Hot Off the Web – November 28, 2008

This month I celebrated two years of publishing, this retirement finance education and advocacy website. We are back from a gruelling but interesting trip to India and Nepal (and judging by the TV news reports, just in time). What we experienced is a land of contrasts and this (U.S.) Thanksgiving weekend should be an opportunity for Americans (and Canadians) to reflect upon the blessings that we enjoy (and mostly take for granted) by living in this part of the world. The last three weeks of hiatus is the first time I stopped writing these blogs over those two years. So here is the first Hot Off the Web since November 2nd.

Marcus Gee in Globe and Mail’s “Is Japan’s ‘lost decade’ a window to the future?” presents a grim possibility that the hoped for quick recovery may not materialize and that we may be following in the footsteps of Japan which has “never fully recovered”. Neither real estate nor stocks have returned to their peaks of almost 20 years ago. The effect of Japanese deflation (It’s unlikely that we’ll go through the identical path of Japan’s “lost decade”, but it is still is a sobering read!)

In “Moving past denial on your portfolio” The Globe and Mail’s Rob Carrick discusses the five stages of getting through the ravages brought by the stock market devastation: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. He then proceeds to the useful step of assessing the performance of your portfolio/advisor by focusing on benchmarking against some appropriate references like TSX composite total return index, S&P 500 stock index and the MSCI world index. (Good advice, and for those interested in reading more about benchmarking you can go to my earlier Benchmarks blog  and CSA article “Skill vs. Luck” on portfolio benchmarking.)

WSJ’s Jason Zweig weighs in with his depressing “1931 and 2008: Will market history repeat itself?” comparing current market meltdown with the 1931 market and economic meltdown. He observes that “I don’t foresee another Great Depression, but I am under no illusion that it can’t happen.” Also that “I’m going to take a chance and hang onto my stocks. But I’m going to make sure, over the months and years to come, that I turn down the thermostat.”

Financial Post’s Diane Francis in “Too soon to trot out the D-word” argues that the unique coincidence of globalization of capital markets and media “contain the seeds to avert another all-out depression because real-time information and communication can allow central banks and politicians to co-ordinate and cooperate unlike before”, despite the fear of many analysts that the “three “D” words– deleveraging, deflation and depression — are nullifying the normal remedies, such as slashing interest rates.”

And speaking of deflation, Alia McMullen’s Financial Post article reports that Canadian “Cost of living falls most in nearly 50 years” . For the month of October due to drops in gasoline primarily, but other prices as well, there was a 1% drop in consumer prices, though annual price increase was still 2.6%.

The Financial Post’s Paul Vieira reports in “Ottawa may extend pensions’ top-up time” that Finance Minister Flaherty may be extending from 5 to 10 years the time companies have to make up pension shortfalls. (This no doubt would provide much needed relief to companies, but should be accompanied by additional protection to pension plan members, like requirement for annual pension plan valuations and pension shortfalls (which are just deferred wages) must be given bankruptcy protection equivalent to current wages. Not clear what Ontario regulated pension plans will also receive relief, though it is expected that similar relief would be forthcoming.) In a follow-up article “Relief falls short, pension plans warn” the Globe’s Janet McFarland reports that “To qualify for the relief, companies must get approval from their plan members or secure the shortfall with a letter of credit by the end of 2009.” (It will be a tough sell to plan members to approve the change, and letters of credit are not easy to get.). The Department of Finance proposal also included “a temporary 25% reduction in the minimum withdrawal requirements for RRIFs for 2008”, according to Jon Chevreau in “RRIF plans get dose of flexibility”(Not much relief but better than nothing).

For those of you still following U.S. real estate prices, they are still heading down. The September 2008 S&P Case-Shiller Home Price Indices can be viewed and there is no good news in the numbers.

And still on the real estate front Cox News Service’s Eunice Moscoso reports in “Realtors rushing ‘Silver card’ visa for foreign retirees”that U.S. real estate agents are pushing (again) for visas allowing retired foreign national U.S residency, without work permit, as a means to boost real estate market. Without solving the healthcare (insurance) issue, associated with U.S residency, this is not going to be much of a draw to foreigners.

And finally, the Ontario Expert Commission on Pensions has issued its recommendations  on defined benefit plans in Ontario. I didn’t as yet get a chance to read it carefully, but its length alone is an indication of how broken the Canadian pension system really is and the urgent government action required on this matter. I plan to do an in-depth log on it next week.


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