Investment Insights Podcast – April 17, 2014

Bill MillerBill Miller, Chief Investment Officer

On this week’s podcast (recorded April 16, 2014):

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What we like: Strong stock market last year with $5.6 trillion added to shareholder wealth

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What we don’t like: Blowout tax-collection season as a result of this wealth creation; tax burden reaching into the middle class demographic

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What we are doing about it: Expect more demand for municipals

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Source: Strategas Research Partners, Policy Outlook, April 16, 2014

The views expressed are those of Brinker Capital and are not inteded as investment advice or recommendation. For informational purposes only. Holdings are subject to change.

Demographic Changes Looming (Part Two)

10.17.13_BlogRyan Dressel, Investment Analyst, Brinker Capital

Part two of a two-part blog series. Head here to read part one.

Urbanization
Another noticeable change has been the amount of people living in urban versus rural areas.  The world is undergoing the largest wave of urban growth in history.  For the first time in history, more than half of the world’s population lives in towns or cities.[1]  In 1970, 73.6% of the population lived in urban areas in the U.S., compared to 79% in 2012.  In China, the shift has been even greater; 51% of people live in urban areas today, compared to just 20.6% in 1982.  Other major nations have experienced similar degrees of urbanization (percentage of population living in urban areas below)[2]

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Cities provide numerous economic benefits and challenges; some of which include: entrepreneurialism, education opportunities, traffic congestion, pollution, and poverty to name a few.  Perhaps the biggest challenge as a result of this trend will be a spike in food, water and commodity prices, which are already high.[3][4]  Some Governments, scientists and environmentalists are already working on solutions to these problems (such as China’s plan for a massive new desalination plant[5]), but in many areas resources are limited and solutions are inefficient on a large scale.

Wealth Inequality
Finally, the trend of wealth inequality in the United States is approaching an all-time high.  For perspective, in 1928 the top 1% of the population earned nearly 20% of all income.  The wealth gap was at its lowest in the 1960s and 1970s, but has been steadily widening since then.

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This trend has been made public in the U.S. as demonstrated by the Occupy Wall Street movement in 2012.  Regardless of your opinion surrounding the subject, wealth inequality has created noticeable economic challenges.

Some of the nationwide problems associated with wealth inequality include deteriorating health,[6] the potential for corruption (in many different facets), and a relatively weaker middle class which has historically fueled the most economic growth in the U.S.

The income gap has been blamed on everything from computers, to immigration, to global competition, but simply stated there is no clear consensus regarding the cause.[7]  This needs to be kept in mind by investors, economists and especially politicians before we spend public dollars on initiatives that aren’t effective at reducing the problems previously mentioned.

These changing demographic trends will no doubt provide challenges, but can also present exciting opportunities for generations to come if they are properly prepared for.


[1] The United nations Population Fund.  http://www.unfpa.org/pds/urbanization.htm  May, 2007.

[2] Population Reference Bureau, 2012 World Population Data Sheet, 2012.

[4] New York Times Online.  http://www.nytimes.com/2006/08/22/world/22water.html?_r=0  Celia Dugger. August 22, 2006.

[5] China Daily.  http://usa.chinadaily.com.cn/china/2011-04/09/content_12298084.htm  Cheng Yingqi.  September 4, 2011.

[6] American Medical Association.  http://www.who.int/social_determinants/publications/health_in_an_unequal_world_marmott_lancet.pdf Michael Marmot.  December 9, 2006.

[7] The Great Divergence.  Timothy Noah,  2012

The Magic Number Is…

Sue BerginSue Bergin

There was a time when someone earning a six-figure salary was said to be doing well.  Is that the case today?

Towards the end of 2010, in a survey by WSL/Strategic Retail, we learned that 18% of American households earning between $100,000 and $150,000 said they could only afford the basics.   Another 10% in that salary range reported that sometimes they couldn’t even meet their obligations.

The conclusion of the survey identified a magic number—$150,000.  This was the level with which the vast majority of consumers (88%) said they could buy what they need while still being able to afford extra items and have some savings.

A more recent study by Pew Research Center puts the $150,000 figure at a higher standard of living than just being able to meet basic needs and afford a few extras.  According to Pew, $150,000 earns a family of four the status of “rich”.  This is geographical; Northeast and suburban respondents upped that amount to $200,000 while their rural counterparts said that a family making more than $125,000 could be considered wealthy.

Whether the income level is $125,000, $150,000 or $200,000 doesn’t really matter.  Incomes this high are out of reach for the vast majority of Americans.  In fact, according the Census Bureau’s September 2012 report, annual household income has fallen for the fourth straight year to an inflation-adjusted $50,054.

Let’s assume for a moment the majority of your clients earn more than $150,000.  Do they all feel rich?  Many probably do not, particularly if they are among 29% of Americans underwater on their real estate.[1]

In fact, that rich feeling is fairly elusive.  Many millionaires don’t even feel rich.

According to Fidelity Investments’ latest report on millionaires’ attitudes towards investing, 26%of millionaire respondents said they did not actually feel rich, and that they would need an average of $5 million of investable assets to begin to feel wealthy.

Politicians, economists, sociologists and even our brethren in the financial services industry continue to confuse comfort and net worth, and perception and reality.  The fact of the matter is that the words “wealthy” and “rich” more aptly describe an emotional state than a statement of net worth.


[1] The Week, Real estate crisis:  Americans Underwater 12.2.11