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Why Future Market Returns Could Approach Zero

Why Future Market Returns Could Approach Zero

Authored by Lance Roberts via The Epoch Times,

What if I told you that future market returns…



Why Future Market Returns Could Approach Zero

Authored by Lance Roberts via The Epoch Times,

What if I told you that future market returns could approach zero? This seems hard to believe, considering young investors piling back into the markets since the beginning of the year. As I discussed previously, this behavior follows the clubbing many received in 2022.

A recent Wall Street Journal article discussed how retail traders that made millions during the pandemic trading the market are now mostly wiped out.

A quick search of headlines from the end of 2022 confirms that much of the retail spirit was broken:

At the end of 2022, it seemed fairly clear that retail investors were done as they ‘hit the bid” to liquidate stocks at a record pace.

However, that was 2022. Since January, retail investors returned with a vengeance to chase stocks in 2023, pouring $1.5 billion daily into U.S. markets, the highest ever recorded.

This chase for equity risk since the beginning of the year was built on the premise of a Federal Reserve “pivot” and a “no recession” scenario. In this scenario, economic growth continues as inflation falls and the Federal Reserve returns to a rate-cutting cycle. However, as discussed in “No Landing Scenario at Odds With Fed,” that view has a fatal flaw.

What Would Cause the Fed to Cut Rates?

  • If the market advance continues and the economy avoids recession, the Fed does not need to reduce rates.

  • More important, there is also no reason for the Fed to stop reducing liquidity (quantitative tightening) via its balance sheet.

  • Also, a “no-landing” scenario gives Congress no reason to provide fiscal support, providing no boost to the money supply.

In other words, if the hope of zero interest rates and a return to quantitative easing is whetting retail investor appetites, then the “no landing” scenario is problematic.

This also is why future returns may approach zero.

Why Future Returns May Approach Zero

The speculation of outsized returns by retail investors is unsurprising, given that most have never seen an actual bear market. Many retail investors today didn’t make their first investments until after the financial crisis of 2008–09 and, since then, have only seen liquidity-fueled markets supported by zero interest rates. As discussed in “Long-Term Returns Are Unsustainable:”

“The chart below shows the average annual inflation-adjusted total returns (dividends included) since 1928. I used the total return data from Aswath Damodaran, a Stern School of Business professor at New York University. The chart shows that from 1928 to 2021, the market returned 8.48 percent after inflation. However, notice that after the financial crisis in 2008, returns jumped by an average of four percentage points for the various periods.

“After more than a decade, many investors have become complacent in expecting elevated rates of return from the financial markets. However, can those expectations continue to get met in the future?”

(Source: Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis / chart)

Of course, those excess returns were driven by the massive floods of liquidity from the federal government and the Federal Reserve, including trillions in corporate share buybacks and zero interest rates. Since 2009, there has been more than $43 trillion in various liquidity supports. To put that into perspective, the inputs exceed underlying economic growth by more than 10-fold.

(Source: Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis / chart)

However, after a decade, many investors became complacent in expecting elevated rates of return from the financial markets. In other words, the abnormally high returns created by massive doses of liquidity became seemingly ordinary. As such, it is unsurprising that investors developed many rationalizations to justify overpaying for assets.

Commitment to Growth

The problem is that replicating those returns becomes highly improbable unless the Federal Reserve and government commit to ongoing fiscal and monetary interventions. The chart below of annualized growth of stocks, GDP, and earnings show the outsized anomaly of 2021.

(Source: Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis / chart)

Since 1947, earnings per share have grown at 7.72 percent, while the economy has expanded by 6.35 percent annually. That close relationship in growth rates is logical, given the significant role that consumer spending has in the GDP equation.

The market disconnect from underlying economic activity over the last decade was due almost solely to successive monetary interventions leading investors to believe “this time is different.” The chart below shows the cumulative total of those interventions that provided the illusion of organic economic growth.

