Blog

Tis the season for crisis in Washington once again. It has become commonplace for our elected leaders to expose their increasingly dysfunctional process by jumping from one emergency to the next. Or is it more functional than first meets the eye? Confusion is a very effective tactic when one wishes to hide the larger truth.

The most debilitating shroud over the economy and likely for months to come remains that of uncertainty. The uncertainty regarding the direction of government policy has been largely answered with the elections, but huge questions remain regarding if and how the fiscal cliff of tax cuts and government spending will be addressed. Senator Bob Corker said "personally, I think the conditions are exactly perfect for us to move ahead with this right now." It is going to take the president being committed to doing this and sitting down and rolling up his sleeves and making it happen." We hope he's right.

Today’s much-hyped jobs report does little to help either candidate’s 11th hour election message. From the recovering perspective, job growth accelerated in October as the number of new hires increased by a seasonally-adjusted 171,000 people. But from the sluggish perspective, the unemployment rate rose from 7.8% to 7.9% in October. More people re-entered the job market than new jobs were available to offset. Today’s stock market is down, ceding some of yesterday’s 1.1% gain on worsening damage from Hurricane Sandy, some poor earnings reports, and an election too-close-to-call; in short, uncertainty remains.

During a political strategy session for candidate Bill Clinton, back in 1992 James Carvell ardently reminded those in the room that “it’s the economy Stupid.” The statement recognized a fact so simple and irrefutable, that even a stupid person should get it - people vote their pocketbook.

Twenty five years ago, this 19th day of October, the stock market experienced the worst one-day decline in its history. The Dow Jones Average fell an excruciating 23% on what would become known as Black Monday. As a broker and branch manager with only five years' experience, I remember that day as if it were yesterday. Stalwarts of my clients' portfolios like Procter & Gamble, Eastman Kodak, and AT&T had lost half of their value in a day or two. Even the bluest of blue chips like Coca Cola, Philip Morris, Merck and McDonalds were down between 20 and 30%. Brokers and clients alike were asking me for answers I didn't have. The best we could offer was to not panic, to stay the course - surely the world was not coming to an end. I was scared to death for my clients and I was scared to death for my family.

As we race toward November 6th, politics will increasingly overshadow economic data as the driver of markets. That said, if the presidential election is about the economy and the key to improving the economy is jobs, then Mr. Obama just got some good news to salve his less-than-stellar debate performance. The unemployment rate in the US unexpectedly fell to 7.8% for September, the lowest rate since he took office in January 2009, and the change has less to do with people leaving the job force (becoming uncounted), as in previous releases.

Among individual investors there are a couple of commonly held beliefs. The first is that returns are everything. The faster and larger one can grow his or her nest egg the better. Those who hold this belief know with great certainty, it is obvious to them, that investing is about returns, and the bigger those returns are the closer they will be toward reaching their goals, even if they haven't spent much time thinking about what they are.

"How did you go bankrupt?" "Two ways. Gradually, then suddenly." – Ernest Hemingway, The Sun Also Rises The economy is weak and probably getting worse. Europe remains shaky and China is slowing. Gasoline and food prices are high and going up, yet stocks are up 4.2% in September. How is that? A big factor is that last week the Federal Reserve renewed the lease for the money printers with its QE3. As the sole actor in Washington moving to stimulate jobs, the Fed took further bold steps.

Ben Bernanke, regarded as the most innovative Fed Chairman in history, broke new ground yesterday as he pledged that the Federal Reserve would buy mortgage bonds until the economy gets closer to their goals. He said, “This is a Main Street policy, because what we’re about here is trying to get jobs going. We’re trying to create more employment. We’re trying to meet our maximum employment mandate, so that’s the objective.”