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The Future You

Posted by on Nov 3, 2019 in Community, Health, Investments, Planning, Women

Research shows that one of the reasons we have a hard time planning and saving for the future is that we lack a connection to our future selves. We can’t – or won’t – picture ourselves as older. Our youth-obsessed culture draws the picture of an elder you as wrinkled, frail and infirm, rather than strong, experienced and powerful. Women in particular struggle with this and are continually fed statistics about how they’ll live the last years of their lives unneeded, unwanted and alone. Who wants to plan for that kind of future? Can’t there be an alternate future of experience, community and engagement? A Picture of Your Future Self One of the best solutions to connecting Current You to Future You involves digitally aging your own portrait. A few years back, a major bank released an app that takes a current photo of you and digitally ages it. The tool was based on a series of experiments a research team at Stanford conducted, which found that people who view age-progressed photos of themselves often consider allocating more money to retirement accounts. Published in the Journal of Marketing Research, this research brought together a heavyweight team as disparate as Bill Sharpe (Economist, inventor of the CAP-M asset pricing model, and winner of the Nobel Prize) and Laura Cartensen (Professor in Public Policy and professor of Psychology at Stanford, founding director of the Stanford Center on Longevity, and the principal investigator for the Stanford Life-span Development Laboratory). In one of their studies, 50 people were shown either an age-progressed picture of themselves or a current one, and then asked to allocate $1,000 among four choices: a checking account, a fun and extravagant event, a retirement account, or buying a gift for someone special. Those who viewed the photo of their future self allocated more than twice the amount to the retirement account than those who viewed a current photo. There are loads of blog series on advice to your younger self. What if we had known certain things earlier? What if we had done things differently? The gift of planning for Future You is that there is still time. You ARE the younger you. How can we connect who you are now with Future You? What The Terminator Can Show You About Your Future By now you all know I love movies. In part I love the way we use them to express human experiences and offer opportunities for empathy, as well as to entertain. In the Terminator film series (Terminator, Terminator 2 (T2) and Terminator Dark Fate (DF), skipping over the forgettable 3rd-4th-5th films in the series) we see the past, present and future visit and revisit each other, trying to alternately teach and learn the lessons to ensure human survival. In the original film, protagonist Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton) meets the cyborg “Terminator” when she is a college student waiting tables in Los Angeles. She is shown two futures. If she does nothing, she sees the grim fate she and her fellow humans share in a war against the machines. By the end of the film, she evolves from a damsel-in-distress to a damn-it-I-have-to-save-myself heroine, resolved to chart a different path than the harsh future she has seen. Fast forward 10 years to T2, when we meet Sarah again, at...

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Breaking Down the 2020 Debates: Health Care

Posted by on Sep 11, 2019 in Health, Planning, Retirement, Taxes

Whatever you might think about politics and politicians, decisions made in your state house, the White House and houses of Congress have an impact on you and your personal finances. I’m writing this mini-series to break down the issues that come up during the Presidential debates in the months leading up to the 2020 elections. When candidates use buzzwords and scare tactics to win at the polls, we lose the real exchange about how we want our lives to look. You need to understand how a tax proposal, health care plan or student loan forgiveness could affect you. Upfront I want to say that I offer this with no political agenda. My goal is to take the politics out of policy and try to outline what you need to consider in evaluating a proposal or a politician’s platform. What matters to me are the problems we all face, and solutions to them. So with that in mind, let’s talk about health care. This a long post, so sit back, get a second cup of coffee (or something stronger), and let’s dive in. WHAT IS HEALTH CARE? Let’s start by separating the three components of this subject: 1. Health care insurance 2. Health care services 3. Health – your physical and mental well being All three components have been touched on during the debates, but it’s the first part – insurance – that is the main focus at this point. Employer plans, the Affordable Care Act, “Obamacare” – this is what the “health care debate” has come to mean. That is: How do we pay for help to maintain, enhance and recover our health over the course of our lives? We’ll start with an overview of the health care insurance system we have, a little history about how we got here, and the various proposals up for debate. WHAT WE WANT Here’s what I think most of us want when we think about health care: • We want to live long, healthy lives. • We want to prevent illness and understand that preventative care, check-ups and routine testing, can catch big health issues early and help us avoid them. • We want quality medical care for accidental injury or the Big Issues we haven’t been able to avoid that treats us without bankrupting us. WHAT WE HAVE Our system is almost completely backward. Kristen Gillibrand, Tulsi Gabbard, and Marianne Williamson are all correct that we have a “sick care” system that emphasizes treating illness and not a health care system geared towards preventing it.  We see this in data like that from the OECD which shows that the U.S. has a much higher rate of hospital admissions for preventable diseases than in comparable countries. In the U.S. we have FOUR health care systems: • Government-paid / government-provided (the Veterans’ Administration (VA) system) • Government paid / privately provided (Medicare) • Privately paid / privately provided (Employer plans) • Self-pay (the individual covers all costs) Most countries incorporate everything into one system. Our patchwork arrangement was stitched together over time, during various presidential administrations and political regimes. The VA system was in place when Truman (1945-1953) introduced a proposal that 15 years later would become Medicare. When Eisenhower was president (1953-1961), only 9% of single elderly and 14% of elderly couples had insurance...

