 By Ginger Szala

First, let’s generally define the Parts of Medicare. Part A, referred to as original Medicare, focuses on hospital coverage. Part B is medical coverage. Part C (also called Medicare Advantage) is a different way of putting Parts A and B into one plan, offered by private companies. Part D is prescription drug coverage.

The rules of Medicare are complicated and laden with deadlines that are costly to miss. Via Kiplinger, here are 11 common Medicare mistakes to avoid:

1. Not reviewing your Part D Plan annually
Medicare Part D is a headache for many to keep on top of. But remember these key points:
• Open enrollment runs from Oct. 15 to Dec. 7 every year.
• During open enrollment it’s essential to review options because there might be changes to your current plan, meaning your cost and coverage would vary. Be leery of plans that increase premiums, increase your percentage of cost for drugs, or other requirements, like having to use a specific pharmacy, to be covered.
• Make sure you check if any drugs you’re on have gone generic, as you might get a nice price reduction.
• Medicare also helps you to compare plans. Check out the various links on Medicare.gov or AARP.org for more information, guidance and price comparison tools.

2. Picking the same Part D plan as your spouse
Not all Part D plans are alike, and just because a plan works for you it might not be the same for your spouse, who may be taking different prescriptions. Use the Medicare Plan Finder to determine your out-of-pocket costs on each plan. Also keep in mind that some plans require the use of specific pharmacies.

3. Going out of network on private Medicare Advantage plans
If using private Medicare Advantage plans, similar to PPOs or HMOs, you’ll need to utilize the network of doctors and hospitals within the plan to get the lowest co-payments. Be wary that if you go out of network, there may be no coverage at all.

4. Not knowing how to switch Medicare Advantage plans anytime if needed
Even outside the annual open enrollment period, it’s possible to switch plans for life-changing events, like moving to a place that isn’t in your current plan’s geographical coverage. And if you’re in the five-star plan, you can make a switch any time during the year. Also, from Jan. 1 to Feb. 15, you may be able to switch from Medicare Advantage to traditional Medicare plus Part D prescription-drug plan.

5. Not considering Medigap within 6 months
Once enrolling in Medicare Part B, you have six months to buy any Medicare supplement plan in your area even if you have pre-existing conditions (and at age 65, who doesn’t?). But after six months, insurers can reject you or charge more depending on your health. It depends on your state rules and insurer’s policies. Check at Medicare.gov for your options.

6. Not opting for Medicare when you turn 65 (most of the time)

Forever young, so who needs Medicare? Well, you’re smart to take advantage of what the government is giving you, often for free. If you are getting Social Security already when you turn 65, you’ll automatically be enrolled in Medicare Part A and Part B. But if you aren’t receiving Social Security benefits, you’ll have to act on your own to sign up. There are reasons to delay: for example, you or your spouse have a full-time job and already get health care coverage as a part of that. Be aware that if you aren’t collecting Social Security benefits, there’s a seven-month period to sign up for Medicare, which runs from three months before the month you turn 65 to three months after.

7. Not signing up for Part B if you have retiree or COBRA coverage
Again, there are many tricky steps in the Medicare signup game. Unless you or your spouse are receiving insurance through a current employer (who has 20 or more employees), Medicare is considered your main health insurance coverage. Retiree coverage, COBRA or severance benefits are NOT primary, and if you don’t sign up for Medicare, you might have gaps in coverage and be late on your Part B premium. So pay attention.

8. Missing the Part B enrollment deadline after leaving your job

It’s an alphabet jungle out there, but this one is easy: if you still have insurance through a job when you turn 65, that’s fine. You don’t need to worry about Part B premiums. But within eight months of leaving your job, you need to sign up or you might have to wait for the next enrollment period, meaning a gap in coverage. Then there is also the possibility of a 10% lifetime late-enrollment penalty.

