Portnoff Financial LLC- Blog

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Economic Update for the Week of 5/9/2014

Mortgage purchase applications were up 9% for the week but down 16% from same time last year. Now that Spring is here, it is difficult to continue to blame the Winter especially given that this has been a weak trend for some time now. Don't expect any rebound anytime soon.

Fed Chair Janet Yellen reiterated her stance that the US economy is on track for recovery but that further weakness could hold it back. She also continued that short-term interest rates would remain low for a long time.

Euro zone Purchasing Managers Index (PMI) increased from 53.1 to 54.0 and reports of business activity increased across the Euro zone but prices remained a weak component as inflation is under 1%. While the Euro zone is not falling off a cliff, prices paid by manufacturers was soft indicating a lack of inflation. Much of this gain is due to exports, in particular to China which is showing signs of slowing down so this trend may not last long. So for now the ECB will hold off on any additional monetary stimulus however they have made it clear that more will be considered for June.

Japanese PMI tanked from 52.8 (above 50 means growth) to 46.3 a clear contraction. Consumers simply reduced spending after tax increases went into effect on April 1st. Japan wants people to spend more so they are driving inflation higher however they are also raising taxes because the government is basically bankrupt. The problem is that people don't have more money with which to buy stuff and/or pay taxes. Expect more stimulus from Japan which will drive their currency lower and still not help to bring their economy out of the hole.

In another sign of slowdown in China, Chinese companies have increased business to business lending because there is a lack of traditional lending sources. This is exactly what brought down Lehman Brothers. Companies borrow funds short-term and when the loans come due they cannot find willing lenders. This is causing corporate defaults, expensive loans, and brings China one step closer to a credit collapse. 

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Economic Update for the Week of 5/2/2014

288,000 jobs were created in April and the unemployment rate dropped below 6.5%. Labor force participation fell which helps to lower the unemployment rate however the birth/death adjustment which is the Bureau of Labor Statistics' guesstimate of the net number of jobs created by small businesses which are not included in their survey. Without this birth/death adjustment, we would have only added about 54,000 jobs. In other words the jobs created went from 54,000 to 288,000 based upon a guess that small businesses added jobs.

US GDP for the 1st quarter of 2014 came in barely positive at an annualized 0.1% on expectations of 1.1%. The weather is the scapegoat for these poor numbers so we'll have to wait and see what comes in for 2nd quarter to see if it is the beginning of a trend. The fact that FED stimulus tends to wear off about 6-9 months after, and that the FED began to taper in January, it stands to reason that we would see softening of the economy somewhere around mid-2014. At the Federal Reserve Open Market Committee meeting, the FED reiterated its view that the US economy is recovering slowly and thus they continued to reduce bond buying by another $10 billion.

Mortgage purchase applications were down 4% last week and 20% year over year which is consistent with the double digit drop in new home sales and decline in existing home sales. Prices however based on the S&P/Case-Shiller 20-City Home Price Index was up 12.9% for the year and up 0.8% for the month of February. Looking closer at the seasonal adjustment, without it, prices were flat. 

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Fatherhood

It is amazing how life changes with a new baby! Fatherhood has given me many new perspectives on life. As a financial planner and one who has written much about demographics and spending cycles as one's family grows, I now have first hand experience on how a baby changes your spending priorities.

Noah

Clearly we are spending much more on baby related items and I expect this to increase substantially over the years. Despite the financial impact of starting a family, the rewards of being a father are simply amazing and well, I just don't think about the money when my son looks up at me smiles and laughs!

He is an amazing baby and my wife Heather and I are blessed to have him in our lives! It seems he's always smiling and laughing, that is when he's not crying of course. Now that he is 6 months old he is much more interactive and I love to watch him grow and change on a daily basis. He loves his toys, especially the Mickey Mouse I brought him back from my trip to Orlando last week for Ed Slott's Master Elite IRA Advisor Workshop. Normally I look forward to these workshops and conferences however this time It was difficult to be away for only 2 and a half days because I missed him so much!

The Ed Slott workshop was an incredible learning experience as always. Look out for my next update which I will highlight what I learned, in particular about Advanced Social Security claiming strategies. I plan to use the new information about Social Security and do a few seminars and webinars on the topics so look out for those invitations as well.

