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inflation

Market Resiliency Overcomes Biases

By | 2020, Executive Message, Money Moxie, Newsletter | No Comments

As we near the end of 2020, we can look back on what we have experienced over the last 12 months, and more importantly, what we have learned from our experiences. Good and bad, we have all been impacted by the events brought on by COVID-19.

Evaluating the past is helpful in looking forward to a new year and the seasons of life ahead. Unfortunately, it is easy for our perspective to be swayed by biases we have developed. Biases are subconscious thoughts that shape our opinions and drive our behaviors. A bias might cause us to make assumptions about the future, such as “The market has changed and will never be the same again,” or, “Life as we know it has changed forever.” These are examples of Recency Bias. Our brain takes a recent experience and uses it as an atlas for all future decisions. It is almost like tunnel vision; we can only see one outcome.

Over the past 26 years, I have learned that every experience is different. Each is driven by a new set of circumstances – always changing. Our personal situations, the economy, and financial markets are fluid, ever-shifting. No one can predict what will happen in the future, positive or negative.

The market has faced many headwinds in the past – the dot com bubble, the Great Recession, Brexit – and has recovered from each. The economy has ebbed and flowed through market cycles while dealing with inflation pressures, political change, unemployment, and many other factors.

When I think of these hurdles, which seemed insurmountable at the time, I cannot help but be awed by the resiliency that followed the hard times. It is that perspective that gives me hope and a positive outlook for what lies ahead.

While the next six months may look fuzzy and hard to predict, the longer-term picture appears more defined, clear, and encouraging.

I am grateful for you, our clients, and the opportunity to help shape your financial future. I wish you and your family health, happiness, and prosperity in the years to come.

Wishing you a safe and happy holiday season.

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The Danger of Retiring Into Uncertainty

By | 2020, Money Moxie, Newsletter | No Comments

Your decision to retire may be one of the hardest you will make. A lifetime of preparation comes down to a single day when you leave the familiar day-to-day routine – not to mention the regular paycheck – and embark on a new adventure.

That nest egg you have been accumulating will need to provide a large portion of your monthly income along with Social Security and your pension, assuming you have one.

Imagine that you planned to retire in 2020. Should you retire in a year when markets are experiencing extreme volatility, and there seems to be an abundance of uncertainty when looking at the economic picture? What will happen to your retirement income if your nest egg balance drops?

Your fear is based on sequence risk. You are concerned that the market will continue to drop right at the point when you are hoping it will increase. Sequence-of-returns risk, or sequence risk, is the risk that an investor will experience negative portfolio returns very late in their working years, or early in the retirement years. The fear of losing money can cause an investor to become risk-averse in the short-term, discounting future opportunities for growth.

This chart illustrates the impact market returns can have on an investment portfolio. One illustrates negative returns early in retirement and the other positive returns early in retirement. Consequently, the average return in both cases is 4%.

Sequence risk is a real threat but can be managed in a retirement portfolio. Our Lifetime Income Plan diminishes sequence risk without locking investors into illiquid products with high fees and minimal flexibility.

The key is managing risk throughout retirement. Determining how much money you will need at different intervals is the backbone of the Lifetime Income Plan. Knowing these key points helps us to ascertain how much risk should be taken with an investment.

Let’s say you need $42,000 each year to supplement Social Security and other income. We would invest enough money to cover the income for five years in a very conservative investment. In this case, we are more interested in the security of the money than potential return.

This continues in segments through retirement, generally in 5-year increments. With each segment, we determine how much money will be needed and increase risk accordingly. The assets that will be used ten or more years out typically have a greater amount of risk.

The Lifetime Income Plan helps diminish the impact of volatility on your income and emotions. This helps you stay invested and gives you a greater opportunity to participate in market growth over time.

One thing is certain; risk is inherent to investing. If managed correctly, it can help you outpace inflation and maintain your lifestyle in retirement. For more information on how a Lifetime Income Plan can benefit you, contact an SFS Wealth Management consultant.

