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James R Derrick CFA Archives -

Lessons of the Great Recession

By | 2018, Money Moxie, Newsletter | No Comments

In January 2008, stock markets were near all-time highs, U.S. unemployment was at just 5 percent, and George W. Bush was about to sign the Economic Stimulus Act, which provided tax rebates for Americans and tax breaks for businesses. Americans were unaware that the “Great Recession” had already begun (National Bureau of Economic Research).

The consequences of excessive debt began to slowly spread across corporate America. Several companies were on the brink of failure before being saved, including Bear Stearns (March 2008), Countrywide Financial (July 2008), Freddie Mac (September 2008), and Fannie Mae (September 2008). Each of these was saved by unpopular government intervention.

Then came Lehman Brothers. It was “too big to fail,” and yet it did. At 1:45 AM on September 15, 2008, Lehman Brothers filed for bankruptcy protection—the largest and most complex bankruptcy in American history. It had over $619 billion in loans it could not repay and it marked a tipping point: a moment when investors around the world woke up to reality.

There was too much debt, especially American mortgage debt. In 2008, over 800,000 families lost their homes to foreclosure.1 In 2009, there were around 2.5 million.2 Unemployment doubled to a rate of 10 percent.3

The cost of recovery weighed on the government as it shifted the debt from overburdened Americans to the U.S. deficit (Now over $21 trillion).
The Federal Reserve lowered its rates to zero and kept them there for seven years. When that was not enough, it purchased $4.5 trillion dollars of debt—essentially injecting the American economy with money. It seems to have worked by many measurements.

As the economic recovery firmed, the Federal Reserve began to raise rates. At first, it was cautious. Now, it plans to keep going higher at regular intervals. This change may be an important shift.

One day in the future there will be another recession, but it will be different than the Great Recession.

A lot has changed in the last 10 years. Americans have less mortgage debt. The government has much more. While the housing market is strong, it does not seem to be as inflated as 2008.

For now, move forward with optimism and confidence, but don’t forget the lessons of the past. The risk of another economic downturn is real. Whether it comes in 1 year or 10 years, your personal preparation will be valuable.

 

1. “Foreclosures up a Record 81% in 2008,” CNN Money
2. “Great Recession Timeline,” History.com
3. Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis
4. “Looking Back at Lehman’s Demise,” Wealth Management

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Trade Helps Make America Great

By | 2018, Money Moxie, Newsletter | No Comments

Harley Davidson®, the iconic American motorcycle company, plans to close a Kansas City factory and lay off 800 workers. It will consolidate operations and open a factory in Europe. This surprising announcement came despite actions meant to support U.S. manufacturing and jobs. It is an unintended consequence and casualty of our current trade war.

Trade promotes global peace, grows our economy, and brings greater opportunity to the greatest number of people. The United States has experienced huge benefits over the last century because of increased trade, and Americans want to continue to compete fairly in the global economy. No matter how tough the trade talk, Americans should want more trade, not less.

The trade war is a tactic for negotiating better agreements. Hopefully, we get there soon because we are only beginning to see the effects and the uncertainty.

Don’t Let A Trade War Become A War On Trade
One of the greatest risks the United States has taken is to raise tariffs on so many countries at the same time. This year, the United States has raised tariffs on China, India, Mexico, Canada, and members of the European Union. These have reciprocated U.S. action and have quietly been making better agreements with each other.

China created the Asia Pacific Trade Agreement and as of July 1, it lowered tariffs on approximately 10,000 goods coming from trade partners, including South Korea, India, and other regional countries. China is considering similar agreements with Mexico, Canada, Brazil, and Europe. Japan recently signed its own “free-trade” agreement with the European Union.

The forceful approach could backfire just as it has in the case of Harley Davidson® and Whirlpool®. Farmers, for example, are also feeling the pinch. With fewer international buyers, the value of many crops has fallen. They have been offered a bailout, but seem more interested in farming than handouts.

