Westside experts discuss homelessness, the stock market and the arts

It has become a January tradition that The Argonaut asks local experts to predict trends that will dominate their respective fields for the coming year. For 2019 we offer one of our own: The biggest theme in local news will be the economy — more specifically how our neighborhoods respond to housing prices that are squeezing out the middle class, small businesses struggling to compete among an upsurge in global chains, and a homelessness crisis so pervasive that its physical and psychological consequences cannot be ignored. 2019 isn’t just a question of what will happen, but what will happen to our community character and identity along the way.

Will Homelessness Decrease in Greater Los Angeles This Year?

By John Maceri

Executive Director of The People Concern

If you’re asking whether the overall number of people experiencing homelessness across L.A. County will decrease by the end of 2019, I believe it will. I expect the count in January will have increased numbers, but before year’s end we should see more people moving into housing and the number of people on the streets going down. With new permanent supportive housing units coming online, the continued investment in rapid rehousing and lease-ups using rental subsidy vouchers, we should see lower numbers by December 2019.

By Va Lecia Adams Kellum

President of St. Joseph Center

In 2019 I see continuing progress on the goals of Measure H, which include finding solutions for homelessness and preventing people from becoming homeless in the first place. Over the last few years, homeless service agencies like St. Joseph Center have helped more people move off the street than at any other time in our region’s history. We will see this trend continue in the year ahead as more bridge housing becomes available around the county and as additional affordable housing buildings open.

One of the big challenges now is helping make sure people don’t fall back into homelessness. A key part of this equation is empowering them to become self-sufficient. I foresee that in 2019 there will be an increased focus on programs like job training, which help recently homeless people find and maintain jobs with a livable wage. Vocational initiatives also have a critical role to play in preventing homelessness for people who are on the bottom rungs of the economic ladder, because low wages and lack of job prospects often act as a catalyst for homelessness. In my experience, the vast majority of people who are homeless want to get back inside and want to get back to work.

“What Will Be the Major Themes of the Arts in 2019?”

By John Perrin Flynn

Founder of Rogue Machine Theatre

Art is created when imagination and knowledge meet to explore what it is to be human. Art is a lens through which we view life and seek to understand. It reveals, asks questions and creates dialogue. Art is hope.

Rogue Machine Theatre was created 12 years ago by a group of likeminded artists, with hope, who wanted to open a new theatre in Los Angeles. There were already upwards of 200 companies producing on local stages, but we noticed that very few of them were producing new plays by Los Angeles playwrights
or presenting current plays coming out
of New York, London and Chicago. Rogue Machine has since grown into one of the better known and most honored theatre companies in the city, winning the Ovation Award for “Best Season” last year. In October 2018, Rogue Machine moved to Venice at The Electric Lodge, which is the proud founding venue of Arts:Earth Partnership [3] and the premiere multi-use arts facility in environmental stewardship.

We as a country are enduring a time of anger, chaos and division. We are at a crossroads. In such times art must challenge both artists and audiences. Art must risk. Our need for preservation and safety increasingly clashes with our better ideals of inclusion, compassion and the responsibilities of world leadership we were once proud to assume.

This new year, as always, Rogue Machine will look to reflect the world as we experience it. We will present plays that ask questions: Can we get along? Why are we so angry? What are we becoming? What is to be done? And we hope to make you laugh. As Mark Twain said, “The human race has only one really effective weapon, and that is laughter.”

Is Now a Good Time to Invest in the Stock Market?

By Allen Wisniewski

Retired portfolio manager with 25 years experience managing mutual funds and investment accounts

How the economy performs will play a major role in terms of stock market performance. The economy has been quite stable since the last recession ended in 2009, with economic growth staying in the 2% to 3% range in recent years. This has been an environment conducive to strong stock market performance, as corporate earnings have registered solid gains while inflation and interest rates have remained low. Economic growth numbers for 2018 will be somewhat better than in recent years, but we’ve also experienced four quarter-point rate increases by the Federal Reserve.

So why did the stock market lose ground in 2018 despite the economy performing well? Some may think it was the interest rate increases, but those were largely anticipated and rates are still quite low in historical perspective. The main reasons are heightened levels of political risk in the U.S. and overseas, and concerns about whether the economy can continue its pace of growth.

The high degree of volatility we experienced in December has probably reminded some people of the dramatic loss of 2008, but at that time we were in a major financial crisis and unemployment was increasing dramatically. At present banks are healthy, there are very few foreclosures and unemployment is at its lowest level in decades.

There certainly are risks present, mainly on the international side, but none that would appear to cause the stock market to drop much further. The president’s tariff policy is certainly a risk factor. While trade is not as important to our economy as it is to countries such as China and Germany, a potential trade war would cause the global economy to weaken. And although a trade war’s likely impact to the U.S. economy would not be large, a number of American companies derive much of their earnings overseas, which would cause profits to weaken.

The most likely scenario for 2019 is the U.S. economy avoiding a recession but experiencing somewhat slower economic growth versus 2018. Profit growth is likely to slow considerably due to a sluggish international environment and the absence of the one-time benefit from the reduction in the corporate tax rate.

The stock market, assuming no recession for 2019, should perform reasonably well, as its valuation based on expected earnings is more reasonable compared to how it has been in recent years. Also, the Federal Reserve is close to being finished raising interest rates, which will remove that negative overhang from the market. Volatility will likely remain somewhat elevated at least early in 2019, but barring any unforeseen events (which are always possible) stocks have a decent likelihood of generating positive returns in 2019. For someone with some tolerance for risk, it would be appropriate to have a normal amount of one’s longer-term investments allocated to stocks.