One of the biggest concerns for investors when it comes to long-term investing is the safe return of their capital. Following the 6.75% levy imposed by Cyprus on deposits of less than 100,000 euros, many investors were shocked that such an event could take place.
Certainly, long-term investing does have risks, including a hidden hazard of the possibility that a rising inflation rate will erode wealth just as easily as the levy imposed by Cyprus on bank deposits.
A study done by The Economist showed that people in the U.S. who placed their capital in six-month certificates of deposit (CDs) from 2009 until 2012 earned 3.2% (before tax). Many believe that a CD is among the safest of short-term investments. However, the inflation rate was 6.6% during this time period, resulting in a loss of wealth for the investor of 3.2%. (Source: “The financial-repression levy,” The Economist, March 23, 2013.)
While bank depositors in Cyprus are in an uproar over the one-time levy, American investors have also been hit with a loss of wealth of approximately 3.2% during a three-year period due to inflation, as noted above. Now, imagine the full impact on long-term investing over many years and decades as the inflation rate erodes wealth.
Understanding the real impact of the rate of inflation should alter one’s portfolio allocation when it comes to long-term investing. Simply placing capital in U.S. Treasury notes will not have the rate of return that investors need for retirement.
Many people only look at the nominal return, and not the real return on an investment. Remember, regardless of what the expected return is, for … Read More
Following the global recession, many countries still lack resurgence in their economic growth levels. Many central banks around the world have used their primary tool, aggressive quantitative easing, to try and revive economic growth.
One issue with quantitative easing is that it can drive a currency downward in value. This can have some positive effects in improving economic growth by making that nation’s goods cheaper and driving exports; although it can hurt economic growth, as the price of imports rise, driving up inflation.
This is a tough goal to achieve, in trying to increase economic growth through a very blunt tool, that of quantitative easing. Whereas some initiatives have laser-like precision, quantitative easing is not one of them.
One nation that has recently embarked on a very aggressive quantitative easing program, and will continue to do so, is Japan. In November, Japan elected a new Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe, who called for a very large quantitative easing program to jump-start economic growth. Since the election of Abe in Japan, the yen has fallen by approximately 15% against the U.S. dollar.
This has certainly helped Japanese car makers. Recently, the CEO of Ford Motor Company (NYSE/F), Alan Mulally, voiced his concerns that the Japanese yen’s decrease is increasing the level of competitiveness for Japanese car makers. According to the American Automotive Policy Council, Japanese car makers have a currency advantage worth approximately $5,700 per vehicle. (Source: Philip, S., “Ford CEO Says He’s Concerned About Effect of Weaker Yen,” Bloomberg Businessweek, March 26, 2013.)
The natural question is: if quantitative easing does help economic growth, why doesn’t every nation just do this? … Read More
It’s clear that the global economy has been in a weak state for an extended period of time. However, investor confidence has rebounded over the past few months in anticipation that the global economy can regain past momentum.
Numerous problems remain across various sectors in the global economy, and they are preventing an increase in growth. Yet one risk that could severely impact investor confidence is the possibility of war in Asia.
Many people quickly dismiss the idea that yet another war could ignite. Investor confidence clearly doesn’t see this as a probability, considering how high the stock market is. However, as a prudent investor, one must evaluate every potentiality.
There are two areas of concern: North and South Korea, and China and Japan.
The situation between North and South Korea is quickly deteriorating. This past Monday, both nations staged war games, while increasing threats. South Korea has troops on high alert, while North Korea claims it has nullified the armistice.
North Korea is increasing its aggressive stance in the hopes that the world will back down and cave in to its demands. The nation has repeatedly warned that it will use nuclear weapons.
Tensions are also increasing between Japan and China, the catalyst being three tiny islands in the East China Sea.
Both nations claim territorial rights to the islands, with each nation increasing its aggressive stance. On January 10, two Japanese F-15s intercepted a Chinese plane flying in the vicinity of the islands, an action to which China retaliated by sending its own fighter jets.
