It was a turkey of a week.
The United States and China continued to spar over trade and other issues. An expert from Moody’s told Frank Tang of the South China Morning Post (SCMP) the United States-China dispute will not be easily resolved:
“Look at the speech Vice President Pence gave in Papua New Guinea at the Apec conference. He didn’t just talk about trade, but also intellectual property, the South China Sea, forced technology transfers. So there’s a whole long list of issues the U.S. administration is now raising…”
Financial Times reported the Organization for Economic Coordination and Development (OECD) anticipates global economic growth could stumble if trade tensions escalate.
SCMP reported investors are hoping for greater clarity around trade issues when President Donald Trump meets with China’s President Xi Jinping at next week’s G-20 Summit.
The climate report added a new dimension to uncertainty about economic growth last week, reported Fortune. Black Friday shoppers may have missed it, but the U.S. government released the 4th National Climate Assessment on Friday. Ed Crooks of Financial Times summarized some of the report’s economic findings:
“The largest costs of climate change for the United States this century were expected to come from lost ability to work outdoors, heat-related deaths, and flooding…If [greenhouse gas] emissions are not curbed it warns, ‘it is very likely that some physical and ecological impacts will be irreversible for thousands of years, while others will be permanent.’”
Major U.S. stocks indices finished the week lower. It was the biggest drop during Thanksgiving week since 2011, according to CNBC.com.
Americans are hard working and generous. Take a guess: How many hours do Americans work each year relative to Europeans?
Here are a few hints provided by The Economist and Expatica:
So, how many hours do Americans work relative to our European counterparts?
In a typical year, Americans work 100 hours more than the British, 300 hours more than the French, and 400 hours more than the Germans, on average. The Economist reported:
“In 2017 the average American took 17.2 days of vacation. That was a slight rise on the 16 days recorded in 2014 but still below the 1978-2000 average of 20.3 days. Around half of all workers do not take their full allotment of days off, which averages around 23 days. In effect, many Americans spend part of the year working for nothing, donating the equivalent of $561 on average to their firms.”
That’s pretty generous.
There is a case to be built for the importance of taking more vacation time, according to the Harvard Business Review. “Statistically, taking more vacation results in greater success at work as well as lower stress and more happiness at work and home.”
Food for thought as you consider New Year’s Resolutions.
Weekly Focus – Think About It
“When you are inspired by some great purpose, some extraordinary project, all your thoughts break their bonds: your mind transcends limitations, your consciousness expands in every direction, and you find yourself in a new, great, and wonderful world. Dormant forces, faculties, and talents become alive, and you discover yourself to be a greater person by far than you ever dreamed yourself to be.”
--Patanjali, Hindu author and philosopher
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https://www.ft.com/content/e563446e-ed0e-11e8-89c8-d36339d835c0 (or go to https://s3-us-west-2.amazonaws.com/peakcontent/+Peak+Commentary/11-26-18_FinancialTimes-US-China_Trade_War_Risks_Heavy_Toll_on_Growth-Footnote_2.pdf)
https://www.ft.com/content/216b5ed2-ef68-11e8-89c8-d36339d835c0 (or go to https://s3-us-west-2.amazonaws.com/peakcontent/+Peak+Commentary/11-26-18_FinancialTimes-Climate_Change_Could_Cost_US_Billions-Footnote_5.pdf)
https://www.economist.com/business/2018/11/24/americans-need-to-take-a-break (or go to https://s3-us-west-2.amazonaws.com/peakcontent/+Peak+Commentary/11-26-18_TheEconomist-Americans_Need_to_Take_a_Break-Footnote_7.pdf)
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Keep your eyes on the horizon.
Motion sickness happens when your body receives conflicting signals from your eyes, ears, and other body parts. One way to manage the anxiety and queasiness that accompany the condition is by keeping your eyes on the horizon.
The motion of the stock markets has been causing some investors to experience similar symptoms. Surprisingly, the remedy is the same: Keep your eyes on the horizon – your financial planning horizon.
A planning horizon is the length of time over which an investor would like to achieve his or her financial goals. For instance, perhaps you want to pay off student loans by age 30, fund a child’s college tuition when they reach age 18, or retire at age 60.