Can We Emerge As Winners?
The United States is engaging in a risky tactic in order to obtain something quite reasonable: fair trade and protection of our intellectual property.

To make it happen, we need to start winning by focusing on more friendly trade partners. The more good agreements we get, the easier it will be to get the final countries to negotiate a fair deal.

Trade allows Americans to focus on what we do best. This specialization allows for higher innovation and new technologies. It leads to less expensive food and better prices on items that we want. Specialization also makes us more productive so that we can earn more working. All of this translates into a higher standard of living for most Americans and a more peaceful society.

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Why We Are Watching Oil In 2018

By | 2018, Money Moxie | No Comments

Despite record U.S. oil production, the price of a barrel has been climbing in 2018. The ripple effects can and will be seen throughout the economy in the coming months.

The average price of regular gasoline in the United States is nearly $3.00 per gallon. One year ago, it was $2.35.1 That’s a 25 percent increase at a time when few expected such a rise.

Most Americans spend between 2 and 4 percent of their income on gasoline,2 so the direct impact on our spending may not seem like a big deal at first.

Americans, accustomed to the lower prices over the last couple years, have also been buying larger and larger cars.

We should also remember that oil is a major ingredient in many products we purchase (as illustrated in the adjacent graphic). While U.S. supply is growing, it has fallen globally.

Oil prices are still far from their all-time high of $136.31 in June of 2008. The domino effect of rising prices has also not been a major concern yet.

Global oil supply is the wildcard. If it increases (a real possibility), prices are unlikely to rise significantly. If it falls, rising prices may spread. Eventually, it could impact our spending.

Remember, consumers, drive 70 percent of the economy. So, if we cut back in our spending then the U.S. economic engine may slow as well. That’s why we are watching oil more closely in 2018.

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(1) GasBuddy.com
(2) U.S. Energy Information Administration
*Research by SFS. Graphic from Visual Capitalist. Investing involves risk, including potential loss of principal. Past performance does not guarantee future results. The opinions and forecasts expressed are those of the author and may not actually come to pass. This information is subject to change at any time, based upon
changing conditions. This is not a recommendation to purchase any type of investment.

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Will Good be Good Enough?

By | 2018, Money Moxie | No Comments

Confirmation Bias: The tendency to only accept the facts that support what we already believe.

By virtually every measurement, the U.S. economy is growing–and so it is in just about every other country in the world! That means that even though stock prices are near all-time highs, they are also supported by real economic growth.

The question is, “How long can the stock market continue to grow before cracks begin to form?” The answer: Small cracks are already appearing and most people don’t see them, yet.

How could corporations disappoint in such a good economy? No way . . . unless expectations are too high and investors realize this 3, 6, or 12 months from now.

That’s exactly what this graph is showing: an inability to exceed high expectations. And the market in 2018 is more likely to be affected by expectations than by economics. After all, the growth that everyone expects is already priced into the market. The bar has been set high for 2018!

The Federal Reserve has a new chairman, Jerome Powell, and he seems determined to get interest rates back to more normal levels. This makes borrowing money more expensive and could, at some point, have a negative impact on stocks.

Consumers could turn the tide in a negative way! Consumers represent 69 percent of economic growth. They have been driving growth upward for two years by spending more than they can afford. How long can this continue?

The savings rate, once at 10 percent, is now approaching an all-time low of 2 percent! The risk is not that Americans have overspent, but that they cannot continue to overspend in the next two years like they have in the last two years! How will American consumers continue to lift the American economy when they run out of money?

What will be the next crack in the economy? It will probably not be in housing this time. Mortgage debt seems low compared to 10 years ago and there is a shortage of homes around the country.

Any further cracks may be in credit card defaults. That’s one area we will be watching.

For now, economic growth looks solid. We will keep an eye on things because we know that investments become over-priced while the data is still positive. What we know is that 2018 is already more interesting than 2017!