9. Ignoring income thresholds
Most people pay the minimum of $140.90 a month for Part B premiums and $12.30 per month for Part D. This goes higher depending on your adjusted gross income. So if you are bringing in more than $85,000, that Part B premium could more than double per month, where as Part D could jump fivefold. Be mindful when you are withdrawing from tax-deferred accounts that you don’t go over the income threshold if possible.

10. Not fighting surcharge changes for the year you retire
The Social Security Administration uses your tax returns from the most recent two years to determine if you are subject to an income surcharge, that is you are making more than $85,000 a year. But you can protest it if you prove life-changing events, such as divorce, death of a spouse or retirement.

11. Not minding your HSA contributions

You can’t contribute to HSAs if you are getting Medicare, but if you or your spouse have health insurance through a job (with 20 or more employees) and haven’t applied for Medicare or Social Security benefits, you still can continue to add to your HSA. That said, be careful about contributions in the year you leave your job and sign up for Medicare, as your HSA must be prorated by number of months on Medicare.

The Only Way To Save the EU Is For The UK To Leave It

Brexit-4My Comments: Forget the UK and Europe. There’s a message here that applies to us in the United States and the anger among so many that gives rise to a choice between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton.

It echoes the comments I’ve made here for years that “It’s economics, stupid!”. A primary driver of deteriorating race relations, of attacks on immigrants, on law enforcement, on the LGBT community, on gun owners, etc., is the fear that many of us are no longer in control of our own destiny. There is a pervasive appeal to try and turn back the clock, to reinvent the past and the conditions that led to a growing middle class in this country.

To the extent that those at the lower end of the economic spectrum, whether white, black or brown, cannot find a way to improve their quality of life, there is going to be stress. And that stress manifests itself as protests in the streets that appear to be focused on racial issues, on law enforcement issues, on immigrants who ‘take away our jobs’, and any number of other real and imagined grievances.

When you’re working 40 plus hours a week and making enough money to adequately feed, clothe and house your family, those grievances become irrelevant. Or at least manageable. They only surface and become a societal nightmare when enough people feel abandoned and disrespected and forgotten. And economics is a fundamental cause behind this drift toward chaos.

I’m not sure Hillary can fix this and I’m quite sure Trump can’t fix this. But I’m going to vote for whomever I think is most likely to force a discussion about the economic realities in this country. This is a long read but if you believe that income inequality is a problem, you need to read all of it.

by Gwynn Guilford on July 15, 2016

Xenophobic. Racist. Jingoistic. Nativist. Parochial. The 52% of British voters who hit the EU eject button might be all of those things. But they were also backing the right horse.

The vote repudiates a vision of Europe that rewards companies at workers’ expense. It’s a rebuke of a government that invests authority in a professional elite insulated from the economic realities of ordinary Europeans. The free flow of goods, services, capital, and people within the EU was supposed to spread prosperity. It hasn’t. Eventually, something big had to break.

While Brexit is certainly big, the fissure beneath it is bigger than Britain, or even Europe. The imbalances of trade, capital, labor, and—above all—savings that lie at the heart of Europe’s current turmoil warp the entire global financial system. Nearly everywhere you look, growth is sputtering because there’s simply too little demand—and far too much debt—to go around. And that’s thanks in no small part to the EU’s wooly-headed policies. However painful it might make the next few months or years, Brexit might ultimately be the wake-up call that prevents the EU from unleashing another global financial crisis, and condemning the world to decades of feeble growth.

To understand why things have gotten to this point, we have to examine the fundamental flaws in the EU’s design that are largely responsible for these distortions.

CONTINUE-READING

The Governing Cancer of Our Time

babel 2My Comments: Like most everyone else, I’m alarmed by the negativity and frantic rhetoric that is pervasive these days. I’ve tried to get used to it, but am not sure I should get used to it. I know that whatever is in the past is forever in the past and I can only observe the present and attempt to influence the future. Arguing in favor of what existed in the past is simply tilting at windmills or commanding the tides to stop their up and down movements.

