MONEY financial literacy

Most 20-Somethings Can’t Answer These 3 Financial Questions. Can You?

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A new study finds that young Americans could use some help when it comes to managing their money.

Just in time for financial literacy month, a new San Diego State University study of young Americans has found that they are lacking when it comes to financial knowledge and behavior.

Out of these three questions measuring basic financial knowledge, the average respondent could answer only 1.8 correctly—and only a quarter got all three right. (Answers are at the bottom of this story.)

(1) Do you think that the following statement is true or false? Buying a single company stock usually provides a safer return than a stock mutual fund.

(2) Suppose you had $100 in a savings account and the interest rate was 2% per year. After 5 years, how much do you think you would have in the account if you left the money to grow: More than $102, exactly $102, or less than $102?

(3) Imagine that the interest rate on your savings account was 1% per year and inflation was 2% per year. After 1 year, would you be able to buy more than, exactly the same as, or less than today with the money in this account?

Perhaps most troubling was what the research showed about how respondents have actually been managing their money. The average young person surveyed showed responsible behavior in only one of three categories: Paying off debts on time, budgeting and living within one’s means, and having any retirement savings at all. Only 2% of all respondents showed responsible behavior in all three categories.

Furthermore, the study—led by SDSU professors Ning Tang, Andrew Baker, and Paula Peter—found that there was little to no effect of financial knowledge on financial behavior. That is, young people manage money poorly, even when they know better.

But there is hope for America’s youth, says Tang.

“Our findings suggest that if you want to improve your own financial behavior, the best thing you can do is be open to the influences of others,” says Tang.

Though the study did not examine the influence of peers, its results suggest both family and financial professionals could play an important role in improving young people’s financial habits. The researchers found that being close with parents was correlated with better money management among women—and that higher self-reported levels of being “thorough” and “careful” was correlated with better financial behavior among men. Among both sexes, higher self-reported levels of being “self-disciplined” was correlated with better money habits.

That suggests educators and financial planners should focus on getting young people to be more self-aware in general and more motivated to improve their organizational habits across the board—not just when it comes to finances, says Tang.

“It can be helpful just to be more aware of your own psychological barriers,” she says.

One thing the study did not explore much is the cause of gender differences in the results. For example, the authors did not control for whether parents tend to treat daughters differently than sons.

And the answers to the questions above? They are: (1) false; (2) more than $102; and (3) less than today.

Read Next: This One Question Can Show If You’re Smarter Than Most U.S. Millennials

TIME Economics

The Real Reason the Dollar Is So Strong Right Now

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Purestock—Getty Images/Purestock Close-up of American dollar bills

And why it could seriously hurt American business

When is a stronger U.S. dollar not a good thing? When it causes companies to sell fewer products overseas. That’s one of the big concerns at the moment among American CEOs, many of whom are worried about what the dollar’s strength against currencies like the euro and the yen mean for US exports–and corporate profits.

They have legitimate reason to worry. Each of the five major dips in U.S. corporate profitability since 1970 have occurred following reduced sales after periods of relative dollar strength. The Fed has recently expressed concerns about whether the dollar’s strength could hold back the US recovery, which has been lackluster to begin with. Wages are still growing at only around 2 %, not enough to push up consumer spending, which is the major driver of our economy. If US exports also begin to suffer, it could be difficult for the economy to sustain the 3% a year growth figure that is needed to create more jobs.

Some economists believe the dollar’s strength reflects the fact that the U.S. is still the prettiest house on the ugly block that is the global economy. (Certainly, to employ another metaphor, it’s the strongest leg on the global stool with China slowing sharply and the Eurozone debt crisis flaring back up as Greece looks likely to run out of money next month.) But I think it’s more about central bankers and their actions. The dollar’s strength reflects the Fed’s own recent indications that it will likely raise interest rates by the end of the year.

Indeed, the dollar’s strength almost perfectly tracks Fed statements about the coming end of easy money. The tightening of US monetary policy (or even the hint that policy will tighten at some point) has driven the dollar up (and oil down) even as Europe’s beginning of its own “QE” or quantitative easing program has driven the Euro down. None of it reflects the economic reality on the ground, but rather the fact that central bankers are, as investment guru Mohamed El-Erian frequently says, the “only game in town.” For more on what the stronger dollar might mean for consumers, companies and the economy as a whole, you can listen to Josh Barro from the New York Times and I discuss the topic on this week’s Money Talking.

TIME Crime

Bernie Madoff Victims’ Fund Breaches $10.6 Billion After Feeder Firm Settlement

File photo of Bernard Madoff exiting the Manhattan federal court house in New York
Brendan McDermid—Reuters Bernard Madoff exits the Manhattan federal court house in New York in this Jan. 14, 2009, file photo

Victims gain and additional $90 million as Madoff feeder fund settles

Victims of the biggest investment scam in U.S. history, run by disgraced financier Bernard Madoff, have gained an additional $93 million from a “feeder fund” settlement, bringing the total recovered to $10.6 billion.

