What Stagflation Is, and How To Prepare For it

Runaway inflation has raised fears that the economy is headed towards a return of stagflation but a host of Wall Street banks such as Goldman Sachs and HSBC believe there remains opportunities for investors to safely navigate this tricky backdrop. Stagflation is a term coined in the 1970s to refer to a combination of high inflation and high unemployment. Recent surveys show economists and fund managers see increased risks of stagflation on the horizon. There are steps you can take now to get in a better financial position in case stagflation or a recession does happen.

The next big risk to the U.S. economy may be summed up in one word. And no, it’s not necessarily recession, though economists are evenly split on the risks one is coming. Instead, 80% of economists in the same survey named stagflation as the greater long-term risk to the economy, according to the Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association. The next biggest risk they identified was deflation, with 13% of respondents.

Moreover, a recent Bank of America global fund manager survey found fears of stagflation are the highest they have been since June 2008. Stagflation is “by far and away the most popular description of what the economic backdrop will be in the next 12 months,” according to the report.

What is stagflation?

Stagflation is a term coined in the 1970s when there was simultaneous high inflation and economic stagnation or high unemployment, according to Jonathan Wright, professor of economics at Johns Hopkins University. While there were some nasty recessions back then, many economists aren’t expecting a return to anything like that now, he said. “The sense in which you had stagflation in the 1970s is not one that I think is at all in the cards,” Wright said.

However, high inflation is prompting the Federal Reserve to raise interest rates — known as tightening monetary policy. With that, it is “quite likely” the unemployment rate will rise “a fair bit” from the 3.6% it is at now, Wright said. The result may at least be a mild recession, he said. Stagflation may happen if a recession sets in before inflation has gone down to where the Fed wants it to be, Wright said.

For example, if unemployment were to go up to about 5% and consumer price index inflation were also at above 5% in 2023, that would be a kind of stagflation, though not to the degree we experienced in the 1970s, he said. “It certainly would mean that the job market would be a lot less hot than it’s been,” Wright said. In the near term, the labor market may cool simply by having fewer vacancies, he said.

How likely is stagflation?

Despite surveys sounding the alarm on stagflation, not everyone agrees it’s inevitable. “It doesn’t seem like a high probability,” said Josh Bivens, director of research at the Economic Policy Institute. To have stagflation, you need both high unemployment and high inflation at the same time, which Bivens does not see as likely.

“If we had a situation where unemployment rose pretty sharply, I actually think that would likely cause inflation to start coming down pretty sharply,” Bivens said. A more likely scenario is that if we end the year with a series of interest rate hikes by the Federal Reserve, we could be in a recession by 2023, he said. “If that happens, I just expect inflation to relent pretty quickly,” Bivens said.

How can you prepare for a recession or stagflation?

A combination of inflation and shrinkflation, where product companies reduce the contents of everything that we buy, is making it so people’s money just doesn’t go as far now, said Ted Jenkin, a certified financial planner and CEO of oXYGen Financial in Atlanta.

Now, stagflation is also a possibility that clients are asking about, Jenkin said. “I think it’s inevitable that we’re going to hit a recession,” he said. “Whether this is a mild recession or we go into stagflation will be the big question.” Consequently, now is a great time to revisit your personal financial plan. “This is the absolute time for people to batten down the hatches and beef up the foundation of their financial house,” Jenkin said.

Try to aim for at least six months’ worth of emergency expenses in case a downturn does happen, he said. Also make sure you have prepared a recent budget to see if there are places where you can cut back. Additionally, take a look at any adjustable-rate debt you may have — credit cards, mortgages, student loans — and see if you can pare those balances down or refinance them. Now that interest rates are poised to go up, those balances will become more expensive.

Moreover, it’s a great time to invest in yourself to be more marketable professionally if layoffs become the norm. “Make sure you’ve really brushed up on your skills and competencies or education so that if the job market gets tighter, you’re marketable,” Jenkin said.