Regardless of the outcome, we all have to encourage people to first register, and then to vote this coming fall. If you don’t vote, you forfeit your right to bitch and moan if the outcome is not what you wanted.

by David Brooks, FEB. 26, 2016

We live in a big, diverse society. There are essentially two ways to maintain order and get things done in such a society — politics or some form of dictatorship. Either through compromise or brute force. Our founding fathers chose politics.

Politics is an activity in which you recognize the simultaneous existence of different groups, interests and opinions. You try to find some way to balance or reconcile or compromise those interests, or at least a majority of them. You follow a set of rules, enshrined in a constitution or in custom, to help you reach these compromises in a way everybody considers legitimate.

The downside of politics is that people never really get everything they want. It’s messy, limited and no issue is ever really settled. Politics is a muddled activity in which people have to recognize restraints and settle for less than they want. Disappointment is normal.

But that’s sort of the beauty of politics, too. It involves an endless conversation in which we learn about other people and see things from their vantage point and try to balance their needs against our own. Plus, it’s better than the alternative: rule by some authoritarian tyrant who tries to govern by clobbering everyone in his way.

As Bernard Crick wrote in his book, “In Defence of Politics,” “Politics is a way of ruling divided societies without undue violence.”

Over the past generation we have seen the rise of a group of people who are against politics. These groups — best exemplified by the Tea Party but not exclusive to the right — want to elect people who have no political experience. They want “outsiders.” They delegitimize compromise and deal-making. They’re willing to trample the customs and rules that give legitimacy to legislative decision-making if it helps them gain power.

Ultimately, they don’t recognize other people. They suffer from a form of political narcissism, in which they don’t accept the legitimacy of other interests and opinions. They don’t recognize restraints. They want total victories for themselves and their doctrine.

This antipolitics tendency has had a wretched effect on our democracy. It has led to a series of overlapping downward spirals:
The antipolitics people elect legislators who have no political skills or experience. That incompetence leads to dysfunctional government, which leads to more disgust with government, which leads to a demand for even more outsiders.

The antipolitics people don’t accept that politics is a limited activity. They make soaring promises and raise ridiculous expectations. When those expectations are not met, voters grow cynical and, disgusted, turn even further in the direction of antipolitics.

The antipolitics people refuse compromise and so block the legislative process. The absence of accomplishment destroys public trust. The decline in trust makes deal-making harder.

We’re now at a point where the Senate says it won’t even hold hearings on a presidential Supreme Court nominee, in clear defiance of custom and the Constitution. We’re now at a point in which politicians live in fear if they try to compromise and legislate. We’re now at a point in which normal political conversation has broken down. People feel unheard, which makes them shout even louder, which further destroys conversation.

And in walks Donald Trump. People say that Trump is an unconventional candidate and that he represents a break from politics as usual. That’s not true. Trump is the culmination of the trends we have been seeing for the last 30 years: the desire for outsiders; the bashing style of rhetoric that makes conversation impossible; the decline of coherent political parties; the declining importance of policy; the tendency to fight cultural battles and identity wars through political means.

Trump represents the path the founders rejected. There is a hint of violence undergirding his campaign. There is always a whiff, and sometimes more than a whiff, of “I’d like to punch him in the face.”

I printed out a Times list of the insults Trump has hurled on Twitter. The list took up 33 pages. Trump’s style is bashing and pummeling. Everyone who opposes or disagrees with him is an idiot, a moron or a loser. The implied promise of his campaign is that he will come to Washington and bully his way through.

Trump’s supporters aren’t looking for a political process to address their needs. They are looking for a superhero. As the political scientist Matthew MacWilliams found, the one trait that best predicts whether you’re a Trump supporter is how high you score on tests that measure authoritarianism.

