Trends

Another day, another virtual presentation! Thank you to CPA Ontario for letting me to speak to their conference today on the economy and where it is going, particularly with the uncertainty of the political environment. All live-streamed from my home studio, with cutting-edge production and...

It may have been a bit of a struggle to make it work, but the pandemic has forced many companies to keep their teams intact even when they are not under the same roof.  As workers have de-camped to far-flung places, perhaps permanently, we are...

When we think about the words that go with 'leadership', 'heart' is rarely among them but perhaps it should be. The pandemic has shown us that business as usual is no longer going to get the job done, and as well we are all acutely...

Freelance work something of a controversial workforce trend. To some, it is the dreaded gig economy, those who are forced to work on contracts or driving ride shares because they cannot find that holy grail, the full-time job. To others though, it represents freedom, the ability to...

The pandemic has forced a giant-scale experiment in online education, and by many accounts it is going very poorly. From first graders to college students, everyone seems to be frustrated at having to take the classroom experience to a crowded space in the kitchen, and...

Was so great to speak to Manitoba Tech's Disrupted Future conference last week..I spoke about the future of work, which is scary and challenging but something we need to come to terms with now. There is lots to be optimistic about, and I think people...

Let's face facts: tech is indeed replacing workers, especially at places like grocery stores where simple functions like scanning labels can be done without employees. A labor group in Oregon wants to legislate that away, but can you even do that? Read more here in...

One of the big worries regarding the future of work is that jobs are going to disappear altogether, replaced by breathtaking technology and clever robots. That is happening to an extent, but apparently some dregs are being left for humans, for better or work. 'Ghost...

Will cutting-edge layaway plans be the salvation of the retail sector and the broader economy, or are they a disaster waiting to happen? The newest experiments in making it consumer payments easy is creative, but may not bring the long-term results that retailers hope to...

Industrial revolutions are always kind of scary, at least for those who have to make a living. The idea that some crazy new technology can do your job, and maybe do it better..well who can blame the Luddites of the 19th century who took hammers...

A big misunderstanding? Uber and Lyft drivers are protesting across ten U.S. cities this week, as well as in the U.K., South America and Australia, saying that the companies are treating them unfairly. The companies say that they are a great deal for the drivers,...

After this Globe and Mail column came out, I had a friend call and ask whether he should re-jig his portfolio to get rid of his auto stocks. The piece is about demographics, and specifically about the implications of the fact that people spend differently...

Jobs come and jobs go, but are the ones that are coming as good as the ones that we are losing? I was taken by some new research from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology which looked at the job titles being added and found a...

I was intrigued when I heard about 'Income Sharing Agreements' which are basically a way share the 'risk'  of paying for an education between the student and another party.See my column for the Globe and Mail here ...

It's a new year so how better to celebrate it than by throwing away all the junk you bought last year? And the one before that, and before that? Seems like so many of us have piles of unwanted 'stuff' and nothing feels better than...

This is my latest article for the Globe and Mail..this time on 'Perennials' as older workers are sometimes called. Those over 55 now comprise about 23 per cent of the U.S. workforce and 21 per cent of the Canadian one, which should not surprise anyone....

In my latest column for the Globe and Mail I write about the controversial subject of a robot tax. In one sense it is fair enough: if  you hire workers you have to pay a payroll tax, so if you go with robots (or cobots,...

We have kind of been moving to a winner-take-all world for a while, but a decade after the recession the trend only seems to be intensifying.  The McKinsey Global Institute did a pretty thorough job of looking at the phenomenon in a recent paper, making...

Seems like a ridiculous concept (at least in North America) but some British researchers say you should. I see it more as a sweetly retro concept, a last ditch effort to separate work and leisure. See my Globe and Mail column on the subject here ...

Here is my latest Globe and Mail column an d it is kind of radical. Given that lives are getting longer, should we think about starting careers later,  maybe as late as 40? Crazy right? Maybe, but maybe we need to at least open our minds...

Here’s a piece I wrote for the Globe and Mail on the way that demographics are affecting the supply of young hockey players. Millennials have provided lots of young players which have sped up the game, but that may change, You can read the whole...

Coworking spaces are springing up everywhere and attracting businesses of all sizes. That is good for everything from the bottom line of large companies to the lonliness epidemic, which is actually something with economic implications. See my Globe and Mail column on the trend here    ...

