Connect the Dots: The Joyride’s Finally Slowing

Appeared in the Ladue News by Benjamin Ola Akande, March 22, 2018

The resurgence of the stock market has much to do with confidence in it – confidence that continued to grow following Donald Trump’s victory in the U.S. presidential election in November 2016.

But truth be told, the strategy that laid the groundwork for this remarkable ride actually originated with former chairman of the Federal Reserve, Ben Bernanke, a scholar of the Great Depression who unleashed a dramatic assault to address the 2008 Great Recession.

That assault began with the Fed cutting short-term interest rates to historical lows of 0.15 percent in January 2009. The essence of the strategy involved keeping short-term interest rates as close to 0 percent as possible to enable the U.S. economy to recover. And so it was for the next six years. In addition, the Fed bought long-term bonds and mortgage-backed securities over a 10-year period, peaking at a value of $4.4 billion in January 2018.

Perhaps the strategy can be nicknamed “the Bernanke” because it involved a relatively new monetary position, specifically designed to entice investors to stop buying bonds and to start purchasing equities and investing in real estate. It worked – as household wealth increased, leading to more consumer spending – and it also paved the way for the economic recovery we all are enjoying today.

The stock market awoke as the value of equities owned by the average American increased upward of 45 percent between 2011 and 2013. The net worth for households increased by $10 trillion in just 2013, so imagine the consequential impact on the S&P 500, which increased by more than 200 percent between 2009 and November 2016. But then the “Trump bump” happened, with the stock market increasing an additional 100 percent, now totaling 300 percent in the aftermath of the election.

Yes, the market has benefited from a higher level of confidence perhaps attributable to the election and Trump’s presidency. However, the price/earnings (P/E) ratio just before the election already exceeded historical averages by 49 percent. And now the Fed is expected to curtail the availability of easy money that fueled these good times. Given this sensitive balancing act, I myself suspect the Fed will get the job done without plunging the economy into another recession.

Not everyone on Wall Street agrees, though, which explains why we saw the Dow Jones industrial average fall 1,597 points in a single day. This panic-type selling originated from a fear that the Fed, under the leadership of its new chairman, would reverse the long streak of tepid inflation and that low interest rates will abruptly end.

The panic quickly subsided, though, and the market’s losses have been halved, although daily volatility remains. Rising yields mean higher borrowing costs for companies, and that may push the Fed to raise interest rates more rapidly, which would adversely affect stock prices. Some economists contend the stock market rise resembles a mountain climber scaling a steep slope – at some point, the “mountain climber” slows and maybe even descends a bit to regroup and regain strength, before continuing to climb.

Of course, as important as the stock market remains as an indicator of how the economy is doing, it alone doesn’t indicate economic prosperity and continued growth. Consider, for instance, these factors:

  • The U.S. gross domestic product has been expanding at an annual pace of more than 3 percent after inflation for three straight quarters.
  • Average hourly earnings rose to $26.74 in January, a 2.9 percent increase over the past year.
  • The labor market participation rate has been around 63 percent for the past four months.

Given those positive trends, I would advise long-term investors not to panic. Market corrections of 10 percent or more frequently occur. This isn’t the time to undo your entire investment strategy.

Dr. Benjamin Ola. Akande is the president of BOA Consulting and former president of Westminster College in Fulton, Missouri. He has a Ph.D. in economics and previously served as dean of the George Herbert Walker School of Business & Technology at Webster University.

Ten Most Interesting: Benjamin Akande

29-Jan-2009Published in: Ladue News Author: Trish Muyco-Tobin

For as long as he can remember, economist Benjamin Akande has been fascinated by success, specifically by what makes people successful. Given to perusing several books at a time, Akande is currently enjoying Malcolm Gladwell's Outliers: The Story of Success. "It's a very interesting book about why people succeed," he says. "One thing is very clear: In many instances, success doesn't come because we're born with the intellectual capacity to be successful, it comes as a result of hard work."

Akande himself is an American success story. Born in Nigeria, he spent much of his childhood at boarding school, away from his parents and four sisters. He says having a certain level of independence allowed him to discover himself. "It was a time to grow up: to make mistakes and learn from them. It was all about education and preparation."