Many of my clients have been asking how Noah is doing and want to see pictures so here is a recent one:

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eNewsletter 5/2/2014

I was recently quoted in MarketWatch, a Wall Street Journal online publication in the article, "Beware these IRA rollover mistakes" by Robert Powell. You can read the article at http://www.marketwatch.com/story/beware-these-ira-rollover-mistakes-2014-01-28?pagenumber=1.


Market Update

Stocks have been overbought for some time now and the recent sharp decline in January may be only the beginning of this massive bubble bursting. People, government officials, and economists alike are simply in denial about how bad things are and there will be an end to this craziness eventually. Year to date stocks have not really done much over all except the bounce around record highs. The trend has clearly shifted from an upward market to sideways. Typically after a run up the market will "consolidate" and level out until it either breaks up or down. This recent change in the trend could just be a pause on the way to more record highs or we could be setting up for a downward change in direction.

We've all been to a social gathering where after a while the first person decides to leave which causes other people to feel comfortable to leave and then shortly thereafter everybody clears out except for the usual stragglers. This is basically a description of "The Minsky Moment" named after Hyman Minsky, an economist who suggested that markets are inherently unstable. This is based on the idea that long periods of speculation tend to lead to crises and the longer the speculation the worse the crisis gets. So we can see markets going up until the first start to leave which is usually the "smart money" which causes others to leave and then we get a "Minsky Moment" like 2008.  If we look at past bubbles of almost any kind, we see two results: first, bubbles always burst, and second they tend to return to about where they started.

The U.S. Government has been putting in $2 Trillion in stimulus annually; $1 Trillion in deficit spending and another $1 Trillion in monetary stimulus (QE). Stimulus has been a huge tailwind in keeping the economy afloat and causing the financial markets to rise to all time highs. These tailwinds will become headwinds at some point when the stimulus is stopped and the deficit spending becomes unsustainable and our debt burden too high. For now it seems that Quantitative Easing has been working but may be showing signs of fizzling out as the stimulus is tapered.

Interest rates have finally began a meaningful rise from a low of 1.38% to over 3% and recently hovering around 2.6%. As the stimulus continues to be tapered, we are likely to see bond rates rise which is not good for long-term, intermediate term, and high-yield bonds. As the FED continues to taper, this means they will purchase few bonds which will likely mean a decline in demand. As the demand declines prices go down and yields go up.

Increasing rates will hurt the housing recovery, large purchases using debt such as cars, consumer spending on credit, etc. Once this happens, expect to see significant economic slowdown. Increasing rates will also make our ability to pay government debt more difficult. Then what does the FED do? Stimulate again to juice the economy again? The problem is the law of diminishing returns which says that the more you have of something (in this case stimulus), the less value we get from it. Think about that first cup of coffee in the morning; it wakes you up but you eventually get tired so you take another cup, but the second cup doesn't have the same effect as the first. I think we are getting closer to a point where it will be evident that the stimulus didn't work long-term and our ability to stimulate more will be hampered and the deleveraging and deflation will commence.

For bond investors this creates some problems. The stock market is risky so the conventional alternative is bonds however rising rates will hurt bonds. A typical intermediate term bond fund has a duration of about 4-5. Duration is a indicator of sensitivity to interest rates. A duration of 5 means that for a 1% increase in rates, you would expect a decline of about 5% in your bond fund. The conventional way to reduce this risk is to shorten your duration by going to shorter term bonds. Unfortunately the yield on short-term bonds is quite low and are still negatively affected by interest rate increases. The real question continues to be what the markets will do when rates start rising again and we see even lower or negative growth with this stimulus.

Recently housing has shown some positive price gains however it appears that almost half are cash sales which implies that it is speculators, investors, and financial institutions are behind these purchases. These positive gains could explain the recent surge in pending home sales last year. It's clear that sales have been going up and inventory has been going down which is typically a healthy sign for housing.

To understand where housing is going we need to look at demand; who is buying versus who is selling. When a person goes into a nursing home or dies, they become a seller by default. Therefore a great way to get an idea of where demand is headed is by looking at the number of buyers vs. dyers. People tend to buy their trade up home in the US around age 42 on average and die at age 79 on average. The projection clearly shows a greater number of dyers than buyers and thus the net demand for housing should begin to decline again starting next year. The decreased demand and increased  supply will push housing prices down. This is not for all housing however and does not apply to all regions. For example, those in the northeast tend to migrate to Florida as they age which could cause a net decline in demand to happen sooner than expected.

