7 Financial Reasons 2016 Needs to Be Over ASAP

The year is winding down, and for many of us, it can't end soon enough. From a financial standpoint, 2016 was a mixed bag, at best. Of course, there's no guarantee that next year will be markedly better. But here are a bunch of financial reasons why we're ready to put up a new calendar.

1. Poor Economic Growth

For most of the time after World War II, Americans could count on a growing economy, usually to the tune of at least 3%, and often significantly higher. These days, the gross domestic product (GDP) of the United States is stuck on a slower growth path. While the economy did have a good third quarter, it's likely that growth for the year will be under 3% because of a dismal first half of the year. It's better than being in a recession, but this slower growth could have big implications on incomes, investment returns, and Americans' overall quality of life over time.

2. Mediocre Investment Returns

So far in 2016, the S&P 500 has increased in value by a little over 7%. That's not bad, but many investors were hoping for a bigger jump after an increase of less than 2% in 2015. In the post World War II period, there have been only about a dozen instances when investment returns didn't average at least 5% annually over a two-year period. This will be the eighth consecutive year of positive market returns, and that's a good thing. But the last couple of years have fallen into the "good, not great" category, and that may force a lot of people to adjust their overall retirement projections downward.

3. Fewer People Working

America's unemployment rate is 4.9%, and that's historically quite low. So good news, right? Well, any excitement over that number is tempered by the fact that overall participation in the labor force is at one of its lowest points in the last 50 years. About 63 million people are considered part of the civilian workforce, but that's down from 67 million 15 years ago. The unemployment rate does not consider people who have voluntarily left the workforce or have been out of work for a very long time.

There are a variety of reasons why fewer Americans are working, and not all of them are bad. An aging population means more people are retiring. More people are pursuing advanced education. The Affordable Care Act has made it easier for some people to get health insurance without the need to get it through an employer. People who choose to be out of the workforce for too long may lose skills that will make them more employable later. And a declining workforce also has a negative impact on household incomes, consumer spending, and, ultimately, economic growth.

4. Paltry Interest Returns

We've been in an ultralow interest environment for years now. Many of us have benefitted from the low cost of borrowing, but this also means that our savings accounts aren't generating much return. This is bad for anyone starting out saving and for older retirees who rely on interest income. It's also generally a sign from the Federal Reserve that the economy still needs some propping up. Low interest rates can be helpful to us in some respects, but most economists yearn for a time when rates weren't hovering near zero.

5. Flat Wages

Did you get a raise in 2016? If not, you're probably not alone. Real wage growth has been basically flat for years, and this year has been no exception. The U.S. Department of Labor reports that real average weekly earnings rose just 1% in September compared to the same month a year ago. The average worker earns just 11 cents per hour more than this same time last year, when you factor in inflation. This stubborn wage stagnation has a negative impact on the middle class, especially when you consider things like the rising cost of education. Will 2017 be better?

6. Brexit Reax

The world pretty much freaked out over the summer when people in the United Kingdom voted to have their country leave the European Union. It was a result that many believed could not happen, and sent stock markets around the globe tumbling. The British Pound lost a good chunk of its value, and overall uncertainty of what happens next has led to a drag on the economy and England and Europe as a whole.

7. Fumbling Phone Makers

In recent years, companies that make smartphones and other digital devices have been huge drivers of the stock market and the economy. Apple and Samsung certainly come to mind. But in 2016, it was a lot of bad news and disappointment.

Samsung was forced to recall and stop production on its Galaxy Note 7, after reports that the phones were catching fire. This news virtually wiped out all of the company's profits for the third quarter of 2016.

Meanwhile, Samsung's top competitor, Apple, hasn't exactly taken advantage. The company sold 45 million of its popular iPhone in the most recent quarter, compared to 48 million in the same period last year. And reviews of the newest iPhone 7 have been tepid. Shares of the company are up about 8% this year, which is solid growth but less than what we've come to expect from the tech behemoth. There is hope for 2017, however, as Apple says it will spend a whopping $16 billion on capital expenditures next year.

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