A century ago, Mark Twain cleverly reminded us September is no more dangerous for investors than any other month. With an eight-year-old bull market and relatively low volatility it makes sense to look at potential traps for the unwary. I am not saying there is a bad moon on the rise, but be concerned when everyone else is giddy.
The biggest trap, in my opinion, would be Congress failing to extend the debt limit thus forcing a United States government debt default. Whether you are liberal, conservative or confused, the U.S. dollar is the world’s reserve currency and the benefit this provides Americans cannot be understated. In late 2008 with the world’s financial system teetering on the abyss, money from around the world poured into United States Treasury obligations. Going back to Alexander Hamilton, an immigrant from the Caribbean islands, we have always paid our creditors on time and in full. Losing our reserve currency status would do irreparable harm to our economy — immediately and forever.
As a senator, Barack Obama voted, foolishly I might add, against raising the debt ceiling to make a political statement. Today, he admits he was wrong. Raising the debt ceiling only means we agree to pay the debt we have already accrued. Forgoing a debt ceiling increase is the equivalent of not paying a credit card bill. If you miss a payment, your interest rate goes up plus loans are more difficult to obtain; ditto for U.S government debt. Claiming fiscal responsibility and voting against the debt ceiling is the equivalent of a circular firing squad. If you want to argue fiscal responsibility with me, like Brer Rabbit, “Please don’t fling me in dat briar patch.”
Rising tensions in the Middle East between Saudi Arabia and Iran could upset the world economy. Russia is not America’s friend, and the Kremlin is increasing their influence in Iran. Putin probably sees Middle Eastern hostility as a way to prop up declining oil prices. Causing problems for an American ally, like the Saudis, would be a way for Putin to retaliate against United States sanctions.
Hackers are becoming increasingly more sophisticated. Following up on last week’s column, we have no idea how a major cyber-attack against our electric grid or our financial system would impact markets. The Equifax data breach shows how unprepared we are for cybercriminals. Last year, the Securities and Exchange Commission was compromised by hackers; this problem will not go away.
Ken Burns’ riveting Vietnam War documentary showed how miscalculations and misperceptions caused hundreds of thousands to die unnecessarily. The United States and North Korea could blunder into a nuclear confrontation similarly. The consequences are too scary to imagine, while history may not repeat itself, it often rhymes.
You can’t always get what you want, but Buz Livingston, CFP can help figure out what you need. For specific recommendations, visit livingstonfinancial.net or come by the office in Redfish Village, 2050 Scenic 30A, M-1 Suite 230.