John Wasik

Investing: A little inflation isn’t such a bad thing

Jun 28, 2011 15:05 UTC

We’re in a three-headed hydra economy now. There’s the threat of burgeoning inflation, joblessness and a rotten housing market.

Yet the idea that rampant inflation will trigger an investment debacle is perhaps overblown. A touch of inflation can be a good thing and it depends on how you invest.

I’m not discounting the possibility of a bond bubble bursting, so be sure to shorten your maturities on high-quality bonds because they will get hardest hit by any interest-rate increases. Beyond that, the news may not be all that bad based on historical results for stocks.

Consumer inflation is running at a nearly four percent clip, according to the latest government report, which shows the annual rate at its highest since June, 2008. The bulk of the increase was in energy (fuel prices — up 21 percent) and food.

A little inflation isn’t that toxic to stock returns. According to research from the Leuthold Group, stocks often gain in periods of mild inflation. The last time inflation was climbing at least three percent, stocks did just fine. Leuthold found that in September, 2000; September, 1996; and June, 1995, the subsequent one-year performance of stocks was 13 percent, 20 percent and 26 percent, respectively.

Economy revival? Bond barons say spending is the answer

Jun 24, 2011 15:14 UTC

When bond gurus speak, they don’t mince words.

The message from two influential bond traders is unambiguous: Instead of cutting government spending now, Congress should be spending to create jobs.

Employed people pay taxes, contribute to communities and buy homes, vehicles and appliances. This kind of stimulus is undeniable. Job creation is the ballgame now. Interest rates really can’t go any lower. The Fed did all it can do.

I know this runs counter to what you’re hearing from the Beltway and Tea Party circles, but the logic is simple: Without tackling long-term structural unemployment, there will be no broad economic revival. The middle-class could dip further into despair, feeding a millennial malaise that morphs into a depression.

8 home issues your insurer doesn’t cover

Jun 20, 2011 15:12 UTC

You won’t believe this, but my house was hit by lightning — twice.

I know this isn’t supposed to happen. Fortunately nobody was hurt and the house didn’t burn down. Yet I think a deity (maybe Thor or Zeus) was reminding me to check my insurance coverage and install lightning rods.

Checking your homeowner’s insurance is a matter of seeing 1) what they won’t cover and 2) your out-of-pocket expenses, based on your deductibles.

Since I carry a $1,000 deductible on my homeowner’s policy, which reduces my premium, I know anything under that threshold is on me.

After the housing bust, what’s next?

Jun 17, 2011 13:49 UTC

Beyond the double-dip U.S. housing recession, is there a future for the American home market? What I see emerging as growth magnets are established city enclaves and “new urbanist” communities that resemble old-style neighborhoods without the sprawl. They are close to public transportation, walkable and loaded with culture and amenities. They personify the new American dream.

Unfortunately, I also see the slow death of the “spurb,” a word I needed to coin for my book The Cul-de-Sac Syndrome to describe sprawling, car-addicted ex-urban areas far from central cities. While I think many inner suburbs will do fine and prosper, the next wave of real-estate growth favors vibrant cities and energy-efficient communities.

Before I eulogize the spurb, it’s time for a serious housing policy discussion. I agree with Edward Glaeser, Harvard economist and author of Triumph of the City, that the post-war government homeownership policy has over-subsidized suburban growth at the expense of cities. It’s outdated, wasteful and needs to change.

401(k) rip-offs: How to protect yourself

Jun 13, 2011 14:22 UTC

There may be larcenous gremlins in your 401(k) eating your retirement money. They aren’t easy to identify and are often buried in plan documents. You will need a trained professional to exterminate them.

Many of the biggest 401(k) money-eaters escape the notice of your employer, who is legally obligated to ferret them out. Your company may have bought 401(k) services from middlemen who suck up your money in the form of commissions, administrative or management fees.

How do you know if your money is being siphoned off? In many cases, you will never know, nor will your employer take the time to audit your plan to get rid of the worst abuses.

Tax lies? 3 myths you need to know

Jun 10, 2011 16:30 UTC

Although Mark Twain once said there are “lies, damn lies and statistics,” when it comes to U.S. taxes, statistics can tell the truth.

It’s been a decade since the first round of Bush-era tax cuts and it’s clear that — even in the wake of a new round of cuts late last year — employment growth is still dismal. Lost tax revenues trickled up to those who needed it the least, the deficit ballooned even more and the housing market is still punch drunk.

As Congress wrangles over whom to tax — and whom to untax — there are an abundant number of myths floating around. Here are my top three:

Is college worth the investment?

Jun 6, 2011 15:56 UTC

Is a college education worth it?  In the free market of ideas, maybe. In a labor market that can’t be sustained by wage growth or job creation, probably not. Another bubble may be bursting.

The college degree payback may be long and may not materialize for decades. A six-figure education may not be a guarantee to higher real wages in the near future and it may not be worth going into debt to finance it.

I’m not alone in this sentiment. A widespread public skepticism is fueled by poor short-term job prospects. It’s not surprising that 57 percent of those surveyed by the Pew Research Center said that higher education doesn’t provide a good value and 75 percent said it’s just too expensive for most people.

5 reasons why banks hate Elizabeth Warren

Jun 2, 2011 16:28 UTC

Elizabeth Warren, it’s not you they hate. It’s what you represent. You want to be an honest cop when so many before you in Washington have looked the other way and pretended that the banking industry could police itself.

I can’t think of a better reason why this presidential adviser shouldn’t be the new chief of an unfettered Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

She knows where the bodies are buried — in countless toxic forms and statements that only bank lawyers fully understand. She’ll make every attempt to end the silent rip-offs and myriad shenanigans that cost consumers billions.