Posts Tagged Investing

TODAY’S FEDERAL RESERVE RATE HIKE WAS BOTH PRUDENT AND NECESSARY!

Today, the Federal Reserve announced that it was raising the “Fed Funds Rate”, which is the intra-bank lending rate that banks charge one another.  The increase was made after one of the eight yearly Federal Open Market Committee Meetings, which are generally attended by all seven members of the Federal Reserve Board, as well as the twelve regional Federal Reserve Bank Presidents, from around the country.  While still low on a historical basis, the rate has risen by just 0.25%, to a range of 1.00-to-1.25%.

At the two-day meeting, the FOMC reviews many economic statistics, from each of the 12 regions, with an emphasis on Employment and Inflation in each.  Following the meeting, Fed Chairwoman Janet Yellen announced that the labor market continues to improve, and that inflation is expected to soon approach the Fed’s two percent target rate.

Donald Trump has been trying to prod Ms. Yellen not to raise rates again, and several journalists have been reporting that some homeowners have had trouble with the last increase mortgage payment increase.   Many retirees, however, have been clamoring for higher CD rates, since they need the higher income to live on.  Although the Fed doesn’t set mortgage, consumer loan or CD rates, any adjustments to the “Funds Rate” generally do have some impact, across the interest rate spectrum!

Over the past 40 years that I have been involved specifically in the bond market, interest rates had never been anywhere near as low as they are now; that is, until ten years ago!  To an extent, such very low rates had added to The Great Recession (4Q07 to 1Q09), since banks found ways to encourage mortgage re-financing and consumer lending to people who should not have qualified for the loans.  Then, once the money was spent—on real estate and merchandise that they couldn’t afford—all they had left were big, big bills!

But, let’s consider today’s rate hike in terms of the Fed’s Dual Mandate—Maximum Employment and Stables Prices, along with Moderate Long-Term Interest Rates.  The amount of necessary monetary stimulus dwindles as the labor market recovers, and if the rates remain depressed for too long, that could cause the economy to overheat, and inflation to overshoot the two percent target.

When rates are still extremely low, as they currently are, the Fed also has little ammunition to respond to another banking crisis, or a foreign currency crisis, such as occurred during the 1990s, both in Latin America and East Asia.  This is why today’s rate increases makes perfect sense, as is the anticipated one more this year.

As always, the Fed doesn’t act on a rigid schedule regarding changes in monetary policy.  Rather, it is constantly reviewing the updated data, keeping in constant touch with other central banks and considering its options.  Ultimately, the Federal Reserve makes decisions on a meeting-to-meeting basis; however, it can act sooner, when necessary!

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DURING A MARKET SHIFT, BE SURE TO UNDERSTAND ANY CHANGES THAT YOU MAKE, AND WHY!

Last Friday, the NASDAQ opened down by over three percent, and it remained that way, also closing the day around that amount.  The Technology ETF (Symbol: XLK), which tracks the technology “components” (corporations) within the S & P 500 also remained down by three percent through the close of the day.  Since there weren’t any other market sectors exhibiting similar turbulence, and economic and geopolitical news wasn’t out of the ordinary, I just assumed that the sudden drop was due to some investors taking profits.

On Monday, while the NASDAQ and Tech ETF opened down by over three percent again, both began to recover in the late morning.  Although they still closed down again that day, the momentum had definitely shifted positive.  And, I believe that that was confirmed today, when they both opened up by around one-half percent, and closed at a positive 0.73%

The inter-active chart on the Sector SPDR website displays the performance of all ten industrial sectors, represented within the S & P 500.  You can compare different time-frames, by clicking across the top of the Sector-Tracker Chart.  Until Friday, the Tech Sector had led, or almost led for every time-frame represented; however, the recent two-day drop, pushed it back for one-month or less.  I still remain heavily weighted in Tech, and I regard other investors taking profits as positive for the sector.

