Federal Reserve

A is A

© Can Stock Photo / hurricanehank

At the height of ancient Greek civilization, the philosopher Aristotle taught the Law of Identity. A is A. Everything has a single identity, not two or more, and two different things do not share the same identity. A is A. A dog is not a cat; an orange is not an orangutan, an olive is an olive.

One wonders what has been lost through the centuries, when considering Federal Reserve Bank policy. The Fed, as it is known, is charged with a dual mandate. It is supposed to promote maximum employment and stable prices.

If Aristotle were alive today, he might teach that stable prices are stable prices. This would be in accordance with the Law of Identity. A thing is what it is. Yet the Fed has adopted a 2% inflation target, supposedly in accordance with its mandate of price stability1.

At 2% inflation, a dollar today buys only 98 cents worth of goods next year and about 96 cents the year after. Prices would double every 35 years or so, under this inflation target. Over the course of a century, a dollar would shrink to about 12 cents in purchasing power. In what sense is this ‘price stability?’ It violates the simple precept that Aristotle taught 2,300 years ago.

One error some people make is presuming the things we can measure are important, and the things we cannot measure are unimportant. Higher dollar volumes of activity are presumed to be good. So when productivity or technological improvements reduce prices of things we purchase and use, we are obviously better off—but conventional economic statistics may indicate otherwise.

There are ramifications for us as investors. The threats to our prosperity from inflation may be discounted by the Federal Reserve. The advantages of technological progress are understated. We think this means we need to be more sensitive to the damage that future inflation might do to our wealth, and the opportunities presented by technological progress.

Clients, if you have any questions about this or any other pertinent topic, please email us or call.

1Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System, https://www.federalreserve.gov/faqs/economy_14400.htm


The opinions voiced in this material are for general information only and are not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual. All performance referenced is historical and is no guarantee of future results.

The opinions expressed in this material do not necessarily reflect the views of LPL Financial.

The economic forecasts set forth in this material may not develop as predicted and there can be no guarantee that strategies promoted will be successful.

This is a hypothetical example and is not representative of any specific investment. Your results may vary.

Peril or Opportunity?

© Can Stock Photo Inc. / flocu

Everybody talks about “the market” but each company in the market has its own story. We need to revisit this to understand the errors we perceive in a currently popular theory.

Some say that actions by the Federal Reserve and other central banks have artificially pumped up asset prices across the board, so there is no safe place to invest. When we look at the pieces of the market, however, a different story emerges.

Some sectors are far below their peak prices from many years ago. Many oil and natural resource companies are trading at only one-third to two-thirds of past high points. The financial sector has actually lost money over the decade ending July 31st.1

Within these and other sectors, we see opportunities. So we reject the idea that everything is too high to own.

At the same time, we know that there are distortions and potential bubbles in some parts of the investment universe. Even though we know the Federal Reserve will eventually get it right (because the markets force it to), we’ve described why we do not like current policy. We have also talked about the potential bubble we see in the bond market, and what might burst it.

Bottom line, the investment universe has rarely been this interesting. It contains both opportunity and peril, the potential for growth and stagnation. As always, we are studying hard to understand the pieces we should own. Please call or email if you would like to discuss your situation.

1As defined by Standard & Poor’s and calculated by State Street Global Advisors


The opinions voiced in this material are for general information only and are not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual.

Screaming Toddlers and the Federal Reserve

© Can Stock Photo Inc. / kondrytskyi

How many times have you read how easy it is to lose weight or build wealth or improve your health simply by developing your capacity for delayed gratification? Relax, we aren’t here to hector you or lecture you. Instead, we would like to explain how and why defective but popular policies are going to cost our future selves.

Resisting the temptation for a smaller but immediate reward in order to gain a larger or more enduring reward later—that is the concept of delayed gratification. The ability to exercise it has been linked to improvements in physical health, mental health, social networks, and wealth. In an economic sense, deferred spending (or saving) is positive because it builds capital that can make us more productive, with potentially higher income and net worth in the future.

Toddlers generally lack a firm concept of “later.” When one decides that a lollipop is needed, talk of waiting until after dinner or tomorrow doesn’t really fly. If you know why they call toddlerhood the “Terrible Twos,” you understand that tantrums work against the idea of delayed gratification.

Our Federal Reserve and other central banks around the world are impatient with the pace of economic growth. One of the supposed “problems” they’ve identified is that we are not spending enough. The savings rate—the part of our incomes that we do not spend—is higher than it has been for quite a while. The Fed knows we could spend more money if we wanted to, but we are stubbornly saving it.

Our economy will be stronger in the future because collectively we are exercising delayed gratification with our money. But the immediate gratification of faster economic growth right now is being sacrificed so that you and I can have stronger balance sheets, less debt, and more money on hand.

You may have noticed that the Zero Interest Rate Policy has drastically reduced the return on savings. And now, in the next step, some central banks are fostering negative interest rates. It is hard to think about, so let’s look at an example. At negative interest rates, you might buy a $10,000 CD and get back only $9,900 at maturity.

Why would the “experts” inflict this upon us? In order to make us spend money instead of saving it. It is like the Zero Interest Rate Policy, only worse. In other words, the central banks are like toddlers who have seen the lollipop and want the lollipop and it better happen NOW!

