11 Things to be Thankful For

Family Finances

11 Things to be Thankful For

As 2012 comes to a close, celebrate these positive developments at home and abroad. There's much to look forward to in 2013 and beyond.

Every year at this time, we compile a list of things that are going right, in the spirit of Thanksgiving. Here at Kiplinger.com, we're most thankful for the bold forecasts and clear guidance of the Kiplinger reporters, columnists, and editors who contributed to this list. Here are 11 things we can all be thankful for this holiday. Happy Thanksgiving! We hope you enjoy them. Please offer your own suggestions in the comment box below.

1. An improving U.S. economy in 2013. We expect President Obama and Congress to reach a deal to avert the fiscal cliff. And then, in the second half of next year, we see considerably more pep in the U.S. economy. As the housing market picks up steam, it'll add wealth to the economy and nurture consumer spending. The Federal Reserve will keep mortgage rates near all-time lows, encouraging building and buying. Plus, as 2013 unfolds, there will be more eagerness among banks to make loans. By year-end, look for GDP growth chugging along at a much healthier 3% pace. For 2013 as a whole, we see another yearly gain in the 2% neighborhood. All told, about 2 million net new jobs…enough to lower the jobless rate to 7.5% and to keep consumer spending on an upward path, albeit a weak one.

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2. Speaking of housing... Hallelujah. Housing is firmly on the upswing. Next year, it will add half a percentage point to GDP growth. Some signs that the tide has finally turned: a) Sales of new and existing homes are climbing: 20% for new homes this year; 18% next year. For existing homes, a 2% gain in 2013 will follow about an 8% jump in 2012. b) The pace of building is picking up as well, with housing starts in some states -- Washington, Iowa, Nebraska, Texas and South Carolina, for example -- likely to near levels last seen in 2000-2003 by the end of the year. Nationwide, starts will climb by 17% next year. c) The number of unsold homes is easing and the foreclosure tsunami, fading, with the share of mortgages delinquent by 90 or more days a third lower than in 2010.

Distressed sales are now a fourth of the total -- lower than last year, though still high. Mortgage rates are sure to remain near historical lows for a year or more, thanks to ongoing monthly buying of mortgage-backed bonds by the Federal Reserve.


There is more good news for the housing industry in changing U.S. demographics. "Echo" boomers, about 85 million of them, are reaching home-buying age. Born between 1982 and 1995, baby boomer offspring should help fuel demand for homes over the next decade. Though the Great Recession delayed some buying, most intend to start house hunting as they hit their 30s and the economy picks up. An offsetting wave of baby boomer home sales isn't likely for 20 years, with about half of the 76 million-strong generation still shy of 55 years of age now. The result: more demand for new and existing housing that has dropped in price since the Great Recession.

3. Cheap stocks. Since 1935, the average price-earnings ratio of Standard & Poor's 500-stock index (based on reported profits over the previous four quarters) has been 16.9. When the P/E is well above this average, stocks are at risk. Opportunities for investors are best when the ratio is considerably below this average. The great bull market of the 1990s pushed the S&P 500 to a record valuation of 34 times earnings, so it shouldn't be surprising that performance over the following decade was poor.

But the 2007–09 bear market pushed the market to an extreme undervaluation. And even though stocks have more than doubled since March 2009, they remain cheap based on historical averages. Earnings estimates have been cut and stock prices are high, but the S&P index is still selling at only 15.9 times trailing earnings and just 13.2 times projected earnings for 2013 (based on reported earnings through November 16). Moreover, when ten-year Treasury bond yields are less than 6.7%, the average of the past 50 years, the market's average P/E has been a much higher 23.6. So not only are stocks cheap on an absolute basis, they are also cheap relative to fixed-income investments.


4. More fresh cherries! Sweet cherry lovers, rejoice. U.S. harvests of the delicious summer fruit are running longer than ever, from late June all the way until Labor Day. Why? Growers in the Northwest are planning trees at higher elevations, where fruit matures more slowly, plus doing so with varieties that naturally produce later. That's a boon for farmers and pickers, who get more time to harvest: for grocers, who get extra time to sell the summer's biggest fruit crop; and for consumers who love fresh cherries.

