I have written before about one of the most important changes I believe is needed in thinking about investing over the last few decades: Historical Stock Returns.
My belief is that there has been a fundamental change in the valuation of stocks. Long term data contains a problem in that we have generally realized that stocks are more valuable than realized 100 years ago. That means a higher based PE ration is reasonable and it distorts at what level stocks should be seen as very overpriced.
It also depresses expected long term returns, see my original post for details.
Since 2000, it’s become much more complicated. The rules have shifted. We used to say that this time is never different. I think what has happened from 2000 until today is a challenge to that. Since 1998, price-earnings ratios have averaged 60 percent higher than the prior 50 years, and profit margins have averaged 20 to 30 percent higher. That’s a powerful double whammy.
Diehard Ben Grahamites underestimated what earnings and stock prices would do. That began to be a drag after 1998.
I believe he is right. I believe in the value of paying attention to historical valuation and realizing markets often go to extremes. However, if you don’t account for a fundamental shift in valuation you see the market as overvalued too often.
So why have prices risen so high without a hint of euphoria — at least until very recently — or a perfect economy? My answer is that the discount rate structure has dropped by two percentage points. The yield on stocks is down by that amount and bonds too. The market has adjusted, reflecting low rates, low inflation and high profit margins.
Again I agree. Our political parties have aided big business in undermining market through monopolistic market control and that has been consistent (and increasing) for decades now. It makes stocks more valuable. They have moats due to their monopolistic position. And they extract economic rents from their customers (granted they put a large amount of those ill gotten gains into executives pockets but even so they gains are large enough to increase the value of the stocks).
On top of these strong forces we have the incredible interest rate conditions of the last decade. This is the one that is most worrisome for stock values in my opinion. It servers to boost stock prices (due to the poor returns for interest bearing investments). And I worry at some point this will change.
There is also likely at some point to be a political return to the value of capitalism and allowing free markets to benefit society. But for now we have strong entrenched political parties in the USA that have shown they will undermine market forces and provide monopolistic pricing power to large companies that provide cash to politicians and parties in order to have those parties undermine the capitalist market system.
I believe the stock market in the USA today may well be overvalued. I don’t think it is quite as simple as some of the measures (CAPE – cyclical adjusted PE ratio or market value to USA GDP) make it out to be though. As I have said for several years, I believe we are currently living through one of the more challenging investment climates (for long term investors seeking to minimize long term risk and make decent returns over the long term). I still think it is best just to stick with long term portfolio diversification strategies (though I would boost cash holdings and reduce bonds). And since I am normally light on bonds and high on stocks, for someone like me reducing stock holding for cash is also reasonable I believe (but even doing this I am more in stocks than most portfolio allocations would suggest).
The report, The Dwindling Taxable Share Of U.S. Corporate Stock, from the Brookings Institution Tax Policy Center includes some amazing data.
In 1965 foreign ownership of USA stocks totaled about 2%, in 1990 it had risen to 10% and by 2015 to 26%. That the foreign ownership is so high surprised me. Holdings in retirement accounts (defined benefit accounts, IRAs etc.) was under 10% in 1965, rose to over 30% in 1990 and to about 40% in 2015. The holdings in retirement accounts doesn’t really surprise me.
The combination of these factors (and a few others) has decreased the holding of USA stocks that are taxable in the USA from 84% in 1965 to 24% in 2015. From the report
As with much economic data it isn’t an easy matter to determine what values to use in order to get figures such as “foreign ownership.” Still this is very interesting data, and as the report suggests further research in this area would be useful.
Related: There is No Such Thing as “True Unemployment Rate” – The 20 Most Valuable Companies in the World – February 2016 (top 10 all based in the USA) – Why China’s Economic Data is Questionable – Data provides an imperfect proxy for reality (we often forget the proxy nature of data)
BenefitsCheckUp is a free service of the National Council on Aging. Many adults over 55 need help paying for prescription drugs, health care, utilities, and other basic needs. There are over 2,000 federal, state and private benefits programs available to help those living in the USA. But many people don’t know these programs exist or how they can apply.
BenefitsCheckUp asks a series of questions to help identify benefits that could save you money and cover the costs of everyday expenses in areas such as:
- Health care
- Employment Training
While the National Council on Aging is focused on benefits for older people the service actually finds many sources that are not dependent on age.
If you complete the overall questionnaire it is fairly long (about 30 questions) but still can be completed in 10 minutes. Also you can target your request (say to health care) and have a shorter questionnaire. They will provide links and contact information to various programs you may qualify for based on your answers.
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
This richest 1% continue to take advantage of economic conditions to amass more and more wealth at an astonishing rate. These conditions are perpetuated significantly by corrupt politicians that have been paid lots of cash by the rich to carry out their wishes.