Irving Picard, the trustee charged with recovering money for those duped by Madoff, said that Defender Ltd., which used to send money to the swindler’s firm, will receive $520 million from the liquidation of Bernard Madoff’s Investment Securities LLC, owing to significant overpayment.

The first $93 million of this will got to Madoff’s victims, while Defender Ltd. will recoup its share from future payouts, reports Reuters.

Picard has regained around 60% of the estimated $17.5 billion total loss perpetrated by Madoff’s Ponzi scheme, which lures investors by promising unusually high returns.

In 2009, Madoff was sentenced to 150 years in prison for fraud, the maximum term possible.

[Reuters]

TIME Economy

Don’t Trust the Markets: A Correction Is Coming

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Getty Images

The Fed, despite its recent pronouncements, will trigger a fall in stock prices later this year

Up until yesterday’s Fed meeting, America’s central bankers said they were going to be “patient” about the timing of an interest rate hike, which most experts believe will ultimately result in a significant stock market correction (see my recent column about why). So why did that make markets go up so dramatically yesterday?

Because everything else about the Fed’s communication said “we’re going to be more patient than ever” about when and how to raise rates. The central bank downgraded its forecast on the US economic recovery, saying that the pace of the recovery had “moderated somewhat,” in large part because of the strong dollar.

Why is the dollar strong? Mainly because everyone knows that the easy money monetary policy in the US is coming to an end. (QE is over, and most economists are now predicting a rate hike by September.) Meanwhile, pretty much every other central bank is now easing monetary policy—witness the ECB’s new money dump, which has sent European markets soaring.

What does all this tell us? That markets and the real economy are disconnected in a way that is terrifying. Central banks are, as chief economic advisor to Allianz and former PIMCO CEO Mohamed El-Erian put it to me recently, “the only game in town.” Every time the Fed says it will keep rates low a little longer, the market party goes on. All that means is that there will be more pain, eventually, when the punch bowl gets pulled away.

TIME stocks

The Average Wall Street Bonus Was $172,860 in 2014

A trader works on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange shortly before the end of the day's trading in New York July 31, 2013
Lucas Jackson—Reuters A trader works on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange shortly before the end of the day's trading in New York July 31, 2013

But that's only a 2% rise on the previous year

Despite falling profits, the average bonus on Wall Street rose to $172,860 last year, according to a report released Wednesday by New York State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli.

That marks a 2% increase from 2013 and is the highest average payout since 2007 — right before the financial crisis.

The bump comes as estimated pre-tax profits fell by 4.5% from $16.7 billion in 2013 to $16 billlion last year.

“The cost of legal settlements related to the 2008 financial crisis continues to be a drag on Wall Street profits, but the securities industry remains profitable and well-compensated even as it adjusts to regulatory changes,” DiNapoli said in a press release.

The New York Office of the State Comptroller, whose main duty is to audit government operations and operate the retirement system, has been tracking the average bonus paid on Wall Street for nearly three decades. When it began recording in 1986, the average payout was $14,120. The highest average bonus was $191,360 in 2006.

After two years of job losses, the industry added 2,300 jobs in 2014 to a total of 167,800 workers.

TIME Business School

5 Things You Can’t Learn in Business School

Howard HBCU
Jonathan Ernst—Reuters Graduates celebrate during the 2014 graduation ceremonies at Howard University, a well-known HBCU, in Washington on May 10, 2014.

An MBA will help your career but some skills you need to learn outside campus

Let me start by saying that I have an MBA and am proud of my alma mater. Business schools provide a valuable education and professional network, but there are some skills they can’t always cultivate:

  1. Ethics. Teaching ethics as a course is difficult to begin with. As a result, business schools often focus on how ethical behavior can help companies improve their profits, which makes sense. But while honest business practices are definitely essential to the well-being of a company, real ethics require taking the profit motive out of the equation in order to be genuine. Outside of the MBA program, students themselves need to recognize that ethical behavior is its own reward instead of a cost-benefit equation.
  1. Humility. Business schools, especially those that turn out high-octane bankers and executives, can fail to balance the confidence that they inculcate in their graduates with humility. This breeds arrogance, which can harm businesses. Like ethics, humility is challenging to teach in a classroom, but the result of ambitious people exerting authority in organizations without recognizing their limitations can be disastrous. MBA programs could do more but companies themselves are better positioned to address this issue; they can engender humility by putting employees through the paces and emphasizing self-awareness before giving them more control.
  1. Diplomacy. The ability to navigate volatile situations or people at work, to negotiate with your peers or boss without creating an argument, and lead an organization without resorting to a draconian management style is an invaluable asset. In its simplest form diplomacy is tact, in a deeper form, true empathy with others. This can enable you to disagree with your co-workers or build consensus with minimum friction and maximum effect. But since this is more an art than a professional skill, business school students should make an effort to learn it outside. Today’s workplace, populated by millennials who demand more respect and empathy from companies than previous generations, requires diplomacy more than ever.
  1. Deconstructive thinking. Deconstructive thinking is about breaking a business situation into its component parts and reassembling it in an optimized fashion. For example, the CEO of a bakery chain looking to enter a new market might modify his company’s supply chain so that he can deliver bread to retailers from the closest distribution points, thereby minimizing transport costs and ensuring freshness of the product. Lengthy analysis can lead to the same result but the real skill is in being able to rapidly see the full picture with all its intricacies, and adapt. An MBA can help develop this faculty only partially; most of it comes from prolonged work experience.
  1. Judgement. The modern business world, with its heavy and fast-paced workload, requires constant prioritizing and the aptitude to differentiate between the important and the irrelevant. Yet many business school graduates enter the workforce seemingly without the judgment to do effective triage. The likely reason is an overemphasis on ‘productivity’ instead of ‘efficiency’. Think of it as working hard rather than working smart. MBA programs, probably responding to the rigorous demands of today’s job market, are more concerned with developing reliable workhorses than in cultivating thoughtfulness in how those people perform their jobs. But students can pick this up on their own by asking the simple question: ‘what’s really important?’

