Despite all of the bad things happening in Greece, Spain and other parts of Europe, the world economy will grow. Eventually. Right now we're like a six-cylinder car running on just four cylinders.
There are several ways to drive a booming economy. The most-popular is buying stock and stock mutual funds. You can get U.S.-based companies or the riskier and better potential, emerging market stocks.
Another less-used way is to buy what every person, company and country has to have: stuff. How do you invest in "stuff"? The basic material of everything is some kind of commodity.
FASTEN YOUR SEAT BELTS
The UN estimates that by 2020 world population will increase by 11 percent. That means more demand for stuff.
As emerging economies like China and India become more affluent, they change their diets and lifestyles. These changes result in using more basic commodities. Things like corn, copper, heating oil, natural gas and cattle.
They're also growing quickly. This quick growth requires more energy, metals and agricultural products. More stuff.
THE EXOTIC SPORTS CAR
As an investment, commodities are on the highest end of risk. They can be very volatile. Some forms, like futures contracts, offer dangerous leverage. I wouldn't touch these with a ten-foot stick-shift.
If you're a loyal reader, you know I would look at commodities mutual funds instead. They come in many flavors. You can get individual commodities like oil, gold, sugar or even livestock. Still too much risk, though.
THE PRACTICAL VEHICLES
Again for you loyal readers, you know that any of these turbo-charged investments should be a very small part of a smart allocation. These commodity funds should be researched thoroughly and make up maybe 4-7 percent of your investments. Maybe.
One balanced fund to look at is iShares S&P GSCI Commodity Fund (symbol: GSG). It's made of 24 commodities, 72 percent is energy and it's based on a well-known index.
Another broad basket is the iPath Dow Jones-UBS Commodity Fund (symbol: DJP). It only has 10 commodities but none are more than 31 percent of the total. It's spread among agriculture, energy and industrial and precious metals.
REV UP THOSE ENGINES
When the world starts moving again today will be a memory. We won’t have low interest rates. Inflation will rear its ugly head again. We’ll be looking for risky investments that grow and keep pace with inflation.
So get ready for the global economy to barrel out at 90 miles-per-hour. It may not be this year. Or next. But we will get back to six cylinders and then it may be too late race after this asset class.
* * *
“I know a lot about cars, man. I can look at any car's headlights and tell you exactly which way it's coming.”
Ron Phillips is an Independent Financial Advisor and a Pueblo, Colorado native. He and his wife are currently raising their two sons in Pueblo. Order a free copy of his easy-to-read investor report Creating Your Own Pension That You Can’t Outlive by visiting www.RetireIQ.info or leaving a message on his prerecorded voicemail at (719) 924-5070. Simply mention Promo Code #2001 when ordering.
All advertisers want to catch people's attention. Online advertisers have an even more difficult time getting people to notice their ads on busy web sites. They use all different kinds of fonts, colors, photos, and animation to get people to pay attention and hopefully, click on their ad. But sometimes advertisers go too far.
The other night I decided to check The Drudge Report before heading home. I was very shocked to see a the mug shot of James Holmes, the dirt bag who shot up the Batman Rises premier in Aurora. Some bone-headed advertiser decided using the photo of a murderer would be a nice way to get people's attention.
Now this horrible ad, while it appeared on The Drudge Report, it was not an ad created by Drudge. It is most likely part of an advertising service that The Drudge Report subscribes to and inserts a number of rotating ads in to the available ad slots placed by Drudge. Fortunately a quick email to the Drudge site and the ad disappeared.
And within a few minutes, new ads that rotated when the page was refreshed replaced the James Holmes image. After repeated page refreshing, the James Holmes ad did not appear.
Big kudos to the Drudge Report for quickly taking down the offensive image. But that still leaves the problem of who created the ad and decided that using the picture of someone who recently killed a bunch of innocent people was a great idea.
Unfortunately I was so focused on sending The Drudge Report an email so they could take the ad down I didn't click on the ad itself to see who was responsible. I am keeping my eye out for a reappearance so I can track down the creator. I would really like to ask them what the hell they were thinking.
