Forecasts & Trends

Forecasts & Trends is much more than just investment blog posts. You need to know the "big picture;" you need to have a "world view," especially in the post-911 world; and you need more information than ever before to be successful in meeting your financial goals. Gary intends to help you do just that.

Forecasts & Trends

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  • Exploding Healthcare Costs Are Out Of Control

    Today I want to address the soaring costs of healthcare, which are rising far more than the Obama administration and the Department of Health and Human Services will admit. While I personally don’t consider healthcare costs to be a political issue, many argue that it is indeed a political issue with regard to “Obamacare.”

    When talking to friends and colleagues, the most frequent comment I get is something like: Obamacare health insurance premiums are much higher than the government says they are – what gives? Today, I will answer that question with some new facts from an independent non-profit on healthcare premiums around the country. Prepare to be surprised.

    The Obama administration’s Health and Human Services Department (HHS) announced on January 21 that healthcare premiums on the Affordable Care Act exchanges rose an average of only 9% from 2015 to 2016. That was highly misleading since the HHS data covered less than half of all consumers buying healthcare on the federal exchanges in the last year.

    The real premium increases, almost across-the-board, are substantially higher in most states this year. A new, independent report from the Freedom Partners Chamber of Commerce includes the weighted-average premiums for all plans available on the Affordable Care Act’s exchanges.

    The findings will shock you, or maybe not, if you have recently renewed your healthcare coverage. In that case, you may already know, especially depending on where you live. In any event, that’s what we’ll talk about today.

    We will also talk about how healthcare costs are by far the fastest growing subset of the US economy. And that’s putting it lightly. The increase in healthcare cost almost doubled the next fastest growing sector’s cost growth last year.  Can you say, out-of-control?

    But before we get to that discussion, let’s take a look at last Friday’s unemployment report for January. The headline unemployment rate dropped to 4.9%, the lowest level since early 2008, but some of the internal numbers were mixed or disappointing.

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  • Sub-3% GDP Growth: A Lost Decade For The US Economy

    Whew – January is finally over! Up until the last week or so, the downside carnage in January was the worst New Year’s stock market start in history. Thanks to last week’s rebound, it was only the worst New Year’s start since January of 2009 when the Great Recession was unfolding. Still, it was a hair-raising month for stock investors. And no one knows if the damage is over.

    There are many theories as to why equity markets around the world suddenly plummeted in January. I have written about several of them in the last couple of weeks. Most market commentators, including yours truly, have pointed to concerns about China’s economy, the collapse in oil/commodity prices, the strong US dollar, Fed interest rate hikes, etc., etc. as the likely causes for the January implosion.

    Rather than continue that discussion today, I want to point out a milestone that was reached with the end of 2015 and last Friday’s 4Q GDP report – and this milestone was not a good one. With 2015 behind us, it has been a decade since we have seen 3% yearly growth in the economy. The last year we had 3% growth was 2005. Call it America’s “Lost Decade.”

    Near the end of today’s letter, I will make some suggestions on how we could stimulate our now moribund economy – starting with a significant corporate income tax cut for businesses large and small. Republicans complain that they can’t override President Obama’s veto, so they do nothing. Yet with the economy now growing by less than 1%, I think the GOP would be surprised at how much support they could get from Democrats, especially in an election year.

    Before we get to that discussion, let’s take a look at last Friday’s GDP report for the 4Q. The advance report came in lower than expected with growth of only 0.7% for the final three months of last year. The sharply lower 4Q reading suggests yet another year of weak economic growth. And there is now a controversy over how much the economy expanded last year, which I will explain as we go along.

    And finally, I am very excited to announce our latest Special Report: UNDERSTANDING & MAXIMIZING YOUR 401(K). We have worked long and hard on this Report to help our many clients and readers not only understand how their 401(k)s work, but also how to maximize their benefits. If you have a 401(k), you definitely want to download our FREE Special Report.

    There’s a lot to cover in today’s E-Letter, so let’s get started.

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  • Stock Markets Plunge, Concerns Abound… Recession?

