@theMarket: Markets Expect Fed to Cut Rates
Investors can credit the Fed once again for the market's revival thus far in June. The buying is fueled by expectations of three rate cuts by no later than December. Is that wishful thinking?
While only 23 percent of investors expect a rate cut next week when the Fed meets, 83 percent do expect a cut in July. The odds of another cut in September are now at 63.8 percent, with a third cut in December, which is expected by over half of market participants.
Given that the Fed's job description is to keep inflation under control, while supporting robust employment, one or the other of those variables will need to change in order for the Fed to cut rates. The inflation rate is still below the Fed's stated targets, so that shouldn't be the issue, which leaves jobs as the area of concern for the Central Bank.
Over the last few weeks, job creation has slowed down, but so far the data does not indicate the unemployment rate is set to skyrocket. It is true that warning signs are flashing for economic growth both here and abroad, but the U.S. is still expected to grow by 2.2-2.5 percent this year. Most economist models indicate a further slowing to slightly under 2 percent for the U.S. economy in 2020, but that still results in an acceptable performance for an economy that is on its 10th year of expansion.
I guess the real issue that makes forecasting by the Fed, investors, and myself so difficult is the ongoing trade and tariff threats that will most likely decide the fate of the global economy. Three rate cuts might be justified if the two antagonists (Trump and Xi) meet at the G-20 at the end of June and fail to compromise. The kind of tariffs Donald Trump is threatening to levy on China would certainly put a big dent in global trade and shave a half percentage or more off the U.S. economy next year, if not sooner.
On the other hand, if the two agree to disagree, but continue to negotiate through the summer, corporations would still be living on borrowed time, but won't invest. Our farmers and other exporters would continue to try doing business within the continuing status quo of uncertainty. That sort of atmosphere, while not a robust business climate, might not be sufficient enough to justify a rate cut by the Fed.
In this land of the unknowns, therefore, we are left with throwing the bones and/or reading tea leaves to come up with all sorts of what-if's. Story lines like "Donald Trump needs a China deal, otherwise, the economy slows, the stock market plunges, and he loses the 2020 Election."
Then there is the China sub-plot: "China's game plan is to procrastinate until after November 2020, or at least wait until the economic pain in the U.S. is such that Trump caves-in and is willing to strike a better deal than he is offering now."
If one looks at the action in the bond market, where interest rates have fallen to multi-year lows, the consensus seems to be gloom and doom. But that is nothing new--bond investors are a gloomy mob even at the best of times. If you look at the stock market, which is only a few percentage points away from historic highs, you could say that the future is rosy and there are blue skies ahead. Which is right, since they can't both be correct?
Maybe it simply comes down to whether you are a half-empty or half-full kind of investor. Donald Trump is definitely in the camp of those that believe the stock market should go higher. If that means the Fed should cut interest rates and be dammed the consequences, then so be it!
In the other camp are those who get hurt when interest rates fall. Retirees, pension funds, and all those who shun undue risk in exchange for a steady income. While those voices do not appear to be well represented in today's environment, they do represent a sum of money that dwarfs that of the equity market. Yet, they also have the reputation for being smarter than equity investors and are right more times than they are wrong.
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The Independent Investor: The Suburban Dilemma
Over the last decade, the percentage of Baby Boomers, those aged 65 to 74, living in the suburbs increased by almost 50 percent. Over the next 20 years, that age group will double in size, and by 2040, 1 in every 5 Americans will be age 85 or older. The majority of them will continue to live in the suburbs.
Older adults, it appears, move less frequently than any other age group. Over the last 10 years, only 6 percent of persons over 65 years of age moved, according to AARP, compared to 17 percent of those under 65. It's called "aging in place," which is a standing trend that describes how older Americans prefer to stay in their homes and never move. They are attached to their dwelling, their neighborhoods, even to the corner deli (if it still exists).
