The USA economy is far from strong. The global economy seems even weaker. Inflation is not an imminent risk. Under such conditions the USA Federal Reserve adding gasoline to the economy via low interest rates makes sense.
The issue I see is that a .25% Fed Funds rate is adding gasoline to the economy via low interest rates. Many people are saying an increase is like taking away the gasoline and taking out a fire extinguisher. But it really isn’t. Raising the rate to .25% is slightly decrease the amount of gas you are adding to the fire. A .25% Federal Funds rate is pouring nearly as much gas on as you are able to but not quite the absolute most you are able to.
It is also true that the Fed bailing out the too-big-to-fail bankers and banks resulted in them not only opening up the gasoline as much as possible (taking rates to 0) they even went far beyond that with new methods of pouring on gasoline that hadn’t even been considered until the bankers’ risk-taking doomed the economy (and bankrupted their institutions – without government bailouts propping them up).
The Federal Reserve has finally turned off the massive extraordinary dumping of gasoline onto the economic fire (via quantitative easing). But they have kept not only dumping lots of gasoline on the economy but doing so to the absolute maximum possible via a 0% Fed Funds rate.
Arguing for slowing the amount of fuel you are dumping into the economy is not the same as saying you are constricting the economy. We have been put into a crazy global economic condition by the too-big-to-fail bankers and the massive amounts of government and personal debt taken out. So simple analogies are not effective in making policy.
The analogies can help explain what the intent and expectation of the policy is. It is true we have created a very tenuous economic foundation (and we haven’t in any way substantial way addressed the risk too-big-to-fail bankers can throw the global economy into and we still have massive debt problems). The main beneficiaries of the central banker’s policies the last nearly 10 years are too-big-to-fail bankers and those borrowing huge amounts of money.
Those suffering from the policy are savers and I fear those that have to cope with the aftermath of this massive intervention with likely bubbles (government debt, personal debt [including education debt in the USA, etc.]). The main reason I believe rates should be raised are to begin the path to stop transferring wealth from savers to too-big-to-fail bankers and those with massive debt problems.
The Leading Causes of Bankruptcy
The most important thing you can do to avoid bankruptcy is understand why a million people a year end up filing bankruptcy. 4 out of the top five reasons starts with medical expenses. This is followed by:
- Job loss
- Unexpected disaster
In some ways, all four items can be categorized as unexpected disaster. If we expanded the list just a bit more, it would include failure to have a proper financial plan. By now, the unexpected is so common, we ought to be expecting it. When the vicissitudes of life catch us completely off guard, bankruptcy is often the result.
Learn to Properly Use Credit
I separated poor or excessive use of credit from the rest as it is the only one of the top five that is self-inflicted. By now, it should be clear that using credit appropriately is important for a successful financial life.
Many people advise those struggling with debt to cut up the credit cards. Other financial advisors say just the opposite. Store credit cards such as those from Walmart can actually prove beneficial in the right hands.
Click here for more information on the advantages of properly using the Walmart store credit card. Today we have many personal financial tools at our disposal, if we use them wisely they can be very helpful, if you use them foolishly we will pay.
Live Below Your Means
One of the biggest mistakes people make is to live up to their means. They commit to all kinds of services they can afford at the time. But because Job instability is such a real and present reality, the loss of even a little bit of income suddenly leaves us living above our means. We need to adjust our lifestyle expectations to something lower than what we think we can afford.
Even applying this advice to the best of your ability, you still might have to file for bankruptcy. It is important to know that bankruptcy is not the end of the line. There are those who can help you recover. Bankruptcy is not a punishment, but a solution. It is the ultimate second chance.
Bankruptcy is not uncommon even for those who make fortunes every year: famous people who have fallen into it. If you fall into bankruptcy the important thing is to change your habits and practices to take advantage of your second financial chance.
the Census Bureau predicts the working-age population will grow just 50,000 per month over the next 15 years.
The amount of time I spend focusing on economic data is fairly limited (compared to people doing so for a living or as a large part of their job). I stick with general rules of thumb that I can tweak a bit to let me keep up with economic conditions without a huge amount of time devoted to such efforts.
