Tag

interest rates

What To Do When Rates Are So Low

By | 2021, Money Moxie, Newsletter | No Comments

All across America, CDs are coming due at banks and credit unions, and savers are appalled at how low their new rates will be. It is just a fraction of what the CD was making before. Low-interest rates are benefiting borrowers and punishing savers. If you have excess money in savings or CDs because you wanted protection, what do you do now?

We always counsel people to keep their emergency fund and short-term money in places that are easily accessible, like savings, money markets, or short-term CDs (12 months or less). That counsel hasn’t changed.

The need to have easy access to the money supersedes the need for a return. People should still have an emergency fund of 3-6 months of living expenses. In addition, any expenditures that will happen in the next year should be in short-term savings.

If your short-term savings buckets are full and you still have excess in the bank, there are some good options.

(1) Use a money market or short-term CD and hope that rates are better in 12 months. If you do this, protection is the main goal. Accept that you will make little on your money. Interest rates may come up a little over the course of a year, but don’t expect much improvement. Still, waiting 12 months to get a better rate is probably better than locking your money up in a 5-year CD.

(2) One step up from CDs are fixed annuities. Don’t let the annuity name scare you. They are like CDs on steroids. They are great tools to help protect assets with a slightly higher interest rate than CDs. However, they have much larger penalties than CDs if you pull your money out early. Because of this, we typically recommend no more than 20% of your investments here.

(3) Another option that should avoid losses while providing some potential growth is an Equity Indexed Annuity. The largest upside for this is that your original investment is guaranteed, and you have the potential to make more interest than a CD or fixed annuity, depending on what the markets do.

The downside is you have to lock your money up for 5-10 years. There are significant penalties for early withdrawal, so we would recommend no more than 20% of your investments in these types of products.

(4) If you are willing to take some risk for potentially better returns, then you can invest conservatively. This option may lose principal but has more potential. This can be done by using conservative investments like bonds or a combination of bonds and stocks to get some growth with limited downside. We typically recommend a ratio close to 80% bonds and 20% stock.

(5) If you don’t need the money for more than 5 years, you may accept more risk by investing. While this has potential for losses, it also has potential for more growth.

In considering any of these options, remember this is only one piece of the puzzle. Always make sure your investments fit into your overall financial plan. If you have any questions about how to implement these options or are wondering which one(s) are right for you, please contact our Wealth Management consultants.

This article is not a solicitation, offer, or recommendation to buy or sell any security. Annuities are insurance products backed by the issuing company’s ability to pay. There is a potential for loss as well as gain with stocks and bonds. Past performance is no guarantee of future results.

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What does a Biden presidency mean for the economy and investing?

By | 2021, Executive Message, Money Moxie, Newsletter | No Comments

The recent election has some people elated and others in the depths of despair. While we don’t focus on the political ramifications, we can consider some of the financial impacts that may come. There is no guarantee that any of these will happen, but here are some possibilities:

We get more stimulus: In the short-run, this is a great thing for our economy and the market. There are too many Americans and businesses that are still struggling and need help to get through this pandemic. The long-term challenge is how to pay down the government debt.

Taxes go up: Even before the election, we knew that taxes needed to go up because of the massive amount of government debt. We have been at historically low tax rates. While tax rates seem unlikely to go up soon, don’t plan on them staying this low forever. Depending on your situation, you may want to realize taxation of some assets now to avoid paying taxes in the future. Consult with your financial and/or tax advisor.

Interest rates go up: They will probably still stay low for a while (i.e. 1-2 years). However, they will probably start going up after that. Increasing rates are good for savers and bad for borrowers. CD’s may pay a decent rate in the future, but affording a home will get harder.

Investing in ESG goes up: ESG stands for Environmental, Social, and Governance, also known as sustainable investing. With the Democrats in power, companies that are ESG friendly should get a boost. Examples of companies that will benefit include green energy, health and safety, and companies that promote diversity.

The economy will grow: The economy will probably start to recover quickly at first as we accelerate out of the global pandemic. However, growth will probably be slowed down by taxes and inflation after that, but it will still go in the right direction.

The market may go up: In the long-run, this is certainly likely. Over the coming months, the market could go up because of the recent stimulus and the prospect of more stimulus. A great deal of this money is likely to go directly into investments, while some will boost the economy through spending.