    The first half of January 2016 has been the worst New Year’s opening for the US stock markets in history. Yet nothing much has changed economically since the end of last year. So why is the Dow Jones down 8.24%, the S&P 500 down 8.00% and the Nasdaq down 10.36% in just the first two weeks or so of the New Year? The answer is not yet clear.

    According to the Stock Trader’s Almanac, if US stocks move lower in January, that means a down year for equities 75% of the time. While January is not over yet, it’s hard to imagine that stocks could close up for the month. So are we looking at the first down year for US stocks since 2008? Time will tell, but it sure looks that way.

    Questions abound. Did the Fed make a huge mistake by raising short-term rates by a mere 0.25% in December? Did news that China’s economy grew at only around 6% last year and may be slowing more this year upset the global apple cart? Are plunging oil prices really a bad thing?  Is a new global recession just around the corner? Should we be preparing for a new recession here in the US this year?

    These are the questions everyone is asking in the wake of the plunging stock market prices we have seen from the beginning of 2016. It is true that the current economic recovery which began in 2009 is the weakest in more than a half century, but this is nothing new. Rather than negative growth, GDP has expanded only by about 2% since Obama took office.

    Yet the Fed’s latest estimate of 4Q GDP growth has now fallen from 2.0% on December 17 to only 0.6% in the latest GDPNow estimate in the second week of January. This economy is losing momentum fast. The risks of a recession this year are quickly increasing. This may help explain why equities are tanking so far this year.

    There’s so much to talk about today, I’m not sure where to start. Let’s begin with the case for a recession this year, both globally and here at home.

    We’ll end on a positive note from Mark Hulbert, editor of the Hulbert Financial Digest, who suggests that this latest downward market correction may be over before too long. Let’s get started.

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  • Stocks Plunge Most On Record Last Week, Oil Down 10%

    In the first week of 2016, US stocks plunged by more than in any other first week of January since records have been kept (before 1900). The Dow Jones Industrial Index fell over 1,000 points from 17,591 at the close on December 31 to 16,519 at the close last Friday – a loss of over 6% in one week.

    The S&P 500 Index shed over 100 points from 2043.7 at the close on December 31 to 1922.0 at the close last Friday – a loss of 6.0% in one week. The Nasdaq Composite lost 7.3% during the worst first week of January on record.

    Most global stock markets were hit with similar losses or even worse in some cases. Investors around the world were stunned and are wondering what happened in the worst New Year’s  week in history for share prices – and worry if more pain is to follow.

    The financial media maintained that the carnage was caused primarily due to new economic data out of China, which was worse than expected. I will get into that as we go along today, but the rout was due to more than just disappointing Chinese data.

    The collapse in crude oil prices since mid-2014 is also becoming a serious global concern for reasons I will outline below. The price of West Texas Intermediate Crude has collapsed over 70% since mid-2014 from near $105 per barrel to below $33 a barrel as of last Friday’s close. It fell 10% last week alone and is down so far this week.

    While sharply lower gasoline and energy prices are a boon to consumers, there are now serious concerns about sovereign debt defaults in numerous oil producing countries. In addition, there are growing fears of global deflation as a result of collapsing oil and other commodity prices. I will tell you why below.

    Yet before we get into the complicated issues raised above, let’s take a few moments to discuss last Friday’s stronger than expected unemployment report for December.

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  • Fed Set To Pull Trigger Tomorrow - A Good Thing Or Bad?

    The Fed Open Market Committee (FOMC) which sets US monetary policy convened in Washington this morning for its last meeting of 2015. It is widely expected that the Committee will vote to hike the key Fed Funds rate for the first time in almost a decade before the meeting concludes tomorrow.

    The FOMC slashed the Fed Funds rate from 5.25% in late 2007 to near zero by late 2008 during the financial crisis and recession. It has kept the key lending rate at 0.00% to 0.25% ever since in an effort to stimulate the economy, in addition to buying an unprecedented $3.7 trillion in Treasuries and mortgage-backed securities in a process known as “quantitative easing" or QE.

    It is not entirely certain that the FOMC will hike the Fed Funds rate tomorrow, but that is the prevailing consensus. Based on the minutes from the last FOMC meeting in late October, which were released on November 18, it is clear that Fed Chair Janet Yellen has a majority of FOMC voting members ready to support a rate hike if she chooses to do so.

