In the beginning of the year, I dusted off the crystal ball and made some predictions about 2014. At mid-year, it’s time to see how those guesstimates stack up. Economic growth: Who knew that Polar Vortex would put the deep freeze on 2014 economic predictions? We now know that the economy contracted by an annualized pace of 2.9 percent in the first quarter, the worst quarterly showing since the recession. Although Q1 will screw up the year, economists still believe that growth will increase to 3 percent by the end of the year, which would leave growth for the full year at about 2.25 percent, matching the ploddingly slow pace of the past four years.
Jobs: Back in January, estimates for 2014 monthly job creation stood at 225,000. Despite the rotten weather, job creation through May has averaged 214,000, the fastest pace in 15 yearsand the unemployment rate has dipped to 6.3 percent. Additionally, weekly jobless claims are now just above their post-recession low and are at least back down to where they were prior to the recession's start in late 2007. This year alone has seen advances; with the number of people seeking unemployment benefits falling 10 percent since the first week of January.
Housing: 2014 got off to a very slow start for housing. A combination of bad weather, low inventory and high prices in some markets reduced activity in the beginning of the year. Recent data have been more encouraging and with mortgage rates remaining relatively low and banks lending a bit more freely, housing should see progress in the second half of the year.
Investors: After the S&P 500 soared by 30 percent in 2013, expectations were pretty low for this year. Still, stocks continued to move higher, despite an early spring tech/biotech selloff. The S&P 500 managed a 6 percent gain in the first half of the year. Now the big concern is that investors have become complacent about volatility and risk.
What could go wrong? The big threat today is an escalation of violence in the Middle East, which could cause a spike in energy prices. The next biggest risk is that the Federal Reserve screws up the unwinding of its policy. If the central bank reduces its bond purchases too quickly and raises interest rates sooner than expected, the economy could falter and investors could get spooked. Conversely, going too slowly might create a speculative bubble or catch the central bank flatfooted, if inflation emerges.
All of these macro factors are out of your hands, but at mid-year, here are some actions you can take in your financial life to gain control!
Investments: Market highs are the perfect time for long-term investors to rebalance accounts so that allocations remain in check. This requires that you override your emotional urge to keep winning funds and dump those that are lagging. But that’s the point of asset allocation—various funds are supposed to move in different directions at different points in the economic cycle.
Retirement: Still haven’t calculated your number? Use EBRI’s “Choose to Save Ballpark E$timate” or check out your retirement plan/401(k) website for retirement tools.
Homeowners and Renters insurance: Don’t wait for a natural disaster to occur before you review your insurance. The three biggest mistakes that people make with their homeowners or renters insurance are: 1) under-insuring; 2) shopping for price only and not comparing apples to apples; and 3) not reading policy details before a loss occurs.
Estate Planning: PLEASE DRAFT/UPDATE YOUR WILL! I advise hiring a lawyer to prepare a will, power of attorney and health care proxy/living will. If you insist on doing it yourself, you can use a software program like Quicken WillMaker. All of your estate documents and final instructions should be stored in a safe place – don’t forget to provide copies to your executor/trustee. Those with larger estates, or who want more control over the disposition of assets, may consider a revocable or changeable trust.