Tag Archives: Gainesville

Rates Won’t Skyrocket, So Ignore the Cassandra Chorus

My Comments: The last time interest rates started moving upward in a long term up trend was 1946. This lasted until 1981. Then they started moving down again.

Now, 36 years later, they have once again started upward. The central bank, known as the FED, started moving them back up about a year ago. Granted, the increases are tiny, but I believe it’s the start of an long, upward trend.

If you expect to live another 20 – 30 years, the financial landscape you’re used to is going to be very different. Rising interest rates are going to influence the value of your retirement accounts and other funds, the money you will use to sustain your standard of living going forward.

Just thinking about it could give you a headache…

By Scott Minerd, Chairman of Investments and Global CIO, Guggenheim Partners – July 17, 2017

When markets suddenly change short-term trends or direction, prognostication abounds to explain the most recent gyrations. Often, those who missed the move leading up to the sudden change by sticking to an earlier erroneous call will suddenly issue statements to vindicate the veracity of their earlier predictions. Others, looking to justify the conventional wisdom, will seize an opportunity as proof that the masses were right and the conventional wisdom, whether empirically true or not, still holds.

Such has been the events of recent days.

With the sudden rise of rates around the world, the pundits present the recent selloff as proof that long rates are bound to skyrocket as a result of any number of factors including reduction of the Federal Reserve’s (Fed) balance sheet, tapering of quantitative easing by foreign central banks, lurking inflation and growth, fiscal stimulus from Washington, D.C., and so on.

In moments like these, I think it is wise to step back and grasp the big picture. The Fed is on course to continue raising rates. If it does not, it is only due to weakening growth or inflation. Either way, case history tells us that the yield curve will continue to flatten.

As for ‎skyrocketing long rates, that seems unlikely during the current economic cycle. Virtually every business cycle ends with an inverted yield curve. If the yield on the 10-year Treasury note were to ‎rise to 3 percent, that would imply an overnight rate at 3 percent or higher. Using a number of metrics, an overnight rate of 3 percent would be so restrictive as to induce a recession.

Even the Fed, which has notoriously forecast rates higher than the market delivers, sees the longer term “terminal” rate (the apex of the policy interest rate during the business cycle) at 3 percent. Given the structural debt load on corporate balance sheets, a 3 percent short-term rate would ultimately prove unsustainable. With a cap on short-term rates around 3 percent, the likelihood that long-term rates could be sustained above 3 percent for any period of time is low.

Then again, there is a fairly good argument that the terminal short-term rate may be lower than 3 percent. Deflationary headwinds continue to restrain price increases. With declining energy and commodity prices, supply gluts in automobiles, competitive restraints on retail merchandise such as groceries and apparel, and a growing inventory of new apartments weighing on owner-equivalent rents, these headwinds are unlikely to dissipate anytime soon. Since inflation is tamed when real rates rise enough to choke off economic expansion, the lower the level of inflation, the lower is the nominal rate necessary to restrain it.

If that is the case, then the terminal rate is likely to be closer to 2 percent.

Only time will tell but that scenario argues for less policy tightening by the Fed as further rate increases are likely to slow the economy and inflation more than expected.

There is also the issue of valuation. Many routinely argue that bonds and stocks are overvalued yet the empirical evidence is sketchy.

As for interest rates, the last era of financial repression between the 1930s and 1950s resulted in long-term rates remaining below 3 percent for more than 20 years. The argument that 10-year yields need to be close to nominal gross domestic product (GDP) growth rates is equally unsound as, aside from the era of opportunistic disinflation from 1980 into early in the new millennium, 10-year yields on balance were below nominal growth rates for most of the past century.

Finally, the downtrend in long-term rates that began in the early 1980s is firmly intact. ‎To break that 35-year trend, the 10-year note would need to yield more than 3 percent for some period of time. Even if we did break that downtrend, history shows that rates will tend to move in a sideways consolidation for a number of years, often retesting the lows more than once.