Graphic from RetireOne: hypothetical illustration does not represent the results of an actual investment. It does not reflect any investment fees, expenses, or taxes associated with investments. An average annual return of 4% is reflected for both investors. Annual withdrawals of $5,000 are taken at the end of each year.

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Can We Stop the Tide?

By | 2020, Money Moxie | No Comments

I love Warren Buffett’s metaphor about the tide going out. It’s hilarious and true. Jerome Powell’s response demonstrates the magnitude of the task at hand in 2020. Now, a confession: Jerome Powell never said he could stop the tide—at least not in words. However, he is trying to stop the economic tide from allowing struggling businesses to borrow more and more money until the current global healthcare crisis is over.

A little background: When the federal government exceeds its budget, it must borrow. There is only one government agency where this does not apply, the Fed. My favorite metaphor for the Fed is the hammer. To a hammer, everything looks like a nail. Whether we are in a real estate crisis or a global pandemic, the Fed has one response: create money. And because it does not have to borrow, there is no limit to the amount it can make. The Fed wields a hammer of infinite size.

Just as you may have projects at home that require other tools, it makes sense that a hammer cannot solve all of America’s problems. A pandemic seems like it may be one of these. It has not stopped the Fed from trying. In less than 3 months in 2020, the Fed created more money than it did during the previous 12 years combined. (That includes the 2008 Great Recession and the trillions of dollars to get out of it.)

A consequence of the unprecedented government intervention is a massive amount of wealth creation. The Fed’s money goes mostly into debt markets, which pushes prices higher and makes the owners of assets wealthier. The wealthiest 10 percent of Americans own approximately 80 percent of market assets, so there is an unintended consequence of increasing the wealth gap. This is not the Fed’s fault exactly. Remember, it may have unlimited amounts of money, but it is really limited in how it can spend it.

You may be wondering, doesn’t printing money create inflation? Why haven’t we seen it in the last decade? Inflation is rising prices. It has averaged only 2 percent despite the $7 trillion created by the Fed during the previous 12 years and the $27 trillion borrowed by the federal government, most of this over the last 20 years. Instead, let’s describe it as follows: “Inflation is when prices go up for the stuff you want.” By that definition, I think inflation has been higher than 2 percent.

So, will we see inflation get even worse? All it takes is for demand to grow faster than supply, but this hasn’t happened yet. Consider investors like Jeff Bezos, Bill Gates, and Warren Buffett. When the Fed pushes up the value of their investments, do they buy another home or a big-screen TV? The wealth creation that the Fed engages in is unlikely to turn into major inflation unless it creates a significant increase in demand. Once consumers get accustomed to rising prices, then further increases may follow.

If the Fed had written checks out to every American for $21,000, there would have been a massive increase in spending. Demand would have been way beyond supply, and the prices of homes, cars, and other items would have skyrocketed. The Fed cannot do this, and it wouldn’t want to. Stable prices and full employment are its two mandates.

However, I believe that a more mild increase in inflation may come in the next decade. While the Fed’s money went into financial assets, there was an effort by the federal government to help Americans more directly.

The CARES Act provided $1,200 in cash to most Americans, including approximately 70 million children and over a million deceased. In addition to this, around 20 million unemployed Americans received a $600 per week boost to unemployment benefits.

All this adds up to a lot of extra stimuli, and it has had a more direct impact on spending, saving, and even investing. Approximately 30 percent of all income is now coming from the government.

The federal government is $27 trillion in debt, which is well beyond the size of our entire economy. And there may be even more stimulus coming.

As this stimulus works its way into the economy over the coming years, we may see inflation begin to rise for the first time in a long time.

Another potential impact of the Fed’s actions is also unintended. We call it moral hazard. If we avoid the pain and devastation of recession, then when will we learn the hard lessons?

Finally, will all this help productivity and innovation or hinder it? Will we have to pay off any of this debt, or will we use inflation to make it less meaningful? Only time will tell.