(Source: Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis / chart)

Over the next decade, the ability to replicate $10 of interventions for each $1 of economic seems much less probable. Of course, one must also consider the drag on future returns from the excessive debt accumulated since the financial crisis.

(Source: Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis / chart)

That debt’s sustainability depends on low-interest rates, which can only exist in a low-growth, low-inflation environment. Low inflation and a slow-growth economy do not support excess return rates.

It is hard to fathom how forward return rates will not be disappointing compared to the last decade. However, those excess returns were the result of a monetary illusion. The consequence of dispelling that illusion will be challenging for investors.

Does this mean that investors will not make any money over the decade? No. It just means that returns will likely be substantially lower than investors have witnessed over the last decade.

But then again, getting average returns may “feel” very disappointing to many.

At 4 Percent, Cash Is King

Another problem weighing against potential future returns is the return on holding cash. For the first time since 2009, the alternative to taking risks in the stock market is just “saving money.” Obviously, “safety” comes at the cost of the return, but at 4 percent or more, savers now have an alternative to investing. However, this works against the Fed’s goal of increasing the wealth effect in the financial markets.

Following the financial crisis, then-Fed chair Ben Bernanke dropped the federal funds rate to zero and flooded the system with liquidity through quantitative easing. As he noted in 2010, those actions would boost asset prices, thereby lifting consumer confidence and creating economic growth. By dropping rates to zero, “risk-free” rates also dropped toward zero, leaving investors little choice to obtain a return on their cash.

Today, that narrative has changed, with current risk-free yields above 4 percent. In other words, it is possible to save your way to retirement. The chart below shows the savings rate on short-term deposits versus the equity-risk premium of the market.

(Source: Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis / chart)

One of the problems with the cash hoard in 2023 is that there is no incentive to reverse savings into risk assets unless the Fed drops rates and reintroduces quantitative easing.

However, as discussed in “Banking Crisis Is How It Starts,” if the Fed reverses to accommodative policies, it will be because something “broke.”

Then it won’t be the time to take on more risk, but less.

When you start considering the implications of a market plagued by high valuations, slow growth, and the potential for less liquidity, it is easy to make a case for lower future returns.

While that does not mean returns will be zero every year, we may, by the end of the decade, look back and ask what was the point of investing to begin with?

Tyler Durden Mon, 05/01/2023 - 14:00

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Is someone using your pictures to catfish? Your rights when it comes to fake profiles and social media stalking

Depending on what the fake account is doing, the law may not be on your side.



Ekateryna Zubal/Shutterstock

If you’ve ever used a dating app, you’ve probably experienced the disappointment of meeting someone who doesn’t look quite like their photos. You may have even been a victim of catfishing, where someone creates a fake identity to deceive or scam others online. But what if someone uses your photos to catfish someone else?

Setting up a social media account or dating profile is as easy as entering a name and email address. Platforms do very little to verify users’ identities, making it easy for someone to scam you, harass you – or pretend to be you.

There is very little known about how many online accounts are fake. What we do know is that many of these fake profiles use images from real people – often an unsuspecting third party’s public social media account. This, of course, can cause problems for the person whose photo is used. Their face is now attached to online behaviour that may be illegal, dishonest or just plain embarrassing.

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This article is part of Quarter Life, a series about issues affecting those of us in our twenties and thirties. From the challenges of beginning a career and taking care of our mental health, to the excitement of starting a family, adopting a pet or just making friends as an adult. The articles in this series explore the questions and bring answers as we navigate this turbulent period of life.

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Fake profiles can also include the personal contact details of an innocent third party, a form of doxing (revealing identifying or personal information about someone online) that can lead to unwanted calls, texts, emails, or even in-person visits and violent attacks.

Can the law help?

Unfortunately, if a fake account is using your image or contact details, there are not always reliable legal protections to help you stop it.

There are some relevant criminal offences in the UK, but they can be difficult to investigate and prosecute. For example, if the profile is being used to carry out a financial scam, it might be fraud. Doxing that results in the target being bombarded with unwanted messages could be stalking or harassment.

