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A Bull Market Should Make Investors Happy. This One Isn't.
One day in September, investors with fading summer tans mingled with their brokers over a three-course lunch at Cipriani in Lower Manhattan. Stocks were soaring and they swapped market tips and touted apps that allowed them to buy Bitcoin on the golf course. But the full stomachs and fat portfolios couldn’t mask a sense of unease that pervaded the gathering: that the good times could suddenly end, derailed by nuclear war, political upheaval, a sudden rise in inflation or simply from stratospheric stocks crashing down to earth.

Why Do Smart People Do Foolish Things?
We all probably know someone who is intelligent, but does surprisingly stupid things.  My family delights in pointing out times when I (a professor) make really dumb mistakes.  What does it mean to be smart or intelligent?  

The Economics of Natural Disasters (Part 2 of 2)
In our previous report, we discussed the impacts of hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Marta on near-term U.S. economic growth, the oil industry, agribusiness, commodities, and the municipal market. This report will review the economic dynamics of the three stages of natural disasters: (the catastrophe, the immediate aftermath, and the recovery and rebuilding) and test whether there may be consistent investment opportunities during the recovery stage. 

How to Protect Yourself After the Equifax Breach
Weeks after Equifax acknowledged that hackers had breached the company’s system, the company’s interim chief executive, Paulino do Rego Barros Jr., apologized for its messy response. The breach meant that potentially millions of Social Security numbers, driver’s license numbers and other information had been stolen, leaving many of us to wonder how vulnerable we might be to identity theft.

They're Out to Reveal the 'Dirty Little Secret of Higher Education'
For all its faults, you can give the Internet credit for at least one big win: making prices far more transparent than they were in those dark days before http://everything. Sitting on a bench with a mobile phone, it’s easy to compare the price of a ride across town with Uber versus Lyft; buying a used Toyota from any dealer in the country; getting a home mortgage; or embarking on a kayak tour in Maui. But a Boston startup launching this month contends that the price of one important thing is still pretty opaque: going to college. 

The Economics of Natural Disasters (Part 1 of 2)
Harvey, Irma, and Maria were especially destructive and devestating hurricanes. As a result, 2017 is likely to be the costliest year for disasters in U.S. history. 

Nobel in Economics is Awarded to Richard Thaler
Richard H. Thaler, whose work has persuaded many economists to pay more attention to human behavior, and many governments to pay more attention to economics, was awarded the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences on Monday.

Washington Redskins Quarterback Kirk Cousins Drives a Dented Van He Bought From His Grandma for $5,000
Washington Redskins quarterback Kirk Cousins made $19.9 million last year. This year, he'll earn $23.9 million. But you wouldn't guess his salary based on what he drives: a dented GMC Savana passenger van with more than 100,000 miles on it. He and his wife bought it from his grandma for $5,000 in 2014.

Charlie Rose Interview with Jeremy Grantham
A conversation on the global economy and the future of capitalism with Jeremy Grantham, chief investment strategist at GMO.

Pension Storm Warning
This time is different are the four most dangerous words any economist or money manager can utter. We learn new things and invent new technologies. Players come and go. But in the big picture, this time is usually not fundamentally different, because fallible humans are still in charge. (Ken Rogoff and Carmen Reinhart wrote an important book called This Time Is Different on the 260-odd times that governments have defaulted on their debts; and on each occasion, up until the moment of collapse, investors kept telling themselves “This time is different.” It never was.)

If You're Dreaming of Retiring, It's Important to Make a Plan - and Commit to It
The go-to strategy to encourage people to save for their retirement years has been to frighten them with the numbers. The average cost of retirement is more than $700,000, according to a study released this year by Merrill Lynch. If you want a swanky retirement, you’ll obviously need more. Fidelity Investments estimates that health care and medical expenses alone will total $275,000 for the average 65-year-old couple retiring in 2017. And then there’s the scariest number of all. If you retire at 65, you could live an additional 25 years. The horror: You could outlive your savings.

Equifax Data Breach: 143 Million People Could Be Affected
Equifax says a giant cybersecurity breach compromised the personal information of as many as 143 million Americans — almost half the country. Cyber criminals have accessed sensitive information -- including names, social security numbers, birth dates, addresses, and the numbers of some driver's licenses.

