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Tuesday September 26th 2017

Mixed News: U.S. Economy Still Up and Down

In the aftermath of the subprime mortgage crisis, the economy quickly fell into recession as credit markets tightened up considerably due to fears of continued losses. Despite the efforts of government policy makers to revive the gasping economy, things remain in a precarious state. The Treasury Department arranged for a bailout for many of the largest investment banks, most of whom were holding on to billions of worthless assets. Congress agreed to a $800 billion stimulus package in an attempt to boost overall demand throughout the economy. In addition, the Federal Reserve is already engaging in its second round of quantitative easing, buying up large amounts of Treasury bonds to keep short-term interest rates near zero percent. It’s begging to feel a bit like an amusement park ride.

Officially, the American economy has snapped out of the recession. GDP growth in the first quarter was 1.8 percent, a not very strong number but an increasing one nonetheless. Overall, the recovery has been very anemic. Indeed, there are real fears that the economy could slip into a double-dip recession unless appropriate measures are taken. Of course, there have been a few positive signs in the economy over the past year. The stock market did very well in 2010; the S&P 500 returned 15 percent last year. Many businesses appear to be recovering from the 2008 recession, although they seem reluctant to reinvest those profits given the precarious state of the economy. Unemployment has been trending downward over the past few months, but few economists would call such job growth numbers encouraging.

Unfortunately, there seems to be as many negative numbers as positive ones. Hourly wage growth grew at only two percent last year. And this has been part of a much longer trend of stagnant wage growth over the past thirty years, especially for those in the lower-half of the income distribution. It is true that this is at least partially due to increases in health care expenditures made by employers on behalf of employees, but there has been a disconnect between productivity and wages. As long as unemployment remains so high, there will be little upward pressure on wages.

The even more discouraging fact is that unemployment is probably even higher than the official rate reported by the government. Once you account for workers who are underemployed, such as full-time workers only working part-time or workers in jobs well below their skill set, and workers who have dropped out of the job market completely, the unemployment rate is closer to 15 percent.

As wages have stagnated or fallen, many workers are seeing their standard of living fall thanks to rising prices in many consumer staples like gasoline and food. Indeed, gasoline is quickly reaching an average of $4 a gallon, further reducing available disposable income. Overall, food prices are expected to rise four percent this year, although many important foodstuffs will increase in price even more than that.

On top of all of this, the government is currently operating under a $1.6 trillion budget deficit. As the debate in Washington turns from economic stimulus to debt reduction, the government may inadvertently squash a nascent recovery by reducing aggregate demand through broad-based spending cuts. Indeed, some economists have argued that even more spending may be necessary to boost the economy suffering under a large amount of excess capacity.

Unfortunately, the American economy is suffering from a variety of woes and it appears that the government has already exhausted most of its standard policy prescriptions. Interest rates are as low as they are going to get and government spending is not likely to get any higher. In the end, we can likely expect a very slow recovery into the foreseeable future.


Watch Out for these Newbie Investment Mistakes

While investing is a means of growing money for the future, the business of investing is not a get rich quick scheme. Having little knowledge, but a willingness to gain financial freedom, many newbie investors make mistakes. Individuals should gain as much knowledge as possible before entering any investment choice. The greater the knowledge base, the fewer the pitfalls faced by investors.

Fee Impact

Whether playing the stock market online, employing the expertise of a stockbroker, financial adviser or merely investing in mutual funds, there are many fees involved. Trading fees run around $500 yearly.
These fees do not include expenses charged monthly for managing the accounts. Mutual funds also carry management fees. Shop around; compare rates charged by various brokerage firms and financial experts. Get quotes for investing in different types of long-term funds. Always know the fees involved.

Understand the Difference between IRA Accounts

While some IRA accounts save on current tax expenses, consider the tax burden involved when liquidating or withdrawing money from these accounts in 20, 30 or more years from now. Taxes will more than likely increase at exponential rates. Individuals put taxed money into a Roth IRA account. Down the road when liquidating the account or making withdrawals, the money is tax-free.