Walmart buying Modcloth? ‘Say it’s not so’ went the lament from Millennials and other assorted cool people earlier this year. After all, Modcloth is a cutting-edge, online retailer that offers funky clothes for those who consider themselves the opposite of everything the world’s biggest retailer...

There are a lot of things robots can do, but they cannot make societies any younger. Canada and the U.S. are aging – there is little debate about that. What exactly that will mean for the labor force and the economy is a bit more up...

What if you built a wall to keep people out, and it turned out that no one really wanted to get in anyway? Okay, some people might still want to enter the U.S. from Mexico and other countries which have typically supplied low skill labor,...

If I had to think of an industry prone to poisonous industrial relations battles I would probably think first or the auto sector, or maybe even something like education or health. The battles in those industries, however, are apparently being matched by orchestras (can I...

Collaboration, sharing ideas, boosting creativity, creating bonds – all of these are reasons that are typically given for having open plan workspaces. Sit next to your colleagues in an open plan office or cubicle, goes the reasoning, and productivity will rise. Not so, says new...

Sure you can go for a run for free, but if you did you would be off trend. That is one take-away from some new statistics on where people are spending their fitness dollars. According to this article from Quartz (which quotes data from the...

Maybe I’m late to the party, but it was only recently that I heard the phrase ‘side hustle’. Apparently it has been around a while: way back in 2013, Entrepreneur.com tacked up an online definition, calling ‘a way to make some extra cash that allows...

Robots, joined by Gig Workers, are now making Twinkies, and they are doing such a good job that their parent company is going public.  That’s a powerful statement about today’s manufacturing and economy, never mind our nutritional preferences. Twinkies, those flaky, cream-filled snack cakes that are...

Amongst the problems with the Sharing Economy – and its offshoot, the Gig Economy – is the fact that shares in it tend to be pretty unequal. In fact, even more than is the case of a usual employee-employer relationship, oftentimes the ‘employee’ in this...

Here’s a new one to me: the ‘divorce mortgage’. No its not some crazy, invented term to describe a financing vehicle (my mind went back to ‘plain vanilla swaps’ from the days when derivatives were the buzz), but rather exactly what it sounds like: a...

Goodness knows, there is nothing better for the economy that productive workers. After all, an economy grows through having people working, and by having their hours at work be efficient. That can come through having them use the right equipment, or just by having them...

Billionaires are getting a bad rap these days. We would love to see the middle class (good luck defining what that is) expand, and the poor shrink in numbers. Even millionaires are more or less okay, since what with real estate wealth and all it...

Twenty and thirtysomethings would apparently rather buy experiences than things, and that has some very definite implications for retailers – or as least that is one theory. As this article from Bloomberg Business suggests, the stock market tells the tale of what is happening very...

When people rhyme off the things they want to do in retirement, ‘pay off debts’ is never on the list. Nevertheless, it is something that baby boomers will have to do anyway, if data from the New York Federal Reserve (NY Fed) is to be...

Like it or not, the sharing economy is everywhere. I’ll go as far as saying it will be one of the big economic stories of 2016, although its influence will extend far longer than that. It’s a different way to do business, and it works...

We all say it, and we worry about it too: we are an aging society, and that’s going to have repercussions. In Canada, the median age of the population is now close to 41 while in the U.S. it is still-youthful 37ish but rising (according...

I admit, I have watched television shows set in law firms for a long time now. When I was young and impressionable, I watched the excitement on L.A. Law and was intrigued enough to eventually take the Law School Admissions Test (I did get accepted...

How can a city with a unemployment rate of 19 percent scoff at any industry, especially one that accounts for 15 percent of its GDP? That was my first thought when I heard that the city of Barcelona is actively pursuing a strategy to keep...

Was it all big one fun, Technicolor roller-coaster ride never to repeated? The economic growth of the past fifty years was awesome, at least in a historical context. Question is, was it a one-time-only, and are we destined to go back to the sluggish economic...

How would you like free college tuition for you and for your kids? It would really take the pressure off, right? Of course you’d take it if offered – but what if there was a catch, the catch being really high taxes forever? That’s the...

Here is the good news for U.S. restaurants: it costs less to fill those SUVs and minivans these days, so some of the saved money is going to be spent eating out. (Blooming Onions for everyone!). The bad news? That windfall to restaurants is not...

