The Fed stands tall

Sometimes it takes a while, but financial markets almost always test a new incoming Federal Reserve Bank Chairman. On Wednesday, Jerome Powell faced his test and passed with flying colors. Of course, a glance at the stock market averages at the end of the day on Wednesday, would have the casual observers scratching their heads. As most readers know, the stock market has been declining since October. One of the reasons for the sell-off is the fear that the Federal Reserve Bank’s gradual tightening policies have gone too far. Their continuous interest rate hikes coupled with the selling of $50 billion of U.S. Treasury bonds every month had started to reduce the excess liquidity from the financial markets. Investors fear that these actions will slow the growth of the economy and tip the country into a recession as early as next year. No one is sure that this will happen, although most economists are already ratcheting down our forecasted growth rate to somewhere around 2-2.5% for 2019. That is by no means a recession, simply a slowing of growth, but nonetheless, investors have decided to sell first and see what happens as events unfold. The continued losses in the stock market, after so many years of gains, have driven the level of angst to a point where the markets (and the president) have demanded that the Fed stop tightening—now. The media and Wall Street, coming into Wednesday’s FOMC meeting, were convinced that the Fed would cave-in to their demands and announce a cessation of their tightening policies. Investors wanted him to say no more rate hikes and possibly a...

Will our country’s military win the next war?

There was a time, not long ago, when most Americans would answer that question in the affirmative without much thought. It was one of those “truisms” that we didn’t give much thought. But today, many experts are debating that answer. Back in the day, after WW II, our military prowess, (aided by the development of the atomic bomb) was unquestioned throughout the world. Growing up, it was never a question of spending on defense for me, it was simply how much. Republicans wanted more, Democrats wanted less. Today, not only is the amount of spending crucial but also its predictability and even more importantly, what those billions are spent on. The Pentagon’s National Defense Strategy was issued in January. Like all of their tomes before, it is heavy reading and fairly boring but this time around things were different. The United States Institute of Peace, a federal institution, issued a 98-page report rebutting some of the assumptions made about peacetime competition or wartime conflict. The authors focused primarily on our top competitors for global hegemony, Russia and China, but also included recognized threats in Europe, Asia, portions of the Middle East. The report authored by a panel of former security officials and military experts did not mince words. “The U.S. military could suffer unacceptably high casualties and loss of major capital assets in its next conflict. It might struggle to win or perhaps lose, a war against China and Russia. The United Sates is particularly at risk of being overwhelmed should its military be forced to fight on two or more fronts simultaneously.” Unlike WW II, where we did...

Nurses do it right

Nurses save more, work more, and sock more money away than the general population. It also so happens that they love what they do. Is there a connection? If the truth be told, I have a soft spot in my heart for nurses. Like many of my readers, I have found myself in the hospital more times than I would like over the past few years. Nurses have taken great care of me throughout my stay and afterward. Nurses are working longer than they did back in the Seventies and Eighties. Half as many nurses today are working past the age of 62 as they did back then. Almost one in four are still working at age 69. The trend in nursing over the recent past is that fewer than one in four nurses at age 60 were planning to retire within the next five years. This is a trend that is changing their field. On the one hand, we have seen a flood of young nursing graduates enter the profession. That number has grown by almost 75% over the last 16 years or so. Despite that growth, the demand for nurses continues to outpace supply. The “Graying of America” is as real as it gets. As a result, more older nurses are choosing to stay on. As such, the age dispersion of nurses looks like a barbell with large numbers of younger and older nurses in the field with fewer middle-aged nurses in-between. What keeps nurses at a job, which is high-pressured, requires long, long hours on your feet, and is fraught with tension and risk? Most of...

Dogs and their cars

Pet ownership in America is well over 50%. Nine out of ten of these owners view their pet as part of the family. As such, dollars spent on traditional pet ownership areas such as food, veterinary needs and boarding have expanded to include things like exercise and travel. For more and more Americans, that trend has grown to include what cars we purchase. This hit home for me recently when my wife and I began discussing our next automobile purchase or lease. In times past, our decision may have been based on what vehicles provided the best fuel mileage, or winter safety in snow and ice conditions. But this year, it was all about what car would be most appropriate for our ten-year old Labrador Retriever, Titus. Over the years, from time to time, I have written about Titus while examining topics such as the growing cost of owning a pet to the reasons everyone should purchase pet insurance. Now, Titus has reached an age (like his owners) where he is slowing down. Arthritis in both shoulders, a back operation last year, and just wear and tear from retrieving way too many balls has made it increasingly difficult for our guy to leap into the back of an SUV. It appears we are not alone. Seventy-seven percent of dog owners say the option of having pet-friendly features available would impact their decision on which vehicle to purchase the next time they are in the market to buy a car. That number increases to 89% for millennials. In a recent 2018 auto trends report published and conducted and published by...

Tariffs—the next chapter

Tariffs on $34 billion in Chinese imports were imposed, as expected, last week. China responded with $34 billion of their own tariffs on American imports. So far, this has been a zero-sum game. The question that investors are asking is whether or not the trade war will escalate. I could say that this entire trade spat has been “much ado about nothing.” The total amount of trade tariffs and counter tariffs don’t add up to much given, that China is a multi-trillion dollar economy. The war of words and threats between our once-allies, our antagonists, and the president, amount to much more. Right now, Trump’s statements would indicate he is ready to impose $500 billion on Chinese imports alone. If the Chinese (as they have promised) respond by levying a like amount on U.S. goods, we could see $1 trillion or more in additional tariffs. That would hurt the U.S. every bit as much as it would hurt China. If we also consider Trump’s trade war on other fronts—Europe, Asia, emerging markets—then, look out below. We also need to consider how this tariff issue will impact consumer and business confidence. If the tariff threat escalates, it will damage confidence, which, in turn, will reduce the potential for spending and capital investment. That would lead to an abrupt and sudden decline in economic expansion and the end to the bull market in stocks. How likely is that? Not very, in my opinion; at least for now. In the meantime, the president and his men have managed to turn our allies into antagonists, while giving the Chinese an opening to fill...

How a heat wave impacts the economy

It’s been over ninety degrees for days. If you are like most of us, it’s a bit harder to give it your all at work, even if you have an air-conditioned office job. Now imagine the same thing happening to millions of workers all over the nation. Heat waves like this one can have a devastating effect on productivity. As the thermometer climbs, workers feel decreased energy. Loss of concentration, muscle cramps, heat rash, and, in some cases, heat exhaustion or heatstroke. The impact is even worse if you live in a big city. If you have ever walked down a mid-town street in Manhattan or Boston on a hot summer day, it feels like an oven. That’s because it is. Concrete, asphalt, underground pipes, heating systems and subways conspire to raise the outside temperature exponentially. Throw in bumper-to-bumper traffic, and you have a virtual cauldron. Cities, by their nature, have high concentrations of people, infrastructure, and productive activity so any kind of disruptions can have a large impact on the economy. Energy costs are a big factor in times like this. The AC in offices, homes, commercial establishments, restaurants and shops are cranked to the highest levels. This year, as oil prices hit their highest levels in years, the impact on a business’s profits will be even greater. In many areas of the Midwest and Northeast, power consumption is hitting record levels. Obviously, consuming tons of AC will have a short-term impact on your power bill, but there are long-term costs as well. Heavy electricity use strains the power grid, forcing many utility companies to revert to using...