    It is also not entirely clear how much the Committee might raise the Fed Funds rate should it decide to enact “lift-off” tomorrow. The prevailing consensus is that the first rate hike would be only 25 basis points (0.25%), but the Fed has provided very limited guidance as to the size of the expected increase. Assuming the rate hike is only 25 bips, the other question is from where – the Fed Funds rate is currently just under 0.15%.

    There are strong arguments on both sides of the lift-off issue. Many believe the Fed has already waited way too long to start normalizing interest rates and are adamant that lift-off should begin tomorrow. Many others, however, believe that the economic recovery is still too weak and the Fed should delay lift-off until sometime next year at the earliest.

    It is these two arguments that we will discuss today, ahead of tomorrow’s key decision. But before we get to that discussion, let’s do a quick review of the makeup of the Fed Open Market Committee, the most powerful monetary policy body in the world.

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  • Retirement Savings Crisis Getting Worse, Not Better

    As long-time readers know, one of my continuing themes over the years has been saving, and in particular saving for retirement. Record numbers of Americans are retiring every year and, unfortunately, most have not saved nearly enough for the retirement lifestyle they envisioned.

    Even worse, more and more Americans are retiring with debt – mortgages, car payments, credit cards, etc. It used to be that you planned not to retire until you were out of debt and with a comfortable nest egg. Not so anymore.

    Today we will look at some recent retirement findings from the Transamerica Center for Retirement Studies  which are very concerning. We will also look at a recent survey by the Teachers Insurance and Annuity Association – College Retirement Equity Fund, which researches retirement trends. The results are alarming.

    And finally, we’ll look at the question of how much you need to save to have a comfortable retirement. Unfortunately, this is a complicated subject that depends on several variables such as how much you have saved already, at what age you plan to retire, the lifestyle you wish to have, etc., etc. It’s a very important topic, so let’s get started.

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  • Economy Is Improving, Yet Most Americans Are Pessimistic

    Today we tackle several issues. We start with the fact that several new surveys show that most Americans remain pessimistic about the economy and the direction the country is headed. This is despite the fact that the economy has been growing for the last five years, the unemployment rate is the lowest in seven years and the stock market has more than tripled since 2009.

    Yet despite these latest reports showing that most Americans are pessimistic about the future, the widely-followed Consumer Confidence Index has risen sharply in the last few years. Most analysts have no answer for this discrepancy. I have some specific thoughts on this contradiction, and I’ll do my best to explain it today.

    The much stronger than expected unemployment report on November 6 has sent the stock markets sharply lower in recent days, based on fears that the Fed will hike interest rates at its next policy meeting on December 15-16. I’ll offer my thoughts on what will determine the Fed’s decision next month. I wouldn’t bet money on a rate hike just yet.

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  • U.S. Debt To Hit $20 Trillion, Poverty Remains Rampant

    As long-time clients and readers are well aware, the explosion in our national debt has been one of my continuing themes over the last 30+ years, under both Republican and Democrat presidents. So today’s discussion is not a political issue, and it should worry us all.

    By the time President Obama leaves office in January 2017, the US national debt is projected to have almost doubled during his eight years in office. Put differently, Obama will have added as much to the national debt as all presidents before him combined. That is simply staggering!

    Throughout history, no major nation that has accumulated debt of more than 100% of Gross Domestic Product has ever paid it back. Instead, they have defaulted. So will we at some point if we don’t reverse course, which seems very unlikely.  As such, the question is when will the US default and what will trigger it?

    Saddest of all is the fact that, despite almost doubling the national debt over the last seven years, with much of the spending on social programs, the poverty rate in the US is near an all-time high; ditto for those living on food stamps. You would think that doubling the national debt and increasing entitlements should have dramatically lowered poverty and those living on food stamps. It didn’t.

    Over the last decade, we’ve also seen an explosion in the number of Americans who receive disability benefits. Unfortunately, Congress has watered-down the requirements to receive disability payments to the point that many able-bodied Americans are no longer working.