This isn’t just an American phenomenon. Politics is in retreat and authoritarianism is on the rise worldwide. The answer to Trump is politics. It’s acknowledging other people exist. It’s taking pleasure in that difference and hammering out workable arrangements. As Harold Laski put it, “We shall make the basis of our state consent to disagreement. Therein shall we ensure its deepest harmony.”

Forecast For Stocks In The Second Half Of The Year: Turbulence

rolling-diceMy Comments: I came across this over the weekend and without their permission, am sharing it with you. I think it’s the most realistic expression of what is likely to happen in the stock and bond markets over the next six months. Any guess beyond that will require you first get stoned.

By STAN CHOE , Associated Press Jul. 7, 2016

NEW YORK (AP) — The stock market has been on a frustrating, dizzying roller-coaster ride to nowhere the last couple of years. It’s still not over.

Stock strategists and mutual-fund managers are predicting minimal gains and big swings in price for the second half of the year. That’s because many of the same challenges that yanked investments up and down in the first half are still hanging over the market, including falling profits at companies and the stubbornly slow global economy.

“Flat is the new up” is how strategists at Goldman Sachs described the market in a recent report. They are calling for the Standard & Poor’s 500 index to end the year at 2,100, which would be just a 0.01 percent rise from where it sat on Wednesday. Other investment houses have similar forecasts.

A flat market may not be so painful on its own, but prognosticators expect sharp swings in prices also to continue. The first six months of the year have already had 20 days where the largest mutual fund by assets, Vanguard’s Total Stock Market Index fund, lost 1 percent or more. That’s the same number it had in all of 2013.

Strategists say they wouldn’t be surprised to see another 10 percent drop for stocks at some point this year. It would be the third such “correction” since 2015, a sharp turnaround from 2012 through 2014 when there were none.

Swings have become more common for stocks since the Federal Reserve ended its bond-buying stimulus program in October 2014, but they’ve followed a consistent pattern: A quick drop stirs up fear, only for a rally to ensue. The United Kingdom’s vote late last month to leave the European Union was the latest example. The Standard & Poor’s 500 index had one of its worst two-day drops, only to make up nearly all of it in the following three days.

The dip-recovery-dip pattern has been so regular over the last 18 months that the S&P 500 is now almost exactly where it was at the end of 2014.

Some investors have reacted to the market’s gyrations by fleeing stocks. Nearly $52 billion left U.S. stock mutual funds and exchange-traded funds in the 12 months through May, according to Morningstar.

Investors who need that money shortly, say in the next couple months or years, shouldn’t have been in stocks to begin with, managers say. They should have been in a savings account or bonds. But those looking to invest for retirement decades away would likely do best to ignore the swings, as difficult as that may be. Stocks have historically had the strongest long-term returns.

Among the factors that could send stocks down, and back up, in the short term:
— Earnings are falling, but the bottom may be arriving.
Companies have just closed the books on the second quarter, and analysts say earnings per share across the S&P 500 fell 5 percent from a year earlier. It would be the fourth straight decline in a row, according to S&P Global Market Intelligence.

The sharpest drops are likely to come from energy producers, which are still reeling from the plunge in the price of crude oil. Tech companies and other sectors are also seeing profits weaken amid slow or non-existent revenue growth.

Analysts expect the trend to improve later this year, though. They’re forecasting S&P 500 profits to begin growing again in the third quarter.

— Stocks aren’t cheap.
Stocks in the S&P 500 are trading at about 26 times their average earnings per share over the last 10 years, adjusted for inflation. That’s nearly double the ratio they were trading at when stocks hit bottom in March 2009 following the financial crisis, according to data from Yale University professor Robert Shiller.

One reason for stocks’ popularity is that bonds are offering very little in terms of yield. The 10-year Treasury note’s yield dropped to a record low of 1.32 percent on Wednesday, according to Tradeweb. If yields stay low, investors may be willing to continue paying higher valuations for stocks.

— The global economy is still shaky.