People don't buy homes based on prices or interest rates, rather they purchase a home based upon a payment which is determined by both prices and interest rates. With interest rates beginning to rise and if prices stay the same, payments rise thus housing will become less affordable unless median incomes rise substantially which doesn't seem to be likely anytime soon. US real (inflation adjusted) disposable income fell 9% in the past 12 months (as of June 2013). Consumer spending typically drives about 2/3rds of our economy. With disposable income falling, this means less money to spend, especially on discretionary items. Another warning sign. This certainly will not help housing. An increase in supply coupled with increasing interest rates is a recipe for declining prices which we will probably start to see in the not too distant future. In addition, the shadow inventory of homes continues to be the biggest hidden threat to the housing market. If the economy begins weakening again, the institutions that have been holding out for higher prices may finally begin to sell that inventory if prices start declining. Increased borrowing rates should also have negative impacts on car loans as well.

Traditional economists don't seem to understand why we are not seeing inflation despite the massive amount of money being pumped into the economy. The reason is that when an economy is at this stage of the cycle after a credit crisis, people don't borrow as much and banks don't lend as much. This slowdown in the fractional reserve system means less money in the economy which is the offsetting deflationary force to all the money printing.

The average bull market lasts nearly 4 years. If you take out the one extremely long bull market which lasted about 12 years and the shortest from 87. These bull markets are followed by an average 36% decline. The current bull market is over 5 years long. Volatility tends to increase at major long term tops such as 1966 - 1974. The first decline after 1965 saw a 26% decline, the second after 1968 was 37%, and the third after 1972 was about 50%. Take notice of the current secular bear market since 2000 which saw a 51% decline after 2000 and a 58% after 2007. So if the pattern continues and we see a third decline, it could easily be 65% or more.

Warning signs we're near a top:

  1. Margin Debt at $400 Million: Margin debt is approaching the 2007 peak at $430 Million and higher than the $390 million at the peak of the Tech Bubble in 2000. This suggests we are seeing more speculation and leverage in this bubble.
  2. Stock Buybacks close to 87%: Companies are aggressively buying back their own shares using super low interest rates. This has the effect of artificially boosting Earnings Per Share (EPS) because the number of shares outstanding has been reduced. Currently 83% of S&P 500 companies are buying back their own stocks which is getting close to the 87% it was in the 2007 peak.
  3. Corporate Profit as a percentage of GDP is above 11% and is at record levels. Fed stimulus via low interest rates has boosted corporate profits more than any boom in history. At the 2007 peak, corporate profits/GDP were 10%.
  4. P/E Ratios between 24 and 27: Most major stock peaks happen when P/E (Price to earnings) ratios are between 22 and 27 except for the extreme tech bubble when they reached about 45 and the peak in 1929 at 32 and these periods had the advantage of strong demographic trends and accelerating productivity from new technologies which we do not currently have. At the 2007 peak P/E's were 27. We're currently about 24 and moving higher.
  5. Market value of non-financial stocks divided by GDP ratio above 1.3: During major market peaks, this ratio tends to be between 1.0 and 1.5.
  6. 62% Bulls vs. 20% Bears: Many of the people that got scared out of the markets in 2008 have been returning since 2012. When Bulls vs. Bears gets to this level, that tends to suggest peaks although we did reach this level in 2010 before backing off back to about 40% Bulls. As everyday investors continue to pile in, we watch for the "Smart Money" to start exiting and when that happens, watch out!
  7. As January goes, so goes the year: When January is a negative month often that forebodes a negative year. After 5 years of a stimulus led bull market that is long overdue for a correction, this saying may be true this year.
  8. The second year of a 4 year presidential cycle tends to be bad for stocks.

Governments keep borrowing at below market rates to run budget deficits by purchasing their own bonds, companies buy back their own stock with super low interest rates to boost earnings per share, banks take QE stimulus money to boost their reserves in anticipation of the massive losses they expect when the economy turns back down and to speculate in financial securities with 30-50 times leverage causing margin debt for stocks to near and all time high; You tell me, are these signs of a bubble? Looking back I suspect all the "experts" will say we should have seen this coming. 