Former Abercrombie CEO Mike Jeffries (yes, I said ‘former’, he stepped down today) said some pretty dumb and offensive things about who he wanted his clientele to be. If the company’s numbers were good nobody might have cared, but in this retail environment he rightly...

Do you go to the mall? I used to, quite a bit actually. In the 70s, 80s, 90s, even the 00s – the mall was the place to buy stuff, and I liked stuff as much as any child and young woman in North America....

Trust me, I am not saying that ‘Oprah’s Favorite Things’ are a good approximation of anyone’s holiday shopping list. Still, I think it is an economic indicator, of a type, just the same. The Queen of Daytime Talk (and the Forbes-magazine certified 580th richest person in...

Advertising, television, media – they sound like cool places to work right? What with Mad Men like a giant commercial for the glamorous industry of advertising, I imagine more people than ever are lusting after careers writing copy and crafting campaigns. Maybe though, their better...

I never thought I would admire Mallory Keaton, but I really do. Okay, the person I admire is actress Justine Bateman, not Mallory Keaton, the ditzy teenager she played on television show Family Ties (it ran from 1982 through 1989). For those of us who grew...

Freelancing, the best thing ever to happen to the workplace or an evil idea designed to make workers poor and companies inefficient? We are not even close to a consensus on that, but apparently we are getting closer. According to one new study, 41 percent...

Is being a ‘solopreneur’ – someone who basically runs their own shop –a good thing or a bad thing for the economy? We had better figure it out, because apparently the number of them (us actually, I am one as well) are increasing a phenomenal...

If you grew up watching The Jetsons, how can you be afraid of Robots? And really, given that it the show about the space age family has run in repeats forever (it was first broadcast in the early 1960s, and then some new episodes were...

If Ikea says it’s a trend, it must be a trend. The giant furniture retailer known for its affordable products as well as its make-a-day-of-it-and-eat-the-meatballs approach to shopping, is thinking of changing strategy. Noting that tight budgets mean people do not want to shell out...

I love this: the newest trend in travelling is ‘Literary Tourism’, or making a pilgrimage to the birthplaces of your favorite authors or the sites of their books. As this article from the Atlantic details, it is certainly a gentler way to vacation than doing...

I am no animal expert but I know this for sure: no dog secretly wants to dress up as a Chia pet for Halloween. Having said that, given that Buzzfeed is touting a Chia outfit as one of its ‘easy costume ideas for pets’ this...

I wasn’t a tween and did not have a tween in the 1990s when Delia’s when in its heyday, but I certainly remember its cute logo, a mix of upper and lower case lettering. It was a regular in malls, a bright presence full of...

Call them shallow if you will, but when scouting for men women generally prefer those with jobs. According to a survey by the Pew Research Center, fully 78 percent of never-married women say that finding someone with a steady job would be ‘very important’ to...

Can’t you just hear executives around the world gnashing their teeth? Now that Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Group has an approved a ‘take as much vacation as you want’ policy, there is going to be pressure for other companies to offer them as well. Question...

Here’s a a dry news headline that buried in the back pages of business sections yesterday but deserves a closer look: according to debt-ratings service Moody’s, the 25 largest U.S. public pensions face about $2 trillion in unfunded liabilities. Translation: unless something changes, retiring U.S....

I had no complaints, really, the last time I called a plumber. The nice lady on the phone (Lorraine) was efficient, she gave me a four hour window and sent out a cheerful plumber (Brent). He fixed the pipes under my sink then gave me...

‘Work is Not a Place’ is one of my favorite catch-phrases these days. I use it to talk about how people can work anywhere, why telecommuting makes sense, why commercial construction may be affected by a trend towards working away from offices. I believe it...

It is a reality, and it is not fair: if you leave the workforce for a period of time, even for a good reason, your career can suffer for decades to come. Women have known that for a long time though the ‘motherhood penalty’ on...

Oscar the Grouch as a great innovator? Well, not exactly, but apparently Sesame Street, the venerable children’s television show now in its 45th year, has taken a pro-active view of innovation for a long time. Give the show’s longevity, perhaps there are lessons for other...

