Posts tagged ‘government spending’

What Do You Worry About Next?

Scared Face

This article is an excerpt from a previously released Sidoxia Capital Management complimentary newsletter (November 1, 2016). Subscribe on the right side of the page for the complete text.

Boo! Halloween has just passed and frightened investors have still survived to tell the tale in 2016. While most people have gotten spooked by the presidential election, other factors like record-high corporate profits, record-low interest rates, and reasonable valuations have led to annual stock market gains. More specifically, values have risen in 2016 by approximately +4% (or +6% including dividend payments). Despite last week’s accelerating 3rd quarter GDP economic growth figure of +2.9%, which was the highest rate in two years and more than doubled the rate of the previous quarter (up +1.4%), there were still more tricks than treats during October. Recently, scary politics have shocked many Halloween participants into a zombie-like state, as evidenced by stock values declining around -1.7% during October.

This recent volatility is nothing new. Even though financial markets are significantly higher in recent years, that has not prevented repeated corrections over the year(s) as shown below in the 2009 – 2015 chart.

In order to earn higher long-term returns, investors have to accept a certain amount of short-term price movements (upwards and downwards). With a couple months remaining in the year, stock investors have achieved gains through a tremendous amount of economic and geopolitical uncertainty, including the following scares:

  • China: A significant fallout from a Chinese slowdown at the beginning of the year (stocks fell about -14%).
  • Brexit: A 48-hour Brexit vote scare in June (stocks fell -6%).
  • Fed Fears: Threatening comments in September from the Federal Reserve about potentially hiking increasing interest rates (stocks fell -4%).

With the elections just a week away, political anxiety has jolted Americans’ adrenaline levels. The polls continue to move up and down, but as I have repeatedly pointed out, the only certain winner in Washington DC is gridlock. Sure, in a Utopian world, politicians should join hands and compromise to solve all our country’s serious problems. Unfortunately, this is not the case (see Congress’s approval rating). However, there is a silver lining to this dysfunction…gridlock can lead to fiscal discipline.

Our country’s debt/deficit financial situation has been spiraling out of control, in large measure due to rapidly rising entitlement spending, including Medicare, and Social Security. Witnessing all the political rhetoric and in-fighting is very difficult, but as I highlighted in last month’s newsletter, gridlock has flattened the spending curve significantly since 2009 – a positive development.

And although the economic recovery has been one of the slowest since World War II and global growth remains anemic, the U.S. remains a better house in a bad global neighborhood (e.g., Europe and Japan continue to suck wind), as evidenced by a number of these following positive economic indicators:

  • Employment Improvement: Unemployment has fallen from 10% to 5% since 2009, and more than 15 million jobs have been added over that period.
  • Housing Recovery Continues: Home sales and prices continue their multi-year rise; housing inventories remain tight; and affordability remains strong, given generationally low interest rates.
  • Record Auto Sales: Car sales remain near record levels, hovering around 17 million units per year.
  • Consumer Confidence on the Rise: Ever since the financial crisis, consumer sentiment figures have rebounded by about 50%.
  • Record Consumer Sales: Consumer spending accounts for approximately 70% of our economy, and as you can see from the chart below, despite consumers saving more, stronger employment and wages are fueling more spending.

Source:Calculated Risk

Absent a clean sweep of control by the Democrat or Republican Presidential-Congressional candidates, our democratic system will retain its healthy status of checks and balances. Based on all the current polling data, a split between the White House, Senate, and House of Representatives remains a very high likelihood scenario.

The political process has been especially exhausting during the current cycle, but regardless of whether your candidate wins or loses, much of the current uncertainty will likely dissipate. As the saying goes, at least it is “Better the devil you know than the devil you don’t know.”

After the November 8th elections are completed, there will be one less election to worry about. Thankfully, after 25 years in the industry, I’m not naïve enough to believe there will be nothing else to worry about. When the financial media and blogosphere get bored, at a minimum, you can guarantee yourself plenty of useless coverage regarding the next monetary policy move by the Federal Reserve (see also Fed Fatigue).