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2013 IRA Contribution Reminder

It's not too late to make an IRA contribution for 2013. The deadline is the tax filing date which is Tuesday 4/15/2014 this year however generally it is not a good idea to wait until last minute.

Individual Retirement Accounts (IRA) are tax deferred, or in the case of a Roth IRA, tax-free savings/investment accounts. Tax deferral allows your money to grow faster without losing some of the growth annually to taxation. Having investments in an IRA also allow you greater investment flexibility to make changes without having to worry about generating any taxable capital gains transactions.

The IRA contribution limit for 2013 is $5,500 to any combination of IRAs and/or Roth IRAs as long as the total doesn't go above $5,500 unless you qualify for the catch-up contribution which is an additional $1,000 if you reached age 50 by year-end 2013.

Anyone is eligible to make an IRA contribution as long as you have earned income and you are under 70 1/2; w hether you can take a deduction for a traditional IRA depends of a few factors described below. Eligibility to  contribute to a Roth IRA depends on income which is also described below; t here is no age limit to make Roth IRA contributions .

 

Phase-Out Range for IRA Deductibility

If you are considered an active participant in a company retirement plan, your deductibility for an IRA may be limited. If you are married filing jointly the phase-out for deductibility begins for adjusted gross income between $95,000- $115,000; above that there is no deduction. If you are a single or head of household filer the phase-out for deductibility begins for adjusted gross income between $59,000- $69,000; above that there is no deduction. If you are not covered by a company plan but your spouse is, the phase-out range for you is $178,000 - $188,000. If you file married-separate, your phase-out range is $0 - $10,000. If your income falls between the phase-out range, your ability to deduct your IRA contribution will be limited. There is a specific calculation to determine the amount you can deduct so if this applies to you, consult your tax advisor to determine how much you can deduct.

Even though you may not participate in the company plan, you may be considered an "active participant” so it is important to verify before attempting to take a deduction. If you and your spouse (if applicable) are not covered by a company plan, then there is no income limitation to take a deduction for an IRA contribution. SEP and SIMPLE IRAs are considered company plans for these purposes but are not included in the maximum contribution amount as they have their own limits.

 

Eligibility for Roth IRA Contribution

If you are married filing joint, the phase-out of eligibility to contribute to a Roth IRA is between $178,000 - $188,000 of adjusted gross income; above that you cannot make a Roth IRA contribution. For single or head of household filers, the phase-out for eligibility is $112,000- $127,000. If you file married-separate, your phase-out range is $0 - $10,000. As mentioned above, if your income falls between the phase-out range, then your ability to contribute to a Roth IRA is limited. If you are above, then you cannot contribute directly to a Roth IRA however you are still able to convert IRA funds to a Roth IRA which is discussed below.

 

Non-deductible IRAs

If you wish to make a deductible IRA contribution but make too much income to be eligible to take a deduction, consider a Roth IRA instead. If your income is above the threshold to make a Roth IRA contribution, you can still make a regular IRA contribution however that contribution will not be deductible. In such a case of a non-deductible IRA contribution, your money goes in after tax but still grows tax deferred and your contributions when withdrawn are not taxable however the interest/gains will be taxable upon withdrawal.

These non-deductible contributions create "basis” in your IRA which when withdrawn come out tax-free in a pro-rata distribution relative to the amount of pre-tax money in your IRA. For example, if you have $100,000 in your IRA, $10,000 of which is after-tax basis, your ratio would be 10%. If you then took a distribution/conversion of $25,000, $2,500 of that would be considered a return of your basis tax-free while the $7,500 would be taxable.

 

IRA to Roth Conversions

Since 2010 anyone regardless of income can convert an IRA to a Roth IRA. This means that you could make a non-deductible IRA contribution and convert it to a Roth thereby getting after-tax funds in a Roth IRA which is in essence the same as making a Roth IRA contribution. This strategy only works however if you do not have other IRA funds because if you do, the pro-rata rules described above would apply. It is unknown if this loophole will be closed by congress or if they will allow anyone regardless of income to make a Roth IRA contribution; only time will tell.

