September 2016

Macro Overview

Markets have become data sensitive as varying economic news moved equities and bonds in anticipation of a looming Fed rate hike. Some members of the Federal Reserve are leaning towards a rate increase before the end of the year rather than waiting until next year.

Growth estimates for the economy were revised down again in August with GDP growth revised to a 1.1% annual growth rate. Even though economic data has been mixed, the Fed may consider some of the data strong enough to raise rates sooner. Some Federal Reserve watchers believe that comments made by Fed members in August were meant to shore up rates a bit without the Fed actually raising rates, a tactic used before.

The S&P 500 index will have a new sector added in September with Real Estate Investment Trusts (REITs) comprising the 11th sector of the index. REITs have been part of the financial sector for years and have now earned their own designated category with an expected 3% allocation.

Internationally, worries still abound regarding the uncertainty of the EU’s future without Britain. Of concern is the lack of new capital investments by companies as a result of new rules that will take up to two years to formalize. Some see possible correlations between the EU vote in Europe and the U.S. presidential election in November, as polls failed to capture the voting intentions of marginalized and antiestablishment voters during the Brexit vote in Great Britain.

Volatility with oil prices continued producing reactions to headlines surrounding inventories, production, and OPEC policies. Domestic oil drillers and energy companies have been quick to acclimate to lower oil prices by retooling and curtailing production and costs. Decisions to increase production is seen as a validation that debt levels are under control and companies are positioned to expand, as long as oil prices stay around $50 per barrel.

Back to School Knowledge Studying Education Concept

Back to school sales rank as the second biggest shopping season for retailers, after the winter holiday season. According to the National Retail Federation (NRF), back to school shopping generates over $27 billion in retail sales every season.

Sources: FDIC, Federal Reserve, S&P, Reuters, Eurostat, NRF

REITs Will Earn Their Own Category Within The S&P 500 Index This Month

New Sector Joining S&P 500 Index – Equity Markets Update

Domestic stock market indices closed at new highs in August as earnings and economic data helped propel equity prices. Even with recent new highs, volume remains relatively low. Some market analysts believe that the increased regulation of banks and brokerage firms has taken a toll on trading. The use of various derivatives have been discouraged by regulators, which have in the past added activity and volume to equity markets.

The positive performance of the high-yield bond sector so far this year is indicative of improving credit characteristics for smaller company stocks. Since most smaller companies tend to rely more on debt for cash flow, a continued low rate environment has been beneficial for earnings and growth.

The S&P 500 index is adding a new sector to its mix. REITs will become part of the S&P 500 compilation on September 16th, making it the 11th sector. The growth and capital representation of REITs in the markets will now formally allow REITs to sit along side the other 10 sectors as a standalone class. REITs have been part of the financial sector for years, but now have earned their own designated category.

REITs have become increasingly popular with investors as their management teams have become more professional and the companies have become larger. There are two main types of REITs, equity REITs and mortgage REITs. The newly added sector will only include equity REITs that own physical property such as apartments, office buildings, industrial buildings, malls, hotels, cellular towers, data storS&P 500 Indexage facilities, self-storage facilities, movie theaters, timber and even prisons.

REITs currently constitute about 3% of the S&P 500, so it is estimated that the newly created 11th sector will make up about 3% of the total index.

Sector weightings comprising the S&P 500 vary as the economy shifts and industries evolve. Technology currently encompasses the largest portion of the S&P 500 at 21%, yet made up as much as 35% in 2000 during the height of the technology boom. (Sources: S&P, Bloomberg, Global Industry Classification Standard (GICS))

Continued Low Rates – Global Fixed Income Update

Short-term U.S. bonds have been rising slowly as long-term bond yields have been dropping, leading to a “flattening of the yield curve.” Such a dynamic helps bond analysts and economists to determine if there’s an economic slowdown or even inflation on the horizon.