Fifty dollars a bottle and priced just right. Now, I’m not talking about a delightful little bottle of burgundy that goes nicely with braised lamb shanks for autumn dinners. The burgundy, after all, would be 25 ounces worth. I’m talking about a bottle of nail...

It is not the first time, and it probably will not be the last, but International Monetary Fund (IMF) President Christine Lagarde is urging women to enter the Japanese labor force and at least buffer the effect of a rapidly aging society on the economy....

‘Come here, we will give you a great deal on real estate!’ ‘No, come here and you’ll get a tax break!’ ‘No, come here instead and we have a grab bag of subsidies so awesome it will be like you are operating for free!’That’s what...

I really don’t think Serena Williams needs any sympathy from me, particularly when it comes to talking about earnings, but it still bothers me a bit that she is frequently referred to as one of the ‘highest earning female athletes ever’, rather than just ‘highest...

Want to deal with the problem of income inequality? The answer is not, as many argue, to simply do a Robin Hood steal-from-the-rich-and-give-to-the-poor thing. According to a new study by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) , the best way to deal with inequities is to...

I admit, I have some qualms about the idea of bikes and cars co-existing peacefully together. I live in Toronto, the location of many a pitched battle about what should be built for whom and how much it is worth spending on roads or bike...

The news on U.S. personal incomes over the past decade or so has been pretty dismal, and following the recession it has been especially dismal. The one bright spot, however, has been for women who as a gender have somehow managed to move ahead even...

It is kind of an urban myth, if you’ll pardon the pun: there is a story afoot that people are leaving the suburbs and moving back to the cities. I’ve written about the trend myself, but honestly perhaps the best evidence that it is true...

September really is like a New Year.  Not only does school get into full swing, but everyone is back and work – and the real trading begins.  Maybe that’s the reason that financial crises are more likely to start in the Autumn than in any other season. Let’s be clear: I am not looking for a wholesale world economic crisis to unfold anytime soon. I do, however, think that the world economy is a little shaky right now, and there are a lot of things that are going to come together to cause some volatility over the next few months, and that investors need to understand them. Here are my top five ‘Things That Could be a Problem for the Global Economy’ : 1. Europe Well, what else could I start with? Yes, the policy-makers have pledged to make things work, and yes the most recent plan by the ECB to buy bonds will help.  Still, Europe is in recession and the Eurozone is unlikely to look the way it does now a few years from now.  That means the risks coming from Europe are not over, not by a long shot. 2.China With Europe as weak as it is, the rest of the world desperately needs China to a source of strength.  Sadly, the last batch of numbers shows this economic powerhouse struggling and growth at the lowest in three years.  Policymakers have made some effort to boost growth – in July they cut the key lending rate for the second time in a month - but they are moving slowly lest they re-ignite an already crazy property market. It is so far so good for commodity prices (and stocks) but a little more slowing from China could hit hard. 3. The U.S. Fiscal Cliff Tick-tock: unless some major compromises are reached in Washington, the U.S. falls off the ‘fiscal cliff’ in a matter of months.  The term refers to the menu of tax hikes and spending cuts that will go into effect at the beginning of 2013 as a deficit measure, and the corresponding havoc they would cause. Unless something changes, the U.S. is headed into at least a short recession- or maybe a longer one – in 2013. Chances are there will be some kind of band-aid measures to stop the worst of the damage – but look for some slowing just the same. 4. Oil Prices Since the end of the Second World War, there have been 11 U.S. recessions  - and eleven of them have been preceded by sharply higher oil prices.  Which makes sense: the U.S. consumer sector accounts for about 70 perent of total U.S. GDP, and the generally speaking, there is not a whole lot of room in U.S. budgets to pay more to fill up the car (let alone the SUV). If the U.S. sees a surge in growth and incomes, rising oil prices may not matter too much.  Barring that scenario, even if Europe and China keep chugging along and there is a compromise reached on the fiscal cliff, high oil prices could pull the U.S. economy into a downturn anyway. 5. Lender Caution Not that you can really blame them, but since the end of the last recession   lender have been notoriously careful about issuing credit.  That’s why interest rates at generational lows – and even at zero in some cases – are not sparking global growth the way they should be. Canada, by the way is a bit of an exception ot the rule – the Bank of Canada’s second quarter Senior Loan Officer Survey showed lending standards loosening up a bit – but that’s probably because our lenders were cautious to start with. If things get shakier over the next few months, credit could get squeezed even more –in North America, and around the world too.  That is not good news for the economy or the markets. Now, none of this is to scare anyone out of the market or to have them pulling their money out of financial institutions.  Still, better to understand and monitor the risks than to blindsided if Autumn gives us more than falling leaves.
Just took a look at today's release on employment data from Statistics Canada and was underwhelmed by the data.  Looks like Canadian employment is rising, but not really rising all that fast.
Here's a quick quiz - which would you rather do: 1) Live in poverty or 2) Live with your spouse?  A lot of baby boomers seem to be choosing (1), although they may not actually know it.  Trouble is, boomers are ending their marriages in droves, and splitting up what are really very inadequate retirement assets.  So just when it seemed that the baby boomers could not make the dream of retirement even more elusive, they have apparently found a way to do so.
Last time, I talked about who the middle-young ratio (ratio of 40somethings to 20somethings in the population) correlated with financial market activity in the U.S. and Canada. A population with a lot of 40somethings poured money into the stock markets through the 1990s, then a slightly older one held back a little on equities. The demographics certainly are not the whole story behind why the markets dipped over the past few years, but they were most certainly a contributing factor.

