Filling the suitcase, readying for an escape out of Chicago to melt off the harsh winter, and notification alerts pop up on my cell, and laptop. Try as I might to stay present in the joy of getting out of town, the pings keep coming and I succumb yet again to Pavlov’s theory. I knew full well if it was something important, the alert would have come by phone call, but that’s just the way it is today. We’re so used to the noise that surrounds us that silence is not welcome
The notifications were congratulatory, which at first glance triggered another response, “oh crap did I forget our anniversary again”. Nothing like a little panic in the middle of packing, which was then amplified by additional notifications. First, the airline was grounding their latest Boeing 737 series followed by, your Flight#1397 has been cancelled. Where was I going with this? S Oh yes sorry, another alert came in mid thought, threw me off. The initial alert, that’s it, well those were congratulating me on a nine- year work anniversary.
Whew NINE years in the blink of an eye!! A great deal has taken place since 2010, including the opportunity to get out of my comfort zone and into your inbox each quarter. I recall one of the first things I was told, “if you’re going to raise capital you must be visible”. For me a very private person with 20yrs in the collection and private investigation world, delving in to the wide world web to “tout” myself on social media was more than a bit uncomfortable. Fast-forward nine lightning fast years, things have changed a smidge and I’ve most certainly been assimilated. While we’ve been writing on walls dating back to ancient Egypt, now the world is literally connected to our hands and eyes thru 5G technology, waterboarding us in overwhelming doses of noise, clutter, and convenience. Like a train wreck or accident, we simply can’t take our eyes off our gadgets. We are in a constant state of distraction & have become reliant preferring a done for you solution for just about everything we do, yet somehow, we still don’t have enough time.
Our money suffers from the same distractions. Trade wars, Brexit, US divisiveness and civil unrest, cyclical slowdowns, etc. yes, there is certainly reason to believe something’s wrong in paradise, right? The stock market only makes headlines at extremes. Look, all the pundits, talking heads, “experts” heck, you, me, this publication, we all have a 50-50 chance of being right or wrong and one thing is certain the stock market doesn’t care about your money. Funny thing, our culture of convenience makes it appear as if we don’t care as much as we should about our money either. How many times we will get caught with our pants down failing to heed the warning signs and historical trends? We’re not paying attention to the things that matter the most and giving waaaaay too much attention to what does not serve us.
In 2010 we were combing through the ashes of what was a pretty good run for a whole lot of people and bad one for a whole lot more myself included. Then as now Debt is at the forefront: taking money from the future and using it now. As spectacular as “growth” has been, we’ve borrowed more money from the future over the last decade than we’ve been able to create or reasonably expect to create. According to the Institute of International Finance, total world debt is near $250 trillion, or 320% GDP through 2018. Household debt grew 30% to $46 Trillion and in the Financial sector up 10% to $60 Trillion. The two largest categories, government and non-financial corporate, went on a debt-fueled spending spree thanks to the Fed’s artificially-low yields. What has created a decade long bull-run will ultimately end it.
In 2010, I had no idea what the heck a Yield-Curve was. Today I understand the significance of its potential impact and am also aware that its effects are typically felt 20 months into the future. Frankly, I’m not sure I know that from being a diligent student as my mentor is, or that I’ve been around long enough that it all seems like a rerun to me. Comes to mind that it did take me a while to learn what it really meant to have a board of advisors who have profited through Four (4) full real estate cycles. Not sure I can ever explain how priceless access to that information is. It’s our very own Google!
The point? This past decade I’ve learned it’s almost impossible to gain perspective in the midst of a crisis, add in information overload and as my Jersey friends say “Fuhgeddaboudit”. In my opinion, perspective may only be gained in hindsight. Perspective after-all, is essential to investment success. It’s important to realize that extremes can occur in any asset class, from stocks to commodities to real estate to bonds and currencies, historical trends give us these insights as well as the simple rules of cause and effect. Market extremes are normal, and to have a shot at living our later years as we design, we must know they exist and put into practice fundamental strategies not only to off-set them but capitalize.
Fed Chairman Jerome H. Powell asserted recently that the economy, “is in a good place,” that “economic fundamentals are still very strong,” and that Fed officials “see a favorable outlook for this year.” That translates to more like a “wait and see” attitude to me or more like I’m not pulling out that next Jenga piece just yet. Powell acknowledged growth has slowed and will continue to do so into 2020, claiming a recession isn’t likely.
The Great Depression, the decade long bear-market of the 70’s, double-digit inflation in the late 70’s and early 80’s and again after 9/11 had us terrified thinking the stock market may never recover. Hindsight tells us that in every case, America has survived and prospered. And eventually the market has made new highs. In fact, last quarter was the best for stocks in this past decade, yet the volume of doomsayers is rising in droves warning us of imminent collapse.
Now that last year is in the rear- view mirror here are some take-away’s:
- When the government spends the economy grows. The expansion, changes in tax laws and a surge in spending increased GDP by about 3 percent best showing since 2005.
- Unemployment dropped to a 49-year low and wages on the lower end of the spectrum increased.
- Trade Tariffs are having an effect on China who is now forced to rethink its position and Mexico is the real winner seeing huge gains in shipments to the U.S. imports have surged 10% already (what wall) The U.S., Canada and Mexico signed on to the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement, which will require companies to use more locally produced steel and also to pay auto workers at least $16 per hour.
- Portfolio Diversification works. Every asset class moved in tandem and in the wrong direction and having a hedge in alternative investment classes specifically real estate provided peace of mind.
- The Amazon effect continued to drive the stake in the heart of retail. Sears once the largest retailer in the U.S. filed for bankruptcy protection Toys R Us and several others are gone while Amazon captured half of all on-line sales.
- Our identities may never be safe. In the wake of the Equifax breach, Marriott revealed hackers have been stealing information from its Starwood subsidiaries for several years resulting in one of the largest data breaches in history effecting over 500 million records.
- In 2010 Americans were spending approximately 20% on rent now it’s 30%
- The debt we have is a spending problem, not a tax problem. And there isn’t a presidential candidate in 2020 who is interested in cutting spending.
- Finally, if the stock market is scaring you in terms of your future, you’re either not invested appropriately or don’t know what you’re invested in or both. You cannot expect much of a future if that is the case.
The economy is giving off all the signals indicating it will continue to do a slow burn disguised as a bear market over potentially the next couple years and we can go back as recently as 1995 to see similarities. Mr. President will continue tweaking and tweeting. Real estate will forever be hyper-local and hindsight tells me that if the economy is still moving forward we have consistently voted to retain the incumbent. Nothing really new under the Sun here folks. I’ve a 50/50 chance of being right, so what do you think?
It’s time to take the old Boy Scout moto of “Be Prepared” to heart and start taking measures to insulate yourself from market conditions. Until the next time, repeat this mantra: I’m a long-term investor and will not fall in to the trap of thinking I can time the market. I have adequate emergency reserves and a diversified portfolio that will allow me to sleep at night.