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Labor Day and Investing in YOU

Posted by on Sep 2, 2019 in Community, Investments, Planning, Retirement, Women, Worklife

We’re in an era of constant change. As soon as you buy one thing, there’s a newer version. In the old I Love Lucy television show, Lucy asks the question: “If everything now is new and improved, what was it before? Old and lousy?” In the same way store shelves are continually restocked with the “new and improved,” we need to think of our skills and talents this way, too. You have no doubt spend time and money on knowing what you know, doing what you do, and becoming who you are. This human capital – you – needs on-going investment and care to stay in top form. Keeping your tools sharp helps you jump on a new opportunity or take on a new role, and it’s important because sometimes the decision to make a change may not be yours. As the prospect of a recession looms, you need to be able to recover quickly if a downturn affects your job, or company or your industry. A career transition expert tells me that while this is good advice, you’re not likely to move on it now, even if you’re in a bad job. Like being in a dead-end relationship or on the brink of needing to think seriously about a long-term care plan, no one likes to think about the possibility of future misfortune — job loss, break-up, or broken hip. And yet, now is the best time, when you don’t have to make a reactive plan, but can craft a proactive one. If you think you can skip this step if you’re retired, you might want to think again. Whether it’s serving in a volunteer role, re-entering the workforce, or keeping up with the grandkids, you’re still going to benefit from learning something new. (Your brain will thank you too – more on that in another post!). Think FaceBook, Instagram, Slack, Evernote, the newest shiniest iPhone…Continual learning is a habit all of us need to develop, not only to recession-proof your income-generating capacity, but also because the way we live will continue to change at an ever-increasing pace. Bill Burnett and Dave Evans, co-founders of the Life Design Lab at Stanford and recovering techies themselves, argue that much unhappiness comes from an unsatisfying work life, and by designing your life you move into a mindset to constantly evolve who you are and what you can do. There is no better time to start than right now. Make it Personal If it sounds daunting to tackle “how to keep up with an ever-changing world,” literally take it personally: think about what you’d like to do that you’re not doing now, and identify how you can add to your tools and talents in those areas. You can use this exploration to think about career or industry changes, in addition to getting to the next career step. Yes, you need to pay your bills, and you’ll spend 2,000 hours this year working that 40-hour a week job to do it – you may work more. Life is short, but workdays are way too long to not like what you’re doing. Thinking about what you’d like to learn next could take you in a satisfying new direction. What’s the next step? Do you want to move to the next rung on your...

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Inverted Yield Curves, the Next Recession, and You

