Will Go-Go Growth Last?

Will Go-Go Growth Last?

The economy was on fire in the second quarter. According to the government, real annualized Gross Domestic Product (“GDP”) was 4.1 percent, the strongest quarter since Q3 2014, which came in at a sizzling 4.9 percent annual rate. As a reminder, GDP measures the nation’s total output of goods and services and is released by the Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA) on a quarterly basis, with two subsequent monthly revisions to the advance estimate.

CBS This Morning: Economy Grows 4.1%

The government released its gross domestic product report for the second quarter. It showed the U.S. economy grew 4.1 percent from April through June. That's the best showing since 2014. I joined CBS This Morning to discuss the report.

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Asset Allocation, Annuities and The Truth Behind the GDP

First up this week was Alan in Florida who has 80% of his whole portfolio in one stock. Believe it or not, this factoid does not have Alan freaked out! I, however, am not too excited about this strategy.

Next we went to the Bay Area and chatted with Linda who just inherited a variable, non-qualified annuity. Since Linda and her husband don't really need the money, they want to redirect it to a family member. Is there an easy way to do it? 

In hour two we chatted with journalist and author David Pilling about a subject that's near and dear to my heart...our endless obsession with economic growth and the Gross Domestic Product. 

In his latest book, The Growth Delusion: Wealth, Poverty, and the Well-Being of Nations, Pilling reveals the hidden biases of economic orthodoxy and explores the alternatives to GDP, from measures of wealth, equality, and sustainability to measures of subjective wellbeing. 

We live in a world where economists basically set the framework for public debate. Ultimately, it is the perceived health of the economy which determines how much we can spend on our schools, highways, and defense; economists decide how much unemployment is acceptable and whether it is right to print money or bail out the banks. 

The current backlash might suggest that people are turning against the experts and their faulty understanding of our lives. Despite decades of steady economic growth, many citizens feel more pessimistic than ever and are using their votes to have their voices heard.

For too long, economics has relied on a language which fails to resonate with people’s actual experience, and the pages of this book outline why we may now be living with the consequences.

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Tax Cut Fails to Spur Growth

Tax Cut Fails to Spur Growth

What happened to the tax cut bump to economic growth? After expanding by a brisk 2.9 percent in the fourth quarter of last year and the 3.3 percent rate in the third quarter, the economy decelerated a bit in the first quarter to an annualized pace of 2.3 percent, consistent with good, not great growth.

Republican Tax Plan: 12 Questions

Republican Tax Plan: 12 Questions

Senate Republicans are expected to unveil their tax plan this week and while we don’t yet know the details, the rumors are that there will be $1.5 trillion in tax cuts over the 10-year budget window. Even days before the announcement, lawmakers are divided on some key issues. In a surprise move, Republicans are reportedly considering maintaining the top income tax bracket of 39.6 percent, which applies to ordinary income above $470K for married filing jointly (MFJ) and $418,400 for single filers. Earlier this month, the President said, “the rich will not be gaining at all with this plan…the wealthy will be pretty much where they are…If they have to go higher, they’ll go higher, frankly.” 

Trump Tax Tease

Trump Tax Tease

President Trump’s “new” tax plan looked an awful lot like his old one from the campaign, though with far fewer details. The one-page overview was more like an incomplete set of bullet points, than a blueprint. For example, the plan would reduce the number of tax brackets from seven to three - 10, 25 and 35 percent, but there was no breakdown of income levels to which the new rates would apply. It also intends to provide a break for child and dependent care expenses, but did not specify the dollar amount. 

Economic Growing Pains 2017

Economic Growing Pains 2017

"The simple message is the economy is doing well," Federal Reserve Board Chair Janet Yellen said in the press conference that followed the central bank’s third quarter-point rate hike in 15 months. She went on to say "We have confidence in the robustness of the economy and its resilience to shocks." You might be wondering what exactly “well” means. Let’s start with the long-term economic growth rate, which has averaged about three percent annually for the 50 years from 1966 through 2016.

The Obama Economic Legacy

The Obama Economic Legacy

As President Obama leaves office, it’s time to reflect on how the economy fared during his tenure. Because of the size and complexity of the U.S. economy, I have generally believed that presidents take too much credit or blame for what occurs on their watch. In many cases, bad luck or good fortune can play a larger role in a particular president’s economic performance than actual policy.

