Updated December 26, 2023
Adam Damko, CFA
The Piggy Bank
📈 The vaunted Santa Claus Rally period gets underway.
US Single-Family Home Starts Surge. The number of new single-family homes under construction jumped 18% in November, reaching a 1.5-year high. What’s more, economists believe demand for homes is likely to remain permanently high, now that more Americans work remotely. As long-term interest rates decrease, builders will increase the housing supply to meet the rising demand, potentially achieving a better balance between supply and demand.
Demand For Mortgages Slipped Again. The average interest rate for 30-year fixed-rate mortgages dropped below 7%, from 7.07% to 6.83%. Nevertheless, applications for purchasing a mortgage for a new home were still down 1% for the week and 18% lower compared to the same period last year.
👀 What to Be on the Lookout for This Week
Monday: U.S. markets closed.
Tuesday: Home Price Index, Dallas Fed Manufacturing Index
Wednesday: No major economic updates scheduled.
Thursday: Wholesale & Retail Inventories, Jobless Claims
Friday: Chicago PMI
There are no major earnings reports scheduled for the week. Happy holiday
📰 In Other News
Apple Winds Down Watch Sales. On December 18, Apple announced plans to pull two Apple Watch models — the Series 9 and Ultra 2. The decision was made after the US International Trade Commission issued an import ban on the watches, due to patent infringement.
The two products each have a SpO2 sensor that helps measure blood oxygen levels and notifies wearers about their health. But Apple’s tech allegedly infringed on a patent owned by Masimo, a medical device manufacturer. The ban will only apply to iWatches with the SpO2 sensor.
The IRS’s Gift to Taxpayers. The IRS is spreading some holiday cheer by unexpectedly waiving $1 billion in tax penalties for borrowers. This relief primarily benefits households earning under $100,000, with the average relief amounting to $200.
The reason behind this gesture? The IRS had fallen behind on mailing reminders to delinquent taxpayers back in February 2022. As a result, the IRS believes it would be unjust to suddenly demand significant "overdue" fees.
No More Hedge Fund Homeowners? A new piece of legislation is in the works to compel hedge funds to sell off their residential properties over the next decade. Economists have pointed to the large number of hedge funds owning residential homes as a factor contributing to the unaffordable housing market.
In many cases, American homebuyers are not bidding against other consumers when buying a home — they’re bidding against America’s biggest money managers. If this bill passes, it could lead to a surge of homes entering the market and potentially lower housing prices.
Google Settles For $700M. Google has agreed to pay $700 million to settle a suit claiming it used anti-competitive practices in its Google Play store. Eligible consumers who made purchases from the store between August 16, 2016, and September 30, 2023 will benefit from this settlement.
😣 Gen X’s Retirement Woes
Chasing the American Dream
Traditionally, the American Dream has held that anybody can get ahead in life and coast into their golden years if they’re willing to work hard. However, despite chasing this dream their entire lives, many members of Generation X are nowhere close to achieving it.
Born between 1965 and 1980, Gen X has lived through an extended period in which wages have not kept up with inflation, and experienced multiple major economic crises as well. As a result, they’ve witnessed their discretionary income erode over the years, making it increasingly challenging to save.
Now, as Gen Xers approach their sixties, many find themselves woefully underprepared for retirement.
Breaking Down Gen X’s Finances
A study by the National Institute on Retirement Security (NIRS) asked members of Gen X how much money they believed they would need to retire comfortably.
On average, people estimate they’ll need $1.1 million for retirement. Meanwhile, the typical Gen X household only has a $40,000 nest egg. This amount isn’t just below the estimated average. It also falls short of the average US household’s savings: around $153,300.
A separate study, Schroders US Retirement Survey, shows that Gen X also faces the widest wealth gap of any generation. In other words, the bulk of the generation’s cash is concentrated in the hands of a few.