The American Protectionism Bill That Made The Great Depression Worse
One of the most memorable movie scenes from 1986's "Ferris Bueller's Day Off" was comedian Ben Stein as the droning high school teacher, trying to teach his bored students the lesson of “Smoot-Hawley,” the tariff bill of 1930. “Anyone? Anyone?” is the line Stein repeats over and over, trying to elicit answers about a disastrous piece of American legislation. But the real story of that terrible tariff bill is far from boring. It’s actually a fascinating tale of protectionism, politics, piety and patriotism. It’s also a legislative tragedy, a tale of a bill going off the rails, careening off a cliff and helping to sink the world economy.  

The Stock Market Has Been Magical. It Can't Last.
Some things just can’t last. The nearly magical stock market that has persisted so valiantly this year is one of them. The bull market that started in March 2009 seems to have gone on forever, but that’s only a small part of the story. What is astonishing is the way that stocks have risen in 2017.

Smart Investors May Be Killing Capitalism
Picking stocks is for insiders and suckers. That has become the new wisdom on Wall Street when it comes to the best interest of average investors. For most of us, the wisest strategy is to avoid the “this company or that company” game and bet on every company —by putting money in low-cost index funds.But what if this prudent approach is also dangerous? Good for your portfolio, but bad for our collective economic future.

Skip the Stress: Elope at These Inns
Those who want to sneak away to avoid the hassle of wedding planning and big expenses — or those who simply prefer an intimate ceremony with their beloved — are in luck. A number of hotels and inns in New England offer elopement packages that usually include an officiant or judge, and provide variations of romantic meals, flowers, cake, and deluxe accommodations. Some offer additional amenities such as massages, monogrammed robes, and wedding photo portraits — proof that you really tied the knot.

Five Risks That Can Crack Your Retirement Nest Egg
When I advise my clients about their retirement, I can't just focus on asking them, "How much are you saving?" or "Do you think you are conservative or aggressive?" These are questions to be addressed. However, a couple's retirement is dependent on a few other financial disciplines that are interconnected with retirement planning to flesh out the entire discussion. Some have to do with behavior, and others have to do with prudent planning. 

How to Avoid Family Financial Sabotage
Did you ever lend or give money to a family member? If so, you're like many who have responded financially to at least one request. Giving to others can be rewarding, but becoming the family bank or money tree can be stressful, particularly when the amount or frequency of the requests is high. Stress comes from deciding if you can afford the outlay and wondering if the money will be used responsibly. The request can also be packaged in what psychotherapist Dr. Susan Forward called FOG — fear, obligation and guilt. FOG can keep you from saying no when no would be the best response.

Broken Models: Financial Advisors' Daily Digest
In an article on sequence-of-returns risk – the unique risk to which new retirees are exposed by virtue of the fact that they are drawing down income while subject to the market’s scattered returns – Surz points out that defensive portfolios withdrawing at a 4% annual rate have underperformed more aggressive portfolios since 2008.

Three Things I Should Have Said About Retirement Planning
A friend of mine had been a pediatrician for a few years before he had his first child. “Now that you’re a father,” I asked, “has your advice to parents changed?” “No,” he said. “But I am more empathetic when I give it. I now realize things are not quite as easy as I made them sound.” When it comes to providing advice about saving for retirement, I can relate. I had co-authored a couple of books on the subject — one when I was in my 30s and another in my 40s — but now that I am north of 60 and retirement is a far less abstract concept, I look back on what I wrote in a different light.

How the Medicaid Debate Affects Long-Term Care Insurance Decisions
The latest version of the Senate’s health insurance bill appeared on Thursday, and it didn’t do much to change the drastic reductions in Medicaid spending that were in the original legislation. 

Clouds Are Forming Over the Bond Market
The bond market is flashing warning signals that bad times may be ahead for the stock market and the economy. That is probably not what most people want to hear — stock investors especially. In the first half of the year, after all, stocks have performed spectacularly. The Standard & Poor’s 500-stock index returned 9 percent through June, churning out gains so regularly that it may seem churlish to note that clouds are appearing on the horizon. Yet like a long-range forecast about a possible storm, an old and trusted financial indicator is telling us that trouble may be looming.

Are You Responsible for Taking Care of Your Financially Irresponsible Parents?
What responsibility do you have to take care of financially irresponsible parents in their old age? This is a question I get quite often. I believe that you honor your mother and father. But this doesn’t mean you do so at your own financial peril.

Tackling the 'Nastiest, Hardest Problem in Finance'
Consider some of the most challenging problems in finance: the equity-premium puzzle; binomial-option pricing models; do zero interest rates spur inflation or damp it; are stocks cheap or overpriced Challenging as those may appear, none compare to what Nobel laureate William Sharpe, 82, calls "decumulation," or the use of savings in retirement. It is, he says, “the nastiest, hardest problem in finance.”  

