Jeremy Grantham, a brilliant money manager and perpetual pessimist, recently wrote a note to clients called "Ten Quick Topics to Ruin Your Summer." It's a good read. There's climate change, weak GDP growth, global food shortages, income inequality, and several other points to make you sweat when pondering the future.
Grantham focuses on the downside because, he writes, "good news will usually look after itself." He's right.
But pessimism outsells optimism in the media ten to one. And our emotional reaction to pessimism is lopsided by the same. The result is that many of us wander through a world that is constantly improving while getting bogged down by risks that are either phantom or temporary. Over the long run, missing out on what goes right is a bigger risk than people realize.
So, here are ten quick topics to feel great about.
1. America has some of the best demographics in the world.
From now through 2050, America's population is forecast to rise by 50 million. China's will fall by 101 million. Russia's will decline by 10.3 million. Germany, down by 7.7 million. Italy, down 1.1 million. Finland, down 155,000. Greece, 600,000.
Here's how America ages over the next few decades. Our young working-age generations grow, even as baby boomers retire:
Compare that to China. Its older generations swell, then die, leaving a shrinking population and collapsing workforce.
South Korea is pretty awful, too.
Japan is a retirement community.
2. Layoffs are at a record low.
Initial jobless claims recently hit the lowest level since 1973. That's great, but it's even better than it looks. The laborforce is almost twice as large today as it was in 1973. Adjust initial jobless claims to account for the size of the laborforce, and layoffs are at the lowest level in the last half-century. By a lot:
3. Investment fees have been slashed to the ground.
The only force more powerful than compound interest is the tyranny of compounding costs.
The good news is that investment fees have plunged in the last two decades. According to recent report by Morningstar:
- 63% of mutual funds and ETFs cut the expense ratios in the last five years.
- Since the early 1990s, average investment fees across all funds have declined by more than a third, from nearly 1% to 0.64%. On a $10,000 investment that earns 6% a year for 25 years, that's an extra $5,000 that goes to you, rather than advisors.
- Passive ETF fees now basically round to zero percent.
If the economy found a way to grow by an extra 0.35% a year forever, it would be considered a miracle. But investors have done just that. And given how competitive the industry has become, I doubt this trend is over.
4. Household formation is picking up.
A lot of the reason the economy was slow for the last five years is because household formation plunged. Young adults moved in with their parents. That meant they didn't need a new home. Since new home construction is a big economic driver, it was hard to get moving.
Now things are changing. Household formation is at the highest level in a decade:
5. Things that used to be really deadly are way less deadly.
Motor vehicle deaths are down 60%:
Heart disease deaths are down by half:
Just these two mean more than a million people a year are alive who would have been dead just a few decades ago.
5. More people are saving for their own retirement.
People are living longer than ever, and public retirement systems are strained. The good is 401(k) participation is rising, and surging for young workers. According to a report by Wells Fargo:
Participation in the 401(k) plan among millennials has reached 55% compared to 45% in 2011. For newly hired eligible employees (meaning those who have reached the one year mark of employment), participation has increased from 36% four years ago to 48% in 2015. In addition, employees in a pay range of $20,000 to $40,000 in salary are participating at a rate of 59% versus 47% four years ago.
6. Falling healthcare inflation will save the government hundreds of billions of dollars.
In 2006, the Congressional Budget Office forecasted that by 2016 the average Medicare recipient would cost more than $15,000. The latest estimate is a little over $11,000. The amount of money this saves over previous estimates – the estimates that led people to think the government was bankrupt and the dollar heading for collapse – is insane. The New York Times wrote last summer:
The difference between the current estimate for Medicare's 2019 budget and the estimate for the 2019 budget four years ago is about $95 billion. That sum is greater than the government is expected to spend that year on unemployment insurance, welfare and Amtrak — combined.
7. Student loan borrowing is declining.
Thanks to a clamp-down on for-profit schools – where so much student debt came from – students aren't borrowing as much as they used to:
Federal and private-loan lending totaled $106 billion for the 2013-14 academic year, down 8% from the prior year, according to a report to be released Thursday by the nonprofit College Board. The decline marks a significant reversal in borrowing, which peaked at $122.1 billion in 2010-11 after rising for years.
8. High school graduation rates are at a record high.
This is the knowledge economy, where education, connections, and ideas are more important than any time in history. So this is great news:
More American students are graduating from high school than ever before, according to new data from the Department of Education.
The national graduation rate hit a record high of 81 percent in the 2012-13 school year, the data show.
9. Childhood obesity rates are falling off a cliff.
Something is clearly going right here, and it bodes well for future healthcare costs:
Federal health authorities on Tuesday reported a 43 percent drop in the obesity rate among 2- to 5-year-old children over the past decade, the first broad decline in an epidemic that often leads to lifelong struggles with weight and higher risks for cancer, heart disease and stroke.
The drop emerged from a major federal health survey that experts say is the gold standard for evidence on what Americans weigh. The trend came as a welcome surprise to researchers. New evidence has shown that obesity takes hold young: Children who are overweight or obese at 3 to 5 years old are five times as likely to be overweight or obese as adults.
10. 2008 was the worst financial crisis in nearly 100 years. Seven years later, unemployment is 5.3%, the stock market is at an all-time high, the dollar is surging, inflation is low, and oil output is the highest in decades.
That's a good indication of how adaptive and resilient the U.S. economy is. It's like we got stage-four brain cancer and ran a marathon a few years later. If we can go through 2008 and bounce back as fast as we did, run-of-the-mill recessions shouldn't worry you at all. Keep this in mind when forecasting doom.