The simple truth is that, while rates may trend higher in the near term, the risk is that we have not reached the point where the macro economy can sustain persistently higher rates. If anything, political, military, and market uncertainties would more likely lead to another sudden decline in rates rather than a massive spike upward.

Investors would be wise to ignore the growing chorus of Cassandra cries and look through the noise to the fundamentals. There are many things to be concerned about in the world but skyrocketing rates is not likely among them.

The Next Recession

My Comments: It’s a given there will be a ‘next recession’. People much smarter than me say it’s not many months away. It’s a normal event and we’ll most likely survive.

What we may not survive, however, apart from a random collision with an asteroid, are the effects of income inequality across the planet and the massive debt overhang facing us in this country. Combine those two forces and you know there’s going to be chaos down the road.

Olivier Garret, Forbes Contributor / Jun 26, 2017

In the coming years, we will have to deal with the largest twin bubbles in history. It’s global debt (especially government debt) and the even larger bubble of government promises.

Together, these twin bubbles make up what investor John Mauldin calls “The Great Reset.” Nobody can tell how this crisis will play out, but one thing is for sure, it will affect everyone in a big way.

The Debt Burden Is at a Breaking Point

The mere existence of these bubbles has profound economic implications, as research shows high debt levels weigh heavily on economic growth.

The total debt-to-GDP ratio is at 248% today. The non-partisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) projects it will rise to 280% by 2027. And that’s assuming nominal GDP grows at 4% per annum.

Despite the post-election optimism, nominal GDP growth in 2016 was just 2.95%—making it the fifth-worst year on record since 1948. There are no signs it will pick up soon either.

That means the reality may be even gloomier than what the CBO projects.

If a higher debt burden means lower growth, the recovery from the next recession, whenever it arrives, will be even slower than the last.

Now Count in Government Promises

Those sky-high debt-to-GDP ratios don’t factor in the unfunded liabilities—pensions, Medicare, and Social Security, which the US Government has promised to millions of Americans. Those total about $100 trillion today.

The chart below shows that by 2019 those unfunded liabilities, along with defense and interest, will consume ALL tax revenue:

Last year, the first baby boomers turned 70. The average boomer has just $136,000 in retirement savings. If that individual lives for 15 years after retirement, his annual income comes to just $9,000.

Because boomers are living longer and need income, they’re staying in the job market longer. The fastest employment growth now is among people 65 and older.

However, with 1.5 million boomers turning 70 every year for the next decade, a huge strain will be put on government finances in the form of pensions and Social Security.

But the pension crisis isn’t just in the US.

A Citibank report shows that the OECD countries face $78 trillion in unfunded pension liabilities. That is at least 50% more than their total GDP.

Pension obligations are growing faster than GDP in most, if not all, of those countries. Those obligations sit on top of a 325% global debt-to-GDP ratio.

Prepare in Advance

Politicians and central bankers could try to “fix” these problems in several ways.

They could default on the debt and pension obligations, or they could print money to fund them. There is no way of knowing ahead of time how these bubbles play out.
What we do know is the chosen approach will bring a different type of volatility and effect on the markets.

For investors, this will be a period of enormous volatility.

That’s why it’s essential to arm yourself with the knowledge of how to deal with this volatility ahead of time.

Bull Market Complacency Calls for Caution—and Action

My Comments: Today is Monday, when I post something about investments. Scott Minerd is not only a global figure in this environment, he has the ability to reduce complex ideas to where even I can understand them. His message, as I understand it, is continue to ride the bull, but be prepared to panic at any time.

  June 09, 2017 | By Scott Minerd, Global CIO

By many measures, the stock and bond markets have rarely been more expensive and more stable, and that has me worried. High-yield bonds and mortgage-backed securities are both trading near their narrowest-ever spreads relative to Treasurys, and they have been hovering around these levels for months. At the same time, U.S. stock market indexes are continuing to make new highs while the Chicago Board Options Exchange Volatility Index (VIX), which measures option-implied S&P 500 volatility, is near its lowest level since 1993. The amount of complacency built into the markets argues for caution.