Whatever the next set of worries become, U.K. Prime Minister Winston Churchill said it best as it relates to American politics and economics, “You can always count on Americans to do the right thing – after they’ve tried everything else.” If Churchill’s words don’t provide comfort and you had fun getting spooked over the elections on Halloween, feel free to keep wearing your costume. Behind any constructive economic data, the prolific media machine will continue doing their best in manufacturing plenty of fear, uncertainty, and doubt to keep you worried.

investment-questions-border

Wade W. Slome, CFA, CFP®

www.Sidoxia.com

Plan. Invest. Prosper.

DISCLOSURE: Sidoxia Capital Management (SCM) and some of its clients hold positions in certain exchange traded funds (ETFs), but at the time of publishing had no direct position in  any other security referenced in this article. No information accessed through the Investing Caffeine (IC) website constitutes investment, financial, legal, tax or other advice nor is to be relied on in making an investment or other decision. Please read disclosure language on IC Contact page.

November 1, 2016 at 11:02 am 1 comment

Fall is Here: Change is Near

leaves

This article is an excerpt from a previously released Sidoxia Capital Management complimentary newsletter (October 1, 2016). Subscribe on the right side of the page for the complete text.

Although the fall season is here and the leaf colors are changing, there are a number of other transforming dynamics occurring this economic season as well. The S&P 500 index may not have changed much this past month (down -0.1%), but the technology-laden NASDAQ index catapulted higher (+1.9% for the month and +6.0% for 2016).

With three quarters of the year now behind us, beyond experiencing a shift in seasonal weather, a number of other changes are also coming. For starters, there’s no ignoring the elephant in the room, and that is the presidential election, which is only weeks away from determining our country’s new Commander in Chief. Besides religion, there are very few topics more emotionally charged than politics – whether you are a Republican, Democrat, Independent, Libertarian, or some combination thereof. Even though the first presidential debate is behind us, a majority of voters are already set on their candidate choice. In other words, open-minded debate on this topic can be challenging.

Hearing critical comments regarding your favorite candidate are often interpreted in the same manner as receiving critical comments about a personal family member – people often become defensive. The good news, despite the massive political divide currently occurring in the country and near-record low politician approval ratings in Congress , politics mean almost nothing when it comes to your money and retirement (see also Politics & Your Money). Regardless of what politicians might accomplish (not much), individuals actually have much more control over their personal financial future than politicians.

While inaction may rule the day currently, more action generally occurs during a crisis – we witnessed this firsthand during the 2008-2009 financial meltdown. As Winston Churchill famously stated,

“You can always count on Americans to do the right thing – after they’ve tried everything else.”

Political discourse and gridlock are frustrating to almost everyone from a practical standpoint (i.e., “Why can’t these idiots get something done in Washington?!”), however from an economic standpoint, gridlock is good (see also Who Said Gridlock is Bad?) because it can keep a responsible lid on frivolous spending. Educated individuals can debate about the proper priorities of government spending, but most voters agree, maintaining a sensible level of spending and debt should be a bipartisan issue.

From roughly 2009 – 2014, you can see how political gridlock has led to a massive narrowing in our government’s deficit levels (chart below) – back to more historical levels.This occurred just as rising frustration with Washington has been on the rise.

spend-vs-rev

The Fed: Rate Revolution or Evolution?

Besides the changing season of politics, the other major area of change is Federal Reserve monetary policy. Even though the Fed has only increased interest rates once over the last 10 years, and interest rates are at near-generational lows, investors remain fearful. There is bound to be some short-term volatility if interest rates rise to 0.50% – 0.75% in December, as currently expected. However, if the Fed continues at its current snail’s pace, it won’t be until 2032 before they complete their rate hike cycles.

We can put the next rate increase into perspective by studying history. More specifically, the Fed raised interest rates 17 times from 2004 – 2006 (see chart below). Fortunately over this same time period, the world didn’t end as the Fed increased interest rates from 1.00% to 5.25% (stocks prices actually rose around +11%). The same can be said today – the world won’t likely end, if interest rates rise from 0.50% to 0.75% in a few months.

hike-cycle

The next question becomes, why are interest rates so low? There are many reasons and theories, but a few of the key drivers behind low rates include, slower global economic growth, low inflation, high demand for low-risk assets, technology, and demographics. I could devote a whole article to each of these factors, and indeed in many cases I have, but suffice it to say that there are many reasons beyond the oversimplified explanation that artificial central bank intervention has led to a 35 year decline in interest rates (see chart below).