Posted by on Aug 20, 2019 in Investments, Planning, Taxes

I initially started this post two weeks ago, after we woke up to the news of Dayton and El Paso, which made it feel like the world was falling apart. That shock was followed by China’s devaluation of its currency, a different kind of shock, and the financial world seemed like it was falling apart, too. By the time I’d finished a first draft that Monday morning and guessed that China would be labeled a currency manipulator, markets rebounded. And China was labeled a currency manipulator. Then came this last week, when we saw an inverted yield curve, and markets tanked again. By the end of the week, markets had recovered, and you were probably throwing your hands up or wishing there was a nice pile of sand into which to stick your head. Let’s look at what happened to the stock market over the first two weeks of August when all this was going on, then we can talk about what was behind it. The S&P 500 tracks the largest US companies, and we’ll use that index here: The first dip in the chart is China’s devaluation of its currency. The next, leading up to the plunge on Friday, August 9th, was related to squabbling over name-calling between the US and China, increasing tensions in Hong Kong when anti-government protests over a proposed extradition law turned violent,  and the beginnings of investor flight from stocks to bonds. The sharp uptick of markets opening the following week on August 13th was a reaction to the Trump’s Administration’s announcement of a delay in implementing new tariffs on China from September until mid-December. News of the inverted yield curve came on the 14th, and markets collapsed. On Friday, Walmart’s quarterly earnings beat estimates, and that news along with other strong earnings numbers led to a rise in non-tech stocks. So, yeah, if you’re feeling like following the ups and downs of the market is like playing whack-a-mole, you’d be right. The big issues of a trade war with China and an overall flight to safety in financial markets are the two main things to watch, and we’ll take each in turn. China’s Currency Devaluation At the beginning of the month, the People’s Bank of China (PBOC) devalued the yuan, citing “unilateral and protectionist measures as well as the expectation of additional future tariffs on Chinese goods.” President Trump had threatened China with an additional 10% tariff on Chinese goods to go into effect in September, despite reported progress on trade. When I was in grad school, even after studying economics in college and working in finance, taking an international investments class was like trying to think in an extra dimension. Supply and demand charts I understood. But now throw in the impact of multiple currencies? Until we all move to bitcoin, global commerce will still require an extra step: If I want to buy something made by someone using a different currency, first I have to buy some of their currency, then buy their product using their currency. And let’s be clear: US importers and their US customers (i.e. you) pay the cost of the tariffs.  China “pays” in that their exports are more expensive to offshore buyers. When the US puts a tariff on Chinese goods, it costs more to...

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Lessons from Apollo 11 at 50

Posted by on Jul 24, 2019 in Community, Family, Planning, Relationship, Technology, Women

This weekend, the Apollo 11 moon landing celebrated its 50th anniversary. The event was just on the edge of my personal history: I was five (and a half – back when counting halves was important). The experience of Apollo 11, and the missions that came after, shaped me and the way I see the world. I’ve been a space geek since I can remember. A highlight of my life was a trip to the Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in the late 1990’s, an outing during a business conference. Apollo 11 was one of many missions in the Apollo program, which followed the Gemini program and the Mercury program before that. The tour at KSC recreated the last two minutes of the Apollo 8 mission launch. Apollo 8 flew the first humans into the Moon’s orbit, and gave us the famous photograph, ‘Earthrise.’ After a history lesson about how many things had gone wrong – seriously wrong – just prior to that mission, we visitors looked into a room with the actual consoles from that Mission Control room, the jackets and windbreakers with the logos of companies now gone, or merged into others, hanging on the backs of chairs: McDonnell Douglas, Northrup Grumman, North American Aviation. It was 1998 and we were all thinking about Y2K and what could go wrong. At the time I was at Starbucks and responsible for the company’s banking relationships; one fear was that the electronic ledger that banks used would go kablooey as we flipped into the new century and money would disappear off the books (it did not). The Apollo 8 launch required more than 400 different systems to work together, systems built by many different companies, each responsible for a piece of the whole. We counted down to zero – Ignition – and the room shook and filled with light and sound. Apollo 8 had launched! Then we walked out into the hangar, out under a Saturn V rocket. All 363 feet, 3,270 tons of it. We sat down for dinner, of which I have no memory. Everything stopped with that rocket. The technology of the time: The telephone. The typewriter. The transistor. Not yet invented: The personal computer. The cellphone. The internet. Pong. Thirteen missions using a Saturn V rocket were flown, all of them successful. They completed these missions and never carried a weapon into space. “We came in peace for all Mankind.” With a backdrop of great civil unrest and international turmoil, we found the money and the focus to send men to the moon. There were detractors; there were plenty of domestic issues that needed attention, too. The same can be said today. Destination Moon In homage to the anniversary of the Apollo 11 landing, I went to the Museum of Flight outside of Seattle and stood inches from the Command Module, Columbia, that splash-landed in the Pacific, bringing Michael Collins, Buzz Aldrin, and Neil Armstrong safely back to Earth. There were a lot of things that had to happen before Columbia came back to us. Tests, mistakes, massive, tragic failures. Many of the Apollo missions you don’t hear much about were testing equipment and different stages of what would become the trip to land on the Moon. Making mistakes, course correcting along the way We talk a...