 

2014 IRA Limits

For 2014, IRA contributions limits stay at $5,500 if under 50 with the additional $1,000 catch-up contribution if you reach age 50 by year end. The phase-outs for IRA deductibility and Roth IRA contributions go up a bit: 

  • IRA deduction phase-out for active plan participants
    • Single $60,000-$70,000
    • Married filing jointly $96,000-$116,000
    • Married filing separately $0-$10,000
    • Spousal IRA $181,000-$191,000 (you are covered but your spouse is not)
  • Roth IRA phase-out
    • Single $114,000-$129,000
    • Married filing jointly $181,000-$191,000

If you have any questions about IRA contributions or wish to make an IRA contribution for 2013, contact me directly.

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Driving Your Taxes Ever Higher

Driving Your Taxes Ever Higher

I really don’t care for Flo. She is that all-too-cheerful lady that wants to sell you a particular brand of car insurance, one that she claims will save you lots of money. She would also like you to know that you have the option to plug a small device into your vehicle. This device monitors your every move for what is called usage-based insurance. If this device shows the company that you are a safe driver, then the insurance company will offer you a discount. Sounds like a good deal, right?

Unfortunately, Flo’s little device has other, less beneficial uses. A similar device, no longer optional, may one day help the government tax you based on how, when and where you drive your vehicle. Even George Orwell would have been shocked by this level of Big Brother-ness.

The Great Recession has led to many structural changes in our economy and how we behave. One of those changes has been in how we drive.

According to a recent study from the University of Michigan, Americans’ driving habits have changed dramatically in recent decades. The average driver travels 1,200 fewer miles per year than he did in 2005. We also use less gasoline per person than we have in nearly 30 years. The decline in miles driven and fuel consumption has meant a serious loss in revenue for local, state and federal governments.

The United States Highway Trust Fund was created in 1956 and is used for the construction and maintenance of the Interstate Highway System. The Trust Fund receives its money from the federal fuel tax. The tax on a gallon of fuel has been raised over the decades and is now over 18 cents per gallon of gasoline.

But the tax is not enough. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that the Trust Fund will be insolvent this year and will continue to be so for the foreseeable future. By 2023, the Trust Fund is expected to have a shortfall of nearly $100 billion.

The current mechanisms for funding transportation services are already failing. With Americans driving less miles and consuming less fuel the situation will only get worse. This means governments must find ways to gather more tax revenue from drivers.

The most straightforward solution is to increase the fuel tax. The problem with this idea is that the tax will be chasing ever-more fuel efficient vehicles that are being driven less. As a result, a tax hike is unlikely to meet funding needs. This is where the number crunchers will start getting creative.

Luckily for them, and unluckily for us, our friend Flo’s usage-based insurance device can be converted to a usage-based tax calculator. Currently, most use-based vehicle taxes operate as a type of sales tax. With more data, governments will be able to tax our vehicle usage in a multitude of different ways that would get around decreasing vehicle usage and increasing fuel efficiency. Heavy commuters might feel the tax pinch on how many miles they drive, whether they drive in cities or what time of day they drive. On the other hand, those with short commutes will not be able to escape taxes on vehicle speed, condition of the roads used, driving in high-volume areas, driving during harsh weather, etc.

By taxing a variety of usage patterns that are independent of miles driven and fuel efficiency, governments can supplement revenue from the fuel tax. The only way to avoid these taxes will be to turn in your keys.

Our change in driving habits is emblematic of how our behavior has shifted since the economic downturn. Traditional funding pathways for government services are falling behind. This means that we can expect our government to look for more creative and intrusive ways of taking our wealth to fund their services.


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Demographics Are in Good Spirits

Demographics Are in Good Spirits

The world seems to be running dry. Vintners are ramping up wine production, trying to keep pace with ever increasing demand. This means the bottles you are buying today could be significantly more expensive in the next couple of years. But before you run out to the store to load up on your favorite vino, take a minute to consider what caused the casks to run dry…and what might lie ahead.

Global wine production has slackened over the last decade as the industry tried to recover from a glut of supply in the mid 2000s. Some farmers, such as in California, turned their soil over to more profitable crops, with almonds and walnuts paying more per acre.

