The Economy: After being dissed and dormant for a decade, inflation is front and center for financial markets. Concerns are being voiced by many. Fed members are among the loudest. Is inflation real or is the Fedspeak a stalking horse? Only your hairdresser knows for sure. While technology has driven labor and hardware costs down, a comparison of basic items in the grocery stores shows price increases of 40% or more over the past decade. The “Lies, Damned Lies and Statistics” crowd is complaining that economic numbers don’t measure the appropriate output. One recently asked how we could have tight labor markets with no wage growth. The cry is that the laws of supply and demand don’t seem to apply in the Goldilocks Economy. Meanwhile, stocks are off their January highs and moving sideways. This breather is either the calm before the storm or the pause that refreshes. Regardless of the metrics, the only thing that matters is whether you can sleep at night. Watch inflation; watch the Fed.
Food for Thought: China has a new Emperor. It took a few years after the death of Emperor Mao. But the song remains the same: a thousand years of dynasties with the occasional disruption. The Qing Dynasty ended in 1912. More than three decades of internal strife between warlords followed. Then the communist warlord Mao Zedong assumed The Mantle. A new Imperial Chinese dynasty was born: the Communist Dynasty. Now a successor to Mao has emerged: Emperor Xi. Likewise Russia. The Romanov Dynasty ended in 1917. Eventually the warlord Stalin emerged as the new Tsar. Then Brezhnev and now Tsar Putin. Triumvirate Great Power politics reignited. Will Turkey make it a fourplay? The investment opportunities are countless.
Music of The Week: Atlantic 5 Jazz Band’s “Bar Music Moods – The Piano Edition Vol. 1”
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The Economy: The CPI and PPI prints were hotter than expected and have helped to juice the stock market indices to a 50% rebound. The feel good mood has been further enhanced by the Olympics. Winners all. Inflation indicators watched by the Fed are are heating up. … and bond vigilantes seem to be on the loose with interest rates accelerating higher. As has always been the case, the Fed will follow the markets. There are few consumers who remember interest rate hikes that crimp economic activity. Fewer still who remember being priced out of a home or auto loan because interest rates moved against them. … remember when an 8% home mortgage was to die for? How many real estate players could handle those metrics today. How about those halcyon days of 16% home mortgages? Fun!
Food for Thought: Annuities and life insurance have evolved in ways that work well with investors seeking income or the possibility of establishing an estate. In specific situations they may be a prudent investment for retirees. Contact us if you have questions about creating or supplementing your retirement income.
Music of The Week: Sade’s “Lovers Rock”
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The Economy: The economic numbers have been dwarfed by bungee jumping global stock markets. However, economic numbers do not support all the gloom and doom talk generated by the wild ride in stocks. Global and U.S expansion remains steady. Global and U.S. monetary policies remain very accommodative. In spite of 5 interest rate hikes in the U.S., inflation adjusted interest rates remain at historic lows. Tax cuts, stimulative deregulation and a Federal Reserve committed to supporting the stock market should continue to juice U.S. economic expansion.
Food for Thought: The Bungee Jumping stock markets have been dominated by money managers, pension funds, hedgies and other professionals. Individual investors have remained firm in their belief that markets will rebound and continue to move higher. The brief 2-day, 10% drop is already forgotten. That 10% drop is seen as nothing more than as having eliminated the “no 5% pullback in 400+ days” boogeyman. The assumption, based on a decade of monetary policy stimulus, is that the way is now clear for the next leg up in stocks. However, as I pointed out yesterday in my special report, investors approaching retirement should be increasingly cautious. The market volatility of the past few days are rumblings that shouldn’t be ignored by those who no longer have decades to recoup losses. The zeitgeist is that stocks will go up forever … so you have to stay on the dance floor. We simply recommend that you dance closer to the exit door.
Music of The Week: Lara & Ryes’ “Exotico”
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The Economy: All systems are go on a global economy that shows signs of continuing to expand. Easy money from central banks remains the order of the day. Trump tax cuts and deregulation have bolstered business confidence. The holidays showed Americans on a spending spree. Naysayers see the band on the Titanic bravely playing as she went down. Optimists see hundreds of billions in repatriated US corporate profits, tight labor markets, inflation and Trumponomics as the next leg up in the economy and the 9-year bull market in stocks. Ray Dalio of Bridgewater has called this a new bear market in bonds as Jerome Powell was confirmed by the Senate as the new Fed Chair. Powell is seen as dovish and a continuation of the Bernanke/Yellen school of gradualism in monetary policy. But it pays to remember that markets tend to drive the Fed and not the other way around. Interest rates are rising. Gold has broken through its $1,300 resistance and oil is at multi-year highs. With global expansion, investors are complacent that central banks will keep stock markets and real estate moving up forever.
Food for Thought: Davos, billed as the Global Economic Summit is in full swing. Over time it has morphed into another rich kid’s confab with the glamorous and notorious. It is known as the Bastion of The Globalists. This year Donald Trump will upset the apple cart as he presents America First Shock and Awe with his appearance and speech on Friday. The annual ego rush of whose private jet is bigger will be sadly missing Prince Alwaleed’s private 747 with the gold throne. The Prince is apparently still confined by his King who reportedly wants billions in return for a kiss-and-make-up return to business as usual.
Music of The Week: Chaka Khan “Chaka”
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The Economy: Uncertainty has increased recently. Hurricanes Harvey and Irma will lower economic numbers going forward. The hydrogen bombs and loose-cannon missiles of the North Korean Crisis create their own questions. The issue of raising the debt ceiling has been kicked out to December. Inflation remains stubbornly below its 2% target. As a result, the Fed is probably on hold for any action for the remainder of the year. Both further interest rate increases and any balance sheet reduction would serve as a brake on an economy that is now more opaque than usual. Lower for longer; so mortgages and loans should remain near their historic lows. Our informal polls continue to confirm that a majority of respondents expect some type of an economic slowdown and a market pull-back. But stock markets continue to toy with their highs and bonds reflect the on/off of the flight-to-quality, safe haven depending on the geopolitical story of the day. September is historically the worst month for stocks. But with the current environment, all bets are off.