Technology represents approximately 22% of the S & P 500, and is roughly 50% larger than the Financials, the next largest sector.  While Amazon might be forcing some retailers to downsize, and alternative energy might be eating into the fossil fuels, I just don’t see that happening to technology.  It has become integral to our vey way of life.  And, as we rely more, and more, on Technology, what could replace it—but newer technology?

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WILL DONALD TRUMP AND TREASURY SECRETARY STEVE MNUCHIN PROCLAIM THE NEW 21st CENTURY GLASS-STEAGALL ACT, BUT ONLY METAPHORICALLY?

The Banking Act of 1933, commonly referred to as the Glass-Steagall Act, ushered in various reforms, to assist the Nation’s Recovery from The Great Depression.  “Glass”, which was part of (new) President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s “New Deal”, broke-up the Banking Industry, and created Federal Deposit Insurance.  It was made permanent in 1945.

Prior to “Glass”, companies could engage in both commercial and investment banking, which meant that risky securities actions might jeopardize clients’ deposits, and there wasn’t any deposit insurance either.  In the mid-1980s, however, many of the banking restrictions were lifted, and mostly larger banks transformed themselves into Financial Services Supermarkets.  Also, making “banking” even more precarious: the number of products and financial institutions, has frown considerably since the 1930s.

In October of 2008, President George W. Bush bestowed many billions of dollars on the largest banks, in order to enhance liquidity within the banking system.  Unfortunately, that action was interpreted, by many, as conveying an explicit Federal Government Guarantee of what became to be called the “Too Big to Fail” banks.  That general assumption merely led to an even higher concentration of financial business, on the few, but same, largest—or Too Big to Fail Banks.  Thus, the solution worsened the problem!

Following The Great Recession (4Q07-to-1Q09), President Barack Obama signed the Dodd-Frank Act into Law, in July 2010.  Dodd-Frank reined-in the banks, required required high equity capital standards, and was intended to separate the investment risks from consumer deposits.  The GOP, however, has sought to repeal Dodd-Frank ever since!

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, who is Donald Trump’s lead-man on banking laws, has been suggesting that he might propose a “21st century version of Glass-Steagall”. Donald Trump has also been saying the same thing!  Today, Senator Elizabeth Warren called Secretary Mnuchin to task, at a Senate Finance Committee Hearing, as linked from CNBC-TV.  She noticed that he had been avoiding the question of whether, or not, the Trump Regime would break-up the banks.

Finally, Secretary Mnuchin realized that he had to answer the question, and his response was still quite convoluted: “it’s a complex issue”; “not a good thing”. and finally “NO!”   He stammered when she asked him how they could be considering a “21st century version of Glass-Steagall—a law which specifically broke-up the banks—with one that would not.” Mr. Mnuchin suggested that he would bring a team from the Treasury Department to brief the Senator’s Staff.

Secretary Mnuchin seemed to be avoiding answers from most of the Senators on the Committee—especially the Democrats—as he offered to provide briefings, similar to those offered Senator Warren, to a number of other Senators.  Surely, the Secretary of the Treasury should be expected to appear before the primary Senate Committee, which regulates his office—and be totally prepared! And it should be obvious to most Americans that, so soon after the 2008 Banking Crisis, that the status of the Banking Laws would be Question Number One, Two and Three!

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NOW MIGHT NOT BE THE TIME TO SELL, IN THE STOCK MARKET, UNLESS YOU KNOW SOMETHING THAT WALL STREET DOESN’T!

Today, the Dow Jones Industrial Average dropped by 1.79%; but, it’s still up 4.27% above the 2016 close.  Similarly, the S & P 500 closed down 1.82%, and is still up by 5.28% for the year. And NASDAQ, which lost the most, some 2.57% today, is still up by 11.57% on the year.

It’s important to remember that the financial markets never go straight up, or straight down.  There appears to have been talk around the markets lately, that some degree of “correction” (a sell-off) was necessary to calm the volatility.  So, perhaps the political angst  provided just the spark to settle the market!  If there is any volatility in the early  U. S. market trading on Thursday, it will probably be a combination of Sellers, who weren’t paying attention on Wednesday, and Buyers looking to pick-up a few potential bargains.

