The other day a friend told me that his advisor was encouraging him to sell all of his investment assets to steer clear of the impending "fiscal cliff." The 'cliff' refers to dire financial consequences should our Congress fail to act on certain measures before the new year, any one of which has the potential to derail our economy. They include $1.3 trillion in automatic government spending cuts (most aimed at defense, arguably the more productive part of government spending) set by Congress as a failsafe measure should they be unable to cut spending through their normal legislative processes. The Bush tax cuts are set to expire this year unless Congress reinstates once again. A slow economy is an awful time to raise taxes. Additionally, significant tax and fee increases are set to begin next year, particularly aimed at investors as part of Obama-care. Further impeding the flow of capital investment through higher taxes and fees, again is the wrong thing to do during a slow economy.
Today's Brief is a reprint from an article in John Maulden's InvestorsInsight.com newsletter by George Friedman, founder of a geopolitical analytical company known as Stratfor, and the author of a book titled The Next 100 Years. His methodology is based on the premise that the actions of leaders and nations are predictable.
People, particularly Americans, process an almost-constant stream of comparative judgments of things ranging from the mundane like appearances, clothes, cars, smart phones, jewelry, homes, and the like, to things on grander scale like status, accomplishments, influence, and respect. We are skilled at measuring ourselves against others, yet remarkably unskilled when it comes to truly evaluating our own potential. Worse, few of us have taken the time to understand our passion or purpose in life.
Comments by Bill Gross and others of late have rocked the status quo and tested commonly held investment tenets. On Tuesday Gross proclaimed in his monthly outlook column that "The cult of equity is dying." "Like a once-bright-green aspen turning to subtle shades of yellow then red in the Colorado fall, investors' impressions of 'stocks for the long run' or any run have mellowed as well." He’s right on the latter observation anyway.
The economy continued to slow in the second quarter, according to the Commerce Department. In fact the so called recovery is now officially the second slowest since WWII. Much of the economic data this week advanced the argument that the economy is slowing. Europe, China, and the developing world are only making matters worse as their economies face varying degrees of challenges.
Earlier this week, Stephen Covey, a hero of mine and a champion of how to live a better life, passed away. Covey was best known for his mega-bestseller The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. His common-sense, yet profound counsel to “Begin with the End in Mind,” to “Be Proactive,” and to “Seek First to Understand, Then to Be Understood” have been fundamental concepts in the shaping of Beacon. We thank him and will miss him greatly.
It was a light week for economic news, but one of the most significant announcements came from the National Federation of Independent Business. It described the latest reading from its small business optimism index as a "significant" decline. Major contributors were poor job creation and consumer confidence, as well as declining capital investment plans and earnings trends. Only 1 in 10 components improved last month, according to Econoday.
The financial services industry defines success quite simply in terms of returns – specifically by how much higher the winner’s returns are relative to all those others out there. With returns as the cornerstone of measuring success, the industry spends millions and millions of dollars bettering its methods of comparing the returns of investment choices, managers, and advisors in hopes that in selecting the best, their clients will be better served.
News this week has been mixed, but there have been some bright spots to celebrate. The beleagured housing industry may finally be turning around. The manufacturing sector had a couple pieces of good news well. If you work in the White House or among the Democratic leadership, yesterday's surprising announcement from the Supreme Court that the President's health care bill had largely escaped overturn was undoubtedly a bright spot. And today we are greeted with news that Europe's leaders have found a way to avert a Spanish banking collapse.
US equity markets are off their May lows by about 4.5% to 5% depending on the index while economic releases continue to show the economy slowing. These reports and news from Europe and Washington's ambivalence over the approaching fiscal cliff all keep a pretty tight lid on short-term optimism.