Even with all the uncertainty, the Fed firmly believes it does not have much choice. Jerome Powell likes to describe the Fed stimulus as a bridge to keep Americans out of financial harm until this crisis has passed. This is what I would call the Great Financial Experiment of 2020. This is not only happening in the United States but all over the developed world.

The success so far has been stunning and without major unintended consequences, but it’s also still early–very early. So, as investors, we look for opportunities to participate, but we never forget the risks. Only time will show if the United States of America and the rest of the developed world successfully stopped the tide from going out.

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Your Personal Inflation Rate Versus Published Inflation Rates

By | 2019, Executive Message, Money Moxie, Newsletter | No Comments

The cost of daily living, especially health care and long-term care, are not going down. But your ability to pay for them will drop once you retire. In fact, the longer you live, the higher the impact of inflation will be.

A case in point: The cost of a first-class forever stamp jumped 10 percent from 50 cents to 55 cents on January 27, 2019. On January 1, 1952, a first-class stamp only cost 3 cents for the first ounce.

People are living longer, much longer. A couple, both age 65, have a 50 percent chance that at least one of them will live to age 92.1 The government’s published CPI is for everything and everyone in general. Your personal inflation rate will be higher because, as you age, rising health care and long-term care costs will be a more significant proportion of your spending.

Health care costs are escalating. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, health insurance experienced an average inflation rate of 2.63 percent between 2005 and 2019. The overall inflation rate was 1.84 percent during this same period. What cost $20.00 in 2005, cost $28.76 in 2019. That’s 43.78 percent higher 14 years later.

Seventy percent of people 65 and older will need long-term care.2 However, Medicare will only pay for a limited number of days of skilled nursing care and only after hospitalization.

Unfortunately, these long-term care costs are rising at historic levels–much faster than other expenses. While the cost of living increased by 1.7 percent, long-term care rose 4.5 percent.3

Early planning for a longer life and a higher personal inflation rate is critically important. That’s why we at Smedley Financial create and build plans for our clients to live to age 95 as well as develop a realistic, personal inflation rate for you to help you prepare for the coming surprises of retirement.

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The Life of a Centenarian

By | 2018, Money Moxie | No Comments

We are experiencing a longevity wave; worldwide more people are living to age 100 and beyond – and Americans are leading the pack. Today’s centenarians are living relatively active lives. The secret may be preparing physically, mentally, and financially.

Physical mobility does not begin at retirement. It’s something you have to work on throughout life. Centenarians who enjoy an active lifestyle do so because they adopted an active lifestyle early on that includes regular physical activity. Finding a like-minded community gives these active seniors a sense of purpose and a reason to make an effort each day. Activities such as pickleball, swimming, and dancing have gained popularity among retirees.

Mental outlook has a significant bearing on a centenarian’s sense of wellbeing. You have met them; these are the people who seem to have an endless smile and a consistent, positive outlook on life – regardless of their personal situation. Keeping an active mind is every bit as important as staying physically active. Staying involved in a community and regularly getting together with friends provide a sense of belonging and help prevent feelings of isolation and loneliness.

Financially, these folks have weathered many changes. Most receive some type of pension along with Social Security benefits, which provide an income base, and investments help supplement their income needs. However, they are facing a challenge they may not have believed would occur. Longevity. The longer they live, the more difficult it will be to maintain their standard of living as inflation takes its toll.

Cost of living increases (COLA) are built-in to Social Security benefits, but many pensions do not provide COLAs. Inflation’s impact steadily eats away at the purchasing power of money. For someone who will be retired for 30 to 40 years, the reality can be disheartening. And while general inflation over a long period of time averages 3 percent, retirees face an even steeper inflation trend when it comes to medical costs, which increase between 5 and 6 percent annually.

You have heard us say it before, but the statistic warrants repeating. A married couple age 65 today has a 50 percent chance that one of them will live to age 92. That is both exciting and alarming. What can you do to prepare financially? Save as much as you can – then save some more!