Plenty of events clustered around this summer and fall could potentially spell disappointment for the markets. In Europe, Emmanuel Macron may have handily won the presidential election in France, but there remains the French parliamentary elections next week. These elections may result in what the French call “cohabitation,” a term that describes when the president and the majority of the members of the French parliament represent two different parties, which has not happened in France since the 1997 election. Meanwhile, the U.K. election results have hobbled Theresa May’s mandate and created a cloud of uncertainty over the timing and direction of Brexit negotiations. German federal elections, due to take place in September, will test Angela Merkel’s conservative bloc.

In Washington, the focus is on the Senate version of the healthcare bill, which is unlikely to be finalized before the August recess. This delay could push back the timeline for enacting tax reform to 2018. This says nothing of the political uncertainty in Russia, North Korea, or in the Middle East.

As this realization settles in, I think some of the hope underpinning the markets will slowly erode this summer. History suggests that there is a high likelihood we will get some sort of shock in the second half of the year, which would lead to tightening financial conditions and widening credit spreads. I have seen it happen a number of times in my career: The stock market crash of 1987 and the Asian crisis in 1998 were both unexpected events late in a lengthy economic expansion that led to a brief but violent repricing of risk assets. Both events, however, were followed by at least two more years of an expanding economy.

Today we are on pace to set a record for the longest expansion in U.S. history, thanks in large part to the slow post-crisis recovery and accommodative monetary policy. The current upward slope of the yield curve offers no indication that it will end soon, but eventually it will, given the Federal Reserve’s indications that further tightening is needed. I believe we will see two more rate hikes in 2017, the next one occurring later this month, and at least three increases in 2018. I also expect that the Fed will announce in September a change to its balance sheet strategy that will involve a gradual tapering of reinvestments in 2018. This should put upward pressure on yields at the short end and the belly of the curve, where most of the new Treasury issuance is likely to come.
Even as conditions call for a healthy dose of caution, there is no need to panic longer term. There is still significant ongoing stimulus coming from the European Central Bank and the Bank of Japan.

The combination of these conditions argues for taking certain near-term portfolio actions. Investors should consider upgrading credit quality whenever possible while reducing exposure to high-yield bonds and stocks. Holding some dry powder* for opportunities that should arise amid a pickup in volatility later this year would be a wise move. With spreads near record tights, fixed-income investors simply are not being compensated for the risk they incur in the hunt for yield. Investors should remain disciplined and not chase returns now. It may not be the most exciting message, but no one ever took a loss by booking a gain.

As I see more life left in this economic expansion, I believe there will be opportunities later in the year to make up for any near-term underperformance. The coming correction might not happen tomorrow, but current conditions bring to mind the legendary response of Baron Rothschild, who, when asked the secret of his great wealth, said he made his fortune by selling early. It might be wise to follow Baron Rothschild’s example and take some chips off the table.

New Options in Long-Term Care Insurance

My Comments: Aging gracefully is not easy. When getting up in the morning is a struggle and you can’t remember if you’ve brushed your teeth, there may be a looming bump in the road. Dr. Gloom here again. I suppose there is value in denial. At least I hope so.

Couple that with both the staggering cost of professional care if you become goofy, and the mindset in Congress these days that it’s your fault if you haven’t already died, the looming bump in the road is increasingly difficult to manage. Here are some thoughts to help you overcome your fears.

In addition to what you read below, there are ways to use qualified money to leverage your dollars when it comes to paying for long term care needs.

July 05, 2016

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, almost 70% of Americans turning 65 today will need some type of long-term care (LTC) as they age. And 20% will likely need care for five or more years. Given that the annual cost of that care can extend into six figures, that’s a daunting prospect for many retirees.

