Daily News Seminar Brings Focus to Economy

Published on: May 11, 2015

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Andy Meek, Memphis Daily News

As part of his keynote address during The Daily News’ latest seminar, this time focused on the economy, Century Wealth Management president and founder Jay Healy pointed to a photo depicting a crowd a decade ago assembled near St. Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican.

Visible in the bottom right-hand corner of the image, which Healy projected to an audience gathered in the auditorium of the Memphis Brooks Museum of Art for the newspaper’s May 7 seminar, was someone holding what appeared to be a flip phone.

Healy then swapped the photo with another showing a crowd near the same location in 2013. This time, it was awash in a sea of glowing light emanating from the screens of the now ubiquitous mobile devices carried by the majority of the crowd.

Healy’s point?

“You can’t be in the investment business unless you’re an optimist,” he said, before noting that the images underscore the swiftness and comprehensiveness with which change arrives in the economy.

Indeed, Healy’s lengthy exposition of monetary policy, the Federal Reserve and the way money sloshes through the piping of the economy seemed to pale in significance to the reality that, like the mobile device wave, the next great paradigm shift probably isn’t predictable. As investment professionals preach the necessity of mindfulness about how what’s true today is history tomorrow, Healy explained that economic signals are particularly noisy now and can be hard for an individual investor to wade through.

Themes that Healy and a panel of industry experts assembled for the seminar stressed included a reminder to diversify, that “we’re probably closer to the next recession than we are to the last one.” Rather than get caught up with attempts at market timing, Healy argued that investors would do better to come up with a long-term plan and stick with it.

Joining him for the seminar was a panel that included Financial Federal chairman, CEO and general counsel Kent Wunderlich; Mercer Capital president Matthew Crow; and BDO USA LLP senior director Mark Puckett.

Amid the discussion of the primacy of technology-driven change sweeping the economy, Crow noted that the general public tends to ascribe too much influence to individual elected presidents when it comes to the power they can wield. At the same time, he added, they don’t mention people like Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates and Apple co-founder Steve Jobs enough – how the devices they helped created have exerted the kind of influence enjoyed by those presidents and central bankers.

Puckett chimed in by noting the increased prevalence of automation and robotics in the workplace, referring to a well-known humorous commentary on how high-tech factories of the future will be populated by only a man and a dog. “The dog’s there,” he noted, “to bite the man in case he touches anything.”

That discussion about technology came about partly as a result of questioning from the audience, with some audience members probing the panel about the effects of demographic shifts and why, if the Federal Reserve has pumped extraordinary amounts of money into the economy, hasn’t rampant inflation taken hold.

Crow suggested that several important things are happening at once. Maybe, for example, the Fed was hoping companies would use this opportunity to borrow money to fund capital expenditures and business expansion. 

Worryingly for the economy, though, that won’t happen if companies don’t have much to spend money on these days. That’s especially true if they’ve cut expenses to the bone and increasingly are relying on automation and squeezing more productivity out of fewer workers, Crow said.