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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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Trumponomy: Make the Economy Great Again?

By | 2017, Money Moxie, Newsletter | No Comments

Income Tax Cuts
Republicans want to simplify income tax brackets from 7 to 3 and allow everyone to pay less. It could be like an economic sugar rush. The question is: Will it turn into enough growth that it will help not hurt the national debt?

Corporate Taxes
Currently at 35 percent, a drop to 15 percent could be a shot of adrenaline to profits (according to The Wall Street Journal, with deductions, companies average 29 percent). There is also a plan to help corporations bring cash home from overseas. Do companies boost productivity or just spend on dividends and stock buybacks? Good for investors either way, but long-term we need productivity.

Infrastructure Spending
Trump promised a $500 billion stimulus, but more debt isn’t popular. Implementation will take some time and the actual budget may be smaller than promised (unless President Trump gets support from Democrats who have been working to pass infrastructure stimulus for years).

U.S. Debt
Americans are not watching this as closely as they were a couple years ago, but our debt is about to reach $20 trillion. If we ignore it, interest rates will rise and our debt will only get worse–Time to balance the budget?

 

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2017 Predictions

By | 2017, Money Moxie, Newsletter | No Comments

Market movement since Election Day has been massive and investors see this as confirmation of just how good Republicans are going to be for the economy. How could so many investors be wrong? Actually, fairly easily.

Right or wrong, investors should be careful not to get carried away. There is a high amount of uncertainty and no way to know what the future will bring.

(1) Trump Rally
The big move in stocks in November and December has been an acceleration of the positive momentum already taking place in the economy. It has been characteristic of many presidential election years with a good economy.

It is completely normal to get excited, but don’t let it lead to overconfidence. Few things last forever and most years have their ups and downs.

It is not unusual to see inauguration day (Friday, January 20, 2017) mark a change for investors as they realize the new president does not have a magic wand.

(2) Dow 20K
The Dow stock index has been flirting with 20,000. It just could not quite get there in 2016. In 2017, I believe it will! And it will likely cross that mark many times.

The first time the Dow reached 10,000 came in March of 1999. Over the next 11 years, it crossed that level on 34 days until it surpassed it a final time in the summer of 2010.

It’s hard to fight gravity and it’s hard to turn a large ship. There is so much positive momentum right now that I expect it to continue. Unemployment is falling. Wages are rising. Confidence is climbing.

One unknown is the impact of policy changes on global trade, which may decline this year as the United States turns its focus inward.

(3) Fed Does Its Job
The Federal Reserve is likely to “take away the punch bowl just as the party is getting started.”

For two consecutive years I have accurately predicted that the Fed would be more cautious than its own forecast. This year, I am accepting the Fed’s forecast that it will raise rates 3 times in 2017.

Of course, no one knows with certainty because with each rate hike, I expect investors will become more concerned.

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2016 Review

By | 2017, Money Moxie, Newsletter | No Comments

“If you want to see the sunshine you have to weather the storm.” In its first 3 weeks, 2016 delivered investors more than a 10 percent loss–the worst start in 80 years. Our natural human instinct at such moments is to feel that it will continue, but predicting the markets is extremely difficult.

In a dramatic turnaround, the U.S. stock market rose in February and March–recording the best recovery in 83 years.

(1) Fed will move slowly. The Federal Reserve planned to raise rates 4 times in 2016. This aggressive forecast in combination with falling oil prices spooked investors. Then came the uncertainty of Brexit and the U.S. elections. By year end, the Fed raised rates just once (in December).

(2) Election years are not recession years. I expected the economy to grow and for the market to continue to rise as our bull market entered its 8th year.

This positive outlook proved beneficial in the early days of 2016 when the resolve of many investors was tested. The market turned positive and remained there for most of the year.

(3) United States grows and the dollar slows. A strong U.S. dollar is not as good as it sounds. Sure, it’s great for Americans traveling overseas, but it presents challenges for large U.S. companies and investors.

The year began with too much strength: From July 2014 to January 2016, our dollar rose against every major currency around the globe! It gained 20 percent versus the euro and 54 percent versus the Russian ruble!

Fortunately, the U.S. dollar spent 9 of the last 12 months below January 2016 levels. That gave investors more opportunity as we invested globally.

This international diversification helped a great deal until a great divide formed in November.

These investments have taken a break as U.S. stocks rose in November, but I believe the worldwide economy still looks positive and may offer benefits to investors again in 2017.

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Election Impact

By | 2016, Money Moxie, Newsletter | No Comments

President-elect Donald Trump made a lot of promises to Americans on the campaign trail. Yes, he proposed building a wall on the Mexican border and blocking certain groups from immigrating to the United States, but none were more important to voters than how the candidate would impact their money.

