Financial Outlook 2018

2018 is here and people are excited about their families, careers and education. The underlying foundation of all these pillars is their personal finance. For most Americans, the foundation of personal finance is the stock market.

We have been talking lately about the asset bubble formation and the bloated P/E ratios. (For introductory readers, P/E stands for Price to Earnings ratio and is one of the many indicators of the value of a stock). To understand where we stand, I attended Vanguard’s Financial Outlook Seminar with the new CEO Tim Buckley, Chief Investment Officer Gregory Davis and Head of Corporate Marketing and Communications, Rebecca Katz.

Vanguard

CEO Tim Buckley, Chief Investment Officer Gregory Davis and Head of Corporate Marketing and Communications, Rebecca Katz

Let’s look at various areas of the market as was discussed at the meeting.

P/E Ratios

While the panel members agreed that the cyclical P/E ratios are high at around 31, they also mentioned that under the light of low interest rates and low inflation, this is not over the top. (People are willing to pay more price for future earnings since the Future Value of Money is good in a low interest, low inflation environment)

Equity Outlook

The panelists suggested that they are looking at around 4.5%-6.5% for annualized return over the next 10 years. For 2018 specifically, the probability of recession stands at mere 5%, a mild recession at 10% and a slowdown at 15%. On the other hand, odds for the Trend to continue lie at about ~20% and the odds of growth lie at about ~50%.

Fixed Income Outlook (Bonds etc.)

The panelists pinned the 10-year annualized outlook for bonds at 2%-3%, mostly for high quality Corporate and Government bonds. Since the current interest rates are low, long term investors are encouraged to invest in short/intermediate term bonds since when the coupons mature, they can be reinvested in the higher yield bonds.

Diversification

Unsurprisingly, the panelists suggested that you should have a good mix of equities and fixed income vehicles so that if and when the market dips, you could trade your bonds with new equities. We will cover international market later in this article.

Inflation

An uptick in inflation is expected. However, it will depend on whether new money goes towards hiring more people (inflation increases) or incurring capital expenditure or financial engineering. Inflation is in check, thanks to some extent to technology because with technology, you can get more with less.

Interest Rates

The FED has indicated that it will increase interest rates in the next two years. Somewhere between 40 to 80 basis points in increase is expected.

GDP Growth

Again, unsurprisingly, the panelists mentioned that a GDP growth of ~2% in the US is expected.

Unemployment

They asked to watch this closely since unemployment is at a multiple decade low. This could lead to increase in wage pressures or using of more technology to replace humans (more capital expenditure).

Tax Cut/Bill for corporations

Begets the same question. Will the additional money  be used towards Financial Engineering (buyback stocks, a sugar rush of not much use) or expanding businesses and hiring, to increase the income potential of the corporations. However, the deficit generated is of concern because it reduces US’s credit rating, by increasing US’s debt/GDP ratio. This would mean that US will have to pay a higher interest on its new debts. Hopefully, the country does not get caught in a vicious debt cycle where a higher interest debt is serviced by another high interest debt.

Bitcoin/Crypto-currency

Vanguard will not offer anything with Bitcoins/Crypto-currency since it is a speculative thing like Gold. There is no underlying income stream/potential. However, the underlying “Blockchain” technology is being closely watched.

International Market

  • Europe
    • Affected positively by Global Economy.
    • Less political uncertainties now, leading to better valuation.
    • ~2% GDP growth expected.
  • China
    • A cooling off expected.
    • China is moving from capital intensive economy to consumer society. Capital intensive economy leads to better GDP growth, hence a fall in GDP growth to a level around 6%-6.5% is expected.

I hope I was able to convey the 2018 outlook in layman terms. Please let me know if you need further clarifications.

Happy investing!

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