Due to my temperament; to my belief that markets often overreact in the short term; and partially to my less detailed understanding of economic data (that professionals focused on it all day) leads me to get less excited about individual data points. This is helpful for my overall investing performance, I believe.
Occasionally changing conditions require changing those rules of thumb. The 150,000 figure is one I have used for a long time; though I also adjust that for major medium term influences (such as the great recession dumped so many people out of jobs that I bumped up my “we need to add” monthly job figure to 175,000 to 200,000 to bring those people on board.
My 175,000 to 200,000 included a slight adjustment down from the 150,000 that I had made. In addition to using simple ideas like 150,000 monthly job baseline I incorporate the idea of not overreacting to variation in short term data as well as tweaking those numbers for medium term economic conditions (things like recovering from the great recession – though that is about the largest “tweaking” factor that I remember).
This article made me realize how much I should adjust my expectations for a neutral job growth reading in the USA going forward. I also gather data and opinions as I think about making major adjustments to my thinking. I’ll adjust from what I had been using of a base of 125,000 plus 50,000+ for great recession recovery to 75,000 + 50,000 for great recession recovery now (and adjust more later if other sources indicate it makes sense). The great recession recovery factor will likely go down to 25,000 for me by the end of this year.
Related: There is No Such Thing as “True Unemployment Rate” – Long Term View of Manufacturing Employment in the USA (2012) – USA Individual Earnings Levels for 2011: Top 1% $343,000, 5% $154,000, 10% $112,000, 25% $66,000 – GDP Growth Per Capita for Selected Countries from 1970 to 2010 (Korea, China, Singapore, Indonesia, Brazil
When you sell your primary residence in the USA you are able to exclude $250,000 in capital gains (or $500,000 if you file jointly). The primary test of whether it is your primary residence is if you lived there 2 of the last 5 years (see more details from the IRS). You can’t repeat this exemption for 2 years (I believe).
It doesn’t matter if you buy another house or not, that exclusion of up to $250,000 is all that can be excluded (you must pay tax on anything above that amount – taxed at capital gains rates for long term gains).
For investment property you can do 1031 exchanges which defers capital gains taxes. Otherwise capital gains will be taxed as you would expect (as capital gains).
When you inherit a house the tax basis will be “stepped up” to the current market rate. So if you then sell your basis isn’t what the owner paid for it, but what it was worth when it was given to you.
Credit is the ability to buy now and pay later. It takes credit to get an auto loan, a mortgage and other types of financing. Your credit score says a lot about your credit habits. This is a three-digit number ranging from 300 to 850, and it tells creditors how likely you are to pay your bills. The higher your credit score, the better your chances of getting approved for financing and the lower your interest rate will be.
Credit has many benefits. Most people can’t pay cash for homes, college education or new cars. Without loans, buying a house or car would be impossible for many. And since it takes credit to build credit, many people apply for their first credit card in college to establish a credit history. A credit card also provides emergency funds when we’re short on cash.
Although we use credit regularly as consumers, there are dangers associated with credit. We can avoid some of these problems with responsible use. But unfortunately, credit management education isn’t taught in high school, and many adults don’t learn about credit management until after they’ve made mistakes.
Potential Dangers of Credit
Credit puts a lot of things within our financial reach, so it’s easy to get in over our heads. We might not have enough in savings to purchase an electronic device or take a vacation, but with one quick application, we can get approved for financing and take advantage of life’s pleasures. There’s nothing wrong with getting a loan. But some people can’t stop using credit and they get into serious debt.
Too much debt has a significant negative impact on your personal finances. Paying off that debt will reduce your available disposable income to build an emergency fund (if you haven’t done so already) or save for retirement a house or other large purchases.
Of course, debt isn’t the only thing to be concerned with. Getting credit also means you’re vulnerable to identity theft. This is one of the fastest growing crimes in the U.S. And while some people think it can’t happen to them, no one is invincible.
Keeping Your Credit Report Accurate
Identity theft involves someone stealing your personal information and purchasing items in your name or opening new accounts in your name. It can drive down your credit score and take several months or years to fix. Identity theft often goes unnoticed because some people never monitor their personal credit reports or file credit disputes
You might wonder, what is a credit dispute? As a consumer, you have the right to check your credit history and receive one free credit report from each of the bureaus annually. Also, according to CreditRepair.com, you’re entitled to ask questions about anything included within your credit reports.