More Workers are Staying on the Job Past 65
At 66, Toby Sandler is still working, with no plans to stop. The Needham resident, who has a part-time job helping people manage the moving process, and her husband, a retired electrical engineer, have a substantial nest egg. But the couple have more than $20,000 in out-of-pocket medical expenses a year, and Sandler worries their savings won’t last, especially considering the longevity, and the Alzheimer’s, that runs in her family.

The First Steps to Repaying Your Student Debt
For this year's crop of new college grads, few things are more exhilarating than being handed your diploma. Too bad it's so closely followed by something else: that first student loan bill. Seven in 10 seniors graduate with debt, owing about $30,100 per borrower, according to the most recent data from the Institute for College Access & Success.

How to Maximize Social Security Benefits Under New Rules
Deciding when and how to claim Social Security benefits is one of the most important financial decisions that most retirees will ever make. Despite changes to two key claiming rules that took effect last year, there are still enormous opportunities to maximize lifetime benefits for married couples, divorced spouses, survivors and dependents.

Five Myths About 529 Plans Debunked
Even though it’s been around for 21 years, many people still don’t know what a 529 plan is. Seven out of 10 Americans couldn’t identity the tax-advantaged savings account, according to recent findings by financial services firm Edward Jones.

From ‘Trump Bump’ to ‘Trump Slump’: How to Navigate Your Investments
There’s at least one certainty about the stock market. It’ll go up and eventually come down. Last week, we witnessed this truth about investing. The markets responded with trepidation after a series of scandals hit President Trump.

Study: You Literally Can't Even Pay People to Read Opinions They Disagree With
People are so conditioned to avoid contrary viewpoints that they will actually forego an opportunity to win more money if it requires them to read something with which they disagree. That's according to a fascinating—and deeply depressing—study in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology.

In This Noisy World, Kids Really Need Critical Thinking
More than 1 in 6 students in the United States are unable to solve complex thinking problems, according to the 2012 PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment) test done on 15 year old children in 44 different countries1. Though American students did well overall, they consistently lagged behind their Asian counterparts. Unfortunately, kids who lack critical thinking problem solving skills face a higher risk of behavior and economical problems as adults.

Get Ready for Dramatically Lower Stock Market Returns Over the Next Decade
Vanguard Group says expect a typical 60 percent stocks/40 percent bonds portfolio to deliver two- to- three percentage points less in nominal annual returns than its long-term norm.

An Activist Investment in Whole Foods Exposes Shifting Power on Wall Street
As a steward of pension funds and retirement accounts, Neuberger Berman has traditionally employed a staid strategy familiar among big Wall Street money managers: Buy and hold stocks, sit back, and hope for the best. But recently, the firm has eschewed its nearly 80-year-old tactic of playing nice. Instead it turned to the bare-knuckled world of activist investors made famous by the likes of Carl C. Icahn and William A. Ackman. Last year, as Neuberger Berman’s roughly $200 million investment in Whole Foods Market languished, the firm quietly approached some hedge funds and urged them to agitate for change at the high-end grocer. Two weeks ago, Jana Partners took up the fight.

Your Client's Financial Well-Being is More Than Their Finances
A person’s financial well-being is about more than just finances, according to a new research paper from Morningstar behavioral economist Sarah Newcomb. The paper – When More Is Less: Rethinking Financial Health – draws on results of a 2016 survey of U.S. adults to create a model of financial health using demographic, psychographic, emotional and behavioral variables.

USAFacts is a new data-driven portrait of the American population, our government’s finances, and government’s impact on society. We are a non-partisan, not-for-profit civic initiative and have no political agenda or commercial motive. We provide this information as a free public service and are committed to maintaining and expanding it in the future. We rely exclusively on publicly available government data sources.

I Have to Pay WHAT for That Car?
Nearly 900 high school juniors learned the economic realities of being an adult at the seventh annual Institution for Savings Credit for Life Fair, held at Masconomet Regional High School in Boxford. Students considering college options and careers got a reality check when they learned how much of their future earnings would be eaten up by necessities such as housing, utilities, groceries, and student loans.

Steve Ballmer Serves Up a Fascinating Data Trove
Guess what Steven A. Ballmer has been up to for the last several years. (No, not just cheering for the basketball team he owns, the Los Angeles Clippers.) It’s a novel project, and he plans to take the wrapping off it Tuesday.