Japan is now considering firing warning shots if any further Chinese aircraft encroach … Read More
Traders appear to have forgotten the massive economic mess happening across the Atlantic in the eurozone. Remember Greece? The European debt crisis took Greece down with two separate bailouts. It has been so dire for this beautiful country on the Mediterranean Sea that Greece required a second bailout to make the payments on its first emergency loan.
The reality is that the eurozone financial crisis is still around; the eurozone problem is not going away.
Consumer confidence in the eurozone came in at -23.9 in January, which was an improvement over the -26.5 in December, but the region has a long road ahead. (Source: European Commission web site, last accessed February 15, 2013.) The problem with the eurozone is not only tied to the massive debt loans that have impacted Greece, Spain, Ireland, Portugal, and Italy; it’s also tied to the ongoing recession and high unemployment rate.
The eurozone has recorded three straight months of contraction in its economy, contracting 0.6%, or about 2.5% on an annualized basis, in fourth quarter 2012, according to data from Eurostat. What was also a red flag were the economies of the eurozone’s two largest members: Germany, which shrunk by a worse-than-expected 0.6% in the fourth quarter, and France, whose economy contracted by 0.3% in the fourth quarter. My major concern is that the mess in the weak countries is driving down growth and pushing up the unemployment rate in France and Germany, the two pillars holding up the eurozone. Capital Economics suggested France and Germany will face another recession in 2013.
At the same time, a major issue is the region’s super-high unemployment … Read More
In their attempts to stimulate economic growth, more countries are looking at the possibility of devaluing their currencies. The latest to fall into this pattern is Venezuela, which has just devalued its currency, the bolivar, by 32%.
No one should be surprised by the latest move from the Venezuelan government, since this is the fifth currency devaluation in nine years. The net result has been stagnant economic growth and a very high inflation rate.
The annual inflation rate in Venezuela was approximately 22% in January, and it’s certainly set to move above 30% following this latest devaluation. (Source: Devereux, C. and Pons, C., “Chavez Devaluation Puts Venezuelans to Queue on Price Raise,” Bloomberg BusinessWeek, February 11, 2013.)
Considering 70% of the goods consumed in Venezuela are imported, this will have a huge negative impact on its citizens.
Unless the government is willing to tighten monetary policy to prevent a runaway inflation rate, which is unlikely, look for a significant decrease in consumption of foreign goods within the country.
While the official exchange rate has now moved from 4.3 bolivars per U.S. dollar to 6.3 bolivars per U.S. dollar, the unofficial exchange rate is even weaker at more than 20 bolivars per U.S. dollar.
Venezuela’s repeated attempts at trying to stimulate economic growth while increasing the amount of U.S. dollars available for foreign purchases has led to a decline in purchasing power by the average citizen and a pathetic economic growth rate.
Foreign companies selling into that market will be hurt by the higher inflation rate, since the government imposes some price controls. Venezuela’s President, Hugo Chavez, previously seized retail stores … Read More
Since hitting a low of $253.70 in July 1999, gold prices have surged over 650%, topping $1,921 per ounce in September 2011. Currently trading at more than $1,660 per ounce, gold has logged 13 consecutive years of positive returns. While some economists think gold’s historic run will come to an end, others are not so sure.
The overarching driver of the price of gold will continue to be the global financial crisis, ongoing tensions in the Middle East, weaker currencies, and the potential for faster inflation. As a result, some analysts believe gold will rise above $2,200 an ounce in 2013.
At the other end of the spectrum are those bears who think gold is in for a big correction. Greater-than-expected U.S. growth, a stronger U.S. dollar (in spite of the Fed’s printing presses running overtime), and the end of the crisis era could pull gold down to as low as $1,200 an ounce.
Try telling that to Russia, Brazil, Korea, China, Kazakhstan, Turkey…
To stave off the negative impact of the global crisis, the National Bank of Ukraine raised the percentage of gold in its reserves in 2012 to 7.7% from 4.4% a year ago, reaching 1.1 million troy ounces. (Source: Chanjaroen, C., “Russia, Kazakhstan Expand Gold Reserves as Central Banks Buy,” Bloomberg, January 28, 2013, last accessed February 6, 2013.)