The 10 publicly traded companies with the largest market capitalizations. Since October of last year the top 20 list has seen quite a bit of profit for stockholders (mainly in Apple and Chinese companies).
|4||Exxon Mobil||USA||$352 billion|
|5||Berkshire Hathaway||USA||$346 billion|
|6||China Mobile||China||$340 billion*|
|7||Industrial & Commercial Bank of China||China||$306 billion**|
|8||Wells Fargo||USA||$292 billion|
|10||Johnson & Johnson||USA||$273 billion|
Apple’s market cap is up $115 billion since the last list was created in October of 2014. That increase is more than 50% of the value of the 14th most valuable company in the world (in October 2014).
China Mobile increased $100 billion and moved into 6th place. Industrial and Commercial Bank of China (ICBC) increased $78 billion to move into 7th place.
Exxon Mobil lost over $50 billion (oil prices collapsed as OPEC decided to stop attempting to hold back supply in order to maximize the price of oil). Alibaba (the only non-USA company in the last list) and Walmart dropped out of the top 10.
The total value of the top 20 increased from $5.722 trillion to $6.046 trillion, an increase of $324 billion. Several companies have been replaced in the new top 20 list.
The next ten most valuable companies:
|11||JPMorgan Chase||USA||$250 billion|
|12||China Construction Bank||China||$250 billion**|
|13||Novartis (NVS)||Switzerland||$246 billion|
|14||Petro China||China||$237 billion|
|19||Hoffmann-La Roche (ROG.VX)||Switzerland||$231 billion|
Market capitalization shown are of the close of business last Friday, as shown on Yahoo Finance.
The current top 10 includes 8 USA companies and 2 Chinese companies. The 11th to 20th most valuable companies includes 4 Chinese companies, 3 Swiss companies and 3 USA companies. Facebook (after increasing $21 billion), China Construction Bank (increasing $68 billion – it is hard for me to be sure what the value is, I am not sure I am reading the statements correctly but this is my best guess) and Tencent moved into the top 20; which dropped Procter & Gamble, Royal Dutch Shell and Chevron from the top 20.
A few other companies of interest (based on their market capitalization):
A new study, Secure Retirement, New Expectations, New Rewards: Work in Retirement for Middle Income Boomers, explores how Boomers are blurring the lines between working for pay and retirement (as I have discussed in posts previously, phased retirement).
From their report:
The define middle income as income between $25,000 and $100,000 with less than $1 million in investable assets and boomers as those born between 1946 and 1964.
Nearly 70% of retirees retired earlier than they planned to. Many did so due to health issues. Only 3% retired so they could travel more.
48% of middle income boomer retirees wish they could work. For those wishing to, but unable to work: 73% cannot due to health, 17% can’t find a job and 10% must care for a loved one.
Nearly all (94%) nonretirees who plan to work in retirement would like some kind of special work arrangement, such as flex-time or telecommuting, but only about one third (37%) of currently employed retirees have such an arrangement.
It seems to me, both employees and employers need to be more willing to adapt. Workers seem to be more willing, even though they claim they are not: this is mainly a revealed versus stated preference, they claim they won’t accept lower pay but as all those that do show, they really are willing to do so, they just prefer not to. This report is based on survey data which always has issue; nevertheless there are interesting results to consider.
61% of middle income boomers who ware working say they do so because they want to work, not because they have to work.
Only 12% of working middle income boomer retirees work full time all year. 60% work part-time. 7% are seasonal while 16% are freelance and 4% are other. Of those identifying as non-retired 75% work full time while 17% are part-time.
49% plan to work into their 70’s or until their health fails.
51% are more satisfied with their post-retirement work than their pre-retirement work. 27% are equally satisfied with their jobs.
As I have stated in previous posts I think a phased approach to retirement is the most sensible thing for society and for us as individuals. Employers need to provide workable options with part time work. The continued health care mess in the USA makes this more of a challenge than it should be. With USA health care being closely tied to employment and it costing twice as much as other rich countries (for no better results) it complicates finding workable solutions to employment. The tiny steps taken in the Affordable Care Act are not even 10% of magnitude of changes needed for the USA health care system.