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2017: Record Breaking Year

By | 2018, Money Moxie, Newsletter | No Comments

Entering 2017, I was more optimistic about the potential growth in stocks. In fact, my expectations were higher than 13 of 15 major investment companies. This optimism became a basis for staying invested throughout the year whether the market went up or down. The results were very positive.

I also assumed that at some point in 2017 we would wake up to some major down days. This never happened. The market just continued to climb all year long.

The S&P 500 (with dividends) rose every month last year for the first time ever! A positive return in January 2018 would bring the streak to 15 months in a row. Second place goes to a streak of 10 months stretching from December 1994 to September 1995.

These are powerful trends, considering the probability of any month being positive is around 60 percent. Strong momentum like this typically continues even after the streak is broken.

A second record was set that began in the final days of December. The Dow Jones Industrial Average had its quickest 1,000 point gain ever!

For three consecutive years I have accurately predicted the major actions of the Federal Reserve. I wrote: “This year, I am going to try something new: accepting the Federal Reserve’s forecast that it will raise rates 3 times in 2017.” That is exactly what happened.

I believe that keeping an eye on the Fed this year will be even more important than it was in 2017. You can see my analysis for 2018 here.

 

*Research by SFS. Investing involves risk, including potential loss of principal. Dow and S&P 500 indexes are widely considered to represent the overall stock market. One cannot invest directly in an index. Diversification does not guarantee positive results. Past performance does not guarantee future results. The opinions and forecasts expressed are those of the author and may not actually come to pass. This information is subject to change at any time, based upon changing conditions. This is not a recommendation to purchase any type of investment.

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2018: FOMO In the Stock Market

By | 2018, Money Moxie | No Comments

Protecting profit is profitable. Protecting fear is not. I keep this phrase on a sticky note below my computer to remind me that investment decisions based upon fear lead to mistakes. I have seen it during the major market meltdowns of 2000-2002 and 2008-2009. I have seen it in smaller drops, like January 2016.

There seems to be little fear of a market drop in 2018. I believe investors may now be protecting from another kind of fear and the consequences may again be surprising.

The Fear Of Missing Out (FOMO)—popular among youth today—describes investors worldwide. Stock markets have been so good people are asking, “Am I aggressive enough?”

Excitement and expectations have been rising and there has been a lot of money to be made. In just the first 10 trading days of 2018, the S&P 500 returned almost 5 percent! Worldwide averages were even higher! That is after returning over 30 percent over the last two years for U.S. large company averages. It is as though investors have accepted the massively positive moves as the new normal.

The market does not have to follow the economy perfectly. The market’s performance is also determined by how reality measures up to expectations. So, the most likely thing to go wrong this year may be a failure to meet lofty expectations.

Consider the awesome year-to-date returns. If the “5 percent in 10 trading days” were to continue for the rest of the year, then we would have a return in the S&P 500 of 217 percent! It’s not going to happen.

The best way to prevent a mistake is by not getting caught up in the FOMO. Don’t get too aggressive right when things could slow down.

While I believe a few surprises may cost those throwing caution to the wind, the market is unlikely to experience a major hiccup while the economy is still growing. That leaves us with plenty of reasons to stay invested in 2018.

*Research by SFS. Investing involves risk, including potential loss of principal. Dow and S&P 500 indexes are widely considered to represent the overall stock market. One cannot invest directly in an index. Diversification does not guarantee positive results. Past performance does not guarantee future results. The opinions and forecasts expressed are those of the author and may not actually come to pass. This information is subject to change at any time, based upon changing conditions. This is not a recommendation to purchase any type of investment.

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How Financially Disastrous Are Natural Disasters?

By | 2017, Money Moxie, Newsletter | No Comments

Since our last Money Moxie®, we have seen two massive hurricanes lash the U.S. coast. In spite of these and other risks, the stock market has continued to add to its 2017 gains. What’s going on? Is the market’s response rational?

