Monday, October 19, 2015

Sunday Autumn Hike - Busiek State Forest and Wildlife Area - Highlandville, MO

Ahh, there's nothing quite as invigorating for both body and soul as a hearty constitutional through a dense forest on a crisp, sunny fall afternoon. About 20 miles north of Branson on Highway 65, this forest is literally right off the highway, no need to drive ten miles off the road to find it. That said, there are 18 miles of trails and it still feels secluded and very much like wilderness. There are a three trails of varying degree of difficulty on the east side of the forest, two three-milers and one four-miler. The west side offers three trails as well; two three-milers and one that spans 2.1 miles.

We crossed several creeks and the water was crystal clear, for a moment I thought we were in a beer commercial in 1985. The water was down so crossing was not an issue provided you find solid logs and rocks to anchor you. Littered with rocks and roots, you have to keep your eyes on the trail if you don't wanna crawl out of the forest with a twisted ankle or knee. The trails at Busiek are also popular amongst the horseback riding set, which makes dodging constant land mines part of the fun exciting challenge! 

Fall colors were in full view with trees and bushes morphing into vibrant shades of purple, orange, yellow and red.  The entire trek was very scenic, but a little less challenging that we would have liked.  My only complaint is that the trails could be marked a little better. There are so many forks and separations that you are not sure if you're still on one trail or have veered off onto another. Luckily I had my trail master wife with me.  She has come to be known as Sacagawea as soon as we step into the woods for her uncanny ability to know exactly where we are and which way to go at all times. 

Monday, October 5, 2015

What does an interest rate hike by the Federal Reserve mean for consumers?

The promise or threat of an imminent increase in interest rates by the Federal Reserve has been looming for some time now. The Federal Funds rate, or benchmark rate, has been at or near zero percent since the height of the financial crisis in 2009.

Many economists and pundits expected Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen to announce a raise at the Federal Open Market Committee meeting in September, but she cited too many risk factors that figured in the decision to hold firm.  The most recent jobs report released on October 2nd, illustrating slowing job growth, emboldens that decision.

However long the delay, be it next week or next month, the rates will rise. So how will this move effect the average American?

Banking: Those with money parked in savings or money market accounts know the returns have been minuscule for several years, barely outpacing and sometimes being eclipsed by the rate of inflation.

According to, the current average return for a money market or savings account is 0.51% or just over one half of one percent.  That means if you were to have $10,000 in a savings account, and made no other contributions or withdrawals, after one year you would earn $51 in interest. Sure, your money is safe but it is not working for you.

With a Fed raise of the benchmark rate, that savings rate will bump up a bit but not enough to notice. In fact, unless it is funding your Emergency Fund (enough to cover six months worth of expenses) you'd be better off taking that money out of savings and paying down high interest accounts, namely credit cards.

Annual percentage rates on credit card accounts, however, may or may not rise with a Fed Funds rate hike. Ultimately it is up to the card issuers to raise rates, and they don't want to alienate their best customers. Competition for consumers to carry their cards is fierce and issuers know lower rates attract customers. Issuers may opt to keep rates lower and phase out the "zero-percent interest transfer" promotions that are so ubiquitous in the current climate.

Consumer Loans: A hike in rates for banks will almost certainly be passed to consumers. New auto loans and home mortgages, while not necessarily tied to the Fed Funds rate, generally move in lockstep with it.

While rates are still at historical lows, a slight uptick won't break the bank and probably won't suppress car and home buying. However, if you've been considering refinancing in the future, now may be the time to execute that strategy and lock in a lower rate, before the rates do indeed go up.

Investments: As this is a daily story topic on the financial networks and news outlets, the market is well aware of this inevitability. Even though the exact level of increase is not known, the market has already accounted for an increase and securities have been priced accordingly.

Either a raise or lowering of interest rates is generally done in stages rather than all at once so its effect will be gradual. The best approach is to invest for the long term and not let the everyday ups and downs of the market effect your investment strategy.

As the economy hums along, new jobs are created, tax rolls swell and the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) continues to grow, the threat of inflation looms. The Fed will lower rates to make borrowing not quite as attractive, thus reducing the number of dollars out there in the market. It is designed to balance the economy, so it is not growing too quickly or too slowly. The Fed only raises rates in the midst of healthy, robust economy. And while it may bring some short term pain, its generally a sign that good times are here again.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Ray Bonneville-"Bad Man's Blood"

Saw this talented troubadour last night at a very intimate space called the Focal Point in Maplewood. This tune could easily be the opening theme for the next True Detective, assuming there is one after last season's debacle.