Pensions are becoming obsolete for future retirees. In 1979, 30 percent of retirees had pension benefits. In 2014, that number had dropped to 2 percent, and the downslide continues. Without a pension to help provide a portion of retirement income, we have to pick up the slack. Rather than living only for today, we must look to the future. This is difficult, especially when faced with “present bias” – weighing today twice as heavy as the future. Planning for a longer life is essential, and it requires a balanced perspective now.

While we cannot make up for lost time, we can start saving more today. Adopt a mindset of preparing for the future. Each year increase the amount you are saving, even if by just one percent. When you reach centenarian status, you will appreciate every dollar you saved. Not sure you are saving enough or what to expect when you reach retirement age? Let us help you determine your retirement goals and map out a plan to get started. If you are closing in on retirement, let us help you create a retirement income plan. We can determine your sources of income when you retire and how to make your nest egg last as long as you do.

 

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What is the Risk of being too Conservative

By | 2018, Money Moxie | No Comments

Are your conservative investments at risk? What about the cash you are keeping in your savings account or in the safe downstairs? “No,” you might be thinking, “I keep cash because it’s safe.” If these are your thoughts, I have some bad news. In an effort to avoid risk, you could be taking on a different kind of risk. I’m talking about inflation risk and it’s a silent killer that preys on the innocent.

Inflation can cause damage too small to be seen until it’s too large to be avoided. And the more conservative the investment, the greater the risk. “But wait,” you might be saying, “I thought conservative investments were safer and risk increased only as I invested more aggressively.” That is generally true with market risk, but it does change when considering inflation risk.

According to inflationdata.com, inflation has historically averaged just over 3%. This means on average a dollar will buy 3% less than it did 12 months earlier. A product that costs $100 dollars today will cost over $2,000 dollars 100 years from now. When my father was young, a candy bar cost 5 cents. I remember paying 50 cents as a child. Today, a candy bar is $1.25. That’s inflation.

If our money is not earning at least the rate of annual inflation, our purchasing power is decreasing. My father could’ve bought almost 20 candy bars with a dollar when he was young. With the same dollar, a child today couldn’t even buy one.

As you can see in the Risk vs. Reward graph I’ve provided, the more aggressive the investment, the greater the potential should be for gain, especially over long periods of time. However, I want to call your attention to the left side of the graph, the conservative side. This side of the graph shows little to no risk being taken and yet there is a loss. That is the risk of being too conservative. This loss isn’t a loss of principal, but a loss of purchasing power.

Keeping up with inflation should be an investor’s number one goal, and some conservative investments struggle to do that. Conservative investments do serve an important purpose and are a great choice for short term goals and emergency funds. But if your goal is long-term, adding a little more risk may actually reduce inflation risk. Investing in a diversified portfolio that includes stock market and bond market risk may help protect you from inflation risk.

A real area of concern for inflation risk is in retirement. If these investors don’t keep up with inflation, they could risk living longer than their money. At a 3.5% inflation rate, the cost of goods will double every 20 years. This means an 85 year-old couple who keep their investments in cash will have half the purchasing power they did when they retired at 65. Although the principal amount would be the same, it would be like a 50% loss. That is a risk I hate to see investors take.

For more information on inflation risk, market risk, and the risks taken in your current portfolio, please call us and schedule an appointment. We would love to answer any questions you have and help you to reduce unnecessary risk.

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Stocks Stand Alone

By | 2018, Money Moxie | No Comments

If you could go back in time 100 years and pick an asset in which to invest, which would you choose? Knowing of events like the Wall Street Crash of 1929 and the Great Depression, 7% inflation in the 1970’s, and the stock market crash of 2008, would you still choose to put your money in stocks? If so, you would be making a wise decision.

I recently came across an article posted in the March 2018 issue of The Wall Street Journal regarding the average annual returns of 10 popular investments over the last century. (I included a graph showing these investments and their average historical returns above inflation.)

At first glance, I noticed the negative returns of diamonds. Although diamonds are quite popular, especially on the finger of a loved one, they have been a poor investment if appreciation is the goal.