These adults have lived in their homes for the greater portion of their lives. They are the result of an enormous and long-lasting American socioeconomic trend that began after World War II. It was an age when Americans abandoned the inner city. By the hundreds of thousands per year, they embraced the tract home, the white picket fence, and quarter-acre of lawn or back yard far from the busting crowds of the city.
And as they migrated to greener pastures, shopping malls, and garages, restaurants and other businesses followed, catering to this new suburban lifestyle. The good life in the suburbs became so much a part of our culture that it generated dozens of movies, television shows and novels celebrating this new America.
The problem is that times change. Back in the day, the American family may have selected their suburban dwelling because of a good school system or proximity to the train station or bus depot to their day jobs in the city. But in retirement, those reasons no longer exist.
Neighborhoods have changed as well. What may have been a middle-class subdivision when first purchased may have changed over the years. Many older adults now find themselves living in poor, high-crime neighborhoods. I recall that my neighborhood outside of Philadelphia had been all Irish-German Catholics when I was a kid. Today, it is a haven for Ethiopian refugees and their families. Crime is rampant and the streets, pavements and other infrastructure have fallen on bad times. As a result, older residents do not venture out as much, if at all, virtually becoming prisoners in their own homes.
It is a fact that most suburbs require the use of a car to accomplish the most basic of chores, things like grocery shopping, visiting the doctor, etc. However, it is also true that many of this current generation's women never learned to drive. Now that their husbands have passed, many need to rely on others for mobility. But it is not just women, older adults in general are often required to reduce or stop driving altogether because their eyesight or motor functions have deteriorated to the point where they are a danger to themselves and others on the highway. My suburban mother-in-law, at 90, is facing that problem today.
Suburbia has also fell victim to the internet. Strip and shopping malls are disappearing and with them the services that many older adults need to sustain their suburban lifestyles. As a result, driving distances have lengthened and public transportation is both costly and not easily obtainable.
From an income perspective, while many older suburban dwellers may have paid off their mortgages, they are still faced with large amounts of property taxes, insurance, and utility bills.
The Tax Reform Act of 2018, with its $10,000 cap on state income and property tax deductions, has made that situation much worse for older Americans. As it stands, seven out of 10 of the elderly occupy dwellings that were built at least 30 years ago. Ask any contractor to inspect that house and you will likely be handed a long list of
costly but necessary repairs and upgrades.
As we get older, the very items we will need the most — things like efficient and energy-saving lighting, electrical, air and heating systems, are sorely lacking in the older housing stock.
Enhancements such as handrails or grab bars, entrance/exit ramps, easy-access bathrooms and kitchens, widened doors or hallways and modified sinks, faucets or cabinets become critical, but few of us have the money to install them.
As time goes by and more and more of us age in place, the challenge of suburban living could gradually become more of a nightmare than a case of "living the dream." While there are some strategies, services and support groups that recognize the danger, for the most part, we are on our own. My advice is to plan accordingly when considering your move into retirement.
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@theMarket: When Bad News Is Good News
You would think that a non-farm payroll report that was way below expectations would give investors pause. After all, when the pace of employment slows, it usually means that the economy is slowing as well. So why did the stock market spike higher?
It comes down to what the Fed may do. Contrary to many investors' belief that tariffs (or the lack thereof) are the critical element in the stock market's fortunes, I believe the actions of the U.S. central bank trump Trump's antics on the trade front.
A look back to the last quarter of 2018 reveals why I believe this is so. While the press gave plenty of space to the on again, off again China/U.S. trade negotiations, the Fed's program of raising interest rates is what sent the markets into decline. In December, once the Fed realized that raising rates in an economy that was not overheating was a mistake, they reversed course, announcing any further rate rises were "on hold" until the data dictated otherwise.
From the end of December through the beginning of May, the U.S. stock market rocketed higher, regaining much of its 19 percent fourth quarter loss, even though no progress had been made on the trade front whatsoever.
Fast forward to last month. Trade negotiations between the U.S. administration and their Chinese counterparts hit a brick wall. Markets dropped more than 5 percent. Last week, The President's sudden threat to raise tariffs on Mexican imports by 5 percent added to the carnage with an additional drop of 2-3 percent.
