pensions

Jeremy Grantham: Avoid U.S. Stocks, ‘Heavily Overweight’ Emerging Market Equities

When I last blogged about “Crash Prophet” Jeremy Grantham right after Thanksgiving, the British-born investment strategist and founder/former chairman of Grantham, Mayo, Van Otterloo & Co. (currently overseeing $74 billion in client assets) had just mentioned in a Wall Street Journal interview that although U.S. stock prices were high, profit margins were also are unusually high, lending support to high valuations. In addition, low interest rates make equities more attractive than fixed-income investments. As a result, he didn’t forecast a crash is stock prices as much as a decades-long reversion to anywhere near the long-term average.

Now, regular readers of Survival And Prosperity know I like to read and pick apart Grantham’s quarterly letters on the GMO website. And his third quarter letter has just been released. Grantham, whose individual clients have included former U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, penned the following about U.S. equities in “Career Risk and Stalin’s Pension Fund: Investing in a World of Overpriced Assets (With a Single Reasonably-Priced Asset)”:

The trend line will regress back toward the old normal but at a substantially slower rate than normal because some of the reasons for major differences in the last 20 years are structural and will be slow to change. Factors such as an increase in political influence and monopoly power of corporations; the style of central bank management, which pushes down on interest rates; the aging of the population; greater income inequality; slower innovation and lower productivity and GDP growth would be possible or even probable examples. Therefore, I argue that even in 20 years these factors will only be two-thirds of the way back to the old normal of pre-1998. This still leaves returns over the 20-year period significantly sub-par. Another sharp drop in prices, the third in this new 20-year era, will not change this outcome in my opinion, as prices will bounce back a third time

Near-term major declines suggest a much-increased value of cash reserves and a greater haven benefit from high-rated bonds.

My assumption of slow regression produces an expectation of a dismal 2.5% real for the S&P and 3.5% to 5% for other global equities over 20 years, but also a best guess of approximately the same over 7 years.

(Editor’s note: Bold added for emphasis)

Grantham’s thoughts on where one might invest?

My conclusion is straightforward: heavily overweight EM equities, own some EAFE, and avoid US equities.

(Editor’s note: Bold added for emphasis)

Referring to an exhibit, he pointed out:

1) developed ex-US is well below its 20-year average and 40% below the US; and 2) Emerging is 65% below its high in 2007.

There were also these nuggets from the letter:

Pension funds should brace themselves for a disastrous 1% to 3% return in the next 10 years.

(Editor’s note: Bold added for emphasis)

And:

My view on Resources is that the cycle has turned, global economies are doing quite well by recent standards, and oil prices are likely to rise for three years or so.

(Editor’s note: Bold added for emphasis)

Yet another insightful letter from Grantham, which you can read here in its entirety on the GMO site.

By Christopher E. Hill
Survival And Prosperity (www.survivalandprosperity.com)

(Editor’s note: A qualified professional should be consulted prior to making a financial decision based on material found in this weblog. If this recommended course of action is not pursued, then it must be understood that the decision is the reader’s and the reader’s alone. Christopher E. Hill, the creator/Editor of this blog, is not responsible for any personal liability, loss, or risk incurred as a consequence of the use and application, either directly or indirectly, of any information presented on the site.)

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State Of Illinois’ Unpaid Bills Could Spike To $15 Billion By July

Bad news about the State of Illinois’ finances keeps rolling in. Monique Garcia reported on the website of the Chicago Tribune this morning:

The state has a record stack of unpaid bills that’s expected to hit $15 billion by July if nothing is done, and it must fork over interest when it’s late paying them. Putting a hard dollar figure on those interest costs is difficult, however…

The potential price tag is high enough that Senate leaders from both parties are pushing a plan to borrow billions of dollars to help whittle down the bill backlog and limit interest payments…

Under the plan being pushed by Democratic and Republican leaders in the Senate, Illinois would borrow $7 billion over seven years to pay down the bill backlog and bring the payment cycle closer to 30 days…

(Editor’s note: Bold added for emphasis)

The Tribune article comes after Governor Bruce Rauner pointed out in his State of the State address last Wednesday:

We haven’t had a full year budget of some kind in a year-and-a-half- and we haven’t had a state budget that is truly balanced in decades. We have more than $11 billion in unpaid bills, a $130 billion unfunded pension liability, and the worst credit rating in the nation. We have the 5th highest overall tax burden and one of the lowest rates of job creation of any state

(Editor’s note: Bold added for emphasis)

Garcia’s piece took a close look at the interest payments associated with the bill backlog debacle, which you can read about here on the Tribune site.