These findings align with data from the NIRS, which estimates that the top 25% of Gen X has $250,000 in retirement savings on average, while the bottom quartile only has $35,000. And that’s just the mean. The median of the bottom quartile has only $200 saved.
Gen X’s Unique Struggle
So why is Gen X lagging so far behind on retirement savings compared to Baby Boomers? This unfortunate twist of fate might simply come down to poor timing.
During Gen X’s lifetime, the way Americans save for retirement shifted dramatically from pensions to employer-sponsored 401(k) plans. Many Baby Boomers could rely on their employers to fund retirement through pensions. However, for Gen X, pensions gradually faded away and were replaced by 401(k)s. 401(k) plans are still a viable retirement tool, but they require more active contributions than a pension. Some Gen Xers may have been caught off guard by this shift in norms, reaching retirement age with the expectation of a generous pension, only to learn they should have opened a 401(k) decades ago.
But there’s still a silver lining for the generation. 71% of Gen Xers own their homes. So, while they may be behind on retirement savings, the majority can cross one major item off the American Dream checklist.
Younger Generations Don’t Fear the “Money Talk”
Talking the “Talk”
Historically, there were three topics to avoid at the dinner table: Religion, politics, and money. However, millennials and Gen Zers are happy to discuss money over a date — at least, if they see the relationship going further.
According to Northwestern Mutual’s 2023 Planning & Progress Study, 32% of Gen Z adults and 40% of millennials believe that discussing finances and long-term goals with a partner are prerequisites to a serious relationship. What’s more, nearly half of Gen Z values financial compatibility over romantic chemistry.
However, discussing finances with a partner still be intimidating, especially if there’s significant debt or poor spending habits involved. According to experts, a key element of expressing love is maintaining openness and honesty, which extends to discussions about finances. Talking about money ensures that both partners are on the same page when it comes to financial goals, and perhaps relationship goals, too.
Money can’t buy love, but most experts accept and emphasize its importance in relationships. Being on the same page when it comes to financial goals can create healthy alignment in other areas. On the flip side, differing spending habits and attitudes toward money can be a major source of relationship conflict.
For example, 32% of Gen Z couples find it difficult to divide bills equally when partners have different incomes. Additionally, 31% of couples have different tolerances for investment risk. Both these issues can be problematic, causing stress in an otherwise happy relationship. Just under 20% of Gen Z and millennials cited “financial incompatibility” as the main reason for the failure of their relationships, according to a separate survey by Bread Financial.
Experts suggest that initiating the “money talk” earlier in a relationship ensures both partners are on the same page financially. Ideally, this will help prevent any unpleasant arguments or surprises down the road.
Adjusting Over Time
One reason millennials and Gen Zers might be more open to financial conversations is due to the unique set of economic events that they’ve witnessed.
Over the past two decades, both generations experienced severe economic turmoil in their most formative years. Many millennials entered the workforce during the 2008 Great Recession, and approximately a decade later, a large portion of Gen Z did the same during the pandemic. Living through such economic ups and downs has left younger Americans more anxious about money than previous generations — and may have motivated the couples among them to scrutinize their finances more closely.
Experts emphasize that money behaviors can change over time. Couples who are open to having the conversation early on and continue to discuss money matters often may find their financial (and romantic) compatibility only improves as time goes on.
A handful of major companies are still laying off employees, despite a generally strong economy. Economists have coined this a “vibecession” — companies may be cutting their workforces in anticipation of a recession.
Demand for workers has started to cool as job openings and hiring slow. Economists are viewing these updates as early cracks in the historically strong job market.
The IRS is increasing the "optional standard mileage rate" used to calculate tax deductions by 1.5 cents a mile in 2024. This raise was announced as prices surge for vehicles, car insurance, and repairs.
Workers, retailers, and jobs across America are fleeing city centers in favor of suburbs. Economists have dubbed this phenomenon the “Donut Effect.”
15% of Americans will tip more this year than last year. This comes despite the “tipping fatigue” that has crept across America since the pandemic.
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