The Bank of England launched its biggest stimulus package since the financial crisis with its first rate cut in more than seven years and a new £70 billion bond-buying program. The Bank of England is forecasting that unemployment will rise, housing prices will fall and inflation will go up. The Bank of England is joining central banks in Japan and the eurozone in buying large amounts of sovereign bonds, as global benchmark yields continue to descend to new lows, exacerbating the matching of future long-term liabilities for pension plans and insurance companies. The amount of global negative yielding debt has now risen to $12.64 trillion, and is dominated by European and Japanese bonds. The Fed continues to be at odds with other central banks worldwide, as lower rates and stimulus efforts are underway in Europe and Japan, while the Fed prepares to tighten in the United States. (Sources: Bank of England, Eurostat, U.S. Treasury)

A Gold Olympic Medal Is Worth About $564

What An Olympic Gold Medal Is Actually Worth – Market Fact

Of the 78 countries that won medals in Rio, the U.S. won more Olympic medals than any other country that participated with a total of 121 medals. Of those, 46 were gold, 37 silver, and 38 bronze.Olympic-Medals

Surprisingly enough, U.S. Olympic athletes receive no formal financial support from the U.S. government. Instead, financial assistance is provided by the U.S. Olympic Committee, which is a federally chartered nonprofit entity receiving no federal funding whatsoever. Conversely, almost every other country that participated in the Rio Olympics offered government sponsored financial support. Countries such as Canada, China and the U.K. have appointed sports ministers that have dedicated resources available for Olympic athletes. Uniquely, Team USA athletes rely on the generosity of the American people to achieve their Olympic dreams. In addition to receiving a medal, the U.S. Olympic Committee also awards a cash prize along with each metal. Athletes are awarded $25,000 for gold metals, $15,000 for silver, and $10,000 for bronze. What’s interesting is that the cash prizes are worth much more than the medals themselves. Based on recent commodity prices, the value of a gold medal is about $564, silver is roughly $305, and bronze is barely worth anything. (Sources: U.S. Olympic Committee)

Credit Card Debt On The Rise – Consumer Finance

U.S. banks have ramped up lending to consumers through credit cards at the fastest pace since 2007. The industry has accumulated an additional $18 billion of credit card loans and other types of revolving credit in the past three months.

Data released by the Federal Reserve shows that the U.S. banking industry has seen credit card and other revolving loans rise at a annual rate of 7.6% in the second quarter of 2016, to $685 billion. The credit card business remains among the most profitable in banking as banks can charge much higher interest rates than other loan types, with average credit card rates between 12% and 14%.Total Credit Card Debt

Yet as credit card debt levels have risen, so have reserves for losses as banks anticipate delinquencies to rise. Within the past year U.S. banks have piled on about $54 billion worth of loans to consumers through credit cards, according to Federal Reserve data. Financially savvy consumers that pay their balances down each month avoid hefty interest charges, but those that don’t, known as “revolvers,” pay average rates of between 12% to 14% and significantly more if they are considered higher risk. Seven years since the recession ended, consumers who were hit hard during the financial crisis have found their credit scores improving. Bankers attribute a rise in credit card issuance to rising home prices and low unemployment. Banks are also lending more since one of the most important drivers of their profits are net interest margins, the difference between returns on assets and the cost of funds, which remain near their lowest levels in decades. The average credit limit per card for a subprime borrower is about $2,300, compared with about $11,500 for the safest customers.  (Source: Federal Reserve)


As We Get Older Our Spending Patterns Change

How Age Determines What We Spend On – Consumer Demographics

Demographics play a significant role in how much we spend and how we spend it. Spending is primarily dictated by age where different needs and life essentials change and evolve as consumers grow older.

What We Spend Our $ OnHousing, transportation and food are the three largest expenses incurred by all age groups. As consumers move from their late 20s into their 30s, we earn more money and families start to grow. Expenditures on transportation, health care and entertainment become prevalent as households grow with children.

As we earn more, we also tend to save more in our 30s, 40s, and 50s by contributing to 401k plans and retirement savings. At 75 years of age and older, our retirement savings start to reduce as withdrawals increase to replace lost earned income.

Sources: Social Security Administration, U.S. Census Bureau

Bank Failures & The FDIC – Historical Note

The FDIC evolved following the aftermath of the market crash of 1929, when more than 9,000 banks failed between October 1929 and March 1933. The FDIC was formed when the Banking Act of 1933 was signed by President Roosevelt to protect bank depositors against bank insolvencies.

