How come I never get invited to attend the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland? Just because Mick Jagger went to the London School of Economics doesn't mean he has a leg up on me when it comes to financial prognostication. And Derek Jeter, the big league baseball player? Or Angelina Jolie? Please.
It's interesting to note how much of what is predicted by this collection of business and government heavy-hitters just turns out to be wrong. In fact, in response to a column on this subject by Andrew Ross Sorkin in the New York Times, a former forum employee said that opposite results tended to follow what their forum's speakers had predicted. It's laughable to consider that the World Economic Forum has become a contrary indicator.
The lesson here is to caution anyone who finds themselves tempted to respond to one or more components of the vast economic matrix. Who, for example, with all the brouhaha about Greece, Spain and Italy back in 2011 would have guessed that European stocks would have gained in value by 21 percent in 2012? They outperformed U.S. averages by 5 percentage points, and our economy is experiencing a recovery.
As it turns out, the Germans have come through to support the euro using a 500 billion euro bond issue -- that works out to be about 6,000 euros for every man, woman and child in Germany. It's an expression, as well, of the resilience of world economies. Speaking of all nations, we all have problems from time to time, but a combination of creativity, creative thinking and determination tends to correct all those catastrophes sooner or later. The assumption that "this time it's different" amounts to a bet against history.
More accurate than anything from the World Economic Forum is probably the word out of New Hampshire from the Institute for Trend Research or ITR Economics. While these prognosticators originally predicted a recession to begin by mid-2013 and extend into 2014, their latest U.S. leading indicator suggests that the downturn, which they are certain will happen, will not begin until after the next three quarters. I hasten to add that they predict a worldwide economic boom from 2015 until the end of the decade. Let's hope they're right.
It's anyone's guess as to what rising house prices will do for the economy. They certainly help the job market as home building itself plus the building materials industry employs such an army of people. For what it might be worth, the peak of house prices back in 2007 represented about an 80 percent premium over what has historically been a 3 percent annual rise.
Thanks to the crash and subsequent small annual gain, we're back on track with what would have been the normal straight line of rising values if the boom had never hit. That feels healthy to me.
So let's resolve to forget about any illusions that we can seize on a piece of economic information like the fiscal cliff, the failure of Greece, or the default on U. S. government debt because of the implacable debt ceiling ... or whatever. Instead, we should just stay focused on our own goals and the financial tools that have traditionally serviced those goals over rolling 10-year periods. Looking out for No. 1 suggests that we stay in the stock and bond markets with an allocation we can live with based on historical rates of return for combinations of each.
For example, the 10-year average annual return for stocks (the S&P 500 Index) has now been 6.9 percent and this includes the market downdraft, which cost us 37 percent. The norm for the market annual average is 10 percent including reinvested dividends. Alternatively, with 60 percent bonds and 40 percent stocks, our 10-year return would have been 7.3 percent, but we only would have lost 9 percent during the 2008 year of the crash.
Keeping these longer-term performance stats in mind, and investing accordingly, is far more constructive than any hopeless attempt to discern the meaning of single economic components. Those self-styled economic experts who migrate to Davos like so many Monarch butterflies don't know any more than you do.