America's Disproportionate Weight in Global Stockmarket Indices
The aims of a stockmarket index are threefold. First, to reflect what is actually going on in the market; second, to create a benchmark against which professional fund managers can be judged; and third, to allow investors to assemble well-diversified, low-cost portfolios. On all three counts there are reasons to worry about the MSCI All-World Country Index, one of the most widely used gauges of the global stockmarket.

Millenials: It Pays to Rethink the Boomer Approach to Retirement
To paraphrase one of the great musings of the American businessman and investor Charlie Munger, you don't have to touch an electric fence to learn not to do it. In other words, it's better to learn through observation and the mistakes of others than through making the mistakes yourself. For this reason, millennials should take note of the situation many baby boomers find themselves in today as they near retirement age.

College Financial Aid Packages Usually Aren't Gifts
College-bound high school seniors have just a few more weeks to choose the school that will offer them the best mix of academic opportunity, environment, and financial support. But as they and their parents pore over competing financial aid award letters, the bottom line may not always be clear.

How to Turn Your Wishes into Reality Instead of Regrets
Last week, I shared how scared and worried I felt at the thought of losing my wife after her accident. As frightening as that experience was, it also helped me reflect and decide that I didn’t want any more regrets. I thought you might feel the same way, so I asked for your deathbed wish list. What things would you wish you could have done if you suddenly had very little time left?

What CIA Hacking Systems Could Mean for your Privacy and Security
WikiLeaks exposed the CIA's hacking tools. What does this tell us about our personal security and privacy, and how can we protect ourselves?

Rethinking Retirement for Longer Lives with Fewer Safety Nets
Five days a week, Kim Moske makes a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and brown-bags it to work. “I’ve been doing that for 30 years and saving what I would have spent eating my lunch out someplace,” she said. “That’s added up to a lot of money, and truthfully, I don’t care what I eat for lunch.” That is a small gesture, but it is indicative of the advantages of making daily choices to help save for a financially secure retirement.

A Quiet Giant of Investing Weighs in On Trump
He is the most successful and influential investor you have probably never heard of. His writings are so coveted and followed by Wall Street that a used copy of a book he wrote several decades ago about investing starts at $795 on Amazon, and a new copy sells for as much as $3,500. Perhaps that’s why a private letter he wrote to his investors a little over two weeks ago about investing during the age of President Trump — and offering his thoughts on the current state of the hedge fund industry — has quietly become the most sought-after reading material on Wall Street. He is Seth A. Klarman, the 59-year-old value investor who runs Baupost Group, which manages some $30 billion.

Global Macro Strategy: Special Report
Policy ideas from the White House and Congress continue to emerge. Yet, outside of some initial executive orders, the proposals do not give investors clear signals on what to do. This report offers guidance on some key policy issues and their likely impact.

In Unprecedented Move, Pension Plan Cuts Benefits Promised to Retirees
A pension fund in Cleveland became the first plan to approve benefit cuts for current retirees — even though it is still years away from running out of cash. The move, some critics say, could open the door for other troubled pension plans to follow suit. The financially strapped Iron Workers Local 17 Pension fund proposed a plan for extending its lifespan by reducing benefits for workers and retirees. Now that the plan has received final approval, roughly half of the 2,000 participants will see their pension benefits shrink on Feb. 1. Benefits will be cut by 20 percent on average, but some retirees are expecting their monthly payments to be slashed by as much as 60 percent.

Capital Group's 2017 Outlook
The uncertainty brought on by political shifts in the U.S. and Europe, paired with muted economic growth across much of the world, leaves many economies vulnerable to shocks. While the global economy is expected to continue on a path of low growth, there are a number of bright spots for investors.

A Rising Market Now Confronts Heightened Risks
Monetary policy is tightening, government spending is expected to expand substantially, and, as the American presidential election and the vote in Britain to leave the European Union show, trade relations and other ties among nations may be fraying. How those trends progress should go a long way to determining the performance of stocks and bonds as the year moves along.

Sorry About That Whole 401(k) Mess
In the nondescript world of public policy, oopsies don’t get any bigger than this. In a remarkable story in Tuesday’s Wall Street Journal, several early champions of 401(k)s, the now-ubiquitous tax-deferred plans that help workers sock away retirement funds, expressed regrets for what their efforts later yielded: Private pensions have withered. Individual workers now shoulder risks that large corporations once bore. Investment fees chip away at account owners’ returns. The typical American worker is badly underprepared for old age. 