“There’s no way to know for sure whether you’ll need long-term care,” says Carrie Schwab-Pomerantz, CFP®, president of Charles Schwab Foundation. “But if you do, it could jeopardize your retirement savings if you’re not prepared.”

For decades, purchasing a long-term care insurance policy has been a common solution. But many insurers—facing lower interest rates and higher claims payouts—have raised their premiums or stopped offering the policies.

Fortunately, the long-term care industry has developed a variety of new options that may provide more appealing coverage, given your needs and overall financial plan.

A new era of long-term care insurance

Traditional LTC policies (in addition to their increasing expense) are typically “use it or lose it” products, similar to homeowner’s insurance. You might pay premiums for years without ever needing coverage—and never get your cash back.

There are newer LTC policies, however, that are different. They’re often combination products that provide either a life insurance or annuity component and may allow premium returns. Here are three common types of newer long-term care policies, with some advantages and drawbacks.

1) Hybrid long-term care policies merge traditional long-term care insurance with life insurance, while offering a return of the premium.
The advantage of a hybrid policy is that it offers a benefit whether you need long-term care, pass away, or discontinue the policy and want your premiums back. That said, this type of policy also comes with drawbacks, including how the premiums are paid, as well as a higher bar to qualify for the coverage.

Hybrid plan premiums are typically paid in a lump sum, or spread out over a short period of time (10 years, for example). And because you’re paying for life insurance as well as LTC coverage, plus the return-of-premium feature, the cost can be prohibitive. Also, because this option bundles two products in one, you’ll need to qualify for both coverage types in order to get a policy.

2) Permanent life insurance policies with long-term care riders enable a percentage of the death benefit to be used for long-term care costs.
These policies can offer some payment flexibility—allowing lump sum premiums or annual payments over a lifetime. And their costs tend to be lower than other types of combined coverage.

The drawbacks? The policies don’t offer the return-of-premium option and the terms of reimbursement can be stringent. For example, with these policies a doctor must attest that your inability to perform basic activities is permanent—which could seriously limit the benefits you receive. For a traditional or hybrid LTC claim to be paid, on the other hand, you typically only need a doctor’s validation that you cannot perform certain activities of daily living (or that you’re cognitively impaired).

Similar to the hybrid policies above, applicants must also qualify for both life insurance and the LTC rider.

3) Annuities with long-term care riders have terms that are similar to those of fixed annuities. You typically purchase the annuity with a lump sum and receive a monthly benefit. In some cases, no extra cost is incurred for the long-term care component because it’s funded by the annuity premium.

For example, you can buy a deferred long-term care annuity with a lump sum premium. The annuity creates two funds: one for long-term care expenses, the other for whatever you choose. That said, the terms of the annuity dictate how much you can withdraw from each fund, and the tax implications can be complicated.

Given the complex terms of some annuity products, you may want the advice of a tax professional when exploring this option.

What to know, what to ask about LTC coverage

Buying LTC insurance can be an exacting process, but one that’s well worth it.

“Long-term care insurance can be staggeringly expensive, but so is the cost of care itself,” Carrie notes. In addition to examining the payment and coverage features, be sure to evaluate the insurer’s reputation and financial strength.

And when comparing options, make sure to ask the following questions:
• What sort of inflation protection does the policy offer?
• Are there limitations on preexisting conditions?
• Is Alzheimer’s disease covered?
• What is the lag time until the benefits kick in, and how long will they last?
• How often has the insurer raised rates?

What you can do next
With the cost of long-term care rising, now is a good time to explore how you can integrate LTC insurance into your financial plan

The 5 Worst Possible Shocks To The Economy; From Washington, D.C.

My Comments: Fixing what ails us ain’t going to be easy. Especially when the two political parties are more intent on having the other fail than doing what we hired them to do in the first place.

