Central Banks, Credit Expansion, And The Importance Of Being Impatient by John Mauldin, Mauldin Economics.
We live in a time of unprecedented financial repression. As I have continued writing about this, I have become increasingly angry about the fact that central banks almost everywhere have decided to address the economic woes of the world by driving down the returns on the savings of those who can least afford it – retirees and pensioners.
This week’s Outside the Box, from my good friend Chris Whalen of Kroll Bond Rating Agency, goes farther and outlines how a low-interest-rate and massive QE environment is also destructive of other parts of the economy. Counterintuitively, the policies pursued by central banks are actually driving the deflationary environment rather than fighting it.
This is a short but very powerful Outside the Box. And to further Chris’s point I want to share with you a graph that he sent me, from a later essay he wrote. It shows that the cost of funds for US banks has dropped over $100 billion since the financial crisis, but their net interest income is almost exactly the same. What changed? Banks are now paying you and me and businesses $100 billion less. The Fed’s interest-rate policy has meant a great deal less income for US savers.
It is of the highest irony that Keynesians wanted to launch a QE policy that would increase the value of financial assets (like stocks), which they claimed would produce a wealth effect. I made fun of this policy some five years ago by calling it “trickle-down monetary policy.” Subsequent research has verified that there is no wealth effect from QE. Well, it did make our stocks go up, on the backs of savers. We’ve transferred interest income from savers into the stock market. We’ve made retirement far riskier for our older pensioners than it should be.
As Chris writes:
Indeed, in the present interest rate environment, to paraphrase John Dizard of the Financial Times, it has become mathematically impossible for fiduciaries [brokers, investment advisors and managers of pension funds and annuities] to meet the beneficiaries’ future investment return target needs through the prudent buying of securities.
Everywhere I go I talk with investment advisors and brokers who are scratching their heads trying to figure out how to create retirement portfolios that provide sufficient income without significantly moving out the risk curve at precisely the wrong time in their client’s lives. It is a conundrum that has been made for more difficult by Federal Reserve policy.
Economics Professor Larry Kotlikoff (Boston University) and our mutual friend syndicated financial columnist Scott Burns came by to visit me last week. I have talked with Larry on and off over the last few years, and Scott and I go back literally decades. A few years ago, Scott and Larry wrote a very good book called The Clash of Generations. Now, Larry has branched off on his own and written a really powerful manual on Social Security called Get What’s Yours: The Secrets to Maxing Out Your Social Security.
I will admit I have not paid much attention to Social Security. I just assumed I should start mine when I’m 70, as so many columns I have read suggested. Larry and I recently spent an hour discussing the Social Security system (or perhaps it would be better to call it the Social Security Maze). Three thousand pages of law and tens of thousands of regulations and so many nuances and “gotchas” that it is really difficult to understand what might be best in your particular circumstances. Larry asked me questions for about two minutes and then proceeded to make me $40,000 over the next five years. It turns out I qualify for an obscure (at least to me) regulation that allows me to get some Social Security income for four years prior to turning 70 without affecting my post-70 benefits. There are scores of such obscure rules.
Larry says it is more often the case than not that he can sit down with somebody and make them more money than they thought they were going to get. As one reviewer says:
This book is necessary for three reasons: Social Security is not intuitive, and sometimes makes no sense at all. Two, Americans act against their best interests, leaving all kinds of money on the table. Three, there is usually a “however” with Social Security rules. Worse, Social Security is now up to three million requests every week, but Congress keeps cutting back budget, staff, hours and whole offices. Combine that with the complexity factor, and the authors conclude you cannot trust what Social Security advises. Great.
If you or your parents are on Social Security or you are approaching “that age,” you really should get this book. Did you know that if you are divorced you can get a check for half of your former spouse’s Social Security income without affecting their income at all? But you can’t know whether this is a good strategy unless you look at other options.
How many retirees or those nearing retirement know about such Social Security options as file and suspend (apply for benefits and then don’t take them)? Or start stop start (start benefits, stop them, then restart them)? Or– just as important – when and how to use these techniques? Get What’s Yours covers the most frequent benefit scenarios faced by married retired couples, by divorced retirees, by widows and widowers, among others. It explains what to do if you’re a retired parent of dependent children, disabled, or an eligible beneficiary who continues to work, and how to plan wisely before retirement. It addresses the tax consequences of your choices, as well as the financial implications for other investments.
The book is written in Larry’s usual easy-to-read style, and you can jump to the sections that might be most relevant to you. The book is $11 on Kindle and under $15 at Amazon. This might be some of the better financial advice that you get from reading my letter: go get a copy of Get What’s Yours.
I can’t guarantee it will make you $40,000 in five minutes, but it can show you how to navigate the system. Larry also has a website with some inexpensive software to help you maximize your own Social Security. Seeing as how Social Security is the largest source of income for most US retirees, this is something everyone should pay attention to.
It is time to hit the send button. Quickly, we finalized the agenda for the 2015 Strategic Investment Conference. You can see it by clicking on the link. Then go ahead and register before the price goes up. This really is the best economic conference that I know of anywhere this year.
Your wondering how long they’ll pay me Social Security analyst,
John Mauldin, Editor
Outside the Box
Central Banks, Credit Expansion, and the Importance of Being Impatient
This research note is based on the presentation given by Christopher Whalen, Kroll Bond Rating Agency (KBRA) Senior Managing Director and Head of Research, at the Banque de France on Monday, March 23, 2015, for an event organized by the