Bank failures are a direct result of lagging economic circumstances and a contraction on bank held assets. This is why bank failures skyrocketed during the first few years of the depression, then tapered off once stability was reestablished. Bank failures weren’t an issue for decades until the S&L crisis in the early 90s and the results of the financial crisis of 2008. Since 2000, there have been 546 bank failures, the bulk occurring the three years following the crisis of 2008. For the pBank Failuresast two years, failures among banks have been minimal.

Deposit insurance coverage was initially set at $2,500 in 1934, which has risen to $250,000 today. The current FDIC limit is substantially more than it was in 1934, even on an inflation-adjusted basis. The $2,500 FDIC limit in 1934 is equal to $44,896.83 in today’s dollars.

Source: FDIC

In Celebration of Labor Day

In Celebration of Labor Day (by Bob Veres)

Every year, we celebrate a long labor day weekend, and mostly take for granted the remarkable economic engine that employs 125.89 million Americans. Recently, Forbes magazine tweeted a number of Labor Day statistics that will probably surprise you. Most Americans work in one of five different sectors:

Most of us work long hours:

Some of the lowest-paid jobs have the slimmest gender pay gap:

In 2015, 24% of employed people did some or all of their work at home.

What are the highest paying jobs in America?  The website lists the top 300 jobs in term of average salary, and the top of the list is dominated by medical professionals:

Radiologists, Pathologists, Neurologists, Allergists and Immunologists, Urologists, Preventive Medicine Physicians, Ophthalmologists, Hospitalists, Sports Medicine Physicians, Physical Medicine and Rehab Physicians, Nuclear Medicine Physicians and Dermatologists all finish in a tie for sixth ($197,700), and you have to go all the way down to number 22 on the list, to Chief Executives, before you reach a non-medical professional on the list. Lawyers come in way down at number 38 ($136,260), Physicists come in at number 50 ($118,500), Economists at number 77 ($109,230), Art Directors at 105 ($101,990), Veterinarians at 112 ($99,000), Automotive Engineers at 171 ($88,190) and video game designers at 190 ($87,310).


Brexit Update

In Celebration of Labor Day – continued (by Bob Veres)

Finally, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, there are 5.4 million companies that provide employment for American workers, with an annual payroll totaling $5.6 trillion, or roughly $48,997 per employee.  A surprising 8.9% of these employer firms (481,981) have been in business for fewer than 2 years, and only 3.1% of them (167,917) have existed for more than 16 years.  Most firms (78.5% of the total) employ fewer than ten workers, while 17,982 companies employ 500 or more Americans.


Brexit Update (by Bob Veres)

Remember Brexit?  Of course you do.  Many short-term traders thought the sky was falling when British voters unexpectedly decided to opt their country out of the European Union.  But the process of extricating the British economy from the complexities of European membership has been deliberate and thoughtful – on both sides.

Recently, the UK’s new Brexit minister, David Davis, told reporters that the government plans to examine whether the country will continue to honor the customs agreements it has in place with European nations, or not, before it will invoke the Article 50 clause of the EU agreement.  You can understand the complexity of the Brexit ministry’s job (sorting through how it wants to restructure economic relations between England and the Eurozone) by the fact that the ministry currently employs 180 economists and other staff in London, and has access to 120 officials in Brussels.  Don’t expect them to do anything rash.

If Britain decides to opt out of some or all of the EU customs agreements, it will be free to sign new trade agreements with the U.S., China, Japan and other nations, but could face additional customs duties and tariffs from its trading partners across the English Channel.

Davis also announced that there would not be a second vote to overturn the first one, saying that those who voted “remain” have accepted the result.


Medical Empowerment

Medical Empowerment (by Bob Veres)

How do you become an empowered health care consumer?  A recent blog post on the Forbes magazine website, authored by financial planner/doctor Carolyn McClanahan, suggests that the relationship between doctors and patients is entering a third phase of its long-term evolution.  Phase one was paternalistic, where the doctor told the patient what to do and the patient was expected to do it.  With the rise of the Internet, the relationship has become more informational – the doctor provides the patient with a number of choices, and the patient chooses one of them.