In Praise of Penny-Pinching, a Most American Trait
Given the number of multimillionaires tapped for Cabinet positions under President-elect Donald Trump, I wonder if frugality will soon be considered un-American. Trump rallied to victory in November with unapologetic boasting of his wealth. He is the personification of conspicuous consumption. But throughout history, philosophers, poets, prophets and a very famous politician — Benjamin Franklin — have argued that penny pinching is better for your spirit and the country. Through their works, they made the case that “frugality and simplicity are praiseworthy; extravagance and luxury suspect,” writes Emrys Westacott, a philosophy professor at Alfred University in New York.

It’s the ‘Most Volatile’ Year for Political Risk Since WWII, Eurasia Group Says
U.S. unilateralism under Donald Trump, China’s growing assertiveness and a weakened German Chancellor Angela Merkel will make 2017 the “most volatile” year for political risk since World War II, according to Eurasia Group. “In 2017 we enter a period of geopolitical recession,” the New York-based company said in its annual outlook. International war or “the breakdown of major central government institutions” isn’t inevitable, though “such an outcome is now thinkable.”

What is NH?
Among the new trends shaping the “new” New Hampshire are an aging population, increasing racial and ethnic diversity, a shift away from the high-growth economic model of the past, and continued demand on the state budget for public services.  

Why 2017 May Be Another Volatile Year for the World's Biggest Bond Market
Gear up for another year of two halves. As 10-year Treasury yields climb above 2.5 percent for the first time since October 2014, analysts warn those yields could stage a sharp reversal next year as economic headwinds kick in.

Market Indicator Hits Extreme Levels Last Seen Before Plunges in 1929, 2000 and 2008
While the S&P 500 is reaching all-time highs on optimism over Donald Trump's economic agenda, some Wall Street strategists are increasingly worried about a widely followed valuation measure that's reached levels that preceded most of the major market crashes of the last 100 years. 

Get Used to It: Economists See 'New Normal' of Slow Growth
Americans should get used to a "new normal" of slow economic growth, business economists say. The median estimate from economists surveyed by the National Association for Business Economics calls for the American economy to grow 2.2 percent in 2017, up from a forecast 1.6 percent this year and unchanged from the previous survey in September.

EU May Rebound After Brexit, Trump
Europe appears to have gotten used to crises by now. The war in Ukraine, the influx of refugees, and Greece’s debt woes have divided the continent. Surprisingly, two very different events that are being perceived as catastrophic in Europe could now help glue the political union back together. First, Britain voted to leave the European Union in a decision that was seen as a watershed moment in Europe’s history and triggered a series of emergency summits.

A Question for Uncertain Times: What Do You Still Control?
I know about uncertainty and how to deal with it because it has been my job for the last 20 years. It turns out that the job of a real financial adviser involves helping people make important decisions in the face of irreducible uncertainty. Because after all the pretty forecasts and projections, no one has any idea what the future holds.

Gradually Converting a Traditional IRA to a Roth Can Boost Nest Egg
The first wave of baby boomers who turned 70 ½ this year must start tapping their traditional retirement accounts soon and pay taxes on those required minimum distributions. For those first boomers who turn 70 ½ this year, who were born from January through June 1946, their first distribution is due by the end of 2016. But a special first-year rule allows them to postpone their initial distribution until April 1 of the following year. However, if they opt to delay they would have to take their second distribution by Dec. 31, 2017, resulting in a double payout next year and an even higher tax bill.

Five Ways President-Elect Donald Trump Could Move Markets
In a historic victory that shocked the political establishment and global financial markets alike, Donald J. Trump will become the 45th president of the United States. In an uncanny echo of the Brexit outcome, millions of Americans frustrated with the country’s direction voted against the perceived status quo in the world’s wealthiest and most powerful democracy. Yet lack of clarity on how the president-elect actually will govern poses both risks and opportunities for investors. 

Quick and Dirty: Are Companies Too Short-Termist?
There are 68,000 firms listed around the world, most of which have little in common. Yet one thing unites bosses from Shanghai to San Francisco—the sense that capitalism has become too hyperactive, forcing them to take ever shorter-term decisions at the expense of their owners and of society. It’s as close to received wisdom as you can get in business. On September 28th a body called Focusing Capital on the Long Term (FCLT) announced its board of directors, now devoted to fighting myopia among investors and managers. Some mighty names have signed up, including BlackRock, the largest fund manager, and Unilever, a consumer-products firm.