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  • Is The U.S. Economy Really In Trouble? A Debate

    Today we’ll take a closer look at last Thursday’s disappointing GDP report for the 3Q. It turns out that the report was not quite as bad as the headline 1.5% growth suggested. Following that, we’ll look at some polls which show that about two-thirds of Americans are worried about the direction the country/economy is headed.

    Along that line, I have reprinted a very interesting column from The New York Times’ senior economics writer, Neil Irwin. In a debate with himself, Mr. Irwin discusses the many pros and cons regarding the economic outlook, and suggests that maybe we worry too much. While you might not agree with him, he quotes a lot of economic stats and the article will make you think.

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  • China & Fed Lift-Off Dominate Market Trends - Why?

    Is it just me, or does it seem like the global markets are preoccupied with two things: China’s economy and when the Federal Reserve will raise US interest rates? Sure, there are other things going on, but these two topics seem to be driving the financial markets more than any others this year.

    In that light, we will begin today with a look at China’s latest economic report last week which received mixed reviews among economists. While China’s economy is slowing, growth is still officially near a 7% annual rate. Even if it’s only 5-6%, as many believe, a recession is not likely in China anytime soon.

    Following that discussion, I will touch briefly on the Fed’s policy meeting that began today and ends tomorrow. Most Fed-watchers, including me, don’t expect any surprises tomorrow, but you never know. On the subject of the Fed, there is increasing talk about short-term interest rates going below zero. I’ll briefly explain what that’s all about.

    While China and the Fed seem to dominate the headlines and financial market trends, there is a very important report coming out this Thursday. That’s when we get the government’s first estimate of 3Q GDP. The pre-report consensus is at 1.7% with some estimates as low as only 1.0%. If correct, that means the strong growth in the 2Q (3.9%) did not carry over during the summer.

    Finally, I will close out today’s letter by summarizing the most interesting article I read last week.

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  • Upcoming Debt Ceiling Fight Could Get Really Ugly

    Today we will focus initially on the upcoming battle over whether to increase the US debt ceiling. The government reached the current statutory debt limit of $18.1 trillion back in March. Since then, the Treasury has been paying the nation's bills by using so-called "extraordinary measures." But the Treasury warned recently that such funding will be exhausted by November 5, and that means another debt ceiling battle will play out between now and then.

    While we've seen this movie before and know how it will ultimately end, the political battle in the coming weeks could get really ugly, especially now that House Speaker John Boehner has announced that he is stepping down soon. With a lack of leadership in the House, this year's debt limit circus could be especially unsettling for the stock and bond markets.

    Next, we turn to the question of whether a recession is likely just ahead. While the economy grew by a better than expected 3.9% in the 2Q, more and more forecasters are downgrading their outlook for the second half of this year. The number expecting a recession in the months ahead rose sharply in a survey by Bloomberg at the beginning of this month. The good news is that about 85% of economists surveyed do not expect a recession to begin this year.

    As usual these days, there's a lot to think about - so let's get started.

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  • September Jobs & Manufacturing Reports Disappoint Again

    As is becoming increasingly frequent, we will touch on several bases today, given that there’s so much going on these days. (Speaking of bases, How ‘bout them Texas Rangers!!) Hitting several topics in a single E-Letter makes it more interesting and fast-paced for me, and I hope the same is true for you. After all, YOU are what this is all about. That’s why I always value your input, positive or negative, so much.

    Today, we’ll start with the latest economic reports. I wish I could tell you they were encouraging – most were not. There was last Friday’s disappointing unemployment report for September – which was below expectations for the second month in a row. Then there was last Thursday’s decidedly downbeat report on US manufacturing, which was yet another big disappointment.

    These two negative reports have most Fed-watchers very confident now that there will not be a rate hike this year. Most now believe that “lift-off” won’t happen until early 2016. Yet the Fed may fear it will lose its credibility if it doesn’t make at least one move this year. So expect this debate to continue at least until December 17 when we will know for sure.

    Last Wednesday, the head of the International Monetary Fund warned that there are new reasons to be concerned about the global economy, and emerging economies in particular. IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde issued the latest warning, along with another call for the US Fed to delay the first rate hike until next year. But does the Fed care what she thinks? Probably not.

