Posts Tagged Economics

LAST WEEK WAS A REALLY DOWN ONE FOR THE STOCK MARKET, ESPECIALLY TECHNOLOGY. TIME TO SELL? PANIC? NO WAY!

The market doesn’t ever go straight up, nor does it go straight down!  Besides, investing should always be considered a long-term vehicle for building you resources to fund education, the new house, retirement, etc.  And certainly, it should not be engaged in for a mere one-to-three years.

The current upward climb in stocks is just a continuation of the sustained economic rally that started during President Obama’s Firm Term.  If the numbers look bigger, keep in mind that, let’s say, a one percent rally, or decline, with the Dow Jones Industrial Average at today’s 23,000, will be significantly more than the Dow declining toward 6,500, which George W. Bush let for Barack Obama.

Lately however, many investors’ euphoria has been based on the assumption that the GOP Tax Scam would jumpstart the market run-up even more.  That sort of thinking should have been quickly dismissed by anyone who looked back at the Republican Party’s recent inability to “Repeal and Replace” Obamacare.  In essence, after ten months, the Trump Regime has produced no meaningful legislation: just photo-ops!

When you see a market decline, there are several key points to consider:  Does it effect the overall stock market?  Just one industrial sector (health care, financials, tech, etc.)?  Or, is it limited to just a few stocks?  And then, try to find out what happened, and does it look temporary, or might the problem(s) be permanent in nature?

Those who jump, either to buy or to sell, without knowing what is going on, and why, often find themselves regretting their quick trigger soon afterward.  And many astute investors often find value when particular stocks or sectors have become oversold!

Over the past decade, several economists have won Nobel Prizes for their research, proving that the markets are irrational.  Before you consider making any changes in your investment portfolio, just think: are acting rationally—or irrationally?

Advertisements

, , ,

1 Comment

STEAM, NOT STEM!

Over the past 50 years, automation and the machines (robots, machine-reading, big data, artificial intelligence, etc.) have been creeping into our workplace, replacing workers in performing various routine job functions.  And, unlike other historical labor disruptions, the advance of machines—performing the tasks they have been programmed to do—is being felt throughout the entire industrialized world.

To better understand the advance of the machines, both in memory and speed, let’s review “Moore’s Law”.  Gordon Moore, before he co-founded Intel, 50 years ago remarked that the capacity and speed of silicon chips will double every two years, over the next ten.  Well, fifty years later, that hypothesis is still on target, and it is often used to describe the exponential advances of computers as their capabilities accelerate over time.

For instance, the computer that took the astronauts to the Moon in 1969 was merely comparable to the Nintendo of that era.  The capacity of today’s iPhone, however, is considerably faster, and can perform more functions, than the fastest super computers of even 30 years ago.  So, how are schools preparing our children for the labor market of the future?

It seems that that many school systems, over the past ten to fifteen years, have emphasized the STEM subjects (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics), while de-emphasizing the Arts and Humanities for college bound students.  Such a focus can make the job skills of such employees similar to those of the machines, and thus easier for the machines to displace.

Skills that reflect the humanity of the worker—such as intuition, relationship building, good writing skills, an ability to cope with adversity, creative thinking–may set him or her apart from their co-workers, in similar jobs.  “This is Money” provides a fairly in-depth list of job occupations that are most, and least, likely to be replaced by automation.

For the most part, school curricula, through the 12th Grade, appear to have changed little over the years.  As the advance of the machines continues at an ever-increasing speed, school administrators and teachers need to be honing their skills, and begin to plan for the challenges of the Twenty-First Century, which has already arrived.  Business, government and labor also need to be part of the planning process.

Many computer engineer jobs have already been outsourced to India.  And, this time, many white collar jobs, requiring college and advanced degrees—such as associate attorneys and some radiologists (yes, M. D. s), who perform many routine functions, may also be at risk.  That’s why it would be important for the employee to set him or herself apart from their colleagues.

Since automation will impact the entire labor market, to one degree or another, the number of displaced workers could easily outnumber the available jobs, and probably drive the pay scales.  That’s where the Arts and Humanities skills may set some employees apart from the crowd, and help them keep their jobs!

, , , ,

Leave a comment

SO FAR, DONALD TRUMP’S TAX PLAN IS JUST ONE BIG LIE!

Surely, most people realize that you cannot trust anything that Donald Trump and the GOP say.  The Tax Plan, which they released this past Wednesday, was a charade–focusing on what the middle class might expect, while burying the real meat, which they don’t want us to see.  This plan is intended to reinitiate the Bush Era tax cuts, skewed to the top one percent.  Additionally, they are selling the repeal of the Estate Tax–from which only 6,000 of the very wealthiest families will benefit–which adds to the top one percent of taxpayers.  Those cuts, early on in Bush 43’s first Administration contributed t The Great Recession (4Q07-1Q09).