Smart Machines and the Future of Jobs
Since the early 1800s, several waves of technological change have transformed how we work and live. Each new technological marvel — the steam engine, railroad, ocean steamship, telegraph, harvester, automobile, radio, airplane, TV, computer, satellite, mobile phone, and now the Internet — has changed our home lives, communities, workplaces, schools, and leisure time. For two centuries we’ve asked whether ever-more-powerful machines would free us from drudgery or would instead enslave us.

What Bridgewater's Ray Dalio Told the New York Fed
Last week, using a presentation sent to clients several months ago, we showed Bridgewater's calculations detailing how much time central banks have left under current and expanded formats of QE, before they hit their limit. In a slide titled "Central banks will reach their limits", Ray Dalio calculated that the ECB has 68 months, or just above 5 and a half years, were it to steamroll all political opposition and monetize virtually every possible bond (and 20% of the equity market), and 48 months, or 4 years, in the case of the BOJ.

One of the Smartest Money Strategies is Asking When You Don't Know
Remember that kid in your high-school geometry class who raised his hand and asked the question everyone knew the answer to? Remember how the class laughed and thought he was so dumb? It turns out that kid wasn’t dumb. That kid was humble. More humble than most of us. And being humble, when it comes to money, is incredibly smart.

Retirement Inequality Hitting Many Hard
The 401(k) revolution, with its promise of portable, tax-advantaged investment accounts for all, has inadvertently brought the scourge of inequality into the world of retirement savings. Today, retirement inequality is actually worse than income inequality.What bridges this gap, and holds many seniors’ lives together, is Social Security. Without it, nearly half of all seniors would be living below the poverty line.But our great common safety net isn’t what it used to be. Over time, it has gotten stingier — paying out later and less. And that means tomorrow’s retirees might find themselves in a triple bind: living longer, with little-to-nothing in savings, and shrinking support from Social Security.

Public Pensions are being Overly Optimistic 
The proximate cause of this column is an article in the New York Times, detailing the travails of a tiny government office that decided to withdraw from Calpers, the California state pension system, in order to switch to a 401(k) system. Officials at the office thought this would be a simple matter, since their members were fully paid in. Only it turned out it cost them more than $500,000 to make the switch, because when they went to leave, Calpers said “We meant fully funded if you stay, not fully funded if you leave.”

Your Mutual Fund Has Your Proxy, Like it or Not
As investors, we are supposed to be able to sound off on corporate governance matters at the companies whose shares we own. We do so by voting on the issues when they arise at a company’s annual shareholders’ meeting.But if you invest, as most people do, with a large fund manager, like BlackRock or the Vanguard Group, the chances are very good that your objections to common corporate practices are not getting through. That is because fund overseers vote your shares and often do so without regard to your views.

Stubborn Grudges Yield Little. Time to Change Your Investing.
The emails I got from people who can’t or won’t bring themselves to let go certainly gave me pause. And yet, the more I thought about them, the more I found myself doubling down on my position. To be clear, I’m not saying everyone deserves forgiveness (although they might). I’m not suggesting a universal moral or ethic. I’m not trying to posit some immutable truth. That’s not what this is about at all. What this is really about is smart investing.

Why McMansions were Doomed Investments from the Start
The term "McMansion" is not usually used as a compliment. Loosely defined as a cookie-cutter suburban home of between 3,000 and 5,000 square feet, the McMansion was considered the ultimate sign of affluence in the late 1980s, 1990s, and early 2000s, before the crash of the housing market in 2008. 

Economic choices facing the United States: Why we need a new direction
Over the next several weeks, I will explore the economic choices facing the United States and its relations with the rest of the world. The election season obviously makes this timely, yet the real choices facing our country will not be settled in November. The debates will take place over many years. We had best become informed about our real choices, dilemmas, and opportunities.

What You Think You Know About Money, but Don't, Can Hurt You
Americans have grown more confident about their financial acumen since the market meltdown that ended in 2009. Yet they seem to know less about the subject than they did then. And most people didn’t even know much about it in 2009. These troubling conclusions arise from the latest data in a long-running study by the Finra Investment Education Foundation, which has been assessing Americans’ financial knowledge, attitudes and well-being for years. The “Financial Capability in the United States 2016” study is based on an online survey of more than 25,000 people. While it contains some positive news about household finances, many of its findings are discomfiting.

Why Some Life Insurance Premiums are Skyrocketing
Around the world, life insurers are wrestling with existential questions. Interest rates are near zero, and in some places have turned negative — unprecedented until recent years. It is contributing to a crisis moment for a business once considered a bedrock of financial stability and an industry that supports the retirement of millions. In particular, companies that sell policies that run for decades, like life and long-term care insurance, face a twofold challenge: how to fund policies that were sold back when their actuaries couldn’t envision a world of interest rates below 8 percent, and what to sell now, when those same actuaries can’t envision an appreciable rise in rates anytime soon.