Brazil doubled its gold holdings in two months, buying 17.2 metric tons in October and 14.7 metric tons in November. And in August and September, Iraq increased its gold reserves to 31.1 metric tons from 5.8 metric tons.
The Bank of Korea increased its gold reserves by 20% … Read More
While many people are aware that the Chinese economy is now the second-largest in the world, China’s currency, the yuan or renminbi, is also moving upward in the world rankings in terms of global transactions.
According to the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication (SWIFT), the world’s global payment system, the yuan has moved up from 20th in the rankings in January 2012 to 14th position in December 2012. The Chinese yuan is now above the Danish kroner in terms of global payments. (Source: “RMB Tracker: January 2013,” Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication web site, January 24, 2013.)
That is a significant move and an indication that the Chinese economy is becoming more integrated worldwide.
Why does this matter to the average American?
For a long time, America’s economy has been the global leader and the U.S. dollar has been the global reserve currency. Every other nation was seen as secondary to America’s dominance. This is now starting to shift.
As the U.S. national debt level continues to grow, the strength of the Chinese economy is enabling considerable efforts to be made at developing globally interconnected markets that can survive and thrive without the U.S. dollar.
While the Chinese economy is certainly not perfect, it doesn’t have to be. With the rising level of U.S. national debt, the Chinese economy just needs to be relatively better than the U.S. economy, though not in absolute terms.
The point is that the rise of the Chinese economy over the past decade and the looser restrictions that the Chinese government is placing on the yuan mean that global businesses and investors have … Read More
Recently, we have heard a lot about currency wars being waged by various nations around the world. To those who are unfamiliar, “currency war” is a term that refers to countries that are actively looking to devalue their currency to help stimulate export growth and their domestic economy.
Investing in stocks in this type of environment can be tricky, as one needs to add additional variables to the analysis. Having a strong market sector, solid long-term fundamentals of the individual stock, and a favorable currency direction can help when considering investing in stocks.
While many look to the Federal Reserve as being the most active in trying to devalue the U.S. dollar, I would point to Japan. Newly elected Japanese Prime Minister Abe has been vocal about demanding massive and unprecedented monetary stimulus by the Bank of Japan to help stimulate the Japanese economy.
Large institutions interested in investing in stocks certainly have jumped on the export-oriented market sector, as Japanese stocks are up approximately 24% since mid-November, when elections were announced, and the yen is down in value by approximately 10%.
However, this is not a short-term phenomenon. I believe the yen will continue to remain weak for a long time, and this will benefit the Japanese export market sector. Those interested in investing in stocks could look to equities in Japan that will benefit from the yen’s devaluation.
One market sector that also has strong fundamentals in the U.S. is vehicle sales. The U.S. had extremely strong car sales in 2012, and I expect 2013 to be just as strong. When combined with a further lowering of the … Read More
On January 1, 2000, the world breathed a collective sigh of relief that the over-hyped Y2K fiasco dissipated without even a whimper after years of ballyhoo.
Some things never change.
As expected, at the last moment, Democrats and Republicans came together in joyous union and resolved the so-called fiscal cliff. Nervous investors around the world joined together with rapturous optimism and jumped back into the markets.
On January 1, 2013, the House approved the new deal by a 257 to 167 margin. The bill increases the income tax rate from 35.0% to 39.6% for individuals earning more than $400,000 a year and couples taking home more than $450,000 combined. Everyone else will continue to see income tax cuts.
None of this should be a surprise to anyone, since Obama, in his bid for re-election, said he would increase the tax rates on the wealthy, though his definition of “wealthy” has changed, climbing from earnings of $200,000 for individuals and $250,000 for families.
While both sides are unhappy about what they didn’t get, they should be unhappy about how they treated the global population.
For almost a year, inept politicians in Washington sat around, worrying about their chances for re-election; ignoring the impact the unresolved fiscal cliff was having on the international investing community and global economy.