The problem with an informational relationship is that most patients aren’t really equipped to relate the choices to their health goals, which means they can be railroaded into inappropriate care.  The new paradigm is a collaborative approach, where the health care provider takes the time to understand the patients’ goals, needs and resources, and then helps them decide the care that is most appropriate for their situation.

It takes two to make this work, which means that you, the patient, will need to more actively participate in your doctors? visits.  How?  McClanahan recommends that you write out, in advance, your current symptoms, your current medication and some information about your diet.  Write down the questions you would like the doctor to answer during your visit.  Also in advance: if you have complicated issues, ask for a longer appointment. During the visit, make certain the doctor answers your questions in laymen’s terms rather than medical jargon.  If testing is ordered, ask what the doctor wants to learn from the test, and how the results might change the approach to treatment.  If the doctor cannot provide a clear answer, ask if the test is really necessary.  Ask what you can do to improve the situation – like changing your diet or adding a more rigorous exercise regimen.

Before the visit is over, make sure you know what’s going to happen next, and why.  If the doctor seems hurried or impatient with your questions, or is not able to tell you how you can improve your health circumstances on your own, then ask for a referral to the appropriate nutritionist, physical therapist or a more patient medical practitioner.  If you’re dissatisfied, make sure the doctor and the health care organization understands why – because you won’t get collaborative health care unless you force these organizations to evolve to the next level of doctor-patient relationship.   (Source:

The World’s Worst Drivers (by Bob Veres)       Just over 35,000 Americans were killed in automobile crashes in 2015, a 7% increase over the previous year, which represented the largest annual increase since 1965.  Does that mean Americans are less safe, or more safe, than drivers in other parts of the developed world? Apparently the answer is “less.”  The U.S. has a rate of 10.9 deaths per 100,000 people, by far the highest among 19 developed nations, almost twice as high as the next-worst country (Belgium) and roughly on a par with Mexico.  Part of the explanation is that Americans drove more and more often than the citizens of other countries on the list.  When you look at the deaths per 100 million miles driven, America ranks only fourth-worst, behind Japan, Slovenia and Belgium.  The U.S. also has a higher share of rural roads than other countries.  Interestingly, every nation on the list has managed to significantly reduce the number of fatalities, both on a per capita and a per-mile basis, over the past 15 years – the visible result of auto manufacturer safety innovations like anti-lock brakes, airbags and side-impact protections.  As the accompanying chart shows, with the light blue indicators showing 2000 data and the darker indicators showing 2013 statistics, the decrease has been dramatic – although less dramatic in the U.S. than in countries like Slovenia, France and Ireland.

The World's Worst Drivers

The World’s Worst Drivers – continued (by Bob Veres)ca-2016-9-4-worst-drivers

Which country is the safest?  Sweden introduced a plan, in 1997, whose goal was to reduce fatal crashes to zero, and while that goal still remains unachieved, the country boasts the safest roads in the world.  One of its initiatives was to find ways to separate bicyclists, pedestrians and motorcycles from cars.  In the U.S., car users’ share of road deaths fell from 42% in 2006 to 36% last year, but fatalities of cyclists, pedestrians and motorcyclists rose from 25% of the total to 33%.

Would self-driving cars reduce the fatality statistics still further?  An article in The Economist quotes Mark Rosekind, head of the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration, saying that 94% of all crashes can be tied back to human choice or error.  Let’s hope the onboard navigation systems can avoid alcohol, sleep deprivation and the temptation to take risks so they?ll get to their destinations more quickly.   (Source:

A Note from the Editor

jacorn-treadmill-jpgI’ve heard it suggested that if you’re not worried about the election, Brexit, conflicting economic news, the return of market volatility, uncertainty as to Fed course corrections, and the looming Social Security shortfall, then you’re not paying attention. Maybe your worries revolve less around the global and more around the personal and local. Will you have enough to retire? How might your portfolio fare during the next market downturn? How much income will you need during retirement and can your portfolio reliably provide it? Regardless of what worries you, we’d love to talk about it. Call us to set a complementary portfolio review. There’s never any obligation or pressure. But, over a cup of coffee (or iced tea for me), we can discuss your concerns and just maybe discover they’re not so stressful after all.

Wayne Firebaugh