Meanwhile, demand has been growing at a healthy clip. The increase in consumption has come primarily from two nations: China and the United States. China's rapid economic expansion has given millions of consumers the access to the global wine market in a way that was absent just a decade ago.

It is somewhat excusable for the wine industry to have missed the rise in affluence of China's upper and middle class. It far less understood how the industry failed to anticipate the growth of wine consumption in the United States. Since 2000, U.S. wine consumption has doubled on a per capita basis, and the trend was right there for everyone to see.

The reason for America's growing thirst for wine is, unsurprisingly, demographics.

Based on data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Consumer Expenditure Survey, spending on alcoholic beverages hits a secondary peak during a person’s early-to-mid-20s, and then hits a primary peak during a person’s early 50s. One may not think of 20-somethings drinking wine, but data from the Wine Market Counsel confirms that millennials, along with baby boomers make up the core wine-drinking generations. It also turns out that when you divide the U.S. population into five-year age groups the two largest categories in our economy are those aged 20 to 24 and those aged 50 to 54. Is it any mystery that U.S. demand for wine would grow to its current levels?

Demographics are a powerful force on our economy. Companies and industries that understand their consumers will do well. Harley Davidson smartly reorganized its business model, knowing that its prime consumer base was shrinking. The diaper industry is increasing production of adult products to serve aging populations.

On the other hand, those who ignore demographics do so at their own peril. The wine industry may have just missed a huge opportunity to sell their goods to two very large audiences. As millennials and boomers move past their mid-20s and mid-50s, respectively, they will develop a thirst for something else.


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Uncertainty Is the Only Certain Thing

Uncertainty Is the Only Certain Thing

Each morning we wake up with a set of assumptions: the sun will rise, our light switches will work and water will flow from our faucets. We expect roads to be passable and our government to keep our systems of law and commerce operating. While some things seem beyond question (the sun really will rise in the east), others are up for debate. What happens when the systems on which we rely become unpredictable?

As we head into October we’re facing increasing uncertainty on a number of fronts. In Europe there’s talk of yet another Greek bailout. The nation is now in its sixth year of recession, still struggling with debt repayment, high unemployment and a lack of growth. If that isn't bad enough, there are now calls for a Special Forces Reserve Union military coup. Meanwhile, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) expects Spanish unemployment to remain above 25% for at least the next five years. Spain’s real estate market is in free-fall, refusing to find a bottom. Today, the situation in southern Europe is no more certain than it was at the onset of the global financial crisis.

Back home we have our own worries. For months the members of the Federal Reserve Open Market Committee (FOMC) hinted that they would start to wind down the quantitative easing (QE) program. Then in late September, just when everyone thought the Fed would announce a start to the long-anticipated taper, chairman Ben Bernanke said the economy was not yet strong enough to stand on its own and QE would continue indefinitely. Naturally, this confused almost everyone. It was as if the Fed, which had been signaling a slowdown for months, came out and said: "Just kidding!" It appears the Fed has no idea how it will smoothly wind down QE. In its attempt to create more open communication and guidance with investors, it created more uncertainty, not less.

If market confusion isn't enough, the U.S. federal government decided to pile on at just the wrong time. We face yet another debt ceiling deadline in mid-October. Rather than attempting to agree on a sustainable and workable framework for government spending, our elected representatives instead have decided to play a game of political chicken. At stake is a shutdown of the federal government. While our expectations of government performance may be low, we at least expect it to remain open.

One of the bones of contention in the debt ceiling debate is funding for the Affordable Care Act (ACA). On October 1 the ACA goes live and it appears few people know what that means. In fact, a recent USA Today/Pew poll found that only 25% of the respondents claimed to understand the new health care law very well. Others don’t know how they will get insurance, much less pay for it. Given that obtaining insurance is now mandatory, this qualifies as a level of chaos.

Each of these trends and situations is weighing on capital markets around the world, causing volatility and a lack of direction. We expect the smoke to clear on some of these issues, like the debt ceiling and budget debates in the U.S. While this would likely give some relief to equities, such relief would only be fleeting, as there is always another worry right around the corner. That’s why we develop, maintain and consistently reassess our financial plans to make sure we’re taking the best direction possible given the facts on the ground today.