While I wrote last week that I doubted (and still do) that those Mexican tariffs would actually be implemented, as of today nothing has changed on the trade front and yet the markets are up considerably. Look to the Fed for an answer.
The threat of new tariffs both in China and now Mexico, on the back of an economy that is growing moderately, triggered concerns that we could be setting ourselves up for a recession as soon as 2020. U.S. Treasury bond prices plummeted and within days investors were speculating that the Fed may need to move off their neutral stance and actually cut interest rates.
Now the market is betting on anywhere from two to three interest rate cuts by the Fed over the next 12 months. That is a drastic reversal of course from a mere six months ago when most believed the opposite would occur (more rate hikes).
Within this context, the jobs report was further evidence of an economic slowdown, which then bolstered expectations that the Fed would need to cut rates sooner rather than later. As such, investors have been conditioned to expect that looser monetary policy by the Fed translates into higher stock prices. It has been the way of the world for the last decade, so weaker macro numbers equate to buy, buy, buy.
As a result, with the Fed at our backs, I expect stocks to continue higher. How high, you might ask? At least to the old highs of the S& P 500 Index (2,944), which is a little under 100 points upside from here. Could it trade even higher? Yes, if the following occurs: Tariffs on Mexico are not levied, some accommodation with China on trade negotiations is made (a mini breakthrough) and/or the Fed makes a stronger statement on rate cuts.
On the downside, second-quarter earnings, which are coming up, might not be up to expectations, in addition to further escalation in Trump's trade war (more tariffs, counter tariffs, etc.). That would not only cap the markets on the upside, but could also establish a rather wide trading range throughout the summer with the lower boundary equating to the recent lows on the S&P 500 Index (2,744).
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The Independent Investor: Long-Term Planning Is Crucial to Caregiving
The family is headed toward a crisis in caring for the elderly. It will impact all of us, so if you have aging parents, don't think you can just close your eyes and hope for the best. You are likely setting yourself up for a world of hurt.
All too often, the adult children of aging parents are blind-sided when presented with the realities of taking care of parents in need. This is usually precipitated by some sort of health crisis. In my own business, I see it time and time again. What follows is pure chaos, anxiety and hard feelings. There is no way to stop the inevitable, because aging and declining health are part of living, so what can you do?
"It is critical that families begin the conversation now to create a long-term care plan. Do not wait for it to become an immediate crisis," says Annalee Kruger, president of Care Right, a Florida-based expert in the area.
The crisis in caregiving has grown exponentially in this country. So much so that Kruger and others like her have been able to establish thriving businesses by providing solutions for families caught up in a care crisis. Her line of work ranges from providing solutions in caring for aging loved ones to acting as a third-party facilitator in family meetings. She coaches family caregivers (who may be dealing with dementia or are just plain burnt out), but her most satisfying work is developing a plan for the future in order to avoid most of the pitfalls ahead.
Unfortunately, crisis management is still a large part of her business. In order to deal with that event, she first needs to understand the actual care needs of your family member going forward. In today's economy, there are innumerable options and choices to make ranging from private sector solutions (if you have the money) to public options. In any given state, there are a myriad of organizations that provide help and assistance to a family in need.
Just knowing the lay of the land in this area requires a great deal of expertise, while matching your family care giving needs with resources available can be a full-time job. Chief among them may be the financial implications of your choices.
If your family is like mine, everyone will have a different opinion of what direction to take and why. Some members of the family may already be at odds from past disagreements. In the best of cases, developing an aging plan that all can agree upon usually requires an outside mediator. As I mentioned in last week's column, many family members today live far apart, and just communicating with a California brother or sister in Maine on an on-going basis is sometimes impossible without help.
As you might imagine, all of the above would be easier on all of us if we didn't wait for an immediate crisis, like Dad falling on his head while cleaning the roof gutters, or Mom's fall in the garage. Logic dictates that we do not wait for an immediate crisis. Your first step is a family meeting.