The freak-out following last month’s “Brexit” vote shows how worried investors are about the global economy. Europe is already struggling, and the fear is that the United Kingdom’s exit will further weaken its economy and those of its continental neighbors.

The world’s second-largest economy, meanwhile, has been one of the market’s largest worries for years. China’s economic growth has slowed sharply, and economists are debating where it will bottom out.

More encouragingly, the U.S. economy is expected to continue growing. A strengthening job market and relatively low inflation mean economists expect consumers to spend more.

— Questions about policy.

Presidential-election years have historically been a struggle for stocks, particularly when there’s no incumbent running. The S&P 500 has had an average 3.3 percent loss in the last year of a president’s second term, according to S&P Global Market Intelligence.

Many lay the blame for that on how investors dislike uncertainty. This election looks to full of it. Fund managers have already begun war-gaming what a Trump presidency could mean for their portfolios. Exporters could be hurt by proposals to limit trade, for example, but they’re unsure about other ramifications.

Investors are also guessing about when the Federal Reserve will raise interest rates again. The central bank raised rates in December for the first time since 2006, but many economists think the next one may not arrive until 2017.

Do Record Low Yields And Record High Stocks Spell Trouble?

roller coaster2My Comments: This week I’ve focused my posts on what other people think is likely to happen to your money if you have it invested in stocks and bonds. It’s pretty obvious that no one has a clue.

Until a lot of stuff gets sorted out, my recommendation is to go to cash and sit on the sidelines for a few weeks or more. I think the chances of losing money right now are higher than the chances of making money, which is what most of us are trying to do.

Of course, if you wait several weeks, and nothing bad happens, and you jump back in, be assured that within a few days, if not hours, the bottom will fall out. It’s your call.

Bryan Rich Jul 13, 2016

Earlier this week we talked about the disconnect between yields and stocks.

The move lower in German yields, given the contagion risk in Europe that people have feared from Brexit, as we’ve discussed, has also dragged down U.S. yields. With that, the U.S. 10 year yield, post-Brexit, has traded to new record lows.

So we have record highs in U.S. stocks, and record lows in U.S. yields.

For people looking for the next reason to be worried, this is where they are hanging their hats. But is the uneasiness associated with this divergence warranted?

Let’s take a look at the chart…

Now, you can see from the chart, we recently breached the record lows of 2012 in U.S. yields (the green line).

For a little back-story: Back in 2012, Europe was on the verge of sovereign debt defaults that would have blown up the euro and the European Union. The ECB stepped in and promised to do “whatever it takes” to preserve the euro, which included the threat of buying unlimited Italian and Spanish government bonds (the real threatening spot in the crisis). That sent bond market speculators, which had been running up the yields in Spanish and Italian debt to unsustainable levels, swiftly hitting the exit doors. At the height of that threat, global capital was pouring into U.S. government debt, which sent the 10 year yield to record lows.

Still, U.S. stocks at the time were in solid shape, UP nearly 8% on the year in the face of record low bond yields.

What happened when the ECB stepped in and curtailed the threat? U.S. yields bounced aggressively. And U.S. stocks went even more sharply higher, finishing the year up 16%. In fact, the U.S. 10 year yield more than doubled (to as high as 3%) over the next seventeen months, and the S&P 500 added to 2012 gains, going another 32% higher in 2013.

So we have a very similar scenario now — and the drag on U.S. yields is, again, Europe and the threat to the euro and European Union.

And again, U.S. yields have hit new record lows, and stocks are putting up a solid year, as of July (the same month the tide turned in 2012).

We would argue, for the many reasons we’ve discussed in our daily notes, that stocks are in the sweet spot. As long as a global economic shock doesn’t occur, which is what central banks have proven very capable of managing over the past seven years, U.S. stocks should continue to benefit from the incentives of record low interest rates. And when market rates/yields rise, it’s only because the clouds of uncertainty clear. That’s very good for stocks too.