By Christopher E. Hill
Survival And Prosperity (www.survivalandprosperity.com)

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Moody’s On Chicago Public Schools Crisis: Consider Tax Levy, Pension Contribution Stoppage, Or Bankruptcy

“Chicago and New York rank at the bottom of a new analysis of fiscal strength based primarily on data from 2015 financial reports issued by the cities themselves. The analysis includes 116 U.S. cities with populations greater than 200,000.

Chicago’s position at the bottom of the ranking is no surprise to anyone who follows municipal finance. The Windy City has become a poster child for financial mismanagement, having suffered a series of ratings downgrades in recent years. Aside from having thin reserves and large volumes of outstanding debt, Chicago is notorious for its underfunded pension plans…”

The Fiscal Times, January 9, 2107

Moody’s Investors Service recently weighed in on Chicago’s well-publicized financial crisis. Last Thursday its Global Credit Research division published the following on the Moody’s website:

While unfunded pension liabilities will continue weighing on the City of Chicago’s (Ba1 negative) credit profile, plans to significantly increase contributions with higher taxes is a favorable departure from prior funding practices. However, the liquidity crisis at Chicago Public Schools (CPS — B3 negative) is worsening amid a continued budget impasse at the state level, Moody’s Investors Service says in two new research reports released today…

In “City of Chicago: Frequently Asked Questions,” Moody’s says despite the city’s expanding economy, revenue growth, and healthy liquidity, its pension burden is likely to remain among the highest of any rated, major local government for many years.

“While Chicago’s recent tax increases will provide revenue to significantly increase pension funding, the city’s unfunded pension liabilities exceed seven times its revenue and are projected to grow for at least 15 more years,” says Matt Butler, Vice President of Moody’s…

(Editor’s note: Bold added for emphasis)

The well-known credit rating agency added this about the city’s public school system:

In a separate report, “Chicago Public Schools: Frequently Asked Questions,” Moody’s states CPS’ fiscal pressures are intensifying due to depletion of reserves following years of imbalanced operations, unrealistic budget assumptions, and escalating pension costs…

Moody’s says CPS could consider more difficult options to address its finances should the State of Illinois (Baa2 negative) be unable or unwilling to provide additional relief: levy for debt service on GO alternate revenue bonds, stop making employer pension contributions, or seek state authorization to file for Chapter 9 bankruptcy…

(Editor’s note: Bold added for emphasis)

MarketWatch news editor Rachel Koning Beals expanded on Moody’s suggestions for dealing with the CPS situation. She wrote Saturday:

Moody’s has a revised shortlist of painful fixes for the public school system in Chicago.

One idea is to approve another increasingly politically unpopular property-tax levy to pay off debt, as the nation’s third-largest school district just issued another batch of high-interest bonds.

The second idea from the credit-ratings agency is to skip a pension payment to the Chicago Teachers’ Pension Fund, which would come just months after the district and its teacher‘s union hammered out an 11th-hour contract to avoid a second labor strike in a span of four years.

And last resort? Just declare bankruptcy already

(Editor’s note: Bold added for emphasis)

Who’s the say the City will act on any of these suggestions (at least, right away)? That being said, Chicago taxpayers and CPS employees/retirees might want to take heed of all this.

Head on over to the Moody’s Investors Service website here to read the entire release from the Global Credit Research division. It ain’t pretty.

By Christopher E. Hill
Survival And Prosperity (www.survivalandprosperity.com)

Source:

Koning Beals, Rachel. “Maybe Chicago schools should declare bankruptcy and get it over with, says Moody’s.” MarketWatch. 14 Jan. 2017. (http://www.marketwatch.com/story/maybe-chicago-schools-should-declare-bankruptcy-and-get-it-over-with-says-moodys-2017-01-13). 16 Jan. 2017.

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Taxing Time For Chicagoans

The elections are over. So it’s time for “higher/new fees, fines, and taxes,” as I routinely point out in Survival And Prosperity.

Chicagoans found out yesterday what kind of impact City Hall’s latest “revenue enhancements” will have on their personal finances. Julian Crews, Dan Ponce, and Dana Rebik reported on the WGN-TV Chicago website Wednesday:

The Chicago City Council voted unanimously to pass Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s $8.2 billion 2017 budget Wednesday…

For taxpayers, the hardest pill to swallow in the budget may be a nearly 30 percent increase on water and sewer bills. The hike will be phased in over four years, and is expected to raise nearly $240 million to help shore up the municipal workers pension fund.

