interest rate

Burning Up Money

© Can Stock Photo / ancientimages

No doubt you probably noticed the turmoil in the stock market over the past several weeks. You might have assumed, if you watched the stock indexes hit a low of more than 10% below their peak, that some particularly ugly piece of news had hit the market.

If so, you would probably be surprised to hear that the biggest news stories leading to the correction were that the economy was booming and unemployment was at record lows. So why were investors panicking at this seemingly positive news? The answer is inflation.

You see, as the economy grows, increasing wealth leads to increasing demand. This means higher prices–or, in economic terms, inflation. This creates a couple of problems for the stock market. In the long term, rising prices make it harder to maintain economic growth and may contribute to an eventual crash. In the short term, both economic growth and inflation increase the pressure on the Federal Reserve to raise interest rates, making bonds and other interest-driven investments more attractive relative to stocks.

We are deeply skeptical of this short-term rationale. While bond investors may salivate at the prospect of higher interest rates in the future, we think this is short-sighted. Tomorrow’s higher interest bonds may sound attractive, but you would be foolish to buy them if the interest rate is going to be even higher the day after. On February 5th, when the stock market was posting headline-grabbing declines fueled by interest rate paranoia, investors were actually buying up bonds–bonds that stood to lose purchasing power as soon as better, higher interest bonds started being issued!

The longer term concern, that inflation may spell the beginning of the end of the current economic boom, is a bigger threat. We have warned for a long time that the Federal Reserve was likely to wind up overshooting the mark on its 2% inflation rate target. We think this is even more likely now that the government has passed a very stimulus-minded tax package. Cutting taxes during the middle of a boom is likely just throwing gasoline on the fire: it is possible we may see some explosive growth, so in the short run we are excited about the market, but in the long run the economy may just burn out that much faster.

Clients, many of you have been in business with us long enough to remember the roller-coaster years we saw around 2007. The dip at the start of February may potentially be forgotten as the market forges on ahead, but it will not be the last one. The roller coaster is coming back, and although we look forward to the ride we will keep a mindful eye for the day we may need to think about getting off. Call us if you have any questions about the market and the broader economic outlook.


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. All indices are unmanaged and may not be invested into directly.

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

Four Trends for Fall, 2017 Edition

© Can Stock Photo / javarman

The gap between consensus expectations and reality as it unfolds is where profit potential lives. This is why we put so much effort into studying trends and the ramifications for investors.

Here are four trends we’ve been watching for some time:

1. The cost of solar electricity and battery storage, being forms of technology, are declining year by year. In some places around the world, this combination may already be the most cost-effective way to provide new electrification. We believe we will see the end of fossil-fuel-powered generating plant construction within the next decade or so. This will not happen because of environmental activism, but because of compelling economics.

The investment ramifications are manifold. There will be winners and losers, and we have been investing in accordance with our developing understanding of how this is going to play out.

2. The world’s most populous democracy, India, may be poised for decades of economic growth much like China experienced over the past thirty years. Moreover, by 2050 India is projected to be the most populous country in the world. China will be surpassed as a result of its short-sighted ‘one child policy’ that created a huge demographic challenge with an aging population.

By getting in early, even a small investment allocation may make for significant potential gains over years ahead. No guarantees, of course.

3. The airline industry, after nearly a century of cutthroat competition that resulted in wave after wave of bankruptcies, has consolidated into a handful of companies that compete much more gently, to their mutual profit. The energy revolution may result in lower prices for fuel in the future—a large part of airline operating costs. And continuing development around the globe bodes well for air traffic volume trends.

The consensus expectation in the market seems to be for a return to the bad old days of costly competition. But we believe the industry has fundamentally changed due to the dramatically lower number of competitors after years of mergers and consolidation. Consequently, stocks in some of the major airlines appear to be bargains.

4. The Federal Reserve and other central banks around the world are set to begin unwinding the interventions used to effect the so-called “zero interest rate policy”, the policy by which the Fed kept the effective federal funds rate close to 0% following the recession of 20081. While restoring returns on bank savings and certificates may be a good thing for savers, rising rates on bonds will cause the value of existing bonds to go down. When you think about it, a 2% bond cannot sell for its full face amount in a 4% world.

Many parts of the fixed income universe appear to be distorted by the central bank policies. We believe that massive amounts of money flowed into mispriced assets in an attempt to find safety.

Clients, these are the things that have caught our attention. We cannot know the future, but it makes sense to try to get a better handle on it than the average market participant. We can offer no guarantees except that we will continue to put our best effort into the endeavor. If you have any questions or comments or insights to add, please email us or call.

1Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, Federal Reserve Economic Data


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.

No strategy assures success or protects against loss.

Stock investing involves risk including loss of principal.

Bonds are subject to market and interest rate risk if sold prior to maturity. Bond values will decline as interest rates rise and bonds are subject to availability and change in price.