You Only Brexit Once (YOBO)

Not even a month ago, I wrote to you and shared my thoughts on Britain leaving the European Union (EU).  I guess I was wrong.

Thursday’s 52%-48% vote by the British electorate to end its 43-year membership in the European Union seems to have taken just about everybody by surprise, but the aftermath could not have been more predictable.  The uncertainty of how, exactly, Europe and Britain will manage a complex divorce over the coming decade, sent global markets reeling.   London’s blue chip index, the Financial Times Stock Exchange 100, lost 4.4% of its value in one day, while Germany’s DAX market lost more than 7%.  The British pound sterling is getting crushed (down 14% against the yen, 10% against the dollar).

Compared to the global markets, the reaction among traders on U.S. exchanges seems muted; down roughly 3%, though nobody knows if that’s the extent of the fall or just the beginning. I think after a bit of a hangover on Monday, Wall Street will move on to the next brick in the Wall of Worry that builds bull markets.

The important thing to understand is that the current market disruptions represent an emotional roller coaster, an immediate panic reaction to what is likely to be a very long-term, drawn out, ultimately graceful accommodation between the UK and Europe.  German companies are certainly not 7% less valuable today than they were before the vote, and the pound sterling is certainly not suddenly a second-rate currency.  When the dust settles, people will see that this panicky Brexit aftermath was a buying opportunity, rather than a time to sell.  People who sell will realize they were suckered once again by panic masquerading as an assessment of real damage to the companies they’ve invested in.

What happens next for Britain and its former partners on the continent?  Let’s start with what will NOT happen.  Unlike other European nations, Britain will not have to start printing a new currency.  When the UK entered the EU, it chose to retain the British pound—that, of course, will remain.  Stores and businesses will continue accepting euros.

On the trade and regulatory side, the actual split is still years away. One of the things you might not be hearing about in the breathless coverage in the press, is that the British electorate’s vote is actually not legally binding.  It will not be until and unless the British government formally notifies the European Union of its intention to leave under Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty—known as the “exit clause.”  If that happens, Article 50 sets forth a two-year period of negotiations between the exiting country and the remaining union.  Since British Prime Minister David Cameron has officially resigned his post and called for a new election, that clock probably won’t start ticking until the British people decide on their next leader.

After notification, attorneys in Whitehall and Brussels would begin negotiating, piece by piece, a new trade relationship, including tariffs, how open the UK borders will be for travel, and a variety of hot button immigration issues.  Estimates vary, but nobody seems to think the process will take less than five years to complete, and current arrangements will stay in place until new ones are agreed upon.

The exit agreement also requires obtaining the consent of the EU Parliament.  When was the last time the EU parliament got anything done quickly? The answer is never. Heck, even Prime Minister David Cameron’s splashy Friday morning resignation is not effective until October. For the foreseeable future, despite what you read and hear, the UK is still part of the Eurozone.

An alternative that is being widely discussed is a temporary acceptance of an established model—similar to Norway’s. Norway is not an EU member, but it pays EU dues, and has full access to the single market as if it was a member.  However, that would require the British to continue paying EU budget dues and accept free movement of workers—which were exactly the provisions that voters rejected in the referendum.

Meanwhile, since the Brexit vote is not legally binding, it’s possible that the new government might decide to delay invoking Article 50.  Or Parliament could instruct the prime minister not to invoke Article 50 until the government has had a chance to further study the implications.  There could even be a second referendum to undo the first.

The important thing for everybody to remember is that the quick-twitch traders and speculators on Wall Street are chasing sentiment, not underlying value, and the markets right now are being driven by emotion to what is perceived as an event, but is really a long process that will be managed by reasonable people who aren’t interested in damaging their nation’s economic fortunes.  Nobody knows exactly how the long-term prospects of Britain, the EU or American companies doing business across the Atlantic will be impacted by Brexit, but it would be unwise to assume the worst so quickly after the vote.

When I want to gauge the intermediate-term economic outlook, I often look at how the large commercial traders are positioned in copper. Being the most basic component of the home/commercial building engine, how they’re positioned in copper tells me how optimistic they are on the economy. As of this week, they’re positioned more bullishly in copper than they have been in the past few years. I would say that offers us some degree of hope about the future of the global economy, even if one country amounting to less than 1% of the global population decides that it doesn’t want to be in an economic union anymore with the rest of Europe.

But you can bet that, long-term, everybody will find a way to move past this interesting, unexpected event without suffering—or imposing—too much damage.  My guess is that the market will get back to its normal course of business by Tuesday or Wednesday and will have moved past this event. Meanwhile, hang on, because the market roller coaster seems to have entered one of those wild rides that we all experience periodically.


The MoneyGeek thanks guest writer Bob Veres for his contribution to this post

Is the Weak Jobs Report Foretelling a Recession?