There is no “reform” included in the proposal; but, rather, that is merely to enhance the appeal to the middle class.  Trump and the Republicans have claimed ad nauseum that America has the highest personal and corporate tax rtes on earth.  Au contraire, both of those rates fall in the dead center, after deductions and loopholes, according to  the OECD organization of industrialized nations.

Oftentimes, Donald Trump meanders around in various directions, suggesting one thing and then another; but in the end, he often reverts back to something that he said on the campaign trail.  Rather than get bogged down analyzing a his short outline, I am including a blog post that I published last January.  As you can see, little has changed after his nine months in office.

, , , , ,

Leave a comment

ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE IS ALREADY HERE! THE OVERALL DISRUPTION COULD BE WORSE THAN THE GREAT RECESSION (4Q07-1Q09)!

NOTE:  This is a follow-on to my prior post, as well as a response to most scientists, engineers and technologists, who believe that the machines will only be advantageous to humanity.

**********

In 2010, the Federal Government bailed-out GM, Chrysler and their parts suppliers, saving 1.5 million jobs.  That action enabled the employees to stay current on their mortgages, pay taxes, and continue contributing to the economy by spending money in national and local stores.  Also, let’s not forget the added impact of auto dealership closures and lay-offs, finance companies, insurance companies, etc.

Several states have already authorized self-driving, or autonomous, cars and trucks for usage on their highways, with other states sure to follow.  The impact of human drivers being replaced by computers, as they gain acceptance, will eventually have an even greater impact on our economy than the failure of two major employers.

Remember, also, that similar forms of machines are replacing workers in numerous industries throughout the economy.  But, let’s look at some potential numbers for just the automotive industry.

There are currently 3.5 million truck drivers on the road, as well as another 5.0 million support staff.  For trucking companies, it would be more cost-effective to replace drivers with computers, since the machines can drive 24 hours per day, and they do not receive pay or benefits.  Thus the direct impact of autonomous trucks would be approximately six times as great as if two of the Big Three were not bailed-out by the Federal Government.

Now, let’s look at personally owned automobiles and small trucks.  American households own, on average 2.1 autos, which spend 95% of the time sitting in garages or parked in driveways, or on the street.  As people become more comfortable riding in self-driving cars, entrepreneurial companies will offer year-to-year plans, enabling members to use an App to call for a ride when needed.

Consumers would pocket the difference, between enrolling in a plan, and the expense of personal auto ownership—the purchase price, and maintenance and insurance expenses. It has been projected that family auto ownership would plummet, from 2.1 per household, to 1.2.  Over a gradual period, say five or ten years, think of the potential impact on the automotive industry.  Oh, and don’t forget the taxi drivers, and their support staffs, who would probably be laid-off, as well.

While scientists, engineers and technologists debate over the pros and cons—of whether artificial intelligence might be beneficial or harmful to mankind—at some indeterminate time it the future, AI is already here!  The technicians are missing the point, at least for the present!  The overall disruption of the American labor market could be even worse than during The Great Recession (4Q07-1Q09)!

Machines have already taken over many low and high-paying jobs throughout the American labor market, and their march is accelerating at an ever quickening pace.  The artificial intelligence community needs to set the potential outcomes of the future aside, and work with community groups to respond to any near-term risks, both to society and the economy.  Forget the long-term, will we be ready for tomorrow, next month, next year?

NOTE:  The linked Pew Research Report describes how many Americans view Labor Market Disruption.

ALSO:  In today’s (South Florida) Sun-Sentinel, there was an article about Auto Nation, the nation’s largest auto retailer, forming a partnership with Google’s autonomous driving subsidiary, Waymo Corp.  In time, they expect to offer as-needed access to a fleet of self-driving autos.  Also, as car buyers become more comfortable with autonomous vehicles, Auto Nation will offer them in its showrooms.  Auto Nation’s stock skyrocketed, partially on the news.

 

 

, , ,

Leave a comment

WITH THE ACCELERATING ADVANCE OF MACHINES INTO THE WORKPLACE, WHAT WILL THE JOB MARKET LOOK LIKE 10 YEARS FROM NOW? TWENTY YEARS?

Full disclosure:  I am neither a scientist nor a technologist; however, I have researched this topic quite extensively, and am also include somer economic, political and sociological considerations, which I believe are relevant to the topic..