By: Lorie Konish

Source: What stagflation is, and how to prepare for it

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Trading Commissions May Return If the SEC Makes Big Stock-Trading Changes

The Securities and Exchange Commission is aiming to shake up the mechanics of US stock trading in the wake of last year’s meme-stock frenzy, and some experts in the markets say changes could lead to a shift back to retail investors paying commissions to make trades.

SEC Chairman Gary Gensler in a speech this week outlined six areas of market structure where rules could be updated to foster greater efficiencies, particularly for retail investors. Gensler is proposing the agency consider sending retail stock orders to auctions under which trading firms would compete to execute the transactions to ensure investors receive the best prices.

Such a move could alter the payment for order flow system, or PFOF, under which brokerage firms including Robinhood, TDAmeritrade, and E-Trade are compensated for sending customers’ orders to market makers rather than sending them directly to an exchange. Among the biggest market makers are Citadel Securities and Virtu Financial. PFOF supports zero-commission trading at online brokers that serve amateur investors.

A significant PFOF change “may reset the entire playing field and cost individual investors more money because we’ll have to go back to some sort of commission model,” Sean Bonner, CEO of Guild Financial, a self-direct investment app that focuses on active and retired members of the military, told Insider. Guild, an early-stage business, doesn’t use the payment for order flow system.

“I can guarantee you that commission model will be much higher than the rebates paying the payment for order flow — much higher, by a factor of 10s to 100s,” said Bonner, who has more than 20 years of experience on Wall Street from floor trading to working as a mutual fund manager. “Retail investors are saving billions of dollars a year on the current payment for order flow model.”

Major wholesalers such as Citadel, Virtu, G1X and Two Sigma provided $6.1 billion in price improvements in 2020 and 2021 combined, said BrokerChooser, based on its analysis. Zero-commission trading in recent years has fueled a boom in activity among individual investors who no longer had to pay their brokers as much as $6.95 for each trade.

Proposed changes to shake up rules in the US stock market was met with criticism from Robinhood’s chief legal officer Dan Gallagher this week. “It is a really good climate for retail, so to go in and muck with it right now, to me, is a little worrisome,” Gallagher said at a conference in New York, according to The Wall Street Journal. Retail traders are benefitting from zero-commission transactions and fast execution of trades, he said.

Following last year’s meme-stock frenzy, Gensler last year asked the SEC to review rules related to equity-market structure, including payment for order flow. PFOF is banned in some countries. Gensler isn’t proposing a ban but such a move would make it “almost inevitable” that retail investors return to a commission-based system, Kerim Derhalli, founder and CEO of investment app Invstr, told Insider.

“I don’t think anyone is going to be willing to provide brokerage services on their own without having some form of revenue associated with it,” he said. The Invstr app has 3 million users worldwide and the company doesn’t use the PFOF system. “If we return to a commission structure then you could argue that might discourage people from trading as frequently as they have been trading. You could, on the other hand, argue that if people start trading less, and investing more, they’ll be better off,” over the long term, he said.

“What would seem to be a simple solution would be [for Gensler] to say, ‘We’re going to make PFOF illegal and … retail trading needs to go through the exchange where it’s transparent and the prices are transparent and people can have confidence in the system,” said Derhalli. Bonner at Guild said overall he sees a ban on PFOF hurting retailer traders. “To be honest, a lot of brokers would hope that they get rid of this payment for order flow model and get back to charging for commissions because there’s a lot more revenue for the brokers in that.”

Gary Gensler is trying to level the playing field for small investors. He’s expected to outline a proposal for new rules to help them – possibly in a speech later today. The idea is to make sure those investors get the best deal when buying or selling stocks. When you make a trade, you may go through a broker. Some are paid to send their orders to wholesalers – who may not give you the best price.

Dennis Kelleher of the investor advocacy group Better Markets said the SEC is thinking about creating auctions. “Which should drive down the cost for retail investors and therefore give them the best price available,” he said. But the plumbing of trading is complicated. And if you divert the flow of buy and sell orders, some small investors could get hurt. Jaret Seiberg with the investment bank Cowen said those deals between brokers and wholesalers paved the way for free trading.