Federal Reserve Rate Hike #2


The Federal Reserve will likely raise short-term interest rates this week, when it convenes the last policy meeting of 2016. The second rate hike of the cycle comes one full year after the first, nine years after the last time it had previously raised rates. The central bank is probably more confident about this action than it was a year ago, because it will occur after the President-elect indicated that there would likely be a new boost to the economy, in the form infrastructure spending, tax cuts and deregulation. While GDP averaged a fairly subdued 2 to 2.25 percent during the recovery thus far, the potential Trump actions have prompted economists to increase their estimates for 2017 to 2.5 to 3 percent. Economists and investors will be paying close attention to any mention of how the FOMC may change its outlook in response to the major fiscal stimulus that will likely be enacted. A faster growing economy could mean that the Federal Reserve will finally see its much-desired pick up prices and as a result, the central bank should be gearing up for a series of rate hikes in 2017.

Here’s the rub: for all of candidate Trump’s complaining about Janet Yellen’s Fed keeping rates too low for too long, the biggest risk to the current expansion would be if the Fed were to move more quickly than anticipated, putting the current stock market rally at risk and potentially sparking a recession.

Fear not…current Fed officials appear to on track to under-deliver on their inflation target, as they have done consistently over the past twenty years. That’s why Yellen has been so willing to be patient on raising rates. Although Trump took aim at Yellen for not raising rates faster, she may in fact be the ideal Fed Chair to keep the economic expansion/stock market rally alive in 2017.


Savings: Any increase in the Fed Funds rate could help nudge up rates on savings accounts, but after the first increase, banks passed very little of the increase on to their customers. Bottom line: savers’ suffering is not likely to end any time soon.

Mortgages: While rates for fixed rate mortgages key off the 10-year government bond, not short term rates that the Fed controls, yields have already started to rise since the election. The average contract interest rate for 30-year fixed-rate mortgages with conforming loan balances ($417,000 or less) increased to 4.27 percent, the highest level since October 2014 and up from 3.5 percent before the election. Adjustable rate mortgages (ARMs) are linked to shorter-term rates, which means that consumers should be careful about assuming these loans and also should consider locking in a fixed rate now. Those who have ARMs could see payment increases down the road.

Auto Loans: For those planning on purchasing a new car with a loan, don’t worry too much. An extra quarter-point increase on a $25,000 loan amounts to a few dollars a month in higher payments.

Credit Cards: Most credit cards have variable rates and unlike the savers, the card companies are quick to pass along the increase to the borrowers within a few billing cycles. You may want to consider locking in a zero balance transfer offer, because it won’t be around as the Fed keeps increasing rates in 2017.

Student Loans: Federal loans are fixed, so there will be no impact from a rate increase, but some private loans are variable. Double check your paperwork to determine what benchmark rate (Libor, prime, T-bill) your loan is tied to.


Stocks: If the Fed goes slowly and the economy improves, the stock market should be fine. But, as noted above, if the central bank ends up raising rates faster than expected, it could hurt prices. In the past, shares of banks, energy, industrials and technology do well amid rising rates.

Bonds: When interest rates rise, bond prices fall and in this particular cycle, it could be even more painful, because the slow growth recovery lulled many bond investors into complacency. That said, there is no reason to abandon the asset class. For most investors who own individual bonds, they will hold on until the bonds mature and then purchase new issues at cheaper prices/higher rates. For those who own bond mutual funds, they will reinvest dividends at lower prices and as the bonds in the portfolio mature, the managers will reinvest in new, cheaper issues with higher interest rates. In other words, being a long term investor should help you weather rising interest rates, though you may want to consider lowering your duration, using corporate bonds and keeping extra cash on hand. (For more on bonds, check out this post.)

MARKETS: There were new records all around, providing more post-election gains. Since November 8th, the Dow is up 8 percent, the S&P 500 has gained 11 percent and the NASDAQ is up 9 percent.

  • DJIA: 19,756, up 3.1% on week, up 13.4% YTD (23rd record close of 2016)
  • S&P 500: 2259, up 3% on week, up 10.6% YTD
  • NASDAQ: 5444, up 3.6% on week, up 8.7% YTD
  • Russell 2000: 1388, up 5.6% on week, up 22.2% YTD
  • 10-Year Treasury yield: 2.47% (from 2.39% week ago)
  • January Crude: $51.48
  • February Gold: $1,161.40, 5th straight weekly decline
  • AAA Nat'l avg. for gallon of reg. gas: $2.20 (from $2.17 wk ago, $2.01 a year ago)


Mon 12/12:

Tues 12/13:

6:00 Small Business Optimism

Weds 12/14:

8:30 Retail Sales

8:30 PPI

9:15 Industrial Production

2:00 FOMC Meeting Announcement/Economic Forecasts

2:30 PM: Fed Chair Janet Yellen press conference

Thurs 12/15

8:30 CPI

8:30 Empire State manufacturing survey

8:30 Philly Fed manufacturing survey

10:00 NAHB homebuilder survey

Friday 12/6

8:30 Housing Starts