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A Mother’s Day Wish List

Posted by on May 12, 2019 in Family, Women

  My mother was a strong and resilient woman, creative and resourceful, quick to help and even quicker to laugh. I adored her.  People often commented that she’d had a hard life, and she always countered that it was full of interesting experiences. I loved the stories she told about her life, but I also wished she’d had it a little easier. My mother came to the US in 1952 at sixteen. She spoke five languages, none of which was English. Assimilation was high on her list and she quickly absorbed all that was American: Saturday night dances, movies & television, Elvis Presley. After secretarial school, she lived with (and paid rent to) her parents while she started work at a bank. She met my father and they married in the early 1960s. They then promptly loaded up everything they had into a Ford Galaxy and headed west, settling in the Southern California suburbs. My father worked part-time and started school on the GI bill. I was born two years later, and my brother two years after that. My mom had loved her job at the bank, as one of three assistants to the bank president. She loved living in a big city. But as a single woman in the 1950s and early 1960s, her life was limited. It was a challenge for a young woman to live on her own, an even a greater challenge to stay single. Once married and without any family nearby in those early years in California, she was on her own to figure out how to run her house and take care of two small children. Once my brother and I were in school, she went looking for a job. She found one as a part-time bookkeeper for a local dairy. That job provided much-needed additional income to the household, but also much-needed social connection for my mother, and at least one trip for us to the dairy farm itself, complete with fragrant cow pastures and a dog named Fresca. By now, it was the late 1960s. We’d sent men to the moon, but women could still get fired for getting pregnant, contraception was not widely available, and banks could refuse to extend credit to women. Betty Friedan exposed “the thing that has no name” in 1963, but my mother already knew what it was: it was the albatross of economic dependence, of limiting cultural norms, and the prevailing expectations about mothers and motherhood. How much easier have we made mothers’ lives today? Here’s what’s on my Mother’s Day Wish List: Pay equity: Becoming a mother should not mean you are worth any less as an employee. Neither parenthood nor marital status should determine pay, yet married men are generally paid more than single men (and most women, married or single). Paid family leave: We make accommodation for employees to address and recover from other medical events; time to properly heal and bond makes mother and baby healthier and most women cannot afford to take unpaid leave to do this. (Note this is family leave, not just maternity or parental leave; women are more likely to take a second round of leave, when they assume caregiving for elderly parents, impacting their earning potential a second time.) Access to quality child care: Becoming a mother shouldn’t mean you have to choose between your...

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Valentine’s Day Planning

Posted by on Feb 15, 2019 in Community, Estate Planning, Family

If all the pink hearts and chocolates you’ve been seeing in stores since just after Christmas weren’t enough of a giveaway, it’s Valentine’s Day. The first conversational candy hearts were crafted by the New England Confectioners Company in 1866.  Yes, that means we’ve been doing this for over 150 years.  And this year you probably heard that due to a change in control at the company, it would not be producing the chalky, nearly flavorless candies.  Yet Valentine’s Day marches on.  The National Retail Federation projects that we will spend $19.6 billion this year on Valentine’s Day. All the hubbub can leave many feeling like they’re missing something: a romantic partner, a partner who is romantic, or the right combination of candlelit dinner/jewelry/flowers/candy. Setting aside the consumerist take-over of the day (as well as its dark history), and considering its modern meaning more broadly — as a celebration of love  — that is a worthy goal.  Love is one of the few truly infinite resources we have, and it takes many forms: romantic love, friendship, familial love, self-esteem or love of oneself, and love outside of one’s self, whether that be for humankind, nature, a vocation or God.  Building a truly rich life incorporates as many of the types of love as possible. Celebrating and enhancing these connections is what we strive to do. Valentine’s and Love Last week I went to hear John and Julie Gottman talk about love. Not about finding it, but about knowing when you really have it, and about keeping it once you do. The Gottmans were at Town Hall to promote their new book, Eight Dates: Essential Conversations for a Lifetime of Love. Gottman and his colleague Robert Levenson founded the “Love Lab” 45 years ago. As the story goes, they were “two clueless guys who knew nothing about relationships” who decided to research relationships.  John recalled how, 33 years ago as a newbie to Seattle, he decided to answer every personal ad in the Seattle Weekly.  In two months, he dated 60 women, and that experience was the start of his “date-a-base.” Over the years at the Gottman Institute, they studied 3,000 couples to see if they could find scientific evidence of the characteristics of long-lasting love. John’s methodology and the Love Lab developed their renown based on their 94% accuracy rate in predicting whether couples would stay together. Love and Connection When asked about what keeps people on the hunt for love, despite rejection and failures, Julie Gottman noted that at the core of their research they find that what we all want is connection.  She says this, and the room gets quiet.  At the end of the day, we all want to be valued, to be seen, to be heard, to be loved. Whether we’re coupled or not, this need for connection unites us all. Love In Many Forms / On Many Forms The other take-away from the Gottmans’ talk is how the base of any good relationship is in how we communicate. Whether love between romantic partners, friends, within families of origin and of choice, communities to which we belong – all types of love enrich our lives.  You want to enjoy them while you have them, and you might want to leave something to them after you’re gone. ...

