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Portfolio > ETFs > Broad Market

Summer Of Discontent

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Sorry, Will, to pull a change of seasons on you, but right before the 4th of July it really looks like this is going to be the summer of our discontent.

So many depressing factors are piling up one on top of another with the cumulative result of deflating people’s spirit. Indeed, it’s so palpable that you can hear the air going out of the balloon. That is never a pretty sound; nor is it a pretty sight.

There don’t seem to be very many places for people to turn to get respite from the onslaught of bad financial news. As I write this, the stock market was entering bear market territory, down some 20% from its high in the fall of last year. This is true not only in the U.S. but in countries around the world (you know, those places where investing added the piquancy of diversification to your portfolio).

If you want to know how bad things are for some of the best-known brands in this country, take a look at General Motors, an icon of American capitalism if there ever was one. The recent market cap of GM was in the vicinity of $6 billion, the equivalent of pocket change for the new crop of Russian billionaires.

There’s also scant consolation for those of a more conservative bent because fixed instruments are returning peanuts. This is a tough time for those people who have just retired or are thinking about retiring in the near future. (I can imagine that many of this latter group may be having second thoughts about leaving the workplace when they intended to.)

Which, of course, brings us to the bad news emanating from the job market. Layoffs here, layoffs there–it’s like snow made of pink slips.

So, not only are prices screaming out of control for the basics of food and energy, but the job market is shrinking at the same time. Is it any wonder that I’m starting to hear Martha and the Vandellas’ “Nowhere to run, nowhere to hide,” as background music for this summer that has just begun.

Oil prices are now around $140 a barrel for sweet light (oh how ironic that name is!) crude. But it’s what people are paying at the gas pump that is really freaking them out. For many people, paying more at the pump means having less on the table.

There is really no short term fix for the gasoline situation we are in. Most people can cut down on discretionary driving, but that will only cut so much from one’s gasoline bill. Public transportation in this country is–not to put too fine a point on it–a mess. We have so shortsightedly not invested in public transportation and now are paying the price.

And to top it all off, there are reports that the North Pole will entirely melt this summer! Let’s hope that Mr. & Mrs. Claus have gone south for the summer. But those poor elves, consigned to a stray ice floe here and there until things start to freeze up again (assuming that they do).

And what does all this have to do with insurance? Simply that if people have to start choosing between gas and food, where do you think that leaves discretionary income for retirement and/or protection products whose payoff (if it comes at all) is somewhere quite in the distant future.

However, for those folks who do have some discretionary bucks and are still socking money away for retirement, this is the time that the life insurance industry, that bastion of safety and guarantees, needs to start sounding the trumpets.

The industry may not be able to cure the summer of discontent, but there are enough brains around so that it should be able to figure out how to profit from it.


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