Related: Providing ways for those in their 60’s and 70’s (part time schedules etc.) – Companies Keeping Older Workers as Economy Slows (2009) – Keeping Older Workers Employed (2007) – Retirement, Working Longer to Make Ends Meet
I believe a huge amount of money will be made due to self driving cars. Figuring out who will make that money is not easy.
The value of being able to use the time you are moving to your destination instead of concentrating on driving is huge. And the reduction in deaths, serious injuries, injuries, damages, frustration and waste of time caused by accidents will be a huge benefit to society. Many people attempting to focus on phone calls or whatever else instead of driving create lots of that damage due to accidents.
There will also be big restructuring in how the economy works. Car sharing (such as Zipcar) will greatly increase I think and Uber and Lyft will likely be big players in a move to driverless cars. It sure seems like fewer cars will be needed. Space wasted on parking cars should be greatly reduced. Deliveries will likely see big changes. The impact on the economy will be huge. Even the health care system may see billions in savings.
Toyota is an amazingly well managed company. They should capitalize on any important shifts in the auto industry. But will they do so for driverless cars? Will there be a decrease in demand for cars so large that Toyota losses more than it wins? My guess is the decrease in demand globally will not be huge for the next 10 years (of course I could be wrong). My guess is Toyota will do well, but may be caught a bit behind, but then will come back strongly.
For those that don’t think Toyota can innovate, remember the Prius. Also they have been big investors in robots. That they haven’t turned robots into a big business yet though may be a sign of weakness (related to turning innovation into business profits).
I think Toyota will do the best of the large traditional car companies at taking advantage of this opportunity. Honda would be my second pick.
Google has been at the forefront of the driverless car efforts; I first wrote about self driving cars in 2010 about Google’s efforts (on my Curious Cat Engineering Blog). They are willing to take big gambles. They have a very good engineering culture. They are very profitable. They haven’t done much at creating profitable businesses outside of search and ads though. Still I think they may be huge winners in this area. I would guess by licensing technology to others, but things are involving quickly we will see how it plays out.
Tesla has a great engineering culture with a priority given on innovation and customer focus. They are in the car industry though I don’t lump them with the “traditional car companies.” I give weight to the value Elon Musk will bring them. They have big potential to be one of the big winners in a self driving car future. But they have yet to create much profit. Will they be able to turn promising engineering and leadership into a huge business? I think the odds are good but that is still a difficult challenge. Others have much more money than Tesla. Apple has so much money they could even buy Tesla easily.
Elon Musk recently spoke about the current state and near term future:
Musk also stressed that the new Tesla autopilot system, which uses radar, ultrasonic sensing and cameras to create a sort of super-smart cruise control, obstacle avoidance and lane-keeping system, is not the same as a self-driving car.
Apple seems like a long shot to me. It doesn’t seem like the type of business Apple has gone into in the past. The argument for doing so is the huge pile of cash they have (over $170 billion which is an absolutely huge number – it is also a bit fake in that they have started borrowing tens of billions instead of spending that cash). The moves with the cash are based on 2 circumstances. First they would have to pay large amounts of taxes to use that cash in the USA (taxes are delayed as long as they hold it overseas). And second interest rates are so low, borrowing money hardly costs them anything.
Solar energy capacity has been growing amazingly quickly the last few years. Part of the reason for this is the starting point was so low, making it easy to have large gains.
As with so many macro economic measures China has made enormous investments in solar energy the last few years. China’s increase in 2013 was larger than the USA’s total capacity at the end of 2013. Since solar energy use on a large scale is still small investments are quickly ramping up. Europe was a few years ahead of others putting countries like Germany, Spain and Italy far in the lead. China, the USA and Japan have been investing huge amounts the last few years and will likely leave those other than Germany (which already has such a large capacity) far behind very shortly.
In the USA, even after growing 60% in 2008, 53% in 2009, 71% in 2010, 86% in 2011, 83% in 2012 and 64% in 2013 solar energy capacity only totaled 1% of USA total electrical capacity. In 2013 hydropower was 6.8%, wind was 5.3% and biomass was 1.3%. The increase in solar capacity should continue to grow rapidly and is starting to make significant contributions to the macroeconomic energy picture.