Krueger suggests a serious meeting should be arranged with the family where three questions are agreed upon: "If mom or dad becomes incapacitated, where will they live? Who will take care of mom or dad? And if they need custodial care, how will the family pay for this care?"
"The answers will form the basis for a long-term care plan," Kruger explains. "If family members disagree regarding the answers, compromise must be made. The entire family must come to a consensus that everyone can live with or risk the disintegration of the family."
As I wrote last week, it is a serious issue that is only going to get worse in the future as more elderly 80-plus family members need help and less and less caregivers (45-64 years old) are around to provide it. Nearly 10 million caregivers are now over 50 years of age. That number is going to explode upward in the next decade. Over 86 percent of these caregivers saw a tremendous impact on their lifestyle. Sixty-four percent of them are funding their parent in some way; accounting for 33 percent of their monthly budget, according to AARP.
If those statistics don't convince you then nothing will. My advice: call that family meeting as soon as possible before it is too late and get some help.
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@theMarket: Have the Wheels Come Off the Market?
No question about it, the president's decision to impose 5 percent tariffs on all Mexican imports by June 10 caught investors flat-footed. Combined with the on-going war of words with the Chinese on tariffs, markets worldwide fell sharply this week. Is a relief rally in the cards?
Chances are that next week, we should see a rebound. How much and over what period of time will largely depend on what happens next on the trade front. My thinking on the Mexican issue thus far is this: Trump is using trade with Mexico to force their government to turn back (instead of encouraging) Latin American refugees from our border.
You may disagree, but I believe President Trump's heavy-handed actions toward Mexico over the past two years has resulted in the immigrant problem we have today. By "Making America Great Again" at the expense of every other nation on earth (with the possible exception of Russia), Trump has broken, reduced, and/or trashed past agreements, both spoken and unspoken, by our former allies, which includes Mexico.
In the case of Mexico, for years we had successfully enlisted their cooperation in turning back refugees at their borders from Latin America and, where they could, reduce the number of their own citizens from entering the U.S. illegally. It was not a perfect solution, and a steady trickle of refugees continued to find their way over our borders, but it was manageable. Trump, recognizing that he could use immigration as a campaign issue among a certain segment of the population, hammered Mexico unrelentingly.
Why, under those circumstances, would any country continue to cooperate voluntarily with the U.S. and our protectionist president? They did what made the most sense for them, just like Trump does for his base. They simply stepped aside and let the flood gates open.
Unable to stem the tide, our immigration force is drowning. Donald Trump is using economic trade to force a solution to a problem of his making. Although Mexican leaders have responded by taking a hard stance, I suspect that Trump will get his way, at least temporarily.
The markets expect the same. Mexico, unlike China, cannot afford a protracted trade war with its neighbor and largest trade partner. It is one reason stocks on Friday were "only" down one percent or so. Given that the administration has also started the ratification process on the new, Mexico-Canada-U.S. trade agreement this week, it seems obvious that Trump is injecting immigration into what until now been a purely economic agreement.
China, as I warned last week, continues to ramp up its hardline response to U.S. trade demands. The administration's moves against Huawei, China's telecom behemoth, have now elicited a response. China's Ministry of Commerce is reported to be compiling a list of "unreliable entities." These are companies and individuals that have cut off business with Chinese companies (like Huawei). It confirms investors' worst nightmares, sending semiconductor and other technology stocks lower.
In addition, China is threatening retaliation on other fronts. China accounts for 80 percent of the production of rare earth, used in the manufacture of things like cell phones, rechargeable batteries, DVDs, computer memories and much more. It has floated a veiled threat to cut off exports to the U.S. in the future. That would cripple production across a wide range of American industries.
In the short-term, we can expect to see the S&P 500 Index test the 2,700 level, give or take 25 points. That would still leave the entire pullback from the highs no more than about 8 percent. Pundits may make a big deal about breaking through the S&P's 200-day moving average (DMA), but I believe it will rebound. This decline is perfectly reasonable after the double-digit gains we have enjoyed since December.
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