Opinion

John Wasik

How to invest in prosperity after a Lost Decade

Sep 28, 2012 12:35 UTC

CHICAGO (Reuters) – While there’s some comfort in a slowly improving U.S. economic climate, the majority of Americans are still trying to close a prosperity gap that has widened in the last ten years.

There is the painful realization that a combination of stagnating wages, job loss, recessions and depletion of wealth is morphing the middle class into a “muddled class” unable to keep up with the cost of living. This decline has been most pronounced over the past decade.

The most recent Census Bureau study showed that real median household income fell eight percent from 2007 through last year, and is almost nine percent lower than the 1999 level. Can families climb back? It’s possible, but not without some financial rigor.

As many analysts have noted, the early part of this century has been a lost decade for most of the middle class. Some income experts cite a “Gini Index,” which measures the disparity between higher and lower income groups. A zero means perfect equality between groups, and one is perfect inequality; meaning a huge gap between the lower and middle class and upper-tier earners.

Between 2010 and 2011, the Gini index increased 1.6 percent, to 0.477, the first time the measure showed an annual increase since 1993, the Census Bureau noted. Higher inequality translates into more losers than winners based on the sheer size of the middle class, echoing dozens of other reports showing that the top one percent of the population is reaping most of the benefits of economic growth and tax advantages.

Why you are missing the bull market: Wasik

Sep 19, 2012 17:23 UTC

By John Wasik

(Reuters) – To most Main Street investors, the post-2008 era has been something of an epic hangover. By and large, they have continued to eschew stocks for the palliative comfort of bonds.

Was it worth sitting out the last few years? What has actually been going on here since 2009, although it has been well-disguised at times, is a bull market. While the course of the bull has been highly uneven, it may continue if corporate earnings remain solid and there are no major calamities. And it may gain even more momentum if the new round of Fed easing boosts the U.S. economy in a significant way.

Of course, the euro zone muddle, lagging U.S. employment, meager consumer confidence and unseen other crises do not bode well for stocks. They never do. Yet there is the strong possibility that U.S. stocks will continue to head higher, defying the worst headlines.

Why you are missing the bull market

Sep 18, 2012 18:44 UTC

Sept 18 (Reuters) – To most Main Street investors, the
post-2008 era has been something of an epic hangover. By and
large, they have continued to eschew stocks for the palliative
comfort of bonds.

Was it worth sitting out the last few years? What has
actually been going on here since 2009, although it has been
well-disguised at times, is a bull market. While the course of
the bull has been highly uneven, it may continue if corporate
earnings remain solid and there are no major calamities. And it
may gain even more momentum if the new round of Fed easing
boosts the U.S. economy in a significant way.

Of course, the euro zone muddle, lagging U.S. employment,
meager consumer confidence and unseen other crises do not bode
well for stocks. They never do. Yet there is the strong
possibility that U.S. stocks will continue to head higher,
defying the worst headlines.

Hedges for investing in a post-QE3 environment

Sep 14, 2012 16:17 UTC

CHICAGO, Sept 14 (Reuters) – The Federal Reserve’s new round
of quantitative easing may have sparked as much early enthusiasm
as the opening of a new fall fashion show. Yet as with other
ballyhooed events, the initial warm reception may prove
fleeting.

The Fed’s latest buying spree of Treasury and
mortgage-backed securities will keep U.S. interest rates low and
drop them incrementally lower. And Wall Street
initially cheered the Fed by propelling both the Dow Jones
industrial average and the S&P 500 Index to their
highest levels since 2007 on Thursday. The once-battered Nasdaq
Composite Index even climbed to its highest level since
November 2000.

On the employment, manufacturing and housing fronts, though,
there is only so much the Fed can do to revive those markets -
and it will do nothing to fix the euro zone – so don’t take
Thursday’s rally too seriously. By adopting a tandem strategy of
targeted hedging and global investing, you can still ride out
continuing anxieties in Washington and Europe. And there are
side effects to this stimulus, too. So if you are looking for
investing strategies, you might want to employ some of these
hedges:

Three investment strategies for QE3

Sep 10, 2012 15:52 UTC

CHICAGO (Reuters) – If there’s another round of stimulus from the Federal Reserve, as has been telegraphed by Ben Bernanke, it may end up sounding like an alarm clock that barely rings. It will be heard, but it may not be enough to rouse a drowsy U.S. economy.

The Fed’s previous bond-buying sprees – which pumped more than $2 trillion into the U.S. economy and kept interest rates near zero – put a fire under stocks as investors moved from poor-yielding bonds.

But will more bond buying morph into a fall rally? It depends on whether the economy responds. That would mean improvement in job growth, housing prices and general economic activity.

Can you still make money in the housing market?

Sep 7, 2012 15:07 UTC

CHICAGO (Reuters) – There is a nagging question to consider before you jump into home-buying after one of the worst housing slumps in American history. Will you ever make money? Based on how the market has performed in the past, there is no clear answer.

Not that there hasn’t been good news about home prices lately. Prices have rebounded in most of the largest U.S. cities over the last five months. The closely watched S&P Case-Shiller home-price index rose 0.9 percent in July on a seasonally adjusted basis.

Low interest rates provide an added bonus: With mortgage rates still at generational lows – 30-year loans still average well under 4 percent – it’s a good time to lock in a bargain.

How to find a new 401(k) strategy

Sep 6, 2012 15:41 UTC

CHICAGO, Sept 5 (Reuters) – Let’s say, after recent fee
disclosures from retirement funds, that you have discovered that
your 401(k) is a rusting beater of a plan. It’s expensive to
maintain, non-diversified and has performed poorly over the last
10 years.

You may have to do some internal lobbying to change your
plan. Yet if you can enlist the support of fellow employees,
managers and executives by explaining how poor returns eat into
their retirement lifestyles, you might gain some traction.
Changes are possible, even when employers are reluctant to do
anything.

Consider the idea of placing company stock in 401(k) plans,
an idea that became toxic after the Enron-WorldCom debacles. The
percentage of companies engaging in this practice has dropped to
under 10 percent, down from 11 percent in 2009, according to
BrightScope, a San Diego-based service that tracks retirement
plans.

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