May 2015 - Forecasts & Trends

Forecasts & Trends is much more than just investment blog posts. You need to know the "big picture;" you need to have a "world view," especially in the post-911 world; and you need more information than ever before to be successful in meeting your financial goals. Gary intends to help you do just that.

Forecasts & Trends

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  • China Surpasses America As World’s Largest Economy

    For the first time in history, the People’s Republic of China’s Gross Domestic Product exceeded the GDP of America, as measured by purchasing power, in 2014. According to the International Monetary Fund, China’s purchasing power GDP hit $17.6 trillion last year versus $17.4 trillion in the US.

    This was an important milestone for both countries, and China will almost certainly expand its lead over the US in the coming years and decades. Yet that is not necessarily a bad thing for the US, as I will explain below. You probably didn’t hear about this in the media, and that’s why we will talk about it today.

    But before we get to our main topic, let’s look at a few recent economic reports of interest. The US economy has largely disappointed this year, with weaker-than-expected growth in sales, spending and production, with most of reports showing scant momentum.

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  • Why US Economic Growth May Disappoint Again In 2015

    Our main topic today is how the US economy continues to disappoint expectations, and 2015 looks to be no exception. Forecasts for GDP growth this year continue to be downgraded, and there is at least a small possibility that the US economy is slipping into recession, as I will discuss below.

    But before we get into that discussion, let’s look at a few recent economic reports that are not encouraging. Retail sales that were expected to bounce in April were flat and have been trending lower since 2012. Consumer sentiment, which had reached the highest level since 2004 by the end of last year, dropped to a seven-month low earlier this month. And factory output slipped in April, the fifth monthly decline in a row.

    We will end today with a new article on the Trans-Pacific Partnership from the Wall Street Journal, which explains why I continue to support this controversial trade agreement.

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  • Problems The Media Ignored In The April Jobs Report

    Today we’ll start with a look at last Friday’s unemployment report for April. If you read the mainstream media accounts, it was fantastic – the official unemployment rate fell to 5.4%, the lowest level since 2007. But as usual, if we dig into the internals of the report, we find that the results were much less than desired.

    One of those findings was the fact that the percentage of adult women in the workforce has fallen to the lowest level in 27 years, but you had to look deep into the report to discover that data. The reasons for this phenomenon are not entirely clear, but I will offer some suggestions, in what is a rapidly growing debate.

    Following that discussion, we take a look at the exploding growth in “margin debt” on the New York Stock Exchange. In March, margin debt soared to a new record high of $476.3 billion. Some analysts believe this is a major problem for the equity markets, while others think it’s a positive development. But what we do know is that margin debt peaks at major market tops. With the major market indexes at or near their all-time highs, the next few weeks should be very interesting!

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  • Why Most Investors Consistently Underperform The Market

    Long-time clients and readers will recall that for years I have been writing about the annual Dalbar Studies which compare the actual performance of mutual funds versus what the average mutual fund investor actually earns. You may also recall that the numbers are quite ugly – the average investor makes significantly less than mutual fund performance reports would suggest in both stock and bond funds.

    The problem is not that mutual funds overstate their performance. The problem is that too many investors decide to switch into and out of mutual funds too frequently, in the hopes of boosting their returns. All too often, investors decide to sell the fund(s) they currently own, often at a low point, and switch into the latest hot performers, just before they hit a losing period. This practice too often results in selling low and buying high. I call it the “Mutual Fund Merry Go-Round.”

    If you have not seen these Dalbar statistics before, you are probably shocked. So was I when I first saw them in 1994! What is most surprising is that there has been very little improvement in the numbers over the last 20 years.

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  • Do More Americans Feel Confident About Retirement?

    More Americans say they are feeling more confident about their retirement. That’s according to the results of the latest “Retirement Confidence Survey” conducted each year by the non-profit Employee Benefit Research Institute (EBRI). The Washington-based EBRI is the leading source for data on savings, retirement, health and related issues.

    In their 2015 survey, some 37% of all respondents said they feel “very confident” about their retirement, and another 33% said they feel “somewhat confident.” The problem is that many Americans ‘say’ they are confident about having enough money to retire, even though they have nowhere near enough money stashed away. Many people overstate the amount of retirement savings they actually have and under-estimate how much money they will actually need in retirement.

    As we drill deeper into the latest retirement survey, we find that overall only 22% of current workers are now very confident about having enough money for a comfortable retirement. The 2015 survey also revealed that workers with a company-sponsored retirement plan are more than twice as likely as those without a retirement plan to be very confident – 28% with a plan, as compared to only 12% without a plan.

    I'll summarize the main findings in the latest EBRI retirement survey as we go along today. Following that discussion, I am compelled to criticize what I consider to be some of the worst investment advice I have seen in my 38 years in this business. The advice came in the form of a controversial video that was posted on a popular website last week.

    It was quickly criticized by a number of respected financial writers, mainly because the author, James Altucher, argued that investors and savers, especially younger ones, should avoid and/or abandon their employers’ 401(k) plans. He makes several erroneous statements about 401(k)s and their sponsors that many of us in the financial industry vehemently disagree with. So along with others who quickly discredited the video, I will criticize Mr. Altucher today. I hope no one takes his advice seriously!

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