Bonds, which happen to be fifth on the list behind collectable stamps and high-end violins, show an average annual return of 2%.

Gold, a popular investment among some investors, has historically fallen short when compared to fine art and fine wine; the latter of which post returns over 500% more than that of gold.

Stocks have had the highest returns, and by a large margin. Despite the crashes, recessions, and economic contractions, stocks have had the best return in the last 117 years.

As we face volatility in the markets in 2018, we know that a diversified portfolio of stocks and bonds has weathered the storms of years past.

Despite the risks of recession and downturn in the future, I plan to keep my diamonds on my wife’s finger and my long-term investments in stocks.

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Inflation

By | 2015, Money Moxie, Newsletter | No Comments

Inflation

Inflation plays a part in our lives whether you are a new parent, seasoned grandparent, or the tooth fairy. Planning ahead will help to minimize your stress when inflation rears its ugly head.

• College savings accounts let you put money aside to cover the costs of higher education. Assets grow tax-deferred and can be used tax-free for allowed expenses.

• Cafeteria plans can be used to cover basic health care costs, glasses, dental work and braces, and even day care with tax-free money. If you know you are going to spend the money, do it before giving Uncle Sam a cut. Check with your employer to see if they offer cafeteria accounts.
At retirement, the shift to living on a fixed income can be harsh. At this stage, incomes are fixed and even compress over time.

Overall, inflation may be flat, but many services retirees need continue to rise; take for instance health care, long-term care, and housing.

One way to protect your income from the impact of inflation is through a retirement income plan. Understanding how and when each of your dollars will be used to provide income during retirement allows us to implement strategies to help protect your nest egg against inflation and other major factors.

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The Virtuous Cycle of Rising Prices

By | 2014, Newsletter, Viewpoint | No Comments

Imagine waking up tomorrow to discover gasoline prices have dropped in half. What if milk, eggs, and all your groceries cost less as well? Suddenly, your money would be worth more. Sounds great, right? It wouldn’t take long for the heavy weight of reality to hit you.

Consider how knowledge of tomorrow’s pricing might affect today’s behavior. Assuming no shortages, we would be crazy to buy today what would cost less in 24 hours. While falling prices (deflation) sound nice on the surface, they can have disastrous consequences.

Deflation's Destruction

Deflation has been present in most economic depressions in history, including the Great Depression. The initial causes may include productivity increases, oversupply of goods, or scarcity of money.
A rise in productivity has been occurring for centuries with greater education and technology. In fact, a U.S. worker today, on average, can produce twice as much as a worker in 1975 and 50 percent more than a worker in 1995! Outsourcing to cheaper foreign labor has a similar effect on productivity as technology.

Supply of goods fluctuates, especially with food and energy. For example, a drought in 2012 led to a rise in grain prices like corn, which made feed cattle more expensive in 2013, which led to higher dairy and beef prices in 2014 (see Price Changes table).

Price Changes

Scarcity of money is where the U.S. Federal Reserve (Fed) comes in. The Fed encourages low unemployment and low inflation by managing the money supply.

The Fed cannot control the weather in the Midwest, extract more oil from Saudi Arabia, or raise the minimum wage in China. But the Fed will do everything it can to avoid deflation. Since 2008, it has spent over three trillion dollars to stabilize falling prices.

Rising prices are normal in a healthy economy. The 50 year average for inflation is 4.1 percent. This reasonable rate encourages spending and creates a virtuous cycle of economic growth (see Inflation’s Value graphic).

Inflation's Value

All the current numbers in this cycle are good, but below average. Over the last twelve months inflation has been 1.7 percent, wage increases averaged 2.8 percent, and consumer spending grew 3.6 percent.
The most recent U.S. growth rate showed an increase of 4.2 percent. That is a great number. If it is followed by another increase in another category like wages the growth cycle could pick up speed. The result could help the current bull market continue.