There may be some softness after that. But, as the economy fully recovers from the global pandemic, the market should continue its march higher. The market has shown that it doesn’t matter which political party is in power. It still does what it is going to do.

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Are You Thinking of Refinancing?

By | 2021, Money Matters | No Comments

With interest rates at historic lows, there is a lot of talk about refinancing current mortgages. If you own a home, this is a great time to evaluate your loan and ensure you have the best terms available.

While interest rates across all loan types may be low, not all loans are the same. Here are some tips to help you understand the nuances and determine if you should refinance a first mortgage, take a home equity loan, or open a home equity line of credit.

Mortgage loans, referred to as first or second mortgages, are paid over a fixed period of years: 30, 20, 15, 10, or less. The interest rate can be fixed for the entire loan term or variable, changing based on the Prime rate. While rates are low and you can spread the payments over many years, keep in mind that you will pay less in overall interest if the loan term is shorter, say 15 years, versus a longer-term, say 30 years. While the payment may be higher, the difference can save you tens of thousands of dollars.

In this example, the savings for taking the shorter-term loan is $126,450. Not to mention that you are out of debt in half the time. This example does not include taxes, insurance, or any associated closing costs.

I realize that locking yourself into a higher monthly payment may limit your monthly discretionary cash flow. It does not have to be all or nothing. Choose the mortgage term that helps you save as much as possible and still maintain a flexible cash flow—making an extra principal payment when possible will save you interest and shorten the term of the loan.

Home equity loans allow you to borrow based on the equity in your home. These loans are gaining in popularity as home values continue to skyrocket. The increasing value of your home has likely created a pool of equity. Tapping into that equity for home improvements, such as upgrading a kitchen or adding a room or garage, is a favorable option compared to borrowing on a signature loan or credit card. Home equity loans have a fixed loan period, up to 10 or 15 years, and offer both fixed and variable interest rates.

Home Equity Line of Credit loans, referred to a HELOCs, allow you to use the equity in your home in another way. These loans offer a fixed credit limit that you can tap into as needed. The interest rate is variable and can increase or decrease over time. Repayment of the loan is more like a credit card in that there will be a minimum required payment each month, such as 1.25% of the loan balance. The trick here is discipline. You must form a plan to get the loan paid in a certain period. Otherwise, you will find that making the minimum payment has cost you a great deal of money.

After looking at the loan options available, consider what you will pay in closing costs. You may be required to pay for an appraisal, and sometimes a lower advertised rate requires that you pay points to secure the loan. This means you will have to come up with a percentage of the loan amount at closing.

Choosing between a fixed or variable rate can be difficult. I will say this; it is more likely that interest rates will go up in the future rather than down. Variable rates are generally lower than fixed rates and may make sense if it is likely that interest rates will go down. In the current environment, fixed rates are so low that you can feel confident you are locking in a good rate for the term of your loan.

Before you move forward, take the time to compare the facts on your current loan versus a new loan. The closing costs associated with a new loan may cost you more than keeping the current one. If you have questions, please reach out to our team. We can help you assess your options and determine the best course of action.

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Why Investors Feel So Bullish

By | 2020, Money Moxie, Newsletter | No Comments

The stock market exploded higher in November along with cases of COVID-19, just as it did in April. Despite all the challenges of 2020, it seems the market is so bullish that it can only go one way. The reality is that anything could happen. The future is not predetermined, and the market does not think for itself. It is merely a compilation of investors’ views – a popularity contest, or as Warren Buffet calls it, “a voting machine.” For most of 2020, investors have viewed all good and bad news as positive. “Heads I win. Tails I win.” It is all a matter of perspectives–perspectives that I would like to explore.

Government Help
Stimulus in Spring and Summer was 6 times greater and was spent 6 times faster than that for the Great Recession of 2008/2009 (David Kelley, JP Morgan). The impact was incredible! It immediately forced stocks upward. Then it lifted spending, especially on items like homes, cars, furniture, and laptops.

Many Americans are in great need of more help and may get it. This additional stimulus may not come until February and will likely be much smaller than in May. However, with the economy already doing okay, the stimulus would be viewed as positive from the perspective of investors.