One thing people in rich countries forget is how many of them are in the 1% globally. The 1% isn’t just Bill Gates and Warren Buffett. 1% of the world’s population is about 72 million people (about 47 million adults). Owning $1 million in assets puts you in the top .7% of wealthy adults (Global Wealth Report 2013’ by Credit Suisse). That report has a cutoff of US $798,000 to make the global 1%. They sensibly only count adults in the population so wealth of $798,000 puts you in the top 1% for all adults.
$100,000 puts you in the top 9% of wealthiest people on earth. Even $10,000 in net wealth puts you in the top 30% of wealthiest people. So while you think about how unfair it is that the system is rigged to support the top .01% of wealthy people also remember it is rigged to support more than 50% of the people reading this blog (the global 1%).
I do agree we should move away from electing corrupt politicians (which is the vast majority of them in DC today) and allowing them to continue perverting the economic system to favor those giving them lots of cash. Those perversions go far beyond the most obnoxious favoring of too-big-to-fail banking executives and in many ways extend to policies the USA forces on vassal states (UK, Canada, Australia, France, Germany, Japan…) (such as those favoring the copyright cartel, etc.).
Those actions to favor the very richest by the USA government (including significantly in the foreign policy – largely economic policy – those large donor demand for their cash) benefit the global 1% that are located in the USA. This corruption sadly overlays some very good economic foundations in the USA that allowed it to build on the advantages after World War II and become the economic power it is. The corrupt political system aids the richest but also damages the USA economy. Likely it damages other economies more and so even this ends up benefiting the 38% of the global .7% that live in the USA. But we would be better off if the corrupt political practices could be reduced and the economy could power economic gains to the entire economy not siphon off so many of those benefits to those coopting the political process.
The USA is home to 38% of top .7% globally (over $1,000,000 in net assets).
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Oxfam published a report on these problems that has some very good information: Political capture and economic inequality
The Center for Retirement Research at Boston College is a tremendous resource for those planning for, or in, retirement. The center created the National Retirement Risk Index (NRRI) to capture a macroeconomic level measure of how those in the USA are progressing toward retirement.
Based on the Federal Reserve’s 2013 Survey of Consumer Finances the Center updated the NRRI results (the entire article is a very good read).
The lower the risk number in the chart the better, so things have not been going well since the 1990s for those in the USA saving for retirement.
As the report discusses their are significant issues with retirement planning that defy easy prediction; this makes things even more challenging for those saving for retirement. The report discusses the difficulty placed on retirees by the Fed’s extremely low interest rate policy (a policy that provides billions each year to too-big-too-fail banks – hardly the reward that should be provided for bringing the world to economic calamity but never-the-less that transfer of wealth from retirees to too-big-to-fail banks is the policy the Fed has chosen).
That exacerbates the problems of too little savings during the working career for those in the USA. The continued evidence is that those in the USA continue to spend too much today and save too little. Also you have to expect the Fed and politicians will continue to make policy that favors their friends at too-big-fail banks and hedge funds and the like. You can’t expect them to behave differently than they have been the last 50 years. That means the likely actions by the government to take from median income people to aid the richest 1% (such as bailing out the bankers with super low interest rate policies and continue to subsidize losses and privatize their winning bets) will continue. You need to have extra savings to support those policies. Of course we could change to do things differently but there is no realistic evidence of any move to do so. Retirement planning needs to be based on evidence, not hopes about how things should be.
Related: How Much of Current Income to Save for Retirement – Save What You Can, Increase Savings as You Can Do So – Don’t Expect to Spend Over 4% of Your Retirement Investment Assets Annually – Retirement Planning: Looking at Assets (2012) – How Much Will I Need to Save for Retirement? (2009)
Delaying when you start collecting Social Security benefits in the USA can enhance your personal financial situation. You may start collecting benefits at 62, but each year you delay collecting increases your payment by 5% to 8% (see below). If you retire before your “normal social security retirement age” (see below) your payments are reduced from the calculated monthly payment (which is based on your earnings and the number of years you paid into the social security fund). If you delay past that age you get a 8% bonus added to your monthly payment for each year you delay.
The correct decision depends on your personal financial situation and your life expectancy. The social security payment increases are based on life expectancy for the entire population but if your life expectancy is significantly different that can change what option makes sense for you. If you live a short time you won’t make up for missing payments (the time while you delayed taking payments) with the increased monthly payment amount.
The “normal social security retirement age” is set in law and depends on when you were born. If you were born prior to 1938 it is 65 and if you are born after 1959 it is 67 (in between those dates it slowly increases. Those born in 1959 will reach the normal social security retirement age of 67 in 2026.
The social security retirement age has fallen far behind demographic trends – which is why social security deductions are so large today (it used to be social security payments for the vast majority of people did not last long at all – they died fairly quickly, that is no longer the case). The way to cope with this is either delay the retirement ago or increase the deductions. The USA has primarily increased the deductions, with a tiny adjustment of the retirement age (increasing it only 2 years over several decades). We would be better off if they moved back the normal retirement age at least another 3 to 5 years (for the payment portion – given the broken health care system in the USA retaining medicare ages as they are is wise).