“If you start dismantling the system it’s not clear that you’re going to be able to still provide free access to trading,” he said. Investors advocates said at least with a commission you know what you’re paying upfront. There’s plenty of time for this debate. Any new rules would have to go through a long, public process.

Source: Trading Commissions May Return If the SEC Makes Big Stock-Trading Changes

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Crypto Links With Banks Pose Threat To Financial Stability, Says ECB

The crypto industry’s deepening ties to banks and asset managers will pose a risk to financial stability, the European Central Bank has warned, in the latest sign of how central banks and governments are stepping up their scrutiny of the market. The ECB said on Tuesday it had undertaken “a deep dive into cryptoasset leverage and crypto lending” and found evidence that these activities were becoming more risky, complex and interconnected with traditional institutions.

Investors have been able to handle the €1.3tn fall in the market capitalisation of unbacked cryptoassets since November 2021 without any financial stability risks being incurred,” the ECB said. “However, at this rate, a point will be reached where unbacked cryptoassets represent a risk to financial stability.” The first such warning from the ECB, published as part of its twice-yearly financial stability review, followed similar messages from US and UK authorities, which have been unnerved by a series of recent failures in the crypto market.

Bitcoin, the world’s flagship cryptocurrency, has halved in value since November and recently fell below $30,000 for the first time since last summer. The market’s most important stablecoin, tether, momentarily lost its peg to the US dollar, while its rival terraUSD all but collapsed. The crypto market itself has boomed in size in recent years, with major platforms like Binance and FTX offering a wide array of complex financial products.

The world’s biggest crypto exchanges processed almost $700bn in spot trading last month and $1.1tn in bitcoin futures, according to data collated by The Block Crypto. Recommended Gillian Tett The Goldilocks crisis may have arrived for crypto The ECB said trading volumes for cryptoassets “have at times been comparable with or even surpassed those of the New York Stock Exchange or euro area sovereign bond quarterly trading volumes”.

At the same time, some crypto exchanges are offering loans to customers to allow them to increase their exposures by as much as 125 times their initial investment, it said. But “significant informational and data shortcomings persist”, which meant “the full extent of possible contagion channels with the traditional financial system cannot be fully ascertained”. ECB president Christine Lagarde said on Dutch television at the weekend that a crypto token was “worth nothing, it is based on nothing, there is no underlying asset to act as an anchor of safety”.

Fabio Panetta, an ECB executive, recently likened the sector to a “Ponzi scheme” and called for a regulatory clampdown to avoid a “lawless frenzy of risk-taking”. Links between eurozone banks and crypto assets “have been limited so far”, the ECB said in its report on Tuesday. The central bank said some international and eurozone banks are “already trading and clearing regulated crypto derivatives, even if they do not hold an underlying cryptoasset inventory”.

It added that large payment networks had “stepped up their support of cryptoasset services” and institutional investors were “now also investing in bitcoin and cryptoassets more generally”. Noting that German institutional investment funds have been allowed to put up to a fifth of their holdings into crypto assets since last year, it said such investments had been aided by the availability of crypto-based derivatives and securities listed on exchanges.

Recommended Behind the Money podcast20 min listen A crypto vibe shift? The ECB also cited risks from decentralised finance, or DeFi, in which cryptocurrency-based software programs offer financial services without the use of intermediaries such as banks. “Crypto credit on DeFi platforms grew by a factor of 14 in 2021, while the total value locked was hovering at around €70bn until very recently, on a par with small domestic peripheral European banks,” it said.

Rehypothecation, in which collateral for a loan can be repledged against another loan, increased the chances of leverage limits being breached. As many as one in 10 EU households “may own cryptoassets”, though most had less than €5,000 invested in the sector, according to a recent ECB survey. Similarly, a Fed survey released on Monday found 12 per cent of US adults held or used cryptocurrencies in 2021. The EU is finalizing legislation, called markets in crypto assets, but the ECB said it would not come into force until 2024 at the earliest.