There is also a communications offence that criminalises knowingly sending false messages or persistently using the internet to cause someone annoyance, irritation or needless anxiety. New online safety laws could make it harder to establish criminality for this, by requiring proof that the perpetrator intended to cause the target physical or “non-trivial” psychological harm.

Other legal options include suing whoever set up the fake account. There are potential civil claims in harassment, defamation or copyright law. However, this is expensive, time-consuming and reliant on being able to identify the account holder, which is not straightforward. Perpetrators may be located in a different country, so outside of court jurisdiction – if they can be tracked down at all.

If you think that a crime has been committed, contact the police for their advice, particularly if you think that you know who is behind the account. Evidence is vital, so make sure you take screenshots before you do anything else.

What platforms can do

Asking the platforms to remove fake profiles may be your best option. If the account is using photographs that you took yourself, one of your most effective legal protections will be copyright law. Platforms are not generally liable for the content posted by users, but if you use their tools to report copyright infringement, they will take it seriously.

You can also report fake accounts using websites’ own tools. This can sometimes turn into a game of fake profile “whack-a-mole”, as new accounts spring up as soon as one is shut down. Additionally, platform responses to such reports have not always been adequate.

Photo illustration showing a woman and a man in different scenes, but facing each other and both on computers. The man is a shadowy figure in a dark room, suggesting that he is scamming the woman he is chatting to
Is your online date who they say they are? Pixel-Shot/Shutterstock

A new law might help. Under the online safety bill, which is awaiting royal assent, platforms must take steps to prevent users from encountering “priority illegal content” that amounts to certain criminal offences, including stalking and harassment. This legal obligation should make platforms more proactive about addressing these types of harms.

The new law will also require the largest and riskiest platforms (such as the main social media sites) to offer users a way to verify their identity. Verified users will also be able to block non-verified users from seeing their content, reducing the risk of unknown users accessing their photographs and personal information.

How to protect yourself

1. Make a report

Use platform reporting tools to request that profiles are taken down. Speak to the police if you think a crime such as fraud, stalking or harassment has taken place, and take screenshots of messages or false accounts as evidence.

2. Tell your networks

Let your friends and family know that you have come across a fake profile using your information. If they know it is out there, they are less likely to think it’s you. Consider agreeing code words so that friends and family can check it is really you, and not a scammer, before sharing personal or financial information via messaging apps.

3. Protect your images

This is certainly not foolproof, but adding a watermark to photos, such as your social media handle, can reduce their appeal to fraudsters.

4. Review your privacy settings

It is not always feasible or desirable to have a private account, but make sure you have made conscious choices about your online privacy, rather than relying on default settings.

The authors do not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and have disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

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Why heating your home this winter may be even harder than last year

Time is running out to ensure that people in fuel poverty can afford to keep warm this winter.




Daisy Daisy/Shutterstock

Domestic energy prices more than doubled during 2022 compared with the year before. This meant that the number of UK households in fuel poverty who could not afford to heat their homes to a safe level rose from 4.5 million to 7.3 million.

The UK government attempted to alleviate the impact of rocketing bills with a package of support measures. This included capping the unit cost of electricity and gas, a £400 rebate to all households using mains gas for heating and £200 for those using alternative fuels, and a further £650 “cost of living payment” to claimants of means-tested benefits.

Many of these schemes ended in spring 2023. And with wholesale gas costs and the government’s energy price cap having come down somewhat, you could be forgiven for thinking that the worst of the energy crisis has passed.

But that’s not the case for many billpayers – in fact, this winter is likely to be worse than the last for many households.

The energy price cap, introduced in 2019 by market regulator Ofgem, limits how much people pay for each unit of gas and electricity. The latest price cap, set on October 1 2023, means that a typical household will pay £1,834 a year for energy – less than £2,000 for the first time in 18 months.

This might sound like good news, but it’s still a substantial increase on the pre-crisis cap. In August 2021, the most a typical household could expect to pay in a year for energy was £1,277.