The Federal Reserve Board has members of varying opinions: some are like toddlers, some behave as adults. Thankfully nobody has begun to institute negative interest rates in the United States.

Our slipping national capacity for delayed gratification is a problem at the leadership level. We want you to know how this might affect you. We are also paying attention and working hard to figure out what we should own, and why, in our investments.

As always, please write or call if you would like to discuss this or other pertinent issues.


The opinions voiced in this material are for general information only and are not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual.

The economic forecasts set forth in the presentation may not develop as predicted and there can be no guarantee that strategies promoted will be successful.

Not All That Glitters is Gold

© www.canstockphoto.com / scanrail

The gold standard is a seductive idea that tends to emerge in times of economic confusion. We see this today with the anxiety surrounding the Federal Reserve’s long-anticipated rate increase. Gold is synonymous with wealth, and a gold-based currency represents stability in a world of economic uncertainty… or so we think.

Unfortunately the reality is more complex. The value of a currency is based on two things: the amount of that currency, and the amount of economic wealth it represents. If our supply of currency increases at the same rate as the supply of “stuff” for it to buy, prices remain stable.

If the supply of currency grows faster than the supply of “stuff”, it takes more currency to buy the same amount. Prices rise, and then we have inflation. The gold standard is not a guarantee against this: sudden increases in the gold supply (such as from a mining boom) can create spikes of inflation in a gold-based economy. This risk decreases as we accumulate more gold stockpiles, but gold supplies can still be manipulated by currency speculators in the open market, doing serious damage to gold-based economies.

Worse, even if we could keep the supply of gold stable, the supply of “stuff” is not. If a large amount of wealth is wiped out (by wars, natural disasters, or economic collapse) then we have inflation again as there is now too much currency for the shrinking amount of stuff, creating a “double whammy” of inflation on top of economic hardship.

If the currency supply fails to keep up with the “stuff” supply (as is likely when mineral gold reserves become depleted), it’s just as bad. In this case, the currency becomes more valuable and prices decrease. We have deflation, the opposite of inflation. This sounds fantastic at first: all our money becomes more valuable! But then we have a problem, because who wants to spend money today if they know it will be more valuable tomorrow? Everyone begins hoarding money instead of spending or investing it, creating an economic slowdown.

We don’t always agree with the Fed’s policies. However, we believe that having someone influencing the money supply on purpose is a better way to stabilize prices than crossing our fingers and hoping that our supply of shiny metals just happens to expand and contract itself as needed.


The opinions voiced in this material are for general information only and are not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual.

Investing involves risk including loss of principal. No strategy assures success or protects against loss.

Expecting the Expected

© www.canstockphoto.com | trekandshoot

In our quest to make sense of the world, one recurring theme is the potential gap between expectations and reality. We humans do one thing very well: we love to take things too far. Thus we have bubbles, manias, and fads, unrealistic expectations and the Kardashians.

When there is a universal expectation of something, the expectation can be said to be “already in the price.” If the expectation comes to pass, there will be little impact on the market. If reality unfolds differently, however, the market will move.

For example, several years ago when all the Washington news was about the “fiscal cliff,” the country needed Congress to do the right thing to avoid catastrophe. Congress ranks in public estimation somewhere lower than a snake’s belly, so the consensus expectation was for catastrophe. The markets performed poorly as a result.

But as the deadline approached, it seemed evident to us that expectations were SO low, there was very little chance that Congress could perform worse than expected. We expected Congress to produce a catastrophe, and that expectation was “already in the price.” If Congress either did as expected or better, the market might remain steady or go up. Since Congress could hardly do worse than expected, we felt that actual risk was lower than most others perceived.

This understanding enabled us to stay the course amidst great uncertainty, to our benefit.

One of the most-talked about issues today is whether or when the Federal Reserve Board will raise interest rates. We all know that this will happen sooner or later; this knowledge is presumably already in the market. Hence, we see little advantage in fussing over the probabilities.

When something happens that everyone knows was going to happen, there usually is not a big effect on the market. So we spend our time trying to find unexpected opportunities instead of expected problems.


The opinions voiced in this material are for general information only and are not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual.

The economic forecasts set forth in the presentation may not develop as predicted and there can be no guarantee that strategies promoted will be successful.

Everything You Need to Know About the Federal Reserve “Conspiracy”

Federal Reserve - stock photo

We hear a lot about the Federal Reserve. It’s a poorly understood entity that seems to be in the news an awful lot for something most of the public knows so little about.

We have a firm understanding of what the Federal Reserve does, and we know that it is just a human institution like any other, subject to the same virtues and flaws as the rest of us. There is a vocal minority however that is concerned with the idea of a vast and powerful conspiracy with the Federal Reserve at its helm. They fear that a small handful of unelected people control everything at the expense of our legitimate elective government and will ultimately be our ruination.

There is a glaring problem with this theory: the hundred years since the Federal Reserve was founded has seen more progress in our country, in our living standards, and in goods and services that make our lives better than was done in the thousand (or two thousand, or ten thousand) years before.

In other words, if a handful of people really are controlling everything, they’ve apparently been doing a wonderful job for us so far.