My future is limited while that of my children and grandchildren has decades to run. Economics, despite it being hard for most of us to understand, is at the heart of a credible financial future for the vast majority of us. What follows are five things that must not happen.

Stan Collender, Forbes Contributor / Mar 5, 2017

What had been widely expected to be sure bets and slam dunk policy changes has quickly turned into multiple missteps and infighting as the White House and congressional GOP find it difficult to shift from opposing and resisting to legislating and governing.

Yes…as it planned…Congress did adopt a fiscal 2017 budget resolution in January. But that first (and by far easiest) step in the Trump/GOP economic strategy is the only one it has completed. The January 27 deadline Congress set for itself on the Affordable Care Act has long since been passed with no action by either the House or Senate and none expected anytime soon.

Meanwhile, the ACA repeal and replace saga is about to run smack into a series of economic events and requirements that will force the White House and Congress to devote their time, energy and political capital to other issues. This includes the soon-to-expire suspension of the national debt ceiling, the Trump fiscal 2018 budget that presumably will be released the middle of March (we’ll see), a continuing resolution that if not dealt with by April 29 will cause a government shutdown and a 2018 congressional budget resolution fight that could greatly complicate both repeal and replace/repair/rename and tax reform.

In a bout of irrationally optimistic expectations, investors and their advisors still seem to be assuming (or is it wishing and praying?) that it somehow will all come together. And the Trump/GOP economic policies may indeed all still happen even if they don’t occur as originally planned.

But in light of the unexpected that’s already happened, several new possibilities need to to be added to Wall Street’s calculus.

There are 5 economic policy-related events that aren’t currently being priced in by investors that will send severe shockwaves through the markets if they occur. Instead of a wrench, any of these 5 will throw a nuclear bomb into the GOP’s economic policymaking efforts.

1. No Tax Reform
As I’ve posted before, the corporate tax reform that seemed to be such a sure thing right after the election is now in trouble substantively, conceptually, procedurally and politically. It’s already hard to see it being enacted and going into effect in 2017, and it may still may not be in place in 2018. If the GOP loses House seats in the 2018 election, tax reform may have to wait until after 2020.

2. OMB Director Mick Mulvaney Resigns Or Is Fired
Trump’s budget plans are at odds with the preferences of the House Freedom Caucus, the group of 30-50 ultra fiscally conservative House Republicans who have the power to stop the president’s economic plans dead in their tracks. Before becoming Trump’s OMB director, Mick Mulvaney was a HFC leader and his at least tacit approval of the spending, tax and deficit changes the president wants will be one of the biggest reasons they’re enacted.

But as a member of Congress, Mulvaney specifically rejected much of what Trump is going to propose. If those plans or the compromises needed to get them adopted become more than he can stomach, it’s not hard to imagine Mulvaney leaving the cabinet. That would give the House Freedom Caucus license to oppose the president’s economic agenda.

3. Congress Refuses To Raise The Debt Ceiling
As noted above, the current suspension of the national debt ceiling expires shortly…on March 15. The Bipartisan Policy Center said last week that the Treasury will be able to manipulate the federal government’s cash balances until sometime this fall. What happens then, however, is anyone’s guess.

The common assumption is that congressional Republicans, who routinely opposed debt ceiling increases during the Obama administration, will hold their noses and vote to increase it this time when it’s needed. But that’s anything but certain, especially if the House Freedom Caucus feels that it has given up enough on everything from repeal and replace to tax cuts and military increases that aren’t offset with spending reductions elsewhere.

And just to complicate the situation further, OMB Director Mulvaney (see #1) steadfastly opposed raising the debt ceiling when he was a member of Congress.

4. An Annual $ Trillion Deficit
It’s both conceivable and likely that, in spite of the guarantees given during the campaign, the Trump economic and budget policies coupled with the now seemingly inevitable tightening of monetary policy by the Federal Reserve will lead to an annual budget deficit of $1 trillion or more as early as fiscal 2019. The total increase in the national debt during the first 4 years of the Trump administration could range between $4 trillion and $5 trillion.