**********

Fifty years ago, ATMs began to appear outside of banks, and “Bar” Codes appeared on most grocery items.  Although they quickened a customer’s ability to withdraw cash, or speed through the supermarket check-out line, those enhancements cost some bank tellers and grocery cashiers their jobs.

Around that same time, Gordon Moore, before he co-founded Intel, suggested that silicon chip capacity would double every two years for the following ten years.  Well, fifty years later, Moore’s “Law” is still on target, ad widely-cited.  Just try to write the number “1,” and double that (compounded) over those 25 time frames.  There would not be enough room on the page to write those numbers toward the end.

To put it another way: the capacity of a recently outdated iPhone 4 has the same computing capability of a Cray 2 super computer, which was the world’s fastest computer in 1985.  Moore’s Law is an important concept to know in order to appreciate the acceleration of the computational speed, and the capacity of today’s machines.

By Machines, I’m including the total range of computers, from: automation; robotics; algorithm-reading machines; artificial intelligence, etc.  Presently, computers are not as “intelligent” as humans; however, as their speed and capacity grow exponentially, they will soon catch up.  Then what happens when their mental capacity surpasses ours, and they are able to re-program themselves to accomplish more and more-advanced chores?

In past transformations—from hunter-gatherers to agriculture, to the Industrial Age, to service industries, then the Digital Age–new jobs and industries arose. and now, to whatever increasing-advanced technology brings our way.  Will the computers of today be subservient, partner with us, or will they take over—making us their slaves?

Let’s just focus on the growing interest in autonomous, or self-driving, cars and trucks.  A few states have approved them for driving on their roads. What will happen to the 3.5 million truck drivers, and their 5.0 million support staff, who might lose their jobs?  And, what about the millions of taxi drivers?

Similarly, as the general population becomes comfortable with self-driving cars, the average ownership per household might drop from 2.1 cars, to 1.2.  Most autos spend 95% of the time sitting in the garage, or on a road somewhere.

Entrepreneurs would offer some sort of an annual contract that enables customers to call for a ride using an App.  Savings on the cost of the car, insurance, and maintenance could be significant.  But, just think of the many people in the auto industry, as dealerships close, millions more could lose their jobs—auto manufacturers, parts suppliers, dealerships, salespersons, mechanics, insurance companies, etc?

There have been various studies, which have projected which positions might be the first to succumb to the machines, and which might be among the last.  So, what is America’s game plan? The world at large?

Politicians and other leaders need to address this oncoming situation; but, no one seems willing to tackle it, since they don’t seem to think for the long-term.  But, it’s not really a long-term problem, and we should be planning for it immediately!

Even many scientists and engineers who are working within the technology industry seem to believe that, after a short disruption, new jobs and industries will magically appear.  But, what if that doesn’t happen?  Workers need assistance in learning new skills, even while they are still working on their old jobs.  Students need to be directed toward the jobs skills that will keep them employed in the years to come.  But, someone needs to provide that guidance!

In years past, job disruption generally arose within one major corporation or industry, and many people found that they could just take their skills to another company, or a similar industry.  This time, however, the machines will be everywhere.  And, don’t expect to take an interim job in a minimum wage job; because, even burger flipping now can be performed by robots.

Also, the technological impact of the machines that can perform many of the routine tasks that, fir instance, an associate attorney does.  In fact, machines have also shown that they can read medical charts more accurately, and faster, than most radiologists.

Every time a hurricane heads toward Florida, the locals stock-up on water, flashlight batteries, canned food, and prepare their homes, boarding-up windows, trimming hanging tree limbs.  So, why shouldn’t we prepare for whatever the Technological Age brings our way?

Community leaders—politicians, business, labor, educators, academics, economists and sociologists—should be called together to study the situation and recommend the various possible outcomes.  The local population of the various job classifications is most important.  Actuaries and financial analysts can than project the range of work force disruption—from worst case to best—with a probability for each.

Additionally, a greater awareness, and understanding, of Artificial Intelligence must eventually become pervasive throughout our society, at least to a basic extent.  Otherwise, we would be back to “square one”!  For instance: when computers were first introduced into elementary schools, many teachers didn’t know how to use them.  And, how can government, school administrators, business and labor leaders, have an appreciation of the potential impact of AI, if they do not understand labor force disruption?

This study should be performed over a period of months, and be assigned a reasonably high priority.

Over the past decade or two, educators have recommended that students focus on the STEM subjects.  That approach, however, would not be the magic salvation, since it would make workers more like the machines.  By adding some Arts and Humanities—shifting to STEAM—the worker would exhibit such skills as: creativity; intuition; relationship building; flexibility; coping; an ability to work comfortably with change, etc.