But the big impact to taxpayers will come in the form of a tiered increase in property taxes to fund police and fire pensions approved by the Council last year.

Other new fees include:

7-cent fee for all plastic AND paper bags to encourage people to bring reusable bags to the grocery store.
3.5 percent amusement tax for tickets to concerts, sporting events and musicals…

(Editor’s note: Bold added for emphasis)

Crews, Ponce, and Rebik also pointed out coming higher fees with parking rates downtown, around Wrigleyville, and at both Midway and O’Hare airports. More parking meters will be popping up in the Loop and in city neighborhoods as well.

Anyone who’s been paying attention might have observed a disturbing trend lately with Chicago’s fees/fines/hikes. John Byrne and Hal Dardick reported on the Chicago Tribune website this morning:

The average family will pay nearly $1,700 more a year to the city and Chicago Public Schools than they did before the mayor took office in 2011 once all of Emanuel’s tax and fee increases take full effect. There’s been a series of property tax hikes. There was a water and sewer rate increase, plus a new tax on top of that. Not to mention a new garbage hauling fee, 911 phone tax hike, vehicle sticker fee increase and a tax on cable television…

(Editor’s note: Bold added for emphasis)

“$1,700 more a year… than they did before the mayor office in 2011”

Ouch. Byrne and Dardick added:

Even with all of that, taxpayers may be asked for more money in the coming years. Emanuel’s plans for shoring up long-neglected city worker pension funds will require the city to come up with hundreds of millions of dollars more by the early to mid-2020s

(Editor’s note: Bold added for emphasis)

In the meantime, the reporters calculated the “typical” Chicago homeowner ($250,000 residence) can expect to see their tax bill rise another $400 in 2017.

As a former resident of Chicago, I can understand why people would want to live there. That being said, Chicagoans have been required to “pay to play.” And that trend might not be their friend if that Tribune analysis plays out.

For those choosing to remain in the “City By The Lake,” it might be wise for these individuals to take a good, hard look at their finances to figure out if they can keep residing there should the cost of living continue its upwards trajectory.

By Christopher E. Hill
Survival And Prosperity (www.survivalandprosperity.com)

Sources:

Crews, Julian, Ponce, Dan, and Rebik, Dana. “City Council unanimously passes $8.2 billion budget, including new taxes and fees.” WGN-TV Chicago. 16 Nov. 2016. (http://wgntv.com/2016/11/16/chicago-city-council-expected-to-pass-mayors-2017-budget-today/). 17 Nov. 2016.

Byrne, John and Dardick, Hal. “The tab on Emanuel’s series of tax hikes: $1,700 a year for the average family.” Chicago Tribune. 17 Nov. 2016. (http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/local/politics/ct-rahm-emanuel-chicago-city-council-budget-vote-met-1117-20161116-story.html). 17 Nov. 2016.

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Chicago Police Department Manpower Shortage Latest

“Chicago readers take note: The ‘thin blue line’ that exists in the Windy City will likely remain that way for the foreseeable future. Carry on accordingly.”

Survival And Prosperity, October 3, 2011

With the help of the popular Chicago police blog Second City Cop, I became aware several years ago of the manpower shortage going on in the Chicago Police Department.

Subsequently, I started blogging about the situation from time to time.

As shootings in the city march past 2,300 for the year, attention is being drawn to Chicago’s “cop shortage” again. Fran Spielman reported on the Chicago Sun-Times website on July 20:

After three shootings this week in a gang-ridden South Side ward that includes Englewood and Back of the Yards, Ald. Ray Lopez (15th) is demanding that Emanuel finally make good on his 2011 campaign promise to hire 1,000 additional police officers.

In the meantime, Lopez wants Chicago Police officers now working in pairs for their own safety to get reinforcements from the Illinois National Guard, the Illinois State Police, the Cook County Sheriff’s office or all of the above

(Editor’s note: Bold added for emphasis)

No DHS or other federal agencies?

On the subject of paying for more police, Alderman Lopez brought up taxes. Spielman added:

When Lopez was asked where he would find the money to hire 1,000 more police officers, he offered to raise property taxes- again.

That’s on top of the $588 million property tax increase approved last fall for police and fire pensions and school construction and the $250 million increase the Board of Education is about to approve for teacher pensions…

Remember what I’ve been saying for years now about new/higher fees, fines, and taxes for Chicagoans?