5. A Downgrade Of U.S. Debt By The Rating Agencies
The last time the federal government’s credit rating was downgraded was in August 2011 when Standard & Poor’s said it was taking the action because the U.S. needed to raise the debt ceiling and have a “credible” plan to deal with long-term debt. S&P also said the government had become less effective or predictable.

Since then the U.S. debt held by the public has increased by about $4 trillion. And all of the same factors that convinced S&P to downgrade in 2011 will be present again in 2017.

Trump’s Thin Skin Shows CEOs Are Not Made For Politics

Pieter-Bruegel-The-Younger-Flemish-ProverbsMy thoughts on this: We can argue ‘till the cows come home whether Donald or Hillary is more reprehensible. And we can wonder if the other two national candidates will meaningfully affect the outcome next November.

Donald may indeed be a nice guy, but I’m not ready to cede him the prize as CEO of these United States of America. Because the skill sets necessary to be CEO of the USA are very different from the skill sets necessary for someone to be the CEO of a player in corporate America.

Frankly, I don’t think he has the necessary talent. To borrow a sports metaphor, someone may be a talented and very successful athlete, then become a fantastic position coach in football. But time and again, we see people promoted beyond their ability to be successful. In Gainesville, think Will Muschamp to name just one. I’m casting my vote for the person most likely to be a functioning CEO of these United States for the next four years. There is no do-over once the die is cast; it better be right.

Michael Skapinker, August 10, 2016, in the Financial Times

We need political leaders with real world experience. Too many of those who govern us have never worked outside politics. It is a frequent cry. But if we think business leaders are the answer, Donald Trump, the Republican presidential candidate, is providing a near-daily display of how hard it is to leap from running a business to winning elections.

There are two reasons. First, business leaders such as Meg Whitman and Carly Fiorina, who have both lost elections, did not seem to grasp that holders of political office have less control over events than does a chief executive. While a business boss can hire, fire, acquire and sell, even the US president is hemmed in by the constitution and can be stymied by Congress, as the political economist Francis Fukuyama has noted.

British prime ministers have more executive and legislative power but still have to accommodate rivals who might challenge for their job. The aggravation Tony Blair tolerated from his chancellor Gordon Brown? No chief executive would put up with it for a week, let alone 10 years.

The second and more important reason business leaders struggle in the political fray is that they are unprepared for the criticism, invective and ridicule they will have to endure.

The press does sometimes attack chief executives. Politicians occasionally attack them too. Hauled before legislative committees, they react badly to the kind of questioning a political office-holder expects as a matter of course.

Some respond truculently, as did British retailer Sir Philip Green when asked by a House of Commons committee in June to explain the shortfall in the pension fund of BHS, the chain he ran that has since gone bust. Or they blink into the bright lights of a televised hearing and stumble through their answers — which were the reactions of Starbucks, Amazon and Google executives when questioned about tax arrangements by a UK parliamentary committee in 2012, and US car industry chiefs when congressional inquisitors demanded to know why they had flown to Washington in their private jets in 2008.

Few business bosses know what it feels like to face the vituperation endured by politicians or to be caricatured relentlessly. Steve Bell, the Guardian cartoonist, decided that David Cameron’s shiny pink complexion made it look as if he had a condom over his head — and he drew the former prime minister that way for years. Zapiro, the South African cartoonist, always draws President Jacob Zuma with a shower growing out of his head — never allowing him to forget that while on trial in 2006 for allegedly raping a woman who was HIV-positive (he was acquitted), he said he had avoided infection by taking a shower.

Politicians may loathe these depictions but they have to put up with them. Mr Bell says Mr Cameron once said to him “you can only push a condom so far” — which he wrote on the back of the moving truck in the cartoon he drew last month of the Camerons leaving 10 Downing Street.

