Why our financial abilities peak at age 53
Inflation history lessons; Automating retirement; Bank results; Fed wrecking ball; Forecasting pitfalls; Smoothing volatility; Currency hedging.
As industry heavyweights go, there aren't much larger than Rob Arnott, who chairs the US-based Research Affiliates, a US$132bn asset management behemoth. His views are widely respected and widely read.
Today, Arnott and colleague Omid Shakernia look at the history of inflation. The conclusions are sobering for those who believe inflation growth rates will fall quickly from here. History suggests once inflation peaks above 8%, as the US and much of Europe did this year, it takes between 6 and 20 years—with a median 10 years—to get the rate back to a politically acceptable 3%.
On the other side of the fence sits Peter Zeihan, a noted strategist. He's more in the deflationary camp. Zeihan thinks the Federal Reserve rate hikes will crunch demand from businesses and consumers in the US. But their greatest impact will be on other countries that will be starved of capital when they most need it. He's particularly concerned for Germany.
One factor that will influence future inflation is demographics. This week, the world reached a milestone with the global population officially hitting 8 billion. Australia has played its small part. New figures from the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) show life expectancy in Australia actually increased during the COVID-19 pandemic. From 2019-2021, life expectancy for both men and women lifted by 0.1 years to 81.3 and 85.4 years respectively, compared to the 2018-2020 period.
Australia was one of the few countries that showed increases in life expectancy during the pandemic and has the third highest life expectancy in the world, according to United Nations' estimates.
Life expectancy in Australia is almost 12 years longer for men, and 11 years longer for women, compared to the world average.
Broken down by state, the ACT has the highest life expectancy, while the Northern Territory has the lowest. Victoria was the only state where life expectancy decreased during the pandemic.
It might not be the whole story
The ABS figures raise some questions: how did the life expectancy go up? Was it because of the lockdowns? What about vaccines? Did Australia's distance from the rest of the world play a part? Were masks helpful? Did the closure of schools have an impact? The ABS doesn't answer these questions, as it's not really its expertise.
Another question: why isn't 2022 included? After all, Covid is still with us this year, even if less virulent. Figures on excess mortality—the cumulative number of deaths compared to previous years—suggest Australia has had an uptick in 2022. This might result in marginally lower life expectancy figures when the ABS reports next.
Whichever figures are used, and there are all kinds of methodologies used to measure the pandemic's impact on human life, Australia looks to have come out the worst of COVID-19 in decent shape compared to other nations. We've been the lucky country once again.
Fear and loathing
I was in two minds about presenting the figures above given the virus is a lightning rod for many people. I'm not sure about you, but I find talking about the pandemic with almost anyone a difficult exercise these days. It's almost as if there's a collective silence in Australia about what we went through. It's understandable: people went through a lot.
Fear and uncertainty were pervasive during the pandemic. Interestingly enough, both of those things form the basis for many types of anxiety and depression. Perhaps the heightened anxiety from that period hasn't full dissipated, which explains some of the collective silence around the issue today.
Isn't now though the time to look back and see what Australia got right during the pandemic, what it got wrong and what it can learn for the next crisis, pandemic or otherwise?
What can we learn for next time?
I get that most people want to forget about the pandemic. What I don't get is why governments and others in authority aren't rigorously analysing Australia's response to COVID-19. Largely, there's been radio silence from our politicians and the public service (perhaps reports from the latter may not have seen the light of day). We had a royal commission into the banking industry, why not one into our COVID-19 response?
One of the few reports into the issue that I've seen came from an independent panel, funded by philanthropic foundations, and led by former senior public servant, Peter Shergold. The report found government missteps and was especially critical of the closure of schools, arguing the costs of that move outweighed the benefits.
In contrast to Australia, the UK is up to its third investigation into the pandemic. Recently, it announced an inquiry into the impact of the pandemic on healthcare in the country.
Inquiry Chair, Baroness Heather Hallett, said:
"The pandemic had an unprecedented impact on health systems across the UK. The Inquiry will investigate and analyse the healthcare decisions made during the pandemic, the reasons for them and their impact, so that lessons can be learned and recommendations made for the future."
Here's to hoping that the ABS statistics, and others like it, can be used one day as part of a broad-ranging investigation into how Australia can best prepare for the next crisis that comes our way. It's time to put politics aside and have a sensible discussion on the issue.
Also in this week's edition ...
We review a book called What to do when I get stupid, which suggests our financial abilities peak at the age of 53. Given this, it's wise for us to take financial decision-making out of our hands while we still have the mental capacity to do so. Planning is critical to guarantee we'll have enough income coming in each month for the rest of our lives.
High Dive gives us his bank reporting season scorecard. With Covid largely behind us, low unemployment and minimal bad debts, bank results were mostly positive. He argues for a benign loan loss cycle in coming years and for bank share prices to be re-rated higher.
Shane Woldendorp of Orbis Investments has the audacity to suggest that investors don't forecast well (c'mon, Shane). Rather than that being bad news though, he believes it can create opportunities for those investors that are prepared to think differently.
As markets whipsaw, the risk that volatility might undermine investors’ ability to achieve their return objectives looms large. Roy Maslen asks, what can investors do to mitigate that risk and avoid falling short of their goals?
For international investors, it's not just market volatility that needs to be considered, but currency volatility too. Alice Shen runs the numbers of how much currency movements impact the performance of international portfolios and finds that they make minimal difference in the long-term. The short-term is a different story, however.
This week's White Paper comes from Capital Group which recently surveyed over 1,100 global professionals—including advisors, consultants and intermediaries—to get their latest views on ESG.