Hurricane Season

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?

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?

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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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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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End of an Era?

Just as this week’s TGIF 2 Minutes goes to press, the news of the passing of Queen Elizabeth II, the longest reigning monarch in British history, is hitting the airwaves. God bless the royal family in their mourning of an amazing woman!

The “end of an era” closer to home is the end of 3% 30-year mortgage rates. Does this mean it is time to put off a home purchase? The simple answer is NO. The longer answer is, NO, IF. The “if” stands for:

Today’s 5%+ mortgage rates are more normal and reasonable in the longer-term picture than the media is making them out to be.

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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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The New Car Conundrum

Shorter post today – the summer weather is HOT! And car purchasing decisions can make a person sweat, or not.

Last July, yours truly bought a new car – after 16 years driving the same fully-paid for car. The old car was purchased as a certified pre-owned (back when CPO saved tens of thousands of dollars); the new car purchase last year was a brand-new car from a dealership. There were “those people” who commented, “Why buy a car now (last July) amidst high prices for new and used cars? Why not wait for prices to come down?” There were valid reasons to ask those questions. But looking back, the decision was a wise one and has stood up amidst full-on, continuing high inflation.

When the time comes to replace an older vehicle, even inflation may not hold up as the most valid reason to delay the purchase.

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