A Diversified Portfolio

“Don’t put all your eggs in one basket,” almost certainly typifies investing. Diversification does not mean investing in two dozen different stocks. If the market fails, most these investments would probably crumble. Rather, invest in various choices including bonds, index funds, IRA accounts, and stocks. This way, if one dips, others continue to grow.

Playing Follow the Leader

Investing in the stock market because of the advice gained by someone else might be risky business. Potential investors must find out how much knowledge the other person has, with how much experience he or she has with stock market investments. Why does this person believe the stock is a good investment? Beware of possible scams. Often, individuals provide tips to increase sales of a particular stock and then the tipster sells his or her shares when the market price increases.

Investing Borrowed Money

Borrowing money for investment purposes poses many risks. Getting loans in hopes of getting a quick return on a stock investment is a recipe for disaster. Have a plan in mind for loan repayment if the investment bombs. Some gain large amounts of money for long-term investments. However, consider the interest rate involved with a loan and the rates applied to investment growth. Decide if this method costs more money in the end.

Timing the Market

This tactic involves buying and selling stocks based on predicting market turning points. Experts claim these types of investors must be accurate 82% of the time just to match returns. Wealthy men, the likes of Peter Lynch and Warren Buffett prefer to invest and sit tight method, which follows the advice presented by many. Timing the market does not produce returns, but what matters is the time individuals spend in the market that makes the difference.


The Bucket Strategy for Retirement

Do you have enough money to live on without sacrificing a comfortable lifestyle once your working days are done? Have you started thinking about it yet? As retirement looms, it brings along a suitcase loaded with questions, such as: how long are you going to live, how much of the money you have managed to save up to this point will be gobbled up by inflation, and just what is the money you’ve already got in your various investments doing?

The 4% Rule Doesn’t Work Anymore

Since you can’t just go out and work for a long enough period of time to make up the deficit if you miscalculate, it’s important to estimate right the first time. For a long time, people who gave advice on financial matters suggested something called the “4 percent rule.” This strategy advises you to take out an amount equal to 4 percent of the total invested during the first year that you are no longer working; then the next year, withdraw the same amount as the previous year, and add enough to account for inflation. This method, experts previously suggested, provided most people with better than average odds of making it through at least 30 years at their current lifestyle.

Get a Bucket

In light of the recent stock market roller coaster, however, those in the fiscal know have decided that this method is a bit too oversimplified. Currently, more than half of those who provide investment advice are now recommending that their customers divide their rainy day cache into sections, or buckets, to carry them through with funds they can count on to remain stable.

Filling Your Bucket

Here’s how it works: first, you need to decide on a safe amount of money to remove during your first retired year, then, multiply your designated figure by however long you want a definite amount of income- the average is usually between five and seven years, including a secured amount that takes inflation into account. Once that is done, the funds are placed into a money market account, in order to make sure that you always have a pull-from rate that will sustain you during those years.

When your vat gets close to being empty, or every year, depending on what happens with the stock market, refill it with other prudent investments that will provide enough money to live on throughout the next cycle. This process is then repeated for the remainder of your retirement.

Try Two Buckets, or Even Three

There are two suggested types of bucket strategy: 2-bucket and 3-bucket. The 2-bucket model encourages golden-agers to squirrel away roughly five years of savings in bonds issued by the Treasury Department. Every year, take a set amount from the bonds to live on and then use the remaining funds to invest in stocks. When the year ends, any income earned from the stock growth gets shifted into the bonds for a little boost to next year’s income. If the stocks don’t earn money, the money should be left in the investment, giving it a chance to bounce back. The withdrawals can be adjusted as needed, in case of unforeseen shortfalls or poor stock performance.

Those seeking a bit more cushion might prefer to split their funds among 3 kettles. Into the first vat would go sufficient resources for the first seven years of retired life, including enough extra to account for any economic intensification, which is then placed in a secure investment such as a Treasury bond. The second container would account for the next eight years, from 8 to 15, and would consist of either annuities that would provide secure assets, or a mixture of stocks and bonds. The final bucket, which would cover the remaining years, would hold the most high-risk items, such as real estate. A full year’s worth of income is moved among the buckets annually, depending on what the stock market does. Obviously, this is an intricate set of plans, but it will certainly make your retirement funds safer.