“Given the speed of crypto developments and the increasing risks, it is important to bring cryptoassets into the regulatory perimeter and under supervision as a matter of urgency,” it said.

Source: Crypto links with banks pose threat to financial stability, says ECB | Financial Times

Critics by Kate Rooney

Financial services firms added three times as many crypto jobs last year than in 2015, according to recent data from LinkedIn. In the first half of 2021, that pace jumped by 40%. Banks on a crypto hiring spree included Deutsche Bank, Wells Fargo, Citigroup, Capital One, Barclays, Credit Suisse, UBS, Bank of America and BNY Mellon.

The crypto boom on Wall Street coincides with more funding and hiring in the start-up world. Crypto and blockchain companies raised a record $25 billion last year, an eightfold increase from a year earlier, according to CB Insights data.

Farooq said that even with the start-up boom, JPMorgan has seen “limited attrition.” Those leaving have been people “wanting to start their own company versus wanting to leave and go do something similar.”

However, JPMorgan did lose one of its highest-profile crypto deputies last year. Christine Moy is on garden leave after departing her role as managing director and global head of crypto and metaverse at Onyx. She has yet to announce her next move.

“After over a half-decade laying the foundations for blockchain-based infrastructure across financial markets and cross-border payments, creating new businesses that have already scaled into the $USD billions at J.P. Morgan, I am looking to challenge myself further by finding new opportunities to create value and drive impact for the Web3/crypto ecosystem from a new angle,” Moy told CNBC in an email.

Other top crypto executives who left Wall Street recently expressed some frustration at how long it takes to get projects moving within a large financial institution. Mary Catherine Lader, chief operating officer at Uniswap Labs, left her job as a managing director at BlackRock last year. Her foray into crypto started as a side project within the asset management company.

“It certainly wasn’t my primary job,” Lader said. “It was kind of a hobby, as it is for so many people on Wall Street, and it definitely wasn’t something that at the time I was thinking about, because it was early stages of adoption.”

Justin Schmidt, former head of digital asset markets at Goldman Sachs, made a similar career change last year. He joined institutional crypto trading platform Talos and described the risk in a similar way, calling the decision “multidimensional.”

“Inherently, you’re taking a brand risk — Goldman is one of the storied institutions of Wall Street,” Schmidt said. “You are also taking a risk by staying someplace more traditional, and I very firmly believe that this is a generational change and there’s a generational opportunity here…..

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Merry Christmas, Wall Street! But There’s No New Year’s Day Holiday For The Stock Market This Year—Here’s Why

1Blame it on an obscure rule. For the first time in a decade, there will be no stock market closure in observance of New Year’s Day. U.S. markets will be closed on Christmas eve on Friday because the holiday falls on a Saturday but equity markets will be open on Dec. 31, or New Year’s Eve, and operators of the New York Stock Exchange aren’t designating Jan. 3, the first Monday in 2022 as New Year’s Eve observed.

The last time this sort of calendar event transpired was New Year’s Eve Dec. 31, 2010. How rare is this calendar event. Assuming that it was applied since 1928, it would have occurred 13 times from 1928.

Dow Jones Market Data

The lack of a New Year’s Day respite for stock trades is the result of NYSE Rule 7.2, which stipulates that the exchange will be closed either Friday or the following Monday if the holiday falls on a weekend, unless “unusual business conditions exist, such as the ending of a monthly or yearly accounting period.”

In this case, the last day of December is a trifecta of accounting dates, including month-end, quarter and year-end dates and comes after markets have experienced a bout of volatility in recent days.

On Monday, the Dow Jones Industrial Average DJIA, +0.64% sank 433 points, while the S&P 500 SPX, +0.82% and the Nasdaq Composite COMP, +0.85% indexes both registered sharp declines and their third straight drop on the back of omicron-fueled uneasiness and concerns about global economic expansion in the coming year.

