Feature

Keeping up with inflation

And more of the week's best financial insight

Here are three of the week's top pieces of financial insight, gathered from around the web:

Keeping up with inflation

Companies are budgeting for the biggest increase in wages since 2008, said David Harrison in The Wall Street Journal. A survey by the Conference Board released last week found that "companies are setting aside an average 3.9 percent of total payroll for wage increases next year." That encompasses raising the ranges of minimum, median, and maximum salaries, potentially "affecting workers across a company's pay scale." Roughly 39 percent of the survey's 229 companies pointed to inflation as a factor in their budgeting decision. But other indications suggest that the tight labor market is also playing a role. According to the Atlanta Fed, "those who switched jobs between August and October saw a median wage increase of 5.1 percent vs. 3.7 percent for those who stayed in their current jobs."

Points programs lose value

Loyalty programs are slashing the value of their benefits, said Alexis Leondis in Bloomberg. With most travel shut down last year, many Americans were able to stockpile air miles and rewards points earned through other spending. But now travel providers are cracking down on what you can get for your points to reduce their outstanding liabilities. Southwest Airlines already diminished "the value of its Rapid Rewards points by 6 percent." A similar change is coming to Marriott, which said that it "will do away with award charts" in March and leave decisions about "how many points are typically needed for a stay" to the discretion of the hotels. So "consider booking now to lock in current rewards benefits."

A stock picker on index funds

It's not surprising that the legendary investor Peter Lynch called the popularity of index funds a "mistake," said Michael Hiltzik in the Los Angeles Times. "On Wall Street, this is known as talking one's book." Lynch was "renowned for his stock-picking skills." As the active manager of Fidelity's Magellan Fund, he produced an annualized return of 29 percent for 13 years. But Lynch was a phenomenon — and an anomaly. The reality is that most active fund managers are "like baseball players": They are capable of going on a tear, but "eventually almost all go cold." Index funds tend to be tax-efficient, charge minimal fees, and always hit their benchmarks. The debate between active vs. passive investing will continue. But, in baseball parlance, there's nothing wrong with choosing a good on-base percentage over "a hunt for home runs."

This article was first published in the latest issue of The Week magazine. If you want to read more like it, you can try six risk-free issues of the magazine here.

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