Jeremy Siegel, Economics Professor at the University of Pennsylvania, literally wrote the book about “Stocks for the Long Run”, is a perennial stock market Bull.  Today, he said, in an interview on CNBC-TV:  “If Donald Trump resigned tomorrow I think the Dow would go up 1,000 points,”   Professor Siegel’s stated rational is that the market has been rallying on the Republican Agenda, and not the Trump Agenda.

I wouldn’t try to project how the stock or bond market would adjust to such a situation, especially when we don’t know how ugly it might get.  Also, if Donald Trump were to be ousted, the degree to which the Trump Republican Party continues to remain comfortable with him at the helm, might reveal whether or not it will continue to maintain it majority—or even its relevance to the average American.

NOTE:  Welcome to my readers from Austria and the Netherlands.

 

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WHAT IS RISKIER, GLOBAL INVESTMENT-WISE, THAN DEVELOPING MARKETS?

Many people assume that there are just two types of national economies, “Developed” or “Developing”.  But that is certainly not the case, at all. There are still nations, mostly in Africa, where people subsist on just a few dollars per day.  Such economies haven’t even begun to develop!

And other people have observed the rising tides, year-by-year, and realize that their homes, and their towns, will be inundated, within a decade or so.  I will try to explain more of this, in future posts—from personal observation and study—about why some nations are evolving, and others are not.

There are three main categories of market development:—Developed, Developing and Frontier.  A brief explanation is follows:

Developed Markets:  are the easiest to identify, since they are the generally some of the largest economies; have attained a certain level of industrialization; posses reasonably large and efficient stock, and oftentimes bond, markets, and a stable currency.. Relatively high levels of education prevail, thus enabling a more capable labor force.  As you can, the top investments in rude many global companies.

Developing Markets display economic advancement in the above-cited categories; however, they might be more advanced in some areas, and less so in others.  Because there is more risk in less-advanced economies, home-grown large corporations are scarce, due to the more elementary capital structure, and a shortage of foreign investment.  At least here, there are a few names of corporations that you are familiar with.

Categorization is somewhat judgmental, since South Korea is considered “developing” by some indexers; however, it is home to some of the world’s largest corporations, has a per capita income of 79% that of Japan, a highly educated labor force, and its per capita GDP is expected to surpass that of Japan and France perhaps by around 2020.

Frontier Markets are a catch-all category for nations that generally have: poorly-functioning economies; stock and capital markets, if any, are inefficient; most economic functions take place at the village level, often by barter; central governments are usually dysfunctional; and education is minimal.  I doubt there are any familiar corporations in this group.

I have linked Fact Sheets of an ETF for each of the three categories. The iShares
ETFs have some of the highest trading volume; which, I believe makes them more liquid. Also, by using the same company’s ETFs, at least for my purposed in this post, the companies, countries and industries represented would be in the same location on the Fact Sheets.

NOTE:  There are other ETFs, as well as actively-managed mutual funds, which would provide a range of investments in the same market categories.  Please compare the various options in the event that you invest overseas.

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CREATING A “FINANCIAL TERMS” TAB

Over the five years of this blogs existence, I have often wondered how to treat certain financial terms.  When I stop and provide a short description (of the term), that can break the flow of the discussion.   So, how do I inform or educate all readers, without annoying those with a greater financial awareness?

For instance, the media may take different approaches in reporting various economic statistic, such as the GDP—Gross Domestic Product: which is the total of all goods and service produced by a country (or other entity).  The general print or broadcast media might provide a brief explanation of the particular statistic, when announcing it.

Print media snd cable TV stations, which regularly report on financial topics; however, would not.  Rather, they might place the particular item into some form of context, such as: adding the quarterly GDP; its advance or decline for the Year; or perhaps the actual, versus the projected, GDP statistics.

I have decided to create a “Financial Terms” Tab, which may be accessed at the top-left of this blog. For anyone seeking more in-depth information on the term, they might link on Investopedia, or any of a number of other financial-related web sites.  Rather than try to include a wide range of terms, all at once, I will build upon the terms to be included, over time.