In case you hadn’t heard on Friday, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) Employment Report for the month of May was disappointing.  Economists who follow job growth in the U.S. economy were expecting 123,000 new jobs to be created.  The actual number, according to the BLS, was 38,000—the smallest gain since September of 2010.

What’s going on?  On a scale of 1 to Lehman, how worried should we be?  Is an 85,000 shortfall in job growth, in a single month, telling us that the U.S. economy is about to plunge into a deep recession? The short answer is no.

CA - 2016-6-3 - That Jobs Report

As it turns out, the investment markets largely shrugged off the surprising number—for a variety of reasons.  First of all, a strike affecting 35,000 Verizon employees was somehow factored into the data, so unless all the striking workers are never coming back to work, a real count would have put the job-adding number at around 73,000.  Second, the employment data comes with a huge asterisk: these are estimates with a margin of error of 100,000 jobs.  That means we won’t actually know how many jobs were created until sometime in the future. There are at least two revisions to be made in the future.

Third: despite the low job creation figure, the Bureau of Labor Statistics also told us that the unemployment rate is dropping, currently to 4.7%, the lowest rate since November 2007.  How can that be?  BLS statistics say that people are leaving the workforce at a faster rate than previously, but the economy has also been adding 180,000 to 200,000 jobs almost every month for the past five years.  Is it possible that it has finally given a job to most of the people who want one?

As evidence, the BLS has reported that hourly earnings by workers are up 3.2% for the first five months of 2016, which suggests that workers have a bit more pricing power than they did, say, last year.  That suggests that we are experiencing a tighter labor market, not one where jobs are falling off the table and many people are too discouraged to apply for a job.

Finally, the uncertainty over jobs has almost certainly delayed the rise in interest rates that had, before the report, been widely expected from the U.S. Federal Reserve Board in June or July.  You can expect the Fed to be more cautious about adding any costs to the economy until its economists can get a handle on what that odd job statistic means for the overall health of U.S. businesses.  That would give the economy a slight boost, and might lead to higher jobs growth figures in the future.

So how much did Friday’s employment news change the fundamental picture of economic growth or the prospects for stocks?

Not very much.

If you would like to review your current investment portfolio or discuss any other financial planning matters, please don’t hesitate to contact us or visit our website at We are a fee-only fiduciary financial planning firm that always puts your interests first.  If you are not a client yet, an initial consultation is complimentary and there is never any pressure or hidden sales pitch. We start with a specific assessment of your personal situation. There is no rush and no cookie-cutter approach. Each client is different, and so is your financial plan and investment objectives.



Wall Street Stunned!

The MoneyGeek thanks guest writer Bob Veres for his contribution to this post



The good side of bad markets

After the recent downturn in the U.S. and global stock markets, you can be pardoned if you wished that the markets were a bit tamer. Wouldn’t it be nice to get, say, a steady 4% return every year rather than all these ups and downs?

Be careful what you wish for. There are at least three reasons why you should hope the markets continue scaring investors half out of their wits.

1) The very fact that stock downturns scare people is one reason why stocks deliver a higher return than bonds. Economists call it the “risk premium;” which can be roughly translated as: people are not willing to pay as much for an investment that will periodically frighten them to death as they would pay for an investment that delivers a less exciting investment ride. Over their history, stocks have been a fairly consistent bargain relative to less volatile alternatives, which is another way of saying that they’ve delivered higher long-term returns than bonds and cash.

2) If you’re accumulating for retirement by putting money in the market every month or quarter, every downturn means that you can buy shares at a bargain price while many other investors are selling out at or near the bottom.   Over time, as the market recovers, this can give a little extra kick to your overall return.

3) Market downturns give an advantage to those who are willing to practice disciplined rebalancing among different asset classes. Basically, that means that when stocks go down, any new cash goes disproportionately into stocks to bring them back up to their former share of the overall portfolio. This, too, allows you to buy extra shares when the prices are low, and can also boost long-term returns.

There’s no question, the downward plunge on the stock market roller coaster is scary. It’s hard to maintain your discipline when the voice in the back of your brain is telling you to bail out on the bouncy trip before somebody gets hurt.

But unless this is the first time in history that the market goes down and stays down forever, we will ultimately look back on the decline and see a buying opportunity, rather than a great time to sell and jump to the sidelines. The patient, disciplined, long-term investor should see market volatility as one of your best friends and allies in your journey toward retirement prosperity.

If you would like to review your current investment portfolio or discuss any other financial planning matters, please don’t hesitate to contact us or visit our website at We are a fee-only fiduciary financial planning firm that always puts your interests first.  If you are not a client yet, an initial consultation is complimentary and there is never any pressure or hidden sales pitch.

The MoneyGeek thanks guest writer Bob Veres for his contribution to this post