By Tuesday afternoon, however, markets had made up for those losses and then some and the 10-year Treasury note yield TMUBMUSD10Y, 1.458%, was hanging near 1.50% after putting in a 3 p.m. Eastern Time finish at 1.418%, according to Dow Jones Market Data.

It is worth noting though that, the U.S. Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association, a trade group, recommends a 2 p.m. ET close for trading in Treasurys on Dec. 31. The holiday schedule for markets isn’t likely to alter the mood on Wall Street, however.

“I don’t see it mattering in a meaningful way,” Baird market strategist Michael Antonelli, told MarketWatch. “The final few sessions of the year have traditionally been very quiet, and the fact that we don’t have a specific holiday for New Year’s likely won’t change that at all,” he said.genesis3-2-1-1-1-1-1-2-1-1-1-1-1-1-2-1-1-1-1-1-2-1-1-1-1-1-1-1-2-1-1-1-1-1-1-1-1-1-1-1-1-1

For Christmas, the bond market will close early on Dec. 23 and remain closed on Friday, Dec. 24, Christmas Eve. Meanwhile, the New York Stock Exchange and Nasdaq will observe regular hours on Thursday Dec 23, closing at 4 p.m. Eastern Time and remain closed on Christmas Eve, Dec 24.

Our call of the day says investors have much to get excited about in 2022. Put growth stocks at the top of that list.

3

By: Mark DeCambre

Mark DeCambre is MarketWatch’s markets editor. He is based in New York. Follow him on Twitter @mdecambre.

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MLMs Could Be In FTC Trouble With a Business Opportunity Rule Change

Say I’ve got a business selling bananas, and I want you to sell bananas, too. Presumably, you’d want to know some details about this banana business opportunity, such as whether I’ve ever been sued for lying about my business, whether the amount of money I say you would earn is accurate, and what happens if, after selling for a while, you want to quit. Perhaps you’d want to take a week to think about it before signing on.

For most business opportunities in the United States, that’s the legal standard I would have to follow to get you on board. It doesn’t apply to multilevel marketing companies (MLMs), though. They’re exempt — at least for now.

A decade ago, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) put in place the “business opportunity rule,” which basically describes a set of requirements for people trying to get others involved in a business opportunity, such as a work-from-home job (some of which are scams). The rule says that people offering such opportunities have to provide support for any income claims — if I tell you that you can make $1 million a year in my banana business, I have to prove it.

They must also disclose whether they’ve been involved in certain legal actions (such as any involving fraud), and list them out if they have; detail their refund and cancellation policy (if they have one); and provide a list of at least 10 other people who have bought in, all seven days before the person they’re recruiting pays any money or signs anything.

There were plenty of people who believed that MLMs should be included in the FTC rule when it was enacted a decade ago, but they were granted an exception following massive pushback from the industry. “That’s the power of lobbying for you,” said Douglas Brooks, an attorney who specializes in MLMs.

That could be about to change. The FTC announced in June that it would review the business opportunity rule as part of a revised 10-year review schedule — and there is hope that, this time around, MLMs might be roped in.

Earlier this year, then-FTC Commissioner Rohit Chopra (who was recently confirmed as director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau), put out a statement urging that MLMs and gig-economy platforms be included in the rule. Now that Chopra’s at the CFPB, the other commissioners — including FTC Chair Lina Khan, a protégé of Chopra’s, and Noah Phillips, a Republican-appointed commissioner who has criticized MLMs in the past — are expected to take a look at the issue.

Outside the FTC, anti-MLM sentiment has been on the rise of late as people involved have felt more emboldened to speak out about the pitfalls of the business model and high-profile media projects have called attention to the issue.

MLMs are certain to push back against their inclusion. One lawyer I spoke to, who asked to withhold their name because they have clients in the industry, told me that the rule would be “disastrous” for MLMs and likely “decimate” the industry. Whether the FTC actually makes any changes to the rule is uncertain, and the process could take months or even years. But it’s a start.