No one has all of the answers; but, if we devise a wide-ranging plan to deal with the potential impact of work force disruption, we will have alternative options already in our Game Plan!

NOTE:  For additional information, I have listed several books on the Books That I Recommend Tab. The two New Additions and the two listed under Technology, toward the bottom.

, , ,

9 Comments

THE MARCH OF THE ROBOTS HAS ONLY JUST BEGUN!

Today, I added “Rise of the Robots”, by Martin Ford, to my Books That I Recommend tab.  Mr. Ford is a technology entrepreneur and a Futurist.  As I begin this post, there are two points that I should make: 1. The terms Robots or Technology both include Robots, Algorithm-reading machines, and other forms of Automation; 2. Moore’s Law, an off-handed comment in 1965, which predicted that technology will double in both speed and capacity every couple of years, has been relevant ever since.  That means that speed and capacity grow exponentially!

Whatever happened to secretaries and office pools, or afternoon newspapers?  Why do some old downtown bank branches have many more teller windows than are ever opened?  Your desktop word processor made clerical workers unnecessary, and who needs the afternoon newspaper when CNN, and the rest of the 24/7 news cycle is more up-to-date?  And, many teller positions became unnecessary, once customers began to use ATMs and on-line banking from their home.

Consider IBM’s Watson Computer that beat Chess Grand Champion Gary Kasparov, and then went-on to beat Ken Jennings, the All-Time Unbeatable Jeopardy Champion—twice.  By 2013, Watson—now twice as fast—has been assisting the Cleveland Clinic and University of Texas, MD Anderson Cancer Clinic diagnose problems and refine patient cancer treatment plans.  Watson can sift through the 9,000 global medical journals, building its resource database, at light speed.  No group of physicians can match that!

So far, robotics is only considered a threat by those in the industrial sector, where different versions install car doors, lift heavy aircraft engines into place, and apply paint to a varied range of home appliances.  Robots are best-aligned with routine jobs, and are often regarded as potential threats to low-end jobs such as monotonous warehouse or assembly lines jobs.  But, they have mastered various high-end jobs, as well.

Algorithm-reading machines have demonstrated that they can sort through voluminous boxes of documents, weeding-out those that will be relevant to coming court cases, faster than any junior attorney, and more cheaply.  Radiologists too might also feel the threat since computers can read charts just as well as them, and they don’t sleep or ask for a salary.  Writing newspaper articles are already among algorithm-reading machines’ everyday jobs, while composing symphonies are still in the test stages.

Back in early 19th Century England, the Luddites rebelled against the outsourcing of weaving to India; however, in time, these workers found employment in other occupations. This time, jobs at all levels—even burger flippers—are slowly being replace by robots, and in multiple industries.

We often think of Amazon as a retail corporation, which has been causing many retail companies to fold; but, it is also the largest player in cloud computing, and it has a robotics companies that sells its products globally.

Initially, many people thought that some people would still be able to work with, and “supervise”, the robots.  The article (at bottom) describes a woman who is currently doing that at Amazon; however, she realizes that she is actually teaching a robot to do her warehouse job!

In the book, Mr. Ford draws from his own technology background, history and very sound economics.  Over time, as more and more businesses automate, eventually they reverse the outsourcing to lower pay-scale countries, bringing the work back. Basically, many robots work more cheaply than overseas low pay-scale workers!

Many Americans have insufficient retirement funds set aside, and much of credit had been tapped-out in The Great Recession (4Q07-1Q09).  As unemployment increases, college graduates and middle-income employees displace minimum-wage workers.  Also, if banks continue to make bad loans, there could be anther banking crisis.

China cannot become the global economic locomotive, since its economy is 65% based on export.  But, to where?  As the number of workers who are unemployed, or underemployed increases, there will be few consumers left to buy anything other than the bare necessities.  Benevolent business owners who refuse to automate, and keep their current labor forces, they will lose business to the competition, which can undercut them on price.  But even there, without middle-income consumers, who will businesses sell their products to?

Mr. Ford does offer some possible solutions, such as a Guaranteed Income Credit; however, they will take a cooperative bipartisan Congress, and a rational President, to pass any such legislation into law.  Customer-interface businesses, such as plumbers, electricians, and roofers, would be the last to automate.  The most vacant professional positions are nurses, since they provide one-on-one patient care.  But, even these business and occupations cannot prosper in a vacuum!

Now, none of this is going to occur this year, or next, but like ATMs and desktop computers, the range of robots will infiltrate the workforce gradually.  So, if you are currently employed, begin to separate yourself from the pack.  Get your credit straightened out, and build that retirement fund.  And, as I wrote in my last post, add some focus on Technology and Health Care in any investment funds that you might have.