Chief executives, by contrast, are surrounded by managers and staff eager to win favour. Talking back to the boss does not get people far. Business leaders become used to the admiration but this can make them thin-skinned when outsiders criticise them. A retired business leader once called to yell at me for writing that he couldn’t take criticism.

Politicians’ press officers try to bully critics too but those who successfully run for public office know they often have to let the brickbats sail by.

Any political leader could have told Mr Trump not to attack Megyn Kelly, a Fox News female television presenter, by saying she had “blood coming out of her eyes, blood coming out of her wherever”. A sensible politician would have responded to criticism from the parents of a dead US Muslim soldier by saying how much he respected their sacrifice, rather than suggesting, as Mr Trump did, that the soldier’s mother had been prevented from speaking at the Democratic convention.

Few chief executives are as abusive towards their detractors as Mr Trump. Even fewer speak as recklessly or pick as many fights. Many will, rightly, object to being likened to him. But he is just an extreme example of the narcissistic boss who, once in the public arena, is incredulous that people dare to criticise him.

7 Things That Will Soon Disappear Forever

My Comments: I try hard to worry only about the present and the future. Here are seven things I took for granted today that will soon be gone. Trying to bring these back, even if they hold good memories for us, will not be possible. I tell myself to get used to it, but it’s not always easy.

By David Muhlbaum, Ed Maixner and John Miley – April 19, 2016

Ten years ago, thousands of Blockbuster Video stores occupied buildings like the one above all over the country, renting DVDs and selling popcorn. Today, they’re virtually all gone. The company’s shares once traded for nearly $30. Now Blockbuster is a penny stock.

Obsolescence isn’t always so quick or so complete, but emerging technologies and changing practices are sounding the death knell for other familiar items. Check out these seven that we’ll be saying goodbye to soon.

Few things are as symbolic of farming as the moldboard plow, but the truth is, the practice of “turning the soil” is dying off.

Modern farmers have little use for it. It provides a deep tillage that turns up too much soil, encouraging erosion because the plow leaves no plant material on the surface to stop wind and rain water from carrying the soil away. It also requires a huge amount of diesel fuel to plow, compared with other tillage methods, cutting into farmers’ profits. The final straw: It releases more carbon dioxide into the air than other tillage methods.

The plow is winding down its days on small, poor farms that can’t afford new machinery. Most U.S. cropland is now managed as “no-till” or minimum-till, relying on herbicides and implements such as seed drills that work the ground with very little disturbance, among other practices.

By the end of this decade, digital formats for tablets and e-readers will displace physical books for assigned reading on college campuses, The Kiplinger Letter is forecasting. K–12 schools won’t be far behind, though they’ll mostly stick with larger computers as their platform of choice.

Digital texts figure to yield more bang for the buck than today’s textbooks. Interactive software will test younger pupils’ mastery of basic skills such as arithmetic and create customized lesson plans based on their responses. Older students will be able to take digital notes and even simulate chemistry experiments when bricks-and-mortar labs aren’t handy.

This is a mixed bag for publishers. They’ll sell more digital licenses of semester- or yearlong usage of electronic textbooks as their customers can’t turn to the used-book marketplace anymore. On the other hand, schools will seek free online, open-source databases of information and collaborate with other institutions and districts to develop their own content on digital models, cutting out traditional educational publishers.

Every year it seems that an additional car model loses the manual transmission option. Even the Ford F-150 pickup truck can’t be purchased with a stick anymore.

The decline of the manual transmission (in the U.S.) has been decades in the making, but two factors are, ahem, accelerating its demise:

Number one: Automatics are getting more efficient, with up to nine gear ratios, allowing engines to run at the lowest, most economical speeds. Many Mazdas and some BMWs, among others, now score better fuel mileage with an automatic than with a stick.