But why put your hard-earned time and effort into resolving the fiscal cliff when you might not be re-elected? Maybe because it’s part of your job? You’d be forgiven for thinking it was otherwise. After all, during the eternal run up to the Presidential elections, the fiscal cliff wasn’t even a major talking point. … Read More
We’re two weeks away from surviving the Mayan Doomsday and three weeks away from stepping over the fiscal cliff. But the unabated student loan debt is just getting warmed up. Instead of dealing with the problem, Washington’s policies continue to stoke the fire. And that economic strain spells continued misery for America’s ongoing credit crisis woes.
Outstanding student loan debt has surged 165% in just seven years, from $360 billion to $956 billion. Furthermore, the average loan balance for U.S. college students has increased more than 68% since 2005 to $27,000. (Source: “Student Loan Debt History,” Federal Reserve Bank of New York web site, last accessed December 11, 2012.)
On a more granular level, student loan debt jumped $42.0 billion, or 4.6%, over the previous quarter to $956 billion. During the same period, car loan balances increased for the sixth consecutive quarter to $768 billion. U.S. credit card debt held firm at approximately $601 billion.
Eleven percent of all student loan balances are 90 or more days delinquent, surpassing all other forms of debt. Credit cards, car loans, and mortgages are all in better shape than student loans, with 90-day delinquency rates of 10.0%, 4.3%, and 5.9%, respectively.
According to the Federal Reserve, student loan debt is the only form of consumer debt that has grown since the peak of consumer debt in 2008, and it is the largest form of consumer debt outside of mortgages. What’s more is that unlike credit card debt, student debt is not forgivable in bankruptcy.
And that is creating a nightmare scenario for graduates young and old. In fact, every age group is experiencing … Read More
The U.S. dollar has been the world’s reserve currency for decades, but that position might be under attack. With the rising level of U.S. debt, many countries around the world are questioning the position of the U.S. dollar as the reserve currency.
Cracks are beginning to appear; the latest sign is that China and South Korea have come to an agreement in which banks from either country are able to borrow funds from a swap line that makes loans available to companies for deals in local currencies. (Source: “China, South Korea to Boost use of Local Currencies in Trade,” Bloomberg, December 4, 2012.)
This swap line is currently set at $59.0 billion, and allows firms to settle deals in either the Chinese yuan or the South Korea won instead of the U.S. dollar. On the surface, this might not seem like a direct attack on the U.S. dollar’s status as reserve currency, because reducing transaction costs is inherently advantageous to corporations. However, the willingness by these nations to increasingly avoid the U.S. dollar is a problem.
Shifts in the reserve currency status take many years to develop. We’ve seen rising U.S. debt levels for years, and this is putting increasing pressure on countries to diversify away from the reserve currency nation that is becoming increasingly irresponsible in the way it handles fiscal and monetary policies.
Running up the U.S. debt levels over the short term might be seen as innocuous by American politicians; but over the long term, the sustained inability and ineptitude of politicians to properly manage government spending will lead to a lack of belief in the country … Read More
The results of PNC Wealth Management’s annual Christmas Price Index were recently released, and it’s not looking good for consumers. If you want to financially re-create “The Twelve Days of Christmas,” in which a rich lover goes to town on a shopping spree, you’ll have to shell out a little bit more this year.
According to the 29th annual survey, it will cost $25,431.18 to purchase one set of each of the gifts given in the song. That represents a 4.8% increase from last year, a 3.5% increase in 2011, and a 9.2% increase in 2010. This year also represents a 101% increase over the $12,623.10 price tag from the original 1984 survey results.
Now granted, the Christmas Price Index is not a serious economic indicator, and the average consumer is not going to throw down cash for eight maids-a-milking, five golden rings, or a partridge in a pear tree…but it does go to show the disconnect between the inflation rate and what consumers are really paying.
Considering the modest economic growth we’ve had, the increase is a little unexpected. The Christmas Price Index would have been even higher in 2012, except that minimum wage hasn’t increased.
