WHAT A PICKLE. Even if the January equity slump resolves itself, investors face another tough year. The Federal Reserve and other financial regulators have been aggressively deflationary, driving the dollar up and prices down, starting with gold in 2011. As discussed in many of these columns, both the Fed’s zero interest rate and its post-2009 bond buying have been giant mistakes, causing global growth to grind to a near halt.
The monetary policy burden has been compounded by a lack of structural reforms in the U.S., Japan and Europe. The U.S. government spends without a meaningful budget, squandering hundreds of billions of taxpayer dollars per year while imposing a regulatory maze that’s almost impenetrable. Our personal income tax system is in shambles. Our corporate tax rate is one of the world’s highest, causing corporate flight, while some of our strongest companies keep their cash abroad to avoid confiscatory tax rates at home.
The Fed’s policies directed most credit to bond issuers and financial engineers, not growth. This drove high-grade-bond yields down to the point that they don’t offer much income. For investors and savers, it’s a problem that could last for years.
For decades investors have been advised to keep a mix of stocks and bonds, with a growing percentage in bonds as they age. That worked when bond yields were high, but it won’t be enough for retirement, given low yields and longer life expectancy.