Ask any CEO, government official, or market-minded economist about their views on the economy shortly after a recession ends, and you’re likely to hear one answer at least a few times: “I’m cautiously optimistic,” they’ll say.
The continued growth of financial assets in 2014 – or more specifically, the way this growth is being achieved – merits exactly this type of outlook.
The Federal Reserve’s ongoing quantitative easing has inflated the values of publicly traded businesses. Despite limited revenue growth, companies have nevertheless seen their valuations increase, a result of Fed-engineered low interest rates being used to discount the future earnings of these enterprises.
The stock-market prognosticators seem to wade deeper into the Kool-Aid as the market bounds higher, pointing to “still reasonable” price-earnings ratios – a sign, they say, that the bull will keep running.
It strikes me as out-of-whack when every piece of genuinely good news – more jobs, more industrial production, better retail sales – is somehow an occasion for a stock market nose-dive, with traders panicked that QE will come to an end. In my book, positive numbers are something to buy into, rather than run from.
As an advocate for consumers, it also bothers me that the wealth and income gap in this country is getting wider and more politically and socially disruptive. Low interest rates have benefited only the wealthiest in this country. For those who desperately need credit, quantitative easing might as well be taking place on another planet. Credit-card rates and payday loans are still at usurious levels.
But, all said and done, I wonder if I should be less worried than I am. Twenty-five years as a CFP® professional has taught me that worry is a short-term indulgence. It’s fun, but not necessarily wise, to gripe about what’s wrong with the world today. Good planning and a long-term perspective work far better than Valium.