Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Juggling Economic Balls

Lisa and I walked 5 miles around Boston to celebrate our wedding anniversary. The Swan boats, Italian food in the Northend, a new "doo" for Lisa on Newbury Street, and new summer sweaters for me("About time you got some sweaters with bright colors!", Lisa said).

At Fanueil Hall Marketplace we watched "Formerly known as 'Jim the Juggler,' now known simply as "Jim, from The Jim Show." Jim does daffy juggling as children giggle and parents laughed (we laughed and giggled). Jim balanced on a large beach ball while juggling. I cannot stand on a beach ball nor can I juggle. Yet every morning my brain attempts the economic juggle, a dance registered investment advisors do in their office (privately). No need to mention the balls required, but here is an outline of what each ball lofted represents.

Each subject has current relevance, especially when the market movers sell more stock than they buy. I will define and explain the relevance in my opinion.

  • Interest Rates
  • Bond Rates
  • Inflation

Other influences driving the stock market have aggregate affect, but individually lack market-moving clout. So, let's look at what each subject means to the market.

Interest Rates: Lisa's grandmother laments about the Bush administration while she longs for Jimmy Carter. "Those were the good ole days when the banks paid you for investing!" She remembers a call from a Florida stock broker offering her a 15% return on her $25,000 deposit. Of course, she and "Pa" never calculated their real rate of return (The inflation rate from June 1986 to June 1989 was 13.33% leaving 2.67% pre-tax real-rate of return)

Interest rates and inflation are the horse and cart of the economy. High Interest rates do not guarantee low inflation, nor that Lisa's grandmother gets a "good-return" on her money. However, higher interest rates manage economies by affecting borrowing, corporate expansion, merger/acquisition activity (notice it slowed down on June 5, 2007), and currency values (U.S. dollar versus the Yen, as an example). Finally, the stock market dislikes high interest rates because there is less risk when buying bonds. You still with me?

News Flash! "Tracy Withers reports that "New Zealand's central bank unexpectedly raised its benchmark interest rate to a record 8 percent, saying housing demand and consumer spending are fanning inflation. The currency rose to a 22-year high"

"Skellerup Holdings Ltd., which exports rubber goods used in medicine and irrigation, this week said full-year profit will fall by 34 percent because of the currency's gain. The company is planning to stop some local production and fire workers because it is cheaper to make goods overseas, it said."

Interest rate increases control inflation and can instigate sector recessions.

2. OK. On to Bond values. The bond market is all about the "cost of money". Cheap money means mortgages, corporate buyouts, and stock market opportunity.

How come the bond market does not control interest rates? Perhaps because there is no immediate consensus, and bond traders might not consider inflation's nasty economic slaps the way Federal Reserve Bankers do. Federal Reserve Bankers line their jackets and underwear with fabric imprints reading "Inflation". Nothing matters more. At the Federal Reserve Bank water cooler, it's all about inflation.

Bond traders are not numb to economic indicators. Sell-off's in bonds push interest rates up and bond values/prices down. Bond traders don't take risks with an greater courage than you or I. No one wants to lose money.

Joseph Keating, Chief Investment Officer for First American Asset Management thinks bond yields are now giving "competition" to stocks. Investors are observing bond yields, and consider bonds the "safer bet". Stock buyers need a "premium" when buying stocks due to stock risk. This is known as "stock risk-premium". When risk premiums are high, bonds fly.

Supply and demand drives pricing. So when bond buyers are attracted to higher yields, pricing gets tighter (bond prices go up and bond yields go down). This bond buying brings lower yields or lower interest rates in the bond market. Lower interest rates in the bond market decreases the risk premium making stocks attractive. When risk premiums are low, stocks grow. Fascinating, don't you think?

Bond traders tend, in my opinion, to give weight to economic growth rather than to the value of the dollar. Dollar values may tell us more about inflation than any other indicator. Every commodity in America (and the dollar is no longer a commodity) is dollar-priced. If the dollar is down in value against other currencies, does it suggest that prices are inflated? Does this mean that someday, holders of the dollar will want more for what they can get with their lower-valued dollars? It seems so.

Inflation: No wonder the "Fed" worries about inflation. The insidious affect gets little attention from the public, but the result devastates buying power.

Tracking inflation started in 1914. Not much relevance tracking inflation from 1914 to now. However, we could try it from January 1997 to January 2007. From then to now, the inflation rate is 27.14%. Now, let's calculate what that means to your spending power. We can calculate the affect of inflation: $1+($1 x .2714)= $1.2714 or $1.27. This means your investment account per thousand must earn at least $270 more per thousand just to keep up with inflation. The current Inflation Rate is 2.57%.

``Inflation causes reduced consumer spending, it squeezes profit margins,'' said John Kornitzer, who manages $6 billion at Kornitzer Capital Management in Shawnee Mission, Kansas. (Bloomberg.com, U.S. Stocks Retreat on Inflation Concern..., Michael Patterson)

What do you prefer? High interest rates or low inflation? Juggle them if you can; for me, logic recommends asset allocation.

As a registered investment advisor, Ray Randall provides clients with tools to manage risk control as clients work toward investment goals. You may read more about him at Ethos Advisory.com Ray also manages the article bank and resource directory found at Echievements.com. Would you like to know how much risk your temperament permits? Fill out a request for a no-cost report on the Ethos Advisory Services contact page.