10yr-yld

Change is a constant, and with fall arriving, some changes are more predictable than others. The timing of the U.S. presidential election outcome is very predictable but the same cannot be said for the timing of future interest rate increases. Irrespective of the coming changes and the related timing, history reminds us that concerns over politics and interest rates often are overblown. Many individuals remain overly-pessimistic due to excessive, daily attention to gloomy and irrelevant news headlines. Thankfully, stock prices are paying attention to more important factors (see Don’t Be a Fool) and long-term investors are being rewarded with record high stock prices in recent weeks. That’s the type of change I love.

investment-questions-border

Wade W. Slome, CFA, CFP®

www.Sidoxia.com

Plan. Invest. Prosper.

DISCLOSURE: Sidoxia Capital Management (SCM) and some of its clients hold positions in certain exchange traded funds (ETFs), but at the time of publishing had no direct position in  any other security referenced in this article. No information accessed through the Investing Caffeine (IC) website constitutes investment, financial, legal, tax or other advice nor is to be relied on in making an investment or other decision. Please read disclosure language on IC Contact page.

October 3, 2016 at 1:03 pm 1 comment

Fiscal Armageddon Greatly Exaggerated

Source: Photobucket

Source: Photobucket

“The reports of my death are greatly exaggerated.”

-Mark Twain (after a relative’s illness was attributed to Twain)

The same can be said for the exaggerated death of the U.S. economy and stock market. Naysayers have been pounding a consistent stream of fatal economic theories for years as a positive set of broader metrics disassembled those arguments. Debt downgrades, debt defaults, and a domino of European country collapses were supposed to set our financial markets spiraling downwards out of control. That didn’t happen.

A large contributing component to our oversized debt burden was the massive federal, state, and local deficits. Consider the federal fiscal deficit that reached -$1.5 trillion during the 2008-09 Financial Crisis.

Many of the doom-and-gloomer pundits expected a deficit in the uber-trillion dollar range to last for as far as the eye could see, but perception didn’t turn out to be reality. Scott Grannis at Calafia Beach Pundit always does a superb job of summarizing this government related data (see chart below):

Source: Calafia Beach Pundit

Source: Calafia Beach Pundit

All too often people confuse a secular trend vs. a cyclical move. The collapse in tax revenues during the 2008-2009 timeframe was not the result of some permanent shift in tax policy, but rather a function of a cyclical downturn, much like we have seen in prior recessions.

Extrapolating a short-term trend into a long-term trend is a common investor mistake (see Extrapolation Dangers). While the mean reversion in tax revenues came as a surprise to some, it was no bombshell for me. When the country axes 9 million private jobs and then both companies and consumers rein in spending due to depression fears, a subsequent reduction in tax receipts should not be a shock to market observers. On the flip side, it should then be no revelation that tax revenues will rise when 9 million+ jobs return and confidence rebounds.

We have talked about the shape of tax revenues/receipts, but what about the shape of spending? With all the gridlock occurring in Washington, Americans are fed up with the government’s inability to get anything done, which is evident by the near-record low approval rating of Congress. But as I have written before, not all the effects of gridlock are bad (see Who Said Gridlock is Bad?). What Grannis’s chart above shows is that gridlock has beneficially resulted in about five years of flat spending. Despite the spending stinginess, the slow and steady economic recovery has continued virtually unabated since 2009.

Looked at from a slightly different lens, you can see the deficit reached its worst point in 2009 at about -$1.5 trillion (-10% of GDP) – see chart below. Today, the deficit has almost been cut by 2/3rds to a level of -$0.5 billion (-2.8% of GDP). As you can see, the current deficit/GDP percentage is consistent with the average deficit levels experienced over the last 50 years.

Source: Calafia Beach Pundit

Source: Calafia Beach Pundit

Regardless of your political persuasion, investors are best served by not placing too much focus on what’s going on in Washington D.C. Equal blame and credit can be dispersed across Congress (Democrats & Republicans), the President, and the Federal Reserve. Exaggerating the death of the U.S. economy and stock market may sell more newspapers and advertising, but the resilience of capitalism and innovative spirit of American entrepreneurship has not and will not die.

Investment Questions Border

 

www.Sidoxia.com

Wade W. Slome, CFA, CFP®

Plan. Invest. Prosper.