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Why Labor Day Matters

For many Americans, Labor Day represents the unofficial end of summer. It’s a day for last trips to the beach, and for firing up our grills to cook some burgers and hot dogs. The holiday represents a break between the craziness of summer and the beginning of fall, when we all take work seriously again. For whatever reason, we need a day off to make the switch.

But Labor Day wasn’t always just a day off at the end of summer. In the late 19thcentury, organized labor was gaining strength across the country. Unhappy with wages and working conditions, they staged protests and strikes that would often end in violence. As a way of easing tensions, local governments and a handful of states passed laws to recognize what unions were calling "labor day." In 1894, President Grover Cleveland signed the law that made Labor Day a national holiday as a way to honor the American worker.

Over the years, our workforce landscape has changed, and with it, the meaning of Labor Day. Just over 11% of workers are members of organized labor, roughly half the level of 20 years ago. Most of us are so detached from organized labor, and the origins of the national holiday, that we simply enjoy having the day off work.

Now, as our workforce changes, this is a three-day weekend that fewer of us are able to enjoy.

Chances are that if someone got a new job in 2013 he won’t be celebrating a day off on September 2. With part-time workers making up 77% of new hires in 2013, it’s just another Monday on the job. 

These jobs typically don’t provide paid leave for holidays, like Labor Day. In fact, many retailers have sales promotions to draw in customers that may have the day off. Big-box retailers and department stores will be scheduling extra workers to meet anticipated demand.

This shift to more part-time work is indicative of greater changes to our labor force. It means workers have to accept lower levels of take-home pay than they’re accustomed to. So they’ll have less to contribute to payroll and income taxes. And they’ll have less money left over to grow the economy with their discretionary spending. 

People drive our economy. Personal consumption expenditures account for nearly 70% of the nation’s gross domestic product, by far the biggest share of its components.

We follow predictable spending patterns, which are largely dictated by our age and stage of life. Even so, there are limits. We can only spend what we have and borrow as much as our income allows.

With more and more people having to settle for part-time work and lower pay, consumers will choose the necessities over the luxuries. They will also delay making the big life purchases of a home or a new car. These workers will have less money to save and invest in the stock market.

It may sound bleak, but it isn't. By spotting the movements in the labor market, we can anticipate how it affects the broader economy. We can look out over the horizon to spot the risks and target the opportunities in the market. This puts us in a stronger position to maintain and grow your savings and investments.

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Putting On Your Diapers One Leg at a Time

Diapers instinctively make us squeamish. We don’t want to smell them, see them or be around them. But what if they were the next big opportunity!?

In Japan, more than 20% of the nation’s nearly 130 million people are over age 65, and the market for adult diapers is growing at 6% to 10% per year.

Adult diapers are more profitable than their baby counterparts because adults will pay a higher price and can potentially be using them for many years. Even better, there is a technological innovation coming in the world of diapers.

Diaper maker Pixie Scientific is launching a diaper for babies that contain urine testing strips positioned on the outside of the diaper. Parents can scan the results via a Smartphone with the company’s Smart Diaper app. The app will notify the user of the test results and send an alert if the wearer needs medical attention.

Seeing the potential for a product that could serve both the incontinence and at-home health monitoring needs of the elderly, our friends at Dent Research reached out to Pixie Scientific to see if they had the same idea. Dixie reported they initially made the diaper for children, but after being inundated with questions about adult sizes, the company is now focusing on developing the Smart Diaper for all ages. We aren’t surprised.

Whether Pixie Scientific is a good company or a bad company is not the point. The issue here is the changing nature of demand as our country ages. Japan has the oldest population of all the developed countries, but the rest of us – the U.S. and Europe – are not far behind. If Japan is waist-deep in the adult diaper industry, then the rest of us are just putting our first foot in.

We watch consumer habits because we believe people, and how they spend money, drive the economy. Consumer spending patterns move the ebbs and flows of industries and sectors. We can spot these trends by watching how people shift their buying habits as they age.

As the mass of Baby Boomers moves into old age, industries that cater to this group will grow and expand. This will provide new investment opportunities for the makers of products like adult diapers. You have the advantage of being part of a team that has been tracking these changes for years so we can spot the opportunities as they arise… even if they come in a diaper.


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