Low Rates
The Federal Reserve said it would build a financial bridge to the end of the pandemic, and it has stuck to that statement. It has lowered interest rates and promised to keep them low unless inflation averages move well beyond 2%. This has pushed investors away from low-yielding bonds and into riskier assets, pushing stock prices even higher.

These low rates have also increased the affordability of homes, which has, in turn, pushed those prices up.

One major risk is stocks could get too hot – a problem that contrasts with the uncertainty of 2020.

Improvement
The COVID-19 pandemic won’t last forever. With positive vaccine news, we can now see the light at the end of the tunnel.

With investors and consumers already feeling optimistic, there is the potential for more economic growth.

Investors have anticipated this improvement and continue to push up prices. While we are enjoying the higher market, we recognize that the more hot stocks get, the greater the chance of them being overcooked. We continue to emphasize the need for a good strategy and personalized plan.

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Will Real Estate Stay Red-Hot?

By | 2020, Money Moxie, Newsletter | No Comments

Red-hot housing prices have impacted anyone looking to buy a home recently. Many people have wondered if they should buy now or wait. The answer depends a lot on the national real estate market, the local market, and your personal needs.

Real estate ebbs and flows, just like the stock market.1 Some national trends are making homes hotter in 2020:

(1) The pandemic: “More than half of the nation’s 100 largest metropolitan areas are seeing increased interest in the suburbs.”2 For example, in Manhattan, the contracts on apartments plunged 80% in May, but the interest in the surrounding suburbs skyrocketed. This flight is partly to people working from home that would rather work in a roomy house with a private yard.

(2) Shortage of homes: The U.S. supply of homes has never been lower in the last 50 years. This factor seems likely to persist.

housing supply
Housing supply

(3) Interest rates: The Federal Reserve has worked to lower rates for the entire economy and wants to keep them low. Those who can are “rushing to take advantage of record-low mortgage rates and possibly even purchase larger homes.”3 If or when rates do rise significantly, it could be devastating to prices.

There are also other hidden risks in housing. Unemployment is still above 8%, and many struggle to make rent and mortgage payments. The federal eviction moratorium ends on December 31, 2020.4 This does not help everyone, and if nothing more is done, “Up to 40 million Americans could be at risk of eviction by the end of the year.”5 Evictions could spill over into lower prices in the short term.

Residential real estate in Utah is doing well. The economy has not shut down and has only 5% unemployment. Many tech and construction companies are hiring. This drives up demand and housing prices. However, if the pandemic’s economic impact spills over, there could still be a slowdown. If that happens, this sellers’ market could turn into a buyers’ market.

If you can wait to buy a home, you have some flexibility. You could build up your cash and use that for a larger down payment in a year or two. You could also use the time to watch for the house that you really want. As you look, it’s best to think of a home as a place to live and not as an investment.

What you should do depends on your future plans and finances. We would love to help you; give us a call.

(1) Investing involves risk, including the potential loss of principal.
(2) https://www.cnbc.com/2020/06/18/coronavirus-update-people-flee-cities-to-live-in-suburbs.html
(3) https://magazine.realtor/daily-news/2020/09/08/a-tale-of-two-markets-dream-homes-and-looming-evictions
(4) https://www.federalregister.gov/documents/2020/09/04/2020-19654/temporary-halt-in-residential-evictions-to-prevent-the-further-spread-of-covid-19
(5) https://magazine.realtor/daily-news/2020/09/08/a-tale-of-two-markets-dream-homes-and-looming-evictions

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Spiking the Punch Bowl

By | 2019, Money Moxie, Newsletter | No Comments

Why Federal Reserve Shouldn’t Lower Rates, But Will Anyway

I don’t remember a time when people have been more worried about a recession than they are now. Even the Federal Reserve has been so cautious that it has painted itself into a corner. It plans to lower interest rates on July 31st even though there is little need to do so.

The Fed cuts rates in order to stimulate greater borrowing and spending. It believes that the economy may have peaked in 2018 and may only be growing by 1.6 percent right now (Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta). That slowdown has the economists at the Fed worried. They have repeatedly implied they are looking to lower rates. Such action is likely to boost the economy by causing a domino effect in the interest-rate world–affecting everything from savings to mortgage rates.

