Mortgage & Housing Costs

A cautionary note (please pardon the math on a Friday) on home prices and home mortgage affordability in the short- to intermediate-term future. This note can also be useful for those with HELOC loans, or home equity lines of credit, with floating interest rates.

Inflation has recently had an overlooked side effect: a decline in the amount of home that a given monthly mortgage payment buys. The obvious factor is that interest rates on 30-year mortgages have skyrocketed from around 3% about 10 months ago to over 7% today. (Note, there is a sound but painful reason for interest rates to have risen. Historically, higher interest rates are one of the most proven ways to gradually – emphasize, “gradually” – control inflation or slow down an over-heated economy).

In buying a house using a mortgage, the situation turns into kind of a “seesaw” between the amount put down and how that amount translates into the monthly payment. 

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Making the Best of Down Markets

There is no sugar-coating it: investors in 2022 have experienced the biggest – and longest – down year for stock and bond markets since the 2007-2008 financial crisis. One of the only consolations is that over the past 13 years there have been tremendous gains overall, still with a few bumps along the way. Below I outline a few more consolations, or ways to make the best of down markets.

First a quick note: For newer, younger investors it may be difficult to not yet see long-term gains having accumulated in portfolios. Know that time horizon and future earnings potential are two huge positives working in your favor.

Here are a handful of ways to make the best of down markets – and to take advantage of higher interest rates (hint: there are more positives around higher interest rates than the media lets on).

For savers with healthy balances in pre-tax 401k and IRA accounts, use the opportunity to convert pre-tax IRA monies to Roth IRA monies.

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How Long Will It Take To Tame Inflation?

A question that may be on a number of people’s minds is: How long will it take to tame inflation? Unfortunately, there is very little telling how long it will take the US Federal Reserve, or any other entity or force, to tame inflation especially with respect to the short-term. Part of the reason is because inflation is always part of a complicated economy – an economy with diverse people, businesses, and governmental/fiscal forces in action. Making timing (and hard landing/soft-landing) predictions about inflation is nearly impossible.

To add to the confusion, believe it or not emotions – specifically people’s expectations of inflation – are part of what keeps inflation around. In this inflationary cycle, inflation has stuck around longer than at almost any time in US history; long enough to increase people’s expectations that inflation will not go away quickly. The US Fed had stated one of its original intentions was to lower consumers’ inflationary expectations (but the Fed may have missed this boat due to forces out of its control, namely, the pandemic aftermath).

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Crypto Quarterly – Vol. 3, Oct 2022

In this issue of TGIF 2 Minutes – Crypto Quarterly, a less rosy update with the bright spot being that fees to trade crypto have gone to “free” in some cases. Binance, a world leader in Bitcoin trading volume, introduced zero-fee trading back in June. (Note that as recently as July 2022, the “CEO” of Binance still says there is no headquarters for the company, as it is “decentralized”.)

Value-wise, in a year that has been unkind to stocks AND bonds, Crypto stands out as an even bigger loser relative to traditional asset classes – by over double in a number of cases. Take for example the price of Bitcoin which started the year at approximately $46,310 as measured in US Dollars. Most recent prices of Bitcoin are around $20,098, or down over 55%. Coinbase, not a cryptocurrency but a crypto trading marketplace (among other technology functions), went public in April 2021 and is down around 78% since then. Compare these crypto-related price declines to the painful year-to-date performance of -21% in the S&P 500, -29% in the Nasdaq and -21.5% in the Russell 2000 which tracks small company stocks.

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Series I Bonds, Yes 9.62%

From the Archives of TGIF 2 Minutes (original post May 13, 2022) to reflect my recent purchase of I-Bonds and continued questions received:

“What are I Bonds?” The “I” in I Bonds stands for Inflation, which is why these bonds are so HOT at the moment. (Note: inflation overall is clearly not a good thing; I Bond interest rates may be one of the only things that benefit from skyrocketing inflation.)

You can skip this entire post and simply go to www.TreasuryDirect.gov and click on “How to buy Series I” under the column, “Individuals”. The website is written – literally – as if a third grader could understand it. See the * and ** footnotes below.

The “I Bond phenomenon” has heated up in the past eighteen months with the spike in inflation. Their current, high interest rate warrants taking a look.

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Hard Landing Recession or Soft Landing?

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?

In the case that the US has entered a recession (not yet “declared” by the NBER) then what does that mean for savers and investors? A quick bit of background: typically, economic cool-downs come in two varieties: hard landings and soft landings.

  • The hard landing ends a period of economic expansion in recession,
  • The soft landing ends a period of expansion with a smoother period of mere economic slow-down.

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What’s Important NOW?

Lately it seems that reaching Friday is a goal in itself. In markets like these it is not easy to “keep calm and carry on” as if there is nothing different going on. There are, in fact, multiple very different things going on. The coming weeks and months may bring even more different events and uneasiness – with a bit of good mixed in.

So, then the question becomes, What is important NOW? It may be tempting to answer:

  • Federal Reserve policy on interest rates
  • the coming November elections
  • mortgage rates
  • the level of inflation
  • energy prices
  • the US and world economies.
Photo by Kathy Jones on Pexels.com

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The Psychology of Interest Rates

Dedicated readers of TGIF 2 Minutes will recall highlights two weeks ago of Morgan Housel’s excellent book, The Psychology of Money. Digging deeper into the book revealed the theme that human nature and psychology most often lead people to hear – and believe – only what they want to hear and believe or see happen.

This statement is not an insult or meant to sound arrogant. Rather, in matters of money, financial markets and even the economy there is evidence that people, the more they want something to be true, most often will believe a story that overestimates the odds of the story being true.* The markets, following recent comments by Fed Chairman Jerome Powell, nudged UP on thoughts the Fed might “pivot” (meaning: possibly slow the pace of interest rate increases and even lower interest rates next year – a wishful “story”). But more recent moves down in markets reflect the less popular belief that the US Federal Reserve likely will NOT reverse course, thus continuing to raise interest rates until inflation shows evidence of cooling. 

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Reality Bites

Today’s TGIF 2 Minutes was delayed to reflect a speech given earlier today in Jackson Hole, WY by US Federal Reserve Chair, Jerome Powell.

Earlier today (Friday) US Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell spoke in a widely anticipated speech at an annual meeting of the Kansas City Federal Reserve Bank. The market and investing worlds were looking for guidance from the Fed Chair regarding interest rates and future inflation. Part of the reason for the speech being so closely watched goes back to a former Fed Chair. For those old enough to remember, in December 1996 Alan Greenspan made a now famous speech that rocked the markets when he coined the term, “irrational exuberance.” Then Fed Chairman Greenspan commented,

  • “How do we know when irrational exuberance has unduly escalated asset values…?” Greenspan went on, “We should not underestimate or become complacent about the complexity of the interactions of asset markets and the economy.”*

And down the markets went for a time. 

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A Little Paranoia Is a Good Thing

Record-breaking, big outlier events tend to move the needle the most in the economy and stock market.* Note the word, “outlier.” Outlier events typically are surprises and are indeed unlikely. In his beyond excellent book The Psychology of Money author Morgan Housel lists five events that were outliers with world-changing consequences:

  • The Great Depression
  • World War II 
  • The dot-com bubble
  • September 11th
  • The housing crash of the mid-2000’s.

A conclusion could be drawn from the book’s chapter titled, “Surprise!” that surprises are perhaps the most reliable thing going. But the irony of the reliability of surprises is we do not know what the surprise is until after it has unfolded.

Making room for error can be as simple as having a having a “Plan B” and “Plan C” – or being OK with starting completely from scratch – if “Plan A” does not work out. 

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