Food for Thought: Families with a net worth of $10 million or more have special needs. Taxes of all kinds, especially estate taxes are a major concern. Intergenerational wealth transfer is another issue. Many families are asset rich and cash poor. Wills, trusts, insurance and family businesses further cloud prudent action. Fees for these services frequently run to 6-figures. But the return is often several times that amount. Think about it.
Music of the Week: Peter White’s “Smile”
The Economy: The news has been all about the Fed. Trump made it clear during the election that he wanted to remake both the Supreme Court and the Federal Reserve. Word is that Randy Quarles will be Trump’s nominee as Vice Chair and the Fed’s Bank Supervisor. He comes from the private equity/private investment world. Quarles is considered to be a conservative counterweight to Yellen. Quarles would bring a fresh perspective to the Fed which has become dominated by academicians with little real world experience. Speculation has also focused on replacing Fed Chair Yellen in 2018. Trump’s Fed Chair nominee is expected to be National Economic Council Director Gary Cohn. Cohn comes from the investment banking world and would be the first Fed chair in 40-years who isn’t an economist. Within the Trump administration this is viewed as a plus since Trump wants practical experience over academic credentials. The downside is that Cohn is another Goldman Sachs alumnus; all of whom are detested by Trump’s core followers. Regardless of the accuracy of these reports, it’s obvious that Trump is determined to put a different Fed in place. A Fed that is more oriented towards pro-growth real world experience.
Food for Thought: Whenever we get out in the economy we’re impressed with how robust it looks. Restaurants are packed with diners day and night. Real estate continues to appreciate. New cars flood the streets. Everyone seems to be taking extended vacations. Yet in her Congressional testimony today, Fed Chair Yellen was surprisingly dovish. She expressed concern that inflation was below expectations and implied that the economy wasn’t performing as well as expected. Financial markets loved this narrative as it indicated that Yellen would keep her highly stimulative policies in place rather than continuing to turn off the spigots. But sooner or later the stimulus must end. It’s the human condition to project the recent past into the future; to assume that the future is going to unfold like the past. So it’s always interesting to hear a well-respected figure like Jamie Dimon, CEO JPMorgan speak candidly about the ongoing change in monetary policy. Commenting on the Feds move to end 8+ years of stimulus, he said, “We act like we know exactly how it’s going to happen and we don’t.”
Music of the Week: Josef Franz Wagner’s “Across the Pond”
The Economy: Government statistics continue to show an expanding economy with healthy employment and inflation that will support a near certain interest rate hike next week, when the Fed meets. Fake news? Who knows! Who cares? How do things look from your place in the firmament? Economists and analysts are evenly opposed on the question. David Rosenberg, the economist who coined the phrase the “New Normal” is a case in point. Regardless of glowing reports, Rosenberg remains skeptical that the outlook is so rosy. The noise from both sides of this issue is only exceeded by the screams of the Social Justice Warriors and their nemeses, the Deplorable Populists. For all the racket about how bad things are, I see full restaurants, crowded malls, private schools with waiting lists and growing numbers of happy new car owners who’ve forked over 6 or 7 figures for their piece of the American Dream. If this is a bubble, then the lambs are the happiest campers in history.
Food for Thought: I had hip replacement surgery last week. Was walking around the same day. Was back home 24-hours after surgery and back in the office less than 48-hours after surgery. … I only lasted an hour in the office before my body demanded immediate and total bedrest for the next 4-days. Call it a jock’s hope over experience. Nevertheless, the speed of my recovery has amazed me and I’m now up and about on a full schedule. I’ll have the other hip done as soon as I can get it scheduled. The miracles of modern medicine don’t need my riff. What does is the observation that all aspects of Health Care will be a growth industry as far into the future that we can see. The sector has taken a breather while the new administration brings its plans to fruition, but the space is built on boomer demographics.
Music of the Week: Peter White’s “Smile”
The Economy: The Fed’s latest buzz-word is the “High Pressure Economy.” … as in The Fed is going to run a “High Pressure Economy.” The High Pressure Economy is one in which inflation is allowed to run beyond levels deemed prudent. It’s the latest Fed-Speak for managing a sluggish economy that refuses to respond to 8-years of unbridled stimulus and low interest rates. While the focus is on whether the Fed will raise interest rates in December, attention might be better placed in the future. Another ¼ point hike in rates isn’t going to do much more than blow marginal players out of dubious deals. But keeping interest rates artificially low for several more years will have a significant impact on many aspects of society. Pension plans are especially at risk. Yellen rules until at least 2018 possibly 2022. Bigly. Come the new year, the voting members of the Fed Open Market Committee (FOMC) who are hawks, reach the end of their terms. Coincidently, their replacements are uber-doves who will play into Yellen’s “lower for longer” policy. Inflation is persistently running below target. The U.S. and global economies are showing weak to inconsistent metrics. Why would the Fed feel compelled to raise rates at all?
Food for Thought: Finding safe income in a zero interest rate environment is a desperate challenge for investors in general and retirees in particular. Bank deposits and money markets are losers when you figure in taxes and inflation. The long treasury at 2.49% is a bust as well. Dividend paying stocks are now being touted as the answer. But the dividend can always be cut and the stock can always plunge in value; even when inside an Exchange Traded Fund (ETF) or a mutual fund.
Music of the Week: Halie Loren’s “After Dark”