When you look at total electricity generation solar only represented .5% (compared to 6.6% for hydropower 4.1% for wind and 1.5% for biomass).
USA data based on only solar capacity that is connected to the grid (and my guess would be that is the measure used in other countries too). Data is largely from that Department of energy report, with historical data for other countries pulled from previous editions.
The US Energy Information Agency (USEIA) expects the USA to add (net) 9,841 MW of wind capacity; 4,318 MW of natural gas capacity and 2,235 MW of solar in 2015. In 2015 they also predict a net decline of 12,922 MW of coal capacity. They also share that nuclear plants and natural gas combined-cycle generators having utilization factors 3 to 5 times those of wind and solar generators, which means capacity measures are significantly different from actually produced electricity measures.
The USEIA has predicted “global solar PV capacity seen rising from 98 GW in 2012 to 308 GW in 2018.” They predicted in 2018 China would have the most solar PV capacity followed by Germany, Japan and the USA.
The Solar Energy Industries Association (USA) states that 5,000 MW of solar capacity was added in the USA in 2013 and 7,000 MW in 2014. They forecast 8,000 MW to be added in 2015 and 12,000 MW in 2016.
Related: Solar Direct Investing Bonds – Chart of Global Wind Energy Capacity by Country 2005 to 2013 – Leasing or Purchasing a Solar Energy System For Your House – Nuclear Power Generation by Country from 1985-2010 – Google Invests $168 million in Largest Solar Tower Power Project (2011) – Molten Salt Solar Reactor Approved by California (2010) – 15 Photovoltaics Solar Power Innovations (2008)
USA health care spending increased at a faster rate than inflation in 2013, yet again; increasing 3.5%. Total health expenditures reached $2.9 trillion, 17.4% of the nation’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) or $9,255 per person.
While this remains bad news the rate at which heath care is increasingly costing those in the USA has been slower the last 5 years than it has been in past years. Basically the system is getting worse at a slower rate than we used to be, so while that isn’t great, it beats getting worse as quickly as we used to be. For the last 5 years the rate of increase has been between 3.6% and 4.1%.
GDP has increased more than inflation. As the GDP grows the economy has more production for society to split. The split between the extremely wealthy and the rest of society has become much more weighted to the extremely wealthy (they have taken most of the gains to the overall economy in the last 20 years). Health care has a similar track record of devouring the gains made by the economy. This has resulted in health care spending soaring over the decades in an absolute basis and as a percentage of GDP.
The slow down in how badly the health care system has performed in the USA has resulted in the share of GDP taken by the health care system finally stabilizing. Health care spending has remained near 17.4% since 2009. While hardly great news, this is much better news than we have had in the last 30 years from the USA health care system. The percentage of GDP taken by the USA health care system is double what other rich countries spend with no better health results.
It is similar to if a team started as a championship team and then got worse every year and now they have finally stopped getting even worse. Granted they have become the worst team in the league but if, say, their record has now been 5-55 for 3 years in a row, they at least are not winning fewer game in each subsequent year anymore. But you can hardly think you are doing a great job when you are clearly the worst team each and every year.
Obviously there is a need for much much more improvement in the USA health care system. Still stopping the growth in spending, as a percent of GDP, is a positive step toward drastically decreasing it to reach a level more in live with all other rich countries. Even this goal is only to have the USA reach a level of mediocrity. If you actually believe the USA can to better than mediocre that would imply a combination of drastic declines in spending (close to 50%) and drastic gains in outcomes. Decreasing spending by 50% would put the USA at essentially the definition of mediocre – middling result with average spending.
Health Spending by Type of Service or Product
- Hospital Care: Hospital spending increased 4.3% to $936.9 billion in 2013 compared to 5.7% growth in 2012. The lower growth in 2013 was influenced by growth in both prices and non-price factors (which include the use and intensity of services).
- Physician and Clinical Services: Spending on physician and clinical services increased 3.8% in 2013 to $586.7 billion, from 4.5% growth in 2012. Slower price growth in 2013 was the main cause of the slowdown, as prices grew less than 0.1%, due in part to the sequester and a zero-percent payment update.