Consider picking-up Rise of the Robots at your Library, or buy the paperback version.  Hopefully, we might see a new day–one of cooperation and common sense–in Congress.  There are solutions; but, it would help to have the whole thing sorted out ahead of time

,

Leave a comment

SINCE PEOPLE LIVE LONGER TODAY THAN IN PREVIOUS GENERATIONS, OUR MONEY WILL NEED MORE GROWTH IN ORDER TO LAST AS LONG! (Part Two)

This is the second part of yesterday’s discussion.  Since life expectancy has gradually lengthened over the past decades, retirees, or those soon to be, should not be too conservative with their investments. Forty years ago, the rule of thumb was that the bond portion of your portfolio should approximate your age. But, that’s no longer the case;  because, people live longer, and they must retain their purchasing power.

Today, if a person lives to be 65 years old, thy have a reasonable chance of living past 80, on average.  That means that you will have to stretch the money you have set aside, to supplement Social Security and pension, if any, over a greater length of time.  Also, as all seniors know, Health Care Inflation is a good bit higher than the normal Consumer Price Index.  Besides investing more in stocks, consider those industries where the growth has been more consistent.

As you can see in the Break-down of the S & P. Index by industry, the three largest “industrial sectors” are: Information Technology; Financials and Health Care.  Also, as noted in Part One, five of the ten largest companies in the index are in the IT/Technology Industry, with only two—Apple and Microsoft—being just over 40 years old.  All the others are much younger.

Now, let’s assume that your current portfolio is nicely balanced, between stocks and bonds, and the percentage invested in the various industries matches the S & P reasonably well.  Now, consider how your life has changed from some years ago: less trips to the bank, since you use an ATM at the supermarket and on-line banking; keep up with friends and family by Email; order prescriptions and other things on-line; changed a doctor’s appointment on their web site; greater use of cable network or shows on-demand, etc.  In that sentence, I specifically cited IT/Technology and Health Care products.  And, that’s just the beginning!

Medical science and the overall Health Care industry have made strides in developing new medicines, hospital equipment and other health care needs.  Sure, they’re expensive, and Congress hasn’t been helping with the cost; but, so what if it keeps you around longer?  Do you have any other options?

IT/Technology and Health Care seem to have been consistently good performers over the years. (I will show you an interactive chart on this.)  The Financial Industry, the second largest industry, has not been as consistent. Besides being somewhat volatile, it has to deal with the booms and busts of both the domestic and global marketplace, and it rightfully must he heavily regulated.  And, don’t forget its role in The Great Recession (4Q07-1Q09).

A certain portion of the other seven industries do belong in your portfolio, and how much depends upon your risk tolerance.  Consumer discretionary, and the like (retail), are being sucked dry by Amazon.  Boeing comes out with a new jumbo jet every fifteen years, or so.  Coke and Kellogg’s haven’t transformed, other than new marketing jingles.  And the last four display their relative importance to the economy by their place at the bottom of the list.

Index Break-down by Industry Size
Information Technology 22.26%
Financials 14.55

Health Care 14.49
Consumer Discretionary 12.27
Industrials 10.27
Consumer Staples 9.05
Energy 6.04
Utilities 3.15
Real Estate 2.91
Materials 2.84

Now, suppose that you wanted to enliven your portfolio—adding a bit more growth to match your longevity—exchange-traded funds (ETFs) are securities that duplicate a particular stock or bond index.  Sector SPDRs are the oldest brand of ETFs, and the company offers one that would only:  include those companies in the S & P 500 Index, or those that are in any of the individual industries.  For instance, add a slice of IT/Technology (SYMBOL: XLK) and/or Health Care (XLV). Or, someone else might prefer Financials (XLF), or one or more of the others.

On the Sector Tracker interactive site, you can check the performance of the various Sector SPDRs over various time frames (small white boxes toward the top).  On the Sector SPDR web site, you can select any of the sectors by just clicking on the blue box, in the upper left. From there, you can down load the Prospectus, the Fact Sheet—which I find quite helpful—and other literature on each ETF.  I have attached Fact Sheets for the IT/Technology and Health Care SPDRs.

Be sure to do your homework, consult with whomever you generally ask for investment advice, and give some serious consideration before adding these, or other, ETFs, and by how much.  Leave a Comment if I can be of any help.  Check your portfolio regularly, if you can, to monitor whether it still meets you needs, as structured!

NOTE:  This recent article, from the NY Times, provides more information on ETFs; however, the focus is on the BlackRock Funds’ iShares (ETFs).  BlackRock is the world’s  largest money manager.

 

, , ,

Leave a comment