Weekly Market Commentary October 1, 2018

Fast Facts

Level Up!- The average American’s credit score has hit a record high of 704, according to FICO, developer of the score most commonly used by lenders. FICO scores, which range from 300 to 850, slumped to an average of 686 during the Great Recession. The current average, 704, is considered “solidly good.”

Lost in Plain Sight- A $450 million masterpiece by Leonardo da Vinci spent two decades hanging in the stairway of a house in Baton Rouge, said Denise Blostein in The Wall Street Journal. Leonardo’s circa-1500 painting of Jesus, Salvator Mundi, was auctioned for that world-record sum in 2017, some 12 years after a pair of art dealers spotted it at a New Orleans estate sale and bought it for less than $10,000. The work has a storied history. Salvator Mundi was listed as a Leonardo da Vinci in the inventory of England’s King Charles I in 1649, but the king was executed the next year, and the attribution was lost as the painting got passed from owner to owner. It was sold in London by Sotheby’s in 1958 for the equivalent of $120 to American collectors—whose heirs didn’t know they had once been the owners of a genuine Leonardo until contacted by the Journal.

Smoked Lobster- State health inspectors are investigating a Maine seafood restaurant that tried to sedate lobsters bound for the pot with marijuana. Restaurant owner Charlotte Gill pumped weed smoke into the crustaceans’ water tanks, saying it keeps the creatures calm and makes “an unbelievable” difference in their meat. She stopped selling the “high-end lobster” after state officials objected, saying that medical marijuana can only be provided to people with a doctor’s prescription. “Lobsters are not people,” a state spokesman noted.

Weekly Focus – Think About It

“Selfishness is not living as one wishes to live, it is asking others to live as one wishes to live.”
–Oscar Wilde, Irish poet and playwright

The Markets

It wasn’t headline news…

But, if newsprint was still popular, last week’s key economic news would have appeared below the fold.

The Federal Reserve raised rates for the third time in 2018, as expected. In addition, the Federal Open Market Committee projects economic growth will continue for three more years, although its median numbers show growth slowing from 3.1 percent in 2018 to 1.8 percent in 2021. (Remember, forecasts, no matter how venerable the source, are best guesses and not bedrock.)

Investors weren’t enthusiastic about the Fed’s actions or its expectations, and the onset of United States-China tariffs didn’t lift their spirits. Ben Levisohn of Barron’s explained:

“The Dow Jones Industrial Average dropped 285.19 points, or 1.1 percent, to 26,458.31 on the week, while the S&P 500 fell 0.5 percent to 2913.98. Neither could be considered life threatening, and the S&P 500 still rose for a sixth consecutive month. So, while we need something to blame, we needn’t get too worried. Last Monday kicked off with the implementation of tariffs by the United States and China and continued with a Federal Reserve rate hike. Neither was a surprise, though the Fed might have caught a few napping when it removed the word ‘accommodative’ from its statement.”

What does it mean when the Federal Reserve removes the word ‘accommodative?’

The Fed pursues ‘accommodative’ or ‘easy’ monetary policy when it is encouraging economic growth. Accommodative policy may include lowering interest rates or, in unusual circumstances, quantitative easing.

By removing the word, the Fed may be signaling that policy will be ‘tightening’ in an effort to prevent the economy from overheating, reported Sam Fleming of Financial Times. There is debate about whether rates are at a neutral level; one that won’t cause the economy to run too hot or too cold.

Let’s hope for a Goldilocks economy.

When do you behave the most like yourself? Don’t worry. This isn’t about soul-searching and trying to find answers to existential questions like, ‘Who am I?’ or ‘What is my purpose?’ or ‘How should I live my life?’

Nope. This is about a science experiment!

Ian Krajbich of Ohio State University and Fadong Chen of Zhejiang University in China wanted to better understand how people made social decisions, according to a paper they published in Nature Communications. They began with the premise that “Social decisions typically involve conflicts between selfishness and pro-sociality.”

Then, they asked 200 students in the United States and Germany to play “mini-dictator games in which subjects make binary decisions about how to allocate money between themselves and another participant.”

Science Daily explained, “In some cases, participants had to decide within two seconds how they would share their money as opposed to other cases, when they were forced to wait at least 10 seconds before deciding. And, in additional scenarios, they were free to choose at their own pace, which was usually more than two seconds but less than 10.”

The upshot was people who were pro-social became more pro-social, and people with more selfish instincts became more selfish, under severe time constraints. Given more time, “pro-social subjects became marginally less pro-social under time delay…while selfish subjects became less selfish under time delay…though these effects are less pronounced.”

Maybe you behave most like you when you’re pressed for time.


Best regards,

John Klevens, CFP



Sources: The Week Magazine, CNBC.com, New York Times
Portions of this newsletter has been prepared by Peak Advisor