    Finally, I have just completed a new SPECIAL REPORT: Seven Risk Factors That Could Drive the Markets Lower. Back in March and April, I saw the storm clouds gathering on the horizon and warned my readers to reduce their long-only (buy-and-hold) positions in stocks and equity funds.

    Still, most investors don’t understand why this six year-old bull market seems to have run off the tracks. In this new Special Report, I discuss in detail the unique combination of risk factors that are weighing on the markets today and may continue to do so.

    Best of all, I offer advice on what you can do to protect yourself should the latest market downturn continue. If you are looking for some clarity in this crazy market and some advice on how to protect your portfolio, be sure to download my latest FREE SPECIAL REPORT at the end of today’s E-Letter.

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  • The Economy Surges Higher, But Is It For Real?

    Today we look at last Friday’s better than expected final report on 2Q GDP, which was revised from 3.7% to 3.9%. Best of all, this increase was largely due to increased consumer spending which accounts for almost 70% of GDP. Following the paltry 0.6% increase in GDP in the 1Q, this means the economy grew by 2.25% in the first half of this year.

    While a 3.9% jump in economic growth in the 2Q was welcome news, there is a growing consensus that such reports from the government may not be remotely accurate. The problem is, many agree, that the government’s “seasonal adjustments” to the monthly and quarterly data have gotten out of control, and the numbers reported are no longer reliable. We’ll talk about this below.

    Next, we’ll look into what many are calling a “flip-flop” on the part of Fed Chair Janet Yellen in the last two weeks on the subject of when short-term interest rates are likely to be raised. At the Fed’s latest policy meeting on September 17, they decided to postpone the first rate hike in nearly a decade, seemingly indefinitely. But then last Thursday, Yellen said lift-off will happen before the end of this year, and this sparked the latest selloff in the equity markets. So, what gives?

    I will close today with a few thoughts about the SuperMoon, BloodMoon and lunar eclipse we saw on Sunday night. I hope you got to view it.

    And finally, our latest WEBINAR with ZEGA Financial is now available for viewing on our website. ZEGA’s strategy for using options is one of the most interesting I have ever seen.

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  • On The Fed, Deflation, Government Shutdown & The Moon

    Once again this week, we touch on a variety of topics that piqued my interest over the last week. We begin with some further analysis of the Fed’s controversial decision to hold interest rates near zero last Thursday. While this was the topic of my Blog last Thursday, I have more analysis today that I think you’ll find interesting.

    One thing I conclude from the Fed’s decision last week is that Fed Chair Janet Yellen and a growing number of her colleagues are worried about deflation spreading to the US. Since most Americans living today have never experienced a prolonged period of deflation, we should talk about it at least briefly to understand why falling prices are bad for the economy.

    Next, as much as I hate to bring it up, we could be facing yet another government shutdown at the end of this month. Fiscal Year 2015 ends one week from tomorrow, and Congress has not passed a budget for FY2016. As a result, the government could effectively shut down starting on October 1. Here we go again.

    From there, we look at a new report which finds that the $13 trillion in government “debt held by the public” equals a record $107,000 per US household. Yet if we include all of our national debt of $18.4 trillion, that number goes up to over $150,000 per household.

    Finally, a rare combination of celestial events will grace the night sky later this month. NASA says a SuperMoon, a BloodMoon and a lunar eclipse will take place on the night of September 27, this coming Sunday. This rare event has happened only five times since 1900, most recently in 1982, and there won't be another one until 2033. Read about it at the end of today’s E-Letter so that you won’t miss it this Sunday night.

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  • Why More & More Americans Are Working In Retirement

    In my Blog last Thursday, I wrote about the astounding number of seniors 65 years and older who have not paid off their home mortgages. As a follow-up to that topic, a new report finds that more Americans than ever are working well into retirement. That’s where we will start today with a review of the latest numbers on those working beyond age 65.

    Following that, I will reprint the most interesting article I have read in some time. It is an article which discusses President Obama’s most likely legacy – one he will definitely be unhappy about. Interestingly, this article was written by Jeff Greenfield, the award-winning TV journalist, best-selling author and a Democrat. You will not believe what he has to say about Obama’s legacy. Let’s get started.

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