If you have to resort to pictures of killers to get people to pay attention to your ad, you need to find a new ad designer or a new line of business. Offending and disgusting people usually isn't the best way to get new customers. Well, unless your target audience is a bunch of dirt bags. While I am not sure how lucrative the dirt bag demographic is, if that isn't your target market, you might not want to use murderers on your ad.
Many Keynesian economists, including the folks in the current U.S. administration, believe that stimulating a down economy is a simple matter of spending enough money. When the private sector slows down, the government fills the gap by spending more, and they don't much care what the money is spent on, just spend it. They point to government spending and jobs programs in the 40's and 50's as proof that such stimulus can be effective. The problem is, this isn't the 40's and 50's and it wasn't the spending in and of itself that helped the economy.
The most obvious difference between then and now is the number of people required to do a large project. Back in the day, building a highway or a dam or a bridge required hundreds or even thousands of individual workers. These days the same projects can be done with dozens. That's why our nearly $1 trillion stimulus program resulted in only a handful of jobs at a ridiculous cost per job. Furthermore, with all the regulations and procedures put in place in the name of protecting the environment and workers and whatever else requires extensive study, just getting a project underway can take many years. Even President Obama learned that, and lamented that the jobs weren't as "shovel ready" as he thought.
If roads and bridges need to be built, updated, repaired, so be it. But that's not going to create a bunch of jobs or pull the economy out of recession. There just aren't enough people involved and the time period is too spread out.
Another difference between then and now is that, for the most part, public works projects were things that were actually in demand and that furthered the engineering and manufacturing revolution that came about due to World War II. There was the Trans Alaska Highway and the Hoover Dam for example. These were not roads to nowhere or speculation on technology that had not been proven in the market place.
So what's a government to do if simply spending more money isn't going to get the job done? There's really only one path left. There are thousands of small businesses within 20 miles of my house. If each had the confidence and optimism to hire one worker, that would be one heck of a jobs program. They don't need hand outs, or programs or grants from the government. They just need fewer regulations, less paperwork and the flexibility to negotiate with employees for pay and benefit packages that work for both, rather than with a government that's not involved in any aspect of the production process, except for those that slow it down and make it less efficient.
Government trying to control and direct the free market is like the Lenny character in "Of Mice and Men", and the free market is a bunny rabbit. Put the bunny down and give it some room to run before you do something you can't undo.
These are challenging economic times and small businesses must establish a strong foundation for success. Here are steps to take now to kick-start your business efforts and ensure success in the not too distant future.
Concentrate on marketing
Whether your business is established or you are just starting out, a marketing plan is essential for success. A good marketing plan includes understanding your target market, knowing your competitive position in that market, how you intend to reach that market (your tactics) and how to set yourself apart from your competition. This lets everyone in the organization understand where you are headed.
Create a presence online
Most people in the U.S. use the Internet, and many depend on it for information research. In 2011, approximately 73% of Internet users shopped online and that number is expected to grow. These days, not having a website or email address is like not having a phone in the first half of the last century.
Assess your image
Your website, business cards, brochures, flyers and any other collateral you distribute must be attractive and consistent. Is it clear what your business offers to customers? The image you project to the outside world should be an accurate reflection of your organization, dependability and standards. A periodic evaluation can determine what, if any, changes are in order.
They're not calling it fascism, but it's been all the rage, especially in the last decade. The new and improved term is State Capitalism. I guess that's supposed to make it more palatable to actual capitalists.
China is the poster child for state capitalism. Many economists have predicted that China will be the world's new global economic power, replacing the United States, as they posted impressive GDP numbers and managed to avoid the calamity of 2008 to a great extent. The U.S. may be unseated as King of the Economic Hill one day, but it wont be by China.
What the experts forgot to tell you was that China avoided economic turmoil in the short term by investing billions and billions of dollars into the construction of cities that nobody lives in. They're still doing it, both in China and abroad. Yet their growth rate for this year will officially drop below 7.5% (that's assuming you trust the communist parties official data), which is well below their stated target. China is about to experience a real estate bubble burst of Biblical proportions.
The idea behind State Capitalism is that the government owns all or part of major industries. This enables these companies to bypass a lot of the red tape and regulatory burdens that privately owned companies have to deal with. Another distinct advantage is that whether the company is run well or not, they're back stopped by the full taxing power of the nation's government. How can the free market compete with such a thing?
