Just a few threats and opportunities to keep an eye on

What are the latest threats and opportunities I’m keeping an eye on and helping Personal Due Diligence clients develop strategies around?

Well, they’re no secret, really. (The value of the client relationship is in the “what to do, where does that lead, and what risk does that force you to take on” part of the discussion, not the fact that there’s items out there anyone could find for themselves if they were doing their own diligence.)

Currency-induced madness: Have you seen the wobbling in the currency markets of late? 2013 has seen the British Pound drop by 10 cents. The Euro likewise. The Canadian dollar has gone from above the US one to three cents under it. The currencies, in other words, are going through one of their periodic moments of adjustment.

Unfortunately, this is one of those moments when, if you work for a firm that reports in US dollars, your earnings per share are about to be squeezed. Moves that strengthen other currencies against the US make for better earnings reports for the same sales; moves that weaken them against the US make it tougher to make the numbers. Tough enough, in fact, that layoffs will be part of the game of “meet the number” as the year goes on.

The Closing of the High Street and the Mall: Retailers have gone out of business since retail shops first made an appearance. What’s different in 2013 is the sheer number of closings all at once.

The Christmas season — which, for most retailers, is the only time of the year they really make money — wasn’t a good enough one to keep marginal players in business. Starting in January, closings began.

Britain’s high streets are decimated: the chains drove the independents out, and are now closing. In the United States, malls are closing — and recently built strip malls are not opening. Canadian stores, too, are wavering.

Frankly, there’s too much retail chasing the available business. But each retailer, in turn, supported salaries spent on other goods and services. In other words, it affects every line of business, not just a few.

Governments in trouble: We look at places like Greece and Spain, with 27 per cent and more unemployment (more than 50 per cent for youth) and say “well, thankfully, that’s not us”. But the crisis of governments that have structural deficits that just won’t quit, endless threats of and occasional downgrades raising their cost of borrowing, underfunded infrastructure and maintenance, pension and medical obligations they can’t afford, and the like is a global one.

Austerity — the twenty-first century term for “living within your means” — is too austere for voters to take, witness Italy most recently. Yet the alternative is a crash-up, when the day comes (and it’s close) when there are no more lenders available to sop up the ever mounting piles of government borrowing.

What this means is that eventually the public sector will have to do what the private sector knows how to do. Close out whole lines of business (aka eliminate whole ministries that don’t add any value, like “intergovernmental affairs”), cut low-performing outlets (aka some of the universities and community colleges, alongside lower-use hospitals), automate and reduce staff, and the like.

This isn’t saying any of that is right, you understand. It just is. Arithmetic is funny that way: it’s not affiliated with any political point of view.

The knock-on effects on all sectors of cutting government’s portion of GDP will be severe. And, no doubt, not enough of the nasty medicine will be taken quickly enough to make the period of pain short and over quickly.

Supply lines in question: Shipping companies around the world overbuilt. Now some of the shippers are bankrupt and their boats idled. This — alongside oscillating resource prices that make new projects questionable, capital return shortfalls, and the rising cost of labour in East Asia, mean that supply chains are going to be reconfigured yet again.

Along with that, will be spot shortages. This will confirm a hypothesis: it’s easier to change things when they’re growing than when they’re stable or shrinking.

Those are just a few of the issues that pose threats to job security and family well-being this year. Working with the advisors at Personal Due Diligence can help you anticipate how these (and other factors) will affect you, your future, and your children’s prospects.

Get in touch with us. You’ll be glad you did.

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