Recession or Soft Landing?

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?

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What Could Happen in 2023

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.

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Answers to Year-End 2022 Questions

Year-End 2022 may be leaving us with more questions than answers. In addition to a prior posted list of questions, here are more:

  • Will interest rates continue to increase?
  • 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:

silhouette of trees under fireworks
Photo by Zeepictures on Pexels.com

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Stay Tuned for Year-End Commentary

As Christmas and Year-End 2022 approach there is a long list of topics to consider, including:

  • How to quantify the first truly down year for the markets since 2009
  • What inflation and higher interest rates mean going forward in 2023
  • How to approach higher taxes for those still working and those receiving Social Security
  • The timeless investing paradigms that have not changed
  • How much to diversify a portfolio while still paying attention to risk and liquidity
  • How to approach Long-Term Care decisions, both present and future
  • Changes made to gifting limits for 2023 (limits increased)
  • Changes made to IRA and 401k contribution limits in 2023 (limits increased)
  • What is next for cryptocurrency trading and valuation
  • What to serve for the Holiday meal (perhaps the most urgent item on the list).

What topics might be on your mind? Stay tuned for a Year-End commentary!

Thank you for reading, enjoy last minute shopping and TGIF!

An Early Thanksgiving 2022 Thought

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
  • progress made
  • 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.

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Financial Advice & Family

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.

Financial advice from a wise Mom, Dad, Grandma, “Uncle Pete” or “Aunt Claire” can make a lifetime of difference.

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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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