As business schools increasingly require prior work experience for new students, you may gain some of the above skills through interaction with your peers, and an MBA will still help you further your career. But recognizing the limits of a classroom education is also important for rounding out your professional skill set and setting you on the path to success.

Sanjay Sanghoee has an MBA from Columbia Business School. He has worked at investment banks Lazard Freres and Dresdner Kleinwort Wasserstein, and at hedge fund Ramius Capital.

Read next: 10 Resume Mistakes That Can Cost You a Job

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TIME Economy

Why Finance Is Still a Problem

TIME.com stock photos Money Dollar Bills
Elizabeth Renstrom for TIME

Inequality, tepid job growth, lack of innovation are partially the result of finance's warped incentives

Warren Buffett warned investors that bankers were still up to their old tricks in his recent investor letter. Vanguard founder Jack Bogle is writing about how high fee mutual funds are ripping off investors and endangering retirement security. And Fed Chair Janet Yellen is touting new, tougher capital rules for “Too Big to Fail” banks. Despite the recovery and strong jobs numbers last week, the re-regulation of the financial sector isn’t yet finished. But a deeper worry, and one that’s taking center stage amongst academics, is the fact that finance has yet to be re-moored to the real economy. That may be dampening the recovery for many.

A growing slew of research, including several just-published papers, has found that over a multi-decade period, the rise of finance is associated with lower capital investment in the real economy, greater inequality, and the demise of more productive industries. Brandeis International Business School professor Stephen G. Cecchetti and Enisse Kharroubi, a senior economist at the BIS, recently published a paper entitled “Why Does Financial Sector Growth Crowd Out Real Economic Growth?”

The answer: because finance looks for quick growth rather than long-term rewards. And because finance wants to invest in industries like real estate and construction where there are tangible assets to be collateralized, rather than intangible assets like the ideas and intellectual property that typically power more productive sectors like, say, technology, pharmaceuticals, or advanced manufacturing. What’s more, the disproportionate pay of bankers (they still make about three times what their similarly well-educated colleagues in other sectors do, even post crisis) continues to lure talent away from areas that create more and better jobs for the population as a whole. “When I was at MIT many years ago,” says Cecchetti, “everyone wanted to work in cold fusion or recombinant DNA. By the 1990s, nobody wanted to do that.” Solution? “I think we should take some proportion of the smartest people in the room and make sure they don’t go into finance,” says Cecchetti, only half joking.

Part of the problem with the rise of finance is that it encourages the culture of shareholder value over all else. That means CEOs focus more on buoying stock prices rather than making the best long-term decisions. The effects can be seen in the fact that since the 1980s, share buybacks and dividend payments have increased in direct proportion to a decrease in productive capital investment, according to a recent Roosevelt Institute paper entitled “Disgorge the Cash: The Disconnect Between Corporate Borrowing and Investment.”

What’s more, says JW Mason, a Roosevelt fellow who authored the paper, the low interest rates that have prevailed particularly since the 2008 crisis have sped up the trend as firms actually borrow money at lower rates to do more buybacks, rather than invest in the real economy. (The later is, by the way, what the Fed’s easy money policy was intended to encourage.) In fact, business investment dropped 20 % since 2008, as almost all borrowing went back to investors in the form of such payments. “It may be that we need to move to a more active control of investments to make sure that useful projects get funded,” says Mason, who says a kind of “World Bank for the US” might be one answer.

All this dovetails with the country’s inequality problem, which is an issue that will be big in the 2016 election cycle. As Wallace Turbeville, a Demos fellow who has done yet another influential paper on financialization points out, both the Republican and Democratic positions on inequality are lacking. Conservatives believe in bootstrapping, and liberals in redistribution of wealth. But if the very structure of our capitalism is designed to reward mainly elites (something Thomas Piketty’s best seller Capital in the 21st Century pointed out so well last year), then no amount of redistribution or hard work can fix the problem.

We need to fix the structure of capitalism itself and, in particular, figure out a way to make it work better for the masses. Turbeville has some of his own ideas about how to do this, including incentivizing long-term share ownership over high-speed trading, and limiting the use of derivatives. I hope that the economic debate in the primary season will be filled with many more.

Correction: The original version of this story misstated the surname of Brandeis International Business School professor Stephen G. Cecchetti.

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