Counting on rational behavior —or even reasonable behavior—from investors during a crisis could be costly. So, even if you don’t expect to be directly impacted by a hurricane or other disaster, you may still feel some financial fallout.

Gas Prices: Hurricane Harvey pushed gasoline futures up 10 percent in trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange as investors anticipated refineries would shut down. The increase soon spread. According to AAA, the national average rose from $2.35 to $2.66 a gallon—a 13 percent increase.

Employment: Economic suffering is also evident in employment. Following Hurricane Harvey, the Labor Department reported the largest one-week jump in initial jobless claims since superstorm Sandy. Two weeks after Sandy (2012) and Katrina (2005), jobless claims soared higher by 23 percent and 30 percent, respectively. So, the full impact of Hurricane Irma on this measurement is still coming.

Consumer Spending: Nearly 70 percent of the U.S. economy is driven by stable consumer spending. When gas prices rise nationally and employment falls locally, there is less money for discretionary spending. The city of Houston, for example, has nearly 3 million workers and contributes around $500 billion to the economy. (Internationally, that places Houston’s economic value above that of the entire country of Sweden.)

Destruction and Reconstruction: Destruction is not counted in economic output. It shows up only as falling wealth. Reconstruction, often financed by debt, will eventually have a large impact on growth and cause a bump for inflation.

The overall impact could subtract around one half of a percent from U.S. growth. Fast forward 6 months and there should be a boost that approximately evens things out.

Investors concerned with natural disasters would be wise to maintain perspective. The lasting impact will be evident in the higher debt and human costs. Ultimately, this impact on individual lives is the most devastating.

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Finding a Way to Boost Economic Growth

By | 2017, Newsletter, Viewpoint | No Comments

When Donald Trump was running for president, he promised Americans a huge increase in economic growth reaching 4, 5, and even 6 percent. However, real economic growth in 2017 is expected to be around 2.1 percent–equaling the average over the last 10 years.2 Boosting growth will require overcoming challenges and capitalizing on opportunities. 1

 

 

 

(1) David Payne, “Goldilocks GDP Growth: Not Too Hot, Not Too Cold,” Kiplinger, July 28, 2017.
(2) Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis.
(3) Nick Timiraos and Andrew Tangel, “Can Trump Deliver 3% Growth? Stubborn Realities Stand in the Way,” WSJ, May 15, 2017.
(4) Glenn Kessler, “Do 10,000 Baby Boomers Retire Every Day?,” The Washington Post, July 24, 2014.
(5) Amanda Dixon, “The Average Retirement Age in Every State in 2016,” Fox News, December 28, 2016.

The opinions and forecasts expressed are those of the author and may not actually come to pass. This information is subject to change at any time, based on market and other conditions, and should not be construed as a recommendation of any specific security or investment plan. SFS is not affiliated with any companies mentioned in this commentary.

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Confidence is up, but will it lift the economy higher?

By | 2017, Money Moxie | No Comments

Looking at performance of the stock market over the last 12 months, one might assume that the economy is exploding upward. The rise has been driven mostly by a boost in consumer sentiment, which has taken off since the U.S. elections in November.

In 2017, consumer sentiment hit its highest level in more than 10 years!

Consumers represent 70 percent of the U.S. economy. Their confidence is crucial to future growth. Business spending is much smaller, but it is also much more volatile. So, when businesses are increasing their spending, the economy really has potential to move up. The good news is that optimism is also up for business executives.

Confidence data is nothing more than opinion polls. This is why they are referred to as soft data. Hard data represents real action. Typically, these go hand-in-hand: A change in one leads to a corresponding change in the other.

After inflation, consumer spending is up, but just by 2.8 percent.
The trend in the hard data does not match that of the soft data. The Federal Reserve does not seem concerned.