MLMs lobbied their way out of regulation a decade ago. It’s not clear whether they’ll be so lucky now.

To back up a bit, multilevel marketing is a business model where sellers derive profits in two ways — by selling a product or service, and by recruiting other people to sell that product or service. Generally, the latter is more lucrative than the former.

It’s a big industry. The Direct Selling Association (DSA), a trade group representing MLMs, says it was worth $40 billion in 2020 and encompasses millions of sellers. It’s also a controversial one: The vast, vast majority of sellers make little, if any, money in MLMs (they often lose money), and consultants and companies have been caught on multiple occasions making misleading claims about earnings potential and product effectiveness.

Critics say MLMs are in essence pyramid schemes, where only people at the top make money, and do so by constantly recruiting new members. MLMs reject this characterization, but at the very least, some MLMs have gotten into trouble with regulators for bad behavior, including Amway, AdvoCare, and Herbalife.

MLMs aren’t completely unregulated — the FTC and Securities Exchange Commission, for example, have some purview over them. But it’s hard not to wonder whether there could be more guardrails, including with something like the business opportunity rule, which MLMs have vociferously opposed.

First proposed in 2006 and finalized in 2011, the business opportunity rule is meant to protect consumers from “bogus business opportunities” by laying out some basic requirements about what potential recruits need to be told and when.

When the rule was first proposed, the MLM industry went into overdrive to try to make sure it wouldn’t apply to them. As The Verge outlined in 2014, the DSA got over 17,000 people to send comment letters to the FTC opposing the then-forming rule being applied to MLMs. (By comparison, MLM critics sent under 200 letters.) MLMs also boosted lobbying expenditures and got dozens of members of Congress to write to the FTC urging it to let MLMs be.

“They just swamped the FTC with things basically saying, ‘If you do this to us, it’ll destroy the industry,’” Brooks said.

MLMs were successful: The FTC decided that they should be exempted from the rule, determining that it “would have imposed greater burdens on the MLM industry than other types of business opportunity sellers without sufficient countervailing benefits to consumers.” An FTC staff report said that some MLMs do engage in bad practices and are pyramid schemes, but that would better be determined on a case-by-case basis and the “record developed was insufficient as a basis for crafting MLM disclosures that would effectively help consumers make an informed decision about the risks of joining a particular MLM.”

Looking at how MLMs operate, critics have questioned whether the FTC’s decision was the right one — and hope they’ll decide differently now. There’s been increased scrutiny by the public on MLMs in recent years, and regulators have continued to take notice of their practices. The FTC has sent out warning letters to MLMs during the pandemic over their earnings and product claims (companies and sellers have taken advantage of the crisis). The regulator is currently enmeshed in a lawsuit against Neora, which sells skin care and wellness products, over allegations that it is a pyramid scheme.

The public has taken more notice of MLMs and the business model as well. For a long time, many people who were involved in MLMs and failed (which most do) didn’t talk about it — they were embarrassed, or they felt guilty over roping their friends and family into it, too. Former sellers and experts say that MLM culture is one where leaders place blame for failure fully on the shoulders of the individual.

Sellers are told that if it doesn’t work out, it’s their fault and their fault alone. But there has been an explosion of growth in anti-MLM communities on the internet, and there seems to be a greater awareness of the drawbacks the business model brings with it.

In other words, the FTC won’t just be flooded with comments from the pro-MLM community this time around, it’s also likely to hear more from the anti-MLM community as well.

“I would expect that there are going to be many comments, and I would expect that the MLM industry will gather its troops,” said Bonnie Patten, executive director of Truth in Advertising, a consumer advocacy nonprofit.

The FTC’s exact timing here is unclear. Patten said she expects action to begin in December, though she acknowledges it’s a bit of an “informed guess.” Even then, there’s a long road ahead, as the FTC will have to solicit public comments, send notices to lawmakers, and could hold arguments regarding changes. “This is a slow and laborious process,” Patten said.