Number two: Among high-performance cars, such as Porsches, “automated” manual shifts are taking hold. They do away with the clutch pedal and use electronics to control shifting instead. The result: Shifting is faster than even for the most talented clutch-and-stick jockey. Plus, the costs on these are coming down, and they can be found in less-expensive sporty cars, such as the Golf GTI.

Even the biggest of highway trucks are abandoning the clutch and stick for automatics, for fuel-efficiency gains and to attract more drivers who won’t need to learn how to grind the gears.

A small segment of enthusiast cars, such as the Ford Mustang, as well as a few price-leader economy models, such as the Nissan Versa and Ford Fiesta, will continue to offer the traditional three-pedal arrangement for some years to come. “It will be reserved for the ‘driver’s vehicle,’” says Ivan Drury, an analyst for Edmunds.com. But dealers will stock only a handful of the cars, and some will need to be special-ordered.

First-class mail volume is plummeting, down 55% from 2004 to 2013. So, around the country, the U.S. Postal Service has been cutting back on those iconic blue collection boxes. The number has fallen by more than half since the mid 1980s. Since it costs time and fuel for mail carriers to stop by each one, the USPS monitors usage and pulls out boxes that don’t see enough traffic.

Some boxes will find new homes in places with greater foot traffic, such as shopping centers, public transit stops and grocery stores. But on a quiet corner at the end of your street? Say goodbye.

No, government energy cops are not going to come yank the lightbulbs out of your fixtures, as some firebrand politicians foment. But the traditional incandescent lightbulb that traces its roots back to Thomas Edison is definitely on its way out. As of January 1, 2014, the manufacture and importation of 40- to 100-watt incandescent bulbs became illegal in the U.S., part of a much broader effort to get Americans to use less electricity.

Stores can still sell whatever inventory they have left, but once the hoarders have had their run, that’s it. And with incandescent bulbs burning for only about 1,000 hours each, eventually they’ll flicker out.

The lighting industry has moved forward with compact fluorescents, LEDs, halogen bulbs and other technologies.

Soon, the only places you’ll still see the telltale glow of a tungsten filament in a glass vacuum will be in three-way bulbs (such as the 50/100/150 watt), heavy-duty and appliance bulbs, and some decorative bulbs.

If you are online, you better assume that you already have no privacy and act accordingly. Every mouse click and keystroke is tracked, logged and potentially analyzed and eventually used by Web site product managers, marketers, hackers and others. To use most services, users have to opt-in to lengthy terms and conditions that allow their data to be crunched by all sorts of actors.

The list of tracking devices is set to boom, as sensors are added to appliances, lights, locks, HVAC systems and even trash cans. Other innovations: Using Wi-Fi signals, for instance, to track movements, from where you’re driving or walking down to your heartbeat. Retailers will use the technology to track in minute detail how folks walk around a store and reach for products. Also, facial-recognition software that can change display advertising to personalize it to you (time for a mask?). Transcription software will be so good that many businesses will soon collect mountains of phone-conversation data to mine and analyze.

And think of this: Most of us already carry around an always-on tracking device for which we usually pay good money—a smart phone. Your phone is loaded up with sensors and GPS data, and will soon collect lots of health data, too.

One reason not to fret: Encryption methods are getting better at walling off at least some aspects of our digital lives. But living the reclusive life of J.D. Salinger might soon become real fiction.

If you want to hear the once-familiar beeps and whirs of a computer going online through a modem, you will soon need to do that either in a museum or in some very, very remote location.

According to a study from the Pew Foundation, only 3% of U.S. households went online via a dial-up connection in 2013. Thirteen years before that, only 3% had broadband (Today, 70% have home broadband). Massive federal spending on broadband initiatives, passed during the last recession to encourage economic recovery, has helped considerably.

Some providers will continue to offer dial-up as an afterthought for those who can’t or don’t want to connect via cable or another broadband means. But a number of the bigger internet service providers, such as Verizon Online, have quit signing up new dial-up subscribers altogether.