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5. Energy independence on the horizon. Oil and gas production is on a major upswing. It's not just the surge in fracking for natural gas deposits across the Midwest and Mid-Atlantic states. In 2011, North Dakota overtook California and Alaska as the No. 2 oil producer in the U.S., thanks to immense reserves of oil from tight rock formations. These reserves are tapped with the same technology used to produce shale gas. Meanwhile, the output of Canadian oil sands has tripled since 2000 and continues to surge. On the demand side, improving gasoline efficiency standards of U.S. cars mandated by Congress is expected to dramatically reduce oil demand in the years ahead. The International Energy Agency predicted in its recent World Energy Outlook that the U.S., the world's largest consumer of oil and gas, could become a net oil exporter by 2030.


6. Shorter, safer commutes. Onboard electronic sensors enabling cars on the road now to parallel park, jam on the brakes if traffic suddenly halts and warn of lane-straying will be widespread in a few years and will perform increasingly sophisticated functions, such as monitoring driver alertness. By 2020, look for onboard wireless transmitters that allow vehicles to relay their speed and locations to one another on all new cars. Odds are that Uncle Sam will require at least some of it as a safety measure, much as seat belts are now.

Self-driving autos won't be far behind, taking full advantage of car-to-car communications and electronic controls. Drivers will still be able to pilot themselves, but most folks will trust the car. That will trim travel times for road warriors of all sorts … commuters, truckers, delivery drivers, etc. Employers will benefit from lower man-hour costs, too. Improved traffic management systems will route traffic more efficiently through congested urban areas and bottlenecks, improving fuel efficiency and lessening the need to widen many roads.

7. A faster Internet ahead. An innovative type of network coding using advanced mathematics is streamlining how data packets are sent and received for a 10-fold increase in speed. Even better news: The new technology requires no infrastructure upgrades. It's likely to be a must-have for cell companies seeking to improve their bandwidth to serve growing demand for data downloads, from movies to massive spreadsheets. Boston-based Code-On Technologies, a start-up by math wizards at MIT and Caltech, will license the technology. It'll start rolling out commercial applications in 2013.

8. A better-educated America. Expect a boost in the number of Americans with four-year college degrees. By 2020, Kiplinger forecasts a 15% increase in bachelor's degrees, despite rising tuition costs and mounting student debt. Already, 30% of people over 25 have a sheepskin. An employee with a bachelor's degree will be paid 85% more over the course of a career than someone with only a high school diploma.


9. Ample supplies of natural gas and propane. Good news as winter begins to bite: Prices will remain tame this heating season. Natural gas in storage hit an all-time record this fall; propane is at a 14-year high.

10. Good news for baby-boomers with advances in treatment of macular degeneration. Six years ago, a new drug, Lucentis, hit the market. It reliably stops the progression of so-called "wet" degeneration of the macula, a small circular area on the retina of your eye that allows you to read and see shapes clearly. Wet macular degeneration progresses more quickly than the "dry" kind and is responsible for 80% of cases of blindness and vision loss associated with macular degeneration, mostly for people ages 55 and older. Now new drugs Avastin and Eylea, which are both cheaper than Lucentis, have come on the market, with similar results to Lucentis. All these treatments are injected with a needle directly into the eye. But doctors are discovering that with more frequent examinations they can reduce the number of yearly injections required to stop the disease, which is caused by an abnormal growth of blood vessels beneath the macula.

11. And, courtesy of American farms, an abundance of the foods high on your Thanksgiving Day menu -- despite 2012's drought that parched most of the Midwest and Great Plains.

Cranberries? A near-record crop of 7.7 million barrels. As a result, a bag of fresh cranberries is averaging a little over $2 per 12-ounce bag…on par with recent years' prices…at U.S. grocery outlets.

Sweet potatoes? Same story. Farmers harvested nearly 129,000 acres of them, just a little behind the 2011 record. So, as happened with last year's ample supply, U.S. supermarkets have discounted them to about 55¢ a pound, on average, for holiday meal shoppers.

Let's talk turkey. Farmers expanded their flocks: An expected 255 million of them raised this year, the most since 2008 and enough to relieve the rather tight supplies of recent years. So the number slaughtered this fall was ahead of a year ago, putting 9% more whole turkeys in cold storage in September, ahead of holiday shopping, than a year earlier. That's allowed grocers to feature turkey in a moderate $1.40-$1.60 range for Thanksgiving Day cooks.