Aging population – market time bomb?

  Okay, that’s a sensationalistic way to put it, but that’s certainly one of the fears people have about an the shifting demographics in North America. Last time around I looked at how portfolio size tends to trend lower as people go past 65. All things being equal, the older the population gets, the more money that is going to be pulled out of the market. Question is, at what point does the ‘market time bomb’ thing go from sensationalism to reality – or does it?
This is the first in a series of blogs about the way that demographics are going to affect your investments. Yes, I know there has been a lot written on the topic, and most of us know the basic theory. The boomers poured a lot of money into the markets over the past couple of decades, and they made the markets go up. Now they are getting old (sorry if that term offends anyone, but the first wave of boomers is cashing in their pension checks as we speak) and they are going to be pulling the money out of their retirement accounts. This will make the markets go down. Really? Is it as simple as that?

I like offbeat economic indicators - the number of boats or RVs sold, what colors are in the crayon box, etc. etc. A lot of time they tell you what is going on just as well as some of the stuffier stuff  (y'know, GDP and all that)  that we all track every day.  So I was glad to see the U.S. Census Bureau release their survey of 'movers' - people shifting households.

Now that the U.S. economy looks a just a teensy bit better (I know, I know the National Bureau of Economic Research won't say that the recession is over, but still) it's probably okay to start adding up the cost of the crisis. The Pew Research Institute has a new study out that does just that.
Oh the labor shortage thing: it get dredged up every so often, and not without cause. We all know the theory behind it, more or less. The boomers are aging, and they are going ot exit the labor force. The generation coming up behind them was not nearly as plentiful in numbers, so they won't really be replaced. So, as long as the economy keeps growing and nothing major (immigration, labor force paritcipation rates etc.) changes, then there will be lots of unfilled jobs out there.

Here's an interesting study (by non-profit consultants Convio)  on how the different U.S. generations are doling out money to charity.  Turns out that everybody is still pretty generous in their giving (recession or no recession), but that not all charities are doing a good job in reaching the people that might write the checks. Actually, not all people give by writing checks when they give, which is part of the problem.
Baby boomers are going to retire and take down the pension system. Generation X is lazy. Generation Y is spoiled and undisciplined, and they've pretty much blown out their eardrums by having them stuffed with ipods all the time anyway.
How to respond to the Wall Street Journal's story on four day school weeks a a solution to the state fiscal crisis in the U.S.? The economist in me says wow, `that`s a great inventive solution` while at the same time wondering if its a short sighted one that will lead to poorly educated kids and weakened productivity in future. I`m trying to keep my parent-reaction out of it, but I`m also wondering just how everyone is going to handle childcare on the fifth day of the workweek, which I imagine isn`t just going to disappear for most people.

The recession has taken what was more or less an nicely operational system, and created an absolute mess, a jobs situation without enough jobs and with years to go before we get to anything you could call 'normal'....

Loved this article from the Wall Street Journal on the battle for bride dollars. Basically the wedding magazines still standing (some folded during the ad recession of 2009) are battling each other to grab the soon-to-be-married market. And, despite the fact that revenues for U.S....