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Planning for Joy

Posted by on Jan 7, 2019 in Community, Health, Simplicity

Yes, losing 10 pounds might bring you joy when it happens. Giving up red meat and quitting smoking will help improve your health over time. Saving more money will result in meeting financial goals sooner, or with greater confidence, and you know I’m going to encourage this, but it won’t happen overnight. I cannot object to any of these resolutions. They are all laudable. They also require change, and change is hard. It takes at least three weeks to change a habit, and often longer. By all means, get started on those resolutions (or re-start them), but also plan for greater joy. In addition to my New Year’s Resolutions, here’s what I’m planning to add more joy to my life: 1. Play My dog has a good life. On her worse days, she suffers from the boredom of watching me work. Since I have to work to keep a doghouse over her head, she’s going to have to learn to deal with it. And yet, that doesn’t mean I can’t learn a thing or two from her, too. Often when I’m downstairs in the office, she is upstairs in her corner perch, watching the neighborhood scene. I’ll hear her pad down the stairs and come around the corner into the office. Every time she does this, I greet her with my happiest dog-voice, and take a break in what I’m doing for a pet and a little play. I say I do this for her, to have good associations with my office so she’ll hang out here. In truth, I find it is good for me, as well. I am terrible at taking breaks, and the dog is a natural. I could just set a timer and tell myself to take a break. How much more fun it is, though, to unleash the joy of seeing my dog prance around the office with her little paws in the air, her play-bow, and her goofy look, when I take a breath before I start a new project. 2. Organize My Desk I know this sounds like work. I am a planner by nature, and I like order in my universe. Maybe it’s a coping mechanism, but it also helps me to focus and relax into whatever I’m doing when I’m in a clutter-free zone. My new house is slowly getting organized, but not yet up to my standards of order, and it’s stressing me out. As a business owner, there is no end to things to do for the job. A clear desk is an accomplishment, too. My plan for the New Year at work is to close out each day putting my desk in order, filing papers, and scheduling the next day. Earlier in the business I sublet office space from a large engineering firm. The sliding glass doors to each office had no locks. For practical purposes, I ended each work day putting all my projects away, under lock and key. Starting the next day was bliss! Taking joy in sitting down and intentionally beginning a new project, rather than staring down a pile of ongoing work, is my goal for 2019. I’ve done it before, and I know I can do it again! If you’re inclined to try a bit of rearranging to de-clutter your space but...

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Blind Spots and Seeing the Whole Picture

Posted by on Jul 27, 2018 in Community, Family, Investments, Planning, Relationship