With news yesterday that the Fraternal Order of Police is urging its members to turn down all requests for “non-mandatory overtime” over the fast-approaching Labor Day weekend, Second City Cop blogged:

It is most certainly is a message to the administration- “Hire more cops!” seems to be what we’re reading. And that’s a perfectly appropriate message to be sending to the city- the Department is badly understaffed

(Editor’s note: Bold added for emphasis)

It will be interesting to see how this all plays out.

By Christopher E. Hill
Survival And Prosperity (www.survivalandprosperity.com)

Sources:

Spielman, Fran. “Shooting of 6-year-old girl revives demand for 1,000 more cops.” Chicago Sun-Times. 20 July 2016. (http://chicago.suntimes.com/news/shooting-of-six-year-old-resurrects-demands-for-1000-more-cops/). 26 July 2016.

SCC. “OT Boycott Gets Media Coverage.” Second City Cop. 26 July 2016. (http://secondcitycop.blogspot.com/2016/07/ot-boycott-gets-media-coverage.html). 26 July 2016.

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City Of Chicago’s Total Unfunded Liabilities Grew To Nearly $24 Billion In 2015

It’s been a while since I last blogged about the Illinois Policy Institute, a Chicago-based non-partisan research organization “generating public policy solutions aimed at promoting personal freedom and prosperity in Illinois.” Yet earlier this week, Ted Dabrowski and John Klingner published a sobering piece on the Institute’s website about Chicago’s mounting financial woes that just needs to be disseminated. From their article:

Chicago property owners concerned about their future property-tax bills have had plenty to worry about over the past year- but a new report on the city’s crumbling finances has all but ensured that property-tax hikes will continue to be a painful reality for local homeowners.

The city already passed a $700 million hike in October 2015 to help plug the hole in police and firefighter pensions, and the city is expected to raise property taxes by another $250 million to fund ailing Chicago Public Schools, or CPS, pensions. And with billions more in other health care and pension shortfalls still unfunded, more hikes are on the way.

But the newest debt numbers in the city’s 2015 Comprehensive Annual Financial Report, or CAFR, show that without massive pension reforms, the city’s tax hikes are just beginning. The report found that the total city debt Chicagoans are on the hook for has more than tripled since 2014.

Chicago’s total unfunded liabilities have jumped by over $17 billion, growing to nearly $24 billion in 2015 from $6.5 billion in 2014. The increase is mostly due to new accounting standards and the fact that in March the Illinois Supreme Court struck down the city’s recent attempt to reform its broken municipal-workers and laborers pension funds.

Add to that their share of sister-government and Cook County pension and health care costs and long-term debt, and Chicagoans are on the hook for over $65 billion

(Editor’s note: Bold added for emphasis)

Disturbing stuff. But that’s reality for you.

You know, last week I read an “interesting” anonymous comment on the popular Chicago police blog Second City Cop. From the July 7 post entitled “And There it is….”:

Millennials as they are called are falling over themselves to move here. Look at Ukrainian village, Buck town south loop West loop, Lincoln Park. The city is becoming gentrified. Major companies are moving their headquarters here. City is on the upswing like it or not.

“City is on the upswing like it or not.”

Never mind its financial cancer that’s bound to metastasize in due time…

By Christopher E. Hill
Survival And Prosperity (www.survivalandprosperity.com)

Sources:

Dabrowski, Ted and Klingner, John. “Chicago’s Total Debt More Than Triples To Over $24B In 2015.” Illinois Policy Institute. 11 July 2016. (https://www.illinoispolicy.org/chicagos-total-debt-more-than-triples-to-over-24b-in-2015/). 14 July 2016.

SCC. “And There it is…” Second City Cop. 7 July 2016. (https://www.illinoispolicy.org/chicagos-total-debt-more-than-triples-to-over-24b-in-2015/). 14 July 2016.

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Signs Of The Time, Part 108

After blogging back on June 21 about the next round of property tax bills due to hit Cook County, Illinois, residents’ mailboxes in the coming days, I told my girlfriend to pay attention to the local mainstream news outlets as there would be no shortage of pissed-off Chicago homeowners (their hit an average 13 percent higher than last year) airing their grievances.

Sure enough, I was watching Chicago ABC affiliate Channel 7 Tuesday when the following segment appeared near the top of the evening news broadcast:


“Cook County Property Tax Bills Cause Outrage”
ABC Chicago Video

“Higher/new fees, fines, and taxes in conjunction with reduced government services going forward”

Truly a sign of the times for Chicagoans… and an increasing number of other Americans.

By Christopher E. Hill
Survival And Prosperity (www.survivalandprosperity.com)

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Survival And Prosperity
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Christopher E. Hill, Editor

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