The Fed raised rates last December and March. Expectations are nearly 100 percent that it will raise them again in June–despite first quarter economic growth of 0.7 percent.

How does one reconcile the gap between opinion polls and actual improvement? What is likely to happen?

The U.S. economy is still improving. Unemployment is down to 4.4 percent. Corporate profits are up. Energy prices are down. Finally, global growth appears to be entering its first synchronized period of growth in two decades. According to BlackRock, European earnings are up nearly 20 percent in the last year.

Add to this good news the potential for positive surprises and it becomes more clear why a glass-is-half-full perspective is better.

  • Soft data could finally lift hard data
  • Increased global trade will help U.S. companies
  • Wages should rise with tight labor market
  • Deregulation could create more opportunities
  • Corporate tax reform may boost profits
  • Infrastructure spending could boost productivity

Any one of these surprises could help convert optimism into action. The timing is the greatest uncertainty, but that is no reason to be overly concerned. With so many positive economic changes occurring in the world right now, we believe there are plenty of opportunities
in 2017.

 

*Data from the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis. The S&P 500 index often represents the U.S. stock market. One cannot invest directly in an index. Investing involves risk, including potential loss of principal. The opinions and forecasts expressed are those of the author and may not actually come to pass. This information is subject to change at any time, based on market and other conditions, and should not be construed as a recommendation of any specific security or investment plan. SFS is not affiliated with any companies mentioned in this commentary.

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Gambling – with Your Retirement?

By | 2017, Money Moxie, Viewpoint | No Comments

To encourage better investment behavior, the Nasdaq stock exchange plans to reward investors willing to commit. In 2016, the exchange introduced plans for an “Extended Life Order.” In today’s fast-paced world, how long a commitment does the Nasdaq want for an extended life trade? One second!

Information travels fast in 2017 and the stock market seems to hit highs every week. Nevertheless, I believe it is the patient, long-term investors that should benefit the most.

It’s hard to define long-term perfectly, but it is a lot more than one second–possibly somewhere above 315 million seconds, which is around ten years.

With this in mind, I think it is a good time to consider what kind of investor we want to be and what attributes we need to be successful.

Speculator/Gambler
Investing is different than gambling in many fundamental ways. However, it is still possible for investors to speculate with their savings. A speculator trades often based on short-term events hoping that a price will continue to rise or fall—anticipating a quick exit in a couple months, weeks, days, or less.

Investor
An investor purchases ownership in a company to help it raise money for profitable projects. As an owner, investors may even receive dividends.

Attributes for Success
To help determine what kind of investor you are, ask yourself, “How much would you accept in a year instead of $1,000 right now?”

Let’s hope your answer isn’t too far off one thousand dollars. The greater your number, the less financial patience you have—and patience is crucial to gaining wealth. It impacts spending, savings, and investing.

Combine patience with a little courage and then an investor truly has a chance at participating in the long-term opportunities that the markets have to offer.

Warren Buffett is one of the wealthiest individuals in the world. He built his fortune by being greedy when others were fearful and fearful when others were greedy. He purchased stocks in some of the most frightening times like during the Great Recession of 2008-2009.

Is Buffett a speculator or an investor? He certainly has patience and courage. When asked about his ideal time frame for holding an investment, Warren Buffett replied: “Forever!” Now that is an “extended life” commitment!

 

Sources: “Enhancing Long-Term Liquidity-Nasdaq Introduces the Extended Life Order” Nelson Griggs, Nasdaq.com, August 18, 2016
“Investor or Speculator: Which One Are You?” Jason Zweig, WSJ, December 10, 2016

Research by SFS. The Dow Jones index is often considered to represent the U.S. stock markets. One cannot invest directly in an index. Diversification does not guarantee positive results. Past performance does not guarantee future results. The opinions and forecasts expressed are those of the author and may not actually come to pass. This information is subject to change at any time, based upon changing conditions. This is not a recommendation to purchase any type of investment.

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