I’m a huge movie buff. In a different life, I would have been behind a camera, capturing people’s stories on film. One of the best stories I’ve seen on film is a movie making the festival circuit this year, Blindspotting. Daveed Diggs of Hamilton fame, along with longtime friend, poet and fellow actor Rafael Casal, have made a buddy movie like no other. It is smart, funny, painful, intense, and powerful. The writing is tight, the acting top-notch. The pair had been working on finding a way to produce the film for ten years, and its tone and subject matter could not be more pertinent today. And why am I telling you about this in a personal finance blog? The power of the movie is in its exercise in asking the audience whether they can see more than one thing at the same time: Can you see the two people in profile AND the vase? Can you see a black ex-con and a thoughtful man reinventing himself? Can you see that the friend you’ve known your whole life has a different experience of the world because his skin color is different than yours? Can you see a rich person and someone struggling? Can you actively look to see past your blind spots? This is important because without the ability to do so, you can miss important information about your friends, your family, the people you work with, and the broader world around you, as well as about your finances. What is “Blindspotting”? You’ll find that out when you go to see the movie. (And seriously, go see it.) We’ve all heard of blind spots: something in your range of vision that you should be able to see, but which is obstructed. The obstructions come from a variety of sources, but they can come straight from you: a blind spot is a predisposition, a prejudice. The most dangerous are the ones that you don’t know you have. Dangerous because you may think you are lighting candlesticks when you are lighting dynamite. We all have them. We are all products of our own stories and experience: our upbringing, our families, and the shortcuts that help us make sense of the world. Sometimes those shortcuts don’t show us the whole picture and result in blind spots. Here are three common ones that might impact your personal financial life, and one additional that can cause you to negatively affect someone else’s: • Confirmation bias – You embrace information that supports your perspective and cultivate a blind spot to that which contradicts it. You buy a stock and when there is good news about the stock, you acknowledge that and feel you have made a wise investment. When there is negative information about the stock, you discount the news. Recognizing that you’re likely to have a bias for the choices you make and being able to look past that blind spot and take in all relevant information about an investment will make you a better investor. • Over-confidence – What you’ve done in the past has been successful, so you are confident that you know what you’re doing. You have a blind spot to the role luck can play and to evidence itself, and in investment management, that’s one place where numbers don’t lie....

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Awakening From Slumber: Ten Years After The Financial Crisis

Posted by on Jun 27, 2018 in Community, Investments, Philanthropy, Planning, Retirement

Ten years ago I was in Rome and passed a shop on Via del Corso that sold crystal balls.  If I could have figured out how to bring one home without setting off airport security, I would have picked one up for the office. Then when you ask me what I think will happen in the market, I can point you to my little Roman souvenir and you will be able to see the future as well as I can. One of the closest things I have to a crystal ball is my relationship with PIMCO. In addition to being the largest bond manager in the world, PIMCO has the biggest and most geographically widespread research team I know. Most of you who work with me hold at least one PIMCO fund in your portfolio. Even if you don’t, you have heard of their research: they were the folks who came up with The New Normal to describe economic and financial life after the Great Recession. (And which you are likely using to describe any number of new trends in your own life.) Each year, PIMCO holds its Secular Forum, a gathering of its internal investment professionals along with guest speakers to discuss and debate the state of the global economy and markets over the next three to five years. Like much of PIMCO’s team, my background is in bonds as well, in markets for which critical to understand not only an individual issuer’s ability to repay a debt, but also the longer-term trends that will affect its ability to do so. As part of PIMCO’s investment process, its Secular Forum is designed to promote new ideas and differing points of view, to look into the future for the trends they believe will have important investment implications. They meet, then they publish their results for their advisory firm clients. The title of this year’s look at 2018 and beyond is called “Rude Awakenings.” That gives you an idea of where we are headed. The Great Recession: Ten Years Later After The New Normal, PIMCO dubbed the last five years (2014-2018) the “New Neutral.” This moniker described the low growth, low interest rate environment we found ourselves in world-wide, chugging along without much economic change, with your savings accounts earning next to nothing, but overall slow and steady growth in the economy. PIMCO predicts our economy will be more volatile over the next several years than this past New Neutral period, and the global political environment will be rockier as well. Nations which worked together to combat the aftermath of the Financial Crisis are showing nationalistic tendencies, meaning it may be every-nation-for-itself when the downturn comes. Neutral no longer, we will need to be prepared for Rude Awakenings. We will need to be flexible, to be able to respond to changing conditions, and to take advantage of opportunities in the investment landscape as they present themselves. Here are four of the Rudest Awakenings we can expect: Rude Awakening #1: You expect the same stock market growth in the next 10 years that we’ve had since the Financial Crisis. The big question many of us are struggling with is the state of the business cycle, and when we will shift from expansion and growth to contraction and recession. PIMCO’s research points to a good chance...

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