Now that Chopra is at the CFPB, there have been some doubts among MLM critics as to how efforts to include MLMs in the business opportunity rule will proceed at the FTC. Chopra was the commissioner who had explicitly mentioned including MLMs under the rule, and now, the FTC has four commissioners instead of the usual five, so votes could come down to a two-two split.

Still, Patten said she’s relatively optimistic. “If we’re focused on MLM, I think of all the deceptive marketing issues in a deck of cards, MLM is the one that it appears all commissioners agree is an issue,” she said.

The FTC declined to comment on the matter, noting that they generally don’t speak publicly about rule-making processes as they are underway.

People should know what they’re getting into with MLMs

When you watch something like the LuLaRoe documentary or listen to a podcast like The Dream, it’s sometimes hard not to land in the same spot: How in the world can this be legal? Or at the very least, why isn’t more being done to look out for people before they get sucked in?

Most people don’t make money; plenty lose money. Some companies make earnings disclosures available, but they’re generally really difficult to read and understand. Even if it’s relatively clear that eight in 10 consultants make less than $10 a month, recruits are sold on the hope that they’ll be one of the lucky few to make $100,000.

Many MLMs don’t really know where their products go once they arrive at the sellers, who are often encouraged to buy in order to stay active in the company and show their commitment. (Their uplines, the people above them, make money when they buy.) Whether sellers are actually offloading those lotions or essential oils or earrings to other people, or just piling them up in their garage, the corporate office often is unaware.

Including MLMs in the business opportunity rule wouldn’t be a panacea, but at the very least, experts say it could be a good start. “All this rule would have required were some pretty basic disclosures and a seven-day cooling-off period, and you’re saying this is going to destroy the industry?” Brooks, the MLM attorney, said. “What’s going on here? Why would that be so destructive?”

A sample disclosure form on the FTC’s website doesn’t look that complex. Yet, Brooks said he expects it to be a “knock-down, drag-out” fight if it looks to the industry like MLMs will get included in the business opportunity rule. “I don’t doubt that they will go to Congress and try to get a law passed that will sort of preempt that effort,” he said. Indeed, there is a direct selling caucus in Washington, DC, with more than three dozen members, Republican and Democrat alike.

In a statement to Vox, Joseph Mariano, president and CEO of the DSA, said the organization “looks forward to a constructive engagement with the FTC on any prospective rule-making that might apply to direct sellers.” He said the DSA “has a long history of encouraging self-regulation and consumer protection as a complement to appropriate and reasonable government regulation” and pointed to the DSA’s code of ethics, which member companies and sellers must abide by, and the DSA’s self-regulatory council.

Brooks thinks efforts to curb MLM activity should go further than the business opportunity rule and other tools currently in the FTC’s toolbox. (Earlier this year, the Supreme Court curbed some of the FTC’s ability to seek monetary relief, which has prompted some of the conversation around the business opportunity rule.) In his view, regulators need to have harder lines around what MLMs can and can’t do in the first place.

“The FTC should prohibit certain types or aspects of MLM compensation plans, because the real problem with these companies is in the compensation plans, it’s the whole structure of the thing,” Brooks said. “People end up spending thousands and tens of thousands of dollars having thought that this was originally a $50 investment.”

So back to my banana business. At the very least, many experts say, I should have to tell you if the banana sellers under me are making $1 or $1 million a month. If I promise you that you’ll be a banana billionaire, I should have proof, and also tell you if there was a banana-related fraud lawsuit in my past, and give you a few days to decide if you want to get in on the bananas — whether I’m an MLM or not.

The harder question — and one the FTC isn’t looking at now, but perhaps should — is whether I should be able to get you in on the banana business at all if I know you’re almost sure to fail. If 99 of 100 sellers are in banana bankruptcy, just how hard can I sell you on the 1 in 100 dream of being a banana billionaire? That’s a question for another day.

Emily Stewart

Source: MLMs could be in FTC trouble with a business opportunity rule change – Vox

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