Well, let's look at what the growth of "State Capitalism" has brought us; chronically high unemployment worldwide, unprecedented debt levels, lower standards of living and disposable income. In fact, even in the United States, where the government saw fit to become shareholders in GM, Chrysler and AIG to name a few, the percentage of Americans living in poverty is at a 20 year high.
Fascism by any other name is still fascism. It's both a rival and a cousin to communism. Both are based on the premise that a select enlightened few can do a better job of directing resources, natural, human and intellectual, than a bunch of free individuals running around freely associating and trading all willy nilly. In the case of running a prison camp, perhaps that would be so, but it's no way to create a thriving, growing economy.
State run companies may have access to unlimited financing and bureaucrats at their command, but free market, privately held companies have the incentive to excel, innovate, create, make things better, cheaper, faster, stronger. Giving consumers what they want and need in an efficient, cost effective manner is directly tied to their personal advancement. The state run business and its employees have only the incentive to obey their superiors in order to keep that state sponsored paycheck coming.
If private enterprise is allowed to continue (not a guarantee by any means) it will prove superior to the state run enterprise. It may not seem so now, because state run companies didn't have to go to investors to get a mountain of operating capital. They can print it. But in the end, you've got to produce and perform to stay in the game. They can dominate a market by force, but they wont dominate if freedom of choice has anything to do with it. If they successfully force private enterprise out of the arena, look for living standards to get progressively worse.
In the meantime, in the name of transparency, let's dispense with the "Capitalism" moniker for what is really just another flavor of fascism.
We've all heard the stories of people who have been fired, or jailed or divorced because of something they posted to a social page site. Such public missteps have lead many to believe that it's best to stay off the social pages altogether, lest they post something damaging or connect with an undesirable former acquaintance or something. However, a recent experience of my own has lead me to believe that my initial inclinations about the new world of information technology were right. There really is nowhere left to hide.
We have a 30 year class reunion coming up, and although I'm not going to be able to make it. the reunion page on Facebook has been a lot of fun and it got me to wondering what some of my classmates who are not on the social pages were up to. Even I was surprised how little time it took to find people I hadn't seen in 3 decades, who had gotten married, changed their last name and moved to another part of the country. The longest took about 15 minutes. I'm happy to report, all are doing well. It struck me though, that I now had more personal information about them than I did my former classmates who were easily accessible through the social networks.
On the social networks, you type in someone's name and if they're on the network, there they are. There are plenty of posts about themselves, their kids, their pets, how work went today and such, but it's all stuff they posted knowing it was on a public billboard. The search process for people who were not on the social networks took me to news articles, police blotters, college administration pages, county clerk documents and various other sources of information you might not be inclined to post on a global wall. As I said, my former homies are doing fine. The dirt was on folks with the same or similar names, but still I now not only know where my long-lost compadres are and what they do for a living, but where they've been and what they've been doing since high school. That's more than I know about most of my Facebook friends.
I didn't try to contact any of the off-network folks. I was just curious, and I figure if they wanted to get in touch with me, they would have. I'm an incredibly easy guy to find. I've got 3 active commercial websites, about 10 social pages on 6 networks and at least 8 blogs that I can think of off the top of my head, not to mention the forums I pop in on from time to time. It wouldn't exactly take 007 to track me down. Mr. Magoo could do it.
I made peace with the new reality a long time ago, when the first cordless phones came out. I realized then that it was only a matter of time before everything you say and do over an electronic device or even in public view could easily be recorded for posterity. I figure the best policy is to get used to the idea and avoid saying or doing things that you'd find humiliating if they were posted on a screen in Times Square. After all, isn't there supposed to be an all powerful super being watching your every move anyway? Doesn't he/she get to determine how you'll spend eternity based on your actions? If you believe that you shouldn't need the threat of YouTube to get you to fly right.
On the bright side, the bar has been lowered a bit. It's really not that devastating to be caught on camera wiping your nose with your sleeve at a fancy wedding after you've seen the video of the President of the United States barfing on the Japanese Prime Minister.
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