Education was the reason Akande came to the United States 30 years ago. He attended Wayland Baptist University as an undergraduate, received a doctorate in economics from the University of Oklahoma, and completed post-doctoral studies at Harvard's John F. Kennedy School of Government.

Akande's interest in economics began in his teens. "I wanted to understand how the economy worked, as well as what caused interruptions, when things don't work as they should," he says. A penchant for reading soon followed. "I read everything I could get my hands on, newspapers, magazines, fiction. Back then, we'd get most of the papers two days later. But it didn't matter. I'd read them as if they were new," he recalls. "Being able to see and read different writing styles helped me formulate my own. It also expanded my imagination and took me to places I'd never go."

Since 2000, Akande has been dean of Webster University's School of Business & Technology, overseeing 13,000 business students and working with 1,500 staff throughout the university's worldwide system. "My responsibility is to provide leadership in curriculum and innovation, as well as ensure that we're constantly challenging the most important people at Webster, the students."

Aside from his duties as dean, Akande also maintains a strong public presence in print, on the airwaves and around town. He's been recognized as one of the city's most influential leaders, serving on the boards of The PrivateBank, Newberry Group, Xiolink and Beyond Housing, and consulting with a number of Fortune 500 companies. "I'm constantly engaging the private sector, seeking input and building relationships," he says. "The experience has served as my laboratory of sorts, as it has enabled me to implement ideas that could grow and transform organizations."

When he's not making presentations to business and financial organizations or delegating academic directives, Akande can be found listening to jazz, reading a book or two, or spending time with his wife, Bola, and their daughters, ages 16, 13 and 8. "We hang out, play pick-up soccer in the backyard or ping-pong, the kids are not as good as me but they're getting there." He also enjoys storytelling. "It's having a conversation with my kids, and a way for me to stay connected with my past."

Dreams Do Come True

19-Jan-2009Published in: CNN AC360_ (Anderson Cooper 360) Author: Benjamin Ola. Akande

As a child growing up in Nigeria, I was a dreamer. My parents never dismissed my dreams. They were always encouraging. No matter how outright unbelievable my dreams were, they would assure me that dreams do come true. Dreams provide a glimpse of what the future will look like. I wish I could have recorded all those dreams.

Martin Luther King Jr.’s dream was recorded. It was a dream that was played out in front of thousands of people and like most dreams, no one really knew how it would play out. As the dream was recalled over the years, it became clear that this was a significant and compelling vision of the future. Martin’s dream was in the form of a remarkable prose on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. Most of us can hear him recite this dream in our subconscious. “I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made straight and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed and all flesh shall see it together.” It is a dream that visualizes a future where all those things that seemed impossible and improbable will happen despite overwhelming obstacles.

The election of Barack Obama was a manifestation of Martin’s dream. I would like to believe that Martin Luther King’s dream highlighted how difficult it is to make change happen. Martin spoke about how mountains and hills (obstacles) shall be made lower and rough places (institutional changes) will be made straight. The recognition was that monumental changes of this magnitude take considerable time. Indeed, it takes the force of nature to break through the harsh reality of status quo and history.

Dreaming enables us to transcend the present and position us on the balcony for a better view of the future. And, because dreaming offers no restrictions, the greatest dreamers are often characterized as crazy and out of touch with reality. What history has shown us is that you may vilify them, you can criticize them, and you may even assassinate them. But, you can’t kill a dreamer’s dream. MLK’s dream took a long time to come to fruition, with small significant steps and some big setbacks along the way. But on Nov. 4, 2008, the full realization of the great civil rights leader’s dream came to pass with the election of a junior senator from Illinois as the first African-American President of The United States.

Martin Luther King taught us that adversity is a lot easier to overcome than success. And that is the power of dreams. He knew it would happen. He even foresaw that his own demise may keep him from seeing his dream come true. “I’ve seen the promised land,” he said. “I may not get there with you, but I want you to know tonight that we as a people will get to the Promised Land.” Forty-five years later, his vision is still unfolding. But one thing is crystal clear. Dreams do come true.

Click here to read Dean Akande's story on AC360°.