NOTE:  Keep in mind that financial terms and concepts might be included in posts, which discuss other than financial topics.

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DONALD TRUMP PROMISES TAX CUTS THAT PAY FOR THEMSELVES! AND, WALL STREET JUST YAWNS.

NOTE Just a few days after Donald’s Inauguration, I described the basics of what might have been  Trump’s expected Tax Plan in a blog post.  Three months later, it’s still quite vague!

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Although Trump prefers to label it as Tax Reform, yesterday’s big presentation was nothing but a vague suggestion of a Tax Give-Away, mostly to corporations and the top two percent of taxpayers.  The stock market displayed its ecstasy by closing down a bit lower, and perhaps wondering if they had seen this movie before.  Whatever might come of his Tax Plan, the corporate interests, who truly would benefit from a 57% tax-cut (from 35% to 15%) know that it still must get through Congress, and that is saying something!

Donald Trump will reach Day 100 on Saturday, after which pundits will begIn to slice-and-dice his accomplishments, most of which are quite minimal.  That’s why he has been rushing to make big announcements, even if they are still in the early stages, and not thought-out.  For instance: his visit to the Treasury Department, a couple of days ago, was nothing but a charade, signing an “Executive Order”, which directed Secretary Steve Mnuchin to do what he is already doing.  And then today, Health Care is back in the news, as was an unnecessary  briefing on North Korea, for the Senate, at the White House!

Over the past 22 months, Trump has vowed to reform the IRS Tax Code, and he complains that the Corporate Rate is too high.  Donald, few companies actually pay the top rate of 35%.  In fact, approximately ten percent pay no tax at all!  For comparison, the Average “Effective Tax Rate” (after credits and deductions), that U. S. corporations pay is 27.7%, while the average for OECD (industrialized corporations) is 27.1%. So, the actual difference isn’t really much to complain about!

The really big question is how does the Trump Regime expects to pay for these give-aways—tax cuts to corporations; a one-time Tax Holiday for companies to repatriate earnings held overseas; tax cuts for the very wealthy taxpayers; and the elimination of the Estate Tax, which only about 6,000 families pay.  And by the way, none of these tax cuts would boost the economy or have much of an effect on job creation!

There is one other give-away, which is not boasted about, perhaps because it tells of a personal special interest group; but, it would certainly appeal to Donald Trump’s billionaire buddies.  Many very wealthy people file their taxes as Individuals, which would mean the 35% maximum personal rate.  They are, for instance; doctors; lawyers; hedge funds; real estate developers; etc.  Donald’s Plan proposes the establishment of some sort of tax vehicle, which would enable such taxpayers to file as corporations—at the 15%.rate!

Parsing the Plan, as presented, I can assume a best-efforts guesstimate, that this Trump Tax Reform Plan might reduce the Treasury Department’s Tax Revenue by, let’ say, $4 Trillion over the next decade, or $400 Billion annually.  So, how does the Treasury recoup that huge loss?   MAGIC!

Donald Trump and Secretary Mnuchin claim that, by lowering taxes on the wealthy, the economy would grow and that would, in turn, increase tax receipts.  Since Ronald Reagan first proposed the “Trickle-Down” Theory, ing 1980, it has never been successfully demonstrated in the real world.  The divergence, both in Income and Wealth, however, ,has increased substantially, in America ever since.  Why would anyone expect the result be different this rime?

How many times are we going to hear Donald Trump boast about “Gonna-Do’s”, that aren’t on any sort of rational horizon: Health Care; Tax Reform; Infrastructure; Immigration Reform’ Trade Reform; The Wall, etc?  At the same time, he acts like Congress and the American People are supposed to kiss his Royal Derriere.  No, Donald, you’re no longer a Candidate, you must play by the Constitutional Rules, and we get to keep score!

NOTE #2:  Nobel Laureate Paul Krugman described the Trump Tax Plan, in his NY Times column, with the following analogy to a “Twilight Zone” episode, about a six year-old child, with exceptional powers.

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