Recent news features the danger of the United States defaulting on its Treasury debt. Longer story short, the US Treasury is very, very, very, very unlikely to default, and “cooler minds” would be educating the American public about why this is the case. The explanation is beyond the scope of TGIF 2 Minutes. (Please note that none of the following is a political statement or meant to be.)
Of course, there are plenty of reasons why the US finds itself, once again, in this position. The last time it was this serious was in 2011 when Barack Obama was President. Then came the coronavirus in 2019 and responses by Presidents Trump and Biden. Entitlements and social program spending, along with eventually replenishing US defense spending, became and are still beyond expensive. As The Wall Street Journal notes, “…U.S. debt held by the public is now about 100% of GDP, up from 39.2% as recently as 2008 and 77.6% in 2018” and “…The cost of financing that debt is rising fast along with interest rates, and interest on the debt will take up an increasingly large share of federal revenue. Priorities… will be squeezed.”*
The country is witnessing a high stakes political fight that will likely play out over the next five months and feature the Republicans and Democrats in the US House of Representatives negotiating and attempting to call “chicken” on who gives in first, with trillions of dollars in the offing. The primary matters at hand are the government’s overdue and needed discipline on its spending cap – and determining how much debt is manageable for the country over the short- and long-term. The next generation of Americans, among others,is who should be watching most closely.
From the recent archives of TGIF 2 Minutes – especially worth a second look as the year 2023 unfolds. Inflation recently came in at a still very high 6.5%… which seems “low” only because several months ago inflation was at 9.1%. Shelter and services (including daycare) remain the areas with highest inflation; gas, autos, computers, and sporting goods saw slower rises in still high prices. Employment remains an oddly strong component of the economy – leaving the likelihood of a “soft landing” type of economic slowdown a possibility.
Sept 2022: It is fairly safe to say that the US has entered a recession, even if the backwards looking, narrowly focused, official “National Bureau of Economics Research”, or NBER, has not declared it yet. The NBER is a private, non-profit organization founded in 1920 that somehow came to possess the distinct “responsibility” of declaring recessions in the US. Seriously?
What is in store for 2023? Is the stock market overvalued? In answer to the second question: perhaps yes, perhaps no. When most people ask, “Is the market overvalued or undervalued?” what they really are asking is, “Where is the market going next?”
Of course, no one knows for sure. But a bit of historical data can offer information for comparison. Below (top) is a chart showing how over-priced US growth stocks (yellow-ish line) have been over 100 years and how over-priced US value stocks (greenish-blue line) have been over the same period. It would seem that growth stocks are still over-valued. But look at the period for growth stocks between 1974 (the last time inflation was as high as it is today) and 1998. Can you say that it was obvious in 1992 that growth stocks were overvalued? Probably not.
Fast forward to 2023. What could happen next? See the bottom chart for more data.
Will the US officially enter a recession? If so, how bad, and how long will it be?
Will there be more bankruptcies related to cryptocurrencies and trading?
What will become of the unbalanced employment situation?
The list can go on and on. For as long as most experienced investors reading this post can recall, there have always been questions that economists (similar to the weatherman/woman) attempt to answer. Readers and investors who are newer or younger can learn over time that questions regarding the economy and government/fiscal policy are what make markets operate. Everyone is entitled to her or his opinion, especially in investing:
Just in the past week, two friends notified me they had been party to a money scam or potential money-related email hack. Going back further in time, there are numerous instances where a client or friend has made it known they were, regrettably, on the losing side of a money-related scam.
Look no further than this week’s news on a larger scale: due to recent, repeated money-request scams via the online payments network Zelle, major banks and financial institutions including JP Morgan, Bank of America, Capital One, and PNC Financial announced talks to reimburse scammed Zelle customers (Zelle is an online payments network in which various major banks participate).
All of these events prove that money-related scams are no longer isolated incidents.
In a year that has been difficult in the markets and anything but predictable, there are still lots of bright spots and things for which to be thankful. In that vein it may make sense – before the Thanksgiving holiday – to dedicate extra time to giving ourselves credit for:
goals in process
the people who made progress possible (family, friends, colleagues)
successes despite inevitable failures
the ability to have overcome tragedy or failures
being able to make new future goals as a result of past failures and successes.
Hurricanes can come in various forms. Whether they be the recent Ian and Nicole or the staggering Sandy of 2012 they tend to strike in the fall season. Also, in the fall come U.S. elections and historically a bit of stock market volatility. Like the weather, markets are anything but predictable. Elections can lend themselves to predictability but there are always surprises too.
This year has had a mix of all these factors. Currently amidst high inflation the stock and bond markets are trying to digest an environment of much higher and increasing interest rates – exactly how much higher is an unknown. Also unknown is the post-election reality of future policy making in Washington, DC. Interest rates are “driving the economic bus” for the time being, and government policy making will be an ongoing force running alongside. Both will affect the markets in positive and negative ways over time.
Getting through hurricane season can be a relief – but only if it is known that the storm is over. Is the storm over or getting close to being over, and where does all this leave investors and savers?
The subject of family can apply to various aspects of financial planning. And although sensitive, there could be an entire TGIF 2 Minutes series on family and personal finance. On a positive note, and more specifically for this week’s edition: I hear often from financially comfortable – and confident – clients and friends about basic, treasured personal financial advice they received from a family member – most going back 20, 30, even 40 or more years ago!
Mixing family and money can get sensitive quickly. But over years of observing, there have been far more positives than negatives for those who were willing to step back, look at the bigger picture and accept solid, basic advice. Humility was involved. Patience is necessary. These are not my opinions but rather real pieces of feedback from people who are grateful they took certain, basic advice from a wise family member at some point earlier in life.