Definitions

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Impact of War on Stock Markets

By | 2014, Money Moxie, Newsletter | No Comments

War Graphic

As the Sochi Olympics ended, many eyes turned to the other side of the Black Sea and the threat of war in Ukraine. With each successive turn of good or bad events, our U.S. stock markets1 seem to react in like manner. That begs the question, what impact do wars have on stock markets, and how should an individual react?

To see the impact of war, let’s first examine the most recent war that started on American soil. The impression that many people have is that the recession of the early 2000s started with the terror attacks on September 11, 2001. The reality is that stocks were already on a downward trend when September 11th happened. Yes stocks dropped sharply in the 10 days following that awful event, but once America grasped the reality of the situation, stocks rebounded, recovering the losses directly related to the shock of that event.2

There is a similar pattern for each conflict involving the United States. “In 14 shocks dating (back) to the attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941, the median one-day decline has been 2.4%. The shocks, which also include the September 11th terror attacks and the 1962 Cuban missile crisis, lasted eight days, with total losses of 7.4%…The market recouped its losses 14 days later.”3

Similar patterns of decline occurred during several Middle Eastern conflicts such as Desert Storm in 1991, the Iraq War in 2003, and the Syrian Conflict in 2011. Leading up to each of these events, the market dropped, but recovery happened shortly thereafter.4

Mark Luschini, the Chief Investment Strategist for Janney Montgomery, put it this way, “It’s not that it’s welcome, but once it gets underway, you can quantify what the situation might look like. When you’re left in the dark about when it will start, what will be the result, it gives investors trepidation.”5

Short-term shocks to the system cause short-term consequences for the stock market and the economy. On the other hand, major periods of conflict can have more lasting effects on the economy and the stock market.

One of the most harmful economic effects of war is a supply shock. A major shock in the supply of goods or labor can severely impact economic productivity. Sources of these setbacks include economic sanctions, manufacturing destruction, infrastructure damage, etc. This has not been a factor of major concern within the United States as it has been a long time since there has been a war fought on American soil.

Public opinion supports the belief that war and its associated spending creates positive economic outcomes for the U.S. economy. This is mostly due to the higher GDP growth that was exhibited during conflict periods like World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, and the Cold War. The only outliers have been the Iraq and the Afghanistan wars.6

While war tends to generate some positive economic benefits, it is more of a mixed bag for stock markets. “During WWII stock markets did initially fall but recovered before its end, during the Korean War there were no major corrections while during the Vietnam War and afterwards stock markets remained flat from the end of 1964 until 1982.”7

Another typical impact of major conflicts is inflation. This is due to the increase in government spending through various financing methods. “While inflation may be good for reducing debt burdens, high inflation has many harmful effects, such as wealth redistribution and erosion of international competitiveness.”8

Short-term conflicts typically have a short-lived impact on the stock market. As such they shouldn’t change an individual’s investment philosophy or cause one to “abandon ship.”

A more prolonged conflict may cause an individual to take a more judicious approach by reevaluating his or her goals and making adjustments based on the current market environment. As always, it is prudent to seek advice from an experienced investment professional that can help you plan for and navigate your own voyage through our uncertain world.

 

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1. Research by SFS. Please see stock market disclosure at the bottom of page three.

2. Adam Shell, “What Wall Street is Watching in Ukraine Crisis,” USA Today, 3/3/2014

3. Adam Shell, “What Wall Street is Watching in Ukraine Crisis,” USA Today, 3/3/2014

4. Chris Isidore, “Impact of War On Stocks and Oil,” CNN Money, 9/3/2013

5. Chris Isidore, “Impact of War On Stocks and Oil,” CNN Money, 9/3/2013

6. Michael Shank, “Economic Consequences of War on the U.S. Economy,” Institute for Economics & Peace, 2011

7. Michael Shank, “Economic Consequences of War on the U.S. Economy,” Institute for Economics & Peace, 2011

8.Michael Shank, “Economic Consequences of War on the U.S. Economy,” Institute for Economics & Peace, 2011

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