Looking Back On… The Luck Factor

Despite all of the calculations involved in investing, there is still an element of luck involved. A specific term for this luck is, “Sequence of Returns.” What on earth is that? Answer: it is a risk and may be the most important concept in the world if a saver or investor ever wishes to spend their savings – and have those savings last.

The topic became relevant recently when a client asked me for assistance in defining what their “concerns” should be for the long-term now that they had accumulated a decent amount of savings and investments. The desire was to continue to accumulate savings and, more important, have the monies last at least long enough to see their plan to fruition for themselves and their kids.

There are ways to plan around both good and bad luck! 

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Slaying Inflation & Stagflation

Stagflation. An economic condition not experienced since the 1970’s – which was also the last time that inflation was as high as it is today.

Stagflation is an understandable word: stagnated growth coupled with persistent, high inflation. Often high unemployment is also part of the picture but presently is not the case. The reason stagflation is currently in the conversation is that in addition to current high levels of inflation, there are potential factors that could weigh even further on the US economy: tax increases and greater government spending. Stagflation could result – or could be inevitable no matter what.

Higher interest rates and focused policy today could be a small price to pay for a more balanced future with modest growth and less inflation.

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Taxes Make Ya Wanna Go #$%&!

Yup, it is tax season. This year as clients and friends were completing their 2021 tax returns* the cries of, “Are you kidding me?” and “This is by far the most taxes I have ever paid in my life!” were louder than ever. There were valid reasons for wealthier taxpayers paying more taxes for tax year 2021 – far more than for tax year 2020. A few reasons were somewhat UN-related to the coronavirus pandemic, and a number of reasons were directly pandemic-related.

The majority of my clients and friends simply made more money in 2021 than 2020. (Is that a bad thing? Most likely not.) The pandemic, in a delayed fashion, led to promotions and opportunities in 2021 for lots of individuals in corporate America and at companies that “dug in” amidst epic challenges in 2020. Retention and performance bonuses wound up being paid in 2021 (continuing in 2022), following a time in late 2020 when it seemed basic compensation and jobs were at serious risk. This turnaround was a huge irony and welcome relief to a number of people – and the “flip side” became higher taxes for tax year 2021.

Pandemic-related factors were to blame for higher 2021 taxes in several “hidden” ways.

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Crypto Quarterly (& More) – vol. 2

Today’s TGIF 2 Minutes features:

  • A high-level update & follow-up on cryptocurrencies
  • Brief comments on Inflation & 1st quarter 2022

Crypto Update

Continuing with the whirlwind of interest generated by “To Crypto Or Not To Crypto” and “Crypto Superbowl” there is more to say including highlighting the recent 36% decline in Bitcoin since November 2021. There is broad evidence that high-profile, fiduciary financial advisers are hesitant – for good reason – to include cryptocurrency across the board in client portfolios. At the same time, a good number of high-profile, responsible, fiduciary financial advisers are including cryptocurrency in some – emphasis, “some” – client portfolios, depending on the client’s goals and risk tolerance.**

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No Pain, No Gain??

Another quick edition today, as the message is a cautionary one.

The rate of inflation has continued to increase recently. The Wall Street Journal quotes the nationwide inflation rate now at 7.9%. Most clients and friends with whom I speak say they feel little pain and that all they notice about inflation so far is the rising cost of gas and higher grocery store bills. How much longer will inflation continue “not to matter”? What if the US Federal Reserve gets impatient and starts raising rates more aggressively?

The jury is still out regarding how the US Fed will fight inflation today.

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Looking Ahead in 2022

One thing is certain: numerous predictions about 2020 and 2021 in categories ranging, from the emergence of a pandemic, to continuance of the pandemic, how best to cure the pandemic, to rates of inflation, supply and demand in the economy, to the ability of technology to make accurate predictions… were wrong.

Possibly the largest factor affecting the US economy today, inflation, was not even on the list of biggest risks at the 2021 World Economic Forum.* This is not to poke fun at the predictors but rather an indication of how misguided predictions about risk can be.

Numerous predictions about 2020 and 2021 were wrong.

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Will Social Security Be There?

Here starts a mini-series of TGIF 2 Minutes editions.

The following is taken directly from the current Social Security website. The italics below are copied from the website and presumably are meant for emphasis. Underlines are mine.

The concepts of solvency, sustainability, and budget impact are common in discussions of Social Security but are not well understood. Currently, the Social Security Board of Trustees projects program cost to rise by 2035 so that taxes will be enough to pay for only 75 percent of scheduled benefits. This increase in cost results from population aging, not because we are living longer, but because birth rates dropped from three to two children per woman. Importantly, this shortfall is basically stable after 2035; adjustments to taxes or benefits that offset the effects of the lower birth rate may restore solvency for the Social Security program on a sustainable basis for the foreseeable future. Finally, as Treasury debt securities (trust fund assets) are redeemed in the future, they will just be replaced with public debt. If trust fund assets are exhausted without reform, benefits will necessarily be lowered with no effect on budget deficits.

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Inflation is Here

Long time readers of TGIF 2 Minutes may remember the above photo* which accompanied a February 2018 post describing how inflation feels.

Earlier this year in March, a TGIF 2 Minutes post titled Get Ready for Corona Inflation described what could happen if government spending and stimulus continued unchecked. This week’s reported economic numbers underscore reality: a three-month continued surge in inflation that in several categories has not been seen since the early 1980’s. Lots of people reading this post may not have even been born in 1981 – which was the last time that restaurant meals and food prices rose this fast. To the younger generation, inflation may be learned painfully early in their careers. Inflation hurts EVERYONE, most of all the middle class and low-wage workers. For the wealthier, inflation gradually eats into returns on savings and investments.

Photo by Jared Haworth, www.wehadtoday.com/jared

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A Good Time to Borrow Money?

Life without some kind of debt is nearly impossible. Still, there are “good” kinds of debt and “bad” kinds of debt, and timing of taking on debt matters too.

As the US economy emerges from the extended pandemic a number of factors affecting debt and borrowing are at play:

  • Jobs – job openings, job creation and job RE-creation
  • Ability of small businesses to pay workers amidst longer-term uncertainty
  • The presence of Inflation for all kinds of popular products and services – meaning consumers are being forced to pay more, often unexpectedly
  • Changing demographics and geographies around home ownership…
  • …Creating increases in home prices
  • Super low interest rates
  • Plain old desire to spend after year-long restrictions on nearly everything!
As the US economy emerges from the extended pandemic a number of factors affecting debt and borrowing are at play.

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What’s Going On in the Markets?

It may be time to diversify – if that was not already the name of your game.

When is the last time that BONDS, no less the 10-year Treasury and TIPS, were the information we sought to read before we checked TSLA and AAPL??

Yes, when stock markets get rocky it is wise to look to the bond market, interest rates and the Fed for answers. Here is a less than 2-minute primer on several terms that matter. Oh, and my bond expert and bond trader friends will smile at the following statement: Everyone knows the “bond gals and guys” are smarter than the “equity gals and guys.” (PS. I started out as an equity gal.)

When stock markets get rocky it is wise to look to the bond market, interest rates and the Fed for answers.

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