At 4.8%, the 2012 Christmas index significantly outpaced the government-tracked Consumer Price Index (CPI), which rose 2.2% in October from the year-earlier period. (Source: News release, “Consumer Price Index – October 2012,” Bureau of Labor Statistics, last accessed November 30, 2012.)
Digging a little deeper, month-over-month, the shelter index increased 0.3%, its largest increase since March 2008; the food index increased 0.2% in October, with the index for food-at-home rising 0.3%, its largest … Read More
The financial crisis in Europe seems to never end. Over the last few days, yields on Spanish and Italian debt have moved up slightly, as it appears that the European Central Bank (ECB) is planning to go ahead with buying sovereign bonds. This level of support for monetary policy is unique because Europe is not a unified country. The disparities are obvious among nations, but without some level of support, the financial crisis will ultimately kill the euro experiment.
While this latest move up in Spanish and Italian debt might seem like a good thing, which it certainly is over the short term, the long-term implications are far more serious. Bloomberg has obtained a copy of the events of a recent meeting between lawmakers and ECB President Mario Draghi in a closed-door session with the European parliament. In Draghi’s opinion, the ECB has now lost complete control over the influence regarding the European bond market. This means the financial crisis is far worse than it appears, as monetary policy from the ECB only has an impact on a couple of nations. For most of the nations within the Eurosystem, monetary policy enacted by the ECB is meaningless. The market is basically telegraphing that the financial crisis will ultimately get worse.
Draghi then went on to say that bond purchases by the central bank are a necessary form of monetary policy to help the system comply with their mandate. As he states, the very survival of the euro is at stake. To me, that seems to be as clear of a warning about the looming financial crisis as one could get, … Read More
I have worried for a long time about the decline of the U.S. dollar. This decline is seen in several metrics, including the price of gold and the standard of living of the average American citizen. This devaluation in the U.S. dollar has been relatively subtle. Ask most Americans and they will tell you that they’re working harder for less, but they don’t realize why. The other factor is that the U.S. dollar remains the reserve currency of the world, which has helped policymakers bend the rules by allowing them to make easy decisions, kicking the can down the road for the difficult, structural reforms that are needed.
The new worry for me and many other people is the rise of the Chinese yuan as a possible alternative for sovereign investments around the world. On June 7, 2012, Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas President Richard Fisher commented that America faces the risk that the U.S. dollar might lose its reserve currency status. This as the Chinese government is laying the foundation to internationalize its currency, in addition to the possibility that if Europe gets its act together, the euro might also become a viable alternative. Fisher called on America’s fiscal authorities to realize that one day there will be a viable alternative to the U.S. dollar and American investments.
This type of stark warning from one of the Federal Reserve Bank presidents regarding the U.S. dollar should have policymakers standing up and taking note. This is a very real threat that must be dealt with through difficult structural reforms if the U.S. dollar is to remain the reserve currency of … Read More
The U.S. dollar has reigned supreme as the reserve currency of the world for decades. This reserve currency status appears to be ending, albeit at a slow pace. Shifts in reserve currency don’t happen overnight, as they become entrenched in the financial system. The U.S. dollar took over reserve currency status from the British pound, following World War II. The new player on the game that wants to become the new reserve currency is China, with its yuan.
There have been numerous reports lately that the Chinese authorities are preparing for the day when the yuan will be the reserve currency for the world. They’ve started establishing business capabilities that make it easy for investors and companies to trade using the yuan. Just recently, it was announced that the People’s Bank of China is allowing direct trading between the Japanese yen and yuan. It used to be that an investor or company would need to perform a currency cross to make this trade happen. One would sell yuan, buy the U.S. dollar, then sell the U.S. dollar and buy the Japanese yen. This ease in trading will just add more credence to the possibility that the Chinese authorities’ end goal many years from now is reserve currency status.
Another worrisome sign for the U.S. dollar is news that the Shanghai Futures Exchange will be introducing a new oil contract that will be listed in both the U.S. dollar and the yuan. This added legitimacy for the yuan as a reserve currency will only grow if more products that are globally traded are transacted in that currency. The head of this … Read More