In the case of early retirement, a benefit is reduced 5/9 of one percent for each month (6.7% annually) before normal retirement age, up to 36 months. If the number of months exceeds 36, then the benefit is further reduced 5/12 of one percent per month (5% annually).
For delaying your payments after you have reached normal social security retirement age increases payments by 8% annually (there were lower amounts earlier but for people deciding today that is the figure to use).
Lets take a quick look at a simple example:
I have long thought the binary retirement system we have primarily used is less than ideal. It would be better to transition from full time work to part time work to retirement as people move into retirement. According to this study, from the University of Michigan Retirement Research Center, the phased retirement option is becoming more common.
The paper doesn’t really focus much on what I would find interesting about the details of how we are (or mainly, how we are not) adjusting to make partial retirement fit better in our organization (the paper is focused on a different topic). The paper does provide some interesting details about the changes with retirement currently.
In fact, while the Fed has pumped about $2.8 trillion into the financial system through nearly five years of asset buying.
Bank excess reserves deposited with the New York Fed have mushroomed from less than $2 billion before the financial crisis to $2.17 trillion today. In essence, roughly two-thirds of the money the Fed pumped into the banking system never left the building.
The Fed now pays banks for their deposits. These payment reduce the Fed’s profits (the Fed send profits to the treasury) by paying those profits to banks so they can lavish funds on extremely overpaid executives that when things go wrong explain that they really have no clue what their organization does. It seems very lame to transfer money from taxpayers to too-big-to-fail executives but that is what we are doing.
Quantitative easing is an extraordinary measure, made necessary to bailout the too-big-to-fail institutions and the economies they threatened to destroy if they were not bailed out. It is a huge transfer payment from society to banks. It also end up benefiting anyone taking out huge amounts of new loads at massively reduced rates. And it massively penalizes those with savings that are making loans (so retirees etc. planing on living on the income from their savings). It encourages massively speculation (with super cheap money) and is creating big speculative bubbles globally.
This massive intervention is a very bad policy. The bought and paid for executive and legislative branches that created, supported and continue to nurture the too-big-to-fail eco-system may have made the choice – ruin the economy for a decade (or who knows how long) or bail out those that caused the too-big-to-fail situation (though only massively bought and paid for executive branch could decline to prosecute those that committed such criminally economically catastrophic acts).
The government is saving tens of billions a year (maybe even hundred of billions) due to artificially low interest rates. To the extent the government is paying artificially low rates to foreign holders of debt the USA makes out very well. To the extent they are robbing retirees of market returns it is just a transfer from savers to debtors, the too-big-to-fail banks and the federal government. It is a very bad policy that should have been eliminated as soon as the too-big-to-fail caused threat to the economy was over. Or if it was obvious the bought and paid for leadership was just going to continue to nurture the too-big-to-fail structure in order to get more cash from the too-big-to-fail donors it should have been stopped as enabling critically damaging behavior.
It has created a wild west investing climate where those that create economic calamity type risks are likely to continue to be rewarded. And average investors have very challenging investing options to consider. I really think the best option for someone that has knowledge, risk tolerance and capital is to jump into the bubble created markets and try to build up cash reserves for the likely very bad future economic conditions. This is tricky, risky and not an option for most everyone. But those that can do it can get huge Fed created bubble returns that if there are smart and lucky enough to pull off the table at the right time can be used to survive the popping of the bubble.
Maybe I will be proved wrong but it seems they are leaning so far into bubble inflation policies that the only way to get competitive returns is to accept the bubble nature of the economic structure and attempt to ride that wave. It is risky but the supposedly “safe” options have been turned dangerous by too-big-to-fail accommodations.
Related: The Risks of Too Big to Fail Financial Institutions Have Only Gotten Worse – Is Adding More Banker and Politician Bailouts the Answer? – Anti-Market Policies from Our Talking Head and Political Class
I think we could use some innovation in our model of a career. I have thought retirement being largely binary was lame since I figured out that is mainly how it worked. You work 40 hours a week (1,800 – 2,000 hours a year) and then dropped to 0 hours, all year long, from them on.
It seems to me more gradual retirement makes a huge amount of sense (for society, individuals and our economy). That model is available to people, for example those that can work as consultants (and some others) but we would benefit from more options.
Why do we have to start work at 22 (or 18 or 26 or whenever) and then work 40 or so straight years and then retire? Why not gap years (or sabbaticals)? Also why can’t we just go part time if we want.
The broken health care system in the USA really causes problems with options (being so tightly tied to full time work). But I have convinced employers to let me go part-time (while working in orgs that essentially have 0 part time workers). And I am now basically on gap year(s)/sabbatical now. It can be done, but it certainly isn’t encouraged. You have to go against the flow and if you worry about being a conventional hire you may be nervous.
Related: Working Less: Better Lives and Less Unemployment – Why don’t we take five years out of retirement and spread them throughout your working life? – Retiring Overseas is an Appealing Option for Some Retirees – Living in Malaysia as an Expat – 67 Is The New 55