Trump believes his economic plans will double U.S. growth, which is currently at 2.9 percent. He plans to focus on cutting taxes for the rich, increasing government spending, and negotiate better trade deals with foreign countries. If necessary, he has even suggested imposing tariffs on imports of goods to the United States.

Republicans will control the Senate and House of Representatives, so the next president may find it easier to get things done, especially at first. Here are a few of the promises made during Trump’s campaign.

Jobs

The foundation of the United States is firm and its economy is strengthening. Unemployment numbers cannot get much better than current levels. Wage growth may be a more valuable measure of economic health. Infrastructure spending of $500 billion may help by boosting productivity of Americans in the long-term.

Education and Family

  • Require paid maternity leave for 6 weeks.
  • Make child care expenses tax deductible.
  • Allow “dependent care savings accounts.”

Healthcare

    When it comes to healthcare, any president faces an aging population and rising costs of new medical technology. Trump plans to repeal the Affordable Care Act and replace it with something different.
  • Make health insurance premiums tax deductible.
  • Encourage health insurance to be sold across state lines (something already allowed by federal law).
  • Allow imports of foreign drugs where prices are cheaper.

Taxes

    Trump has proposed many changes to the tax code. The greatest impact will be on the top one percent of earners who are estimated to save about $100,000 in taxes every year.
  • Increase the standard deduction to $30,000 for joint filers from its current level of $12,600.
  • Eliminate the personal exemption of $4,050 per dependent that parents use.
  • Eliminate estate tax.
  • Eliminate alternative minimum tax.
  • Lower corporate tax to 15 percent.

Investments

In the coming months very little should change. Increased government spending on infrastructure combined with tax cuts roughly the same size could boost growth in the coming year or two. It would also increase the national debt significantly. This could depress the value of existing bonds as interest rates rise on U.S. debt.

If we raise tariffs and other countries do the same then global trade could decrease and the cost of goods could rise. Less trade would also decrease profitability for U.S. exporters. This could even cost workers their jobs.

Our advice? Vote with your ballot, not your portfolio. Think of all the missed opportunity if one withdrew whenever there was uncertainty. Whether your favored candidates were elected or not, we want to reinforce the importance of sticking to your long-term plans.

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The Promise of Prosperity

By | 2016, Money Moxie, Newsletter, Viewpoint | No Comments

Americans want a strong country and growing economy. That much we agree on. Of all the promises we heard this election year, none may be more difficult to keep than the commitment to boost growth up to levels last seen decades ago.

Since 2009, the U.S. economy has increased at a rate of 2 percent. Many countries envy that number, but Americans expect more. Our increases were twice as big 20 years ago.

In all of human history I know of no other time with such miraculous growth as post World War II. We have come to accept boom times as normal.

From 1948 to 1973 the average economic output of an American worker doubled. That productivity trend continued until the early 2000s when it suddenly slowed.

prosperity

Consumers Carried the Economy
The “Great Recession” of 2008-2009 complicated things further by drastically altering Americans’ perception of stability and diminishing their tolerance for government debt.

This led to tighter limits on government spending, which has been a huge drag on economic growth. The federal government has cut spending 4 of the last 5 years. This is good short-term because it reduces debt. The long-term impact is less certain.

How much can our economy grow when the government is cutting spending? Who picks up the slack? Businesses have been hesitant to reinvest large amounts in long-term projects. So the responsibility for economic growth has fallen on the shoulders of the U.S. consumer.

Politicians Turned to Spending
Today, politicians and economists are calling for stimulus. What form this takes is yet to be seen, but the popularity of such an idea is rising. Both presidential candidates announced plans to increase government spending to improve infrastructure and stimulate an atmosphere of growth. Donald Trump plans to increase spending by $500 billion. (Hillary Clinton proposed bumping it up by $275 billion.)

Will Stimulus Work?
The answer for decades following the Great Depression was “yes.” The theory is that for every dollar the government spends it can boost the economy by several dollars—creating more wealth than was spent as the dollars circulate through the country.

It fell out of favor in the 1980s and 1990s. Now it’s back.

If stimulus is going to work then it should be concentrated on “fiscal multipliers.” These are the best places and they are often described as levers that can be pulled to actually create growth in the economy.

For stimulus to work it should be focused on the most effective area: infrastructure. Why?
1. Immediate creation of jobs
2. Jump in demand for construction materials
3. Greater efficiency for the entire economy
4. Investment in the future of America

Our bridges, airports, and freeway systems are in need of repair. Our electric grid is outdated and vulnerable as well. Technological advancements have redefined living. It may be time to apply some innovative American ingenuity to our infrastructure.