However, lowering rates now does not seem like the Fed’s “style.” Justin Lahart, a writer for The Wall Street Journal, summed up the current situation with the Fed nicely:

“William McChesney Martin, the Fed chairman in the 1950s and 1960s, quipped that the Fed’s job is ‘to take away the punch bowl just as the party gets going.’ Today’s Fed plans to spike the punch instead.”

However, ignoring expectations of a rate cut after the Fed members have been so vocal in favor of such action could be shocking. So, it is possible that the Fed will make a change in July while emphasizing all the positive things going on. That would communicate to investors that more rate cuts are unlikely unless the data changes.

U.S. Unemployement

The Fed was created in 1913 in order to make this nation’s financial system more stable and more flexible. It seeks steady prices (inflation) and high employment. Right now, we have both. Inflation is currently at 2 percent–a goldilocks number that is neither too hot nor too cold. Unemployment is at 3.7 percent, which is the lowest level since December 1969.

So, what is the Fed so worried about? U.S. manufacturing is going through a slump. According to Morgan Stanley, new orders for U.S. goods are at their worst levels in 5 years, and they are trending down. It should be mentioned that manufacturing represented just 11 percent of the U.S. economy in 2018.

American consumers, we drive nearly 70 percent of the U.S. economy. According to the Commerce Department, our spending jumped by 4.3 percent in the second quarter of 2019. That is being helped by a rise in wages, which just bounced higher. The Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta estimates that over the last year, wages have risen by 3.9 percent.

There may be some extra gyrations in the stock market as investors try to forecast the Fed. Hang in there. The good news, according to Ned Davis Research, is that if the Fed does lower rates and the economy turns out not to need it, the stock market has historically done well.

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Federal Reserve Is Expecting Winter In July

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

Last February, St. George, Utah had its biggest snowstorm in 20 years. Nearby, Zions National Park closed. Local schools did a late start. Motorists on the freeway were asked to use snow chains. The storm total? 3.8 inches! So, not that much . . . if one is prepared.

Without a doubt, the greatest risk in such a situation is overconfidence. The same could be said about investing. And even though it is summer, the Federal Reserve is going to start spreading salt on the roads for wintery conditions.

As I write, the Fed is preparing for its 5th meeting of 2019, which will be held July 30th–31st. The overwhelming majority of experts believes the Fed will lower interest rates for the first time in a decade. It would do this to encourage greater borrowing and give the economy a boost.

Celebrating a rate decrease this July is like increasing your speed on a sunny day while the snowplow drivers are starting their engines. Why are the plows heading out?

The U.S. economy has been growing at just over 2 percent for a decade. Tax cuts provided a short-term bump, but it looks like the growth is headed right back to the 10-year trend. That’s not so bad, but it has the Fed nervous.

If the Fed lowers rates at the end of this month, it is sending a signal to the rest of us that the experts believe there may be some rougher weather ahead. They will be dropping the salt on the roads in anticipation. Only time will tell how the forecast and driving conditions will change.

Are you driving too fast for the conditions with your investments? Stocks and bonds have been wildly positive this year, which has some investors too excited. Most of these gains just brought market prices back to where they were before a negative overreaction last December. That drop has had a lasting impact on how most investors feel. In other words, the market data is neither hot nor cold right now, but investors are too focused on one or the other. So, when it comes to your investments, I recommend going the speed you and your advisor decided on in your last review.

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From Investing FOMO to FEAR

By | 2019, Money Moxie, Newsletter | No Comments

My daily commute often leaves me sitting in traffic on State Street in Salt Lake City. Sometimes it can take 10 minutes to move 3 blocks. During these seemingly hopeless times, I often see a cyclist pass me. I consider the wisdom of selling my car and riding my bike. However, no matter how bad the traffic, I eventually pass the biker–no exception. (As a biking enthusiast, I regularly commute on a bike, but it is not faster.)

As investors, we faced similar thoughts in 2018. Should we make a short-term decision even though we know which vehicle will get us where we want to go quicker?

Investors entered 2018 with a Fear Of Missing Out (FOMO). The stock market had just completed a year where every month was positive. A tax cut had just been passed to stimulate greater consumer and corporate spending. Around the world, growth seemed synchronized, and expectations were rising.