When stock markets are volatile, an investor may receive conflicting signals from various sources, which may induce anxiety and queasiness. When you start to worry about the effects of market volatility on your portfolio, remember stock markets have trended higher, historically, even after significant downturns.
For instance, in 2008, during the financial crisis, the Dow Jones Industrial Average lost about 33 percent. It finished the year at 8,776. The drop sparked tremendous anxiety among investors who wondered whether their portfolios would ever recover.
Last week, the Dow closed at 25,413.
While stock markets have trended higher historically, there is no guarantee they always will. That’s why asset allocation and diversification are so important. A carefully selected mix of assets and investments can reduce the impact of any single asset class or investment on a portfolio’s performance. Keep in mind, of course, past performance is no guarantee of future results.
Last week, stock markets finished lower. MarketWatch reported U.S. stocks moved higher on Friday after President Trump indicated he might not pursue tariffs against China.
How are you feeling about financial markets?
Some votes are still being counted but investors appear to be happy with the outcome of mid-term elections. Major U.S. stock indices in the United States moved higher last week, and the American Association of Individual Investors (AAII) Sentiment Survey reported:
“Optimism among individual investors about the short-term direction of stock prices is above average for just the second time in nine weeks…Bullish sentiment, expectations that stock prices will rise over the next six months, rose 3.4 percentage points to 41.3 percent. This is a five-week high. The historical average is 38.5 percent.”
Before you get too excited about the rise in optimism, you should know pessimism also remains at historically high levels. According to AAII:
“Bearish sentiment, expectations that stock prices will fall over the next six months, fell 3.3 percentage points to 31.2 percent. The drop was not steep enough to prevent pessimism from remaining above its historical average of 30.5 percent for the eighth time in nine weeks.”
So, from a historic perspective, investors are both more bullish and more bearish than average. If Sir John Templeton was correct, the mixed emotions of investors could be good news for stock markets. Templeton reportedly said, “Bull markets are born on pessimism, grow on skepticism, mature on optimism, and die on euphoria.”
While changes in sentiment are interesting market measurements, they shouldn’t be the only factor that influences investment decision-making. The most important gauge of an individual’s financial success is his or her progress toward achieving personal life goals – and goals change over time.
Stocks recovered some ground last week and then stumbled over unemployment.
Major U.S. stock indices faltered Friday after the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported on a popular ‘lagging’ economic indicator – unemployment. (Remember, lagging indicators describe what has happened in the past.) The BLS reported:1, 2, 3
“The unemployment rate remained at 3.7 percent in October, and the number of unemployed persons was little changed at 6.1 million. Over the year, the unemployment rate and the number of unemployed persons declined by 0.4 percentage point and 449,000, respectively.”
Reuters reported the number of Americans receiving unemployment benefits was at the lowest level in 45 years. That’s good news, but it’s old news. Again, unemployment is a lagging indicator and the report reflected what happened in October.4
The stock market, on the other hand, is a ‘leading’ economic indicator. It moves in response to investors’ expectations for the future – and recent gyrations suggest investors aren’t certain what to think. Barron’s Daren Fonda wrote, “The market’s 6.9 percent slide in October and the stock averages’ wild swings are testing everyone’s mettle.”2, 5
Economists are uncertain about what’s to come, too. Kevin L. Kliesen, in an Economic Synopses on the St. Louis Federal Reserve website, wrote, “Historically, a trough in the unemployment rate also tends to be a reliable predictor of a business recession…an economic analyst is nonetheless never sure that a trough has occurred. Indeed, the unemployment rate can move up and down over the expansion.”6
There is one thing many analysts think is likely. They expect the Federal Reserve to increase the Fed funds rate so the U.S. economy does not overheat. Paul Kiernan at The Wall Street Journal reported, “Robust hiring and wage gains last month leave the Federal Reserve all but certain to raise interest rates in December and on course to continue gradually lifting them next year.”7
Higher interest rates are expected to keep inflation in check by slowing economic growth.8
Despite Friday’s stumble, major U.S. stock indices finished the week higher.1