We're in a Low-Growth World. How Did We Get Here?
One central fact about the global economy lurks just beneath the year’s remarkable headlines: Economic growth in advanced nations has been weaker for longer than it has been in the lifetime of most people on earth. The United States is adding jobs at a healthy clip, as a new report showed Friday, and the unemployment rate is relatively low. But that is happening despite a long-term trend of much lower growth, both in the United States and other advanced nations, than was evident for most of the post-World War II era.

What Brexit, Negative Rates Mean for Bond Investors
"As a global bond manager, my job is to look after the savings of Americans. I don't like the idea of giving their money to somebody and getting less back. I'm allergic to this kind of thing. … It is not only counterintuitive, but it's downright wrong. If you're a German, and you've saved, and suddenly you're getting negative rates on your bonds, what do you do? Well, the first thing is, you save more — which is, as you say, counterintuitive. But nevertheless, it's what individuals do.”

Why Land and Homes Actually Tend to Be Disappointing Investments
Buy land: They’re not making it anymore. That often repeated adage sounds like good financial advice. But over the long run, it hasn’t been. Despite solid price increases over the last few years, land and homes have actually been disappointing investments. It’s worth considering why.

One Thing Both Parties Want: Break Up the Banks Again
Could the Glass-Steagall Act — the Depression-era legislation that forced the separation of investment banking from commercial banking, among other things — be coming back? In an extremely odd political dovetail, both the Democratic and the Republican platforms include planks that call for the restoration of the landmark 1933 law. Glass-Steagall aimed to protect the common folk who deposited money in their banks for safekeeping, and ordered that those banks decouple themselves from the business of placing the type of speculative stock market bets that caused the great crash of 1929.

Student Debt: Lives on Hold
Almost every American knows an adult burdened by a student loan. Fewer know that growing alongside 42 million indebted students is a formidable private industry that has been enriched by those very loans. Step by step, one law after another has been enacted by Congress to make student debt the worst kind of debt for Americans—and the best kind for banks and debt collectors.

The $100 Trillion Bond Market's Got Bigger Concerns than Brexit
While the Brexit vote roiled financial markets and caused a surge in haven demand, Major says investors in the $100 trillion bond market need to look at deeper structural problems plaguing the world: demographics, the explosion of debt globally and the disparity in wealth between the rich and poor.

Boomers, It's Time to Spend - and Pay Taxes on - Your 401(k)
At age 70½, the bill comes due on all those tax-deferred savings accounts we’ve been building, and this week the oldest baby boomers will begin to reach that finish line—with many millions more to follow. Those waves of retirees will be required to start pulling money from their IRAs and 401(k)s. Following an Internal Revenue Service formula, these annual withdrawals can push you into a higher tax bracket, so financial planners put a lot of energy into building strategies to minimize the tax bite.

The Money Letter that Every Parent Should Write
A good letter, according to Ms. Palmer, should include at least one story about a large financial challenge and another one about a big money triumph. Then, include a list of crucial habits and the tangible things they have helped the family achieve.

Say Yes to the Financial Adviser who will Tell you No
Is finance a profession, akin to accountants, architects, lawyers and doctors? Or is it a mere salesmanship gig, akin to those whose jobs are to hawk as many autos, washing machines or insurance policies as possible that month?¹

No. 1 Financial Regret of Older Americans
Most Americans are filled with regrets — financial regrets. Fully three in four, in fact, admit they harbor financial regrets, according to a survey of more than 1,000 adults published Tuesday by Bankrate.com. Their biggest regret:

Financial Illiteracy May have Cost Investors $200B
Back in the day, I used to believe individual investors could manage their own money and even sometimes beat the pros at their own game. But after years of watching them make every mistake in the book, I don’t think many investors know what they’re doing. Now it turns out there’s a reason for that: Many investors are financially illiterate.

1 in 4 Americans have PTSD-Like Symptoms from Financial Stress
If you’ve ever felt like financial stress was bringing you down—in a big way—you might be interested in the findings of a new study from Payoff, a financial wellness company. In an analysis of data from 2,011 survey respondents, researchers at Payoff discovered that 23% of respondents were experiencing symptoms commonly associated with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) related to their finances. Among Millennials, the number is 36%.