Here is a review of my three predictions for 2018 with commentary on how things turned out.

U.S. growth exceeds 3 percent. The impact of the tax cut, which I referred to as a “sugar rush,” temporarily lifted U.S. growth to make the first forecast correct. The benefits of the cut were so short-lived that investor excitement quickly turned to concern.

The Federal Reserve finally has an impact. Interest rate increases by the Federal Reserve in recent years had largely been ignored by the stock market. This prediction also came true, especially in December when a rate increase was done despite all the problems going on in financial markets.

Investors would be disappointed with the market, but positive economic growth would help the market end the year positive. This prediction seemed to be correct for much of the year. However, it failed in the part that mattered most.

The stock market ended 2018 in an absolute panic! Oil prices were plummeting. The White House could not get a deal done on trade with China. The federal government had its third shutdown in just one year. And, despite all this, the Federal Reserve raised interest rates stating that nothing had changed; the economy was strong.

The stock market sell-off intensified, and the bull market arguably came to an end on Christmas Eve. December performance of the S&P 500 stocks was the worst since 1931. Historically, that makes some sense. The Great Depression began in 1929.

But we were not in the midst of a depression — quite the opposite. Corporate earnings were at record levels. The real GDP growth in this country was around 3 percent. Consumer spending, which represents 70 percent of the U.S. economy, rose in December by 4.5 percent!

What is an investor to do when the economic data is positive, and the market is so negative? At times like this, it is critically important to stay focused on your long-term goals.

It is our job at SFS to help you develop these goals and keep you on track to achieve them. We have tools to provide the necessary clarity and strategies to implement to help you keep moving forward.

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Buy a home now or wait for a recession?

By | 2018, Money Moxie | No Comments

The U.S. housing market is hot and home prices are going through the roof. This is due to a growing economy. Utah is especially impacted by Silicon Slope companies that are bringing in a lot of high-paying tech jobs; i.e. high demand compared to supply.

With home prices continuously increasing, people are questioning if this is the right time to buy a home or if they should wait for a time when the housing market cools off.

There are always ebbs and flows to the economy and markets, including the housing market. Many people remember all too well the housing collapse that we had in 2008, even though that was a decade ago.
We don’t expect another housing collapse like that one in the next few years, but we do expect the overall market to soften up. Maybe we will have a smaller recession in 1-3 years. When that recession happens, housing prices will come down. The question for potential home buyers is, “How far will they come down?”

If housing prices in the area you are looking do become cheaper than they are now, then you may be better off to wait. This is a probability, but there is a chance that even though house prices decrease at that time, they will still be higher than they are today.

The other piece of the equation that many people frequently forget to consider is interest rates.
A 1 percent move in interest rates means you can afford roughly 89 percent of the home you could before. If you were looking at $400,000 homes before, now you can only afford to buy a $356,000 home for the same monthly payment.

The Federal Reserve has indicated that they plan to raise the fed funds target interest rate by 0.25% several more times this year and in 2019 as well. These are short-term rates, but they will impact the longer-term rates that determine your mortgage interest and payment.
We have been at historically low-interest rates for the last decade and once that ship sails I don’t expect to see interest rates this low for a very long time. However, an economic slowdown could bring rates lower again.

If you are moving, at least you have the increase on your existing home to help offset the increase on the home you are buying, unless you are moving from a depressed area to a hot area.

If you are buying for the first time and plan to stay longer than 3 years, now might be the right time to buy just to lock in low-interest rates. However, you still need to seriously consider your financial situation and whether you can afford the home you want. Don’t jump into something that is too much money just because you feel the pressure to get a deal done. Know your limits and be willing to back out if the deal gets too hot.

Renting may feel like you are throwing your money away, but it also provides flexibility. If you only do it for a few years you won’t be that far behind financially. In a few years, you may even be in a better financial situation. Who knows? You might be able to buy a home at a cheaper price than you can today.

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Payment calculation based on a 30 year mortgage, loan of $400,000, principal and interest payment of $1,961 and interest rate of 4.25% vs. 5.25%. Data in graphics and tables from Federal Reserve Bank of St Louis.

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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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