Although the unit prices of electricity and gas have fallen, there has been a steep increase in standing charges. These are a levy on all energy bills which cover the costs associated with supplying energy to homes.

Standing charges have gone up from around £186 a year pre-crisis to just over £300 now – effectively adding £110 to bills.

An engineer atop of wooden electricity transmission pole.
Standing charges pay for the upkeep of the UK’s energy supply network. KingTa/Shutterstock

Standing charges are regressive because they are the same for everyone, regardless of how much energy you consume. Poorer households often use much less energy than wealthier ones, so standing charges make up a larger proportion of their energy costs.

In fact, some low-income households use such small amounts of energy that they are paying little more than their standing charges.

Energy bill rebates ended

The £400 energy bill rebate paid to all households last winter has now ended. Meanwhile, cost of living payments to claimants of means-tested benefits have increased from £650 to £900 a year. This will be helpful to those who qualify, but one third of households eligible for means-tested welfare payments do not claim them due to stigma, lack of awareness or bad experiences with the assessment process, and so will receive no assistance.

Many households who do receive these cost of living payments will spend it on other expenses, such as food, rather than heating their home. This reflects the fact that energy is often seen by struggling households as something that can be rationed.

If you’re in a household that does not qualify for the cost of living payment then the savings of around £150 that resulted from the lowering of the cap will soon be more than cancelled out by the lack of a rebate.

Cold homes can kill

Despite the financial support offered last winter, average levels of energy debt for people contacting Citizens Advice in England and Wales have risen sharply over the last year, from around £1,400 per household on average in March 2022 to £1,711 in July 2023. One-third of UK energy customers are now in arrears.

So although energy bills have fallen slightly, many households are less resilient to financial shocks than they were in early 2022. Volatile energy prices are predicted to last until the end of the decade.

Research last winter found that households in fuel poverty were underheating their homes, causing damp and mould that can create serious health problems and exacerbating anguish and stress. The health risks of a cold home increase with repeated exposure.

A PVC window frame with black mould growing on it.
Poorly heated homes are at risk of damp. Burdun Iliya/Shutterstock

As temperatures begin to fall again, a range of measures are urgently needed to prevent a crisis worse than that of last winter.

What can be done to help?

Since energy prices are expected to remain high for years, long-term solutions are vital. There must be increased investment in efforts to insulate the UK’s leaky housing stock. But with winter just weeks away, what can the government do right now?

To start, it could offer greater energy bill rebates. Given the scale of the fuel poverty problem, eligibility for these rebates must be wide enough for anyone on a below average income to receive help.

Alternatively, the government could make the rebates universal again, and potentially recoup the costs by increasing taxes on the most wealthy or energy company profits. At the very least, unclaimed energy bill support from last winter should be used to support those likely to struggle in the coming winter, rather than being returned to the treasury.

Cut funding for government-backed advice services could also be restored. And there are reforms to the retail energy market that could be implemented fairly quickly, such as bringing standing charges in line with levels of usage.

More fundamentally, there are a number of proposals that would be fairer than the current system and could be implemented together for maximum impact. These include a “green power pool”, which would ensure that the cheap power generated by renewables such as wind and solar benefits those most in need first and foremost, social tariffs (discounted energy bills for low-income households), or a national energy guarantee that would secure access to enough free energy to meet everyone’s basic needs.

The government’s forthcoming autumn statement must not sidestep these issues if people in fuel poverty are to stay safe and warm this winter.

Aimee Ambrose receives funding from the Arts and Humanities Research Council, the Economic and Social Research Council and the Energy Innovation Centre.

Lucie Middlemiss receives funding from Horizon 2020, the Centre for Research into Energy Demand Solutions and the British Academy. She has previously received funding from the UK Energy Research Centre (UKRI) and the Nuffield Foundation.

Neil Simcock receives funding from the Centre for Research into Energy Demand Solutions. He has previously received funding for fuel poverty research from the Royal Geographical Society (with IBG) and the EU under the Horizon 2020 programme.