DISCLOSURE: Sidoxia Capital Management (SCM) and some of its clients own a range of positions in certain exchange traded fund positions, but at the time of publishing SCM had no direct position in any other security referenced in this article. No information accessed through the Investing Caffeine (IC) website constitutes investment, financial, legal, tax or other advice nor is to be relied on in making an investment or other decision. Please read disclosure language on IC Contact page.

November 15, 2014 at 10:48 pm 1 comment

Rating Agencies to Government: Go Back to College!

Remember those days as a young adult, when you were a starving student in college, doing everything you possible could in your power to not run out of money (OK, if you were born with a silver spoon in your mouth, just play along).  You know what I’m talking about… Corn Flakes for breakfast, PB&J for lunch, and maybe splurge with a little Mac & Cheese or Top Ramen for dinner. Well, the rating agencies, especially Standard & Poor’s (S&P) with their long-term sovereign credit rating downgrade on the U.S. from AAA rated to AA+ rated, are signaling our U.S. government to cut back on the champagne and caviar spending and go back to living like a college student.

Rent-A-Cops Assert Power

The rating agencies may have been asleep at the switch during the tech bubble (Enron & WorldCom) and the financial crisis of 2008-2009 (i.e., ratings of toxic mortgage backed securities), but they are doing their best to reassert themselves as credible security rating entities. By the way, as long as S&P has some wise critical advice for the U.S. government regarding fiscal responsibility, I have a suggestion for S&P: When providing a fresh ratings downgrade, please limit error estimations to less than $2,000,000,000,000.00 – this is exactly what S&P did in its ratings downgrade. Time will tell whether S&P can maintain its role as credit market policeman or will be mocked like those unarmed, overweight rent-a-cops you see at the shopping mall.

In reality, S&P’s moves represent little fundamental change, especially since these moves have been signaled for months (S&P initially lowered its outlook on the U.S. to negative on 4/18/11). I know there will be some that panic at this announcement (won’t be the first or last time), but should anyone really be shocked by an independent entity telling the U.S. government they are spending too much money and hold too much debt? If my memory serves me correctly, Americans have been screaming S&P’s same message for years – I think the rise of the Tea-Party, the results of the mid-term elections, and the tone of the debt ceiling debate may indicate a few people have caught onto this unsustainable fiscal disaster.

Two Simple Choices

As I have said for some time, these horrendously difficult issues will get resolved. The only question is who will resolve this negligent fiscal behavior? There are only two simple answers: 1) Politicians can proactively chip away at the problem with solutions my first grader has already identified (spend less and/or increase revenue); or 2) Financial Market Vigilantes can rip apart financial markets and force borrowing costs to the stratosphere. Option number one is preferable for everyone, and for those that don’t understand option number two, I refer you to Greece, Iceland, Ireland, Portugal, Italy and Spain.

If you’re getting sick of listening to debt and spending issues now, I will gently remind you this is an election year, so the nauseating debates are only going to get worse from here. I encourage everyone to make a game of this fiscal discussion, and do enough homework to the point you have informed, convicted opinions about our country’s fiscal situation. Unlike in periods past, when Americans could take a nap and ride the U.S. gravy train to prosperity, the ultra-competitive globalized game no longer allows us to rest on our laurels of being the world’s strongest superpower. There are a lot more people playing in our game outside our borders, and many of them are stronger, faster, smarter, and more efficient. Decisions being made today, tomorrow, and over the next year will have profound effects on millions of Americans, myself included. So as the government prioritizes spending programs and debates methods of raising revenue, I advise you to go back to your college days and decide whether you prefer Corn Flakes, PB&J, and Mac & Cheese. If voters don’t pressure politicians into doing the right thing, then we’ll all be collecting food stamps from the Financial Market Vigilantes.

Wade W. Slome, CFA, CFP®

Plan. Invest. Prosper.

www.Sidoxia.com

DISCLOSURE: Sidoxia Capital Management (SCM) and some of its clients own certain exchange traded funds, but at the time of publishing SCM had no direct position in MHP, or any other security referenced in this article. No information accessed through the Investing Caffeine (IC) website constitutes investment, financial, legal, tax or other advice nor is to be relied on in making an investment or other decision. Please read disclosure language on IC “Contact” page.

August 6, 2011 at 11:19 am 1 comment


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