The Secret Shame of Middle Class Americans
Since 2013, the federal reserve board has conducted a survey to “monitor the financial and economic status of American consumers.” Most of the data in the latest survey, frankly, are less than earth-shattering, but the answer to one question was astonishing. The Fed asked respondents how they would pay for a $400 emergency. The answer: 47 percent of respondents said that either they would cover the expense by borrowing or selling something, or they would not be able to come up with the $400 at all. Four hundred dollars! Who knew?

Read the Fine Print Before Deciding who Wins with Fiduciary Rule
Last week, the Department of Labor issued the final version of a sweeping regulation for the industry that requires anyone providing investment advice for retirement accounts to serve as a fiduciary and act solely in the best interests of clients. Six years in the making and the target of furious inside-the-beltway politicking, the rule will have dramatic and lasting impact on how Americans save for retirement for years to come.

What New Rules on Retirement Savings Mean for Investors
The Labor Department introduced new rules on Wednesday that will help protect Americans saving for retirement. While investors often assume those handling their savings are providing advice in their best interest, that is not always the case. Here is how things will change.

Dalio: We're not Ready to Handle the Next Downturn
Ray Dalio is founder and CEO of Bridgewater Associates, the largest hedge fund in the world. Dalio bases his investment decisions less on abstract financial data, and more on his reading of the macro economy. He’s very focused on how central bank interest rates are running close to zero these days. Dalio joined Marketplace Morning Report host David Brancaccio to talk about the future of the economy when central banks run out of firepower.

Why We Think We're Better Investors Than We Are
“Nearly two-thirds rated their financial sophistication as advanced,” said Mirtha Kastrapeli, a senior research analyst at State Street. “This seemed a little optimistic, so in our 2014 study, The Folklore of Finance, we ran a financial literacy exam. The average score was just 61 percent, barely a passing grade. This disconnect between actual and perceived financial sophistication, she explains, is evidence of how widespread the overconfidence bias is.”

Love Stinks when it comes to Saving Money
Love's influence over purchases is most easily seen and tallied in big events such as a wedding, where shoppers are making multiple purchases in short order and emotions run high, said Kit Yarrow, author of "Decoding the New Consumer Mind." Almost half of couples married in 2014 said they busted their budget, according to TheKnot.com. Wedding costs also hit a record high that year, at $31,213.

Help Avoid Tax Related Identity Theft
Tax-related identify theft involves someone using a stolen Social Security number to file a tax return and claim a fraudulent refund. This is a small but growing occurrence, and if it happens to you, it can have a major impact on your financial life and delay payment of a tax refund on which you may have been depending.

During Market Turmoil, Listen to your Financial Plan
Any well-designed financial plan will consider two important realities. First, the market will go up and down, sometimes a lot. Second, we don’t know when the market is going to go up or down, and neither does Goldman or RBS. Any attempt to guess and trade accordingly amounts to something known as market timing. And that unfortunately, is a fool’s errand. Few people have the skill (or is it luck?) to guess right repeatedly, fewer still can predict who the good guessers will be anyway.

The Fed in a Bind
Pity the Federal Reserve. As it demonstrated again Wednesday, the central bank remains hostage to changing financial markets and global economic conditions. This is making it very hard for Fed officials to communicate a clear and consistent policy path that will be pursued for any significant period of time.

¹Wells Fargo Advisors is not affiliated with Barry Ritholtz or Ritholtz Wealth Management.  We do not necessarily recommend, endorse, or otherwise propose to perform any due diligence concerning the strategies or opinions contained in this article which is included in the online publication of the Washington Post. Wells Fargo Advisors did not assist in the preparation of this article, and its accuracy and completeness are not guaranteed. The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Wells Fargo Advisors or its affiliates. The material has been prepared or is distributed solely for information purposes and is not a solicitation or an offer to buy any security or instrument or to participate in any trading strategy. This article includes a discussion regarding Exchange Traded Funds (ETFs) and exchange-traded products in general.  Exchange Traded Funds seek investment results that, before expenses, generally correspond to the price and yield of a particular index. There is no assurance that the price and yield performance of the index can be fully matched and it is not possible to invest directly in an index.  Exchange Traded Funds are subject to risks similar to those of stocks. Investment returns may fluctuate and are subject to market volatility, so that an investor's shares, when redeemed or sold, may be worth more or less than their original cost. Asset allocation and diversification cannot eliminate the risk of fluctuating prices and uncertain returns nor can they guarantee profit or protect against loss in declining markets.  Past performance is no guarantee of future results.