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Around the World With Our Analysts

As part of our commitment to staying informed, research trips are an integral component of our active, fundamental investment process. Our investment teams…



As part of our commitment to staying informed, research trips are an integral component of our active, fundamental investment process.

Our investment teams are dedicated to traveling around the globe to conduct comprehensive research and gain a deeper understanding of potential investments. Where others talk only to CEOs, we also talk to the supply chain. Where others ask whether a market, industry, or company is attractive, we also dive deep into relative valuation. And the more we ask, the more you can trust the answers.

Below, we highlight some of the research trips our teams have taken. For more insights, visit our Research Map.

Digitalization Creates Opportunity in India

The adoption of digital tools and infrastructure among consumers and businesses is creating unique investment-related opportunities in India. After traveling to Mumbai, Jay Kannan, CFA, a research analyst on our global equity team, explains why.

“We are particularly excited about the digitalization of India’s economy, and this comes with the formalization of the economy where both consumers as well as small and medium businesses and merchants are adopting digital tools and infrastructure to conduct their business,” he says.

“A lot of this digitalization is enabled by what is called ‘The India Tech Stack.’ Think of this as a set of public goods and tools, all digital, which are aimed at unlocking the economic primitives of identity, data, and payments, but at a population scale,” says Kannan. “It’s a unified software platform, with many layers, one that is the basic building blocks for digital infrastructure and digitization.”

Metals and Mining Sector Could See Better Economics

Greg Czarnecki, portfolio specialist, and other members of our U.S. value equity team attended the BMO Metals and Mining Conference in Hollywood, Florida, to assess opportunities in the sector.

The metals and mining sector is expected to experience structural supply and demand tightness that could support better economics. The team also found that the transition to electric vehicles will require huge amounts of minerals relative to current production levels, which should be supportive for the mining sector in terms of increased demand.

In addition, a renewed focus on energy and supply chain security will likely drive investment in infrastructure and industrial production, which is set to be enhanced by large fiscal stimulus spending.

Egypt’s Plans for Privatization Could Make Debt More Attractive

Watch the video

Egypt has already identified many companies to which it can sell state-owned enterprises. Yvette Babb, a portfolio manager on our emerging markets debt team, examines if these plans could impact Egypt’s ability to meet external financing needs.

“I just returned from Egypt, where we spent several days in Cairo discussing the government’s privatization plans as well as the border reform package that is currently in place. These reforms are currently being implemented with the support of the International Monetary Fund (IMF),” she says.

“But our discussions in Cairo focused predominantly on the privatization plans of its government. They’re looking to sell as state-owned enterprises to strategic partners, and they’ve identified 32 companies in which they are seeking to sell, or at least stakes thereof,” continues Babb. “This discussion was particularly relevant to the way in which we view the ability of Egypt to meet its external financing needs over the short to medium term.”

On the Ground at the Jeffries Consumer Conference

Brad Ernst, CFA, and Cat Duncan, CFA, both research analysts on our U.S. growth and core equity team, attended the Jeffries Consumer Conference in Nantucket, Massachusetts.

After hearing from almost 50 different companies, they found that consumers are still spending, but budget priorities are beginning to shift. Entertainment and travel are still a priority for many consumers who value experiences, while spending on essentials—food, beverage, pet care, and beauty—remains consistent, and will likely be an area of defensive growth in 2023 and 2024.

However, discretionary goods spending continues to be deemphasized after a pull-forward of demand during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Key Takeaways

For our investment teams, visiting companies, attending conferences, and traveling to new markets provides invaluable insights.

  • India’s economy is becoming more digital.
  • There are value opportunities in the metals and mining sector.
  • Egypt’s plans for privatization could impact its external financing needs.
  • Consumers are still spending, but budget priorities are beginning to shift.

Not only are research trips an important part of our teams’ investment processes, they also help us seek out potential opportunities for our clients.

Want more insights on the economy and investment landscape? Subscribe to our blog.

The post Around the World With Our Analysts appeared first on William Blair.

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