If there ever was a time that Americans could benefit from this stimulus it would be following a lack of spending—a situation we now find ourselves in.

 

*Research by SFS. Data from the Federal Reserve Bank of St Louis. Past performance does not guarantee future results.

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Subzero Rates Freeze Growth and Hold Back Your Portfolio

By | 2016, Money Moxie, Newsletter | No Comments

Crazy things are happening in the world! There is a chronic shortage of demand for goods in global economies. For years, governments have been fighting back—fighting back by dropping interest rates. Recently, rates overseas have fallen to subzero levels.

Negative rates—where lenders pay the borrowers—seemed unimaginable and foolish a few years ago. Now, they are beginning to feel like the new normal. How can individuals and countries flourish in such an environment? They can’t!

What is it like to live in a subzero-rate world?

1. The subzero world is so crazy that global interest rates are at their lowest level in 500 years of recorded history.1

2. The subzero world is so crazy that if you want the German government to borrow your money you have to pay! Hold that bond for ten years until it matures and the government promises to pay you back less than it borrowed.

3. The subzero world is so crazy that many homeowners in Denmark are no longer paying interest to banks for their mortgages. The banks are paying interest to them!

Hans Peter Christensen, a recipient of a check from his mortgage company in Denmark, said this after receiving his first payment: “My parents said I should frame it, to prove to coming generations that this ever happened.”2

The biggest borrowers in the world include the United States, United Kingdom, Germany, and Japan. The figure below shows how low these rates have become.

rates

Negative Rates Matter to Americans.
Low rates overseas make positive rates in the United States more attractive for investors, which pushes U.S. rates down as well. This makes it less expensive for us to take out a mortgage or a car loan. It creates opportunities for businesses to borrow and grow. On the surface, these low rates seem like a benefit.

Low Rates May Have Helped. Now They Hurt.
During the recession of 2008-2009, there was an economic emergency that required extraordinary effort to infuse calm and confidence.

The emergency is over. The economy should come off life support. The reluctance to move forward is now harming the very confidence it was meant to create.

Artificially low rates are also destroying natural incentives to borrow and lend.

Consumers and businesses do better when banks are healthy, but banks are not healthy. There is little profit to be made and a low incentive to offer loans when interest rates are so low. Why take the risk when the potential reward is so low?

Subzero and near-zero rates also encourage transactions that would not take place in a rational world. For example, many corporations now borrow just to pay dividends. Of the 500 largest companies in the country, 44 have paid more in dividends in the last year than their respective net income.3 This financial engineering helps investors now, but does nothing to strengthen a company or its employees.

End the Pessimism.
Despite all the positives in the economy, consumer confidence is low. Investor sentiment is terrible. Most Americans believe we still have not recovered from a recession that officially ended over six years ago.

Look around. Americans are in a good financial place. Most people who want to work have a job. Unemployment is at just 4.9 percent. In Salt Lake City, where SFS is located, that rate is just 3.6 percent.4

then-and-now

A Day of Reckoning Will Come.
The next financial scare could come after fantastic economic growth, leading to inflation and central banks would have to rapidly raise rates—shocking the economy. Or the storm could blow in from the opposite direction: economic slowdown.

If the Fed and other central banks don’t normalize rates now then there will be fewer options in the future to help keep the world economies going in a real emergency.

It’s Time to Begin Moving Back to Normal.
Central banks around the world should stop experimenting. The United States is strong enough to handle a more normal business environment. The Fed can do that by slowly bringing U.S. interest rates up.

The U.S. economy is not perfect, but it is good enough to handle borrowing one quarter of one percent higher. It could even help by sending a signal of confidence to the world—confident workers, businesses, and consumers.

Higher rates may cause the U.S. dollar to strengthen, and that could hurt American businesses that export. However, the United States has the best economy in the world and we are growing faster than any other developed country. Keeping our dollar artificially low may not be a good idea.

We can allow the dollar to rise a little as we bump up interest rates from their near-zero levels. This message of confidence may help increase demand worldwide—giving investors something to cheer about as well.

 

1. Bill Gross, “Negative Interest Rates a Supernova,” Janus Funds, June 2, 2016.
2. Charles Duxbury and David Gauthier-Villars, “Negative Rates Around the World,” Wall Street Journal, April 14, 2016.
3. Mike Bird, Vipal Mongaand, Aaron Kuriloff, “Dividends Eat Up Bigger Slice of Company Profits,” Wall Street Journal, August 18, 2016.
4. Federal Reserve Bank of St Louis.

Research by SFS. 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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