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Critical News from the Lone Star State

September 25, 2014

I am really excited to report back on the Casey Summit and our jam-packed trip to San Antonio. Sitting down to interview one of the world’s top economists, Dr. Lacy Hunt, was one of the highlights for yours truly. Here’s a snippet from Dr. Hunt’s official biography:

Dr. Lacy H. Hunt, an internationally known economist, is executive vice president of Hoisington Investment Management Company, a firm that manages $5.4 billion for pension funds, endowments, insurance companies, and others.

Lacy Hunt is the author of two books, and numerous articles in leading magazines, periodicals, and scholarly journals. Included among the publishers of his articles are: Barron’s, the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, the Christian Science Monitor, the Journal of Finance, the Financial Analysts Journal, and the Journal of Portfolio Management.

Lacy is a favorite speaker of mine because in addition to being a terrific economist capable of running rings around the likes of Alan Greenspan, he can relate the big economic picture to average investors. He rates very high on the common-sense scale—a good philosophical fit for us.

Before we get to the interview, though, a short note on Twitter. It took a bit of corralling by my much younger chief analyst, Andrey Dashkov, but you can now follow us on Twitter—and most of my Casey Research colleagues too. I suppose staying current on all-things tech will keep me spry.

Follow our team on Twitter @millersmoney. And if you’re not on Twitter yet, consider taking a cue from Andrey and signing up.

Now, let’s talk to Dr. Hunt.

Dennis Miller: Lacy, thank you for carving out time to talk. Many of our subscribers are baby boomers and retirees who have borne the brunt of the bank bailouts. Interest rates are far below their retirement projections, and they’re hoping the good old days of 6% CDs and the like will come back quickly. Lacy, this started eight years ago. What would you say to folks looking for high yield rates on top-quality, fixed-income investments to return to “normal?”

Lacy Hunt: My pleasure, Dennis.

Interest rates are unlikely to normalize for several years or even longer. The low interest rates are a reflection of the overleveraged condition of the US economy, which is severely constraining growth. Long-term high-quality yields such as 30-year Treasury bonds are likely to decline in yields over this period as inflation eases.

Dennis: When planning for retirement, many baby boomers anticipated 6% returns and inflation under 2%. Those were conservative estimates. If interest rates are going to remain low, which I too believe is the case, this will continue to force boomers to risk more money in the market or change their retirement lifestyle.

People looking for some sort of yield and income have flooded the market with money. What do you see in the market’s future over the next five years or so?

Lacy: This is a time for caution concerning the stock market. I would recommend highly conservative investors who cannot rebuild nest eggs with earnings from employment remain on the sidelines until the risk of another recession is resolved. The stock market gains are being fed by excess liquidity rather than an improvement in corporate earnings. Such imbalances have historically led to swift downdrafts in the price of risk assets.

One way to protect risk assets bought for yield in this environment is to balance them with a partial holding in long-term US Treasury bonds. T-bonds are negatively correlated. If risk assets continue to do well, then Treasury holdings will limit the upside gain; but in the event that risk assets falter, T-bonds will limit downside losses.

This is not the time to shoot for the roses. I realize a lot of retirees have to invest in the market for income during this cycle, but you need to be very careful.


Dennis Miller and Dr. Lacy Hunt in San Antonio at Thriving in a Crisis Economy

Dennis: In your San Antonio presentation, you said something to the effect of “When ‘buy now and pay later’ is your philosophy, eventually ‘pay later’ overwhelms the system.”

Lacy, anyone who has high credit card debt, student loans, and/or an abundance of monthly payments eventually has to come to grips with that situation and change his ways. You pointed out that not just the United States government, but also the rest of the world has astronomical debts growing at an alarming rate. How do you see this unfolding, and what are the investment implications for baby boomers and retirees?

Lacy: Extreme over-indebtedness for economies results in a number of critical symptoms: poor economic growth in comparison to the historical norm; the business cycle operates but in a much more muted fashion; inflation falls to abnormally low levels, and in many instances, the result is deflation; due to poor growth, demographics deteriorate; and long-term Treasury bond yields, which are heavily influenced by inflation, fall to historically low levels and remain depressed until the over-indebtedness is corrected. Also, the low inflation environment persists for a long time.

All of the major economies are experiencing the effect of “pay later” overwhelming “buy now,” and these symptoms are all too evident in the global economy.

As I mentioned earlier, if you have to be in the market for income, you need to be very careful and have a good exit plan.

Dennis: One final question. Our subscribers are really caught in the middle. They want the safety of top-quality, fixed-income investments, but they need better yield in order to supplement their other retirement income. John Mauldin quotes Ben Bernanke in his book, Code Red, as saying they are forcing seniors to put a lot more money at risk than they’re comfortable with in order to survive.

What tips might you have for folks who find themselves in that position?

Lacy: We believe there are opportunities for excellent returns in long-term US Treasury coupon and zero-coupon bonds. We have our accounts with a 20-year duration, which is a very aggressive stance and a very uncommon strategy. The returns will be caused by appreciation in the value of these bonds in the difficult business environment ahead. However, this path will be very volatile, and investors will require patience.

Due to this volatility, investors should include holdings in long-term Treasury bonds as part of a diversified portfolio. If the bull run in stocks continues, the Treasury bonds will too, reducing the upside gains. However, in a bear market, holdings of Treasury bonds will limit the downside risk of the total portfolio.

I would caution your readers to work with a bond professional. When to buy and what types and amounts is not something the average stockbroker really understands.

Dennis: Lacy, as always, thank you so much for your time and insight. On behalf of all our readers, a warm thank you.

Lacy: My pleasure, Dennis.

Dr. Hunt was just one of the many terrific speakers in San Antonio. His clear-cut presentation on why inflation hasn’t shot even higher despite the Federal Reserve pumping trillions of dollars into the US economy was terrific. If you were unable to attend, I strongly recommend preordering the Summit Audio Collection and taking advantage of the steep discount available for a limited time. Listen to Dr. Hunt’s presentation at your leisure, along with all the presentations, from an impressive faculty of investment experts. And don’t miss your humble scribe on how to build a crisis-proof portfolio.

On the Lighter Side

Jo has two artificial knees and hates to fly. It’s not the flying, but all of the ancillary hassles. Several readers wrote in after Ann Pringle’s article on the TSA, and told us they’d just quit flying. That really saddens me, particularly if it means driving for hours or days to see the grandchildren or avoiding trips altogether. It took us less than 10 minutes online to fill out the forms for TSA Pre✓. We have an appointment to go to the TSA office (required) when we return. While I resent the process, there’s nothing we had to answer or provide that the government doesn’t have on file anyway.

Whether the government is tampering with retirement investing, health care, or travel, I’ll be damned if I’ll let it get in the way of Jo and I enjoying our golden years. If that’s copping an attitude, so be it!

And finally…

Until next week…

 
 

About the Author

Over the course of his career, Dennis Miller has consulted with many Fortune 500 companies, training hundreds of executives to effectively communicate the value of their company's products to their customers. Among his many multi-national clients are: GE, Mobil, Shell, Schlumberger, HP, IBM, Corning Glass, Eastman Kodak, AC Nielsen, and Johns-Manville.

An active international lecturer for 40 years, Dennis wrote several books on sales and sales management. He was a contributor to... read more